Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review for "First Grave on the Right" by Darynda Jones

Funny, Steamy, and Highly Entertaining: 5 out of 5 Stars

First Grave on the Right is a great read that will have you laughing from the very first page. Darynda Jones has wonderfully witty dialogue which really makes her characters come to life, and some of her one liners and shorter conversations reminded me of Joss Whedon.
As this story is told through Charley’s point of view much of its charm comes from her voice. Charley Davidson is funny, sarcastic, and a little ADD. She can be tactless at times but is overall endearing. As The Grim Reaper and an Albuquerque Police Department consultant Charley Davidson uses her ability to see the dead to solve murders. She treats the ghosts she sees like any other client, with honesty and humor even though appearing to talk to thin air gets her a few odd looks. Charley, however, could care less, she’s confident enough with who she is not to be bothered by what others think about her.
Charley is a little reckless in her decisions. She thinks she’s unbeatable, maybe indestructible, and she’s always making light of bad situations. But, that’s her way of dealing with what’s going on around her. She’s always putting the mission first, even above her own life, and she looks out for those around her. Her relationships with her family and co-workers as well as with her clients, dead and alive are believable and deep. And, her history and relationship with Reyes is fascinating and steamy. For me this book had just the right about of steam and sex to be a great adult paranormal romance without being erotic or sharing unnecessary details.
Reyes is a mystery, and as we learn more about him we find out that he is really what this book is about. The more Charley learns about Reyes the more she comes to learn about herself and what she is. Reyes is the ultimate bad boy; dark, more than a little scary at times, but despite everything he does and everything you learn about him you want to help him redeem himself.
I greatly enjoyed this book and plan to continue reading this series, however as always I have my pet peeves. While this book was witty it was also a little cliché at times. Phrases like ‘cloak-and-dagger’, and the suggestion of trying out handcuffs were a little overdone, even though I understand that kind of vocabulary is just part of Charley’s personality. Also, there are a lot of pop culture references, which can be fun but I felt like there were more than necessary. And, everything from Charley’s car to her breasts has a name. Sometimes it’s cute, but other times it got annoying, altogether though even the cheesy parts are all part of Charley’s charm.
The only other part I had a hard time with was that Charley has had a lot of bad stuff happen to her. Maybe had the author eased me into all these different events a little slower they would not have bothered me so much but pretty early in the book and all in the same paragraph she mentions almost getting kidnapped by a sex offender, nearly getting run down by someone’s car, and being stalked. Although I will say by the end of the book this didn’t bother me as much as they were explained.
Overall I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a paranormal romance.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Misadventures Moonlighting:

Pedro Moura Pinheiro
Currently I have three jobs. I’m a full time student, and a writer, but right now the only job that pays the bills is bartending. I like doing all three, but of course all jobs have their downfalls. With school the excitement of learning new things is brought down by the necessity of test taking. With writing the only downfall is when the writing stops and writer’s block sets in. But, with bartending the enjoyment I get from talking with people can be easily tainted by a number of pet peeves as the night goes on and BAC goes up. So I thought I’d share with all of you the things that drive me crazy at work. And, for those of you who are of age this is a good list of what not to do if you want good service.

1. Someone orders twelve shots, and each one is different – It takes time to grab all those different bottles and the longer I take on your order the longer other people are waiting. Be kind to your bartender, if you’re ordering multiple shots make them all the same.

2. Someone orders one shot that has twelve ingredients – It’s real easy to mix three shots of “liquid cocaine” which has equal parts of Jagermeister, Goldschlager, and Rumpleminze. It’s not so easy to measure out a third of each of these ingredients to make one shot. When I try I usually end up making too much and wasting alcohol. Some shots have even more ingredients making it even harder to make just one. Keep this in mind, if you want a complicated shot, order at least a few of them.

3. “I know you just called ‘bar close’ but, I’m twenty-one and I can be here for the next 2.5 minutes until its 2:30.” – No, you can’t and I don’t care if you’re 21 (everyone here is 21). If I call ‘bar close’ that means it’s bar close, I don’t care if it’s midnight you have to leave. There are nights where we call it a little earlier than others depending on how full/drunk the bar is. We do this because people like you can’t respect us enough to leave when we say it’s time.

4. Someone orders a long list of drinks, has a hundred dollar bill in their hand, then asks “How much?” – I’m not a calculator, and if your order something complicated or something I don’t make often there’s a good chance I don’t know how much it is. If you already know you’re going to use that c-note to pay for your drinks, just pay for them and ask me how much it was after I’ve rung it up. Otherwise I end up hogging a register just to total it up for you and in turn slow down the other bartenders as well as end up taking more time to serve everyone else.

5. “Its $30? So-and-so just got me the same thing for $25” – Then So-and-so bought you a drink, put it on his or her tab and paid for it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same. Granted sometimes I ring stuff up wrong, so if you’re genuinely concerned that I overcharged you, say something. But, don’t think that because another bartender gives you a discounted price that I’m going to as well.

6. Something happens and I ask someone to leave, they reply with “I’m friends with the owner” – So am I, he’s my boss, and if you’re such good friends with him that you want to call him up and tell him all about what happened go ahead. Oh, wait, you don’t have his number? Your bartender has the right to stop serving you for any reason. In fact it’s our job to stop serving you if we think you’ve had too much, are bothering other customers, ect… So, trust me if you’re cut off, or kicked out, it’s for a good reason. And, if you think your buddy, my boss will really see things differently then go ahead, talk to him; but odds are you’re not that close with him or I would have met you before.

7. It’s Midnight on a Saturday and someone wants a Bloody – I make my Bloody Mary’s by hand, in other words I don’t just pull out a mix and add vodka, and if you come to the bar I work at you probably know this because we’re known for making good ones. That means it takes me more time to throw worcestershire, hot sauce, vodka, pepper, celery salt, steak sauce, horse radish, pickle juice, tomato juice, ect… together in a perfect mixture then to just make you a rum and coke, and on a busy Saturday night I don’t want to. It slows me down and makes other people wait longer. Be kind to your bartender and have a bloody in the a.m. like everyone else.

8. Someone orders a drink, their buddy waits until I return with his drink to then order the same thing – I can make two drinks at once, even three or four. I’m very talented. And, it’s much faster to make, say two rum and coke’s, at the same time then it is to do them separately. I once had two girls do this to me on a Saturday night with Bloody Mary’s, even though I had asked if anyone else wanted one when I went to go make the first. If you’re standing next to someone and they order a rum and coke, it’s perfectly fine to say “make it two,” I’m going to ask you if you’re paying together or separately anyway.

9. “Your bouncer is such a dick” – Why? Because he wouldn’t let you in with a fake id? Or because he kicked you out for starting a fight? That doesn’t make him a dick; that means he’s doing his job and I’m grateful for it. If underager’s get into the bar and I serve them, I’m in trouble, not my bouncer. So I’m glad my bouncers have my back because if they didn’t I could get a $400 fine and lose my bartending license. Don’t bitch to me about my bouncers; I’m the one they’re looking out for. You’re the one being a dick breaking the law.

10. “You ask for more vodka in your Ladies Night Drink” – Really? It’s Ladies Night. I just handed you a free drink. I’m hoping this one doesn’t need any more explanation then that.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Do Movies ever get it Right?

Often when I see a movie come out based on a book I’ve read I find myself greatly disappointed in the film. As I’ve said before I find it very hard for film to capture certain things about writing. On top of that to make a book a movie it needs to be condensed to fit in a two hour time slot, which means many of my favorite parts get cut out. And then there’s always the possibility that the director’s interpretation of the storyline or how the characters look differs from how I pictured it.
For example, War of the Worlds by Steven Spielberg came out right when I was reading War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in High School. Since I loved the story I was very eager to see the film. However, Spielberg’s interpretation was… well, just that, his interpretation. I could handle him changing the setting, the century, and many other small details that came with making this story ‘modern’. What bothered me was the complete transformation of the main character, and plot.
Spielberg often adds the element of family into his movies, particularly broken ones. So of course Ray can’t just be making his way to his wife, but to his ex-wife. Spielberg also likes to look at the concept of the special obligations that we have to children, so Ray now must have his two kids at his side, even though he had no children in the book. Spielberg created a story about the main character which displays certain philosophical views that he often looks at in his movies, but  by doing this he loses a lot of what the book was about.
I’ve noticed a number of these poor adaptations over the years. The Shining by Kubrick was nothing like the book by King. The Time Machine by Simon Wells didn’t meet his great grandfather’s expectations. Spielberg again threw so much of his own philosophy into Minority Report that it was nothing like the short story by Phillip K. Dick, although at least this film in general was better than War of the Worlds. I could go on, throwing in almost any modern Shakespeare adaptation, and sadly a few more Stephen King adaptations such as the Stand. But, I think you get my point. 
Another problem I see with movies that are based on books is that sometimes there are movies that are done well, as movies, but don’t represent the book well. The Shining is often listed among “the best movie adaptations”, but I have to disagree. It can be a good movie, sure, but for it to be a good movie adaptation it should represent the book correctly. I feel many people liked this move, I also feel those people couldn’t have read King’s book. The Shining by Kubrick was scary, but in my opinion that’s the only thing it really had going for it. By the end of that movie, had I not read the book, I would have had no idea of what ‘the shining’ was. Kubrick missed the point of the book and he changed the characters and plot in some cases to make for a better thriller. The Garris miniseries version of this book is much better; the only problem is that in making it a miniseries it wasn’t as scary. Sometimes getting in everything the book included can take away from the overall effect, but at least he had the story right.
Now that I’ve ranted, I want to say that a poorly adapted movie doesn’t always make for a bad movie, as was the case with The Shining. But, fans that came to love the book will be disappointed if they find their movie more “inspired by” then “about” the characters and plot they came to love. That said, some have gotten it right, and I think one of the biggest tricks to doing a movie right is to avoid making it modern, keep to the setting of the book, and to follow the themes of the book, don’t add in your own personal philosophical ideas. When directors get these things right they have better movies, and if they can’t do these things then maybe they’re picking the wrong books to adapt.

Normadic Lass
The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, are two movies that I feel did Stephen King right, as well as were great movies. Part of why they worked, I think, is because they went by the book and knew how to pick the right parts of the story to tell.  
Most recently, The Hunger Games did it perfectly. The movie may have been a little long, but maybe it needed to be. For the first time I felt like a movie covered everything that I had loved about the book, but wasn’t so long that it lost suspense. Also I think they got the feeling of this movie right. The shaky camera angles, the music choice, it almost felt like a documentary at times and I think that was what it needed to make it feel as real as the book.

In the end what it comes down to is that books do make for great movies. The Godfather, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and countless others are proof of this. They just have to be done right. It should be about turning the words of a book into images, not an interpretation of the storyline. It’s hard to convert literature to film, but it can be done.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Kill a Cliche

Avoiding Clichés and a Sneak Peak at "Into the Deep"

Simply put clichés can make a bad book. So how do we avoid them? I feel there are two kinds of clichés. The first are general theme clichés, tropes that have been overdone and plotlines that are carbon copied from one book to the next. The second kind of cliché is the overused phrase.

Mando Gomez
Plot Clichés:
Can all clichés be avoided? Or, is it possible that “it’s all been done before,” I wonder if possibly nothing is 100% original. However, that doesn’t mean a story can’t be different and intriguing in its own way even if the elements have been done before. Those elements can still come together differently. Common romance novel clichés for example include: virgin women, love triangles, bad boys, characters attracted to one another for no reason, much older men dating young women, and the couple hating each other so much they end up ripping each other’s clothes off.
The problem is can you write a romance novel without using any of these? Can you write a paranormal novel without having vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or people with special abilities; or a science fiction novel that doesn’t have aliens, robots, or a dystopian future? Probably not. To some extent the clichés are what make certain types of stories what they are. What I think the problem really is, is not if there is a cliché in your story, because let’s face it. It’s hard to avoid all of them if not impossible, but more so that you avoid as many of them as possible. The virgin heroine who ends up in a love triangle with two bad boys, who are twice her age bit, has been done to death. I would say the” less is better” rule applies here. Don’t write a book you’ve already read. Furthermore, if your story does have a cliché make sure it’s done well; it should make sense and fit with the purpose of the story. Good writing and interesting characters can make up for the use of a cliché.
For example in “Into the Deep,” a Paranormal Romance, I do have a few clichés. For one my main character is a virgin, but she is also seventeen and so this cliché fits. It also isn’t an important part of the story, in fact is barely mentioned. This cliché is balanced by the fact that I avoided most other clichés. There isn’t a love triangle; the guy she ends up falling for is her age, ect… I also have some clichés in the stereotyping of some of my characters. There’s a group of popular girls, the bad boy and his friends, jocks and un-cool kids, however my story is also set in high school where these stereotypes really do exist. I think I balance this problem well by having deep, well rounded characters who despite their surface stereotype have flaws and surprises.
To avoid all clichés would be to limit what we write about. Don’t limit yourself as an author, but do your best to be original and true to your story. Then once you have it written there’s a whole second type of cliché to consider: overused phrases. In my editing process I realized my book had far more phrase clichés then I thought and this is my brainstorming processes to rid myself of them.

Overuses Phrases:
The first type of clichés I mentioned were about what you were writing, these second kind are about how you write it. These ‘phrase clichés’ are all about saying things in new and interesting ways and avoiding phrases that have been done before. For me, my biggest problems in “Into the Deep” were:

“Piercing blue eyes”
“Racing Heart”
"Heart sinking"
When trying to think of new ways to say something I first stopped and asked myself “what do I want to say here?” For example I used the phrase “racing heart” over and over again in “Into the Deep”. So I said, “What does this need to describe?” and I made a list.
Racing Heart: fear, panic, exhilaration, nervousness…
Then I thought about what specific action it’s describing, the beating of a heart. So I brainstormed again, making another list of things that happen to a person when they are scared, panicked, exhilarated, and nervous. I came up with things like sweating palms, dilating pupils, labored breathing. Which was good, these were things that were different from my overused phrase of a “racing heart,” and in some instances they worked just fine to trade out a racing heart for labored breathing. But, I couldn’t do this for every one or I would just have had “labored breathing” as an overused phrase, and some of those phrases were just as cliché as a “racing heart”, so I needed to be more creative in other places.
This is where looking at the actual action I was trying to describe helped me. I wanted to replace “racing heart” with a simile, so what does a racing heart do? It beats, so I brainstormed “things that beat” and made a list; music, fists, a hammer, jackhammer, hummingbirds wings, (now many of these are clichés as well but I was getting closer, “my heart was beating like a jackhammer has been done before,”) But the more I kept thinking about it the more I was able to come up with examples that were more abstract. I found the farther my simile was from what I was trying to describe the better it was.
After some time these were the things I had written on my list: “My heart was beating like a hammer after a stubborn bent nail,” and “My heart was thumping like the foot of a frightened rabbit.” Much better than “my heart was racing.” After I had a list of phrases like this I used the “Find” tool in Microsoft Word to search for every time I said “racing heart” in my novel. From there I went through and swapped out my overused cliché for a fitting phrase from my list. Once I swapped them out everything else that I wanted to say came together. Here is an example from “Into the Deep.”
My shoes squeaked against the tile floor as I walked past the showers and toward the large open area of red lockers. Fear was making my whole body shake. I felt like a small child that had been locked in a closet, afraid of the sleeves of the coats behind me as if they were monsters in the dark, and the pounding of my fists against the closet door was the panicked rhythm of my heartbeat. Walking through the locker room my heart was beating so hard I worried it would break my ribcage. Then I heard a noise and held my breath, something metal clanking against the tile and a murmured voice. I took a deep breath and stopped walking. I closed my eyes and calmed myself. I could do this.
This paragraph is much stronger with the phrase “I felt like a small child that had been locked in a closet, afraid of the sleeves of the coats behind me as if they were monsters in the dark, and the pounding of my fists against the closet door was the panicked rhythm of my heartbeat,” to describe my heartbeat then saying “my heart was racing.”

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