Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Jumanji, LPs, and the Video Game Movie


I'm starting to get the feeling that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Hollywood career revolves around finding shiny green rocks and, ahem, "putting that thing back where it came from or so help me."


But seriously, guys, we need to talk about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

I delayed this blog post by one day so I could go see this movie on Discount Tuesday and talk about it now. I've been playing around with an idea for a while, and I had a feeling that the latest reboot of Jumanji was going to factor into it.

I was right.

So let's talk video games and movies.

I'm going to preface this by saying that practically I'm not much of a gamer. I don't have a console, so I don't really get to play the games. I enjoy video games, and I used to play a little on my brother's consoles. But nowadays I watch Let's Plays on YouTube because I like the stories of some video games and it's nostalgic for me to watch someone else play.

I recently finished watching an LP of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword by Chuggaconroy. It was really good; I watch these for the stories and the commentary, and I came away with an appreciation for the player and a love for the story. This game actually has a really great story and excellent character interactions and development. I was very drawn into the game, even though I wasn't the one playing.

What does this have to do with Jumanji, you might be asking? Hold on, I'm getting there. First, though, I want to talk about movies based on video games.






And why they do so terribly.


Seriously, why? Video games have some great stories, and if TV shows and books can be adapted into movies, why do games struggle so much? I've heard a number of theories, from bad movie-making, directors/writers who don't know the game well enough to understand what makes it popular (this is true of any kind of adaptation, to be honest), to the fact that video games put the player in control and movies take away that control.

I agree most with the last reason. I think video games have something special in that they are inherently interactive and a movie is not. However, that doesn't explain why I enjoy watching Let's Plays, and why others enjoy them, too. I am not interacting with the game when I watch an LP, but I still have a lot of fun. So, why does this work and not a movie based on a game?

I think it's because the interaction is still there in how the player comments and reacts to the game. I'm not reacting, but the fun, real reactions to the game are still there.

And that's what I think Jumanji did right. I don't think it was the best movie ever, but as a movie structured around the idea of a video game, it made some interesting moves. While this film is not based on a game, it is a movie about a video game. It manages to blend the epic adventure of a video game plot with the realistic gamer reactions someone might have when playing. It toys with meta-playing, like knowing that you can waste a life in order to achieve an objective. It also uses the idea of becoming someone else (who is very much not you) when playing a game.


It captures the feel not only of the game but also the act of playing one. Granted, it's not based on a game itself, but I still think that's why this movie is being praised when movies based on video games get panned.

Video games are more than their story, but movies limit themselves to the story alone. Maybe they have to: it's a medium thing. But the act of playing the game is a part of the story, too. The Zelda games are epic fantasy adventures, but they're also gamers messing around cutting grass and fighting chickens and screaming and running like crazy when the boss battle arrives and they have NO IDEA what to do next.


They're fun and playful because the players are. Movies can't capture that; they have to pick a genre and they can't leave it up the players. LPs capture both the game and the way people play it.

I don't know if a movie based on a video game can really capture the feeling of being a normal person playing the game and reacting to it like we do. And, for some games (horror games come to mind), maybe we wouldn't want that. But I think there's value in exploring what Jumanji did right in making a movie about a game by addressing the feeling and responses of the players. If a studio wants to make a successful movie based on a video game, they need to look beyond the story itself and into the experience the players have while playing it, serious and silly. Only then would a movie based on a game feel "right" to the players who have experienced it.

I also think it wouldn't hurt to attempt it with a longer medium first, like a TV series.

Oh, and guess what? I registered for the Utah Valley Marathon. I'm excited but a bit nervous. Good thing I have time to train. So, that happened.

It was also brought to my attention that my "About Me" section on my blog needed to be updated, so I did that, too. We'll be back to our normal Monday schedule next week.

Monday, January 8, 2018

New Year, New...We'll See

Happy 2018, everyone!

