4.11.2018

Ethereal Visions Tarot

It took me almost two years to get this deck. I paid for it in November 2016 and received it today. Which means I'm primed to like it. Why? Because humans are wired to not want to believe that we've wasted our time or money on something. The longer the time and/or the higher the cost, the more we want to love whatever it is that took so long or cost so much.

What I'm saying is, I'm probably biased.

Here's the story in a nutshell: this deck was a Kickstarter, and there were printing issues, and it just kept getting pushed back again and again. Many people asked for and received refunds, but I stuck it out. Because I love Art Deco, and I'd really loved the early sketches I'd seen of this deck.

Now that I'm finally holding it in my hands, I do still love it. Take a look:

Click for larger view.

The photo doesn't really do it justice. I believe it was all the gilding that caused printing problems.

The cards are large and sturdy, but not so stiff as to be difficult to shuffle. The artwork is indeed lovely, though I think I would have liked slightly more saturation in the colors. Some of the cards (see the Eight of Wands above) are fairly traditional in design, others not as much, though all evince the spirit of the most well-known decks. You'll see, too, that there are a couple non-standard cards depicted: The Well and The Artist. Think: Muse and Visionary and you've pretty well got those figured out.

There is a gentleness to this deck that makes it soothing to use. It's a bit coy, though, and so may take a while to get to know. It's flirty. But also sedate. If you don't have patience for that, if you want a deck that speaks more directly or unequivocally, this one isn't it.

So, yes, I like it. And I hope it likes me. But it's going to take time to build a relationship with it. Some decks I feel like I've known forever even if I've only just picked them up. This one, not so much. We're feeling each other out. I hope we can find a connection, particularly after waiting so long to meet.

4.09.2018

Indie Beginning Podcast

Hey! So I'm featured on the Indie Beginning podcast today where I talk about Brynnde, and Regency romance, and writing in various genres. Hope you'll give it a listen!

4.08.2018

Movies: The Post

It's interesting to watch something like Ready Player One and then The Post. On the surface they are tonally very different. But both adhere to traditional filmmaking structure, and both are, at the core, stories of fighting the big bads who appear to hold all the power. They're both about using whatever kind of power you may have to defeat those who would strangle democracy.

I tried, while watching, to decide whether I'd know that the same director made both films. But all I could say is that I'd probably guess Spielberg made both films. If it were any other director, I might not have cottoned on. But Spielberg has a definite style (or definite styles, depending on the type of movie—I know a Spielberg popcorn film when I see one, and I know a Spielberg drama when I see one, too).

As for The Post, well, I can't say I was engrossed. I think it must be difficult to make people reading papers and trying to decide whether to publish them very interesting to watch. The end result being I didn't pay as much attention as I should have. In fact, I had a glorious moment of stupidity at the end when I asked, "Wait. Why is The Washington Post in New York?" My husband just stared at me. "You weren't really watching, were you?" he asked finally. Busted.

I think Meryl Streep's character of Kay Graham is meant to be the dramatic focus of the film—the protagonist, the sympathetic character. She has inherited The Post by what most of the people around her seem to consider a terrible accident, and so she has a bunch of men advising her and making her doubt herself. We're used to seeing Streep play a dynamo, and there's probably a reason for that; her as wishy-washy and subdued does not make for very exciting viewing. Spoilers: she eventually makes the big decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, despite all the advice not to, and despite knowing it means going to trial and possibly losing and going to jail. But the stakes here just don't feel very high, and by the time Graham grows a backbone, we've already lost interest.

There are a lot of characters here, too, a lot to keep track of. The surfeit of familiar faces is somewhat distracting. And it seems that no one character received enough time to really become established and interesting.

That said, The Post is timely in its reminder that the free press is key to democracy. In fact, it hits viewers over the head with this point repeatedly. And ends with the door open for viewers to go watch All the President's Men after. The message seeming to be that any administration that tries to squash the flow of information is usually trying to hide something much bigger and much worse. I can't say I necessarily disagree, and there's something cathartic about having all this encapsulated in a movie. Too bad the movie isn't more entertaining as a whole. We all know I love Spielberg, but this wasn't one of my favorites.

4.07.2018

Books: F You Very Much by Danny Wallace

(subtitle: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness—and What We Can Do About It)

I am, I realize, what some call “a stickler.” Maybe it’s the way I was raised. I don’t know. But I suffer from a sensitivity to rudeness, and I’ve noticed an increase in said rudeness as well. So when I saw this book on the library shelf, I had to read it.

Author Danny Wallace is best known for his humor, and his writing style here imbues the topic with comedy so that the book itself is a very quick and pleasant read. But don’t let that lead you to believe the book is inconsequential. Wallace speaks with experts and even funded his own poll in order to get a better grip on the subject.

Are we getting ruder? It seems so. Why? Possibly the rise of self-centered narcissism. When we only think of ourselves, we have no reason to be polite to others because others don’t matter.

I consider the rude teens in my neighborhood who ride loud motorbikes up and down the street, even though there is a space designated for riding within, well, riding distance. I think about the kids who think it’s fun for some reason to ring our doorbell and run away—literally, their entire idea of entertainment being to annoy people. And when we tried to confront them about their behavior, a parent assaulted my husband and I received threatening emails. Because these parents don’t want to discipline their kids, but they don’t want anyone else to do it either.

This is a big part of the problem, I think.

When I was a child, any adult in the neighborhood was free to reprimand us. You had respect for them.

But this post is meant to be about the book. Sufficient to say I identify with the subject matter and found the book very interesting. For instance, consider Dunbar’s number, which says there is a limit to the number of social relationships we can have. In terms of rudeness, we tend not to be rude to our in-crowd. Anyone else, however, may be fair game because (again) they do not matter to us. Particularly if they are someone we’re not likely to see again—a server at a restaurant we don’t frequent, for example, or someone on the other end of a tech support phone line. We see no social drawbacks to being rude to such people; there are no lasting consequences for misbehaving where they are concerned. If we were to act in such a way with people we do see regularly, there certainly would be backlash. Our social standing would be affected.

I’ll give another example from personal experience. I walk my kids to school, and many other kids bike to school. There is a bike lane. However, one boy persistently rides on the pavement. I’ve talked to him about it many times, but he refuses to use the bike lane, saying “My parents never taught me that.” (The parents again! And before you say that the bike lane may be too dangerous, this boy is 10, and ever other biker uses the lane without trouble. I would also argue that, if one thinks the bike lane is too dangerous, one should not be biking to school.) Even after a bike rules and safety program at the school, this boy refuses to use the bike lane. And I’ve seen him nearly get hit a number of times because he also does not stop to look before biking across the street.

And then one day I did see him get hit.

Lucky for him and the driver both that it was not serious. The boy was fine; the bike was not. I spoke to the driver and got his information. I walked the boy to school, carrying his bike and talking to him the whole way. I took him to the school office and was witness to the police report.

But do you know what? My feelings about that boy have changed. He still rides on the pavement, but now he’ll say, “Excuse me,” if he comes up behind us while we're walking. And I’ll greet him by name and ask him how he’s doing. My ire at him being on the pavement has dissipated. He’s become part of my social circle. I give him allowances I wouldn’t give others, people I don’t know.

Isn’t that interesting? That we can have different sets of rules for different people? We hold people to different standards based on how much authority we perceive them to have or whether or not we know them well.

It’s that kind of thing that makes F You Very Much a thought-provoking read. One I highly recommend to anyone worried about the direction our world is going, at least in terms of civility.

4.02.2018

Movies: Ready Player One

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline (screenplay), from the novel by Ernest Cline
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 140 minutes
5.0 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Yeah, I gave it five stars.

Let me be clear: I didn't even finish the book. It bored me. It clearly wasn't written for the likes of me. Despite having grown up in the 80s and being passingly familiar with gaming culture . . . While I could appreciate the references made in the book, I couldn't like the main character. And since the entire story is told from that character's POV, I bailed.

Ready Player One is also told from this character's POV, and yes, there's even (*groan*) voice over. But they've managed to make him likable. And the story more interesting.

It's not just for fanboys any more.

Quick summary: Wade Watts lives in a near future Cleveland (2045). Most people in this future spend their time plugged in to the VR world known as the Oasis. When the creator of the Oasis (Rylance, doing a version of Garth from Wayne's World?) dies, he leaves behind a contest: find three keys and win the easter egg that will give you control of the Oasis.

