Wednesday Wonders: Finding Story in Dory

Standard

images-5

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Finding Dory and still want to be surprised, don’t read this. 

I recently told my English class that I have two sons. One is 17 and the other is 6. This means, I told them, that I have been watching kid movies since 1999.

Many of the films numbed my senses. All the the Buddies flicks, for example, and most of the sweet Little Foot movies delighted my sons.

open-uri20150422-12561-1miuqa0_32a1ba19

While I see their value in cuteness and love to see my kids smile, the story lines make me want to bang my head against a sharp object, especially after the boys have seen them 20 or 30 times.

Sequels, I find, cause more trouble than most when it comes to head banging.

So the other night, when I was at my mother’s and we rented Finding Dory I expected to sit it out until about 7:00 pm and then tell my son we really needed to go.

An hour later, I still sat on the big blue couch, not wanting to move. The story had me completely hooked. I liked it even better than the original Finding Nemo. (I suppose I never got over the death of the poor mother at the beginning, and Marlin irritated me with his fussiness.)

We’ve since bought the Finding Dory DVD (because we have an outdated system), and I noticed a few things about the story as a writer.

I adored the main character.

I connected with Degeneres as Dory in the first movie, but this version opened with Dory as an adorable baby fish wandering the ocean looking for her parents. Her ‘short term memory loss’ kept her from even remembering Jenny and Charlie.

My sympathy for those great big eyes stabbed me clear through and made me root for that fish from the opening scenes.

hfl6dssh

The story ties into the original movie

It felt as if the story writers had PLANNED a sequel. Maybe they did. Although the hero’s journey of Dory held up all on it’s own, learning why Dory could speak whale and why she sang ‘just keep swimming’ added bonus layers of complexity.

The old characters shifted position in importance

The movie successfully shifted from a story about Marlin and Nemo to the story of Dory with the clown fish as supporting characters.

The new characters made the movie fabulous

Hank the Septopus, Dory’s parents, Becky the loon, the two recuperating whales, and the rock possessive sea lions pulled me into the action even more.

findingdory1280jpg-c104fe_1280w

Finally, I noticed a technique that works with any good story. All the details moved the story forward. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t give much thought to the adorable otters. The second time through  I saw that they came on scene just before Kid Zone and Poker’s Cove. This set them up to later stop traffic for Dory when she rescued Marlin and Nemo from the transport truck.

1280_otters

 

The writer Andrew Stanton, also known as the voice of Crush the turtle, engaged a mom with over 17 years worth of kid movie experience. I liked it so much I even saw his name in the credits after Sia sings a gorgeous rendition of ‘Unforgettable.’

Not bad, Mr. Stanton and crew. Not bad at all.

Advertisements

Wednesday Wonders on a Thursday: Two Books With True Endings

Standard

If you want to find a good read, go to a writing conference. 

Writers, I have learned, are jittery about their own books. As often as not, we struggle to tell you what our books are about or why we fell in love with our own stories enough to spend days, months, and years writing them. But as soon as someone starts talking about books we love written by OTHER people, the conversation around the dinner table wakes up.

I keep a notebook or the Evernote app close by at writing events, so when the book lists start flying, I can write down all the titles and then later find my best reads of the year. Sometimes, these books are old treasures that I missed like Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice.

When these came out in the 1990s, I was busy with other life experiences like my time in Germany, so I missed Karen Cushman’s tales of the Middle Ages. I am grateful my writing friends paid attention back then.

Both of these middle grade works of historical fiction pulled me into the time period. I could tell that Catherine Called Birdy was Cushman’s first tale. The plot wandered a little in the weeds of history while The Midwife’s Apprentice felt tighter with a story line that wove through in a way that CCB sometimes did not. I see why it won the Newbery Medal.

But CCB, the Newbery Honor book, spoke to me this last week. In it, a girl struggled against her limiting circumstances and the arranged marriage awaiting her. I wanted her to be able to run away on a crusade, become a script-writing monk like her older brother, or even to be able to marry Perkins the goat herder.

Maybe as a young teen, I believed these as possible happy endings for a young lady like Catherine.

As a grown up, I recognize those as impossible options for a young woman living in the feudal society of the time.

In any case, I loved how Cushman brought Catherine to a realistic but hopeful resolution at the end. The character found peace and a way to stay true to herself by the end in spite of the oppressive rules of her society.

Many thanks once more to my writing friends for the joy of two good books, one after the other.

May you find your own selves in the midst of whatever lifts you up or holds you in place-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

P.S. The biggest trouble with posting late comes when the next week swings around and you’ve already missed it. Getting behind on a weekly post is like waiting until the next night to do the dishes. It gets so much easier to let the pots and plates slide the night after when you’ve done the washing up before cooking and then face more washing up.

All of that is to say that I’ll get my wonders back on Wednesdays next week. Honest.

Wednesday Wonders on Friday: Hamburg and the Historic American Election

Standard

In the early 1990s, I traveled to Germany and became desperately homesick. I had decided I wanted to really learn German and went on a work visa to Hamburg, far away from the American military bases. I lived with a German friend in her apartment and found a job serving banquets in a nearby hotel. My German improved quickly because I had dropped myself into the deep end of the language swimming pool.

I was miserable. 

I was the kind of homesick where I would go to McDonald’s (which I do not like) and sip cups of coffee because McDonald’s felt a little like home.

I was the kind of homesick where I went for long walks and searched for the American Cultural Center or a German class on the seedy immigrant side of the city or anything to distract me from my loneliness. Eventually, I got a job teaching English, so I had two part time jobs, but they didn’t keep me occupied enough.

I slept 12 hours a day and cried whenever I called my mother or wrote long letters home.

(This was before the Internet world. Going abroad created a distance that I struggle to imagine now.)

I was the kind of homesick that bordered on depression.

One day, as I walked around the Binnenalster, a small lake in the older part of Hamburg, I came across Benetton. Wandering inside the clothing store, I overheard an American speaking to a customer. This woman, I thought, was even better than McDonald’s! I felt crazy introducing myself to Jamie, the American Benneton saleswoman. But I did it, and we became friends.

Sometimes, I learned, when you live overseas, you make friends out of this kind of desperation and you put up with each other because you have no one else to connect with from your homeland. Hanging out gives you a shadow of what you need in companionship. Both of you know if you were at home you would never make friends with one another. It’s a relationship born of limited options.

Jamie was not this kind of friend. Jamie and I spent hours talking, walking, and rowing on the canals that weave in and around the northern German city. We talked of what it was like to live so far from home, of her Italian boss who refused to speak German, of the negative comments she overheard Germans say about Jews and how that felt to her as a Jewish woman. We drank coffee American style–by the potful instead of in small teacups. I told her of my crushing loneliness, and she understood.

For a few hours, I felt the homesickness slip away and the dark fog around my mind lift. I loved every minute of that time with her.

Then she had to go to work, or I had to go back home.

After my time with a good friend, my isolation intensified to a level I could no longer bear. It was as if I got a glimpse through a curtain into a happier life. That glimpse made it impossible to return to my sad existence.

At times, I even regretted meeting Jamie.

I had planned to stay in Germany for at least a year. I left after three months.

I write now about Germany and Jamie because I have struggled this week to name my feeling about coming so close to having a woman for president–to have her win the popular vote but not the electoral vote that matters. Many of the people I work with are happy about this outcome, and it is often all I can do not to cry. (That would be weak and womanly, I know. So, at the risk of becoming wooden, I don’t.)

When I was young, people told me that a woman could be president. That things had changed. I believed them. Geraldine Ferraro become a vice presidential nominee, after all. (I began to suspect something was up when everyone made a big deal out of that.)

Over the years, I gradually saw how impossible it would be for a woman to reach that level of leadership in this country. I saw how women struggled to lead even locally. I put the idea of presidency out of my mind and went on with my life, like you do.

For a few months this year, I let myself believe that things could change. That a woman could lead our nation. I researched and soul-searched to be sure I felt she was qualified and a person of integrity before I moved to her side. I know others disagree with me on this. Some of those others are people I respect, but I believed in her abilities.

Last Tuesday night, I knew the woman candidate would not step into the oval office. I knew that a man who repeatedly and without apology disrespects women will instead have that honor.

It is as though I just came back to the empty apartment after two hours of talking to Jamie. It’s worse than never hoping at all. Infinitely worse.

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton told the young girls not to give up hope, and I don’t want them to, either.

But right now, I wish I could call my mother and have her wire me the money for a plane ticket, so I could spend the summer hiking with my dad around Mt. Rainier.

May you find your own home again-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: Falling Back

Standard

 

“For this weekend, you get to call yourselves writers loud and proud instead of in a small voice at the end of a long list of other things you do.”

My writing teacher Lois Brandt said this (or something very like it) at the beginning of our Weekend on the Water retreat with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

51opwdfmoal-_sy496_bo1204203200_

Lois wasn’t lying. All weekend long, I talked and heard about books. I talked about my books in progress, I heard from debut authors, and I listened to the faculty tell of how to write as well as what they as editors and reviewers look for when they read. I chatted with my group about their writing and heard what they had to say about mine.

It was glorious. 

Sometimes, I learned, it’s good to be stuck. Sometimes it makes me stop, look at what I’m doing, open my eyes and ears, and hear something new. Sometimes the stuck let me hear old things in a new way.

Gradually, I felt the cement blocks on my creative feet and fingers lifting.

When I got home I found a contest to submit to and the deadline is soon. After that I have my short story who sits so close to my heart I have to crack her open and send her out as soon as I can find a possible home.

And my middle grade novel. This weekend I felt my character wake up inside me as I listened to another writer give me story idea after idea from his own experiences with characters like mine.

Here is what I learned in my two full days at a former convent in Des Moines, Washington:

We do not create alone. 

Even as I sit at this keyboard, far away from everyone I met this weekend and from any of you reading, I feel all of them and you with me.

It’s crazy sappy, yet I have to say it because it’s truer than true.

May you find joy in the people who love life like you do.

And do remember the anonymous quote Kim Baker told us as we went our separate ways:

“You are a ghost driving a skeleton made of stardust on a rock flying around the sun. Fear nothing.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

img_8503

The published works of the writers I got to meet over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

 

 

 

img_8525

Last on this post, but first in my heart, Amanda Hosch. She told me her book journey from the summer of dreaming about her character to the 6 weeks of writing it in a flurry to the agent to the book deal after three years. She was so elated and bubbled over with book joy. Amanda is now one of my heroes. MABEL OPEL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING hits the stands and the websites in the fall of 2017. Hooray!!

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: How a Retreat Can Help (I Hope)

Standard
file0001098281277

Winter

I am hovering on the edge of doing anything writerly lately. I look at the work I need to do, lift my pen, scribble a few words, and then put the pen back down.

The keyboard isn’t much better. I’ll open programs, stare at a screen, and then wander away to vacuum. Or worse. I’ll click on the Facebook time warp and come up for air thirty minutes later, thinking it must now be time to go to the day job.

Today I had an even better excuse for not getting this blog post started: my internet was on the blink. I fussed for a good half hour with network connections before waking the teen and getting some help.

Instead of all this frittering away, I need to finish character sheets, follow plot lines, and most of all move forward. Somehow.

In an attempt to pull myself out of the funk, this Friday I am going to the Weekend on the Water through the the Western Washington chapter of SCBWI.

I hope the writers and editors there will inspire me and shake the muse back awake. At the same time, that little voice in my head is telling me how many other more motivated people will be there. (If I had the energy, I’d give that little voice what for. But I don’t.)

I can’t even decide if I should drag along the laptop or disconnect for a few days.

So it goes. Sometimes ennui is a wonder all by itself. 

May you find more pizzaz than I have this Wednesday-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

Wednesday Wonders: What Would You Say to the Past of Yesterday and Today?

Standard

I’ve struggled with what to write this week. Much has happened.

A double funeral with dear friends who lost a mother and a father in two days.

The kindness of neighbors who could have hurt us but didn’t.

Neither of these are my stories to tell, though. So I won’t.

I did see something that grabbed my eye from another friend on Facebook, however.

14445948_1285630828136149_54274706934146820_n

I posted these words:

Stay in Germany longer. 

I wish I had.

But then I had another thought. I even braved the process of making a meme to put it together here.

its-2036-what

I saw many post things to their 17-year-old selves that imagine I might later say to my today self.

Listen to yourself always. 

Know who you are.

Shut up and listen.

Be kind to yourself.

Do less, love more.

It will be okay.

Chill the (heck) out.

I think I might say all of this to myself. I might also say:

Keep writing. It matters.

At least I hope I’ll say that.

Wherever you are in the world,  I’d love to know what you would say to your 17-year-old self. (Especially you in Brazil. I see you on my stats page and have always wondered how you found me in the wide web.)

I’d also love to know what you think your future wisdom for yourself might be.

May you know love past, present, and future-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

 

Wednesday Wonders: Door of Doom Update

Standard

img_8377

This will be a short post. The door is done! Done! (I ache to replace the hardware with silver but have no more oomph for that sort of insanity.)

For now, I’m back to my usual groove of teaching and writing. A new quarter begins this Monday and I am gearing up for a poetry workshop followed by my favorite retreat of the year.

The home improvement stores can rest easy once more.

From the blasted start to the blessed finish: