Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - The Secret Lives of Pets

Sixteen-year-olds aren't into animated movies in a public theater, but they'll curl up on the couch with their moms and watch them on Netflix. LOL

No SPOILERS warning since this movie came out nearly two years ago.

Unfortunately, both of us hated The Secret Lives of Pets. Genius Kid called it a rip-off of Bolt. I thought it ripped off Toy Story. And the bunny Snowball looked exactly like Hoodwinked's Boingo. Needless to say, neither of us were impressed.

Illumination Entertainment did such a wonderful job with the Despicable Me series. However, this was an incredible disappointment. Derivative. No surprises. No heart. Nothing original about this story whatsoever. Seriously, when Kevin Hart can't save your movie, it's bad.

So very, VERY bad.

Not even bad in a good way. Neither GK or I can figure out how this movie was one of the highest-grossing films of 2016.

The sequel has been announced, and Harrison Ford has been cast as Max, replacing Louis CK who lost the job after a rash of sexual misconduct allegations. As much as I love Harrison, I don't think I can force myself to watch The Secret Lives of Pets 2.

Overall, I have to give this film 0 stars out of 10.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Big Publishers Now Looking to Indies for Marketing Ideas (And I'm Highly Amused)

On a Monday two years ago, a tip popped up on Alter Ego's Facebook feed. A handful of her friends were telling their friends that the first seven books of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series were bundled on Amazon for $1.99.

Yep, Randy Penguin had had a bundle sale.

When indies started doing stuff like low priced e-books and even lower priced bundles, the pundits were screaming from the rooftops that indies were destroying culture. Yet, here we are, ten years down the road since the Kindle was introduced, and the big publishers are doing the exact same thing.

Sadly, things can be traced back to L.K. Rigel's cover for her novel, Spiderwork. Harper Collins liked the original artwork so much that they ripped off cover artist Nathalia Suellen. The matter was eventually settled, but not before L.K. and Nathalia had to get their attorneys involved and the art director at Harper Collins lost her job. And poor author Alix Flinn was blamed for a lot of the mess though it was her publisher who started the kerfluffle, not her.

Obtaining one of the coveted promotional slots on BookBub has been difficult for the last few years. It's even more so now that trad publishers are using it to promote their backlists. I signed up for the SFF list years ago. I've been seeing a lot of old favorites that came out when I was in grade school or even before I was born. Authors like Katherine Kurtz, Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffrey.

The swing side of trad publishing BookBub slots are setting the first book in a series (or even all the volumes released so far) at a sale price to goose sales of the latest release of the series.

The odd part is the pricing for these sale books. The trad publishers are pricing books at $1.99, the price that most indies consider the dead zone. It does make the book stand out from the indie crowd. Part of me would love to know what their actual units are for one of these twenty-four-hour sales.

Finally, the trad publishers are contracting with indie writers again. After unit sales didn't meet the marketing department's expectations between 2012 and 2016, the trad publishers backed away from pursuing indie writers, and more than a few indie writers they did pursue refused to sign. Now, trad publishers are looking at high-selling indies again, but they are being more selective on who they are handing out contracts to. For example, J.A. "Joe" Konrath signed with Kensington Publishing. It'll be interesting to see how things work out with Joe.

As I said in the title of this post, I find these changes funny more than anything. A lot of the things authors have been asking for over the decades are now being delivered--now that those same writers proved they were financially feasible.

We must not be so crappy after all since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pacing, and Not Back and Forth Across a Room

Something I've noticed in books I haven't finished reading over the last couple of years is a problem with pacing. This includes both indie and trad. I don't know if it's my collection of experience over the last fifteen years, my jaded view of entertainment, or if it's really getting worse as the years roll on.

What is story pacing? It's the rhythm of a story. The lulls and peaks in action. I've seen it described as the manipulation of time, an EKG graph with increases intensity, or  the stages of sexual response.

A story should lead to a satisfying conclusion for the genre in which it is written. That doesn't necessarily mean a "happily ever after" (HEA) or a "happy for now" (HFN) ending.

In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett's machinations result in Rhett leaving her at the end. Most of the story is Scarlett fighting her own stubbornness, vanity and impulses. She can't see the damage she's doing until it's too late. While her husband has left her, the story does not end on a sad note. Scarlett swears to win Rhett back.

