Sunday, December 10, 2017

A New Mailing List, a New Gig, and a Hint About a Christmas Present

Like the post title says, I have three things to discuss with you today! And they're such important things, I'm doing the same post on both of my blogs because I don't want any of my blogging friends to miss out.

First of all, I have finally started an official mailing list. I haven't actually sent out any messages with it yet, but I will send out the first in a couple days! My plan is to send out one or two emails a month, so you don't have to worry about me flooding your inbox or anything.

What will those emails contain? Advance notice of new projects -- you'll read about them in my emails before I mention them on my blogs. Behind-the-scenes info about my books and stories. Info about the articles I write for Femnista and Prairie Times (more about that in a minute). And (best of all, I think) Free Sneak Peeks at upcoming projects. Like what? Like the first chapter of my next book before it's even up for pre-order. Maybe even some "deleted scenes" kinds of bonus content. 

And the behind-the-scenes info and "deleted scenes" content won't be available anywhere else. Totally exclusive to this list.

Want to sign up? You can do it right here:

* indicates required
Email Format

You can also sign up via my website, and with the widget in the sidebars of my blogs. Okay, that was thing one.

Thing two I need to tell you about? I've been hired to write a column for the Prairie Times, a Colorado-based magazine! They print twelve issues a year, which are also available on their website. I'll be writing about different historical people and events from the American West. For someone who minored in both English and History, this is basically a dream come true!!!

And thing three... is a surprise. A Christmas present to all of you from me. But it's not quiiiiiiite ready for you to unwrap yet, so just know that it's coming, okay? I'm shooting for December 15, but I might have it done before then.

Okay, that's it! Time for me to go put up some more Christmas decorations and for you to... return to your regularly scheduled programming? Something like this, yes :-)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Marvel Heroes Movie Tag

While filling out the Disney Princess Book Tag for my other blog recently, I thought to myself, "You know what would be even more fun than this?  A tag that compared stories to the Avengers."

And the more I thought about that, the more fun it sounded, so... I created one!  With a little help from my best friend on some of the categories. Like that princess tag, this isn't a tag devoted to superheroes, but rather one that uses attributes of the various characters to create categories that you then fill in with other movies.  Make sense?

Also, I got kind of carried away with adding characters, and so now there are like twenty categories.  What can I say?  I'm enthusiastic.  (Probably because I'm still riding the wave of giddy joy that is Thor: Ragnarok.)

Captain America: Name a movie with a "fish out of water" theme.  I love those!  Ball of Fire (1941) is a wonderful one.

Thor: Name a movie about learning to use power for the good of others.  I think King Arthur (2017) fits that theme nicely.

Iron Man: Name a movie about an inventor.  I get such a big kick out of The Absent-Minded Professor (1961).

Incredible Hulk: Name a movie with a main character who has two sides to them.  How about Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), where nerdy Dr. Jones is also a devil-may-care adventurer?

Hawkeye: Name a movie that involves archery.  Doesn't get much better than The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) when it comes to archery in a movie!

Black Widow: Name a movie about spies.  The Man from UNCLE (2015) is always going to be my choice for this one.

Black Panther: Name a movie about royalty.  I really like Roman Holiday (1953) and its look at the pressures and responsibilities of being royal.

Vision: Name a movie involving androids or robots.  How about I, Robot (2004)?

Spider-man: Name a movie about teens.  Not a huge fan of teen movies, but I will always love Ten Things I Hate About You (1999).

Ant Man: Name a movie about thieves.  Doesn't get much better than the original Ocean's 11 (1960).

Scarlet Witch: Name a movie with powerful female character.  Giant (1956) has two powerful women in it: Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) and Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor).

Dr. Strange: Name a movie where a character learns to be a better person.  I'll go with Gentleman's Agreement (1947).

Falcon: Name a movie with a great sidekick.  Raise your hand if you adore the sidekicks in A Knight's Tale (2001)!  Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk just kill in their roles.

Loki: Name a movie with an antagonist/villain who steals the show.  You already know I'm going to answer 3:10 to Yuma (1957) for this.  I watch it primarily for Glenn Ford's Ben Wade, who is the antagonist and so fantastic I can hardly stand it.

Agent Coulson: Name a movie where an ordinary character faces an extraordinary situation.  I love how Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) in RED (2010) handles having the nice guy she's crushing on turn out to be a retired (extremely dangerous) spy.

Peter Quill: Name a movie with a character who is more than they appear to be.  I'll go with Cars (2006).  At first you think Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman) is just a cranky old coot, but he's so much more.

