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Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar post

I have a new article up on Spitefulcritic.com --
http://www.spitefulcritic.com/2009/12/4-reasons-avatar-will-be-a-classic/

It's all about views, so please go click on it three, four or five times. (Plus, I think it's a pretty interesting read....)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Not Much To Say

Don't really have too much to say here - just wanted to send a Happy Holidays out to anyone reading.

Hopefully there will be many more intriguing and fascinating posts coming in the New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Published again! Woohoo!

I got an article published at TheSpitefulCritic.com -- it's a light fluff piece, but it's pretty funny and I had a good time writing it. Go to the site and take a look!

It feels REALLY good knowing people are reading my writing!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Princess and the Frog (Mild Spoilers)

Went to see Princess and the Frog last night. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it wasn't until the car ride home that I figured out what it was that didn't quite feel right to me about it.

First, the animation and music are fantastic. It was wonderful seeing Disney hand drawn 2D animation again on a big screen, and I hope this is the beginning of a new trend.

That said, I hope they fix some of their story problems. The film very obviously is meant to fit into the canon of Disney animation. The tropes we love from Disney past are all there: wishing on stars, funny sidekicks, believing in yourself, meeting your prince/princess...and the villain.

Before I start this mini-rant, I should say that the villains are usually my favorite part of Disney movies (beside the great music, of course). Ursula, Jafar, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil (best pun ever), Scar, Captain Hook, Gaston, Frollo, the queen from Snow White...a virtual gallery of villainy. What makes these villains so great? Easy question -- each villain has two things that make them stand out from each other: a very specific personality and a motivation for their evil machinations - none of the characters listed are evil just to be evil. Ursula wants what she believes is her rightful place ruling the ocean, Jafar wants money and to rule, Cruella wants those puppies, Scar wants revenge on his brother, Captain Hook is fueled by jealosy, Gaston by hubris, Frollo by unwanted feelings and paranoia, and the queen from vanity.

The problem with Dr. Facilier isn't a lack of personality - he has that in spades. The problem is he has no motivation for his evil machinations. The stakes are never REALLY laid out for us - what does he have to gain and what does he have to lose by doing the things he does? There's a vague reference to wanting to rule New Orleans, but if the "deal" he made went through, there'd be nothing left to rule anyway. There's nothing really pushing him, nothing that has him being any more than just someone striving to cause problems. And that's where the movie falls short for me.

By no means does this mean you shouldn't go see it - the movie is beautiful to look at, the songs are fantastic (and I'm not the biggest Randy Newman fan to begin with), and there is quite a bit of humor. Tiana's journey is interesting (if standard), and there's a solid message behind the whole thing.

Have you seen the movie? Comment below and tell me if I'm just off my rocker...?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An open letter to my senators

Dear Mr. Lautenberg and Mr. Menendez,
I am a 31 year old teacher who has lived in NJ my whole life. I recently got married to a woman who moved in from another state. She just graduated from college and as of yet has not found a job in her field (she's looking for something in publishing). As such, she has been covered by my health insurance since our wedding in August. As a girl, my wife had a very serious accident that caused her to lose the use of one eye, and damaged her other eye significantly (her case is so unusual she was actually written up in the New England Journal of Medicine). Because of this, she needs very special eye care. As it is right now, she's having a difficult time finding a doctor who is covered under my plan that meets her very specific needs. Now, with the state of education the way it is (which, believe me, could be a whole other email unto itself), the contract for my district is up. We've been working without a contract since the year started, and one of the key sticking points is, of course, health care. I don't know how the contract negotiations will end, but I'm terrified of the possibility of either A)losing our benefits altogether and not being able to afford health care any more, or B)losing the right to have my wife under my plan. Should either of these things happen, I don't know how we're going to pay for/cover her necessary eye appointments.

If the government had gone ahead with the public option plan, the one that THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS WANT, this wouldn't be a worry. I would be confident that my wife will indeed be covered for the special care that she needs.

I have voted Democrat my entire adult life. It would be an understatement to say that I am extremely disappointed with the decision of Senate Democrats to take the public option off the table in negotiations for health care reform. If the American people want this, and it is something necessary to keep America up to date with the rest of the world, why in the world are we the people being denied the basic right of being taken care of?

I am a well educated, informed citizen. I cannot wrap my mind around how our government officials have played so callously with the very well being of those they have sworn to protect.

Mr. Lautenberg and Mr. Menendez, please, do all that you can to get the people the health care and the PUBLIC OPTION, that they not only want but deserve.

Thank you for your time,
Jason Flum

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Been a while

I haven't posted anything in the past week or so, mostly because I just haven't had time. I was sick for a couple of days there (took a blessedly peaceful day off yesterday to recuperate) and I was grading the last of my writing workshops for the end of the trimester (they're done! they're done! Woohoo!!!).

Writing has been scarce in the interim. I finished a short short story to use as a model example for one of my classes (though of course because it's me it's a little more than just the short story I asked of the kids). I finished a rough draft of my story for Emerald Tales' March deadline -- it's a short story for me, but it's my first attempt at a humor story for the magazine. I like it, though I think I need some tweaking.

My wizard story has been back-burnered, but I think I'm going to try working with it a little more now.

Oh, and I got a, what I guess could only be an audition, for a humor website. I wrote an article based on a list of potential ideas I pitched, and sent it in Monday. I haven't heard back yet, so we'll see what happens....

Monday, November 30, 2009

Quick add on for those of you with aboslutely no interest in pirates...uh.... Lost

No, not about whorehouses (that's for those of you theater geeks who would get an obscure Forum reference -- Kyle....)

I was listening to a Disney concert CD I have and just want to ask, is "A Whole New World" not one of the most beautiful melodies of all time? I'm just saying, that music LITERALLY soars...

The Wait for Lost and what I'm waiting for

I knew that eventually I'd start writing about Lost on here. I don't know if anyone other than Caitie cares, but I'm totally obsessed and can't wait for 2/2/10 to get here so we can start analyzing and dissecting every curlycue of Smokey again. Anyway, here are the top ten questions that NEED to be answered for me to satisfied with the last season:

1)What is Smokey, how does it work, who controls it, where did it come from? This is one of the big ones that there's no doubt will get answered or there may be a mass uprising of Lost fans.

2)What are the "rules" Ben and Widmore follow? They've been mentioned but seldom more than that - yet they seem to have an impact on everything that happens with these two.

3)What are Jacob and the MIB's motivations? Who are they and what power have they had over everything we've seen? So far we know precious little about these two, and yet they clearly have been at play since day one.

4)Why is Desmond special? I know Henry Ian Cuscick isn't a regular this season, but Des is one of my favorite characters. I want to know what makes him "different" - why the rules don't apply to him.

5)Who are Adam and Eve? Smart money is on Bernard and Rose, but I wouldn't put it past the producers to pull a fast one with us on this.

6) What role does Hurley have in all this? I've read a LOT of blogs about Lost, and Hurley always seems to be shoved to the side, counted as the clown or an observer. CLEARLY he has a bigger role in the overall picture of the show. He wouldn't have been "touched by Jacob" if he didn't, and I've maintained since the early days when he proclaimed himself the hero (can't remember the episode but it's early in the first season and he says it to Walt) that he was more than just comic relief.

7)What are the numbers? I know, I know. Online in the webisodes it's been answered. I'm calling BS on that right now. The numbers are part of the show, the numbers should be ACKNOWLEDGED as part of the show. Of course, I had my crackpot theory about them way back in season one that literally jolted me awake in the middle of the night once and kept me awake for hours because I couldn't believe how simple it was.
In a nutshell - let's say the numbers corresponded to letters. Then (I know, this is a total stretch now, but bear with me)
4=D
8=H
15=O
16 = P
2+3 = E
42...

OK, so I never made 42 fit other than that it's the freaking answer to everything. Remember, when we first saw these numbers there was that mysterious hatch. I didn't make the 4 fit until we saw inside it and there, lo and behold, was Desmond - with a D. So, the numbers were the answer to the whole show, which was that the hatch was like Pandora's box and Desmond was their Hope. Those who've followed me thus far inevitably say "But Jason, the number is 23 and that's W, that makes no sense, your crackpot." Au contraire - remember, the numbers needed to serve as Hurley's lotto numbers (again, Hurley is the hero!) so this is a clever disguise by the writers! On top of that, just before they entered the hatch, Jack and Locke had a whole freaking discussion about the very nature of, you guessed it, HOPE!

OK, so it's far-fetched and crazy and no one listened to me, but I still hold out a small amount of, you guessed it, hope, that I wasn't TOO terribly far off the mark.

Anyway, back to our list:

8)What's with the ghosts and horses and people who shouldn't be on the island being on the island? Are they manifestations of Smokey? Of Jacob?

9)Why doesn't Alpert age??? This WILL be answered. Less likely to be answered but just as important: where does he get that endless supply of eyeliner?

10) Most importantly, what is the deal with the island? It's basic, it's simple, it's Seinfeldian, but what is it that makes it special? What does the island do/can it do/houses/exists for/makes it unique? Why can it travel in time or cause those on it to travel in time? Did Juliet somehow set off the source of the power of the island by destroying Jughead? If this isn't answered, then there WILL be a riot and the writers better find their own island to hide out on!

There are of course many more questions to be answered, but these are the core ones. I know you're still trying to wrap your head around my numbers theory, but there it all is in one crazy nutball.

