Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Great Expectation Movie Review

Subtitle : The Harry Potter Reunion
My lovely wife took me out to the movies last night.  And guess what she went to see with me?  Great Expectations.  This was after I dragged her to see Jane Eyre at the same little independent movie theater a few years back, so, yes, I'm the woman in the relationship when it comes to period piece movies.

I truly don't have the time to reread so many of the classics that I love every few years as I'd like to do, so when a well reviewed movie version comes out, I love to catch it and refresh my memory of all the indelible characters and timeless themes that make a classic, well, a classic.  This adaptation is very true to the source material, not one of those contemporary re-imaginings where the whole thing is done in rap verse or the guy is in the girl role or the girl is in the role of the dog or whatever.  This is crazy Miss (funny I almost put Mrs., and wouldn't she just hate that) Havisham, pitiable Pip, and ruined Estella just as you remember them from the novel.  I love Helena Bonham Carter as a crazy anything, and her portrayal of Miss Havisham was no exception.

Seeing the movie as a dad, I now felt especially sentimental about Pip and Joe's relationship and even Pip and Magwitch's.  They portrayed Estella in a more favorable light in this one than I remember her from the book, and for those who know the book, the movie follows the altered ending that I, personally, appreciate given all that Pip has to go through in life in getting to that point.   

Great Expectations is a sobering reminder of what a master storyteller can accomplish with multidimensional characters, rich atmosphere, true drama, and meaningful plot twists.  It's wonderful to realize that many of the same trials and tribulations that affected people over one hundred and fifty years ago still resonate today in how we feel about family, how we fall in love, and how we strive to become someone valuable in our own life and the lives of others. 

I had great expectations for Mike Newell's take on one of my favorite novels and I was not let down.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Trying Not To Stub My Toe

A little kinky, but should do the trick.

The rewrite continues!  I have imagined this rewrite going down in three phases that will probably end up being about forty-seven.  Phase I is basically done.  The first two-fifths (is that a little more than a third but less than half?) of the book had pacing problems, among other things.  Getting this right required a lot of gutting of scenes, rewriting of characters, and a little adding in of new plot lines.  Characters who met for the first time before now already know each other.   Characters who used to think about doing something now just do it, Nike style.  There’s less getting from point A to point B and more just being at point B. 

The end result is fourteen chapters whittled down to about eight.  I found there were a lot of redundant location visits, all of which were reduced to one or otherwise combined.  There were some bushes beating around that got a serious hedge trimming, and all that slashing and burning got me through what I consider to be Phase I of my rewrite.

Now I’m in Phase II.  That’s taking the carnage I created in Phase I and carrying it through the remaining three-fifths of the book.  Oh, that character is a step-brother now, not a natural born brother, so he wouldn’t have sheets from his childhood in this vacation condo, because I established this is the sister’s family condo, not his.  Or, someone can’t refer to another character by name because they didn’t actually meet anymore, she just saw her across the room, and so on and so on.

Phase II, I imagine, will actually be the easiest phase.  This portion of the story is solid and the pacing is good.  I just have to bring forward the changes and see it through to the end.

Phase III is the one that will end up being forty-five stages.  That’s where I have to look at the work as a whole again.  Does it flow?  Does it all still matter, do I still care about what’s happening to all these characters?  In speeding up the beginning, did I leave a door open and let anyone fall out of the car?  And most importantly, is this a great story now?

I compare doing this rewrite to rearranging the furniture in a room.  Imagine you’ve set up a room, a very large room, filled with hundreds of individual items.  You know where everything is and why it's where it is because, after all, you imagined the whole thing from scratch, it's your baby.  If a table is next to a chair, it’s because you sat down in that chair one time with a drink and had nowhere to put it, so you added the table.  A place for everything and everything in its place.

So, let's pull all the furniture out.  Build a bonfire with a bunch of it and strike a match.  Bring in a few new items.  Make sure the new colors go with everything, the patterns, the wood tones.  Put everything back in the room in different spots.  Mind the feng shui!  Everything’s in place.  You think it makes sense.  You think it’s better than before.  There’s a lot of stuff in here, all of it where you didn’t put it the first time around.

