Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them: and they were sore afraid.  

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David ad Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.  And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.  

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.  And all they that heard it wondered at these things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2:8-20

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Post Thanksgiving Post

I said in my last post about seeing God work in our lives this past year.  I feel like maybe I should have expounded on that a little.  As you know if you've been following this blog, my dad died this summer.  

Last year he had surgery that was really a miracle.  We didn't think it would be able to happen, and it did, and although he wasn't as cured as we first thought, we did get an extra year with him, which I am thankful for.  Also, I've really seen God in the way dad died.  He wasn't in pain.  He was home on hospice, and he lasted several weeks longer than the doctors predicted, so we were able to truly say goodbye.  He knew he was on his way to Heaven, so it was a very peaceful passing.  We had a lot of visitors and did a lot of singing.  I still have a little trouble singing sometimes now, but not in a bad way. 

Before all this I had been going through a spiritual dry spell.  I have a brother who developed some health issues a few years ago and (I know this doesn't make sense) I blamed myself for that.  I'd had some problems a number of years before that had similar symptoms but a really different cause, and I felt like that kept my parents from getting him the right help as quickly as they might otherwise have done.  It's hard to trust God when you're blaming yourself for things that you can't do anything about.  Seeing God at work while dad was dying helped me accept that first off, there honestly are things I can't control so I need to not hold myself accountable for them, and second -God could have healed my dad.  I realized that after the surgery.  It was such a miracle that Dad was able to have it.  God chose to take dad home instead, but he could have healed him.  So he could have healed my brother, too.  He just chose not to.  And that means I can't blame myself that my brother has health issues.  

I'm not saying I've suddenly become a fatalist and think all I ever have to do is sit around twiddling my thumbs while God works around me (though that would be nice.  Thumb Twiddling: new favorite sport!)  I just believe that the things outside my control are not outside of His.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy thanksgiving, everyone!  I've seen God working a lot in my life and in my family this past year, and for that I am thankful.  

I'm posting a picture I did while resting up after the holiday.  I hope you all like it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Handing out Fish

Okay, so once again I've let too much time pass between posts.  Not only because I've been busy (and now I'm catching a cold and feel like my head is stuffed with moth balls) but also because I haven't felt like I have anything to say.  I'm doing too much thinking of the sort that doesn't reach a conclusion.  But since I need something to post about....

I've been thinking about problems and root problems.  It's best summed up in that old proverb `give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.'  It seems to me that right now so many people I know are struggling, and the only thing I can do is hand them a fish.  That is, I try to help, but all I do is scratch the surface.  It's frustrating because I know tomorrow they'll just need another fish.  

Then there are the even deeper root problems; people who are angry at other people and take it out on a third party (those sorts of stresses always seems to crop up near the holidays.) or people who make bad decisions but you can't stop them because they're adults and you have no control over their lives.  The best you can do is pray for them, and feel like smacking them up the back of the head to knock some sense into them (only it probably wouldn't work).  

I all you can do is give what help you can, pray a lot, and trust that God can take the little bit of fish you offer and multiply it into something of actual use.     

Thursday, October 17, 2013


It's an interesting thing, writing a blog.  It feels like I'm writing a letter to a friend, except there's the chance that some of the readers are people I've never met.  (A slim chance.  This isn't exactly a widely publicized blog.)  At the same time, they're letters to my future self, reminding me what I happened to be thinking that day.  
For example, I wrote a post on playing with that old `It's a Wonderful Life' scenario of what if this or that character was never born?  Only to realize, looking back, that I probably just thought it was a nifty idea because I was outlining a story about parallel universes at the time.  

Then there are the book and movie musings that only cover one aspect of the story.  I wrote a post about the love story in Megamind.  If I'd written about the character arc instead, I would have pulled on completely different points -maybe even contradicted some of my thoughts from when I was dealing with the love story.  (Like whether or not Megamind was evil in the opening.  I still say he was never as evil as he thought he was, but he was definitely selfish and needed a good kick to make him shape up and stop feeling sorry for himself.  But hey, that's what character arcs are for.)  The best thing about book and movie discussions is that stories are open to so many interpretations.    

I haven't exactly been a consistent blogger.  Life keeps tossing me distractions.  But I do enjoy these letters.  I hope you all do too.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Untrustworthy characters

I've been thinking about untrustworthy characters.  You know the ones: Han Solo, Captain Jack Sparrow, Dustfinger from Inkheart.  The guys the hero shouldn't trust, but somehow do anyway.

