Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stronger Together

Recently, I’ve gotten into conversations with a few different people on the topic of Batman versus Superman. The Dark Knight Rises offers a teaser to Man of Steel, so the conversation is fairly inevitable.

Who is the better character? Let the debate begin! 

I’ve heard great arguments for both sides, but, as for myself, I tend to be less interested in which one is better and more into how awesome they are together.

There’s a reason that the two teamed up in a number of comics. They may come at crime fighting from two very different angles, but together they form a complete package. This is certainly not to say that they can’t exist on their own, but they send a stronger message when side by side.  

Much of their differing attitudes seem to be derived from their respective childhoods.

Both men are very influenced by their parents. The Waynes are murdered in front of their son’s eyes. The Kents, on the other hand, do die in certain continuities (though not generally as a result of violence), but are better known for the values which they instilled in their son than for the ways their lives ended.

One man’s course starts with his parents’ deaths, the other is inspired by his parents’ lives.

Batman embraces the shadows. He wants to strike fear in the hearts of those who strike fear in the hearts of others. Superman is a beacon of light. He inspires people to be the best versions of themselves.

Now, there’s some crossover here. Batman is certainly inspiring and if I was a bad guy, I’d probably be pretty nervous around the Man of Steel. But both heroes know how to play to their strengths.

There's a reason that so many people who I hear having the Batman vs. Superman argument relate more to Batman. Batman is the fight to overcome our past traumas without the aid of any superpowers, just through force of will and whatever resources you have handy to you (of course, Bruce Wayne's resources are admittedly impressive). But why do we struggle so to overcome these villains? Because we're trying to reach a better future. Superman is the embodiment of that hope. The promise that after our struggle we will emerge into the light and find ourselves endowed with strengths that we never believed possible.

Alone the heroes are important in their own right, but together, they’re basically the embodiment of every reason that prompts us to continue attending superhero movies, no matter how many times they’re revamped.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Amazon Knows Me Too Well....

The last few Amazon purchases that I have made have all been books. It’s summer, school’s over, and I have buckets of reading to catch up on. So….books. However, when I go on Amazon, it does not recommend more books for me. It takes a rather different route.

For those of you who have not yet invested in a Sun-Stache, you really should. They’re fantastic. I have recently ensured that all of my young cousins have one, because there’s really nothing quite as amusing as a six-year-old running around with a handlebar mustache.

Of course, due to these multiple purchases, Amazon now appears to think I have a fascination with all things mustache. It does not matter that I’ve made other purchases since the Sun-Staches, the site insists that my greatest love in this world is the mustache.

I am encouraged to peruse mustache jewelry, clothing with mustache designs, a variety of fake mustaches. Perhaps my favorite, labeled under “Sports & Outdoors,” are these “Stylish Mustaches for Girls.” I would love to know what sporting events Amazon thinks I’m taking part in that would call for a pink moustache. Mostly so that I can seek these activities out.

After mustaches, the other products Amazon recommends for me are all related to Mad Libs and fanny packs.

It’s like it can see into my very soul.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Not-So-Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures. Everyone’s got some.

Those things that you absolutely love, but are fairly embarrassed by. When someone else finds out about your overwhelming affection, you’re quick to make a self-deprecating joke about it. ‘Cause then you’re in on the laughter.

But after all the poking fun is over, you wonder, Is this going to be my identifier now?

We all know this happens. You’re being introduced to someone new and the person doing the introducing is trying to be thoughtful. So, he throws in some inane fact about you, generally one that you would not have chosen.

I have a friend who does this with the absolute best intentions. Multiple times she has introduced me in the following manner: “This is my friend, Kelly. She really loves Star Wars.”

Now, this is a fact. I do really love Star Wars. No guilty-pleasure-ness about it. Just full on SW love. But the fact this is my friend’s only go-to fact – despite knowing me for going on nine years, during which time we have never even watched the movies together – shows that it’s hard for people to let go of specific interests.

So, all your friends now know about the guilty pleasure you’ve been keeping on the down low. You’re terrified that the next time they introduce you to someone it will be with, “This is David. Big Toddlers & Tiaras fan.” And then you’ll go throw up in a potted plant and spend the rest of the evening as that awkward lump in the corner.

No more, I say!

It’s time to take pride in these ridiculous things that we love. We’re all, as a rule, kind of weird. So, get pumped when someone finds out. They may not like the thing you like, but maybe they’ll talk about how every time they check out at the grocery store, they can’t resist grabbing the latest National Enquirer. It’s a great ice breaker.

In the name of full disclosure, here are five of my no-longer-so-guilty pleasures:

  • Online Personality Quizzes: Can you pass up finding out “What mythical creature are you?” or “What would your Vampire name be?” Because apparently, I can’t.
  • Archie comics: Love the whole gang. And I don’t care how many times my dad tells me to just switch Betty and Veronica’s hair and they’d be the same people, I will still pick up one of these every time I seen them in the grocery store.
  • European Teen Groups from the late '90s: B*Witched, A*Teens, and, of course, Spice Girls, all hold a special place in my heart. Listen to any of their songs and tell me you don’t feel like bopping along. You can’t. ‘Cause your pants would go up in flames from all the lying.
  • Made-for-TV Christmas movies: Seriously obsessed. Particularly since I only allow myself to watch them from the evening of Thanksgiving until the first of January each year. The movie schedules I have made the last few Decembers have been epic and, according to some, terrifying.
  • Monogrammed Black Velour Jumpsuit: This wonderful addition to my wardrobe came from my lovely sister-in-law. It is the perfect loungewear, plus...you know...snazzy looking. To be completely honest, I almost didn't share this one, but then Roomie said I was lying to myself and the world. According to her, it's the definition of a guilty pleasure. Something I wouldn't have bought for myself, but love and wear around the apartment all the time. She talked about the frequency of wear quite a bit, actually. I think she's jealous.

