Don’t go down that dark road.

Writer Beware! Resist the temptation.

orphan black
Sarah, Helena, Alison, Cosima.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been obsessed with the BBC America show, Orphan Black since the very first episode. (You know, back when it was scraping the bottom of the barrel for advertisers.)

I held my breath, my baited breath, waiting for this season.

I’m so sorry I did. What a waste of good air.

While the show has always been dark, the writers have decided to take the show in a dark’er’ direction, down an, in fact, unrelentingly dark road. Oh, they’ve made minimal attempts at comedy, but they are nothing like the off the wall hilariously funny ironic deeply disturbed comedic moments of the last three seasons.

Of all the story lines from which the writers had to choose, choosing to feature the Neolutian psychos and sycophants was the worst possible choice- IMO. It’s the story I least want to see, find the least interesting and, unfortunately, most disturbing in a stomach churning makes me want to vomit sort of way. Of course the other issue this  season is the increasing number of clones, which, in turn, causes the writers to give short shrift to the clones about whom I actually care.

***Note to writers: Never a good idea to add a clone with a terrible awful weird-ass no-good-reason haircut, who sounds like a garbled version of one of my favorite clones, Helena, but who speaks in such a low whisper I, the viewer, can’t understand a word she says.

Even the best authors sometimes make the same mistake. Get the reader invested, really really really invested in your characters, then backlist said characters and try to get readers invested in new characters. Rarely works. Or rather, it takes a rare talent to make it work. Not. Happening. Here.

The only character worth watching thus far? Ferdinand. Orphan Black fans know who and what I’m talking about.

Ferdinand

I realized after this most recent episode that Orphan Black is no longer entertaining. It’s depressing. With a capital D. As in, Depressing. I’m done with the show for now.

Ah well. Orphan Black had a moment. Now it’s gone. Happens to the best of ’em.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with Vikings and Game of Thrones. Oh, and when it returns next season~ Lucifer! (Such a guilty pleasure!)

Lucifer

 

Been reading. Recommends.

Thanks to my friend, author Anny Cook, I read my first official Regency. LOL! Seriously – LOL! The book was off-beat, atypical, laugh out loud funny and no – there was essentially zero sex, which I very much appreciated in my current nonpron mood. Rake’s Ransom by Barbara Metzger.

Rake's Ransom
Entertaining as all get out.

My dear friend, author Penny Watson, introduced me to Cecelia London, author of The Bellator Saga. I read the first book, Dissident. Cecelia brings her characters to serious life. They are no holds barred, alive. I can see and hear her protagonists speak. They speak to me. If you hate a series, well, all I can say is don’t read it– the book ends in a big old cliffhanger. If you love a series, go for it. I’m on my way to Book Two.

Dissident
Pretty cover!

If you want to be all sad and inspired and, well, simply feel, read When Breath Becomes Air, by (the late) Paul Kalanithi with an introduction by Abraham Verghese. It will make you cry. I’m not sorry for that- there’s no avoiding tears.

When Breath
A beautiful book.

So now you got some good recs. Go! Read!

 

The Dark Night of the Soul, or…

Why I didn’t much care for The Martian. (Even knowing I should care.)

the martian

I’m not a movie reviewer. I’m a movie watcher. Sometimes I like stupid obvious movies like Paul Blart- Mall Cop, and The Shooter, and Quigley Down Under, and Dodge Ball, and Galaxy Quest, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Yeah. I do. So sue me.

But my favorite movie of all time is, wait… I have two favorite movies- The Terminator, which is the most perfect science fiction movie EVER MADE, and Die Hard, (I’ll pause here to pay tribute to Alan Rickman, may he rest in peace), which is even better than the book upon which it is based – which is a damn good book – Nothing Lasts Forever. (Loved that book and I’m saying ‘which‘ an awful lot.) Die Hard is by far and away my favorite Christmas movie. Right up there with White Christmas. I’m a sucker for White Christmas. It’s the Danny Kaye/Vera Ellen dance scenes. Damn she’s a great dancer.

But anywhooo, back to The Martian. B.O.R.I.N.G. It wasn’t a movie, it was a survival manual. A superficial treatment of a step by step How To book. How to survive on Mars when you’ve been left for dead, you have no way to contact anyone, and you have no hope.

There’s the rub, the no hope part. If there is one thing… Remember Curly from the Billy Crystal movie, City Slickers? It’s one thing that keeps us watching movies. And it was that one thing The Martian lacked– a dark night of the soul. The protagonist, Mark Watney, never gave in to despair. He was never tempted to call it quits or lie down in the Martian sand or punch a hole in his suit or just plain old kill himself by any means at his disposal.

The movie-maker chose to provide a superficial treatment of the most existential of dilemmas- I am stranded a minimum of 225 million kilometers from earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. No one is coming for me. I am alone in this universe.

There was no suicidal despair like there was in Castaway. There was no Jenny in high heels perched on the ledge of a hotel balcony high above traffic, no Lieutenant Dan filled with bitterness and rage, battling God, like in Forrest Gump. There was no starving Elsa like in Born Free. No desperate and hopeless John Morgan like there was in A Man Called Horse.

Death’s shadow did not fall over Mark Watney as it did the astronauts in Apollo 13, a movie I felt The Martian tried and failed to emulate. (There were so many parallels, too many to mention here.) Because Mark Watney was a genius’ genius. There were no obstacles that could not be surmounted, no failure that could not be overcome. Mark could always find a way to beat the odds. The movie gave us only a single moment when Mark was moved to tears. One, near the end when he was close to rescue. And that was the one moment that resonated with me. (No, it wasn’t the moment when the airlock blew because even then I knew Mark would find a way to fix it.)

Sometimes you lose. I guess that’s what I wanted to see. Sometimes you lose and you must fight and claw your way back from the brink. And that is the dark night of the soul, and that is what makes for a gripping story.

I know my husband loved the book because of the sciency stuff. My daughter, who is a scientist, had a tough time relating to the character, although she said she did finally begin to care about him near the end of the book. I suppose I’ll read the book and see for myself.

Oh, by the way, if there is one thing we learned from The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, (the book, not the television series), one thing I learned growing up in rural Iowa, it is this– When you must go out into a hellacious blizzard, or into a Martian version of a blizzard, i.e., sandstorm, for crying out loud, tether yourself to something. You do not hike back to your space ship in high winds, through blowing debris, when there is near zero visibility, without a tether. Sorry. Someone has to say it. The minute the crew stepped out of the habitat into that storm I said to my husband, “That’s pretty stupid. Why aren’t they tethered to something? That’s the first rule of blizzard safety in Iowa when walking from the house to the barn.” Right there the movie lost me. Hmmm. Now I’m wondering whether I’ll like the book…

P.S. If you really want to read about the dark night of the soul, read Beck Weathers’ story in My Journey Home: Left for Dead on Everest, or Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer.

Announcements.

Will be offline for a few weeks in early September.

For the time being all my books are available on Amazon exclusively. Nothing personal. This is a financial decision, but it is not set in stone. I will be evaluating the situation daily.

One of these days I shall get around to telling the my story. In the meantime, keep writing. It’s food for the soul.

Julia

Read a short story. Write a short story. Why?

Because a short story teaches you to economize. How to write a succinct beginning, middle, and end with no or minimal fluff.

Fluff = Unnecessary filler.

Assignment: Write a 5000 word short story.

Assignment: Write a 10,000 word short story.

Assignment: Write a 25,000 word short story.

Short story writers I recommend:

Me. I have a number of short stories which you can find in my book list. 🙂 (Look left.)

Believe it or not, Pistol Pete Maravich~ I swear he wrote a collection of short stories. Read ’em when I was a kid. Good luck finding them. I sure as heck cannot.

Washington Irving (of Sleepy Hollow fame).

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter).

Edgar Allen Poe.

John Steinbeck.

Ray Bradbury.

Henry James.

John  Cheever.

Sandra Cisneros. (I consider her novellas to be interconnected shorts.)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. (Again, her novel,l Mistress of Spices, gives one a sense of interconnected shorts.)

Nadine Gordimer.

I’d like to include more female short story writers, but women, at least according to traditional publishers, tend to write long. Or perhaps they aren’t published and promoted until they write long. But it’s more than that. It’s not sexism. You’ll notice most of those men are dead or old dudes.

It’s this~ in America the writing of a short story has become a lost art. To our literary detriment.

It’s also this~ The interesting thing? Over the past ten years erotica writers have mastered the art of the short story. Concise writing. Beginning. Middle. End.

Tell a story in your head.

When I was a kid, I put myself to sleep every night by imagining myself as a character in a superhero comic. Sometimes I was the superhero (a girl regardless of the sex of the superhero), sometimes I was the villain (again, a girl), and sometimes I was the Polly Purebred heroine who needed saving. It was fun and, more important, it exercised the storytelling synapses of my brain. Keeps brain muscles from atrophy.

To this day (or night) I put myself to sleep by creating a story in which I am one of the main characters.

Do you do this? If not, do you want to do this?

It’s easy.

Pick a story, any story. Could be a Nancy Drew mystery, could be The Hunger Games, could be Outlander. Pick a body, or rather, a character, for yourself– either a preexisting character or make up an entirely new character and insert her/him into the story. Now, rewrite the story in your own words. Tell the story you would tell had you written that particular story.

I’m not suggesting you write fanfic. Except in your head.

I’m suggesting you grow your writing chops by learning from other genre writers. I prefer genre work because genre writers generally create more compelling, more romantic, and more relate-able characters. I’m not about to insert myself into War and Peace, although I’ve stuck myself into The War of the Roses plenty of times. (That Edward the IV was a hottie in his youth!)

Heroic books that make for great imaginary fanfic – Jane Eyre. Shogun. Outlander. Your favorite romance novel- insert title here ______________________________________________. Historical fiction. Norse mythology. Comic books– great for beginners. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t want to fly or become invisible or shrink or make crazy weather? And Thor? He’s the best! Always been one of my faves.

Go for it. Like choose your own adventure. Rewrite your favorite stories in your head. Work those abs! Uh, I mean brain cells!