Thursday, December 27, 2012

Caesar's Christmas

The king of the rocks hid down in his tunnels. The renegade bands had been crawling the city surface unrelentingly for days. A light snow had fallen, and Caesar knew that if he left his safe home behind, even to sing, they would find and follow his tracks.
It was a lonely day down in the caves, and without anything interesting having happened there was not even any carving to do. And it was the worst day of the year to be lonely, too. Caesar hadn’t much of a mind for calendars or knowing any day from another, but somehow deep in his mind he had remembered that as a boy, though he didn’t remember a boy as anything different from himself, he had never been alone on this day. It was a day he had given gifts to others, and his parents had given gifts to him.
People wore funny hats on this day, too, he remembered. They were like red cones with white little balls on the end. They there the only fuzzy things left in the king’s memory, having lost almost all his hair himself. He thought that maybe he had one down in one the unused tunnels. He could have a celebration!
The king bounded down through his domain from tunnel to tunnel, not able to remember where he had left the stretchy and fuzzy trinket, or even what exactly it looked like. His search took him down into rooms he had not used since the last time this day had come.
It was not a good time of year to be out and about anyway. The days were all shorter than normal and darkness often came down while he was still just halfway through his song. And it was no use singing if he couldn’t see the audience anyway, so he would be obliged to step down and accept the sorrowful nods of all his adoring fans. They understood he couldn’t just go on in the dark. He had to find his way home.
And then there it was, in the third room that Caesar searched for the second time. Tossed off in a dusty corner, the reddish silly hat. He gripped it up between his massive fingers and tried the delicate task of fitting the hat onto his head for the next ten minutes. At last, it slipped down his lumpy skull and clung on with elastic tightness.
Caesar had no mirrors down there. He had always run to the river if he really needed to see his own face, which was only to make sure that it was fine if he ever got really ambushed by the renegades. But he could not go up to the surface. There were the renegades there, and they had the shiny guns.
Caesar tried to remind himself of this, but he could not find any good reason to wear the hat if he could not see what he was about. Just when he was sure he was going to have to run outside if this day was to be at all festive, he remembered something more. There had been something about socks. He thought he had one of those somewhere, though it wasn’t much good above ground in terrain like that.
The king rummaged around his treasuries and libraries for half an hour more before he found it, in the same room, exactly where the hat had been. It was giant and pink, of a stretching knitting. On it were some letters that he could not read anymore. It wasn’t a word, the king was sure of that. Clearly, he thought, it must be a name, though whose he could not imagine. He slipped it on over his right foot and admired it. It did look something of a happy thing, though only suitable for this special day.
But that only reminded him that he still did not know what his hat looked like. He had to find out. He had to.
There would still be a little daylight left out there. He could make it down to the river. Even if it had done that thing where it turned to slippery, see-through rock it would still let him see himself. That was a strange thing, too, that he could see through it and still see himself and it, all three. But that was not the strangest thing the king had seen in all his domain, and it troubled him not the slightest, so long as he didn’t fall through it.
The king hopped along his tunnels with the stocking and the cap right to the base of his ascending shaft. He cocked the side of his head towards the opening at the top. There was no noise.
He climbed the shaft with only two arms and one leg, since he did not want to get the sock dirty, and so it took him a while longer and was a good bit more exhausting than it ever was. Once he got up he looked around. It would not do the hop around without using that foot any longer. Anyhow, the snow was white, and so it should not make him dirty to step in it. He crawled out of the tunnel and checked again. There was no sign of renegades.
So the king took off to the left of his usual path, running straight for the river. He could just dart down that way, carefully hidden among the rocks, and sneak back. Actually, he would take a more roundabout way back, maybe, so that if they followed his tracks they wouldn’t see him.
Making an odd trail of uneven footprints he bounded along, bouncing lightly with each step but keeping his head down in what must have been a most odd combination of hilarity and terror.
When Caesar crested the last hill that ran down into the river he remembered one more thing. Many years ago he had done a thing that began with the same letter as pillar, but he couldn’t remember what. It had the middle sound of tunnel in it twice, and somewhere once it had the starting sound of gun. In fact it ended with the gun sound, too. And it was named after a funny flightless bird, too. They had done a thing like it with something called sleds, but the gun sounding thing hadn’t used them.
This sort of day brought back so many memories to the old king that he wished it would happen more often. In any case, penguining (he had remembered) was quite fun (and actually consisted of sliding down a snowy hill in just the snow jacket, without a sled), and so he leapt at the edge of the hill on his chest, hoping he would slide down like he had when he was a boy. Instead it turned into a crazy roll and tumble, but he didn’t remember what penguining had been anyway, and he found the tumble enjoyable, so to his mind it was exactly what he expected.
Then he realized the hat had nearly come off, and he daintily slipped it back down to his eyebrow ridge with his massive forefingers.
The king peered down at the ice. But he did not know what to think.
It looked strange, different, of course, to have a red and silky thing with what was now a greyish ball on the end, dangling by one side of his face. It did not make much sense. But then, this day did only come once a year or so, maybe it was okay to not make sense. Perhaps that was what this day was all about, doing things that don’t make much sense at all, like giving things away.
They had done more than just penguining and silly hats though, and even more than the socks. There was something more missing. They had sang back then, too. Not the one song he could usually remember and that he usually sang. It was a different one. He had sung it in something like the theater once, with lots of other boys. Maybe he’d remember over there.
Caesar looked up. The sun was still in the sky, and he had to go home by a roundabout way anyway. With greater urgency than his last trip the king bellowed his way across the snowy landscape towards the theater. He had a compass in his mind that always pointed to it and to his home, so he could find them any time. He found himself humming a tune with words he could scarcely recall, one or two at a time. The stage would help him recall.
He climbed over the back like he always did, and more of the memories came. He had entered from stage left, and walked in to the middle. The king did just that, and stood staring out. Only his parents were there this time. In fact, Marcus was there, standing next to him. He must have sang that song back when he was a boy, too.
Then they began to sing. Marcus was the high voiced one and Caesar had the low voice. It was something about harking to a herald that was singing about something Caesar thought he remembered but couldn’t get on. He found himself mouthing the word “watermelon” like he had been taught to when he couldn’t remember the words.
Then all at once the situation changed. They had heard him and followed him in. A dozen of them stormed up on his seats from above and charged in from the side entrances, guns fixed on Caesar. Caesar looked around at their gleeful faces, faces that he remembered from this day when he was a boy. People who got lots of things from others but never gave much themselves had those faces, the king concluded.
They say that some people learn best under pressure, and that is exactly what Caesar did. He remembered the song! Not that he knew what the words mean exactly, but in some small degree.
Hark the herald angel sings
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled…

And so he just went on singing, recalling words as fast as he could sing them. The renegades all looked around at each other. This was not at all the song they had been expecting. It was one they all knew, somewhere deep inside, that they had heard before. Some heard it in survival villages far off that they raided in previous years, some from their childhood, and others just from contraband recordings. They knew what it meant even better than the king, though they did not like it.
Gradually they each lowered their guns, then once the invisible awkwardness built up for them they all scrambled out of the building in many different directions.
The king concluded that this day was certainly about, at least in part, doing things that did not make sense. It was about sparing things of pain that you could cause them, and about giving people things, things they didn’t even expect or deserve. That was something, but hardly worth celebrating as wildly as he thought he had as a boy.
That song was strange, too. It sounded like it was quoting something else, something that Caesar vaguely remembered, too. It was something he had back in the tunnel. The sun was coming down now, anyway, and it would get cold, and he had none of the warm brown stuff he had drank on this day in the past, so he charged off at his tunnel, ignoring the retreating renegades that scattered in front of him. They didn’t seem to mind him on this day, and he never really minded them when they weren’t shooting.
He leapt straight down into his tunnels and started going down in. Then he remembered the special lights he had seen on this day, and pressed his electric bars together to turn on all his lights. He would need them to read by, anyway.
So the king tumbled down to his main chamber and drew out the little black book he kept hidden away behind the bomb. It was something started with an L and the second one in it. There one was. But it was the wrong words. He flipped farther in and found another. This one worked better. He read all the words by memory, not really knowing exactly what shepherds or sheep were, but something filled his imagination. And as he read on he realized what this day was really all about.
He had been right all along. It was about doing things that didn’t make sense because other people didn’t deserve to have you do them. Things like giving gifts or singing songs or baking cookies (he had just remembered those, too) were nice things. But the ultimate thing that didn’t make sense was right here, and this was the reason that they all did things that didn’t make sense. And it seemed that silly hats and stockings weren’t even in there at all, though they didn’t make sense and certainly were fun and nice. This was where it was really at.
Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Goodwill toward Men.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie pReview: The Hobbit (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
A Movie
Directed by Sir Peter Jackson and Starring Marting Freeman (Bilbo), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), and Richard Armitage (Thorin).
Movie written by Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens
Based on the children's novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Summary: The movie opens with a look at Bilbo at the age we find him in The Lord of the Rings, beginning, as he did in that movie, to write down the story of his adventures. This time, he is writing the story of his adventures with thirteen dwarves and a wizard. The movie flashes back to the day that Bilbo met the wizard for the first time in his adult life. At that time, Bilbo is a well-settled and well-to-do hobbit who wants nothing less than to leave his comfortable hobbit-hole and its well-stocked larders. But to his surprise he finds his mind changed by the plight of thirteen dwarves, refugees from a long-conquered homeland. Not even he can describe exactly why he joins them, or even how he will be of use to them, but through many adventures he and the dwarves both learn that it is best that he be with them, for himself, and for them.

Setting: While the summary is unchanged by the various mediums (2D, 3D, and 3D HFR), the setting depiction is very different. For this reason I separate this section into three:
2D... My dad loves the sweeping vistas of The Lord of the Rings as accompanied by the fantastic sounds of Howard Shore's background. Rohan, the green fields, the jagged rocks, sailing through the Misty Mountains, capped with snow. This movie comes close to the epics of The Lord of the Rings, which is saying something being at is one movie and they are three. I found myself occasionally wishing for a little more and that the camera would have been used to greater effect to capture vistas while capturing characters.
3D (24 fps)... in my opinion this is actually the weakest of the three versions. The fast moving camera blurs far more with the 3D effect, which is probably the cause of some of the eye-strain of which so many reviewers have complained. While in slower moving or stationary shots I appreciate the layers of depth (note that this "appreciation" is called "distraction" by those who do not like the movie) this blur is more or less intolerable. I would recommend to later moviegoers that they not pay the extra dollars needed for the more blurry show.
3d (48 fps)... words escape me. This was a new kind of wonder. Something I have honestly never experienced before. It was my third time seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and also the third 3D film I had seen (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D 24 fps), and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D 48 fps). I understand that my theater was one of the only one's in my state with the the 3D HFR option, but I insist that this is the best version out there, and doubtlessly the one that Sir Peter Jackson was aiming at. With the astonishing clarity, vibrance, and intensity of the graphics I found myself able to look anywhere on the screen at almost any time. Erebor, oh Erebor, that was amazing. It was like Moria from The Lord of the Rings but with a dozen times more space and structure, like comparing a botanical garden with Eden.  I watched trolls teeth fly at me in one of the few obvious 3D gimmick moments, with birds passing in the foreground as the camera followed a funny old man in the woods. Simply fabulous.

Don't worry, no long analysis of various mediums here.
Gandalf is his old self, the eye-brow raising, nose-twitching, tall and overbearing wizard who finds himself most comfortable in the company of relatively short people. His partners in the previous movie are wonderfully represented, with Sir Christopher Lee's voice rolling in just like it has for movies from every genre, and Cate Blanchett's intense stare used to perfect effect. She even has the closest thing the elf-queen could be said to have to a human moment. Ian Holm returns to render the elder Bilbo, apparently still having mastered the quiet chirping sigh that he used to such great effect in The Lord of the Rings.
Bilbo in this film is well done by Martin Freeman. While I cannot rave about the fabulousness of his depiction, I can give him a good solid A on his performance. I will restrain myself from fanaticism and say that what he did was not anything very spectacular, but certainly an excellent job.
Thorin is well handled by Richard Armitage. His bearing carries in the age he has in the books (he is well over one hundred years old), yet in a departure from the books he doesn't look it in the least. I do not mind this one at all, however, as otherwise it would seem a far creepier thing to have horde of short old men come rummaging in your house complaining of a lost home. I'd have put the lot out with recommendation that they sleep it off. This unseated prince of dwarves is fiercely determined to reclaim his homeland of Erebor as the heir of its last kings.
And the nameless mass of dwarves? I would say they did admirably as well. The Avengers did well in covering several main characters. This movie balances Bilbo and Thorin excellently, with supporting characters of Balin and Bofur, and a secondary layer with Fili and Kili. The rest are a nearly anonymous bunch, but they do well at neither sitting around as appendages left over from a children's book nor sticking their beards into the main characters' business. Some have complained of Oin and Gloin's names being mispronounced throughout the film. This is true, but The Lord of the Rings did it as well, so it is hard to change back. In fact, Recorded Books Incorporated's The Hobbit audiobook does the same thing, as do most fans that read the book. Thus, the writers appear to have chosen to keep the most common pronunciations of Oyn and Gloyn, rather than the Tolkien-proper pronunciations of Oh-in and Glow-in.

Plot: There are a multitude of frayed ends, untied knots, and dangling threads in this plot. I answer this with the fact that what we are all watching in theaters is what fans will know as the Theatrical Edition. In a few months or years we will receive the Extended Edition, just as The Lord of the Rings, and these will be the definitive editions. They will round out the more subtle plot points and character developments, as well as provide an epic that more happily runs into The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Parts 2 and 3 respectively). So while I did find myself irked by some of the obvious omissions and awkwardly insignificant lines (as well as the shortened songs).
Some have complained of the usual "plot hole" of the eagles in this film. Take my word for it that this argument applied here and to The Lord of the Rings is complete rubbish, and I will gladly explain why for you if you are ready for half-a-dozen reasons.

Content: Violence is common, intense, long, and sometimes graphic. Strangely, blood seems mostly absent. Maybe a few percent of the violent scenes show blood being shed, while the rest it is implied and the camera twists away. Lots of death by falling.
Crude humor is extremely limited, and so-called adult situations are absent. Characters frequently and enjoyably smoke "Old Toby" and routinely drink some alcoholic beverages (Gandalf prefers red wine) but no drunkenness is observed, just a large number of guys getting together and partying (as we always will).

Worth its time in watching: If you don't mind 3 hour movies. I admit that a few times I did wonder how much could be left.
Worth watching again sometime: Obviously I think so, as I saw it three times in theaters. I will gladly buy extended editions once they are out, and watch them and their commentaries again and again. But for many this may be only a one-time wonder, at least after all three are out.
Worth singing its songs in the shower: I have actually done this, believe it or not! So yes.
Worth raving about in public: Yes, if your friends will go see the 3D HFR.
Worth having a poster of it up in my dorm room: I think the answer here is plainly obvious.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Your Chance to Get Free Awesome Music (and Mine, Too)

So I was browsing the news feed and saw that the Aubrey Hansen linked to this soundtrack giveaway.  And I thought to myself "Soundtrack giveaway... if this is cool I should totally enter..."
And self said back, "Woah? They are offering The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit? Totally enter!"
And I said to self, "What, do you think I am an idiot? Of course I am going to enter!"
And self said, "Then hurry up and do it! All you have to do is comment!"
And I said to self, "But wait... I can get a better chance of winning if I put it on the blog... and on the Facebook..."
So self said, "Then do it and quick so that you can get to other stuff this morning!"
And so I did.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie WorldReView: Tangled (2010)

This is the first of my move WorldreViews. For those looking for a spoiler free and more basic review, go to this post.
A Movie
A Worldview in Review

It seems almost silly to want to analyze the worldview of a cute Disney Princess movie. It feels like maybe we should be able to just watch some movies for the action, the cuteness, the scenery, or the songs. And in the case of a non-philosophical movie, such as a Disney princess film, we have to be careful not to make sweeping statements of judgment that are really just based on the prevailing worldview of the age.
Let's warm up on some specifics before we get really deep on this film. The most obvious question to consider is what Disney is propounding as the role of women in society. After all, the main character is a girl seeking her place in the world after she enters it. What makes a woman a good woman? What is the social role of a woman in relation to those around her, particularly her parents, love interests?
Rapunzel is locked away in a tower with a strange old woman who pretends to be her mother. As far as Rapunzel knows until the very last few minutes of the movie though, she might as well be her mother. How does Rapunzel treat this woman, who loudly and creepily sings that "Mother Knows Best?"
I found it delightful that Rapunzel says, "Yes, Mother" and is very agreeable to her (kidnapping) mother, despite being given every "reason" not to. Her mother isn't exactly kind to her, often says some cruel things, and ignores the needs of her child (and we know she is also locking her away cruelly in a tower, lying to her, using her for her power, etc). I was expecting Disney to try to justify Rapunzel being rebellious; I was expecting some blow-up scenes where the kid is portrayed as justified because, after all, the parent is horrible. And since the world of animated movies has produced dozens of child-main-character's from single-parent, dysfunctional homes (How to Train Your Dragon, Ratatouille, Up) I got used to this. Yet event though Rapunzel is with a single-mom who obviously doesn't fill that role well, she grows up sweet and obedient. For this, I give Disney a Christian thumbs up. In the strange-to-imagine and purely hypothetical situation that I had a daughter, I'd be glad for her to learn from Rapunzel's example. Christians have long said obedience is immediate, sweet, and complete. Rapunzel wins on all three.
What about her rebellion in running out of the tower? I appreciate that the movie portrays it as unwise. They subtly but clearly make sure that we understand there is some foolhardiness in Rapunzel's plan to go running off into the blue to see the lanterns with (of all things) the most wanted rogue in the kingdom. And her mother is right, she is naive  and we see that in Flynn's various attempts to trick her or when he brings her into The Snugly Duckling.
I also appreciate that Disney doesn't use this classic story to create a female-empowerment nearly-feminist message. Rapunzel lives something like the conservative Christian's life, in general terms: a childhood obeying her mother and learning skills, eventually finding a man who becomes good enough for her, married into a happy family. That may be an oversimplification, but I would rate Disney's message here as a good one (not that that is the only good model).
Unfortunately, Tangled doesn't give much of opportunity to seek out the basis for the messages or beliefs. It's a fairy tale story, after all. So that is about the maximum extent of this first WorldReView. They will be longer and cooler for movies like The Dark Knight Rises.
So, we will call this a nice practice... and a chance to realize how big of a project set I have just bit into... and that I should write these without a few days going by after seeing the movie... Any suggestions for improvement/further questions much appreciated!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie pReview: Tangled (2010)

