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In my early teens, before I got into Harry Potter or N.D. Wilson’s young adult books, I was a pretty avid fan of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Aside from the dark humor, literary references, and helpful vocabulary lessons, my favourite thing about the series was how it gradually introduced Lemony Snicket himself as a character in the story. By the end of the series, I was almost more interested in finding the hidden clues about Lemony Snicket’s life (and, of course, the mysterious Beatrice to whom each book was dedicated) than I was in finding out what happened to the Baudelaire children. But the series ended with most of my questions left unanswered, and even the two companion books, An Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters, didn’t explain everything about who Snicket was or how he was connected to the Baudelaires. So I was excited to find out, earlier this year, that Daniel Handler (the real-life author of A Series of Unfortunate Events), was starting a new series starring Lemony Snicket. The series is titled All the Wrong Questions, and the first book, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, is a great start to the story I’ve been waiting for since I was thirteen.

The book starts when a twelve-year-old Lemony Snicket is beginning his apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson, a spectacularly incompetent agent in an unnamed secret organization. The two of them are hired to investigate a theft in a seaside town that is no longer by the sea. Lemony wants to solve the mystery quickly so he can get back to an important project he left behind in the city, but nothing about the crime (or the town) is quite what it seems.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? bears a lot of similarities to A Series of Unfortunate Events: there are lots of word definitions and sly references to famous classics, adults are portrayed as mostly useless while the more intelligent children do all the crime-solving, and all the answers can be found in the library. It’s a straight first-person narrative, which takes away some of the charm and complexity of the story-within-a-story style used in the Baudelaire series, but Daniel Handler’s writing is still lots of fun, and enough about Lemony Snicket’s past is left unexplained to leave room for guesswork (and hopefully some answers in future books). This book is also less dark and gloomy than A Series of Unfortunate Events, though I suspect that might change later in the series. And it does answer at least one of the most perplexing questions from that series–though in such a subtle way that you really have to watch for it. The adult characters do get a little annoying, maybe more so now that I am an adult, but at least Lemony Snicket has good morals: he’s honest, and he always tries to help others, even when they don’t give him any credit. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the worldview of these books, but at least in this series it doesn’t get in the way of the story too much–well, not yet anyway.

Long story short, if you liked A Series of Unfortunate Events, you’ll probably like Who Could That Be At This Hour?. It’s good to be reading a Lemony Snicket series again. This book was a quick read, though, so I hope the next one comes out soon!

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I just realized – I’ll get to meet J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in Heaven.

And we’ll be able to talk to each other.

Isn’t it nice to know different IQs won’t always be a barrier to conversation?

The trailer for the next Hobbit movie is out!!! And…I have mixed feelings. I enjoyed the first Hobbit movie immensely, because even though they added a bit more action than I thought was necessary, it still felt true to the story I’ve loved since I was nine. Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo, and the Riddles in the Dark scene was priceless. But the new trailer has me a little worried. Legolas? Arwen look-alike as a warrior elf princess? Fighting in barrels? Well, the dragon should be cool, at least.

I’m not a purist, in the sense that I want every single detail in a book to be exactly the same in the movie. Movies are a different medium than books, and it’s hard to translate a story into a different medium. A while ago, after getting really fed up with the Narnia movies, I tried writing my own screenplay based on one of the Chronicles of Narnia books. I quickly discovered that it was a near  impossible task. I love the original so much that I didn’t want to change a single word, but then it just became a boring, wordy copycat job. A screenwriter’s work has to be his or her own creation in some way, or it doesn’t feel alive.  Add in the actors and their interpretations of the characters, and the director and his interpretation of the storyline, and a movie adaptation is going to feel very different from the book.

And that’s not necessarily bad. Every movie has to be enjoyed first as a movie, then as an adaptation of your favourite book. The Lord of the Rings movies, for example, are absolutely fantastic as movies, even if they have some flaws as adaptations. And I think a movie can still be faithful to the heart of a story, even if the plot is radically different. A Series of Unfortunate Events is one example–hardly any of the events in the movie were from the book, but it still had the gloomy, tongue-in-cheek Gothic feel, the vocabulary lessons, and the puzzle-solving that made the books so fun.

When I see the next Hobbit movie, I won’t be too put off if some plot details are changed, or if there’s more action than there was in the book (as there almost certainly will be). But I will be looking to see if the filmmakers are true to Tolkien’s vision in the book. Will there still be a sense of divine Providence working behind the scenes? Will Bilbo grow up into an adventure hero and then a peacemaker, as he did in the book? Will the movie show Thorin’s descent into “dragon-sickness” and his redemption? And, resigning myself to the fact that there will be more action, will that action distract from the story or make it more fun? We shall see. Either way, I’ll be standing in line for the midnight showing.

