Monday, July 28, 2008

A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Amish Please

It’s day one at the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference, and we’re already worn out. I say “we,” because Danny’s here running around, running sound and pretty much anything with wires. It's great fun because we're equally tired, and equally loopy.

I love the conferences because it's like summer camp for writers. Most of us are slightly odd ducks, so you get a group of us together making bad writing-related puns and exchanging rejection stories.

There is much conversation over what editors are looking for. Most of us want to know what those elusive editors are looking for, even though I think, subconsciously, we just want them to be looking for us. We don't want to conform to what they're looking for.

The big topic this year is over the Amish: everyone wants Amish. Those of us who write contemporary fiction lament over the fact that what we write just isn't selling. It's hard to remember sometimes that even Christian publishing is a business. Publishers want to acquire books that will sell. Nobody wants unsold books to be recycled into toilet paper. Nobody wants to be responsible for producing a book that will run a deficit.

The publishing industry is not unlike Hollywood; if they find something that sells, they'll make a lot of us. And while that may irritate the creative at heart, we do have to realize it's good business practice.

The question creatives have to ask themselves is, "how creative am I?" Are we creative enough to write salable books? Are we capable of crafting stories that follow the trends, in order to avoid a toilet paper future?

Will the Amish trend blow over? You bet your buggy. Will it blow over before new Amish acquisitions are released? Yeah, probably. Which is why it's important to write stories that supercede trend. Stories that may involve quilting and buggies but also tell a solid story in an unexpected way.

I know for me, Plain Jane will not be the only book I write. There will be more. And it won't be all Amish all the time. Next year, there will be a new "Amish."

Aliens, probably. But we'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guillermo vs. George

In 1977, George Lucas's Star Wars: A New Hope introduced us to a galaxy far, far away. This galaxy contained strange beings, exotic planets, a rebellion, a princess, a farmboy...

Take out the "exotic planets" bit, and George includes all the elements of a fairy tale, one of the oldest genres of story. In fact, most story experts will tell you (and excuse them for being snotty, it's their nature) that Star Wars itself is based on the archetypal Hero's Journey structure outlined by Joseph Campbell and originating in the ancient mythology fairy tales were based on.

But aside from George's storytelling aptitude in 1977, his ability to bring the story to life with incredible visuals made an overnight hit out of a Space Opera.

Fast forward thirty years. George became overwhelmed with the visual nature of his stories and forgot to love his characters.

(Writers note: forget to love your characters, and they'll bite you back every time.)

Gone are the fresh takes on familiar structures. We were stuck with Anakin's inability to save the universe from...policy reform. Also gone were the familiar character constructs; Anakin wasn't a farmboy, or a cowboy...just an overgrown punk with a light saber.

But I digress. Sad, sad times, but plenty of room for someone else with a love for fable to step in.

Enter Guillermo.

Mr. Del Toro first attracted American attention with Cronos, and has since gone on to Hollywood set pieces such as Blade II and Hellboy, followed by the amazing Pan's Labyrinth. The latter served as a showcase for Guillermo's love for myth and fairy tales, especially when combined with elements of the grotesque, the gothic, and the macabre.

He and Poe would have gotten along great.

And now we have Hellboy II: The Golden Army. In this installment, the non-human world (consisting of elves, trolls, etc.) feels that the human world has encroached on their forest territory, and the less-than-peaceful Prince Nuada plans to raise the Golden Army to conquer the humans and retrieve their terf. But to raise the army, he requires certain objects...and the plot rolls on.

Hellboy, naturally, is assigned (as much as he ever is) to stop him with the aid of his flame, Liz Sherman (pun intended), and C-3PO-esque buddy Abe Sapien (played by Doug Jones, but we'll get to him later). They meet Nuada's peaceful twin sister, Nuala, who bears a resemblance to the Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, but in a nice way.

And so on and so forth...really, it's all secondary to the fabulous visuals. Doug Jones, who played the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth, also provides the bodies for the Chamberlain and the terrific Angel of Death. Jones has found his niche in Hollywood as "the person inside the suit." Not surprisingly, he got his start as his university's mascot...

Fairy tales have been a beloved and much-used springboard for a lot of modern literature and film. C.S. Lewis, for instance, used fairy tale constructs in his Chronicles of Narnia. My current theory is that the idea of the fairy tale has aged with us into the comic book saga; supernatural characters and events out to save the kingdom, if not the world.

Hellboy II is the ultimate popcorn flick, made above-average by Guillermo Del Toro's attention to visual detail. Del Toro's next project is The Hobbit I & II, which I'm that much more excited about after seeing Hellboy II. I would love to see Del Toro take a stab at one of the Narnia installments, particularly The Magician's Nephew.

And let us hope we'll never find ourselves with a prequel explaining how Hellboy's parents found themselves in Hell...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dark, Dark Knight

I'm having trouble beginning this blog. We just returned from Dark Knight, the follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins. If you don't know it's the follow up, and haven't heard any of the insane buzz around Heath Ledger's last full performance, then this blog really isn't for you. Just skip on down to one of the posts about birds.

To answer the questions,

1. Heath Ledger's performance really is that good. I didn't care for Jack Nicholson's take; Ledger's is different. There's an unrehearsed, anarchic quality, as if The Joker showed up on the set one day and director Christopher Nolan decided to keep rolling. It's brilliant, it's terrifying. And while none of the gore may show up on the screen (with an MPAA rating of PG-13), much is implied.

2. The film really is that dark. I really loved Batman Begins. Dark Knight takes us to a part of the Batman legend where the "Batcave" is a secure cellar; stark, and easy to clean. There is no Wayne Mansion - it's still in the rebuilding stages, and Nolan decided against giving us an idea of when they're planning on breaking ground. There is some repartee between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius at turns, but on the whole, a lot of the fun of the previous installment has been sucked out.

Instead, it's been replaced by an airtight story about what happens when the lines between protector and villain blur. A film that stands among the ranks of American Gangster or Kingdom of Heaven (Two very different but somewhat similar Ridley Scott films, each dealing in their own way with definitions of heroes and anti-heroes). Perhaps not what moviegoers expect when attending a movie about characters owned by DC Comics. If you are squeamish at all about knives, this is not the movie for you. If you cringe at children being placed in horrific situations, this is also not the movie for you. If a dented Lamborghini brings tears to your eyes...I really don't know what to tell you. Nice cars have short lifespans on film. But I digress.

The Gotham City of Batman Begins had its elements of comic-book stylization - the broken down elevated train, for example. This Gotham is Chicago. There are no stylized creations to buffer the perception of reality. Dark Knight is that much more disturbing because it feels so much more real. Nolan took off the kid gloves for this one, and settled down to tell a raw story about pain and how people react to it. About hope, how to create it and how to stifle it. About what to do when, maybe, the whole truth isn't the best option.

I can appreciate this film. I don't think I liked it. I don't think I would choose to see it again, although I suspect I would cringe less.

There are highlights. Morgan Freeman, as Lucius, poses a question to a Wayne Enterprises employee that brings down the house. And the bike (pictured above) that the bat-mobile produces when it becomes indisposed is frankly pretty rad. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckert as Harvey Dent and the wonderful Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon; all top notch.

Rachel Dawes, I think, is the weakest point of the film. She crosses a line that comic book girls don't get to cross, and for a good set of reasons. I won't write about them here; if you really want to know, shoot me an email. But she deserved better. She deserved, at least, to be likeable. The casting shift of Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over for Katie Holmes is part of it. While I never believed Katie as a DA's Assistant (I mean, really), she projects a kind of sweet likeability. I don't believe that sweet likeability are two words that will ever, truly, be used to describe Maggie Gyllenhaal. We believe this Rachel survived law school, but we have no reason to feel affection for her when she clearly appears to hold the world in contempt.

I can't unilaterally recommend this film. It is brilliantly casted, acted, and directed.

But it wasn't fun. If you want fun, see Hellboy II. You don't even need to see the first (we didn't; it's fairly self-explanatory). And I'll write that blog review soon, but I had to get this one off my chest.

We may pull Winnie the Pooh off the shelf tonight, if only to get Ledger's "Why so serious?" out of my head.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Triumph over the Machine

Victory over an inanimate object shouldn't be this sweet. I've been trying for a couple months to figure out the Slideshow widget on Blogger; today, justice has prevailed.

There are few things more frustrating than being a photographer and not being able to post a stupid little slideshow on your blog. Than having a photobucket slideshow html code and having nowhere to embed it. Seriously, it's up there with undercooked $25 pizza.

