Saving-Mr.-Banks-PosterI’m not one to sing the praises of stretching the truth, particularly when it comes to blockbuster movies that tweak the facts to suit their own stories, hoping to dramatize a person’s life to make it “interesting.”

Real life is interesting, plain and simple.

But could there be a case where fiction is actually better than the truth? I haven’t found many examples, but I think an argument can be made for Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks follows the story of P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, as she tries to decide if she’ll sell the rights to her stories to Walt Disney so he can make a movie based on her characters.

Travers wasn’t exactly easy to work with, as she — understandably — felt extremely protective of her characters and her world. A lot of the story was based around feelings and events from her childhood, so there was a strong, personal connection to the story.

The movie did a great job of portraying this in Travers, and Emma Thompson was brilliant at bringing this person to life on the big screen. The film also captured the vibe of the 1960s in America, and especially what it was like to work at Disney.

But, as per usual, not every detail was right. Some were small, some were changed in order to give the movie a plot, and some were there to throw a kinder light on some of the characters — especially Travers.

You can read about the nine major things Saving Mr. Banks got wrong if you’re unfamiliar with those facts already. But, basically, the main difference between real life and the story we saw on screen had to do with the final reaction from Travers.

She never danced. She never cried tears of happiness. And she certainly didn’t leave her relationship with Disney in a good place by the time Mary Poppins was released.

But is this a bad thing?

I don’t know the intimate details of the true story, but as far as I can tell, Travers was a difficult woman to work with. Mary Poppins is a timeless, classic movie, and I can see why people would want to know the story behind it. Those two facts are at odds with each other, and it makes sense that the studio would want to change a few things to make the ending give you the warm fuzzies when the credits roll.

And I’m okay with that. Can you imagine leaving the theatre having just seen Travers refusing to watch the movie, walking away from Disney with harsh words, and basically hating every part of the film once she finally did sit down to see it twenty years later?

That doesn’t exactly scream “good movie” to me.

So, yeah, they fibbed a few things for the sake of the story. I think it’s important to recognize the truth of Travers’ life, but I also think it’s important to just be happy with watching a beautifully written, wonderfully acted, and superbly shot movie. They were going to change details anyway, so I’m glad they changed the ones that ended up leaving us with the warm fuzzies.

Have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? What did you think of it?

Professionalism with personality

Posted: January 16, 2014 in General
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twitter-featured1Social media is a scary place for a lot of people. Or it can be a comforting place — maybe too comforting.

On the one hand, what you say will be seen by hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people. And it’s out there forever. You might be able to delete it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. A good rule of thumb is that everything you put out on the internet will exist there for all of eternity, whether you realize it or not.

But on the other hand, it is a place to gather with friends, co-workers, and people who you may not know but share a common passion with. It’s a community represented by avatars, where everyone can be exactly who they are, and damn the consequences. You have opinions, after all, and they need to be heard.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Do you be professional or do you be personable? Do you spend all day promoting yourself, or do you sit around and tweet about how flipping adorable your cat is?

The answer is both. As with anything else, you need balance. You need to be professional because, yes, everything on the internet stays on the internet. But you also don’t want to assault your family, friends, and fans with links about your next book every day, all day.

You need to have spunk because people fall in love with the person, not the product. They want to get to know YOU, not become familiar with your Amazon links. They want those pictures of your cat, but maybe not every day, all day.

See the pattern yet?

I represent a lot of facets of myself. On the one hand, I’m a blogger. On the other, I’m a huge nerd. I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. I’m a journalist and an editor, but I’m also just a person. So I need balance to show off each one of those aspects of myself without overwhelming people with one or the other.

I’m not saying I do it right all the time (God knows I talk about Teen Wolf more than any single person should), but I do have some general guidelines:

1. Don’t say anything you’d be embarrassed to say to your parents (or your grandparents or your children, etc.). One day they’ll find it, and that’ll be awkward. This is just a general rule of thumb for life anyway. Don’t be rude and obnoxious. You wouldn’t act that way in front of your grandmother, so don’t act that way when she’s not around.

2. Keep the links to a minimum. Sharing is caring, but don’t spam. People will eventually learn to ignore you, and that’s counterproductive.

3. Talk about your day. People actually want to know, believe it or not. They’re on social media to — get this — be sociable. If you talk about how you spent three hours chasing a chipmunk out of your house and back into the wild, someone will come along and share a similar story. Or at the very least laugh at your misery.

4. Interact with your peeps. Ask questions and you’ll get answers. Ask for tips and you’ll get suggestions. People are friendly (for the most part) and, like I said in the previous point, they’re there to talk to those who have interests similar to their own.

5. Have a filter. Sometimes I really want to rail on something I’m mad about. But is Twitter really the place for that? Is Facebook? Sometimes it is. Sometimes you just need it off of your chest. But other times no one cares. They don’t want to be dragged down by your daily reminders of how depressing your life is. (Harsh, but true.) Social media is a tool to use to your advantage. Whether you’re a writer or you’re just on there for fun, save the private conversations for private. You’ll thank me later.

6. Have fun. Be professional, but have a personality. Don’t think of social media like a chore and it won’t become one. But don’t let it run your life either. It’s addictive, and it will take over if you allow it. Set yourself limits if you have to, but remember that people want to get to know the real you. So loosen up and enjoy.

What made me want to be a writer?

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Writing
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SplatterLike most things in life, it wasn’t a specific event or person that thrust me down this path. It started with a proclivity for the matter, then a deepening curiosity, an insatiable desire, and finally, a bit of luck.

My stories, like the tales of most writers, started off terrible. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. In fact, sometimes I miss that era when an entire story could be encased in a single paragraph. Everything you needed to know was bound with a messy bow within five run-on sentences. It makes me cringe now, but for a fourth grader, those words were gold.

And why shouldn’t they be? That was a time of pure imagination. There were no rules, no constraints, no doubts; just an empty page and a story in my head that needed to be told.

My stories today, I’m glad to report, are a bit more complex and imaginative. Though the price I must pay for that comes in the form of rules, constraints, and doubts. Nothing in life is free.

Even then, in fourth grade, I enjoyed writing. I liked stories and I liked telling them to people. I liked describing things and putting them down on paper, like that very act made them true, made them real.

That proclivity turned into a curiosity. Could I do more? Could I go bigger? Could I actually write a novel? The answer was yes. And though it would take me a long, long time to actually finish one, I spent every moment of my free time trying to do just that.

This is when I realized that the act of writing was a monster that had grown deep within me. It was not something I could cut out of me, even if I had wanted to, because it was so deeply rooted. It had unknowingly become a part of my soul.

I would spend hours on a quest that had no ending. There was no solid goal in mind, just a need to write and the ability to do so. So I wrote. And I wrote. I jumped from project to project without a care, without structure, and without discipline. But I didn’t need any of those things because writing was still just an idealistic dream. Something to strive for while I was asleep, when the inhibitions of life were less pronounced.

That step from dream to realization hasn’t been completed yet, but I’m almost there. My heel is in the grass, and my toes are just waiting to slap against the dirt. I’m moving in slow motion, but eventually my dream will manifest. I just need patience.

That step, that initial heel-to-the-grass motion, didn’t begin to occur because of me — or at least, not entirely because of me. There was also quite a bit of luck involved.

Although my entire journey was a confluence of events, it was this single step that I took next which solidified me on this path. Or, I should say, a single person.

In college, I took several required English classes, and had several wonderful professors. In their own way, they each encouraged me and nudged me in the right direction. But it was only when I finally took an elective creative writing course that I realized this is what I want to do for  the rest of my life.

My professor in college was quiet. She would look around the room, focusing on each person, making sure no one had anything else to say about whatever we chose to talk about that day. Her class was less about the end result and more about the journey. It was about the discovery of self, about learning the craft and implementing it, but also learning about yourself and putting that information to use.

I learned a lot about myself in that class, and even more when I went on to the next elective. I learned that I sucked at writing. I learned that sucking was okay. I learned to be better. And I got better. I learned that critique doesn’t always equate hate. And I learned that some people will pull you up while others will drag you down.

But most importantly, I learned that writing is not just a job or a way of life or a means to an end. God knows that it’s not a means to an end for most people.

Writing is, without a doubt, something spiritual, something ethereal. It’s something we can’t help but doing. It’s something that pulls at our insides until we have to move our fingers across the keyboard and string those letters into words and the words into sentences. It’s an insatiable desire, and one that I plan on feeding endlessly.

Disney’s got the right idea

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Movies
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Disney has been around for a long time. It has a proven track record for being one of the greatest companies on Earth. It also has a certifiable formula for making great films; a formula that will work every time and entertain children who just want to see princes saving princesses and funny animal sidekicks.

The greatest thing about Disney — the absolute best thing about them — is that they know their greatness can be even better. Eventually, stagnation will turn into loss, and the Disney name will no longer bear the strength it once had. They know that as times change, so must they, and that taking risks is just the first step in becoming even better than they once were.

Disney has made mistakes, of course, and there have been plenty of flops. But that happens to even the most ingenious of people, and it’s all part of the learning curve.

When Disney is great, though, it truly is the best.

The three films that immediately spring to mind are Tangled, Brave, and Frozen (major spoilers ahead, by the way). They’ve turned this genre on its head and have paved the road for, I hope, more films to follow the same path — animated or otherwise.

I think Mulan must be mentioned at this point. In a lot of ways, it pointed the way for these other movies while still having one foot in the Golden Age for Disney. Mulan is about a girl who saves her entire country. She has to pretend to be a boy to do it, and it still feels like a princess movie, but that doesn’t completely detract from the a-typical storyline this movie presents. The guy didn’t save the girl. In the end, the girl saved everybody.

Tangled falls closer to this film than the other two. It’s a guy-rescues-the-girl-movie, but I think there’s one important difference here: the happily ever after is focused on family, not romantic love, and the marriage proposal happens after many years. The last fact is one of my favorite things about Tangled because so many Disney movies (and not just the animated ones) jump from Problem Solved to Now We’re Hitched Because We’re Totally Meant For Each Other.

It’s a beautiful concept, but not exactly realistic.

And right from Tangled, we jump into Brave, which completely throws off the shackles of True Love and deals with more realism than I thought possible in an animated movie. Merida doesn’t want to be married, despite the fact that she is a princess and is destined — by the law of the land — to take a husband. Although there are suitors in this movie, there’s no Prince in Shining Armor. And there isn’t even a real villain. Merida is both the protagonist and the antagonist, and it’s her actions — not the actions of the witch, who really isn’t wicked at all — that bring about everything that happens in the movie. In the end, Merida gets her wish and learns a valuable lesson in the process. And no prince had to help her along the way.

Lastly, there’s FrozenFrozen feels like a different beast altogether, though I’d say it’s a blend of what both Tangled and Brave do for this type of story. The greatest thing about Frozen is that it throws all the tropes at you at once — the princess, the prince, the instalove, the marriage proposal — and then stuffs them full of dynamite and blows everything apart. By the time Frozen ends, the Prince in Shining Armor is actually evil, and the Boy Who Is a Nobody is the one who really steals our (and the princess’) hearts. While that latter point wasn’t exactly a shocking twist, I loved how the move ended on a kiss between the two main characters. No marriage proposal, no Happily Ever After. Just a realistic ending to a movie that was truly about two sisters and their relationship to one another.

I think a lot of other companies and franchises could benefit from doing what Disney has been doing for the last few years. We need more stories that fall outside the box but still give us the satisfaction of having all the parts we typically love in these types of narratives. It’s tricky, and it certainly is a risk, but if done correctly, the rewards could be astronomical.

Besides, creativity should be heralded above profit, don’t you think?

In particular, I would love for these ideas to be applied to superhero movies. We need some female-led superhero films, and not just the kind where the heroine is super hot and hooks up with the guy in the end. Although any female superhero movie would make me happy at this point, I’d love to see Marvel, for example, go outside the box and give us something truly great and creative.

The best books I read in 2013

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Books & Reading
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My goal for 2013 was to read 25 books, and I happily surpassed that. At the time of writing this, I’m currently at 38 and counting, and although I’ve read a lot more than this in past years, this was still a great goal considering how busy I’ve been recently. Yay, books!

So, which were my favorites? Well, an early favorite was definitely The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. It had this cool dystopian premise that reminded me a lot of X-Men, which I’ve always been a huge fan of. It comes kids with special powers and scary detention camps. It’s definitely worth the read!

A quick followup to that was 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, which was different from a lot of other books I’d read previously. It has a creepy storyline and a great twist at the end. It’s also a standalone book, which I know can be hard to come by.

I also read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley this year, which really needs no introduction. I was surprised by how much I liked it, even to the point that I’d love to read it again. If you’re not usually into the classics (like me), I would still highly recommend this book. It’s interesting and smart and makes you think about Frankenstein’s monster in a way you probably never have before.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was another great book, and definitely left a few tears in my eyes. I’ll have to pick up his other novels now because I really like his writing style. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider reminded me a lot of his writing as well, and that’s another book I’d highly recommend. It may have also left a few tears in my eyes.

Burn for Burn and Fire with Fire by Jenny Han were complete surprises. I read them to review on Hypable and didn’t imagine I’d find them all that interesting, but they were a huge surprise — and in the best possible way. They combine some truly awesome female characters with some great romance and even a touch of the supernatural. These also had a great twist to them.

House of Hades by Rick Riordan was my favorite book this year for so many reasons. It had a great storyline, and it was wonderful to see characters that we’ve been so involved in for so many years finally mature and come to learn a lot more about life. If you’ve been thinking about getting into the Percy Jackson series, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Lastly, I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This book was difficult to read because so much of my life is reflected onto the pages. Between Cath’s involvement in fandom and her anxiety, I sometimes felt like I was reading a story about myself. This also has a wonderful romantic thread throughout the book that is really genuine and organic. I’d recommend this to anyone, but particularly to those who are introverts and would rather spend time in front of their computer than interacting with other human beings.

I read a lot of other books this year, but these were certainly my favorites. Have you read any of them? If so, which ones and what did you think? What were some of your favorite books from this year?

The correct definitions of introvert and extrovert are becoming more widely known these days, but there are still a lot of misconceptions.

Introverts, for example, recharge their energy when they’re alone. Being around a lot of people drains them, and so they need to have a quiet place where they can just do what they want to do at their own pace without having to meet the exhausting demands of others.

I am an introvert. And I like being left alone.

I relish in the time I spend by myself. To an extrovert, it may seem like a lonely existence, but I assure you it’s not.

For introverts, we can be left alone with our thoughts. We can plan our projects and let our ideas roam free in our imaginations. When we’re with people, our heads become cluttered with the thoughts of others, and our voices get quieter and quieter. Our heads empty out, and we feel more alone than if we weren’t surrounded by a group of people.

It seems strange, but — for me, at least — it’s true.

So, you see, we’re not hermits. We’re not recluses. We just like being left alone. We’re not weird social pariahs (well, not all of us). We’re actually perfectly normal. And it’s not that we don’t like people — we just like people in small groups for short periods of time. Think of us as cheetahs: We do really well for a really short amount of time, and then we need to rest.

We can’t help it. It’s just how we’re built. So, if you have an introvert in your life, don’t think of them as outcasts who like to stay in their bedrooms all day doing god-knows-what. Just realize that when they want to socialize, they’ll come to you. And when they want to have time to recharge, your understanding of that will be more appreciated than you can imagine.

As writers, we should be connecting with our readership on a personal level. This can take some time and effort, but in the end it will be worth it.

Why does Lady Gaga have such a large fanbase? Because she’s given them a name they can identify with (Little Monsters), and she accepts them for who they are. She understands her fans, and in return more and more of them flock to her.

But it isn’t just on a large scale level. Take Team StarKid, for example. I’ve talked about them before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you guys still didn’t know who they are. They got their fame when their Harry Potter musical parody went viral on YouTube, and since then they’ve continued to make shows in the same vein.

I’m a huge fan of them, and it’s because I can connect to them on a human level. They aren’t just a brand or a product, they’re people. And that’s important to me.

So important, in fact, that I’m willing to throw my money at them every chance I get. They put all of their musicals on YouTube for free, but they also sell DVDs and albums and merchandise. And even though I could just watch the shows online, and even though I could illegally download their music, I don’t.

Why? Because I want to support them. I want to see them succeed. I believe in their vision, and I want to see that vision become a reality.

And so do a lot of other people. So many, in fact, that when StarKid wanted to raise $35,000 to create their latest musical, they ended up raising nearly $150,000 because so many people feel the same way about them as I do.

As writers, we’re getting bombarded with tips and advice every single day, but take this one as gospel. It’s true, and you can see the proof above. If you take the time to get to know your audience and connect with them on a human level, they will repay that kindness tenfold. And it won’t just make for better sales; it’ll make for a better experience all around.