Category Archives: Miscellanea

Universal. Not So Universal. An Open Letter.

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Hillary Monahan. I’m a writer and, as of last week, a dissatisfied customer who might as well have lit $120 on fire in lieu of visiting your park. I recently attended Universal Studios Orlando (May 21st, 2013) and I wanted to express my disappointment with the experience and explain why — going forward — anyone asking me about Florida travel will be advised to avoid your theme park and to concentrate their energies on Disney instead, who I must presume is your most direct competition. The sole black mark on my recent vacation was visiting your resort. I want that day back, but unfortunately, time does not work that way.

I am a heavy person. I’m not quite so heavy you can launch me into orbit like Sputnik, but heavy enough that I am aware (and comfortable) with my chubby label. I also have large breasts. I don’t quite know at what point in your design you decided not to account for people having breasts, but I could not get on a single ride in your park that had over-the-shoulder constraints because it sandwiched my breasts into a tiny plastic window. On the Harry Potter ride, said window created a VERY EMBARRASSING experience for both me and your ride operator, a young man who couldn’t have been more than 25 and was desperately trying to get me in to experience the attraction because I fit in the seat itself rather comfortably. The only deterrent was the fact that I have ample curves.

At this point I should probably note that I was able to comfortably ride every single ride in Disney because they account for all body shapes. I am not “too large” for them in any way.  Also worth noting: my husband was larger than I was by at least twenty pounds and could ride everything without issue.

I am well aware that you have test seating outside of attractions so passengers can test their breasts ahead of time (and whatever elses they have that are too round for your seats), but this is an uninspiring feature for multiple reasons. The first is that the test seating outside of The Hulk roller coaster was covered in children resting their feet. No one shooed them away or made sure that it was open for people to use. As I’m on vacation and really don’t want to have to spend my time bullying other people’s children, I wasn’t comfortable berating them until they left. This same phenomenon occurred on no less than two attractions I passed. Normal benches were covered so test seats became a refuge for weary travelers.

The other issue I have is how very vulgar the positioning of these test seats are. Yes, I am heavy, and yes, the world around me knows it as well as I do. That doesn’t mean I want to flaunt my heaviness by wedging my huge boobs into your test seats in front of a hundred million strangers. I’m groping, squishing, and lifting assets that I had even before I gained any significant weight. Where and when do you account for my dignity? Why can’t there be an alcove to the side with a sign so I don’t have to feel like I’m putting myself on display? It’s humiliating enough to have to use the test seats in the first place to see if I fit into your modified seating. It’s worse when I have to do it in front of sneering strangers who will see me trying to flatten breasts that simply don’t flatten.

(Also, a note? Giving me a speed pass through the lines of other attractions so I don’t feel bad about the line I was bounced from after an hour wait does nothing to make me feel better. You know what might have? A refund on my ticket because Harry Potter attractions WERE NOT going to happen for me. But you don’t provide those.)

I think it goes without saying I left your park after a few hours feeling depressed and — for the first time in a long time — ashamed of my body, which was something I thought I’d abandoned a long time ago. I’ve never considered my size to be much of a setback before; I walked ten miles a day around Disney without too much issue, I kept up with my group and didn’t need special treatment because I have some extra pounds. I fit on bus seats without a problem, I wasn’t too ungainly for my flight. It wasn’t until I visited Universal that I felt strange or unwieldy in my own skin. I resent you and your attraction designers for that, Universal, and that’s why you’ll never see my money again.

I’m sure you’ve heard that spiel about one unhappy customer breeding at least ten non-buyers before. Well, I can assure you that as a writer, my reach goes a little further than that. One voice will become two, and if two become four, maybe you will pay attention then. Doubtful, but one can hope.

Sincerely,

Hillary Monahan

The Art of Character.

An admission about my tastes: I’ll excuse a lackluster plot for a character I can fall in love with. This is how I justified reading Anita Blake books for years. I had a soft spot for one of her vampire characters (Asher) and would pretty much read any steaming horse pile Hamilton shoveled at me just to get snippets of my scarred love dumpling. To this day when I think about his angsty vampy self I sigh and my eyes glaze over, because Asher was and is one of my favorite characters.

There’s a handful of characters that stick out that much for me, and fortunately, not all of them are forced to keep their heads above a tide of fictional dribble like poor Asher. Julian from Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour comes to mind, as does Shadow from American Gods. I’ll never fall out of love with Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, and Morgause from Mists of Avalon remains my all time favorite bitch. Pocket from Chris Moore’s Fool is far too lovable, and Death from Good Omens is just spectacular (and he has the added bonus of making appearances in a bunch of other Discworld novels). There’s more, of course, so many more, but those are a few examples of characters that ran away with my imagination. They came, they saw, they conquered, they linger.

The goal of any writer is to create characters that memorable, I think. Trying to pinpoint the magical recipe of awesome is difficult, though. Sometime back I issued myself a challenge: to see if there’s a formula to crafting a lovable character. Was there a checklist that’d help me construct something spectacular, and if so, could I mimic it? I pawed through my list of favorites and tried to pick out any common traits. Did they all have strong personalities? Were they funny? Were they smart? Did they smell good? WHY IN GOD’S NAME DID I LIKE THESE CHARACTERS ENOUGH THAT I CAN READ THE BOOK FORTY TIMES? The problem, of course, was that each one was so different, I could see no pattern at all. Sometimes the character was witty, sometimes tough, sometimes clever. Not all of them were even particularly likable people, as in if I met them in real life I’d probably want to punch them, but on the page they worked and without them the story would fall epically short.

Conclusion: there is no cheat sheet way of making a “Character Keeper”. Dang it.

So I’m left wondering how to make something stick with a reader. I know it’ll be different for everyone because it’s a taste thing. Some people will want “cool”, some people will want funny or hyper intelligent and socially awkward. As a writer looking at a 35,000 word work in progress, though, I’d be curious to know who sticks with you and why? What was it that drew you into a character and kept you, or was it the amalgam of the character’s parts? I know when I write I tend to adopt a character here and there, essentially choosing them as my favorite and I think it shows when I do, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to everyone else loving them as much as I do.

So, help a writer out and get a nerdy character discussion going. What characters do you love/love to hate? Which ones will always be on your shelf, and which ones will you always champion? Share with the class, folks!

It’s The Abominable Snow Terror!

As I’m far, far too broke to properly celebrate Christmas this year (and in my mind, properly means hiring Dickens style British children to stare into my front windows with chimney soot smudged across their cheeks – oh and when I catch them there, to make them carol like a church choir) I figured I’d make a lame attempt at recapturing some of the Christmas spirit by rewinding to a smaller, less jaded version of myself.  No, I don’t mean last week.  I’m talking four or five year old Hillarys.  Laren day Hillarys.

So today I’m gonna visit one of my holiday favorites:

I still watch Rudolph almost every year, and for some really screwed up reason, I still love it even though I can appreciate how fucked up it is now that I’m an adult.  “It’s Rudolph, Hillary!  How can you say that?!  That’s like saying Santa’s going to crap down my chimney this year!”  Before you get your Rudolph-loving pants in a twist, let me state up front:  it’s a wonderful sort of fucked up, no need to get offended.  This special is marvelous, grand, great, and I actually resent that I’m not watching it when it’s on broadcast TV, ads and all, because it loses some of the nostalgia factor on dvd or dvr.  That said?  Something stinks in Elf Town.

For starters, this dude:

Hermie Or Hermey? The Web Cannot Agree!

Let me lay the scene for you.  Everything in Rudolph Land is as it ought to be barring a few setbacks that seem comically banal in the vast scheme of Christmas chaos.  Santa’s too skinny and Mrs. Claus is force feeding him spoon fulls of Crisco so he fits his suit.  Dancer and Prancer are off coaching Reindeer games, and they’re being total sports-dick dads about it (typical Reindeer dads are typical).  The elves are tinkering away in their shop.   Sure one of the does dropped a red-nosed reindeer, and that’s kinda “whoa” in its own right, but then our attention is pulled away from Rudolph to the elf that hates making toys and wants to be a dentist.  Yep, a dentist.  All Hermie wants to do is ditch this toy gig and rip your teeth out.  It’s so random.  “Okay so Reindeer Games, Santa, Rudolph, Red Nose . . . check, check check aaand check.  LET’S ADD IN A DENTIST FOR FUN.”  Nowhere in the song is there a line about a dentist.  In fact, everyone I know hates going to the dentist, so why would we want to remind children that they exist when they’re dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies and Tonka trucks?  For that matter, why would we terrify them with the notion that their dentist may be one of Santa’s former elves?  Hermie’s inevitably got rage issues that he wasted his formative years working in the cheeriest sweat shop in history.  He’d probably use a chainsaw to pull your teeth.

There’s also the matter of Yukon Cornelius to take into account for “why Hillary thinks Rudolph is a psychotic Christmas special”.  He’s a random gold prospector wandering around with the most ragtag group of sled dogs he can find.

"Grats Guys! You're Sled Dogs! Let The Pug Lead!"

He has absolutely no purpose other than licking an axe to see if he can find silver and gold which – HEY, YEAH, I LICKED THE POLE WHEN I WAS A KID – his tongue doesn’t stick to.  Magical Christmas Magic is Magic!  My small squishy brain automatically jumps to “Magic > Science” . . . and would account for me living in La La land most of the time.  But I digress.  Yukon Cornelius is just some greedy guy who wants to get rich, so he straps a beagle to the front of a sled because he’s too cheap to get Huskies, tells them to mush, aaaand . . . that’s it.  That is pretty much all he contributes to the story beyond introducing Rudolph to a few random folks.  Who happen to be on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Oh right! Leper-Toy island!  Have you ever listened to the song that goes along with the Island of Misfit Toys?  The introductory bars are the most depressing thing in the world behind Charlotte’s “I’m about to die” song in Charlotte’s Web.

