May Update!

May 5, 2022

May update!

  • Reminder to check out my page on Patreon.
  • This month’s lesson, going up next week: Outlining for Pantsers. Do you outline, do you not, should you, does it matter? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and why don’t we ever talk about people like me who land right in the middle? Well, this month I will.
  • The image above is April’s “If I Want to Eat That Thing on the Great British Baking Show I Guess I’m Going to Have to Make it Myself:”  lime-mascarpone panna cotte. Shockingly simple, decadent, will make again, especially if I want to be FANCY.
  • I try to plan out my writing, I really do. Remember how I was going to finish a novel last month? I did not. Instead, I put it aside and started work on a shorter piece that’s been in my idea file for a long time. Just trying to clear some brain space. Ultimately, I don’t suppose it much matters what I’m working on as long as I’m working on something. This is what happens when I’m not on deadline.
  • Here’s an interview I did with Carol Malcolm, who runs the Urban Fantasy Track at DragonCon. Good stuff!
  • May 14th is the Global Big Day. Birders all over the world head out to see how many different species they can spot in a single day. I love it because it’s goal oriented and motivating. I set my alarm and try to get out early, which I normally don’t do. I’m going to try to break 50 species this year. Let’s do it!
  • It’s finally rained in my stretch of Colorado. Hurrah!
  • Movie I saw:  Everything Everywhere All At Once is great for lots of reasons: a middle aged woman at the center of it, accounting as a plot point (my long-time readers know I have a soft spot for accounting in spec fic stories), and completely gonzo in ways I’ve never seen before. It also does a thing that’s really hard to do: it’s a good science fiction film and a good allegory at the same time. (Colossal is another film that does both at the same time pretty well. Snowpiercer and Another Earth are two films that try to do both and fail pretty soundly at both.) It’s a story about traveling across multiple alternate realities. It’s also about family, particularly the fraught relationship between mothers and daughters, and the moment (which I’m approaching myself) of realizing that more of your life lies behind you than in front of you and what are you going to do about it? Really big themes, but also completely off the rails, incredibly well acted, and just well put together all the way around.

It’s May. Spring heading into summer. Let’s go out and have a good month, y’all.

April Update!

April 1, 2022

  • Reminder to check out my page on Patreon.
  • This month’s lesson will be on length. Writing long, writing short: do your short stories keep turning into novels, or do you have trouble expanding your ideas into longer work? How do I move back and forth between lengths? Let’s talk about it.
  • Sale! Dark Divide, the first Cormac and Amelia adventure, is on sale in ebook this month only. Amazon, Nook, Apple. Check out it, spread the word!
  • I saw an art exhibit last weekend, Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper, which is at the Longmont Museum here in Colorado until May. All paper and multimedia artworks. Really inspirational. Particularly the paper and fabric work of Yuko Kimura. Makes me want to play around with some things. I have lots of arts and craft supplies and I’m always looking for new ways of using them.
  • Slowly heading back to the movies. Last month I saw Death on the Nile and Cyrano, a couple of old stories told with current stars. They both looked spectacular. In Death on the Nile, Branagh returns as Poirot, along with an amazing cast, and it’s all fine, but I miss David Suchet’s Poirot. His was iconic. It’s a little like how I’m happy enough watching other actors play Sherlock Holmes, but Jeremy Brett will always be my Holmes. In Cyrano, everyone is talking about Peter Dinklage, and rightly so. But I wish the film had been able to maintain its energy through the second half. It got long, and a little tiring. I think part of this might be inherent in the story – there’s a point when all the characters just start acting really stupid and it’s frustrating.
  • And then my fridge died this week. It turns out it was almost thirty years old, so it was time. But boy it’s annoying.
  • Back to work. I’m going to try to finish this novel draft by the end of April.

update!

January 27, 2022

A couple of announcements!

Reminder that I’ll be doing more posting over at my Patreon.

