The Library Project

When we built this house nearly thirteen years ago, we planned to use the front room, what regular folk might call a formal sitting room, as a library. We even thought we might put a piano in there one day. We were pretty broke after moving into our brand spanking new house, though, and had to consider things like cooking pots, washing machines, and the mudslide that was the backyard.

I had a few old bookcases I’d bought in Texas, so we lined those up along one wall, threw down a rug, and put in a craft table and chairs for my daughter and the neighborhood kids I babysat every afternoon to use for homework and projects.

I was keeping books in there, but it wasn’t much of a library. The guitar collecting dust in the corner didn’t really do much for the atmosphere, either. Eventually, we moved the craft table to the basement and I bought a few more bookcases. They weren’t an exact match for the ones I’m brought up from Texas, but sort of close.

Then the cats moved in. I’m not sure when they acquired so many toys, but the fact we needed an entire room for their possessions clearly points to their residential status.

Meanwhile, I continued collecting books.

You could say it’s a hobby, but sometimes it feels more like an obsession. I volunteer at my local library, sorting book donations for the annual sale. We receive tens of thousands of books a year and most of them pass through my hands. It’s not unusual for me to have made a pile of three or four I’d like to take home about five minutes after I’ve arrived and started sorting. I also used to review books for several publications and I’m still on the list for a lot of publishers. So, sometimes books just turn up in my mailbox. Then there are the books I preorder—the signed, hardcover editions from my favourite authors. The books I buy after I’ve either read the ebook version or listened to on audio—the keepers that need a spot on my shelves. The select few I’ve carried from country to country, house to house. The ones I’ve kept from childhood. The books that wander in unannounced. The ones that breed, quietly in the dark.

I own a lot of books—about two thousand at last count. That was this morning, and doesn’t include the two new keepers I just ordered from eBay. Or my burgeoning collection of ebooks, of which there were over a thousand early last year. Thankfully, I don’t have to shelve those.

What I wanted was a nice space to put them in, and, objectively, the front room was not… nice. Looking at the photos of now versus then, I can’t believe I ever thought it looked merely okay.

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Hence, the library project.

As many wonderful projects do, ours started with a trip to IKEA. We did consider hiring someone to build really nice shelves with cabinets down below, glass doors for the older, crumblier tomes, and a nifty ladder. Maybe some lights. But we have a child to put through college, and we’re still collecting cats, so IKEA it was! I selected the Billy Bookcase, with which I have a fond history. My dad is still using the Billys we bought yonks ago. Like, eons. Maybe forty years? They still look good. After careful consideration, I chose the black-brown shelves, hoping they’d compliment our cherry hardwood floors.

Our first trip (we’d only planned one), ended with us struggling to fit about half the shelves I wanted into the back of our Durango, along with about $500 worth of other “stuff” we’d picked during our tour of the store. Being limited to only half of the shelves I needed turned out to be a good thing, as it gave me a chance to measure the space again, fiddle with the configuration, and make a good plan for how we were going to deal with the HVAC intake vent and thermostat thoughtfully placed in the middle of one of the walls.

I built the first batch and then emptied several of the old shelves in preparation for the new. The sight of a good portion of my books on the floor was kind of shocking. Like, the old shelves had been crowded, but seeing all of the stacks of the floor made a greater impact. There were a LOT of books.

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I had resolved to sort them a little as I re-shelved, slotting fiction in with the science fiction for one long wall of delightful neighbours. I managed to part with, um, ten books. In my defense, I have gone through these shelves before, tossing books I don’t feel super connected to. So, yeah.

Then it was back to IKEA for the second batch of shelves. Another Durango load, and, mysteriously, another $500 worth of extra crap. I’m really glad our closest IKEA is over an hour away. It’s more dangerous than Target.

I finally finished building the shelves last Thursday and completed the shelving about a day later, teaching myself the Dewey Decimal System for the non-fiction section. I reserved one of the cubby shaped holes for my vinyl collection, and used another of the narrower bookcases for board games, all of which had previously been sorted in that room. We put together the two easy chairs we’d picked up at IKEA (they were right there, okay? And on sale), and I contributed a pillow I’d bought ages ago, apparently knowing I’d need something blue and tentacly one day. Eventually, I’d like to get a nice rug for the floor and maybe a puzzle table near the window. The piano is permanently on hold. A) We have no room for it and B) we already have too many hobbies, including the one called work. Maybe after we retire, as something to do between naps.

I had hoped to move some of the books from the denial shelves (the TBR piles shelved in our guest bedroom) downstairs. And the books from the teeming piles behind my desk. I had thought I could shelve my own books upstairs, and my writing reference books. The stack of game boxes leaning against the wall. As it turns out, once I unstacked every old shelf, all of the double and triple layers, I didn’t even have room on the new shelves for every book that had originally been in that room. Crazy, right? Who knew!

My husband, apparently.

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I’m absolutely thrilled with how the room turned out, though. It looks amazing and I find myself stopping just to stare nearly every time I walk past. I love seeing all of my books on display—the blend of colours and shapes, and all of the memories. I’ve always been in the habit of visiting with my books. I don’t just collect them; I commune with them, often. Now, I can sit in the library and read as well. Take my notebook in there, recline with a view across the front lawn, and dream up new stories of my own. Indulge in a nap.

Of course, the cats still think the room is theirs, so I might have to fight them for a seat on occasion.

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The full project, from start to finish:

 

 

Everyday People

This is one of my favourite posts! It’s all about why I love to read and write queer contemporary romance. ❤

While building a better website (you can check it out here), I compiled a list of posts hosted elsewhere for one of the features. This post was originally written for Queer Romance Month back in 2015, and the host website is no longer active. So I’m reposting it here, on my own blog.

Reading it over this over this morning, I felt no urge to change a single word. This post is as true today as it was four years ago. It’s why I write the stories I do, and why I continue to seek them out.

Enjoy–and let me know if you clicked the link at the end. (quiet, but evil laughter)


Everyday People

Ever since the debut episode of Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, I’ve had this ditty running through my head:

There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, eh? In fact, the whole song is full of such nonsense. But the refrain makes very clear what it’s all about:

I am everyday people, yeah yeah

It’s also very catchy and needs to get out of my head. But while it’s there, I’d going to talk about what this song means to me and, more specifically, the stories I like to read. The song is called “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone and the sentiment isn’t new, but it’s one most of us can appreciate. No matter our race, colour, gender, size, profession, we’re everyday people. No matter who we love, we’re everyday people.

We all start out young and full of hope. We all have dreams. Most of us are looking for love and companionship. We’re looking for purpose. We crave success, and the feeling of being established. Many of us want families. We love our friends. We are heroes, and in need of rescuing. We are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Sons and daughters. We can be either, or, or other.

We are parents swallowing tears as our eighteen-year-olds leave home for college. They think they’re adults, but they’ll forever be our children. We are moving into our first apartment and think the couch we found on the side of the road will smell better after three separate applications of Febreze. Despite what anyone else says, we believe pizza is a balanced meal. We are charmingly naïve and worldly at the same time. We are human, and we’re everyday people.

These are the stories I like to read.

Despite the fact I write science fiction and will read pretty much anything written, contemporary romance is one of my favourite genres. I love to immerse myself in the lives of others, and I don’t really care how ordinary they are, because love makes all of us feel extraordinary. We don’t need to be super soldiers, firefighters, werewolves, or telepathically linked to the Old One in order to save those we love. We just need to be there. In contemporary romance, we just have to love hard enough.

In particular, I like queer contemporary romance. I love the stories about couples who have been married or partnered for over a decade and are battling the same issues every enduring couple must face: growing within a relationship, romantic complacency, aging gracefully and raising children who think ramen is a balanced meal. Pizza is a much better choice, obviously.

To me, what makes these stories special—outside of the fact I can identify with all of these situations—is that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, or who you love. Regardless of our orientation, we’re still going to plan stupidly mundane vacations to the shore. We’re going to get sucked in by that Sunday morning advertisement for the FootLog, only to realise we’ve spent fifty dollars on a roll of Legos—and just about all of us know what it feels like to step on those evil little pieces of plastic.

