Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Selfish Benefits of Book Parenting

As you can imagine, my life is defined heavily by my identification as a geek and my role as a father. My children are tied directly to my reading life in so many ways. It’s not just that I might have at one point read Knuffle Bunny and Going on a Bear Hunt several times a day for a few months straight, but I also get to mold and influence their growth into readers, and yes, even influence what they read.

I remember taking my book-loving daughter to the library for the first time when she was about 2 years-old. We walked into the main room and her eyes just got huge and she stood there in awe for a while. She couldn’t comprehend that there existed in her little world a building this large completely full of books. It wasn’t long before she was discovering some new ones and insisted on taking them home. Nurturing a love for books is something I see as my responsibility as a parent and it’s going well so far. My children have no idea how long my secret to-read list of books that I know are excellent that I want them to experience someday, when they are ready. I have already had the chance to introduce Harry Potter and The Hobbit, which are much loved now. My oldest even thinks Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain were entirely her choices, having no idea how premeditated their placement was to achieve maximum interest.

I’m sure most parents like to introduce their favorite books to their children, but what took me longer to realize, is that I don’t just influence them, they influence me right back. Sometimes we choose books to read together, or start a series together, or I will read ahead so I can discuss the books with them when they catch up (because they can read the newest release when I’m done with it). In this way I have discovered many great YA titles I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Would I have read the adventures of Percy Jackson without my kids? Well, probably, but I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have read Gregor the Overlander, or The 39 Clues on my own. This is perfectly fine. I still get to read my “adult literature” and I can delve into the fun, popular stories my kids are enjoying too. If this has taught me anything, its that good books are simply good books.

The second change in my reading life comes in the form of re-reading all these great books from my past. I am much more likely to revisit books with my kids than I am on my own. For me that has been wonderful as I personally enjoy re-reading books, despite the perils of potentially diminishing a favorite book or character. I used to scare myself with questions like, “What if the book actually isn’t any good if you aren’t still a kid?” or “What if it’s only a good book through a nostalgic lense?” and “What if the plot is actually really bad and the writing cliche?” I’ll tell you, my fears have yet to be validated. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but it hasn't yet. Maybe it’s luck and we just pick excellent books. But I doubt it. No, the stories hold up because we get to experience them again for the first time.

Your experience with a book will change as you change and grow and learn and experience life and hardship and joy, but, with my children reading with me, it’s a happy experience even if the characters and plot aren’t as good as I remember. Their innocence of the story and enthusiasm for the characters and joy in the experience temper any critical negativity of adulthood that seeps in over time and allow me to experience the books as they do, at least by vicariously. And that has been perfectly fine. As Tolkien reminded us, we are only little fellows in a wide world afterall.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Frank Herbert's Dune that has more relevence for me now than it ever did before

“The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stories from the Gates of Camelot: Into the Ruins #1

Several years ago contributing writer Orcrist had a job with a browser gaming company called SnakeHead Games. During this time he helped them make their first Facebook game, as well as do some work on their existing browser games.  The Facebook game has sense been moved to a browser game (a whole blog could be written just about that experience - needless to say you don't need to send me any FB game invites). Now they've released the beta for a new game the Gates of Camelot.  As an aside to training to be the best knight you can be, there are all sorts of opportunities to write.  This has been wonderful opportunity for me to practice writing short story content and I thought I'd share some of the pieces that make the most sense outside of the game here on the blog.

To understand this piece it is important to know that every hour you are given the opportunity to "search the ruins." During this time you find money and random items.  The challenge for this particular piece of writing was to give a possible explanation for how the following items were left in the ruins and subsequently found by the intrepid knight Sir Ducksalot - who is in fact, a duck.  The items were: a small shield - improvised (described as a random bit of wood or branch which has been fashioned for use as a shield), a kinfe, an ale, and if applicable $2,508 silver. Get your tissues ready for the Tale of Cassandra (after the jump).

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Dear Readers.  I know this blog has been on an unimaginable hiatus.  This is a hobby blog and I love having a space to share random thoughts with you all, given that I find the time to type them up.  Orcrist and I have several things we are working on currently and some of it will eventually show up here (we hope!).  In the meantime, it appears we have become a favorite of spammers.  Many of our posts have become deluged with spam posts, that while relevant enough to get around the automated filters, did not add any significant discussion to the posts.  As such I have disabled comments to all anonymous posts. I will crank the security up tighter if this doesn't solve the problem.  I barely have time to write here, I don't need to spend it all clearing junk off the bottoms of the pages.

I want to personally thank Orcrist for taking an afternoon to clear the majority of the junk. If you want to link your blog, something cool you saw, or a contact info in the comments of a post - I'm actually ok with that, given that there is a valid reason for doing so - you and another commenter had a meaningful conversation and you want to continue it elsewhere, you are linking to something that directly relates to the post, etc. I do this too, and it's always tricky to say - hey I totally wrote something about the same thing, come see what I said.  I know that.  However, if your link is to a retail site, expect it to get nuked (unless we are talking product, which we may, but if you link a sale piece it had better be 100% relevant!)  I hope to add some of the new G+ functionality to this blog soon.  I want us to have conversations.  I want our ideas to be discussed and shared.  But I don't want you, the faithful, to have to be barraged with spam on these pages.  It's bad enough I don't edit!

Thanks All


Thursday, January 31, 2013

FIRST Diary Entry 1: Craming for the Qualifier

I interviewed almost a month ago.  I mean I know I was busy, had the big school fundraiser of the year event, Mom and Dad came for a visit, I was organizing Dr. Baird's Wilderness History collection - oh my gosh was that awesome reading!  Yeah, I totally blew off the thank you note.  I had been up all night reading historical documents and letters to Senators before the interview.  They said they needed someone right away, and I talked too much... I always talk too much when I don't know what to say and feel responsible for carrying the conversation.  I still feel like a little kid at the "grown up table" for the first time.  So, it was with great reluctance that I announced at the PAT meeting that I probably didn't get the job.  I accepted it.  I didn't really need more work, I had two jobs and a good hobby.  Maybe with my free time I could even make a hobby or two pay as well.  Ok, my husband wanted me to bring in a bit more, but pttthbpt I didn't care anymore.

So when my phone rang interrupting the raptor club presentation (and scaring a poor falcon) on the all school field trip to the University where Orcrist works.... well I was not expecting a job offer!  We'll let you know by the start of next week had become nearly 4 weeks.  I quickly called back, worked out a few details (probably not nearly enough), and jumped in with both feet, starting just days before my daughter's birthday and the opening of the Hobbit - for which I'd been arranging childcare for over a year and a half (only to have to scramble at the last minute //sigh)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Intro to FIRST

I recently accepted a job with a local FIRST© partner - 4-H Youth and Development. Which is an extension program of the local State Land Grant University. I am an associate (part-time) in their sciences robotics program. This means I work in a dorm turned offices, at the University where I did my undergrad. Furthermore, by starting in the middle of the tournament season - I'm getting a crash course in all thing FIRST.

I would like to share my experiences (starting from December when I began), in a series of diary-style entries, but first I will give you an overview of the program - after the jump.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Memory of Green and White

In the wake of the tragic shootings at Sand Hook Elementary school, the Internet has erupted with anger, confusion, and demands.  Some people want tougher gun laws, some people want their access to guns of all kinds left alone.  Some people blame the removal of a mainstream God from the schools.  Some blame parents.  Some blame working moms.  Some blame public schools as a whole.   There is plenty of blame, plenty of wants.  In all of this anger and hurt I wrote something which is being shared in part.  I'd like to share it now, on this site for all of you to read.
I'm a Christian - sometimes I wonder if it isn't against my better judgment, but that has nothing to do with the God I believe in. So when I say this, I want it with the full disclosure of my faith. My God has never been restricted by any idea, any border, any nation, nor any institution. I hardly think he experiences time, space, and reality in a way we can even comprehend. What is lacking in our schools, our communities, and our culture isn't a religion. It is a lack of humanity, that sense that we are all on this world together, with one another. That we rise and fall together, the weakest among as important as the strongest. We lack the message that Jesus brought and so many Christians are supposed to be reminded of this season.... that there is no Jew and Gentile (no race), there is no value in worldly wealth, there is only what we do for each other (ideally in his name, as our faith dictates). That's exactly what we are missing. That's exactly why I don't like being associated with the bulk of people claiming my faith.
  This is very personal to me, so take it as it is.... my personal statement, not the beginning of a debate.  For when we are hurting we can not debate, we can only shout.  We need to stop shouting before the debate can begin.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Disney and Star Wars - Top 10 (Mostly) Awesome Things That Could Happen

If you are a geek or have been near the internet, you have probably heard the big news about Star Wars. Disney recently purchased Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars and so they now own Star Wars and everything that goes with it. Along with that announcement was the information about a new live action SW film coming out in a couple of years with more to follow, making it at least a new trilogy. This is big news for SW and there has been no shortage of commentary on it.

Yes, Lucas made 4 Billion Dollars. 
(To Lucas’s credit, he is using that money to fund philanthropic endeavors)

I am going to add my own commentary. First off, let me just say that I am remaining patiently optimistic. SW is a big popular license and Disney is a big popular company. If this had happened 15 years ago I would have been apprehensive or mad, but George Lucas has pretty much finished everything he wanted to do with SW and this gives it a new lease on life. That coupled with the fact that the last several movies and lots of the merchandise have been uninspiring. Most adult fans I know are still nostalgic for the SW of their childhood and the new stuff just didn't resonate. The worst that can happen really, it that I just ignore the stuff Disney releases. 

I think it is time for a new group of creative people to take over SW. There have been dozens of writers and artists and programmers making new games and books and comics for years, but not movies. Unfortunately, even the new stuff being put out by all those creative people rehashes familiar characters and plots (over and over). It’s like taking American history and only talking about the period from 1900 through World War Two and nothing else, Ever. All of the books and comics written after the movies link back to the original trilogy somehow. Obsidian Entertainment’s “Old Republic” was some of the most interesting new material seen in the SW universe when they released it. The point is, SW needs some “world building” and creative expansion to keep it interesting and that can happen now.

This image is going to haunt my dreams, so I had to share.
Disney for their part makes mistakes, but they have done well by the Marvel license and there are a lot of talented people there. Just remember, above all else, this is about money. Disney didn’t invest 4 Billion dollars just to say they own SW. They plan to market it and merchandise it and make money off of it. That means they might make a few missteps, but are going to try to make products that make the most money from the fans. That means releasing stuff that people want to buy. There is already tons of SW stuff out there, but most of it is a rehash of the original trilogy. If Disney can push new interesting quality stuff, they have a good chance at keeping it relevant.  

So, here are is my (mostly) optimistic list of things that I hope could happen with Disney and Star Wars.

1. The new movies need to break new ground - The prequels were still about the story of Anakin Skywalker. They could have been better, but the plot idea was fine for the time and we did get a few new characters out of them. Like I said though, fans have been rehashing those characters and events for years and years. It’s a big galaxy. Give us some new stories. Jump into the future or far into the past. If you HAVE to link back to the original trilogy directly, then follow Luke and Leia’s kids as adults and present new planets with something to offer. What does the Rebellion do when rebels rise up against their own new government? What happened when the Old Republic was trying to unify the Galaxy? This is the stuff I want to know about. 

Childhood. Well, for the lucky kids who didn't have to eat Corn Flakes.
2. All of those directors that grew up watching Star Wars can now get their hands on it. I can think of a dozen times when I have heard some director or writer say in an interview or commentary that SW influenced them as a kid and how they are still fans. Well now is their chance to actually make their own story and be super fans. (Brad Bird or maybe J.J. Abrams to name a few?)

Joss Whedon is our master now. Or something. 
3. More specifically, Joss Whedon - Joss currently has a contract with Marvel/Disney to make the next Avengers film, but he also agreed to help develop the entire Marvel franchise for the next few years. Joss is kind of a geek legend having already made Firefly, Buffy, Doctor Horrible, etc. He actually has worked with Disney before on Atlantis (one of my favorite of the Disney animated movies). That was all small budget stuff though. Then he got the Avengers and a bigger budget and made the biggest movie EVER. Joss Whedon can tell a good story, but where he really excels is characters. Give him some free rein to develop some characters and story (even if he doesn't direct) and I guarantee we will have a dozen (minus the few he kills off) new SW characters that we actually care about, including some strong female leads (because space needs more than one woman). I actually think he could do this better than Lucas since there isn't really anyone in the prequels I cared about (and no, I am not going to sink so low as to mention JarJar here). Or, even better... hand him the Old Republic and tell him to make a space opera. We can all just sit around pretending it’s Firefly set in the SW universe.

How I always picture him.
4. ...And Kevin Smith. When Kevin Smith said, “I could have written a better Episode 1” we believed him. I would love to see Kevin do something official and Star Wars, but more to the point let him do it his way. Kevin Smith is at his best with dialogue, especially comedy so expect something comical, irreverent, and aimed at adult fans. 

Personally I think a live action mini series or TV show would be awesome. Base it around the idea of old Troops shorts (showing the underside of the Empire) and follow some Storm Troopers around the galaxy. Remember the comics about Tag and Blink? Sort of like that with more of a Jay and Bob feel. (If you haven’t read them, go read them now.)  Recruit the 501st legion to help out with extras and cameos for charity work. Give Kevin a shot at SW (so he can stop making spoofs) and you will have a SW show that college kids and adults can actually care about and enjoy again. He is all for the new trilogy anyway so bring him on board stat.

5. Merchandising. This is what Disney does better than about any other company, (except maybe Spaceballs). The Disney Princess line has something like a million licensed products and a lot of it is junk. However, there is good stuff in there too. Same thing with SW. LEGO is probably the best use of the SW license I have seen for toys. There is a lot of merchandise, but a lot of it is junk, or has been recently.
Seriously, who carries an orange and white blaster?

What am I trying to say? Do more than just stick pictures of Star wars characters on backpacks and notebooks and stuff and call it merchandising. They can do better and Disney can help. My daughter wants a pink or purple lighsaber. I would love to get my son some cool SW vehicles so Lightening McQueen and Thomas can fend off those ATATs. How about some quality games and costumes? Where are the bikes/sleds/wagons with X-Wing and Tie Fighter like wings attached? Even the video game offerings have been lackluster recently. I have no doubt SW will be a big part of the Disney theme park expansions, but do some good merchandising too with customer surveys and make products I want to buy. 

Sexy Leia is everywhere. You are welcome.
6. The "gender issue". Star Wars has never been great about the gender issues. I am not joking about the “one woman in space” thing. Leia was awesome (despite some weak characterization in places), but we need more appeal for girls and more strong characters they can relate to. (My girls happen to love SW, I am talking in general here.) My biggest fear is that Disney just bought SW to market to boys after they outgrow Cars (the Pixar movie). Then again, that's why I thought they bought Marvel too. Star Wars should be a cross gender license as it has so much to offer. If they market and merchandise only to boys, then it will be a big fail in my book. I’ll have to wait and see on this one.

Disney Princess Leia

7. Disney Princess Leia. This is the first thing everyone mentioned when they heard the announcement. (The second being Cinderella with a blue lightsaber right?) But, anyway... I would go with it. Make her a Disney Princess! 

Wait, come back, hear me out... 

Leia is feisty and independent, but at the same time, she was actually raised as a princess. The daughter of a wealthy royal from Alderaan named Bail Organa, who was also a member of the Galactic Senate. Develop a show/book/merchandise line with Leia at the center. A young Leia who follows her (adopted) father around the galaxy as he does “Galactic Diplomacy” stuff. Leia herself became a senator when she grew up, so she must have been greatly influenced by her father. She can have adventures, be a kid, and we get to see her early years and care more about Alderaan. At least until the Death Star comes along, the show would be very kid friendly. It would be pretty easy to make kids forget about Alderaan if they did a bunch of planet hopping anyway. Leia can even legitimately wear an Alderaan princess dress if you want. 

Disney is developing a similar sounding show about a toddler princess named Sofia. Tap Lauren Faust for some creative input at the very least (you remember, she helped with Power Puff Girls and became goddess of the Bronies?) The point is Lauren makes awesome shows with strong female leads that also happen to be lots of fun. Perfect for this idea of a young Princess Leia. I would rather see a feisty little Leia taking on the galaxy than another classic (and pink) Disney Princess.

Pixar is kinda awesome.
8. Pixar! Yes, Pixar. The new studio that puts out all the best animated movies. It’s full of SW geeks too. Do I want John Lasseter to head up a new SW movie? No, not at all. But Pixar can and does influence some of Disney’s other properties. In this case I think it would be a great idea to have the world renown writing team at Pixar look over the new scripts for the new trilogy of movies Disney announced. I wouldn't be surprised if a Pixar writer was tapped for part of the script anyway. I would also love to see them produce a new Star Wars original trilogy Blu-ray release. Pixar has done well releasing Miyazaki’s work from Japan. They have done well because they are passionate about his movies and treat them with love. Have the people that are passionate about SW at Pixar spearhead a proper release of the original trilogy before Lucas started messing with it. Include the documentaries and details the fans want to see. The Blu-ray stuff Lucas released last year flopped because it wasn't what people really wanted. That’s how Disney can use Pixar to bolster their SW purchase. That and look over the scripts after Joss Whedon develops the characters. Actually, since they all work for Disney and live in California, maybe they can just sit at the same table and work in tandem. (Yes, I am writing fantasy, how could you tell?)

You can send me these for Christmas if you want to.

9. That brings me to Japan. Give Star Wars to Japan and see what happens. Am I joking? Not at all. Remember Kingdom Hearts the video game? It was kinda awesome. That’s what happened when Disney gave one of the best Japanese RPG companies (Square-Enix) the Disney license. Do it again with SW. Maybe we will see Kingdom Hearts 3 with lightsabers. Maybe, even better, we will see some original and new ideas for Star Wars video games or manga or anime or other merchandise come out of Japan. Would I play a SW epic Final Fantasy like game? You bet I would. How about Star Wars meets Animal Crossing? I have no idea, but Japan is creative in a whole different way than America. Let them have the license and see what happens. I mean, it’s not like they can do worse than some of the stuff Lucas released and if people don’t like it, they just won’t buy it.

Grand Admiral Thrawn 

10. The Thrawn Trilogy. The first of the novels based on SW were written by Timothy Zahn. The trilogy that started the whole "expanded universe" of books. I consider Zahn's books to still be the best. They were completely in line with the SW original trilogy and still completely original, except for a few borrowed characters. If anything needs adapting into movies, it’s those three books.

That’s it for today. Leave some comments if there is anything you think I missed that is worth adding to the list, like right now while we are still speculating like fans.

Edit Update:

There has been plenty of rumor mongering about the prospective Cast of Star Wars Episode VII.

Here is what I want to see (with assumptions thrown in cause you know they are going to rehash character types from the other movies).

Christina Hendricks as Mara Jade.
I don't really care who else they cast, but if Mara Jade is in it, they had better hire Hendricks.
I don't care if the character is exactly the same as the books, etc. Have her toy with whatever character they fill in for the Han Solo rogue nice guy Jedi slots. Especially if she distracts the rogue from his stable relationship with the Princess Leia character while flirting with the Jedi. Make her dangerous physically and emotionally pulling strings.

Nathan Fillion is the Han Solo rogue we all love. 
For whoever plays the Han Solo type character... it really has to be Nathan Fillion. Not because he was captain tight-pants, but because I can't really think of any other actor who can fill so in perfectly for a young "Harrison Ford playing Solo" vibe on camera. If the character isn't Han, then expect a friend, child, or another pilot from Corellia with a similar personality.

Judy Dench as Mon Mothma
If they need a leader for the new Republic after the Rebels defeat the Empire. It needs to be Judy Dench playing an older and wiser Mon Mothma holding the power vacuum together and playing the strings of politics.

That's what I want to see. In the hands of a good director and writer, I would go see it even if it was only those three with any acting ability.

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