My Spoiler Free Review of “The Last Jedi” – There is a lot to absorb. Give it time to sink in, it may change your initial take.

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“WTF just happened?”

“Where the hell do they go from here?”

Those were my first two very unsettling thoughts while leaving the cinema after watching “The Last Jedi.”  I can understand if one were compelled to write a review of the movie immediately upon first viewing the overall sentiment would not be positive (as evidenced by a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 54%). There is so much that happens in this film and much of it entirely unexpected.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  I liked “The Force Awakens” but even I could see that is was a thinly disguised rehash of “A New Hope”, likely only a better film to those who haven’t seen the original first.

I think many fans were expecting “The Last Jedi” to be like the “Empire Strikes Back”.  Certainly, there are call backs – Rey seeking out a Jedi Master, the fight on the salt (as opposed to snow) planet Crait, pursuit of the Resistance by the First Order – are the ones that stuck out in my mind.  But also, there is a significant nod to “The Return of the Jedi” in Rey’s naïve and idealistic belief that she has the power to successfully confront the Dark Side with essentially no meaningful training.  Unlike “The Force Awakens”, however, those call backs didn’t feel like a simple update of the original films. “The Last Jedi” took those concepts and turned them on their head.  While a bit jarring, ultimately I found this approach both risky and refreshing.

What I Loved:

  • The Cast: across the board the acting is phenomenal. While everyone is good, Adam Driver is a standout.  He totally blew me away.  Mark Hamill almost matches him but doesn’t quite have (or wasn’t given?) the same range as the remarkable Driver.  Daisy Ridley rounds out the top three.  She more than holds her own with Adam and Mark, and her scenes with Adam are pure magic.
  • The Force Subplot: This part of the film was wonderful, A+.  Without going into detail, I thought the character developments here were nuanced, believable, and wonderfully complex.  The ideas explored in this part of the movie require a lot of thought and provoke discussion/debate.  Unlike the original trilogy, the concepts surrounding the Force are not so black and white.  I welcome this change as the Light and Dark sides in previous episodes were too absolute, and we all know how that turned out.
  • Rey’s Lineage Reveal: This is a controversial point in the fandom but I loved the reveal.
  • The Reunions: Can’t say more without spoiling but characters reconnecting in this film was a beautiful thing.
  • The Ending (sort of): the resolution of the Force plot was extremely moving and surprising in so many ways. I did leave the theater distressed about the fate of one character in particular but upon reflection I’ve realized there is still room for hope.

What I Liked:

  • The New Characters: Of the three new characters introduced I liked Rose Tico the best. She didn’t land in the “Love” category because I wasn’t completely sold on her narrative. Laura Dern was similarly great but given even less to do.  Benicio Del Toro was interestingly ambiguous.
  • The New Creatures: The porgs were adorable, the crystal foxes awesome, and the horse like fathers were gentle, beautiful and graceful.
  • Finn’s Journey (sort of): I very much liked his pairing with Rose Tico, but his side trip to another planet – while entertaining – felt like it belonged in another movie.
  • First Order Nonsense: Specifically, General Hux and Kylo Ren’s old married couple like bickering. Gold!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The Timeline: the timeline of this movie just feels weird. Everything that happens unfolds in a period of maybe two days?  While that that may be OK for the Resistance plot, it doesn’t work at all for The Force portion of the movie.  Kylo, Rey, and Luke become so intertwined during the course of the movie that to expect this level of intimacy to happen in a few days is absurd.
  • The Humor: Admittedly, I did laugh out loud at some of the jokes but I also found myself at times wondering if I was watching a Marvel movie. I blame Disney for this.
  • The Resistance Subplot: Ugh, just ugh. Great characters not put to good use. Leia  has one very bizarre moment.

What I Hated:

  • Love Quadrangle???:  Hey, let’s make EVERYONE a possible love interest for Rey!  I know Daisy Ridley is appealing but seriously?
  • Captain Phasma and Maz Kanata: Love those two actresses but their characters? Not so much.

