Monday, August 7, 2017

Superhero Tropes

Happy Monday to you all!

In Provo, it's a little gray and dismal today, which means I'm writing and listening to Christmas music. Yes, I know it's August. No, I don't care. Listening to it now doesn't diminish my appreciation for it in December, and I think that any music that encourages joy and goodwill toward others is worth listening to any time of year.


Refraining from raining on my parade is appreciated.

So, this last Tuesday I visited Orem Library. It was great! I loved being there and talking to the kids. I love doing visits; it's one of my favorite perks of being a writer.

The other is writing about crazy bonkers ideas and the "research" that feeds said crazy bonkers ideas.

I have a new project. It's in very, very early stages (I'm drafting a first draft now) so I'm not going to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I dreamed (as in at night) up the plot so you know it's going to be strange, and it involves superheroes.

But not superpowers.

It's a weird one, but I'm having fun, and that's all that matters, right?

Anyway, writing a sort-of superhero story involves research. I love it when watching The Flash becomes research. I've also been training for this for years!


(Does this mean I should go see Spider-Man: Homecoming again? For research? I think it does!)

As I've been researching, I've noticed some interesting superhero tropes. We'll see if I play with any of them in my story or not, but either way, they're fun to notice. Educational, too. Like....

- So many characters have alliterative names. Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, etc.

- Many heroes are scientifically inclined.


- However, the scientifically-inclined heroes fight the villains by brute force.

- Villains, on the other hand, tend to fight using technology and science (what does this say about how we see scientific research, I wonder?).

- The mask and costume are typically spangly and brightly colored.

- Heroes are stronger when united.


 - Villains are stronger when alone, as teaming up tends to end in in-fighting and backstabbing.

- Even though heroes are stronger as a team, they tend to punch first, ask questions later, when dealing with conflict.

- Secrets. Secrets everywhere.

- No one (except Hawkeye) seems capable of holding down a spouse and kids.


 - Superpowers have associate powers no one talks about. Like superspeed and super-endurance, so the physical body doesn't tear apart (skin needs to be strong, too).

- Superheroes are overwhelmingly on the young side of the spectrum.

- Villains range in age.

- Girl heroes tend to wear their hair down.

I'm going to cap it here. If you were hoping for some deep, meaningful blog post today, sorry to disappoint. I'm just exploring, prewriting, and sharing the things I observed with you. Some of which don't make much sense to me. If I'm going to play soccer, go for a run, or enter a jujitsu tournament, I tie my hair back so it doesn't get in my way. Why don't superhero women do the same? I guess Wonder Woman does have that headband.


So that's good.

Here is this week's debut:

Young Adult:
Mary Taranta - Shimmer and Burn (8/8)


Monday, July 31, 2017

Magical Recipes

I'm visiting the Orem Library tomorrow! I'm so excited!

Also, today is Harry Potter's birthday. Happy 37th birthday, Harry Potter! (Yes, that's how old he'd be if he were real.) And, happy birthday also to J.K. Rowling, since they share a birthday.


July 31st is a real holiday in Provo. I ran a Harry Potter-related 5K on Saturday night (pics above), and tonight there's an event that will have live entertainment, trivia contests, and butterbeer. I'm going primarily for the butterbeer and the themed foods, though the entertainment will be good, too.

It's fascinating to me how an entire generation can love a book series so much that we celebrate it as though it were real. Wonderful, though.

Once, I went to a July 31st party that had 6 types of chocolate frog, among other goodies (sherbert soda drinks based on potions, jelly beans, etc.). I ate a bunch of sugar instead of dinner and woke up feeling utterly empty of anything substantive. I still look fondly on those chocolate frogs, though.

If you're throwing a Harry Potter party today, have fun and don't forget the food! Personally, I think one of the most engaging part of the books is the wizarding food; why else would people flock to the theme parks for butterbeer and buy Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans? Food helps us connect to cultures and learn about them, and I think that also goes for the fictions cultures we wish we could be part of.

I've made a few Harry Potter-themed foods, and they've turned out great. Here are a couple of my favorites. Have a great July 31st!

Pumpkin Pasties:

Ingredients

2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1 1 lb. can pumpkin (or 2 cups fresh, roasted in the oven then pressed through a strainer to save your Pumpkin Juice to drink!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 2/3 cups evap. milk (1 can)
1/2 tsp. allspice
9 oz pie crust pastry (enough for two single standard pie crusts) - I like to use a store-bought one, but you can make your own.

