Saturday, November 30, 2019

Our Disney+ Project: Part One

I'm ambivalent about Disney.

The company has created a lot of stories that I've enjoyed in my life, but they have also helped feed a narrative of women either as helpless and needing rescue or objects of censure for being anything not considered "wholesome."

Even as a little girl, I chafed at some of the underlying messages. But there's a magic about this films, especially when they get you at a young age.

I'm a sucker for a musical, and Disney has more than a few out there that made up the soundtrack of my childhood. Even if I don't always like how the "princess" narrative goes--Disney has a long history of female led stories that garnered huge audiences, crossing generational lines. The cultural significance of that can't be ignored.

Since Disney now owns Star Wars and Marvel--two fandoms that dominate our household, we got the new Disney+ service.

So, I've decided to watch the Disney animated features in chronological order with my younger daughter. She's into animation, and hasn't seen some of the older ones at all, so I think it'll be an interesting view on the body of work.

So, that starts us out in 1937, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We'll need to watch 11 films to get to 1950, the year my parents were born.

Those first five I know well. I've seen them all many times, starting in early childhood, and moving through VHS and DVD and streaming services with my cousins and friends and eventually my elder daughter. We don't think our youngest has seen any of them before, though she's seen a lot of Disney's more recent movies.

I don't remember ever seeing Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music, or Fun or Fancy Free, at least not by title. The Three Cabelleros, Melody Time, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad ring only vague bells.

At this writing, the youngest Bryant and I have watched Snow White and Pinocchio.

Some thoughts:

Snow White is weird-looking. She is portrayed as neither a woman nor a child, but some sort of hybrid: adult-sized and apparently considered marriageable drawn as if she is wearing eye makeup and lipstick, but with a chubby baby-fat kind of look more like a toddler, no womanly curves, and a very childish voice.

It's disconcerting. The animation on the dwarves is more expressive than on our princess.

We noticed that sometimes when Snow turns her head, something strange happens to the planes of her face, as if it does not actually have three dimensions. It reminded us of hieroglyphic art in that the face was always to the front, no matter what. We began to wonder if there were any ears under her hair because of all the moments when her movement made us expect to glimpse them, but none were seen.

Obviously animation of human-appearing characters has come a long way since this first feature film.

The Blue Fairy has a similar plasticity, but it is less disturbing since she's a supernatural character: a
fairy who lives in a wishing star. Pinocchio only looks "real" for a couple of minutes at the end, so there wasn't time for him to pull us too far into the uncanny valley.

Story-wise it was interesting the parts of the story that weren't portrayed.

My daughter and I are very familiar with Snow White in thousands of iterations, from the Grimm fairy tale telling through hundreds of reinterpretations in books, movies, and other media.

In the Disney animated feature, we never see Snow White interact with her stepmother until the stepmother comes to the dwarves' cottage disguised as the apple peddler. That's an interesting storytelling choice that really adds to the stepmother/witch's malice.

Neither of us has read The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, however. When we talked it through, we realized that the only other version of Pinocchio either of us could remember seeing is the character in the Shrek movie series. We did both feel like we already knew this character well, though, despite exploring him far less thoroughly. We must have absorbed him through cultural osmosis.

In the movie, we wondered why we didn't get to see Geppetto get swallowed by the whale. His whole adventure happened off screen. Both of us agreed that would have been more interesting than the whole Pleasure Island sequence that went on too long.

Some parts of the stories didn't age that well.

The ick-factor of Snow's awakening by a kiss from a complete stranger is alleviated by having the prince meet her early in the movie with the wishing well scene. Thank goodness. It really did help with that moment.

The evil gypsy puppeteer Mangiafuoco in Pinocchio definitely made the movie feel old, and not in a good way. Racial stereotypes like that don't play as simply as they once did and we both felt squiggy watching that part. And the cartoon logic of having a pet cat that acts like a cat in the same movie as a talking fox who acts like a human is something we don't often see any more.

Also, is Geppetto the worst dad ever? He sends a boy who was literally a block of wood yesterday off to school alone and wonders why he doesn't get there? I mean, I don't like the helicopter parenting we see these days either, but a little preparation and leading the way might have been a good idea. 

"Heigh-Ho", "Whistle While You Work",  and "I Got No Strings" still had our feet tapping. Those songs hold up well. The warbling love bits, less so. 

I'd love to hear what you memories and experiences surrounding these films are like and hope you'll come back to talk about the rest of the project. There are more than 50 movies in the list, so it might take us a year or so to watch them all!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Why I NaNoWriMo

A writer friend asked me the other day why I would bother with NaNoWriMo. She meant it as a compliment since I'm a "real writer" now. "Isn't every month novel-writing month for you?" she asked. 

She has a point. I write every day, come hell or high water. My daily writing chain is now over six years long and along the way I've seen three novels through to publication and written three others that I hope to publish someday. 

So, in that sense, I don't "need" NaNoWriMo. 

I'm going to write, regardless of what month it is, and I generally write 50, 000 or more words per month. But there is something special about participation, something that pushes me to regard the work differently, at least short term and that shift of perspective can be refreshing and reinvigorating. What it's doing for me this year is keeping my energy focused on my novel, rather than spread between the novel, blogposts, articles, short stories, proposals, promotional work, and other kinds of writing. This month, at least, I'll neglect all the rest of my writing life in favor or writing words on one novel. 

The first time I did NaNoWriMo was 2013. I was working on a historical women's fiction novel, working title Cold Spring. As I remember it, I kept getting bogged down in research details, which made it hard to move the story forward. 

A challenge of writing historical fiction is having enough detail to capture the era believably, but not forget that the thrust of the story is the characters and what happens to them. I actually really enjoy research and it was easy to let all my writing time slip by in research and not actually add anything to the story. 

So NaNoWriMo was good for me in that way, letting me get down the story and trust to the revision process for the details. I often found that the detail I longed to go research didn't matter in the end and all that time would have been wasted. 

The next year, I wrote something I intended to be a Middle Grades novel, Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies. It was a brand new idea, begun on the first day of the challenge. 

I still found that NaNoWriMo was good for keeping me from overthinking, but I'm not pleased with what I ended up with. 

It's the wrong tone for the age group and genre and rewriting it will not be simple, which is why it keeps getting back-burnered even though I really love Rat and want to tell her story. 

I used the challenge in 2015 and 2016 to work on Face the Change, the third of the Menopausal Superhero novels, losing once and winning once, but ending up with a novel that has since been published and received good reviews. So, definitely a win overall!

In 2017, I used to get a chunk of work done on a new novel, Thursday's Children (currently shelved, because I don't have the heart to write dystopian right now). The nice thing about failing NaNoWriMo is that even a writer who doesn't write 50,000 words still wrote words, so they still win. I have some 80,000 words on that project waiting for me when I can find the heart for it again. 

I didn't play along in 2018. But I'm back in 2019, with The Architect and The Heir, a gothic romance. As I write this, I'm seventeen days in, which means that I should have written 28,399 words, to stay "on track." I haven't. I've written 18,204. But they're good words, ones I'll likely keep. The story is finding its footing. It feels good and right and the daily focus is helping me sort out some of the issues and work out the intrigue. 

In past NaNoWriMo outings, I've felt a little like I was tumbling downhill, barely able to keep my feet under me. It's exciting, but it's not sustainable. That's why it's National Novel Writing Month…once a year, not a technique to undertake as the day to day method of operations. At least not for me. A breakneck pace all the time would eventually…well, break my neck. 

But for one month? I can handle being a little breathless for the life it brings to the work. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nightmare Fuel: The Collection

For the past few years, I've participated in an October Flash Fiction Challenge called The Nightmare Fuel Project. Fellow writer Bliss Morgan gathers pictures and posts one each day, inviting other writers to compose creepy flash fiction based on what they see.

I usually need a boost in my writing life at right about this time of year, and this challenge is perfect, letting me remember what it's like to play in my writing life and create pieces without worrying about their publishing potential. It has the side benefit of being thematic to my favorite holiday: Halloween. Each day, I wrote a story and posted it. I wrote each in less than an hour, so they are good practice on pushing my efficiency too!

I really enjoy this challenge and some of the stories are seeds I will come back to and grow into full plants, um, stories.

So, here's my favorite one of the ones I wrote this year. Below you can find links to all the posts on my author Facebook or on pluspora (in case you're not a Facebook user). I'd love to hear what you think about any of them, or about your own experience with writing challenges and what they bring to your creative life in the comments!

Lantern Man:

Emily sat on the sand, weeping. She’d gotten separated from the rest of the kids on the way back from the pier and she was pretty sure she’d been walking in the wrong direction for an hour now. Exhausted and scared, she watched the last of the sunlight turn orange, then amber, dreading the darkness to come.

Her mother was going to be so mad. At least she hoped she’d have the chance to be yelled at by her mother. The alternatives were too scary to contemplate.

Then, she spotted the man. An older man, by his walk, wearing a hat and carrying a lantern in each hand. “Mister!” she called out, hoping he might at least tell her which way to walk, or help her get to a phone. She didn’t know the phone number of the hotel, but at least she could get to someplace dry and well lit to wait for help.

She chased after the man, but he didn’t slow his pace. Maybe his hearing wasn’t that good, or maybe the wind was blowing away her cries. She redoubled her pace, but never seemed to narrow the gap between them. The ground grew rougher, rockier and more uneven under her sand-filled sneakers, but she was afraid that if she stopped to empty her shoes or rest she would lose track of the lantern man.

It was totally dark now. The lanterns were the only light in the starless, moonless, and Emily could make out only the outline of the man. “Please!” she cried out again. She rested only a moment, bending to rest her hands on her knees, gasping for air. When she looked back up, the man seemed impossibly far ahead.

“Wait!” she cried and ran as fast as she could. She never saw the cliff’s edge. When they found her body, three days later, she was lying next to a much older body and the remains of two old fashioned lanterns.
#31: Untitled Facebook Pluspora
#30: Foggy Morning Facebook Pluspora
#29: Vengeance Facebook Pluspora
#28: Jeannie Facebook Pluspora
#27: The Neighbor Facebook Pluspora
#26 Lantern Man Facebook Pluspora
#25:The Museum of the Macabre Facebook Pluspora
#24: Play with me? Facebook Pluspora
#23: Rumour in the woods: Facebook Pluspora
#22: Out of Darkness: Facebook Pluspora
#21: The Sand Mother: Facebook Pluspora
#20: Dead Man's Apartment: Facebook Pluspora
#19: Phantom Shrapnel: Facebook Pluspora
#18: Jean's Escape: Facebook Pluspora
#17: The Inheritance: Facebook Pluspora
#16: Hurry Down Doomsday: Facebook Pluspora
#15: Urban Exploration: Facebook Pluspora
#14: Nessie of the North: Facebook Pluspora
#13: Reggie: Facebook Pluspora
#12: Cursed: Facebook Pluspora
#11: Widow Jane: Facebook Pluspora
#10: Icy Death: Facebook Pluspora
#9: The Doll: Facebook Pluspora
#8: Virtual Reality: Facebook Pluspora
#7: My Sister's New Face: Facebook Pluspora
#6: Unfixed: Facebook Pluspora
#5: Helen's Heat: Facebook Pluspora
#4: Digging: Facebook Pluspora
#3: The Other Jack: Facebook Pluspora
#2: Anubis in Hakone: Facebook Pluspora
#1: The Stairs: Facebook Pluspora

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

IWSG: Lowered Expectations

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 6 posting of the IWSG are  Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie! I hope you'll check out their blogs as well as some of the others on this blog hop after you see what I have to say.

My insecurities are beating me up right now.

I finally have to admit I bit off more than I can chew.

I'm not good at that. I think I can do everything.

That can-do stubbornness serves me well on some fronts, keeping me from caving to pressure or giving up just because something is difficult, but it's a two-edged sword that cuts back sometimes, too.

And Stories from Shadow Hill has been postponed, which breaks my heart.

I planned to release my first all-indie project for Halloween. It's a collection of thirteen weird tales called Stories from Shadow Hill, set in an imaginary suburban neighborhood with suspicious similarities to the one I live in, but with more interesting (and supernatural) causes for the weirdness.

I thought I had planned it out well. I'd done a lot of research and had what I thought was a good understanding of what exactly I needed to do and what it would cost.

I hired an editor for proofreading, found a book cover designer, and taught myself the layout software (Vellum is super easy, at least at a base level, by the way).

But then I ran into two problems: money and time.

Indie publishing can be expensive, especially for your first project, when you don't already a system in place.

My expenses:

  1. Buying layout software: Vellum $249.99 for unlimited ebooks and paperbacks
  2. Hiring a cover made: $100 from a freelancing friend who gave me her "friends and family" discount
  3. Hiring proofreading: $620 from a freelancer who approached me through Facebook some months ago. 
  4. Getting a logo made for my imprint: $25 from a freelancing friend, giving me a "friends and family" discount again
  5. Buying ISBN numbers: $295 for 10 (they're a better deal the more you buy at once, and I intend to put out more indie projects in the future, so I thought I'd start with 10). 
I managed 1-4 over the course of a few months by living spare and robbing Peter to pay Paul. But when it came time for #4, I was out of money. My hot water heater needed sudden replacement, my summer teaching paychecks were light, and there went my Bowker money. My parents gave me my holiday money early (thanks Mom and Dad!), but I needed most of that to get copies of my already-published work for my fall and winter author events. 

Couple this with my time problems, and you see my dilemma. 

I was trying to keep my regular writing life going. Doing my October tradition of writing one piece of flash fiction every day as part of the Nightmare Fuel Project AND processing my edits from that proofreader was just too many hours work for the hours I was able to devote (I can get 1-2 hours a day for writing life during the school year, tops). 

And I was stubborn, not wanting to let anything go. Maybe I could have done it if I had given up Nightmare Fuel, but I *love* Nightmare Fuel. Maybe I could have let that Instagram October Author Challenge go, but I was enjoying it and it was increasing my reach on social media. Maybe I could have given up my day job, but I like eating and having a roof over my head. I tried giving up sleep and just ended up with a crick in my neck from falling asleep in my chair.

In the end, I had to admit I couldn't get the project ready by October 31. Especially since I had only a basic understanding of Vellum and might still need to seek advice and help from more experienced colleagues if I run into snags. 

So, now I don't know exactly when I am going to get this project out. October came and went and I still have a distressingly long to-do list: 
  1. Process the other half of the edits (complicated by grammar differences between my Canadian editor and my American writing style--lots of second guessing and researching whether what she marked is an error or a national preference)
  2. Format the book in Vellum (which has subset jobs of #3 and #4 below)
  3. Finalize the print version of the cover
  4. Finalize the imprint logo
  5. Buy ISBNs
  6. Learn to navigate uploads to Amazon
  7. Make my decisions about exclusivity to Amazon or going wide
  8. Promote the book

November is supposed to be for NaNoWriMo, finishing the first draft of the Gothic romance I started writing this summer, so I can get it out in 2020.

I'd love to hear from other creatives about how you manage all the demands of indie creation, especially if you, like me, manage it with a day job and keep your sanity. How do you keep heart when you have to lower your expectations?