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#ThrowbackThursday: Star Wars, the High School obsession.

It’s been 40 years since the first Star Wars came out. Back then it wasn’t titled anything but Star Wars, A New Hope came later. And it holds a lot of meaning for me.

I was introduced to Star Wars back in Junior High by a friend. She was shocked I’d never seen it before. (I wasn’t.) I don’t think she expected me to latch onto it as much as I did. In hindsight, my favorite Disney movie at that time was the Little Mermaid. What resonated with me about the Little Mermaid was Ariel wanting to go someplace else and explore new things. Not Erik, not the love story that wasn’t a love story. But that desperate feeling of “I need to get away. I don’t belong here.” And in Star Wars, you had Luke, who felt the same way. So much so, that he was willing to join the Imperial Academy to get off of Tattooine.

Yes, Luke was willing to join the Empire’s military for a chance to get away.

I fell in love with the whole universe. We watched all three of them in a row I think. I found out there was music and books. Suddenly, my $4/wk allowance (this was the nineties) was spent scrimping and saving to buy a new Star Wars book whenever we went to Wal-Mart. They got me through high school drama. I had an hour and a half bus ride in to school in the morning and a two hour ride home so I had a lot of time to read. They were an escape.

Then George Lucas released the originals to theaters with better effects. Yes! When the Phantom Menace came out, well, I wasn’t over the moon but I was eager to see where he was going to take it. When I saw, I went back to my books with a shrug unimpressed. I had the expanded universe (EU.) I didn’t really need the new movies or anything. By the time they got to the New Jedi Order in the EU, I started to peter out in my Star Wars love. They killed Chewie. They turned favorite characters evil. They adventures in a galaxy far far away weren’t as hopeful and shiny anymore.

Which is rather ironic given to make A New Hope look grungy and lived in, the extras actually marched on the costumes to ‘age’ them. (mutters, I know too much trivia I tell you!) I pared my books and media down in spurts. Getting rid of bits of the EU that I didn’t like. (And accidentally left some of it behind when I moved, oh Bounty Hunter Wars & Han Solo trilogy how I miss you.)

Remnants of a Star Wars Obsession.

The above picture isn’t even all of the Star Wars media in the apartment. I forgot my X-Wing and Falcon toys (they were sort of hiding, the Dark Empire comic collections, and the few video games I have of Star Wars, (Lego Star Wars, Pod Wars Racing, the only good thing from the Phantom Menace.)

In college while at Bluffton University, my department head organized a trip to the Toledo Museum of Art. I can’t remember the purpose of the trip. Maybe to look at a lace exhibit? However, it was during the time (early 2000s) when the Magic of Myth Star Wars costume exhibit was traveling around the country. It was going to be in Toledo while we were there. I was so excited. I took the extra money in order to see it and to buy the blue book in the picture. No one else did. We were fashion design majors. I don’t know what happened to the pictures I took while at the exhibit. I just remember being in awe of how different things look up close than what was on the big screen. (I loved the lace on Leia’s Bespin outfit for instance. Handmade from Holland. That is actually my favorite outfit from the entire trilogy.)

Star Wars was my gateway into science fiction. Sure, I’d seen an episode or two of Star Trek. It didn’t resonate with me like Star Wars did. (Maybe it was the lack of ‘must get away’ emotions. Altruistically exploring the universe is different than ‘I have to get out of here or else I’ll die’ message.) From Star Wars, I read Anne McCaffery’s Pern Series and her Talent series. I got into Frank Herbert. I read Asimov and Bradbury. I read Heinlein (some of which was really inappropriate for my age level.) And other science fiction stories that I don’t remember the names or authors of that were in the “local” (meaning 20 minutes away) town library. I even sought out science fiction christian stories! (There are one or two, not a lot. There was more christian fantasy, though still not a lot, than christian science fiction.)

It was the adventurous feel of Star Wars, the idea that there was hope to restoring order and justice to the Galaxy with the formation of the New Republic that always stuck with me even if I was reading about X-Wing pilots helping take back Coruscant or taking on Warlord Zinj or Luke’s adventures against his inner darkness and taking on Thrawn or Leia using every bit of her to make alliances and win political points even if they were points just to go rescue Han, again.

Star Wars was this natural progression for me from the Little Mermaid, to Brian Jacque’s Mossflower series (quests, fights, food!) and then Star Wars.

And they shaped my writing. If you loved the X-Wing pilots as much as I did, you’ll see echoes of that ensemble type story telling in The Lone Prospect. If you like Leia yelling at Han about how “I am not a committee!” You might see echoes of her in Roxana in the Dawn Warrior (or even in Savannah in The Lone Prospect.) Gorlouis and Gideon definitely have bits of Han and/or Lando in them. Ratchet & Clank, the Mandalorian Armor, Lost in Space (1997) and Star Ship Troopers inspired the armor used in the Lone Prospect.  The speed bikes from Return of the Jedi and the motorcycle from Ultraviolet inspired my ideas for hovering motorcycles in the Lone Prospect.

I could go on and on.

I’ll never stop loving Star Wars for the escape and comfort it gave me, the good times, the laughs and sometimes even the tears.

And it all started with a bunch of cobbled together WW2 footage marked up with grease pencils, forty years ago.

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5 Books that Got Me Interested in Werewolves

I like werewolves. Both of my current book series, Heaven’s Heathens MC and the Dawn Series include werewolves. And if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that The Lone Prospect (Heaven’s Heathens MC #1) was inspired after watching the Expendables  2 during a binge watching of Sons of Anarchy.

My interest in doing werewolves instead of say vampires came from reading a lot of books about werewolves, where in the series werewolves weren’t the main focus. I wanted a series of books that wasn’t expressly romance that focused on werewolves and werewolf dynamics and adventures and being a werewolf was more an accepted part of life than “woe is me, I am a monster.”

Monsters more often than not have human faces. See Frankenstein.

These are not necessarily recommendations. But if you like werewolf books and aren’t picky, you may like these.

1. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels is the only female werewolf that has ever survived the change. A journalist good at investigating, she used her skills to track down rogue werewolves and kill them. Until she got tired of the violence the life required no matter how much she loved the male members of her pack. She’s been trying to live like a human, but an old enemy is about to resurface threatening the pack she loves. Now, she’s being drawn back into that world.

This was Kelley Armstrong’s first novel. I liked the original cover and that’s why I bought it. It focused completely on werewolves and was an interesting start to a new series. Book 2 started introducing other races and after a while I gave up on it when it focused exclusively on the young witch that was also introduced in book 2, Stolen. Bitten doesn’t really hold up to any sort of in depth critical thinking when it comes to werewolves. Why is Elena the only female werewolf? She’s also an orphan who has been sexually abused and then her boyfriend changed her without permission. I can see why she left the guy. I don’t care how hot he’s supposed to be. My last gripe for this book was Elena really felt like a stand in for the author. They are both Canadian and the politics commentary was really heavy handed. Maybe it was supposed to make the book feel relevant in 2001. It just made me grimace a bit.

2. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Business has been slow, no dead, for Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional Wizard. Until Karen Murphy comes with a case of brutal murder. Mutilated corpse, strange paw prints and a full moon. It’s going to take all of Harry’s knowledge and skill to get to the bottom of which werewolf group is performing the murders. And the answer may be closer than he thought.

Fool Moon was Jim Butcher’s second Harry Dresden Case File. He hadn’t quite hit his writing stride yet. (That didn’t happen until book 3.) In the book, Jim Butcher went through and used about every single type of werewolf he could think of to blow the readers off the scent (see what I did there) of who the real murders were. He used a lot of “classic” Universal studios werewolf lore and lore from other werewolf, lycanthropy, berserker type werewolves as well. And then he pretty much dropped the whole werewolf thing like hot potatoes in the books after this in order to pursue his Black Council and Winter Court Fae big story lines. And the times he does end up using the werewolves, it can be rather offensive, such as werewolves going into heat and the general way he describes the female werewolves. (He also has this problem with most of his female characters. I digress.) It was a good starting point for me at least to look at the different werewolf types and go research more on my own.

3. A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison

Rachel Morgan’s love life has never been that great. Now, Nick, a former boyfriend who cut and run needs Rachel’s particular skills as a runner. A thief, he’s stolen an artifact that could give the werewolves more power over the vampires and now he’s been caught. It’s up to Rachel to find the artifact and free him from the werewolves. The problem is, he’s not in Cincinnati, but up in Michigan and on an island in the middle of one of the Great Lakes. And it’s going to take more than a few magical spells and wishful thinking to get him out alive.

This was book 4 of Kim Harrison’s Hollows Series. In one of the previous books, she’d made a one off character, an insurance adjuster, who was a werewolf. Kim Harrison is not someone who really outlines her books in advance, so this insurance adjuster suddenly became a lot more important and so did werewolves for this fourth book. Because Rachel Morgan is so caught up in vampire, demon and fae politics, other than some consequences of what happened because of this book and her joining the insurance adjuster’s pack for … insurance… purposes, after this, werewolves were dropped. So, this book was the best look at the way werewolf packs worked in her world. I liked it because there was one part of the book where it was clear that the lead female of the pack had as much power as the male leader. And in other books, there were female pack leaders as well. But the series became very much about Rachel Morgan, her love life and how she was so special. I read until the last book, but left feeling very unsatisfied as a reader. But this wasn’t that bad of an adventure! I especially loved Jenks in this book. Jenks is one of my favorite characters in the entire series. This was “his” book so to speak.

4. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Mercedes Thompson is part Native American, part mechanic and all coyote shifter. When a scruffy werewolf teen ends up at her auto shop looking for a quick job and a place to sleep, she helps him because of the werewolves that raised her. When his dead body ends up on her doorstep. She goes looking for who killed him and ends up getting entangled again with the man she thought she loved and had to leave them to get away from it all.

Moon Called was a promising first book, some Native American anachronisms aside. (Becca did a better review of this than I ever could.) As far as the series went, since Mercy lived right next door to a werewolf and later ended up dating him (and I won’t spoil whether that worked out or not) the books had plenty of werewolf story lines. And if you like your werewolves to be OCD barely controlled anger management monsters controlled by the patriarchy then sure, this is the series for you. Sure, there were times Mercy tried/tries to address the problem of male dominant packs but that doesn’t and isn’t the focus of the books. Most of the books are how Mercy somehow gets involved in another species like vampire or fae’s trouble despite the fact she’s a relatively low powered coyote shapeshifter. There’s no real reason why Mercy is “special” and everyone wants her, she just is. These werewolves have absolutely no basis in any sort of wolf science. Being the series is so werewolf focused, it started to drive me bonkers after a while. I gave up when another “bad thing” happened to Mercy after 10 books. (The Rape happens in book 3 btw. Just a warning.)

