Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Five Fave Film #Inspirations

Since Laurie posted her five films to inspire writers last week, I thought I'd share five of mine and the inspirational quotes or themes they gave me. They also tend to be my go-to comfort watches, films I go back to again and again when I just want to cuddle up under a blanket and forget about the real world (this isn't all of them, just my cosiest).

Galaxy Quest: "Never give up, never surrender!" Also our motto here at Spacefeighters Lounge. This is a rather blatant Star Trek spoof, where a cancelled scifi show has been taken as fact by a group of aliens, who then kidnap the 'commander' of the series to help save them from the villain with both hilarious but also emotional consequences. I still haven't forgiven them for bumping off Quellek. Also features the fabulous but sadly departed Alan Rickman as the classic actor saddled with the part of alien sidekick and a tagline he loathes.

A Knight's Tale: "One man can change his stars." In medieval England (one of my favourite time periods) you can only enter the honoured game of jousting by being of noble blood. But common-born William Thatcher breaks all the rules to become the knight he's always wished to be. He also inspired a lot of Keir's personality in terms of honour, integrity, a certain air of innocence, and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness in aiming for the stars no matter how impossible, including winning the lady of his dreams and the respect of the Black Prince Edward. This is a story all about chasing your dreams, which is what becoming an author is all about too.

Warm Bodies: Love conquers all. Really. Even a dead guy can fall in love and be redeemed by it. While it can be a little cheesy in places and if you aren't into blood and gore I'm afraid the zombie sections are pretty standard brain-eating bloodbaths a la Hollywood, but if you can tolerate those this is probably the sweetest love story I've ever seen. R is an unusual kind of zombie, and it's different to see the world from a zombie point of view. His sole purpose is to keep the girl of his dreams safe (although maybe a bit stalkerish in tone at first), and that purpose leads him back to the land of the living despite having to face the very real danger of being shot by the Living as a zombie. Very loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, even including the balcony scene but with the proper HEA.

Megamind: "...there's a yin for every yang. If there's bad, good will rise up against it..." Personally I always felt sorry for Megamind and thought Metroman was actually a bit of a jerk and part of the reason Megamind was pushed into the role of villain. This film always reminds me that the villain is the good guy in their own version of reality and that even the villain can become the hero. A play on the story of Superman.

How To Train Your Dragon: Never be afraid to experiment. Hiccup is basically the runt of his Viking village, bad enough if you weren't also the son of the chief to boot, with a giant size reputation to live up to. Small, clumsy and full of clever ideas that he can't quite pull off, everyone sees him as a joke and a liability. But when Hiccup finally achieves a lifetime ambition in shooting down not just a dragon but a Nightfury - the rarest and greatest of dragons - he learns nothing is as it seems. This is a story about loyalty, friendship, and the willingness to be open-minded.

Mini Review:
Transformers-The Last Knight: a disjointed, illogical and dissonant collection of overly loud explosions, rubbish car chases, a ridiculous and insulting Monty Python style miss-mash of Arthurian legend, and a monstrosity that's about 2 hours 28 minutes too long. It wins only in taking my award as worst film I've ever seen and being the first I've seriously considered walking out of before the end. If only I'd said that to hubs because he was literally hoping I would for most of the film. Even if you're a fan of the franchise, skip this. I enjoyed the first three as leave-your-brain-at-home actions films while ignoring the sexism of including a pretty girl just as eye-candy, endured the fourth as an 'oh, well, maybe the next one will be better like Pirates of the Caribbean' but this one was infuriating and ridiculous, as though Bay spent all his time and attention on a few fight scenes, then abandoned the actors and special effects department to ad lib on entirely separate scripts. I heartily wish it was the last, but unfortunately there will be others. I won't be paying out to see them though. Rating: minus several million stars and not worth the brain cells I sacrificed watching it. Beyond dire. AVOID!
Status Update
I'm currently at 48% on Keir's Shadow and at 95K. I have until the end of this week to get it to my editor for assessment. I want to know the plot issues before I even think about edits and cover artwork, being as I'm pretty much rewriting the whole original 75K that I had in order to fix believability issues. Reunion is done for this round of edits except for one overriding issue with Keir throughout that I have to fix. Unexpected is still with my other editor and Revived remains untouched.
Chook Update
Project Egg (day 14): yesterday I candled (shone a light through the eggs in a darkened room) the six eggs for the second time to check if we had chicks or not. To my surprise and delight, all six have a viable chick! This is all first time stuff for me - I candled them at seven days and got three definite and three I wasn't sure on since despite lots of research I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for, but this time there were no doubts whatsoever. They are due to hatch in one week from today - the 4th of July - but may be slightly earlier or even take until the 8th. So, not only did they survive being through the post, but myself and adopting mum Effie have clearly taken good care of the eggs, even if my part only extends to taking Effie off them a couple of times a day so that she eats, drinks and poops while the eggs get a few minutes ventilation. We are go for hatching chicks!
In the meantime, my girls have been enjoying a brighter garden after our neighbour had all the trees his side of the fence hacked down. Unfortunately this has led to my girls going to bed later and wanting out earlier as the coop has had more sunlight.
There are now big empty spaces down the side of our garden!
At least Fizzgig is enjoying bathing in the extra sunlight
And as for the pigeon babies - they're getting bigger every day, and looking a little less scary. Maybe.