It occurred to me that one thing these guys all have in common is that they're highly motivated.  Take Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie (Or Episode IV if you count the prequel trilogy).  If he doesn't get lots of money quick, every bounty hunter in the galaxy will be after him.  Sure, he took care of Greedo no problem, but eventually superior numbers will get him.  To save his skin, he needs cash.  Rescuing princesses pro bono publica goes against his story goal.  (So does returning to save the Rebels from the death star instead of rushing back to Tatooine to pay off Jubba.  In fact, Han blows his story goal so badly that Empire Strikes Back ends with him in the clutches of a ruthless bounty hunter.)

Captain Jack Sparrow in Curse of the Black Pearl is equally motivated.  He wants his ship back, and he'll do whatever it takes to get it.  Sure he doesn't want to see Will and Elizabeth hurt -he's not heartless- but that doesn't keep him from using them as bait.

As for Dustfinger, he's pretty driven.  Not only does he betray our heroes early on, but when he learns that if he reaches his goal he'll die, the discovery doesn't actually change his mind, it just makes him a bit depressed.

I think what makes these guys come across as unpredictable is that they don't have the same goal as the rest of the heroes.  We know they're highly motivated, what we don't know is how far they'll go to get what they want.  Will they betray the hero to get what they're after?  Maybe they like the hero.  Maybe they make an effort to save him -but still betray his cause, then wonder what he's so grumpy about.  Or maybe they decide their personal goal isn't so important after all and put all their energy into making sure the heroes win.

If they decide to throw over their own goal out of loyalty to the heroes, it shouldn't be an easy choice.  After all, they've wanted whatever they want since before they met the heroes.  Letting it go now should be hard -hard enough that your audience doesn't know until the last moment which direction they'll go.  Maybe (as in Star Wars) that choice ripples through the rest of the story, causing future problems for the unpredictable character and the heroes.  Your heroes might have to decide if they're loyal back -or if their cause is more important.  If they decide it is, does their friend resent being hung out to dry?  And how does that affect his loyalty?  Or the other character's perception of his loyalty?  Will they still trust him if they know they turned traitor on him?  Should they?  

There are lots of possibilities as soon as you have a character with a different goal from your hero.  The guy doesn't even have to look shifty.  There may be lots of other things that make those wonderful, lovable rogue characters, but different goals is one that's definitely worth playing with.    

Saturday, September 21, 2013


My family went camping in Pennsylvania over the beginning of the week.  We had a wonderful -and memorable- time.  Our campsite was right beside a stream.  There were enough boulders for the water to froth and flow around to make all sorts of interesting rills.  It would have been the perfect place for white-water rafting if you were a mouse!  One of the boulders was (to my best estimate, which admittedly isn't very good) about four feet above the water and I could just picture mouse adventurers standing up on the `cliff' and gazing down at the foam, bracing themselves for the trip down stream.

Our fire ring was iron but didn't have a grill, so my brother Justin fished some wide, flat rocks from the stream and a few smaller rocks for the flat rocks to set on, poured the coals around them, and cooked our burgers on top.  They were quite tasty, and of course the grease dripped off the rocks and made the fire burn hotter -which was fortunate.  We'd forgotten how much of a temperature difference there is, traveling a few hours north!  It got quite cold, especially the first night.  I usually like a bit of nip in the air, but there is a huge difference between the kind of cold you go out in before returning to a nice warm house and the oppressive sort of cold that remains heavy in the air when you sleep in a tent.

We visited the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, which nobody around here has heard of.  Mom knows about it because she and dad stumbled across it on their wedding trip.  It's a beautiful, tree covered gorge.  It actually probably would have been more impressive in a few weeks when more of the leaves changed color, but we didn't mind billows of green.  We walked the Turkey Trail, which travels down the gorge in a series of switchbacks.  There were about two places where streams were flowing down the mountain (or maybe we passed the same stream twice) and divided into a dozen or so tiny trickles falling down among the rocks.  It made me feel like I was in a (rather chilly) rain forest.  Farther down we reached the actual waterfall. 

We had taken the scenic rout to the gorge (meaning we got lost) and so arrived right around lunch.  We ate before we actually started down the trail, which was nice since it meant we didn't have to carry our food for the entire hike.

The whole vacation was exactly what our family needed: a chance to just get away and enjoy God's creation for a few days.   

Friday, September 13, 2013


Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to spend a little time on the Patuxent River, one of the tributaries leading into the Maryland bay.  The awesome thing about being there this time of year is that the water is full of tiny  bioluminescent creatures that light up if they bump against anything.  

After dusk I went out, swished the water, and watched the sparks flare wherever my hands passed.  The creatures are so tiny you don't really feel them except every once in awhile, when a slightly bigger one bumps against you.  Those feel like blobs.  Watching them in the water is like watching stars swirling under you -or like watching fireflies, when it feels as if the stars decided to come down and play closer to earth, to dance in the woods and the flowerbeds and get caught just for an instant, glowing between your cupped hands. 

It can be like touching a miracle.  

The thing about these creatures is that you can't see them until after dusk.  It's the darkness that reveals the things that carry their own light.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Research and that sort of thing

Wow, my last real post was at the beginning of August, and now it's September.  I knew I was letting things slide, but this is ridiculous! 

I recently read Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block.  One of the things he said made a lot of sense to me is that if you realize your subject is too far away from your experience to write convincingly there's nothing wrong with figuring out some way to bring the story closer to home.  

I tend to get frustrated because I'll come up with an idea and just know that no amount of research is going to make me able to write it convincingly.  I once mentioned a trunk novel where part of the story took place on a ship.  I've been on rowboats and motorboats, but I know nothing about actual sailing.  My plan was to take sailing lessons, only that didn't work out.  

Now, I could have look at diagrams and read old captain's logs and really get a sense of sailing that way.  But another thing I could have done was change the setting.  My story took place on a small island so my heroine would be trapped (the idea was to be Gothic) but surrounding a castle by an ocean isn't the only way to make it remote.  I could have set the castle on a crag, or in the depths of a dangerous forest or swamp.  

I think you have to have a certain amount of confidence in yourself to research a setting or plot point.  If in my heart of hearts I was convinced that I couldn't write my story without actually spending time on the water -if I didn't feel that I knew what I was talking about- how could I convince my readers?  

I had an idea for a story once that had me looking for information on crafting bronze swords.  I didn't feel like I had to take up sword-making in order to understand what I read.  I'd previously taken a couple pottery classes, which gave me a feel for what goes into hands-on work.  

When I first started pottery I was given a textbook.  There was a lot about glazes and chemical reactions, but all it did was show me that I knew even less about pottery than I thought.  It wasn't until I was halfway through the first semester that I had a clue what the writer was jabbering about.  If I'd tried to write about a potter based on text-books I would've gotten halfway through that book, then decided to give up and hide under my bed forever.  

Research is a tough subject because it varies from project to project.  How much you need is however much it take to feel confident in your work. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Sorry I haven't been very active on Blogger lately.  It's Canning Season, which is to say all the fruit and veggies come in at once this time of year and my entire life suddenly revolves around a paring knife and hot kettle.

Once again I'm participating in CareNet's Walk for Life fundraiser.  CareNet is our local pregnancy crisis center, and the idea of the walk is to get people to sponsor you to raise money for the center, but also to raise awareness of the needs of those facing unplanned pregnancies, and the fact that the center is there to help.  (Lets face it, they can't do a lot to help people if no one knows they're there.)   If anyone's interested in donating, here is a link.  If you'd like to know more about CareNet here is the homepage.  

I hope you all have a great week.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thoughts on the Movie `Epic'

My family and I went to see the movie `Epic' this morning.  We didn't really know anything except that it was about tiny people, the cinema was showing it really cheap, and after such a rough couple weeks a movie seemed like a good idea.

I loved it.  (And I'm going to talk about it here, so if you don't want to risk spoilers now would be the time to bail.)

First off, the graphics were stunning.  Someone put a huge amount of thought into what a society of tiny people would be like -not just the ascetics but also the underlying logic of the world.  They made a war between what are basically flower fairies and the fairies of fungi believable.  That's hard to do.

Second, the characters are easy to relate to.  Even the villain has some humanizing touches, which shocked me in the best way.  I was expecting a Redwall villain -scary with no redeeming qualities.  It was nice to know even evil fungi fairies care about their family.  And the comic reliefs managed to be funny without being annoying, which was another pleasant surprise.  

The heart of the story is parent/child relationships.  The heroine is a human girl who has just come to live with her absent-minded-professor father.  She thinks he's delusional because he believes in tiny people who have an advanced society somewhere in the forest.  After a falling out with him, she gets shrunk and has to go on a quest to help the leaf-men (what they call the flower fairies' army.  The tiny people are never CALLED flower fairies, but some of the graphics are obviously based on the Victorian flower people).  It's the only way to regain her regular size so she can reconcile with her dad, who thinks she's run away from home.

The male lead is an immature leaf man who doesn't want to be part of the army.  His commander raised him when his father died in battle, and both of them have a hard time separating their working relationship from their personal relationship.  The fact that the commander hates admitting that he has personal relationships doesn't exactly help.

 It's amazing how many really good CG animation movies are out there: Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles, Megamind, and now Epic.  I was around for the Golden Age of Disney, when The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Rescuers Down Under, and Beauty and the Beast all came out one after the other.  It's kind of like that again -as if the storytellers in Hollywood suddenly remembered, `hey, we don't have to talk down to kids!  We can create interesting characters and amazing stories!'  

