Harry Potter Fans Aren’t Faithless

PotterIn the long shadow cast by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 two movie franchises hit the big screen: Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. They helped us heal and started a sort of cultural revolution. Tolkien found a new audience with the help of Peter Jackson. Rowling made reading cool for kids around the world. Young adult books have been around for many, many years, but Harry Potter pushed the genre into a new stratosphere.

I remember, very clearly, a conversation I had with a coworker about the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books. In her mind, the wizarding world was bad and Middle Earth was good. Her reasoning rested on the fact that the Hogwart’s students learn how to cast spells. It promoted witchcraft. When I argued that the wizards of Middle Earth used magic she denied it. My chin did drop when she said that. Clearly, she knew of Tokien’s wish that “his literary insights be clearly consistent with Christianity.” ¹ She found the parallels between the Gospels and Tolkien’s work, but hadn’t bother to look for them in Rowling’s.

This debate is old news, so why am I bringing it up now? Because of a news story I read about 15 year old Cassidy Stay who survived a shooting. While her parents and siblings died execution style, “her skull was fractured by a bullet graze.” ² She managed to call 911 and warn the police that her ex uncle-in-law was on his way to kill other family members.

What really struck me about the story was her public statement at a memorial for her family on Saturday (July 12, 2014). “I know that my mom, dad, Brian, Emily, Becca and Zach are in a much better place, and that I will be able to see them again one day,” Cassidy said. This shows me she is a person of faith. So, when she also quotes Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,” naysayers of the Harry Potter series would do well to stop and take notice.

Rowling herself finally revealed the Christian themes of the Harry Potter series and why she waited until the final book to speak publicly about them. You can read an article about that here. If you want to explore even further, I recommend reading How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger. Take one minute and ten seconds out of your day and watch the video below of Cassidy Stay’s speech at her family’s memorial.

Works Cited:
1. Armstrong, Chris. “Christian History Corner: J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, a Legendary Friendship.” . Christianity Today, 1 Aug. 2003. Web. 13 July 2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/augustweb-only/8-25-52.0.html?paging=off.

2. Urbanski, Dave. “Teen Girl Who Survived Shooting That Claimed Her Entire Family Quotes ‘Harry Potter’ Character During Stirring Memorial in Her Hometown.” The Blaze. The Blaze, 12 July 2014. Web. 13 July 2014. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/07/12/teen-girl-who-survived-shooting-that-claimed-her-entire-family-quotes-harry-potter-character-during-stirring-memorial-in-her-hometown/.

 
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Reel Gazing: ‘Enough Said’ Starring James Gandolfini & Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Enough SaidTitle: Enough Said (2013)
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 93 Minutes
Genre: Drama | Romance | Comedy
My Rating:

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini star in this charming comedy about a divorced woman venturing into a relationship with a sweet man. But things get tricky when she discovers the man she’s dating is the hated ex-husband of her new best friend.

The story is intended for comedic effect, but I believe it’s the subtleties that make it work. Louis-Dreyfus brings authenticity to the role of Eva, a divorcee facing an empty nest. Gandolfini, as Albert, is charming and enigmatic. The chemistry between them runs like a lazy river banking against rocks and gently disturbing the silt beneath them. The characters appeared to be natural fits for the actors.

Relationships don’t come to us fully formed and even under the best of circumstances maintaining them takes work. Eva and Albert are open to a new connection and find something rare in the other, harmony. But dating is tough, especially for people in their 40s and 50s and this couple has lived with a lot of bad mojo sloughing off of their exes. It’s enough to make anyone wary.

Marianne (Keener) is a disengaged poet with a pretentious demeanor. Eva is approaching a crossroad and desperate to avoid the vacuum the departure of her daughter will produce. The unlikely friendship between the two is perplexing. Add to the mix Eva’s longtime friends Sarah (Collette) and Will (Ben Falcone), who are seemingly in a relationship rut, and you get negativity telegraphed through wifi. The signals don’t jive and mistakes are made.

Enough Said is about choices, external influences and learning to trust, not just others but ourselves. I truly wish this movie had seen a wider audience upon its release because it’s a beautiful film. Yes there are funny moments, but the beauty lies in the undercurrents of emotion. Only a director with vision and fearless actors could produce such a gem. I highly recommend it.

 
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Happy National Camera Day

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Author Spotlight: Morgan Bell @queenboxi #interview

Author-Spotlight

Morgan Bell
Morgan Bell

About the Author:

Morgan Bell is a young Australian woman, born in Melbourne, Victoria in 1981. She attended primary school in the regional areas of New South Wales, including the Northern Rivers, and the South Coast, and attended secondary school in the southern suburbs of Newcastle. She currently lives in Sydney and works in Local Government as an engineer. Morgan is university educated in civil engineering, traffic engineering, technical communications, linguistics, and literature. She is a member of Hunter Writers Centre, Newcastle Writers Group, and Newcastle Speculative Fiction Group. Her short story “It Had To Be Done” was first published in the Newcastle Writers Group Anthology 2012, and her short story “Midnight Daisy” was published by YWCA Newcastle in 2013 as part of the She: True Stories project, with live readings on ABC 1233 in February 2014 and Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2014.

Connect with Morgan:

Website | Amazon |Facebook | Twitter: @queenboxi | Goodreads

Interview:

MF: Sniggerless Boundulations developed from a collation of scraps of paper that you had scrawled on during your weekly writers groups. Did the scrawlings and eventual stories emerge from prompts, observations or pure imagination?
MB: Most of them were from prompts. Telfer Speck, Shark Fin Soup, and Granted were all short story competition entries. Mrs Jackson was from an anxiety dream. Mini Play was, ironically enough, originally a short play that I converted to prose and extended. But the other ten stories were all from weekly writers prompts that were distributed through my local writers group in Newcastle Australia. We would get a mixture or photos, art works, words, phrases, and quotes. A story like It Had To Be Done was literally generated from the prompt phrase “it had to be done”. The Package was from the iconic image of John and Yoko where John Lennon is nude and in the foetal position. But of course that is one prong of the inspiration, then they are filled with little snippets or paraphrases of real life with my own imagined motivation, backstory, or extrapolation attached. I should also add a fair bit of googling goes into expanding a prompt into a purposeful narrative, I do a lot of free association and leading myself down the virtual rabbit hole until I find something meaningful.

MF: Sniggerless Boundulations is a collection of short stories. Do you have a novel in you dying to be written?
MB: I do actually, I have been working on an outline for a speculative fiction novel with all female protagonists, based on some fairy tales and urban myths, working title: Daughters of Mallory. There is also a novel I really want to write based on my experiences living in Darlinghurst, the gay and lesbian suburb or Sydney, Australia, when I was in my early 20s, about share-housing and the night life scene, I just haven’t decided how to write it. I am a fan of John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand (which was made into a movie of the same name in 2001 starring Noah Taylor), and that is written in a scrapbook or diary style with a series of anecdotes from thirteen different houses he rented a room in. I would like to do something similar with some longer character arcs and a bit of gender bending.

MF: Your writing has been called ‘engaging’ ‘crisp, clean, sharp and vivid’. What is your editing process like?
MB: I am a technical writer by trade. I spend my work days trimming down technical burble to plain English, in a civil engineering environment, so it is a built-in response to brutally cull excess wording. Although because it is so automatic I often edit as I write, which I am aware is generally a big no no, but it’s hard to turn it off. I attend a writers group with the director of the Hunter Writers Centre, Karen Crofts, and she has been influential is getting me to reassess my adjective use. In editing I try to get rid of redundancies and tighten up phrasing and sentence structure. Richard Curtis (screenwriter, Notting Hill) said in the audio commentary for the deleted scenes from the film The Boat That Rocked, when explaining why he could delete the backstory of Gavin Kavanagh (Rhys Ifans) and not lose anything from the feel of the total film, that sometimes a whole elaborate joke could be executed with one word if is spoken by a fully formed character like anti-hero Edmund Blackadder (from his TV show Blackadder).

MF: Are there any specific themes in the stories of Sniggerless Boundulations that you want readers to discover?
MB: Mental illness is what feeds the subtext of the collection. I recently did a guest post on Laura Brown’s blog (http://www.laurabrownauthor.com/2014/06/02/guest-blog-post-morgan-bell-writing-about-mental-illness/) outlining how many of the stories tie in with my own experiences with mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. The intention of many of the stories is simply to emote, so if a reader can get a sense of that horrifying panic or despair than I have done my job.

MF: As a self-published author, how do you market your work? Any marketing tips for other authors thinking about self-publishing?
MB: A couple of methods I have been sticking to are maintaining an online presence, and never being afraid to ask. If you want someone to read and review your book you first have to ask and secondly have to provide them with a copy. Having some pre-prepared marketing materials such as a leaflet and website that include a blurb, bio, excerpts, purchasing links etc ready to go will make marketing a self-published book much easier to market. I was a bit of an old internet attention-whore from way back, but now I am shameless. If you ever had an old blog or profile that is just lying dormant full of cobwebs, dust it off and change the ‘About’ section to being about your book, and share all your interviews and reviews across your big woven web. Other indie authors are doing the same thing and are usually keen to reciprocate. Reactivate that MySpace or Blogger or WordPress or Stumbleupon or Tumblr and get sharing.

MF: What part of the writing process do you find easiest? Most difficult?
MB: Sometimes structuring can be difficult if you are trying to present a complex idea metaphorically. That’s where the old Microsoft Word comes in handy, cut and paste is a godsend. I have tried programs like Y-writer and sticky notes apps but sometimes I’ll just do a pen and paper mind map. I find writing dialogue easy, maybe I make all the character sound like me, I don’t know, but I enjoy writing a verbal exchange between two or more characters.

MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
MB: I have had a few comments about my writing having a childlike quality to it, a lack of sophistication in vocabulary, but it was never negative and quite honestly that’s the whole point. I want my writing to be accessible without being condescending, and my phrasing to be calculated without being wanky. I don’t use words that I wouldn’t use when speaking to you in person. As for true compliments, I can’t go past a comparison to a successful author, I got a couple of reviews that compared Sniggerless Boundulations to J. D. Salinger and Stephen King and thought it was fabulous. My friend Karen from Hunter Writers Centre once referred to me as Newcastle’s answer to Haruki Murakami, which was very kind indeed. I also like it when my work is recognised as being postmodern and containing tension.

MF: . Aside from polished and engaging writing, what three things do you think every new writer must do in order to succeed in this highly competitive and ever-changing industry?
MB: I am such a newcomer, I don’t know if I can tutor other on success. I know as a reader and as a human being I appreciate it when writers offer up a diverse catalogue, however I have read studies that show sales-wise it is most lucrative to have one relatable protagonist reappearing over a series of similar books, for building your brand and reader loyalty (http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/2/). Forbes magazine declared Lee Child to be the most successful author at gaining loyalty over the likes of John Grisham and Stephen King for this very reason. One thing I know that gets you writing is short story competitions, because you write to a deadline and a prompt. Another thing is being actively involved in your local writers community so you can be perpetually inspired and encouraged by writers from all genres and walks of life.

MF: If I gave you a hippo where would you hide it?
MB: This question reminds me of the infamous Van Halen demand about brown M&Ms in the dressing room (http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/vanhalen.asp), a peculiar detail in a long technical contract as a double-check to see if the venue had actually read the sound and lighting specs for the bands elaborate gear set-up. I don’t know if you are testing me or we are testing your dear readers, but I like it. The answer is I would never hide a hippo, why should I be ashamed of being the custodian or such a magnificent beast. He would be the centrepiece of my home with his own hippo-esque quarters and unfettered access to the entertaining spaces. My mother is a bit of a pet-stealer (hoarder? borrower? fosterer?), you take a pet to her house for a bit of a holiday and it never comes back, the property is like a Noah’s Arc of animals. So if the hippo wanted to hide himself he could do so in plain sight at Grandma Bell’s house

MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
MB: I think it would be something from my childhood like the sleepy woodland of pools that Digory discovers in C.S. Lewis’s The Magicians Nephew, or Enid Blyton’s enchanted wood with the folk of the faraway tree. Obviously I would want to be in woods of some kind, magical woods. I could possibly settle for Sherwood Forrest, I could wear green stockings with a bunch of merry men.

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Sniggerless Boundulations:

Debut collection of short stories by indie Australian author Morgan Bell. A cross-section between dreams and reality. An examination of the horrors of life, with plenty of peering, in the form of vignettes, micro fiction, flash fiction, and short stories.

Themes include fear, time, aging, anxiety, and jealousy.

This collection of fifteen stories contains bizarre medical conditions, industrious creatures, conniving cops, killers, dead bodies, a rescue mission, homoeroticism, nonchalant students, a secret garden, and the road to hell.

Contains the stories:

The Tunnel (173 words)
Deep Water (127 words)
Shark Fin Soup (507 words)
The Dermoid Cyst (384 words)
Mrs Jackson (644 words)
It Had To Be Done (206 words)
Granted (1034 words)
The Package (482 words)
Strings & Ribbons (131 words)
Mini Play (485 words)
Tiptoe Through The Tulips (523 words)
Poppycock (327 words)
Telfer Speck (1499 words)
Earth Mites (409 words)
Garsdale (539 words)

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A Reader Opines: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published: April 8th 2014 by Speak (first published January 1st 2012)
Genre: Young Adult | Realistic Fiction | Contemporary
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reality often sucks. It’s near impossible to be Pollyannaesque individuals in today’s world. So, why would anyone want to read a work of fiction based on teenagers with cancer? For the subtleties, of course. Because immersing ourselves in the lives and deaths of characters at best has the potential to teach us compassion at worst it prepares us for what may unexpectedly come.

Blurb taken from Goodreads:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

I began reading this book while waiting at the hospital to have tests run. When they called me back, I was loathe to put it down. The rest of the day was a study in patience as I fulfilled obligations. As soon as the last chore and task was complete, I jumped back into Hazel’s story and didn’t leave until the last page was turned.

Green has created very real characters. Three dimensional, multi-faceted characters who, unlike most of us, have a relationship with mortality. Death is their companion. Not a friend mind you, a chaperon waiting close by for the right moment to steal their last breath. And yet they live. Not for themselves, but for others. For each other.

The story is compelling and unfolds beautifully, despite its gravity. Pivotal moments are disbursed at a natural pace, unforced. As a lover of books, I’m smitten with the idea of one book and its author playing such a huge role in the characters’ lives. The weaving of wonder and disappointment, enchantment and hopelessness leads the reader on an emotional journey–one that is eerily realistic.

The Fault in Our Stars is an example of excellent storytelling. While the end wasn’t entirely unexpected, the getting there was enthralling and the undercurrents stick with you long after.

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Plots, Sub-Plots and Outlines

Image provided by rore_d' & freeimages.com

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When I began writing seriously, I was a ‘by the seat of my pants’ kind of writer. I started with character and let the stories unfold as I wrote. When I wrote my first novel, I had a partial outline. Actually, I kind of outlined as I went, staying a few steps ahead of the writing. Overall, it made things easier and I learned a lot from the process.

Now that my attention has turned to a new novel, I’m using the outline in a different way. It’s a little unusual in that I have three separate outlines that will eventually be meshed together.

I have the main outline complete. This consists of the main characters, the opening scene, a pivotal setup complication, three pivotal complications, the worst complication possible, the worse than even the worst complications ever and the ending. With this outline I have the foundation of the novel. I know where I’m going and a general idea of how I’m going to get there. But as I found with my first novel, this isn’t enough.

There will be more happening in the story in the form of subplots. Two subplots to be exact. That means I need to complete outlines for these mini-stories and find a way to insert them into the main story. Not only will this help with word-count (I’m a sparse writer) it will add texture and flavor throughout.

I’m excited about this project and find it difficult to hold back. However, plunging in before the details are in place hasn’t caused problems in the past. It’s my hope that creating outlines for the main and sub-plots will improve my writing.

Do you work from an outline? What’s your routine like?

 
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A Reader Opines: Timebound by Rysa Walker

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Timebound by Rysa Walker
Published: January 1st 2014 by Skyscape (first published September 15th 2012)
Genre: Young Adult | Science Fiction
Series: The Chronos Files, Book 1
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Science fiction isn’t a genre I gravitate toward unless there is also elements of Fantasy. However, I love the idea of time-travel which made Timebound irresistible.

Blurb taken from Goodreads:
When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and Kate’s genetic ability to time-travel makes her the only one who can stop him. Risking everything, she travels to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the killing and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost, however—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does she have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

Rysa Walker is a talented writer. She’s created a mind-boggling story and peppered it with decision points that intensify the journey. These decision points aren’t your normal everyday choices that lead the characters to new understanding and growth. No. These choices could change the whole fabric of time and space. Just thinking about it makes me want to channel Doctor Who and talk about “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey…Stuff.”

I had no problem with the story or plot, but the characters never really moved me. Kate starts out as a normal teenage girl and her decisions as such were a bit tedious for me. By the last third of the book she’s grown a great deal and left the tediousness behind, but I never really developed any sympathy for her.

There weren’t enough revelations about the other characters to get a good feel for them either. In truth, it felt like I made an incredible journey with strangers. Except for the character of Kiernan. He’s an enigma and I want to know more about him. I wish there had been more of him and less of Trey.

Overall, I liked this book. It wasn’t one that I got lost in, nor did I think much about it when it wasn’t in my hands. It has just enough intrigue to make me want to read the next in the series (mainly because I hope to find out more about Kiernan). I think history and sic-fi buffs will like it especially if they enjoy the young adult genre.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

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