Monday, September 26, 2016

A Night At the Theatre

Hello, all! Welcome to fall! Yet another season has ended and I'm one unit of time closer to my book release.

I hope to have more news on that front for you later, but for now, how about I talk about what I did this weekend? I went on a road trip to see a play. In a theatre 4 hours away from where I live.

And it was totally worth it.

All right, story time. So, in St. George, UT, there's an outdoor theatre called the Tuacahn, that has excellent quality musicals in the summer. This year, they were performing the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Yes, it is a stage musical. Here's a video promo of the stage show from the Paper Mill Playhouse:

One of my friends really, really, REALLY loves the Disney movie, and I like it quite a bit myself, so we planned a trip and went down to St. George to see this play. We drove 4 hours down to see the Thursday show, and then 4 hours back the next day. And yes, I still say it was worth it.

The set, as seen before the show began.

 My friends and I, having fun minutes before the show started.

The musical is an interesting thing. It's based on both the Disney movie and Victor Hugo's book. The music is from the Disney movie, with a couple songs added. I can't convey to you how much I loved the music in this play. I always loved the movie's songs and score, and it's all there! Even the added songs were great. Truly moving music, and it's something to hear someone sing "Out There" live.

The interesting thing is, I remember reading about this play in the New York Times when it premiered. I didn't pay much attention to the article (I was busy) but I remember scanning it and getting a sense that the play was based on the Disney movie but really dark. It didn't make much sense to me.

[Warning: I'm not going to give away spoilers that haven't technically been out for years, but if you don't want this play revealed to you in any way for any reason, you may as well stop here and come back later.]

It makes sense now. The play is a tragedy, and I don't mean it's bad. It was very good. It's just sad.

The play follows, more or less, the movie plot. A few details are closer to the book, but overall, it's recognizable. The very end, though, right after Quasimodo pours molten lead out the cathedral, is the book's ending. I wondered, if that's how it happened in the play, but the movie plot all the way to the end lulled me into a false sense of security. I do like the book ending, too. It was interesting, though, seeing it mixed with Disney's happy (okay, happier) take on the story.

Characters were also a combination of Disney and book. Frollo is more sympathetic, more of a tragic character. You see more of his backstory. Quasimodo is deaf, and Phoebus is a bit more arrogant and less noble than in the Disney movie. The play was kind of like what you'd expect if Disney made movies for adults instead of kids.

Although, Hunchback of Notre Dame, the animated movie, isn't exactly what I'd call a "kid's movie." There's way too much darkness in that movie. It's brought out in the play.

We had excellent performers. Our favorites were Frollo (who nailed "Hellfire" with his deep voice and played his complex character well), Quasimodo (DANG! What a voice! And also, excellent acting), and Clopin (sassy rogue, that's all I have to say).

I'm going to wrap up, now, because I don't want to spoil too much. But I want to point out one part of the play that I thought was interesting. In the opening number, "The Bells of Notre Dame," the song ends with the line, "Here is a riddle to guess if you can, sing the bells of Notre Dame: What makes a monster and what makes a man?" In the play, that line starts with the chorus singing together, and then for the last part, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?", one guy emerges from the crowd and delivers that line. Then they put the costume on him: he's Quasimodo. Frollo is actually the one who puts the hunch on him.

No interpretation here. Just interest. I love seeing adaptations; they make me think about stories I know in a new way.

And when the adaptation is a musical? Well, let's just say I'll be listening to the soundtrack for a while longer.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Jam and Other Sweet Things

Today I learned a valuable lesson. I thought that the worst thing that can (typically) happen to a person while eating a tuna sandwich is to put too much mayo in the tuna so that it's oozing out the sides of the bread. I was wrong. I'm pretty sure it's finding bits of fish bone in the canned tuna.

I picked out the first two pieces, but when I felt something sharp poke my gum for the third time, I decided it would be healthier to not keep eating the tuna.

So, that happened. But there have been a lot of good things, too. For the first thing, I MADE JAM!!!!


It's spiced peach jam, made from peaches from the farmer's market and about half the spice drawer. This was my first time making jam all by myself, canning it properly to keep nasty things from growing in it. I've made jam before, but I didn't can it, and that's kind of like half-doing it, as (I think) the canning is the harder part.

The recipe I used came from Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars. It was originally meant to be a small-batch (I don't have much storage space) recipe for brown sugar salted peach jam, but I decided I'd rather have spiced jam instead of salted, and that I liked the yield of this recipe, so I altered it. I'm sure the brown sugar salted peach would have been good, but fall is approaching and I wanted spiced, so instead of salt I used cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and a little ginger.

I may have been a bit inspired by the spiced peaches in Holes.

It's delicious stuff. Five stars, will can again. But I want to try some other recipes first.

Another good thing that happened this week? I got A LOT done with my writing, and I went on Goodreads and found three reviews for Under Locker and Key, at least two of which were written by people I don't know!

This, along with everything else I accomplished as a writer, calls for celebration.

