Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thoughts of the Week

If you were looking for logic on the internet today, this isn't the post for you. Well, not if you're looking for coherent, uniting logic; I am hoping for some interior logic. But if you're like me and enjoy Doctor Who and therefore have no problem slipping into the rules of an imagined world, you should do fine. I just accumulated a lot of wandering thoughts and musings this week, and thought I'd use my blog as a receptacle for them.

First off, I love getting comments on this blog and want to address the comment I got on last week's post. I think "Lawful Evil" as it has been defined can be the most irritating bad guy, as long as they also fall under the description of "can't argue with stupid." So, basically, I agree with the comment. I think Lawful Evil could become Lawful Good in some scenarios, when shown the error of their ways. But the pigheaded evildoers who refuse to change their perspective for anything and punish anyone who defies their worldview are SO irritating because we the readers know the truth, and honestly, we all know what it feels like to be in an argument where we know we're right but our respected opponents will not bend. ARGH!

Which makes me wonder, do the Lawful Evil characters feel the same way? Do they think they're clearly right and those foolish lawbreakers are stubbornly refusing to bend? Might make an interesting character one day, this villain right here.

My favorite blog to write is this one, but my favorite blog to read is Heather Dixon's StoryMonster. I don't know her (though, based on her blog posts, I would love to meet her), so this isn't a plug. Just a reference to anyone who reads my blog that there's another one worth looking into. Posts are funny, well-written, and just straight-up delightful. It's a bit addicting.

It amazes me that people actually read my blog. Which reminds me, in case you didn't know, my novel The Shifting is getting published. Tell your friends. Read an excerpt of my story at the link right HERE (January 2013 Emerald Sky). Tell your friends to read my excerpt. Yes, this is what is known as shameless self-promotion.

Sometimes I feel like the purpose of my education is to slowly shorten the list of movies I can watch with friends without turning into an analyzing monster. I recently watched Megamind and I spent half the movie writing a mental paper on how it undercuts the traditional tropes of the superhero genre and the other half telling myself, "Shut up and just watch the movie." This actually happens a lot.

Started a steampunk unit in my class this term. I enjoy steampunk, but had never given much thought to the actual intellectual movement behind the aesthetic. After learning about it, I might turn steampunk. I could get behind the ideas of individuality and do-it-yourselfness. Class made me want to go out and buy gears and rivets to make something mechanical and awesome all by myself. Too bad I don't know how to build things. Yet.

Movies I can't watch in a group anymore (to date) thanks to the steampunk unit: Disney's Atlantis, The Prestige, Sherlock Holmes (RDJ version), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Treasure Planet. Though most of these were iffy to begin with since Joss Whedon worked on Atlantis and The Prestige already had some wonderful elements of the genre of the fantastic and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is my literary geek-dreams come to life and...stop it. Stop it now.

For those who enjoy steampunk, I recommend The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello. Short video that reminds me of Jules Verne stories mixed with Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." It's a bit dark at times, but interesting.

None of these thoughts merited a full-length blog post. I'm glad I did this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Most Hated Woman Ever

Oh, yeah.

This post is brought to you by a conversation I had with several friends about Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge from the Harry Potter books. If you're anything like me, you read the meme above and nodded enthusiastically. Isn't that interesting? She's not a Dark Lord, not the big villain of the books, but watching her go down brought a sweet joy that Voldemort's death didn't. Why is that?

So, here I go, speculating. Why was Umbridge so much worse than Voldemort? My first thought is this: we have no guarantee she'll lose. The whole structure of the Harry Potter books tells us that Voldemort is going to lose to Harry, eventually. We know the outcome there. But, as Umbridge is a minor character (relatively), she might just get away with it. And that offends my sense of justice.

But get away with what? Ooh, boy, where do I start? Sadistic punishments, power-hungry take-over of Hogwarts, nasty poison personality...all of which make me hate her. But I've read villains who've done this, and worse, and I don't loathe them. For me, the reason Umbridge is so intolerable is because she is COMPLETELY BACKED UP BY THE LAW.

