This Year’s NaNoWriMo


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Today marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo and many of us writers participate each year! It’s always so exciting–joining an international group of people with one goal to complete a certain large word count in a month!
Now, I didn’t think I’d talk that much about this year’s book because I’m writing it purely for me and the characters are so special I almost don’t want to talk about them. However, after thinking about it and seeing the awesome link up to blog meme Beautiful Books, I decided to get over myself and talk a little bit about this year’s project. (Thank you to the creators of the blog event Beautiful Books for coming up with these questions!)

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THE QUESTIONS

1. What came first: characters or plot idea? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Okay, to answer the easy question first: I’m a complete hardcore pantser. I ruin my drive and my stories when I attempt to plot them out beyond a simple framework. As to which came first: in a sense, the plot came first. I decided I wanted to write a zombie survival story this year. However, the characters are ones I created/have written with from back when I was twelve. I wrote five books with these characters by the time I was sixteen and I haven’t really done anything with them since. So I thought, okay, zombie story with my old characters! Why not?

2. Do you have a title and/or a “back-cover-blurb”?

Yes, the title is “Alive”–it’s a play on how a lot of zombie titles have the term “Dead” in them. I went for the opposite, haha. I’ve revised the “blurb” since my last post, too. It’s down below under the sum up.

3. What word count are you aiming for when your novel is finished?

50,000. This is a silly practice book that I won’t mind if I don’t actually finish. As long as I can get to the end of say I completed this year’s NaNo, I’ll be happy. :P

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4. Sum up your novel in 3 sentences.

Here’s the revised blurb: “Finding themselves trapped in a zombie infested part of Florida, members of an old detective club re-band together to escape and survive as they journey out of the danger zone, unsuspecting that an old enemy is on the their trail for vengeance.” That was one long sentence. My story is simple–it picks up after several years from my last book, it’s almost like an alternate universe tale with zombies.

5. Sum up your characters in one word each.

This is actually quite easy. I’ve worked with these characters for so long, I know them very intimately in many ways. Baxter: leader. Zak: stronghold. Jenny: protective. Duke: passionate. Anthony: muscle. Rip: smarts. Norton: confident. Kyle: revenge.

6. Which character are you most excited to write? Tell us about them!

I’m actually very excited to write more about Baxter, the old gang leader. He’s been a special favorite of mine since forever. He’s very smart but has become pessimistic about life in general, which is reverse character development from the last book I wrote. Even though he’s become bitter, his friends still find him a strong leader and steady in a new uncertain environment. Baxter became hard to write when I first changed him, but I think with of my new experience in human emotion, and psychology in general, I can now handle the character. :P

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7. What about your villain? Who is he, what is his goal?

Kyle is probably one of the most one-dimensional villains I’ve ever created–however, I can excuse myself as when I made him, I barely knew how to write consistent protagonists, much less well-developed bad guys. Kyle’s revenge motive is very simple and I don’t feel like I need to flesh him out any more than he already is. So we’ll just glide over this question, ok? :P

8. What is your protagonist’s goal? And what stands in the way?

It’s very simple–survive. Don’t get bit. Don’t get infected. Don’t die. What stands in their way? Again, it’s very simple–zombies. When done right, zombies are fantastic fantasy creatures and I can’t wait to write them into a story!

9. What inciting incident begins your protagonist’s journey?

Right now, the opening consists of a few members of the old gang returning from a camping trip in the nearby mountain and find their small town full of the dead. They stumble upon more of their friends and decide get out of the town before they even discover they’ve been left behind in a war zone of sorts. All this triggers old problems that were never resolved that the group must work out if they want to trust each other to survive.

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10. Where is your novel set?

In a fictional small town in Florida somewhere on the peninsula. The most I know is that they’re against the ocean  and they will have to travel north to get to a safe zone…

11. What are three big scenes in your novel that change the game completely?

Honestly I haven’t thought that far ahead. It’s a straight forward zombie survival/drama story–it almost writes itself!

12. What is the most dynamic relationship your character has? Who else do they come in contact with or become close to during the story?

Well, the friends have grown apart the last few years, so coming back together to work as a team really makes them face their old problems and learn how to set differences aside to help each other survive. Probably one of the most dynamic relationship that I’ll address is between Baxter and Kyle, whose story of anger and revenge has been left hanging for over four years. It’s going to be cliché as heck but a lot of fun for me to write. Hopefully this story will help me put these characters to rest, give them solid endings, and allow myself to move on from my old childish stories (even if those stories mean a lot to me.)

13. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

If I’m going with Baxter being the main protagonist, maybe I will give him a path to peace in some way. Or maybe I will kill him off and emotionally scar myself. I’m still deciding…

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14. Do you have an ending in mind, or do you plan to see what happens?

I have no idea how the book will end or if I will even reach an ending by 50,000 (I can be long-winded)–I want both a happy “they survived!” ending and a “they’re torn to bits emotionally and physically and they all DIE BECAUSE IT’S A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE STORY” type ending. I don’t know–how do you think I should end it?!

15. What are your hopes and dreams for your book? What impressions are you hoping this novel will leave on your readers and yourself? (This is your mission statement, one you can look back on when the road gets tough.)

DEAR LORD I HOPE NO ONE READS THIS BOOK NOBODY WILL TAKE ME SERIOUSLY AS A WRITER EVER AGAIN. But seriously, I hope I have some plain, decent fun and get some resolution with these characters that I’ve left dangling for so long in an old Microsoft word document deep within my laptop folders. This year’s NaNo is going to be more of a personal journey, but that’s a good thing!

