Category Archives: Uncategorized

Best Places for Retro Sewing Patterns

I thought of the perfect gift for my partner! He loves the 1950s/1960s aesthetic of ladies dresses.

Therefore, my gift will be for him to choose a pattern, the fabric, and the notions. I will make the dress for me to wear, and the two of us will go out all dressed up!

Since I’m already looking for patterns, and because I enjoy helping my fellow crafters, I thought I would make a review of places that offer patterns for this project.


Old Patterns or New Patterns?

Since I am planning on making a dress that is 1950s/1960s, you might think it would be better for me to buy a pattern from that era. There are lots of places that sell these older patterns, as you will see below.

BE WARNED: older patterns are antiques, and potentially more expensive.

If you use older patterns, recognize that the instructions may expect sewers to be using older equipment and different types of fabric. We have come a long way in terms of sewing machines, textiles, and techniques in the past 50-60 years. Unless you are a skilled crafter who can figure out modern-day translations for older sewing instructions, you may want to stick with newer patterns that are mid-century inspired.

One Last Thought: Sizes

I am a size 16-20, depending on the dress maker. In other words, I am a curvy girl, and will never fit into something for a 36 inch bust. I’ve noticed that older patterns take into account for differences in height, but I’ve not seen many older patterns that accommodate for larger women. I know there were heavier women in these earlier decades, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the available pattern sizes.

I have made my own patterns from scratch and I have adjusted premade patterns to meet my measurement needs. That said, realize that doing so is a pain in the butt, and it ALWAYS requires additional mini adjustments.

Again, using older patterns is NOT for the novice sewer.


Patterns! Patterns! Patterns!

The Rusty Zipper.com

As you can tell from the link, they have a nicely organized site and sell their patterns at a decent price. When you click on individual categories, you can even select size options. Going through various pattern categories, though, I tried selecting the option for larger-sized patterns, but it often came up with no results. I scanned through the patterns that were available, and I noticed that several of them listed the measurements in the title. Most of the available patterns were for women much smaller than me, so pattern alterations would be necessary.

Eva Dress Patterns

For a smaller site, this one offers a good range of options and it is well organized. The prices are not OMG cheap, but for vintage patterns they are definitely reasonable. By the way, the range of clothing patterns from the 1930s category will blow you away!

Mrsdepew Mrs. Depew Vintage

So this is an Etsy store. If you look at Etsy in general for mid-century patterns, you’ll see plenty of options, but the prices range all over the place. In this particular Etsy shop, the owner has organized everything by decade, and she has kept her price point at a rate that is comparable to present day pattern prices. I also like that while there is a decade-specific aesthetic, the available patterns still cover a wide range of looks from that era.

DOWNSIDE–>Digital Downloads

Okay, perhaps not a total downside, since you have the option of printing patterns to accommodate plus size women. Nevertheless, you have to draft the patterns yourself. According to this tutorial listed on the Etsy site, the downloads give you a smaller pattern piece that you scale up through the methodology presented in the tutorial. As an experienced crafter, it looks straightforward, but it will add SO MUCH FREAKIN’ TIME!!! I would much rather get pattern pieces that are already printed to scale and ready to go.

Simplicity

One of the biggest manufacturers of patterns today, Simplicity has re-released/updated some old patterns from the 1950s, as seen with this link. If you follow this link, you’ll find some of the 1960s options. Not a whole lot of variety in either of these links, and the cost is typical of Simplicity’s brand. From my research, I know you can find some of these patterns on Amazon for FAR CHEAPER.

If you search on this site for vintage patterns for women, which is this link, you get a few more options. In the vintage section, I saw a couple great Agent Carter costumes =0), of course that’s 1940s, but they look phenomenal!

McCall’s

Don’t waste your time! Barely any options and all overpriced.

Vogue

There are a couple options for vintage Vogue patterns, but unless they’re on sale, they are pricey .

In case you don’t know, Vogue, Butterick, and McCalls are all owned by the same people, which might explain the lack of options. Under the Butterick label, there are a couple more options, but only so many. They’re at a slightly better price point, true, but I’ve always had issues with Butterick patterns not fitting well. Their directions haven’t always been clear, either.

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Only 30 minutes! Cardio or Weight Training???

From some of my previous blogs, including “When the Lights Flicker Out”  and “Addicted to Planking: Plank Challenge Survivor,” you all know that I usually prefer to work out at home or outside. Well, I just moved to the Pacific Northwest. During the first month we were here, (August-September), the weather proved beautiful. Fall has come, though, and winter is not far behind.

In other words:

RAIN, RAIN, COLD FREAKIN’ RAIN!!!

So, I gave in, found a crowbar, pried open my wallet, and am now paying for a gym membership at a local community center. Even for this tightwad, the affordable rate at the center can’t be beat. Plus, it’s less than a five minute drive from my house.

Of course, now I have another dilemma.

Not a Lot Of Time

I get up super early, because I find I work out better first thing in the morning before I start the rest of my day. With my house obligations in relation to cars, child care, etc., I leave for the gym around 6 AM and try to get back at or before 7 AM.

After travel time and time to stretch, I really only have 30-40 minutes to work out. I try to work out Monday through Friday, and I average about 3-4 times per week every week, which rocks!

Sadly, my brief window of workout time makes me feel like I have to choose between all-cardio or all-weight training.

First of all, I admit that I do not have a background in nutrition and nor am I an exercise expert. From my time spent in various health classes, I know that healthy adults should get a mix of both cardio and weight training.

What exactly is a healthy mix?

To help myself and to spread the word, I thought I would do a little investigative research. Here’s what I found.

Which Workout Is Best?

Let’s start off by looking at this question from a bipartisan perspective. Is all-cardio better than all-weight training?

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In an article posted by the Poliquin Group TM, “The Pros and Cons of Cardio vs. Intervals,” the authors point out that the downside to an all-cardio regimen include the reverse effect of what workout junkies want. They state that:

“Over the long term, doing cardio as your sole form of exercise leads to the loss of lean muscle mass. This reduces the amount of calories burned by the body at rest and puts people at risk of pain, dysfunction, and increased diabetes risk.”

