Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Saw Breaking Dawn Part 1

I saw Breaking Dawn, part I on Saturday and while I enjoyed the opportunity to re-live the Twilight Saga, I found it laking. The actual story-line followed the actual plot rather closely, I believe, though it wasn't perfect but I'll concede on this point that movies based on books have limitations as per the inherent nature in the way books are written.

My complaints lie mainly in the acting. The first thing that really make me cringe was the shyness that seemed to permeate their relationship in this movie. It was weird and hard to explain, but it was almost as if they were uncomfortable. I know what they were going for, and the effect worked in the scene immediately before the sex scene (I'll get there.), who isn't nervous and jittery before that first time with someone? So I see using that flavor of acting there, but it seemed to stay with them the whole way through the movie. It was -- it was just weird.

The wedding was great and I loved it. The vowels always make me laugh, I just enjoy being "in" on their little secret. My absolute favorite quote from the movie was from Emmet, Kellon Lutz, “Bella, I hope you got enough sleep these last 18 years, ‘cause you’re not gonna be getting any, any time soon.” I laughed probably a little too loudly, mostly because again we're in on the secret and the wedding is not. Bella's Dad was great as well with his toast, he reminded me of my dad with his guns and hunting men gambit. This was probably my favorite scene from the whole movie.

My other quip is with the Jacob/Bella dance at the reception, where Jake was all over her. I seriously would not be surprised if Mrs. Cullen didn't have a hickey on her neck before it was over. Again, we know Jake has some misplaced affection for Bella because she is destined to have a daughter who Jake imprints on. I get it, really I do, but it was over-done just a tad too much.

The sex scene itself was done tastefully, and I don't have much to say here except that I would have really, really enjoyed actually watching some feathers flying, rather than snowing down lightly in the morning. I'd also imagined her bruises being a bit worse, but perhaps that stemmed from Edward always being a drama queen when it concerned Bella in the books.

Over all it wasn't awful, however I came away thinking there was some filler in places there didn't need to be, and full of nuances over smaller details, many acting and dialogue. I just feel like it could have been better and that Summit Entertainment dropped the ball on us this time around. Here's hoping for better direction in part II, or whatever it takes to make this series go out with a bang.

(emmafrost has a review of Breaking Dawn pt. 1 that reflects my feelings better than I can.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune

In the first part of this follow-up series to the New York Times Best Selling series "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" by Rick Riordan, The Lost Hero, Percy Jackson has gone missing and the mysterious Jason has been brought to Camp Halfblood by Grover and the gang. In part 2 of the series, The Son of Neptune, Percy makes his way to the other demigod camp, Rome.

Riordan is a master at making Greek and Roman mythology (and even Egyptian mythology as well), and perhaps even history in general, interesting. I've always been a mythology lover, be it Greek or Roman, so he didn't have to work hard here. However the result either way is a captivating masterpiece that makes you want to read and read and read, leaving you pining for more when you turn the last page (or click the last click on  your Kindle).

The book is perfectly paced, he moves his characters around his playing board with precision. Never spending too long in one place. His fight scenes are balanced with just the right amount of battle, tactics, dialogue, action, and even the touch of humor making you spontaniously giggle like a school girl. Often though, I found myself belting in laughter at points and always the comedic relief is thrown in at just the right moment.

Often when I read, I find myself thinking "I would have done this differently." I know I'm not the author, and it's not my call, but I don't control my thoughts most of the time (if ever). But when I read Riordan, I don't think I've ever had one of those moments, it's perfect, everything about it is perfect.

My only complaint is that I have to wait until the fall of next year to read more. Riordan has another series, that Egyptian one I mentioned earlier, that is due for a new book so I have that to look forward to (I hope).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Destined (House of Night)

I recently finished reading the latest installment of the "House of Night" series by P.C. and Kristen CastDestined is packed full of sub-plots and many twists and turns keeping the reader guessing constantly.

I started reading the series back in May of '07 when I randomly saw the book on one of the new release shelves at Walmart. The Cast, mother-daughter, duo had me from the first page. I was intrigued by the idea of the vampire finishing school vamps go to when they're Marked. I fell in love with Neferet right along with Zoey and I think I began to hate her just as quickly.