Roomie wanted to in on this action, so here is her list, as well:


  • America's Next Top Model marathons: "Marathons - that's important to specify. I don't just watch the show."
  • Amount of Mint Choco Chip ice cream I can eat: "Make sure it's 'Choco,' that's the Turkey Hill brand. I have standards."
  • Have read Twilight series more than once: She once hung up on me so that she could finish New Moon. When reminded of this, her response was "Not even a good one."
  • Collection of late '90s music videos: "No shame."
  • Bad sequels to dance movies: "Step Up 2, 3, and I'm preemptively counting 4. Center Stage 2. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Not really dance movies, but all the Bring It On sequels. I love them all. Also really hoping that Peter Gallagher's character in Step Up 4 is the same one he played in the Center Stage movies. Come on, Jonathan!"

Hope you all have a great weekend, full of whatever weird things you love!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Go Big or.....Nope, that's you're only option

Today is National All Or Nothing Day, a day you should not go big or go home, but go big even if you’re at home.

If you feel like something’s been holding you back, be it vegetable, animal or mineral, today is the day to shake it off and go for broke.

To celebrate the day, here are some characters who make a habit of choosing “all” over “nothing:”

-          Hermione Granger: It’s hard to beat someone who’s both at the top of her class and not afraid to wade into the thick of battle. Then, of course, there’s her ability to overcome discrimination due to her bloodline, the fierce loyalty to her friends and a willingness to take extreme measures to ensure the safety of her parents. Hermione thought ahead to ensure the best possible chance of success for every endeavor and risked everything to do what was right. And somehow managed to find time to lobby on behalf of house-elf freedom. Certainly not one for any laurel resting.

-          Neal Caffrey: It’s hard to be sure which side of the law he’s dancing on, but whether he’s committing crimes or solving them, Neal tends to go all in. It’s his general approach to life. He wants the best, so he finds a way to get the best: clothes, living situation, way to serve out his jail sentence. He’s willing to go to great lengths for the people he loves, whether or not that means working inside the law. And he does it all with a jaunty tip of his hat.

-          Buffy Summers: As the tombstone said, “She saved the world. A lot.” Miss Summers was a busy girl. She managed to fight vampires, demons and the occasional demigod, whilst also cultivating and maintaining personal relationships with a number of individuals. Not to mention going to school, slaying her boyfriend, nursing said boyfriend back from a feral state, fighting a rogue slayer, sparring with the military, helping to raise her mystical sister, standing by a friend during her detox from magic addiction, training new slayers, and ultimately returning to her high school to work as a guidance counselor. And then there was the whole dying twice thing, but even that couldn’t keep her down. Sounds like giving her all to me.

-          Marshall Flinkman: Sure, he didn’t really go on all that many missions, but the few times he did were always epic. Where Marshall really went all out, though, were in his relationships. He might have been a little socially awkward, but that never stopped his efforts to connect. And regardless of what life threw at him, he was never one to give into hopelessness. Didn’t matter if he’d just been held captive and tortured for days, you could still count on him for a smile and a parachute built into his suit.

-          Animal: Have you seen him play the drums? Enough said.

Please take note, tomorrow is Bagpipe Appreciation Day. Plan your celebrations accordingly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fun and Games...And Maybe a Little Fall Out

I used to absolutely love playing board games as a kid. Still do today, but back then I saw them as akin to dancing on rainbows. Two classics stand out in my mind as having the biggest impact on the way I’ve come to view stories.

Candy Land was a consistent crowd pleaser. Not just because it was a fun game, but because I wanted nothing more than to live in a place where all food was candy. It was the dream.

I wanted to be Queen Frostine. And I totally wanted to pick a fight with Lord Licorice. What was he doing letting all those bats fly around the candy? That’s just unsanitary.

Despite my love of this setting, however, somewhere along the line I realized that there wasn’t much of a story involved. Sure, the epic journey of two kids trying to make their way to the Candy Castle had promise. But the worst that happened to them is that they get stuck in some gum drops for awhile. And this isn’t a consequence of any action they took, just bad luck.

Chutes and Ladders, on the other hand, didn’t have the same grandiose premise. I didn’t get to imagine myself hanging around with Plumpy and Princess Lolly. What the game did have, however, were actions and consequences, both good and bad. It wasn't just a journey for the sake of journeying. Each player could be impacted by both good and bad choices throughout the game. One minute you were mowing lawns and earning enough money to go to the circus, the next you chose to pull a cat’s tail and got scratched in the face.

Every individual is capable of making both good and bad decisions. And for a story to be interesting, every character should make both good and bad decisions, and then live with the consequences.

Now I look to read and write stories that have aspects of both of these games. I love fantasy settings where magic is not only possible, but expected. And I want characters in those worlds to be active. I’ve mentioned before how annoying I personally find chronically indecisive characters. I want to see someone choose to make a deal they know is bad news with Gloppy and then see them zoom down that slide to get stuck in Molasses Swamp. And then I want to see the choices they make to get themselves out of it.

As a side note, if anyone decides to create a real life Candy Land/Chutes and Ladders mash up, please contact me when you need human testers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rise of the Machines

I am a big fan of technology.

I spend hours upon hours of each day on the computer. I hook up my navigational system when it comes time for a trip. I consider my DVR a lifesaving device. And I am quite seriously counting the days until I get my hoverboard, flying car, and robot.

All this being said, I don’t own a smart phone. A fact that occasionally frustrates the Roomie (particularly those times when I ask her to find out the hours of every bookstore in the area).

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of such a tool or that its many merits are lost me.

No, it actually has to do with Esmeralda, which is the name I gave my navigational system. (A fact that drives my sister a little batty, particularly when I refer to the nav system as “her” or “she.” And then her comments hurt Esmeralda's feelings....really, it's just a mess.)

Anyway, Esmeralda is a gem. She gets me where I’m going, even if she’s sometimes a little slow in her initial response. If I get lost, she gets me back on track.

It’s wonderful and, as a result of this awesomeness, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag without her.

Fine, she’s not necessary for the home-to-work drive, but if I’m going further than that, she’s with me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve made the drive a thousand times before. She’s a security blanket. Without her, I’d be driving in circles weeping and gnashing my teeth.

This dependence can’t be healthy. But every time I try to break it off with her, I hear that siren’s song. And I think, You know, I should just put her up for the time. That way if someone asks I can give them a more definite ETA.

It’s a vicious cycle. And one I’m not looking to cultivate with any of the other machines. When I consider the amount of time I spend with my normal, run-of-the-mill, might-as-well-be-Zack-Morris’s phone, I know that a smart phone will become so much a part of my day to day life that people are going to have to start referring to me as a cyborg.

And I’m just not sure how I feel about that.

On one hand, when the machines do finally rise up against us, it is possible that they will react in a kinder fashion to cyborgs than to your run-of-the-mill human. However, it seems just as likely, if not more so, that the phone will turn against me in retribution for how far into the ground I will most definitely run it.

It just seems safer to limit my reliance on technology and take that time saved to practice zombie fighting techniques. You know, just in case they rise before the machines do.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fostering Hope

This world can at times be a difficult place in which to live.

As individuals, we each endure our own personal tragedies. The kinds that make it difficult to face the day. The kinds that change the course of our lives. And as our suffering is extremely personal, we can be left feeling isolated.

As a collective, we look aghast at the larger scale devastations that occur. We don’t necessarily know any of the people involved personally, but our stomachs clench and our hearts hurt. We want to be able to do something, anything to help. But no contribution seems substantial enough. And in some ways, we’re right. We are powerless to change the bad things that have already happened.

We can, however, take steps to restore a sense of hope in the world. These generally aren’t major things that are going to alter humanity in a manner that will be discussed hundreds of years from now in history classes. They’re small things, which at the time seem like a spit in the ocean. But they make us smile, even if only for a second. And slowly, as all these little things pile up, the smiles last longer and the feeling of hope begins to outweigh that of sadness. It’s not a short process, but it’s well worth endeavoring.

As someone who often mentions my love for the fictional heroes who inspire, I do not have sufficient words for my admiration for real life heroes. I have been blessed with a great many in my life, who have lifted me up during my worst times. As I become more and more active on the internet, I keep finding examples of the good in the world. There is a lot of it. And it’s worth taking note of.

If you are currently looking for something to inspire you, or a way for you to inspire others, I offer the following:

  • The Traveling Red Dress – The Bloggess Jenny Lawson has inspired people to reach out and help others cope with hard times and celebrate milestones through the sending and photographing of red dresses.
  • Superheroes for Sam – ThinkGeek is getting the word out about a very simple way you can make a six year old boy with leukemia feel a little better. 
  • Any Soldier – This site provides a way for you to send thoughts and thanks to our service members around the world.
  • “A Small Place for Nice Things” – Author Chuck Wendig offered a place on his blog for readers to talk about good things they have seen or experienced.  

These are just a very few examples. There are many, many more people using social media to promote hope. If there are other examples of these you would like to share, please leave them in the comments.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of the Aurora shooting and their loved ones, as well as to everyone who is currently going through a time of struggle.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Childhood Lessons

Kids are resilient creatures.

A couple weeks ago I was visiting two of my awesome little cousins and one of them tripped over a stair and completely face planted on the tile. Ker-splat. He looked up at us with this surprised expression. Then he just started laughing, got back up and continued running after his brother.

My aunt laughed and said, “If it was one of us, we’d be calling everyone in the house to help us get up and then laying down the rest of the day.”

This is probably fairly accurate. As a kid, I fell down many a time and just got back up and went back to playing. Now, if I fall, it's almost as if it didn't really happen unless I tell everyone I know about it. 

Right there! I point to the spot on the ground dramatically. That's where misfortune befell me. The completely flat ground upon which I caught my foot on my own ankle and descended to the ground in a writhing, mewling state of confusion. Let us all now stand together in awe of my survival.

When I was a kid, I loved the Slip ‘N Slide. Now, I can’t think of anything that would compel me to doing a running belly flop on to the hard ground. I don’t care what’s in the pool at the end of the thin, wet plastic. 

I also can’t think of too many situations were I’d be willing to go down the stairs hands first anymore. But, back then, the fact that the first time I tried ended in me taking a header down the steps and sporting a sore noggin and some rug burn on my face for the rest of the day didn’t dissuade me from trying again. And I did awesomely that second time.

When I mentioned to Roomie that I’m surprised kids survive as much as they do, she stated that these were all great learning experiences. For instance, the first time she and her friends went down the stairs on a mattress, they front loaded it. Result: They all went flying off and kicked each other in the faces. Second time, they back loaded it. Result: They had a magical ride of wonderment.

It’s hard to argue with that logic.

And while I’m done with Slip ‘N Slides and I’m probably not super likely to go down the stairs in nontraditional ways anymore, there are still things I did as a kid that I’d like to do again. During that visit with my little cousins, I got to watch them pretend to be Spiderman a number of times. And I remembered how I used to love to climb up door frames back in the day. This is a skill that I sadly no longer have, but I have every intention of getting it back. I will not rest until I can Spiderman my way up the doorframe once again!

I’ve already tried a few times and I look like a complete goon. Also, the attempts are kind of painful on the wrists and ankles. And I may, or may not, have lost my balance and taken a face dive into the carpet. But, whatever. I want to be able to do this again. I guess I still have some of that little kid resiliency in me. Which is a comfort.

Thinking of all these ridiculous things that kids do, I decided to pose the question to some friends of what would they do again and what wouldn’t they. Here’s what they had to say:


Would still do today: “Jumping off of shed roofs into pools is awesome."  