Likewise, in her article, “Should I Be Doing Cardio or Lifting Weights?” Vanessa Sofia stated that while cardio does burn fat, it won’t do much for sculpting your body. She comments that “if you are looking to tone your muscles and build definition and size, you will not achieve that through cardio exercise alone.”

So now, keeping with our bipartisan perspective, you might be thinking that all-cardio has its flaws. So what about all-weight training?

hiitReviewing several exercise and fitness articles, the most common complaint is that exercise regimens that are all about weight training result in excessive injuries or risk of injuries.

With free weights, if you don’t have the proper training, it’s easy to mess up your form and seriously pull a muscle. Similarly, machines offer more guided movements, but overdoing it causes stress on the muscles and increases your risk for hurting yourself.

In addition, Sofia points out that while weight training is the way to go for carving out that perfect body, “you will most likely develop bulk instead of a toned and streamlined body.”

Blending Routines on a Tight Schedule

Okay – I went into this already knowing that all-cardio or all-weight training wouldn’t give me the results I want. But I still only have 30-40 minutes! It doesn’t really feel like enough time to do both in the same workout. What should I do?

Nick Nilsson argues that your exercise routine and how you blend it should reflect your overall goals. In his article, “Weights or Cardio: What’s It Going to Be?” Nilsson states that you can’t successfully blend a workout routine unless you know what you want to do. For example, if you want to lose fat, you should have more cardio, whereas if you want to build muscle, you will need more weight training.

Of course things are not that simple.

jillian-michaels-shape-up-3_0Jillian Michaels, the famous fitness guru, argues that while cardio is necessary for cardiovascular health, more cardio will NOT guarantee weight loss. In her article “Finding the Right Balance of Cardio and Weight Training,” Michaels states the following:

“Resistance circuit training burns more calories than straight cardio both during the workout and after. This is because you are getting the benefits of a resistance-training workout and a cardio workout all in one.”

According to her, regular cardio is what you do to rest your muscles. After all, muscle recovery is essential, and overdoing it to the point of injury with weight training is far easier than most people think. With the exception of maybe having a heart attack, Michaels says that you really can’t overdo cardio.

In “Trainer Q & A: How to Mix Cardio and Strength Building to Zap Fat,” Mike Wunsch, Director of Training and Large Group Programming at Results Fitness and a certified personal trainer, concurs with what Jillian Michaels claims.

He points out that resistance training works the entire body and forces the body to burn more fat for energy. Of course, the level of resistance training that Wunsch describes is not exactly something that a novice like myself could do, but his points on burning fat and building muscle seem fairly accurate. He also recommends to do mostly strength training during your workout, then END the workout with a short, 5-10 minute intense cardio session.

My Plan

Well, I’m going to give the experts the benefit of the doubt, and try a regimen that’s heavier in circuit-based weight training with a burst of intense cardio to chase it down.

I am a little concerned, because my gym has requirements that you wipe the equipment when you’re done with it. Going back and forth between two machines always makes me feel like I’m being rude and taking up machines. (Silly and too polite, I know). Well, I go early enough, so here’s to hoping that I don’t piss anyone off by taking up two machines at once!

 

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The Necessity of Lies in Sweeney Todd

In real life, we’re told that honesty is the best policy, yet the greatest stories we read or watch are filled with characters lying to other characters. If we obsess over truth and factuality in the real world, why do we permit fictional characters to lie so frequently?

The simple answer: lies create tension, tension creates conflict, and conflict makes for addictive narratives.

In other words, without conflict, (or without lies), the story does not exist, and what’s the fun in that? After all, we need these stories, because they provide us with an escape, they allow us to live out our fantasies, and they show us the possibilities of what could happen.

Lies also give stories their form. In some stories, such as that of the play or the movie Sweeney Todd, the lie told by Mrs. Lovett creates a structure essential to the story we know. Without her lie, a story may still exist, but it would not be the infamous Gothic romance revenge tale we’ve all come to love.

Looking at Lies

intrigue-300x169Clearly, lies, false truths, equivocations, and the like prove essential to storytelling, as these devices manipulate the characters and the readers alike into believing certain details or into suspecting certain outcomes. In literature, a fancy term for lying is “intrigue,” which is when “a character initiates a scheme which depends for its success on the ignorance or gullibility of the person or persons against whom it is directed” (Abrams, 234). In both the play and the movie Sweeney Todd, the character of Mrs. Lovett intrigues against Sweeney Todd to make him believe that his wife, Lucy, has died.

In his article, “Lies and Literature,” W.J. Reeves thoroughly investigates the concept of why fictional characters intrigue against each other. According to his research, Reeves points out that the three primary forces driving literary liars include self-promotion, protection, and/or some form of punishment. Per Reeves’ argument, Mrs. Lovett would be driven by two of these factors, namely self-promoting herself as Sweeney Todd’s new love interests, which in turn could protect her future status. She may even believe that her lie will protect Todd as well, since the truth of discovering that his wife is not dead and instead mentally unstable could destroy his already fragile grasp on reality.

Her motivations to lie explain her actions, but the real reasons behind this intrigue represents more of a structural plot device than anything else.

Lies Trigger the Chain Reaction of the Story

No matter what the story, be it the tale of Sweeney Todd or something else, the use of intrigue (lies) in literature sets off the chain reaction of the plot. Keeping our focus on Sweeney Todd, let’s look at Mrs. Lovett’s lie more closely.

Before she tells Sweeney Todd about the status of his wife, Todd is already in a vulnerable and pliable state. Regret and anger fill his mind, as does the need for revenge. Mrs. Lovett’s lie about Lucy being dead after Judge Turpin had forcibly courted her, stalked her, and raped her, all encourage/manipulate Todd to take his revenge upon Turpin. Of course, in using the lie to transform Todd into a murderer, Mrs. Lovett puts herself in a caregiver/accomplice position to help Todd achieve his dastardly goals and to keep him safe as he does so.

Sweeney-Todd-Mrs-Lovett-660x331

While Mrs. Lovett’s choice to lie may have been an attempt to gain Todd’s trust and love, she gets far more than she has bargained for when she focuses his frustrations into a mission of vengeance. Every moment he doesn’t get his revenge makes him more troublesome to handle, though. Mrs. Lovett helps Todd create an initial trap in which to lure Turpin, and that trap does work to some extent, but when Turpin gets out of the trap, Todd immediately blames Mrs. Lovett. At risk of losing his affection or her life, due to Todd’s rage issues, the chain of events causes Mrs. Lovett to raise the stakes and allow Todd to take out his rage on the world by murdering others until she can devise a new way to trap Turpin. She’s even willing to cover up Todd’s serial killings by using the corpses to make meat pies that she will sell to the masses. In her mind, these new lies protect her love interest, Todd, and promote her to the position of loyal friend and protector. Of course, Todd only sees it as a means to an end, if it means he will have the opportunity to kill Judge Turpin once again. Thus, as the lies build up, so too does the momentum as we race through this horror show of death, blood, and cannibalism.

Although Mrs. Lovett goes to great lenths to maintain her position as caregiver and potential love interest for Todd, there is one person that could ruin the entire lie, namely Todd’s wife, Lucy. Although mad, penniless, and virtually unrecognizable, the homeless Lucy wanders the streets near Mrs. Lovett’s shop and near where Judge Turpin keeps Johanna, (Lucy and Todd’s daughter, who is now Turpin’s ward). With Lucy lurking about, Mrs. Lovett has to find a way to perpetuate her lies. So, Mrs. Lovett does everything to keep “the old woman,” as she refers to Lucy, away from her store and away from Todd. Even in the song, “God that’s Good” Mrs. Lovett repeatedly tells Toby, “throw the old woman out,” because Mrs. Lovett can’t risk Todd recognizing Lucy, or else she will lose her chance at being with Todd romantically. No matter how much Mrs. Lovett tries to keep Lucy out, Lucy remains ever on the edges and in the shadows, watching the events take place.

originalAs the story comes to its climax, the chain of events leads to the moment where the truth will out, as they say, and when Mrs. Lovett’s lie falls apart. Fueled by his need for vengeance, as encouraged by Mrs. Lovett, Todd finally gets to the part where he will get his second chance at murdering Turpin, but just then Lucy walks into his shop. Caring about nothing but his vengeance, and not knowing the old woman is Lucy, Todd kills Lucy just as she recognizes him. He gets rid of her body in time to take his revenge out on Judge Turpin, but as Todd goes downstairs to gloat over Turpin’s lifeless corpse, he realizes the true identity of the old woman, and thus discovers the truth that Mrs. Lovett has knowingly and willfully deceived him. This truth reawakens his need for vengeance as he kills Mrs. Lovett before killing himself.

Would the Story Work without the Lie?

By the explanation above, Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue against Sweeney Todd does act as the catalyst that causes the chain of events leading to both her and Todd’s deaths, but how different would the story have been had Mrs. Lovett not lied?

Let us suppose that Mrs. Lovett decided that instead of letting Todd believe that Lucy had died that she tells him to prepare himself, for his wife has much changed. In doing so, she would have then taken Todd to the old, beggar woman who was once his beautiful Lucy.

Predicting Lucy’s reaction to meeting her long-lost husband proves a difficult task, especially throwing in the fact that Lucy has lost her faculties. She may not have recognized him, and simply tried to run away from him, or she may have thought he was a ghost come to haunt her, or any other number of potential reactions. Regardless, Todd would’ve felt the need to take care of her in some way, perhaps taking her out of the city or paying for her to go to a hospital.

After seeing what had become of his wife, Todd would have been just as bent on revenge, since his need for vengeance had been festering for 15 years. That said, would he have chosen the same blood-drenched path? If he were able to convince Lucy to let him help her, and if he had the possibility of being a whole family again, one could surmise that such hope would have tempered part of his bloodlust. He still would have had to eliminate Turpin to save Johanna, which may or may not have resulted in Turpin’s ultimate demise.

Going back to the question, does the story work without Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue against Sweeney Todd? As a revenge tale, Todd still would have gone up against Turpin to avenge Lucy’s honor and to save his daughter from a known rapist. Removing Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue, however, would change the character of Sweeney Todd from an understandable yet morally despicable antihero into that of a sympathetic protagonist, which would have lessened the beloved Gothic elements that have made this story so infamous. Had that occurred, the very form of the story would have been drastically changed into something more akin to an action story about vengeance.

In the story of Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett’s initial lie seals the form of the story to that of a paradox between the haunting and blood-soaked elements of the Gothic with that of the hero’s quest for vengeance typical of a romance fiction. The striking differences between these two genres add more tension, since we the audience become morally torn between wanting Sweeney Todd to receive justice for wrongdoings against him as we uncomfortably struggle to justify his stream of murders. That emotional uncertainty underscores the murkiness of justice, which is a key theme of the story. That sense of murkiness could only have been achieved with Mrs. Lovett’s initial lie as the catalyst for conflict.


Works Cited:
Abrams, M.H., and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. Print.
Reeves, W.J. “Lies and Literature.” USA Today Magazine. Nov. 1998. Print and Web.

Humans Walk on Our Bones

The blood soaked deep into the ground centuries ago, forever tainting the soil with the blood of the Other. I spilled blood that day so long ago, the blood of thousands who challenged my lands. They were our rivals from the north. They came here thinking they could steal our lands, for they had heard we were pacifists, artisans, and traders. We did not start the war, but I was more than happy to end it.

Our numbers were small in comparison, for the Others in my land did not breed like the vermin from the north. We kept our numbers low for safety and to preserve resources. Besides, those in my lands were gifted with extended life, and there would always be time later on for children. We never thought we would need greater numbers for defense, and I admit that may have been an oversight on my part.

Nevertheless, even with smaller numbers, our enemy didn’t count on one thing, which was the trees.

