My Name in Books

I wrote a post a while back using my name as an acrostic for some of my favorite bands. As much as I love music, I’m actually a writer, so here is my name with each letter representing one of my favorite books.

 

G – Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak by Lela Rogers. An amazingly cheesy WWII detective adventure. Fun read, though!

R – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. One of my favorite books, and a great study for writers wanting to experiment with the nuances of foreshadowing, point of view, and other storytelling twists. Continue reading

My Top 10 Favorite Authors

I realized that since this is supposed to be a writing blog, I ought to make mention of other authors occasionally besides myself. In the various “top favorite” posts of this and that, I have never covered my favorite writers. So, I am now remedying that. Here they are, in a sort-of one to ten listing:

C.S. Lewis – Once I graduated from Little Golden Book versions of fairy tales, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is what I cut my fantasy teeth on. I’ve reread those books probably more than any other book or series ever.

J.R.R. Tolkien – Middle-Earth was the next logical step after I mastered the Narnia stories. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not easy reads, but I loved the stories and Tolkien’s words enough to read the books several times.

Beatrix Potter – My mom read me stories about Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten along with those Little Golden Books, but I never actually outgrew Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is one of my writing heroes in general, and not just because she wrote about bunnies.

L. Frank Baum – He is a recent addition to my favorite author list, because I only recently started reading his Oz books. Baum’s vivid imagination and love of the fairy tale style is evident in The Wizard of Oz and all the subsequent books.

Chris Claremont – He wrote all of the greatest X-Men stories of the 80s and 90s, in my opinion. I’ve always loved comics, and Claremont had some of the most vivid characters and elaborate storylines during his time on the various X-Men series.

J. Michael Straczynski – JMS, as he’s often known, is primarily a writer and producer for TV (though he has written a few comics, as well). I love him best for his show Babylon 5, which featured epic sci-fi storytelling on a Tolkien-esque scale. JMS not only drafted the overall concept for the series, but he wrote the script for almost every single episode himself.

John Maxwell – Here is my token non-fiction writer for the list. John Maxwell is known as a leadership expert, and I’ve read quite a few of his books. While I don’t have a desire to be a leader in a corporate or political sense, I do want to be able to positively influence people with my writing. And as John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence.”

Jeff Smith – Another comic writer. He’s actually an artist, too, and he wrote and drew his famous Bone saga. Bone is equal parts epic fantasy and slapstick humor, and a very unique cast of characters.

Lois Gladys Leppard – She wrote the Mandie books – an inspirational children’s mystery series. Unlike most of the books on this list, the Mandie books aren’t fantasy. They’re historical fiction, set in North Carolina around the year 1900. Believe it or not, I do enjoy the occasional non-fantasy tale.

Dr. Seuss – Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? His books have that fun, timeless quality that makes them enjoyable at any age.

Who is your favorite author?

Sequels: Realism vs Entertainment

So I recently read that a sequel to Frozen is in the works. No surprise there. The movie has made gazillions of dollars, the already-famous Idina Menzel is now popular among six-year-olds, and it’s cool to like warm hugs. I don’t think a title or plot summary has been released yet, so here is my take on what Frozen 2 should be:

Frozen 2: Do You Want to go to Therapy?

High up on the North Mountain, Queen Elsa’s ice palace, now left untended, melts in the summertime sun. Avalanches and floods ensue, ruining crops and endangering Arendell. Elsa, however, is unable to stop it because she’s too busy wrestling with inner demons and the long-repressed anger at her parents for teaching her to fear and hide. Princess Anna is left in charge, but in addition to saving the kingdom and trying to help Elsa help herself, she has to deal with her husband Kristoff’s sudden depression. Sven, the oversized reindeer who acts like a dog, finally dies at the unrealistically old age of 217 in human years, sending Kristoff into despair at losing his only life-long friend. In desperation, Anna is about ready to call in the scumbags Hans and the Duke of Wesleton for help when Olaf – who has miraculously not melted yet like Elsa’s ice palace – has a daring idea.

Dun-dun-duuuuh….

