Monday, December 21, 2015

There has been an awakening...

**MANY spoilers were used in the making of this review**

It was a Star Wars weekend for my family.  And it will probably continue on into a Star Wars month.  I mean, these films must be seen on the big screen!  I must also say that seeing the film a second time helped increase my opinion of it.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

There were many surprises in this film.  There were also some earth-shattering shocks.

The Initial Viewing:   

The previews left me wondering if I would like the character Finn.  Despite my hesitation, I really loved both Finn and Rey (especially Rey).  They were a great duo.  Of course, another great duo truly led this film to greatness… as Han and Chewie stepped onto the Millennium Falcon, the theater audience clapped and cheered.  And the two really stepped up their game.  They were hilarious in their banter and charming in their comradery throughout the movie. 

Ace pilot Poe Dameron did not make much of an impression on me.  He kinda fell into the ranks of Wedge, which is fine.  He had some attitude, and his wit when confronting Kylo played well.  I can tell he’ll be featured more as the story progresses, but for this film, he was totally outshone by his other half of this third duo: Poe & BB-8. 

BB-8: Wow.  My favorite part of the film was BB-8 giving a thumbs up.  Hilarious!  It’s amazing how a character that speaks no English is easily understood just by the tilt of the head or the energy behind their mechanical beeps.  He was definitely a fun, heartwarming, and a really likeable droid along the lines of R2, who was absent for almost the entire film sadly.  But BB-8 is the type of humorous character who is necessary to the plot line and also holds your interest throughout the story.  He added some lightness to a world darkening around the main characters. 

In terms of imperials, I think Phasma and Hux were two characters that should have been combined into one: Capt. Phasma.  I found Hux to be a worthless character who whined and held almost no significance to the plotline.  He gave an order.  Yippee.  He made a speech.  Not impressive.  Someone else could have done the same things he did.  His character was so 1 dimensional that he could easily have been replaced with someone else.  We’re not talking Grand Moff Tarkin here who oozed power and malevolence in Episode IV.  That was a part that could only be played by Moff Tarkin whose actions brought about the destruction of Alderaan and definitely heightened the tensions of the original film.  Hux should have been left on the cutting room floor.  He was like a whining teenager, “Kylo did this, and I thought we should do this.”  Phasma and/or Kylo could have performed his duties easily.  He carried no significance and just felt like wasted space. 

Speaking of Kylo… I have never hated a Star Wars character more than I hate him.  When you have a new character kill a beloved original, there is no going back from that.  There is no redemption.  I want him to die (my lightsaber is changing to red as we speak!).  He may be the son of Han and Leia, but he needs to be gone.  His murder of Solo caused my daughter to cry for the rest of the film, and Han is not even one of her favorite characters!  The silence in the theater after the bridge scene was ominous.  It was heavy and sad.  Han was the guide of this film for Finn and Rey, much like Obi Wan in Episode IV.  He gave them confidence and hope.  Rey was beginning to find a future with Han and Chewie.  Darth Vader may have killed Obi-Wan in Episode IV, but we did not have episodes I - III to get to know the character prior to Obi’s death.  Han’s death is a huge blow to fans like me.  Even my husband who was never a huge fan of Solo and always preferred Chewbacca shared in my abject hatred of Kylo after the movie. 

While Darth Vader killed off the Jedi (a feat Kylo is hoping to complete), including children in training, as well as Obi-Wan, his motivation initially was to save the woman he loved.  He truly believed he was doing what was necessary to save Padme from death.  He was misguided, and he was also pained when he had to kill.  You could see in Anakin's eyes that it hurt him to do these things, but he did it with the belief it would help him save Padme.  Anakin was not able to save his mother in time.  For Padme, he would do whatever was in his power to do.  In Episode VII, Kylo comes off as a spoiled child who throws tantrums when he does not get his way.  The audience has not been told of his motivations.  What caused him to hate his father so much?  Maybe we'll know in a subsequent movie, but at this point, his character is not showing any redeeming qualities.  He's a jerk and a bully.

But the moment I had been waiting for was Princess Leia.  I had grown up as a child wanting to be her.  Seeing her 30 years later was a bit of a reality shock, especially seeing that Leia and Han have now separated.  Also the fact that the fictional development of their relationship has largely been destroyed (the ‘alternate reality’ excuse is keeping my memories from reading those books alive) was a shock.  I kept hoping that perhaps they would twist in the long-loved fictional narratives of the children of Han and Leia and their ongoing relationship as husband and wife.  Instead, the relationship has been fractured and their lives largely separated.  I felt like Luke when he learned the horrible truth about his father and found myself wanting to cry “NOOO!”  I was also hoping to the extreme that Leia would be an active force user.  Luke said in ROJ that she would learn to use her power as he did.  Sure, she’d still lead the resistance as their general, but she could wield with a lightsaber now versus a gun, right?  Unfortunately, none of this really came to fruition. 

Women in Science Fiction:

In a recent article by Meredith Woerner, Tribune News Service (link provided below), the role of Princess Leia “ignited the hearts and minds of little bun-wearing heroes across the galaxy.”  This definitely included me.  Finally a woman in the early 80s had an active role in fight scenes and intellectual planning.  There were so few of these types of roles in film, especially in science fiction (my favorite genre).  I was also so mad at the way women were portrayed, particularly how they were dressed. 

