Colorado’s Quintessential Coffee House

All right, now for a bit more local advertising. R&R Coffee, tucked away in the heart of Black Forest (just outside of Colorado Springs), is one of my favorite homes away from home. It’s one of those friendly little places you hope to find whenever you wander through a town or community you’ve never visited, and I would recommend it if you’re ever in the neighborhood. Being a coffee house and all, they’re doing quite well for themselves even with other Mom and Pop stores dropping like stones. A strong reputation and stronger coffee have earned them a well-established standing in the area, and I am grateful that they have stuck around for so long.

The coffee and food are very high-quality, better than anything I have seen from Starbucks.

The foundation of their whole business, of course, is their customer service. I am glad to tell you that it has been consistently excellent in the 3-4 years I have been a patron. They’re your friends, and as soon as you walk in the door you’re greeted with a smile. One of the real charms of the employees is that they remember regular customers — by name and by whatever they usually order.

Heck, they even have hooks for the daily patrons to hang their mugs! Now that’s what I call trust.

Better yet, a number of local artists get to hang their works on the walls, and sell paintings when possible.

If only I had the cash, I’d rather like that waterfall painting.

As I understand it, they can also do book signings and live music.

The store is about to undergo a pretty significant change, too: at the end of the summer, they’re moving across the street to a larger building in what is now a lumber yard. I have a feeling business will pick up, but if you get the chance, drop by while they’re still in the smaller building, and enjoy the warm, quiet charm. R&R lives up to its name, and it is definitely worth a look.

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K.M. Weiland on Climax and Character

K.M. Weiland is a novelist and blogger who has devoted tremendous effort and time to helping her fellow writers develop their own stories, especially through her site (on the blogroll to the right of this post), and through a series of helpful videos on Youtube.

This video’s topic is especially relevant to me, because I have a much easier time starting a compelling story than finishing it satisfactorily. I think her latest advice will serve me well, and maybe it will help you, too. There are over a hundred videos she has done, just on the topic of fiction writing, and I think I’ve seen about half of them. If you want some friendly advice on improving your writing, go check out her blog and Youtube channel. I think you’ll like what she has to say.

Regarding Intentions

Photo courtesy of psychicdonut.com

One of the classic but seldom mentioned quirks of human nature is that we can’t read the intentions or thoughts of others, yet expect those same people to perfectly understand every nuance and twist of whatever we mean to say or do. I am probably ten times more guilty of this than you are, but it affects everyone to one degree or another. We expect to be understood, then make up our minds about someone regarding their words and deeds.

My latest example of this double standard involves another writer, who has published a series of novels. He is understandably frustrated that a number of reviewers are calling the series “Christian fiction,” even though he wanted it to be accessible to non-religious people. Given how it’s normally just Christians who read books with that label, this would be a legitimate gripe…if he hadn’t let it get published under the “Christian” section of a large publishing house. In his dissertation-length explanation to someone else who pointed out the reason why his books are being called religious, his best excuse is that he and the publisher intended to give readers a book that all people, Christian and otherwise, could appreciate. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Obviously there is that whole “splinter in your neighbor’s eye, a plank in your own” situation to look out for. I fell into the same trap when I developed a harsh and glowering attitude toward him, thinking Well, maybe he should realize that others won’t care about his intentions if the label turns them away from his books! What an idiot. Why didn’t he just go with another publisher? Of course, this isn’t a very charitable thought to have about another human being. And I should realize more often that I can’t read minds, and I never know the whole situation. Maybe something else happened that I didn’t know of — his agent zealously recommending he go with that publisher, a close friend he had in the publishing house wanting to print his work, or an affection he might have had toward the company. Since I don’t know, I should shut up and give this writer the benefit of the doubt.

There isn’t much advice or wisdom I can offer to you here. I still have to learn to (1 not read too much into someone else’s situation, and (2 not get too frustrated when someone misinterprets something I did or said. If they misunderstood me, I can answer them graciously and humbly, or I can shrug it off entirely and keep going. A harsh/lengthy/scathing response is unwarranted, in any case. The best I can do on my side of the fence is try to say and do exactly what I intend the first time, and hope that not too many people will draw the wrong conclusion. And if they do, it’s not the end of the world. Normally you’ll have an easier time becoming a millionaire than you will convincingly explaining “what you really intended” after-the-fact.

“The Hunger Games” and Understated Violence

…In which I rant some more about academic/critical theories being applied to popular stories. Proceed at your own risk.
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This is a continuation from a previous post, discussing the importance of social commentary in The Hunger Games, both book and movie. Here, I’d like to focus on the role violence played in the cinematic version.
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The violence was considerably toned down in the film, and still that wasn’t enough for the people who apparently think children should never be told the world is often a cruel, violent place. During the saddest death scene in the whole story I had tears in my eyes, but that incredible moment was almost ruined for me. All because some grandma was sitting with her family right in front of me, and she just had to say, “Tsk. That’s barbaric!” You don’t say? Didn’t anyone tell her Hunger Games has quite the body count? This also reinforces Shepherd Book’s observation in Firefly that there is a special circle of Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
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But I’m not addressing the people who balk at “too much” violence in the movie. This is for those who don’t think there was enough. For that all-important social commentary, you understand. Some of the film’s reviewers, including the person I was responding to earlier, seem to regard the movie as not being violent enough to have any lasting impact or to communicate the horror of the novel’s story and get a point across.
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I’ve said it before and I will say it again: a movie doesn’t need to rely on social commentary to be excellent, important, or memorable. In fact, that commentary, rather like excessive CGI, can become a crutch for a movie to lean on. It will be emphasized to hide a lackluster story, and distracts from a great one.
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Does Games have something to say about violence and how we have come to view it? Yes, it does. The book and film do an excellent job of pointing out how we have gotten desensitized to it and crave corpses for the heightened drama (and as far as I’m concerned, it seems to leave anything further up to the reader/viewer). But my position is that this statement makes up a small part of the whole, rather than being the primary reason we should pay attention to The Hunger Games. If a story is treated mainly as an excuse for academic thought exercises, the experience is diluted, like deconstructing the jokes of a comedian while he’s on stage, and pontificating about what jokes mean to the human condition.
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Even if the main/strongest point of The Hunger Games was to hold up a mirror to a violence-obsessed culture, do we actually need buckets of gore and lingering death scenes for the movie or book to give a satisfying commentary?
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Even if I’m full of crap and Games is mainly meant to comment on something after all, I still challenge the idea that the movie soft-petals its inherent violence. Look at the audience Suzanne Collins was speaking to, and the limitations of media that is read vs. media that is watched. The Hunger Games and its sequels are very much young adult fiction, or at least they fell quite snugly into the YA market. Violence in the books is probably about as far as YA can go right now (please correct me if you know of YA books with much more carnage than these). And given the lower tolerance for explicit violence when it comes to the MPAA, I understand that they wanted less blood shown in the movie, so the main fans could come and see it.
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But a counter-intuitive side effect of this toning down is that the horror of the titular Games is highlighted, not dulled. Violence is being described and commented on, but through what isn’t shown, almost like the use of deep shadow in a painting. The movie’s cutting away from most of the carnage works brilliantly — not because it supposedly panders to a younger audience, but because it leaves that carnage to your imagination.
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This isn’t the same kind of underdone violence you’ll see in the X-Men movies or the Mummy remake, where people get stabbed quite brutally, but not a single drop of blood is seen when the blade is drawn out. In Games, the judicious application of quick cuts showing splatters of blood and corpses in the background contributes heavily to a visual telling of the story. It’s one of the classic tensions between novels and filmmaking. Novels get it right when they spell out enough of what’s happening for the reader to picture it; powerful films go much farther when they don’t show most of the violence — or save a full view of the man-eating shark for the climax. Either way, the audience’s imagination is being put to work. So how the novel and movie handle the story’s violence is expressed in an ideal way for each medium, making for a strong novel and a strong movie.
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All right, I think that’s my last post on The Hunger Games, at least until I finally read Catching Fire. Any discussion, objections, or questions would be most welcome. Thanks for your time.

More Visual and Verbal Inspiration

This post is especially for all those artists, poets, writers, songwriters, and people who just needs a break from the world.

I decided to throw a couple more writing/creative prompts at you. Or maybe I’m just getting lazy. Or distracted. Or something. In any event, I hope you get inspired by these, somehow. Have a great day, everyone!

Visual

 

 

Verbal

1. The first line of dialogue is, “You’re a little creepy, you know?”

2. How creatively can you or your character swear?

3. You see a crossbow on the nearest table. How do you react?

4.Write or draw the ending of your project/story/song/poem. Now write/draw the exact opposite. What if you included that instead? Does that work, or not?

5.Your location is the Tower of London. Now, go wild and do whatever you want.

Skyrim’s Approach to Fantasy Storytelling

Just a quick post tonight. I found this interesting article on Mythic Scribes about how The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim fares as a fantasy story, if we judged it by the standards of a novel. All in all, it’s a thought-provoking piece on the different expectations and methods of various mediums for telling stories. I especially was intrigued by how the author points out some missed opportunities in Skyrim’s worldbuilding, if that was possible. Check it out for yourself.

http://mythicscribes.com/reviews/skyrim-a-fantasy-writers-perspective/

Battering Ram: A Dinosaur Story for Chuck Wendig

Since dinosaurs are kind of my obsession, I admit to giggling like a gleeful mad scientist when novelist and smart aleck extraordinaire Chuck Wendig gave an assignment to his readers: write flash fiction (very short story, up to 1,000 words) with dinosaurs in it. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/04/flash-fiction-challenge-must-love-dinosaurs/

For better or worse, this is my entry, a sort-of prequel to the short story Battle at Engorlash that I wrote a while back. More like a battle scene in a larger story, in my opinion, but I’ll decide later if I can do something to expand it.

It’s just under the limit, at 989 words. Thanks for having a look, and I hope you enjoy!

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On the wall and beneath it, pikes and swords glinted like silver grass in the hot sun, dazzling Morent Wolfglen even when he pulled down his visor. Here and there, a flintlock’s shot threw its echo over the battlefield. Blood and metal and gunpowder combined into a familiar stench. Shouts of dying, of agony, of challenges and insults, thundered in his head.

He was tucked away into one of the corners of no man’s land, while the fort’s defenders concentrated most of their attack on the main army. Here he stood among officers and war machines that hadn’t been used yet.

“Morent!” The commanding voice of General Halthrin called him back to the side of the fort. “Morent, don’t freeze now. The harness. Help me get the harness!”

The general’s gloved hand shot down, pointing at a hemp rope, thick as an arm. One end was tattered like it had snapped, and the other snaked across fifty feet of gravel and gore to the muzzled snout of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The dinosaur’s ivory fangs seemed to glow against its black skin, shimmering with drool. Its nostrils and pupils dilated as vapors of blood tantalized it. So much raw meat…

“General?”

“We’re going to unlatch the muzzle and let him out. It’s our last chance.”

Morent couldn’t have been more shocked if General Halthrin had turned into a giant hornet. He certainly seemed angry enough to be one.

“We?”

“And today, preferably! While they’re focusing on the other garrisons. Just pray they don’t have a dragon in the fort. Come on, Corporal!” Spittle flying from him, the general hefted up the rope and tossed it to Morent. It landed in his hastily extended arms like he had just been handed a tree.

Struggling against the portcullis door of a massive siege wagon, the Tyrannosaur snarled, banged the sides of its wood and iron cage. Another soldier stood next to one of the table-sized wheels. He sweated as his fingers tapped the release lever, waiting for command. Waiting to escape the creature’s line of sight.

“Wait,” Morent said, dropping the rope. He realized their battering ram was now under a tangle of the corpses of Halthrin’s men, and the door it was meant to break had had molten lead poured into every crack once the siege started. They had no way of getting in. Not unless they made a door….

The general’s purple face darkened further. “What do you mean, wait?!”

Halthrin may have been crazy, but Morent was going to aim that insanity. If he was going to die, he’d rather make his last act a smart one.

Producing a vial of clear liquid from a pocket in his belt, he flung it across no man’s land. It shattered on the red and gray stones of the fortress wall. Within seconds, he picked up the sharp scent of garlic extract rising above the miasma of carnage. Tyrannosaurs could pick out scents better than any hound or vulture. Just as a dog could be trained with verbal orders, the monster now struggling to free itself had been conditioned to take specific smells as commands. And Morent had bought the extract a month ago, just in case.

“Now we’ve given him something to do!” Morent said, grunting as he picked the rope back up.

The general smiled through his tightening expression. He lifted up another section of rope and threw it onto his shoulder, puffing under the weight.

Normally a rex would be used like a scythe to cut down phalanxes, or a hammer to bash apart other siege engines. But Morent could see their side was losing, and fast. With walls still intact, they could lose half the army.

“Now!” Halthrin cried.

The man threw the lever down and bolted away. In a chorus of metal clanks and sliding chains, the portcullis swung out to the right.

All six tons of the black leviathan charged forward, pounding the gravel with heavily muscled legs. Once its tail cleared the giant wagon, Halthrin nodded back to Morent. Pulling violently backward, they jerked the rope taut. There was a loud snap as the harness on the steel-and-leather muzzle came undone, and it thudded to the earth beneath. Morent felt himself shake under the dinosaur’s bellow, scarred jaws opening to throw slaver and the stench of decay over the battlefield. Crossbow bolts and pikes stuck in the obsidian hide, only angering the beast. It must have caught the garlic smell, because forty feet of muscle and nightmares threw all of its weight against the wall, where the vial had broken.

Its neck clenching like a spring, the dinosaur slammed its head into the barrier again and again. Faults opened up and stones were jarred loose. Their beast of war had broken all the way through. Morent was dimly aware of cheers from his side. The fortress was almost theirs.

A storm of fire erupted from the other side of the wall, fingers of flame smothering the rex’s head before it could lunge away. Its wail of sudden pain seemed to reduce the monster, like a big dog yelping from injury.

Its legs buckled, tail shuddering as something else lunged out of the caved-in wall. A set of slender jaws, as large as the rex’s head and crowned by ivory horns. Through the smoke and shadow, Morent discerned the dragon’s jaws clench around the Tyrannosaur’s seared face. Fangs plunged through bone and muscle, anchoring the titans’ heads together just before the dragon wrenched around in a sharp tug. Bones shattered, and the rex crumpled dead under the wound it had bashed open.

Morent and the general stood there for what seemed an hour, dumbstruck, hearing the dragon’s shrill and triumphant scream. The battle itself must have gone silent.

It must have been the end. Morent had tried to help the general win, and failed. In his gut, he was convinced that this was his last day.