Sunday, December 27, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Movies of 2015

This wasn't a hard list to make because I've barely seen any movies that have come out this year! But the movies I did like I liked a lot.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There were a lot of little things I didn't quite like about this (Captain Phasma having so little screen time; Leia having so little screen time; Finn using a lightsaber for the first times without major damage to himself; the too-frequent moments of nostalgia that became distracting), but the overall feeling it left me with was the same one I had when I was eight years old watching Star Wars for the first time--absolute wonder.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I had no idea what to expect with this movie. The trailers told me nothing about the story. I hadn't seen any of the previous films. I had just heard that it was making fanboys mad, which is enough of a reason for me to see anything. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Fury Road is much more Furiosa's and the wives' story than Max's. Not to mention the action had me on the edge of my seat. Definitely worth a rewatch.

Mockingjay Part 2

I've loved this series since I read The Hunger Games in 2010. All of the films are solid, moving adaptations, but this installment is unforgiving in its depiction of the horrors of war and its effects on its young protagonists. By the time the final scene rolled around, I was satisfied both in Katniss's ending and in the journey Collins took me on over the last few years.

Jupiter Ascending

I still don't know how to feel about this film. It's completely off the wall, but in an entertaining way. I think I'll have to watch it again, and more closely, to truly decide how I feel about it, but I appreciate that a big-budget sci-fi movie had a heroine at its center, which is rather unusual outside of the realm of YA.

Far From the Madding Crowd

This is probably my favorite Hardy novel, and this adaptation is every bit as lush and romantic as expected. Carey Mulligan brings sympathy to Bathsheba, who might otherwise be a prickly protagonist, especially in such a short film. And Gabriel Oak, as always, is dreamy. (Mostly. When he's not being too perfect.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Music of 2015

Because it's the end of the year and the end of the year is a time for lists galore, my next three Friday Fives will be my favorite music, movies, and books of 2015! 

VENUS, Joy Williams
The Civil Wars who?

Favorite track: "Woman"

Every Eye Open, Chvrches
Bury me in electronic beats and words I only half understand.

Favorite track: "Make Them Gold"


Badlands, Halsey
This album is a feeling, man, and that feeling is climbing to the top of the world and looking down upon your kingdom.

Favorite track: "Roman Holiday"

Piece By Piece, Kelly Clarkson
I love catchy pop and Kelly Clarkson's voice.

Favorite track: "War Paint"


25, Adele
Excuse me. I can't stop listening to this. I haven't listened to my audio book in two weeks because of this album. It makes me feel like I'm looking wistfully back upon my youthful misadventures in love, wine glass in hand.

Favorite track: "Sweetest Devotion"

Friday, December 4, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: World Fantasy Con Edition

It's been a few weeks since I attended my first World Fantasy Con, but graduate school applications, NaNoWriMo, and the holidays have kept me busy. Instead of doing a full write-up of my experience, here are five of my favorite things from the long weekend!

the books
the panels
the food! 
the surprises 

the company

Friday, November 27, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Places to Write

Because my November was filled with grad-school applications and studying for the GRE, I decided to call it quits on NaNo. I may not be worrying about my output at the moment, but I'm still writing, and today's Friday Five is my favorite places to write.

Libraries. I'm not all that great with silence, actually, so even if I'm in a library, I usually have music on (with earphones, of course!). Even if I don't take advantage of the quiet, though, I like libraries because just the act of getting out of the house and committing to a few hours in a Place of Work is beneficial. I like tucking myself in at a corner table and creating my own little creative bubble-world.

Cafes. Warm drinks and baked goods. Need I say more?

Parks. People-watching is a great tool, both for character depth and for in-the-moment inspiration. Plus, being out in nature is calming and rejuvenating. It makes my brain work better.

Airports. I like the din of life going on around me while I sit quietly and observantly. The best scenario is when I have a few hours on hand because there's no rush to the writing. I can get up and wander or go get a snack if I need to.

Train Stations. Probably my favorite type of place to write for the same reasons as above, even if I don't get to spend time in train stations much.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: NaNo Writing Advice

Writing advice is weird. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Most times, it just comes down to personal preference. So while I shy away from advice that is absolute (never do this! always do that!), here are five of my favorite pieces of advice that are getting me through NaNo.

1. Read. Just read. A lot. Until your eyes start to hurt and you can no longer find a comfortable reading position. Reading deeply in a single genre helps you learn about reader expectations. Knowing what came before also means you can play into those expectations while tweaking them in order to create something new. When I was in undergrad, I took a lot of history and literature classes, and I often found that something we discussed in one field could be useful in the other. Reading widely across genres (including non-fiction) can enrich your story in ways you might not otherwise have thought of.