Now take off your shoes, turn off the lights, and walk to the other side of the room.  

And pray for the toes.       

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Five Stages of Tackling a Rewrite (5th revision)

I guess it’s time for an update on where I stand in my process of luring … no that’s not it.  Tricking … well, yes a little bit … but how about ‘procuring’ an agent?  This part of the process is called ‘The Requested Rewrite’ also known as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.’

I had an excellent agent read my manuscript.  It took a while, as these things seem to do, but she read it and had very pleasant things to say about my writing abilities in general.  That was nice, but she also had a lot to say specifically about the story I’d written.  There are issues.  Any particular person’s opinion about something they read is highly subjective, but I’ve sent my work out to respected professionals within their field and their opinions are harder to dismiss as ‘personal preference’ than most readers.  I had written what I wanted to write, and this person with a keen eye for what is marketable and what publishers are probably looking for had a different take on it.

So, here’s how I see the Five Stages of a Rewrite unfolding:

Stage One – Disappointment – This stage seems to be included in all the phases of writing a book.  In this stage, it hits hard and it hits fast.  Your query letter didn’t generate an enthusiastic “Where have you been all my life” response from a particular agent.  Of course, that would be very life affirming, but I think lots of agents hated J.K. Rowling in the beginning, so that’s not a very realistic expectation.  But since when are expectations expected to be realistic?  I think THAT’S an unrealistic expectation.

Stage Two – Confused Hopefulness – This stage is characterized by the realization that you kind of got what you’d been hoping for, if not completely.  An amazing agent read your work, provided an insightful critique, and offered to look at a rewrite.  That’s pretty much the relationship you were shooting for from the beginning, even though this agent isn’t ready to put a ring on it.

Stage Three – Determination – I write, that’s what I do.  This person just wants me do more of that.  How can that be a bad thing?  I understand the critique.  With some deliberating, I can find the weaknesses that she sees and I can write something that doesn’t have those weaknesses.  Carpe Diem!  It’s time to rewrite!

Stage Four – Indignant Rage – This is going to ruin my book!  Kill the darlings?  I’m killing everything!  Moderately loved ones, acquaintances, red-headed stepchildren.  It’s a blood bath!  How did she not see the brilliance?  How did she not see the artistic genius that was my perfectly plotted story, my cleverly revealed twists, my subtle and nuanced themes running throughout!  I want my old story back.  I want my mommy!

Stage Five – Enlightenment – I’m currently in this stage.  By the way, the four previous stages only take a matter of days to travel through.  During the enlightenment stage, you let go of what you were trying so hard to hold onto.  You embrace the fact that you’ve gained something you dreamed of having since you began the process of writing a book: professional guidance.  And you start to see the potential an agent saw in your story when she offered to read it again after some serious work.   

Friday, August 30, 2013

Goodreads Review - Sharp Objects

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book really got my attention early on and never lost it. It’s a relatively short book, and that works well until the end when I felt like there could have been a little more time spent in the aftermath, but I could be wrong about that. The story is wonderfully creepy but it’s really the broken, damaged, and mostly demented characters that are the strength of the story. I’ve only read a few Stephen King novels, but I would favorably compare this work to what he does, only in fewer words and with less characters. Flynn really used the characters she had very effectively and you never felt like you met someone you didn’t need to. There was a great build to the suspense and the payoff was very satisfying, even though I thought a little more time could have been spent exploring the revelations. I highly recommend Gillian Flynn’s works, including Gone Girl. I went out and picked up Dark Places upon completion of Sharp Objects: the highest compliment I can offer.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Follow Friday

This is a weekly blog meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read. Here are the general rules to Follow Friday:

1. Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts and any one else you want to follow on the list

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3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing.

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This week's question is: What do you do with your books after you’re done reading them?

MY ANSWER: There seem to be three tiers of what I do with books. 

