Vampires, Fantasia and the Perfect Crime, plus Bond: movies watched (#SFWApro)

VAMPIRE ACADEMY (2014) is a forgettable film (based on a Y/A series) in which a runaway vampire princess and her bodyguard are dragged back to the eponymous school only to discover that lurking behind the usual girlfights and petty power struggles is the sinister scheming of dying vamp Gabriel Byrne. Forgettable, though interesting to see that along with the now-common assertions they aren’t classic Bram Stoker vamps, the writers also have to specify their vampires don’t sparkle.

THE FANTASIA THAT NEVER WAS was the only special feature on LeAnn’s Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 DVD set that interested me, a look at material considered for the original film or for Walt’s dreamed-of sequels (figuring that he could trade out some segments while keeping others, making it practical to constantly revise it; the talking heads in one segment suggest the loss of the European market during WW II killed that hope). The only completed segment is the slow-moving Claire de Lune, which was later revamped for the film Make Mine Music (this is the reconstructed original). Other segments are only available as rush sketches, with the best being the moody afterlife fantasy The Swan of Tuonela, based on Finish legend and Sibelius’ music.

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1957) is a French drama in which illicit lovers Maurice Renet and Jeanne Moreau have a perfect plan to knock off Moreau’s inconvenient husband, only to have a stalled elevator leave Renet trapped while he’s trying to clear way the last bits of evidence. Pretty good, but reminds me of the old complaint by the French New Wave directors about how slow and overly thoughtful French films were; the elevator sequences are intense, but Moreau’s moody sulking in the belief Renet has dumped her gets old fast. “I should have left you alone, Julien—I shouldn’t have touched you or caressed your face.”

I rewatched SPECTRE (2015) for Martinis, Girls and Guns (my in-depth original review is here)  and found it even more a hybrid of Craig Bond and Classic Bond than I remembered, with such details as an Oddjob-style Brute Man grappling Bond in a railway carriage, the very Connery-style seduction of Monica Bellucci and the only ticking-clock ending of any of Craig’s films. It also continues the ruminations on Bond’s place in the cyber-age (“C says a drone can do anything a 00 can do.”) that have been going on since Goldeneye. Fun, though I notice they never explain what “Spectre” means in this version, or how Q deduced that Blofeld was the mastermind behind everything in the Craig era (and while it is nice to see Q get a little of action, I notice that Moneypenny despite having been a field agent in the previous film is strictly deskbound here), and Christopher Waltz is too ineffective to be such an Ultimate Villain. “I always knew death would wear a familiar face—but not yours.”

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Clunkety, clunkety, clunkety (#SFWApro)

That’s how I felt at work this week, just a big, slow rumbling old truck trying to reach its destination. I am, however, wrong.

Mostly what provoked that feeling is that even squeezing out most of my other work in favor of Southern Discomforts, I still didn’t get as far as I wanted. My polishing is much more extensive than I expected — not so much because the story is more flawed, I just really want this draft looking as good as possible before I get it beta-read.  And little changes keep having big effects. For example, I eliminated one key piece of evidence from the FBI investigation (I may bring it back) so instead of seeing Olwen McAlister as a suspect in her husband’s murder, the agents only know something seriously suspicious is going on, but can’t figure out how to put it together. That required a heavier rewrite of the interrogation than I’d planned. But still, in three weeks I’ve managed 40,000 words, so I’m doing better than expected. But I need to push because if I finish too late, my writing group volunteers (once I solicit them) won’t have time to read it before the holiday season, and I’ll probably have to push the actual critique (accompanied by a dinner party, that’s how the group usually does it) into 2017.

I did reread A Famine Where Abundance Lies and I think it’s ready to go (though I may read it to the group anyway, depending whether one or both of two other possible short stories is ready for beta-ing soon enough). However I’m wondering where exactly to send it. The story came out much more Christian in many ways than when I’d started, and while I’m fine with that, I’m not sure how that will go over in some of the places I was thinking about submitting it.

And I put in more work on Martinis, Girls and Guns. While I was becoming pessimistic, I think I may be able to get it out by year’s end as I’d originally planned.

Today, however, I took off, so that reduced the amount of work I could do for the week. We’re dog-sitting Trixie’s bestie Lily again, so I know from experience I’m unlikely to accomplish anything today. Rather than make a futile struggle, I just passed. You can see Lily below; she’s a full blooded Havanese, maybe three years old.

lily tail

I’ve also started finally sleeping better. My insomnia is very seasonal: starts up in March, typically, runs through September. I don’t know if it’s to do with the sunlight or the heat, but the pattern’s been consistent for several years. As this also leaves me sleeping a little later in the morning, I may have to start setting an alarm. But I’ll trade an alarm for a good night’s sleep any time.

