Saturday, February 27, 2010

Percy Jackson: Book vs Movie

I've been meaning to blog about the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan for a while. I just finished the series in January. I finally was motivated to read them because people kept telling me that my book reminded them of the Percy Jackson books.

First off, as I mentioned in my top ten books list, I loved the books. They were, for the most part, good clean fun. There was a consistent humor underlying the whole series that Harry Potter lost. The books managed to keep this lightness in spite of the heavy save-the-world-or-die aspects of it.

It was a fun romp through Greek mythology. I love mixed genres, so I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Greek myth world getting mixed up with our 21st century one. I also like the fact that Percy Jackson was a do-something hero, unlike HP. He made decisions and took action without waiting for Hermoine to tell him what to do. If Percy and Harry went one-on-one, I think Percy would kick Harry's butt (ooh, movie idea! Kinda like alien vs predator).

So, today, we splurged and took the family to the Percy Jackson movie. Waste of money. Should have waited for the DVD. Now, I knew the movie would be quite a bit different. I just didn't realize that the entire plot would be changed. And the new plot wasn't all that well thought out. They should have just called this a "Re-envisioning of Percy Jackson."

My first complaint is that they made some of the monsters a little too scary-looking and detailed. I'm okay with them upping the age of the characters, but a large part of the Percy Jackson fan base are middle-grade readers. For instance, the Medusa scene went on too long. It was like, "Ooh, look at this cool special effect we can do with the snakes. Look, look, and keep looking for a really long time." The scene could have been more effective and suspenseful if we only got a quick look at the Medusa. But as it was, I think the scene was too drawn out for younger viewers (there was a whole row of them sitting in front of me). I would guess this is a big reason why the movie is not faring as well at the box office as expected. Message to Hollywood: MAKE MOVIES MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY.

Maid and butler. Too much of the backstory was just told to us, instead of showing it or weaving it into the plot. For instance, when Chiron was first showing Percy his "cabin".

The antagonist was completely changed. This may not be a problem if they are not planning on doing any more movies, but if they are, they are going to have to completely re-write the plots to match the fact that they changed the villain in the first movie. If this is the only film, I think they dropped the ball. This could have been a profitable franchise like Harry Potter.

The pearl search became a major plot point that took up most of the film.

Capture the Flag. Who made up those rules? While Percy was duking it out with Annabeth and the other reds, someone else could have grabbed the flag. And then to have everybody stop and let him pick it up like "hail the conquering hero"? The objective is to capture the flag and take it to your base, not watch Percy kick butt and then, because he's such a nice guy, let him win.

Where did that woman come from at Auntie Em's? She was a total Star Trek red shirt, with no other purpose than to show us how dangerous Medusa was.

Keys in the visor of a car on display? Very convenient.

There were many little things left out of the world that could have been left in and not taken up any more time. Thalia's tree, strawberry fields, etc. They didn't need an explanation, but they were a part of the ambiance of the books that would have been nice to have. Mr. D. strolling through Camp Half-blood could have been entertaining, too.

It seems like there were other things, but I don't remember them now. I'm going to have to start taking a notebook to movies with me so I can jot them down as they happen.

Now, there were some things I liked. Grover did manage to provide some good comic relief. I especially loved his comment about the music of Nashville. Grover kept the movie at least mildly entertaining.

Even though this was a major change from the book, I liked that the reason why the gods didn't communicate with their children was because of a law from Zeus. The thing that bothered me the most about the books was the whole concept of the gods just having children with mortals and not caring much about them afterward. We have too many mortals doing that in our world today.

The special effects were good and almost invisible. Of course, I think this and other movies many times rely on the effects too much to tell the story (anybody hear about Star Wars I, II, and III?). But still, I'm a sucker for a pretty picture.

Percy Jackson's character came through mostly the same. His telling his step-father off was out of character (and a little maid and butler again), but other than that, it was close.

I liked the location of the entrance to Hades. Sometimes we find truth in fiction.

For more information, I did post on my website under Book Ratings my score for language, sex, and violence for the books. As I said, they are relatively clean. The seemingly high language score is mainly due to the use of the H-E-Double-toothpick-hounds that kept getting mentioned. If someone wants to get technical about usage, there really wasn't any swearing in the books. But the word was there.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peaks Jazz Part 2

I didn't take as many notes on Saturday, I just went to soak things in. There were a couple of themes that emerged, though.

I mentioned last time that Gordon Goodwin talked about the 10,000 hour rule. At another clinic done by Chase Baird (saxophone) and Steve Lyman (drums), I asked them how much time they practice. Steve mentioned the 10,000 hour rule again and said in his younger days he started out doing 2 hours a day, then later up to 6. I was glad they brought this out, since I don't think a lot of kids today really know what it means to practice. They think that a half hour a day will get them there. That's a start, but to get to the level that these guest artists play at, they need a lot more.

