More of the Perfect Bathroom Reading

Awhile back (2013 actually), I wrote a post on the pastime described in the title. Yes, I decided to go there again. (Get it? Go there? Okay, I really should let that go. Ha ha! Aren’t you glad I stuck around four years as a blogger?)

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Anyhow, the subject came up again recently, and since I have a blog, I decided to discuss it here. No subject is too inane for me to write about. Perhaps you wish some were. Well, it was either this subject or a discussion of what I had for lunch (grilled ham and cheese—see, not much to talk about).

So, what makes for good bathroom reading? Need it be waterproof? What are the criteria? Have they changed in the last four years? Good questions. Well, I’m still very particular about my bathroom reading. As I mentioned in a previous post, novels (non-graphic novels) don’t really work for me, unless the novel is something for which putting it down is next to impossible. But if it’s that impossible to put down, I would remain in the bathroom for hours, reading. (Not a bad thing, really, if you live alone. With a family sharing a bathroom, however, this would be a bad thing.)

I prefer something I can flip through, and perhaps quickly read a section. That’s why, at least for me, magazines (the extent of my nonfiction bathroom reading), alumni newsletters, fun catalogs, and graphic novels still make the perfect bathroom reading. (Nothing much has changed in the last four years.) I love the blend of images and text, which makes finding an interesting place to land very easy. And for the most part, I don’t “cheat” by taking my reading material out of the bathroom to finish reading later. Like I said, this is bathroom reading. It remains on the shelf in my bathroom.

This is what I currently have in my bathroom. Yes, that issue of Entertainment Weekly is as old as dirt. But it’s still fun to look at. And that’s definitely not the latest issue of Game Informer. I usually pass those on to some friends as soon as I finish them. Somehow I managed to hold on to this one.

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I also have this series, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi (books 3 and 7):

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For more about this fantasy series, go here (the author/illustrator’s website):

Maybe a month ago, I read a great article on the work of Sir Fraser Stoddart, a professor at Northwestern University (see photo below left) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Now, an article of that depth took several sessions to read. Took over a week to read Game Informer’s article on the three doctors who founded BioWare, the videogame developer. (That was a long article.) An article on George R. R. Martin (bottom right) took a few days to finish.

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But I guess the point I’m making is that I love my bathroom reading. It’s just as special to me as my bedtime reading, though the time I spend doing it is a bit shorter. 🙂

Do you keep reading material in your bathroom? If so, what?

Bathroom image from somewhere on pinterest.com. George R. R. Martin photo from christianpost.com. Sir Fraser Stoddart photo from chemistry.northwestern.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

Good by Whose Standards? Exploring the Gap between Critics and Consumers

Hope you had a happy Easter! ****WARNING: If you wish to avoid reading anything about what critics have said about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, stop reading right now. You have been warned.****

By now you’ve heard that one of the most anticipated movies of 2016—Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—opened to dismal reviews. It earned a stunning 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. (By comparison Zootopia earned a 99%.)

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I was surprised at that score. But what interested me more than the reviews I’ve seen was the reaction of fans in regard to the critics who viewed the film with such disfavor. Even director Zach Snyder and some of the cast reacted to the criticism.

The New York Times addressed the gap between fans and critics in an article by Jonah Bromwich that you can find here. Bromwich proclaims

Critics who have panned the film have been met with fury online, with angry fans sneering at their reviews, their writing and even their motives.

512px-Thumbs_down_font_awesome.svgThis is not the first time fans and critics have failed to see eye to eye. Undoubtedly, it won’t be the last. While Bromwich’s article mentioned that a critical thumb’s down won’t deter diehard fans (case in point: a teen I know saw the movie and loved it), a steady onslaught of critical reviews can sometimes take a toll. As of the writing of this post, the box office take for the movie had not yet been posted. So who knows? Perhaps the fans will have the last word if the film rakes in a ton of money. (Wired.com has what I think is a fair take on Batman v. Superman and the critical drubbing it received. You can find that here.)

Reactions to any artistic endeavor can be subjective. But when so many people pan a project, thus inspiring another group to pan them for panning said project, I can’t help wondering who decides which elements make a project “good” or “excellent.” Is beauty truly in the eyes of the beholder (the consumer) or in the eyes of the gatekeepers (critics, agents, movie studio executives, publishers—whoever)? Is the gap between consumers and gatekeepers widening?

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Many people have written books on what makes a piece of writing “good.” I’m sure you’ve seen some of those. You’re probably thinking of Strunk & White right about now, or Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing. I think of Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (a personal favorite). As for films, you have only to look at the lists of the “best” films of all time and books like Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies to see what many have regarded as “good” films.

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If I’m serious about seeing a film, most of the time there is no critic alive who will deter me from seeing it. In fact, I try to avoid reading reviews until I’ve seen the film. But I’m not always successful in avoiding them; consequently, negative reviews sometimes sway me. With books, however, I often check the reviews (including verbal praise from friends) beforehand. I’ve been burned too many times in the past not to.

I have opinions, yes, about what I consider “good.” Sometimes I judge by the way a book or film made me feel as I read it or viewed it. Many of the books and films I’ve loved over the years haven’t had all of the bells and whistles of a critically acclaimed, National Book award finalist or Academy Award nominee. Yet I found something endearing about them. On the other hand, I’ve loved some extremely well written books (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, for instance) and films.

All the Light We Cannot See

The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ll see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I have to chalk some of my reticence up to my inability to escape some of the negative press. How about you? Have you ever been swayed against seeing a film or reading a book because of a negative review? Do you, like some fans, believe that critics don’t understand what the average person likes? Why or why not?

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Batman v. Superman poster from thegg.net. Book covers from Goodreads. Peeps from Pinterest.com. Thumb’s down image from commons.wikimedia.org. Gap image from clipartpanda.com.

Keep Your Promise

Ever have a dream where you’re being chased by a serial killer? You’re racing along, certain to be caught, your breath ragged with fear. But suddenly, you launch yourself into the sky. You have the power of flight! Woo hoo! Yeah, baby!

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Psychotherapists have many interpretations of this sort of dream. But this post isn’t about those. The flying dream came to mind as I thought about the way paranormal aspects are introduced in a novel.

I usually get into a snit when I’ve read several chapters of what seems to be a realistic novel only to discover a sudden turn toward the paranormal. Don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy stories. I also love realistic stories. But if several chapters where everything is normal go by before even one fantastical element is introduced, my bait-and-switch meter starts ticking. My irritation doubles if the book jacket mentions paranormal, but the first 50 pages of the book fail to show anything that could be construed as fantastical.

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You can thank author Jen White for helping me understand why I feel irked. She wrote a great post at Through The Tollbooth that I highly recommend: “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” You can read that post by clicking on the post title. White talked about a promise made between an author and a reader. Here’s a quote from that post:

As an author you promise to stay in character and to stay in genre. You promise to keep story threads alive and fruitful. The first chapter says: This book is about…(and then stay true to that statement).

You promise . . . to stay in genre. . . . When a novel pivots toward a different genre than the one the first chapter sets up, the author has broken his or her promise to the reader.

In a dream, think of a sudden ability to fly as the introduction of a paranormal element into a story. The compressed time frame of a dream makes for a swift integration of the fantastical element. Our minds readily accept it. An author has to work harder in a book to get a reader to suspend disbelief. Though an author has more time to lay out a plot in a book, he/she has to help a reader see the integration of the fantastical elements and the realistic elements early on, especially if the book is set in our world. Otherwise, acceptance of the elements won’t come as readily.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverHere’s the first paragraph of Holly Black’s young adult novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest:

Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.” (Black 1)

With a beginning like this, a reader would know that this world is not exactly like our own. And Black follows through on the promise inherent in this paragraph: that the reader will be taken on a fantastical journey. But does this mean every author has to introduce fantasy elements in the first paragraph? Nope. Instead, foreshadowing is a great tool an author can use. It’s like a promise an author makes to a reader early on that a story eventually will pivot toward the fantastic. For example, in the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, when the Pevensie kids arrive at their wartime home, we’re told

It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. (Lewis 4)

Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Unexpected places. With those two words and the introduction of the wardrobe in the same paragraph, Lewis sets up the promise of a fantastical adventure, one that he keeps in the first chapter. If that’s not enough evidence for you, look at the foreshadowing in the first paragraph of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. I won’t print it here, since I’ve quoted quite a bit in this post. Chances are, you have a copy of this book handy and can see for yourself. 🙂

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Both of these books have delighted people of all ages for many years. Our books can do the same if we keep our promises.

Works Cited
Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperTrophy, 1950. Print.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 1997. Print.
White, Jen. “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” Through The Tollbooth. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 09 July 2015.

Book covers from Goodreads. Flying man from azokey.blogspot.com. Bait and switch image from theamericangenius.com.

Open the Bag

Bag ShotRecently, I watched many of the A&E adaptations of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. One of the main characters—Archie Goodwin, a private investigator played by Timothy Hutton—said a phrase over and over: “Open the bag.” I love that phrase. It means “spill your guts” or “confess.” It’s a much more interesting way of saying to someone, “Tell me everything.” But language is what makes the series and its print form so engaging.

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I’m going to open the bag (just a bit mind you) about writing and life. So here goes. Several people have asked me when they’ll see my young adult novel about elves. Short answer: I don’t know. It’s currently in review at two publishers. I don’t know what will happen to it at either place. I can say what I hope. But that’s probably already obvious to you.

Waiting is nerve wracking, isn’t it? I can’t help thinking of something Captain Wentworth said in my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion: “I am half agony, half hope” (Austen 225). I won’t go into why he said that, since the resolution of the main conflict hinges on the why. But I can relate to the sentiment.

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I have another young adult novel that I’m wondering what to do with. It needs editing for one thing. Having seen some of the wonderful covers that Jason Pedersen has done for Charles Yallowitz and Ravven has done for several people, if I go the indie route for it or any other novel, I’ll need some cash to pay for a cover by either of these fine artists. They’re certainly worth it. Click on their names to get to their websites and see for yourself.

Which brings me to another subject. There are several authors I’d love to interview. But I haven’t set up any interviews lately because of a funds shortage. With interviews, I like to give away a copy of an author’s work. This is a deliberate choice I make whenever I interview someone. Buying a copy of an author’s book to give away is my way of saying, “I support you, Author.” I’ll let you know when I return to regular interviews. Those are always fun for me.

Being in this state has taught me to avoid taking even $5 for granted. Here’s a video by Ricky over at Stewdippin that best describes life for me right now:

There. If you were hoping for something more salacious, I’m sorry to disappoint. But I feel better for having opened the bag. I’m going back to my middle grade fantasy novel now. I’m in revision mode on that. It’s slow going, but I’m enjoying it. My Pinterest inspiration boards have certainly blossomed as a result. 🙂

Thanks for listening!

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. New York: Signet Classic/New American Library, 1964. First published in 1818. Print.

Book cover from Goodreads. Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin from Pinterest.

Woman to Woman: The Alpha Male

On a day when the sharp scent of peppermint permeated the air (I’m not sure why it did), Kitty came to me with a request while I lounged outside.

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Kitty: Can we talk, woman to woman?
Me: Sure. What’s on your mind?
Kitty: Can we talk about boys for a minute?
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll fail the Bechdel test if we do.
Kitty (unfazed by my remark): Would either Gandalf or Jordie be considered an alpha male?

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Me: Um, well, maybe Gandalf. Jordie . . . frankly no.
Kitty: Good. Then I will choose him as the companion of my heart.
Me: Huh? Why?
Kitty: I am alpha.
Me: Uh . . .
Kitty: Thank you for helping me clear that up.
Me: Uh . . .

I found this conversation timely, since I’d just finished reading Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, which has an alpha male secondary character. While reading it, I wondered whether or not the concept of the alpha male has changed since the 1950s when the book was written. With Sigourney Weaver’s awesome performance as Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, an increasing desire for strong female heroines ensued (hence Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road; some men complained about her role, however, according to the Chicago Tribune). Has the fictional alpha male evolved consequently?

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Under Gandalf’s disapproving gaze; Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

First, I wondered about the universal characteristics of an alpha male. When I picked up another Mary Stewart book, also from the 50s—Madam, Will You Talk?—I found a description of a dude who is “singularly good-looking” and who “had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication—that sort of powerful, careless charm which can be quite devastating” (Stewart 11). Though he was not the alpha, this description seemed apt for alpha males on one level.

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I decided to compare that description with one found at this post at Romance Novels for Feminists, which mentions romance author Jill Shalvis’s view on the subject:

Rather than describe a male character’s characteristics in detail, Shalvis uses the shorthand “alpha” to signal to readers that the character possesses a certain type of über-desirable masculinity, a masculinity characterized by toughness, strength, and the need to protect those around him, particularly his girlfriend/spouse/mate.

So far, only women have given an opinion. What do men think? I found out at AskMen.com:

An alpha male has certain unmistakable characteristics. A natural leader, he is a pack-builder. He leads, provides for and protects his pack (his significant other, his buddies, his teammates, and so on).

the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-jim-and-jamie-dutcherInteresting. In the young adult novel I finished writing months ago, my 17-year-old main character views himself as alpha, but meets a female (the other main character) who disagrees. He has to learn how an alpha really behaves. The AskMen article, “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male,” vividly discusses this behavior. You can find that article here.

We’re used to fictional alpha males like James Bond; Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s books); James T. Kirk; Batman; Aragorn; Odysseus; Beowulf; Green Arrow; Daredevil; Gaston; Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s books); characters Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Humphrey Bogart, Samuel L. Jackson, or Jet Li played; anyone from the Fast and Furious movies; Duke Nukem; Wolverine; Superman; Robin in Teen Titans; the Man with No Name Clint Eastwood played in westerns; Russell Crowe as Maximus or Jack Aubrey; Tony Stark; Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hal Jordan (Green Lantern); John Stewart (also Green Lantern), Thor; Black Panther; Frank Woods (Call of Duty); Nathan Drake (Uncharted); and many, many others. While some might be viewed as relics of a bygone era, others reflect the changing face of the alpha male.

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Cap, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; Black Panther

In a Slate.com article, “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them” (click here for that), I learned about an omega man:

While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.

Yikes! But I don’t want to get off on an omega man tangent here. Yet it shows an interesting backlash of sorts against those viewed as “domineering” (see the Romance Novels for Feminists post) alpha males.

Maybe that’s why James Bond received a reboot. According to this article by Paul Whitington at Independent.ie., “[Daniel] Craig’s Bond [in the film, Casino Royale (2006)] was young, confused and even vulnerable.”

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So today’s alpha male is strong, but tries to keep it real by admitting to foibles (i.e., Tony Stark admitting he’s a “piping hot mess” in Iron Man 3). Yet audiences are divided on the evolution of the alpha male.

But let’s get back to Mary Stewart. When I opened Nine Coaches, I expected to find an archaic viewpoint. Stewart, however, showcased an alpha male and a strong heroine, neither of whom is threatened by the strength of the other. I love that!

What do you think of the alpha male? Got a favorite or a strong opinion on the subject?

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Can their love survive?

AskMen Editors. “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male.” AskMen.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Grose. Jessica. “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them.” Slate.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015.
Horn, Jackie C. “Evolution and the Alpha Male.” Romance Novels for Feminists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? New York: William Morrow, 1956. First published in Great Britain in 1955. Print.
—. Nine Coaches Waiting. New York: William Morrow, 1958. Print.
Whitington, Paul. “Film… From Craig to Connery: The Many Faces of James Bond.” Independent.ie. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Black Panther from Marvel.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner from news.doddleme.com. Daniel Craig as James Bond from fanpop.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from oblikon.net. Book cover from Goodreads. Alpha male gray wolf from fineartamerica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Cover Reveal: Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts

Coming on June 1st for 99 cents!

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

In a time of heroes, a man will take any job to provide for his family.

Ichabod Brooks has earned a reputation for taking the jobs most men and women fear to challenge. This reputation has brought him to the charred remains of a small village nestled within the hills and forest of Ralian. The ruins are a source of strange monsters that terrorize the countryside and repeatedly elude the local guards and hunters. The few brave souls who have entered the creatures’ lair have yet to come out alive or dead.

The chances of survival are slim, but that generous payment is too much for Ichabod to resist. After all, a man and his family have to eat.

Author PhotoAuthor Biography

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. ‘Legends of Windemere’ is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

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Children’s Book Week: Spread the Joy of Reading

Hope the Fourth was with you and you had a pleasant Cinco de Mayo! This week is special in still another way. May 4–10 was officially designated Children’s Book Week by the Children’s Book Council. You can read more about this literacy effort here.

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Children’s Book Week poster illustrated by the awesome Grace Lee

I love the idea of a week dedicated to promoting books for kids. After all, A Wrinkle in Time, a book written for kids by Madeleine L’Engle, is what started me on the path to becoming a writer. I was eight years old when I read it, because of the significant adults in my life. My parents were, and still are, readers. They read to fairy tales to me at night and provided books by Dr. Seuss and P. D. Eastman to encourage my brothers and me as we learned to read.

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Caring librarians also were stalwart champions of books. My elementary school librarian introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle’s books and many others. Also, the children’s librarians at the branch library I frequented in Chicago helped me come home with armloads of books (like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White).

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As I think of such an abundance of books, I can’t help thinking of a scene in the 1996 movie adaptation of Matilda by Roald Dahl (I read the book too), when Matilda discovered the joy of checking books out of the library. She brought home wagonloads. I didn’t have a wagon, but I usually brought home quite a few books each week.

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Mara Wilson as Matilda

I love recommending books to kids and teens. So I can’t help feeling sad when kids tell me they don’t read books at all. Some are so swamped at school, they have little downtime at home. Others are nonreaders by choice now, though an occasional book series like the Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling), the Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), or Divergent (Veronica Roth) captured their attention for a little while. Still, I remain an advocate of books in their lives, even if they are content to avoid them.

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Book cover by the equally awesome Kazu Kibuishi, who has a wonderful graphic novel series—Amulet. See cover at the end of this post.

This week—or any week—you can be a children’s book champion. Even if you don’t have an opportunity to recommend a book to a kid, you can pick one up for yourself. Connect with a book that makes your inner child sing.

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Even supervillains read.

Great books to introduce to a kid:

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What was your favorite book when you were a kid? What book, if any, would you consider to have been very influential in your life? Why?

Children’s Book Week from usatoday.com. Mara Wilson as Matilda from hellogiggles.com. Most book covers from Goodreads. Harry Potter cover from unademagiaporfavor.blogspot.com. Stacks of books from blogs.hpedsb.on.ca.