Colleen Houck's Top 12 Time Travel Movies

My Top Twelve Time Travel Movies
By Colleen Houck

#Honorable Mention: The Final Countdown
Summary: A modern aircraft carrier is thrown back in time to 1941 near Hawaii, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
My Thoughts: This one is to honor my dad who passed away this year. He was all about battleships and military movies and while that’s not so much my thing, I did enjoy the time travel elements of this film. With Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen this movie is a fun one to watch and it’s a good example of time travel paradox.

#12 Forever Young
Summary: A 1939 test pilot asks his best friend to use him as a guinea pig for a cryogenics experiment. Daniel McCormick wants to be frozen for a year so that he doesn't have to watch his love lying in a coma. The next thing Daniel knows is that he's been awoken in 1992.
My Thoughts: A young Mel Gibson is reason enough to enjoy this film and then, add to that, the fact that the movie is very romantic. It feels dated but it’s a classic time travel romance sure to please die hard romance fans.

#11 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Summary: Two seemingly dumb teens struggle to prepare a historical presentation with the help of a time machine.
My Thoughts: As a girl who grew up in the 80’s, this movie is one of my all-time favorites. How awesome would it be to have a time machine so you could do an excellent history report? This movie features a young and very clueless Keanu Reeves who could have easily been typecast because of it. Fortunately for his career, he was given the opportunity to move on to other more serious things and yet I still see smidgens of Ted in every show I watch him in. The bonus: I’ve heard rumors of a reunion and/or a remake of this film.

#10 The Lake House
Summary: A lonely doctor who once occupied an unusual lakeside home begins exchanging love letters with its former resident, a frustrated architect. They must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary romance before it's too late.
My Thoughts: Another Keanu Reeves film. The bonus is that it also features Sandra Bullock. As a romance fan, this one is good if not a bit frustrating. It’s a bit of a nail biter actually. I remember wondering if this whole thing was going to work out or not. I’m not going to spoil it for you, just check it out on your own.

#9 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Summary: A young fugitive prince and princess must stop a villain who unknowingly threatens to destroy the world with a special dagger that enables the magic sand inside to reverse time.
My Thoughts: I was way more excited about the premise of this movie than the actual outcome but I did thoroughly enjoy the special effects, the costumes, and the action scenes. Not sure Jake Gyllenhaal was the right casting choice but that didn’t stop me from swooning all the same.

#8 The Terminator Movies
Summary: A robotic assassin from a post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to eliminate a waitress, whose son will grow up and lead humanity in a war against machines.
My Thoughts: Normally I avoid “R” rated movies because the violence is usually too much for me. I get terrible vivid nightmares from anything scarier than Coraline. This one’s been edited for television though and has been shown many times that I’ve pretty much seen the whole thing. I love the idea behind it. The first one where (spoiler) the son sends the guy back to protect his mom and that’s how he was born in the first place is awesome. After that, the series kind of lost any part that was romantic and it became all about the guns and action and less about the story, still I give it a nod as one of the epic time travel stories that will last for a very long time.

#7 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Summary: To save Earth from an alien probe, Admiral Kirk and his fugitive crew go back in time to 20th century Earth to retrieve the only beings who can communicate with it, humpback whales.
My Thoughts: Okay. Whoever came up with the idea of saving the whales was just dumb but what makes this movie totally awesome is seeing our beloved Star Trek characters who are becoming seniors at this point, wander cluelessly through modern San Francisco. With expletives done hysterically wrong and trying to talk to computer mouses, I never stopped laughing.  

#6 Kate and Leopold
Summary: Kate and Leopold come together as star-crossed lovers who discover that passion and chivalry never go out of style. When a rip in time brings together a charming 19th-century bachelor and a 21st-century woman, the potential for an old-fashioned modern romance ignites.
My Thoughts: Hugh Jackman can do no wrong in my book. Especially in a romance. He is amazing and makes the movie in my opinion. Must watch for romance fans. Love the side story about OTIS too.

#5 The Time Traveler’s Wife
Summary: A romantic drama about a Chicago librarian with a gene that causes him to involuntarily time travel, and the complications it creates for his marriage.
My Thoughts: I love the idea of this one but it jumped around a bit too much for me to feel the romance. Still, this one ranks high on my list due to its very different and cool version of time travel.

#4 Back to the Future Movies
Summary: A teenager is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.
My Thoughts: Full of larger than life characters. Hilarious. Michael J. Fox is at his most charming. If you haven’t seen these films yet, you’re missing out. It’s very 80’s but it’s so very fun. Gives new meaning to giving your mother a kiss.

#3 The Planet of the Apes Movies
Summary: An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.
My Thoughts: I love even the old movies. The story is compelling and creative. The old ones move a bit slow for a modern audience but they are still worth watching. Fantastic ideas about time travel here.

#2 Star Trek: First Contact
Summary: Captain Picard and his crew pursue the Borg back in time to stop them from preventing Earth from initiating first contact with alien life.
My Thoughts: You know what’s cool? The Borg. Even their catchphrase, “Resistance is futile,” is so awesome it sends shivers down my spine. In my opinion, this is the most awesome Trek movie ever made. Ricardo Montalban’s movie is a close second when he portrayed Khan but that one doesn’t have a time travel aspect. In this one they have to go back in time and stop the Borg from assimilating Earth in the past. As a result, they have to help one of Earth’s heroes, the one responsible for creating warp drive technology, launch his ship in time to meet the Vulcans. So awesome. Also I’d list the 2009 Star Trek here as well if I didn’t think I was already overwhelming you with Star Trek movies. Then there’s the fact that J. J. Abrams cheesed me off a little by playing with the timeline too much but I pretty much forgave him because he gave me Zachary Quinto as Spock and let Leonard Nimoy do a cameo.

#1 Somewhere in Time
Summary: A Chicago playwright uses self-hypnosis to find the actress whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand hotel.
My Thoughts: That summary from IMDB is lame. Okay, so first Christopher Reeve in his prime. If that’s not enough to get you interested in this film then I’ll tell you that every time I watch this movie I cry my eyes out. When the old lady shows up at Richard’s after party and gives him the watch I am riveted. It proves you really don’t need special effects to tell a compelling story. You need great actors. One of my top romantic movies of all time and an excellent version of time travel.

There’s my list of best time travel movies. Do you agree? Were there some I missed? Leave a comment and tell me what your favorite time travel film is and why. Until next time.

Colleen Houck

Colleen Houck is October's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.
Colleen Houck’s New York Times bestselling Tiger’s Curse series has received national praise with the fourth book, Tiger’s Destiny, debuting September 2012. Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

Tiger's Curse
Tiger's Quest
Tiger's Voyage
Tiger's Destiny
Tiger's Dream
by Colleen Houck

Passion. Fate. Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that’s exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.

Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

Why Time Travel, Wormholes, Parallel Universes & Alternate Dimensions Just Makes Everything Cooler By Colleen Houck

Why Time Travel, Wormholes, Parallel Universes & Alternate Dimensions
Just Makes Everything Cooler

By Colleen Houck

You know what I love? Seven layer cookie bars. Why, you might ask? There’s a simple answer. SEVEN LAYERS. Not only do you get the chocolate chip and peanut butter but there are usually fudge brownies, nuts, butterscotch, and whipped cream, too. Even salad, which I don’t normally like, just looks so much more interesting when placed in layers in a glass bowl.

I’ve always liked the idea of getting more. Advertisers really suck me in on the buy one get one free sales. At the video store this week they said if I rented five movies, I could get two extra for free so I walked out with seven. Of course, I’m not really interested in watching seven movies this weekend, but there was something very fulfilling about carrying out an armful of movies.

Now take my love for layered dishes, buffets, and shoe sales and multiply it exponentially and you’ll start to understand how I feel about books and shows that feature time travel, parallel universes, and so forth. What’s the connection, you might ask? Well, in a way, my cookie bar is very like an excellent television show and I’ll explain why.

Lost is a great example of time travel, wormholes, AND alternate realities. Many of my friends and family members gave up on the show because they had a difficult time following the various story paths, some of which, admittedly, led nowhere, but a few of them yielded up some very delicious possibilities that blew…my…mind.

What I enjoyed most about it was the fact that, just like my cookie bar, there were layers. On the surface, it might look like a simple story about the survivors of a plane crash, but as the show moved along, layer upon layer was peeled back, offering up succulent and tasty tidbits for the mind to feast upon.

Where would Star Trek and J.J. Abrams be without time travel and alternate dimensions? How could Spock have a conversation with Spock—an epic meeting that revealed so muchabout two versions of the same man living in different realities? How could J.J. literally rewrite the Trek universe, tell his own story, and get away with it, without time travel?

Within parallel universes, the rules change. Characters you know well and love can completely transform, giving the reader or viewer a fresh new take such as was seen in the classic Star Trek episode called Mirror, Mirror. In the D.C. comics Bizzaro World, Superman is evil, Lex Luthor is a hero, and Batman has a futility belt. Get it? Futility?

Alternate dimensions come in many forms. You can create a world between worlds like the one found in Alice In Wonderland or the land of Oz. There are a variety of ways to get there as well. You can travel through a crack at the bottom of the ocean like in Pacific Rim, or you can journey through the Bermuda triangle, or step through a wardrobe and into Narnia.

Alternate realities were explored in It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey got to see what the town and his family would be without him. Scrooge got a glimpse of a potential future he didn’t much care for and was able to change the outcome by changing himself.

Wormholes are used in Phillip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials, Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time, Carl Sagan’s, Contact, in Star Trek, and there was even an entire television series dedicated to wormholes called Sliders. The many Stargate shows were also based on wormholes.

