On Beauty and the Beast

All right, so I finally dragged my husband to see the live action Beauty and the Beast film. Belle is my favorite Disney princess of all time, with Mulan as a close second. (She’s technically not a princess, but she’s still amazing.) You can see the appeal; a girl living in a small town, who prefers reading over social functions and dreams of adventures. I felt a personal connection with this girl, and the love story between her and the Beast is just so sweet. I want to start by saying that I enjoyed the film. I understand why most of the changes were made and why some additions were thrown in there. That being said, there are definitely pros and cons.

  • Pro: The setting. I absolutely loved the details of the village, the enormity of the castle, the spookiness of the forest, the costumes, the colors. It was all amazing. I felt as if I had been transported into 19th century France.
  • Pro: The music. Everyone had beautiful voices. All the original songs were included, with the addition of three shorter musical numbers that immersed themselves flawlessly in the story. I was in awe at the musical talent and deliberateness in the score. It added to the magical-ness of the whole film.
  • Pro: The cast. I greatly admire Emma Watson, Sir Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, and Emma Thompson. They all did an amazing job at bringing this animated story to life.
  • Pro: Beast’s past and Belle’s mother. I really liked how they elaborated on what happened to both of the main character’s mothers and how it impacted their childhood. It explained why the prince was the way that he was (without his mother’s influence, his father was able to warp the young boy into a miniature clone of himself) and it also explained why all of the servants in the castle were cursed too. Apparently, they did nothing to stop the prince’s transformation into a shallow, selfish man. The death of her mother explains Belle’s fascination with the world beyond her little village. (Her parents met and were married in Paris.) I believe it made these characters a little deeper and more relate-able.
  • Con: Belle’s affections toward the Beast. Throughout the part of the movie where they are getting to know each other, Belle’s character seems curious and amused, not necessarily like a girl who’s falling in love. There was just so much more emotion on the animated Belle’s face while she was singing and reading with the Beast. You can tell that her view has changed and now she’s starting to see good qualities in the Beast. By the time the famous evening of dancing comes along, she’s completely comfortable with their relationship and on the brink of falling in love. The teasing and more personal conversations that were added in the live action film were good. I enjoyed them and I’m glad they were added as it showed the two talking about deeper things other than books. I just wish Emma Watson had expressed a little more emotion during those scenes other than playful amusement. Then it would be more believable when she tells the Beast that she loves him. It seemed to me that the Beast was more infatuated with her than she was with him, especially after that passionate solo he sang while she was galloping away from his castle.
  • Con: Ewan McGregor’s French accent. I loved him in Star Wars and Mulin Rouge! He can sing, dance, and fight with a lightsaber. He’s a great actor. He brought a playful and determined edge to the live action Lumiere that I loved. I just couldn’t believe his French accent. It seemed too forced to me, too fake, like he could have used some lessons. Everyone else’s accents were believable (although, now I’m wondering why Belle didn’t have an accent…), but I couldn’t buy Lumiere’s.
  • Con: Maurice. In the animated film, Belle’s father is very smart. He’s a bit oblivious of the world around him, but that is often one of the key characteristics of an inventor. They are creative, driven, and not too interested in anything other than their work and their loved ones. In the live action film, Maurice is a grieving husband and tinkerer. We see him working on a beautiful music box that portrays a personal scene of his past (an evening where he painted a portrait of his wife and infant daughter), and several of his drawings are on display in his work room. He’s more of an sad artist than a brilliant and misunderstood scientist. This change in the character also changed the relationship between him and Belle. Belle’s the adult; she takes care of him, makes sure he has enough to eat, and assists him in his tinkering when his mind isn’t entirely focused on what he’s working on. It made him more of a blah character than an interesting one. I understand that it added to Belle’s mother’s story, having Maurice be forever changed by the death of his one true love, but in reality it wasn’t as important to the story. At least, I didn’t think it was.

 

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that both films did the story justice. I’m looking forward to the other live action Disney movies that are coming soon. (Mulan especially!)

