Monday, July 30, 2018

A Quiet Place: Movie Review

I recently watched A Quiet Place on one of the pay per view channels after almost passing it by. A Quiet Place? The title made me think of movies like A Summer Place or suggested a brand of cozy romance or family fare.

OMG. Was I in for a surprise!

Only after pausing to read the very brief and cryptic synopsis was I clued in that this movie was, in fact, science fiction, and it carried a chilling premise.

I'm not sure how I missed this one in theaters, because there was apparently quite a lot of hoopla surrounding it. It released in April 2018 and has been described as "a major box office hit grossing $332 million" as well as receiving acclaim from critics. Stephen King, himself, reportedly called the film "an extraordinary piece of work."

In case you missed it too, I'm going to attempt to do a spoiler-free review, though I'm not sure I'll succeed. It's important to understand the gist of what's happening to get a genuine grasp of the diabolically "quiet" plot.

A Quiet Place opens in a very austere setting. It appears to be a modern New England ghost town, with several children and adults padding around an abandoned store, investigating the merchandise. They don't speak. They only communicate with sign language. Leaves are strewn across the tile floor, the lights are out, and the store has no doors. In fact, no building anywhere has doors.

With the children's mother (played by Emily Blunt) having found the medicine needed for one of the sick children, Marcus (Noah Jupe) they prepare to leave. And that's when the first real indication of something truly sinister is delivered. The youngest boy has scrawled a crayon drawing of a rocket on the floor of the store. He signs to his sister, "That's how we'll get away." He then takes an interest in a space shuttle toy, which his father (played by John Krasinski, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay) takes away from him and removes the batteries, telling him in sign language. "Too loud." His older sister looks on with sympathy.

The mother signs, "It will be dark soon" and the family files out of the store and begins their silent trek home, following a thin gray line on the ground. The line turns out to be sand, put there deliberately by the family. They are all barefoot. None of them speak. They walk single file down this thin line of sand and don't make a sound as they move.

Until one of them does...

And what is unleashed on this poor, hapless family is absolutely terrifying. It's a force of nature. But certainly not Nature as we know it.

The next scene skips forward more than a year.

If I were going to describe this movie, I might call it Alien meets The Village. There is no explanation of how the horrific menace arrived, but the astute viewer can catch glimpses of headlines in the background of the family's homestead that fill in many of the WTF? blanks.

These people are being threatened by creatures--alien creatures--and they are deadly predators. But they don't hunt in the way we would expect or are accustomed to. Not by sight. Not by smell. They stalk by sound. And their auditory prowess is so keenly developed that they can hear very small sounds from very great distances, and when they close in on prey, they can physically enhance their auditory abilities to zero in on their target.

The family has adapted as best it can to their new reality and to horrifying loss of one of their own. Walking barefoot. Following the trails of sand. The utter lack of language. Their structures have no doors that might slam. (It's not addressed but can probably be assumed that any of the more well known predators that might enter their home have been eliminated by the new arrivals.) Their floors are clearly marked so they know where to step, and how to avoid the sound of creaking boards. They play Monopoly with soft pieces so the game is silent. They eat with their fingers from wooden boards covered with lettuce leaves to hold their food--no dinnerware to clink, no silverware to clatter.

The children have been taught they MUST be noiseless, which presents more of a challenge for the daughter (Millicent Simmonds) because of her circumstances. She's deaf. She doesn't always know when she's making noise. Her father works tirelessly in his monitoring center/workshop to develop a cochlear implant hearing device that will work for her. It might be a matter of survival. But her deafness has created a rift between father and daughter, and she's clearly rebellious about his efforts.

The family is also very resourceful. They've create a soundproof, underground nursery...because the mother, Evelyn, is expecting, and the baby will be too young to understand he must remain silent. Or he will die.

This family isn't completely alone. There are other survivors in the area. Their fires can be seen in the distance, and...occasionally...they are encountered. But for the most part this small family group keeps to itself, growing or gathering food and working toward making their home more survivable.

One beautifully poignant scene drove home what it would be like to live in a world where all sound is suppressed, and the message is delivered via the sole music in the film, the song Harvest Moon by Neil Young. Maybe since the actor couple is married in real life it allowed them to convey the feelings on a very deep level, but even without words, their actions and emotions reveal a couple that has been deprived of something truly precious to them, because a world without sound is a world without stereos.

If you've read this far, I'll let you discover the rest of story for yourself, if you're so inclined. I'm not normally a fan of horror films, but this one was so intricately fascinating that I viewed it three more times before my time expired. Each time I saw new details that I'd missed on the previous viewings.

Not everything is explained. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions on many questions instead of leaving everything perfectly resolved. This leaves plenty of room for your imagination to connect the dots.

Here's the original trailer, which gives a great feel for the mood and ominous theme of A Quiet Place without giving away any key moments.

My grade? A definite Five Star GO.

If you missed this gem, and if sci-fi horror -- albeit with a few heart-breakingly romantic moments -- is your thing, it's an extraordinary tale that craftily builds suspense and springs surprises without resorting to cliche horror tropes. None of the characters behaved in TSTL (too stupid to live) mode, though the choices they make are sometimes wrong or immature, they are always understandable and relate-able.

I guarantee A Quiet Place will definitely leave you with a lingering sense of genuine disquiet.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 27, 2018


In late July six years ago I was still coming off the high of my double final in the Paranormal category of the Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts. I attended the conference with all my fellow GH finalists (the Firebirds, one of whom was also my blog partner Laurie Green) and basked in the glow of attention and good wishes from some 2000 romance writers and industry pros all that week.

A few weeks later I actually got “the call” from one of the hundreds of agents I’d queried in my years of hunting. That GH final had done the trick, catapulting me past all the other poor shlubs in the slush pile to put me in front of the right pair of eyes. Someone who liked me, really liked me!
Now I’m actually a published author, with four books out there that I can honestly say I’m proud of. I have a few reviews, almost all of them good. I have a little bit of a presence in the social media world. Sales? Meh. But at least I haven’t fallen off the cliff in the Amazon rankings. I’m not entirely invisible.

Some goals I’ve given up on—I won’t be published traditionally. Don’t think I want that anymore; don’t think I want to give up the control I have over my creativity now in return for a dubious promise of promotion and sales. Other goals stay out of reach—I’d dearly love to kick my sales up a notch (or ten). And I’m not ashamed to say I want to final in the RITAs® before the RWA® puts them forever out of my league.

And, mark my words, that day will come for those of us who work the indie side of the street. RWA®, in its recent misdirected attempts to become more “professional” will eventually make it so that any but the most prolific and profitable authors will be unwelcome, just like every other writers’ organization on the planet.

At one time, RWA® was unique because it encouraged newbie and unpublished writers to join and learn from the more experienced members of the organization as they came up. Once you had worked your way to the top, mentoring your younger, less successful peers, was expected and applauded. “A hand reaching up and a hand reaching down” was an unofficial motto. 

And, believe it or not, people really did take that seriously. I can’t tell you how many well-known authors took the time to give me free advice in the hectic minutes before the literacy signings, or between panel discussions at Conference. I benefited from free writing critiques in online seminars conducted by Linnea Sinclair and Angela Knight. I met people. I heard people share their expertise in panels and roundtables. 

But a few years ago, RWA® began to change. Requirements for becoming a member of the Professional Authors Network were raised, then raised again, primarily, it seemed to me, to make it harder for anyone who was not traditionally published to join. The award ceremony for the Golden Heart® contest at Conference was demoted from an event happening along with the glamorous RITAs® (the Academy Awards of romance!) to a separate luncheon in the middle of the busy Conference schedule.

And, now, predictably, the Golden Hearts® have been eliminated altogether. The contest that has launched so many careers, that is essentially the biggest Golden Ticket for aspiring romance writers in the world, will be discontinued after the 2019 contest. 

I am disappointed. I am saddened. I am outraged. I am frustrated. But I can’t say I am surprised. I saw this coming years ago.

Oh, the RWA®  “leadership” says this decision has been made on purely economic grounds. The GH contest has been losing money for years, they say, with fewer and fewer entries and not enough judges. It doesn’t pay for itself; it takes too much administrative time; and, worst of all, aspiring writers aren’t interested in it anymore in this day of self-publication.

The problem is, of course, that for years the leadership has been ignoring suggestions from the membership of RWA® for how these issues could be addressed: raise the entry fee; insist, as we do for RITA, that entrants serve as judges; look to successful chapter contests for better ways to encourage entrants; change the categories(for God’s sake!) that are as moribund as a library card catalog from the Sixties. And, most importantly, reinstate the award ceremony. Entrants dropped off precipitously as soon as they saw they would be seated at the kiddie table even if they won.

