Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reviews From a Modest Movie Buff (The Phantom of the Opera - 1925)

The first movie review in the history of this blog had to go to something special, and thanks to YouTube, a newly repaired computer, and some really bad insomnia I got to watch this one at last!

This was the original silent movie, released in 1925 and starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin. I think at this point everyone and his grandmother knows the story of the Phantom, so I won't bore you with an overview.Girl takes singing lessons from masked, disfigured genius; masked, disfigured genius abducts girl and takes her to an underground lair; girl unmasks disfigured genius and it all goes downhill from there.

So, time to get to my review.

Lon Chaney was unbe-LIEVE-able! His performance really did it for me. He could convey more with one simple gesture than most actors can do with an entire script, and even with his face hidden and no dialogue to speak of (pardon the pun), I could really feel his emotions. Also, the man was totally hardcore. He did his own makeup for the disfigurement, using fishhooks and wire to manipulate his features. How many people are willing to go that far for a role, exactly? It makes you wonder how many guys would play the Phantom in the musical if they had to go through that every night! I think he was even creepier with the mask on, to be honest. Without it, I got more of a sense of his humanity and his madness. His emotion in the unmasking scene was incredible.

Mary Philbin as Christine was beautiful, but she overdid it on the acting, going melodramatic as often as she did. Norman Kerry made for a very dapper Raoul de Chagny, but as most Raouls turn out, he didn't seem like more than part of the scenery. Arthur Edmund Carewe as Ledoux was infinitely sinister, despite his being one of the good guys. I think it might have been the Tim-Burton style makeup...all that black eyeliner didn't make him seem too cheery.

This stayed pretty faithful to the book except for the ending, which I hear was re-shot three times to make the test audiences happy. A fan of the musical can also spot all the details that influenced the stage show, like the ballet that opens the movie and the Phantom's Red Death costume. It's black and white, of course, but the masked ball sequence was filmed in color, and it just looked wonderful!

When this was first released, the horror genre was just getting off the ground, making Phantom one of the first scary movies in history. And it was eerie enough I got chills while watching it, so I can believe the stories of people screaming and fainting in the theaters, especially at their first glimpse of Chaney's deformity. This was my first silent movie, so it took some time to get used to the style, but I really enjoyed it.

Quick note: I watched this on YouTube, and I've since learned it's a mistake to do that. It doesn't have a proper score, just the same bits of music playing over and over again. It got repetitive and boring really fast and didn't fit the scenes at all. (Who in the world wants to hear something that merry during the scorpion/grasshopper scene?) I hear the ultimate edition DVD is the way to go, so I'll have to invest in that one of these days.

This version won't replace Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical for me, but it was still a really great movie and a must for phans.

That's it for now, peeps!

Your pal,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who Did It Better? ("Fields of Gold")

It's time for another one! And this one goes three ways, how exciting!

All right, down to business. First contender:

Sting - original track

There's something wistful here, wouldn't you agree? A tender sort of yearning for what's gone...While Sting doesn't sing so much as sing-speak (well, he doesn't!), there's still something ambient to those vocals, and I love the pipes! And of course, those brilliant lyrics create some lush, lovely images. Can't you just see those barley fields?

Eva Cassidy cover

It's not quite yearning and wistful here. Eva's rendition has a bit more of a mournful quality, if you ask me. You can just imagine tears in her eyes on the high notes. I still haven't figured out exactly what all the instruments are, but they add to the blue atmosphere (I almost said bluesy, but that's not quite right, is it?). I do miss this verse, though: See the west wind move like a lover so/Upon the fields of barley/Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth/Among the fields of gold. Ah well, it's her version, so I guess she's allowed some license.

Celtic Woman cover

This one combines the best of Sting and Eva, in my opinion. They brought back the pipes! There's still the lushness of the original with the high notes of the cover! But that verse is still missing! Can't have everything, can we? I just love Lisa Kelly's voice; so pure and so expressive. And those lovely backup vocals add a new dimension to the song. If Sting is wistful and Eva is mournful, I think this one has more of a spiritual note to it.

