My Kind of R and R

When you’re in need of some R and R, and you conside watching a TV show or a movie to help you chill, what would you watch? After an exhausting week involving cooking for a birthday lunch for one friend and an emotionally draining visit to the emergency room with another, all while attempting to meet my curriculum deadline (and failing to write a word of fiction during all of this), my go-to for relaxation was . . .

Drum roll please . . .

top-cat-drum-roll-2-o

Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series . . .

StarWarsCloneWars_Season5_DVD

. . . and anything Batman related

batman1

Perhaps my choices seem surprising. They were to me. I would have thought something soft and feminine like a Hallmark movie would suit me like an angora sweater. Well, at certain times of the year (Christmas), I’m all over those movies. But lately, nothing relaxes me like men and women leaping about with lightsabers, clones steering sleek starships out in space, or a tortured man running about dressed like a bat.

   Clone Pilot ValeriaDiRomaAngoraOrange

Clone pilots are the new angora. . . .

While some aspects of characterization on Clone Wars are grating, I still watch the episodes. I wish I totally understood why I feel so relaxed, especially when every episode is about an aspect of war. But having grown up with the Star Wars movies, I have to say I find George Lucas’s incredibly realized world very inspiring.

And then there is Batman, whose film noir life has some unsettling aspects. Yet watching many of the DC direct-to-DVD releases are as restful as a mug of warm cocoa. I don’t mean they put me to sleep. I just find them almost as comforting as the chapters in Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits, after being terrified by Old Man Willow in the old forest, find safety in the house of Tom Bombadil. (Another comforting chapter is a one in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame where Mole and Rat find safety in Mr. Badger’s house after a frightening trip through the woods. But I digress. . . .)

                 34 5659

I’ve seen many episodes of The Clone Wars and the Batman animated shows and movies at least ten times a piece. They’re great background for my crocheting projects. And I’ve got ten hats to crochet in the next few weeks.

002

Jordie is killing time watching The Clone Wars, Season 5. It was either that or Video Game High School on YouTube.

Perhaps some of the relaxation stems from my love for cartoons, which dates back to my watching Saturday morning cartoons with my brothers. They had bunk beds, so we’d climb to the top bunk and watch the TV in their room. We called this gathering our weekly bed club. Ah, such bliss.

ALBANY_BUNK_3FT

Watching criminals trying to shoot Batman or General Grievous fight Obi-Wan Kenobi is a far cry from the cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. But after a trying week, they offer the kind of rest I need.

star-wars-the-clone-wars-obi-wan-kenobi-wallpaper

Here’s lookin’ at you, Obi-Wan!

Batman animated image from power-animals.com. Angora from nancyelizabethdesigns.com. Top Cat from gifsoup.com. Bunk beds from beds2udirect.com. Obi Wan Kenobi from simplywallpaper.net.

Hello, Killer

Look at her. You wouldn’t expect her to be a public menace.

         003 004

Public enemy number 1?

But recently McDonald’s recalled 2.3 million of the Hello Kitty Happy Meal toys because of one containing a whistle. Turns out it was a choking hazard. Because of reported incidents of choking, thankfully with no loss of life, the recall had to happen. So while the Hello Kitty figure above might seem like a fugitive from justice, she isn’t the one specifically described in the recall notice. You can see that notice here. But she has guilt by association.

McDonaldsHello%20KittyLARGE

The real culprit

It’s sad, isn’t it, when something meant to bring joy to a child turns out to be harmful. Yet the toy as a harmful device can be found in the world of fiction also. The most effective villain is one you don’t see coming. Who would suspect a toy? Dolls/action figures seem to be the toys of choice when it comes to mayhem. Perhaps this is because some dolls look sort of creepy. Sorry to break this to you if you’re a fan, but I’m simply not a fan of the porcelain dolls so many people collect. They’ve always given me the creeps. Apparently, they scare others also.

