Thanks to one of those mental rabbit trails in which something I saw reminded me of something else, which reminded me of something else, and so forth, I ended up rewatching Frozen a couple of weekends ago. I saw it at the theater and thought it was good, but I didn’t fall into the utter obsession that this movie inspired. I was teaching kindergarten choir at the time, and the kids couldn’t get enough of it. The girls all wanted to be Elsa and the boys were all in love with Elsa (or, as one kid put it, “She’s bootiful. I want her to be my mommy.”). I think some of the ubiquity of it may have soured my view on the movie. I actually like the sequel better. But it actually is a nicely structured movie that has a lot going for it.

Spoilers ahead in case you managed to avoid the mania.

One interesting thing I found was that although Elsa seemed to be the focus of all the hype and was the favorite character, she’s not the protagonist. She doesn’t really have a story goal and doesn’t do a lot. She’s more of a catalyst who sets off the story. Anna is the protagonist (and I feel like the only person who identifies with and likes Anna more than Elsa. Team Anna here!). She’s the one with the story goal and with the story arc. She’s also the one with the more clearly articulated internal or personal goals.

We see that when she’s the one who gets the “I Want” song. In fact, she gets two. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is about her desire to reconnect with her sister, and then “For the First Time in Forever” is about her desire to make connections with other people after having been locked away for so long. Much of her internal tension in the story is because her desire to reconnect with her sister is often in conflict with her desire to connect with other people, since it’s difficult for her to have both. She gets a lot of criticism from her sister and later Kristoff for getting engaged to a man she just met, but it comes out in her song that she believes the coronation day is the one day the gates will be open and she’ll be allowed to have contact with the outside world. Because of that, she has to get engaged that day. She can’t take it slow if she’s going to be shut away after that day. If he doesn’t stay with her or she doesn’t go with him, something unlikely to happen without an engagement, she’ll never see him again. Not that I think she’s making the right choice, especially given how he turned out, but under those circumstances, she doesn’t have a lot of options if she doesn’t want to be utterly alone.

I do have to question the decision-making by their parents. Even if Elsa needed to be isolated to keep the secret of her powers and Anna couldn’t be around her lest she remember and it set off the freezing thing in her head again, why did Anna have to be isolated, too? Couldn’t she have been allowed to interact with other kids and leave the castle? Or would that have risked the people rallying around Anna rather than Elsa as the future queen? I feel like the treatment of Anna came close to child abuse. Elsa’s treatment was also pretty cruel, but at least she knew what was going on and understood why. Anna got no explanation why suddenly she was shut away and her sister refused to have anything to do with her.

Anna’s the one who gets the story goal, which dovetails with her personal goals, when Elsa’s powers go haywire and she freezes the kingdom. Anna’s story goal becomes to get through to Elsa and get her to thaw things — which, in turn, would reconcile Anna to Elsa and reconnect the kingdom. This is what makes her the protagonist. Elsa doesn’t really want anything other than to be left alone. She’s not trying to do or get anything, and she doesn’t really take any action.

Meanwhile, the story also fits my “fantasy road trip” structure. We get the Bargain between Kristoff and Anna in which she convinces him to help her get to Elsa by paying for his supplies and by reminding him that he won’t be able to sell ice until the kingdom thaws. There’s bickering over his manners and her impulsive engagement. They face attack from the wolves and then later from Elsa and her snowman, which leads to them bonding after they have to work together to survive. After that, there’s the “Fixer Upper” number, which serves as a Dance scene, although they don’t dance together (I’m thinking of renaming that stage “the Moment” because the dancing is usually about the pair having a Moment in which they start to be aware of their feelings toward each other, and it doesn’t always involve dancing). There’s the Departure when she goes to Hans for the True Love’s Kiss that will save her and Kristoff leaves her behind. But then there’s the Return in which Kristoff comes back and Anna, having learned what Hans is really up to, sees that Kristoff has come back and goes to him. This part of my outline is always a bit tricky. You’d think that it would be the protagonist departing because of making the wrong choice, then realizing the error of their ways and returning, but often the roles switch and it’s the other character who has to make the decision. Here, it seems to be mutual, since Anna goes to be with Hans and Kristoff lets her go, then they both realize their feelings and are going back to be with each other—but then the resolution here isn’t romantic because she has to go to Elsa’s rescue before she can reach Kristoff.

I’m still not entirely sure what about this story struck such a strong nerve with kids. I think a lot of it had to do with Elsa’s ice princess outfit and her big power ballad that was all about independence and freedom. I think kids also react to that feeling like everyone’s out to get you and no one understands you, which is what Elsa’s story is all about. She’s simultaneously powerful and a victim, so she represents something you might aspire to while also being someone you can relate to. I seem to react strongly to stories about isolation and abandonment, so I sympathize more with Anna, and I would rather wear her more Norwegian-type outfits than Elsa’s slinky dress. There’s just enough romance in the story to give it a spark, but it’s more about the relationship between the sisters, which is probably more relatable to little kids. That makes it less “yucky” to boys who don’t want romance in their stories.

I may have to rewatch the second one this weekend and see if I can analyze it for structure. It strikes me as being more of an animated fantasy movie than a “Disney Princess” movie.

I will say that I get some cognitive dissonance from hearing “King George” after having seen the Hamilton movie a few times and from having watched The Good Place (I keep waiting for Anna to say something like “holy forking shirtballs.”).


When You Wish

Last weekend, I watched the new (ish — it just came to Disney+ but was in theaters last year) Disney movie, Wish, and I’m sad to say that it was rather meh. It wasn’t bad, but the story had the feel of something written by the marketing team to promote the studio’s anniversary. It was like they were trying to check off boxes as they paid tribute to their history, and they wrote a story that loosely linked together everything they wanted to do, leading up to the punchline of the post-credits scene. It looks gorgeous and the cast is great, but I actually forgot that I’d seen it a day later.

I think a big part of the problem is that the basis for the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s a wizard king who’s created some kind of utopia by having citizens hand over their wishes to him when they turn 18, and he’s to keep them safe, then he grants a few wishes every year, making them come true. I have so many questions here, most of which are asked when the townspeople start asking questions to stall for time. The big one is why anyone would do this in the first place. Once they hand over their wish, they don’t even remember having it, which means that they aren’t discontented from wanting something they don’t have or disappointed from trying and failing, but it also leaves them a bit empty. Then there’s the fact that wishes change. What I wished for when I was 18 has nothing to do with what I want now. I could have handed that wish over without missing it even just a few years later, and then I’d have had an entirely new wish.

Anyway, when a young woman who’s applying to be the king’s intern questions this system and asks for her grandfather’s wish to be granted, that freaks out the king. Then she wishes really hard on a star and the star comes down and starts making magic happen, which makes the king feel threatened, so he tries to stamp out this other magic. Seriously, I didn’t get what was going on here at all. In spite of a really talented cast giving it their all (Chris Pine was having way too much fun), the songs are pretty weak. I was thinking during the movie that Lin-Manuel Miranda was having a really off day, but it turns out someone else did the music, so I guess they were trying for Lin-Manuel and missing.

One thing I really liked was that our heroine had a whole group of friends, something we don’t usually see in Disney movies. The more typical Disney heroine maybe hangs around with a couple of cute animals, but she doesn’t have a peer group. Some of that is baked into the fairy tales the movies are based on. Aurora is in hiding, Belle and Rapunzel are captives (and Belle is a weirdo outsider even before she finds the Beast), Mulan is Not Like Other Girls, and the Cinderella story wouldn’t work if her squad of kids of other wealthy merchants and minor gentry got their parents involved on her behalf. But even in the “original” stories, the heroines are rather isolated. Frozen is a story about isolation and Mirabel in Encanto has her sisters and cousins, but the local kids who hang around her are all little kids, not a peer group.

I’m curious if this is a deliberate choice or just something that happened without anyone thinking about it. Most writers tend to be the weirdo outsider type, so it’s natural for them to write that kind of character. It’s also a lot easier to write a loner than to try to juggle all the characters you get in a friend group. Plus, it’s easier to get your characters in trouble if they don’t have backup.

But this movie has the heroine as part of a group of friends, and they all team up to support her when she’s in trouble, which has a lot to do with saving the day, and even though I’m definitely part of the Weirdo Outsider demographic, it was nice to see that.

Chris Pine and Ariana DeBose deserved a lot better, so I hope they get another chance at doing voices for animation. Alan Tudyk seems to be required by law to do voices for all Disney movies (though in this one he actually got to talk instead of just squawking or making animal sounds, and he got parts of a song) so I’m less worried about him getting another chance.



I was lucky enough to be in the path of totality for the eclipse, but I was worried because the forecast was for clouds. Fortunately, the clouds mostly dissipated right before the eclipse began. There were wisps drifting in and out, but the clouds parted for totality.

And I have to say, that was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever experienced. It was early afternoon, but it was like night. The street lights came on. I could see what I later learned were Venus and Jupiter. It got a lot colder all of a sudden. I went to the neighborhood park across the street, and a number of other people from the neighborhood were also there. A cheer went up when totality occurred. I had my Walkman radio on, since the classical radio station had a special playlist. As the eclipse was starting, they played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, music from Close Encounters and ET, and stuff like that (watching the sun go dark during the Close Encounters music was eerie). As totality approached, they played a lovely version of Clair de Lune. Then as totality happened, they played the “Sunrise” fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra, aka the 2001 theme. That was absolutely perfect.

I didn’t take any pictures of the eclipse itself because I don’t have the equipment for that and I wanted to focus on the moment, but this was what the world looked like during totality. It’s hard to believe this was about 1:43 in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day.

This looks like a nighttime photo of a pond and a bridge. The streetlights are on, casting an eerie light. But it's about 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the solar eclipse.
This isn’t a nighttime view. It’s 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the eclipse.

One thing that struck me was how light it got the moment a sliver of sun reappeared. It was still sort of dim and twilight-looking, but it was still noticeably daytime, not the night of totality.

Now, of course, I find myself wanting to work an eclipse into a fantasy novel. It was a magical moment, so it seems like a time when magic can happen. I know it’s kind of a cliche, especially the whole loophole in a “night and day at the same time” sort of curse (like in the movie Ladyhawke) but sometimes the cliches happen because something is true.


The Romance Formula

My analysis of Anastasia made me think about my romance “formula,” especially since I’m currently revising a book with a romantic arc, so I’ve been analyzing that story.

By formula, I mean boiling it down to the very basics. To have a romantic story, you need to have a reason for the characters to get together. There has to be some kind of attraction or interest somewhere along the way or there’s not much of a romance. And you need to have something keeping them apart, at least temporarily, or else there’s not much of a story. If the characters just meet, like each other, and get together, that’s great for real life but not a good story. What kind of attraction and conflict you have depends on the kind of story you’re telling.

The conflict can come in a variety of ways:
Internal to the characters — one or both characters have some kind of internal issue that keeps them from being up for any relationship, and they have to get past this in order to get together with anyone, no matter how attracted or interested they are. This is where you get the “I’ve been hurt before and don’t want to risk my heart again” story, as in the guy in Leap Year, or the “chasing the wrong person because of a wonky idea of what love really is” story, as in Stardust, where Tristan (in the movie) is obsessed with the local mean girl, which keeps him from being able to see that Yvaine may be the right person for him. Or it’s the person who’s focused on the wrong goal, such as Flynn/Eugene in Tangled, who has to figure out that his life of crime isn’t going to make him happy if he’s alone. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast has to get his act together and find his inner humanity before he can love and be loved.

Between the characters — there’s something that puts the characters at odds with each other. They may belong to different factions so they see each other as enemies or they may have a personality clash. This one is a big reason why I don’t generally get my love stories from romance novels, since this is a big focus of the romance genre. When I was trying to write romances, I kept hearing “if he’s a firefighter, make her an arsonist” from editors. They wanted CONFLICT. My issue with that is that if the conflict is so big, why would they even bother? If I meet someone I hate, I move on and find someone I don’t hate. This sometimes requires contrivance to keep them in proximity long enough for them to fall in love.

It can work, though. This is what Pride and Prejudice is all about. They have a big personality clash because they make incorrect assumptions about each other. I think the trick to making this kind of thing work is making the conflict something they can move past by growing and changing or getting to know each other better. If it’s just a basic personality clash, it’s harder to believe in the relationship working out in the long run. Why be with someone who just annoys you and sees the world in a totally different way than you do? I find it hard to believe that a firefighter would ever be happy with an arsonist. Even if she realized the error of her ways and changed, would he be able to get past the fact that her actions had put his colleagues in danger by creating fires they had to fight? He’d want her to face justice. For the same reasons, I have a hard time with enemies-to-lovers stories, unless it’s someone who’s been brought up in an enemy culture without knowing better, and once they learn the truth or get to know someone from the other side they choose to change sides — like the princess in Willow.

The outside world/circumstances against the characters — even if they don’t have internal issues they have to get over and even if they don’t have conflicts with each other, there’s something in their circumstances keeping the characters from being able to be together. This would be your Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story type of situation, where they’re from opposing factions but don’t really have any issues with each other. It’s just all the people in their lives who are tearing them apart. Or there’s something like The Terminator, where they don’t really clash, but they can’t be happy together while a killer robot from the future is relentlessly pursuing them. I used this in my Rebels series, where the rules of society mean they can’t be together — so for them to be together, they have to change society. On the lighter side, this is the conflict in While You Were Sleeping. They get along great and seem to be made for each other. The thing keeping them apart is the fact that everyone thinks she’s engaged to his brother. Remove that obstacle, and they’re fine. This is the kind of conflict we often see when there’s a love story in some other kind of story, where they gradually fall in love along the way as they do other stuff, and it’s the other stuff keeping them from just being together. Once the quest is done and they’re out of danger, then they can explore a relationship.

It’s pretty common for there to be a combination of these in a story. They may start at odds with each other, then overcome their differences as they go through stuff, but then they still have external stuff keeping them apart and personal issues they need to deal with. The interpersonal conflict can be caused by the personal issues. Think Tangled — her issue is that she’s being gaslit in an abusive relationship with her captor who’s pretending to be her mother and she needs to find her independence. His issue is that he’s compensating for being a poor orphan by stealing to get enough money to be comfortable and being loyal only to himself. He dislikes her because she’s forcing him to escort her to the celebration, so he’s trying to make things as unpleasant as possible so she’ll give up, which puts them at odds. They get over the interpersonal conflict as they get to know each other and find themselves dealing with the external issue of the guards and his former allies coming after them. Then they both have to get past their personal issues to prevail against her “mother.”

The other side of the equation is the attraction, and I think that’s where a lot of stories fall flat because the writers are so busy building up the conflict that they forget about why they might want to be together other than that they’re both attractive. The stronger the conflict, the deeper the attraction needs to be because they need to have a reason to push past the conflict, and too many romances don’t deal with that well or focus on the physical attraction — the “I hate him, but my traitorous body can’t resist him” thing.

That’s where I think Anastasia didn’t work. There was all that bickering, then he saw her in a nice dress and it was love. Why did he come to love her enough that he was willing to give up everything so she could be happy? We never saw any reason why she loved him, other than her later learning that he didn’t take the reward. That’s nice, but it’s not something to base a relationship on. This was why I liked While You Were Sleeping, on the other hand. We got some nice conversations in which we saw that they had shared values and interests, and they encouraged each other to pursue their dreams.

In the thing I’m working on, I know what brings them together, but I’m not sure I’ve shown it through their actions, so I’m trying to come up with scenes that illustrate their growing bond.


Rewriting History

Last weekend, I ended up rewatching the animated Anastasia (it was the result of a mental rabbit trail that started with a mention of a historical figure in something I saw elsewhere, and that led me to that era in history, so I decided to watch it), and that’s really a weird movie if you think about it. It’s absolutely gorgeous and has great music (though, oddly, has no romantic song in spite of there being a strong romantic plot), with musical numbers that are staged like they’re in a Broadway musical, right down to the characters holding their final poses as though they’re waiting for applause. But the plot is utterly bizarre and the love story has some lovely moments but has no connective tissue.

The plot is theoretically based on history, but they went far afield from what actually happened. I guess Disney did the same thing with Pocahontas, but in this case the events weren’t even a century old when the movie was made. There were people still alive who remembered these events. They were well-documented and even photographed. There were reasonably close relatives to these people who were still alive at that time (Prince Philip in England was a close enough relative that they used his DNA to identify the remains of the Romanovs, since he was related to Nicholas on his father’s side and Alexandra was his great aunt). Anastasia’s presence with the rest of the family when they were in captivity was documented. She wasn’t lost while they fled the palace. I know it would have been way too dark for a kids’ animated movie to have her crawl out from under the bodies of her family after they’d been shot and bayonetted, but they could have had her go missing some other way. Not to mention that she was a teen, not a child, at that time. Rasputin was actually quite friendly with the royal family. They were fond of him. In fact, that was the problem. The nobles didn’t like a commoner having that much influence, and it was other relatives who had him killed. I’ve read some in-depth biographies of him, and he wouldn’t have cursed the family or pursued them to their deaths (he did predict that the dynasty would fall within two years of his death if he was killed, but that wasn’t a curse, it was more of a concerned warning). And while the communist revolution was no picnic, it seems disrespectful to imply that everyone in Russia was happy living under the czar until Rasputin magically influenced them to revolt. Not to mention, the grandmother ended up in London, not Paris, since her sister was the dowager queen of England, and she later went to Copenhagen, since she was Danish (in spite of Angela Lansbury’s Russian accent in this movie).

If they were going to go so far afield from actual events, way beyond ordinary dramatic license, why not do the usual Disney thing and set the story they wanted to tell in some fantasy Fairytalelandia that was Not!Russia (the way Arendelle in Frozen was Not!Norway)? Then they could have gone nuts with it and made up everything. You could tell a story about a princess who was separated from her family and who lost her memory during some crisis and make up a really good villain with really good motives for pursuing her. Heck, if you’re making it all up, you could have a really happy ending in which she gets reunited with her family, who’ve been in exile, thinking she was dead.

The other thing that’s weird is the romance. There are some good moments, and it follows the usual romantic adventure pattern of bickering, then dealing with a crisis together, which leads to bonding, which leads to love, but it doesn’t really motivate or explain each step. They start bickering as soon as they’re on the train, and I have no idea why she was suddenly being extremely bitchy to him. She was getting exactly what she wanted, and I didn’t think he was being much of a jerk until she started being bitchy, and then he responded in kind and it escalated. To contrast, consider Tangled, which had a similar pattern of lost princess traveling with a criminal. They had bickering, but there was a reason behind it. She’d been brainwashed to think all outsiders were a threat and were after the power of her magical hair, she’d whacked him on the head repeatedly with an iron skillet, and she was holding his (stolen) belongings hostage to force him to take her to see the floating lights. Meanwhile, he was trying to discourage her from taking the trip by making the outside world seem scary so that he could escape the guards and his former allies. There was a good reason they were at odds with each other and disagreeing. In Anastasia, they’re both getting what they want out of the deal. No one’s being coerced. There’s absolutely no reason for them to be at odds. They didn’t even establish any personality or value differences that would explain it. They were just bickering because that’s what usually happens at this phase of this kind of story.

I think the casting of Meg Ryan doesn’t help here. At that point in her career she’d sort of fallen into a persona that was essentially the worst parts of Sally (“I want that on the side”). Or, as one reviewer said about her in one of her later rom-coms, “she seems to be in a permanent snit.” She spends the whole movie sounding somewhat annoyed and exasperated and very much like Meg Ryan.

They have the crisis when they have to work together to escape the runaway train, but it doesn’t lead to a bonding moment. They’re still bickering. There’s a musical number involving him and his sidekick training her to be a princess as they travel, but there’s no direct interaction between Anya and Dmitri. She’s interacting mostly with Vlad and pointedly snubbing Dmitri, who spends most of the number scowling in the background. There’s no point when they find common ground or talk and get to know each other (like the conversation in Tangled when he confesses his real name and backstory and she confesses that her hair is magical and explains her upbringing). Then he gives her a new dress, which she’s bitchy about, and he’s dancing with her as she’s being taught to waltz, which leads to a moment and an almost-kiss, which comes out of nowhere. Then there’s all his angst when he realizes she really is the princess, which means he can’t be with her, and they’re both willing to give up everything for each other, but they’ve never yet had a civil conversation or any kind of interaction that suggests that they have any connection at all. They’re in love because they’re in this movie together, and that’s it. Maybe that’s why there’s no romantic song. The closest is the one Vlad sings about them when he realizes they’re connecting and this could be trouble, and I guess that’s along the lines of what Disney was doing in that era. Instead of the characters singing to or about each other, they have a third party singing about them (like “Kiss the Girl” or “Beauty and the Beast”).

This is my pet peeve about bad rom-coms and romances. If there’s bickering, there needs to be a reason beyond just personality differences. It needs to be something situational or that can be changed as one or both learn and grow. If it’s just a personality difference, then they don’t have much hope for a relationship. And there needs to be a reason why they fall in love beyond just seeing each other in better clothes. What did they learn about each other that makes them bond and then fall in love?

Of course, now I’m trying to figure out if I could get away with a missing princess story that doesn’t look like Anastasia with the serial numbers rubbed off, but I just realized I have a lurking story fragment that gender flips it, with a prince who escaped. I wasn’t deliberately doing a take on Anastasia. Actually, I was creating a backstory for an undeveloped character in some other story, and it spun out of control to become a whole story that had nothing to do with that, as these things so often do for me.


Memory Lane

This week I’ve been distracted by a jaunt down memory lane. One of my good friends from my college days died recently, and on the Facebook group for my college friends we’ve been sharing memories and photos of him, and that set off a big sharing of memories and photos, in general, as all of us have been digging out and scanning pictures from that time.

It’s funny, I thought I had really vivid memories of my college days, but some of these pictures are bringing up things I’d totally forgotten about. There are people I don’t recognize until someone mentions their names, and then memories flood back, or there are names that don’t ring a bell at all until I see them connected to a photo and then suddenly remember the people well. That’s meant I’ve been having a constant flood of nostalgia, and I’ve spent way too much time checking to see if anything new has been posted or digging through boxes of my own photos.

This friend was pretty much responsible for me having the college experience I had. I lived in a high-rise dorm on the honors floor, so basically it was geek central. It was a co-ed floor, with the girls on one wing and the boys on another. I moved in early because I had to do orientation, and I met someone else who’d also arrived early, and we hit it off, so I’d been hanging out with her and with some other people we’d met. I’d met some of the people on the floor when we had meetings, but I wasn’t really part of that group.

Then on Halloween, a Friday, I rushed home from class because I had to deliver something for my Pumpkin Pal (like a Secret Santa, but for Halloween), and in my rush I just threw my backpack on my bed and didn’t lock my door when I ran to deliver my gift. I got back to my room to find that my wallet was missing from my backpack. I went down to the dorm office to find the police there because there had already been multiple theft reports. This guy had apparently been working his way through the dorm. My friends came by while I was waiting to talk to the police, heading out to go do something, and instead of waiting with me until I made my report, they left. I was pretty devastated. I hadn’t lost much, since it was just the wallet I carried to class, so it only contained a few dollars, my student ID, and my driver’s license, but it still felt like a violation, and then to have my friends ditch me when I really needed support was even worse.

But a guy named Eric who lived on my floor saw me talking to the police and stopped to make sure I was okay. He then invited me to join the group that met in his room every afternoon to watch Star Trek before heading down to the cafeteria for dinner. That may have been the most comforting thing possible, since that had been my family’s routine when I was in high school. My parents worked at the school, so we got home together in the afternoon, and then we’d watch the Star Trek rerun before dinner.

That day, I got a whole new group of friends that I stuck with the rest of my time through school, and I’m still in touch with a lot of them now online. And it all happened because someone I barely knew reached out to me when I needed a friend. It turned out that most of the people in the group had been brought into it by Eric. He was essentially the one who made the group what it was.

One thing I find interesting about seeing those old photos is that the boys I thought were cute actually were. When I look at my crushes in my yearbooks from junior high and high school, I wonder what I was thinking, but most of the guys I had crushes on from college are still cute to me (their past selves are cute to current me. I don’t know what most of them look like now). There’s one that I didn’t remember at all until people started posting pictures, and now I think he was cute, but I don’t remember if I crushed on him then. There were a couple of pictures of him in my collection, but I don’t know if I was taking pictures of him because I liked him or because he was doing interesting things. Nothing happened with any of these guys because I was very much not cute then, and I was pretty awkward, even for the nerd floor.

A group of somewhat nerdy freshmen in a dorm study lounge in the mid-80s. Of note is a girl with frizzy hair wearing a green sweater and a red skirt with a young Black man in front of her, attempting to strike a suave pose.
Some of my friends during my freshman year in college. I’m the one on the left wearing a green sweater and red skirt (it was around Christmas). My friend Eric, who recently passed away, is the one directly in front of me.

Actually, looking at those pictures makes me want to go back in time and stage an intervention with my past self. For one thing, I’d tell myself to grow my hair out. I didn’t learn until later that my hair shouldn’t be worn short because it won’t have room to curl, so it just makes a frizzy cloud. Some of my fashion choices were questionable. Yes, it was the 80s, but the things I thought were great were weird even for the 80s. And I’d tell myself to be more open to possibilities. I was very set on a plan and didn’t want to deviate from it, even when other opportunities came up. I chose a major and stuck with it, but it turned out to be a bad fit for my personality, and I didn’t actually enjoy it. Meanwhile, other things had come up, but I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities because they didn’t fit with my major. I don’t know what other direction I should have gone, but I should have let myself be more open to exploring. There was no guidance counseling at my high school, so I didn’t know what was out there, and going to a large university, I should have let myself explore enough to find a better fit. I’d probably have ended up doing the same thing I’m doing now, since that was the real plan all along, but I might have been happier along the way.

That sounds like the plot of a paranormal women’s fiction book — the middle-aged woman having a mid-life crisis getting the chance to either relive her college days or travel in time and visit her college-age self. Most of the things like that, like Peggy Sue Got Married, seem to involve parents who choose not to change their lives because they still want to have the kids they had, but what if you haven’t had kids and wouldn’t miss the kids that would have been if you change your life? There’s the TV series Being Erica, in which the heroine goes back in time and relives certain key times in her life. She doesn’t actually change the past, but the changed perspective on the past changes the way she faces the present. But she’s in her early 30s, so it’s more chick lit than women’s fiction.

I may have to add this to my idea file. Like I need more things to write. In the meantime, I have a funeral to go to this weekend, and the bright side of that is that I’ll be seeing some old friends there.


The Great Muppet Theory

A couple of weeks ago, I watched The Muppets Treasure Island, and that got me started thinking again about my Muppet Repertory Company theory.

It is possible that I spend far too much time thinking about Muppets, but my brain is a funny place, and I love the Muppets.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I started rewatching the original Muppet Show and then the older Muppet movies, and the continuity bothered me. The origin story we see in the first Muppet Movie couldn’t have been true within that world because we know Kermit was on Sesame Street with Big Bird long before he was on The Muppet Show, and they were TV stars before they got the movie. And then with The Great Muppet Caper, we got yet another origin story of how they all met. And then yet another one in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

And that was when it occurred to me that none of these films were meant to be actual biopics within the Muppet universe. Instead, what we seemed to have was a repertory company made up of the Muppets, and in their first few movies they were playing fictionalized versions of themselves. It was like when they make a movie centered around a musical group or pop singer and it’s sort of supposed to be about them, but it’s not really. They’re playing themselves, though they’re really more characters with the same names who look like them, in a fictional story. That’s how Kermit could have met Piggy for the first time multiple times in different ways in different places. They started branching out and playing other characters with their version of A Christmas Carol.

The backstage parts of the original Muppet Show are the “documentary” part. That’s their real selves. The rest, aside from some fourth-wall breaking in the movies, is not meant to be real. One area where this matters is with the relationship between Kermit and Piggy. On the original Muppet Show, she has a huge crush on him, which he finds annoying. He’s somewhat afraid of her (since she physically threatens him when she doesn’t get her way), but he doesn’t show any sign of actually being interested in her, aside maybe from the occasional jealous moment when she drops her interest in him to focus on the guest star. It’s like he’s somewhat flattered by the attention but doesn’t actually return her affections.

But then in the movies they’re always thrown into a romance, possibly either because Piggy had it put into her contract or because the executives knew that might be a selling point. Either way, Kermit was stuck with it, and like a trouper he managed to play along even though he’s usually annoyed with her. There is a moment in The Great Muppet Caper when he breaks character during a romantic scene to go into director mode and critique her performance, like he’s miffed with her about what she’s doing on the set, and then he goes back into character, playing the romantic scene.

Somewhere along the way, though, it seems like the people writing the Muppets stuff have forgotten that this was the joke, that Kermit kept being thrown into romantic scenes with Piggy in spite of him not being interested, and they were treating them like they’d become a real couple. One of the more recent iterations of a Muppet show, the one that had them running Piggy’s late-night talk show and treating it like it was The Office, had them being exes who’d broken up but still had to work together.

Even as a kid, I didn’t like the idea of them being together. Now that I know more about relationships, it’s even worse. It’s not a healthy relationship when one member of the couple always gets her way by karate chopping the other member of the couple if he dares go against her every whim. I was kind of glad that he apparently got away from her, but I hated that they ever put them together in “real life” in the first place.

I’m not sure the current Muppet stuff even fits with the idea of the repertory company. They seem to be treating some of the movie events as canon, even though they all contradict each other. I haven’t watched the more recent movies since they came out, so that may be one of my summer projects, and then finish rewatching the original series and then rewatch the subsequent series.

And that is probably way more thought than this topic deserves. I just had to get it off my chest after groaning when Treasure Island had Kermit and Piggy playing a couple yet again. I’d thought we might avoid it for once, since there wasn’t a romance that I recalled in the book. But, no.

In Another Life

I had another one of those “this is a thing I like!” experiences with something I was watching last week, so I’ve got a new plot element to add to my list. I’m not sure if I’d call it a trope because it’s pretty specific. I’m calling it “in another life.”

This is a situation in which two characters have known each other and maybe even were in love, but then meet again in different circumstances and one or both doesn’t remember, or else they’re different people, so things have changed. It really only works in a science fiction or fantasy story because you need something that doesn’t generally exist in reality to create the situation — things like time travel, alternate universes, memory spells, clones, etc. The only thing that might make it work in a non-SF story is amnesia, and real-world amnesia doesn’t really work that way.

Some examples:
Farscape had one of the best TV romance stories ever, possibly because they made use of this trope to extend the “will they/won’t they” phase while also still having a relationship. Spoilers ahead. The main relationship started as enemies, then they became reluctant allies, then allies, then friends, and then they spent a long time in what I call “affection” (another reason I think this relationship worked — it was a slow burn, and most of the “Moonlighting syndrome” relationships go from animosity straight to bed without passing through a transitional phase). While they were hanging out and having long talks while snuggled against each other but weren’t yet lovers, some science fictiony thing happened that made a duplicate of him. One version went off to have other adventures while one stayed on the ship, where the relationship continued to progress, and they eventually became lovers. Then he died heroically and tragically, and then the other version returned and it was weird for them because he wasn’t the same person she’d fallen in love with. He was the same up to the point of the duplication, but he hadn’t had the experience of becoming her lover and had gone off and had a lot of other experiences. He was someone she could fall in love with, but it was painful for her to see this person who was just like the man she lost, so it reset their relationship. Eventually, they did end up together.

The series Haven had something like this. We learned later in the series that she kept getting a new personality and memories and getting sent back to this town. Thanks to time travel, he kept getting sent back and meeting her past identities, and they always fell in love. So by the time they met, she’d already fallen in love with him a couple of times in her past, but that was still in his future. She didn’t remember it, but she was drawn to him.

The one that made me realize that I like this sort of thing was a show I won’t name to avoid spoilers (it’s pretty recent). A character found herself in a different timeline where history had gone differently and she was the only one aware of the change. She and a person from that timeline ended up going back in time and had to set things right, stopping another time traveler from trying to change history. They developed feelings during the mission, but they realized that if they were successful, he wouldn’t exist. There would be a version of him, but he would be different because he would be from a different world. After the mission was complete and she was back in her time, which had returned to the timeline she knew, she encountered the version of that person, and of course he didn’t know her and he wasn’t the person she’d fallen for (but maybe he could be …)

I’m less a fan of reincarnation stories, and there usually neither of them is aware of what’s going on, so it’s all on the audience to feel the angst of their past selves, but something like Dead Again also gives some of the same vibe.

I’m trying to figure out why this is a story line that has me going “ooh!” I think part of it is figuring out what aspect of a person makes that person who they are. There’s bound to be some element of their personality that would be the same, no matter what, but then people are also shaped by their experiences. This kind of story with alternate timelines or artificial personalities or memory wipes or duplicates, etc., is like having a control group to study which changes will have which effects and which things remain constant.

But as a fan of slow-burn romances, I think it’s also that it’s fun to have a bit of a reset button. You can have a relationship come to fruition and then send it back to square one to start all over again. It’s a fun way of avoiding that problem in a series of having a relationship work out and then not knowing what to do with it. You can also have a dramatic, tragic death and still have your lovers get together eventually in some form. You get to have both angst and a happy ending, having your cake and eating it, too.

And I think there’s that element of “meant to be” if people keep falling in love with each other in multiple timelines or versions of themselves. You know you’ve got a truly epic romance when these same people fall for each other every time, no matter what’s changed about them.

I haven’t tried using this yet in my work, though I come close in the Rydding Village books. Now I need to see if I can come up with a plot that goes all-out with this.


Remaking Sleeping Beauty

Because my brain is a funny place, I found myself lying awake during the night last weekend, planning a live-action Disney remake of Sleeping Beauty.

Mind you, I currently have no connection to Disney. I’m not a screenwriter. I would have zero chance of doing anything with this. But my brain wouldn’t let go of this as a problem that needs to be solved. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get something out of my brain is to write it out, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First, I would make it more like the Disney live-action Cinderella than like their other live-action remakes, in that it’s not a direct remake of the animated version, but rather a new telling of the same story, but with some references to the original. Cinderella had a lot of the same pieces as the animated version, but they were executed in different ways. The animals were just pets, not talking animal sidekicks. Some of the same characters were there, but they were different than in the animated version, etc. Also, I think it would be more of a straightforward fantasy film, not a musical. The Sleeping Beauty score was lovely, since it was essentially the Tchaikovsky ballet score (though with the music used in different contexts), but the songs they made from it weren’t all that memorable. I don’t think you’d lose anything from not having the characters singing (and I’m a big musical theater fan).

The next tricky thing would be to make Aurora an actual character rather than merely an object. In the animated version, she’s basically something to be obtained, used, or guarded. She doesn’t really exist as a person. Someone calculated that she had something like 28 lines in the whole film, for which she’s the title character. But it’s a major part of the plot that she’s unconscious for a big chunk of it. How do you give a character whose main role is to sleep more to do?

I think step one for me would be to give her a goal other than finding her dream lover. Let her have learned to do something as a peasant girl who lives in the woods that’s on the way to becoming a viable career that she couldn’t continue to do as a princess. It would have to be something that doesn’t involve a lot of human interaction, since she’s in hiding, so that rules out becoming some kind of herbalist/healer, where she’d have to see patients. She could be a seamstress or baker (which might explain why the fairies didn’t know how to sew or bake without magic in spite of living without magic for 16 years, if we’re still going to have their last-minute use of magic be how they’re found), weave baskets, or do some other kind of craft they were able to sell to supplement whatever nest egg the king gave them to live on while in hiding. Just something for her to have some ambition and feel like she’s losing something other than a man when she finds out she’s a princess.

Prince Phillip from Disney's Sleeping BeautyStep two would be to develop her relationship with Phillip. It needs to be more than one meeting on that last day so that they aren’t both going “but I don’t want to marry the prince/princess because I’m in love with someone else I just met today.” Maybe they’ve been meeting up secretly over years, ever since he was old enough to go riding on his own. In the animated version, he’s four when she’s born, so when he’s 14 she’d be 10, and that means they’d have to start as friends. He’s a lonely kid who’s tired of being trained to be a prince and who doesn’t have any real friends, and she doesn’t know anyone other than her guardians. He runs into her while he’s riding in the woods and they talk. He teaches her swordfighting using sticks, maybe brings bows and arrows and teaches her archery. She’s kind of like a little sister. But then over the years as they get older, it gradually starts developing into something more. This could be shown in montage until not long before her 16th birthday, when something happens to make them see each other in a new light, and they realize they’ve fallen in love.

