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.

What Do You Take Seriously?

I’ll bet I know what you want—to know who won Meg Wiviott’s novel, Paper Hearts. If that statement totally confused you, click here to read the interview with Meg Wiviott and get caught up. All set? Can you wait a few minutes while I blather on a bit? Thanks.

Ant-Man-Movie-PosterA friend and I headed to the cheap theater to see Ant-Man recently, having had little time to see it in the previous month. I won’t spoil the movie for you, so don’t worry. Actually, this post isn’t so much about the movie as it is about a quote from Entertainment Weekly’s review of it. And yes, I will not spoil that either. The review, written by Chris Nashawaty, included this line:

Like Chris Pratt, he’s [actor Paul Rudd] smart enough not to take these films too seriously or fall prey to Marvel’s tendency to be morose and heavy.

Smart enough not to take these films too seriously. I could read all sorts of things into that statement. But I won’t. Instead, I’m reminded of a page from my own life—the second semester of my grad program, when I thought I was “smart enough” not to take something seriously. I handed my advisor a 126,000-word fairy tale I’d written before entering the program, feeling a bit proud of myself. She read it and gave it back. I’ll never forget what she said. “I liked some of it. But you need to take writing more seriously.”

I was all, “What you talkin’ ’bout, woman?” like Gary Coleman in the old TV show, Diff’rent Strokes. But after fuming, I realized she was right. I had written a parody of a fairy tale, rather than a fairy tale. With every silly scenario, I showed not what I loved about the genre, but rather contempt instead. I acted as if I was so far above it all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a slam against parodies. I grew up reading Mad magazine and watching Saturday Night Live. But what my advisor explained was that I needed to learn the hard work of writing a compelling story instead of merely poking fun at stories written by others—a fact evinced by my so-called fairy tale. (More like fairy stale.)

When author/illustrator Grace Lin visited my campus one semester, she showed some of her illustrations. If you’ve seen her books, you’re familiar with her cartoony style. But these illustrations were gorgeously complex like the border of the book cover below. As she explained, she had to learn the hard work of composition, design, and color in order to develop her own style. In other words, she had to take art seriously.

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Charles Yallowitz also comes to mind as I think of someone who takes writing seriously with his Legends of Windemere books. Yes, they have a lot of humor. If you follow his blog at all, however, you know he’s studied the fantasy genre for many years and regularly posts about the craft of writing fantasy novels.

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I took my advisor’s advice. Want to know something ironic? The middle grade book I’m finishing probably has more humor in it than that parody I wrote—the result of taking writing seriously. *shrugs*

What have you discovered recently that you need to take seriously? While you ponder that, I’ll move onto the winner of Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.

Paper Hearts  MegBarn1

That person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Geralyn of Where My Feet Are

Congratulations, Geralyn! Please comment below to confirm and email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail information and phone number for book delivery.

Nashawaty, Chris. “Ant-Man.” Entertainment Weekly 24 July 2015: 43. Print.

Ant-Man poster from fatmovieguy.com. Meg Wiviott author photo and cover courtesy of the author. Grace Lin book cover from Goodreads.

Shattering the Glass[es] Ceiling

Today I’ll reveal the winners of Smile, the middle grade graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. I have a surprise announcement about that. But before I get to that, let me distract you with this.

Not long ago, I watched a movie on the Hallmark channel involving an “ugly duckling” hero who turns into a swan. His hottening factor? Taking off his glasses at the suggestion of his dating coach. Suddenly, he’s Swoon City.

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Sigh. Remember this old maxim: “Men seldom make passes at girls [or in this case, guys] who wear glasses”? By the way, Dorothy Parker, famed writer/critic said that in 1937. Marilyn Monroe uttered a variation of it in the 1953 movie, How to Marry a Millionaire. I guess people still take that maxim as gospel. But I couldn’t help thinking that if the dude in the Hallmark movie had invested in a pair of stylish frames, he wouldn’t have had to take them off to be hot.

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I look better with glasses. You get it? I look [at things] better with glasses. Ha ha. Okay, I’m laughing alone here. Yes, I know the advantages of contacts. Many people love their contacts. I’ve tried contacts. My eyes simply don’t have enough moisture. So after much frustration, I returned to glasses and never felt happier.

Yet in some movies and TV shows, certain attitudes prevail about the wearing of spectacles. For example, the idea that people with glasses aren’t as attractive as people without them or seem nerdier. (Bet you’re thinking of the CBS show, The Big Bang Theory, right about now.) I’m here to announce that a paradigm shift about the limited appeal of glasses wearers is needed.

May I present Exhibits A, B, C, and D?

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© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation ryan-gosling-glasses

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. (You get it? Glasses case? Huh? Huh? Okay. I’ll stop.)

For a great article on the benefit of great frames, check this out:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2234931/Specs-appeal-Men-make-passes-girls-wear-RIGHT-glasses.html

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Now, I’ll reveal the winners of Smile. Here’s the surprise: I’m giving away THREE copies of the book, rather than two. I also have signed stickers.

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So without further ado or tired jokes, here are the three winners:

Andy Murray of City Jackdaw
Carrie Rubin of The Write Transition
Afton Rorvik of Afton Rorvik

Congratulations, winners. Please comment below to confirm, then email your street address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. If you would prefer an eBook, please send the email address you use with Amazon. Afton and Carrie, when you confirm, please tell me if you would like red, orange, or blue daisies. I will send two to each of you. (They are about six inches wide.)

Daisies

I’m sorry that I can’t afford to send daisies your way, Andy. But you will get a book. 🙂

Thanks to all who commented.

Triple Daisies

I’m working on more daisies. Sorry. The purple ones are spoken for.

How to Marry a Millionaire poster from doctormacro.com. Hot guys found at pinterest, swoonworthy.net, bookishtemptations.com, and blackdoctor.org. Dog with glasses from mrwallpaper.com. Eyeglasses frames from flowerhop.net.

“Too Noble to Be Cool”?

At first I planned to ditch this post, but changed my mind and finished it anyway. So here goes.

Charlie-Hunnam-King-ArthurAn Entertainment Weekly article on Charlie Hunnam, who stars as King Arthur in an upcoming film directed by Guy Ritchie, got my hackles up, especially with comments like this:

Arthur has a bit of a Superman problem: He’s too noble to be cool or dangerous, and he’s rarely conflicted. (Sullivan 23)

In order to make him “cool,” the filmmakers decided to tweak Arthur’s origin story to make him a “streetwise” orphan ala Oliver Twist. I can’t help but notice how making someone “cool” usually involves putting that person in the theft/smuggling trade ala Han Solo, Aladdin, Flynn Rider in Disney’s Tangled, or, come to think of it, Indiana Jones. He didn’t just “borrow” those artifacts from those temples, y’know. (Yeah, yeah. Archaeology. Blah blah blah. But it really depends on your cultural viewpoint, doesn’t it?)

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For some, a character is interesting only if he’s the bad boy or at least has an edge to him. In other words, if the character is an antihero. I call this the Han Solo Syndrome. Though I have a soft spot for Han Solo, Flynn Rider, Aladdin, and Indiana Jones, I’m wary of the proposed revised history for King Arthur. While the filmmakers have a right to do what they want with this film, an attempt to revamp the King Arthur story flopped in 2004, as the article pointed out. I don’t fully know how Ritchie & Company will adjust Arthur’s back story for this movie. Entertainment Weekly gave only a few hints (like the fact that the new Arthur will be raised by three prostitutes).

According to Hunnam,

You need to see a character grow, and you need conflict. . . . If somebody is walking around with noble aspirations and then they find out that they’re King of England, wonderful, but it’s all a bit boring. . . .

I agree with him about the need for growth and conflict. But the “boring” judgment call shows a sadly one-note view of “good” characters. I’ve written about this before.

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Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur

“Too noble to be cool”? “Boring?” The issue seems to be with the notion of the heroic archetype. I’ve seen this archetype challenged more and more in our so-called “enlightened” age. When I was a kid, we used to call a virtuous person a “goody-goody” if we wanted to make fun of him or her. If we don’t believe anyone can be that selfless and noble, we might say the same. But what’s really needed is a better understanding of the strength and complexity of good.

Since the EW article focuses on a guy, I’ll concentrate on guys. I know some really good guys—men and teens with faith and ideals. But not a single one of them constantly walks around humming and thinking “noble” thoughts about kissing babies and rescuing puppies. All of them struggle with temptation, fear, doubt—the usual stuff. None of them claims to be perfect. They make mistakes. Yet they strive to be good husbands, good dads, good friends—good people. Doesn’t sound boring to me.

Would anybody call soldiers, fire fighters, police officers—people who rush into danger and protect others—“a bit boring”? Yet the people in these professions work toward what’s good. Many have a strong sense of justice and a need to help others. Yes, there are some bad apples according to current events. But for the most part, you’ve got people who put themselves on the line for others. Many of us know people in these professions. We see their foibles as well as their bravery. Good fictional heroes can be like this. (I’m thinking of Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and Luke Callindor, Charles Yallowitz’s hero in Beginning of a Hero.)

An author’s job is to develop characters a reader will find compelling. I grew up loving the story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. When I was a kid, I read T. H. White’s book, The Once and Future King. I never found it boring nor did I find Arthur “too noble to be cool.” He made mistakes and sometimes doubted his leadership; yet he strove to do the right thing. I find that compelling. But the filmmakers seem to think he’s not macho enough, and hope that Hunnam and his hotness will make Arthur an action hero. (Okay, the photo on the magazine cover makes a convincing argument.)

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The jury is out on whether or not I’ll see the new King Arthur movie. I’m not sure when it’s due out. The actors are still in the process of filming it. The only question I have for anyone adapting the story of an existing character is this: If you find that character to be boring or uncool, and have to make a whole bunch of changes to make him or her more interesting, why adapt the story in the first place?

Sullivan, Kevin. “The Sword and the Stone-Cold Fox.” Entertainment Weekly 31 July 2015: 20-27. Print.

Charlie Hunnam from hypable.com and femalefirst.co.uk. Flynn Rider from tangled-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Harrison Ford as Han Solo from solidsmack.com. Once and Future King cover from Goodreads.

Every Dad Has His Day: Fiction’s Father Figures

016Here in the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday. (Happy Father’s Day again, Dad! And I hope all of you other dads had a good one too.) Though the day has passed, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s a list of cool dads or surrogate dads in fiction. This list is by no means exhaustive. I don’t have enough room to list every great dad in the history of fiction books, shows, or movies. Most of these are characters of recent vintage. So please do not yell at me for leaving out an era. I wanted to include dads from various media and eras. While they aren’t perfect by any means, they are beloved. To avoid too many spoilers, I listed their names, rather than elaborate on why most of them made this list. Got a favorite? Who would you add to the list?

Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (played by Gary Oldman in the movies)
Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Percy, Bill, and Charlie in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Mark Williams in the movies)
Atticus Finch, father of Jem (not seen below) and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (played by Gregory Peck in the film)

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Hans Hubermann, surrogate father of Liesel, in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (played by Geoffrey Rush in the film)
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes in Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). Even a supervillain can grow to love a child.
Eduardo Perez (El Macho) (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), father of Antonio in Despicable Me 2 (2013). He may be a villain, but he loves his son. And have you seen this dude dance? Me gusta mucho.
Tenzin (voiced by J. K. Simmons), father of Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, and Rohan (not seen below) in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014).

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King Théoden, father of Théodred; uncle and surrogate father of Éomer and Éowyn in The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (played by Bernard Hill in the 2002 and 2003 films)
Lawrence Fletcher (voiced by Richard O’Brien), father of Ferb, stepfather of in Candace and Phineas in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015).
Tonraq (voiced by James Remar), father of Korra in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014). He certainly wins a prize for being a hot dad. 🙂

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Korra with her parents, Tonraq and Senna

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire), father of Vanessa in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015). Though a villain, he too is a caring dad.
Elrond, father of Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien
The Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by Fred Shields), surrogate dad of Bambi in Bambi (1942)

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The Abhorsen, father of Sabriel in Sabriel by Garth Nix
Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong), adoptive father of Po in Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Philip Banks (played by James Avery), father of Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley; uncle to Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990—1996)

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George Banks (played by Steve Martin), father of Annie in the Father of the Bride (1991)
Iroh (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu and Greg Baldwin), father of Prince Lu Ten, uncle to Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)
The Samurai Lord (voiced by Keone Young and Sab Shimono), father of Samurai Jack in Samurai Jack (2001—2004)
Ward Cleaver (played by Hugh Beaumont) father of Theodore/the Beaver and Wally in Leave It to Beaver (1957—1963)
Dr. Eli Vance (voiced by Robert Guillaume), father of Alyx, in the Half-Life games (Valve)
George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), father of Zuzu, Tommy, Pete, and Janie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Honorable mention goes to Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), father of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, and Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), father of Rod and Todd, in the long-running animated series, The Simpsons (1989— ).

Dads Who Seriously Need Parenting Lessons from the Dads Above
Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke and Leia in the Star Wars movies. An otter can teach this dude a thing or two.
Firelord Ozai, father of Prince Zuko and Princess Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)

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See that burn mark on Zuko (left)? Guess who gave it to him.

King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Leck, father of Bitterblue in Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series. As creepy a dad as ever breathed.
Denethor, father of Boromir (not shown below) and Faramir in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (books and movies; in the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, Denethor was played by John Noble)

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Someone is not getting a Father’s Day card. . . .

Mac Dara, father of Cathal, in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series
Unalaq (voiced by Adrian LaTourelle), father of Desna and Eska in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014)
Lucius Malfoy, father of Draco in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Jason Isaacs in the films). Though he was a decent enough father to Draco, his unpleasantness and Death Eater status earned him a spot on this list.

If you have a minute, please enjoy this video of an otter who was voted Best Dad.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch found at searchingformymrdarcy.blogspot. Tenzin found on pinterest.com. The Great Prince of the Forest and Bambi found at fanpop.com. Denethor (John Noble) with Faramir (David Wenham) found at councilofelrond.com. Firelord Ozai and Zuko found at avatar.wikia.com. Gru and his daughters from bonclass.blogspot.com. Korra and her parents from w3rkshop.com. James Avery and Will Smith from tuneblaze.co.uk.

Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I have book winners to announce. But that will have to wait until the end of this post, since I was tagged by Celine Jeanjean at Down the Rabbit Hole to name my ten favorite screen characters. You can read her list by clicking here. Like Celine, I was supposed to tag others. But everyone I know is pretty busy. So you’re stuck with me unless you escape to Celine’s blog. Mwahahahaha!

This was a tough but fun assignment. There are many characters beyond those below who are favorites. I chose the following, because they inspire me in different ways. Since this list is in no particular order, I decided not to number it. Ha ha!!!

Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto)
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien’s trilogy and the film adaptations directed and co-written by Peter Jackson (2002—2003). I can relate to her sadness and frustration. Eowyn wanted a man she could not have. She also longed to do heroic deeds, though others tried to dissuade her. I love the fact that she refused to let the naysayers have the last word, thus proving a woman could be brave in battle.

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Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell)
He’s a supervillain with a big heart in the 2010 film written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons and directed by Tom McGrath. This film is a delightful twist on the superhero genre. I love the wonderful banter, the character design—basically, I love everything about Megamind’s journey in this film. He taught me that even supervillains can be heroic.

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The Incredibles/Parrs (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Spencer Fox)
I can’t pick one character. This family works as a team, and an awesome one at that. The Incredibles, a 2004 Disney/Pixar film written and directed by Brad Bird, was the “Fantastic Four” movie we really wanted. It’s one of my favorite movies period. I love the dialogue (which deftly showcased character), the action, and the pacing. It deserved the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Elizabeth Bennet (played by Keira Knightley)
Lizzie is my favorite in the book, so of course she is my favorite in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright). She’s a young woman who speaks her mind, even when she’s totally wrong. Keira, who was the same age as the character when she played her, was an inspired choice.

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The Doctor (played by too many actors to name here)
Turning to the small screen here. I’ve been a Whovian for many years—no matter who plays the time-traveling Doctor in the BBC show, Doctor Who. (There are films also.) The Doctor usually takes it upon himself to save the world. He travels with a companion, who is usually an Earth dweller (though not always). I simply love this show, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013. By the way, I loved it when it was still just a cult favorite. Lately, famed author Neil Gaiman has penned episodes of this show.

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THE ELEVEN DOCTORS

Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto [Japanese version] and Alison Lohman [English language version])
Princess Nausicaä is a creation of Hayao Miyazaki who wrote a manga series about her and made an environmentally conscious animated movie on her exploits: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). I’ve probably seen this film 20 times. Nausicaä is the kind of character who makes me want to be a better person. She’s selfless in her defense of creatures others despise. And when she needs to wield a weapon, she’s good at that too.

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Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
Every character Samuel L. Jackson plays is vivid and memorable. My favorite is Nick Fury, the beleaguered leader of SHIELD—a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—because I love his leadership in the Marvel movies, especially the first Avengers (2012), written and directed by Joss Whedon. His question to Thor, “I’m asking, what are you prepared to do?” sears me every time I watch this movie.

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The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series; voiced by too many people to name here)
Again, I can’t choose just one person, though Prince Zuko (below right) is dreamy. 🙂 This cast, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made the Nickelodeon series (2005—2008) one of my all-time favorites. Go Team Avatar!

Avatar-Cast-Collage-avatar-the-last-airbender-20397292-1024-683 Prince Zuko

Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen)
Whenever I think of a wizard, I first think of Gandalf. Though I love you, Harry Potter, Gandalf first claimed my heart. Consequently, I’ve read The Hobbit and LOTR dozens of times and watched all of the film adaptations. Gandalf is old, wise, and wonderful. And Ian will always be Gandalf to me.

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Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr)
Okay. I can admit to having a major crush on a cartoon character. I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart beats for Samurai Jack, a brave, selfless Shaolin monk who hopes to defeat the ultimate evil—Aku. This creation of Genndy Tartakovsky (2001—2004 on Cartoon Network) has inspired many, many artists, including Tomm Moore, the director of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

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Who are your favorite film or TV characters? While you think about that, I’m giving away a book by Charles E. Yallowitz featuring a character I hope will become a favorite of yours—Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts.

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There are two winners. And they are . . .

Phillip McCollum

and

Laura Bruno Lilly!!!

Congratulations, Phillip and Laura! If you’ll confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll have this eBook sent to you. I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon.

Eowyn from revolutionmyspace.com. The cast of Avatar from fanpop.com. Nick Fury from atlantablackstar.com. The Incredibles from thewallpapers.org. Nausicaä from nausicaa.net. Gandalf from nerdreactor.com and blockscreeningreviews.blogspot.com. Elizabeth Bennet from bookriot.com. The Doctor from cinemablend. Samurai Jack image from samuraijack.wikia.com.com. Megamind from worldsoforos.com.

A Place for Everything

A place for everything, everything in its place.
Benjamin Franklin

My bosses at various jobs over the years have made subtle hints about my messy office desks. (For example, “How can you find anything on this desk?”)

Messy desk

This is not my desk.

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This is my desk. Some writers, like Jill Weatherholt, Sharon Van Zandt, and Kate Sparkes have lovely work spaces. Welcome to your worst nightmare, kids.

Yet whenever I worked in-house, every time a boss requested a file or a book, he or she was always surprised when I plucked it instantly from beneath a pile of papers or other books, rather than having to search for it at least an hour. I’m messy, but I have my own weird storage/filing system. If you like, I’ll give you a window into that system via a little quiz. Answers are at the end if you want to skip the quiz and go eat gelato or something. (I would.)

1. You’re in my apartment and want a cup of coffee with sugar. Where would you look for the sugar?
A. In a canister on the counter
B. In the refrigerator
C. That was a trick question. I ran out of sugar.

2. You want to watch the blu-ray of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because there’s a song in it you’re dying to hear again. Where would you expect to find it?
A. In the DVD/blu-ray case in the living room
B. In the refrigerator
C. In a Christmas box on the floor

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3. For some reason, you need a clean, but mate-less gray sock. Where would you look for it?
A. On top of the dresser
B. In the refrigerator
C. In the garbage where it belongs

4. A freezing wind kicks up (you’re in the Midwest after all) and you want a scarf (or muffler, if you prefer) to wear. Where you would you look for one?
A. In this basket in the living room closet, bearing this label

006B. In the refrigerator
C. On top of some DVDs

There. Welcome to my world. I’m one of those people for whom the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” was coined. For some items, if I can’t see it, I forget I have it (hence the piles of books in my living room at eye level). For others—reference books for example—if I’m working on a project, I need to have them in a pile nearby for immediate access, instead of having to hunt them up in a bookcase.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m glad I don’t live with her. You wouldn’t be the first person to think that. Some people are good at keeping their environments neat and clutter free. I worked with people with pristine desks—desks so clean you could eat off them. But looking at their lovely, clean desks made my head hurt. No books, no strewn papers—not even a single hand puppet for that lived-in look!

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A hand puppet on my computer desk

Or one of these babies:

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The robot doin’ the robot. Work it. Work it.

Who could resist a robot??? But having a clean desk, my coworkers told me, gave them a sense of accomplishment, like marking something off on a checklist. I can respect that. And I tried to live like that, especially when guests were due for a big meeting and all of the cubicles needed to look ship-shape and uniform. But usually that resolve lasted for only a day or so, and then I was back to the strewn papers and hand puppets.

I used to drive my mother absolutely crazy when I was a kid. She’s very neat and organized and greatly despaired at the thought of having to use a machete just to enter my room. My locker in high school was pretty much the same as my room at home. And don’t get me started on my undergraduate dorm rooms. This aspect didn’t change in grad school either. Yet I could always find whatever I needed.

Right now, I need to find a library book that will be overdue unless I turn it in soon. I think I remember where I left it: somewhere near the refrigerator . . . or in it.

Clean or messy—which are you? How does this work for you?

In case you’re wondering about the answers to the quiz, they’re here: 1. B; 2. C; 3. A; 4. C.

If you comment below, I’ll tell you the why behind some of the answers.

Messy desk (first photo) from theguardian.com.