The King and The Koontz

Ah, the good old Stephen King versus Dean Koontz debate.

There’s no debate.

Stephen King is the better writer.

Perhaps I’m biased. (But this is a blog, so sue me for being completely subjective about what I write about. [Please don’t sue me.])

I read Stephen King before I read Dean Koontz. I was in middle school, browsing through the paltry offering of books our library had. During my careful examination of every shelf for something I’d like to read, The Dark Half caught my eye. I picked it up, read the first chapter, and I was completely hooked.

My first Dean Koontz book was From the Corner of His Eye. It was engaging. That’s…about it.

Both King and Koontz come up with great concepts. That was one of the fantastic things about From the Corner of His Eye. In fact, concept-wise, From the Corner of His Eye beats The Dark Half. 

It’s their respective styles of writing that sets King apart from Koontz though.

King has a style that delves, while Koontz’s style just polishes the surface.

I recently finished reading Koontz’s Life Expectancy, and despite the story involving killer clowns, I rarely felt on edge. In fact, the plot and the characters felt all around hunky dory compared to my usual King fare. Life Expectancy read like a romantic comedy (almost). That’s not the only Koontz book I’ve read, so don’t think that’s my only point of reference.

In another Koontz book, Intensity, a spider-eating serial killer relentlessly pursues a young woman after brutally murdering her friend (and her friend’s parents). Even though that sounds plenty terrifying, it never reached the pinnacles of unease that Stephen King has set.

Stephen King could write a book about furniture, and it would probably frighten me more than a Dean Koontz book about a supernatural murderer.

There’s a deep grittiness that layers King’s words. At times, it feels as if he’s writing in a stream-of-consciousness style when he describes what a character is thinking. You get to know their hidden recesses, their flaws. It’s like he has no hesitation about facing the darker sides of humanity, reality, and fantasy.

The reason King is king of horror is because he’s able to craft immersion the way a tree can sprout leaves. Creepiness just spews out of him naturally. (That’s supposed to be a compliment.)

Koontz isn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read a lot of his books as well. And I bet he’s sick and tired of being compared to Stephen King.

But Stephen King grabs me into his novels until I’m truly lost, and no other writer has been able to do that for me half as well as he can.

Three Embarrassing Things I’ve Done While Taking a Shower/Bath

Before I continue, let me say that I’m writing about harmless antics. Nothing obscene. If you’re looking for that kind of stuff, best you go elsewhere.

Anywaysies, I thought I’d be a little more open to complete strangers, so I’ve decided to share some absolutely embarrassing things about me so that people can know I truly am a below average someone.

Here goes:

1. When my sister and I were really little, we would often take baths together. Rather than focus on getting ourselves clean (which is what we were supposed to be doing), Alya and I would have a grand old time playing with bath toys, making waves in the “deep waters,” and seriously messing with the shampoo.

We would take nearly empty or half-full shampoo bottles and fill them up partways with water. Then we would shake them like crazy.

In this manner, we created rudimentary foam shooters. The rich, bubbly mixture of shampoo and water would roil within the bottles, so that when we gave them a squeeze, foam would shoot out.

We thought it was fun to see how high we could get the foam to reach. We would aim the bottles at the ceiling, and try to get the foam to reach it. The end result of our baths would be dripping foam-icicles on our ceiling that we weren’t tall enough to reach to clean. We would have to toss a damp washcloth at the ceiling in order to hide the evidence of our tampering with the shampoo bottles.

2. I’m a tad embarrassed to admit this (though that’s what this post is about), but I’ve actually spent several minutes of my shower-time staring at a soap bar, trying to move it with, as yet, undiscovered telekinetic powers.

(Yes, I know it’s unlikely I could do this. No, I did not let this stop me from at least trying.)

I tried to clear all doubt from my mind, but a niggling worm of skepticism always resided in the small recesses of my brain.

Part of me believes it is this doubt that prevented me from lifting the soap with my mind.

3. Finally, I have, on multiple occasions, filled my cheeks with water and shaken my head rapidly from side to side, pretending to be Boss Nass. In case you don’t know who Boss Nass is, he’s the chief of the Gungans in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.

Here is the link to the noise I’m trying to imitate.

I wasn’t lying when I said this was embarrassing.

The “The Tar” Tar Pits

People should be a little more conscious of foreign languages when they name places. “La brea” can be translated to “the tar” from Spanish to English. So, the La Brea Tar Pits are technically called the The Tar Tar Pits.

Honestly, I’m kind of fond of this name.

I love anything having to do with dinosaurs, so when I went to visit a friend of mine in Los Angleles, he took me to see the La Brea Tar Pits. Yes, I know the animals that perished in the tar pits aren’t technically dinosaurs, but they are, however minimally, connected to the idea of dinosaurs. They belong to an era not our own. They’re otherwordly, fantastical creatures that once walked the earth.

You know how coffee lovers get stimulated by the scent of freshly-ground coffee beans? That’s me at the sight of fossils. Even if they’re casts of fossils.

The exterior of the La Brea Tar Pits
Morbid mammoth models meant to traumatize children

When we first arrived at the pits, there was this thick, noxious smell pervading the entire area. I thought it was the smell of nearby LA traffic.

It’s not.

The tar pits reek.

It’s not technically tar bubbling behind those fenced-off areas. It’s natural asphalt. Mounds of asphalt rim the pits, looking for all the world like ordinary street bumps. If you ignore the stench and approach the largest pit (called the Lake Pit), a model mammoth has been placed in the “tar,” sinking to its fake death. To up the drama of this staged moment, model mammoth family members stand at the pit’s edge, reaching out with their trunks to their doomed brethren.

Aside from the pits that pock-mark the area, the surroundings are extremely pleasant. Rolling hills are reminiscent of your average park. Some families even congregate for picnics on these grassy knolls.

Part of the La Brea Tar Pits is a museum. It’s rather small, but it’s filled with the bones of La Brea victims.

Giant Sloth skeleton

I never knew sloths could be so huge.

There’s even a display case that shows more than a thousand skulls of dire wolves that have been discovered in the pits.

Dire wolf display case

Apparently, these wolves sank into the tar trying to nibble on other unfortunate animals and in the process of doing so, they became unfortunate animals too.

The mammoth skeleton is what really caught my heart. When you stand next to it, it completely and totally dwarfs you. It’s clearly larger than an elephant, and it gave me a bit of my dinosaur fix.

Mammoth Skeleton

It’s not always a soothing experience to be humbled, but when it comes to facing the massive remains of what used to be, I say bring on the humility! The mammoth skeleton was a towering edifice to former beings, and I’m always grateful to be reminded of just how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Surprisingly, the funniest part of my trip to La Brea occurred as my friend and I were walking outside amongst the outer pits. We came across a two-feet-by-two-feet square fence that appeared to be randomly placed on one of the hills. As we approached it, we found that the fence guarded a small circle of tar that’s beginning to emerge from underground.

It’s mind-numbing to think that the next time I go to the La Brea Tar Pits, yet another pit may have oozed from beneath the earth.

Big Dog, Small Bird

My sister, Alya, owns a dog named Ushi (pronounced OO-shee). Alya got her when she was a cute little puppy. She is the most adorable creature I’ve ever met (excluding Froley) and she really deserves her own post (which I may write in the future).

Ushi on the grass

Ushi is a giant dog, part St. Bernard, part Great Pyrenees. If you’re familiar with those breeds, you know that Ushi is massive.

Ushi and I lying on the floor

However, since my sister owns two birds and a tortoise in addition to her big puppy, Ushi has learned to be really gentle with small creatures. My sister’s birds, unfortunately, haven’t taken to Ushi despite her calm-giant demeanor. And the tortoise really just minds his own business.