Your turn. You decide.

Your pal,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Randomness 2

I'm just a little ticked that I've missed every single episode of Supernatural thus far this season. Every. Single. Episode!!!

Anyhoo, to cheer myself up I went and looked up some bloopers on YouTube (my new favorite hangout now that I've got the computer fixed!) and found an old favorite. No, strike that! A classic!

Jenson Ackles sings Eye of the Tiger

God bless you, man.

Your pal,

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Heaping Helping of Randomness

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow turkey-day celebrators! Instead of a serious post (or what passes for a serious post around here), I thought I'd share a few treats I found on YouTube last night. Lots of goodies! Plenty to go around!

Bizkit the Sleepwalking Dog
Poor dear. Reminds me of my own dog. 

Craig Ferguson - Istanbul
There are few people who can pull off this kind of weirdness...with puppets! It always gives me a chuckle.

Celtic Woman - Granuaile's Dance
More fiddles! I just love watching this woman play. She always makes me smile and wish I could play half so well.

Phantom of the Opera (2004) Cast Interview
A little something for the phans...Fast forward to about 4:30 and get a load of that (censored) AWESOME Cape Twirl of Doom! And if you happened to hear that loud, muffled thud, that was me falling out of my chair in a fit of joy.

Enjoy, and again, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don't happen to celebrate that one, then have a great Thursday! (And I just noticed it's after midnight...*facepalm*) Have a great Friday, at any rate!

Your pal,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Aaand...A Little More Poetry

Playmates and lovers here for the night
Prancing about at the edge of my sight
Silently leading me from the light
Dancing with shadows

Slipping away as sweet dreams unwind
Racing ahead as I'm left behind
Off to a world that I'll never find
Chasing the shadows

Watching and waiting, a menace unknown
Turning fro dreams into nightmares of stone
I cry out for help, but I'm all alone
Running from shadows

Hidden from sight as the daylight dawns
Lovely and fearsome to gaze upon
Fleeing from light and yet never gone
Enigmatic shadows

"My Prayer"
Hear me
Heed my cry of lamentation
When the sound of my sorrow reaches you,
Chase it away and sing to me
I need you

Find me
Come to me in my darkest hour
When the night is weighing down,
Make the sun come up for me
I need you

Touch me
Reach out to me as I weep
Dry my eyes with gentle hands,
And when I tremble comfort me
I need you

Save me
Deliver me from my despair
Break the chains that bind me,
Give me wings and free me
I need you

Listen as I whisper softly
I need you

Your pal,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reviews From a Humble Book Nerd (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

I'm always leery of books that get this much attention, but I was still intrigued by this particular one. So here goes!

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.


Here is my review as posted on GoodReads:

I have the sneaking suspicion I might have gotten through this one faster if I hadn't been trying to read it the same time as my sister...

No, strike that, I know I would have gotten through this one faster. I could sum this up in a few words, but they're impolite and unprintable, so I'll go with a detailed review.

First off: The pace was something like a train pulling uphill right out of the station. The first hundred pages moved slowly, bogged down as they were with the setup of financial conspiracy, corporate corruption, and family ghosts, but it built momentum as it went along and then it just wouldn't stop. I couldn't put it down if I tried, and after a few late nights staying up reading I was trying my darnedest just to finish it so I could get some sleep!

Second: It's a good thing the narrative holds your attention, because the plot demands that you pay rapt attention. I have to give Mr. Larsson lots of points for the intricacy of the story, which seems simple enough at first glance but gets more complex than a Shakespearean tragedy the further along it goes.

Now onto the main players in the drama.

Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist convicted of libel against a powerful, well-known Swedish executive. He catches the attention of Henrik Vanger, an eighty-something former CEO of Vanger Corporation, who hires him to investigate the disappearance of his niece over forty years ago. Blomkvist is easy to like, and even easier to respect with his strict moral code (at least, when it comes to his profession). He's backed into a corner and in over his head with a puzzle that looks impossible to put together, but he still manages to dog his way out.