Instructions

Except for the pastry, mix together all the ingredients well. This is the filling.

Bake the filling only (no crust) in a large casserole dish in hot oven (425 °F) for 15 minutes.
Keep oven door closed and reduce temperature to moderate (350 °F/180 °C) and continue baking for 45 minutes or until table knife inserted in center of dish comes out clean.

Cool filling completely on a wire rack.

Roll pie crust pastry thin and cut into circles approx 4" in diameter.

Put a spoonful of the cool pumpkin mixture towards one side of the center of the circle.

Fold over the crust into a half-circle and firmly crimp the edges closed.

Slice three small slits in the top for venting.

Place on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake only until crust is a light golden-brown, approx 10 minutes.

Tastes good both hot and room-temperature. I like eating these while drinking a mug of hot cocoa!

Butterbeer:

 
 Ingredients
  • 1 two liter bottle of cream soda, chilled
  • 1/4 tsp caramel extract
  • 1/4 tsp butter extract
For the Cream Topping:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch topping
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. In large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks.
  2. Add butterscotch topping and powdered sugar.
  3. Mix the caramel and butter extracts with the cream soda and then pour the mixture into clear cups or mugs.
  4. Top with butterscotch cream topping and enjoy!

Assorted Candies:

Acid Pops: Dip sour-flavored lollipops in honey and roll in Pop Rocks.

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans: Dip regular flavors in sugar water to make them sticky. Cover beans with spices or flavorings. Go nuts and let your dark magic take you to some scary places.

* NOTE: You can also just buy regular beans and tell people you've mixed in some of the store-bought Bertie Botts. Watch people hesitate before eating the buttered popcorn flavor.


Licorice Wands: Take chocolate Twizzlers and dip the end in melted chocolate (any color). Cover the chocolate end with sprinkles.

There are a bunch of other recipes online if you want to search them and learn how to make Cauldron Cakes, treacle tarts, pumpkin juice, and the like. But these are fun and a few of them are quick, perfect for a party!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Jonathan Rosen - Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies (8/1)
Danielle Davis - Zinnia and the Bees (8/1)
Katie Slivensky - The Countdown Conspiracy (8/1)
Patrick Moody - The Gravedigger's Son (8/1)

Young Adult:
Tiffany Pitcock - Just Friends (8/1)
Katy Upperman - Kissing Max Holden (8/1)
Chelsea Bobulski - The Wood (8/1)
Matthew Landis - The League of American Traitors (8/1)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Disney Channel Movie Raises Complicated Questions

We'll get to the blog post topic a little later, but I'm sure you have questions about the title here. Believe me, I do too.

First, though, Happy Pioneer Day to those of you in Utah or with ties to Utah!


I celebrated this morning by running Provo's Temple-to-Temple 5K. It's free and all downhill, so it's a good way for me to get a Personal Record in the 5K distance.

And I did. 21 minutes, 31 seconds. I'm feeling very good about myself right now.

I have also learned that 1) you should not skip water stations in a July race, even when you didn't mean to, 2) 8 am is WAY to late to start a summer race, and 3) Powerade or Gatorade really is helpful in preventing post-race headaches (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

In other news, I am visiting the Orem Library on August 1st. It will be a good show (I hope) and you should all come!

And, now, for the reason you clicked on this post.

Okay, so as much as I love good movies and stories, sometimes I want a simple, stupid one. Sometimes, I want mindless fun, and sometimes, bad movies are entertaining in ways they never meant to be. But mostly, mindless fun.

One of these movies, for me, is the Disney Channel movie Teen Beach Movie. If you haven't seen it, the basic premise is that two teenagers get sucked into a 1960s surfer musical and wreck it, and then have to fix the movie to go home.


As far as mindless fun goes, it's pretty good. Catchy music, and enough references to 1960s musicals to be entertaining outside itself. They play with the tropes in a fun way, so it has some delightful meta moments. The message is good and the story is interesting. The characters are also likeable. Nothing amazing, but nothing I'd feel ashamed of myself for watching. It has an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.

And then, this week, I watched the sequel.


I know. I know. Sequels. Should have known better. The premise of this one is that the two teens, back home in the real world, are visited by the main characters of the movie and they have to get them to go back to the film.

