Sunday, June 13, 2021

Comfort movies: a listicle.

Quick update, first, on The Atherton Vampire: I've had quite a productive weekend. I wrote episodes 22 and 23 yesterday, and episodes 24 and 25 today. That means the first draft of the whole novella is done. I wasn't wrong about the length -- it has come out to 40,800 words -- but I was wrong about the lengths of each episode; almost as soon as I said none had gone over 2,000 words, I wrote one that was 2,500 words. A couple of subsequent episodes also top 2k words. So sue me.

Anyway, I still haven't heard a launch date for Kindle Vella. At least my whole story is drafted and will be ready for upload, whenever Amazon rolls it out.

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At some point this week, I saw someone share a list on social media of what they termed "comfort movies." It's the same idea as comfort food -- it's a thing you turn to, again and again, when the world has been a little too much. So comfort movies would be those you've seen several times and would watch again in a heartbeat, because you love them so much.

I don't own a ton of DVDs. I only buy the ones I know I'll watch again. So it was easy for me to suss out a listicle of my comfort movies: Just catalog what's in the DVD drawer. It turns out that I do own a few movies that I would only rewatch when I'm in a certain mood. But for comfort flicks, you cannot go wrong with the following list -- or at least I can't.

Devon Breen | Pixabay | CC0
My Comfort Movies (in alphabetical order) (feel free to let me know yours):

The Avengers: The Marvel series, not the Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg TV series. Not that there's anything wrong with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. I loved this movie for the dialogue, which is full of snappy comebacks. Thor's deadpan delivery of "he's adopted" always gets a laugh from me.

Bells Are Ringing: I love me some old musicals, especially if they're also screwball comedies. I can take or leave Dean Martin, to be honest, but Judy Holliday's rendition of "I'm Going Back" is a showstopper. (The link is to the song on the cast album; I couldn't find a clip from the movie itself. Do yourself a favor and rent this flick.)

The Blues Brothers: This movie has so many great moments, it's impossible to name them all; I'd actually forgotten about the scene where Carrie Fisher pulls a rocket launcher on John Belushi until the last time I saw it. Plus it's set in Chicago, one of my favorite cities. And the Nazis get what they deserve.

The Big Lebowski: Jeff Bridges turns in a bravura performance. That rug really did pull the room together. And I can't help it: I love it every time John Goodman tells Steve Buscemi to "shut the fuck up, Donny!"

Continental Divide: I doubt you've heard of it. John Belushi plays Ernie Souchak, a hard-charging newspaper guy in Chicago (the character was modeled after Mike Royko) who needs to lay low from a crime syndicate for a while. So his editor sends him to Colorado to interview Nell Porter (Blair Brown), a wildlife researcher who lives in a cabin on top of a mountain. It's a fish-out-of-water rom-com - Souchak is a city guy who hates the great outdoors, and Nell just generally hates people, but reporters most of all. The ending is completely ridiculous and so much fun.

Fargo: The Coen brothers have done some weird movies, but this one hits all the right notes for me. Here's my favorite line: When Frances McDormand sees William H. Macy driving away while she's standing in his office, waiting to talk to him, she says, "Oh, for Pete's sake!"  It's such a wholesome thing for a character in a crime drama to say. 

Gigi: This was my all-time favorite movie for years and years. Then I grew up and realized what Madame Alvarez was training Gigi to be. Still, the music is great, and the scene where Gaston realizes he's in love with Gigi is so much fun to watch. Plus Gigi goes against Aunt Alicia's wishes and refuses to be Gaston's courtesan, so yay 1950s feminism?

Guardians of the Galaxy: Another Marvel Studios entry. Goofy goings-on in space as the Star-Lord tries to gain himself a reputation. Groot's sacrifice will tear your heart out, but the closing credits kind of make up for it. Plus the soundtrack is amazing -- I actually bought that before I bought the DVD.

Indiana Jones: Any of of them except for Temple of Doom; somebody needed to give Kate Capshaw something to do other than scream at the top of her lungs. I recently saw that Harrison Ford's donning the fedora and bullwhip for a fifth movie in the franchise, but supposedly he'll be digitally younger-fied in at least some scenes. I'm not sure how I feel about that. The new movie's due out next summer.

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte's novel was my favorite book from eighth grade until I discovered the Thomas Covenant series. This novel has had a ton of film adaptations, but I think the 2011 version, with Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester, is the best. Wasikowska gives Jane an almost otherworldly air. (I never could warm up to George C. Scott as Rochester. Whose bright idea was that, anyway?)

Little Shop of Horrors: A sci-fi musical mashup with a carnivorous plant and a sadistic dentist -- what's not to like? (My kids' high school did this as their musical one year. My daughter Amy got to keep one of the Audrey props -- the hand puppet, not the ginormous beast.)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: I also love Life of Brian, but this one wins for being such a great send-up of the Middle Ages. And who can forget the killer rabbit? Or the Knights who say "Ni"? Or the Frenchman who hurls insults off his castle wall? Or the "bring out your dead!" scene? I'd better stop now or we'll be here all night.

Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen just keeps having her day. This novel has also been adapted about a bazillion times, from Hollywood to Bollywood. I know Colin Firth is the sentimental favorite for Darcy, but my favorite version is the 2004 film with Winona Ryder. When she first glimpses Darcy's estate -- and realizes what she's lost by turning down his marriage proposal -- her reaction is priceless. (I couldn't find a clip. Just watch the movie -- it'll be along.)

The Princess Bride: This is another film with too many great scenes to list, from "As you wish" to "My name is Inigo Montoya..." to "Have fun storming the castle!" and on and on. By the way, if you haven't read the novel the movie is based on, you should -- it's fun and charming in a wholly different way.

Romancing the Stone: I was a confirmed Kathleen Turner fan after seeing this movie the first time. It's so much fun that I found I could even forgive Michael Douglas for mispronouncing Cartagena throughout the entire movie. (The sequel is terrible - don't bother.)

Star Wars: And by that I mean the 1977 film that's now known as Episode IV - A New Hope. The special effects are old hat now, but they were mind-blowing at the time. And George Lucas let his actors have fun in the first three films, unlike in Episodes I to III where he seemed determined to saddle everybody with Performances with Serious Import (other than Jar Jar Binks, about whom the less said, the better).

Thor: Ragnarok: Marvel Studios again. This one is a buddy movie with Thor and the Hulk as the buddies. The dialogue shines in this one, too. Plus we get to see an actual Valkyrie -- how cool is that?

Young Frankenstein: Mel Brooks has made some outstanding movies and at least one clunker (History of the World, Part I). I know a lot of people consider Blazing Saddles to be his masterpiece, but I prefer this one -- not just because I like horror better than Westerns, but because of all the hilarious scenes. And that's just a small sample. 

White Christmas: I know, I know. It's extremely dated with its stereotypical airheaded showgirls and stuff. But the dance scenes are still stunning, and the title song gets me every time. 

Y'know, I finished drafting a book today. I think I might watch a movie tonight.

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These moments of comforting cinematic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Writing episodic fiction for my new guy.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to put in a plug for our Summer Reading Challenge. It's been going on for just over a month and I've read, uh, one new-to-me book on the list. Oh, wait -- actually I'm still reading it. Whoops. I have another one queued, though. 

Anyway, I can't win any of the prizes. But you can! Hop on over to the link, check the list, and get cracking. The contest ends September 4th.

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copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
So here's my new guy. His name is Jerome Reed Atherton, a.k.a. The Atherton Vampire -- Jerry to his friends. Looks like a charmer, doesn't he? I'm writing his story now for Kindle Vella, a new platform that Amazon is developing.

We don't have a launch date yet for the platform, although one blog has speculated it will be sometime this month or next. What we do know is that Amazon is aiming Kindle Vella at people who read on their phones or other mobile devices, and it will work a little differently than a regular Kindle ebook. For one thing, the story will be doled out in episodes of between 600 and 5,000 words apiece. For another, readers won't be able to purchase the whole story at once, the way they do with an ebook; instead, they'll buy virtual tokens, and then use those to buy the episodes. The episodes are priced by length, with one token worth 100 words -- so an episode that's 1,200 words long would cost a reader 12 tokens. As usual with these sorts of things, the more tokens you buy at once, the cheaper they will be. 

Don't take the prices for tokens at that link above as gospel; Amazon hasn't finalized them yet. But using that chart as a rough example: it looks like Jerry's story is going to end up being about 40,000 words long. The first three episodes of every story will be free; in Jerry's case, that's about 2,500 words lopped off the total, so you'd be paying for 37,500 words. The whole shebang would cost you 375 tokens, or (according to that chart that hasn't been finalized yet) between three and four bucks.

Another thing that isn't super clear is how much authors are going to be paid. We'll get 50% of what readers spend on each episode, but the formula has variables that include the price a reader paid for their tokens and the fee charged by the sales platform. That's not as good a deal as the 70% royalty that authors get for ebooks, but it's not nothing. And it's a way to reach a whole new readership. Assuming this thing takes off.

And assuming people like Jerry's story well enough to keep reading it. That creates a bit of a challenge in terms of structuring the story. I'm keeping my episodes on the shorter side; none has hit even 2,000 words yet, which is shorter than the chapters I write for my novels. And each episode needs to end with something that will compel the reader to buy the next episode -- a cliffhanger, say, or a surprise of some sort. I'm thinking I'll end up with 25 episodes. That's a lot of cliffhangers.

I'm not allowed to publish a Kindle Vella story as a regular Kindle novel unless I unpublish it from Vella first. So we'll see how it goes. If Jerry doesn't get many fans to bite (sorry not sorry), I'll pull the story from the new platform and publish it as a regular ebook. Either way, I think Jerry's story has legs, as we used to say in journalism; I have a whole bunch of ideas for sequels. 

I'll let you know when Kindle Vella launches and how things go from there. Or as they used to say on TV, stay tuned for our next exciting episode!

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These moments of episodic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Mulling over vanlife.

First things first: I was interviewed this week on NFReads. It was a great experience. Of course, I forgot to mention The Payoff (duh, Lynne) but I did provide some hitherto unannounced details about my Kindle Vella project, The Atherton Vampire. Click through and check it out. Thanks!

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Dmitry Y. | Pixabay | CC0
A couple of nights ago, I watched Nomadland via pay-per-view. It won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, as well as a slew of other awards. 

The plot intrigued me. Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her performance as Fern, a woman who loses her home and her husband within the space of a few months during the Great Recession. She makes some improvements to her van, puts the majority of her stuff in storage, and hits the road -- piecing together odd jobs and falling into a culture of folks living what's come to be called #vanlife.

The reasons these people decide to live in an RV are varied. Some, like Fern, are forced to do it when their finances turn against them. Some would rather travel than be tied down to a house and everything that entails. A woman named Swankie, diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to live out the rest of her life seeing places she's always wanted to see. (Most of the people in the movie play themselves; they were featured originally in the 1997 nonfiction book the movie is loosely based on. The only honest-to-gods actors in the film are McDormand and David Strathairn, who plays a fellow traveler who falls for Fern. But the real-life Swankie didn't actually die; in fact, she attended the Oscars ceremony as a guest of Chloe Zhao, who won the award for Best Director.)

All this has got me thinking -- again -- about tiny living. My place is already pretty small -- 500 square feet, give or take -- but I still feel a pull sometimes toward going smaller, although I don't know that I'll ever be ready to refit a van and move into it (and I hope my financial circumstances don't ever turn so bleak that I'm driven to that extreme!). 

But there's a certain feeling of purity, too, in ditching the life that society expects us to live -- the single-family house with the two-car garage and the stuff to fill it and the soul-sucking job to pay for it all -- and "living lightly on the land," as they say. Some of the folks Fern meets on the road are living as nomads for that reason. And in the movie, at least, it doesn't seem like making that choice would be the end of the world.

Back when I was involved in the simple living movement, I knew of a woman who retired from the military and set herself up to live on her pension -- which, if I remember correctly, was $500 a month. This was twenty years ago, when $500 went farther than it would today, but it still was nowhere near a fortune. But she made it work, at least for a little while. I lost touch with her when I dropped out of the movement, so I don't know how it's going for her these days.

Longtime readers of hearth/myth know I've been a sucker for tiny homes for many years. (For those just joining us, you can get up to speed by clicking here, here, here, and here.) My conclusion after years of research was that tiny homes are adorable, but they have some significant drawbacks: Cities in general don't want them (typically you can live in an apartment or condo with the same square footage as a tiny home, but a standalone dwelling of the same size is verboten) except as housing for the homeless; rural areas have begun to zone them out, with minimum square footage requirements and such; and because they're built of wood and not the superlight materials RV manufacturers use, you need a beast of a truck to pull one. I really like Eli, my Kia Niro hybrid, but I can't attach anything to him that's heavier than a bike rack. It's true that I could buy a truck to pull a tiny house -- or any other sort of trailer -- but buying another vehicle that I'd have to insure and maintain seems like it would complicate my life instead of simplifying it.

Motor homes have their own drawbacks. Most localities don't want you living in one of these, either; you're often limited by the number of months per year you can live in an RV, even if you own the land it's parked on. And they get terrible gas mileage. Considering we appear to be lurching toward a future of all-electric vehicles in this country, buying a gas guzzler seems like a bad idea right now. 

And I really like living in Santa Fe.

In the article I linked to above, Swankie is quoted as saying it took her ten years to transition to living in her van. In the movie, Fern put all her stuff in a storage unit until she was ready, emotionally, to let it go. 

I guess I still have some thinking to do.

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These moments of vanlife blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Taking a pandemic breather to review.

geralt | Pixabay
It sounds like most folks had the same reaction I did to the CDC's recent declaration that anyone who's fully vaccinated can (mostly) stop wearing masks in public: Eh, not so fast. We're now at the point where either you throw caution completely to the winds and go without, or wear one anyway and risk those you meet thinking you're either: a) an anti-vaxxer or b) a Republican. I feel like I need to get a t-shirt that says, "I'm fully vaccinated but I have trust issues about everybody else."

I'd get a button, but I don't think all that would fit. Or at least not in a big enough font to be readable from six feet away.

Anyway, it appears that in the US, at least, as vaccination rates go up, the number of COVID-19 cases is going down, and the death rate attributed to the virus is going down, too. I don't want to jinx things by speaking too soon, but we may be emerging from the woods.

Regardless of how soon our lives can safely go back to normal, this seems like a good time to sit back, take a deep breath (masked or un-, your choice), and see whether we've learned anything from the past fourteen months. Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, wrote a Facebook post earlier today that's a pretty good summary of the economic lessons learned due to the virus. While I agree with his list, I decided to come up with my own. There's some overlap, but I think he missed a couple of things.

1. How nice was it to show up, get your government-provided vaccine, and not have to pay a penny for it? Nobody asked for your insurance information. Nobody asked you for a co-pay. You didn't even have to contact the vaccine administrators to find out whether they were in-network or out-of-network. You just showed up, got the shot, and went on your way, right? Now think about how wonderful it would be if all health care in America was offered the same way. It can be -- if we would just institute universal health care. We're the only major nation that doesn't have it. It's beyond ridiculous. We need to do whatever it takes to get this done.

2. We need to continue to appreciate our essential workers -- and by "essential workers," I mean all the people who had to show up for work during the pandemic while the rest of us stayed safely at home: the health care providers, the delivery drivers, the warehouse workers, the grocery store clerks, the cashiers at stores deemed essential businesses, and the teachers who had to go back to in-person instruction not knowing for sure whether it was safe. Other than teachers and health care workers, most of these folks don't have job security -- they're typically not full-time employees and they receive minimal, if any, benefits from their employers. We need to fix that. At least give everybody free health care (see point 1).

3. I have zero patience for people who made a buck off of others during this trying time. I don't mean just the idiots who bought up all the hand sanitizer and wipes at the start of the pandemic and then tried to sell them for a premium -- although they're on my list. Nope, I'm also including the billionaires who have increased their wealth by more than $1.6 billion over the course of the past year and change. In many cases, their gain has come at the expense of their employees, many of whom are considered essential workers. Economic inequality was already off the charts in this country before the pandemic, and now it's worse. There's no excuse for that. 

4. As for the employers who tried to roll back hazard pay for their essential workers after a couple of months? Hello, the pandemic is still happening -- they still deserve that extra pay. And if you can't get people to come to work for you now? Maybe don't be so chintzy with your pay and benefits, and treat your employees like they're human beings and not interchangeable cogs.

5. When it comes to those who've been working remotely for the past year, now that they've had a taste of the good life, employers are going to have a hard time convincing them to go back to the office full-time. It was gospel at my old law firm that secretaries would never be able to work from home. Our job duties simply wouldn't allow it. Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic in which everybody's been working remotely -- including secretaries at my old law firm. Not everybody thrives in the office fishbowl. Employers need to be flexible when it comes to bringing people back into the office.

6. I admit I wasn't nuts about the idea of having to wear a mask when it first came up. But when it became apparent that either I needed to mask up or hermetically seal myself in my apartment to avoid getting the virus, I got on board. But some people have been absolutely desperate to avoid reality, to the point where they have convinced themselves that masks are useless and the vaccine is dangerous. I'm all about "live and let live," as long as people's choices don't impact me. This does. If you're not going to get the vaccine, wear a mask. If you won't wear a mask, get vaccinated. And for gods' sake, don't lie about having gotten the vaccine so you don't have to wear a mask. 

7. The January 6th insurrection happened. It was not a "normal tourist visit." It seems logical to assume that anyone who objects to an investigation into what happened that day, including a thorough probe of who was behind it, probably has something to hide. 

Okay, that last point doesn't have much of anything to do with the pandemic. I'm leaving it on the list anyway. After all, this is just a draft. I'll come back to it once the virus has well and truly ridden off into the sunset.

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Speaking of lists: How's your progress on our summer reading list? I'm not nagging, I swear.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's a link to the list and info on the contest. That's right! Prizes! Now go forth and read!

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These moments of bloggy listicle creation have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaccinated and good luck!