I mean, movies about hobbits don’t come around every day!

I Have a Phobia

Look who’s back!

Yes, I know, it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything that you’ve all probably forgotten this blog exists. But at least my blog isn’t the only thing that’s suffered over the last few months. I’ve barely touched my other writing projects, either. There are reasons. The most obvious is that, until a few weeks ago, I was going to college full-time and working three part-time jobs, plus trying my very best to have a social life.

But that’s not the real reason why I haven’t been writing. Because even in the midst of all that, I found time to watch TV, read at least three whole books, hang out with friends spontaneously, and even spend a few hours doing absolutely nothing. In my experience, a busy life is never an excuse for not doing something important. We find time to do what we really want to do, even if it means pushing other things to the side. I don’t think it was just laziness either (though that may have been part of it–I am a college student after all). 

No, I think the main reason I sometimes go for long periods (like an entire semester) without writing is: fear. Call it writer’s phobia. I’m afraid of being alone with my own words. I’m afraid of looking at what I’ve written and finding that it is absolute, irredeemable trash. I’m afraid, most of all, that nothing I can do will ever make it anything better than trash. Sometimes it’s easier not to face my unfinished projects at all. And being busy is a great excuse for me not to open up those nagging computer files.  

I hope I’m not the only writer who struggles with this. Judging by what I’ve read by other writers, I don’t think I am. The fear isn’t unfounded. Like many others, I’m still pretty new to the writing game, and most of what I write is trash–at least from a publisher’s or a reader’s point of view. But it’s better trash than what I was writing a year ago. And, I must remind myself, the only way to keep getting better is to take a deep breath, face that jumbled mess of a novel or a screenplay, and slowly, one word at a time, try and reshape it into something beautiful.

When you come right down to it, that’s really what writing is. It takes some guts.

Flashes, Pt. 5

Dun da da duuuuun! It’s the Flashes grand finale! A bit longer than the others, but hopefully worth it. Enjoy!

The boy rounded the corner and entered a hallway so full of smoke he could barely see. Waving his hand in front of his face in a pointless effort to clear the air, he turned to the right and the left, until he made out a dark figure near the end of the hall. “I’m coming!” he yelled, but the yell turned into a coughing fit. His back was hurting again, but he ran as he could toward the figure, which seemed to turn at the sound of his voice. The hallway seemed much longer than it ever had before, but at last he got close enough to see that the figure was a girl, leaning against a classroom door—a girl with wide, scared-looking eyes—a girl who looked very familiar…

“Jessica’s stuck in here,” she said, hoarse from the smoke. “I think she’s hurt or something—she says she can’t move! And there’s a table in front of the door, and I can’t open it!”

The boy didn’t think he’d be able to make a sound if he tried to reply. Instead, he dropped his backpack on the ground, backed up against the opposite wall, and then threw himself against the classroom door. It shuddered, but didn’t open, and the boy discovered that he still had a voice. “Ow,” he said.

“Are you okay?” asked the girl, almost squealing in surprise. “Are you sure there’s not an easier way—”

But the boy was already taking another running start. This time, he leaped into the air, pulled his legs into a long-practiced tae kwon do position, and gave the door a resounding kick with his whole weight behind it. It shook and splintered, and a great hole opened up right in the middle. A scream came from inside the classroom. “Coming!” the boy barked as he picked himself up off the floor. He reached through the hole and pushed away the table that was blocking the door until he couldn’t reach it anymore. Then he groped around for the door latch, turned it, and pushed the door open. He stepped through feeling like he had just conquered Mount Everest.

A thin girl with wispy red hair was leaning against the far wall. She was holding a crutch, had one leg in a cast, and looked about ready to pass out. The room was, if possible, even more full of smoke than the hallway, and red flames were flickering around the edges of the wall to his left. As soon as she saw the boy, Jessica started hobbling toward him.

“Stay right there,” the boy said. “I’ve got you.” He stepped around the fallen table and put his arm around Jessica to hold her up. But as soon as she started to put her weight on his shoulder—CRACK! It was the last straw for the boy’s back. They both collapsed on the floor.

The other girl—the girl he knew he’d seen before—looked in through the doorway. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” she asked again.

“Little help,” the boy grunted.

And so the girl who loved reading history books, who had never wanted an adventure of any kind, who had no muscles to speak of and hardly ever lifted anything, found herself slowly descending a long flight of stairs with a person about her size leaning heavily on each shoulder. Jessica used her crutch as much as possible for support, but the strange boy, whose face was so sooty that he looked more like a gorilla than anything else, hardly seemed able to keep himself upright. He kept quiet about it, but she could tell he was in serious pain. At the moment she didn’t feel as sympathetic as she should have. “Use a crowbar or something next time,” she grunted at him on the second-floor landing.