I’ve spoken before about the Odyssey Writing Workshop, which I attended back in 1998, and how it gave me a big boost to getting my career started. After two years of going virtual, Jeanne is changing up the format to take advantage of those virtual resources, and also to make Odyssey more accessible. Taking off six weeks to go to a workshop just isn’t possible for a lot of people. So… if you ever thought about applying for the Odyssey workshop, but weren’t able to take the time, check out the new format and scheduling and see if it might work for you. I’m excited to see where the workshop is headed.

And a movie review: I made it to the theater (weekday matinee FTW) to see Spider-Man: No Way Home and I absolutely loved it. Its high energy, fast pace and laser focus on its own mission are such a contrast to Eternals. What a relief.

SPOILER: And the massively subversive plot beat in the second act is so, so good. We’ve got an honest-to-god rogues gallery, all Spider-Man’s previous villains lined up (and how much sheer acting talent and experience is in that room in that moment), and they all realize they were taken out of their universes at the moment before they were killed — and Peter realizing that sending them back will guarantee they’ll be killed, and he can’t do that, and how about instead we get these guys the medical and mental health care they need to repair the damage that was to do them by accidents that weren’t actually their fault… Oh hell yes, that’s a story.

SPOILER OVER

I’m actually excited about the MCU again!

Patreon Link

January 17, 2022

Okay, here it is! It went live over the weekend, and now you can see what I’ve been working on:

I’m creating a Writing Symposium on Patreon

I’m already feeling some improvement in my motivation — I’ve set this up with a structure and deadlines that will encourage me to get work out. I suddenly realized that I haven’t had an external deadline — someone else telling me they need X work by X date — in a year. While I’m usually really good at setting deadlines for myself, I think that muscle has been getting tired. This is going to provide some accountability. Let the experiment begin!

I’m also starting to watch movies again. At home, anyway. Some thumbnail reviews:

Eternals. Oh, sweetie. Where to start. It’s beautiful and elegiac. And hits so many of my pet peeves in the first fifteen minutes that it was hard to keep going. 1) Opening scroll containing information that a character repeats in dialog a little bit later. (MCU, you know better than this.) 2) Huge, vast, expository lumps. In fact, the second expository lump is basically “Oh yeah, that whole first expository lump was all wrong, so here’s another one, delivered in exactly the same cosmically overbearing way the first one was.” and 3) Look, I just really really need people know that agriculture had been established in Mesopotamia well before 5000 BCE, along with domesticated animals, stone walls, and early urban social organization, so telling me that it’s 5000 BCE Mesopotamia and then showing people digging in the dirt with sticks and banging rocks together is just deeply offensive. I know I’m a little sensitive to this because I’ve been studying the Neolithic period kind of a lot for the last few years. But really, all they needed to do was say it was 10,000 BCE and I wouldn’t have had a problem. Or as much of a problem, anyway.

To be fair, I think there’s a good story in here about a family facing a moral conundrum and members coming down on both sides of it in a really tragic way. But we have to wade through a lot of awkward to get there.

The Tragedy of Macbeth. This is here to remind us that cinema can be art. The design on this is black and white, Modernist, spare, shockingly beautiful. Bergmanesque. Washington and McDormand are fantastic. They play the couple as really in love, and their mental breakdowns in the last half are understated, swift, and brutal. This is not my favorite Shakespeare movie, but it’s a really really good one.

I didn’t make it to the theater for this one, which is a bummer. I’m still deeply out of the habit of going to movies. I’ve missed so many, including the latest Bond. I’ve now missed two MCU films on the big screen. Still not sure I’m going to make it to Eternals, but I think I want to try. Ugh, things still feel so weird.

I have a very obnoxious one-line review for Shang-Chi: In a reversal of the usual pattern, an Asian hero who is the rightful heir to a mystical legacy travels to the West to learn the ancient art of… sarcasm.