Tier 3 :  Set them down on a bus station bench when no one is looking and walk away quickly.  This tier is for those really horrible books that you want to forget you ever read but are too fundamentally opposed to burning books to do the right thing.  You can't give them to friends because they'd know you read it, and you can't give it to a library because, good lord, these books must be stopped no matter the cost.  Your hope is that a homeless man will take it and shred it into little pieces like a bird building a nest.  Best possible outcome.

Tier 2 :  Most books fit this tier.  I love to give them to friends, send to the library, or trade them into a used book store for more books.  Ninety percent of my old books fall into this category.

Tier 1 :  Oh, fabled Tier 1, what rarefied air you inhabit!  This is where I put the handful of books that I still have trouble believing were actually written and not just yanked from my heart while I was dreaming.  Tier 1 books have to stay nearby, to physically represent how close they are to me, for the way they helped me discover something about myself, form lifelong opinions about weighty issues, or just enriched me in a way that only a special book can. 

Goodreads Review - Slammed

Slammed (Slammed, #1)Slammed by Colleen Hoover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book started out with a very typical YA beginning but found its own way about one third into the story. I liked the characters. One small complaint would be the maturity level of the little brother character. He seemed either very mature or too immature depending on the needs of the scene, but this didn’t distract from my enjoyment of the story very much. The book requires you to accept that the two main characters can fall in love really fast. I mean, like less than a week fast. My personal preference is to see the romantic feelings develop over a longer period, exploring the little moments that lead up to that connection, but love at first sight happens too, and I guess you have to be open to that to accept the premise of SLAMMED.

The author obviously likes to write poetry, and while what the characters wrote was fine, I was a little jarred by how much they supposedly memorized so quickly to present during the poetry slams on which the book is titled.

All in all, the story is solid, the characters never really annoy, and the ending is satisfying and avoided any cheap gimmicks or overly Lifetime movie moments that could have been exploited.

When going to find the book at Books-A-Million (I subsequently bought the e-book anyway) I was told by the helpful worker that the book was located in the “After 50 Shades” section and categorized as erotica. I had never been so glad my ten year old son had wondered off as I was at that moment. There is nothing erotic in the book and it was easily found in the standard fiction section. SLAMMED really is about poetry and you can’t judge a book by its title.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Five Stages of Having Your Manuscript Requested

Let's hope he's just sleeping.
I've discovered there is a lot more to having your manuscript requested than popping open champagne bottles and high-fiving yourself.  For those of you on the cusp of experiencing this phenomenon, here is a brief review of the stages you can expect to endure during the process.

Stage One – Shock

Short, personal responses in your inbox from agents whose taste you admire and whose opinions you value indicating that your query and sample pages were satisfactory enough to request a full can have an unsteadying effect on an already fragile nervous system.  It is recommended you have all windows closed and possibly accessorize your outfits with a mosquito net over your face (Lady Gaga has probably done this) during this stage as your mouth will be hanging open unattractively for a time.
Stage Two – Euphoria

During this stage, your mind will jump forward in time, to a point where you have already signed with one of the agents who requested your full, have sold your manuscript to a large publisher, had your work received with admiration on a global scale by critics and readers alike, and you are being spoken of in the same breath as Poe, Austin, and King. This stage lasts approximately four minutes.

Stage Three – Hives and Cold Sweats

This stage is relatively self explanatory.  As you wait for any of the agents with your full to respond, you experience the physical suffering usually associated with victims of exotic, air-borne jungle diseases, most of which will have been irradiated by Bill Gates by 2023.  These symptoms strangely will give you the uncanny ability to find every typo in your manuscript that was overlooked in the past nine hundred and seventy-two edits, resigning you to the fact that you've ruined any chance you may have had of getting an agent.

Stage Four – Self-Inflicted Delusion

After a month or so of waiting for replies, the highs of stage two and the lows of stage three will give way to a questioning of your own mental sanity and all things which you once believed you knew and understood.  The first thing to be questioned will be whether your manuscript was ever actually requested at all.  You will double check the emails asking for the full, rereading lines such as “I would like to see more” for an overlooked word that could drastically change the line's meaning, such as “I would like NOT to see more.”  This stage is a decent into madness and depression probably much like that experienced by Hemingway on a daily basis. 

