Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Moive Mania - The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Another HBO free weekend flick.

This movie was one I really wanted to see in the theater because I wanted to see Denzel Washington's take on a Western. I'm a fan of the original Seven Samurai (1954) by Akiro Kurasawa and have seen The Magnificent Seven (1960) by John Sturges more than once because there was a time in my childhood when you couldn't avoid Yul Brenner and Charles Bronson no matter how hard you tried.

Once again, I'm not posting a SPOILERS warning since this movie was released over a year ago.

I like this version because it is a little more reflective of the times (the movie's set in 1879). Contrary to the Westerns my parents grew up with, there were far more people of color than what the cinema and history books would have us believe. And I say this because one of DH's great-great-uncle's lead a unit of Buffalo soldiers in the 1880's.

(This brings to mind the only complaint I've received on Seasons of Magick: Summer. A reader was irritated because the heroine Shan Wong was too American, even though her mom's side of the family immigrated to the U.S. in the 1870's to work on the railroads. I think people have a very non-realistic view of American history. *smh*)

Anyway, the movie adheres closer to Kurasawa's version of the story. There's bit more character development, though the essential personalities are somewhat based on Sturges' version. The only main difference is that Haley Bennett's Emma Cullen isn't the proverbial "prize" to be won. The widow is the instigator (aka village elder in the other two movies) who seeks help after her town is attacked and her husband gunned down, and the sheriff and other citizens are too afraid to take on the robber baron trying to force them from the land.

There is no truly happy ending as in the predecessor movies. I think I would have liked it better if the final words were from Washington's U.S. Marshal Chisholm rather than Emma Cullen, a la his counterparts in the other two movies. In a voiceover as the surviving men ride away and the town returns normal, she extolls them as the town's saviors. Her words are a rather pointed take on how it's the winners who write history.

There was a sweet homage to the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven as the score launches into that movie's theme as our heroes ride into the sunset.

My only disappointment was nothing really new was brought to story.

Overall, I give The Magnificent Seven a solid 8 stars out of 10.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Because Only Soft Kitty Will Do

Because you need to hear all ten versions (so far) of "Soft Kitty"...


Friday, January 19, 2018

Change Is in the Wind and on the Page

Yeah, I know it's a little late post a blog entry. So much has been happening lately, I need to get it all out before I explode.

Genius Kid graduates from high school this spring. We've always told him it didn't matter what he decided to do after graduation, but he needed to do something.

Well, he decided he wants to work for a couple of years before he goes to college. He signed up for welding classes at the local tech school, and if he gets through all of them, he'll have his basic certification by the time he graduates.

Unfortunately, his decision isn't going over well with the extended family. How could he possibly be a *gasp* blue-collar worker?

*eyeroll*

Mind you, the majority of this crap is coming from two sisters-in-law who did nothing with their degrees.

Personally, I applaud GK's decision. My dad, my brother, and my husband went into college straight out of high school because that's what they were expected to do. All three dropped out in the middle of their first year. They simply weren't ready. And there's no sense of GK wasting a semester's tuition when he already knows he's not ready.

He's also being smart about saving up the money instead of going into a ton of debt. The kid's already asking for investment advice. And he's admitted he's more like me than he really wants to acknowledge in that he'll go through three or four careers in his lifetime out of sheer boredom.

We've also told him he doesn't have to move out right away. To that end, we started house shopping. We put an offer on a house that would have been perfect: the rooms for mine and DH's offices would have been on the east and west sides while our bedroom and GK's would have been on the north and south sides. No one would be in anyone's way.

Well, we were outbid, but the design was so perfect I tried to track down the builder. Just our luck, they went under during the housing crash ten years ago, but with a little more sleuthing, we found out who had taken over their subdivisions. And *happy dance* they had the licensing rights to the design we loved.