Monday, June 26, 2017

So HOT! (No, the other kind.)

Usually when someone exclaims, "So hot!" our first thought might be they've discovered a sizzling romance hero...or maybe a sizzling Romance, period. Today I'm going to blog about the other kind of hot, the one having to do with temperature.

Because, yeah folks. It's HOT!

Our thermometer has been pushing triple digits, and occasionally hitting them, for two weeks now. June is always the hottest month for us here in the Southwest US. Once July rolls around the monsoons start (*knock on wood*) and everything cools down and sheds the parched shades of yellow for a lush green palette. But at the moment, everything's pretty crispy.

Yup, that's a photo of a camel that I took from my car.
Told you it gets hot!

Our heat tends to be quite comfortable, due to the low humidity. It's 98 degrees out? No problem. The humidity is generally 10 percent or less. Grab a lemonade and a chair in the shade and it's about as close to heaven as you can get. We don't get the extremes like they do in southern New Mexico or Arizona where it can hit 120 degrees or more, because we're high. Really high. They call Denver the Mile High City? Pshaw! We're at 6,700 feet. Helloooo, down there. It tends to stay pretty tolerable up here in the stratosphere. But even so, there are some dangers that come with the heat.

Wildfires. Big fires are often sparked by dry lightning storms...and careless campers. We've had years where wildfires have scorched huge portions of our state's land. Guess where Smokey Bear originated? Yup. The original model was discovered as a tiny little orphaned cub with the singed paws clinging to a smoldering tree in Lincoln County in the 1950s. The national symbol for forest fire prevention was a native of New Mexico. Fitting, that. We've had forest fires get seriously close to taking out Los Alamos National Lab, several Native American ruins including Bandelier National Monument, scorch hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, and eradicate rural neighborhoods. We have friends with yards that are now filled with charred tree stumps, because that's how close a wildfire came to their homes. Others weren't quite so lucky as to have fires burn only their surroundings. :(

A photo of the massive Cerro Grande fire
taken from the International Space Station.
Photo credit Albuquerque Journal, 2000.

Snakes. Being cold-blooded, the hotter is gets, the more they move about. In the day, they seek out a nice shady spot, like curled beneath that tree near the sidewalk or stretched out behind the rainwater collection tanks. Or maybe a nice, cool building--like the barns or garages--if they can gain entry. [Has flashbacks to last summer. Eek!] During the night, they'll seek out warmth...the cement patio outside our door will do nicely. As a rule, they don't bother us and we don't bother them, unless we accidently disturb them. Even so, they aren't a problem unless they happen to start coiling and rattling. If they look very similar to a rattlesnake in color and pattern--but no rattles and no viper head--then we've hit the jackpot. Bullsnake! Having these residents around tends to keep the rattlers away. Probably why we've seen more than one Bullsnake this year, but nary a rattler. But then we've been watching for them. It's when we stop watching that they tend to show up. Surprise!