Froley likes Ushi though.

You wouldn’t think that the ornery Froley who only likes particular people at particular moments would become fond of the large, goofy Ushi.

But for some reason, he’s devotedly tolerant of her.

Ushi and the birds

Whenever Froley and I spend the night at my sister’s, he’ll always wake up in a fantastic mood. He’ll waddle up to Ushi in the morning and start chirping sweet nothings to her wet, black nose. His wings will be semi-lifted in a heart-shaped position, his head tilted as close to her as he can get.

As he twitters at her, Ushi will sniff him once then look away, as if she’s embarrassed by his attentions. (For all we know, she is.)

Froley is the best judge of character (except for when he’s feeling grumpy), so I take his affection for her to be a confirmation of Ushi’s kind nature. Ushi is a sweet puppers, the sweetest, most loving dog I’ve ever had the pleasure to have met.

Alya raised Ushi with care. Just like people think that dogs are proof that God loves us, Ushi thinks people are proof that God loves her. Her face whenever a person is petting her reveals pure bliss. She honestly prefers humans to other dogs.

Despite being a bit of a goof (she’s not overly intelligent sometimes), she’s surprisingly gentle. Of course, there are times when she’s accidentally rough with her enthusiastic affections. (She doesn’t know her own size.)

Ushi and me taking a selfie

I cannot stress enough how much my sister has to do with Ushi’s sweetness. Both my sister and I wanted a dog for as long as I can remember. I ended up taking the bird path (the path less flown), but Alya actually followed her childhood dream and got herself a dog.

Alya once told me how she learned that birthday wishes (blowing out the candles on your cake and making a wish) aren’t real. She said for every childhood birthday she had, she would wish her hardest for a dog, desperately pleading to whatever higher power there was to grant her wish for a slobbery companion. But none came.

Well, Alya, I’d say that every birthday wish you made coalesced and formed Ushi. Just as Froley, the persnickety bird with old-man ways, is my soul pet, Ushi is yours.

You just had to wait a little bit. (Patience, Iago.)

So here’s to our pets!

Me and Froley, Ushi and Alya

Ready Player Two

If you haven’t seen Ready Player One, be forewarned, this post is kind of for people who have already seen it. Go ahead and continue on if you’ve witnessed its splendor or if you don’t mind getting spoiled on said splendor.

Me holding a Ready Player One Poster

Ready Player One was made for people who find solace in being someone other than themselves. (Well, technically, it was made for a general audience, but you’ll see what I mean here in a second.) Underneath the awesome veneer of ’80s pop culture references, the movie tells a tale that should be familiar to any soul who knows D&D stats better than dance moves.

The inside jokes and hidden cameos of Ready Player One made all the geeks in the theater (including me) exclaim and laugh in delight. The movie was a veritable smorgasbord of gaming culture icons. The entire audience during the premiere I attended burst into applause and shrieks of joy when a Gundam began to take on Mechagodzilla.

But the underlying truth that struck all of us in our hearts was the idea that even the best games (and the best movies) ultimately mean nothing if you don’t have someone to share it with.

Now, I’m not solely referring to having a romantic partner with whom you can gush about games with. A complete stranger you meet on a forum or during a multiplayer match can just as easily create a connection between the two of you over a devotion to a game.

There’s no better love for a game than a shared love for a game.

Seriously, put two Halo fans in a room, and they could happily spend hours discussing (arguing) the merits of each installment of the Halo franchise.

In Ready Player One, a man named James Halliday created a virtual world called the Oasis. You could make anything, play anything, be anything in the Oasis.

As someone who built the pinnacle of gaming worlds, Halliday used games as a barrier between him and the rest of reality. He loved games to the extreme, but he loved them alone. It’s only at the end of his life (when it’s kind of too late) that he comes to regret not engaging with his only real-world friend and co-creator of the Oasis, Ogden Morrow.