At first Wade wants to win just for the sake of the money. He's poor, he's downtrodden and misunderstood, etc. But after meeting Artemis in the Oasis, he has a bigger purpose: stop big business IOI from winning and ruining the Oasis—and by extension, the world—forever.

It's a white-boy nerd savior fantasy if ever there was one, and that's been seen as problematic in this day and age. I get that, and I even agree with it to a point. Remember that I felt excluded when reading the book. But I had faith in my longtime love of Mr. Spielberg, and that faith proved sound. The changes made from the book to the movie tell a very different story, at least as much as I can tell from only having read half the book.

Some of the changes are a simple matter of visual interest. Watching someone watch WarGames over and over would not be entertaining. So the contests have been upped, and I'll admit to pumping a fist and hissing, "Yes!" when Wade (or, per his avatar name, Parzival) figured out the first one. A marked difference from the book: I felt like I could cheer for this guy.

Beyond those surface changes was the sense that this was not just Wade's story. Though told from his POV,  the movie had a more classic Spielberg feel of a group of misfits coming together to beat the big bad. Wade may be Chief Misfit, but there's never a hint that he could have done it alone. He's not a sole savior; he gets saved by others plenty of times. And that's a very important difference.

In short, you don't have to be a fanboy to enjoy this movie. You don't even have to be a gamer (I'm not). It might help if you're of a particular generation that's primed to enjoy the nostalgia factor. And it definitely helps if you love classic Spielberg. Because by the end of Ready Player One, that's what I was left thinking: "This is the Spielberg of my childhood, the one I love." There's nostalgia for you.

(P.S. The PG-13 rating is key; my 8- and 9-year-olds struggled with the scene set in The Shining. Consider yourselves warned.)

3.25.2018

Movies: Pitch Perfect 3

This movie was just . . . bad. Clunky writing seemed to be the primary problem. A lot of exposition in dialogue. A lot of ham-fisted bits (like the flashes of the Bellas' various work lives). And just a lot of half-baked plot lines that they somehow figured would be fine to wrap up via small clips as the credits rolled.

It really felt as though the writers were struggling to (a) come up with any kind of story, and (b) fit everyone in so that no one felt as though they'd been sidelined or overshadowed. But the overall result was a mishmash. It's almost as though the movie didn't know whether to take itself seriously or parody itself. So it tried to do a bit of both and none of it worked.

Even when it hung a lampshade on things ("Is there a competition? There's always a competition."), pointing out its own formula did not make the movie any better, nor did it excuse the lack of originality.

Is there a competition? you ask. Well, of course. Of sorts. Thanks to one Bella's military dad (and don't ask me to tell you which one because there are too damn many, and we all really only know Becca and Fat Amy, right?), they get invited to perform for the troops overseas. Like the USO. Except there's also some plot about how a well-known DJ/musician is going to choose someone to tour with him from these USO acts? And we're introduced to a couple other bands only to have them disappear almost immediately. Well, or become incidental as this movie sees shiny things and chases one random plot bunny after another. Until we ultimately end up with Fat Amy and her estranged dad (John Lithgow with a bad accent) and a pseudo-James Bond thing. Also, a non-romance between Becca and the DJ's righthand man.

Oh, and John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are back as faux documentarians, following the Bellas around for no apparent reason? Except that it was decided they couldn't do another Pitch Perfect movie without shoehorning them in somehow.

It's just such a bad, boring movie. Like, not even so bad it's good. It's not funny. It's not cohesive. It's just a waste of time.

3.19.2018

Books: Help Choose a Cover for Faebourne!

Here is a link to the poll in which you can vote for your favorite cover design!

Faebourne is my latest Regency romance novel. (The last one was Brynnde. Remember this cover?)


Which cover would look great next to Brynnde on a shelf? Which book might you pick up for a closer look if you saw it at the library or bookstore? Let me know by voting and/or commenting!

3.17.2018

Custom Shampoo: Function of Beauty & Prose

All right, everybody, here's where I admit to falling for Facebook ads.

The truth is, I have difficult hair. Some of it is my own fault because I color my hair. Some of the problem is just nature. I have fine hair, but a lot of it, and ever since having kids it's become wavy to the point of almost curly. And I also have to fight dandruff.

If you know anything about (a) having colored hair and (b) being prone to dandruff, you know that the hair products that help get rid of dandruff are the very same ones that strip the color from you hair.

Sigh.

I've long been searching for shampoos that would meet somewhere in the middle. I'll say that using cleansing conditioners has so far been my best solution: Matrix Biolage, Wen, etc. But every week or so I still feel the need for a full shampooing.

The first custom product I saw an ad for and decided to try was Function of Beauty. I can't remember what I paid for the shampoo + conditioner, but it didn't feel unreasonable at the time. (However, I did just receive an email telling me they're raising their prices, so . . .) On the FoB site, I answered questions, chose colors and scents, and was even able to decide what would be printed on the bottles. Fun! And I must say I did really, really like the product I received. My hair felt great and smelled amazing. BUT. The product bled my hair color pretty badly.

So once I'd finished those bottles, I was debating whether to go ahead and order more when I saw the Prose ad. Well, why not see if this other custom product could do the job, right? Like FoB, Prose had me answer a bunch of questions about my hair, but also about my life and where I live. Interesting. In addition to the shampoo and conditioner, they created a hair "mask" as well, a product to use prior to shampooing. All three products cost me $80+, so pretty pricey. And I've only used it once, so it's still hard to tell what the overall, sustained effect will be. But I will say there were fewer customization choices on my part. I think I was allowed to choose from about four scents and that was it.

Upon initial use, after Prose my hair is not as soft and smooth as it was after using Function of Beauty. And the scent is okay but I don't like it as much as FoB either. However, I saw less of my hair color disappearing. That may, however, be because I'm due for a dye job.

Function of Beauty was better for my scalp. Prose was less harsh on my color.

Prose is way more involved with a lot of steps to the process. It came with instructions but also a nice folder that showed me the ingredients that had been used to make my products. I really appreciate that.

I'm withholding a final decision until I've used Prose a bit more, but for the moment I'm leaning toward Function of Beauty in the future. I may post an update here after a few more weeks of using Prose to let you know for sure.

And now, because I'm gullible, I'm thinking of trying some of that Wander Beauty foundation . . .

3.16.2018

Movies: The Circle

I can't offer a full critique because we turned this one off halfway through. It just wasn't interesting. It's a wonder they got such good actors to agree to it in the first place.

This extremely generic “thriller” is about a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson) who goes to work for The Circle, which is kind of like Google/Apple or something? Basically, it's a tech firm that has linked everyone's online profiles and social media into one big ball of . . . Online Identity, I guess. You can be completely monitored, from your emails and search history to the health bracelet you wear to all the tiny (surely illegal) cameras placed pretty much everywhere. (I mean, seriously. What if someone decided to stick one of those in a changing room or bathroom or locker room? You know it would happen.)

Politicians rally to squash The Circle, but the company in turn challenges those politicians to become "transparent" and thereby wholly accountable.

Meanwhile, The Circle also helps Mae's parents as her father suffers from MS.

The whole movie is a completely unsubtle commentary on the illusion of privacy in a technological world. With the help of Finn Ty (John Boyega), creator of some of the core tech The Circle employs, Mae eventually exposes the not-so-transparent actions of her very employers. Then goes on to happily lead a life of being watched and tracked, firm in the faith that this is a good thing. I only know this part from skimming the Wikipedia summary, which assured me that I didn't really miss much.

It's a shame, really, because it seems like this movie probably had a solid script at one point that got turned to mush via rewrites or too many notes or something. Like, it's meant to be a thriller but lacks any real tension or thrills. (The only semi-tense moment I witnessed was when the social duo came to set up Mae's account—how cultish and creepy was that?) Maybe the book was better? One can only hope so, and that everything good about the book was lost in translation.

3.12.2018

Bossy? Or "A Leader"?

The other day, while at a social function, I said something offhand about my daughter being bossy. An older woman stepped up and informed me that, "We don't call girls 'bossy' any more. They have 'leadership potential.'"

Uh-huh.

Look, I know my daughter. And she's bossy. No one wants a bossy leader. No one wants to work with or under a know-it-all. If you have the right answer to something, there are good ways to let that be known. And then there are not good ways. Bossy ways.