I just hope it lasts.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Today has been a day of tomatoes.  We had enough for me to juice about six quarts.  I always get annoyed toward the end of canning season when the bushels of fruits and veggies seem endless and my hand cramps to the paring knife, but here at the beginning of the season I find that a bit of kitchen work makes for a nice change.  

I've always enjoyed the tomatoes.  They look so gross in the big kettle, all red and pulpy.  Just as they're about to boil the surface of the stew seems almost to breathe before erupting into hissing, blorping bubbles.  It makes me feel wonderfully witchy.  When I was thirteen or fourteen I'd mumble `double, double, toil and trouble,' in my best creaky voice.  Now I usually just think Macbethian thoughts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I guess everyone reading this blog knows my dad's been fighting cancer.  He passed away last week.  He was home on hospice for about three weeks.  (The doctors predicted he'd live only one week after leaving the hospital, so we were pleasantly surprised.)  I was really glad for the chance to say goodbye. 

 In case any one's curious, here's a picture of me and my dad.

I also thought I'd post what I wrote to say at the funeral.  It's not what I actually said.  I changed stuff all around and ended up just holding the paper as a security blanket and not looking at it at all, but here's what the speech would have been if I'd read it:

There are lots of things to remember about my dad. He liked fishing, and he was always teasing and joking around the supper table. I remember once when I was maybe three or four he got me all riled up over a loose tooth. He said he'd be walking me up the isle on my wedding day and all of a sudden have to shout `It's out!'

My dad taught me about honor. Not that he talked about honor or anything -it's kind of an old fashioned word- but he lived honorably, which is much better. One thing that made a huge impression on me was when we got into debt when I was about sixteen, and dad and mom paid the thing off. Everyone he talked to told him he was crazy -that he should just declare bankruptcy and forget it, but dad believed a Christian should pay his debts so he and mom pulled together and got them paid off. The Bible says in Psalm 15 (and I'm paraphrasing) that a righteous man is one who swears to his own hurt and keeps his vow. My dad didn't talk a lot about his faith, but I think anyone who knew him knew he always did his best to follow Christ.  I'm not saying he never grumbled or that he didn't feel like Charlie Brown sometimes -I know he did. But those feelings didn't change the way he lived.

Toward the end he was really looking forward to Heaven, especially the river and all the great singing. We did our best to give him a proper going home party. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Not exactly a goodbye

I thought I'd let people know what's going on with me.  

Dad is home on hospice -well, home to my grandma's house.  He is dying.  It's been great that our family is getting this chance to say goodbye.  Not everyone has that chance.  

We've had a lot of friends over, mostly playing and singing for him.  Mom's been an absolute rock through the whole thing.  I think being able to do nurse stuff to keep him comfortable is really helping her cope.  

Dad's been telling everyone who visits to make sure they meet up with him on the other side.  He says he'll probably be down by the river (it's mentioned in Revelations, so you know Heaven has one.)  He also says he wishes he could send us all a postcard when he gets there.  It's really comforting to know this isn't goodbye, just `so long for now.'

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I have occasionally been volunteering at CareNet, a truly awesome organization that helps mothers and expectant mothers in our community.  (And if you want to know more about them, here is a link to their web-page.)  I mention this to give background for some thoughts I had.

  Not long ago I was watering plants around the center.  It was sunny but not sweltering, with lovely shade trees.  I really enjoyed being outside.  Now here's the thing; when I was younger it would have bothered me to be watering plants instead of doing Something Important.  As a kid I was all fierce and passionate and disappointed that there weren't dragons and ogres in the Appalachians for me to ride out and slay.  (All great adventure stories happen in the Appalachians.  When Tolkien wrote about the Misty Mountains, he was talking about the Appalachians.  Even though he was English and probably never saw them.  Seriously.  Logic does not apply here.  It was the Appalachians.)  

 God really had to work on me about my gung-ho nature.  I'd keep trying to charge forward, and God would haul me back, and I'd say `what's wrong with you, God?  I'm supposed to be doing Important Things!  Why won't you let me get with the program here?'  I'd grumble and glower until the next time I could jump at a chance to have an adventure, only for God to grab me by the collar again, the way my brother grabs a stubborn goat when she sees something she thinks is food.  (Like rose bushes.)
I probably missed a lot of chances to make a difference because I was too busy wishing for a Chance to Make a Difference.  It's really ironic.  It's also something I'll probably always struggle with.  There will always be a piece of me that wants to be the one who blows up the death star and gets the medal in front of a huge crowd.  

