Monday, June 25, 2012

Manic Monday: Review of Brave, by Disney/Pixar

Merida, star of the Disney/Pixar film "Brave," released June, 2012

Meet Merida, a Celtic princess fighting for the right to choose her own fate. She's handy with a bow and arrow. She's got a mane of flaming red hair that matches her fiery temperament. The tradition of her land states that she'll marry the man who wins the skill challenge.

Only problem is, Merida doesn't want to get married - at least not yet. And she wants to be in control of her own fate. She's not inclined to marry someone just because they won the challenge.

In Brave, Disney has created a princess story unlike any other that they've made before. First, the mother is alive. Snow White? Dead mother. Cinderella? Dead mother. Beauty and the Beast? Dead mother. Finding Nemo? Okay it's not a princess story, but still, dead mother.

Merida's mother is alive and well and trying her best to forge Merida into queen material. While her mother coaches her on the the ways of a princess, Merida is more interested in riding her horse, shooting her arrows at targets, and generally doing the opposite of what her mother wishes her to do.

While Brave is about a Celtic princess in ancient times, the relationship between Merida and her mother is timeless. I think Disney got this just right. I could almost hear the shadows of my own arguments with my mother when I was a teen, and I could almost hear the foreshadowing of arguments I'll have with my own daughter in just a few years. It's rare to see a movie, animated or live-action, that portrays a mother-daughter relationship in any depth and without pandering to emotional manipulation tactics. I truly enjoyed this aspect of Brave and applaud Disney/Pixar for making a female centered movie that got it right.

The second thing that Disney did here - that they haven't done before - is to create a story that draws heavily on the magic and mysticism of a Celtic tradition. The story is set in the Scottish Highlands and the story prominently features a circle of stones in the plot as well as wisps and other features of Scottish myth and legend.

Given that I have read a lot about Celtic myth and legend as research for my book Emily's House (much of which takes place in Ireland), I really enjoyed seeing this take on Celtic myth on the big screen.

brave, disney, pixar, movie trailer
Merida being led by a wisp
And the movie is BEAUTIFUL. Merida's fiery, red hair is the perfect contrast to the lush greens used to paint the Scottish countryside. The rendering is lush and just plain gorgeous.

I've seen some reviews saying that this movie rates up there with Finding Nemo. As much as I loved Brave and applaud Disney for stepping out of their comfort zone with this story, I disagree that this movie will have the wide appeal of Finding Nemo.

Why? Mainly because this movie will not appeal to the youngest viewers. In fact, I think this movie is probably an 8 and up movie. It does not have the fast-paced feel of Finding Nemo, nor is it full of jokes and goofiness. While it has plenty of laughs, overall it is a more serious, relationship centered story. It reminds me more of Up, but without the ridiculous dog stuff that, in my opinion, was a let down in that movie to the opening scenes, but that added the goofy humor that smaller kids might appreciate.

As much as I liked this movie, I also think it is not as tight in the storytelling as it could have been - should have been. Without giving away the surprise in the plot, the story borrowed heavily from a prior Disney film, Brother Bear (which, in turn, "borrowed" heavily from native myths and legends). There is a "been there, seen that" quality to the film which is not present in some of Disney's most popular films.

Additionally, there are moments when the story builds to a dramatic moment, making a big point, but a point which was never returned to later - just dumped out and left hanging. Now this is not likely something that a young viewer will notice, but it bothered me.

For example, there is a scene early on when the clans are meeting in the great hall and a fight erupts. The queen is exasperated. Her husband, the King, cannot seem to wrest control and ends up (joyfully) joining the brawl. The queen clears her throat and merely walks into the throng, standing tall and with poise, and the men stop their fight and listen to her.

The point of this scene is that before it, the queen was trying to teach Merida how to be a queen - how to exude her female power. And then the queen has an opportunity to demonstrate all of the skills she was trying to teach Merida. The scene shows Merida's face and she is in awe of her mother's power in that moment. It is the queen who takes control of the scene, not her king.

