Monday, December 31, 2012


In my current work, The War of the Worlds and Fairies, fairies cross over from their realm to ours pretty much at will. 


Their realm is called Faerie, pronounced FAY-uh-ree.  What surprises me is a lot of contemporary fantasy writers use the word in an archaic sense, where it denotes an individual fairy.  But I’m pretty sure that men like Tolkien and Lewis used Faerie to mean the realm itself. 

Which brings us to the main characteristic about fairies:  Whether they have wings or not, whether they are our size or not, they must be from a different realm.  This realm may be far off geographically, or as in my story, it coexists with ours.  

Here is how Ashley, my main character, describes it (our realm is the Mundane): 

Yet so vain are the people of the Earth, and so blinded by vanity, that no writer up to the very end of the nineteenth century expressed any idea that intelligent life might have developed on Mars at all, or indeed beyond our earthly level of intelligence.  Such a realization should not have taxed the imagination of either man or fairy, since the realm of Faerie had so recently discovered the realm of the Mundane, and the Mundane the Faerie:  The Faerie a realm of silver webs and golden pixie dust, the Mundane a realm of steam engines and cold iron.  Why should it be so hard to realize intelligent life existed on a different world? 

I’ll have more posts on the fairies in the future on this blog.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Presents

Happy St. Stephen’s Day 

 My presents (lit by dragon fire or a Martian heat ray) included: 

-The Thorin key, which will be handy if I ever come across a certain Lonely Mountain on Durin’s Day. 

-The soundtrack to The Hobbit.  The dwarves’ folk song on the Misty Mountains is stunning.  Tolkien, of course, knew what folk songs were like when he penned the lyrics.  Now, people who have a true sensitivity to that art have put it to music.  You can listen to a sample here. 

-The book is The Martian War by Kevin J. Anderson.  It’s his retelling of The War of The Worlds.  If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’m doing a mashup of the same story. 

I became aware of Anderson’s version after I started writing my own, and I knew I would have to get it at some point.  That does NOT mean I wanted to copy ideas, just the opposite:  It’s important that I don’t write a scene that looks just like a scene in Anderson’s version.  Since his does not have fairies, that’s fairly unlikely.  And—just to be official—I will not read Anderson’s version until I have finished the first draft of my own. 

This is an important concept:  Have enough confidence in your own writing that you know you will not copy if you read something similar.  This does not just apply to mashups—if you’ve written a science fiction novel about space battles, read something by John Hemry.  If you’ve written a historical fantasy set in ancient Greece or Rome, find one of those to read.  Benefit from the experience, but make sure none of your scenes accidentally look too similar. 

Anderson originally published The Martian War some years ago under a pen name, so I didn’t know how hard I would have to search for a copy.  Fortunately for me, it’s been reprinted—and with this nice cover.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Miss Venezuela

What did she say?  Remember, Miss Venezuela chose to speak in English. 

I think that any leys there are in Constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar, or, eh, in our lives as is this. For example, I'm a surfer, and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only, eh, law that we can do. Thank you Vegas!

She didn’t win.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review of The Hobbit

If you really must see every movie based on Tolkien’s novels, then see The Hobbit.  Most other people can give this a pass.  The Hobbit is a big disappointment after seeing The Lord of the Rings.

(But not really.  You must already know that Middle-Earth has elves, dwarves, wizards, etc.)

What weakens The Hobbit the most are irritating attempts to bring in actors we’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings.  This has the effect of making The Hobbit less of a story in its own right, and more like an expensive piece of fan fiction.  Especially in the latter part of the movie, Bilbo feels like a minor character.

The desperate attempt to make the this movie look like just a missing piece of The Lord of the Rings starts with an unnecessary prologue where Frodo appears.  As to why prologues are unwise, see Kristin Nelson’s vlog on the subject.  For The Hobbit, everything before the words “An Unexpected Journey” appear on the screen should have been cut.  It should start with Bilbo sitting around, enjoying the air, when Gandalf walks up to him.