I got one of those surprises Friday when I almost stepped on a four-foot Bullsnake who had stretched out in the grass along the edge of our lower patio. After several attempts to shoo him off (he wasn't impressed), he relented and slithered under a shady pine next to where I turn out our little dogs. I kept a close eye on him while they got some exercise. Bullsnakes aren't poisonous but they are constrictors, so I don't want them mistaking our rabbit-size mini-dachshunds for dinner.

[I didn't have my cell phone with me, so you're spared a photo of the snake.]

Water. Or actually, lack of it. Until you've turned on a faucet and nothing comes out, you may not understand the terror that having no water can bring. We're very rural, so being tied into a water system isn't an option, and we depend greatly on our well. Without water, life gets really hard, really fast. There's no swamp cooler without water, and temps soar to 100 degrees in the house. No water for the horses, plants, trees or grass and they all tend to die rather quickly. We live in a closed basin, meaning that rivers don't bring fresh water into the aquifer. What's in the ground is all there is. Okay, it's the ancient remnants of a prehistoric sea, but still...it's finite. When it gets this hot and no rain falls to renew the water table, we get a bit nervous. We get a little more nervous every year as more and more people move to the area, sink more wells, and then decide they need another @#$! golf course. I think we already have plenty of those already, thank you very much.

The good news is that June only lasts for a little over four weeks and we're already into the home stretch. Wait! Is that a cloud I see on the horizon? We can only hope!

Pasture, before monsoons.
Pasture, after monsoons.

Edited to add update:
Immediately after I finished this post last week, we had a scare. A wildfire broke out just on the other side of the San Pedro range only a few miles away from our property. Fortunately, they sent in fire trucks and slurry bombers and had it quickly contained and out within 24 hours. Whew! Then, on Saturday afternoon, we were blessed with our first monsoonal rainstorm. It was wonderful and refreshing and brought a lot of much needed moisture, as well as reducing the temperature a good 30 degrees--and bringing the humidity up to about 70%. Hopefully, this has signaled an early onset of our monsoon season this year and we won't have to worry so much about the fire potential going forward.

Enjoy your week...and stay cool!

Friday, June 23, 2017


It may be a little early to note it here, but a celestial event of major importance is coming up August 21. It may take some planning to take full advantage. Yes, folks, a total solar eclipse will be visible to viewers in a wide swath of the United States on that date for the first time in 38 years. If you live in the area of the full eclipse (“totality”), you’re in luck. If not, and you haven’t made plans to get a hotel room, campsite or bunk in a friend’s home in the target area for the big event, you may be out of luck! 

Not sure if you’re in or out? The map below shows the path of totality.

If you’re located inside the path, the shadow of the moon will completely block the sun. Outside of the path, you’ll only see a partial eclipse, decreasing in coverage the further you are from the path. A nifty Eclipse Megamovie Simulator can help you figure out just how much eclipse you’ll see where you are. Enter your zip code in the simulator, slide the sun across the sky and watch it “disappear” behind the moon’s shadow to just the right degree.

As Americans are wont to do, we’ve gone a little bonkers in advance of the sunny shenanigans. There are planned eclipse-watching cruises, public and private parties, and themed events at national parks in the pathway, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park (sold out within minutes, of course). All this for a heavenly happening that will last no more than two minutes and forty seconds in the darkest part of the solar arc. (Oh, and by the way, except for the people of  Iceland and Scotland, who will see the full eclipse, the rest of the world will only get a peek at this particular event. The sunset will coincide with the eclipse in the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal.)

Still, I’m thinking hubby and I could take a little drive down to Greenville, South Carolina to make our observations. The little city is only about ninety minutes away, but the eclipse will be total there. I’m sure we’ll be able to find an outdoor cafĂ© at which to enjoy the sight. After all, a chance like this doesn’t come along but once every 38 years or so.