Scarlett's story is marked by a series of high and low points. While it seems like the escape from Atlanta should be the high point of the entire story, it's not. This false win is followed by an even worse crash--starvation and danger in the aftermath of the Civil War.

As Scarlett rebuilds her post-war life, there is a series of peaks and valleys once again. This stage shows our heroine gaining more independence with each step. The penultimate tragedy is the accidental death of her youngest daughter Bonnie Blue. Rhett leaving Scarlett was foreshadowed by Ashley's statement to the effect of a couple needing the same temperament.

These rhythms don't necessarily have to match exactly for both the main plot and any subplots. In fact, opposing rhythms are a hallmark of romantic suspense. It's difficult to have any sexy time when trying to solve a murder or when someone's trying to kill you. A lull in the action gives the protagonists' budding romance to build. If it's done right, solving the crime/catching the killer comes about the same time as the couples' declaration of togetherness.

Those books I mention that I did not finish? There's a discordant rhythm. The stakes for the protagonist(s) did not rise. Sometimes, they even went down.

In an sf romance I actually managed to finish, two people are trying to stop an assassination. Except they weren't personally involved other than their learned knowledge of the crime which was supposed to take place on a planet in an entirely different solar system. Some place they weren't even going to. In other words, there was plenty of time to build their romance.

In fact, there was too much time. The writer had to invent contrived reasons to keep the couple apart because they never left the space station. Oh, and how did they prevent the assassination? They called the police on the planet where it was supposed to happen.

By the way, this was a trad published book.

*eyeroll*

Pacing is something you learn through practice. Yeah, I know, "practice" is a dirty word among some writing circles. But seriously, if you're a plotter, draw a graph of the high/low points in your story. If you're a pantser, draw your graph after the first draft. It'll give you a starting point of what needs to be fixed.

Remember! Craft is king, and no one's going to recommend your book to their friends if they are mumbling "WTF" while they are reading it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - Pacific Rim Uprising

I'll be honest. I wasn't expecting much from Pacific Rim: Uprising other than some loud, fun robot-monster, oops!, make that Jaeger-Kaiju action. I was pleasantly surprised they had a decent story with a logical twist that harkened back to the original.

I give John Boyega a lot of credit for not resting on only his acting chops. His company, Upperroom Entertainment Limited, co-produced this film, giving John a producing credit as well as top billing.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) Boyega's Jake is the black sheep of the Pentecost clan. Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, Jake is living large as a black marketer. Boyega effortlessly shows Jake's switch from punk to the military leader that his father thought he could be.

2) Cailee Spaeny was adorable as Amara, a Jaegar fan and mechanic.

3) Rinko Kikuchi is back as Jaeger pilot, now PPDC secretary-general, Mako Mori. *fangirl squee*

4) Another *fangirl squee* for the incredible Jing Tian (The Great Wall) as industrialist Liwen Shao. Again, she did an incredible, seamless switch between greedy corporatist to much-needed ally of the PPDC.

5) The sad betrayal involves a member of the previous cast, and if you've seen the original Pacific Rim, it's totally believable.

6) The post credits scene implies plans are in place for a franchise continuation. *crosses fingers*


CONS
1) A certain female character was fridged. Yeah, I'm pissed and disappointed.

2)  I only wish the story had done more to explore Mako and Jake's relationship, especially since Mako became the Jaeger pilot Stryker expected Jake to became.

3) Poor Scott Eastwood was mere eye candy despite second billing in this film. The poor guy could do a decent job if someone could give him a role with some meat.


Overall, I give Pacific Rim: Uprising 8 stars out of 10 for good, old-fashioned monster fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Some of these superhero ditties even survive fifty years later...


Friday, April 20, 2018

F*CK CANCER!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sometimes Life Rolls Right Over You

Confession time. Part of my rant last week was because I went in for another mammogram on April 9th. Yeah, another one. My fourth in a year.

I wish I could say I found the lump through an intended self-exam. In reality, I was working on some accounting stuff while watching a new episode of The Walking Dead at the end of March, 2017. The back of my left hand brushed against my left breast as I reached for a receipt. And I felt something hard through my t-shirt.

My first thought was "lint ball".  Sometimes, lint balls from the clothes dryer magnetically stick to my t-shirts and bras instead of getting sucked into the filter, and when I'm still half asleep while dressing, I don't notice. At a commercial, I went to the bathroom to fish out the lint ball.

