Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Culture: Back to the Basics with Bond

There's a new trailer out for Spectre, and despite my misgivings about the potential story (as raised by the first trailer) I am newly excited about this Bond film.  For all that I hated the backstory in Skyfall, I loved so much of the rest of the movie, especially the setting up of the old formula - M in his office, Moneypenny at the desk, Q in the lab with the gadgets.  With the reintroduction of SPECTRE it feels like a return to classic Bond, albeit with a contemporary twist, and I'm really interested to see how that plays.  We have the usual Bond girl trifecta, a scolding from M, fast cars from Q, and an international conspiracy in which Bond becomes entangled.  And lording over it all is Christoph Waltz, proving yet again that subdued villains can be the creepiest.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Writing: Four Best Sites for Writers to Waste Time on the Internet

It's a linky kind of morning!  Today I've rounded up for you all of the very best sites for writers to waste time on the internet.  Let's be honest - if you have internet, at some point you are going to be wasting time on it.  That is the nature of the beast.  You go to look up a quick fact or check social media and three hours later your draft is untouched and the chores are undone.

So!  Since you're going to inevitably wander off into the internet anyway, why not make the most of your time there?  Stop scrolling through other people's Facebook feeds and put some useful knowledge into your brain - perhaps the kind of stuff that can later trigger a story or add to something you're writing.

1. Wikipedia - The dubious research rabbit hole of all rabbit holes on the internet.  Perhaps "dubious" is a bit harsh; I merely mean to indicate that Wikipedia is a jumping-off point and it's probably best to double check any research done here.  That caveat aside, Wikipedia is fantastic for skimming the surface of a million and one different topics, and if you've ever found yourself with five or more Wiki pages open at once as you look up something for a story, you'll know what I mean.

2. TV Tropes - Any writer worth their salt should be aware of current tropes in fiction both of the book and media variety.  This will also take your movie critiquing skills to the next level. I'll start you off with an easy one: Love Tropes.  Have fun!

3. Cracked - First of all, if you haven't been watching their After Hours video series, go do that now.  Apart from After Hours, Cracked features short-to-medium length articles on a wide variety of fascinating topics, like Six Medical Conditions Cured by Sci-Fi Technology or Four Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Being Poor. It's click bait, to be sure, but it's a better kind of click bait in that there's actually content at the other end.  And quite often you'll come away knowing something new.  Like Wikipedia, you should always check your facts, but Cracked provides some great intros to things you might not have thought that hard about.

4. NaNoWriMo Reference Desk - How much jello would fill the light house?  How many languages can one person feasibly learn?  How can you ground a suit of armor against an electrical attack?  Ask your questions here and someone (probably multiple someones, if your questions is weird and interesting enough) will have the answer.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Life: Cold Blueberry Soup

I dreamt about blueberry picking last night and now I have blueberries on the brain.  Unlike raspberries or strawberries, both of which cook up deliciously, I rarely try blueberry recipes, usually because I have already eaten all of the fresh blueberries.  Blueberries are delicious cooked into pancakes and muffins, but I really prefer them raw and bursting with summer flavor.  However!  Sometimes I will branch out into blueberry treats, and this soup has proved a definite winner.  It's a little unusual in that it's both sweet and cold, two qualities one doesn't normally find in soup, but trust me when I say that it's worth it.

Cold Blueberry Soup
serves 8-12

6 c blueberries
5 c water
1 c sugar
2 medium lemons, thinly sliced
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
4 1/2 c sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (the best you can get)

Combine blueberries, water, sugar, lemons, and spices in a large saucepan on the stove.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium low heat and simmer fifteen minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then strain mixture through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth.  (The leftover pulp is delicious on ice cream or yogurt or toast).  Chill thoroughly.  Just before serving, whisk in sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday Culture: Prelude in C minor (Bach)

Perhaps it was the heat or maybe just a travel bug, but I woke up this morning missing Paris - in particular, the pipe organ rehearsals in the church down the street from where I worked.  The church - old, stone, very grand - was always open, so one could slip in of an afternoon, find a seat in the back, and listen to the organist at work, bouncing chords off the far reaches of the vaulted ceiling and carved pillars.  It was marvelous, and just thinking about it makes me want to dig out my organ books and run through some of my old exercises.  I was never particularly good, but there was something glorious about making such a great noise.

So in honor of those not-so-long-ago Paris afternoons, how about some Bach organ music?  From St. Sulpice in Paris, here is organist Xaver Varnus with the Prelude in C minor.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Writing: Writing the Sequel First

This weekend, in pursuit of an action movie without too much brain power, I swung by the video store to pick up "Taken" in order to find out about Liam Neeson's specific set of skills.  (My assumption going in was that they involved 1.) finding people and 2.) killing them.)  However, on arriving home, I discovered that the DVD I'd picked up was the sequel, "Taken 2."  Inertia won out, and "Taken 2" is what I watched - and I discovered something interesting along the way.

Films have their own special codes for cluing the audience in on what's going on.  In film, if you want to indicate that an item is important, it will get a moment of screen time, however brief, so that when it comes up again later the audience will remember it.  A relationship can be summed up by a man checking the time and waiting before he walks up to a house to pick up his daughter.  Books have a similar code - remember show, don't tell? - although as a writer, you have a little more room to establish the inner emotional life of a character.  

When you're just starting a movie, especially blockbusters or action films, there are lots of these little cues to make sure you pick up on what's going on in any given scene.  Because the creators want the broadest audience possible to be able to follow the action, these cues can sometimes be hit-you-over-the-head obvious, which can make the opening to a film drag a little.  The same principle is present in books if an author gets caught up in over-explaining everything rather than moving the plot forward.  As a writer, you have to strike a balance between making sure your readers are on board and keeping things moving.

This is where "Taken 2" comes in because it turns out that jumping into a sequel without having seen the first movie is a great way to make a pretty dumb movie more layered.  Instead of having Liam Neeson's character handed out on a silver plate, I got to watch it emerge as he buffed his car, waited for 2 pm, and interacted with his ex-wife and daughter.  The plot was made more interesting by the fact that these people had clearly all gone through a traumatic experience together, and I was seeing them trying to settle back into their old lives while I pieced together what had happened.  There was still more than enough information to figure out what was going on, but because I had to do more of the work myself, I paid much closer attention than I would have otherwise.

So let this be a lesson to you as you set up a world and characters in your own writing - think about writing the sequel first.  Don't spell everything out as you would in a first book; give your reader the benefit of the doubt and let them explore the new world and characters as they develop through their actions and dialogue rather than through five pages of backstory.  Some things might need to be explained, but you may be surprised to find that it's less than you thought.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Life: Chocolate Zucchini Cake

One of the benefits to the long, warm summers we occasionally get here in Seattle is the abundance of zucchini.  Zucchini is always one of the summer foods that one seems to constantly be trying to find ways to use, but when the warm weather starts early, the oversupply becomes almost difficult to manage.  Fortunately, zucchini has a million and one uses, from stir fries and grilling to sweet breads and cakes.  At some point I discovered that one could put shredded zucchini in a boxed brownie mix; there were many zucchini brownies that summer.  Then I found this recipe for cake and never looked back.  (Ok, well, sometimes.  When I'm feeling lazy.  But the cake is superior, I promise!)

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
3/4 c butter or oil
3 eggs
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c cocoa
1 1/2 c flour (may sub up to a half of wheat flour, but it should be pastry flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c milk
2 c shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9" x 13" pan.  Beat together butter (or oil), sugar, and eggs until creamy, then add vanilla.  Gradually add dry ingredients in order, mixing well between each addition, then beat in the milk.  Add zucchini and beat to combine.

Pour batter into your pan and bake for 50 min - 1 hour, checking after 30 minutes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday Culture: Star Wars Comic Con Reel


Yes, I'm a little excited about the impending arrival of Star Wars 7 (in 155 days, in case you're counting) and that enthusiasm was recently stoked by the release of a clip from Comic Con about the making of the new film.  Practical effects - i.e. real props and people and places - are back, and I'm thrilled.  CGI certainly has it's place in film, but one of the things that made the original series feel so real were the practical effects.  The original world of Star Wars was grimy and banged up and not-quite respectable.  Plus, amazing puppets!  The prequels, by contrast, portrayed the cleanest galaxy I've ever seen, and it was hard to believe in the reality of that world.  Everything felt shiny and plastic and not quite there.  The Lord of the Rings did a brilliant job of blending CGI with practical effects, and it looks like Star Wars is finally following suit.

Other things I'm excited about?  Well, all of it.  Whoever is making these videos is doing a great job of capturing (or creating) a real sense of the iconic status of the Star Wars movies, the nostalgia of the old films, and the excitement and love that J.J. Abrams' team has for the new ones.  It's the kind of obsessive, affectionate love that the LOTR team had (the details of the making of that movie are fascinating; just about as compelling to read about or watch as the movie itself) and that gives me hope that maybe, maybe, Star Wars 7 will be good.