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Team John or Team Clint?

The revisions on the holiday novella are done and it’s off to a few readers while I work on a blurb and synopsis.  I’m on target to submit by 7/15! Yay!

Meanwhile, we watched several Westerns this past week, and I’m starting to wonder if there are two very distinct camps.  Until this year, I’d never watched a Clint Eastwood movie, and since I wanted to keep a bit of Old West feel to my SFR (ala Firefly), I decided to watch some of the really famous Westerns for inspiration.  Months ago, I started with the original black & white Japanese Seven Samurai and then watched the Magnificent Seven.  I have to admit, I loved Seven Samurai much, much better.  It even made me tear up. Just a little.

Then I decided to watch a few Clint Eastwood movies.  I’ve caught parts of Dirty Harry, but never an entire movie and never one of his “famous” Westerns.  We started with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement.  For one, that music was soooo annoying (or perhaps that was just because That Man kept doing that wah wah waaaaaah over and over).  I hated Clint’s character.  The whole point of the movie was stupid.  I didn’t feel like I “got” anything out of it at all.

This weekend, we watched a few of our old favorite John Wayne Westerns:  The Cowboys and The Shootist.  Even though I’ve seen them several times, I still found new things to love.  I don’t like to watch either one regularly because John Wayne dies in both of them, and True Grit is probably my all-time favorite John Wayne movie, but still.  These were really good. 

Since the kids were gone (spending the night with Aunt BB), we had time to watch Pale Rider, too, where all the happy vibes immediately went up in smoke again.  I found it so annoying that we never really learned WHO the Preacher was.  Maybe it’s the writer in me, but that backstory was just screaming, screaming, screaming.  I want to KNOW!  Gah.  Then there was that part where the woman kissed him, and went to leave, but then shut the door.  Implying, of course, that she spent the night with him, even though she’d just decided to marry the “good” and honorable miner.  Talk about settling.  Ugh.  No happy romantic vibes to be found in this movie!

Yesterday while folding laundry, we also continued watching Unforgiven (1992).  I had a really hard time following this movie too.  We had to catch it in pieces over several days, which might have impacted my lack of enjoyment.  Also the window unit we’re using until the A/C is fixed is really loud, and right by my chair, so I had a hard time following the dialogue.  But this was another movie that I just didn’t really GET and I thought there were some missed opportunities.  Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I really wish there’d been more of a happy ending for Munny and the cut-up woman.  The seeds were there, but they just went on their way.

I think it’s the endings that are killing me.  The lack of a POINT, or a satisfying resolution for me personally.  No, I don’t need a happy ending or a romantic thread, obviously (see my favorite John Waynes above).  But when John Wayne looks at those boys and says “I’m proud of you”, I just get goosebumps.  The whole movie is set up so well, with the fight of the old and young bull early in the movie, and the line “Well, it’s not how you’re buried, it’s how you’re remembered.”  Gah.  Such a good movie.

And then I come back to the Clint movies and I just don’t feel that same magic.  Not at all.  So what am I missing?  Are there any Clint Eastwood fans out there that can tell me why his movies are so popular?  Because right now, I’m guessing I’ll always be Team John Wayne.

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Hidden Object Games

As part of my “vacation” I’ve been playing a bunch of computer games, mostly hidden object games from Big Fish Games.  I love being able to try the game for an hour and decide if I want to buy it or not.  It’s usually pretty obvious within the first few minutes of a game if it’s “for me” or not.

Sounds familiar, I bet.  Agents/editors know within a page or two if the project is right for them.

There are tons of hidden object games out there, but there’s only a handful that I’m going to be willing to buy.  It’s taken me awhile to discover what kind of game I really enjoy — what kind of game is going to compel me to buy it past the one-hour trial.

First, the game has to have really good graphics.  I love the haunted castles with spooky hidden nooks, or the ancient civilization sites where I really have to check behind every stone.  But good graphics alone are far from enough.

(Good, even beautiful writing, isn’t enough to make an agent/editor/reader pick up your book.)

The overlying story has to be appealing to me, too.  Usually I’m on some quest:  free the ghosts, stop the lord of the mirrors, find my father, mentor, children, etc.  But even a “find my children” game — which sounds very compelling — can fail to snag my attention.

(Have a compelling hook or premise to drive the story from the very beginning.)

The lead character of the story driving the game has to be interesting to me.  I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, and I obviously don’t get as much internal thoughts, etc. as a reguar book, but a well-written hidden object game makes me forget that I’m not really in this fictional world.  I’ve passed on several hidden object games where I just didn’t care for the main character.

