Wednesday, December 31, 2014

As the Year Closes...

I thought about doing a year-end status report, but it's too nice a day to think about business matters.

It sounds silly, but I'm dreaming stories again. Not nightmares or stress/worry rehashes like I have for the past year. It's a pretty good feeling, and I don't want to ruin it.

So instead, I'll say

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday Movie Mania - The Penguins of Madagascar

The Penguins solo adventure picks up at the party at the end of Madagascar 3, though there is a quick flashback to the boys' childhood. The story revolves around the team's competition with another secret agent group called Northwind in taking down the mad octopus Dave.

* * *


* * *

1) I love the Penguins to the point of watching their animated TV shows. This is the first movie or TV program that layers the guys' personalities. Watching Skipper admit that Confidential's plan was better than his was painful, but a necessary evolution to his character.

1) The other penguins' treatment of Private really didn't make sense in terms of this being a story set after Madagascar 3. Private has proven his bravery and resourcefulness over and over again. For Skipper, Kowolski and Rico to treat him in such a patronizing manner was off-putting.

2) The pacing of the story was glacial compared to the other installments of the Madagascar franchise. There were points I started to nod off.

For the record, that is not a good thing.

3) The animated series did the same basic plot with Dr. Blowhole in the animated series, and it was done MUCH better there.

Because Neil Patrick Harris rocks!

4) Dreamworks' intention to launch the Northwind team as a new series was painfully obvious.

As much as I love the Penguins, this movie version didn't cut it. I'd give a 5 out of 10 stars at best.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Random Thoughts on December 24th

For those of you who don't know, our family is interfaith. One of the things we've tried to instill in GK is respect for other people's beliefs regardless of his own or ours.

Which means at some point, the in-laws will find out that GK has declared himself an atheist. And damn, will that be entertaining!

But my in-laws' heads exploding wasn't the point of this post. While getting last minute groceries yesterday morning, I had a lot of folks wish me "Merry Christmas!" I'm not Christian, but I'm not offended. The greetings were sincerely meant.

But a lot of folks get pissed off if someone says "Happy Holidays!" I don't really understand why some people feel this is a personal attack. Christians aren't the only ones that have a holiday this time of year. There's Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, and more that I've forgotten. (My sincere apologies to those I didn't name.)

I name a specific holiday greeting to a person if I know their religion. For example, I wish my friend Kat "Merry Christmas," and she wishes me "Happy Yule."

But I don't always know a stranger's religion, it isn't obvious (like wearing a yarmulke, a hajib, or a cross), and frankly, their religion isn't my business. So I go with my favorite standby, "Happy Holidays!"

And when I did that to a customer years ago at the last Day Job, he went freakin' ballistic and accused me of being anti-Christian. At the end of his tirade, I asked him how I was supposed to know his religion. He blinked several times before he answered, "This is Christian nation!"

"But not everyone in the U.S. is Christian," I said.

That prompted another tirade. Again, I waited patiently for it to end before I asked, "Should there be a law that everyone in the U.S. wear the symbol for their religion?"


"And how did that work out for the Jews in Germany seventy years ago?" I asked quietly.

The blood drained from his face, and he marched out of the store.

I never saw him again, and he never filed a complaint with my manager (I half-expected it). I hope I made him think. I hope he now sees those of us who aren't Christian as people and not enemies. I hope he realizes that a sincere non-specific December holiday greeting is just that--a greeting, not an insult.

Since today's the last day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, I wish everyone a Safe and Happy Holiday Season!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Movie Mania - Interstellar

The last time I saw Matthew McConaughey in a literary-type sci-fi flick was in 1997's Contact. I think Interstellar is a similar, albeit much better film.

The premise is simple. Earth is dying. While the dialogue doesn't come out and say it, human-influenced climate and microbial changes have brought the human race to the brink of extinction. So of course, we have the brilliant scientist (Michael Caine) and his beautiful and equally brilliant daughter (Anne Hathaway) sconced in a top-secret installation, searching for a solution.

What they need is a pilot for their space ark. Again, the dialogue insinuates that air travel no longer exists. McConaughey's Cooper was one of the last astronauts trained before NASA was officially shut down as a waste of resources.

