Monday, April 16, 2018

Religion in Stories, Or Why "A Wrinkle in Time" Wasn't a Great Movie

Last Friday I got to do a school visit at Saratoga Shores Elementary School!


I love school visits. They're the best part of being a writer (other than the actual writing). I love visiting the kids and talking to them and getting their interesting questions (like "Will Jeremy and Becca get married one day?" BWAHAHA! Maybe.), and I love their enthusiasm for the books they like, even if they're not mine.

So, when that enthusiasm is applied to my books, I have a great day. The class did a reader's theater of Under Locker and Key, which they had for read-aloud, so they all knew the story. I got to sit in and watch, taping it all with the other proud parents. It was such a special experience to see the class act out my characters; it was a real honor, and I thought they were all talented actors.

Then I gave my presentation, and I didn't even have time to do a reading because the class was so active and involved in my presentation and they had so many questions. They were a great class, so thank you, Saratoga Shores, and may I see you again one day!

And now, on to my main topic. Recently I saw A Wrinkle in Time, the movie. (See previous blog posts for that review.) Even more recently, I rewatched The Prince of Egypt and reread A Wrinkle in Time, the book, and started to think about these films and book and what makes them special, or not special.


A Wrinkle in Time, the book by Madeleine L'Engle, is a great book, and I mean that by all definitions of the word "great." It's a classic, and it is a powerful read. Likewise, the film The Prince of Egypt is a great movie. It has recently been adapted as a stage musical, and I have yet to find someone who doesn't think it did a great job with the story of Moses. More often, I find people who think it is also a classic in its own right (though this is Utah, so perspective is a little different than mainstream).

But the film A Wrinkle in Time? It was...okay. Good, sure. Fun to watch. But next to the book, it is a sad, pale imitation. It is not great. It lacks the power that the book has to make you feel and think things deeper and broader than you've thought them before. Sure, they talk about timespace, but so do a lot of movies. That movie, had I seen it without reading the book, would have been fun, but would not have rocked my world the way the book did.

So much was cut from the book to make the movie. SO. MUCH. And, rereading the book, the things that got cut the most were religious in nature: references to scripture, or religious figures, and even themes that are also religious. A Wrinkle in Time is a rather Christian book.

And, honestly, I think that's what gave it its power.

Yes, I am Christian, and yes, I value religion in art. I love The Prince of Egypt as a religious film along with its storytelling and musical qualities. But I also think that religion, any religion, has a power to it. Religion has shaped people and nations; it has spurred great acts of good and also acts of evil. It has become part of who many, many people are. Looking at it from an objective, secular view, it has power. Looking at it from a religious angle (and many people are still religious these days), it has more.


The Prince of Egypt is based on a religious text, and handles it well. Artistic license was taken, but they're upfront about it, and they researched their source material heavily to best reflect a story that three religions consider scripture. They did not cut out religion, but instead respected it, left it where it was, and allowed it to fill their story with power. And, personally, I think it worked. Compare it to a movie like Exodus (with Christian Bale) and see the difference.

But Disney cut out the religion. They stripped the references and even the themes were watered down. I understand why they did it; Disney is a massive company and they don't want to offend anyone, and someone would have been offended. But in doing so, they cut out the power that religion brought to the story and turned it into just another kid's adventure movie.


A Wrinkle in Time is a daring book. It was rejected by 26 publishers because it was considered "too different" and because it dealt with such heavy themes, like good and evil, that publishers didn't think it was suitable for children.

But it did get published, and now it's a Newberry Medalist. It is great and will be remembered. The movie, while good, won't be. Not for its story. If the book dared to knock on the Door of Truth, the film looked at it for a while and then walked away.

What does this all mean? I think Disney and Hollywood, and other writers, are afraid. Afraid to deal with complex issues and religion, because they don't want to offend. I understand that. But I think, in this way, they are doing themselves a disservice by removing a huge part of human culture, and something that matters to many individual people, from their stories. Religion has power, and it has many good themes to explore. But if storytellers are too afraid to allow it into their tales, when it has an appropriate place there, then they are essentially telling decaffeinated stories.

Religion is hard to handle; anything potent is. But it can be done, with respect and hard work, and it can make some truly great, not just good, art. If writers are courageous enough to try.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Being an LDS Runner

Hello!

This morning, I did a school visit! At BYU! In front of a class of creative writers!

It was exciting. I always love talking to groups, and since this one was a group of young adults who want to write, I had the ability to talk to them in "writerly" terms and really talk about process with them. They had excellent questions. One of which I'm still trying to figure out an answer to:

How do you keep yourself from writing the same character into every story?

Great question. The answer I gave was something along the lines of, "I treat characters like different people, and every different situation requires a different kind of hero," but I'm not sure I like that answer. I typically don't like answers that boil down to, "My characters are real to me and they talk to me like real people," because those answers sound crazy and aren't very helpful.

Too bad so many situations in writing come down to that kind of answer: I don't know how I can do this, but it works so I don't question it.

I have another school visit this Friday and I'm super-excited! Will keep you posted on developments.

As for other things happening in my life, I am getting further in the marathon training. Last Saturday, I ran 20 miles. I have a few more super-long runs before race day. Here's the thing about super-long runs: you have lots of time to think. LOTS of time. So I did, and one of the things I thought about was the unique experience I have being LDS (Mormon) and a runner.

It is unique. There's a culture to running, and there's an LDS culture and set of values, and sometimes they overlap/clash. Frankly, I think it's funny. So here's a set of behaviors unique to the LDS runner:

- Making stink-face and passing by when I see that the free gel/goo on a long race is caffeinated (NOTE: This is a little bit of a cheat. Caffeine isn't outlawed for LDS people, but my family avoids it, so I do too, and thus it makes the list.)


- Altering training schedules so they don't require Sunday runs

- Searching for races that AREN'T on Sunday

- Looking ahead to see if the next Fast Sunday (a day we go without eating) is the day after a rare Saturday race, and being relieved when it isn't

- Being super-disappointed that the Disney Park marathons are typically on Sundays


- Trying to figure out the modest/comfortable running clothing balance

- Throwing away the "free post-race beer" ticket that comes in the swag pack

- For once, not being the only one in the area totally obsessed with chocolate milk


These are based on my experience, and while they are true for me, they may not be true for all LDS runners. I'd be interested in other people's experience. If anyone out there is LDS and a runner, comment with any others that I might have missed!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lady Explorers of the Turn of the Century

The tax situation has been resolved. Hallelujah!


That is such a load off my mind! Now I'm free to focus on my writing again, which I have been doing.

Last week I talked about how I was putting together a revision plan and getting to know my characters better, and how helpful that has been. Over the last week, I have been revising my first chapters of the book (I like to go through drafts from start to finish; it helps me keep my story straight) and I've also been doing research.

I also mentioned previously how I wanted to share some of my research on the female explorers I've been researching. My character Anna is a free-spirit who loves stories about these explorers. She sees herself as an explorer, as well, although she feels like all the good exploring has already happened, and there's really nothing left for her to explore in the 21st century.

The women I've been learning about all lived and explored through the 1800s into the early 1900s. That seems to have been a golden age of modern exploration for both men and women, as people took advantage of modern transportation methods and increasing globalization to go places they hadn't before. These men, and women, did great things and their stories sometimes sound like they came out of an Indiana Jones movie. I'm going to share what I learned about a few of these daring women.

ANNIE SMITH PECK





Annie Smith Peck was born October 19, 1850 in New England. She was the first woman admitted to teach at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. When she was in Europe on her way to the school, she saw the Matterhorn and vowed to one day climb it. She did, becoming the third woman to climb the Matterhorn in the 1800s. Her goal was to one day climb a mountain no one had ever climbed before. In 1908, she climbed Mt. Huascaran in Peru, the north peak, accompanied by two Swiss guides. The north peak was later named in her honor.