That was the part that got me. Halliday created this amazing world that exceeded the bounds of the imagination, but it meant nothing without his best friend beside him.

If you haven’t seen it and you just so happen to like games, be sure to check out Ready Player One. 

Super Hot Means Super Slow

Video games are meant to transport you. There’s nothing I love more while playing a game than to feel as if I’m in the game. Whether I’m immersed in the game’s story or the gameplay itself, if I’m well and truly immersed, I’m enjoying myself.

The concept of the game Super Hot immediately drew me in. ‘Now that’s a game I can lose myself in,’ I thought.

The basic idea is that time only moves when you do. Your polygonal protagonist fights polygonal opponents, and each time you take a step, time proceeds at a normal pace. (Looking around, i.e. turning your head, doesn’t count.) If you’re not moving, time slows to a crawl.

Super Hot gameplay image

Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

When I saw some footage of the gameplay, I was thoroughly impressed. It looked like you were in the Matrix. Check it out here.

But you know how sometimes clothes that look really nifty on the hanger look like a floppy mess when you put it on your body? That’s kind of how Super Hot was for me.

I’m not trying to say the game is bad! Not at all. The slowed-time mechanic is downright innovative and should probably replace all quick-time events forthwith.

The process of playing Super Hot is just…slower than I thought it would be.

A level consists of dropping into random settings (an office, a bar, an elevator, and a bus stop, to name a few) and then having to use your slowed-time ability and the items around you to defeat the bad guys who spontaneously appear. These items that you use can be as rudimentary as a bottle (classic) or as powerful as a machine gun. Grab the good ones while you can, because otherwise, the bad guys will nab them for themselves.

The majority of Super Hot is played while standing still and observing a situation. The trailers will make your movements seem fluid, but I’m telling you, I survived tough levels by inching one step forward, looking around me in all directions, and then inching another step forward.

If you’re not observant, you’re going to get beat.

My controller’s walking thumbstick has never seen less action.

So, if you’re interested in the game, bear in mind that it functions as a really interesting puzzle shooter, not a run-and-gun.

That said, it was always super satisfying to demolish a bad guy. They shatter into a million pieces, like glass. They’re also easy to see because they’re glowing red people in an environment of pure white.

After each level, the game also includes a replay of how the level went down, so you can witness your painstaking progress in normal time. I don’t think my replays look as cool as those from someone who has played the game more than once. My replays basically show that my guy has a nervous tick whenever he moves forward, glancing wildly all around him like a madman before progressing.

I’m not the best of gamers, I’ll say that right now. But I do love games.

Super. Hot.


What’s the Elvish Word for Friend?

I first met Mia Sara Moreno when I was six years old and she was five. Both of our parents were teachers at the same elementary school, so they thought it would be a great idea for their kids to hang out together. Mia’s mom brought Mia to my mom’s kinder classroom before the school year started in order to acquaint her with my sister and me ahead of time. Mia was shy at first, hiding behind her mother, but eventually, she was coaxed into playing with some building blocks with us.

Mia, my sister, and I became a trio that day.

We all had similar interests (Lord of the Rings nuts, the three of us), and if we could, we would spend hours together. We made up games of tag that involved throwing footballs at each other. We pretended to be wolves roaming Middle-Earth. We slept over at each others’ houses and watched scary movies. We picked oranges from Mia’s grandparents’ tree.

Alya (my sister) was the leader. Mia and I would follow her anywhere, while also trying to caution her against bad ideas. We called ourselves the Wright Brothers Organization. (Yes, we were aware that there were only two famous, flying Wright Brothers, but we meant it more in the spirit of adventure.)

To this day, there is no one who is more comforting or relaxing as a friend to me, than Mia.

Mia and I walking down a sidewalk

Mia is simultaneously the gentlest person I know and the most stubborn. She cares deeply about the people she is close to, almost to the point where she excuses any shortcomings they might have. (Loyal is an understatement when it comes to describing the kind of friend she is.) At the same time, she holds on to her ideals of fairness with an iron grip.

Alya, Mia, and I once categorized the strength of our respective levels of determination. Alya’s was rubber, elastic yet firm. Mia’s was steel. Mine was Play-Doh.

Mia is quiet when you first meet her, but a natural enthusiasm for her interests resides in her heart, and if you ignite it, she rises to the conversation like a flame. Her laugh is infectious. I’ve never heard her fake-laugh. It’s always a genuine, hearty chuckle.

Mia is an avid reader. She’s the only person I truly trust to lend one of my books to. She would protect it to the point of not even letting it get dusty. She never leaves her house without having a book on her; she carries one with her at all times.

You will never meet someone as logical or as reasonable as Mia. I think horror movies actively annoy her (bad decisions get under her skin). We once spent hours talking about how Anakin Skywalker is an idiot, and then we discussed all the ways he could have proceeded to solve his problems in Revenge of the Sith without ending up as Darth Vader.

When we play Dungeons & Dragons, she never lets loose with a goofy character. She always creates these sedate, practical characters. This ends badly for her since everyone else in our D&D group is an utter goofball when it comes to making a character (including me). Mia’s character always has to be the level-headed one who has to get the rest of us out of trouble.

It’s not often that a childhood friend remains in your life for so long, and I never wish to forget to appreciate Mia for being who she is. One of my greatest joys in life is to share a coffee with her in the early hours of the day while playing a friendly game of Scrabble, some original Star Trek episodes playing in the background.

Not only is she a good friend, she’s a good person. She’s one of the best persons I know.

She’s my mellon. 

Raiders of the Lost Tomb: Tomb Raider (2018)

Let me say this right off the bat:

I’m not a discriminating moviegoer. I will watch anything, good or bad, and most likely enjoy it.

I enjoy good movies because, obviously, they’re good and that’s quality entertainment. I enjoy bad movies because I dearly love to laugh, and nothing gets me laughing like a real corny line or a nonsensical bit of plot. It’s rare when a movie utterly pisses me off, and when it does, it’s for subjective reasons (such as, the book was better).

So I’m letting you (meaning whoever happens to read this) know that if you ever read a “review” of mine, it’s mostly going to be about things I liked about it.

Enter the new Tomb Raider movie.

If you’re a fan of the 2013 game, you should know that this latest movie is kind of based off of it. Gone is the busty Lara Croft with the gravity-defying boobs and twin guns, and instead, we have a younger, slimmer Lara who is struggling to hold her own against much tougher opponents, and yet, still manages to come out on top.

Here is a short (not-so-short) summary of the movie, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

Lara Croft’s father has been missing for several years. His disappearance and supposed death have put Lara’s life on hold. She refuses to believe he is gone. His business partner approaches her about finally signing off on his death so that his company can move on with things and the Croft mansion won’t be sold off. Lara reluctantly agrees to this.

Upon signing, Lara is given a puzzle which leads her to a secret room her father kept on the mansion grounds. There, she discovers her father traveled to an island called Yamatai in search of the tomb of Queen Himiko. Himiko is rumored to have powers over death. More than anything, Lara’s father wishes to keep Himiko’s tomb and her mystical powers out of the hands of this secret, sinister group called Trinity. In a video recording/will, he begs Lara to burn all of his research so that Trinity can’t find the tomb.

She doesn’t burn the stuff.

Instead, Lara hires herself a boat and makes her way to Yamatai in search of her father. She doesn’t believe that this Himiko has supernatural powers that could threaten the world. She is driven by the slight chance that she can find out what happened to her father.

The boat crashes. Lara makes it ashore. She meets the villain, this dude named Vogel. He works for Trinity and has been stuck on the island for seven (I think) years because they won’t let him come home until he recovers Himiko’s body. As such, he’s volatile and pissy and willing to do anything to find the tomb.

Since Lara did not burn the research and instead brought it with her, Vogel is able to use it to find the tomb. He has problems opening it because of a complex locking mechanism on the door. Lara runs away from the group, gets into a lot of trouble, and eventually (surprisingly) runs into her father. He had faked his own death at Vogel’s hands and had been living in secret on the island, making sure Trinity did not get their hands on Himiko.

Despite a supremely touching reunion, he’s none too pleased that Lara did the exact opposite of what he wanted in regards to his research.

In order to get both her and her father off of Yamatai, Lara needs to go back to the bad guys’ camp in order to get Vogel’s satellite phone so she can call for help. Her father does not want to risk it, so Lara decides to do it alone.

Since her dad is not a complete asshole, he follows after her. However, since he’s not a veritable bad ass like Lara, he gets himself caught by Vogel. Vogel tries to get him to open the tomb for them, but Lara’s dad won’t. Lara has no compunctions about doing it (magic isn’t real, dad), so she opens the tomb and leads everyone inside.

We find out that Himiko does not have supernatural powers. Instead, she has this disease that turns you into a 28-Days-Later kind of creature if you touch someone who has it. Lara’s dad gets touched, it’s sad, boo hoo, so then Lara has to stop Vogel from taking any samples of Himiko that he collected to the surface because clearly, it could be used to dangerous effect. She beats Vogel in a kick-ass way, she escapes, she goes home, and she silently vows to chase after Trinity and stop them, therefore completing her father’s life’s work and beginning her own.

That was a tad too long…wasn’t it? Anyways…

I loved Alicia Vikander’s performance. She’s great. No matter how bad the lines she was given or how awkward the story beats were, she did the best she could and made it work. She perfectly embodied the Lara we met in the 2013 game.

Part of the game’s appeal came from the fact that we were meeting a new Lara. This was not the experienced raider of tombs we had met in previous games. This was an uncertain explorer who was just beginning to find her place in the world, and we got to go on that journey with her.

The movie tries to do the same thing, and in terms of physical exertion, yeah, I think Lara achieved whole new states of being an athletic tomb raider. You really get the sense that Lara is going on this adventure alone. She has a couple of she-should-not-have-survived-that moments, but I appreciated that it didn’t look entirely effortless.

However, I don’t really feel that Lara gained that desire to explore after all was said and done. She was motivated to find her father, but I never truly felt she was driven by the actual draw of exploration.

But the father-daughter moments were real. I mean, it was ludicrous that her father was alive in the first place, but I still felt touched by their reunion. When he sees Lara on the island, he doesn’t believe she’s real because he’s imagined her being there so many times. Lara, on the other hand, has been hoping he’s been alive this whole time, so she looks at him with such joy, it’s heart-breaking when she has to convince him that’s it’s actually her.

Their reunion only lasts about a day, since he’s killed off by that disease that Himiko has. What kind of disease is only communicable by touch, unfolds instantaneously, and is ultimately fatal? I’ll tell you what kind. The magic kind.

His death hits you in the feels, but it’s followed by some fan service, so it smooths over any remaining sadness you might have had lingering. If you played the game, expect the following fan service:

  • The slow-mo jump from a wrecked boat, just like we saw at the beginning of the game.
  • Climbing monkey-bar style over an old, rusted airplane.
  • A potentially deadly ride along a raging river’s currents. (I seriously half expected Lara to get impaled by river debris a million times).
  • Bow and arrow moments.
  • The climbing axe thingamabob that is stronger than adamantium.
  • And, of course, a very small scene with twin handguns.

Despite ragging on this movie, I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I would classify it as a see-it-once-in-a-movie-theater-and-then-only-catch-it-on-cable-forever-after movie or as a rent-it-at-a-Redbox-for-a laid-back-night movie.

If you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, I’m sorry if I spoiled it for you. I’m posting this waaaaaaay after Tomb Raider comes out in theaters, so hopefully if you were going to see it, you already did.