Going to warn you, there are spoilers ahead. You are hereby warned.

This movie left me with a lot of questions, some fairly easy to answer, like:

- Why are the characters so out of character (Mack is fine with breaking into song and dance)?
- Why isn't the music as fun?

This is because it was a sequel, and when it's a musical set in modern day, as this one is, the characters have to be willing to sing and dance (even when nothing's forcing them to) and the music doesn't sound like the '60s. It sounds like modern stuff, and isn't as unique.

But the plot left me with lots of questions that aren't as easily answered. I finished a bit confused, so here we go. Share my confusion.

- I thought Mack hated that movie. What changed?

- If the protags are so different, how did they become a couple in the first place?

- Do the movie characters just relive the same segment of time over and over? Do they remember doing this?


 - Did the movie change in the real world when the main characters left it?

- If the characters turn all modern clothes into '60s clothes when they put them on, why didn't, in the first movie, the modern kids turn the old clothes modern? Is it a movie magic thing? But if the movie was set in the '60s. why have this trope anyway (the clothes wouldn't change)?

- Why is everyone at school cool with singing and dancing, since they're NOT musical characters? Especially since it's been made clear, in the world of the movie, it's weird to spontaneously break into song and dance?


- How did the "Gotta Be Me" musical number do anything to fix a relationship? Nothing was furthered there. They just danced at each other!

- If Lela's actions in the movie changed it so much that Mack is the one who loved it, not Brady, and they never met because of it, didn't that mean that the old movie never existed and Mack and Brady never went into it and never met Lela, and thus never inspired her to change her life?

- Seriously, doesn't that cause a paradox?

- Their personalities didn't change. Why is Brady not a fan of the '60s musical when he used to love it, and why is Mack, the one who thinks singing and dancing is stupid, the one who does?

And, last:

- I get that the message is supposed to be "girls can do anything" and "make it your own story," but Wet Side Story becoming Lela, Queen of the Beach seems a little tyrannical to me. So, the whole movie became about how one character is better than everyone else? Is that the message? How do the other characters feel about their world being Lela's and they're just living in it?


I'm reading WAY too much into a Disney Channel movie. But I have to get my kicks somehow, even if it just winds up confusing me. #GottaBeMe

Here are your debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Corabel Shofner - Almost Paradise (7/25)

Young Adult:
Candace Ganger - The Inevitable Collision of Birdie and Bash (7/25)
Alison Gervais - In 27 Days (7/25)
Amanda Foody - Daughter of the Burning City (7/25)
Lauren Karcz - The Gallery of Unfinished Girls (7/25)
Kristen Ciccarelli - Askari (7/27)
V.V. Mont - The Elementalist (July)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

So, first off: we have a new Doctor in Doctor Who, and it's a woman.


My thoughts? Honestly, the show premise allows for it, so writer-wise, I see nothing wrong. As a viewer who is behind a season (and told that Time Lords regenerate into the other gender only after taking their own lives), I'm a little apprehensive about what I've missed. (What have you done, Doctor? I'm really scared to catch up now!)

I'm also sad because I really liked Peter Capaldi. But I am interested to see what they do with a female Doctor. Dynamics will certainly be interesting.

Anyway, on with the show! Today's blog post is brought to you by William Shakespeare (who graciously donated the title of the post) and by that question that haunts all writers:

Where do you get your ideas from?



I've heard this, you've heard this, we've all heard this. And it doesn't get any easier to answer.

So, ideas. Where do they come from? Where do any ideas come from? How do all the little thoughts and impressions in a day join together to create something worthwhile? Does anyone really know? I can track some of the development of my ideas, but something always seems to be missing.

With me, when someone asks where I got the idea for the Jeremy Wilderson books, I tell a tale about being given an assignment to create a middle grade character while reading lots of middle grade mysteries and wondering where the thief character was. But in a way, describing it like this is similar to being asked for a cake recipe and saying, "Get flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and some other things, and then you have a cake!" It ignores the process, that magic that somehow results in a finished product.


 And even that doesn't always work. Sometimes, you mix eggs, flour, sugar, oil, etcetera etcetera, and you somehow get a steak dinner with mashed potatoes. The idea looks nothing like the finished product!

I just had the opportunity to attend a day of the BYU Books for Young Readers conference (it was awesome), and one of the visiting writers commented that the initial idea for a book kicks it off, but then it gets shed like snakeskin as the story grows. I like that description.

