Wednesday, December 23, 2015

School Visit!

Hello, everyone!

I know it's been a long time since I last posted. I'm sorry, but I haven't had much interesting to say. I completed my half marathon, and that was good, but I haven't had anything to post about. Until today.

Today I visited Lionville Middle School and talked about writing. It has been a while since I last did a school visit, and I felt a little rusty, but the kids were friendly and the school was very welcoming. I'd visit again if they'll have me.

At the visit, I talked about my process of writing and how I learn (and steal) good ideas from other writers. I talked about how I got the idea for Under Locker and Key and how I developed the story. It was cool.

Anyway, I'll keep this post short, but I wanted to tell you that I'm doing well and working to complete this book and its sequel. If you want to read what it is about in my query letter and the first chapter, please follow the link below to the post I wrote over a year ago, when I began sending out this book:

"Contest Results, and What's Next":

I'm afraid this is an old post, but the story is the same and it should give you a good idea of what the finished product will be like. As for the new revisions, well, just wait until the book's release in April of 2017! More details to follow.

As for right now, stay tuned and have a very merry Christmas season!

*EDITING NOTE* As of January 4, 2016, I have also visited the Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center. I had a great time! I love doing these school visits and I hope the kids had as good a time as I did.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Running Gets Real

I ran 11 miles this morning. I'm not saying that to brag (much), as I realize that people out there run marathons and super-marathons and 11 miles isn't much. I'm saying it as context to explain my thoughts and feelings about running, because 11 miles IS a lot to me, being the longest distance I've run, well, ever.

How's the running going, you ask? Good, good. I'm enjoying my long Saturday runs and I feel strong and healthy. Unless I twist an ankle or really give up and slack for the last 2 weeks before my race (half-marathon, Halloween morning), I should be able to do the full 13.1 miles without killing myself.

This is it. This is my Halloween.

It's weird, being a runner now. I feel that passing the 10-mile mark lets me call myself a runner without hesitation. But it is weird because I used to hate it so much and never went beyond 4 miles on a morning run. I thought 4 miles was a long run, but I was wrong.

I was so, so wrong.

See, after 4 miles, you may hurt and feel sweaty, but you can go back to normal pretty quick. (Results may vary.) It's like playing with a rubber band. You stretch it a little, and nothing much happens. But when you stretch it further, the band either breaks or gets stretched into a new shape, especially with repeated pulls. I'm no doctor, scientist, physical therapist, or any other kind of expert, but I'm pretty sure the same thing happens to the human body and it's weirding me out to go through this stretching.

Again, I'm not an expert, but over the last couple months, as I've been training, I have:

- Been too warm almost all the time. My roommates probably hate me for turning up the air every night, but I can't sleep unless I do. It's like I have a furnace inside my chest.

- Been hungry all the time, especially after the long runs. And it strikes at weird times; I'll have no desire to eat at breakfast time but will want a Las Vegas buffet spread an hour later (after forcing myself to eat a healthy breakfast because I KNEW this would happen).

- Craved bad foods. Every week my mind becomes a civil war between the wise dietitian inside me that knows I need vitamins and minerals, like what is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and yogurt, and without them, it will hurt more to run, and the gluttony monster that just says WANT MEAT WANT BREAD WANT PANCAKES WANT ICE CREAM WANT PIE WANT WAFFLES WANT CHEESY PIZZA WANT POPCORN WANT COOKIES WANT WANT WANT

- Had my clothes turn against me. I don't mean during the day, when I'm cleaned up and living my life. I mean when I'm on my run. My lovely, lovely shoes haven't given me grief, but this morning my shirt had a nice little surprise for me:

Mile 1-8: good shirt, nice shirt, wicking moisture and feeling good!
Mile 8-10: uh, feeling a little uncomfortable where the sleeves' seams are, but nothing I can't handle


- Lastly, started to actually DESIRE going for a run! Not as training, not as workout, not as balance for those times I've given into the WANT monster and eaten pie and ice cream when I shouldn't have, but because I want to go for a run. How did this happen?

Like I said earlier, I'm new to running. I haven't done any really long distances yet. I have heard tell of things to come, like blackened toenails and other undesirable effects of running. I hope I won't have to find out, but if I keep running after the half-marathon (and let's be honest, I probably will), who knows what will happen?

I'll keep you informed about any new developments about the training and how the race goes. If any of my toenails turn black, I promise I'll show you pictures!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Salt Lake Comic Con 2015!

Hey, folks! Wow, it's been a busy few weeks. I started a new job, which has been keeping me busy. I also got the chance to go to my first Comic Con!

Yes, my first Comic Con. It was also my first time getting a picture with a celebrity who wasn't a writer. (You know, I don't think I even have that. My bad.) And my first time cosplaying, but I only did that one out of the three days.

For those of you who want the abbreviated version of my Comic Con experience, see the post on my other blog I work on collaboratively with my friend Kiersty. That post has a lot more of my thoughts and impressions. This one's longer due to a whole bunch of pictures. Here's the link. 

This is my blog, though. MINE! MWAHAHAHAHAHA! So I post a bunch of pictures and details that didn't make the other one.

Also, I promised a link to the Fanundrums blog. Here that is. If you think I'm nerdy on this blog, you should see me over there. But, today, we're talking Comic Con, so the nerdy will be strong with this post.

Okay, let's go:

Thursday, I went up by myself. That's the perk of working at home; I can set my own hours. I did my work early and went up to Comic Con for the evening. It was fun, though a little lonely. I get why people tend to go in groups.

One of the things I did Thursday, well, the only thing worth mentioning, is see the panel with James and Oliver Phelps, also known as Fred and George Weasley. That was fun. I'm used to panels being people debating certain writing procedures or politics in art, because that's more what happens in the conferences I've been to. But a panel where a couple of actors, who are pretty fun guys, answer questions and tell stories about their experiences filming the Harry Potter movies was a new, fun experience. I did go to a panel about dark fairy tales, which was more in keeping with my past experiences. It was good, but I decided to treat Comic Con differently and play around, see celebrities.

Oh, and I went to panel with voice actors, one of which voices this guy:


That was fun.

Friday I went up with friends. We saw two panels with celebrities, or at least, I did. One of my friends had a photo op with James Phelps, so she didn't come. These panels were with Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee from LOTR) and Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes from Captain America). Can I just say here that I love Sean Astin? I always liked him pretty well because I like his characters, especially Sam, but after seeing him at the panel, I really like him as a person. He's a runner who runs for charity and is an overall nice person. He was very friendly and humble and seemed like someone's cool dad up there, answering questions.

I need to watch the LOTR movies again now. And the Harry Potter movies.

I also took a bunch of pictures, so get ready. Here are some highlights:

Some top cosplayers:

Here we have the "Aliens" Meme and Beaker the Muppet:


And here is Ling, Yao, and Chien Po from Mulan, the scene when they dress as women:


A bunch of characters from Spaceballs:


Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon and a humanized Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls:

Yes, the above Toothless costume is a costume. I promise there was a girl in there. The front legs are her arms.

And a couple more from Friday:


Yeah, that's me, thrilled because I got my very own SHIELD badge. Yes, it has my name and picture on it. And yes, I'm a field agent. A level 4 field agent. I'm wearing the right shirt for it, right?


Me in the TARDIS, back from an epic adventure in medieval Normandy. Details aren't important.

Okay, that was Friday. Saturday was pretty cool, too.

Saturday was the day I cosplayed. My first time. It was kind of last minute; I've been putting together a costume for this Halloween Half Marathon I'm doing, so it was simple and easy, but comfortable to move around in.

Am I killing you with suspense? Okay. Here I am. And here's my character.

Dipper Pines, from Gravity Falls. Here's the detailing on my forehead of the birthmark that gives Dipper his nickname:


I nailed it. The picture of me has it reversed due to camera angles, but it was identical. You can see how it really looked in the next picture.

Okay, moving on. I met up with my friends. We were excited.

We started out the day by seeking out the celebrities. Right off the bat, I found out that Sean Astin was letting people come up and say hi for free. SQUEE! I did that, for sure. He's a friendly man, as I said. Instead of high-fiving us and waving us on (I high-fived Sean Astin!), he commented on my hat. Oh, that was a highlight for sure!

We met a couple more celebs:

My friend Madeleine is the one in silver. She's Quicksilver from X-Men: Days of Future Past. As for the celebs, you can see their names and roles on the banners behind them. (Walter Koenig and Marina Sirtis)

Saturday, I also got two Dresden Files books signed by Jim Butcher, one of my favorite writers. I also met a couple of his (cosplay) characters:

(Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy. Yay.)

I also learned that one of the perks of cosplaying is finding the other people who are into the same things you are. I found a bunch of other Gravity Falls cosplayers, and I made it a point to get pictures with all of them:

Another humanized Bill Cipher, and then Stanley and Stanford Pines:

And here is me with Mabel Pines and Soos, and then one with Wendy:


I enjoyed that. I liked finding fellow fans and then actually, sometimes, being asked for my picture too. It made me feel kind of like a celebrity, which cemented my theory that Comic Con is about gong to see and be seen.

Here's some more notable cosplayers and photo-worthy things:

Izma and Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove. The other is my friend Mary, as the waitress from the same film:

The Ouran High School Host Club:

The Impala from Supernatural (no, for real!) and Agents Coulson and Simmons from Agents of SHIELD:


So, that was my Saturday. After running around, getting these, I got my final picture:

That's the Phelps twins. James (Fred) is the one on my side. I'll tell you, it was hard work trying to make myself look like a girl again for this picture. I even wiped off the Big Dipper on my head.

And yes, I'm still thrilled about this.

Did I like Comic Con? Oh yes! Would I do it again? OH YES!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Elizabethan England in the Heart of the Desert

Week 2 of catch-up is a go! This week I want to talk about my experience at the Utah Shakespeare Festival! This was something that I've wanted to do for a while, but since I didn't know if I'd be living in Utah over the summer, or because I had too much to do, or because I would have had to go alone and that's lame, I was never able to do it. But this year, I was staying, and I was free, and I had a friend with me! So, I had every reason to enjoy three straight days of Shakespearean goodness.

We bought tickets for three shows. The Festival has a lot of plays, but we decided to see only the Shakespeare plays they had this year: Henry IV Part Two, The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear. More on them later.

We drove down in the afternoon, stopping at the theatre in Cedar City. So, here's the cool thing about this place: the theatre and the atmosphere really bring the feeling of being in Elizabethan England home to you. Sure, it's still modern, and people are walking around in summer shorts and T-shirts, but look at this:

And this:

The theatre itself looks like the Globe, as you can maybe sort of tell from these pictures. (I took them on my phone, and the theatre is big, okay?) There are seats where the groundlings would have stood, so it's a comfortable Globe, with the cheap seats on the balcony. I actually really liked the balcony; we could see everything. Also, before the show and at intermission, people dressed in Elizabethan costumes come around with baskets of concessions. My favorite were the famous tarts they sell at the Festival. My favorite was probably the lemon, although I've heard the apple is good (I didn't try that one).

The food in general is good, and quite British:

Fish and chips, man. Fish. And. Chips. With malt vinegar and a dessert of shortbread. This is about as authentic as you're going to get in the middle of Utah. All it needs is little bones still stuck in the fish and some mushy peas.

I was lucky to go with a friend who loves Shakespeare as much as I do. She went the previous year and loved it, and knew I'd love it too. (This friend is currently away in the real England. Seeing Hamlet in London. I'm not jealous, you're jealous.)

Henry IV Pt. 2 was the first play we saw, the first night. It was one I hadn't seen or read before, so it was kind of cool to start with a play I had no prejudices about. It was well-cast and well-acted; Falstaff was hilarious. We left, very pleased.

The next day, we spent the day itself in Zion National Park. I loved it. I've been wanting to visit more national parks, and Zion was one I'd never seen. We hiked the Narrows, which looks like this:

I didn't take this picture, but this is what the Narrows looked like. The Narrows is often too dangerous to hike, as if there's even the scent of a flash flood in the air people could be trapped up this slot canyon when the waters hit. But on the day we went (Pioneer Day - a good place to be in Zion!), the Narrows were open with no danger. So we hiked them. I did it barefoot, as my leather boots were going to be miserable to wear wet. My feet were and are fine; I just got an impromptu pedicure.

That night was The Taming of the Shrew. Great production. I'm always curious how they're going to shift this play to fit a modern, more politically-correct age, and the Festival tends to play the Shakespeare plays straight (no change in time period, or major alterations to character or lines). But they did the impossible: they played it straight, Petruchio taming an unruly Katherine, but they kept it funny for a modern audience and also, through their acting, portrayed a couple deeply in love and perfect for each other. Petruchio came across as a showoff, but one who saw the value inside Katherine that even she couldn't see, and Katherine was the good daughter and wife driven to extremes by her unfair circumstances. Played straight, right from Shakespeare, but with new depth. That's good acting, that is.

King Lear, the next night, was also good. I wouldn't say it had added depth, but it doesn't really need it. The tragedies are already deep and open to interpretation. My friend hadn't seen King Lear ever, so I warned her about the eye-gouging scene. I don't think she thought I was serious about someone getting their eyes gouged out on stage. I was. And the scene was done well.

All in all, the Festival was amazing. I haven't mentioned the musicians that would perform on the green outside the theatre before the show, their music fitting the culture of the play (English folk songs for Henry IV, Italian for Taming of the Shrew, Irish/Celtic for Lear). A great prelude. Good music, good company, good food, and good drama. I left with a pack of author playing cards and wonderful memories.

I even got to meet one of my heroes in person!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The List, and Other Sundries

Wow, four months.

It has been four months since my last post on this blog. I'd say I'm sorry, and that it won't happen again, but let's be honest. It will. I'll put it on my list of "Things I Say Will Never Happen and Sure Enough, They Do." So far that list looks like this:

1. Cliff Jump (happened at Lake Powell; the cliff was about 25 feet)
2. Ride the Tower of Terror (see previous post)
3. Run more than 10 miles (not yet, but it will. See below)
4. Forget the blog for months at a time ('nuff said)

I will try to post more regularly. Part of the reason I've been absent is out of an uncertainty as to what this blog is and what I want it to be. I've decided to write about whatever I feel like. Anything interesting I've thought about, or anything I've done that merits blogging.

One of the reasons I've been so absent is because I have been busy. I've been getting used to a new apartment and the people who live there. This place is much more social than the last, and it's possible that I may blog, in the future, about the people here. I will use nicknames and change details, for anonymity, of course.

What else? I have been working hard, both at my job and at my writing, which I hope will become my career. Guess what? I FINISHED A DRAFT OF JEREMY WILDERSON BOOK #2! It's with friends and family now, people whose opinions I respect who will read my draft and let me know how to make it better. Work on Book #1 is moving along.

I keep thinking I'll wake up one day and it will all be a dream. It hasn't hit, not yet, not really, that publication is actually going to happen. I know it is real, intellectually, but it hasn't reached my core yet. I have a feeling that one day I'll see my book on the shelf and totally break down, like

In the meantime, I'm keeping busy running. Yes, that's what I mean by the 10 mile comment above. On the 4th of July, I ran a 10K. I was smiling at the end of it, so I guess it went well.

Aren't I pretty?

A friend talked to me about a month ago, and my running had been going well over the summer, and I like having something to train for because it keeps me from going on ice cream binges...anyway, one thing led to another and now I'm registered to run the Haunted Half Marathon on Halloween.

13.1 miles, in case you were wondering. I keep doubling up: first a 5K (3.1 miles), then a 10K (6.2 miles), and now a half marathon. If this pattern continues, I'll be adding "5. Run a marathon" to the list above.

Anyway, I'll try to post more often. You may be in for a flood of posts the next couple weeks as I unload all the things I've done over the summer. I should have kept up with them as they happened, but it didn't happen, so if it's worth telling, I'll tell it now. And I'll try to keep you updated on my latest scrapes.

UPDATE: my friend Kiersty and I started another blog, called Fanundrums. It's basically our fangirl conversations about, well, everything. If you're geeky and you know it, check it out. I'll get a link to you in the next post. This blog is going to still have my thoughts on writing and some reviews on books and movies I like, as well as general thoughts and stories for you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Happiest Place on Earth, With an Extra Side of Magic and Joy

I apologize for the long title of this post, but after my last post (which, let's be honest, was a bit of a downer) I have a lot of happiness to speak of.

I promised I would talk about my lovely family vacation, so I will now. We DISNEY WORLD!

This picture adequately expresses my feelings about going to Disney World.
We also went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, otherwise known as Universal Studios.
This is concept art, but the Diagon Alley really looks like this. And the dragon really flames every so often.

I had a great time and, now that I'm back in the real world, wish I could go back. I may just do that, sooner or later.
Anyway, here's my report. The whole family was there: all seven of us. One of my sisters just came back from a mission to Peru and my brother is leaving in June for a Peru. Different missions, but that country seems to love my family. So my parents decided to have a vacation while all their children were relatively local.

We started at Universal Studios, where I proceeded to act like a total fangirl all over the Harry Potter place. I've been to the Hogsmeade half, but the Diagon Alley half is new. It's also mindblowing. As good as Hogsmeade is, I think Diagon Alley may be more impressive. When you're inside, you can't see trees peeking over. It's easy to imagine that you really have walked through a brick wall into another, magical, world. The Gringotts ride is also amazing! I won't talk about that, because I don't want to spoil things. But, know that the line itself is an experience.

Also, should you ever go there, get ice cream at Fortescue's. It's delicious, and where else could you get Earl Grey and Lavender ice cream? Also, I want to give a shout-out to the man at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes who carefully told me all the precautions I would need to take with the Fainting Fancies I bought, so as not to hurt myself, and patiently accepted my "Muggle plastic" as payment.

After a couple days in Universal, we went over to Disney. Now, as giddy as I was about being in Disney World, I felt sick to my stomach as I rode the bus to the first park on the agenda. I had a hard time eating breakfast; I thought I might throw it up. Why? Because I had promised four months in advance to ride this monster:

This is what the firing squad looks like, first thing in the morning.

I'm scared of heights, particularly falling from them. And this, right here, is a free-fall ride that my whole family loves. I was told it's a fun ride, and I had made a promise. I was going to ride it. But that didn't mean I wasn't going to hold my mom's hand through the whole thing. (I'm 24, by the way.)

Clearly, I survived to write about my experience (or did I? MWAHAHAHA!), and to go on it a second time. It was fun, despite the way my screams must have sounded to people on the first time I rode it.

But, after conquering the T of T, I wasn't afraid of other rides. I took on the Rockin' Roller Coaster and, later, Expedition: Everest. No ride at Disney World holds any fear for me anymore. Now, it's really the Happiest Place on Earth.

I had a great time. The parks were wonderful, as always, but it was really special to be able to go with my whole family and enjoy our time together. It was a magical vacation, which may be why I keep wishing I was still on it. No, it's definitely why I keep wishing I was still on it!

See? I told you there was good, after the bad in the last post. I guess it's for the best that vacations don't last forever, though. It would have lost its charm eventually, and anyway, I need to get hard at work writing.

For you see, I've signed a book deal. Under Locker and Key has been accepted for publication by Aladdin and is scheduled to come out summer of 2017. So, now I'm on deadline.

[Dramatic pause here as the news sinks in]

That's the side of Magic and Joy, by the way.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Feel Like Diogenes

Diogenes of Synope was a Greek philosopher famous for walking around in daylight with a lamp. When asked what he was doing, he'd say, "I'm looking for an honest man." Reportedly, such a man was impossible to find. Here's a picture:

Well, today I feel like Diogenes.

Why, you ask? Well, I've been feeling like this for a while. I've caught myself listening to "Holding Out For a Hero" all too often and feeling an odd, wistful feeling. Yesterday brought it all to a head.

I recently came back from a lovely vacation - more on that later - and had to catch up on all the nonsense going on in the world at once after I returned (what on Earth is going on in Baltimore?!). Then, I took a trip to New York City to see An American in Paris with my family. It was going to be a nice day out, a sweet trip to see a charming musical that is supposed to be suitable for all ages. It started out that way.

Storytime: due to a computer error, our afternoon matinee tickets turned out to be for the evening's show. So we stuck around, visited Central Park and a few shops, and rested in Times Square. As we rested and talked, we spotted girls wandering topless around Times Square, yards away from families taking pictures of Olaf (from Frozen) and Cookie Monster. The girls wore thongs and body paint. That's all. Nothing else. Apparently this is legal now. There were also boys swearing blue streaks and speaking very disrespectfully about the topless girls, which makes me wonder what the girls would think if they could hear the words applied to them by underage boys. Somehow, I think they'd be offended, which leads me to another logical conundrum I don't have time to puzzle out right now.

The show itself was okay, although I don't know why it was labeled as "suitable for all ages" when there was some swearing that kids should not hear. I mean the kind of words that get bleeped out on television. But that was Disney-innocent next to the language I heard on the train ride home.

Granted, we left the city late at night. But I don't think that really allows for the three men, laughing loudly over their bottles of beer, using the public transportation to vent the ugliest words I've heard in a very long time. I am okay with a little profanity, used in the necessary places. I can handle a little more than that, as it's hard to avoid in public. What I can't handle is over an hour straight of three probably drunk grown men belittling women (including their wives) in disgusting terms, speaking loudly about sex, and incorporating DEFCON 1 and 2 level curse words in every sentence. That was not an exaggeration, I am sad to say. I paid attention as these grown, married men invoked a mountain of manure and enough F-bombs to shame the London Blitz. Meanwhile I'm trying to shield my sister, a tender-hearted, sweet girl who ached with every word.

I'm a writer, and that means that I believe words have power. The right words in the right circumstances can change a life, and the wrong ones can cut a heart as deftly as any knife. What I heard, both the words and the meaning, from men that are old enough to know better were ugly and painful. Their power was terrible. Mine is a mostly grown-up family. But we could have been a family with young children, up late after seeing Aladdin or Matilda. Imagine the cruel power of those words unleashed on them.

I'll try to keep this post from getting too long. Suffice it to say, I've been soured on New York City because I went there and everywhere I went I saw people acting far below their capacity, portraying themselves in shallow, ugly terms when they could be more. I've been seeing this more and more (what is going on in Baltimore?!) and it's worn on me.

More and more, I feel like Diogenes. I'm looking for honest people and coming up short. I'm looking for heroes and I can find so few. My definition of "hero" is not very exclusive:

A hero is someone who accepts the responsibilities of doing the right thing without demanding the rights.

This means that a hero does the right thing because it's the right thing, not because he/she will get some kind of benefit from it. A hero does it even if it will set them back in their goals. A hero doesn't demand that he/she get special treatment. A hero quietly and honestly lives up to their high expectations for themselves.

I'm seeing fewer and fewer people like this. They're not gone, but the lack is too obvious to me. I wonder if this absence is why Marvel is doing so well now; people crave the presence of heroic people who can be counted on to speak gently and fight for what they believe in. I am also writing my own heroes, trying to fill that space.

But that's a blog post for a different time. For now, I will lift my lantern and keep searching.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Movies Like "Noah" and "Exodus" Aren't Working

Well, it's been a while. Last time I wrote, I had just finished a 5K and was on a runner's high. After that, my life slowed down. A lot.

Seriously, I'm just not that interesting lately. The weather has been nice, life has been smooth, and Easter/General Conference is just around the corner. For those readers who have questions about what General Conference is, read this article. Yes, in case you haven't noticed, I am a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and I love it. I also am more star-struck by the men and women who speak at General Conference than I would be if I ever met Tom Hiddleston. And that's saying a lot.

Considering that the speakers at General Conference are prophets, apostles, leaders of Church organizations, and more, my love for them may very well be justified. And then President Monson does something like this:
Love him!

And it falls on Easter weekend, which makes it all the better. That means that between sessions of hearing uplifting and spiritual talks about Jesus Christ and what I can do to be a better person, I get to watch The Prince of Egypt.

(Side note, here: I've recently been looking at a job that would rock hard, but to get it, I need to write a paragraph on a movie I hate and how I would fix it. I decided to go with Moulin Rouge, but the topic of "why bad movies are so bad" has been on my mind. Okay, back to the flow of this blog.)
I love The Prince of Egypt. Great music, awesome voice cast, lovely animation...and most importantly, it's an example of a movie based on a religious text that actually works.

Admittedly, I have not seen Noah and Exodus, two Bible-based films that came out recently. I was warned off them, and I heard enough to decide that my time and money were better spent elsewhere. I know that Exodus got panned by Rotten Tomatoes, which also influenced my decision. Noah did well, box-office-wise. But from the people I talk to, active Christians who love the stories that are being told in these movies, they were both described as terrible movies that I shouldn't see.

Why? When a book is made into a movie, the fans all turn out. They may hate the film, but they will all go to see it. They won't warn fellow fans off it, knowing that it's something that needs to be seen. Why isn't this happening with some of these religious movies?

I'm no expert on films; I just know stories. I also love retellings. As I said, I adore The Prince of Egypt. I also love The Nativity Story and would watch it outside the Christmas season if I thought I could get away with it. Friends agree. Why do these succeed while the other two are hated?

The art of the retelling. That's it, pure and simple. When writing a retelling, the story in question is already accepted and loved. That means that something about it is already loved by the people who know the story. That needs to be present or the retelling rings false or even obnoxious. Imagine a retelling of Cinderella without the ball, the fairy godmother, the prince, the shoe. Or worse, imagine one where Cinderella loses and stays, serving her stepfamily, forever. You'd throw a pillow at the screen, right?

This goes double for religious stories. These aren't just nice tales to the audience that loves them; they are scripture. If they are not treated with respect as a religious text, they fall flat and the religious people who love the stories come away feeling annoyed. It's worse than when the movie tramples the source book (or TV show, in the case of The Last Airbender), as this goes deeper than fandom.

The two films I like are very respectful of the religious significance of the stories they tell. They don't mess with the tale, but flesh out the people until we, the viewers, relate with them and care. They take what is present, take what is already loved, and keep it as it is. They build on what is there.

This is a hard topic to talk about, as religion usually is. People have different tastes, and some may have found the movies I like boring or the ones I was warned off really inspiring. With this post, I hope to draw attention to the need to consider what audiences value in a story before you go and retell it, especially with religious texts. The story is getting retold because it already has power in some way: why not borrow that power?

Last, here's "Through Heaven's Eyes," because it's awesome.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Five Kilometers Later

Something very bad is happening to me. I want to blame my parents and my brother, but deep down I know it's my own fault. I acted, and now the consequences are my own fault.

Let me clarify.

Today was the Rex Lee Run, a 5K/10K run that donates 100% of its proceeds to cancer research. It looks like this:

This isn't a current picture. I'm not in there.
Anyway, I participated this year. I need to tell you, I don't have a good history with organized racing. I remember running 5Ks before, but I can't tell you how long ago it was. Before college, for sure. Maybe even before high school. And I hated them. I couldn't run more than a few hundred yards without having to stop and rest, and they hurt and I hated them. Therefore, I didn't understand why anyone would pay money for the honor of killing themselves for no good reason.

Flash-forward to a few days ago when I registered. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision, or as much of a spur-of-the-moment decision it could be while still getting in with the pre-registration price. But I have been running regularly for a few years now, 100% of the proceeds were going to cancer research, not just awareness (I swear there's a difference), and what with me sleeping through the nights and waking refreshed lately, running has become...almost fun. I mean it, I never knew how much that affected my stamina. But now I sleep well and I have the energy to fly down hills and almost not feel it when I go up. So I figured, hey, why not try the 5K thing again? After all, I run about that length three times a week anyway.

Why is any of this a bad thing? I'll get there. So I get up this morning, underdress for the cold weather in hopes that running will warm me up (it did), and go down to the race start. I pin my number to my back and then my front, trying to do this race thing right. Opening ceremonies happened, the day warmed up, and I stashed my sweatshirt and swag from booths somewhere safe. Then, when the time came, I started the first 5K I've ever paid my own money to run in.

Some things I thought about as I ran:
- I WILL NOT walk. I will run this whole thing if it kills me.
- It might very well kill me. Or make me throw up.
- How would the other runners react if I threw up?
- Oh, there's my professor. I should say hi.
- I'm passing people. HA! And another one gone, and another one....
- Hey! Stop passing me!
- Ha, knew you'd have to stop after a sprint like that. Passing you again!
- Aaaaand you're passing me. See you next time you have to walk.
- How does one drink water without stopping? (Apparently, you take one sip, spill half of it down your shirt, dump the rest on the road and throw the cup down where someone else will have to clean it up.)
- If my character Jeremy was here, he'd be acing this. (Jeremy responded that he's a sprinter. He doesn't do distances. Yes, I know he's fictional.)
- Downhill. YESSS! I AM FLYING!
- Uphill. Great.
- My nose won't stop running.
- You know what would be great on a running T-shirt? Morituri te salutant. Latin for "Those who are about to die salute you." It would be perfect for marathons, really set the right tone.
- Did I really pay money to do this? Where's mile 2?
- Miles are a lot longer than I thought they were.
- Uh, just kidding.
- I'm not going to walk this close to the finish line.
- I can see the finish line!
- This guy has been in my shadow this whole time, and now he's speeding up.
- Dude, you won by a nose. Don't let it go to your head.
- Where are the orange slices and bagels?
Why is it always these? Is it biology or tradition?
After that, I got my results and a little more swag. I now have running socks and some athletic shirts not given to me by my mother. One of them I even earned.

How did I do? For my first 5K in forever, not bad. I succeeded in my goal of running the whole time, keeping a steady pace. I ran an 8:45 mile, which was more or less expected. I finished in 27 minutes, in the top 33% in my division, top 25% in my gender, and in the first 50% overall.

I'm too proud of this. The results were pleasing, but nothing special. I'm writing a blog post on it, possibly because, even now, my endorphins are singing, "We Are the Champions." Seriously, I do this three times a week. Why is today any different?

Because today is when things have gone wrong. Before now, I would never call myself a serious runner. I run, yes, but I wouldn't train for a race. Mom and Dad and my brother...they do that. They do it a lot. I see it happen, and I followed them into running for health, but I'm not the person who would train for a marathon.

But today, a few minutes after finishing the 5K, I felt ready to run again. The race was too short; I wanted more. How could I possibly want more of that? Then I remembered, there's a 10K in July. I could train and be ready for that, and it would be more fulfilling than this 5K.

I've tasted the gateway drug and now I may be hooked on organized racing. Where will it lead? Half-marathons? Marathons? I shudder. I don't know how I got hooked, it may have started by watching my family run these things, but in the end, I think it was my choice to sign up and run this one. It's too early to tell, but I may be in danger of addiction.
Please watch this PSA before you, too, do something foolish and find yourself hooked. As for me, I'll be on Google Maps, planning a longer running route.

Friday, February 27, 2015

My Life is Awesome (If a Bit Weird)

So, I realize I haven't posted for a while. I'm sorry. But not too sorry, because a main reason I haven't posted is because I have been busy with my writing career. I had something rather major happen recently and I wanted to wait until the contract was signed before I said anything. So here it is: I got an agent. Her name is Lauren Abramo, and I am looking forward to working with her. I'm thrilled, actually. I feel like this:

And that is why I have been too busy to blog recently.

Scratch that - I had time to blog. The mental wherewithal was a little harder to come by.

Also, the last few weeks have been an exciting time in other ways, not all of them good.

Good: I got to go to LTUE out here in Utah. I've been before, but this was the first time I could go without having to skip out to go to class. I'm not going to go into a lot of details, because it's a writing conference and was more or less like I've experienced in past years. I met up with friends, made new friends, ate enormous marshmallowy rice crispy treats, and rushed from panel to panel. I saw a girl wearing a (SPOILER ALERT) "Kelsier Dies" T-Shirt and was glad I'd finished Mistborn. I also got a chance to wear all my nerdiest T-Shirts myself. Too bad it was cold so not many people saw my SHIELD logo shirt.

Bad: My chronic insomnia hit rock bottom over the last few weeks. I mean, all the way down, as in, I spent eight hours staring at the ceiling, waiting to either fall asleep or for the alarm go off. The alarm won. Another picture illustrating my feelings:

For. Eight. Hours.

I didn't draw this; I stole it from the internet. But things are better now. I got help from everyone except a doctor (that's pending; still need to find one near me that can help), started taking melatonin, and I make myself take the hour before bedtime to cool down and relax. Now, most nights I fall asleep in the first few minutes. Still have some bad nights, though, when the routine gets challenged.

The funny part is I wake up feeling like I haven't moved all night. I don't know if I just have a lot of sleep to make up or if that melatonin is good stuff. A friend asked me if I've been having weird dreams since starting the melatonin, and I responded, "No more than usual." Seriously, my dreams are weird and vivid. Imagine that picture of the fireworks I put above, but layer in late assignments, monsters, libraries, secret agents, and various characters from fandoms with special focus on Doctor Who and Agents of SHIELD.

I've had good, bad...let's get a "weird." Over the past few weeks it was nice in Utah so I walked to the library. It's a couple of miles away and a lovely walk on a nice day. As I'm about to cross a street, I look up to see two guys on a moped. That's not odd out here; lots of people ride mopeds and lots give friends rides. But as I'm looking, I wonder, "Is that first guy naked?"

How to proceed? I wanted to verify, but I didn't dare get caught ogling this guy. Also, if he is naked, I don't want to see anything! I kind of looked ahead and glanced out of the corner of my eye.

He wasn't naked. No shirt, no pants, no shoes...but a thin strip of bright fabric that indicated either a Speedo or really short shorts. As they passed, his clothed buddy saw me looking and waved. I waved back and busted up laughing.

Utah may be odd and my life may be exciting lately, but I promise, that doesn't happen to me often.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pamela, Shades of Grey, and Voting With My Dollar

I'm hoping this post is coherent because I've had an excessively good day and am a little bit drunk on life. I mean "a little bit" in the same way a car that has been through the Mythbusters treatment is a little bit scratched up.

It was a good day.

Anyway, to the topic of the day. There is this movie coming out over Valentine's weekend that's getting a lot of hype. You know the one. I debated about specifying, because I believe that the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference, and I think the best thing I can do to hurt things I dislike is to ignore them completely. However, I decided to name it with hopes that people searching the movie will find this post and change their minds, so here it is (sigh): 50 Shades of Grey.

I have not been shy about voicing my opinions of this book on my blog. I think it's garbage. Have I read it? In fairness, no. Normally I look down on having an opinion on a book I haven't read, but not this time. Why? This is why. My money is valuable to me. My time is more so. The thoughts that I allow in my head are the most valuable of all. I am not about to waste all three on a story about a psychopath (because that is what he is) subjecting a young woman to horrifying sexual sado-masochism.

There a number of blog posts about why this book and now movie is morally the stuff you scrape from the bottom of the vegetable crisper, so I'm not going to elaborate. Go look those up. I'm speaking as a storyteller who believes that it's our responsibility as artists to create and choose works that enlighten the mind and advance readers to a higher place.

That doesn't mean squeaky-clean writing; it means using sex and violence wisely and for a higher purpose. Anything that is created to titillate is, in my mind, pornography. I admit there is often a fine line. What is in 50 Shades of Grey is not fine writing, it is not deep character drama, and it is not EVER going to be the Great American Novel for any kind of literary value. It's popular because it turns people on. That's all. And that's a tragedy.

Believe it or not, this is not the first time a book like this has become popular. Meet Pamela.

I have read this one. This book was published in 1740 and was the Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey of its time. Get this: the story follows a young woman named Pamela who is hired to work as a maidservant for Mr. B, a rich man. While she's working for him, Mr. B. tries over and over to seduce and even rape her. He hides in her closet to surprise her and gets in bed with her disguised as a maid. (Remember, this was published in 1740.) She stays with him and with time he sincerely proposes and they marry.

Where have I heard this story before? Oh, right.

Pamela was a divisive book. Some people thought it was too licentious, while others saw it as a great conduct book. I shudder to think of 50 Shades of Grey coming to be seen as a conduct book. However, Pamela was very popular during its time. Merchandise, like tea sets with the characters' faces on them, were popular.

This post is getting long, so I will wrap up. I think Pamela is a stupid book. I think any book or film that glorifies violence against women and glorifies women who put up with it is every much not worth my time. I can think of many other books I'd rather read, and movies I'd rather see. So I'll see them. I will not spend a single dollar on that movie coming out this Valentine's, or on its book. With that, I will vote with the only ballot that seems to matter in our culture: my dollar.

My readers, please do the same. If you are on the fence or thinking of seeing it because everyone else will, save your money. Tell Hollywood we don't want this garbage. If they think this is what people want, this is what they'll make. We have the power to ask storytellers for what we want by what we buy. Let's use it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Strike a Heroic Pose

Today was a rough day. Not too bad, just the typical kind of give-you-a-headache-that-feels-like-an-ice-pick-entering-your-eye day. Nothing to worry about, but still, I think I'd like a hero today.

Two weeks ago I talked about the importance of a good villain. NOTE: even though I framed it in terms of traditional villainy, what I said also applies to other kinds of villains, like disease, economic trouble, natural disasters, etc. Whatever your hero has to deal with needs to be powerful enough that to overcome it requires true heroism.

So, first things first: what is a hero? Lots of different definitions for that one. Webster's dictionary lists three:


noun \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\
: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
: a person who is greatly admired
: the chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.

This seems right to me. A person who is admired for great or brave acts:

 This is especially relevant after the latest movie.

A person who is greatly admired:

 Also, any real-life person who is greatly admired.

Or the chief male character in a story, play, or movie (a female lead is a heroine, technically, though for my purposes I will use the word for both):

Thought about showing a character from The Lord of the Rings here, but there were too many heroes.

Now that that's settled, why is the hero important? Well, this is the person the story is about. The person your readers are supposed to care about and root for. This is the person who has to overcome your villain.

Again: the villain is important because the greater the problem to surmount, the greater the hero looks. Think about the top three examples. What is each one fighting against? Why does that struggle make them great? Katniss is fighting against a government that has been powerful enough to put down any uprising over the last 75 years. Also, their leader is a very intelligent, ruthless man. Atticus Finch fights against a prejudice that is so strong that even in the face of cold, blatant logic, it still wins. But I would argue that what Atticus wins in To Kill a Mockingbird (the respect of his children) may be worth more in the story's context. And Harry? He battles against, ultimately, a dark wizard who has cheated death for many years and has an army of sadistic followers. Try this with any hero you like. You'll see the same thing.

What else should a good hero be? Likeable. Relatable. At least, to a point. I've read books with unrelatable heroes that somehow work because they're funny. But there has to be something that keeps the reader engaged in this person's story. Sometimes it's not much. One book I read had a hero who was angry, violent, and self-isolating. But he had a lot of love for his brother, and that was enough for me to get to the end and find out why he was the way he was.

NOTE: this doesn't mean the hero is a saint. Personally, I like people who are generally good guys, but the hero could be a serial killer (Dexter) or just a total anti-hero who does the right thing for the wring reasons, or vice-versa.

I'll have to post in the future about anti-heroes. They're fascinating.

The hero also can't be infallible. They need a weakness or something to make it unclear if they can win. I have issues with Superman because he's too powerful. When the hero can easily beat anything, where's the drama? The hero needs to have weaknesses or insecurities to overcome along with the villain (heck, they might even be the villain), and to increase their likability. We relate to and like people who aren't perfect. We have a tendency to root for the underdog. That can be helpful to a person trying to create a likable hero.

Last: a hero needs to be a person. A real human person with quirks and flaws and strengths and everything. Think about yourself or the people you know. How would you react if you had to stop an evil wizard? Defend a racial minority in a skewed trial? Take down a corrupt government? If you contracted a terminal disease? Had your city flooded? Real, human emotions are what make heroes strong. They look like us, act like us. They are us, they way we wish we could become someday.

That's what I think make heroes so important. They are what inspire us to do better in our own lives. I think that, at least, deserves some effort and thought when creating them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Death Coming Up the Hill

Last week I decided to write professionally. I don't mean I took a job where I get paid as a writer; I mean that I started writing every day as if someone was paying me. This new goal came courtesy of one of my writing professors, who sent me this quote in an email:

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well.” 
Agatha ChristieAn Autobiography

Hence the late blog post and the headache. I spent this week polishing a novel I've been scared to show anyone, and then showing it to people. We'll see how they like it. It's darker, heavier, than most of my other stuff. On the complete other end of the spectrum from Under Locker and Key.

But enough about that. Today I want to finally post my review of Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe.

I feel the need for full disclosure: I know Chris Crowe. He's the professor who sent me the above quote and possibly the mentor who has had the biggest influence on how I think as a writer. That said, I'm going to give an honest review.

Death Coming Up the Hill takes place in 1968 and follows a boy named Ashe. His father is, as described by the back of the book, "dogmatic" and "racist," while his mother is an activist against the Vietnam War. The battle between Ashe's parents echoes the Vietnam War, in a way. Before long, Ashe can't sit on the sidelines of the turmoil around him any more. You can look up more about it here.

This is a quick but heavy read. Why? It's a YA book about the Vietnam War and it's written in haiku. There is one syllable in the book for every U.S. soldier killed in Vietnam. Sounds like a gimmick, but it really works. Crowe is a master of haiku; the language feels natural and not constricted by the constraint. Haiku is a small form, so the book is spare. Personally, I like a little more information in a novel, a few more details. It sometimes feels like a short story spread over a novel length. But I never felt like I'd lost something important. It's compact, but complete.

I enjoyed the characters. Ashe came across as a realistic teenage boy of the time, trying to figure out his own life while confronted with what his family wishes for him. I'm very fond of stories that force characters into no-win situations, and this does it. It does it well. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so I'm not saying much about plot, but let's just say there's a development in Ashe's mother's life that puts a lot of strain (a LOT) on his whole family. This kind of development is sometimes used just to add drama to teen books and make things "edgy." I really appreciated that it served the story: it revealed character all over the place and impacted Ashe's decisions.

Do I recommend it? Yes. Because I know the writer? Well, yes, but that's never enough . It would mean nothing to me if my friends recommended my book not because they liked it but just because they knew me, so I won't do that to anyone I know. Read this book because the language is clear and tight, read it because the story is impressive and the characters interesting. Read it because it's written in haiku but you stop seeing the constraint the deeper you get into the story. I think you'd enjoy it.