Blogger sweetly informed me that a handful of photo-album sites would cooperate with me. Very long story short, I discovered Picassa Web Albums to be friendly to my plight, and look at that! Now, large-ish thumbnails are displayed on right-hand sidebar (go ahead, look at the pretty flashing pictures!) and can be clicked on to view the larger version.

Show your friends, show your family. All photos can be ordered in a range of sizes to add a nice touch to any room. Or, shoot me an email (find it in my profile) to set up a family or individual portrait shoot. The weather is lovely and the location options are wide open.

In other housekeeping, note the subscription widget below the "Places to Click". This blog can now be embedded into Google and Yahoo pages.

The last of the happy news for the day is that another one of my Heart Gallery kids found a home. Keep those kids in your prayers and consider being involved with the Heart Gallery of Lane County.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Us

A year ago today, I married my best friend.

A whole year has gone by - we've experienced the joy of moving in together, adjusting to a life routine, being introduced as "The Lodges." For Halloween, Danny was a contractor; I was a fairy (children's book to follow). We negotiated hiding places for Christmas presents and picking the right Valentine's Day card (for the first time EVER, I had a date on Valentine's). We've read through The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Howl's Moving Castle and The Belgariad.

We figured out what to do when the Mormons knocked on the door (it's happened twice now). That it's okay to rent an action flick and a chick flick and watch both together.

I love this man I married, for a lot of different reasons.

1. He can fix anything, from cars to microwaves to children's bubble toys.
2. He makes a terrific paper airplane.
3. He can flip omelets and hashbrowns like a short order cook.
4. He wants to know and understand everything about the world around him.
5. His feet are ticklish.
6. He lets me eat his ice cream and drink his drinks.
7. He watched Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and the Emperor's New Groove with me.
8. He reads everything I write and talks about it with me.
9. He plays guitar and sings from his heart.
10. Most importantly, he loves me when I really don't deserve it.

There are quite a lot of other reaons, and I'm fairly sure this blog doesn't alot me the memory to write them all.

We've had a wonderful year, and I can't wait for the next.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

He just wanted to hold her hand

I need to see WALL-E again. I'm torn between delight over the characterizations of WALL-E and his gal-pal EVE (or as WALL-E says, "Eeevaa!") and the political implications I wasn't expecting.

So maybe if I see it and expect them, I'll feel differently. I hope so.

There's a lot I liked about this film. WALL-E is perhaps the most lovable Disney creation since Bambi. Considering WALL-E is essentially a trash compactor, that's saying a lot for director Andrew Stanton's abilities. WALL-E tools around on Earth, picking up junk and using the compactor installed in his chest cavity to create bricks. Some items are held out; a spork, a shoe, and his favorite movie, Hello, Dolly! His collection reminded me of Ariel's in The Little Mermaid; artifacts from a world he has never been a part of, and yet longs for.

Yes, WALL-E has longings. He's lonely. He would like someone to hold someone's hand. And a someone lands a few days later, in a manner that will remind you of the last time you made a cat chase a laser pointer. It is not love at first sight, but WALL-E is nothing if not committed.

Every moment with WALL-E is precious. The moments without him are less so.

Where are the people, you ask? Hard to say. The Americans, at least (the ones pictured appear to have all been gathered from somewhere in the Midwest) are floating in a spaceship, eating and floating around on hoverchairs. Should they become unseated...the term "beached whale" comes to mind.

Despite the fact that they've been in space for several hundred years, the message is clear; these people are responsible for the desert waste that WALL-E's been working on for so long.

Frankly, I resent the implication that the destruction of the Earth is the fault of the U.S., although blaming it on the Midwest isn't as bad. But consider that even at the height of America's pollution output, we were nowhere near China on a so-so day. Global polution is a global problem, but still those darn Midwesterners are floating around in space.

By the time the term "stay the course" is uttered by Corrupt Corporate Man I was poli-ticked-off. WALL-E deserves better.

The film does get back to he and EVE, and there's a fantastic sequence involving flying and a fire extinguisher. Putting any of the scenes into words is tough; the visuals are so rich, so layered, that writing about them seems silly. In fact, the rest of the movie was so completely enjoyable that it seems shallow to be poli-ticked-off by Corrupt Corporate Man when there are moments like WALL-E seeing space for the first time.

Which is why I need to see it again.

P.S. The film short, "Presto," is completely wonderful beyond words. Possibly one of my favorites, although I did love "Boundin'". There is a possibility that the wonderfulness of the film short contributes to my need to see WALL-E again.