I can’t help recalling “Invasion of the Secret Santas,” an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where an action figure every kid wanted for Christmas turned out to be a tiny robot programmed to steal from the families unfortunate enough to have one. Guess that’s what you would call a ho-ho-heist. (By the way, the Santas below are not the toys I just mentioned. I couldn’t find an image of those toys. But these robot Santas with their cheerful, porcelain faces and hidden bombs caused chaos also.)

batman-the-brave-and-the-bold-invasion_1229388822

“Joy to the world! Your town is doomed!” Everybody sing! Or perhaps “You better watch out . . . Santa Claus is comin’ to town” is more appropriate.

Kim Possible, an old Disney show, had a similar premise in a movie release—So the Drama (2005)—where toys in the kiddie meals were evil robots.

256px-So-the-drama

An episode of Twilight Zone from 1963 called “Living Doll” featured Talky Tina, a persistent doll who turned to murder when she took a dislike to someone.

ded85e8afab58e48d11afdc845fe6223

Creepy, isn’t she? You don’t want to make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. (Hint to those who recognize that last statement. It’s from the old Incredible Hulk series from the late 70s/early 80s.)

You’re probably thinking of the Chucky horror movies right about now, aren’t you? They feature a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer.

Stuffed animals also get their licks in. Let’s not forget the Toy Story movies, which had villainous toys as well as hero toys.

Lots-O-Huggin-Bear-psd55866

Lotso the Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear had lots o’ attitude. You don’t want a hug from him.

Childhood fears have such power, don’t they? That’s why a toy as a villain has extra potency. It taps into the fears we remember. Better on screen though, than in real life. No child should have to fear being harmed by a toy.

007

He looks safe. . . .

Batman: The Brave and the Bold image from ign.com. Talky Tina from examiner.com. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear from officialpsds.com. Kim Possible: So the Drama poster from disney.wikia.com.

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3

Call me silly, but I sometimes take quizzes or watch videos like this that tell me what my car color, sleep habits, or choice of donut allegedly says about me. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding about the donut. Look here.) Do you look at quizzes or videos like these? I didn’t learn as much about myself as the above video promised I would learn. If you don’t care to watch the video or can’t for some reason, it’s all about sleep positions. In case you’re wondering, I start off on my side, but somehow wind up on my back when I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure what that says about me. That I have commitment issues?

1280px-Chocolate-Cake-Donut

This is my donut of choice: a chocolate cake donut.

Side sleeping is what the majority of people do (54%). At last I’m part of the in crowd. According to the doctor on the video, you can train yourself to sleep in a particular position. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like too much work. Yet I can see the benefits to it, especially if snoring is involved.

black-woman-sleeping

I’ve also seen videos and blog posts where experts state that you can train yourself to dream a certain way. My natural bent toward laziness rebels against that.

gryffindor_crest_print-r92608dde23aa4bca82f74baab045c6a5_geub_8byvr_512And then there are quizzes that tell you which fictional character you’re like or which fictional environment or faction best suits you. Like this or this. (No training is involved.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t always tell the complete truth when I take a quiz like this. If I know the desired person, environment, or group (Dauntless; Batman; Wolverine; Black Widow; Gryffindor; Aragorn; Rivendell; Harry Potter), I’ll tailor my answers to fit that person or group. Hey, I don’t want to end up in Slytherin. And I’m too selfish for Abnegation. But for some reason, no matter how many answers I fake, every time I take the superhero quiz, I wind up as Superman.

           superman logo-6 dauntless_symbol

That’s me for both. (The fiery symbol is the symbol for Dauntless.) I’d better get used to the color yellow.

One test I’m tempted to lie on but don’t is the Mary Sue Litmus Test for fictional characters. You can find it here. Unsure what a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu is? Go here. The test is to help you gauge whether or not your character is too idealized. It also provides tips to help you develop stronger characters.

Mary Sue

A Mary Sue. But if your characters are fairies or angels, don’t let this stop you. Just keep on truckin’.

My natural writing bent is toward the convenient, so making the effort to go beyond a Mary Sue has been challenging. It mainly involves letting my characters suffer instead of protecting them like a Mother Hen. That’s not pleasant. But I know that in the end, my novel will benefit from the effort I put into making my characters strong. Now if I can only figure out their sleep positions/Divergent factions/Hogwarts houses, my work would be complete.

Donut from Wikipedia. Woman asleep from theaustintimes.com. Gryffindor crest from zazzle.com.Dauntless symbol from first-jumperr.tumblr.com. Christian Bale as Batman from comicvine.com. Superman logo from thehummusoffensive.blogspot.com. Mary Sue image from lydiakang.blogspot.com.

You Know, You Almost Had Me

Indonesia2002Wildlife-LI’m talking to you, Doubt. There you were, lurking about like a bloated but still hungry spider every time I heard, “No” or “I don’t take high fantasy novels.” I fell into your web for a while. But now I want out.

Hold on a minute, Doubt. Someone somewhere is probably asking this question: “What’s high fantasy?” Let’s ask our dear friend, Wikipedia, shall we?

High fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot.

Gandalf2Thank you, Wikipedia. Some high fantasy books/series you may have heard of include

• The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
• Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
• The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond Feist
• A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
• Earthsea (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, etc.) by Ursula LeGuin
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
• The Abhorsen series (including Sabriel) by Garth Nix

                   13642   228665

43916

Go here for others. Writing a good high fantasy novel, let alone a series, takes a ton of effort that includes research. Yes, these worlds are made up, but the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry still apply. You have to research such things as the anatomy and physiology of animals and which types of plants and trees mix well together, even if you’re making up your own animals and plants. But the people who write these books put in the effort, because they love what they do. I don’t have to tell you this. If you love their books, you love them because their authors loved them first.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it, Doubt? I stopped loving my books and valuing the high fantasy genre because of the few who didn’t value them or the genre or because they valued something I’m not currently writing. Shame on me.

And shame on me for thinking that I should switch to another genre in the belief that a story in that genre will sell or at least get noticed. Okay, Doubt. I’ll give you that round. I’m human. I fear writing a book absolutely no one would want to read.

But you know what, Doubt? Remember the times when I’ve written books that paid $500 on a work-for-hire basis? Though the publishers profited greatly and I didn’t get a cent in royalties, I enjoyed the writing ride.

And that’s what I’d lost sight of, Doubt—the fact that I enjoy the ride, regardless of who else does or whether or not I profit by it. I profit by the fact that I get to visit characters I love. And I love even the characters who do ghastly things. They remind me that I’m not perfect—that I sometimes do ghastly things. And one of the ghastliest things I’ve done recently was to stop writing.

Jordie the Jester (my blog mascot, given to me by Lyn Miller-Lachmann) is handing me a tiny notebook (it’s actually a playing card, but I’d like to think of it as a notebook), which I guess is his way of saying, “Get back to work.” Thanks, Jordie. You always know just what to do.

005

Thanks especially to my good friends Sharon Van Zandt and Laura Sibson for coaxing me out of my hiding place and telling me to get back in the saddle and continue writing my series. You are the best! Maybe someday, my readers will thank you too. :-)

As I end this post, I’m reminded of words spoken by Charles Xavier to Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past (you have to see the movie to know why and how): “Please Charles . . . we need you to hope again.” Truer words were never spoken.

x-men-days-of-future-past_charles-xavier

Other good posts on the courage to write or writing past doubt:
http://ellaroutloud.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/tattoos-confessions-guilt-continuing/
http://www.lisaakramer.com/2014/11/09/writing-through-the-frustrations/
http://writeatyourownrisk.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/writing-encouragement-and-poetry/

Spider from divydovy.com. Gandalf from lotr.wikia.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

When the Well of Words Is Low

Today is Reveal Day for the winners of the awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s young adult novels, Rogue and Gringolandia. (And if you’ve heard the TED Talk of Jill Shargaa, let me quickly say that I mean awesome in an appropriate way. Wondering about that talk? Head to the awesome Ellar Cooper’s blog here to listen to the talk.)

   Lyn_photo hqdefault

Lyn and Jill

If you’ve decided to remain here, that’s cool too. I want to apologize for dropping the ball lately on blog posts. This is one of those weeks when the well has been on the dry side. The words that come to mind most readily—“Are you going to pay me soon?”—don’t make a good blog post. And no, I will not go into detail about that question. Suffice it to say that the life of a freelancer is often fraught with weeks like this. (If you know a freelancer, be kind to that person. Ply him or her with fruit salad, warm mittens, snuggly blankets, and popcorn. Chances are, he or she could use those.)

Fruit Salad

So, lately my mind has been filled with cotton batting and those words I mentioned in the paragraph above. When I’m feeling anxious or “pen tied” (my way of saying, “at a loss for words”), I let my crochet hook do the talking. And lately it’s been saying two words: “Make hats.” When life hands you lemons, make hats, I always say. I’ve been on an owl and minion craze. It’s my way of keeping my toe in the pool of creativity.

             001 024

004A hat still in the making

One thing I need to do that I’ve done in the past is return to the exercises of this book.

2479263

I recommend it to anyone feeling a bit “pen tied.” Friot reminds me that writing can be fun and frolicsome. But what do you usually do when you’re at a loss for words but feel the need to be creative in some way?

While you consider that, let me introduce you to the minifig given to me by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. I’m calling him Jordie. Lyn felt that Jordie would make a good addition to the blog. Please say hello.

003

Jordie says hi back.

You’ll see more of him in posts to come. Today, he wanted to be present when the winners were announced. So without further ado . . .

16101109The winner of Rogue and some crocheted flowers is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!!!

hbc_gringolandia_front_medThe winner of Gringolandia and some crocheted flowers is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andra Watkins!!!

Congrats, winners! Thanks for commenting. You know the drill. Please confirm below and your book will be mailed to you.

Fruit salad from teamripped.com. Book cover from Goodreads.

Gloomy Gus Giveaway

downloadSince I’ve been rather a Gloomy Gus lately, it’s time for a giveaway. Who knows? It might become an annual event. (Yes, I realize the irony of using a smiling sun with a “gloomy” giveaway. Irony is what I live for.)

What is a Gloomy Gus? “A person who is habitually gloomy” according to Merriam-Webster.com. Out of curiosity, I searched for the origin of the term Gloomy Gus and found this:

From a comic-strip character created by Frederick Burr Opper 1937 American cartoonist
First Known Use: 1904

3372691-hap1Thank you again, Merriam-Webster! Go here to find out more about Gloomy Gus and his brother, Happy Hooligan. This Gloomy Gus is not to be confused with Gloomy Gus the Homeless Ghost, developed by Herbert W. “Red” Holmdale. You can read about that here. There also was a football coach nicknamed Gloomy Gus. The list goes on.

topnotch_33_35-625x301

Here’s an idea for a Halloween costume: Gloomy Gus. Imagine trying to explain your costume to someone without a long discussion of existentialism.

16101109Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes, shall we? By that I mean the giveaway, though I hope to have meat and potatoes at some point today. One of you will receive a copy of Rogue while another of you will receive an author-signed copy of Gringolandia. These young adult novels were written by the wonderful Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a good friend and supporter of writers whose enthusiasm is always contagious. Here’s the synopsis of Rogue, which was published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin:

Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.

When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.

In Rogue, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann celebrates everyone’s ability to discover and use whatever it is that makes them different.

hbc_gringolandia_front_medHere’s the synopsis of Gringolandia (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press):

Daniel’s papá, Marcelo, used to play soccer, dance the cueca, and drive his kids to school in a beat-up green taxi—all while publishing an underground newspaper that exposed Chile’s military regime.

After papá’s arrest in 1980, Daniel’s family fled to the United States. Now Daniel has a new life, playing guitar in a rock band and dating Courtney, a minister’s daughter. He hopes to become a U.S. citizen as soon as he turns eighteen.

