Friday, July 29, 2016

Ghostbusters Review (Spoiler Free)

Last week, I blogged about reboots even though I hadn't seen the biggest reboot of the summer: Ghostbusters. Now I have. And I absolutely loved it. It's been a long time since I walked away from a movie so incredibly thrilled and excited about it.

As a fan of the original movie as well, I can say that the reboot was nothing like I was expecting--in the best possible way. From the previews, I was kind of expecting the same storyline with different characters, but that isn't the case at all. While there are some fantastic nods to the original movie, this one is different enough that it didn't feel like I was just re-watching the same plot. I mean, there are ghosts and the Ghostbusters squad has to get together, but the villain is different, the characters' personalities are different, and it's (obviously) been updated for a more modern feel.

Some of my personal highlights:

  • Holtzmann. Just everything about Holtzmann. She's kind of my new personal hero. I want to be Holtzmann when I grow up. 
  • All the cameos and nods to the original. I'm pretty sure I need to re-watch it to make sure I caught all of them. 
  • Clueless Chris Hemsworth. 
  • How different and unique each of the ladies were--in personality and appearance--and how it was never a big deal (you know, how most female characters in movies are at some point subjected to a makeover or a comment about their appearance or something? That never happened. It was great). 
  • The fact that these are actually the kind of characters I think of when we talk about strong female characters--they each had the agency to make their own decisions and take action, and all of them had their own unique strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Sigourney Weaver. -Fangirl squeal-
  • The humor was pretty much right in line with the original: sometimes dry and witty and sometimes slapstick-y, with a pretty great balance. 
Obviously, it wasn't completely perfect (nothing is), and I think the film could have improved on some things, particularly it's treatment of Patty's character in a few specific scenes. But overall, I think the new Ghostbusters is utterly fantastic. And strangely groundbreaking with its treatment of four female protagonists who--gasp--don't have an overt romantic arc (okay, sorry, one spoiler I couldn't resist), and are really the heroes of their own story. 

My overall rating: 9.5/10 

Emily is adjusting to a new day job (she's a big girl now), and is just really, really excited about this movie, so she's really hoping this is all coherent. She's sorry if it isn't, but you'll just have to deal with it. Like the White Lotus dealing with the fact that Korra is the Avatar. Just a fact of life. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I have made an exciting discovery, ladies and gentlemen! I have finally found a duel point of view novel where I actually like both characters! And, I didn't mind when the POV switched. And, this story is amazingly complex and wonderfully entertaining. I feel like I’ve struck gold here, people!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is a new adult fantasy novel that takes place in what I think is a middle eastern country that has been under a Romanesque tyrannical rule for at least a century. Laia is a seventeen year old girl whose parents and sister were killed because the local authorities, known as Masks, believe the family was apart of the Resistance, whose entire purpose is to overthrow the Empire. When Laia’s grandparents are murdered by the Masks right in front of her, and her brother is taken captive on Resistance suspicion charges, Laia makes contact with the Resistance for the first time to ask for their help in retrieving her brother from prison before he is executed.

The other point of view character is Elias, a twenty year old soldier who has been raised in a sadistic military school known as Blackcliff Military Academy. Elias is training to become a Mask, the elite military force whose job is to keep the populace in line. After watching the brutal beating and subsequent death of a ten year old student whose crime was attempted desertion, Elias’ own decision to escape is cemented. If he is caught, the penalty is death.

It was a relief and an encouragement to read a novel where the author had two distinct characters who sound, act, think, and move independently from each other. Laia and Elias’s voices were so different that the reader never becomes confused as to who is speaking at a given moment. I loved that Tahir wrote each chapter so that the story flowed seamlessly, and as a reader, I never felt jerked out of the story when there was a POV change. My favorite part of the storytelling was when the author would, in the midst of an intense part of the story, finish that character’s point of view and then go back and write the same event that had just happened from the other character's perspective. As a reader, you were never left wondering what the other character’s thoughts were in the situation. I simply loved the way this story was told.

My one complaint is that the story did not end where I thought it should. With how thick this novel is, and based on the above synopsis, you would think that the story would be Elias’ escape, Laia rescuing her brother, then they meet somehow, and it's done. Nope. Nowhere even close. There is so much more that takes place in between the two covers. This is definitely one of those novels where the reader is left thinking, “You ended it there?! This can't be done yet! What the?! Argh!!!”

An Ember in the Ashes is a mix of The Hunger Games’ competition, Harry Potter’s magic and creepy creatures, a healthy dose of the “bring down an oppressive government” theme. Lucky for the reader, the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, is due out August 30, 2016. Thank goodness!

Random books from the library make Emily's days so much more fulfilling. And they result in awesome recommendations for the readers of this blog. Thank goodness for her voracious appetite!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Focus and Redirection

Today I had planned on writing a game review, but that's going to have to wait another week so I can finish the game. It's fitting, though, because we're releasing an interview with someone from the company that released this game next Tuesday.

The reason I couldn't finish this game yet (and why I didn't post last week) is because my day job got SUPER busy. This means I've had to redirect my focus in day-to-day projects. Last Wednesday, for example, I had to focus on my job. For a near-12-hour day. I barely had energy to spend time with my wife that day, let alone put together coherent thoughts for readers. So I did what I needed to do as a (hopefully) good husband and reserved as much energy as I could for my wife.

This week is very much the same, except that I'm not working as many hours. Still, there's a lot that I need to stay focused on. Redirecting my energy to the most critical deadlines means editing podcast episodes, reading for critique group (when I'm not at work), and then gaming after. Unlike my "standard" gaming routine, I'm focusing on this project because I promised a review for this game. Not necessarily on a deadline, but because we interviewed the gentleman—and I'm exciting about that!—I'm imposing a deadline on myself so that the review comes out the same time as his episode.

Now, since I've rambled on for a couple of paragraphs, I'm going to ask one simple question: How do you handle redirection when it's time to focus on projects?

Let's discuss in the comments.

Giles is exciting for a lot of things, especially a possible future of working with this game developer for more podcast awesomeness that will help promote their games for a new audience. And he's excited to have a blog post (however short) up on the site again.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Recognizing Unicorn-Level Beta Readers

Finding great beta readers is like hunting unicorns. You know they exist. You know they frequent the little glen you’ve camped out in. You check the almanac and set out your little homemade unicorn treats. You do everything humanly possible to attract the best, most magical unicorns.

And yet, despite your best-laid plans…

Some readers are more like the galumphing rhinoceros. They say they enjoy your writing, but what they really want is to stomp on your dreams. Any comment they make draws attention to the “fact” that your ideas are actually worthless.

Some readers are more like a one-horned deer. They step so carefully through your manuscript that you almost can’t tell they were there. A few leaves might be nibbled, or some underbrush trampled, but they leave you with the distinct feeling that they’ve done nothing much at all.

Some readers are like a kirin. They’re part reader, part writer, part flake. Their notes meander and lose focus. Three whole chapters will have helpful, in-depth comments, and the next half of the book will contain one corrected run-on sentence and a “LOL”.

Some readers are narwhals. If you squint and look at them from really far away (and you’re a dehydrated sailor out at sea, not in a glen), they look like exactly what you need. Yet, if you get closer, they slip away, along with your manuscript, never to be heard from again.

So, you wait. And wait. And wait. Until, finally, an actual unicorn appears. You freak out and without thinking, toss your manuscript at their feet before throwing yourself back into your hiding place. They sniff it. They nibble the edges. They seem intrigued by your first sentence. Then, without batting an eye, they rip through your creative soul and point out every single loophole you’ve missed. They find typos and character mis-descriptions, and they notice when you give every single character the same physical tick. If something doesn’t make sense, they not only point it out, they suggest a way to fix the issue. They don’t try to rewrite your story, and they don’t make you feel like an idiot when you go over notes together. This, my friends, is a unicorn-level beta reader.

While I like to think that my critique group is pretty much the greatest, I also think it’s important to get non-writers to beta read your projects. My critique group hears face-to-face explanations, and they get down to the nitty-gritty without hesitation, but my beta readers can look at the book as a whole and find things that no one else saw on the chapter level. If you've been having trouble finding a great beta reader, try asking a friend who is a teacher. Some of my best beta readers have been teachers. (Because teachers are magical unicorns, you know). It’s taken a couple of years, but now I have my own little herd of unicorns all to myself*.

Michelle writes nerdy stories about impossible things. There are explosions. You can find her here on Mondays, or nearly every day on Twitter, @redactionaire.

*This sounded kind of creepy on my editing pass, but instead of deleting, I wanted to add a MWAHAHA. So: “I have my own little herd of unicorns all to myself. MWAHAHAHAHA!”^

^It’s been a long day. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Reboots Galore

From Ghostbusters to Sailor Moon to Voltron, reboots are everywhere. So many classic properties are getting reboots nowadays, that I figured I should ramble a bit about my opinions on the matter!

I haven't seen the new Ghostbusters yet, but I'm kind of really looking forward to it. I've heard some great things from my friends (the only reviews that really matter to me). This is the type of reboot that can either go really awesomely or really poorly, depending on writing. If the writers rebooted the series with an all-female cast and then made their feminine bodies and attitudes the butt of all the jokes instead of keeping the humor sarcastic and situational and slapstick, I'd have a problem. But keeping the heart of the original series and introducing some kick-butt female protagonists? Hit me!

Sailor Moon Crystal is a fantastic reboot, in my opinion. I grew up with the original Sailor Moon, so I've got some nostalgia factor there. I tried to watch the original anime a while back and it was--well, honestly, painful. Ninety-five percent of the episodes we watched were more filler than plot-related, and they really, really milked the Monster of the Week format. Way too much. But Crystal has a carried-through plotline (seriously, the first 12 episodes of Crystal cover the first 100 or so episodes of the original), even though it's a little rushed at points. The animation quality is more consistent, except for the weird CGI transformations in the first two seasons, and the character growth is actually a noticeable thing, which is always good. I'll always have a special place in my heart for the original Sailor Moon, but Crystal is pretty dang great.

Now the reboot that I'm probably least qualified to talk about: Voltron, Legendary Defender. I never watched the original Voltron series (and by 'original' here, I mean any of the previous ones--giant combining mecahs weren't really my thing). But I'm kind of in love with Netflix's current reboot. My roommate suggested I give it a shot and it was so much fun. The science makes absolutely no sense and there are too many plotholes to count, but the characters are more than enough to pull it along, in my opinion. I can't really talk about how it compares to previous iterations, obviously, but I think that's part of what a reboot is good for--getting new fans involved without intimidating them with the massive amount of backstories and world building that's happened in previous versions, especially for well-loved and hugely expanded universes.

What reboots do you enjoy? Do you have any that you think are even better than the original?

Emer has gotten into a lot of fandoms because of her roommate recently. It's really kind of a problem when the two of them get obsessed over something at the same time. A glorious, entertaining, nerdy problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Let’s play a game, shall we? Fill in the blank:

Wuthering Heights was written by __________. Jane Eyre was written by __________. Agnes Grey was written by __________.

Ha! Did I get ya? Sadly, people tend to forget about Anne Bronte, even though she published her writing as actively as her older sisters. This week, I figured I’d tackle a classic that may not be as well known to others.

The story follows a young lady named Agnes who volunteers to seek work as a governess when her father becomes ill and her family’s financial situation is starting to be a concern. Agnes first takes a position in the Bloomfield household, a family whose spoiled children are nothing but a headache to not only Agnes, but to their own parents as well. After being dismissed from the Bloomfield household because, according to the mother, Agnes “cannot control the children”, she takes a place with the Murray family whose children are considerably older. Here she is charged with the education and deportment of two young ladies: the eldest, who is a fortune hunter, and the younger girl, who would much rather be running around in the stables or out hunting. Throughout her career as a governess, Agnes is forced to find her place in a class system that leaves her stranded above the household servants but well below the family.

For the most part, I enjoyed reading Agnes Grey. I loved the honest and sometimes brutal descriptions of the other characters from Agnes’ point of view. I also liked that throughout the story, Bronte develops a character who knows her own mind and sticks to her morals. While her sister’s story of Jane Eyre tells of a governess who falls in love with her employer, Agnes Grey is said to be a more realistic portrait of the classes in Victorian England. As a history buff, I appreciated this to no end. Yes, there is a romantic element to Agnes Grey. She does fall in love with a man, but it is with a man who, realistically, a governess would have the chance to marry without the threat of a societal scandal.

I appreciated the other points of realism that Bronte sprinkled throughout the story, as well. At one point, Agnes is invited to be the guest of one of her previous students. From a modern point of view, I wanted her student to treat Agnes as a guest, nay a friend, and treat her with the hospitality that we would our own house guests in modern times. Her student did not. I would even go as far as to say that her student treated her worse than when Agnes was her governess. While this made me sad as a reader, it was, knowing the time period, realistic.

There was really only one thing that I did not enjoy about this story: Anges tends to be rather long winded when she preaches to her students about morals and the way they should treat their fellow human beings. Unfortunately for the reader, this can go on for pages at a time. However, her “sermons” are all in one chunk in the middle of the story and can be scanned if you find them as tedious as I did after a while. Anne Bronte was raised by her father who was a minister, and likewise her character Agnes is also brought up by a minister in the story. That being said, Agnes’ lectures do fit into the narrative and make sense for her character.

While Agnes Grey wasn’t Anne Bronte’s most famous work, it is a wonderful example of the genre that would include her sisters’ work and even Pride and Prejudice. If you like this genre as much as I do, Agnes Grey may be a good fit for you.

Emily is excitedly devouring more books for future reviews. She is also preparing to go to a book signing with one of her favorite authors. It's going to be a fantastic week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Time Flies

I had every intention of writing a really deep, interesting, well-worded blog for today. Instead of trying to throw something together (it would be sub-par, believe me), I'll just remind everyone that Friday is only a few days away.

And if Friday is so close, that means Labor Day and another three-day weekend is ALSO close.

And that means that CHRISTMAS IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER!!! Doesn't that make you so excited?!? Christmas! And then... 2017!

All this is simply to say, go write. Go read. Go have fun with friends. Make up stories and tell dad jokes, and if you hate your job, and it's sucking away your soul, get a new one. Go to Europe and get stuck on a train with no way to communicate with the people around you. Get lost in the park. Explore your neighborhood. Play Pokémon Go. Don't play Pokémon Go.

Share stories with people and build new friendships. And then go read some more.

Michelle's favorite random questions are "How do you feel about sandwiches?" and "What kind of dinosaur would you be?" She had approximately 5 free minutes today, and they were all spent crafting this GLORIOUS blog post. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokémon Go!

Pokémon is taking over the world! Again! As a lover of the original Gameboy games and owner of at least one from every generation of said games, I'm kind of loving this Pokémon Go thing. I have to admit that I have a phone that's so old and decrepit that it can't actually run the game, but I love the concept of it, and I love how it's bringing people to together.

I was at the mall with my sister the other day and sat down to wait while she returned something, and got to watch a group of kids freak the heck out about a Chansey right where we were sitting. They even called over a group of other kids who they didn't seem to know but were obviously playing the game and they all got super excited together for a while. It was kind of awesome to watch.

Plus, there's the benefit of encouraging people to exercise and be nerdy at the same time. And nostalgia, for those of us who grew up watching the games evolve from Red/Blue to Go. It's kind of revitalizing the franchise, I think. I mean, for anyone who's played the Pokémon handheld games, you know the general gameplay is basically the same from game to game. There's an antagonistic team you have to face down, you get one starter, have to collect eight gym badges to face the Elite Four, fill your pokédex, etc. It's kind of the same game but with new graphics, new pokémon to catch, and new names for the baddies.

But Pokémon Go is something different. It's not the same old plotline. It's actually encouraging people to engage with the world around them (albeit, through a screen), while maintaining the nostalgic joy of the original games. It's actually putting people in the digital shoes of the original protagonist.

Sure, it has some bugs to work out (like being inaccessible for people with disabilities, and collecting way more data on users than it actually needs to), but I think for the most part, it's a really interesting phenomenon so far.

Are you playing it? What are your experiences so far?

Emily is trying not to feel left out of the cultural phenomenon by reminding herself that, if she downloaded the game, she would do literally nothing else but catch pokémon. It's only kind of working.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

At the end of this school year, one of my students handed me three novels as a gift. In a letter, she explained that her mother, who'd tragically passed a year before, had been in a writing critique group with all three of the books' authors. My student (we’ll call her Pixie Girl) knew I loved to read, so her gift was ridiculously thoughtful. I cried. Buckets. One of the books that Pixie Girl gave me was Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.

Book Scavenger follows Emily, a girl whose family moves about once a year, to fulfill her parents’ dream of living in each of the fifty states. When Emily finds out that her parents are moving to San Francisco, the home of Emily’s favorite literary personality, Garrison Griswold, she’s more than thrilled. Emily participates in Griswold's online game called Book Scavenger, where readers hide books, post clues about where to find them online, and then earn points when they discover a book in the real world. Emily discovers that she has accidentally found the first clue in Garrison Griswold's newest Book Scavenger game when she and her friend James find a copy of The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe in a BART station. Emily and James must then find the solution to the riddle before someone takes them out of the game.

I really enjoyed this story. It is a well-paced mystery that reminded me a lot of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Bertman does a wonderful job of letting clues out a little at a time, which leads an adult reader to solve the problem by themselves, just before Emily does. I loved the fact that Bertman also printed each of the codes used within the book and clearly did her research into many different types of ciphers. Emily and James also feel like two normal kids with no special powers aside from the fact that they have both been solving ciphers for so long that it comes naturally to them. And the fact that one of the minor antagonists was a teacher also made me smile. (Trying to say something there, Pixie Girl? ;) )

Book Scavenger is a middle grade novel which may dissuade some adult readers, but I enjoyed the quick and entertaining read. As an adult, I did see a lot of the reveals coming and wasn’t surprised when suspicious characters turned out to be bad guys. Also, there was an incident in the book between two characters which resolved itself more easily that it would have between adults, but it accurately portrayed a relationship between two friends who are best friends one minute, are frustrated with each other the next, and then patch things up the next day. In my experience as a classroom teacher, I think this book is a perfect fit for any reader between ages 9-14.

Book Scavenger was selected as the Youth’s One Book, One Denver title, and I can see why. It is a cute story of friendship and a well thought out mystery that middle grade readers will enjoy. Also, after reading the book, if you would like to participate in the Book Scavenger game, you can because it exists in real life! Go to for more details. Thank you, Pixie Girl!

Emily has, thankfully, found a way to cope with the unrelenting summer heat: she's found a quiet corner at the local library where she can read with a water bottle full of iced tea. She's hoping the heat will go away soon so she can cuddle with the Beyond the Trope mascot again!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Slow Return

I'm getting up earlier. It's something I used to do, back when I was writing the first really GOOD book that I worked on. It's important to MAKE time to write, because when I'm not working my day job, I feel like I have so many distractions to keep me from getting my story down.

It's a good feeling, though. As tired as I am at 5:30 am, I can sit down with a cup of coffee, my bowl of breakfast cereal, and my current writing playlist. I'm about 10k into this new book. I'd gotten almost 25k in before I hit a wall, so I decided to outline and then "start over," which means I'm making SERIOUS progress so far. I'm exciting about this project because it feels different, it's unique, and most importantly, it's fun.

I'm also querying again. On Monday, I sent out my first query in over a year (May of 2015 is when the LAST query went out). With the rollercoaster that I'd been dealing with in my personal/work/school life, I let that part of my writing lapse quite a bit. Trying to find my voice again didn't help since it's been such a struggle to get back into crafting stories after this project that I'm querying. I love that project, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come up with characters or a world that I could engage with as well. But now I have, and I need to focus on making both querying AND drafting a priority.

So that's what I'm doing. I can't guarantee that I'll keep up with this particular schedule, but I'm committing to hitting my word goal every day. It's why I've written nearly 4k in the last three days (not a TON compared to other writers I know, but MUCH better than my 250 per day goal from a year ago). I'm going to move toward the 5 open queries at a time goal, too, but that takes a lot of research, making it a different kind of challenge.

This is a slow return to my routine from four years ago. And I'm excited because it means I'm back at it. I feel like I'm at home with my writing career again, and while the "ghosts" of my slump are still trying to haunt me, they won't keep me from finishing projects. Or pushing my career forward.

Giles believes in taking his time to get projects done correctly. It's the best way to keep himself from burning out or making poor decisions.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Top 5 Must-Have Ingredients for Creativity

After a great conversation with Stephen Hood of Storium (his episode will be out in August—be excited!), I decided the world could use a refresher course on how to be creative. It’s sadly obvious that too many people waste their time on things that don’t actually make them more creative. So, in hopes of helping out my fellow creatives, here are my Top 5 Ingredients for Creativity:

1. Rose Art Crayons
Never use Crayola or some hoity-toity brand from the art store. Only Rose Art crayons, with their nasty, uneven texture, can teach you to be a true artist. As you work twice as hard to write or color on any surface, you’ll learn that no matter how much practice you have, most of what you create will look like a two year-old’s rainbow extravaganza.

2. Magic Jazz Hands
When in doubt, use some magic. Magic is perfect for moments of total writer’s block. You can find a pair of these used on Ebay for dirt cheap, and even the older models work like a dream. Keep the Magic Jazz Hands by your work station at all times, and if you ever feel the muse leaving, a simple wiggle of the fingers will bring her back again.

3. Unicorn Nail Clippings
If you don’t want to spend a fortune on Guaranteed Untreated Unicorn Nail Clippings, you can often find them by wandering aimlessly through open fields near mountain ranges. Pro tip: You must wander aimlessly, otherwise you’ll never find them. Unicorn Nail Clippings can be used in pottery, painting, collage, and even manuscript editing. Their razor sharp edges make great mimics for butcher knives, if you get tired of being creative and want to make some dinner.

4. The Eye of the Oracle
This is one of my favorites because it can save you a lot of wasted time. Instead of starting a new creative project and hoping it’ll turn out well, the Eye of the Oracle will tell you exactly which projects you should even consider. No more hours spend writing a short story that goes nowhere. No more sketches of people that look like bloated stick figures. With the Eye of the Oracle, you only need to spend time on the most worthwhile creative projects.

5. Hand Lotion
No one can think straight when their skin is dry. Duh.

Friends don’t let friends think they’re not creative! Let’s be honest – the only thing you need to be truly creative is a brain. So you didn’t create a Pinterest phenomenon or write flash fiction that made grown men cry. You have creativity in you, even if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. 

Michelle collects vintage leather purses, is a sucker for peanut gallery comments, and spends half of her time being homesick for Paris. 

You can find her here most Mondays and nearly every day on Twitter: @redactionaire.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Designing Characters

I've always had a pretty visually-focused imagination, but when it comes to designing and seeing characters in my head, I seem to have a--pardon the pun--bit of a blind spot. I can imagine what I want them to look like well enough, but then when I start writing, they turn into kind of human-shaped (generally) blobs with featureless faces until I describe them again. It's a weird phenomenon.

Thanks to this bizarre function of my brain, I also have a hard time picturing clothing. Normally, this isn't a problem because no one really cares that much what your characters are wearing unless it's important to a personality quirk or plot point. But in this magical girl story I'm working on, everyone has their 'superhero' costume that needs to be described after their transformations. I tried to visualize something satirically anime without making it a direct knockoff of Sailor Moon's costume (because, you know, that's where my brain is), but realized I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with it.

So I turned to the internet. I originally wanted to just scroll through some fanart and more obscure magical girl anime to try and get some other ideas. But the problem with that (for me) is that then I started picturing things that belonged to other people instead of coming up with my own. When you're just looking for people who look like your character and are using actors or stock photos as what's called a face-claim for your character, that's not as much of a problem. But I didn't want to accidentally steal someone else's design!

I closed DeviantArt and Tumblr and somehow remembered about those doll makers that were super popular a couple years ago. Totally worth spending a full day using two of them to design costumes for my whole character squad.

How do you design your characters visually? Do you use real people or art as face claims? Have you ever used a doll maker or commissioned artwork to help you really see the people you're writing about? Do you have other ideas I could try?

Emer has spent the last week attempting not to melt, so do forgive her maybe not-totally-coherent post. She's looking forward to fall already, and might be a little too excited about pumpkin-flavored everything coming back.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book Review: Night by Elie Wiesel

You may have heard that Elie Wiesel passed away last week. As a tribute to this amazing author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, this week’s book review will not be your traditional review. Instead, this will be an encouragement to go out and read his books, which have the potential to rip your heart into a billion tiny pieces.

Eliezer Wiesel was born in Transylvania and was just a teenager when his family was taken to two of the most horrific concentration camps run by the Nazis: Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sisters when he arrived at Auschwitz and never saw them again. He managed to stay with his father throughout most of his imprisonment, but his father too, eventually passed away. Night, the first book in his well known series, follows Wiesel’s deportation, imprisonment in Auschwitz, the death march to Buchenwald, and his eventual liberation by the American army in April of 1945.

Wiesel’s story of survival is a gut wrenching tale to say the least. Throughout the narrative, he does not hold back in his descriptions of camp life, the hideous journeys he was forced to endure, or his emotions when he lost his father. The story is told so well that, even though the reader knows that Wiesel will survive the Holocaust, there is a constant seed of doubt. Thankfully, Wiesel does give the reader a sense of relief from time to time. He describes the friendships he made in the camps, stories of compassionate guards, and always, there is an overwhelming sense of hope. What would I change about this narrative? Absolutely nothing.

Just after high school, I visited Buchenwald. That experience proved to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because when Wiesel described the Children’s Camp at Buchenwald, I could picture in my head exactly the location that he was describing. A curse, for exactly the same reason. It took Wiesel ten years after the end of World War II to be able to talk about what he endured in the camps. I can understand why. This short book will rip your heart out, and it definitely isn’t easy to read. However, I do believe it is important for us never to forget the genocide that occurred during the Holocaust, and the genocides that are happening around the world as we speak. As Wiesel tried to do for the rest of his life, let us never forget what happened.

Emily Hash is a student of history as much as she is a voracious reader. She put together this review at the request of the editor, but would have probably done so without being asked because it is such an important book.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Video Game Review: Overwatch

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine picked up Overwatch for the Playstation 4. He'd played the open beta and said it was a lot of fun, but because I had other responsibilities, I missed that opportunity. The game got me pretty excited, just based on the concept, and I really wanted to check it out before I bought it. So when he BOUGHT the game, I jumped at the chance to try it out at his place.

The next weekend, I bought the game for myself. Now, as many of my friend may imagine, I'm a HUGE Fallout fan (well, the console games that came out since Bethesda took over the franchise). And I'd been playing my way through the Fallout 4 expansions pretty much non-stop. There's a lot of ground to cover in that game, and I was fairly confident it would be the ONLY game I needed this year (since I can't devote much of my time to gaming these days).

But Overwatch pushed Fallout 4 out of my gaming routine. Over this last weekend, I played at LEAST five hours a day for three days. Probably more. And there's a simple reason why: it's a TON of fun.

I'm not the best First Person Shooter player. I never have been (though I got pretty good at Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for a little while). The thing about Overwatch, though, is that you don't have to be great at ALL styles of FPS play to actually do a good job in the game. They set up the system with so many different heroes, spread across four different hero TYPES, that there's a good chance that any player (who enjoys FPSs) will be able to achieve some kind of success if they play as PART OF A TEAM. Like previous games of this type, I'm not the best player. I HAVE been awarded "Play of the Game" a couple of times, but in competitive mode, I'm currently skill-ranked at 45 (on a scale of 1-100). Slightly below average (granted, some of that is due to teammates who go off and do their own thing rather than working as a unit, but that's only a small part of my ranking).

What Overwatch gives me, though, is a chance to play a high-excitement game without forcing me to commit two or more hours to my game-day. I can jump into a Quick Play match and be done in under 15 minutes, then go on my way and have a fun evening doing something else.

The visuals are amazing, too. It's bright, colorful, and looks FUN. Like collectable figurines who move and talk.

I could go on and on about this game, explaining every reason why it's my current gaming focus. The fact is, it has my attention, keeps me entertained and excited as a player, and only gives me ONE thing to complain about: players who refuse to work as a team and instead "insist" on playing their own way, even (and especially when) that method is failing to such an epic degree that it makes me want to quit (though there are penalties for that, so I never do).

Overwatch consumed Giles in this last three-day weekend. He'd consider playing more during the week if he didn't have other commitments that he is eager to fulfill. Lucky for him, he was instilled with a work ethic. Though he's almost ready to chuck it and just play that game until he's so bored, he has no other CHOICE but to return to his commitments.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Self Care in Writing Take...Something

It has been a totally crazy week for me. Between day job stress, friend drama, my computer charger breaking (and subsequently leaving me computer-less for a day and a half until I could get a new one), applying for new health insurance, launching an Etsy store, and trying not to melt in the summer heat, I've been reminded of the whole "take care of yourself" thing I've written about here a lot. Because it's important. And we, especially creative people who are scrambling to make ends meet, tend to have a problem with forgetting it.

Julia Cameron talks about Artist Dates and filling up our creative well in The Artist's Way. The general idea is to pick something fun, exciting, out of your comfort zone just a little, and completely unrelated to working on your projects, then go do it by yourself and let your creative juices get recharged. I'll be honest, I haven't really gone on one of these in ages, but I always enjoy it when I do. Our group mini-retreat to Estes Park last Saturday was probably the closest I've gotten in months, and that still involved getting words on the page.

With all the craziness in my normal life, I think I need an Artist Date. My creative well, so to speak, is running a little dry. I'm getting words on the page, but they're not funny, and it's torturous to get them out, even though I still love the story I'm working on. Some time to get away from everything and recharge is probably needed.

So, I'm challenging you to take stock of your creative resources right now. Do you need to take a few hours or a day and go treat yourself to something to recharge? Schedule it in now and make sure you do it! It's so important!

Emily is heading to the Renaissance Festival with friends tomorrow. While it doesn't completely fit into the definition of an Artist Date, she's totally going to count it and hope it helps a little bit. She'll try to have a more original and fun blog post for you next week. In the meantime, find her on Twitter @EmilyKSinger, or on her new, mostly empty Instagram