Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ category

Once Upon a Time

December 21, 2011

Well, I’ve gotten into a new show:  Once Upon a Time.  For anyone who has been living under a rock like me, the basic premise is that fairy tale characters have been cursed to live in our dimension in a small town in Maine with no memory of their original lives.  The only people who know the truth are the Evil Queen/Mayor and her adopted son, Henry, although everyone thinks he’s just delusional.  But he has a book of fairy tales and knows that the only person who can break the curse is his birth mother, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming in the fairy tale dimension.  Yes, as I type this out, I know how completely insane this sounds, but apparently a lot of people like this insanity because another 15 episodes are in the works.

After watching the first episode I did a little research and learned that the concept was developed by two former writers for Lost, and the format for Once Upon a Time is exactly the same as Lost.  Each episode follows the storyline in our dimension as well as a background story for one or more characters in the fairy tale dimension.  I’ve realized that this character-driven story-telling is what hooked people into watching Lost and had them sticking with Lost even when it became completely boggling.

However, Once Upon a Time is also under the influence of some of Joss Whedon’s proteges, namely Jane Espenson.  It’s opening explanation at the beginning of every episode is straight out of the first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And this is where Once Upon a Time avoids the Lost trap.  The story lines twist, combine, and expand classic fairy tales, but the creators are very clear that the fairy tale dimension is real.  They don’t lead the audience on to wonder if it is or isn’t.

The writers are having fun, though, throwing in Lost references and bringing in favorite actors and actresses from Lost and Buffy for small roles.  I’ve watched the first seven episodes through Hulu and On Demand, and I can’t wait until #8 airs in January.  I’ll actually have two shows to watch at the start of the year since Downton Abbey also returns for its second series.  This will have to hold me until the next season of Doctor Who starts.



December 7, 2011

My NaNoWriMo journal is a sad tale in and of itself:  the excitement, the perseverance in the face of slight concern about word count, the rally, the desperate rationalization, the final disappointment.  It makes me laugh to think about it now.

As I mentioned at the end of my journal, the whole process put some things in perspective for me.

  1. I really did have delusions of grandeur.  I figured I would breeze through the 50,000 mark, and then perhaps I would send my novel off to some publishers and one would eventually love it.  Or I would self-publish it, and a fancy publisher would hear about it from word of mouth and have to have it.  LOL
  2. Writing a novel is extremely time-consuming.  And I’m not sure that this was the point in my life to really be jumping into that ocean.
  3. Over the years I had begun to suspect, and this process may have confirmed, that I am not a really creative person.  My current story was inspired by a movie from 1998 (it gave me the general idea but not the characters or plot).  I think I am really good at taking someone else’s idea and organizing/improving it/expanding it.  I don’t know, though, that I could come up with a story that wasn’t inspired by something else I had seen.
  4. No other idea has haunted me like that one, so if I couldn’t get 50,000 words out of it, then I doubt that I could come up with something next year to make the word count.  I probably will not be doing NaNoWriMo next year.
  5. Now this a little big bigger thing that I realized, why I write:

Writing is something I have always had an interest in.  In my valedictorian speech from high school I remember saying that I hoped to write a novel some day.  I don’t remember if I used the word “published”, but I am sure that I meant the word published.  At that point I had been writing “stories” for years, but they were mostly long rambling things about me and my friends, except we all had sassy pseudonyms.  Back then I wrote to entertain my friends and deal with teenage angst and/or get a grade.

In college, I took some creative writing courses to fulfill my requirements as an English minor.  Looking back I don’t think I learned a damn thing about writing in those classes, nothing like what I learned from reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  My stories had a little more focus, but they had no real over-arching theme.  They were really just empty plot.  Back then I wrote to impress my friends and deal with college relationship angst and/or get a grade.

For the past 12 years, since I graduated from college, I started stories from time to time, but I never finished them.  Some of my ideas for my current story have been fermenting, like I said, since 1998.  NaNoWriMo kind of gave me a real reasons to write beyond just  a vague desire.  It gave me a goal of 50,000 words; a goal which I failed to reach.  And maybe I failed to reach it because I was writing for the wrong reasons.  Maybe I wasn’t writing what I was supposed to be writing, and I was writing just to serve myself.