In the north, they had long ago stopped talking with the trees, the grasses, and the sprouting buds. They had forgotten how. My kind communed with the forest daily. We dug into the dirt, wriggling our fingers deep into the ground to grab the roots of the trees. Through the roots we could feel all of the trees in the forest, see what they could see, feel the wind on our bodies as they felt it through their leaves.

The trees stood watch as our sentries.

From days of old, a spell had been passed down in my family, a secret spell that could grant new life, but it was a spell I swore never to use, for the aftermath would be grim beyond imagining. But as I wrapped my fingers around the roots of the trees, sending my consciousness to the edges of the forest all around my domain, I saw my enemy surrounding my lands. I saw the hatred in the eyes of my enemy. Their bodies burned with greed and spite. They would rain fire down on our lands, burn all of it to ash, just so they could take them as their own. More empty lands to fill their empty hearts.

The time had come to use the spell.

With assistance from my loved ones, we dug deep into the ground at the base of the oldest oak tree in my domain. I stripped off all my clothing, and our priestess cut long, deep vertical slits down my arms and legs. They laid my body in the hole, wrapping the roots of the oak tree around my wounds to bind them. As I bled out, I chanted the words, and my blood spread from the roots of the oak to the roots of all the trees in my domain.

With the blood given and the words spoken, all the trees woke up.

As I shared my essence with the oak tree, it healed me and kept me alive, and through its root system I stood as the general among my army of trees. As the hordes from the north advanced on my lands, I ordered the trees to pull their roots from the ground and march toward the enemy.

Caught off guard, the enemy troops on the front line were slaughtered  by the first battalion of trees. The leaders of my enemy began to catch on, and their fighting style changed to battle every living thing in their path. They began their slow advance on my lands. With them they brought iron blades and iron cannons rolled on iron riggings. My people would never dare pull that mineral from the earth, and yet my enemies had ignored all the old laws, as they stole the iron ore to make their weapons of death. What they had stolen, I knew I would have to return in some way.

The battle lasted for days, for the trees would not stop, and nor would my enemy step down. The further the enemy pushed into my lands, the more of their own people were killed by my trees, but their numbers were so high that they seemed not to care about those they had lost.

On the morning of the third day, the remaining horde stood at less than 100 fighters. They marched into the meadow, their bodies badly beaten, bruised, and bloodied. Unbeknownst to them, I had allowed them onto that meadow, letting them believe that they had a chance to win. I pulled my trees back, commanding all of them to bury their roots firmly back in the ground. Cautiously watching the trees that stood at the meadow’s edge, the enemy advanced on the meadow, wheeling their cursed iron supplies.

The general of the enemy called out my name, demanding I step forward and relinquish my throne. With the roots still wrapped around my arms and legs, I walked toward the general, and the oak tree walked behind me.

I stopped at about 50 paces away from the general. His remaining troop of soldiers clustered closely together as they watched the area, expecting the nearby trees to attack. Once more, the general called my name and demanded I give him my throne. I called out to him and told him that his army of thousands had been slaughtered by my command. If he left my lands now with those remaining and vowed never to return, I would let them leave in peace. If he took one step toward me, he and all his soldiers would die. The general laughed, and his soldiers laughed with him.

He took his last step.

As his foot settled on the ground, the roots from all the trees surrounding the meadow dug through the soil. The roots popped up from the ground beneath the soldier’s feet and grabbed onto the ankles of all the enemy soldiers. Every one of them was pulled down below, where they choked on dirt soaked in the blood of their brethren.

Our enemy was dead and buried.

My people named that place the Meadow of Iron Blood. It was there we left their weapons to the rains and the sun. In time, the iron wheels and cannons and blades rusted over. Weeds now slowly strangle the long forgotten tools of death.

While I will live on eternally, my soul forever bound to the trees and the soil, many of my people have passed on. We have buried our dead in the Meadow of Iron Blood, for nothing but weeds and shadows can dwell in that place.

Now humans walk in our lands. They do not know us, nor can they see us, most of them, so they have no idea of the battlefield they walk on when they stroll through this meadow. As the bones crunch in the dirt beneath their feet, the humans do not see the ghosts from the battle. They do not feel the taint of the blood burning through the soil. All they see is the rusted remains of our enemies, the only surviving ruins of the battle.


The above was a free write exercise, which I hope you enjoyed. If you have any comments, I would be happy to respond. The cover picture inspired this free write, and my partner took this picture while we were out hiking on the Dry Creek Trail near Union City, California.

BOOK JUDGEMENT: Revelation Game

If you have been following my blogs, you know that I challenged myself this year to read several books by lesser-known/indie writers. I would then post my reviews here online. If you are unfamiliar with how I’m going about this process, check out my initial blog that explains the whole process:

Pay It Forward Indie Book Challenge — HOW I JUDGE! 


 

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Today I am judging Justus R. Stone’s Revelation Game

Super-Quick Synopsis:

With the aid of fully-immersive gaming technology, teenager Tyler Drake plays an MMO videogame called Revelations. The game allows players to choose either the side of the angels in Heaven or the side of the demons in Hell, and Tyler plays a demon with the user handle ‘Shamshiel.’ Thanks to the technology used to play the game, players feel as if they are actually inside the virtual environments. The game even uses the real world to create virtual environments to provide a more authentic look, but gamers are not allowed to game in locations too close to their actual homes.

Due to some bad decisions, Tyler uses a modification to hack the system to let him play a mission that takes place in his own neighborhood. During the mission, someone Tyler knows personally is killed in the game. When Tyler wakes up to go to school the next day, he discovers that the person has been killed in real life as well. Tyler freaks out about whether the game is real or not. Administrators of the game contact Tyler and give him the ominous option to either play an assigned mission or to end his gameplay permanently. Fearful, Tyler decides to play the mission. With some heavenly assistance from someone else who has come to terms with the game being real, Tyler is able to play the game the way he wants to play it, and not the way that the game might force him to play it.

Star Ranking:

3-starsI give this story 3 out of 5 stars. Conceptually, it wasn’t horrible, but it really wasn’t anything more than just okay.

Judgment Factors:

Overall Story

First of all, this story is around 51 pages. The copy I downloaded didn’t have this cover, so I didn’t realize it was a novella. On the plus side, though, if you are looking for something short and kind of sci-fi/fantasy to read, you can get through this one in no time at all.

In terms of plot, the story followed a typical plot cycle that introduced the characters, got you interested in the plot device of the video game, brought you to the climax of the ultimate moral choice Tyler would make, and then showed you the results of his choices. Everything was presented clearly and tied up at the end. Personally, I found the plot to be predictable

Character Development

characterdvlptSurprisingly, the character development worked beautifully in this piece. Sometimes it’s difficult in a shorter story to get a feel for someone, but Stone chose to focus on the internal thoughts of Tyler, which immediately conveyed his character. The other characters in the story were deliberately archetypal, but that kept the plot moving. Additionally, since the whole story focused on Tyler and Tyler’s decisions, you really didn’t need to know that much about the other characters to understand what was going on.

Grammar and Technical Issues

There were typos, missed words, and wrong words in the text. Not so many that I couldn’t get through it, but noticeable. As always, I write and edit professionally, so I notice errors more quickly than most people. Still, I think one more round with an editor would’ve made this piece look more professional.

Distractions

Thankfully, there were no real distractions in the story. The concept kept me engaged enough to want to find out how it ended, even though I had my suspicions that it would end the way it did. Going into the story, you had to accept a somewhat futuristic gaming technology, but since we already have immersive gaming tech, this super next generation version didn’t feel that out of place.

I do have one nitpicky comment.

Tyler himself states that he’s addicted to the game, and that he plays it instead of getting a good night’s sleep. That lets the reader know that Tyler is a gamer geek, and that he goes to school and comes home to play video games. However, there is a subplot going on in the story about how Tyler’s mother has been fighting with depression after the death of her husband. Tyler undoubtedly uses gaming as an escape to avoid dealing with his grief issues. He’s also had to take on the role of the adult, since his father’s death has left his mother broken. There’s an implication that Tyler works some sort of part-time job, possibly to bring in extra cash to pay the bills, although this is never clearly explained. Therefore, the reader is supposed to believe that Tyler has the time to go to high school, work, make meals, and do some chores around the house, plus he still has the time and energy to play this game. To me, that is a bit of a stretch.

GoEnglish_com_BurningTheCandleAtBothEndsAs Tyler’s final moral choice ties in with the decision to help or hurt his mother, I understand why Stone has created this broken parent figure plot device. It pulls at the heartstrings of the reader to see a gamer geek like Tyler be forced into a pseudo-adult position just to survive the situation. Nevertheless, I think the idea of Tyler doing all of this and having a part-time job just didn’t work for me. Yes – Tyler has that seemingly endless teenager energy, and maybe I could acknowledge that fact to excuse him burning the candle at both ends, but this detail about his character stuck out like a sore thumb. There are other aspects that already make Tyler look like a dutiful son, and I thoroughly enjoyed the touches of bitterness at his absentee mother, since it emphasizes those mixed emotions that death causes. Ultimately, I think Stone kept adding details to the character of Tyler to make sure his point as the author came across clearly, but instead it added a few dimensions that didn’t quite fit.

Blurbing about Books: 4 Reviews for You

Please don’t confuse this post with my Paying It Forward blog post . I read many books throughout the year, both by mainstream and indie authors, so I thought I would occasionaly write up some fun blurbs for your viewing pleasure.


Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire

Fairy world meets hard-boiled detective novel

cover_rrMcGuire seamlessly constructs her world of fairy creatures into the modern day setting of San Francisco. She has obviously done her research into the lore of the Fae, and it comes through without being preachy or dry. Through the first-person perspective of October Daye, a changing (half fairy/half human), we get to see the political world of the Fae as seen through the eyes of someone who is often shafted by her own kind, since she’s only a half blood. The pacing of the story moves quickly, as Daye must solve the murder of a pure-blood Fae before Daye herself is killed by a curse tied to the murder. As the first book in the October Daye series, this novel draws you right into the world, and you immediately become a fan of the main character. I can hardly wait to see what happens in the rest of the books in this series. Fantastic world and a joy to read!!!


The Book of Madness and Cures, by Regina O’Melveny

Brain candy for Renaissance scholars

51xuN1YWnvL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_For Renaissance scholars like me, this book provides an interesting view of Renaissance culture, medicine, and herbal lore, as well as a review of maladies and ailments through the lens of this earlier era. O’Melveny also offers a unique perspective on gender politics, including the way females had to navigate their way through social circles to enter fields dominated by the patriarchy. In many ways, O’Melveny’s method of storytelling reminds me of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, in that it portrays well-researched facts and interweaves them brilliantly into a story. I will admit that the story gets heavy with the details and moves slowly, but the pacing mirrors the travels of the main character, Dr. Gabriella Mondini, as she searches through ten countries to find her father. If you enjoy period pieces, a bit of mystery, and gender studies, you will certainly have fun with reading this novel.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowling

Insider info for Harry Potter fanatics

51iMJ+zBW8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_While I love the Harry Potter world, I must admit that I read the main seven books later than most people, so I didn’t even know about this book until I saw the trailer for the movie coming out in 2016. I picked up the book, expecting it to be a full story, because that’s how the movie trailer looked. Imagine my surprise when I found that this book is actually just a catalog of the magical creatures found within the world of Harry Potter?

As a writer, I completely understand and respect Rowling’s choice to produce this book. Not only did she do it for a great charitable cause, but she probably also wrote it initially for herself just to keep everything organized in her writing. I know I have a similar document for my Rupt World Stories. Building a catalog of the creatures, groups, etc. in your own world has become a unique way for writers to publish their otherwise unseen notes. We as writers need these catalogs to keep our own information organized and consistent. Fans eat it up, because they love the insider information. It really is a win-win all around.

The book itself provided some interesting insight into the different creatures, which I found amusing. I also enjoyed how Rowling brought up the political and social issue of the difficulty in categorizing many magical beings, since so many are intelligent, but do not wish to have anything to do with humans and/or wizards. She doesn’t go too deeply into the politics, and I see that as a strategic choice for someone writing in the young adult market. You saw these issues brought up in the other books/movies, but it was almost always on the sidelines, unless it was vital to the current moment of plot. Overall, if you’re a die-hard fan, you will enjoy this book. I personally think there could have been more to this book, which is probably what the screenwriters thought, as they have adapted a basic catalog of creatures into something that looks phenomenally epic.


Lady Susan, by Jane Austen

Voyeuristic fun for everyone

20160313-landfAlthough not one of the well-known Austen books, Lady Susan provides a tantalizing tale of social climbing, but all the details are revealed through letters back and forth between key characters. In reading these private letters, you find out what false fronts these individuals present to the world, as well as how they hide their true motives. I knew nothing about the book when I started reading it, so at first I thought the initial opening letter was something like a prologue. As the book continued in nothing but personal letters, I grew fascinated at Austen’s ability to portray so much information from the individual perspectives of each character. This book really pushes the concept of the unreliable narrator, since each character only knows so much, and their personal prejudices alter their perspectives even further.

My only complaint about this book was the ending. ******SPOILER ALERT******* I was expecting all the loose ends to tie up via letters, but instead Austen has another person step in to provide a brief discussion concerning what happens. Prior to describing what happens to everyone in the end, this unknown narrator states the following:

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and the separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer,” (Conclusion, page 70).

I understand that it’s hard to pick a spot to end, since all the characters will continue on in their lives, but if you are going to choose a format like this and carry it out to its full extent, you might as well take the format all the way to the end! As the movie comes out soon, I must say my curiosity is piqued to see how they will maintain the intimacy of the letters in the on-screen portrayal of the story.

Enslaving the Force and Rejecting Fluidity

***Spoiler ALERT!! If you read this article, I will assume you know the plot arch of all 7 Star Wars movies***

After reading the title, you might be thinking something like:

“Wait a minute – all the Jedi master’s said to let the force flow, so how can they be rejecting fluidity?”

For starters, flow and fluidity are NOT the same thing. To understand this concept in relation to Star Wars, particularly the newest movie, The Force Awakens, let us first look at the terms flow and fluidity.

The concept of flow implies such definitions as gushing out, being spilled, springing forth, circulating, etc. In terms of the force, letting it flow often describes allowing the energy of the force to circulate in your being and flow out of your body to do with as you wish. The important thing to remember regarding flow is that an individual controls the flow.

In contrast, we use fluidity as an adjective to explain such things as the force. Fluidity describes something that “lacks definite shape,” and that “flows and alters shape freely” (paraphrased from the OED).

Fluidity depicts the raw energy that IS the force.
Flow implies a means to control the force.

The Force and the Patriarchy of Control

Those in power, often described as the patriarchy, assert their power by controlling the attainment and ultimate use of power. Politicians do so through complex laws and legislation, dictators do so through fear and tyranny, and force-users do so by requiring a rigid form of training.

0720232f-8631-4e46-9442-410c5038138dBoth sides, Jedi and Sith, light and dark, have their own philosophies and methodologies around how to use the power of the force. If you only know Star Wars from the movies, it implies a simplistic binary of Jedi = good and Sith/Empire = bad. As you get deeper into the Star Wars universe, however, you start to discover that this rudimentary explanation ignores much of the reality of the situation.

Jedi believe in full detachment from their emotions as a means to be one with the force. And I do mean all emotions, good and bad, including love, joy, etc. It’s not that they don’t feel these emotions, but they try to control how they will feel them, because giving in to emotions, according to Jedi training, could open one up to the desires of the dark side.

In contrast, those who are trained in the ways of the dark side use their emotions as a way to gain access to the power of the force. Most of the time, this methodology depicts apprentices and masters giving in to the most violent of emotions, including rage, lust, vengeance, and other. In many ways, those trained in the dark side are shown as narcissistically pursuing their own selfish desires, sacrificing all else to obtain what they want most.

Obviously, especially from a storyteller’s perspective, having such polar opposites creates better conflict. Moving beyond that, if you are willing to look deeper, what the binary truly highlights includes the fact that the force itself is just an energy source that can be wielded any number of ways, depending upon the person wielding it.

Both the Jedi and the Sith have created power structures around their training academies, because forcing rigorous training allows them to mold young force-users into believing the ideology of either the light side or the dark side.

Think about it – why are the Sith so bent on destroying the Jedi younglings, as Anakin/Darth Vader did? Why do they want to wipe out all Jedi teachings? They do this because they recognize the power in the academy setting.

Within a training environment, like the academy, no matter which side you’re on, all you do is focus on how your side uses the force, why your side does what they do, and how to keep your side going strong. The academy promotes propaganda, it establishes the power structure as normative, and it identifies anything outside of that power structure as Other and dangerous.

On the light side, they seek out force sensitives and try to bring them into the fold under the guise that they are helping these youngsters understand themselves and avoid hurting anyone. They also offer these individuals a home, a place to belong, and a cause in which to fight for. On the dark side, force sensitives are often manipulated into the academy system. Generally, Sith Masters tend to offer force sensitives the chance to become like Gods, the opportunity to claim vengeance, patriotism, or whatever it takes.

The Force Outside of the Patriarchy

The first six movies set up the binary of Jedi = good and Sith = bad, and those movies implied that this binary was the only way the force works. In the newest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we start to step away from this binary and ask ourselves ethical questions concerning the force.

Is the force inherently good or evil?

Some people might argue that the force is both, being that it has two sides, but again I would interject that the force represents raw, unaligned power. The idea of the light side and the dark side only serve to highlight the propaganda of the two training academies. With the force, there are no sides, only fluidity.

maz-kanata-force-discussion-165843Interestingly enough, this concept of the unaligned force gets promoted not by a force-user, but by Maz Kanata, the old woman who runs the neutral bar. When Rey senses Luke’s light saber and goes on a vision quest, it scares her, because she lacks the understanding of what such visions mean. Maz begins to explain that the force is a natural form of energy, neither good nor bad. She offers Rey the light saber as a conduit between herself and the force, which at first Rey refuses.

