Monday, January 28, 2019

Look Away

So I've been busy lately and I keep getting colds, so I'm not in the mood (and don't have the brain power) to write anything profound, so I'm going to talk A Series of Unfortunate Events. Because we just finished watching it, and it's one of the things on my brain these days. Spoilers ahead.

I would have loved these books as a kid. Unfortunately, I didn't read them until I was an adult. Actually, though, I listened to most of them. I love audiobooks. And I love the Netflix show too*. The movie...not so much. It was too dark, besides the fact that they just didn't have time to tell the whole story. I mean, ASOUE is dark, but dark to be satirical.

I've always loved orphan stories, ever since I was a little girl seeing Annie for the first time. How could I not love ASOUE? I love that it's an orphan story. I love that it's a sibling story. I love that it's a mystery, though the VFD mystery doesn't become a big deal until about halfway through in the books.

I love how it's dark and hilarious at the same time. It's ridiculous, to the point of not being able to take it seriously, but the show takes itself seriously—Princess Bride style—so that it is funny. And all the VFDs. XD Vernacularly Fastened Door. Very Fresh Dill. Verbal Fridge Dialogue. Very Fancy Doilies. Village of Fowl Devotees. Volunteers Fighting Disease. Volunteer Feline Detectives. And of course, the real VFD, the secret organization called...the Volunteer Fire Department. Devoted to putting out the literal and figurative fires in the world. Only Count Olaf can't ever remember the difference between literal and figurative. But the Baudelaires can because they're very smart and read lots of books.

I love the characters. Obviously Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. I love how good Violet is at inventing, how good a researcher Klaus is, how good at biting Sunny is...and later at cooking. Some of the best things are the translations of what Sunny says. That baby! And isn't she just about the most adorable thing ever? Because obviously, no matter what she says, Carmelita Spatts is not adorable. But Sunny absolutely is.

And I love the Quagmires. Especially Quigley of course. Quigley's the best. I only wish the show told us what happened to the Quagmires later. It's a little better in the show, because in the books, the Quagmires get attacked by the Great Unknown, and you don't know for sure if they managed to survive it. Headcanon they did. In the show, you see Quigley joining his siblings on Hector's self-sustaining hot air mobile home, and nothing else afterwards. In neither case do we get an answer to the question all fans have: Do Violet and Quigley see each other again?

Count Olaf is...interesting. Neil Patrick Harris did a fabulous job playing him. He's such a balance, because you have to believe that he's willing to kill the Baudelaires—and that he did kill Uncle Monty, Aunt Josephine, Jacques Snicket, etc.—but his stupidity and utter ridiculousness has to be believable at the same time. Neil Patrick Harris totally pulled it off. (And as a side note, my family has actually seen him in person. He was our Candlelight Processional narrator at Walt Disney World way back.) And Olaf's disguises. Stefano, the herpetologist's assistant. Captain Sham, the sea captain. Shirley, the optometrist's receptionist. Coach Genghis, the P.E. teacher who wears a turban. Gunther, a very handsome, foreign man. Oh, Olaf. XD

Then there's Lemony Snicket. He's the author('s penname), but a character and a literary device. Patrick Warburton was the perfect choice for Lemony Snicket. I love the way they handled the narration in the show. Lemony Snicket is there onscreen, but not usually in the same time frame as the Baudelaires, narrating events, so often using narration from the book. And oh, how I love the narration.
 “Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness.”
 “People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”
“If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.”
"‘Austere’ - a word which here means that Mr. Remora’s stories were particularly boring, Mrs. Bass’ obsession with the metric system was particularly irritating, and Nero’s administrative demands were particularly difficult."
"The expression “following suit” is a curious one, because it had nothing to do with walking behind a matching set of clothing. If you follow suit, it means you do the same thing somebody else has just done. If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge into the icy waters of an ocean or river, for instance, and you jumped in right after them, you would be following suit. You can see why following suit can be a dangerous thing to do, because you could end up drowning simply because somebody else thought of it first."
Though I can't say I love that it ends rather inconclusively. But that's a stylistic choice that's in keeping with the rest of the series, so any other way wouldn't exactly fit. Still, I want to know what happened to them later.

I love how well the show follows the books. It tells the whole story fairly accurately, but deepening the VFD plot and introducing it much sooner. I just don't like how nobody gets the end of The Reptile Room right (it was better in the book), and they changed event that was the second reason The Slippery Slope was my favorite book and part of the reason I wrote this post. But my other reason it's my favorite is Quigley, so...

I love how things aren't black and white. There's definite right and wrong, but sometimes it's hard to tell. You never purposely perform a villainous act. The Baudelaires and Quigley determined that in the book of The Slippery Slope. But there are times when you're faced with two bad options and you have to choose one of them. Like burning down a hotel so maybe people can escape or letting Count Olaf definitely kill them all with the Medusoid Mycelium. Sometimes you'll make a bad choice that you'll later regret, but you still have to choose. And when stories deal with deep stuff like that, they're certainly not fluff. I love deep children's stories.

There's so much I love about A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's a great story, and I'm so glad I finally discovered it.

*I don't love the gay references—all that could be considered such in the books is the subtle implication that Charles and Sir might possibly be together—but it was minor. Like Larry-Your-Waiter making some random comment about his "mothers" kind of thing. Easy to miss. Everyone with a significant other on the show (with the possible exception of Charles and Sir) is straight.

Monday, January 21, 2019

On Disney Movies, Juvenile Fiction, and the Child in All of Us

Who doesn't love Disney?

Okay, I know there are people. I'm just never going to understand them. A lot of non-Disney geeks seem to think Disney World is for kids. A lot of adults don't want to watch animated movies anymore. And even more adults don't read children's books anymore. There was a patron at the library a month or two ago who just couldn't fathom why I still read lots of juvenile fiction. But there's just something about it that's so much more wonderful than a lot of adult books.

I started thinking about this because last week I was making music note paper flowers for a good friend's sweet sixteen, while watching Frozen. In my room, by myself, after listening to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. I'd wanted to watch the animated Beauty and the Beast, but it isn't on Netflix right now, and I didn't feel like hunting it up when Frozen was right there. Frozen...which I love enough that the library youth coordinator and I are planning a Frozen party at the library in a few weeks.

I've also been watching Veggie Tales again. No, we don't have any little kids in the house and I rarely babysit anymore, but I still love Veggie Tales. They're great.

My family is watching A Series of Unfortunate Events...based on a children's book series I finished reading just a year ago as an adult.

I reread several Madeleine L'Engle books last year...children's books.

My love for Narnia will never fade.

The other day, someone turned in The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I took it with me on my break to reread some of my favorite parts.

Why do I love children's books, children's movies, even children's rides? (Yes, I like Fantasyland. It's awesome.) Part of it is nostalgia. Veggie Tales makes me think of being a kid. So do certain Disney movies. But that's not the case for all of them. I didn't see Beauty and the Beast until I was twelve and a half (stupid Disney vault). I didn't read A Series of Unfortunate Events until I was an adult. Frozen didn't even come out until I was seventeen. So why do I unapologetically love things meant for children? I think C. S. Lewis said it best:

"It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty–except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for crême de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey."
I honestly get so much more out of A Wrinkle in Time now than I did when I first read it at seven. Same with Narnia. They're just as much worth reading now as they were when I was a kid.

What is it about things of childhood? One thing I love is the innocence. It's for children, it's not likely to have a lot of junk in it. Little House is so refreshing in that way, as I discovered when I reread the Caroline books at age 16.

I love the wonder. The imagination. The beauty of life, not clouded by the cynicism of adulthood. Not that there aren't adversaries. I mean, my favorite childhood stories are grand battles of good vs. evil. But there's such hope and beauty in it.

I've found that children's books actually deal with some pretty deep subjects. The best ones do, anyway. Children don't like being talked down to, and they have a much greater capacity for understanding things than people give them credit for. That's why the authors who understand that when they write for children write books that appeal to all ages. And that childhood wonder and open-mindedness and thirst for new information makes them more open to the hard subjects than adults are. I like what Madeleine L'Engle said on the subject:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” 
Kids get it. And the grown-ups in touch with their inner child do as well.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is about a magical land cursed by a witch to be always winter and never Christmas, the children who are prophesied to come, and the Great Lion who sacrifices himself for them and is resurrected.

