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The Mummy (2017) and Double Mumbo Jumbo

The Mummy (2017) and Double Mumbo Jumbo

We went to see The Mummy yesterday and, to no one’s surprise, three out of three people in our crowd disliked it, including the person who wanted to see it most. For me, the biggest fails came through the multiple times my suspension of disbelief was tested. As screenwriter Blake Snyder says in Save the Cat: The Last Book On Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, “…audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie.” (Emphasis in the original.)

There were way more than that in The Mummy.

The original premise is, of course, that the Hero Nick Morton wakes up an ancient Egyptian mummy. Everyone walks into the movie understanding this. It’s the movie’s one piece of magic.

Almost right off the bat, moviegoers are asked to believe another piece of magic: That Tom Cruise is young enough to play a soldier in an action movie. Ok, that’s not magic, but I promise you, it cracks my suspension of disbelief. At 54, Cruise is entirely too old to be playing a sergeant in the Army. The character was meant for a late-’20s, early-’30s guy, and while Cruise almost manages to pull off the look, those of us who watched him in Legend, Risky Business, and the like (way back in the ’80s!) know better.

Not long after the mummy’s sarcophagus is found, Cruise’s comedic sidekick Chris Vail is turned into a zombie controlled by the Villain, Ahmanet. This isn’t too much of a stretch. We later learn that Ahmanet can control the dead, which falls neatly in line with previous iterations of the character.

But wait! There’s more!

When our Valiant Hero and his Love Interest make it back to London, he’s introduced to Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, that Jekyll. And, of course, we get to see Jekyll’s alter ego, Eddie Hyde.

This strained my patience no end, but it wasn’t the kicker. What really blew it for me was when Morton (aka Cruise) was turned into a god.

No kidding.

So in this one movie, we have at least five pieces of magic, four past what audiences are willing to tolerate without having their suspension of disbelief completely broken. By the end of the movie and the obligatory setup for Movies Yet To Come, I was more than ready to go home.

The ending, by the way, felt more like a superhero, League of Legends type ending, where Dr. Jekyll and Love Interest are going to form a team of evil fighters around Cruise the God.

There’s a telling metaphor in there somewhere, I’m sure.

All in all, this is not a movie I can recommend, even to diehard fans of previous Mummy movies. See it at your own risk, but don’t forget I told you so.

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I released the first edition of my first novel, The Prophecy, a little more than three years ago today. Since then, I’ve worked hard to refine my writing process, increase my writing and story crafting skills, and fulfill my ultimate long-term goal as a writer: To earn a full-time living writing fiction.

About a year and a half ago, a series of events interrupted what had previously been a well-oiled writing process. I’ve spoken about those before in other places, so I’m not going to go over them again here. Suffice it to say that the consequences were devastating, as is evidenced by the diminished number of new releases (directly caused by a lack of writing productivity) in the ensuing months.

This breakdown in my process has hindered the achievement of my short- and long-term goals, on both a business and a personal level. Moving to Cashiers (July 2016) helped, but it wasn’t enough. The breakdown in my process was just that, a complete breakdown of everything from my brainstorming techniques to the actual act of writing. The peace and quiet I’ve found here in my ancestral home wasn’t enough. I needed to rebuild my writing schedule.

To that end, I gifted myself with a copy of the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner for Christmas. Make no mistake. This nifty book helped me realize and articulate the many short- and long-term goals I’ve only vaguely wished for in the past. The main drawback? Once you’ve completed the goals-setting sections, the goals are pretty much out of sight.

Additionally, there’s simply not enough room in the day-to-day planning section for me to write out exactly what needs doing each day. I ended up abandoning the planner in favor of an already established ARC calendaring system, although I used the goals mind-mapping sections to create visualizations tools. More on that in a minute.

The Miracle Morning

The DDP didn’t help me plan and stick to a schedule nearly as much as I had hoped. I realized I needed something more. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8 AM) by Hal Elrod. It wasn’t a life-changing read, but I can honestly say that the author provided a stark reminder of exactly why I’ve had so many problems fixing my writing schedule and returning to the level of productivity I enjoyed during the first eighteen months of my writing career.

The premise of TMM is simple: Wake up early (regardless of what your waking time is, morning, afternoon, or night) and devote one hour to personal growth through six key areas Elrod coins “Life S.A.V.E.R.S.”: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing (i.e. journaling), in whatever order works best for the practitioner.

Many highly successful people use two or three of these waking rituals to center their minds and focus their activities. Elrod and many others who have incorporated the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. ritual into their days have used them in exactly the same way, most especially to increase motivation, self-discipline, and productivity.

The ultimate outcome is, of course, to use that self-discipline to reach goals, a point Elrod hammers into the ground. Unfortunately, The Miracle Morning contains no overview of how to set realistic, achievable goals, a glaring lack in an otherwise well-rounded narrative. To be fair, the journal (sold separately) provides a brief overview of goal-setting and achievement, but I didn’t purchase the journal as I’m already overloaded with organizers. For the interested, a sample journal is available on the TMM website; the link is included in the book.

The tone of TMM is half-motivational, half-guideline to creating and maintaining a personalized morning ritual. It’s a deceptively breezy read for the depth of the ideas presented, and really needs one’s full attention (and possibly a second or third read) to truly grasp how and why the waking ritual works.

Applying the Principles

I was already rehydrating (a practice Elrod encourages) and exercising for 30-45 minutes upon waking nearly every day. When I stumbled on The Miracle Morning (via Jeff Goins’ podcast “The Portfolio Life“), I immediately incorporated reading self-improvement books into my exercise time.

Hey, I’m on a FitDesk. Checking my e-mail only takes so long, so I start with reading and when I’ve read the scheduled two or three chapters, I move on to e-mail and so on. I started out trying to complete Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, which I pick up and put down on a regular basis because of the author’s *ahem* less than flexible mindset.

Thanks to Elrod’s suggestion to focus on personal growth and development, I’m now dividing my waking exercise/reading time between SE and Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach. The latter aligns neatly with one of my long-term goals (Achieving Financial Security), so it’s a two birds, one stone kind of thing.

It took me a few days after completing The Miracle Morning to actually incorporate the remainder of the ritual into my waking routine. One of the biggest obstacles was figuring out when I needed to wake up in order to fit Life S.A.V.E.R.S. into my routine and have time to complete all my writing related activities. For the visualization and affirmation elements, I wanted to have a physical reminder of my goals to focus on, so I had to figure out how to do that in a way that would be functional without occupying too much space.

Following Through

This morning was the first time I attempted to incorporate all six elements into a morning ritual. I set my alarm for 8:30, which is a ridiculously early hour for me. (Lights out was about 2:30 a.m.) I figured I would need an hour and a half at the most, even while breaking my exercise into two parts, yoga first thing to help me achieve one aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal (flexibility), and my usual 30-45 minutes on the FitDesk to round out the ritual and complete my reading.

Eh. It didn’t quite work out that way.

I’ve never practiced yoga before, so I had to search for an appropriate video on YouTube. (I waited until this morning to do it. Not purposefully. I simply forgot to do it last night.) The first video I tried was supposed to be for complete beginners, but I promise you, it was not.

The second try, 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene – Day 1, was much better, but it took up more time than I had originally thought I would need. No worries. Affirmations, meditation, and visualizations took fifteen minutes tops. It didn’t put me back on schedule, but when I moved on to the FitDesk and reading, I didn’t feel rushed or pressured.

I rounded the ritual out with a shower, then sat down to journal while my brunch was cooking. (Two strips of bacon and two fried eggs, per my Paleo-friendly diet, another aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal.) My plan was to complete the morning ritual, then focus on business related activities until about noon, run some errands, and write during the afternoon. I ended up taking a fifteen to twenty minute nap halfway through my writing time because I was simply too groggy to focus.

In spite of that, I was quite pleased with my morning of mindful ritual. I’m still more tense than I would like (I’m under quite a bit of stress right now, not all of it self-imposed), but my sense of purpose is clearer and the focus on visualization and affirmations shored up my self-discipline, allowing me to focus on important activities.

The Miracle Morning and Writing

For me, the biggest takeaway from The Miracle Morning was the reminder to use visualization as a tool of empowerment and otherwise. See yourself taking the steps needed to achieve your goals. See the rewards of working hard for the things that are important to you. Don’t just think about them; actually walk yourself through them.

Having my goals mind-mapped in excruciating, color-coordinated detail (thanks to the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner) and laid out on a corkboard where I can see what I’m working toward was a huge help. I faced the day with a clear picture of why I’m focusing on the particular work I’m doing right now, which really does help tremendously, especially when I’m working on a story that isn’t flowing well.

Visualization helps with that, as well. Back in the good ol’ days of high productivity, the characters populating my story worlds spent a great deal of time walking around in my head. They’ve been missing for quite some time now, and I promise you, their absence has been felt.

I’ve struggled for the past eighteen months or so to recapture the same spark I had prior to that, but it wasn’t until I read the transcript of the previously mentioned podcast episode that it hit me: Visualization was a key part of my writing process, one I haven’t used in months. I’m now deliberately inviting the characters back into my mind, deliberately prodding them through the scene, deliberately coaxing them into opening up for me, all through visualization.

Visualizing the Story Another Way

That lack of character interaction has led to another problem: My inability to hold the overarching story in my head and heart, the two parts of my creative self from which stories emerge.

I ended up going back down the mountain and buying another corkboard, this one for my story cards. I use index cards to lay out the plot points I want to cover in each story. When I first started writing, I pinned the index cards to a wall and worked back and forth along the plot points until I had enough for a full-length novel. I still outline that way, as much as I ever outline (never to the point of a complete, rigid outline, as I work better when I discover the characters and story as I write), but as soon as I was satisfied with the plot points I’d captured, I would unpin the cards and collate them into a rubberbanded stack, which I then referenced as I wrote the first draft.

Since the breaking point of my routine, I’ve really struggled to translate those plot points into story, in part, I sincerely believe, because I no longer have a complete overview of the story internalized where I can draw from it as I write. Laying those cards out so I can “see” the entire story all at once will, I hope, allow me to pull the characters back into my head, right where they belong.

Final Thoughts

I’m not entirely convinced that The Miracle Morning is the greatest motivational book ever, nor that it’s going to be useful for everyone. That said, I hope to use the waking rituals laid out within it to hone my self-discipline so that I can meet the goals I’ve set for myself, get my writing back on track (a continuing struggle over the past year and a half), and ensure not only a productive work schedule, but a calmer, happier, more focused life.

Recommended for anyone who wants to achieve a balanced, successful life, in whatever way one defines success.

Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Stephen King was an oft-read author during my teen years, primarily because he’s one of my father’s favorite authors and his books were in our home library. King’s dark imagery has the infinite power to draw the reader in, like a spider luring a fly, and snare the imagination in the vividly drawn worlds he creates.

The Gunslinger in its revised and updated version is no different. While King readily admits in prefatory comments to updating the language of this, one of his earlier works, the story itself, at its core, remains the same.

Roland, the titular character and the primary narrator, is a gunslinger whose attitude and manner echoes the bygone era of the Old West. He is the last of his kind, a remnant of a higher culture, forced by fate and circumstance only partially explained in The Gunslinger to journey alone in search of the Man in Black and the Dark Tower.

The Man in Black is a sorcerer who assumes many forms during the drawn out chase. In flashbacks, he is the man cuckolding Roland’s father and the same’s murderer. In the story’s luridly described present, the Man in Black is a setter of traps and the servant of the entity ruling the Dark Tower.

Roland and the Man in Black are by and large the most well crafted and, therefore, most easily understood characters populating The Gunslinger. Other characters fare almost as well, like Alice, the owner of a saloon-esque establishment who becomes Roland’s lover for a time. In Alice, King captures the futile desperation of life for a woman living in a remote settlement, cut off from the society of decent folk and men.

Other characters are shortchanged. Jake, an orphaned child yanked out of time and place by the Man in Black, is by turns loved and hated by Roland. His past is teased out through hypnosis and his emotions are evident, but he is only a tool within the plot rather than a fully drawn character.

And that tool to the plot feeling lingers in other important characters: Roland’s parents, high society hobnobs who deliberately and otherwise distance themselves from their only child by having him trained as a gunslinger, in a manner similar to the Spartans; Roland’s early ka-tet, his training group with whom he should have the most in common, but from whom he remains separate; and other characters whose roles seem to be in spurring Roland toward his ultimate destiny rather than having any internal or external motivation of their own.

In spite of this and the often overblown descriptions, The Gunslinger is a wonderful introduction to a story world that is by turns surreally antithetical (in its reversion to an almost feudalistic treatment of individuals) and eerily similar to our own. Recommended to all readers of Fantasy and fans of Stephen King. (Paperback, Kindle)