Gordon Goodwin did another clinic talking about his experience at writing and arranging music for animation (Warner Brothers, the Incredibles). I only heard the very end since I went to hear my daughters performance with the Orem High jazz band, but Gordon made a great statement. He said, "Video games are time bandits." In other words, they steal time from us that they don't give back. I have to confess that, for a while, I was addicted to computer games. I still play them here and there for a few minutes for stress release (spider solitaire anyone?), but not the hours on end like I used to. I find that I don't have time to do that anymore because I have more important things to do. I've got a music career to maintain and a writing career I'm starting. When you finish a computer games, what have you accomplished? So you make level 10,000, so what? Can you get a job or make money with that? The thing I've found with writing (or music practice) is that I get the same satisfaction as having conquered some game, AND I have something to show for it. I've also increased my skills in a marketable area.

Since the Olympics are on, we keep hearing stories about how these athletes have to dedicate a tremendous number of hours a day in order to get to their skill level. Is being a musician or writer any different? Okay, we don't get to earn expensive medals when we're done, but we don't have to retire at 30, either. But we need that same mindset, a willingness to put time and focus into our craft. Something else Gordon Goodwin said at the end of his clinic yesterday, "Perseverance and hard work are worth more than talent." From my experience watching students over the years, I whole-heartedly agree. I've had students with all kinds of talent levels, but the ones who have gone on to experience success are the ones who were willing to put the time in. Not a half hour a day, but two or more.

Eric Marienthal gave a great clinic in the morning. My frustration with is was that people kept asking him simple questions about saxophone equipment and fundamentals that their band teacher or I could have answered. Here we have one of the greatest jazz saxophonists on the planet and he is being asked about the difference between metal and plastic mouthpieces. He did have a few pedagogical approaches that were interesting and I need to experiment with.

Back to my theme of the day, though, Eric demonstrated, again, the importance of practicing. He really emphasized technique, and even has a two hour routine on his website that is very technical. So, again, time on task and smart practice were things he brought up.

Well, there are a few thoughts from yesterday. My dilemma now is, what do I do on Monday? I want to practice for three hours, but I also want to keep writing my novel. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peaks Jazz Day 1

Okay, I'm geekin' out. And for this episode, I'm going to go back to my musical roots instead of writing about writing. Today, I went up to Thanksgiving Point to hear clinics given by alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal and tenor saxophonist/super arranger Gordon Goodwin. Both men offered some great advice to young musicians and gave me some material that I can use for teaching. Here are some of the things they said:

Eric Marienthal: Most important thing about practicing is constantly using a metronome (see? told ya). We need to play with our instrument, not at it. When you sit down to practice, have a plan. He also talked about motif practicing, which is something I also teach. What you practice isn't as important as how you do it. Playing professionally is all about playing in time and in tune. If he doesn't have much time for practice, he at least does long tones. The more time you put in, the more automatic things become.

Gordon Goowin: If you want something, you have to go get it. Have a plan when you improvise (or what I tell my students is to have a strategy). We need to train our brain to think spontaneously. A big thing that really stood out, though, is that he talked about the 10,000 hour rule, something I just blogged about! He also mentioned that to be musicians (or writers, for that matter), we have to have understanding spouses (boy, have I been blessed in that department).

So, I guess there are principles here that can apply to writing. I feel that my musical training has been a great help to my development as a writer. You have to be disciplined to make yourself practice. Same thing with making yourself sit down to write. Dang, I still turned this into a writing thing; I guess it's what's on my brain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Clueless in Hollywood

This is something that has been eating at me for a while, so I'll go ahead and rant about it. First off, a disclaimer. When I mention 'Hollywood' here, I'm using it as an abbreviation for the less than brilliant people there. Granted, there are some geniuses and good people there putting out good things.

Now that that's out of the way, here is something that confuses me. In the retail world, when you create a product, you want to make something as universally useful as possible so that it will appeal to more people. Or at least, the companies that care about quality do. It comes down to bottom line: the more sales, the more money you make. Why doesn't Hollywood get this principle?

I've been stewing about this since The Land of the Lost movie. When I heard about it, I got excited. I grew up watching the old Sid and Marty Kroft version and loved it. It had freakin' dinosaurs, for crying out loud! Every kid my age at the time loved anything about dinosaurs, even if they did look like sock puppets. So, here was my chance to share something from my childhood with my kids.

Not so fast. Then I saw the trailers. My excitement decreased. It was looking like it would be a raunchy, dirty movie. I still held out hope, though. Then, once it came out, I checked the Kids-In-Mind website, which told me that it was NOT a kid-friendly film, nor was it even adult friendly. Suffice it to say, I never saw it.