Another excuse comes from the end of the book, where Gandalf makes a short reference to how the White Council drove out a fellow named the Necromancer.  This becomes a major part of the movie, so the dwarves end up seeming like puppets who have no idea how they are being manipulated as part of a more important plan.

As for the rest of the movie, it has a slow plot, punctuated by battle scenes.  In particular, the underground battle scene with the goblins looks like impossible CGI animation, to the point of silliness.

I may be biased, having read The Hobbit eleven times, but the best parts of the movie are where they stick closely to the book:

The unexpected party, where the dwarves almost eat Bilbo out of hearth and home.

The folk song of the dwarves“We must away, ere break of day”—which tempts Bilbo to go on the quest.   

Bilbo’s distress over not having any pocket handkerchiefs on the journey.

The ethereal, elvish beauty of Rivendell.

Bilbo’s sparing of Gollum, when he could easily have killed him.

An awesome scene involving eagles—if you don’t know which side they’re on, they are really scary.

So if you do see The Hobbit, despite my criticisms, you’ll have some gems to take away with you.  And if you agree or disagree, please leave a comment.

Just be polite when you comment

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trailer for Mortal Instruments

The trailer for Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is out, and it is a beaut! 

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Fairies may be the next big thing.  Vampires and werewolves have had an astonishing run, and will continue to have respectable chunks of the market, but fairies are coming on strong. 

So this is a strategic time to reveal the nature of Ashley, the main character in my reimagining of The War of the Worlds that I’m currently writing.  I’ve been somewhat coy, revealing that Ashley has wings, without saying what she is.  The reimagining will be The War of the Worlds and Fairies, and Ashley is a fairy who has crossed over into our Mundane realm and become human-sized.   

I’ll have more on the nature of fairies in future posts.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Argo

Argo by Antonio Mendez is his true account of strategic points of his career at the CIA, interspersed with moments from his exfiltration of Americans from Iran, popularized in the recent movie of the same name. 

His career began inauspiciously, as a young artist recruited by the CIA—he had never heard of the CIA before!  Mendez and similar people in the agency used their talents to forge passports and other documents to infiltrate and exfiltrate people to and from foreign countries.  They became so good at it, they would visit Moscow to see if their latest techniques would work! 

For those of you haven’t seen the movie, during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981, several Americans were held hostage at the American embassy in Iran.  What the world did not know was that six of the Americans had escaped and were hiding in the private homes of Canadian diplomats.  Mendez had to go in there and get them out, knowing that any minute now the Iranians would put together documents that had been ineffectively shredded at the embassy and figure out these six were somewhere out there. 

The crazy idea he had was to pretend they were a movie crew scouting out locations for a science fiction movie named Argo.  He reasoned that only Hollywood types would be so crazy as to visit Iran during a hostage crisis, so it would make sense.  No fiction movie would be so audacious, but this is a true story. 

For those of you who have seen the movie, the book does not have as many action scenes.  Much of the tension came from standing or sitting around, trying to look convincing while hoping the Iranian guards would not figure them out and haul them away.  Other times, they combine together different incidents.  For instance, the movie shows a scene at an Iranian bazaar where the six are surrounded by shouting Iranians.  This did not happen to these particular six, but to a different group of six Americans who also escaped the embassy, went the opposite direction down the street, and were surrounded and returned to the embassy. 

In an interview, Antonio Mendez said that Ben Affleck, who played him in the movie, was spot on.  Did he succeed in getting the six Americans out?  Watch the movie or buy the book.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Red Dawn

If you liked the first Red Dawn, you’ll probably like the new version.  If you didn’t like the first one, you’ll probably won’t like this year’s version. 

photo by Ronald Woan

The main difference is the 1984 version was about a rural group of teens who attacked any foolish occupiers who stepped outside of the city, and they ambushed supply convoys.  This old version was in touch with the gun/knife culture, and they traveled by horseback. 

This year’s version is about urban warfare, with the teens sneaking back into the city and shooting at occupiers from windows or alleys.  They seem to walk into the city, and one scene features a skateboard. 

