So Jurassic World wasn’t really on my radar. I saw the preview, sure, but I had pretty much no expectations of it. (Basically the same way I feel about the new Star Wars movie. Maybe it will be amazing. Maybe it will be adequate. Maybe it will suck. I have no idea and have been spending 0% of my time wondering which it will be. Which makes me feel a little like a geek curmudgeon, but oh well. I’ve been burnt before.)
However, I went to see Jurassic World (which I am managing to call Jurassic Park about 85% of the time and cannot seem to stop) yesterday. And I was actually really surprised by how much I liked it. Like, really surprised, because I liked it a whole freaking lot.
Things I liked:
The park. Sure, it was like Disney World: Dinosaurs and was intended to be—over produced, too slick, too much controlled “wonder.” But it was so cool to see it actually functioning. I would totally go. I keep telling myself that I would be smarter, because we all know what happens at genetically engineered dinosaur parks, but I would. I want to ride in a clear hamster ball across a field of dinosaurs. And I definitely want to pet and feed baby ones in a petting zoo.
The nostalgia. There was obviously a lot of love for the original among the creators of this one, and that made me happy. I loved every little in joke and Easter egg from the first one, and think that they did a good job of picking obvious and less obvious ones.
The tension. They did a really good job keeping me white knuckled through the scary parts, but not so badly that I (as a non horror movie going person) was too freaked.
The CGI. I was worried that with modern technology they would go super crazy with the CGI and it would look crappy, as I often find myself thinking in heavy CGI movies. But it looked really good to me. The only time I was like, ok, that looks a little fake was in the aviary escape/attack scenes, where things got oddly blurry occasionally.
The T-Rex. I was so glad to see him again.
Things I didn’t like:
The treatment of ladies. My biggest frustration with the movie was the way that ladies in it were treated. There were only four ladies of any note, as far as I remember, and one (the control room girl) is a stretch. I didn’t like that 80% of Claire’s character development, if you can call it that, was to go from Uptight Women to Less Uptight Woman. It’s a cliché and one that really annoys me. Additionally didn’t like (as a non-kid-having-and-not-going-to person myself) that she gets nagged at for not having kids—more cliché and the annoying idea that every woman has to have kids/will surely want to if she really just thinks about it.
[SPOILER AHEAD] I also thought that the death of Claire’s assistant, who is assigned to watch over Claire’s nephews and doesn’t do a good job, was needlessly gruesome and creepy. Pretty much none of the other dinosaur deaths were shown in that much detail—not even the villain gets taken down in such a gleefully visual manner. That they should give the creepiest death to one of the four ladies in the film—one who doesn’t do anything wrong besides lose track of some teenagers who actively run away from her–troubles me. [SPOILER FINISHED]
That none of the dinosaurs reflect newly discovered science about dinosaur appearance. So we know now that at least some dinosaurs had feathers. Is that a little weird for my child of the ’80s brain? Yes. But we know it. So I really wish that the film had reflected that at least a little. There’s a throw-away line from Dr. Wu about how “the dinosaurs don’t look right” because the park’s new owner wanted them to look like visitors expect. I get that we as viewers are equated to the park visitors—the filmmakers thought that people would complain about the dinosaurs being wrong if they were more accurate. But that’s a cop out. They could have at least had some more accurate dinosaurs, even if they weren’t going to stick feathers on the T-Rex. I realize that this is a summer blockbuster and not a museum video, but I do believe that we can educate and entertain at the same time.
Still, even with these reservations, I had a blast watching it. And it makes me want to watch the original again, so no downside there.
Also, from now on I will be calling the new dinosaur Unobtanium Rex. Just FYI.
Thoughts on Fan Fiction and Liking What You Like
The other day I was invited to talk to a class at a local university. It was all female, composed mainly of English and Language majors, with a good percentage of writers among them. We talked about publishing and writing, about finding internships in writing-related fields, about books and reading. About halfway through the class, a girl who had asked several writing-specific questions raised her hand.
“I have to ask an embarrassing question now,” she said. “I may regret it for the rest of my life, but I have to ask.” She had obviously been working herself up to ask this question and was still really nervous about it. She took a deep breath.
“How do you feel about fan fiction?”
I knew what she was half-expecting me to say something along the lines of: “Fan fiction’s not real writing.” “Fan fiction is just plagiarism.” “Fan fiction is a waste of time.” She was braced for it, eyeing me with this trepidatious look that said she’d either had people say these kinds of things to her or had read them online a lot.
I could literally see her sigh with relief when I said, “I think fan fiction is great. It’s a really fun way for people to interact with stories and characters that they love, and that’s why we read, right? Because we love stories and characters and want to hang out in those worlds.” A friend sitting next to her put a hand on her shoulder and whispered something along the lines of “See? I told you!” I went on to say that I would really feel like I had “made it” as an author if I saw some fanfic of my books online, and soapboxed a little about how much of fan fiction is written and read by women and how society tends to look down on things primarily enjoyed by ladies. I could see her sitting up straighter as I talked, as someone in a position of authority validated something she loved. (Not saying that I actually have more authority to speak about this than anyone else, just that I think it was viewed that way since I was speaking to the class as an author as well as a reader.)
We moved on to other topics from there, but I’ve been thinking about that young woman and her question ever since. And so I’m going to soapbox a little more here. Not with anything revolutionary, not with anything that others haven’t said before and often better, but with something that I think we just need to be reminded of as readers and writers every now and then. And that’s this:
Don’t be ashamed of what you love.
It’s so commonplace for us these days. We talk about reading guilty pleasure books, which automatically says that we should feel guilty about what we’re reading. We downgrade the things that we write, saying it’s “only” fan fiction. We often do these things even before anyone has criticized us for them, automatically, because we’re so used to seeing them denigrated by our overall culture. We’re on the defensive about what we like, ready to say that something is “just a beach read” or that we’re only reading a YA book “because my kids are.”
I’ve done it myself. I still do it myself, though I’ve made a concerted effort over the last five years or so to stop doing it. It’s hard sometimes, because we’ve been trained to say that some books or movies are bad and some are good—or maybe just good for us. And it’s especially hard when we have the feeling that the person we’re talking to is going to mock us—internally or externally—for what we like.
But we should stop doing this. Stop censoring ourselves for what we like to read and write and stop putting other people down for what they read and write. Because we read for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we read to expand our horizons, to push ourselves by delving into language that challenges us or characters who present us with situations we never considered. Sometimes we read strictly to be entertained, to escape the boring plane ride or to distract ourselves while someone we love is in surgery. Sometimes we read to hang out with characters we already know and love, to immerse ourselves in the company and comfort of literary best friends. Sometimes we write to create entirely new worlds and people, or to try to affect our readers in ways that they will carry with them forever. Sometimes we write for ourselves, because it’s fun or silly or we just freaking feel like it. And, a lot of the times, we read and write in more than one of these ways at once. Or we move back and forth between them as we feel like.
I’m not saying there aren’t poorly written books or problematic books. But I am saying that, as a society, we should spend less time wagging our fingers at people for reading or writing things that we think fall into these categories—because a lot of the time it’s not the books. It’s us. It’s our preconceived notions of what makes a good book or an important book or a worthy book. It’s the voice that says all romance novels are tripe, that YA books can’t possibly as complex as books written for adults, that comic books aren’t real reading.
But there are great romance novels, and there are YA books that are more complex than some adult books, and there are comic books that can be as affecting as any novel. And even if there were not, people should still be allowed to enjoy them because they enjoy them. It’s as simple as that.
The stories that we love are things we should embrace rather than hide, affirm rather than mock. We don’t have to read or write for just one reason, or in just one way.
Book Rec: Kill Me Softly
A few years ago, I tried to get into the TV show Once Upon a Time. Some friends of mine really liked it, and it sounded right up my alley. Fairy tales? Check. Fractured fairy tales? Check. Awesome sparkly costumes? Check. Evil queens? Check. Heroines with unknown heritages? Check. So I sat down and watched a few episodes . . . and it just didn’t work for me.
A lot of it was the dialogue, which felt stilted and cliched to me. Some of it was that I have a low tolerance for The Cute Kid in most of that role’s standard forms (though Orphan Black actually does a great job in having a Cute Kid that I find authentically cute and sympathetic). Part of it was that I felt like the intersection of fairy tales and real life wasn’t as well done as it might have been—I kept getting caught up on “wait, couldn’t they just do this?” and “why doesn’t x happen on a regular basis?” kinds of questions. Whatever it was, OUAT turned out to be a show that I wanted to like much more than I actually did, so I eventually abandoned it. But I felt frustrated, because I really liked the concept. I just kept hoping that someone would do it better.
And, happily for me, someone has. I recently finished Sarah Cross’s Kill Me Softly and the associated short story, “Twin Roses,” and they totally hit the spot that I was hoping OUAT would hit. Here’s the scoop:
True love’s kiss just may prove deadly . . .
Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents’ tragic deaths to her guardians’ half-truths about why she can’t return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.
In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who’s a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.
But fairy tales aren’t pretty things, and they don’t always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy-tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy-tale curses of their own . . . brothers who share a dark secret. And she’ll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.
I really, really enjoyed Kill Me Softly. Beau Rivage is populated (though not exclusively) by people cursed or blessed to play out roles in fairy tales: sleeping princesses, charming princes, beasts, evil stepmothers. Seeing the different permutations of various story roles fascinated me, from the singer who has to deal with coughing up jewels on a regular basis to the boy currently in the acting-like-an-ass stage before being transformed into a beast. And Sarah Cross does a great job of melding the curses/blessings into modern life—they never felt forced or awkward.
I also think she did a great job in terms of having a main character with specific fairy tale traits. Mira’s curse (which I won’t reveal for spoilers) leads her to have a lot of curiosity, sometimes pressing forward when she oughtn’t. She does some headstrong things, but she never crosses that line that makes me pull away in a “WTF are you doing, Main Character?” pique. She was believable as a girl trying to make her own path, yet also constrained by the terms of a fairy tale curse. The same goes for Blue, the main male character of the story. As an avid reader of fairy tales, I figured his curse out pretty much immediately, then enjoyed watching him pit himself against it. (Especially since it gives an actual reason for the initial-dislike-gives-way-to-affection trope!)
After finishing the book, I immediately downloaded “Twin Roses,” even though I had other books waiting in my queue. It follows two sisters cursed with the Snow White and Rose Red roles, is as fun and tasty as the cupcakes the girls sell at their bakery, and—extra bonus—deals with a question from the story that always bugged me as a kid. The related novel, Tear Me Apart, which follows one of the minor characters from Kill Me Softly, is out now, and I can’t wait to read it.
So: a big recommendation for lovers of fairy tales and OUAT, for readers who like a bad boy in their YA, and those who like a girl who figures her own way out of bad situations.
Writing Workshop: Creating Character Names
Names are something that I’m fascinated by in literature. What makes a good name? How did famous writers come up with the names in their books? How can I make the names in my own books better? I enjoy talking about them and reading about them; I have whole lists of cool names in my idea notebook waiting for stories to match them with.
So I’m super excited to be teaching a writing workshop all about how to make up great character names! Here’s the info:
A character’s name is often the reader’s first introduction to that person—so getting character names right is important! Join Nimrod International Journal for a mini-writing workshop entitled “The Power of Names: Tips and Strategies for Creating Character Names in Fantasy and Science Fiction” on Saturday, March 14th at The University of Tulsa.
Some of the topics covered will include
- Real world names vs invented names
- Resources for finding diverse names from around the globe
- Ways to keep names in your work era-appropriate—from the German Middle Ages to Victorian England to the American 1920s
- How we know Voldemort is the villain—why names sound “good,” “evil,” and more
- Ways to get the “feel” of your names right—and keep them consistent
- Exercises to get name ideas flowing
“The Power of Names” will be held March 14th from 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in the Meinig Recital Hall of The University of Tulsa’s Lorton Performance Center at 550 S. Gary Place in Tulsa. The workshop will be taught by Eilis O’Neal, Nimrod’s Editor-in-Chief and author of the young adult fantasy novel The False Princess. The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. To register, call or email Nimrod at (918) 631-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address, phone number, and email.
“The Power of Names: Tips and Strategies for Creating Character Names in Fantasy and Science Fiction” is one of the events associated with The Big Read grant awarded to Northeastern State University by National Endowment for the Arts. The Big Read is a program designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. It provides competitive grants to support innovative reading programs in selected communities, all centered around a specific title, in this case Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea. Other events include a keynote address with fantasy author Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden series, film screenings, book club discussions, and more. For more information about the full roster of events, visit The Big Read site.
If you have questions about “The Power of Names,” contact Nimrod at (918) 631-3080 or email@example.com.
I’m doubly excited because of the connection to A Wizard of Earthsea. Names are so important in that book, so it was neat to be asked to make up a workshop that connected to it.
If you’re in or near the Tulsa area, I hope that you’ll join me at the workshop!
A Sad Announcement
I got some sad news yesterday. My publisher, EgmontUSA, will be closing at the end of the month.
Unfortunately, this means that my new novel, Charmed Deception, will not be coming out this fall. For now, The False Princess will continue to be distributed, though I’m not yet sure about the associated e-short, “A Royal Birthday.”
I’m really sad about this. I was so, so excited to think about sharing Charmed Deception with readers in a few months. I worked really hard on this novel and think it’s something that readers who love The False Princess will embrace.
And I’m doubly sad to be losing the family that I had at EgmontUSA. The people there championed me and my books—especially my editor, Regina Griffin. Seriously, she worked so hard for Charmed Deception—from getting it accepted to helping it become a better novel through tough revising suggestions—and the idea of not having her in my corner is a huge blow.
HOWEVER. I’m keeping my head up and trying to keep from Turbo-brooding. My agent and I are going to start looking for a new home for Charmed Deception right away—we already have some good ideas on this front. And I’m going to keep working on the unrelated novel I’ve been writing.
I want to send out a huge thanks to everyone who has been supportive of The False Princess and of me as an author. I feel certain that this isn’t an end, but just a pause. I’m not someone who accepts change easily, but I’m going to embrace the possibilities that this change can bring.
For now, that involves putting some tea on, opening up a still-officially-untitled book file, and doing the thing I do best: writing.