Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas!






And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Presents!

Is it strange that, at thirty-one, I still more or less do a happy Snoopy dance at the thought of Christmas presents?  I love buying them, wrapping them, opening them....  You'd think after all these years I'd have outgrown the excitement of Pretty Paper!  Ooh yeah! 

Speaking of presents, I have a story about one that happens to be true.  

Once upon a time, about two years ago, as it was getting on toward Christmas, my dad was taken to the hospital with pneumonia.  Its funny how you don't think anything will ever touch your parents until suddenly it does, and then the world turns... strange.  You kind of numb everything out until you can deal with things again.  So there I was with the world turned numb and gray and hard to process, with a presentation for my last day of the collage semester. 

If you are taking classes and something bad happens in your personal life, it will always be either before a presentation, or a major test.  This is a Universal Law. 

 I made it through the presentation and I don't think anyone noticed that I was only half there, so it was a success.  Later one of the other students gave me a gift and told me how much she appreciated me.  I was stunned.  I don't think I reacted right -I barely reacted at all.  I was too stunned, it was so unexpected.  Her kindness absolutely got me through the rest of the day.  I had planned to go home and stare at the telephone all day, waiting to hear updates about my dad.  Instead I gathered my brothers and took them out Christmas shopping at the mall, and got pizza.  When mom came home from the hospital she didn't find me with my nerves stretched taunt from phone-watching.  I was relaxed enough to help her relax.

The job of presents is to show people that you're thinking about them.  Words work as well or better.  It's really easy to underestimate how much it can mean to a person to hear that they've been important to your life.  I know I don't tell people that often enough. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Love Languages



A little while ago I watched a scyfy movie called Alice. The story is a modern girl falling into a dystopian version of Wonderland.  Under all the trappings, the plot is a basic love triangle.  There's Jack, Alice's real-world boyfriend who has more connections to Wonderland than first appears, and Hatter, a sort of con-man who acts as Alice's self-appointed guide/protector after she falls into Wonderland.  Normally I'm not a big fan of love triangles, but this one really worked for me.  Both guys care about Alice, and both show their affection in different ways.  With Jack, it's all gifts.  A couple minutes into the movie, he's bringing her roses.  Later, when he wants her to go with him right now, he tries to give her the mcguffin ring, and later he tries to prove he can be trusted by slipping her her missing father's watch.  His attempts at reaching Alice are all solid objects.  Hatter gives Alice exactly one gift; a coat when she's dripping wet.  Everything else is about actions.  He talks her across the ledge when she's afraid of heights.  He gets between her and a gun, and fights off a Jabberwock for her.  He rescues her from the villains once and tries to do it a second time which doesn't exactly work out, but hey, it's the thought that counts.

There's this book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  His theory is that everyone has a love-language, a way of being shown affection that especially speaks to them.  I was thinking about that in relation to characters.  Sometimes you'll read a book or watch a sitcom and the guy is there changing the girl's tires in the rain and twisting himself into a pretzel to get her tickets to her favorite concert.  It's obvious he's crazy about her, and what does she say?  `I just don't know if he likes me.  He's never said the words.'  Am I the only one who wants to smack that characters with a get-a-clue stick?  Then you have the characters who are told the words -repeatedly and with sky-writing- and they say `talk is cheap.'  It's not that the character isn't listening, it's just that the guy isn't speaking her language.

Of course, as soon as the characters get in sync, you get all sorts of lovely scenes that are unique to them because it'll pull on everything that has happened before in the story, all the mistakes and mishaps, only this time they can laugh and get it right.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today the house smells like pumpkin pie and the thing I'm most thankful for is that I've had more help cooking the dinner than I expected.  Soon we'll be getting out fancy plates, and this evening the doorbell will be ringing (probably early.  My relatives are a little shaky when it comes to what the phrase `on time' actually means).  

It's funny how much the smell of pumpkin pie reminds me of Thanksgivings past.  Traditions have a way of binding the years together so for a few moments you slip through the crack between time and feel the comfortable ghosts of the past rattling around the kitchen with you. 