5. Master of Wolves by Angela Knight

Officer Faith Weston, head of the Clarkston PD K-9 department is still reeling from losing her previous dog. She’s hoping that an all business front and a new dog will help her move on and keep the attention of her lewd boss away from her. Her new dog Rambo was big and tough and didn’t give her any crap. Too bad Rambo was more than he seemed. Jim London, bounty hunter and werewolf, is certain that the murder of his friend Tony has been covered up by the Clarkston police department. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to go undercover and his dog form is perfect for the job. Faith Weston though is bringing out the animal in him.

Okay, yes, spoiler alert, Master of Wolves is a romance novel. I don’t read a lot of these and when I do they tend to be primarily fantasy focused. I’ve read Terry Spears (one book and no more, no, never again, bad wolf science, BAD,) Thea Harrison and a few others, but Angela Knight was the one I picked up back in 2006 when looking for werewolf novels to read. There are a few moments of “I don’t know what Angela Knight was thinking” when it comes to the scenes about Jim being a dog and… thinking like a man hound dog about Faith and later Faith seems okay with it? Maybe it was supposed to be funny but, yeah. 4 of the 9 books in Angela Knight’s series focus on werewolves and for the most part they are pretty much very formulaic romance novels and the werewolf pack dynamics were once again patriarchal and based on bad wolf science. Really, it was more the fact that this book was focused on werewolves and solving a mystery and using all the forms that the werewolf had to do it that stood out to me.

Five different books, five different treatments of werewolves, though most are the same “werewolves are monsters” based on no good modern science about wolves. But they each had different facets that got me thinking about how I would write a werewolf focused novel if I ever wrote one. Then I did and it’s called The Lone Prospect, available in ebook (3.99) and paperback (7.99) on Amazon.

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Content Marketing: A Quick Take Away

*Once again, take away being the British Slang for takeout.

After an unintentional internet detox, I was scrolling through my WordPress reader to catch up on posts and came across this guest post list at fellow WordPress blogger, Nicholas C Rossis. The list was written by Patrick Del Rosario and the first thing on it was “have a content strategy plan.”

And I went, “What the hell is a content strategy plan?” (Me no likey jargon.) A grumpy tweet later, I had two content marketers liking my tweet and I had the beginnings of a place to start looking. ConvinceandConvert.com had 41 pages of blog posts about content marketing!

Once again, I thought I’d share briefly what I’ve learned.

First things first,

What is a Content Strategy Plan?

A content strategy plan is filling your blogs with posts that the different people you want to reach care about and answers their questions in order for them to do what you want them to do next. Whether that’s follow your blog/newsletter, give to a charity, or buy a product (or even buy someone else’s product.)

Meaning, you can’t just blog about any old thing. You need to produce the type of posts and share the type of information that will interest the type of people you want to purchase the product you’re selling. All without blatantly going “Buy this! Buy this!” Nothing turns people off more than poorly worded advertisements in their blog list. Remember from Book Marketing #5) keep your spam to once a week and space it with other content.

How do you figure this out? (Other than poking at other blog posts for six hours, no worries, I did that for you.)

Figure out your purpose and point of difference.

Before you start a blog, you need to do a little digging into yourself. There are some questions you need to answer. What’s the point of your blog? Who are you? What do you do? Why are you doing this blogging thing that everyone else is doing? And how are you going to stand apart from the pack?

Sorry, did I go to fast?

Look, I’m a writer. That’s who I am. I write science fiction and fantasy adventures. I’m not about thrillers or mysteries. I’m about adventures. The reason I write this blog is that hopefully (when I figure all this content marketing out myself) someone will buy my books. If I can create a little awareness about wolves and offer some writing advice that’s icing on the cake. But really, I want people to buy my books. With so many books out there, why should they buy mine? And how can I show this to people without outright stating it and sounding like a blowhard? I mean, those are some questions I personally have to answer.

Discover your audience.

There are a lot of people on the internet. There are a lot of websites and a lot of blogs. Who are the type of people that you want stopping by yours? Who are you writing to? What is your weekly or biweekly love letter into the void trying to attract.

These are your audience and your customers. In jargon, this is your target market. I’ve talked about target market before in my fashion business series. Your blog may have more than one audience, one customer. They will be distinctive personalities. And these distinctive personalities, they have questions. And they’re coming to your blog via google or WordPress reader or maybe a link in a forum or wiki to try and find the answers to those burning questions that are keeping them up at night or causing them to complain to their best friends over text or instant messaging or their captive family at the dinner table or in the car. (We’ve all been there, admit it.)

As a writer, I have at least two different personalities that I’m blogging for. I’m blogging for readers. And I’m blogging for other writers. (Though I probably don’t have to do so. There are a ton of writer advice blogs out there.) And yes, while a writer may read. They have different needs when they are reading rather than when they are writing. I need to cater to both of those audiences and answer their questions.

Find the overlap between what you do and what the customer likes (loves and wants), worries about and pays attention to.

Time for a handy Venn diagram.

The Overlap Between You & Your Reader

On one side, we have us, the blogger. As a blogger, we’ve got some sort of reason why we’re blogging. I’m a writer. I write books. I write blog posts in hope that someone will like me and buy my books. I write blog posts for other writers, authors and creators to help lift them up and go “It’s tough but we can do it.”

On the other side, I’ve got the people who I want to buy my books, the customer, the reader. The reader has things that they care about. There are things they need to know. They have questions about my books and about me and they want to come to my blog to see if they can find out stuff about them. There are also other authors, they want to know my story and if I’m remotely successful.

In the middle, that’s what I need to be writing about in my blog. Where what I do, the information I have, overlaps with what the customer and my blog readers care about.

Use your voice.