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post provided by "Total Solar Eclipse 2017: How to Make Sure You Don't Miss It," by Sebastian Modak, Conde Nast Traveler Online, June 21, 2017.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Don't forget to back up

The importance of backing up your files cannot be over emphasized. You've all heard it - and I'll bet you've all suffered the consequences of not doing so. These days, it's a lot easier to backup your work because it's easy to save your files to online storage, and synchronize it across several of your own devices. I use Dropbox for any project I'm working on now. Apart from anything else, it's easy to share your work with other people via that system - or quite a few others. Windows 10 comes with Microsoft's own OneDrive, and in fact it defaults to saving documents there. I don't use OneDrive.
Seems to me Microsoft knows enough about me already, even though I turned off all the options to send stuff to Microsoft to 'improve your experience'. But that's another story.

It's pretty easy to restore a file from DropBox. The free software saves versions of your files for 30 days, and usually that's long enough if you have a system failure or something. You'll need to login to your Dropbox account and find deleted files. From there it's straight forward. If you accidentally delete a file, you can recover that, too. If it was on your hard drive, look in the recycle bin and recover it. If it was (say) a photo on an SD card or thumb drive, it won't be in the recycle bin, but it can be recovered. I deleted all the photos on an SD card recently, and recovered them. I described the process in detail here, so I won't repeat it.

So far, we've been talking about lost files. But there's another use for backup.

I'm working on a new project, and I'm about eleven thousand words in. But now I've decided I shouldn't have changed one of the early scenes. The story is coalescing in my mind, and the 'yes but' questions are bubbling to the surface. The changes I made don't work, so I want to go back to how the scene was written a number of days ago. I could restore the file to that date from Dropbox, but then I'd lose my current work. I could open an earlier version in Dropbox and find my deleted scene that way - but that means logging in to Dropbox, and if that version is more than 30 days old - it's gone.

When I start a new project I immediately create a file imaginatively entitled 'backup' under the project. Every day when I start work, before I do anything else, I copy my current file to backup and rename it with the date. eg WIP.docx is saved in backup as 170622 WIP.docx (ie yymmdd to keep the list in date order).

Later today I'm going to open the WIP from several days ago, copy the scene I want, and paste it into the current WIP. And since the project is in Dropbox, so are the backups - for double just in case.

For those interested in the project itself, the new book, currently titled 'Dryden 5', is set in the Dryden Universe, and kind of follows on from The Demon's Eye. It stars the same main characters, Tian Axmar and Brent Walker, with a solid supporting role for Admiral Ul-Mellor. It'll be done some time later this year.

And since Pip shows pictures of her chooks, maybe I can show pictures of my wild bird family. Just for something pretty to look at.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ready Player One read by Wesley Crusher

Since I moved outside Seattle and have children who live half the time in the city, I do a fair amount of driving. I initially opened an Audible account because the girls got it into their heads they wanted to learn French, and it seemed a good way to pass the drive time. Now we've rearranged our schedule so they are going back and forth less, and I've been using the Audible credits to listen to books I might not otherwise have the time to read. Plus, some books are just made to be read out loud. I particularly love listening to Neil Gaiman's books, because they are read by the author and I could listen to him talk about organizing his sock drawer.

Recently I had some credits to use up and went to the Oracle (Facebook) to ask for advice. A fellow author recommended READY PLAYER ONE, in particular because it is read by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Wil is a funny guy, and he's played a gamer in a couple of YouTube series (my favorite being Felicia Day's THE GUILD). He is the perfect voice for the first-person perspective of a post-apocalyptic gamer geek, and there is this awesome moment when ... nope, not gonna spoil it.

So let me start by saying Donna reviewed this book back in 2013. I read her review again before posting this one to ensure there wasn't too much overlap. If you are interested in seeing the movie (scheduled for release next spring) AND you're one of those people like me who prefers to read the book BEFORE watching the movie, now you have your deadline.