So, where do I get my ideas? *sighs, scratches head, and fiddles around on the computer for a while*

Honestly, all over. I don't always know what's going to give me an idea, but I know the feeling when I get one. And, honestly, a lot of them are bad ideas in the long run. Stupid stories, or stories that aren't going to work. Or, not bad ideas, but things that aren't going to help me now. Things I should save.

I think writers have the habit of thinking a lot and paying attention to our random thoughts. We don't dismiss "what ifs" but like to follow them to their conclusion. Some of my ideas have come from that: what if a middle school criminal was the hero in his mind? What if in a fantasy world, humans are considered as magical as we would consider elves to be?

Some of my other ideas come from dreams. That makes sense to me; in dreams, we free associate, and some random ideas stick to other random ideas to create something fresh and interesting. I love waking up after those dreams and writing down what I remember. This happened for a fantasy I'm working on (although the inciting dream has long since been shed away), as well as my dream sci-fi and a new WIP that, frankly, is going to be a blast to write.


But some ideas I can't explain. My master's thesis came about because a wild image of a girl running into an ancient forest popped into my head when I was desperate for a story idea, and I latched onto it, wondering who she was and why the forest would be safer to her than where she was.





It wasn't this exact picture, but it was close.


Long story short, I don't really know where ideas come from, though I can usually tell the tale of the story's birth in a way that makes sense.

However, no matter where they come from, I love that electric feeling when I get a new idea and develop it into a story!

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Jennifer Fenn - Flight (7/18)
Jennifer Honeybourn - Wesley James Ruined My Life (7/18)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming, A Review

I love Spider-Man. He is easily my favorite superhero.


Why? Because I care about both the hero and the mild-mannered secret identity. With Batman and Superman, I don't really care about the person as much. I love that Peter Parker is a real person with normal, real-life problems. He doesn't have a billion dollars or a government job - he's a photographer who has to somehow make rent while still saving lives. He's accessible, and balances real life with being a good, responsible hero.

I like that. I think that's the kind of hero that readers and viewers can relate to. I also enjoy a hero who can mouth off to the villain as he fights them.

And I loved the new Spider-Man movie. Seriously. Loved. So, here's my review.

I will avoid spoilers. I promise. But, really, if at this point you don't know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man or what his skill set is, I feel bad for you. Rocks aren't easy to live under during the summer.

So, what did I like about the movie? It had a great tone. It meshes "high school" with "superhero" very well, and Peter comes across as a realistic teenage superhero. The character interactions were also enjoyable and felt realistic. That was probably my favorite part of the movie: the way Peter and his friends interact.

The humor was perfect for the movie. It isn't funny in the same way Guardians of the Galaxy is. Again, it's high school. It's quick wits and sarcasm, which is exactly what Spider-Man is like: mouthing off to villains and whipping out quips.


But my absolute favorite part is how they handle a newbie hero who is doing his best but still making mistakes. With so many teen hero stories, the hero gets in trouble for being irresponsible. I was worried, a little, that they'd do that with Spidey. Which wouldn't make sense, really, because it's Spider-Man. The whole "with great power" thing? Yeah. You see what I mean.

But they didn't do that! Every time Peter has a chance to do something totally irresponsible with his powers, he doesn't do it. I hope this doesn't count as a spoiler. You see temptation, but responsibility always comes first. Every bit of trouble Spider-Man gets into is because he is new to saving people. He doesn't know, exactly, how to minimize damage and how to deal with villains yet. It's not irresponsibility. He's just learning the ropes. And I loved that. It was a nice take on the "teen gets in trouble" trope.

I did have one criticism: where the heck was the spider sense in all of this? Does this new incarnation of Spider-Man even have this power?


Maybe it was there but I didn't see it. I should watch this movie again. Maybe a few times. Heck, I should buy it when it comes out.

Overall review: a rather friendly and amazing movie (see what I did there?). Stay to the end of the credits for one of the best credits scenes Marvel has given us to date.

So, I'm going to be visiting the Orem Public Library at 2 pm on August 1. If you'd like to come, the details are here.

And here are the debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski - A Dash of Dragon (7/11)

Young Adult:
Blair Thornburgh - Who's That Girl (7/11)
Julie Shephard - Rosie Girl (7/11)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fourth of July and Other Explosions

Happy Canada Day, a little late, to you!


