Ruminations on Gravity

I meant to blog about the movie Gravity right after seeing it. Unfortunately, a couple weeks have gone by and details have slipped away. But perhaps that’s for the better. Now I can focus on what stuck with me the most.

First of all, this movie is visually beautiful. The moviemakers took their time during the initial minutes to show you just how magnificent the Earth looks from above and what the stars look like without the interference of a smog-filled, light-polluted atmosphere. At one point, my daughter asked, “Do the stars really look like that?”

Yes, I’m pretty sure they do.

But is that reason enough to encourage my kid to jettison off into space? The remaining hour and fifteen minutes of the movie suggest maybe not. Because when things go wrong in space, they can go wrong in a big way.

And things go very wrong indeed. No sooner did I grow attached to astronaut Mike Kowalski and mission specialist Ryan Stone than a catastrophic event set off a domino chain of disasters that carried me through to the end. Between the action, suspense, and wonder at the amazing zero-grav special effects, it was hard to find a moment when it was safe to blink. Don’t even think about taking a pee or popcorn break.

Like the environment in which Gravity is set, the plot is stark. Stripped down. There were few characters with minimal backstory and minimal dialogue. This resulted in an intense focus on the circumstances, a chance to immerse yourself in the characters’ plight with no distractions. Indeed, I found the backstory dump for Bullock’s character to be a nuisance, contrived to generate audience empathy when the situation alone might have sufficed. (Perhaps the writing/execution was at fault here. I dunno. I don’t make movies.)

This was a short movie, clocking in around 90 minutes. But I’d much, MUCH rather have a short movie where every moment counts than have it stuffed with filler and fluff, dragging it out until I really do need that potty break.


**Note: Those of you who read my last review may be surprised that I saw Gravity in 3D in an IMAX. I am the ever-hopeful sort. I’m pleased to tell you that Gravity is spectacular on the super-big screen and 3D actually enhances the experience.

**Another note: WordPress is now including ads to help cover their costs. I don’t blame them. I appreciate the free blogsite. However, I do not endorse products appearing in ads on this page. I don’t necessarily even know what the products are. You are on your own.

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Battling Perfectionism: The Aftermath

Is Perfectionism the Black Knight? Or am I? Who is King Arthur?

On Friday, Jonathan D. Allen, Aniko Carmean, Hannah Loughin, and I embarked on a four-day writing marathon. We each set a goal for the weekend, which I discussed in my post Battling Perfectionism with #laboringaway. I can summarize the weekend with two statements:

1)   Not a single one of us accomplished our respective word count goal.

2)   The event was a resounding success.

Word count is a lousy way to measure progress. It tells you nothing about quality. It tells you less than you think about progress toward “The End.” Some people open their novels with a “walk to the plot” and will end up chopping the first ten pages of their rough draft. Others rush through the first draft, leaving notes and reminders in their wake, planning to fill in research, backstory, and descriptions during a more leisurely revision. Such people may cover the first third of their story arch in the first ten pages.

Case in point–Jonathan actually had two goals: 50,000 words and finish rough draft of new novel. Let me tell you something about Jonathan–his brain does not work like other people’s. I suspect his writing speed is limited only by his typing skills. He churned out roughly 45,000 words in four days. That’s nearly 200 pages, folks. Fifty pages a day. I don’t…I just…there are no words. Though this fell short of his 50,000-word goal (slacker), he did finish the draft of his novel, Imogene.

jonathan word cloud

I suggested that Jonathan type a bunch of random words at the end so he could meet both goals.

Aniko achieved something over 12,000 words. That’s over 48 pages. Though she fell a little short of her 15,000-word goal, she gave her next novel a great jumpstart. That was her real goal.

Hannah set a completely unrealistic goal (for everyone but Jonathan) of 50,000 words. What a great learning experience this was. I learned that Hannah’s brain should be donated to science (when she’s done using it) right alongside Jonathan’s. By the time I went to bed last night, she had written over 25,000 words (100 pages) and was still going.  (Hannah is on Hawaii time, so she works from mid-afternoon until the hour when vampires are seeking out their coffins.)