Anyway. This movie is just fine. It’s really pretty. Great cast. Fantastic fight scenes. Chock full of Chinese lore that brought to mind the research I did for Kitty’s Big Trouble. (I’ll pass along one of my biggest sources because I suspect it was also a source for this, which is the Classic of Mountain and Seas. The secret village seems very much like something that would have been described in that work.) Yet another dead mother. *shrug*

I’m a little confused about the Ten Rings as a terrorist organization now, and how what we’ve learned about it here connects up with what we know from the Iron Man films. Because I gotta say I was really super into the idea that the Mandarin was invented to stereotypically conform to western fears about foreign threats—specifically designed to be a deconstruction of Orientalism, which was freaking brilliant. I think I conflated the Mandarin with the Ten Rings, while it’s more accurate to say the powers behind the Mandarin appropriated the Ten Rings, which it turns out is a real terrorist organization that’s been around for a thousand years? *recalculating, recalculating*

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, Just a bit confusing. Ultimately, it works because Shang-Chi really bought in to its own story. But I also get the feeling that the MCU kind of doesn’t really know what to do next, and is going to end up retconning a lot of what came before. And on that note we come to Eternals, a group of super-powerful people that we just never heard of until now?

Meanwhile, between this and Snake-Eyes, I propose we are entering an 80’s Ninja Aesthetic Revival that is long overdue.

Dune (2021)

October 25, 2021

I’m annoyed at the number of people declaring this the best science fiction film of all time, because it’s not. Not even in my top ten, I don’t think. Mostly because it isn’t really science fiction – it’s epic fantasy that happens to take place is space. Like Star Wars. Paul is basically a Jedi, but that’s a discussion for another time.  

But it’s also just an okay film. It’s very, very pretty, and it gets the job done. But I didn’t feel a whole lot of anything about it when it was finished.

Here’s the problem with Dune, and I think it’s baked into the story:  we know what’s going to happen pretty much every step. The characters tell us what’s going to happen, almost continually. And then it happens, pretty much just like they said it would. House Atreides is taking possession of Arrakis. We’re told that this is a trap and they’re being set up to fail. And then they fail. We’re told, almost from the start, that Paul is probably the chosen one, and it’s confirmed almost continually that yes, he is the chosen one.  (I think one of the really endearing things about Luke in Star Wars is how often he fails. He screws up kind of a lot. But it’s the way he keeps trying and struggling that makes him a hero. We watch to see what he does next, because we’re not always sure what that’s going to be.)

Here, I’m never worried, I’m never surprised. And I can’t tell if it’s because I know the story too well or if it’s just that predictable. The characters are moving through pre-ordained motions with little apparent agency, and little emotional investment as a result.

This isn’t foreshadowing, it’s something else, and it sucks the tension right out. These productions then attempt to replace tension with awe:  long, lingering shots of landscape, of giant ships, alien sandworms, really luscious set pieces and imagery.

But if you’re a jaded skeptic of these kinds of stories like me, the awe might not work, and I’m left feeling, well, nothing. This film is emotionally empty. In exactly two moments, I felt an emotion start to take hold, and it was so startling it actually distracted me – wait, I’m feeling something? Two hours into the movie? Well, how about that.

The invasion and attack on the Atreides was really frustrating (okay, I guess that’s a third emotion I felt) because the outcome was a foregone conclusion and they set up a really shitty defense. Duke Leto wandering empty halls alone trying to figure out what’s wrong? Where are his personal guards? Don’t know, don’t care, evidently. The entire army leaving their back wide open? Shitty, shitty. No wonder they lost.

But that’s picking nits. We all know this has to happen for the rest of the story to unfold, and it does, exactly on schedule.

Another thing that’s driving me bonkers about the ecstatic gushing about the film all over social media is the declaration that this is somehow a better adaptation than the Lynch film, when probably 85% of the scenes in this movie can also be found in the Lynch film, some of them shot-for-shot and word-for-word. If you’re going to claim that this film is a good adaptation then you have admit the Lynch one is as well, at some level.

Really, though, this is only half the story, and I think I’ll need to wait to see what they do with the next one before I pass final judgment. Because dammit, yes, for all my lack of enthusiasm I’ll go see the next.

For a lot of this year I’ve been doing that thing where I don’t want to watch new things, I want to watch old comfortable predictable things. But this weekend I blew through a bunch of stuff I’ve been meaning to watch for literally years. I’ve been avoiding them because I knew they would make me cry, and they did, but at least I can talk about them now.

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Okay, I know this isn’t a biopic. Well, it’s a fictional biopic. It’s still about music and musicians, anyway. Basically, this is a movie about how Gen X is hoping like hell that Gen Z saves our asses. This is a movie about how we very much believe they will.


Bohemian Rhapsody

Not totally satisfying. It’s quite disjointed, mostly made up of episodic vignettes about how Queen came up with their iconic songs, alongside Freddie Mercury’s trials and travails.  But the Live Aid recreation is just as phenomenal as everyone said it was. My favorite thing about that sequence is how much time the camera spends on the faces of the other band members, plainly showing their love for Freddie, but also their deep concern, and their wonder, which all contribute to this sense of something epic unfolding. I love ensembles, and this was a good scene for an ensemble.


Rocketman

The best of the bunch. It’s set up as an actual musical, which meant the film could be surreal as well as deeply emotional, and it felt like it had an arc. I adored how the background music riffed on “Yellow Brick Road” throughout, but when it came time to actually sing the lyrics, it was Bernie who sang the song, not Elton John.

Analysis

Both movies still kept to the rock star biopic formula:  extraordinary rock star plummets into drug and alcohol use and self loathing, alienating the people who really care about him while being manipulated by an evil mercenary lover, who must be repudiated before the star can reunite with his true self and friends. And/or he dies. (I’m so deeply glad I ended this series with Rocketman, where Elton is still alive and happy and successful. It’s ultimately an uplifting film, which these movies often aren’t.) What is it with rock stars and these stories that we’re so willing to watch over and over and over and over and over again? It’s some kind of twisted modern version of the Hero’s Journey. We love these movies because we love the people/characters they depict, but there’s a sameness to the story that I find frustrating.

Also: these two films are structured exactly the same.  Both films begin at the climactic moment. Just dipping in. Just a hint, a scene of the star marching to his destiny, full of his own aura. In Freddie’s case, to the Live Aid Concert, in Elton’s, to rehab. Then, the rewind. Going back to the start, so we can follow the path all the way out and then end up at the climactic moment in order, now with the context fully laid out.

This is so interesting to me. Different approaches in terms of presenting the content, but the structure is the same. I think Rocketman is more successful because it goes on to use rehab as a frame story in which to tell Elton’s history, which gives the movie a lot of cohesion.

Big Mood

Me spinning up Bohemian Rhapsody:  Ugh, I know I’m just going to sob my head off if they play “Somebody to Love.” (Film begins with that song) uuuuuuggghhhhhh.


Me spinning up Rocketman the following night:  Ugh, I know I’m just going sob my head off if they play “Yellow Brick Road.” (Film begins with instrumental riff of that song) GODDAMMIT

Snake Eyes

August 16, 2021

I did it, I went to another movie in the theater! This go-around, we timed it right and had the theater to ourselves–probably because no one else wants to see this one. Which is too bad, because it was great.

Please be advised that by “great” I don’t mean “this was a good movie,” because it’s kind of not. But I did enjoy it a lot, and while it followed G.I. Joe canon about as well as the previous two live-action movies did, which is to say, not at all, it still captured a lot of the tone and spirit of G.I. Joe — depending on which iteration of G.I. Joe you’re talking about, of course. (It’s all far too complicated, really.)

In this, the iteration is that stretch in the early ’90’s where the comics became obsessed with ninja and suddenly everything was all ninja and Cobra Commander’s son was a ninja and Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are friends but then they’re not but then they are again and —

This is the stretch where I stopped reading the comics, BTW. I actually kind of hate ninjas.

So how does the movie pull it off? By replicating the aesthetic of all those crazy ninja movies from the 80’s. I’m not sure people now realize just how many ninja movies there were in the 80’s. There were a lot. A lot. And this film lovingly recreates a bunch of those tropes with modern visual sensibilities, including way too much shaky cam, but I’ve pretty much given up the shaky cam fight. Sigh.

My big worry going into this is it would try to pretend like it wasn’t a G.I. Joe movie at all. I shouldn’t have, because about halfway through, Scarlett and the Baroness show up, and so do snake head logos stenciled on crates of illegal guns, and it’s definitely a G.I. Joe movie as well as being a recreation of an 80’s ninja movie and seriously, what’s not to love? This film is what it is, knows what it is, and gets the job done.

And I now ship Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow so hard, and I challenge anyone who sees this not to do the same. The nice thing about having the theater to ourselves is I could basically shout “Just kiss him already!” at the screen several times without bothering anyone but my long-suffering friends. (So, I just looked up Henry Golding, the actor who plays Snake Eyes, because I’d never seen him in anything and it turns out he’s primarily done romcoms? This explains much.)

I also sort of ship Scarlett and the Baroness now too? So weird.

Other things to know: This film pretends like the previous two live-action G.I. Joe movies don’t exist, which is probably for the best, and I guess we’re just going to keep rebooting these until one of them hits, but I’m suspecting the fandom just isn’t big enough to make one of these hit. I’m thinking now live-action G.I. Joe should be a TV series that can develop multiple characters at once and play with storylines that aren’t McGuffin-driven.

This film passes the Bechdel Test. I know, right?!

Ninja Grandma. Just sayin’.

The Green Knight

August 9, 2021

Seventeen months, almost to the day, since my last time in a movie theater, I finally made it back. How was it? Well, I rented out a whole theater along with 15 friends, all vaxxed, which made it economical and relatively safe and a whole lot of fun.

And I’m very, very glad this is the film I went back for. It’s gorgeous, haunting, strange, arresting, with an immersive soundtrack that’s half traditional song and half weird ambient. All great. If you have a chance to safely see this on the big screen, it’s worth it.

This is based on the 14th century English poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” which is my very favorite piece of medieval literature. I spent a whole semester in grad school on this poem, so I wasn’t going to miss the movie. So, how was it?

I have to tell you, this is a really great adaptation, faithful to both the plot, content, and tone of the original. Whoever would have thought?

The best medieval literature hits this intersection of pagan folklore, Christian theology, and classical aesthetic. The world of the medieval story is full of signs and wonders that must be taken for what they are, but also represent much more:  God and truth and faith and love and sex and honor. I think “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” hits that intersection better than just about anything, and the film does too.

The film gets all the iconic moments just right. The Green Knight’s entry into Arthur’s hall, the beheading and aftermath—absolutely perfect. The arrival at the castle by the Green Chapel and the dubious shenanigans there—also just about perfect. This is one of those cases where I’m sitting in the theater thinking, are they actually doing this? Are they going to go there? Please don’t pull the punch, don’t pull the punch…. The film goes there and does not pull the punch. It’s spooky and weird and uncomfortable—just like the poem! It’s great!

One of the things I love about the poem is it’s a little bit subversive—it pushes back against a lot of Arthurian lore about chivalry and honor and larger-than-life everything. It’s a smaller story. A Christmas story. And its basic message is:  Look, kid, it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to make mistakes. Maybe these chivalric ideals that are driving you aren’t realistic and don’t actually work all that well in the real world. Maybe step back and let yourself be human.

The movie gets most of that, giving us a flawed hero who gets in way over his head, but at the end he’s learned the lessons he was meant to and comes away understanding that heart and honesty are more important than external ideas about honor. The poem (I think, anyway) is affirming and uplifting. The film doesn’t quite get there but it gets close.

There’s a bit at the end where I almost checked out, where it took a turn into grimdark and tragedy and despair—but then I realized, this isn’t real. Gawain has been moving through liminal worlds full of signs and lessons, and this is one too. And we come back from that brink, ending with a Gawain who’s come out the other side a better person.

I also love that the movie doesn’t explain itself. I’ve gotten so used to movies where the characters all stand around explaining things to each other, and here’s a movie where nothing is explained, it all just happens, yet is clear and enthralling, and yes, more like this, please.

Almost from the start, this reminded me of The Seventh Seal, which is one of my favorite movies. Antonius and Gawain both move through haunted landscapes and encounter scenes that shock them, that they are helpless to influence. Or their influence seems so small they have to wonder if it’s even worthwhile. There’s little they can do but move on. These are films that use their modern artistic cinematic languages and sensibilities to immerse us in the strange dream worlds of their medieval milieus.

Watching both these movies feels like reading a medieval text, full of beauty and oddness and symbolism and meaning. They reward your attention.

Black Widow

July 19, 2021

Okay, so, I didn’t actually make it to a movie theater for this. Long story. So my friends and I broke down and watched it at the home of the friend who has the 65″ TV. With White Russian cocktails on hand, naturally.

Now, on to the film.

The Short Review:  So wait, is this like Mirror Universe Incredibles?

Yes, the best parts of the movie were very much like a Mirror Universe Incredibles, with this weird dysfunctional superfamily that somehow still manages to come together. I’m really glad nobody got killed off because it would be nice to see the family again at some point.

Other than that, and I hate to say it, but the movie is kind of a mess. A series of McGuffins stringing together a series of action set pieces, which is fine. But you know, we’re going to roll a car in this scene, so a couple of scenes later we’re going to roll a car and have it plunge down the steps of a subway. Action scene inflation.

And the climactic confrontation was so, so very dumb, it just pissed me off.

Spoilers Ahoy!

When Natasha confronts the big bad, Dreykov, the sadistic mastermind behind the Red Room training regime that produces unstoppable women assassins, she discovers she is physically unable to kill him – because of a “pheromone trigger.” The women are all conditioned so that smelling his pheromones makes them incapable of harming him.

Like…that isn’t how that works? That’s not how any of that works? But okay, I’ll give it to you if it goes someplace interesting.

Where it goes:  Turns out Natasha knew about this ahead of time and was told she needs to sever the nasal nerve so she can no longer smell him. So Natasha breaks her own nose, to sever the nerve I guess?

And I’m thinking…you could have just, like, shoved kleenex up your nostrils? Or, I don’t know, you’ve got these super high tech face masks that completely change your face, and tiny ear comms, and amazing weapons, and…maybe someone could have rigged up some kind of pheromone filter that fits in your nostrils? Or picked up high-grade filter breathers from Home Depot? Or shot Dreykov from the doorway before smelling him? But no. Natasha smashes her face into a desk to break her nose. And then fixes it herself later, which I guess unsevers the nerve? I dunno.

This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. I’m embarrassed for whoever came up with this. It’s like the filmmakers went with their first idea and just didn’t think it through. At all.

And now, my deconstruction of this film’s take on kick-ass women.

Every single woman character in this film is a brainwashed/conditioned from childhood assassin. All of them. (With the possible exception of the post-credits scene, which I’m not actually counting, because I mean really.)

One of my least favorite tropes is the one that says that in order to be kick-ass and physically aggressive, a woman has to be traumatized. Every single woman in this film has been traumatized. There’s no alternative.

I mean, sure, it’s about empowerment. Natasha wants to destroy the Red Room to free all the abused women, her sisters-in-spirit. She wants them all to be able to make their own choices, to live the lives they want to live. She says this all the way through the movie.

So what do both Natasha and Yelena do with their freedom, what choices do they make once they’re free of the Red Room? They continue being murderous assassins.

Natasha’s distinctive black fighting togs, and her red Black Widow symbol that has been her own personal trademark as part of the Avengers, for the last decade? Turns out all the Red Room assassins wear similar black fighting suits, they’re all called widows, and they all use that symbol.

Natasha has been wearing the uniform and symbol of her oppressors all this time. Everything we thought was distinctly Natasha’s actually isn’t, it turns out.

I kept thinking about Wonder Woman, which also features a special cadre of amazing kick-ass women, but the difference in tones is…breathtaking. The Amazons of Wonder Woman are joyously empowered, celebrating their strength and abilities, in service to their own cause. And this film shows us other ways women can be brilliant and empowered, through Etta Candy and Dr. Poison.

In Black Widow, the cadre of kick-ass women is tragic, victimized, controlled, oppressed. And as much as I dearly love Natasha, her own tragic character arc raises the question of whether their liberation is even possible.

I wish someone behind this movie had thought some of these things through.