I hear the song start and I immediately go for the Drain-O because I was a horrible child that didn’t ask for a train with square wheels and I deserve to die.  Island of Misfit Toys was Shutter Island before Dennis Lehane dreamt it up.  One of the first things we witness is Charlie-In-The-Box’s breakdown that everyone wants Jack-In-The-Box (Charlie’s older, prettier, more emotionally stable brother) and that he’s going to rot unloved for the rest of his existence thanks to a crappy name.

So let me do that tallying bit again.  Rudolph, Santa, Snow, Reindeer games.  Check, check, check, check.  Freaky dentist, gold prospector, sled Yorkie, abandoned island of broken toys?  Check.  Check, check.  Check?  Things have gone from typical to really bizarre really fast.  I’m totally okay with that, mind you, but Rankin & Bass were screwing with us when they put this together.  And hey!  They must be doing something right if I’m still watching the special thirty years in and loving it.  I sing along with Burl Ives as the snowman, I cringe when I see the Abominable Snow Monster, and will forever remember that “BUMBLES BOUNCE”.

Rudolph is – to me, anyway – the epitome of everything that’s right with Christmas.  It conjures images of me hiding against my mother/grandmother whenever the Abominable came on TV, but knowing that enduring meant Santa was near and all I had to do was make it through.  I associate it with sitting in Lauren and Greg’s living room at our annual Christmas party watching shows we know by heart together.  So while I may not be having the flashy, London street urchin filled Christmas of my dreams, I’ve still got Rudolph.  And Leper-Toy Island.

Bring The Noise.

A couple weeks ago while driving from . . . somewhere (I have a mind like a sieve), Dave and I had the radio on.  It may have been August for all I know, and the presence of Christmas songs on at least two stations doesn’t really help identify the season anymore, now does it?  I heard next year they plan to just skip Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving and wind up the Bing Crosby around April.  You can have a White Christmas when it’s 112 and you’re sweating your mammaries off.

Before I find myself neck deep in a Christmas rant – and really, let’s save that for another post – back to the topic at hand!  The Beatles came on the radio, as they are wont to do fifty trillion times a day, and Dave and I started talking about “Yesterday” as the quintessential, perfect pop song.  Something to keep in mind:  David and I generally don’t agree on music.  We meet up here and there, but it doesn’t happen all that often.  In fact, usually when we start talking music a slap fight ensues with words like POTTY HEAD and DOODY FACE flung back and forth.  These hurtful things take days to overcome, as they tear our confidence down and make us hollow shells of the craptastic people we were before.

The Yesterday thing made us realize, though, that if two assholes like us could agree it’s perfect, other normal people might say so too.  Of course, from there we went on to talk about other perfect songs, and how genre effects what might be considered perfect.  We both said Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” would probably be a perfect rock song, for example (no, not hard rock or metal, but just old fashioned rock.  Put your horns away, Reuben).  It’s catchy, it’s got the essential rock guitar solo, and it’s stood the test of time.

The logical question is “What makes a perfect song?”  Before I get into identifying “the rules”, keep something in mind:  the topic is subjective, so the rules are subjective as well.  You may not LIKE my rules, but these are the rules David and I played by, and as such, they’re the rules I’m laying out for this post.  That said, onward.  I don’t want to cop out and say “you’ll know a perfect song when you hear it”, but you probably will.  It’s a combination of catchy melody, a great singer, a balance between vocals and music, and lyrics.  If a retarded squirrel wrote your lyrics, it probably isn’t perfect.  If it’s one of those songs where the band just spits out the same section of lyrics on repeat fifty times?  It probably isn’t perfect.  It’s a song that even if you’re not a fan of a genre, you can say “yeah, I can see why you’d say that’s perfect”.  It’s a song that will stand the test of time, and will be played fifty years from now when we’re all old and crumbly and pooping ourselves in the Old Folks Home (which sadly, negates obscure/Indie stuff because it didn’t get radio play in the first place).

Obviously, music is one of those things based on opinion, so I’m sure people won’t agree with my list.  Better yet, I’m sure they’ll think of songs that should be added that I didn’t think of.  If that’s the case, share in the comments.  What I’d ask is if you want to put a song up there as perfect, you tell me which genre and why it should be there.  If you feel that the damn thing warrants a perfect label, you should be able to say why.  Oh, and if you’re feeling crazy, link the song.

Without further ado:

Hillary’s Perfect Song List

* Added later as I remembered them

** Added after a recommendation by other people and I begrudgingly admit other humans have good ideas too

All right.  I know I’m missing things, so I may update as the list comes creeping back into my brain, but it’s a good starting cluster.  Now gimme more, folks.  Tell me those perfect songs.  Or, if you don’t agree with one of these songs as perfect, feel free to say why (reasons like RAP IS SHIT don’t count, btw).

Bring it!