Gamora: Name a movie with a character who changes allegiances.  John Reid (Armie Hammer) does that memorably in The Lone Ranger (2013), going from a law-spouting lawyer to a law-flouting vigilante.

Drax: Name a movie with a physically powerful character.  How's about Hercules (2014)?  I mean, I could basically go with any movie Dwayne Johnson is in, but that seems like the most logical choice.  And it's probably my fave of his movies.

Groot: Name a movie with a character who doesn't talk much.  In The Magnificent Seven (1960), Britt (James Coburn) only has 7 or 8 lines.  It's pretty fascinating to see how much he conveys with body language and facial expressions only.

Rocket: Name a movie with a talking animal.  It's a Dog's Life (1955) is all about a dog named Wildfire, voiced by Vic Morrow, and his travails as he goes from living on the streets to fighting other dogs to finally finding a home.

I hereby tag the following bloggers:

Coffee, Classics, and Craziness
Sidewalk Crossings
Through Two Blue Eyes
And Anybody Else Who Wants To Do This Tag!!!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Winter To-Do List 2017/2018

I'm lowering my goals for book-reading because I know I'll have a lot of Five Poisoned Apples entries to read and judge soon, and I'm lowering my goals for movie-watching because I know I'll spend December re-watching favorite Christmas movies.

That being said, I have a LOT of stuff I want to accomplish by the end of February!

~ Be done with the first draft of Dancing and Doughnuts, my "Twelve Dancing Princesses" retelling, and into revisions

~ Start a mailing list so people can easily get updates about what I'm writing and publishing

~ Read 3 books from my TBR shelves

~ Read 2 books from the library

~ Watch 3 movies from my TBW shelves

~ Make owl Christmas ornaments with my kids, who are obsessed with owls right now.  These and these look cute and do-able, so I want to try at least one of them!

~ Go see Murder on the Orient Express quick before it leaves theaters

~ Go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi

~ Go see The Man Who Invented Christmas

~ Go see The Greatest Showman 

~ Go see Black Panther

~ Finish the skirts and cape I'm supposed to be sewing for my kids

~ Repair/update the "mouse house"

~ Make "polar bear" marshmallows for our hot chocolate

~ Make lavender hot chocolate -- I had some at a little cafe last week, and it was amazing!  What was even more amazing was that my kids liked it too!

~ Order photo prints

~ Host an "I Love Superheroes Week" blog party in February (like the Jane Austen party I did last year, only about superheroes instead!  Details will come starting in January.)

Do you have any things you're hoping or planning to do this winter?  Like what?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The End of My Autumn To-Do List 2017

My Christmas tree is up and decorated, and I'm working on sending out with this year's batch of cards, so I'm declaring autumn basically over.  Time to see what I did and did not check off my Autumn To-Do List for this year!

~ Publish Cloaked  Check!  You can now buy it from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

~ Read House of Living Stones by Katie Schuermann  Check!  You can read my review here.

~ Read 5 other books from my TBR shelves  Check!  I read Luther: Biography of a Reformer by Frederick Nohl, Flashes of Splashes by Elizabeth McCleary, Film Noir: Light and Shadow edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, and A Sidekick's Tale by Elisabeth Grace Foley (review to come).

~ Read 3 books from the library  Check!  I read The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer, Frames by Loren D. Estleman, and As You Wish by Cary Elwes.

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves  Check!  I watched Ivanhoe (1997), Jackie Robinson (2016), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), Daddy Long Legs (1955), and Hell on Frisco Bay (1955).

~ Go see Thor: Ragnarok  Check!  In fact, I've seen it three times now.  I reviewed it here last week.

~ Make "Baked Oatmeal Bars" from this recipe.  Check!  My kids and I quite loved them, and I'm sure I'll be making them again.

~ Finish the skirts and cape I'm sewing for my kids  Semi-fail.  I did sew one skirt, but the rest are still languishing on my to-do pile.

~ Finish my Newt Scamander scarf  Check!  I finally finished my scarf! It is super-duper long, down past my knees on both sides.  It goes perfectly with my long black coat, and I've already worn it a couple of times.  It may have taken me almost a year to knit, but it's done!  (By contrast, I crocheted a scarf for my daughter in three days last week.  I crochet soooooooooo much faster than I knit.)

~ Repair/update the "mouse house," which is this playhouse I made for the kids out of an old sheet that I cut and sewed to fit over a card table.  Fail.  Total fail.  Never touched it.  Sigh.

