How to go grain- and sugar-free and not curl up and die

In January, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. It’s a bugger as far as diseases go. For some reason which science is not entirely certain of, my colon and rectum are inflamed to the point of developing ulcers. So whenever poop (there’s just no talking around it, I’m sorry) passes through my digestive system, it irritates the ulcers and causes them to bleed. Hey presto, a messy (and stinky, if I’m being honest) toilet. Add to that some extra symptoms like diarrhea and gas and rectal urgency (gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now), and you have a recipe for Curling in on Yourself in Despair.

Screenshot from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), via starwarsscreencaps.com

I’ve tried expensive medications to calm the inflammation. They are not a permanent fix. And they cost a fortune. So when I experienced another flare-up in May, I was ready to try something different. That’s when I made an appointment with a holistic medical community in Lubbock, TX, the city where I go to school (wreck ’em, Tech!).

My first appointment, an orientation, informed me what this place, called Veritas Medical, wanted me to do. They didn’t put me on any medications, they didn’t run any tests. Instead, they gave me a bunch of lists: lists of “can have’s” and lists of “cannot have’s.”

The lists are a bit more detailed than what I’m going to describe here, but what follows is the gist: no grains and no sugar. After that, there are certain foodstuffs, such as oils and fruits, which raise your blood sugar and are therefore also no-no’s, at least temporarily while your body starts to heal itself. You see, according to the founder of Veritas Medical, Dr. Ben Edwards, the source of all the inflammatory diseases afflicting so many Americans is our high-sugar, high-carb, low-fat diet. His goal for his patients is for them to replace all the bread and cookies and fried foods and other greasy, sickly sweet junk we consume daily, without thinking, with vegetables and healthy fats such as avocados and coconut oil.  Such a diet will, he claims, reduce the body’s inflammation, allowing it to heal once and for all. Most of the time, without medication.

Now that you have an idea of what my condition and my diet is like, I’ll guide you through how to survive your first week or so of going grain- and sugar-free without feeling like you’re going to curl up and die.

  1. Go cold turkey. Just do it. There’s no putting it off. If you’re trying this diet, you’re probably doing so because you feel you have no other options. You want to start feeling better? Just bite the bullet, and throw away the bread on your way out.
  2. Think about the unhealthy foods and drinks you normally consume without a second thought and then brainstorm replacements. For example, many people’s go-to snack is a bag of chips. Okay, let’s replace that bag of chips with a bag of nuts. Or some veggies and hummus. Drink more water or tea instead of a Coke (FYI, you will appreciate the flavor of tea more when the only other thing you’re drinking is water).
  3. Realize you can replace sugar with natural sweeteners. There are some natural sweeteners, like coconut sugar, which don’t send your glycemic levels shooting off the charts. Use these as substitutes in coffee, tea, and whatever other beverages or food you like to be sweet (FYI: lemons and limes make good flavorings for tea).
  4. Eat more. More veggies, more meat, more nuts, and more other healthy fats like the ones I mentioned earlier. If you eat a filling meal, you are less likely to get the munchies later. (Pro tip: eat as much butter as you want, as long as it’s made out of as few ingredients as possible – the purer it is, the better. Butter is a healthy fat!)
  5. Realize you are not perfect. This is important. You are not a perfect human being. You can slip up. But you can also do this. Don’t give up. Remember that there is always another opportunity to get back on the diet at the next snack or the next meal.
  6. Realize that this diet isn’t forever. I’m not going to be on this strict of a diet for the rest of my life. As I heal, I get to move on to new phases of Veritas’s diet which includes the introduction of foods my body could not previously tolerate. Eventually, I believe I will be able to eat a slice of pizza or one of those big cookies from McAlister’s and not experience any blowback from my colon or rectum. It will just take some time to get there.
  7. Discover that healthy food is actually pretty yummy. It’s true. If you don’t believe me, go to your local health food store and browse around. Google recipes that consist only of meat, cheese and veggies. And try cooking a few things. Your tastebuds will be pleasantly surprised.

Have you ever gone grain- and sugar-free? Thinking about it? Start up a conversation in the comments below.

 

 

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A Review

Image from amazon.com
Image from amazon.com

It is truly a joy to open the pages of a book that you’ve never read, that you have very little expectations for other than what you’ve heard others tell you about it, and fall in love with it within the first few pages. On the other hand, it’s terribly disappointing when you’re really looking forward to reading a book and it just doesn’t pay off for you. Bad writing, annoying characters; whatever grates on your distinct reader nerves, you always hope you’ll never find it. Unfortunately, sometimes you do.

I am happy to say that in Uprooted, the latest fantasy novel from Random House by Naomi Novik, I found NONE of the latter annoyances. Gregory Maguire, author of the popular Wicked, called the novel “bewitching,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. The book sort of snatches you up and carries you along at a beautifully brisk pace, unfettered by superfluous details and scenes, and buttressed by worldbuilding infrastructure that is both charming and expertly wrought.

My, don’t I sound pompous! But though the words above may sound stuffy, they’re my way of expressing how much I loved this book. I have only praise for it. The characters were believable and fun, as was the magic, and the world was both beautiful and dangerous.

Female protagonists can be hit or miss for me. Sometimes, they are inflated with so many of the “strong female” tropes that I don’t relate to them well. But Agnieszka was a delight. I think Uprooted is partly meant to be a coming-of-age story for her, and it succeeds as such. She begins as a clumsy and awkward seventeen-year-old, nervous and frightened but possessing hidden strength, and… well, I’ll let you find out how she ends up. She and the Dragon, the wizard who takes a girl every ten years from one of the local villages to live with him in his faraway tower, make a fantastic pair. They contrast in nearly every way, and they are a joy to watch interact. The Dragon, especially, is fun to read because of his acidic sarcasm and the colorful insults he is always throwing at the unyielding Agnieszka.

