TV Shows: My Reviews Spring 2017

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As many of you know, I am more of a TV show watcher than a movie watcher. I just love how plot lines and characters develop over the course of ten or twelve episodes. And there’s much more to explore during those episodes than during a two or three hour movie.

Since January, I have watched four shows that I am going to review right here. Warning: SPOILERS!!!

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE:

Season Two of this Amazon program was much like its predecessor. It was slow yet suspenseful, and you had to pay close attention in order to follow what was going on.

In the end, I felt the twist and turns were great, and really eyebrow raising, especially during the last episode. I really want to know what John Smith’s son is really going to do. Is he really going to sacrifice himself and practically commit suicide so he wouldn’t bring shame to his family? And just how did Trudy survive everything and where was she hiding?

Again, the show moves slowly, but it makes sense given all that occurs. It really makes you wonder what the world would be like if the Allies lost WWII. And as you might guess, it is not a pretty world!

VIKINGS:

Wow, just wow. Season Five of Vikings did not disappoint in a lot of ways, though there were a few parts that did. I can’t believe Ragnar Lothbrok is dead, and it makes me wonder why the show won’t end with that. Instead, it is going on for another season. That, I guess, would be the last one because the show seems so empty without Lothbrok.

But it looks like the story of his sons will be the focus, as well as Lagertha. But even then, as I think about it, there has to be a way to end Vikings with a bang. I do have faith that the writers of this show, who usually do an excellent job, will find a way. But as of now, I am feeling doubtful because Lothbrok is gone, as well as the King of Wessex. Rollo is still alive, but he seems to be retired from doing raids. What kinds of stories will be told, besides what Lothbrok’s sons will do with Lagertha? After all, she did kill Queen Aslaug, the mother of Ragnar’s four younger sons.

We shall see…

SALEM:

The third season of this WGN series was a lot better than the second. The acting was better, the story line was better. Last season was all over the place, and I was starting to think the actor who plays John Alden was miscasted. Here, he is less of a modern guy, and more of a soldier who has seen a lot. That’s a relief. Janet Montgomery who plays the main character of Mary Sibley is excellent in her role.

The best part of season three is the guest appearance by Marilyn Manson. Now, I am and never was a fan of his, but I feel his presence on this show adds a lot of flavor to it. The best part is when one of Satan’s agents comes to his door, and Marilyn Manson’s character humbly let him enter. I laughed out loud during that scene, because I’m sure if the day ever comes that Satan’s agents roam the earth, Marilyn Manson will certainly be delighted to let him into his home.

Anyway, this season was good. However, I felt during the final episode there were some closures going on that probably should not be. As in, why is Tituba sent away? Is she off the show for good? What will become of John and Mary if she’s bound to Salem for life? All this seems to indicate the show may not come back, yet it is popular enough to return for a fourth season.

I certainly hope it will return for another season because I find Salem to be very entertaining.

THE AMERICANS:

This fifth season of The Americans was a bit of a disappointment. I felt it moved too slowly and some of the things that could have led to something much bigger, did not. While I don’t feel the show has jumped the shark, I do feel the writers might be running out of ideas.

One thing I so believed during this season was that Philip and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, was secretly recruited by the KGB behind their backs. Claudia had told them the Center does that, and that was what led them into telling Paige about who they really were and what they really do. So I was certain that Henry was secretly a spy. After all, why else was he rarely on the show? Then the writers made him super smart and wanting to go to boarding school, and that theory fell apart, much to my chagrin.

There were some pluses to this season. The part where Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” played while Elizabeth took a close look at all of her belongings, and Paige left the church for good, was certainly sentimental. The scene where Philip and Elizabeth got married for real was sweet and touching.

The sad part was seeing Martha in the Soviet Union. She is clearly so miserable and lonely, and it is sad because she was totally duped by the man she loved. Granted, she did commit treason by putting that recorder in the pen, and could have gone to prison if she stayed in the U.S. But, she was manipulated and used as a pawn, unbeknownst to her. It makes you realize how life can go wrong for all of us just because we crossed paths with the wrong people!

So, next year is the final season of The Americans. I am so interested to see how this would go down. I predict Philip and Elizabeth will defect!

OK, that does it for the first half of year. I will return by the end of the summer with reviews for Master of None, Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, House of Cards and perhaps more!

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Is A Writer’s Work Ever Done?

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As I work on the sequel to The Dark Proposal, I find myself writing and re-writing scenes or even entire chapters again and again. It is mainly because I am not satisfied enough with what I had written, so I re-write whatever I’ve done. I do this three or four times before I can say that I am satisfied with my work. Satisfied enough to move on to the next chapter (BTW, I’m up to Chapter 7 now!!!).

Which makes me wonder: is a writer’s work ever done?

Answer: Probably not.

Writers are often their worst critics. We always think there is a better word to describe a character or scene than the one we chose. We always think there are better words for our characters to use. We always think there is a better way to end a scene or chapter. There’s always the right words to use…and yet, we never seem to find them.

Famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was said to have put his away his work for a year, before re-reading and re-editing his WIP. James Joyce, the author of the classic novel, Ulysses, was said to have spent all day debating where to put a comma in his WIP.

Writers are never satisfied. There is always room for improvement. There is always something better to describe, explain or talk about. There is always a better word to use, or two or three. And with some stories, there are endless possibilities with the main character(s) that sometimes we wonder if we are covering all the necessary bases, and if we have to cover all of them at all.

Being a writer is frustrating.

And it is not only fiction writers, journalists, essayists, poets and songwriters who deal with this. Even college students writing their countless assigned essays are never completely satisfied with their work. When I discuss re-writing and editing one’s work with my students, I am amazed by how many admit to re-writing their essays even before they hand them in. They always say, there is always room for improvement.

Always room for improvement. So, if nothing is perfect, when does the room for improvement end? When does a writer say, enough is enough! When do we stop driving ourselves crazy?

For me, there is a level of satisfaction that comes with writing that makes me say, enough is enough. I could re-write a whole chapter ad infinitum. But it gets to the point where I cannot let my insecurities rule me like that and I have to say to myself, this chapter is good enough. I am satisfied enough with what I put down. Maybe not 100% satisfied with it, because that is starting to look like an impossibility. But 90% satisfied? 85%? Sure! I can live with that.

I may always want to improve on that chapter, and may just do so in the future before I actually publish my work. But there comes a point where I would need to stop, and say, enough is enough.

 

How Do You Choose a Story to Write?

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How does a writer decide which story they are going to work on? What makes them choose, out of all the ideas in their head, one specific one to work on and devote all their energy to?

Image via Flickr

From my perspective, it is all about timing. Sometimes there is something going on in the world that a writer has to respond to or interpret. Kind of like the 2011 novel, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. That book is a take on the anti-abortion sentiment in the United States, which is relevant to many in recent years.

Or perhaps someone has something to say, such JRR Tolkien when he wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Supposedly, he was inspired by the events of WWI, which he fought in, as well as his take on male friendships, which he supposedly felt was too fractured.

Or some writers pay attention to trends. A few years ago, BDSM erotica books were all the rage, thanks to the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. At the same time, YA dystopian books were widely popular, and there were many different books of that genre.

Or quite simply, a writer is inspired by a muse, and they have to get that story out. No matter the trends, no matter what is going on in the world. There is something in their subconscious that is forcing words to get to paper, or a computer screen. Sometimes the muse chooses what book to write, not the author.

How about you? Who or what inspired you to write your most recent work?

Influences: “The Last Vampire” by Christopher Pike

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When I was in junior high, I read a lot of vampire stories. I read books by R.L. Stine and Anne Rice. I even attempted to read Bram Stoker’s classic novel, but could not get into it. But one book that stands out during my vampire book days was “The Last Vampire” by Christopher Pike.