Ah, and let’s not forget that Thor travels through them as well. In a case like that, I wouldn’t mind a wormhole being connected to my back yard. Actually, now that I think on it, I’d sacrifice even my kitchen for Chris Hemsworth. Perhaps I could entice him away from Natalie Portman with one of my seven layered cookie bars. (Making note to buy ingredients)

Now time travel opens up all kinds of story options. In Back to the Future, any little thing done in the past can change future relationships, affect character, and change the world. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione travel back in time to be able to hear or accomplish certain things they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise and the bonus is that we get to see them see themselves.

These various plot devices give new insights to character, open up worlds beyond the everyday, and enrich a story. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to do by any means. There’s sciency stuff involved, rules to be created and maintained, and an army of geeky science nerds who lie in wait ready to pierce your carefully constructed world through the heart with aforementioned sciency foam arrows. But, if it’s done right, then not only do endless story possibilities await but your readers will turn the last page and shout, “My…mind…is…blown!”

Colleen Houck is October's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.
Colleen Houck’s New York Times bestselling Tiger’s Curse series has received national praise with the fourth book, Tiger’s Destiny, debuting September 2012. Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

Tiger's Curse
Tiger's Quest
Tiger's Voyage
Tiger's Destiny
Tiger's Dream
by Colleen Houck

Passion. Fate. Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that’s exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.

Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

Stepping Around the "Block"

The concept of "writer's block" is a rather contentious one in this industry. Some writers say it doesn't exist, that it's just a way of your mind giving you permission to procrastinate. Others treat it as a very real condition, like an illness or a foe to be bested.

But whatever your view, it seems that everyone, sooner or later, hits moments where the ideas and the words seem harder to find—if not totally impossible. We're only human, after all!

Personally, I find that when my creativity feels sluggish or even blocked, I can almost never restart it with brute force alone. For me, that sluggishness is actually my mind telling me that I haven't been doing enough to fertilize or rejuvenate its processes—in other words, the cupboard is bare! It means I need to take a step back and restock.

So I tend to come at blocked creativity from the side, rather than head-on. Instead of banging my head against the keyboard until words come out, these are some of the things I try:

  • Read a completely different type of book. If you primarily read young adult fiction, try adult non-fiction. Or if you read fantasy, try a mystery. Pick up a graphic novel, or spend some time reading the myths and legends of a culture you're not familiar with.
  • Get moving. Until I started talking to other writers, I thought I was the only one, but it turns out most of us share this strange phenomenon: movement prompts creativity. Go for a walk or a run or a ride on your bike. If you're sick or unable to do something active, going for a nice drive through the country always gets my brain moving.
  • Watch TV. No, this is not permission to spend all day on a Star Trek marathon instead of doing your work. But sometimes participating in a story in a medium that's different from the one you inhabit (written prose) can jog the thoughts. Turn off Jersey Shore and watch something with real storytelling mastery. I love to look at lists of the best television episodes ever, and work my way through them—and think critically about what you're seeing, why it works, how the writers made you feel and react in certain ways. (If you need a starting point, check out this list of the top ten Twilight Zone episodes of all time.)
  • Talk to someone. I've never been a huge fan of brainstorming with other people, just because I tend to feel oddly protective and private about my work while it's in progress. But I do have a very few number of people who seem to understand the way my process works, and I can bounce ideas off of them and ask for help. There's no rule stating that writers have to do everything alone!
  • Do something else creative, completely unrelated to writing. Crafts and other productive hobbies can be incredibly helpful. It's as though the brain recognizes that you're producing something, making visible, tangible progress, and retrains itself to crave that momentum. Writing can feel like an interminable project without many of those "I did it!" moments. Taking the afternoon to make a batch of bath bombs or knit a scarf is extremely satisfying, and leaves your mind free to wander and work, however subconsciously, on your writing problem.

Hopefully these tips are helpful. I'd love to hear what you guys do to beat the block! Sound off in the comments below.

Brain Storage Systems-- Illustrated

One of my favorite things to do has always been to imagine how brains work.... only instead of imagining how they work in a very scientific way, imagining it in a... well, let's just say in un-scientific ways. I talked about this on my personal blog a couple of years ago, but it's still one of my favorite ways to imagine the insides of our brains. Let me illustrate. Literally.

As you are going throughout your day, everything you experience and learn goes right in here:

It's not a huge container-- it fits exactly a day's worth of stuff. If there is anything you learned during the day, or any memories you really want to keep, you've got to pull them out of this bin and stick them into your brain storage system. Because while you are sleeping at night, the night clean-up crew comes along, preparing for the next day, and dumps it all into this:

This is a much larger container. It can fit a LOT of days' worth of memories. So if you forget to put something into your brain storage system that you really wanted to keep, you can go dumpster-diving in here and get it back.

But beware: your memory of that-blog-post-that-filled-in-the-missing-piece-to-the-scene-you-were-working-on might have gotten the memory of the-one-piece-jumper-suit-you-saw-someone-wearing-and-made-you-fear-they-might-be-coming-back-in-style spilled all over it. Plus, if you wait too long, that memory will get pushed down to the bottom, and will eventually get shoved through that tube, and fall right out of your brain. So you don't want to wait too long to go dumpster diving or it'll be lost forever.

Once you pull out a memory you want to keep, you need to store it. Different people have different ways of storing this information. There are shelves lining the entire perimeter of your brain that you can store stuff on. Some people put all their memories into nice, organized boxes, with labels on the front so that when they need to pull out a memory of, say, when is the correct time to use laid, lain, or lay, they can go right to the correct box and pull it out.

When some people have memories they want to save, they sometimes grab the nearest container and stick it in there. Most of the time, that's perfectly fine, too. Other people don't use containers at all-- they just stick the memories all willy-nilly on the shelves themselves, and their brains resemble a hoarder's house. AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS. Seriously, people. Using a plastic grocery bag is a million times better than just shoving the memories on the shelf.

Some memory containers are better than others. Take the laundry basket, for instance.

Sure, you can put lots of stuff in it, but when you're not looking, memories can slip out through those giant holes and fall right to the floor.

Even the nice, neat, cardboard boxes can be an issue.

If you're not paying much attention to what's in that box, it can get water damaged. Or nibbled on by mice. Or torn. And memories can fall right out. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, rotted Trigonometry box.)

And if you don't notice that the memories have fallen out, the night crew sweeps them up and dumps them right back into here.

So make sure you label your boxes well, and keep checking on those ones that are really important! Otherwise you have to rely on being perceptive enough to know when to go dumpster diving, or those things you learned / experienced / loved might just be pushed out, and that would be sad, indeed.

How I Am Similar to A Piggy Bank, or What To Do About Those Bothersome Free-Floating Crystals In Your Head

I had the amazing experience of being on the Fall Dark Days tour this past month. Columbus to Vegas, Vegas to Denver, Denver to Houston, Houston to Austin, Austin to Dallas, and Dallas to Columbus... in four days. Yep. Six flights in four days, and for the first two I had a head cold that had dug in like virus claim jumpers on the high-profile real estate of my sinus cavities. Denver took care of the head cold, but it seems all the flights left a little something to remember them by...

... like a free floating calcium crystal in my ear canal.

I started feeling slightly dizzy on and off during the tour, but we were exhausted and I thought nothing of it. I chalked up the continued vertigo spells to more tiredness as I collapsed for the weekend once I returned home, but two weeks later I still wouldn't have passed a State Trooper line-walking test even if I was dead sober. Last weekend while trying to operate an apple-picker I ended up on my ass surrounded by bumble bees, and so I went with the logical assumption that I had a brain tumor and was about to die.

Which, honestly, makes a lot more sense than imagining that there was a free floating crystal in my ear canal, right?

I went to WebMD to plug in my symptoms, because that's what all the neurotic people do first rather than call an actual doctor. Ironically, every other time I've consulted WebMD it's informed me that I probably have a brain tumor, yet when I went to it with brain-tumory symptoms it let me know that there were floating crystals in my head.

Yep. Little calcium growths in your otolith organs (don't try to get in there and clean them out with a Q-Tip, we're talking way in there) can get knocked loose and fall even further into the murky depths of your head to your semicircular canal where it plops into the liquid that helps you keep your balance. It's kind like a level inside your head - except it isn't working.

So what do we do about this non-working head leveler? Funny you should ask. Basically, your doctor can perform the Epley maneuver, a series of movements designed to get that little calcium crystal out of your head-level-liquid and back into the inner ear where it belongs. But of course you can't see it, so you don't really know for sure if it worked.

I'm reminded of that one last penny rattling inside of a piggy bank, and all my shaking efforts to dislodge the damn thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because it's interesting, and because the human body never ceases to amaze me. We have all these complicated crevices with magical sounding names and ALSO CRYSTALS IN OUR SKULLS THAT LET US WALK.

What the hell?

Who needs fiction?

Online Resources for Teen Writers

A friend of mind asked me once about writing resources for her teen daughter. Since I started writing fiction rather late in the game (*cue creaky, achy back*) I didn't have much to say. So I looked around recently and found so much out there!

Here are a bunch of sites that would be great for teens searching for a community of peers, a place to find advice about writing and publishing, readers who willing to read what they had to offer, and maybe give constructive feedback, too.

I recently blogged about the awesomeness that is Wattpad. So many writers (teens and upwards) have found great fiction, great friends, and a great audience for their work. Some have gone on to find traditional publishing contracts after getting millions of views!

Another great site to upload your writing, make your own cover, and let the Figment community find and fan your work. There's almost always a writing contest running and established authors often post sneak peeks of their work there.

Teen Ink is run by teens, for teens. It has a magazine that accepts submissions for fiction, poetry, and artwork, as well as a forum where you can receive feedback on your writing. There are links to summer writing programs and a college guide, too. There is no charge to submit or post, but the print edition has a subscription fee.

This is a fairly bare-bones site for age 13+ writers to share fiction and poetry. There's a nice forum on all things writing-related and it's a family-friendly.

