Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm an ISFJ Writer: Protect ALL the Characters!

Charity's been running a series on her Tumblr about how a writer's MBTI type informs their writing, and DKoren posted here about how and why she, as an ISTP, writes.  So here I am, jumping on the bandwagon :-)

I'll start with what Charity said here:  SJs are detailed and systematic in their approach, drawing heavily from their own experiences and/or interests and knowledge base. They proceed neatly point from one point to the next.

Boy, howdy -- that is me.  Some writers write scenes all out of order, whatever they're in the mood for or ready to write.  I've tried that a grand total of once, and it drove me nuts!  I need to know what has already happened before I can write what happens next.  How my characters behave is informed by what they've experienced up to then, and if I haven't written those experiences, I feel unprepared to write what they do next.  And in my own life, I rely on my memories to decide what to do in the present -- I treat emotional memory like muscle memory.

That also feeds into the fact that I do draw on my own experiences for my stories.  I've taken incidents from my life and used them for stories, I've taken my emotional response to something that happened to someone else and used that -- happens all the time.  Because I feel like sharing, I'll even tell you couple of specific examples:

The summer after my freshman year, I got the biggest crush on a guy who worked with me at my summer job.  We eventually went to a movie together, though just as friends.  And then about a week later, lo and behold there he was walking around with another girl, holding her hand.  Like getting hit by a car, I tell you.  I spent the next week writing a Combat! fanfic story about Billy mistaking a nurse's kindness for attraction.  A decade later, I ran into that same guy quite unexpectedly.  I have no idea if he recognized me or not, as I got very self-conscious and shy and kind of ignored him the best I could.  I spent the next NaNoWriMo writing three fanfic stories that grew from that incident -- one in which Sgt. Saunders meets up with a nurse he'd been romantically involved with over a year earlier, then the story of how they met in the first place, and a story that linked the two.  Although the story based on my own experience never quite gelled (yet), and I ended up cannibalizing things from the middle story for something else, the story of their romance is probably my best fanfic story ever, "The Better Part of Valor."

You see why I love Saunders?

Also, like Charity said about drawing on a knowledge base, I struggle to write about things I don't know much about.  I want to do all my research before I start writing a story, not research as I go.  I don't like making factual errors, especially ones I could have avoided if I'd just done my homework, and since most of what I write is set in some historical era or other, this is pretty important.

Another example:  I fell madly in love with The Avengers when it was in theaters.  I'd never seen any of the previous movies, but I loved those characters so much I started writing an Avengers/Combat! crossover story.  Only I didn't really know the characters as well as I should have, particularly Tony Stark, and once I started watching the other Iron Man movies, I accepted that I was writing him all wrong and ditched the whole story because it wasn't working.  Hurt a lot, especially because I felt like, if only I'd done my homework, it would have worked.  (Yes, yes, I could revise it.  Maybe some day I will.)

Can't talk about the Avengers without including a picture of Thor, can I?

But I think the biggest way my ISFJness informs my writing is in how I deal with characters.  I've written before about how I only really love a story if I want to be friends with the characters.  It's my deal breaker -- a movie can be beautiful, a book can be brilliant, a TV show can be hilarious, but if I don't love those characters and want to just hang out with them (in their world or mine, doesn't matter), I'm not going to love it.  Well, obviously I'm not going to write a whole story or novel about characters I don't love, right?

Actually, my first novel had an unlikable protagonist.  I didn't like her, most people in the book didn't like her -- that book definitely taught me not to make that mistake again!  That stinking book took me two years to finish, and I haven't looked at it since.  Got it out of my way, moved on, learned from that experience for sure ;-)

The trouble is, because I love my characters, and because I'm an ISFJ "protector" or "defender," I have a super hard time letting any of them get hurt.  But I write westerns and war stories.  Lots of action and danger and excitement.  People get hurt.  Sometimes they die.  Not as often as they might need to, I must admit -- I regularly plan on characters dying in stories, only to pardon them when it comes right down to it.  Even villains and antagonists!  I can think of four separate instances where I've let the Bad Guy live at the end when I really meant for him not to.  In the novel I'm rewriting right now, two characters were absolutely supposed to die at the end, and do they?  Nope, not a bit.  One other character does have to die for the story to work right, and I've been crying actual tears over having to rewrite his death scene and go through all that again.  Ugh.  Hates it, precious.  And he's a completely minor character!

Now that I know all these things about myself, I do have an easier time writing.  I know I can't jump around in the story if I want it to make sense for me.  I know I need to finish my research before I start writing.  I know I'm going to have to be very hard-hearted indeed when it comes to killing characters for the sake of the story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Morning Mix -- Part 3

Time for the final installment of shiny, happy music on my go-to morning CD.  (Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)  It's morning right now, and the last couple songs are left on it while one of my children dawdles over breakfast.  Perfect time to finish this series!

Today we get to start with one of my absolute favorite western themes, another by Elmer Bernstein.  It's the main theme from The Sons of Katie Elder, which also happens to be my favorite John Wayne movie ever and my favorite western set in the American west.  Oh, how I love this song!

And then, more Bobby Darin :-)  My seven-year-old really loves this song right now too, which I'm very pleased about.  This is Bobby's rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade," which is originally from the musical Funny Girl.

Next up is "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers.  This song brings back two sets of memories for me.  First, of watching my very first Johnny Depp movie ever, Benny and Joon, which opens with this song.  I watched that at a slumber party in high school, and by the end was a firm Johnny Depp fan.  The second memory is of college and this brilliant band called The Divers.  Two of the band's members are professors at the college.  Because my school was beyond cool.  Anyway, sometimes they performed this song during their concerts, along with all their own original music, so I have a wonderful memory of standing in the college theater with all my dear friends, singing along with The Divers to this song.

And then the theme song from the old western-meets-sci-fi show The Wild, Wild West.  Carissa recently did an article in Femnista about how TWWW is basically steampunk, and she's right, it totally is.  Anyway, the opening credits are super fun, and so is the song.

Next comes another classic TV show theme, this time from The Monkees.  My mom used to sing this to us for no apparent reason.  Now I do the same to my kids :-D

And then one last Bobby Darin song.  This is the title song from a really wacky, quirky movie called Goodbye, Charlie.  Bobby doesn't sing it for the movie, alas, but I love his version the mostest.  Very snappy and snarky.

One last Elmer Bernstein theme for a western!  This time for The Magnificent Seven, which I consider to be the best western ever.  Happy dance!

(I wanted to link to this vid instead, but it basically gives away the entire movie, so I decided that was not a great idea.)

This is one song that I've decided I should have left off.  It's "One Day More," my favorite song from Les Miserables, but it's not quite cheerful enough to match the others.  However, I'm including it in the post for the sake of completeness :-)  And besides, Hugh Jackman.

The last song on the CD is the finale cue from The Lone Ranger (2013).  This song makes me happy No Matter What.  I simply cannot listen to it and not be cheered up!  (Well, okay, if something truly tragic happens, it probably wouldn't work, but for ordinary blues and annoyances and even PMS, totally works.)  It takes the familiar "William Tell" theme that the old TV show and radio show used for their theme song and then just elaborates on them.  Kind of a "Variations on a Theme by Rossini," if you will.  Ten minutes of ecstasy, really.  My absolute favorite part kicks in at 7:03 when the theme returns off-cadence and minor, and then these trumpets come in with a love song to the Old West.  That part makes me ache with joy.

And that's all, folks!  All 22 songs I listen to just about every day right now :-)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morning Mix -- Part 2

Here they are!  More of the songs on the upbeat, rousing, happy-making CD I start most days with.  (Part 1 is here.)

First up is a song that probably makes a lot of people's "kickstart your day" lists:  "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor.  I grew up watching the Rocky movies with my dad and still love them, so this song makes me both sentimental and juiced up.

Next is another western movie theme.  My best friend introduced me to this song because she says it makes her think of me :-)  I really love Elmer Bernstein's scores, and this one is no exception.  I've never seen The Scalphunters, but I definitely dig this song!

Continuing the whole western thing, we have Bobby Darin singing the title song from the ultra-amusing western Cat Ballou.  This song never fails to crack me up :-D

And here's a song that makes me think of my mom, to balance out the one that makes me think of my dad.  My mom used to sing this while washing dishes.  During my freshman year of college, this was also my theme song :-)

Here's a song that makes me think of high school:  "Tuxedo Junction" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  I used to listen to a great compilation of big band classics while doing my schoolwork -- ahh, the joys of being homeschooled!

After that comes another song from Branches Band, and this time I can share it with you!  It's a sweet rendition of one of my favorite hymns, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty."

And I'll end out this post with another tune I can't help but dance to.  I listened to a LOT of Oldies in high school, college, and the early years of our marriage, before we moved to Connecticut and couldn't find a good Oldies radio station.  This one is catchy and bouncy and makes me feel completely groovy.

One more post on this coming in a day or two!

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Dracula" 1979

I've wanted to see this particular version of Dracula for quite a few years now.  In the Angel season one episode "Eternity," Angel mentioned that Frank Langella was the only movie portrayal of a vampire he found believable.

Frank Langella as Dracula.  In case you weren't paying attention.

So of course I then wanted to see Langella's Dracula, to see why Angel found him so realistic.  Except back in 2000 when that ep aired, DVDs weren't really a big thing yet, Amazon.com barely existed, and the local video store didn't have this movie, so I was out of luck.  Filed it away in my "see it someday if I get the opportunity" list and moved on.

And then Charity blogged about it here this fall.  I promptly put the DVD on my Amazon wish list.  I'd been doing a bunch of Christmas shopping right then and couldn't quite justify to myself buying a movie I'd never seen just because Angel thought it was believable.  (I'm so sorry, Angel.  It doesn't mean I don't still love you.)

And then... I had gallbladder surgery.  And Charity, living up to her name in all ways, sent me her spare copy of this movie as a get-well gift!  DO NOT ever let people tell you that "internet friends" are not "real friends."

Sadly, by the time it arrived, I was back on my feet and swamped with catching up with all sorts of things I'd fallen behind on while I was recuperating.  So I saved this to be a special Halloween treat.  And a treat it was indeed!

(Side note:  don't write up a long review the day after you watch a movie and then take two weeks to get the two measly screencaps you want to illustrate the very last paragraph.  It's not very sensible.)

It's been a while since I saw any version of Dracula, as my fascination with vampires has waned over the last few years.  (It doesn't mean I don't still love you, Angel!  My fascination with you has not waned, I promise.)  It's been even longer since I read the book, which I remember being deep and thoughtful and also a bit dry.  But all that just meant I was ready to look at the story afresh, which turned out to be good, since this is not exactly a faithful adaptation.  For one thing, they switched Mina and Lucy around.

Lucy Seward
Lucy (Kate Nelligan, who was Mercedes in my favorite version of The Count of Monte Cristo) is now the fiancee of Jonathon Harker (Trevor Eve), while Mina (Jan Francis) is her best friend who is visiting her because she's been unwell.  Lucy's father, Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance!) runs an asylum, where a lot of the story takes place.  I thought that setting worked really well to accentuate the fact that anyone who harbors romantic feelings for a vampire must be a little bit crazy.  (This includes me, obviously.)  

Jonathon and Dr. Seward are Thoroughly Modern Men, one driving around in a motorcar and wearing ridiculous goggles, while the other puts his faith in modern medicine to help his patients and anyone else who might mysteriously fall ill while under his roof.  Ahem.

Okay, if you don't know the basic story of Dracula, be warned that this is going to be spoily not just for this movie, but for the book as well. 

So anyway, yeah, motorcars.  This is set more in the Edwardian era than the Victorian, obviously.  Still people driving carriages and farm carts, but the times, they are a-changin'.  Into this world of change, this asylum of noise and chaos, steps the mysterious Count Dracula (Frank Langella), the only survivor of a ship wrecked on the rocks outside town.  He'd previously acquired a deserted old castle on the edge of town, where he moves with his crates of Translvanian dirt (he's interested in botany, nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean?  Say no more!) and his decidedly Old World, old-fashioned ways.

Lucy meets Dracula

Dr. Seward invites him to dinner, and Dracula's impeccable manners and innate elegance attract both Lucy and Mina.  And who can blame them?  Compared to Jonathon Harker's earnest, floppy-haired blandness, Dracula is like a dashing hero swooshing cavalierly into their lives.

Jonathon Harker

Of course, he has the strange ability to hypnotize people, his eyes do this crazy darting-back-and-forth thing when he sees or smells blood, and he dances much better than mortal men ought to.  But everybody blithely ignores all that and accepts him into their circle of people to hang out with on a dark and stormy night.

About that thing where his eyes flicker back and forth -- I've been trying to do that since Halloween, and it's really hard.  Makes my eyes hurt.  I mentioned this to Charity, and she says it's a thing Langella just does when he's concentrating, and the director thought it was brilliant for the character and kept it.  I'm going to take a wild guess and say that he does not suffer from astigmatism like I do, because when I try it, my eyes get confused and stop working together like they should.  Anyway, it was a fantastic nuance and I loved it.

This version of Dracula can totally do the shape-shifting thing.  Sometimes he's a wolf, sometimes he's a bat, sometimes he's mist.  So that was pretty faithful to the book.  Also, he can climb up and down walls like a bat, which was completely creepy.  Scariest part of the whole movie was when he climbed down the walls to get to the bedroom Mina and Lucy share, head downward, and appears at the balcony's glass doors that way.  Totally freaky.  Also, they somehow found a wolf that actually moved like Langella, or Langella studied that wolf a lot and learned to move like it, because yeah, the resemblance was splendid.

So anyway, people start dying with puncture marks on their necks, the usual.  No one suggests they fell on a barbecue fork, they just assume that huh, something bit them in their room at night.  Makes me wonder a bit about the security at this asylum, and also what kinds of weird things they're used to finding in their rooms.  Nobody searches for a cause for Mina's death, it's just, "Oh, she lost a lot of blood, isn't that odd now?"  

Until her father, Professor Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier!!!), arrives.  He's got no faith in modern medicine, modern science, modern anything.  He's old-school, he's Dutch (huzzah!), and he's a Christian.  How quaint, right?  Poor old fool, guess he'll just have to say his farewells to Mina's grave, nothing for such an out-of-touch old fogey to do here.


Professor Van Helsing

Van Helsing totally recognizes Dracula for what he is, from the moment he first sees him.  His eyes aren't clouded by modernity.  With the clear sight of faith, he can tell right from wrong, good from evil.  Alive from undead.  Nobody else wants to believe his claims that their new buddy the Count is a monster, not even Jonathon, who's practically being cuckolded before his own eyes and surely has no reason to defend his rival.  But nooooooo, these modern fellows require proof.

So Van Helsing gives them proof.  And then they all go merrily crusading off to kill Dracula and stop him from turning Lucy into his latest Eternal Bride.  

The ending is a bit ambiguous, actually.  They seem to have killed Dracula, but then his cape goes flapping away across the ocean, and Lucy clearly thinks that means he's not dead.  Is this just wishful thinking on her part?  Is she even imagining it?  I don't know -- I could spend a whole blog post theorizing about that ending, but this is already quite long, so I won't do that here.

Overall, I'm really, really happy I got to see this at long last.  Langella and Olivier are absolutely brilliant, and everyone else fills their roles well.  The sets are terrific, and if some of the effects are dated, well... this movie was made 35 years ago.  It's to be expected.

There's also one set that I think they must have consciously echoed in season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Dracula takes Lucy for a moonlit walk in a lush, over-grown garden by his mansion:

The mansion Angelus shares with Spike and Drusilla has a very similar garden.  You can see it well in "I Only Have Eyes for You," one of my absolute favorite BtVS eps:

James Marsters as Spike

Juliet Landau as Drusilla

Joss being such a filmophile, I'm pretty sure this was a deliberate nod :-)

David Boreanaz as Angel (NOT from that same ep or set, but he seemed lonely because I'd talked about him through this whole post and not included any pictures of him, so, there we go.  Picture of Angel.)
So.  Last of all, I should mention whether or not this is family-friendly.  It's definitely not.  It's rated R, though I think nowadays it would be PG-13, but that rating didn't exist back in 1979.  It's got one scene that psychedelically implies Dracula having his way with Lucy, but it's relatively tasteful and easy to skip.  There's also a good bit of creepiness, especially with Mina.  Not a movie for children.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Morning Mix -- Part 1

Last month, I made myself a new CD to listen to in the mornings while I make breakfast.  I love to listen to music while I cook (and pretty much any time at all, but especially while I cook), and I'd been cycling through a bunch of CDs that had bouncy, upbeat tracks, but I'd spend time every morning walking over to the CD player to skip to a cheerful song.  And then I decided that was ridiculous, and I should just put all those songs on one CD!

Sometimes it takes me an insanely long time to realize obvious things.

So anyway, I have been loving my new "morning mix," and I decided today I would try to share it with you!  Only not all 22 songs at once.  I thought I'd break this up into 3 or 4 posts, and find all the songs on YouTube when possible, and then you could bounce around to cheerful music too :-)

Or raise your eyebrows and look askance at my musical taste.  It happens.  I'm used to it.

The very first song is called "How Great" and performed by this Christian group called Branches Band, which sang at our church a few months ago.  I bought four of their albums, I liked them so much!  Alas, this song isn't available on YouTube, but you can check out their website here and their YouTube channel here.  It's a bouncy, praise-ful song that involves a ukelele, and I really wish I could share it with you.

The second song is the theme from a movie called Bandolero! written by Jerry Goldsmith.  I love whistling, I love westerns, so yeah, makin' me happy.

Next is Bobby Darin's classic rendition of "Mack the Knife."  You knew Bobby would be here, right?  This is my absolute favorite song he sang, so here it has to be.

Then we have this peppy remix of a little-known Elvis song, "A Little Less Conversation."  I love songs with complicated, difficult lyrics, which this has in spades.  Also, this song makes me dance.  Perfect for draggy mornings, as long as I remember to put my coffee cup down before I start to dance.

Up next is one of my favorite Piano Guys songs:  "What Makes You Beautiful."  I have come up with secret lyrics to this, known only to me, and so trite and silly that if I told them to you, you would probably stop following my blog.  But anyway, it's a bouncy, happy song.

Last one for today is "Good to Go" by John Corbett.  I don't remember anymore how I found this song, but it was back in Wisconsin.  I think I stumbled on his album at the library or something.  Anyway, although it's got a few Roman Catholic overtones I mildly object to, I love the message of being thankful for your life.

Friday, November 07, 2014

What Bliss! What Joy!

They've released season one of The Rifleman to DVD!

This is one of my top three favorite western shows, folks.  The others are The Big Valley and Cheyenne, neither of which I think of as being as popular and well-known as The Rifleman, and yet they're out on DVD and this hasn't been.  But today at Walmart, I found the first half of season 1.  An official release, not some grey-market or unauthorized collection of random episodes.  I could cry. 

Not only that, but according to the official website, season two will come out later this month.  

I tell you, I am giddy!