Introducing Ampersand Literary

Ampersand Logo_textI am very excited to introduce to you all a new endeavor! Ampersand Literary is an online review for short stories, poetry, photography, art, and so much more. You can check out our website at ampersandlit.com, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram.

How did Ampersand come to be?

Both my friend Jenny and I love reading, writing, and art. We realized that while there are many personal blogs and large publication houses, there isn’t much in between. We thought there needed to be a platform for aspiring artists to publish their work, so we created one.

At Ampersand Literary, we plan to focus on the aspiring artist, providing a place for them to publish their work, but also learn from other artists, discover new styles and methods, and develop their own craft. We want Ampersand to be a positive place for artists of all kinds to grow and share their ideas.

We also want to be a place where anyone can go to find great art, whether it’s poetry to photography. So even if you aren’t an artist yourself, come check us out! We’re just getting started, but we hope to post many new and exciting things!

We’re also looking for artists, whether you’re a writer or a painter, who want to be a part of Ampersand. We need writers, poets, painters, photographers, and anyone who trades in a storytelling medium. If you’d like to contribute, you can check out our submissions page and email us at ampersandlit@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you as we set out on this new adventure!

Art by Ampersand Co-Founder Jenny Kawecki.

Art by Ampersand Co-Founder Jenny Kawecki.

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Brooke Fraser

brooke fraserI thought I’d write a blog post about the musical artist Brooke Fraser because I am OBSESSED with her music, particularly her album Flags. One of my friends posted her music video for the song “Something In The Water” on my Facebook and I have not stopped listening to her since.

“Something In The Water” was a very catchy and fun song. It’s lyrical, upbeat, and just a little quirky. It’s very easy to understand why this song was such a successful single. But after I bought the entire album, I realized that Brooke Fraser has so much more to offer the world than one catchy tune.

Besides songs like “Something In The Water” and “Betty”, most of Fraser’s songs are slow, but they are far from boring. Her lyrics are pure poetry, touching on so many relevant feelings and issues, from songs about failing to relationships to love healing past wounds to embracing the ups and downs of life. Fraser’s lyrics are truly messages for a contemporary audience, but without being depressing or angry or hopeless. On the contrary, even her sad songs still ring of hope.

And her music is beautiful. The ballads are some of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Fraser uses a variety of instruments, sounds, and styles to create each song. So even though she’s labeled as a “pop” artist, different songs sound like folks songs, or indie songs, or something not confinable to one genre.

This is definitely an artist where you don’t just buy the single on iTunes. You need to buy the whole album, listen to the whole musical experience. The music transports you, relates to you, serenades you, and encourages you. It’s truly one of the best albums I’ve heard in a while. (Since I was previously obsessed with London Grammar’s album If You Wait!)

But seriously, go check it out!

Star Wars For A New Generation

The internet stopped several days ago with the release of a new teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film. Unlike the first teaser trailer, this one showed us not only some new characters, but more importantly, some old ones. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) narrated the trailer, while Harrison Ford (Han Solo) made an appearance at the end with his favorite furry friends. These two specific additions to the new trailer caused quite the sensation around the internet, and around the world. And while there may be split feelings about reviving the Star Wars franchise, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people cannot wait for the Christmas release.

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford will all return in The Force Awakens.

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, and Harrison Ford will all return in The Force Awakens.

Sure, maybe the purists are upset, but judging solely based on the cast and the trailer, I would say that The Force Awakens could be a great movie. It looks promising so far. But even if the film ended up not being everything everyone hoped it would be, I don’t think it would damper the hype, at least not much.

The Force Awakens is going to be Star Wars for a whole new generation. For people like me (young adults), our parents were the ones who saw the original trilogy in theaters. We saw the new movies in theaters, and although those movies were largely disappointing, the original trilogy was part of our childhood. We watched those movies when we were little; we grew up with them. The original characters, like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, are incredibly nostalgic for us.

starwarsAnd now there will be movies for kids today to watch. And for us, the nostalgic generation to watch. And for the original generation to watch. This Star Wars movie is going to be for everyone. It’s going to revive one of the greatest, most loved franchises in all of movie history. It’s going to appeal to every age/gender/demographic audience. But more than being just a guaranteed blockbuster, The Force Awakens is going to be a beautiful moment for those old enough to have seen the original trilogy in theaters, those of us who grew up watching the movies as children, and an exciting beginning for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans.

Atlantis: The Lost Movie

Atlantis-The-Lost-Empire-DVD-L786936166095There are quite a few overlooked Disney movies—The Black Cauldron, Oliver and Company, etc. I can understand why some of these movies are less popular than Beauty and the Beast or Tangled, but sometimes I have no clue why these movies aren’t more appreciated. Maybe they stray too much from the traditional Disney story formula, or maybe the timing of the release was off, the main character was not a princess, or there were no catchy songs like “Let It Go”. Still, these Disney movies deserve as much love and accolades as Frozen, maybe even more. I’m thinking of one movie in particular right now, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

There are so many things I love about this movie. I love the main character, even though he is not a princess. (I have noticed that Disney movies with male primary protagonists are not as successful as movies with female leads, even when there are main characters in every gender.) Milo is not a traditional hero. He’s a bit of a geek, ok, a total nerd. He’s scrawny and awkward, but passionate and intelligent. And his dreams are as big as Ariel’s or Belle’s. He wants to find the lost kingdom of Atlantis, and sets out to do so with the greatest rag tag team ever.

Milo and Kida

Milo and Kida

In young adult fiction there are two hot topics right now—the representation of female characters and PoC (people of color, or minorities, or just general diversity) characters. This issue isn’t limited to young adult fiction—it’s relevant to every kind of art and media forum—but it’s trending in YA fiction. Atlantis, however, is a perfect example of female and PoC characters done right.

There’s plenty of diversity. Obviously Kida, the princess of Atlantis, is her own ethnicity. But Milo’s crew contains a Hispanic female mechanic, a French geologist, an Italian demolitions expert, an African American doctor, a redneck cook, and one hardcore old lady. When it’s listed out, this may look like an affirmative action crew, but it is far from it. Each of these characters has a unique personality not confined to the stereotypes of their race. Except maybe Cookie, the redneck cook, but that’s kind of the point with his character. These are characters whose races are a part of them, but do not define who they are. They are defined by their hard work and dedication, their intelligence and skills, and above all their integrity. These are the kind of diverse characters books and movies need right now.

Milo's Crew

Milo’s Crew

The female characters also refuse to conform to stereotypes. They are not damsels in distress, but they are also not masculinized versions of themselves. They aren’t perfect—they have faults just like the male characters—but they are all strong. Helga Sinclair can kick every man on that crew’s butt, but she isn’t just a tomboy or a girl out to prove that she can fight as well as the boys. She has real character motivations, and a complicated conscience. Audrey Ramirez, the mechanic, is just as strong as Helga. She stands up for herself, does a “man’s” job, but never loses sight of the fact that she is a girl. I think that’s why I love these female characters. They don’t deny the fact that they are girls, they don’t try to cover it up and be like the boys. They know they don’t have to be boys to be strong. They’re women, and they’re strong as hell.

PlotAtlantis06

And then there’s Kida. She’s a warrior and a princess. She looks after her people and defends them, but her greatest act is not one of battle. Rather, she loves her people so much that she is willing to sacrifice herself to save them, and that is the real strength of the story. The good guys come from all kinds of backgrounds, but they are united by their determination to do what is right. They all have different strengths and weaknesses—which makes them a great team—but they are all strong in that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save each other. And that’s a message worth watching.

Cinderella

Cinderella-Movie-Poster-cinderella-7790337-580-814Picking your favorite Disney movie is almost impossible. Sure, we all do have our favorites, but choosing one sometimes makes me feel like I’m neglecting the others. Even though The Little Mermaid is my favorite, there so many Disney movies that are incredibly dear to my heart. One of these is Cinderella.

There are a lot of reasons to love Cinderella. It’s from Disney’s classic era. The animation is wonderful, and in fact Cinderella’s transformation scene was Walt Disney’s favorite piece of animation. The song are lovely, the characters fun. It’s a classic story that everyone is sure to love. But there’s something very special about Cinderella that makes it slightly different than other Disney movies.

Yes, all Disney movies have moral applications and lessons we can learn from them, but the circumstances Cinderella endures are far more like the situations we face in real life than other Disney movies. We will not—probably—ever face a sea witch named Ursula, or slay a dragon called Maleficent, or be trapped by a Beast in a castle. Sure, all of these stories teach us things we do need in real life, but we are far more likely to deal with people like Lady Tremain and her daughters than we are with Jafar or the Evil Queen.

cinderellaCinderella puts up with people who are vain, selfish, jealous, and cruel. They demand a lot of work from her, never show her any kindness, and are always focused on themselves. In short, the villains in Cinderella possess many of the bad qualities we are likely to see in ourselves and other people. People, in general, are more likely to be selfish than witch; more likely to be jealous of you than poison you. Cinderella faces situations that we face in real life, but she always rises above them with kindness and courage.

It’s extremely difficult to be kind to the people who are mean to you. It’s hard to think of the people who are easily overlooked. But Cinderella is always kind, always thinking of those less fortunate than her, and she never lets the hardships of her life stop her from dreaming. My favorite line from any song in Cinderella is from “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, when she sings, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”

cindDisney movies are always telling us to keep dreaming, to follow our dreams. But Cinderella is important because it reminds us that it will not always be easy to chase our dreams. We face hardships in life—difficult people and difficult situations. And Cinderella shows us that the way to defeat these real circumstances is not by using a sword or potion, but by being kind.

I mentioned this earlier with the live action Cinderella adaptation that recently came out (go see it, it’s amazing!), but kindness is a message that’s often overlooked. We are always told to be brave and strong, and we need to be in order to survive the difficulties in our lives, but we need kindness, too, if we are to prevail. Cinderella reminds us of that. We cannot forget to be kind, especially when life is difficult.

Death Comes to Pemberly

Starring Matthew Rhys as Darcy, Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth, Matthew Goode as Wickham, and Jenna Coleman as Lydia.

Starring Matthew Rhys as Darcy, Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth, Matthew Goode as Wickham, and Jenna Coleman as Lydia.

Pride and Prejudice adaptations are a dime a dozen. There’s the 6 hour A & E version, the Kiera Knightley one, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, etc., etc. The never ending lists of Jane Austen adaptations either leave fans utterly joyous or quite done with it all. But slightly different than the adaptations of the novels, are the adaptations like Death Comes to Pemberly.

Based on the book by P.D. James, the BBC show Death Comes to Pemberly picks up Elizabeth and Darcy’s story after they have been married for some years. They have a young son, are happily married, and throwing a ball at Pemberly. Things get interesting pretty quickly, though, when someone is murdered on Pemberly property. When George Wickham becomes the prime suspect, many of the beloved Austen characters gather together as they try to unravel exactly what happened the night of the murder.

The purist Jane Austen fans out there will find something they don’t like about the interpretation of the characters, but I think everyone else should enjoy this short series. The characters are true to their nature in the original book, and their actions follow suit. It’s fun to see the characters in new circumstances—relationships are tested, secrets are uncovered. All three episodes are very engaging, the produces timing the climaxes and plot twists very well.

Matthew Rhys (right) and James Norton (left)

Matthew Rhys (right) and James Norton (left)

Personally, I like how all of the characters are represented. I think it’s true to the book, and the plot and events of the story seem true as well. The series is only three episodes, and I kind of wish there were more. It was so interesting to see Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship further down the road. They’re parents, no longer newlyweds, and have grown but also remain who they are. Darcy is loyal, reserved, but caring. Elizabeth is quick-witted and able to see things other people often miss. It was also fun to see some of Austen’s more lively characters—Mrs. Bennet and Lydia for example. Jane and Mr. Bennet also make appearances, and the new characters are interesting as well.

I think Death Comes to Pemberly is a good, fun reflection on Pride and Prejudice. I’m always curious to see what happens to characters after they achieve their “happily ever after”. After all, the story isn’t over at the wedding, but rather just beginning. Characters face new and different challenges are the author has written “the end”, and it’s fun to explore these times. I would love to see more adaptations like this, based on classic novels but pushed forward a few years passed the ending of the book. Hopefully the BBC will have more to offer soon!

Pemberly

Pemberly

The Happiest Place On Earth

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland.

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

Is Disneyland the happiest place on earth? For some people, maybe it’s simply the place of the world’s longest lines, or the priciest churro you’ll ever eat. But for most people, myself included, Disneyland truly is the most magical place on earth.

Why? Why does everyone—from toddlers to adults—love Disneyland so much? I’m sure psychologists can offer technical explanations about escapism or childhood nostalgia, but loving Disneyland isn’t part of some diagnosis. Yes, it offers an escape from an often-cumbersome reality, and it takes us back to our happy childhood memories. But it’s not cheap amusement park trick. Walt Disney didn’t design Disneyland, or any of his films, to trick us, but rather to transport us.

All of Disneyland is designed to transport you. It’s dug into the ground to block out the noise of the highways nearby. There is absolutely no trash on the ground. The employees are unusually perky. The girls playing princesses are freakishly in character. The buildings along Main Street lean inward to appear taller. It’s details like these that make the Disney experience. Perhaps there is no greater attention to detail in all the world than at Disneyland. Even as an adult you feel like you’re meeting Cinderella. You feel like you’re with Mr. Toad on his wild ride. You feel like there is no world beyond Disneyland.

Me at Snow White's Wishing Well.

Me at Snow White’s Wishing Well.

So maybe that does sound a little escapist. But we all need to escape reality sometimes. Walt Disney recognized this, and it’s why his movies and theme parks are so successful. He knew that we—children and adults—wanted to go somewhere else for a day, somewhere where magic is possible and every ending is happy.

As someone who loves to read and write, I also love the stories that go along with the rides, especially the rides in Fantasy Land. The attention to detail in these rides is amazing too. It’s also adorable to see all the little girls running around in their princess costumes. And I do love the churros. But mostly, I love being transported for a day to a land of fairy stories and magic and fun. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because you leave all the unhappiness at the gate. Then you’re free to laugh and smile and be a prince or princess for a day.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.