Thursday, June 25, 2009

Movies that Should have been Workshopped: Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End

I took a creative writing workshop my last semester in college and in workshop we read through each other’s stories to identify strengths and weaknesses in plot and character, and to make sure everything makes sense and make sure everything jives throughout the piece. It’s very easy as a writer to read right past things that are lacking, because you know them in your head and you forget that your audience is not, in fact, in your head, and they do not know what you know. The workshop process allows you to see what the reader doesn’t know. I’ve discovered, however, that not all creative pieces, be they works of fiction or film, do not go through this workshop process, because sometimes there are plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End:

Speaking of movies with plot holes you could drive a Mack Truck through, PotC 3: AWE is definitely a movie that is trying to sell me a pile of goods that I’m not buying. I’m not talking about the fact that the world isn’t really flat, or that flipping the ship gets them out of world’s end, or Davy Jones’ heart, or even Calypso growing to be like 30 feet tall. These are things that my ability to suspend disbelief allows me to accept. I am able to accept that within the world of Pirates of the Caribbean, women can grow to enormous sizes and that mermaids exist (that’s in the scene in Singapore in case you missed it).

My problems with not believing PotC 3 is in the end, when Will takes over Davy’s job and takes his father with him, but leaves Elizabeth behind (sorry if you haven’t seen it...). With the DVD release there is a little booklet that offers an explanation for this (“Will’s father is not alive—he and all the crewmen on the Dutchman are in a state between the living and the dead. Elizabeth will not survive the journeys where the ship must travel—so she is not able to join the crew”), which acknowledges that they, too, see the problems in the film.

Their explanation, however, offers some problems. The crew of the Dutchman cannot be wholly undead, because Will was able to survive after he was on the ship the first time in Dead Man’s Chest. And in DMC when Jones is raiding the ship for dead after the battle, he is only able to take those that are not dead yet, and they become part of his crew. They are not undead, they are alive. And if Davy Jones, and later Will Turner, has power over making the alive into the undead without them dying first (as is evidenced by both Will and Jack’s presence on the ship at various points in DMC), why couldn’t he bring Elizabeth with him as well as his father?

And just for the record, the rest of the crew was set free after Jones’ death, so Bootstrap Bill is Will’s crew.

Also, with Elizabeth being the Pirate Queen, couldn’t she just hang out after various pirate battles and wait for Will to show up to collect the dead and then spend a little quality time with her honey on the Dutchman? Just because Will can’t be on land doesn’t mean that Elizabeth can’t be on the ship for small periods of time.

This just goes to show that no matter how much disbelief you ask your audience to suspend, and how much their willing to suspend, that you have to maintain a sense of continuity within the universe you’ve created of your audience won’t believe it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Cubicle Next Door

I thought that for the first actual book I talk about it would be appropriate for me to introduce you to a book about a blog.

The novel The Cubicle Next Door by Siri L. Mitchell is about a Jackie, a computer tech person for the Air Force Academy and Joe, the guy she has to share her office with. Jackie is the anonymous author of the blog The Cubicle Next Door, her space for venting her frustrations with her co-workers (people who eat at their computers, the secretary who tried to hold the book up to the computer screen to get it to scan, etc), and usually Joe. As Jackie and Joe share the office her feelings of frustration face (though they don’t disappear completely) and warmer feelings arise.

However, Jackie’s past keeps her from wanting to act on these feelings. Her parents were never married, and her father was killed before he knew she was on the way. Her devastated mother went to India, leaving her with her grandmother, when she was only hours old. Because of this past she has always pushed away affection from men her whole life, but Joe won’t let her push him away. She finds herself questioning all the things that she thought she believed, and the person that she thought she was.

And when The Cubicle Next Door is featured on the news, and Joe starts to read all the things Jackie has written about him – anonymously, of course – things get even more interesting.

Will Jackie allow her past to keep her from a future with Joe, or will she accept the man who works in The Cubicle Next Door?

This book is written in the first person from Jackie’s perspective and approximately every other chapter is divided by a blog entry from Jackie. The blog entries include comments from blog followers, characters that run through the book, though you never really get to meet any of them. Jackie is an engaging narrator that really pulls you into the story. You feel what she feels as her office is subdivided and as she finds herself growing in ways that she never expected, or really desired. You can really see the other characters as well – Joe, her grandmother, her grandmother’s friends – in a really unique way. You see them colored through her perspective, but at the same time you get an idea of what they are like without Jackie’s colored opinions.

Siri Mitchell has a way of writing that makes you stop and think about what is important and makes you look at issues in a new way. In this book, Jackie and Joe, two Protestant Christians, are in search of a church, and the only church where they feel comfortable is a Catholic Church, so they begin to attend regularly and even become involved in some of the ministries, but do not take part in the communion portion of the service, and they tell the other members that they are not interested in becoming Catholic, only in belonging.

In the novel Kissing Adrien, Siri Mitchell addresses the drinking of alcohol (but not to the level of getting drunk) and being friends with someone who has had an affair. She always addresses these issues in a way that makes you stop and think why it is that you believe what you believe and what you would do when you’re put in situations where things are not as morally black and white as we sometimes like to think.

The Cubicle Next Door is a wonderful book about discovering who you are, even when (or maybe especially when) that person is different from the person you thought you were before.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I love to write. It’s my passion. It’s what I do when I’m bored in class. It’s what I do when I should be listening in church. It’s what I want to do when I’m doing homework. To me it’s even more than a passion, though, it’s a calling. It’s something that I was made to do.

I live and breathe books, but even more than that I live and breathe story. I love everything about story. I love to read story. I love to watch story. I love to live story. And as a part of that I love character. My mom constantly tells me, “You know it’s not real, right?” but to me it is real. I love to look at the psychology behind why characters act the way they do and I love to think about how they would react in different situations. To some they may just be words on a page, but to me they’re actual beings with feelings and emotions and if those feelings and emotions are unrealistic, I end up disliking the book.

I recently read a book in which the main character was a real odd-ball and at some points there was some hinting that there was something in her childhood that made her that way, and I kept waiting to find out what it was, because if she didn’t have an excuse for being weird I couldn’t accept that she was weird. And when the excuse never came I found that I resented the character because she was just weird for no reason and I was disappointed.

Naming a character is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and one of the easiest. Sometimes characters come with names—like the character Michael Roe Waves, whose father thought it was funny to name his poor unsuspecting child after a household appliance—and other times you have to hunt one down. I recently discovered that a character I’d spent eight months writing didn’t have a last name and now I’m in trouble because I need to give her one, but picking last names is even harder than picking first names.

You want your name to reflect the character of your character, but if it’s too straight forward, e.g. the hard hearted landlord who is going to throw out the poor single mother of four unless she agrees to be his mistress being named Clay Stone borders on being allegorical, not to mention a bit ridiculous.

And then sometimes you find the perfect name and even then you’re not able to use it. I have a character who is a former stay-at-home-mother of two (or three – I don’t remember at the moment), who finds all of her children have gone to college, leaving her a bit at loose ends. She finds a job as an office manager helping two twenty-something women in their business. I had a very specific character in mind and not just any name was going to work.

I thought long and hard and finally decided that Janine was the perfect name for this character, that is until I was 150 pages into the book and realized that in my main characters alone I had Jenna, Jake and Jordan and adding another fairly prominent “J” name was just too much for any poor reader to try to keep straight. So I had to go back on the name hunt to try to find another non-“J” name for my wonderful secretary that gave off the same impression that this name did. I finally settled on Dorothy (probably because that was the name of the office manager where I worked and she was pretty much my inspiration for the character –Thanks Dorothy!).

I also like my names to mean something sometimes, so I find baby names websites really useful. My favorite is It’s cool because it has lots of names from lots of places and the names are coded: pink for girls, blue for boys and green for unisex. You can also save names that you want to use later and things like that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Paperback Swap

**Apparently all my computer needed was to have someone who knew what they were doing glare at it**

As I said in my last posting, on Tuesdays I’m going to talk about a book/series/author/book related product/etc. that I really enjoy.

Today I’m going to talk about a wonderful website that I’ve been introduced to called “Paperback Swap” (There’s a link for it under “Some of my favorite places” and a banner is at the bottom of the page).

As the title suggests, Paperback Swap (or PBS) is a website where you can swap your old books for new ones (any kind of books, not just paperbacks). All you have to do is sign up, and post a list of books that you’re looking to get rid of. Once you post your first 10 books you get 2 free credits (1 book = 1 credit, 1 audio book = 2 credits) and you’re on your way. When someone orders your book you get an e-mail and you have 2 days (though you can get more time through the “I can mail this later” option – then you get 5 I think) to send out your book. You have to pay for the postage, but you can send it however is cheapest (usually Media Mail, which for a book that weighs less than 1 pound like approximately $2.50).

When you want to order a book you just find the book you want (I find that ISBN numbers work the best, though title and author searches usually work, too) and click “Order this Book.” An e-mail gets sent to the person who has it and they send it to you free of charge. If no one in the system has the book you can put yourself on the “Wish List” which puts you in line to get it when it comes in. If you see a book that you want to remember, but that you don’t want to order right then you can put it in your “Reminder List” so you can find it easily later on. If you find yourself short of credits and desperately in need of something new you can also purchase credits through the website (I think they’re $3.50 each, still way cheaper than most books). No money actually changes hands (unless you buy credits - and then it’s only with the company) and no one has your address unless you order a book from them (and I suppose if you’re really worried about it you could take out a PO Box). And best of all, it’s free to sign up and free to be a member (at least so far).

As well as these wonderful book swapping features there are other great aspects to Paperback Swap, such as “The Eclectic Pen” where you can post things you’ve written for others to read and comment on, there’s a system for Book Reviewing (both good and bad), there are forums on just about everything, both book- and non-book-related, and even an optional public profile where you can have as much or as little as you want on there (I used to post blogs on there from time to time, and I’ll probably recycle some of those old thoughts on Thursdays).

If you’re the kind of person that only reads books once, this is a great site because you can get new ones. If you’re the kind of person that reads books over and over, this is a great site because it allows you to get rid of books that you’ll never read again, making room on your shelves for new great books. Also if you somehow end up with more than one copy of books it’s great because you can get rid of the extras (It’s slightly shocking how frequently that happens to me).

If you decide to sign up, and you click on the banner at the bottom of the page it’s supposed to be linked to my account so it knows that you found out about it from me (I say supposed to be because I know nothing about computer programming, so when it comes to code I copy and paste, not much else) and it gives me a free credit for referring you :P.

And it’s free.

Computer Down

My internet is down and I will not be able to post today. Hopefully tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


So this is the plan (as it stands now). I’m planning on updating every Tuesday and Thursday. On Tuesdays the plan is to talk about a book, author, series, product, etc. of which I am a fan, and why I appreciate them. Some of the books/series/authors/products/etc. you will have heard of before, but some of them you may not, so stay tuned.

On Thursdays I plan to do more general entries about books, writing, movies, TV, and from time to time life in general. For this first Thursday I thought I’d introduce myself a little bit.

I graduated just over a month ago from the University of Michigan with my Bachelors in English. As well as studying Shakespeare and Austen I studied fiction writing under some great writers who taught me a lot about writing and editing. For the last three semesters I worked one on one with a writing professor who helped me work my way through the writing and editing of my first novel, currently entitled Matches & Matrimony. I’m currently working my way through a second edit, a very long and grueling process, before I attempt to send it out to agents.

I love to read. I’ve pretty much always loved to read, and I owe that primarily to my parents who are both bookworms themselves and who read to me a lot as a child. I read a lot of fiction, though I’m discovering the wonders of a well written biography. I’m kind of a strange English Major because I’ve not read a ton of the classics (though many I should have for classes, so I can discuss their importance and the key elements in them), I’m not a big fan of Dickens (though from what I understand I just haven’t read the good ones), and I consider “Chick Lit” and it’s sub genres legitimate fiction (I’m sure there will be more than one entry to come about that).

I look forward to sharing my perspectives on reading, writing, movies, etc. with you, as well as hearing what you have to say on topics. Again, stay tuned, for there is more to come.