Mini Review: “The Barkley Marathons” (2015)

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“If you’re selected, you get a letter of condolences: sorry to inform you, you’ve been selected to run the Barkley.” – THE BARKLEY MARATHONS: THE RACE THAT EATS ITS YOUNG

So begins a fascinating documentary on a race you’ve probably never heard of: a trail run so difficult that so far, only 14 people have actually finished it. Over 100 miles, in 5 loops, with 54,200 feet (16,500 m) of accumulated vertical climb, no aid stations, no GPS allowed, and a map you’re only allowed to see before you head out. To prove you ran the route correctly, you have to find paperback books scattered along the trail, and bring back pages that correspond to your race number. The entry fee is $1.60, a license plate from your home state or country, and what the race organizer needs that year: white socks, flannel shirts.

That’s not the weirdest part.

The course changes a little each year, and as one contestant said, to understand the directions you need to know the history of Cantrell’s directions for previous races. More than 30 people have given up before they even reached the end of the first two miles.

Co-Creator Gary Cantrell founded it after hearing about James Earl Ray’s prison break, but not as an homage to Ray; he heard Ray only got 8 miles after being in the woods for 55 hours, and thought he could do better. Each year, dozens of the world’s top ultramarathoners gather to prove themselves better than Ray too – to officially complete the race, all 100+ miles have to be finished in less than 60 hours.

It gets weirder, still.

You have to write an essay to even be considered.

I don’t want to give away all of the movie’s secrets, but it’s certainly worth watching, especially for fans of running, extreme sports, the depths of personal willpower, and anyone who’s ever planning to write a story in which a character has to escape through tough terrain. It made me feel like a slacker for not even trying to add a little running to my regular walking routine, so I’m doing that now – but on the other hand, since I’ve watched it, I feel like a hero whenever I get more than 2 miles.

I at least have the power to do that.

4/5*

Available on Netflix

Mini Review: “Twinsters” (2015)

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What if your identical twin sister sent you a Facebook message, and until then, you hadn’t known she existed? This is the story of two young women who met online. And a story of adoption. And a story of South Korea.

What started out as a cute story told with tweets, Skype, and emoji, turns into the exploration of two girls raised differently but with such complete love that finding another one of them was universally met with joy from their families and friends. I can’t imagine being so loved that if your parents found a second one of you, they would be thrilled, and welcome your twin as a second child, but this movie makes you happy for these adorable women, who literally traveled the world to find each other.

With the joy, comes the bittersweet. Not only do we see the impossible ways these two, raised on different continents, are alike, we also see how they’re not, contrasting the twin with adopted siblings – who grew up gregarious and brave – against the one who grew up feeling isolated, her whole life, even with all the love and opportunity her parents gave her. Her hesitation, her slow blossoming, into someone who maybe, sort of, might be ready to accept she isn’t alone after all.

Finally, South Korea. The movie ends with a chance to go “home” again, and unanswered questions, and the feeling of being a part of something larger than even together they had ever imagined. It’s a perfectly wistful note to close out the film.

Recommended for anyone who wants more empathy, more understanding, of what it’s like to be a sister, an only child, an adoptee, a person of color with white parents, unwanted, adored, lost, and found.

5/5*

Available on  Netflix

Mini Review: “An Honest Liar” (2014)

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This documentary about James Randi – former magician, escape artist, and professional skeptic – makes a big deal out of a small thing, and nearly loses its focus in the process, but is good overall. I’ll get the “shocking” bit out of the way up front: the filmmakers are caught up in presenting Randi’s long-time relationship as if viewers will be aghast at the revelations, oh my! But really, it’s all exposed and resolved in the end, and was nothing as interesting as the bulk of the movie, which focuses on Randi’s life as a magician, and then later as a skeptical con man.

Randi has to be given most of the credit for the film, not just in being an intriguing subject, but the way he presented his whole life, openly, talking about his sexuality, history, beliefs, and tricks. I learned a lot about Randi’s investigations, including things I’d never heard before about his feud with “mentalist” Uri Geller, his investigation into faith healer Peter Popoff, and just how far he went to infiltrate a famous university study of psychic abilities.

This is the perfect sort of movie to watch while multitasking – you don’t need to keep your eyes on the screen every second, but you’ll learn enough to make the time spent worthwhile. Plus, there’s cameos from Alice Cooper, Bill Nye, Adam Savage, Penn Jillette, and many others.

4/5*

Available on Netflix

I’ve updated the big list of Asian Speculative Fiction Authors! Are you on it?

What am I looking for to include you on this list? You must be a published author, publicly marketing yourself as Asian, Asian-American, etc.

The point of the BIG LIST OF ASIAN SPECULATIVE AUTHORS is to promote the reading of authors who don’t always get included in recommendation lists because of subtle or overt racial bias on the part of the people creating those lists. We’ve all seen these big end of year or “best of” lists that are all white, all male, and so on. Sure, most of the time, that bias isn’t intentional. But it’s there, and it sucks.

Authors who don’t appear to be visibly non-white, authors with Anglicized names, authors who don’t allow themselves to be described as non-white, who don’t include that information in their bios – I’m included in that list – we have a certain amount of advantage with readers who prefer to stick with “traditional” (aka, white, American) authors, thinking that we’ll write a certain kind of story they’re familiar with. Sad but true fact: our ability to at least pass as white benefits us with some readers. It’s my hope that by collecting a list like this,  anyone who’s open to reading more broadly, reading outside of their experience, will be able to easily find new authors and new stories to try out.

There’s a fear some readers have that the authors on this list – non-US or non-white authors in general – create work that is “ethnic” or strange. That they won’t understand it because it’s about people and places they don’t know. That hasn’t been my experience. Not only will you find that there are hundreds of fabulous writers, and stories, on this list, but a great many of them are American, Canadian, or British authors… authors whose work is colored not only by their lives as Asians, but as Americans (for example). They write in, and are influenced by, the traditions of science fiction and fantasy that readers of my blog are most familiar with.

There are also authors whose work focuses much more deeply on their homelands, and their experiences as non-white people. There are stories with characters, plots, settings, and even story formats you may not know. Read those! I firmly believe that the more we read, not only are we better writers and readers, because we’ve expanded what we know, but we’re better people, too. The more widely we read, the more we expand ourselves.

I’ve added recent suggestions from the comments/email/Twitter. All authors mentioned prior to 3/17/2016 are now included. If you’re not on this list but should be, or if you’re on it but want me to link to a more recent story or current website, comment below. Really, I want to update this list with accurate information and a link to your favorite work, but you need to give it to me. (Please note that in some cases, I’ve spoken to an author that someone else suggested, and they’ve told me they don’t feel they qualify for this list. If you think I’m missing an obvious choice, check with that author first, and then let me know!)

Current Thoughts On My Novel

I’ve recently started what I think of as the committed phase of writing: I’ve gotten enough of the framework in place that now I’m setting aside a little time each day to work on my current novel. I’m in it, now, and I will see it through to the end, which I couldn’t have said for certain 6 months ago. The end may not be completion/publication though – I’ve written other novels that I trunked, and absolutely should have. They were writing exercises: the epic fantasy novel I wrote in high school, the couple of zombie novels I wrote during stints of NaNoWriMo, the novel I wrote last year that is basically modern YA fanfiction of a movie I loved from childhood. I’m glad I wrote them, because I learned from everything, but aside from the last one (which, maybe) they’re the writer’s equivalent of homework. You want to be a great writer? You practice, practice, practice, and file most of it away, because it isn’t a finished product worth showing people, it’s an exercise.

If I could teach every writer in the world one thing, it would be that.

The fake working title of my current novel is An Inheritance of Footsteps, so I’ll be referring to it from here on out as FOOTSTEPS. (I always give my writing a title that I fully expect to change once the project is finished and I have a better idea of what key moment or feeling I want the title to reference.) An Inheritance of Footsteps is the second title this novel has had; the first fit my original idea which focused more on the post-apocalyptic nature of the book, but as it’s developed, it’s become more about journeys, the world we’re leaving to our children and the one their great-grandchildren will inherit. It’s about climate change and government control and societal evolution.

I’m not keeping the current title because it’s ridiculously pompous. It’s the sort of title that you can put together from Electric Lit’s “How to Name Your Big Important Novel” infographic. In fact, I used that post to help me create it. It makes me laugh a little whenever I think too much on it, and I think that’s important. I want to avoid letting my ego get into the way of what I’m writing. I don’t want to keep anything because oh my precious words none can be deleted or can’t kill that character, they’re secretly me!

For the record, none of the characters in this book are secretly (or overtly) me, but I’ve seen authors get so attached to the version of themselves, or someone else, that they wrote into their story – the better version, or the version that gets the love interest, or defeats the enemies – that they can’t see how to edit that character when they need to. I do care about my characters and I am invested in this story, right now. When I’m writing is the time to fall in love and want to tell everything about these people’s lives. Later, when I’m editing, I’ll have to step back and be ready to give up what I originally wanted for them. I’ll have to focus only on what’s the best way to tell this story… and that may mean drastically changing a character, part of the plot, or even cutting things entirely.

We’ll see.

There’s a lot of world building in this book, and that’s what’s taken up most of my brain where it comes to creating it. I’ve written hundreds of scenes in my head over the last several months, turning them around and looking at them over and over. I’ve thought about how it would look as a movie, what the ramifications of certain words or actions are for the characters. For example: I realized that I need one of the main characters to have a completely different reaction to the introduction of the MC than I’d originally jotted down. If she reacts negatively in any way, she loses control over what happens next, basically reacting to her emotions, being carried along by it, instead of choosing for herself to be involved. If she accepts the MC’s presence and more than that, makes herself a part of what’s going on, chooses to be there for what happens next, then she’s got some control over the situation, and has a much better chance of ending up where she wants to be. I want that character to be strong, even when she’s struggling, and to be the kind of gracious and generous that you learn to be when you don’t have a choice, rather than some trope of “the other woman”. So, I have to write her that way.

More later. For now, back to work!