When Daniel’s father is released and rejoins his family, they see what five years of prison and torture have done to him. Marcelo is partially paralyzed, haunted by nightmares, and bitter about being exiled to “Gringolandia.” Daniel worries that Courtney’s scheme to start a bilingual human rights newspaper will rake up papá’s past and drive him further into alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Daniel dreams of a real father-son relationship, but he may have to give up everything simply to save his papá’s life.

This powerful coming-of-age story portrays an immigrant teen’s struggle to reach his tortured father and find his place in the world.

Lyn_photoIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that Lyn was interviewed last year when Rogue debuted. Since Gloomy Gus is a cartoon character, it’s only fitting that I give away a book about a character obsessed with a comic book character. Also, the cover reveal for Surviving Santiago, a companion book to Gringolandia, took place here recently, so one very fortunate winner will be all caught up before Surviving Santiago debuts.

For an extra bit of cheer, winners also will receive some crocheted flowers like these (but not these—they’re already spoken for).

004

Flowers are usually cheerful. Even the rare corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) has a jaunty air. (And no, I will not comment on why this flower is so named. Google will help you there.)

corpse-flower-2010

Comment below to be entered in the drawing. If you feel like it, tell me about a time when someone cheered you up or you caused someone to stop being a Gloomy Gus. Winners will be announced November 5. Looking for Lyn? Look no farther than her website.

Happy Hooligan and Gloomy Gus from comicvine.com. Gloomy Gus from robot6.comicbookresources.com. Sun from clker.com. Corpse flower from hometown-pasadena.com.

Stuck in Neutral

After so many gloomy rainy days, the warm sun beckoned. I ventured outside as eager as a chick bursting through an eggshell, glorying in a sky scrubbed clean of clouds. But enjoyment of the day wasn’t the only thing on my mind. Something bothered me.

Bright-Blue-Sky (1)

I didn’t take this picture, but it provides an idea of what I mean.

I’m not sure why, but a cricket chirping in the bike shed of my apartment building caused me to glance down at the T-shirt I wore—this T-shirt:

009

And I thought, That’s it. That’s what’s bothering me. I don’t mean the image per se. I’m quite partial to it, actually. No, the idea of movement itself—or the seeming lack thereof in my life—is what bothers me.

Let’s see . . . I’ve sent out manuscript queries; I’ve applied for jobs; I’ve networked. Baby steps these seem—tiny bursts of movement like flickering fireflies.

fireflies

But I made them, and now I’m waiting for something to happen, or at least some step I can take toward making something happen. For now, I feel stuck in neutral.

shift-in-neutral

Everybody waits for something. Is there something for which you wait? Some of us don’t wait easily. We long too much for something to change—a change for the good.

27712A scene I recently read really resonated with me. It comes from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Without giving away the plot (It’s complicated), I can tell you that the main character, Bastian Balthazar Bux, comes across an unusual house that can change its own rooms. Here’s a small portion of the scene.

After a short silence she said: ‘I think it would like us to move into the next room. I believe it may have arranged something for you.’

‘Who?’ Bastian asked, looking around.

‘The House of Change,’ said Dame Eyola, as if that were the most natural thing in the world.

And indeed a strange thing had happened. The living room had changed without Bastian noticing that anything was going on. (Ende 404)

Would you like to live in a house that could do this? I love this scene, not only for its coziness (I’m partial to scenes like this as well as the scene in Tom Bombadil’s house in Fellowship of the Ring), but because of the theme of change. The house did its best to delight Bastian by changing in such creative ways. I’m reminded also of another delightful book—Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, where the castle changes its own rooms.

                   423092  10508431

I love any scene in which someone or something acts toward the good of someone and a delightful change is the result. And that’s key—something that delights. In a year in which bad changes have occurred, I can’t help longing for something good to happen.

Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story. Trans. By Ralph Manheim. New York: Firebird/Penguin, 1983. 404. First printed in Germany as Die Unendliche Geschichte by K. Thienemanns Verlag, 1979. Print.

Blue sky from freetwitterheaders.net. Fireflies from successfulworkplace.com. Neutral gear from georgecastellion.com. Book covers from Gooreads.