It wasn't a lint ball. The hard thing was definitely under my skin. I yelled for DH and asked if he felt the same thing I did. Never one to refuse a request  to feel me up, he checked. And frowned. And checked again.

So I called my gynecologist the next morning. She got me in for a check-up a couple of days later. She checked. And frowned. And checked again.

She had an appointment for me at the diagnostic center the following Monday for a full mammogram. The radiologist didn't like the look of the x-rays, so the tech trundled me over to the ultrasound room for another look. Yep, definitely a mass inside my breast.

So I went back to my gynecologist with the test results, and she referred me to a surgeon. He checked. And frowned. And checked again. Then he did his own ultrasound and a needle aspiration. A couple of days later, he called. The biopsy results were inconclusive, but he didn't want to slice and dice without being sure. "We're going to keep an eye on it."

That was the beginning of April, and he wanted me back in August. Once again, he checked my lump. And frowned. And checked again.

Another ultrasound mammogram. Another needle biopsy. Another inconclusive result.

So Easter weekend, the surgeon's office called to set up my appointment at the diagnostic center for the whole kabob once again. X-rays showed a change to the mass. Once again, I was trundled to the ultrasound room for another look.

This time, the radiologist came in to talk to me after she looked at all the pics and comparing them to last year's. It's pretty serious if the radiologist bothers to talk to you. She had me recite everything that had been done. And frowned.

"We need to core," she said. "I'll talk to your surgeon."

Apparently, he didn't argue. The next morning, a nurse from the diagnostic center called with my appointment this week.

A core is a little more than a needle aspiration and a little less than a lumpectomy. The radiologist who did the procedure seemed pleased with the quality of the samples she pulled. Now, it's a matter of waiting for the pathology reports.

So right now, I'm sitting in my recliner with an ice pack in my bra and desperately wishing for an NSAID. (Acetaminophen doesn't do a whole lot for me.) Most of the bruising is from the doctor's generous application of lidocaine shots prior to the coring.

She also inserted a titanium clip into the hole to mark the spot. The x-ray tech took a few more pictures to mark the spot of the clip before they sent me home.

Last night, DH and I had a little fun with his stud-finder. Yep, there's definitely a bit of metal in my boob.

I don't know what's going to happen next. DH is a little upset I'm planning for the worst case scenario. I'm not being negative. I really don't want to die. But I've seen first-hand the effects of chemotherapy on people. Chemo brain is a real thing, and my ability to write will be limited if I do have to be treated for breast cancer. If the worst-case scenario happens, it will play havoc with my 2018 writing schedule, not merely delay it.

If it's not cancer, then life goes on as normal, and I stick to my original plan.

But regardless, I find being Schroedinger's cat damn annoying.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - Bright

After nagging from friends and Genius Kid, we signed up for Netflix. The first thing I watched on our new account was Bright, an urban fantasy, buddy cop flick with Will Smith. If you've watched the James Caan/Mandy Patinkin sf film Alien Nation, you've got the gist of the plot.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *

PROS
1) Will Smith and Joel Edgarton's onscreen chemistry.

2) Smith has gone from the brash rookie to the world-weary, marginally corrupt vet, and he makes it work.

3) The elves taking over Beverly Hills was pretty funny.


CONS
1) The pacing is off. This feels like a one-hour TV pilot that was padded out to make a feature-length film.

2) The writers were a little too heavy-handed with the social commentary. Comment is fine, but they turned it into an entire sermon.

3) Too many of the buddy cop clichés made it predictable. I would have been happy with one or two surprises.


Overall, it was a decent bit of weekend fluff, Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alien Nation, I don't think concept will be fully realized unless/until it goes to series. I give Bright 7 stars out 10.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Some of these tunes get in your head, and they evoke a particular feeling...


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Once More Into the Dungeon, Or Why Congress Is Trying to Kill You

As I tried to finish a Suzan Harden title and take a mini-vacation of Easter (while getting wildly sick), Amazon decided to launch a silent pre-emptive strike against indie erotica authors like Alter Ego--AGAIN!

This time, Amazon rank-stripped all erotica titles. And if your romance was a little too steamy, your books got thrown into the erotica dungeon.

Unfortunately, this occasion wasn't due to some prude in the ranks. Nope, this time it was due to idiots in the United States Congress. They slipped something through last week under the guise of the budget. Something to allegedly save the women and children!