And I just realized that if you don't watch Lost, not only are you missing out on the best show EVER, but you must TRULY think I'm a madman.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a low key affair this year. Just me and Caitie, but in the end, if I were to choose one person to spend Thanksgiving with, it would be her anyway. We went to a well-known diner for dinner where they gave us FAR too much turkey. It was actually quite a deal - soup, salad, MOUNTAINS of turkey (including a giant leg), stuffing, potatoes, spinach, drinks, and desserts (and they even threw in an extra piece of pumpkin pie for us to take home) for each of us for a grand total, tip included of 54 bucks. We have turkey for the next week. I suppose we can't really gripe too much, though both of us missed our families.

Which brings me to some of the top ten things that I'm thankful for this season:

1) First, naturally, Caitie. She's my soulmate, and there's little more to be said that isn't summed up in that word.

2) My family including my new in-laws who support us and love us.

3) A house over our heads, even if it is way over-priced and not in the greatest condition - there's a sense of pride HAVING a house and feeling very "adult" every time I walk into "our space."

4) NOT having roommates invading "our space" any longer (apologies to Bill, who we did actually like quite a lot).

5) Our friends - old and new. This year has really shown Caitie and me what friendship means as we have both gained and lost friends (no one died, but there are people now in this world who were one-time friends of ours who aren't any longer) during the past 12 months. Some of our old friends have shown just how good friends they could be, and we are both grateful for the new friends that we've made, especially those on our honeymoon and those in the past few months at the gaming club.

6) Emerald Tales -- I had my first short stories published this year. I've spent a lot of time sending out to agents for my novel and gone no where. Diana read my first submission to her magazine and liked it enough to publish it. She subsequently chose two more of my stories. Her themes have given me some great sparks of inspiration, and I feel I've been doing some of the best writing I've done as a result.

7)The authors of all the books I've read this year, especially Stephen King. Why Stephen King? Because this was the year I finished the Dark Tower series, started Under the Dome, and read On Writing. There's no question his work has been an influence on me, and I'm thankful for that. I've read many other books this year, but King's have taken quite a lot of time and given me many hours of enjoyment - for that I'm grateful.

8) My green class this year. I've made it no secret that I'm not always thrilled with the way things are going at my job. I'm trying to stay positive here, so I won't go into the details, but I want to mention my green class. This group of 18 students made me remember why I went into teaching in the first place. The kids are smart, funny, and creative. When they come into the class my whole room changes. I don't have to yell at them for not doing their work, I don't have to yell at them for talking too much, I don't have to pull questions or thoughts from them like a dentist pulling teeth. We started a project as a class this year and they stuck with it - and it's going to turn out to be AMAZING when it's done. Another group of kids couldn't have pulled this off. Included in this class are one kid who has become my right-hand man at acting club, another who has asked me to work with her personally to try to get a children's story she's writing published, and a third who my partner and I took a chance on moving into enrichment this year and she has completely blossomed as a student. So, green class, thank you for keeping my head above water!

9)Glee, Modern Family, Flash Forward, V, and Lost. OK, so Lost gets added because it's the last year and the eagerness with which I'm anticipating the final season is unparalleled in my TV watching career. The other shows have given me hope that maybe TV isn't going to completely devolve into reality show nonsense (though I admit I still love me some Survivor and Big Brother!). Glee and Modern Family are hilarious, Flash Forward and V are intriguing. I'm not going to be snobby and downplay the fact that I watch TV - I do and I love it. I'm grateful for these shows and their writers (along with the other shows that we've been watching for years) for keeping us entertained.

10) The internet. Yes, this is a little late in coming, but I've realized this year just how integral to our lives the net has become. Honestly, think about your life - how many aspects of it are not in SOME way connected to the net? I look back at this list, and EVERY one of them is connected through the net - I met Caitie online, I keep in touch with my family online (Marci, get AIM already because Facebook messenger drives me nuts), we keep in touch with our friends online and even found the game club we go to on meetup.com, the roommates who allowed me to keep the house -- all found on Craigslist (ironically except for Bill...), Emerald Tales - found it online, I ordered books/reserved them from the library/found out about new ones online (no ereader yet - MAYBE next year, though doubtful), my students couldn't pull off the project they're doing without the net and hopefully will post it online soon enough, and I spend far more time than I should writing about/reading about theories on FlashForward and Lost. All this, plus time spent playing poker, bejeweled (damn game took up WAY too much time this year) and plenty of others; going through facebook; watching hulu and youtube; getting netflix; buying wii games;p buying and listening to music (which could be a whole topic unto itself) -- where would our lives be now without the net?

