Monday, January 24, 2022

Thoughts on Moral Relativism

I sit in history class listening to my classmates talk about how religion has caused division and conflict. I can't deny it: it's obvious to anyone paying attention that religions—both "Christian" and otherwise—have played a role in many wars and conflicts throughout the history of the world. But one of my classmates seems to be trending towards a sort of universal control as a solution. And so I have to speak up.

I've read far too many dystopians and far too much history to believe there should be any kind of absolute control by man, I say, but there absolutely needs to be a universal standard for morality. As a Christian, I continue, that moral standard comes from the Bible.

But I'm not religious, one girl protests, though I am reminded how earlier in the semester she admitted to knowing right from wrong.

People are raised so differently, another girl says. Right and wrong comes from how they were raised.

A person could steal, and feel he has no choice, one boy suggests and I am not a quick enough thinker to point out that a person could have a perfectly justified reason in his own mind for killing another person.

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6

I do not mention that verse, though it plays over and over in my head—I know it won't do any good. But I can't stay silent either.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, is what I end up saying, and love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want to be treated. No one wants to be burned at the stake, so don't burn people at the stake. And so on.

My professor seems to agree with that, but I'm not sure if my classmates really understand my point. Still, I've said what I can. But I can't help but continue to think about the conversation. And about how clearly it shows the moral relativism that has become so prevalent. How everyone does what is right in his own eyes. How while we still do have laws against murder and theft and so on, people still get tried and convicted for crimes, more and more sin and violence is condoned.

Theft and vandalism is okay if you're "protesting" a media-approved event. Violence and murder is okay if it's against the people politically and/or racially condemned in the mainstream narrative, or if the victim is your own unborn child. You apply this filter of cultural acceptance of sin to history and how can you say the human sacrifice of the Aztecs was wrong? What's wrong with cannibalism if you were raised to think it was normal? Is there really anything wrong with cheating on your spouse, especially if you've agreed to have an "open marriage"? Is pedophilia actually wrong if it makes you happy? Why can't I go stab someone because I disagree with what they believe and want them to stop spreading their ideas? (To clarify, while I may kill characters, I have zero desire to harm any real people, even people I don't like very much. I would far rather they come to know Jesus.)

Where does it stop?

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

You see, without an absolute universal standard for morality, there is no morality. What is right? What is wrong? It's all up to your own interpretation, your own judgement. It starts small...Sure, I can lie if I think it'll be more beneficial than telling the truth. Cheating at a game doesn't really hurt anyone. Walmart's a big company, they can afford it if I shoplift a small item.

But it's a slippery slope. Man can justify pretty much anything. You might start with seemingly harmless missteps, but the things get bigger and bigger. They grow until you're destroying the property of innocent business owners because their shops happen to be in an area where you're protesting an incident. You can kill your unborn child because you don't want/can't handle the responsibility of raising a child. You can ruin a person's career and reputation because they're not ashamed to say that they disagree with the prominent political view. You can put people in camps and gas chambers because they don't fit whatever predetermined standard for the only acceptable citizen you've established.

And where does such a thing lead? Only to death and destruction, both in this world and the next.

Because there is a moral standard.

The self-proclaimed not-religious girl in my class said earlier in the semester that people do know what's right and what's wrong. I didn't ask why or how. Maybe I should have. I'm genuinely curious where people draw their moral standards from if not from the Bible. But what I did say is that I agree, people do know. And I believe that is because, as the Bible says, God has written His law on our hearts. That's what a conscience is.

"That was your conscience punishing you, Davy."

"What's my conscience? I want to know."

"It's something in you, Davy, that always tells you when you are doing wrong and makes you unhappy if you persist in doing it. Haven't you noticed that?"

"Yes, but I didn't know what it was. I wish I didn't have it. I'd have lots more fun. Where is my conscience, Anne? I want to know. Is it in my stomach?"

"No, it's in your soul," answered Anne, thankful for the darkness, since gravity must be preserved in serious matters.

"I s'pose I can't get clear of it then," said Davy with a sigh.
—Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

Love your neighbor as yourself.

That's truly what it all comes down to. It really is that simple. Don't mistake that for easy. It's most certainly not easy. But if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, your morals will not be relative. You won't be justifying stealing, lying, murder, and all manner of other cruel, destructive practices. You will be doing those things that are good, right, and noble.

Moral relativism may be on the rise, but that doesn't mean it is right. That doesn't mean an absolute moral standard no longer exists. On the contrary, with the prevalence of moral relativism, a true moral standard is even more important. Right and wrong matter, and always will.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, and you will live.

Monday, January 3, 2022

2021 in Review

It's apparently been a couple years since I actually did a year in review post. Interesting. I guess there hasn't been much in recent years that I wanted to relive, what with my dog dying in 2019 and the fiasco that was 2020. But somehow despite all the Covid stuff continuing in 2021, I actually on the whole feel good about 2021. Who knew, right?

January started off with my library branch finally, finally, FINALLY opening to the public, and though it was a gradual process that annoyed me with rules that kept me from properly doing my job the way I used to, I was SO glad to be able to interact with our patrons again. Sure, I can't really listen to audiobooks at work anymore, but I CAN help kids find the perfect book to read. I've even been able to help with programs again (now that we're DOING programs again) and it's heavenly. 

I also got myself an animatronic Grogu. 😁 Forgive the messy hair. I'm terrible at selfies, but I really don't care.


And we started planning for Realm Makers. 😁 My friends and I all stayed up to register as soon as it opened just to be sure we got spots. And it was totally worth it.

I was also spending a lot of time studying for the SAT. Which I admit was kind of nerve-wracking, but I ended up doing fine. 

Early on in the year, I tried writing the pirate book I've been wanting to write for like eight years now. I really tried. But I don't know, I guess I just wasn't in the right mindset for pirates. It's not permanently abandoned. I still very badly want that book. But what I really wanted to do was go back to Acktorek. Which is what I did. I won Camp NaNo in April, which was bittersweet because I knew it was going to be my last NaNo for awhile. (Yes, I was pretty bummed last November watching so many other people prep for NaNo knowing I had too much homework to do it myself. Someday I will do NaNo again, but that is not this day.) I really got a lot of writing done, but I still wasn't very happy with what I had. More on that later.

Round about this time, I was also working on Jedi costumes for Realm Makers. I dyed fabric for the first time ever, which was an adventure, and I'm pretty proud of how the costumes turned out.

First look at Obi-Wan

First look at Anakin

Then I got accepted into Kennesaw State University and promptly went crazy with CLEPs. I studied for and passed five CLEPs in two months while also brushing up on German to make sure I could get into the class I needed. I'm still not sure how I did it. Especially since algebra and especially biology were a bear. But the English CLEPs didn't take much effort, and I got a near perfect score on the College Composition Modular test. Good thing too, since I'd told the lady at the testing center that I'm an author. I wouldn't want to talk all about my books and then turn out to be terrible at English! 😂

We watched Timeless early in the year, and I may have gotten slightly obsessed. Time travel+history+Matt Lanter. I mean, how could it not be fabulous?


I held a recital for my violin students and they all did a great job! They've all learned so much. I also had arranged a Return of the Jedi medley to play with my sister, which was a ton of fun.

Once Jedi costumes were declared complete, we did a photoshoot, attempting to recreate poses from the Revenge of the Sith promo materials. I normally hate photoshoots, but we had a blast with this one. And naturally I had to add lightsaber blades. See more photos here.


I went on a campus tour for part of orientation, got separated from the group when I picked the wrong time to go to the bathroom (I seem to have a knack for that) and came out to find the group had left for the dining hall without me, pulled out a book to read when the opportunities arose during the tour because that's just how I roll, understood nothing of the layout of campus because I was hopelessly turned around, and had to finish up my visit with an exploration of the campus library. I love the campus library. They have a lot of 90s Star Wars books. 😁 The first book I ever checked out from the campus library was Truce at Bakura, though all the other books I've checked out were actually for research for my English paper. And I know my way around (relevant) parts of campus now. Though I'm still not 100% sure how to get to the dining hall. Doesn't matter. I know where the Chick-fil-A is, and that's what really counts.

THEN REALM MAKERS!!! Definitely the highlight of the year. It was my first time driving on a road trip (my dad always drove on family trips) and I had very little interstate experience, so that was definitely nerve wracking. Migraine-inducing. Stomachache causing. But we managed to get there and back again and had a fabulous time while we were there, so it's all worth it. And I have a TON more interstate experience now because of my commute to school, so interstate driving and traffic don't really bother me anymore. I mean, when you have to sit for an hour in horrific traffic because of big accidents and end up late for your history midterm (I still completed it and got a 96 so it's all good), you kind of end up getting over interstate anxiety.

And Realm Makers was seriously amazing. Getting to hang out with Jaye L. Knight and Tricia Mingerink was awesome, and I got to meet Frank Peretti and Nadine Brandes and Sara Ella and Dave Wolverton and Carla Hoch, and I learned so many things, and our group cosplay was loads of fun, and you can find my full recap here. I don't know when I'll be able to go back, but I already can't wait. There's nothing quite like Realm Makers.

With Frank Peretti!

Rex (Tricia), Anakin (Addy), Obi-Wan (me), and Ahsoka (Jaye)

Saying goodbye is the worst

Then we got a kitten! I admit, I still prefer dogs. And no animal will ever replace my Labrador Sophie. But I do love Pippin. He's adorable, and he can be so sweet and cuddly when he wants to be. Unfortunately, he also sometimes displays a teenage attitude (he's an adolescent kitty right now, so yay). But when he's in a good mood he's just so sweet that it totally makes up for the attitude. And he loves watching TV, which is hilarious to me since Sophie couldn't care less about it. And I may have filled up my phone with cat pictures.


Watching church with me while sick...
I'll get to that.

One of his favorite spots


Watching Merlin with me

Then school started and it consumed my life. I mean, not totally, but mostly. Hey, I got to write my English paper on speculative fiction in the Christian community and it was great. And I loved stats too. It was a good semester, even if it was a bit of an adjustment. I did even get to the point where I was able to dabble at planning out the rest of the Acktorek series. I figured out that I needed a series plan, a general one, anyway, so that I had an actual series arc. Important stuff, knowing where you're going with a story. It was slow going, but it was going.

Aaaaand then we got Covid. It was miserable, I'll admit. But all in all, it didn't really turn out to be any worse than having the flu. Kind of interrupted my series planning, but now we've been through it. And I was still able to mostly keep up with my classes virtually. So it worked out.