Rey’s refusal stems from her state of shock after the terrifying vision and uncertainty of what her vision implies. Going deeper, her initial refusal of the light saber could represent her refusing the patriarchy of the academy, as the light saber represents the propaganda from both sides so monstrously depicted in the vision. Although Rey may not realize it consciously, the vision she saw further promotes the binary that enslaves the raw power of the force. How can she accept the force as a power of nature, as Maz says, yet wield the symbol of its oppressors?

When Rey and Kylo Ren fight at the end, she at first clumsily fights with the light saber out of rage, having just saw her pseudo-father-figure, Han Solo, brutally murdered. Kylo Ren immediately hones in on Rey’s rage, per his Sith training. He has already sensed her power throughout the entire movie, and now he sees her giving in to her emotions. As an unaligned force-user, he sees Rey as the Other, and a potential danger to himself. As his training teaches, and as the dark side propaganda promotes, he must bring her in and teach her the “appropriate” ways to use the force. With this in mind, he knocks her light saber out of her hands and begins toying with her. Then he tells her that she needs a proper master, and that if she will submit to him as her master, he can make her powerful beyond her own imaginings.

This is the pivotal moment.

In this moment where Kylo Ren could kill her if she refuses his offer, time seems to stop for a moment as Rey hears the words of Maz Kanata. In that moment of feeling the fluidity of the force all around her as a natural source, she sees how Kylo Ren manipulates that power to flow as he dictates. She sees how the academy has restrained the fluidity of the force, and only then can she reject the binary methodology and transform the weapon of the binary into her own symbol that she can use to push away the propaganda and cast it out. Through this transformation, she allows the force work through her as IT chooses, helping her wield the weapon and push away Kylo Ren

Uncertainty Between Flow and Fluidity

rey offers light saberAt the end, as Rey rejects Kylo Ren as her master and accepts the nature of the force all around her, one would expect her to do her own thing, yet at the end of the movie we find her seeking out Luke Skywalker. As we don’t know what happens in the next movie, it remains uncertain as to what Rey’s final gesture of offering the light saber to Luke actually means.

Many people interpret it as her submission to a Jedi master and her desire to be trained as a Jedi. I would not be surprised if that’s how the next movie goes, because it’s what the fans want and it goes back to the binary, which Hollywood understands.

Since Luke does not take the light saber, and since Rey does not kneel before him, I would like to argue that perhaps Rey’s actions represent something else. She has transformed the light saber into something uniquely her own, which she could wish to share with Luke. After all, Luke has become a hermit, hidden away out of shame. Does this new awakening in Rey imply a new way of using the force, and will Rey be more the teacher than the student?

Until the next movie comes up, it’s difficult to say for certain. Ideally, I would like to see the next movie show the flow of control butt heads with the fluidity of the unaligned force in order to create something new, but, sadly, I don’t think such a demonstration will win over audiences. In the end, people in the movie business make decisions based on the potential for profits. Perhaps the writers can find a way to please the masses without further using the binary to enslave the raw power of the force.

And You Thought Dragons Didn’t Exist

Due to some scheduling issues, I have less time, so I can’t always do heavily researched or insightful blogs. When I must do short ones, I’ve decided to respond to a randomly selected writing prompt.

Today’s writing prompt comes from the Writing Forward website, and this list of 25 writing prompts was crafted by Melissa Donovan in 2014. Because I write about supernatural, fantasy, adventure, and horror, I decided to choose lucky number 13:

And you thought dragons didn’t exist…


The fires in the garden should’ve been my first clue, but the scorch marks were so small, I never would have imagined them to be the result of a dragon.

It started a week ago, when I found the rosebush devoid of all its beautiful blooms. Instead, every bud was blackened. I looked closer, worried that perhaps fungus or rot had infected my favorite rosebush, but there were no indications of such. The stems and leaves remained perfectly green. Only the rosebuds and petals were missing. I suspected those unruly teenagers from down the street had broken into my garden to ruin my roses. They had hated me for years, calling me witch and crone every time they passed. Surely those little hooligans had demolished my roses. I didn’t care what they called me, but if someone touches my roses, all bets were off!

I still had four beautiful rosebushes, so I suspected those little brigands would be back to finish the job. Their parents had never cared before about how their children had tormented me, so I knew they wouldn’t care now. I knew the only justice I would get would involve catching and trapping those little monsters in the act.

While the brats were in school, I placed sticky traps on top of all the fences. No doubt I would catch some of the birds, but once I caught the children in the act of vandalizing, I could call the police and have those punks taken off to jail.

I drank tea in my living room near the window that day during the afternoon as I watched all the teenagers pass in front of my house while they moved toward their respective homes. A few looked at my house tentatively. I memorized their faces.

All night I expected to be woken up by the cries of some poor young child caught on the fence, but there were no sounds.

When I woke up, I walked into the backyard to find my second rosebush had been burned like the first. Rosebuds singed and petals missing, but the rest of the plant was fine. Enraged, I inspected the sticky traps, and with the exception of insects, dust, and three unfortunate finches, there were no signs of anything jumping over my fence.

Could I have been wrong in my accusation? More importantly, if it wasn’t the children, then who was burning my roses?

I removed the sticky traps and decided that if I couldn’t catch the perpetrator this way, surely surveillance equipment would do the trick. A few of my lady friends at the Rotary were whizzes with recording equipment. I called them up, explained what had happened, and they agreed to come over and set up their cameras. They too were interested to know the truth about who was destroying my roses.

My friends told me to let the equipment run its course, and to just do what I normally do every day. I couldn’t stop thinking about who might be attacking my roses, but I convinced myself I needn’t worry, since the cameras would surely solve the mystery.

The next morning I went out to my garden and found that another one of my rosebushes had been freshly burned. The rosebuds were still smoking. Whoever had done it had to be close by, but I couldn’t see anyone out of the ordinary. Right away I phoned my friends, and they agreed to come over for all of us to view the footage.

Why I don’t understand all the technical particulars, the ladies explained that they had set up the camera to record only when there was movement, which they said would save us hours of viewing time. As we scanned through the footage, we saw the culprit.

I say saw the culprit, but I can’t say we believed what we saw.

The footage revealed that the culprit burning my roses was a tiny dragon no bigger than a bluejay. The footage showed the little dragon flying down from a nest in a nearby tree, landing on the rosebush, shooting fire out of its itsy bitsy little mouth, and catching the rosebuds and petals ablaze. It would eat the fiery roses one by one, and when it finished, it flew back up into its nest.

My friends and I stared in disbelief at the screen, uncertain of what we saw. I then hurried outside, followed closely behind by my friends. I went to the shed and pulled out the ladder. The ladies helped me set it up and steadied it for me as I climbed the ladder to look up in the nest that I had never noticed before. There, sleeping inside the nest, was the world’s smallest dragon. I reached into the nest and scooped up the dragon. It opened one eye to look at me, then closed its eye, unafraid, as it began to nuzzle my hand. I brought it down for the ladies to see, and all of us cooed over the tiny thing.

Now it sleeps in the house with me. I buy it fresh flowers to eat on a daily basis, although it doesn’t eat every day. Most of the time it flies around the house and plays with random objects, or it sits on my shoulder. My lady friends from the Rotary thought I should call it Rosebud, because of what it eats, but I didn’t like that name. I’m a traditionalist, after all, so I call it Draco. I’ve been crocheting Draco a harness and leash so that I can take my dragon out for walks in the neighborhood. After all, a tiny dragon pet is befitting for an old woman that everyone calls a witch.

old_woman__baby_dragon_by_emilyada11-d8zpzyb


 

***The artwork of the old woman walking the dragon was found on this page by emilyada11. It is fantastic work, and it is one of the few pics I can find of an old woman and a tiny dragon.

A Fairy and a Leprechaun Walk into a Bar . . .

My Thoughts about St. Patrick’s Day
By L. Rigdon

On a cold day in January, a production company invited a fairy and a leprechaun to a photo shoot. The production company was working on some new marketing ideas for St. Patrick’s Day, and spared no expense to take elaborate photos of the fairy and the leprechaun in various poses to promote the holiday.

After the photo shoot, the fairy and the leprechaun went out for a drink.

The two had known each other for ages, twelve and a half centuries to be precise, and they enjoyed chit-chatting about different things. After several hours of drinking and talking had passed, the leprechaun looked around to make sure no one else was paying attention before he started talking to the fairy in a language only understood by the Fae Folk.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something all these years that we’ve been doing these silly photo shoots, and I can’t put it off any longer.”

Smiling mischievously, the fairy leaned in closely. “Well by all means, ask away. You know we have no secrets.”

“Okay, well as far as I know, there isn’t a single Catholic or Christian amongst the Fae, right?”

“None as far as I’m aware,” answered the fairy.

“Then why do they want to take pictures of us for a Catholic holiday? I mean, the Pagans and Celts believed in fairies and leprechauns and the like, but St. Patrick forced all the non-Catholics to convert. That’s why the Catholics have this holiday, isn’t it?”

“Oh, Cousin, that was just the first stage.”

“The first stage?” The leprechaun seemed surprised. “How many stages are there?”

saintpatrick“Well we’re in the third stage right now.” She took a quick sip of her drink before she continued. “The first stage was about all the Pagans and Protestants being forced to convert to Catholicism, causing devastating problems for our people, as I’m sure you remember.”

“Aye,” he replied.

“That stage only lasted for so long, the whole rush for one country to be one religion, I mean. The second stage started when other countries began taking over Ireland, and Irish immigrants were forced to flee. At that point, celebrating the holiday was a way to relate to your fellow Irishmen, making the second stage one of nationalism.”

“You don’t say?” The leprechaun leaned back in his chair with his mug in hand. “Well keep going and tell me about the third stage, as you call it.”

On-Being-Irish-American-Ancestry“Irish nationalism was all well and good, I mean most fairies and leprechauns are Irish, so we’re just as proud. But nationalism in a country like America can get a little tricky when you have so many people from so many different places. That’s when the third stage happened, the stage of commercialism. Irish people wanted St. Patrick’s Day, so they could celebrate their heritage and their religious rites, but they also wanted to promote their home country of Ireland for tourism.”

“So this third stage is about tourism? Then how do we fit into the picture?”

“If you want something to sell, especially here in the States, you’ve got to make it pop! Being religious won’t sell a holiday. Being Irish or wanting to be Irish is good, but it’s still missing something. That’s where we fit in. When people think of the Irish they think of all the folklore. People dressing up like fairies and leprechauns, wearing green clothing, and pinning on fake shamrocks all make for a fantastic marketing campaign.”

“So the holiday that was originally based on getting rid of the people who actually worshiped the Fae Folk is now the same holiday that uses the Fae Folk as marketing mascots?” He felt confused at this point and took another sip of his drink.

“Cousin, it’s the 21st-century. People don’t know the truth about their holidays anymore! Most holidays are about getting the day off of work and getting drunk,” she explained.

“So why don’t they just call it ‘National Get off of Work and Get Drunk Day’?” He asked.

“Because they would only get one day off a year if they did it that way! By calling each holiday by a different name, like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc., they can have several days during the year when they can get off of work and get drunk,” she replied.

“Well I guess I can’t argue with that logic.” The leprechaun finished his drink and ordered another round. He chuckled to himself as he said, “An excuse to get drunk and get off of work! What will these mortals think of next?”

st.-patricks-day-marketing-ideas-2-660x370© L. Rigdon 2008
[Edited 2016]

[Featured picture from this FABULOUS article: “US leprechauns versus Irish fairies – a St. Patrick’s Day death match”]