So, there you have it. If you've made it this far, well, then, I suppose I'm grateful to you as well for that. Hopefully next year I'll be thankful for my book being published....hopefully....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prequel it is

I started on the prequel story. It's interesting trying to decide how much exposition I need to make the story make sense to someone who hasn't read the novel. In order to tie the story in the way I want to, I do need SOME background from the novel, but trying to incorporate it in a seamless way is proving to be a little bit more difficult than I thought it would be. I don't want to put too much in because yawn, but I want the story to tie in to the novel in a significant way.

I'm currently reading The Sisters of Eluria by Stephen King, a prequel to The Dark Tower saga. Having read the whole DT series, the references and language used are familiar territory for me, but I can see how he tried to incorporate that info. without hitting the reader over the head with it - the question is, how much would make sense to someone who hasn't read the series? Of course, the difference for King is, who cares if they haven't read the series - there are enough people who have read it and will understand, as opposed to my story. Well, maybe one day people can undig the story as a buried treasure...

Monday, November 16, 2009

What to work on...

I have an idea for a prequel short story to my novel -- there's a magazine looking for short stories about wizards and this idea works great. It's something I'd thought of a while back, but with some tinkering it could be pretty good...

The new Emerald Tales theme came out - and I need to start thinking about ideas for it....

I have a novel idea that I have about the first 10 pages of, though whether or not it's going somewhere....

Hmmmm......

Friday, November 13, 2009

Prettiest Music

Which is the prettier melody -- "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis or the music after Kim calls out Tam to show him to Thuy? Caitie and I just had a debate....

Either way, I know I'm right :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Accepted

My story "Delicious" was accepted into the sci-fi, fantasy edition of the December Emerald Tales! While I wasn't totally thrilled with my actual STORY idea for this one, I did love the voice I wrote it in, and think that's probably why the story was chosen for publication. It was something new for me, and I think it worked.

My next story for submission, which I haven't titled yet, also tries something completely new for me - not so much in terms of voice, but in terms of story structure. Caitie loves the story, as do I. I still have a little tweaking I think to ratchet up some of the intensity (it's an action/thriller - not at all fantasy, which in and of itself is something different for me, "A Steady Life" being another exception). I do enjoy taking these risks - I think in the end they help make me a better writer.

On the novel front, I have queries out to four or five agents now, waiting for replies. Hopefully something will catch with someone...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sweeney Todd

So Caitie and I had a pretty intense discussion about Sweeney Todd on the way home from the show. The subject of the discussion - was Anthony going to treat Joanna the way she's always been treated by "keeping her in a room." Caitie's argument - rather than have her go with him to get the carriage to Plymouth he tells her to wait for him in Sweeney's shop, thereby continuing her pattern of being caged by the men in her life. I say that it's simply a matter of him trying to keep her safe - he's not caging her, just trying to protect her. Anthony's whole character is about rescue: he alone gives money to the beggar woman, the first time we meet him we hear he just saved Sweeney's life. This is just another case of an attempted rescue, and I don't believe (as Caitie does) that he'll just lock her away as soon as he gets the chance. Another point - when he goes to rescue Joanna from the asylum, he can't pull the trigger to kill Fogg - Joanna has to do it. After all, it's in her blood, but though he's trying for the rescue, he doesn't have it in him to kill. This, to me, would point to his being "good." On the other hand, it could go to the other argument that since he's incapable of protecting her, he would need to lock her away...

What do you think -- is Anthony the one good character in a play full of people who get their comeuppance at the end, or is he as bad as everyone else?

Outline? Pshaw

I started a new story - got a first chapter out, and realized once again that I have no ability whatsoever to outline a story in advance. Even with this, the first chapter of the story ended differently than I had thought it would when I started. The trouble is, I just don't stick with my outlines or original ideas at all. As I write, I tend to adjust a lot, often changing major story lines as I go. This can result in me going back and making changes along the way, but I see nothing wrong with that. Luckily, Caitie, the one person I let read as I go, is always with me so I can tell her of any changes I might make in earlier chapters as she reads something that comes later.

Caitie tells me that once I get established, agents and publishers may want advanced stories. This TERRIFIES me -- I have NEVER (with the exception of stories based on real events) outlined and stuck with an idea all the way through. The process of creation for me IS the writing, not the pre-writing, so I have no idea what I'd do if I get put into that position.

Hopefully I'm never faced with that...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaching

Sorry about the blank blog post - my internet shut down mid-post. Now I have no idea what I had written about, so I guess that just points up the importance of saving, right?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

So now I'm confused.

Everything I read about query letters seems to point to different ideas. Some agents like the fluffy "where I found you, why you'd be right," some just want the summary, some want a bio, some don't. I have so many versions of query letters on my computer at this point, I feel as though I could have written a whole other novel in the time I've spent working on these letters.