I write my blog mostly to serve myself, too.  It’s really a journal of my thoughts/reflections/goings on that I have decided to make public.  It’s also a hobby, one that I don’t want to feel tied to every single day like popular bloggers are.  As a result I rarely ever look at my blog stats.  I really don’t care how many people are regularly reading my blog or how popular/unpopular it is.

However, I said “mostly to serve myself”.  I also hope that something I write might help one person see things in a different (and what I think is better) way or just help them period.

But I was writing my novel completely just to serve myself.  Even though it had some religious over-tones, I didn’t really think that it would help anyone solve their own moral quandaries or teach them much more about faith.  I was writing with a secret dream of being famous, and maybe a little rich.  LOL

My priest gave an interesting homily the second Sunday of Advent in which he noted that fame does not make a person great.  A person becomes great by serving something bigger that himself, by serving God.  The next time I write something I hope that I am writing something that might help people, that will allow me to serve others more than myself.

This has got me thinking that maybe novels aren’t really what I should be doing.  I’m not saying that other people can’t serve a high purpose by writing novels.  Sometimes people just need good entertainment.  I’m not sure, though, that one of my strengths is being entertaining (unless its the entertainment that being an unconscious idiot can provide).  So, maybe I should focus my time and energy and desire to write in a different direction other than fiction.

My NaNoWriMo Journal

December 4, 2011

October 31, 2011

Tomorrow is the first official day of National Novel Writing Month, and this will be my first time participating.  I haven’t decided if I’m actually going to register with the NaNoWriMo website, but I’m going to see if I can put together a 50,000 word “novel”.  I thought I would throw together a little journal blog post about the experience.

I’ve been spending the past week making notes and plans, which is allowed under the rules.  You just aren’t supposed to write your first word until November 1.  I picked up Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and I’ve been rushing to finish it the past few days.  It has given me so much useful information to make my novel way better than it would have been otherwise.  Most importantly it’s given me some confidence that I might even make it through the writing process.

I’ve got 31 scenes plotted out at this point.  Last night I had to draw a rough map of the setting, so that I could get the details of a plot point correct in my mind.  I’ve been doing lots of research that has probably been setting off warning bells at Homeland Security (military information).  I don’t want to give away any details of the story, because frankly I’m kind of embarrassed.  I have no delusions of grandeur.  But it’s a drama with a sci-fi element.  I just keep imagining scenes in my mind.  Who knows when I’ll find the time tomorrow to sit down and start actually writing them out.

November 1, 2011

I wrote about 3000 words today, split between the first four scenes.  I did it in snatches of twenty minutes here and there for a total of about two hours.  The first time I set my time for 20 minutes I was interrupted after 3 minutes to deal with preschooler potty issues and put the toddler down for the nap.  That’s the way it goes, though.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have no problem reaching 50,000 words.  It really helps that I have all of my scenes plotted out.  I know exactly what details I want to get across going in.

November 6, 2011

I didn’t get to do any writing at all yesterday, but today I managed to complete the first two scenes of Part II.  Story Engineering broke stories down into four parts, and then I have each part broken down into scenes.  I have written eleven scenes total so far over 21 pages in Microsoft Word.  (I can’t help wondering how that translates into the common type-setting of books.)  I started a new document for each part and added headers with the part and word count listed for easy reference.

11,376 words down.  38,624 to go.  But I’m at least slightly ahead of schedule (minimum of 1600 words per day).

November 9,2011

I’m halfway through my story and I’m only at 14,986 words.  This has me slightly worried that even if complete all the scenes that I have planned I won’t hit 50,000 words.  I know there are details that I need to go back and incorporate into the story.  And of course, everything needs to be proofread.

Part of me has been thinking about any new scenes that could be added to lengthen the story.  Another part of me is thinking that everything I’ve plotted out my really just be Act 1 of a two-act story.  In which case, I would quickly need to plot out the second Act like I did the first act.  I don’t know if this would reflect inspired genius or just desperation.

