Feeds:
Posts
Comments

This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

One brief announcement: I’m gonna be visiting a few blogs in coming weeks. Charles Yallowitz of Legends of Windermere will be hosting me Sunday, so look forward to that. On January 19th, my dragon character Tetheus will drop by Lisa Burton Radio on Craig Boyack’s Entertaining Stories.

It’s all to support my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas. You have  bought yours, right??

—–

Throughout history, there have always been special words to describe a woman who had a forceful nature. Harridan, bitch, nasty woman… My personal favorite has always been Dragon Lady.

We all know that dragons are so mean, right? Bold, fierce, rapacious. Or maybe just a little bit outspoken. All the things that a woman is not supposed to be.

Although English does contain a few references to an aggressive woman as a dragon or dragoness earlier than 1900, the specific term “dragon lady” springs from the character in Terry and the Pirates. (See my last blog post.) While supposedly a villain, Dragon Lady is one of those special characters who the public really took to their hearts.

Perhaps it was the slinky outfits she wore. Perhaps it was the mystique of the Orient or the woman’s determination to make her own way. Her image was wildly popular and influential. It’s said that numerous planes in World War II had Dragon Lady nose-cone art. Dragon Lady’s character evolved from a pirate queen to a freedom fighter. Even on the occasions when the good-guys captured her, they invariably found some reason to let her go. So in the reader’s mind she remained a supreme woman, undefeated and triumphant.

As the term “dragon lady” made its way into common use, it could be applied to any woman who made a mark on the world stage — especially if she was Asian. Wives of Asian leaders and actresses playing action roles were equally styled as dragon ladies.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the flogging. The label “dragon lady,” which was intended as a put-down, morphed as much as the Dragon Lady herself had. Nowadays, “dragon lady” is as much a term of respect as an insult. You can say that dragons are vicious, malicious and cruel — or you can say they’re tough, determined and smart. Like the phrase “nasty woman,” used by Donald Trump to annoy Hillary Clinton, “dragon lady” has taken on a life of its own.

The Dragon Lady

Terry and the Pirates was a long-running (1933 – 73) comic series by the noted American comic artist, Milton Caniff. It was basically a boy’s adventure story set in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Young Terry Lee and his pal, the intrepid reporter Pat Ryan, busted gangs and scooped headlines in places where the actual authorities feared to tread. From the outset, one of their recurring foes was the Dragon Lady, a.k.a. Madam Deal. (Her birth name was Lai Choi San. I have no idea if that could be an actual Chinese name, or if the author simply made it up.)

At the time the series began, Americans regarded Southeast Asia much as contemporary Americans do the Middle East: a lawless and barbaric place where anything might happen (usually something bad). Anyone of Asian descent was subject to the most grotesque caricature. This is impossible to escape in the popular entertainments of the time, such as Terry and the Pirates. The Dragon Lady was definitely part of that package: sleek, seductive and coldly evil. Although she’s supposed to be Chinese, her image is reminiscent more of Greta Garbo than anyone Asian.

The Dragon Lady was a powerful figure in the Chinese underworld. She was boss of the pirates that Terry and Pat were always meddling with, not to mention drug smuggling and who knows what else. But as the series went on, the character grew beyond that role. Tensions were mounting toward World War II, and there was a lot of talk about the “Yellow Peril” (Japanese ambitions in the Pacific). After war actually broke out, the Dragon Lady’s role changed significantly. She became a resistance fighter trying to drive the Japanese out of China. This wasn’t completely altruistic, since the Japanese occupation was interfering with her underworld empire. Still, she became a “frenemy” who worked alongside Terry and Pat more often than not. She and Pat Ryan were in love, and she also shared moments of warmth with Terry. However, those feelings were never strong enough to interfere with her criminal lifestyle.

Check back with me on Tuesday for more about the Dragon lady.

 

A travel writer comes to a secluded island, searching for his next great story. Blessed Island is at the center of many rumors. There might be a lost Viking burial site, or perhaps a secret fountain of youth. The native orchid, Little Blessed Dragon, is either poisonous or rejuvenating depending on how it’s brewed. Eric Seven has an open mind about all of this, though perhaps he’s become jaded after visiting so many paradises-on-Earth in his career. What he actually finds is the last thing he expected: love at first sight.

Even while entranced by the lovely Merle, Eric knows there is something amiss. This paradise does seem lost, at least to technology. Electronic devices mysteriously lose charge, and there is no electricity to restore them. The residents, led by Tor, are nothing but helpful, and yet they pop up to intervene whenever he tries to research his article. Soon he begins to forget why he came, or that there was ever a life before Blessed Island.

On the brief adventure when he escapes surveillance, Eric stumbles into enigmatic terrain of eyes painted on rocks and the weirdly beautiful orchids. There’s a huge old house, or maybe a church, crumbling away on a headland. Inside it, a massive painting depicts the chaotic ritual sacrifice of a Neolithic king. And then things get bad…

This award-winning fantasy spins a complicated tale of love and destiny. In some parts horror, in some parts angsty YA fantasy, it moves from ancient to modern times, spiraling in a way that draws the story together slowly. The text itself is complicated. There’s no single plot arc, but a series of 7 short stories, each with multiple chapters, which weave together to reveal the mysterious connection between Eric and Merle.

Although the book has been described as horror,  I didn’t find it especially horrifying. The atmosphere is creepy rather than gory, which is appropriate for the YA audience. I did find myself questioning if this is the right audience, though. It takes a patient reader to follow the threads of this story.

The writing is really excellent. Midwinterblood won the 2014 Printz Award. It is a good read if you’re up for a challenge.

 

Happy New Year

It’s 3:30 p.m. as I write this, and already the pop and boom of fireworks echo across the town. Yep, we’re getting ready to celebrate 2017. That brings me to the annual ritual of setting resolutions for the new year.

What makes it tough for me is that a lot of common resolutions involve things I already do. Write every day. Blog regularly. Work my social media. Make appearances. Support my groups, specifically SCBWI and SpoCon. Keep watching my diet.

So those don’t really seem like resolutions. They’re not goals so much as maintenance. So after casting about, I have three resolutions related to my writing, and one personal resolution.

1) Write at least 15 chapters on a totally new novel. It always takes me at least 1-1/2 years for a new first draft, so a whole novel would not be realistic, but 15 chapters will be a good chunk of one.

2) Write at least 4 short stories during the year, and market them to young readers. Novels tend to take up all my time, but I need to keep up with the other stuff, too.

3) Self-publish my second short story collection, this one by Deby Fredericks.

And the personal one, 4) Be more of a dragon in defending my political views, while remaining courteous. Dragons are powerful, after all. So powerful that rudeness diminishes them. The amount of fake news, gas lighting, and just plain lies have really become intolerable, but while confronting the dishonesty, more rudeness only muddies the waters. So I’m going to be practicing phrases such as “we weren’t talking about (insert inflammatory topic) so I’m not sure why you decided to go there” and “please stop being rude to my friends.”

A tough one, I know. Wish me luck!

Five Years?

Whoa, really? I’ve been blogging for five years? Who’da thought I could find things to say about dragons for five whole years? But I did. So… I guess I’ll just keep it up.

Since this is my anniversary time, I’ve been looking over the stats that WordPress so kindly offers. In 2016 I was able to be pretty consistent with my twice-weekly schedule. Most every Wednesday and Saturday saw a post. I’m not always able to get posts up by 10:00 am, as I want to, but you can’t win them all.

At the start of 2016, I had 157 followers. Now I have 207. That’s 50 more new friends. Hi, everyone! *waving madly* I hope you all enjoy the blog. If you’re curious about something dragonish, I’ll be happy to take questions in the comments.

Speaking of comments, my top commenters in 2016 have been  Craig Boyack and David Lee Summers. They both are fellow writers with some fine blogs of their own. I hope you’ll check them out. Now, what about the other 205 of you? Not that I’m hinting or anything, but I always love getting comments!

My subject matter this year has remained a mix of folklore and myths, book and movie reviews, weird science and funny stuff, all featuring dragons. By far the most popular posts are the ones around Asian dragon lore, such as The Four Dragons and The Dragon’s Pearl. These are perpetual favorites. However, I had the most fun when I blogged about hoaxes such as the alleged “pickled dragon fetus” that turned out to be a publicity stunt.

See you Saturday, when I’ll talk about resolutions for 2017.

Dragons on the Wing

Through silver skies
The snow it flies —
And so do I!

To my in-laws’ house, that is. Happy holidays!