So what do I send out now? I do my best to go by what each agent specifies, but who knows, maybe a key phrase or something is getting me waylaid. Maybe my luck really is just that bad - I can't seem to hit the right agent at the right moment. Who knows?

I guess I just have to keep trying....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Company of L...

I tried reading Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. I wanted to like it. I really did. In fact, I even ENJOYED reading it - but after two weeks and only being on page 120, feeling like I'd been reading FOREVER, I had to make the choice - plough through for the next month and a half (at the pace I was going) or give it up.

I just couldn't bring myself to dedicate that kind of time because I just didn't care enough.

To be fair, I think the publishers did the book a disservice - the print in the book was single spaced and perhaps a 10 point font. The 450 pages was in actuality closer to 900 pages in most regular books, and as a result I felt like I was slogging through rather than really getting anywhere. If the book was double spaced and a normal font, I would have known more what I was getting into and probably would have enjoyed the journey more. Strange, isn't it?

Anyway, if anyone has read it and wants to spill the secrets at the end, let me know.
If not, I guess it will just have to remain a mystery for me...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another day...

Another day, another rejection. Still hurts, still sucks, still left with no clue why.
I've said it before, but just a hint of what was wrong would be better than just left hanging out with no idea.

I started two stories - one that I'm not really sure where it's going about a girl who has magic tied into NYC, and one based on the story of how two friends we met on our cruise met each other. We'll see if either is worth anything in the end....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thoughts on my book

It's now been over a year since I finished my novel. I've sent out to agents, been rejected by some, and been ignored by some. I have my book out to a couple right now. Who knows how they'll respond. The strange part to me, though, is that to me the book just FEELS complete. To me, the characters seem so real, and the story like a favorite story I've known all my life. I think in a way that's what makes the process of finding an agent so damned frustrating. They get, at best, a glimpse of the book. I do wonder though if it would hurt more or less to get rejected on the whole thing -- though on the flip side I feel like I can't do justice to the story in the tiny blurb the agents want.

I mean, how do I give justice to a story that includes philosophical ideas on life and death; teenagers coping with growing up, taking their parents' place and paying for the sins of their parents; history that stretches back generations - and the impact of the past on the present; euthenasia, and our very beliefs in religion. All that is dealt with in (what I hope) is an exciting adventure story that will appeal to teenagers and make them think about some of these issues without bludgeoning them over the head with it. These are issues I know I thought about as a teen, and I do think many kids today think about them as well.

In my agent letters I focus on the more "pedestrian" parts of the story - the characters and basic plot- because any attempt I've made at summarizing the story that includes a reference to these things just comes off as overbearing or too intellectual for mass consumption (believe me, the story isn't). So, I'm kind of stuck in limbo. I need an agent to actually READ the book and see what I've done, but how do I get them to read it when my story is about a prince on a search for a magic basket with the help of a witch, a dragon, and a demon-fairy?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another story done

I finished my submission for the Carnival issue of Emerald Tales - well, at least the rough draft. Caitie gave me her approval, which is a good sign. I like the story a lot - I do think it let me try something I've never done before in terms of story structure. I've found that for me the way I tell the story is just as, if not more important, than the story itself.

I'm also intrigued by the fact that the story ended in a different way from how I planned it. I had the whole idea in my head and knew where the story was going. As it turned out, I didn't like one of my main characters. I even said to Caitie as I was writing it that I couldn't stand one of the characters. She thought that was kind of funny. The way I had originally planned it, I didn't like him right through to the end. Instead, I gave him a kind of reprieve. I'm not sure I'm totally satisfied with that at this point - I may try writing it the way I originally planned, though I do realize that would make the story a bit longer. I guess in the end that's one of the things I love about writing - the story gets to be what I want it to be. If I don't like the way it's going, I can change it. Life doesn't always work that way, so it's nice to have control like that at least in some small way!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Time travels

Since I'm so interested in time in my stories, I decided to try something completely different with my new story. The story is reality-based (though set in the near future during a fictional event) but told in shifting time periods. The story jumps around a bit, and I find it interesting seeing how writing the story this way affects the way the story plays out, as well as how I write it. I think the time element definitely makes the story that much more interesting...at least, I hope it does...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bragging

My "great" enrichment class has come up with a brilliant idea for their parts of speech podcast. The parts of speech are making a movie called "The Sentence: The Movie." The kids are going to create a faux documentary about the making of the movie. The movie itself is more or less irrelevant, but what matters is that each role is going to be played by a part of speech - so the noun and verb are the main characters who are fighting for control. Adjective and Adverb are supporting players, each of whom have chosen their own side of the arguments. Preposition is the paparazzi obsessed with Noun, Interjection is a film historian commenting on the movie, Pronoun is (what else?) Noun's stunt double, and Conjunction is the director who just wants to bring everything together. The movie production was fraught with problems - big egos on the part of Noun and Verb, Commas that kept getting in the way, and Period who just wanted to put an end to the whole thing.

