Sunday, December 6, 2015

Holiday Traditions and Favorite Movies

The holidays are upon us and with that comes traditions. From trimming the tree, to outings with the extended family, and of course the anticipation of Christmas morning. In my home we used to be allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas morning my brother Charlie came up with the idea of timing the opening of each package to make it last longer.

Those are good memories. Times change and traditions with it. Or maybe traditions from your youth get passed down from generation to generation. We used to go to midnight mass and my mom would read The Night Before Christmas.

I still do that from time to time but as I said, things change. One thing I still enjoy doing is watching holiday movies. I have some classic stand-bys that I watch every year and a few new ones have joined the ranks as my very favorite.

So here now is a list of some of my favorite holiday movies. What are some of yours? Or what traditions do you have for the holiday season?


FAMILY STONE - A quirky, heart-warming story about a man who brings his girlfriend home to meet the family and they are not receptive to her at all! Why I like it: A great cast including Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Claire Danes combines to bring you a family funny holiday film. The end leaves me in tears every time.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING - Sandra Bullock plays a lonely girl at Christmas who accidentally falls in with a family who believes she's their sons fiance. Why I like it: Again, a great cast really reminds you of families at Christmas time especially Glynnis Johns who really reminds me of my mother! This movie touches the heart too because who amongst us hasn't felt alone like Sandra Bullock's character during the holidays? As always Sandy pulls it off beautifully and in the end it wraps up nicely.

JUST FRIENDS - Ryan Reynolds is at his best with physical comedy and self-desecration playing a guy pining for his high school crush and running into every obstacle imaginable. Why I like it: Non-stop laughter from the fat suit to the Christmas decorations going up in flames. Honorary mention: Anna Faris as the crazy ex-girlfriend.

FOUR CHRISTMASES - Who knew Reece Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn would make such a good comedy team? This became one of my all time favorite Christmas movies just because of the theme alone. A wealthy couple gets stuck going to their families 4 homes in 1 day. It's very modern and what goes on in each respective house is non-stop hilarity.

HOME ALONE 1 & 2 - It just isn't Christmas without Home Alone! In both films young Kevin McAllister is left alone on Christmas to get into trouble and then get out of it in a very funny way. I like part 2 better. It's a little funnier and it has a heartwarming story with the lady with the pigeons.

CHRISTMAS VACATION - National Lampoon's Vacation is one of my all time favorite movies and the Christmas edition of it is a classic as well. Who better than Chevy Chase to ring in the holidays with disaster after disaster and still get it all back together for family fun? Honorable mention: Julia Louis Dryfus of Seinfeld fame playing the pompous next door neighbor.

CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS - This animated classic is a staple of Christmas time. Charlie brown becomes the director of the Christmas play and everything is falling apart until Linus gives a grand speech about what Christmas is really all about.

SCROOGED - The Dickens classic novel A Christmas Carol has been made in every way imaginable from TV to movies. One of the better reinventions was Bill Murray as a television executive who must meet his past, present, and future before the airing of the network Christmas special...guess what, A Christmas Carol. Honorable mention: Bill sees his girlfriend has turned a corner and become a stuffy rich bitch. She states the line "Scrape em off. If you want to save somebody save yourself."

JINGLE ALL THE WAY - One of the only times Arnold Schwarzenegger plays in a great comedy role. This movie has Black Friday Sale written all over it as Arnold forgets to get his child a specific toy for Christmas and has to run out last minute to find it. He runs into Sinbad who is looking for the same toy and the madness commences as they go store to store, and even wind up in the Christmas parade, to find Turbo Man! Honorable Mention: The store staff decide to use a drawing system with rubber balls for the Turbo Man doll. When the crowd goes crazy they throw the balls into the air and the customers start a riot.

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN & FROSTY - I've been watching these since I was a little girl. Made with stop motion animation for Santa Claus and good old fashioned hand animation for Frosty, these two stories are childhood favorites about where Santa and Frosty actually came from.

MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL - As I said Dickens' Christmas Carol has many incarnations and Mickey's version is alot of fun. I believe this was actually the introduction of Scrooge McDuck as he plays the title character going through past, present, and future and running into some funny characters along the way.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Author Spotlight

Spotlight on Author Dustin Porta and his debut novel Children of Atlas.

In the dome cities of the failing space station Atlas, mankind has finally clawed its way out of a second dark ages. 
Julian Reeves, born a scavenger in the lawless second ring, moved to dome city New Lexington to start over. Now he's the lead reporter for the station's first-ever newspaper, printed on an old, movable-type printing press.

When Julian is framed for murder and forced to flee with the very man responsible, he will have to put aside his newfound humanity and take up the old ways to survive.

A small group sets out to look for Julian, only to find themselves hunted by the savage inhabitants of the first ring. When their only lead vanishes, one boy's awakening psychic connection to the old technology could prove to be their salvation or their demise.  

Author Bio:

Dustin Porta was born in rural Pennsylvania. He studied poetry in college but turned to Science Fiction instead. After a brief stint as a professional sailor he moved to the Gulf Coast where he now lives and works as an artist and writer. He still writes poetry and paints seascapes and marine life. When not "working" on his art, he is at the local marina fixing a leaky wooden sailboat.

Before leaving his home state, Dustin published his first book of poetry, Pennsylvania Music, a collection of poems and short stories about Pennsylvania's historic Oil Region. The majority of Children of Atlas was written while living on a sailboat in the small, coastal community of Fairhope Alabama, a town known for its high concentration of writers and artists. His art and writing can be found all along the Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as Northwest Pennsylvania.


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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ranking the Top 5 Boxing Movies and Why America Loves an Underdog

In this silly mixed up society of ours we love to build people up only to watch them fall back down again. Why is that? Because the world loves an underdog story. That struggle of coming from nothing, having something to prove, or even a return to former glory is one that we rally behind and champion because of simply this: We Can Relate.

Who hasn't struggled in our day-to-day lives? Everyone has. Even the celebrities put on pedestals like golden gods and false idols have their hard days and dark times. But no one ever said anything worth having was going to be easy. To quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own "It's supposed to be hard. It's the hard that makes it great."

That is why many of the boxing movies that have been made are always about the low ranked contender battling his way up the ranks until he gains the championship. Or else he is on top and then something occurs where he is knocked back down to the bottom and has to start all over.

We need that type of drama to feed off of. Why? Because we see the underdog reach their goal and something inside of us says "I can do that too." This is why so many athletes train to the Rocky soundtrack, the ultimate underdog who rose up and conquered, not just Apollo Creed, but captivated the world as well. We thrive on that, it gives us hope.

I was down and out recently when an employer unscrupulously let me go from my job for nothing more than office politics. If you don't play the game, if you're not part of the "clique" and if you're a unique individual with your own mind, values, and morals it is frowned upon by big business. Another reason the underdog resonates with people. He/she is the scrappy fighter who does not conform but wins anyway!

Point being that when I was feeling down and low I started putting on underdog movies to rally my spirits and it helped. I believed if they could make a comeback then so could I. It starts with believing in yourself. No matter what field you're in, or what you're struggling with, if you believe that you can overcome then you will! That's when they will write your story and celebrate your glory.

This Thanksgiving Creed comes out in theaters. The next in the Rocky franchise now follows Apollo Creed's son as he steps into the ring just like his father used to. With Rocky in his corner (looking like Mick from the original Rocky!) the young Creed must battle his way through contenders to reach the top...underdog story :)

So here now are my top 5 boxing movies:

1) ROCKY 1 - 3
I really can't separate these into individual movies. This iconic trilogy is the most recognized boxing drama on the face of the planet. Sylvester Stallone tells an impeccable story about a lovable character just trying to fight his way into a better life so that he is not "just some other bum from the neighborhood." The first three are classic with the rest of the franchise getting watered down from there. But everyone knows who Rocky Balboa is and there is good reason.

What can I say, I gravitate towards movies with tough chicks because I am one myself! But I like Million Dollar Baby for a whole host of reasons. Clint Eastwood does double duty as director and playing Hilary Swank's boxing coach, mentor, and almost father-figure. Like most of the movies on this list this story has alot of heart but also heartache. I don't really care for the end and I usually turn it off. This is one underdog story where everything doesn't turn out all sunshine and rainbows at the end but the journey throughout is the reason I have a copy of it on my shelf.


When I first watched this film I was surprised at how impactful it was. With a host of great performances from a stellar cast it takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster. Here we see the tale of the man on top (Jake Gyllenhaal) who loses everything and has to start from the bottom again while fighting his own demons as well. The father-daughter dynamic pulls at the heartstrings and the soundtrack backed by Eminem makes you want to lace up the gloves and get in the ring yourself. 

The Academy Award winning movie starring Mark Whalberg and Christian Bale was only ok for me. It is a really good movie based on real life experiences but it just doesn't draw me in as deep as some of the other films I mentioned above. Christian Bale is a chameleon though and he puts full effort into his portrayal of Dicky. 

I'd be remiss, and probably reamed, if I didn't mention Raging Bull. The reason I didn't is because I've never seen it! But this is a classic that is referenced in alot of different entertainment medium.
A few other noteworthy films are Cinderella Man, The Hurricane, Ali, Girl Fight, and if you're looking for something with some humor Grudge Match.


What's your favorite boxing or underdog story? Did I miss one? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Writing A Series: PT2 - Character Development

Apologies for the delay, I meant to get this up sooner. But we are continuing on our journey of Writing a Series. Last time we begin with a little background on me and why I decided to delve into writing a series.
To recap, I found that though stand-alone books can do well with audiences, most of the time they clamor for more. They like to follow their favorite characters on a journey through their fictional worlds.
Today, I'm going to focus on the initial development of a series. This can be as varied as one's writing style. If you're more of a panster (one who writes by the seat of their pants with little to no outline) this might be a different approach for you.
I found making a breakdown of each novel in the series helps me keep everything in order. It also builds my excitement as I develop subplots and drop clues to bigger reveals throughout the series.
As I said before I'm working on two different ideas at the same time so this cuts down in the confusion.
Now a peek into my writing process: It starts with the initial idea. This can come from any number of sources. Usually I'll get an idea in a random way (watching a movie, traveling, doing yoga, in the shower!)
I don't usually go searching for them. The seed gets planted in my head and if I'm excited about it I proceed. The next step is developing the main characters. For a series this can change with each novel. But you should have at least one character who is present in each novel.

This links the series together and goes back to the main reason people enjoy a good series. Some examples of characters would be Katniss from Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Jack Reacher. In the case of Game of Thrones, George RR Martin chose to develop an entire cast of character but he did so in a way that made the reader invested in each of them.
How many POV's you have is, as always, up to you. For one of my series, a superhero suspense, I recently changed POV from 1st person to multiple. It opened up the story alot more and gave me room to play in this world I created.
My character development is succinct. However much I plot, or don't plot, the actual novel(s) I will do a thorough character breakdown.
I include their physical stats (eye color, hair, build, etc.) their background, quirks/characteristics; and for this novel what superpower they possess or will possess in the future.
I never let this get too far out of reach when writing. Keeping it as a handy reference guide will help you avoid making the mistake of giving someone blue eyes in one scene (or one book) and then green in another. Its all in the details and the more you give to your characters, the more well-rounded they will become. Then your readers can go ahead and start falling in love with them!