Well, I have WAY more checks than fails on this list, so yay!  I'm pretty happy with how much I accomplished over the past three months!  I'll be posting my winter list of projects and goals soon.

How about you?  Did you have any goals for this fall?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Femnista Article About Being "Dead Again"

My final Femnista article for 2017 focuses on the 1991 film Dead Again and the way it twists the familiar film noir theme of being pursued by your own past.  You can read the article here.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)

This, my friends, is the Thor movie I have been waiting for all my life.

Thirty-seven years, and finally, here it is!  Exactly the Thor movie I have always yearned for.  Even if I could never have described it to you before it existed, now that it exists, I know it for what it is:  the Thor movie that lives in my heart.

Is it because this is the Thor movie that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has always deserved?  The one where they didn't try to smoosh him into a specific mold, but just let him be himself?  No more smooshing him into the whiny mold, or the stalwart mold, or the sacrificial mold, or the oblivious mold.  They have just let Thor be Thor, and in doing so, elevated him.

They have finally allowed Thor to be a serious, stalwart, honorable, goofy, hopeful, and cheerful fellow.  Instead of trying to show off just one or two aspects of his character, they've shown them all off -- and thereby allowed him to be a fully-rounded, believable, huggable character.  Who'da thunk, right?

I love so many things they did in this movie.  They hit so many right notes in the rightest way.  They used humor that is actually funny, is character-based and situational, not just adolescent-boy-humor.  They allowed the poignant moments to be poignant, and the proud moments to be proud.  And they let the silly moments be silly, and because they weren't trying to pretend that silliness is important, or that seriousness is unimportant, they pulled off both.

This isn't really a review, is it?  It's kind of a gush-fest.  I'm still humming along on a post-second-viewing buzz from yesterday, to be honest.  But just so you're warned, there's some spoilage below.

You probably know that I have never really managed to like Loki (Tom Hiddleston) before.  I have appreciated Loki, I have enjoyed Loki, but I have never liked him because he's always been such a jerk to Thor!  Thor, who just wants to be friends with his brother, to live peacefully with him... and then Loki's always doing jerk things like stabbing him or trying to kill his friends or making him believe he's died -- ARGH.  Loki, just leave the poor guy alone, will you?  You're so eaten up with envy because Thor is everything you aren't (and that you claim you wish you weren't) that you can't stand it when he continually repays your jerkiness with kindness and love.

But then, Thor stops.  Thor finally stops falling for Loki's crap.  He started pulling away from him back in The Dark World (2013) when, in one of my favorite moments, he admitted, "I wish I could trust you."  Thor knew, cerebrally, he couldn't trust Loki anymore, but he still wanted to.  And, in the end, he did trust him -- he believed Loki's lie about Loki dying.  (And then I spent like a year wanting to cut Loki's heart out with a spoon.)

But now, he's stopped.

He doesn't stop loving Loki.  You can see that in every moment they have together -- that absolute, unconditional love is still there.  But he no longer even tries to trust him.  Thor accepts that Loki will always try to trick him, try to twist things to his own advantage, try to pull one over on Thor.

So what happens?  Well... I kind of like Loki now.  Because as soon as Thor quits trying to trust Loki, I think Loki realizes what he's lost.  And suddenly, he wants to be trustworthy.  Wants to be helpful.  Wants to even do the right thing now and then.  He realizes that what he's always wanted... kinda sucks.

For a long time, even up until after my first viewing of Ragnarok, I thought the Thor trilogy as a whole was about Thor finally growing up.  And it is, to some extent -- he is a fully mature man now, willing to take on the leadership role that he should have assumed long ago.  But it's also about Loki finally growing up.  Will he always be the god of mischief?  Of course.  He'll always try to mess with people just for fun, trick people, twist situations to his own ends -- but I really really really think/hope that Loki has also discovered that he values Thor's love and trust.  He sheepishly walks in at the end and stands beside Thor's throne, taking his place as right-hand man, exactly where Thor has always sought to place him.

ALL THE FEELS, MY FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, other things I love.

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).  She is just -- she's beyond cool.  I love her arc, I love her attitude, I love her super-playful relationship with the Hulk.  I love that, when she first sees Thor, she knows exactly who he is -- she calls him "Your Majesty" right from the get-go, before he's identified himself more than cursorily.  And the very first thing she does is protect the throne of Asgard, really, by rescuing Thor from the trash-hunters.  She's tried to convince herself, just like Loki and Thor both did at various times in their series-long arcs, that she is perfectly happy letting other people suffer because she's forsaken her duties.  But, like Loki and Thor, she comes to realize that a duty is not necessarily a curse.  It's a blessing -- it's a place in the world that you fit perfectly, a way for you to serve others that no one else can.

In fact, it's a lot like the Christian idea of vocation -- that God has given us roles to perform, duties to fulfill, and that by doing so, we are serving not just those around us, but serving God through them.  Rebelling against those roles doesn't bring us joy.  Forsaking our duties doesn't make life easier.  We might think that running off and doing our own thing, living for ourselves, and ignoring duties we consider unpleasant will make us happier... but it won't.  We'll end up miserable and bitter and lonely.

Um, so that got kind of deep.

See why I love this movie?  It's bright and glittery and fun, but it's got so much more going on under the surface.  Just like Thor is handsome and muscly, and people tend to just see that outside of his and think that's all he's got going on, but he's actually got plenty of intelligence and an almost boundless capacity for hope and love that they tend to overlook.

And then there's Hulk.  Ohhhhhh, sweet Hulk.  And Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  How I love them both.

And Heimdall (Idris Elba)!  I love that Heimdall got some thrilling heroics this time.  But did we really have to kill off the Warriors Three?  I was not happy with that at all.  I mean, yes, we needed to show that Hela (Cate Blanchett) was horrible, but... poor Fandral and Volstogg and Hogun.  Uncool.

Okay, speaking of Hela, she was... kind of my least-favorite part of the movie, to be honest.  She spent an awful lot of time sashaying around, prating and preening, and her fight scenes went on longer than necessary.  I mean, it's cool that we have a female antagonist and whatever, but she was... well, she was more interesting than the bad guy in Dark World, but did she have to vamp so constantly?  I guess I like my villains to have more than one note.  Which is why I've always appreciated Loki -- he's never boring.  Hela was just all, "I'm going to kill you!"  All the time.

Skurge (Karl Urban) was a lot of fun, though.  I love his final scene.  So I put up with Hela whenever Skurge was around because he kept things fairly interesting,  He wasn't one-note, at least.

Oh, and we have to talk about Jeff Goldblum!  I would say "Grandmaster," but let's all be honest -- this is like the most Jeff Goldblummy role Jeff Goldblum ever could play.  I really have to wonder if they even wrote a script for him, or if they were like, "Then Grandmaster comes in and says stuff," and he just walked in straight out of make-up and hair and said stuff.  He cracked me up soooooo much.

Other funny things:  Matt Damon, Luke Hemsworth, and Sam Neill as actors playing Loki, Thor, and Odin.  I mean, dude.  That was unbelievably hilarious.  I had zero idea they were in it, and so the first time I saw it, I laughed so hard over Matt Damon showing up, I had to blow my nose.  (I recognized Sam Neill too, but I had to look up Luke Hemsworth when I got home -- so funny they got Chris's older brother for the role!)

So much I loved!  The colors.  The joy.  The optimism.  The happy ending.  Thor's short hair.

Um, yeah, I even love the short hair.  I thought I was going to be super sad to see his hair go.  I was right there with him, saying, "Please, kind sir, do not cut my dear Thor's hair."  But nope, he rocks the new look. Including the (I know I said spoiler alert earlier, but SPOILER ALERT!!!!!) eyepatch.  I mean, when he lost that eye, I was like, "I hate Hela and she must die," but holy cow, he looks so regal even with only one eye I can barely stand to look at him straight-on.  Like, he's just so grown-up and adult now, so regal and fierce, and I'm so proud of him.  So, so proud of my Thor.

Okay, I could go on and on and on, but I am kind of guessing that nobody has really read this far, and if you did, well, thanks for letting me gush about my darling Thor and how much I love this movie.  I have other things to say, but I've said the ones I really wanted to share, so... good enough for today.

EDIT:  Forgot to say if this was family friendly or not.  Erm, there's rather a bunch of low-level cussing, loads of smash-and-bash, and people die.  Also a reference to orgies and a couple other small innuendos.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Beautiful Books Link-Up: How's the Writing Going?

I spotted this over on Hayden Wand's new blog, Leatherbound, and it looked like so much fun I just have to give it a go myself.  So for the first time, I am linking up with Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up, Further In for their NaNoWriMo edition of their usual link-up series.

Right now, I'm working on the first draft of my YA western retelling of "Twelve Dancing Princesses," the second story in my Once Upon a Western collection.  I call it Dancing and Doughnuts.

Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going? 

