Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.

Our local McDonald’s goes out of its way to landscape with jewel like pansies.

It’s really nice to feel as if you’re in a patch of nature, as you wait in the drive thru line.

So many colors. So much visual pleasure. An unexpected delight in the middle of a busy day.

I had a rare music experience recently. After coming across only part of a video on MTV, I went straight to my Amazon MP3 app. I also looked up the artist online. Her name is Emma Hewitt and she’s Australian. I seem to be developing quite an instant ear for Aussie music. She was listed as trance, electro pop, and alternative. While it was her electro sound I heard first, when I went through the list of albums, I found an acoustic one. A few samples and that’s the one I got. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Colours is my favorite track, but I really like whole album.

Emma Hewitt–Colours ( Strings and Vocals Mix)

The idea that utopias and dystopias exist side by side in real life intrigues me. Not just an idea, but a fact of daily life on planet earth. And that pockets of dystopia dwell within utopias. The circumstances of deep poverty not only in foreign lands, but also sometimes in parts of the same communities containing incredible wealth can be difficult to grasp, if you think about it too much.

Large metropolitan areas are stunning examples of this, and not limited to our own time. Victorian London was a world of exquisite beauty that had an ugly, tragic underbelly of unfathomable squalor and tragedy. The poor existed and expired practically under the feet of oblivious upper class walking grandeur.

That in our modern world some countries are so wealthy and powerful while others have huge populations of starving people, many of whom have never encountered the technology we take for granted boggles my mind. It seems to go against all logic, yet there it is.

While the dichotomy is confounding, I think it’s a fascinating extrapolation backdrop for science fiction and fantasy writers to explore. Some countries in our own real world are constantly outdoing themselves with newer and better technology, while in others a goat may be the prized possession of an affluent family. This kind of real life contrast opens up endless possibilities for the development of fictional worlds where bucolic landscapes rub shoulders with sparkling cities that are seats of great power, where horseback is the main mode of transportation for citizens of a fairytale society with relatives in a nearby land who may travel by steam powered train, or airship, or submarine…or

Traveling around Germany revealed stunning contrasts with life in the States. I loved finding a castle ruin with intact window openings, because I could position myself in just the right way, with wall edges blocking any sign of the modern world (sometimes literally a single roadside sign), and I only saw rolling green pasturelike landscape or wooded areas. It was so easy to imagine a knight in full armor approaching atop a galloping steed, as our real world seemed to drop away into the past. Even driving along modern streets revealed large stretches of scenery that looked as it must have literally centuries ago.

So if the world we actually live in can carry so many instances and combinations of utopia and dystopia, modern and ancient, darkness and light even in our modern age, the possibilities for fictional variations are virtually endless. Looking around us reveals much human experience for extrapolation.

I think, on a subconscious level, taking on the challenges and heartbreaks of living in such a world through fiction helps us deal, also on a subconscious level, with the situations we can’t fix in real life. There’s nothing more satisfying to read than a story where good does overcome evil, light vanquishes dark, and hope wins out over despair. If only we could rewrite the real world so that, while there will always be variations on circumstance, there will also be many more heroes to bring the light.

I loved almost everything about Gravity. It’s one of the most nailbitingly intense movies I’ve ever seen. From the opening moments of a somewhat mundane spacewalk through the harrowing events that follow a debris cloud being unleashed on the astronauts, to the final more quiet moments, this movie rarely lets up on the action.

Sandra Bullock is very convincing as the startlingly named Ryan, a bit of a fish out of water in space to install her own project on the Hubble. She made me nervous with her jangly nerves, struggling to get her equipment to work…and that was before the Russians exploded one of their satellites causing what amounted to a gazillion debris bombs to wreak havoc on the astronauts’ shuttle, the Hubble, and pretty much everything in orbit with them.

Once she becomes detached from the shuttle, it’s a race against time to save her life. With only Ryan and very good looking and charming veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski left alive, the situation exacerbates until she’s alone and literally lost in space. George Clooney is excellent as Kowalski, who imparts a cool headed dose of calm into a terrifying ordeal.

Until there is one.

When Ryan is left alone to save herself, things get a bit eyerolly. One more, one more, one more impossible obstacle hit her like a glitchy lifesize game of Asteroids. By the time she manages to extract herself from a flooding capsule and then sinks into the ocean…(but wait!)…only to make like a skinny Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure and rescue herself yet again, my disbelief has forsaken suspension to hang by a thread with the fragility of a spiderweb. I managed to restrain myself, and did not scream REALLY?!? at my TV. Sotto voce is not a scream, no matter how forceful a person’s subvocal abilities may be.

Other than that one yank-me-out-of-the-story problem, I really did love Gravity. It’s a visually gorgeous, beautifully
acted thrill ride that will send science nerds over the moon…and true scientists into hyperspeed critical mode going by the way Twitter blew up once people started seeing it. It’s different enough to feel innovative, yet filled with references with which we’re all familiar.

The two most vivid reminders I came away from watching it with were: 1) Space, even close to home, is beautiful beyond compare. 2) Space is not our native environment. It is infinitely dangerous, with perhaps its greatest danger bring that very beauty, its deceptive silence like a lullaby that masks the monsters under the bed that awaken in an instant and are relentless. We need both reminders as we spin through it, trusting to our protectors to keep us almost obliviously safe. Protectors like our precious atmosphere and the gravity we unconsciously trust every minute of our lives to keep us safe.

