The Power of a Plan

I saw Avengers: Infinity War last week. Please. You don’t have to leap at me to slap a hand over my mouth. As if you could reach me from where you are. This is a spoiler-free zone, so don’t worry.

There is so much hype surrounding this movie, that I don’t blame anyone for being a little fatigued. This post is not so much about the movie as it is a high five to Marvel Studios for the ten-year process leading up to the movie.

I’ve never had a ten-year plan for anything! Years ago, both of my brothers tried to get me to make a five-year business plan, but I flubbed it. I barely outlined novels! At the time, the thought of proposing enough novels or other writing projects to fill five years was

But now I see the value of at least coming up with a plan beyond my usual, “I just wanna write lotsa stuff.” I think about Charles Yallowitz and how weekly he discusses his writing plans. If you follow his blog, you know he sometimes he talks about his writing plans for the next year or so!

A good business plan really needs a good vision statement as well. (If you’re still in Marvel mode, you might be thinking of the character Vision. Ha ha!)

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a vision statement (also known as a mission statement) is

An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. See also mission statement.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html

If you’re curious, here is part of Microsoft’s vision statement:

Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world. Our strategy is to build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence (“AI”).

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Wow! Talk about a big goal. But that’s the value of a mission statement. It gives you something to work toward. If it’s achievable right now, then it’s probably not a big enough goal.

So, I’m working on a vision statement too. After all, I can’t get anywhere if I don’t have a destination or a plan for getting there. What about you? Got any long-term or short-term plans you’d care to talk about? Do you have a vision statement for what you want to do? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the winner of the birthday giveaway. Wondering what that’s about? Click here to read the post that announced the giveaway.

The winner of the birthday giveaway, thanks to the magic of the random organizer, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

FictionFan!

But since this is my blog, I can have two winners. (Surprise announcement! Oh yeah!) So, the second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny!

Please comment below to confirm! FictionFan, I will need to get the email you use with Amazon UK at some point. Penny, if you have a preference for the items mentioned in the birthday post, please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

    

This is what’s great about spring.

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster from comicbook.com. Marvel Studios Ten Year logo from screenrant.com. Vizzini inconceivable image from quotesgram.com. Vision image from wpaperhd.com. Other photo by L. Msarie.

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Color Grading Your Story

Happy Good Friday/Regular Friday (if the celebration of Good Friday is not your thing).

Days ago, I watched a YouTube video on the digital color grading for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (2001-2003). I know. Random. The following is not the video I watched that day. But it provides a really good explanation about digital color grading for film.

Lest you’re sitting there, unable to muster concern about the subject, let me just say there’s been a lot of talk of movie color palettes. While some praised the Lord of the Rings movies for their color palette, others denounced Jackson’s The Hobbit (2012) for being “too crisp and bright.” And while some Marvel’s movie palettes have been praised for their brightness, some DC movie palettes have been criticized as too murky. Even when DC tried to brighten things up with Justice League (2017), some people still criticized them. Movie fans can be fickle, I guess.

       

In an article by David Geffin, “The Power Of Color Grading And The Benefit It Can Have On Your Work Summarized In Two Minutes” (and yes, all of those articles and prepositions were capitalized by this author, so please don’t feel the need to point out capitalization errors in the comments), we find this truth:

Color is so important because, like lighting, it affects a mood and feel of a piece, and therefore how we interpret the final image.

Geffin includes the two-minute video mentioned in the title that you can check out if you click here.

I’m a big fan of color to enhance mood. But what can you do in a book where the imagination is the only screen you have to work with?

I like to use thematic colors in narration. In my young adult novel with three protagonists, I have a fire wielder, a plant wielder, and one person in between who is neutral. (While he does not wield an element, he has the ability to block magic.)

Let’s say Rosie Bloom (left) is my fire wielder while Macy Macaron (right) is my plant wielder. (Okay, the fact that Rosie has roses kind of messes up the analogy, but work with me here.) Shuri (middle) is my neutral person.