Don't get me wrong. Sex trafficking is a bad, BAD thing, and it should be stopped. But the Senate and the House of Representatives have cobbled together bills (SESTA/FOSTA) that are far too broad in scope and very vague in specifics. (By the way, the primary sponsor of SESTA, Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, is a really dick, and there's part of me that wants to run against him as an independent. GRR!)

So now the major tech players are totally panicking. Amazon isn't the only one hiding stuff and shutting down shit left and right. Craigslist has already shut down their personal ads. Reddit has shut down several subforum discussions regarding sex. Barnes & Noble is kicking off writers who had the temerity of writing erotica, even if their erotic works are no longer available on B&N's website!

And before anyone thinks this is about partisanship or political parties, both sides are equally guilty in my opinion. On the surface, it seems innocuous. However, this is a blatant government attack on First Amendment rights by using the tech giants to enforce these vague policies. And I can pretty much guarantee this stupidly written law will be used to shut down health information sites.

Why do I think that? Two reasons:

(1) We've been down that rabbit hole once already. Medical websites were deactivated over Congress's last few attempts to shut down porn sites until medical exemptions were written in.

(2) Because I had to get a mammogram on Monday. Roughly a year ago, I discovered a lump in my left breast, right below the nipple. The last couple of biopsies have come back inconclusive. My surgeon doesn't want to cut if he doesn't have to, so he and my ob/gyn are keeping a close eye on the damn thing. And frankly after having my right breast sliced up sixteen years ago, I'd prefer not going through that again unless it's absolutely necessary.

I'm a strong believer in cancer screenings. I have been for the last thirty-something years. DH has already been down that ugly road, and I don't wish it on anyone. When I say please do your self-checks, I mean it. (That goes for you guys, too!) I've posted self-check videos on this blog for that very reason.

And because the 'bots that will be used to enforce these rules cannot look at context, odds are in the next few weeks this post or my account may disappear. Necessary pictures and demonstrations of techniques will disappear. And it will be detrimental to women and men alike.

If you're an Ohioan, call Sen Rob Portman at (202) 224-3353 or Se. Sherrod Brown at (202) 224-2315, and tell them SESTA needs to be refined to make it effective. If you're from another state, look up your senator or representative here. Here's the text if you wish to read it.

So let's see if these PSA are still here in a few months:

For the ladies...



And for the gentlemen...



Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday Movie Mania - For the Love of Spock

For the Love of Spock didn't make it to our little local theater during its brief theatrical release in 2016, but it has been on my To Be Watched (TBW) list since Adam Nimoy announced that he would finish the documentary that he and his father Leonard started prior to the senior Nimoy's death on February 27, 2015.

I'm not giving my customary SPOILERS warning because the elements of the movie were covered by various media outlets over the last fifty years. Not to mention, The Big Bang Theory worked the documentary itself into an episode ("The Spock Resonance" where Adam interviewed Jim Parson's character Sheldon Cooper while he was on set to actually interview Jim for his documentary about his father).

What started as a tribute to the character turned into a reflection of the character's influence on people's lives--Leonard's, his children, his personal friends, as well as colleagues and fans.

The most touching parts were the bittersweet recollections of Adam and his sister Julie. The irony that money was no longer tight mixed with the loss of their father to long hours on the sets of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible during the pre-teen and teen years right when they needed their father the most. Even more wrenching was how both Leonard and Adam's substance addictions drove a further wedge in their relationship and how they were brought back together through the terminal cancer diagnosis of Adam's second wife.

A lighter touch was shown by Leonard's brother and sister-in-law when they talk about their family not really understanding the actor's popularity until they saw him in a play in New York.

Overall, the film is Adam's wish that he hadn't lost so many years with his father and his joy that they reconciled before it was too late.

I give For the Love of Spock 10 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Since I'm trying to wrap up my first superhero book, I've been listening to a lot of superhero soundtracks.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Executives Just Don't Understand

I had a bizarre conversation last week. Actually, it wasn't the first time I've had this conversation with this person.

He's been an executive with different firms for the last twenty or so years. With each company, he's been responsible for making and marketing various widgets. It really doesn't matter what type of widgets. But in each case, the widgets were solid, tangible objects.

He has a very difficult time understanding how I, as one person, can produce and market a totally intangible thing that people are willing to pay money for.

The thing he can't quite grasp is that a tangible object or a service is marketed very differently than entertainment.

Why? Because in my humble opinion, it all comes down to a variation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

People need entertainment. It's an essential psychological need. My executive is used to producing widgets that were more akin to solving physical needs.

If people are living in an area that is or can become cold, they're going to need a blanket. My executive would market to people who lived in areas where they need blankets. They give him money for a blanket so they don't freeze to death. Right?

I don't deal with physical comfort. My customer is looking for a particular emotional experience. In particular, I provide excitement and adventure where justice is served in the end. Bad guys die or are apprehended for their crimes. My good gals get the guy and the acclaim. This is the value I provide to my readers.

Unfortunately, he doesn't quite get how I can upload a book to an online store and attract customers' attention. I pointed out covers and blurbs, which is a type of marketing that signals what kind of story this is. (I mean, come on! Everyone knows a woman with a sword is most likely to be fantasy, right?) I point out that I've been published in anthologies, which are akin to a sampler platter at a restaurant.

Even though I used Netflix as an examples of how people search out what they like, he still doesn't quite get it. And I finally got out of him what the real problem was--he doesn't understand an imagination. He doesn't understand how to make up shit.

I'm not sure how to explain imagination to anyone short of going Spongebob Squarepants on their ass. Anyone who's not a writer got any tips?


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Still Recovering

I slept in today because I wore myself out trying to have a normal routine on Monday and Tuesday. I'm still recovering from the stupid UTI. Now, I understand why UTIs in the elderly present as signs of dementia. I feel like my brain is wrapped in layers of cotton and wool.

All this means my progress on Hero De Facto resembles the 101 at rush hour. I'm getting writing done, but it's crawling along.

I have to admit I really nervous about releasing this trilogy. It's a little new and different for me. But I don't know how much is real anxiety and how much is fuzzy brain.

I guess I'll find out over the next couple of months.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Spring Break Roadtrip

I've been kind of quiet online because Genius Kid and I did a roadtrip down to honorary Godmother's place in Nashville. Frankly for me, it was an experiment in pain management after the disastrous trip to Tampa last year where I could barely walk by the time we got home.

[Tip: A naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) double-header does wonders! But please check with your doctor before combining any drugs.]

Heck, GK and I made it through the trip without any too much bickering. We both swore we'd behave. We bonded over Netflix.

Why did we spend our time watching Netflix while being in a beautiful, vibrant city?

We arrived late Wednesday afternoon after driving through rain the entire seven hours. While GK slept in on Thursday, I went to the local Panera to write. By Thursday evening, I wasn't feeling well. Chalking it up to travel fatigue, I went to bed after we got home from dinner.

By Friday afternoon, I was running a fever. Luckily, they had a marvelous thing called The Little Clinic nearby. The staff had me registered, tested, and checked in less time than I've spent in other doctors' waiting rooms. I actually had to wait longer for my prescriptions to be filled at the Kroger pharmacy. But once I had my antibiotics, I felt much better.

GK decided he needed the down time anyway. He's been carrying a full load of welding classes in addition to his high school classes.

On Saturday, GM to me to a lovely little Greek place for lunch. OMG! So good! Then we went to their local Barnes & Noble, so she could prove to me they still actually *gasp* sold books!

The B&N still had a music and video section, a large café, and a toy section, but 75% of the store carried actual BOOKS! I bought my first paper books since 2016: a couple of Valdemar anthologies that I'd been meaning to buy that have short stories by my friend Angela Penrose, the last book of Gail Carriger's Finishing School series Manners & Mutiny (I was reading Book 3 Waistcoats & Weaponry on the drive down), and a Batman v Superman edition Wonder Woman doll (it had allegedly sold out shortly before the movie came out, and scalpers were asking outrageous amounts for it). We didn't spot Ricky Skaggs, a country music star who frequents that particular store, but all-in-all a good shopping trip.

We had brunch before hitting the road on Sunday morning. That's when GK informed me he needed a red shirt for a group presentation at school. Yes, on Easter Sunday, my son informs me he needs a particular item of clothing for his first period class--in less than twenty-four hours while we're seven hours from home.

A reminder that he's not quite the adult he usually acts like.

And yes, we did find a store open with a red shirt. No, I did not get on his case that maybe if he wore a color other than black we could have avoided the stress.

But today, it's back to work! With donuts! Because Mom got long johns while in the store with red shirts.