How to Come Down from a Conference High

Tim, Lisa, Kathrese, & I just returned from Realm Makers. Next month a couple of others will be attending the ACFW conference. ‘Tis the (conference) season. So what do you do when you get home to come down from the conference high?

If you’re lucky, your firstborn will start football and junior high while your second born starts the “big kids'” elementary school. Bonus if it’s the junction of first of the month (status reports) and critical project milestones. Nothing like the outside world to pierce your enthusiasm like an arrow through a hot air balloon.

Even if your week is a bit nuts and especially if you have time to ease back in, do a few things to keep the spirit alive.

1. Post pictures on social media

You get to see the conference all over again. Also it allows you to tag people while your memory is fresh. This helps keep you in the loop.

2. Post highlights on social media

Same reason and purpose as above. If time is limited, set specific times or do this when you have down time.

3. Blog about it

Yes, everyone and their mascots will be writing them too. You may not get many views but then again you might. If nothing else, you have a record of your time there.

4. Make a to do list

Did you have appointments? If so, follow up with the materials each person requested. If the person you met with wasn’t interested, send a thank you anyway. They took their time to meet with you. It never hurts to be gracious.

Gather the business cards you received and enter them into your contacts list. Correspond with anyone who might not have your information. Organize your class notes.

You’re all rejuvenated and ready to write. Set goals and get to work. That’s why you spent the money to go.

Now I’m off to fill out permission slips and emergency contact forms.

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What is it about Star Wars?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The title alone is enough to stir excitement in even the most complacent person. This Christmas season we are treated with the much awaited addition to the popular franchise!

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_Poster

As a science fiction/fantasy writer and Star Wars obsessor, I’m fascinated with what is causing the masses to flock to the theatres to take in the newest instalment in the franchise. Even after a couple disappointments with a few of the earlier Star Wars movies (Jar Jar Binks? Seriously?), I’m as loyal as any other Star Wars Fan. I have booked my seat for this Sunday and will be spending outrageous amounts for popcorn and a drink like everyone else.

Let’s take a look at the new captains at the helm.

J.J. Abrams (born in 1966) was a very impressionable 11-year-old when the first Star Wars movie came out. When he became a movie producer, his love for action and science fiction was obvious, taking into account a few of his movies in the past: Armageddon (1998), Mission Impossible (2006) and the Star Trek movies (2009 and 2013). He was also the co-creator of several t.v. drama series including Lost (2004 – 2010), and Fringe (2005 – 2013). He was nominated for seven Emmy awards, winning two for Lost. A rather successful young man, to say the least.

Then there’s Disney, no less! They bought the franchise from Lucas Films in 2012, and have thrown millions to promote this blockbuster, which Lucas Films and J.J. Abram’s company, Bad Robot, produced. Already the movie has received high ratings: Roger Ebert – 3.5/4. Rotten Tomatoes – 97%. The film is predicted to rake in over a billion dollars!

What I like about it is that J.J. Abrams took the same recipe that made the first movie incredibly popular, reshaped it a little, then added a few new faces who are similar to our first beloved characters. You have the resistance-affiliated droid (BB 8) carrying important information, stranded in the desert destined to meet the ‘nobody’ character (Ray) who is also jedi-obsessed. Instant chemistry, right? The galaxy is in disarray with two growing armies, the resistance and an evil army, headed for a war. There is non-stop action, a smattering of swashbuckling humour, and even our favourites, Han Solo, Chewie and Leia are there, ready to take us on a ride again!

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So, aside from the fact that the guys in charge are worth their salt and are using the same time-tested formula again, you have a movie with many popular elements that have been used forever (mythology/hero’s journey, epic characters, inspiring futuristic sci/fi). Stunning CGI from beginning to end, glues you to your seat, and an equally amazing orchestral score from the genius, John Williams, provides more for the senses to submerge you into the atmosphere and story. Complex and thought provoking issues like totalitarian rule, segregation, slavery, racism, gender equality spice it up.  And then you get a happy ending where the good guys win despite the incredible odds against them. We have also been long fascinated with the possibility of life beyond our stars, and here it is, with crazy creatures, liveable atmospheres on many planets and ways to get there and back in a nanosecond. What’s not to like?

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So why am I over-the-top excited about this movie? It takes me back to being a kid again, and who doesn’t love that? I’m eager to jump back on the emotional and visual roller coaster I’ve experienced in the past and will likely go back to see it again a few times, (more than my kids, I’ll wager).

So… are you going to the new Star Wars movie? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Like Fantasy

Fantasy. The genre is as old as Homer’s Odyssey, can be found in every culture throughout history, and has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in modern times. I am not a fan.

michelespaintshop.com

michelespaintshop.com

Legions of writers love to create otherworlds. I don’t. As a writer, the idea of building a completely different world from the one I’m familiar with exhausts me.

I can picture my Scriblerian spec writer buddies shaking their heads and mourning my misguided prejudices. GEKE especially. Creating her Salters’ world energizes her to the point that I’ve nicknamed her Hammie after the hyperactive squirrel in the movie Over the Hedge.

What is it about fairies and fey? Dragons and dwarfs? Monsters and myths?

ilportalesegreto.blogspot.com

ilportalesegreto.blogspot.com

My guess is that the human soul longs to see a world where good and evil are easily discerned. Yes, even when the evil witch disguises herself as a beautiful queen, or the pure princess has been trapped in the ugly, filthy image of a goblin by a wicked wizard, the reader has been provided with hints that all is not as it seems.

Real life is murky, no obvious lines dividing right and wrong. Misted paths of evil and good diffuse together, and we can’t always be sure  we’ve chosen the right direction.

photo by Ian Furst

photo by Ian Furst

Those are the stories I love to read. And to write. Characters in a world like my own, striving to do good, making mistakes, searching for meaning in life, seeking eternal life. Secular literature points the way toward goodness, something that all of creation instinctively recognizes when they meet it. Christian writers point the reader toward Christ.

I offer a list.

Authors whose books I can’t wait to get my hands on, both secular and Christian:

Ann Tatlock, Kate Morton, Jamie Langston Turner, Ann Patchett, Michelle Stimpson.

Favorite children’s authors:

Kate di Camillo, Madeleine L’Engle, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Other favorite authors:

Leon Uris, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Berg

Wait a minute. C.S. Lewis? Madeleine L’Engle? Kate di Camillo? Aren’t some of their books in the fantasy section of the bookstore? I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia over and over. The Wrinkle in Time trilogy can be labeled science fiction, but L’Engle still had to create other worlds to make the stories work. And how come Shadow Castle was my favorite book as a younger reader?

Did I say I don’t like fantasy?

Never mind.

Saturday Night Live's Roseanne Roseannadanna

Saturday Night Live’s Roseanne Roseannadanna

Magic and Mystery: Between Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Disney

Disney Princesses

Disney Princesses

Have you noticed there’s a “princess craze” gripping the entire globe for the last couple of years? My granddaughters have a bin filled with Cinderella, Elsa , Anna, Aurora, and Ariel princess gowns and more. I lose track of all the princess names.

Little girls love to dress up as royalty. Princesses are beautiful, kind, and good. They can sing and dance so gracefully. And everyone knows that good kings adore their daughters and will bless them with all sorts of good things.

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As a little girl, I wanted to be a princess, too. I read the same fairy tales over and over, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and then—

I discovered Shadow Castle.

Shadow Castle

Shadow Castle was almost twenty years old when I first read it, and I lost count of how many times I delved into the book devouring it from cover to cover. Marian Cockrell filled her story with fairy princes and princesses, goblins and witches. Beautiful creatures were good inside and out, ugly creatures were evil.

Like Alice in Wonderland, a little girl (Lucy) follows a dog (instead of a rabbit) into a tunnel (instead of a rabbit hole) and discovers a magical world. She meets a young man named Michael who shows her around his castle. In the top room of the tower, one can sit and watch shadows moving about, shadows that belong to people in the land of the fairies. Michael points out various shadows and tells Lucy their stories.

I was enchanted. Three fairy tales in one. Gossamer gowns, fancy balls, evil villains, courageous heroes. And mystery. When would Shadow Castle return to its rightful place? And why was Michael the only person living in this magical land?

by katiejo911.deviantart.com

by katiejo911.deviantart.com

The book disappeared into that black hole of childhood discarded. When I decided I wanted to read it again and review it, no library near me owned a copy, but it has been reprinted. So I dug into my pockets and bought it. And read it.

Alas, I have grown up. The reviews on Amazon reflected my own disappointment. So many of us had loved the story as children, but as adults? Meh.

First published in 1945, Shadow Castle is written in the style of a fairy tale with some twentieth century language tossed in. Bestselling authors don’t write like that anymore, not for adults, not for children. But if you have a daughter who adores the Disney princess films and accompanying books, she will probably love the stories of Mika and Gloria, Robin and Bluebell, Flame and Foam.

by miracleshappen13.blogspot.com

by miracleshappen13.blogspot.com

Magic and mystery. Good versus evil. Happily ever after. Let our children dream for a little while.

P.S. Can you find the very obscure clue I tucked into this post that is the key to Shadow Castle’s mystery?

The Problems With Computer Generated Images

While the credits rolled up the screen and the epic music roared in our ears, we shuffled out of the theatre. Rotten tomatoes, my favourite movie review site had given the sci/fi a solid 75% which was actually pretty good, hence our presence in the crowd.

I was struck by the computer-generated images during the movie. It was as if the producers were saying “Look what we can do now, and we can also do this… and THIS!” I yet again wondered how in this galaxy were we going to top what I just saw….. Buuuuut, that was the first and last thought I had of the movie. The adrenaline rush subsided quickly as it would have after a roller coaster ride, and there I was discussing what groceries we needed to pick up on the way home.

Seriously, am I the only one who feels cheated when I’m not rehashing the plot’s twists and turns, mourning that I won’t see my beloved characters until movies 2 and 3, or marveling at how the screen writer caused us to have a closer look at our own lives?


 

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It just so happened that I recently went to another movie called Ex_Machina that delivered on all the above. It had received a 92% from Rotten Tomatoes and I figured that deserved another try.

Well, it was well worth the admission, popcorn, drink, and my Kit Kat bites. Here is the summary:

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test-charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated–and more deceptive–than the two men could have imagined.

The movie had me guessing all the way through, and had me more or less stumped. Which is what I love! It reminded me of my all time favourite old classic, The Sting where the audience was stung, not the actors. The CGI was present, but was only there as background effects for the story. The movie was intelligent and thought provoking and I’m still rehashing the plot when I wake up at night. And best yet, there were only 3 main characters, jostling for dominance.

The movie brought forth the question of responsibility when creating artificial intelligence, and sparked a host of interesting discussions at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I can be entertained with some impressive effects, but to be truly worth my time, I need more than that.

CGI has become an impressive tool in the movie-makers’ hands, but sometimes at the cost of good old fashioned character development, interesting plots and thought provoking themes.

Now its your turn. What are your thoughts on CGI?

How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.