Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What's Next for the Star Wars Books?

I only started reading Star Wars books around the time that they came up with the whole canon and expanded universe concept (that is, books written before the Disney takeover, minus the movie novelizations, are no longer considered canon). So I figured I would read all the new books coming out while the new movies are coming out and then after that I'd be more selective and only read the ones that sounded interesting to me . . . and maybe then I'd also double back and read some of the EU books (I mean, I have read a couple, but there are plenty more).

What does that mean now, though? The new trilogy is almost over but Disney will still be making more Star Wars content. So do I keep reading all the new Star Wars books? I don't know. I enjoy them, but I'm also getting a little tired of them. Books like Ahsoka or Master and Apprentice I've much liked, but books like Alphabet Squadron take a little more effort from me. I'm just not as interested in the military side or the political side that some of the books take. I'm not saying that Star Wars books shouldn't cover a variety of subjects and angles; I'm just saying that some of those appeal to me more or less than others.

I did get into Alphabet Squadron, but it took me a while. And if I were in the picking and choosing phase, I probably would have skipped this one (well, except for the fact that I knew Hera was in it, which was exciting to imagine, though she didn't end up having too big of a role, anyway). This coming after how refreshing it was to read Willa Cather last month or whenever that was. I'm realizing that the bulk of what I have been reading has been Star Wars books. I like Star Wars books, but I don't like them enough that they should be that big of a percentage of what I'm reading.

The reality is, I'm just not reading that much these days. There's only so much time to sit down with a book, right? So if I'm trying to keep up with all the Star Wars books as they're released, I'm not getting to other things I might want to read, as well. So that's my motivation. If I were still twelve years old, spending every summer reading all day long, then sure, I could read all the Star Wars books new and old and still get through plenty of other content, as well. But I'm not, and I'm realizing that the reason I don't always carve out as much time for reading is that I don't always get as much out of it as I used to. So I need to make sure I'm working in content that excites me.

I'll probably still read all the new Star Wars releases for the year . . . and probably most of them after that, too. But I'm at the point now where if they come up with another Battlefront book, I'll feel comfortable skipping it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

My New Book: Silence and Boldness

I had something I needed to do, something I needed to say. I worried that it wasn't significant enough to bother about. I worried that it wasn't enough to make a book out of. I worried that I didn't even know how to go about editing something like this.

But ultimately I knew that what was most important was simply getting it out. It is my second book, which is not my second novel (the novel remains a work in progress) as I thought it would be. Yet here it is. Ready for it?

From the back cover: 

In this fallen world, sometimes darkness is all we can see. But there is more. The light of our Creator and the beauty of his Creation are enough to tear us out of our chaos. Here is the story of stepping forward and allowing God to give strength and hope. Centering all thoughts on him brings the great freedom we crave. Seeing his love provides context for all that life brings. Here is the story of how I found both silence and boldness, each with their place in my life.

It will be available at all the major online retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon in a few weeks (and I should be getting the digital edition out soon, too), but you can already get a copy from this link. To celebrate the release, it's at 30% off right now (hardcover and paperback copies of my novel, Black Tree, are 30% off right now, too, if you'd like to get both).

And even though this is a different type of book, still it's exciting to now have two in print books of mine:

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ethereal: Dark Chocolate Topped with Apricots, Honey, Marigold Petals, Bee Pollen

A pretty summery chocolate is on the table today. It is Dark Chocolate Topped with Apricots, Honey, Marigold Petals, and Bee Pollen by Ethereal Craft Chocolate. I would call this part of the emerging chocolate scene: it has that boutique gift shop look to it and yet it is also called bean to bar, organic, and ethically sourced (and since I've been on the soapbox so often lately, I'll also mention that chocolate like this can [though of course isn't necessarily] in fact be more ethical than chocolate that has a certified fair trade label). Cute but with some substance?

The pretty bee and honeycomb paper is quite thick and slightly textured. The chocolate bar, too, has a lovely, curvy design to the mold on one side and then all of the flowers and fruit on the other side (with a chocolate like this, you can't really call the toppings side the back). All of the toppings mean that this is essentially chocolate bark.

Being that those toppings are mainly dry, they don't get across in the aroma; that simply consists of semisweet chocolate. Trying the chocolate first smooth side down reveals that same semisweet chocolate flavor akin to Ghirardelli chocolate. I thought about what other flavors I was supposed to be picking up--there was perhaps something floral? Ah, yes, that would be the marigold petals. Interesting choice: usually rose, violet, and lavender are the standards for chocolate, so it's nice to see another flower.