* * *


* * *

1) Give me a good story if you can't give me good science. For the most part, this movie gives both. In fact, the human story outshines the spectacular effects and occasional oopses in the science department. What would you do if your children aged more rapidly than you? If you could only see your grandchildren in messages that were decades old? Could you give up your personal desires/beliefs/dreams in total service to the existence of your race?

2) All three women who portray Cooper's daughter Murph give outstanding performances. While Jessica Chastain has the lion's share of scenes, it's Mackenzie Foy as the teen Murph and Ellen Burstyn as the elderly Murph that will bring tears to your eyes.

3) OMG! Matt Damon does NOT get enough credit as an actor! As Caine's co-head of the Lazarus Project, Dr. Mann seems reasonable and logical, but the mask slips, and we realize he's bat-crap crazy a split-second before the other characters do. Seriously, this guy needs a Best Supporting Actor nomination by the Academy!

4) The special effects are going to make you wish Stanley Kubrick had CGI when he was filming. Even better was the visual allegory of "string theory/threads of the Fates".

5) I got a sneaky thrill that Murph, a female scientist, is the one who calculates with the Unified Field Theory based on the information her father and TARS were able to transmit to her, though the movie never actually names it as such.

1) Some of the science left me with a WTF feeling. There's a difference between a neutron star and a black hole. At various times in the movie, Gargantua is referred to as both.

2) The filmmakers push credibility by having three planets within Gargantua's habitable zone. Even if I let that go, the fact that Miller's planet is the closest to Gargantua, a star with a massive gravity field, and has liquid water, you would think the scientists would suspect massive tides. But hey, I only have a minor in physics so what do I know.

Obviously Christopher Nolan's shooting for an Oscar with this movie, and I hope he gets it.

Overall, I give Interstellar a 9 out of 10 for a couple of questionable science issues, and two instances where the characters were too stupid to live (and didn't).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Songs I've Been Listening to Lately

You really can't get this tune out of your head after seeing the movie.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Are Disney Princesses Finally Becoming Real Women?

In a stroke of marketing genius, Andy Mooney, Disney's chairman of Consumer Products, created the Disney Princess line in 2000 after observing several young girls dressed in generic princess attire while attending a Disney on Ice production. Mooney pulled together the female leads of several of the animated movie franchises, including the classics created under Walt Disney's supervision, the revival under Michael Eisner's leadership of the corporation, and CGI creations under John Lassiter as the former head of Pixar and the new head of Disney's animated division.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, each man brought his conceptions of womanhood to the drawing board. Walt Disney took classic fairy tales that were often brutal and bloody and toned them down for family consumption. He also reflected American cultural beliefs that "good" women should seek out marriage and children. The movies involving Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (aka "Sleeping Beauty") all end with the title character's marriage to a prince.

Because of the poor reception and low box office take of Sleeping Beauty, Walt didn't tackle another fairy tale. While there's no proof of any connection, one has to wonder if the infancy of 60's counter-culture movements didn't have some effect on Sleeping Beauty's box office. It was released in January of 1959, the same month Castro and his forces took over Cuba. Sixteen months later, the first contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA. The HEA endings didn't make sense to a generation of women taking control of their lives.

It wasn't until Michael Eisner became the head of the Disney corporation in 1984 that the company tackled another animated fairy tale. To his credit, Eisner tried to return to the artforms the company was best remembered for as well as expand the corporation's holdings. The result was an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid.

Disney's Princess Ariel was far more feisty than her predecessors. However, she still need to be rescued from the villain by her love interest, Prince Eric. The studio finally broke the "heroine only looking for love" mold with Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but the movie still ended with her falling in love with a prince.

The successive princesses (Mulan is included by the company even though she's of common birth, as is her love interest Li Shang) showed more spunk, more independence, but at the conclusion of each story, the princess in question finds romantic love. Even in Tangled, Rapunzel ends up married to Eugene, a pardoned thief, even though she showed more realistic traits of an emotional abused teenager. In addition, she's the first to take the initiative to escape her psychological imprisonment.