Umbridge has the Ministry on her side; they support her fascist regime at Hogwarts. Voldemort, on the other hand, is an outlaw. Umbridge is worse, I think, because we, the readers, know that Harry is right about Voldemort's return, but he has no power to fight back as Umbridge gives him creepy detentions ("I must not tell lies", anyone?), prevents real preparation to fight the Dark Arts, and even withholds Quidditch, Harry's favorite activity, from him. No one, not Harry, not Dumbledore, and not the other professors can challenge Umbridge without getting attacked themselves. They are powerless for so long, and we, as the readers, chafe against those limitations.

Maybe that's why the Weasley twins become our kings when they fly off like bosses.

I guess the lesson to take from Rowling's excellent character creation here is to legitimize the bad guy. If the bad guy is fighting for the "good" side and the law supports them, they can do whatever they want, and the reader's sense of justice is offended without any promise of punishment.

At least, until the centaurs arrive.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Speak Geek: Part 2

I meant to post yesterday, but I had a lesson in being a grownup instead. And this morning, I could have posted, but I started reading book 10 of the How to Train Your Dragon series, the book I thought would be the last of the series. I was wrong; there's at least one more. So while I am flying on the awesome that is that series, I am now anxious to read more and unable to do so.

I've been doing a lot of reading in the past few weeks, so I decided to do what I meant to do earlier for this post: help the non-geeks understand how to speak to the bookworms out there. I realize that the books I will discuss have been made into movies: I don't care. I'm going to write about the books. So there.

Harry Potter
  • Neville Longbottom. Who knew, right? 
  • "Always" is the most romantic word in the English language. 
  • NEVER call someone a mudblood. The proper term is "muggle-born."
  • Professor McGonagall is much sassier than you'd first think.
  • An understanding of astronomy is a big plus in understanding characters, particularly the Black family:
    • Bellatrix: "female warrior", star in Orion
    • Sirius: the "dog star", brightest star in Canus Major and in fact in the whole night sky
    • Regalus: "king", star in Leo
    • Andromeda: a galaxy
    • Also know: Arcturus, Cygnus, Draco, Scorpius, Pollux
  • Despite what the movies may protray, Peeves exists. Also, Dobby stole the gillyweed for Harry and told him about the second task of the Triwizard tournament.
  • The sweetest things in the world can be found in Honeydukes.
  • Fred and George Weasley are rock stars. Not literally, but understand: they are awesome. Be careful mentioning these two, though, to a sensitive Harry Potter fan who has finished book 7.
  • Dolores Umbridge = the devil. No Dark Lord can inspire such righteous wrath in a reader as this pink-cardiganed witch.
  • He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or You-Know-Who.
  • Gilderoy Lockhart. More than just a pretty know what, no. Just the pretty face. No competence at all.
  • SPEW forever!
  • SPOILERS: Harry does die, but he comes back. Ron and Hermione get together. Voldemort dies. Snape was a good guy.
  • Words to know: horcrux, Elder wand, Expelliarmus, Dark Mark, Quidditch, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Ministry of Magic, Death Eater, various incantations, various candy names, various magical creatures...why don't we just end the list now?
The Lord of the Rings
  • Samwise Gamgee. See note above for Neville. Amazing character who, according to Tolkien, was the hero of the book. Only character to handle the One Ring and absolutely turn away from the temptation.
  • Po-tat-oes. Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew. (From movie, not book. Sorry, but I had to.)
  • Faramir is Boromir's brother, and does not ever succumb to the temptation for the Ring.
  • Just when you think the story is over, there's the Scouring of the Shire.
  • Wow, the hobbits take their sweet time leaving the Shire.
  • Tom Bombadil.
  • Bill the pony.
  • Gollum and Smeagol are the same thing, but not really. Gollum is the creature the Ring created (think "golem") and Smeagol is who he was before he was corrupted.
  • Tolkien really likes to write songs and poetry.
  • Elvish is a legit language with mechanics and conjugations and everything. You can learn it. "Lasto" means "Listen", in the imperative.
  • Gandalf is one of the Maiar, the angels in Tolkien's mythology.
  • Glorfindel, the elf that takes Frodo to Rivendell, once fought a Balrog, died defeating it, and came back to life. Foreshadowing, much?
  • "Fool of a Took!"
  • Boromir does not say, "One does not simply walk into Mordor."
  • Just when you think Gandalf the Grey can't get any cooler, he becomes Gandalf the White.
  • Denethor = worst father ever. Flaming psycho.
  • Words to know: Ent, Orc, Mordor, One Ring, Sauron, Isengard, Ranger, hobbit, elf, dwarf, Gondor, Rivendell, Isildur's Bane.
The Hunger Games
  • Haymitch is the man. So is Cinna.
  • Avoxes are people who have had their tongues cut out. Not mentioned in the movie.
  • No one likes the ending of Mockingjay, though reasons vary. Mine is that the ending felt so rushed, with too much happening before I could feel any emotional connection.
  • This is a book about children fighting to the death. I realize that's well-known, but I thought it should be emphasized.
  • Peeta's leg gets amputated, and Katniss loses hearing in one ear.
  • Katniss has trouble pretending to love Peeta.
  • Gale is one angry young man.
  • Madge Undersee is a friend of Katniss's. She's the one who gives Katniss her mockingjay pin.
  • The mutts look like dead tributes.
  • President Snow smells of blood and roses.
  • The idea behind the games is similar to Rome's "bread and circuses" and modern reality shows.
  • SPOILERS: Primrose, Katniss's sister, dies in the last book. So all of this has been kind of pointless.
  • Words to know: Avox, tribute, district, District 13, District 12, muttation, tracker-jacker, Girl on Fire, Panem.
Hope this is a good start. Naturally, I can't list everything you should know, but this should get you started just fine. Maybe I'll return to books geeks like to read and talk about someday, but for now, I'm going to get back to reading. I have a lot to read, some for run and some for class. I finished reading a Jack-the-Ripper style novel for a class, and while everyone talked about how scary it was, I was fine. Just fine. Not scared at all. Maybe that in and of itself should scare me.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Storyteller's Soundtrack

First off, let me say that, as an addendum to last week's post, I went and saw Iron Man 3 today and it was awesome! Not what I expected, but better. I highly recommend it, and if you go, make sure you stay and watch through the credits. The scene at the end is worth the wait. It's about as good as the shwarma scene after The Avengers.

So, this week I've been thinking a lot about music and how it impacts storytelling. I recently rewatched How to Train Your Dragon and commented to a friend on how awesome the music is. I mentioned that, while revising the climax of The Shifting (soon to be published!), I listened to the HTTYD soundtrack. The music made everything I read over sound epic, which was flattering but not the best emotional stimulation for critical revision.

I've heard a few writers comment that they've listened to music while writing to help them get into the scene or the character's mind. I've done it, and I think they're right in doing it: the right kind of music really helps me understand my characters and feel the story's tone better than if I hadn't. That said, listening to the wrong music really detracts and I get stuck. Right now I'm working, a bit idly, on a middle grade novel about an eleven-year-old thief. I'm listening to a lot of Radio Disney, teen pop of other venues, and high-adventure techno. When my playlist skips to showtunes or Celtic music, I lose the feel.

So yes, I have a soundtrack for almost everything I write. I'm addicted to music, and can't imagine spending hours of my life in silence, though at times I shut down the music to focus on a tricky part. But the music bolsters my emotions. Here's the soundtrack (in case you were wondering) for The Shifting:

How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (Broadway) soundtrack
"Watch Me Shine"  - Joanna Pacitti
"Ordinary" - Train
"I'm Alive" - Next to Normal
"Desert Rose" - Sting
"Where Are You Going" - Dave Matthews Band
"Caledonia" - Celtic Thunder
"It's the End of the World As We Know It" - R.E.M.
"How Far We've Come" - Matchbox Twenty
"How to Save a Life" - The Fray
"Crazy" - Seal
"Do You Believe in Magic?" - The Lovin' Spoonful
"Disease" - Matchbox Twenty
"Unwell" - Matchbox Twenty
"This One's For the Girls" - Martina McBride
"Move Along" - The All-American Rejects
"Through Heaven's Eyes" - The Prince of Egypt
"What Makes You Different" - Backstreet Boys
"Innocent" - Taylor Swift
"Defying Gravity" - Wicked

Naturally, this is not a comprehensive list of songs I used. But these were some of the ones I gravitated to as I wrote. Why? Well, I'll let you figure that out on your own. The book isn't out yet, but you can read an excerpt here, in my publisher's online magazine.