Theater Masks

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009


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


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 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


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!