The first time a princess walks into the proverbial sunset without a man on her arm was Merida of the Disney/Pixar film Brave. In fact, she rejects all of her suitors, much to their relief. The three princes didn't want to be forced into a loveless marriage any more than she did.

Merida also broke the Disney mold of one or more dead parents. While her dad loses a leg in a bear attack in the first few minutes of the movie and her mom is turned into a bear later, both of Merida's parents remain alive through the movie.

The primary issue in the story was the normal tension between a teen and her biological mother, an issue neither Disney nor Pixar have dealt with in their animated movies. For once this wasn't about a guardian or parental figure abusing the heroine or out-and-out plotting her murder. Queen Elinor sincerely wants what's best for Merida, but fails to see the person her daughter has become. Merida feels stifled by her mother's constant demands of royal propriety.

I think breaking the normal plot molds of Disney is the one of the real reasons Brave received so many negative reviews when the film was first released. However, thoughts concerning the movie shifted when Disney announced they were adding Merida to the Princess line. The artwork for packaging and the new doll changed Merida from a small-breasted, adolescent tomboy with frizzy hair to a voluptuous woman with well-tamed and styled hair. The new princess aroused the ire of many feminists, and worse, mothers. A petition was started on, and Disney returned Merida to the original Pixar version. [Disclosure: As one of the pissed-off mothers, I signed the petition.]

The backlash of the petition and the support from subsequent reviewers seemed to sink through the brains of the Disney executives. Maleficent, the live-action retelling of Sleeping Beauty, takes elements of the mother/daughter relationship and uses that love to save the princess rather than romantic love as in the original animated version. It also takes the unusual step of displaying a metaphorical drugged date rape and subsequently punishing the rapist. Further, the hero refused to take advantage of Aurora when she was unconscious. Finally, Maleficent and Aurora work together to save themselves.

Frozen, Disney's latest animated film, also manages to avoid the romance-as-female-safety trap. The princesses Elsa and Anna save each other through the power of their sisterly love. In fact, one romantic interest derides Anna for her desperate wish for any kind of love and how easily she was manipulated because of it.

So has Disney caught up with the 21st century? Three movies does not a pattern make. But I believe the Disney execs will listen to the people who generally buy gifts for the children in the family. And frankly, we buyers are tired of the helpless female meme. I was tired of it when I was growing up in the '70's. And it's definitely a meme I don't want my son indoctrinated in.

What happens next?

That's really up to Disney if they want my money. I still have a couple of underage nieces and my future granddaughters to buy for. If Disney can't keep it's act together, then I'll be buying a lot of Wonder Woman merchandise as gifts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monday Movie Mania on a Wednesday - Frozen

FTC Notice: The movie was courtesy of a free promotional weekend by HBO.

For the past year, you couldn't avoid Idina Menzel's incredible voice belting out the show-stopping number from Disney's latest animated fairytale flick. Because of the move from hell, it was the first time our family ever missed a first-run in the theaters, but even GK sat through my princess night on Saturday (ABC Family also ran Tangled that night, so we had a Disney movie-a-thon.), because yes, both movies are that good.

The story is loosely, very, very loosely, based on the Hans Christian Anderson classic, The Snow Queen. Alas, no demons or magic mirrors in this version.

* * * SPOILERS * * *

Elsa and Anna are two young princesses in a Scandinavian land. Elsa has powers to create snow and ice; Anna doesn't have any magical abilities. But that doesn't stop the sisters from having an incredibly close relationship until the day Elsa accidentally harms Anna.

It takes a troll king to heal Anna. Far, far worse is the damage the girls' parents do by forbidding Elsa to use her powers and forcing her to hide them. Elsa becomes so afraid of herself that she shuns any contact with Anna or anyone else. Matters come to a head when the sisters quarrel on the day of Elsa's coronation, and she accidentally turns her kingdom into a frozen wasteland.

1) The writers captured the sibling relationship perfectly, how they can be best friends and worst enemies at the same time.

2) For once, the male characters weren't the perfect heroes that swooped in and saved the day. Disney tried to change the trend in Tangled, but they fully succeeded in Frozen. It wasn't romantic love that saved the sisters, but their love for each other.

3) Idina Menzel and Kristin Bell's duet. 'Nuff said.

1) Why does Disney have an obsession with whacking the parents? This is one case where I wish the parents were alive, and they learned their lesson that oppressing their daughter for her own good was the stupidest thing they could have done.

I give Frozen a 10 out of 10 for its Girl Power message and the best music in a Disney score since The Lion King.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Movie Mania - Maleficent

Last weekend was a cornucopia of movies for the family, both recent releases and older ones we missed due to the insanity of the last year and a half. I'll focus on the Disneys first with some thoughts on Friday concerning the company's apparent change in direction in regards to female characters.

FTC Notice: This film was courtesy of a free coupon from AT&T Universe's On Demand service.

Hoo boy! Maleficent. This live-action version isn't your grandma's classic animated one.

The earliest tales of Sleeping Beauty, which has been around in some version or another for 800 years, gave a reason for the character of Maleficent to curse the princess, but Uncle Walt's original movie is pretty one-dimensional. She's painted as bitch for the sake of being one.

*** SPOILERS ***

This version gives the fairy a damn good reason for being pissed at the man who will become King Stefan. He claims he loves her, drugs her, and cuts off her wings, all in order to be named king. The rape imagery is impossible to miss.

Many folks think this makes Maleficent too dark of a movie for children. As a parent myself, I would say watch it yourself and use your common sense as to whether your children is ready. However, don't underestimate your child. This scene is a good teaching moment when it comes to trust and safety issues.

The story also addresses the redeeming power of love, though not of the romantic variety. Maleficent spies on the three pixies raising the young princess, with the intent of torturing the child and thereby her father. However, she finds herself saving Aurora again and again from the pixies' lack of attention and inexperience with humans.

The defining moment is when the little girl accepts the wounded fairy as she is. The innocence of the child thaws Maleficent's heart. She tries to revoke the curse, but is unable to.

1) Angelina Jolie's subtlety in playing this role. She makes Maleficent a sympathetic, strong, and totally understandable person.

2) Elle Fanning's Aurora throwing a totally teen temper tantrum upon learning that ALL the fairies have been lying to her for her whole life. It's a very real moment in a fantasy story, but it grounds the character, compared to the blow-up Barbie doll she was in the animated version.

3) Prince Phillip not winning the day. I believe in love, but a five-minute meet-up in the woods is lust, not love. In counterpoint to the earlier rape allegory, he refuses to kiss an unconscious girl.

4) This movie is an excellent way for parents to open conversations with their pre-teen children about the opposite sex and safety.

1) This is a PG-rated film. Use your best judgment, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it for children under eight. Like I said above, this ain't your grandma's Sleeping Beauty.

Overall, I would give it 10 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Songs I've Been Listening to Lately

Since I brought up the delightful Meghan Trainor yesterday, here's a taste...

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's All About That Butt

...with apologies to Meghan Trainor.

One of the hardest things about writing for a living is keeping the weight under control. The sedentary life, and subsequent weight gain, can lead to all kinds of health problems, most of which I already have.

Over October and a good chunk of November, I bounced between hotels and the in-laws while we waited for the delivery of furniture, both old and new. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of eating out. Despite my efforts at good choices and portion control, I jumped up a pant size.


Being able to cook in our new home has helped. I can plan our meals and control the ingredients I use.

Plus, GK is determined to try out for high school soccer next year (he was the unofficial timekeeper for the boys' and girls' varsity games this year). The new apartment complex has a nice exercise facility that's open 24/7. So every day, once GK is finished with his afterschool snack, we head over to the mini-gym. I alternate between cardio and weights.

And yesterday, I was able to get into my old jeans! Yay!

I'm not seeking to change how I look. I just want to be reasonably healthy again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing Is a Business; Treat It Like One

The title of this post has been my mantra since I decided to indie publish. I emphasized it when I wrote a few guest posts for other bloggers on developing a business plan for indie publishing. I was reminded of it during a discussion on the comments on Monday's post (definitely one of those cases where comments went off on a side tangent).

Regardless of whether you go the trad-published, indie published, or hybrid routes, you are self-employed. You are operating a small business.

