The Year in Review—2016

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For some years, there are no words.

Perhaps you can relate. Twenty-sixteen definitely has had its ups and downs with project losses and gains, illness in the family, graduations, etc. And at the end of the year, I find myself striving to write anything. This wordless state is a bit scary for me. I’d love to be in a fulsome state of writing right now. But some things can’t be forced, I guess.

One Christmas gift that inspires me is this (click on Christmas gift to find out more about this book):

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And this tea is insanely good!

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Early in the new year, I’ll do a giveaway of Christmas gift inspirations like the ones above. In the meantime, I hope 2017 is good to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?

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My new Jane Austen quote journal. We will spend lots of time together in the new year.

Barbie Made to Move™ photos and other photos by L. Marie.

When Delight Is in Short Supply

Don’t worry. This is not a tirade about the election. I think we’ve heard enough of those. Rather, this is a post to announce a random giveaway to a commenter. I will give away a copy of one of the following books:

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The book choice is up to you. If you click on each cover, you’ll be taken to Amazon, where you can read about the book. (By the way, the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia is by Pablo Hidalgo and Simon Beecroft, since that’s not obvious from the cover.)

Why these books? I just finished reading the Grace Lin book, which is utterly delightful and poignant. Don’t worry. I won’t hand you my used copy. You’ll get your own, if that is the book you want. And Pakenham’s book is marvelous. It was a huge help in my novel world building. As for the third book, I don’t own the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia. But I wanted to include a Star Wars book, since I’ve been a fan of the Star Wars universe for many years. While I can’t say I’ve loved all of the movies (maybe four out seven), I greatly admire the depth of world building. And I’ve loved most of the Clone Wars animated series. Totally love Star Wars Rebels. I also recently enjoyed Ahsoka, a young adult novel by E. K. Johnston. If you would prefer that novel over the encyclopedia above, please let me know.

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These days, when hate-filled messages crawl across the internet, and delight seems in short supply, I take comfort in whatever is life giving.

The stories we share we each other, the beauty of nature all around us, the limitless universe of the imagination—these things are life-giving.

I love books that remind me of beauty, truth, courage, faith, love, and hope. And now, I’m reminded of a quote by Paul from 1 Corinthians 13:13:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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So, now, it’s up to you. Comment below to let me know which book you would want if your name is drawn. If you like, please share why this book appeals to you. The winner will be announced on November 21, right before Thanksgiving. 🙂

Book covers from nationalbook.org, Goodreads, and Starwars.com.

Dance, Dance, Dance

Whenever I feel down, stressed, or uncertain (thanks to having to wait for news or for something else), nothing lifts my mood quicker than watching a dance-themed movie or binge-watching the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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So recently I watched Dance with Me, the 1998 dance movie directed by Randa Haines, and starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne—a movie I’ve seen countless times. The dance movie of choice used to be Strictly Ballroom until I gave that DVD to a friend who also needed a dance movie to perk her up. Perhaps I will get around to seeing Step Up one day. 🙂

What is it about watching two or more people dancing that is such a reminder of how great life can be—that joie de vivre? And of course it doesn’t hurt that Chayanne is hotness incarnate. Muy atractivo!

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Dance with Me features the requisite dance competition and romance. Hey, they’ve gotta do something after demonstrating how to rumba. And of course dance is the perfect metaphor for bringing two people together as we observe their first faltering steps toward love and dance proficiency.

Here’s a dance scene from that movie. It’s about four minutes long. This comes toward the end, so SPOILER ALERT.

I love how people in the movie work out their frustrations via salsa dancing. I usually work out my frustrations via salsa and chips, so their method seems better. But wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved just by busting a move on the dance floor?

Sometimes, however, a dance is almost an act of war. I can’t help thinking about Pride and Prejudice now (either the Keira Knightley version or the 1995 A&E version), when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy dance together for the first time. I love the tension of that scene, with them on opposite sides, having to maintain the correct social boundaries though they want to scream at each other. Lizzy fires off the first salvo, with Darcy returning fire in a polite way, as they wend their way through the dance. Good stuff.

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Have you seen Dance with Me or that scene I mentioned in Pride and Prejudice? Do you have a favorite movie or show that you binge watch when you need a pick me up? While you think of that, here are some random photos I took while on a walk. I love how the daisy clings to life.

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Chayanne photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) photo from janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com. All other photos by L. Marie.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

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The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

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I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

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And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

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But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

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Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

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Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

See You at the Movies?

Happy belated Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. My family and I went to see Finding Dory the other day as a combination Happy Birthday/Father’s Day celebration for my younger brother. A good time was had by all.

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While we waited for the movie to start, my sister-in-law mentioned that it was the first movie she’d seen at the theater in over a year. Interestingly, Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Dory (and Finding Nemo), had a short clip before the movie began in which he thanked the audience for coming out to watch the movie; thus acknowledging that the movie-going experience is increasingly rare for many.

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When I was a teen and a younger adult, I hit the movies just about every weekend. I didn’t miss a major movie. But for five of the last six years, I can use one hand to count the number of movies I’ve seen at the theater. Last year, I saw more movies at the theater than I’d seen in years. I saw

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See? Not a ton of movies. For others, popping a DVD or blu-ray disk into a player was the extent of my movie-going experience. (Wish I’d seen The Martian at the movie theater. Glad I saw it on blu-ray at least.)

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This year, I’ve seen Captain America: Civil War twice (took my niece the second time), Zootopia, and now Finding Dory. I hope to see several others on my list—like Doctor Strange; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Suicide Squad; and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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A number of factors work against my desire to go to a movie theater: higher prices; films that are all style and no substance; and rude moviegoers. In one movie theater I attended, a group of teens talked loudly and ran around the theater until the manager threw them out—halfway through the movie. So I usually head to the cheap theaters, reserving the first-run experience for the movies I want to see the most. And I tend to see movies I really want to see, rather than take a chance on an unknown the way I used to do. (Same with books, sadly.)

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(By the way, many critics declared that Jurassic World lacked substance. Though the characters were underdeveloped (and some were downright annoying), the movie’s entertainment value made up for the lack of substance—at least for me.)

I miss the days when my good friend who lived next door, my brother, and I would look at each other and say, “Let’s go to the movies.” And then off we’d go without a second thought. Back in the day, Spielberg movies were always a draw for us, along with those of John Carpenter, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and others.

I also miss some of the element of surprise. Nowadays, with incessant internet trailers that give too much away, and people blabbing spoilers on social media, you practically know everything about a movie before you walk in the theater. To maintain at least some of the surprise, I tend to avoid watching more than one trailer for the movies I’m determined to see at the theater.

Still another thing I miss is having a slate of movies to choose from with well-developed plots, dialogue, and pacing. Instead, we might get one good movie and several well-this-is-sort-of-okay-though-it-is-a-dumbed-down-adaptation-of a-well-known-book/inferior-remake/sequel-of-a-better-film. That’s why I love the adage at Pixar: “Story is king.” (They also have the twenty-two rules below.) I wish many studios believed that.

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How many movies did you see at the theater last year? What do you like or dislike about the movie-going experience? What movie are you excited to see this year?

Brooklyn movie poster from movieposter.com. Jurassic World movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Inside Out movie poster from movieweb.com. Finding Dory movie poster from screenrant.com. Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster from inquisitr.com. The Martian movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Zootopia movie poster from film-book.com. Captain America: Civil War movie poster from shockya.com. Movie theater clip art from clker.com. Pixar rules from gsartfactory.blogspot.com.

Happy Holidays 2015

024Well, it’s almost Christmas. As the well-known song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” While some might not believe that sentiment, I hope you’ve managed to avoid holiday stress. Perhaps like me you said “bah, humbug” to all of the holiday gift-buying rush-rush-rush and instead rushed to a theater to relax and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens unfold onscreen. (In case you’re wondering, I loved it.)

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This is the time of year when even enemies think peaceful thoughts toward each other.

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Based on the color of their light sabers, you can tell to which side of the force Kitty and Jordy belong. But despite their animosity toward each other, they wish you a joyous holiday season.

What’s also great about the holidays is the way total strangers extend holiday greetings. Like today. As I fought my way through the driving rain (happy winter) to head into the library, a guy who looked very much like Santa Claus (except without the red suit) announced to me that Birmingham, Alabama had a temperature in the 80s. “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas,” he added, probably in acknowledgment of his resemblance to Santa. Of course I checked the weather in Birmingham when I returned home. Since he was off by twenty degrees, obviously he wasn’t the real Santa. Still, it was nice of him to spread holiday cheer like that. I would never have thought to look up the weather in Birmingham, had he not mentioned that city.

Has anyone spread holiday cheer to you in an unusual way? If so, please share your story in the comments below. In the meantime, I wish you the joy of the season. May peace reign in your heart this week.

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P.S. The pattern for the tree at the beginning of the post can be found here. The pattern for the tiny star at the top of the tree is here.

Nativity image from priestsforlife.org. Star Wars: The Force Awakens logo from hngn.com.

Revealing the Darkness or Reveling in It?

The other day, a friend and I talked about how increasingly dark many stories seem to be across the board. By the bleak end of some of them, the chill of hopelessness had seeped into our veins and colored our outlook a dull winter gray.

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I don’t need to read a book to learn that life is hard. My mother endured cancer twice. My dad had cancer. My sister-in-law had cancer the same year her father died. I can’t have children and have been unemployed a number of times. I’ve endured bouts of depression and I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. Are you getting the picture that I know how difficult life can be?

So when life is hard, I turn to stories that remind me hope exists. They don’t sugarcoat the bad things that happen to people (like concentration camps; bullying by sadistic kids at school). But the resilience of the characters and their determination to rise above the bleakness of their times spur me to do the same.

kung_fu_panda_2_2011-wideRecently, I watched Kung Fu Panda 2, a 2011 animated film by DreamWorks. In it we learn how Po, a panda, came to live with Mr. Ping, a goose. Though I’ve seen this movie many times and tell myself, I will not cry this time, I lie to myself every time. I won’t give you a play-by-play of Po’s early life. You can watch the movie to discover what happened. But here’s what a soothsayer (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) said about Po’s beginning:

Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you *choose* to be.

This statement seemed hopeful to me. It acknowledged the sorrow of his past without negating the possibility of change in the future. It spurred Po to be the hero he was meant to be.

I found the following video by the Grace Foundation at Nancy Hatch’s blog in her post, “Sustainable Eating.” While Nancy had a different take on making the world better, the video was another reminder to me of the power of stories. This cow had a sad beginning too. But the video showed more than just a bleak situation. Just watch and see. It’s only a minute and a half.

Yes, we can write stories that reveal challenging times. But if that’s all we do—hold up a mirror to the corruption, the ugliness, the violence, the lack of hope—without once providing any kind of alternative thinking, where’s the power in that? Are we revealing the darkness or reveling in it?

Go ahead. Call me Pollyanna, Ostrich—whatever makes you feel better if hopelessness is your mantra and you want to spread that gospel. But I refuse to join your crusade. When it’s dark, I usually do what I need to do: I turn to the light.

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Hopeless image from barbwire.com. Oil lamp from fireflyfuel.com. Kung Fu Panda 2 from hdwallpapers.