I was impressed with how clever the kids were - I did help with some of the ideas, but a lot of it was them. Now the tricky part - actually WRITING the thing!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Block?

I don't know if I believe in writer's block - but I'm having a hell of a time coming up with an idea for a new story. My problem is that when I THINK about the story I can't get it, but when I let my mind go usually the idea will just COME to me. I've gotten ideas from random bits of conversations, a line on a tv show, overheard conversations, and dreams. Actually, I think some of my best story ideas have come to me in dreams, including the opening image of my novel. I can force creation, I certainly ask my students to do it, but I tend to find the story isn't as solid unless I have the big idea in my head already.

So, big idea, I'm waiting for you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dialogue vs. Story

Watched the premiere of Flash Forward last night and LOVED it -- despite the dialogue. The story is absolutely compelling, the premise if fascinating, the acting is -- good to very good, and the dialogue - well, the dialogue needs some work. There were scenes that pulled me right of the show because the lines were so awkwardly worded that, despite the fact that we're dealing with sci-fi, I kept thinking "no one would EVER say that!" Fortunately the idea of the show and the promise of the story to come was plenty strong enough to sustain my interest despite this, but I really hope they figure out how to create better dialogue and soon.

Dialogue can make or break a TV show or movie at times (a strong enough story can survive weak dialogue to a degree, but weak dialogue will KILL anything that isn't at the top of its game story-wise), and I think that's just as true in writing, if not more so. At least with visual media we have an actor who can get us past some of the dialogue provided they're talented enough, but if it's left to our own imagination? I don't know how other people read necessarily, but I always "act out" scenes in my head. If the dialogue feels forced or not realistic (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown) then I'm pulled out of the story instantly. I'm sure I'm guilty of writing a clunker line or two of dialogue myself, but the episode emphasized for me just how important it is to make sure what characters say sounds as natural as possible.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My best class

In my enrichment class today we got to talking about Glee from last night and the dancing football players (if you saw it, you know what I mean!). At the end of class, I pulled the video up on youtube and showed the kids the scene. After laughing about it, I realized I needed to pull it back to writing - so I went into a spiel about how the writers of the show took two completely opposing ideas (football and glee club) and melded them together to get this great climax. What made the scene so great aside from the fact that it was just funny as hell watching these guys in football uniforms dancing was the contrast of two opposing ideas. By joining them, they were able to get a story that sustained not just this episode, but from the looks of it on into more of the season. I also talked about how the writers had to earn that moment. I told the kids a brief summary of what led to that moment and then said that yes, the visual in and of itself is funny enough, but the build-up through the episode gave the writers the right to show us the scene AND made it that much funnier. I told them to take away two things from that: 1) if they need ideas, do the what-if of contrasting two ideas that might not normally go together, and 2) they need to EARN their "football players dancing" moment.

Now, this was with my awesome, perfect class, so I don't know if the lesson would work in other classes, but I was pretty impressed with my own ingenuity in using the clip!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lyrics

I don't pretend to any knowledge of music outside of knowing what I like and what I don't. Still, I feel I have a pretty solid grasp on what makes for good lyric writing and I definitely know when something hits my ear like a brick.

I was listening to the recent concert of Chess, and though I've always known the book was a mess, I hadn't thought about just how horrible some of Tim Rice's lyrics are. Don't get me wrong, some of it is beautiful and brilliant (especially "Pity the Child" - what's more heartbreaking than a grown man craving his mother's approval and singing "I never called a crazy thing to do/Just in case she said "who?"

I want to go over two examples that really stuck out to me. The first was in "Nobody's on Nobody's Side." The character singing the song is lamenting the fact that her partner hasn't been entirely loyal and everyone needs to watch out for themselves. Then, in the middle of the song, we get this couplet:

"Never leave a moment too soon
Never waste a hot afternoon"

Excuse me, what??? OK, so maybe Rice wanted that first line, but that second line makes no sense at all! I mean, without even thinking about it I can come up with "Never leave a moment too fast, never need to regret what's past." I'm not a professional lyric writer, and that's not as strong as it could be for sure, but SURELY Rice could have come up with something better than "Never waste a hot afternoon!"

The other lyric is "I Know Him So Well." The lyric goes like this:

"Isn't it madness he won't be mine
But in the end he needs a little bit more than ___ _______ security
He needs his fantasy and freedom
I know him so well."

Now, I've been listening to different variations of Chess for nearly two decades now. I have NEVER been able to understand just what is said in those blanks in ANY version. I always went with "before" because A)that's what it sounds like and B)I just had no idea what fit there and it was the closest I could figure out. Well, Caitie and I were listening today and thank goodness either Idina Menzel or Kerry Ellis (I can't remember which was singing the line at this point) clearly ennunciated because Caitie finally got it. The lyric goes

"But in the end he needs a little bit more than me for, security."

Ahhh! We got it --- and what a let down! The problem is, the lyric doesn't scan at all! I've thought it was "before" for so long because the emphasis is on the second syllable, not the first as it SHOULD be when the line is said (I had a prof. who once said that even though a song is sung, false emphases can make a lyric unlistenable). Read that line twice - once with the me emphasized, once with the "for" emphasized. Which sounds correct to you?

I implore ANYONE who writes lyrics, please please please listen for emphasis so I don't have to spend another two decades trying to interpret a poor line!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Duo day

On the same day that I got rejected by my twelfth agent (with another four or five who haven't responded at all/yet) I got the contract in my email for the second story getting published in Emerald Tales. It's certainly frustrating getting rejection slips with no explanation or justification - just a "I'm not the right agent for you." I secretly hope that those rejections are real - they just don't feel right for my book, though I know it's entirely possible that they simply didn't like the book at all or feel it won't be successful. I would hope that if there was a real problem that some agent somewhere would be upfront with me and TELL me, though that seems to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why I write - or at least in part....

All right, I'll just say it. I wish everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE - would just get along with each other. Everyone needs to take a moment and look at the world through someone else's eyes. Just think how big a difference that would make. Maybe that's why I write....to see the world from a new perspective.

Having someone else read for you

I sent "Delicious" to my friend Jessica to read over. (So glad we met her!). Anyway, she had some good tips for my story, two in particular I want to talk about here.

The first is her comments on my parentheses use. I apparently use a lot of them. I don't know WHY I do it, but I do. I need to start moving away from them because I know that more often than not they're distracting. Somewhere along the way I picked up the habit of using them - I think because it adds a certain style to the story. Still, I see her point, especially in a third person narrative.

Her other comment was that I didn't describe the locations enough. This goes along with my previous post about character description- how much is too much, how much is not enough? I tend to be even vaguer on setting than on character description for two reasons: 1)I'm not that interested in reading setting when I read books, and 2)I try to focus on the story at hand, and always feel that unless the setting is organic it's distracting. Still, if readers want it, then I should give it, right? I'll have to work on that balance.

I suppose I just have to tell my students that I'm always working on my writing just like they are!

On a side note, Kanye West at the VMAs REALLY got my anger up. I think it's part of the whole entitlement feeling that is sweeping over the nation. At least it did make me happy to see the way the crowd and post-morning blogosphere rallied around Swift.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Delicious again

Still working on the story. I've made some changes and I think I like it a little better, but something's still not feeling quite right.

It's a shame the story is too "adult" for me to bring in to my students as a lesson on revision.

The thing is, I don't tend to do a whole lot of post-writing revision, even though that's what we teach. I do most of my revising as I write. Somehow, it didn't work that way this time, and I'm left with a story that I know needs SOMETHING, but I don't know what!

Well, I still have some time, so I'll have to keep tinkering. This is proving to be a pretty unique experience for me - new story idea, new process...I guess that can't all be a bad thing!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Woohoo!

Just a quick post -- I got into the second (regular!) edition of Emerald Tales!!! I'm very happy with this - I really loved the story I submitted for it, and was glad that I wasn't the only one!

Thanks, Diana!

You've really given me a sense of confidence that I at least have a shot of making it as a writer!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ebay and writing

I learned first hand today how the quality of writing can affect your view of a person. I recently sold some Wii games on ebay. The games were completely fine when they left my house, and now the buyer is claiming they are scratched up and won't play. What's interesting to me, for the sake of this blog, is his (and apparently his wife's) complete inability to write. These are some of the emails I received:

"My son just opened the games to play on his Wii and they are all scratched to hell. The only one that is not scratched is the furry park one. I am a little pissed right now because these were for his birthday. Needless to say I need to send them back and get credit including shipping. Jason, wait till you see these games there are scratches all over them and not even playable, you should have looked at them before selling."

And, even better:

"Jason, just to let you know they dont work AND I am not keeping them and have notified paypal your a liar, AND i will leave you a bad feedback! this is the wife my son cried you are no good!"

Now, let's look at these emails objectively, ignoring content. Run-on sentences, incorrect words, no capitalization, lack of punctuation, and crude language abound.

Not to toot my own horn, but I tend to think I write correctly (whether or not my writing is qualifiably "good" is another issue altogether!). I certanly know I write correctly when dealing with official transactions or in trying to get something from a company or someone else. I'm wondering, based on this -- based on his emails (his wife's?) and on mine which were detailed, precise, and well written, will PayPal decide I need to pay the money back, or that I did nothing wrong?