This is an Australian site that's open to teens everywhere. It's a smaller, more cozy site which also shares writing advice and an opportunity to post work.

On this cathartic website, teens are encouraged to anonymously write out their feelings about anything and everything, no matter how difficult the subject matter. It's monitored by trained staff and is sponsored by KidsPeace, an organization dedicated to helping kids in crisis.

Another nifty forum for fiction and poetry writers, but this one extends to information and posting on scriptwriting, lyrics, artwork, and non-fiction, such as essays and articles.

This quirky site lets you upload and share your own stories, but also has a fun section where you take can take all sorts of quizzes (like ones you find on FB) and make your own. Though it doesn't specifically say it's geared towards teens, teens seem to be the bulk of the users there.

A place to post novels, poetry, short stories, articles, and lyrics. It's geared for 13+ and up and doesn't allow adult content, so it's at least PG-13, content-wise.

There are lots of other sites that allow uploading and sharing of writing, but the ones above specifically seemed geared towards teens or were welcoming to teens.

Hope you found this helpful! If you know a teen who's itching to write and be read, let them know about the list!

Real Science and Science Fiction

So I was listening to Literature Lab, which is one of my favorite podcasts (and if you haven't checked it out before, please do.  It's a marvelous resource for thinking critically about literature.)  Anyway, I was listening to the podcast about Mars and Mars-based fiction, and how it has changed over time.  The Martian fiction expert, Professor Crossley, talks about how Mars goes from being a viable planet with breathable air (Unveiling a Parallel and  The Martian Chronicles) to being an inhospitable wasteland (Mars Crossing and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.)  This shift was informed by scientific expeditions, namely the Mariner and Viking missions, which revealed the true nature of the Martian environment.  Science informing fiction, fact informing art, that seems to be the natural order of things, right?

Well, it gets more complicated than that.  It seems that art has a reciprocal effect on science, or rather, on the people who research, create and design new advances in science.  Consider these ten now-indispensable technologies inspired by science fiction.  Or that the John Carter of Mars series inspired a young Carl Sagan.  Art inspires dreaming and imagination, and it's that kind of outside-the-box thinking that is so critical for moving progress forward.  And that's more crucial than ever given how wacky the universe is proving to be.

Stranger than (science) fiction

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."- Mark Twain 
A fungus with mind-control powers, gremlins, and water that turns living creatures to stone may sound like the stuff of sci-fi and fantasy novels, but real life is often stranger than fiction...

'Medusa' Lake 

The silver waters of Lake Natron in Tanzania have a dark secret--any living organism that touches it turns to stone. Okay, so the reality is not quite as dramatic as this picture by author Nick Brandt might have us believe in his book Across the Ravaged Land (the animals have been posed for artistic purposes), but the facts are still pretty creepy. Due to the lake's high soda and salt content (it has a pH of 9 to 10.5!) any animal unfortunate enough to fall into the deadly water will soon calcify once it reaches dry land, perfectly preserving the body. Check out this awesome article to see some more of Nick Brandt's stunning photographs.

Zombie Ant 


You wouldn't want to be an ant in the Brazilian rain forest, thanks to a particularly nasty fungus called Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani. The fungus infects the ant, taking control of its brain, and forces it to walk around until the ant finds a suitable location for the fungus to spread its spores. Once it's completed its mission, the fungus kills the ant. Charming.

Tongue Biter

"Say 'ahhhhh'"

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a still out of the horror movie, The Bay, but this is actually a photo of a gruesome critter known as the Cymothoa exigua--a louse which attaches itself to the tongue of a fish, eating away at the flesh and feeding on their blood supply, essentially becoming a replacement tongue for the unfortunate fish. Bleeeeeeeee!  

Slug Terra

This alien-like creature could easily be a visitor from another planet, but it is in fact the Blue Sea Slug found commonly in oceans around the world. Don't be fooled by its small size and pretty appearance though; the Blue Sea Slug's sting is deadlier than the Portuguese Man 'o' War that it preys upon!

Aye Aye Lemur

"Don't feed him after midnight..."

Living proof that gremlins exist! The Aye-Aye lemur may look like it would happily eat you in your sleep, but these wee fellas actually live off insects and coconuts and probably just want a big cuddle.  

Finding Inspiration in Film

Okay, so whenever I feel low on story ideas, I do what comes naturally. Nothing. That's right! I do nothing!

I don't try to force the ideas. I don't research. I don't freak out and wonder if I'm a real writer, or if I'll ever have another writable idea, or any of that.

I simply do nothing. A mindless activity, like folding laundry or driving or making dinner. Something I don't have to think very much about, something that allows my mind to imagine and wander.

That's when the best ideas come.

Another thing I like to do is watch movies. I especially like science fiction films, as they have cool techno-gadgets and awesome special effects -- stuff I like to see in books. Stuff I want to incorporate into my own speculative fiction.

