Monday, July 30, 2018

The Once and Future King

Merlin is on Amazon Prime!

A few years back, my family watched every episode of the BBC's Merlin. I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob. It ranks up there at the top, if not at the very top, of my favorite TV shows. Though I have to admit one factor may be that they brought it to a conclusion without ruining it. *glares at Scorpion* When we ended our Netflix subscription, the only thing I was sad about was losing access to Merlin. I even had a hard time listening to the music for awhile, because I'd want to watch this show and I couldn't. Now that it's on Prime, we've started rewatching it, and it's like returning to a very dear old friend I haven't seen in awhile. So today, I'm going to talk about some of the many reasons why I love this show.

The Humor

Let's face it: this show is hilarious. You've got how Merlin is constantly insulting Arthur, and Arthur's awesome responses. Merlin's crazy excuses when he's trying to hide magic. Gwen's adorable awkwardness. Arthur's always thinking Merlin's in the tavern when he's actually off doing something to save Arthur. You've got that episode where Uther marries a troll and Arthur's face is just priceless (don't watch it while you're eating; trolls are disgusting). You've got that part where Arthur starts turning into a donkey, and when he's a simpleton. There's old man Merlin. You've got that time Merlin made death threats against Arthur and Sir Leon just laughs it off. It's all so brilliant.

All the Feels

Goodness, how can a show be so funny and yet so moving? This one is. The love and friendship and camaraderie between the characters. How long Gwen and Arthur are kept apart. Characters dying. Good characters in such a downward spiral becoming the ultimate villain. All the close calls they have and how much the characters care about each other. 

How Gwen doesn't actually have an affair with Lancelot

Everyone knows that in the legends Guinevere and Lancelot have an affair, but the way they handled it in Merlin was the best. SPOILERS While Gwen and Arthur are engaged, Morgana brings back dead Lancelot and enchants Gwen to where Lancelot and Gwen are caught kissing. Gwen's banished for a few episodes, but she and Arthur make it up and get married anyway. The only thing I don't like is that they never discover the enchantment. END SPOILERS

The Character Growth

Arthur grows from a spoiled brat into the best king Camelot has ever known, a man willing to lay down his life for the lowliest person in his kingdom...especially if your name just happens to be Gwen or Merlin. Merlin grows from an idiotic boy who can't stand Arthur and uses magic freely with no thought of consequences to a slightly less idiotic man who regularly risks his life to protect Arthur and uses magic more wisely than before, with saving Arthur in mind. Gwen grows from an awkward and lowly serving girl to a strong and capable queen. Morgana has a downward spiral from a kind and loving voice of reason to a maniac out to destroy Arthur and take the throne for herself, using magic, of course. And we're along for the journey growing and loving and laughing and crying and living along with them.

The Friendships

The friendship between Merlin and Arthur is central to the whole show. At the beginning, they don't get along well, but by the end they're best friends. They're brothers. They rely on each other. They would readily give their lives for each other, and they try on multiple occasions. Merlin, though a manservant, isn't a bit afraid to tell Prince/King Arthur what for. He insults Arthur, tells him when he's being an idiot, encourages him, tells him not to get a big head, and there's no one Arthur would rather have for a manservant. Arthur repeatedly risks everything for Merlin. Uther even threw Arthur in the dungeon once so he wouldn't try to rescue Merlin.

Early on, there's such a camaraderie between Arthur, Merlin, Gwen, and Morgana. They're a foursome. Gwen and Morgana get along well. And of course there's a budding romance between Arthur and Gwen. Gwen tells him off and then apologizes, but it's something Arthur loves about her. Eventually Morgana turns to the dark side and it's sad, but the bonds between Arthur, Merlin, and Gwen only strengthen. I especially love how Arthur is royalty, he has his knights later, who are close to him, but yet his best friend is his manservant, his girlfriend/wife is a serving girl, and his most trusted advisor is the court physician. He is a man of the people.

The Themes

No, I don't love the magic, but for the most part they treat it like an inherent ability that can be used for good or evil, so it could be worse. That aside, the themes of this show are amazing. Over and over again, you see a king who is willing to give his life for his servants, and a servant who will risk it all to serve his king. Hmm, I wonder where we've seen themes like that before? Of course, it's an imperfect example because Arthur isn't perfect—not by a long shot—but still. It's a great picture.

One of my favorite episodes is called "A Servant of Two Masters." I do love it for how funny it is—Merlin has got to be the worst assassin ever—but more than that, I love its illustration of this concept: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." —Matthew 6:24 Merlin is enchanted to serve Morgana instead of his king. He can't do both. When he's serving Morgana, his only thought is to do what is evil, to kill Arthur. When he is serving Arthur, he cannot comprehend serving Morgana's purposes. He hates the one and loves the other, he is devoted to one and despises the other. I don't know if they intended this parallel or realized what the episode title references, but it's there nonetheless and I think it's amazing.

And there's the theme of using our gifts and talents for good. Time and again sorcerers show up in Camelot using their magic for evil. Time and again Merlin puts a stop to them, admonishing them to use their magic for good. To use it to help others. Whenever Merlin himself uses his gift of magic for wrong or selfish or stupid purposes (even if it's just creating shapes in the smoke of a campfire), it backfires. It gets him in trouble. But when he uses his gift for noble purposes, it doesn't. It ultimately comes to good because he's using the gifts he's been given for their true purpose: to serve his King.

There's so much to this show. Such great characters. Such funny moments. Such moving scenes. Such loyalty. Such bravery. Such friendship. And such love that would give all to serve. It's not a perfect show, certainly, but I will always love it. Because it does so well illustrating this truth: 

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." —John 15:13

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Bonus Features: Vannie and Kyle Bonus Scene

This is a scene I wrote awhile back that takes place in between Espionage and its sequel. It sort of bridges the gap between the two and is a game changer in Vannie and Kyle's friendship. Kyle is 19 at this point and Vannie is almost 16. Enjoy!

     I glanced back through the trees, laughing. Kyle wasn’t as fast a rider as me, not in the woods, anyway. I wouldn’t admit that he’d probably let me win. He’d slowed to a walk. I pulled up my horse to wait for him. He caught up moments later.
     “You beat me.”
     I flashed a grin at him. “Of course I did. I’m the faster rider.”
     “So you say.”
     I laughed again, not because he’d really said something funny, but simply because I was happy. Kyle was doing the same. We’d taken the being friends thing very seriously. It was long since I had begun to consider him my best friend in all the world. I couldn’t imagine life without him, honestly. He was as much a fixture in my life as my parents and sisters.
     I squinted up through the trees, trying to determine the time by the waning light. “It’s probably time to go back.”
     “I agree.” Kyle wheeled his horse around. “Come on, let’s go.”
     We walked our horses back, talking and laughing over nothings. I was slightly disappointed when we came in sight of the house, despite how my stomach was rumbling for supper. This lovely day was coming to an end, and soon Kyle would be returning home. He was only nineteen, not yet of age, but he still had duties to perform for his vassalage, particularly as his father remained imprisoned.
     “I’m going to miss you, Kyle,” I said.
     “And I’ll miss you. But we’ll see each other again. We always do.”
     My grin matched his once more. I couldn’t be sad around Kyle. I was too glad that he was there.
     Kyle dismounted at the stable and came to lift me down from my horse. He’d done it hundreds of times—I enjoyed letting him play the gentleman, even though I was perfectly capable of dismounting myself—but something was different. Something in the way I was suddenly conscious of his hands about my waist, or the way our eyes met. It took my breath away. He’d been my best friend for almost seven years now, but I suddenly realized that I loved him. And not with friendship type love, that had always been there, but with a marrying type of love. The sort of love that made me wish he would draw me into his arms and kiss me. The sort of love that made me determine that this was the man I had to spend the rest of my life with.
     I loved Kyle Roland.
     He stood as if frozen for a moment after setting me on the ground, his hands still about my waist, his lips slightly parted as if in surprise. Maybe it wasn’t just me that had had a revelation.
     He started and pulled his hands away. “Sorry, Vannie, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
     I do. But I knew I couldn’t say anything about it. There was that dreadful betrothal business we both had to deal with. “Don’t worry about it.” I couldn’t think of anything more to say without spilling. I didn’t need to.
     “Let’s go in. We both need to change before supper.”
     We left our horses in the care of the groom and headed for the house. I wanted to slip my hand into his. As children, we had held hands quite often. Now, we were often more reserved in our physical contact—it came with being nearly grown up. I didn’t want to remain reserved. I wanted at the very least to hold his hand. But something told me I couldn’t do that.
     Just before we entered the back door, Kyle stopped and turned to me. “What happened a moment ago, we can’t ever speak of it, even to each other. It wouldn’t be appropriate. There are too many reasons why.”
     I nodded slowly, but couldn’t tamp down the swelling inside at Kyle’s mention that something had happened. It hadn’t just been my imagination, it hadn’t just been me. I knew it wasn’t right to speak of it, though. “I know. I won’t.”
     He looked relieved. “Traditions!” he exclaimed.
     I knew just how he felt. And I might never speak of it again, but that would never stop me from thinking of it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Tour My Pinterest Storyboards

Pinterest is a great place for story inspiration. I try not to spend too much time on there (because I can easily be on there for hours) but on the way home from a good friend's out of town wedding a week ago, I did go on and add to some of my storyboards and writing resource boards. Now, my storyboards aren't nearly as full as those of a particular author friend I could mention, but I still enjoy building and looking at them. It helps to get me in the mood for my stories, and makes me want to write. I've been writing snippets and rereading bits of several of my in-progress stories a good bit lately, as well as looking at their storyboards, and I'm just like "I NEED TO WRITE THESE BOOKS!" Unfortunately, writing is slow and I have other commitments that are higher priorities, so I'm still only partway through Acktorek, and can't rewrite Espionage sequel or Cassie.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some of my favorite pins from my WIPs.