Advice about Rejection from a Current Reject

I’ll sometimes see someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling send out a message (or Tweet out a Tweet) of hope to struggling writers. “I’ve been rejected this-and-this many times, but I eventually made it. So don’t worry. You just have to keep going.”

(I’m paraphrasing here. I’m fairly certain they were more eloquent than I was.)

Their advice of perseverance is supposed to make you feel better about getting rejected yourself. You’re supposed to say, “Stephen King once got rejected by agents and publishers too. Just like me. One day, I’m going to catch a break just like him.”

Problem is, my own thought process goes a little something like this:

Holy shit. What the fuck. If Stephen motherfuckin’ King got rejected a gazillion times before he got published, what possible chance do I have?!

The answer is none. I have no chance.

Or rather, I have the slimmest of slim chances because I don’t want to commit to being a fatalist.

I know that words of comfort from seasoned writers are supposed to be…well, words of comfort, but I have a really hard time digesting them as such. I seriously look up to writers like Stephen King. Talent just oozes out of every paragraph he writes. My writing just doesn’t compare. I know it doesn’t. My friends might tell me that I’m being too hard on myself, but I know I’m only being realistic and self-aware.

I’ve read what I’ve written, and I’ve read what Stephen King has written. There’s no comparison.

Surprisingly, this isn’t supposed to be a pity party.

I didn’t want to be a writer because of the perks of “making it.” (Though I’m sure those perks are nice.) Writing has always been a labor of love for me. That phrase, “labor of love,” is a common one. It means you’re doing something not because of what you might earn for it, but because you actually enjoy doing it. I also like to think of it as actual labor. Writing is work. It’s a skill you have to hone. Words don’t just flow out of nowhere. They’re a composition of your thoughts that you have to organize into a coherent structure that other people may enjoy taking in.

I may never end up publishing a goddamned thing. That’s a possibility that I’ve had to swallow when contemplating my choice in career. It’s a real sucky thing to think about. But I have to remind myself of a very important fact. I love what I do.

No matter how difficult or unrewarding writing is, I want to keep doing it. Writing is work, don’t get me wrong, but it’s work I love. Part of the journey of writing (gag, that sounds so corny, but just stay with me) is knowing that you’re going to have to put in a lot of effort in order to get results. And I’m willing to do that.

So every rejection letter I get, every query letter that goes unanswered, is just another notch on my belt. For my fellow writers out there who are reading this, look at your rejection letters right now with pride. Don’t look at them with the expectation that you’ll eventually be famous and can look back on them with fondness. Those rejections are accomplishments in and of themselves. They are wounding, hurt-filled proof that you are striving to reach your goal of being a writer.

Haven’t you heard that old literary adage? It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

So, if you’re a struggling writer and you want to hear advice from another struggling writer who has in no way “made it,” this is all I have to give. Keep trying for the sake of trying and, more importantly, for the sake of writing.

Feel free to share the amount of rejections you’ve received. And by rejections, I mean badges of honor.

But the Book Is Totally Better

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself say that after stepping out of a theater.

But come on, it’s totally true 99.99% of the time.

The majority of movie adaptations based on books would have been better off left as words on a page. For a number of reasons, these attempts to capture the complexity and goshdarned wonderful-ness of the original books simply fail to captivate me.

My number one example of this phenomenon is the Harry Potter series.

No collection of books is so beloved as J.K. Rowling’s magical masterpiece. The world she crafted was impeccably alluring, and her characters were relatable (well, as relatable as teenage wizards could be). And while it was nice to see Harry’s world brought to life through the prowess of different filmmakers, the films still left much to be desired.

I’m okay with the first three films. I was practically a child when I saw The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. I went to go see the movies on a class field trip. (Isn’t that neat? We saw a movie for our class field trip.) I had read the books, and the movies were more or less as enjoyable as the books were.

By the time the fourth Harry Potter movie came along, I was spotting flaws right and left. The vast and detailed plot of The Goblet of Fire did not fit well into two hours and thirty-seven minutes. Contradictions began to run rampant with no explanation offered for them, and the lack of development for some secondary characters (and even some primary ones) physically hurt me.

That is what happens when books are made into movies. It’s like playing Russian Roulette. Occasionally you’re lucky, and the movie ends up being everything you hoped for. Other times…

There are three movies I love (technically five, but I’ll get to that later) that equaled or exceeded the books they were based on.

  • The Lord of the Rings (made up of three movies)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Jurassic Park

I was very young when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I was about six years old (I liked to read, sue me). However, my parents did not think it was appropriate for me to see a PG-13 fantasy movie at such a young age. So they waited until The Fellowship of the Ring came out on DVD, and then my father watched it alongside my sister and me, supervising us to make sure we were not unduly influenced by fantasy violence. (We had so much fun; we pretended to be Ringwraiths for the next couple of days. We’d grab the pillows from our living room couch and imagine they were our horses. Then we would shriek the highest note we could reach and run around the house. Just like the Nazgûl, get it?)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible work of fantasy was a deeply written collection of lore. As such, the descriptions of places and events were extremely wordy. Entire chapters could have been devoted to describing the city of Minas Tirith. Tolkien gave every race a history, and those histories went back generations. I believe that the movie captured that fantastical history and made it engrossing as hell. Instead of reading paragraphs about, say, the customs of the Rohirrim, we got to observe them in action and learn their customs through their wardrobe and behavior. Not every person could pick up the books and get into them. But the movie delivered the same content, while making it easy to understand and enjoy.

The story of how I got into Cloud Atlas is hilarious. Well, to me, at least. I was in my college computer lab working on a paper. I was listening to music through Youtube, and the trailer for Cloud Atlas came on before one of the videos . Intrigued, I paused my essay-writing to watch it. And just the initial concept of the trailer floored me. It was so cool! It’s almost indescribable. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.

Upon finding out that it was also a novel, I went to Barnes & Noble first thing that weekend and got myself a copy of the book. It was fantastic. I then only had a couple of months to wait before I could see if the movie lived up to its progenitor’s greatness.

And it did.

Some people may not agree with me. I know that a lot of film critics did not look too kindly on the movie. But I’m no film critic. I loved the book, and I loved the movie.

The interesting thing about the book version and movie version of Cloud Atlas is that they feel like different animals. The book is a ziggurat. You climbed up the first half of the story, with each timeline representing a step forward. Then you climbed down the ziggurat, each story-line getting resolved into a graceful denouement. The movie version was more like a tapestry. We got to visit each timeline one after the other, like threads interwoven together to make an intricate weave. The story feels kind of spiritual without being overly preachy. It stimulated my heart and my mind at the same time.

So, while the book and the movie feel dissimilar, they’re both equally enjoyable and, more importantly, equally meaningful. I would highly recommend both to anybody.

I was a total dinosaur kid (and am now a dinosaur adult), so it’s no wonder that Jurassic Park made it onto my list of favorite books turned into movies as well. I have nothing against the Michael Crichton novel. I think he’s a great sci-fi writer with the ability to ramp up tension like nobody’s business. But Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park had what Crichton’s book didn’t: heart.

That movie was made for people who loved dinosaurs. While the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the raptors may have been the antagonists of the movie, they were what made me sit straight in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen. Hell, anytime a dinosaur appeared, my heart skipped a beat. Alan Grant’s face when he rests his body on the triceratops is mine every time I decide to re-watch Jurassic Park. 

And that theme music! My soul sings that melody every time I go to a dinosaur museum. (Or whenever I’m doing something super majestic, which is, sadly, not often.)

So, it is possible to make a great movie based on a book. It’s just not something you see every day. If you have any recommendations for movies based on books that you like, let me know! I’m always on the look-out for fresh attempts.

What can I say? I’m a closet optimist.