So instead of buying, we're going to build. We've been crunching numbers, we've talked to the bank, and we still need to meet with the builder to hammer out the fine details. But we need a bigger deposit for a building loan than for buying an already existing house. That means I really, truly have to stick to my work and book release schedule for 2018.

As part of my business plan, Angry Sheep Publishing has been accepted as a vendor on Google Play, and I uploaded the Suzan Harden books while watching the NFL playoffs last weekend. I still need to update the links on my website and here, which will probably happen during the NFL conference games on Sunday.

And as I contemplate this blog, I realized how unwieldy the My Books sidebar has become. I think I'm going to create pages for each series, like I did on my main website, and just leave the books published in the last year on the side bar.

There's three books to edit, and more to write. My cover artist Elaina sent me the design for Hero De Facto this afternoon, and it's so fucking perfect I want to cry.

There's so much going on I feel a little dizzy, a little nauseated, and a little scared. But maybe getting out of my comfort zone is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dazed and Editing

I've been editing this week. Mostly A Modicum of Truth, but last night, I needed to get out of the apartment for a bit. And when I'm out at a coffee shop, my mind is geared on new writing.

I'm attempting to stick to my writing plan. My original plan of releasing the three superhero books on the same day in late April (right before the release of the next Avengers movie) wasn't going to help kickstart the sales algorithms on Amazon. Too much has changed on their website in the last three years. I took a hard look at what's completed, where I was on the uncompleted projects, and how to maximize my releases.

The next project to finish is the first draft of is Hero De Facto. Except I haven't really looked at the story as a whole in nearly three years.

Sure, I went back and read the first couple of chapters and the last one in order to get back into Harri and Aisha's heads last November to get a jump start on Hero Ad Hoc over NaNoWriMo. But Hero De Facto still needed to be finished itself. So last night while eating some excellent turkey chili, I started reading and editing to get back into the flow of the novel.

I'd forgotten how close this book was to being completed. I forgot how funny and delightful it was. I only got a hair over 600 new words in (pretty low for three hours of concentrated work), but dammit, I had fun.

And it makes me want to get the edits done on A Modicum of Truth and Sacrificed so I can go back to the Hero series and have some more fun.

That's what I love about this job. It's so damn fun!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Not to speak ill of the dead, but this version of Jumanji was way better than the Robin Williams version. I'm not sure I like this one better because the majority of the chaos is kept inside the game itself, or if it's because everyone playing the game retained their memories in this version.

The writers treat Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as a sequel to the 1995 version. It literally starts where the last one left off, with the board game partially buried in the sand on a beach. It's found by Alex's dad, who brings is home for him.

Alex is too absorbed in his video games to care, so the game transforms itself into a game cartridge to entice Alex. And so the movie begins pretty much like the 1995 movie...

I debated about putting a SPOILERS warning. The new version follows a similar formula as the 1995 version, but there's enough twists, I don't want to ruin it for you either.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) While Jack Black as popular, blond Bethany's game avatar is played for gender-bent laughs, Jack actually brings a sweet, sensitive touch to his role.

2) Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart carry through with the same comedic timing and chemistry they displayed in Central Intelligence.

3) When I heard Nick Jonas was in this, I thought "???" The kid actually did a wonderful job as Alex's avatar. Especially, his honest emotional reaction when he learns from the other players he's been trapped in the game for twenty-two years.

4) Karen Gillan can do no wrong. As the avatar of the geeky Martha, watching her try to distract the bad guys was hysterical. (And she appropriately savaged the insanity of her wearing nothing in the jungle.)

5) The little callbacks to the 1995 version were sweet, especially Alex living in the hut that Alan (Robin Williams) had built decades ago.

6) Colin Hanks as adult Alex was adorable. He named his daughter "Bethany, after the girl who saved my life".


CONS
1) Ummmmm......uhhhhhh......I really can't think of anything. The writing was tight, the performance were wonderful, and the film captured the Bugs Bunny insanity of '90's videos games.


