Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Scene at a Time

One of the hardest aspects of writing for me to learn was the value of patience. As a younger writer, I was always eager to plow ahead. More than anything, I just wanted to get on to the next scene and advance the story so that the end would come sooner. In that way, I suppose I was more interested in having a manuscript finished than I was in having it complete. I never wanted to take a step back when things felt as though they were no longer working out the way I envisioned. As a result, I was left with many stories that sputtered out way before they were done.

In one of the manuscripts I'm currently working on, I reached a point this past week where I was struggling with what was on the page, and with adding anything more to it. At this point in my career, I've learned that when such a thing happens, it's probably not a problem with my abilities, but a problem with the story. A wrong turn had been taken. And while I may have been able to grind it out and push through, I know that upon re-reading it, I would always feel that something wasn't working during that point in the story. After several days of trying to puzzle it out, I realized that the chapter would simply have to go. It was time to retreat several pages and take a new approach.

I'm always careful not to make this choice drastically. Some scenes are just difficult to write. Part of the process is determining if the scene is difficult or wrong. It can take several days of struggle before being able to confidently come to a conclusion. Once I had, it usually takes another day to go back and discover what direction I should have taken. Though it's time consuming, and typically tough, it always seems worth it. I'm glad to report that things are currently back on track.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup (Songs of 2014...So Far)

After another super slow week of new music, and only a handful of albums for me to review, I've decided to take this last weekend in July to feature my favorite songs of the year. I already shared my favorite albums of the half-done year, but in this age of singles, it seems appropriate to also take a look at the songs that I just can't get enough of. As is to expected, the list features a wide of range of genres. Though these albums have been reviewed in previous Roundups, and many of these songs were specifically pointed out, there's still nothing like having instant access to hear what I've been raving about. These aren't in any order, though the songs I've most loved appear near the top. Hopefully this is a chance to discover and catch up on some things you might've missed. Enjoy.

(song is at 39:43 in video)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Winter is Coming

I know I'm late to the game, but over the past few weeks, I've been trying to catch up. I've been binge watching Game of Thrones and seeing as how I just watched the "Red Wedding" episode last night, it seemed as good a time as any to share my thoughts on this highly addictive series. 

Game of Thrones breaks nearly all of the rules when it comes to television, mainly when it comes to killing off main characters. In the first three seasons, there have been multiple times when after I've finished an episode, I wonder how they can continue now that the hero is dead. But that's where the show continues to defy traditions. Usually in a show like this, where the characters are divided up into sides, with various agendas, a viewer's allegiances tends to be settled early on. And though I initially made judgements on most of the characters, I've found my opinions ever evolving. 

A perfect example of this is Jamie Lannister, the Kingslayer. In the first episode of the show, he's seen pushing young Bran Stark from a tower window. In subsequent episodes, he didn't do much of anything to redeem himself. But after one scene in the third season, my opinion of him entirely changed, and it didn't even have to resort to anything that went against his character. 

Another aspect where I find my allegiances changing is on who I hope will ultimately win the game and be seated on the iron throne. Initially, I held the same opinion of the Targaryen's as King Robert and Lord Stark. Viserys Targaryen certainly lived up to the reputation of tyranny and lunacy established early on, but as Dany's character makes her long march to regain the throne, I find myself thinking that perhaps the Taragaryen's should rule. After all, they are the rightful heirs, and Dany seems far more competent than the ravel fighting it out in Westeros. (With the exception of Rob Stark...but alas, the Stark reign appears as though it will never happen).

Though allegiances and feelings towards characters are ever-shifting, there are two characters who feel like the moral barometer to me; Tyrion Lannister and Ayra Stark. They've been my favorites since the beginning, and thankfully both have survived the bloodshed so far. But curiously enough, even the characters I loath, yes I'm speaking to you Joffrey, I enjoy. They all serve a greater purpose to the story. It's rare for a series with so many story lines happening at once not to have at least one dud, one story that makes you want to fast forward to the next. Game of Thrones is exceptional in that manner. Every scene feels as compelling as the next...which makes it quite suitable for binge watching. 

All of that said, there's no telling what will happen next. It's unpredictable, and besides, winter is coming. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Yet another slow week for new releases, which gave me time to catch up on albums in the queue. I did manage to make good on my promise last week to listen to bands I'd never heard before. There are two 2014 releases from bands I'd previously never listened to. Both turned out to be enjoyable, which is an encouraging sign for me. I also listened to albums from bands that I'd only previously known from a few songs, so my attempts to broaden my horizons could be considered successful. This week's list is half new stuff and half old stuff, which pretty much represents my collection. Hopefully there's something on here that you find interesting. Enjoy.

Golden Animals - Hear Eye Go: Released last fall, this is the second album from Brooklyn indie psychedelic band, coming five years after their wonderful debut. Though I've had this in my iTunes for nearly seven months, it got totally lost. I loaded it, but never listened to it until this week, and I've been loving it ever since. This is the perfect blend of indie rock and psychedelic blues. It's uptempo, catchy, but just this side of weird to keep it interesting. It reminds me a bit of the new The Ghost of the Sabre Tooth Tiger, but also a bit like Dolly Rocker Movement and The Black Angels.  Every song on here is pretty great, but my favorites are "All Your Life," "Never Was Her Name," "Most of My Time," and "You Don't Hear Me Now." This is one of those records that should have been on my best of list for last year.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Ballade for a Strawberry Moon: Rachel Evans has released 36 ambient drone albums under the Motion Sickness of Time Travel name since 2009. This is her seventh album of 2014 and it came out last month, and has already been followed up with another release, yet another album in the "Moon Series" which began last winter and already includes 11 albums. Needless to say, it's hard not to think that perhaps the output is't too ambitious, but drone is the one genre where output is understandable. The album consists of one hour long track, which builds nicely as it progresses. There's a fairy tale forest ambiance to it that I find intriguing, and suitable for listening to while writing. Not sure I'll delve into the entire "Moon Series" but I'll certainly check out a few more.

The Orwells - Disgraceland: The second album from the Chicago area garage rock band came out last month and has been getting a decent amount of attention and doing quite well on the College charts. There's a rough unpolished sound to this record that I've been digging. It reminds me early records by The Go but with a Midwestern punk vibe. "Who Needs Love," "Let It Burn," "Gotta Get Down," and "The Righteous Ones" are the standout tracks in my opinion. Overall a solid album for fans of garage rock.

The Grass Roots - The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles: Though the late '60s L.A. folk rock group never reached the heights of some of their contemporaries, they did manage to record a handful of unforgettable songs. I rarely go for greatest hits compilations, but for some bands it really makes sense, especially for bands that existed in the era of singles rather than albums. There's a racy side to their lyrics that easily show their link to The Doors, while their focus on melody shows their relation to Buffalo Springfield. Beyond the amazing "Let's Live For Today," there a couple of other wonderful songs, like their cover of Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Wake Up, Wake Up," "I'd Wait a Million Years," and of course, "Midnight Confessions." Quickly becoming a forgotten group, so definitely worth checking out. 

Saxon - Denim and Leather: The fourth album from one of the pivotal bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is considered a landmark of the genre. Not as crucial as their "Wheels of Steel" album released a year earlier, but taken together their first four albums, all released in their first three years, are pretty incredible. More blues influenced than Judas Priest, the band would end up having a bigger influence on American metal in the coming decade. This album has a lot in common with Bon Scott era AC/DC which just fine by me. It's blistering rock 'n roll that screams to be played loud. "Midnight Rider," "Rough and Ready," "Never Surrender," and "Play it Loud" are my personal favorites.

Golden Earring - Moontan: Formed in 1961, the Dutch rock band is still releasing music today, but it was in the early '70s that they hit their peak. This 1973 album contains their one big hit, "Radar Love," a rare thing for an album of progressive rock to contain a radio hit such as that. Beyond that song, this is a quite good bluesy progressive rock album. "Are You Receiving Me" is a nine minute plus trip and perhaps the best song on here besides the hit. "Candy's Going Bad" is another quality tune, though more hard rock than prog rock. Some other songs miss their mark in my opinion, but overall this is still a worthwhile record. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 7-9)

(Catch up on previous episodes here.)