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Filed under Martinis Girls and Guns, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

I am a work in progress (#SFWApro)

But as far as budgeting my time goes, I’m progressing nicely. My new approach to time management continues working well. I’m staying focused during my reading periods, and I can adapt to when the pups suddenly decide they need scritching NOW DADDY NOW!!!! It still doesn’t make it any easier to stop work, get up and stretch, but I manage occasionally (not enough, but that’s been a problem for a while)

Trixie’s recent insistence on coming down in the morning to sit with me (instead of staying up with TYG in the bedroom) isn’t helping, however. Having her snuggling next to me make it very easy to just give in to my impulses and prolong the morning before the start of work. That’s not productive (I imagine you know that). As it seems to be sinking in that as I don’t just sit on the couch and let her snuggle (I have yoga, breakfast to make, tea to make, etc.), she might be better off back up with TYG. Yesterday morning, she spent most of her time sitting outside the bedroom door hoping to be let in (I would have done so, but I didn’t want to wake my spouse). This morning she slept upstairs while I got up, as usual.

Surprisingly, the day the dogs are in day care is usually the worst for my new schedule. It used to be I’d block the day out rigidly so I’d get the maximum amount done at work, and in all the nonwriting stuff (contractors, vacuuming) I’d prefer to do without the dogs. Without the blocking, there seems to be a lot of time creep where the nonwriting just sucks up exceptional amounts of time. But the puppies absence still allows me to focus better.

A problem I haven’t found a fix for is a way to mark off the evening when I’m off work. I spend all day sitting in the living room with the puppies; I spend the evening sitting with puppies and TYG. My brain seems to feel that I’m still at work which makes it harder to relax (it’s noticeably easier Thursdays, when I’m upstairs in my own office most of the day).  I haven’t figured out how to work around this (with TYG home going upstairs by myself doesn’t appeal at all). But yes, first-world problems.

trixie-pony(Trixie in a friend’s yard. As you can see, she’s quite the shaggy little pony. All rights to photo reside with me, please credit if you use it).

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Filed under The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Writing The Other (#SFWApro)

So I recently wrote WRITING THE OTHER: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward is a mix of Bad and Good Examples of writing People Who Are Not Like You, plus exercises for getting it right. This being a decade old, I’m unsurprised a lot of this is now familiar material (don’t stereotype, don’t focus your story on how discrimination upsets white people, get feedback), simply because there’s been a lot of discussion about this online since (and probably before, even though I wasn’t aware of it).  I think the exercises (crudely summed up, efforts to see things from the perspective of a different ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc.) will be helpful. Though I wish someone would provide advice on thinking about this stuff in early drafts. It ought to be simple to keep “could this character be a different race/ethnicity/etc.” in my head, but I tend to reflexively go with white, be they men or women. In at least one case, I saw how I could have added a black character to the story but I didn’t figure it out until after it sold.

So, now that I’ve brought the topic up, here are some links which may (or may not) be useful:

•Jim Hines collected assorted guest posts on his blog which later became the books Invisible and Invisible 2. You can also find them rounded up here and here. It includes discussions of writing gender, sexual orientation, race and disability.

•NK Jemisin discusses the “Damned if You Do” complaint that there’s no point to trying to writing diverse fiction because you’ll get criticized no matter what you do.

•Malinda discusses some more complexities of writing the other.

•An old but good post on The Hathor Legacy shows how to and how not to do it by comparing the original Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle and the New 52 reboot. I really think this one is very good.

bluebeetlereachstars(Cover by Cully Hamner, all rights to current holder)

•Writer Anis Gisele argues (if I’m following her) that any attempt to use the voice of a culture/race/ethnicity or even person not your own is a form of privilege. I disagree completely, but I’ll include the link here anyway.

•A discussion of disability in Daredevil (the Netflix version).

•Five Writing the Other Fails (one of the five is much less enthused about Daredevil).

•In a recent speech, writer Lionel Shriver argued that if we worry about things like cultural appropriation, we won’t be able to write anything good. Responding with intense disagreement, we have Jim Hines, Foz Meadows and the Venus Moon blog.

I was going to add a bunch more links, but I’ll save them for another roundup post. I was also going to have some deep thought of my own, but I don’t think they’re formed enough yet to blog about.

 

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It Should Have Been Epic: James Bond in Man With the Golden Gun (#SFWApro)

mv5bodg3njq0mjmwn15bml5banbnxkftztcwnty5mdg0na-_v1_uy1200_cr8506301200_al_James Bond, one of the great screen heroes, vs. Christopher Lee, one of the great screen villains. How could it miss? Well, follow my review of MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) and you’ll see … (all rights to poster image with current holder).

The original Fleming story pits Bond against an uninteresting assassin with a gold-plated pistol. In the film, Francisco Scaramanga is the world’s top assassin, $1 million a hit; his favorite weapon is a solid-gold gun he can assemble from his seemingly harmless lighter, pen and belt buckle (as my friend Ross says, it could probably pass airport security even today). He sees himself as Bond’s player on the other side, both of them supreme killers, though Bond foolishly kills for a pittance and a pat on the back (Bond’s retort to this is that he kills for queen and country, not for pay). Similarly to the subsequent Spy Who Loved Me, the film’s opening sets up the parallelism, with Scaramanga (Lee) getting the teaser sequence. His aide Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) sends a hitman to take Scaramanga out in a weird labyrinth reminiscent of the X-Men’s Danger Room or Arcade’s Murderworld. If the killer wins, Nick Nack inherits Scaramanga’s assets; for Scaramanga it’s a fun training exercise. Which, of course, he winds.

And then we cut to Bond currently hunting a scientist who vanished with the Solex, a McGuffin that can convert sunlight to electricity with 80 percent efficiency, resolving the energy crisis (this was ultra-topical as the US was still in shock from the oil cartel OPEC raising prices a couple of years earlier). Then Scaramanga mails Bond a golden bullet marking 007 as his next target. M informs Bond that they can’t put him in the field on the Solex job when he could get taken out at any second, so he has to get Scaramanga first.

Everything’s set up for an epic confrontation (even though it turns out Scaramanga’s mistress sent the bullet in hopes Bond will off her cruel boss) and Lee is awesome as the arrogant, confident Scaramanga. But the Most Dangerous Game aspect of two great hunters pitted against each other is sidetracked for the solar-energy plot. Scaramanga seizes the Solex and sets up a model solar-power plant; he boasts to Bond that his big scheme is … selling the technology to whoever pays most. As evil plans go, this ranks lower than the control-the-water plot of Quantum of Solace. Even given the villain admits he might let OPEC buy up the tech to keep it off the market (a popular belief of the time was that Big Oil was shutting down all alternative energy options), it’s unimpressive now and I doubt it worked much better then.

Then there’s the comedy. A comic-relief Southern sheriff from Live and Let Die (very much a redneck stereotype) shows up on vacation during Bond’s time in Southeast Asia, where he makes various not-so-funny racist remarks. Bond has a very over-the-top car chase. There’s a drawn-out martial arts sequence (martial arts were getting big, just like energy issues) that’s played mostly for laughs. And Goodnight (Britt Eklund) has the distinction of being the only genuinely stupid Bond girl, acting like she’d wandered over from Britain’s Carry On film series. The big finish isn’t Bond vs. Scaramanga, it’s Goodnight accidentally sending the power plant haywire so that Bond has to struggle to save the technology.

Even allowing for all that, the confrontation we do get between Scaramanga and 007 is underwhelming. Instead of fighting the Man with the Golden Gun, Bond is mostly occupied with the tricks and traps of Nick Nack’s labyrinth. Where Scaramanga and the teaser hitman are ducking and shooting for several minutes, the actual Bond/Scaramanga action is dreadfully brief, and unimpressive (Bond substitutes for a wax figure in the labyrinth, gets the drop on Scaramanga, kills him).

I think that wraps up all the rewatching I need to do for Martinis, Girls and Guns, unless I decide to revisit some of Craig’s (Spectre, as I’ve only seen it once, is probably a necessity).

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Is Our Writers Learning? The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North (#SFWApro)

25746699THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF HOPE is a literary fantasy good enough I wish I actually liked it (cover image by Plainpicture/Mohamed Itani, all rights with current holder).

The Story: Hope Arden is a black British woman with an unwanted power: ever since it kicked in her teens, everyone who meets her forgets her immediately. For instance, she comes home one day and finds her mother has disposed of all her things because Mom can’t remember why that unused room upstairs is full of teenage girl crap. Hope’s younger sister remembers her, but of course Mom isn’t going to let some stranger hang out with her little girl.

As an adult, Hope supports herself as a professional thief: She can yank a necklace off you and ten seconds later you’re yelling at her to get out of the way as you search for the thief.

In the early sections, Hope strikes up a friendship with Reina, an Arab woman using Perfection, an app that gives you points for how you’re progressing toward perfection — losing weight, eating right, working out, dressing right. When Reina commits suicide, Hope blames the effect of Perfection and sets out to take down the people behind it (she’s spot on as the app pushes people toward fashionable, trendy and pretty rather than any deeper aspirations). However there are adversaries hunting her for her past crimes, even if she can’t remember, so she’s got a lot to do to stay ahead of the game.

WHAT I LEARNED

Thinking through your premise is always good. Not that I didn’t know this, but it’s instructive how well North handles Hope’s power/curse. There’s the emotional effect on Hope who can have a passionate one-night stand only to have her lover wonder who she is when he comes back from the bathroom. When she’s injured, she gets five minutes of treatment in the E/R, then they forget about her so she goes to another hospital, and then another … Hope’s powers don’t work on machines, so she takes security cameras into account in planning her jobs. She’s also able to communicate with various players over the Internet, although she finds that a poor substitute for in-person connections. Given I often see literary fantasy written as if the idea itself is all that’s necessary, I’m pleased North takes time to work it all out.

Style is a two-edged sword. I’ve liked a lot of writers associated with a distinctive prose style — H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Raymond Chandler, to name three. But a lot of people hate style — I’ve read a couple of writer interviews where the author declares that if you notice “style,” that’s a sign the story wasn’t compelling or argue that completely plain, style-free language is by definition superior. Even among people who do like style, that doesn’t mean they’ll like all style. Some people hate Lovecraft’s style, for instance. And North’s style didn’t work on me. It’s a first-person book and Hope’s thought include lots of fragmentary sentences, which is not a bad thing per se, but didn’t work here. And there are lots of lists and bullet-point lists, often assembling random facts, and that didn’t work at all, because Hope doesn’t come across as the sort of autodidact who’d know or regurgitate this stuff. In fairness, I think this is more my personal taste than bad writing.

A hero is only as good as the adversary. Perfection, unfortunately, isn’t much of an adversary. Like the film App, the tech is just new gloss on the kind of creepy cult I’ve seen umpteen times. Fifty years ago it would have been creepy street preachers handing out fliers (“You too can attain Perfection, brothers!”) and inviting Hope and her friend to cult meetings. Old-fashioned isn’t a dealbreaker of course, but nothing elseabout Perfection really interested me. Perfect is bad, but it’s not a ticking-bomb threat; North’s literary style doesn’t make it any more exciting; and I felt Perfection was more to make a point about social values (it’s a very Western Union story) than offer an intriguing opponent. And the message isn’t that new in itself.

Reading this book was instructive, but not as entertaining as I’d anticipated.

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Businesses behaving badly (and other links)

Normally local governments tax property based on “highest and best use.”In Texas, Lowe’s is arguing its stores should pay property tax as if the store were closed. Sometimes they win just because they can outspend the county on legal fees.

•A mother claims a for-profit college took out a loan in her name without her consent.

•Apparently the Texas prison system is a big business. One reason it generates huge profits is that it uses prisoners as slave labor.

•Long Island University tried to break the faculty union by locking out the unionized staff after they rejected a contract proposal (and advertising for replacements on Monster.com, according to this interview). Happily the lockout failed and negotiations are back on.

•Megan McArdle defends for-profit prisons.

•A judge has fined Verizon $3,750 for leaving an elderly couple without phone service for several days. And a woman claims the company charged her for a massive excess data use she couldn’t possibly be responsible for.

•Comcast insists its data usage meter isn’t at fault, even if it billed customers for data they couldn’t have used. The company is also freaking out over an FCC proposal that would allow competition in the market for providing TV set-top boxes. Comcast and AT&T are also protesting Nashville’s decision to let Google fiber use city utility poles alongside the other providers.

•The Department of Justice is looking into Wells Fargo employees’ alleged practice of opening added accounts without customers’ permission.

In other topics—

•A former Israeli politician says Israel is becoming increasingly divided.

•AirBnB says Santa Monica’s ban on short-term rentals violates federal and constitutional law. Curiously while it claims no responsibility for what people post on the site, it’s also setting requirements for rental-owners intended to reduce discrimination. Which is a good thing, but still seems inconsistent.

•Multiple tech companies have supported Microsoft’s lawsuit claiming customers have a right to know if the government has searched their electronic files.

•Thanks to Obamacare, fewer Americans are uninsured than ever before.

•Class action lawsuits are not an option for Uber drivers, an appeals court says.

•Fifteen years after 9/11, why are Muslims and Arabs still under suspicion? We Hunted the Mammoth says anti-Muslim vandalism and assaults are getting worse.

Lethal yellowing disease is wiping out coconut plantations.

•Right-wingers are using Hilary Clinton’s recent illness as proof she’s too sick to be president (and probably hiding worse illness!).

•Echidne looks at the sexism involved in the French burkini ban, both in the assumption women shouldn’t show skin and the pressure to do so.

•An anonymous reporter argues that we should vote Trump because the disaster will be more interesting to cover than a Clinton presidency. While this is a dreadful reason (as noted at the link) I was also struck by his argument that Trump might work out in the long run because “you just have to blow up shit to build it again.” Trouble is, I doubt in office Trump will blow up the government (the Middle East maybe). As many people have suggested, he’ll probably be happy to sign whatever right-wing bullshit the Republicans in Congress can bring to his desk. And as Echidne points out, the reporter might feel different if he thought his own shit was at risk of being blown up, rather than minorities and Muslims.

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