Though I might tinker with the ages. I know 16 is part of the fairy tale, but if she’s not sleeping for a hundred years and knew the guy who kisses her (and if we’re going to the Grimm version, if she’s not awakened by one of the twin babies she’s given birth to sucking the sliver from the spindle out of her finger), we’re already changing the fairy tale. Sixteen seems so young. Maybe make her 18 and decrease the age gap, so if he’s hanging out with her at 16, then she’s 14 and that seems less creepy.

The next issue is figuring out what to do with her during the main action, since her main role in the story is “sleeping.” The ballet offers one possible solution. The first act is the stuff leading to her falling under a curse, then act two is the prince showing up, finding her, and waking her, with act three being the wedding celebration. During act two, when she’s unconscious until the very end, the prince dreams about the maiden in the tower and there’s this big dream pas de deux. So maybe Phillip could have a dream about unconscious Aurora in which she gives him a pep talk or lets him know what happened.

Another possibility is to change the order in which things happen. In the animated version, the big, climactic scene is Phillip fighting the Malificent dragon, and then him kissing and waking Aurora is sort of an afterthought in the aftermath. Maybe he could manage to wake her first, everything seems okay, and then they have to face Malificent together.

But then we need to look at the fairies’ role. I’ve seen an analysis of the animated movie that the fairies are the actual heroes, and it’s the rare story that centers older women. I like that idea, and structurally, the fairies are the protagonists. They’re the ones with the goal and the plan. They’re the ones who make it possible for Phillip to defeat Malificent. Would it take away from their role if it’s Aurora snapping Phillip out of things when he’s captured by Malificent by meeting with him in a dream and if she’s fighting by his side? I think they’d still need the magical help from the fairies, and Aurora and the fairies can work out their issues about her independence when she insists on facing Malificent.

I probably would find another reason for the fairies to use magic in a way that provides a clue that Malificent tracks. As I mentioned above, it makes no sense that the fairies don’t know how to sew clothes or bake a cake without magic when they’ve been living for 16 years without magic.

I do want to keep the three fairies. I think I want them played by Emma Thompson, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. I want to keep this separate from the Malificent movies, so no Angelina Jolie in that role here. I had a wacky thought of Gwendoline Christie. She’s physically very different from the animated version, but she would be very intimidating and she has an amazing voice. I have no idea who would play Aurora and Phillip since it would be people who are late teens/early 20s now and I’m not up on young actors. I want to keep Phillip’s snarky sense of humor. He’s my favorite Disney prince.

My obsession with this may mean they’re actually in the process of working on the project. A long time ago, when I was obsessed with the animated Sleeping Beauty after a recent re-release, I started amusing myself by figuring out how Disney might do Beauty and the Beast, and it turned out that was when Disney was in the process of creating their animated version, so maybe I have some kind of psychic direct link to them and I pick up on what they’re doing. I’ve already written my Sleeping Beauty book, so it’s not as though I can capitalize on whatever Disney might be cooking up by writing a book now and having it ready to go by the time they release it. They haven’t announced anything, that I know of.

Really, I just want to see Phillip in live action, and they’d better get him right.


Homebody Woes

I learned this week that today’s cars with their fancy touchscreens and electronic everything aren’t compatible with the homebody lifestyle. I didn’t go anywhere last week because I was focused on writing and didn’t need anything from the grocery store, so it had been nearly two weeks since I’d last driven when I went to head to the grocery store on Wednesday. And that meant my battery was dead.

After roadside assistance jumped it, I drove around for a while to recharge. It’s bluebonnet season, so I looked at flowers, then went out to the lake and drove around it, then followed the advice of the roadside assistance guy and when a wrong turn took me right to an auto parts store, I stopped and asked them to check the battery. The battery registered as good, as did the other electrical system stuff, but the guy at the store was a Subaru fanatic/expert, and he noticed that the battery was the factory original. Batteries have a short life span around here because of the summer heat, and with the mileage on the car when I bought it, the former owner probably had driving habits about like mine. For peace of mind, I just bought a new battery. I figured it was good to have someone who was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about my kind of car while I was there.

But now I know that I need to get out more. I’ll confess to being a bit of (a lot of, to be honest) a homebody. It’s a major effort for me to leave the house, and the longer it’s been since I went out, the harder it is for me to force myself. If I don’t have a reason to go somewhere, I don’t go, especially if I have to drive.

I live in a pretty walkable neighborhood, so I like to walk for as many errands as I can. I would be happy living without a car, though that would be pretty inconvenient around here. Another reason I like my neighborhood is that everything I need is right nearby. I don’t have to get on freeways. Most of my driving is the two miles to the grocery store and back.

I don’t know if I’ve got full-blown agoraphobia, but I did have a great aunt who apparently got weird and never left the house at all, so I guess it runs in the family. Pre-pandemic, I made sure I had several activities to force me out of the house a couple of times a week so that it got easier to go out. Most of those activities ended with the pandemic.

I guess this is kind of like how having a dog forces you to go out on a walk every day. My car is going to force me to leave the house at least once a week and drive for more than five minutes at a stretch, and I probably will need to get on a freeway a couple of times a month. I’ll have to come up with a list of driving outings I can do. There are parks where I can go walking, and I can make more of an effort to meet up with friends. The afternoon spent driving this week was probably good for me, though it would have been more fun without the stress of worrying about the battery.

Oh, and with the unexpected bill, this would be a good time to tell someone about my books!