Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging A to Z: The A to Z of Fiction to Reality

A year ago, when the A to Z thing was going on, I had just started blogging. I hadn't even been at it two months when I found out about the challenge, and I only found out about it a couple of weeks before it started. I knew there was no way that I would be able to do that, post every day, in any kind of way that I would be happy with. I didn't want to be staring at my own posts thinking "how lame..." Save that for other people's posts, right? I knew that if I was going to ever do the A to Z challenge, it would have to be about something.

But that was a year ago, and, mostly, I just didn't think about it again. Well, that is until everyone started talking about it for this year. There's a certain amount of peer pressure involved in this whole thing which makes me want to avoid it. Everyone saying you should be involved and all of that. I'm fairly immune to peer pressure, so that didn't really sway me. And I knew that trying to post every day would, well, be impossible. That would mean a lot of planning. That would mean I would need something for my posts to be about. Not just a theme. Something they could be about.

And, still, there was everyone talking about it and talking about how they were going to do it and saying how everyone should do it and if everyone ate rocks, would you? Seriously? Because I think you would. And if everyone jumped off of a cliff, would you? Well, you probably would, because, really, you don't have a choice when everyone jumps off a cliff, because the ones at the front that can see the cliff coming can't stop because they're being pushed by the swarm of lemmings behind them, and the ones at the back can't see the cliff at all, so everyone goes over. It's just better not to get involved at all, wouldn't you say?

But, see, here's the thing. When everyone else goes and jumps off a cliff, you're left all alone, and, when you're talking about blogs, that's one thing you don't want to be. All alone. I kind of learned that last year. Everyone's busy with all the A to Z posts, and no one has time for anything else, so did I really want my blog to spend a month hibernating. Or, maybe, I should just take the month off? That didn't seem unreasonable.

Then... well, then, I opened my mouth. Sometimes, I say things that I don't intend to say. Okay, well, that's not exactly true. I never say anything I don't intend to say, but, sometimes, the things I say have effects that I don't anticipate. And so it was that I said something to my wife, just in passing, I thought, along the lines of, "hey, there's this big blog thing coming that lasts the whole month of April, and I'd kind of like to do it, but I'd need something really good for my posts to be about, and I'm not thinking of anything really good, so I'm thinking about, maybe, just taking the month off." Something like that, at any rate.

And here are the ideas that I'd already discarded when I said that to my wife:

1. Favorite words. That could be fun, right? Like for "A" I have adamant... and a whole bunch of others. And for "B" I have belligerent. But the idea didn't really grab me, and, for some letters, I'd have a lot of words and, for some letters, I'd only have one, so I really didn't like it for the whole inequality thing.

2. Star Wars. As many people can attest, there may be no better topic for me. I'm good at talking about Star Wars. I mean, I'm so good at talking about Star Wars that Briane Pagel is busy trying to think of ever more and more ways to make me lose points in his big Star Wars blogfest. Well, not lose points so much as let other people gain more points than me. Okay, well, he has, actually, come up with a way for me to lose points, too. Wow... So far, I've managed to keep my lead, but it is shortening. And that is why you should all go sign up for the blogfest. Because, if you do, you'll get 50 points, and I will, too, and, right now, I could use the point cushion! But, anyway... I thought about doing Star Wars, but, in the end, the topic was just too broad. Yeah, I know, that sounds weird, but I couldn't just talk about random things from Star Wars, so there'd have to be some way to decide between talking about, say, an A-wing fighter and Alderaan or, even, Admiral Akbar (and he's a double "A" topic!). Basically, I couldn't pick out a sub-theme I was interested in going with, so I had to discard Star Wars, too.

3. Well, there were any number of other ideas that flitted through this spot, but none of them took hold long enough to even stick as a third option. However, when you make a list, you must have 3 items for it to be considered a list, so #3 is for all of those other topics. The ones that weren't even good enough to be topics.

And that's where I was when I made that comment to my wife. Of course, she liked the idea of me taking a month off from blogging, because she thinks I spend too much time on the blog and not enough time on actual writing. Well, that doesn't sound right... Okay, more time on my actual book. How's that? She also thinks I spend too much time on Farmville, but that's a topic for another time. ANYWAY! (geez! would you people stop sidetracking me?) I think we were talking about the idea of taking a month off, but, then, she had an idea. Not an idea, the idea. Because my wife is good at ideas. And she said I must give her full credit for the idea or she would take it back. I'm not sure how that would work since I've written a bunch of posts already, but I suspect they would all poof out of existence, and I might well poof out of existence, too, for all I know. What I do know is that, at the very least, I'd be signed up for this crazy thing, and I'd have no posts to go with it, and that would really suck.

But the IDEA... and it's a really great idea, too. See, most of what I do on this blog is related to writing. Even the pop culture stuff, because the movies and all of that have to do with writing. And most of the other stuff I talk about I relate to writing in some way, too. Having a theme related to writing is, kind of, a no-brainer. Most of the A to Z blogs I saw last year that had a theme had some sort of theme that was related to writing in some way or another. And, well, I don't want to do some thing that everyone else is doing even if I'm participating in a big blogfest that everyone else is participating in. So it all has to go a step beyond. And that's what my wife's idea did.

So here you go... my more than a theme... it's more than a theme, because it's about how we are all affected by writers. And I don't mean we all as in us people that are writers being affected by other writers, because, of course, we are. No, I mean how we, all of us people everywhere, are affected by writers. Not just in what we read or watch or whatever but how writers affect our lives. But what does that mean?

Well, in my research for my individual topics, I discovered that there's this TV show by some physicist that is an ongoing exploration of current science fiction that could be reality some day. He has a book, too. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is, because you don't need to go look at that until May. But that's not what I'm going to talk about anyway. Not current science fiction. No, I'm going to talk about the ways that past fiction (not just science fiction) has become real and, to some extent, what that means to us. Okay, well, I'm  not going to talk about that part so much, because, really, there's just not time to do it within the confines of the blogfest, but I'm sure you'll be able to see how some of these things have changed our lives or will, soon, change our lives.

So... Starting on Sunday, what you'll be getting is 26 things that started out as fiction and are now real. That doesn't mean they're a part of everyday life, yet, but that the things work. Someone, somewhere, has these things now or is very close to producing them. Others are part of everyday life. But all of these things started out in the imagination of a writer. And, maybe, we'd have them anyway, but, maybe, we wouldn't. It's hard to say. The point is, though, is that writers are important. They have IDEAS, and ideas are... well, they are essential. Imagination is essential. And it's so often so easily dismissed.

And, if you've read my book, The House on the Corner, you might have an idea of how important I think imagination is.

At any rate, sit back, relax, and prepare to discover 26 things that you might not realize came from the pages of a book before it was something you could pick up and touch.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games unbiased by the book

Just to make it clear, I have not read The Hunger Games and I don't intend to. I have my reasons. I have my reasons which I spend a considerable amount of time explaining, as the question of why I'm not going to read The Hunger Games is now the most frequent question I'm asked by people that know me in person. Also, let's just say, the movie only affirmed those reasons, so I'm even less likely to read the book now than I was before I saw it. But I'm sort of jumping ahead...

I had no real overriding desire to go see The Hunger Games, especially during opening weekend, but my daughter wanted to go see it (let's just call that a peer thing, since she, also, has not read the book). Because it was raining and thus there was no softball practice for my daughter, I figured I'd better take advantage of the unexpected (okay, it was expected, because we knew it was going to be raining, but the coach waited until nearly noon to concede defeat to the weather) available time and take her to see it.

So here's the spoiler warning, because I'm not going to be very careful about what I say since I expect that most of you that actually care have already seen the movie anyway (and nothing I say is going to change your opinion, but, still, maybe I can make a person or two stop and think). If you haven't already seen it, you probably don't care enough for it to matter.