ALEXANDRINE TINNE






One stubborn lady, Alexandrine Tinne was born October 17, 1835. She was Dutch, and she was the first European woman to attempt to cross the Sahara Desert, although that wasn't her first adventurous enterprise. She was an heiress who used her money to travel to exotic places. She searched for the source of the Nile River, becoming a skilled photographer, botanical illustrator, and naturalist. She attempted three missions to find the source, but failed on each one. The third mission took the lives of her mother and aunt. On her attempt to cross the Sahara, she was murdered and her body was never found.

JEANNE BARET





A somewhat older entry on this list, but worth noting, Jeanne Baret was a Frenchwoman born July 27, 1740. She was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. To do this, she dressed as a man and went by Jean, working as assistant to the expedition's naturalist, Philibert Commerson. Commerson was her employer; she worked as a housekeeper for him before they both went to sea. It's likely and hilarious that he did not know Baret was coming. Baret was herself a naturalist. Her identity as a woman was discovered when the crew stopped in Tahiti. She returned to France and lived quietly for the rest of her life, but was given a pension by the Ministry of Marine.

LUCY EVELYN CHEESMAN


Lucy Evelyn Cheesman was a British entomologist born October 8, 1882. She really loved bugs, even from a young age. She became the keeper of the insect house at the London Zoological Society. Cheesman went on expeditions to the South Pacific to study the insects and other creepy crawlies there. She preferred to travel alone, and was respectful to and respected by the indigenous people of the islands she visited. In my research, I found a story where she reported being trapped in many big, strong spider webs while exploring. She cut herself free as the spiders hung around her, and from then on, she carried a machete.

I'm calling this enough for now. There are so many names to look into, though, if you want to learn more. Like Nellie Cashman, a female prospector who struck it rich on gold, or Delia Julia Denning Akeley, a big game hunter who was the first woman endorsed to lead a safari alone.

It's amazing how much we know about the world thanks to these women, and how little we talk about them now. It has been very interesting to learn more about them on behalf of my middle grade character.

Writing's the best, guys.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Twenty-Twenty Hindsight

Well, it's that time again: my writing hiatus is over, and I need to get back into working.

Hiatuses are good for me. I don't truly stop writing while on them; I spend my time thinking and brainstorming, even if I'm not putting words on pages. They also remind me of how much I like putting words on pages, especially after I finish a first draft. First drafts are exciting, but they're also a bit exhausting. I always need to break after finishing one.


But that break is over. I can't stand it anymore; I'm charged up with creative energy and I have time on my hands now that I just finished a binge-watch of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Which is very good, and I was satisfied at the ending while still being sad that it was over. It was a very good story with excellent characters. Maybe soon I'll do a post about it.

(I should really just do a post later about TV brothers; I'm watching Deception on ABC, now, and enjoying the brother dynamic there, too.)


Anyway, it's time to work on my current project. This morning I did some research and drew up a revision plan. It's a full page, single-spaced, and it gives me a good map for what work needs to be done.

It's always interesting to me when I finish a draft and start working on the revision plan. I always feel like I don't really know what the book is about or what my characters want until the end, and this one was no different.

For example, one of my characters is an antsy kid. She likes to poke around in places where she's not allowed to go, and as a result has a bit of a reputation as a problem child, while her brother is quiet, bookish, and rarely gets into trouble.

This has been interesting to see in hindsight of the draft, because Anna, the girl explorer, really, really wants to do something great. She admires the female explorers from the 1800-1900s (which was the research I did this morning, and that topic deserves at least one post of its own because it's AWESOME), but feels like her time came too late - all the dark corners of the world have already been explored. She feels this itch to see and do and know more than anyone else, but everything is already discovered, so her itch just gets her into trouble. I didn't realize this was so much of her character when I started.

It has also been interesting because Anna's brother Charlie is only a year younger than her, which raises the issue of parental favoritism in a way I haven't dealt with yet in my writing.

 
My character Jeremy in Under Locker and Key and Arts and Thefts has an older brother, and they knock heads, but they have a gap of years between them. Rick is a teenager, almost off to college, and Jeremy is halfway through middle school. They have their own spheres, so to speak.

But Anna and Charlie are in the same school and are measured by the same stick, and Charlie is considered the good kid, the good example. Anna, the older one, resents her younger sibling being the one she's told to be more like. This was something I could see coming as I started the draft, but as I wrote it, I could feel Anna's anger at being, as she feels, looked down on coming out more and more. She loves Charlie, and she doesn't blame him for being the favorite, but she wishes she was recognized for who she is, too, and not for who she isn't.

And that is something that came out more in the writing.

Writing is fun! I feel like a detective, growing to meet my characters with every word I write about them, not really knowing them or their story until I've put in the investigative effort, and even then, they may still surprise me. It's going to be great to get back to work, making the story come alive with everything I know now!

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time: A Review

To start off, a new chapter in the Tax Form Saga:

So, the government failed to send me a needed tax form when they were supposed to, and I called to ask where the heck it was. They told me it would come in a few weeks, which seems like a stupidly long time to wait to get an easily printed-out document, but whatever.

Anyway, today I get a packet from the organization in question. SUCCESS!

OR NOT! It wasn't the form; it was something entirely different. So I call again to see if they accidentally sent the wrong form and I get the notification that no, that wasn't supposed to be it, that my case was valid and they would be sending the form. That I should be getting it soon. But they don't know exactly when.






GAAAAAHHHHH!

Let this be my testimony, with all of you as my witness, that I am doing everything in my power to be a good citizen. If I end up having to file for a freakin' extension, IT IS NOT MY FAULT!

Okay, now on to the main attraction. Last Tuesday, I went to see the new A Wrinkle in Time movie.


I said I would, last week. I also said that I was predisposed to like it.

Guys, I really, really wanted to like it.

And there were things I did like about it. It's quite pretty to look at, and the child actors did a great job. It does decently at feeling large and spacious, like they are traveling around the galaxy and "wrinkling" timespace to do it. Science and physics has a strong place here, just like in the book. But, people, the book....





The movie was a pale, poor reflection of this book.

From here on out, I'm going to be going into details, so if you haven't read/seen this and would like to unspoiled, here's your spoiler warning.

Got it? Good. Now the full review.

Like I said, I think the actors did a great job. I loved the kids they picked to play the kids and even the adults (although I have concerns about Oprah as Mrs. Which, which (HA!) I'll get into later). I think, also, that they did a decent job with the themes of self-worth, with Meg feeling like she's not special and growing into her confidence through the story.

However, I think that's the only theme they did well, and sacrificed other themes to do it.

A Wrinkle in Time is a beautiful, complex book, and I understand that in filmmaking things need to be cut. However, I disliked immensely the things that were cut, and what they were replaced with.

The biggest of these was the scene on Ixchel, with Aunt Beast.

In the book, Meg rescues her father on Camazotz but almost is taken over by IT, so her father tessers her and Calvin away with him to Ixchel. There, Meg (who doesn't tesser well) is weak and needs healing, and she's furious with her father for leaving her brother Charles Wallace behind. Here, Meg receives love and nurturing, and she learns to forgive her father. She also learns that she is the only one who can potentially save Charles Wallace, and that the power to do so lies in her love for her brother. Meg is the only one who knows Charles Wallace well, since Calvin just met him and her father left when he was just a baby.

This scene is pivotal in Meg's development, because it's here that she realizes that she is a part of this, a vital, important part. The only person who can save her brother is her, which makes her special. She is worthy of love because of who she is, but as I read it, she is powerful because of the love she has for her family. This echoes her ability to find her father (again, she's the connection because of her love), and gives her the confidence and the understanding she needs to face IT, rid Camazotz of darkness, and save Charles Wallace.

And the whole scene was cut for time. But we got a long scene of running in a freaking forest, instead, so that's fine, too, I guess.


(Pacing was weird. Some scenes, like flying around or running on Camazotz, lasted a long time, but Charles Wallace is possessed in the blink of an eye, without a fight. It felt strange.)

On a related note, I didn't like how they handled Camazotz. In the book, Camazotz is a planet overtaken by darkness, not the darkness itself like in the movie. Also, the effect of that darkness on the planet (in the book) is that the planet has every citizen literally marching to ITs beat. There's a rhythm that forces people to think and act along to it. IT forces everyone to be exactly alike, thinking the same, and doing the same.

This doesn't happen in the movie, and I'm sorry for it. Camazotz becomes a puzzle box of traps and challenges, but not a planet where everyone is forced to be the same. A major theme of A Wrinkle in Time is the idea that everyone is important, that differences, even flaws, are powerful, and that the ability to love gives someone power. Camazotz is dark because it erases those differences, and makes it so no one is important, no one is unique. And that whole idea was gone in the movie.

 

My biggest issue with the movie is that there is power in the book, real power that lingers with you long after you finish reading, and the movie cut out so much of the scenes and symbols that give the story its power to focus on only one theme: people deserve to be loved. Yes, and it's true, and it's there, and it's good, but in focusing only on that theme, it stripped away the richness of the story, that everyone's different and that's good and the ability to love others gives you real power to fight the darkness. I left the theater reminded of how good the book is and wanting to read it again. I don't care about watching the movie again.

Other things I didn't care for in the movie:

- That weird pacing I mentioned earlier.
- The Happy Medium wasn't all that happy (though I kind of liked the portrayal, shouldn't the Happy Medium, well, kind of deserve the title?)
- Mrs. Whatsit was relegated to comic relief, and they got her character all wrong. She isn't dismissive of Meg; in fact, she's the one who seems to see the most potential in her.
- Oprah's Mrs. Which was also wrong. She's the one who's supposed to be most dismissive of Meg, focusing instead on Charles Wallace's potential. But noooo, I guess Oprah can't possibly play a part where she's not the center of all that is inspiring.
- Meg's father never called her "Megaparsec." Small thing, but it bugged me for some reason.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mental Spring Cleaning

Hello!

First bit of news, I'm taking part in #MGBookMarch on Twitter, so during the month of March I'm answering questions about books and writers, particularly those of the middle grade variety. Check it out!

Also, I'll be attending the 2018 AML Conference at BYU from March 22-24. The theme is Humor and I look forward to going to the sessions there. I may also do a reading. Will keep you posted.

Anyway, on to the reason for this post:

It's spring!


Okay, it's not technically spring yet. But it is warm here in Utah today, and that's good enough for me.

Spring is a time of the year when I start to feel more alive, more awake, and more ready to do something good with my life. Ready to do some cleaning, both physically (my room needs it) and mentally. This spring, I realized that sometime over the winter I got a bit more easily annoyed than I have been, mostly over stupid, trivial things, and I want to fix that.

I have some plans, like refusing to voice annoyances, and implementing thought processes to check myself. I have a temper, and I like to keep it in control, and I'm just much happier when I manage not to let the stuff around me bother me more than I can handle. Or not at all, if it's not worth fussing about.

So today I'm going to, just once, write down a list of things that bug me, with the hope that once I write them, they'll be out of my system and I can focus on the good things, which I'll put in another list so I can get my focus straight.

Which means you get a catharsis entry today. I hope it's entertaining, all the same.

Things that bug me:


- People who drive under the speed limit in the left lane


- Insomnia, especially when I'm 3 hours into it and melatonin doesn't help fast enough
- Broken wheels on shopping carts
- Clothes chafing when I run
- ICE on the ground when I plan to run
- When the gym is so busy that there's always someone on the machine I need to use
- When the person on the machine is just sitting and texting someone


- When I forget that I had the volume up high on my laptop and I put in headphones and blast out my eardrums
- Finding an ant on my pillow
- People who enjoy antagonizing others
- My computer shutting down without warning to do updates (it always happens when I'm writing)
- Full parking lots
- Adulting
- The government failing to send me a needed tax form and then taking its sweet time to resend it when I asked where it was


- Writing, when it goes poorly
- Waiting. For anything, especially when it takes a long time.



Okay, that was actually helpful. Now for the positive things.


Things I always enjoy:


- Springtime, especially when the flowers start budding and the air smells like a garden
- Disney parks (I'm going to Disneyland in May!)


- Spending time with my family
- Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
- Reading a good book or trip to the library when I'm not rushed
- A delicious lunch, whether homemade or at a restaurant
- The one time a day (while in race training) that I get to eat a dessert


- Marathon training. Hard, but feels good
- My new fluffy pillow
- Music on my playlists
- Driving to that music
- Writing, when it's going well
- Being productive with my day
- Doing a crossword puzzle


- The view of the mountains from my window (at sunset)
- When the temperature is JUST RIGHT for a morning run
- When the waiting is over

Thanks, all, for letting me vent and realign. I hope it goes well, but you may have me again, next week, passionately griping about some story or other that blew it.

But I hope not. I'm seeing A Wrinkle in Time tomorrow, and I fully expect to like it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Weekend Adventures

This has been an interesting weekend.

First, Friday night I had my book launch at The King's English! It was great. We had a good turnout, and the people at the bookstore were so kind and helpful. I talked a little bit about Arts and Thefts, which was an interesting experience since it's a sequel. With Under Locker and Key, I could talk about my journey as a writer and how this whole idea came to be.


With Arts and Thefts, all that seemed important, but less important since this book was the next installment as well as something new. So I touched on the story of the series and my journey as a writer, but I mostly focused on what made this new book different and my experience writing it, on its own.

Like, how I almost wrote Arts and Thefts from's Becca's point of view, but decided that this series is really Jeremy's story. And how it's a mystery instead of a heist story, though it still maintains a high level of general thiefy-ness through the book. Such as when Jeremy crawls through some air ducts to avoid police.

But I digress. You want more, read the book.

Saturday afternoon I went with a couple friends, my brother, my sister, and her friend, up to Sandy's Hale Center Theater to see their production of the stage musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As I've posted about, I've seen this one before. I saw it when it was down south at the Tuacahn. But since it was going to be performed again, so close to home, I decided to see it again with the same friend I saw it with before, as well as my sibs and some other lovers of the play.

And holy cow, it was good.

The singing was good (although I'm easily impressed in that respect) and the acting was very well done. But the stage.


THE STAGE!

 
Hale Theatre performances are in the round, which is always cool because no matter where you sit, you'll have a good view. But this theatre was moved and updated, so here's what they have to work with:

- A round stage that can spin, split into segments, and RAISE AND LOWER about 15 feet
- Screens around the outside of the theatre above the audience that can display anything
- Smoke and pyrotechnic effects
- Seemingly endless space in the ceiling to hold dangling props and scenery

So, this means that they could hang the bells and chandeliers over the stage, and that they could raise parts of the stage to create the bell towers, and lower other parts to create the contrast of height. They could spin the stage to allow more frenetic motion with the actors. They could put up the translations of the Latin lyrics on the screens, and use them to surround the audience in stained glass, turning the theatre into Notre Dame, during "God Help the Outcasts."

And the song "Hellfire"? Oh, man. The screens burned with fire, the stage was raised and lowered to create depths churning with chanting monks and orange smoke, the lighting, the movement...I was gobsmacked. I kid you not, the power in the performance and the staging was such that my jaw actually dropped and I felt a thrill of terror during this villain song.

So, if you're in Utah and looking for a good piece of musical theatre, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is playing through the end of March. Highly recommend.

One thing that made the weekend so interesting is that I was doing a lot of driving, up to Salt Lake City Friday and to Sandy on Saturday, and there was a winter storm in the forecast. I was blessed, though, because it didn't hit until late Saturday night, after I'd finished up everything for the day. It was bad Sunday morning.

But, in true Utah fashion, the weather is warm enough today for me to be outside without a jacket and all that snow is melting like crazy.

Busy weekend. And now it's over, and I can go back to grading, writing, reading, and training for the marathon.

I'll keep you posted. Until then, I hope your weekends are full of fun and adventure!