Overall, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle earned its 10 out of 10 stars!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Best Bits of The Big Bang Theory

Finding common ground with someone you hang with all the time but don't know very well.


Friday, January 12, 2018

How Do You Decide How Long a Series Should Be?

DH asked me that question the other night in bed. I'd finished the first draft of A Modicum of Truth Wednesday evening, and I mentioned I got the inspiration for the starting scene of what will be Book 4 in the Justice series.

I know a lot of indie writers are very concerned about the optimal length of a series. This is my opinion, and mine alone: As long as I'm having fun writing a series, I'll keep going.

But there's another thing that's personal to me as well: I go in knowing how the series will end.

Seriously, I have to know where my characters end up before I start writing. I may not know how they get from Point A to Point Z, but I start a project knowing exactly where Point A and Point Z are for the primary character.

I'd give specific examples from my work, but I don't want to spoil things for people who haven't read my one completed series, nor do I want to spoil things for the books that aren't out yet.

So let's use a best-selling author: J.K. Rowling.

Her character, Harry Potter, has a traditional hero's journey. He beats the bad guy who's been out to kill him since he was born. Ms. Rowling does this through the typical years of adolescence in a U.K.-style boarding school, from age 11 through age 17, i.e. seven books.

Each book had a standalone story while each volume carried the primary story forward. Even better, the ending is a call back to the beginning. Rowling had a final scene that many thought unnecessary, but was in fact quite essential. The book ends with Harry's son Severus on his way to Hogwarts for the first time. It's  shows everything in their world is okay and Severus won't face the same terror and danger Harry had.

The extended storyline is the model I prefer, but it is a personal preference because I need an ending, both as a reader and a writer. And because of the ending, you would have a fairly good idea how many books will be in the series.

That doesn't mean there's a magic number. Rowling planned seven books in her Harry Potter series. I planned nine books in the Bloodlines series.

That doesn't mean you can't add or subtract if things are working/not working. I added a few shorter working to the Bloodlines series because I was having too much fun with the characters.

On the other hand, you could have a series whose main character doesn't really change over the course of the books. Each book is therefore essentially a standalone story. Readers can jump in any time.

The late Sue Grafton's Alphabet mystery series is a good example. Private investigator Kinsey Milhouse changes very little through the course of twenty-five books. Some readers like that consistency. And there's nothing to stop a writer from going for ten, twenty-five, or even an hundred books, a la Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

A major problem to watch out for--some writers keep going because the money is so good they (and/or their publisher) are afraid to stop. As much as I loved Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka the Sookie Stackhouse series), I hate to say this, but it was pretty obvious Ms. Harris lost interest in the series around Book Nine, which was released in 2010.

However, in 2010, the HBO TV series based on her novels, True Blood, was at its height of popularity. Both HBO and her publisher wanted to maximize profits, and they offered her a pretty penny to keep going.

But Ms. Harris lost track of the overarching plot (who Sookie would choose as her life partner), and she didn't plant enough clues of who Sookie's ultimate paramour would be. Readers were sorely disappointed about how the series ended.

Even though HBO had deviated from the main plot of the books, their ending wasn't received any better.

To me, this is one of the best reasons to have a particular ending in mind if you're writing an overlying plot.

But ultimately, the decision of how to handle your series is up to you the writer. Just remember the Golden Rule and treat your readers how you would want to be treated in that position.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Experiments Are Good...

...but sometimes, they prove you were doing things the optimum way for you already.

Two weeks ago, I talked about trying writing sprints. Some authors use them to great success, getting in a few thousand words per day. They write for twenty-five to fifty minutes, take a short five to ten minute break where they hit the head or do jumping jacks, before setting a timer and write for another twenty-five to fifty minutes.

So, I tried sprints for a few days in the mornings, and SQUIRREL!

Yeah, no matter how hard I tried I couldn't do the five minute break. I was constantly distracted by SQUIRREL!

For the last twelve days, my daily word count was SQUIRREL!

So I'm better off sitting for a solid two hours in a comfortable position for neck, legs and back, getting into the flow of the novel to the point that I exist only in that time and space. In between the longer sessions, I can take a nice long walk, do the chores that are bugging me, refill my beverages, and then start writing again.

I don't know if any of you readers keep track of your daily word count. I do in order to try to beat last year's goal. (It's one of those weird personal things. And I was a thousand words short in 2017 of 2016's total words.)

But looking at my daily from December 29 through January 8? They're sad. Like only mid-three figures sad. Going back to my old way, I did my usual 1500 words, plus watched two episodes of Airplane Repo on the Discovery Channel (thanks for getting me hooked, DH!), and had a date night to see Jumanji (not to speak ill of the dead, but this was way better than the Robin Williams version). The full review will be up on Monday.

So, all-in-all, the morning sprint experiment was a nice try, but it didn't work for me. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try it.

Of course, it may have more to do with me just not being a morning person, too.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - The Last Jedi

The best thing Disney did was have someone else besides J.J. Abrams take over Episode VIII. Rian Johnson wrote and directed a movie that had an actual beginning, middle and end. He followed the same formula used in The Empire Strikes Back, i.e. our heroes meet a dark and terrible moment, and they question their true purpose and its cost.

Unfortunately, Rian also made some very basic storytelling mistakes. Even more unfortunate is Lucasfilm released Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and brought back J.J. to write and direct Episode IX. J.J. can come up with some incredible concepts, but the man can't write a coherent ending to save his life.

But going back to The Last Jedi, it was a MUCH better film than The Force Awakens. That in and of itself made my day. I only went to the theater for it because this was Carrie Fisher's very last role. Despite her personal demons, I've always loved her acting and writing abilities.


* * *


!!SPOILERS!!


* * *


PROS
1) The completion of Luke's story arc. He returns to the isolated screw-up, severely lacking in self-confidence person we met in the original Star Wars until he finds one last act of courage to save his sister and their friends.

2) Luke's promise that he'd see Kylo Ren/Ben Organa-Solo. A hint that he'll be a Force ghost haunting the kid?

3) The secret return of a certain Jedi Master who has one last lesson to impart on his last student.

4) Kylo/Ben's arc in becoming the Sith master. Adam Driver fucking rocks in this role. Frankly, he would have made a better Anakin than Hadyn Christensen.

5) The total silence Vice-Admiral Holdo took out the First Order ships.

5) The hints that other Force users are coming into existence to counter the rise of Kylo Ren to Sith Master.

6) The lovely callbacks to the original trilogy.

7) PORGS!


CONS
1) Finn and Rose's sidetrip meant absolutely nothing to the overall story. There's a storytelling principle called Chekov's gun that states every element of the story must be necessary. And this subplot was so totally unnecessary, but apparently they couldn't come up with a better idea for a confrontation between Phasma and Finn.

2) Speaking of Finn and Rose's sidetrip, the stupid flower pin was the worst Macguffin ever in a Lucas-related movie.

3) The incredible total fucking waste of the fabulous Benicio Del Toro!

4) The incredible total fucking waste of the marvelous Lupita Nyong'o!

5) The incredible total fucking waste of Admiral Ackbar's death!

6) The fact that Vice-Admiral Holdo didn't come up with her fabulous idea using one of the evacuated support cruisers.

7) Speaking of Holdo and Ackbar, why would he had been the one to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance?

8) Using Rose to try to kill fan 'shipping of Finn and Poe, or trying to create a love triangle between Rose-Finn-Rey. Either way, it kind of pissed my off.


The Last Jedi was a more complete story than The Force Awakens, but it could have a hell of a lot better. Overall, I give it 7.5 stars out of 10.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Best Bits of the Big Bang Theory

Sometimes, the best things on The Big Bang Theory are when the cast adds a little something extra to their roles. This song still makes me cry.