Fall really was mostly school, school, and more school. And kitty cuddles. And watching Merlin while working on my paper because for some reason I couldn't focus on writing that paper without something like Merlin on in the background. Not complaining. It's my favorite show for a reason.

But then we had Thanksgiving break wherein I read three books and also discovered that LEGO Star Wars has an IOS version. Maybe a bad discovery? Anyways. We had some family over for Thanksgiving and had leftovers for days. And then back to school for a week of class and then finals. But hey, I finished my first semester of college with straight A's and with my CLEPs I'm officially a sophomore.

And I was able to take some time Christmas break to catch up on stuff. Like finishing that series plan. (Well, finish is a relative term. Parts of it are still rough and purposely so. I need room for my characters to take charge. But I have enough of a plan I think I can finally write book 2 properly. If I can find the time.) And I made the theory pages I need for my students AND finished the bulk of photoshopping on a new picture book I'd put on hold since like May. Not sure when it'll be done done since it still needs a cover and a title and to go through the whole proofing process (and school starts up again in a week), but it's significant progress.

I participated in my church's Christmas program, singing in the choir and playing violin, and it was great. I may have been quietly singing the alto part of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" while shelving at the library. A lot. And I played the conductor for my library's Polar Express program.

And my sister and I saw Spider-Man: No Way Home opening weekend. I loved it so much! And I REALLY want to see it again. It was SO GOOD.

We had Christmas at home with colds (yippee), and I got Star Wars books and watched The Fellowship of the Ring, so it's all good. Then I got a new computer because my old one had a crack that was popping out the corner of the screen. 😜 Still not thrilled about that since all I thought I needed was a new battery, but I'd rather not have my computer totally break in the middle of the semester. We then rang in the new year with more Lord of the Rings, and it's 2022 now!

Who knows what kind of year it'll be? I know for me it'll be filled with lots more school, and hopefully some writing, but beyond that, just about anything could happen. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Top Twelve Books of 2021

Sorry, even with omitting rereads and combining series into single entries as per usual, I just can't get it down to ten this year. I've read so many good books this year that I want to tell y'all about. And I'm also going to have honorable mentions because I can't not. Before I get to my list, though, I want to mention my rereads of the year, because obviously they're good enough to get attention: Ranger's Apprentice, The Lunar Chronicles, The Hunger Games trilogy, and Percy Jackson, all on audio through my library. They're great stories that were definitely worth the revisit.

Now to my top twelve new-to-me books of 2021.

12. Balance Point by Kathy Tyers

The New Jedi Order series has been rather hit or miss writing-quality-wise so far, but I consider this one to be solidly in the better half of the series. Plus, Kathy Tyers is a Christian, a Realmie, and an Enclave author, and how cool is that? Balance Point is somewhat towards the middle of NJO, and one of my favorites partially because of the author, but also largely because this is the book where Luke and Mara find out they're expecting Ben. Ben Skywalker is precious to me, and Kathy does a really good job writing Luke and Mara. After all, she shipped them right off when she first read The Thrawn Trilogy. This is also where Han and Leia reconcile after Han's difficulties dealing with Chewie's death, and there's great stuff with the Solo kids too. It's well written and on the whole, Kathy does a good job with the characters. It's a good one.

11. Traitor by Matthew Stover 

Matthew Stover has the kind of talent writers dream of. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what about his writing is so good, but his talent seems to be well recognized among both the fandom at large and the other Expanded Universe writers. This is the story of Jacen's experience as a Yuuzhan Vong POW, and it just really delves deep into who Jacen is, philosophy, emotions, torture...all the things. What really floors me is how he can effectively switch between past and present tense in a way that feels totally natural and really packs a punch and is just perfection. I'm not sure many—if any—other authors could pull that off. And for Stover it works so well. It's a very character-focused book, which I love, really explains a lot of what Jacen does in the future, and is just good. The bit where Jacen went home to his family's apartment on Vong-formed Coruscant and sat there lethargic and hallucinating his dead brother broke me.

10. Soulminder by Timothy Zahn

This one was rather different. It's not exactly a novel so much as several stories about the same topic. Dr. Adrian Sommers, who lost his son in a car accident, devotes his life to developing Soulminder—a technological marvel that temporarily captures the human soul to be reunited with the body once the body has been repaired. A device that could have saved his son’s life. But not everyone thinks of Soulminder as simply a medical miracle. There are other ways to use it, and the ways it is corrupted get worse and worse. Sommers was warned that Soulminder could become a demon. And now he has to decide what to do about it. It's odd, but fascinating, and really makes you think deeply about your immortal soul, ethics, death, and what it truly means to be alive. It's also the only non-Star Wars Zahn book I've read and I do believe I should read more.

9. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Full disclosure: This one made me cry. I was 100% bawling in the car on the way home from teaching violin while I was listening to this book. Rose Howard has high functioning autism, a single dad who doesn’t understand her and only gets mad when she acts like herself, a beloved uncle, a beloved dog named Rain (reign, rein), and an obsession with homonyms and prime numbers. (I personally prefer numbers that are a power of a whole number, but that’s okay. Rose can like her prime numbers.) Rain gets lost during a hurricane and Rose has to find her. But what ensues, well, some things happened that I wasn’t expecting and there were jaw drops and tears. While I was driving, mind you, since this was my car audiobook. I don’t want to give spoilers, but read this book. The ending felt a tad abrupt, but that’s really the only complaint I have about it. I love Rose and I love Uncle Weldon, I can’t stand Rose’s dad, and I have so many emotions about this book. So just go read it.