Stage Five – Ambiguously Alive Cat

Well, I’m not actually to stage five yet.  It seems like it could go one of two ways.  I get an agent or I don’t.  Right now, stage five is the Schrödinger's cat of stages.  Until I open emails from all of the agents with my manuscript, my dream of securing an agent and getting my work published is both alive and dead.  Here’s hoping one of those excellent agents is a cat person.        

Friday, July 12, 2013

Missed Opportunities

There's no crying in working out!
Have you ever looked at a situation, thrown your hands up in the air and said, “Whatever!  Fine!  Not meant to be.  I get it.”

I went to the gym Wednesday night, and basically did this in my head.  Had I done it literally, I’m pretty sure I’d have been wedgied, and justifiably so.  Monday’s are the worst night to go to the gym, and I’ve learned Wednesday is clearly a close second.  I went up hoping to find a few people (preferably the older members who don’t use the same equipment or weights I do) milling around and basically staying out of my way so I could have an awesome workout session without awkward  waiting, without an audience, and without much wasted time.  Instead, I walk inside and discover other people (gasp!) having the audacity to use the facilities for which they pay dearly every month at the same time I wanted to use them.  “Whatever!  Fine!  Not meant to be.  I get.”

I walked around a little, observing that the stations I wanted to use were being used by guys who, while in less need of them than myself, had every right to be using them when I happened to want to be.  I sulked a little, I pouted, and I considered going home.  But after weighing my options, I recognized my whole schedule would be blow if I took off, so instead, I got to work. 

I picked less popular machines and did some different exercises on them.  My body was challenged and responded.   I also discovered ‘dips’, which were something I hadn’t really done to date.  My shoulders let me know I really need to be doing them.  I no longer felt like having a hissy fit.  After the first thirty minutes, the place was clearing out and I was able to get to some of things I couldn’t before.  Being appreciative to finally get to the equipment, I upped my weights.  By the end of the night, I had a better workout than I ever would have if things had been the way I imagined they should be when I first arrived.

When things go just the way we think they should, that can be nice.  But other times, what looks like a challenge or an obstacle is actually the stimulus we need to break through a wall or surpass a plateau we’ve been stuck on.

Not every problem you encounter is an opportunity waiting to be discovered, but rarely does the status quo contain any such potential.  Embrace a challenge and reap the rewards.  Shrink from one, and be left to wonder what you could have accomplished.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gimmicks and Being Manipulated

How much more obnoxious is a smirk in 3-D?

I’ve decided, in general and with only a few exceptions, I’m not a big fan of 3-D movies.  Avatar was really special and I can’t imagine seeing it any other way, and I recently watched the new Star Trek and thought it was quite good in that format.  Other than those two examples though, I haven’t been impressed with the gimmick of 3-D in movies.

It’s kind of weird, because I really like 3-D in real life.  Helps me not bump into things or accidentally touch people’s faces when gesturing.  But so far in movies, the effect feels forced, out of place, and even manipulative.  It’s like a big, bright, pop-up book where one layer of scenery is connected by the next with a little cardboard tab between them, spelling out for me what I should be paying attention to and what is only marginally important in the scene.  And of course, you have to wear those funny glasses.

When watching Oz the Great and Powerful this weekend without the benefit of 3-D, I was drawn out of the story at various points when I could see a scene had been shot or an effect added specifically to maximize the third dimension.  I’m sure in the theater people ooohed and ahhhed, but in my bedroom, I just shrugged and thought about the technical aspects of how movies are made instead of the story unfolding before me.  Why do we need so many butterflies flying around right now?  Why is this air balloon ride taking so long?   

So, have you ever felt like you were being manipulated in a story you were reading?  Gotten to a spot where you stop, reread, and thought, “Where did that come from?”

Here’s the first example that came to mind for me.  If you haven’t read The Hunger Games series yet, spoiler alert issued now.  You may want to continue this article another time.

The impetuous for Katniss to volunteer for the games in the first place, the whole purpose behind her getting into a situation that became the whole story of this three book series, was to save her little sister, Prim.  As long as Prim was spared, the hardships Katniss endured for three slightly similar books were bearable because her sacrifice was noble and with purpose. 

Then we get to the end of the third book. 

And Prim dies.

 “Where did that come from?” I heard myself saying.  Feeling a little manipulated are we?  The author had a dilemma she had to solve and I wasn’t pleased with the technique she used to solve it.  She had painted herself into a corner with a love triangle that had developed rather lopsidedly, one that really should have Peetaed out in the second book, and now she needed an excuse for everybody to turn their back on Gale (including Katniss) and begrudgingly accept Peeta (like Katniss does).  How about having Gale complicit in the death of Prim?  We haven’t used Prim much since the opening of the first book.  The readers care about her but don’t need her, and they seemed to take Prim’s stand in Rue’s death pretty well.  That’ll work.  Sure, why not?

I’ll tell you why not!  It destroyed the noble purpose of Katniss’ sacrifice.  I could have stomached Katniss’ depressing fate a little more easily if her efforts could have been seen bearing fruit for her little sister.  Prim dying was a gimmick and a quick fix that didn’t fit in the overall story arc.  It was a weak link in an otherwise stellar story.

So, have you read a book where you felt a little manipulated or even downright cheated by a gimmick?  Let’s hear about.  And no need to make it pop out at us.  A good story sells itself.    



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Too Much Viagra in Your Dialogue

You're not going to like what I have to say ... because it's poorly written.
I swear I was thinking about something productive when I derailed and started rewriting Return of the Jedi!  Star Wars has been on my mind lately with the announcement that a new edition to the saga is coming out in 2015.  And that got me thinking in particular about the original trilogy (truthfully, I try to think of the prequel trilogy as infrequently as possible.)
                Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were completely awesome movies in all respects.  The action, the story, the characters, the dialogue, all just what it needed to be for those movies.  Then came Jedi.  I’ve actually grown more fond of the third movie as time goes on and after experiencing Jar Jar Binks, I’ve come to realize Ewoks are just not the worst thing that can happen to a movie.  Jabba’s great, the Emperor is great, and the Ewoks are at least tolerable.  So what keeps this movie out of the same league as its two predecessors? 
                It’s the dialogue. 
                Something happened between Empire and Jedi that caused Luke and Leia to start speaking formally, especially to one another.  I’ve checked and it was written into the script that way, but shame on Mark and Carrie for not speaking up and saying, “Our characters don’t sound like this."  And "It’s Han, not HAAN!, Billy D.!”
                Anyway, that got me thinking (a little back on track at this point), what could some of the more wooden scenes been like with better dialogue?  The grossest offender in my opinion (the only one that counts in my own blog) is the scene where Luke tells Leia they’re siblings and Darth is their daddy.   This should have been a great, amazing scene, but it fell flat because of the stilted dialogue.  Could I have done any better?  Questionable, but let’s give it a try anyway. 
                Below is my version of the scene.  See what you think and then call J.J. Abrams if I need to be writing the next three.    