Trying topping side down next brought in some texture, though at first I didn't taste anything more. Then as I settled into something crumbly, I found sweetness. That would be the honey. The ingredients list this as honey granules, which are made with cane sugar and honey. While under other circumstances it would be undesirable to mix honey and sugar, in this case the sugar gives the honey texture so that it can be a topping of its own instead of just something mixed into the chocolate. I mean, bee pollen has some honey flavor, too, but adding in the honey granules probably gives more of a typically-expected honey taste.

Moving inward, I came to the apricot. I suppose I never really eat dried apricot, so I haven't much to compare this one to. Yet it was excellent, nice and sweet. The size is big enough to taste and also not so big as to interfere.

I do have one little note, though. I didn't get a picture because I didn't notice it until later, but one side of the bar was half the thickness of the other side. Given that I'm sure that isn't intentional, I just had to give it a little mention. It doesn't negatively impact the chocolate: I enjoyed the thin side just as much as the thick side. It's just, as I mentioned, a note.

Overall, it's a lovely bar, one I'm enjoyed much more than I'd expected to. Sometimes with the pretty, boutique gift shop chocolate bars, I expect them to just look nice and sound nice but to not delivery much. Not the case here. This chocolate delivers exactly what's promised: dark chocolate with pretty, summery toppings.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"Beauty Is Truth"

Today is all about "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats. Ha, ha, you know what kind of mood I'm in when I'm bringing out John Keats, the one who whispers intoxicatingly beautiful poetry in the ears of writers and lit students.

I didn't get this poem the first time I read it because I didn't know the context. I didn't know anything about Keats or the Romantics. So it was just a guy reflecting on the imagery on a Grecian urn. And that infamous line at the end ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty") I thought was a comment about aesthetics. But the Romantics were not the Aesthetes and John Keats was not Oscar Wilde. Yet even after I learned about context and Keats's commentary and theories on art, this poem remained less interesting to me than pieces like "Ode on Melancholy" or "Ode to a Nightingale" or "Bright Star." I used to keep "Bright Star" written out above my desk . . . maybe I'll do that again.

Now, though, I have finally felt "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In a single poem, Keats contains the pain of life and also its opposite. Would you call that opposite pleasure? No, not quite right. Beauty, yes, truth, yes, those words work.

It can seem as though the narrator is describing aesthetic beauty because he is describing the visuals that are on the urn. In fact, though, he describes things felt, most notably of course the love between the lovers. So when he speaks of beauty, he isn't just describing the aesthetics that are portrayed by the urn: he is describing the sentiments that the visuals express. That is the beauty.

And when the heart cries and the soul feels like it is dying, there is that beauty still to remember. The beauty that was, every moment or feeling that was enjoyed, is there in memory and in truth. It once was and still is. It was beautiful, that is true. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. All we can see in this life is what is here and that is enough. Any glimpse we have is enough.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Surprise? Writing Update

Surprise, I have a short writing project that'll be coming this month. More on that to follow. I only bring it up now not to tease you on it but to describe the effect its completion has had on me. Even though I wrote the first words of what will be my second novel (that is, not the short project coming up) four years ago, I haven't added to it at all in a year. I couldn't.

I had this other thing I needed to do first--and it wasn't until I got around to that one that I could go back to the novel. So today I did it, I went back to it. I should've known writer's mood was brewing when I looked to the refrigerator for a pickle and pickle juice (what? I haven't had pickle juice in years) and then to the freezer for ice cream that had been in there so long I had to scrape the ice off the top (I'm not an ice cream person). (And no, I'm not pregnant. That is not the only reason to feel like eating weird things. Sheesh.) Soon instead of the usual Spotify I've been relying on for music, I turned on Lacey Sturm and Flyleaf loud on my headphones and started free writing all over the floor.

My free writing is weird. That's the definition of free writing, though, isn't it? Just words that pop onto the page, no coherence. And yes, being on the floor is essential to the process. How anyone can do worthwhile writing in a chair I don't know. (No offense to the I'm sure many writers who write from chairs; it's just a joke.) My thoughts started turning to the setting of that long-abandoned book. So I traded out my free write notebook for the manuscript notebook. And I brought out the candy; candy is also essential to serious writing.

It's so hilarious looking at passages that I wrote years ago. So many of them seem like I wrote them this year. Looking at them, I literally can't believe that I didn't write them this year except for the fact that I know I didn't and even if I didn't, they have the dates written on them. (Putting dates on all your writing is something I highly recommend.) Maybe this is also why I had to leave this piece sitting for so long. Partly because I needed to get around to that other project, but also because I needed to catch up to a certain strain of thought that I was writing before I was even aware of it.

Anyways. I feel like I'm back in time, back to when I was writing full time on my first novel. I mean, I won't be writing full time on this one, but the act of being with it reminds me of that time.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Chocolita: Lavender Dreamline 78%

I admit, I tend to just overlook all the Sedona chocolate. Even though the Scottsdale chocolate is exciting, the Sedona chocolate, like Sedona itself, is in its own zone. For anyone unfamiliar with Sedona (which is a beautiful tourist destination of Red Rocks), the town is also known for New Age culture. So most of the chocolate out of Sedona is raw--and I always hesitate around raw chocolate. Of course, none of it is technically completely raw: it's just heated, during production, to a lower temperature than most chocolate. So there is something inherently false-sounding to the concept of raw, modern-style chocolate--and it's something that I personally find unnecessary. With all that being said, though, let's just take a look at the chocolate itself.

On the inside of the wrapper for this Chocolatita bar, there is an explanation about bringing back chocolate as a superfood rather than junk food. That I am absolutely all for: if you're going to add junk to chocolate, don't even bother using chocolate, right?

The wrapper opens up to a strong lavender aroma, all minty and peppery. For this is, after all, the Lavender Dreamline 78%. The Mayan goddess Ixcacau (the goddess of chocolate) who is pictured on the outside also adorns the chocolate squares. Fitting and very Sedona. Flip the bar over and you'll see sprinkled lavender.

Texture-wise, the chocolate feels a little stiff, like it's almost getting a little old. It's less inclined to melt in your mouth, so it works better if you help it out a bit with some munching. I have had coarser raw chocolate before, though, so I would guess that this one was heated to a higher temperature than some. The texture difference from standard chocolate isn't super noticeable, though; again, it's mostly as if the chocolate is just a tad old.

Mainly it all tastes of springy lavender. The lavender is the strongest flavor, so I can't get too many details on the chocolate by itself. Mainly it seems like a solid and decent 78% chocolate; I'm tasting neither sweetness nor bitterness. Now, I didn't look at the ingredients list because I imagined that there probably would be some secrets in there and I didn't want to imagine to myself that I could taste any of those secrets when I actually couldn't. I didn't want the mere suggestion to make me say that there was a strange, indefinable taste in there. The secrets are coconut palm sugar (as opposed to cane sugar), vanilla (just a standard ingredient, but I thought I'd mention it while I'm at it), sea salt, mugwort (which is supposed to help fight fatigue), and gotu kola (which is a plant that has various uses). I just tasted lavender, so if you would like all of this in your chocolate, well, it didn't have any adverse effects on flavor.

So the whole raw chocolate topic aside, I do appreciate the use of better quality ingredients. This chocolate is also organic and fair trade. The label says that it's heirloom cacao; it would be nice to also know the specific type of cocoa beans. As a lavender chocolate, it's nice.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Late Summer

Summer so far has been more like summer in the Verde Valley (about an hour and a half north of the greater Phoenix area) than in the Valley of the Sun. We barely started reaching 100 degrees in June rather than May. Now we're barely inching towards 110 as July is settling in. So there has still been a big enough difference between the highs and lows that there are parts of the day in which it is tolerable to be outdoors. It's the type of thing you don't want to complain about, but it's also so unusual that you have to comment on it.

So I've been able to visit the Desert Botanical Garden more than I usually do during summer. Sometimes I'll go months without visiting because even after sunset it's just too hot to want to be outside. Not so this year. This year I've been going in late morning, when it's hot but still under 100, which is tolerable. I go for a quick little walk to get some sun and some nature.

I'm seeing certain plants in bloom that I tend to miss just because I don't usually see them at this time of year.

And I'm getting the garden almost to myself. Only a few other people want to be there during summer, so I get the peace of solitude. The garden becomes a place for contemplation, a place where thoughts run through a stream of their own power.

Sometimes they're watering the plants and I can smell the wet desert. Monsoon season will be coming soon and there will be even more wet desert scent around. The smell of the wet desert is one of the most nostalgic scents, as is the scent of desert plants baked by the heat of the sun.

This is the land where my child's imagination ran free.

And so there is something wondrously enticing about an Arizona summer, especially one that is more Verde Valley than Valley of the Sun. My heart is home.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Mulan Trailer Reaction

Mulan would seem to lend itself well to live action. The sequences that are exciting in the animated film are full of pacing and, well, action that would translate well into live action. The visuals and plot are reliant mainly on people and their reactions (as opposed to, say, dancing and furry woodland creatures). And the story and themes are also quite adult. So this remake has a chance to be a gem.

The words that play over the scenes in the trailer reminded me of the "Be a Man" sequence in the original. Shang is trying to train his men, telling them they're a bunch of sissies and girls if they can't keep up. And since Mulan is struggling, at first she thinks he's right: she is literally a girl and she can't do this. But then she says, no, I have to do this, so she is able to do it no matter that she is a woman--as a woman, she is still able to "man up."

Similarly, in the trailer, you have this dialogue about how to be a proper woman and wife playing along with images of Mulan training and fighting in battle. The very traits that would seem to "keep a woman in her place" or hold Mulan back from taking a soldier's role are the very traits that help her to become a good soldier: mainly, discipline. This also pairs nicely with Mulan's words at her family's table. She tells them that she will bring the family honor. We as the audience know that she will bring them honor, though not in the way that they expect: it will be through her service in war, not through marriage. So it looks like this movie will get the theme across nicely.

Word is that the love story is out, right? That does make me a little sad, since I quite like the love story in Mulan. It's like the one in Divergent. That isn't the main part of the story, though, so it can be taken out. I'm curious, though, about Mulan's friendship with her fellow soldiers. None of that was shown in the trailer (since it was, after all, just a teaser), so I'll look forward to seeing how that plays out. That camaraderie is what helps Mulan feel like she has found a place and a role; she isn't an isolated, lone figure.

Anyway, everything looks good so far, and I certainly hope so, because this movie has so much going for it. Handled well, it can be both amazing and well-timed.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sprouts: Dark Chocolate 72%

The companion to the Sprouts store-brand Milk Chocolate from last week is their Dark Chocolate 72%. It comes along with the same generic packaging. Maybe it's my bias against red, but this one is even less successful than the Milk Chocolate's look. The Christmas-reminiscent red and green also remind me of a hotel--perhaps specifically the hotel in Home Alone 2. There is a certain niceness to red and green and gold, but it only goes so far. Mainly it's just generic (inevitably, though, right, for the store-brand?).

The bar inside still comes with that pleasant starburst design, though. I found the aroma less than enticing, indicating a sweetness level just a touch away from confection dark chocolate. I can eat sweet milk chocolate because sweetness is part of the nature of milk chocolate (though there is of course also such a thing as fantastic artisan milk chocolate), but sweet dark chocolate turns me away.

In reality, though, this chocolate was fine. It works right away into a bittersweet flavor that is not entirely unlike Ghirardelli. Not that Ghirardelli is on the top tier of the chocolate world, but they're a steady standard with mass appeal. So mainly the chocolate is on the sweeter side but with that sense of bitterness to it that is still different from the bitterness that you would find in an artisan chocolate. It has that silky texture that, if just a little deeper, would be too smooth. The chocolate melts away with that warm, red, brownie taste and just a mild touch of richness.

So better than I thought it would be. Generic and nice. Mass appeal over uniqueness and character. Like with Ghirardelli, it would be great for using as chocolate chips. My recommendations aren't particularly hearty; however, if this were a model for generic, store-brand chocolate, then the chocolate world would definitely be coming into a better place. This is what the starting point for dark chocolate ought to be, with everything else going up from here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ophelia Speaks

In May, I wrote that post about the connections between Ophelia, Padme, and Jane (Eyre). I talked about the name Byronic hero and asked what we call the heroines that accompany such characters. Like I mentioned there, I don't think anyone refers to Hamlet as a Byronic hero, but he does have some of the traits that go along with such a figure.

Then I saw the trailer for Ophelia, which is Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective, and it was like someone else saw what I wanted and had made it. I absolutely couldn't wait for this random film that probably still no one else has even heard of. It came out with a limited release on Friday. It was only playing in one theatre in the greater Phoenix area and only at one time during the day. I was one of only five people in the theatre.

No matter, though: it was like someone had taken my soul and put it on the screen.

I was throughly enraptured by this film. That doesn't mean that it was flawless, but what film is? I didn't particularly like the narration that the movie begins with, but when I realized at the end that it's based on a book, that made more sense. This wasn't an original story; it was a book to movie adaptation. So there is a certain condensing that takes place in certain parts rather than everything being created for this medium (film) from the beginning. So that's why we'll start with narration of Ophelia telling rather than showing.

Because this story is Hamlet but not Hamlet, it does not cover the same length of time and it does not cover the same scenes. Some scenes are the same; some are not. Some scenes are missing; some are there. Some lines are there; some are not. Some are changed; some stay the same. The lines that are added, though, all give the same feeling, all fit the same fabric.

We see Ophelia, her intelligence and her wit and her imagination and her passion--the things that make her a woman that Hamlet would fall in love with.

This movie is an indulgence, and you must see it that way or you will miss the whole point of it.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the decision to make Hamlet and Ophelia's madness feigned. This is one of the things in the play that can be acted out in various ways. Either Hamlet is mad or a little mad or he's just pretending or he's doing both, etc. Here both he and Ophelia feign madness. It makes sense for the story and it fit and flowed well, but here's why I questioned the artistic choice. I realized that I don't think Hamlet and Ophelia were feigning madness. Maybe they weren't full out, put them in a psychotic hold out of control, but I like to think that they were a little . . . off. Because so many of us are. I don't want to explain away something that is part of who we are as people because I want to love us as we are.

(And here there will be some spoilers, if anyone cares about that.)

However. Remember what I said about this movie being an indulgence? It's a fantasy; it's what we want, not what's true. Everything is beautiful. So we watch Hamlet and Ophelia pretending they're mad even though we know that they are struggling and some of it is actually real. We watch Hamlet marry Ophelia even though we know that he really didn't. We watch Ophelia live even though we know that she didn't. We watch her with his child even though we know she didn't have his child. We listen to her story even though we know she never got to tell her story. We watch what we want to watch to see something beautiful.

Ophelia, the woman who loved and was loved by Hamlet. Ophelia, who drowned in her watery grave, lived and was happy simply to have once been loved. We see her dissolve her pain and her reality and we believe that we can dissolve ours, too.

There is more to talk about, especially the theme of identity. What they did with Gertrude and Claudius. The other ladies in waiting. Etc. Plenty to talk about. I wish I could hear what the literature professors are saying about this movie, not what the movie critics are saying. (And I don't usually take this angle, but might I point out that most movie critics are men, aren't they? So if this movie isn't getting stellar reviews, hey, I think that just goes to say that it's more a movie for women than men, if it's going to lean one way or the other.) But what resonated most with me was that theme of the voice that I want Ophelia to have.

I asked for focus on these heroines--and I got it. Ophelia spoke. Ophelia declared her identity and her love for Hamlet, her never-ending love for him. That quote keeps running through my head: "Doubt that the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love." It's like this chant of victory. Just because she lost Hamlet doesn't mean Ophelia was wrong to love him and doesn't mean she can't treasure her memories of him and doesn't mean she can't continue to live a happy life after he is gone from it.

Doubt that the sun doth move . . . but never doubt I love. Never doubt I love.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Lost Lady

I don't even know how to speak on this book. Once I would have had a literary approach, but this is a casual blog, not a research paper, and I really haven't been emphasizing the literary approach much. I could take a personal approach, but I don't talk much personal on here.

I keep collecting Willa Cather books without reading any. I feel like I should like her, which is why I keep buying her books. A Lost Lady might have been a strange starting place since I get the sense that it's a little different from her other works. However, the title called to me when I looked to my shelves for my next read.

I also get the sense that I would not have cared for this book if I had read it a few years ago, or maybe even a few months ago. But a few months can make a great difference, eh? The title refers to Mrs. Forrester and so we suppose that the book is all about her, but it is just as much about Neil, whose perspective we are reading, and Captain Forrester. For Neil, it is all about what he saw (and didn't see) in the Forresters--and for the Captain, it is about what his wife was to him and what he was to her.

(This is all nonsense, trying to do a brief and casual blog post on this book. I'm not going to have the chance to actually talk about anything.)

There is something so bittersweet in these pages. Cather's simple writing style is characteristic of that early twentieth century time, yet I feel more drawn to it than I normally do to writing of that era. There is something almost like The Great Gatsby in here, something of that longing to see a particular concept within a person, something about the creation of concepts and dreams within a person's face. Something about changing times--and people that will always remain people even when everything about people changes.

This book is like a poem, a piece of an image that speaks volumes of thought. I am quite glad I didn't read it before because I think that I would have just dismissed it with a lack of interest before. Now I find it stirring as it brings up thought after thought.