This review is high-level and only contains minor spoilers. It's adapted from my Goodreads review specifically for Spacefreighters.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton
Genre: Young-adult sci-fi with romantic elements

I didn't have high expectations for this book. I'm a middle-aged woman, and READY PLAYER ONE ("RPO" henceforth) is about a teenage gamer essentially living inside a virtual world anchored in a post-apocalyptic society. I have played both arcade and computer-based games, but not in decades. I did not expect that I'd relate. But as Donna notes in her review, this novel is RIDDLED with references to 80s culture, and I was a teenager in the 80s. Music, TV shows, movies, commercials, even specific computer models I owned in early adulthood. What a genius decision by the author, amirite? You get the young adult audience, because that's the age of the protagonists, plus all the Gen Xers and some Baby Boomers too. And I had further reason to identify with the protagonist: he lives in a trailer park in Oklahoma City, where I was born and raised. (I never lived in a trailer park, but I knew people who did. Plus they were on the news every time there was a tornado.)
From the original book cover art. It's gorgeous,
though based on Cline's description
the trailer stacks were much closer together. 

RPO is sci-fi at its best. There's an underdog hero and an evil corporate villain, and they fight their battles with super cool tech, in both the real and virtual worlds. The post-apocalyptic world Cline paints is very believable, as you can see the seeds of his calamities already germinating in today's society. For example, Cline depicts government so ineffective and in bed with corporations as to be useless in its original role of serving the interests of the populace, and corporations that have been given broad powers over the lives of private citizens.

Believe it or not this young-adult-centered geekfest even includes a sweet love story. It doesn't take up a lot of screen time, but it's critical to the plot and the ending wouldn't be nearly as satisfying without it. Can you really fall in love with a person you've never actually met? You be the judge. And as for the ladies, they DO represent in this story. Frankly when I started this book, I figured I'd have to just be okay with it being about a bunch of dudes in their basements. Granted, a lot of the 80s reference ARE very male-oriented. The only female rock musician I remember being referenced (Pat Benatar) was mentioned in conjunction with Artemis, the protagonist's crush. But whatever.

Admittedly it took me a while to get into this story. As stated above, I have little in common with the protagonist (Wade) beyond our knowledge of 80s culture, and besides that there is a fair amount of setup and backstory to get through. Wade also has a tendency to use cliché phrases (ie, "armed to the teeth"), which as an editor and fellow author pulled me out of the story at times. But once the story clicked for me, I was swept away. (Hubs started listening to it with me about halfway through, on one of our drives to town, and after a bunch of initial protesting, he was asking to listen to it at home EVERY DAY until we finished it.) There's so much attention to detail in the world building, it feels like you're inside the game. In fact at times the detail can be a little tedious, but it fits the story, as these details MATTER to Wade.

Now I'll tell you what I liked best about this story, besides the amusement-park-ride quality of the plot. As Wade goes about his quest for the ultimate high-stakes Easter egg, which has been hidden inside the virtual world (the Oasis) by its now-deceased creator, you find yourself rooting and cheering at every turn. He's just a kid vying for a prize along with thousands of other "gunters," but it's fun to watch his obsessiveness and attention to detail begin to pay off. The REAL payoff, however, comes as Wade begins to evolve as a person, developing relationships that bring out his more noble qualities—empathy, loyalty, openness to emotional vulnerability. Qualities that, fairly or not, we don't often associate with gamer personalities. Wade learns to use his powers for the greater good, and that's a quality with timeless, universal appeal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Not All Babies Are Beautiful To The Eye

This week I've been spending a lot of time on a special project out in my garden (more details later) instead of doing important stuff like editing or, in my husband's opinion, putting the laundry away (I'm a terrible housewife!). And during the week, a local pigeon kept spooking my chooks in the garden by repeatedly crashing into a nearby tree. It was particularly annoying because it was the same tree over and over again. This particular pigeon didn't seem to get the idea that this tree was just too difficult to land in.
But as I happened to glance up at yet another collision while I was hanging out the washing, I realized something. There wasn't just one pigeon. There were two. And the second was sitting on the ramshackle collection of twigs that passes for a pigeon nest (they're terrible nest builders). The pigeon's repeated crashing into the same tree suddenly made a lot more sense.
And because I'm the kind of girl who will happily climb up trees to check out a nest, I went up there. The sitting parent flew away at my arrival, revealing two tiny chicks (or squabs, as baby pigeons are called) lying very still on their precarious twig platform. Aww! (BTW, the parent bird came back). Photos are taken later when said parent became more tolerant of our intrustions.
One chick using parent as a backrest. The other is underneath.
17th June

Is it me, or does it look like a dodo?!