We're supposed to believe that Katniss and the other members of District 12 are poor. But not just poor, dirt poor. As in they don't have enough to eat. They don't have good clothes to wear. That's what the film would like us to believe from the presentation. But it doesn't back it up. Everyone is too healthy, and they have nice, clean clothes (and, evidently, plenty of them). Not just Katniss. Everyone. Especially Katniss, though, with her round cheeks. No one here is deprived. They're also clean. All of them. Pristine clean. Even Peeta in the midst of throwing out scraps to the pigs in the mud during the rain is wearing pristine white clothes. Poor people don't live like this. My sense of reality is already at odds with the movie, and it's barely started.

The next major disconnect is "the reaping." It's a stupid name for what's going on as the whole thing is "random." That's not what reaping is at all. But my big issue here is the way that everyone just stands by while it's going on. Even the parents. It's totally unbelievable. Throughout history, we have seen parents go to all sorts of lengths to protect their children. Even up to death. So I can't buy into the fact that the parents just stand by and allow their children to be taken. Without protest. Of any kind. I don't care what kind of social conditioning you try to say is going on, there is nothing that can override the biological need of a parent to protect his/her child. At least, in the short story "The Lottery", the people don't know why the lottery is happening. It's origins have been lost, and they don't know what kind of badness will transpire if they fail to follow through every year. Superstition lends believability to the events. But they do know in Hunger Games, so that whole set up came off as contrived to me. And, of course, it is contrived, because that's what authors do, but it shouldn't feel contrived. That did. Even if Katniss' mother wasn't going to wail or protest, someone should have. Peeta's parents didn't. And there was no mention of it from any other district, either, so it just rang false.

Since we're on the subject, were we also supposed to believe that that was the entire District 12 there in that courtyard? That was it? There's few enough of them to fit all the names in that one little fish bowl? A couple of hundred kids in the whole District? Give me a break. And if that was it, if that's what we're supposed to buy into, then I can't buy into districts that are that small supporting a city the size of the capitol. Especially at the level of technology they have. It's also way beyond plausibility that they support all of that off of coal mining. Seriously? That's what we're expected to believe?

All of that to say that I was already busy shaking my head at the ridiculousness of the entire thing within 30 minutes. I don't know what the book is like, but the movie created a foundation built on sand. I think it was made out of sand, too. I mean, the whole set up is just so that they can make the point that it's all for the entertainment of the city folk. I get the point. I even appreciate the point. But you have to make it believable.

Other things I couldn't buy:

The flaming clothes of Katniss and Peeta: Not that I couldn't believe the possibility of  it, but I couldn't accept that Cinna was the only one to think of something extravagant. Again, give me a break. Not a single one of the other publicity people were creative enough to think of something cool to bring attention to their people?

Peeta: Shy boy from a backwater district suddenly becomes all cool and suave for television? No way... That coupled with his speech to Katniss about how he didn't want them to change him just about made me gag.

The game itself. And this will be my last point, but it's a big one.

The idea is that the 24 tributes will fight to the death for riches and glory, but only four of them, the representatives from Districts 1 and 2, are invested in that. The rest of them, mostly, just really want to live. Collins, in effect, put the characters into a situation where they have no motivation to make anything happen. After that first rush for supplies, it becomes enough that the tributes just figure out a way to live. Even Cato, in the end, just stakes his territory and sits around and waits. There is no motivation for anyone to do anything, and that's just bad writing. In order to move the story along, at this point, Collins (because she was involved in writing the script for the movie, too) has to introduce an external force to push the characters into what she wants to happen. Again, this whole sequence of events came off as very contrived. Because it was.

The dogs were stupid. I mean, that whole bit with them coming out of the ground was just dumb. And, then, Katniss and Peeta running to where they knew Cato was? Also dumb. Katniss had already shown great skill at climbing trees, so the fact that they ran off through the forest to get to the clearing was just beyond reasonable. Except that that is where Collins wanted them to be.

Also, the whole "there can be two winners" "oh, no, we lied" bit. Also dumb. And the wasps. Convenient. Especially since they managed to not sting anyone in the at least 12 hours the sitting right next to them.

And, since I haven't read the books, and I don't really know what's going on with it, I won't say a thing about the "love" story. Maybe my initial thoughts about it will be proven incorrect, so I'll reserve judgment.

Not be completely negative, though, Woody Harrelson was great as Haymitch. I've seen a lot of criticism about that character from people that read the books, but I thought Harrelson was great. Actually, I think Harrelson is a generally underrated actor.

The only person better? Stanley Tucci. He was amazing. Tucci is another actor that rarely gets the credit he deserves.

I'd like to say I was impressed with Elizabeth Banks, but I think her makeup did most of her acting for her.

And I'd really like to say that I was impressed with Lawrence, but, really, I don't think she stood out at all in the role. There was nothing that she did to make the role hers. Nothing that made it distinct. Nothing that would keep a dozen other actors from stepping in and doing the job just as well. Or, maybe, better.


And just to put it all in perspective:

My daughter said it was not better than John Carter. Not that she liked John Carter more, but she put them on, basically, equal footing.

My younger son did like John Carter better. A lot better.

My older son said about Hunger Games, "It was good." But, when I asked him what made it good or what he liked about it, he couldn't think of anything. Then, once he started talking about the movie, he actually had nothing positive to say about it. And none of it was prompting from me, because I was trying to get my kids' opinions about the movie without diluting it with my own, so I didn't say anything about the way I felt about it until after I heard from them. I will say, though, that my older son went to see Hunger with his girlfriend, who has read the books, and she loved it, so I think his initial assessment of "it's good" was because he saw it with her. Once I got him talking about it, all he could think of were things he thought were wrong with it. In the end, the only thing he could come up with that he liked was the idea of an apocalyptic war and the idea of yearly tributes for the game.

I suppose this is one of those that I'm glad I went to see just so I can know what's going on with it, because it's all anyone talks about, but I was distinctly unimpressed. I was even more umimpressed by the teenager behind me that announced after the movie was over, "That was the best the movie EVER!" That actually made my younger son burst out laughing. I had to nudge him to make him stop. All I can say to that nameless teenager, "You need to get out more."

Monday, March 26, 2012

How you know...

You know you're a writer when you have a day off...
I mean, you have a day completely to yourself...
Well, in the hypothetical case of having a day completely to yourself...
You know, when you're daydreaming about such a completely crazy idea...
No work...
No school trips...
No meals to prepare...
No Farmville...
No dog to walk... maybe to cuddle with, though...
I mean a day where everything you do is completely up to you...
And money isn't an object. You could do anything. Because, after all, it is a dream, right?
So on this day where you can do anything you want to do...

The only thing you can think about doing is writing and how great it would be to have a day all to yourself where you could write without any interruptions. Especially stupid telemarketing phone calls.

That's when you know you're finally, really, a writer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

John Carter plus Breaking Bad vs Justified

No time for a long post today, so these reviews will be a little shorter than I'd like. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is.

John Carter

I finally made it to see John Carter, and I have to say that I was disappointed. I haven't read any Edgar Rice Burroughs, but, from what I can tell by looking him up, this was a poor adaptation. That wouldn't matter except that it was also a poor movie. If it had been a faithful adaptation, I would have given it a pass on some of the last minute rescues and whatnot that filled the movie, but, no, it appears all of these were a part of the "adaptation" only since those sequences don't appear to be in the source material. Stopping the bomb at the 1 second mark may have, at one time, been the height of suspense, but, when a movie like Galaxy Quest (which is great, by the way) makes fun of such last moment saves so blatantly, you know it's time to move away from them. There is no longer any suspense in those moments.

All of which is to say that John Carter, above all else, is cliched. It's also hopelessly muddled and full of short cuts to get past issues that wouldn't have been there at all if they'd been more faithful to the source material (like the magic juice Carter drinks so that he can speak Martian).

So... while I was looking for a fun space romp (which should have been easy enough to do), what I got was something that failed to be exciting on any level despite the wonderful visuals. This is a movie that Disney really should have just aimed at kids, as it appears the older one gets the less likely they will really enjoy it. Here's my evidence to support that:

Daughter (age 8): It was good!
Son (age 11): Awesome!
Son (age 16): eh, it was okay...
Friend of son (age 16ish): >shrug< it wasn't the best...
Me: >sigh<

Breaking Bad (season 1)

After hearing many good things about Breaking Bad, my wife and I decided to try it out. That was unfortunate. The show uses every contrivance and cliche you can think of. It started with the one I hate the most: the flash forward (you can read more of what I think about this device here). It was so horrible. And this is going to be full of spoilers (but only about the first episode), so skip down if you don't want to know. We start out with the "hero" running from the law in his underwear. "What an interesting situation," you might think. "That's something you certainly don't see every day."

It goes on long enough that I turn to my wife and say, "This better not be one of those situations where they flash back to the real story." The "hero" gets out of the vehicle he's driving ready to... well, we don't know what he's ready to do. Go down in a blaze of glory? Commit suicide? Stand in the road in his underwear with a gun in his hand, that's for sure. And, then... "Three weeks earlier" WHAT THE HECK?!?!

So they go about getting us back to the point where he's in the road with the gun in his hand, and all I find out is that they lied to us to bring about the tension:
1. The sirens that we (the audience) are hearing are police sirens, but the vehicles, when they show up, are fire trucks. That's a cheap trick.
2. The way the character acts during the whole scene where he's running is completely not the character they build for him in the rest of the episode. You can buy it when you see it at the front of the episode, but, once we get to know the character, it doesn't work. He would not have acted like that.
3. The fire the trucks are responding to? There's no way. The fire was out in the middle of nowhere in the desert in New Mexico, yet we are expected to believe that the firemen respond immediately. And not just respond immediately, but that the "hero" knows they're coming and gets scared and runs. The fire was nothing. A little grass blaze, but fireman rush out into the desert within moments of it being started? I don't think so.

This is just the first episode. Don't get me started on the gas mask and all the completely ridiculous stuff with high school.

We did complete the first season. My wife wasn't as completely turned off by it as I was, but, by the end, neither of us cared enough to be interested in going on to season 2. Jesse Pinkman is the only character that's remotely interesting. And none of the side characters are at all likable or interesting. And Walter's life seems to be full of making bad decisions because he's full of pride, so I find very little in him to make me want him to succeed.

All of that leads me to this:


My wife and I started into season 2 of Justified last night. I love this show. So far, it has refused to use the horrible "flash forward" device, but that's not why I like it. It just makes me like it more.

Justified stars Timothy Olyphant, who is, in the end, the reason we watched Justified to begin with. See, my wife loved, I mean absolutely loved, Deadwood. I thought it was pretty good, too. However, Olyphant is so wooden and stiff in it that I often wondered if he was really a bad actor in a perfect role or a wonderful actor. As it turns out, he's a wonderful actor. But that was why I rented Justified; I had to know if he was always like that... like he had a pole inserted up his butt into his back. And, I have to say, that I am even more impressed with his role in Deadwood after seeing Justified, because, man, it must have been difficult to be the way he was in Deadwood all the time, but he did it.


As we watched the opening of the second season of Justified, the thought went through my head, "This is so much better than Breaking Bad. I had to wonder why that comparison came into my head when it's been weeks and weeks since we watched Breaking Bad (and I really never intended to talk about it here at all).

It's about the story telling. And the characters. Justified is full of interesting side characters. People you can relate to. Even the bad guys. You really just see them for who they are and end up liking them anyway. Like Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. This is the bad guy, but, wow, he is just an interesting character. You end up rooting both for Raylan Givens (Olyphant's character) to catch him and for him to get away at the same time. This is after thinking that Boyd was just a throw away character at the beginning, too.

Justified has not (so far as we've seen) fallen victim to any of the normal conventions of TV or the associated cliches. My wife and I sit down each night to watch one episode of a show (that we rent, because we don't "have" TV), and, generally, we watch whatever episode that is, and I'm fine with it and ready to do whatever else I need to do before bed (like Farmville. Or the dishes (always the dishes...)). Not so with Justified. I'm never ready to turn it off. I want to just keep watching.

In my book, that's pretty compelling.

"It was justified."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writing What We Feel

Today, I'm taking a comment someone made completely out of context. Not because I'm twisting anyone's words, but, because, the words gave me a thought that was, really, at a tangent to what was meant by the original comment. But it's a thought worth talking about, because this is one of the things I see tossed around on blogs all of the time.

Here's a paraphrase of the comment (because I didn't write it down, and I'm not going to go back looking for it): I can't write what I'm not in the mood to write.

There is some truth to that, I suppose. At least, at first, there is some truth to that. When you first start to write, it's very difficult to write when you're not in the mood for it or when you need to write something that is counter to your current mood. It becomes like an assignment for school, at that point, which means it's no fun. Who wants to write when it's no fun, right?

Well, here's the thing, if you want to be an author that writes books instead of book. Or an author that is able to put out a steady stream of books, you can't let your mood, your feelings, get in the way of writing. There will just be days when you don't feel like writing. You don't feel creative. You feel like everything you're putting on the screen is garbage.

Before I go on, let me back up a moment. I believe that every writer needs to find their own way of doing things. Some writers choose to not write every day, and, if that's what works for them, if that's their style, that's the way they should do it. However, that being said, I think a lot of people that want to be writers don't write every day not because it's their choice of style, but, because, they don't know how to get past how to write when they're not feeling inspired.

And, yes, for those of you that have been here for a while, I have talked about this before, but it's been a long time (and I don't remember in what post), and I think it's something that probably needs repeating every so often. Besides, not only do I have that comment to inspire me, I also have Monday's post keeping it in my mind.

As I mentioned, writing is not one of those things that comes easily to my son. Or to me. He likes doing it. Except, well, when he's doing it. He likes his ideas, and he likes his results, but the act of getting started... it's horrific. Although, there are some people that can sit down and write on demand, my son is not one of them. That makes completing writing assignments a huge obstacle and requires much pushing and prodding by me for him to do them. Not just ones he's doing for my class but any writing assignment. See, he thinks he needs to feel like writing, to be in the mood, before he can do it. The thing I have to tell him over and over (and when I say over and over, I mean over and over (for years, now)) is to just start writing.

Just start writing and it will come to you. It's so counter-intuitive. But I know, because I'm the same way. And I struggle with it. Staring at the screen trying to figure out how I want to start. Of course, at this point in my life, I've worked out a few tricks to get me going (listening to music, unfortunately, is not one of them (as I discussed way back here)). The prevailing wisdom is that we get inspiration and, then, we write. And, sure, that can happen. That's where my global ideas come from, after all. But it doesn't handle the day-to-day stuff.

The problem with that thinking, though, the waiting for inspiration to happen thinking, is that if we wait for it, it won't happen often enough that we will ever accomplish anything of note. I know that, too, because that's what I used to believe. It's why I have several unfinished projects from my misguided writing youth, including a great story about a dragon that I still want to get back to one day.

However, when we just start writing, just start, inspiration comes. It sneaks in during the act somewhere, and, eventually, we find that we've WRITTEN! I watch this happen with my son all the time. Of course, I have to tell him about 20 times (okay, 50 times) to "just start" before he actually does. Like I said, painful. But after... after, he always says he should have listened and just started, because, once he started, he was able to write.

And this is why I say that writers should not write when they feel like it. They should not write when they're in  the mood. And they should not write only what they're in the mood to write. Writers should just write. Just start. You be the one in charge. Don't be at the whim of something as fickle as inspiration. Take control of it. Start writing and inspiration will come find you, because inspiration doesn't want to be left out. Seriously.

I'm not going to tell you when or how to write, those are things you have to figure out for yourself. I will say that I don't really get to write when I would choose to write if I could choose to do it at a time of my choosing. There are too many things that get in the way. Like kids. But, when I have time for it, I do it. And, I'm finding, it gets easier and easier to do whenever I am choosing to do it.

A lot of people will tell you that you have to treat it like a job. Treat writing like a job. And, on this point, they're correct. When you sit down to write, treat it like a job. That means that you do it despite your feelings and you work on what needs to be worked on even if you'd rather be writing something else. Just like at work where you have to do what needs to be done despite how you feel about it. Yes, it takes discipline and practice, but it's a point you have to arrive at if you ever want to have any real success with your writing.

Now, having said all of that, I will point out, again, that every writer has to figure out what works best for him/her. I know of at least one writer (okay, I only know of one, but he proves the exception to the rule) that treats the whole writing thing as a hobby. He says that if it was at all like work to him that he wouldn't do it at all, because work is not fun, and writing is fun, and he does it because it's fun. And he seems pretty good at completing projects. I do, however, think he's the exception (yes, Briane, I'm looking at you), not the rule. Most of us just can't work that way. [For instance, my hobby is painting miniatures (you can see examples of some by clicking my crafty tab). I haven't done any painting in at least 3 years.]

I'll also throw in that how you handle your blog, if your blogging is related to your writing, reflects on your writing. If you're blogging to support your writing (in whatever way or form), your blog is the lens through which the world will perceive your other written works, so you have to come at it just like you do your other writing. If your blog is just something fun you do, it doesn't matter so much. But, really, the whole blogging thing is a separate topic that I may get around to posting about at some point.

I'm also gonna add that writer's block is just what happens when you sit down and wait for inspiration to happen first. You're better than that. So, like I tell me son, "Just start writing!" Just sit down and do it. Do worry about what it is that you're putting down, just start writing. It'll work itself out as you go, and you can always go back and spruce up those first few sentences or whatever you did while you were getting warmed up. Don't over think it. Don't fret about it. Don't try to figure it all out. Just sit down and start. Yes, do it now. Just start writing...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Into the Trench

As I've mentioned before, I'm teaching a creative writing class at me younger kids' school. It's an elective course in the middle school. What I don't think I've mentioned is that my younger son (the middle child) is in my class. This has been both rewarding and frustrating. It's rewarding in that my son is, actually, an excellent writer. He has great ideas, and he's able to relate them in a manner that is actually readable. Not to mention that his writing has great voice.

It's frustrating, though, in that he writes like I do. Not in the same style as me (although, I do see similarities), but by the same process as me. What that means is that it's hard. Writing is not something that I am able to just sit down and do. It's a struggle. Every time. I often feel like it's equivalent to having a huge mass of hard clay and having to beat it into shape with my fists. The good side of this, though, is that I don't really have to do huge amounts of editing afterward. I tend to get it the way I want it the first time. My son writes like this, so it can be painful for me to watch him needing to write for an assignment. The blank page is his greatest enemy, and he can sit and stare at it for, literally, hours without putting down a single word. Having to motivate him to work on assignments for class is a nightmare.

What I'm about to share with you is something special. Well, it's something special to me. But, first, why I'm sharing it:

Briane Pagel has been running The 100-Day, 100-Question Great Star Wars blogathon. That's pretty much what it sounds like, and I've mentioned it a few times at this point. Recently, however, in order to motivate more writers to get involved, he added a twist to it to make it a bit more interesting. You can go here to find the links to the various rules and stuff, but the gist of it is that there are now writing challenges along with the trivia questions. All of you should go sign up, write your piece and get involved. [Remember to say I sent you :)] The current writing challenge has to do with writing a piece of fan fic. Personally, I'm not a big fan of fan fic. However!

See... I'm breaking all the rules with my entry. The first one I'm breaking is that I didn't write this. My son did. I'm sharing it, because it's like a piece of double fan fic. It's fan fic based on The House on the Corner and Star Wars! And, if you've read The House on  the Corner, you'll know just how perfect a melding this is. The entry is also too long, but this is a great little story by my son, and I just couldn't cut it in half. And, well, Briane seems to think it's cool for people to break the rules, but I think that's just because he's a lawyer. The more people break the rules and get caught doing it, the more business he gets. heh

Anyway... This is what my son turned in for his very first writing assignment this year in the creative writing class, and I feel privileged to share it with you. As I said, this is special to me, and I hope you all enjoy it. Oh, I did do some editing on the piece, but that was mostly confined to punctuation and paragraph formation. I suggested one word change and one spot where I thought he needed to move a word, so, really, my input was very minor. What you're seeing here is what he wrote. He was 10 at the time. Just to throw that out there.

Into the Trench

I was bored. There was nothing to do. I thought about what I could do, but I didn't feel like building with my Erector sets or going outside to play. Suddenly, I had an inspiration! I would go to the Imagination Room. Why hadn't I thought of that before? I would invite Tom, too.
As I was looking for Tom, I thought about what we were going to do. I decided we were going back to the scene in Star Wars when Luke blew up the first Death Star. I had been daydreaming all the time I had been looking for Tom. Leading Red Squadron, flying in the trench, tar... I'm sorry, using the Force to target the gas exhaust. And flying from the wreckage of the Death Star.
When I finally found Tom, he accepted with an “Are you kidding? Let's go!”
Before I knew it, we were in the Imagination Room, and I was thinking about Star Wars as much as I could. Then, suddenly, we were in the hangar at the base on Yavin 4! There were so many ships to choose from! From A-wings to B-wings to Y-wings to X-wings, we just couldn't choose! I finally settled on a nice Y-wing, and Tom chose a trusty X-wing.
Somehow, we knew how to fly the ships. I didn't really care how we knew. We must've gotten the skill when we crossed over to this world.
A few seconds after I left the hangar, I was hurtling through space. I saw Yavin looming over me. It was big. Very big. Maybe even bigger than Jupiter. Of course, I had never seen Jupiter up close like this.
I turned on the telecommunications, and immediately hailed Tom, “Tom, are you there?”
“So what's our plan?”
“We were supposed to make a plan?”
“Well, duh, stupid-head, what did you think?”
A new voice crackled in the radio, “Lock s-foils in attack position.”
That's when I finally saw it: the Death Star. A large gray spot on a black background. The battle had begun.

* * *

It was barely three minutes until we got to the Death Star, now a 1000 ton ball of metal right there in front of my face. I admit it. I was unprepared. And scared. Very scared. No, Jedi do not have fear, I thought. It was too late for fear, anyway.
Then, there was the trench. “This is it,” I breathed to myself. I didn't realize that my communicator was still on.
“Oh, stop whining, Sam.”
“Yes... I mean, no, an Imperial TIE fighter come to destroy you all.”
“Tom, the TIE fighters don't even come at this point. We're not even in the trench yet.” I had started to lighten up a little.
“Yes, we are. Have you looked up at all?”
I looked up. “Oh, crap,” I thought.
There was laser fire blasting all around me. From the corner of my eye, I saw an X-wing explode. It went down in flames; then, just before it crashed, I heard a horrible, bloodcurdling scream, and the pilot died. That's when I realized the full danger of the assignment. Okay, it wasn't an actual assignment, but it was still dangerous.
There was blaster fire all around me, and I was trying desperately to dodge it. As I swerved madly about the trench, I heard something on the communicator, “All units, approaching TIE fighters coming up fast.”
I felt a sudden jolt as something exploded behind me...
And I knew it was my own ship. I spun out of control, careening straight for the wall. I was going to crash!
Fortunately, reality chose that moment to reassert itself, and I landed with a thud on the floor of the garage apartment. “Darn!” I shouted, as Tom tumbled past me. He looked angry. I probably pulled him out the second the Death Star was about to blow up.
“Definitely darn,” he grumbled.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Unexpected Applause: Eclipse

Disclaimer: This is not a case of exchanging book reviews. This is how it happened:
Back in December I won a copy of a book from Mr. Pagel and, then, promptly forgot I'd won. Well, see, the thing I was doing that won me the copy wasn't something I was doing because I was trying to win a book; I was just doing it. Therefore, the book being like a bonus, I forgot about it. Sometime later, when Briane mentioned giving books away again, I remembered, "Oh, hey, you still owe me a book!" So he sent me a copy of Eclipse (which was supposed to be signed!). It sat around for a couple or few weeks while I was reading other things (including the book that's supposed to be being reviewed (but I haven't finished that one, yet, because it's being a real struggle)), but, once I finished The Pigman, I needed a book a could carry back-and-forth to school, and I needed a book to review, since I knew I wasn't (am not) going to finish the other book anytime soon. So I grabbed Eclipse. After I started it, Briane mentioned that he was reading The House on the Corner. Of course, he didn't know I was reading Eclipse (and, I'm pretty sure, he still doesn't know, well, until this goes live). So, really, it's happenstance that we read each other's books at roughly the same time.

That being said, Eclipse by Briane Pagel is a book that is definitely worth a read. Maybe. Well, okay, not maybe. Some of you definitely should read it, and others probably shouldn't. Before I get into that, though, let's talk about the technicals.

My impression of Briane from things he's said on his blog about his writing is that he doesn't do a lot of editing. He writes for fun, and he seems to write very quickly, and it makes me think he doesn't really spend a lot of time going back over his work. Let me be clear, this is just my impression of his style. Maybe he's really into editing; I don't actually know. However, given my impression, I'd say that Eclipse is in really good shape overall. The biggest issue is that there are missing words every so often. I'm not gonna touch the punctuation, because the book has a very stream-of-consciousness feel to it. The punctuation fits the writing style, so it's fairly non-traditional. There may be mistakes, but there's no way to tell. At any rate, other than the various places where words got dropped out, there's nothing to really jar the reader out of the story. I'd give this part an A-.

The story itself is a bit tough. Not in the reading part (it's quite easy to read), but the story itself is difficult, and this is why I say it's probably not a book for everyone. For instance, I would never suggest this book to my wife. Why? It deals with child abuse, and that's just a difficult topic for many people to deal with. Mr. Pagel is not graphic or gratuitous with it, though, so it's not an issue from that standpoint. That doesn't change the subject matter, though, so it's probably better to know that going in. And it's not clear that the book deals with child abuse from the blurb on the cover, which makes me also think that I've approached the book from a different perspective than even the author. (When I get around to interviewing Mr. Pagel, I'll see if I can figure that out.)

On the surface, the story is about an astronaut drifting alone in space. However, as you read through the story, it becomes clear that this may or may not be true. And this is why the central story, to me, is about the abuse. In almost all cases of child abuse, there is some sort of break from reality. To the child, there is no abuse. At least, not if it's abuse that has been ever present. It's just a part of life, and the child, or the spouse, can't distinguish the difference between their life and the lives of everyone else. Often, children are suprised, even shocked, to find out that other people don't live the same way. It's why children don't come forward and say, "my parent hits me."

That, really, is all I can say about the story. At some point, Claudius has a break from reality. I know where I believe that break occurred. That is, I know which parts of the story I believe are "fact" and which parts are the fantasies conjured up by Claudius in his need to escape his father. I don't believe everyone will draw the same conclusions I have, and I think that's what Mr. Pagel intended. Heck, maybe he hasn't even decided which parts are "true" and which parts are not. Although, he probably actually does know and just enjoys everyone else guessing and trying to figure it out.

This is, however, another reason the book is probably not for everyone. Most people like their stories all wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end, and this is not a book that will do that for you. It's a story that will linger, and you will find yourself wondering about it at odd moments. In fact, I think it's the kind of story that, if you go back and read it again, you will probably come to completely different conclusions about it than you did the first time, and, I think, this is also something that would make Pagel smile.

Overall, this is a fascinating little story. There's only one scene that I think is forced, and I can't say why, because it might alter your perception of the story, and I think this is one book where the reader needs to go in as tabula rasa as possible. If you can deal with the child abuse, and you can deal with the author leaving you to figure out what's really going on, you should give it a read. My final grade is in the B to B+ range; although, it would have hit, at least, the A- range if not for that one scene. But for $0.99, you really can't lose. It's a quick read. It will suck you in as you try to figure out what's what, and, then, you'll be finished before you realize it and want to know more. Seriously, I just read the book two weeks ago, and I'm already considering going back and reading it again, and I rarely, rarely re-read. So that's saying something.

Since we're already talking about Briane, I thought I'd plug his Star Wars blogathon thing again. BUT WAIT! There's more! To make it more interesting, Briane has added writing contests! Go here to read all about it. The deadline for the first contest is March 25. You get 100 points just for entering, and the winner gets cool prizes. And remember, tell him I sent you so that you (we) can get 50 MORE points! Go now! Hopefully, if I can find some time to breathe, I'll have my entry up on Monday. I'm breaking the rules, though, because, well, I have something special I want to share, and it doesn't quite meet the guidelines. In true Briane Pagel style, he's both told me that I must follow the rule to the letter and that I should go right and break the rules as much as I want.

Not quite a note:
Briane also tagged me in this new lucky 7 meme thing that's going around. He was honest about his motivation, though, which was nice: he just wants to see some bit of Brother's Keeper, since it's not available yet. However, I'm gonna cheat on this one, too. Meaning I'm not going to page 77 or whatever the rules for the thing are. I don't really believe in page numbers since there are so many factors that can change the number of pages in a book. So I'm just gonna go by word count. Sort of. At any rate, here's 7 lines or so from Keeper. Maybe this will be enough so that Briane will believe I'm, at least, working on it.

The screen door slammed shut followed by the impact of a body into the backdoor and the crash of the door into the refrigerator. Tom dashed through the kitchen behind Claire.
Hey!” she shouted after him as he hit the stairs. The sounds of his feet paused, “If you break that window again opening the door like that, it's coming out of your allowance!”
I know, Mom!”
His feet resumed pounding up the stairs. A few moments later, the sounds of toys crashing onto the floor pattered overhead.
In the midst of the hail storm happening on the floor of the boys' room, the front screen door thundered closed followed by more footsteps pounding through the home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 6: In the Rain

I'm not a big fan of the rain. Okay, that's not exactly true. I actually like rain in-and-of itself, but I hate wet ground, and I'm not too fond of being wet unless I'm in the shower and the water is warm. Mostly, though, I just hate wet feet.

It's raining here this week. You know what that means? It means taking the dog out in the rain. Because she has to go out; although, my daughter has plans for a room inside the house with grass and trees and stuff so that we can just let the dog in there when she needs to go out. That way, the dog gets to go out while still staying inside, and no one has any mess to clean up, because it will be a nature room, and poop can be in nature. I'm not going to dissuade her.

At any rate, it hasn't rained much this year, so, although the dog has had to go out in light drizzles or misty rain, she hasn't had to go out in actual rain. Until today. She did not like it.

Of course, she doesn't understand when she's inside that it's raining outside, so she was very excited to get to go out, as she usually is. Until I opened the front door. She stood there. She looked up at me. She stood there. She never just stands there. I said, "Let's go." She looked up at me and, then, stepped slowly outside. Of course, this just put her on what passes for our front porch, so she wasn't out in the rain yet. She dashed over to the dry strip under the eaves of the garage and made her way down to the driveway. At that point, there was nothing dry left, so we ventured out into the rain.

She acted like I was punishing her. If only she could understand that I wasn't having any fun either. But we managed to slog our way over to the creek path. That was actually kind of nice. Well, not for her, but I like to watch the water, especially when it's high. I also like to take note of the various things floating in it. Today was nothing exciting, though, just a large cup from some fast food place. She didn't take long before she took care of her business, especially when compared to how long she usually takes, and we went home.

The time out in the rain, though, did make me think about weather and how it's used in story telling. How it's used to set mood, raise tension, act as metaphor. These are all good things. Except... well, except when they're not. There was a time when "it was a dark and stormy night" was not cliche, but you can't use that anymore (and you can probably blame Snoopy for that).

That may be the most difficult thing when using weather in stories. Avoiding the cliche. For instance, if I have to read one more time about a kid being lost out in a stormy night... or, you know, watch it in a TV show... I don't know. Do kids not get lost unless it's a dark and stormy night? Because that's what I'm coming to believe. "Uh oh... it's a dark and stormy night. We should go look for lost children."

The main thing is to allow the weather to be natural. I mean that in that it should fit the area your story is set in. I also mean that in that you shouldn't fill your story with sunshine and flowers until you get to the climax and, literally, out of the blue, have a horrible storm. With lost kids.

Weather can be a great tool. Rainy days can drive kids inside until they need to be rescued by and from man-sized cats in tall hats. They can also drive parents crazy until they have to send kids out to play in the "imagination room." Or lead them to discover enchanted wardrobes. It can wreck ships and snow your characters in. Just keep it believable. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Being the white rabbit...

Now that I've titled this the way I have, I feel like going into some long thing about Alice and Lewis Carroll, but that really has nothing to do with this post. Carroll was a great imaginer, and I admire that. But he wasn't the greatest story-teller. Of all of his characters, I feel most like the white rabbit. I always have. In fact, I don't really feel any connection to any off the other characters, but I can totally relate to the rabbit. Especially lately. It's like 2012 is the year of the busies. I just want to slow down and get some writing done. I feel so behind...

So I don't really have much of a post today. Mostly just saying "yikes!" I'd like to breathe, now, thank you, but we have at least one more weekend that's going to be all full of stuff. Maybe after that...

A couple of little things though:

1. Briane Pagel has posted his review of The House on the Corner. It includes his famous 10 1/2 question interview, so there may be some tidbits of information that I haven't admitted before. Probably not, but you will get to find out why people in the future wear white jump suits. You can find the interview here.

2. Since we're already talking about Briane, and you're going to go over there and read the interview, anyway, right? (You are, right? because you know you want to know why people in the future wear white jump suits and what, exactly, that has to do with Elvis.) You should sign up for the great Star Wars blogathon! There are still more than 75 questions to go, so, even though I'm in the lead at the moment, it's still anyone's game. Remember, tell him I sent you and get 50 POINTS just for signing up! Here's the link to sign up for the 'thon.

3. We had to attend the third memorial service for a close family member in the last just over a year yesterday. Yesterday's service, in particular, really made me think about what we leave behind. Both the tangible and the intangible. How our lives affect the people around us. I know, back in high school, when I first thought about being a writer, a large part of my desire was to write something that would be remembered. Something that, you know, kids would be hating to have to study hundreds of years in the future. I don't know that I still have such lofty goals but the idea of what we leave behind is a pretty heavy one. It's possible that you should expect an actual post about this sometime soon.

I guess that's it for today. I really am very busy and have to get  onto other things even though I'd rather be writing. I need a bumper sticker that says that... except it would have to go on my butt or my bike since I don't sticker my car.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Being in the Wrong Movie

Ghost Rider has never been one of my favorite Marvel characters; although, I do like him. He's just not one of my favorites. However, I did love the series that started up in 1990, and you have to admit that he just looks cool.
That was easily one of the best comic series on the market at that time and still stands out as one of the best runs ever. Well, at least for the first 25 issues or so. It turned out to be the series that almost caused Marvel Comics to cease to exist, but that's a story for another time.
Wait, wait! Here's another one:
Maybe it was really just about the amazing art of Mark Texeira. Okay, no, it wasn't, because I'm a story guy, but his art certainly didn't hurt anything and really set the mood of the comic.

It's not surprising that Marvel licensed the character out to be made into a movie. I thought the first movie was pretty good, despite what people say about it. They did a pretty decent job of melding the classic 70s Ghost Rider with the modern 90s Ghost Rider. It wasn't a great movie, but it was pretty decent.

I just saw the new one, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and, I have to say, I have no idea what that was. It acted like a sequel, but it twisted up enough of facts from the first movie to be unrelated to it. It sounds like they want it to be a reboot, too, so that's just messed up. Really, what the movie did was give Nic Cage a chance to act crazy. Which he's really good at, but it just didn't fit in this movie, because it's not the character he established in the first movie. The movie tries really hard, and it almost succeeds (it does have some pretty cool visuals (but the cackling/crackling whenever GR is around is dumb)), but, in the end, it just falls flat on its face. Like, at one point in the movie, GR is blown up with a grenade and Blaze ends up in the hospital because of it, but a little while later, he takes multiple blasts from missiles without slowing down.

It's disappointing, because I always want Marvel movies to succeed (because I'm still just a Marvel kid at heart). But Marvel isn't doing well with this whole Marvel Knights line of movies and is now 0 for 2 (the other being Punisher: War Zone (another sequel/reboot)).

The worst thing about the movie is that the movie was not about Ghost Rider. This is a problem. It seems that when they decided to do the second movie, they wanted to go with a story that fit "very much in the zeitgeist, like Da Vinci Code." So what they wrote was another story about the devil trying to have a half human kid that will be the anti-Christ. Because, you know, that's in the Bible. That the anti-Christ is the son of Satan. Except that it's not. But maybe people think it's a good balance since Christ is the Son of God? At any rate, they wrote this story about how the devil is trying to become the anti-Christ, the same cliche' story you've already seen in dozens of movies, and through Ghost Rider into it to stop him. But the story is never really about Johnny Blaze or about Ghost Rider, so it never feels right.

Have you ever had that experience?

My first real experience of this was with Tim Burton's Batman. I just want to say, right now, that I can't stand that movie. Not only did Mr. Burton know nothing about his subject (as Burton says, "I would never read a comic book."), he didn't even want to make a movie about Batman. He wanted to make a movie about the Joker, so the movie just never felt right to me. Sure, it had Batman in it, but it wasn't really Batman's story, and it just didn't work for me.

This is also why I don't read licensed books. I loved the Dragonlance Chronicles when that came out back in the 80s. I loved Dragonlance Legends, too, but that was still Hickman and Weis. Later, they started letting other people write books set in that world and stories with the characters from the books, and I just couldn't get into them. They never felt right. Like... like I want to tell this story, but I want to use those characters even though they don't really fit what I'm doing. So, even though I tried to read some of the other Dragonlance stuff that came out, I never liked any of it and just quit trying.

The same thing happened with Star Wars. I read a few of the first Star Wars novels that came out when I was a kid: Han Solo at Star's End and the rest of that trilogy, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and I liked them well enough, but books taking place in the expanded Star Wars universe didn't really hit it big until the 90s when Timothy Zahn wrote Heir to the Empire. What a great book. Zahn nailed it. Often, I would feel just like I was watching the movies while I read his books. However, when I went on to other Star Wars books, which exploded after Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, I was sorely disappointed. Most frequently, the characters just didn't fit the stories. The writers were doing things with the characters that just weren't in character for them in order to meet the needs of their story.

Which brings us to the point. Yeah, yeah, I know... that was a lot to go through to arrive at some point other than what it looked like I started with, but, really, it's all the same thing. See, I went to see this Ghost Rider movie and kept wondering why Ghost Rider was in the movie. He just didn't belong. The movie was about this kid, Danny, not about Ghost Rider. In that, they spoiled both things: they spoiled Ghost Rider, and they spoiled the movie about the kid. Why? Because they didn't know what to do with the character they had.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be the biggest issue that writers have. This issue of making a character do something that the character wouldn't do in order to further the story. More often than anything else, it's the thing that will ruin a book/movie/TV show/whatever for me. When I stop and think, "Why? Why did that character just do that? That's not what that character would do," the writer has failed. Like Alfred bringing Vicki Vale down into the Batcave or Batman taking off his mask in front of the Penguin. Or Ghost Rider being in eastern Europe with the flimsy reasoning "God has brought you here."

Writing is always about character vs plot, I suppose. I tend to be more plot driven myself, so I understand the temptation to bend your character to your will in order to meet a need in the plot, but you just can't do that. To give this a color metaphor, if you've painted your character red and blue, you can't have him do something green. If you need him to do something green, go back and repaint him red, blue, and green. It's probably better that way anyway. The more colors you use, the more depth the character has.

And now for some notes (LOOK! I actually remembered to put them IN the post!):

Note #1:
Last week, I won a copy of Rusty Webb's  "A Dead God's Wrath" playing in Briane Pagel's amazing Star Wars Blogathon. I already own a copy of this great little book, and you should own a copy, too. In fact, if you go over and sign up for the blogathon (just follow the link), mention that I sent you, I'll donate my copy to the first person that does. You'll also get 50 points just for signing up! It's a no lose scenario.

Note #2:
Speaking of Pagel's blogathon, a copy of my very own book, The House on the Corner, is this week's prize. The great thing? All you have to do is comment to be eligible to win. You don't have to be first, you don't have to be correct. Everyone that comments is entered into the weekly drawing. And you'll get 50 points if you mention my name! What a deal. And Briane believes that everyone should read my book, so go sign up for a chance to win your very own e-copy!

Note #3:
There's really no note #3... I want there to be one, but I'm all out. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Another Silly Addendum

Because I can never actually remember to include my notes in the posts they are supposed to go in here is another addendum post.
I swear, kids are just bad for the mind. Yes, I get to blame my kids for that, because I had a great memory before I had kids.

Note #1:
The great 100 Days of Star Wars Trivia Blogathon being hosted by Briane Pagel over at The Best of Everything is still going on. In fact, it's still going on for more than 80 more days, so you still have plenty of time to play. Remember to tell him I sent you and you get a whomping 50 points right off the bat! Not only are there some cool prizes at the end, but there are weekly drawings for other cool prizes along the way, and all you have to be doing is participating to get those! Seriously, just drop a comment on one of the trivia posts, and you could win a cool prize. Like, last week, I won a copy of Rust Webb's  A Dead God's Wrath. Which, of course, I already own, so, maybe, I'll think of a way to pass it along to one of you.

Note #2:
Speaking of the Star Wars blogathon, this week's prize is a copy of my very own The House on the Corner. If you've been wanting to read it but, for whatever reason, haven't gotten around to it, yet, this is your perfect opportunity for a chance to win your very own e-copy! So, yeah, go sign up for the blogathon, mention I sent you, and get in on a chance to win my book! How could it better than that? Well, I guess Briane would say  that it would be better if Brother's Keeper was finished, since he's kind of mad at me that it's not, now that he read The House on the Corner. He loved it and think everyone should read it. Maybe that's why he's offering it as a prize?

Note #3:
Speaking of Briane and The House on the Corner, he had some words to say about it. I've added those into the review section on the House tab up top there, so you can click the tab and go see what he said. Some of it made me blush. I didn't put this one over there, but he said it's "more compelling than Asgard."

Well, I guess that's all of the added items I have today. One day, maybe, I'll start remembering to actually add these into the posts.
Nah, probably not.

The Producers In the Heat of the Night

The Producers

Mel Brooks is more than just Space Balls amazingly enough. Not that I don't know this, but he's one of those guys that I'm always surprised is behind whatever work he happens to be behind. Except Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That's the kind of thing I expect Mel Brooks to have done. And I don't know why! Because he's done so much great stuff: Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers to name a few. Of course, The Producers may be the best of his work (although I am very partial to Get Smart. That TV show was a work of genius).

Brooks won an Oscar for the original iteration of The Producers back in 1968. It was his first movie. It was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2001, and a film was adapted from the musical in 2005. In 2012, my son was involved in a production of The Producers (the musical) at his high school.

It was magnificent.

In fact, it was the best high school production I've ever seen. It was better than any college production I've ever seen. It was better than many professional productions I've seen including the production of The Pirates of Penzance that my son was in last summer. I wish you could all come and see it. (There's one more weekend of shows.)

My son is only part of the chorus (because he didn't try out for it despite urgings to do so), but that's okay, because he was a great part of the chorus. Especially his performance as a little old lady in the song and dance number with the walkers. The leads, however, were tremendous. The guy, a senior, that played Max was... well, I have no words. I would not have believed he was in high school; I'll just put it like that. And the entire show was choreographed by students. Amazing!

All of that to say, this musical production is an example of why we need to support the arts in our schools. The ArtQuest program at my son's high school is superb; it's sad that there is a constant need to defend the arts and such a struggle to get funding for them.

Anyway, like I said, I wish you could all come see this show and be as blown away by it as I was. Short of that, go rent the movie. The one adapted from the musical. It has Matthew Broderick and Will Ferrell. Although, even with Broderick, I'm not sure I can say that it's actually better than the high school production I just saw.

In the Heat of the Night

Sticking with our (not) theme of movies from the late 60s, I just watched In the Heat of the Night. It was the 1967 winner of the best picture Oscar, and, I have to say, it was well deserved. I've seen 4 of the 5 films nominated for that year, so I'm not just saying that.

Here's the thing that most impressed me about the movie in comparison to movies like, say, There Will Be Blood. It's about something and it has a story. As opposed to many newer movies (like Blood) which are clearly about something but don't have a story, a vehicle, for telling what the movie is about.

In the Heat of the Night is about civil rights and the racial inequality that was still clearly present in much of the United States at the time. Inequality that is still present even if it isn't present to the same degree. Still... drive through the deep south sometime, and I bet you can still find scenes that seem right out of the movie. I know you could 20 years ago, because I was still in the deep south back then. However, the story is a murder mystery. And a good one. (I'm used to pegging the killer in these kinds of things within the first 1/3 of the story, but I had no idea about this one right up until they showed whom it was.)

Sidney Poitier is quite good as Virgil Tibbs. I don't think he had to stretch much for the role (meaning he seemed much like he does in other movies I've seen him in), but there's probably not anyone else that really could have done that role at the time.

Rod Steiger got best actor for his role as Bill Gillespie. His was an interesting character to watch, and Steiger really pulled off the ambivalence he felt in dealing with Tibbs. The struggle between his dislike of blacks and his growing respect for this one particular black man. In that, Steiger was excellent.

It's a great movie, a movie that deserved its Oscar, and people still need to see it. Especially considering that it's more than 40 years later, and a movie like Red Tails can't get studio funding.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Pigman's Influence

History is important. Not the details, per se, but the trends. The things that lead from one thing to another. Sometimes, there are specific events that are important, but, mostly, it's the formulation and growth of ideas over time that really affect us now and in the future. It's true for society, and it's true for individuals.

Yes, your personal history is important. Not just because of how it affects you but because of how it affects your children (if you have them) and those close to you. Why do we do the things we do? What lead us to these events and these places?

But most people tend to... forget... about the past. Put it behind them and not worry about it. That often leads to getting stuck in particular behaviors, but that's not really the point of all of this. And I'm not saying we should live in the past, because we shouldn't. However, we should constantly (or, at least, relatively constantly) review our pasts so that we can form our presents into the futures we would most like to have.

So... a brief history lesson. About me. Some of this, I've covered before, but let's review for those who may have slept through it or been late to class.

When I got ready to write The House on the Corner (see the links to the right or the tab at the top of the page), I needed something on the outside of myself to be accountable to. See, I knew from my own past that I had an issue with pushing through my initial ideas. Basically, I'd have an idea, I'd start writing, I'd run out of said idea, and I'd let the piece sit and sit until I had no interest in going back to it. This was a problem, and I didn't want to have that as a problem anymore (see, looking at my past to figure out what I would need to do in the present to change the future). I decided the best force to keep me writing would be my kids. I mean, there was no way that they would let me start a book, start reading it to them as I was working on it (my plan) and, then, allow me not to finish it.

If I was going to be writing something to read to my kids as I went along (an idea I got from Tolkien, by the way, as that is how he wrote The Hobbit), I needed to write something for my kids. At least, something that was appropriate for them. And, then, why not write something that was about them? Well, not about them but something with characters based on them. That would really get them involved and keep them after me to finish. By the way, that whole thing totally worked (as you can see by the finished product).

But I still didn't have a story or a method by which to tell it. I'm not going to get into the story, at the moment, because what I want to talk about is the method. My problem was that I have three kids, and I needed a way to share the story between the three of them so that there wouldn't be hurt feelings. And that's when I remembered The Pigman. Back to the past again.

The Pigman is a book by Paul Zindel, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds). Pigman was his first novel and significant enough that it used to be on school reading lists (maybe it still is?). In fact, that's why I read it, because it was an assigned book when I was in middle school. At any rate, that kind of dashes that whole idea about no one's first book being any good. And Zindel wasn't even a writer! I mean that in that he was a chemistry teacher and never really had any intention to write at all. But, if you want to know the details about that, you can look him up.

Anyway... At the time, The Pigman didn't really mean a lot to me. It was a fine book, but it wasn't, nor has it ever been, one of my favorites. However, it has always been a book that has floated around the back of my mind. I've completely forgotten books that I liked way more, but I have never forgotten The Pigman. [And, really, I suppose, that's the kind of book anyone wants to write. The kind the reader can't forget.]

Possibly, it's the subject matter that melded it into my brain, but, even more, I think it's the style of the book. At any rate, it's the style that drew me back to it when I set out to write The House on the Corner. Pigman is written in what I'll call a dueling 1st person perspective. Two high school students, John and Lorraine, take turns telling the story, and they tell it just as if they were writing a letter to someone. Or, more specifically, writing in a journal. There are odd bits included, like the snake quiz from the zoo, that are totally like the kinds of things that we would put into our journals when we had to keep them when I was in school. And they sort of bicker and argue with each other within the telling referring to each other and correcting each other.

Now, I don't know if Paul Zindel was the first person to use multiple 1st person perspectives in a novel or not (I did try to look it up but decided I didn't want to spend the time on it as it's not really that important (at least not to me at this moment)), but I've never seen it used anywhere else. And I read a lot. And I have a degree in English with an emphasis on literature, and we never studied anything about anything else even like that. What I'm saying is, as far as I know, Zindel is the only person to have used this particular style in a book (well, was the only person), and it's something that's generally taught as a "no no" in school, but, yet, there we were studying the book in school. And it (the multiple 1st person thing) is something that, over the years, I have often pondered on and found interesting.

And wondered why no one else ever did it.

But, then, when they teach you, as much as they teach you about fiction writing, which is to say not a lot, in school to not use multiple perspectives and to even try to stay away from them in 3rd person writing, maybe it's not surprising that that kind of thing isn't seen more often.

But it held the answer to my issue of how I would go about writing House. I would use multiple 1st person perspectives. That way each of my kids would get a "turn" telling the story, and none of them could complain. And that seems to have worked, too, because no one ever complained, and whoever was going to be "telling" the next chapter would always be sure to be asking me a lot about when the next chapter would be ready. So that worked out, too.

And all of that leads to this:
I really, at the point I started writing House, had no real memory of what The Pigman was about. In fact, last week, I still had no real memory of what it was about. I just remembered it was about these two kids who met this man they called the Pigman, there were some ceramic pigs involved, it dealt with death, and both kids told the story. I figured, if I was going to write a whole book based on my memory of this other book, which I did, I should go back and read it again and see if there was anything else that might have made that book stick in my mind for so long, even if it was something I couldn't remember.

My first thought while re-reading it was, "wow, I bet this book would never be published today." Not that I read a lot of YA stuff, but it certainly doesn't fit in with the things that are big right now. It's not dystopian. There are no vampires. There are no zombies. There's nothing paranormal at all, in fact. It doesn't start in the middle of the action. In fact, it's rather slow, and it may lead you to wonder, for a while, what it's really about. But it is about something, and, although it's a bit dated in its references, it's about important things. The things teenagers have to deal with but try to avoid dealing with. Most of all, it's about dysfunctional families, and that's something that all kids can relate to even if they can't relate to the specific circumstances of John and Lorraine. At any rate, I think the book is still relevant, and  people should still be reading it. It's too bad they're not.

After reading it again, I can say that it's still not going to be one of my favorite books ever. It's just not that kind of book. It doesn't jump up and grab you and yank you in. However, it is a book that lingers. And, now that I have read it again, I'm sure the impressions that it has re-made will bring me back to it at odd moments just like it always has. It's a quiet book that will leave you feeling melancholy even if it doesn't bring you to tears. It didn't bring me to tears. Not like, say, The Bridge to Terabithia brought me to tears when I read that as a kid. Other than Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge was the only book to bring me to tears as a kid. So Pigman is not like that. It just... makes you wonder. And makes you reflect.

Growing up is hard. It's complicated. I hope I am able to capture the same struggles in my books as I continue on in the story arc I started with The House on the Corner. In the end, I suppose, I would rather write a book like The Pigman, a book that lingers on in the mind of the reader for 30 years, than write a book that flashes and pops but is forgotten in a week. Maybe, that's what I learned from it when I read it all those years ago.

Well... also, I just like the idea of seeing the same story from different perspectives. And I hope I have captured that with House. I think I have. The voices are fairly distinct and people have really seemed to latch on to a particular one that speaks to them more than the others. My daughter's teacher, whose class I have been reading in, picked up the book on her Nook last week while the kids were out of school. And read it. She was telling me about her experience with when we got back to school this past Monday:
1. She really liked it.
2. She said, "I could really hear [my daughter's] voice." Not my voice. My daughter's voice. I think I did as well with the boys (although, I have to admit, and I was really surprised by this, I had the most fun writing the chapters from Ruth's perspective).

Anyway... all of that is really about how interesting I find that a book I read 30 years ago and could barely remember could so heavily influence the writing of my own book. It's good to look back and see how these things from our past have influenced us. Even though House is full of Star Wars references (because Star Wars has been such a huge influence on my life (and the lives of my kids)), I think it's Pigman that has exerted the stronger influence. The Star Wars stuff is just more noticeable.

Now for some NOTES:

1. As I mentioned previously, Briane Pagel is running a great, big Star Wars blogathon over at his blog The Best of Everything. There are still 87 questions to go, so you still have plenty of time to get involved. To make it even sweeter, mention that I, Andrew Leon, sent you over, and you will get 50 bonus points! for signing up to play! How can it get better than that? Yes, just mention my name in the comments, and Briane will give you 50 points! And there are weekly drawings just for commenting. You don't even have to get the correct answer! Just comment, and you could win a prize! This week's prize is A Dead God's Wrath by Rusty Webb, so you should certainly sign up for your chance to win if you haven't already read it.

2. Since I'm mentioning Pagel and since I've been talking about my book (just click the tab! do it!), I thought I'd mention that Pagel is, actually, currently reading The House on the Corner. He had something to say in my comments recently that I can't restrain myself from quoting:
"I have no idea where the story is going but it's a great story nonetheless. At least three times I have thought 'OK, that's what this story is' and then it's not that thing AT ALL.

Everyone who reads this blog should, if they have not done it already, immediately go buy a copy of your book."

How can I not re-print praise like that? And, really, he touched on one of the things I really wanted to accomplish with House. To not be predictable. I didn't want it to be just another one of those formula stories that everyone will know how it ends by  the halfway mark. Thanks, Briane! I appreciate what you said. :)

And that wraps me up for the day. And the weekend. The weekend of not breathing because we're going to be busy straight through it. Seriously. If I don't make it back next week, it's because I didn't survive. But I hope you all have a nice, relaxing weekend! Think of my while you're napping!