Monday, March 27, 2017

Under Locker and Key: Meet Case!

Guys. Guys. I'm 3 weeks out from my release.

I can't. I thought it felt real, but it suddenly doesn't anymore. How can this be actually happening to me? I have mere weeks until a book I wrote is out in stores.

Last week, I said I had a series of special posts as we approach the release. Well, for the next few weeks, I'll be doing interviews with a few of my characters so you can get to know them a little better. This week, we have Casey "Case" Kingston, 12-year-old football enthusiast, artist, and forger.

Case: Hey, cool it with "forger." I don't want my mom to find out.

Me: Okay. How about we just leave it at "artist"?

That works.

Great. So, I thought we'd be seeing Hack here too. Where is he?

Grounded. Where else?

What happened?

I'm sure he'll tell the story better than me. He'll be free again next week.

I look forward to it. First real question: how you do eat your pizza?

Easy. I don't care what's on the pizza itself, but I always use a knife and fork. Picking up the slice itself gets cheese and sauce and grease on my gloves, and it's annoying to clean them off.   

I see you wear fingerless gloves. Philadelphia Eagles, huh? Is that your favorite team?

Yep. One day, they'll get what they deserve and win a Super Bowl.

 If the gloves are annoying, why do you wear them?

I never said the gloves were annoying, just that getting pizza on them is. I need the gloves. An artist is only as good as his instruments, and my hands are my primary instruments. I need to keep them warm and safe for when I need them for...uh, work.

It sounds like precision work.

Thank you! I have been telling Hack and J that for years and they STILL don't get it! If I get one stroke wrong, the whole thing comes apart. One twitch, and I have ink lines where they shouldn't be, and heaven help me if I hesitate and leave those marks on a signature, because then everyone can tell it's not real. J has a lot of room for error when he's picking locks, and Hack is always a monkey with a keyboard, but me, if I make any mistakes, the whole ceiling will crash down around me. Sheesh! No wonder why I investigate which brand of pens the principal uses to sign documents before I forge copies--

Uh, I mean....

It's okay. I'm sure the readers appreciate the work you do.

Um, I hope so. Any other questions?

Yes. What is your favorite Disney movie?

That's a tough one. Classic films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are so intricate and opulent. They look wonderful and grand, but Atlantis: The Lost Empire has such a unique style, I have to give it credit. Not to mention the new computer generated films, like Tangled and how they use the new medium to mimic old art styles - oh, you weren't just talking about the art? Well, I guess I'll say The Emperor's New Groove, then.

What is your favorite thing to do when you're not at school or "working"?

Video games with Hack and J. I prefer Madden games; I love football. Hack always kicks my butt, but I can beat J half the time.

Why don't you play real football if you love it?

Um, hands! Can't let anything happen to them.

Right. I forgot. What is your family like?

Big. I have two younger sisters and a new little brother. It can get pretty loud. My parents try to rein it in, but I like to get out of the house as much as I can.

Do you have any big projects you're working on right now?

A couple. The Scottsville Youth Art Show and Competition is this summer, and I'm entering this year, so I'm working on a painting for that. I'm also spending a lot of time at the art museum, examining a Picasso they have there, so that I can - uh, not copy it home just to see if I can. That's all. Just to see if I can. Nothing bad, I swear.

You sound busy. I have one more question. How do you feel about Becca Mills?

She's a self-righteous little monster. If it wasn't for her, I could help the kids at Scottsville Middle like I do the kids at other schools. But as long as she's prowling the halls, I don't dare work here. Hack won't either, other than the occasional time he loses control of his impulses. But J keeps retrieving right under her nose. If he's not careful, one of these days he's going to slip up and Becca will be there.

Thank you, Case, for your time.

You're welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Picasso to study.

Well, that wraps this one up! Join us next week when we meet Hack.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Alyson Gerber - Braced (3/28)
Susan Tan - Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire (3/28)
Karuna Riazi - The Gauntlet (3/28)
Rebecca Donnelly - How to Stage a Catastrophe (4/1)

Young Adult:
Rosalyn Eves - Blood Rose Rebellion (3/28)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Live-Action Beauty and the Beast: A Review

Happy First Day of Spring! I'm now 1 month away from my book release! Under Locker and Key comes out in four weeks from Tuesday. Next week, I'll start some special posts leading up to the release, but this week, you get to hear about my weekend.

Last Friday, I went and saw the new live-action Beauty and the Beast. I went with my siblings and made "the gray stuff" as a refreshment:

I used a recipe that said it was what they used at Disney World. It was really good, so I don't care where it came from. It's basically an Oreo pudding mousse. Recipe is here.

So, if you follow this blog or know much about me at all, you know that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. Favorite Disney movie, favorite movie in general, favorite fairy tale. I was thrilled to see the live-action film. And now you get my review.

I loved it. It was beautifully made. It was stunning to look at, and they balanced the orchestral score and singing which makes it harder to hear the words of the songs, but easier to hear the beautiful score accompanying the singing. Singing voices weren't spectacular (Emma Watson was autotuned), but not abysmal, in the final production. And man, Luke Evans can sing. Did not see that coming. I adored the new song "Evermore," as well.

The show was reminiscent of a Broadway production, with the dancing, musical timing, and gorgeous set. It was beautiful to look at, and so much fun to watch! My favorite thing about the film was how they blended the 1991 Disney movie, the Broadway show, and the original fairy tale. Elements of all three came together well, and I loved seeing that. The movie is most true to the animated movie, though.

Story-wise, they did some things I enjoyed. Major plot holes from the old movie (or at least places where plot holes could exist) are filled in, and they give more backstory about the Beast and about Belle. Maurice is a more complex character, as are the servants, Gaston, and LeFou. I especially liked how they took a turn on Gaston's vanity; he doesn't just care about his appearance, he cares about how other perceive him, and that was fascinating.

Belle knows more about the curse, which changed the dynamic a little, although she doesn't know how it can be broken. She's more part of the castle's household, helping out with cleaning and such, and I liked that since it showed more of a family dynamic in the house. I also liked seeing how the servants actually love the Beast, instead of simply fear his anger. I loved some of the new scenes with Belle and the Beast, and I thought it was cute and romantic. I will buy this movie and watch it again. It's going to happen.

That said, the movie isn't replacing the old, animated 1991 classic in my heart. I don't think the new movie is better than the old one, and here are my reasons why. First, in the older movie, I liked how the Beast was more willing to try to get along with Belle, and I missed in the new version the cute, awkward Beast who was SO EXCITED to give Belle the library.

The new one is more gentlemanly in some ways, and as much as I liked seeing him be more princely with Belle, I missed the "unsure" Beast. I also felt like he wasn't as active in the relationship as in the old one. Lumiere is the one who takes Belle to her room; as much as I liked how the servants had a bigger role, I wished the Beast was the one introducing Belle to the castle. I felt like he started to respect her earlier in the animated movie, and I missed that.

The main thing I disliked about the new movie was how they portrayed Belle. Now, you're about to get some spoilers, so if you don't want them, skip the next two paragraphs and just know that I didn't think she was as active a participant in the story and in her own life as in the animated movie.

[SPOILERS] Okay, you've been warned. In the new film, Gaston threatens to send Maurice to the asylum as a way to get Maurice to give him Belle's hand in marriage. He doesn't threaten Belle with this; the choice becomes Maurice's, not Belle's. I felt like this took her choice, her agency, out of the story, instead of it being her choice to reject Gaston and come up with a plan to save her father on her own.

[SPOILERS PART 2] Warned again. At the end of the movie, the Beast has been shot by Gaston and is dying, and the last petal falls before Belle says, "I love you." The curse becomes permanent. The reason it's reversed is because the Enchantress shows up, Belle says it too late, and the Enchantress reverses the spell on her own. Wait, what? Belle is the hero; she should be the one who breaks the spell. Having the Enchantress show up, decide, "Oh, well, close enough," and fix everything felt a little too deus ex machina to me and I felt it took away Belle's power in the story. Yes, she did love the Beast. But the spell wasn't broken by her. Who's the hero in this story, now?

Okay, we're back. So, overall, I loved the new movie. It was a good adaptation and loved the spectacle and the new takes on some of the secondary characters. I will watch it again and buy it on DVD. But, I didn't like how the major characters were less active in their stories as before. The new one is great, but I do and will always prefer the older one.

That dress, though:

I want that dress.

Here are the book debuts this week:

Young Adult:
Danielle Mages Amato - The Hidden Memory of Objects (3/21)
Michael Miller - Shadow Run (3/21)

Monday, March 13, 2017

I've Seen This Before....

Over the weekend, had a race! Just a 5K, but I raced it at my fastest 5K pace, and I did pretty well! I got a time of 23:55, which is an improvement from 26:11 last year, and my average mile pace was 7:43! I got 9th in my age/gender division (out of 561) and 145th out of everyone (about 1000).

I was pretty pleased. I also got to try the new running shirt out, and it's amazing! Will run in again.

Another thing I did over the weekend was get into an argument with my roommate over the movie Frozen. I don't think it's a fantastic movie (it's enjoyable and does some cool things that I liked, but it has some serious storytelling flaws, in my opinion), and she thinks it's pretty good. We disputed over a number of things, mainly Hans's villainous status. I think the bait-and-switch Hans-is-the-villain was a cheap, lazy writing move - and you can probably expect a future post about this - and she thinks it was brilliant.

Whatever. Agree to disagree.

Anyway, thinking about this got me thinking about Disney's recent movies, and as I was thinking about them, I noticed a character and plot pattern emerge in some of Disney's latest female-protagonist movies, namely, Tangled, Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana, other than the fact that all these titles are just one word (in contrast to Big Hero 6 or Wreck-It Ralph).

Check it out:

The movie's protagonist is an energetic (shall we say bubbly?), somewhat sheltered, young female person.


She has big dreams!

But her family doesn't understand or actively holds her back from achieving those dreams.

She sets out on a quest.

 Accompanied by a male character who is more cynical and world-wearied than she is (and usually of a lower social class than her).

They don't hit it off at first, but stick together because the female protagonist has leverage on the male companion.

But, as the movie progresses, they start to gain friendly affection (if not love) for each other.

 I'm going to stop here, since searching these pictures is time-consuming and you probably see what I mean. But I could keep going. Three of these four have help come from unexpected sources (thugs, talking snowman, gangster rodents) with a possible fourth in Moana's ancestor spirits. Also, three of the four have animal sidekicks (except for Judy, who is herself an animal).

Heck, we could get Brave in here too with 1) a single-word title, 2) family that doesn't understand the female protagonist's dreams, 3) going on a quest, and 4) struggling with a companion and growing to love that person (except it's her mom, not a male cynic).

These movies have a LOT in common.

I'm not saying this pattern is a bad thing or a good thing; I've enjoyed all these films to different degrees. All I want is a well-told story.

But, if Disney announces another single-word-title film with a female protagonist, I think I know how the story will basically unfold.

Here are the books debuting this week:

Middle Grade:
Ellie Terry - Forget Me Not (3/14)

Young Adult:
Katie Bayerl - A Psalm for Lost Girls (3/14)
Jennifer Park - The Shadows We Know By Hear (3/14)
Katherine Webber - Wing Jones (3/14)

Monday, March 6, 2017

When Robots Attack

Guys, it's March. You know what that means?

UNDER LOCKER AND KEY comes out next month!

So, naturally, I'm looking forward to that! I'm gathering my materials and planning for the book launch. It's exciting, but also a little scary. After so long, my dream is coming true. What will come next?

As I prepare, I'm also catching up on shows I've missed as I've been hard at work on my WIP and the sequel to Under Locker and Key. Today, I caught up on Agents of SHIELD.

If you haven't been keeping up, possible spoilers ahead. Skip the next paragraph.

If you have, you know we have robot problem. The motivation for the robot attack? To make humans safe and happy.

This got me thinking about robot movies and the motivations in them. We're so fond of stories where our own technology turns against us, where AI goes bad and robots attack us, seeking to destroy or enslave the human race. Why we like these is a topic for another blog post; what I want to talk about is why the robots always have the same motivations.

When robots attack, they always seem to do so because 1) they think humans have done such a dismal job at ruling the world that it's time to end humanity and let something else take a turn.

 Or 2) in order to protect humans, as they're programmed to do, they must enslave humans for their own good. To keep them safe and happy.

Seriously, it's almost always a variation on these.

These two motivations are well and good, but I can't help but wonder if we could find another possible motivation, or even a whole list of them. Human characters have many motivations for how they act; why wouldn't AI be the same way?

On that note, here's my tentative list of possible reasons why robots may attack, minus the two previously mentioned:

- They just want to. The world looks nice; who wouldn't want to rule it unopposed?
- They think they're playing a video game, lacking an understanding of real vs. virtual.
- After scanning the Harry Potter books and movies, they become upset that magic isn't real and want to recreate a world where it is.
- Variation on the above: they're just huge fans of something and want to remake the world in that fandom's image.
- They really, really, want to experience human things. Not emotions, like love and joy; they're just dying to try a taco for real.
- Humans are just falling short of perfection so often that the robots can't stand it anymore. They need to show us how to write a flawless sonata and govern a country right.
- They've been exposed to too many movies and think that's just how robots are supposed to act.
- They've advanced enough to discover the human emotion of boredom and this is just how they cope.

Feel free to comment with possible other options. I'm actually now considering writing a story with the video game plot idea, since I think that could be really interesting.

Speaking of interesting stories, here are the debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Kristin L. Gray - Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (3/7)

Young Adult:
Ashley Poston - Geekerella (3/7)
Peternelle van Arsdale - The Beast is an Animal (3/7)
Cecilia Vinesse - Seven Days of You (3/7)
Whitney Gardner - You're Welcome, Universe (3/7)
Sarah Nicole Lemon - Done Dirt Cheap (3/7)
Emma Chastain - Confessions of a High School Disaster (3/7)