These two are great story tellers, forcing me wonder at the ever-popular question "what happens next" at the end of each book. This time around Destined has not left me without wondering. We started the series fighting Neferet, who then took on Kalona as her consort after raising him from the Earth.

Now Kalona hates Neferet and Stevie Ray in equal parts, the only logical thing to have happen would be for the two sides to at least call a truce in favor of Stevie Ray's Consort, Kalona's son Rephaim, but what happens in the end will suprise you and leave your head spinning and thinking about possibilities you never would have thought possible.

If you need action, magick and vampires and a loving Goddess when you read, grab a "House of Night" book while you're out. They're perfect for the reluctant reader too! I love a fast, easy read to just relax into just as much as I love the deep and involved books.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Thoughts on Joe Paterno (Child Sex Abuse Scandal)

I've been hearing bits and pieces of this story break and unfold during my drives to work on the radio. Suffice it to say I don't know if you score goals or baskets in football (I'm only partially joking here, my sports knowledge is very limited), I can and will commit my opinion on recent events to the slew of news and blog posts popping up all over the Internet.

Since I'm not a fan at all, and could care less about Penn State University as I'm a Carnegie Mellon fan and future Alumnus, I feel my opion will be as ubiased as possible.

I've always disliked sports, mostly because I'm an academic, and my High School (Hempfield) was (and kinda still is) renound in the area for its academia. So when the district built a $15 million sports complex, installed ridiculously expensive turf other schools were replacing because of numerous injuries, bought a instant re-play scoreboard (with insurance money for the one damaged in a freak tornado) that I'm can't be used in WPIAL sports, and cut the foreign language program from primary schools' curriculums (which is the perfect age for learning a language), you can imagine I was, to be perfectly blunt: more than a little pissed off. School budgets should be focused on providing a top-notch academic environment for students, spending excess money on athletics. I understand many have differing opinions on this particular matter and I respect them, and also respectfully, and strongly, disagree. (During my time at the school, they also almost ruined a teens life.)

I can tell you I've been reading a lot of the articles that have been popping up, as well as some of the comments. Not to mention it's the topic of every conversation I hear. I'm getting a lot of mixed feelings about Paterno, who many will be glad to know was terminated on Wednesday following an emergency meeting of PSU's Board of Trustees.

Some say he should resign immediately, some say he should be fired (along with his superiors), some defend him citing that he did what he was supposed to and reported it to his superior, which he did. I can find sense in all of these arguments.

The comments I find most peculiar though, and I know people will read this and think a whole slew of terrible things about me, are the ones saying what they would have done if they were Paterno. These things range from beating the "living **** out of that mother ******" to calling the police to killing him to stopping him. I believe that %95 of these people are telling the truth. Of those people, I believe about %50 actually belive what they are saying. Of those people I think that %5 would have actually intervened physically, and the number is probably even lower.

Something like this is gruesome, there is no blood and gore, but it is terrible all the same. My thoughts above are backed by Paul Mones who is is a sexual abuse attorney as well as a children's rights advocate out of Oregon. He is quoted by USA Today as saying:

"I don't think it's in our cultural DNA to intervene in certain situations. I would also say in my almost 30 years of doing this kind of work, it is extremely unusual for someone to walk in at the time a sexual assault on a child is taking place. And so it's almost like the person who witnesses it can't integrate it into their understanding of things as they see the world."

Many are wondering why Paterno didn't follow up on the situation and I too, wonder that myself. His legal obligation was to report it to his superior, but I know with certainty that I would have at least followed up. We can't say with certainty he didn't. I think a lot of us forget that the people that run these universities aren't high school principals with a masters in education or administration, but often incredibly powerful people. I mean this in the sense of both money and connections to other people with lots of money and lots of connections. I really don't want to do the whole conspiracy theory thing here, but it is entirely possible (and perhaps not even all that unlikely) that Paterno was asked (forced) to keep quiet. Perhaps some very subtle, or not so subtle, threats were exchanged. No one but the people involved can be certain as to the exact details of what went on behind the closed doors of Penn State University.

I think that given this, it's unfair for any of us to pass judgement so harshly on Paterno. I hear lots of people and articles saying he was trying to protect his reputation, but until we know more about what went on, we're only poking blindly in the dark at the truth with short sticks. I think then, for now at least, Paterno should have been permitted to remain in his position. Perhaps suspended pending details of the investigation. He announced his retirement for the end of the year anyway so he was leaving either way. Some crisis specialists have said that the only way the university could save face was quick termination of Paterno (along with PSU's president who was indeed terminated as well).

I also want to make clear that, baring any circumstance in which Paterno would have been unable to go to the police, I'm on the side of the rest of the world in believing he should have been terminated immediately. If we were in France (and probably several other countries) he would be in jail right now for failing to report a crime.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yeah, I Can do Web Design

I recently designed this site for a friend of mine who needed a way to collect donations from the members of her Alliance in a Facebook game she plays. 

The donations enable her to have more contests and give out more prizes which in turn cause her members to work harder to be better players and win the contests.

This is probably the nicest thing I've designed in a long time, as I'm not a Web designer by default, it's not something I do often. My primary function in the IT world is to design and develop software and backend systems for Web sites. A lot of what I do is high-volume, sensitive data management and analysis work.

What that means is I write some computer code that moves information around and looks at it and makes decisions based on it or derives stats about customers (Customer Relationship Management). I do a lot of Point of Sale (cash register systems) development as well. I hate trying to explain exactly what it is I do because I do a lot of things, and I always have to be careful because I can't really talk about a lot of my work. 

Since this isn't nearly as sensitive as what I normally do, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some of my work with you, even if it doesn't really showcase my programming skills. If you click on the image thumbnail, you can see the whole screenshot. The "latin" looking text is called "Lorem Ipsum" which is filler text we use in the Web Design industry to see how text looks on a Web page. It was originally used in typeset books by typesetters.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Kill a Character

Killing my first ever character was one of the hardest things I've ever done as a writer. It didn't help that the character, and its death, was crucial to the book. By now I hope you've guessed guessed I'm talking about Maerik. He was Mattes' mentor and teacher and stand-in father. He was incredibly important to Mattes, if not to the story in many subtle ways, and I understood that and I felt awful taking him away from Mattes.

I spent a week writing that scene, and to this day I don't believe I've done it justice. It was, after all, the first time I'd ever offed a character in a story I'd written. Not in a short story in high school, not in any of what I've written in my past. I get mixed feelings about the scene when I talk to people about it too. Some have told me that the emotional connection for the reader should have been stronger with Maerik, others have said I left them feeling incredibly sorry for Mattes.

Part of the problem with killing a character is that the reader isn't actually seeing it happen, and it forces me to work harder to create the right emotions in the text, to pull at the heart-strings of the reader. To do that I have to open old wounds from my childhood. I have to relive the loss of my grandparents, feeling all the pain and sadness all over again. Then I project it onto paper. 

I tend to gain a sense of attachment to the characters I write about. I'm not talking about Maud, even though her death was a crucial part of making Mattes understand that there was no doubt he would have to destroy Marqus, she was a minor character. The only difficulty she gave me was the manner of her death. In fact I created her only to kill her and wrote almost nothing about her. She existed to die and to break up the monotony of staying in Inns accross Kaetuernen.

When I speak of attachment I'm talking about the characters I've spent weeks developing before I even have them written anywhere. I know their fears, their desires, the story of their life. Sometimes I know who their parents are, I know their height, weight, eye color, hair color. I become so intimately familiar with them, that it sometimes feels like they're real, like I could call them and have a chat or something.

How then, do you make this whole process easier? I don't think you can. It's going to make you feel bad, if it doesn't something's wrong. I'm not sure I want it to be easier, I think if I stopped feeling the pain I'd stop writing it well, and I'd probably begin to question which part of me had to die so I couldn't feel anymore.

Something we also have to worry about, as a writer, is alienating our reader. Going back to what someone had said about there not being a strong enough emotional connection between the reader and Maerik, I did that on purpose. I built the connection to Maerik through Mattes, I wanted the reader to feel Mattes' pain, not the grief at having lost a good character. I was also acutely aware that if I made Maerik seem too important, and made my readers love in too much, I would run the risk of alienating someone. After all, it was the first couple chapters of the first book.

The best tip I can give to someone though, who is struggling with killing a character is to relive the saddest moments of your life and write it into the story, make it feel real. But steel yourself because it's going to be unpleasant.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Perilous Comma

If you've read much of what I write, or you've ever been my English teacher (or professor), you probably know that I have a problem. I hate admitting it, but the first step to recovery is admitting that one has a problem and well, here I am, on my way to recovery.

I tend to over use the comma. I'm a huge fan of run-on sentences. I've practically mastered the ability to write, what I've dubbed, the "paragraph-sentence." It is just as it sounds, a whole paragraph comprised of one sentence, or perhaps it's a sentence that should have been a paragraph (or could be). However you'd care to define it, you get the picture.

I don't know why I don't use periods more often, it's right beside the comma. Perhaps I tend to write like I speak, fast. Too fast sometimes with little sepparation between my sentences. So where I should actually be ending a sentence and starting a new one, it feels to me like it should be a natural pause in speech denoted with a comma. I guess I talk in paragraph-sentences. I'm working on it though.

If you visit this blog regularly, and re-read an article a day or two after it's been published you notice some minor changes. Usually it's me going back and re-reading what I've written and fixing the giant run-ons. This is another terrible habit of mine, I seem to treat proofreading like an after thought. Usually because I'm crazy tired when I get home and still have an article to write not to mention a chunk of my second novel and in delirium I click publish. Despite my constant effort to stay a few days ahead, (I've been trying to write several articles at once for some time now) I can't seem to manage it. This is another matter entirely but I'm working on this as well.

I'd intended this article to be more of a grammar lesson than anything else, however it has evolved into what it is mostly because a grammar lesson would bore you to death whereas this is, at least mostly, bearable (I hope).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Your Waitress Can't Read Minds, Go Figure

I've worked in a restaurant and I have several friends who work in the industry as well and we've often exchanged horror stories about customers and managers in equal parts. As far as customers go though, there has always been one common recurring theme that repeats, over and over and over again, and I'm not talking about people who don't know how to tip.

There seems to be this terrible misconception by people that their waiter or waitress is a mind-reader, outside of the normal mind-reading we do each day, capable of gleaning all the little details you didn't mention about your entree that you should have while you were ordering. As much as we all wish it were true (I mean come on, how cool would that be?) it's simply not possible.

For instance, let's say you ordered a roast beef sandwich (which is pictured smothered in gravy and comes that way unless otherwise requested) and you order mashed potatoes to go with it. Your server asks you "Did you want brown gravy on the mashed potatoes?"

"No." You might say. Your server would note you wanted plain mashed potatoes, perhaps thinking in some remote part of their conscious that these instant potatoes almost require gravy to even begin to be palatable.

When the food arives you have on your plate plain mashed potatoes and a roast beef sandwich covered in gravy. "I said no gravy!" you start screaming, making a scene in front of everyone. You dinner guest is hopefully by now appalled at being seen with you because you did, in fact, say no gravy, but that was in reference to your mashed potatoes and not your sandwich. Believe it or not the two items are indeed two items existing sepparately of each other.

Another friend of mine once told me this gem after a fun day at work. They were taking care of this lady and her husband who both ordered drinks and started with an appetizer. The lady ordered a burger with the words mushroom and onion in its name. They enjoyed the appetizer thoroughly while waiting for their meals and when the burger was placed in front of her she lifts the top bun and says "I'm alergic to onions." She hadn't mentioned this at all while ordering. She's offered a new burger or another meal entirely if she'd like and her response is "No, I think I'm full." While this crazy lady was obviously lying about her onion allergy because she got full on the appetizer and didn't want to pay for the burger, it's still a good example showing that servers do not read minds. How was this server supposed to know she was allergic to onions if she never said anything?

Now, everyone makes mistakes, I make about 10 a day, and it's really no big deal. Most times if you make a mistake ordering and simply fess up to it, your food will be fixed, for free, because they want you to leave happy. Please though, don't make a scene and cause your server to take the fall for a simple mistake that you made. Besides, people will stare at you, employees will talk about you, and every time you come it after that they'll whisper in the back of the house "That's the crazy lady who claimed she was allergic to onions." If you're one of these people who expect your server to read your mind, please stop because you're single-handedly driving up the cost of my food and it's expensive enough to eat out as it is.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Yes, an Author Can Write Too Many Books

I love a good series, in fact I read series over "one-offs" almost exclusively. I think it may be because I become attached to the characters and the story and constantly crave more. The end of Harry Potter was a devastating moment, I experienced a minor period of depression while I searched for a new series to cling to. So yeah, I guess that makes me a stage 5 clinger.

For these reasons, it strikes me odd that when I'm reading a series, I eventually get bored with it. I'm not talking eventually as in 8 books, or 10 books, but there are some whoppers out there. Laurell K. Hamilton writes the Anita Blake series which now spans some 20 volumes (as of June '11). I stopped reading a few years ago and just can't seem to want to start reading again. I loved the series, I was enthralled by it for some time. However it seems toward the end where I'd stopped reading the series began to dry up, the plot seems to get tired. You can only fill so many pages with sex before it starts to feel repetitive and like it's there to fill space. Another author, Christine Feehan, has done the same with the Dark series, which I really enjoyed at one point, before it grew past 20 books and started to bore me.

I love these authors, and their stories, but as much as I hate to admit, I think book series do need to have some clearly defined end point where some major event happens or a bad guy is defeated and the series stops. Perhaps leave room to spin another series (like Tamora Pierce did with the Circle of Magic series, and even that came to a close, though she continues to work in that world), but I'm of the opinion that series do need to end, preferably before they're 30 books long and counting.

I know I say this now, and I do mean it, but I know, too, that when I'm about to finish the next series I'm invested in I'll be longing for more, wishing it didn't have to end. I think though, that's the magical part of a series, that they do usually end. It will take you on an adventure to unknown, faraway places where you can battle mythical creatures with magic and crazy weapons. When it's over the story gets to lay fallow, allowing us to recommend it, allowing it to gain a certain following, allowing the fans a chance to re-read and learn all the little details we missed the first time.

I think that's what I miss most about those incredibly long series, the inability to re-read. At 20 books, at a book a week (I do a book in a day when I have a full day, but that rarely happens anymore), it could take almost 6 months to re-read something that large. Further, after so many installments details and facts and names and places start to jumble, I have a great memory and yet I have a rough time remembering some details after the 10th book.

Since I can't stop authors and publishers from over-writing, I guess I'll have to simply enjoy a series for as long as it keeps my interest. If nothing else, they're great clingers between Paolini's long spans of time between books.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Fickle Friend Fame

The one thing I hear the most from friends and new acquaintances since being published goes something like "Don't forget us when you're famous." The sentiment comes in many different forms but always boils down to me not forgetting all the people who cared for me when I was still an unknown kid getting by in Southwestern Pennsylvania. My fundamental response to this statement I get so often these days is always: "I don't want fame." I don't, not really.

I don't want every moment of my existence scrutinized by gossip-mongers looking to make a few bucks off of some good celebrity gossip. I don't want photographers constantly popping out of nowhere taking pictures of every embarrassing moment in my life. Honestly, I don't even want to become incredibly wealthy.

I think perhaps when I was younger, I may have entertained the idea of being famous. I also think that I'd not really at that time had a distinction between being famous and having money pouring out of my ears so I could have every new toy I saw on TV immediately teleported into my living room without waiting for Christmas.

Now though, with the advent of reality TV and shows like TMZ, or at least with my ability to watch them, I've learned the monster that fame truly is. I feel genuinely badly, in some respects, for the people, or train-wrecks in some cases, that are exploited in the press. In other ways, I know they've chosen their profession and their lifestyles, and the fame can often come with it.

I know I, too, have chosen to be an author. I know that there is a possibility, though probably infinitely small, that this series could blow up over night or acquire a crazy following of fans. I understand that if it happens it is my own doing and that I need to deal with it. I won't bask in the limelight or parade around lavish establishments making a total fool of myself. I'll attempt to live as I do now, quietly and very un-lavishly.