(The protagonist must be compelling in some way, even though flawed and hopeless at the beginning.)

If I like the graphics, the story, and the main character, I can still end up bailing on a game.  There’s one I can’t remember the name of off the top of my head, but it had gorgeous graphics and a cool story, but I was absolutely lost.  I didn’t know how to get to the other rooms.  I didn’t know what to do.  I stood in the front “room” of the game clicking, confused, and frustrated, until I finally closed the game and deleted the files without purchasing.

I like to be led through a game.  Yes, I know it’s lame but I like the sparkly hints that tell me where to investigate.  I’m playing this game for fun and I don’t want it to be too hard — but I also want it to last much longer than an hour (to justify buying the game).  I want to know and trust that the journey is going to be clear for me.  I’m not going to get down in some basement dungeon and quit out of frustration because I have no idea what to do next.

Now BFG does have blog walkthroughs for many of their games, which helps, but if I have to refer to the blog walkthrough every single time I enter a room just to figure out what to do, I’m sorry.  I’m not buying.

(Make a promise to the reader in the opening scene of the story and carry that promise through all the way to the end on a journey they won’t want to forget.  The reader trusts you never to take them down the wrong path and leave them.)

So now I have good graphics, a storyline that intrigues me, and a lead character to guide me.  The game can still fall part between the hidden object games and the puzzles.  The games I love the most are the ones where I keep items from each hidden-object portion of the game, even if I have no idea what they’re used for.  e.g. In the opening section of the game, a key is one of the 10 items to find.  Then the key is what opens the rusty iron gate.  In another section, I find a glove.  Later, I have to use the glove to reach through thorns.

I don’t like hidden-objects just for the search.  e.g. a bunch of items that have nothing to do with the story, and it’s not crucial that I find a particular item.  I want those objects to all be tied to the story in some way.  The game I played last night was so danged creepy — one of the hidden object scenes involved row after row of old dolls, some clothed, some not, some with holes in their heads, missing eyes, some with huge creepy eyes that kept looking at me.  It was hilarious — I could hardly stand to look for the objects!  Which made that game so very very cool (Return to Ravenhearst if you’re interested).

It’s sort of like reading a mystery and finding a bunch of red herrings.  I love that aspect of a hidden object game.  Great, now I have a can of bug spray in my inventory.  Where in the heck am I going to use that?  It makes me anticipate and plan — which I love.

(Drop elements into the story that tie to the theme, enhance the atmosphere and tone of the story, and drive the plot.)

What I don’t love is when I find a bunch of stuff in my inventory at the end of the game….that I never used.  I can’t stand it!  Did I miss a section of a the game where I was supposed to use the shovel?  Ack!  How did I finish the game?  Should I go back?  But no, I finished… 

(Always tie up as many loose ends as possible even when the climax of the story and the main characters are resolved.  Careful readers make note of every little detail and will feel betrayed if they don’t mean something!)

Lastly, we have the puzzles themselves.  They’re sort of like plot or turning points of the story.  They’re “gatekeepers” to moving on to the next room.  I don’t want the puzzle to be so hard that I have no idea how to even start — or I’ll simply look up the solution in the blog walkthrough and move on.  Yes, I cheat on occasion! 

(I also read ahead to the next chapter — or even the end — to make sure the book isn’t going to fail me.)

The puzzles are more interesting if I’ve had to gather items throughout the game to beat it.  e.g. there are three marbles that I’ve found all over the mansion and now I have to use them to beat the next level.  The puzzle itself should tie to the game and the story it’s leading me through.  The elements should mean something to the game.  e.g. in one ancient civilization game, I had to stack golden skulls on a scale to balance it.  Why use regular old weights when you can use skulls?  How cool! 

I don’t care for puzzles that have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.  e.g. a jigsaw puzzle and the final image is a contemporary-looking photograph, while the game is a creepy gothic.  The image is an underwater ship — cool — but not if it has absolutely nothing to do with the story of the game.  Don’t show me an underwater ship just because it’s cool.

(Elements of the plot should reflect the theme over and over, every element tied back to the premise, driving the story toward the climax in a logical way.)

I know it’s a great game when I immediately hope there’s a sequel in the same world.  My wish for BFG is that they’d have a way to search by the creator of a particular game.  e.g. if I know team A creates the kind of game I like with the graphics, etc. then I want to buy more by team A.  Right now, I’m relying on “look and feel” to tell me when I might want to buy.

(Branding is important.  Make sure readers can find you!)

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Weekend in Review

Now that spring is here, it seems like we’re “springing”  too.  Saturday, we’d made plans to take Uncle J (That Man’s younger brother) and Aunt BB to my family’s favorite Mexican place.  We’ve been eating at this place ever since I can remember.  It was our reward place after going to the dentist.  Anytime we had to drive north to Kansas City (even last year as we were driving to a funeral) we made plans to stop for lunch or dinner at this restaurant, El Sambre’s in Clinton, MO.

My sister is alive today because of this restaurant.  When she was three, she choked on a chip.  The rest of us didn’t know — we were talking, etc. — but the owner heard her, rushed over, and gave her the heimlich. 

Anyway, we’d talked it up so much to my New Jersey SIL that she was determined to make the 1.5 hour drive north and visit my Dad on the way.  However, they ended up not being able to make it — but that didn’t stop US from going.  Oh, no.  Once we make plans to hit El Sambre, we go!

We met my sister at Dad’s place and we all drove up in our van for a delish lunch and shoe shopping in Clinton.  We spent a little time touring Dad’s current “hobby” — raising quail.  The kids got to hold one that was one day old, and petted some of the older birds carefully held in my Dad’s hands.  Of course no trip to Papa’s would be complete without petting the horses.  He has a lovely vegetable garden started already, which totally made me jealous.  I’m all ready to move to the country.  NOW.  I want chickens and a garden!!

But we dragged ourselves back to “civilization” and rushed over to our other inlaws’ (oldest brother) to see That Man’s parents.  Guess which monster inadvertently sat in dog/cat poop outside?  Yes, that would be Middle Monster.  I swear she did it just so she could change into something out of the bag of clothes her cousin had given her.

Sunday was church early and then a trip to Lowes to pick up weed and feed, etc. for the lawn.  Oh, and laundry.  Tons of laundry.  We still have 2 loads to fold and one waiting to hit the washer, plus the actual lawn work.

We also watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (while folding).  I have to say, I’m not a Clint Eastwood fan.  I had a hard time getting into this movie and I just didn’t really care about what happened to any of the characters until at least the last third of the movie.

We tried to watch Zombieland but the NetFlix DVD wouldn’t play for some reason — it was all speckled, even after we cleaned it (and the Western played just fine).

For the first time in a long time, I read in the car instead of writing, and finished Kim Knox’s Breaking Chance.  I took my laptop but didn’t ever get it out of the bag.  Watching the movie, I did a ton of cross-stitch, currently working on The Bramble and the Rose with Old Maid of the Heart silk from HDF.  Oh, and I bought my first Heaven and Earth Designs this weekend (yes, I am totally insane — these are MASSIVE!!):  Calling the Crows.  I just couldn’t help myself.  All that black and red, and the crows…totally made me think of Seven Crows, part of the SFR world I’m building!

I have a huge HDF order on its way, including some perforated paper.  I may try my hand at making a bookmark — and if I can get my meager art skills to cooperate, I may just do one with Maya glyphs on it!  I didn’t realize how hard it is to find cross-stitch with Maya influences.  I do plan to buy Ink Circles’ Mother Maya, but otherwise, I couldn’t find anything with the real glyphs like I wanted.  However, I do have a cross-stitch program I bought from Needleprint, so I’m going to try and design my own. 

If it doesn’t look horrible, I’ll giveaway one here on the blog.

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Inspiration: Movie Review

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is watch more old Westerns.  That Man enjoys watching them (much more than something like Star Trek, although he’s watched several with me), but mostly because I was so impressed with Firefly.  I know it’s basically a Space Opera Western, and I loved how familiar it made the world feel despite the science fiction.

That’s one thing I think I need to work on.  I can worldbuild all day long and I love it, but I don’t think my worlds are always immediately accessible.

So thanks to Netflix, we just watched Once Upon a Time in the West.  It was ranked as one of the top 100 Westerns of all time, and starred some big names like Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda.

I have to admit that we were confused quite a bit.  It was hard to figure out how the characters were related and what was happening.  For example, at the beginning, three characters arrive at a train station and basically take it over.  This scene goes on and on, with the characters sitting around, waiting, flies buzzing, wind blowing, etc.  Literally, at least 10 minutes were spent on this, and we had no idea what they were waiting for.

Then Bronson’s character arrived and it was a shoot out.  Why?  I have no idea.  Was Bronson a bad guy?  Who was he looking for? 

The other characters were introduced in the same way.  Gah, so confusing.  And oh, the long, meaningful stares and looks.  It became hilarious by the time we got to the last huge showdown.  Oh, look, a stare!  Now closer!  Get a good shot of Fonda’s nostrils! 

For all the loooooong stares and our confusion, we really did end up enjoying the movie (although I wouldn’t watch it again).  Bronson’s character was especially well done with the harmonica and what that meant, but we didn’t learn WHAT THAT MEANT until the last 10 minutes of the movie!  Very nice static trait, though.

The part that sticks with me is the ending.  Jill McBain, the widowed prostitue who’s struggled to keep her dead husband’s land, ends up falling in love with Bronson.  It was very subtle  (more meaningful stares, snickers) and she actually has a sexual relationship with Fonda’s character to save her own skin.  But in the end, Bronson walks away. 

I guess a lot of old Westerns end this way, with the moody cowboy/hired gun riding off into the sunset alone, but yeah, it didn’t do much for this romantic heart.  More, I just wasn’t satisfied with the ending.  How was Jill going to manage Sweetwater Station by herself?  She had dozens of workers to keep, and we know women didn’t do “business” type work back in those days.  Yet both of the men she’d come to rely on left her.

I couldn’t help but translate this to a science fiction setting.  Think about it:  a colony, with an older, established woman trying to make a go of it against bandits and the land itself.  She doesn’t know who to trust.  The men she counts on walk out on her.  How is she going to rally her workers even if they don’t respect her?

Ah.  Inspiration.  🙂

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2010: the year of movies?

They say what you do on the first day of the new year is what you’ll do the most all year.  If so, we’re going to be movie-watching fools!

So far, we’ve seen Terminator 1, 2, and 4 (let’s just forget 3 ever happened, okay?); Jet Li’s Fearless; GI Joe; and G-Force.  GI Joe and Terminator Salvation were on our new Blue-Ray player.  Call me a heathen, but I really can’t tell much of a difference between DVD and Blue-ray.  I splurged on Constantine on Blue-Ray, and I just watched it a week or so ago on DVD, so I’m hoping I’ll be stunned and amazed at the difference when I watch it again.

GI Joe was a sad disappointment — we didn’t even finish it.  We’ll definitely be taking it to a trade-in/used shop.

The monsters loved G-Force but I had my headset on through most of it.

I enjoyed Terminator Salvation, although #2 is still my favorite.  I loved how they brought the traditional lines back with new life.  When John Connor said “I’ll be back” I had to laugh, and we all cheered when THE Terminator we all know and love made a brief appearance.  The overall plot was a bit expected.  e.g. the “surprises” weren’t really surprises at all.  But we still enjoyed it.

Still on the upcoming list to watch are District 9 (blue-ray) and Resident Evil. 

Tomorrow we were supposed to go Granny’s for Thanksgiving/Christmas, but we’ve had several inches of snow and we’ve decided to reschedule for next weekend.  Since I already took tomorrow off from the Evil Day Job, and Princess Monster’s birthday is the 5th, I think we’ll take the monsters to see Princess and the Frog.  That Man and I are wondering if we could sneak out to see Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t think the monsters are quite old enough for that yet.  Le sigh.

I haven’t read anything in 2010 yet and stil have several from 2009 I really need/want to read.  Have you read a great new release in 2010 that I should put on my list?

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Happy Thanksgiving

Even if you’re not in the US celebrating Thanksgiving today, the holiday season is upon us.  That means family dinners, right?  If your family is anything like mine, that means drama!  (Just a day with three girls in the house is DRAMA!) 

So what’s your favorite way to cope with Aunt Agna who never has anything nice to say, or Uncle Frank who shows up drunk, or …?  Tell me your funny family scenarios — or simply throw your hat in the ring — in comments and I’ll giveaway a free download of the US Civil War anthology, Defiance, containing stories by Laura Anne Gilman, Angela Korra’ti, and myself.  (pdf, epub, etc) 

I’ll draw a winner tomorrow after I’ve recovered from the family dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Thanks to my growing interest in steampunk, I added this animated movie, Steamboy, to my Netflix queue and watched it a few days ago.  I have to admit that I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was with Howl’s Moving Castle.

The Steams are a family of inventors:  James, his father Dr. Eddie, and his grandfather, Dr. Lloyd.  They’ve been working on a brand new “sphere” that can withstand an unbelievable amount of pressure, powering larger and more fantastic engines.  When not well received in Britain, the two older scientists move to American funding, and that’s where things start to fall apart for me.

The anti-American, anti-war themes were just a little too heavy handed.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, Howl’s Moving Castle had an anti-war theme too.  I loved it.  In Steamboy, there were no layers or nuances.  Everyone except James, the boy, was a money-hungry, war-loving fool, or so it seemed.  Except maybe his grandfather, who was more crazy than anything else.

And oh, don’t get me started about the only major female character in this movie, young Scarlett O’Hara.  What a total parody.  She was a despicable character, hitting her dog, nasty from the very beginning, and certainly too rich and powerful to have any sort of “morals.”  They tried to pull off a hint of a romance between her and James, and it failed miserably, because she was so unlikeable.  She never changed, either.  Although she did try to help James at the end, it was more like a spoiled tantrum than anything else.

A real disappointment for me.  If you’re looking for a steampunk animation, I highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle instead.

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On Movies and Reading

That Man surprised us with Race to Witch Mountain last night, staring The Rock, Dwayne Johnson.  He’s one of my favorite actors, no secret there (since he’s who I would cast as Ruin in the Maya fantasy).  I never saw the original Witch Mountain Disney movies, but I really enjoyed this one.  Oh, there were a few things that bugged me, but overall it was a blast.  The only really annoying thing was trying to sit through the movie with the monsters.  Princess Monster–the oldest!!–had to go potty three times; the two youngest went twice. 

[Note to self:  when we go in the next few weeks to see the Hannah Montana movie, no pop!  For anybody!!]

Then we came home and watched Hitman thanks to Netflix.  I love assassins (no secret there with Gregar and all), and I definitely came away with a few story ideas itching in the back of my brain, but gah, the body count was horrendous!  I wish more of 47’s backstory had been covered.  What organization raised him?  How did they get him as a kid?  I was also confused about why the rest of his organization were trying to kill him.  We did enjoy it, but it’s not one I’d watch again.

I also finished New Blood by Gail Dayton this weekend.  I absolutely loved the blood magic throughout.  Totally up my alley.  Blood sorcery and the resulting relationship between Amanusa and Jax is very similar to my blood bond stuff I use, with a whole magic rule built around it.  Very cool.  I did have a little nagging feeling as I read the book that’s hard to explain.  It was a little episodic, if that makes sense?  Just moving from one place to another.  Yeah, there were issues and attacks, but they weren’t tightly woven together.  It was still an engrossing read, it just lacked a little bit of something that would have made it all the better.

Meanwhile, I’m still working through the Maya polish.  I have about 130 more pages to go and a synopsis to write.

What’s the next project in the hopper?  I haven’t decided yet.  It’ll either be 7Crows, the science fiction Regency, or the original SFR spoof that spawned into 7Crows, or possibly, RHP, the Regency fantasy.  At least those are the projects that are bubbling the most on the stove.  I still need to write Given in Fire, the third Keldari novella, before I turn in the third and final Shanhasson book (so all threads are woven tightly between Keldar and Shanhasson).

No, sorry, I don’t know when Road will be coming out yet.  We obviously missed the 20th.  A few anthology projects are sitting in front of Road but as soon as I have a new date, I’ll update the website.  It should be soon!!!

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Steampunk, Howl’s Moving Castle

I suppose it was inevitable that eventually I’d stumble into an interest in steampunk, especially with my recent sci-fi Regency spoof idea.  I’ve never gone out searching for steampunk before, but the more I learn, the more intrigued I am.  Part of my research involved picking up Howl’s Moving Castle — although I admit I got it for the kids, and at the time, I didn’t really know what it was about, just that it was highly recommended.

Oh.  I *loved* this movie!  We watched it today in bits and pieces (Princess Monster has been home sick all week and I snuck in some lunch time with her).  I guess it’s not strictly “Victorian” but perhaps closer to Edwardian or even WWI in feel, but I loved it just the same.  It’s definitely one of our Netflix tries that I’m going to add to our family collection.  I could watch it over and over.  Next in my queue is Steamboy, which I specifically added because of the steampunk themes.

I’ve also added Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti to my wishlist, and my current non-fiction read is Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders.

Do you have any other Victorian or Steampunk recommendations to share?

[Don’t forget to keep checking for the free reads at Drollerie Press in honor of E-Book Week — two new books are up each day for free download!]