Write what you (don’t) know

I recently went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to view the Ron Mueck exhibit. As I walked in, there was a piece by another artist that consisted of an LED panel scrolling text like you might see in Times Square. I don’t know who the artist is or where the phrases showcased come from, but as I passed, the phrase “A MAN CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A MOTHER” scrolled by and I had a multitude of visceral reactions that stuck with me as I went on to the Mueck exhibit.

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Review: THE BALLAD OF A SMALL PLAYER

The Ballad of a Small Player is vivid in the way a dream is when you first wake up, before it disappears from consciousness. A novel about the thrill of losing, and the impenetrable wall between opposites that sometimes vanishes in an instant of luck. RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Photos, Books, Life…

Don’t go thinking I haven’t been doing anything just because I haven’t been posting here!  Oh no!

I think that’s one of the things that we forget as creative people because it’s the WORK that matters, what we PRODUCE that can be touched or watched or absorbed through one sense or another.

But life happens.  And I want to experience it.

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And I’ve also just been busy trying to slog my way through the producing aspects.  So here’s a tally of what’s been going on and I plan to get this website more focused in the coming months!  Including a sneak peak of what I’ve been writing!

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Book Review: PUSHING THE LIMITS

I have to admit, I was embarrassed to buy this book because the title and the cover looked so…cheesy.  But my own YA novel “pushes limits” on things like sex and I wanted to see what was out there in the market.

Honestly! I bought this for research…and then I fell in love with it.

The synopsis of the story, below, is not why I fell in love with the book. The plot is fairly weak, a framing device to push the characters closer or to heighten tension. But what McGarry does in between those little nudges takes us on a journey from darkness to light, confusion to understanding. The character descriptions aren’t even that unique but there’s a strong and definite arc that is believable and is well-supported by the events in the story.

What is most impressive about the writing, and the reason why I fell in love with the book, is that McGarry is able to give distinct voices to Echo and Noah as they alternate chapter POVs. I could hear them, practically see them in front of me. The depth of what they are feeling, thinking, and doing, felt so real and honest. It’s a coming-of-age story fraught with the complicated nature of becoming independent from your parents and learning to cope with tragedy and the inexplicable nature of life. Even the side characters are three-dimensional and jump off the page. Little details help flesh out what could be a smarmy teen drama.

So it’s almost an injustice to break the book down into a description of parts, because the way it comes together is beautiful and satisfying and even cathartic.

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BOOK REVIEW: PURE series

PURE by Julianna Baggott follows several characters but the main heart of the story belongs to Pressia, a young girl turning 16 in a world that’s been obliterated by an atomic bomb 10 years prior. Everyone on the outside of a Dome which served as protection for the “pures” are considered “wretches” and have some kind of fusing. In Pressia’s case, one hand has been covered by the doll’s head that she was holding at the time of the blast. Another character is fused with birds that are still alive and implanted on his back. Other characters are fused with other people like Siamese twins. It’s grotesque and part of Pressia’s arc is to figure out whether she can accept herself for who she is or if she is better off finding a “cure” for her deformity. When a pure escapes from the Dome on a mission to find his mother, Pressia saves his life and the two of them start a journey discovering the truth about the Dome, the outside world, what happened, their families. Like WIZARD OF OZ, they collect newcomers along the way who become integral to the overall story.

PURE (followed by Book 2 FUSE and Book 3 BURN) is an excellent series that offers a true sci fi world, variety of character, and something more complicated writing than than the young heroine in a dystopian/apocalyptic society stories we have seen in other series such as HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, LEGEND, MATCHED… Baggott’s use of changing POV within a selection of main characters but not ALL the characters offers the reader an opportunity to at times be complicit in wrongdoing, something not seen in these other series. I found myself uncomfortable with at least one of the main characters who kept disappointing my expectation of becoming the hero and rising above external manipulation. It was enlightening to see/read/experience characters from a direct POV who ultimately failed in their character arc. It was expertly handled by Baggott.

I highly recommend it. I’m not sure it came to a full resolution at the end of BURN, but endings are always hard and in such a rich and complex story, I am not sure what I would have done differently.

In all, I’m not sure I understand why it hasn’t done as well as the previously mentioned series’ like HUNGER GAMES.  When I wanted to purchase PURE, I had to order it online, no store carried it.  I wonder if it’s because the love story is not as central as it is in the other series, though it’s certainly there.  It’s a more difficult read and I didn’t get caught up in the same passion and urgency to continue reading the way I did with the other series.  However, I think that’s a testament to its writing and characters that it couldn’t be treated as pulp.  I can see how it may have benefited from more action and a different style of description for the dramatic conflict scenes.  As a writer, it’s an interesting question.  Thoughts always welcome!

Book Review: ALLEGIANT (DIVERGENT series)

I just finished ALLEGIANT, the third and final sequel in the DIVERGENT series by Veronica Roth.  It would be a disservice to give away anything that happens to the major characters, but I have to say that Roth’s writing is as brave and convention-shattering as her main characters.  She demonstrates that Young Adult fiction does not have to be safe and comfortable for its audience.

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Writing Villains & Understanding Their Villainy

Cruella de Vil is such a great villain.  Her image sticks in my mind throughout time as a creepy lady who scared the crap out of me.   And the best part about her, and most villains, is the entertaining value of her villainy.  She is sassy and flashy, visually exciting.  While I don’t want her to get those puppies, it is also fun to watch her try.  I don’t even like 100 DALMATIONS as a movie, but I love Cruella de Vil.

Childhood is where we learn about good and evil.  Where our imagination gets the best of us and monsters live in the dark shadows of the closet/attic/basement.  As the G.K. Chesterton quote goes “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey.  What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.  The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.  What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”  Good triumphs evil, Cruella de Vil does not prevail.

There are lots of great articles and thoughts about writing villains, but I’ve been thinking about writing villains less as a “how do I make this character real” exercise as looking at the villains in my own life for inspiration.   Understanding one often leads to understanding the other.  And I’m referring to human villains here not robots, aliens, or fantastical creatures, though I would think the same theories apply.

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MM: Walking Away

Today was my last day at work for the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) as their Program Coordinator.  It’s the first job I’ve ever quit without some other reason like “I’m moving to another state.”  Moreover, unlike my predecessor in the job, Michelle Mower, who left the position because she was pursuing full-time filmmaking, I’m leaving for a full-time job that’s not in my field.  It’s the proverbial day-job and I guess I had hoped that through my work at SWAMP I would eventually be able to leave the day-job behind.

But life happens, schedules change, finances shift, and I couldn’t work at SWAMP and work my flexi day job and take care of things like…my kids. It was too much.  And what was going down the drain?  My creative projects: my writing, my films.

So I’m walking away from a job in my field that I enjoyed having, that put me in touch with the larger filmmaking community and taking a risk that I will balance my life and focus once again on my own creative juices.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years fostering everyone else’s.  And I enjoy that immensely, but I also need to foster myself.

Truth be told: I’m scared.  It’s all on me, no hiding anymore.  Time to see if I can make things happen.  I don’t expect overnight inspiration.  I’m looking for day-in, day-out work building toward something I can be proud of.

Thanks to SWAMP for the support and inspiration I needed these last 7 years.  Not just the 2 I worked as Program Coordinator, but the 5 I was a Board Member.

I never really thought I’d make this kind of decision.  It’s kind of like when I decided not to move back to Los Angeles after my divorce.  It was the right decision, it was the necessary decision, but it was also just a bit bittersweet.