Would not do today: “Rock fights. We had teams and we had rocks. Those ended when someone hit a truck with a rock and we all ran away because he stopped. Some of us grabbed our bikes and ran, but others left their bikes behind and the truck driver took them. So, they had to go talk to him and he drove them home and they had to explain to their parents that they’d been in a rock fight. I wasn’t a moron though, and I grabbed my bike….Rock fights weren’t my finest moment.”

The Laconic Lady

Would still do today: “Drive from one side of the country to the other in four weeks.” 

Would not do today: “Dance. I used to dance all the time with my father. Then one time we were dancing in the kitchen and I jumped up. When I came back down I broke my foot. I started middle school on crutches. No more dancing.”

The Woman in Black:

Would still do today: “You know that part in Newsies where Christian Bale says something like ‘Remind me to thank him for this some day’ after they’ve used the printing presses to make their own paper? Well I loved that line. So much that I manipulated an entire afternoon of imaginary play so I could say it. Everything else changed. We weren’t newsboys, but worked making clothes. And it wasn’t Pulitzer, but a mean clothes lady. But at the end of the day we won and I got to say, ‘Remind me to thank her for this some day.’ I would do that again." 

Would not do today: “I would not jump on a kiddie trampoline when my sister had her head under it. She wanted to see what it looked like when someone jumped on the trampoline. I said no. She asked and asked and promised she wouldn’t tell mom. So, I did it. She told mom. She had to go to the emergency room. I don't want to say the tooth went through her lip.....I mean….I jumped on her face!”

How about the rest of you?

I’ll be practicing my doorframe climbing as I await your answers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Disappearing into research...

I’ve been in research mode the last week. I’m trying to decide what new, fun creatures to use in the story I’m working on.

One of my first researching tools is always John & Caitlin Matthews’ The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. It has a fantastic number of creatures from a diverse variety of cultural myths. And it’s always exciting to find a creature I’ve never heard of that happen to fit in really well with the story that’s taking shape in my mind.

Another fun, though completely unrelated to writing, aspect of this book, is that Roomie hates it with a burning passion. I’ve mentioned that the theme to The X-Files causes a violent reaction in her. Well, the encyclopedia is very similar in that respect. As soon as she sees it in my hand, her face contorts into a mask of hateful rage. And because she’s my best friend, this makes me giggle and tell her new fun facts. ‘Cause that’s what best friends do.

When I put the question to her directly regarding her dislike of this encyclopedia, her answer was succinct.

Roomie: It has lots of gross, creepy things in it.

Me: And this bothers you?

Roomie: Yes. Much like insects and creepy crawlers in the apartment bother you. Same sort of thing.

That’s actually a pretty fair point.

Considering I rely on her to take care of such multi-legged demons, it would probably behoove me to torture her less with information on the surprising number of cannibalistic creatures that have apparently existed in myth.

Back to the point, though, this part of the research is a lot of fun, but it’s also a bit of a black hole. It sucks me further and further in. And for every new creature I discover, I want to know more, leading me to turn to the internet. Which naturally presents me with more rabbit holes to jump into. Suddenly days have passed and while I now have enough information to write biographies on each of the creatures that interested me, I have not actually put anything substantial on the page in regards to my story.

It is at this point that I have to put down the encyclopedia, tear myself away from the siren’s call of the internet and just write. Sometimes, I take a little convincing. Other times, I need the Roomie to drag me, kicking and screaming, from the internet and hide all my research books. But I’m eventually able to pull myself away from all the cool details about individual creatures and use what I’ve learned in the story.

It’s not always great right off the bat. Sometimes it's a huge heap of garbage. There are times when things just don’t fit quite as well as I thought they would. Or I can’t quite remember every detail of the creature I decided to incorporate into my world. But I keep writing, because I know if I stop the black hole will swallow me up again and I’ll have to start the extrication process all over again.

Speaking of which....I think I hear Roomie coming. Better start writing!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Our best guesses

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about judging books by their covers. A few weeks ago, there was the discussion about publishers changing the covers of classic books in the attempt to appeal to younger audiences. Now there’s piece about a six-year-old guessing what books are about based on their covers. And it’s awesome.

All of her plot predictions were fantastic. She was fairly spot on with Moby Dick: “The book is all about a whale whose name is Moby Dick.” Her take on Slaughter-House Five wasn’t quite as in keeping with Vonnegut’s story, but I, for one, would love to read something about “a slot machine that is lost in the desert." Perhaps my favorite, though, was that she thought One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest looked “like a really sweet kiddy book.”

Scariest story time ever.

Reading this got me thinking about the book covers that stuck out to me when I was a child. There are two that come to mind.

My dad’s always been a big Stephen King fan and when I was probably around three he was reading The Waste Lands from The Dark Tower series. When I saw the cover, I thought that the book was about a magical train that could take you wherever you wanted to go. And could probably talk to you. This sounded like an awesome story, so I asked my dad to read it to me. He flipped through some pages and told me a lovely story about a magical train that was a little girl’s best friend. Together the two went on many adventures. Strangely enough, he never mentioned the train being insane or threatening to kill everyone if they couldn’t answer riddles.

A couple years later, my parents had A Confederacy of Dunces on the table in their room. My sister and I used to go in there, to sit in their bed in the morning. She would always grab the book right away and – ignoring the fact that, at three, she hadn’t quite mastered reading yet – would tell me the story. She wouldn’t open the book; just trace her fingers over the cover. It was the riveting tale of a pirate who traveled the seas with his parrot. They often went to very cold places, so he had to bundle up more than a normal pirate. And they hadn’t found any treasure yet, so the pirate couldn’t afford to get a new jacket, even though his old one didn’t fit right. But his parrot friend always stood by his side.  

Years later, I learned that our guesses regarding the stories in these books were not entirely accurate. But even though I know the real stories now, when I see these covers the first things that come to mind are the tales we created.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Looking for a condo in the Imagi Nation...