(What are your plans for November? Do they include NaNoWriMo? If so, what are you writing about?! We should be buddies on NaNo if we aren’t already!)

~Jamie

Giveaway Winner Announced!


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My giveaway closed this morning and the winner selected is Anna Baggins for the blog post comment that she left! Congratulations, Anna, I’ve announced this all over the interwebs already, but I’ll say it again! Congratulations!

Thank you to all who entered my giveaway within the last two weeks, it was awesome to see the different names appear! I feel so blessed to have been able to launch my first giveaway with the help of the prize money I made this summer! Without it and your support here at my blog, I wouldn’t have been able to do this! Hopefully someday in the future I can do another one! Maybe when I hit a certain follower count or something similar!

Thank you again to everyone who entered! Congrats Anna, hope to hear from you soon! (I’ve sent an email your way. ;) )

~Jamie

Jamie’s Follower Appreciation/Doctor Who Giveaway!


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I’m so happy to at last throw my blog giveaway this month! It starts today! I’ve had an amazing time writing on this blog the past three years and the people who’ve followed and commented throughout the years have been some of the best parts! Today, this giveaway is for you!

Since I’m using Rafflecopter to host this giveaway, and Rafflecopter wouldn’t cooperate with WordPress, I’m using a special page on Facebook to host this giveaway (Facebook wants me to say they’re in no affiliated with this giveaway I’m just using it to make the Rafflecopter app work!) It should still be really easy to do and I’ll still spell out rules here! When you’re ready, BE SURE to click to the link to visit the giveaway page to enter!

Simple Version:

Giveaway Length: 10/13/14 to 10/31/14

Item: Doctor Who Box Set of Seasons 5-7 on DVD Region 1!

Eligibility: Must live within The United States or Canada.

To Enter: Visit this page and see what Rafflecopter options you want to fill out to make lots of entries!

Terms of Use: Can be found on the Rafflecopter app on the Facebook page.

Note: In the Rafflecopter, to get extra entries, you can leave me a couple of comments answering the questions: please try to leave those comments here! This is, after all, a giveaway for this blog.

Extended Version

There is one prize–meaning there will only be one winner– and my giveaway items are the fan favorite Doctor Who Seasons 5-7 on DVD; in new and good condition! I have only viewed Season 7 once and Seasons 4 and 5 never. I don’t care if you watch Doctor Who or not for you to enter this contest; all I care is that you are a blog follower because this giveaway is a follower appreciation giveaway! This giveaway value is $240–I wanted to make my first giveaway big! (For some time, I wanted to also giveaway The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy but sadly that is no longer possible! So sorry about that!)

Want a picture of the three box sets!? Here you go; a raw photo from my desk! I

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The only restriction I have on this giveaway is that I can only ship these within either The United States of America and Canada. Sorry other-international-readers. I almost cried making this decision; I really do appreciate you following me! If you can’t enter, leave me your blog/twitter/Facebook link in the comments below and I’ll come follow you!

The only other thing I want to highlight is that when you enter, in case you win, you must be sure there is a way for me to find you and privately contact you for your address so I can send them to you!! If I can’t do that, then a new winner will have been chosen. But as long as I can direct message you through Facebook, Twitter, or can contact you to get your email, we should be in good business! (And of course overall rule: let’s all be adults and mature throughout this contest, no hating on the winner, ect ect ect. Come on. Let’s have a good time!)

Follow this link to my giveaway page and click on the tab “Giveaway” to get started! The giveaway begins today and you can enter in different ways up to October 31st when the giveaway closes at 6 AM Arizona time! Within 48 hours after the giveaway closes, I will announce the winner!

I really hope this giveaway is a success! It’s my first one, so I will be learning throughout this process myself! Good luck to the winner!

(As fate has it, I will be gone most of today, so any questions you might have I won’t actually see till later in the day–just a heads up!)

~Jamie

A Happy Week


This last week was very nice in most respects!

Until I Wake Up coverThis week I really wanted to do something on Booktrack, so I wrote a two page short story as a writing exercise and then published it! I titled it “Until I Wake Up” which I think was very fitting. I tried writing something strange and haunting, from the perspective of a child, so I’m hoping I succeeded! It was a nice twenty-four hour project; I enjoyed spending time making a cover and creating an ambiance soundtrack.

Since this is my third short story I’ve published on Booktrack, I feel like I can start calling myself a self-published author. :P Here is another link to the story and the following is my synopsis: “A sensitive child serenely revisits the edge between sleep and non-existence, calmly beholding a familiar dark world stretched out before her.” I enjoyed this story quite a lot, I might return to it later!

At school, I took four practice tests for the GED to see how well I would come out; I got two “Likely To Pass” results, a “Too Close to Call,” and one “Not Likely To Pass” with my math, which I expected. LOL! I suck at math. However, I will hopefully go in to take the Language Arts test soon, as that is the one I tested the most strongly in. It was encouraging to see how close I am to getting three-fourths of the test accomplished!