In a nutshell (ha!) that’s pretty much it from a non-spoiler standpoint.  If this seems like a lot, it’s because it is.  It’s taken me almost a full week to process everything I saw and even now I’m not sure I interpreted it all correctly.  Is that the hallmark of a good film?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Overall, I’d give the movie a solid B rating (or 85/100).  Importantly, if you had asked me after I left the theater I would have said C- (or 70/100).  Like a raw steak this movie needs time to marinate and then becomes something quite special.

Spoiler review to follow.

Chasing Carrie Fisher

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In honor Carrie Fisher and the opening of “The Last Jedi” later this week I decided to read all of Carrie’s memoirs and watch her one woman special “Wishful Drinking”. While I was on my “Carrie-binge” I threw in “Bright Lights” about her Hollywood upbringing and relationship with her mother Debbie Reynolds for good measure. Why didn’t I read any of her novels you ask? No time. I figured if I had to prioritize I’d work through the non-fiction offerings first (“The Princess Diarist”, “Shockaholic”, “Wishful Drinking”). I wanted to get the truest picture, an unfiltered and non-fictionalized Carrie. Perhaps I’ll tackle the novels at another time. Though I do wonder if “Postcards from the Edge” is truly fiction or thinly disguised non-fiction. A question for another time.

What did I learn? In short, I am even more saddened by her loss. As Yoda would say – a spark, was she! A self-admitted Star Wars junkie, I would have undoubtedly been entertained by her “The Last Jedi” promotional tour wherein her thoughts on the movie, the fandom, and celebrity culture would be on full display. I’m sure I would have cackled gleefully at her irreverent interviews, as I did through much of her “The Force Awakens” press tour. Sadly, no such opportunity exists. All we have now is what she left behind. Thankfully, there is some rich material here.

Carrie’s memoirs are very engaging. You feel like you are in the room talking with her. She writes in a very conversational, somewhat sardonic tone that is immediately identifiable if you have ever seen any interviews with her. If you haven’t I strongly suggest checking her out on YouTube. She’s not always a completely coherent interview but she is always compelling. It’s not my intent in this post to review all her memoirs and TV specials in-depth but to mention some common threads I couldn’t help but notice throughout.

Unflinching honesty: Carrie didn’t hold back in her writing, interviews, and I suspect in her life. This is remarkably brave and refreshing. You got the sense she was unafraid of what people thought. This is not to say that she didn’t care. I think she did, but was not afraid of it. She was determined to be herself regardless of the cost.

Humor that masks pain: Carrie was extremely witty. I laughed out loud at many descriptions of her life. Much of her upbringing was preposterous, and she admits as much. Within that humorous reflection though you can still feel the pain of a lonely and, at times, unstable upbringing. The hole left by her father was deep and clearly still felt even in recent interviews. For example, when asked by Ellen Degeneres in 2015 why she drank 16 Cokes a day Carrie’s response was that it was because her father was the Coke-a-Cola kid. I found this response illogical because (1) the health hazards of soda are well documented, (2) Eddie Fisher was the Coke spokesperson over 50 years ago, and (3) there is no rational reason anyone should consume 16 cans of soda in a day.

A past that was ever present: For all her gifts, it had to be difficult to be Carrie Fisher. Her childhood was defined by scandal, early adulthood by Star Wars, and adulthood by mental illness. Once she managed to get her illness under control she shared her struggles with her unconventional childhood, fame, and illness with the world, often mining her personal history for entertainment value.  I understand the impulse, Carrie led a fascinating life.  Consequently, all of those colorful experiences, many likely very painful, were brought to the surface again and again. In the midst of this ever-repeating cycle the Star Wars franchise makes a triumphant return to the world’s stage. It had to be so disorienting. At times I wondered if Carrie would have been best by letting go of the past and moving forward. In her particular reality, though, that was impossible. Never has the phrase “the past is always present” rang so true to me. How does one lay to rest a past that refuses to die?

All this and mental illness too: By the time she was twenty-nine Carrie had lived a life most of us could never even imagine. Her unconventional upbringing and instant stardom at nineteen would have been enough to throw many of us over the edge. But Carrie had another demon to conquer, Bipolar Disorder. She was diagnosed at a time when not a lot was known about the condition or how to effectively treat it. Her questionable behavior in the public eye likely can be attributed, at least partially, to self-medication in attempt to control the swirling emotions raging inside her. Sometimes I think it’s a small miracle she lived to 60.