Not much of a kids’ movie, if you want a (sort of) realistic plot like this. Mind you, I’m not bashing Frozen. I loved the movie and would love to see a sequel. But Disney has a so-so track record with sequels. There are the mediocre follow-ups to all of their animated classics of the 1990s. And then there are the more recent and more successful story continuations like the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

So this got me thinking – what makes a good sequel? Is it more important to focus on being “realistic” – like Elsa and Anna having nervous breakdowns due to repressed childhoods and living with dangerous super-powers? Or is it more important to focus on sheer entertainment (that is, box office numbers) by having a funny, song-filled sequel about Norwegian royalty and magical snowmen?

I’m sure Disney will go with something closer to that second option – and rightly so. Because Disney knows their audience. (And their track record with sequels has improved a bit since The Return of Jafar.) That’s actually my point for this post, and the conclusion I came to when I pondered the question of what makes a good sequel.

Know your audience. It’s the same question to consider with any movie, novel, script, or short story that you’re writing. Who are you writing it for? And why are you writing it?

I’m all for writing a sequel – or turning a story into a series – because the audience loved the original story. Or because there’s more story to tell. This is both entertaining and realistic, and I think quite appropriate.

Side note: by “realistic,” I mean realistic within the rules of the world of the story. What is “realistic” or “logical” within the world of Frozen would not be at all appropriate in a Batman story, for example.

So when I think about a “realistic” sequel to a story, what I’m looking for is “what is the next logical occurrence for this plot that fits within the established rules of this world and is expected of these particular characters, based on their beliefs and actions thus far.”

What I don’t like is a sequel that has characters who have undergone a strange personality overhaul somewhere between story 1 and story 2 (like if a different writer and director do the second movie). Contrived plot devices also bug me – like, say, a character who returns from the dead without any sort of precedent for that in the previous story.

As an example, in the X-Men comic series, one expects the character of Jean Grey to die every so often, and then return again after a while, only to later die again (hence her title of Phoenix). This element of world building was established long ago, and so a plot thread featuring the death or resurrection of Jean Grey is “realistic.” This same idea would not work in the world of Middle-Earth, for example, because in Tolkien’s world building, his dead characters usually stay dead (with a few minor exceptions). A Middle-Earth story featuring the unexplained return of (insert dead character here) just because he/she is a cool character would, in my opinion, make for an “unrealistic” sequel.

Of course this is all my personal opinion, and of course there are exceptions to every point that I just laid out. But I do believe that consistency in world building is one of the most important elements, and I feel that the details of a richly-developed fantasy world should not be sacrificed just to capitalize on popularity or make big bucks.

Tell me your opinion? What sort of sequels do you like? Are there some stories that beg to have continual sequels made, or stories that should remain solo tales? What do you think Frozen 2 should be about? Please share!

How I met Batman

I first started going to the comic store regularly back in high school. It was on the way home, right where I got off the bus, and my friend and I would stop in after school at least once a week. I was an insufferable Trekker at the time (we both were), and Barry’s comic book shop always had boxes of individual trading cards from every series under the sun. A card collector’s dream, since those packs never had that one last special card you needed.

Barry was always ready with a smile and a friendly comment, whether my purchases were Star Trek cards or X-Men comics. Even twenty years ago, collecting every X-Men comic in existence was no easy feat – but Stories Comics and Barry behind the counter could help me make it happen.

The store was like a low-tech Bat-cave – a tiny hidden gem of a shop, with secret treasures stuffed in every nook and cranny. And I emphasize low-tech – those old manual knuckle-buster contraptions for running credit cards on carbon paper, index cards for tracking customers’ trade-in credits. There was no computerized inventory. It was all in Barry’s head – every comic, old and new; every action figure, t-shirt, video tape, collectible lunch box.

I needed a part-time job during my summers and holidays while in college. And since I didn’t want to flip burgers and I was tired of babysitting, I was elated to get a job at this low-tech Bat-cave. And so thus began my journey, like a young Robin under the tutelage of Batman. Barry the comic master taught me:

  • Everybody should have a nickname or a super-hero name.
  • Never buy a new comic from the top or the bottom of the stack; those are the ones that get the most abuse during shipping. Buy a comic from the middle of the stack.
  • Classic monster movie memorabilia is always popular, not just at Halloween.
  • If the toy companies don’t make action figures of your favorite characters, then cannibalize cheap or broken figures and build and paint your own.
  • Eat all your meals off of Justice League dishes. If those aren’t available, Looney Tunes dishes will do in a pinch.
  • If someone is scared of bugs, make sure you keep plenty of plastic cockroaches on hand to terrify them.
  • A rubber snake on the t-shirt rack will also freak some people out. Both are equally hilarious.
  • Don’t waste valuable storage or display space. Everyone has room for a giant inflatable starship Enterprise the size of a bus – that’s what the ceiling is for.
  • You can never have too many comic books.
  • Or toys. Or videos/DVDs. Or unique/one-of-a-kind/weird collectible items.
  • Batman is the greatest super-hero ever.

I worked harder at Stories than I have at most any other job. Comic boxes are heavy. Customers aren’t always happy. Returning damaged merchandise to the distributors is a hassle. Employees don’t always get along.

Barry knew how to work hard and how to run a business, and kept us working hard. When I was just a customer, shopping for my Spock and Picard and Data cards, Stories was just one tiny store in a center of a strip mall. But it wasn’t long before it took over half of the strip mall; plus two other stores opened across town, and the online sales continued to grow.

But what really made the business work was that Barry knew how to play hard and laugh hard. My boss was really just a big kid who never grew up. At an age when most adults were settling down to the drudgery that the world teaches is “real life,” Barry still believed in super-heroes.

He believed there was still some fun to be had in life, some joy to be found, some good worth fighting for. Kindness mattered, smiles could really help people. That’s what the toys and the comic books taught him, and he lived it every day.

Thank you, Barry, for rescuing a lost nerdy college girl and giving her smiles and giving her friends. You were just a regular guy, a Bruce Wayne everyman, sitting behind a cash register or posting cartoons on Facebook. But really, you were Batman. Thank you for proving there are still super-heroes.

In memory of Barry Pryor, founder of Stories Comics.

ABC Book Challenge

I borrowed this idea from The Magic Violinist, a great writer and blogger who is always giving me good ideas.

This challenge is to list books that I’ve read, one for every letter of the alphabet (skipping words like A and The in the titles, of course). My list is a little bit of everything – fantasy, children’s books, classics, non-fiction. So here goes!

AAleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse

BBeezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

CThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

DThe Devil’s Horse: Tales from the Kalevala by Keith Bosley

EEchoes of Mercy by Nancy Alcorn

FThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

GThe Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino

HThe Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

IThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

JJust-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

KKirsten’s Surprise by Janet Shaw

L Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

MMara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

NNight Mare by Piers Anthony

OOnce Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

PPiercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti

QQ-Squared by Peter David

RRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

SThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

TThe Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter

UUltima Thule: Explorers and Natives in the Polar North by Jean Malaurie

VVoyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

WWisdom by Bonnie Watson

XX-Men: Empire’s End by Diane Duane

YYertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

Z Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

What about your reading list? Have you hit every letter yet? Please share!

My Superpower

I am entering this blog entry into a contest by Positive Writer called “You are a Writer.” Check out his blog for links to many other inspiring stories!

 

I’ve always loved stories—the more fantastical, the better. Alien planets, magical worlds, the supernatural living among us—I like it all.

I would wish, sometimes, that I could live in one of those stories. It’s not that I hated my life—I had a wonderful childhood, loving parents, all my basic needs met and a few luxuries on the side. A great environment to grow up in, but nothing special, or so I thought at the time.

I wanted to be special. To be the one who opened the wardrobe door and discovered Narnia. Or woke up in Oz and saved the day.

I wanted to fly with the hidden angel wings on my back. Or wield the magic sword. Or be the holder of the key to the secret land of the unicorns. I played games, and wrote stories, and read stories, and wished I was something special.

Why couldn’t I have a cool superpower like one of the X-Men? How come all the hidden trails in the woods always dead-ended at the edge of the highway instead of taking me to a magical fairy realm? No hole in the ground ever led to Wonderland, no ring I put on ever made me invisible. Nothing special.

Then suddenly one day, not so very long ago, I realized that I was wrong. All these years, daydreaming about things that didn’t exist, were not futile fancies or a waste of time. All this time, I’d been honing my magical talent, my special power.

I could tell stories. I could think of worlds and people that had never existed before, and never ever would if I didn’t think of them and give them life. I could create the places I longed to visit, the amazing creatures I longed to see, and share them with other people.

I’m a writer. That’s my superpower.

I have a mind, and a voice, and a pen. And I can use them to create magic or save the day.

You have a mind, and a voice, and a pen. What’s your superpower?