When we left off, Saga had sent Sugar away in anger. Though their argument was over a misunderstanding, the hurt was very real to both characters. As they go their separate ways both characters face their regrets with stubborn pride. Saga goes through her day feeling distracted and guilty, but whenever she begins feeling sorry, she concentrates on the incident that angered her in the first place. I really liked how this showed the way we try to hold onto anger. So often in children's programming there's the emphasis on quick forgiveness, but in reality, most of us convince ourselves to remain angry long after we've stopped feeling the emotion.

For her part, kicked out of her home, Sugar takes up with two new weather fairy apprentices named Basil and Cinnamon. They are storm fairies who are leaning to make thunder and lightning. Cleverly, these two fairies are the opposite of the kind of cuteness given to Sugar and her friends. They are drawn, and behave like little punk rockers, causing trouble wherever they go. Sugar quickly learns to love their carefree ways and joins them in mischief. Salt and Pepper don't really like this new Sugar and decide that they must bring Sugar and Saga back together. And when they reveal that the message Sugar wrote on Saga's precious sheet music was really an apology, Saga's guilt overcomes her anger.

Saga's memories of her mother, and the interplay between a little Saga and her mother are important scenes to developing Saga and Sugar's relationship. I've said before that it a big sister/ little sister dynamic, and within that is a mothering aspect. Little Saga is a little like Sugar.  Saga finally realizes this and the accepts her role. After they've made up, the antagonism that had existed between them ceases.

It's clear that a fairy's growth is tied to a nurturing bond with a human. Hints were made earlier during the fairies' search for "twinkle" and the sprouting of their fairy seeds whenever the bond is strengthened. This is made even more obvious later when Phil, the neighborhood boy scientist, attempts his news experiment. Phil is trying to make an aurora, something that Salt claims is the domain of sun fairies, and requires powerful magic. At first Salt is worried that Phil will be able to do something that he hasn't yet been able to achieve. But when the entire class comes to watch Phil fail, Salt feels compassion for the boy who he has secretly been helping. In that moment of feeling, Salt is able to produce a beautiful aurora using his magic. 

The connection with a humans makes the little fairies powerful. I expect as Sugar and Saga's relationship blossoms, we'll soon discover the wonderful things Sugar is able to do. Stay tuned for more next week. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Welcome Darkness, My Old Friend...

Fascinating writing always seems to have a touch of evil lurking over it. There doesn't have to be a demon that breathes thoughts into your mind, but it can help. Part of what invests readers in a story is the ever-present potential that something horrible might happen to the characters they've grown to care about. It can also be a force that drives the writer to create. There's an excitement that comes with having control over your characters and their fate. It's like those cartoons where an angle sits on shoulder and the devil on the other, each trying to force your hand. Sometimes the angel wins, and sometimes the darkness does.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to another weekend of sound. This week was marked by new albums from artists I've been following for years, as well as a couple of pick-ups that had been missing from my catalog. There is only one band on here that was completely new to me, but as I've said over the past few months, my desire to delve into unknowns has waned with age and past experience of being utterly disappointed. But I don't think I could ever become one of those people who never takes a chance on new music. There is great music being made all of the time, and to discount it all based on a few bad apples would be foolish. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to find something new that thrills me, especially since I've caught up on a lot of cached music recently. There's a lot of psychedelic folk on here, as well as some British indie. Hopefully you'll find something to explore. Enjoy.

Morrissey - World Peach Is None of Your Business: The ex-Smiths leader released his first album in five years this month, his tenth solo album since The Smiths disbanded in 1987. In some ways it feels as though every few years he releases the same album. There isn't really any growth or movement from the last album, but fans will certainly appreciate his commitment to the things that make his music so unique. This is a solid album, but as always, I prefer Morrissey in smaller doses than the 18 tracks on here. Once again, he's bemoaning the current state of the world and the best of the bunch are truly great songs. They include "Earth is the Loneliest Planet," "Art-Hounds," and the title track.

Kamchatka - The Search Goes On: A rock band from Sweden, this is Kamchatka's fifth album and first in three years. There is a blues rock influence here, combined with elements of the old Seattle sound. You can hear the echo of Jerry Cantrell on this record, but with a much deeper '70s hard rock edge. Solid musicianship and song craft elevate this from being just another rock album. Though at times I wish it were heavier, or developed its progressive moments a little further, I enjoy this record. "Cross the Distance," "Dragons," "Thank You For Your Time," and "Tango Decadence" are stand out tracks. Worth a listen for rock fans.

The Skygreen Leopards - Family Crimes: The album that I'm most excited about this week is the eighth record from the San Fran psychedelic folk band. It's been five years since their last release, and eight since their landmark Disciples of California album. This album is reminiscent of their best work, combining the sunshine folk feel with the eerie haunting sound of fever dreams. They could be compared to other California psychedelic bands from the best, Grateful Dead and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band come to mind, but The Skygreen Leopards have a more relaxed feel about them, as if they were a band you'd expect to hear around a campfire while the listeners sat swaying to the internal rhythms of mind expanding substances.  "It's Not Love," "Reno Wedding," "Love is a Shadow," and  on a great summer folk album.

Television Personalities - They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles: The London indie psychedelic pop band released three amazing albums in 1981-1982 that contributed to the rise of England's indie sound in the coming years. This is the third one in that debut trilogy. Their rambling style is what I've always loved about them. They have the freedom of Syd Barrett's solo records, or Velvet Underground's early work. "When Emily Cries," "Psychedelic Holiday," "Mysterious Ways," and "Games for Boys" are my favorites, but there isn't a bad track on here. Definitely the perfect pairing the their fist two records.

Joker's Daughter - May Cause Side Effects: After Domino Records released her wonderful debut in 2009 and it failed to gain wide attention, Joker's Daughter decided to self-release this 2011 follow-up. Interestingly enough, the lack of big production seems to suit her psychedelic sound just fine.  As with the debut, there is a '60s psychedelic folk feel to this album, but wisely manages to update the sound by giving it a fuller feel. "The Book that Drew Itself," "The Fool," "The Raven's Ball," and the title track are standouts.

Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War: Since their emergence in the second of half of the last decade, the UK indie band has always managed to remain somewhere in the middle of the British indie pack. After a three year lay-off, and the departure of their primary song-writer, they returned this March with their fifth album. I'd put off listening to this album for months. Kaiser Chiefs had always been a slightly better than average band to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by this record. Unlike their previous releases, it doesn't feel derivative, but rather as if they are finally finding their own direction. The best songs on here are among their best ever. "Roses," "Ruffians on Parade," "Misery Company," and "The Factory Gates" are among my favorites. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction Friday (31)

As a rule, I typically don't like to read books with a tone similar to one I'm hoping to capture in manuscripts that I'm working on at the time, but last week, I made an exception. I wasn't particularly looking for inspiration, I just really wanted to read this book. In the end, I did find a lot of inspiration that will guide me. But in some ways it is also frustrating to read something so well done, which makes one question their own writing choices. That is another reason why I like to avoid similar books while writing, not because I'm worried it will influence me but rather that it will discourage me. Thankfully, this book did more to inspire than discourage. And though from a place of personal jealously, I'm often upset by authors who receive praise upon praise, in Neil Gaiman's case, I've never felt it was unwarranted and therefore hold no resentment. His latest book is another gem. Enjoy.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
(William Morrow, 2013)

The title of this book alone was enough to have me believe it would be another interesting piece of imagination from the mind of Neil Gaiman. The title phrase alone, "Ocean at the End of the Lane", embodies the type of genius elements that I find in Gaiman's work, these sort of impossible things that exist unnoticed in the world. Coraline was like that, so was The Graveyard Book, and they both convinced me that the inclusion of these mysterious elements was well-suited for children's books, which have always been the realm of acceptable fantasy.

While The Ocean and the End of the Lane isn't a children's book, it does feature a child protagonist and exists within the world of childhood. When a man returns to his childhood home after the funeral of a parent, he visits the farm at the end of the lane where he grew up and then he begins to remember the remarkable tale which he'd inexplicably forgotten.

The story is filled with elements borrowed from fairy tales, myths, and the macabre, blended in an extraordinary way to reveal truths about the nature of the universe and the confusion that comes with being a child in a world that doesn't adhere to the sensible rules of a child's mind. After a man commits suicide on the lane, strange forces are awoken and the three Hempstock ladies, witch-like characters, are tasked with putting things right. The boy in the story inadvertently becomes involved in this drama, and gets caught in the middle of an ancient struggle between good vs. evil. The plot plays out in unexpected ways, capturing the dark spirit of horror and the noble expression of sacrifice.

This is one of those books that I wish would go on and on, but in a weird way, it's brevity proves to be its true genius.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Zazie in the Metro

Two weeks ago, I made the fateful decision to cut the chord on my over-priced cable television provider and began streaming like any good 21st Century boy should. As part of that transition, I signed up for a Hulu Plus account. It literally took days to go through all of the "networks" on there to find the shows I wanted to watch. And once that was done, I started to look through the movies and was shocked to discover they had the Criterion Collection version of Zazie in the Metro

This is a movie I've wanted to see for years, ever since I read the novel of the same title by Raymond Queneau. It is one of the funniest novels that I've ever read, starring a foul mouthed child and her wild escapades through Paris with her eccentric uncle during a Metro strike in the late '50s. After watching the film, I'm happy to say that the movie is nearly as delightful as the novel. It is a madcap series of visual gags that feel like a Looney Tunes episode come to life. Every frame is beautiful, with vibrant color and sets and a nod to mod style, and could be hung on the wall as art. 

Catherine Demongeot as the title character plays the brash little girl to perfection. She's like Eloise if Eloise swore. Philippe Noiret as her uncle is also wonderful. This film was such a joy to watch, I was laughing almost all the way through. It's easy to see this film's impact on European filmmakers. The Beatles movies certainly seem to have take inspiration from the zaniness. But perhaps the most striking connection that I felt was how this movie captured the same spirit as many of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's films. There are elements of Amelie, Delicatessen, and Micmacs that are born from the passion for serious silliness found in Zazie.  This is certainly a film that is not to be missed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

After taking a week off from reviewing new music, the Roundup returns to its regularly scheduled program of random thoughts on random albums. The week started off with scorching weather, but has quickly turned to autumn breezes, and with it, brought a strong return of folk inspired listening. This was one of those rare weeks when a number of my favorite bands released new music. After a few slow weeks, it was almost an embarrassment of riches. Granted, some of these favorite bands fall on the more eclectic end of my listening spectrum and may not be as eagerly anticipated by the rest of you, but them's the breaks. There's plenty on here to explore however, so hopefully you feel up for a little exploration. Enjoy!

Big Blood - Unlikely Mothers: Just a couple of weeks after their first album of the year, the Portland Maine psychedelic folk band released their second album of the year. Despite the title of the last album claiming it to be "Volume 1" this album is not the companion album to it, though it features a lot of songs entitled Part II. These sequel songs however belong to the band's 2012 album Old Time Primitives, one of my favorites in their extensive catalog. The band's strength consists in their ability to make music that feels out of time, as if it were born in some alternate reality that only exists in stories of the past. Their records, including this wonderful one, have the power to ignite my imagination in ways that few can, and for that I'm grateful. I get some of my best writing done while listening to Big Blood. "Leviathan Song Pt. II" is an eleven minute masterpiece. "It's Alright," "Away Pt. III," and "Endless Echo" are also standout tracks. 

Manic Street Preachers - Futurology: After a three year layoff, the Manics finally released a new album last year, with promises for a second album to follow shortly. This week they make good on that promise with the release of this, their twelfth record. Being one of my favorite bands, I always have high expectations for their albums, sometimes too high, which might be the case with this one. Though it's a solid record, it is their weakest in quite some time. Perhaps that has to do with its focus on the European zeitgeist, trying to capture the hollow and dejected spirit of modern Europe, something that I'm not directly in tune with. After my initial disappointed though, the album has been growing on me. Sometimes it just takes a few listens to appreciate what they doing. Surprisingly, it's the album's softer moments that feel strongest. "Walk Me to the Bridge," "Let's Go to War," "The View from Stow Hill," and "Black Square" are my personal favorites. A bonus disc of demo versions of each song is almost more interesting in my opinion.

Antemasque - Antemasque: Earlier this year when I heard that Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had re-joined forces to form this new band, I was hoping that they'd pick up where Mars Volta left off, and though the early singles seemed to suggest that possibility, now that the album is out, it turns out that hope was misguided. Instead, this is really the long-awaited follow-up to their previous band At The Drive-In's 2000 masterpiece "Relationship of Command". These ten songs have more in common with that post-hardcore energy than with Mars Volta's prog-rock. The results are pretty spectacular and this will certainly be near the top of my list come the end of the year. Every song is great, and it's perhaps the best rock album in I've heard all year.

Klaxons - Love Frequency: The London band's first album in four years was released last month. It's their third record, and gone are the dance-punk elements that made them so intriguing when their 2007 debut came out. This album is more synth pop, without the edge that made songs like "Golden Skans" stand out. That said, this still isn't pop, there's too many indietronic elements for that. Overall, I found it a little disappointing and surface level, though there are a few songs that are extremely catchy, such as "New Reality," "There is No Other Time" and "Out of the Dark". At it's best, it echos New Order, or Pet Shop Boys mixed with The Rapture. The good songs are definitely going to be played a lot this summer, I just wish it was more of an event. 

Comet Gain - Paperback Ghosts: Just about every three years over the past twenty, this Oxford band has released an album, but shockingly this album due out next week is the first music of theirs that I've encountered. This is a quiet indie folk album that I've really been enjoying this week. It reminds me of Connor Oberst in many ways, but with a distinctly British feel of rainy days and bleak outlooks. Not a completely earth shattering album, but quite enjoyable. "Long After Tonite's Candles Are Blown," "Sad Love and Other Short Stories," "Confessions of a Daydream" and "Breaking Open the Head Part 1" are particularly good. Well worth checking out if you're looking for quality indie folk.

Natural Snow Buildings - The Night Country: After several years of epic output, things have been quiet from the French drone-folk legends over the past couple of years. This is their first album in two years, by comparison, they released several hours of music as shortly ago as 2009. It is obvious from the very beginning that the time off was well spent. This is their most focused album in quite some time, and features the welcomed return of vocals to some of the songs, including the epic "Rusty Knives Valley." From the song titles, the theme of this album seems to be the horror of a abandoned countryside and all the terrors, both real and imagined that come to visit. "Sandman Traps" is another stellar achievement, and perhaps one of their best songs ever. This is their most accessible album since Sunlit Stone and I highly recommend checking it out, even if drone folk isn't your thing. It's like a beautiful novel in sound and I believe I will be hearing a lot of it in the coming weeks.

Friday, July 4, 2014

American Wilderness

As always, I'm taking this post to reflect on my country on its 238th Birthday. In preparation, I read my post from last year, which was filled with an optimism that I find hard to find on this cool, rainy day in July. It seems to me as if the division in this country, the polarizing forces of progressive and conservative ideologies, has grown ever wider, and while those differences have always existed within the fabric of this nation, and whose oppositional energy have arguably been one of the reasons for its prosperity, more than ever I fear they threaten to tear it apart. 

America consistently derails the radicalization of peoples in other parts of the world, while as a nation, we seem to be ignoring the radicalization that is taking place at home. It's as if the lessons of the Oklahoma city bombing and the Waco disaster of two decades ago have been forgotten, it they had ever been learned in the first place. This is perhaps most evident in the wave of gun enthusiasts that appear to be growing in number. The groundswell of expansive "Open Carry" laws is deeply disturbing, and based on a myth. There's this sense that in the past, it was common place for people to be armed, and that it is an American right. Though I support the Second Amendment, believing a society is better off when the people are armed rather than just the government, the interpretation of the amendment is open for debate. I don't believe it justifies people walking the streets, or entering fast food restaurants, or government buildings with AKs draped over their shoulders. Even in the times of the Wild West, people were not permitted to carry their firearms within the town...that's what the OK Corral battle was about after all. 

The most frightening aspect of these Open Carry fundamentalists isn't necessarily the guns, though I do believe it's a tragedy waiting to happen. What's frightening about it is the deep sense of fear these people feel. They are afraid of the government, somewhat understandably, but also of their fellow citizens. There's always been an element of fear in any society when different groups co-habitat, but in the past few years it really felt as if America might be moving past that, but I suppose that was an illusion. This fear, manifested into gun laws, is leading to more and more radical politicians with very suspect ideas on a wide range of issues that go far beyond guns. And the idea that this expansion of guns will somehow make us safer is so baffling and ridiculous that it begs the question of how any intelligent person can make that argument. How many more public shootings will it lead to? How many incidents of "good guys with a gun" hastily shooting some incident will it lead to? It's sad that some of the same people derailing the growing police state want to heap a layer of vigilantism on top it.