Both chicks looking maybe a smidge cuter? 19th June

My youngest is an absolute wildlife fanatic, so when we collected him from school I told him about the nest and pointed it out. Quick as a flash he shinned up the ladder. Fortunately his smaller size apparently made him less of a threat because the parent bird stayed put. Despite that, he was still able to see one of the chicks, which impressed him no end.
But when he came back down, he looked awkward. I asked him what was up. He gave me a quick glance before staring at his feet again.
"Pigeon chicks are really ugly," he ventured uncertainly.
I laughed. "Yup, they really are."
This seemed to relieve him. I found it cute that he felt bad about saying they were ugly, but got up the courage to say it anyway. They really aren't the cutest of chicks, though I've no doubt their parents think them beautiful...
Right now, Keir's Shadow is a chick of indeterminant species, adult feathers slowly and painfully emerging but as yet no swan, that's for sure. I just hope it isn't a pigeon.

Status Update
Despite my best efforts, I'm still struggling to get past 36% on Keir's Shadow, though I have made progress. I'm having to write new or rewrite old sections to fix the improbably plot lines and expand what is staying. So far it's now up to 93K (having started out at 75K and scenes being deleted). I expect it to grow past 100K despite more needing cutting. The half-hearted secondary romance also needs working into shape. So, it is moving ahead, just very, very slowly.
Reunion is still untouched after coming back from my editor, while Unexpected is still with my editor.
Although the 99 cents promo officially finished yesterday, you may still be able to pick up some of the books listed HERE. My book Tethered will remain at 99 cents until the end of June regardless.
A SciFi Romance Novella
Goodreads | Webpage
Available from...
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks

Chook Update
There's excitement in the chook department! I've wanted some more chooks for a while, and youngest has been fascinated by the idea of hatching chicks since they incubated some duck eggs at school. Because we don't have a cockerel (too noisy, and you only need a cockerel for chicks, not to get eggs), I've had to buy hatching eggs.
Six Pekin eggs, helpfully labelled up with the colour of the hen that laid them.
We have splash (mostly white with dark markings), mottled (dark feathers with white splodges, like Pitch), millefleur (brown with white and black speckles), cuckoo (dark with small white markings), lemon (pale gold) and lavender (grey with a hint of mauve).

Of course, coming through the post isn't an ideal way for them to travel so there's no guarantee any of the six will hatch. One benefit of Pekin bantams is they make good brooders regardless of who the eggs came from. The downside of this is they go through periods of being broody - a bit like a phantom pregnancy. They'll sit in the nest, even if it's completely empty, not eating or drinking, and also not laying. This generally means that throughout the spring/summer, one of our girls is in this state. Fizzgig was kind of half and half, while Effie was completely broody (to the point she will scream at you even opening the nest box and will peck savagely at anything coming near her. So I moved them off to a separate coop to become mums for real (if the eggs hatch), only for Fizzgig to abandon hers, so Effie is going solo. But the separate coop means she won't get disturbed by the other hens and I can give them suitable chick food and supplements. If all goes well, the eggs are due to hatch around the 4th of July, or possibly as late as the 8th). Fingers crossed!
Nominated mum-to-be Effie

Pitch enjoying the sun...

...until Kyru decides to get in the way...

...and a disgruntled Pitch is forced to move.
More pictures next week!

Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Movies Writers Can Watch When Discouraged

It's tough being a writer these days. Although the gates were thrown wide open with the onset of independent publishing--thereby removing the "gatekeepers" and allowing thousands of writers to achieve their dream of becoming published authors, it also came with a downside.

It allowed thousands more writers to become published authors.

The advantage became the disadvantage. A two-edged sword indeed. Now that the marketplace is flooded with millions of books by independent authors, it's very difficult to get readers' attention among so many choices and titles. "Hey! Over here! Pick me! Pick me!" often gets drowned out in the constant background roar of book promotion.

So yeah, many of my peers have been feeling despondent about their careers and the general state of the industry of late. For most of us, the theme of "never give up, never surrender!" needs an occasional boost in the form of an inspiring story or message to buoy our spirits.