This is a great scene. It creates the idea, that you assume will connect up later, that Merida may have a thing or two to learn from her mother after all. That maybe a woman, though not armed with sword or a bow, can exude great power too, through her poise and intelligence. Wouldn't it be great if later in the story, Merida is able to recognize this lesson and see that her mother has a thing or two to teach her?

The problem is, even after all that Merida goes through and lessons she learns, they storytellers never connect up this scene in any way. In fact, it ends up feeling that it is her mother, more than Merida, who learns that Merida has something to teach. Now that's not a bad thing, and it fits with the storyline. But they created this wonderful scene so rich with promise - but the promise was never delivered.

This movie has such great potential with the storytelling - much greater potential than probably any other Disney movie before it. But as a storyteller myself, I felt that they did not deliver on the story's promise. It was like there was no editor telling them to tighten it up and leave no dangling threads.
Isn't this just beautiful? Merida led to the ring of stones by the wisps.
But this is a nit-picky complaint. Overall, the movie is fun, beautiful and tells an engaging story. The backside shot of the men without their kilts is probably worth the price of admission. ;-)

Bottom line: Go see it. It is lush, beautiful and almost perfect. Leave your tiny ones at home - they'll be bored and detract from your enjoyment of the art of this movie. Do take your daughters because it's about time we had a Disney movie with a princess that can actually serve as a role model for strong, capable girls.

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Annual SciFi Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop!!

Welcome midsummer revelers to the Science Fiction Romance Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop 2012! If you got to my page from the SFR Brigade page, welcome, and make sure you enter my Rafflecopter Giveaway below for a chance to snag my book and some bookish swag. If you are one of my regulars or happened upon my page, make sure to click this link to hop from blog to blog so you can check out all the amazing posts - and enter to win! Remember, your comments on the blog posts enter you in the giveaway for the prizes offered by the Brigade, namely a Kindle OR Nook!!

Here, my ode to midsummer:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet mush-roses and the eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight.
     -From A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare

Ah, midsummer. Shakespeare's lines capture it well, don't you think? When reading these lines, you can almost smell the sultry perfume of abundant flowers, their blooms brazenly open, releasing their musky scent. I'm picturing a lush, green English garden - a perfect place for faerie folk to linger.

Midsummer has long been a time of celebration for many cultures. When researching my novel Emily's House, I was intrigued by ancient Celtic rituals. Though the Summer Solstice was not the most important celebration for the ancient Celts, it certainly was honored.

On my trip to Ireland in 2010, I had the opportunity to visit Loughcrew. Loughcrew is a megalithic site dating to 3500 to 3300 B.C. To put that in context, the Great Pyramid at Giza was completed in 2560 B.C. That means that the ancient Celts in Ireland created large, planned structures for burial and ritual over a thousand years before the Egyptians built the pyramids.

Loughcrew has a small hole in the capstone of the structure which is aligned with the sun at both the Spring and Autumnal equinox. As the alignment occurs, the sun illuminates the back wall and the petroglyphs and symbols etched there.
This hole still aligns the sun at the spring and autumn equinox, as it has for over 5000 years.
Loughcrew isn't the only cairn in the area. There is also Carrowkeel with its cairn aligned with the setting sun at the Summer Solstice.

Summer Solstice Sunset at Carrowkeel Cairn G viewed through the roofbox

Scholars aren't sure why our ancestors built these sites. But clearly it was important to them to observe the cycles of the sun. Their livelihood likely depended on it.

I can't say for sure the purpose of Loughcrew, but I can say that when I was there, I felt its spiritual power. It is my belief that objects and places retain the energy signatures from the people who touched or used them. At Loughcrew, you feel the spiritual energy and solemnity of the site.
An alter? A view of the outside of the Cairn at Loughcrew.
As I walked the grounds and laid my hands on the stones, I tried to imagine why the ancients had built the structure and what had taken place there. I could almost smell the smoke of the burning wood of the celebratory fires. The odor of roasting meat filled my nose. I could feel the pulse of the deep ritual drums. As I stood on top of that hill, feeling the Irish wind whipping my hair, I felt the power of the words spoken by ancient Druid priests calling upon the sun god for blessing.
Sheep share the hill at Loughcrew
The cairn at Loughcrew, Ireland
Fire was, and still is, a significant component of midsummer celebrations. In midsummer, our ancient ancestors were concerned with making sure their crops would have plenty of sun to help them grow to maturity for harvest. Fire was considered "sympathetic magic," used to amplify or call down the power of the sun.