My plant wielder might be dressed in natural colors on the cooler side of the spectrum (green and blue) to make you think of a forest or a river flowing by trees. Emotionally, she’s a bit down also, so the blue palette does double duty for her.

My fire wielder was trickier. As an assassin, I couldn’t put him in warm, fiery colors, because he’d stand out. He prefers the shadows. So, I had to use color in a different way—to highlight his emotion, i.e., through phrases like “the red blaze of his anger.”

My neutral dude was a lot easier. He wears a lot of gray, because some of his actions fall into a gray area morally at times.

Another way to color grade a story is to make sure the colors that emphasize mood are the ones emphasized on a page.

19063In this passage from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, what do you see? (SPOILER ALERT. Look away if you don’t want to know something that could possibly spoil a plot point in the book or the movie. I will tell you when to look.)

   There were shocked pajamas and torn faces. It was the boy’s hair she saw first.

Rudy?

She did more than mouth the word now. “Rudy?”

He lay with his yellow hair and closed eyes, and the book thief ran toward him and fell down. She dropped the black book. (Zusak, 535)

In this aftermath of a bombing, I see two colors: yellow and black. This scene involves Liesel Meminger who makes a grisly discover concerning her friend, Rudy Steiner. Zusak mentioned two colors that enhance mood: the bright yellow of Rudy’s hair, which shows the brightness of a life tragically ending in death—reminiscent of the black book Liesel drops. Ending with the black book after the yellow hair is like watching a solar eclipse. (END SPOILER)

In what ways have you seen colors used effectively to enhance mood? Perhaps you’ve seen filters and other highlights done well on Instagram or Facebook. Do tell!

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

Color grade image from fstoppers.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League movie poster from fanpop.com. The Hobbit movie poster from flicks.co.nz. Rose Bloom and Macy Macaron are Shoppie dolls made by Moose Toys. Shuri, from the movie Black Panther, was made by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie.

Dressed for a Fight

When I was a kid, I liked to be ready for anything. So even if I wore a skirt, I liked to have a pair of shorts on underneath. You know, in case I wanted to turn a cartwheel or something. I had a tendency to bust a move like that at a moment’s notice. (Culottes also were an acceptable fashion statement.)

And being “ready for anything” sometimes meant “ready to engage in fisticuffs.” That was life on the south side of Chicago for a nerdy kid (and those who weren’t; bullies didn’t discriminate). The time 3:15 still sends chills down my spine. That was when school let out. That was when fights were scheduled. You had to be ready to throw down if someone picked a fight with you. (My older brother, whose birthday is today, taught me to fight.)

I’m reminded of how people readied for fights in my neighborhood. If girls started braiding their hair and taking off earrings, you knew a fight was about to happen. But nobody had a catsuit to don for a fight like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) from the Marvel movies or Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) from The Avengers, a British show from the 1960s. (Uh-huh. I’m totally dating myself. Oh well. You knew I was old.) I’m not dissing the catsuit. I’ve longed to be Black Widow or Emma Peel—easily dispatching villains. And if I could look as cool as they look in a catsuit, believe me, I would throw one on and pick fights with people, just to look cool.

  

Now that my introduction is out of the way, let me share something I’ve been thinking about: fight scenes. Maybe you’re not into fight scenes. I can’t say I live and die for them. But a compelling fight scene with high stakes can be very satisfying to watch. And since I’m revising some fight scenes in a young adult fantasy book, I pay attention to them in movies.

In the Vanity Fair video below, the director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, discusses a scene in the movie. What I love about this video is the fact that he discusses why the clothing of two women in the scene fit the theme of the fight. Though part of the scene can be seen in the trailer, it contains some spoilers, so be warned!

What I loved about this scene in the movie (and I get it if you don’t have the time or interest to watch the video; it’s over nine minutes long) is the fact that the characters (Okoye played by Danai Gurira and Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o) had to fight in fashionable attire. They were fierce and feminine. There was no time to change clothes. The fight came to them.