So what sort of holiday traditions do you all have?  Do you ever feel memories close enough that you could almost slip through time?  What brings it on?  A smell, the touch of a certain fabric, or something else entirely?

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Art Show and a Poem

This Saturday I went to the Faculty Art Show at FCC.  It was a lot of fun.  I got to say hi to the teachers I knew and see if I could recognize their pieces based on the style.  There was a jazz band and food (though no tiny eclairs, more's the pity.)  Visiting art shows bring out the temptation to introduce oneself as Bond.  James Bond.  They make one feel classy.

It's awfully easy to look at a piece that's really abstract, glance around to see if anyone else can make out what it's supposed to be, then mutter something about the inner workings of the soul.  Later you find out that the piece was an experiment in texture and you get to feel silly.  Or you never find out and spend the rest of your life hoping the fact that you found Texture IV impossible to understand doesn't mean you're washed up as a serious art student. 

Some time ago I wrote a poem about Dali's picture of melting clocks.  

                  Ruminating on a Portrait of Time

The dead clocks
Ooze across the table
Dripping moments and hours
Into a void of gray

Drip. Drip. Drip.


The world is flat
Colorless and empty.
The drip of melting hours
Echo loud in the stillness.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

It is summer.  The relentless sun
Beats at the dust hazed windows.
For all his harshness he cannot disturb
The echoing quiet.

It is summer but no one turns on the fan.


So there you have it.  My attempt at poetry.  After I wrote it, I read it out loud to my best friend in a very serious voice She listened solemnly right up until the last line -and burst out laughing. 

Sometimes art is impenetrable.  Other times you get exactly the reaction you're hoping for.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Angles






Sometimes when you're drawing a character, it's a good idea to get them from a couple angles.  That way you don't get stuck composing a picture because you suddenly realize you need the character to face the other way, and you have no idea what they look like in that direction.  

This is my attempt to get my mouse detective from several sides.  As you can see, some of the pictures turned out better than others.  Donovan facing left took me two takes to get right.  The middle right-hand picture actually looks like him.  The one on the left looks like a mouse Mountie.  (Sigh.)  

 It's sort of like putting a character into different types of situations in order to see what they're made of.  If they're recognizable from any angle, you're doing something right.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Connections

I was thinking about how much I love the plot to `It's a Wonderful Life.'  Not the movie so much (it always bothered me that the Jimmy Stewart character never got to travel like he'd always dreamed of doing) but the idea of one character's absence having such an effect on the world around them.  It's a fun thing to play with in your own stories when you happen to feel insomniac (like this week for instance.  Sigh.)  You get to ask yourself what would change?  Who would be most affected?  Of course, in a `save the world story' the answer might be too obvious.  `Everything is now an apocalyptic wasteland.  Then end.  Is it really one in the morning?  Can't believe I have to work tomorrow.'  If you dig a little, though, there might be all kinds of more personal changes; someone who didn't get a word of encouragement when they needed it most.  The little old lady who hurts her hip because the hero wasn't around to mow her lawn.  There's something warm and fuzzy about the way people interconnect.  (And if you find nothing would change, you can always cut the character.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Good news

Today we found out my dad's numbers are down enough that after two more sessions he'll be off chemo (for awhile, hopefully for good).  We are very much rejoicing.  Mom is calling everyone she can think of with the news.  We've had so many people praying for us, praying for my dad to be healed.  It's amazing to see God honor that. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Caricature


My brothers and I under the Ferris Wheel.  (I'm the one in the lower right corner.)

Last night at the Great Frederick Fair I had my picture drawn by a caricature artist.  It was a lot of fun -especially seeing my friends snicker as they watched me being drawn.  The artist gave me scrunchy eyes and a huge grinning mouth; in fact the mouth is practically my whole face.  My eyes really do squint almost shut when I grin, which is often.  Being happy can make it hard to see.

The job of a caricature artist is to notice details and exaggerate them.  Exaggeration is one of the building blocks of comedy, after all.  It's funny because the truth is there, distorted as the reflections in the hall of mirrors.  There's a sense of strangeness, followed by recognition.  You go `what in the...? Oh!  Of course!' and then you just have to laugh.

Some people complain that Dickens characters are actually caricatures; that because he comically exaggerates the details he looses all resemblance to life.  They sort of miss the point.  Dickens had no idea that he was writing classic literature.  He was entertaining people while giving them a sideways look at Victorian society that magnified the flaws so they could be addressed.  An accurate portrayal would've just said `this is the way life is' instead of `this is crazy!' 

I think writing accurate pictures of people is a lot harder than comical exaggerations.  I'm sure there are those who find it much easier.  (Lucky them.)  Just like in art, both styles take an immense amount of talent, and a well trained eye.  The important thing is to remember that both are a legitimate stylistic choice, and both have an important place both in our history and in our current arts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Background

I really admire people like Tolkien and Sherwood Smith who spend years building a deep, complex world.  My writing method is exactly the opposite.  I start with characters, then ask myself `where do these people want to live?' and build from there.  Once in a while I'll begin with a situation, and spend weeks (or months.  Or years.) trying to decide exactly who would be caught up in it. 

One of my biggest jobs in a second draft (the first draft is to get the plot in order) is to add setting details; making sure I don't have doorknobs when there should be latches or buttons instead of laces, seeing to it that the weather pattern fits the season, all that good stuff. 

The story setting is, to me, a bit like watching a photo develop.  At first there's a blank, then the first gray smears appear through the chemicals.  As you watch, the smears darken and sharpen into actual shapes until finally you're looking at a clear photograph.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Walk for Life

Hi Everyone.  I just wanted to let you all know I'm going to be participating in the Frederick Walk For Life on September 30th.  The walk is to raise money for our local pregnancy crisis center.  They're a great organization who do a lot to help our community.  If anyone out there wanted to sponsor m here is a link to the online donation page.  (Oh, and if you want to let them know I'm the person you're sponsoring, my real name is Grace Clay.)  If you want to know more about Care Net, here is a link to their homepage.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just pretend I posted this Saturday...






This picture is actually last week's post.  Um... hope you like it (even if it is two days late.)  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Favorites

When I find an author I admire, I tend to read just about everything by them that I can get my hands on.  That way I get a sense of repeated characters and situations.  Reading several books helps me isolate exactly what it is that I like.

Funny thing is, Watership Down is about the only thing I've read by Richard Adams.  The book is so perfect all by itself that trying to pick it apart would destroy the magic.  Besides, I already know what I admire; the sense of loyalty, especially Bigwig's toward Hazel, but also Hazel's toward the warren as a whole. 

Early on, I did try to read some of Adam's other works.  I got The Plague Dogs out from the library, and ended up taking it back before I was halfway through.  Maybe I'll give it another go some day.  I think one of the things I admire most about Adams -the sense of mythology that infuses his work- is actually one of the things that makes it hard to just set down with his novels.  They are so thick with atmosphere they feel like they should have been written a couple centuries ago. 

So how about you all?  Do you have any authors you consider a favorite for the sake of one book -just one- a book so perfect you never felt a deep need to explore their work further?  Or do you always gobble up everything a favorite author writes?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Life gets in the Way

Once again, my blog posts are going to be a little sporadic.  The garden is coming in.  Since mom is busy trying to keep on top of dad's chemo treatments and doctor appointments, I'm in charge of putting up food for the winter.  (Have I ever mentioned my deep understanding for why fast-food is such a popular concept?)  Gotta say my job is a lot easier than my mom's.  I would hate to do that sort of schedule juggling.  She is an absolutely amazing woman. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dark Reflections



The photo is a little soft in focus, but I'm posting it anyway.  I'm rather proud of the composition.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A thought on Narration

I have returned, sun burnt and happy, with a touch more rowing experience and hair that is far less frizzy than I expected. 


I seem to have left epics behind with the cord grass (well, I did pick up a copy of El Cid at a used bookstore during my vacation.  Finds like that make me all warm and fuzzy!  But I haven't read it yet, so I can't post my impressions.) and turned my attention back to mid grade books and something interesting I've noticed about narration.


I was re-reading 101 Dalmatians (I know -a winter story in the middle of July.  I had my air-conditioner on so I didn't break the mood too badly.) when I noticed how very present the narrator is in the story.  She tells us a great deal about how dogs see their people, and the society of the time.  The Rescuers is the same.  The author isn't afraid to skip in and tell us things.  It's like she never heard that old `show don't tell' rule.  And the thing is, the style really works in both cases.  The books are witty and fun and a lot of that is because the narrator makes all sorts of wry observations about the characters. 


There's been a push in recent times to go with a `just the facts' type of writing and let the readers make up their minds about the characters, and for a lot of stories that style works really well.  But other stories need an omniscient narrator who isn't afraid to hop in now and then and give his opinion.  (Can you imagine The Princess Bride without all the asides?  Or Lemony Snicket's books?)  When it comes to style, there are a lot of options.  It's important not to forget that when you sit down at your keyboard.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Appologizing yet again

Hi.  It's Saturday again, and I didn't get my blog written this week.  I can't even lie to myself and pretend I'll catch it up Monday.  (I'm grabbing my floppy hat and headed off for a couple days in the sun.)  Again, I'm sorry.  I hope you all have a great week, and keep cool. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Old Pattern

As a self-proclaimed lit geek, I have to confess... I never finished the French epic, Song of Roland.  Sure, that doesn't sound so bad.  Plenty of people never even start Song of Roland.  The thing is, from the half I read Song of Roland is a terrific story.  You have Roland and his best pal Olivier taking rear guard for King Charlemagne's army.  You have all sorts of fighting and sacrifice and sinister betrayels, everything that makes a great Midevil Romance.  The problem isn't the poem; the problem is that I'm too used to modern storytelling conventions.

Song of Roland follows the same pattern as Shakespeare's Julius Ceaser, and I hit the same snag when I tried to read it: the hero dies halfway through.  Okay, maybe it's more like two thirds into the story.  The point is, the hero's gasping his last and there's a whole bunch of book left.  I can't help going `what gives?'  Whithout a centeral character, who am I supposed to root for?  What holds this story together?

In both tales the hero's death comes through betrayel, and neither book is over until the wrongdoer is properly punished.  That means the focus changes from a single character (Roland or Julius Ceaser) to those left behind.  (Mark Anthony and his followers, Charlemagne and his courtiers).  The book feels like two stories sandwitched together; one story about the tragic loss of the title character, and one story about a vendetta against someone who betrayed a group. 

Maybe the poets thought the audience needed to `live' with the title character and get the full impact of his death in order to feel the need for justice.  After all, the stories were written before modern police work or easy travel.  Communities would have been closer. Matters of justice would also be personal matters -or someone else's problem.  Which makes me think of another point; both Julius Ceaser and Roland are politically important.  Roland is Charlemange's right hand guy, and Julius Ceaser is... well... Ceaser.  There is no `somebody else's problem here.  The death of these guys is a national matter. 

So that brings up the question, is this story structure obsolete- at least in Western culture?  Justice isn't carried out by the nearest relative anymore, or even the community.  And people don't need convinced that having a murderer running around is a bad thing.  Plenty of mysteries plop a body on stage in chapter one and that's enough to convince the audience that the murderer must be brought to justice before he or she can strike again. 

Or maybe it's just hard to sell a story where the hero dies halfway through.  (Though from what I've heard, Game of Thrones never had a problem...)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some Thoughts on Falling Skies

Sorry I didn't get a post written last week.  Real life got in the way.


Less real-life related, my brother recently introduced me to a TV show called Falling Skies.  The setting is post-Apocalyptic (or rather, post alien invasion.)  Normally I steer clear of post Apocalypses, but I really enjoy Falling Skies.  The hero is likable.  He's a history teacher whose main goal is to protect his three sons.  Despite being surrounded by Hollywood style explosions he manages to stay optimistic.  The basic storyline is how people react to disasters, how it makes them draw together (or not).


Now, I've just admitted that I don't read a lot of post-Apocalyptic fiction.  Falling Skies has me wondering if that's something I should fix.  I've always had this sort of mental picture of the genre as being very Orson Wells in mood.  You know, `humanity is scum' and all that.  Lets face it, there's plenty of evidence out there that humanity is scum.  You just need to open a newspaper to get the idea.  I prefer books and movies that are a bit more hopeful; the ones that say `hey, not everyone is scum.' 


Even if most of the people in the story are scum, there should be at least one kind person to make a contrast.  It's like tenebrism -those pictures with extreme contrasts of light and dark.  If all you show is the dark, nobody can make out what the picture is of.  A genuine good guy in a world of dark can go a long way toward illuminating your story.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Appreciation

A few weeks ago when I posted on violence in storytelling I mentioned how a character's death can shake your readers out of complacency.  I was just thinking how much dad's hospitalization earlier this year shook me out of mine.  My dad is doing great, but I'm realizing that he and mom won't be around forever.  (Yeah, I know.  Shocker.  People aren't immortal -not even if they're parents.)  It's made me realize how much I appreciate them. 


Mom has been one of my best friends for most of my life.  She's the one I always go to for advice.  I admire her drive.  Lately she's been working full time, keeping track of all dad's doctor appointments, doing a lot of the cooking, and trying to get the garden planted.  (Lately I've been helping with the garden in a fit of `Mom!  Don't give yourself a heart attack!')  She's taught me a lot -not just about cooking, but about persistence, and about buckling down and doing whatever you have to for your family.


My dad is, in a lot of ways, mom's opposite.  He has a great sense of humor.  Even while going through all the uncertainty before his surgery he's joked around to keep the rest of us from getting too stressed.  I think mom would go crazy without him to keep her steady and make her laugh.  Dad is really laid back and hates when people argue, so he tends to be a peacemaker.  He's a lot like his own dad; a very strong, steady person who it is too easy to take for granted because you know he'll always be there for you.


My parents have done a lot to shape who I am as a person.  While I'd prefer if they kept the near-death experiences to a minimum, I am glad to take a moment to celebrate how fortunate I am to have both my parents in my life.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

writing space

It's amazing how much having a place to write affects how much work you get done.  As I mentioned before, my room (which also happens to be my work-space) has undergone some major renovations lately.  This past year my `work space' has been the living room sofa.  That... turned out not to be the best plan.  Our living room gets a lot of traffic.  I tried writing on my bed, but that's also where I watch Hulu and read blogs.  (Besides, I was giving myself a crink in the neck like you wouldn't believe.) 


Now that my room is mostly back together, I've unearthed my favorite chair, and designated it my writing space.  I have decreed that if my laptop is open and I'm setting in that chair I am not allowed to be check Facebook, play Mahjong or watch Hulu.  If I want to do any of those things, I have to move.  It's amazing how much writing I get done now when I'm feeling too lazy to move. 


I don't think people have to have a special place in order to write, but if you're the sort of person who needs to give your self-discipline a nudge once in awhile, finding a special writing spot can be a great way to make yourself buckle down to business.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gothic

It won't shock anyone who knows my love of melodrama to hear that I have a huge thing for early nineteenth century Gothic novels.  Gothics are the opera of the writing world.  They are morality plays, if you will, punctuated by bones and ghosts and creaking chains.  One example of this would be Lewis's The Monk

The Monk starts with Ambrosio, a young abbot who is such an excellent speaker with such a great reputation for holiness that everyone practically worships him.  Unfortunately, he knows exactly how awesome he is. When Agnes, a nun from the nearby convent, discovers she's pregnant and begs Ambrosio to intercede for her, he spurns her.  The nun upbraids him, saying all his virtues are nothing without mercy, and when he falls prey weakness himself to remember how he refused to show compassion on her.  Ambrosio is tempted shortly afterwards by lust, gives in, and proceeds to destroy himself and everyone around him. 

One really interesting aspect of the book is how the subplot of Ages and her lover, who is desperate to marry her, ties in with Ambrosio's downward spiral.  Twice Ambrosio has an opportunity to help Agnes after his initial rejection; once just after he gave in to lust with Matilda, and once when Matilda tempts him to use witchcraft.  In both cases, helping her would have rescued Ambrosio from temptation.  The first time if he had helped Agnes he would have been admitting that he was not perfect himself, instead of making excuses.  Instead of falling into evil, he would just have been someone who messed up but repented.  The second time if he had turned aside to help Agnes he would not have fallen into witchcraft and would not have had the supernatural ability to commit Evil.  (In Gothics, a capitol E on evil is always justified.)  As in so many tragic story arcs, small decisions are vital.  

That's a good thing to be reminded of.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Water Sprite


This is my attempt at a water sprite.  I really like how his eyes came out. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Some thoughts on the movie Megamind


Shanna Swendson wrote a wonderful article here about perception verses reality of characters.  What really struck me -well, I'll quote.  (I tried paraphrasing, and it didn't come out right, so here's how Ms. Swendson put it).


"Michael Hauge talks about in his screenwriting theory, where the "true love" character in a romantic plot is the one who recognizes the true essence of the person that's hiding behind the identity. They have conflict when the other person insists on relating to the essence while the character is still trying to be the identity, even as the character can't help but respond to someone dealing with them on that level of fundamental truth."


  I just saw the movie Megamind, and this quote is totally spot on for that movie.  (If you haven't seen it yet, you might want to stop reading now.)  


Megamind insists that he's evil incarnate but from the very start Roxanne refuses to relate to him that way.  She recognizes that he's not dangerous and just rolls her eyes at his death traps and posturing.  Later, when she gives her "are you happy" speech she's still relating to him as a person.  No one else calls him on killing Metro Man because a) they're too busy cowering in fear and b) they really do think he's evil incarnate.  


The big thing the Bernard disguise does is allow Megamind to drop his `I'm one bad dude' persona and relate to Roxanne as himself.  Two things I find really interesting: one is that Megamind thinks Roxanne is impressed with him because of Bernard's "battle" with Megamind, but Roxanne phoned `Bernard' before the raiding of the lair.  She was initially drawn by his shared grief for Metro Man, not a show of heroics.  The other really interesting thing is that Bernard claimed to have lost his fight.  He was still trying to impress Roxanne with his `evil' persona ("I tried, but he was just too fabulous.")  Roxanne treated Bernard as a hero because he was willing to take on a fight that was so far out of his liege.  Once again she reacted to the truth behind the mask; Megamind fights battles that are beyond him and that itself is a form of winning


Roxanne doesn't change Megamind.  He's still impulsive and doesn't think things through.  (Cleaning up the city with his dehydration gun then leaving the cubes lie around?  Yeah... didn't think it through.)  What R does is give him positive feedback.  Megamind isn't pretending that `Bernard' somehow wrestled the paintings back into the museum or single handed cleaned up the city, but seeing Roxanne's approval gives him incentive to act in a positive way.  Roxanne does not change Megamind -she just shows him what he was all along.



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Seasons

The world here is filled with flowers.  Everywhere I drive I see dogwood flowers.  Blossoms cover the apple tree in our yard.  My columbine is starting to open, the bleeding-hearts are in full flower, and my lilly-of-the-valley actually survived another year.  (I'm in shock.  They've been doing their best to die off for several years now.)  It's beautiful and amazing, and it's driving everyone with allergies crazy.  