I think that's where a lot of writers make their mistakes. Writing is not a business. To them, it's art. It's a dream. It's the lottery.

Which it may be all those things to you. But when you are offering your writing for money, it has now become a business, too

And like any business, you, as the owner, have to keep a handle on your overhead. Otherwise, your business is going to failure.

Statistics on business success/failure vary. Under some outdated information, the U.S. Small Business Administration estimated over fifty percent of new businesses failed in the first year. With the widespread use of computers and access to relevant information through the internet, the failure rate is probably much closer to Canada's four percent failure rate in the first year.

When it comes to a new business failing, the two biggest reasons are lack of adequate planning and lack of adequate capital. And believe me, the two go hand in hand.

So going back to Monday's discussion, here's part of how I planned for adequate capital. I don't NEED caffeine while I write, but my work habits are deeply ingrained from my days in IT. That means my brain goes into work mode if I have a caffeinated beverage sitting next to my computer, like the black tea sitting next to me right now. (Even with electric for the microwave and dishwasher, the cost of the mug of tea is less than $0.05.)

From a business point of view, it's not worth the time necessary to retrain my habits. (I generally assign $10/hr to my time because it's easy to calculate.) Therefore, I've added caffeine into my business budget.

Generally, I buy soda, tea and coffee from the grocery store. I search out sales and add in coupons to keep that budget under control. For example, even if I buy Starbucks coffee and sugar-free peppermint mocha creamer at the grocery store, it still comes out less than $0.20 per cup.

But I also budget for the occasional trip to a restaurant or café. Occasionally changing my work environment can trigger additional productivity. (YMMV on that one.)

However, there's the question of drinkability when I venture outside of the house, which is why I don't go to McDonald's. I swear the only time I've ever tossed a full cup of coffee in the trash, it was a McDonald's peppermint mocha. I shudder at the memory even now. Blech!

And if I'm not in walking distance, which I never am, I have to factor in gas money.

So in Houston in December, I would go to one of the closest Starbucks (2 miles away so roundtrip is 4 miles) and get a venti peppermint mocha. That's $5.25 for the coffee, $0.50 for the tip, plus gas at $3.00/gallon and a car that gets 20 miles/gallon.

$5.25 + $0.50 + $0.80 = $6.55

Lost writing time is only 10 minutes or $1.67.

$6.55 + 1.67 = $ 8.22

In Ohio in December, the cost would remain the same except for gas. Bowling Green, and the closest Starbucks, is twenty miles away. That adds an extra $6.00 to my overhead compared to the $0.80 for gas in Houston.

$5.25 + $0.50 + $6.00 = $11.75

Oh, and I lost an hour of writing time on the drive to and from Bowling Green.

$11.75 + $10.00 - $21.75

So my overhead has now nearly tripled for the sake of my peccadillo. Not good business, folks. Not good business at all.

To put it another way, I'd have to sell eleven books to cover my trip to Bowling Green compared to the sale of four books covering one trip in Houston.

This is exactly where most business people lose their way. These little costs add up. If you're not selling enough to cover your costs, your business will go under.

It's why I dreaded seeing statements from new writers about how much they spent on cover art, editing, etc., back when I put out by business planning series in 2012. So many of these folks are having to go back to their day jobs now because they spent way more money than they had coming in.

This is not to disparage one of DH's mantras, "You have to spend money to make money." However, I do believe it's in your best interests to find the best quality at the lowest price.

Remember, selling your stories means you are now in commerce, not art. If you want to keep writing full-time, you've got to keep that overhead under control. Writing is a business. Treat it like one.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting Back into the Groove

If you're a regular reader, you've noticed my blogging has become a little erratic. Since I use my posts as a warm-up exercise before settling down to write for the day, it definitely reflects my work habits right now.

It's weird living in a new (old) place. I'm not quite comfortable in the new apartment because...boxes. Boxes everywhere still even though we've unpacked three or four dozen of the essentials. I'm having a problem ignoring them because yes, I am that anal when it comes to my living space. Not to mention the incredible need to find my razor blades because my legs are hairier than the husband and teen son's legs put together.

