Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living rocking chair stories

I am told that to live an interesting story, you must want something interesting and overcome opposition to achieve it.  So what do I want?  Here are some excerpts from my current list.
  • a big, comfy rocking recliner
  • at least 8 solid hours of sleep a night (and no micronapping or spacing out during the day)
  • to take on the federal Office of Workers' Compensation Programs and make it a more efficient, injured-worker-focused organization acting in good faith and using best practices to help injured workers, (corollaries: to get them to admit they wronged me and to have them apologize and then pay for all the debt I accrued due to this stupid injury and their ham-handedness handling it I am such a silly dreamer)
  • to be out of debt (so I can spend more of that money giving to charities I want to help)
  • to find a church body I can serve in, probably one that has mentorship opportunities in the community
  • to not be in pain
  • to figure out a way to do what I am best at (note to self: figure out what I'm best at) and then find a way to do it
  • a big, comfy rocking recliner
Some of these wants seem epic enough for a story, but I don't think I have the willpower, guts, and energy to make them happen.  Others of them are really lame.
Q. Are you seriously not going to get a chair until you're out of debt?  Are you seriously going to wait ten years to buy a chair?
A. Yes, as long as they cost $400 when they're on sale (not that I drool over advertisements or go sit on chairs [only after checking their prices] in those rare instances when I am near a place of shopping).  
Some of these wants might make nice stories, I suppose, but mostly they'd just be boring.  I've never been good at writing short stories, so I suppose it's not that startling that I'm not good at living good ones either.

What are you in pursuit of that is making your life story an interesting one right now?  And/or what's your rocking recliner?  :)

Monday, January 30, 2012

(Lack of) Regrets

I regret
that I was 100% utterly lacking
in the willpower needed
to prevent myself
from reading
"Borders of Infinity"
this weekend.

Really, I regret nothing.

Except not knowing
what happened
to a certain character
who got injured
in the home stretch.

I hope that character lived.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reading Miles Again: It's okay if you don't love Miles as much as I do (we can still be friends [probably])

I am introducing a friend to the Vorkosigan books, and he likes them well enough for a single read but doesn't love them like I do.  (He had to take a breather after reading a bunch over break.  He left off with "Labyrinth."  Was it an email or a text that he sent when he kind of couldn't believe what was happening?  I don't remember, but it made me laugh hard.)  I am using his reading as an excuse to re-read, and I am giddy and full of MilesQuotes.  My friend seems apologetic about not being as enamored with Miles as I am, but I really do understand.  How could he be?  They've only just met. 

He is in his mid-twenties and meeting the younger Miles.  I would think that wouldn't be the stuff of epic book crushes.  I've known Miles for years.  I met him when he was 17 and I was 12.  I watched him grow up.  I watched him while growing up.  I've read some of these books more than a dozen times.  The kind of relationship that creates is completely different from the one created by a one-time casual meeting between two young men. 

The act of reading the same stories as a different person is a powerful one.  Miles, Ender's Game, the Bible: these are the books I've read so many times that they have to have affected me. 

My favorite Miles stories now are not the same as they were when I was in high school.  Or college. Or graduate school.  Growing up with Miles shaped my world; not only did the way I saw the stories change as I aged, but the way I saw the world changed as I looked at it through Miles as I changed.  I might be getting a bit out of hand . . .

One of my friends once said after reading Miles for the first time, "You're a lot like Miles."  I don't think he ever explained, but I was too busy basking in the glow of what I perceived to be praise to really push.  Years later, I think I asked him, and he didn't remember why he said it.

I tell my new friend that I understand that he doesn't love Miles like I do.  I suspect that his opinions may change a little further on, but I don't know.  It's the darkness in Miles that makes him tired, and the darkness doesn't really go away, at least not until A Civil Campaign.  So for now, we'll wait and see. 

I wonder whether I can hold off jumping ahead and reading "Borders of Infinity" . . .  Willpower!