And thank goodness, she did. Though her life may have been filled with challenges, the world is a far better place for her having been here. Through Princess Leia, Carrie encouraged millions of young girls (including yours truly) to imagine another kind of woman far beyond the likes of Cinderella; to be independent, courageous, and follow to their dreams. Carrie’s novels entertained the masses and her writing improved Hollywood movies. Her honesty about her struggles with mental illness and addiction inspired countless to seek help and began to chip away at the stigma associated with the disease. She crammed so much into her lifetime that it’s no wonder we lost her relatively early. But what a legacy to leave behind.

I’m pretty sure I’ll cry when I see her on screen for the last time this Friday when I go to see “The Last Jedi”.  But when I go home and after my daughter is asleep, I’ll pour myself a nice glass of wine and whisper a toast to a life well-lived. We should all be so lucky to have such an impact.

PS: Read her memoirs and definitely see the television specials. You won’t be disappointed.

PPS: I am now also a fan of her mother Debbie Reyonlds. What a survivor!

Reading Agatha Christie: I can see the puzzle outline but the interior remains elusive.

ACAs is often the case with me, I was recently inspired by a movie opening to explore the literary source material.  I’m one of those people who assumes that if a movie is based on a book, the book is likely better.  In my experience that is usually the case.  The last time it was The Glass Castle, this time it was Murder On The Orient Express.  For such a famous mystery I couldn’t believe that I could approach the novel unspoiled.  Beyond the obvious murder on a train I had no idea what to expect.

My first experience with Agatha Christie was years ago.  I want to say I was in my late teens at the time but I’m not entirely sure.  I do remember being bored with the mainstream mystery novels of the day.  They were too predictable, with the endings telegraphed from miles away.  Given my decided lack of confidence in the popular mystery novelists of that time I decided to try my hand at mystery’s greatest writer, Agatha Christie.

The first of Ms. Christie’s books that I read was The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.  Why did my teenage self choose this particular one?  I remember being disappointed by Ms. Christie’s “ancient” detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  If I was going to be stuck with an old fogy protagonist I figured the female option would be better.  Why would I want to read about an odd and somewhat frail Belgian whose main distinguishing feature was a huge mustache?

There are twenty-six Miss Marple mysteries so my next decision was which to choose?  I rather quickly settled on The Mirror Crack’d, probably because it centered on a beautiful American actress and Miss Marple didn’t make her appearance until mid-way through the novel.  I also vaguely remember being impressed by the cover.  In my memory it was bright pink and featured a jagged mirror shard that reflected beautiful blond woman’s face.  Though truly, was this even the cover?  I conducted a very brief and non-scientific Google investigation and none of the so-called eleven best The Mirror Crack’d covers fit my description.  I think my memory is a composite of several other covers I may have seen over the years.  Though another cover did look familiar.  This one featured a nice looking – but still elderly (!) –  Miss Marple, wearing a very concerned expression as she raised a pretty tea cup to her lips.  Her obvious distress sold me on the book and home from the library I went determined to crack (pun intended) this mystery.

Perhaps not surprising for those of you who have read Christie, I did not solve the mystery.  This very much pleased me, having grown bored with more obvious contemporary mystery writers.  But perhaps what impressed me the most about this story was how the answer to the mystery lay in plain sight.  I did notice one particularly telling clue, and intuitively knew it was important, by for the life or me I couldn’t figure out why.  When the solution became apparent I couldn’t believe I missed it.

Armed with this knowledge, and being quite a bit older, I tackled Murder On The Orient Express this week with the confidence I would resolve the puzzle before the end.  I did not.  Similar to The Mirror Crack’d I noticed some things that were unusual in the story, too unusual to be coincidental.  For a brief moment I even considered the actual ending, only to discard it because it seemed too ludicrous.  The thing is, that theory of mine was correct only I couldn’t figure how it logically fit into a framework for murder.  It was too fantastic, too far-fetched!  Not to worry, we’re talking Agatha here.  Again, once the complete solution was revealed I couldn’t believe I missed it.  All the clues where there, my instincts were correct, but it couldn’t put it all together.

Given my “near miss” with solving Murder On The Orient express I moved on to another famous Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None.  Can we just pause here and admire the brilliance of this title?  So simple yet ominous.  I don’t even need a story blurb to want to read this book.  If only I could come up with such evocative titles!

Similar to my previous two experiences I came close to deciphering what was going on but couldn’t tie it all together.  I will say that I guessed how the murders would occur, exactly who and how the last murder would unfold, an idea of what was really happening on the island, and a theory of how all the victims fit together.  There was a bit of trickery in the story, I thought as much, but failed at being definitive on who was behind the deception and why it was necessary.  I honed in on the murderer, but I also suspected just about all of the characters in the book at one point or another.  I’m not exactly sure how Christie did this but every time I thought I knew who the murder was that very suspect died next in the story.  Masterful!  Though I did have a vague inkling what may be happening, I couldn’t arrange the story into a cohesive whole.  Sound familiar?

There is a reason Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, being outsold only by The Bible and Shakespeare.  Her mysteries grab your attention, are confounding, yet are solved elegantly and surprisingly.  The reader should have seen the ending coming, the carefully disclosed clues point the way, but somehow the solution remains elusive.  Even though she died in 1976 she remains the world’s best-selling novelist to this day.

If you’ve got a hankering for a good mystery you can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie.  Just don’t expect to be able to solve it!

Where To Open A Story?

This is an interesting question because the flippant answer would be at the beginning of course!  But what is a beginning?  There can be many entry points to a story, with each potentially leading the narrative in very different directions.  I’ve just completed another Writing Challenge from Wonderbook (Vandermeer) that nicely illustrates this idea.  The exercise was to use the image below to plan the opening of a novel entitled “Krakens Attack at Dawn”.   The exercise required three ways to open the story at different perspectives  Once the creative juices got flowing I added a bonus fourth.

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Option #1: Open with a young deck hand’s glimpse of the creature out at sea.  He goes below to alert the captain and crew but given that this is the hand’s first voyage, they do not take the warning seriously until it is too late.  The focus of the opening is the futile attempt to avoid the monster

Potential Outcome: the ship is sunk and all are lost at sea

Natural Scene Placement: This option feels like the end of the story, nothing else to tell.  Unless the attack was somehow witnessed by another ship.  If so, would others come to slay the beast?

Option #2: Open with a cook being woken out of slumber by a violent lurch of the boat.  The Captain has been thrown overboard and the crew is in disarray.  The focus of the opening is on fighting the monster.

Potential Outcome: cook falls overboard during the frantic fight and is the only survivor of the initial attack.  He clings to debris until he is found by another ship or washes up on shore.

Natural Scene Placement: Could be beginning, middle or end of the story, depending on how much of the cook’s adventures are compelling enought to be told.

Option #3: Open with an adolescent boy in a rowboat watching the creature sink the ship.  The boy is the captain’s son and was evacuated with 3 other people – a sailor, a soldier, and the boy’s governess.  The focus of the opening is on evading the monster.

Potential Outcome: survivors evade the monster and land on an unknown shore.

Natural Scene Placement: beginning of the story.

Bonus Option: The ship disappears below the water’s surface, leaving a trail of violent waves in it’s wake.  A young female native to the land of the ship’s destination had conjurered a sea monster to sink the boat.  Her people have the gift of foresight and know if foreigners gain access to their land it would mean the destruction of their way of life.  She watched the ship sink and heard the screams of the passengers with some conflict, but an elder conjurer assured her that this small sacrifice must be offered to the Gods to keep their people safe.

Potential Outcome: The young girl returns to her village in honor but is plagued by nightmares.

Natural Scene Placementt: beginning of the story.

Option 3 and the Bonus Option are the most interesting from a storytelling perspective.  I kind of feel like Options 1 & 2 have been done before and I can’t seem to muster any motivation to further explore.

This Writing Challenge was an interesting exercise because it made me reconsider where I began my own story.  I got some feedback late last year that my first chapter was essentially unnecessary background and it would be better to start with Chapter 2.  I ignored this advice initially based on my artistic integrity.  But like Jerry Seinfeld told George Costanza when he bristled at executive feedback on their sitcom pitch, “You aren’t artistic and you have no integrity!”

I like to think that I have integrity but perhaps it is better to begin my story with Chapter 2 :).

Book Review: “The Glass Castle” – Engaging Tale About A Spectacularly Dysfunctional Family

downloadThe book “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls was first published in March of 2005.  I had heard about the book periodically throughout the years but given the similarities of the title to a movie in the early 2000’s called “The Glass House” I think I subconsciously put the book into a B-list thriller category.  What a mistake on my part.

I became curious about the book again when the trailer for the movie adaptation came out earlier this year.  The trailer looked intriguing and I considered seeing the movie.  Though, one look at the Rotten Tomatoes score quickly changed my mind.  Here it would seem that Martin Scorsese’s condemnation of the site (along with MetaCritic) was apt.  But is it the site’s fault for steering audiences away from a mediocre movie or does the fault lie with the movie itself?  To quote The Queen of Thorns from Game of Thrones – a question for the philosophers.  One tidbit that I did pick up from Rotten Tomatoes was that the book was far superior.  I decided to finally give it a whirl.

Let me start just by saying I loved this book.  It draws you in from the very beginning and keeps you engaged throughout the entirety of the story.  Jeannette Walls writes in a very entertaining manner and the story proceeds along at a rapid – but not rushed – pace.  In a nutshell, this book is about a spectacularly dysfunctional family.  If you ever found yourself wondering why your family is so crazy this book is for you.  Once you start reading you’ll feel better about your situation almost immediately.  If not, perhaps you have a book to write as well.

The book isn’t only for those who believe their kin is nuts.  It’s really for anyone who likes real stories about real people.  The parents in the story are an odd combination of warm, distant, immature and occasionally wise.  In my opinion, they had no business raising four children and likable as they could be at times, were horribly neglectful.

But they must have done something right.  The four children they brought into this world were intelligent and street smart.  I’m astounded they survived their childhood.  They were scrappy, self-reliant, and very loyal to each other.  I found myself rooting for the Walls children each time they encountered a very real obstacle.  Their living situation was harrowing at times, squalid others.  Make no mistake, their lives were in danger often.  Their parents attitude towards this danger could only be described as lackadaisical.  They bewildered me.  More than once during the course of reading this book I stopped to thank my lucky stars that my crazy family wasn’t so bad after all.

Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I will probably watch the movie once it comes out on video.  The book was so enjoyable that I want to spend a bit more time with this unique and ultimately triumphant family, warts in all.

The Last Jedi Trailer Review: Thrilling, Surprising, and Ominous

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Yes, I am such a Star Wars fan that I decided to write a trailer review. Don’t judge me!

Anyway, like countless others I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the next installment of the newest Star Wars trilogy. It’s something of an early Christmas present for me this year as it has been in 2015 with The Force Awakens and in 2016 with Rogue One. Why should this year be any different?

My initial impression of my first trailer viewing was that The Last Jedi didn’t look like a re-hash of The Empire Strikes Back. To be clear, that is a good thing. While I enjoyed The Force Awakens, it struck me as a “not quite as good as” imitation of A New Hope.  But then again, A New Hope was an awe-inspiring movie to my impressionable seven-year-old self. Finally, here was a princess that did something other than clean up after her mean sisters, live in the woods and clean up after a bunch of dwarfs, or life in the woods with neglectful fairy godmothers and fall asleep until her prince rescued her. How could The Force Awakens live up to that expectation?

After watching The Last Jedi trailer a few more times I have additional thoughts. Of course, I’m going to see the movie. I’d go see it even if I hated the trailer. Thankfully the trailer was intriguing and beautifully shot. The movie looks good!

What Surprising?

Well, that Kylo is considering killing his mom for one. Another is that Luke is clearly afraid of Rey. Finally, that Kylo would offer to help Rey. In retrospect, none of these concepts should have been surprising. There is enough evidence in previous movies to support these storylines. I guess I wasn’t expecting that the trailer would go in this direction. On a lighter note, Chewy has an adorable little side kick! I’m happy for the fuzzball, he’s probably so sad without Han. Again, this shouldn’t have been surprising. Star Wars has always incorporated fun creatures, Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding.

What’s Thrilling?

That score! Would Star Wars be Star Wars without John Williams’ music? Doubtful. The second the music begins I can literally feel myself growing exciting. Add Rey’s training with the light saber and I’m all in. The air fight scenes and the battle between Finn and Phasma look fantastic. ICE FOXES!

What’s Ominous?

Red, red everywhere! As an aside, just how did the color red receive such a bad rap? I remember reading somewhere it has to do with the fact that blood is red but who knows if that’s true. Regardless, red is used extensively in the visuals and it doesn’t feel like a “happy” red. The tone is threatening.

SNOKE! His voice opens the trailer and it conveys menace and power with every carefully spoken word. His mangled face is shown towards the end of the trailer and he appears to be torturing Rey. This may be misdirection but clearly Snoke plays a major role.

Speaking of misdirection, I feel like there is a lot of it going on in the trailer. There is no mention of three new characters to the Star Wars Universe played by Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, and Kelly Marie Tran. I’m sure that was no accident. I also doubt that the scene with Kylo reaching out to Rey is what actually happens. If anything, I think Kylo is reaching out to Luke to help rescue Rey perhaps. But that is purely speculation on my part.

Other Stray Thoughts

  • After seeing the trailer many folks think Rey will go dark. I don’t buy it.
  • And for the record, Luke doesn’t go dark either!
  • I feel like Luke may die. If I had to guess he sacrifices himself to save Rey a la Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope.
  • Speaking of Kenobi’s, I’d bet money that Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter. What else could he be doing for twenty years on Tatooine?
  • Why are the Skywalkers so unstable? I always thought Anakin being conceived of the force was stupid. A better explanation would be that Palpatine was his father and his mother simply didn’t remember what happened. That whole midichloridians nonsense for The Phantom Menace almost ruined Star Wars for me. Why couldn’t force sensitivity be passed down through generations like athletic ability?
  • Hopefully Finn and Poe are also force sensitive. I would help to explain how Finn broke free of his conditioning and why Poe is such an amazing pilot.
  • I generally think the story may be headed towards unifying the light side and the dark side of the force. The Jedi and the Sith have historically failed because they were too absolute. To bring and maintain balance in the force the Jedi must acknowledge both the light and dark.
  • I do think it’s possible that Rey and Kylo get together. If so, he’ll die in the final movie after he and Rey unite to take down Snoke.
  • Rey will give birth to twins. The end!

Harvey Weinstein And The Things We Choose To Ignore

see no evil. speak no evil, hear no evil

Like many in America I have been obsessed with the downfall of Harvey Weinstein this week.  Every day there has been a steady stream of salacious stories about how the movie mogul acted inappropriately, even criminally, during the last twenty or so years.  Some very high-profile women and many more lesser known actresses have come forward with claims of sexual misconduct.  Being Hollywood I suppose I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that a studio boss would use his position to curry favor with beautiful women.  What did surprise me, however, was the sheer number of claims being reported.  The scale and depth of his depravity is shocking.

Beyond these highly disturbing stories come the denials from long-time collaborators.  We had no idea, they state, with horror and disgust.  As more of these denials come to the fore I find myself growing increasingly skeptical.  How could the sickening habits of such a high-profile man go unnoticed for so long?  For me, the only obvious answer is that they didn’t.

Harvey Weinstein is a tremendous success in Hollywood.  Even the incomparable Meryl Streep referred to him as “God” in a 2012 Golden Globe acceptance speech.  Show business is notoriously competitive and cutthroat and often success isn’t driven by talent alone but by who you know.  Just look at celebrity offspring.  Are they so much more talented that the hordes of young hopefuls that arrive in Hollywood each year?  In some instances, perhaps, but in most probably not.  Scott Eastwood springs to mind.  Certainly, he is handsome but without his father’s name, his father’s face, and his father’s contacts would he really be landing plumb roles in superstar franchises? One can only wonder.

Anyone trying to break into Hollywood would know that having Harvey Weinstein as an ally would open a lot of doors.  Just look at all the Oscar winning roles his studio has produced over the years.  Harvey knew this too and used this power to intimidate or cajole his way into the arms of beautiful young starlets desperate for their big break.  Surprising?  Probably not, after all this is show business.  But the great Hollywood denial?  Disappointing, but I suppose that is not surprising either.  So many of us are driven by self-preservation.  Why should Hollywood be any different?

If Harvey had been only been moderately successful he would have been brought down years ago.  I’ve read many articles trying to pinpoint how he got away with his lewd behavior for so long and I think they are missing a glaring truth.  His shield of armor was not forged by ignorance, confidentiality agreements, discretion, fear of retaliation, quid pro quo, etc.  Of course, these played a role but the key driver rendering him untouchable is missing.  Harvey got away with it because he was successful.  All the denials aside, Harvey’s close collaborators had to have at least suspected something.  There are far too many accusations of his sexual misdeeds to have gone unnoticed for long.  And for those who may have heard or noticed?  Many likely choose to ignore the ugly truth right in front of them.  Harvey was the King of the Land of Dreams.  I wonder how many in Hollywood made a deal with the devil to secure a little piece of that for themselves?

But even Kings sometimes fall…

I read a quote once that is attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. but I believe he paraphrased from an nineteenth-century priest.  Either way, I think it’s relevant to this discussion.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Which brings me to current day.  Bravo to all those brave women who came forward with their stories and felled the mighty Hollywood beast.  It took a lot of courage to share their experiences and the cost to some I’m sure was high.  Look at the career trajectory of Rose McGowan as just one example.  But because these women refused to stay silent the truth has finally come to light.  Hopefully now justice, long overdue, can be served

Calling Female Fantasy Fans: Would You Read This Book?

Young woman reading a book

I’ve written a fantasy novel.  It’s “young adult-ish” and features a prominent love story.  I say it’s young adult-ish because while the protagonist is 17 years old for most of the story there is some sexual content.  This content is not explicit or gratuitous in nature and is integral to the progression of the story.  However, it’s definitely in there.  While I think the story is appropriate for a 17-plus audience, I’m not sure I would want a 13-year-old reading it.  Though kids are so much more advanced these days I really don’t know.

Sometimes I wonder if Romeo and Juliet were published today would it be considered a Young Adult work?  The protagonists were teenagers (Juliet a mere 13!), yet there is wild and reckless sex in the story and a dual death by suicide.  If those aren’t adult themes than I don’t know know what are.  My novel is much tamer than that.  When did I first read Romeo & Juliet?  At 15 years and in ninth grade English class?  I can hardly remember.  Regardless, my protagonist is seventeen and has sex with her boyfriend (or “potential match” as I refer to them in my book).  Perhaps a better and more recent point of reference would be Forever by Judy Blume.  I’ll have to look into where that book falls on the “Young Adult” spectrum.

Here’s what I would envision as a book description.  My questions to you is simple.  Would you want to read more?

Title: The Madian (muh-DAY-in)

Genre: Fantasy

Thoughts of childhood always evoked certain golden memories for Alastine Arden. Long days spent in the village of Glyn with her family passed with the contended predictability of a community living in harmony with nature. The truth of her reality had long escaped her attention. How could she have been so blind for all those years? Falling deeply into an obsessive love during her seventeenth year was her only plausible explanation. A love so all-consuming that it obliterated the obvious truth of her world. Signs of a presence lingering just beyond her perception were there from the very beginning, signs she blissfully chose to ignore. But lingering at the edge of her awareness The Madian was patient, elusive, and ever present – just silently waiting to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sunflower by Any Other Name

SunflowerAs mentioned in an earlier post I’m working through “Wonderbook” (Vandermeer) in an effort to boost my creativity.  For Writing Challenge #2, I had to choose a subject and gather materials related to that subject from four different text sources written in diverse styles and/or points of view.  From these disparate sources a three to four paragraph description needed to be developed.  In the final part of the exercise the passage was re-written from the point of a view of a character.

Subject: Sunflowers

Background: Two people are lost.  The description is told from the female of the pair.

THE SUNFLOWER

Exhausted from a long day of walking, they stopped for the night at a bend in the road beside a field of sunflowers.  The cheerful scene was so astonishing they halted in their tracks to stare in wonder, realizing that this was a good a spot as any to spend the night.

He seemed perfectly at ease among the giant sunflowers.  Like the field of flowers before him they were each tall and strong.  The late afternoon sun amplified the gold of their crowns one last time before darkness fell.  They were lost, but the golden scene evoked feelings of warmth and comfort.  A large sunflower beckoned her.  Its vibrancy calmed her fears and made her momentarily forget her growling stomach.  The flower’s head was tilted towards the heavens and its thick petals reached skyward, seemingly in triumph, conveying a message of hope.  She realized suddenly that the seeds could be eaten and here the flowers were in abundance.  The thought cheered her and a long-forgotten children’s song sprang unbidden to mind.

Oh sunflower! Flower of sun!

A queen with no compare,

The summer fields are made more golden

With your bright presence there.

 

Oh sunflower, Flower of the sun!

 Who stands so strong and true,

Sharing hope and happiness

Within your golden hue.

If the mighty sunflower were a queen, surely than he was the king.  Both tall and golden, full of loyalty and vibrancy, a shield from darkness and despair.  Stumbling upon this surprising field of flowers had to be a good sign.  Perhaps all was not yet lost.

Revitalized, she called over her thoughts to him.  He looked up at her and frowned, as if haunted by some grim memory.   Sunflowers should lift the spirits, he agreed, but for him they had the opposite effect.  During his training he was taken to a field where an ancient battle had taken place.  The field was a graveyard for thousands of lost souls.  Small gardens of stone marked the sites of several mass graves.  The dead had been too numerous, and survivors too few, for individual graves to be dug.  Into to a pit covered with stones they went.  Overtime soil crept into the eroded stones and from this soil sprung sunflowers.  He thought they appeared to be standing vigil for all those lost and long forgotten.  Since then, the sunflower had lost all joy to him.

She sighed and sank heavily to the ground.  To him the sunflower was a harbinger of the lost and forgotten.  Perhaps tomorrow would not be such a good day after all.

 

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Atmospheric and Unsettling with a Pitch Perfect Ending

49d7b-haunting2bhhIn honor of Halloween I decided to read the classic haunted house story The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I found this book on many “Scariest Books all Time” lists so I decided to give it a shot.  Full disclosure before I move on, thus far the two scariest books I’ve ever read were The Shining by Stephen King (for obvious reasons, REDRUM!) and The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty.  Admittedly, the latter isn’t a horror novel but watching asibling descend into mental illness and being powerless to stop it was terrifying to me.  Maybe that one just hit a little to close to home.  Nevertheless, both are terrific books and are highly recommended.

The other point I should probably mention is that the movie The Exorcist did not frighten me in the least.  Again, maybe it was because the movie was billed as “the scariest of all time” that I expected more.  Frankly, I just found the movie silly.  I kept waiting to be scared but it never quite materialized.  The little girls’ head turning 360 degrees was creepy certainly but scary?  Not so much. A movie that did scare me?  Manhunter (1986).  For those of you who aren’t familiar I believe this was the first movie to feature the Hannibal Lecter character (pre Anthony Hopkins).  I couldn’t get that movie out of my head for weeks.  You have been warned – watch with caution!

I mention all of this to provide a bit of context.  Meaning, I’m not easily scared.  At least, not in the conventional sense.  The Haunting of Hill House was no exception.  The book is very well written, steeping with dark, opressive atmosphere and containing evocative descriptions of the setting and characters.  A feeling of dread and claustrophobia persists throughout the story, though you are not always sure as to why.  Is Hill House really haunted or is it simply and old isolated home built with some architectural anomalies that manifest as paranormal activity?  Early on I thought I knew the answer but the novel cleverly turns the story on its head at around the midpoint.  Here is where I started to question my assumptions about all that I had read to that point.   This is also where the book really came alive for me.  I couldn’t put it down until I came to the end, an end that was brilliant in it’s execution and utterly inevitable given all that had preceded it.

I’m not sure I would have picked up this book in the bright light of summer but I have to say it was the perfect story in which to immerse myself in honor of Halloween.  If you’ve seen that horrible movie The Haunting (1999) do not let that deter you from reading the book.  The book is a completely different entity.  Once you realize that Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and even Liam Neeson have no business in this particular story you can enjoy The Haunting of Hill House for what it is – a spooky and surprising psychological drama.  Interestingly, Lili Taylor was well cast as protagonist Eleanor (but that’s pretty much the only good thing I can say about the movie).  If you’ve never seen the movie all the better.

PS: My favorite character in the book was Planchette!