It's a funny thing about heroics.  In real life, they creep up on you.  I'm thinking now about my mom, who is hanging out at the hospital with dad right now, and doesn't know she's being heroic at all.  And thinking about myself, and the things I've been doing lately because dad's sick that I wouldn't have even imagined myself doing three years ago.  

I guess the times that people are most useful -maybe even most heroic- is when they're not thinking about being heroes at all.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Just Doing Their Job

Happy Memorial Day!  

This blog post is actually about a different kind of service people, though it also fits veterans.  I wanted to say I appreciate everyone who goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful when it doesn't affect their paycheck.  

You all know from past posts that my dad is fighting cancer.  Well this past week was a bit up and down, but there were several people who gave me a lot of encouragement just by doing their jobs.  

Two of them were local Food Lion employees.  

My dad's been having trouble keeping food down, and mom sent me off to pick up something that he'd been having a little easier time eating.  She wrote down the brand and everything -problem was, once I was in the store I couldn't find it.  I had to call on a floor worker, who had to call on another employee while he was in the middle of doing his job.  They found it for me and the whole time they were very helpful and cheerful and didn't seem to mind being interrupted by a slightly lost customer puzzled by labeling.  

I don't often think about it when a store employee helps me out but that day my errand was so important that I really noticed -and really appreciated- not just the help, but the fact that they didn't seem to find me a bother, even though I was interrupting their work.  They didn't know my dad was sick.  They were just doing their job.  But it made a huge difference to me that they did it cheerfully.

The other incident was a lot more serious: a mess up in paperwork that we were afraid might prevent dad from getting proper treatment.  We all started praying, and mom started phoning, and one of the people she called got the matter straitened out so fast that it was handled the evening of the same day she called!  If you've ever dealt with paperwork, you can appreciate that this was a miracle.  We were very much rejoicing.  We were also thankful that the people involved cared enough to get right on the matter.  

People don't always see how their lives affect others, but to those who do your work well, who are willing to help the people you serve, Thank You.  And a special thanks to those out protecting our country.     

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time

I haven't been around much lately.  As I mentioned in the comments, Dad's been going through yet another skirmish in his battle with cancer.  Also, I've been trying to do more story writing.  So my Internet presence will be a bit spotty, like that's something new.

This morning I was catching up on Once Upon A Time (keeping current with the TV shows I follow is another one of those things that has kind of gone by the wayside these past few weeks).  The show has these big themes going about parent/child relationships and abandonment and lost love and all that, but another theme that really keeps the tension going is the question of fatalism.

See, the basic premises is that all these storybook characters got sent to our world because of a curse.  There's this cool back-and-forth between the past in the story world and the present in the real world.  But since these are story characters, there is a constant question of how much control they have over their own lives.  Is it really the evil queen's fault that she's evil when every time she tries to change, something comes along to push her back into her old role?  What happens if someone's true love dies?  Is that it?  Are they destined to be lonely forever?  

It's the old Oedipus question, really.  (Not to be confused with an Oedipus complex.)  If the gods of the Greek Pantheon for-ordained that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother, was it fair of them to punish him for it?  Did they force him to commit those acts and then destroy him, or did they just know what was going to happen?  And why couldn't the Star Wars prequel trilogy have grappled with these questions? 

Well, all that's for philosophers to settle (or not.  I had Philosophy in collage, and discovered that the old philosophers mostly just make cryptic remarks so you won't notice that they're getting paid not to tell you anything).  But you have to admit, it makes for an interesting TV show.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Hi everyone.  Sorry I haven't been around much lately.  Not only have I been busy, but I accidentally deleted this post when it was supposed to go up last Saturday.  (Sigh.)  

This is a picture of our cat, Banjo.  He showed up about two years ago at one of our family cookouts, trying to steal the food.  He was such a pest that dad jokingly said we should do like the old timers up in the Appalachians used to and turn him into a banjo.  Instead, we started feeding him.  

The picture was taken at our first cookout this year, where the only thing Banjo tried to steal was our camp chair.  As you can tell by his expression, Banjo considers himself supreme ruler of our backyard.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Impressions of the Hobbit movie

So I finally got to see The Hobbit, and I thought I'd share my first impressions.  If you haven't seen the movie and are planning to, you might not want to read this, because it might be spoilery.

So first off, I love Martin Freeman as Bilbo.  You know how sometimes when you see the movie version of a book you've grown up with, you can't quite reconcile the actor with the character in your head?  Totally didn't happen here.  Martin Freeman nailed Bilbo Baggins -appearance, personality, everything.  The Unexpected Party was a major highlight of the movie for me, because you see so clearly that here is a genuinely nice person (hobbit) completely overwhelmed by all these strangers that he's too polite to slam the door on.  As someone who is easily overwhelmed by crowds myself, I can sympathize.  In fact, one of the flaws of the movie (in my opinion) is that we don't have enough of these wonderful character-building moments. 

I especially missed Bilbo's point of view in Rivendell.  I love the dwarves trying to cook salad, and I enjoy the council.  (Gandalf and Galadriel doing the fantasy equivalent of texting under the table when Sauruman goes into lecture mode is priceless.)  But this section is Bilbo's first look at Rivendell, the place where he returns to spends his last years in Middle-Earth, and -aside from one backward glance- we never get the sense that it makes any kind of impression on him. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I wanted to mention the troll scene which deviates from the book, with mixed results.  In the book, Thorin sends Bilbo in as a scout to see what he's made of.  In the movie, Bilbo gets pushed into going by Fili and Kili, who are panicking because some of the ponies went missing on their watch.  This was, I think, a sound decision on the part of Peter Jackson.  The movie dwarves draw on some of Tolkien's later writings which further developed the dwarf culture and their warlike nature.  The original meeting with the trolls don't fit the more serious nature of the movie.

Unfortunately, the actual capture of the dwarves broke my willing suspension of disbelief.  Jackson had Thorin surrender to the trolls because they'd captured Bilbo -but Thorin was a seasoned warrior, a dwarf prince!  He would be used to making hard decisions in battle.  I have trouble believing that he would let his entire band of loyal followers get eaten just because they threatened Bilbo.  It was like he suddenly remembered that Bilbo was the title character and he couldn't let him get killed off for plot reasons.  

Using Bilbo instead of Gandalf distract the trolls is great.  It shows that he's cunning and can think on his feet.  In the book, Bilbo doesn't come in to his own until after he meets Gullom -which is around the one-third mark in the book, but closer to the the three-third mark in the movie.   That would be way to late to have your hero just starting to do anything.

I have mixed feelings about Radagast's introduction.  My dad found his presence random and confusing, while my brother thought he added a new depth to the world-building.  I think people who are familiar with Middle Earth only through the movies might be confused by him, like my dad was.  As to the character himself, it really depends on what Peter Jackson plans to do with him in the future movies.

As for the early meeting with the orcs and wargs, I understand it from a plot standpoint.  It will make the ending feel inevitable.  I like that the lead orc has a history with Thorin.  The way they push our heroes to visit Rivendell fills a plot hole that opened up when Jackson decided to accent the dwarf/elf feud.  I get it- but I wasn't crazy about that part.  Maybe I just know the book a little too well, but that part felt like it was just an action scene, it didn't feel like a Tolkien action scene.  Let me see if I can explain... okay.  You know Tolkien is fond of the Deu ex Machina, right?  We have Gandalf's return at dawn in The Two Towers. we have Aragorn's black ships in Return of the King.  Both have a sense of divine intervention, partly because of the use of light and shadow.  Tolkien loved using weather in mood setting.  Even in the Troll scene earlier in The Hobbit you have the sudden outbreak of sunlight bringing hope (and that was masterfully filmed).  The emotional element doesn't come through with this orc raid, and I think it's because the scene isn't based on Tolkien's writing.

The scenes in the Misty Mountains were mostly awesome (especially everything involving Gullom).  I loved Bilbo's talk with (I think) Bailin.  Those quieter scenes are where Peter Jackson's directing is especially great and I only wish there were more of this sort of thing.  I did think Bilbo looked a little too comfortable with the sword in his fight with the orc, especially after he told Gandalf that he'd never drawn a sword in his life.  I also thought the dwarves should have been a little quicker on Bilbo's heels when he went after Thorin's attacker in the tree-fight scene.  But I did love Thorin's acknowledgement of Bilbo's place in their company there at the end.

Wow.  That's a long overview.  I'm sure I missed things.  Like how much I appreciate that this movie explores dwarf culture.  It gives The Hobbit a unique feel, while still keeping a sense that we are in Middle Earth.  Also, I know why most people like to see movies in theater: telephones.  We got three calls during the prologue.  And that's it.  I'd love to hear what you all thought, if you've seen the movie. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Easter!

And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, "Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."  And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

John 11: 49-52

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Popol Vuh

While I was taking a Non-Western Lit class at college I was introduced to a collection of Mayan mythology called the Popol Vuh.  We only had a couple excerpts but those pieces were interesting enough that I went out to my local B&N and got a copy.  (Allen J. Christenson's translation if any one's interested.)  I read the first two-thirds right away.  The story was weird and interesting, following these twin trickster-gods in and out of the underworld.  Then, about two-thirds through the actual people came along and the twins pretty much disappeared out of the story.  I got distracted by life and stopped reading for awhile.