Fans of the original will be glad to know the new version did not go politically correct:  Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and the others do not show any compunction about killing the occupiers.  And Robert (Josh Hutcherson) still cries “Wolverines!” but in a different context. 

photo by Slackerwood

What’s interesting is to see Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson before they were famous.  The most famous actor who was cast at the time (who shall remain nameless, since this blog does not flame people) had his claim to fame from Nickelodeon, and he’s not that good in this movie.  But they surrounded him with talented unknowns, and it’s interesting to see who has gone on to fame. 

I liked both versions of Red Dawn.  Of course, the main weakness to both is this ragtag band of teenagers get into and out of bad situations too easily. 

To see an Australian version of the same concept, rent Tomorrow, When the War Began

Monday, November 26, 2012

Excel in Writing

Get the pun in this entry’s title?  For the first time, I’m using an Excel workbook as part of my writing.  In my reimagining of The War of the Worlds, I have the cylinders from Mars landing near different cities around the world, not just London, so their invasion has to advance consistently on each day. 

This sheet goes on for several days 

I also have three groups of characters in three locations.  Their actions have to be coordinated, so I need to track who is doing what on each day. 

What each viewpoint character experiences 

I’ll also have to track the positions of Mars and Venus, as well as phases of the moon.  J.R.R. Tolkien once remarked something to the effect that he could not have Aragorn look up one night and see a full moon, then have Gimli look up a couple nights later and also see a full moon.  He kept charts on phases of the moon, and also the speed of Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax. 

Learn from the greatest.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Robocall Recall

I recently bought some kettlecorn on sale, but found it too salty to eat.  Some days later, I received a phone call that similar brands had been recalled. 

public domain

This was a robocall saying I may have purchased the following brands of popcorn recently, and to return it to the store because of possible listeria contamination.  I realized this call was not going out to everyone:  I use the loyalty card for that particular grocery chain, so they knew I had purchased one of those brands of popcorn.  And since I gave them my phone number when I signed up, they automatically pulled me from their database and sent me that message, along with anyone else who bought those brands. 

Some people don’t like using those cards, because they don’t like the idea of people knowing exactly what they buy.  They make sense—grocery profits are razor thin, so instead of giving everyone a coupon for salad dressing, they’ll give them to loyal customers who bought salad dressing in the past six months.  But the added bonus is safety.  It felt like I was part of the Star Trek universe, for them to target me that particularly for their recall robocall. 

Oh, and the popcorn?  I had taken to work, so the people there ate it.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who Should Star in the New Star Wars?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that Disney has essentially bought the Star Wars franchise, and will be making more movies—possibly the missing episodes 7, 8, and 9 that George Lucas had originally planned.  So the hot topic in Hollywood is:  Who should star as the familiar characters? 

photo by Gage Skidmore

Some say Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper, Inception) should play Luke Skywalker.  I have to admit, there are some possibilities there. 

My favorite for Princess Leia would be Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). 

photo by Videmus Omnia

She has that indefinable something that can really bring a spark to a film.  I think she can alternate between being a royal princess and someone who can wield a weapon. 

Now for someone who looks a little older and can assume a commanding demeanor.  I could see Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Blade III) as the new Han Solo. 
public domain    

My favorite character was Wedge.  “Who’s Wedge?” you ask?  He was in all three of the original movies (4,5, and 6) and was as good a pilot as Skywalker, but never used the Force.  For that role, I would say Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). 

photo by pop culture geek

And of course, we need someone for Chewbacca

photo by Alan Light

Fortunately, Sigourney Weaver is too far away to punch my lights out.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Homeschooling Slayer Pitch

Here’s how the pitch for my novel Homeschooling Slayer went at Surrey.  It took a minute and fifteen seconds.  Sorry for the blanks [____], but I don’t want to reveal the whole story here.  I guess this is where I say you’ll have to buy a copy when it gets published someday. 

ME:  Hello. 

AGENT:  (looking at my name tag) Hello, you’re Mark?

ME:  Yes.  (sitting down)  Well, should I describe my story? 

AGENT:  (nods) 

ME:  My novel is a humorous urban fantasy for adults, called Homeschooling Slayer

The main character is Dee, who has the ability to put vampires into a trance, whenever they wander into her home for reasons she doesn’t understand. 

