Thursday, May 28, 2020

Looking for a premade cover isn't as straightforward as I thought

I've been looking for a premade contemporary romance cover lately, so I've been stalking A LOT of websites and Facebook groups in search of the "perfect" cover. Why premade, you ask? To be honest, it's mostly a cost issue, but also I don't feel like what I'm looking for should be that difficult to find. And yet...

My specifications are pretty straightforward. The book is one that I'm receiving the rights back from a traditional publisher on, and it was initially published during the New Adult heydey. New Adult still exists, but it's a lot sexier. Especially in terms of covers.

Which means more man chest than couples. I did some market research - aka stalking Amazon - and discovered that a lot of the best-selling New Adult covers feature a male torso, preferably with six-pack abs. Well, that's easy enough to find as a premade, right?

Sort of. There are a lot of male torso premade covers out there, but fonts matter. Fonts mean the difference between a paranormal male torso and an edgey contemporary male torso. Don't believe me? Look at these two:

The glowing text treatment on Last Alpha gives it an otherworldly vibe, yes? (And, ok, there's a wolf in the background too but I didn't notice that at first, I swear.) By contrast, the handwritten brush font on One Night With A Hero is contemporary romance all the way.

Black and white male torsos on New Adult covers are super popular. Most of L. J. Shen's covers are black and white with a dash of color in the title and they definitely work for her. Her recent release hit #1 in the entire Kindle store, and is still #8 overall and #1 in three categories two weeks post-release. That's not due to the cover alone, of course, but the cover doesn't HURT its prospects at all.

Don't worry. I know that L. J. Shen's covers aren't premades - and I'm pretty sure the photos are exclusive, not stock. But it's worth studying what works, and her covers definitely do.

There are a lot of black and white male torso premade covers, and honestly I think I've seen over one hundred since my search began. But nothing is jumping out and saying, "Yes this one!" Yet.

Because that's the other thing, with so many to pick from, it's easy to be SUPER picky. To the point of indecision. I feel like the only way I'm going to actually decide is if I set a deadline and then don't allow myself to look at any premade covers once I've decided. Unless, of course, you have a premade site you think I should check out. Then, by all means, drop it in the comments!

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Star War A Day Episode II: Attack of the Sequels

A pot by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm back with more Star Wars. You may remember that the other week, fellow ATB blogger Karissa posted about our #AStarWarADay marathon, which involved her, me, and fellow author and Star Wars fan Victor Catano watching one Star Wars movie a day from May 4 (aka Star Wars Day) onward until we got through all 11 live-action feature films (we took a few breaks for weekends). Lots of awesome people jumped in to comment on one movie or another, and a special shout-out goes to writer and podcaster Christian Angeles for joining in almost every episode.

Let me tell you, though, that was A LOT of Star Wars. It was wonderful, though, to get to hang out with my fellow fans and geeks online, especially since we've all been stuck at home with little chance to hang out for so long.

In fact, it was so much Star Wars, that when Karissa last posted, we hadn't even finished our marathon yet. We still had the last two Skywalker Saga movies to go: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (TLJ) and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS). You know it's funny, but you can see the tug-of-war between JJ Abrams, director of Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) and TROS and Rian Johnson, director of TLJ, right there in the titles. The Force Awakens... new Jedi. The Last Jedi... never mind they're ending. The Rise of Skywalker... never mind, not only are they back, but they're Skywalkers.

Karissa and Victor graciously agreed to gather again to unpack the ending of this mega saga, and we chatted about it over Facebook Messenger. The below is a transcript of our conversation (lightly edited for clarity in some places... okay, mostly my bits).

MARY: The last time we all gathered, we were almost done with #AStarWarADay and only had the last two movies, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left to watch. Both of these movies, of course, were super controversial when they came out, and are arguably the most controversial films in the series. How has this rewatch reinforced or changed your perceptions of TLJ and TROS, and has that colored your views of any of the other 9 films that came before them?

KARISSA: I was dreading watching TLJ and maybe I should have tried to go in more open minded but... I was just as disappointed as I was expecting to be. Maybe more so because the parts I knew I didn't like hadn't been softened by time or by watching the other movies first.

I dreaded being angry again at seeing so many threads from TFA purposefully changed or ignored. I didn't feel like Johnson was cleverly subverting tropes. I felt like he was giving a giant F You! To not just JJ but to over 40 years of story telling.

I dreaded the budding "romance" between Rey and Kylo. I dreaded seeing Finn's potential get side-lines. I dreaded Poe going from a strong-willed rebel to tantrum throwing brat. And don't get me started on the totally pointless casino side-mission. About the only nice thing I could say is that there were some visually stunning scenes. And even though I don't ship Kylo and Rey and I think Johnson utterly wasted Snoke's character, I really liked Rey and Kylo's fight scene together.

I was kind of dreading TROS too because while I disliked so many of the choices made in TLJ, I disliked how much of TROS was spent trying to "fix" those changes. It made for a totally non-cohesive, incoherent trilogy.

VICTOR: Well, as the token “The Last Jedi is good, actually” member of the group...