The week before, the SyFy channel had a marathon of the old TV shows. It was interesting to see that a lot of the episodes were written by the same people who wrote the original Star Trek shows. I think the first episode was even written by Walter Koenig (aka Chekov). Anyway, my younger kids loved the shows (the teenagers just rolled their eyes). This made me realize that Hollywood really blew it. They could have written a really dumb script for the movie and could have been reasonably successful if THEY HAD ONLY MADE IT FAMILY FRIENDLY. As it was, by making it a raunch-fest, the movie didn't pull in enough box office to cover the cost of making it. It cost 100 million, and it pulled in 64 million. Ouch.

Okay, so Hollywood made one mistake. Well, a couple of other movies pop to mind: The Brady Bunch Movie and The Beverly Hillbillies. I never saw them, but they were both rated PG-13, which in my mind translates as family-UNfriendly. They also both flopped. However, my kids love the old TV versions of those shows, and if the movies were cleaner, perhaps Hollywood would have received a good return on investment.

And then there's TV. Last season, they rolled out the new and improved version of Knight Rider. When my youngest son caught wind of that, he got very excited. A talking car? How cool is that to a young mind? Well, I watched the first episode and saw that it was NOT a kid show. Surprise of all surprises, the show did not survive long.

I think that is also what brought about the demise of Star Trek: Enterprise. At least with the other four series, I could watch them with my kids and not have to worry too much. Enterprise was not like that. Some of the episodes were okay, but I didn't know if they would be child-safe until after I watched them. I think this is one of the reasons why the show didn't get the ratings they wanted. At the same time, some of the episodes were very thought-provoking and well-written. They were just a little too violent and risque for a broader audience.

I don't even want to launch into the new Battlestar Galactica. I could rant about that for a long time.

Now, if Hollywood wants to make a gritty movie about warfare in the trenches with all it's inherent grit, fine. I don't have a problem with that, even though I don't want to see it. What really gripes me is when they take what was originally a good, clean idea and decide that it needs to be dirtier. To my knowledge, this formula has never worked. So why do they keep trying it? It seems to me, either they are really stupid or else they have an agenda, but that might be a topic for another time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Drained from LTUE

I spent all day today at "Life, the Universe, and Everything" symposium (LTUE) at BYU. It's a great place to rub shoulders with some of the hot names in sci-fi and fantasy. This year, we had Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner and Brandon Mull. Plus, there are several other writers (like me) who happen to live in the area and participate on the panels. It's a great place to learn some of the inside tricks and information about being a writer. There are also discussions about the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

I made it to panels about style in sci-fi, fantasy without magic, becoming an idea factory, why Mormons and fantasy, soft science SF, Brandon Sanderson's address, and the Writing Excuses podcast. I participated on panels about influences on writers and NaNoWriMo. I did a book signing today and even a "reading", even though the only person who showed up for it was my daughter.

So, it has been a full day and full weekend. I now need to relax and process all the information I took in. LTUE is basically like a second Christmas for writers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things . . . Books

I can't believe Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't have a verse about books. At least they got the schnitzel in there. Anyway, today I'm going to attempt to list my top ten favorite fiction books. This is partially in preparation for a panel I'll be on tomorrow at BYU's "Life, the Universe, and Everything" symposium. It's called LTUE for short, so my daughter pronounces it 'Lute' and I pronounced it 'LaTooee'. The panel I'll be on is titled, "What influenced me as a writer." I'll maybe write more on that after the panel, but for now, you will be privileged to read my current top ten list (subject to change without notice, some items may not be available for purchase, contents may settle during shipping, residents of CA and NY add sales tax).

I'm cheating a little and lumping series together as one book, but here we go:

#10. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney. Fantasy. I have not read this series in over 20 years, but I remember I really liked it at the time. It's been put back on my "to read" list, which is a mile long. I don't remember enough about it to say why I liked it, all I remember is that it intrigued me and left an impression.

#9 The Belgariad/The Malloreon by David Eddings. Fantasy. I've read this series twice, but it's been 20 years since the last time as well. Eddings probably has had the most impact on me as a writer. I love the lightness of his stories and the interaction of the characters. And even though these are big, thick books, they still have a YA feel to them and are mostly clean.

#8 The Warlock in Spite of Himself and subsequent books by Christopher Stasheff. Sci-fi, in spite of the title. About a man who lands on a medieval style planet and is thought to be a warlock because of his advanced knowledge. I mainly loved the lightness and humor between him and his epileptic robotic horse.

#7 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Sci-fi/comedy. So this book is a similar genre to my own. The tongue-and-cheek wit of Douglas Adams is a great form of escape.