This is the action figure for Shuri, sister of T’Challa (the Black Panther). She’s not in the video, but she’s in the movie. This is how she dressed for a fight.

The reason why this video struck me is that I agonized over what one of my main characters would wear on the worst day of her life. She’s not a trained warrior, but she has to fight for her life, as many heroines have had to do. I had her in pants at first, because I was still of the “always be prepared for anything” mindset (shorts under a skirt, remember). But as I saw in the fight discussed in the video, and as I recalled my elementary school years, sometimes the fight comes, whether you’re ready or not. So, it’s nice to know that though my main character is wearing a dress (which felt more natural to the character), she can still look convincing in a fight.

Diana Rigg photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Culottes photo from thirdeyechicfashion.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shuri action figure by Hasbro. Boxer Hello Kitty figure by Tokidoki.

Music to My Ears—Five Years A-Bloggin’

I was sitting at my desk the other day, contemplating what I would have for breakfast, when I suddenly realized, Oh my goodness! My blogoversary passed!

As of February 19, I’ve been blogging for five years. I didn’t think I’d last five minutes, let alone five years. But here I am. Like the proverbial bad penny, I keep turning up. I’m grateful to all of you who discovered this blog and keep coming back. Rest assured, the weirdness will continue. (Or, run away while you still can.)

On with the show. Recently, a friend who is taking a writing class shared the following video with me.

In case you elect to avoid spending almost eight minutes watching the video (though it was well done), its creator, Nerdwriter1, discusses the recurring musical themes (leitmotifs) of the Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks, composed by Howard Shore (movies directed by Peter Jackson, based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien). These are my favorite soundtracks of all time, so of course I had to take a look.

I was already well aware of Howard Shore’s genius. But the video was a lovely reminder of what you get when a powerful musical score is wedded to a powerful story.

   

See, kids? These are CDs. We used to play these back in the day.

On many days, I had the soundtracks playing in the background while I wrote. I can remember writing scenes that matched the tempo of Shore’s compositions. These soundtracks made me want to write the kind of story that would merit a skillfully written score played by an equally skilled orchestra.

So yeah, I love those soundtracks. But not just Howard Shore’s. I love the soundtracks from Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) (movies directed by Christopher Nolan), which were composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. These soundtracks, with their edgy orchestration, are an interesting contrast to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But they all have an epic quality that evokes emotion. (If you look at the list of musical selections on the Batman Begins soundtrack, you’ll note that each was named after a bat genus. Also, BATMAN is spelled out.)

    

    

I have music in my head, even as I write this blog post. I’m hearing the horns from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. Being a blogger is a kind of fellowship. You post something and hope someone will read it. And when someone does, and you get to know that person, relationships are forged. I’ve met many great people through this blog. People like you. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Kitty and her interns. Somebody’s gotta get the coffee.

Batman Begins movie poster from geekynerfherder.blogspot.com. The Dark Knight movie poster from popcritics.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets are registered trademarks of Moose Toys.

The Look of a Leader

Last weekend, I saw Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler). The phrase kingly bearing came to mind as I watched Chadwick Boseman play the titular character.

Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers about the film. This post isn’t so much about the film as it is about the phrase I mentioned above.

Dictionary.com has this definition of kingly:

stately or splendid, as resembling, suggesting, or befitting a king; regal

Not that you needed that term defined. I looked it up, because I thought of the preconceived ideas many of us have about how kings/queens or other significant leaders should look and act—what we think “befit[s] a king.”

When you think of a king/queen (fictional or nonfictional), do any of the following adjectives come to mind?

• Decisive
• Intelligent/Skilled
• Charismatic
• Bold
• Honorable
• Tall/Attractive
• Wise

They do in my head. T’Challa of Wakanda (Boseman’s character, the 1966 creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) fits all of the above. But he is a fictional king. So why, I asked myself, do I have the idea that a person with a “kingly bearing” fits those adjectives (or at least most of those)? Probably because of Saul, Israel’s first king. Check out this description, which I found in 1 Samuel 9 (in the Bible):

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people (vv. 1-2, ESV).

