Thursday, October 19, 2017

Remember When I Said I Made a Movie?

I've lamented about my misadventures with cameras in a couple of posts recently. Last week I discussed my latest experience trying to upload a movie I made to my blog. Well, today I actually succeeded in uploading it and I'm very excited, as well as a little terrified, to share it with you.

Some disclaimers before you watch it:

1. I've learned a heck of a lot about lighting and camera settings since I made this movie. Basically all I knew how to do on the camera at the time was change the f-stop. I'm much more knowledgeable now, so if I ever try again (and I hope to eventually, if I ever get a new video camera), the cinematography will be much better.

2. I'm aware that the plot is clichéd at best and nonexistent at worst. I wasn't writing to win an Academy Award. I was writing to create a script which could be easily made into a movie with only two actors who also happened to double as the director and the sound guy.

3. Yes, I'm faking an accent in this movie. I like learning how to do accents, and this particular one was a recently acquired skill that I was dying to try out. I'm open to critiques as long as they are limited to tips on how to improve my pronunciation, but if you make fun of me on my own website, I will be deleting the comment. What can I say? I'm sensitive about these things. We all have our limits, right?

Okay, here's the movie. It's a horror movie, so I figured a couple of weeks before Halloween would be an appropriate time to share.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Remember When I Said Cameras Hate Me?

Rather than recount all the many, many details of this journey, I will refer you to my previous post, entitled Why Do Cameras Hate Me? if you are interested in learning the rest of this story. Today I only want to talk (complain?) about my adventures with computer software.

The World's Worst Computer Virus

Yeah, I left this little detail out of that earlier post. After I made that movie, the one I called "my first real movie", I lost all the digital files I had saved on my computer to Cryptowall. If you've not heard of Cryptowall, it's the granddaddy of computer viruses. Basically it infects your computer and encrypts all of your files so that even the most sophisticated decryption software would not be able to open them. Then you receive a message that you have a certain amount of time to pay money to the creators of the virus so that they can give you the code to unlock your files. Well, I didn't pay the money, so I lost all my files. The good news is, it was a new computer, so I hadn't saved much on it yet. But I did lose my movie.

Well, lose my movie is a bit of an exaggeration.  I lost the files on my computer, but I had, thankfully, burned it onto a dvd. Unfortunately, that was all I had done with it. I never backed up the file on a flash drive or on another computer.

The Problem With Dvds

So I have the movie on dvd, which is great because that means I can watch it whenever I want (I don't watch it very often), but if I want to put it back onto my computer, that means I need dvd-ripping software. No worries. Handbrake is a free and trustworthy dvd-ripper. So I downloaded Handbrake. Problem solved, right? Not so fast, mister.

I had decided that I was...finally...ready to share my little movie with the world, so I made plans to embed it in a post right here on this blog. I loaded the dvd into my computer, opened the file in Handbrake, and started ripping. Success! My movie was saved on my hard drive. Now I could upload it to my blog, right? Again I say, not so fast, mister.

The Problem With Video Files

I tried uploading it and Blogger told me the file was too big. Well, I'm nothing if not tenacious, so I looked up how to shrink a video file in Handbrake. And what did I find? A webpage telling me how to do it. So I followed the directions, saved the movie on my hard drive a second time, and tried uploading it to Blogger again. Again, the file was too big. So I looked up more information on video compression. I found another, more detailed, page explaining a slightly longer process with quite a few more steps. Surely this was it. I was on the cusp! I was going to share my movie with the world. So I followed the directions and began the ripping process and for some reason, my computer shut down in the middle of it. Thinking it was a fluke, I rebooted my computer and tried again. Again, the stupid computer shut down before it finished compressing my video. Why? Not being a computer expert, I have no idea. But it resulted in me not having any file of my movie that I can share on Blogger.

Maybe God is trying to tell me that my filmmaking skills are not ready for public consumption? Or that I'm just not supposed to be a filmmaker? Or maybe these obstacles are there to test my resolve so if I ever succeed at this I'll know I did it because I really wanted it. Who knows? At the moment it's darn frustrating. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: October 2017

Forbidden by F. Stone

I put off reviewing this book for a long time because I knew Islam played a large part in the story and I was worried about promoting a book that could potentially have controversial content. I finally was able to put aside my fears in that regard when I read some of the reviews and discovered that this book deals with the religion in a very fair manner, so I decided to take the plunge.

The story is engaging and the pace is well-balanced. Fast enough to hold the reader's interest but slow enough to give you time to get to know the characters. The romance is believable and the suspense is palpable. I applaud the author for pulling off both of these things.

However, this book will unfortunately be another four star read for me. The main issue is the typos. I've said in the past that I can often look past these, but when there are so many that they start to distract from the story, I can't ignore them. This book had at least a couple of typos per chapter, and I can't write an honest review without mentioning them. 

I was also left hungry for a little more detail. Considering that this book takes place in a part of the world I have never visited, within a culture I know very little about, I was hoping to be taken on a beautiful journey into another world. I wanted more vivid descriptions, more explanations of Muslim teachings, more history of the area. I wanted to feel like I was right there with the characters, and I didn't feel that reading this book. 

That being said, I did enjoy it and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting, suspenseful read. Check it out on Amazon.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book, Part 3

For the past few weeks I've been analyzing conflict in my books. Last week I looked at Primogénito and the week before I examined Amelia's Children.

This week we'll look at conflict in Road to Yesterday.

Man vs. Man
Road to Yesterday is different from my other books in that there is no villain. So the Man vs. Man conflict primarily happens between the siblings themselves. Put simply, pretty much everyone experiences conflict with Vi. 

Vi is Kim's older sister and goes through life with a down to earth, practical, take charge attitude. When balanced with a little flexibility, this can be a virtue, but in Vi it is not balanced with anything. She wants what she wants and she gets what she wants and she's unwilling to listen to anyone else's side of the story. So, naturally, she gets into it with the other characters more than a few times.

First with Kim because Kim is her younger sister and Vi feels she has the right to boss her around as she sees fit. Kim doesn't like it, but she goes along with it because she knows arguing with Vi is an exercise in futility. 

Vi also has some deep-seated resentment for her brother Alex, so when he shows up unannounced and ends up taking a road trip with her and Kim, the tension becomes nearly unbearable. These two definitely have some issues to work out.

Then there's Kyle. The oldest brother. Having roughly the same personality as Vi, the two of them butt heads more than a few times over the course of the story. And Kyle harbors the same resentment toward Alex that Vi does (as a result of a misunderstanding going back ten years which ultimately gets resolved by the end of the book), so those two argue a good bit as well.