Here’s an overlook of the book, and the other five that followed it in a series. The books are about Sita, a 5,000 year old vampire who is, seemingly, the one and only vampire left on earth. Although she is tiny, she is incredibly beautiful, extremely strong and quick, and falls in love quite easily. The latter means she falls in love with the son of a detective, mainly because she believes the son, Ray, is the reincarnation of her husband from 5,000 years earlier, Rama.

But Sita is not the last vampire around; her maker, the world’s first vampire, Yaksha, is still out there and is looking to kill her to rid the world of vampires. Yet, Sita survives Yaksha’s attempt and turns a dying Ray into a vampire, to save his life. This breaks a promise she made to Krishna that she won’t create any vampires, and thus will always have Krishna’s grace.

Click here to find on Goodreads

So begins the adventures of Sita, Ray and Yaksha. The adventures involve a trip to Las Vegas, flashbacks to Renaissance Italy, massive explosions, the death of Ray and Yaksha, Sita meeting a non-vampire who managed to live hundreds of years through alchemy (I forget the character’s name), and being changed back into human form. She also winds up pregnant, Ray comes to back to life as some sort of ghost, the baby grows at an abnormally quick pace and later turns out to be some sort of demon that Sita has to destroy. In the end, Sita meets with space aliens – or something like that – and is able to go back in time to kill Yaksha when he is born, and thus, never becomes a vampire and returns to life as though she never lived for 5,000 years.

At the very end, readers learn that Sita’s human nerdy friend, whom she cures of AIDS, had created the story of Sita in order to cope with having full-blown AIDS, and readers are to believe that the story of the last vampire was a product of his imagination.

Hmm. Sounds like a bad movie, right?

Now that I think of it…

Anyway…

I am aware that the series is being continued, years after the sixth and final book was written. I am not sure if I will ever take a peek at any of these books, especially now that I am aware that The Last Vampire series doesn’t sound very plausible. I mean, it certainly isn’t akin to the Harry Potter series in terms of storytelling.

But I do remember a few years ago, during the Twilight craze, walking through a bookstore, and seeing The Last Vampire being marketed as a new series called Thirst. I was thrilled to see that book cover, and thrilled to have memories of my early-teen days come back to me.

Those memories included chatting with friends about Sita and her adventures, and what will happen to her next. It seemed Christopher Pike’s vampire series was widely read in the mid-90s. Also included was my introduction to Hindu mythology, which these books are heavily based on. It showed me a new world, which back then was largely influenced by Catholicism.

I also grew fascinated with vampires, and wrote little short stories about myself becoming a vampire and what sort of adventures I would have as one.

Clearly, The Last Vampire series influenced me, as imperfect as they are. They also influenced the way I created my vampires. For example, I made my vampires walk around in the sunlight, depending on how old they were. This is all thanks to Sita, who could also walk freely in the sun, although she would be exhausted later on. In addition, my vampires, like Sita, do not sleep in coffins.

Even though The Last Vampire series is not the best one out there, it still has a special place with me. It made me fall in love with vampires, let my imagination run wild, and influenced me as a writer and storyteller. Creating stories are like building blocks, and sometimes there’s just that one book that leads to the foundation stone being placed. For me, it is Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series.

The Finale of HBO’s “Girls”

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Tomorrow marks Easter Sunday, a major holiday for a lot of people. It also marks the series finale of the oft-discussed HBO series, “Girls”. After 5 years and 6 seasons, the brainchild of millennial superstar Lena Dunham is ending. If you watch the show, like I do, you are probably feeling down that “Girls” is ending.

I have watched the show since the beginning. I have to be honest and say that I have had a love/hate relationship with it. There were times when I thought “Girls” was a parody of millennial women. But then I realized I knew people who reminded me of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshana, and that made me realize that the show was more realistic than I wanted to believe. That was when I despised the show because the characters were largely unlikable for numerous reasons. Hannah was self-absorbed. Marnie was a narcissist. Jessa was a trainwreck. And Shoshana was just plain annoying. I always hoped that either girl would wise up and grow up, but that never seemed to happen. Yet I could hardly tear my eyes away from each episode.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

But this season seemed to showcase what the point of each character was, especially the ninth episode which aired this past Sunday. It was the part where Hannah and Jessa were making peace seemed to sum up this entire series. Hannah told her former-best friend that she was simply doing her best. Jessa responded by saying that her best was awful.

Those two lines seemed to click something in me, and perhaps other viewers. What Lena Dunham did with her female characters was make them as complex as possible. Many people have complained about the characters as unlikable whom could not be related to, yet there were many who saw themselves or people they knew in these four young women. So Lena Dunham was doing something right. And what she did right was create complex, human beings for her show. Neither of the four characters were perfect. In fact, they were far from perfect – totally far!

But then again, aren’t we all?

Aren’t we all just trying our best in a complex world that hands us situations where we have to choose to right moves, that often aren’t for the best or may be the worst? We make mistakes, even though society largely scolds us all for making them. We handle life by the best way we handle them, as far as our self-awareness, intelligence and strategy skills allow us to. And we do what we can. Hence why we are all complex, even us women.

That’s my takeaway from “Girls”: it was a show about complex women who were neither good nor bad. They had their pluses and minuses. They had their smarts and their dense moments. They were simply human. Human beings trying to make it in New York and having their romantic relationships along the way.

I say Lena Dunham did a great job portraying complex young women for her series. I hope to do the same thing for my stories where I aim to write about complex characters who are also neither good or bad. No one really is, except psychopaths who are 100% evil. But anyway, complexity is fun and is easier to relate to. I give Lena Dunham credit for taking that risk, especially with young female characters. Too often, female characters lack complexity. I feel as if Lena broke that mold.

So, this Sunday, I will watch the grand finale of “Girls” and get all sentimental that it will be over. But I will also feel glad that I watched the show, and took part in a major cultural event.

 

When It Comes To Writing, Don’t Overdo It

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Writing a book teaches you a lot of things. You think you know, but you don’t know, and writing a book is quite an experience.

Writing a sequel is the same thing, only more. You continue to grow as a writer, while also learning tons about writing a follow-up.

Click here for original image on Jim Delorey’s website

One thing I am learning about writing a sequel is, don’t overdo it.

Heck, you shouldn’t overdo it when you write a first or stand-alone book.

But as I write my sequel, I realize there are times when I lose focus and I start to overdo it with my storytelling. Writing a sequel means picking up where you left off with the first book, and carrying on into another story or extending with the first book’s story. It is not as easy as it sounds. Especially when you realize there were some things that could’ve gone into the first book, and now you’re mentioning it in the second book.

And then you realize others things could be brought up. It’s like opening a can of worms when you write.

As I mentioned in my post about writing about vampires, world building is so much fun. But at times, it can be too much fun, and you might lose direction. That was a problem I had writing my sequel; I was having too much fun exploring the vampire world that I lost track of what I wanted the story to be about. When I revisited my work recently, I saw this and had to delete or re-arrange a few things.

Writing a story is so much fun. Writing a book is such a delight. But don’t try too hard. Don’t overdo anything. You can lose track and overwhelm yourself, your characters and the story altogether.

 

You’re All Going to Think I’m Crazy…

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Seriously, you are.

And I’m pretty sure you know what I am talking about.

It had been on my mind for a little while, and took a good butt kicking to get the drive going again. But I am glad that engine is roaring once more, and I doubt I am going to look back.

I am once again working on the sequel to The Dark Proposal.

Yeah. I’m certain some of you are rolling your eyes now.

After stopping, restarting and stopping again, I am giving it another go. And this time I am going to go all the way with it.

The last time I stopped was, as I explained, mainly for financial reasons. As much as I wanted to keep working on the sequel, I was concerned about how expensive it is to self-publish. But after doing a little research, I found it is not that unusual for writers to do crowd-source funding for their work. And that is what I plan to do. By the time I am done with the first draft of this book, I will start a campaign to raise money to get my book edited, get the cover made, and a few other promotional things to get the word out about it. But that won’t be until the fall, perhaps.

Some of you might be thinking that I am struggling with the main character, Claire McCormick, because I portrayed her as insecure, naive and kind of foolish, which is not easy to follow-up to in the sequel. While my intention was never to make her a strong, kick-ass female, I am finding ways to develop her strengths as well as have her face her weaknesses. Claire’s story is about personal responsibility, which ties in with the vampires’ story.

Some of you may also be wondering about my other WIP, “The Cats”. That I am setting aside until I complete my vampire trilogy. I may work on it from time to time, but my priority is my vampire stories, so once I complete them, then I’ll continue on with “The Cats”.

Yeah, being an author can be a mindboggling thing. You have to weigh-in writing what you want versus what makes since business-wise. After all, writing books is a business, whether you self-publish or go the traditional route. Money talks, and you have consider how you’re going to spend your money, or obtain the funds, to get your work out to the world. But sometimes passion talks to, and if it’s in your gut to write something, or finish something, than there are times when you have to give in. Besides, going with your gut works all the time.

So, without any further ado – onward with the sequel to The Dark Proposal.

BTW, I’ve already given it a working title: “A Light in the Darkness”.

The Theme of My Female Characters

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As I work on my WIP “The Cats”, I notice that I seem to be repeating a familiar characterization of my main character, which happens to be female. Instead of writing a kick-ass, strong female, I’ve made mine, once again, timid and unable to fully stand-up for herself. Am I starting a trend in my stories?

It seems as if the best liked female characters, especially those that are the main characters, are tough and take no crap from anyone. But the main characters in my two books – “The Dark Proposal” and the WIP, “The Cats” – are the opposite. Granted, with my current project, the main character has to be because she is bullied. Bullied people aren’t usually strong, confident people anyway. The same goes for some people who get into abusive relationships, like Claire did in “The Dark Proposal”. I also have some story ideas where the female character is either timid or troubled. Very few of my story ideas have a strong, tough female character.

What does this mean? Am I against strong women?

Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

Far from it. As I once mentioned before when I discussed this topic, I prefer a kind of character who’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Personally, I find kick-ass, strong characters to be very boring. Especially since, in the case of the female character, they are almost perfect and not complex enough. It seems like female characters are not allowed to be complex, with strengths and weaknesses like all other human beings. Male characters are allowed to be flawed, but not females.

I also have story ideas where the female character is done right evil and does terrible things. Does that make me an anti-feminist? Again, far from it! I just believe in capturing the human race as it is. Women can be awful just like men, or be spineless as anyone else. That doesn’t mean that I am against women being strong or good. I just know from life’s experiences that women can be weak or evil, just like men.

I’m aware that many readers prefer strong characters, especially when it comes to women. I know that means I may lose readers or not have a huge bestseller if I stick to my formula for female characters. Hey, I may not even get a book deal with a major publisher that way. But I truly believe writers should write what is in their heart’s desire, rather than what is popular. I’m also someone who cannot write what is in my system, so I cannot write something that is trendy or would be a worthy bestseller. It just wouldn’t come natural, and I would be bored writing the story.

So, writing not-so-strong female characters looks to be the norm for me. Maybe that would be the theme for my characters during my authorship, as in, it would be something I would be known for. And I like that 🙂

 

 

The Cat That Inspired My WIP

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As mentioned in my previous post, I am working on a book about a teen girl who is horrendously bullied at school because of her lack of confidence and timidity. Things start to change when black cats start to turn up in her life almost everywhere she looks.

Where did I get the idea of black cats hanging out on someone’s porch or crossing their path on the way home from school?

I initially came up with the idea nearly 20 years ago, when I was 15 and living in a small town outside of Albany, New York. I was living in that place for a couple of years, and towards the end of my time there, there was this black cat that used to hang around in our backyard.

I remember when I first saw it. I was sitting in the den, watching TV one evening, when something caught my eye. I turned to look at the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard, and saw this beautiful, plump black cat sitting at the door, peering into the house.

At first I was surprised, because who expects to find a cat being all nosy by looking into someone’s house? But I softened up when I saw how the cat looked curious about what was going on in our house. Seriously, it looked genuinely interested in the happenings inside! It also had these big greenish-yellow eyes that looked so gentle. It seemed like a very friendly cat.

Image via Flickr. Click for original photo.

Image via Flickr. Click for original photo.

I didn’t open the door to pet the cat because I didn’t want to scare it away, nor have it think it was allowed inside our house. Besides, the cat seemed quite at peace watching me watching TV.

Over the next few weeks, the cat came back a couple more times. It was a house cat with a collar. So clearly, its owner was allowing it to wander the area, and be true to a cat’s hunting ways.

About a month later, my parents and I moved back to Staten Island, and I obviously never saw that cat again. But I never forgot it. I actually was inspired to write a piece about a girl who lived in the foster care system who was rescued by the magical cats – who actually shapeshifted into gorgeous boys, lol!

I thought about writing such a story as a full length novel, but I figured one about a teen girl abused and passed from one foster home to another was a little too depressing. In addition, my first book is about relationship violence and I don’t want it to seem like abuse is the theme for all my books (although bullying is a form of abuse, but that’s a different topic).

So I chose instead to write about bullying because it is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed. And black cats are the perfect star for this book, tentatively called, “The Cats”. After all, black cats had been tormented for centuries for being associated with witchcraft and bad luck. Even today, black cats are less likely to be adopted compared to other cats, and supposedly, they are still tormented for satanic rituals these days.

But black cats are also associated with good luck. In the U.K., if a black cat crosses your path, it gives you good luck. Sailors used such cats for a good voyage. Even the Japanese see these beautiful cats as carriers of good luck.

It seems like black cats are a good symbol of things not being so bad as they seem. Which gives good prelude to what “The Cats” will be about!

 

Happy 2017! My Latest Updates

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Happy New Year everyone!

I know,  it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. I hope to keep up with blogging, but life calls sometimes. Being an adjunct professor, tutor and freelance reporter/writer does take up a lot of time. I know, lame excuses, but I honestly have been overwhelmed this past month.

Even so, I have been able to do some writing. I was able to finish the first draft of my first chapter to my new WIP. I am now moving on to the second chapter. I cannot predict when I will finish this WIP, but the main thing is not to rush anything. Rush writing a book, and you get a lousy book. I’m sure we’ve all read books where the author wrote something too quickly, only to produce a not-so-great book.

Anyway, I am just glad I completed the first chapter and now moving deeper into the book.

Oh, did I tell you what my WIP is?

Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

I did briefly touch on it in my last blog post. It is about a high school girl who is mercilessly bullied by her peers. She has no friends and her family is unsupportive. But things changed when she starts to notice black cats turning up on her way home from school, or sitting on her back patio.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the working title of this book is, “The Cats”. Maybe it will change, maybe it won’t. Right now, my focus is on writing the story.

The story will explore bullying and social structures. In other words, what makes a someone a target for bullying? Why do some get bullied and others don’t? Why do mean people – in this case, mean teens – get to be popular, while the nicer kids are scorned? I’m sure it is a question everyone wonders, and I hope to successfully explore that.

And don’t worry, the main character of this story has a happy ending 🙂

I’ll continue to blog twice a month: every 1st and 15th of the month. I’ll update on my writing progress, discuss bullying and black cats. I’ll talk about the inspiration behind “The Cats”, and why specifically chose black cats to be the stars of my book.

I’ll also talk about writing in general, publishing, TV shows, books I’ll be reading. And now and then, I’ll write about my old baby, “The Dark Proposal”. I have some plans about this book, which I hope to tell you all either later this month, or early in February.

Either way, I am still here and I’m here to stay!