I want to read about young hopefuls going off to college and/or leaving for the big city. I want to read about househusbands trying out new recipes and setting the kitchen on fire. I want to read about the guy next door falling for the guy next door. I want my sister to be comfortable with who she is. I want her to have her wedding, and—sadly for her—I want her tux, or grass skirt, or unitard emblazoned with a pocket logo of the rings of Saturn to show up wrinkled and maybe in the wrong colour.

Because these are the things that happen to everyday people.

Arguably, one of the delights of reading queer romance is the triumph over adversity—whether bigotry, fear, or a lack of self-esteem and awareness. And I do like reading these stories. There is no greater victory than against the odds.

But what I really love to read are stories about normal people doing normal things. Doing what I have done or might do. Stories I can identify with because I’m a human being. Because I have a partner who is lover and best friend. Because I have a child. Because I burn myself every time I make toast, and forbid my child to use the stairs when I’m not in the house. Because, honestly, while I look pretty “normal”, really, I’m not. We’re all a little queer—some of us more than others. And we all deserve stories, because we’re all…

Yep, I’m going to pull the song title out again…

We’re all everyday people and we’re all more than little bit interesting.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUUhDoCx8zc

Click it, you know you wanna. And I need someone else to have this song stuck in their head.

(featured image created using Canva)

What I’ve Been Reading

The shiny New Year has been sullied by grimy piles of snow and hair-clogged filters as the heating in my home struggles to keep up with the cold. I’m tired of being tired and I miss the sun. The real sun—not that cheating bastard that tricks me into going out for a walk on really cold days. I’d make plans to move to Arizona, but they have snow too. Why, oh why, is winter a thing?

Thankfully, I’ve had some really good books to read.

 

33759717Adrift (Staying Afloat #1) by Isabelle Adler

I don’t read a lot of queer science fiction romance. That might strike you as odd, seeing as I write it. I love writing it. That’s probably what makes me an indecently harsh judge when it comes to reading the contributions of others. Science fiction is my first love and that part of the story has to be done right. I’m very discouraged when it isn’t. I have been heard to rant,  “But the setting has to be integral, otherwise they might as well be in Kansas.” Or something like that.

I also require a satisfying love story. Not at all hard to please, am I?

Isabelle Adler’s Adrift has been tucked away on my Kindle for quite a while now. I loved the cover and the premise, but… would it measure up? Well, it’s on my list of favourites, so, yes. Yes, it did. Adrift really is a neat little science fiction adventure with lots of potential for more in the same setting. Basically, it has everything I look for in a novel of this type: a small, close-knit crew, a mystery wrapped in an adventure (or vice-versa), and lots of romantic tension.

I liked all the characters (especially Val) and look forward to traveling with them on further adventures.

 

29467232The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer #4) by Brent Weeks

My review on Goodreads for this one:

That last line…

The agony of waiting until September…

*dies*

This series really took me by surprise. I loved the first book, but didn’t immediately jump on the second because so many books, so little time. I always have other reading obligations. Also, I tend to skip around a bit, from genre to genre, often not returning to the next book in a series for several months. I think it was over a year before I got back to this one and it was a bit too long because I really only remembered pivotal events from the first book. I was quickly swept back into the story, though, and moved on to book three almost immediately. Then book four, even though I knew it was going to be nine months before I could read book five.

Forget twists and turns—the Lightbringer series is constantly doubling back on itself. Whatever you think you know, you don’t. Weeks has been teasing a cataclysmic shift for a while now and I’m expecting the final book in this series to challenge not only the established cast and storyline, but the very nature of fantasy fiction as he turns this world upside down in order to remake it.

I kept reading for Gavin & Dazen and the revelations to that particular storyline in this volume are stunning. But Kip is a hero I can get behind and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for him—even if I’m not quite sure the author can be trusted to, um, well, be nice. Either way, I’m expecting a wrenching yet satisfying conclusion in September. Yes, those two directions can go together. In this series especially.

 

28763240At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Is there a category like magical realism that uses science fiction instead? Either way, one of the aspects of At the Edge of the Universe that I really enjoy is the way Hutchinson uses the idea of the universe shrinking as a metaphor for depression. But when I’m reading, the science fiction elements feel real, as if the aliens are up there with a big button that can destroy the world (We Are the Ants) or as if the universe is actually shrinking and only Ozzie is aware of it.

I also really like that despite the dark themes, these books have a hopeful feel. The endings are totally worth the journey.

Final bonus: interesting and diverse characters!

Hutchinson just released a new novel called The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried which feels exactly like the book I’d want to read next. A slightly different direction and apparently not as dark—but still weird. Look for it in my next post.

 

1850579610% Happier: by Dan Harris

Yes, this is a self-help book and I can honestly say I never thought I’d read a self-help book, but can I make a confession? This isn’t the first. It is the first to make it onto one of my recommend to everyone lists, though.

10% Happier is one of the most entertaining audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. I can’t quite remember why I added it to my TBR list, but I imagine it had to do with my ongoing interest in meditation and striving for happiness. I guess I figured adding ten percent seemed like a pretty simple prospect.

10% Happier is part memoir, part self-help guide, and I found the reflections on Dan Harris’ career just as interesting as his exploration of spirituality, meditation, and enlightenment. This book is extremely funny in sections and rivetingly real in others. It’s also helpful in that Harris has distilled the ideology of a lot of well-known ‘self-help’ gurus – drawing his own conclusions, yes, but in a way that felt clear and relatable.

I’m more interested in meditating than I was before I picked up this book, and even intrigued by the idea of a retreat. Even if I never get to either, though, the story of Harris’ journey was completely worthwhile.

 

24819813Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Vader by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca

This one is going to be short and sweet: Triple Zero is my new favourite character in the Star Wars universe. A protocol droid equipped with a torture package? I loved the absurdity of it and laughed every time Triple Zero expressed delight in its work.

I’m a terrible, terrible person. But, hey, I didn’t write it.

Outside of murderous protocol droids, I’m enjoying this series. Darth Vader is a character with tons of unexploited story potential.

 

37570595Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

I don’t know how this book ended up in my queue, but I’m really glad it did. This is an amazing collection of short stories, each ringing with voice, conviction, and a call to sit up and take notice. My favourites were the titular “Friday Black” and “In Retail” which left me with a tear in my eye. I also loved the last story, which needs to be expanded into something longer. Like, yesterday.

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

 

40378934The Accidentals by Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen is one of my auto-buy authors. I feel I can always rely on her books to deliver two things: a touching romance that combines happy and sweet with just enough angst to make her characters memorable and relatable, and a story. There’s always a good story and that’s what I look for first and foremost when I’m choosing something to read.

The Accidentals isn’t like Bowen’s other books—even though it is? The author’s voice shines true here, with echoes of her beloved Ivy Years series, but the story is structured differently. This novel is more a journey of discovery and about the ever-evolving relationship between a young woman and the father she never really knew. It’s about loss and discovering gold, and about growing up—even when you’re already considered an adult.

It’s one of those books you’ll think about after you’ve finished and give a satisfied nod to when you pass it on the bookshelf.

 

25499718Children of Time (Children of Time #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Absolutely stunning. One of the best books I’ve ever read. So good, I want to go back to the beginning and start all over again. The concepts! The science! And yet, the essence of the story is as old as time.

I’ll be ordering a paper copy of this for the keeper shelf and I’ve already preordered the sequel, Children of Ruin, which I believe is scheduled to release in May.

Update: Keeper copy delivered and wow, this is a really thick book. I really didn’t notice the length when I was listening to it, which is one of the best parts of listening on audio. I have a feeling I’d have been just as engrossed had I had to read this one to myself, though.

 

36630924Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

When you read the synopsis for a book, you generally get an idea of where a story is going to go. Same with the first chapter. Well written copy and a good hook pull you in fast, and the reason you keep reading is that you’re eager to get to the other side – to the conclusion you’re already anticipating. It’s for this reason that I’m not particularly put off by spoilers. (This review contains none. Not for this book.) Yeah, okay, I might have preferred to know that Glenn doesn’t die in The Walking Dead (sorry, not sorry, you didn’t already know?) but the anticipation of that moment definitely formed a part of my watching experience, and in some respects, enhanced it. But that’s another story. What I’m really trying to say is that any good book is a journey and like all good journeys, you have a hope for the end but don’t mind a few surprises along the way.

What I loved about Here and Now and Then, first and foremost, were the surprises along the way. I had a good idea of where this story was going and I had hopes for the ending, but getting there was some of the most enjoyable reading I’ve undertaken this year. There are no great twists and turns; it’s the way author Mike Chen handled difficult situations that sets this book apart from every other story about a parent who will do anything for their child. It’s Kin, himself, who is wonderfully fallible and also complex. But simple, too, in that his motives are easy to understand and identify with. He’s extremely likable. The secondary characters were full of surprises too. I particularly loved the arc of Penny. Nope, not going to tell you who she is. All I will say is that she’s a phenomenal character and if I had any complaints about this book, it would have been that I’d have liked her point of view on a few things.

(Read my full review at Goodreads)

 

35611965The Bad Behavior series by L.A. Witt and Cari Z.

I spent altogether too much time trying to figure out who wrote who in this series, but that didn’t distract one whit (see what I did there) from my enjoyment of the story.

What I loved:

That the series ended, and on a high note. There was enough dark and brooding angst in the backstory and front story to add chew. I was glad to walk away at the end (after the final novella, Romantic Behavior) feeling good about the characters and their future. No question.

A story arc that worked across three books. Well planned.

The romance—I loved these guys together. I believed in them together. At no point did the romance feel convenient to the plot or vice versa. And I really liked that although the attraction was definitely physical, we didn’t go there a lot. People were being kidnapped and killed and the focus always remained on bringing the bad guys to justice and the good guys home.

What I didn’t like:

Um, nothing? That’s why I’m recommending this entire series. A great story and fun to read.

 

Quick Bites:

I read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin again and enjoyed it even more third time around. It’s a freaking timeless book and one everyone should read. So get on that.

Jenn Burke’s new paranormal series starts off with a hilarious kick in Not Dead Yet. I’m so looking forward to book two.

Rough Terrain was the perfect end to a perfect series from Annabeth Albert. But, wait, there’s more. The Frozen Hearts series is coming up fast!

Phew, this has been a long one. I really should post more often! What have you been reading?

 

The Men We Love

You’d be forgiven for thinking this post might be about our husbands, our brothers, or our sons, but my fellow Lady Writers and I want to share a little something about the other men in our lives: the characters we write. Each of us picked a favorite, and it was no easy task. We’ve all written multiple novels and have been a part of many characters’ lives. But there are always standouts, those characters you come to love above all others. Here are ours.

 

SaharThe Two Men in My Make-Believe Life
Sahar Abdulaziz

I’ve written quite a few male characters to date. Some have been devious, sneaky… sociopathic… evil, and, well, frankly, off-the-wall-nuts. On the other hand, I have also written brave, loving, considerate, loyal, charming male characters that can make one’s heart throb and soul ache. However, if I’m being totally honest, my most favorite male characters of all time have got to be Melvin Vine, from my book, The Gatekeeper’s Notebook [2019 release] and Irwin Abernathy from my novel, Unlikely Friends, [Feb/2019 release]. In-love doesn’t nearly come close to describing how I feel about these two.

Melvin is a man on the spectrum whose artistic talent is beyond genius. He is awe-inspiring, kind, a steadfast and loyal friend with a heart that knows no evil. Despite the curveball’s life has thrown him and the cruel people he’s had to endure, he’s never stopped being the compassionate and insightful man more people need to become.

And then there’s Irwin Abernathy, my grouchy, cranky librarian who would rather be knee-deep in a good book than surrounded by people… any people. No peopling. Irwin is what I would describe as a social introvert. A curmudgeon. He finds humans an unnecessary distraction. However, here’s the thing about Irwin than I find so appealing. He’s authentic. A man of his word. What you see is what you get. He doesn’t superimpose judgment, but when faced with hardship, he stands true and loyal, refusing to back down. He’s the guy who will move mountains to do the right thing [albeit grumbling under his breath the entire time].

Despite Irwin’s grumpy demeanor, and Melvin’s over-trusting persona, they are the kind of friends that everyone needs, but not many deserve.

About Sahar

Author of The Broken Half, As One Door Closes, Secrets That Find Us, But You LOOK Just Fine, Tight Rope, Expendable, as well as the upcoming novel, Unlikely Friends, Abdulaziz again demonstrates that those who have suffered abuse are not victims, but survivors.

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BelindaThe Leading Man in The King’s Jewel Series
Belinda M Gordon

The King’s Jewel Series is full of interesting male characters, both human and fae. But to select one to tell his story makes for an obvious choice. Of course, I’m talking about the saga’s leading man, Alexander Mannus.

Alexander (Xander) has been through a lot in his life.

His mother disappeared when he was 7 years old leaving him and his brokenhearted father with nothing but unanswered questions. In her absence, Alexander obsessed over the unusual gemstone she had left behind. Studying geology became his passion.

Alexander became an officer in the US Marines, respected by his men for his fierce might-for-right attitude and his odd sixth sense. An IED abruptly put an end to his military career and left his right arm and hand nearly useless.

While recuperating at Walter Reed Medical Center, Alexander married. A year later his young wife died in a car accident, leaving him to raise his infant daughter, Sophia, alone. He became slow to trust and protective of his loved ones—ever fearful of losing them.

He spent years wandering the globe with his daughter and his best friend mining gemstones, yet he never found any that matched his mother’s. Until one day he received a letter from an elderly woman in the Pocono Mountains….

And here Tressa’s Treasures begins.

About Belinda

Belinda M Gordon was born and raised in Pennsylvania and currently lives in the Pocono Mountains wonderfully supportive husband and a crazy dog named Max. She is of Irish heritage, which is how she became interested in Celtic Mythology. She used the Celtic Mythology, specifically of Ireland, as the starting point of her Romance/Fantasy series, The King’s Jewel.

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KellyBecoming
Kelly Jensen

Most of my leads are male, so choosing just one to highlight has been a challenge. I’ve enjoyed writing all of my guys, from creating their backstory to watching them grow on the page. Learning from them as they face challenges, crying as their hearts break, sighing with deep contentment as they find a happy ever after—with a partner, but also with themselves.

In the end, I decided to write about Max from Block and Strike. Max is one of my youngest leads at only twenty-two, but his growth on the page far outstrips anyone else I’ve written. I think I fell in love with Max when, during a critical scene in the book, he didn’t react the way I’d expected him to. Instead of running from a certain conflict (as outlined), he turned around and stood his ground.

As a writer, this was a pretty pivotal moment. I hadn’t had a character do this before. Max’s love interest, Jake, had proved a little ornery, but was mostly following my outline (except for nixing my entire first chapter and telling me where I should start the book). But Max had been following the program, and it was about then that it clicked for me that I was writing something more than a simple romance—I was writing the story of Max’s becoming. Over the course of the novel, he would grow and change into the man he wanted to be and it was kind of beautiful. So I let him stand his ground in that scene. I watched with pride as he conquered the rest of the story, not only allowing himself to trust and fall in love, but to become strong and self-reliant.

From Max I learned that all of my characters have lives of their own and that if I listen to them, they’ll tell me their stories. All I have to do is write them. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with every character I write, because I always remember how Max taught me to craft a better novel.

About Kelly

Kelly is the author of eleven novels–including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke–and several novellas and short stories. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

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SusanMy Favorite Male Characters
Susan Moore Jordan

This was really a no-brainer: my favorite male characters are Andrew and Jacob Cameron, brothers I followed through two books, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays. The books cover a period of many years, from 1954 to 1992. From a traumatic childhood experience to high school and college, and then into the Vietnam War and its aftermath. One or both of them experienced every phase of the Vietnam War, from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to the fall of Saigon. And beyond the war, Andrew visited the Wall. Jake spent time with Vietnam vets who couldn’t get their minds back into being home.

Yet throughout all this, they strove to find a way to lead happy and productive lives. The love between them was stronger than time and space, and until they were together, the walls between them obliterated, that happiness couldn’t be complete. Andrew and Jake took me on a difficult, sometimes painful, often uplifting journey. The art and music in their lives became a lifeline for each of them in different ways. Jake, the adventurer, followed a path that became a physical odyssey as well as an emotional one, and his new-found love of music eventually brought him happiness. Andrew, the homebody, used his talent as a gifted painter to conquer the trauma of his war experience and to connect more completely with the people he loved most.

Andrew and Jake Cameron. Each of them walked through fire and emerged renewed.

About Susan

Jordan attended the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and moved to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania in 1971 with her late husband and three young children, where she established a private voice studio and directed local community and high school musical theater productions. Since 2013 she has been writing novels combing her experiences of tragedy to triumph and her love of music, including “companion” novels, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays, released in March and November of 2017.

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The Movies I Wasn’t Supposed to Talk About

I’ll be honest: none of the movies I’m about to talk about are movies I shouldn’t really talk about—except for the fact I did this thing on Facebook where you were supposed to post an image a day, for ten days, that represented a movie that had impacted you… and not give an explanation.

Picking only ten movies was really, really hard. I love movies and usually watch a couple every week. I love going to the theatre. There’s just something about the smell of popcorn and a big screen. I also love talking about movies—much to the consternation of my husband who has to listen to me geek out about such things as background sounds, lighting, and scripting. Sometimes in the middle of a film.

Posting hints about ten movies without talking about them was ever harder. So I’m breaking that rule. I’ll try to keep my comments brief, but by way of an overall explanation:

  • I didn’t pick just favourite movies, though these all qualify.
  • I picked movies that had had an impact, and that’s what I’ll talk about in relation to each title.
  • There is no order to this list.
  • I didn’t plan my list in advance. I’d have had to narrow it down from too many choices to do that.
  • I did discuss a few choices with my husband but mostly went with the movie that called to me most strongly every day.
  • They’re listed here in the same order here as they were on Facebook.

 

papillon

Papillon (1973)

Papillon (starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman) is a movie I saw once—many, many years ago—and never forgot. The story stayed with me for a couple of reasons. The characters (and the actors who brought them to life) and the circumstances (I love prison escape movies) are a huge part of it, but really, it all comes down to the friendship between Henri “Papillon” Charrière and Louis Dega. It’s one of the most unlikely partnerships in the history of friendship, and over the course of the film, we get to watch it deepen into a bond stronger than brotherhood. These men would die for each other, which makes the ultimate ending of the film incredibly stirring. And it’s all pretty much true. I haven’t read Charrière’s book (a memoir of the same name), but what strikes me most strongly about the 1976 version of the film is that friendship, and I love the idea that the book was written in part as a testament to that.

Unfortunately, the updated version of the film (2018) starring Charlie Hunan and Rami Malek failed to strike the same chord with regards to the friendship. I just didn’t feel the same chemistry.

thedarknight

The Dark Knight (2008)

First time I watched this movie, I disliked it. I think a part of it was that Heath Ledger had tragically died and everyone was making a big deal out of his interpretation of the Joker. With that in the forefront of my mind, it felt as though the Joker was larger than the movie, in a way. He became the most important character in the film—and I’d been waiting for the continuation of Batman’s story. I didn’t want a movie about the Joker.

Then, when the release of The Dark Knight Rises was imminent, I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back—and, um, wow. Holy perspective change. Heath Ledger’s Joker was phenomenal, but this was not the Joker’s film. He’s important. Hugely so. This is the movie where the Batman takes the fall; where he becomes the Dark Knight so that others can stay in the light. I cried at the end. And The Dark Knight became one of my favourite movies of all time.

Lesson learned: first impressions don’t always last, and watching the movies in a series together can really change the impact of the story.

2001

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie—I lost count years ago. I can recall three of the most memorable occasions, though. The first time I watched it was with my dad and I didn’t get it. I loved the first half, was scared spitless by Hal, and lost the thread during the beyond Jupiter sequence. Years later, I rediscovered the film at the Astor in Windsor (Victoria, Australia). This was the kind of theatre where the smell of the ancient wood and leather was like dust, and they had couches right down the front where you could sprawl with friends, or bring a blanket to curl up in and lie there watching something old. They featured 2001: A Space Odyssey regularly, and I started making a habit of going to see the film. I understood it now, and there was just something about lying there in the dark, cozied up with friends, and watching a movie that questioned the very meaning of our existence. Also, there was the, um, pot.

The third memorable occasion is when I watched the movie with my daughter. She was eleven at the time and had asked me what my favourite film was. Without hesitation, I answered “2001.” She wanted to watch it with me, so we did. She loved every minute and at the end, turned to me with tears in her eyes, and preceded to tell me what it was all about. I was pretty envious of the fact she hadn’t had to wait until she was twenty-something and under the influence of marijuana to understand it, but also proud.

archie

Gallipoli (1981)

I wanted to include a war movie on the list. I watched a lot of them as a kid and still remember classics like The Guns of Navarone fondly (which should be disturbing). Thing is, while a lot of war movies can be upsetting, they’re often triumphant in the end. They’re a tribute to human resourcefulness and spirit, and those are pretty much my favourite kinds of stories.

Gallipoli is not that movie. It’s… tragic. Even as I sit here typing away, my eyes are misting over, and it’s not just because I’m Australian. (Though, if you ask any Aussie of a certain age about this movie, you’ll probably get the same reaction.) It’s because war isn’t always about the triumph of good over evil. In fact, it rarely is. War sucks.

I’m trying to think of an uplifting way to wrap up and move on to the next movie and I can’t, so…

doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Yes, I needed a comedy after that and this is one of my absolute favourites, and another movie I’ve seen multiple times. I’m not sure what to say about this movie except that it’s the sort I wish they made more of right now. We need more stories about ordinary people doing “ordinary” things. Where heroes aren’t always the ones in capes. Where a family what you make of it.

wonderwoman

Wonder Woman (2017)

I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did in this one or to feel as emotionally rifled. This is a movie that could inspire semesters of study, for so many reasons. Everything I’d like to say about the experience of watching it can be summed up pretty easily, though. I didn’t know how much I needed a movie like this until I watched it, and then I wondered why it had taken so long to happen.

legally blonde

Legally Blonde (2001)

Being blonde isn’t the worst thing ever, and the jokes aren’t the most cutting out there. In fact, a lot of them are pretty damn funny—and fairly interchangeable. And, honestly, I’ve ever been much of an Elle. I don’t have closets full of clothes, I don’t collect shoes, I’ve only ever had one perm (God, what a disaster), and I wouldn’t know what to do with half of my daughter’s makeup collection. But I know exactly how it feels to be underestimated, and worse, dismissed because of who I am and how I present myself. So, I love this movie, because time and again, it shows us that sometimes, confidence is only skin deep and that we all should be our own biggest fans.

shawshank

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I’ve always thought Stephen King’s shorter stories make better movies than his novels (with the exception of Misery, which is just… Wait, why isn’t Misery on this list??) and The Shawshank Redemption is a prime example of that.

On the surface of it, this movie does for me much of what Papillon does and I do have to wonder if King was inspired by Charrière’s book. But he has definitely made the story his own. This one is quintessential King, and the reason it’s on this list is mostly for that last scene and these words:

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Tell me you didn’t start sobbing right then! Again.

alien

Alien (1979)

I saw this in theatres when I was eleven years old. My best friend’s dad took us to see it, and yes, I am scarred for life. What, you want more? I was impacted, okay? Very severely. 😀

I could waffle on about set design and the inspired direction, but honestly, it’d be nothing most of you haven’t heard before. Besides being utterly terrifying, Alien is a cinematic masterpiece that set the stage for nearly every science fiction movie that followed after it. I’m a lifelong fan of the series and while I wasn’t in love with the last installment, I’ll continue watching until I’m dust in the wind.

spiritedaway

Spirited Away (2001)

I knew I would love this movie even before I saw it because I have loved every movie created by legendary director, Hayao Miyazaki. And I did love it. Every minute of it. But the Spirited Away was far from my favourite Miyazaki until I attended a panel at an NYCC about his films, presented by a student working on a thesis about myth and folklore. The student talked about various representations of the maiden, the mother, and the crone, and how Miyazaki included them in so many of his films—nearly always to good effect. The discussion had me looking at Spirited Away in a whole new way and the next time I watched it, the story changed. It became less about a girl who’d gotten lost on the way to somewhere and more about a girl metaphorically traveling through the various stages of her life.

Getting more out of the film the second and third time is a lesson that serves to remind me that most of my favourite movies (and many more besides) really do benefit from multiple viewings. There are a number of films I’ve watched over fifty times—mostly because I simply love them. There are a lots more that need to be watched again, though, for the message to really sink in. For clues to align from the beginning instead of in retrospect, and because sometimes the impact is stronger the second time around.