Be personable in your writing. Write like you speak. If you’re a warm and funny person who is full of jokes and asides, hey put in the jokes and asides. Be emotional. Be honest. Don’t be afraid to put out your personal truth. People respond well to that (both negatively and positively.) Your voice, the way you write and your style is individual to you. It can’t be necessarily duplicated.

I checked my overall WordPress stats for this year. One of my more popular posts is about how creativity is like making a risotto. It was a personal story about how my friend Becca and I create and cook differently. (And that it’s okay.) It was a funny personal story that resonated with me on a Monday morning so I wrote about it.

No matter what types pf blog posts you use to try and gain traffic to your site and motivate and retain your audience, whether their lists or Q&As or How to Posts or stories, use your personal experience and tone.

Yes. Some people aren’t going to read it properly or ignore what you say in favor of their own biases. Others will find the truth and the comfort in what you’re saying.

But at the same time…

Keep it Professional

What I mean by keeping it professional is, check your sources, keep profanity to a minimum, check your images for copyright and focus on how your personal life is intersecting with your professional life in funny and heartwarming ways. And for the love of little green apples, check your spelling and grammar!

Look, there are just some things that don’t belong on a professional style blog. Your readers don’t want to see 101 selfies of you unless you’re a fashion icon. Sure, if you’re a writer, your readers would love to see pictures of you at events with them.

Let’s take the above example about me making a risotto. No one wants to hear about me making a risotto. It’s boring. That’s what personal Facebook and Instagram are for, but I took my foray into making a risotto and spun it to focus on my writing, on my craft, on what I do. I was able to link it to my professional life. Suddenly instead of being a silly story about me accidentally making a risotto, it’s a silly story about me accidentally making a risotto and writing all at the same time. As a post, it worked. It drew traffic. It was a funny story that my audience appreciated and has garnered a goodly amount of views for a post that isn’t linked anywhere else.

Once you figure out the middle ground between who you are and who you’re trying to reach, then you’re well on your way to finding a good, personable, and professional content strategy plan.

Really, the last few days has been wading through blog posts full of jargon, on top of jargon, that leads to more jargon. There is apparently more, like types of blog posts and a “content amplification strategy.” I think that’s, how to go viral or close to it? Basically, how are you marketing your marketing?

There was a reason I wasn’t doing Fashion Business. But here I am. So, if you use my landing page as a way to view my blog, you may notice some changes in the upcoming weeks or days.

I need to make a plan. A content strategy plan because I think I’m leaving out my most important audience… my readers!

Good luck and I hope this helps someone else.

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Action Movie Friday: How to Train Your Dragon

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: How to Train Your Dragon
MPAA Rating: PG
Release: 2010
Genre: action, animated, fantasy, adventure, family
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig
Director: Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders
Writer: Will Davies, Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders, Cressida Crowell (Book)
Distributor: Dreamworks
Budget: $165 Million
Box Office: $495 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Gingersnaps Rating: Five Cookies!

Summary:

There is nothing more in the world that Hiccup wants than to be a dragon slaying Viking and make his father proud of him. But he’s just not built to match up to his mighty father, Stoick the Vast. Hiccup doesn’t stop trying and when he succeeds in downing a rare and never before seen dragon, a Night Fury, he can’t bring himself to kill the beast. Unwittingly having injured the dragon, Hiccup studies him, befriending him, calling the dragon Toothless. Together, they learn the truth about the dragons and the huge misunderstanding that is happening between them. Now, they just have to get the other Vikings to listen.

Review:

How to Train Your Dragon was a fairly successful movie financially. It did well enough that it got a television series (I’m like two seasons behind, drat,) a (glitch ridden) MMO and a sequel with talks about a third movie to explain why there aren’t any dragons in the world anymore. (Sad face.) I’m not sure what the merchandise was like, but I do remember at my local family dollar there were plenty of activity books (right next to My Little Pony.)

I’m actually surprised at the box office numbers for this movie. I thought they were higher. But given the return rate versus the budget rate, this movie was a financial success and the DVD, Blu Ray sales as long as the-numbers.com were tracking them weren’t that bad either.

How to Train Your Dragon is one of those movies that grabs me and enthralls me the whole way through every single time I watch it. I have a very difficult time coming up with bad things to say about this movie. And you know, I like that. I like having a movie I can point to and go “more like this please.” Given it was from the same minds as Lilo & Stitch, Beauty & the Beast and Mulan, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

You see, the brilliance of the movie is that it grabs you from the very first scene. I watched one of the extras where they talked about how complicated that first scene was to do given that they had to introduce setting, all these characters, and the conflict all at the same time. However, they managed to pull it off by both telling through Hiccup’s narration what was going on, and then backing it up by showing through an awesome action sequence with lots of explosions and character interaction what was going on.

Narration gets a bad rap. Narration, or voice over, is Hollywood’s latest obsession and it’s a short hand way to set up a story by having the main character tell you what’s going on, where you are and everything Hollywood thinks you need to know before the movie’s story really gets going. It’s gotten so out of hand places like CinemaSins mock it very effectively. Narration is a very powerful tool in a storyteller’s arsenal when used effectively.

See, the key to good narration that most movies fail at is that the narration has to be entertaining and an expression of the character thinking or saying what is going on. If you’re using narration as the opening of the story, it has to grab you and make you sit up and take notice. Most narration in movies nowadays is just so boring and unnecessary that it would be better to leave it out entirely. There are two movies that I can think of that use narration effectively, How to Train Your Dragon and Pitch Black.

Both movies use their narration to establish character. When you hear Vin Diesel’s gravelly voice telling you about cyrosleep and the animal side and how he can smell everyone else on the ship, you know you’re dealing with some primal tough guy. When you listen to Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, you get dragged into that cynical, fatalistic, self-deprecating humor of a teenager. (It helps that both Vin and Jay loved their characters.)

And then just as Hiccup finishes his narration, the main conflict is revealed. Dragons! Dragons are attacking the village. And we get bombarded with the stereotypes of Vikings fighting… dragons. (Vikings didn’t really wear horned caps but it’s become such visual shorthand and children’s movie not historical reenactment.) We get introduced to all these characters in very individual ways and then when you think the whole thing is over, we’ve got the conflict all revealed and we’re good to go for story, bang, major reveal of the other conflict in the story, Hiccup vs. Stoick.

And the conflict of father and son is so personal and so emotionally visceral that it feels like it’s been ripped from every teenagers thoughts about expectations versus reality and not being listened to and feeling ignored and not loved for who you are and instead being held to a standard that you can’t possibly measure up to ever and how they want a child that is not you.

When I get done wanting to be Stoick over the head with the nearest boat oar, it really does make me want to cry. Because this entire movie has a very large underlying message of love the child you have and not the child you want. Plus the perils of not learning what motivates your enemy so that maybe they can become your friends and allies.

And the beauty of this story is that given the society we saw (which was actually relatively close to actual Viking society) Hiccup could have been a girl and the story would have played out the exact same way. Sure, there are moments where it’s definitely a father and son thing. But it doesn’t really hinge on Hiccup’s gender, it hinges more on the type of person Hiccup is versus the type of person Stoick is. (A lot of it having to do with physical qualities and Hiccup’s brilliant mind and general clumsiness factor.) Stoick did what his father said. Hiccup questions. Stoick is a brawler or a paladin. Hiccup is a thief or an assassin. The two are at odds because of ideology and physiology and not gender. It’s actually refreshing to see.

The movie gets a nice satisfying ending where the conflicts are laid to rest and hopefully Stoick accepts Hiccup and the two start listening to one another. Or else, the rest of the teen years are going to be just as full of arguments and hurt on both sides. (The television series tries to address some of this with mixed results.)

Obviously, this deserves the full cookie.

There are lots of explosions, there were plenty of places where they weren’t necessary and they had them anyways. It was awesome. I loved it. One cookie.

The fight scenes were entertaining. The first fight scene set a high standard for the rest. Then showing the training and how they learned to fight dragon was funny. So, the final battle scene, they do a fair job of keeping you engaged and showing how the characters use what they’ve learned. One Cookie.

But now let’s talk about Astrid!

Astrid has the unique position of being both Hiccup’s rival and his romantic interest. Okay, sure, there is Snotlout, who is everything that Hiccup isn’t but he’s  such a braggart it’s hard to take him seriously. But when it comes down to the dragon training, it’s shown explicitly that Astrid is the most serious about it. She trains and trains constantly. When it comes down to it, outside of Stoick, Astrid is going to be the toughest one to convince that dragons can actually be friendly.

There isn’t a huge amount of time devoted to her because this is Hiccup’s story but what we do see of her, she is Hiccup’s go to type of person. She is the one who isn’t afraid to give him a kick in the pants, metaphorically. She’s not handing him ideas because guess what, the main character does have to come up with their own solutions for the story to feel satisfying. But she trusts Hiccup enough to go along with his ideas while at the same time going “If this doesn’t work, I’m telling anyways because people need to know.” Overall, she feels like a motivated teenage girl. Could she and Ruffnut been bigger and not twigs. Yes. But here is Hollywood for you.

Now, if there is one thing I don’t like, it’s the punch then kiss thing. It isn’t funny when a boy shoves a girl down on the playground and the teacher passes it off as “he just likes you boys will be boys.” And it’s not funny for a girl to punch a guy and then kiss him to make up for it. This whole “they’re violent because they like you” has become such a ubiquitous and accepted part of culture that it’s barely noticed anymore except by feminists and abuse survivors. And here it is again in a children’s movie where in the end Hiccup is going “Okay, I’ll take a sock in the arm to get a kiss,” and accepting the violence. They tried to make it this “romantic” thing. Look, anything that involves hitting/shoving/tugging in any way shape or form is not romantic. This is the one sour note in an overall excellent movie and I’m not even sure it is “in character” for Astrid to be doing this.

“But Ginny, it’s there on the screen in the movie, of course it’s in character!”

Now, the real thing is here, is this a matter of it being about Astrid which is the cookie we are at, or storytelling romance in general. I feel this is more of a storytelling romance in general sort of question rather than about Astrid herself. The romance was such a minor subplot that it doesn’t really get addressed until you address Astrid.

So, I’m going to leave this cookie about women in How to Train Your Dragon whole. Just, with a caveat about how I don’t like the storytelling they used for the romance as it was a deliberate choice since they used it like 3 times.

The universe of How to Train Your Dragon was great. You can tell that they spent either a lot of time reading through the books (I have no idea how much is from the books and how much isn’t.) Or they spent a lot of time coming up with dozens of dragons and leaving lots of universe questions open (which they then spent an equal amount of time explaining in shorts and the television series.) The dragons are all fairly distinct while still be lizard type dragons. There is a ton of fire effects and despite the fact that you know some of those shapes wouldn’t be able to fly at all, they’re dragons. You want to hand wave it.

The Universe doesn’t feel strictly “Norse” despite the “Odin’s beard, Thor’s hammer” type of swearing going on. The music does help give it a more Irish/Scottish feel. (Yes, I put a slash between those, don’t hurt me.) And the art on the houses is a mix between Germanic, Norse and Celtic styles from the same time period. Mostly it’s pretty generic tunics and furs and trousers. Astrid has a little Roman Legionnaire/Greek Warrior thrown in. The colors are very natural and greens and golds that are pretty easy to get out of plant based dyes. Nothing really pulled me out. One cookie.

How to Train Your Dragon is an excellent and entertaining movie that really delivers on the conflicts it presents with funny and likeable characters. With the one caveat of bad romance writing. Five cookies.

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Say what?

Netflix is halfway through airing their short series run of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. And the reaction has been pretty interesting? Divisive? Worrisome?

It’s fairly horrifying to watch for several reasons. 1) As a Christian, I find it fairly easy to pick apart the whole premise. 2) Is that really how those who are outside fundamental Christianity view us? war mongering isolationists who want to put women “in their place” meaning, in the home forever who are scientifically ignorant? (I would argue that a good portion of the population is scientifically ignorant due to our ‘lauded’ public school system.) 3) Supreme Biblical Cherry Picking (and I’m fairly certain I know the verses that she’s cherry picking out the New Testament that haven’t even been mentioned.) and 4) By trying to make it more relevant, it left out the racism of the original story and changed OfGlen’s story to be unrecognizable. (And may have cheapened her story as well.) And 5) yes, women can be just as horrible to each other as men are, at least someone recognizes it. The last is probably the most important and needs to be talked about, loudly. Not, “the men are going to take our birth control!”

But growing up inside fundamentalist Christianity, the whole thing feels like Speculative Scare Fiction at it’s best or worst as the case may be since Atwood never actually offered a solution in her story. She posed a question but never answered it basically.

And sure, there are aspects of fundamentalist Christianity I don’t agree with and they can be just as bad on the scaremongering about the so called ‘secular’ world. But I do know how sacred they value the institution of marriage and having a mistress or an affair or anything that would smack of infidelity would not work in that context. Christianity Today did a much better analysis on it than I ever could. Mostly, I’ve been shaking my head and sighing over the whole using the story of Rachel and her handmaid, which is the reflection of Sarah and her handmaid Hagar (and that ended badly.)

Then today, Mother’s Day, in the Focus on the Family advice column, one young mother who wishes to go back into the workforce gets this as an answer: ‘Being a parent is the highest calling you can have,’ to paraphrase.

Say what? Where was that in the Bible? If I’m remembering 12 years of biblical study correctly, the highest calling was to serve God! Are you at Focus on the Family not paying the least bit of attention to the political and cultural climate right now? Just… what?! Last I checked, I’m not even sure being a parent is a calling. Some people want to be parents, and some people don’t and some people end up parents on purpose or accidentally. Being a parent just sort of happens because you get adopted as a parent and you have no idea how. (This happens to me a lot. Wait, I have my own problems, you want me to solve yours? Do I look like your mother? Your mother said what? Oh for fuck’s sake, okay for the next five minutes I’ll be your mother.”) It’s hard work. I’m still not sure I’d consider it a calling.

Because parenting should not be the be all and end all of a person’s life. If all they are is a “parent” then they haven’t got much of an identity. Being a parent as a calling leads to very dangerous waters where your intellect, your creativity and even your spouse could end up being neglected and then when the kids are gone, then what?

Saying parenthood is the highest calling is dangerous. It’s dangerous to put a ‘highest’ on anything. It puts a lot of burdens and expectations on young people that they don’t need because sometimes the “calling” isn’t there, the biology doesn’t work right or maybe they don’t like what it takes to be a parent. (Some people don’t like sex and that’s okay.) It’s toxic. It messes with young people’s heads. Because everyone’s “highest’ calling is different and they need to do what they are best at and that is in the Bible!

Of course, there are a lot of parents who don’t want to teach their children how to be independent, analytical, authority questioners (even Jesus questioned God at times) or anything at all about responsibility, integrity or their own bodies and sex. (You want to watch a community tear itself apart, be like California and change the rules about what needs to be taught in sex education to seventh graders. Hmm, in 7th grade, I’d found porn on the internet and read about sex in books. Comprehensive sex education is NEEDED at that age.)

Thus, educating gets dumped on the schools that are already overburdened trying to teach the children to know their ABCs, 123s and understanding the world, to be teaching morals and ethics on top of it. Look, you can’t drop the ball on some things and whine about how it’s not ‘age appropriate’ and then put it at ‘age appropriate’ at an age where it’s already too late. They know about it already because they found out through the internet or through friends or on the bus or my God, something bad happened to them.

But parenting is the highest calling. Right. No. Parenting is hard work. Parenting should be respected for the physical and emotional labor that goes into it. Parenting shouldn’t be considered the be all and end all of life especially if you aren’t suited to it or don’t want to do it.

And that doesn’t scratch the surface about the toxic attitudes in fundamentalist Christianity that deal with obeying, honoring, and respecting your parents and what that means to them. (Plus some of the toxic attitudes towards marriage, that directly contradict what is going on in Atwood’s story.)

In conclusion, yes, Margaret Atwood’s story has some very resonating messages about how women treat each other and the toxicity of certain beliefs. But these aren’t the ones everyone is screaming about.

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Action Movie Friday: Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron
MPAA Rating: G
Release: 2002
Genre: animated, adventure, family, action
Starring: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi, Chopper Bernet,
Director: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Writer: John Fusco, Michael Lucker
LycDistributor: Dreamworks
Budget: $80 Million
Box Office: $106 Million

Okay, no wonder this movie did so poorly in theatres if that was the trailer. Seriously, there is a wonderful story here folks, but that trailer is the first minute of the movie and does not show it!

