Reading Challenge with a twist

Behind every great writer is a reader because reading teaches you to write. Back when I was in school I was a voracious reader and I cant say I was overly picky either. Compared to today where I can barely make my two a month book goal. And of course, I have gotten a touch too particular about what I read. And those are mostly series that I start and continue with. So I open myself up to the reading challenges that most libraries every summer so the kids have something to do. It’s the same list over and over, but this year I found a different way to do it.   I apologize in advance on the length, when I wrote it in word I put the list in columns  and it won’t let me do that here.

So here is the list of book qualifiers.

  1. Longer than 500 pages
  2. Considered classic romance
  3. Became a movie
  4. Genre not read normally
  5. With and number in the title
  6. Written by female author
  7. a mystery or thriller
  8. Has a one word title
  9. Compilation of short stories
  10. Set in different country(ies)
  11. Nonfiction
  12. Popular authors first book
  13. A friend recommended
  14. Prize winning book
  15. Mom loves
  16. By the cover only
  17. Set somewhere always wanted to go
  18. Set in High School
  19. Is/was a banned book
  20. Made me cry
  21. Author who shares my initials
  22. Originally written in different language
  23. Has color in title
  24. Set in the future
  25. Steampunk novel
  26. Written from a non-human perspective
  27. Set during war time
  28. Is a Travelogue
  29. Historical fiction
  30. Memoir

I left out several because they didn’t fit the flow, for example is a graphic novel or supposed to read for school but didn’t and of course the main one published the year you were born. So here is how I am doing it this year every book I read will be published the year I was born. Then I am going to try to get as many qualifiers as I can per each book.   For example: Sh̵̵̵ogun  by James Clavell it falls under   1, 3, 8, 10, 13, 16 (technically I would have looked at the cover and read the first chapter) 27 and 29 for a total of 8 of the 30.   Convoluted in theory I know but it became fun to try to find a book that covered the most topics.  But I tried the list the normal way and I kept coming back to the same two or three qualifiers or that they had three or four qualifiers.

My initial list looks like this… Although I can’t promise the order… it will depend on the library’s availability. But for the first time since school I am going widen my horizon.

  1. Humboldt’s Gift
  2. Agatha Christies “Curtain”
  3. Sh̵̵̵ogun
  4. Looking for Mr. Goodbar
  5. The Great Train Robbery
  6. Tuck Everlasting
  7. Heat and Dust
  8. Crocodile on the Sandbank
  9. Last Bus to Woodstock
  10. The Monkey Wrench Gang
  11. Terra Nostra
  12. The Eagle has landed
  13. The Great Railway Bazaar
  14. The Money Changers
  15. The Choirboys
  16. The Grey King
  17. The Dead Father
  18. Black Sunday
  19. The Road to Gandolflo
  20. The life Before Us
  21. Cold Hand in Mine
  22. Blot the Landscape
  23. The Period Fable
  24. Rag Time
  25. Imperial Earth
  26. The Female Man
  27. The Eye in the Pyramid

 

Where the Wild Things Are

It’s funny how music and writing go hand in hand. Actually I thing all forms of art feed and feed into other art. Have you ever been listening to a song and started thinking about a story that goes with it?

Me, it happens all the time … as a matter of fact I think I have 12 stories I have written based on some song on the radio. But this morning it was a little different.  On the way to work like most people I jump through my presets avoiding the commercials.  I am as bad with it as someone channel surfing.  That is unless the DJ of my classic rock station is on my wave length.

 

The sun has barely risen over the top of the horizon just enough to paint a orangey purple haze on everything. It’s chilly, enough that when I automatically put my sunglasses on they fog up. For most people after the hundred-degree day it’s a relief but for me I am pulling out the hoodie I keep in the car. Because unlike most people who were famous kings or tragic heroines I was a snake or lizard in another life and can’t stay warm enough.

The radio is playing some stupid commercial about mattress and my fingers find the button conveniently located on my steering wheel to jump presets. I cycle through the presets but of course the are either more commercials or morning talk shows, which has me shaking my head. Good music for me is like both coffee and alcohol for me. Not replacing either but the best part of both. Energy and pick me up and get me started for the day like coffee or mellow me out at the end of the day so I can let the stupidity of other drivers at the end of the day go unmolested like alcohol. So I am stuck, latterly and figuratively, at a stop light with commercials playing. And to add injury to insult this big ram truck pulls up next to me and the driver is rocking out to Queen’s I want it all.

The light turns green and he speeds away probably singing along with his air drum solo and my vicarious enjoyment has vanished. I immediately begin to scroll again through my presets, which isn’t as terrible as the last time through. But its not great either only one station is actually playing music, so I leave it and wonder if I could catch up to the ram.

No the ram and Queen are long gone and I am stuck with something that was popular in the 90’ by a band I don’t even remember their name. I am thinking about cycling again but for some reason I decide to let it playout and see what the next song was. The tune was catchy and the words grabbed me. I had probably heard the song a hundred times before and not really listened.

The words went this way “I stretched my hand out to the sky, we danced with monsters through the night. Wooooohowooh. Im never going to look back, Woah, never going to give it up, please don’t wake me now.” There of course is more but I am going to save you from the tone deaf blog version

And immoderately my mind went all the way back to fifth grade. I could actually see the pages of the book. There have been times where a song has brought back a memory based on a emotion I was feeling when I listened to the song. But this was different it was kind of like a song summarizing the book. I was triggered of course and found myself humming along to the tune and really paying attention to the words.  When I got to work, I looked up the group, “the American Authors” and the song was “The best Day of My Life”  It should have been named a  retelling of “where the wild things are”

I read about Max for the first time when I was in fourth grade when my teacher read it to us as a class. And then again I checked it out to read it for myself. I was one of those I hadn’t read it if it was read to me. Sometime my arrogance on the stupid stuff baffles me.   So there I am thinking about the book and the song and I go an look up the book.  Did you know it was banned book? WHY?!? Just why? I mean I read some phscyo babble about the fear it instills in children when their main caregiver sends them to bed without their dinner. And then then there was a paragraph about supernatural /magical beasts which has religious connotations.

I of course face palmed myself and could only think of one word HORSESHIT. Really. Sending a child to bed with no dinner is going to traumatize a child? Did they continue to read the book? Max had only been in his room for a couple of hours and his mother gave him dinner afterword. I am sure I was sent to bed with no dinner sometime in my childhood and my parents were not ones that let me get back up to eat later.  And I can’t even tell you one time it happened.  Max was being a spoiled brat and his mom thought some time apart would be good. So she put him in his room. So they are banning the book because a parent actually parented.  If you are worried about the message that going to bed without a meal and then letting them back up in a couple hours is going to traumatize them what about the message you are sending the parent … If you punish the kid society is going to turn on you.  Wait we are already there.

And then to the other point. Monsters being supernatural or magical. Really?  So every monster under the bed or in the closet is a family dabbling in the black arts. Does Pixar know that they were advertising for Satan?  Max was a kid. His imagination created an place where he could be the monster he pretended to be. He even had his very own monster costume. And to be fair no moms were allowed there. Very childlike, he created a place in his imagination where he was in control and there were no rules, because he was king of the monsters. First of all … no kid wants rules. Hell most adults still buck at rules. And on his island there were no rules.

Second it wasn’t really his imagination it was a dream. He was so mad at being put in his room he laid down and went to sleep. Dreams are just dreams. I don’t know about your but sometimes I have the weirdest dreams for example two days I dreamed my youngest son left my grandson in his cars seat and small airport that was really a school that had animal exhibits in the rooms.

So this entire ramble that seemed to become a rant… that I am trying to turn back into a normal post was about how one thing feeds another. I wonder if the writer of the song was influenced by the book or do they even know that it existed.  Or the son Iron Man when it was written did they know about the comic books being created or just getting traction.

Characterization

I indulged this weekend and rented a couple of movies from Redbox. One was a film I wanted to watch before I read the book. The other I watched because I had an idea kind of like it and wanted to see what they did with it.

I am a self-stated ‘book purest’ well that is the name I gave myself anyways. You see as much as I love books and like movies the two do not go together in my book.  Hehe. Pun intended.  I am one of those people who find fault with everything that the movie changes from the book and nine times out of ten the book will always be better.  As a media student, I logically know that when you read a book everyone interprets that book differently and the movie is the directors interpterion of the book. But I can’t help but feeling a betrayal when the book and the movie do not match and the more I love the book the greater the sense of betrayal is. The only way I have found of getting around that is watching the movie first and then reading the book.

When I wrote the word betrayal I thought I was being a bit harsh but then I remembered how often I railed after watching a movie after I read the book. As a matter of fact, I find that I can’t enjoy the movie at all because I am so busy comparing it to the book or picking it apart.  What surprises me about the venom that I have is that I am completely blasé about the differences I find when I watch the movie first.

Could it be that when we read the book it becomes our story? But my thought on that is how can it become our story if we don’t identify with the story. For example, the trilogy Hunger Games, I read it several times before it became a movie. Then when the movie came out I was sooo angry because of the way they made the human antagonist go after the protagonist from the very beginning of the movie. Also with the film they replaced the real antagonist (the games themselves) with a human antagonist.  I didn’t identify with the protagonist or antagonist. I didn’t identify with the setting or the plot. So why was I sooo angry. How did the characters in the book grab me so deeply that I felt what I describe as righteous anger?

The Movies were   Hidden Figures which I want to talk about as soon as I get the chance to read the book. Which based on my reading list is at least a couple months away.   The other one was Passengers.

Nothing that I say is aimed toward the actors in the film. I thought the film was good. The choice of actors was fine and the movie well-acted, directed and packaged. But as an aspiring writer my first thought is always the storyline much to the consternation of my family who has to listen to me going on and on about pacing, plot devices and such. Or to the characterization, which to my belief is the holy grail of any work. With amazing characters, almost any work can be salvaged.

How much belief do we have to suspend as the audience to for these two characters to get together. Part of a good character is honesty to the character that you create and believability that he or she is who they say they are and would react or be in the situations the writer places them in.