A month ago, I watched a 2006 PBS documentary on Marie Antoinette, written and directed by David Grubin. Marie Antoinette, as you know, was married to Louis XVI of France. But the historians interviewed in the film probably would not have used most of the adjectives in the list above above to describe Louis XVI. Biography.com had this to say about him: “He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork.”

Louis XVI of France when he was the Dauphin of France.
By Louis-Michel van Loo – Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4936896

There are many other kings in history who don’t fit the mold either. I’m sure you can think of several whose tyranny or abdication of leadership to more forceful individuals made them a blight on history. But whenever I inject a king or a leader equivalent to a king into a fictional story, I have the image of a Saul or a T’Challa. (And yes I know that Saul was not considered an ideal king. But he had that “kingly bearing.”)

Watching the movie and thinking about my views on “kingly bearing” made me realize that I need to go beyond preconceived ideas when I create characters. It’s not enough to have a character “look the part” (i.e., merely having traits borrowed from other similar characters), which can make that person seem cliché. He or she needs to be fully realized—warts and all.

Kitty knows that she has the look of a leader. Don’t let the cupcake fool you.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther photo from trends44.com. Kitty photo by L. Marie.

This Is Me

Happy Valentine’s Day (and Ash Wednesday)!

If you’ve seen the movie, The Greatest Showman (starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Michael Gracey), you might know that the title of the post is the title of a song from the movie, which was sung by Keala Settle and other members of the ensemble cast. Yeah, I’d never heard of Keala Settle either before seeing the movie, though she’d starred on Broadway for years. Yet there she was in the movie, singing one of the most memorable songs from it.

A friend and I saw the movie this weekend. Afterward, we walked back through the frozen tundra to the car, processing what we’d seen.

Some of the lines of the song ran through my mind:

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. (Written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek)

This post is not meant to be a review of the movie, though I thought it was fabulous. (Guess that statement is a mini-review of a sort.) I won’t give any spoilers about why the song was sung, though it came at a very appropriate point in the movie. And this post is not a commentary on the life of P. T. Barnum, the subject of the movie. I was struck, however, by the song and how long it took to get the movie made—seven and a half years, according to Hugh Jackman. Studios were reluctant to back an original musical. But this project was a passion for him. In an interview I found on the internet (sorry, I didn’t copy the link to the interview) he said this project was more like who he was than other projects.

Maybe you can relate to the lyrics I quoted above. I certainly can. And I can relate to a seven-year journey of working to get something made. I began my elf novel seven years ago. I’ve written many books and other things since then. Some were published, some weren’t. But the elf book is my passion project, which has its antecedents in a story I wrote twenty years ago—you read that right—back when I wrote parodies.

I grew up watching a little cartoon called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were parodies of fairy tales.

I thought I’d try my hand writing at those. But instead of using existing fairy tales, I wanted to write original fairy tales. I came up with some characters who rescued princesses. Only, they weren’t very good at it.

This is not the story I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I can’t find that one for some reason. This is another fairy tale I wrote back in the day. But I wrote all of my fairy tales on yellow paper like this.

I worked on that story off and on for six years for my own amusement, considering it a hobby like crocheting, while trying to finish a science fiction novel for adults. But around 2004, an astute friend asked me, “Why don’t you write fairy tales instead?” She meant for publication, instead of the science fiction novel for which I struggled to find a good ending. “They seem more you,” she added.

Honestly, the notion of getting that story published had never crossed my mind until she spoke those words. Well, I polished it, submitted it to publishers and agents, but got nowhere. Only one agent asked to see the full manuscript. He mentioned that he liked some of it. Now, let’s flash forward seven years. I’m in grad school at this point. An advisor read my fairy tale, which had been rejected probably twenty-five times. Ironically, I had submitted chapters of this book as part of my application to get into the graduate school.