Celebration is important for a writer. The job involves so much criticism and rejection that it's important to recognize the big moments and the exciting things. In the correct balance, of course. You don't buy yourself an ice cream cone for a book release, and you don't go out to dinner when someone likes your book on Goodreads.

I'm getting creative in ways to celebrate good things happening. Here's some of my options:

- Ice cream. (A classic)
- New book.
- New clothes.
- Cool yarn (I knit)
- Bake or cook something fun.
- Go for a long walk when the weather is nice and I really don't a reason.
- Procrastinate something.
- Chocolate. Just, chocolate.
- Buy myself a flower, just because.
- Visit the library and look for where my book will be on shelves.
- See above, but with Barnes & Noble.
- Borrow/rent a movie I like a lot but rarely have time to see, and watch it.
- Take myself to the dollar theater.
- Stuff-crust pizza.
- Spend an hour pretending to plan a trip to Disney World. (It's fun!)
- Go out to dinner (I like Zupas).
- Play Just Dance.
- Know you owe yourself a treat and HOARD that one-time allowance for the perfect thing.

I'm currently doing the last one, but I might end up landing on ice cream or chocolate. Or a book. Who knows?

Well, this coming week I'll be making plans for Under Locker and Key stuff and looking way too much at cupcake menus. Because reasons.

May your week be good and free of tuna bones!

Image result for tuna bones in sandwich 

(This wasn't my can or my tuna bone; but it gets the feeling across!)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Defending Disney: The Little Mermaid

It has been a long week, and the next one is going to be busier. Nothing bad; in fact I rather like all the "problems" I have. There's just a lot going on.

I just got back from the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival, where I saw Henry V. I also got feedback on my second Jeremy Wilderson book, so I've been revising hard. School is also back in session, so I'm teaching again. That, on top of how my life as a writer and everything that goes with it (the social media, the networking, the online presence, the preparation for publication) is accelerating, means I have a lot on my mind.

So let's have a post about a Disney movie.

If you've been keeping up with my posts, you know I love Disney. Always have. As a kid I loved watching all the Disney movies my family had. I dressed up as the princesses at Halloween. Disney was wonderful!

And then I grew up, and people started telling me everything wrong with the Disney movies I knew and loved. The princesses teach girls to be weak and passive, they hurt body image, they teach unrealistic life plans (people don't really get what they wish for). Etcetera, etcetera.

One significant moment of this was in my senior year of high school. As one project for a sociology unit, we watching The Little Mermaid  and discussed all the problematic sexist ideas. Body image, gender roles, all that. We tore the movie apart.

I don't think it was very fair of us.

Yes, Disney movies can be problematic. I like this about them - if you have a movie with all perfect characters always doing what every viewer would want them to do, you have no story. Characters need to be imperfect for the story to move forward. But I want to defend The Little Mermaid against some of the critiques leveled against it, because I think there's more to this movie than a simple "girl loves boy, boy saves girl, they get married" story.

First off, I remember this movie getting critiqued for telling girls they need to look a certain way, be  a certain way, to get a man. Yes, that advice is given, but remember who said it?

Image result for ursula little mermaid 

This certainly trustworthy character.

It's Ursula who tells Ariel to change herself. Ariel goes to her for general help, and Ursula is the one who tells Ariel:

- That she has to become human,
- That she has to give up her voice,
- And that the men on land don't like girls who speak.

Let's just remember what game Ursula is playing. She wants to destroy Ariel, and through her King Triton. She's not Ariel's friend. Never has been. Ariel is young and knows very little about the world above (she calls a fork a dinglehopper; how can we expect her to know complex gender dynamics?). Ursula can do whatever she likes with her.

So, Ursula, being clever and evil, sets up a situation that Ariel can't win. She offers her a chance to have everything she wants. The prince, yes, but also a chance to be "part of that world." Let's not forget what Ariel is singing about in her "I Want" song:

Ariel is offered a chance to go to land, but the catch? She only has a few days to make it stick, and she can't use the one thing that will help and distinguish her. Ursula knows this, and she'll do anything to make sure Ariel accepts this deal.

Including lie.

As a kid, I always knew (even if I didn't have the words for it) that anything a Disney villain said was suspect. Scar says Mufasa's death was all Simba'a fault? Lies. Radcliffe saying the Native Americans are hiding gold? False. Pretty much anything Jafar says to the Sultan or even Jasmine? Pants on fire.

This is no different; the villain is manipulating the hero, and even kids can see it. Ursula calls for Ariel giving up what she already has, who she already is, for a man.

But what about the other characters? What about King Triton and Eric? Don't they like the quiet, "improved" Ariel?

Well, no.

Image result for prince eric

Eric is looking for the girl with the voice. He wants Ariel the way she was when she saved his life. He starts to fall for her despite the loss of her voice, not because of it. When she has her voice returned to her, he doesn't wish she was still silent, and even when he learns she's a mermaid, he doesn't push her away. He follows her to sea and stays with her, through it all. Eric accepts Ariel entirely.