First thing first, today is the last day to enter the Arts and Thefts giveaway on Goodreads. If you're interested in winning a copy, you'd best act now!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Arts and Thefts by Allison K. Hymas

Arts and Thefts

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends January 08, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Speaking of Arts and Thefts, the publication date is coming up really fast! Five weeks from tomorrow! It snuck up on me, I admit. I'm trying to figure out book launch plans, though I realize that the launch may be a bit late, or might not happen, because of my dilly-dallying. I hope it happens; I have some good ideas to make it fun!

My vacation was a good one. It was very, very cold, though; toward the end, Pennsylvania got hit with a bomb cyclone, which looks a bit like this:





A hurricane of snow and winds and bitter cold. To put it perspective, it's now around 40-45 degrees F outside in Utah, and I've been walking around in a thin long-sleeve shirt because it feels warm and springtimey to me right now. It makes a nice change.

Overall it was a good break. I saw a few movies (The Last Jedi and The Greatest Showman - the latter was really worth watching although it hasn't gotten the Star Wars hype) and got to spend some quality time with my family, which is always the best part. I also got some time to rest my mind, which lasted a few days before the ideas started jumping for a new project.

Yes, I know I have a lot of new projects. The really funny thing is that they're all middle grade. I used to have a grand total of zero middle grade ideas, and then I had one, and now I can't stop them from coming! I'm pretty excited about this one, and I've already started writing it over the break because I needed to start getting it down.


So, a new work in progress or two might be something I work on this year. Another thing is a marathon.

Strange as it sounds, I do want to run 26.2 miles for kicks and giggles. I've wanted to for a few years, and I think I might be able to make it happen this year. I just looked up a schedule, and boy, this is going to be interesting. But it gives me a good timeline for training. I now need to look up races nearby that will make a good first marathon that work with that timeline. Utah has some great marathons, but I'm a beginner, so I want one that's chill and easy. Okay, easier. It's not like I'm qualifying for Boston.

So...we'll see how this year goes. I'll be busy writing, reading, and running. And probably watching my sugar intake (sob) as I fuel correctly for the marathon.

I'll keep you posted on any adventures this year brings, and I hope you do the same for me!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Adieu for the Holidays

The Goodreads giveaway for Arts and Thefts is still running, and will through the rest of the holiday season, so if you'd like to enter, now's your time!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Arts and Thefts by Allison K. Hymas

Arts and Thefts

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends January 08, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
And...I feel like I should shamelessly take this opportunity to remind you that books make great gifts, especially fun middle grade novels about retrieval specialists...cough cough....

The holiday season is upon us, which means that, since next Monday is Christmas and the Monday after that is New Year's Day, I'll be taking a few weeks off from this blog. Hopefully I'll have some fun things to say in the new year.

As for today, not much to report. I'm working on a new story idea which is TWISTY AS CAN BE. Seriously, right now, as I plan and plot, I'm pretty much the real-life equivalent of this meme:


And I'm loving every bit of it. I freaking love puzzles, and this is a tough one.

Well, it is Christmas, which means that once again, it's time for me to run my characters' names through a "Naughty or Nice" website and see what comes up.


This is coming from two different sites, this year, The Naughty or Nice List and Santa Clause Naughty or Nice. Now, let's see what they say for my kids!

Casey Kingston:

NNL:

Casey Kingston, you must have been EXTRA nice this year. Santa has a smiley face next to your name on the Nice List!

SCNN: Nice, but has a little room for improvement. Could be better listener. Has a kind heart. Often sets a good example for others. Was very nice last Saturday!! Hopefully, will keep up the good work!

(Looks like Case is doing a good job maintaining "golden boy" status for the adults!)

Paul "Hack" Heigel:
NNL:

2 words: Nice List. Mother Teresa has nothing on you Paul Heigel.

SCNN: Nice, but several naughty marks. Was very good yesterday, so it's nice to add another mark in the nice column. Needs to pick up toys better, and help keep things neat at home. 

(Hack may have hacked a few sites, but Santa knows all! Fortunately, Hack's heart is always in the right place, even if his actions go a little...criminal.)