Espionage Sequel

Cassie Story

Monday, July 9, 2018

Book Cover Design: A Librarian's Perspective

I've learned a lot about book covers in the 2 1/2 years I've been working at the local library. (Has it really been that long already? Wow.) What looks professional, what doesn't, what belongs in what genre and age group, what looks new and what looks like it was published twenty years ago, and more. I'm absolutely no expert, and honestly, I couldn't probably put a lot of what I've learned into words. It's more just a feeling. A knowing what works and what doesn't, without necessarily being able to put your finger on it. I've just got to learn how to translate that to my own covers.

There's so much variety in covers. Some interesting Photoshop jobs like this one that I love:

Note: I haven't read it, so I can't vouch
for content. It's a prodigal son story.

And then there's how different covers can make books with the exact same title look and feel so completely different. Like these two I once shelved at the same time:

Note: Again, I haven't read either book and can't vouch for
content. I just find the contrast between the two fascinating.

But there are some things even more important to me in cover design as a librarian. I've got me a list.

1. Please, please, PLEASE, if the book is in a series, put the series title and volume number clearly and prominently in a place on the spine that is unlikely to be covered by a library label. 

We have so many series at the library that are difficult, or even impossible to shelve in order. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are difficult because the number is only on the front. Captain Underpants is annoying because it just says stuff like "Another Epic Novel" or "Ninth Epic Novel" on the front cover, and not everyone is dedicated to keeping them in order. Geronimo Stilton puts the number on the bottom of the spine where everybody puts a library label, so on a few of them you can see just enough of the number to put it in order, but not enough to do all of them. Then there are series with no number on them at all. Luckily, I've read Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series, so when a girl came to the desk with #2, I was able to get #1 for her as well so she wouldn't be totally lost.

2. If you wouldn't want your small child to see that cover image, or the cover might cause your child to ask questions you don't want to answer, please don't put it on the book. I don't want little kids to see them, and I don't want to see them either.

Luckily, there haven't been terribly many, but there are some Stuart Woods, James Patterson, and Sandra Brown covers that I regularly turn over on the desk or hide in the middle of a stack of books. When it's on the front cover or on the back, I can conceal it for the most part, but there's nothing I can do about pictures on the spine. And I don't care if the photo is strategic enough to not technically show anything bad—if I can still tell that woman is scantily clad, I'm flipping it over. I'm guilty of shifting Patterson books because I was tired of seeing a woman in a skimpy bathing suit every time I turned down that aisle. And you don't even NEED to put those kinds of pictures on the cover. Fifty Shades is awful, I refuse to read a single word when I'm flipping through to check for damage, and I dread shelving the series, but at least I don't have to flip it over on the desk.

3. On that note, snake books. Just why?

Yes, I flip those over too. They creep me out.

4. Make the children's book covers interesting, please.

I really talked up my experience with The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle to a little girl because our copy had this cover and she'd just decided against a book I hadn't read because it looked boring.

That cover just looks...old. I like this one much better.

She ended up not reading it after all, but I can't be sad because of her reason. She'd started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and was loving it.

5. This is just my personal preference, but it's something I wouldn't necessarily know about without working at the library. What's wrong with realistic style illustrations on children's books? Why must they all look like graphic novels or Pixar knockoffs?

They've redesigned Boxcar Children from my favorite editions.

They've redesigned the A to Z Mysteries (and I really hate the new ones).

Just why? Why ruin the cover?

Then there are times when I wasn't a big fan of the original cover:

So then I like the new cover:

And then they go and change it again to make it look all computer animated:

Am I the only person on the planet who likes to picture characters in juvenile fiction as real people and wants the front cover to help me in that?

I just love covers like these. Please tell me I'm not the only one.

So there you have it: my librarian's perspective on cover design. What are some things you like and dislike in book covers?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Declaration of Independence

"When, in the course of human events..."

This Independence Day, let's remember what we're really celebrating. Not BBQ and fireworks, but freedom. The life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness we enjoy, for which so many people gave their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. I'm proud to be an American.

(Also, please forgive the random neighbor who, through his ignorance, ruined the authenticity of the video by starting to mow his lawn part way through. 😉 )