8. The Messengers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Did Margaret Peterson Haddix release a new book? Yes? Then obviously it's on my top books of the year post. I reread the previous books in this series via audio in preparation for the release, and I'm glad I did. This series, like the rest of Haddix's books, is fabulous. Secret codes, mysterious events, the kidnappings of children with the same names and birthdays as the three main characters...putting duct tape over my mouth right now because if I say anything else I’ll definitely tread into dangerous spoiler territory. This one was very good and I feel like it was especially relevant. Seek truth. Make your own choices. Don’t blindly believe what your leaders say. Don’t live in fear and despair. And love others. Help them. Because nothing combats fear and lies like love and truth. Is it the strongest book of the series? No. Ending series still isn't Haddix's strong suit, though I'd certainly argue that this book was a far better ending than the final book of The Missing (which is still my top favorite Haddix series despite the last book having a different protagonist than the first seven). And while I may not have talked up Haddix books on here the way I have others *cough* Elven Alliance *cough* y'all definitely need to check out her books. There's a reason she's one of my favorite authors and I already have her next book on hold at the library even though it doesn't come out until March.

7. Hunger by Jill Williamson

Now, I probably should have reread Thirst before I read Hunger. I had to pull it out a few times to refresh my memory. ("Wait, how did Hannah hurt Eli's hand again?") But even so, it was great. Having read The Safe Lands now, it was really cool making all the connections about why different things became the way they were, how different family lines ended up in different places, etc. I'm not quite sure what to say about this book that won't spoil it and/or The Safe Lands, but disease, questionable “government,” danger, intrigue, PTSD, drama 🙄 Jaylee 😜, Eli is awesome, I love Hannah, and go read these books and The Safe Lands. Because they’re awesome. I wanted to reread Safe Lands after this, but I'd have to get the first two from the library, and I've had so many new-to-me books to read I just haven't gotten to it. Plus, I do most of my rereading on audio these days. Hint, Jill?

6. Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham

So far, this is my favorite NJO book for a couple of reasons. (1) It's character-driven and well-written. The writing of some Star Wars books is mediocre at best, but that's certainly not the case with this one. (2) The author read the Young Jedi Knights series before writing this and it shows. There are certainly times when characters get mischaracterized in SW, particularly when children's book characters are brought into the adult books. Not the case in Dark Journey. Elaine Cunningham showed herself to have an in-depth knowledge of the Solo kids and their friends. (3) Hapan politics is fascinating. Hapes is a mess of power plays and backstabbing and assassination attempts, and it makes a fascinating and dangerous setting for Jaina to work out her grief over the loss of her brothers...a grief that leads her towards the Dark Side. (4) Jag Fel is back! I've loved Jag since I first met him in Fate of the Jedi (yes, I read SW ridiculously out of order), but when early in NJO he told off crooked, conniving, self-centered, just plain awful politician Borsk Fey'lya, he cemented himself as one of my favorite SW characters. Jag is just 😍. Plus I'm a big fan of Jaina Solo. Even though she's spiraling into a dark place in this book. I mean, she just tragically lost both her brothers and she's too much like her father to handle it well. (Apparently the GR reviews of this one are mostly bad? Whatever. I loved it.)

5. Dangerous Secrets by Mari Mancusi

I may be a little stitious because after starting off 2020 with a Frozen II tie-in novel, I wasn't sure I wanted to start off 2021 with a Frozen II tie-in novel. But my love of Frozen won out and I got it from the library anyway. Did it cast bad luck on 2021? Maybe. 😂 Anyway, this is my favorite Frozen book I've read. I mean, I've only read three, but still. This is the story of Iduna and Agnarr, Elsa and Anna's parents. It took me a few chapters to get into it because it started off just rehashing backstory from Frozen II, but once it got into original material, it was fabulous and amazing and I loved it. Iduna is keeping the secret that she's actually Northuldra, but she can't do that forever. Especially since she and Agnarr are becoming more than just friends. It was just a really good story, it really pulled me into the world of Frozen, and I'd consider it a must-read for every Frozen fan.

4. Apprentice by Kristen Young

Realmie book! The instant I saw this book in the Realm Makers bookstore, I knew I had to have it. The cover just spoke to me. Then when it won several Realm awards and they read an excerpt during the announcement, I doubly knew I had to have it. I didn't get around to it until Thanksgiving break, but then I read it in two days. And now I desperately need book 2. Apprentice Kerr Flick remembers everything... except for anything that happened to her before she was five. She wants to be the best of the best in the Love Collective, and her perfect memory may get her there, but then she starts having strange and frightening hallucinations that threaten to disrupt her understanding of all she knows. It's a dystopian, and as a dystopian reader, it's pretty obvious what the Love Collective truly is, even if it isn't to Kerr Flick, but that didn't matter to me. I still loved it to pieces and dreamed about the characters the night I finished it. Sif! 😭 And I need Elite

3. Escape From Falaise by John Flanagan 

New Ranger's Apprentice book? Of course it's on my list. (I feel like if you've been following me for a couple years and have a general knowledge of what books came out in a given year, you can pretty well predict a good portion of my list.) I may have told multiple professors about this series the week it came out because I just couldn't help myself. I may also have jabbered on about the series to coworkers. I wouldn't say Escape From Falaise is the strongest book in the series since at times it felt a little rushed, but I still loved it and read it in two days during Thanksgiving break. Will and Maddie and Halt and Horace! I love them all so dearly and any time I get to spend with them is well worth it. At the end of the last book, Will and Maddie were captured while trying to rescue a kidnapped prince, and this book sees them out of that cliffhanger and through the end of the adventure. I definitely listened to the "one more chapter" lie way too many times when I was in the middle of this book, but I was on break. Sleep deprivation is okay. Also, if you haven't read Ranger's Apprentice yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?

2. Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

I cried. And then I walked up the stairs and handed it to my mom, and she cried too. Megs Devonshire’s little brother George, who has a terminal heart condition, becomes captivated by the new book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and has to know where Narnia came from. Since Megs goes to Oxford, he begs her to find out. Jack and Warnie invite Megs over repeatedly to tell her stories of their lives, but it doesn’t explain Narnia to her…or does it? It may not be able to be explained in a concrete, mathematical manner like Megs wants, but it’s life changing nonetheless. I read this book in a single day, the last day of Thanksgiving break, and I loved it so incredibly much. As a Narnia and C.S. Lewis fan, it filled something in me I hadn't realized needed to be filled, and it's just such a beautiful (and heartbreaking) book. Narnia fans everywhere, do not miss this book.

1. Troll Queen and Pretense by Tara Grayce 

I don't yet have a copy of Pretense, so this photo will have to do. ESSIE AND FARRENDEL ARE SO ADORABLE AND EDMUND AND JALISSA ARE SO ANGSTY BUT THEIR STORY IS PERFECT AND ALL THE DANGER AND INTRIGUE AND ALL THE FLUFFINESS AND YES, ALL CAPS ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Ahem. I can't say a ton about the storyline without giving spoilers for earlier books, but Elven Alliance remains amazing, I read them as quickly as is possible, and I want a Farrendel. Farrendel as a college student is adorable and Farrendel excited about becoming [redacted] is even more adorable and I love it so much. Also, I really like the fake dating trope, which is how Edmund and Jalissa's story plays out. And...okay, I'm having trouble determining what would be spoilery and what wouldn't, so I'd better put some duct tape over my mouth now just in case. Read Elven Alliance. And fangirl over Farrendel with me.


Honorable mention goes to the Unblemished Trilogy by Sara Ella and Brand of Light by Ronie Kendig for being awesome, though it was a little difficult to keep all the characters straight, and to Bluebeard and the Outlaw and Stolen Midsummer Bride by Tara Grayce for also being awesome, if a little short. For the full list of books I've read in 2021, click here.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Free and 99¢ eBooks!


The indie author Black Friday book sale is back! There's a lot of great stuff on there, including some of my favorites, like Elven Alliance and Ilyon Chronicles. Plus several of my books are on sale! You don't want to miss it!





Monday, November 15, 2021

My Brain is a Series of Gifs

 

It's...been awhile. Partly because school, partly because at the beginning of October I got Covid, and then once I was better I had to play catch up on life/school and now it's getting towards finals and yeah. It's been crazy.


So yes, I survived Covid.


Sorry/not sorry for all the gifs. If you can't spam people with gifs, what's even the point in life? Also, this is the state of my brain right now, and I don't even have as many papers to write as my sister.


Ahem. I mean my experience with Covid. Actually, while I was pretty miserable for a few days, it wasn't like I was being tortured with The Machine.


Fever: not fun. Stomach ache: also not fun. Exhaustion: not fun either. The migraine that messed up my stomach again when I thought I was on the mend: super annoying. Strange/reduced smell/taste: bizarre. But I only ran a fever for about two days as opposed to over a week last time I had the flu, and also, I got bronchitis last time I had the flu and no secondary infection with Covid. And thankfully, my taste and smell seemed to go back to normal after a week or two. But it was weird while it lasted. And hey, I'm recovered now and yay for natural immunity.

Um...what else has been happening? School. I'm pretty much done with my argument paper about speculative fiction in the Christian community. It's been a fun paper to write. And for some reason, even though I never used to be able to write with the TV on, with this paper, I can't seem to write without it. Cue the Merlin binge.


Best. Show. Ever.


Should I ramble on about this show and how absolutely, positively fantastic it is and how much I love these characters, especially Arthur because in spite of his flaws he has such a good heart and he grows so much and is one of my all time favorite fictional characters? No? Maybe? Or, well, I've done that a couple times already. It's seriously the best show, even though it throws me to go back to the beginning and see good Morgana again. 

I was also watching it while writing a history paper about how the Magna Carta challenged King John's absolute power...while watching Uther exercise his absolute power to sentence Gwen's father to death for consorting with a sorcerer. And all I could think was


Uther is so awful.


Though NO ONE is as bad as THIS guy.


He's seriously THE WORST. All the hatred for Agravaine for manipulating Arthur into making horrible decisions, keeping Arthur and Gwen apart, sabotaging Camelot, getting Gaius kidnapped and tortured, making Arthur doubt his true friends, and just being an all round horrible human being.

