Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Author Archives: Christine

Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix:

I thought you were different.

I’ve been an ardent supporter of the Netflix brand almost from the start. Well before on-line viewing became more the norm than the exception. Well before your original content made you a serious threat to cable TV. You created binge watching, everyone’s new favorite way to watch TV. And you gave us shows we couldn’t find anywhere else.

Sense8 was one of those shows.

Look, I’m a businesswoman. I get it. I knew Sense8 was unlikely to get the full 5-season arc the creators seemed to want. It’s an expensive show to make — hugely expensive. And it’s super edgy, although well loved for all that.

But while you can’t fully make business decisions based on emotions, you can’t ignore them either. Businesses who can only see numbers and fail to take into account the human element lose big in the long run. I know you know this, Netflix. All I have to do to understand how well you know this is look at your forward-thinking policies on parental leave. It’s a visionary way to support your employees and help them become happier and more productive.

Customers, too, need to feel supported.

Networks have poisoned their viewership through decades of releasing and retracting shows, often with no warning or closure. It has made the consumer wary of investing in new shows, and it has fueled their decision to head to services like Netflix where they can binge watch a guaranteed number of episodes at a time and where, up until now, even the shows with less popularity regularly got renewed.

Look, I’m not saying that you should renew a show costing $9 million per episode for 3 more years. All I’m saying is this: Give us closure.

Closure could be achieved in a two-hour movie. Or one last season. Or something in between.

Closure will give you something more, too. More than fan satisfaction. It will build trust with your audience.

Trust. Something NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and all the other networks lost long ago. It’s the reason I won’t start watching a show on those networks before it’s been out for at least 2, preferably 3 seasons.

Trust isn’t something you can put a price tag on. If you can become the network that will finish things, if at all possible, even if it’s not in the best, most idealistic way, then your audience will expand by leaps and bounds as more and more viewers decide, “What the heck? I’ll give it a try” to every new show that comes along.

I hope you will seriously consider lending closure to the most fantastic TV show ever produced and in so doing, send a message to your viewers that you know TV watching is more than a business to them. It’s an emotional investment.

Sincerely,

A concerned viewer

Travelers Season 1

Canada is once more proving that they’ve got game when it comes to science fiction television shows. This joint Canadian/Netflix venture was an easy binge watch with an instantly hooky premise and a great cast.

So sometime in the future, things are bad. “Travelers” jump back to modern time by rewriting the brain of some poor schmuck who’s about to die anyway … in an accident or some other preventable way. The future depends upon the age of computers to accurately record the places, times, and mechanisms of these deaths. (The answer to the question: “Why don’t you kill Hitler?” which did come up.) Not all travelers land safely. The journey comes with risks, and there is a real chance of dying.

Of course, our five heroes have no problems … at least, no problems arriving. One ends up dealing with his host’s heroine addiction while another learns that her host had a serious mental disability which essentially means she’s going to die (host brain can’t handle it).

They’re on a mission to save the future, and they’re not the only ones here. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about this story: You get a sense of a much bigger pictures and of a carefully orchestrated scheme. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I have 1 complaint about this show. It’s something I didn’t fully know how to put into words until the very end of the season, although I sensed something a little off nearly from the start.

We know almost nothing about these characters’ lives before they jumped to the present (their past).

There’s a great deal of story and character development in the here and now, but the fact that we don’t have a solid backstory, or any backstory at all, makes it hard to understand the true stakes of the situation. I know they’re intentionally trying to keep the future murky, but this strategy backfires on someone like me who thrives on character motivation. Why did they risk everything to come back? What did they leave behind? Was any of it good? Who they are is more than who they have become; it began in their past (in the future).

I hope season 2 will address this gaping hole. I definitely plan to watch and find out!

I’d give this a solid 4/5 starts and recommend it to scifi fans.

Sense 8 Season 2

It’s been almost two years since I reviewed “My New Favorite Scifi Series: Sense8” I made no bones about it, I love, love loved this show! I rewatched it 3 times in the summer of 2015, checked daily for news of its renewal, and felt the greatest relief of my life when they announced it had gotten a second season.

Then I waited. And waited some more.

Then came the Christmas Special, which I didn’t love. As I wrote in that review, this isn’t like Doctor Who — it’s not episodic. The characters can’t just go on a stand-alone adventure and in fact, they didn’t. They honestly spun their wheels and made excuses for not taking action for an entire year, even while Wil and Rylie were on the run and in hiding.

It made me nervous. After all this time, was the show not as good as I had first thought? Had I set it on a pedestal too high for it to reach?

I waited some more.

Finally, a week and a half ago, Snese8 season 2 arrived and … I loved it!!!!!

First, don’t think for a second that taking 11 days to watch this show means anything except that I have kids, this show is extremely inappropriate for kids, they go to bed at 9 and I go to bed at 10. That’s one episode per evening, minus game night. Honestly, I watched this show as quickly as it was possible for me to watch!

Unlike the first season, which had a serious warming up period, season 2 got things rolling right away. The clan is in danger from Whispers and from BPO. They’re working together to learn more and to try to free Wil from his heroin-induced stupor (the only thing keeping Whispers out of his head).

Meanwhile, every character has his/her own things going on — Sun is still in prison and her brother is trying to kill her; Lito is suffering the fallout of coming out of the closet; Van Damn has been noticed by reporters and become a symbol of hope for his people; Kala is unhappy with her husband and the things she’s learning about his company; Wolfgang is in the middle of some Berlin crime wars.

The thing that struck me most about season 2 is that the characters had truly become a cluster. 

There are so many things that are awesome about this that it’s hard to separate!

  1. The science fiction of the show is more real this season, more apparent in every scene and in every action, making even the mundane seem more extraordinary.
  2. The pacing is faster because the interconnectivity of the characters is the most interesting part of the show.
  3. The pacing is faster because even when you’re spending time with characters or plots you’re less interested in, you get visits from characters (along with their baggage) you’re more interested in.

Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the way the show portrayed the worldwide cluster in this season. When a big event took place in any of the characters’ lives, the others were likely to be present, even if they were just watching or partying. Then they might take over at odd moments, bolstering one another and making each one more than they could be alone.

The cinematography was awesome too, of course, just like in season 1. Seamless transitions from Bankok to Seoul to Berlin to San Fransisco to Amsterdam to … they were all over the world! The amount of work that must have gone into making this show is mind-boggling. And it’s beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s worth it! 🙂

Having said all that … 

I do have a few odd complaints about this season. The biggest weakness in season 1 was the beginning, but the biggest weakness in season 2 was the end. Maybe because season 2 started on such a high note, there wasn’t anywhere else to go? But the last episode was my least favorite of the season, which is a huge problem. (Please note: I liked the episode, it was just my least favorite.) I was left feeling, not curious or anxious or excited, but frankly confused and bewildered. The final sequence of events made very little sense to me.

In fact, confusion was something I felt a little too often through this season. 

I watch this with my husband, and I can’t count the number of times I stopped to ask him, “What did s/he just say?” or “Did you follow that?” The BPO mystery was often revealed through a series of back-and-forth conversations, usually involving Nomi and at least one of the others, and I just don’t get it. Even now I don’t get it. I’m going to rewatch soon (from the start of season 1, actually) and maybe I’ll get it then, but it’s frustrating ot me that I didn’t get it the first time.

All of which means that while I still love this show, I’m not sure that I can say I love love love it anymore. It’s gotten knocked down to a 5-star rating from an off-the charts rating. Okay, maybe 5.5 stars! It’s good. You should watch this. 

Haven: Season 1

Haven

4/5 stars

I started watching this show with my 11-year-old son a few weeks ago and we’ve been enjoying it a great deal. He might be enjoying it more than me, but then, a lot of the show’s tropes are fresher for him. 🙂

You’ve got your basic cop/paranormal drama set in a small town in Maine. FBI agent Audrey Parker goes to investigate a suspicious death in the first episode, then stays when she sees a newspaper clipping of a woman who looks eerily like her. Perhaps the mother she never knew?

The paranormal element manifests in a string of strange abilities that various members of the community possess. They call them “troubles” and the people who have them “the troubled.” More often than not, these aren’t good things. People die — often unintentionally. Audrey has to try to find out who’s responsible and help them get their trouble under control.

In my opinion, the first few episodes of the show are tedious. There are also a few head-scratching episodes in there that just don’t make sense. But don’t give up! By the end of the first season, the show develops an arc, begins to demonstrate depth, and develops several intriguing mysteries.

I recommend this show to paranormal/fantasy fans.

Writing 101: Description

To celebrate the launch of my new editing venture, I’m writing a new series of blog posts that take us back to basics. These are the fundamentals of writing, the things you need to know before you’re ready to publish.

DESCRIPTION

For many new writers, and even some experienced writers, description is the bane of their existence. I’m afraid that our English teachers in school didn’t help when they encouraged us to spend a thousand words describing the ceiling. They meant well, and the exercise is not without merit, but seriously, who wants to read a thousand words about the ceiling?

Well, I don’t know … Is it the Sistine Chapel? Are there blood stains on it? Is a ghost floating around up there? Is the ceiling not actually there at all? Has there been a sudden reversal of ground and sky?

What I’m getting at is the key to description. The key to many aspects of writing, for that matter.

RELEVANCE

Description is challenging to new authors for a variety of reasons. For me, it was the fact that I thought it was utterly boring and usually skimmed through it in the books I read, so I wasn’t that thrilled about writing it into my own books. I’m not at all alone in that attitude. For others, for authors who love the art of turning pictures into words, the challenge is wordiness, pacing, and inflicting boredom on readers. Description is something that tends to turn authors into minimalists or maximalists, and you can get some heated debate over which approach is “right” and which is “wrong.”

There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only personal taste and relevance.

In other words, as long as what you are describing is meaningful to your story in some way, then it is up to you, the author, to tell us just enough or to truly create a canvas of words. The risk you run with the “just enough” approach is that the reader will fill in details that you leave out from his/her own experience. The risk you run with the “canvas” approach is that some readers will skim those paragraphs. As a mature writer, I tend to try to split the difference, to aim for the middle, but always with a keen focus on the relevance of every word I write.

As an editor, your personal preference is my top priority, but I will guide you with the concept of relevance in mind. For wordy writers, this means that I might steer you away from describing every last item in a room that turns out to have no bearing on either character or plot. For minimalists, this might mean that I ask you to add description of important people, places, or things that I have trouble imagining without some guidance.

Concerns over quantity of description should always take a backseat to the quality of description. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to bring in your five senses, and that’s true. You should absolutely do that. But the best description does more than share sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches.

The best descriptive sentences move the story.

Wait … doesn’t description slow the story down or even stop it while you provide some relevant scene setting? Sadly, the answer to that question is often yes. This is why I skimmed so much of it as a child and why it took so many years for me to appreciate the wonderful power of a descriptive sentence to do more than one thing, to be more than superficial. Because the truth is, description can do more than BE relevant, it can ADD relevance.

Let me give you an example:

The green chair stood high-backed and proud in a ray of afternoon sunlight that slanted in through a large picture window.

This sentence does a lot to show you the scene. It even does it in the active voice, avoiding being and other passive phrasing. You now know something about the chair, and even what time of day it is. But is that all this sentence can do? Is there any other way in which that moment can mean more? Do more?

Lisa’s favorite green chair stood high-backed and proud in a ray of afternoon sunlight that slanted in through a large picture window.

Hmmm … I changed “the” to “Lisa’s favorite” and look what happened …. now you know something about a character too! What else can we do?

Lisa’s favorite green chair, faded and worn from decades of use and abuse, stood high-backed and proud in a ray of afternoon sunlight that slanted in through a large picture window.

Okay, now we have a bit of history … the history of Lisa and the chair. But I feel like we can take it one step further, to really connect this chair to this person and more, to whatever story is happening around her. Even assuming that I care about Lisa in some way, based on whatever has come before now in the story, right now the chair is nothing more than a prop in her environment.

Lisa’s favorite green chair, faded and worn from decades of use and abuse, stood high-backed and proud in a ray of afternoon sunlight that slanted in through a large picture window. What would happen to that chair tomorrow, when she left her home forever to live out her days in a nursing home? Would one of her kids take it, or would they throw it away like some useless relic that had lived beyond its usefulness?

Now, finally, we have description connected to story, interwoven so tightly that either one without the other would be incomplete. That chair is more than a chair now, it is a symbol of Lisa’s own fears about her future. If you chose, you could go room by room, showing more memories and deepening that emotional bond between Lisa and everything she’s leaving behind. It’s not absolutely necessary, because you’ve already said a lot, but you could. The bigger point is that you make magic happen when your words do double or even triple duty.

Good description stems from relevance; great description creates relevance.

Finish the Story Grand Opening Special: FREE First Chapter Edit

This week is the Grand Opening of Finish the Story.

I’ll be working alongside Claire Ashgrove and Dennis Young, two fantastic fellow authors/editors, to offer a greater variety of services than I could on my own. We are a full-service editing company, which means we strive to help you prepare for publication no matter where you are in the process. We include services such as book fixing, for books that need a little doctoring before they’re ready for editing, and formatting, for authors who are ready to publish. Our package rates bundle services to keep the costs down, and give you access to more than one editor through the different phases of editing to ensure that your finished product is as error-free as possible.

All genres of fiction welcome! Non-fiction and memoirs welcome!

Give us a try! Now through the end of March, send us your first chapter (up to 5,000 words) and get a FREE, no-obligation developmental-style edit.

Learn more at Finish the Story

Free Ebook Today Only!!!

It’s Read an Ebook Week, and that means free books! Twilight Times is offering Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, the first book in the Cassie Scot Quartet, completely free for one day only! No catch! Just click the link to the file type you need …

Download Cassie Scot in .mobi (kindle friendly) format

Download Cassie Scot in .epub format

Open Cassie Scot in .pdf format

If you like the book, don’t forget to check out the other books in the series …

 

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Lemony Snicket Season 1

Image result for lemony snicket netflix

Finally, a Netflix original show that is not only great entertainment for me, but great to watch with the whole family! The Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the bestselling books, which I have not read. But I don’t feel like I missed anything by going straight to the cinematic adaptation. These shows were riveting.

First, I have to recognize the fantastic cast. Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is simply meant to be, but he does not carry the show on his own. The child actors, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes, were brilliant, and not even just for their ages. I hope to see these two in a lot more in the future. Patrick Warburton as the title character and narrator, Lemony Snicket himself, delivers a wonderful deadpan with hints of real emotion beneath. And on and on. Most of the acting here is overacting, but done to perfection.

Now on to the story: I’ve never sat down to watch a show and been told right off the bat not to watch. Brilliant reverse psychology! The story is intentionally far-fetched and the general tone is, in fact, one of despair. Yet there are moments of levity and somehow the absurdity strikes just the right chord.

This series was just a bit intense for my 8-year-old, thought I suspect she’ll watch it again and enjoy it. My 11-year-old was a bit iffy for the first 2 episodes, but then demanded that we binge-watch the rest in a single weekend. My 8-year-old is prone to being a bit oversensitive and she tends to like shows better the second time she watches them, so my guess is that most 8-year-olds would be okay with this. Just know your kid. I wouldn’t recommend this for children much younger than 8.

Netflix Original: The Magicians (Season 1)

Short review: Never mind, my feelings are too complicated for a short review.

Long review:

I didn’t like this show at first. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why I watched past the first few episodes. My husband suggested that the show had a good premise and, much like with Charmed or Heroes, I kept watching in hopes of seeing that premise fulfilled. Maybe. But in the meantime I found myself hating most of the main characters and feeling a definite drag to the first half or more of the 13 episodes, waiting for something truly impressive to happen.

I didn’t really start to like the show until about episode 9 (give or take … they’re all blurring together). But something strange happened: I didn’t just start to like the show at that point, I started to REALLY like the show. By the second to last episode I was in love and the finale had me desperate for season 2. Actually, it ended in a really mean place and I want to strangle someone but … never mind. Let’s talk premise.

So, magic school for grad students. It takes the classic magic school concept and grows it up a bit. It was nice to see that magic school is okay to do again now … Harry Potter put a stranglehold on the idea for a long time, convincing writers and fans alike that anything involving magic school had to be derivative of Harry Potter. But Rowling did not invent the concept and there is much, much more to do with it. Like do it with 22-year-olds instead of 12-year-olds.

My first impression was that the show’s creators did this grown up version of magic school so the characters could have lots of sex and I was frankly annoyed by it. And I’m still not convinced that the gratuitous sex was necessary, but I did begin to understand it better as the season wore on. It’s … complicated. I’d really love for someone else to watch this show so I can discuss it, honestly!