My first moment of incredulity was started when less than six months of being awake he is despondent and by a year and some months he is considering and almost commits suicide. My son said he could see it. He said humans are social creatures and without other people they would go insane.  He even reminded me of the movie cast away and how the protagonist had ‘Wilson.” I agree to a point. See there were many factors there creating a need for our protagonist to need a companion. He was constantly fighting for his life, his food, his water. He had no skill that could be applied on the island. And the most important factor there was nothing on that island to stimulate him.  He was completely believable not as needing to create a simple companion but an ally. He needed someone to be at his side for battle.

As for believability of our protagonist in Passengers… We have a man in his early 30’s so not a kid anymore. He has a very specific trade which would have made that ship a wonderland. From the systems to the robots. How many mechanics do you know that don’t tinker. With the size of that ship and all of the systems on it he would have stimuli to last years. On top of that he had access to the ships learning/training classes. And we know he has the ability to teach himself, because that is how he woke the female character up, so all the other manuals that he could have spent time learning were there as well.  And now on to the companionship. I am going to go back to our first example of Cast Away and Wilson. We know he was ball and was what Chuck project him to be. But Jim (our protag in Passengers) has an android at his disposal, not a projection of himself. Not a living breathing human but a being that reacts to stimuli and intelligent conversation.  And on top of that lets not talk about the fact that they were in space with all of those wonders to see and take in.

So yeah being the only human awake might have gotten to him eventually but for the character that was created probably not for twenty-five to thirty years.

The next thing that had me saying wouldn’t have happened like that was finding the perfect woman first pod he looked in. And then staying obsessed.  Here is the thing when people become obsessive about something … they are obsessive about other things as well. The character was not written with any other obsessions. He might have found her and he might have known just by looking at her that she was the one. But again, the writer forgot that when he told Aurora later that you can’t judge them by looking at them.  For this device to be believable he would have needed to start reading multiple profiles and going back to hers. If we assume have the passengers were female, he had over twenty-five hundred possibilities. He would have come back to her eventually… but as humans we never pick the best first time around.

I think the writer did better with the female character (Aurora) but she was a little too… underwhelming. They made her ready for adventure. She was supposed to be a creative person. Yes she would have been terribly upset as she wanted to go back to earth in a year. But since she was doing it just so be the first writer to travel to a colony world and come back to the future she would have never carried on about murder. The anger would have been about the betrayal of not telling her he woke her up. Not at waking her up. Another thing about her as a writer, she would have missed hearing what people thought about her work but she wouldn’t worry about no one reading it. Writers write to share a story that they can’t keep in, not to get readers.  Space and the journey which she stated no one else had done would have been wonderland for her writing as well.

We’re not even going to mention that the pacing on this story. They tried too hard to make it both action and character driven. It felt like a mash up of Nell and the end of a Die Hard. Both good stories, but together they’re not compatible.

I don’t want to leave you thinking all I am doing is ragging on the characterization because I am not. This is more of an opening to a dialogue about writing or reading characters and how to bring believable three dimensional characters to the page.

My first super hero

It has been a while since I graced a keyboard with the intent of writing. The year started off okay then sickness, work, chaos and now childcare all stacked together to create excuses. Then when I thought about actually writing I couldn’t come up with something awesome as an appeasement for my absence so I allowed that to keep me from writing.

But last night I found it. And it was thanks to one of my excuses.  And it is very timely as Guardians of the Galaxy just released to theaters. Let me set the scene, I was sitting on my bed, the baby was in my arms asleep. I picked up the book I had been reading for the last week and started reading aloud.  His mother came home and asked if I read to him. Of course I did and told her so.  We started talking about the book. Of course it wasn’t something that a 8 month old was interested in but he was asleep and the benefits of reading to him are not contingent on his understanding.

Before she left and to my surprise I identified the character in the book as my very first super hero. My son who was listening said, “really you think Zorro is a super hero?”  Absolutely, he was a masked vigilante who pretended to be someone he wasn’t by day and right wrongs by night.

This is the formula for 90 percent of our super heroes. Superman: Clark Kent, Wonder Woman: Diana Prince, Scarlett Pimpernel: Percival Blakeney, The Shadow: Lamont Cranston, The lone Ranger, The Flash, Daredevil, Spider-Man,  and of course Batman: Bruce Wayne. There are tons more but you get the point.

Funny that I should mention Batman because after my son left not at all convinced of my reasoning behind Diego being a super hero I did some research. It seems the creator of Batman used my favorite /second favorite swords man as his inspiration for his character.  Here is the thing  I grew up watching  Guy Williams and Tyrone Power play him and watching both the batman movies and cartoons and never even realized.

Someone once told me that all the stories have been written but not from your point of view. Which must have some grain of truth because Zorro created in 1919 and The Scarlet Pimpernel created in 1905 basically became the blueprint for every comic book hero creating the Marvel and DC universe as well as any hero who hides his identy.  So as we begin the summer with Guardians, Thor, Spider-Man lets pay homage to the original  masked man who left his calling card on the wall and butts of the bad guys.