Man vs. Nature
I suppose time would be considered a force of nature with which the characters in this book must contend. Time is an issue for them both because the main story involves time travel, but also because there's the sense that time is running out. Alex has been transported ten years into the future only to find that his older self is dying. The story that follows is his attempt, along with his sisters and his older brother, to figure out what's happening to him and how he can be saved. The characters don't know if he's going to die, and they don't know how long they have, but they do know that his body is steadily shutting down and anything done must be done soon. 

Man vs. Self
Alex struggles a lot in this book. Not only does he have to grapple with the fact that he may be dying, but he also struggles with his role in the family. Remember that misunderstanding I mentioned? Well, that has made the others view him as something of a black sheep, and Alex feels an overwhelming need to prove them wrong. 

Man vs. Society
I don't think this comes into play here. Not really. I'm racking my brain trying to think of some societal issue these characters face, and can't come up with one. Yes, they've dealt with their fair share of hardships, but it's more a matter of life throwing them curve balls than society forcing ideals upon them.

Maybe Kyle's attitude toward church fits the mold, but that's barely a plot point in the book. It gets mentioned once, very close to the end, and does not really affect the story. It's in there more as a way give a little insight into Kyle's personality than to make any kind of social statement. But who knows? Maybe it counts. 

Thank you for joining me these past few weeks as I walked through the inner workings of my books. I'm all done now, so next week I'll be switching gears and bringing you another book of the month post.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book, Part 2

In last week's post I discussed conflict in literature and took a look at Amelia's Children through that analytical lens. This week I'll be analyzing the various conflicts in Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy.

I won't recap the four types of conflict I'll be discussing, since I already laid all that out last week. Let's just get directly into the book.

Man vs. Man
Just like in Amelia's Children, the majority of the Man vs. Man conflict in Primogénito comes toward the end of the story. Again, I won't give away any spoilers, but the whole book is about Damian trying to free himself and the people he cares about from the dark magic wielded by his grandfather and uncles. So, naturally, there's a big showdown at the end where he faces off against the bad guys. Jenn, his wife, and Ashley, his best friend's wife, get in on this action too, as does his father, Leo. It's a big, long, violent sequence of scenes involving lots of fighting and more than a little bloodshed. 

Man vs. Nature
I still have the same question as last week: Do the natural workings of one's own body qualify as nature? If so, then Jenn's pregnancy fits into this category. It gives the story a sense of urgency since everything must be accomplished before the baby arrives (because the baby is one of the people Damian is trying to save). 

The cold plays a fairly large role in this book. Not to the degree that it alters the course of events, but in the sense that it provides an obstacle which the protagonists must overcome. 

Man vs. Self
What character doesn't face this conflict in Primogénito? First there's Damian, who's survived a traumatic event in his past and has worked hard to move on and find his "new normal". When Ashley shows up at his door begging him to help her save her husband, Nick, from and illness she believes is the result of the magic Damian's family practices, it sends Damian down a very dark road. He has to confront his worst memories, his sense of himself, his feelings about his wife, and his feelings about his family, all while working himself to exhaustion trying to help his friend. 

Next we have Ashley. She struggles with the same traumatic memories as Damian, but while Damian was the victim of what happened to them in the past, Ashley was merely a witness. So she feels unable to seek support and comfort because Damian deserves those things and, in her mind, she doesn't. What she suffers is a form of survivor's guilt. Though Damian did not die, still he bore the brunt of the traumatic experience while Ashley walked away relative unscathed. Physically at least. 

Ashley is also discovering she harbors romantic feelings for Damian. These feelings cause her unspeakable guilt and torment because she's happily married to Nick and Damian is happily married to Jenn. She doesn't want to do anything to destroy the lives the four of them have built for themselves, but nonetheless the feelings are there.

Then we have Jenn. As Damian's wife, her primary conflict stems from her love for Damian and her fear that if he gets involved with his family again after so many years away he will end up hurt. She's also at least somewhat aware of Ashley's feelings for Damian, so some jealousy comes into play. Then Jenn gets pregnant and she is consumed with fear of what will happen if Damian's grandfather finds out about the baby.

Leo is not a POV character in this book, but he is probably the most tragic. As Damian's father, he grew up in the Fuentes family, but tried to leave as a young man. Things did not work out so well for him, but through it all his one goal has been to protect his son. Leo feels everything Damian suffers, almost as though he were going through it himself. And on top of that, he feels unbearable guilt for not saving Damian from the clutches of his family. 

Man vs. Society
Not a lot of this in Primogénito. With this book I set out to write an intense character-driven drama with one heck of a creepy mystery thrown in for fun. I was not thinking to make a social statement. Then one reviewer pointed out that Damian's struggle to reclaim his virility and not be defined by his victim status is an example of him trying to live up to society's definition of manhood. I was not thinking that when I wrote it. I felt that the high ideals to which Damian holds himself are self-inflicted and not something being imposed upon him from the outside. But hey, maybe he feels that way because his worldview, including his idea of what it means to be a man, has been influenced by the world in which he grew up. It's a new way of looking at things. I didn't mean to put it in there, but I kind of like it.

Okay, so I've now analyzed conflict in two of my books. I'm having so much fun, I think I'll continue, so stay tuned for next week's look at Road to Yesterday.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book

Not sure where I got the idea to do this, but I thought it would be fun. So here goes.

Conflict in Literature

We've all taken college English classes, right? Or if we haven't been to college, we've at least taken high school English. At some point we've discussed conflict in literature, and we've learned that there are several types. Here are the four generally accepted types of conflict we find in stories:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Self
Man vs. Society

Other conflicts are sometimes tacked onto this list, including Man vs. Machine and Man vs. God. The point, however, is that in all stories, there is conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. No one wants to read this account of the mother who is preparing lunch for her children: All the dishes she needs are clean. All the ingredients she needs are readily available. The children come when called and eat without complaining. They even offer to help wash up afterward. Sure, we'd all like to live through that situation, but we don't want to read about it. Or, if we do read about it, we hope that maybe right after that idyllic scene the Christmas tree will catch on fire or the nearest city will be wiped out by an atomic bomb. Something. Give us something. Without conflict, fiction is, let's face it, boring.

I thought it would be fun to analyze the various conflicts in my own books. 

Conflict in Amelia's Children

Man vs. Man
David is the character who primarily experiences this. I can't say much about it, though, because Amelia's Children is a murder mystery and the majority of the Man vs. Man conflict occurs during the final showdown between David and the killer, who shall not be identified on this website. Sorry. No spoilers here.

Man vs. Nature
Not a heck of a lot of this conflict in Amelia's Children. In fact, looking at my writing as a whole, I've not really made nature an adversary in any of my books. At least not to the degree where it has any real impact on the story. I suppose Amelia bleeding to death in the woods during the prologue might fit, because bleeding is a natural process? Hmm...not sure about that one.

Darkness plays a fairly active role in the book, though. The most climactic scenes all take place in the country at night. So darkness is sometimes a hindrance to characters as they try to accomplish the tasks that must be done. But most often the darkness just serves to make them afraid, which is more in line with...

Man vs. Self
Sarah is the main one who lets her fear get the better of her, and the darkness of the countryside at night feeds that fear in several scenes. 

Since Sarah is the narrator, she's the one whose internal monologue we see as we read the book. So we know every difficult choice, every question, every doubt she experiences. And she has a lot of doubt. Doubt about her future, now that she's failed to make a career as an actress. Doubt about her relationship with David, since he's going home to Atlanta at some point and she's stuck in Laurel Hill. Doubt about how to handle herself in the face of a traumatic situation. 

In the opening chapters, Sarah is overcome with curiosity about David and his possible connection to Amelia Davis's murder. She wants to get closer to him. She wants to learn more. But as she begins to learn more, things start to get more and more dangerous and she questions whether she wants to continue. In the end her curiosity, and the conviction that helping David is the right thing to do, wins out over her fears.

David also deals with some Man vs. Self conflict as he questions whether he will ever have the answers he seeks. More than once he thinks about giving up, but Sarah persuades him to keep going.

Man vs. Society
I suppose Sarah experiences some Man vs. Society conflict. First in her struggles to become an actress and her inability to live up to the expectations of the film industry. Then her disagreements with her parents about career, religion, etc. Her feelings of being out of place in her hometown. All of these could be examples of Sarah's struggle against the society in which she lives. Of course, because all of these struggles are primarily internal, they could also be examples of Man vs. Self. Who knows? Maybe they're both.

So there it is. A little analysis of my book, Amelia's Children. I may go on to analyze my other books in coming weeks, so stay tuned. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: September 2017

Penny White and the Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri. 

Take a cozy mystery, add a few dragons and other mythical creatures, then throw in lots of Doctor Who references, and you have this book. 

At first glance the premise seems too over-the-top to be believed. And it is. It's over-the-top. But it's also grounded enough in theology and, as I said above, great Doctor Who references to make it a believable read. 

Penny White is a vicar who has lived her entire life in our regular, mundane world. For all she knows, that's all that exists. But she also has a very open mind, so when she discovers that things like dragons and gryphons and even unicorns are real, she accepts it all without batting an eyelid. Again, that seems like a plot twist which would be hard to digest, but the way Penny's character is established, I had no problem believing that she would accept these incredible facts without the least amount of skepticism. 

When she discovers that a series of unexplained, and possibly related, deaths have occurred, she finds herself involved in a murder mystery that spans two worlds. The main story of this book is the investigation into the murders, but there's much more to it than that. 

I mentioned that this book contains a good bit of theology and a good bit of Doctor Who. I loved that the author was not afraid to reach deep into both subjects to find the little details that make this book what it is. Even if you're not a priest or a Doctor Who fan, these details nevertheless add a richness to the narrative that draws the reader in and makes this world, fantastical as it may seem, feel very real. 

This is the second cozy mystery I've reviewed this year, and I'm really beginning to open up more to this genre. I'm anxious to read other cozy mysteries, with or without dragons.

Please take a chance on this book. Even if dragons aren't your thing, this is still a great read and well worth your time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why Do Cameras Hate Me?

Be forewarned. My dad actually fell asleep listening to the story I'm about to tell. And my dad has a vested interest in my photography/filmmaking career because he's a musician and wants me to shoot a music video for him. He asks me repeatedly why I can't do the video, and it seems that the more I tell him about my technological limitations, the less he understands. So one day I decided to just spill the whole story for him I've already mentioned, he fell asleep before I could finish.

The one disclaimer I have is that I had just had lunch at my parents' house and my dad usually falls asleep in his chair after lunch. But fall asleep while hearing the answer to a question he asked...well, here's hoping you don't fall asleep too.

But you should know this post will be long and will contain a good deal of technical information.

So now you know. Continue if you wish.

My interest in photography really began when I was a child, and if you want the story of my artistic journey, you can read it here. This post will be concerned with the challenges I've faced since making the decision to go pro.

My First Attempt to Set Up a Portrait Studio

I had received my first SLR camera as a Christmas gift from my parents a couple of years previously, and was ready to start doing portraits. So I walked into my local camera store and asked what equipment I needed to buy if I wanted to do studio work. The woman at the counter said the first thing I needed was a new camera because my entry level SLR did not have sufficient manual controls to be used with studio flash. Since I already had a Minolta, she suggested I simply upgrade to a Maxxum 5 so that I could continue using the same lenses (I had two by this point).

Using a Minolta was already a problem, even back then, because it had a different hot shoe than most other cameras, and often the accessories were not available in store and had to be ordered. Then just a couple of years later, Minolta went out of business altogether, which makes everything that much trickier.

But eventually I got my studio assembled and began taking photos. I mainly did shoots for friends and family members, but I did land a couple of professional jobs. Then one day I set up my studio lights and took a picture and...the lights didn't flash. Being young and dumb and having no knowledge of electronics whatsoever, I didn't even know how to troubleshoot the problem. And because I hadn't been making enough money from photography for it to start paying for itself, I didn't even see the logic in taking my equipment in for repairs. So I gave up. Yep. Just packed away my studio and didn't look at it again for twelve years.

When I Decided I Wanted to Make a Movie

If I ever manage to become a successful filmmaker, I'll have to give some of the credit to Sam Raimi, because it was The Evil Dead which ignited that first spark in me. Actually it was watching The Evil Dead with the director's commentary that gave me the idea that making a movie was something I could do. 

So I bought an awesome book, How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail). I became obsessed. I was going to make a movie. But there was one small problem. I was looking into all this during the time when the filmmaking world was just beginning to transition from film to digital, and film was still considered king. And when I began researching how much it would cost me to purchase film stock, then have it processed, I realized this filmmaking thing would have to go on a back burner for a while.

When I Finally Did Make a Movie

This was a few years later, when digital video was finally considered respectable. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could finally afford to make a movie. Still on a budget, however, I decided to buy a used camera. Well, it turns out I didn't do quite enough research before choosing which camera I wanted. More on that later.

I shot one short film. I won't post it here because my children are in it, and I won't share videos of them without their permission, and I doubt they would give permission. But it was a cute little film. A ghost story. My mom called it creepy, so I guess I did a good job at creating the mood.

Anyway, I shot the footage, but had no way of getting it off my camera. You see, I had purchased a MiniDV camera, and the only way to upload MiniDV footage to a computer is via a firewire cable. Small problem. Firewire has gone out of vogue in recent years and most new computers do not come with the correct ports. Some newer Macs have them, but again, I was on a budget. I couldn't afford a Mac. Then...Eureka!...I pulled out an old laptop I hadn't used in years and took a look at it and...lo and behold...a firewire port! I was in business. Now I could start editing this little movie I'd made.

So I bought a firewire cable and attached my camera to the computer and...nothing. The computer did not recognize the camera. I cannot put into words the frustration that resulted.

So I went on Ebay and bought a cheap MiniDV camera I could use for uploading footage. It worked! I was in business again. I edited that first movie on Windows Movie Maker, and started making plans for another movie. A "real" movie. So I wrote a script for another short film and my dad bought Sony Vegas Pro for me for Christmas (I told you he has a vested interest in my career). Then my husband and I bought a new computer. It did not come with a firewire port, but it's a desktop, so new ports can be installed. We bought a firewire port and installed it, then plugged in the cheap Ebay camera and...nothing. Again, the computer would not recognize the camera.

Tenacious as ever, I made the movie anyway. I shot it on the prosumer level MiniDV camera, then slid the tapes into the cheap MiniDV camera, plugged the camera into that old laptop, uploaded the footage, transferred the footage to a flash drive, then finally onto the new computer where I had installed Sony Vegas Pro. And now I was ready to edit.

So I finished the movie, and I think it turned out pretty good. But that was not the end of my troubles.

When Things Started to Fall Apart Again

Remember how I said my dad is a musician? Well, I am as well, and I decided I wanted to get together with my dad an make an album. I'll gloss over the details of that because it has nothing to do with cameras. Where the two come together is when I decided to make a music video from one of the songs I recorded.

Okay. So I shot the video and was going to use the same process for transferring footage that I had used before. But when I started uploading videos to the old laptop, the computer decided not to cooperate. You see, the way firewire works is you put the tape into your camera, plug the camera into your computer, open some kind of editing software (Windows Movie Maker works) and then click "capture". The computer will tell the camera to start playing the tape and the editing software will make a file of the footage. But if the computer decides to be sluggish, it will take a break while the tape is playing and the resulting video will be missing frames. That happened again and again and again as I was trying to upload this music video. I think I tried eight times to upload one clip, and each time there were frames missing.

So I got desperate. I had to get this footage off of my camera somehow, so I used the only recourse left to me. I plugged the camera into my dvd player and burned the video onto a disc. Well, I didn't know that you can't import decent footage from a dvd into an editing program. I tried. And tried. And tried again. I won't go into all the problems I had with it because I really don't want you to fall asleep. But suffice it to say the results were horrible.

So that was it. My filmmaking career was again on a back burner until such a time as I could afford an up to date camera that could transfer footage via USB, memory card, or some other method that is not likely to become obsolete within the next five years.

Getting Back Into Photography

The flame was rekindled when I started publishing my books and wanted to use my own artwork for my book covers. I started taking pictures again, and was reminded how much I loved photography. But I still had the issue with my studio lights.

Then one day I had an aha! moment. I realized that maybe it wasn't the lights themselves that were malfunctioning, but the connection to the camera. That would be cheap and easy to replace. So I did some troubleshooting and finally fixed the problem. Yay! I was in business again. I was so excited I actually came up with a long term business plan that involved selling photos from my website, making premade book covers to sell, opening a portrait studio, doing custom photo shoots for book covers, and so on. And the filmmaking even came back into the picture because I was hoping to make enough money from the photography to buy a decent video camera.

But here's the thing. I still have that Minolta Maxxum 5. That in and of itself is not a problem. Yeah, film can be a pain in the butt, and I'm having to spend a lot of money on processing, but the picture quality is comparable to what digital photography can achieve, so I was content to use my old camera until I could afford a new one. Until the Maxxum 5 decided to malfunction, leaving me without any camera I can use for anything.

So now I have a choice. Get the camera repaired, which could cost more than the thing, old as it is, is even worth? Buy another Maxxum 5, which I can get on Ebay for about $50? Upgrade to a Maxxum 7, which would still be a film camera but would be a slightly more advanced one? Or spend a couple thousand dollars on the digital camera I want? The only thing I know is that I have to do something, because being without a camera, now that I'm finally realizing just how much photography means to me, is not an option.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Did I Just Experience "Mansplaining"?

Let me start off by saying I've always hated the word "mansplain". To me it comes off as sexism against men (I can say that because I'm a woman). I mean, think about it. The word "mainsplain" implies that it's perfectly fine to have an opinion, to have facts to back up your opinion, and to express said opinion and the facts that go with it in words...unless you're a man talking to a woman. In that situation you're not engaging in a healthy intellectual debate. You're mansplaining. Put in those terms, it seems a little sexist against women, too, because it implies that women, delicate as we are, just can't handle the boundless logical depths of the male brain, so men should refrain from talking to us about anything serious.

Something happened the other day that may make me change my tune. I think I may have experienced real mansplaining, and I think it might actually be a thing. Here's what happened.

I was on vacation and wanted to take some pictures to document my adventures. If you've followed my blog, you know I only have a 35mm camera, so taking lots of pictures means carrying around lots of film. So I looked up a camera store near where I was, made sure the website mentioned that they carried film, then drove there in hopes of purchasing some.

We were visiting family on this trip and I wanted to get some photos of family members. I knew we may be hanging out inside a lot, and I hate on-camera flash (don't all photographers hate on-camera flash?) so I was thinking to by a few rolls of high ISO film. Well...I walked into the camera store and asked the guy behind the counter what kind of fast film he had. I specifically said 800 or higher. Instead of just turning around and grabbing the film for me, the guy at the counter stood silent for a second, then said, "Um...are you planning to do low-light photography? Because generally the faster the film the grainier the photo. 400 speed film is usually sufficient for most lighting conditions."'s not like I just picked up my first camera yesterday. I understand the differences between the various types of film, and I want something fast. Mainly because I haven't spent a lot of time using the really high ISO stuff and I want to see what it does. But primarily, dude, it's your job to sell me the film, so sell it to me without the lecture. If I want to know something, I'll ask.

All right, so we moved past the awkwardness of my choice of ISO and entered into a pleasant conversation about photography while he--finally--grabbed the film for me and moved to the cash register to check me out. Then I mentioned that I'm saving up to buy a digital camera but until I have the money I'm still using my old 35mm. At that point he informed me that I could get a pretty cheap digital camera if I looked in the used market, and that would save me a lot of money on film and processing. Again...dude...I know I'm spending a lot on film and processing, but I'm not going to get just any digital camera. I have specific things I'm looking for and won't take less than that. So I told him I have a Minolta Maxxum 5 and any new camera I get needs to be a step up from that because I don't want to go backward in my photography career. Then he began to tell me about the Sony cameras which are compatible with Minolta lenses. Sigh. Yes, Mr. Camera Store Guy, I know about the Sony cameras. And I told him that. I also said I've been looking at the Sony a77 at which point he took the liberty to inform me that I don't need anything that advanced. There are other cheaper cameras which can to everything I want them to do. Really? You met me less than five minutes ago and already you know what I want to do with my camera?

So I, ever polite because I see no point in getting rude and nasty with strangers, told him that I didn't want to invest in a camera which would only be a temporary fix. When I buy a new camera I want to be able to use it for years, for whatever photography needs may arise during that time. And finally he conceded that maybe, just maybe, I knew what I was doing and was capable of making my own decisions about cameras and film. that what people mean when they refer to mansplaining? Of course, in order to say without doubt that it was mansplaining, I'd have to prove that he made assumptions about me based on my gender. I don't know that about him. Maybe he's like that with everyone. To make assumptions about him based on his gender would just as wrong as any assumptions anyone has ever made about me, so I won't do that. But I will say that I was annoyed and maybe just a little closer to understanding an issue that has puzzled me for quite some time now.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coming to Terms With Social Anxiety

You're five years old and it's difficult to look people in the eye. Everyone says, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a baby. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're ten years old and looking people in the eye is a piece of cake. But it's hard to speak above a whisper when in the presence of someone you don't know very well. Everyone says, "Speak up," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a kid. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're fifteen years old and you're not afraid to be loud and proud. But showing emotion is the most frightening thing you can imagine because letting someone into your head gives them power over you and you're not comfortable letting another person have that much power over you. Everyone says, "Would it kill you to smile now and then?" and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a teenager. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're twenty years old and you've found your smile. You've even learned to exaggerate your reactions for the benefit of friends and family. But picking up the phone and ordering a pizza sends your body into fight or flight. Everyone says, "Just get over yourself. You want the pizza, just order the darn pizza," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're young and this adulting thing can be scary when you're just starting out. But it's really just a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. But fast forward a few years. Now you're thirty-eight years old and your kid has a birthday coming up and it's your job to call your kid's friends' parents and invite them to the party. But the mere thought of it makes you sick to your stomach. In fact, it makes you want to crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position, pull the quilt over your head, and not come out until even your kid has forgotten about the birthday. And because you are no longer a baby, you are no longer a kid, you are no longer a teenager, and you are no longer a young adult, there is no wise mentor to help you get through it. There is no one to tell you it's just a phase. Because it's not just a phase. At thirty-eight years old you have outgrown everything you're going to outgrow and what you're left with is simply who you are. And that thought turns your blood to ice water because you know those birthdays are going to keep coming and your responsibility for planning the parties is not going to go away and for the rest of your life you're going to feel this way because it's just who you are. And somehow you have to accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bullies, Serial Killers, and the Only David Lynch Movie My Husband Will Watch

No, Hubs, I'm Not a Serial Killer

It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.

What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:

"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"

"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."

(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"

(sigh) "You just don't get it!"

What Dexter is Really About

At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:

The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.

The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).

The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.

Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.

Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.

The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving

Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).

Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.

After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.

I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.

In Conclusion

So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.

In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone trust someone enough to show my true backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.

So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: August 2017

Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers.

I don't know where to start with this book. First I suppose I should say that this is probably the most well-written indie book I've read since I started doing these reviews. I think I found two typos in the entire book (I've read traditionally published books with more than that) and no grammatical errors whatsoever. There may have been a couple of instances of head-hopping, but only when the narrative stepped back from deep 3rd POV to a slightly more omniscient POV, and it was pulled off effectively so as not to come across as a newbie mistake. The author does an excellent job of "show, don't tell", pulling the reader deep into the psyches of the characters, particularly that of Brad the rooster.

But I'd be short-changing this book if I said it was the most well-written indie book I've read and left it there. Really, this is one of the most well-written books I've read period. Because the quality of the writing goes far beyond just style. This is an amazing story. A dark story. A frightening one. One that pulls you in deep and doesn't let you go. So much happens in this book, and the reader is left wondering, along with the character upon whom the final scene closes, "Why?" Why did it all happen? What went wrong.

The events of this story have layers upon layers of meaning. I wonder what the author's goal was in writing it. Is it a critique of society, using the social structure of the henhouse as a metaphor for our own lives. Is it therefore a warning against becoming so set in our ways that we can't accept new ideas? Or are we supposed to see it from the opposite point of view? Are we to blame Brad and his rebellious nature for the bad things that happen? Or perhaps the thing in the woods is meant to be the devil or some other equally ominous entity and the author's intent was to make us wonder whether evil originates in our own hearts or somewhere else. Do we let it in, or is in us from the beginning?

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while, and it's a refreshing change from the lighter sorts of stories I've been reading of late. I highly recommend this book.

Please grab a copy of this book and read it. You'll really be missing something great if you don't:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What I Learned When I Got My Photography Studio Up and Running Again

Completely Obsessed

I've written about photography a lot lately. It's not a new interest. When I graduated from college back in 2001 with a degree in Music Education, I was seriously considering abandoning my music career and applying for a job as an assistant to a local photographer, from whom I hoped to gradually learn the ins and outs of the trade and then branch out on my own somewhere down the road. Well, life had some other ideas in mind, but a considerable amount of photography has nonetheless been a part of whatever phase of life I've found myself in.

I'm finally getting serious about it now. Okay...yeah...I was serious about it back in my early twenties too, but at that time there was a heck of a lot I didn't know. And, more importantly, I didn't know I didn't know it. When you don't know something, you can learn. When you don't know you don't know something, you're stuck in one place. In my twenties I was stuck. Now, I'm able to move forward.

Trapped in the Last Century

If you've read my previous photography posts, you know I'm trying to save up the money for a digital camera. For the time being, I'm still shooting on 35mm. While I crave the versatility that digital photography will give me, still I'm grateful for the lessons learned while shooting film. Because if you can learn to consistently take good pictures on a film camera, you can take good pictures on any camera. And in my most recent experiment with studio photography, I learned a good deal.

Some Things I Learned

First of all, I learned that if your husband has a big gray beard and carries around a little extra weight, and you try to achieve a "film noir" look with your lighting setup, all your friends will think you're married to Orson Welles:

Also, if you're trying to emulate film noir and you want to get that cool hat brim shadow over the eyes, you need a hat with a bigger brim than the one we had:

Some lighting effects require three lamps. If you only have two, an accessory hot shoe flash pointed directly at your subject can provide an effective fill light:

I also threw my husband behind the camera so I could step out front for a while. The things you learn when you look at pictures of yourself are quite different from the things you learn photographing someone else. For instance:

Hard lighting (we were going for "film noir", remember) brings out every crease and wrinkle on your face:

Diffused lighting, on the other hand, does a lovely job of smoothing out unflattering lines:

When you're doing self-portraits, you can't see yourself, so make sure you ask the guy behind the camera (aka, the husband) to check your teeth for lipstick stains:

If you want a backlit image, be careful where you position your lights. If they are too close to the subject, it could have disastrous consequences. Oh...and wrinkles...yeesh! I swear it's just the lighting; I don't usually look like this. Really, I don't.

And finally, if you are a blue-eyed redhead and you put on loads of makeup (again, film noir) then open your eyes really wide for the camera:

You find you bear a startling resemblance to Lucille Ball:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does Every Story Have to Make a Social Statement?

Getting My Feathers Ruffled

I'll go ahead and be completely honest. This blog post is in reaction to a new review for Primogénito that came rolling in this week. The reviewer praised me for my realistic and sensitive depiction of PTSD, but went on to suggest that Damian's drive to overcome his victim status by trying to be the strong one and the protector in his marriage perpetuates long-held stereotypes of what men are supposed to be in our society. Hmm...more on that later.

An Opinionated Blogger

I've read over some of the other posts on that particular website, and the reviewer seems to be highly sensitive to gender stereotypes, kindly--and sometimes not so kindly--pointing them out wherever they can be found. Okay. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and everyone has certain things they want to see in a story. But does every story have to live up to that standard? Let's talk for a minute.

How My Background Colors My Stories

I admit, my first two books were written from the perspective of the traditional nuclear family. It's natural that I would write them this way. After all, it's what I've lived. I grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. My husband grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. Now, with our own kids, we are that stable home with two parents who have been married for 18 years and have no intention of getting divorced. So that model features prominently in a lot of what I write. Not that I'm trying to make that into a social statement. It's just the world I know, and we're all supposed to write what we know, right?

At the same time, though, I'm not married (pun intended) to the idea of writing about happy nuclear families. After all, Road to Yesterday is a story of four siblings whose parents have a long history of adultery and drug addiction, to the point that the two younger children end up being raised by their oldest brother. And of the four siblings, only one really has any goals involving a wife and kids and a cute house in the suburbs. So I am capable of stepping outside my own bubble and writing about something else. And since Road to Yesterday has gotten some nice reviews, I can conclude that I did an okay job writing outside the realm of my own personal experience.

Back to Primogénito to the idea that Damian's character perpetuates gender stereotypes. I have several thoughts on this.

First, I don't believe the reviewer's assessment was entirely accurate. One statement in the review was, "While I understood that he was trying to overcome his victim status and not let that define him, I wish these ideas could’ve been pushed further to avoid the typical stereotypes of what a man must be." The thing is, Damian does work through those emotions. At the beginning of the book, the biggest issue in his and Jenn's relationship is that he's never opened up to her about what happened to him. He's always suppressed his feelings on the subject around her, which has left her feeling excluded from a huge portion of his life. Then, half-way through the book, he finally opens up and tells her everything. And at the end we see him crying in her arms, allowing her to comfort him while he reveals his vulnerable side. If that isn't him learning to shed his preconceived notions of what a man should be, I don't know what is. This is just my own opinion, but it seems that "pushing further", as the reviewer suggested, would take these scenes from poignant to sappy, and no one wants to see that.

At the same time, though, I'm tempted to ask: So what if Damian carries around stereotypical notions of what it means to be a man? Can't that just be an aspect of who he is? After all, a lot of men go through life believing they are supposed to be the providers and the protectors. That they are supposed to be in control of their emotions. Some take it to an unhealthy extreme, but they are nevertheless a very real part of the world we live in. And maybe they do need to learn to let go of some of those preconceived notions, but the question I'm posing today is this: Does a story have to address those issues? After all, stories imitate life, and there are a lot of people in real life who never work through their issues. And a lot of people are happy just the way they are, whether they be stereotypical or atypical. Can't those things sometimes be presented in a story, even if the deeper issues involved are never probed?

Yes, if the main purpose of the story is to shake our worldview and make us look at things in a different way, then all issues must be explored. But I write paranormal fiction. My stories are about the mystery, the action, and the hint (or sometimes more than a hint) of creep factor. I'm not trying to change the world. I just want to provide entertainment.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return

Everybody's Got an Opinion

If you follow the online discussion of the new Twin Peaks, you know it can turn nasty in a heartbeat. Mainly it's the staunch fans of the new show complaining about those who dare to comment that they're not impressed. I thought I'd try to offer up a slightly more objective review.

Who's Loving The Return?

Twin Peaks: The Return is the David Lynch fan's dream come true. Every week a new hour of stunning Lynch cinematography and frightening Lynch strangeness. The more "normal" episodes--the ones featuring a cohesive story that actually makes sense in a conventional way--are reminiscent of Blue Velvet. These are usually followed by episodes which have something more of an Eraserhead feel to them. Then there are episodes that fall somewhere in between. I guess I'd call these the Mullholland Drive episodes.

It's the Eraserhead-esque installments which spark the most controversy amongst fans. Hard-core David Lynch fans think they're the best thing they've ever seen on the small screen. Fans who loved the original Twin Peaks but could basically pass on anything else Lynch ever put out into the world come to the end of these episodes with a general feeling of, "What the $@&# did I just watch?" And then both groups of fans head to the internet to battle it out.

My Thoughts

Since I have a mild interest in filmmaking, I do enjoy the more artsy episodes simply from a cinematography perspective. And as for the more mainstream episodes, well I'm certainly glad to finally know what happened to Agent Cooper. But that doesn't mean I think the new Twin Peaks is perfect.

Basically, Twin Peaks: The Return is not Twin Peaks. Not really. What was the original show about? The town of Twin Peaks, of course. It was a show about a quaint little town with a bunch of quirky residents doing some very odd things. The new show does have its fair share of quirky characters, but the majority of the action has been taken out of the town of Twin Peaks. This is certainly not what fans were expecting when their favorite show returned after a nearly thirty year hiatus.

Twin Peaks was about trees. It was about spooky things happening in the woods and owls which were not what they seemed. Where are the trees and the woods and the owls in the new Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks was a soap opera. Remember on the original show how everyone was always sitting at home watching the same daytime soap which happened to correlate pretty well with what was actually going on in the town? This was a concept which originally appeared in Blue Velvet. Jeffrey's mother and aunt are always shown sitting in their perfect suburban house watching a movie which showcases the dark underbelly of society. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is out discovering that same dark underbelly in the real world. In Blue Velvet it was some film noir flick that was always on the TV because what was happening just out of sight was a real-life version of film noir. On Twin Peaks it was a soap opera because that was what everyone's lives had become. Everyone was married, but having an affair with someone else. There were the two rich families, the Packards and the Hornes, who between the two of them owned pretty much the whole town. Soap fans will recognize this plot device. Remember the Lewises and the Spauldings on Guiding Light? The Newmans and the Abbots on The Young and the Restless? That concept was applied to the original Twin Peaks, but is missing from The Return.

Finally, Twin Peaks was about coffee and donuts and cherry pie. I think I've seen one donut on The Return, I can't remember anyone eating pie, and Agent Cooper is the only person who drinks coffee. Yes, these are minor details, but they are minor details which played a pretty big role on the original show, and I miss them.

In Conclusion

By all means watch the new Twin Peaks, but watch it expecting something completely new and original. Don't expect a continuation of your favorite nineties prime-time drama, because that's not what it is.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: July 2017

Under Midnight Lights by Bree M. Lewandowski. It should come as no surprise that I chose this one. It is the sequel to Under Winter Lights, which was my pick for my first ever Indie Book of the Month back in January. I knew I wanted to read the second installment, and I hoped Ms. Lewandowski would return to submit it so I could feature it as another book of the month, so when she did my choice was obvious.

The first book in this series took me by surprise by making me love a romance novel. It was able to do that by being much more than just a sweet love story. It's also the story of a young dancer fighting for her career. As it did in the first installment, ballet takes center stage in this book. I loved reading all the details about rehearsals and performances. I even enjoyed reading about the costume fittings. Having started ballet lessons late in life (my mid-thirties) I have a rudimentary understanding of the art form. Just enough to be fascinated by all the detailed descriptions in this series. While the first book focused on The Nutcracker, a ballet I think we're all familiar with, this one mentioned ballets I'd never heard of before, and I'm not ashamed to say I looked a few of them up on YouTube.

As for the romance itself, that part of it was also wrapped up in the dance aspects of the story. Should Martina follow her dreams or follow her heart? Or is it possible to do both? Does a relationship with Maraav mean having to leave her first love, ballet, behind? She struggles with this question all through the book, and without giving away too much, I can say that I found the ending quite satisfying.

Again, I can't recommend these books heartily enough, and can't wait to see what's next for this author.

The book is available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finding Inspiration In the Oddest Places

Not Really a New Thing

Fiction has always inspired me. Books. Movies. TV shows. And I don't just mean it inspires me to write my own stories. It inspires me in my daily life. Delving deep into the lives of a cluster of fictional characters awakens in me a desire to make my own life, and the lives of those around me, a little better.

This has always been the case. In fact, in the past I've gone out of my way to read books and watch TV shows which I thought would spur me on to greater contentment in my life. What I've discovered is that this kind of thing can't be forced. I can't go looking for inspiration. It has to find me. And sometimes it finds me in the most surprising places.

The Inspiration I Never Saw Coming

I've recently been watching Six Feet Under. Talk about a show that should not have inspired me to do anything! I mean, the whole premise of the show centers around a seriously messed up family full of messed up people living messed up lives. These characters go through some truly awful crap, and they don't usually do the best job of handling their responses to all the awful crap they have to go through. What about these characters could possibly inspire me?

The answer is that, while the characters' lives are significantly more complicated than the average person's life, they're all going through things that, on a certain level, I can identify with. And while their reactions are often far from saintly, sometimes they see the light and they do the right thing. Or at least they want to do the right thing, whether it works out for them in the end or not. And this constant struggle to figure out the complexities of life makes me want to get my own affairs in order so that maybe I won't have to go through all the strife the people on this show experience.

Finding the Best In Everyone

I don't really have a favorite character on Six Feet Under, which is odd for me. Normally at the top of my list of criteria for liking a show is finding a character I just can't get enough of. Okay...normally it means finding an attractive male character I can fangirl. Don't judge me.

This show is different. I'm involved in all of their stories. And while they all make decisions which have tragic consequences that I can see coming from a mile away, still I can sympathize and identify with each and every character. It's like my personality has been shattered, and the fractured pieces fell into this show, each one showing up as a different character. There seems to be a little bit of me in each of them, so when they struggle to find meaning in their lives, it mirrors my own struggles.

Brenda: I probably identify with her the least, but I can understand her feelings of unworthiness. I understand what she's feeling when she wonders whether she deserves to be happy. Seeing her finally take control of her life in the final seasons gives me hope. If she can do it, anyone can.

Nate: Another character I don't strongly identify with, but still he inspires me. He goes from being completely lost to finding satisfaction in the day to day tasks of being a father and a husband. Again, if he can do it, anyone can.

Lisa: What a beautiful character. She is not so much a reflection of who I am as she is a reflection of who I want to be. She has a quiet strength to her that I can only hope to aspire to. She knows who she is and she lives her life in accordance with her own convictions.

Ruth: Ruth suffers an identity crisis after her husband's death, and her quest to find herself is something I think a lot of people have experienced. What inspires me about her is that through it all she hangs on to the belief that the most important things in her life are the people she loves.

David: Boy howdy, do I ever identify with this character. His lack of self-confidence, his fear of speaking up for himself, his worry that he'll never be truly loved for who he is mirrors my own struggles to accept myself and establish my place in the world. He inspires me by holding onto his faith in God throughout all the suffering he endures on the show.

Claire: Claire is the other character I can relate to the most. If David represents the outward part of me, Claire represents the part that I hold inside, afraid to show to the world. I share her creative spirit and her desire to live her life in search of beauty. But while Claire openly embraces her artist identity, I have a tendency to hide mine away. Art is such a personal thing, it's hard to put it out in the world for all to see. Claire has no qualms about putting herself out there, and she inspires me to do the same.

What Have I Been Inspired to Do?

Ruth has inspired me to spend more quality time with my husband and children. Lisa has inspired me to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Claire has inspired me to see beauty in everything, and to make sure I capture some of that beauty in an artistic way. I don't know that the other characters have motivated me to any specific action, but they have all taught me to keep pressing forward. To look for the good even when life seems to be showing me the bad.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do People Mistrust Introverts?

A Common Perception?

My husband and I have been binge-watching Dexter lately. We have made it to the fourth season, and Dexter is now married to Rita. A huge chunk of Dexter's time in season four is devoted to finding some precious alone-time in the midst of an overwhelming amount of marital bliss. The implication, of course, is that serial killers are all loners and since Dexter is a serial killer he needs to spend an unusual amount of time alone.

Hitting a Little Too Close to Home

It seems to be a common stereotype: that there's something unhealthy or even creepy about spending too much time alone. There's that whole "it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for" mentality that seems to be, well, everywhere. You see it a lot on TV. The guy who lives alone and keeps to himself turns out to have a freezer full of human entrails which he plans to cook and serve at the restaurant where he works. There's also the "crazy cat lady" stereotype. You know, the woman who was too nuts to be able to keep a husband, so now she lives alone in her cat-pee soaked house and knits all day. Oh yeah, and when one of her cats dies she has it stuffed so she can put it beside her bed and look at it while she falls asleep at night. There are other "loner" stereotypes out there, but I won't name them all. I'm sure your mind will be able to fill in the blanks on its own.

What bothers me about this is that I'm one of those loners. I was the kid who was always in my room playing by myself. So much so that my mom and my grandma would sit together and speak in hushed tones about how unhealthy it was for me to always be by myself in my room with the door closed. I think it was the closed door that raised the most red flags with my family. Not that I was doing anything my parents wouldn't have approved of. I was really a pretty well-behaved child. But they assumed I must be up to no good if I needed to hide what I was doing from everybody else.

The truth is I was just an incredibly private person. I didn't want my parents to see me dancing in front of my mirror to my favorite song. I didn't want them to catch me re-reading a favorite chapter from one of my favorite books for the hundredth time. I didn't want an audience while I experimented for hours on end with new hairstyles. I wanted to do all that stuff far away from the prying eyes of my family and anyone else who might be looking.

An Introvert For Life

I still value that level of privacy. I usually try to be the first one up in the my house in the morning so I can enjoy an hour or so of blessed alone time. What do I do with this alone time? Sometimes I check my Facebook feed. Sometimes I watch television. I might read. Or write. Or squeeze in a little exercise. It doesn't matter what I'm doing. The point is I want to do it alone. I need to do it alone. If I can't have at least a little bit of time in the day to be alone, it makes me feel crazy.

Society's Reaction

Have you ever been in a group of people that included an introvert? Chances are you have. They're everywhere, after all. Have you ever seen that introvert go off and sit in some quiet place all alone? Again, chances are you have. What is your initial reaction when that happens? Do you assume the person is upset or angry with you? Do you feel an obligation to go talk to that person because obviously no one actually wants to sit alone when there's comradery to be had?

Don't get me wrong...sometimes people do excuse themselves from a group because they are feeling sad, or because someone said something they found offensive. Sometimes the person sitting alone actually is hoping you'll come over and try to talk it out. But, speaking as an introvert, I can tell you right now that most if the time if I'm sitting by myself I'm just enjoying the beautiful surroundings and taking a moment to get lost in my own thoughts. And, for me personally, if I really were upset you wouldn't see me sitting by myself because I'd probably be locked in a bathroom or tucked out of sight in some other safe place where no one could see me cry. Because, again, I'm a private person and I don't want the world watching all of that.

What do you think? Does society view introverts with suspicion, or am I just overreacting to something I saw on TV?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Overused Trope I Just Can't Get Enough Of

Not Everyone Will Agree With Me

One of the few scathing reviews I've read of the Harry Potter books slammed them for basically telling a "chosen one" story, claiming that that particular plot device has been used so many times no one wants to read about it anymore. I, and quite a few other Harry Potter fans, beg to differ. If done well, the chosen one trope can make for some pretty good entertainment.

I loved Harry Potter. Okay, so those books have a good deal more to recommend them than just the fact that they involve a "chosen one". World-building being at the top of that list. But I still like the chosen one aspect of the story. I also liked that aspect of The Matrix, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Ender's Game, and the list goes on.

Figuring Out an Ongoing Mystery

I've written multiple times that seasons 1 and 2 are my favorite seasons of Supernatural. Now I think I'm finally figuring out the primary reason why. It's because in the first two seasons of the show, Sam is the chosen one. Everything bad that's happening to the brothers is all about Sam. He was born with an important destiny. Okay, so the same idea was used throughout seasons 4 and 5 as well, but it was different. It wasn't just Sam who had the great destiny. It was Dean as well. It was like the writers felt sorry for Dean because Sam got so much attention in the first two seasons, so they gave him some great important task to complete so he wouldn't get jealous. Well it didn't work for me. There can only be one chosen one. After season 2, Sam was no longer the only one who was special, and I didn't care for that.

A Lifelong Attraction to the Trope

Maybe it's my Christian upbringing. After all, I've spent my life going to church once a week to celebrate the world's most famous chosen one. And Jesus is not the only story in the Bible of someone who was destined for greatness from the day he was born. There's also David. And Moses. Samuel. Isaac. Again, the list goes on and on. So maybe my love of these types of stories comes from my belief that God has a plan. That he calls us to do great things in the world.

I could also be wishing that I had some important destiny awaiting me, so when I see that destiny achieved, by someone who in the beginning is just an average guy, in a book or movie, I get to live vicariously through that character and that feels good. Who knows. I just know I like it.

My Own Version of It

I think this comes out to some degree in my own writing. Though I've never written the "reluctant hero saves the world" trope, still the heroes in my stories are the only people who are able to resolve the conflict. David in Amelia's Children is the only one who can solve the murder mystery because he has a psychic connection to the killer. Damian has to be the one who defeats the bad guys in Primogénito because he is the firstborn son of a firstborn son, and that is how the magic is passed down in his family. Road to Yesterday may deviate from this format a bit, but still there's the idea that the entire purpose of Alex's life is to save the life of his brother in the wake of a devastating car accident. Of course, the ending goes off in a slightly different direction, but the hint of the chosen one trope is still there.

So there you have it. My dark little literary secret. Do you have one of your own? I'd love to read about it in a comment.