Gravity Official Main Trailer

There are parts of the writing life I love, parts I tolerate, and parts I loath. Even combined they still make for a pretty cool existence, but, if I could get rid of a necessary evil, it would be proofreading.

Writing itself is usually fun. Even when it’s not, it’s still bearable. There are going to be unavoidable instances of writing myself into a corner or having to think through complicated passages. While that is in no way enjoyable, it does feel really good to get past a stuck spot and get back into the flowing word stream. The writingwriting life version of this too shall pass…or fly…or zoom…or soar, depending on what genre or sub thereof is involved.

The business end I tolerate. It’s a drag, it eats into writing time, and it can come with gutwrenching disappointment. I eventually found a system of record keeping that works well enough for me to take some of the drudgework out of that necessity. Instead of trying to force myself to set up and maintain spreadsheets or attempt any kind of computerized data entry, I’ve gone old school. I use a spiral bound hardcover undated dayplanner to keep a highly detailed, consistent record of submissions, responses, and their dates. Having a physical, tactile place to refer to helps me keep things straight and hopefully not embarrass myself or irritate an editor with a ridiculous mistake. They still happen, but very rarely. I think if I left it to computer lists, I’d be in trouble. I do keep meticulous computer backups of things like synopses, proposals,
queries, and covers, which has to be done in the interest of the tree population, though it leaves me vulnerable to the glitchapalooza that tends to be the bane of my computerized existence. That this stuff that has to be tolerated sometimes comes with an end result like advancing in a writing or screenwriting competition, or an actual sale, makes the toleration much more tolerable.

My loathing of proofreading dates from the earliest of school paper writing and grows exponentially over time and wordage. Novel writing really exacerbates the annoyance level. There are only so many times a sane person can read through their own 100,000k+ novel and retain said sanity. Screenwriting brings a new level of frustration, with formatting errors vying for attention.

At the moment I’m weeding out the typo infestation in the novella that didn’t want to be finished until recently. Finishing the writing led to the seemingly unending battle against weirdly typoed simple words. Stuff like cradled inexplicably spelled cradeled or leaned spelled leanded. I’m actually just on the second read through. I keep telling myself I’ll read until the next typo, having that be the next sentence, and walking away for a while. Those whiles add up fast.

The worse part of proofreading is a step beyond mere typo hunting. It comes when I’m really happy with what I’ve written, like with this novella, and having every typo yank me out of my absorption in the story. Until I’m on the fourth readthrough, that is. Then I can’t get through no matter what it is fast enough. Which is a pity, since as we all know…there’s always another typo.

A comfortably watchable movie can be a good thing. There are times, many, many of them, when all you want to do is sit down and watch something that entertains without forcing you to fire up much, if any, of the old gray matter. Sink into the comfort of familiarity, fun, and relaxation. When that’s what you’re looking for, do not choose The Fault In Our Stars.

I started watching it pretty much only knowing that it’s a weeper and that I loved the soundtrack I’d already bought. Early on I was, like, oh, poor Hazel. This is going to be a sad, sad, story about the plucky but doomed girl trying to get through what’s left of her life. Well, yes. But. And a big, big but, at that. Lots of them, actually.

All those “buts” herald twists.

Twists in fiction have become something of a taboo. I’ve always loved them when they’re well done. In books, movies…even life…a well placed twist can be a wonderful thing. They usually come at the end and leave the reader or watcher at least a little stunned. In a good way, if it’s a good twist. In screenplays, though, scenes need a “button” at their ends. Something to keep those pages turning. Some of them can be mini twists. Not too many or it gets too twisty. The ends of acts, though tend by nature to be twists of some sort. Perhaps they’re subtle, but they are called turning points for a reason.

The very nature of The Fault In Our Stars turns on twists. Every time I thought I knew where it was going, it went somewhere else entirely. Instead of becoming annoyed or impatient, I was thrilled to see what happened next. Those mental buttons kept me turning mental pages.

This movie is at its heart a tale of the strength of the human spirit. Survival and loss live side by side with love and grasping to cherish joy. Hazel and Gus take us on an unexpected journey, literally and metaphorically. They also share with many viewers a love of books. A particular book informs their lives and its author teaches them a cynicism that their bittersweetly tragic lives could
not. Lovers of books don’t really want to be confronted with such emotional sacrilege, but these characters’ experience with their favorite author changes all of their lives in profound and lasting ways. It’s worth the discomfort watching it causes.

So this is a movie about many things that bleed onto and into each other, and twist from one to the other, until the whole is like a bent and gnarled tree that is so fascinating to look at that it becomes unforgettable. The Fault In Our Stars is not easy to watch and it’s hard to forget.

The Fault In Our Stars Official Trailer

Here’s a really cool interview with Sean Bean from Entertainment Weekly. He talks about being Ned Stark, fun with Ned’s dead head, and muses about what might have been.

It’s intriguing that he’s never read any of the books. Funny, I thought I was the only person on the planet who could say that.

He’s such a prolific actor that it’s telling that he still thinks of Game of Thrones, especially to the extent he speaks of here. Powerful storytelling will do that to a person. It must be even more impactful when you’ve lived in a character and been deeply immersed in a fictional world in order to portray him.

I keep hoping for a dream sequence or something, someday, but it sounds like any Ned appearances are as elusive as his hopes and dreams for the family he left behind. What’s left of it….


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