She said, “I liked some of it.” Familiar words. And then she said (and I’m just paraphrasing here, since we had numerous conversations on this subject), “You’ve got to take writing more seriously. These characters deserve better.” Meaning, stop writing parodies, making fun of the fairy tales you claim to love. Write from a sincere heart.

So, I lifted several characters out of that book and gave them a new home and a new plot, which became the book I started seven years ago.

That’s why I was encouraged by The Greatest Showman. It’s nice to know that projects made with love can find an audience of people who love them too.

What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a project?

If you want more information on the movie, check out this
HBO Interview, which involves Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Zac Efron talking about the movie:

The Greatest Showman movie poster from cinematerial.com. Fractured Fairy Tales still from avxhome.se. Other photos by L. Marie. The Valentine owl crochet pattern can be found here.

Life Off Camera

Happy Eclipse Day—the first total solar eclipse in 38 years that we’ll be able to see here in the States! Some friends traveled to Carbondale, Illinois for this occasion since that’s the place where it can be viewed the longest.

Try as I may, I’m not always able to capture, via my phone’s camera, all of life’s amazing moments. Like the time aliens took over New York, but were stopped by the Avengers (thus freeing us to all have shawarma at the end). Or the time when the evil peace-keeping robot (what an irony) threatened to destroy the world, and the Avengers had to help out again.

Okay, those events happened on the big screen, instead of in real life.

But I can’t help thinking of last week when I witnessed a territorial fight between two male hummingbirds. I immediately thought of Jill Weatherholt, a blogger/author you undoubtedly know. Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t think of her because of the fight. Jill has shown me photos of the hummingbirds around her house.

I was seated near the balcony at the home of some friends after their hummingbird feeder had been refilled and placed on the balcony. The usual ruby-throated hummingbird soon landed on the feeder. Let’s call him HB-1. I mentioned “usual,” because one of my friends told me this hummingbird usually came to the feeder. But this day, a rival came too—HB-2.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Oh, yes he did!

Pretty soon, tiny wings beat the air even faster, while long beaks jabbed. After a bob and weave, HB-1 got the better of HB-2 and forced his rival to fly away. Sadly, my phone was nowhere near me at the time, so I did not get pictures.

Nor was I able to capture something that happened at a birthday party I went to recently. The birthday child was a little girl who turned one. Over forty kids were present. One of the games they played was one involving a box wrapped with about fifty layers of wrapping paper. The kids sat in a circle and passed the box around, each unwrapping one layer, hoping to be the one who reached the last layer. That kid would have the privilege of claiming what was inside the box.

The kids gave that box the care and attention a neurosurgeon would give a patient. Every time the kids thought they’d reached the end of the wrapping paper, still more layers would appear. Without knowing what was in the box, they were fully invested in solving the mystery of what was inside. I was the one tasked with picking up the discarded wrapping paper, so I didn’t have a free hand to snap a photo. But I loved the fact that the kids were riveted by a wrapped box, rather than some expensive video game. (Lest you think I dislike video games, let me admit to you now that I play them. Just sayin’.)

Neither of these moments has the awe-factor of a solar eclipse, I know. But life has these little moments of mystery and wonder—moments too quick or too powerful to capture on film. Like the time a two-year-old hugged me around my knees. Like the laughs I shared with friends last week. I’m glad I was fully present, enjoying those moments, instead of fumbling for my camera.

But I was able to capture this butterfly not too long ago. He sat still, allowing me time to photograph him (though I wish I’d managed a closeup).

What moments have you enjoyed recently that took your breath away, but that you weren’t able to record on your camera?

Solar eclipse image from Wikipedia. Avengers poster from nzgirl.co.nz. Hummingbird from free-background-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Wrapping paper from zazzle.co.uk. Monarch butterfly photo by L. Marie.