Last night was the season finale of Eureka. For all those of you who were not obsessed with that show, it’s about a small town in Oregon that’s kept hidden from the outside world. There, the country’s best and brightest minds work to create wonderful inventions, occasionally slipping up and endangering the safety of the town (always with the best intentions). When this happens, the sheriff, whose IQ is much lower than the town’s geniuses, steps in to save the day. And it is wonderful.

Also, it’s a place I totally want to live.

I have nowhere near the scientific acumen needed to garner an invite to this hamlet, nor do I have the law enforcement training necessary to help Carter out. But I don’t care, it still ranks at the top of my “fictional places in which I would like to reside” list.

Also on this list:
-          Coeur d’Coeurs (Pushing Daisies)
o       I would totally be willing to commute to the city to apply for a job at The Pie Hole. I would also be willing to take my wages in pie. And whenever they performed, I’d be first in line to see the Darling Mermaid Darlings.
-          Metropolis (Superman)
o       The folks here just seem like they’re in a better mood than the citizens of Gotham.
-          Hogsmeade (Harry Potter)
o       Sure, I’m a late bloomer in the magical abilities area, but it’s only a matter of time. While I’m waiting, I’d like to enjoy a nice butterbeer.
-          Riverdale (Archie comics)
o       Who wouldn’t want to live in a place where everyone drinks milkshakes with such frequency?
-          Fraggle Rock (Fraggle Rock)
o       I can’t help but love a community that puts such a premium on singing.
-          Bluffington (Doug)
o       I used to want to fly alongside Quail Man, but now it’s all about the wardrobe simplicity.
-          Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls)
o       I should probably brush up on my pop culture references. And not mention the fact that I don’t drink coffee.

Close runner-up:
-          Sunnydale (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
o       This town had everything. A museum, a zoo, a university, The Bronze, multiple houses of worship, a number of parks, a train station, a bus station, an underground military facility, a small airport. Not to mention a castle fit for Dracula. And I would completely love to work at The Magic Box. But alas, I made a resolution not to live over a Hellmouth. Guess that means Cleveland’s out too.

How about the rest of you? What are some of the fictional places that you’d be willing to pack up your bags for?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Questions and Consequences

My dad has trouble with his back. And has for as long as I can remember.

As a child, I was not particularly helpful in this area. He frequently carried me in from the car (sometimes because I was sleeping, other times because I was lazy and pretending to sleep). I jumped on him. Sat on his feet while he walked. Asked him repeatedly to hold me upside down. And my sister joined me for each of these fun-time activities.

He used to lie down on the living room floor, with his arms stretched perpendicular to his body. Looking back on this, he was probably trying to stretch out his abused back. At the time though, my sister and I just figured this was a new game. And because he loved us, he made it one.

In what I’m sure was an effort to prevent us from jumping on him, he would have each of us lay on either side of him, our heads on his upper arms. Then he would ask us questions. If we got the answer right, his arms would stay as they were. But if we got it wrong, they would slowly fold in. The movement of his lower arm was incremental, and would go back down if we answered a subsequent question correctly. But if you had too many wrong answers? Head was ‘crushed.’*

It was a strange trivia game and my sister and I loved it. Every time we saw him on the floor we came running in for our questions.

This isn’t to say that the game didn’t have its issues. I still maintain that my father was ageist in his questions. The little sis would be asked things like “Is it raining today?” or “What color are your favorite shoes?” Meanwhile, I’d be getting things like “Who was the second vice president under Thomas Jefferson?” and “What is the insignia for a Second Lieutenant in the Army?”** My father claims that the discrepancy was not this vast, but that’s the way I remember it.

Still, despite question inequality, I have realized that the game has informed the way I write stories. It taught me that asking questions is infinitely more interesting if there are consequences to answering them. Seeking answers just for the sake of knowledge is all well and good, but for a story to be interesting, a character should have more than edification at stake.

Basically, it’s The Last Crusade method. Drink out of the right cup, eternal life. Pick the wrong one, your flesh melts off your bones as your skeleton rattles to the floor.

Now, the consequences to every question shouldn’t be this dire. But for everything that the main character gets wrong, the walls should close in a little more and when he gets something right, even if it’s small, there should be an inch more breathing room. Even with this, though, in the back of both the character’s and reader’s minds should be the knowledge that another question is coming and a wrong answer can lose him what little ground he's gained. Depending on your story, this loss could mean death, or it could just mean that two giggling girls get their heads ‘crushed’ by their father. Either way, you've shown that questions have consequences and given the reader a reason to be concerned about the answer.

*No heads were actually crushed in the making of this game.
**The answers are George Clinton and one gold bar, respectively.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday

The following story is a response to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge. Hope you enjoy Hansel and Gretel's visit to 1930's Oklahoma!


Their daddy wasn’t an evil man. No, his affliction was much worse.
He was weak.
All their lives they’d been surrounded by weakness. At least that’s what Ham said and if there was one person Gertie could count on, it was her brother.
Their mama’s body was weak and it gave out. Ham said that their daddy’s weakness was of the spirit. Gertie wasn’t sure what that meant, but apparently it had something to do with taking them up into the Wichita Mountains and leaving them there.
Gertie looked up at Ham as their daddy disappeared around the mountain’s bend under the guise of finding brush for a fire. “He did it again.”
Ham dropped a hand to her shoulder. “We knew he would.”
It wasn’t the first time their daddy tried to lose them. Just a month earlier, they’d gone through the same thing.
Their daddy and stepmama didn’t realize that empty bellies kept the children awake. So, they heard their stepmama say there wasn’t enough food for her with them around and they would have to go. Gertie didn’t understand this. No one had enough food anymore. What made their stepmama so special that she should?
Sure, their daddy hemmed and hawed, but they knew he’d say yes. And he did. He forgot something, though. No one was a better tracker than Ham. Gertie’s brother left little clues along the trail and they’d easily made it down the mountain the next day.
Their stepmama yelled at them for getting lost and worrying her. For their misbehaving, she sent them to bed without supper.
Now, they were alone in the mountains again.
Ham took Gertie’s hand. “Come on. We can sleep under that ledge. Head back down in the morning.”
He’d left all the necessary signs to ensure them of the path back to the dried out farm. Their stepmama might be trying to kill them, but it was the only home they had.
Gertie curled up next to Ham, keeping a tight hold on his hand. With this assurance, she fell quickly asleep under the darkening sky.
She woke the next morning to a harrowing wail. Looking up, she screamed.
A black blizzard.
Ham was already moving, gathering her in close. He tied bandanas around their mouths before covering them fully with the blanket. The blowing dust raged, trying to rip their meager shelter away, but Ham held strong.
The storm lasted for what felt like forever and then it was gone. They quickly realized that with it went all of Ham’s clues. When they reached the bottom of the mountain, nothing looked the same.
So, they walked. And walked.
Finally, across the plains, they saw something. A grand riot of colors raised up from the ground. As they slowly drew closer, they realized it was a circus tent. Between them and the canvas was a wooden trailer with a small horse. Faded paint proclaimed, “The Amazing Cornelia Will Reveal Your Future.”
On the ledge of the trailer, Gertie saw two small pies. Without hesitation, the starving children set to eating them. When they were about halfway through, they heard a noise.
Standing to the side of the trailer was a surprisingly plump old woman, the whole of her eyes milky white. “Is someone eating my pies?”
Ham spoke quickly. “We’re awful sorry, ma’am. My sister and I have been walking a long while and we were hungry.”
“Children?” The old woman opened the door to the trailer. “You'd best get inside. It isn’t safe around here. Circus children keep disappearing. Sleep here tonight and I’ll help you get away in the morning.”
Ham took Gertie’s hand and thanked the woman. Inside the trailer were many boxes covered in blankets. Ham and Gertie climbed atop one and fell quickly asleep.
Gertie knew something wasn’t right the second she woke up. She reached for Ham’s hand and hit bars. Sitting up, she found herself inside a covered cage. Scattered around her were bones. Bunches and bunches of bones.
The blanket was pulled back suddenly. The old woman’s hand reached in and grabbed the girl’s arm. Gertie screamed and heard Ham yelling for her.
The old woman frowned. “Why you’re thinner than a rose petal, honey. But I’ll make due. Won’t be like the rest of them. Moving from place to place. Slowly starving to death.”
She dropped the blanket back down. Ham’s muffled yells were silenced with a thump. Gertie found the sharpest bone she could. Like her brother, she had a skill. She was blessed with a talent for locks. How else would she and Ham have ever gotten into their stepmama’s food cabinet?
Quietly, her small hands worked. With a soft pop, the lock gave. Very delicately, she lifted up the corner of the blanket. She crawled over to a small window. The old lady was outside, building a fire.
Gertie quickly found Ham. His temple was bloodied, but his lungs rose and fell. Still, he was in no condition to help.
Gertie’s legs shook as she made her way to the trailer door. She wanted to vomit, but ignored the weakness. She wouldn’t let Ham down.
She pushed the door open just enough to squeeze through and climbed up into the small seat where the horse’s reins rested. As soon as the leather touched her hands, Gertie slapped the animal into action.
The old woman’s head snapped up at the sound of hooves. Gertie watched as she staggered away from the noise. The old lady’s foot caught and she went pitching straight into the fire she’d been preparing for the children. Her bellows filled the air, but Gertie didn’t look back, riding hard to the colorful tent in the distance.
What with all the bones, it didn’t take much convincing for the circus folk to believe Gertie’s tale. They welcomed the children in and left the old woman’s body to the coyotes.


Hope you all have a Friday the 13th filled with whatever luck you're looking for!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Groundhogs: Casting Shadows Everywhere

Some distressing news was brought to my attention this morning. It appears we have lost the woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, to the Squirrel Menace.

Apparently these dastardly creatures are behind the recent theft of flags from the graves of Civil War veterans in New York.

This is a very disturbing development to say the least. Back in February, I mentioned my desire to avoid a battle on this front. Sadly, I no longer believe we have that option. If they are in league with the Menace, as it appears, we have no choice but to mount a defense against whatever their future plans may be.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this betrayal. After all, woodchucks are part of a large group of ground squirrels. Still, I guess my hopeful heart was looking for this to be a Vulcan/Romulan situation, where despite common ancestry with the Menace the groundhogs were in alliance with us.

Alas, this is not to be.

I had originally believed that the conflict began in DC in the early 1940s, when an adopted squirrel was forced to suffer horrifying atrocities. However, the woodchucks’ choice to go after Civil War graves may prove that this struggle reaches further back in history. I plan to investigate this further, so that we may better understand what first cause the schism that we are now forced to deal with.

As I continue to delve into this harrowing past, I urge you to be cautious. I have no doubt that these allies to the Menace will chuck all the wood that a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood in our direction.

Be safe.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Clock's ticking....

You ever have one of those days where there just don’t seem to be enough hours to accomplish everything that needs to get done? Where it seems like the time gods are playing silly pranks and making the seconds speed by faster than they normally do?

You’re frustrated and crabby. You’ve hit that point where you’re thinking about just trading it all in. Quitting all the things and starting anew. Maybe you’ll open up a diner in Hawaii. Or become an independently-wealthy-socialite-nighttime-caped-crusader. Found a wizarding school for mystical platypuses! In that moment the world of possibilities opens wide.

Then you remember that you need some start-up capital for these awesome endeavors. And you’re working now, so it only makes sense to stay where you are for the time being until you have the means for your well thought out long term plans. But how are you going to accomplish what needs to be done when you just don’t have enough time? Hmmm….maybe you’ll just chuck it all….just walk from one side of the country to the other.

This vicious cycle continues on and on. And do you know what happens as your mind continues to spin out in every direction?

You take care of all the things you need to get done.

Because there is enough time. Not for everything, true, but for everything important. As of Friday, I am two months out of grad school. If you’d asked me four months ago if I was going to get everything done before graduation, I probably would have punched you in the tooth, laughed maniacally until the sound turned into a scream of desperation and run down the street, waving my arms in the air.

In short, I just didn’t think I had enough time.

I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I’m pretty sure that Roomie was one complaint away from putting her “roommate alteration” plan into effect. And I wouldn't have blamed her.

But I continued to tear out clumps of my hair as I gremlined through the apartment, with my arms wrapped around my notes on Civil War theater troupes, muttering about “my precious.” And every day I went to work, attended my classes, handed in my papers on time, posted on the blog and continued working on my writing.

Sure, I had to let go of a few things. Like sleep. Or eating things that didn’t come out of a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box. I’m still catching up on the TV and fun-time reading I had to postpone. But everything that I deemed important got done. And the rest didn’t really need to.

On any given day, we do have enough time. The trick is just to decide what’s essential enough to fill it with.

*And if you sometimes need a reminder of this, the way I do, I suggest checking out this story.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I've got a great personality...

Some days you wake up in the morning and are just ready to go. Rain or shine, you are in the zone. Nothing can stop you. Basically, you’re Milty on his porch, riding that stationary bike. The world is yours for the taking.

And other days, you just want to sit at your computer and take personality tests. You look to things like the Myers-Briggs test or the even more reputable “What Animal Are You?” quiz to give you some guidance on where to go with your life.

Today is one of those latter types. And here’s what I’ve found out:

In terms of animals, I took two different personality quizzes this morning. One told me I was a wolf, the other claimed me as a bat. At first, I couldn't understand this discrepancy. How could such highly dependable questionnaires leave me with two such differing responses? How? The question tortured me and I fell to the ground and gnashed my teeth. But then a light bulb exploded over my head, shooting out rainbows and dreams. My personality animal is Dracula. A truth that, on some level, I've long suspected.

As far as Myers-Briggs goes, the last time I took it was in high school, but an awesome article provided a link. I’m an ISFJ. The article also went on to pair personality types with literary counterparts of the same ilk.

My literary personality buddy is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. According to this we share the habits of being orderly, hardworking and calm, as well as having a penchant for deductive reasoning.

Finally, my prowess as a kid detective makes sense!

As I write this, I realize something else: When I combine the results of both personality tests together, an interesting conclusion forms. Between my vampiric personality animal and my deductive qualities, there is really only one fictional place where I belong.

I just wish Angel Investigations was still open.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Reese's Assessment

I have aliens on the brain.

This can be said of me at pretty much any time during the year. But, considering all the aliens in the news lately, how could I be thinking of anything else?

It started last week, when some friends and I discovered that National Geographic conducted a survey asking Americans who, of the presidential candidates, they thought would better handle an extraterrestrial invasion. Then, of course, came the traditional Fourth of July viewing of Independence Day. And finally, we came up on yesterday’s 65th anniversary of the “Roswell Incident.”

Reading about all this prompted a lengthy discussion with the friends over the possibility of aliens. So, not only am I comforted by the fact that we’re finally asking politicians the important questions, but I now also have a better understanding of where my buddies stand on the existence of aliens. Of the seven of us involved in this dialogue, only one was adamant in her disbelief. The rest ranged along the spectrum, with me coming in solidly on the ‘yay’ side.

Naturally, this conversation evolved into the “friend or foe” dilemma. So, being the highly educated group we are, we turned to the most objective of sources to argue our sides – the movies. Some of the ladies were of the belief that no good could come of an alien visitation. After all, that jerk of an alien said “No peace,” didn’t he? And even in terms of the friendlier ones...sometimes their written work can be a little misleading.

While I acknowledge this possibility, I’m not quite ready to completely write off the chance of peaceful relations. Here’s how I see it, the movies that show large groups of aliens generally portray them as aggressive, but the movies that look at individual aliens show that they're more complex than that. E.T. was a great friend. Wiploc, Zeebo, and Mac were just looking for a good time. Plus....you know....Superman. That stalwart Kryptonian pretty much seals the deal on my willingness to put a little faith in those alien folk.

The problem is mob mentality. Get a giant group of aliens together, all juiced up on the adrenaline rush of intergalactic travel and yeah, there’s a good chance things are going to go sideways. But the same can be said of humans. Look at all the movies that don’t have aliens in them. Individuals can be shining examples, but broaden the focus to a huge group of people and morality and goals get a little bit murkier.

So, I say, if aliens ever decide to swing by, keep an open mind. And maybe some Reece’s Pieces on hand. And if they reject the chocolatey peanut-buttery goodness? First check to see if they have a peanut allergy. You don’t want to be starting an intergalactic incident over them not wanting to break out in hives. But if there are no allergies? Go to plan B and shoot your way out of there. Because they can’t be trusted.*

*This rule can also be applied to humans. Seriously, who doesn’t like Reece’s Pieces??

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bad Movies/Good Party Themes: High School Musical 2 Nostalgia Party

Happy first Friday of the month all! If you’re in the mood to feel both nostalgic and ridiculous, have I got a theme for you...

Let me start by saying, that while, yes, High School Musical 2 is a fairly ridiculous movie to older crowds, it’s not actually that bad for the age group at which it was aimed. And the same can be said for its prequel and sequel. If I was thirteen when these came out, I would totally be in love. And if the Roomie’s face when Troy started singing “Bet On It” was any indication, I don’t think she would employ as stringent an age limit as I on this devotion.

Point of fact, these songs will be stuck in your head for days. If not the words, then just snippets of the tunes. And yes, it will drive you mad. I say this as both a warning and an endorsement.

