Last night in small group, we were asked this icebreaker question: "What was the last movie you saw in theaters?" My answer, unfortunately, was Toy Story 4. I might have enjoyed it better if I'd seen Toy Stories 2 and 3. I can't even remember where I saw the first one. We don't own it. I didn't go to a theater to see it. Church movie night? Maybe. Still not sure.
Two of the girls in the small group said that the last movie they'd seen was Disney's live-action remake of The Lion King.
Not mad that I haven't seen the movie yet. Not mad that ticket prices are expensive or that I don't have time off to see a movie or anything like that. I'm just mad that this movie exists. And it's obviously not because it's a poor-quality movie. I can't judge the quality of a movie I haven't seen yet. I'm mad on a whole other level.
The level of artistic integrity.
Call me old-school, but I believe art is about two things: self-expression and viewer enjoyment. You make something, be it a movie or a book or a painting or a piece of jewelry, because you either feel the need to create something or because you want to get a point across. Maybe both. Also, you make whatever art you make so that other people can either enjoy your art, relate to it, or be moved to change something in their own lives.
Here's one thing art is NOT about: Money.
Yes, money is nice and necessary and all that. But it's not the point of making art. Last month, I made $7.32 off Where the Clouds Catch Fire. Considering that I poured four years of my life into making this novel a reality, would I like to make more? Yes. But am I upset? No. Because when art becomes more about making money than about creating a worthwhile contribution to society, it ceases to be art.
We all know that the House of Mouse is a media giant. It owns Star Wars, Marvel, the ever-popular Princess deal, and God knows what else. And we know that giant corporations don't really care about much besides making money. As much as that fact upsets me, I understand it. Money is way more important to most people than it should be.
But here's the part that really irritates me: with the endless sequels and remakes, Disney has stopped even trying to be creative. No new plots or characters. No new worlds. Just the same worlds you grew up with, revisited in a more adult-friendly way. And because you grew up with those worlds and would love to take a trip down nostalgia lane, you're going to buy a ticket and give some of your hard-earned cash to a company that really doesn't need it.
Disney. Hire some homeschool graduates. Start recruiting people off Wattpad. For the love of God, do something. Unless you're making substantial changes to a plot or character, don't bother serving us leftovers. At least pretend you still care about something other than money.
Readers, what do you think about the Disney remakes? Let me know in the comments below! God bless, and don't forget to check us out on Facebook!
Good morning, everyone! Or afternoon, or evening, or whatever time you happen to be reading this post. I just wanted to let you know that my college classes start today. Since you've finished reading Chapter One of Where I Stand, I'm afraid we'll have to wait until next week to get a new short story. I want to give my classes a few days to settle before I tackle any major extracurriculars, including my blog. So if Thursday's post is late (which it shouldn't be), you'll know why.
Regardless, I wanted to tell you that you're doing a great job at whatever you're doing, God loves you, and keep up the good work! Be blessed!
A while back, some of you realized that there was an option to turn off cookies for this website. And you jumped on your chance to do so. Well, turns out that cookies let me know how many people visit my site. And since I know my viewership didn't jump from 350 people a week to 8 people a week, I'm guessing that 342 of you turned off your cookies.
There is a very kind woman up at the University of Iowa who's one of my main Beta readers. I actually mentioned her in Where the Clouds Catch Fire as one of the two people whose written critiques were especially helpful to me. This morning when, as part of my morning routine, I checked my emails, I saw that she'd gotten back to me with comments on Where I Stand.
Nerves and excitement tangled together within me. I opened up the Word document with all her comments. In the first book, most of her comments were constructive. "You shouldn't change the point of view like this," one of her comments said. "The opening paragraph has too many adjectives," said another. And she was right. But in this book, most of the comments were things she'd liked about the story.
"You write the payoffs quite nicely, and mostly inverted--in other words, the closer to the beginning of the book a problem is introduced, the closer to the end it gets resolved." I did not do that on purpose. But I'm very glad it worked out. "You have good control over sentence length." Finally, all those writing lessons in middle school paid off! That's one of the things I was taught in my homeschool co-op.
Now there are quite a few points that she's brought up to my consideration. One was a scene that I didn't realize was affected by another scene I changed. Most of her suggestions include changing more modern words and concepts, and one of them involves the fact that Lukas gets to swear (in Latin!) but the surly fisherman Rothgeir doesn't. But Jen mentions more good things and fewer bad things than she did in the first book, and I think I know why.
Every time you do something, you learn. You learn what works and what doesn't work. If you're smart, you'll learn and do better next time. If you're super smart, you'll learn from other people and their successes (and failures). Students, you learn which studying methods work best for you. Fast food workers learn the fastest method of washing dishes. Athletes learn tactics to use against opponents. Even children learn to say certain things to get their way.
I'll go so far as to say that it's impossible, or nearly so, to practice something repeatedly and not get better at it.
To be honest, Where the Clouds Catch Fire isn't the first book I've written. I wrote another book and a half, plus several short stories that probably totaled close to 200,000 words before I even set foot on St. Anne's Cleft. And most of those 200,000 words were terrible.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gives others permission to turn off cookies and makes embarrassing type-o's and says stupid things. But it's our ability to learn from those mistakes that makes us better people.
What's something you've put a lot of practice into? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Leif laughed. “You couldn’t find a man to row anyway, not with Althing coming up. We’re hosting this year.”
Caitriona muttered something under her breath—whether it was a prayer or a profanity Alynn couldn’t tell, but the latter was unlikely. She kicked at the rushes that covered the dirt floor, then took a breath and collected herself. “Can we plan on leavin’ the moment Althing ends?”
“As soon as possible. I promise.”
“Perfect. Now give me somethin’ to do before I go mad with worry.”
“I might have you stay here for the week, act as hostess if you’re willing,” Leif said. “And say a prayer. Neither Drostan nor I are officially going to be the chief of this island until one of us sacrifices to Odin—unless something changes. And blast it, we need something to change.”
“We’ll be prayin’,” Caitriona promised.
“Isn’t Althing rather powerful for a meetin’ of tribes?” Alynn asked.
“It’s a parliament, not just a meeting, so it demands power,” Leif said. “I’m surprised they haven’t killed us for converting to Christianity.”
“They wouldn’t have done anything after the Battle of Faith,” Drostan insisted. “Alynn would have disbanded Althing singlehandedly.”
Alynn blushed. She debated punching Drostan’s shoulder, but finally decided to lean against him and close her eyes. “You’d have helped me, just as you did on the battlefield,” she said.
“You don’t need help,” Drostan insisted. “You’re a berserker, for Thor’s sake. Or do Irish girls tend to fight fiercer than Norse madmen?”
“Drostan, don’t even think that she’s a berserker, and Alynn, sit up,” Caitriona ordered. Alynn sighed and straightened, but not without a caustic glance at her mother. Caitriona returned it.
“Master Leif, will you be needing anything else this evening?” Valdis asked. She was combing her hair that barely passed her shoulders—hardly longer than Leif’s or Drostan’s.
“No, thank you. Go on to bed,” Leif said. “Cait, we can think more in the morning. I’m exhausted.”
Caitriona laughed. “I can’t believe I’m still standin’ up. Where can I sleep?”
Leif gestured to the raised platforms that lined either side of the longhouse. “Pick a bed, any bed. Or the closet, whichever you prefer.”
“I’ve always hated that closet.”
Drostan nodded towards the bedcloset—a paneled-in section of bench that was more like a human-sized dresser drawer than anything else. “Do you want the closet, Alynn, or would you rather I take it?”
“I’ll take it. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Don’t forget to lock the latch,” Caitriona cautioned.
Drostan snatched a few sheepskins and a blanket and tossed them into the closet. “Have a good night.”
After glancing up to see his smile, Alynn returned the gentle embrace he offered. She buried her face in his tunic. Drostan pressed her head against his chest, and she could hear his heartbeat. He smelled of wood and sea and hard work, stained with a medley of scents from the midsummer forest. She smiled.
Thank You, Lord, for Drostan.
He kissed her forehead before leaving for his own bed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said, raking his hand through his hair and making it even wilder than before.
Alynn smiled. “Goodnight, love.”
Alynn crawled awkwardly into the bedcloset and rearranged the sheepskins before she shut and latched the door. In the complete absence of light, the only sounds those of her family readying for bed, Alynn found a call to pray.
“Be with Tarin, Lord, if he’s not with You and Father already,” she murmured before drifting to sleep. “And if he is...please tell him I said hello.”
Alright. This time, I have a good excuse as to why I didn’t post my blog on Monday. I was out of town. And more than that, I was at Barnes & Noble.
My family and I were driving around town, heading towards a restaurant where we were meeting a friend of Dad’s for Second Breakfast, and I saw a Barnes & Noble off the side of the road. “Mom, Dad, can we go to Barnes & Noble?” I asked.
My sister scoffed. “Why go there when you’re not going to buy anything?”
Now, I had two decent reasons to go to Barnes & Noble, the first one being that we don’t have one near us in Texas. The closest one is about forty-five minutes south from where we live. I’ve been there exactly twice, both times to exchange a defective Nook which I ended up trading for an iPod Touch. We do have a bookstore—Books-a-Million—but it’s smaller and, honestly, not as cool. Secondly, there was only one other place I’d asked to go on our trip—Culver’s, a fast food restaurant that we don’t have in Texas
Mom, however, came up with a third reason. “We’re going to Barnes & Noble because it’s fun,” she said. And sure enough, as soon as we finished up at the restaurant, we went to the bookstore.
Oh, glory. So many books. So many words. I was in heaven.
The first rack—new releases. Hardcovers. I touched their jackets, gazed at the reviews on the back, read the blurb on the inside jacket cover. I thumbed through the pages and inhaled the glorious scent of ink. I searched for the price tag—twenty-five dollars for a book? No, thank you.
The second table was even more glorious. Five-dollar classics—big, thick books, too big for the average purse but perfect for the average bookshelf. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, works by Tolstoy and Bronte and some Russian dude whose name I can neither pronounce nor remember. This deal was too good to pass up. Seriously considering The Art of War, I instead picked up a collection of Sherlock Holmes books. I’m currently two hundred pages in.
But then I kept going. Immediately to my left were some Bibles and Christian nonfiction. I did a quick search for C.S. Lewis—I’d just ordered three of his books online, so I knew I wasn’t about to buy any of them—but I found Of Stories, a collection of his views on literature and storytelling. I read just enough to learn that he, like me, thought George Orwell’s Animal Farm was better than 1984. I confess that I haven’t finished the latter, and I’m not sure if I can. It’s both boring and frightening.
“Can I help you find anything?” a clerk asked me.
“Nope,” I said. “I’m just browsing.”
Oh, and browse I did. I wanted to spin through the aisles, touching every book, stroking every soft cover. I lingered over a table of $25 classic editions of books, their covers ornate and gilded. I gave half a glance at the children’s section, but I found a special surprise with the board games: hnefatafl, a Viking cross between chess and checkers. I gave a
“Did you have fun?” Mom asked my sister and I as we got back in the car. We were off to see my uncle. My reaction was unnecessary; everyone knew I’d enjoyed myself. My sister, however, gave a smile that was quite unexpected.
“I got to make fun of the politicians,” she said.
Which bookstore do you live by? Which one’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!
Hello, dear readers! I've decided to do something a bit different this week, and I've made a video blog instead of a normal blog. If it loads, that is...it's taking forever...
There we go. Enjoy it!
Just as the sun’s dying afterglow disappeared into the clouded dark of night, Alynn and Honor cantered into a small Norse village. Honor was covered in lather despite the chill wind, and Alynn’s excitement had faded with her need for sleep. She rode down the wood-paved main road to a longhouse at the center of town, tethered Honor to a hitching-post near the front door, and knocked.
No one answered. Alynn could hear her mother’s voice and the crisp Norse accent that belonged to her uncle Leif, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She knocked louder.
“...stay awake, son, we need your help,” Leif’s voice said as the hired girl opened the door. Alynn hugged her quickly, and Leif finally caught eye of the visitor. “Alynn!” he boomed, finding a tired smile within him. “Come inside, have a seat! Try to keep Drostan awake while you’re at it.”
Alynn hugged Leif and glanced at his seventeen-year-old son, Drostan. He was sitting on the edge of a sleeping bench, leaning against a column that supported the roof, idly moving the pieces to a board game. Tafl, he’d said she could call it, since its true name of hnefatafl was too large of a mouthful for her. His hair looked like a rat had tried to nest in it.
Alynn smiled. “Hard day?”
Drostan’s head moved half an inch in her direction, and he shoved the game board aside so she could sit next to him. “Felling trees and carting timber, all day,” he groaned, his eyes glassy with sleep. “What have you been doing since I last saw you this morning?”
“I found out my brother’s alive,” she smiled. She slipped her fingers under Drostan’s warm hand, realizing how cold her own was.
“Good Lord, your hands are like ice!” Drostan exclaimed.
“I know. The wind doesn’t realize ‘tis June.”
A bit of life came into Drostan’s eyes, and he took a sheepskin from the bed behind them. He draped it around Alynn. His arm rested on her thin shoulder, his leather vambrace cool as she leaned against it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For goodness’ sake, ye’re sittin’ too close together,” Caitriona scolded. She pulled Alynn two feet away from Drostan and wrapped the sheepskin tighter around her. “Try to stay awake. Ye can poke each other if ye start to nod off.”
“Aye, Mum,” both Alynn and Drostan answered.
“Now, for the last time, Drostan, do you have a ship we could use?”
“We’re working on one right now—lovely Karve, if you can wait a week to use her,” Drostan replied, brushing his red hair from his eyes. “We just sold our last Longship. It would be fastest. You could make the trip in a lifeboat if the currents were right.”
“When are we leaving?” Alynn asked.
“We’re not sure at the moment,” Caitriona said. “The winds are contrary, or some such nonsense—”
“The winds are perfect if you’re traveling to Iceland,” Leif interrupted.
“What about rowing?” Alynn asked.
“If you feel like taking five days instead of two to get to Scotland, then I suppose it’s doable,” Drostan said. He stabbed Alynn with his index finger.
“Your mother said I could poke you.”
Alynn shoved his shoulder. “Save it for mornin’. I’m knackered.”
Caitriona studied the flames of the fireplace. “Are there men who would row for money?” she asked. “It isn’t gold, but—Rowan would want me to—” She tugged at a goldtone ring that was reluctant to come off her left hand. Voice trembling, she asked, “How much is this worth?”
“Mistress, don’t do anything daft—that you’ll regret, I mean,” the hired girl interjected. She blushed and bowed her head. “My apologies.”
“Not at all. You’re right, Valdis,” Leif said, fingering the simple ring on his own hand. “Not your wedding band, Caitriona. I wouldn’t give mine up, either, not for the world, and certainly not to save a few days’ waiting time. The winds will change soon enough. I promise. And I’ll pay the sailors.”
“You’re a good man, Leif.”
Leif chuckled. “It’s what brothers do—at least in a functional family. Valdis, you had a normal family once, didn’t you?”
The hired girl’s blonde head dipped again. “Depends on what you’d call normal, sir.”
Quick note, I have no idea what happened to Monday's post. I'll fix that as soon as I can.
There are several things in life that I've never done. Most of them involve children's movies. My best friend insists that we need to get together and have a Shrek marathon to make up for my "lost childhood," but I'd rather see Lilo and Stitch or the rest of Megamind. I watched part of that with my sister the other day, and it looked pretty good.
But I'm not here to talk about movies. I'm here to talk about camping.
My mom went camping quite a bit growing up. She was a Girl Scout, so she know how to set up tents and cook over fires and everything like that. My dad calls himself a city boy. He's said that he'll never go camping unless there's air conditioning (which, in Texas, is pretty important). And since it's pretty hard to put AC in a tent, we got a trailer recently, and we're taking it out this weekend.
I've never been camping before. I've heard stories about bears and noises that turned out to be squirrels or deer or something else similarly harmless. I've heard stories about hikers getting lost and injured. But I know that actually camping is probably more fun and, at the same time, a bit more boring than that.
I'm not overly concerned with the lack of Wi-Fi. My writing doesn't require it, and I can download some music to listen to. But it means I won't be able to research anything, and I've been obsessively learning everything I can about medieval prosthetics for the past few days. I went on my first date about a week ago. I went early to use the coffee shop's Wi-Fi, since ours was down, and my date walked in to see me jotting down notes about wooden arms.
So. You've been waiting. You've been reading the bits of Where I Stand that I've been posting on Mondays. And you've been wondering: when are we going to see the cover?
Wait no more, my devoted readers! I present to you the results of hours scrolling through Shutterstock and 45 minutes on Microsoft Paint: the cover of Where I Stand.
I'm just grateful I was able to find a decent image to use. I had no idea until recently that most authors, even established ones, just use stock images for their book covers. I'd found another photo that I wanted to use. However, after contacting the photographer, I realized it was way out of my price range. Plus, that picture was pretty dark (the girl's hair was black and the ocean was stormy) and it didn't fit with the first book's cover very well. So yeah. Shutterstock for everyone!
Sometimes I wish books came with commentaries. Movies do; you can watch the film while hearing the directors talk about what went into each scene and the specific challenges they faced while creating it. I've only ever watched a commentary for one movie--Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. And I didn't stick around for the whole thing. But it was really cool, seeing the research and effort that had gone into making each scene of the movie. At least, I enjoyed it. It was like going to a museum and seeing how things work.
But even the commentaries don't mention the cover art. They might mention the lighting or the animation or the cinematography, but never the cover art. And that's kind of a shame. People aren't supposed to judge books or movies by their covers, but they do. Artists spend a whole bunch of time trying to come up with something that's interesting and original. And something that captures the theme, plot, or essence of the art that follows it.
It's not simple.
It's almost as hard as coming up with a title.
But once you're finished, it's so worth it.
And yes, you can do it without Photoshop. Microsoft Paint has this thing called Transparent Selection where you can erase part of a picture, select it, and superimpose it on another picture. It's the best thing since sliced cheese.
That being said, it's the content behind that cover that makes the cover worth creating. And with that content, dear readers, I'm requesting your assistance.
I've finished the book, but I know that there are still a few things that need to be cut or added to take the story from good to great. I just can't see the flaws because I'm too wrapped up in the story. So I need some of you to be Beta readers for me.
If you're interested, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll send you two documents: Where I Stand in a PDF form, and a Microsoft Word document that has a few questions I'd like you to answer. If you fill out that sheet for me before September 1, I'll email you an exclusive short story that won't be featured on my regular blog. (As if getting a free book wasn't reason enough to be a Beta reader!)
First rule of being a Beta readers is pretty simple. You can't share Where I Stand with anyone else. My book is my baby. I've been working on it for two years, and if anyone steals it, I'd be devastated. Second rule: don't be shy with your feedback. You hate the book? Let me know why. Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. I work with fifth and sixth graders. I'm used to criticism.
Third rule: enjoy the book and tell your friends about it! I'll let you know when it's released on Amazon, just in case you want to support me financially. I really appreciate every single sale; it's a wonderful encouragement.
What's your favorite book cover? And do you actually watch the director commentaries on movies? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.