I told a friend recently that books have different seasons.  Tom Sawyer is a summer book.  I first read it in the summer, so reading it now makes me think of the smell of sun-warmed earth and dried out grass, the feel of dirt under my feet.  Mariel of Redwall is an Autumn book, filled with thunderstorms, the decay of fallen leaves, the fierce sunsets coming too soon as the days shorten.  


When I was about fourteen and first playing with the idea of writing stories, I was convinced a book could only be written during the season the story took place in -that a piece of that season would seep into what I wrote, just as it did when I read.  I had a winter book and a summer book, and I'd alternate, putting away the winter writing when spring came around, then dragging it back out in the Autumn.  


That's... not actually smart.  You don't get very far in a novel if you put it away every time the season changes.  I still think the changing season affect what I write, though, and I still hope bits season get caught in the pages.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter!



For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventuer for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Romans 5:7-10

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back!

I wanted to let everyone know my dad is doing great! 

Dad had extensive colon cancer that had spread to several other organs.  His recovery is very much a miracle.  So many people prayed for us and just overwhelmed our family with kindness.  I am awed and thankful.

The swiftness between the time dad was diagnosed and his operation was just amazing.  The doctors had dad in the hospital about a week after they confirmed that the mass was, in fact, cancer.  The surgeons got 99% of it for sure.  My dad is home again, and glad to be eating something other than hospital food.   

And I am back on the net.  Hope you all didn't miss me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Not going to be around much

Hi, I'm afraid my posts are going to be a bit sporadic for awhile.  My dad just had major surgery.  The operation went really well, but things 'll be hectic for the next few weeks.  So if I've become invisible around here lately, that's why. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A rant on politics

So a few days ago I was reading Zechariah, one of the Old Testament prophets, and I came across this really interesting passage:

This said the Lord my God: Become a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter.  Those who buy them slaughter them and go unpunished, and those who sell them say, `Blessed be the Lord, I have become rich,' and their own shepherds have no pity on them.
-Zechariah 11:4-5 (English Standard Version.)

The thing is, I've been watching a lot of Fox news and this verse reminds me of the political climate right now.  We have all these people running for office, or in office, countless political scandals.  The country is in deep trouble and I keep asking myself, is anyone in power actually caring for the people?

I hope there are those in public offices who truly desire to serve their country.  I think those people are the ones you never hear about.  When someone is just doing their job, there's no scandal for the media to latch onto. 

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say with this rant.  My brother (who understand politics so much more than I do) says I'm a hopeless idealist for grumbling about corruption and wishing everyone would just straiten up.  I do think that power and riches aren't always a sign of God's blessing.  God cannot bless riches that come from corruption.  I just hope there comes a time when the folks of this country seek office in order to protect the people, not feed off them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Splicing and Chunking

Today I found myself chunking the beginning of the book I'm currently re-writing.  

Chunking is what I call one of my editing methods: chunking and splicing.

Splicing is what I do when I've re-written a scene a dozen times, am heartily sick of it, and the stupid thing still won't come out right.  At that point, I print out each failed try and circle the sentences and paragraphs that I like.  I cut them out and move them around like puzzle pieces until I'm happy with the result.  Then I tape them down on line paper and fill in the gaps by writing a few lines here and there with ball-point pen.  It's surprisingly effective.


Chunking is similar, except you're moving whole scenes (aka chunks) around, instead of paragraphs.  Its surprising how often a story flows better when I yank a scene out of its original place and put it somewhere else.  (I don't know what that says about my subconscious.)  Of course, I have to make sure I make a backup file, just in case a scene I'm moving was in the right place all along.


So how about you guys?  Any favorite editing tricks you'd like to share?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cleopatra's Heir: a review

I'm sorry for skipping last week.  I intended to write a post Monday to make up for it... only that didn't happen. 


This week I read an excellent book by Gillian Bradshaw called Cleopatra's Heir.  It was a `what if' story in which Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, survived Octavian's attempt to have him executed.  The book is very much a character study.  Caesarion's flight forces him to depend on an Egyptian merchant named Ari, whose kindness and decency slowly change Caesarion's view of the world until Caesarion is able to let go of his destructive pride, his constant striving to live up to his parent's legacy and accept himself for the flawed person he is.