“Sorry,” he said in a strained whisper.

After what felt like a week, they finally reached the first floor again. Now that the air wasn’t so smoky, Jessica seemed a bit more herself. She let go of the girl’s shoulder once they were on level ground, and used her crutch to get to the door.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve got a broken ankle from snowboarding, and I couldn’t move fast enough when everybody ran out of the classroom. They all panicked, even the teacher! And then I couldn’t move the table away from the door, and the room started filling up with smoke…it was SO scary!”

Just before they reached the doors, she turned and put her hand gingerly on the boy’s shoulder. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You saved my life!”

Then she giggled. Turning to the girl, she said, “I’ve always wanted to say that!”

When she limped out the double doors, the girl knew she’d be hearing this story many times over the next few weeks. There were some security officers outside, at long last, and several of them ran up to greet Jessica with alarm on their faces. Judging by the sound, a fire truck was just arriving. The girl turned to the boy on her shoulder. “Think you could walk by yourself a bit now?”

The boy shook his head with a grimace. But even as the girl spoke to him, something in the boy’s face triggered her memory; she had seen him before, and not long ago either. “Hey! Weren’t you walking on a tightrope earlier?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. It had just come back to him. “And you were watching from one of the benches!”

“I wasn’t watching,” she said with a frown. She dragged him forward, panting with the effort, through the double doors and out into the rain. Firefighters were climbing a ladder set against the wall of the building, carrying a gigantic hose. A couple of harried-looking security guards rushed up to the two students as they emerged through the doors.

“Are you all right?” they asked. “Is anyone else in there?”

“I don’t think so,” said the girl. “This guy hurt himself breaking down a door, but I’m fine.” She broke into a coughing fit. “Where were you guys?” she asked when she got her breath back. “My friend was stuck in that building…and I looked all over for security, but there was no one around!”

One of the security guards was suddenly busy lifting the boy off the girl’s shoulder; the other one looked embarrassed. “Well, there was a slight holdup,” he said. “When the fire started, most of us were on the other side of campus, dealing with a couple of kids who were hitting each other with skateboards. One of them—I think his name was Blake—kept cussing out the other guy for losing some kind of equipment…anyway, we were so busy over there it took us a few minutes to realize what was going on over here. But the fire department’s here now, so everything should be all right. You kids just get over to the paramedics. They’ll take care of you.”

He pointed to an ambulance next to the fire truck. A few people, including Jessica, were lying on stretchers outside, but most of them seemed more agitated than hurt, and were chatting noisily with each other. The security guards helped the boy and girl over to the ambulance, where a paramedic gave them both an oxygen mask and made the boy lie flat on his stomach, shaking her head gravely.

“I knew I was stretching it,” he said to the girl when the paramedic had left them. “Hurt my back rock climbing last year. I guess it can’t handle all that running and falling anymore. I’ll probably be off the tightrope for months now.”

“Well, maybe this’ll teach you to think before you throw yourself at another door,” said the girl in a lecturing tone. Then, looking at the boy, she softened. “But I’m really glad you came when you did,” she said. “I could never have gotten Jessica out all by myself.”

The boy looked up at the girl. Her face was streaked with soot, and her voice was still hoarse, but her eyes were shining. Funny enough, she looked much more alive, and awake, and happy than she had sitting on the bench just a half hour ago. “What’s your name?” the boy asked.

“Priscilla Fredericks,” she said. “What’s yours?”

“Cayden,” he answered. “Cayden Jones.”

She smiled. “Nice name. I’m very pleased to meet you, Cayden.”

He shifted position uncomfortably on the stretcher. He couldn’t compliment her name, because it was a ridiculous one—who ever heard of Priscilla who wasn’t ninety? He could say “nice to meet you, too,” but that didn’t seem like enough, somehow. So he said the next thing that popped into his head: “Coffee sometime?”

Priscilla looked shocked for a second. Then she said, “All right, sure. Does tomorrow work for you?”

Cayden and Priscilla smiled at each other for a long time, and hardly noticed the paramedics poking and prodding them, or the great clouds of steam rising from the building, or the noise of the crowd that had gathered to watch. Back on the fourth floor of the science building, their forgotten backpacks blazed merrily, side by side in the fire. It would be a whole day before either student remembered them.

The falling sheets of rain hit the pavement around the stretchers with a sound like breathless laughter.

Flashes, Pt. 4

Yes, I am still alive! And, amazingly enough, so are my boy and girl from Flashes! Here’s part 4 (hopefully the second-to-last part) of their story. The first three parts are below if you need to refresh your memory.

People were pouring out of the big double doors that led to the Science Building. The girl had to push her way through them, sometimes throwing her huge backpack around to clear a space in the crowd. But once she got inside the building, she was faced with a nearly empty hallway that looked surprisingly normal: no smoke, no flames, and once again, no security. Where are they all? the girl wondered. She raced to the end of the hallway, where a staircase decorated with urban murals and a few anatomy dioramas led to all five floors in the building. As she raced up the stairs, a sort of hissing noise began to cut through the eerie silence, accompanied by a stronger and stronger smell of smoke. At last, gasping for breath, the girl reached the heavy metal door that led to the third floor classrooms. When she opened it, she nearly choked on a heavy cloud of grey smoke that filled the hallway. As far as she could tell through the sooty dimness, most of the classroom doors were closed and there was no one in the hall. She hesitated a second, and then, taking off her backpack, she used it to prop the door open–wouldn’t hurt to have an easy exit. Then she started walking down the hall, banging as hard as she could on every closed door and shouting for Jessica. It didn’t take long to get an answer: behind the third door on her right, she heard a muffled voice calling, “Yes! Yes, I’m here! Can you get me out?”

At the other end of the hall, the boy was perched on a tree branch outside a classroom window. Although the fire hadn’t started in this classroom, he could see smoke beginning to pour in through the open door. He could also see his backpack, sitting on a desk within arm’s reach of the window. So, so close–and yet he couldn’t get the window open. It was locked from the inside. After his third or fourth attempt to wrench it free of the lock from his side, the boy sat back on the branch and thought. How much would it cost to fix a classroom window? How would this reflect on his grades? And could he do it without getting caught? He considered these questions for about four seconds each, then looked down and scanned the ground below him for security, police, or his biology professor. None were in sight–which struck him as vaguely odd, but suited him just fine at the moment. He pulled off his tank top, wadded it around his fist, shut his eyes, and punched the window as hard as he could. He felt the glass shatter. Opening his eyes, he hopped inside the window with a grace learned on the tightrope, pulled his shirt back on, grabbed his backpack, and turned to the window. But just as he was about to climb out again, he paused. Were those voices? Nobody should be in the building right now. The smoke was already starting to make him cough. He turned toward the door again. Yes, he could definitely hear someone shouting–a girl, it sounded like. And she sounded scared. The boy hesitated just a moment. He didn’t usually think twice before rushing to help a partner on a cliff side, or one of his amateur friends after a fall off the tightrope, but fire was a different thing. And he didn’t want to lose his backpack again. But he couldn’t just leave, now that he’d heard someone shouting. With a sigh, he put on the backpack and rushed out of the classroom.

Flashes, Part 3

(Yes, at long last, another installment! I know you were all holding your breaths. 🙂

Through the pain spreading through his body and the commotion all over the lawn, the boy saw smoke coming from the science building. At first it didn’t even register in his mind, and he looked back at his friends to see if they were moving. They all were–in fact, they were moving away from him quite rapidly. Then a siren wailed in the distance. The boy looked up again.

“Oohhh, crap,” he said. It had finally hit him: his backpack was in that building. He had left it in the biology classroom, which was now belching black smoke. All his textbooks. His laptop. The keys to his car. Even more importantly, his replacement tightrope. 

The boy did not think. All those years on tightropes, skate ramps, and sheer cliffs had taught him not to think before jumping. Now, he simply ran. The fragile bones in his back, cracked again after three years of mending, screamed at him to stop, but he didn’t think about that either. He jumped, caught the lowest branch of a tall tree near the science building, and started to climb.

The girl was thinking hard. Were there people in that building? Should she go tell a security guard or someone? No, there were sirens. People already knew. Was she safe in the open like this? Would it be any safer inside another building? She stood, soaking wet and a bit dazed, staring at the smoke.

Then a familiar voice among all the yelling voices snapped her back to the present. It was the voice of Jessica, a classmate she had been making friends with in British Lit. And it was yelling, “Help!”

The girl whirled around to see where the voice was coming from. Finally she saw Jessica’s face in a third-story window in the science building. There was no smoke coming from that window, as far as the girl could tell, but it was broken, and Jessica looked terrified. Then their eyes met, and Jessica started waving frantically in the girl’s direction. “Help me! Get the police! I can’t get out!”

In a panic, the girl turned around and around looking for any police or firefighters. There were none anywhere, not even a campus security guard–just running students. Don’t you dare, said a voice in her head. But for once she didn’t have time to listen. She looked back at Jessica, counted the number of windows and floors between her and the ground, yelled, “I’m coming!” and sprinted for the nearest entrance.

Just as the girl flung open the door and the boy climbed up beside the smoking window, loudspeakers all over the campus crackled, “ATTENTION: A FIRE EMERGENCY HAS BEEN REPORTED IN THE SCIENCE BUILDING. PLEASE WALK, DO NOT RUN. PLEASE FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS FROM SECURITY PERSONNEL. PLEASE REMAIN CALM.”