Books: Manifesting Destiny Now in Print!

If you've been holding off on reading my latest novel, a YA fantasy titled Manifesting Destiny, simply because you're not into ebooks, wait no longer. My publisher has released it in paperback! You can get your copy here. (Amazon availability to come in about a week.)


Movies: Now You See Me 2

I really had no expectations for this movie, which means I wasn't in any way disappointed by it. In fact, NYSM2 was more or less exactly what I thought it would be. Which is to say, more of the same but not as good as the first. Isn't that usually how these things go?

Thing is, I enjoyed the first movie for what it was. I found it entertaining and engaging. Unfortunately, the sequel chose to enhance the least entertaining and engaging aspects from the first film and cut back on the better things. For example, there seems to be less magic in NYSM2 and more running away from various organizations.

Let's recap from NYSM: Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) is in prison after Dylan and the Horsemen frame him for stealing money from the various heists or whatever. The Horsemen become official members of The Eye with Dylan as their handler/leader. As NYSM2 opens, we get a flashback to Dylan's father's stunt-gone-wrong that killed him, the one Dylan blames Thaddeus for, the whole reason for his elaborate revenge plot in the first movie. We also discover the Horsemen are cooling their heels and waiting for a new "assignment" from The Eye. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks he should be in charge of the group. He's been secretly contacting The Eye directly, and he's told to wait, his moment is coming . . .

And then there's Lula. Isla Fisher did not return as Henley, so they've plugged the need-a-girl hole with Lizzy Caplan. The character is almost certainly created by a man because it has all the earmarks of what male writers use to make "strong female characters," which really ends up being obnoxious female characters. She talks too much, is very forward about her interest in one of the men (male fantasy much?), and borders on being a manic pixie dream girl. Nothing against Caplan, who probably was doing the best she could with the material and nailed it . . . For what it is.

We're also graced with Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry, also doing his best with what he's been given. I assume the direction was to be manic and psychopathic, and there's a hint of a really cool villain in there somewhere, but it's never given enough opportunity to be fully realized. The story is too crowded with other players, including a wholly unnecessary double-turn for Woody Harrelson as his own twin brother.

In fact, the entire script hinges on family of one kind or another. Dylan continues to deal with his father's death and the hollow victory of having put Thaddeus behind bars, Merritt's twin Chase wants "Mer Bear" (gag me) to pay for past sins against him, and Walter . . . Well, I won't ruin the surprise there, though it's not much of one.

Now You See Me was about magicians who happened to be pulling off magnificent heists. NYSM2 is about heists pulled off by people who just happen to be magicians. The fun in NYSM was the magic, but there isn't much of any in the sequel. Even the cast can't manage much chemistry.

I will say there's one thing I'm glad of (highlight to read this spoiler): They didn't have Dylan's dad still be alive. There were moments I feared that was the direction they were going, and to do so would have undercut everything in the first movie.


Movies: Kubo and the Two Strings

Featuring Voices By: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara
Directed By: Travis Knight
Written By: Marc Haimes & Chris Butler, from a story by Shannon Tindle & Marc Haimes
Laika, 2016
PG; 101 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


Laika is steadily building its reputation and brand after Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and now Kubo and the Two Strings. They're known for visually interesting work. ParaNorman and Boxtrolls were a bit lighter in tone (if not color), but Kubo is closer to Coraline in overall feel.

The story is set in ancient China. Kubo lives with his mother and earns his daily bread by telling stories in the village and using magic to have origami creatures act the stories out. But the story he's telling—it's like an ongoing saga—is rooted in his own life and that of his mother and dead father. Kubo gets the story piecemeal from his mother who sometimes cannot remember things. And so Kubo himself does not know what is true and what is fiction.

He finds out when his mother's sisters come to try and steal his eye. Kubo's grandfather is the Moon King and wants to take Kubo's eye to make him blind to humanity. I'll admit I had to try and explain the motivations to my kids afterward; it felt a bit abstract. But otherwise, it's an engaging, beautifully lyrical story. It has a fair amount of humor (though at times it feels like the writers were trying too hard with Beetle's lines, and Matthew McConaughey seemed to be channeling Tim Allen circa Buzz Lightyear). Still, there is a gentle growth of love and friendship amongst the characters that is very well done. Kudos to them, since that's one of the most difficult things to develop in a film.

Yes, some of the turns were a tad predictable. But that didn't detract from the overall story or my enjoyment. This is probably my favorite of the Laika movies; I'd have to go watch Coraline again to be certain. My kids roundly proclaimed it their favorite. My savvy 10-year-old wondered aloud how it will stand up to Zootopia come awards season. Both films are so good in very different ways. It will be interesting to see how things play out.


Movies: The Nice Guys

I really love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys is a worthy spiritual successor to that film. In fact, the two movies are a lot alike. We have one bumbler who lucks into getting things right now and then but just as often is unlucky in getting it very wrong (Robert Downey Jr./Ryan Gosling), and we have the guy who is smarter and better at his job (Val Kilmer/Russell Crowe). The pair fall into the same pit of trouble and must work together to solve a mystery to get out of it. By the end of the movie, the two main characters have formed a bond and create a semi-official institution that will no doubt lead to further adventures.

Well, I guess Shane Black sticks to what he's good at anyway. Buddy comedies with a crime twist. Both films feature party scenes, car crashes, dead women . . . The Nice Guys also has a precocious 13-year-old that didn't do much for me, but whatever. I still liked the movie. I'm not really into the 70s culture, but it works here, I guess? Definitely suits the tone, and maybe Black preferred not to have cell phones and all that kind of technology in this story (which was the reason I set The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller during the 60s as well). Then again, Black sets the story around the catalytic converter (I kid you not) so the 70s was kind of the only option for that plot point.

Here's the story, more or less: Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a boozy P.I. hired to find, well, at first a dead porn actress whose aunt insists is still alive, but by extension a girl named Amelia. Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy who is hired by Amelia to get rid of the guys trying to find her. Thing is, March isn't the only one trying to find Amelia. Some very bad men are, too. The story goes from there and takes March and Healy through the world of porn films and up to the head of the Justice Department (Kim Basinger), looping in Detroit auto companies along the way. Along for the ride is March's daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). Matt Bomer does a nice turn as an ├╝ber evil assassin.

While a lot of fun, The Nice Guys felt a little too long, which is funny because it's not even two full hours. The end just seemed to drag on, though it did the job of tying things up neatly. Thing is, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a movie I can watch over and over again (also Lethal Weapon), but I'm not sure yet whether The Nice Guys fills that requirement. It might simply be too soon to tell. I can't say I'd never watch it again, but I get the sense that if I were in the mood for this kind of movie, I'd go for KKBB or LW 1 or 2 first.


Books In Season

Do you feel that books have seasons? For me, fall is when the mysteries and spy novels ripen and are ready to be read. If you agree, consider picking up The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller to add to your stack. It's perfect to read with a cup of hot tea. Read more about books at various seasons and enter to win a $100 gift card here.


What's In A . . .

How do you name your characters? Or if you're not a writer, how important are the characters' names to you when you read or watch a film? Here is the story of all the names in Manifesting Destiny.


Top 10 Favorite Authors?

I was asked to list mine, and why. While I hesitate to say "favorite," I did list ten authors I really enjoy and admire. Here's the list. Who's on yours?

And while you're there, you can enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card!


Books: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

It's a book, but it's not prose. This is the script for the stage play in book form. Made it a tweak more difficult to read aloud to my family, but I did it anyway.

I enjoyed the Harry Potter books the first time I read them, way back when. And I enjoyed re-reading them to my oldest son. But I'm sort of over them now. I was pretty satisfied with the ending I got from Deathly Hallows, that little glimpse into the future. So in the same way I was reluctant to read Scarlett (the "sequel" to Gone with the Wind—and in fact I never did read it), I wasn't sure I wanted to read this one either. But I did and . . .

It was a wee bit flat to me.

Aside from the friendship between Albus and Scorpio, which felt very deep and real, the rest just didn't work for me. The retread of old stuff rather than doing anything new . . . ::shrug::

I more wanted to know about Teddy than anything else. Why can't we hear what happened to him?

For the maybe two people who haven't read it, the story involves a Time-Turner and [spoilers!] Voldemort's daughter. There's a lot of alternate universes/histories or what-have-you. Basically it's an exercise in "what if?". And while writers traffic in "what if," and that question is also more or less the root of all fan fiction, making it the actual core of a story doesn't always work. In this case, it makes the book feel like fanfic.

That said, this sounds like it would be amazing on stage from a visual perspective. I'd like to see it for that reason alone.


Writer's Digest 2016

So right now I'm at the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC. Also, Kwame Alexander just told me he loves my hair, so I'm pretty happy (for someone who forgot to pack her hairbrush, which is why I'm about to run out to the drug store and buy one). I'll be posting about the various sessions I attend on PepperWords. Not right away, but as I'm able, and certainly once I'm back from the trip. There's a lot to take in! I promise to share! Just keep checking back here for links.