A Wrinkle in Time is about fighting the evil in the universe and realizing that we are all created different from each other for a reason, and that love conquers all.

Beauty and the Beast is about how it's what's on the inside that counts, that what matters is that you have a kind heart willing to sacrifice your own wishes for those you love.

Veggie Tales, well, it's about Bible stories acted out by talking vegetables. Y'know, the king wants someone else's rubber ducky; Rack, Shack, and Benny are going to be thrown in the fiery furnace for not bowing down and singing "The Bunny Song" to the giant chocolate bunny. That sort of thing.

Yes, sometimes children's stories are sometimes a little silly (who doesn't like "Oh, Where Is My Hairbrush?" though?), but if you look to the heart of them, there's something there for all of us. No matter how young we are, no matter how old we get. The children's stories that matter will endure. 
That depth, that wonder, that imagination, that is why I still read children's books, watch animated movies, and sing Disney songs. That's why I write children's books that are really for everyone. Because I'll always love them, and I know there are plenty of people out there who do too, whether they'll admit it or not.

Besides, who doesn't want the forest animals to come help them clean the house?

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Acktorek Story

No, I'm not going to tell you what it's all about. *River Song voice* "Spoilers." What I want to talk about is the process behind it. This is coming on the heels of last year's second post of the year: My Problem With Writing How-To. And I may tell you some tidbits about the storyline along the way. ;)

Acktorek was born on October 10, 2017. I'd written a super messy draft of the Espionage sequel that year which contained a lot of "I'll write this later" type sections. It was pretty bad. Vannie and Kyle were the only characters that actually had personality. (Thanks to Kendra, I have about three pages from Kermit's POV where I actually figured out who he is, but it didn't really make him come alive in the rest of the book.) Their one-on-one scenes were the only scenes that really had emotion. I could tell my imagination just wasn't alive. Trying to stick to a predetermined structure only made it worse. Writing was like pulling teeth. So I went on Pinterest and looked at dialogue prompts.

This was the prompt I chose. And the dialogue never made it into the story I started writing. 510 words of Emma and her sister Carla. In a destroyed city. The charred remains of aliens/beings from another world around them. Carla, with strange powers, controlled by a force that was not of her. And Mitchell arriving (able to fly?) in a soldier's uniform to stop her.

I went to bed that night, wondering at where the unfinished short story had come from, feeling as if it was the climax of a novel. The next day, I started the book. I decided to throw planning to the wind. I had no idea how long the book was going to be, I had only a vague idea of where I was going with it, I didn't even know if I would finish it. But I jumped in anyway. (And by the way, don't ask where the word "Acktorek" came from. I haven't the faintest idea.)

Normally, I'd let story ideas simmer awhile. Even before I got into the writing how-to. This was because when I'd just jumped into half-baked ideas, I'd run out of steam after a chapter or two, if I even got that far. So it's rather a miracle that I actually finished Acktorek and finished relatively strong.

Now, that does mean that there are a lot of plot holes. When I started the book, I had the idea that there were these beings from another world, called Acktorek, who had accidentally come to another planet in our universe, and were trying to use Carla as a portal to go home. But they were otherwise peaceful. Basically, the idea of the original Acktorek was like if hobbits came through a portal and landed on Mars. Mitchell was actually going to use that analogy to explain it to Emma. I tried to make that scene follow my original conception, didn't work. Mitchell's a much nicer guy than I'd originally thought.

I discovered much along the way. For instance, the other-world race isn't called Acktorek. They're the Zambina, and it's the company Mitchell works for that's called Acktorek. And the Zambina aren't trying to go home, they're trying to come here. But Carla as a portal generator? That's what the whole story is built around.

The dynamics of Emma and Mitchell's relationship evolved in a way I didn't expect. Mostly because I couldn't break through her walls enough to get her to voluntarily go on a date with him. But I like the progression better the way it turned out. It does need work, though. There's a lot about the book that's messy. Like my lack of knowledge of how the portals work until over halfway through. And a Certain Character not knowing anything about certain events that I later discovered he knew ALL about. But that's why it's a rough draft.

And honestly, blazing that trail of discovery is what I love most about writing a book. It's so much work to plan it all out ahead of time. Not that writing a book isn't work, or shouldn't be work. But in my devotion to having everything figured out ahead of time, I forgot how much fun it is to make it up as I go along. To discover new things at every twist and turn. To let a story flow organically the way it wants to be told. The best stuff happens when you just write. I think I've finally kicked my analytical side out of the creative process. Its job is to clean up the mess that my runaway imagination creates. And strangely enough, my runaway imagination creates less of a mess when my analytical side stays out of it.

Now on to the Espionage sequel!

Monday, January 7, 2019

2018 In Review

How is it that a year can simultaneously feel like it flew by and like it took at least a decade? If anybody ever solves that mystery, please let me know. Like, I can't believe it's already 2019, but when I look back at pictures from the beginning of 2018, it seems like that was ages ago.

So last winter, we kept having snow and ice and ice and snow. And it got old. This winter, it's rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain...and I am so SICK of rain. But I digress. The snow was pretty, but I'm good with one snowstorm per winter. I mean, there's a reason I live in Georgia.

Sometime in January or so, I started doing ballet for exercise. I was really good about keeping up with it until we went out of town for spring break. Since then, it's been quite sporadic, but oh, well.

My "Recording Studio"

Also in January, I started my successful run of Creighton Hill audiobook recording. Let me tell you, I have immense respect for audiobook narrators now. Audiobook recording is hard. And tedious. And frustrating. But hey, eight months later, my audiobook was available on Amazon! Now I need to get serious about recording The Crossways. I'm (I think) about a quarter of the way through, but I keep stopping.

Carrie Mouse storyboard

As books came back into the library from Christmas, I came across Barbara Reid's The Night Before Christmas, and the light bulbs went on for Carrie Mouse and the Giant Garage. We created a storyboard, my sister Rebekah sculpted illustrations, I rewrote the text from when I was seven, and an old project finally started to come to life!

My Groundhog Day display

In the interim between youth coordinators at the library, I did the displays. These were my groundhogs. They were a lot of fun to make and everyone seemed to love them. They're still hanging around, so we may be putting them out again soon. Right now, we've got paper snowflakes on the windows. Yes, I made paper snowflakes at work. So did one of my coworkers. Hey, it's a small town library. What else are we going to do on Saturday? It looks really pretty too.

We got a new youth coordinator sometime around February/March. She's AWESOME. She's a lot of fun to work with, and we've done a lot of awesome projects with her. More on those later.

Early in the year, I switched Acktorek over from the computer to a notebook. I write better by hand. This book was such a good writing experience. It was hard to find the time, sometimes hard to focus, but it did so much to help me climb out of the writing slump I'd been in for the past several years. I finished it just before the new year. It still needs a lot of work, but it's the most usable thing I've written in the past several years and I love it.

I tried vlogging. Um...that didn't last. Videos are SOOOOOO much more work than blog posts. I enjoyed it, but it just takes too much time that I don't have.

3D printer adventures

We got a 3D printer at the library! It's actually still quite mesmerizing, even all these months later. I learned my lesson about using a knife to clean off supports, though. I sliced an approximately 1/4" long flap in my finger, and I still have a scar. I guess it matches the scar from slicing through my hand cutting the plastic off ice cream while babysitting. And the dog bite and plastic laundry basket scars on my other hand.

I took piano lessons all year, which has been great. It's been rather a challenge to stop thinking like a violinist while playing piano, but I've learned a ton. I don't like performing piano any more than I used to, but I've got more experience.

My dad, sisters, and me at Driftwood Beach
(my mom was taking the picture)

We went to St. Augustine for a few days during spring break. My cousin's doppelganger was there. Seriously. This guy looked so much like my cousin it was scary. They're even the same age. We also visited Jekyll Island and Driftwood Beach. There was a lot about Florida history we learned that I guess I never paid much attention to. I mean, Florida wasn't one of the thirteen colonies, so I must have just ignored it during the colonial period. But it was quite interesting.

My mom's birthday post

I turned "real old, like, 22" in April. Which is weird. My mom decided to pull together her pictures of me cleaning from over the years. When I was little, I apparently thought cleaning was fun. I'm not sure why. I actually asked for cleaning supplies for my eighth birthday and was excited about it. I used my sponges playing that I was a servant in a castle. Now, well, I don't like cleaning, but I hate messes worse.

Our church went on a hike for Mother's Day. Tallulah Gorge is really pretty, I'll admit that, but man, is it hard on your legs! LOTS of steps. The waterfalls are worth it, though. And my then-seven-year-old bestie (she just turned eight) kept asking me to take her picture, so I have quite a few of those. ;)

More library displays! I drew a sign for a classics table, and several of us put together a "blind date with a book" table. It was a ton of fun. And I got to draw at work!


We had a recital week. First, Rebekah had a cello recital, then I had my students' recital, which was amazing, and then my youngest sister, Addy, and I had a piano recital.

My family and me before the parade.

Campaign season again! We just had a general election opponent this time around, so we didn't do door to door until later, but we did walk in a parade and go to a BBQ. It was great, and the float we walked with was fabulous. Plus, I was able to listen to An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle on my phone while waiting for the parade to start.

That weekend, we went to the wedding of a longtime friend of mine. (Destiny, who I went to visit last year, to see her play. She actually met her now-husband in that play.) Our families have known each other since we were little kids. Before her "little" brother became a giant. It was seriously the most fun wedding I've ever been to. None of my pictures were any good, but the memories are terrific, and I'm so happy for Destiny and her husband. They're fun, and crazy, and just perfect for each other.

In July, I got officially hooked on Ranger's Apprentice. That series is amazing. And I already wrote way too much about it, so moving on...

I finished my cataloguing project! Though I haven't done my Christmas books yet. And I keep getting used books from the library and Goodwill, so I'm out of room.

I started some new students in August...a four and a six year old. They're some of the cutest kids ever and I love teaching them, but I will say, it takes a lot of creativity to teach a four-year-old to read music. I've drawn animals on notes (she loves playing "elephant") and made a custom music dry erase board (they both enjoy drawing on it), but the most popular thing seems to be the store-name rhythm sticks. We clap "Hooome De-pot" (half, quarter, quarter), "Ho-bby Lo-bby" (quarter, quarter, quarter, quarter), "Ta-co Beeell" (quarter, quarter, half), and "Good-will" (half, half), but the perennial favorite is "Loooowe's" (whole note). My student is so adorable when she pulls out the red sticks and claps and sings "Loooowe's." I'll never think of the stores the same way again.

We went on a trip to Pennsylvania and DC that was one of the best vacations ever. We saw SOOOO many amazing history-related things. It's so surreal standing in places like Independence Hall where so much history was made. There was definitely an information overload, but it's a vacation I'll never forget.

Carrie Mouse came out! It was a lot of work, and I'm stiiiiiill making little purple sweaters (with my mom's help, they just take soooo long), but I'm super excited about the way it turned out. Little seven-year-old me could never have imagined it.

Me and Bob
We made a scarecrow at the library! Our town has a scarecrow contest every fall, and this time, our youth coordinator thought it would be a lot of fun for us to enter. She put together the head and stand and donated the hay and gloves, the circ manager donated the clothes and boots, I made the hat and face, and the youth coordinator and I (with some help from her husband...and a lot of hay strings, tape, and fishing line) put him together. I named him Bob, and he won third in the contest. It was fantastic. :)

Door to door happened, and election night happened, and Barry Loudermilk won the race for Congress again!

We went on a church camp out where it was very cold, but we hung out at the rented cabin and watched Christopher Robin and had a good time anyway, so it works. Even if it wasn't totally a "camp out."

The Ball Ground Christmas Parade happened. A coworker's daughter made us Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, and Snoopy's doghouse and we played "Christmastime is Here" as we rode in the rain through town. It was so much fun and people loved our float!

Then Addy and I played Christmas music at the mall, we helped put on a Christmas formal, and had Christmas at home. I read a stack of Margaret Peterson Haddix books during Christmas break and it was great. Then we rang in the new year live-streaming the Disney fireworks.

And now it's 2019! I don't really know what's going to happen this year, but it's certainly going to be interesting!