As far as storyline goes, this part of the series shows those crazy Wildcats working summer jobs at a ritzy country club. Between this setting and all the dance breaks of the child labor, it’s got a Kellerman’s meets the Newsboys Strike sort of vibe.

Or maybe, I’ve just got Kenny Ortega on the brain.

You know what? Make it easy on yourself. Just have an Ortega-themed night. Dirty Dancing, Newsies, High School Musical (1-3)….maybe throw in the float scene from Ferris….oooh, Pretty in Pink! Okay, I’m sorry, I’m getting carried away. Shag: The Movie! No, stop it. But it would be magical. That’s a different theme night! Not this one!

My sincerest apologies.

In terms of this theme, I have one word for you: yearbooks. You know what’s a fantastic way to get yourself laughing? Looking at your friends’ HS yearbooks and having them look at yours. Why? Because we were all ridiculous in some way in high school. My yearbook also had baby pics in it. When the Roomie saw mine, her horrified response was, “It’s the same exact face, but on a baby!” Ah, friend-time bonding. 

Can’t put a price on that.

Crackerjack dialogue to look forward to:
-          “But if along the way you act like someone you’re not, pretty soon that’s who you become.”
-          “My show makes the captain of the Titanic look like he won the lottery.”
-          “But you better step away from the mirror long enough to check the damage that will always be right behind you.”
-          “We’re all in this together.” (said, not sung, multiple times by multiple characters)

For a High School Musical 2 Teen Nostalgia Party of your very own, here’s what you need:
-          High School Musical 2 (2007)
-          High school garb (any such garb will do, but if you’re going for real nostalgia, I’d wear something from your own HS days. For instance, I wore my old gym t-shirt and my dance club sweatshirt tied around my waist. Because I am (and was) that cool.)
-          Yearbooks
-          HS era snacks (mine were Oatmeal Crème Pies and Cosmic Brownies)
-          Ribbons, plaques, etc. (Did you win anything in HS? Show it off! Let me tell you, there are very few people who aren’t impressed by my Junior Year Dance Participation Ribbon. And that’s just a fact.)
-          An appreciation for songs that are going to weasel their way into your head for the next week or so (I don’t dance. I know you do! Not a chance. If I can do this, then you can do that. But, I don’t dance……Uh. Sorry about that. Got lost in the head tunes for a sec.)
-          A group of musical enthusiasts and/or Zefron lovers and/or people who know that high school is a thing to laugh over.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

And So It All Comes Together

The quest to decide what I will be when I grow up soldiers on, now arriving at college.

I went into school undecided (which I recommend for everyone who hasn’t maintained a consistent career goal from the time they were four), but by the end of freshman year, I had come to a decision. Ultimately I chose with my heart, majoring in history and minoring in theater. The difficulty in getting a job in either of those fields paled in comparison to my interest.

Once again, it came down to the stories. In my history classes I learned the many ways to research people and events of the past. I was afforded the opportunity to study the daily acts of ordinary heroism and villainy that the past is made up of. And in theater, I found new ways to present the story to an audience. Perhaps, most importantly to me, in both programs I continued to be presented with occasions to improve my writing.

One of my favorite internships came along in grad school and allowed me to utilize all the different things I had learned up until that point. I wrote for just under six months for a blog called The Long Recall, which sadly is no longer run. Every day we posted real time information on the Civil War, written as though it was 1861. And it was awesome.

I got to spend hours and hours going back through old newspapers and coming up with the news for the day. I had to remember how to write news instead of papers, so I rummaged through the Mary Poppins bag of my life and pulled out my old newspaperwoman hat. I wrote about everything I could find on day to day life, from the war to new fashions to animal care to entertainment (including clowns!), all the while having to find common threads so that a larger story came together as the audience read multiple posts. Every one of my former dream jobs came in handy. And all the past-me’s felt quite vindicated.

As for what I will actually be when I grow up? Not really sure yet. But I know I’ll keep writing until the very end. Everything else is just a bonus.

All right, now that I’ve blathered on for four days about what I wanted to be when I grew up, how about you? Did you know right away or were there some pit stops before your final destination?

Check back in tomorrow for this month’s Bad Movie/Good Party Theme!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Need For Stories

And continuing this week’s look back on young career aspirations, we have reached high school.

By this point, I knew I loved writing. I wanted to write novels, all the kinds that made me stay up until the wee hours of the morning after telling my parents I was indeed going to sleep.

But, I also decided I was going to be Lois Lane, or maybe April O’Neil. A hard hitting journalist who wrote about truth, justice, the American way (Happy Independence Day, by the way!), the discovery of teen-aged mutant ninja turtles, etc.

I joined the school newspaper and wrote about whatever they needed me to write about. I enjoyed the writing aspect, of course. And I enjoyed interviewing people regarding different subjects because people, as a rule, are interesting. But I realized pretty fast I was never going to succeed in the Lane/O’Neil way of life.


Because I didn’t like intruding. And if there’s one thing Lois Lane and April O’Neil never minded, it was intruding. But I didn’t like the idea of invading anybody’s privacy. There was a lot of tragedy in the country during my high school years, including September 11th, the D.C. Sniper, and a number of local scandals. While much of the news was beneficial in keeping the public in the know, what I remember most are the faces of those who were trying to pick up the pieces after something horrible had happened. Some wanted to be able to talk about things with the world, but others just wanted to be left alone. And I didn’t want to be the person whose job it was to keep asking them questions.

So one more career path was taken off the table.

But writing still remained. Like everyone else who sat watching the news at night, I couldn’t do anything to change the things that had happened. I couldn’t make those feelings of helplessness and uncertainty go away. There was the possibility, however, that if I wrote a good enough story, I could give people a break from the chaos that surrounded them, as was so beautifully discussed in this post. That’s how it had always worked for me, anyway. Nothing gave me a new perspective on the world the way a book did.

When high school ended, I happily hung up my press badge. My notebooks of stories, however, I kept filling; still searching for the characters who would be willing to share their stories with me.