Friday, January 20, 2012

On antagonists who just want to be understood

I was reading a graphic novel, and I had an epiphany about why the Napkin Epic is stalled: I am trying too hard to make the antagonist not a completely bad guy.  I am making too many excuses for his (completely rational but somewhat harsh) behavior.  I want him to be understood, to not be a villain.  I am killing my story where it stands because I want people to know the antagonist's motives and his suffering and all that good stuff.

Thing is, with the narrative structured the way it is, that really can't happen, and the answer is not to restructure the story but to let him stay more in the background where he won't be talked about and explained to death.  He needs to be a bit mysterious and unknowable.  It's okay, yea, necessary for him to be so.  This means that people won't necessarily understand him and know everything about him that I do, and this is really okay.

Since he will never be physically present until near the end, his dialogue can't do much to reveal his character, and having other people give speeches about him is also not the answer.  I will have to work harder to reveal his character in bits and pieces the reader can pick up from other people and from his actions as they affect the characters in the story.

Drat.  It's way easier to just talk him to death.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There has to be a story here

At the Barnes & Noble where I go to read manga, there is a woman who is always there when I arrive.  She is of Asian descent, and she is always wearing the same clothes: sweatpants and a sweatshirt too small to cover her growing pregnant belly.  She sets up a pile of magazines, bending the pages and covers to artistically cover and reserve her table.  She has 1-4 not-exactly-healthy drink containers on the table.  She takes a sip of whatever drink is freshest (I assume), and then she pads away to walk around the store or something for a few minutes before returning to the table from the opposite direction, taking another sip, and starting the circuit again.  She does this over and over.  For hours.  With a dull and slightly glazed look on her face.  She does not talk to anyone.  She does not make eye contact.  Just before the store closes, she picks up her coat, leaves the ruined and unsellable magazines and the drink containers on the table, and then leaves.

There has to be a story here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Red Tails movie

The preview for Red Tails was shown before The War Horse.  It's about the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.  After watching the episodes and documentaries in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles about a similar subject (the shameful treatment of the all-black units in World War I and after), I couldn't even watch the trailer without copious tears.  It's rated PG-13, so it probably won't get too gory, but I just don't think I could handle watching it.

If it's that hard to even think about the injustice, I cannot imagine what it would have been like to live with it.

To be proud to fight, get wounded, and even die for your country and for freedom and to be treated like that by your countrymen . . .  Thank you to all those who fought anyway for whatever reasons made you feel like it was worth it.  The people whose lives you saved lived as a testimony to your bravery and sacrifice.  Thank you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

War Horse - bring your tissues but not your horse-lovers

In 2009 while I was in Wales and it was snowing outside, I picked up a magazine with a review of the stage play based on Michael Morpurgo's War Horse.  The puppets were weird and immense and amazing, and I really wanted to see the play.  That not being an option, I wanted to read the book.  The kind folks I was staying with reassured me that Morpurgo was really famous (Children's Laureate of England!), so I'd be able to find his books anywhere, even in America. 

When I returned to America, I found this not to be the case.  Not wanting to import books at stupid cost, I resigned myself to keeping an eye on used book stores with no luck. Until . . .

One day in 2011 when I was exercising, I saw that someone was making it into a movie.  My first thought was, "I'll bet the book is available in book stores now!"  My thought after reading the book was, "How on earth can they make this story into a movie for the same audience as the book?  It's impossible.  You can't be as selective with your details and still be honest in a visual medium as you can in a written one."

I was right.  War Horse bills itself as "an epic adventure for audiences of all ages."  I'm going to say no, not really.  The book is for the 8-12-year-old set.  It's short and sad and touching.  It isn't dumb, but it's written for its intended audience.  The stage play, well, I haven't seen it, but it changed some things and had some amazing puppets, which convinced lots of people that adults could enjoy it, too. 

The movie is rated PG-13 for a reason.  It's a war movie that doesn't mess around.  It's hardly Saving Private Ryan, but just because there's very little blood/gore doesn't mean the violence isn't there.  I actually tip my hat to the film's creators because they kept things restrained while not deadening the overwhelming impacts war makes on all those it touches.  It just made me cry instead of throw up.

However, this isn't a movie to take your 8-year-old horse loving niece to see.  And I wonder if your 11-year-old son will get anything out of it.  I mean that; I do wonder.  I wouldn't want to be the parent trying to explain war in all its horror to the kid I brought to see the movie, but it's a really important set of conversations that needs to be had, and maybe this movie will set up some of those conversations.

I'm not sure I would have been able to follow it well at all before about age 16.  As an adult, I thought it was brilliant to have the people from different countries played by native speakers with authentic accents.  I knew immediately that I was in France or dealing with Germans or British because of how they talked, and everything I knew about the war and those countries in the war contributed to my understanding of the events of the movie.  I wonder if I would have understood all that was going on if I didn't get that background.  I would have understood the bits about cowardice and desertion when I was 12 but not nearly so well as I did after I read A Very Long Engagement (a brutal WWI book I could never watch the movie of) at age 20-something.

Maybe I'm being unfair to young people.  Maybe they do learn more history younger these days.  Or maybe they pick up on the essentials of the story without being even vaguely aware of the sociopolitical situation.  I mean, most adults probably don't know as much about WWI as I do, and they still seem to like the movie.   (Except for the ones who are so cynical they can't like anything even vaguely nice or melodramatic.  I wonder if the cynics would have liked the less [melo]dramatic book ending, but I would guess they don't like anything with a happy ending, even one so hard-fought as this.)

I'll admit that I didn't really engage with the horse at all.  At all.  Again, I tip my hat to the film's creators because they could have played that aspect up and tried to anthropomorphize the poor beastie and play it from his interior point of view (which works in books way better than movies) and made this movie something dumb, but they didn't.  The result is that I cared about the people.  I was okay with the horse as narrative device on which to hang the stories of various people who had things taken away by the damn war.  Like all half-way decent war movies, this was an anti-war movie because it reminds people of what a huge, hideous, damaging thing a war is.  I hope the younger people (and all the people) who see this so-called "all ages" film come away with that knowledge pounded into them.

One thing that irked me: there were some outstanding performances by German actors in this movie (Hinnerk Schönemann [had a great grammar joke no one in the audience found funny except me], David Kross, and Leonhard Carow [I think these three are the ones I was most impressed with aside from the ones already named and biographied on the page]).  On their behalf, I register complaint that they weren't on the official movie's cast page.  I had to go flailing about on IMDB for the names, and I'm not even sure they're the right names.  Why the snub?  Can it really be that we still discriminate against Germans so many years after the World Wars ended?  I know there was a lot of anti-German sentiment in America after this war (the movie Sweet Land introduced me to that fact), and World War II's atrocities only added to the burden of the German people, but now we are at peace.  These actors did good work.  Shouldn't they get credit for it?  Or are we still too bitter about what their great grandparents did to our great grandparents?  Or is there some other reason they didn't get the credit they deserved?

War Horse wasn't perfect, but it was an interesting and moving film, and I'm glad I saw it in the theater (hooray cheap matinees and gift cards).  Your thoughts?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Villainous good guys

Months after reading The Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer.

I have to say that I'm rather fond of the villainous good guys who lurk in the shadows and protect the good guys who aren't ruthless enough to protect themselsves. These characters are needed if you're going to convince me that your morally upstanding, lovable leader guy isn't just going to get whacked immediately in your semi-realistic, brutal, politically-internecine, fantasy world. These characters tend to have a low opinion of themselves but consider almost any behavior excusable when it's in the service of the greater good of the person they have chosen to protect.

I wonder why I don't remember more characters like this outside of Japanese pop culture, where this villainous good guy character type is familiar and sometimes taken to such an extreme that he will become a straight out villain to allow the good guy to change the world. I think the only other place I've seen it recently was in the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. We know my memory is very sieve-like, so maybe it's a more frequent character than I'm giving it credit for being.  Can you think of any other good examples?