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 69%

Gingersnaps Rating: Four and Three Quarters Cookies!

Summary:

When the naïve and curious wild prime stallion of the Cimarron herd investigates a light on the horizon one night, he ends up being captured and dragged into the curious world of the two leggers. All he wants is to be free and to return to his herd far to the west. But the odd conflicts among the two leggers leave him a pawn going from owner to owner and doing things he doesn’t understand. Even as the two leggers plan to invade his homeland, his spirit refuses to be tamed or broken.

Review:

Very rarely do storytellers take real world events and tell them from the eyes of the animals that are affected by the humans entering their territory and changing it to suit humans instead of the animals that live there. A lot of times, when storytellers do tell stories from the viewpoints off animals, it is often horses. Horses have been the companions of humans for thousands of years. Horses and humans are both social animals that form groups and loving bonds. But in the eyes of humans, horses are property and their treatment depends greatly on their owners. Black Beauty wasn’t written as a fictional novel, but as a way to create awareness for the poor treatment of horses during that time period. (The fact it because a successful fictional novel beloved by children was a happy accident. It was written for adults.)

Horses are wild animals. You can raise a horse from a foal and it may still be temperamental, kick, bite and throw you off their back if they don’t like you. They’re dangerous and in order to in some aspects fear humans or even respect them, they have to learn those lessons very young. (Pick up a foal and they’ll never forget it and always think the human can pick them up, even if they’re 2000 lbs  and taller than the human.) Horses and pigs are smart. In fact, pigs are just as dangerous if not more than horses because a pig can and will eat a human and they go feral a lot faster than a horse does.

It’s just something to keep in mind while you watch this movie. Because if you understand that horses are wild animals and require extensive (6 years) worth of training from birth to be remotely ‘domesticated’ or ‘tame.’ Then you’re going to watch this movie with a mixture of horror and “yep, they deserve what’s coming to them.”

This movie touches on a lot of issues for a children’s movie about a horse trying to escape captivity. The ‘settling’ of the American West is a pretty controversial and touchy subject and not just for what we did to the Natives, but also what we did do the wild animals that lived there before we arrived and we ended up decimating within decades of “settling.” Wild horses in America regularly take on pumas and alligators in order to protect their herds. To take a prime stallion from the herd (even if they didn’t realize he was a prime stallion) can be the death of the herd. (Though mares can be mean too.)

As an adult watching this movie, I can see both sides of what is going on. I understand Spirit’s horror of not being able to leave and protect his herd and the sacrifice he made to make sure more of his herd wasn’t captured. I also understand where the humans were coming from. They see a horse in the prime of his life not owned by anyone and that he’ll make a good mount. (Though why the cavalry would take him, I don’t know, the rest of their horses were brown.) And given what could have happened to Spirit, the cavalry actually wasn’t that bad of a deal as far as horse lives go. The horse was heart of the cavalry man. Their lives depended on the health of their horses. He would have been at least, in the eyes of the humans, well taken care of at the Fort.

So watching them trying to rough break (and that’s what it was and is called) a wild mustang Stallion in three days rather than taking the time to earn his trust and befriend him feels a bit like justice when Spirit refuses to let any of them stay on his back and uses all the tricks he knows from protecting his herd from pumas and other wild animals to ensure that they at the least will have a difficult time staying on.

Look, there are mustangs that can leap 9 feet into the air, twist about like crazy snake things and will roll on their backs to get rid of a rider. They are in rodeos, not cavalry units.

I was actually worried for a moment that they were going to make Spirit a mine horse for the Gold Rush and thought that would be a bit dark for a children’s movie. The life of a mine horse wasn’t pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. It was also short. And Spirit honestly, was too big for a mine horse. This is me knowing a tad too much about history and enjoying my underground mine tours. I was grateful they went for the railroad horse solution instead. It wasn’t quite as grim, but it also led to a cool scene that shows that yes, some horses are indeed, very smart.

And yes, the Lakota using a mare to try and tame Spirit is a very effective method. Lead a mare past a stallion and he’ll do just about anything. I think the funniest part of the movie for me is when Spirit tries to gain Rain, the mare’s, attention and she brushes him off and all he says is “Mares.” Because that’s all that needs to be said.

Honestly, this movie is very thought provoking and could introduce a lot of interesting topics to talk about with kids. The morals and ethics of settling the American west, the treatment of horses, learning about the railroad and how the cavalry worked at the time. The plight of the American mustang, puma and bison (and wolf, though wolves aren’t in there, wolves were just as decimated as the puma, mustang and bison.) Fair warning, the movie does begin with a mare giving birth. Be prepared for that life lesson. It is a fascinating time in American History and is… one of my favorites at least.

The combination of the story and the music meant I sniffled a lot. Story wise this movie was very effective at least brushing on both sides of the issues of what was happening at the time while still remaining focused on Spirit and Spirit’s journey to get back home. One cookie.

Like I said, making Spirit a railroad horse was a very smart decision. It gave Spirit a conflict and a motive to escape and led to a really exciting scene that made me sit up and take notice and go “oh shit” and then there were explosions and I was happy, happy, happy. Honestly, I knew that this really was a minor setback for the humans of that time period, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but cheer on the horse. One Cookie.

The fights were entertaining and you’re going “wait, this is a movie about horses, how can there be fights?” Look, when someone gets on the back of a horse and the horse throws them off or kicks them or twists about, I call that a fight. They tied him up so he couldn’t move and still tried to bite and kick and use his body weight against the humans. (And they deserved it for being such morons.) Sure, there were a few moments where the Lakota fought against the cavalry. The scene where Spirit escapes the fort is one of the times he is helped by the Lakota. But it’s not quite as entertaining as watching a bunch of humans being played for fools by a horse. One cookie.

Outside of Spirit’s mother, who is really there for the beginning and end of the film and no more, the only female we get to know is Rain, the mare that Little Creek owns and uses to try and tame Spirit. (The only female humans in the story are in the Lakota village as well, which is rather unnerving.) Rain never speaks. We never get her thought’s the way we do Spirit’s. Rain was a good foil for Spirit. She liked where she was, she liked being ‘owned’ and had formed a friendship with Little Creek. They did manage a lot with her facial expressions and how she thought that Spirit was being silly. That being said, she was also mostly just the love interest, presented as a potential conflict for whether or not Spirit ever makes it back to his herd and a heart wrenching moment of uncertainty of whether or not she even survives. In the end, she doesn’t have much agency given that she’s a horse and all. So, I’m left uncertain how to feel about her and due to this uncertainty am taking one bite of the cookie.

The American West is a beautiful and incredibly diverse landscape. Dreamworks represented it well without it being overly “America! Isn’t it so great!” Because what is going on is so sparsely presented in the movie because viewpoint of a horse, it is like you get little photographs of what the west was like without overtly going into stereotypes or presenting some of the grimmer aspects of western life. There wasn’t anything that would pull a child out of the movie and as I said before, enough was presented to start some thought provoking conversations. One cookie.

Overall I found Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron to be an emotional and thought provoking story about horses and the west all the while still being an entertaining action filled movie. Four and three quarter cookies.

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#WriterWednesday: Writing reveals. Character backstory.

It’s Writer Wednesday, let’s talk writerly things!

Coming up with new ideas really has me thinking and analyzing the way I write things. Of course, back when I was brainstorming The Lone Prospect and the Dawn Warrior I didn’t have a blog like this and well, the only person I constantly talked about my writing with was Becca. (I still talk to her constantly about my writing, not much has changed.)

When I’m writing a story, I’m trying to take the reader on a journey, an adventure and along the way I want them to get to know these characters I’m writing about. I don’t want to dump all the information about them and their backstories and personality on the reader all at once and in the beginning. That’s boring. That’s telling the reader things instead of showing it to them. It can also set up false expectations, especially if I as a writer say one thing about the character and then never show the character doing that thing or acting that way or feeling a particular emotions.

If  I tell my readers things right off the bat, the journey will fall flat and end before it even began. Because there was no journey, there was no adventure. If I tell you the character’s history and motivations and deepest darkest secrets before the plot begins, why would you care to read the story at all? You probably wouldn’t. There is no reason to.

There are things that I know as a writer. They are swirling up there in my head. I know things about the character’s past. I know things about their motivations and the way they feel emotions. I know why they are the way they are. (And sometimes I don’t  know all of it, as I come up with more story, I learn more especially about smaller characters.) But I have to know the right time as a writer to reveal it to you, as a reader.

Now these are some guidelines I use (consciously or unconsciously) as a writer.

When one of the other main characters needs to know the information.

Most of the time, a lot of information in a character’s backstory is simply not relevant to the task at hand. And if one of the main characters hasn’t grown up, gone to school or know intimately the details of another person’s history, then nine times out of ten, they probably really don’t need to know. Until this information becomes important to dealing with them. From if it’s how the character learned a skill, to a simple “Dude, we just don’t talk about that around them. Bad things happen.” Or an off hand comment to explain what just happened and clue in our hapless main character. (I can’t use MC. I write about a motorcycle club and it gets confusing!)

When it’s logical for the character to be thinking about the information.

We all have memories. It’s one of the interesting bits of human existence, that we remember things. We remember our past the good and the bad. (Though some studies say it is easier to remember negative things rather than positive things, so try to fill your lives with positivity folks!) And depending on the situation, how important the past is to the present and how much time the character has on their hands, they may think about the memories of what formed the skill or situation or reaction. (Sometimes visceral reactions are visceral reactions and will need guideline number 1.) Basically, if the character has a memory, or flashback or even triggering event that deals with the situation then, it’s perfectly acceptable to reveal the information as a way of building the character.

When it has the most impact on the plot.

When you’re writing a mystery, or a thriller sometimes it’s useful to leave out information until you can punch the reader in the face with it. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to leave little clues and foreshadowing in the books so it doesn’t completely feel like what just happened was out of left field. Sometimes, as a writer, you just plain want to try and surprise your reader in hopes that the surprise is a good well set up surprise and they’ll keep turning pages because it’s just that fascinating.

When you’ve written in a question and you need to answer it.

Writers can use their writing to ask questions about the story or sometimes about the nature of the universe (notorious for scifi/speculative fiction writers.) These questions can be as innocuous as “who would kill this seemly harmless person?” to as charged as “Can racism ever be ended?” And a good writer know the questions they are asking as they set up their story and know to answer them by the conclusion of the story. (Whether or not I am a good writer in this respect remains to be seen.) Many times, these questions have to be asked by the writer themselves as they are coming up for the idea of the story and the way they answer them will determine how the plot goes. An answer to a question that was never asked in the story can be just as jarring as a twist without foreshadowing.

There are just a few ways I’ve thought of revealing important information as I’ve been thinking about my new story and analyzing the way I’ve revealed information in the stories I’ve already written. I’m sure that there are other ways to do it.

Have a good Writer Wednesday.

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