Today I'd like to share five that I'd recommend if you're looking for that inspirational shot in the arm. Probably for good reason, three of the five involve space or science fiction. :)


1. Secretariat

This story is so much more than a story about a legendary horse, it's about the woman who made sure he had every shot at becoming a champion--while literally taking on all challengers. It's as much about the bravery and stick-to-it-iveness of Penny Chenery Tweedy as it is about winning the Triple Crown. In 1973, no horse had won a Triple Crown in 25 years and every contender sired by the great Bold Ruler had failed. No one believed Secretariat could do it--except Penny. In spite of family dramas, financial disasters and practically living in airports for three years, she never gave up on her dream...and the outcome, as everyone now knows, was history.

Buzzline: "Hey, Kentucky! You're about to see something you ain't never even seen before!" --Secretariat's groom shouting to the empty grandstands in the early morning hours of Kentucky Derby day.

The message: Put your heart into it and strive for your goals. Sometimes the world is blackest just before the dawn.

Secretariat advanced poster
issued by Disney Studios

2. Contact

This film was based on a novel written by one of my personal science heroes, Carl Sagan. Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, after being inspired to explore astronomy by her late father, dedicates her life to searching the stars for extraterrestrial life. But her peers and superiors ridicule her work and tell her she is "wasting her life." In spite of many obstacles, pitfalls and funding struggles, it's Ellie's team who many years later is working at the VLA in New Mexico when the first intelligent extraterrestrial signal is detected. Suddenly her project is in the limelight and everyone wants a piece of the greatest event in human history, including one former boss who maneuvers to claim the glory for himself. After Ellie's team eventually deciphers the message, she's given a shot at her lifelong dream...making contact with extraterrestrial beings in an extraordinary way. But the question of "did she or didn't she?" actually make contact is left an open-ended question for the viewer to decide.

Buzzline: "Because if it's just us....it's a terrible waste of space."

The message: Believe in your dreams and have faith in yourself. Those who doubt you haven't shared your experiences.


3. Apollo 13

My heroes have always been astronauts, so I had to include this one. This fact-based story tells the story of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 Mission who survived an explosion in space, and how they and their Earth-bound team at NASA worked together to find solutions that turned certain tragedy into an historic, heroic achievement.

Buzzline: "Failure is not an option!"

The message: Work through your troubles and setbacks and never give up, or you may never realize how close you are to success.


4.  The Man from Snowy River
(or the sequel, Return to Snowy River)

With its unusual story about struggles in the Australian "wild west," The Man from Snowy River is about believing in yourself and recognizing your unique talents and abilities. Sometimes the least likely soul is the only one who can get the job done, because he believes in his own potential to do the seemingly impossible. Either story carries this message, and though my best advice would be to watch them in succession, in my humble opinion Return to Snowy River is one of those very rare movie sequels that builds and improves on the original. The two together were dubbed by Horse Nation as The Greatest Horse Movie Ever Made.

Buzzline: Not a line, but this movie made the French horn fanfare famous!

The message: Believe in your ability and your resolve to get the job done. No one can be you better than you.

DVD cover produced by 20th Century Fox
The Man from Snowy River was based on an old poem about the legendary rider. Here a shortened version of the poem is read paired with scenes from the movie. It's pretty inspiring by itself, and you get a taste of those legendary French horns.

5. The Martian

Another inspiring astronaut's tale, this one also makes the cut! After a freak accident, Mark Watney is left for dead on the planet Mars after his fellow astronauts execute an emergency launch. Now he's faced with having to survive for four years until any hope of possible rescue can arrive, while facing five sobering possibilities: Die from thirst, habitat failure, accident or starvation...or find a way to survive. His unique skill set soon comes in to play when Watney declares he's going to "science the sh*t" out of the problem. In spite of impossible odds, Watney's sheer determination and know-how helps him find new ways of surviving each day as it comes.

The Buzzline: "In your face, Neil Armstrong!"

The message: Mark Watney probably said it best. "Work the problem. Then the next. And the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to go home." Take each difficulty as it comes and find solutions to help you reach your goals.

The Martian Extended Edition
blu-ray cover by 20th Century Fox

Have a great week.