Writing

Dictate the Darn Story If Necessary

Image from Pixabay

Typing is probably the most common way to get your story down. In fact, it is also necessary for submitting for publication, whether it’s commercial or self-publishing.

There’s also handwriting when you’re drafting. I find that works best for me a lot, especially because you don’t have the Internet or other computer-related distractions.

And then there is something I’ve discovered quite recently. It is called dictation. That is when you put up your program microphone and speak into it. The words then come out on the screen.

You need to be as clear as possible, otherwise the words will come out incorrectly. That has happened to me so often. Obviously, you should only do it in your home, or maybe a hotel room, as long as you’re not too loud.

How do you set up the dictation feature, you may ask? On a PC, it is the Windows keyboard and the H keyboard. On the Mac, you press the FN keyboard twice.

It might be exciting to get started ahead right away without thinking. Maybe you can do that. However, I cannot. I need to have words pre-written before dictating them into a program.

I have them handwritten and read off of them. I also have to edit the wrong words constantly. And I have to avoid transcribing made-up words or even uncommon names. I have made-up words because I write fantasy.

It takes practice to do voice dictation confidently. I have yet to master my use of dictation. I will make it there some day. After all, it is often said to be the quickest way to write your story.

movie

It’s Time We Try the “Lilo & Stitch” Critique (2002)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

I saw this movie with camp when I was eight. It was one of Disney’s few successful features in the early 2000’s. It had a few sequels and even a TV series on Disney Channel.

The story centers around an alien and a little girl from Hawaii desperate for a friend. Stitch is blasted off a planet. At that point, he is dangerous and his identity is Experiment 626. The POV switches to Lilo, a small girl late for her luau class after feeding Pudge the fish his peanut-butter sandwich. Lilo and the other girls break out into a fight and then she runs away unsupervised. Her older sister, Nani, gets in trouble with CPS as a consequence for the escape. After an arguement between the two, Nani forgives Lilo. The two go to adopt a dog. Lilo chooses Stitch, thinking he is a dog. Their time begins from there.

Now here are the strengths of this film.

1: The plot

In some ways, it reminds me a lot of “Beauty and the Beast”. The structure of scenes, the characterizations and actions of both Stitch and Lilo, and how they go from an unhealthy to heartwarming bond. Does that ring a bell? I can’t imagine this was intentional, but it was well-executed.

2: The Elvis music

Not often do you hear pop music in a Disney movie. Although “Lilo & Stitch” is sometimes treated like classics such as “The Little Mermaid” or “Pinocchio”, it sometimes is not. None of the characters sing. But the scenes where Stitch plays the guitar dressed as Elvis and where “Hound Dog” and “Burning Love” play are great.

3: The way this film was promoted (lol)

As a way to promote the movie, Stitch barged into classics, such as “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and “The Lion King”. I love this line from the others, “Get your own movie” (Belle really is a funny girl). I will admit, however, that the picture quality wasn’t the strongest.

Which brings me to moments that could’ve been improved or explained better…

1: How does Stitch learn to speak?

The alien somehow goes from monstrous feral beast to knowing how to use developed speech like a human. Yet, it is never explained why or how (correct me if it gets revealed in the series or one of the sequels). I was surprised to hear that there is talk on making a live-action “Lilo and Stitch” remake. I don’t know if this plothole will be resolved, though, depending on how many people are bugged by this. But it’d be nice if this question is answered.

2: Why was Cobra Bubbles there at Lilo’s birthday in that brief scene?

I get he was an important character, but doesn’t anyone find it a bit strange to invite someone from CPS to celebrate a child’s birthday? I wouldn’t do that.

That’s really it. I would rate “Lilo & Stitch” 5 out of 5 stars.

Writing

Pick Your Publisher Wisely

Image from Pixabay

Have you written a book? If so, good. Can it please strangers? If yes, great. Will it sell? That depends on who you publish with.

Traditional publishing is difficult to get into. You can get rejected, even if your book is a master piece. If you do get accepted, you have to give up control and wait for your book to be published, which can take months or years.

Self-publishing is easier and quicker. You keep all control and can have a book within hours.

Then there is hybrid publishing. They accept and reject authors, may let them keep their book’s right, and do other things that combine traditional and self-publishing. It’s not exactly the most encouraging, though.

And lastly, there is vanity publishing, which is often called self-publishing by many. They let you keep all the control, but they charge you for publishing (between hundreds to even thousands of dollars) and other services, like press releases, revisions, and more. Despite that, books from those companies usually don’t sell too well, even if they’re well written. I did so much marketing and promotion with them when my books were first published. And even though the books pleased strangers, they only sold an average of 25 copies a year.

I believe it’s because people do not trust vanity publishers. I regret using them. One was fine and I got along with the company. Another, however, constantly forced me to buy services, even if I couldn’t afford them. They wouldn’t let me out of anything. I got mad at them at least a few times.

I’ve learned the (kind of) hard way to not use vanity presses. People apparently judge books by their publishers. Books that may be worthy of becoming bestsellers may hardly sell if published by a vanity press.

Traditionally-published books sell the best. Self-publishing is fine too. In fact, the author is responsible for marketing on their own with either route. Commercial publishers might only market for top authors these days.

If you self-publish, I’d recommend using companies like Amazon’s KDP program. It’s free to publish. People trust books from them more. And books from there tend to sell much better than vanity-published ones. How do you tell if a company is a vanity press? Look for things like publishing packages. So choose your route wisely. I would avoid vanity presses at all costs. It’s better to get traditionally published or self-publish through Amazon KDP or even Ingram Spark.

movie, TV show

You’re Never Too Old to Love Something

As children in different stages of our youth (early childhood, grade school age, and adolescence) we all had different tastes in different pop culture and entertainment. When we were babies and small children, about ages 3 – 5*, we loved pretty much the same movies and TV shows, such as “Barney and Friends”, “Sesame Street”, Teletubbies” and “Blue’s Clues”. And as we got older, by around 6, our tastes split up as we discovered our personalities and differences. Some of us watched Cartoon Network, such as “The PowerPuff Girls”, “Scooby Doo”, “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Codename: Kids Next Door”. Some of us enjoyed Nickelodeon and their programs, such as “Rugrats” “Spongebob SquarePants” “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “Danny Phantom”. Some loved Disney Channel and their shows, like “Lizzie McGuire”, “Hannah Montana”, “Kim Possible” and “Phineas and Ferb”. And others mixed and matched channels.

By about 10 – 11, some kids might find those shows childish and watch to move on to older shows, which can be an issue as many are too inappropriate for children. Tweens might be a common time for kids to get attracted to unsuitable content (or at least was when I was that age). It’s probably gotten younger over the years as society changed kids’ tastes and how quickly their favors matured. But there probably is and never will be an average age a kid gets attracted to stuff that’s too inappropriate from them and adults have to stop them. It likely varies a lot from as early as 2.5 – 3 years old and as late as young teens. But that’s another topic.

By early teens, 13 – 14, depending on their parents or guardians’ rules, some may outgrow all kids shows as they are ready for PG-13 content, such as occasional swearing. At 15 – 17, a kid may be interested in R-rated movies. Parents might deny the film them at the younger end of that range. By 18, they’re ready for a purely mature taste in entertainment.

But that’s just an example based on psychological development as well as the individual’s environment and taught mindsets. In fact, many kids and adults do not follow that expected standard. I most definitely didn’t want to. Sometimes, I got to follow my tastes my way. But that was more recently in my early adulthood.

In fact, during my youth, I was constantly being judged by others. Worse, I was being pressured to “grow up.” As early as 10, I was taught that I was too old for family-appropriate movies. For instance, I was 10 when I saw the movie “Home on the Range” in the theaters. Six months later, I wanted to get it on DVD. But my mom was shocked and said I was too old. I was in sixth grade then, and I was really annoyed. She was treating like it was geared toward early childhood and was as young as “Teletubbies”. At 11, I was told I was too old for “Rugrats” (the spin-off didn’t matter in this case). At 12, I was told I was too big for Waffle Boy games (based of the Waffle Crisp cereal) and “The Fairly Odd Parents”. At 13, I was told I was too old for “Happy Feet” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – the film.

For years I would believe that. I would even avoid many Disney movies because I was “too big”. It wasn’t until young adulthood I revisited my childhood cartoons and stopped considering myself too old for them. I wish I didn’t have to live with that insecurity for years. I would either avoid them like the plague, or watch them secretly, but insecurely. But I never should’ve had to.

In fact, many of my peers then enjoyed clean TV shows and movies such as anime and even Nick JR. I’m not kidding. Because of what I was taught, I would tell other kids they were too old for shows like “Dora the Explorer”. They were unhappy.

If only my family had empathized with me and understood that I did NOT choose to like the “childish” entertainment forms. Instead, they treated it like it was at least as bad as watching something inappropriate. It is not.

While there are negative psychological effects if a young person watches something inappropriate, there is nothing for watching something you’re “too old” for. Yes, children need to be taught what behaviors they are too big for. But they should get to watch what they love as long as it’s appropriate. And adults can watch anything, including clean entertainment.

It’s okay to love something that others believe are geared toward younger children. Just because something is clean and has no mature content, that doesn’t mean it’s only for little kids. Older kids and adults deserve the right to watch what appeals to them.

You should be able to watch something, regardless of rating or cleanliness, with no problem—with 100% confidence. Don’t let others judge you. In fact, I wish I had never been judged the way I was. For instance, I used to keep it secret from my peers in middle school that I liked “Danny Phantom” because I was constantly judged.

Now, with the exception of Disney, if I want to watch a family-friendly show or film, I go into another room and keep the volume low (this is only if I’m home). If someone comes inside, I pause the video and turn the device away from the other person. And I don’t like it. I want to be confident with watching a clean movie or TV show without someone criticizing me.

Don’t be afraid to walk into a bar with a “Mickey Mouse” shirt. Don’t be afraid to go into a casino with a “Shrek” tattoo in a visible area. It’s all right to love “The PowerPuff Girls” at 25 (my current age). It’s fine to love “The Fairly Odd Parents” at 30. And it’s more than acceptable to be passionate about “Shrek” at 60.

I am abandoning all the pressures to outgrow my likes for clean entertainment. But it’s very difficult and is going slow. It might take several years. Hopefully, it doesn’t. I am never too old for what I like. The only exceptions are stuff like “Barney” and “Teletubbies”, where there is little to no conflict and problems are resolved in a mild cute way. Those shows were definitely intended for early childhood.

And here’s a bonus fact: many “kid’s” TV shows and movies have jokes or references that only adults could get. “Bee Movie” is an example.

So remember, love what you love. Don’t be insecure. Don’t let others judge you. Don’t force yourself to stop enjoying something because people say you’re too old. Be who you want to be. And most importantly, who you are.

*This varies a lot, especially in recent years. It’s just an estimate. No two children of the same age are alike in their entertainment tastes.

short fiction

The Prince Who Loved Boys: A Short Story

Once upon a time, there was a prince who lived in a castle. He was seventeen years old and completing his education soon as well as preparing for engagement. His parents, the king and queen, had arranged princesses and other young ladies to meet him and bless them with marriage.

            Only that—the prince didn’t love girls. He loved guys.

            “Mother, I want to marry another boy,” the prince said.

            “You do?” asked the queen.

            “I’m gay,” said the prince.

            The king hung his jaw down. “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?”

            “I’m sorry, father, I… I wasn’t sure if you’d accept it.”

            “Of course we would, son,” the king said. “It’s just that… we don’t know any other gay guys.”
            “There has to be someone out there.”

            A guy cried for help outside. The prince ran to the window. A boy, around the prince’s age, carried a rose outside the moat.

            “Has anyone seen Casey?” the strange boy asked.

            “Um… may I ask if Casey is a boy or a girl?” the prince asked.

            “He’s a boy!” the guy stared at the prince. “Were you overhearing my—”

            “Sorry,” the prince said.

            “Why do you care?” asked the boy.

            “W-well… b-because—”

            “I’m taken, sorry.” The boy turned around.

            “Wait!” exclaimed the prince.

            The guy stopped.

            “You’re gay too?”

            “Yes.”

            “Oh, isn’t that wonderful?” the queen approached the window. “In fact, I think you should have dinner with us tonight and let my son get to know you.”

            “But I—”

            “We’ll have the guards open up the gates and take it from there,” the queen said.

            Some time later the royal family and the new boy sat at the dinner table. The butlers brought out the food.

            “So what is your name, sire?” the king asked.

            “I’m Kyle,” said the guest. “And there’s something I need to tell you.”

            “Well, our son is due for marriage soon,” the king said. “And he just told us that he’s gay.”

            “So am I and—”

            “You and our son would make a perfect couple, Kyle,” the queen said. “We’ll make you both live happily ever after.”

            “What I’m trying to say is—”

            “And you two will rule the kingdom together,” the king added.

            “I’m in a relationship!” Kyle yelled.

            There was a pause. The whole table went silent.

            “I’m sorry, but I can’t marry the prince,” Kyle said.

            The king sighed. “Fine. Then I guess you guys will just be friends.”

            That night the prince sat in his chamber. Tears stung his eyes. He and Kyle could be friends. But the prince loved him as a partner.

            What if there were no other guys to love? The royal wedding was set to start in six months. The prince only had a few more days to find a suiter.

            But Kyle seemed to sob outside. “Casey, you can’t do this to me.”

            The prince rushed to his window.

            “I don’t love you,” Casey said. “Honestly, I don’t feel ready for a relationship.” He walked away from Kyle.

            The prince hurried to his parents’ chamber. “Mom, Dad, I need your help with something.”

            “If it’s about Kyle, I’m afraid we can’t do anything about it,” the king said.

            “That’s the thing,” said the prince. “His boyfriend doesn’t love him. He broke up with him.”

            The queen gasped. “Oh, that’s terrible.”

            “Can we let him back inside?” asked the prince. “Please?”

            “It’s nine o’clock,” the king said.

            “I don’t want to lose him,” the prince said.

            “Your majesties!” cried Kyle.

            The queen walked to the door. “We’ll let him in.”

            After the guards let Kyle in, the prince approached him. “Are you all right?”

            “Casey’s used me this whole time for nothing,” Kyle said.

            “I’m sorry,” said the prince. “But… maybe I can make it up for you.”

            “You really think so?” asked Kyle.

            “Yes,” said the prince. “I promise to love you with all my heart. I’ll never cheat on you or dump you.”

            “You promise?” Kyle asked.

            “I do,” said the prince.

            Kyle smiled.

            The next few months, the two spent several dates together. They married in the late summer as prince and prince. And did they live happily ever after? You decide.

short fiction

Spring Explained: A Flash Fiction Piece

Today is March twentieth. You should know what that is. The first day of spring. You’d expect flowers blooming, tree buds expanding, and much more.

            Maybe in parts of the south. However, here in New York, the first day of spring is cold, can snow, and has no blooming of anything whatsoever. It’s practically still winter.

            I’ve always wondered why the dates of spring couldn’t be regional. Why does it have to rely on an equinox related to the Earth and where it is around the sun?

            Because where I live, “spring” isn’t until at least close to mid-April. That’s right. Nothing blooms or fades from winter until about a month after the first day of spring.

            On the bright side, winter weather delays my allergies. When pollen flies and plants bloom, I sneeze a lot. Sometimes I even catch a cold.

            I stare outside my window, and watch flurries fall from the sky. Darn. I didn’t expect that today.

            But someone knocks on my door.

            “Genevieve, it’s time for school,” my mom says.

            I leave my room and go downstairs. I realize that global warming has made some springs come sooner. It wasn’t until three years ago that things bloomed in March. And that’s unusual.

            “I’m surprised it’s snowing,” my mom says.

            “It’s March, Mom,” I say. “It’s always cold at this time of year.”

            “Um… no, sometimes it’s warmer than usual.”

            “Global warming.”

            “You really believe so?”

            “Yes.”

art

How to Use Reference Images for Illustration

An example of an illustration I did using reference material

What is a reference image, you may ask? A reference image is a picture you use to inspire your drawing or illustration. You do NOT copy it exactly, unless, of course, it’s for personal use only. However, if you’re going to upload it online or make money off of it, then at least some aspects have to be changed.

For example, you draw a portrait of a person. You use a photo to guide you. But to make it your own and not be considered plagiarized, you should change, say the eye color, remove a piece of jewelry, etc.

Another trick I’ve come up with on my own is mixing and matching facial features to create illustrations of people. I would use different images from various sources, like Google or my school yearbooks. I would draw one person’s set of eyes, another’s nose, another’s smile, and so forth, on one character. As long as it doesn’t look obvious and you change some details, you’re fine.

Reference images are also useful for body positions, scenery, backgrounds, and more. In fact, if you go into illustration or animation, then reference images are musts. You need to make the art appear credible. Drawing just from your imagination will cause more people to consider you illegitimate.

Of course, no artist is perfect. In fact, many cartoons have inconsistencies with their art. For example, a character’s eye color may change. Or a tree may disappear. This is easily noticed by audiences.

So there you have it. Now have fun illustrating using reference images.

movie

What Can I Say, Except, “You’re Welcome” for this Wonderful Review of “Moana” (2016)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

I saw this film a year after it was released in theaters. I watched it at my house. It was such a beautiful movie.

As a baby, Moana is interested in the story she is hearing in daycare about Maui stealing the heart of Te Fiti. All the other children are scared. Moana is somehow called to the ocean. But her overprotective father forbids her to go near it.

Years later, when Moana has reached her current age for the main part of the story, there is a shortage of fish by the reef. Moana suggests going beyond the reef. But her father gets angry and will still prohibit anyone going further than the reef. Moana’s mother reveals why her dad is so against going beyond the reef. Moana tries sailing, but it ends up not working out. Her grandma shows the story of her ancestors and how they used to go beyond the reef all the time. They stopped because there were too many dangerous monsters, especially Te Ka the lava demon. Unfortunately, not long after, Moana’s grandmother is dying. She tells Moana to sail out to the ocean, seek Maui, and return the heart of Te Fiti. Moana’s journey begins from there.

I really admired many parts of this movie, from the story to the characters, especially Moana. She is one of the few Disney princesses to have no love interest. The other two are Merida and Elsa (which is why fans were begging Disney to give Elsa a girlfriend in the “Frozen” sequel). Anyway, Moana was fierce, brave, and strong, which is what many expect for female characters today.

The music was also fantastic. Many songs sounded different from traditional Disney songs. Some sounded more like pop songs, such as “How Far I’ll Go” and “Shiny”. I particularly appreciated the rap section in “You’re Welcome” sung by Maui.

That being said, there were a couple flaws in this movie, such as some urine jokes and (sorry to disappoint some of you) the coconut pirate scene. I loved when Moana said that they were cute and then they went vicious. However, I couldn’t see how important it was to the story. I felt it was just a little filler to add conflict. And the story told in Moana’s daycare is really too mature for little kids. It was only used for plot convenience.

The ending was beautiful. After violence with Te Ka the lava monster, Moana figured out that she was really Te Fiti without the heart. The scene where Moana returns the heart and Te Fiti turns back into a beautiful Goddess and Island was heartwarming. It was also funny how Te Fiti looks a lot like Moana.

I would rate Moana 5 out of 5 stars. It is such a wonderful movie that I would recommend to all, especially with a strong, independent female lead.

short fiction

The Cruise: A Flash Fiction Piece

Ava took out her paper while facing the classroom. “This is a true tale about something that happened over the summer.” She gazed into her sheet and looked at the other students. “The sun was shining over the ocean. I was dancing on a cruise with some friends and my family. But a thunder storm struck lightning nearby. Our ship had to move away from it. The party was over. I was disappointed.”

            “And we’ll stop there,” said Mrs. Sanders, the teacher. “Ava, is this really a true story?”

            “Yes,” she said.

            “You’re crazy,” said a boy.

            “I thought your family didn’t have a lot of money,” said Kelsi.

            “Mind your own business, Kelsi,” Ava said.

            The bell rang. Everyone left the classroom and packed up as his or her locker.

            Ava breathed, thinking about what her classmates had said. She couldn’t be insane. She couldn’t have made the whole thing up.

            After hopping onto the bus, Ava’s phone rang. It was her mom.

            “Ava, what happened in school today?”

            “Nothing, Mom.”

            “I got a call from Mrs. Sanders that you made up a story about us being on a cruise.”

            “We did go on a cruise over the summer. I remember.”

            “We’ve never been on a cruise before. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to have a chat when we get home.” The mother hung up.

            Ava felt her stomach compress. How could her mom not recall the cruise? Either her mom was starting to forget things or… Ava had some memory issue.

            No. She couldn’t. She’d heard of some condition where people unintentionally lied about things that never happened. But that couldn’t be the case for her.

            Minutes had passed. Ava got off the bus and went inside. Her mom gave her a sharp look. “Ava, I have some bad news for you.”

            “I’m grounded, aren’t I?”

            “No.” The mother sighed. “You have been cursed with a condition that gives you memories of things you’ve never had.”

            Ava lowered her jaw. “What?”

            “I found out that your father was a magician. And that he gave you that jinx.”

            Ava gasped. “No.”

            “It’s been ten years since he died. I waited too long to tell you.”

            Ava looked down. “How am I ever going to get through life like this?”

            “You’re the only one who can control those false memories.”

            “What?”

            “It’s all up to you.”

            “But how do I control them?”

            “You have to consider other circumstances and suppress those that don’t match with them.”

            “Okay.” Ava sat on a couch. She closed her eyes. “We never went on a cruise ship,” she whispered. She repeated herself a few times.

            The thought faded. Ava forgot what happened before the storm. She reminded herself out loud a couple more times. She couldn’t remember anything about a cruise vacation.

            Ava looked down. It would be nice if we went on a cruise one day. Perhaps, before my thirteenth birthday in January.

art

Mini Art Show: A Young Woman Sketch

Oh, isn’t she lovely? Ha, ha, just admiring this sketch I did years ago. It wasn’t for school, but for pleasure. I wanted to learn how to make more realistic (technically semi-realistic) portraits.

I saw a video of some guy sketching a woman’s face. I practiced that too, and then tried doing other variations of my own. This was one of them.

And let me guess what you think. She looks like Fleur Delacour from “Harry Potter”, doesn’t she? I actually discovered that by mistake when sketching this image. I was NOT trying to draw Fleur, nor was I trying any “Harry Potter” fan art. Actually, when I was 13, I made silly “Harry Potter” fan art of the characters doing silly, ridiculous things. They are no longer funny. Twelve years ago, I laughed by brains out at them and showed my family. They were unimpressed. Now I look at them and think, “Oh, god”.

That’s another topic, though. But who doesn’t like to have fun? Anyway, let me get back to the image.

Why does the hair have bolded streaks, you may ask? Because the demonstrator in the video did his drawing like that. Where are the other variations? Unfortunately, I might’ve thrown them all away, including this one. I was probably cleaning out my room and felt that I no longer needed those pictures. Luckily, I photographed this one and the digital picture of it is still here.

There is not much else about this drawing that I want to discuss. The shading was done based on what I’ve learned. Also,in the original image that this was based off, the woman didn’t have a ponytail. That’s all, guys.