The story starts with her having a great deal of angst over killing these vampires. 

So far, they’ve been very zombie-like, not speaking or showing any signs of intelligence, so she could tell herself she was not killing human beings. 

Now they’re starting to speak and show signs of planning. 

She feels guilt over killing them. 

We wonder if she will falter in the upcoming conflicts. 

I put her through a few try/fail cycles: 

She is captured by [_____], who can [_____], but she escapes. 

She encounters a dark figure, who tells her [_____].  He warns her off from [_____]. 

In the end, she and her allies battle the [_____]. 

She says, [_____]. 

And so she [_____]. 

(pause)  So that’s the gist of the story. 

Every time that I’ve pitched, the editor or agent will stare at me without changing expression.  Do not pause for them to react, do not ask if you’re doing okay.  Just speak at a moderate pace in a clear voice, and include the same facial expressions, tones of voice or body language as if you were getting along famously.  Remember, they want to know if you’re the kind of person they can work with.  As  Homer Simpson once yelled at his family:  “Be normal!”   

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election Perception

Jimmy Kimmel pranked people by asking the fake question, “Who won the first lady debate?"  Watch their faces closely and see if you can spot the one consistent sign that they’re lying. 

Here’s the answer: 

Wait for it

Wait for it

A little longer . . .

And now the REAL test:  Did you notice Spider-Man walking by?  It was about 2:15 in the video.  If you didn’t, this shows how narrow your perception is when concentrating.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I was driving by a party supply store when I noticed a striking costume on a mannequin:  

Impressive, right?  How many women would have enough confidence to dress like that? 

Next to it was this: 

Again, are you confident enough to wear that? 

By now, you’re asking about the male half of the race.  I suppose I could always dress like this: 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Surrey Day 2—Agent Pitch and Peace Arch

One of the most important parts of the Surrey Writers’ Conference is the chance to pitch to an agent or editor.  To get the person of your choice, sign up way ahead of time (during summer).  The agent I pitched to was Vickie Motter.  I didn’t get a picture of her, but her blog is here: 

Each pitch session is scheduled for ten minutes.  The usual advice is to summarize your novel (that you’ve worked on for a year) in two minutes or less.  I had my pitch down to one minute and fifteen seconds, emphasizing at the start what makes the character unique and the particular angst she has.  Then I mentioned a couple of try/fail cycles in the plot, and the climactic ending.  If your story is more plot-oriented, you may want to spend more of the time on the try/fail cycles, but still keep it short. 

Presentation is important.  I dressed business casual with a nice sport jacket and spoke at a moderate pace with a clear voice, somewhat louder than my normal (all the pitches were occurring in an open area).  Eye contact is important—do not consult notes during the pitch. 

She had a few questions for me, including what well-known books I could compare mine to.  I could think of only one series, and she advised me it’s a good idea to have more than one comparison to cite.  After only a few questions, she said I could send her some sample pages. 

So this is promising.  Even if she does not accept my manuscript, take a look at her website for what particular genres she is looking for—she was one of the more sought-after agents at the conference.  What’s astounding is that agents in general say that even after asking for pages from a potential client at one of these conferences, most of the would-be authors never send their pages in.  Could it be loss of nerve, or they did not really have completed manuscripts?  In my case, I sent in my sample pages the Monday after the conference. 

On the way back into Washington, I passed the Peace Arch.  This picture was taken in passing—I rolled down my window and snapped it while holding the camera in my left hand. 

The Peace Arch symbolizes the peaceful nature of the border between Canada and America.  This is kind of ironic, since this is the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and I plan on reading a book on the war at sea.  As for the land war, British troops from Canada burned the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  I guess the Peace Arch emphasizes the border between British Columbia and Washington.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Surrey Day 1—Storylines and the 20s

On Friday, my smartphone informed me that since I’m in the foreign country of Canada, roaming charges will apply. 

This flag outside my room was at least fifty feet wide
Susanna Kearsley gave an interesting workshop on weaving together a twin-stranded storyline, which I certainly do in my War of the Worlds mashup (a single strand sample is here), and my historical fantasy Virgin Unknown (sample here). 