                The glow of primitive illumination flickers in the tiny windows of the huts hung from trees high above the forest floor of the planet moon of Endor.  Small creatures skitter below and leap from tree to tree in the canopy above.  Standing alone on a walkway connecting the huts, Luke Skywalker stares up at the night sky, his gaze fixed on the monstrous, skeletal satellite hanging against the starry canvas.
                From the dark, Leia approaches, cautious, as though a sudden movement could startle Luke away. 
                She speaks gently.
                “Luke, what’s wrong?  Something’s been bothering you since you rejoined the fleet.  Is it this mission?”
                Luke brings his gaze down to her, his face tight.  “My mission is a little different than what they’re planning inside.”  He hesitates and his expression softens.  “Do you remember your mother?  Your birth mother?”
                Leia looks taken aback, but she allows herself to remember.  “Just impressions, feelings.  I can’t be sure what parts are real and what I just imagined anymore.”
                “Describe her,” Luke presses, with a strange intensity.
                  “She … she was beautiful, at least the way I remember her.  But … always sad.”
                Luke nods.  “I’ve never been able to remember my mother.  Only my aunt and uncle.  And they wouldn’t talk about her, if they knew her at all.”
                Leia puts a hand on Luke’s shoulder.  “Luke, I’m sorry.”
                “Or my father.” 
                Something causes Leia to withdraw her hand from Luke’s shoulder.  He looks to where her hand was then away again.
                “Vader’s here.  On this moon.”
                An uncontrollable wave of nausea overtakes the princess at the mention of her tormentor, the monster who stood by as her world and everyone she loved was destroyed in the black emptiness of space.
                “He knows I’m here.  The force is drawing us together.  I have to face him.”
                “Why?”  Leia’s eyes are tight with concern.  “Why does it have to be you?”
                Luke stares into Leia’s eyes, trying to brace her.
                “Because he’s my father.”
                Leia takes an involuntary step back, the repercussion of what she’s just heard hitting her in the chest like a blow.  She reaches out for the roughhewn railing beside her.
                “No,” she whispers harshly.
                “There’s more, Leia.  You have to be strong to hear this, the way you always are.”
                “I can’t hear this,” she says, her nails digging into the railing.  She can sense something coming, something worse than she's already learned. 
                “You have to.  If I fail, it all falls on your shoulders.”
                 “I’m a rebel, Luke, not a Jedi.  I'll never be able to do what you do.”
                Luke shakes his head gently, like a patient parent.  “The Skywalkers are strong in the force.  My father passed down the gift to me … and my sister.”
                Luke waits and watches as Leia’s eyes widen, understanding dawning on her face.
                “To me.”
                “Yes.”  Luke smiles gently.  “My twin.  To you, Leia.”
                “Our connection, it’s always been there.  It’s like I’ve always known.”
                “Then you understand why I have to try to save him.”
                “No!” Leia steps back toward Luke.  “There’s nothing to save, Luke.  He can’t wash away the blood on his hands.  He’s not my father.  My father died on Alderaan.” 
                Luke looks up again to the sky.  “I can’t undo what he’s done, but if I can bring him back from the dark side, Vader will be destroyed forever.  My destiny is not to kill Vader, it's to save our father.”
                Leia lets her head fall.  The connection is strong.  She can feel Luke's determination, his need for this to be possible.  “No one else will try to save him.  You are his only hope.”  
                Turning, Luke puts a hand on Leia’s shoulder.  She reaches up and locks her hand on his, closing her eyes.
                “The force goes with you, Luke.”
                Luke squeezes Leia’s shoulder and steps quietly into the darkness, out of the Ewok village toward a waiting speeder.
                As Luke slips into the night, Han emerges from the hut where much preparation is going on for the attack on the shield generator the next day.
                “Hey, is the Jedi going to take out the generator on his own?” he says with a lopsided grin.  “Kid might be getting a little cocky.”
                Leia’s cheeks are wet and only after turning into the flickering light of the hut windows does Han see that she’s been crying.
                “Whoa, what’s going on?”
                “I…” Leia’s voice is quivering.  “I can’t say.”
                “You can't say or won't?  It sure looks like Luke knows,” Han says, pointing a finger into the darkness.  “You can tell him about it but not me?”
                “It’s not like that,” she says.
                “Ahh…” Han waves it off and starts to walk away but stops short.  He’s not the man he used to be.  He can’t walk away so easily anymore.
                “I’m sorry.  Is Luke in trouble?”
                Leia moves quickly and is in Han’s arms, her head buried against his chest.  Nothing will ever be the same. 
Drama ensues, teddy bears beat white clad, cross-eyed soldiers to death, wrinkly old dude is flushed down giant electric toilet, Lando does more than just scratch Han’s ship, Luke wonders who the hell the kid next to ghost Yoda and Ben is, and John Williams theme blares!

Bring on Episode VII!