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

“Return of the Jedi” is my favorite Star Wars film.  While this film is largely ranked last in many fans’ opinions, my rank is largely due to the fact that Princess Leia’s role was impactful.  She was actively, physically fighting against the Empire throughout the film.  She was on the ground storming the Imperial base with the troops, she snuck into Jabba’s palace as a bounty hunter and started a thermal nuclear detonator to get her way (and protect her cover too), she choked Jabba the Hutt to death, she climbed on a speeder without hesitation to shoot down some stormtroopers and stop their team’s presence from being reported (even Luke hesitating in taking such action), she even got shot and still was able to take down two guards like a sniper!  In ROJ, finally, she was a participant in the main action of the film.  Looking at the first film, yes, she broke free from the stereotypical ‘damsel in distress’ role as she minced words with her captures, resisted torture methods to reveal the location of the hidden rebel base, and helped take control of her own rescue when things went awry.  Still, when it came time for the final battle, she sat on the side lines.  In “Empire,” she was largely running away to meet up with the fleet after their escape from the Hoth battle.  And while she showed immense courage staying behind and directing the Hoth offensive, literally being dragged from the command center by Han Solo, she did very little to move the plot along in the film.  Though her escape from Bespin was pretty epic with her marksmanship and, again, needing to be dragged away from the battle as she shot down Stormtroopers still her role was different from Han’s and Luke’s in that during the biggest showdowns of the movie, she was kept “safely” on the sidelines.   Though you did get to see her piloting a bit in Empire as well, “ROJ” gave audiences a new look at female heroines in film.  It’s sad to read in Meredith Woerner’s article that there were female X-Wing pilots filmed but then left out from the final film in the editing process.  Did George Lucas wonder if they would not be accepted by a largely male audience?  Too bad he did not realize how many young girls were also sitting in that same audience and how much those pilots would have inspired them.  That was one of my main critiques about the original films: no female fighter pilots.  The films had bridged other gaps, but fighter piloting was never crossed.  Seriously, no women want to help free the galaxy outside of Princess Leia and (very minimally) Mon Mothma? 

When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” came to television, I found an instant favorite in Tasha Yar - a tough, strong-willed security chief for the flagship of Starfleet.  Then… she died!  Damn, I was so upset that the actress chose to leave her groundbreaking role.  Since that time, the roles of women in Star Trek continued to be minor.  I could only imagine what “might have been” if Tasha Yar had stayed.  It wasn’t until “Star Trek: Voyager” that women really took the front seat in this franchise.

“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”

So what will these new films offer young girls, like my own daughter, when they sit down in an audience filled with crazy excited adult fans?  Actually, something pretty wonderful. 

Rey, one of the main characters of the film, is the best addition to the SW canon since Mara Jade appeared in Timothy Zahn’s best-selling series “The Thrawn Trilogy.”  After seeing the film, everyone in my family agreed that Rey was the best character of the movie.  What’s great about her is that she’s tough, independent, loyal, and still vulnerable.  She goes through quite the journey in “The Force Awakens.”  Her battle with Kylo Ren is definitely the perfect climax to the film.  There is so much more to her, and I will barely be able to stand the wait for the next film to find out what more there truly is!  It’s hard to describe how great her character is, and this short paragraph barely does it justice, but without her, I highly doubt this film would have connected with me the way it did. 

There was a lot of hype around another female character in the film, Captain Phasma.  Unfortunately, her role was rather underutilized.  I’m glad to read in the Woerner’s article that she will be returning.  However, I hope her role finds substance.  Perhaps she can shove Hux down a trash compactor. 

The Second Viewing:  

Yep, I dragged my kids around town to find seats to a show the next day.  I just could not process everything without another viewing.  After the first wave of information and plot twists, I was able to sit back with less tension and observe. 

The characters truly are great.  Han and Chewie steal the show with their team performance.  But Rey and Finn are close by and lead the plot along through many great character moments.  Both have to closely evaluate who they are and how they want to live their lives.  Do they want to spend their time waiting on hopes and dreams, do they want to run from the conflict and find a safe place to escape, or do they want to fight for the people and things that are ingrained in their hearts.  As Han Solo says, “The galaxy is counting on us!”  No pressure, right?    

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

There are also those “moments of awesome” that help to define the Star Wars movies.  My favorite part was definitely near the end when Rey called Anakin’s lightsaber to her after Kylo was unable to.  There is great power in this moment.  For one: Anakin’s life was not only darkness.  There was goodness and love.  The legacy he would have wanted when he returned to the Force would be one that Rey was following and not Kylo. And two: Kylo spent a few moments during the movie talking with the remains of Vader’s helmet and asked for guidance keeping the light away and for strength in the dark side that Vader found.  But Vader’s true power was ultimately in saving his son.  It was his last moment that even he acknowledged before his death to Luke, “You were right about me.  Tell your sister, you were right.”  Luke’s sacrifice helped Anakin find the good still buried within him.  And Rey’s sacrifices were a part of what called that saber to her. 

As the battle between Kylo and Rey builds, Rey finds a moment to reflect on the Force and this newfound inner strength that has become her guide.  She closes her eyes, focuses, then opens them again and totally kicks his butt!  Now, I was also a little concerned during this moment because, even though you hear Luke’s theme playing in the background, her face is contorted in anger.  I think perhaps a shadowy reflection running across the screen revealing Rey’s thoughts and illustrating what she’s fighting for would have helped to make certain her intentions were not along the lines of Anakin instead of Luke. 

I also found the differences in the lightsaber blade interesting.  Kylo’s was scratchy and jagged.  Whereas Anakin’s was smooth and straight.  Found the difference in construction interesting. 

“Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.  I sense much fear in you.”

I was given pause watching both Finn and Rey become experts in the art of sword fighting after picking up Anakin’s lightsaber.  However, I found Rey’s moment of fighting back against Kylo believable.  When Kylo was battling Finn, he was mostly toying with Finn.  When Rey took on the fight, she was mostly deflecting his strikes until she focused for a few moments and was able to beat him back.  She has experience with a saber-like weapon already via the staff she wielded on Jakku, so its not a completely foreign object for her to use.  In addition, Kylo was mentally unstable at that point also.  He had killed his father but still needed to smack his gun-shot wound in order to rally his inner pain and suffering for the fight.  He also watched an untrained woman call his grandfather’s lightsaber into her hands when he had failed just seconds earlier.  All his training was nothing compared to her strength of character.  And his anger towards her only seems to weaken him.  This is a subtle point that I think is easily missed: Kylo wants to find strength, but his anger has not been enough to gain him victory.  There is something more powerful than his anger, and he refuses to see it because it would mean admitting guilt to his actions.

Overall, there were a few other standout disappointments for me with this film:

1. John William’s score was less than impressive. 
It’s the same music as the past films, but that’s also the drawback.  I love Luke’s theme, Leia’s theme, etc., but there was nothing new and fresh for this film.  Watching “Empire Strikes Back,” the audience was introduced to “The Imperial March.”  In “Return of the Jedi,” the music that played when Luke stepped onto the gangplank over the sarlaac pit was amazing.  In “The Phantom Menace,” you had “Duel of Fates” which blew your mind.  We’re back once more for “Star Wars,” and the music did not feel as if it captured many moments.  There were a few times when it played up a scene or two, but overall, the music did little to enhance the overall film.  That surprised me. 

2. The “Dark Lord Gollum” (as I have dubbed him).
What. The. Hell was up with Andy Serkis’ character?  He looked like a “Lord of the Rings” character being projected into the wrong franchise.  I kept thinking orc every time he was on screen.  While none of the Imperial officers really stood out for me, Snoke was such a disappointment visually.  I really hope that look improves in subsequent films because I’m not buying the look at this point. 

3. Planets destroyed?
Was Corsucant destroyed?  There was not any time spent on mourning the loss of these planets.  It looked like 4 or 5 got blown?  The impact that this act carried was never really expressed in the film. 

“Patience you must have my young Padawan.”

I do also have a wish list for the next movies though:

1. I was sure the word at the tip of Rey’s tongue at the end of this movie as she stood facing Luke was “father?”  I was hanging on the edge of my seat waiting for the final bomb.  Perhaps this is a discovery for another time?  I just hope the “mother” will be called Mara Jade.   However, anyone who can call Anakin’s lightsaber over Leia’s son would most likely be Luke’s daughter, in addition to the reasons listed above regarding that moment. 
2. Leia needs to wield a lightsaber.  Please.  I just really want to see her use her abilities for more than sensing other people.  Maybe she’s a healer or something.  But let the Force flow through her in some way!
3. Get rid of whiny Hux and have Phasma take over the Imperial Fleet.  She is definitely an “action-oriented” officer who will get stuff done instead of waste time whining about what someone else did that she didn’t like.  

“Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.”

In the end, the movie was great.  I cannot rank it over the original movies; however, it definitely stands out as a great film in the franchise. 

As Yoda indicates in this above great quote (which I use often), “try” assumes a level of uncertainty in a task.  I believe J.J. Abrams is definitely “doing” great work.  I know there is more to come that’s going to be fantastic.  I think characters and relationships are going to make the storylines even better going forward. 

Link to a great article (referenced above):

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Faith, Trust, and... wait, no, HOLD the Pixie Dust, please!

I’ve have been working on this blog entry for weeks now.  November was a BIG month for my family.  We had many ups, we had a few downs, and there was very little breathing space in between.  Now my brain wants to do nothing but rest for the last part of the year. 

By all appearances, November seems like a rather calm month.  Sure, there’s Thanksgiving, but that’s near the end.  Otherwise, it’s always been more of a time to relax before the Christmas season overwhelms us all.  Christmas seems to rear its head sometime in early October.  So really, November seems to be one of those months that cruise gently along the waves between Halloween and Christmas.  Of course, I say that as someone who has not hosted Thanksgiving.  I tried once.  We do not speak of it… and cooking is not my forte. 

This year, November brought with it expected and unexpected challenges.   The expected: I signed up to do the NaNoWriMo challenge… and I did it!  It’s nice when someone other than yourself proclaims (about yourself) “I’m a winner!" Outside affirmation is nice! 

I was trying to accomplish NaNo goals while caught within a flurry of kid rehearsals and performances for piano and school plays, so carving out writing time was like running the mile some days.  Freaking. Impossible.  I had ideas that would pop into my head randomly, so sometimes in the middle of church or work or at a rehearsal I’d have to grab a pen and paper to write down a spark of “genius.”  I also had the good fortune of participating in a local author event at our local library!  That was definitely a highlight for my author personality!  