Lisbeth Salander is a freelance investigator who comes to aid Blomkvist in his endeavors. She's at first really hard to pity, simply because you can tell she doesn't need anyone's pity despite her situation. She's not someone to cross, but she's definitely the one you want on your side when there's some dirty secret to expose. She's tough, enigmatic, amoral, asocial, and somehow still ended up being my favorite character by the end of the book.

The language isn't too over-the-top, but it's not what you'd use in church. The violence isn't pervasive and it's mostly off-camera, but it's on the graphic, sadistic side of things. It's not for everyone, trust me.

I started this out of curiosity, thinking there was just no way it could be as good as it's hyped up to be, but I'm sold on it. Now onto the next book in the series!

Long story short, I am definitely getting my own copy of this, I will make it a point to see the original movie (the one that did so well in Sweden they released the second one before Dragon Tattoo was even available on DVD), and I plan on seeing the US remake as well. Heck, I might have found a new favorite here!

Your pal,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Had To Share This 4

It's a double dose this time!

Evanescence - Going Under

I've been thinking a lot about this song the past few days. It must have something to do with the weird, infuriating, bipolar-esque mood I've been in. Anyway, another awesome video and an even better song. Can't you hear all that angst beneath those killer vocals? Ouch!

John Owen-Jones - The Music of the Night

Favorite video, hands down! First, John Owen-Jones is amazing! So powerful and seductive, yet tender and soothing... *swoon* Second, Gina Beck isn't even singing, yet she is in no way just part of the scenery here. For once, I feel like Christine isn't merely hypnotized by the music, but actually feels it. Wow.


Your pal,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jumping In!

I got an update on my reading list to this fascinating post:

That's What YOU Think! Reading Challenge

Can you believe that? Apparently, the average Joe has only read six out of that list of one hundred books. Six! Six! *eyes jump out of skull*

So, in the spirit of the game, I'm going to be "jumping in," and posting the reviews for the books I have read off this list, and doing my darndest to read some more. It takes a special kind of nerd to out-booknerd me, and if I don't make good on that statement, you have my permission to tattoo the words "loudmouth pretender" across my forehead.

I can't wait to get started!

Your pal,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Who Did It Better? ("Footloose")

There's been a debate going on around here since the new movie came out and they released Blake Shelton's cover of that kick-a** theme song. So I thought I'd make it the subject of my next post! Clever, right? Or maybe I was just bored, who knows?

Anyway, onto the breakdown.

Original theme as performed by Kenny Loggins

God, that's awesome! I only have to hear those first few bars before I go nuts! There's something in that rollicking rhythm that's utterly irresistible, and I for one start dancing like a fool no matter where I am when I hear it. I'm partial to Kenny Loggins anyway, but this is some good stuff. Who here knows how to jive?

Remake as performed by Blake Shelton

Now that's a party, right there. I love Blake, too; he looks so much better now that he's cut his hair and "Honey Bee" is about the cutest song ever, but...(I guess you know where I stand on this issue) To be fair, there's some nice shreddage going on with that guitar and there's something a little more down-and-dirty with it, but it's just not quite as high-octane to me. As far as remakes go, however, this is still pretty awesome. Props for Mr. Shelton on that one! *applauds*

Now here comes the part where I let you decide for yourself.

Your pal,

Monday, November 7, 2011

How's This For Random: Numerology

I got into this (even though numbers make me vomit) a few years ago just for the heck of it. I know some of you New Agers -- if I even get any of those here -- will tell me that there's some sort of mystical significance to numerology and that I shouldn't poke around with it in jest, but I just end up using it to flesh out the characters of whatever story I happen to be working on. How does it work? Here's a tutorial.

Every letter is assigned a numerical value, and every number has certain traits and qualities attached to it. Here's what you're working with:

1        2        3       4       5        6       7       8        9              
A       B        C       D       E        F       G       H        I
J        K        L       M       N        O       P       Q        R
S       T        U       V       W       X       Y       Z  
Got that? It's really simple, or I wouldn't bother with it. You break down the whole name (first, middle, and last), then tally up the numbers. For instance, let's try...Louisa May Alcott, as that's the first name that popped into my head. First letter, L, with a numerical value of 3; second letter, O, with a value of 6; and so on. When we've got all the numbers for the first name (L/3, O/6, U/3, I/9, S/1, A/1), we add them up, so 3+6+3+9+1+1=23. Next step, breaking down the digits of the sum to get a single digit. Just add those two together (2+3) and you get your final number, 5. Do the next two names the same way until you've got the three digits you'll be fiddling with. In this case, it's 5 (Louisa), 3 (May), 8 (Alcott). Now we proceed to learn just what those numbers mean.

1) Ones are usually independent, focused, single-minded, and determined; often leaders. They set goals and stick to them. They don't like to take orders or work with others. They can be self-centered, egotistical, and domineering.

2) Two represents interaction, cooperation, and balance. Twos are often imaginative, creative, and sweet-natured. Peace, harmony, commitment, loyalty, and fairness are characteristic. Two also introduces the idea of conflict, opposing forces, and the contrasting sides of things. Twos can be withdrawn, moody, self-conscious, and indecisive.

3) Three represents the idea of completeness (coming from the concept that 3 is a "complete" number, having a beginning, a middle, and an end). It indicates talent, energy, an artistic nature, and social ease. Threes are often lucky, easygoing, and successful. They can also be unfocused, easily offended, and superficial.

4) Four indicates stability and firmness. Fours enjoy hard work, and are typically practical, reliable, and down-to-earth. They prefer logic and reason to flights of fancy. They are good at organizing and getting things done, and are usually predictable people. They can be stubborn, suspicious, overly practical, and prone to angry outbursts.

5) Five indicates change and uncertainty. Fives are drawn to many things at once but often commit to none. They are adventurous, energetic, and willing to take risks, and they often enjoy travel. They may not stay in one place very long. They can be conceited, irresponsible, quick-tempered, and impatient.

6) Six represents harmony, friendship, and family life. Sixes are loyal, reliable, and loving. They adapt easily, do well in teaching and in the arts, and are often unsuccessful in business. They are sometimes prone to gossip and complacency. (6 is also considered a "perfect" number. This stems from the belief in the completeness of 3; 6 is just two 3s put together, so it must be twice as complete.)

7) Sevens enjoy hard work and challenges. They are perceptive, understanding, and bright. They are often serious, scholarly, and interested in mysterious things. Originality and imagination are important to them. They can be sarcastic, pessimistic, and insecure. (7 is thought to be a mystical number...I refuse to elaborate on this one.)

8) Eight indicates the possibility of success in business, finance, and politics. Eights are practical, ambitious, committed, and hard-working. They can be jealous, greedy, domineering, and power-hungry.

9) Nine represents completion and achievement to the fullest degree (it's 3 three times over! How much better can it get?). Nines often dedicate themselves to the service of others. They are determined and hard-working, and are often an inspiration to the people around them. They can be arrogant and conceited.

So what conclusions can we reach as to Miss Alcott's personality? Her numbers were 5, 3, and 8, so we can infer that she had lots of energy and wanderlust, was a little short-tempered, quite the risk-taker, talented, artistic, and thin-skinned. She was certainly hard-working and committed, and practical-minded.

Now, before I hear any skepticism from any of you, let me just say that I read a very well-researched biography on this very lady some time ago, and from the extracts from her own journals and her life story, this is pretty much a spot-on analysis. I'm telling you, this is an awesome hobby! Grab a pad of paper and a calculator, and have at it!

Your pal,

Fanfic Spotlight: MapleRock

So here's my new feature. I'm going to boast a bit about some of the work I've been seeing on fanfiction.net and call attention to these writers' efforts...with their permission, of course. Sound good? Great. Let's get started. First up, a lovely young lady who goes by the nom de plume MapleRock.

Would you be surprised if I told you she's a phangirl? Her style is at once playful and pensive, and occasionally irreverent. If you need something to read, take a look at her work!

MapleRock's fanfiction profile

My personal favorite of her stories so far has to be "Fleeting Hope," a Leroux-based phic in which everyone's favorite Phantom has just moved into the lair beneath the Opera House when he gets an unexpected...and rather unusual...house guest. It's humorous and heartwarming! Her most recent story is a Phantom-Frankenstein crossover called "The Corpses," and that one's worth the time too.

Fleeting Hope
The Corpses

Happy reading!

Your pal,

Reviews From a Humble Book Nerd (Opera Macabre - Michelle Rodriguez)

Here's another review for those of you who actually look at this little blog! Please, lend me your ears (or rather, your eyes) for this one!

Count Aiden de Lazarus has grown apathetic to the world around him and the monotony of immortal life. Determined to regain his zest for vampiric pursuits, he chooses a mortal girl and bites her with the intent to drain her. Instead, her intoxicating taste and enchanting beauty stirs feelings he has long buried. Scared by such mortal feelings, he gives her to another vampire as payment for a debt.

After eight long years, Bianca is still living a cursed life--singing on stage in Alexi's profitable opera and enduring the bites of the undead as part of his undercover auction when the stage lights dim. Doomed to become Alexi's vampire bride, her future is bleak.

Aiden is horrified to find Bianca still alive and Alexi's prized possession. Her image has continued to haunt him. Now he must find a way to free her from the life he unwittingly condemned her to and prove that he, unlike the vampires she has known, can be a man worth loving.


Again, here's my review as follows on Goodreads:

I've been a fan of Ms. Rodriguez's Phantom of the Opera short stories for some time now, and I'm always amazed at her knack for putting the reader right in the action, tugging on the heartstrings, and adding her own little spin. Imagine how blown away I was when I saw what she can do with an original story and her own characters!

This book took me on a roller coaster ride from one emotion to the next, and I was hooked from the very first page. It was torture every time I had to step away from it! Her characters were so vividly drawn I felt as though they might materialize spontaneously as I read, and you honestly feel for them. Bianca was such a strong, spirited heroine, and the despair and pain she had to endure really did bring tears to my eyes. Rufus, her demon guardian, was as engaging as his suits were eye-catching, and his relationship with Bianca was truly moving. As for Count Aiden de Lazarus...when you have heroes like him, who needs Edward Cullen? (No offense meant to the Twi-hards.)

The emotions were so deliciously intense: passionate, sorrowful, tragic, hopeful, terrifying, and so unbelievably romantic! This was a wonderful, and much-needed escape I can already tell I'll be coming back to time and again. It made me cry, for Pete's sake! Any book that can do that deserves some recognition by my reckoning! I can't wait to see what she decides to share with us next!

My jaw dropped when I saw this has only three reviews on Amazon.com and not much more on Goodreads! It's a travesty! Michelle really deserves all the accolades she can get for this one, and a handful of reviews just don't cut it for me! I hope she doesn't mind my promoting her here, so here we go!

Her website:

Her FanFiction account (calling all phans, she's got the most amazing work posted here!):

She's one of the most wonderful writers I've ever come across, peeps! No joke and no crossed fingers! She's got one heck of a gift!

Your pal, 

Had To Share This 3

I've got a passion for violins and Phantom of the Opera, so just imagine the coronary I had when I found this little jewel. It literally brought tears to my eyes!

David Garrett - Music of the Night

Again, the darn video didn't want to load directly onto the page. Curses!

Your pal,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More Poetry

My apologies if you're getting tired of my rhyming, but I was stumped on a good post for today.

"The Stillness"
My heart beats softly when you're gone
It comes alive when you're close
I feel you underneath my skin
Always near me like a ghost

I've lost myself inside of you
Sinking into your very soul
We were only two lost hearts
Now two have made one whole

The stillness of the night reflects
The peace of mind we've found
So don't intrude upon it, love
And do not make a sound

We don't need to say a word
To say just how we feel
A message carried on a kiss
Is far more lucid and real

Don't break the silence here, my love
The night has just begun
The stillness plays a melody
As two souls become one

"Love At First Sight"
See the sun shine on her face
And the light that's caught in her curls
See flowers in her hair and her smiling eyes
And just know that you're her whole world

She'll stay by your side all through the winter
She'll never leave you when summer comes 'round
She'll be faithful forever, eternally true
To you, this new love that she's found

Though you've only known her a minute or two
For you she would lay down her life
She'll lead you to all of the joys to be found
And she'll follow through all of the strife

Up until now she's never known love
She's never known feelings so true
But now that she's found you, she'll never let go
'Til now, she's never known you

Master of illusion
Hiding the truth that lies in your soul
Expert in deception
Pretending your broken heart is whole

Your stripes are your disguise
A painted pelt that helps you to hide
Secrets lurk in your eyes
The mask you wear veils the tears you've cried

You try to hide your pain
And the darkness in your troubled mind
Nothing to lose or gain
Searching for peace that you'll never find

One last thread nearly torn
You're not as strong as you think you are
Fragile as a newborn
You're not the titan you say to are

Don't let fear control you
Don't give in to your hidden distress
I'm here now to hold you
You're not alone, my lovely tigress

Your pal,

Friday, November 4, 2011

Has This Ever Happened To You?

It's odd...

I woke up this morning after the best night's sleep I've had in a good long while, made it through breakfast feeling chipper as can be, and then I had a musical urge. It occurred to me "You know what I feel like listening to right now? Bob Dylan!"

My brother wasn't at all happy, I can tell you that. Between Dylan and multiple Phantom of the Opera soundtracks, no one at my house is too pleased with my choice in tunes. (Condemned for just two faves? Heinous! Good thing I'm not the only one at my place who appreciates the Saturday night broadcast of Thistle and Shamrock!) Anyway, I fired up the stereo, popped in my copy of Before the Flood and just listened. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" was all good, nice and up-tempo as compared to the original release with some kick-a** improv on the harmonica. "Just Like a Woman" had a little more bluesy vibe and a lot more wail on Bob's part. And then we get around to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and what happens?

Let me put it this way.

Why oh why do I insist on listening to this song when I know its angsty pessimism only leaves a bitter taste in my mouth? Am I just a masochist when it comes to a good song?

I started thinking (big shocker there, I know) and wondered how it is that music can affect our moods so much. They have music therapy programs in hospitals to aid patient recovery, those with various anxiety disorders often use music to find release, and heck, who among us hasn't felt better after listening to a favorite song?

My conclusion: We use music to give voice to the things we can't just say. That's an angle I've been exploring the past few months. Music somehow hits us right where it hurts, where ordinary speech just can't touch, where there are no words at all. It heals and destroys at the same time.

So what was I to do to improve my mood? Well, my logic said if a song put me in a funk to start with, another should pull me out of it. I shut off Bobby and put on "We Weren't Born to Follow" by Bon Jovi. It's all aces now.

 Bob Dylan - "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" from Bringing It All Back Home

Bon Jovi - "We Weren't Born to Follow" from The Circle


Happy listening!

Your pal,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Had To Share This 2

One of my favorites when I was in third grade or something like that. And one of my favorite artists, period!

Sherrié Austin - Never Been Kissed

Don't you just love the whole fairy tale, Snow White aspect? It's adorable, and rather creative for a country video! For some reason, it was always the glass-and-gold coffin that stayed with me.

Your pal,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

War of the Word Wall

In light of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, if you were wondering) and prompted by my own struggles this past week, I've decided to talk about every scribbler's worst nightmare: writer's block, or as I like to call it in the tradition of Adam Richman, the Word Wall.

It's your enemy. It lurks in the corner of your mind and waits until you're in the flow of creativity before it swoops down out of nowhere and snuffs out all those good ideas, leaving you frustrated, at a complete loss, and ten seconds away from ripping your hair out and throwing that stupid stupid manuscript in the trash where it belongs.

But there is hope. The wall of Jericho fell, and so will the Word Wall. I'm going to share with you a few battle tactics to employ when waging your war against this adversary. For the duration of this post, I am no longer your pal Angels. I am General A-P, and I'm sending you on a recon mission to take your story back under control!

Tactic #1: Get Your Mind in the Fight
Quit stressing over not being able to write, and instead think about why you're having this trouble writing in the first place. It could be stress, it could be you've got more on your plate than just writing, or it could be you're just bored with your own story. These are all just the outer defenses set up around the Word Wall, and they must be taken out first. Figure out why you're stuck, then plan a strategy to combat the problem. If it's stress, employ some of your own trusty relaxation techniques. I find a hot shower, some coffee, and my favorite music does it for me. If you're worried about more than just writing (here's where it gets harsh), you have to set it aside the instant you sit down to your writing desk. Here's my motto: Yes, it's hard, but suck it up anyway. You can't be thinking about anything but writing when you're trying to write. You might as well start laying bricks on the Word Wall yourself. If you think you're just bored, move on to my next tactic.

Tactic #2: Remember Why You're Fighting
Why did you decide to embark on this insane quest of novel writing to begin with? Was it for the fun of it? Did you just want to be able to say "I wrote a novel" to all your buddies? Do you really love to write, and couldn't do anything but choose to write a novel? Answer that big question: WHY? When you have that answer, you stir up the old blood lust in the troops. If it's for fun, then find a way to put the fun back in it! If it's to show up everyone else, then think about how they'll react when you tell them you finished (though if that's really the only reason you're writing, then you might want to reexamine your motives, IMO. Why would you put yourself through this just for bragging rights?)! If writing is what you love, that's the most iron-clad reason to keep writing in the first place.

Tactic #3: Reconsider Your Field of Battle
If you've been working in a noisy room, at a cluttered desk, or even in a room you're not at home in under normal circumstances, it's no wonder the Word Wall appeared on the horizon in the first place. It's the three L's of real estate and a key factor in battle: location, location, location. Remove the distractions, clear the debris out of the field, and set up base camp in an ideal place for your muse to drop in. For my part, I work best in a room by myself, either completely silent or with some plain instrumental music in the background (I get sidetracked when there's lyrics). Make sure you're comfortable, because you can't take cover in a vermin-infested fox hole and expect to keep your mind on the skirmish, now can you? If the Avon lady is banging on the door, send her packing fast. It's critical to avoid developing Jack Torrance Syndrome--a terrifying sickness caused by distracted scribbling and characterized by a snappish temper, a tendency to stare out the nearest window, and in some extreme cases violent outbursts. It's the Word War version of dysentery. When you find a favorable position on the battle field, hold it no matter what. It's your turf now!

Tactic #4: Implement a Schedule
Show up on the battle field at the same time, every day (at the very least five days a week so you have some down time). Decide on a set amount that you will write before you sound the retreat. I work on at least two pages or for at least an hour, whichever happens to be longer. You don't have to be too much of a task master here. The idea is to get used to writing every day. It goes a long way towards making it easier to write down the road, trust me. When you get into the habit of writing every day, it gets hard to break it. Consider it as undermining the Word Wall, digging beneath the foundations and burrowing out tunnels which you will later fill with dynamite. Light the fuse, and the wall will come down in a cloud of dust.

Tactic #5: Set Deadlines, Then Keep Them
Don't do anything too crazy! Five hundred pages in a week is a little overboard! All you participating in NaNoWriMo have one month to write a whole novel, and that is possible (especially when the whole shebang is for fun anyhow!), but don't set any deadlines you can't meet. That's like trying to eliminate an entire legion with a handful of platoons. You can put up a brave fight and go down in a blaze of glory, but you'll inevitably be overwhelmed and annihilated. Your writing schedule has to coincide with whatever other schedules you have (work, school, etc.). I just finished a novel of my own, and the most I could handle at once was a 15-20 page chapter a week with Sundays off. It ran smoothly sometimes, and at others even that was about all I could take, but I managed to pull it off and finish right on time. It kept me motivated even when I wanted to throw down my weapons and surrender. It's the little victory of keeping minor deadlines that will maintain morale until you reach the end!

Tactic #6: Keep Your Inner Drill Sergeant At the Ready
That little voice in your head that tells you when to keep moving and when to take cover? That's your drill sergeant, and he's your number one ally. Put another way, he's your common sense. He's the one who knows when the Word Wall is about to fall and keeps you pushing forward to finally bring it down and he's the one who can tell when you need to pull back and regroup, 'cause the wall ain't budging just yet. Sometimes you want it to be perfect on the first draft (which often serves as the building blocks for the Word Wall), and that's just not going to happen. Sometimes you're not really trying at all and what you're coming up with is sub-par even for a first draft--which happens every now and then. Fortunately, the drill sergeant is there to smack some sense into you! Look into a mirror and give yourself a pep talk when you think you're overworking yourself or slacking off. You can't beat the Word Wall without the drill sergeant!

Tactic #7: Think Of It As a Chess Match
It's you versus the Word Wall. Did you know boys training to be knights were taught chess to learn battle strategies? The main objective is to capture the king, or in this case, to finish that novel. Before you can take the king, you have to outmaneuver all the other pieces in the way. All those other pieces represent the sentences, paragraphs and chapters you have to beat into submission. They are the pawns, rooks and queens of the Word Wall. Which pieces do you go after first? The pawns, also known as the sentences! Instead of focusing on the big idea of writing the whole novel, zero in on writing that next sentence. You have to start somewhere, and it's best to start small. When you've got a few sentences down, evaluate the battle field and formulate a strategy for capturing the next biggest pieces: the paragraphs. Continue on down the list, removing all the obstacles a little at a time, until finally you take the king and finish the book. Checkmate!

Tactic #8: Allow For Recovery Time
Once you've destroyed the Word Wall, taken the field, and finished the novel, you need to step out of the campaign for awhile. Give yourself the chance to breathe at last. Bind up your wounds, repair your damaged weaponry, and bask in your victory! If you just jump in and man an attack on the next novel without taking time to rest and recuperate, you'll set yourself on the road to Waterloo faster than you can say "I surrender!" This in fact is what sparked my recent battle with the Word Wall. I finished my novel, and instead of taking some hard-earned down time, I continued on and came nose-to-nose with burn out. It's not pleasant.

You know the enemy. You now have a few tricks up your sleeve. So fall out, men! Go forth and conquer! Never give up, and never surrender! Ooh-rah! (I feel like I swallowed R. Lee Ermy for this post!)

Best of luck to those participating in NaNoWriMo! Hope I helped out!

Your pal,
General A-P Angels

Artist of the Month - Nov 2011

I've decided that for the heck of it I'm going to feature a particular singer/band every month. At least I'll be guaranteed to come up with one post a month!

Anyhoodles, I had to do some thinking to decide who was going to be first. There are plenty of artists I admire, and plenty that have caught my eye lately, so narrowing it down wasn't easy (like it really matters anyway, right?). A-P's featured Artist of the Month for November 2011 is...

*drum roll*

The Band Perry

A fairly recent addition to the country music scene (and one of the very few country groups I'll listen to nowadays), the Band Perry is a trio of siblings: Kimberly, lead vocals, guitar, piano; Reid, bass guitar, background vocals; Neil, mandolin, drums, accordion, background vocals. They first captured my attention with the ballad "If I Die Young," written by Kimberly herself, the clever girl. I've since enjoyed all the so-far released singles. There's a distinct sound to them already, something in the strings that just says "This is the Band Perry." If you talk to me enough, you'll know I love to go on about how you can just tell one artist from another by listening to the guitar and how it's played. For this group's git-fiddle ID to already be thus established is quite something. Here's to you guys, and may you have a great career!

If I Die Young (I love the video! The whole Lady of Shalott concept is just beautiful!)

Hip To My Heart
You Lie  
All Your Life 

Hope you enjoyed the videos! I tried to post the videos themselves, but the links didn't take. Oh well.

Your pal,