24 November 2010

Musing on music

There are a lot of writers out there who make writing soundtracks, character playlists, and that sort of thing. Some days it seems that everyone is doing it but me.

I like music. I like having tunes playing when I'm on a long drive or in the background during a party. Sometimes I get really excited about a new-to-me artist or CD and play it on endless repeat.

But never while I'm working. It's too much of a distraction. I can't focus on creating at the same time I'm consuming. Even back in high school when I was working on papers or any sort of homework that required intense focus (which wasn't a lot of it, really), I couldn't have the radio on.

So I don't really get the whole writing soundtrack and character playlist thing. I'm just not wired that way.

I will, however, fire up iTunes and AirTunes it in to my sewing room, as long as I'm in the putting things together stage, and not the part where I'm calculating how to shorten the pattern to fit my short self and laying it out and tracing it. And if I run into something that's confusing, I turn them off.

Hmm, I have a bunch of sewing I need to do. Pity my sewing room is a bit of a disaster, and the thought of going in and straightening it up makes me want to avoid it forever.

20 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1)

I've been a fan of Harry and his friends since about the time book 3 blew onto the scene. I saw Matthew Lewis (Neville) and the Phelps twins at Dragon*Con (the latter twice), and I spent Release Day reading the books. There were some parts of book 7 (the epilogue, especially) that bothered me, and some of the writing doesn't stand up to critical re-reading (dropped plot points, illogical plot points), but damned if Jo Rowling can't tell a story that makes you turn the pages.

The first two films, mostly light-hearted fare about Harry being introduced to the Wizarding World and Hogwarts, were directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone). The third, Prisoner of Azkaban, was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The beginnings of the menace come into play here, and as such, and with Cuarón's hand, the movie gets a little darker. I liked it a lot better than the first two, quite honestly. The fourth, Goblet of Fire, was directed by Mike Newell, and it continues the darkening trend, as the book did. In GoF, the first actual death occurs, and Harry seems to realize for the first time what the stakes are and that his and his friends' lives are actually in danger.

Since the fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, David Yates has been at the helm. This has improved the consistency in style between the films, which is a good thing. The darkness increases; bad and worse things start to happen, and movie six, Half-Blood Prince, ends with evil prevailing. (I believe a lot of important plot-related things were cut from the movie, most likely in service of time constraints. Occlumency, and Harry's being crap at it, is the main one.)

The Deathly Hallows continues the tendency toward darkness, and Harry knows the stakes. As in the book, he tries to leave without his friends, but they won't let him go by himself.

The crisis at the center of the story should be familiar to anyone who's heard about World War II. Lord Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic (through his minions, of course; he remains hidden) and institutes policies to purify the Wizarding World of "mudbloods" and "Muggle-borns." There are propaganda pamphlets about what to do when Muggles attack, done in a style that will ring bells in a lot of people's minds. I thought that was a very effective choice of design.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the movie alone, out in the wilds of England, where they don't know if their friends and family are safe. We only see Neville once, and it's on the train to Hogwarts, when the Death Eaters search for Harry, and he stands up, far removed from the timid Neville of book 1, and says, "He's not here." We see Draco a couple of times; the Malfoys are long-standing members of the Death Eaters, though not at present in Voldemort's best graces.

The kids have grown up.

It ends, as you'd expect from a two-part film, on a cliffhanger, one which spells certain doom for our heroes. The second movie, opening in July, will see Harry and co going back to society and fighting in the battle for Hogwarts.

This is entirely selfish of me, I know, but I want to read about Neville Longbottom and his underground, anti-Ministry group at Hogwarts. Neville, who started the series as a dumpy, doughy, timid -- terrified -- kid, developed a lot more confidence over the series, and he became the centerpiece of the anti-Voldemort society. I want to read that. I want to read more about the implications of the police state and the 'blood trials.' Rowling only gives us flashes of those, through Harry's encounters with them. Fair enough that she does; it's her story, her world.

It's an idea I'd love to see explored, even only in fanfiction.

14 November 2010

Anime rec: Victorian Romance Emma

Victorian Romance Emma is an anime based on a manga by Kaoru MORI. Emma is a maid in London in 189X. Her employer is a widow who used to work as a governess for the Jones family. One day, William Jones, the eldest son, comes to visit Mrs. Stowner, and Emma opens the door on him (in a near-slapstick fashion, before he even knocks). They fall for each other, but his family strongly disapproves: they're gentry, she's a maid.

Complicating matters is William's father, who wants him to marry Miss Campbell, the daughter of Baron Campbell.

The anime adaptation follows the manga fairly closely in the first season, which covers two volumes, then makes some changes in the second season, which covers the remaining six volumes. The second season focuses on the obstacles placed in William and Emma's path by the mores of Victorian society, as well as members of that society.

The manga was meticulously researched, and MORI included everything from Mudie's library to the Crystal Palace, and she got the fashions spot on (after the first few chapters).

William has a friend from India, Prince Hakim, whom he met at school, and Hakim has a small troupe of girls who surround him all the time (and are silent). There may be a bit of stereotyping going on here; I'm not familiar enough with Indian culture during the colonial occupation to make that assessment.

Mori doesn't gloss over the rigid class hierarchy in England at the time, but she doesn't get Dickensian on it, either. When Mr. Jones says that he won't allow his son to marry a maid, it's in part because he's just ascended into the Society that includes balls and debutantes and nobility, and he doesn't want William to tarnish his reputation, but also because maids are lower class. But Baron Campbell scorns the Joneses as nouveau riche scum. He can't win, it seems.

The anime runs 26 episodes. Even for anime, this was a very niche title. Nozomi Entertainment licensed and released it in the US. Each season comes with a 100-page booklet on Victoriana and about the characters. The packaging is very nice, and if you look in the extras on disc 1 of season 2, you'll see my name listed as one of the people who supported the release of the second season.

The manga has 9 volumes and was published in the US by CMX. Older volumes are hard to come by on Amazon (they start at $25 for a $10 book). Right Stuf still lists most of the volumes.

08 November 2010

Caffeine free.

Neurologist's orders. Apparently, I have several types of migraine all mixed up together, and caffeine contributes to one of them. So I had to quit cold turkey. My neurologist hath a blog, and he wrote about the link between caffeine and headaches, if you're interested.

But, on the plus side, once I've detoxed completely and I no longer have the sinusy headaches, I can have all the caffeine I can drink two days a week. Good thing, because I have a ton of black and green teas in my cupboard that need to go.

I've been drinking herbal tea in the mornings of late, going through Christmas tea dated 2008 and 2009. Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice is AWESOME. Most likely I was hoarding it for future drinking, which explains why I drank maybe half the box. You can only buy it 3 months of the year! I have a box of Sugar Plum Spice (dated 2009) still in its shrink wrap in the cupboard, which will be the next to go. Maybe tomorrow I'll have some of that.

In related news, I crocheted a cozy for my teapot. I improvised, which means it took me 5 tries before finding a method that worked. My teapot is a non-standard size, not round, but more UFO-shaped (an older model of this one, I think), so the half dozen patterns I saw on Ravelry wouldn't quite work.

Pattern for a tea cozy:
ca 100 g worsted weight, size H hook

Ch 6, sl st to form ring.
DC 12 in ring. sl st to close. ch2
2dc in each dc (ch2 counts as 1dc) sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 2 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 3 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 4 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 5 2dc in next dc* around ring. DO NOT JOIN. This is the spout. ch 2.
*dc 6 2dc in next dc* to approximate midpoint (leave space for handle). ch 2, turn.
*dc 5 dc2tog* to split. ch 2, turn.
*dc 4 dc2tog* to handle space. ch 2, turn.
*dc 3 dc2tog* to split. ch 2, turn.
*dc 2 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 1 dc2tog* to split. Fasten off.
Tie on at opposite side of split. *dc 6 2dc in next dc* to handle space. ch 2, turn.
*dc 5 dc2tog* to split. ch 10. (this will be the strap) ch2, turn.
dc 10 in chain. *dc 4 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 3 dc2tog* to strap, dc 10. ch 2, turn.
dc 2, ch 1 skip next dc, dc 7 (to make buttonhole). *dc 2 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 1 dc2tog* to strap (may dc first 2 stitches tog for aesthetics), dc to end. ch 1, turn.
sc in each dc. at handle, ch 2 (or number of stitches left open for the handle) continue around.
Crochet (or purchase) a button and fasten it in the appropriate position.
Wash, block dry on teapot.

It should look something like this (handle shot) when you're finished.

06 November 2010

Bull Spec: a spec-fic magazine based out of Durham

There's a vibrant little spec fic community here in the Triangle, and Sam Montgomery-Blinn, the founder and editor of Bull Spec is tapping into it. He's also making an effort to publicize spec-fic-related events here in the Triangle, to bring the community together.

I just got back from the launch party for issue 3, over at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, where David Drake read a excerpt from the book he just turned in (a sequel to The Legions of Fire), Melinda Thielbar read from her story in issue 3 (a clever piece looking at the hyperprevalence of technology and its effects), and a pair of comics guys did a Mad-Libs-improv comic book, in which a superhero named Dwight saved his librarian/Scrabble champion girl from the evil Coach K. (That's Coach Krzyzewski, of Duke b-ball, for those of you not immersed, voluntarily or not, in the local rivalry.)

Then there was a Q&A, and some time to interact with people. I had a chance to talk with David Drake a bit, and let him know that despite not being the target audience for his Hammers Slammers stories and his having warned me off them, I read them anyway and liked them. I was looking for more realistic military SF, and they're certainly that. Then he recommended me his space opera series, which I'll look into once either I have money again or my to read stack is less terrifying.

I had a chance to chat with other local writers, some of whom I met at Mark VanName's reading the other week, and we'll be seeing each other again at the NC writers' night next week. Many thanks to Sam for all his efforts in rounding up the events and publicizing them to everyone he knows about!

(I'm watching the second half of an anime that I want to write a rec post on soon. Spoilers: it's not science fiction. Shocking, I know.)