Dunkirk movie review

I’ve considered doing movie reviews from time to time, but TBH, Daniella’s is better.

“All war movies are criticized, especially these days. But the review of the WWII film Dunkirk in feminist magazine Marie Claire went way beyond criticism. It was a full on feminist rant. ”


Why readers need genre

On a writer’s forum awhile back we were having a debate about genre. Let’s face it, the lines have blurred and with everyone and his brother, and his dog, cat, ferret, and goldfish having an opinion on it, chances are that it’s not going to get clearer any time soon. Some writers hate genre. They think it boxes them in and saps their creativity. They look on it with disdain and unabashedly declare “Write what you want.” Truth is no one is stopping you. You can and should write what you want. Problem is, the next step involves something else. Getting people to read what you write, and therein, lies the problem. Far too often “Write what you want” is about the writer, not the reader, yet it is the validation of not just a reader, but hopefully, many, many readers that we all crave.

So, let’s look at some stories and how the EMPHASIS on specific story elements can change things for the reader, who, let’s face it, probably has some definite ideas about what he wants (and maybe even some ideas about what he doesn’t want). Since it’s his money, what he wants matters.

Jane is a woman who has the daunting task of going through her recently deceased great-grandmother’s (also known as Gran) things.

  • The Least Traveled Path

Jane unpacks great-grandmother’s things and discovers that Gran’s life was less than idyllic. This leads Jane to realize that her own life isn’t so bad. In this story, not much happens outside of Jane herself. There’s not a lot of “this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens,” i.e. plot. She may not even leave the house as she’s going through Gran’s things. The entire story may be about her thoughts and feelings, maybe some flashbacks or imaginings or speculation. Chances are it’ll end up in women’s fiction and if it’s heavy on bulky sentences and long paragraphs and the pacing is glacial, it’ll probably also get tagged as big “L” literary.

  • The Most Traveled Path

Among Gran’s things, Jane finds a torn strand of pearls. She takes them to a jeweler for repair. Jane falls in love with said jeweler and they have the mandated Happily Ever After (HEA). This is now a big “R” type of romance.

  • A Fork in the Road: The Most Traveled Path Gone Awry

Instead of an HEA or an HEA for now, the jeweler dies. Now we have a tragedy. I can pretty much guarantee that if you tag this a Romance, you’re going to have a lot of pissed off Romance readers. Why? Because you promised them one thing and you didn’t deliver. Hint: Don’t piss off your readers. Happy readers, good. Mad readers, bad.

  • The Fastest Path:

Instead of diaries or pearls, Jane discovers Gran’s old movies. One of them reveals the secret behind the Kennedy assassination. Now Jane is on the run, fighting for her life because someone wants to kill her. The pacing is fast and even if her jeweler fiance is involved, the focus on plot rather than their relationship has just put Jane into a thriller. She doesn’t have a lot of time to sit around and process her feelings about Gran’s life, or her own, as her main task is staying alive.

Let’s stop here for a bit and look at the differences between Literary, Romance, and thriller. [I’m going to ignore tragedy since it’s just a romance gone wrong; after all, until Romeo and Juliet died, their story was a Romance. That pesky HEA again.]

All three–Literary, Romance, and thriller–will have elements of plot, character, and pacing, but one of those elements will dominate. The Literary and Romance readers will expect character to dominate, while thriller readers will expect plot to. That’s not to say there won’t be some plot in the Romance piece, but Romance is about the relationship, i.e. the characters.

For a better example, let’s look at Die Hard, the best Christmas movie of all time. Despite the relationship aspect, the HEA, it’s a thriller. It’s fast paced. It’s more about the plot than character. Tally up the minutes spent in action sequences versus those that show John McClane struggling with his feelings. There’s a love story, but it’s not a Romance. It’s not speculative fiction, because the setting is not contrary to reality. Despite the thrilling stunts courtesy of Hollywood Physics, it’s not science fiction because the story is not about science or an extrapolation of science.

Back to Jane and Gran’s things.

  • The Speculative Path

Jane finds a diary. If the diary turns out to be a time travel device we have speculative fiction. Now, time travel is sci-fi, right? Well, maybe…

Speculative fiction deals with things that are contrary to reality, but setting is key. Along the Speculative Path, you’ll find not just mud, but fog and booby traps. Those other paths (thriller, romance, etc) were clear and safe. This path, not so much. There’s reasons they drew monsters at the edge of maps.

Time travel is not science and it’s not even an extrapolation of science. The laws of conservation of energy and matter make time travel more of a science fantasy, but it’s usually lumped together with science fiction because it does NOT rely on magic. See, fog, but not utility fog.

  • The Fork into the Past

Gabaldon’s Outlander involves time travel to the past, but I wouldn’t call it science fiction. Where’s the science? How important is the science to the story? Is anything extrapolated from our current knowledge of science? Going back to 18th-century Scotland and making soap from animal fat and ashes is not an extrapolation of current technology. Outlander may be historical fantasy. It may be a Romance. It most definitely is speculative fiction and it is defined by the fact that it takes place in 18th-century Scotland, i.e. the setting. That means that if you move it out of the setting, it changes the characters and plot so much that you don’t have the same story.

  • The Fork into the Future

Back to Jane. The diary is a piece of cleverly disguised advanced technology made of equal parts handwavium and unobtainium, patent pending. It takes Jane forward in time or to a parallel world without magic. It’s speculative fiction because it takes place in a setting that’s contrary to reality. But is it science-fiction? Again, let’s look at setting for guidance. So, lack of magic makes it “not fantasy.” What if it’s a future where there is no advanced technology? It might as well be the middle ages. It’s not historical, because the setting didn’t exist in the past. It is about the science? Since it’s not in the past is it even alternate history? It’ll probably get labeled sci-fi because it’s about the future, and that’s fine, but again, note that it’s the setting that defines its placement. In this case, we have a setting that’s contrary to reality but is NOT set in the past and does NOT involve the use of magic. Sometimes things are easier to classify by what they’re not, rather than by what they are.

Dr. Who is probably the best example of how hard it is to define this genre and why food fights break out among those who really, really, really care. The TARDIS can go into the past, the future, and can travel sideways in time to alternate histories. We meet aliens as well as historical figures. It pays some lip service to the “science” of time travel, handwavium included, but is it about the science? Or is the science mere window dressing? Let’s say we have a Romance set in space. If I can take that Romance, strip it of its sci-fi dressings, and still have the same characters and story, then I’d argue it’s not sci-fi. I’d still enjoy the heck out of it, but let’s not pretend it’s 2001:A Space Odyssey or Jurassic Park.

  • The Magical Fork [no, it’s not a weight-loss plan]

What if Jane’s diary takes her to a setting where magic exists? Regardless of the diary as a magical device rather than some cleverly disguised piece of tech as above, it’s the existence of magic in the setting that makes this a fantasy. It may take place in the past or the future, or an alternate timeline, but if magic is involved, it becomes the defining factor.

  • The Paranormal Fork

What if reading from the diary opens a portal to hell? Why is it paranormal instead of fantasy? Well, magic’s not involved for one. Neither is science. So it’s contrary to reality but outside the realm of both magic and science. See, setting again.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about this is that as a reader, I get frustrated by the cavalier way some people throw genre tags around, as if they meant nothing. Honestly, if they mean nothing and we can mix anything with anything else, why bother with genre at all? We’d just have a big hodge-podge of stuff called fiction. As readers we’d have to wade through rows and rows (digital and physical) of options, maybe organized by author’s last name. Or maybe by title. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? We’d have to read the summaries and hope that the cover and the sales copy don’t lie. Sign me up. Not.

BTW, if you’re interested in really learning about Genre, I highly recommend this Genre Structure Workshop. Scroll down to the Classic Workshop Offerings. It’s a great self-paced, start anytime online course.

Learning experience: The right way to do first person

I just finished reading Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, the first book in her Fever series. Two things precipitated the purchase: recommendation from a friend and part of my continuing education (specifically following Dean Wesley Smith’s advice to read for pleasure and then study the pleasurable reads from long-time, best-selling authors). Moning’s Darkfever met both those criteria and it’s an excellent example of how to do first person well.

I’m not going to cover the plot because it’s a distant third in the way I measure things. I’m far more impressed by an interesting milieu (the setting and skillful world-building) and interesting characters, and for a first person novel, frankly, character trumps all. Actually, plot is never my primary concern. If it was, I wouldn’t re-read my favorite books or series year-in and year-out. See, the plot doesn’t ever change. Psst. Don’t tell anyone.

So here we have MacKayla Lane, a soft, spoiled young woman with lots of First World problems who is far too concerned with her long blonde hair, the names of her nail polish colors, and her wardrobe choices. Not a character that I would typically go for, and had the first person narration been typical, I would’ve probably walked –no, sprinted– away from the free sample and gone on to something else.

What was it about this character that (a) drew me in, and (b) kept me turning the pages? I didn’t like “Mac” very much. She had way too many idiotic opinions and priorities for me to take her seriously. But here’s the rub: I was solidly in her world and in her head from the very start. This first person narrator was very obviously a retrospective narrator and she maintained that presence throughout the book. In other words, it wasn’t an outside-in narration with a pronoun shift to first person, i.e. a story better suited for third person.

Here’s an example of what maintaining that retrospective narrator presence looks like:

…I had no idea that pieces of one’s soul could be lost.

Back then, I was so blind to everything that was going on around me. Back then, I was twenty-two and pretty and up until the month before, my biggest concern had been whether Revlon would discontinue my favorite Iceberry Pink nail polish, which would be a disaster of epic proportions as it would leave me without the perfect complement for the short pink silk skirt I was wearing today with a clingy pearly top, and shimmery gold sandals, flattered by just the right heel to show off my golden, toned legs.

Moning, Karen Marie (2006-10-31). Darkfever: Fever Series Book 1 (pp. 238-239). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

At no time did Moning insult my intelligence by pretending that this was “real-time” or that the peril was such that the narrator’s survival was in doubt, yet there was no lack of tension. It also didn’t suffer from “reporting syndrome,” that awful situation when choosing a first person narrator results in having other characters report their findings to the narrator because so much of the really important stuff took place outside her presence (hint: means it should’ve been a multiple viewpoint novel) .

My only complaint about the story is that there wasn’t much romance despite the obvious and ongoing sexual tension between Mac and Jericho, but there was enough promise of one to make me do the one thing every writer hopes a reader will do when she reaches the end: press that button to buy the next book.



My experience with Kindle Unlimited

This is my take on Kindle Unlimited, not as a writer, but as a reader. I have not tried KU as a writer, and as of right now, my inclination is to avoid it like the plague. I don’t know if my experience with it is typical, but it was very interesting, and not at all what I would have expected.

For those of you who have not tried it, it’s a “service” from Amazon that let’s you “borrow” up to ten eligible books at a time. The reason I use the term “borrow” is because the book is not yours as it would be if you bought it. Once you return it, your notes and highlights go away, so if those are important to you, get them out before you return the book.

This sounded like a bargain to me–$10 per month and I can read an unlimited number of books. Well, no, not really.

Many of the books I wanted to read weren’t available as Kindle Unlimited. So the first thing that changed, was the pattern of my interests, i.e. I was letting my choice be influenced by whether or not a book was available as a KU selection. I’m already spending ten bucks. Why should I spend another five, or seven, or fourteen?

Of the 40+ KU books I borrowed over the course of the two months I paid for (plus the free trial period) I read exactly ZERO books. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It wasn’t solely for lack of time.

I think two phenomena were in play. The first was that I wasn’t particularly excited about any of them to begin with. The second was that I’d start to read them and as soon as something shiny flew by, I was done. After all, I got nine more vying for my attention. Let’s see what’s on the other channel, shall we?

Even when I moved on to another book with the intention to return to the current one, I never seemed to get around to it. Even when it was simply due to, “I want something light and fluffy to relax with, so let’s switch books” I did not come back to it. I was peppered with recommendations for more KU books every time I logged on to Amazon or opened my e-mail. And then as soon as I wanted to “borrow” a new book, I had to pick one to send back, and usually I returned the one that I’d had longest. Most of the time I couldn’t even remember why I picked it, what the story was about, or why I should muster a modicum of interest in finishing it.

I’d much rather spend $10, give or take, on books that I didn’t pick just because they were KU. My favorite authors get my money anyway. I want their stuff to read and re-read. There’s no point in even going with KU. As to discovering new authors, I’ve had better luck with reading sample chapters or going with a recommendation from a friend or even from reading reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. It’s a more active process, and I think a better one.

Staying in touch

If you want to get updates on this blog or on my writings, please either follow this blog or follow me on my Facebook author page or on my personal page, whichever suits you best.

I will not be collecting sign-ups for a newsletter or e-mailing updates. It’s got to do with the nightmare that is Mailchimp and complying with spam “laws” which utterly fail when it comes to me getting spam, but completely put me off of even trying for a newsletter. The added benefit as I see it, is that I won’t be sitting around trying to figure out something to say even when I don’t have anything to say, and then pretending it’s “news you can use.” Instead, I aim to use said time and energy to write. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


More on serving the needs of drama

In fiction, flashbacks are scenes that take place in the past (i.e. not current/running story time) and some readers (supposedly) hate them so much they skip them.

Here’s a great “flashback” from L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, on “…the constant struggle between the efforts to entertain and the efforts to spread a message.”  Even if you’re the kind of reader that skips flashbacks, don’t skip this one. 🙂


Double standards – a “Strong Female Character” retelling of Star Wars

The first Star Wars movie (now called “A New Hope”) opens with a poor farm boy who wants to be a pilot. Luke embarks on what’s known as “the hero’s journey” complete with an initial refusal of “the call” to be a hero, and a mentor. Classic stuff. I’m a fan of the original version.

In terms of plot, we start out with the protagonist reacting to things. Then as the story moves along, the protagonist is no longer just reacting, but calling some of the shots, even if he’s not in charge. This is standard plot-structure stuff. For Luke, this midpoint change occurs aboard the Death Star where he appeals to Han Solo’s enlightened self-interest with the promise of a reward.

What does this have to do with double standards?

I’m so glad you asked. I’m going to tweak all the so-called feminists out there who demand that our stories be told through an exclusive “feminist” filter. Why? Because, frankly, I’m sick and tired of their attempts to redefine what makes a strong female character (SFC).

Let’s hop to the end of the prequels and have Ben deliver Leia to her family on Tatooine instead. She grows up on the farm. Let’s give her the same skill set.

Leia is a poor farm girl who wants to be a pilot. But she can’t. Because the oppressive patriarchy, via her uncle, won’t allow it. She’s practically a slave. She has to do chores and she’s not allowed to go out and have any fun. How will she grow to her full potential with such unfairness around her? She has no agency. She’s a weak character because she doesn’t cast off the chains of patriarchy. She’s weak because she doesn’t run away and chooses to stay in such an oppressive environment. So what if the family took her in and raised her? That wasn’t out of love. Obviously it was for the free labor she’s expected to provide.

The uncle bosses her around. She doesn’t get fair wages, or any wages at all. In fact, sometimes she seems like a prisoner as she’s told she can’t leave the homestead until her chores are done. It’s so sexist on Tattooine. The aunt is always cooking. She doesn’t work outside the home. At least she did’t bother to have any kids. Phew! Not barefoot and not pregnant. Go, Beru, go.

So now, Ben shows up. Leia refuses “the call.” We cheer. She said no to the patriarchy. We’re so proud. But wait, then she changes her mind. Boo! Didn’t she get the memo? You can’t change your mind and choose to go along with your oppressors. That makes you weak. Never mind that there’s no story, or at least not the original story. We must show our girls positive role-models at all times because messaging is more important than Story.

Ben and Leia go to Mos Eisley and run into Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han Solo is a cocky SOB. Yuck, he’s such a cowboy. No hipster glasses, no hipster skinny jeans, no man-bun, and double yuck — a gun! Eek. It might hop up and kill someone on its own. Why isn’t the Mos Eisley cantina posted with a “No guns” sign? Obviously anyone with criminal intentions will see the sign, see the error of their ways and give up their weapon. This would be such a better place without all those nasty blaster things.

And what’s this?  Ben is calling the shots, negotiating terms, overriding’s Leia’s valid concerns that she could buy her own ship for what Han Solo wants. Sexist pigs! Yes, she could fly it herself. Just ask the womprats. They’ll tell you how good she is. Sheesh. You think these guys have never seen a female pilot. What does a woman have to do to get recognition around here? Damn those glass ceilings.

Despite not calling the shots, Leia goes along  (no agency again) and they end up on the Death Star. Even here, Han Solo is being difficult. Now that Ben is not around to pull rank, Han’s back to thinking he’s in charge, disrespecting Leia’s agency yet again. But Leia gets an idea. Han is a greedy SOB. She appeals to his avarice. And it works. What? She manipulated him. You can’t do that. You can’t show women getting their way through manipulation! She should’ve kicked his ass, forced him to go. She’s the biggest, baddest, kickass female around. She fights her way out of things just like a man would. Why, she’d take those toothpick arms, and despite being half Han’s size, toss  him around like a rag doll. And Chewbacca. Pfft!! He’s only a wookie. And he’s obviously compensating for something by open-carrying a crossbow around all the time. She’ll show him who’s boss.

Seeing the light on romance

I have to admit, the last person I thought I’d see with an essay in Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series was L. Jagi Lamplighter.

I’d read several of the books in the Anita Blake series after a co-worker got me hooked. I did not stay a devotee of the series. I honestly can’t recall where the series lost me, and I really didn’t think much of it. Most series romances lose me a few books in. “It’s not you. It’s me.” Honest.

Lamplighter was someone whose reputation I was aware of and whose short stories I’ve enjoyed. I may or may not have read her back when I was reading just for pleasure (and the fact that I can’t recall if I had or hadn’t isn’t noteworthy either, trust me–ask me what I had for dinner last night; go ahead, I dare you!). I do miss the days when I never had to worry about reading-as-a-writer. Reading-as-a-reader is more fun. Honestly, if you love reading, and you’re considering writing, turn back now. “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.” (This is not a condition unique to writing. Beware of turning any avocation into a vocation.) But, I digress…

This enlightening essay is called “Dating the Monsters: Why It Takes a Vampire or a Wereguy to Win the Heart of the Modern It Girl” and here’s a woefully brief excerpt. To my happy surprise, said essay wasn’t about the failings of men. I almost did a happy dance.

Lamplighter offers tremendous insight into what sweeps Romance readers off their collective feet and how the “needs of drama” differ from the “needs of culture.”

I agree that these needs have been at war and I think they’ve claimed the metaphorical lives of many stories that would’ve otherwise been great. And not just in Romance (or in romance) but in all kinds of fiction.

In short–so that you’ll seek it out for yourself and benefit from Lamplighter’s extremely well-written reasoning–this essay is about what makes happy readers. So, if you’ve just finished the latest “must read” with the fastest, smartest, biggest, baddest, kickass female protagonist out there, and you’re wondering what that awful aftertaste is all about, then set aside some time for this lone gem of literary criticism and insight.



Turn yourself into a lab rat… For science!

I got the following email today. If you recall, a year ago I put up a scientific survey for an actual scientist friend of mine. (I’ve toured his lab, he is doing some crazy Matrix brain stuff in there). He is doing some fantastic work though, which has the potential to help millions of people.…

via FOR GREAT SCIENCE! — Monster Hunter Nation