Okay, I meant to have a more profound, coherent blog post than this. But this is apparently the state of my brain right now. (And also dreams that are basically modern AU self-insert Star Wars fanfics where Jacen Solo holds me hostage and I escape him by going into a library where my dad rescues me...even though I avoid both modern AUs and self-inserts like the plague. Modern AUs are stupid. And my brain is a strange place.) 

Anyway, Thanksgiving is next week, and I always hate to be like this because Thanksgiving isn't about shopping, but it does mean I'll have several of my books on sale (or free!) on kindle for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. And like most years, there's a group of us involved in the sale. So stay tuned!

And Acktorek-wise...Covid derailed my series planning, but that's on my Christmas break to-do list...along with watching Lord of the Rings. Extended edition, naturally. I might have mentioned I'm looking forward to Christmas break in several different German assignments. I know it'll go by way too fast. But I plan to enjoy every second of no homework and no 8 am classes.

Because once I get to Christmas break, for this semester, at least


So, um

Monday, September 20, 2021

I Still Exist!

Sorry I've been gone so long. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here before, but I've never been good with change or disruptions to my routine. And starting college has definitely been a major change in my routine. Especially since this night owl scheduled herself 8 am classes every day. 35-40 minutes away on a good traffic day, leaving early enough to beat the rush hour traffic. Knowing that she'll get migraines and/or stomach aches if she doesn't get enough sleep which means going to bed several hours earlier than she likes.

Wasn't I brilliant?

So yeah, it's been a pretty major change and a little overwhelming, and a lot of other things going on including routine but expensive car repairs and finding out I have osteoarthritis in my right foot (yay, ballet!). But I think I've finally started to settle in and get a handle on what I'm doing (I say as I just finished a 4 test week that had me swamped). Hey, I've started sneaking in a few minutes of reading when I'm waiting for my classes to start, I'm on my fifth Ranger's Apprentice audiobook of the semester (commutes are good for something), I'm loving my statistics class (who knew? actually, I was really looking forward to that one), and in general I like being in school. Which I guess is a good thing given that I'm getting a degree in education so school will be my life.

Writing? What's that?

Okay, so I haven't exactly been writing other than adding bits and pieces to random fanfics, BUT that isn't to say I've been ignoring Acktorek. See, going to Realm Makers always seems to tell me I'm missing major pieces in my current WIP. And while the sessions didn't point out all of the missing pieces, they started a snowball effect of noticing all the pieces I don't have. One of the big ones was a series goal.

See, this episodic series format is TOTALLY different from anything I've ever written before. The only series I've written was Time Captives and that actually wasn't intended to be a series. It was one book that kept ballooning until I had to split it into first two then three (two really didn't work structure-wise). Also, Acktorek wasn't originally intended to be a series at all. It started out as a short story from a writing prompt, became a non-serious novel project just to learn to have fun writing again no-stress, then became a serious novel, then I decided to leave it open for a sequel in case I had ideas, then I had a tiny spark of a concept idea and jumped into a sequel knowing next to nothing about what I was doing with it. Sounds like a terrific process, right? Nope.

I want it to be a series because I love the concept, I love Emma and Mitchell, and I have tiny sparks of ideas that I want to develop into full novels. Like space pirates. But even aside from my book specific villains not having a well-defined plan (obvious issue), I realized I really needed something more coherent to tie everything together.

I started looking at series that I enjoy for guidance. Primarily Timeless (somewhat similar concept except time travel, not world travel), and Jedi Apprentice (one of the major inspirations behind Acktorek the company and the concept of the series/structure). I also looked a bit at Jedi Quest, Young Jedi KnightsMonk, and Ranger's Apprentice, though not as much. Some things I noticed were the existence of overarching storylines, recurring villains and other characters, multi-episode/book story arcs and a finale that brings it all together (sometimes that finale is for the series overall, sometimes it's just for the story arc...or sometimes both). 

For instance, in Monk, it may not be explicitly mentioned in every episode, but a series long storyline is Trudy's murder. There are pieces along the way that drive it forward, but it's not actually solved until the series finale. 

In Timeless, they may be in a different time period with different supporting characters in each episode, but you've got a recurring villain (first Flynn, then Rittenhouse and I'm not going to explain that any better because MAJOR spoilers). You have continuing storylines, like Lucy trying to get her sister back after she was erased by their first trip. You also have Wyatt trying to Back to the Future his dead wife back to life. (And things get way complicated and are not at all what you thought they were, but anyway.) And something the writers said about how they chose where to send them stood out to me. They looked at where they needed the characters' emotional arcs to go in that episode and then picked a time period/historical event that could do that for them. 

Jedi Apprentice has multiple story arcs: Xanatos (which has a couple of mini arcs within it, like Melida/Daan), Jenna Zan Arbor, Tahl's kidnapping...and a couple of other books that are more like standalone adventures (my favorite was The Fight for Truth because of baby Siri, but I also liked how the last book brought things full circle by placing Obi-Wan in a situation reminiscent of Melida/Daan and showing how much he's grown and matured since the early part of the series). Then Jedi Quest picks up some of those threads from the previous series with Xanatos's son Granta Omega being the recurring villain, working alongside Jenna Zan Arbor (and Zan Arbor then was a fairly major factor in Last of the Jedi). Not every Jedi Quest book contributes explicitly to the Granta Omega story, but those that don't are still crucial in developing Anakin's emotional journey as well as his relationship with his friends Tru Veld and Darra Thel-Tanis and his rival Ferus Olin, which contributes immensely to the final book titled—wait for it—The Final Showdown. (Super obvious title aside, that book destroyed me as a kid, and again rereading it as an adult, and every time I reread the ending when I pick it up for a moment at the library. I'm never going to get over it. Or the end of Secrets of the Jedi.)

All of this is to say, I've been thinking about how episodic series actually work, and what makes them coherent stories even when each installment takes place in a different time or on a different planet (or in a different world). And I've been brainstorming how to accomplish this in Acktorek based on unexplained things in book one, background worldbuilding I did for the post-RM rewrite of book one, and other things that pop into my head. I'm not going to say what I've come up with because (1) it's not solidified yet, and (2) *River Song voice* spoilers, but I'm coming up with stuff. Hopefully it will revolutionize the series and make things really work (and be amazing, obviously). And you're not going to know where it's all heading for awhile because I'm not going to spill, but it will be heading somewhere. (And then maybe I'll rework a plot I came up with for a different project as a next generation story. I'm actually pretty excited about the idea of doing that.) Don't know how long it'll take—I'm not the fastest writer even when I'm not in school—but things are happening, if slowly and not in ways that are easy to see and measure.

And now I'm going to go read because every once in a while I manage to find a little time to do something fun.

Ta ta for now!

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Mysterious Benedict Society Show Review

 

The Mysterious Benedict Society season one is complete!

I first read the book years ago and loved it, then listened to it this year to refresh my memory in preparation for the show. I can't say the details of the book are completely ingrained in my head—twice isn't quite enough for that—but still, it's a book I love and I was anxious to see a well done adaptation.

There will be two parts to this review: Spoiler Free and Spoiler Filled (where I'll mostly be talking about specific changes from the book and how I felt about them. Don't worry, I'll give a warning before I head into spoiler territory.

First, what it's about, for those of you who may not know. 
After winning a scholarship competition, four gifted orphans are recruited by the peculiar Mr. Benedict for a dangerous mission to save the world from a global crisis known as The Emergency. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance must infiltrate the mysterious L.I.V.E. Institute to discover the truth behind the crisis. When the headmaster, the sophisticated Dr. Curtain, appears to be behind this worldwide panic, the kids of the Mysterious Benedict Society must devise a plan to defeat him.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. Hollywood has a strong history of completely ruining books, totally missing the point, and stripping out the heart of the story. (A Wrinkle in Time 2017 comes to mind...) This show stuck to the heart of the book, to the message of it, to the main point. It had the same quirky feel, most of the main characters were true to their book counterparts (I'll get into the ones that were not in the spoiler section), and most of the major plot points were the same.

The kids were well cast. The only one I wasn't sure of for a while was Kate, because I just wasn't feeling a lot of emotion from her performance or seeing a lot of variety of facial expression, but she grew on me. And, I mean, she had her bucket! The bucket's a pretty big deal when it comes to the Great Kate Weather Machine. Reynie was great (I've always felt like I related to him the best), Sticky was pretty spot on, and then there's Constance. Constance was fabulous. They did age her up from the book, which I understand was quite necessary and they completely avoided specifying her age, but man. That personality was spot on.

Okay, I'm not sure how much more I can say without a spoiler tag, so here's just some generic comments. It's clean, quirky, fun, relevant to today even though the book came out nearly 15 years ago, enjoyable for all ages, and on the better end of book to screen adaptations, even if it's not at the top of the scale.

****SPOILERS****

Like I said, the casting of the child characters was good. Each child did a good job embodying the heart of his or her character. Constance especially. She's supposed to be obstinate, stubborn, and, well, in the book she's two. Obviously, they couldn't pull that off, but she still managed to embody Constance Contraire's essential contrary characteristics and just make me feel that she is Constance. Number Two, Rhonda, Milligan, and Miss Perumal were well cast as well. The only thing I'm not sure I care for with the casting of Number Two relative to Mr. Benedict is that she doesn't look significantly younger than him. In the book, both Rhonda and Number Two passed Mr. Benedict's tests, but he couldn't put together a team before they grew up, so he ended up adopting them. TBH I thought Kristen Schaal was older than Tony Hale, but she is younger...just not enough for it to make sense for Mr. Benedict to adopt Number Two. So I guess it's a good thing they never really explained why Number Two and Rhonda are there.

Mr. Curtain, or rather Dr. Curtain as they call him in the show, well, he's different. In the book, Mr. Curtain is in a wheelchair and always wears dark glasses so no one will be able to tell when he falls asleep due to his narcolepsy. In the show, no wheelchair, no glasses, and not only do they not really touch on his narcolepsy until the last episode, when Sticky says that his trigger is anger (as it was in the book) Reynie corrects him that it was actually feeling vulnerable. I feel like they tried to humanize him, particularly by making S.Q. Pedalian his adopted son. In the book, S.Q. was an adult executive who was very loyal to Mr. Curtain, didn't see his evil, and wasn't particularly bright, likely all because of being repeatedly brainswept (having his memories erased). In the show, he's a kid, Mr. Curtain's adopted son, and I guess he is still pretty loyal to Mr. Curtain, but a little more willing to see that something's wrong. They also changed up Mr. Curtain and Mr. Benedict's backstory by having them together in the orphanage until they were twelve, at which point, Mr. Benedict was adopted and Mr. Curtain wasn't. This did create some interesting drama between the brothers, and illustrated how even from a young age Mr. Curtain was all about controlling others, but it completely contradicts The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. I don't know, I'm not really on board with the changes to Mr. Curtain and S.Q. It kind of worked, but I would have preferred for them to stick to the book on that. Also, just in general, it seems like they forgot about narcolepsy all together for several episodes. Mr. Benedict should have fallen asleep a lot more than he did, and Mr. Curtain shouldn't have waited until the finale to show any signs of narcolepsy.

I did like how they added a storyline about the adults. The book is primarily from Reynie's POV, so from the time the kids arrive at the L.I.V.E. Institute until the adults actually join them on the island at the end, we really don't know what they're up to, other than watching from shore and sending the kids messages via riddles in Morse code. So it was cool for them actually to have stuff to do. I felt like it added to the story rather than detracting, and it felt authentic to the tone of the whole story.

TBH, I didn't really like the whole tetherball storyline. It wasn't in the book, and it served to make Martina Crowe a sympathetic character. See, in the book she's a dedicated messenger and she hates the Society, mostly, I think, because she feels threatened by how well the boys are doing and how quickly they become Messengers. She's a minor antagonist to them (minor because Mr. Curtain is obviously the primary antagonist). In the show, Kate fake-befriends her to get her keycard (rather than using a code found on a note S.Q. left for himself), then betrays/frames her, then Kate confesses and that makes Martina decide they're friends after all so she helps defend Kate in the finale. It was kind of weird. I don't want Martina to be good.

Which somewhat leads into another change I was disappointed about, though maybe I shouldn't have been? See, in the book, when Kate gets back from her scouting mission, her sneakers are wet, so Reynie spills orange juice on them so there's an obvious reason for that. Jackson and Martina, trying to track down a spy (Kate), don't find the clues they're looking for in her bucket, so the kids think she's safe. Until it's mentioned that Jackson lost his licorice, which is on the bottom of Kate's shoe. The kids pass it around to get it away from Kate, but Constance eats it, and looks a little green, which they blame on a fake stomach bug the boys supposedly had earlier in the book. Which gives the kids the idea to make everyone get a "stomach bug" to ensure that Sticky and Reynie are the only Messengers available for use in the Improvement wherein Mr. Curtain will boost the power on the Whisperer and totally control everyone. They...skip all of that by having Sticky be Mr. Curtain's favorite Messenger. I guess maybe they thought everyone at the Institute puking was a little gross or something, but I was disappointed they changed it.

The Whisperer was (mostly) done very well. The only thing I didn't like about what they did with it was that they had it get to Sticky to the point that he was turned against the Society for about an episode and a half before he snapped out of it. But it was that perfect soothing that's actually secretly sinister and Constance breaking it by simply being her obstinate (and also somewhat psychic) self was fabulous.

All along the way, though, there would be little things out of the books that made me very happy. There were almost no changes to the tests at the beginning, even down to Number Two mistakenly saying that children caught cheating would be executed. 😂 Reynie gave Mr. Curtain ribbon bookmarks so they could spy on his notes, they had to help the girls cheat in class, they did get rid of the mud in the Waiting Room but I guess that's a minor thing, a lot of the riddles were from the book, Milligan was very Milligan and while they didn't delve into his proper reunion with Kate what they did give us was sweet, Miss Perumal still wanted to adopt Reynie, they broke the Whisperer and Mr. Benedict got Mr. Curtain's men to stand down by pretending to be his brother, Mr. Curtain got away so he can wreak havoc in the next installment...

****END SPOILERS****

On the whole, The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+ was an enjoyable, satisfying adaptation. Even if they deviated from the storyline and certain character portrayals at times, they did appear to understand the true heart of the book and Mr. Curtain's plot, as well as who each of the four kids truly is.

Yes, I'm going to nitpick the differences. Always. The Hunger Games movies are pretty darn high on my book-to-screen satisfaction scale and I still nitpick the changes they made with those (particularly the omissions of Madge Undersee and Delly Cartwright and how splitting Mockingjay into two parts totally messed up the story structure...and how they made Gale a nobler character by totally changing the reason he was whipped in CF).

Even so, this is an adaptation I'd watch again. That's definitely a recommendation from me, since I flatly refuse to rewatch Johnny Tremain, Ella Enchanted, The Secret of NIMH, Caddie Woodlawn, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, A Wrinkle in Time (2017), The Westing Game, The Tale of Despereaux, won't even try Percy Jackson...you get the picture. This show isn't perfect, but it's still a good one. The book is still better, as it always is, but this is a good adaptation that hopefully will lead to more of my beloved Society. 


P.S. I don't honestly know how much I'll be blogging going forward. School starts in a week, and until I'm in it, I don't know how much I'll be swamped with homework. Also, with that limited time, working on Acktorek 2 will be more of a priority than blogging, which I'm sure Acktorek fans will appreciate. But I'll try to pop in here once in a while to let you know I'm not dead. 😉