Which brings me to my next gloomy feelings on America. The police state shows no sign of dissipating. The NSA atrocity, which is only still coming to light and which has yet to be denounced by the established parties, is extremely worrisome. It's policies like that encourage the radicalization of our citizens. It's also policies, and Supreme Court rulings, that establish a fetus and a corporation as a human being, while suggesting a living breathing woman is entitled to less rights than those two more abstract concepts. Too many people feel as though their government is working against them instead of for them, that's if they believe the government is working at all. 

Until people stop believing the misleading lines fed to them by the major news outlets and spend some time researching and thinking about the issues they are so angry about, I don't see much change. And if the divisions within the government continue on the path they are on, it will soon make Star Wars Episode I's seemingly tedious senate sub-plot quite prophetic. There is no doubt that there is something wrong here, the big question is whether or not a boost of prosperity will wipe it away as it has done in the past, or whether a great uniter will show up out of nowhere and bring things to a calm, or else, will the grand experiment eventually fail, eaten away by pettiness and fear and hatred? It's hard to say, but as always, the patriotic side of me likes to believe we will overcome, just as we always have.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

One Thought Leads to Another

One of the amazing things that happens when working on a manuscript is the way a story can eventually begin to expand all on its own. Typically I always begin with an outline, but I never treat an outline as something set in stone. A story has to be given room to grow organically. The reason for that is simple, as you sit and try to plan a story, your mind tends to work on one linear track. There are connections that are hard to see until the characters develop. I find that the plot often takes turns that I hadn't expected, and one event finds a way of leading into other events. 

Both manuscripts that I'm currently working on have reached that point. It's exciting when the pieces start to come together in unseen ways. With both, I had been a little unclear about how or where they should end, but that haze seems to be lifting now. In the past, this has been the moment where momentum picks up and takes over. Hopefully that will be the case yet again, though I've learned from years of experience that just as connections can remain hidden, so can roadblocks. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 3-6)

(Catch up on previous episodes here)

Life with a little snow fairy apprentice, especially one as energetic as Sugar, can be extremely frustrating as eleven year old Saga quickly discovers. When the third episode opens, Saga has had enough and demands the two go their separate ways for the day so that she can shop with her friends without constantly being interrupted by Sugar. Though disappointed that Saga doesn't want her around, Sugar takes the chance to join Salt and Pepper in the search for twinkle. The only problem is, none of them can agree on what their looking for. Pepper is certain that twinkle is puffy-fluffy, Salt is convinced that it's comfy-warm, and Sugar believes whatever it is, it has to twinkle. 

When Sugar spies something twinkling high up in the bell tower, the fairies' search leads them into the clutches of the angry crow who goes around collecting anything shiny in town. One of those items is the jingle bell that caught Sugar's eye, and when she tries to take it, the crow gives chase. When she ends up trapped in a bird cage, there is only one place for Salt and Pepper to turn...Saga. 

As much as Sugar annoys Saga, there is a growing bond between them. When Sugar is in trouble, Saga is there to help. Even in the next episode, when the three little fairies flock to Saga's school on a rumor told to them by doves that they might possibly find twinkle there, Saga initially snaps at Sugar but eventually they make up. Their relationship is an interesting sibling type dynamic. Sugar desperately wants Saga's approval and attention, while Saga feels this desire to take care of the small fairy. It's a relationship of ups and downs, which truly come to a head in episode six.

After the Elder, the fairy who controls all seasons, tells Sugar she must get more serious about her practicing if she ever wants to be a full fledged snow fairy like her mother, Sugar begins to practice her magic flute at all times, driving Saga crazy. After another incident with the crow causes a lot of destruction at Saga's work, the two friends get into a nasty argument. Later, though both want to apologize, both are too proud. When Sugar finally decides to write Saga an apology note, she inadvertently writes it on a cherished piece of sheet music that reminds Saga of her deceased mother. Heartbroken, the episode ends with Saga telling Sugar that she never wants to see her again. 

The show's greatest strength is the emotional depth in which it examines the difficult moments that occur with friendship. It addresses these in ways that are both humorous and serious, giving the show a heartfelt sincerity that reminds me of Miyazaki's wonderful anime films, with the perfect blend of playful and genuine.