Movies: Icarus

When my husband suggested we watch this movie, I was somewhat indifferent. I don’t have any particular interest in the Olympics and/or athletic doping scandals. I’ve never been that into sports to begin with (though I do enjoy watching the figure skating and the gymnastics).

Still, we were looking for something to watch, and I’d already dismissed a number of other options. And I generally like documentaries. So I shrugged and agreed.

Wow. This film is intense.

When it started, I was actually a bit confused. Filmmaker Bryan Fogel seemed to be trying to make a movie about athletes doping for some French bicycle race (one that isn’t the Tour de France). I couldn’t tell if he was actually attempting to get away with it… But then why film it, right? And I couldn’t tell whether the man he was working with realized Fogel was doping in order to prove it could be done (rather than doing it in order to cheat and win). But as things went on, well…

I can’t really explain it. You just have to watch.

Basically, Fogel ended up in the middle of the big Russian Olympic doping scandal. And the guy he’d been working with on his cycling documentary had to flee Russia.

It was just crazy. The whole thing plays out like a Tom Clancy novel. I was sucked in. Then again, I do love true crime and, while I typically don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, they are often fun to hear about.

Icarus won an Academy Award, and for good reason. I know I’m way behind on getting around to watching it (the movie came out in 2017), but if you haven’t yet either, I’d say it’s worth your time.

Split Personality

I’m working on two manuscripts right now that are really the same story told two very different ways. It’s kind of an interesting experiment, even if it is a lot of work.

Imagine you had twins. You love them both but only one will survive to adulthood. And you don’t know which one to nurture. That’s a bit how I feel about it. I keep spooning baby food into each one’s mouth, all the while wondering which will grow to be healthy and strong and which…

Maybe it would be better to think of them as plants. I feel less terrible about one plant withering and one thriving.

Actually, no I don’t.

Anyway, I’m terrible with plants. The harder I try to keep them alive, the more likely they are to die. I like to think the opposite is true of my writing. That, unlike plants that suffer when I touch them, my writing projects benefit from my efforts.

So will I write two full manuscripts and then discard one? Or will I realize before I’m finished which is the stronger prospect? No idea. I’ll just keep going until it becomes clear, one way or another. “Two roads diverged” and all that, but one of them will come to a dead end. Eventually.

A Self-Realization

Here is something I’ve learned about myself recently: though I like the idea of epic fantasy, I don’t actually want to read it.

It’s something I feel like I should have realized sooner. Years ago many good friends of mine recommended Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series to me. I read the first book but never got any farther. When Game of Thrones was big, my husband read all the books and encouraged me to try them. I got all of three pages into the first one and set it aside. Two other writer friends urged me to try Brandon Sanderson. I got about 100 pages into The Way of Kings and just couldn’t. I did read The Hobbit, but I never made it all the way through Lord of the Rings. (The books, that is; I’ve watched the movies many times over.)

“But you like Neil Gaiman,” I hear you saying. Yes, but he’s not epic fantasy, is he? Nor is Stephen King, really. Or Anne Rice. It seems I need books to either be not quite that long, and/or I need them to have some connection to the world I know, I guess? I mean, I liked A Darker Shade of Magic, but even it had a version of London I could relate to.

After some thought, though, the real problem for me is the work required to read epic fantasy. The books are almost always massive, and there are usually several in a series. There are so many weird names to learn and people to keep track of. Often these people end up in about ten different locations that I also have to keep a mental map of. And these places have laws and languages and sometimes magic and there are elves or something… It gets to be too much for me. Bottom line: I’m too lazy to read epic fantasy.

Yet I honestly think epic fantasy is probably some of the best work out there. As much effort as it takes to read, it takes that and more to write it, especially if it’s done well. I really respect and am in awe of those who can manage it. I guess that’s why I keep trying to read it—because I know it’s actually great. But I just don’t have the stamina or brain capacity or something. I can do it when it’s on film or television, but reading it feels to me like stuffing my brain with sawdust for some reason. I turn utterly stupid.

Well, we all have our preferences. I don’t read science fiction or war stories because I frankly find those boring. I don’t read erotica because sex isn’t my thing. And I don’t read epic fantasy because that bar is just too high for me.

What books do or don’t you read and why? And do you think there’s an epic fantasy out there that I might not find too taxing for my tiny little brain? Let me know!


Today is my 19th wedding anniversary. Almost none of my blood relatives attended. My parents were there, and one uncle, and one cousin. Keep in mind I have three uncles, two aunts (not even counting the ones by marriage), and still had one grandmother and one step-grandmother alive at the time. And so many cousins.

But the truth is, my real family did show up. Because most of my family is not related by blood. The people I consider family are those I’ve gathered—or, more accurately, have taken me in—over the years. My best friend that I’ve known since I was eight is like a sister to me, and her parents are like surrogate parents. She was not only maid of honor but also did the flowers for my wedding, and her mom came, and her grandmother, too, who might as well have been my Mimi. The family that not only gave me a job but more or less took me in when I was in college—they all came to the wedding. My “oniisama” and his wife, who are now also godparents to my oldest son. Oniisama escorted my mother in the processional and his wife was the greeter and managed the guest book.

These are all people who have come into my life when I most needed them. I’ve learned from them. I have so many happy memories of time spent with them. They are my family. Now we all live very far apart, sadly, but I remain in touch with almost all of them. It’s the one reason I haven’t been able to bring myself to delete my Facebook; that site makes it too damn easy to connect. Isn’t that a weird thing to say? But let’s face it: people don’t write letters anymore, and they hardly even answer emails that aren’t urgent business. The convenience factor of social media cannot be understated. Instead of dozens of individual efforts (that is, dozens of independent emails to each person you’d like to stay in touch with), you can “broadcast” updates and keep up with each person in one central location. Facebook = bulk mail.

I’ve gotten off topic. Anyway, this anniversary just caused me to stop and reflect on things like what it means to be “family.” I love my blood relatives, but we aren’t especially close. So I’m just glad to have found others to bond with. Even and especially now, in today’s isolated circumstances, it’s so important to have those connections.

Books: The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

This book was recommended to me by one of my best friends who also happens to be a librarian. So, like, she knows me and she knows books. I’m not sure I trust an author with that many double consonants in his last name, but that’s beside the point.

So. What is this book about, really? Well, a few things. It looks a bit at Ty Warner, the creator of Ty Inc. and Beanie Babies. So if you like stories about eccentric billionaires, there’s that. The book also examines the slowly expanding market bubble that was the Beanie Baby phenomenon—and the ultimate bursting of that bubble. So if you have an interest in fads, or market economy, or how these things happen, or maybe just in Beanie Babies… The thing is, this book does a lot, or attempts to, but since there are so many moving parts, I feel readers may like some bits but not all bits? If that makes sense?

I have a couple of Beanie Babies. Not anything I ever bought for myself, but gifts from others. I have a rabbit (that, based on what I’ve learned is a “tush tag,” is named Ears). And I have a snake named Hissy. They’re not worth anything, but they’re cute. A handy size for, say, taking with you if you feel like you need a cuddly thing. Which was part of Ty Warner’s plan, it seems. He wanted to create a cute plush animal that kids could easily slip into their backpacks or otherwise carry with them. It’s not a bad idea, really.

Things got crazy when, because of Warner’s perfectionism, many Beanie Babies were changed during production. So there would be one that was dark brown, but then Warner would decide he didn’t like the color, so the color would be changed. Suddenly the dark brown one was rare/limited and therefore valuable. At least to the people who liked these plushes and wanted to (to borrow a phrase from another phenom) “catch ’em all.”

But as we all know, eventually a market becomes saturated. Every collector who wants something gets one, and they buy extra to re-sell, too. Except if everyone has one, no one is buying. And as it becomes more and more difficult, or even impossible, to complete a collection, either because of cost or supply (too many items ion the checklist to keep up with and/or not enough of some products to make it doable), many collectors drop out entirely. So the pool of collectors (=demand) grows smaller and sales drop. Meanwhile, the ex-collectors might start selling off their items, meaning supply increases.

It’s basic economics. While a company can attempt to control supply on its end, the secondary market is another game. Ty couldn’t stop people from hoarding and reselling. The rise of eBay made it both better and worse. Better for collectors to both find and sell items. Worse because as eBay filled with Beanie Babies, prices for them fell due to increased market competition.

There. I’ve more or less summarized the economic market aspect of this book. But if you want details—if you want to hear individual stories of people who participated in this fad and won or lost—then there’s still value in reading it. And if you want to know how badly Warner treated his girlfriends, that’s in there too.

Is it a good book? Yeah. Is it a great book? Nah. It wants to be a biography and a nostalgic market study at the same time. But given that Warner doesn’t do interviews and the like, I suppose there wasn’t quite enough material for a full-on biography, though there is a lot of input from those who know Warner (girlfriends, his sister, employees). And it’s a bit tough to talk about Warner without talking about Beanie Babies given that they were such a big part of making him who he is and his company what it is.

As an aside, I find it kind of interesting that older copies of this book have the subtitle: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. Meanwhile, my copy has this subtitle: The Amazing Story of How America Lost Its Mind Over a Plush Toy—and the Eccentric Genius Behind It. I think the first one is better and more intriguing. It’s much shorter anyway. But (speaking of marketing) perhaps it didn’t get across the Warner bio aspect well enough. The first subtitle suggests more of a psychological study, which this really isn’t. So I’d say the second subtitle, though long, gets across a clearer and more accurate idea of the book’s contents.

I ended up giving this one 3.5 stars on Goodreads. It’s solid and just interesting enough despite it covering multiple angles. In any case, it was refreshing to read some nonfiction for a change as I’d been reading mostly fiction (and manga) lately. This was a good palate cleanser.

Manifesting Destiny Fanart!

I’m stupidly excited for fanart based on Changers: Manifesting Destiny! It’s always been a little dream of mine that I’d create something people would want to either write fanfic or make fanart of. Now I’ve reached that benchmark!

This art is all by J.M. (I don’t want to use her full name because I don’t know that she wants that revealed.)

Beverly, in Vulpes form.

Beverly is a minor character, and I kind of conceived her as Han Solo-ish in her self-interest.

Marcus’ green-gold eye.

Marcus’ eyes are green, but when his alter ego Diodoric is around, streaks of gold appear in his irises.


Who wouldn’t want a snarky dragon living inside them and lending their life a running commentary? Maybe he sounds like Morgan Freeman? Nah, probably more like… Hmm. Who would voice Livian?

I worked briefly with an agent who had ties to Bandai, and she asked whether Changers would make a good video game… Maybe? But that’s long in the past, and I haven’t heard from that agent in years now. Still, it’s fun to think about what that might look like, or who might play the characters in a TV series or film adaptation… I don’t know any of the hot young actors these days, though, so I’d be useless for that.

Thanks so much to J.M. for the lovely art!!! Makes my heart so happy!!!

IWSG: May 2020

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

There is a lot to be insecure about these days, but I’ll focus on writing for the time being. I’m not getting much of it done. Even when I have uninterrupted time, it’s difficult to focus. I do like my WIP at least, and wish I could give it more time and energy. But I can barely read a book these days, much less write one.

And my existing books are… Well, they go up and down on the sales charts. I don’t know what to do anymore to get people to buy and read books. I feel like I’ve more or less given up on everything writing: the writing part, the marketing part, the trying to make anything of myself part. I used to have such plans and dreams and goals. But it seemed like, no matter how hard I tried and what advice I followed, I couldn’t get anywhere. So now I’m stuck, with the weeds growing up around me, and I’m just learning to live with that and be comfortable in that.

Right now I’m trying to decide whether to get a new cover made of The K-Pro and re-release it or not bother.

On a more positive note, I did find out someone was writing fan fiction of Manifesting Destiny. I find that so flattering, and I’ll admit I always kind of wanted someone to do fanfic and/or fan art of my work.

I’m Still Here (Kind Of)

I haven’t been updating, mostly because there isn’t much of interest to impart. We were last out in the world, in a “normal” capacity, on March 14. Pi(e) Day. Also the 8th anniversary of our move to California. That day we went to an escape room and then to In-N-Out Burger. We already knew that the kids would be “distance learning” the following week. We knew that the Japanese students that were supposed to come stay with us wouldn’t be coming after all. Still, on the 16th I went to get fingerprinted so that I’d be able to attend a school camping trip in May. That was my last time out before shelter-in-place took effect at midnight. (We are one of the six East Bay counties that first moved to do that, a couple days before our governor did it for the whole state.)

Since then, we’ve mostly had necessities delivered to the house. I’ve had to go a couple times to the pharmacy, and I had to take my son to the orthodontist at one point, but other than that, aside from short walks around the neighborhood, we’ve stayed home. In the house or in the back yard. Thank goodness for our swimming pool, and the concrete the kids can chalk on, and the fig tree that is good for climbing, and the lawn that we can use the bocce set on. We are, I know, way more fortunate than many at the moment.

Still, it’s hard. I’ve been sick for about eight weeks and my options for health care are currently limited, partly by the system and partly by what I’m willing to risk. I will be going for blood testing next week after having put it off for a couple months now. I’ll wear my mask and bring my gloves and hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, I am still trying to make sure all the kids get their school work done, and I’m trying to do laundry, and make sure they get some fresh air, and keep them relatively quiet so my husband can work… Sometimes I’m able to do a little writing or reading, but it’s mostly difficult to find the time and focus. I never know when a child will need something. Even when I can be relatively assured of quiet, it’s so hard to feel motivated and concentrate. I find myself mostly watching YouTube and doing sudoku puzzles.

I had so much to look forward to this year, and now… it’s tough not to feel sad, angry, a whole mixture of emotions. I guess I—and I’m sure many others—feel robbed. Of life. I mean, obviously I’m still alive and better off than many, but… My eighth-grade son won’t get all the graduation activities he was looking forward to, and who knows what his freshman high school experience will look like? That school camping trip… Well, the school is hoping to do it in the fall instead, but again, who knows? I was going to return to the stage at Winedale for its 50th anniversary in August, but… ??? My trip to Japan in September? Seems less and less likely. My daughter’s horse shows, her choir performances, my son’s band performances, his track season… Just all gone. And yes, I understand why we’re doing all this, and I agree it’s best to be safe. I’m a terribly risk averse person, and I don’t mind being a homebody most of the time. But it will be a long time before I complain about having to go somewhere or do something outside of the house again… At least once it feels mostly safe to do so. Not knowing when that will be is a big part of the burden. If I knew where the end was, if I could see that light at the end of the tunnel (and know for sure there isn’t another tunnel up ahead on the track), that would definitely help my spirits overall, I think. But no one knows. Even experts are mostly guessing, though their guesses are educated, which is better than a lot of other [mis]information being spread. The problem is, a solution is going to take time, and we’re a world that’s become used to things being instantaneous. We’re an impatient planet. We don’t like being told we have to wait.

Because time is something we all have, but also don’t know how much we have. We don’t like to feel like we’re wasting it.

“It’s not a waste of time to spend this time with your family,” I can hear some people saying. “Be glad you have this opportunity.” Things of that ilk. I am aware of my good fortune. I love my family. But I’m also feeling beat down, worn out by the long drag of hours and illness and the unknown. These things can be true simultaneously: that I value this time with my family and that I wish it would break. By which I mean, I don’t want it to end, but to change in some way. I don’t know how else to phrase it. This isn’t vacation; we’re not out having fun. We are doing things like board games and karaoke and family meals and movie nights, but these are things we used to do even before we were all stuck inside together. We’ve always been a fairly close clan. So… in some ways, this is more of the same, or maybe too much of a good thing.

As someone who has generally kept her sanity by always having something to look forward to, something on her schedule to plan towards, this is very much a struggle for me. Because I can’t plan anything. I feel like I have very little hope. There is no light, just tunnel. This is where I am, and I’m sorry if it’s a downer. Eventually I’ll be able to sit and read a book and make a new YouTube video. Or maybe I’ll finally get clear enough to write some more. Until then… I will keep doing sudoku. Though I think I’ll need to order a new puzzle book as I’ve almost finished this one…

Movies: The Gentlemen

I’ve liked many of the Guy Ritchie movies I’ve seen, and this one seems to be typical of his work, particularly akin to such others as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It has the same quirky, action-comedy tone and the same kind of ensemble cast designed to light up a marquee. It likewise deals in the world of crime, both underworld and upper class.

And yet.

While I did enjoy it, I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. I think this is largely due to how much slower it was to get moving. The Gentlemen takes quite a bit of setup, which is done via extended dialogue between two characters as one tells the other what he knows. Oh, the scene isn’t just two people talking, of course—we get the actual film version of this background. But it’s a conceit not quite clever enough to make up for the lack of action that occurs early on.

The setup is that Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a successful marijuana producer in the UK. But now he wants to sell his business and retire. He offers said business to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but then things start to go south before the deal can be finalized. Another interested party is Dry Eye (Henry Golding), which throws another wrench into the works. And so on and so forth in a kind of whack-a-mole of squashing all the problems that keep arising.

It isn’t as funny as it maybe could have and should have been? Colin Farrell turns up and is one of the best things about the movie, but he’s not in it much. And it was far too easy, far too early on, to figure out what was at the root of everything. So by the time we got to the reveal… ::shrug::

In short, I’m glad I saw it but also glad I didn’t pay to see it at the cinema. It’s not terrible by any means, but not as entertaining as I’d hoped.

Books (Manga): Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori

Mori, Hunny, Kyoya, Tamaki, Kaoru, Hikaru & Haruhi (center)

I found the anime first, on one of the bazillion streaming sites we now have. The show reminded me a bit of Utena, not in content but in style. Since I love Utena, I was excited to try this show out, even though it lacks the magical realism of Utena.

At the center of Ouran High School Host Club (OHSHC) is Haruhi, a “poor” scholarship student to this prestigious school filled with the offspring of the rich and sometimes (or in certain circles) famous. Because she cannot afford the $3000 uniform, Haruhi attends her first day of school in one of her dad’s old sweaters, which is oversized on her underdeveloped frame. You can probably see where this is going. With her moppy short hair and her indeterminate clothing, Haruhi is mistaken for a boy. She doesn’t much care either way (her dad is a transvestite), but when she stumbles by accident into the Host Club and breaks an expensive vase, she’s told she will need to join the club to work off the debt.

It’s a fairly flimsy excuse for a rom-com, but at least the author doesn’t attempt to stretch the fiction too far or thin; the host club members figure out pretty quickly that Haruhi is female. The key is to keep the clientele in the dark.

For those who are wondering, a host club is a place where beautiful people entertain and flirt with customers. In the usual sense, the women are the employees and men visit host clubs to feel special as these women give them their full attention. (Also, host clubs are typically for adults.) But OHSHC is clearly a reverse harem fantasy, and here the beautiful, rich boys flirt with female students and melt their hearts.

There are seven main characters. Haruhi, as previously described; Tamaki, the idiot “king” of the club; Kyoya, the scheming VP; mischievous twins Hikaru and Kaoru; cake-loving Hunny (who hides great martial arts power within his tiny frame); and strong, silent Mori. Something for everyone, right? Wouldn’t that be the point of such a club anyway—to have the right kind of guy for any possible occasion?

The result is largely predictable fluff. There are 18 total volumes of manga, and the first half of them are fun but largely nothing special. Things take a more serious turn in the second half of the series as family dynamics and other relationships are explored.

As someone who mostly enjoys deep characters, this manga didn’t completely serve my interests. Mori and Kyoya are the closest things to “deep” that we’re given, and they aren’t examined all that closely. Kyoya does get a bit more page time (if that’s a thing) than Mori.

Haruhi is blunt and practical, but overall I was mostly indifferent to her. Tamaki is too over the top for me; I found him to be too much of an idiot to like him, despite his good nature. Since he ends up the focus of a lot of the story, I found myself wishing the spotlight would fall elsewhere. But when it sometimes did, those stories highlighting the other characters often fell flat for me. I guess it’s clear where the author’s heart was, and that’s fair. It’s just that my heart was not in the same place.

Still, this is a fun, fluffy series and a fair way to bide time. I have a video review with more details on my YouTube channel if you’re interested.

Author M Pepper Langlinais