Books: You Are a Badass Every Day by Jen Sincero

So… yeah. I haven’t read any of Sincero’s other books; I just found this one at the library and thought I’d give it a go. It’s not really a book meant to be read from start to finish, though, I don’t think. It’s more like a daily devotional. Actually, I feel like it needs to be put on one of those thought-a-day calendars or something? Or maybe the book needs to be expanded so that there’s an entry to read each day of the year?

As it stands, this is mostly very short bits of rah-rah encouragement and instructions on various meditation techniques. It’s a lot of “visualize what you want, feel it, and it will manifest” kind of stuff. I can understand and appreciate the sentiment, but I also feel books like these shortchange the real, true hardships some people face in life. Rather than deep and/or helpful, it comes across as somewhat glib. Part of that, I’m sure, is just that the entries in this book are so short; they’re not meant to dive deep. But there is a certain kind of self-help that feels like victim blaming, as though to say, “You could think and wish and visualize and meditate your way out of this if you just tried hard enough.” Um…

I also feel conflicted when books like this one highlight eating healthy foods. I know I should eat healthy, but between books (and online articles) like these and my nutritionist, I’m tipping toward self-loathing and guilt whenever I eat something I want to eat rather than something these people would approve of. And while this book doesn’t dig in when it comes to taking care of one’s body via eating and exercise, there’s just enough there to make the author sound judgmental. I don’t appreciate that.

So this isn’t a terrible book, but I do think it’s underpinned by some not very good things. And the bottom line is, I didn’t find it particularly helpful or inspiring or anything either. It didn’t say anything new or enlightening, just a lot of the same stuff you can find all over the internet and on motivational posters. Meh.

Books: The Ravenmaster by Chris Skaife

Chris Skaife is the current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. That means he’s in charge of the care for the ravens kept at the Tower due to the superstition that, should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the Tower will crumble and England will fall into crisis (or something like that). Here, then, is a quick and engaging read for anyone interested in ravens or maybe some British history. I finished it in one day.

Part memoir, part history lesson, part ornithological research, the book is a blend. I’m not sure it’s for everyone, but Skaife’s conversational tone makes it an easy book to sail through. He talks about his time in the military, which is relevant because one must have 22 years of unblemished military service to become a Yeoman Warder at the Tower. He talks about his work at a tour guide, what it’s like to live at the Tower with his family, a little bit of the history and superstition, and of course, he talks about the ravens.

The book, I think, is a little bit out of date already as (if I remember correctly from Skaife’s Twitter feed; he’s @ravenmaster1 btw) Munin has since passed and they have a new raven named Poppy. I kind of wish there were an ongoing blog, but I suppose Skaife is busy enough with everything else not to have to write posts too. (Or maybe there is a blog and I just don’t know it?)

Certainly, the ravens are the best parts of the book. Their antics are highly amusing, and at least once I teared up. But then, I love birds, and corvids in particular—three local crows have trained me to throw them peanuts, and I’m worried about them as we’re moving in a couple weeks. I’m sure I’ll make more crow friends at the new house… I hope…

In any case, I can’t help but agree with Skaife that corvids get a bad rap as birds of misfortune, harbingers of death, etc. They’re quite brilliant, actually, and if they turn up where death is it’s because they’re practical and scavengers. My crows recognize me and also my car; they know if I’m home because of the car, and they’ve been known to follow my car to my kids’ schools because they know I also keep peanuts in the car for them. They’ll follow me on my morning walks, too, so now I often bring a handful of peanuts in my jacket as well. They have me well trained!

In any case, I found this to be a fun read, though I’ve read from some that they didn’t like Skaife’s detours into his military history. But I think everything contributes to the big picture. Still, a book of anecdotes solely about the ravens would be great too. I can’t seem to get enough of that stuff.

Highly recommended for light reading and amusement.

Why I’ve Given Up

I will no longer pursue landing an agent. I no longer have hopes and dreams of a traditional publishing deal. I’m not even sure I’ll do much more writing, despite having many projects in various stages of completion.

There comes a time when, if your work is not valued, there seems to be little to no reason to continue. If I had the drive… I used to, but I don’t any more. I don’t feel compelled to write, and I think good writers should feel that way. They should have to write. They should be unable to stop themselves from writing. And they should do it for themselves rather than for readers. I know that we’re told to consider our audience, write what they want to read, but I honestly believe it’s better to write the thing you want to write. That will be the thing that is genuine and has power. Readers can feel it, and they respond to it.

I’ve had a lot of good feedback from agents who tell me that I’m a great writer. Unfortunately for me, I don’t write the kinds of things these agents can sell. I’ve heard many variations on, “Try me with something else.” But all my somethings else are equally unsalable.

In turn, I’ve found modest success in self-published work, but it’s very difficult to rise above the noise. There’s just so much out there, and I’m a bit exhausted with it all. Again, if I had really strong feelings about my work—if I felt I had to write or die—then it wouldn’t matter. I’d write regardless. And I used to feel that way. But something has changed. I just don’t know what.

I will try to finish Hamlette, which I’m posting on Wattpad (see the post below this one). And maybe I’ll get back to various other projects too… someday… But for now I’m calling it quits. I can’t seem to please anyone with my work, not even myself, and that seems like a good reason to pump the brakes.

Movies: Captain Marvel

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, four cats
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Marvel/Disney, 2019
PG-13; 124 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)

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First, a little housekeeping: sorry I’ve been absent. I had abdominal surgery last Thursday and am only now to the point where I can sit up for any length of time.

Okay, now this movie. I really didn’t care for the first, oh, twenty minutes or so, though I understand why they were necessary. But I sat through those minutes thinking I’d made a terrible mistake. For me, it really wasn’t until Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel reached Earth that things got interesting.

An overview (no spoilers): During a mission, Kree warrior Vers is captured by the Skrull and ends up on Earth. So do the Skrull, so now she must save the world from them and find a way home. Things get complicated when Nick Fury arrives at the site of Vers’ crash landing.

All this is set in… 1995(?) btw.

I loved, loved, loved seeing Nick Fury get some real screen time, and Jackson and Larson work well together. I also really liked Ben Mendelsohn in this, and I felt the comedy in this movie was well done and balanced the action nicely. Plus, great soundtrack.

One thing that’s really just a personal issue: to me Brie Larson looked a bit like Pam from The Office (Jenna Fischer)? I found that weirdly distracting.

I also didn’t find any of the twists to be very surprising. That + the somewhat dull start to the movie is the reason I shaved a little starlight off my rating. But not much because the rest of the film more than makes up for its shortcomings. That is to say, even with the minor problems, this is better than pretty much every other Marvel movie I’ve seen.

Vote for Faebourne!

The beautiful cover Elena at L1 Graphics made for Faebourne is up for an award! Please click over and vote for it. While I usually don’t promote popularity-contest style awards, I truly believe our cover is the best.

The site will require you to make a log-in, but it’s free and I can say (based on experience) that they don’t spam your inbox. Thank you in advance for your support!

IWSG: March 2019

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.

What am I insecure about these days? Well, I have surgery tomorrow, though I feel oddly calm about it. I think I’m more stressed about our move, which will take place the first week of April. In the meantime, very little writing is getting done, so I’m insecure about that, too—I feel like I’m falling behind on my goals.

Question of the Month: Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I guess I’ve always written from the protagonist’s point of view, though I’m sure it would be fun to write from the villain’s. But I think I stick with the protagonist because to get inside the villain’s head would be to give too much away. I want the reader to wonder, along with the protagonist, what that villain is up to…

Books: So Anyway. . . by John Cleese

Almost a year ago (late March 2018), my husband and I went to a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that was followed by a Q&A with Mr. John Cleese, who has always been my favorite of the Pythons. So now you know my bias. After said evening, I stopped at the merch table and picked up a signed copy of this book, his autobiography.

This is a very smooth read, as funny and curious and insightful as one might expect from Mr. Cleese. I could hear his voice in my head as I read it. And though I expected to be impatient to get to the parts about Monty Python, I found that I enjoyed pretty much every bit of the book.

I will say that Cleese skims the Python bits. I suppose he means to be diplomatic, but the book ends with this little dabble of Python, leaving me wanting more. Is there a second book? I want to hear about Fawlty Towers and all Cleese’s marriages, but… I suspect that’s not likely to happen. Serves me right, I think he’d say, for being a nosy little thing.

It’s just that he’s so witty and droll, and he was so much fun to listen to at the Q&A, that I can’t help but want more of that.

In short, this is a fun read if you happen to like John Cleese. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to people who only like Python because there isn’t actually that much about them in the book. Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of other books that cover all that. Mr. Cleese’s life is much more than Python, and it turns out to be all fairly interesting.

Should Streaming Movies be Oscar Eligible?

When I saw Steven Spielberg was a streaming topic on Twitter, I worried. I’m at that age, after all, when my idols are aging and dying off. But as it turns out, the chatter is just about how Spielberg plans to push an anti-Netflix agenda at the next Academy board meeting.

The question on the table: What should be the basic minimum requirements for a film to be eligible for an Oscar?

To be fair, the rules were originally made when the world of film could not conceive of streaming, and when the distribution channel was one clear tunnel of release in cinemas, then release on video (once video was a thing), then show some edited version on television (until movie channels came along and did not require ADR to mask the curse words). Now movies can be released in cinemas and on streaming simultaneously.

So maybe the deeper question is: What makes a movie a movie?

That may sound weird, but bear with me. We’ve long had a division between film and television. Movies that show on television are called television movies, just to differentiate. And television movies can win Emmys but not Oscars.

So is a movie a movie because it shows in a cinema? What if it only shows once? What if it shows in a cinema and on television at the same time? These are the questions the Academy needs to address.

And a large portion of the argument comes down to politics. Campaign finance to be precise. In this instance, it’s the fact that Netflix has a ton of money to throw into campaigning for films like Roma. Netflix can buy a few cinema screens outside of the usual distribution channels and therefore meet a bare minimum requirement that allows its films to qualify for an Oscar. So… should there be a cap on what can be spent on campaigning?

Another bone of contention is that Roma only spent three weeks in cinemas before moving to Netflix streaming. Should the Academy demand a longer period between theatrical and streaming?

It’s all a matter of opinion and perspective. I haven’t seen Roma, though I’m sure, based on all the enthusiastic feedback, that it is a lovely film. However, I’m inclined to agree that there should be more definitive guidelines regarding what is Oscar eligible. I don’t think of Netflix as a film studio. I don’t think of Amazon as one either. Or Hulu. And maybe I’m old-fashioned in that. I honestly don’t know.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are bringing out content very different from all the superheroes the studios keep churning out. They’re making quality products. But… Are they movies? Or television movies?

Used to be, movies were either made to be shown in cinemas or made to be shown on television. The processes themselves were different. The quality of the film, the aspect ratios—different. Now people have televisions that are almost as large as movie screens. Now the quality of what’s being made for television is as good or better than what’s being made for cinemas. Everything is blurred.

There’s a certain amount of snobbery involved, too, of course. We can accept that FOX studios decided to have a television channel. We have a harder time thinking of Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu—all of which started out showing second-hand content on television—as a legitimate film studio. I mean, if HBO produced a movie and sent it to cinemas for a couple weeks then aired it on their own channel… Would it be up for Oscars or Emmys? Both?

It’s a knotty problem and one I don’t have an answer to. While I’m inclined to agree with Steven Spielberg, the bottom line is the Academy has to lay out some very clear criteria. A lot of it will look and feel arbitrary because it pretty much is. But without lines and guardrails on these roads, the situation is headed for a crash.