Becca Mills:
NNL:

You are currently #16582 on Santa's Nice List. Not too shabby considering everyone in the entire world! Keep up the good work!

SCNN: "Nice," but you'd better watch out! I'm checking my list (twice!) and I see that the manners sometimes slip a bit. Please remember to say "thank you" especially in a season when people are giving gifts and doing such nice things. Good work brushing those teeth! Floss regularly and you'll earn extra "Nice" points! 

(Oh, Becca's going to be SO MAD when she sees this! She knows she's not perfect, but she sure should be higher than #16,582 when she's working so hard to stop thieves like Jeremy!)

Jeremy Wilderson:
NNL:

Well Jeremy Wilderson, right now you're teetering on Santa's Nice List. You could help around the house more instead of watching so much television.

SCNN: Still very much on nice list, but must continue good behavior. Should eat more vegetables instead of junk food. Was very polite last Thursday! When doing chores, needs to do them as well as possible. Often exhibits good behavior. 

(Is "watching television" what the kids are calling retrieving these days? But the comment about junk food is very apt; business has been good, and the chocolate cake is rolling in.)

And, because people seem to like him, one more:

Rick Wilderson:
NNL:

2 words: Naughty List. You know why Rick Wilderson.

SCNN: It was a pretty good year, so we'll go for a "Nice" rating. A few naughty marks for excessive junk food, not going to bed on time and nearly forgetting someone's birthday. Really tried to keep up with household chores, though. Extra credit for smiling a lot. Is kind to senior citizens. Keep improving! 

(Well, this is interesting. At least half true: Rick does know why. Also, if you listen closely, you can hear both Wilderson boys having a good laugh at this.)

These are always fun for me. It's cool to see what the name draws forth, and even though I know they're all random, sometimes they fit rather well. I'll see you all in the new year!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Spidey, Stark, and Responsibility

Hey, everyone! Guess what?

I'm doing a giveaway! One copy of an advanced reader copy of Arts and Thefts, through Goodreads.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Arts and Thefts by Allison K. Hymas

Arts and Thefts

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends January 08, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
It will run through January 8, so you have until then to enter.

In other news, I gave platelets this past week. I did it partly because a) the Red Cross calls me in, I have the universal donor type for platelets, and I feel like if I'm healthy and have time I should do it, and b) as part of the #LightTheWorld initiative. Serving others through December. Who doesn't like that?

But giving platelets takes a long time, so I watch a movie during the process. This last time it was Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was my third time seeing it, and I started to have some questions as I watched.

Such as: did Peter ever sign the Sokovia Accords? Because I don't think he did. Which is interesting since he was on Tony's team and Tony's team signed them. Maybe it was because he's a minor?

Or maybe it's because Tony brings him in as an asset, not a new team player?

There's a lot on the web about Tony being a father figure to Peter, but rewatching the movie, I just couldn't see it, not really. I think toward the end, Tony sees himself in that way, but starting out, he brings Peter in because the team needs more help, and then takes him home, tells him, "We'll call you," and leaves him without, really, any support.


To me, that sounds more like a business man using a new asset, not a teammate or even employee. And, when Peter comes to him with problems, he seems to brush them aside. However, Tony himself makes a lot of comments comparing how he interacts with Peter to how his own father treated him, so Tony at least does see a more parental role in place, especially after he rescues Peter several times.

So, is Tony treating Spider-Man as an asset or a protege? Does he see himself as responsible for Peter or not responsible at all?

This led me to some interesting character thoughts for both Peter and Tony as I waited for the machine to spin my blood into its parts.

So hold on, because this is going to be a long one. And yes, I'm only looking at the MCU for this analysis.

To begin, let's go back to Iron Man's origin story: Tony Stark was a genius billionaire playboy weapon-monger who didn't seem to think about or care about what his creations did to people. Then, he had a rude awakening when his transport was attacked by terrorists and Tony came, literally, face-to-face with what his weapons could do.


He became Iron Man as a result, attempting to undo his own actions and stop his own weapons. And I think this is really interesting, because this whole experience, this whole origin story, teaches Tony Stark the following:

My actions have consequences.

Think about this. Every action Tony makes as Iron Man comes back to this realization. He takes responsibility for the weapons he creates, especially when they create villains. He takes responsibility for his mistakes, like Ultron. When Civil War comes along, Tony is confronted by a woman who blames his actions for killing her son, which leads him to say yes to the Sokovia Accords.

In this, I see a man who sees how the things he does hurts people. He builds an AI that is supposed to protect the world, instead of killing it like his other weapons do. Then, that AI goes haywire and starts killing, too. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are also caused by Stark weaponry; it's their desire for revenge after Stark weapons destroyed their home and family that causes them to seek enhancements and come after the Avengers. It probably seems to Tony like he destroys everything he touches, instead of protecting them like he wanted to.

Because Tony wants to protect everyone. I think he has daddy issues in more ways than one (which deserve to be discussed in a future post), and is just trying to protect everyone he cares about. Tony seems to take responsibility for the Avengers, giving them a place to live and work. He's the one who dreams of "a suit of armor around the world."


However, he can't do that. He just can't. Why? Because people have agency. They're not suits of armor, to be stored away for safekeeping. They make choices, and Tony can't protect them from the consequences of their choices as much as he wants to. But he tries when the actions, people, and dangers are his. His actions have consequences, and he's doing everything he can to protect people from them. The choice of Tony signing the Sokovia Accords makes sense; by this point, he's probably dying for someone else to oversee his actions and take that responsibility away from him.

Enough about Stark. Let's talk about Peter Parker.


I probably don't need to rehash Spider-Man's origin story, but here's the quick version: Peter gets powers, uses them poorly, and lets a petty criminal go when he could have stopped him. That criminal ends up killing Peter's uncle Ben. We all know this teaches Peter that "with great power comes great responsibility," but taken even deeper, it teaches him this:

My inaction has consequences.

As Peter says in Civil War, "When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you."

Why does this matter? Let's go back to Spider-Man: Homecoming and the interactions between veteran hero Tony Stark and newbie Peter Parker. 

Tony sees responsibility in terms of what he has done, but Peter sees it in terms of what he should do. He needs help to pretty much force Captain America to sign, so he can protect the world from the mistakes he's made and other problems he feels responsible for, but he needs help, so he brings in Spider-Man. As an asset.


However, by doing this, Tony has just become responsible for this kid. He directly acted, you see. But Peter is a kid. A minor. So, when the fight is over, he gives Peter the nice new suit, but with safeguards. He gives him a handler and tracks him (think of how fast he saved Spidey in that first encounter with the Vulture). But he deliberately keeps him out of any real fights because that's how Tony Stark protects people: he shields them, like a suit of armor.


But Peter, on the other hand, has his own agency and a different view of responsibility. So, when someone is selling dangerous high-tech weapons in his neighborhood, he thinks about what could happen if he didn't get involved, and takes that responsibility. He acts, because inaction has consequences. He tells Happy about what happened, but when that gets him nowhere, he can't just let it go. Not when he has the responsibility to stop it.


And this is where the conflict with Tony and Peter happens. To Tony, Peter is his responsibility, but not the weapons dealers. He acted to bring in Peter; he did nothing to cause the weapons dealers (as far as he knows). That means the weapons dealers are not his problem (below the pay grade of the Avengers, as well), but if Peter keeps going after them, then Peter is endangered. And that is Tony's responsibility.

So he saves Peter, repeatedly. He tracks him. He tells him to stay out of trouble. Because if Peter gets hurt, Tony was the one who brought him in and so that's his fault. Consider this dialogue by Tony:

"What if somebody had died? That's on you. What if you had died? That's on me. I don't need that guilt on my conscience. I'm gonna need the suit back."

Pretty telling, don't you think? Tony is seeing responsibility in terms of actions. If someone had died because of what Peter had done, because actions have consequences, then that would have been Peter's fault. And if something happened to Peter, Tony would be at fault because he brought Peter into the superhero world.

But I betcha Peter was thinking of all the people who would be hurt or killed if he didn't stop the weapons deal on the ferry, because inaction has consequences.

Peter's view on responsibility is the reason he can't walk away when he knows the Vulture is about to try another heist. There is no "turn away" for Spider-Man. And this is probably giving Tony Stark an ulcer because he's responsible for the safety of this kid who keeps risking his safety to run after criminals who have nothing to do with him.



Interesting, no? I don't know what Marvel's planning for the Infinity War films, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see this parallel in action again. As much as it's good for Peter to learn superheroism from a veteran, I think it could be even better for Tony to have to wrangle a young hero who sees responsibility in a different way and will keep making his own choices, super-suit or no. Tony may have to learn how to let people make their own choices and not carry the weight of the world on his back because of mistakes he made. He may be able to see fighting evil in terms of helping right and stopping wrong, not as a desperate battle to correct everything that is his "fault."

Thank you for your patience with this long post. Check out the Goodreads giveaway, and if you have any thoughts about this analysis, or other things I should have talked about, feel free to post them in the comments!

Here's this week's debut:

Young Adult:
Amanda Searcy - The Truth Beneath the Lies (12/12)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Living Here in the Shire

It will never not please me how different the Christmas cards I get from my various places of employment are.

For example, here we see a card from my agent's office:



Nice, simple, classy. Non-denominational holiday/New Year's card. It has a nice signed message (I always like seeing my agent Lauren's signature; it makes it feel more personal) on the inside and a calendar on the back. Now for BYU's:





A lovely Nativity scene with a beautiful Christmas message inside, signed by the First Presidency. I love them both for different reasons, though, honestly, the second warms my heart more. Especially considering the gift I got a the department Christmas social today.

A Holy Bible, with its own signed, meaningful note.

I appreciate the humor in the comparison, though I smile unironically.

This actually leads in well to a post a friend asked me to write. For those uninitiated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), we fast once a month, the first Sunday of the month. We do this to show our obedience and faith in God and to ask Him for blessings, if needed. If you, like me, are single in a place full of other single LDS people (like I am), odds are good that you'll have a "break the fast" social dinner, where everyone gets together and eats soup or taco salad or noodles or something else cheap to make in quantity. It basically looks like this:


Yesterday, ours was soup and rolls. And an excellent s'mores pie. Nothing like it!

Anyway, while dining on this food after a day of not eating or drinking, I made a comment about the similarities between Mormons and Tolkien's hobbits. A friend suggested that I blog about it. So, here's the comparison.

Granted, there are differences. You're not likely to find pipeweed (of any kind) or alcohol beyond the cleaning variety at an LDS meetinghouse or in our homes. But, consider....

Both groups are fond of food and getting together in social events, especially dinners.


Both have strong connections to home and family.

Both like music and dancing.

 

Both groups are known to live in the West.

And both are known for their young people leaving for a while for "adventures" and returning different.


(I might also make a comment about "the small and simple things" here).

Anyway, this was my comparison. Nothing behind it; just some fun details I noticed. May it please you as well as it pleased my friend.

There are no debuts this week, but I do have some news of my own. I am doing a giveaway for an ARC of Arts and Thefts on Goodreads, and it starts Friday, December 8. So, keep an eye out for it!


Monday, November 27, 2017

A Very Wilderson Thanksgiving

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I ate way too much (as one does) and saw a movie. The Man Who Invented Christmas. See it, if you can. It was lovely.

So, it has been a crazy week. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the holiday weekend, and now Cyber Monday. By the way, if you're looking for good books to give to kids as holiday gifts, might I suggest Under Locker and Key? ;)

 

Also, the SCBWI BookStop goes through November 30, so it's a great way to look up kids' books during this time. Consider it an online catalogue that you can comment on (and the authors can see your comments!).

Anyway, with it being Thanksgiving and all, I also spent time considering what I'm thankful for, like my family, good books and music, delicious and healthy food, a good night's sleep before a run, candy sugarplums, Christmas specials, Jell-O, clever jokes, etc. I'm sure lots of you did the same exercise in gratitude over the holiday.

So, I thought it might be fun to ask my characters to name 5 things they are thankful for. Here are their answers:

Jeremy Wilderson

- My parents. And my meathead brother Rick, sometimes. Rarely. Very rarely.
- Case and Hack, for the way they have my back and don't laugh (too much) when I fall out of the ceiling on a job.
- My lockpick set, of course. I'd be grounded so many times over without it.
- My grappling hook, for the same reason.


- Chocolate cake. I'm grateful for chocolate cake. What? Did you think I was going to same a certain uptight detective? Ha. No.

Becca Mills

- I guess I have to start with my family, right? It would be wrong not to.
- Law and justice. Or are those two different things? Either way, I'm grateful for how they exist to keep the world ordered and safe.
- Police and lawyers, for upholding law and order through justice.


- My camera. I'm recording this interview on it right now!
- Dirty rotten thieves who remind me why it's so important to honor the law and not give in to sneaky schemes as well as inspire me to work harder to catch them!

Case Kingston

- J and Hack. Of course.
- My collection of acrylic paints. Or do I say my brushes? Argh! The conflict of an artist.
- My parents. And (sigh) my sisters. Even the annoying ones. As long as they don't snoop around my room! And my little brother, for bringing balance to the Force.
- Elmyr de Hory (look him up) for being an inspiration to us all.


- The Philadelphia Eagles. No matter how the seasons go, they're my team.

Paul "Hack" Heigel

- Mom, for working so hard and bailing me out of detention.
- Dad, for teaching me the skills that put me in detention.
- Case and J, even though they accuse me of using cheat codes when we play video games.
- Video game cheat codes.
- The internet. I don't know what I'd do if it had never been invented. Maybe avoid trouble, but at what cost?


BONUS INTERVIEW:

Rick Wilderson

- My family. Including Dr. Evil. He makes me look like the good kid.
- Football. And, by extension, my amazing physique.
- The virtue of humility.
- Root beer. Nectar of the gods.
- Mathematics. What? I can't be a jock and smart, too? Shame on you for falling prey to stereotypes.


Here is this week's debut:

Middle Grade:
Sarah Cannon - Oddity (11/28)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Report!!!

I made the first Christmas cookies of the season!


Aren't they cute? They're Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Cookies, from the recipe in the link in this sentence. If you look closely, though, you can see I added some red sugar sprinkles in with the white sugar on the outside, because I'm starting to feel like a fraud if I don't alter a cookie recipe in some way (even if it's pretty insignificant).

Anyway, today I need to share the cutest thing! My agent's nephew read Under Locker and Key and did a book report on it, and I freaking love it. She sent me pictures, which also ended up on Twitter (not by my doing):


I guess the assignment was to make a box for the book and fill it with items that represent the story. Those of you who've read Under Locker and Key, any guesses to what this kid put in the box? Okay, got your guesses? Now, scroll down to find out.


A key, like the master key.


Lock picks, always important for the aspiring retrieval specialist.






GRAPPLING HOOK!



And we can't forget the burned rag that may have caused a grease fire. May.

I. LOVE. THIS. I think it's so cute and creative and I love seeing that kids are 1) reading my book and 2) enjoying it enough to make such fun book reports about it. It's very flattering. I know kids have a lot of great books to read, better than mine (I know because I read them too), so I'm honored that I could make the list some of the time.

I know one thing I'll be giving thanks for this week!

In other news, I'm still doing SCBWI's BookStop, and I bring this up because the holiday season is about to start, and mine isn't the only page. You can look at a whole bunch of new books and ind that special book for a special kid. Lots of great books on this list!

There are no debuts this week. Enjoy the holiday!