Post #1 - Intro/How to be Your Own Best Publicist (short answer: hire one)
Post #2 - The Hot Sheet Live
Post #3 - Take Your Book Publicity to the Next Level
Post #4 - Maximizing Your Business as an Author on Amazon
Post #5 - Keynote by Kwame Alexander: Saying Yes to the Writerly Life
Post #6 - Three Ways to Build a Successful Author Platform
Post #7 - Four Things Jane K. Cleland Wishes She'd Known at the Start of Her Writing Career
Post #8 - Effective Marketing Strategies for Authors
Post #9 - 10 Essential Writing Lessons from 10 Years of Bestsellers
Post #10 - The Seven (or So) Habits of Highly Effective Social Media Stars
Post #11 - Three Common Plotting Mistakes that Keep Writers Unpublished and at the Bottom of the Slush Pile
Post #12 - Creating Book Buzz on a Shoestring Budget
Post #13 - How to Build an Audience and a Business With Your Writing


Manifesting Destiny Release

My new book is finally out!

Sixteen-year-old Cee has a hopeless crush on her best friend Marcus. Unfortunately for her, he's gay. In the wake of Marcus's older brother leaving home to join the Aerie, Marcus has become increasingly distant. Then, when Cee discovers she has a troublesome dragon named Livian living inside her things grow even more complicated.

Marcus urges Cee to go to the Magi to have Livian removed, but the more used to Livian Cee becomes, the less certain she is about letting him go. Should she change her natural self for the crush who will never love her anyway?

Manifesting Destiny is the first in the Changers trilogy. You can find it on Evernight Teen's site, where there is also an excerpt posted, and also on Amazon.

And read about how it all started with a flash fiction prompt here.

Food: Dang! Red Cream Soda

Came across this at the store the other day. They were selling it by the bottle, so I thought I'd try one. Big Red is, to my mind, THE "red cream soda," but it's hard to come by where I currently live, so I hoped this one might do the trick.

Dang! has its sugar content turned up to 11, so to speak. It's really something for me to comment on how sweet a drink is considering I usually am the one to love things other people tell me are too sweet. Dang! isn't too sweet for me, but it's noticeably sweeter than pretty much anything else I've drank in recent memory. And that includes milkshakes (though those are a different kind of sweet, really).

It doesn't have the bubblegum flavor I associate with Big Red, the flavor I really look for in a red cream soda. I guess nothing is ever going to have that signature taste, though a few have come close. Dang! has a hint of it, but the sweetness is the overpowering factor in this soda. It tastes good; it's more than a simple cream soda, and I'd drink more of it. But it can't hold a candle to my Big Red.


Books: Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran

I've enjoyed Moran's books in the past, particularly the ones about Nefertiti and Nefertari. However, I knew more about those lives going in than I did about Mata Hari when I picked up this book. All I knew of Mata Hari was that she'd been a dancer and supposed spy. I couldn't even have told you who she'd supposedly spied for.

Now I know.

The book is told in first person, which gives us some of Mata Hari's feelings. Yet somehow it all still feels rather thin. It's not a bad book—it's a quick, smooth read. But it's like gliding over the surface of water rather than plunging in. Mata Hari's Last Dance is a glass-bottomed boat. I can see the fish and the colors but I still feel separated from them. Disconnected.

It may just be that I don't connect with Mata Hari herself. Maybe she doesn't interest me enough. In this version of her, she seems to make the same choices and mistakes over and over again, so I found it difficult to sympathize despite her sad life. I understand her motivations, her desire and need to be taken care of and always have enough so that she might never again suffer the privations of her youth. That's fair. But here my understanding did not progress into any kind of empathy.

In short, this is a good book. It simply didn't entirely work for me. I never felt fully immersed. But I don't know if the glass in the boat is mine or Moran's.

The Dump

I didn't want to devote separate posts to a couple of things we tried but didn't like. So I'm dumping those notes here.

Thing 1: Vice Principals on HBO. I'd heard such good things, but I should have guessed that it being HBO meant it wouldn't appeal to me. I like their dramas but their comedies don't work for me. Like, so many people like Silicon Valley, and I couldn't get into that either. Nor could I enjoy Ballers or that one with Jack Black that I can't remember the name of. (Was it Jack Black? I think Tim Robbins was the president or something?) I dunno, John Oliver notwithstanding, HBO's idea of funny just doesn't jive with mine.

Also, I was totally put off by use of the name Gamby, since that's a character in The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. Still like Walton Goggins, though.

Thing 2: Pan. I thought maybe it couldn't be as bad as everyone said. I don't know if it was, but I know I quit caring pretty early in the movie, like around the time Peter first flew. I stopped paying much attention around that point, though I let the movie play to the end. My overall sense is one of a lot of mugging and scenery chewing. The whole thing was over-stylized, a poster for style over substance. The writing and directing vied for the award of Worst Ever, which left the actors in a bad spot. I was sorry for them.