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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Made 70s Movies Look So 70s? Part 2: Some Answers!

Years of Wondering

I encourage you to read the previous post I wrote on this topic, where I discussed everything I already knew about 70s movies, but lamented that there was this whole set of information out there that I had been unable to find. Basically, my lingering questions revolved around the use of cameras and film. Was there something different about the shooting process in the 70s that gave the movies their distinctive look? I had done numerous Google searches which had all turned up nothing. Then I finally stumbled upon some real answers.

Finding the Correct Search Words

I had googled every conceivable combination of words related to 70s cinema. Or at least I thought I had. But then one day I decided to type in "70s cinematography", something I hadn't thought to search before. One of the first links which showed up was this one. I'm linking to it because it contains a lot more detail than I'm ready to provide here. After all, I'm not an expert on the subject, and I don't want to put wrong information out there. Just follow the link, then scroll down to the response by David Mullen, and there you will find information about 70s movies that you never knew you wanted to know.

It Was the Film After All

No, it wasn't just the film that gave 70s movies their "look". If you read that earlier post, you'll know about some other trends that were popular in the cinematography world during that decade. But, as I stated in that article, those trends did not explain everything I was noticing about 70s movies. There was more going on, and most of it related to the film stock itself. Here are just a few things I've found.

The Death of Technicolor

Do you know what Technicolor was? Or were you like me? Did you grow up hearing that word, and seeing it in the credits of old movies, but never had a clue what it actually meant? If you already know this information, just ignore me while I show off my previous ignorance. For those of you who are just like me, keep reading. It's pretty fascinating.

Technicolor was not just a fancy term filmmakers applied to movies shot in color. It was a very specific process for making a movie. Here's an interesting link to some basic information about what Technicolor was. My understanding, and true film nerds can correct me if I get any of this wrong, is that the process employed special cameras which recorded three different light beams, one red, one blue, and one green, onto three different reels of black and white film. Then the three films were processed and made into three black and white prints. Then the prints were colored with dye which corresponded with the color light they recorded. Finally the three different color films were layered on top of each other to create a color movie.

My mind was blown. They were making color movies on black and white film? How did I never know that? How many other people out there never knew that? Does anyone who is not a filmmaker or a colossal nerd know that? Anyway, it's just about the coolest thing I've ever read. Even surpassing my amazement when I finally found out how filmmakers synced the soundtrack to the film reel, and that blew my mind too, I must say.

So Technicolor had a certain look to it. It is often referred to as "glorious Technicolor" because of the vivid hues the process was able to produce on a movie screen. But Technicolor, it seems, was crazy expensive and a royal pain in the butt. So when Kodak started putting out color film stock which looked just as good, or almost as good, as Technicolor, the process was gradually abandoned, much as shooting movies on actual film has gradually been abandoned in the past fifteen years. A big difference is that real film (or reel film, if you like cheesy puns!) has a huge entourage comprised of people who are determined not to let it die. Technicolor had no such following, and so the process was discontinued in the mid-seventies.

So my new theory, and I could be wrong because I have not had time to watch all the movies I think may be examples of this, is that the 70s movies which have that "look" I'm talking about were shot on the new color film stock, and therefore were not Technicolor. I have plans to investigate this further, but it takes time to watch all those movies, and then research which film stock and what kind of camera was used. So stay tuned. I may have more information on this topic later.

Lower Lighting

Remember that discussion thread I linked to at the top of the post? It goes into quite a bit of detail about the lighting conditions a lot of filmmakers were experimenting with in the seventies. Not that low key lighting was a new thing. Film noir had been playing around with light and shadow for decades, but 70s movies were not film noir. They were just dark. And part of that has to do with the fact that people were shooting in lower lighting than was recommended for the type of film they were using. Basically, what you see in a lot of movies from this decade is underexposed film. I had suspected this for years, but could not find confirmation of my suspicions until my serendipitous Google search a couple of weeks ago.

The Evolution of Color Film

Before the seventies, most color movies were shot in Technicolor, which made color film stock a relatively new trend. So 70s movies looked different from 60s movies primarily for that reason. But the companies that made the film stock were constantly perfecting the process and putting out new products, each of which had their own look. So by the time the eighties rolled around, color cinematography had come a long way and the movies had a different look than those which had come out just a few years before.

Still Learning

So this is my best understanding of 70s cinema. If I've gotten anything wrong, or if I've left out any important details (because I'm not aware of those details), please leave a comment and let me know. I'm always open to learning more about this fascinating topic.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: June 2017

What reviewing indie books has taught me again and again is the need to put aside my preconceived notions of what I like to read and to open my mind to something new. The first book I reviewed on this blog was a romance. I was happily reveling in my identity as Someone Who Does Not Like Romance when a little book about a ballerina took me by surprise. Then a couple of months later I fell head-over-heels in love with a cozy mystery, a genre I had always considered too light and formulaic for my taste. Over and over again these indie books have made me revise my concept of What I Like to Read.

This time it was an urban fantasy with...gulp...vampires and werewolves. I almost rejected it outright just from reading the blurb, but my submission policy clearly states that I will at least read the sample chapters before making a decision. I wasn't expecting much. So many people have come along, in the aftermath of Twilight, trying to write the vampire/werewolf story, that I was sure nothing original could come out of the genre, but I was wrong. This month's book proved me wrong.

The Book:

Once Lost Lords by Stephan Morse.

I've stated in the past that it is often the world-building that draws me into a story. This book established its world in the very first paragraph. The very first sentence, actually, with the mention of elves and their tendency to form addictions. So while I was skeptical about reading a book featuring mythical humanoid beings, I knew from the start that this one had something different to offer.

Characters are the second thing that will hook me on a book, and I admit I liked Jay from the start. It was weird. I don't normally fall for the rugged, rough around the edges type, but there was something about him that caught my attention. It made me want to keep reading. To find out more. What's his backstory? What makes him tick? And what were the details of the frightening situation with his vampire ex-girlfriend that made him leave town and stay away for four years? I needed to know, so I read on and was not disappointed with where that line of questioning took me.

I'm also a sucker for a good mystery, so Jay's quest to find out who or what he is became my quest as well. I was a little disappointed that those answers were not fully explained in this book, but it just makes me curious to read the next installment.

So if you're looking for an urban fantasy that contains everything that made Twilight so popular, without relying on the worn-out tropes that made us all sick of Twilight after just a couple of years, check out this book. It is available on Amazon.