And then there’s me. The one with the perfectionism problem. I set my word count goal ridiculously high (for me) at 25,000 words, or 100 pages. The idea was to force myself to write without looking back. The outcome was mixed, but I learned a lot. Here is a day-by-day accounting.

  • Day 1: I learned that planning, preparation, and excitement does not automatically unlock the floodgates. (2,452 words, 10 pages)
  • Day 2: I confirmed that family comes first. (1,377 words, 5.5 pages, and a hospital visit)
  • Day 3: I learned that word count might be a lousy measure, but it is also a great motivator. Jonathan mentioned something about timed writing sessions in a tweet and I decided to try it. At first I could only manage 250 words in a twenty-minute session, but that grew to as much as 390 words. It turns out that my self-competitive urges are capable of overriding my perfectionism. I will remember this for the future. (3800 words, 15 pages)

[On Day 3, I also reconnected with my subconscious and interesting things began to happen. For me, this is perhaps the real benefit of #laboringaway.]

  • Day 4: I learned that I really need to build up some stamina. But during a last spurt of energy, my subconscious went to work and I managed to write a completely unexpected scene that I’m pretty happy with. (3,157 words, 12.5 pages)

Did I defeat my perfectionism? Not completely. You can tell because my total word count (10,521, 42 pages) does not equal the sum of the daily word count.

I tweaked. Bad girl.

But I did discover some tools that will help me in the future. Which is good, because it turns out that fighting perfectionism is not just a one-shot battle. It is a war.

*Special thanks go to our Twitter supporters, especially Char Newcomb, who joined #laboringaway for a couple of days, achieving personal best word counts. Way to go Char!

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Battling Perfectionism with #laboringaway


Photo by Kristin Nador

There’s a Harry Potter marathon on the Space channel this weekend. I’m not watching it. Instead, I’m doing my own marathon. I will be writing from the moment I get up on Friday until as late as I can manage on Monday night. That’s right, four solid days of writing.

This marathon is not just about butt-in-the-chair time. This is about changing my ways. Breaking bad habits. Writing more freely…and quickly.

My normal approach to a writing session involves spending the first few minutes reviewing my last few paragraphs (or last few pages). But I don’t just read over them. I tweak. I move sentences around. I read out loud to make sure the words of this rough draft sound good to my ears. And then, after this highly effective running start (note the sarcasm), lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour, I begin writing new material.

My writing sessions are generally less than two hours long. Often less than that. You can imagine forward progress happens in small increments. Sometimes immeasurably small.

This is not good.

Many people have said to me, “Well, just write faster,” or “Don’t worry about being perfect in the rough draft; just write.”

Yeah, no. This is not my personality. Who would have thought perfectionism would be a character flaw?

But now I’m about to start a new novel. I’d like this one to take something less than a decade to write. Perfectionism stands in my way. But how can I break the habit?

A couple years ago, I discovered the 3-Day Novel Contest. It’s exactly as it sounds–contestants have three days to write a novel. At first I was disdainful. What kind of piece of crap novel can you write in three days?

Hey yeaaahh, what kind of crap would that be? Well, it might be crap that is done. And once done, it can be revised.

It’s worth a try.  And what better time to try it then when  starting a new novel?  I’m not doing the official contest, but I’ve set a goal of 25,000 words in four days. One hundred gloriously imperfect pages. As a secondary goal, I’m hoping to finish Part I of the novel.

And because insanity loves company, I’ve invited others to join me. Jonathan Allen is in for the duration with a goal of 50,000 words (!!!). I think he plans to replace his blood with green tea. Aniko Carmean is joining us, aiming for 15,000 words–she is losing part of the weekend to other obligations. And Daughter the First is joining us to jump-start her first full novel.

If you’re curious about our progress, you can follow us at #laboringaway on twitter. You can even join us, if you like.

