Monday, July 9, 2018

A Disney Win

Remember everything I said about things I wish Disney would do better?

Guess what? They are. Just not in their princess movies.

I'm here to talk to you today about Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure, also known as Tangled: The Series before the name got changed.

Oh, my gosh. I just found and watched this show over the last couple of weeks. It's a continuation of the movie, going into what happens after "happily ever after." I heard it was good, and I was bored, so I gave it a shot. I was expecting something cute and fun, and sure, I got that. It's based on Tangled, after all. But I was not expected how quality this show is.

Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure is doing everything I've been upset that Disney's latest princess movies haven't. It's definitely marketed to kids, and I wouldn't call this show "dark" (though it has its moments), but there are some complicated and serious discussions in the show.

For example, in one episode Rapunzel is left in charge of the kingdom and everything goes wrong. Her parents go missing, a blizzard strikes Corona and evacuation may be needed, and Rapunzel's friend comes to beg her to leave the kingdom's problems and help him. And there's no easy solution. There's no simple dichotomy like fear=bad/love=good, or a simple solution to fixing everything. There is no false choice: if Rapunzel chooses to do one thing, she can't do the other. If she stays to help the kingdom, she can't help her friend. If she evacuates the island, she still might not save the kingdom.

(Kid's show, right?)

And, there are real, serious consequences for her choice.

Because it's a kid's show, the episode works out. But the consequences of her choices last through the rest of the season, and maybe even through the rest of the series (it's only on its second season, so there's a lot left to be written).

YES! This is the kind of writing I've been looking for! I want to see Disney give us well-written stories with complicated problems that don't always have a clean, easy solution.

I want to see interesting villains that are threatening but complex, and guess what? This show has that too. No more details because this is a part of the show I will not spoil, but I will say that I am very pleased with how this show handled the villain. It's so much better than the so-called villains in Moana and Frozen.

Characters are well-written and likeable; the first episode is mostly filler episodes, but I didn't mind because I enjoyed the characters. The thugs from the movie are still around, and they've added a bunch of new characters, some of which are, for me, new favorites. The king and queen are bigger characters in the show, as well, and you get a lot of material about what it means to them to have their daughter back after 18 years. We also get more backstory on some of the other characters, like Pascal and, of course, Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert. And let me tell you, that boy has a past.

As for the plot itself, there's a strong mystery element that develops and evolves over the show. Personally, I like it and I find it super-interesting and I look forward to what the writers do next. Myth and fairy tale elements are strong, of course, and that also makes me very happy. And, well, there is some beautiful romance...

Writing is great. Well done, very well done. But the animation is also cute:

 Kind of a hand-painted feel, right? I've missed this kind of animation.

Also, the voice actors are the same as the movie, and the music is done by Alan Menken. Alan Menken, the king of Disney songwriters. On top of that, the actors can ALL sing. So many of them are from Broadway. One new character is voiced by Jeremy Jordan, and another by the man who played the original Genie in Aladdin on Broadway (who also won a Tony for that role).

The music is amazing. Seriously, this show almost has no right to have music this good. But I'm not complaining!

All in all, this is a great show! Light, fun, and innocent, but not afraid to deal with some serious problems and situations where there isn't an easy way out of the problem. Not afraid to give the characters consequences for their actions that haunt them for a while. And it's all done well, all quality. I'm just very pleased with this show and will keep watching it.

As for me, writing is going well. I'm deep into edits, which is fun because I get to juggle three marked-ups drafts at once while I alter my own (fourth) draft. But I'm looking forward to the final product!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Snippets of Dialogue Without A Home

The Fourth of July is this week!

That means a 10K run, a parade, and a small break from my teaching and writing. As far as writing goes, I'm fired up for my latest project, which is in revision stages (I spent today altering a rather fun element of the novel). But a break always feels good.

I am still planning a YouTube channel, which will feature puzzles and ciphers and which will likely start in the fall. I'm already starting to develop content to use later, so that's a new and exciting adventure for me!

For today's blog post, I thought I'd share with you some of the random pieces of dialogue that pop into my head as I'm woolgathering. That's part of my process: I'll let my characters chatter in my head, and sometimes I hear words that don't belong to any of my known characters. I'll use those lines. Someday. Maybe.

Some of these potential pieces of dialogue belong to some of my existing characters (try to guess who said what!) and some of them are brand new. Some are more polished or interesting than others. But, anyway, here are the pieces of floating dialogue that I decided to save for a later day.

"Seriously, guys. With our skill sets, what future do we have outside of prison?"
"I always thought we'd work for the government."

(said in a mildly annoyed voice) "Can anyone tell me why I just woke up in the morgue?"

"What are the laws surrounding accidentally stealing a car? Can we just...put it back?"

"Getting shot sucks. One out of five stars."

"You kidnapped the prince."
"I didn't know it was him!"
"I don't think the king will care."
(Prince) "Actually, I don't mind---"
"Shh! This isn't your problem!"


"Such a warm welcome. I thought you said you'd dance on my grave."
"Well, turns out I don't know how to twerk."

"You play the piano."
"Don't know how."
"You just spent all day telling us what makes a piano player good!"
"That doesn't mean I am one!"

"Note to self: that is the wrong way to fly."

"If this works, I'll kill you. Because you'd clearly be a witch and not to be trusted."

"HAHAHA! Take that, you son of a horned troll, slime spitting, spider-faced gutless---" (swearing continues)

"We hate each other. Don't we?"
"Of course we do, darling. Intense loathing."

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

Monday, June 25, 2018

First Drafts Are Hard

Hey, before we get started, listen to this!

It's like, techno dubstep folk music and I'm listen to the group (The SIDH) a lot right now. It's putting me in the right mindset for the story I'm working on right now.

Which is great, because I'm first drafting, and first drafting is hard.

It's strange. I used to love first drafting. I used to love the feeling of discovery I get when I write a first draft, and honestly, I still love that. But back then I was much more of a "pantser" when it came to writing, figuring out the story while I drafted, and now I'm a little more of a "plotter," someone who outlines before I even start, which can make first drafting tedious.

I'm working on a new story that I think could be beautiful. It's a fairy tale retelling, set in modern times in Vermont. In my head it's darkly enchanting, all autumn...

And snow...

And, of course, ancient magic and mystery...

(This last picture is a stone chamber from Massachusetts. It's old, no one really knows who built it, and they're all over New England. They play a major role in my story.)

Anyway, this is the story in my head:

And here's the story on the page:

I don't enjoy first drafting because I know the first draft is supposed to be rough. Mentally, I get it. First drafts are the skeleton of the story, and skeletons don't look like the finished product. But at the same time, I know what I want the finished product to be and I hate watching it turn out...not like that.

I just want it to be beautiful now, dang it!

So, on the flip side, I'm starting to love revision more, because it lets me make the story the beautiful thing I want it to be.

And that's good.

Anyway, I'm hard at work on this new project and on my older projects. Maybe someday soon you'll be able to see the fruits of my labor. I'd like to see them, too.

In other news, my idea about starting a YouTube channel is becoming more appealing. I have a long-standing idea for a YouTube project I wanted someone else to do, but if I learn how to do this thing, maybe I can make it myself!

I'm also planning various challenges and puzzles for you all to work out. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Busy Week, But Easy Running

The post-marathon recovery has been taking longer than I originally thought it would.

Normally, after a half, I'm back to my normal running schedule after a week of recovery runs. This time, though, I wasn't even able to run due to pain for 4 days after the marathon, and now, even though I don't hurt anymore, I'm still doing recovery runs. I think I'll know when it's time for me to start training normally again once I don't feel like this in the middle of my recovery runs:

I'm not even running all that fast! Argh.

Anyway, this last week I was able to take part in WIFYR, and it was amazing! I attended a potluck dinner with some of the other faculty (HAHA! They think I'm mature enough to be faculty!) and then, the next day, I was on a panel for new writers, representing the middle grade demographic.

It was a great conference. I wasn't able to attend every day, but when I did attend, I learned so much, especially about things I can do as a writer to better interact with my readers.

Yes, I know interacting with readers is a marketing thing. It's good for selling books. But, honestly, it's my favorite part of being a writer. I love meeting the kids who read my books, and even those who don't but might. I love school visits and I really enjoy talking to my readers. The thing is, those readers are mostly middle school-aged kids, so outside of school visits, I don't get to interact with them much. They're not on social media (or at least they're not allowed to be, if I know social media site rules).

So...I'm thinking of starting a YouTube channel.

This is terrifying to my awkward self, who gets even more awkward in front of a camera.

But I've been mulling it over, and I think it could be a lot of fun. One thing I enjoy so, so much about writing my books is the way I can solve the mystery before anyone else gets to. What if I did a weekly YouTube bit with some puzzles or codes for others, like my readers, to figure out? A weekly challenge, if you will. Some riddles, some puzzles, some codes and ciphers, and maybe some challenges that would require you to think like a retrieval specialist or detective.

Sound fun?

I think it is. But then I'm a huge geek, so not everyone agrees with my idea of fun.

In other news, I saw Incredibles 2 this weekend, and it's really good!

The plot is predictable, but it's solid and honestly I wasn't there for the plot. I adored every scene with Jack-Jack and I thought the movie was heartfelt and fun, with the same great family dynamics we loved in the first one. Edna Mode and Frozone's wife are also back.

And the short before the movie (it is Pixar, after all) is sweet and meaningful. I do highly recommend.

I still need to see Solo and Ocean's 8 because, you know, thieves and heists and all. Maybe I'll get some ideas for puzzles for my channel!

That will likely launch later in the fall, once I figure out what I'm doing. If you have any ideas or suggestions for me, I'm happy to listen.

Also, here's an NPR article I found about hanger. It's interesting, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Twenty-Six Point Two

I just started work on a new novel project, and I think I've discovered a new natural law:

Computers will work fine when you are doing nothing important, like games or Netflix, but as soon as you are hard at work on a new manuscript and haven't saved for at least fifteen minutes, the freaking computer will shut down without warning and you'll have to rewrite all that material all over again!

Yes. It happened. Why does it always happen when I'm writing and never when it's convenient?

In weekly news, this week I will be on a panel at the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference.

My panel will be the new authors panel on Wednesday, June 13, from 4-4:40, and I may also be present at the book signing the next day (I think I'm invited to that, but I hate to impose if I'm wrong).

So, if you're going to WIFYR, I'll see you there!

. . .

Guess what?

I did my marathon!

The Utah Valley Marathon. Here's me, at the end, with my chocolate milk in hand and medal around my neck.

I got to ring the PR gong because I got a personal record. (Which is a given, since this was the first time I'd ever run 26.2 miles.)

My roommate met me at the finish line, and my three youngest siblings came and met up with me after I crossed.

It was a good experience. It was a hard experience. I learned another natural law: If the hot, hot summer weather is supposed to break over the weekend and drop to highs of pleasant low 80s, then there's no way it's going to happen before you run your marathon. The highs on Saturday were up in the high 90s, and it was probably about 80-85 degrees when I finished the race.

So, what's it like to run a marathon? I'm going to tell you. Doesn't matter if you asked.

The day before, I got my bib and shirt and stuff from the race expo. Where there were many people selling massage machines. That was new. I haven't seen those so much at other, shorter race expos. They also gave me a couple of flyers, with my shirt, for nearby hospitals and clinics, so that was considerate if a little concerning.

I got up at 2:45 am after a restless night. It's not easy to go to bed at 9 pm, though I tried, and even then, I was antsy. It took a while before I was able to fall asleep. But I got up okay, and made a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana and packed my bag for the race.