This is the version of my review that should be read before watching the movies (Spoiler FREE!). Hence the name pReview. In these, I mostly discuss whether the movie deserves watching, re-watching, singing its songs in the shower (not that I would ever do that), and other ratings. I also discuss content and give a hint at worldview analysis. Final review is in another post that I will link to here after I write that post.

A Movie
Directed by Bryon Howard and Nathan Greno, Starring the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

A few words as I begin.
This movie. Was. *sets aside manliness on far shelf and tells it to be quiet* amazing
One of very few movies that I rate as having been worth 100% of the time they took to watch, and among those it is one of those that I was instantly thinking, "I liked that movie."

Summary: Rapunzel was a princess, vested with magically growing hair, and of course given the amount of beauty to which all princesses are entitled. But she was snatched away and stuck in a hidden tower, to be raised by her kidnapper. She has never left, but everyday enjoyed watching the outside world from her window, especially the light show that comes every year on her birthday. Then finally she gets the chance to see where the dreamy lights come from... and ends up discovering much more about her dreams than the lights.

Setting: Well, Disney did it again. Admittedly, animation makes it, in some ways, easier to have a spantabulous (and that's a good thing) setting, but in many ways much harder as well. The camera will always go totally realist, though nowadays even that is in question, but the animation studio is totally free as to the balance of realism and craziness in their settings. It is all pretty beautiful, from towers to kingdoms, all so classically done without screaming, "I am a cliche! Be appalled by my presence!" We never really get a sense for the geography of this fantastic and seemingly nameless land, but who needs maps when you the rest of this going for it! Only irked me once that I had no idea where in the world we were all going.

Characters: I may be using the word "stunning" a lot (as having used it now in both of my movie reviews) but it really is a nice word for describing the acting of both this movie and The Amazing Spiderman. I know I know, these characters were drawn by some guys and gals at a computer, but my hat (which I don't wear) is off to them! Flynn Rider, Rapunzel, the king and queen, guards, even a horse were all very convincing, and I am not always the easiest to please.
On a writing level, these characters pass muster as well. Flynn may seem somewhat one-track at times, but we get the idea that he is not even our typical playful-thief archetype rehashed. He is all that and yet something just slightly more, and we suspect it right until it is all revealed. Rapunzel remains her consistent self the whole movie, never flabbergasting us at her actions (except maybe at her talents in the first song) and pulling of the princess very well. I didn't feel like I had seen this plot eighty-million times before, even though it is a fairly stock fairy-tale plot (or so we would think).

Plot: And about the plot, it was good, too. Twists and turns that not even a con-artist could expect with linearity that all of us movie-reviewers and watchers are thankful for! Logic gaps are few if any and virtually non-existent, though one particular time I felt like I had to put my disbelief over by where I set my manliness a few minutes ago (particularly the super-pelvis moment, but that was delightful enough). The writers pulled off a good one in the plot department, particularly with their alternate revelation of layers of dubiousness. Good plots are where not all is at seems (to you and the characters both). Tangled does well by not simply proceeding from one conflict to the next and solving each one with magic and cunning and good one-liners, as happens in more Aladdin-like movies. It kept be guessing to the very end.

Content: As always, Plugged In is my first recommendation for content concerns, but if you want an utterly spoiler-free version you can stick with the following vague warnings.
Violence is never anything but comic, and never gratuitous in even that way. Guys brawl and fight, but it appears that getting knocked around is just about the only thing that happens when you fight and bang into one another.
Astonishingly, the romantic content in this movie is (remember my manliness is waaay over there, right?) at an acceptable and harmless level. Modesty is fabulously protected, and yet Rapunzel pulls off some good looks that not even I could fail to recognize (even if her eyes are unearthly huge). The only concern that could possibly be voiced here is that Rapunzel is unearthly beautiful (especially the giant-eyes thing) and may set some impossible expectations in the little-girls. But the story also preaches a message of confidence and self-worth (more on that in the next review), which helps counter-act that problem. Also, there is a bearded old man in a diaper. Not sure why that's there, but it is, and he's a little bit strange.
Parents may find concern with Rapunzel's running off from her home, especially at the inauspicious age of eighteen, making me think the writers might have chosen a less cliched date for taking control of one's life. Take it from an eighteen year-old guy, it felt weird.
So, my final word is a hearty "Good movie!" Not as deep as Inception, or The Dark Knight Rises, but maybe deeper than Men in Black III.

Worth its time in watching: Yes!
Worth watching again sometime: Yes! But probably not much more than once and not very often
Worth singing its songs in the shower: *checks to make sure manliness is still on far shelf* Yes! Several here that I liked!
Worth raving about in public: No. But worth saying, "Hey, that movie was funny." And if I am not with other guys... then I could say more...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Serials (With No Cereal Pun!)

I promise not to make any bad puns about cereal while writing about the writing process of producing serial fiction. 