Back in Houston, if something bugged me at home, I would grab my computer bag and head out to a coffee shop. But as I told a friend last night, most of my usual haunts are gone in this town. (It has been nearly twenty years since DH and I moved to Houston after all.) So it comes down to finding an appropriate new place.

The closest Starbucks is in Bowling Green, which is twenty miles away. The place with the best coffee here in town is the Caribou kiosk in the middle of Great Scot grocery. A little noisy and one table.Tim Horton's coffee is okay, but the doughnuts are too much temptation. Bob Evans and Denny's have a terrific staff, but there's no slow period to stake out a table.

Seriously, I swear half the population in this town is over seventy! They spend hours at the diners gossiping. Not to mention, they all know my in-laws. I can't write with half the town looking over my shoulder. Especially not the erotica!

Coffee Amici has decent coffee and is pretty slow during the day, but downtown parking is limited, as in two hours max before you get ticketed by the friendly local constabulary. (Nighttime parking is a different matter, but you'll want to go in for Coffee Amici's live music.)

Which leaves the local Panera's. I haven't checked them out yet, but DH says they have the same, um, clientele issue that Bob Evans and Denny's have.

If I only had the money for my own private Starbucks...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Want Some Cheese with Your Whine?

"Sales are down!"

"KU is screwing us over!"

"The sky is falling!"

Anyone else besides me hearing a ton of this kind of crap from authors lately?

It's not just trad or indie or hybrid-related. It's everyone.

Guess what? The publishing industry has been all doom and gloom for a long time. Even Charles Dickens bitched about filthy pirates illegally copying his books. Mark Twain despaired that commerce was overtaking art. The monks lamented losing their jobs because of that damn Guttenberg.

I can't tell you what you should do about it. I can tell you what you probably shouldn't.

1) Don't accuse your readers of stealing your books. Nothing turns off a potential fan like a charge of theft. Sure, there are folks pirating. Guess what? Those people aren't your fans, and don't give a flying flip about your tantrum. The innocents are the ones who will be offended by your accusations. And they WILL stop buying your books. It's okay to bitch to your friends privately, but lengthy rants on Facebook will only alienate readers.

2) The gold rush is over. If you want success in this business, you're going to have to work. That may mean stepping up production, learning how to market better, or any myriad of things that you can improve in your business. Setting back on your laurels and crying that you're only selling 500 books a month instead of 50,000 isn't going to win you sympathy points, especially from the readers. Your true fans are waiting for that next book. Get crackin'!

3) Don't depend on any one method or retailer for getting your books to readers. If something isn't working for you, change it. Albert Einstein once said that the sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If exclusivity in Amazon isn't working for you, check out other retailers.

Keeping an ear out for industry comings and goings is smart, but don't let the kvetching interfere with your writing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When You Lose at NaNoWriMo...

...nothing happens.

That's right. The skies don't fall. The Red Sea isn't parted. Aliens don't invade Earth.

"But, but, but I feel awful!" you scream. "I only wrote 49,999 words! I am a failure!"

No. You are not a failure. You have a novel. Go finish it. Add that last word.

"But it's December!"

So the fuck what?

NaNoWriMo is not about hard and fast rules. It's not about torturing yourself. It's definitely not about finding new ways to make yourself miserable.

NaNoWriMo is about trying something new. Stretching your wings. Having some fun, for the love of [deity of your choice]!

"You're just saying that because you wrote 50,000 words," you say with a sneer.

No, I didn't. I made it about 5,000 words before real life interfered too much. I started November 1st, sitting in a hotel room that didn't even have a desk chair. A miserable cold had me in its talons, and the repairs on my car still weren't completed. Trust me, the rest of the month is a freaking blur. I sat down on Saturday, November 29th, looked around, and thought, "Screw it! I'm crocheting and watching movies."

What it comes down to is knowing when to lay down the hammer on your ass and when to ease up. After fifteen months of stress, my brain was fried. I struggled to type even a paragraph. Luckily, I have family and friends who have no problem telling me I'm being too hard on myself. So even though November is the official National Novel Writing Month, it really doesn't matter when you write.

I just matters that you write.