I finally got around to picking the book up again.  What the last third has (and maybe the numerous footnotes have something to do with this) is a sense of archaeological history.  The people move through several named cities.  They describe their battle against the surrounding tribes.  It's interesting in a totally different way from the first part because of the sense that you've moved from strait myth in to actual memories.

When I was about eight or nine I wanted to be an archaeologist.  Then I found out that archaeologists have to memorize the names and ages of different rock strata's, and that people who discover lost cities and ancient tombs have to study dead bodies.  (Never on my top ten list of fun sounding things to do.)  But even though I never went in for archeology, I still love the idea of finding windows to the past.  To me, that's what mythology and older writings are.  They allow you to see how people who lived hundreds of years ago looked at life around them, and at their own societies. 

Here's the other thing Popol Vuh made me think about; while it didn't go into great detail, there was mention of the whole human sacrifice thing.  Now, the Mayan civilization was incredibly advanced as far as technology, math and science are concerned.  Just look at their cities with the ziggurats, the carvings, the calender stones.  They were an absolutely amazing people.  But the thing Western civilization remembers about them (besides ziggurats are cool!) is the human sacrifices.  It's such a brutal way to go.  Part of their reason for it was to make the nations they conquered fear them.  I wonder how much the average citizen thought about the human sacrifice thing, and how much it was just part of society.  I think it's easy to ignore the things that are horrifying to outsiders because, well, that's the way it's always been and hey, life's been great so far.  I wonder about American society.  I mean, we're advanced, right?  Tall buildings.  Good irrigation systems.  Plenty of scientific and mathematical breakthroughs.  What things do we see as normal that people of the future will consider barbaric brutalities?  (As a pro-lifer, I admit abortion comes to mind.  But I'm sure there are plenty of things I'm not thinking of that will shock our descendants.)  I guess what I'm saying is, people are people.  We'll always have blind spots when we look at our own culture. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Story Structure with 101 Dalmations

My birthday was this past week (32.  Yikes!)  Here is a picture of me celebrating

Remember how two weeks ago I said I had half a post written?  Yeah... this isn't it.  That post died a tragic death.  Instead of trying to give it CPR, I've decided to talk about the strong plot structure of The 101 Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith.

The book starts fairly slowly, introducing Pongo and Missis and their family.  Cruella deVille appears like a storm rumbling in the background; there, but not really involved -yet.  The heroes are more worried about their domestic problems.  Missus has too many puppies and their humans have to find another nursing dog to help her.  They find the half-starved Perdita, a dog who tells our (canine) heroes that her pups were stolen. Our heroes are sorry for her and do their best to help, but the crisis hasn't really hit home yet.  The inciting incident is when Pongo and Missis own pups are taken.

Now, at this point in a story, it would be easy to let the heroes wallow in despair.  The worst has happened, right?  Dodie Smith has her heroes take an active role, though.  They send out a message and pick up a possible lead, only to face their first set-back.  This isn't a world of talking animals.  They can't tell their humans where the pups are; they have to undertake the rescue themselves.  I like how Dodie uses the whole `animals in a people world' as an obstruction for her heroes.  She even uses the well-meaning owners of Pongo and Missis to set up the next obstacle.  The humans advertise for their missing dogs.  Pongo and Missis have to leave the main roads or risk getting taken home before they can accomplish their mission.

See, the obstacles don't have to come from the villains.  Sometimes they come from good people who have different ideas about how to accomplish a goal, or through communication breakdowns.  Or both. 

Another thing Dodie Smith does that really helps the story is give the heroes what they're after, while still causing problems for them.  She doesn't drag the search out for the whole book; halfway through, Pongo and Missis find their missing children, BUT the kids are not alone.  Ninety-eight other puppies are with them, and all are going to be killed if Pongo and Missis don't save them.  Talk about raising the stakes!  At first Pongo thinks they have about a month to plan the rescue, but -well, remember what I said before about allies who can accidentally add to the problem?  The fact that Pongo and Missus' owners are advertising for their lost dogs leads Cruella to decide her dog napping operation is too hot.  The parents have to rescue their and every other puppy that night, without any time to prepare. 

I'm not going to go through the rest of the book.  For one thing, this post is getting a little long.  I do think as far as stakes go, this book does an excellent job.  Nothing is settled until the end, but the heroes don't get stuck in a Gilligan plot either.  (The sort where the audience begins to ask `how are the heroes going to fail this time' instead of wondering whether they'll succeed.)  It's important to let your heroes have some success at least by the half-way point, even if reaching one goal just shows how much they still have to accomplish.  

So what do you all think?  Ever bog out on a story because the heroes set out to do something and still haven't gotten anywhere three books later?  Know any good examples where the heroes accomplish enough going along to keep you reading?  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!  I had a special Valentine post for you all that I started writing up yesterday... and it's still only half written.  It's been awhile since I've posted a picture, so I pulled out an anciently old picture that goes with the theme of Valentine's Day.  I hope you like it. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Link

The amazing Tia Nevitts has decided to add reader interviews to her blog and I got to be the first one interviewed!  (Cue happy but self conscious blushing).  If you want to check it out, here is a link.  And seriously, if you haven't checked out Tia's blog already, you really should do that anyway.  She has been encouraging writers and would-be-writers for.... lost count of how many years.  Let's just say for as long as she's been blogging.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing Out

Writing in a cafe sounds so romantic.  You picture artsy people in berets surrounded by coffee scents as they pen deeply atmospheric tales.  I wonder if it's like that for some people?  I'm used to working alone, so going off into a crowd to write was definitely a new experience. 

I didn't actually go to a cafe.  I went to my local Chic Fillet.  First thing I learned; the food is a major distraction.  I thought I'd eat a waffle fry, type a few words, take another thoughtful bite... nope.  I inhaled my food in just a couple seconds.  Which meant I had no excuse to not type.  I had an hour and a half to kill between one errand and another, and I had been smart enough not to bring my Nook.  It's amazing how the threat of dying from boredom can motivate a person to write.  

On the down side, I have not yet learned how to really get into my story when someone is conducting an interview at a nearby table and people are randomly walking in and out, so I mostly did edit work.  Chances are, as I write out more often I'll get better at tuning out my surroundings.

I've read about people who write entire novels in coffee shops and restaurants.  In fact there are some who draw inspiration from being surrounded by people. 

 If anyone knows their secret, clue me in! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rebellious Young Teens

Have you noticed that the `rebellious' part of rebellious young teens tend to be an informed ability?  Not that I mind reading about non-rebellious teens.  I just wish people would stop assuming if there's a teenager in the story they must be rebellious even when all evidence points to the contrary. 

I once read a movie review that described Mulan as a rebellious young teen.  Yeah... no.  Trying to save your father by risking your own life may be impulsive, but it's not rebellious, folks, sorry.  You want a rebellious young teen from among the Disney animated ladies, you've got to go with The Little Mermaid.  Ariel is the genuine article when it comes to rebellious.  Nobody can tell her anything (though they sure try).  We meet her exploring a sunken galleon behind her father's back, egging Flounder into joining her, and nearly getting her friend killed as a result.  Sebastian is sent to keep an eye on her, and before you know it he's pulled into lying to his king.  This kid is reckless and it's hurting everyone around her.  (Except Prince Eric, whose life she saves.)

The subterfuge cannot last, and of course it doesn't.  Sebastian turns out to be a lousy lier.  King Triton finds out that his daughter's been regularly risking her life and predictably blows his top.  This is where the eels come in, tempting Ariel into a devil's bargain.  No matter how hurt and angry she is, Ariel loves her dad too much to just swim off to his worst enemy.  She almost resists temptation. 


In the human world Ariel is, for the first time, vulnerable.  In an ironic twist, now that telling the truth would help her, she has no voice.  This time it is Ursula weaving deceptions around Ariel and Prince Eric to make sure Ariel stays indebted and enslaved.  Everything comes crashing down at the end of the second act when Eric finds out who Ariel is just as she turns back into a mermaid and gets dragged under the ocean only to learn that Ursula used her to lay a trap for her father, who takes her place as Ursula's slave. 

Then the climax happens.

In The Little Mermaid the authors actually showed that Ariel was rebellious, they didn't just stick `rebellious young teen' in the tag line and expect you to accept their word for it.  They didn't just leave her swimming around getting her friends in trouble, either.  They took her to the place where her actions have deep consequences; her father enslaved, Prince Eric almost drowned by the eels, her kingdom on the verge of destruction.  Then they have her realize her mistake and fight for her friends.  In the end, to prove that she's really changed, the authors have her reconcile with her dad.  (That bit where she hugs him goodbye makes me tear up every time.)

A rebellious young teen can make for a great protagonist when you give them a good story arc and make sure you're not just using `rebellious' as a synonym for `teen'.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Sorry for the lengthy silence.  I've been spending time with my family here in the real world and fighting off the cold that Would Not Die.  I'll try to post something next week.  (Try is the operative word here.)  In the meantime, I hope you all are having a terrific new year.