I parked at the finish line and took a shuttle up to the starting line WAY up the canyon, where it was cold but they had firepits ready to warm the waiting runners. I had sweats because I knew it was going to be like this. When I got off the bus, the speakers were playing "Takin' It to the Streets" by the Doobie Brothers, and since that's on my running playlist, I took it as a good sign.

As I waited, I prepped. I drank a sports drink and lotioned up with sunscreen. I also took measures to prevent clothing chafing. You may notice that in my picture I'm not wearing a race shirt. The Spider-Man shirt comes from a company that makes light, soft, motion-friendly shirts, so that's what I wore for my first marathon. It's also encouraging to dress like a superhero.

The race started at 6 am. The sun was up, but we were still in shadow and the canyon was cool. The speakers played "What Doesn't Kill You" by Kelly Clarkson, which I thought funny, but not as funny as later when it was the song I finished to and the song on the radio as I went home. I had a theme for the day.

Running is interesting. I definitely had a stream of thoughts as I went, and they'd repeat. Here's a taste:

- Dang, the sun is out again. Where's the next shaded area?
- I thought this race didn't have hills.
- Where's the pacer? Oh, there she is.
- Did I fuel at the last mile mark? No? Better do that.
- I think I already passed that guy.
- Didn't that guy pass me already?
- Who the heck wears a backpack filled with marbles on a marathon?
- Wow, the scenery is gorgeous!
- Who dropped their socks? How did they leave their socks behind in the middle of a race?
- *new song starts on playlist* Ah, yesss! This is my jam.
- I've been running next to this person for a while. Should I say something?
- Nope. No need to talk.
- Breathing feels okay. I think I can do this!
- Um, legs are starting to hurt. Maybe I can't.
- If I see one more sign that says, "Smile! You paid for this," I'll make them pay and see how they like it.
- Another mile down. Just make it to the next water stop.
- It's getting hot....
- These last 6 miles in the sunlight are going to hurt.

They did. They did hurt. I actually threw up at mile 23, due to dehydration. Not that I was missing water stops; I hit every single one. But a marathon plus stupid heat equals loss of fluids.

I walked a bit of those last 3 miles, but even so, I made my time goal. I'd been hoping to finish between 4 hours and 4 and a half, and I finished around 4:15. So, right there in the middle.

After the race, I got lunch at Zupas with my family and then a Dole Whip because it was tasty and needed. Then I chilled and slept well at night. The next day? Well, this video should accurately depict what the day after a marathon looks/feels like:

Right now I'm feeling somewhere between "I can run 26.2 miles in less than 5 hours FEAR MY POWER" and "Sitting down is more of a controlled fall at this point please help me stairs without banisters would be impossible."

I'd do it again. I'd do another marathon some day. Maybe a fall one, because that would be pretty and a bit cooler than this one, but the Utah Valley Marathon was a good race. It had a beautiful course and it was well-organized. And now I am officially a marathoner.

But for now, I'm content to rest, regain my nutrients, and look forward to much more relaxed running schedule for the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 4, 2018

I'm Back and Ready to Discuss Avengers

So, I'm emotionally compromised again.

Oh, hello! I'm back. I've been traveling abroad in England, so I wasn't able to post anything while I was gone. I had a good time, riding the rails all over the United Kingdom, but I am glad to be back. It can be tiring to be in a new city every night.

Some highlights of my trip include attending Evensong at Westminster Abbey, seeing a play at the Globe Theatre, finding a little old chocolate house in Kendal, and pretty much all of the Lake District in general.

And having my birthday in Bath and going to the Pump Room for my cake:

That was pretty great.

Anyway, like I said, I'm emotionally compromised again. Netflix just released Part 3 of Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia and I just finished binging the new season. It's intense. And really, really good. If you're into fantasy, adventure, and kid's animated shows that are actually really serious and dark, and you haven't been watching this, you should start it up. Really well done, Netflix. Well done.

I guess it was time to get another fictional fist to the face, now that I've finally cooled down enough over Avengers: Infinity War (AAAAAAHHHH!) to blog about it. (In semi-related news, I bought a Spider-Man running shirt for my marathon. Which is this weekend, so more AAAAAHHH.)

I noticed some things in the movie that I've wanted to speak about. Now, since time has passed, I can.

Um, spoiler alert. You have been warned.

So I want to talk about Thanos. He was way, way more interesting as a villain than I was expecting.

Not that I was expecting much. I was expecting your typical Big Bad Comic Book Villain with megalomania and monologues, but lacking in motivation beyond "I'm bad and I do what I want" (no offense to Loki). That's not what we got.

The Thanos in Infinity War is mad, yes, and he is driven by motivations that don't make a lot of sense to anyone who actually values life. Which is, hopefully, everyone. But, I was interested to see a Thanos who has thought out his plan, who can explain it in a rational way, and, most importantly, sees himself as the sacrificing hero.

We haven't had this type of villain before. Think about it. In Iron Man, we have Obediah Stane, who wants to take over as CEO of Stark Industries. Greed and power are the motivators. In Captain America, we have HYDRA and the Red Skull, who are seeking ultimate power and domination. Ultron wants the complete destruction of the human race because he thinks robots and androids like himself and Vision are the future. So...power and domination, in a more computer way. And don't get me started on Star-Lord's psycho father Ego.

Helmut Zemo (the Civil War villain) and Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (before they join the Avengers) are all seeking revenge for past wrongs done to them by the Avengers. Not power, then, but vengeance. You can put Ronan the Accuser in this category, too.

And who can forget Loki, the "full-tilt diva" who wears a cape and monologues until forcibly stopped by Hulk? He's a more complicated villain, given his backstory, but he really acts the megalomaniac villain for the Avengers, seeking power and domination. A throne.

This is really the only villains the Avengers have fought: the power-mad and the vengeance-crazed. These are people who want what they want, and they'll do whatever it takes to get it. It's all about them.

Which is why I think they weren't ready for Thanos.

Thanos thinks he's the hero. He thinks the universe will thank him for annihilating half of all life so that the other half can live with more prosperity. He honestly thinks this. Yes, he's insane. But to himself, he's doing the right thing. It's not about him; it's about everyone else.

So he acts the part of the hero. He doesn't monologue or posture, and he doesn't make sure the heroes know that his actions are his fault.

Terry Pratchett, in his book Men at Arms, says this:

“Something Vimes had learned as a young guard drifted up from memory. If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you're going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat.

They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.” 

So far, for the Avengers, this has been true: they've been fighting evil men. And that's how they treat Thanos, like another evil man. They expect the power-madness and selfishness, and that's not what they get.

Of course, Thanos is the villain. Anyone who thinks the solution to a problem is killing people is not the hero. But he behaves like one and has, to himself, heroic motivations, which is why I don't think the Avengers and Guardians were ready for him.

Gamora doesn't believe Thanos can love, so she's unprepared for when he sacrifices her as his greatest treasure. And later, Scarlet Witch tells Thanos that he can't imagine the pain she's in. The Avengers have decided that Thanos is just like their other villains, when he's really not.

Thanos, at least to himself, is a good man. And he behaves like Pratchett describes.

Thanos doesn't gloat. He comes in, takes the stone, and goes to find the next one. He doesn't wait or seem to enjoy people's suffering. He behaves like a merciful hero, although he's really not.

Thanos also is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Although it hurts him to do it, costs him "everything," he throws his daughter Gamora off a cliff, killing her for the Soul Stone. He does this not for himself, but for the universe. He doesn't want statues and monuments to his name, and he doesn't want to rule the universe. He's tired of the quest. His goal, when all of it is over, is to rest quietly on a farm.

This doesn't sound like a villain's MO. This is what a hero does. The Avengers and Guardians weren't ready for this because they have to fight someone who behaves like they do. Like a hero. And after Civil War, we can see how bad they are at fighting people who draw strength from the same things they do: determination and a belief in a higher, moral purpose.

(I'd also like to point out that Star-Lord and Thor were motivated by revenge, and because of that, Star-Lord lashed out, preventing the others from taking the gauntlet, and Thor hit Thanos in the chest, not the head, so Thanos could see who was killing him. Star-Lord and Thor's "villain" actions might have cost them all the fight.)

Infinity War was a loss for the Avengers and the Guardians, and I think it's because for the first time they had a super-powerful foe that didn't fit the villain mold in motivations and actions. They were scattered and unsure of what they were dealing with.

Now, for the second half, I am hoping that with his mission complete, Thanos has lost some of that "heroic" determination. And, with so much lost, the Avengers have redoubled theirs to set things right.

Monday, May 14, 2018

BYU YA Conference and Vacation Report

Hello, all!

This week is the calm between the storms of two vacations, but it's not all that calm. Why?

Because I have a school visit tomorrow and a conference on Friday.

This conference? It's the BYU YA Undergraduate Novelist Conference and it's arranged by my mentor, Chris Crowe. It's today through Friday, and I'm speaking on Friday. But...


Shannon Hale. Ally Condie. Carol Lynch Williams. Kristen Chandler. They are some seriously amazing writers, and wow, it's such a delight and honor to be listed among them. As a keynote speaker.

Am I nervous? You betcha. But that's what preparation is for, right? And practice. Lots of practice.

Anyway, calm between two storms. This weekend, I am leaving for London. I'm excited, but still a little surprised that I'm doing this and that it's coming so fast. But it will be good.

Last weekend, I was in Disneyland with my four siblings!

Here we are in Cars Land in California Adventure. We went because we wanted to, but also to celebrate my sister Chrisanne's graduation. We spent two days in the parks and TORE IT UP.

(Seriously, we rode so many rides. It was great!)

Day 1: Disneyland. We went all over the park, riding Indiana Jones twice, and pretty much everything else at least once. The day was cold and overcast, but we still rode Splash Mountain, working the system to get a FastPass for, like, ten minutes after we got the pass. The ride picture was really good, with all of us clear and lined up, but we didn't get a copy. We did get churros, though.

They are Coco-themed churros, found in Frontierland, and by gum, they are delicious. I've never had a Disneyland churro before this, and I hear they're all good, but this one...this one was amazing. Cocoa powder and salted cinnamon sugar coating, and a chipotle chocolate dipping sauce. I swear, I'm going to figure out how to copy the flavor because dang, that churro was good.

Other highlights included Hyperspace Mountain (surprisingly back in time for our visit), the family of geese threatening a service dog (who looked terrified), the kid dressed as WALL-E, the Jungle Cruise dad jokes, and ALL THE RIDES!

Very cold Pixar show at the castle at night, and after walking roughly 12 miles over the course of the day, we finally called it a night.

Day 2: California Adventure. We started and ended the day with Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!

All in all, we rode it 4 times and heard 3 different songs. That's right: they have 6 different possible drop sequences and ride experiences.

We also rode Radiator Springs Racers a couple of times, and I forgot how much fun that ride is! The theming, the ride itself, the racing your's a good one. And we took the single rider line because Mama didn't raise no fools. And we had a lot to do.

Soarin', the pier rides (although the Pixar Pier change closed the roller coaster), and the Frozen stage show. All highlights. As well as the Ghirardelli's ice cream after lunch.

The day was another cool one, but not as bad. The winds weren't as strong, it didn't drizzle, and we didn't ride a water ride, so that helped. And, the sun came out for a little while, which brought up the temperature.

It was a great trip. I loved spending time with my siblings in the Happiest Place on Earth, and we all did pretty much everything we wanted to do. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. I do wish that the pier was open, and that it wasn't so cold.

But hey, I guess that just means I'll have to go back someday, right?