#6 Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. Epic fantasy. I mainly picked this series up because he is a local author. Well, it turns out that he is also an extremely talented writer. I also love his Alcatraz books, but I still haven't read books 2 and 3, so they didn't make the list, yet. In Mistborn, Brandon creates an interesting and complex magic system that is believable and characters that are intriguing and lovable. There's also a little tragedy in there, which for some reason also appeals to me. It would be higher on my list, though, if it were a comedy. Like maybe if the allomancers used colored M&Ms instead of metals.

#5 Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. YA fantasy. I've recently started reading more YA, partially because that is the genre that I write in. It may also be because I'm trying to recapture my youth, I'm not sure. Of course, another nice thing about YA is that it doesn't have all the sex, violence, and language that authors of adult books seem to think everybody wants. Anyway, the Percy Jackson books appealed to me because they were fun but not heavy. I didn't feel down and depressed, like after reading about a character with the initials of 'HP'.

#4 The Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Again, I haven't read these for a while, so their rank may change when I do. These were some of the first books I read as a youth (in addition to his Tarzan, Pelucidar, and Venus series). I guess the swashbuckling adventure is why they are still near and dear to my heart.

#3 The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison. Sci-fi/comedy. Again, my favorite genre. These are all told in a wacky first-person, tongue-in-cheek style. The humor is what mainly appeals to me, though it's also fun to see how "Slippery Jim" DiGriz pulls off his various heists.

#2 The Lord of the Rings by you-know-who. Epic fantasy. I know, I know, this book is probably on just about every fantasy geek's list. I am no exception. The Hobbit was the first fantasy book I read of any kind, and it pulled me away from the Hardy Boys forever. As far as Tolkien's influence on me as a writer, I think it was actually negative. I loved the world he created and wanted to create my own like it. I got so caught up in "world-building" that I neglected little things like character development and plot. I've since then realized that I am no freakin' Tolkien, so I don't let myself spend too much time on world-building any more. But as far as the man who started it all and fired up my imagination, I still tip my hat to him. Except I don't wear hats, even when it's below zero.

And now (imagine drum roll here) for my favorite book/series of all time: The Elenium/The Tamuli series by David Eddings. I liked it for the same reason as the Belgariad, except I enjoyed having a witty adult main character. As much as I like YA lit, it's nice to be able to read a character that I can relate with age-wise. That's probably one of the reasons why The Incredibles is also my favorite movie.

So, there you have it. I'm probably leaving out something important, but, oh well.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Several times after playing a gig, someone has come up to me and said, "Oh, you're so talented." My response to them us usually, "No, I'm not talented. I just found something I enjoyed and stuck with it until I accidentally got good at it." The more I think about it, though, the more I find my statement to be true for all success.

I recently read the first half of a book (because the Orem Library wanted it back. I hate due dates) called The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the things that piqued my interest was when he discussed the 10,000 rule. In a nutshell, what they've found for people to become an expert at something is that it takes 10,000 hours. At first I thought, "That's all?" Then I started doing some math, which is pretty challenging for a music major who can only count to four.

In the book, Gladwell mentions a study of musicians (that got my attention)where they wanted to see how much time it took studying the instrument to become 'world class'. Now, we've always been told that to be good at music, you have to practice a lot. Well, what they found is that, surprise, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice. This is nice in that now we have a quantity and not just some vague 'practice lots' advice, but it is also daunting when you figure out what it takes to get to the magic 10,000.

Okay, here's my math, as faulty as it may be. I figured that by the time I graduated from high school, I had about 2000 hours. Some of these kids in the music study were reaching 10,000 by the time they were 20. Not me. To do that, they had to get to the point where they were practicing 6 to 8 hours a day as teenagers. I then figured that while I was in college as a music major, I was putting in about 1000 hours a year (probably more, but I was doing a conservative estimate). It took me all of my high school and college years to finally hit 10,000 by my late 20's.

Of course, this does not only apply to music. Gladwell also brings up a few examples of other experts who had put 10,000 hours into their study by the time they were in their early 20's. Anyone ever heard of some dude named Bill Gates?

Okay, time for more math (if my brain doesn't explode). In the last four years, I estimated that I've put in 2000 hours into writing. I'm not sure how much from before between high school and college, but I probably have a few thousand hours there. But I don't think I've hit 10,000 yet, and I definitely don't feel like an expert at writing. To break down these last four years, I figured I was doing about 10 hours a week for 50 weeks (my year only has 50 weeks because I like nice, round numbers without those extra fiddly-bits attached). So that means 500 hours a year. To hit 10,000 hours at that rate would take 20 years. (depressed yet?)

Actually, I think this is good news. Talent has nothing to do with it. What trumps talent is perseverance. Additionally, though, whatever field we want to become an expert at, we need to enjoy it. It would be more like a prison sentence to spend 10,000 hours doing something we didn't like. I feel blessed that I've found things I enjoy and don't mind putting in the time. I guess that's part of our life's mission is to find what we love and can put the time into. We can all become experts.