Some of the best stories of the past were first published in serial form. Great Expectations was first published in this way. For those unfamiliar with the term, publishing in serial means releasing short bits or episodes of a story at a time, such as in a newspaper or literary magazine. Some of America's popular comic strips run this way, with a contiguous plot throughout the months or years it takes to complete the story. Over the past 7 months or so I have gained considerable experience in writing in this genre. It is very much like, and also very much unlike, typical fiction writing.

Serial fiction is very easily composed in short bits of time. With my serials The Song of the Troll and Crook Q I would typically write an episode in about thirty minutes or so, and instantly publish it to this blog. I did this several times a day, especially during my first Marathon Week. (Who would like to see another of those, by the way?) When writing novels and longer works of fiction published all at once, the tendency is towards fewer, longer sessions of writing. This summer for a period of a few weeks I would add two-thousand words to my novel in a roughly ninety-minute section. Many authors mention spending a few days camped away in a library writing furiously and producing whole novel drafts. Ray Bradbury says he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days because he had to rent the type-writer for a dime each half-hour. Wayne T. Batson says that he penned nearly a third of the final installment of his The Door Within trilogy (The Final Storm) in such a way.  

The passage of time upon your readers is of considerable importance when writing serially. Great Expectations was published over a long time, sometimes with gaps of months between installments. Dickens took the interesting approach of keeping the time of year in the story approximately matching the time of year his readers were experiencing, sometimes causing months long gaps in the story as well as the storytelling.
I like to make the comparison to telling a good joke. As a semi-professional humorist, I can say with certainty that most of a good joke is in the delivery and timing, not even in the content (funny facial expressions are helpful, too). Every joke ends with a good punchline, which both leaves the hearer (reader) feeling fulfilled and hoping for another good one.
This leads naturally to a sort of sectional writing, focused on brief episodes that end and begin with intense action or feeling, a constant cliff-hanger, and incessant high adrenaline feeling. This is O.K. for serial fiction because the reader has a few hours at least (sometimes weeks) between posts so they won't feel that their emotional strings are being pulled to hard (and if they do, they like it!). It lends itself expertly even to longer pieces because you get that sort of can't-put-it-down feeling that makes you read one more page, one more chapter.... (you know, the sort of thing that Peter's Angel makes you do). And if they do dare to set it down, you know they will be back shortly, and nothing but your story will have been on their mind in between.

Serial fiction lends itself to a relatively small cast of characters, as well, or at least a very familiar set. In The Song of the Troll I accomplished this by having essentially two main characters and maybe two secondary characters at most (neither of which talked or was talked about much). In Crook Q I accomplished this by having a familiar cast to work with so it wasn't hard for readers to keep track of who was who and why they would do what they do.
In my opinion, serial fiction does not lend itself easily to multiple plot lines. Now, of course, I did exactly that, but that is again because I had familiar characters. Also, the two could be treated as separate stories all the way until the moment they conjoined into just one, and so it was no longer such a problem. The reason for this is because of the time in between reading sections. A story will feel disjointed if one week is on Crook Q, one week on Phil, then back to Q again. You can't keep the adrenaline/emotion high on your reader for two weeks if they also have another character to read about. I fixed this by posting both each day, as well.

Serial fiction? Great for blogs. My glory days of 100+ pageviews a day proved it. And putting a binding on serial fiction isn't hard either. It's the other way that's hard. You have probably seen the novel that was "serialized" (by which they mean at apparently random points the story stops and you pick it up again later). That doesn't work as well because it wasn't designed to leave you feeling done in the middle of a scene or chapter. And it wasn't designed to keep your attention by constant installments.
The short of it? I kinda am feeling the supremacy of serial fiction these days, especially as attention span shortens.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Movie pReview: The Amazing Spiderman

My movie reviews are geared not so much for the movie critic or typical movie-goer. I aim for an evaluation of the movies morals and worldview, as well as how artistically these ideas are propounded. For content reviews, I recommend (they are good at not leaving spoilers). I read their review or at least skim it before I watch any movie.

The Amazing Spiderman
A Movie
Directed by Marc Webb and Starring Andrew Garfield

Summary: Peter Parker has a sad past. His parents disappeared when he was a kid, and now he feels just as alone at school. But he has not allowed this past to turn him to violence or anger. Instead he suffers the abuses of his schoolmates and sticks up for the weak and young at his science-school. He makes nerds like me proud while also rebuking the more socially reclusive for hiding away when they should stand out.
And then Peter Parker finds himself with the powers of a spider, in mind and body. And he has to decide what kind of person this incredibly strong, agile, and adept Peter Parker will be. What will he take for himself, and what will he give to others?

Setting: It's New York, ok? It's gonna be pretty awesome already. I am not a NYC native and have only been to that city once, but I must agree the feel projected by this NYC was much like that which I knew whilst visiting. I like how this movie does not fixate itself on cameoing all the famous NYC places, even seeming to prefer ignominious locations to the well-known sites. They even added their own tower!

Characters: The real part of any movie review, we gotta know just how well the actors act and the writers and write and directors direct. One word.
I don't watch B-grade films much. I watch films that become popular, which helps weed out the lessors. Somehow, I still managed to see the early 2000s Spiderman that would be classified as B-grade if the grades were curbed about 10 points. This one blows it away with acting. The characters of Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy, even Dr. Connors are all very convincing, very much like real-life individuals. I could meet a Peter Parker or a Gwen Stacy at my own school, and can imagine having a professor like Dr. Connors. Even the secondary characters were fantastic. Quality receives my highest ratings.

Plot: The plot through which these characters are brought to life is less convincing. The events sometimes do not seem to flow in a logical progression, leaving us sometimes wanting to scream at the characters for their choices that are contrived for the plot. These events clearly out-class any cheap super-hero flick, but if you want to watch the movie in about two hours and not four there are sacrifices to make. Altogether, every individual scene served an excellent purpose. But sometimes I wonder why one scene follows another.

