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Grasping at Love

Bailey with the letter GAccording to my agenda, today is Short Story Saturday.  Since the letter is G the genre is Gothic fiction, and I’ve added lots of G words.  I’ve never written Gothic before, so it was fun to tackle the melodramatic tone of those romance-horror stories. 

Grasping at Love
Gusting winds whipped Gretchen’s billowing nightshirt around her ankles, threatening her balance.  She fought to stay upright at the top of the cliff, not wanting to accidentally plummet off the edge.  If she was going to plunge to her death in the tempestuous seas below, she wanted it to be of her own choosing.  After all, nothing about her life to this point had been due to her decisions.
 
Her father had chosen to greedily swindle fellow members of the gentry out of their savings.  Her mother had chosen to send her away to safeguard her from the guilt and gossip.  The governess service had chosen to assign her to Grayson Manor to care for Gabriella.  And even Lord Grayson had chosen to pursue a romance with her.
 
Initially her heart sang with glee, having such a handsome gentleman court her.  Now Gretchen felt glum due to what she’d discovered in the cellar.  Painful groans had roused her from sleep and led her to the gloomy passages under the Manor.  In the flickering candlelight, she stumbled over a grisly gutted carcass.  Before she could even scream, ferocious growls sent her fleeing into the night.
 
Now she glanced up at the gleaming moon, wondering what kind of man kept a viscous beast like that in his home while his innocent niece sweetly slumbered upstairs?  And how was she going to save Gabriella and herself from a gruesome fate? 

Gothic manor

A low grumbling behind her raised goose bumps on her 

skin.  She turned and gasped at what she saw.  A giant, fur-covered creature with a lupine muzzle and teeth stood on two legs like a man.  With a graceful gait, it started toward her.  She took a step back and slipped off the edge of the cliff.  

She screamed and gripped a branch to stop her descent.

The beast galloped to the edge and grabbed at her with deadly claws.  She gaped up at him in terror, not sure which fate was worse – torn to shreds by the beast or smashed to bits on the wave-splashed rocks.

Then she noticed the moonlight glinting off the monster’s green eyes.  She knew those eyes.  She’d spent hours beside the fireplace gazing into them as she and Lord Grayson shared precious moments together.  Gretchen didn’t know how or why, but this monster was the man who filled her soul with gladness.

She realized for once in her life the choice was hers:  a quick, painless death on the rocks below or taking her chances with the beast who was her beloved.  She reached up and clasped his paw in her gentle grasp.
 
 
Do you read or write Gothic fiction?  What do you think of Gretchen’s decision? Doesn’t Bailey look Gorgeous with her G?
 
Are you good at guessing dog breeds?  Then click here for the chance to win a prize.
 
Gothic Manor photo credit to PsychoPxL

Flying Books? Yes Please!

Freya with FIt’s finally Friday!  And according to my agenda that means it’s Film Friday where I share a short animated film that tells its story without a single word of dialog.  With today’s letter being F, I’m pleased to present The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (TFFBOMML), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film this year.  At fifteen minutes, it’s on the long side for a short, but if you love books – reading them and/or writing them – then you really should watch this delightful film at some point.  

 
I hesitate to say too much about it lest I ruin the magic that makes it so special. Plus, I imagine it means different things to viewers depending on their relationship with reading and writing.
 
The first time I watched it, I got teary-eyed at several points, and by the end I was full on snotty-nosed-need-a-tissue-to-mop-up-my-face crying.  I doubt most people have that reaction, but I’m at a point in my struggles with being a writer that it was exactly the catharsis I needed.  Although I do think most readers and writers will feel the charm of TFFBOMML in some way.
 
I’ve always loved books – their stories transported me to different worlds that often felt more real than the one I was living in, and I think TFFBOMML really captures that feeling.  And even though I was a computer science minor during college, I have completely resisted the move to e-readers.  As I writer I understand the magic is in the story no matter how it’s delivered, but as an old-school reader, I love books.  I love wandering along the shelves pulling out one on this shelf or test driving another on that shelf.  I love the smell of the pages.  I love the feel of the paper.  So for me, that scene where he brings a book back to life by reading it perfectly conveys the magical connection between books and their readers.
 
But where TFFBOMML turned me into a weepy mess was at the end as the man completes his journey as a writer.  Being a writer is a long, hard road, but we travel it hoping for the day our words touch others. This film beautifully expresses how all the stories that came before help our imaginations soar until the day we’re ready to release our own story that will in turn help someone else fly to new heights.  It truly is a magical process.
 
What did you think about The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore?  Did it touch you as a reader/writer?  And how Fantastic is Freya with her letter F?
 
Also, if you haven't entered yet, I'm having a contest here.

Eureka! I’ve got it.

Lily with the letter EMr. Agenda tells me that it’s Television Thursday, and with today’s letter being E, I’m going to talk about the Syfy series Eureka.  It airs Mondays at 9:00pm, and the fifth and final season starts on April 16th.  I’m kind of bummed that it’s ending, since I’ve really enjoyed the quirky, little show.

Eureka is a blend of sci-fi and comedy about a small, off-the-map town built to nurture and protect America’s geniuses working on the latest and greatest scientific achievements.  The series started when Jack Carter accidentally wandered into town and ended up becoming Sheriff.  Because the scientists are absent-minded or arrogant or sometimes both, their experiments constantly go awry and threaten to destroy Eureka or even the world.  Even though Jack is the “dumb” one in town, it’s usually his street-smart common sense that provides the ‘eureka’ moment that helps the brilliant scientists save the day.
 
The storylines are actually very formulaic – it's easy to anticipate how things will go wrong each week and what elements will come together to fix it.  But the comedy keeps things fun, and the show has plenty of heart to make the characters worth following.  The actors are excellent - able to pull off comedy without coming across as too goofy and then turn right around and tug your heartstrings with a dramatic moment.  So a show that could easily be blown off as a silly procedural is actually very charming.  
 

Eureka

If you haven’t had a chance to watch this delightful show, Eureka is available on Netflix Watch Instantly.  Check out a few episodes to see if you’re ready to move to this futuristic town where you’re in constant danger of being blown up by someone’s brilliant idea.
 
One of the coolest things about this show is seeing the insane devices and doodads the writers think up as inventions (what a fun job!) and then wondering how many similar items are actually being worked on in secret labs around the world.  Let’s just hope there’s a Sheriff Carter around to save them when things go wrong!
 
Do you watch Eureka?  Are you sad this is the last season?  Any wishes for things to happen as they wind things up?  How Earnest does Lily look with her letter E?
 
And if you haven't had a chance, guess the breeds of my dogs for a chance to win a prize.
 

Doggie DNA

Molly with the letter DMy A-to-Z agenda shows it’s Willy-nilly Wednesday and the letter is D, so I figure everyone who’s previously visited my blog is betting I’m going to post about Dogs.  Wrong!  I’m posting about DNA.  Well… it’s actually about doggie DNA, so I guess you were right after all.  Your prize?  Adorable pictures of dogs!  And that’s not all… if you keep reading until the end, you have a chance to win an actual physical prize!

Each member of my family ‘owns’ a dog that was adopted from a shelter, so we have no idea what breeds make up their mutt-y cuteness (except for Lily – hers is kind of obvious).  With my animal-crazed family, this led to some surprisingly heated discussions as we each defended our dog’s dubious heritage.  “My dog’s a tougher breed than yours!”  “Who cares? Mine’s a smarter breed than yours!”  Yep, that’s how we roll.  We don’t actually care about the breeds, since we love them like crazy no matter what, it’s just a fun way to pick at each other.
 
In my wanderings around the interwebs, I discovered there are companies that will test your dog’s DNA to figure out the breeds.  So for Christmas two years ago, I decided that would be a fun gift for everyone and would finally put to rest whose dog is best (mine, of course).  I researched several companies, and some of them required a picture of the dog, which seemed like cheating to me (and we didn’t need to pay someone to guess the dogs’ breeds based on looks since that’s exactly what we were doing).  
 
In the end, Wisdom Panel Canine Genetic Analysis seemed to be the best bet – they had one of the biggest breed databases, didn’t ask for a picture, and broke the results into several categories.  The Significant category meant the dog had at least 50% of that breed, Intermediate meant at least 25%, and Minor meant at least 12.5%.
 
The presents were a huge success – everyone loved them… everyone except the dogs who hated having their inner lips scraped with the little brush-y things for their DNA samples.  They were not amused. 
 
We sent off the samples, and since we had to wait several weeks for the results, we made a game out of it.  Each of us wrote down the breeds we thought made up each of the five dogs, with the winner getting the bragging rights of Awesomest Doggie Breed Guesser Ever.  Now when I sat down to write this post, I fully intended to reveal the breeds of all five dogs.  But then I thought it would be more fun to have you play the breed guessing game, too.  
 
I’ve posted pictures of all five dogs below, and in the comments you can guess the breed(s) for each dog.  I will say that some of the breeds were very surprising, and that no dog had more than three breeds listed.  For the person who guesses the most breeds correctly, I will send him/her a DVD copy of my short film Saying Goodbye when it’s released in a few weeks.  It’s won awards at several film festivals, and you can find out more about it here.  
 
I’ll reveal the actual breeds and the winners next Wednesday (4/11).  Although you won’t increase your chances of winning by spreading the word, I’d really appreciate you letting others know about the contest. *bats eyelashes in a charming and beseeching manner*
 
Now here are the adorable Rish family dogs:
 
1. Bailey belongs to my brother, and she’s nine years old.
Bailey
 
2. Chloe belongs to my mom, and she’s seven years old.
Chloe
 
3. Freya is my dog, and she’s seven years old.
Freya
 
4. Lily belongs to my dad, and she’s eleven years old.
Lily
 
5. Molly belongs to my sister, and she’s eleven years old.
Molly
 
It’s weird that so many of my pictures with the dogs by themselves involve snow, since it hardly ever snows in South Carolina.  Oh, and Chloe didn’t really eat a book, it was a total frame job.  If you want to see the girls in action to get a better look at them, you can watch my ACBDog video.  Then enter your breed guesses for each dog in the comments.
 
Have you ever tried one of the doggie DNA kits?  What are your breed guesses for each dog?  How Delightful is Molly with her letter D?
 

Comma Confusion

Chloe with the letter CMy agenda tells me it’s Tips Tuesday, which means I’ll share a writing tip.  And since today is the letter C, I’m going to talk about commas.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to stir up a heated debate about the Oxford comma (for the record, I’m pro Oxford comma, and they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead, typing fingers).  My comma tip concerns commas and conjunctions.

When critiquing, one of the most common issues I notice is the misuse of the comma before a conjunction.  In many sentences, the comma is needed, but it seems to have gone on vacation.  In other sentences, the comma is not needed, yet it insists on sticking its nose where it’s not wanted.  So how do we remember whether to use a comma in front of a conjunction or not?

When I consulted my friend Google, he gave me tons of links with rules mentioning independent clauses, dependent clauses, compound components, coordinating conjunctions – the types of boring phrases that made me tune out during elementary school grammar lessons.  If you want more technical explanations, you can check out Grammar Girl or university resources.  But when I’m writing/editing, instead of thinking about the whys and wherefores, it boils down to one simple test – can the parts before and after the conjunction stand on their own as separate sentences?

For these types of sentences, I like to think of the comma as a faux period... the substitute period... a placeholder period as the sentence decides to progress some more without a full stop.  

So when I’m writing and come up with a sentence like -
 
The adorable dog ran outside and chased a squirrel up a tree.
 
- I have to decide whether there should be a comma before the ‘and’.  If I think about the potential comma as a period, then I can see it doesn’t make sense to add a comma – ‘chased a squirrel up a tree’ does not stand on its own as a complete sentence.  
 
Now if the sentence were instead - 
 
The adorable dog ran outside, and she chased a squirrel up a tree.
 
- then you do need the comma because it’s two complete thoughts.  If you were to read that comma as a period, then both sentences easily stand on their own.  
 
I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to confuse the issue, but some experts state that from a stylistic standpoint you can omit the comma between two independent clauses if they are both short.  This is a judgment call, but make sure you understand the rule before you break it.  
 
In case you need a refresher, a conjunction is a connecting word, and you can use the mnemonic FANBOYS to remember them:
For 
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So
 
And remember, to decide whether you need a comma in front of one of these FANBOYS words or not, pretend like it would be a period if you put it there.  If both resulting sentences are complete sentences, then add the comma.  If they don’t make complete sentences, then skip the comma.
 
Does this help clear up potential comma confusion?  Do you have any comma tips? How Cute is Chloe with her letter C?

Baran’s the Man (well, not really)

Bailey with the letter BMy handy-dandy agenda tells me today is Movie Monday where I talk about a lesser-known Netflix Watch Instantly movie.  I’m always impressed with how well their recommendation algorithm predicts my movie preferences, but I still gave it the side-eye when it repeatedly recommended Baran.  Although I love reading, and I love movies, I don’t really love reading my movies, so I tend to avoid those with subtitles.  But after I read the description, I was sold:

When 17-year-old Latif (Hossein Abedini) loses his job at a Tehran, Iran, construction site to the illegally hired Afghan Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami), he begins playing cruel pranks on Rahmat. Soon, however, Latif discovers that Rahmat is actually a girl named Baran, and he begins helping shoulder her burden at the construction site. When officials demand that all illegal workers be fired, Latif must choose between safety and social standing, and his young love.

The sappy romantic in me really likes movies where the girl pretends to be a guy and the love interest falls in love with her anyway: Just One of the Guys, Mulan, Yentl, even that silly Amanda Bynes movie She’s the Man.  I think it’s because if a guy who identifies as straight falls in love with you even though he thinks you’re a dude, then he must REALLY love you – at that point it’s not about looks or other superficial things, it’s about truly loving who you are as a person.  Since Baran was available on Watch Instantly and I wouldn’t be “wasting” a DVD on it, I decided to watch.

*mild spoilers in this paragraph* The movie was set and filmed in Iran, so it gave me a window into a world I am woefully ignorant about.  While the conditions were heartbreaking, the cinematography was incredible and showed the beauty present in that harsh land.  The character of Baran never spoke a single word in the film, which helped protect her secret, but was also symbolic of the oppression of 

Baranwomen in that region.  The protagonist Latif starts as a brash, yet fearful boy, and by the end is on his way to becoming a brave and selfless man.  Since it’s not a Hollywood movie, there’s no Hollywood ending, which I admit was very unsatisfying to that previously mentioned romantic who lurks inside me, but it made the movie feel more real.  

Not everything worked – the pace was slow, and some of the acting was problematic – but it was an interesting way to spend an hour and a half.  It’s tough to say whether I’d recommend it or not – I’m glad I watched it, but I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  I appreciated the exposure to a different culture and unimaginable way of life; and as a writer, it was helpful to see storytelling very different from what I usually watch.  So thank you to Netflix for once again steering me in the direction of a movie I never would have picked on my own.

Have you seen Baran?  If so, what did you think?  What movies has Netflix recommended that you enjoyed but never would have picked on your own?  How Beautiful is Bailey with her letter B?

A to Z Agenda

A is for Agenda.
 
Wow, that’s a super exciting way to start my Blogging from A to Z Challenge adventures.  I’m sure it will bring new visitors zipping back to my blog each day absolutely drooling in anticipation.  Okay, how about this instead?
 
A is for Awesome Agenda Allowing Amazing Adventures!1!1!1!
 
Yep, that’s obviously much better.  I know this because it has rainbow colors. 
 
This boring start is no April Fools’ joke; it’s because April 1st is the odd man out – the only Sunday in the bunch – so it doesn’t follow my planned agenda.  But since agenda actually starts with A, it made sense to use this random Sunday to outline my plan of attack.
 
For the past month, I dithered back and forth about whether to go with a theme or not (just one of my many patented procrastination methods).  I was worried about losing focus without a theme, but I worried about getting burned out or bored if I did have one.  So as a compromise, I’ve decided to go with themed days of the week, which will give me both structure and variety.  And since I always love alliteration, I used it to  guide my theme picks.
 
Here’s the plan for the rest of the month:
 
Movie Monday – I’ll talk about the lesser-known movies I've found on Netflix Watch Instantly because of their spookily accurate recommendation ratings.  
 
Tips Tuesday – I’ll share some tips about grammar and writing.
 
Willy-nilly Wednesday – This is my random day to have fun with whatever inspires me.
 
Television Thursday – I’ll wax poetic about television shows I’ve enjoyed.
 
Film Friday – I’ll present a few short films.  And since I’m usually so focused on words, these will be animated films that don’t use a single word of dialog to tell their stories.
 
Short Story Saturday – I’ll write a piece of flash fiction where the genre and other items in the story fit the letter of the day.
 
Now if you saw my ABCDogs video for the A to Z video challenge, you might be wondering how this plan fits with my promise of a daily dose of adorable doggies. Well, the five Rish family dogs graciously agreed (after being bribed with tons of treats) to pose with each letter of the day.  So even if a post ends up being boring (I’m looking at you, A for Agenda), then you’ll still have a cute canine to add a smile to your day.  
 
Freya with the letter A
 
This is my first A to Z challenge, and I’m really excited about this month of insane blogging and meeting new blogger friends.  
 
Do you have a theme or are you going random?  How did you decide?  Any thoughts on my theme days?  How Adorable is Freya with her letter A?   

A to Z Video Challenge

When I signed up for the A to Z Challenge, I noticed they were also having an A to Z video challenge to help spread the word about the blogging challenge taking place in April.  The video entries are due tonight, and since I wait until the last minute for everything, I finished mine this evening.  

Regular blog visitors know I’m crazy about my dog, which is a trait I share with the rest of my family; so when I was trying to think of ideas for the A to Z challenges, I knew they had to be dog related.  For the video challenge, I gathered clips from my brother, sister, and parents of their adorable dogs in action.  Some of the footage is not great quality, but I think y’all will agree that the canine cuteness more than makes up for it. 

I now proudly present… ABCDogs
 

I’d like to thank my sister Joanna for creating the doggie version of the ABC song for me.  I’d also like to thank my brother Brian for helping me with the editing.  I sat with him while we edited our two short films, but he always drove Final Cut while I watched, so this was my big chance to try out what I'd learned.  It was fun!  And I was unreasonably proud of what I was able to do on my own.  I only had to get his help with a few of the things.  Thanks again, siblings!
 
I hope you enjoyed my canine commercial for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  If you haven’t sign up for it yet, think about giving it a try.  This will be my first year, and I’m really looking forward to it. 
 
Voting for the video challenge is now open, so if you thought my dogs were cute, you can vote for us here.
 
Are you entering the A to Z Blogging Challenge?  If you participated in the past, any tips for us newbies?  Aren’t the Rish family dogs adorable?