But none of these changes will be made and none of them were ever going to be made because RWA® has set out to remake itself in the image (God forbid) of the Science Fiction Writers of America® or the Mystery Writers of America®, organizations for which “professional author” status is a prerequisite to membership. For those organizations, education is not a part of their mission; mentorship is not a part of their makeup. And, for damn sure, collaboration is not what they are about. Competition, yes. Collaboration, cooperation and comradery, um, no. Just look at how they are treating Hugo winners who  happen to be female and/or of color in assigning panel slots this year at SFWA’s WorldCon to see the future of RWA®.

What’s the answer? I’m not sure. A revolution from the inside of RWA® seems unlikely. We may have to look for a visionary organizer to establish a new kind of group outside the confines of traditional publishing, without the entanglements of the back-stabbing, book-stuffing, algorithm-manipulating indie shark scammer crowd. Right now, that seems like a lot to ask.

So, maybe just look at this pretty picture and try to breathe.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ready Player One - a science fiction quest

I thought when I saw the trailers that I might enjoy Ready Player One - and now I've finally watched the movie. In a tiny nutshell, I thought it was great. I'll be watching it again.

Here's the blurb for the book.

"In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. 

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

I wasn't a teenager in the 80's but I was a geek, a nerd, a computer programmer, and a player of video games. My favourite was Space Quest, with its hilarious nods to pop culture like the cantina scene in Star Wars, the Blues Brothers, and the monster in Alien to name just a few. Those types of references are all through Ready Player One and the graphics are, of course, amazing.

Ben Mendelsohn does such a great villain. It took me a while to work out where I'd seen him before (Rogue One) but this time he speaks American. His character, Nolan Sorrento, comes across as a greedy coward, quite willing to confront the enemy – provided he has the advantage.

Mark Rylance is convincing in the role of James Halliday, a socially awkward genius who is happiest in his own world.

Wade and his friends are, I think, prettier in the movie than they were in the book, but it all works for me.

Overall, the story is a lesson in the power of simplicity. It's a quest, a group of adventurers seeking a prize that is also coveted by the bad guys. There's a deep theme running through the narrative which should speak to today's generation, and us older folks watching on, too. The technology for the film's virtual world is only a shade past where we are right now, as fits the time frame. 2045 is only 17 years away, and the first release of Halliday's virtual world, the Oasis, was in 2025. That's just a few short years away. The movie's dystopian real world is only a sleep past a nightmare as a potential future.

In this depressing future people – all sorts of people – escape to the Oasis, where they can be anyone, be anywhere their imagination can take them. Therein lies the problem. Wade's friends in the virtual world are avatars, just like himself. They may be very, very different in real life, as he is himself. It's a lesson worth remembering even in 2018.

There's a strong romance thread in the movie, both between Parzival (Wade) and Art3mis, and in Halliday's life which provides clues to attainment of the prize.

Steven Spielberg is so very good at these feel-good SF movies, going right back to ET. His Indiana Jones movies have that retro feel as well, when the villains were well defined Nazis and the world was a simpler place. They're just the sort of movies I like. Fellow-blogger Donna S. Frelick saw the movie at the theater some time ago. I think she liked it, too. Here's the link to her review.

Did you enjoy Ready Player One?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Quickie Update #amediting

It's the start of the summer holidays (where has the year gone?!) and I'm horribly behind with everything. What else is new, huh? So just some quick updates to let you know what's coming...
Writing Update
The proof reader has finished with Reunion, and so have I. Now it needs formatting for a confirmed release date of the 1st of September!
And I'm currently working on the edits for the Christmas story, hopefully releasing the 1st of December.
Chick Update
Pinky, Perky, Eyebrows and Whitetip (now officially Hollyhock, Bramble, Poppy and Clover) went to their new forever home last week, and I've already had updates on their progress. Pinky's eye needed further vet treatment despite having cleared up but is doing well, while all are settling in. Meanwhile, Tiny Two Toes is now Trinity, while Sprite remains Sprite, and Owl becomes Nova. Usually I pick names that match but eldest was set on Sprite, while hubs suggested Triple T instead of Tiny Two Toes, which sounded like Trinity, which fits as her two fused toes mean she has three toes in total on one foot instead of four so the name fits... and I just had to sneak a space-y name in. Mama Firefly has decided her job is over and returned to the main coop.
Sprite head down, with Trinity.

The extreme heat finally got to Kala, and she was poorly for a couple of days but appears all fine now.
Cosplay Update
It hit me this weekend that the end of July is fast approaching, we're away a week in August, and Invasion Colchester is the first day of September. Eep! I have just five weeks to complete four costumes. Thankfully I'm making good progress on youngest's Plague Knight...
Sorry about the blur, camera issues!