He did a bad thing; is redemption possible?

A few weeks ago, I checked out the movie “Passengers” from the library. I knew it had lousy reviews and had read some backlash against the movie’s premise but since it was free and I liked the actors, I figured what the heck.

If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want any spoilers, then better skip this blog post. If you’ve seen the movie or don’t care about spoilers, then read away. As a side note, the movie isn’t very good. Can’t really recommend it, but there is a question at the heart of the movie (hence the spoilers) that has nagged at me since watching the mostly forgettable film.

Can a character in a book or movie do a really bad thing but still be redeemed in the eyes of the audience? According to those generating the backlash to this film, the answer to that is no. But that’s what’s bothering me. I see this attitude a lot. Take, for instance, the child who fell into the gorilla pit in Ohio, forcing zookeepers to shoot the gorilla to save the child. The backlash against the parents was absolutely brutal. I don’t know these parents – they could just be the worst – but objectively, I know my kids have gotten away from me in the time it took me to compare prices on two items at Menard’s. (Hysterics ensued. It was a bad day). Most of my friends and family members would say I’m strict and responsible. But things happen to everyone. Can these people be good parents who made a mistake? A very public and horrible mistake to be sure, but should they be crucified for it? So many posters online seemed to think so.

Which brings me to the movie. Chris Pratt’s character Jim is awakened early from the 120-year hibernation that should take him to a colony on a new planet. He spends a year trying to wake the crew, contact Earth, fix his predicament, followed by acceptance and then depression. He is so low that at one point, he contemplates suicide. The premise is eerie. I’m a card-carrying member of the introvert club. I was home alone for Mother’s Day weekend and it was the BEST GIFT EVER. But as much as I love being alone – and I really do – the idea of being alone from now until the day I die is pretty darn depressing. I don’t think God created us to be alone. Even the Unabomber-types that hole up in the mountains have the option of going into town for supplies and having at least a little human contact if they want it.

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Sony Pictures

So Jim, at this low point, decides to wake up Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora. He comes across her archived footage about why she chose to make the trip. She’s fun and smart and pretty. Jim feels like he’s found a lifeline and he grabs it. He knows what he’s doing is wrong; he agonizes over the decision but ultimately, he makes the selfish choice, never telling her what he’s done. They fall in love, blah, blah, and eventually she does find out and she hates him. Like completely hates him. I was prepared for one of those plot points where characters do bad things and are forgiven immediately so the film can progress. Their sins are never addressed. I didn’t feel that here. She calls him a murderer and tells him she doesn’t care why he woke her. I think the story gets her reaction pretty spot on.

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Sony Pictures

But from an audience perspective, I can’t just dismiss Jim as a perverted stalker. It’s kind of like cannibalism. We’d all love to believe we’d never be like the Donner party, but survival and self- preservation are tricky things. We do what we have to do to survive even if those things are terrible. I think we’d all like to believe if we were in Jim’s shoes, we’d be noble and die alone, but I can’t say definitively that I would be that selfless. My experience with human nature hasn’t shown me oodles of selflessness from others, either. So when people say, “I would never…” I’m kind of skeptical. I mean people will run over an old lady to grab a $99 TV at Walmart on Black Friday so I’m not buying that these same people would die alone out of a sense of nobility.

At the movie’s third act, the two have to work together long enough to survive a long and kind of unbelievable ship malfunction and resurrection scenario. In the end, Jim receives access codes that will allow him to use the medical unit in the ship’s hospital to put Aurora back in hibernation. This time, his act is selfless. He never suggests they flip a coin to see who should go back to sleep, even though he risked his life to save the ship. He could have chosen not tell her about it. They are on speaking terms again and he doesn’t try to milk that. He just says he can put her back to sleep and he’s willing to be alone. He always knew what he did was wrong but he’s at a better place. He’s not willing to make that mistake again.

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Sony Pictures

Aurora chooses to stay with Jim, realizing she loves him. And the hate directed at this decision online was pretty bad, saying her love couldn’t be real. So back to my question: can a character find redemption? Literature and film are full of them but it seems to me our culture today is less tolerant of imperfections. The anonymity of the internet allows us to bask in our own self-righteousness and cast stones with impunity. After all, no one will know about the time your baby rolled off the changing table or you cheated on your significant other or stole a candy bar at the store. And it sure feels good to cast the blame on others to boost our own spirits. It’s sad, really. It’s like empathy is dying off faster than newspaper jobs.

Like I said, the film was pretty bad from a plotting and realism point of view, but the question at its core is still making me think. I’ve done some horribly selfish things in my life, and I wish I could say I never will again. But that’s not likely. We’re human and at times we’re horrible. But not usually in a vacuum, horrible for the sake of being horrible. We often behave badly because we are hurt or desperate or afraid. We have our faulty logic and emotions that sometimes kick in and lead us astray. Since we all contain these same shortcomings – and like it or not, we do – I wish we could also find more empathy when we see bad choices in others, rather than just spewing hate.

So what are your thoughts? Am I seeing this all wrong?

At last! An excerpt from Book 7!

I promised at the end of “Extreme Measures” to post a few excerpts of Book 7, “Hidden in Darkness.” I’m still editing but here’s my working summary:

Christopher Potter confesses to two grisly murders in the sleepy town of Clarkstown. Just days after pleading guilty in spectacular fashion, he demands an interview with Winston Chronicle reporter Emily O’Brien, who reluctantly agrees to meet with him. The tale he spins brings into question what actually happened that night and whether Potter acted alone – and whether he’s really guilty at all. As Emily tries to track down the truth, tragedy strikes close to home, forcing her to evaluate her relationships and her future. But not everyone wants the truth of what happened in Clarkstown to come to light. And someone is willing to kill to keep that secret.

And here’s a blurb. Please remember this is still a work in progress but I’m pretty happy with how it’s shaping up. Happy reading!

I didn’t like that I was going back to see Potter the next day without some more information about Patrick Billings. Somehow that seemed to give him the upper hand. This whole thing was already becoming more of a headache than I wanted. I imagined some journalists would be salivating over the opportunity to interview a confessed murderer, but all I could see were the pitfalls, all the places this could go wrong for me and the paper.

I was still thinking about that when I walked through the metal detectors at the jail the next day and let the guards search me and my stuff. Again, I’d left my purse in the Jeep and just brought in the bare minimum. We met in the same room, and Potter didn’t look much different than he had before, slicked hair and clean shaven.

I sat down and opened my notebook. He looked at me expectantly.

“This is your chance to tell the truth,” I said finally. “I’m not going to keep coming back indefinitely.”

“But you did come back,” he said smugly.

“Because my boss told me to. But, eventually, when he’s not getting any ink out of this, he’s going to tell me to do something more important, like interview a crossing guard.”

He frowned. “What about Patrick?”

“Patrick Billings? Yes, what about him?”

“You found him.”

“I found his name. I guess right now he’s keeping a low profile.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. He has to know the police will find out about him eventually.”

“Find out what about him?”

“That he was with me that night.”

“I thought you said you acted alone.”

“I told you. I was having an episode. It’s all coming back to me now. Patrick and me needed some cash. We used to hang around with Teddy Less, and he said his parents always kept money in the freezer. So we were going to check it out.”

“And you were both high?”

“Higher than a kite, baby.”

“Don’t call me baby.”

“So why go at dinner time? Why not wait until after the Lesses went to bed?”

He looked startled. “It was after they were in bed. That’s how we surprised them.”

“No, I saw the crime scene photos. They weren’t in their pajamas. The kitchen looked like someone had just finished dinner.”

“Maybe they were letting the cleanup go until morning.”

“The rest of the house was spotless. People who keep their houses like that don’t leave dishes all over the counter overnight. It draws bugs. In a pinch, they might rinse dishes and stack them in the sink, but they had a dishwasher so they’d at least load the glasses, silverware and plates.”

“Maybe we had the time wrong.”

“It would have been daylight. How could you have the time wrong?”

His lip curled back in a snarl. “You’re here to tell my side of the story.”

“No, I’m not. I’m not here to listen to your bull. If that’s all you have to say, then I’m leaving. I’ll get all the chance I need to hear your bull in court.”

I closed my notebook and started to get up. My stomach clenched with the hope he wasn’t going to stop me, that I could go back to work and write about fires and court cases and police investigations, not sit here in this room with this person who was off his rock.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Don’t leave. You’re right.”

I sat back down tentatively.

He ran his hands through his hair. “I have a really hard time focusing sometimes. All these thoughts just flit through my head, and I can’t always tell what’s real and what isn’t. If you say it was dinner time, it probably was.”

“Why did you quit taking your meds? If you have trouble thinking, then why would you forego something that would help?”

“I hate those things. They make me feel even worse.”

“Your mom said they were helping. It takes some time to find the right combination. You should have talked to your doctor, not just quit them entirely.”

“My mom couldn’t afford a real doctor. We just had that quack that did pro bono work through the school. He wasn’t interested in adjusting my meds. And I don’t have insurance now.”

“Chris, you really need to think about helping your mom get a lawyer. Or work with the public defender’s office. You really shouldn’t be going this alone.”

“What the hell do you know?”

“I know that if someone can’t tell the difference between night and day he shouldn’t be representing himself.”

“Go screw yourself. I’m just as capable as anyone else.”

“Not from where I’m sitting.”

I thought – still hoped – he’d tell me to leave. We were treading on dangerous territory here and I didn’t want to get too involved with this case.

“Let’s talk some more about Patrick,” he said.

“Like what?”

“Like it was his idea to hit that house. He planned it and he picked the time. So he would have known it was daylight and they’d be awake.”

“Or maybe he thought they wouldn’t be home. Maybe they went out to dinner.”

“No way. Old Man Less was the biggest cheapskate around. Teddy said he took his mom out like once a year on her birthday. Why do you think she was still working?”

“So Patrick wanted them to be home? No offense but that sounds pretty stupid if the plan is to steal money.”

“Maybe that wasn’t his plan. It was my plan. I needed more cash to get high. But maybe he planned something else.”

“Why would he do that? By your own admission you didn’t hang around with Teddy anymore.”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”

 “Why would I need to talk to Patrick at all? The police should be the ones talking to Patrick, but you already confessed to the murders by yourself. So the police aren’t going to do that. Not a very good plan.”

“Why can’t you go talk to him?”

“I can’t arrest him. Why don’t you want the police to talk to him?”

“Because it will be just like last time. He’ll get off with a light sentence because his mom and dad are rich. I’ll get the shaft because I come from nothing.”

“Well, right now Patrick doesn’t want to talk to me. He ditched work last night to avoid me. I can’t compel him to talk either. So this might be the end of the line.”

I glanced at the clock and our hour was winding down.

“I think he wanted to do it,” Potter said quietly.

“Wanted to do what?”

“Wanted to kill them. Wanted to beat them to death. It was like he just went crazy and he beat them and beat them and beat them. He brought the hammer, you know. It wasn’t mine and he didn’t find it there. He brought it with him. I just stood there and watched.”

The hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle.

The guard poked his head in. “Time.”

I got up, a little shaky. Potter couldn’t have planned it any better if he’d had the guard hooked up to a button. To say that right when I had to leave. He knew he’d set the hook and I’d be back.

All the more reason to order a burger

I’ve read about the bombings in Syria and a passenger dragged off a United Airlines flight, but I think the news story I read most recently that’s going to haunt me is this one about a decomposing bat inside a prepackaged salad.

Generally I like salads, but I have an almost irrational fear of bats so finding one in my salad would pretty much send me screaming like an imbecile to the bathroom to induce vomiting by whatever means necessary. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need any help vomiting.

The thing that’s a little weird about the articles I’ve read about the incident seems to be the focus on rabies and not the dead bad. Like it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the rabies. Ummm….no. It’s bad regardless because there was a freakin’ dead bat in food that people were consuming at the time it was found.

(Shudder). Yeah, no more prepacked salads for me.

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When it comes to kids in restaurants, empathy should go both ways

I’d originally read this article a few months ago, then it popped up again last week in the “recommended stories” feature on another website. This is a first person account of a parent with small children out to eat at a busy restaurant. Another patron made a snarky remark about the children’s behavior and Mom escalated it with a snappy comeback.

While the account itself is not particularly unique, the comments that follow offer a window into a hugely polarizing issue: small children at dining establishments. I’m not talking about kids at fast food joints. No one expects much when dining there. I mean sit-down restaurants. Some higher end places have banned children because of bad behavior and that decision also has supporters and detractors.

I’ve been a food server, a parent and a restaurant patron trying to dine sans kids for a night so I can see points on each side. But these are the two questions I always come back to when I see child meltdowns during the dinner hour: are the parents actually doing anything about it? Are the parents trying to minimize the impact on other patrons while they deal with the situation?

Because I’ve been there. My two-year-old once decided he did not want to leave the ball pit at the play area at Burger King (that was when I was young and dumb and didn’t realize those things are absolute germ pits). He refused to come out and I had to go in after him — while I was pregnant and taking off my shoes was no guarantee I could get them back on. When I caught him, he howled. I had to wade out and get my shoes on. I tried to get his shoes on but gave up and decided to carry him. I was near tears and he certainly wasn’t happy. Another mom made a snarky remark to me and really, had I not been dealing with so much crap at that second I would have been tempted to punch her in the face. I mean kids are kids and I was clearly trying to get him out of this situation. Normally, I could tell him “five more minutes” and he’d leave the play area just fine. Today, well, he tested me. I could have caved and sat there another half hour but I had things to do and me being a pushover sent the wrong message. You’d think another mom would have my back, but sometimes we can be so judgmental about other people’s parenting.

So I get the mom’s defensiveness in the article. Kids aren’t robots who can be programmed to act exactly as we want.  But…

I’ve witnessed abysmal behavior under the guise of “kids will be kids.” I waited tables in college and I’ve seen kids allowed to pour syrup all over the table, play in a fire pit with an actual fire burning, race up and down the aisles while waiters are trying to carry their trays and have a tantrum while the parents ignore them. I’ve had my date night with my husband pretty much ruined when seated next to parents more interested in their smartphones than their kids. So I get the patron’s side, too. Was she rude? Yes, but while Mom didn’t think the kids were that bad, she may not have been the best judge of the situation given she was busy talking to their dinner guests.

Some of the comments targeted Mom for letting her kids play with an iPad as a distraction, but I disagree. As a mom who once carried a pad of paper and box of crayons in her purse at all times, I think having some distractions is a darn good idea. But I get the other side, too. At some point, kids do need to learn to sit and carry on a conversation, wait patiently for their food and generally function in society. That should be every parent’s goal. It’s easy to sanctimoniously judge another parents’ skills. But I’m willing to bet, if we’re honest, all of our kids at one time or another displayed not-so-great behavior. I’m willing to bet we ourselves have displayed some not-so-great behavior. My mom loves to tell those stories about me, by the way. Something involving me and a teddy bear when I was a toddler. So we should have each other’s back.

But don’t expect people to excuse bad behavior if you aren’t doing anything about it. I’m not speaking to this particular article because I wasn’t there — it’s just one side. But really, it’s not fair to expect other people to forgive your kids’ antics while you are playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. Courtesy goes both ways. If you want a little sympathy, you have to have some empathy for your fellow patrons who may have paid a babysitter to get their night of peace and quiet.

First draft down, so many revisions yet to go

Sorry I’ve been so bad about posting but I just finished my initial (and very rough) draft of Book 7, “Hidden in Darkness.” I didn’t expect to finish the draft so quickly because when I started I really didn’t know exactly where the plot was going. Usually I have a firm ending in mind and write to get there, but in this case, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Every time I thought about a blog post I wanted to write, I would get about two lines in and think “Oh, wait! I know what happens next!” and off I’d go with Book 7.

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So while I have serious editing to do, the fact that the story arc is coherent is a huge victory. Editing is not as fun as creating but it must be done (over and over) so that process starts in earnest next week. The good news from a blog perspective is that I can write posts as procrastination since, as I just said, creating is more fun than editing. 🙂

In the meantime, I realized I haven’t posted my playlists for “In the Presence of My Enemies” or “Extreme Measures.” So here they are:

“In the Presence of My Enemies”

“Hard Love” by Needtobreathe

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash

“Reckless Forgiver” by Jars of Clay

“Money and Fame” by Needtobreathe

“What Faith Can Do” by Kutless

“Difference Maker” by Needtobreathe

“Extreme Measures”

“Nothing Left to Lose” by Needtobreathe

“Closer” by Jars of Clay

“Brother” by Needtobreathe

“Come Back Home” by Kutless

“The Heart” by Needtobreathe

“Hero” by Kutless

And, just because I’m in the mood, here’s my playlist for the upcoming “Hidden in Darkness.”

“Hard Times” by Needtobreathe

“The Valley Song” by Jars of Clay

“Shelter” by Jars of Clay

“Be Here Long” by Needtobreathe

“You and Me” by Lifehouse

“Second Chances” by Needtobreathe

As I’m sure you noticed, all of my playlists are really heavy with music from the band Needtobreathe. If you haven’t checked out this band, I would strongly encourage it. They are Christians but eschew that label, preferring to let their music speak for itself. And it does. Not every song is about God, but all the songs come from their perspective as Christians. Love that.  Their worship songs are some of my all-time favorites.

As I work on the draft for “Hidden in Darkness,” I’ll post some excerpts here so you can get a taste of the story. Here’s a working synopsis for now:

Just days after confessing to a double homicide, the jailed killer asks to speak to reporter Emily O’Brien, offering an exclusive to the Winston Chronicle. But his promise to tell her the truth about what happened instead thrusts her into a nightmare of lies, deceptions and double crosses. Meanwhile, her personal life faces challenges of its own, forcing her to confront her fears of commitment and what that means for her future. As she moves closer to the truth about the murders, she finds she’s now a pawn in someone’s game and she’ll have to prove who is pulling the strings in order to stay alive.

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Happy reading!

Not that I’m complaining…. (oh yeah, free stuff, too)

I like to think of myself as flexible. And in some ways I am, about what to have for dinner, what to watch on TV, what kind of car to drive. But sometimes, more times than I like to admit, I’m not. At all.

For the past four years, my husband’s job required him to work a lot of hours. Because we carpool, that meant I had to leave early and come home late since we live a half hour from the town where we work. At first, I balked. I mean, giving up extra sleep to do…nothing. That wasn’t really my idea of fair.

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But over time, I adjusted and, in fact, used that extra time before and after work to my advantage. I learned that early morning is the best time to go to Walmart. I started working out more. I read a lot of books. And after awhile, I found a spot I could sort of hide out and write for an hour each morning. It worked for me. I no longer whined when the alarm went off, but instead was ready to use that time for myself.

Almost three months ago, he got a new job and now our hours are more in sync. In theory, this sounded great. But in practice, well, it sucks. Now I miss those extra hours and my routine. He isn’t in a hurry to leave for work but darn it, I still want that hour in the morning to write. He’s ready to head home at the end of the day, but I’m still wanting to go to the gym. It’s required some compromise and I’m not happy with myself at times when I resent having to be more flexible. Especially when I should be happy for my husband that he’s not working so many hours.

During the month of December, between the hubby’s new job, two college kids facing final projects and final exams, gift buying and wrapping for the holidays, family during the holidays, cooking during the holidays, I got almost zero time to write. By the end of the month, I was discouraged. November was great. December was not. So I decided, January was time to make up new routines.

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And so far, it’s working. I’m back on track and carving out that writing time, along with getting to the gym. But it hasn’t been easy to start over. Routines are comfortable so when they are upended, it’s frustrating. But that’s life. I can go with it or complain about it, but in the end it’s best just to embrace the change.

On another subject, I’ve made my two most recent books free on Smashwords via the coupon codes below. Just go to http://www.smashwords.com to redeem them. The coupons are good through February 5, 2017. Feel free to share with a friend!

“In the Presence of My Enemies” – UP85X

“Extreme Measures” – CK68F

Happy Reading!

I’m baacckk!!

November and National Novel Writing Month is over and while I didn’t make it to 50,000 words, I was pleasantly surprised at how many words I did rack up: 31,555 to be exact. I’d hoped to make it at least halfway there so this more than qualified for meeting that goal.

I’d written some scenes prior to November, some of which didn’t make it into the novel, but lots of them did. With those added in, Book 7 is more than halfway done from a first draft point of view. A long way to go, yes, but I was happy with the momentum. Particularly when I had a few unplanned events – unexpected house guests over the Thanksgiving weekend, I’m looking at you – that meant I couldn’t really give my writing its due for a few vacation days when I had planned to lock myself in a room and just write. But family comes first so here we are.

What did I learn? The biggest thing would probably be how much time I waste on things like Sporcle, games on my tablet, Facebook, Netflix, and cat videos – also called procrastination. I have precious little time to write and in November I guarded it fiercely. It was amazing to see how much I could get done if I was more concerned with updating my word count than seeing if I could guess the lyrics to a TV theme song. I still had time for reading – vital to a writer. I managed to feed my family and no one had to wear dirty clothes to work or school. I stayed up a little later than usual, but still functioned at work without being a zombie. (Thank you coffee!) I voted in this disastrous election (either victory was a sad option in my opinion) and didn’t miss the political arguments that followed. And I watched the Cubs win the World Series. Just being consistent was the key.

One sad thing I did read while I was plotting along with my book was this 2010 Salon article that pretty much slammed writers attempting a novel during National Novel Writing Month. Apparently, it began making the Internet rounds again this year, which is how I found it on my news feed even if I preferred it stayed buried.

I have been a paid, professional writer myself and I understand the author’s points, that some novels won’t be good. We had startup newspapers in various forms pop up (then close) during my tenure with the “real” paper and I sometimes winced at the output produced and the unprofessional behavior I witnessed.

But inexperience shouldn’t dissuade people from trying. I mean, if I’d taken that approach, I never would have learned how to cook or how to drive a car or that I should never, ever attempt any crafting project. But even if I did decide to try some home décor project from Pinterest, who cares? I mean, my family might because they have to look at it, but no one else will care I slaved for hours for something that just wasn’t that good. People paint and write poetry and garden and knit. Not all of them are as good as others. But if it gives them pleasure, it’s a project worth pursuing. It sure beats the bars.

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http://www.smosh.com This is the relationship between me and Pinterest, by the way.

And who knows where talent is hidden? Think about garage bands – some musicians started there and made it big. It all depends on hard work, luck and perseverance. If we don’t start somewhere and work at it, we never know if we can make it. But even if we don’t, it’s okay to enjoy doing things just for the sake of doing them. While these agents mentioned in the Salon article may roll their eyes at some really bad novels (and yes, I’ve seen them for sale online in ebook form. Some days I wonder if mine is one of them.), there may be some hidden gems. It’s part of an agent’s job. They’re still getting paid either way. Deal with it.

And professionals should beware of being too sanctimonious. I’ve read plenty of books published by the Big 5 that have not just minor typos, but big plot holes, use of wrong names and barely-there effort. I’ve given up reading an author I used to read faithfully because the quality of work has gone so far downhill. And I won’t mention the name of the last book in a very popular series that was so bad, I now seriously dislike the whole series. But I don’t blame the author; that’s an editor’s job. And if professional publishers can’t pull off top quality, then it’s pretty dangerous to look down their noses at a newbie.

So if you want to write — write. If you want to dance — go take a class and perform at a recital. If you want to sing — form a band or join the church choir. If you want to design things — pick something on Pinterest and go for it. Who cares if it’s perfect or not. And more than likely, it will be better than you think. Things born out of enjoyment usually are.

Stay warm and happy reading!