And lest anyone think I'm harsh on my daughter, let me be clear: I don't hesitate to call my sons out when they're being bossy too. My goal is to have my kids treat other people well. Yes, even when those other people are "doing things wrong" or are simply doing things that are frustrating. That's what good leaders do. They correct others in a way that is not hurtful. You can support someone and correct them at the same time.

It's true that sometimes the others don't or won't listen. This is because my kids have no actual authority over their friends. Nor should they. That's the teacher's job, the parents' jobs. And while I won't encourage my kids to be tattletales (unless there is imminent danger to themselves or others), I also won't encourage them to tell their peers what to do. That's bossy. (Group work notwithstanding. Because group work sucks. If you want to show "leadership potential," group work is probably your primary opportunity.)

Bossy isn't leadership. Not good leadership, anyway. Bossy is bullying potential more like. So don't slap a new label on it and pretend it's a good thing.

In the meantime, I'll keep working with my kids on better ways to affect change when things aren't going the way they'd like.

3.10.2018

Movies: I, Tonya

The whole Nancy Kerrigan thing happened during my senior year of high school. My parents and I weren't sports people, and we didn't watch the Olympics. "The incident," as this movie calls it, was barely on my radar. I only knew enough to get the jokes.

And I wonder how many other viewers of this movie are like me: knowing just enough to get the jokes.

Or maybe many went in knowing even less about Tonya Harding.

I, Tonya is a faux documentary based on real interviews with Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. I think the information embedded in the movie is interesting, and I think the movie is largely engaging. It's visually interesting (which may be why it got an Oscar nod for editing). The acting is quite good as well, and certainly Janney has earned all her accolades, though she drops out of the film for a large stretch.

That said, some of the choices distracted me. Breaking the fourth wall, for instance. Clever, perhaps, but it draws too much attention to itself because of the inconsistent use. The soundtrack also felt disruptive. I know some of the music was true to Harding's skating routines, but again, the choices seemed designed to pull attention from whatever else was happening on screen.

And I couldn't decide how to feel about the abuse. It was presented so matter-of-factly, and yet I suppose we're also supposed to question whether it actually happened since we're getting multiple POVs? The resulting confusion about the abuse means it isn't given the weight it maybe should carry; it almost feels like a punchline (no pun intended).

All this said, the film on the whole is quite good. A very visceral moment came when young Tonya stood crying outside her father's car as he left her mother. That's something that will stay with me.

Felt a little long for two hours, but still very entertaining. Worth viewing.

3.07.2018

IWSG Reminder



If you've wandered here due to a comment or post for Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG), then please note my IWSG posts go on my author site. One day I'll merge all this stuff . . . But today is not that day.

3.03.2018

Movies: The Disaster Artist

Okay, I've never seen The Room. I've seen clips, but never the entire thing. I've tried to watch it, but can never find it on streaming, and I'm not really the cult-screening-at-midnight type.

I have no idea how true the events in The Disaster Artist are, how many are perhaps a trick of the author's perception/memory, and how many have been blurred to make the story cohesive and/or entertaining. But boy is it entertaining. A bit cringe-y, but my understanding is The Room is also a cringe fest, so . . .

For the maybe two people who don't know, The Disaster Artist is based on a book written by Greg Sestero (with the help of Tom Bissell) that details Greg's friendship with Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is the writer, director, producer, and star of The Room, and Greg acted opposite Wiseau in that film. In fact, Greg moved from San Francisco to L.A. with Wiseau and roomed with him for a while as they both tried to make it in Hollywood. When that failed, they decided to make their own movie. The Room was the result.

I'll admit, I never realized The Room had a full crew. I'd always assumed there was just one guy with a camera and a light or something. But no, apparently it was professionally filmed, all funded by Wiseau. I knew the guy had money, but didn't think he'd spent that much to make the film everyone says is the best worst movie ever made (or something like that).

There's more than a little bit of a hint that Wiseau had a crush on Greg and took it personally when Greg got a girlfriend and moved out of their shared apartment. Again, I have to wonder how much of that is Greg's perception and how much might be punched up just for the sake of drama. Or maybe it's all true.

The Disaster Artist is entertaining enough to make me want to both read the book and watch The Room. If I can find it anywhere. But even if you know nothing about The Room or Wiseau, it's a worthwhile distraction.

2.25.2018

M Reads High Fantasy pt. 2

Okay, okay, okay . . . More about this book I'm reading:

So that guy who went to kill that king? He did. But only after jumping on walls and ceilings and stuff. Sort of like Spider-Man?

And that was just the prologue! The book finally started some five years later, and there's a war. The general or whatever, he's really popular with his men because they never lose. Except this time, of course, they do. And the general becomes a slave.

Oh, but then there's this Tinkerbell kind of fairy thing that is annoying the general/slave guy. That's where I'm at now. He thinks he's going crazy because the fairy creatures in this world aren't supposed to be intelligent, but this one is talking to him. So that's fun.

I don't know if I'm supposed to like any of these people. So far, I don't really. I'm waiting for personalities to happen. But I'm only 40 or so pages in, and there are 1200+ pages, so . . . Yow. Hope it doesn't take that long for characters to get interesting.

Anyone want to take a guess as to what book I'm reading? 😉

Meanwhile, I'm seeking beta readers for my latest book. It's YA contemporary, an update of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a full-on snarky [female] MC. Let me know if you're interested!

2.23.2018

M Reads High Fantasy

My friends insisted I need to read this book. I'm not going to name the book, but points to you if you can figure it out from the following description. I'm, like, not even 20 pages in, I don't think. And I haven't gotten to, you know, the story yet because there is a Prelude and a Prologue. WTF kind of book needs two head starts?

You have to understand, I like fantasy in concept but tend not to read epic or high fantasy novels because they require so much damn work and all feel more or less the same to me. There are a bunch of names and different races or kinds of creatures. Something or someone is evil and a band of oddballs usually have to go on a quest to stop the evil. This is my entire understanding of fantasy, even though I did enjoy Greg Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series and got partway through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. I think maybe I prefer fantasy rooted in more contemporary things, like Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books.

Okay, so this book. It starts with . . . a guy? He's not human, though, I don't think. Apparently he has to keep fighting a battle over and over again for eternity, and sometimes he wins and sometimes not? Not just him but, like, nine others like him. Between the battles he goes to be tortured in a hell-like place. But then after this one battle, he and some king guy decide they're not going to do this any more. And the guy feels kind of guilty about that, but he really doesn't want to go back to being tortured, so they all just leave.

Oh, and there are swords. But they leave the swords, too.

THEN. Fast forward some 4500 years, and there's an assassin at a feast. He's going to kill a king. He has to wear all white because the people who hired him say it's only fair that the victim see him coming.

That's as far as I've gotten. I'm in the Prologue, waiting for the murder part. BUT. The assassin did pass through some hall or something that had statues of the guys from the Prelude? He called them Heralds, but for some reason one of the Heralds doesn't have a statue. I'm guessing this is a cultural thing since they've already made a big deal about the differences in the cultures here. That's another thing about high fantasy—the world building is incredible (when done well), but it's quite a burden on the reader when the info is being shoveled at you. These people have black skin and dark eyes, these ones are white with light eyes . . . I'm never going to keep all the names straight either. It's really overwhelming.

That said, I'll keep reading. My friends are so into this, I just have to see what it's about. Perhaps I'll update you as I go along.

2.22.2018

Books: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This is a cute book. The narrator has a strong and engaging voice and is charming if not always likable.

The story in a nutshell: It is the 1700s. Henry "Monty" Montague—known rake and heir to an earldom—and his best friend Percy Newton are off on their Grand Tour. Monty's younger sister Felicity is along for the ride as they're meant to drop her at finishing school in Marseilles. Of course, everything goes awry when Monty steals a little something from the Duke of Bourbon during a visit to Versailles.

The novel attacks a number of issues, including race relations (Percy is part black), and health (Percy also has epilepsy), and abuse (Monty's father beats him), as well as homosexuality (Monty has a huge crush on Percy). It also glances over gender issues as Felicity protests having to go to finishing school because she'd rather become a surgeon.

Overall, it was a swift read up until the last 20-25% of the book. At that point, I felt the book had begun to suffer from a surfeit of plot. Things just kept happening, and I was beginning to be exhausted, not in a good way. But I plowed through (sometimes tempted to skim) to see how it would end.

Still, the book is largely a fine marriage of character and plot. If you like Lestat, you'll probably like Monty's narration. Many nice descriptions, though they sometimes get rather thick.

The main characters being teenagers, it's listed as YA, but if you're thinking of this for your teen, be sure they're ready for some of the heftier issues.

2.19.2018

Movies: Peter Rabbit

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Voices by: James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Rob Lieber & Will Gluck, based on characters created by Beatrix Potter
Columbia/Sony, 2018
PG; 95 minutes
4.0 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Yes, yes, I know: This is a travesty of a movie for so many reasons. Beatrix Potter would have hated this version of her characters. There's the fact that someone's food allergy is used against them. I should have boycotted it.

Whatever.

In truth, despite the flaws, I was entertained. More than I expected to be. So in my book that translates to four stars.

This movie is mostly sight gags and pranks punctuated by pop music. As long as you know that going in, you're golden.

Thomas MacGregor (Gleeson) is a manager at Harrods in London. He's just been passed up for a promotion when he learns his great-uncle (that he didn't even know existed) has died, leaving him the owner of a little country house and, yes, an extensive vegetable garden.

Bea [subtle choice there, guys] (Byrne) is a would-be artist living the in cottage next to the MacGregor house. Her paintings are terrible, but her drawings of the local rabbits are really very good.

Bea and Thomas hit it off, but the one thing they don't agree on is the wildlife. Bea loves the bunnies, and Thomas . . . doesn't.

From there things take a fairly predictable path. Think Home Alone but with wildlife instead of robbers, kind of? (I don't really know because I've never actually seen Home Alone, but the physical comedy aspect is similar.)

While I think we're certainly meant to cheer for Peter and the rabbits and laugh at Thomas, I think there's a fair amount of understanding that neither side is entirely right in this fight. Gleeson's ability to pull faces, and his apparent aptitude for physicality, serves well here. [I so want him to play Dixon in 20 August.]

Anyway, it was a fun movie. My kids really enjoyed it, too, though my 12-year-old son cringed at the cutesy, lovey bits. Which is as it should be.

Peter Rabbit is a movie that knows it's nothing but fluff and doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is. Maybe it isn't true to Potter's original character, and yeah the allergy thing is questionable, but overall I enjoyed it. More than I thought I would. That's the key, you know: keep your expectations low and you'll never be disappointed.

SFWC 2018

If you're wondering why I disappeared so abruptly, I just spent the weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and now I am brain dead. Luckily I took notes so I don't have to remember every little piece of information I learned. And lucky for you, I'm sharing those notes over on PepperWords. A little at a time because, as I said, brain dead. But head over there and keep checking for the latest.

2.12.2018

Books: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

As much as I adored A Darker Shade of Magic . . . This book didn't do it for me.

This is, of course, subjective. But here are the things I didn't like:

  • So much focus on Lila. I know lots of people love her, but she's a bit Mary Sue for me.
  • Repetitive words and phrases. If Lila has a smile "like a knife" or "sharp smile" one more time . . . Seriously, stop. Find other words and ways to describe things.
  • Kell wasn't the character I fell in love with in the first book. I understand that characters change and grow, but he wasn't very likable in this. He's moving in the wrong direction.
  • The "Magic Olympics" (or whatever they called it, but that's pretty much what it was). I don't like stories about contests, so this did not interest me at all. Long passages describing battles? I skimmed. Actually, I didn't even skim, I just skipped to the end to see who'd won.

As I mentioned, all subjective. I know many people love this book. But it took me forever to finish because I just couldn't get into it.

2.11.2018

Books: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Uhm . . . No.

I love me some historical fiction, and I love queens and such, but there are some expectations that come with those elements. For one, historical fiction usually has a sort of elevated writing style. This . . . did not. In fact, this was written like bad young adult fiction. The sentences are simple, the POVs hop around, and we're told instead of shown. In particular, the characters are flat. Bad guys are bad, and no one is well rounded, not even Victoria or Albert or Lord Melbourne, the three sides of the poorly constructed love triangle this book puts forth as the central "conflict," such as it is.

That's another problem with this book. There is no tension and no real conflict. I think we're supposed to feel worried that Conroy and the Duke of Cumberland will succeed in ruling over Victoria or setting her aside in some way, but that plot line comes and goes with nary a ruffle. And then maybe we're supposed to feel tension over Victoria + Melbourne versus Victoria + Albert, but since we all know how that ends, how can we really worry over it?

The "romance" between Victoria and Albert, too, is tiresome. They seemingly can't stand each other, yet we're told over and over again that they've fallen in love. What? It makes no sense, and there is zero chemistry on the page. The whole thing seems far more forcibly arranged by Leopold than a true romance between two people who, history shows, really did love one another.

Are we supposed to like Albert? It's impossible to in this incarnation. He's serious and borderline cruel at points. We're given the sad story of his mother leaving when he was young as though that might soften him, but again, we just don't feel it. This book is so much tell and so little actual feeling.

Overall, this book suffers from a lack of backbone. There is no strong through line, no development arc, and the characters are static rather than dynamic. I was disappointed.

1.28.2018

Television: Mindhunter 1.1

I didn't like it.

It was boring.

There's this FBI agent named Holden Ford, and he's young and uptight but trying to find new methods for profiling murderers and stuff.

It's, like, 1977 or something.

I dunno. Nothing much actually happened. Holden got a girlfriend named Debbie and she's obnoxious. He went back to school and is supposed to be recruiting people for the FBI, but no one wants to be a Fed because it's 1977 and everything is anti-establishment.

Mostly I felt like I was being shown this character—Holden—and . . . shown him some more . . . and some more . . . And I want to shout, "Okay! I get it! Now is there a story here or what?"

But there wasn't really. At least not in this episode.

Eventually Holden gets picked up by a senior agent named Bill Tench who invites him along to lecture law enforcement in various cities and towns. They're asked to help with the murder of a woman and her young son, but Holden says they can't.

So . . . yeah. Nothing happens. Holden actively chooses not to do anything. Because he can't wrap his brain around the psychology of someone who would kill a woman and her son.

Um . . .

Like, do your job maybe?

I don't know. I usually like character-driven stuff, but this was all character and no drive.

1.27.2018

Television: ACS: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, "Manhunt"

Ugh. I can't even with this show.

They have yet to give me anything that makes me care about what happens to anyone involved.

Going backwards a bit from the day of the actual shooting, we see Cunanan arrive in Miami Beach and befriend an HIV-positive gay guy named Ronnie who . . . I guess is homeless kind of? I can't even tell, or maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention because I. DIDN'T. CARE.

I do wonder how much of this is documented and how much of it is conjecture/coloring in.

The FBI continues to fumble. Cunanan hits up a rich old guy and gives him an American Horror Story-like thrill. Versace and his sister have a semi-competitive fashion show.

Yawn.

I honestly don't know if I'll be able to stick out this season. It's dragging, and this is only the second episode. But I do try to give everything at least three chances, so we'll see how next week goes.

1.24.2018

Index: Ongoing Star Wars Story ("Documents" posts)

In order to make things simpler for readers, I'm going to index this story so that you can bookmark this post and check for new "documents" (chapters) as we go.

For those of you just arriving, my 9-year-old daughter asked me to write a Star Wars story with her. My 12-year-old son has had some input too. We're having a lot of fun with it, and we hope you enjoy reading it as well.

I'll add links as new parts get posted.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

"Documents" pt. 11

Part 10 is here.
__________

Easier said than done given the thick metal. The Resistance had not been on Edowan long enough to automate everything, and many doors were manual, this one included. As Finn struggled with the heavy bolt, he wondered how many people it had required to close the thing in the first place.

“Never mind,” said Rey. “I’ll just—”

Finn stepped back, watched as Rey tilted her head slightly as though listening to something on the other side of the door. He listened, too, but heard nothing.

The silence felt ominous. Finn tensed, ready to spring if Ren should try anything. Not so alone now, am I? he thought and wished Ren could hear him… Then immediately hoped that wasn’t true.

Seemingly satisfied with whatever she did or didn’t hear, Rey made a motion with her hand and the massive bolt slid smoothly—though not soundlessly—aside.

“Damn,” said Finn.

Rey smiled. “I’m starting to really enjoy it, actually,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m getting the knack for it.”

“Yeah, well don’t get cocky,” Finn warned. “Because he—” he nodded at the door, “has more than a ‘knack’.”

Rey swallowed and her expression became serious. “I know.” She took a deep breath, and this time her smile was strained. “You’ll be here?”

“Right here,” promised Finn. “The whole time.”

Rey nodded and with another motion of her hand pulled the impossibly heavy door open. Finn only caught a glimpse of Kylo Ren seated on his thin mat before the door swung shut again.

***

Rey stopped just inside the door and stared down at their captive. He stared back unflinchingly and unmoving. She could feel the Force emanating from him, however, pushing against her like myriad unseen hands as though to force her off balance, knock her backward.

“Why are you here?” Rey asked.

For the first time, he blinked. Still, he didn’t speak, only shifted a little where he sat.

“Does the First Order know we’re here?” Rey asked. When he only continued to stare, she said, “They want to kill you. The Resistance. So you’ve got to give me something, Ben, or—”

“My mother is dead, isn’t she?”

His words stopped Rey short. She folded herself to sit across from him, only just resisted taking his hands in her own. “Yes,” she said gently. “Is that why you’re here?”

“I knew,” he said. “I felt it.”

Of course he had. But Rey reminded herself that he’d killed his own father, too. So how much had his mother really meant to him?

Another thought occurred to her. “Is that how you found us?”

Ben—she couldn’t think of him any other way, or maybe she didn’t want to—looked confused.

“When you felt…” Rey said, “could you tell where it was coming from?”

He huffed slightly, as though annoyed by her ignorance. “It’s not that specific,” he said. “The Force doesn’t work like a tracker. If it did...”

“You would have found us much sooner,” Rey finished, understanding her mistake. “Then how did you find us?”

He didn’t answer.

“Are they coming? For us? For you?”

Nothing.

Rey stood up again. “You must be hungry. I’ll see to it you get something to eat.”

As she went to the door, he said, “You know I can break out of here if I want to.”

She turned to look at him. “So why don’t you want to?”

He stared, and for a moment Rey felt as though she were being drawn forward, like she might tip and fall right on her face. She forced herself to break eye contact. “Okay then. I guess that’s…”

She opened the door and escaped, feeling his eyes burning into her back. Ben might have been the one in the cell, but Rey felt like somehow she was the hostage.

1.23.2018

Television: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, "The Man Who Would Be Vogue"

Okay, so my first question is: Why should I care?

This season's pilot episode begins with the contrast between Versace's opulent lifestyle and his murderer (Andrew Cunanan) sitting on a beach and then beginning to wander around Miami Beach. We know—well, people who know anything about this story—how this will end. Then again, if you look at the season's title you know how it will end. But since I'm given next to nothing about Versace's character, nor am I given much of anything about Cunanan . . . I just don't care.

Yes, yes, I know we're going to go back and find all that out. But the assassination has zero impact here because I don't care about either the victim or the murderer.

So then we rewind and it turns out Cunanan is, you know, fucked up in the head. Okay . . . So what sets him apart from so many other murderers then? He's a pathological liar. So are a lot of killers. He charms his way into people's lives. So do a lot of killers. There is a very cringe-y scene in which he pesters Versace at a bar in San Francisco because he either doesn't pick up on social cues or chooses to ignore them. But really, he's just unlikable. Which is maybe the point, I don't know. But I don't want to watch a show about a guy I don't like.

Let's look at Versace then. Well, I mean, he's dead, so . . . Aside from the morning routine before his murder, we see him only in a few flashbacks where Cunanan is worming his way into Versace's circle. There's not much to go on. Sure, we're sorry he's murdered in a nothing-like-that-should-happen-to-anybody way, but not in a personal, what-a-loss way. We don't know this guy, except that he was a well-known fashion designer. Doesn't make him a sympathetic character, though.

Meanwhile, Versace's sister Donatella sweeps in to take over the company and basically sideline Versace's long-term partner Antonio. So she's a bitch, and we can't like her, either.

The FBI agents screw up everything. Can't like them.

Who the hell are we supposed to root for in this?

Maybe I'm not the right audience for this. Maybe I don't worship enough at the altar of fashion or something. There's a sort of reverence around Versace here that I just don't buy into. Maybe I need to in order to care about the story being told.

I'll keep watching. As they fill in the backstory, maybe I'll find reasons to invest in some of the characters. But so far I'm not wowed.

1.22.2018

"Documents" pt. 10

Part 9 is here.
__________

“He can be turned,” Rey insisted. “For all we know, that’s the reason he’s here.”

“For all we know,” Captain Markwell said, “he’s here to destroy us.”

“If the First Order knows we’re here,” Commander D’Acy put in, “we need to evacuate before they return in force.”

A collective groan went up from the assembly.

“Go where?” someone asked. “We’ve been all over the galaxy already!”

More grumbles and murmurs circulated through the room.

“Even if he is here for… some other reason,” said Rey, “He’s a valuable prisoner. He has information, influence—”

“And powers we can’t contain,” inserted Poe. “As it is, the cell he’s in probably won’t hold him for long once he wakes up.”

“Just let me talk to him,” Rey said, and when skeptical looks flew through the group, she added, “I’ve defeated him before. And I’m much more skilled now.”

“You can’t bring a weapon in there,” Poe told her. “If he—”

Rey cut him off. “I won’t need a weapon.”

Another round of glances, these ones startled and uncertain. Then D’Acy said, “All right. If only for his mother’s sake.” The people around her nodded solemnly as D’Acy told Rey, “See if you can determine why he’s here and what he knows. But if—” She stopped, either unwilling or unable to put the possibility into words. “Well, he won’t be given another chance to cooperate.”

“Let’s hope he does,” Poe sighed under his breath.

***

Tap, tap, tap.

Finn look left then right down the long corridor.

Tap, tap, tap.

Slowly, Finn turned to look at the door.

“I know you’re out there.” Kylo Ren’s voice had an oddly muffled yet hollow sound from behind the thick metal and wall of rock. “Alone.”

Finn lifted his comm. “Uh, guys…”

“You will open this door.”

Finn cocked an eyebrow at said door. “No I won’t.” Into his comm, he hissed, “Guys! He’s awake!”

Motion at the far end of the corridor drew Finn’s attention. Rey was coming, and by the looks of her, she had a definite purpose. As she neared, Finn said, “He’s—”

“I know,” Rey said. “Open the door.”

1.21.2018

Movies: You've Got Mail

Years ago, I watched The Shop Around the Corner in film school. I also met Nora Ephron briefly in the summer of 1997, which is around the time this movie must have been filming, or perhaps was in pre-production. Yet somehow I'd never seen this movie before. I think maybe I was a little young for it at the time it came out, and rom-coms have never really been a big thing for me anyway. And the 90's rom-com in particular is a very specific kind of movie. You generally need a precocious child (or two) and a dog. That's the bare minimum for a 90's romantic comedy.

Okay, so this movie. Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, son of the multi-millionaire founder of Fox Books, which is basically what Borders used to be, or what Amazon is now that it has brick-and-mortar stores, I guess. Meg Ryan is Kathleen Kelly. She owns—wait for it—The Shop Around the Corner, which is a children's bookstore that she inherited from her mother. It's been in business for 42 years. But now a big Fox Books is opening down the street, and . . . You see where this is going.

Where I struggled with this movie from the very beginning is that Joe and Kathleen have an online thing going. They met in a chatroom (and boy, it's really something to see people using AOL and dial-up again) and email each other daily under the monikers NY152 and Shopgirl respectively. Which might be fine except both of them are also in physical relationships with other people. Okay, not married, but, you know, committed. Ostensibly. But apparently not really. All I'm saying is that, right out of the gate this movie asks me to invest in two emotional cheaters. "It's okay," the movie tells me, "because these two people are soulmates, and anyway, their significant others are terrible."

Oh, well that makes it all okay then, I guess.

I could go on about this, but I won't. I'll just say it's a cracked foundation upon which to then build a rom-com.

Fox Books opens, and The Shop Around the Corner begins to flounder. Eventually it's forced to close. Apparently Kathleen can continue to afford an apartment in an expensive neighborhood, though, so . . . ::shrug:: While the themes of indie vs big box seem relevant even some 20 years later, this movie does little to make a case for the little guy. We're supposed to be sad that Kathleen had to close her mother's store, but Kathleen is then inundated with job offers (none of which she apparently takes because I guess she doesn't need money), and her ex-employees go work for Fox Books or were already wealthy or whatever. So what harm was really done by this big bookstore opening?

Maybe that's done so that Joe can not seem too evil. After all, he's the hero here, and you can't stack too many sins up else the audience won't like him, no not even if it's Tom Hanks.

Joe figures out long before Kathleen does that she is Shopgirl, the person he's been emailing. Knowing that they got off on the wrong foot in real life, he decides to . . . string her along? Really?

Seriously, he starts "running into" Kathleen, and they hang out, and she talks to him about this online guy, and he just rolls with it, trying to worm his way into her life and heart. Meanwhile, he evidently doesn't consider that he's putting Kathleen—this person he supposedly is in love with—in a terrible situation of being caught between the guy she likes online and this guy she's starting to like IRL. Joe has put her in an agonizing position. That's a crap thing to do.

What's worse: she falls for it!

Yeah, the requirement for a rom-com is a happily ever after, but ugh. Kathleen ends up without a career and now she'll what? Be taken care of by her millionaire boyfriend? Maybe he'll get her a job with his big bookstore? Hooray?

Kathleen has apparently zero problems with the fact that Joe kept her in the dark for weeks or months or however long. She strikes me as someone with low self-esteem, and NY152/Joe is a kind of crutch for her.

Maybe I'm reading this all wrong. Maybe I'm supposed to say, "Oh but they started as online friends and now they're a couple, and that's the best kind of relationship, where you're friends first!" Friends online but enemies IRL, but once he destroys her career and she's reduced to nothing, he can build her back up and everything is all good?

My head is spinning.

Look, the movie itself is really cute. But the power dynamic is super off. Joe has all the power from the very start, and he misuses it in various ways. Even if he means well, it's problematic.

I know I'm looking at this through a lens 20 years beyond. I'm sure I'd find similar issues in any number of 90's romantic comedies. And maybe I'm too sensitive or nitpicky. Was the movie charming? Sure. But was it good? Weeelll . . . Let's just say it's a product of its time and environment, a kind of artifact, and leave it at that.

1.20.2018

"Documents" pt. 9

Been a while since we had some more Star Wars story!

Part 8 is here.

__________


Kylo opened his eyes. Everything hurt, more than before if that was even possible. That damn Stormtrooper… The pilot...

Kylo sat up, his body protesting in a dozen places. The room—cell—was nothing but hewn rock with a couple of sconces affixed to the wall that did little to light the room. They hadn’t even given him a bed, just a thin mat.

He looked at the door. Thick metal, but he could open it, he was sure. How many guards? Kylo concentrated.

Only one?

Surely he was worth more than one guard?

Did they think he was dead? If so, why put him in a cell? A cell clearly stripped of anything they thought he might use as a weapon. No, they knew he was alive. Maybe they were relying on his injuries to make him slow, weak.

Kylo weighed his options. Break out and… Go where? He could steal a shuttle… Then what? For all his powers, all his abilities, he had nothing.

Hux.

The name slid across his brain like a sharp edge. He would find Hux and destroy him, return to his rightful place as Supreme Leader of the First Order.

But there were easier, better ways than just stealing a ship. After all, the Resistance had no love for Hux, either.

A common enemy.

All he had to do was show a little bit of remorse and the Resistance would be eating out of his hand. Rey in particular.

It would take time. He couldn’t just switch sides abruptly. A Jedi wielded patience as one of his greatest weapons.

You are no Jedi, a voice whispered. It sounded an awful lot like Uncle Luke.

I am more powerful than any Jedi, he answered. And I will use the Force against them.

Kylo got to his feet, took a deep breath, stepped to the door… and knocked.

1.19.2018

Movies: Coco

This is a sweet movie, if rote by Pixar standards. That is to say, if you've seen enough Pixar movies, you can anticipate every beat in this film well ahead of time.

Coco feels like a slight misnomer since the main character is Miguel, Coco's great-grandson. He comes from a family of successful shoemakers, and the entire opening sequence is Miguel explaining that his great-great-grandmother Imelda had once fallen in love with a musician, and when that unnamed musician left Imelda and their daughter Coco, music became forbidden in their family.

Drastic much?

Info dump aside, the sequence is charmingly depicted with colorful cutouts and sets the stage for the rest of the story, which predictably is about how Miguel loves music and wants to be a musician. On Día de Muertos, Miguel is so desperate to participate in a musical talent show he attempts to steal a guitar from the crypt of a famous local musician. This causes him to be swept into the . . . underworld? Well, the world of the dead, anyway. He then has until sunrise to get his family's blessing and return to the world of the living, else he'll be stuck with the dead forever.

Of course, his deceased family won't give him their blessing because Miguel refuses to give up his dream of becoming a musician.

And so it goes.

Like most Pixar movies, this one aims for the heartstrings. It's colorful and a tad saccharine. I enjoyed it but do wish Pixar would find some other tone. Their work feels very one note to me, all with the same earnestness. And that's what people like about them, I guess, but for me it's starting to be dull. Well, that and all the sequels. (If you need fresh ideas, Pixar, feel free to swing by for a chat.)

Still, I enjoyed this more than, say, Up. Then again, I didn't like Up, so maybe that's not saying much.

1.13.2018

Movies: Despicable Me 3 (or, Despicable M3)

Ugh.

Okay, I've never seen the first two movies in this franchise, so maybe I was just coming in at the wrong point. But based on the previews—which were really just the first full scene of the movie—I thought this was going to be cute and funny. It was neither.

Here's what I knew going in:

  • Gru used to be a villain but now he was some kind of agent who fought villains
  • There were Minions

Honestly, you don't have to know much more than that to understand the dynamic. Gru has a wife named Lucy who is also an agent (it's called the Anti-Villain League, or AVL), and they've adopted three girls. You can glean that from the story without having to know it ahead of time. Also, I've just told you.

The real problem with this movie (besides the Minions, who I hate with a passion that blazes like a million suns) is that it's crazy disjointed. It starts with that opening scene we all saw in the trailers: Gru fighting 80s-loving villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, the only good thing in this movie). Then it goes on to be about Gru discovering he has a twin brother, and that he comes from a line of pig-farming villains. There is exactly no tension. No laughs. The movie attempts to set up jokes and gags, but none of them are funny. Plot lines like the one about the boy who has a crush on Margo get squashed and kicked to the curb without serving any real purpose. (Yes, okay, it was supposed to bring Lucy and Margo closer, I guess? But there was never enough discord between them for us to feel gratified by that story thread.)

Meanwhile, the Balthazar Bratt stuff takes a back seat, which is a shame because, as I mentioned, he's the only truly entertaining thing about the movie. Sure, he's pretty one-note, but that note is way more interesting than anything else that's going on. That's not saying much, but there you have it.

In some ways, D-Me 3 feels like two stories Frankensteined together. The writers wanted to tell about this Bratt guy, and they wanted to do this family story, so they did both and neither came out well.

Minor spoiler posed as a question: If Lucy saved Gru and Dru at Bratt's lair, how did they get their speedboat back? (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume Bratt drove it back to Dru's when he came to get back the diamond? Still, sloppy work not making that clear. Also, why is the giant Bratt mecha under water?)

In short, this is a really terrible movie. My husband laughed, but only at the faces I made while watching. "I can't remember the last time a movie made you this angry," he told me.

It was just . . . so bad. So very, very bad.

Books: FREE Story This Weekend!

You can go grab this short story for FREE now through Monday. (And it's always free to read via Kindle Unlimited.) Enjoy!

Get it here. (U.S. link, but available in all regions.)

1.09.2018

Books: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

In 2000, my then fiancé and I were visiting my parents, and my dad said, "Oh, have you seen this guy?" And he turned on Dress to Kill. Besides loving the comedy routine, I remember being blown away that my dad—a very conservative man—was kind of fine watching a transvestite. I had to wonder whether being funny somehow excused what would otherwise bother my father, or if maybe there were things (in Dad's philosophy) that were okay for transvestites? Or maybe Dad just thought it was part of the act?

We've never talked about it, so I still don't know.

But at that point I fell in love with Eddie Izzard's comedy. My husband and I have since seen him live a number of times for Sexie, Stripped, some new material he was just trying out, and Force Majeure. We pretty much try to see him whenever he's in the area (first when we lived in Boston, now out in San Francisco).

Look, I grew up with British comedy, so that's probably a large part of my enjoyment of Izzard's work. He speaks repeatedly in Believe Me about his being influenced by Monty Python, and I grew up watching Monty Python (and Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served? 'Allo 'Allo!, Keeping Up Appearances, some weird show called Mulberry that I sometimes think I dreamed up . . . the list goes on). So I think Eddie and I have some similar tastes, you know, we jibe. So that's cool.

All this to give you a sense of why I wanted to read this book.

It's definitely Eddie Izzard writing. Even with a co-writer credited, this is his voice, and there didn't seem to be much buffing of it. In fact, there were several places where I thought it needed another editing and proofreading pass. But that's fine, no big deal, and they'll probably fix it in the paperback.

You get the definite sense that Izzard struggles a bit with opening himself up. But at the same time, he seems fairly self-aware and introspective. He goes through the major events of his life (starting with his mother's death when he was six) and discusses how he felt then and what he thinks about it now. The gist of the book is about how persistence pays off, or at least it did for him. How being stubborn and determined is basically how he got where he is today. And he talks about the circumstances that shaped him, and of course about coming out and how he dealt with that and continues to deal with various reactions from people.

The book actually made for a very good conversation with my 9-year-old daughter. She saw the cover and asked, "Is that a boy or a girl?" Which gave me the perfect opportunity to explain gender fluidity. We talked about all the different ways people might feel about their bodies, like maybe they were meant to be a different gender and might want to change their bodies or at least dress differently. I think it was a productive discussion.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it made me kind of sad in thinking about my own attempts to succeed. Which I think is the opposite reaction Izzard might've wanted, but . . . Well, I won't go into it. Long story short, it's a nice read, and I look forward to the next time he's in town.

1.07.2018

"Documents" pt. 8

The kids are about to go back to school, which alters our ability to write together. But we're determined to finish this story! So please keep checking back.

Part 7 is here.

__________

“He is too dangerous to let him live!” Finn insisted. He and Rey stood outside the door to the cell in which they’d left the unconscious Kylo Ren. They’d removed everything from the room except a thin pallet on which they’d laid him, but Finn wasn’t convinced those precautions were enough. “He could pull this whole mountain down right on top of us!”

“He won’t,” Rey said. “He’s not even awake.”

“Yeah, but once he is—”

“He won’t,” Rey said again. She took a deep breath and marshaled her arguments. “We don’t know why he’s here. It’s possible he . . .” She swallowed her hopes. “Maybe he heard about or . . . or felt his mother . . .”

Finn grimaced. “He killed his father. You think he’d care about his mother?”

Rey changed tack. “Suppose he’s here scouting for the First Order, though honestly I don’t know why he’d be here alone, or at all. But for the sake of argument,” she went on, forestalling Finn’s burgeoning protest, “even if he is here on some First Order business, he’s more useful to us alive. We can get information from him.”

“How?” Finn demanded. “You can’t break him! I know you have abilities, Rey, amazing abilities, but . . .” He shook his head. “He’s been doing this a lot longer than you have.” Finn narrowed his eyes at her. “What do you know that the rest of us don’t?”

Rey found she couldn’t meet Finn’s eyes. “It’s just a feeling.”

“A feeling. And does this feeling have, like, a name?”

Still unable to look at Finn, Rey gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

“Well, I think you’re going to need stronger evidence,” Finn told her. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the long, empty corridor behind him. “Because they’ll be coming. I’m surprised there aren’t people lined up to view the execution already.”

As though on cue, Poe appeared at the far end of the hallway. Rey swallowed her anxiety as he approached. “We need to make a decision here,” Poe said. “Everyone’s waiting.”

Rey glanced at the bolted door. It was made of a slab of metal as thick as her upper arm. But was it enough?

Probably not.

“Someone should stay,” she said, “in case he wakes up.”

“You should go,” Finn told her. “You’re the one with the . . . feelings.”

Poe frowned. “We need you, too, Finn. We can set a guard in front of the door.”

“I have the most experience with him,” Finn said, and he thought he saw Rey flinch. “Indirectly, but still. I was with the First Order. I know how they do things.”

“That doesn’t mean you’ll know how to deal with Kylo Ren, especially when he wakes up cranky from his nap,” said Poe.

Finn turned to Rey. “Leave me the lightsaber.”

“What?” she asked.

“A blaster clearly doesn’t do enough,” said Finn. “If things go wrong—”

“And if he gets hold of a lightsaber—if he manages to take it from you—” Poe said.


“I can’t stand here defenseless,” Finn told him.

“You can’t go in with a weapon,” Poe contended. “He’ll pull it right out of your hands.”

“Poe’s right,” said Rey.

“Then what do I do if he wakes up?”

“Nothing,” Poe said. “Don’t go in, don’t engage him.” He held up his com unit. “Just call us immediately if anything changes.”
__________

1.06.2018

Movies: Victoria & Abdul

This movie has been on my watch list for a while now, but I'll admit the reason I finally did sit down and watch it is that I'm reading Eddie Izzard's memoir and he mentions being in the movie. I thought, Really? And then he said he played Bertie, and I thought, Oh, but Bertie was such a dick. So then I kind of had to see Eddie Izzard play a dick.

Anyway, I don't pretend to know how much of this is true. That Queen Victoria had an Indian servant for the last fifteen years of her reign is documented, but the rest . . . It turns out Abdul kept a diary that was made public in 2010, so I  guess that's where a lot of this comes from?

Victoria had a reputation for making fast, deep, and sometimes strange attachments. That she was drawn to Abdul Karim was, perhaps, not so surprising, but the people around her were alarmed at his rapid rise in her household. This movie . . . I won't say "explores" that because that suggests something deeper. This movie skims that. It passes over in a very surface way the fact that Victoria had this servant—she made him a kind of teacher—and lots of people didn't like it. I won't even say it delved into the bond between the titular characters because it didn't really. We understand Abdul has a kind of awe of Victoria, but he also lies to her, and then there is another Indian character who basically fades into the background until he dies of bad English weather.

I dunno. I wanted to like this movie, but it was only kind of meh.

I will say Dame Judi does a marvelous job as per usual, and Eddie Izzard really does pull off being an absolute dick. Ali Fazal as Abdul also does nice work. The frilly extra characters, however, do feel a bit like caricatures. And the main characters are stuck with an unfortunately shallow script. The whole movie is like jumping from one puddle to the next, but there's so little water that nothing really makes a splash.

Anyway, it was okay. Very pretty to look at. But not anything that requires a lot of attention. It just glides gently by without leaving any mess.

1.04.2018

"Documents" pt. 7

My daughter wanted to get back to Hux and whatever he's been doing.

(Part 6 is here.)

__________

“Who are you to interrogate me?!” Hux bellowed.

The lieutenant took a couple quick steps backward. “No one . . . Supreme Leader?” The last part came out wobbly, questioning.

“I told you—I told everyone—things are well in hand,” said Hux. “We will return to Edowan when the time is right.”

The lieutenant bowed. “Then we will continue to formulate an invasion plan. The terrain makes it very difficult.”

“If the Resistance can land there, we can,” Hux told him. “They have taken our Supreme Leader from us. We will finish them.”

“Long live the Supreme Leader,” the lieutenant said with another bow.

Hux waved a dismissal and the man retreated with unseemly haste. Though Hux had taken the mantle of Supreme Leader with equal speed, he had yet to sit on Kylo Ren’s throne. Not out of any sense of honor for Ren, but because Hux thought the throne and the room itself were ridiculous. All of Ren’s dark brooding condensed into a single space. A tactical room would be much more suitable. Hux made a mental note to get someone in to change things over.

What he wasn’t in any hurry to do was return to Edowan. Not because he harbored any feeling for the Resistance; Hux wanted to see them crushed as badly as ever. But besides the strategic difficulties, Hux had the nagging, bothersome feeling that his blast had failed to kill Ren. If he sent troops to Edowan and they discovered Ren . . .

The Resistance was failing in any case. They could not last much longer. And if they found Ren first, they’d surely finish him off. Give it a little time, then swoop in and put an end to everything. Both Ren and the Resistance would be extinct.

1.03.2018

"Documents" pt. 6

Just a little more . . .

(Part 5 is here.)
__________

He risked a glance and saw a cobbled-together assault transport rising from behind the rock formation. The ship appeared so rickety it might fall apart mid-flight. Through the windscreen Kylo could make out two forms. One, he felt sure, was Rey.

***

Connix moved her thumb to the gun activator, but Rey said, “No.”

“No?” Connix echoed.

“He’s more valuable to us alive,” said Rey.

“There’s no way to contain him,” Connix said. She hesitated. “Is there?”

“Let me worry about that,” Rey told her. “We just need to get him—”

Kylo looked over his shoulder at the ship, and Rey’s mind went alarmingly blank.

“Rey?” Connix asked.

Rey blinked. “Uh . . . right. We need to—”

The flash of a blaster firing stopped her this time. Kylo didn’t even turn around. His gaze was locked to hers as he fell to his knees.

“Ben!” Rey shouted. “No!”

Startled, Connix reached for the radio. “Commander Dameron, do you read? Stop firing.”

“Wasn’t me,” Poe responded. Over the radio they heard him say, “Finn, enough!”

Rey watched numbly as Poe wrenched the blaster from the ex-Stormtrooper’s grasp, but not before Finn managed a couple more shots.

For a long, terrible moment, everything felt frozen around Rey. Even sound disappeared, replaced by a roaring silence. She watched Kylo tip and collapse in a heap, his lightsaber winking out as he hit the ground.

Then suddenly there was motion, sound. Poe shouted something—the radio was no longer on—and he and Spannik ran and pulled Kylo’s body aside.

“What are they doing?” Rey asked, her voice tight and high; she felt as though she was being throttled.

“Making room for us to land,” Connix said.
__________

Part 7 is here.

"Documents" pt. 5

Apologies for the wait. My son, daughter, and I spent some time trying to figure this part out.

And: Spannik finally speaks! A little.

(Part 4 is here.)

__________

At the swishing sound, Poe stopped on the path. “Did you hear that?”

Finn and Spannik were forced to halt, too. “Sounded like a laser?” Spannik said.

“A lightsaber,” said Poe. “Hear the hum?”

They stood there, silent and listening.

Finn took a couple steps back into Spannik behind him. “There are only two people I know with lightsabers, and only one of them would have been on a First Order ship. We gotta leave. Now.”

“He must know we’re here,” Poe said. “Why else would he turn on the saber?”

They looked at one another. After a minute, Poe pulled out his blaster. “We might never have a better chance at him.”

“Are you crazy?” Finn asked. “You know what he can do! A blaster is not going to help us!”

“There are three of us and one of him,” said Poe.

“We’d need a battalion,” Finn insisted. “And even then, I wouldn’t trust our odds.”

Poe looked to Spannik. “You’re the deciding vote.”

“You’re the commander,” Spannik countered.

“This really isn’t the time for debate,” said Finn. “He is up there and could come down any minute.”

“Let’s go give him a welcome,” Poe suggested and started up the final yard of the slope to the flat top of the rock formation.

Finn glanced at Spannik and shook his head. He pulled out his own blaster. “After all, why listen to me? I only used to work for the guy.”

He and Spannik followed Poe up.

***

Rey opened her eyes.

Connix searched her face for a clue to what was happening. “Well?”

Rey blinked rapidly then finally looked at Connix as though surprised to see her there. “Come with me,” she said.

***

The men were moving again, coming closer. Kylo lifted his lightsaber.

“Kylo Ren!” the first one shouted as his head crested the edge of the outcropping. Kylo recognized him—the voice, the hair. This was the pilot they’d captured on Jakku, the one with the BB unit, the one the faulty Stormtrooper . . . Oh, and here was the Stormtrooper, too, and a third man Kylo did not recognize.

“Three blasters against your lightsaber,” Poe said. “I think we’ve got better range.”

Kylo didn’t waste any breath by answering. With a move of his hand, Poe’s blaster was ripped from his grip and went sailing over the edge of the cliff.

“Okay, two blasters,” said Poe, even as Spannik fired.

Kylo deflected the blast with ease. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

“Like maybe that?” Poe asked, with a nod at something behind Kylo.

Kylo narrowed his eyes. It had to be a trick. But then he heard the growing roar. He’d been so focused on the men he’d blocked the sound.

Stupid, he thought.

He risked a glance and saw a cobbled-together assault transport rising from behind the rock formation. The ship appeared so rickety it might fall apart mid-flight.

__________

 Part 6 now posted here.

1.01.2018

"Documents" pt. 4

Happy New Year! My 12-year-old son decided to help us write today, too. Despite multiple writers, I hope we can maintain a consistent tone and story. Enjoy!

Part 3 is here. Each part links backward if you need to get back to the beginning.

__________

“You’re buzzing,” Finn said.

Poe glanced back. “Huh? Oh.” He pulled out his buzzing communicator, but all he could hear was static. “Downside of living underground,” he grumbled and shoved the com unit back into his pocket. He needed both hands free for the steep climb up the rock face anyway. There was a path, but it was narrow and only allowed for one person at a time. Which meant First Order troops couldn’t come down, but also meant the Resistance foot soldiers couldn’t effectively form ranks either should they need to rise to meet the enemy.

Better to just stay in the caves.

“So what did they leave?” Finn asked from behind Poe as they began the climb.

“All we know is that it’s alive,” said Poe. “Which is why we’re checking it out.”

“Alive?” Finn asked. “Like an animal or . . .?”

“Probably a person,” said Poe. “Based on the size.”

Finn stopped walking and Spannik nearly walked into him. “A person? And he’s alive? Shouldn’t we have a prison escort or something?”

Poe looked back but didn’t stop his ascent. “I think we can handle one person, Finn.”

***

Kylo paced the edge of the flat outcropping in search of a way down. It was not large, had barely fit his command shuttle. He made one circle then another like a caged loth wolf, his pain lessening as his ire increased. He would murder Hux. Slowly. Picturing it lifted his spirits a bit.

The pilot first, Kylo thought. For daring to abandon me. Though Hux had probably given him no choice. Kylo pushed the semi-charitable thought aside. He couldn’t afford mercy. In order to keep his position as Supreme Leader, he had to be unrelenting.

Another turn around the stone ledge, slower this time as his energy uncoiled. The path, if there was one, might be hidden, or at least difficult to spot.

Motion drew his attention, the bob of heads as people approached from below. Three. Easy enough to deal with. Kylo stretched out a hand, ready to pull the rocks down on top of the strangers, then stopped. He needed at least one of them to show him the way to the Resistance base.

That meant two were expendable.

Kylo drew his lightsaber and waited.

***

“Kylo Ren?” Rey said. “Here?”

“I can show you the footage,” Connix told her. “But we don’t have time. Poe, Finn, and Spannik are on their way up there right now.”

“He’s here,” Rey reiterated. “Alone.”

Connix waited, wide-eyed and trying not to snap. For whatever reason, Rey clearly needed to process this information. If only she would do it faster.

But instead of rushing to save their men, Rey closed her eyes.

“Um . . .” said Connix. She glanced around as though for support. “Is this helping?”

Rey held up a hand. From time to time she’d felt Ben—Kylo, she reminded herself; he’d chosen to remain Kylo Ren—pushing at the edges of her consciousness, but she’d always cut off his attempts at contact. They had reached an impasse, so what would be the point? The connection also endangered the Resistance on the off chance Kylo recognized where she was.

Yet he’d found her anyway.

Had he changed his mind?

Ben, she thought hopefully.

***

Kylo stepped away from the top of the path in case any of the men looked up and spotted him. He wanted the element of surprise on his side. Strike the first two down and take the third, he thought. Simple enough.

He took several deep breaths and focused, listening for the steps on the rocky slope as they grew closer, feeling the building presence of life as it came near.

He switched on the lightsaber.

Felt the men on the path pause.

“Did you hear that?” one of them asked. They were so close now. Kylo’s heart picked up speed, but he forced his breathing to remain slow and steady. The key to winning was to keep the mind clear. Fixed breathing helped.

Uncle Luke had taught him that.

Another of the men spoke. “Sounded like a—”

Ben. Kylo swallowed. Not now, he thought, more to himself than her. I can’t do this right now

He’d lost the rhythm of his breathing. Damn. And the three men continued to hang back, suspicious.

Ben, she said again, listen to me. There are three men coming to bring you in. Let them.

Kylo’s brow furrowed. Bring him in? The idea that he and Rey wanted the same thing momentarily confused him. But then he understood. She wanted to make him a prisoner of the Resistance.

He couldn’t allow that.

You don't have the power to hold me, he told her. You know that.

Ben, don’t. Don’t make us do it this way.

There’s only one way, Kylo thought. My way.

__________

Part 5 can be found here.