The ancients relied on the cooperation of nature for their survival. These ancient sites reveal that their rituals were tied to nature's cycles.

When I wrote Emily's House, I knew that I wanted to include a scene with an ancient Celtic ritual. What fit with the story was a ban feis, a ritualistic marriage of the King to the Goddess (representing the land). Once I'd been to Ireland and Loughcrew, I rewrote the scene entirely, calling on my impressions of the ancient rites that I received subconsciously while I was there. While at Loughcrew, the whole place imbued with the lingering imprint of the spirits of our ancient ancestors who built it, I felt like I'd been there before.

Perhaps we've all been there. Maybe the collective memory of the days when our ancestors danced and feasted around the bonfire is buried in our DNA. Just maybe our need to mark the seasons with ritual and merriment is an ingrained part of our human nature.

Being a desert dweller, the fires of midsummer will burn in my heart rather than my yard. Sláinte!

Midsummer Blog Hop Participants
1. Pippa Jay  13. Liana Brooks  25. Debra A. Soles  
2. Misa Buckley  14. A. R. Norris  26. Marlene @ Reading Reality  
3. Arlene Webb  15. L.J. Garland & Debbie Gould  27. Rae Lori  
4. Pauline Baird Jones  16. Sandra Sookoo  28. Bella Street  
5. Frances Pauli  17. Cara Michaels  29. Kyn Hatch  
6. Imogene Nix  18. Sheryl Nantus  30. T.K. Anthony  
7. Natalie Wright  19. Diane Dooley  31. Jo Jones  
8. Greta van der Rol  20. Kathleen Scott  32. A.B. Gayle  
9. Jessica E. Subject  21. Ella Drake  33. Sue Ann Bowling  
10. Kayelle Allen  22. Cathy Pegau  34. S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore  
11. Joanne Elder  23. T. C. Archer  35. DL Jackson  
12. Melisse Aires  24. Kitty Roads  36. Hywela Lyn  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Summer Solstice!

Okay, the summer solstice was officially June 20 at 23:09 GMT this year so I'm a tad late in wishing you a joyous midsummer. But hey, there's still plenty of time to enjoy the languid days of summer.

As for me, Summer Solstice 2012 was spent in a modern interpretation of ancient rites.

In days of the old, they lit bonfires.

A bonfire in Ålesund, Norway marks the summer solstice.
Huge Bonfire in Norway on Summer Solstice. Photo by Geir Halvorsen
We decided to forgo the bonfire. It was 110 here yesterday (105 in the shade). If we lit a bonfire, it would probably burn down half the county. Our heat was supplied by the sun. No need to amplify the effect with fire.

Our ancestors gathered together, feasted and drank mead.
Paramount Pictures
We gathered - with about 26,000 others from our community - and watched the Diamondbacks play the Seattle Mariners. Gathering with friends, family and total strangers to watch sport. Perhaps it's our modern equivalent of the bonfire gatherings of old?

first view of chase field.JPG
We feasted - on chili dogs, hamburgers, pizza, fries and ice cream. There was no mutton or game roasted over the fire. But you could smell the odor of popcorn and hot dogs on the street outside the stadium, the smell of a feast beckoning you in.


And mead - okay it wasn't mead, but malty beverages were enjoyed. Several beverages.

But most importantly, we took a day off of work, summer camp, and responsibility to gather and enjoy each other's company and revel in the joys of the season. Good times, good times.

Friends & Family enjoying the Diamondbacks game
Please stop by tomorrow and join me in the first annual Science Fiction Romance Brigade (SFR Brigade) Midsummer Blog Hop. Hippity hop yourself from blog to blog and enjoy the posts about midsummer by the fabulous authors in the SFR Brigade.

Oh, and did I mention the chance to win fabulous prizes? Like your choice of a Kindle or Nook?

Get a head start here and enter my own mid-summer giveaway (Rafflecopter below).

How did you spend the solstice? Did you do anything special to celebrate? Or was it just another day for you?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Manic Monday: The Least Sexy Writing Tool You Need

Bad Grammar English is our language
It is time, my friends, to talk about the least sexy of all writing subjects: Grammar. Specifically, let's talk about a tool that I have found that will help you improve the quality of your manuscripts. The product? Grammarly.

I know - you're probably rolling your eyes at me and are thinking about leaving the page. Perhaps you, like some readers, care almost exclusively about the book's premise, plot, idea. Perhaps you, like some readers, don't give a hang about typos and ignore poor grammar.

But not all readers feel that way. In fact, at the other end of the spectrum are grammar nazis. These people are irritated by the most minute errors. Grammar nazis take great pleasure in going onto Amazon and giving one star to a novel because of grammar errors (I saw this kind of review posted for one of my favorite books of 2011, The Night Circus).

Perhaps you're saying, "Yes, but very few readers are that into grammar."

Probably true. But I think the majority of readers fall between these two extremes. Most readers are annoyed by books with a significant number of typos and spelling errors. Many get irritated if a writer consistently overuses a word or uses banal and vague descriptions.

But even if the reader is not consciously aware of errors, I believe a book riddled with errors wears on the reader, if only unconsciously. If the reader actually gets to the end, she may be 'meh' about the book and not recommend it, even though she generally liked the premise and the main character(s).

If you have stayed with me this long I hope I've made a case for why you, as a writer, should care more about the polish of your prose than most of us probably do. The attention to detail can lift a book from "just so, so" to "pretty good." It can be the difference between, "I struggled to get through that book," to "I highly recommend this book."

A book free of errors cannot guarantee sales. We have all been witness to books that have topped the charts and are poorly written or full of errors.

But you and I - while we care about sales - we care more about giving the reader the best possible book we can give them. We care deeply about the product. And because we care about the prose, we owe it to ourselves - and our readers - to invest time and money into products and services that help us put out our best possible product.

What does Grammarly do? How do you know if you need Grammarly?

1. If you didn't know that modifiers can squint, you need Grammarly. Until I began using it, I was unaware that modifiers could squint. Apparently they can, and apparently I had modifiers squinting all over the place.

What the heck is a squinting modifier and why should I care?

If a modifier is placed in a sentence in such a way that it could be modifying either of two different clauses, it's a "squinting" modifier. And this is confusing to the reader. And that's why you should care.

You never want to confuse your reader. Confused readers become frustrated readers and frustrated readers don't recommend your book to their friends and don't come back for more books by you.

Grammarly will not only point out all of your squinters; you will learn to stop doing it in the first place. By using the program and correcting the mistake yourself, you'll be learning. When you do this over the course of an entire manuscript, trust me, the rule will become engrained. If the rule is engrained, you are less likely to break the rule in the future. Ergo, less confusion for your readers = happier readers. Yeah! We love happy readers.

2. If you love to use banal words such as very, even, good, bad or others like them, you need Grammarly. The program will not only point these words out, but it will recommend more juicy, specific words to use.

Why is this a problem and why should I care?

Every word should count. So make each word work for you. When is the word "very" necessary? Perhaps never. Consider "very good." That's the most juicy description you could come up with for chocolate lava cake (for example)?

Once Grammarly has pointed this out to you several dozen (or hundreds) of times, you'll start to get the picture. Again, it becomes engrained, and you'll write juicier, less banal words to start with.

3. If you never use commas (or use ten per sentence), you need Grammarly.

Why do we care about commas?

Your prose is easier to read when you properly use commas. If you help your reader out, you'll have a happy reader. A reader shouldn't have to work at reading your novel.

Have you ever had to read a sentence more than once to figure out what it means? Okay, if you're reading a physics book, perhaps that's to be expected. But a novel? No, you should never have to read and reread a sentence to figure out what the heck the writer is trying to say.

Misplaced modifiers, dangling participles and other freakish grammar beasts can be to blame. But the lack of or misplacement of commas can also contribute to lack of readability.

Grammarly is genius at the use of commas. If you use it regularly, you, too, may become a comma genius.

Grammarly, or similar programs, cannot replace a substantive editor. Writers still need human editors to help craft the story. But for writers, especially self-pubbers and other Indies, Grammarly will help your prose achieve a higher state of polish and readability.

Readability = happy readers. And happy readers = happy writers.

Everyone's happy. Isn't that wonderful?

What writing or editing tools have you found indespensible? What have you purchased that you'd gladly purchase again?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review Friday: Sexy Fun Reading - The Darlings Of Orange County

I was fortunate enough to recently snag a Skype interview with author Jennifer Devore, a charming and witty Southern California gal and authoress. In addition to writing novels, Jennifer writes for Good to Be Geek and her own blog. Whatever Jennifer is writing, you can be sure it will be funny and smart. I highly recommend her blogs. Jennifer's posts never disappoint and I am continually amazed at her vocabulary in several different languages. If you missed my interview with Miss Jenny, check it out here.

Having become a fan of Jenny's writing via her blog, I eagerly snagged a copy of Ms. Devore's The Darlings of Orange County for my e-reader. The description promises "salacious and comical" and this book delivered. I had downloaded a sample of Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy and did not find the book compelling enough to hit the "buy" button. A lot of people must disagree with me, because the book sits atop the bestseller list!

But I was in the mood for a read that is a bit naughty. Nothing too serious. I wanted a break from gritty, moody, YA fiction. If Fifty Shades wouldn't fit the bill, would The Darlings of Orange County?

My answer: Yes! 

Let's get some deets on the book. Here is the description from Goodreads:

The casually-cashmere, sexy beaches of Orange County and San Diego aren't always what they seem. The dirty little secret here is what it takes to make it. Everybody has a trick up their silk sleeve. Veronica Darling is smart enough to know what it takes and is willing to soil her soul to bring Hollywood to the California Riviera. 

The Darlings of Orange County is a salacious, comical and harrowing romp chock full of eco-terrorism, horse-racing scandals, weed deals and the obligatory lipstick-lesbian affair that inevitably leads to murder. It all builds to a mind-shattering, white-knuckled climax in a glitzy, celebrity-stacked Laguna Beach Film Premiere that spells success for Veronica Darling and trouble for her friends and family.Others who like The Darlings of Orange County also like Absolutely Fabulous, Arrested Development and The Real Housewives of Orange County.

The Darlings of Orange County is a laugh-out-loud romp set in Southern California. Jennifer Devore's formidable powers of descriptive detail create a setting so rich, you'll swear you've been there. They say, "Write what you know." It is clear that the author knows the California setting - and people - that fill the pages of this book.

Author Jennifer S. Devore,
photo by Magali deVulpillieres
When I interviewed Jennifer, she admitted that it was her goal to write a sexy book (as opposed to her previous historical fiction). The age old moniker - sex sells (just witness Fifty Shades of Grey). But Ms. Devore is a witty and smart writer. Thus, while the Darlings is certainly filled with sex (and wine drinking and occasional dope smoking), it is also smart, witty, and does not shy away from commentary on our culture when it fits the storyline.

The main character, Veronica Darling, is a likable character. Veronica is an author of historical fiction. She watches in stupefied amazement as her own, serious, historical fiction books are backseat to her agent's recent find - a book called My Vagina Loves You by female author Raina Schein, who bares her own nether region for photos that are in book. No surprise, the salacious book flies off of the shelves.

To add fuel to Veronica's growing fire, her lovable but dumb-ass husband, Ryan, goes head to head with a shark during a round of ocean fishing with his friend, Pardo (the fact that Pardo is into naked, Encino Man fishing adds hilarity to the scene). When Veronica's husband makes the Today show for his ill advised shark fishing, Veronica is pushed to the edge.

What ensues is a funny, sexy and witty tale set in the Southern California sun. The Darlings of Orange  County is a perfect summer read for your e-reader. But be careful where you read it. In some places, laughing out loud while reading may be embarrassing.

Note: This book is for adults. Due to strong sexual content, I do not recommend or endorse this book for those under the age of 18.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writer Chat Wednesday with the Fascinating Jennifer Devore

Jennifer Devore, photo by Magali deVulpillieres
My guest today for Writer Chat is Jennifer Devore. Her newest title is The Darlings of Orange County.

Jennifer is witty, smart and beautiful - and those qualities come through in her writing. Even when attempting to write a "cheap" book full of sex and fun, it still comes out as smart and witty (but don't get me wrong - it's sexy too!).

I recently sat down for a Skype chat with Jennifer and we discussed her newest title, The Darlings of Orange County. Lucky for you I hit the record button. Check it out:

You can connect with Jennifer here:
Twitter @JennyPopNet

You can purchase Jennifer's books on Amazon:

And be sure to check out her historical fiction:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Manic Monday: Family Vacation, DisneyPalooza 2012 & Perspective

Regular visitors to my blog may have noticed a lack of new posts over the past couple of weeks. I was on vacation!

Two weeks with family on a Disney-Palooza extravaganza. I didn't check e-mails, write, tweet (much), Facebook (excessively), work at my day job or worry about much of anything for two weeks.

This was a trip of firsts. My first cruise (loved it!!!). My first time to the Bahamas (great water and snorkeling, but humid - oh my!). My first time parasailing (can I have seconds please?).

Trying new things gives us a different perspective and a change in perspective can energize our creativity. Parasailing set me above it all, flying over the water like a bird. I looked out and saw the entire island. From that height, the people disappeared. It was quiet. I was alone with the wind whipping my hair.

 Mac’s view from above while parasailing

Perspective. Even from a few stories up, it becomes apparent just how small we are.

Snorkeling in the ocean with my daughter - another first. Oh, I've snorkeled before, but never with her. Holding her hand gently as we flippered our way out into the ocean, hovering over a reef teeming with sea life. She was a bit afraid. But I am so proud of her for conquering the fear and diving in to the deep beneath.

As we swam I looked over and saw her eyes wide and twinkling with excitement, her face beaming under the snorkel mask. Holding the hand of my baby - a hand that was once tiny and so in need of me. A hand that is now close to the size of mine. We had only an hour there, together, swimming with the fishes. But it was one of the best hours of my life. We shared a hidden treasure together that day. I held her hand as she ventured one step closer to  her independence.

Perspective. Does it get any better than this? Holding the hand of someone you love as you experience something amazing together.

Later that day, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride through Nassau, Bahamas. If you're picturing a grand carriage with a gorgeous, well-groomed horse like you might see around Central Park, stop it! 

Picture instead a rickety buggy, with chipped pink paint covering countless previous coats. You step up into the back seat and reach for a receipt in your pocket to use to wipe the bird poop off of the seat. The horse is so dusty and old, her straw hat so torn and moth-eaten, you wonder if she's really alive at at all. Against your better judgment, you get in.

But the horse was alive and she pulled that cart as we tooled around downtown Nassau. She didn't pull us over to the Atlantis resort side of Nassau. No, we got the tour of the real Nassau, the one not shellacked over for the tourists. It was a brief, 30-minute ride, but it was enough to reveal the poverty in every corner of the town. Run down. Seen better days. Reliant on tourist dollars. That is what I saw from my perch on the bird-poop soiled back seat of that carriage.

Perspective. Be thankful for what you have. Be aware of so many with so little.

A cruise. Disneyworld. Time with extended family and a day at the beach. We enjoyed all of it. But I think we had just as much fun over our long weekend at home after we got back.

Perspective. It's not about where you are, but who you're with.

Today I dropped my daughter off for her first day of summer camp, 2012. After I signed her in, I planned to help her get oriented. She said, "I've got this mom." 

And she did have it under control. An old pro now at the summer camp thing. One more thing she doesn't need my help with any more. But perhaps there are more hand-holding moments in her future - more first steps into the great beyond when she'll reach for my hand.

Our time together is precious. Maybe that's what vacations are really about. Sure adventure is great. Relaxation is required. Buffets are awesome.

But the thing I'll remember most about family vacation 2012 is the look on her face when she discovered the world beneath the surface while holding my hand. Priceless.

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