On a more subjective note, I don't have any actual PROOF that the games were fine other than Caitie's and my word, but the games WERE playable when they left this house. I don't know if his son didn't like the games or if his son broke them...but I know at the very least I SHOULD come off as the more honest person based solely on my writing!

Or am I completely wrong in my view on this?





Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Second (and final) post for the day

I had a friend read a story I wrote recently (hi Jessica!), and she made an interesting comment -- that I should have put more character description into the story. She wanted to know more about the characters' physicality and that got me thinking -- how much responsibility does a writer have to give full physical descriptions of their characters?

My gut instinct is to say "not much." I know when I read a book I tend to make characters look like whatever I want them to within certain parameters (mostly generic information - gender, age, race etc). After that, what the character LOOKS like tends to be left to me. I think given the exact same description of a person, every reader will have their own image of what a character looks like regardless of what the author gives as a description.

That said, I've been told on more than one occasion that I should give more physical details - how a character looks, smells, sounds etc. I find I tend to only do this where the story specifically requires it. Had I written Harry Potter, sure the scar would be mentioned because it's relevant to the plot, and the glasses help identify him, but beyond that, he's pretty much "generic 12 year old boy" that each reader can fill in on their own (that is, if they can get the image of Daniel Radcliffe out of their mind).

So what do you think? Is it the writer's responsibility to give a full description of a character to try to make each reader see the same person the writer is envisioning, or does it not really matter as long as any RELEVANT details are present and accounted for? I'm kind of on the fence on this one myself. I understand the point made, certainly, but I still keep falling back on my own experience of just making a character look like whatever I want them to when I read a book. I'm willing to change my mind, of course, but I think it's worth considering...

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school for the kids. I've been feeling very blah about the start of the year. It was obviously a big summer what with the wedding and all the trauma that followed the honeymoon (though the honeymoon was certainly the trip of a lifetime). Plus, some of you know about the difficulties I've been dealing with at school. Hopefully this will be a great year.

At any rate, it actually was nice interacting with the kids again. I do love that part of my job. We're also in the "school honeymoon" phase when the kids have yet to not do work or break rules etc.

I'm just hoping that school won't interfere completely with my writing. It's hard to do both, and of course maintaining this blog will take take as well, but I'm going to try. If it means only writing on here once or twice a week, so be it. I guess we'll see how it goes.

As of now, for my writing, aside from sending out to agents to find someone to represent Before White, I'm working on cleaning up the ending of "Delicious." I like it (Caitie gave me her stamp of approval) but I don't love it. Something isn't quite right in the ending, and I'm not sure what it is. I may just leave it alone for a week or so and come back to it - see where that gets me.
Speaking of agents - if anyone reading has any leads on agents looking for young adult fantasy, drop me a line!

Monday, September 7, 2009

My first writing blog

Well, I decided now that I'm actively trying to focus on my writing - working on a lot of short stories and finding an agent for my novel - that perhaps I should try blogging a little. I plan to use this to talk about my stories, any successes or failures I may have, as well as possibly things I read or see that on TV/movies/theater that strike me as write-worthy (sorry, Caitie's been watching a lot of Seinfeld lately).

As of now, I've had one story published ("The Return of the Supes" in Emerald Tales magazine) and have submitted my story for the second issue. That story is called "A Steady Life" and I feel it's one of the best stories I've ever written. It's quite different from my normal writing in that it's not science fiction or fantasy - it's a real character study which is something I've found I've been leaning towards more and more.

This morning I finished "Delicious," a story I'll submit for the third issue. It's another character story with a horror bent at the end, though it's also something different for me in that I wrote it from the perspective of a female seductress - something I've never even come close to trying before. It'll be interested to see how it's received, since it is something completely new for me. Caitie said last night she wants me to try something completely new -- no fantasy, set in present time. Honestly, with the exception of a couple of character pieces I've done for school, I don't think I've ever really done that. I tend to always go for some element of fantasy - or at the very least some kind of twist ending or set in the past. Maybe the present just doesn't interest me as much, I don't know.

I finished the Dark Tower series this morning. King has guts, I'll say that. I'm still wrapping my mind around the end, but I think I get it, and if I do, then King is kind of brilliant. The idea of putting himself into the book was a little strange, but it made sense with what he was trying to say about the nature of writing. It ties strongly in with my ideas of the journey and cyclical nature of stories. Maybe that's why I feel a kind of simpatico with King.

Finally, something a bit troubling. In reading thoughts about "Lost" I read a theory that Alpert's whole goal is to die - to end his immortality. I REALLY hope this isn't so, since it's a major idea in my novel! Still, if it turns out that's what it is, I'm saying here and now, I thought of it first!