Often, at science fiction conventions or writers’ conferences, speakers will refer to scenes from movies to illustrate their points.  This has to do with many people in the audience seeing the same movies, and even if we’ve read the same book, we might visualize the scenes differently.  Even with The Lord of the Rings, people will refer to the movies, not the books, to make a point. 

Susanna Kearsley mentioned The Words, starring Dennis Quaid—a movie I haven’t seen—to illustrate the twin-stranded story.  After she was done speaking, I mentioned In Good Company, where every scene is a contrast between an older man played by Quaid and a younger man played by Topher Grace.  She stated that Dennis Quaid must like that sort of story, since he was also in Dreamscape.  I recognized that one, saying it was the first PG-13 movie. 

The evening dinner had the theme of the roaring 20s, and although I did not dress for it, these ladies certainly did: 
They have their steampunk, clockpunk, and dieselpunk blog here.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Surrey Day 0—Highway Patrol and Argo

I’ve driven to the Surrey Writers’ Conference before, but I’ve never seen so many people pulled over by the highway patrol.  No less than three vehicles were stopped, I assume for speeding.  This included one middle-aged jerk—balding, driving a red convertible—who tailgated a number of us on the freeway until we switched to a slower lane to let him pass.  Compensating for much?  I saw a motorcycle cop pull him over. 

photo by pdxjeff

So I arrived early for the conference and took in a movie.  I don’t have time to review Argo, so I’ll just say that Ben Affleck has somehow become a master director. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Purge

I decided to sell a lot of books that I either will never read or have no motive to read again. 

The picture above has innocuous titles on top, since I don’t want to offend anyone.  But that was just the start.  In addition to the books in the pictures, I took two grocery bags full of books to a used book store. 

Partly, this was to reduce clutter and organize my place.  But it’s also partly due to the notion that e-books are the future, and I should try to mainly buy books in that form for my Kindle, which will take a lot less space.  In a previous entry, I discussed how some professionals in the field think the mass-market paperback will go away.  So, as some old science fiction and fantasy titles become available in that format, I should sell the paper versions and order the digital versions. 

This is hard, since I think of the paper form as “real” books.  I’ve said that to people at work who use e-readers, and they agree with me.  And anecdotal evidence suggests most teens want paper books, not e-books.  It will be a younger generation, who are toddlers right now, who will think of the digital format as normal.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Face Off

If you’re not watching the TV show Face Off, I strongly recommend it.  It’s a reality show where special effects makeup artists compete.  Here’s a clip from last season. 

I say Tara was the real genius last season. 

You can learn things for your own art—writing—by watching other peoples’ creative processes.  Face Off is on Tuesday nights on the SyFy channel at 9:00 pm, so I urge you to take a look.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

War of the Worlds -- Two Drafts

I’m going to show an earlier and a later draft of a new chapter for my reimagining of The War of the Worlds .  Something has smashed into the house Ashley has fled to.  Try not to laugh at the early draft: 


It was several hours later when I woke up, since it was broad daylight.  Or, it would have been if we hadn’t been covered with plaster and no light came in from the windows.  In what the dim light we had, I brushed myself off gingerly, since along with the plaster were sharp pieces of crockery and even shards of glass.  One shard had embedded itself in the upper arm of the men’s jacket I wore.  If this had been my peaceful life back in Maybury, I would have called for Mr. Jonesworthy to remove it.  Or, if left to my own devices, I would stare at it for five minutes, seeing how the fabric was distorted around the impact point before getting the courage to pull it out from the weave. 

Here, I grabbed it and plucked it out.  It skittered among the other wreckage on the floor. 


Looking at this, I realized I didn’t need the “Several hours later” because the previous chapter had ended at midnight, so the daylight implied it.  So I then added some sensory detail in the first sentence—in this case, taste.  Also, the description of the distortion in the sleeve was awkward, and “grabbed it” is redundant for “plucked it.”  After tinkering with other parts, the chapter now begins this way: 


I woke up with a mouth full of plaster.  I spit out bitter dust and saw it was broad daylight—or it would have been if we hadn’t been covered with wreckage and no light came in from the window.  In the broken daylight I brushed myself off gingerly, the plaster accompanied by pieces of crockery and even shards of glass—a sharp one embedding itself in the upper arm of the men’s jacket I wore.  If this had been my peaceful life back in Maybury, I would have called for Mr. Jonesworthy to remove it.  Or, if left to my own devices, I would have stared at it for five minutes, seeing how the cruel glass had distorted the fabric around the point before getting the courage to pull it from the weave. 

Here, I plucked it out.  It skittered among the other wreckage on the floor. 


You might ask, “Are your first drafts always so lousy?”  No comment.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Lost

Waiting on Wednesday is an internet meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, where we show interesting upcoming books. 

The Lost will be the latest in Vicki Pettersson’s Celestial Blues series.  She’s been very helpful in giving me advice on writing when I’ve spoken to her at writing conferences.  Read more about Vicki here

And if you like this entry, please page down and look at my review of Kevin Sorbo’s book.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: True Strength

I’ve mentioned Kevin Sorbo’s book before, but this is my actual book review. 

Kevin Sorbo is synonymous with Hercules.  Reportedly, when people see him in public, they just want to go up and touch him.  When I told my parents that this was the book I wanted for my birthday, my mother went into a strongman pose.  If you had seen her, you would know this was a “Who are you, and where’s my real mother” sort of moment! 

I mainly know him from his Andromeda series—affectionately known as “Hercules in space.” 

I hate to shock most of you, but Kevin Sorbo suffered three strokes while he was filming Hercules.  That’s right, the man with all the muscles, who was in the habit of working out every day after filming, studying his lines for the next day’s shoot around midnight, then getting up after a few hours’ sleep to arrive early to prep for the day’s filming went through a thoroughly debilitating health crisis.  This is what his bio is mainly about. 

To say that True Strength is compelling is an understatement.  Try reading page 1, where Sorbo wakes to find himself in an ICU, in danger of bleeding out from the blood thinners meant to save his life, and not continuing.  You will want to read through this book in the minimum amount of time possible, then immediately go back and read parts over again. 

Sorbo is a remarkably humble guy, considering—everything.  He gives no credit to himself for persevering through his long, agonizing health crisis.  He gives plenty of credit to his wife, certain doctors, friends, family, etc.  So he comes off as well-grounded guy, not the typical shallow celebrity.  On the other hand, he reveals no great secrets on how to persevere through suffering—just a daily slog full of unexplained setbacks:  Bouts of dizziness, weakness, lights flashing inside his eyes, etc. 

This bio is not only about suffering, though.  Along the way, he gives amusing insights about Hollywood in general and Hercules in particular.  One clueless producer noted that Sorbo, in his trailer, had an unshaven look.  He said it was a new look for him, and a good one.  Sorbo replied that he always had an unshaven look for Hercules, and they had been filming him this way for years!  The producer stormed out of the trailer. 

A few disadvantages are that he tells his story out of order, which was disorienting more than once.  And he is open about being a Christian, but he seems to just check that off by saying he met with his pastor on a regular basis during his recovery.  And I’m sure there were more amusing stories he could tell, but he probably holds back in order to keep working in the business. 

But True Strength is a great read, and just a surprisingly different bio than you would expect from the man who was Hercules.  And don’t discount the factor of respectability, when you carry it around under your arm.  Do your parents think you read too much of that weird sort of fiction?  Remember my mother’s reaction.  And you can talk about what you’re learning about persevering through suffering.  Wow.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review of Pitch Perfect

Okay, I’m reviewing another movie, but this should be it for a while. 

Pitch Perfect is a fun, uplifting movie.  Not only are the songs great, the songs are presented as performances—in contrast to musicals, where people burst out in song for no reason.  You can completely enjoy the singing, even if you don’t like the plot. 

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story.  They didn’t pretend to do anything original.  Anna Kendrick plays Beca, the smart new girl who comes along to an all girl group of singers, is looked down upon by the leader, but eventually is able to remix their act.  What I like about this movie is it’s an old story done well. 

Kendrick herself is amazing.  When she does her audition for the group, the movie theater I was in was hushed in amazement.  I knew she was an actress but had no idea she had that level of talent.  And she’s completely believable as the seemingly unflappable girl who knows her stuff, but has a good deal of brittleness beneath the cool exterior. 

All the songs are a capella.  The boy group who are their bitter rivals are amazing.  And when the leader of the girls keeps insisting they sing “I Saw the Sign,” it is laugh out loud funny.  After a certain unpleasant character leaves the story, there are no bad guys when it comes down to the final competition.  Just enjoyable singing that leaves the viewer with a lift. 

I now have two different pictures of Anna Kendrick as desktops, one at home and one at work.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Library Disappointment

I normally write in malls—there’s something about the busyness of them that helps me write.  Earlier this week, I thought I’d write in a library for a change, for the first time in years. 

While there I noticed someone watching a rape scene on one of the library’s computers.  (If you don’t want the description, skip past the paragraph separated out by ***. 


The couple was mostly wearing clothes, but it was obvious what was happening.  I couldn’t hear the sound, since the guy watching it had the headset on, but the woman was clearly saying no.  I watched to make sure it wasn’t one of those miserable scenes where the woman at first says no, but then changes her mind after the man is done, but this wasn’t that.  The man raped her a second time, a prolonged scene.  Then they showed him starting in a third time, brutally.  During the whole scene, the woman was obviously unwilling and struggling.  The guy watching it, who was maybe college age, was just lounging back and showing no reaction. 


There was no use complaining about it.  This has been in the news:  In this county’s library system—and perhaps the whole state as far as I know—the librarians cannot ask him to stop watching a sex scene.  It would violate his privacy or something.  This became a famous case in the news when a guy in Seattle was watching something more explicit, and it disturbed a child.  The mother complained, but the most the librarians could do was ask the guy to move to a computer that was not as easily seen by other people, if he was willing. 

You might ask why I watched the whole scene.  As I indicated above, I wanted to make sure what I was seeing, but I also was witnessing firsthand what goes on in libraries. 

In the past, I thought about donating a substantial amount to the local library system if I became a successful author—become one of those “friends of the library” that you hear about.  Not anymore.  There’s a library at a private university I might donate to. 

I’ll go back to shopping malls to write.  Things are less disturbing there.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review of Detention

So I’m reviewing a second movie in a row, but I’ll get back to books after this.  I can’t recommend Detention as a movie because of the vulgarity (including a couple of topless shots) and the rapid scene-cutting (the director only directed music videos previously).  But I can recommend it for the commentary track. 
The director and screenwriter freely admit that the dialog is so rapid, when the audience laughed, they would miss the next two or three lines.  Writers must have similar pacing concerns—not that a reader would miss some of the lines, but long passages of nothing but fast banter are actually tiresome.  And passages which only “show” what’s happening to characters need to occasionally “tell” their thoughts and feelings to be meaningful.  This especially applies to action scenes—they cannot be just one action sentence after another. 
photo by EsotercSapience 

Shanley Caswell, who played the main character of Riley, commented that a crucial turning point seemed inconsistent with her character.  That’s what I thought when watching the movie.  The director or screenwriter explained that that was the part of any teen movie when the teen has to go through an emotional change.  Okay, they made her go through a change like clockwork, but there was nothing organic to the character prompting it.  This is a cautionary lesson for writing novels. 
photo by Slackerwood

Josh Hutcherson, who played the cool student Clapton Davis, gave a more positive assessment of his own character.  He is undeniably cool throughout, but he starts out so locked into himself, he has no idea of how to deal with the real world after high school, and no clue that Riley likes him.  But he gradually comes out of that inward-looking phase.  And it’s a tribute to Hutcherson’s acting that we can see that happening during the story. 

So Detention is worth watching if you have time to watch it a second time with the commentary tract.  And to be fair, the scene of Shanley Caswell and Josh Hutcherson on a skateboard together, with no stunt doubles, was very cool.  

And notice who's on the T-shirt?


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