All of Novik’s characters were written just as skillfully, and I think nearly all go through his or her own story arc. They feel real and diverse, and their paths do not always lead where you think they will.

I have to address the worldbuilding element of Uprooted, because of how great it was and because of the way Novik used it to send a breath of fresh air through what might otherwise have been just a typical fairytale setting. The author was inspired by her Polish heritage for this novel; and though evidence of its influence are easy to find, for someone who knows nothing about Polish culture (like me), it didn’t come off as “borrowing” too much from the real world. Rather, Novik’s fantasy world became unique, set apart from the medieval England setting that you often think of automatically when it comes to fairytale-type stories.

Because this really is a fairytale, only far darker and grittier (like the original Grimm stories) than most people are familiar with. There’s magic, as I mentioned earlier, that feels real, layered, and thoughtful. There are witches and wizards; strange woodland creatures; and of course, a powerful force of evil in the form of a treacherous Wood.

There is also romance, and that, too, was a grand success. Even early on, before the sparks began to really fly, I was already rooting for the it to take flight. This is probably because it was comical as well as passionate, which added a sense of realism, once again setting Uprooted apart from other romantic story arcs I’ve read.

This is meant to be a spoiler-free review, for the most part, so I’ll try not to give away anymore than what I already have. But I have to say, that another of Uprooted‘s many strong points is its plot. Twisty and dangerous, by the end of it (maybe by about a third of the way in, in fact), you’ll be desperately hoping the main characters will emerge alive and well from it. I will give you this one assurance, however: the end is well worth it.

Bewitching, romantic, exciting, charming, even humorous… All of these adjectives, and more, can be applied to Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I suppose it sounds like I’m gushing, and perhaps I am. But this book really is that good.

*NOTE* Though Uprooted has a fanciful cover and a fairytale disposition, it is not a book for children, or even for young teenagers (13 -15 years old). There is a sex scene, as well as multiple occasions of blood and violence. It’s nothing that an older teen or an adult couldn’t handle, but I thought it best to give fair warning in case some were thinking it might be a children’s or young adult novel (it’s neither).

An All-Women Adventure With Princess Leia #1 – A Review

Princess Leia, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Terry Dodson, is the first Marvel series after Darth Vader to feature a single original trilogy character as its only main protagonist. It is also the first Star Wars comic that I know of that looks like it’s being marketed specifically towards girls and women. From the many and beautiful variant covers and tasteful interior art to the two female protagonists who headline this first issue, Princess Leia #1 promised an adventure for girls with very little of the associated stereotyping, and it did not disappoint.

(As always, I’ll avoid giving any outright spoilers.)

What we have in this first issue is the beginning of what appears to be a very character-driven story. It picks up literally right where A New Hope left off, in the throne room on Yavin IV. It shows Leia struggling to assert herself under the over-protectiveness of Rebel leaders who see her (and wish to preserve her) as a symbol of survival. As a consequence, the Leia we see seems a bit different from what many were probably expecting. It almost seems like the Rebel leaders are treating her like a child, which isn’t necessarily in keeping with our perception of Leia’s overall importance and place in the Alliance. But, in retrospect, this treatment is logical to me. Not only is Leia a princess of Alderaan and therefore a symbol of the fallen royalty, she also was once a senator. In all likelihood, she was little more than a political figure who probably didn’t see much of her influence take hold in the senate due to her age and the Emperor’s own dominance over the other senators. However, her tenacity, wisdom, and courage, along with her extreme bravery throughout all of the events that took place in A New Hope, should garner her more respect. I think that by the end of this miniseries, she will have more than earned that respect. I think her arc in this story is the next phase, both in-universe and from a storytelling perspective, in her becoming a true, acknowledged leader of the Rebellion.

But Leia not only has the Alliance leadership to deal with, she has the subclasses to deal with, as well. Some of the Rebel pilots start calling her “ice princess” after her speech in the throne room because of her apparent refusal to be more visibly and emotionally grievous for the deaths of her parents and most of her people. One such pilot is Evaan (I’m not sure how that’s pronounced, but I’m guessing it’s pronounced like Yvonne), the new character we’ve seen in previews for the series and one that I’ve been looking forward to reading and learning more about. She doesn’t disappoint, either. She seems like a well-rounded character, without any stereotypes surrounding her personality. Loyal to her native Alderaan and the Rebellion, and determined to protect Leia , even though she doesn’t approve of the princess’s hard front about the destruction of their home planet, she’s respectful yet opinionated, clever without being outspoken about it. She also sticks to protocol, calling Leia “ma’am” and refusing the latter’s request to be friends. Despite her calling Leia the ice princess, it feels like Evaan is a bit icier, at least with regards to her relationship with the former. I’m interested to see how she develops further. In the beginning of the comic, Luke comments that he wishes that Leia could lean on “anyone,” like he was able to lean on her after Ben’s death. I’m wondering if Evaan will be the one that Leia leans on, if she will become a friend that the princess can truly open up to.

There have been mixed reactions to the art for this comic series. I like it, because it’s unique and different, and because it evokes a feminine aesthetic that matches the style of the protagonist as well as the target audience. As I said earlier, this comic seems to be targeted at girls and women, and I think that the art expresses that. There’s a soft, pretty quality to it that is more “girly” in nature; coupled with the two strong female protagonists, who are also pretty (and fit without baring much skin or having ridiculously inflated breasts), I think it’s a good move toward having material that is more appealing to girls, in both look and content. This might be a comic book that a casual female Star Wars fan or even just a casual female passerby might look at, be intrigued by for its less gritty and more woman-centric comic cover, and actually pick up and read.

By the way, when I say that the art matches Leia’s style, I’m referring to her actual style of dress, her appearance. She and Padme have the same sort of fashion sense, in that they wear outfits that are pretty in a soft kind of way, but are also (mainly in Leia’s case) utilitarian. Their makeup, as well, looks natural and attractive. Dodson’s artwork for this miniseries, I feel, really showcases all of that, and I think it should. It’s a new and bold choice for a new story and a bold heroine.

But of course, regardless of who or what Marvel is trying to appeal to with this first miniseries, Princess Leia #1 can be read and enjoyed by anybody, just like any other comic series. It featured a good story, an interesting take on Leia’s position in the rebellion post-Episode IV, and a new female character that we can only hope won’t end up dead by the end of her (hopefully first) canon adventure. And the art, though it won’t appeal to everyone, is something unique that we’ve never seen before in a Star Wars comic series and is therefore an interesting visual experience.

Princess Leia #1 is available on comic book store shelves and digital comics apps (i.e., Comixology) TODAY!

Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne – A Review

Out of the four books announced by Del Rey in 2014 as being the first of a new timeline of official Star Wars canon, perhaps none of them were as much anticipated as Heir to the Jedi, written by newcomer to the Star Wars literature franchise, Kevin Hearne. Featuring Luke Skywalker in a first-person narrative, Heir to the Jedi is only the second first-person Star Wars novel, coming after the 1995 release I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole. Being that it is also officially canon, Heir had the potential to be a revolutionary read, and in the above ways it was. For me, however, the overall effect was something less than revolutionary. In fact, it rather bordered on mediocrity.

This review is meant to be spoiler-free, so I won’t be making direct references to scenes or page numbers.

Beginning with the characters, I have to say that the most interesting character was not Luke Skywalker, which is a problem given that this is supposed to be his story, told through his perspective. I felt that Luke lacked inner conflict, and that therefore made him boring and too “good,” so to speak. He met every challenge with an optimism and patience that honestly frustrated me, simply because the result was so uninteresting. But, this may not be the fault of anyone who might take on the mantle of writing Luke. Heir to the Jedi takes place shortly after A New Hope, before the events of the Marvel Star Wars comic series, and we know that at this point, there isn’t much going on in Luke’s life. He’s had time to get over the deaths of his aunt and uncle and Ben. He hasn’t gone through the difficulty of training to be a Jedi. In addition, he doesn’t know the true identity of his father. As a result of all of this, he also hasn’t had a real brush with the dark side yet. Another result is that there are many ways in which he is still untested. My point is that Luke is by nature uninteresting at this juncture in his life. However, I do maintain that inner conflict could have been added in natural ways, just to give the character more depth. Without this depth, the narrative falls into the dumb farmboy framework, with Luke occasionally saying goofy or childish things that come off as being more silly than charming.

As to the supporting cast, which included a dark-skinned sniper named Nakari and a mathematics and probability expert called Drusil Bephorin, there were some hits and misses. I enjoyed Drusil a lot. Because her whole alien culture revolves around mathematics, and because of her own special genius for the subject, she has the ability to make predictions of future events based on statistics and probabilities that are impressively accurate. Considering that, and the cultural nuances that really fleshed her out both as a character and a member of the Givin species (an alien people new to the Star Wars universe, to my knowledge), she became a clever and interesting creation. Nakari, on the other hand, left me with mixed feelings. I liked her as a character, but I felt that she was a bit overdone. Jason Ward really captured what I was feeling about her in his review, though I couldn’t label those feelings on my own. It felt like that, in order to make Nakari more interesting, she was given quirks, such as a weird family and a mischievous, talkative nature that were both, I felt, a bit overplayed. With one or both of these sides to her character toned down, she would have been more delightful than flawed (there is also something that I disliked in the way she was treated in the story, but readers will have to discover that for themselves).

The issue of overplay came up for me in another area that was both connected to and outside of Nakari. That was the area of humor. In some places, it was well-done and therefore funny, but in others it felt forced. I realize that we need humor in Star Wars; that’s one of the things that makes Star Wars Star Wars, honestly, is its ability to make us laugh. The thing is, the humor in Star Wars is generally subtle. In Heir to the Jedi, not all of the humor was subtle; in fact, quite a bit of it was painfully obvious, so much so that it took me out of the story a little bit.

The story is yet another area with which I had some concerns. The story lacks good structure and the right amount of conflict. A lot happens, and yet very little of what happens in the first third or half of the story really has any bearing on the rest of the book. Interesting discoveries are made, intriguing planets are visited, but none of it seems to matter to the grand scheme of the book, making me question why these discoveries and planets were figured into the story at all. The amount of conflict is dangerously low, making the story boring at times. Every time the protagonists get into a dangerous situation, they seem to get out of it largely unscathed. The sense of danger inherent in the situation doesn’t really linger too long; it happens, they experience it (briefly), and then they move on without having really lost anything. Again, the problem with this is the lack of conflict, which can (and did) lead to boredom for the reader.

I talked about wondering why some things were a part of the story at all. The answer, I think, lies in the purpose of this novel, which was to show how Luke advanced in his Force abilities from only being able to sense things he can’t see in A New Hope to levitating a lightsaber out of the snow in The Empire Strikes Back. It was also meant to explain, I think, how it was that Luke learned how to construct the new lightsaber that we see in Return of the Jedi. The problem is, this purpose isn’t really suited to a full-length novel. It could have been easily explained through a short story, which, given its length, would have allowed for tighter conflict and/or the focus of the story to be placed solely on Luke’s progress in the Force, thereby eliminating any unnecessary plot points. But still, I don’t really know why it had to be shown how Luke progressed in the Force between Episodes IV and V, at least through a full-length novel, because when we see Luke using the Force in Episode V, he can only barely use it to levitate his lightsaber. It doesn’t make sense to me, to base an entire novel’s overall importance in the official canon on so slight an accomplishment. Instead of explaining how he progressed, it merely raised the question for me of why he didn’t progress further in the interim between the films, especially given something that Drusil says in Heir to the Jedi in a remark about the Force. There were a lot of threads, both within the book and connected to the films, that didn’t really weave together in a cohesive way for me, and that goes for all of the book’s elements that I’ve discussed so far.

As you can see, I experienced a lot of issues with this novel. Perhaps some of them are founded, and perhaps some of them are more nitpicky; you as the reader can decide that when you read Heir to the Jedi for yourself. But, of course, I am neither an author nor a publisher. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at Del Rey or Hearne’s desk. I do know that Heir to the Jedi was planned early on, along with Marsha Wells’ Razor’s Edge, which focused on Leia Organa. Razor’s Edge and its sequel Honor Among Thieves, featuring Han Solo as the main protagonist, were released before Del Rey announced the new line of canon novels, rendering Edge and Thieves as Legends of the Expanded Universe. Heir to the Jedi, being the third book in the series, may only have been trying to live up to Legends standards in focusing on plot elements that don’t have a huge overall effect on the Star Wars saga as a whole. We will probably never know.

But just because I didn’t enjoy this book as much as, say, Tarkin or A New Dawn, doesn’t mean that no one else will. There were a couple of moments in Heir to the Jedi that I enjoyed. Drusil, as I mentioned earlier, was fun to read about. As a whole, however, I can’t view it as a great success.

I would like to thank my esteemed Making Star Wars blog boss, Jason Ward, for his awesome review that helped me to formulate some of my own opinions concerning this book. I would also like to thank The Nerfherder, @nerfherderblog on Twitter, for discussing Heir to the Jedi with me and helping me to clarify my thoughts on the subject.

Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne is hitting bookstores and digital shelves TODAY!

Star Wars Razor’s Edge: Fighting & Girls Allowed – An Old Review

This is a review that I wrote back in 2013 about Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge, the first in the Star Wars Empire & Rebellion series. Considering that Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne was supposed to be a part of the Empire & Rebellion series and is releasing tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to pull this Legend out of my old blog for reading on the new one. Enjoy this voice from the past…

Star Wars: Razor’s Edge, by Martha Wells, is the latest addition to the Lucas library of adventure novels, and I must say that it is a rollickin’ good one.

The book blasts off from the very first chapter into a well-written, vivid plot of cat-and-mouse chases and aggressive negotiations. Martha Wells brings it all: Rebels, Imperials, pirates, secret hideouts, a battle with an insane droid (no, I’m not kidding), and of course, fun and uproarious banter between two of the franchises’ most beloved characters, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Their interactions with each other (and everyone else) is one of the best things about this story, in my opinion. That, and the fact that out of all the Star Wars novels I have ever read, this one sports the biggest cast of female characters I have ever come across, culminate to make this one interesting and unique read.

The story takes place about two or three years after the destruction of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope. The story revolves around the time that the rebels are looking to build a new base (this hints toward Echo Base on Hoth, but they haven’t settled on that location yet). At this point in the game, Han and Leia are obviously not in any relationship whatsoever beyond friendship (and to say that may even be a little presumptuous). What I loved, though, was that amidst their atypical trading of wit and biting sarcasm, Wells manages to weave in more obvious indicators of the mutual attraction between the future lovers. Leia enjoys watching Han’s butt as he walks away from her. Han fantasizes about massaging various parts of the princess’s body (yes, but not in a disgusting way, trust me). There’s also a hilarious scene in which the two are alone together in a cramped refresher unit trying to discuss a very serious subject concerning their mission; unfortunately for them, they can’t seem to NOT be attracted to one another. They even start turning down the temperature while they’re talking as they try their darndest to keep their heated emotions from getting the better of them. They succeed, but just reading that scene and realizing how deeply attracted they are to one another just adds a whole new level to my perception of their relationship. It really cemented the fact that their romance didn’t start in The Empire Strikes Back, but rather long before. I think that Wells really hit the nail on the head with regards to capturing the spirits of these original characters.

Another intriguing element that Wells brought to the table was an extensive supporting cast of females; the largest I’ve ever come across in the Star Wars EU. Along with Leia, there’s Sian (a rebel), Captain Metara, Terae, and Fera (Alderaanians-turned-pirates), Vesti (the fiendish manager of a pirate clearinghouse), and a feisty Twi Lek (also a pirate). Considering that this book is supposed to be Leia-centric (and that the author is also a female) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the female presence is so strong in this story. It’s an interesting change from the male-dominated and mixed bag cast lists that most Star Wars books I’ve read tend to use.

The only thing that I say could be considered detrimental to this story’s success lies in the question I sort of found myself asking at the end of it all: “What was this story’s point?” In the first few chapters, the object of the rebels’ mission was clearly stated: get supplies for their new base. By the last chapters, however, that’s not even really an issue anymore. Survival and redemption are the major themes by the end, which is fine; it just made me think that the end result of all of Leia’s adventures was a significant departure from the original goal. I think that if Wells had tied in this goal a little bit more, the story would have gone in a better direction with regards to wrapping up all the plot points in a satisfying way.

In the end, I applaud Wells latest EU production. I especially appreciate the thought she put into the characters and the dialogue, as well as the moving-right-along pace, which worked really well for this particular book. Razor’s Edge was a fun story that didn’t involve the impending doom of the galaxy, so for anybody looking for a light read that doesn’t promote the latter theme, this is the book for you. The next installment in the Empire & Rebellion trilogy, Honor Among Thieves (by James A. Corey) is due to come out in early 2014, so that’s probably when I’ll do another Star Wars review.

(Or not. I think my next one was A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller 😀 )

The Moment In “The Phantom Menace” That Shaped Anakin Skywalker’s Destiny

Sometimes, we have no explanation for the choices we make, the opinions we form, the attitude with which we view our lives and the world. Sometimes, they are the results of many different factors: how our parents treated us, our experiences in school, an accident, even something as simple as a movie or a song.

But sometimes, in looking back on a life full of choices, good and bad, we can trace our most important decisions to one specific event, one particular moment suspended in time that has influenced us, perhaps haunted us ever since its occurrence. The Jedi would teach us to “let go” of that moment, let it pass away so that we are left with clearer minds and unprejudiced hearts. But, as many Jedi would be forced to admit, letting go is not the easiest habit to put into practice.

No one would know this more than Anakin Skywalker. Throughout his saga of love and hate, turmoil and treachery, light and darkness, all of his pivotal decisions can be traced back to one specific event, one particular moment that formed the central core of his inner struggle with the Dark Side: the moment when he left Tatooine and slavery behind for a life of freedom, knowledge, and adventure.

More specifically, the moment when he left his mother behind.

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In this moment, Anakin has finally gotten his heart’s desire: he is free from the bonds of slavery. In addition, there is the unexpected but welcome joy of leaving Tatooine to be trained as a Jedi Knight on the capital world of Coruscant. But the liberation comes with a terrible cost: he must leave Shmi Skywalker behind, still trapped in a fate of enslavement that he cannot, at this time, change.

In this moment, he vows to one day return to Tatooine to free his mother. That promise, and the guilt that it curses him with until his ultimate return in Attack of the Clones, is what drives his every dance with the Dark Side. That promise set the path of an innocent, bright-eyed, eager ten-year-old boy as one of self-destruction, self-hate, and suffering. As the music of the track entitled “Anakin is Free” swells, we feel this. We feel the epic destiny, the dread of something beginning that cannot be stopped.

Granted, Anakin is still responsible for his choices. He is not blameless in succumbing to the easy path tread by all Sith. He is not blameless for the countless lives he took, or for the equal amount of lives he ruined through tyranny and the theft of loved ones. But there is a source for this evil, a drive behind the madness.

And it was this moment.

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Images courtesy of screencapped.net.

Listen to this incredible moment from “Anakin is Free,” by the incomparable John Williams.

Inkshares: Publishing Your Book Through Crowdfunding

One of my passions is learning and hearing about the process behind writing. In addition to that, and as a complement to, I am very interested in the business of publishing. One of the things I like to hear authors talk about is how they got published, because it’s often not as romantic as one might think. On the contrary, in most cases, even those of the mega-successful, there is a lot of hard work involved. You hear about the extraordinary stories of those mega-successful, like Christopher Paolini, whose fantasy story Eragon was published when he was still a teenager, and breakout stars like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, whose series have spawned billion-dollar film franchises. But what you don’t hear about are all the rejection letters, the 10+ novels written and discarded before anything truly publishable is squeaked out, and the trials of finding a way to get your book on the market, whether it’s through a professional publishing house, or Amazon or any number of other self-publishing methods.

A new form of publishing that I recently discovered, which involves much less risk then the self-publishing route & still claims to get your book on the market, is a crowdfunding endeavor called Inkshares. Crowdfunding has become more and more popular over the years, with such companies as Kickstarter and GoFundMe allowing you to raise money for your business/project/charity/personal financial needs. But Inkshares works a bit differently. Basically, you submit your project (which, to my understanding, can be almost any kind of written work, including books of any genre, graphic novels, and articles) to Inkshares, and Inkshares gives you a figure for the amount of money they will need to print and/or e-book your work, provide cover art, and market appropriately.

After this “funding floor” is established is when the crowdfunding part begins. Inkshares will display a description of your work on their site. You can provide excerpts, detail your progress (if you haven’t finished it yet), tell potential buyers why you want this project published and what “benefits” they would get out of reading it. You will need to share this page on social media and tell your friends and family about it in order to get it as much publicity as you possibly can. The reason for this is because you are given a limited amount of time (a few weeks or months) to raise the money that Inkshares will need to publish your book. If the money is not raised within that time frame, your work won’t get published; not to sound like a commercial, but it’s that simple.  Your goal, therefore, is to get an audience for your work and make them want to invest in it by “pre-ordering” it. It’s a way for readers to have a say in what content they want to read and see become a viable product on the market. In effect, the readers decide what they want to read, instead of having to rely on the judgements of literary agents and editors.

So what happens if you DO raise the money (or more than enough money) that Inkshares needs? Once again, it’s very simple: the publishing process begins. Here is where you have a team of editors help you polish your work, a cover is made, and your work is put into printed and/or digital formats. Once your work has been mass-produced, it will then be sold through marketplaces such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple. And as a result of the crowdfunding, you have the advantage of being able to make what to me sound like pretty decent profits. For a printed work, the author receives 50% of the royalties; 70% of the profits off of an ebook; and 50% of any graphic novel sales.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in the discussion of royalties in a traditional publishing setting, or even how much one might make by self-publishing one’s book through places like Amazon, but those numbers seem fair considering that they are all 50% or above. All things considered, it sounds like an amazing deal. Not only do you get a good share in the royalties, but everything is done for you, without you having to spend an arm and a leg, and overstress yourself about the hairy business of selling and promoting your work on your own.

Though Inkshares doesn’t have a very large library of published works yet, one success story that actually occurred today is the fantasy novel Abomination by screenwriter Gary Whitta. Whitta is the mind behind films such as The Book of Eli and After Earth, and he recently finished penning the first draft of the first Star Wars standalone movie (to be released in 2016). He and Inkshares have recently been promoting Abomination quite heavily online, and it was through my following Whitta on Twitter that I became aware of the existence of this intriguing new form of publishing. Today, Whitta tweeted out that Abomination had been 100% fully funded in less than 24 hours. Such speed and efficiency in funding is likely due, in large part, at least, to his already established fame as a successful screenwriter, but this new success can only mean more public exposure and growth for Inkshares as a viable publishing outlet. As such, it’s probably a good time to become aware of and follow such an enterprise.

Not having used Inkshares myself, I can’t say how well the company markets their funded works, or how in-depth the editors and cover artists are willing to work with you. But if the Publishing Contract they have online is anything to go by (which, incidentally, they say only takes 5 minutes to read), they seem pretty dedicated to doing the most that they can towards promoting and selling your project, provided the crowdfunding campaign is a success. It is a risk; there is always the danger of not reaching the desired funding amount. The good news is that you don’t lose any money, because you didn’t invest any. The only things you invest are your hope and your time. If you’re tired of rejection letters and/or are wary of taking the more immediately financially distressing route of self-publishing, crowdfunding your book through Inkshares might be an option worthy of consideration.

Here are some more links, in case you want to learn more about Inkshares:

FAQ

Terms of Service

Gary Whitta’s Inkshares project, Abomination

 

Finding A Kindred Spirit In “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is without a doubt one of my favorite authoresses. With a writing style that is witty, confident, beautiful, and satirical, Austen creates female protagonists of varying character and situation and, in a framework of romance, shows how they grow into wiser, more well-rounded individuals. The setting is always small, and delightfully unconcerned with government, politics, or war (unless the story should be in need of a roguish soldier or a handsome gentleman officer). The focus is instead on the main character, her circle of family and friends, and the challenges of navigating the strict rules of late 18th century-early 19th century English society in order to find true love and happiness.

That description, alone, might come across as dull and backward for readers of the 21st century. As modern men and women living in the West, our happiness & security need not necessarily depend upon marriage, or even love (though it certainly does help, I daresay, for most people). But I don’t care. As a modern young woman who longs to be married herself someday, and as a reader who loves happy endings, the fact that Austen always gives her heroine’s story arc a happily ever after-like resolution is wonderful, cheering, and frankly very refreshing. That, combined with the vibrancy of her writing style, has secured in my mind Austen as a brilliant, and satisfying, writer and storyteller.

When I recently read Northanger Abbey, one of her last novels that was published posthumously, for the first time, I was not disappointed in the quality I had come to expect from its authoress. It’s probably one of Austen’s more obscure novels, hidden in the shadows of some of her better-known works, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility (TITLE OF MY SITE). To be sure, the heroine of this novel, Catherine, is not as compelling or witty as the irrepressible Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. As the daughter of a country parson, she has not been subject to any worldly society, nor has she been compelled to be very accomplished (“accomplished” here means having skills in such things as drawing, stitchery, and music). Therefore, at seventeen she is very naive, and has not much to recommend her intellectually except for her love of novels, mainly the Gothic genre that was very popular in that era (think dark and gloomy castles or abbeys, and scary creatures coming out of hidden passages; preludes to horror works like Frankenstein and Count Dracula). But Austen takes advantage of this particular passion and turns it into an important turning point in Catherine’s character arc that is unique to Northanger Abbey: the evil of an overactive imagination.

Here is where I found a kindred spirit in the heroine, who, were it not for her overactive imagination and uncanny innocence, would have been a very dull character. I think most people have experienced an overactive imagination at one time or another. When you were a kid (and sometimes when you’re an adult), for example, you were probably afraid to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom because there was always the possibility of a monster or a gorilla or a scorpion lying in wait to get you when you were east expecting it. Exaggerated fancy can also be applied outside of the realm of ordinary, night bathroom trip horror, and into the everyday struggle with making assumptions founded on irrational anxiety. “He didn’t like my Facebook post about gluten-free brownies. He doesn’t like brownies. He doesn’t like gluten-free food. He can never love me because I eat gluten-free foods and love brownies. He doesn’t even like me. This is hopeless. I will probably never get married.” Aside from the fact that if a man won’t even try gluten-free brownies, he’s probably not worth it anyway, I think it is safe to say that assuming you’ll never get married because the person you like didn’t like your Facebook post about gluten-free brownies is fairly overdoing it. And yet, I challenge anyone to deny that they have never had a moment like this, never had a moment in which they assumed or felt fear over something that wasn’t based on any kind of rational thought.

Catherine from Northanger Abbey is no exception to this most universal of human fallacies. Her love of Gothic novels and their unconscious influence on her causes her to make all kinds of embarrassing blunders whilst visiting the country home (which is, in fact, Northanger Abbey) of the family of Henry Tilney, the man she is in love with. These blunders, while comical, I actually found to be quite annoying, for a while (I found Catherine’s silliness a bit contemptible), until two things occurred: 1) Catherine comes to her senses and realizes what a fool she has been, thus improving herself and growing as a character, and 2) I realized how well I could relate to her actions and subsequent embarrassment for them. Granted, I have never imagined the father of a man I admired to be a murderer and/or a wife beater, but then I think I am a little wiser than Catherine, or at least I hope so. But still, the evils of an overactive imagination are the same, no matter how you use it. It almost always ends badly, with much more worry and stress than it’s worth.

It is this part of Catherine’s portrayal and the veiled criticism of putting too much stock and focus on Gothic novels (as well as the inclusion of Gothic novels as a sort of plot McGuffin) that makes Northanger Abbey stand on its own amidst Austen’s more popular works. For all the use of the same themes, which each of Austen’s books tend to follow (the female protagonist and her love interest, pernicious rivals, shameless gold diggers, and foolish parents), the tale is given new direction and spice through variation in character and setting. The conflict and character growth, too, are ever compelling elements to any of Austen’s stories in their uniqueness. Catherine’s own character growth resonated with me in a special way, and that in and of itself made the reading of it a worthwhile endeavor.

Not only that, but like all of Austen’s heroines, she is given a happy ending, and not even her wild suspicion of Henry Tilney’s father being a murderer (a totally unfounded and untrue assumption) can drive away Henry’s love for her. The end is as it always is with Jane Austen: satisfying.

Side note: If you would like to read Northanger Abbey, I recommend the Barnes & Noble Classics edition, with the introduction by Alfred Mac Adam. It contains some interesting notes that are helpful in explaining the context of some references Jane Austen makes to people, places, and novels of her time.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp – A Review

Star Wars: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp makes the second book in the Old Republic saga that I’ve ever read (following Fatal Alliance by Drew Karpshyn). Though the future of the Old Republic stories and their status in the official Star Wars canon universe is uncertain, Deceived was no less enjoyable for that fact; indeed, reading a novel set in the Old Republic time period (which takes place around three to four thousand years before the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope), is for me almost more enjoyable because of its distance from events that have already been accepted as canon. Kemp’s writing style, combined with the weightlessness of reading a story that can hold its own within official canon, and still effect the present of its timeline in a significant, if subtle way, made the reading of Deceived light but still important. And by that, I mean that in the framework of the Old Republic’s timeline, the story mattered, but only in such a way that it made its mark on the former (and myself) without ending in an epic sacrifice or a dramatic explosion.

The story takes place in a time when the galaxy is as it always seems to be: in flux between two powers. The Sith-controlled Empire and the Jedi-protected Republic have been at war; but in a turn of events that is almost too good to be true, representatives from both the Sith and the Jedi have agreed to meet on Alderaan to discuss the possibility and terms of peace. But the talks are partially a distraction; unbeknownst to the Jedi gathered there, a party of Sith led by Darth Malgus and his servant/lover Eleena, explode into the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and kill all they find there. With the Jedi presence on the capital world all but destroyed, the Sith are able to conquer the planet. Though the sacking, sending tidal waves of shock and grief across worlds to the Jedi delegates, do not stop the peace talks, they do eradicate all thoughts of peace for one Jedi on Alderaan: Aryn Leneer, the one-time apprentice of a Jedi who was gutted and murdered by Malgus in his attack of the Temple. And she wants revenge.

Something that has really stuck in my mind about this story is not the events themselves, but the characters that Kemp introduces and develops throughout. I admire Kemp for choosing character backgrounds that set them apart and give them each a unique variation of inner conflict. Malgus, a powerful Sith lord, has to deal with what seem like soft intentions from his Darth superiors, who are making a bid for peace with, instead of all-out destruction of the light side users of the Force. In addition, he struggles to balance his cult’s tenets of burning rage and cold malice with the love he feels for Eleena, the devoted Twi’lek he rescued years earlier from a cruel slavery. Aryn Leneer, too, is wrestling with the morality and common sense of agreeing to form a truce with the Sith. This feeling is only amplified when the Sith sack Coruscant and she feels the stab of Malgus’s death blow spear through her old master and the Force. With determination and a hunger for justice, she abandons the Jedi peace party on Alderaan and seeks the help of an old friend to get past the Empire’s blockade on Coruscant to identify her master’s killer.

That friend, Zeerid, was once a noble Republic marine in the line of duty. Now, though, he’s running spice in order to make ends meet. A young disabled daughter named Arra is what drives him to the point of skimming the law, but a mission to Coruscant may push him over the edge. Engspice, a highly illegal and addictive drug, is what the smuggling entity known as The Exchange wants him to deliver safely onto the Empire-beleagured planet. The profit will mean enough money for Zeerid to pay off his debts to The Exchange and provide for his daughter indefinitely. But the suspicious Empire, a greedy mercenary, and his friendship with Aryn threaten to get in the way of him getting out of the rut he’s gotten him and his family into.

The two threads that connect each of these characters to each other is their sense of humanity, and their journeys to finding their true selves. They each have something that they feel they must accomplish, no matter the danger or consequence; nevertheless, none of the characters are compromised because of what they have to go through. They may start down a path that seems against their nature (Aryn’s blood-lust for Magnus’s life, Magnus’s goodness towards Eleena, Zeerid doing whatever it takes to get the money he needs), but In the end, they remain true to who they are, for good or evil. And,as I mentioned earlier, there’s no noble sacrifice, no super weapons, no overly dramatic ending. Instead, Kemp seems content to make the characters’ fates more natural, more human. In my opinion, he was able to successfully portray them more as real people than epic heroes and villains, despite the various extremities of their lifestyles.

Kemp’s particular style of writing is unique in that there is contained within it a certain flair for the dramatic and the proactive. On example is the fight sequences, which read like well-paced and thought-out action scenes. Another is his treatment of Malgus, who is given presence and passion enough to communicate the entire scope of his inner turmoil and dark side power. I think that is Kemp’s attempt to convey the drive and the pain that the Sith as a culture are demand of themselves to survive and thrive. The effect can be taxing, but perhaps that’s the point. If you’re trying to become the masters of the galaxy and you get tired, then you have already lost from the Sith’s perspective. That’s the point that Malgus himself is contending with when the Sith continue on with the peace talks, even after they have Coruscant in their iron grasp. From Kemp’s writing, it becomes clear that a Sith is only successful when he embraces the dark side and all that comes with it. For the true Sith lord, peace is a lie.

It intrigues me, then, to see what exactly Kemp does with Darth Vader in Lords of the Sith (coming April 28th, 2015 from Del Rey). I remember reading a sample from Lords and feeling rather off-put by the amount of dramatic flair, as I called it earlier, that Kemp was lending to the story and to Vader. But perhaps he is merely expressing that which the “best” Sith embody: nothing is halfway for them. For Vader, especially (to whose inner turmoil Malgus’s surely can’t even hold a candle), Kemp is probably the wisest choice of author to portray the Sith most effectively.

Another aspect of Deceived that I enjoyed: It was short (only around 250 pages), and yet not too short. The focus was smartly placed with the emphasis on Aryn, Malgus, and Zeerid, all intriguing characters. The story moved quickly and efficiently, not lingering too long in any one location or scene, yet incorporated some interesting world-building. Everything worked together and coalesced into one fun, satisfying story.

I started this book a long time ago, but got interested in something else around chapter five. When I recently took it up again, it didn’t take me long to power through the rest. This was an excellent and quick read, light yet providing the closure I needed for the characters that I got to know and enjoy in such a short time. I would recommend Deceived by Paul S.Kemp to anyone who is looking for more Star Wars to read, but doesn’t want to wait for more official canon books or risk the Legends stories too close to the films’ timeline.

My Thoughts on the Disney-George Lucas Story Treatment Kerfluffle

Yesterday, there was an uproar on Twitter after Cinemablend released an article that featured the following quote from the Maker himself, George Lucas, about his story treatments for Star Wars Episode VII:

“The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the ones that I originally wrote.”

I say there was an “uproar;” in actuality, I can only infer this from the amount of tweets from my friends and followers on Twitter, commenting on this subject and the rage that other fans were expressing. I was not online when the whole kerfluffle began, because yesterday was my first day back to college after the winter break. So by the time I got on Twitter that morning after some doing some schoolwork, I got only the tail end of the ire and face-palming. I consider myself fortunate that I missed the main conflict, because I have a tendency to get involved in such things and then lose my cool. This time, however, I was able to take a back seat and take the time to ponder George’s revelation, and what it means for the vision of the future for Star Wars in Disney’s hands.

My conclusion, after some consideration, was that this revelation of Disney’s seemingly flippant regard of George’s story treatment for Episode VII doesn’t bother me. There are a few reasons why I take this view.

Reason #1: George doesn’t always mean what we think he means.

We know from past experience that George cannot always be relied upon for accurate information. Sometimes, he will even make a statement that he will then contradict later on. For example, this week it was revealed that George has indeed seen the first trailer for The Force Awakens, even after saying several weeks ago that he would not be watching the trailer at all. Humans beings, even legendary directors and storytellers, are subject to change. Not only that, but George Lucas really doesn’t seem to give a wamprat’s butt for what other people think. All he appears cares about is making movies, telling stories, and being with his family. With that in mind, I don’t think he really cares that much that Disney isn’t using his story treatment. Keeping that in mind, also…

Reason #2: If George had really, really wanted to tell the story of Episode VII his way, he wouldn’t have sold the franchise!

Honestly, when you sell a franchise that’s worth billions of dollars to another company, along with all of the storytelling rights, you naturally and necessarily deprive yourself of the right to have all of your ideas and all of your plans (which you also sold) used and put on the big screen. If George had really, really wanted to tell the story of Episode VII his way, he wouldn’t have sold it to Disney; or if he had, he would have made a stipulation demanding that he be the one to direct the first installment of the sequel trilogy. Instead, he made no such condition and sold everything, including his story treatments for Episode VII. It was his choice to make, and he made it. Disney has no obligation, other than that which demands honor and respect to the maker of the ingenious blockbuster success that is Star Wars, to use George’s personal vision for The Force Awakens in any way shape or form.

Reason #3: In this new era of Star Wars, it makes sense that the stories would need to come from new storytellers, who have new ideas and perspectives.

Part of the purpose of selling Star Wars, I assume, was so that the franchise could thrive far beyond the interest or lifespan of George Lucas. The great thing about putting Star Wars into new hands is that we will get so many new and amazing stories, likely many that George has never even thought of before. It’s a chance for fans and fresh perspectives to get their minds and hands into the Star Wars sandbox, and bring their own visions of exciting adventures in Star Wars to life using whatever that galaxy far, far away has to offer. George can’t tell that many stories in his lifetime. If he did, he’d be making Star Wars for the rest of his life, which is clearly not his intention. And who can blame him? He’s a creator, a writer, a trailblazer in the cinematic world. For someone like that, ideas are a likely cheap commodity. But to have to stick to one idea, one story, one franchise for the rest of your life? For George, I think that would staunch his desire to keep Star Wars alive. In Disney’s hands, however, hundreds of other creative minds will not only be able to keep Star Wars alive, they will cause it to endure. And that, I think, is the greatest compliment to any person who creates anything: the world wants to remember it for many years to come, hopefully forever. And Disney, JJ Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, Gareth Edwards, Gary Whitta, Josh Trank, and many, many more will see it done.

Finally, Reason #4: George Lucas created Star Wars; Disney and the directors and writers behind future Star Wars content will not be ignoring him.

This, to me, is common sense reasoning. No matter how much you may dislike the prequels or wish that Greedo hadn’t shot first, we wouldn’t have Star Wars if it weren’t for George Lucas. Those who are and will be fortunate enough to get to play in his world would be fools not to make contact with him and keep him a part of the creative process in some way. In fact, JJ is doing just that with The Force Awakens, keeping George on hand as a creative consultant. Ultimately, though, I think he’s glad to have Star Wars off his hands. He can be a consultant and offer advice to directors and writers about the universe he created while being free to pursue his other ideas. There’s no longer any pressure, no need to worry about the loud complaints of fans about things they thought he did wrong (because, even though he might say he doesn’t care about any of that, I’m sure it has effected him in some way; you can’t just have somebody bash your pride and joy like that and then let the insults slide off without them digging at you). And he gets to see his creation survive, thrive, explore new territory that he might not have thought of exploring before. He gets to see Star Wars live on for new generations.

In the end, George Lucas sold Star Wars for a reason. And that reason was not so that Disney could produce an exact copy of his original story for Star Wars Episode VII. Saying that Disney didn’t like his story treatments and therefore decided not to use them could mean many things. For example, it could simply mean that they didn’t use the plot, or the character focus, or the themes that George had outlined. To say that they took absolutely nothing, no inspiration whatsoever from the creator of Star Wars’ Episode VII story treatments might be pushing the boundaries of reason a little bit.

And if they took nothing, so what? George sold Star Wars. The sequel trilogy is not his, and he knows that. It belongs to the next generation. Episodes I-VI, on the other hand, will always be his. And I think he’s okay with that.

And if he’s okay with it, I’m okay with it. I’m just happy we’re getting new movies. I mean, whoever thought that would happen?

Trust me. With or without George Lucas, this fun begins here, for the seventh time. And there are many more times to come.