I latch onto any book with Gillian Bradshaw's name on the cover because her characters are just so likable.  Her heroes are honorable, and willing to see the good in others.  For example, in Cleopatra's Heir Caesarion starts out as a rather prickly character.  He's used to being treated as a god, and hanging around camels is definitely a step down.  But while Ari the merchant doesn't always appreciate Caesarion's attitude, he admires his bravery and willpower. 


A lot of books are about friction between characters and there's plenty of friction in Cleopatra's Heir, but it's not because the characters like whining about each other.  It's a pity there aren't more books out there where the characters are willing to acknowledge the things they find admirable in their friends and team-mates.  It would sure make it easier for the reader to believe that the characters actually are friends.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uses of Violence in Storytelling

Violence is a sticky sort of thing when it comes to writing.  It's easy to go overboard.  On the other hand, violent deaths can serve an important purpose in your story.  The trick is knowing why the bodies exist and asking yourself if they're really necessary.  Here's a list of reasons that I think are totally valid for tossing in a corpse.


1: Plot.  How many murder mysteries have you read where nobody died a violent death?  ....that's what I thought.  Case closed.


2: Revealing Character:  Violence is Hollywood's favorite way to show that your villain is pure evil.  Remember The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader was dropping 'em like flies?  

Violent deaths can serve to characterize your heroes, too.  I'm thinking of Jack Sparrow's first appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl where he takes his hat off while sailing past the dead pirates.  That moment helps humanize him.  He has a respect for the dead (perhaps more so than the townsfolk who were willing to use bodies as warning posts).  He also has a sense that those dead guys could be him if he got caught.   It reveals his desperation: he's willing to sail into town despite the warning.  That's a lot of characterization for one shot of a guy taking off his hat.


3: Establishing Setting:  Speaking of those hanged men in Curse of the Black Pearl, the scene does more than build Jack Sparrow's personality, it also tells you a lot about the time and place of the story.  This is the sort of world where it's normal to leave the bodies of criminals out as a warning.  

The circumstances where violence is considered appropriate tells you a ton about the setting of a story.  In The Three Musketeers, nobody cries `wait!  Dueling is crazy!  Surely there must be a better way to settle your arguments than drawn swords!'  

4: Shock Value:   When used right, the shock value of violence can add a lot to a story.  Of course, for shock value to work, the event must be shocking.  That means gore on top of gore is out because it lessens the shock value.  Also, shock value changes depending on the setting.  What's shocking in an Edwardian drawing room may be normal in a back alley at the height of the French Revolution.  

The value of shocking your audience is added suspense.  In the movie Serenity, an important character dies, and it is genuinely shocking.  Not because the death is unusually violent (it's a random accident) but because the death is that of a major character.  Up to that point in the movie I figured I pretty much knew the end.  The good guys win, they fly off into the sunset, the end.  But after a major character died, I no longer knew how things were going to turn out.  When the final confrontation came, I was bracing myself for tragedy. 

As readers and moviegoers, we've gotten used to the idea that certain characters are safe because they're too important to die.  Shock Value violence is a way to shake people out of that confidence so they can enjoy a story with the same roller-coaster suspense they had before they learned to predict who lives and who dies.  It allows you to get the same thrill from stories you had as a kid.


And that's it: the uses of violence in storytelling.  There may be some uses I didn't think of, and naturally my list is completely subjective.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New year (late)

This is my first post of 2012. 

It's been a week for firsts.  I've learned to take the seeds out of pomegranates.  (Delicious.)  More importantly, the Frederick Art Association is doing a show at the Deleplain this month, and for the first time I have a picture in the display.  I'm all giddy.  The opening is this Saturday, from three to five.  I plan to go and gawk at my own picture -as if I hadn't drawn it myself and know perfectly well what it looks like- then study everyone else's work, and say hi to anyone I recognize.  It should definitely be an interesting experience.