But the unexpected came before the month had reached its mid-point.  The second week in November we learned my mom would have to undergo surgery.  For a year, she had been having pain in her head and neck region.  The doctors had chalked it up to arthritis.  However, a PET scan finally revealed a brain tumor which would need to be removed surgically.  Talk about shocking, scary news.  My parents have always been healthy people, so this was the first time I’ve truly had to consider... well… the possibilities of their mortality.  It makes my stomach sick just to type the word!

For me, my parents were my rocks growing up.  I was never afraid to be who I was around them.  I could wear Spock ears or write stories for my Star Trek writing club all day, and I always felt accepted and loved.  If Harry Potter had been around then, I would have run around the yard with a wand and wizard cape casting spells upon my younger brother (“stupefy!”).  My parents were pillars of strength and models of love, a blanket of comfort when I needed it, and a constant positive force of encouragement in my life.  To have to face the reality that, well, they are in fact mortal human beings with a limited tenure on earth… just like all mortals out there including me… well, it didn’t seem possible. 

Then the day came: surgery day.  It was Black Friday.  (Yes, the day after Thanksgiving.  We all felt a lot of gratefulness that day!).  What can you do as you sit and wait for a 7-hour surgery to be completed? 

This, actually, was not my first time having a loved one undergo surgery.  When my daughter was born, they found a moderate to severe heart condition that could require surgery as she got older.  Five months later, she was having open heart surgery.  The most difficult moment in my life was handing my sleeping baby over to a nurse who would bring her to surgery.  It’s one of those moments that you know will change the course of your life, and you are powerless to do anything to alter the direction.  The only things you can hold onto are trust and faith.  Trust in the doctors who are caring for family.  Faith, be-it in God or karma or something greater than yourself, that no matter what happens you are not alone and you will get through this trial.  

Faith and Trust... makes you wish for a little Pixie Dust, right?  That's the saying to make one fly to a land where childhood and innocence is forever.
Actually, Disney intervening in life is scarier than you may think!  A friend and I were recently talking about “The Good Dinosaur.”  If you have not seen it, let me warn you know that there are some tear-jerking moments, and there are *spoilers to follow.*  It seems like most Disney & Pixar movies now surround a main character who loses/has lost/is missing a parent.  “TGD” was no exception.  Other examples include “Toy Story,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King,” “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Bambi,” “Tarzan,” “The Jungle Book,” “Finding Nemo,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6,” on and on!  Why is this??? “Inside Out” seems to be an exception to the general rule of losing a family member.  “Brave” is close, but the threat of losing mom is prevalent throughout the movie.  Thinking about this made me even more concerned about my mom’s surgery.  These moments of loss have permeated children’s entertainment!  After watching “The Good Dinosaur,” I could not help but long to see for a fun, goofy, lighthearted film.  Where’s “Minions” when you need it?  This is not what I want to watch right now!  **Spoilers over**
As I met my dad at in the waiting room on Black Friday, I think at that point both of us had cast our cares up to God.  We trusted Him with our precious family member.  We talked, shared donuts, watched a couple helicopter landings on the roof across from our waiting room, and just spent time in each other’s company.  Soon enough, my brother and his wife (my sister from another mister!) joined us.  We sat and talked. 

I found the most comforting thing outside of being with family was doing the things my mom encouraged.  That included continuing my writing.  Envisioning myself in her position, I would not want my family sitting around worried all day for something that was out of their control.  The anticipation for the end of the surgery was tremendously overwhelming.  While getting some writing done was my goal for the morning, I was surprised to find that when I charged up my laptop to type, the words seemed to pour out. 

It’s clear that my mind needed the release.  It needed a new focus to get through a situation where I was powerless to do anything but pray (which is a big thing too, I understand, but it’s not something I can do for 7 hours).  I also wrote when my daughter was undergoing heart surgery: I worked on some children’s books I had been developing. 

Writing is a joy and a privilege in my life, but it’s also a comfort.  It’s a way to really dive into one’s feelings and pour out your heart.  When I was in college, my art form was dance.  When I was upset or hurting, I found that releasing my feelings through movement was extremely beneficial.  Now it’s writing, and I know it’s a gift from my parents.  It’s something that I can always find strength and comfort in when they’re not around.  And it’s a means to connect with them when they are far from me.  It’s a way to express my feelings in an environment I control.  My story outcomes will not change what happens in my life, but it will help in times when emotions swell up and threaten to drown me. 

I’m happy to say that my mother’s tumor was benign.  She is now home and recovering. Praise! 

I hope when life throws such challenges my way, I will face them with the courage that my mother showed.  Days and weeks will move on by, and these moments will collect dust as time passes by, but perhaps I will find this example of strength and courage emerge in a future writing project.  I am truly inspired by the family I was born into, and I hope that my writing, and my life, will always reflect that.  

I know that throughout my life, I will need to continue to work on keeping up my faith and trust.  But I no longer need the pixie dust.  My heart is soaring with joy already.  I may love a good Disney/Pixar movie every now and then, but I've come to realize that I certainly do not want my life to BE a Disney/Pixar movie.  Unless its Star Wars... that'd work. Just call me Princess Leia and get me my lightsaber.  You know the Force is strong in my family, right?  

“All of our lives were a story; their magic came in their retelling. Words could give life everlasting rebirth.

I would accept this challenge. I would use my breath to give life.”
- The Forgotten: Aten’s Last Queen

Monday, October 19, 2015

The One Wrong and the Two Doors

I’m not sure how often life makes you stop and go “wow.”  I know my kids have given me these moments, sure, but in terms of grace being shown randomly, that’s rare.  I just had one of these moments, and I wanted to share the experience.

The week prior, I was sitting at a stop light waiting to make a left turn.  There was no green arrow for these lights.  So I waited and inched forward.  The car across from me did not have his signal on, but he took a left turn.  I did not turn because I could see the guy behind him also did not have his signal on, and he could have been going straight.  Well, he didn’t go straight either…  That’s when the person behind me began to blare on his horn.

I knew who the person was.  He was a regular on my bus.  We’d been on the same bus for years.  Though we have never spoken to each other, I had seen him outside of work and attempted to smile.  It had never been returned.  I knew he drove a white truck.  And I knew it was that truck behind me wailing its horn.  And it was not just one honk, it was a long and insistent blare until I finally made my turn.         

I was so angry.  It really ruined the next hour for me because I felt so disrespected.  It was rude and, well, he was being a complete jerk.  Excuse me for being a cautious driver, right?  Could he see what I was seeing?  No.  He was seeing people turning and me not turning.  Could he observe the absence of a blinker like I could?  NO!  I could not guess where these people were going. 

Well, this morning, the infamous driver of the truck sat right next to me on the bus.  How dare he!  Boy, I was mad.  I was also slightly horrified.  He must have known it was me he was honking at, right?  I did not even look at him.  I kept my eyes either on my tablet (until the bus started rolling because I get motion sickness if I read in a vehicle) or in the complete opposite direction of the truck driver.  I wanted to say something, but I pushed down my anger.  I could not change him being a total jerk.  At least, that was my train of thought, so why bother saying something and starting an argument at 7 in the morning? 

Finally we arrived downtown and got off the bus.  I was still flustered and thinking it was going to be an annoying day.  I got close to the doors of my building.  A man, also heading to work, reached the entrance before me.  I barely registered him as I was so clouded with my own internal frustration.  Then the man opened the doors, turned around, and said to me, “Here you go,” sweeping his hand to indicate I should enter.  

Talk about surprised.  Talk about having the wind blown out of your sails!  My anger became completely unbalanced.  In its place came a smile, and I responded to the other person, “well, thank you!” 

Feeling a weight off of my shoulders and thanking God for the gift of kindness I received, I headed towards the employee elevators.  Such a small thing, a random person opening the door for another, but it lifted my spirit.  I was not encumbered with bags or anything that might indicate I needed help.  The gentleman just offered a courtesy to a passerby.  Thus, feeling a lot better, I approached the doors to the staff elevators. 

But the grace was not quite over.  Another man reached the doors to the elevator bay, opened them, and then waited for me to get there, holding it open so I could walk through.  I was not quite to the entryway, so he was holding them open for a few seconds (not like I was right behind him).  Yet, he saw me approach and offered me a kindness.  Again, shocked and smiling, I gave my thanks. 

Wow.  I rode the elevator feeling immensely touched and humbled.  I knew there was a special hand in these events.  A morning that was once filled with anger and thoughts of snapping back at someone ended in total gratefulness. 

How long do we hold on to our anger?  It can affect our entire day if we let it.  I was poised to let one encounter from a week ago ruin my day.  Instead, I was reminded that there is more in life to see and to recognize.  Why was that one moment in time still weighing me down? 

Seen the below illustration before?  It speaks to me, but it’s also very easy to forget!

Reading negative reviews of one’s book can have a similar effect.  I know I’ve made mistakes, but I try to read through the reviews and see what I can learn from them.  However, I cannot read all of them.  Some are just plain mean.  But when people have a platform which gives them room to critique without any sort of consequence, it’s very easy to go negative.  Soapboxes are everywhere!  And this is fine but it can be hurtful to others, with or without the reviewer realizing it.  I don’t think reviewers know that the authors do read the reviews.  Typically, they’re written for other readers.  That’s how I used to write them.  Thankfully, a few reviewers have helped me to update the latest version of my book I’m planning to release.  Their critique pointed out errors in grammar or word placement that I had missed.   

If only we could look at all negative situations like that, but it’s hard to see the learning moment when we’re frustrated and hurt.  It’s hard to put in the effort to see past mean words and glean a nugget of hope to build upon.  It’s a skill that takes practice.  Honestly, I’m not quite there yet.  My skin is not that thick. 

When I was honked at, I was surprised and also confused.  It wasn’t a honk alerting me to approaching danger, it was a honk of annoyance.  It clouded my judgement, and I almost turned in front of someone else who actually was going straight.  I could have hurt myself by letting my frustration control my actions.  And I had let that feeling stay with me. 

This morning, I was reminded that I cannot necessarily change the way others will treat me.  However, I can change my outlook.  Instead of taking offense to negative reviews, I can remind myself that I worked hard and created something unique.  Not everyone is going to like it and that is fine.  I like it, and I’m proud of what I wrote.  I can let go of my anger.  I can offer kindness.  I can give a smile.  I can choose patience when someone is slower than me.  That’s what I can do.  I can even open a door for a stranger.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Women of character: in this world and in galaxies far, far away

One of the great debates between my son and I is this: "Who is better, Princess Leia or Padme Amidala."  The clear winner in my book is Leia.  For my son, a 12 year old who saw the Prequels first, its Padme.  

My son faults Leia for many things that were simply unrealistic for the time period she was written in (like flying an X-Wing in Episode IV).  He does not understand (nor would I expect him to) the time period in which Princess Leia was written.  I remember watching Star Wars wanting to be Leia.  For a while, I insisted Princess Leia was my name and that my parents should address me as such.  Leia could match wits with scoundrels and imperial commanders, she could be tortured by the empire and still keep her side buns firmly in place and looking great, she could engage in a fire fight like the boys she traveled with, she could pilot a space vehicle, she would choose to stay behind as imperials storm their Hoth base just to make sure everyone is evacuated, she rode a speeder bike at top speeds through a forest she's never been through before, she helped lead the assault on Endor's moon, and she kept cool under pressure as would be expected of a princess and senator in times of personal stress.  Seriously, she kicks butt!  And for a girl growing up in the 80s where the typical female movie role was to look pretty and scream while they're being saved from some dashing man?.. Leia was the toughest chic on the block, and she was a princess.  None of that Disney princess stuff either.  She's what a princess should be.  

By all accounts, you would think I'd like Padme.  She's not afraid to make tough decisions, she is a strong leader, she can hold her own in a gun fight, and she lives to serve others.  Along with many of the traits shared with Leia as mentioned above, she's got some good stuff to her name.  So what's my problem?  Episode III.  In the end, Padme "loses the will to live," even after giving birth to two healthy babies, and dies asking Obi-Wan to save Anakin because "there is still good in him."  Wait, what?  Then why did you die???  You gave up, and then you're are you asking someone, holding your baby you're leaving behind, to fight your battle for you??  This is a serious issue with me.  Despite the fact that Natalie Portman did a poor job acting in Star Wars, I believed the character could have been redeemed.  But Mr. Lucas took the easy way out and killed her without any reasonable cause.  He spent the entire prequels to that point establishing Padme as a strong leader for the rebellion, and then she... just... dies... 

In Episode VI, Luke asks Leia, "do you remember your mother, your real mother."  Leia first of all should be asking, 'what the heck do you mean by real mother?'  Clearly, that line was forgotten about when Episode III was being filmed.  I thought for sure that Padme would continue the fight for a few years to try to save Anakin but that eventually the Emperor would kill her as she pleaded for Anakin to save her.  Parallel to Luke's battle in Episode VI?  Hmmm, perhaps... Could have really been a heavily emotional scene.  However, the character of Padme was never given a chance to fight for love.  She simply gave up.  Yet what did Leia do when her man was taken away?  She walked into Jabba's palace and turned on a thermonuclear detonator!!!  And that was only to stay in character as Boushh the bounty hunter!  She ended up choking Jabba to death, probably also for exploiting her physical traits instead of her mind (stupid bikini) as much as putting a bounty on her boyfriend's head.  Padme couldn't have done a little storming of an imperial base to try to rescue Anakin from his dark path?  One disagreement and its over for you?  My son can overlook this ridiculous ending to Padme's life, but as a mother, I have a real issue with it.  I like to see strong motherly characters on screen and in the pages of my books!

When I pick up a book, its partially for the storyline but mostly because of the characters.  I enjoy reading about women in historical times overcoming odds, developing into wiser people, and finding meaning in their lives.  One of my favorite books is "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."  There is not a happy ending to this tale of friendship, but there is a lesson that the main character learns.  It was heartfelt, it portrayed women surviving in a horribly abusive world (wait until you read about foot binding), and its about character growth.  Wow.  This book had the "it" female factor for me.  You may check out my review on my website:

Another book I was excited to read was "Bitter Greens" about a female author, Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who wrote the most commonly known Rapunzel story.  It wove back and forth through three different women's lives.  Unfortunately, the book seemed to spend more time on who was sleeping with who or who was raping who than about women using their inner strength and tenacity to create something beautiful in a harsh world.  I got so sick from all the sex scenes.  There was so little characterization.  As I wrote in my review, What motivates Charlotte-Rose? What inspires a story for her? Is it something she heard gossiped, is it while she's riding horses, is it remembering her life growing up? This is what I want to read. Bed fellows should take a back seat to this. The "Afterward" shares that Charlotte-Rose wrote a collection of fairy tales. Where did these other fairy tales arise from? There was little to no exploration of Charlotte-Rose's imagination other than a story briefly told at a salon in one chapter.

So many books about historical female characters weigh heavily on women being fondled or bed frolicking, and I seriously do not want to read it!  I want to read about women overcoming obstacles using their own personal skills (and we are not talking skills is bed) and wisdom.  One reviewer on commented that books with large amounts of sex or religious beliefs should be labeled as such.  I agree.  I hate it when I pick up a book and then get smacked over the head with steamy love scenes.  Huh... did I pick up a bodice ripper?  I thought this was supposed to be about Juliet's nurse???  

Wait a minute... how in the world did I get from Star Wars to here?  Simply put, its all about the portrayal of women from page to screen.  Growing up when I did, I've seen a LOT of growth for women as years have passed.  There's still a bridge to cross every now and then, but its so different from the 80s where women characters offered very little to the movie plot lines in action/adventure stories.  And those were the stories I wanted!  

Will the debate go on between me and my son?  Most likely.  He will always like Padme better than Leia.  He feels she did more in the story.  That's partially due to the time the movies were filmed and the expectations Mr. Lucas was writing under.  Leia actually set the bar high, so when he created the mother of Leia and Luke, she had to be very strong willed and assertive.  Unfortunately, the story for Padme ended without any character growth.  It ended in a sacrifice that did nothing to help those around her.  And she gets the worst mother of the year award.  That's not the example of a 'strong female character' I want my kids to get behind.

So when I read about female characters in books or watch them on screen, I want a story that shows off some courage, be it courage in taking a first step to a new school, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of others, not giving up when all hope seems lost, or escaping a Death Star, whatever.  There are many examples of courage.  Choices are not made easily, life is hard, but through personal strength and wisdom, obstacles can be overcome and dreams can be achieved.  Did "Snow Flower" have a happy ending?  No.  I do not expect a happy ending all the time.  However, I do like something that shows growth.  Characters come out different by the end, and the journey is made sweeter when you reach that final step.  

Here's a few books other than above that I would recommend in which I feel get females right (click on the names to view my review on my website)

Gwendolyn's Sword

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Make it so... right now.

Has anyone else noticed that we're living in a culture of "now?"  Let me give you a little background:  My daughter will often say something to the effect of: "Mommy, I'd like to learn to knit."  Typically, my response would be, "That sounds like a fun idea."  She will then reply with, "I want to learn now."  And when she says now, she means that instant.  She actually expects me to go find my knitting needles, wherever they lurk in our storage closet, and start showing her 'the ropes' of knitting... or sewing or buying her school supplies, etc.

This isn't a one-time expectation either.  I often find myself trying to untangle a web my daughter has woven around me.  She asks to do something, and its not meant as a planning statement.  There's no putting a pin in anything.  She expects me to get up that instant and "make it so."  I'll be the first to admit that some days I can be a little slow to start.  However, typically she's trying to get me to do something right now when I'm already in the middle of something like book editing or writing or reading (three of my favorite things!).

My daughter is 9 years old.  She does not have an email or a Facebook page account, but she does play on the internet.  She has a Webkinz account and some other accounts on sites recommended by her school.  Remember when we were thrilled to play the super exciting and fast-paced Oregon Trail?  Yea... you get my sarcasm...  However, my daughter learns how to navigate the web.  They work on math problems, watch educational videos, and actually have homework to complete on school-recommended sites.  I rarely find text books in her classroom.  While practice work is in a work book, research projects are rarely done via the library.  And let's face it, doing work on the web gives them instant answers.

Instant answers!  No more looking things up in the alphabetical index at the back of the book to find the page number where the topic I want is discussed and then slowly flipping over to page 65, oops - that's page 67, couple more licks of the finger and flips, and there!  My answer! 

Nope.  Its an easy search-engine answer.  Type: Knitting + *click* = Multiple links appear like magic.

I can understand why my daughter is constantly asking to do something "now."  She's being trained that if she wants something, she can click a website and find out the answer.  This too easily translates into home life.  If she wants to learn something from me, she expects it to be done now. I try to say, "I'm sorry, darling, but a skill like knitting is going to take time. Its not a quick here's what you do, here are the needles, have fun!"  It takes work.  And work is hard!!!  It takes dedication and perseverance.

When working on my first novel, there were times I was frustrated with a writing block or a plot point I was having difficulties resolving.  A few times, I just wanted to call it quits for a few months!  However, there was a VeggieTales skit that kept running through my head about perseverance (we like VeggieTales at our house).  It was the silent film skit about a piano delivery man trying to carry a piano up a ginormous flight of stairs.  When I began to get frustrated, I replayed that skit in my head.  It helped me keep moving.  Honestly!  It just took a simple recharge with some humorous entertainment.  Even if I could not solve something right away, I made a point to at least work on something - whether it be another scene, research, or reviewing publishing options.  I kept my eyes on the prize.  And it worked!

Onto teaching my kids... wow, its quite an uphill battle that they do not want to undertake.  Remember when our parents talked about the uphill journey to school and back from school - both ways?  Parents of today face this challenge with getting our kids to work at finding an answer and to engage in things that are not instantly resolved.  On top of teaching them that mommy's tasks cannot be instantly set aside for something they want which is not urgent (like a bleeding limb or homework due within an hour or tickets for Episode VII that went on sale)... but that's another topic!

Not everything can be answered simply and quickly.  Many answers come by thoughtful musings and personal discoveries.  This is a skill they will need to practice.  They will also need to see it modeled through me.  I talk to them about my writing and how hard it can be (even now with book 2).  I hope that I can give them a focus and determination to work past the "now," past the google-quick answers, and past the simplicity. 

Maybe we should all start teaching our kids to write a book!  It takes a lot of work, re-work, and research.  It takes time and effort.  But the end proves to be incredibly rewarding.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Keeping those quackers from getting lost

I recently read an interesting article on a CreateSpace blog.  Here is the link:

The gist of it: To avoid getting lost within your own creation, create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis that you update as you progress.

Isn't funny how when you read something, a light bulb goes on.  I couldn't put it into words before, but now that you say it...  But in truth, I've noticed my own difficulties in keeping my story straight.

I keep a timeline of events for my historical fiction so my ducks stay in a nice neat line, especially since I'm working in B.C. time and the years work themselves backwards.  However, I can easily forget which chapter I placed a certain event.  I have the year for an event on my timeline, sure, but did I remember to put it in this chapter from 1341 or that chapter from 1341?  Did I foreshadow an upcoming event or not?  Momma duck is losing her ducklings and fast! 

As if I need to write a story to realize how easily I get confused!   Its easy to get so far ahead of yourself that you begin to lose your way.  So poor little gray duck, purple duck, and polka-dot duck cannot find the path I took as I'm no longer in their line of sight (its duck-duck-gray-duck, not duck-duck-goose!)

I definitely need to start doing this.  Here is the synopsis for Aten's Last Queen's first two chapters.  Perhaps it will be a good guide for you as well.

Chapter One: Both Shadow and Light, 1341 B.C.

The story of Tutanhkaten’s birth is retold by Ankhesenpaaten as it has been told to her. Nefertiti claims the title of Mother of Tut, and his birth mother, Henuttaneb, is erased from the record.  Nefertiti’s fears are briefly shared.  Ankhesenpaaten’s older sister, Merytaten, appears to be the heir to the throne, and Tut is placed in the care of a nurse named Maia, who has lost her husband and a child previously in an accident.

Chapter Two: Let Not The Heart Be Troubled, 1340 B.C.

Ankhesenpaaten and her sister Meketaten are playing together and discuss how they envision their futures. 

Time moves forward to 1338 B.C.  Merytaten’s role as future heir has become more intensive, and the only time Ankhesenpaaten shares with her is at school.  However, they come to love a song performed during one of their classes that brings tears to their eyes. 

One of Pharaoh’s wives, Kiya/Tadukhipa, has her father visiting.  There is a festival taking place in the palace to celebrate his arrival.  Meketaten insists on buying a good luck charm for their Mother who is pregnant again.  Ankhesenpaaten meets a Canaanite boy at the market stall.  They share stories of their lives, and she feels attracted to him.  But she is rebuked publicly by Meketaten for it. We are also quickly introduced to Marahkaten, one of Pharaoh’s lesser daughters.

As there is a lot of world building and character identification in the first few chapters, some synopses will be longer than others.  However, I am going to have to go back and start this.  I can see how beneficial this quick-reference tool would be.

Do you have other methods to your madness?  Please share!  Anything to help keep my little quackers from getting lost in the momentum of the story.  Because if they get lost, I'm guessing the reader will also get lost.  And that's definitely something as an author I want to avoid.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

First live appearance!

What a blast!  I was able to promote and sell my book with a group of local authors.  There is a weekly city event that hosts food vendors and artists from around the area.  This week I got to be a participant with the Rochester Authors Group booth!  And there are a lot of great books out there too.  Check out some of the talent:

I have never actually sold my book "live" before.  Typically, I just wait for a Bookbaby update on my sales.  But being able to speak with customers and autograph their purchases (personalizing them and everything) was so thrilling!

I love talking about my book and ancient Egypt and the writing process.  Today was fun.  Granted, standing for almost 3 hours was hard on the feet (it reminded me of how my feet hurt after the first day at Disney World!  That's an ache!), but it was so gratifying.  

I cannot wait for next week. If you're in the area, come on out!!! 

Friday, June 26, 2015

To Pen Name, or Not To Pen Name…

I recently had an interesting conversation with fellow authors in my area.  I was asked why I chose to go by a pen name: J. Lynn Else.  It’s a good question.  Why do we choose the names we do?  That is, if you do!

One of the authors said that when he sees initials in a name, he felt it looked very scholarly.  He felt initials gave off an air of knowledge.  That, of course, made me smile.  Of course it’s because I’m so smart!

I actually wanted to go by a pen name because, well, Jessica is not all that exciting a name.  As one of the 2 most popular first names in the 1970s, I’ve heard it a lot.  I was always surrounded by either Jennifers or Jessicas.  So I wanted to pick something that stood out, like I want my writing to stand out.

I actually called upon my friends on Facebook and asked their opinion on a number of possible pen names with various forms of initialed or non-initialed aliases.  There were J.L. possibilities, Jessica Lynn possibilities, and then choices of maiden or married name.  In the end, J. Lynn Else was one of the choices with most votes.  But most importantly, it was also the name I felt most drawn to.  It felt right – like the way I wanted to be represented.  Getting feedback certainly helped, but the end choice was mine. 

So what’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  While a true sentiment, Juliet, for your Romeo; however, as an author, its one of the few things your readers will see on your book’s cover.  You get the title, your name, and a pretty picture.  It’s just one piece of a larger puzzle in your efforts to build an audience.  

So what name represents YOU?  Perhaps you have an awesome first name as unique as the style of clothes you wear.  Perhaps not.  But whatever you decide, its just one way readers view your book. 

That person sounds well-educated by their name.
That name is so classy!    
That name is so very ordinary.
That person sounds they come from a rich family in the Hamptons!

Obviously, I’m not option #4.  But I would not mind options #1 or #2.  

So…  to be, or not to be pen named?  That is the question. And what dreams may come once you’ve decided!