And her father?
Image result for king triton

This is where I get excited, because I think this story isn't the story of a girl who marries a prince. I think it's the story of a girl who finally figures out a more mature relationship with her father. It can't just be coincidence that the last words spoken in the movie are, "I love you, Daddy."

King Triton is a father trying to do his best. He's very involved in his daughters' lives (think about how he muses over who Ariel is in love with). He wants to keep Ariel safe and happy, and so he forbids her from doing the things he sees as dangerous. He sends Sebastian to look after her. She, loving the world above, fights this, and so the tension is created between them. This tension propels the story. It's what drives Ariel to get help from the ever-honest Ursula instead of her dad.

But what happens next? Ariel disappears, and Triton agonizes over this. He blames himself for her vanishing, and as soon as he knows where she is, he swims to the rescue. He does everything to keep Ariel safe, including taking her deal with Ursula.

And at the end, when Triton sees how much Ariel loves Eric and how being on land is what will make her happy, he gives her the legs she wants. No trades, no bargains. He accepts her love of the land, even though he'll miss her. He helps her be the person she wants to be.

Image result for the little mermaid dinglehopper

In the end, Ariel gets what she wanted: she gets to live as "part of that world" on land, just as she dreamed about. She also gets (and I think this is poignant) people who "understand, who don't reprimand their daughters." Her relationship with her father has evolved to something more mature. The villain who told her to be something else is defeated.

Thought of that way, Eric is kind of a McGuffin, isn't he? He's the prize, the symbol of Ariel's victory.

There's more that you can critique about this movie, but I think this argument deserves some consideration. One of the great things about Disney is that the movies tend to be layered with meaning. The great ones have depth to them that adults can appreciate, and I think The Little Mermaid is one of them.

I'll probably do posts like this again for other movies. They're a lot of fun!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Salt Lake Comic Con 2016: Fun and Fantasy

Hey, all!

It has been a crazy weekend, but that was to be expected. I went to Salt Lake Comic Con. It was a lot of fun.

I won't go into too much detail here, since everyone's experience at Comic Con is different and mine was a pretty tame one. I didn't get an autograph with a celebrity. I didn't go to a photo-op. I met a couple, but in a quick little meet-and-greet way (they were Tahmoh Penikett and Ruth Connell, both from later seasons of Supernatural). Also, you can see all my pictures and their captions at my Facebook page or my Instagram page.

But I promise I will share the highlights here.

Highlight #1: I cosplayed all three days.

Day 1: Sam Winchester from Supernatural.


I think I did well on this one, but my friend who was going to come as Dean got sick (I blame the Mark of Cain), so I got to discover that no one cares about Sam when he's alone. Really sad, actually.

Day 2: Allison Hymas, Agent of SHIELD.


I got that badge clipped to my vest last year. It actually says my name. I won another one this year, but I didn't want a duplicate, so I made it read the name of one of my characters in the book that's coming out in April:


Becca would totally be a SHIELD field agent, so this is perfect. 

Day 3: Cinder from Cinder of the The Lunar Chronicles.


The fake leg was annoying, but he hand looked good. Also, clearly I'm not alone. This brings me to my second highlight...
Highlight #2: My sister came with me!

The lovely girl cosplaying as Annabeth Chase is my sister Grace. She came to the Con on Saturday, which was a lot of fun. We ran all over the convention and did everything we could do:


We saw a panel with Stephen Amell and David Ramsey from Arrow. It was a lot of fun, and made me want to start watching Arrow again. But I'm sad Grace wasn't able to see this panel...

Highlight #3: Mark Hamill's panel.

Yes, Mark Hamill came. Yes, his panel was well-attended (they filled a pro basketball stadium for him).


(He's the one furthest to the right.)

Mark Hamill really knows how to own a stage and how to impress his fans. His panel was entertaining and informative and I really enjoyed it. I hope he comes back to Salt Lake.

Highlight #4: The lovely authors who I met and got signatures from.

I really love meeting writers at Comic Con. It's less expensive than meeting actors, and I get a signed book out of it. Also, writers are major celebrities to me, so I get all giddy and flustered when I talk to them, and that's part of the fun. Here's me with Richard Paul Evans:


I also met Ally Carter (who was my reason for going all three days to Comic Con), Platte F. Clark (a fellow Aladdin author) and Colleen Houck (New York Times Bestselling Author). They were all very friendly to me, and reaffirmed why I love meeting authors. I hope to emulate them when/if I meet readers one day.

Highlight #5 (the last one): All the amazing cosplay!


For the sake of time, I'll stop here. But I have to say, I was blown away by the creativity and effort of so many cosplays. If you want to see more (and I recommend it; there were so many other excellent costumes), visit my Facebook or Instagram pages. Links are above.

Tl;dr: Salt Lake Comic Con was a lot of fun. I had a good time. (Just skim the post; this doesn't do it justice at all.)