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An interviewer asked me what genre I wrote in the other day.
I think I botched the answer.
Gave a huge disclaimer how I like to write all kinds of things, then spewed a bunch of nonsense that I wrote thriller, paranormal, adventure, suspense, hints of romance, one was a western, modern, ya, mg, na, and some "creepy" elements in all the above.

Just about covers it, right?  Goober.
I just write stories.  I love tales.  Characters thrown into weird circumstances that aren't like my own.  That's it.  Many times, and old Mr. King would be proud -- I don't even know the type of book or journey it's going to be.  I just start with the characters that I find interesting start talking and doing stuff and the rest...just comes.  
So why all the fuss about Y.A.?  Young Adult.  What's the deal with Middle Grade?  Why is everyone all excited about New Adult?  This is what I don't get.  I mean...take one of the greatest classic stories of all time:  Treasure Island.  Jim Hawkins is what...14?  Yet it was originally published in children's magazines.  The Hobbit -- also a children's story. Yet today they are both known as classics for all ages.  If a book simply has a "teen" protagonist, it may be considered YA now I supposed.  Same with MG.  Same with this new 20's-focused NA that everyone's talking about.  
I for one...don't care.  I want the story to be good.  I want to LOVE the characters.  I want to write a book that I would want to READ.  If a reader is taken up and transported away to another world and fully believes the journey -- WIN.  Regardless of what moniker or genre it's given.  One of the most famous has to be Rowling's stuff.  Considered as one of the greatest accomplishments in children's literature -- adults got just as crazy about Muggles and Hypogriffs.  (Don't tell me some thirty-year-old isn't typing "alohomora" into their computers as a password.)
I know the bookstores (that are sadly disappearing) need a place to organize the books -- but agents:  just let us write.  Don't tell us that you are only interested in YA steampunk with a lead character that talks like Katniss Everdeen but kisses like Bella.  Let the story be the story.  Come along for the ride.  Enjoy yourself.  With a limited scope like that, you probably would have given a "not for me" response to Harper Lee...


 
 
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For your consideration

Walked into a Ross today.  Don’t judge.  I needed a cheap dress shirt, ok? 

Ok, ok, it should have been Burlington.  Leave me alone.

Anyway, a guy walks in ahead of me and I’m ready to catch his door.  In reality, thinking he’s at least going to hold it for a second.

Nope.  Lets it shut right on me.

Hm.  Ok.  Now I REALLY wish I had gone to Burlington.

Went to a movie.  Lone Survivor, or as it was originally pitched, “You think you’re a man, but you’re really not.  Not a man at all.”

Anyway, despite a funny little commercial before the feature, several slides informing us, and even a verbal announcement – some dude starts texting in the row ahead of me.  If I hadn’t been so emasculated by this movie I would have confronted him…

Waved someone into traffic.  No response.

Held MY door open for someone and let them go through.  Nada.

Guy in front of me in traffic just throws his McDonald’s bag out the window.

What.  The.  Heck.  Dude?

“Be considerate,” we have heard while growing up.  Often we think of it as being kind, nice, sweet, or fair to someone.  We think of it as a verb.  An action word.  Something that we do.  And you know what, at times I would be all for that, too.  Just seeing people performing actions that helped someone else is nice – why else do we tear up at Extreme Makeover shows or Undercover Boss?  The action of kindness is great…

…but it’s not consideration.

Consideration is simply this:  careful thought.

So if we strive to be “considerate” to others, we are just committing to CAREFULLY THINKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE.  It’s classic Golden Rule stuff, and it’s not geographic.  This happens in every state in our union – and it’s a selfish epidemic.  Somewhere careful thought for other people has slipped, and many are only thinking of themselves. 

I beg of all of us.  Think about someone else today.  It could be simple as holding a door going into a Ross or ignoring that response to my Tweet during a movie. ( Trust me, the Tweet wasn’t that funny to begin with.)  If we can all think of someone else more often, then we can BE considerate – which then and only THEN leads to proper action.

We can do this.

“We’re living in a SOCIETY here, people!”  -- George Costanza


 
 
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Okay.  We had the bad news.  Now it’s time for the more “positive” side of things.  These are 5 movies that actually EXCEEDED my expectations in terms of story and writing.  I’m not saying they were the absolute BEST movies of 2013, but at least they were well written – and they probably surprised me, as I was expecting less.  Remember -- minor spoilers ahead.

Ready?

5.  Gravity

This movie was really great, honestly.  One will instantly tell me that I only liked it because of cinematography or the innovative ways that they used camera and space, etc.  Not true.  The characters were very well written -- especially with very minimal dialogue.  The screenwriter then had to write in what the main character’s actions would be and how they would interact with their environment, etc.  In addition, you very seldom see the characters actually interact – much of it is v.o. and you still have to believe they are connecting on certain levels.  Finally, the scene where Bullock’s character is howling is absolutely incredible.  What an idea, and what a way to communicate the loss of home and hope.  Wow.

4.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Obviously the idea stems from Thurber, but the only real similarity is the daydreaming nature of the character.  The screenplay (written by Steven Conrad) is absolutely epic – using this stemmed idea to really explore what Life’s purpose is, and how one chooses to live.  What an incredible example of utilizing the diminishing instances of Mitty’s daydreams as he embarks more and more on an adventure.  I also must say that Conrad immediately puts an end goal in mind.  We want to know what the heck is on that negative through the ENTIRE movie.  This keeps an audience engaged like crazy!  I was really worried that they would never reveal the negative – because I honestly could not remember what the last cover was supposed to be!  Conrad rocked this adaptation – and while it completely different than the short story – it is well worth the watch.

3.  Saving Mr. Banks

Just getting past the notion that P.L. Travers was a real weirdo is one thing.  Getting  into backstory without looking to “flashbacky” or awkward is another – and Marcel does this perfectly.  She weaves incredibly interesting scenes from Travers’ background in perfectly with the “present” scenes of the writer at the studios.  Utilizing Disney archives and a huge amount of real life accounts from rehearsal tapes (and one of the Sherman brothers) was obviously helpful – but it took real talent to not have it just be a documentary.  One thing that surprised me and I can really appreciate were the tiny things that she set up and then PAID OFF later.  It bugs me when something comes up early, but never gets addressed later – and this was an example of how to do it!  In addition, some of the best parts of the story (and most touching in my opinion) was the relationship that actually DIDN’T exist – i.e. Travers and her driver.  Excellent story!

2.  Iron Man 3

Another superhero.  Another action flick.  Another CG-loaded piece of fodder for the movie consumer, right?  Nope.  This one really shocked me.  Very good writing in this otherwise lacking genre!  The journey of Stark losing everything and having to –in effect – “reboot” is a wonderful departure from this franchise and I thought the scenes where he interacted with the boy were absolute gems.  What was great was his adherence to the Stark character – i.e. a sarcastic jerk – with some added pathos and eventual provision for the boy.  The villains were well conceived – and of course, one of the biggest twists that has ever occurred in a superhero movie regarding who the Mandarin really was and who was really pulling the strings.  I had so much fun in this movie!

1.  Frozen

To tell you the truth, I’m not SUPER surprised by this – but let me finish.  Pixar movies had eclipsed the stories put out by Disney ever since Toy Story.  The amount of time and care the writers took to nail every moment and every beat easily shined – catapulting Pixar to the top of everyone’s charts in regards to quality of story.  Then Disney got smart and started assimilating these guys and gals into their ranks – and of course finally bought the studio.  Now we see a shift.  Where some of Pixar’s recent offerings like Up, Brave, and some of the “sequels” have been less than stellar – Disney’s recent offerings of Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, and now Frozen, are absolutely amazing.  One reason why these animated movies generally fly to the top is because of the sheer amount of time that they take to make!  Often these pictures can be in development for up to 5 years!  I remember hearing how Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) said that the movies took five years and they often were terrible for four of those five!  This story went through several iterations, and it shows.  My only complaint was that the comic relief character seemed a little wedged in – but the different take on true love was unbeatable.  Good, tight, story!

Hope you enjoyed this.  What stories did you enjoy this last year?  What were some that disappointed you?  Do you agree with my choices?  Why or why not?  


 
 
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Everyone does their "top" lists of the past year.  Why would I let myself be left out?

I figured I would try to do something different, however, since I pride myself on writing and story.  So I'm giving you my top 5 lists of movies in 2013 that either fell BELOW my expectations or EXCEEDED my expectations in terms of story/screenplay/writing, etc.  This is not comprehensive, just a quick post as I was thinking about those movies that hit MY personal radar this year -- and either fell below or exceeded what I thought they should be.  Ready?  Here we go...  Part ONE is coming up here.  Part TWO to follow shortly...
FELL BELOW --
5.  Lone Ranger
  I knew it was going to be a "Pirates" clone, but Johnny Depp and the Old West?  I have to admit I was a bit excited.  At least I thought that Elliott and Rossio would give a bit more umph to it than they did.  Artie was a cool idea for the hero -- but he did nothing heroic.  In addition, I think there was a bunch of stuff that was missing from an earlier draft -- and rumor has it that it included werewolves (hence the weird silver bullet stuff.)  Overall, fell well below expectations.
4.  Man of Steel
Before you get mad -- I'm a HUGE Superman nerd.  And ultimately, I sort of liked the movie, but I was really anticipating a cool story from Goyer (supervised by Nolan himself) and this one fell a little short.  While I loved how the origin story intertwined with his life -- and thought the extra time on Krypton was cool -- I just could't get over how Superman couldn't think to get those bad guys away from Metropolis.  Honestly, the fights would have been just as epic and cool in some old abandoned warehouses, and 6.8 million people wouldn't have died.  Oh...and WHY did Superman have to be the one to fight that weird World Builder?  Couldn't Superman be the one to throw his ship into phantom drive?  Wouldn't that just destroy the link to the other side of the world anyway?  Hm?
3.  Oz the Great and Powerful
Remember, I'm not talking about acting and casting.  (Franco?  Really?) But story on this was...urgh.  This could have been so cool!  But to have some weird sister thing that didn't work and then somehow trick Mila Kunis into changing into the wicked witch?  Boo.  And what great characters to play with -- but they just let us down.  The only line that I really liked from the movie is how the monkey sneezed away the plan.
2.  Pacific Rim
Yikes.  Now I know, I know, you may be wondering why I'm bagging on a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters when it comes to story and writing.  But this was really really bad. Like Gypsy Danger bad.  If you're going to go cliche with different countries, bad accents, and shallow characters that's actually FINE.  But just go ALL THE WAY with it.  Use tongue-in-cheek methods and cartoon it up a little bit!  How cool would it have been to write in CRAZY cliches like the Russian robot using a hammer and sickle as weapons or the Australian robot throwing a massive boomerang?  Instead, you tried to make the movie serious in some parts and crazy in others.  Also, don't introduce cool things and kill them within 5 minutes.  If it's not in the budget -- leave them out in the first place! 
1.  (breaks my heart...but) Star Trek Into Darkness
Kahn.  Benedict Cumberbatch.  JJAbrams.  Good momentum from the first movie.  Kahn.  I'll say it again.  Kahn!  How could we mess up this story?  Oh let's see.  Just kind of rehash the old story but flip-flop Kirk and Spock?  Nope.  Big miss on this one.  And magic blood?  Magic blood never works.  Not just magic blood, but resurrection blood?  Works in the bible, but not in Star Trek.  How cool would it have been to pitch the incredible mind and strength of Kahn against the relatively new crew of the Enterprise?  We don't know.  We never saw it.

That's it for the bad news.  Good news coming up soon! 
...to be continued.

 
 
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Full disclosure:  I wanted to see this anyway.  I would have seen it even if I wasn't a writer.  And in the fairness of all things internet:  there are some spoilers here.
Why will writers dig this movie?  Uh...der.  It's about a writer.  And story.  And collaboration.  And frustration with creative-types working together. 
It's good.  Really good.
In the age of super cgi-fueled behemoths that honestly lose all senses of subtly (sorry Desolation of Smaug) we have a very nice and refreshing story that actually takes the entire movie to develop.  It's slow storytelling, but it's worth it.  So again -- why is it for writers?  P.L. Travers (according to this film -- and the research seems to back it us) is crazy.  Full on wacky in her creative and collaborative process.  She has weird demands, hates the idea of Disney and the U.S., and despises how Walt wanted to turn Mary Poppins into a musical.  We see that this is mainly due to alcoholic father, family troubles, sadness, melancholic upbringing yeah yeah yeah.  But this still is not my point.  Ultimately, Mary Poppins is HER creation, and it means something to her.  Something big.  The cathartic process that Travers went through in creating Poppins somehow helped her cope with her own life.  And if anyone else wanted to mess with that creation in any way -- Momma Bear claws came out.  It's a wonder that she even got the books published!  
As writers, we can hold NOTHING dear.  Write with the door closed, yes, but there comes a time to let others help move it forward.  Might be an editor.  Might be a publisher with some good (or bad) notes to help shift some things.  Might be a marketing person or agent or manager that wants to add their two cents.  Find a way to work it out and don't be afraid to change things a little.  There's more in the well.  There's more to offer.  We can all let our precious darlings go a little more, can't we?
I know I can.  
See the movie.  See what holding on to an ideal will do to you and the people around you.  
This movie helped me be ready to change my works if needed...

...but only if I want to.  Through gritted teeth.  
And no pears for me either.