I hadn’t seen TLJ since it came out in theatres, but I liked it quite a lot. I was a little trepidatious, since I thought Rian’s last SF movie, Looper, was overrated. But I thought TLJ was absolutely gorgeous- the rich reds, the salt planet Crait, the throne room battle - all stunning.

And I liked cranky Luke! I loved the light saber being tossed away. I adored the revelation that Rey’s parents were nobodies who traded her for drink money.

I didn’t care about side quest: Canto Bight. Even then, it felt like it was there only to give Finn something to do.

Now, seeing it again, immediately after Force Awakens... I see the flaws. Canto Bight really does not make sense at all. The slow speed chase that makes up a lot of the movie is... eh. The dark side cave on Acht-To doesn’t add anything (even though it looks cool)

I still like it! Just less than I remembered. Also, it’s great to discuss it with people who aren’t toxic fanboys, since so much of the TLJ SUCKS crowd were salty at there being too many gurls in their Star Wars. (Like the asshats who made an edit that took out all the women. Like for real?)

But your complaints are rooted entirely in plot and character. I think most of that worked, you obviously did not!

I applaud the ambition, but a good chunk of it doesn’t quite land. I am ok with the Rey-Ren stuff. I read it entirely as them trying to lure the other to the dark/light side.

MARY: I thought I'd like TLJ more this time around since I knew what was coming and couldn't be disappointed, but instead it just became more transparent how preach-y it really was, lecturing the audience about believing too much in their Star Wars heroes. Luke is a jerk. Rey is a fool. Finn is sidelined. Leia is put on ice. Poe turns into an entitled brat. The bright spot is the new character Rose, but it's annoying how in some places she seems to exist not to be her own character, but to be a vehicle for the filmmaker to lecture the audience even more.

TROS I actually liked more this time around because at least it was fun to watch, and I got over my hang-ups with the makes-no-sense plot.

It was really frustrating to see the disagreements between Rian and JJ as filmmakers play out in the films themselves, which TLJ trying to undo TFA, and TROS trying to undo TLJ. One aspect of Star Wars that I always found interesting was its views on redemption. In the originals, we had Vader going from Dark Lord to the guy who brings balance to the Force. The prequels introduced us to Vader as the kid Anakin and portrayed the good guy he was before. Even Rogue One depicted a scrappy bunch of not-so-good guys, some of whom had done terrible things in the name of the Rebellion, sacrificing themselves for the greater good. And then there's Kylo Ren's redemption in TROS after turning down his chances in TLJ and TFA. Now, I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I'm curious about what you have to say about redemption arcs in Star Wars. What do you think?

VICTOR: I agree with you about the great JJ-Rian battles! It’s very frustrating!!! Anyone can be a Jedi! NOPE! It’s all about bloodlines! Rose Tico is a great new character! PSYCH! She gets 2 min of screen time now! Your parents were nobodies! LOLOLOL YOUR GRANDAD WAS PALPATINE!!!

As for redemption arcs, it’s interesting to see them play out in the proper order. We see Anakin as a child, become a Jedi, and then get warped and corrupted by Palpatine, to the point where he unquestioningly murders children. Then you see Vader in his full power in Rogue One, where he’s effectively a horror movie villain - an unstoppable killing machine that the rebel soldiers are powerless against.

Then you see him in the original trilogy - as an evil figure who tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side. But Luke convinces him to embrace the good inside him. Vader redeems decades of foul deeds by killing the emperor.

Now, there’s Kylo Ren. He is introduced in TFA by capturing Poe and then slaughtering a village. He kills his father, Han Solo (which made my mom EXTREMELY upset, thanks JJ). So there’s a lot he needs to redeem!!!

(Oh yeah - and helping the First Order blow up a planet with hyperspace lasers. Hyperspace lasers are still a bridge too far for me.)

He kills Snoke in TLJ BUT! Not to redeem himself! It’s to gain power and become supreme leader!

So all the redemption comes in TROS. It comes down to Ren being contacted by Leia during his duel with Rey on Endor. This pause gives Rey the opening she needs to stab him. Rey then force heals him to save his life. Then Ren has a vision of his father. This convinces him to change sides and he flies off to Exegol to help Rey fight Zombie Palpatine.

Now maybe if Carrie Fischer hadn’t died unexpectedly after TLJ, this might have played out differently. But as it is, it doesn’t really seem like Ren earns the redemption. Maybe if there was a scene where Leia tells Ren that she knows the good inside him, or asks Rey to save him... but right now, they hang a lot on Han having a heart to heart. And Ren is never shown wavering in his resolve. He’s whole goal is to triumph over the Jedi and attain power.

So it’s not really earned, even at the end when he saved Rey, drained of energy from channeling the Jedi.

I will leave discussion of ReyLo to you guys. I’m not a fan, but y’all have VERY strong feelings about it!

KARISSA: Well, since watching the final trilogy the first time and especially since watching them the second time, it's like I've had a heightened awareness of Kylo Ren sympathizers and apologists. There are a lot of them. And I just don't get it.

One thing that was funny about watching the movies again was Mary and I remembering that it was our mutual thirsting for Adam Driver that really cinched our friendship in the early days. In TFA, the first time when Kylo takes off his mask, Mary and I both gushed over how striking he is in that moment. The hair, the eyes, that wide sensual mouth! Then we had to explain to Victor, who was quite distressed to witness us gushing over this character that we both claimed to loathe as a romantic interest, that our admiration was for Adam Driver alone.

Not for Kylo!

And that we could maintain that separation, appreciating Adam while refusing to find Kylo romantic in any shape or form.

But it seems a lot of people are willing to give Kylo a pass despite his manipulative, murderous, hateful ways. And I'm not quite sure why. I would say it's because of his sex appeal and good looks. If Kylo had taken off that mask to reveal something mundane or less attractive, or downright ugly, would people have been so quick to forgive him (he destroyed entire planets full of people, y'all! Never mind kidnapping, torturing, gaslighting, and manipulating Rey)? I would say no, but...Hayden Christiansen, the actor who played Anakin, was arguably as pretty as Adam Driver. Maybe prettier, even! And people aren't rushing to romanticize Darth Vader neƩ Anakin Skywalker. But why?

VICTOR: Adam Driver is a better actor? Who didn’t have dialogue about sand?

KARISSA: Shhh Victor, I'm not done. In the end, Vader chose his son over the Emperor. Not because he wanted Luke's power or because he hoped to gain anything from it.

In fact, he was risking everything to save Luke.

Even if he could have survived Palpatine's lighting, Vader was choosing an action that brought an immediate and swift end to the Empire, without which, he could hope to be nothing more than a war criminal

Even wearing a mask, you could see Vader weighing those choices and consequences, and then making the decision to save Luke at Vader's own peril.

But as far as I can really remember, that was the only time Vader was offered a chance at redemption.

And he took it.

Kylo however... He was offered redemption over and over, by Han, by Leia, by Luke even (kinda) and by Rey. He never took those many opportunities. He pursued his own agenda. He only defeated evil because doing so brought him more power.

He never took steps to end the First Order himself. It was only after the rebel army had soundly defeated the First Order and Palpatine's armada that Kylo was like: Well, nothing's left now, so I guess I'll die to save Rey.

And that is enough to redeem every horror he's committed for the past 3 movies? Hell no

His death might slightly make up for bringing Rey to face her death in the first place (but he doesn't deserve her kiss for that. Ugh!) but it doesn't begin to make up for the horrible stuff he did to an entire universe.

And the difference between Kylo and Vader is that Vader did the right thing in the end but he has gone down in cinematic history as a villain, and rightly so. No one romanticizes him (other than Kylo, LOL).

Kylo, however, puts on a boyfriend sweater and takes off his mask before he dies, and we're supposed to call him a hero?

No thanks.

MARY: YES THANK YOU!! I've been thinking a lot about redemption arcs lately (I also just started Avatar: The Last Airbender, which arguably has the best redemption arc depicted in genre TV). One key to it seems to be that there has to be a true effort to atone. Vader only gets one move, but it's a helluva move. He kills the all-power Emperor, destabilizing the Empire and giving the New Republic a chance to rise and destroying the Sith (shh all you "I believe in a more Eastern approach where good and evil must be equal" folks... George Lucas himself said that Anakin brought balance to the Force by destroying the Sith, and there's a difference between balance between opposing forces and the existence of true evil, which is what the Sith are depicted as). He can't undo ALL the damage he's done, of course, but that's a pretty good start! And of course he saves his son, enabling a new generation of Jedi to rise (at least for 5 minutes before Kylo Ren kills them or turns them).

Kylo Ren, on the other hand... okay, let's say Leia just magically turned on the "light side" in him with her Force death. He does very little with the new chance he gets. He's still the Supreme Leader! He could have at least tried to call off the First Order forces. Instead, he goes running after Rey and turns on his Knights of Ren... who'd he converted to the Dark Side in the first place? What? Not even a "hey, guys, maybe take a second chance" too? And ultimately, he's totally useless in the battle against Palpatine. The one actually useful thing he does is revive Rey (though that kiss, EW), which I guess will allow a new generation of Jedi to rise, but he could have done so much more.

Well I could go on about Star Wars all night, especially since we're talking the two most controversial films in the movie canon here, but I think we've all had our fill of Star Wars for the time being. Any closing thoughts you have, about TLJ/TROS or the #AStarWarADay experience as a whole?


Just a couple things. I think I enjoyed the sequels more than you guys, but I know we agree that Finn was ill used. He starts off as a trooper who rebels, and doesn’t take part in a massacre. He then became a hero of the resistance, helping to destroy Starkiller Base.

And then in the next two... nothing. He runs around yelling REY! a lot. We were just talking about redemption arcs... well he is a much more compelling one than Kylo Ren’s

KARISSA: Absolutely agree. Finn is an example of a redemption arc done right. But he's shoved to the back burner way too often.

All this talk out there in the fandom of how much Rian Johnson subverted (or ruined, depending on who you ask) things by trying to make Rey a nobody, but meanwhile...

he had this force -sensitive character who was a nobody, right there all along, and he utterly wasted Finn!

MARY: YES FINN! Y’all know I’m a major Finn fan. I felt cheated because all those early TFA ads showed him with the lightsaber, and then he was such a great character, and I was really hoping he’d get to be a Jedi too, but... NOTHING!! At least not onscreen (offscreen, apparently Finn was trying to tell Rey he’s a force adept in TROS). It also annoys me how people never talk about how TFA is his redemption story. He was a friggin' Stormtrooper, and no one had to make a special effort to turn him good. He realized it all on his own and took action on it by leaving the First Order, which is part of what really makes for a satisfying redemption arc: when the former baddie has a true change of heart from within. And yes, he backslides a bit when he decides he's out to save his own skin and tries to abandon Rey and Han, but when push comes to shove, he shows up for what's right.

VICTOR: Also, speaking of Rian... It’s pretty clear that there wasn’t a singular vision for the sequels, no matter what Kathleen Kennedy and JJ et al say.

KARISSA: Yes. That's very obvious

VICTOR: No matter what you thought of the prequels, it was clearly Lucas’ vision

MARY: Yes, exactly! Whatever the issues with the prequels, at least they, as a trilogy, were trying to say something. The new movies weren’t, other than “give us money.”

KARISSA: I'm just saying...if [Rian] wanted to make a statement about who could be a Jedi (anyone regardless of lineage) he had Finn RIGHT THERE

VICTOR: There needs to be a Kevin Feige like figure one charge of the franchise. The MCU isn’t retconning Captain America every film

MARY: Exactly

VICTOR: And hopefully they have it in Dave Feloni. If you watch the Mandalorian Gallery Show, you can see how much he loves and respects Star Wars.

KARISSA: And what a dynamic that would have been! Have Rey as a Skywalker with Finn-the-nobody both learning the ways of the force. Sigh.

VICTOR: That sounds great!

KARISSA: I agree with y'all about inconsistency

VICTOR: Watch that Gallery show, though. Dave gives literally the best explanation of the prequels I’ve ever heard.

KARISSA: The final trilogy was frustratingly unorganized

VICTOR: Indeed. And I can only imagine what would’ve happened if Colin trevorrow got to direct part IX

MARY: I’d be morbidly curious to see what that script looked like.

VICTOR: I think there was a description of it on a podcast, maybe? Hey if the terrible Justice League is getting the Snyder Cut maybe we can get an animated storyboard of the treverrow script

MARY: Hah that would be something. Anyway, I’d say the Force is strong with us since we’re still fans after this mess!

VICTOR: Nothing can turn me against Star Wars. Not Emo Anakin in the sand. Not Maury Povich level paternity reveals. Nothing.

KARISSA: I agree. Despite recent disappointments, I'm still a fan. If they announced an episode 10 tomorrow, I'd be there for it. I'm very much looking forward to new Mandalorian (especially if Timothy Olyphant is in it, squeee!!!!!) and I'm very curious about new stories in the Star Wars universe.

MARY: Thank you both so much!! This was awesome! May the Force be with us.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How To Make A Murder

Hello, all! How are things? Are you well? Hanging in there? Are you tired of reading emails that ask about your health? Are you tired of hearing from companies offering up their reassurances about shipping products you haven't bought in five years? (I get it, Zappos. You're there for me during this difficult time. My shoes might be delayed. I'll survive) To be honest, my COVID buys are mostly lipsticks I can't wear anywhere. We all have a thing.

Good news: the weather has finally changed in the Poconos. It got quasi-warm. That's right, it's hit the mid-60 to 70 degrees range. I swear I spend half my life checking the ten-day forecast. Anyway, thanks for stopping by. It is my turn to post a Google Search!

I'm finishing up edits on a murder mystery as I am wont to do and I had to tinker with my manner of murder. At first I was curious if one could make a murder look like an accident, which is a super common trope, so I Googled 'how to make a murder look like an accident.' But that sorta messed up my current plot and caused more headaches than I needed. But that brought me to my fun Google Search starter. So I typed 'how to make a murder' in Google and got these nutty results instead.

How to make a murder mystery game--Props to anyone venturing down this path. This seems like a real involved activity that I wouldn't want to do in a thousand years. How long would it take to create a murder mystery game? As long as it takes to write a novel? But, if this is your jam, then carry on.

How to make a murder Netflix--is this a new show? Or someone trying to remember How To Get Away With Murder, the very popular Shonda Rhimes program on ABC? Uh, no. It's people misremembering Making A Murderer on Netflix. I should've realized that. I just Googled it.

How to make a murder mystery game roblox--I'll have to ask my kids about this. My oldest son used to be really into Roblox. To me, it looks like the Dire Straits Money For Nothing video. Remember that gem? That's vintage Roblox.

How to make a murder mystery party--Only on Zoom. I remember parties. I always hated going to them and now I'd skin my dog to be able to hang with people other than the ones I live with.

How to make a murder a game? Or, like, you want to plan the ultimate crime?

How to make a murder cast--Again, wrong show. So many people are misremembering.

So what are you Googling lately my fine friends? What are you buying online to take the edge off the pandemic? Anything weird? You can tell me.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Back Jacket Hack Job: The Lord of the Rings, As Told by The Bad Guys

Oh look, it’s my turn to do a back jacket hack job! The idea here is to rewrite the back-cover description of a book, and do it badly.

One thing that strikes me lately is the significant number of people who seem to be unable to determine who the bad guy of a story is. Trump campaign staff have recently compared the reelection effort to the Death Star, and earlier, unironically posted this:

Putting aside the issue of identifying with the losing side of a conflict, the Galactic Empire and Thanos killed entire planets full of people. I’m personally inclined to identify more with the people who didn’t kill entire planets full of people.

But who am I to judge? The most interesting bad guys, in fiction and in modern history, always think they’re the good guys. They may snuff out a life or a billion here and there, but in their little brains, they have reasons.

With that in mind, here’s the back jacket of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as told by someone who identifies with the bad guys.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The small, loathsome hobbits have stolen the ring of power. The misunderstood Ringwraiths must find Frodo Baggins, the most deceitful of the hobbits. Frodo seeks to wield the fires of Mount Doom to destroy the ring. If the merry band of Ringwraiths can seize the ring of power from the hobbit and his fellowship of evil, then Sauron, the Lord of the Rings, will return to make Middle Earth great again.

The Two Towers

The evil fellowship has been scattered, but the hobbit lives. With the help of his friends Saruman and Grima Wormtongue, the Lord of the Rings wages war on the forces of darkness. Unfortunately, the enemy has a shitload of a horses and an impenetrable stronghold. But there is hope. A mysterious figure stalks the hobbit. Gollum knows the ring well, and desires to kill the thieving hobbit, but the ring’s power has corrupted him—a dark temptation compels him to help Frodo in his quest to destroy the ring. Will he make the right choice?

The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings has suffered a crushing defeat at Helm’s Deep. The enemy is gathering allies and planning a deceitful attack on his own front door. An undead wizard spreads fake news. The hobbit creeps ever closer. The situation looks dire, but even the smallest person can change the course of the future, and all hope now lies with one of the smallest: Gollum. All he needs to do is defeat the hobbit, take back the ring, then stay upright and not plummet into a volcano. If he succeeds, Middle Earth will once again bask in a thriving economy and traditional orc values as Sauron reclaims his throne. RETURN OF THE KING!

Edit: ATB's own Stephen Kozeniewski has pointed out that a Russian author has sort of already done this as a full-length novel called The Last Ringbearer. Those Russians meddle in everything!

Friday, May 15, 2020

A Star War A Day
If you follow my posts with any regularity, you know I'm a Star Wars fan, and so is fellow ATB blogger, Mary Fan. We've regularly posted reviews of the latest  releases of movies in the Star Wars universe here on the Across the Board Blog.

To commemorate this most recent Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You!) Mary and I were invited by our fellow friend, author, and Star Wars geek, Victor Catano, to participate in a marathon viewing session of all nine movies (plus Solo and Rogue One) in the Skywalker Saga.

Even though a lot of us have been furloughed or have been reassigned to work from home, even on the most uneventful day, we would not wish to attempt watching ELEVEN movies in one day. In fact, the three of us have been struggling to fit more than one movie a day into our schedules. I don't know  about you, but I'm actually busier now than I was before the quarantine. So, as a strategy, Victor proposed we watch "A Star War A Day" together, all at the same time (using the catalog on Disney+ for consistency). We started with Episode One (The Phantom Menace) and have gone in order based on the Star Wars universe timeline (as opposed to order of release), and we've live-tweeted as we watched, expressing our thoughts, opinions, fan appreciations, and critiques.

We're delighted that others have participated with us. Shout out to writer and podcaster, Christian
Angeles, who has joined in our viewing and live tweeting for almost every episode. As of last night, we'd finished all the movies except for The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. We're taking a break for the weekend to mentally prepare ourselves for the last two movies. We know there will be much division (and possibly derision) in the ranks when it comes to our opinions on the conclusion to this beloved saga.

Today I'm inviting Mary and Victor to join me here at ATB to rehash our thoughts on the Skywalker Saga, so far. Welcome, Mary and Victor! Instead of going over every episode in detail, I thought we should instead focus on the bigger picture. I mean, we have, what? Like, 20+ hours of content on Twitter on this subject? one wants to read that here, so I'll refrain. You're welcome.

Karissa: So, Victor, why did you want to do this “A Star War a Day” project?

Victor: I’ve been stuck at home since March 13, when New York State issued their shelter in place orders. And I was furloughed as of April 1st, so I had a lot of time on my hands! As May the Fourth approached, I thought it’d be fun to watch these movies I love. And because of everything going on, it’d be a great chance to virtually hang out with the two biggest Star Wars fanatics I know.

Karissa: Mary, what did you think when Victor proposed this grand scheme. Personally I was a bit overwhelmed by the idea. I thought it would be a big commitment, and I have a shorter attention span for watching movies and sitting still than I used to. LOL.

Mary: I was excited! Though a little intimidated by the sheer quantity of movies haha. I've never watched the whole series all the way through in order before, and it had been a while since I rewatched Star Wars at all (I meant to before the release of TROS but was too busy... y'know, back in the days when plans were a thing). So when Victor proposed the whole thing, I was like "ooooo!!"

Karissa: It was honestly your enthusiasm, Mary, that convinced me to go with it. I’m glad you did because it’s been such an insightful (and FUN) experience. Watching with two fans who know the intricacies of the movies and lots of specialized fan knowledge has been a valuable experience. For example, Victor, you seem to have encyclopedic knowledge of the characters, especially the smaller characters and bit parts. You seem to know a lot of their back stories or behind the scenes information on the character and/or the actor that played them. Mary is a musical expert and has made me so much more aware of how music is used throughout this Saga.

Victor, what is it about those minor characters that attracts your interest?

Victor: Probably because I had all the action figures as a child. So that meant I not only had Luke and Han, but I also had Hammerhead and Snaggletooth - two characters who had five seconds of screen time in the cantina. I had IG-88 and Bossk, two bounty hunters Vader hires that are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos.

And also, I was in high school and college during the fallow period of Star Wars - the time between Return of the Jedi and the ramp up to Phantom Menace that started with the 20th anniversary re-releases. There wasn’t a lot of “official” Star Wars content then, so I remember devouring all the books and stories. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy was the best by far.

But I read alllll of them. There were 2 cool short story collections- tales of the bounty hunters and tales from Jabba’s palace - that got into the back stories of Assassin droids and rancor keepers.

Also the worst Star Wars media I ever consumed is from this period. If anyone ever says The Last Jedi is the WORST STAR WAR EVAR I point them to Vonda McIntyre’s Crystal Star - where Han & Leia’s twins get kidnapped and rescued by centaurs.

So George Lucas created a vast and engaging universe. Kenner and Del Rey books exploited my love of it.

Karissa: Centaurs?!? For real? OMG! But don’t answer that. I’ll Google it later. You’ve mentioned the Thrawn books during our live viewing and it’s made me very intrigued. I’ve read a few Star Wars novels, but never got into them the way I did with the movies, which is funny considering how much I love to read. But, I’ve definitely added the Thrawn books to my TBR pile thanks to you. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “thanks” because my TBR pile is already big enough.

Mary, this is probably a  difficult request, but if you could summarize your thoughts on how music is used in the saga, particularly for continuity (or the lack of it in some places), what would you say?

Mary: Oh boy, I could have done a whole tweet-along just talking about the music! At a high level, John Williams is an expert at creating memorable themes and using them to subtly cue the viewer in the Saga films (Rogue One and Solo had different composers).

In the original trilogy, what's known as the main theme (which plays over the opening crawl) is, as far as I recall, associated only with Luke Skywalker during the films. It plays softly over his introduction on Tattooine, loudly and heroically over his attack on Jabba's goons, contemplatively (and in a minor variation) over various quieter scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Which is why I would argue that in the original trilogy, it's not just the Star Wars theme, it's specifically Luke's theme. In the prequels and sequels, though (and also, I think, for a moment in Solo), it expands to become a general heroic theme -- probably because you still need to repeat the title theme in the movies where Luke isn't present. So Williams used the Force theme instead to cue Luke's presence - such as when you see him as an infant at the end of ROTS, or when Han mentions him after he's gone missing in TFA.

Leia's theme, on the other hand, is very much hers. It plays over her introduction in ANH and is used only to indicate either her presence on the screen or in other characters' minds (such as when Luke realizes that she's his sister). Most viewers probably aren't listening closely enough to be like "Oo, there's such-and-such's theme!" But these background cues definitely help shape the whole experience. I could go on but I've already written a dissertation here, so I'll stop now haha

Karissa: I knew that wouldn’t be a simple question for someone as passionate about music AND Star Wars as you are, Mary. But I appreciate that you’ve made me more aware. It has enriched my viewing experience and I’m not saying that ironically.

Another thing I’ve noticed consistently throughout our viewing and tweeting is that you’ve both mentioned adjusting your previous perceptions of the movies based on this re-watching project, and like most fans, you’ve made a list of the movies in the order of your most favorite to least favorite. But the movies have changed position on that list after this exercise. Would you both comment on how this marathon viewing has changed your perceptions and preferences?

Mary: Some of my perceptions changed with time/age before this viewing, and this viewing confirmed it. For instance, for years I tried to convince myself that ROTS was the best prequel even though I personally didn't like it because that's what all the critics were saying. But finally a few years back, I was like "NO. It's TERRIBLE and I don't care what the pros say!" Rewatching it again last week reminded me why. It's visually gorgeous but the script is all over the place, and what should have been a compelling and emotional tragedy instead just felt like an overstuffed mess.

Contrast that with the much shorter sequence where Luke is tempted by the Dark Side in ROTJ. This rewatch, so soon after ROTS, really made me appreciate ROTJ more (despite the Ewoks, which I used to think were cute but now realize are quite racist). ROTJ was always my least favorite of the originals, and I very nearly ranked TFA above it when TFA came out. But having seen the mess that was ROTS, I realize just how big a job the ROTJ crew had in concluding three storylines: rescuing Han, completing Luke's transformation into a Jedi, and taking down the Empire once and for all (well... sort of). Not only did ROTJ achieve that, but it did so without feeling overstuffed or rushed.
Then there are the anthology films. 

Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo
I didn't like Solo when it was first released because I just couldn't get over how Not Harrison Ford the new kid is. Watching it in timeline order, though, makes me mind it less, since now it feels like he's being introduced as a new character, and that Harrison Ford takes over the role later. Like, instead of the real-world fact of Harrison Ford getting recast as the new kid (whose name I can never spell), watching the movies in this order FEELS like the new kid gets recast as Harrison Ford, which makes it much more acceptable. There are also little throwaway references in the originals (such as 3PO fretting about the "spice mines of Kessel") that have more weight now that they've been developed in the prequels and anthology movies.

And Rogue One definitely adds weight to ANH, since now you know what's at stake and how much was sacrificed to get to this point. Some have complained that Jyn's father purposely building a weakness into the Death Star cheapens Luke's triumph, but I disagree. It just makes the rebel analysis make more sense (it's still a near-impossible shot!). So overall, I liked the anthology films better this time around.

Some lines in the original trilogy referencing the past feel weirder because it's so clear how much they retconned... and it makes Obi-Wan look like the biggest liar in the galaxy. But I guess, after seeing all the trauma he went through in the prequels, you could forgive him for rewriting history. Knowing how the new movies end, though, has tainted TFA for me. There were so many things teased and hinted at, but knowing they're all going to come to nothing is just frustrating. Overall, I don't think my rankings have changed (so far, it's still ESB, ANH, ROTJ, TFA, R1, AOTC, TPM, ROTS, Solo), but some things are closer than others. For instance, I'm considering moving R1 above TFA... and Solo above ROTS...

Victor: I will say that I enjoy the prequels much more now. It’s hard to appreciate just how insane the hype around The Phantom Menace was back in 1999. There was so much anticipation! The first new film in 16 years! My brother spent HOURS downloading the trailer over dial up internet! People were lining up for weeks!! And... it just wasn’t what I expected. It was pitched much more squarely at kids than A New Hope ever was. (I was 4 1/2 when I saw the first movie in ‘77) Jar Jar was terrible. Anakin was a cute little moppet with no hint of the Vader inside him. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit underwhelming and went back to my VHS copies of the original trilogies.

But over the years, the internet bestowed the prequels with WORSTEST FILMS EVAR status, and that’s just not accurate.

I hadn’t seen the prequels start to finish in at least a decade - even though I own them all on DVD. And removed from the weight of a generation of expectations and internet snark... they’re not bad! My bottom three were always the prequels - ROTS, then TPM, then AOTC in last. But, after this massive viewing, I’m moving Phantom up to be my favorite prequel and past Solo (which did NOT hold up as well.)

Clones is still my least favorite prequel. Sorry Emo Ani! At least you’ll have the fields of Naboo.

Now I only hope you two will approach The Last Jedi and TROS with the same open mind...

Karissa:  I will try my best to keep an open mind, especially about TROS, but The Last Jedi is going to be hard for me. Really hard. But I'm glad you mention those two movies because that makes a great segue into my last questions. 

Any hopes or expectations going into these next two movies that you haven’t mentioned already? And even though we haven’t officially finished our marathon viewing exercise, what do you think your overall takeaway will be from the experience?

Mary: I'm hoping that now that I'm not breathlessly waiting for answers to TFA, I'll be able to see TLJ and TROS more as just fun space movies without the weight of expectations. That's already happened with TLJ a bit since it came out, and I'm hoping the same will be true for TROS (can't be disappointed if you're not expecting anything!). Overall, this whole thing has reminded me of just why we all love this franchise so much. Even when it's terrible (and it can get really, REALLY terrible), it's just so fun and imaginative (and pretty!). Also, at a certain point, it's become more about the fandom than the franchise itself. Even when the movies disappoint, there's this colorful, vibrant culture around it that transcends what the creators made, and that's something I love being part of. Because even when the movies suck, the community is still there.

Victor: It’ll be interesting to see chapters 7-9 in close succession. Part of the fun of the wait for each chapter was 2 years of theories about who Rey’s father was, would Kylo Ren find your light side, would Finn & Poe make out, and so on. And most of that came to naught.

(I remember teasing Mary on the Twitter by saying MEESA REY’S DADDY! In retrospect...)
So knowing where they end up, will the threads be clearer this time? Already, having watched TFA again, it’s clear how much General Hux dislikes Ren so his betrayal in TROS seems clearer.
It’ll also be fun to count how many times Rian and JJ reverse course on each other.

Watching 11 movies/24 hrs of content makes it clear just how vast and sprawling this galaxy is, yet also how small it can be. We’ve traveled the far reaches of space, but there’s only like 8 people who influence the course of events and they’re all related.

This whole experience has reminded me of what I love about these movies. The adventure, the humor, the sense of optimism (these are some of the least cynical movies I know), the music... The best of these (still ANH and ESB) have such a feeling of joy in them.

And I’ve never been unhappy with a Star Wars movie. Even the least among them have good moments or cool scenes and characters. Attack of the Clones has the Yoda duel! ROTS has Order 66! And I liked TROS more than most, I’m sure. But I’m glad this nonolagy/eleven-ology has come to an end. I’m excited to bravely explore new worlds (wrong franchise, I know) with new characters that aren’t named Skywalker and have new adventures. I like where The Mandalorian is going. (I just got my baby Yoda action figure in the mail yesterday!) I like that we’re getting new creators to explore different areas of the galaxy. And maybe soon we can live tweet a new trilogy of movies!

And just to touch on Mary’s comment on community, the two to three hours a day we’ve spent watching these and joking on twitter and defending the parts only one of us likes and ragging on some of the bad dialogue has been a real high point of these quarantine days. It’s been so much fun to watch some of our favorite movies together, so much so that we may continue on after this is done. Mary suggested Legend, and I prompted Karissa for some Bollywood recommendations.

And we’ll have to do the Star Wars Holiday Special at Thanksgiving!

Karissa: Ugh, but okay. I really should watch it. Just promise me that no one is going to start crying, okay? And I agree with you both. Watching the movies has been fun. Watching them with you two has been the best part of the experience, though. Geeking out with people who understand your enthusiasm and share it is the best part of being a fan. It also helps that I trust you both so much. I’m glad we can argue and disagree and still walk away without hurt feelings. Actually, I quite respect you all even more because you’re passionate and smart and both have tremendous senses of humor. Thanks, Victor, for coming up with the idea and thanks to Mary for talking me into it.

Also thanks to you both for joining me today. If you've read this far and are still here, then please accept our invitation to join us on Monday night to watch and live-tweet The Last Jedi. Check out Victor Catano's twitter feed ( or the hashtag #AStarWarADay for more details.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Publish Like a Motherfucker (with Stephen Kozeniewski)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

Unlike most Mondays, I'm taking pains to get this post up early today.  Why?  Well, because there's an opportunity to participate in my four-course series "Publish Like a Motherfucker" this evening (May 11, 2020) at 5:00 pm EST.  All you have to do is be on my business Facebook page when I go live.

So, what is "Publish Like a Motherfucker (with Stephen Kozeniewski?)"  Well, basically exactly what it sounds like.  I have four courses planned covering a few very broad topics on being a working writer.  The first two courses were a blast and are now live on YouTube (and, rather conveniently, below.)

However, if you want to participate - if you have questions you want me to address, for instance - you have to be there live.  So think about joining me tonight or at our final scheduled course on Wednesday.  Now, if there is interest in further topics, I may plan future courses, so just let me know via e-mail, social media, or in the comments below, and we'll see if there are any other topics you want to see.  Hope to see you there!

Course 1:  "Writing Non-Shittily"
Date:  Wednesday, May 6
Time:  7:00 pm EST
Syllabus:  The first step to getting published is writing something worth publishing.  In our inaugural course, we discussed:

- the importance (?) of genre
- choosing your literary form (the difference between novels, novellas, short stories, etc.)
- getting it written

Date: Friday, May 8
Time:  7:00 pm EST
Syllabus:  Let's talk traditional publishing.  Is it still the brass ring that all authors are reaching for?  Is it even all its cracked up to be?  In this course we discussed:

- what's the difference between self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid?
- finding the right agent or publisher
- when will you start getting that Stephen King money?

Date:  Monday, May 11
Time:  5:00 pm EST
Syllabus:  You could write the word "fart" ten thousand times in a row and be holding that book in your hands by the end of the week.  But is self-publishing the path for your masterwork?  In our third outing we'll cover: 

- the hidden costs of self-publishing
- the hell yeah benefits of being your own business partner
- tips and best practices for the authorial entrepreneur
Date:  Wednesday, May 13
Time:  5:00 pm EST
Syllabus:  You finally did it!  You're now holding that novel or whatever the hell in your grubby little mitts.  So the long road to success is finally over, right?  Well...  In our final (depending on popular demand) outing we'll be talking about:

- social media marketing
- moving paper in meatspace
- getting reviews and attention

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Are we failing our students?

By Cheryl Oreglia

Today I spent several hours on zoom calls with school administrators and students who are struggling to get their work done under quarantine. These are students who struggled before the outbreak and now they are in way over their heads.

They have floated so far out of range the lifeguards on duty can not reach them.

The students are feeling overwhelmed, almost as if they are drowning, and it seems like the adults are standing on the edge of reason, ignoring their calls for help.

It’s heartbreaking.

I’m exhausted trying to come up with viable solutions that help students remotely learn the essential concepts without destroying their ability to stay afloat. The expectations are so high, the consequences for failing not equal the circumstance (as in the punishment does not fit the crime), and no one is winning here.

None of us know how to do this, let alone do this well, and it’s the students who are suffering the most.

My fear is that this is just the beginning of a new learning environment where it becomes impossible to learn. We have to figure out how to up our game, engage our students, and get away from dry presentations, homework, and grades that lack student buy-in and engagement. That is not where the future of learning is going and if we don’t figure it out we risk leaving the majority of our students behind.

I stand at my hastily constructed desk in the master bedroom, looking out the window, feeling tortured by the future.

This is when a fisty wind kicks up mimicking my frustration and anger, it takes up a dozen or so leaves from the magnolia tree, swirling them several feet above the lawn, as if in a sacred dance. I stand there mesmerized by the waltz-like movements. 

Suddenly the wind dies down, the leaves fall to the ground, leaving a henna like pattern on the lawn. It reminds me of my students, each dropping out of the academic dance, lifeless, fallen if you will.

I’m going to sulk for a while.

Treading in deep water.

What is the view from your window? 
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