Monday, July 29, 2013

100 Themes Challenge-Seeking Solace

     “How long has she been out there?”
     “Oh, round about four hours now. You think she’ll come in when the rain starts?”
     “Better get her in anyhow. That damned thing’s still loose.”
     She was a young woman, sitting in a faded dress by a makeshift cross buried in the ground. Sweat and tears glistened on her dark skin; her sobs were heard in the house, but a roll of thunder soon drown those out.
     He had been her fiancĂ©. He’d come in from the big city to visit his grammy, spent a month wooing her with fine words and jazz, and had decided to stay. He was staying for her. But now…
     “Hetty! Hetty, get in here! Storm’s a’comin’!”
     She ignored her mama’s shouts. She couldn’t leave him. The thing might come back to finish its meal. She couldn’t let that happen.
     A flash of lightning lit up the cross. The funerals were always short when this happened. They tried to bury the victims as quick as possible. Someone once said they ought to just let the thing have the bodies, maybe it wouldn’t come around so often. But that was blasphemy.
     “The good Lord told us to take care of our bodies as a temple,” the preacher had said, “and we don’t go in for desecratin’ bodies and we won’t let no one or no thing do it neither.” His thick dark eyebrows had bristled and his bass voice had thundered through the church. No one said a word after that.
     No one knew where the thing had come from. The white folk in town blamed voodoo and African magic. But none of her people, Hetty knew, did magic. They were all good Christians, trusting in the Lord.
     Hetty wiped at her eyes, but it did no good. The rain was coming down now. Still, she wouldn’t leave her vigil. Just in case. Just in case the thing was too evil for even their wooden makeshift cross to drive away.
     A hand fell on her shoulder, and she jumped.
     “Get your ass in the house, girl!”
     “No, Pa,” she said softly. “I’m not leavin’ him like this. I’m not lettin’ that thing get to him.”
     “That cross’ll do just fine. Get in the house!”
     “But Pa—”
     The noise that interrupted her was no burst of thunder. It was a growl, low and dark and evil. Hetty leapt behind the cross and clung to it.
     “Hetty, get in the house!” Her Pa’s voice took on a desperate tone.
     “Pa, we can’t let it—”
     The growl was closer now, very close. A flash of lightning revealed two huge yellow eyes glaring at them from the dark. Her Pa ran over to her, grabbed her up and slung her over his shoulder.
     A dark shape sprang from the darkness at them. Hetty felt a scream rip from her throat, just before something heavy hit them both.
     She rolled away. The thing was on her pa now, and suddenly she felt a burst of anger. What was this thing, to take them as it pleased? Her pa was shouting at her to run, and she did; but she ran for the shed. There had to be an ax, or something in there.
     Her pa never let anyone come into the shed. He said he was working on something to make a bit more money and keep them fed in winter, but he never said what. Now she saw.
     Thin pieces of metal, all twisted in the shape of a cross, littered the table in the shed. Her pa wouldn’t want to admit he was doing something like this; it wasn’t manly enough. But she saw one piece of metal, still rather sharp, and she grabbed it before she was aware.
     Outside, in the open yard, her pa and the creature were facing off. She couldn’t see much of the thing, but saw enough of its twisted form to know it wasn’t anything holy. It had its back to her, and she was thankful she couldn’t see its terrible eyes.
     As she moved closer, she found herself reciting the Lord’s Prayer, just as she was taught from the time she was a babe.
     “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name…”
     She crept up behind the creature, that metal cross held tightly in both hands.
     “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven…”
    Her pa noticed her, shook his head, but she shook her head right back.
     “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
     Her pa was shouting at the monster now, keeping its attention, taunting it…she saw coarse fur on its back bristle up…
     “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”
     She lifted the cross above her head.
     “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever and ever AMEN!”
    She shouted the last word as she brought the cross down onto the creature’s back.
     The metal slid into the soft skin between its ribs; as the creature writhed her pa ran to her and helped her shove the metal farther and farther down, until the thing was pinned to the ground.
     “Hetty, get my gun.”
     Hetty ran, ran to the light of the house, where her mama and John’s grammy were both hugging each other. They had been watching.
     “Pa needs his gun!” she shouted before she even made it to the house. Then a sharp crack of thunder boomed across the land, and a flash of lightning, brighter than any, lit the yard.
     The noise was horrible.
     Her pa let out a yell, Hetty hit the porch with a thud, and the creature screamed. After that followed the smell of burnt flesh.
     Mama came out on the porch and helped Hetty up. They looked at the yard.

     Her pa was standing up shakily, pointing and shouting incoherently. The metal cross was still embedded in the ground; a blackened hole and some bits of fur were all that was left of the monster.

A/N: To sum up my reasons behind this story, 1.) I wanted to write a story involving a very different culture-in this, a small segregated town in the 1920's; 2.) I wanted to write a story playing against an emerging cliche. It was once innovative to have the typical religious ways of combating monsters to fail. Now it's just becoming cliche. The Priest Always Dies. I decided to include explicit Christianity, and a Deus Ex Machina ending.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sanditon Reviews

As we near the end of the short Sanditon YouTube series, I decided to re-read this completion of Austen’s last novel. But first, let’s go into the background of Sanditon (also appropriate, as the anniversary of Austen's death was just a couple days ago).

Austen wrote Sanditon in the midst of the illness which finally took her from this world. During this time she was no doubt surrounded by all manner of medical advice, as well as doctors. And, as with any illness, people must always one-up you on how bad their illness is. As such, much of this pervades Sanditon. The book begins when Mr. Parker and his wife get into a bit of a carriage accident on a steep hill. Luckily, they are close to the Heywood residence, where the sensible Mr. Heywood sends his men to fix the carriage while his wife and daughters tend to Mr. Parker’s injured ankle. It turns out that they were in the neighborhood searching for a doctor for their new fashionable seaside resort. Though they discover they’ve come to the wrong neighborhood, they convince Mr. Heywood to let his eldest daughter Charlotte visit with them to Sanditon.

Upon arriving in Sanditon, Charlotte meets many of the odd residents and visitors. Lady Denham is a penny-pinching harpy who chiefly tries to keep from being bamboozled by her equally greedy relatives. Sir Edward, her nephew, is a foolish young man whose ideas come straight from romance novels, and who believes the villains are the real protagonists of the stories. His chief goal is to seduce Lady Denham’s beautiful young cousin, who is staying with her for a time.

The real amusement, however, comes from Mr. Parker’s brothers and sisters. Arthur, Diana, and Susan are all hypochondriacs. They constantly discuss how dreadful they feel, how the doctors can never do anything for them, and their various strange remedies. Yet, somehow, they all manage to do enough when they feel like they will get credit for it. Charlotte sensibly thinks that they would feel well enough if they would throw out all their medicines.

In Austen’s original fragment, this is about as far as we get, with a single tantalizing glimpse of the hero, Sidney Parker, who is very different from the rest of his siblings.

In the completion, “Another Lady”, Marie Dobbs (also under the pseudonym Anne Telscombe) picks up where Austen left off. While there is a slight difference in the original fragment and the new writing (who can copy Austen’s subtle abilities?), the transition is quite smooth. Dobbs, thankfully, expands on the characterization set up by Austen. Sidney arrives with a friend of his, who has had a disappointment in love. He enlists Charlotte and Miss Brereton, Lady Denham’s young relative, to help his friend; but Charlotte can’t help but see that in some ways Sidney is as interfering as his siblings. Yet, she must struggle against the feelings she is developing while trying to decipher the hijinks going on in the town of Sanditon.

Overall, I enjoyed this completion very much. I’ve heard some criticism about the climax of the novel being very unlike Jane Austen; but I still found out a very amusing way of ending Sir Edward’s nonsense. It’s also one of the few completions still on the market; some of the older ones (particularly the one by Anna Austen Lefroy) are very difficult to find.

So, how does this compare to web series “Welcome to Sandition”? There is no comparison; this novel is infinitely better. While I know WTS is essentially a short series to get us through to the next project by the LBD creators, it still isn’t particularly compelling; nor is it very much like how Jane Austen set things up for the story in the first place.

In Welcome to Sanditon. Gigi Darcy (from the LBD series) comes to Sanditon to beta-test Domino on the populace at large. What she finds is that Domino appears to have developed a finely tuned sense for matchmaking, and the mayor is trying to shoehorn the whole town into becoming a health resort, which does not sit well with Clara Breton, owner of a popular ice cream shop.

While this could work on many levels, it doesn’t, and here is why. First off, they have changed much of Austen’s characterizations. In the novel, Mr. Parker was an overly enthusiastic developer, but otherwise benevolent. He was a bit foolish at times but clearly wanted everyone to enjoy themselves. In the series, he has been transformed into Mayor Parker, a scheming (but still foolish) politician who uses plenty of underhanded tactics to make people do what he wants. In this way he appears to have been combined with Lady Denham; but the difference is jarring.

Then there is Edward, who has transformed from a foolish gothic novel fanboy who wants to be like his favorite seducers, to an awkward geek who likes making sci-fi references and who works for the mayor just because his aunt got him the job.

The second thing that doesn’t work is the fan compilations. While the idea of including fan vlogs as part of the “Domino beta-testing” could be fun, many of the videos don’t appear to be very relevant; it’s just the fans babbling about Sanditon. They don’t really advance the plot at all, and it sort of excludes the fans who either don’t join in on the vlogging or can’t join in. As such, the weekly fan compilations are more of a nuisance to many of the viewers rather than a fun extra.

Now, in other ways, the series does work. The idea of the New Sanditon fans trying to force the Old Sanditon fans to make way is fairly accurate to the novel. The Parkers (who only show up in tweets-another problem, as not everyone can follow every twitter account) happily encourage the Mayor in his attempts to make Sanditon a health resort. Then there is the plot point of the two different people being brought to Sanditon by the Parkers-in the novel, it was simply the same group, with two different names being used. In the series, it is the Griffiths, competing brother and sister Spin classes, each with a different flair. We also have Mayor Parker shove Edward at Ms. Griffith (analogous to Lady Denham shoving Edward at Miss Lambe of the Griffith party), interrupting his romance with Clara (in the novel, it’s implied Clara’s just sort of tolerating Edward’s nonsense; in the vlog, there is clearly romance between them).

So, while some things are amusing, it’s not enough. Like New Sanditon, they’re trying to push the vlogs in a new “interactive” direction, but like Old Sanditon, a large part of the viewership cannot see why the old way had to be improved.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

I recently got to see “Jane Eyre” starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I had wanted to see it when it first arrived in theaters; but alas, it was only select theaters, because we apparently hate British things.

So I sat down with wine and popcorn (it’s legit) to watch.

First off, they did a splendid job capturing the Gothic mood of the story. I particularly liked that they started out with Jane fleeing from Thornfield, and giving the rest as a flashback explaining how she came to this point of desperation. They didn’t portray many scenes from her childhood, but that’s just as well. Too much of it is quite frankly depressing, and we still got to see a skinny ten year old girl beating up a fifteen year old boy carrying a sword. The scene with Helen was absolutely touching; probably the only part where I felt like I was going to cry. (But I always cry at that anyways.) And I thought they did a good job of “plain-ing” Wasikowska up. They also did an excellent job of setting up Thornfield as a place of deep mystery. I liked little Adele, though she didn’t get much screen time. It’s clear she learned her dancing from her Maman. (The expressions on Jane’s and Mrs. Fairfax’s faces were rather hilarious.)

Now, on the bad points. I felt the movie was rushed. I’m aware that to adapt everything from the book would force them to make another miniseries. But I feel like they skipped through a lot of nuances just to get to “Jane and Rochester stare at each other” and “Jane and Rochester kiss”. And therein lies another problem. In the book, passion was subtle but pervaded every bit of dialogue. In the movie, you really couldn’t catch it. They portrayed the passion as overtly and physically as they could for a movie adapted from a 19th century novel. This is not bad in and of itself; but part of the beauty of the book was reading those intense conversations and catching their undertone.

However, the sticking point for me was how desperately the filmmakers tried to erase as much of sensible Christianity as possible. You have the Christianity of Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers; but, apart from a single childhood outburst, Jane’s motivations seem completely detached from Christianity. Instead of getting a counterbalance to the hypocrites portrayed, we get a vague, flighty sort of spiritualism. Jane doesn’t run from Rochester because she fears temptation, and believes it wrong to live together unmarried, and while Rochester is married to another; no, she flees simply because she needs to “respect herself”. While that’s one motivation, having this as a sole motivation reduces her to a feminist prototype instead of a strong, morally upright woman struggling between “what is right and what is easy”. Instead, perhaps fearing that people wouldn’t understand Jane if she was “too Christian”, they ripped a big part of the book out, turning it into a bland romance about a rich guy and a poor girl.

So, overall, it’s not a very good watch. It has some good elements, but they are superficial compared to what was taken out of it. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

ALA-Adventures in Librarianship

     So I had the opportunity to attend the ALA conference in Chicago this past weekend. It was a fun, rollicking ride, not least because one has to perch rather precariously in those tour buses. It was also my first time in Chicago proper, and while it was nice, it made me very grateful that I don’t live in a large city.

     I had to get up at six in the morning, which is about two hours before I normally get up. Dale made me a quick breakfast, I made quick coffee, and stumbled out the door, half asleep and hoping I would stay awake long enough to drive down the road to the local library, where we were all meeting the tour bus. I arrived, still awake, and was given a goody bag of cookies and chips. Despite my need for a sugar rush, I simply wasn’t hungry. (Never am at that time of the morning.) We piled in, and my hopes for a seat to myself were destroyed. Luckily, this is a bus full of librarians, so everyone either had books or Kindles and more or less left each other alone. (Lol introverts.)

     Our first stop was at the DeKalb oasis on the Illinois tollway, where by that time the coffee had kicked in full force and I was praying I didn’t have to use the bus bathroom. Several people promptly bought McDonald’s. I was, strangely, still not hungry.

     Then, we headed on to Chicago proper. First we passed a lot of sketchy looking old houses that were probably apartment buildings. Then we moved farther in, and there it was.


     Joy filled my heart. Then I remembered how badly the Bears tend to suck, and shrank back down in my seat.

Dang it Cutler, if you start crying we'll all start crying.

     After that we arrived at McCormick Place, and I got to go through a revolving door. I resisted the urge to keep going around and around, as I thought it might annoy my coworkers.

We had to drive through the sketchy tunnel down there

     After that, we rode the escalators up to the registration center, where signs were such that we wandered back and forth for some time until we found out what we were actually supposed to do.

     After getting our badges, which labeled us as Legit, we headed into the expo, upon which the three No0bs were left to navigate the madness ourselves.

     The booklets listing each stand weren’t really helpful in the least, mainly because the numbers for the stands were on the floor, where everyone was standing. LOGIC!

     However, we finally found something that caught our eye. The Mango stand was bright orange.

     Mango, however, is also a cool new way to learn a different language. It takes foreign films, and breaks down the vocabulary and culture scene by scene. One can watch a scene, go back and read the translation, watch the scene again, and take a quiz on the vocabulary words and grammar.  The film bit we were shown was from Kung-Fu Dunk. Yes, it is a Chinese film about basketball, and it looked amazing. (By the way, we were given a coupon to watch it on the Mango software for free. I’ve yet to use it but I plan on it, because combining kung-fu with basketball has to be awesome.)

     Next, we wandered aimlessly in an attempt to find Little Brown and Co., because someone mentioned Lemony Snicket t-shirts. But alas, they were out, so we moved on.

     Many of the stands showcased new technology for libraries.  One showed us a library app, Libserra, for smartphones that will automatically bring up FAQs at any participating library when someone walks in and connects to their Wi-Fi. (This cuts down on the amount of people asking questions like, “Is that place that says ‘Children’s Area’ the Children’s Area?”)

     I also found the Accessible Archives stand. There is a new database out there consisting of primary sources from the 18th and 19th century. The gentleman running the stand told me that the oldest document they have so far is a Boston newspaper from pre-revolutionary days. My coworkers had to pull me away before I drooled all over the pamphlets.

     We were also lucky enough to catch a reading by Hannah Moskowitz. She is a YA author whose cats are apparently better than mine, and given that Oreo was trying to lick a spinning fan, I can’t really argue with that. Moskowitz read from her latest novel, Teeth, about a boy who lives on an isolated island where people are cured of their diseases by magic fish. He meets a young man his age who is half-fish and half-human. Hannah gave away free signed copies, and I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing myself; I could picture the scenes she read very clearly in my mind. I was able to speak to her briefly, and she told me that the next novel, due out in a couple years, will be about sparkly fairy prostitutes. (I suspect there’s more to it than that, but she seemed to enjoy talking about her sparkly fairy prostitute book. Probably because it’s not every day one gets to say that one is writing a book about sparkly fairy prostitutes.)

     Several other authors were in attendance as well. I was able to catch Jason Mott’s reading of his book The Returned, about a future in which the dead come back to life (not as zombies-just…back to life.) Sarah Dessen, a very popular author of girls’ YA books, was there; but there was too much of a crush around her to really get near. Tom Angleberger, the Roanoke Times columnist who wrote Origami Yoda, was there promoting his book series. Jeffrey Brown was signing copies of Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess, and Tamora Pierce was signing books but the line for her was so long it wrapped right around the backs of other stands.

     The Cedar Rapids library had a stand showcasing their version of Redbox for both movies and books. They have them set up in their lobby; people can come in at any time to get the most popular books and movies. We also saw an updated version of our book sorter. The bins now stack the books on top of one another, and can be pulled out and turned horizontal for easy shelving. We talked a bit with the guy who installed our own sorter, and he told us that it’s useful for the newest books and rapid reads, as they need to be shelved the quickest. It also keeps books from landing open and getting squashed into that shape.

     I was excited over a new check out machine. The card scanner is in a small space where one can’t possibly fit a book barcode, which will take care of the problem of patrons being unable to read the large sign on the card scanner saying “library card only”.

     By this time, I was getting a bit of crowd anxiety, particularly when trying to push through the people standing in line for author signings. I went over to the Introvert Area, where a few people were just hanging out and admiring a fountain. After taking a breather, I grabbed a Starbucks coffee and then headed over to the other side of the exhibit.

     We stopped briefly at the University of Wisconsin booth. They have an excellent library program, and one of my coworkers had attended there and talked to an old classmate. Then we stopped by the Harvard booth. They had a contest for a Dictionary of American Regional English. A bonus for stopping by was that the girl running the booth, Breanna, was from Roanoke. I told her I was from Craig County, “you know, the boonies”, and she said, “You said it, not me.” We chatted about both Virginia and the dictionary they were giving away, and discovered that we are indeed proper Southerners, as we both say “catty cornered”. (My coworkers said “kitty cornered” and “cattywumpus”, the latter which made us all throw our heads back and laugh.)

     After that, it was time to leave. I stopped briefly to watch the fountain in McCormick Place, spurting up in different patterns, and discovered that one of my coworkers had gotten champagne, from who knows where.

     We left and found traffic insane, chiefly because large amounts of Parrotheads were converging for a concert.

You see all those cars behind the trees? THOSE ARE THE PARROTHEADS. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE.

 A quinceanera was going on which involved four or five stretch limos. We passed the Chicago Public Library, which clearly proclaimed itself “better than us”.

Small entrance. Big library.

SOOO much better than you.

     We wound up the trip by getting honked at by a taxi driver. CHICAGO EXPERIENCE COMPLETE.

     We stopped by DeKalb again to grab dinner, and were back again by 7:30.

     Then Dale and I sat outside and watched some idiots playing with roman candles in the parking lot. Luckily nothing caught on fire.

     Overall, I enjoyed the ALA conference, but I didn’t like the crowd, and I feel like most of it was really geared toward managers.  However, it was nice to see some of the innovations within libraries, and how technology is being integrated into traditional library science without overwhelming their actual purpose.