But in the end, I realized that the grown up version of magic school was more adult than just the sex. Magic was really dangerous. People really died. A series of children’s books really happened … sort of. They were rather watered down for the kids. The books became symbolic of leaving behind childish magical ideas.

The characters, too, became more sympathetic as the season wore on and we began to understand the better. Every character has a story, and a reason for their behavior. Unfortunately, this does come across initially as very middle school behavior, which enhanced my impression of the shows’ creators as only wanting an excuse to have the characters be very sexual. I sometimes forget that middle school is, after all, a sort of super condensed version of real life and that adults are capable of cattiness and nastiness too. Once the characters developed, I still didn’t love many of them, but I understood.

A few things that I really respected the show for:

1. Not taking the easy way out.
2. Surprising me … more than once.
3. Using our expectations and preconceived notions against us. You could also say that it took some tropes and flipped them around, so that at first you get the impression that you’ve seen this show before and it’s not going to do anything new. Then you realize you’re wrong.
4. An episode containing depictions of suicide ended with a screen showing the phone number for the national suicide prevention phone number.Similarly, an episode containing sexual assault ended with a support line for victims.

Complaints:

1. The world building is weak, even at the end of the season.
2. The passage of time was difficult to follow.
3. It took too long to develop the depth that ultimately made it good.

In conclusion: If you watch this show, know you need to stick with it. Have patience. If you love fantasy, you’ll enjoy this.

Sense8 Christmas Special

After 18 long months of waiting, I got a Sense8 teaser for Christmas!

I love love loved Sense8 Season 1, which I first watched in June of 2015 and subsequently watched several more times (each time coming through with a better/deeper understanding of what I was watching). The show was renewed 2 months later, but Season 2 won’t be available until June of 2017. OH, the waiting! The waiting!

The Christmas special was a surprise move. Given how Season 1 ended — and I won’t say in case you haven’t watched — I felt like Season 2 would need to get off the ground running and I couldn’t imagine how a bonus in-between episode would work. It’s not like Doctor Who, which is very episodic even if it does have season arc. The 12 episodes of season 1 were just the epitome of what binge watching allows TV to do that it could never do before — show a 12-hour movie piecemeal. 🙂

And truth be told, I was not at all wowed by the Christmas special. To the extent that I enjoyed it at all, it was a nostalgic revisit to the world and characters I had grown to love. The cinematography remained impressive, the work that went into creating scenes and situations that swept the globe was still evident and fantastic, but at this point I’m familiar with it. I’ve seen it before. So I needed more.

The big challenge in watching this episode was the treatment of the characters I had grown to love and who, by the end of season 1, had learned who and what they were and had accepted one another’s presence in their lives. After coming together in a big way at the end of season 1, I expected season 2 to begin right away with the threat hovering above all of them. And maybe it will. I really, really hope it will. But this Christmas special showed 8 people mostly getting on with their own individual lives. One even said that she was letting Will worry about the BBG (big bad guy) in a “not my problem” sort of way. That bugged me a lot.

So if everyone but Will (who has no choice) is ignoring the big bad, what are they doing? Why, moving on with their individual lives and pushing forward the threads of their separate stories. Or at least poking them forward. Sun has some trouble in prison. Capheus (played by a new actor — they had some fun with that) is fixing up his Van Damme. Nomi is still in hiding and ducking the FBI. Kala goes through with her marriage and struggles with sex (there being a well hung German in her head). Wolfgang’s actions destabilized Berlin and he had to deal with the consequences. The pictures of Lito did go public and he struggled with the public outcry. Will and Riley are hiding together.

The passage of time was difficult to follow. The high points took place on their birthday, which is August 8. Then tings just sort of slid through Thanksgiving to Christmas and the New Year.

The special did establish a new normal for the Sense8. There was a lot of sentimentalism in their acceptance of one another, and they openly considered themselves family more than once. They enjoyed celebrating high moments such as birthdays and holidays together, making those panoramic scenes a bit sappy but we understand the tone — they’re a true Sense8 now.

A couple of key moments did require the group to work together to save one of their own. It was nice to see that happening fluidly now.

But ultimately, this was exposition — not story. “Here’s what’s been happening while you were away.”

I still have every hope that season 2 will be awesome, and with the exposition out of the way, I have high expectations that early episodes in the season will take off running. There is room for this show to disappoint me or impress me yet. 🙂