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I’m still madly in love with Studio Ghibli right now. On Pinterest, I’ve decided to do a 42 Day Ghibli Challenge all for myself! I’ve found two different tags which I’ve slightly edited and combined to completely feed my Ghibli obsession. I’ve even made a separate board for it! I’m very excited to be doing this for myself at last! For any Ghibli fans out, you can check out my board here. (>>>Ghibli food is the best looking in animation! This makes me hungry! >>>)

On top of everything else, the weather dropped out of the triple digits this past week; but it was only noticeably cooler exactly on October 1st! It is now in the late sixties when I walk the dogs and I hardly break a sweat! It’s been absolutely lovely and has made the last half of this week very enjoyable! I can’t wait for it to get a little cooler in midday so I can start wearing my hoodies!

ced91bb732c9803c211e1b311c3994b7Outside of a flooding toilet (that was disgusting and very stressful,) my week has been exceptionally great! My DVD copy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier even came in the mail (the only other DVDs I think I’ll definitely have to own by the end of the year will be The Wind Rises and Guardians of the Galaxy!)

I’ve decided not to write my LotR post till after I’ve finished rewatching them; however I will be seeing Return of the King soon, so writing will commence pretty soon. :) Rewatching the films have been worth it, though, as I’ve been forming more solid opinions on the characters. (I’ve seen the two Hobbit movies by now, too, so I will discuss them as well!) I’m looking forward to forming my thoughts on paper at last.

The rest of my weekend will be me reorganizing my DVD shelf, hanging laundry, watching Spice and Wolf S2, playing Star Wars Angry Birds, and prepping for school on Monday. Here’s to another wonderful week like this; I hope you all had a good week too. :)

~Jamie

summers, giveaways, and winters


What a month I’ve had! Gosh.

Summer is pretty much wrapping up for me here in Arizona; it’s still quite hot but the promise of October whispers cooler weather is coming, so yay! Let’s look at this year’s summer bucket list and see how well I did!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore math at school | Have an awesome birthday | Catch up with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (didn’t do, I started watching anime instead.) | Finish the rest of the Ghibli movies (although there are two left, they’re not so well known so I’m going to count this as done.) | Learn Windows 8 | Play more music on the piano (fail, although I’m starting to learn Arrietty’s music) | Keep up my blog | Reorganize my bedroom shelves | Watch another movie at the theater | Hopefully host a giveaway at the end of summer (GONNA DO IT YES!) | Give my blog it’s every-six-month makeover | Hopefully buy My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Arrietty (all awesome!) | Begin a rewrite to my futurist sci-fi short story (getting sick and switching bedrooms was very distracting from everything but blog writing.) | Read some books (another fail) | Go swimming just once (no pool available)| Do something creative (I painted a room by myself I think that counts!) | Continue to figure out my life |

I feel like I did pretty good! I even freaking won the Hugh Howey Booktrack Contest, that’s pretty good for one summer! Still so excited about it; that was such a big deal for me and I still feel very blessed. ALSO, since I won the big cash prize, that does mean that I’ll be throwing my giveaway soon! I’m very excited and will be planning rules and running length for an upcoming post! So, keep tuned in, especially you Doctor Who/movie fans!

f1b5eb257e629d778201a0abecbe1795I am really looking forward to cooler weather! It means a couple of things for me:

I want to do NaNoWriMo this year! I skipped it last year because of stress from the last several years (non-writing related.) This year, though, my mind feels a lot better and ready for the rigorous work which NaNo demands if I want to pull through a winner. Since my account has been under a pen name, I’ve decided to start a new account with my real name this year. I did go through my writing buddies to make sure I bring you all over to my new account, though! Getting ready over a month prior is great, but I think I might keep writing plans vauge because I seem to write better when I really don’t know where the story is going… In fact I’m pretty sure I’m going to use my inspiration writing dice this year just to see what can come from “chance”. (IF YOU WANT TO BE WRITING BUDDIES JUST TELL ME AND I’LL COME FIND YOU BECAUSE I LOVE WRITING BUDDIES ON NANO.)

I want to pick up fast walking/running again this winter. I’m sorry, but it’s just way too hot to attempt anything like that during the summer. However, I enjoy doing it in cooler weather; it can be lots of fun with the right music, too!  I hope I can pick up the habit again! (Also early morning runs while pretending there are zombies behind you is literally the greatest motivation, at least if your a Walking Dead fan. Wait for me, Daryl, let me ride the motorcycle with you!)

7cac6ba68ddfd2d086b1c33d1b7bb8eeCurrently, I’m looking forward to the weekend; I have to say hi to the dentist but thankfully he doesn’t scare me that much. The longer I stare at the tools the less scary they look. Haha! I’ll probably pin more funny Lord of the Rings pics on Pinterest (to see them check my board, I won’t be posting many here) and watch more anime. Yes technically I like to start my ‘weekend’ on Thursdays because no school after Wednesday! I’m such a kid…

~Jamie

Me and Harry Potter


715b1ed5ec0956f1db5e008cf3187e5bGrowing up in a Christian environment, there were certain things I just didn’t get to do growing up. My parents sheltered my sister and I more than any other family I knew growing up: I didn’t go trick or treating, I didn’t have many good friends, I didn’t go to Sunday School after my eighth birthday; I didn’t see most of your standard Disney and Pixar movies, I didn’t listen or watch Adventures in Odyssey, and I rarely got to paint my nails until after I reached my mid-teens.

Now, I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me, but to show you where I have come from. It gives gravity to my journey. Growing up, I didn’t get to do a lot of normal things and I saw that as just what my family did.

Although we didn’t much talk directly about big Christian taboo topics, I grew up under a strong, firm impression that magic, especially in fiction, was bad. Like, really, really bad. Magic could look good in fiction, so my parents didn’t even let me read Narnia, even though our pastor’s children were allowed to enjoy them. Magic became something that I feared, in a way, as though Aslan or the play witch’s hat in Wal-Mart at Halloween was going to hurt me with their evil-ness if I looked too long. Sadly, my family didn’t really discuss the topic heart-to-heart that much and besides, most of the time I was too afraid to even ask that many questions. This unspoken-ness lasted till up to only a couple of years ago.

41a5cf2a5e1ffc9da9f19ff9b237d0ecWhen I was about sixteen or seventeen, my dad decided to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe aloud–“for fun”. We didn’t discuss what had changed in the unspoken family rules, just of all of sudden, years waay too late, it was time to read a children’s fantasy story. It wasn’t that enjoyable; just, randomly, Narnia was “okay” with no explanation. (Mid-teens to late teens was such a confusing period of my life for so many reasons!) This was difficult because Lord of the Rings still seemed forbidden, and–oh yeah, don’t anybody even mention those two really, really, really bad words.

Harry Potter. Oooh, as a child and even as a young adult, it was such a literal “he-who-shall-not-be-named” situation. Harry Potter was our Christian community’s Voldemort.

Although I couldn’t watch Harry Potter then, I knew I would watch it at some point when I was so old nobody could stop me. That wasn’t really a super-conscious decision, though, and I didn’t go about flashing my thoughts off to people I knew: “When I grow up, I’m going to watch Harry Potter!” It was never in the plan to tell anyone even afterwards either. Of course, it took a lot of inward struggle for it to actually come about.

66f8c998c3556a82724246dc5a40f238When my parents separated for a second time in early 2013, I didn’t immediately run to the Harry Potter series–“Dobby is free! Dobby is free!” Even though Mom had and continues to become way more relaxed about things, I still kept away…

You simply don’t walk away emotionally or mentally free from years of fear of trying to make sure people aren’t questioning your Christian conviction by what you are or aren’t avoiding. I was very afraid of what people would think of me for watching Harry Potter–from my confined social circles, I didn’t know anybody who liked Harry Potter, so I felt very outnumbered for a long time. 

I was afraid of having to own my decision of choosing to watch those eight movies–especially since during my teen years, my family became very soaked in the Patriarchal culture where fathers were in complete charge of their daughters and, in my personal case, pretty much thought for them too. So, for the longest time, even though I could have investigated, I only dabbled in other shows or movies instead.

dumbledore_edited-1In the mean time, I started maturing. Although it had started back about 2012, my thinking process really changed gear in 2013. I slowly stopped inwardly judging other people for their own personal choices and opinions. I realized everyone’s story is different, so God takes people down different roads at different times in their lives–why should we all look the same and do the same things at the same time?

I learned people are just not going to agree over everything, so I just had to do what I felt I needed to do despite fear. That’s being courageous. I realized I was an individual soul with individual needs that needed to be voiced and that that was okay. I learned the world was not actually black and white but millions of shades of grey. I learned the no matter what, many people in my lifetime are just always going to hold up a yard stick and see how I measure out–but how they feel doesn’t need to tell me how to feel.

I learned that I was not a bad Christian for deciding that I needed to watch Harry Potter and form my own personal opinion for myself. That in and of it self was very monumental.

Finally this past year, I got to meet Harry Potter.

b6117ad8d9bbcacac6dd83ea80a38613Harry was not at all what I imagined him–I’d always known what he’d looked like, of course, but I hadn’t known other things–what his personality was like or what his story was about. He turned out to be quite ordinary while at the same time quite extraordinary. He was an orphan, a survivor of neglect, who, through his gift of magic, was able to be who he meant to be and defend himself from abuse and evil, one new year after the other.

By the time I watched the Harry Potter series, I was tired of trying to mentally weigh EVERYTHING the movies communicated in an attempt to catch some secret agenda they may be trying to feed me. (This was something my dad pushed too hard at my family, making movie watching a chore instead of a family pastimes, and ruining initial movie glows–like after watching the first Iron Man.) In many ways, I’m still tired of having to justify myself for liking certain movies to other people or to myself. However, what with how taboo HP can be perceived, I decided I wanted to say what I thought of it–to own my own choices and let people take me or leave me for how I truly think.

4e8c2d6df1994797d913f2d21a0240d1The world of Harry Potter was full of magic, of course. Magic was everywhere. The fact that most of the films took place in Hogwarts, the school that taught witchcraft and wizardry, simply meant that magic was a strong part of the story. However, I didn’t come away from a Harry Potter movie feeling, “Gosh, they really think magic is something I should be seeking out in my regular life. Maybe If I join the Occult my life will get better.” I never felt that the film series actually promoted witchcraft in real life. The films themselves knew they were a made up story and magic was just a part of that story, like the characters and the made up version of London, ect.

Ultimately, in the end, magic turned out to not be a big issue for me; shocker! It didn’t really matter to me that they attended a school to learn how to control their magic (something they were born with–and isn’t it a good thing to be taught how to properly handle your gifts given to you, guided by teachers wiser than you?) used wands, and other magical items. That wasn’t the make or break element. What I thought was a big deal was the characters themselves. The fact that they actually turned out to be great heroes and role models really, really surprised me and that’s what made the series worth watching.

c14598173a3099105b113e9e45338f1bHarry strove to do what was right as often as he could; he tried his hardest to be respectful of teachers and fellow students, and learned to stand up for what was right, even though he made mistakes. Hermoine was a fantastic student who took her school seriously and who could hold her own ground mentally and emotionally. Ron, and his whole family, was very supportive of neglected Harry; Ron was always a friend who pulled through at the end. When it was all said and done, the cast of characters who weren’t bad guys all upheld decency, kindness, pluck, friendship, bravery, and a will to do good. It was truly surprising to walk away from each movie thinking, “These are actually great characters, why was I supposed to dislike them again?”

I can hear people of my past, saying, “But that’s what makes it so dangerous! It looks so good.” If you’re one of those people, check this article out sometime; I mostly agree with it. I’m mean, sure, I wouldn’t let my brother watch these till after his eleventh or twelfth birthday and he was critically thinking, but at that point I think it would be a great series he could enjoy.

At that age and up, as young people, the stronger impact comes from the characters who are of similar age. We can watch as they make mistakes and grow from them, in relate-able ways of demonstrating noble character and plucky spirit and it leaves us encouraged. The magical school is simply a unique setting for those uplifting character traits to be put on display.

6fc2a3d620af012ec3b5141b040d4f5cSomething I heard forever, and this would still capture my dad’s thinking, would be “If I want my children to have good fictional role models, I’ll give them Christian books.” Having grown up with many of those type books, I can say that I find great characters and character development strongly lacking in a lot of Christian books, and movies too–I’m sorry, but it’s true. I had a hard to time relating to many of those characters’ journeys or finding them convincing yet was inspired to stand up for myself and what I thought was right, after watching the Harry Potter franchise. The irony is ridiculous here but extremely true.

I cannot cover or defend everything on the element of magic of course, nor would I necessarily want to hash it out for days and days either, but I think you all understand what I value more from a film. To me, I decided that for the story, there was little difference between Harry pointing either a wand or a gun or heavy-duty baseball bat at Lord Voldemort. What mattered most was that he knew Voldemort was evil and needed to be stopped because he was hurting people. So, just like in any other movie I would watch, the characters were the make or break point, and I found the cast of Harry Potter characters to be the making of the series!

bccc2e6cce8e4d824f7c7af2ac902957Now, sure, the Harry Potter series has its dark moments and it isn’t Star Wars or anything, but I enjoyed them all. The final film was especially fantastic and is still one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. The characters carried the series forward in a way that was very satisfying by the time it all ended and Harry himself is my favorite character. He could definitely make my top fifteen favorite fictional heroes. I’m often mad to think about how long I associated his name with an idea of evil, when really he’s a selfless, kind character–someone who dealt with temptation but rose above it, rallied friends together to fight evil, and eventually survived neglectful and verbal abuse.

I have come a long ways since I was a little girl who didn’t understand Narnia or watch a Disney movie that contained a little bit of magic, or couldn’t read Harry Potter like the rest of my generation. Please don’t misunderstand me; this is not me saying “HARRY POTTER IS FOR EVERYONE” because, sure, it’s maybe not, and this is not me saying real witchcraft is something to not be concerned about…but that was never the topic of this blog post anyway. This is only my story of how magic made me stronger.

Nowadays, Harry is a good friend of mine. I own seven of the eight Harry Potter films and I hope to read the books someday. In Hogwarts, I would be sorted into the Hufflepuff house (thank you, Pottermore, for making it official!) a house which I hold in high esteem. On top of it all, I still have a long ways to go in life; I’m still afraid of the dark sometimes and I’m still working on being open about myself. But that’s okay. My story of magic is a very strange one but it’s taken me to a safer place from where I started and left me encouraged in my journey to Spiritual freedom from legalism and fear. I only hope I can continue to be as brave as the little boy who lived beneath the stairs.

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~Jamie

My Summer with Studio Ghibli


studio-ghibliWhat sets this Japanese animation company apart from most other studios is their ability to perfectly capture the precious moments in life; like good food, affection between friends and family, and respect for neighbors and nature. If you are into movies or animation, then most of these films I saw this summer are must-sees, all drawn in the most enchanting animation style!

This summer, I got introduced to Studio Ghibli’s anime films; I ended up watching nearly all of them too fast because they were so good! Even the overrated ones displayed some of the most beautiful animation. I want to bring more attention to these movies, so I’ve compiled single paragraph thoughts on the ones I’ve seen below. They are presented in the order I watched them and are spoiler-free! I’m also incredibly proud of this post as it took about a month to create, write and design! I don’t do this for everything, so consider this a demonstration of how strongly I feel about these movies (many of which I now own on DVD!)

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A strong shout out and thank you needs to be said to my best friend, James, for suggesting I give Studio Ghibli a try and for recommending Whisper of the Heart so many times. ;) Ghibli has definitely been a big highlight of my 2014 summer! The studio definitely changed how I look at anime and animation in general and greatly expanded my film world (and Top 100 Favorite Movies list!) Thank you so much, James!

Notes: The only Ghibli films I haven’t seen include Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves, and Tales from Earthsea. I have seen Nausicaa, but since it’s technically not Ghibli, I opted to leave it out. Just a personal choice on my part.

arrietty-disneyscreencaps.com-1368The Secret World of Arrietty || 2010 || G 

“Human beings are dangerous. If we’re seen, we have to leave. My parents said so.”

My first Studio Ghibli film. It appealed to a childhood love of mine for tiny people, so it turned out to be perfect starting point. Arrietty was whimsical, breathtakingly beautiful, and quite endearing. I found it very enjoyable, even though it wasn’t a rousing epic or a heart stopping adventure. It was a very sweet tale that elevated your boring objects like sugar cubes and sewing pins to a completely new perspective within the hands of a Borrower. Everything was just very delightful, from endearing heroine Arrietty (many of Ghibli’s films are filled with some of the most wonderful female leads!) and her unique little family, to the most gorgeous animation. A highlight for me was the original score that was a very gentle Celtic. It definitely lifted the story to special heights as it guided the emotion of the story. Overall, this is personally special to me because it was my first Ghibli film, so I give it an extra half a star. :)

Final Comment: A Whimsical Wonder || 5/5  stars

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mimiWhisper of the Heart || 1995 || PG 

“Take me home, concrete roads!”

This was highly recommended to me, a beautifully told coming-of-age story. Set at the point when the libraries were preparing to computerized their systems, Shizuku’s interest in piqued by seeing a familiar name on all her checkout cards-she eventually meet the person and their stories become entwined. The atmosphere of Tokyo’s neighborhoods, antique shops, apartment complexes, and the people who pass by them, made for a very comforting backdrop for the story to unfold and one that I was fascinated to watch. The film handles young romance exceptionally well, never once feeling awkward or weird–a gigantic plus! I loved Shizuku as a female lead and would certainly love to revisit her life in a sequel if it could be handled well. At times, Whisper of the Heart can feel rather slow at the beginning but do not let your impatience get in the way of the perfect character handling and atmosphere. By the end of this movie, I was in puddle of tears from happiness and I’m still trying to figure out how they made such a small ending feel so monumental.

Final Comment: Sneak Attack On The Emotional Zone|| 5/5 stars

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216299-the-wind-rises-1The Wind Rises || 2013 || PG-13 

“Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up.”

This is one of Ghibli’s most beautiful films to date! I consider it almost a “sin” that Frozen took the Oscar this past year instead of The Wind Rises, especially when I saw how the Academy voted. A loose biopic, the film beautifully depicts the a life of Jiro Hirikoshi, who helped develop aircraft for the Japanese right before World War II and how his life’s passion was taken and used for harm. Airplanes have never been so interesting to me as they were throughout the running time of this film. The romance that developed during the second half  was so heartbreakingly beautiful that I ended up crying from the pure emotion. The animation in and of itself was basically flawless (especially character designs; for the most part, Ghibli creates some of the most pleasant and innocent looking characters I’ve ever seen that’s refreshing to the eyes!) A surprise was hearing John Karinski’s voice in this film (Jim Halpert of The Office, people!) and I actually liked Joseph Gordan Levitt’s acting too! The highlight of this film was simply the entire story and how it was presented. It was incredibly enjoyable and moving to behold in it’s entirety. Personally, I am still battling my temper that this film is so unknown compared to Disney’s very lacking ice and princess flick.

Final Comment: Oscar Worthy || 5/5 stars

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QualitŽ: deuxime gŽnŽration.   Titre: Le Royaume Des Chats.The Cat Returns || 2002 || G 

“Always believe in yourself. Do this and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear.”

As this film is loosely connected to Whisper of the Heart, which I loved terribly, I ended up watching this sooner than later. Sadly, it does not live up to what Whisper of the Heart delivered. The cat, The Baron, who originated in Whisper, was the best part; sadly, the rest of the film I didn’t enjoy half as much. It was a decent kids film, it simply tasted different from the previous three Ghibli films I’d seen. It wandered into more children’s stereotypical territory in a hit and miss type fashion. Overall, it was alright but I probably won’t watch again. (I should note that it is still better than some of America’s extremely cheesy and crude kids movies.)

Final Comment: Meh, Kids Will Like It || 3/5 stars

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Howl’s Moving Castle || 2004 || PG 

“Here’s another curse for you – may all your bacon burn!”

Very imaginative and fantastical, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of Studio Ghibli’s more popular films with a very large fan base, which at points has caused me to scratch my head to a degree. Frankly, I think it’s rather overrated but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an enjoyable watch. I did love the fantasy elements a lot; for example, the magical walking castle was really neat. The cast of characters was great; the fire demon Calcifer (English voice done by none other than Mike Wazowski’s voice, Billy Crystal!) was an imaginative fantasy creature and entertaining without being too silly. Christian Bale was great as the wizard Howl too! The film starts out quite strong, but gets too busy with different story threads during the final half, ultimately failing to resolve a major problem set up in the beginning. So, sadly I was left rather disappointed when the film ended. Still, it’s a good watch, especially for fantasy lovers.

Final Comment: Fantastical but Overrated || 4/5 stars

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neighbor-totoro-disneyscreencaps.com-3771My Neighbor Totoro || 1988 || G 

“There was a great big Totoro!”

Easily one of Ghibli’s most recognizable films, this is one of the best animated films I have ever seen in my life. Not only is it a timeless classic, but it’s depiction of family and sisterhood was pulled off better than in nearly any Disney film I’ve ever seen. This is by far the best and most realistic set of fictional sisters ever and that definitely made the film for me–they were so endearing! Little moments in the girls lives as they moved into a new house, settled into a new community, and glimpsed the forest spirits, was what made the film so monumental in heart and soul–it’s a quiet movie with massive heart. It’s also very entertaining, as little Mei is incredibly adorable and says and does some humorous things. The animation is a little old but it doesn’t hurt the film at all–in fact it has a charming, timeless quality to it that adds to the film’s quaint, sweet atmosphere of childhood. I’ve rewatched this film many times now with my seven year old brother and have teared up nearly every time by end. In short, this is a must-see.

Final Comment: Definition of Your Timeless Classic || 5/5 stars

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Ponyo || 2008 || G 

“That’s the most boring goldfish I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

I fell in love with this movie almost instantly and I would rank it highly among one of my top favorite Studio Ghibli films. The animation of the water blew me away, as it looked so fluid and soft! The world of and above the sea, and their meeting together, was captured in perfect detail, charm, and awe through the story of two little children. Title character Ponyo was enthusiastic and strong willed without being obnoxious, while the little boy Sosuke was adorably mature, bright, and kindhearted for his age; with such lovable leads, it was very hard not to adore this film! I absolutely loved the flow of the story’s plot and the level of emotion it took me to. The cast of characters was relatively small but also incredibly enjoyable and memorable; Ponyo’s wizard father and Sosuke’s spunky mother were both especially fun characters. In many ways, words fail me to describe how beautiful this movie was. From the combination of thrilling adventure, heart-tugging moments of joy, breathtaking animation, and a beautiful score, this was simply a masterpiece. Talk about going above and beyond for a children’s movie!

Final Comment: Favorite Tale From The Sea || 5/5 stars

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Spirited AwaySpirited Away || 2001 || PG 

“I finally get a bouquet and it’s a goodbye present. That’s depressing.”

Boy, this movie is loved to insane heights but I didn’t click with it on the first watch. While I was sick, I gave it a second try. While I still hold to my opinion that it’s kinda overrated, I did enjoy it more the second time through. It is a great feat in the animation universe. Incredibly bizarre yet solid, we get to follow human Chihiro as she becomes stuck in the nighttime world of a bathhouse for spirits, separated from her parents. Yep, this film is your classic fantasy adventure! Although some of the characters are a little ugly to look at, mostly the animation is fascinatingly interesting and hard to look away from. Spirited Away also manages to communicate emotion that gives the adventure some gravity, which overall helped it while on my second watch. I did have a problem with a poorly presented back story of one character, but I cannot go into detail without spoiling things. Overall, it’s… an interesting movie; it will probably grow on me a little bit at a time with each rewatch.

Final Comment: Crazy but Worth The Time|| 4 /5 stars

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kikis-delivery-serviceKiki’s Delivery Service || 1989 || G 

“You’d think they’d never seen a girl and a cat on a broom before.”

Kiki’s Delivery Service perfectly captured what a family film should feel like, hitting a well-balanced mark that some animated films miss; it was not too silly yet also not too serious. It was deliciously delightful and quaint, thoroughly soaked in a nostalgia for a simpler time. Kiki was a fantastic character to get behind as her simple journey of becoming an independent young adult unfolded through adventures, mishaps, and lots of heart. Her talking cat Jiji was adorable and funny without being ridiculous or weighing down the film with too much silly dialog. In fact, the whole cast of supporting characters were great! Kiki herself was a big highlight; I really wanted my younger brother to watch this film as she displayed an optimistic, strong will to work hard for herself, without seeming perfect or unrealistic. The film continues to grow on me with each rewatch, of which I’m very happy!

Final Comment: Wonderful Family Film || 4.5/5 stars

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960__castle_in_the_sky_blu-ray_x04_Laputa: Castle in the Sky || 1986 || PG 

“Oh, no! There goes my crystal!”

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is Ghibli’s first film and it’s a great children’s fantasy adventure, packed with space pirates, a lost civilization, a magical necklace, puzzles needing solving and a roller coaster of adventures that almost never stop. However, in some ways, it felt a little young for me, so I didn’t enjoy it  quite as much as, say, Kiki (my brother would LOVE this film though, and I need to show it to him soon!) There was just a tad more silliness mixed in–not in a bad way; it just felt a little hit and miss to me personally. However, for Ghibli’s first official film, it’s pretty decent! Lead characters Sheeta and Pazu are easy to get behind and were fun to follow throughout the story. Mark Hamill’s voice acting as a certain character was a pleasure to hear, too! I’m probably ranking this a little too long but until I can give a proper rewatch, I’ll have to stick with how I feel right now.

Final Comment: Decent Kids Adventure || 3.5/5 stars

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Princess Mononoke || 1997 || PG-13 

“You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.”

The versatility Ghibli has to tell so many different types of stories is amazing–from children’s adventures to bizarre fantasy to heartfelt drama. Ghibli is a master at their craft of storytelling! This versatility is especially evident in this rather mature epic, Princess Mononoke. Although the environmental theme became so overpowering that it felt more a sermon than a plot theme, the film still delivered a solid fantasy epic. Led by the likable but doomed Ashitaka, we get to watch as he’s caught up in a battle over the forest, some fighting to keep it safe and others wanting what it can give them, with little regard of the spirits that live within it. A extremely fascinating part of this film was that there practically no ‘bad’ side. Nearly all the characters were cast in shades of grey, each having good and bad motivates that gave a very large, telling image of humanity. I hope to revisit this film in the future, to form a more solid opinion of it, and to enjoy the animation, of course.

Final Comment: Preachy yet Epicly Beautiful || 4.5/5 stars

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poppy-hill-disneyscreencaps.com-3998From Up on Poppy Hill || 2011 || PG 

“There’s no future for people who worship the future and forget the past.”