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Doctor Who: not just a pretty face

Tardis image

I’m a Doctor Who fan.

I realize it’s cool to like Doctor Who, these days. Fans pop up in the most unexpected places, from High School jocks to University librarians. My daughter uses the show as a sort of litmus test. If she tells me, “Hey, Mikey likes Doctor Who!” then I know Mikey has achieved at least second level respect in her eyes. Friendship is a distinct possibility.

But it wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid, there were only four television channels to choose from. Despite the slim selection, I never heard another kid  mention the words “Doctor Who.” I discovered the show only by accident on a Saturday of extreme boredom, when no Godzilla-esque movies were airing and the Wide World of Sports was following a marathon. A few minutes of watching athletes splash cups of water into their own faces motivated me to get off the couch (no remotes) and change the channel. In desperation, I tried PBS. And there was The Doctor.

I don’t remember what episode it was. I do remember that I was instantly hooked by the odd British guy with the curly hair and excessive scarf.

Yes, that was a very long time ago. No, I’m not going to tell you how long. Look it up, if you really want to know. I believe there is only one incarnation with a scarf.

So why am I telling you this bit of personal history?  To establish my credentials as a geek—er, a longtime fan of The Doctor. Because I have a beef with the younger generation—those who joined the party with David Tennant or even as recently as Matt Smith.


Oh, I’ve heard the complaints about the upcoming new-new-new-new doctor. Comments like these from a Doctor Who Facebook page I follow: “I hate that face Grrrrrrrr at least make him cute…..” and “Please don’t let him be wearing a buttoned up white collared shirt without a tie, the Doctor is eccentric I grant you, but this is bad dress sense.

Look, newbs, the Doctor is required to be clever, brilliant, dark, silly, quick-witted, handy, a good guy, dangerous, hard, compassionate, and any number of other characteristics. But good looks? Well, that’s just an accessory. If you don’t get that by now, then you don’t really get Doctor Who at all.

And fashion sense? Really? When has that ever been a requirement?! Check this out:

Personally, I think Peter Capaldi is a brilliant choice. I mean look at him. LOOK AT HIM.

And now, I leave you with this.


[Tardis photo credit: aussiegall / Foter / CC BY]

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Ruminations on Pacific Rim

I wasn’t planning to see Pacific Rim in the theaters. It looked all monsters and flying limbs. Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots on growth hormones. No thanks; I love special effects, but I also love some semblance of a plot.

But I wanted to see a movie last night. In the theater, with real popcorn (and artificial butter). Pacific Rim was the only movie I could work up interest for. Because, you know, monsters.

I bought my ticket in IMAX 3D. (Hey, if you’re going to do this thing, do it right.)

The movie was indeed largely monsters and flying limbs. I’ll sum the plot up quickly for those of you who missed the commercials: Alien invasion in the form of giant monsters (“kaiju”). To combat this invasion, humankind builds giant man-shaped machines (Jaegers) with UFC fighters highly trained human pilots for brains.

Think Transformers meets Starship Troopers, only with a higher budget and more frantic pace. Here, take a look.

Happily, there was a bit more to the plot than that, though the holes were sometimes big enough to be seen from space. And there were actual actors. Pretty good ones. Somehow the writers (and actors and director) managed to create eight identifiable characters, wedging their backstories between lengthy battles among behemoths. Each had his or her own credible Avengers-like moment to be the hero, without the benefit of a single origin-story movie to set the whole thing up. I’m still dissecting how they managed to pull that off.

To tell the truth, the secondary characters saved this movie for me, outshining the Hemsworthy-esque Jaeger pilots in all departments but one. (I leave you to guess which department that “one” would be.) My favorite characters were the two misfit scientists played by Charlie Day (who’s like Rick Moranis incarnate) and Burn Gorman, best known (by me) for his role in Torchwood. These two provided comic relief and a humanizing factor while the buff boys and girls were off bashing monsters. Then Ron Perlman showed up as a steam-punky, over-the-top badass, and I wanted the movie to take a left turn into his life, which was far more inventive than what was happening elsewhere in this movie universe.

Of course, the adorable tinytot Mana Ashida stole the show from everyone, even though her only dialogue was “AAAAAaaaaaaaa!”

Time to sum up this rather disjointed review. (Hey, the title says “Ruminations,” after all.) If you like big special effects, monsters, cartoon violence, and larger than life characters (and cute boys), then you will like this movie. If you would love The Avengers even if Iron Man weren’t in it, then you will like this movie. Stop reading this post immediately and go see it.

If you like a little more brains behind the brawn, or if you like to ponder what makes a movie good or bad, then read on. Feel free to yea or nay me in the comments–just be polite.

The Bad

  • The action sequences were hard to track. The Kaiju versus Mech fight scenes mostly took place in the dark, with close-up action sequences. I had trouble telling where one entity began and another ended. I found myself waiting for the fight scenes to end so we could get back to the goofy scientists.   [Note: I wish I had seen this movie in a normal theater. The 3D didn’t seem to add anything, the volume was excruciating, and the giant screen made the close-up fight scenes even harder to follow.]
  • The dialogue was riddled with as-you-know moments, though there wasn’t much choice, given the amount of screen time devoted to plot development. The traditionally heroic roles were burdened with forced dialogue, flirting at the edges of cliché. However, there were some clever and entertaining moments among the secondary roles.
  • There was a plot. Yes, there was. But it was a bit too familiar. I’m aware of the claim that there are no new plots, but there shouldn’t be neon signs flashing “recycled material” at every corner.

The Good

  • The monsters were pretty cool, I thought. They looked amazingly real as they marched down city streets like Godzilla’s worst nightmare. I don’t understand why their insides glowed–what possible biological purpose could that serve? But the glowiness did make them visually spectacular. Like massive geodes: ugly on the outside, but pretty and shiny inside once you cut them open.
  • The acting was as good as you can possibly expect, given that something like 120 of the 131 film minutes were taken up by fight scenes between Transformers Jaegers and 300 foot high Kaiju.
  • Some of the world building was outstanding. I’m thinking of Ron Perleman’s bone powder empire, for example. I would have enjoyed this movie as a trilogy or an extended mini-series, giving time to develop this universe and let these characters evolve beyond archetype and stereotype.


I don’t hate myself for dropping $25 on this movie (counting popcorn). In fact, I kind of want to see it again, if only to pick up the dialogue that I missed amid the explosions. (Did he really say that the tunnel between universes was atomic in nature??)

I’ll give the movie a 7 out of 10 for excitement and entertainment value.

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The page is blank

the blank pageIt’s been a long time. I have no excuses, except that my brain seems to be as blank as this page, these days. I sit down with an idea and stare at the screen, but everything that seemed so clever in my head sounds trite by the time it reaches my fingers. Even downright stupid. The words fall stillborn on the keyboard. The page remains blank.

Very sad.

But wait, this page is not so blank any more. In fact, the more I write, the less blank it is. I sense a pattern.

Maybe I’ll try again in a day or two.

Posted in Life, Writing | Tagged | 5 Comments

I’m doing it wrong

I just looked at the top 20 best-sellers at Amazon. Here is what I found.

Fifteen of the 20 are nonfiction.

Six are nutrition/diet books. Three of those are in the top 10.

The first fiction book comes in at #9. It’s 50 Shades of Gray.

My conclusion: If I want a guaranteed best seller, I should write a diet book with lots of sex in it.


To my loyal followers, I am not dead. I simply dropped this ball for a while. I will be back with regularity in mid to late April.

Posted in Books, humor | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A blog hangs in the balance

cemetaryHello? Hello? Anybody still out here?

If so, you may have noticed that my blog has been experiencing a deathlike silence since late October. Indeed, there is a bluish tinge to its lips, and its eyes stare glassily at the sky.

But wait! Is that a slight rise to its chest? If I hold a mirror to its mouth, will steam cloud its surface?

Perhaps, but its survival will require intubation. A slow drip of creativity. An iron-willed lung to breathe the life back into it.

The doctors say that, with time, therapy, and support from loved ones, a full recovery is possible.

Posted in Writing | Tagged | 8 Comments

In celebration of The Hobbit

Tomorrow is the official release date of The Hobbit (part I). Until now, I’ve been feigning mild interest in the movie, with a hint of cynicism. “How nice,” I said, when I heard the movie was being made. “I hope it doesn’t suck.”

Yes, I’ve been playing it cool…being all, “I’ll see it when the crowds die down” and  “Let’s wait and see what the reviews say, because you know how it is with sequels.”

But behind this cynical facade, deep in the childlike heart I keep hidden from the world*,  hope and excitement have been growing. First I heard they’re getting Howard Shore to do the music. Then the announcement was made that Martin Freeman was to play Bilbo, and I thought, hey, this thing could really be good. Who better to play Bilbo Baggins than the guy who portrayed the hapless Arthur Dent so convincingly?

But I didn’t say that out loud. At least, not in public.

My burgeoning hope faltered with the announcement that The Hobbit would be three movies instead of one. “Oh, they’re just milking it for all the dollars they can get.”

You thought it, too. Admit it.

Maybe it’s true. But as long as they do a good job, do their motivations really matter? If all three movies are great, then don’t they deserve to make a dollar or two? Aren’t you excited at the prospect of having parts II and III to look forward to, just as we all looked forward to parts II and III of The Lord of the Rings?

So now that the movie is about to be released, now that I’ve seen the previews, read the interviews, and re-watched episodes of Sherlock, I am willing to admit it: I can’t wait to see this movie. In fact, if I had prosthetic hairy feet and the right wardrobe, I would dress up like a hobbit and go to tonight’s late-night showing.


*My own, not someone else’s that I keep in a jar on my desk.

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…and the story ends (Coffin Hop 2012)

Today I unveil the shared story begun on the first day of Coffin Hop 2012. I have to hand it to you people. You rock.

The fun part of this exercise is seeing the different writing styles. I see hints of Victorian gothic tone and Lovecraftian imagery, with a flare of heavy metal sentiment to spice it up. Some contributors chose to explore the atmosphere of the story, others provided background. Some steadfastly tried to forward the plot, while others knocked the plot onto another set of tracks.

In short, the story’s a mess.

And now, it’s up to me to end it. In five sentences or less.* Egads and little fishes!

But first, the winners! The shared story contest winner is Eric Tolles. He wins a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, and an e-book of Valknut: The Binding, by me. The grand prize winner is Nina D’Arcangela. She wins the TESSpecFic pack of five e-books, pictured below, plus e-books of my short stories Rose in Winter and Hell Hole. Your comments were appreciated.

And now, the story. (My contributions are boldfaced.)

The Thing in the Closet. And…that Other Thing Out the Window 

David Garley watched the tree shadows dance on wall above his bed and prayed for the darkness to end. He was supposed to be asleep. Tomorrow was Halloween and a school day, so his mom had sent him to bed before nine o’clock to “stock up on sleep” for the big night ahead.

Sleep. Ha. As if he’d ever be able to get to sleep early. He might not sleep at all. He’d lain awake past midnight every night for the last two weeks. But this had nothing to do with the excitement of Halloween.

It had more to do with the dread.

Dread of the sound in the closet; the one that slapped and bumped. The one that sounded like something had crawled up out of the ocean and hidden in the darkness.

At twelve-years-old, David believed in fact, not make-believe. He discovered early that storks didn’t carry babies and that his dad swiped teeth for change. But all that common sense couldn’t deny the truth…when he stabbed the pumpkin from Bradbury’s farm, it screamed. 

That resulting scream was David’s first glimpse into the world beyond the one he had taken for granted. Now he could see how the lines blurred and the veil lifted. Staring into the abyss of his newfound knowledge, he was chilled to the marrow in his young bones. 

This clarity of vision convinced him the noises in the closet were malignant. They had grown more persistent as Halloween approached, until tonight. The persistent sounds were accompanied by a fetid stench of something rotten and unclean. In his mind, he was brave enough to investigate, but when he swung his thin legs to the floor, his muscles seemed frozen. 

He kept a flashlight on the nightstand next to his alarm clock. A silver chain with attached crucifix generally hung from his lamp, but that night, he’d worn it to bed. His aluminum bat, a present from his father for the new baseball season, was propped between the bed and nightstand. Gripping it with one hand gave him the strength to stand. Then he palmed the flashlight.

The moon slipped out from behind the clouds that had hidden half of its face like Erik’s mask and twisted the limbs of the tree outside his window into fingers playing shadow puppets on the far wall of his room. He watched as a rabbit mutated into something misshapen; with horns and far more appendages than anything born of this world. Its teeth were legion. Some other landscape had spit that creature from its belly, and David’s bones chilled at the thought of the mouth that could smile upon such a monstrosity or the breast that could nurture it.

David snapped the flashlight on, aiming its beam like a sword at the beast. The light flickered.

The beast vanished in the yellow, fading light, but David knew that it would be back the moment he shone his light on any other part of the room. The sounds in the closet had morphed into low growl. Ten thousand years of fight-versus-flight glued David to his spot on the floor, his eyes and ears filling his body with terror.

The growl seemed to be getting closer. Was it in truth, or was it just in his head? His heart was now racing, he began to fear it was about to explode.


He jumped. The flashlight slipped from his hand. Clattering on the floor. It’s light skittering wildly over the wall as it rolled.

“David, what are you still doing up?” His mother flicked on the light switch. He blinked against the burn. She stood in the doorway, hand on her hip. He pointed at the closet and the fetid odor that still crept out from its depth. 

David had always been a strange child, special. It had been a tough pregnancy, and a deadly birth; his biological mother, Sarah’s twin sister, died. Sarah and her husband took David in, and cared for him as their own, despite the way darkness and unnatural coincidence seemed to love David as much as they did.

His mother’s arrival changed the parameters. Whether he had been born of her body or not, she’d always been there for him, his security in an often confusing world, in all ways his mother. As if his weak flashlight beam had suddenly flared to illuminate the situation, he realized that this time he must be her protection against a horror she did not understand. 

The sounds in the closet changed from sounding like a feral animal to seeming more like a guttural human growl. Then the growl took the form of one low, menacing word repeated over and over: “Sarah.” David had never heard the voice before, but his mother’s eyes widened in more than just terror at hearing someone speaking from behind the closet door.

Sarah backed from the closet, her lips forming the same word over and over, soundless as though from lack of air.


And David knew what that thing in the closet had to be. From childhood, he’d heard stories of Weird Uncle Willie, who had died in the electric chair when his mother was a child. Cousins whispered rumors in his ear that Willie was the true cause of David’s real mother’s death, that she died of fright when Weird Uncle Willie caught her in her hospital room, alone except for baby David in her arms. 

And now Willie was back for Sarah.

The closet door creaked open. And a man-shaped thing immerged, its flesh rotting and falling away from the bone. It reached for Sarah. She screamed and stumbled over a chair. As Willie bent over her, David ripped the crucifix from his neck and thrust it into the monster’s face. But Willie swept it away and knocked David against the wall. Stunned, David slid to the floor. The only mother he’d ever known would die, and he couldn’t stop it. 

As Willie’s bone-tipped fingers reached for Sarah’s throat, a crash came at the window in a spray of glass. The misshapen beast swept into the room on wings of black ice. It seized the corpse of Weird Uncle Willie, winding him in the grip of its countless appendages. Then, in a wind tainted by decay and death, it hurtled through the window and was gone.

David looked at the closet, now standing open and empty, and knew it would never hold anything but clothes again.

*Okay, way more than five sentences. But I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. Hopefully I got most of them.

Posted in Blog Hops, Coffin Hop 2012, Writing | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments