The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Category: My Opinionated Self

S & J Double Blind Movie Review. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. August 13, 2015

Sheila’s Take

Sumptuous, warm, sexy.  I loved this.  My experience of the movie was thoroughly enjoyable.  I love the 60’s stylized silhouettes and the camera shots – especially close ups of Napoleon Solo’s face, half in shadow, highlighting his piercing blue eyes.

Be still my heart.

I never saw Superman, or whatever that dude (Solo) was in – Man of Steel, I guess?  Or was he the horse in Man of War? Very fit.  I was surprised that I enjoyed the 60’s cuts that captured the TV show’s style – the odd angles and the sort of rough outlines of the action sequences were well paced and fun.  Slightly confusing in some moments, and slightly redundant in others.  Just like the TV show.

Hugh Grant was good – it’s strange to see him as a distinguished older man, and I almost didn’t buy it, but he sold it.  It took me longer to warm up to the guy who played Kuriyakin, but anyone looking for simple fun and fulfilling entertainment will enjoy this.

I’m glad they retained Solo’s dry sense of humor and his desire to work alone.  I do, however, miss Kuriyakin’s tow-headed blondness. I liked that someone took the time to make sure that there were some strong female roles in this, too, It was nice that not all of the female characters were completely predictable.

Overall, I’d give this an 8 out of 10 – 2 points (at least) for the entertaining action sequences the flaw (or not) of which was that I found myself thinking about the score and music choices that were very prominent and distinctive – drawing focus, but in a very enjoyable way.

Since this is our first Double Blind Review, I’ll explain this part: at the end of our individual reviews, we will rate the movie on a 1-10 scale and guess the rating of the other reviewer.  We see the movies together, so we do have some clues.

My guess: Jay gives this a 7 – mostly because he is nostalgic about the TV show and can’t see the forest for the trees. There are 8 tress, and that’s my rating.  Thanks for reading.  Jay’s review to follow. – Sheila Path McMahon

Jay’s Take

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., from guy Ritchie, is everything you’d expect from the man who turned Robert Downey Jr. into Sherlock Holmes (with more technically accomplished photography.)  It opens with Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) competing against Ilya Kuriyakin (Armie Hammer) to see who gets the girl.  Only they are not competing for the girl romantically.  They need her because her estranged father may be working on a nuclear weapon to deliver to Russian agents.

Cavill and Hammer deliver in an opening sequence that convinced me they were trying to kill each other, which they were. And that was the first of confusing plot point points to come.  The acting is first rate, and more than you need for summer action, which is where Richie’s skill lies.  The direction is crisp, the script is clever, littered with many subtle (and not so subtle) jokes.  The action is fast.  There are even nods to sixties television and James Bond films (split, duo-color screens.) so I come to the part where I’m confused about Ritchie’s intentions.

The movie had all the elements for summer fun, yet there were a few nagging pieces. The first is that it seemed like it’s mostly backstory, which is fine, but as a fan of the TV show, I’m not sure if this backstory existed before.  Hugh Grant plays Waverly in what I think is a clear nod to bringing in the right demographic.  They never set foot in NYC, omitting the dry cleaners’ secret entrance to U.N.C.L.E headquarters, the weird corridors, the gigantic computers and the silly (yet fun) triangle badges.  Also left out were the cars, the high tech gadgets, adn the singular weaponry.

Summer movie season is, or was, the comfort food of the summer.  You were supposed to know exactly what you were getting, so I guess if Mr. Richie is just playing with our expectations of summer movies, that’s probably a good thing.  One goes to a movie based on a TV show they loved growing up with certain expectations.  When the expectations aren’t met completely, the initial reaction isn’t necessarily disappointment, but disbelief.  Hopefully there’s a sequel where the agents can become more of themselves and find their toys.  For that, I will suspendy my disbelief at the door.  Nostalgia can be a tricky business is something Waverly may or may not say.  I would give this a strong 7.  If no sequel comes out, can I change my number?  I believe Sheila gave it an 8.5. – Jay McMahon

Well, that’s it, folks, the first installment of what is sure to be a long series which will at least entertain the two of us.  We would love comments!  Thanks, S & J


Poem for 28 of 6,673 (and counting)

From 2000 miles away

my heart was ripped out

and stomped on

27 times.

No – 28.

Because of what

some would call an evil act

an act of dismay, disrespect

and disconnect

But I don’t believe in evil,

so then what’s left?

It feels profoundly empty to talk about gun control

with 300 million guns already loose in our country,

and to speak of mental illness

as though there was some easy answer

for the dismay that so many seem to feel.

It’s not enough to call it murder.

Cold blooded gunning down.

We witness by saying,

“They’re not evil, but there are evil acts”

They’re not monsters, they’re human.

Massacring, marauding humans

that the rest of us can call sick bastards –

cowardly losers, taking their own lives instead of

facing the music –

the punishment that seemingly normal people,

my peace loving friends,

say they would visit upon them if they could.

“If he killed my child, no one could stop me from killing him back.”

An eye for an eye, still 3,000 years after those words were written down –

our progress: miniscule.

And one of my former students is on the

MN most wanted fugitive list for stabbing somebody with a knife.

When I get accused of using mind control,

of trying to guide in a direction that isn’t sick and twisted,

I get push back, told I’m a hypocrite, told I expect too much.

“It isn’t going to be Freedom Writers here every day.”

Maybe not every day, but how about today,

because my heart is still tender from being torn out and stomped on 27 times.

No – 28.

Because as frustrated and sickened as I am,

I can’t write off another human being as monster.

which makes me feel that if I’m like them,

then I’m some part monster, too.

And I don’t know what to do with that fact,

except to nurse my heart and teach my students better.

Note on title:  I wrote this poem 12/17/12.  I didn’t type it until 7/29/13.  I was trying to find out how many people have died from gun violence since then, and this source seemed best:

Angels from Other Angles

Angels from Other Angles

You are born an angel
little wings invisible
flit through dreams
a mom holds dear

Slip from upright to sideways
it’s still you
but sinking
with disappointment, guilt, shame

Sinking not drowned
crushed not destroyed
angel inside
but still there.
Bounce back!

You may not understand
you don’t have to be a perfect angel,
if you do fall
all the way down
climb back up
and sit at an angle.

(poetry slam class, 9/21/11) by Sheila

Yes! This is just what I needed to read. I am doing a final edit of my first novel, and although it has gone through extensive rewrites, this is the last one before I release it out to the world. My fears were keeping me from starting – but now that I have been working on it for a few hours again, I see that things aren’t as bad as I imagined. I think I will share your post with my high school English class — the majority of my students hate to rewrite, but it might help if they read your comments about how it’s a different process. 🙂

Self Publishing Requires Self Confidence

Hellp.  Ha, I meant to write Hello, but maybe hellp is better.  It more accurately reflects how I feel right now.  I have been putting off blogging because I was asked some questions about self publishing, I told people to follow my blog, ( I have no idea whether they did or not) and now I feel obligated to sound like an expert and write things that will help people.

But here’s the thing, I’m not an expert – I’m going in fairly blind here, and I don’t know what I’m doing at all.  But I’m determined that this is going to happen.  This book – Someotherville, which I do love and which so many of my friends and family (and a few strangers) have financially backed through Kickstarter – is going to come out.  And that’s that.  So I guess it’s time to stop stewing and get on with what needs doing.

I should receive the funds from Kickstarter on Monday.  That means that I can go ahead  and purchase ISBNs and once I have an ISBN, I can officially get permission to reprint the John Ashbery poem that I need permission for, and then I can get my galleys printed and send out advance copies to reviewers.

I should also write a press release to say that my kickstarter campaign was successful and that I’m gearing up to publish the week before Valentine’s day.  And I should start writing to local bookstores explaining that this is coming out, and that I’d be more than happy to come out and do a reading.  Oh, and I should write a letter to Minnesota Atheists thanking them for their support in putting my information in their weekly newsletter, and I should also write to spinning and weaving guilds to let them know that they might be interested in the controlling metaphor of the book.

When I write it out like that, it seems simple enough.  Easy, really.  No problem.  No reason to be absolutely terrified, right?

That’s what I keep telling myself.  🙂  Ok.  Brave face.  Time to be bold.

Thanks for reading – if I write any more right now, it will just be a way to procrastinate.  🙂 S

My Novel Writing Process

I am surprised at how many people have asked me about the writing process and how I decided to use Kickstarter to fund my project.

As far as the writing process, I would first say that I don’t always relate to what people call ‘the writing process.’ I feel like I have many processes that are happening all of the time.  But specifically for my first novel, Someotherville, my path definitely didn’t follow what many people would recommend as a ‘writing process.’

First of all, I was not planning to write a novel when this idea came to me.  I had talked about writing a novel when I was younger, and I had experience writing a lot of short pieces & I thought, somewhere in the back of my head, that I would like to write a novel some day, but I didn’t really know what that meant. 

In fact, I started a novel when I was in my 20’s – it was called “Slice of Life, a Novel.”  The cover, which was hand-drawn, had a slice of pizza on it.  I wrote a lot, and I was trying to have a stream of consciousness character.  It quickly turned into me journaling, but a little on the cutsie side, and it never felt as though it was a novel.  So that fell to the wayside.

In the intervening years, I had the thought that “someday” I would write a novel and when people said the cliche that “everyone has a novel in them,” I hoped that it was true.

But writing a novel was really something that only existed in dreamland, and it didn’t seem that it would ever be a reality.  So when I was lying in bed one evening and I had a conversation with my husband that led to the initial idea, I said, “would you mind if I wrote a story about a guy who never finishes the novels he’s writing?” and he said “write whatever you want.”  (Which I would have anyway.)  Then I started writing.  I had written about 5 pages before I thought to myself, this could really be something longer.  This could be a novel.

I wouldn’t say that I gave much thought to structure.  I was much more concerned about creating the stories as I went along.  I think that’s probably why this is a very straightforward, linear novel – with the exception of the story-within-a-story elements.  But the narrative frame is straightforward. 

The process for my next novel has been a lot different.  I have spent a lot of time researching different periods of history and different links to Minnesota, because the whole thing is going to be intertwining the stories of a woman and two of her female ancestors.  Because there are different time periods, I have had to think about how I will be able to back and forth between the main story lines, and that has made me think about how to structure the novel overall.  It’s a much different process.  For this one, I actually took an idea that I have seen in movies about writers – which is, that I took index cards and used them to organize the book.

Now, mind you, I had no idea of what to write on these index cards when I started.  I just knew that I had three main storylines, and that I wanted them to intertwine.  There are also short scenes about modern artists that I also wanted to work in.

So I went through what I had written so far, which was probably about 60 pages, and I basically gave each main event or ‘scene’ a brief title so I would know what it was.  It was short titles that I won’t (likely) use in the book – things like “Imogene terrorizes london” and “Suzie fights with Trevor” – nothing to difficult to come up with, but enough detail so that I remember what I meant.

Then I taped the index cards to the wall.  I put all of the Suzie cards in one row, all of the Imogene cards in another, all of Margaret’s in a third, with a fourth row for the artists that Suzie either meets or reads about.  Finally, I looked at the whole thing and numbered the scenes on the wall, pretty much going down the columns, sometimes combining scenes and sometimes adding extra scenes.

So everything that I have so far is written is organized.  Now whether that will translate into a good reading experience remains to be seen, and I’m sure that I will need to make adjustments. 


Flustery. That’s my best word for this post.

Woah.  I have been so busy that I practically forgot that I have a blog.  That was a little weird.  I have been very caught up in moving from my house, which we (thankfully) sold in a short sale, and working as a high school teacher that I have barely been able to focus on writing, working on the kickstarter campaign, or anything else, for that matter.

Now I am realizing that I have a lot left to do – I am 28% funded for the kickstarter campaign, with 9 days left to go.  I am so grateful to the people who have donated – most of whom are my friends, but one I have never heard of.  I just read a blog that talked about doing a book trailer, and I think I am going to do that.

I am not sure about how to write a three minute script for a 210 page book, but I think that I can start with this:

(A picture of a happy couple)

Everything was going right for Joan and Will.  They were happy and content, both creative and both enjoying their life together.

When Will suddenly has a heart attack and dies, things change for Joan.  She holds an atheist funeral for him, and at the funeral someone says ‘it’s too bad that he never finished writing any of his novels, you could have lived off of the money.’  She has a flash of anger and says that he did finish a novel, and that she’s going to publish it.
After that, it gets really hard to explain.  There are several beginnings of books that she starts to read, and she rules out several pieces before she settles on one called “arlen the quitter” — she loves arlen and wants to continue it, but she also wants to keep everything the same as Will had written it.  She finds that he abandoned it because he had written himself into a corner, but she tries to pick up right where he left off.
She finally ends up writing Will into the novel, and that’s how she deals with her loss.


I don’t know if that would make a good trailer, and there are only 9 days left on my kickstarter project.  — I don’t know.  I think I hate self promotion!!!  🙂

I see that this blog post is unraveling into ?  randomness.  I’m just going to post and go back to sleep.  GOodnight. Sheila

Getting a Kickstarter Campaign going.

When I heard about, I thought it sounded cool, but I didn’t realize that I would ever use it.  Once I went to the website and started exploring, though, I saw that Publishing is one of their categories.  I got really excited, because I have a novel that I completed and that I had been  planning to publish. 

My problem was that I didn’t know really how to publish, and I certainly knew that I didn’t have enough money to publish it.  My original plan had been to go ahead and publish e-book versions, because that is very inexpensive, and then if I generated any money I was going to use the money to do a paper book launch.  But… that would, I think, have deflated any excitement about the launch, and I’m not sure that it would have had any chances at being reviewed by anyone.  

I still am not certain that it will ever be reviewed, but at least with Kickstarter, I will be able to launch all the platforms at the same time, and to me that seems better.  

Creating a project on Kickstarter is easy.  The website is very user friendly and I had no problems navigating around to the different pages and no problems with putting in my content.  I did get some help with the video, thanks to my good friend Josh Kortas, because for some reason the video I took of myself with my phone wasn’t that great. 😉  And you don’t have to do a video, although I believe your chances of getting funded are better if you do.  

Anyway, the whole site is easy to use, you can go back in and edit easily, there’s not problems with that. My thing is, it did take me a long time to do everything because there’s just a lot to say.  There are the rewards to decide upon, and to word nicely… I went to a LOT of other novelist’s projects to see what they were doing for rewards, and I found that the rewards descriptions were sort of dull, so I went back in tried to make mine reflect my voice, rather than just listing what people would get.  I don’t know how effective that will be, but I felt better about it.  

It’s a little intimidating to make a bunch of promises of what people will get for sponsoring, but it’s fun, too.

The other parts just seemed to write themselves – pretty simple, really.  Describe the project, tell what you will use the money for, and make up good rewards.  It took me about a month to get it to where I like it, and I think that’s fine.  Less time, and I think some parts would have felt unfinished.  More time, and gosh, you can second guess yourself to death. 

I submitted my project, “Someotherville: A Novel” last night, and it should be approved soon *unless I did something wrong* and then I will launch it through the end of Sept ’12.  

I was thinking that I want more than just an online presence, so I made up a postcard with the cover art on one side and a blurb for the book and my cover artist, Katherine Clayton, who is participating in the LOLA art crawl event this weekend, is handing them out, and I am sending them to friends and acquaintances this week.  Whew.

Meanwhile, I have a full time job, which I should probably go to right now, so bye – thanks for reading!  Sheila 

My Final Fringe Report 2012

Well, I’m done talking about fringe festival, at least for the time being.  It was fun while it lasted, but I ran out of steam for the past couple days of it…  Now I’m going to be thinking about what Jay and I might be doing for next year…  I think we’ll put our names in the hat for a show.  I have one idea I think is funny, and he has a couple… of course we are in completely different directions in our thoughts – we might have to do two shows.  🙂

I wanted to try to wrap up my reports, though, and so I guess I’m not quite done yet.  Since I last wrote, I went to see a few more plays – I got to see Sneak Thief, As the Stomach Turns, The Music Box, The Donner Party Kidz, The Urban Hermit  and Not Dead Yet: The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal.  

Sneak Thief  was very funny.  I thought the story was clear, simple enough, but engaging.  The actors were very funny – each of them had good timing, and there were some things that had me laughing out loud in (slight) anticipation.  When the one guy sang an Eminem song, I was losing it.  I also liked that this story showed a character grow just a bit, and that’s not something I expect from a slapstick sort of comedy.  Kudos!

As the Stomach Turns was not my cup of tea.  I guess I got it in my head that it was going to be somewhat based on the Carol Burnett Show, an that just threw my expectations up really high.  There were some funny burnett-style moments, but mostly I found the show confusing and dissatisfying.  I did like a lot of the dancing, although a lot of it wasn’t really justified by the storyline.  Oh well, that’s fringe for ya.

The Music Box was okay.  The story was a little overly sweet for me, and I was a little bored.  I thought the actors did a nice job, I just thought there needed to be some more heated conflicts between the two main men.

I was surprised by The Donner Party Kidz – I wasn’t going to see it, but I ended up over by the Playwright’s Center, and I wanted to see the show after, (Zen and the Art of Ushering or What I Learned While Putting People in Chairs, which I missed because I waited to the last second to go in & tix were sold out 😦 )  Anyway, for a show about the Donner party, it was pretty funny.  Some of the singing got a little bit tedious because they kept singing parodies of twinkle twinkle little star, and that gets a little old, but the story was solid and the kids had a lot of good energy.

Not Dead Yet: The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal  was fun – not a lot to say, they sang songs and bantered with each other.  They are cute and they work well together.  The show gave me warm fuzzies.

Finally, I want to talk about Urban Hermit.  I saw a preview for this a few weeks ago, and I felt very drawn to it.   I was not wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Rachel Nelson lays it on the line.  And she plays instruments.  So great.  I loved how she handled addiction – it was there, she showed us how it affected her, but it was more of an illustration of the walls she was putting up- if that makes sense – she illustrated how alcohol and weed were ways of putting up a wall between herself and other people, and then she showed us how she learned to live with the walls down.  And this play, and the film project that she is working on next, well, it’s hard to see that there ever were any walls, because there aren’t now.  She is so sincere, so immediate – I left the show feeling that I want to be fearless like her.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

So, that’s the last of my fringe reports for this year.  Thanks for tuning in 🙂 – Sheila

My Fringe Report: Aug 5 & 6, 2012


So the past few days have been very busy & I missed writing on the 5th, so I’m combining it with the 6th.  I do have reviews of all of the shows I’ve seen up on the website under Sheila McMahon, but I’d like to go a little deeper into some of them here.

I had the pleasure of seeing (in chronological order): Stop Talking: A Game of Talking; Silence; The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged); Pilgrimage: Why I’m not an Indian, Parts 1 & 2;  Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror and Candide.

Whew!  Of all of those, the one I most highly recommend is Pilgrimage: Why I’m not an Indian, Parts 1&2.  Especially if you are someone who has very similar tastes to mine.  I happen to have been researching about Native American history in Minnesota for my next novel, and a lot of this piece resonated with questions I have personally.  That’s why I was drawn to this piece, which is over at the Gremlin Theater on University & Raymond. But you don’t have to be researching for a novel or have a particular interest in Native American (recent) history to see that this performance is nuanced, clever, and thoughtful.  Elaine Magree  is an excellent story teller, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  I felt like I really got a glimpse of her mother and other characters she embodied.  It really is a treat.

The show that got the most emotional response from me was Silence.  The blending of hearing speakers, interpreters, and ASL speakers was fun and they played with the idea that the interpreters in charming ways.  But the core of that show was the young woman who portrayed Abby: Canae Weiss, local Deaf dancer and actress.  She is a beautiful dancer and a very expressive actress.  There was a moment near the end ( I don’t want to spoil it, but if you saw it, it was what happened while she was texting) that really seemed corny to me, and almost pulled me completely out  caring about the play, but it was redeemed by the dance that she performs at the end.  I definitely had tears in my eyes and I was moved to stand during the bows.  And the part I didn’t like?  I have thought and thought about what I might do differently, but given the time limit, I came up with nothing.  They sort of had to go there, and ultimately it worked.  I hope you have a chance to see this one.

For reviews of the other four, you can check out – click on reviews.  🙂  But my favorite of the fun/silly ones was probably Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror,  but to be honest it’s because I have known Aric McKeown  for a long time  & I think he’s brilliant in everything he does.  

Today I hope to see Salem, Vote!, Analyzing the Bully,  and casual encounters.  But plans can change, so we’ll see what happens!!  Happy fringing! – S.

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