This made me think of Whisper of The Heart, in a small ways. Poppy Hill, for some reason, isn’t that popular, so I’m among the few who really enjoyed this movie. As a high school attempts to save their clubhouse, we get to peek into the private lives of a couple of students in particular and their budding relationship; all with the backdrop of Japan’s struggle to move forward after WWII without loosing touch with their heritage. Like most Ghibli films, it handles the sweet beginnings of romance wonderfully. As a period piece, the bits of drama throughout the film were enjoyable to watch, as was the look into the Japanese culture. My only complaint was that the end felt a bit abrupt–but only because I wanted see more! Like Whisper, I could have sat for hours watching the lives of these characters if the movie had kept going! So, overall, this was a very pleasant animation!

Final Comment: A Precious Throwback to What Was “Whisper” || 4.5/5 stars

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Porco-Rosso-porco-rosso-29177479-1200-713Porco Rosso || 1992 || PG 

“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.”

Drenched in playful romanticism of yesteryear and accompanied by sea planes, air bandits, big Italian families, hidden coves, lost loves, and oh! a man cursed to have the face of a pig? Yes, you read that right; while that part felt random, somehow it still managed to work. Porco was an endearing yet serious character; I found myself drawn into his story and really enjoyed the stay, watching him handle pirates, his delicate sea plane, and eventually fight for honor. The plot, once it got going, was a fantastic ride and beautifully delivered. A special highlight was the smart and optimistic young engineer Fio and I consider her one of Ghibli’s most underrated characters. She was an absolute joy to watch, but I never see her mentioned by most fans.  Overall, except for a less than satisfactory last ten minutes, I was pleasantly surprised by this film and almost instantly in love!

Final Comment: Yes! The Pig Thing Does Work!|| 5/5 stars

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968full-my-neighbors-the-yamadas-screenshotMy Neighbors The Yamadas || 1999 || PG 

“The reason the Yamadas get along fine is because all three adults are nuts. If one of you were normal it would unbalance the rest.”

Very different from Ghilbi’s other films, this film was a comical commentary on your regular, middle class family. Although it’s almost two hours, it plays out like a bunch of shorts, rather than your typical, single overarching plot. It was a sweet film, with some fun moments and some wonderful watercolor-like animation, perfectly capturing each family member’s perspective of life. Although I wouldn’t consider it a favorite of mine, I would consider it worth watching if you consider yourself a Studio Ghibli fan or an animation buff in general. It had a very unique feel to how it’s told and how it looks and even it’s own sense of humor. Being an animation geek myself, I did make the effort to watch this one.

Final Comment: Had Some Good Moments || 3.5/5 stars

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pompoko-4592Pom Poko || 1994 || PG 

“I have no face!”

Of all the Studio Ghibli films I’ve watched, this is the one I’ve liked least of all, and I think it’s almost universally unpopular. Following shape shifting raccoon-dogs fighting for their forest, those shape shifting moments were pretty much the only enjoyable parts for me. Sadly, I didn’t like the rest, as it was unbelievably strange and weird to say the least. You would not believe what part of the male anatomy they decided to animate in this film–I did not care for that part. 8O The all-too familiar environmental message was quite in-your-face, which I always find intrusive of my mental personal space–if that make sense? Overall, the film felt very odd. It’s the only Ghibli film I actually completely dislike.

Final Comment: I Shoulda Skipped It || 2.5/5 stars

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la-tumba-de-las-luciernagasGrave of the Fireflies || 1988 || NR 

Once again, Ghibli’s ability to deliver a variety of stories is shown by this epicly devastating yet somehow beautiful piece of animation. Following two siblings and their will to survive after their city is bombed near the end of WWII, the price of war is depicted very clearly through their struggles, nothing sugarcoated to say the least. The two main characters are breathtakingly realistic, endearing, and well balanced. Little Setsuko is a heart-stealer, unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Seita, the older brother, is also an easy hero to get behind as he attempts to shelter his sister from the effects of war. On an overall scale, everything is fantastic in this film, from voice acting, to animation, to story flow. However, I must note that the film got so depressing that I had to stop near the end before finishing it later. The fact that I never want to watch this film ever again lowers the score just a little bit. I think everyone should see this at some point in their lifetime but it should not be expected to be an easy watch and rightfully so. Well done, Ghibli, well done.

Final Comment: The Definition of a Tear-Jerker || 4.5/5

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Shall we tally the scores? Out of sixteen movies, there are four that were marked under 3.5 and two the acceptable 4. With the remaining ten films all being above average/raising the bar of the animation genre, with four gaining near perfect 4.5, and six claiming 5 out of 5 stars, I say, where have you been all my life, Studio Ghibli?! Sure, they’re not perfect, just like every other film, but that’s not why they’re marked so high. What they are is genuine. Imaginative. Relate-able. Gorgeous. Touching. In the end, to me, they’re priceless and well worth the time sharing.

This summer will definitely be one I’ll remember as the year I realized I could watch anime and love it. I now happily own (yes, I put my money where my mouth is) My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, The Secret World of Arriety, and even Howl’s Moving Castle on DVD. I hope to buy The Wind Rises, From Up On Poppy Hill, and maybe even Spirited Away in the near future! That’s how much I love them and need them accessible, right at my fingertips!

If even one of these films piqued your interest, I strongly recommend you find a way to watch it! Hopefully Studio Ghibli can bring happiness to your life as it did mine! If you’ve already seen some (or all!) of these films, what did you think of them? Did you like them as much as I did? I surely hope that you did!

~Jamie