Worldview Evaluation:With great power, comes great responsibility. These lines must be copyrighted somewhere or else they would have been said, but they were tap-danced around systematically enough for us to be sure its what they meant. And it is beautifully done. Peter becomes Spiderman, a living super-hero. But he is still crackily voiced nerdy debate-team orphan Peter. They say that power corrupts, and it is true of Peter. The first intentional use of Peter's powers seems to be humiliating his high school rival. But Uncle Ben takes him to task on that. But Peter continues to terrorize the streets speaking angry words and forgetting his family responsibilities to his Aunt May. So the story is about Peter Parker growing up and learning to take responsibility.
A quick note on a sub-theme is needful. It is that Peter Parker did not ask for his powers, and yet he receives them. Frequently movie characters throughout the ages are heard to say "I didn't ask for this..." but Peter never questions it. He just has his powers, and for a long time acts like he earned it. He feels possessive of his abilities and uses them for sneaking around the city, beating up thugs, fighting giant lizards, the usual sort of super-hero things, but all with an ego. Peter Parker must learn that responsibility comes whether he asks for it or not. Peter's heroism comes when he revokes his "right" to be a normal person and accepts he must risk himself to be a true hero.
So Peter is a hero. But what about his quest? The villain of this movie has an evil plan that sounds repulsive to Christians and naturalists alike, as well as any other religion. We all see his actions and cringe. And yet, there is no real reason to with the espoused ideas of the movie. The glorious ending, so well filmed, rings a little hollow to the Christian because, while we agree that good has won out over evil, the movie gives us no basis for thinking so.
But the hero has won, hasn't he? Peter Parker has grown up, accepted responsibility. For land's sake he even brings eggs back to his Aunt after all this time. And for a few minutes it looks like he is ready to give away all that is good in his life and take on the role of savior of the city, nearly Christological. But the last line of the movie utterly revokes it, and left me wanting my two hours back to go write a story about a true hero, and not just a guy with spider-abilities. Maybe in a future film we will see Peter Parker grow more and I will be content, but at this point, that does not seem to be forthcoming.

Red Rain FanFiction Indexing Post

A compiled listing of all publicly available portions of the first-draft of the upcoming Red Rain sequel follows, for ease of reading. This is so that any newcomers can dive in with ease, instead of getting swamped in the archives (like that play on words, eh?).
The following are to be read in order from top to bottom, the way we all read. This listing compiles both the threads that eventually made up this story... [Yes, some of the URLs get screwy. Some of the 30s repeat multiple times, and some say criminal instead of crook. I am not the most organized person on the planet when it comes to my writing, I am sure].

The following two posts have been in large part redacted during revisions...

The Song of the Troll Indexing Post

The Song of the Troll ended a long time ago. This post links to each and every one of the various pieces of The Song of the Troll in the order that they were released. Please bear in mind that this is one of my precious stories, so don't make copies of the whole story for anyone other than your self. There will be a published The Song of the Troll some day, I hope, and then you can have one. Otherwise, if you want to refer friends, please either send them here to this index post (which is linked to in my block thingy over there), or limit yourself to providing them with a few posts, none of which should be parts after Part 13, which is the most I generally share in public at speaking or sharing venues.

And a Caesar the Troll Christmas special, to enjoy after you have read the real story, but taking place as sort of a prequel:
Caesar's Christmas

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More Never Work

Gotta love the grammar of that title, don't you? Just try to wrap your head around it
and then try to understand that saying...
and then try to understand the strange premise of this little double-drabble I wrote for Grace Pennington's contest on Holy Worlds:

The princess stared at the falling sunset. She had watched it, enamored, a thousand times before, but she didn't know that. Every time the sun rose or set it was a new thing to her. She had lost her memory, and forgotten where she left him.
All that she knew was that she’d lost someone, and that she wanted to have him. This was, of course, a perpetually new discovery. She looked under her pillow. He wasn’t there. She looked out on her balcony railing; he wasn’t there. Never perplexed (she had only looked in one place, after all) she went to her bedroom for the first time, and looked under her pillow. He wasn’t there.  Her cuckoo clock jumped out at her and screamed, “Cuckoo, Coo-Koo!” catching the princess most off guard.
All through the night, by the wonderful invention of candlelight, she sought for him. Then suddenly a bird jumped out her clock, and looking inside, there he was! The blood seemed to have entirely drained from his head, making him feel as though he were floating, which was strange. They shook hands. Then she walked to the balcony as the sun rose. But that was old news.

Just something to tickle your fancy and let you know that I am not dead. I am just in my writer/school cave... only peeking out rarely... but maybe something more will come some time soon... maybe... though I only have foggy ideas what it could be. But foggy ideas are often my best ones! at least once I get out the hot air vent/fan to get rid of that fog and see what it is that is left.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Break from Silence for "Never"

J. Grace Pennington did it again. And by it I mean that she wrote a book. And like all book writers, she wants everybody to read it. So she wisely came to all her little blogging friends (including those like me that don't have books) and invited us to join in a game. It's the great
Blog Scavenger Hunt
and is a fair bit easier and cooler than my non-descript title makes it sound!
Grace has written a western mystery novel (in case you thought those three couldn't all get slammed together). And you can understand just how those seemingly contradictory and rarely merged genres work together at no cost to you! If you play the game, that is!
(pause for effect).
Grace is a cohort of mine who makes me look lazy by her constant stream of productivity. You may know her as the narrator of the Red Rain audiobook (written by the fabulous Aubrey Hansen) or as the author of Firmament: Radialloy. (Which I just spelled from memory, so be kind if I got it wrong).  And now she is releasing Never, her western mystery novel, on November the 23rd.
And you can win her book absolutely free by hunting across the webscape through all her participating blogs in the great
Blog Scavenger Hunt
Now don't think we are going to send you running around the netscape trying to find isolated blogs that are only posted on every three months that have two followers consisting mostly of the author's alter ego and his/her pet dog (though if you find one of those, do tell us!). Instead, you will be linked directly from blog to blog!
But what do you have to find in this great
Blog Scavenger Hunt
? Well, you have to find little codes. Little words and phrases (very clearly marked) in the requisite threads on all these blogs. And if you report them all back to Grace ( theauthor [AT] jgracepennington [DOT] com ) you will be entered to win the coolest western mystery novel I have ever heard of! And you know how that is? No, it's not because it's the only one (though that might be true) that I have heard of, but because Grace wrote it (silly). Plus, I saw this plot synopsis thing out in the inboxes of authors and it told me that this story has something very neat to it... something rather rare: a good plot!
So for those of you who read this far (and those geniuses who just skipped down here) the code is...
oh but that would be so simple. Too simple for such a great
Blog Scavenger Hunt
Anyhow, the code from my blog here is: Caesar.
See what I did there? I made you all read an extra few lines! Muahahahaha. *cue evil drums*
And just to show that I want to make it easy, the next blog is
And while you are blog hunting, you may as well get the real scoop on Never and Grace's other projects on her real blog:
Concerned about your odds of winning? (So you have caught on that only one person ever wins these things and it never seems to be you?) Well, never fear! Grace is giving away desktop wall-papers to everyone who sends her all the codes. So you get to be cool and on the inside like all us little collaborating authorish types. Come to think of it... I could kinda use a new one myself...
And for the truly devoted, we bet you never knew that the first 50,000 words of Never were written in November of 2010, with the last 10,000 of that being written on November 30th.  The rest of the book was written in January 2011.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Crook Q Part 37