So whenever I'm feeling low on creative vibes, I turn to movies. I do a whole lot of nothing, and it's fun! I get to see what they're doing with CGI these days, and I get to see what someone else's mind is coming up with. It's a win/win.

What do you like to see in your speculative fiction? Cool gadgetry? Awesome transformations? New inventions?

Welcome to Night Vale

"Close your eyes. Let my words wash over you. You are safe now. Welcome to Night Vale."

I first heard about Welcome to Night Vale a few months ago on Facebook, but it wasn’t until I saw it mentioned a few more times on Twitter that I started paying attention and decided to investigate. Now, approximately twelve episodes into its current stable of thirty-two episodes, I’m really glad I did, and I’m surprised it took me this long to discover it. (Probably because I don’t spend much time on Tumblr.) So what is Night Vale?

In an article last August, Wired called Welcome to Night Valethe #1 podcast on iTunes you didn’t know existed.” And it’s true: Night Vale did become the most downloaded podcast on iTunes that month, surpassing even NPR’s darling This American Life, and there are still people who haven’t heard about it, though it’s been out for more than a year. It’s primarily a one-man show: a radio announcer delivering community news and updates from the fictional Southwestern town of Night Vale, which is described in the pilot episode as “a friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” Like Eerie, Indiana, Night Vale is seemingly the center of weirdness for the entire planet. But the catch is, the strange and absurd are business as usual for Night Vale denizens, just another part of the fabric of life. And death.

Night Vale reminds me a bit of The Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks, blended up with a film you also may not have heard of, Pontypool (2009), which follows a radio anchor who keeps broadcasting through what seems to be a zombie apocalypse. Night Vale’s narrator, actor Cecil Baldwin, is riveting as he relays, comments on, and sometimes reenacts local events such as a rift in space and time opening during a PTA meeting and unleashing pterodactyls on the town.

The writing is superb: funny, witty, thoughtful, and provocative. Through two 23-minute-ish episodes each month, Night Vale comes alive, frequently building on events and references from previous episodes, developing a small, but interesting world filled with oddities like the dog park that no one is supposed to visit, or even talk about; the cat hovering near a sink in the Night Vale Radio men’s room; a glowing cloud that rains dead animals of increasing size over the town; and a sudden outbreak of deadly wheat and wheat by-products. There are parallel universes, doppelgangers, and time travel too — so of course I’m going to like that. And, like the very best fandoms, there is already a ton of fan art and fan fiction out there. The show’s creators have even been performing live episodes around the country, some of which can be seen online.

“In other health news, the Night Vale Council for Commerce reminds you to regularly consume wheat and wheat by-products. By doing so, you are directly supporting the local Night Vale farmer, as well as the local Night Vale commodities conglomerates. Looking for a snack? Try wheat, or a wheat by-product. Dinner? Wheat and/or its by-product. Trying to patch a leaky roof? We have just the thing for you, and we also have its by-products. Wheat and wheat by-products. By Americans, for Americans, in Americans, watching Americans.” — Episode 11, “Wheat & Wheat By-Products”

There’s also a growing cast of bizarre and bizarrely likeable characters, including Carlos, the stunningly beautiful scientist studying the local phenomena whom Cecil fancies and one of my favorites, John Peters, whose name is always followed by, “you know, the farmer?” (It seems other voices are heard in some of the later episodes, including Jasika Nicole, who played Astrid Farnsworth on Fringe!) But the most likeable personality of all is Cecil himself. His charming voice in your earbuds is strangely comforting, and it’s easy to relate to him. Another regular feature of the show, which is hit or miss for me, is the “weather segment” — musical selections from independent musicians.

One of the barriers to me listening to podcasts on a regular basis is that I don’t have an iPhone, and I hadn’t looked into subscription apps for my Samsung S3. But the solution seems to be Podbay for Android, which is admittedly buggy. Until I have caught up completely, it has replaced This American Life as what I listen to while walking my dog; it turns out, Welcome to Night Vale is a perfect companion on a walk in a dark, woodsy area. Just as long as you aren’t going to the dog park.

The show is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and produced by Joseph Fink.
You can listen to Welcome to Night Vale at iTunes or via your podcatcher of choice. If you give it a chance, listen to two or three episodes; it took that long for me to get a real sense of the show and appreciate what it’s doing, and it’ll take no more time than watching the pilot for one of the new fall dramas — and frankly, it’s better than most of them.

“Now, it is dark. It is quiet. Just you and me, dear listener. Just my voice, traveling from this microphone, traveling silent and immediate across sleepy homes and lost souls to your ears. You curl under a blanket, protecting your body from the world — excepting a few clever spiders — and you are listening, hearing me.
 “Sleep heavily and know that I am here with you now. The past is gone, and cannot harm you anymore. And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first, and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that. We can do this together, you and I. Drowsily, but comfortably.
 “Stay tuned now for our two-hour special, Car Alarms and Their Variations, brought to you commercial-free by Canada Dry.” — Episode 12, “The Candidate”

Digitizing the Analog: Writer's Resources

I am a huge fan of notebooks. I love them. I collect them. My office is a small fire hazard because of them. I'm terribly picky about notebooks. I prefer a nice thick paper with a silky texture to write on, but I love detailed covers or funny covers. I'm constantly jotting things down in notebooks, so it's no surprise that about a year ago I wrote out the last three pages of the Crewel World trilogy in one.

And then I lost it.

I'm 98% sure it was a plain old, college-ruled notebook with a black cover by Mead. I'll never know, because I never found it. I had to rewrite those pages from memory, but I'm convinced they were better in that version

So while I love my notebooks and I still like to work things out on paper (cause you can draw squiggly lines all over), I've started to use more digital options. When searching for writer's resources, I prefer ones that mimic the old analog ones as much as possible. No small feat.

I know you've all heard of Scrivener (which I use and love) but I wonder if you've heard of these three awesome resources—all of which have a free option!

It's not quite the same as a stack of fresh notebooks, but I won't lose it. Penzu is an online notebook system that saves to the cloud, but is also available as an app. I upgraded to the Pro because I can customize my own notebooks (choose background, paper style, etc) and there are more security features. It's only $19 a year for pro, but there's a free option for those of you on a budget.

I'm a list-maker. I love them, even though I rarely get everything on my lists done. I find writing it all down clears my head and Workflowy is an amazing list maker. Basically you can create lists, lists within lists, lists within lists within get the idea. You can also tag items so that you can pull up all tasks related to that tag. It's basically amazing. And it's free.

I recently discovered Stormboard, and while it's not exactly what I was after, I dig it. It's a free online whiteboard where you can post notes, pics, videos, etc. It's great for doing anything you would have traditionally done on a bulletin board, except it's online and super portable. There's a pro option but it's only necessary if you want to share your boards with other collaborators. The free version is perfect for writers.

As you can see, I like my writer's resource. If you have one of your own, please share it in the comments.

GRAVITY, the film, and why it’s so important – (SPOILER FREE)

I’m curious how many of you have seen the new, number-one film GRAVITY, starring Sandra Bullock? I had heard good buzz so I went in with high expectations but it moved me beyond expectations. I’ll forgo discussing the plot because this film is best experienced as purely as possible.

First, lets get the accuracy issues out of the way. Mark Uhran, who was a director of NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) division said, "My first reaction was that the cinematography was of spectacular realism. I've never seen that done before."

Buzz Aldrin and others have commented on this and many agree it is the most realistic fictional space film to date. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is 100 percent accurate. Sandra’s hair doesn’t float around and she doesn’t wear an adult diaper, I get it. I won’t go into any inaccuracies that would reveal plot points but you can read about those after you’ve seen the movie. Obviously, the director, Alfonso Cuaron, (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) had to make some artistic choices for the sake of the story. And I’m glad he did.

I am very happy to set aside some inaccuracies to be able to feel the emotions and wonder I felt while watching this film. To be able to go to space, in effect, and see the beauty of it inside a thriller that puts me on the edge of my seat, that’s what I want. The script is tight – there’s just enough backstory to enable you to bond with the characters – and the direction is elegant. Cuaron is not afraid of long, silent, lyrical moments. The 3D, which I hate most of the time, works here because it’s essential to making you feel completely immersed, as if you are wearing her helmet, often seeing space the way the character is seeing it.

And it is that identification, the roller-coaster ride of emotions that make this so good. When it was over, I was drained but wanted to see it again. And I’m sure I will.

Why is this movie so important? Buzz Aldrin said it best:

“We're in a very precarious position of losing all the advancements we've made in space that we did 40 years ago, 50 years ago. From my perspective, this movie couldn't have come at a better time to really stimulate the public.”

Amazing fact: Bullock is afraid of flying

So the parabolic airplane flights that were used for Apollo 13 were not an option. The 30 second limit would have been too short anyway for the long takes seen in Gravity. Instead, they used a 12-wire suspension system, and then filmed with robotic cameras while puppeteers pulled their strings. Other scenes were shot with Bullock on a variety of rigs set up on a turntable. And a special Light Box was invented to handle the close-ups. All this meant that Bullock had to be a Cirque-du-Soleil acrobat while she was acting. The entire film is head-shakingly amazing.

What it might have been:

Robert Downey Jr. backed out of the Clooney role due to scheduling conflicts. The first actors approached for Bullock’s part were Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, and Blake Lively.

Did you see it? Can you imagine any of those actors in the roles?

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What I Can't Write Without...

I suppose I could write with anything--just give me a moment of time and I'll tell you a story--but there are a few things that make writing far, far easier...

First and foremost: Scrivener. I honestly don't think I could write a novel without it--or, at least, it would be far, far more difficult.

Scrivener is, essentially, a writing program that is built for novel writers. It took me awhile to get used to Scrivener, but here's what I use most:

  • All documents in one location: I'm writing a new trilogy right now, and I plan on keeping all my eggs in one basket--or, rather, all drafts of all three novels in on Scrivener file. Everything is right there in one place. No more lost plot threads or confusing between drafts!
  • Character, setting, and tech sheets: I'm also keeping track of the characters, setting, and technology I invent for the novel--mostly so that I don't forget what Easter eggs I put in, but also so I can easily reference articles linked to each one, so I can compile a website for fans, and so I can keep track of who knows who and how. It also helps me to keep track of what's real and what I invent, in terms of the setting and the tech. 
  • Revision mode: I just discovered this feature, and adore it! Basically, in Revision mode, everything that I write new in the document is in a different color that I set. It's like Track Changes in word, but it doesn't crash. 
  • Split screen: My editing tends to be rewriting, so I have one draft in one window, and the next draft in the other one. Then I can easily cut and paste the new document, rewrite, etc.

Another resource I've been loving is Reddit--specifically the /r/YAWriters subreddit. Reddit is basically a bit forum for people to go to in order to ask questions, get answers, discuss anything, and more.

I've used Reddit a lot for research--my novel takes place in an area that I'm somewhat familiar with, but I've needed to get some extra info on it. I also go there when I'm looking for an opinion on writing. It's basically a giant water cooler for all us writers who don't go out in the sun.

Look, I swear it's not all just killing time!


Okay, truth time: a lot of what I do on tumblr is waste time. BUT. This is a great way to quickly refill your well. If I'm feeling drained, I pop on tumblr for a bit, and usually, I've either laughed, found inspiration, or just let my brain rest enough to get back to work within an hour.

Maybe two.


Or three...

The World of Shadowlark: Behind The Covers

Today is release day for Meagan Spooner's Shadowlark in the UK, and (most importantly, of course) here in Australia! Now, if you're in the US, you may already be familiar with the gloriousness of THIS:

I knooooow, right? Bethany's already talked about the amazing world of Shadowlark, and the US cover sums it up beautifully. It's a glimpse through the tunnels of Lethe, the underground city Lark's search for the truth leads her to -- and oh, I loved Lethe. From the cramped tunnels to the marketplace, Lethe is literally full of secrets within secrets, and no person are place are entirely what they first seem to be. Built from the ruins of the city above, Lethe's tunnels aren't a safe place, and the way the path on this cover bends out of sight gets me every time. Meg's writing is strong, poetic stuff, and she drags you into her world and into her story, submerging you completely. This cover is the perfect invitation to set your foot on the path.

But apparently there's no cosmic justice in the universe, because the Cover Gods gave Shadowlark not one, but two incredible covers. What's the star on the cover, you ask? I'd love to tell you... but I'm going to make you read, instead. The citizens of Lethe are protected underground from the Empty Ones above, and the mysterious star you see plays a part in that!

I simply loved Shadowlark -- I mean, you could wrap this book in brown paper and I'd still hug it close to my heart -- but for those who like to judge by a cover (and it's all of us some days, including me!), how lucky is Meg?

This is a powerful, poetic series that's dark and beautiful, often both at once, and you should run out and grab Skylark and Shadowlark today. You won't be sorry.

The World of Shadowlark

There are approximately one hundred and seventeen reasons you should read Meagan Spooner's Skylark trilogy, but chief among them is the decaying, richly imagined world, full of magic and machinations and danger.  Lark Ainsley grew up in a city of metal and machines, all under the predictable rising and falling of the sun disk mounted in the dome above.  But after she escapes her city in the first book, she stumbles upon a world of crumbling cities, infused with pockets of magic so dense that they can loop time and animate trees.  In the second installment of the trilogy, Lark finds herself in the city of Lethe--an underground city dependent on machines for its survival.  Lethe's buildings are scavenged from the destroyed buildings above, creating a strange patchwork city of levels and tunnels, all watched over by a strange semi-circular building at the very bottom.  The building where all the Renewables are taken and never heard from again.

What makes Shadowlark--and the Skylark books in general--different is its unique blend of dystopian sensibility and magic and steampunkery, with a dash of alternate history thrown in.  The result is a world that feels wholly original and unlike anything else out there right now.  Spooner's beautiful prose makes the clanking and whirring of the machines, the glow of the magic, the danger of the dystopia seem immediate and vibrant, at once clear and mysterious and utterly compelling.  This is a world you'd want to live in...maybe except for the cannibals.  Did I mention there were cannibals? How could you not read this? 

Ever since she escaped the city within the Wall, Lark Ainsley's wanted one thing: to find her brother Basil. She's always believed he would be the one to put an end to the constant fear and flight. And now, hidden underground in the chaotically magical city of Lethe, Lark feels closer to him than ever. 

But Lethe is a city cowering in fear of its founder, the mysterious Prometheus, and of his private police force. To get the truth about what happened to Basil, Lark has no choice but to face Prometheus.

Facing her fears has become second nature to Lark. Facing the truth is another matter.

Lark never asked to be anyone's savior. She certainly never wanted to be anyone's weapon. She might not have a choice.

Find Shadowlark on shelves now!