2. Everything In Moderation. Adverbs are great, okay? Just don't use them every single sentence. Same with just about everything else people tell you to avoid--distancing words, 'that,' any dialogue tag that isn't 'sad,' exclamation points. These things can all add to the story when used sparingly. Deleting these from your first draft should be about trimming the excess, cutting redundancies, and adding specificity. But deleting them entirely could mean cutting some of what made a character a character or cutting into your own authorial voice.

3. Find Out What Works For You. Writing, like all creative pursuits, is highly individualized. What worked for Edith Wharton didn't work for Henry James. What works for Stephen King won't necessarily work for you. Experiment with lots of different factors. Try writing indoors then outdoors. Try writing in a cafe then a library. Try writing on a computer then in a notebook. Try writing with music then without. Find your own groove.

4. Write the Story That Gets Your Butt In the Chair. You can drive yourself crazy studying the market trends and trying to write to them, but trying to write the next Twilight isn't going to make you excited about writing. If it's not the story you're passionate about, it's just going to make you depressed. Then you'll start making excuses not to write, and then you'll never get to the end of your manuscript! Write a story you love and can't imagine not writing. Maybe it'll be a harder sell than that next teen paranormal romance, but there are probably a lot of readers waiting for your story without even knowing it.

5. Do Your Thing. Want to write about sharks on the moon? Go ahead! There are people out there who'd jump at reading about lunar sharks. Take advice when appropriate (like maybe tiger sharks would be better protagonists than great whites?), but ultimately, it's up to you. Chase those weird little dreams and get them down on paper. Someone will thank you for it one day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: NaNo Essentials

I missed last week because I was attending World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs. It was a great experience, especially for my first con, but now it's back to real life. Once again, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo. Once again, I'm behind on my word count, but this year, it's because I'm prioritizing studying for the GRE and getting my graduate-school applications in (which I just did! yay!). Starting next Saturday, I'm kicking my productivity into high gear and planning to write 3K words a day. We'll see if I get there, but in the meantime, here are five essentials for me to survive NaNo.

NaNo is an excuse for me to load up on brain food. In my case, that's usually easy-to-eat things like twizzlers or pretzels. I stay away from messy foods like popcorn or sandwiches. Brain drinks of choice include tea and pop (though I'm trying to cut back on it).

A Good Notebook
Although I like to do a lot of my writing on my laptop because it's faster and I can keep track of my word count better, a good notebook is essential for writing on the go, like in my hotel room after days filled with panels and parties at WFC. I'm very particular about notebooks. The one pictured here is what I'm using for my NaNo story, which is a young adult zombie apocalypse novel, and I love it because the spine is flexible. I'm also particular about pens. So particular that the only ones I really like to use are sold only in one store. I'm low maintenance in everything except writing, I guess.

Writing Music
I can't write in silence. Lots of people can, but I need either music (when I'm at home) or the soft din of people going about their business (when I'm out). Music with lyrics is too distracting, so I usually go for film or TV scores. Particular recent favorites are: How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell), Perfect Sense (Max Richter), Orphan Black (Trevor Yuile), The 100 (Evan Frankfort; unavailable for purchase, but EF has a playlist on soundcloud, and Stardust (Ilan Eshkeri).

An Internet Blocker (Or just the willpower to keep wifi off for hours at a time)
This is the hardest, honestly. I think it's tough for any writer. I love to delve into research, and sometimes I get lost there for hours. My current big research question is what America would be like two years after society collapsed. But in this case, I'm trying to save all that digging for December or maybe even after I'm finished with the first draft. Other hazards include Facebook, which is where I message all my writer friends to check in on their stories, and Tumblr, where I just love to waste time.

A Hot Shower (or, you know, 30)
This might sound weird depending on how much writing you did in college (which is where I first learned this trick), but anytime I'm stuck on a plot point or on where to go with a scene, a hot shower works wonders. There are tons of articles out there regarding the scientific explanation, which has to do with the hot water triggering a release of dopamine and a relaxed state of mind. Whatever the reason, it works!

Friday, October 30, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Postcards from Friends

I've been lucky enough to have some wonderful opportunities in my life. However, many of them--spending a summer in Maine, volunteering in the Peace Corps, attending a low-res graduate program--mean I meet a lot of amazing people who don't live anywhere near me. As easy as emailing is, I still take pleasure in keeping in touch with friends through old-fashioned letters and postcards. Most of the fun is hearing from friends, but I also love to see what they're up to and what beautiful places they've gotten to. So today, I'm sharing five of the many lovely postcards I've received over the years.

from Michelle, the Philippines for her second stint in the Peace Corps

from Megan, Kentucky

from Elizabeth, Turkey

from Darren, Rwanda, also his second time in the Peace Corps

from Elizabeth, Georgia

Thursday, October 29, 2015

SHORT STORY: Creatures of the Night Shift

Halloween is right around the corner! To celebrate, here's a free short story inspired by the holiday. Hope you enjoy!

Creatures of the Night Shift 
Dannie shifts into a more comfortable reading position—legs over the back of the armchair, head hanging over the seat edge. In her hands is The Historian, a little light research, something she meant to finish in her old life. Stoker, LeFanu, Polidori, and Rice sit on her ‘read’ pile, along with some nonfiction titles and even a poetry collection. Now, the books are more humorous than helpful.

Friday, October 23, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Fall Things

The Beauty of Nature

Don't even try to tell me there's a better time of year. I've been lucky enough to have the time to take Elphie to the park once or twice a week for the past month or so, and it's been an absolute pleasure watching the leaves change. If I could live in a land of perpetual autumn, I would.

Tea, Spiced Cider, and Other Hot Drinks

I'm not a coffee drinker, which is close to blasphemy for a writer, especially since we spend so much time in coffee shops (writing or just pretending to). So when fall rolls around with all its special seasonal drinks, I am a happy camper.

Sweaters and Plaid Shirts and Scarves and Hats

Seriously. I love them all. Not only are they comfortable, but there's something about the feeling of warm layers protecting you from the cold. Bundle me up and sit me in a comfy armchair. I will be happy forever.

Bonfires and Marshmallowy Treats

Sure, you can host a bonfire in the wilds of summer, but cold weather makes it much more enjoyable. Nothing like tasty treats fresh from the fire to warm you right up.

a selection of my jack o' lanterns from years past
Farm Trips to Pick Out Pumpkins and Then Carve Them
I'm not skilled at jack o' lantern carving, but I enjoy it. There's something so calming about pulling out pumpkin guts and something so satisfying about creativity, even imperfect creativity.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Superman Returns

Why don’t people talk about Superman Returns more? Is it because it came out nine years ago and I just missed the boat? Or do I have a new appreciation for it because I haven’t seen it in at least five years? Or is it because everyone’s hopped onto this superheroes-have-to-be-broody train? Now, I like those stories (some of them, at least), but it’s refreshing to see a superhero story that’s not all gravity and weight. 

There are just so many wonderful elements in this movie. Yes, the story’s kind of silly at times, especially Lex Luthor’s plan to create a new landmass, but Kevin Spacey brings such villainy to the role that you almost can’t help but be entertained. John Ottman’s score is absolutely gorgeous and expertly utilizes John Williams’s original themes. Brandon Routh is so doofily charming as Clarke and yet poised and heroic as Superman. There’s just so much that works.

Watching it with a fresh eye after so long, though, a few things struck me. The first is Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor’s girlfriend and henchman. She goes along with Lex’s plans and even takes part in distracting Superman at one point. Eventually, though, she realizes that the danger is very real. Around two hours into the movie, after seeing Luthor defeat Superman, she asks, “Are people really going to die?” like this whole time she was going along with Luthor’s plan for a bit of fun and never imagined he could be serious. Then, as they escape in a helicopter, she dumps the all-important crystals out into the sea, knowing exactly how angry Luthor will be.

According to Comic Vine, Kitty doesn’t appear in the DC universe except for this movie and a cartoon prequel. Here’s the background info on her: “Kitty worked as a prison nurse in the prison where Lex Luthor was locked up. At their first meeting, Kitty watched him killing another prisoner. He tried to kill her too, but Kitty told him that she is his biggest fan and she can help him.” Talk about a character who knows how to survive! And then she gives it up that need for self-preservation and risks Luthor’s wrath when she decides all those people are more important than she is. For a genre that’s so focused on male-centric stories, Kitty’s presence and character arc completely surprised me.

Next up is Richard, Lois’s husband/boyfriend (it’s unclear exactly what their relationship is). Richard is kind of perfect. He’s a pilot. He’s a great dad. He goes and grabs dinner for the “intrepid reporters.” He doesn’t hesitate after he rescues Lois and Jason when she wants to go back for Superman. He drives Lois and Jason to the hospital to see Superman. Like, he’s such a good guy, and yet he’s always second-best to Supes. The movie could have easily villainized him, but writing him as a good guy is just another way the movie upholds Lois’s character. She’s smart and makes good choices, not just in her job, but in her personal life, too.

Which brings us to Lois Lane. Gosh, let’s talk about Lois Lane. I have so many feelings about her. She wins the Pulitzer Prize for her article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” She raises a young son like a champ, always ready with an extra inhaler. She saves herself by faxing her coordinates to The Daily Planet. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. Let me say that again. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. I think the plot—Superman returns to Earth after five years to discover he may have fathered Lois’s son; Lois is appropriately angry about his prolonged absence—naturally lends itself to the old “Superhero is manly and stoic; his not-quite-girlfriend is basically in the background for him to win her (back)” narrative that characterizes the genre, which is why getting to see Lois as proactive both in her career and in relation to Superman is lovely. (I am aware of how long that sentence was. I’m not sorry.) It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s refreshing.

That’s not even delving into the themes and imagery, but I think that’s enough for tonight. At one point, this movie was in my donate-to-the-library box, but I’m glad I revisited it. I’ll be putting it back on the shelf for future movie nights.

Friday, October 16, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Books in my TBR Pile

First of all, an explanation for my rather sudden silence and my lack of Month of Classic Horror updates. I've been dragging my feet for a few months as I decided whether I wanted to apply to grad school again. I was hesitating because I wanted a literature program with a creative dissertation, but I couldn't find more than one program to apply to. So I finally looked at regular lit programs, found ones I liked, and decided last Monday to apply. And that's what I've been up to for the past two weeks--getting my application materials together. That means I probably won't watch many more horror films, but I will try to keep up with my Friday Five posts.

This week, I chose five books I'm looking forward to reading from my To Be Read pile. My TBR pile is ridiculous. Unmanageable. This is compounded by how slowly I read. I accumulated a lot of unread books during grad school, so there are a lot waiting for me as soon as I have some time.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I adore Ann Patchett, though I've only read two of her books so far (The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto, which is wonderful, one of my favorites). I can't wait to get to this one.

Gameboard of the Gods, Richelle Mead

I really enjoyed the first book in Mead's Vampire Academy series, so I'm looking forward to seeing how she tackles an adult series.

The Word For World Is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin

Although this is the sixth in a cycle, I'm fairly certain it can be read as a standalone. The only Le Guin I've read is A Wizard of Earthsea, which I loved. Not only am I excited to read more of her work, but I promised myself I'd read more science fiction because my reading taste leans so heavily toward fantasy.

Freedom's Landing, Anne McCaffrey

McCaffrey is another sci-fi writer on my list because of recommendations from friends. I picked this one over any of her others because the premise reminded me a lot of The 100, another thing I love.

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

Another author I've heard a lot of good things about. The premise sounds so intriguing, and I've been starved for some non-urban fantasy with a female protagonist. I've really only stayed away from this one because of its size. That'll have to change soon.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Traveler 120 Photos

Back in March, my grandma gave me this Traveler 120 camera:

I only recently got time to clean it up a bit and try it out. I took one roll (eight pictures) with 100 speed B&W film. In retrospect, faster film would have been better. An obvious problem that I knew about while I was out was that I couldn't quite keep the camera steady. The shutter button itself is rather heavy, and pressing it automatically nudges the camera. I'll have to brace the camera better for future photos.

A problem that I only found out about after I got them developed was that light is getting into the camera somehow. Either that, or I let some in while loading the film. Furthermore, I was following the exposure numbers as they appeared in the viewing window, and it looks like some shots didn't line up right. So, these photos aren't very good, but here they are! I took all of them along a park trail.

I think they're kind of spooky, although I wish just one would have turned out well. I've got four more rolls, so I think I'm going to try to use them on bright days and make sure to close up any potential holes. Instead of getting them developed right away, though, I'll probably save them until I can do them myself (not sure when that will be!).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

AMoCH: The Screaming Skull

Title: The Screaming Skull
Year: 1958
Starring: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway
Summary: A newlywed couple returns from their honeymoon to the estate of the man’s late wife. The bride, a wealthy but extremely neurotic woman, uneasily settles into the home, walking the gardens of the estate that are meticulously kept by a strange gardener following the wishes of the deceased woman. The new lady of the house is tormented by the sudden appearance of skulls throughout the house and grounds. Is it the deceased woman coming back to drive her away or are there more sinister motives behind the skulls?

A few thoughts just from reading the synopsis: What could be more sinister than your husband’s dead wife trying to scare you to death? And what is it with the prevalence of newly married couples in horror movies? Is it related to the prevalence of female characters who have sex and then die? Also, this is basically Rebecca, yeah? I haven’t actually seen or read it, but it sounds awfully familiar.

It opens with a narration that says you might die of fright during this movie, but not to worry. The producers have reserved a coffin for you. Even from the opening music, this movie is trying hard to be scary. I’m guessing the effect would have been better in 1958. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It’s the latest so far, but besides a skull bouncing down the steps, it’s ultimately forgettable.

AMoCH: One Body Too Many

Even though I missed Sunday, I actually did watch this yesterday but didn't have the time to post it before I left for work.

Title: One Body Too Many
Year: 1944
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Jack Haley, Jean Parker

Summary: A timid insurance salesman decides to place a call upon an eccentric recluse at his mansion only to find that he has just passed away. What he also finds is a home full of relatives who are, according to the will, all bound to remain in the mansion until the authorities arrive to claim the body. Seeing that the man’s niece may be in harm’s way, the salesman decides to remain at the mansion to protect her from harm while they discover who killed her uncle.

This movie starts off with two of my favorite tropes: the reading of the will, complete with squabbling relatives, and the clause in the will that binds people to stay in the deceased’s home for a certain amount of time. These characters are wacky, and I love it. Jack Haley easily steals the spotlight here. First of all, he played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. My sister used to watch that movie every day when we were much younger, and my first word that wasn't 'Mom' or 'Dad' was 'Tin Man.' That's how much she used to watch it. So I feel like I have a unique rapport with Jack Haley. He's an insurance salesman who also happens to be a grammar nerd, and I love it. Here's a conversation he has with one of the other characters (I'm bad with character names, sorry):

Tin Man: "I’d do it?"
Other Guy: "Him?"
TM: "He"
OG: "What?"
TM: "He, not him. It’s a common mistake. You see, ‘him’ is objective—"

I know that the suspense in these movies isn't going to keep me on the edge of my seat like some newer movies do, but I just didn't expect One Body Too Many to be this funny or cute. Jack Haley's character gets his bath towel stuck in the door. He gets hiccups while he’s inside the uncle's coffin and ends up getting thrown into the pool. He's reading from a mystery novel where a bad guy’s sneaking up on a good guy while someone is sneaking up on him as he’s sitting in the library reading it. Then he tosses the book aside, exclaiming: “Ah, things like that don’t happen!”

In addition, there were numerous one-liners that made me chuckle. After Jack Haley's character gets knocked out, he explains how it happened: "The lights went out then somebody hit me. Then the lights went out.” It's silly, but it's entertaining.

At one point, a character says this about the uncle: “He wanted to be interred in a glass-top vault so the stars will shine down upon him.” Sign me up for this! I never expected to find funeral ideas in a '40s horror film.

Favorite line: “I can’t sell a dead man insurance!”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

AMoCH: Invisible Ghost

Title: Invisible Ghost
Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire

Bela Lugosi stars in this Monogram thriller as Charles Kessler, a man living with his daughter while hoping for the return of his wife. Upon seeing her peeking through a window, he falls into a trance and murders the maid. The maid’s boyfriend is framed for the murder and dies in the hands of the police. The man’s twin brother and Kessler’s daughter team up to clear the brother’s name and discover the true identity of the killer.

I love everything about that synopsis. Dude, this movie starts off with a bang—well, a character one. Bela Lugosi’s daughter informs us that his wife left him for his best friend, so he celebrates their wedding anniversary by pretending to have dinner with her. Every year. This is within the first few minutes, which means it took a few minutes for me to love this character. Why does he do it? Out of spite? Out of anger? Out of madness?

However, Mrs. Kessler hasn’t actually gone of her own volition. It seems she’s been kidnapped* and is living ala Mrs. Rochester. Where is she, though? It seems like she’s in the house next door, but does Kessler know? No, he doesn’t, because when she wanders through the shrubbery to appear at the window, he thinks she’s a ghost.

Oh, my goodness. Kessler is charming. This is Bela Lugosi at his best (even if half the time, he looks like he has eye problems and the other half, he stands like a surprised Dracula). He worries about his servant getting an infection from a cut, so he wraps his hand himself and then thanks him for dinner. When his cook wants to leave because his house is super-duper creepy, he convinces her to stay, and their conversation ends like this:

Cook: “Wait till you taste my apple pie.”
Kessler: “Apple pie? My, that will be a treat!”

I dare you to dislike him. This was easily the best film so far (I know it’s only day three). The sound quality was much better than the previous two, and the plot and characters kept me interested.

*Or has she?