 He looked at me with his grossly bloody face and said, "Sister, we'll get them yet."
Nic coughed. Ephesus looked over and grinned, "And, I guess, if we've got you, too, you might as well join us."
"Well I'll take you. Or at least I'll take Philadelphia. With her trouble-making skills and unending passion for crazy schemes, we can't fail."
And I don't think I cared that I was in a police vehicle, headed to who knows where.

Nic sat back against his seat, alternatively looking through the glass that separated him from the sites of the city through which he was being transported, and down at the glass that had lodged in his chest. It wasn't painful, it must have just caught on his clothes or got him in the flesh somewhere. And bleeding was minimal. Not much of a wound at all.
Nic was not one to bemoan the missing glory of a lame wound. He could do well with just a shard of glass. He pulled it out, and after the searing pain of separating it from his skin, he didn't really care anymore. They had handcuffed him, hand and foot, and his seat belt was tightened and winched beyond the point of comfort. Basically he could control everything above his neck. That was enough for him, in most cases.
The car rolled on, deeper into a boundless Outside on which the sun never set. Towers rose around and giant statues proclaimed their dominance, but all Nic heard in their speeches was the theories of engineering that built every statue alike. He was being trucked through a sinister domain to say the least, but he was sure he could match it, if not in strength, in cunning.
And he wasn't half bad at being sinister, either.

And that, my friends, is the last of the regular installments of the pre-publication Red Rain sequel.
I have decided to end constant publication for a few key reasons. First, anything I publish now, especially lately, is heavily subject to revision. Already certain plot elements are inconsistent with the revised (or in-the-works) revised portions of this sequel. So I can't really write "the ending" because if I did I would have to choose an ending that fits this version not at all or one that has nothing to do with how the final version will end. To avoid confusion on both of our parts, dear reader, I call an end to the blog version of this novel (yes, I said it).
Second, and the reason you probably first guessed, I do want to publish this thing eventually. And having a full and complete version on a website free to the public is contrawise to good marketing strategy.
Third, I need to get back to those revisions, and the planning work with the one-and-only Aubrey Hansen. There is promoting to do, writing to do, revising to do, and lots of heated arguments with the real author of this stuff (not really). Actually, Aubrey has let me in on easy terms.
So now, dear friends, you must wait like normal readers for the final products. Do you want a few hints about what the changes might be?
You do?
How quaint.
Ok, fine.
1. Philli will get her Philliness back. We will give her back her nature that she had before, instead of the Philli that I created for the blog version when I realized that I couldn't take 30 minutes each Philli blog post just to get myself in the Philli mood by reading Red Rain.
2. The United will get some it's Unitedness back. Aubrey and I are working together to make sure the United doesn't change too drastically from the United ya'll knew back in RR1.
3. A spantabulous ending that Aubrey and I just love.
And if that's not enough for you, just take my word that the final product will be somewhere around 3.14 times as cool as this one was. So... why don't you comment and tell me what number this story would get if you multiplied it by that decimal number? And you can just multiply by 3, if you want, or 4 if you want to be generous, or just multiply 1 if you want to be redundant. Just tell me which operation you're doing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Philli Part 38

The only different reaction I saw was Nic. His eyes acknowledged the event. Our car was destroyed and he was captured by the United. But somewhere in Nic's eyes I saw that same spirit that drove him to make Red Rain the first time. He whispered something I did not understand, but I heard in it the same voice that reminded me who was in control of the Mars base.
A wrecked car was but a slight hurdle in Nic's mind.

I lay against the side of the car, basically pinned under people and by the other wall. Then I heard a loud his and a bang. Giant steel scissors cut through the side of the car, inching their way through so that they could take us out. Nic's eyes traced their every move with deliberate disinterest. I looked over and saw Augustine grab the gun he had got from Nic. He had lost in the run and tumble in the car.
Was he really going to shoot whatever United officer was the first to show his face?
Nic was strewn between me and Stanyard, and we both watched as he shakily drew the gun up in front of his face, ready to sight it in on whoever was visible first. But gradually his hand crept around to the side of his face, and he held the gun muzzle against his head for a brief moment. Augustine clicked the safety off.
Nic instantly punched across the face and barked, "You won't get to heaven that easy! That's not how we do things!"
Stanyard lay there, paling. He barely got his words out, "We're sticked now. We've lost. They've got us. I can't let them get my information. Hundreds of us will die."
Nic snapped on him, getting his phrases out between banging hisses as the car wall was slowly cut away. Cutting armored cars in two wasn't very easy, I gathered. "Well, for all of you, to die is gain, so you may as well expedite your friends on. And for me, having you dead is the last thing I need, so do a wretched sinner a   favor and don't spread your brains all over the car."
Augustine didn't look convinced. His left hand crept over for the gun. I couldn't take it. "Oh for the love of God, Stanyard, don't murder yourself! What would Jesus do?"
Stanyard relaxed, still shaking all over his body. The last clank came and the United tore away our last mask of protection. Would they execute us all on the spot?
Cameras. They were filming the grand capture of the Unaccepted rebels. And I was one of them.
How had this started? How did I get involved with all this? I was a good girl. I did was right. I was respectful. Why did I have to get involved with this?
He stood up. The reason my life was being twisted apart before my very eyes. Nic stood up and saluted the cameras. As large thugs moved for him he blurted out, "It's time for another round, United! The stakes grow higher every time!" They struck him with long poles with wires on the end, and he fell on the ground convulsing.
Stanyard put his hands above his head and hid his face. He was grabbed and dragged away without a word as other guards bounded into the carcass of the wrecked vehicle. One grabbed Ephesus and pulled him out. He was thrown onto a stretcher, his face wrapped around with a towel. Cea stood and they grabbed her, practically throwing her out of the car.
Then they came for me. A tall guard jumped into the car, but before he even stepped toward me I hopped to my feet. I offered my hand like a proper lady, and I guess in instinct he must have offered his arm. I used his arm for a boost and stepped lightly out of the wreckage.
The city had paused around us. Cameras and microphones were everywhere, and teems of people watched the spectacle as more and more police cars rushed to the scene. I stepped out of the car before anyone could grab me, and some audacious reporter stuck a microphone in my face.
"Why would you Unaccepted do this? Why would you leave your safe and kind internment camps for this life of even greater crime?"
I looked pleasantly into his cameraman's lens. Be respectful.
"Because we love each other too much to be separated. And we love the world too much to let it fall under the yoke of the United."
Then they jerked me away and threw me into a car. And I didn't care what they could do to me. As long as I found my family again.
I looked over, and next to me was a man with a towel smashed onto his face. I really didn't think that that was helping Ephesus very much. Then I heard a dry voice from the far side of the back seat. "We should probably take that towel off his face before it congeals. Then it'll hurt to take off. They just didn't want the cameras on that."
I pulled it off slowly, the way I knew Ephesus liked his bandages coming off. Then he reached up and jerked it off. He looked at me with his grossly bloody face and said, "Sister, we'll get them yet."
Nic coughed. Ephesus looked over and grinned, "And, I guess, if we've got you, too, you might as well join us."
"Well I'll take you. Or at least I'll take Philadelphia. With her trouble-making skills and unending passion for crazy schemes, we can't fail."
And I don't think I cared that I was in a police vehicle, headed to who knows where.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Philli Part 37

We flew forward, the awkward pile of us petrified individuals, plus Augustine, lurching around awkwardly. Where were we go...
I heard a crash and lurched toward the front of the car. The rattling and pinging of the bullets on the outside of the car increased. Bright light burst in. I could finally see the pile more closely. Daddy's head was right next to me on one side, and Nic was right on the other. Cea was on top of all of us, with Stanyard crouching in the back, trying not to touch the walls. It must have been because of the dents that kept happening.
Then I realized what was going on. We had just driven through a garage door!
The car swerved to the right, tires screeching like one of those bad movies.
Bullets began cracking the windows in tiny spider webs. Evidently this vehicle was not meant to take sustained fire.
I got up and watched out the windshield. Grey buildings and bricks and street signs flew by in long whitish blurs. I don't think Ephesus even knew where we going. We were just going, and fast.
An explosion rattled the car from the left side. I looked back and saw a building collapsing behind us. What was this?
I must admit I screamed, "Why are they doing this?"
Augustine rolled over and sat up, "Because they are the United. This is a show for their people."
"They want everyone to see them blowing up their own buildings? Destroying their own property?"
"No, Philli. What everyone will see is us doing this. We did this. Just like we burned Rome two and a half thousand years ago. That's what they will say. And they just barely managed to stop us. And they will say, 'Look at what the Unaccepted do! We must get rid of them faster. We would try to be merciful, but see what they do? They must all assimilate or be removed."
Assimilated or removed. Assimilated or removed. Lately they seemed to prefer the second option.
A harsh left turn sent the van hurtling through an alley only a few feet wider than the machine. The only pursuit now was a few men on giant motorcycles. They wore reflective helmets and shiny suits. One of them drove with his legs while carrying a long tube. If demons ever materialized into the modern era, I think they would don similar attire.
A huge flash of light came in from the front. Glass blew in from the front, and Ephesus screamed. We all got some of it, and the noise grew overwhelming. Then a hard brake followed by a right turn. We were on the main street.
I watched as my brother, blood pouring down his face, wiped the life fluids away from his face with his right hand while driving with his left. Some glass had lodged in my arm and my hand. Daddy looked like his clothes had blocked all of it. Cea was picking shards out of her clothes, but it seemed she had been spared most of it by reason of her long sleeves. 
Nic had got one large shard. It stuck in his chest, and he just stared at it blankly. He shrugged and looked to the back, then sighed.
Then the wall jumped at me. I flew across the van and hit the opposite side, and so did Nic. I caught one glimpse of his face. His eyes were rolled toward his brows. He muttered one word, "Unaccepted."
The van slowed, tilted as it turned, and then rolled over. Down we all toppled onto the flank of the van.
This was not how it went in the movies, I was sure, even though I never saw much for movies with this kind of content. How am I living a lifestyle I never was allowed to watch as a child?
It took me about ten seconds longer than Nic to realize we were totally undone. Our glorious escape ended in a dented and destroyed care with my brother bleeding from multiple facial cuts. Daddy lay there helpless, and Cea was resigned to it. 
The only different reaction I saw was Nic. His eyes acknowledged the event. Our car was destroyed and he was captured by the United. But somewhere in Nic's eyes I saw that same spirit that drove him to make Red Rain the first time. He whispered something I did not understand, but I heard in it the same voice that reminded me who was in control of the Mars base.
A wrecked car was but a slight hurdle in Nic's mind.