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So children…

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was fifteen years old. I know, I know. I’m weird. Normal girls at that age are thinking about boys, school, their friends, and the latest gossip. Well, I was mostly invisible to boys, I wasn’t too crazy about social gatherings, my friends didn’t attend my school, and gossiping about others has never appealed to me, so the only thing left to really think about (other than books and movies and my stories) was the future. At fifteen, I knew I wanted a big family. After all, I came from a big family. Being an introvert and a bookworm wasn’t such a bad thing when I had three siblings to hang out with. I knew having all of us kids must have been hard on my parents, but I also knew that they wouldn’t trade us for anything.

At fifteen, I knew what kind of man I wanted to marry. Having just broken up with my first boyfriend, I decided I didn’t like heartbreak. I didn’t like feeling like I wasn’t good enough for someone, like I was stupid for letting my guard down, like I had completely misjudged this person I once claimed to love and know everything about. I decided I wasn’t very fond of this thing called dating. It was fickle and unreliable and temporary. I wanted something more permanent. I wanted a husband. After only one year in high school, I knew none of the boys there were husband material. Call it instinct, call it very good observation skills, call it whatever you want, I just knew my future husband was not the guy sitting next to me in Biology. (There was a time when I wished he was. My sophomore Biology partner was a year older, Hispanic, into dirt bikes and adrenaline rushes, and thought I was cute. I might have been able to convince myself that he could have been my future husband if he had any interest in God…No regrets, though.)

Sure, I crushed really hard on a few guys and almost started dating two of them, but in the end I couldn’t see myself marrying either of them. Both had admirable qualities, but I had made a list of attributes I wanted in a husband and I was committed to sticking to it. (I went over this list repeatedly, adding things as I grew up, erasing things that I realized weren’t very realistic.) I prayed about it all the time, asking God to give me the strength and the patience to wait for my perfect fit. (I hope I’m not starting to sound holier-than-thou; I have a point here. I promise I’ll get to it quickly.) Anyway, God was faithful and did eventually introduce me to the man I’m married to today. Believe it or not, he has everything on my list, including some habits and qualities that I never knew I wanted. He also comes from a big family and has wanted to be a father for as long as he can remember.

Because we both feel so strongly about it, the subject of kids came up early in our relationship. (I learned three things about my husband in our first month of dating; he liked to travel, he wasn’t afraid of anything, and he wanted children.) Shortly after we got married, we compiled a list of house rules for our kids, just because we wanted to be prepared and on the same page about some things. (If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re very weird. That’s just who we are.) The older we got, the more real this concept of being parents became. Witnessing hissy fits at the grocery store, being thrown up on while volunteering in our church’s nursery, over-hearing bratty kids in the line at Chipotle, and watching movies starring lazy, disrespectful kids has done little to dissuade our desire to have children.

I was told once that if I waited for the day when I could afford children, I’d never have any. I’m sure whoever said that was half-joking, but I’ve spoken to several more parents since then and they’ve all seemed to reach the same consensus: there is no perfect time to have kids. Still, I was raised by a very logical, realistic father who always thought carefully about things before doing anything life-changing. (This instinct, his sweet tooth, and his stubbornness are some of the things I inherited from him.) My husband and I have needs that should be met before kids enter the picture. My husband’s truck has lived longer than any car either of us has ever owned; it needs to be replaced. We’ve started setting money aside and building up our credit for the day it finally craps out on us and we’ll be forced to replace it. I’m eight credits away from finishing my creative writing program and being done with school (at least for now). Thirdly, my husband is trying to get into the police academy because his current job is sucking the life out of him. Plus, a larger paycheck would be nice. I figured it would be wise to wait until we’ve accomplished these three things before trying to have children, and my husband agreed.

And then last week he tells me, “I’m ready when you are, babe.”

Cue panic attack.

Suddenly, there are lots of reasons not to have a child. I’m too young. I haven’t published a book yet. What if I’m a terrible mother? What if the child comes before my husband gets a better-paying job? What if we can’t pay the bills and are forced to move back into an apartment? After living in a spacious house for eleven months, we’ve accumulated some extra things and I really don’t want to have to rent a storage unit. I don’t know how to talk to children! Bring on the spit-up, the poopy diapers, the sleepless nights, and the endless screaming. I can deal with that. But a talking child, who is old enough to reason and make their own deductions, will be able to tell that I have no idea what I’m doing. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I drop the kid? What if I ruin his life?

Suddenly, I’m not ready.

Or am I? My mother was nineteen when she had my oldest brother. My dad was the only one working for many years. Mom stayed home with us. We didn’t have much, but we always had something to wear and we never went hungry. If God could take care of us then, He can definitely take care of us now. Sure, I have a hard time interacting with other people’s children, children who can take one look at me and sense the uncertainty. But it might be different with my own child. My mom said the wrong thing once or twice and she dropped me as a baby, and I turned out all right. She made mistakes and she didn’t ruin my life. I’m pretty sure if I try my hardest and I love the snot out of the little person who comes out of me, I’ll be a good mom.

I’ve never been so confused.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

I’ve been praying about this ever since my husband brought it up last week. I wish God would just tell me what I should do. He does that sometimes, makes the path that I should take crystal clear. And then, at other times, He leaves it up to me. I feel like He’s doing that now, like He’s saying, “You’ll be okay either way. You decide.”

Ugh. It would be easier if He just told me what I should do. Then I wouldn’t have to have this same argument over and over again in my head. I’ll keep thinking about it and praying about it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write another blog post about it. Sometimes, it just helps to think out loud.

 

On the subject of querying

I met an editor thanks to my grandmother.

She heard about a creative writing class being taught at a community center in Phoenix and thought it was something I’d be interested in. She paid the fee and told me to have a good time. This was the first writing class I’d ever taken. Up until then, all I’d learned about creative writing I’d picked up from my favorite authors. I was excited to learn more about the writing process and get a glimpse of the publishing world. More importantly, I wanted to meet the teacher. She was an editor. As shy and awkward as I was, I was suddenly determined to talk to this person and get her to look at my fledgling manuscript. She would be honest with me. She wouldn’t have any bias whatsoever. If I didn’t have any talent, she would tell me. And if she told me I should give up and choose another career path, I would do it. (Or so I kept telling myself.)

Most of the techniques and terms I heard about in this class were things I already knew; she just gave them names. But the most rewarding part of the class was that she gave us her contact information at the end, and told us to email her if we ever needed someone to edit our work. I thought this was perfect! I didn’t even have to give her the speech I’d been preparing. I let some time pass before I contacted her, partially because I didn’t want to sound desperate and partially because I wanted to read through my manuscript one more time. Once I was convinced it was as perfect as I could make it, I emailed her. I got a response about a week later. She was interested in my story. She wanted to take a look.

I worked with her for five to six months. She edited through my work, we met up at a nearby Barnes and Noble to talk about some of the things I could improve or take out of the manuscript, then I went home and worked on it. Then I emailed her again with the newest version and waited for her to have time to look at it. All the while, she was convinced I had talent and could get my story published. It was a dream come true. An adult, a professional, thought I could make it as an author! It was all the validation I needed. I saw her one more time with the third and final version of my manuscript, and she declared that there was nothing else she could teach me. Not really, but she said it was as polished and neat as it could possibly be. She gave me some tips on query letters and some good articles to read. Then she wished me the best of luck, telling me I could email her any time with questions or future projects.

And so my querying journey began. I had very high hopes despite the voice of reason at the back of my mind, murmuring that I should probably prepare myself for a few rejections. I spent several weeks doing research on the elements of a perfect query letter, reading query letters that succeeded in hooking an agent, and applying some of those elements in a letter of my own. I spent several more weeks doing research on agents, hunting for the select few who advocated for my genre and had published books similar to mine. I made lists, I wrote and rewrote my query letter until I thought it was perfect, edited through my manuscript one more time, and then I began emailing agents. I must have emailed at least fifty agents. Then came the horrible period of waiting. I lost track of the months and the many times I checked my email, holding my breath as the page loaded, wondering if that day would be the day when I would be discovered and my dreams would come true.

That day, unfortunately, never came. Instead, I received a plethora of polite rejections and assurances that just because one agent wasn’t interested didn’t mean no agent would ever be interested and that I should keep looking for that perfect fit. After almost a year of this, I had experienced a range of emotions from confusion to anger to determination to hopelessness to self-deprecation. I read more articles, did more research, worked on my query letter some more, and tried again with another fifty or so agents. I kept telling myself I had been stupid to hope I would hit gold on the first try, but maybe the second time would be different. No such luck. More polite, sickening, heart-breaking rejections. Then one kind agent added something else to their rejection letter: a website for beta readers. The only people who had read my manuscript at this time were me, the editor, and my sister.

Any shyness or insecurities were tossed out the window then. I couldn’t understand how a manuscript could be liked and approved by an editor, and then not get any bites in the agent pond. I needed to be bold. I needed to try something different. So I joined this writers’ forum and got a few beta readers for my manuscript. And then I found out the truth. My editor had been nice. Too nice. I still had a lot of work to do if I wanted my story to appeal to the age group I had in mind. I admit that I was officially done at this point. The amount of work I still had to do was overwhelming. I thought, “There isn’t enough time in the world to fix everything that’s wrong with this story!” I took a break from it. I dabbled in other stories and edited through older manuscripts, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I kept thinking, “Why does it matter? No one will ever read these stories anyway.”

It wasn’t a good time in the life of Becca. I was pretty much questioning my whole existence. Ignacio from Nacho Libre summed it up best. “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”

But there was something about this particular manuscript, this story about faeries and a minotaur tyrant who wanted to take over the world and a group of friends who were closer than sisters and were strong enough to bring down the big bad together. Something about the magic of this island, the battles, the lessons, the drama. There was so much this story could teach young adults, so much hope it could give even though it was set in a mythical world. I thought of J K Rowling and all the rejections she received before Harry Potter was published. And look how that turned out for her! It was a major success and is still touching the lives of people to this day. (I don’t think I want to be as famous as J K Rowling, but I still greatly admire her work.)

I gave up on querying, but I didn’t give up on my writing. Obsessing about getting published was sucking the joy out of creating new worlds, characters, and plots. I went back to the basics, the simple task of putting words on paper. I kept my beta readers, though. With them, I slowly began to improve my craft.

That was three years ago.

I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. My beta readers and fellow members of writers’ forums seem to think so too. I’m still not done with the faerie manuscript. I’ve managed to finish three other stories, but I’m still figuring out the best way to tell this story (The Sentinel’s Test). I’ve gotten confident enough in my other manuscripts to try querying again. I still haven’t gotten anything other than polite rejections, but I’m surprisingly okay. The desire to be discovered is still there, just buried a little deeper. I have a slightly more realistic picture of the publishing process and what it’s going to take for me to hold my printed book in my hands. It’s going to be hard, but I know now that I can’t allow myself to get discouraged. Or if I do get discouraged, I can’t stay there for too long.

As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Surrounding myself with other authors and aspiring authors has helped. (Thank you, Twitter!) It turns out, I’m not the only one who has gone through this. That is always good to know. Hopefully, someday I’ll be finishing my querying journey and adding to this post. Someday, I’ll get my happy ending. For now, I’m just going to keep writing.

A horror story for ya

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m taking an Intro to Horror Writing class this semester. The genre has never really appealed to me but I believe a good author is a well-rounded author, an author who can write several different genres successfully. (I don’t care too much for poetry either, but I’m taking a poetry writing class too. I’m even writing a science-fiction story, just to see where it goes! It’s actually a lot of fun to stretch my mind and leave the comforts of fantasy writing.)

Anyway, we’ve read a few short stories and discussed the elements that make up a good horror story: terror, horror, and the gross-out. As Stephen King said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” So I’ve been challenged to focus on these three elements. For one of our most recent assignments, we were asked to write a short story. Our teacher gave us the opening lines of a few well-known horror stories, asked us to pick one, and roll with it. See where the line would take us. The line I chose was “The door had been nailed shut for a reason.” This is what I came up with:

 

The door had been nailed shut for a reason.

It was only logical. Why would someone waste their time pounding nails into a door if there wasn’t a good reason? Maybe the house was separated into sections and rented out to different families. Maybe the previous owners of the house had a kid who thought nailing his little sister’s door shut would be a hoot. There was a dog-door-like square cut along the bottom of the wood. Maybe there was something sinister lurking in the room on the other side.

Gwen rolled her eyes at her own whacky imagination. Still, there was something strange about that door at the end of the hall, the door everyone else was intent on ignoring. Or maybe she was just the first one to notice it? The music was incredibly loud. So many bodies were pressed together into the living room of this old house. The only sources of light were the spotlights sweeping across the room, the candles lit in the open bedrooms, and the moonlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows. Whatever furniture that might have been there was long gone, having been tossed outside to make room for the party.

Gwen took a swig of her soda and finally tore her gaze away from the door. Why did it matter if the door was nailed shut anyway? Was she just looking for an excuse to leave the crowd? Parties weren’t exactly her idea of fun. She was too shy to talk to girls she didn’t know and the only boys who seemed to notice her were always creeps. But her sister was home from college for the weekend and had guilt-tripped her into coming so she was stuck in this creepy old house until Macy was drunk enough to forget her own name. Which might be sooner rather than later. Macy had made a beeline for the keg as soon as they’d arrived and had been parked there ever since, chatting up all the cute guys who came for refills. Gwen weaved her way through the dancing throng to get to her sister.

“Hey, Mace?”

She turned away from the boy she was flirting with to give Gwen a wide-eyed look. “You’re not here for a beer, are you? I told you; you’re the designated driver tonight.”

Gwen waved the soda can in her sister’s face. “This is all I’ve had tonight. Relax.”

“Okay. So what do you want?”

“What do you think is behind that door?” Gwen asked, gesturing to the door in question.

Macy adjusted the straps of her fairy wings and blew a raspberry. “Don’t know, don’t care. Justin said he found this house abandoned last week and decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. I think he’s only been here, like, twice to decorate and stuff. Go ask him.” Then she tossed her dirty-blond hair over her shoulder and smiled flirtatiously to her toga-clad stranger as if Gwen had already left. The guy gave Gwen the once-over out of the corner of his eyes, making her regret her slutty nurse’s costume immediately. She blushed and looked away, tugging at the hem of her little skirt as if that would suddenly make it longer.

Gwen’s eyes fell on the door again. She hadn’t seen Justin since she and Macy had arrived. He’d paused in his mingling to give them each a one-armed hug and comment on their costumes before he resumed his host duties. That was almost two hours ago. She set her drink aside and marched back across the room, getting a spurt of un-Gwen-like bravery. She didn’t need Justin. She’d unravel this mystery on her own. It wasn’t until she stood directly before the door that she realized she had no way of opening it. She dug around her white satchel (part of the costume she’d decided to use as a purse for the occasion), and pulled out a large nail file. Maybe she could pry the nails out? Doubtful but still willing to try, Gwen came closer to the door.

It was already open. Gwen blinked at the sliver of empty space between the door and the frame, wondering when that had happened. She could’ve sworn it was shut…

She shoved the nail file back into her satchel and gripped the warped door knob. The door opened with a spooky creak that made her shiver. The smell hit her then, the acrid odor of decaying meat. She slapped both hands over her nose, swallowing hard to get rid of the bile. But she couldn’t walk away. Morbid curiosity made her bump the door open wider with her hip and inch into the room. Darkness greeted her. She released her nose with one hand to search for a light switch along the wall. It flickered on a moment later.

Bones and chunks of meat littered the floor. Blood was sprinkled across the faded flowery wall paper. The windows were boarded up from the outside; the glass had been broken ages ago and scrapes cut jaggedly across the wood. As if someone had tried to claw their way out of the room at one point. A single bed mattress was shoved in the corner, covered by a ratty black blanket. A hole in the floor drew her eyes to the center of the room. Her mouth gaped open even wider when she realized its purpose.

This was a prison cell.

But for who and why?

A splash of blue among the meat and bones forced Gwen to look at the carnage again. She grimaced and turned with the full intention of walking away, but she paused. Something about that shade of blue struck a chord of familiarity within her. She took a hesitant step forward. It was a torn shirt made of fake, blue fur she was looking at. And it was smeared with blood. Gwen’s knees gave way. She would have fallen onto the filthy floor had she not locked her legs just in time. Suddenly, she knew where she’d seen that fur before. It had been exactly two hours earlier, when Justin had given her that one-armed hug and said how great she looked in her nurse’s costume. He’d been dressed like an alien from Star Trek. The remains of his mask could be seen on the floor, pressed up against the wall. Hair and brain matter freckled the edges.

Bile climbed up her throat again. The world grew fuzzy at the corners.

The door creaked, causing Gwen to spin around with a squeak. A little girl stood behind the door, pale hand pressed against the wood, pushing it closed. Gwen stepped back, the bile finally winning at the sight of the child. Her short blond hair was matted with grime, her face streaked with dried blood, her wide eyes holding pupils that were permanently dilated. She wore a large, gray sweatshirt with rips and a faded logo, but nothing else. Her feet were bare, exposing torn, black toe nails.

How long had she been imprisoned in that room? Had she eaten Justin? Gwen heaved and groaned until there was nothing left in her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to face the child again. The little girl was smacking her lips and swaying slightly, watching Gwen with wide, unblinking eyes.

Gwen managed to shake her head. “No.”

The girl grinned, exposing blackened teeth.

 

The scream cut through the music. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned toward the door at the end of the hall. The DJ killed the music after being prompted by some of the dancers. Soon there was silence and a low murmur of confused voices. Then there was the unmistakable sound of tearing.

 

I know this is pretty mild for a horror story, but it’s my first one. I’m going to get better. I promise!

Something else I read about in the Book of Horrors textbook we’re using for this class is that, in order to write something that truly terrifies and leaves an impression, we should write about things that scare us. So that’s what I did.

The most memorable (and terrifying) episode from Supernatural for me was the one about the twins living in the walls of a house. An abusive father had impregnated his daughter with twins. The girl gave birth and had died shortly afterward (from her own hand or her father’s hand, I can’t remember). The father didn’t take care of them at all. He locked them up in the basement and fed them through a laundry-shoot-like hole in the wall. The twins had never seen the light of day, had never set foot in the house above them. They wandered the crawl spaces between the walls of that house until the day their father/grandfather became too old and careless. Then they emerged and exacted their revenge.

Nobody in the surrounding area knew how bad things had gotten between father and daughter. Nobody knew about the twins. It was a big mystery to the local law enforcement when they happened upon the old man, or whatever was left of him anyway. They scratched their heads for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders, and cleaned the place up as best they could. Several months later, a new family moved in and started hearing strange noises through the walls.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear. They’re probably just rats. We’ll call the exterminators.”

In come Sam and Dean Winchester in disguise, thinking this family has a ghost problem and they can quickly fix it for them. They do their research and find out about the poor girl and her father. They assume it’s her ghost that’s haunting the place so they get ready to banish a spirit…only to find that the killers are real live people. Naturally, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. The family and the Winchesters want to get out alive, while the twins are hungry for blood. These kids have been abused and in-humanized. Technically, they have a right to be angry and homicidal. But they’re so out of control and beyond reason that Dean and Sam have to kill them.

The end.

No matter how good the CGI was when monsters and evil spirits were introduced on the show, none of that really scared me because I knew it couldn’t be real. But a story about people being treated so badly that they had to resort to creeping through the walls and killing others…That could be real. That terrified me. So I tried to incorporate some of that into this short story. I haven’t gotten my grade yet, so I’m not sure how well I integrated the elements of horror, terror, and the gross-out. But I’m fairly proud of this. Hope you guys enjoyed it!