November 15, 2011

I have 25, 285 words.  I’m halfway there (word wise) and the month is half over.  But I am three quarters through the story I have plotted.  I decided just to write out the scenes I have plotted.  If I have time I will go back in the editing process and see if I can lengthen what I have.  If it still doesn’t make 50,000 words, oh well.  My goal was to see if I could start a story and actually finish it.  The word count is really a secondary goal, and I still haven’t registered with the official site.

This last section had nine scenes, and it was my longest section of the three.  My last quarter of the story is set for eleven scenes.  We’ll see if I get 25,000 words out of it.  I seriously doubt it, though.  I’ll just have to see what happens.

November 24, 2011

It’s Thanksgiving.  I just finished telling my story.  But I’m only at 34,402 words.  There are six days left in the month.  My main goal was just to finish my story.  Anything from this point on is just icing.  Ideally over the next six days I hope to have time to go back over the entire story, proofread, and edit.  There may be room to add another scene or two here or there, but to be honest I’m getting a little tired.

This whole process has been a big drain on my time, but I’m glad that I’ve done it.  I’m glad to have finished a story for the first time since probably high school, and that writing back then was total soap opera drivel.  For the first time I think I’ve written something of substance.

November 26, 2011

Yesterday I tried to print out my story, but I ran out of ink in my printer with 12 pages left.  That being said, it was a lot thicker than I imagined it would be, about 70 pages.  It seems more real seeing it in print.  I’m going to try to get a new ink cartridge today in order to print out those pages and then I’ll see how much editing I can get done in the next four days.

December 4, 2011

It’s been four days since NaNoWriMo officially ended.  I still had three pages to left to edit at the end of the day on November 30th, and I was still only at 35,785.  I found a spot where I could have added another chapter without comprising the stories integrity, but I doubt I could have made up all of the 14,000+ word difference for the contest in that chapter.  I must admit that it’s a little disappointing that I couldn’t hit the 50,000 word mark, especially since that is actually about 20,000 words short of most published novels.  The whole process has put some things in perspective, and that might warrant a blog post in and of itself.

In the meantime, I do hope to find the time in the next few weeks to finish editing those three pages, and maybe I’ll write that extra chapter.  Then I might put the story away for a little while.  I think in some ways I am still too close to it now to fully assess how good I think my novel is.  I’m also not sure that I’m brave enough to share it with anyone yet.


August 19, 2011

In recent years I’ve come to take a harder look at the forms of entertainment I engage.  Part of this has come out of necessity, since I am always with my kids it is pretty much impossible to watch an R-rated movie for very long without one of them popping into the room.  (And they inevitable show up at the most inappropriate parts.)  Not that I’ve ever been a big fan of gratuitous sex scenes, but I never really thought twice when two unmarried characters obviously slept together even if no nude shots were involved.  Now I notice themes in television, movies, and music that promote promiscuity and profanity in a way I never did before.

Now those of you who have known me for very long know that I used to be a HUGE fan of The Rock Horror Picture Show.  I was sixteen when I saw it in the theater for the first time.  I started attending every performance at my hometown theater.  I met several of the cast members of the stage show, and I even filled in a few times as minor characters.  I organized groups from high school and college for the big Halloween shows.  I knew every audience participation line and owned the four-CD boxed set.  I often dressed up as the character Magenta.  (Just for the record, I never attended RHPS with a drop of alcohol in my system; it gave me a natural high every time I went.)

This may have also seemed kind of odd to those who knew me.  I was never much of a rule breaker.  I never received a detention in school, and I only recall being grounded once in my life.  Everyone was quite aware that I was a virgin and would mostly likely remain one until marriage.  Yet, here I was involved in this raunchy glorification of breaking all societal rules:  promiscuity, homosexuality, slavery, and murder.

I think for me it was a way of “breaking the rules” in a fairly innocuous way.  I could dress up in my pajamas (with my bra peaking out), go to the theater, dance in the aisles, and scream profanities at the top of my lungs.  For a little while I could pretend that I was not the nerdy freak that everyone treated me like in my everyday life.  Once I blossomed in college Rocky Horror fulfilled less of a “need” and just became about fun and catching up with friends I had made at the show.  And as I entered married life and later had children it became a source of nostalgia.

I actually went a few times after we moved to Illinois, even met the president of the RHPS fan club Sal Piro, and had a lot fun.  But more recently I have struggled with the place this movie has in my life.  I have not watched it in the theater or at home for at least two years.  I think I have just outgrown Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It’s like that favorite pair of jeans that shrunk up in the wash and just doesn’t fit anymore.  It was all really just a form of pretend play for me anyway.  Now I am “breaking the rules” of society in new, more meaningful ways.  Instead of yelling out profanities at a movie screen, I am yelling out about the profanities within our society like abortion.

This past week I dropped off two copies of the movie and my RHPS fan book at the local used bookstore.  The bobble-heads (that have been sitting in my garage forever) will probably go to Goodwill.  I wasn’t ready to part with my CDs, but they are going into storage.  I will also keep my RHPS t-shirt, a hand-me-down from my best friend and former college roommate who was wearing it the first time we met.  I am not ashamed of my time with RHPS, but at the same time I hope that my children have no desire or need to engage with it.


January 5, 2010

Last year a friend of mine upgraded many of his DVDs to Blue Ray.  Knowing that I was a fan of Joss Whedon’s work, he asked for my address and sent me the complete series of Firefly and the feature film Serenity.  He just wanted them to go to someone who might appreciate them.

Now I was not a Browncoat (an obsessive Firefly fan).  In fact, I barely remembered watching an episode or two before losing interest.  I also had some other things going on when the one and only incomplete season of the show aired in late 2002, like giving birth to my first child.  When Serenity, the sequel movie, was released in theaters in 2005 I was six days away from giving birth to my second child.  But I finally got around to pulling out the gifted DVD’s last month and started obsessively watching them.  I can totally understand why the people who got into the show really got into the show, and I can also totally understand why the show was canceled after only eleven of the fourteen episodes were aired.

We must start by talking about Joss Whedon’s most famous creation Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  When Buffy began on upstart network the WB, the WB had very low standards for what made a successful television show.  So, in other words, the WB was willing to take a chance on a strange new concept.  Then Buffy took off in popularity, and Buffy fans embraced its spin off Angel.  When Whedon pitched Firefly to FOX they were kind of banking on his Buffy following, but at the same time they were wary of Firefly because it was so different even from Buffy. And Firefly, a sci-fi western, was definitely not like anything else you were seeing on television.  So this led Fox to meddle with Joss Whedon’s vision, making him re-write pilots and air episodes out of their intended order.  And then when Firefly wasn’t doing as well as they hoped, Fox just dumped it.

Like I said, Firefly is absolutely nothing like Buffy or Angel.  The latter two were more literary, with lots of metaphor and foreshadowing.  Firefly was more philosophical.  As a result, I have a feeling that people who expected another Buffy probably did not warm up to Firefly very much.  I think that is one reason I didn’t get into it at the time, myself.  And in fact, my friend who gave me the DVDs told me that he did not really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  They are apples and oranges.

Now, here is why I think that those who really watched Firefly fell in love with it.  The nine main characters and the relationships that they formed with each other made you want to invest your time with them.  And when the series ends abruptly visions of what might have been pop in your head.  When will Simon and Kaylee finally kiss?  Will Mal and Inara ever admit their true feelings for each other?  What exactly did the government do to River, and will she ever be able to get over it?  Will Shepherd Book’s secret past ever be revealed?  And what role does the crew of Serenity have in the fate of the universe?

The cast of the show was also extremely talented.  Nathan Fillion I knew of from his previous roles on One Life to Live and  Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I recognized Alan Tudyk from his recent short stint on the new V television series, and my husband remembered him from his small role in Knocked Up.  And I immediately recognized Morena Baccarin, who plays Anna on V, from her voice; her long hair on Firefly made her face less recognizable to me.  But the entire cast was excellent.