My mental state is currently flurried because my father-in-law is coming to visit us this weekend, we're hosting a pre-Thanksgiving get-together on Saturday, and then next Thursday, we're also having friends and family over for a Thanksgiving meal.  I'm getting over a cold, and yeah... it's been a crazy month.

How's my novel going?  Well... it's only 7,000 words right now.  Now, I wasn't planning to do a full-on Nano this year just because Cowboy says I'm too crabby when I do Nano "for real," so I don't do that anymore.  My goal is 30,000 words or the end of the first draft, whichever comes first.

All of which means I am woefully behind.  But the month is only half over right now, and if I can get some nice long stints in, I could possibly still finish that first draft off.  We shall see.

What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)? 

I’d passed through quite a number of similar towns in the last few weeks. Quiet, a little lazy, dusty, boring. When I reined in by the dingy clapboard building marked ‘Saloon,’ why, I had no reason to think Peabody Crossing would hold any surprises.

Who’s your current favorite character in your novel?

My protag, Jedediah Jones.  He's a Civil War veteran -- he was in the Union cavalry.  Now that the war is over, he's made his way out west and is taking whatever jobs interest him.  He just finished a cattle drive to one of the railroad hubs in Kansas, and decided to see a little of Kansas while he was there.  He's such a sweet, cheerful, intrepid guy that I can't help but love him.

What do you love about your novel so far?

My characters!  Some of them make me laugh and laugh, especially these two boys I haven't gotten to yet, but who are known to the townsfolk as Trouble and More Trouble.  With good reason, I might add!

Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?

Possibly?  None that I've noticed so far...

What is your favorite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?

Middle.  The very beginning of a story is often hard for me because I have this great fear that I will screw the whole thing up before it really gets going.  Once I'm in the swing of the story, it goes quickly and merrily, but those first couple of pages are me gingerly feeling my way into the world and the characters and the story's particular flavor, and that's just not as fun.  And sometimes I struggle with endings that satisfy me -- those conclusions can be so important, and I don't want to screw them up either.

And because first drafts are, by nature, going to be rough anyway, those glitches are pointless, and I know that, but... they're there anyway.

What are your writing habits?

Most irregular.  By which I mean that I only write 3 times a week *in a good week* because... I'm a wife, a mom, a homeschooler -- I have a lot of stuff going on.  My three kids are at home with me all the time, and I just can't write fiction with them around, so I have to either wait for them to be in bed, or leave the house to write.  And I do go to Starbucks and write for a couple hours several Saturdays a month, but I can't do that all the time, heh.  After they're in bed, I can get in maybe an hour of writing, maybe an hour and a half if I stay up late.  But that's also the only time I have for watching movies and spending time with Cowboy, which is why I only manage to write about 3 times a week.

Is there a specific snack you eat?

I like to have something warm to drink, either tea or hot chocolate, whichever I'm in the mood for.

Do you listen to music?

Absolutely!  For Dancing and Doughnuts, I'm listening to tons and tons of my beloved Bobby Darin because his music matches the story's bouncy tone so nicely.

What time of day do you write best?

Mornings are absolutely the best for me.  I don't have my brain cluttered up with stuff from the day, I have lots of energy, and I can focus much better.  But I've learned to make myself write at the end of the day too.

Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

I just sit on my couch or in the rocking chair if I'm at home -- or at our desktop computer if Cowboy has gone to bed early.  When I'm at Starbucks, I sit wherever I can, just so it's not right next to a window.  I don't like too much glare on my computer screen, gives me a headache.

How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

For the last few years, I have been sharing my first drafts with my best friend and writing mentor, Deborah Koren, as I write them.  Pop out a couple pages, share them with her, discuss, move on.  It only works because we 100% trust each other with our babies -- she shares her work with me too that way.  And we are very careful to be only cheerleaders for a first draft, no criticism.  We can point out flaws in the rewrite.

A crazy side effect of sharing our work so instantly and intimately?  We boost each others' creativity levels.  If one of us is writing frequently, the other will pick up on that energy and start writing frequently too.  It's so cool.

(This was us more than 10 years ago.  She's giving me a piggy-back ride,
and I'm laughing so hard, I'm having trouble hanging on.)
(Yes, we've always been this weird.)

The rest of the world, though, doesn't get to see works-in-progress.  Not until much farther on down the line when I need beta readers and so on.

What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

My incredible stubbornness and refusal to quit just because something is hard.  I mean, giving birth is hard too, but you can't just quit in the middle of it and be like, "Sorry, baby, you have to stay in there."  Baby has to come out.  Book has to get written.

What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?

I remind myself of these three things often, especially for first drafts: