Archive | May 2014

The Next Harry Potter–Part 1 of 3

As anyone who is a fan of books and/or movies knows, the popularity of the Harry Potter series with both kids and adults is something the entertainment industry has long been trying to replicate.  Many books have been hailed as “The Next Harry Potter,” in order to get more readers and then viewers if the book becomes a movie.  Some of these have failed and some have succeeded, and a few like Twilight have become their own phenomenons.

The next Harry Potter, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games, we’re always looking for the next big thing.  In searching for the “next” and wanting to be first on the bandwagon, we sometimes miss stories that are already there, books that with the right marketing, screenwriter, and stars could make excellent movie franchises.  Here are three that I would like to see on the big screen:

1. The Oz series.

Most people are familiar with the iconic 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie starring Judy Garland.  It is a film that made excellent use of color vs. b&w, and introduced “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a near spiritual hymn that is deeply entrenched in our collective psyche to this day.

What many don’t know is that the author of The Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum, wrote thirteen other books about the Land of Oz, some including Dorothy, some not.  Over the years, a few of these books have been produced as a cartoon, video, or film, the most recent effort of these was Oz the Great and Powerful directed by Sam Raimi and starring James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis.  While it was refreshing to see a new Oz story told, it sadly involved magic, but had none of that film magic that the 1939 movie captured so wonderfully.

 A big problem with modern fantasy films whether for children or adults is that they evoke no sense of wonder or excitement of either the actual world or of our imaginations.  This is perhaps due to our cynicism today, but also much due to the fact that so many film makers don’t want to tell the stories of these excellent works, but their own stories, only slapping the names and settings of better storytellers on their efforts in order to make a profit.  It isn’t necessary to faithfully detail every book page to every line in a screenplay, but capturing the spirit of the original work should, I think, be a goal.  I saw nothing of Baum’s Oz world in that recent film and thought it was a shame because of all the talent involved in the project.

Oz suffers a similar fate to that of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.  In our modern times, we get too caught up in creating our own alternate versions of the story or changing it into a psychological study instead of focusing on telling a good story.  This isn’t to say that alternate versions can’t be great, but, again, they should not be wholly cut off from the main source material.  The source material is in almost all cases weirder, quirkier, and more interesting than the bland retellings of them crafted to “one size fits all.”

It has been some time since I’ve read the original novel, but the 1939 The Wizard of Oz at least captures Oz even if it didn’t follow the book to the letter.  It captured the magic, the danger, and the political intrigue of “the man behind the curtain.”  It is a movie much beloved, but not one, I think, for everyone.  Let me show another example:  Wicked by Gregory Maguire.  I have met people who love the story, and some who won’t touch it.  It is a story for a specific audience, a story that decidedly won’t appeal to everyone, but to those who desire a deeper understanding of what makes a bad person bad, or a villain a villain.  For some, it’s enough to say a character is a villain because, of course evil exists in the world.  For others, though, they want to know why, they want a reason either behind the bad actions or behind the label of “evil.”  It’s why in the aftermath of mass shootings there is so much focus on the background of the shooter.  We think there must be a reason.  Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t.  For those of us who believe there is true evil in the world, no amount of reasons makes any difference, evil is evil.  That true evil can’t be corrected by therapy or giving everyone a perfect childhood, well, that’s a hard lesson to learn, and we are a bit loathe to learn that today.  We want to blame the gun or the knife, or the possible abuse and/or neglect of the killer, but is the possession of a weapon or any sort of history of suffering really an excuse for the slaughtering of strangers?  Aren’t we really, in some form, trying to excuse away the evil in our own hearts?  I digress, these all are thoughts best plumbed in an entirely different article.  My point is, stories made up to cater to everyone, whether one year to ninety years, whether living in East or West, North or South, often cater to no one.

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 Back on topic:  My favorite book in the Oz series has long been Ozma of Oz.  Ozma is a great character, not always nice, and one who shows another side of Dorothy.  How wonderful it would be for this tale to have a proper big screen treatment.  In fact, all of the books in the series offer plenty of plots, magic, characters, and wonder to compromise an entire franchise of films, if only Hollywood, or someone, would step to it.  This is a fantasy world that has stood the test of time, and like more modern fantasy such as Harry Potter, offers much social commentary and philosophizing in the process.

Up next time:  Part 2: Monster Blood Tattoo

One Idea

It’s amazing in life how one idea can change everything.

Four years ago I was struggling with wanting to be a writer, yet was finding it difficult to actually get my thoughts and stories down on paper.  So I started this blog with the plan of writing a one-page story every day for a year.  Now I only got to 270 stories, but it was refreshing to be writing something creative every single day.

Since then, I’ve written online more sporadically than I would like, but that’s due to a project that just took off from that one idea to write every day.  One of the short stories I wrote in 2010 was about an actress who had just gotten hired to be on a new TV drama that was a also a reality competition.  Trolls for Dust was the name that popped into my head, and I just couldn’t let that story go.

And now I am writing the second book in the series Trolls for Dust and working on advertising the publication of the first book.  As of today the Facebook page for Trolls for Dust has reached over 1,000 likes, something I know isn’t that uncommon, yet it took time and dollars to get it to that point.  I’ve had so much fun not only self-publishing and creating the story and the series, but also letting my creativity loose a little in coming up with “box” ads.  Now there may t-shirts coming in the future and the website itself is presenting more potential, and the second book is looking to surpass the first in both quality, drama, and awesomeness.  Also, I have the privilege of giving away books to potential readers on goodreads.com and am looking into selling the print edition at a book fair or two.

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I wanted to share this today, just to encourage the pursuit of ideas, especially for the writers out there.  One good idea can change your life.  It can open doors you never knew existed.  I’m writing more now than I ever have before and a blank page no longer scares me, but intrigues me.  I’m having fun pursuing a dream that, yes, is leaving a bit of a dent in my bank account, but is so much better than sitting around and thinking, “I wish…”  And I’m learning about publishing, advertising, marketing, design, and writing along the way.

Thanks for reading,

Pixie

The Story of Body Image

It’s getting to be that time of year again: swimsuit season.  And I think to myself, I should really start getting in shape.  Don’t want to scare away all of my nieces and nephews at our family reunion in a month (None of whom are over the age of ten).  Don’t want to scare away the rest of my family either…or the fish.

Am I being too dramatic?  Welcome to modern times where drama seeps into everything, especially our appearance.  The sight of a woman’s natural, hairy legs and/or armpits can send people into conniptions.  To not shave is practically a sin in American society.  Some people don’t feel like themselves without makeup caked on and their hair dyed and coiffed.  And too many of us currently spend our days trying to prevent our bodies from aging by any means necessary: injections, surgeries, exhausting exercise and diet regimens.

I’m saying this not to judge, but to point out, hey, what are we doing with our lives?  Being physically young and healthy is pretty awesome.  At least, I think it must be, but my experience wasn’t exactly that.  My body’s had problems from day one, likely because I was in such a hurry to get into the world already.  Premature, on time, or late, not all babies come into the world in perfect health.  Some of them struggle throughout their childhood with being physically different or unhealthy.  So that begs the question, does our happiness really lie in being perceived–either by ourselves or others–as young and healthy?

For me, trying to work at an ideal of youth or beauty in my physical appearance doesn’t match up with what I actually experienced.  If we think about it, this is probably true for a lot of us.  Are we trying to reach our lost youth where we worried about the latest zit that sprouted on our chin?  Or about being underweight for our age group?  Or overweight?  When our teeth were so crooked we had to wear braces?

Exactly whose fantasy are we trying to get back to?  It’s not a wonder our body image is low when we are trying to attain not our own lost youth and health, but a magazine model’s, or a movie star’s.  Talk about impossible goals.

And that doesn’t even include our quest for the “healthy” perfect diet.  Diet trends probably do address problems that are true for some people.  Some people eat too many carbs and not enough protein.   Some people don’t eat their fruits and veggies.  Some have a genuine allergic reaction to grains and wheats.

How do we go from that to: Everyone everywhere should reduce their carb intake, everyone should buy a super cool really expensive juicer (instead of eating more fruits and vegetables), everyone should eliminate all wheat from their diet.  And the list goes on and on.

Why are we following these diets?  Is it really because we have genuine interest in good health or is it because we want to sound and look smart?  Do we honestly understand the “science” behind these trends?  And what about all the people who smoke, drink, eat what they want, don’t exercise, and live to be 98?

This is one of my favorite quotes from Our Savior Jesus Christ:  “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”  (Matthew 15:11, ESV)

Every time I start fixating on my appearance or bemoaning the new aches, pains, and wrinkles that appear as I age, I tell myself to think about this passage.  Eating the correct foods or sticking to the correct exercise regimen might make me physically healthier and my body more pleasing to the eye.  But do they really make me a better person?  Not really.  In fact, sometimes being a health nut has the opposite effect.  We become cultists who nag our fellow human beings on their salt intake, fat intake, their flab or lack thereof, etc.  I once knew a woman who could tell me the exactly amount of calories in whatever I was eating for lunch.  I didn’t think of this as a great gift, but a burden: How could she ever just enjoy eating being so fixated on losing weight?

What comes out of the mouth defiles a person.  What comes out.  What we say, how we say it, how we treat people, how we honor or dishonor God, these are the important things.  If someone comes up with a cure for cancer, are we really going to care how they look in a swimsuit?

And we already know this.  I already know this.  But it’s so easy to forget in this day and age of airbrushing and people who spend almost all of their time looking good.

So, what’s my body image?  It changes by the day, sometimes by the hour, depending on the time of month.  If I think I look good, I act far better than if I think I look like a mutant from the planet Flaffluga.  So how do I attempt to keep a positive body image 24-7?  For me, it’s a matter of faith.  I believe that I was created specifically for two purposes:  To love God, and to love my fellow man.

My Creator loves me just the way I am, even though in this sinful world, my image and my actions will never be perfect.  He doesn’t love my flaws, but loves me despite my flaws.  He loves me so much that He doesn’t want me to live in anger, resentment, and pride, but to live free of all that.  We put so much emphasis on physical appearance, but none of our ideas about the afterlife from any religion talk about physical beauty.  People are judged by what they do, not how they look.

In Christianity, even that is swept aside by the declaration that we can never be good enough to satisfy the law.  Thus, Our Savior Jesus took our place and lived a perfect life to save us.

Back to swimsuits.  I find the less skin I reveal, the better I feel and the more I can focus on having fun and making sure those around me are having a good time too.  And the days I remember God’s love (and it’s so easy to forget), those are the days, those are the times where what comes out of my mouth is sweet, caring, and uplifting.  Those are the days I focus on living, not on looking in the mirror.

How Stories Give Us Hope

openclipart.orgIf you’re a story addict like me, you may have spent a good chuck of your life either reading, watching, or listening to stories.  For me, stories have such a spellbinding quality because they give me hope.  Stories of courage, strength, and perseverance give me hope that so much is possible if we just put forth the effort.  Bible stories give me hope that I can be forgiven for the evil I have done, and that there’s good beyond the suffering of this world.  They also give me the courage to forgive others and to love them, because they too can be redeemed.

Survival stories help me consider my own mortality and what I would be willing to do in the face of death — would I go willingly, or would I fight?  If a zombie apocalypse ever descends upon the American Midwest, I am mentally prepared for what I would need to do to survive (however many minutes that might be) thanks to The Walking Dead.  The Hunger Games challenges me to consider how I would live in an oppressive, totalitarian society.  Would I choose safety or fight for freedom?  Would I have the courage to take another’s place if it meant my possible death?

Stories about heroes like The Avengers or Batman or Spiderman give us hope in the extraordinary, that there may be people walking among us who have amazing talents they can use to save and improve lives.  In the real world, doctors, nurses, policemen, and paramedics don’t wear masks or capes, but they are heroes just the same and too frequently have to deal with the “Jokers” of this world.  We relate to story heroes and sometimes wish we could be like them.  Growing up I always imagined I would make a fantastic female Indiana Jones and help save the world from the evils the Nazis would continually unearth.  I wanted to be Superman AND Lois Lane, faster than a speeding bullet and a savvy journalist.

With villains, it’s a little different.  The best villains are often appealing, not necessarily for the bad that they do, but because they are willing to do whatever they want no matter the costs.  Villains challenge us in ways the heroes do not.  They have an edge or even a “coolness” we sometimes wish we had.  And they often wear black leather.  Why is it that we are so attracted to black leather?  Villains also represent the evil in the world and in ourselves.  The battle against those villains can give us hope that the fight for good is worth it.  My favorite thing about Peter Pan and Captain Hook is that they are “worthy” opponents.  Great villains are awesome in part because it takes so much effort and courage, both mentally and physically, to overcome them.  The heroes who defeat them have been found worthy in some way.  That’s hope.  Hope for all of us, that our struggles in this life are not in vain.  What’s the point in defeating an evil that isn’t really, well, evil?

I have to mention romantic stories.  Yes, many are sappy, but almost all have an unflinching belief in true love.  Who doesn’t want true love?  Bella and Edward may be angsty and annoying at times, but they have epic true love.  And sparkly skin.  Sparkly skin and black leather, hmm… Okay, back on topic: Love is the ultimate hope in this world, for it can cover over so many sorrows, it can make us forget our hurts, and it can help us see the world in new ways.  And it can help us reach our potential.  Where would Westley be without Buttercup?  If he hadn’t fallen for The Princess Bride, he would have stayed a farm boy instead of becoming a dread pirate, terrifying swordsman, and cunning wit.

If it were physically possible to jump into any of the stories that I so enjoy, I have the hope that I would be at my best self.  I have hope that I would be able to see the best in humanity, that I would be the best family member, the best friend, the best worker, the best fighter…and then I think:  Why can’t I be like that in real life?  Why can’t I make those dreams of being a better person come true?  With God’s help, I can, and it all starts with stories, with the “dreams we dare to dream.”  Hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

–poem by Emily Dickinson–