Then there are the visual effects, for which the show won an Emmy, and cinematography.  Whedon tried to film the entire show in widescreen format, despite Fox’s objections.  The visual aspects of the show from sets to costumes to lighting to camera work were amazing.  Joss has a very cinematic way of directing.  This last point especially is what I think sets Joss Whedon apart.  I feel like I have learned so much about how television and films are made just by listening to his audio commentaries.

And of course, Joss Whedon is a brilliant writer.  He is great at creating multi-layered characters that form intricate relationships.  He has a great sense of humor, resulting in great dialogue.  He has an interesting philosophy about making television more than just “radio with pictures”.  He knows how to capture emotion without resorting to cliches and cheesy gimmicks (although he’s not above sometimes using them for fun, either).  He hires actors that he can trust, and he trusts them to know their characters.  He gathers directors, producers, and writers who can express his vision and add their own twists.  And I think Firefly was very much a look into Joss’s soul.  That’s probably why he took it so hard when the show was canceled and lobbied so hard to have the movie made.

Now there were some aspects that I wasn’t too sure about.  The show does get a little raunchy sometimes, and one of the characters is a professional prostitute.  And you can really see Joss Whedon’s own ambivalence towards religion through the character of Shepherd Book.  On one hand Book is the crew’s moral compass.  On the other hand it appears that he may have a shady past, or may not even really be a Shepherd (pastor/priest) at all.  And there are many instances where Whedon kind of betrays his lack of understanding about certain tenants of Christianity, as Book is put in situations where he resorts to violence in order to protect others and is portrayed as slightly hypocritical.  Whedon obviously doesn’t understand that Christianity does not object to self-defense or killing in protection of others.  Despite these concerns I found myself wishing that there had been more (that there might some day be more) of the Firefly/Serenity story made for small or big screens.

But, probably the number one reason that people loved Firefly is because of the theme song, written by Joss Whedon himself.  That thing is damned catchy.  So, I’ll put it up again here at the end of the post.  I just don’t understand why they didn’t include more than an instrumental version in the closing credits of the movie.

Santa Secrets

December 26, 2009

These are some of the things that we know about Santa at our house:

  1. Santa Claus is really St. Nicholas.
  2. Santa Claus is friends with God (hence the whole saint thing), and God is the one who gives him his info about who has been naughty or nice.
  3. Santa has a magic key that he uses if a house doesn’t have a chimney.
  4. Santa has the technology to temporarily disable security systems.
  5. Santa is very quiet and sneaky in his work.
  6. Santa will not come until all the children are asleep, and he is sure that none of the adults will disturb him.
  7. Santa doesn’t always gives us everything we ask for because a) he knows it’s not really that good, b) he knows our parents don’t really want us to have it, c) he knows that someone already bought it for us, and/or d) he has a lot of kids to take care of and he just can’t give everybody everything.
  8. Santa respects the right of parents to prefer that he not come to their house.
  9. Santa is fat because he gets so many cookies to eat every Christmas.
  10. Santa has helpers who dress up like him to help out at malls and on television appearances, but you never know which ones are the helpers and which one is the real Santa.
  11. Santa is very smart, and sometimes he brings stuff that we need or that he thought we might really like even though we never told him.

It seems like we learn something new about Santa Claus every year. 😉

Catholic Bones

October 22, 2009

For those of you who haven’t seen the show Bones, the basic premise is that the forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan and FBI agent Seeley Booth work together to solve murders.  One is all brain, and the other is all heart.  Together they make an unstoppable team.  The two characters represent the battles between evidence versus intuition, academic intelligence versus social skills, and reason versus faith.  Because we know that in today’s society the two things are considered mutually exclusive.

It’s this last battle that I find particularly interesting, as Agent Booth is a Catholic.  It is always interesting to see how Catholics are represented on television.  Like most  people who adhere to a religion, they are not usually portrayed in a flattering way.  The underlying assumption is that a person of faith is either a fool or a hypocrite.  Overall Bones does a better job of handling religion than many other shows.  For instance, a recent episode centered around an anthropology intern who has been faking an Arab accent so that the other scientists won’t harass him as much for being a devout Muslim.  He makes the very good point that you can still believe that God created the world in all of its mysteries and and also believe that science can help us to understand His work even better, sometimes.  Even science doesn’t have all of the answers.

I find Booth’s Catholicism particularly interesting, because in some ways he represents the “average” Catholic.  You know the kind that would probably be referred to as Cafeteria Catholic, one who picks and chooses which tenants of the faith they want to follow.  For instance, he doesn’t  seem to follow the Church’s teachings on chastity.  He has a son out of wedlock and there are references to other non-marital liaisons.  And in a last season episode, he is willing to be a sperm donor for his work partner Dr. Brennan even though the entire process goes against Church teachings.  However, you get the impression that he does attend Mass somewhat regularly.

Since Dr. Brennan is atheist, she often makes comments about Booth’s faith.  The most recent one that inspired this post revolves around the vow of poverty.  Brennan and Booth are riding along when she makes a reference to a long standing argument they have been having about the Pope’s hat.  I was just waiting for some crazy reference to it being designed to represent an obscure fish god, but instead Brennan offers the just as misguided, “I’m just saying it’s pretty ornate for someone who made a vow of poverty.”

The fact that Booth didn’t offer a rebuttal just goes to show that he is as ignorant about it as she is.  You just don’t know if this ignorance is intentional or reflects the ignorance of the writers.  Many Catholics today are very ignorant when it comes to the tenants and inner-workings of their faith.  They don’t know which things are essential to know and believe and which are optional.  They don’t really understand Church history or what things are or mean.  Welcome to the break down of Catholic religious education since the 1960’s.

Now, despite the deficiency of my Catholic religious education in some areas, I would have at least been able to point out one thing her comment.  She is misunderstanding what a vow of poverty is.  It does not mean that you can not own any possessions.  As Sister Rose explained it to us, due to her vow of poverty her paychecks went directly to her order where it was redistributed based on need.  She then received a stipend each month to cover her rent, food, and any other minor expenses that she might have.  If she needed extra one month in order to replace clothing or some other necessity she would have to apply for it.  Anything left over each month was hers to do with as she wished, and she was also allowed to keep presents.  She was always given enough to live comfortably but not extravagantly.

Last year I learned of a second misconception in Dr. Brennan’s comment.  Not all priests or religious women make vow of poverty.  Diocesan priests in fact do not make a vow of poverty.  They get a small, regular paycheck to do with whatever they wish.  As a diocesan priest Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) would not have made a vow of poverty.  This is a very common misunderstanding out there that I regularly came across while doing research to verify my knowledge on the subject.

Now as Pope, he probably does not have to live off of his paychecks.  As a head of state, his personal needs and expenses are probably taken care of much in the same way as those of the President of the United States.  Also, like the President of the United States, there are probably many extravagant things in his keeping that do not actually belong to him personally but to the office he is fulfilling.

Personally, I think it was a rather idiotic statement for Dr. Brennan to make and not just because it was based in ignorance.  Of all the things to criticize for being too costly, she chooses the Pope’s hat??  The Pope most often wears a zuchetto or a mitre, which are both made from cloth.  It’s not like those things are encrusted with priceless jewels.  Unless she is making a reference to the now defunct Triregnum, or papal tiara.  Either way it seems like a rather silly criticism for someone of her purported intelligence and reasoning skills.

I will continue to watch and enjoy Bones despite its sometimes anti-Catholic banter.  I understand that this is sympotomatic of media in general.  And I will not hold Booth’s “cafeteria” Catholic ways against him.  Because, you see, you just can’t see inside a person’s heart.  I don’t know if Booth disobeys Church teachings out of ignorance, misunderstanding, willful disobedience, fear, an inablility to resist temptation, misplaced priorities, or more probably because he is written that way so that on one hand he can represent a religious viewpoint without crossing that line of being considered kooky.  Because the general assumption is that anyone who truly tries to allow their religious beliefs to guide all aspects of their life must have something wrong with them.