And Happy Fourth of July, a little early, to you as well!


My work schedule is finally settling down, and I can't work on my most current projects until I get feedback on them, so I'm in a kind of limbo. However, it is giving me time to plan my next knitting and writing projects, so that's been good.

I'm also doing some more author visits, and will be at the Orem Public Library on August 1 at 2 pm. If you're able to go, I'd love to see you there!


In other news, the roads were nuts today. Everyone's out shopping for barbecue food and supplies, and fireworks, and ice cream because it's hot as Mordor out there this week, and, of course, Provo does the biggest Fourth of July festival I've ever seen (and I'm from Philadelphia!), so there's a carnival in town here, another festival in Orem (Colonial Days), and people setting up for tomorrow's parade along the streets.


See the tents? The blankets? It's like this. For miles. The parade is tomorrow morning.

So, roads are packed, and people are slow since they're looking for parking that's at a premium. I'm driving home today and I'm behind someone going slow, slower than expected. I try to peer around them to get an idea of if there's a line of backed-up cars in front of that one. The car graciously gives me a good view of the nothing ahead of it by swerving to the left, and then to the right, and then back to the left.

Eventually I get my chance to pass this car and I look over. AND THE DRIVER IS ON HER EVER-LOVING CELL PHONE!

TEXTING, NO LESS!

I hate this so much. As someone how has repeatedly almost been hit, both in my car and out running, by people texting while driving, I'm not quiet about it. If you're talking, I get it. Some phone calls are urgent and there's nothing you can do about it except put the phone on speaker. But texts are inherently NOT urgent, and so you swerve and drive erratically and everyone behind you knows what you're doing.

Drive safe this holiday season. Put the freaking phone down.

Grrrrrrr.

Well, you wanted an explosion, right?

Here's a better one, courtesy of San Diego's 2012 fireworks mishap (they accidentally set off 18 minutes of fireworks in 15 seconds), followed by tomorrow's debuts. Happy Fourth of July, everyone!


Middle Grade:
Beth McMullen - Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls (7/4)

Young Adult:
Emily Bain Murphy - The Disappearances (7/4)
Kendra Fortmeyer - Hole in the Middle (7/6)

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Couple of Giveaways

This week I've been learning what it feels like to be a career writing, and I love it.

Not that I am; I am very far from being at the place in my life when I can quit my day job and write full time. But, this last week, I did so much writing that I got a small taste of what it would be like to wake up and write all day, every day. It's exhausting, but I enjoy it.

I still have a ton of writing to do, and honestly, all I did last week was write, so I don't have a lot of interesting things to report (except that at this time last year I'd just come back from Disneyland, so there has been some reminiscing this week).

I did take part in a couple of giveaways last week, which are both still going so if you want to try to win a copy of Under Locker and Key, you can!


One giveaway is part of Celebrating Debutantes 2017, a series of giveaways and interviews with authors whose first books are coming out this year. Here's a picture of my giveaway, which includes a signed book, a bookmark, and a pair of "Retrieval Specialist" sunglasses:


Under Locker and Key is one, but there are a lot of other great novels you can win, so I recommend clicking through the below link and doing some exploring. Free books, am I right?

The other giveaway is from the blog From the Mixed-Up Files and is specifically middle grade. I'm giving away a copy of my book, and like the other giveaway, there are plenty of other middle grade books worth reading that are also being given away. Here's the list of all the books that are part of the giveaway, and you can click through the below links to learn more about each one:

KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, by Melissa Roske
INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS, by Dusti Bowling 
ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, by Leah Henderson
THE DOLLMAKER OF KRAKOW, by R. M. Romero
AHIMSA, by Supriya Kelkar
UNDER LOCKER AND KEY, by Allison K. Hymas
UNDER SIEGE! by Robyn Gioia
THE GHOST, THE RAT, AND ME, by Robyn Gioia
THE SECRET DESTINY OF PIXIE PIPER and PIXIE PIPER AND THE MATTER OF THE BATTER, By Annabelle Fisher

Here are the links for the giveaways:

Celebrating Debutantes 2017

From the Mixed-Up Files

And, here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Carlie Sorosiak - If Birds Fly Back (6/27)
Bonnie Pipkin - Aftercare Instructions (6/27)