Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Magic


"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

Shhhh...I believe. I believe in faeries. I do. I believe that on humid summer nights, they move through the tall grass, whispering to the darkness and singing songs that speak to our loneliness. I believe in the crackling of midnight, the tension of that hour, the tilting balance from day to night and back again.

I believe that behind the most ordinary closet door is a miraculous vista, with rolling green hills bearing daisy ornaments and alive with an explosion of dandelion fluff.

I believe in magic. I don't try and figure out how David Copperfield or David Blaine do what they do. I just believe.

Maybe it's because I don't have religion. Maybe it's human nature to embrace the remarkable, to reach beyond the mundane. Whatever the reason, I believe in magic. It's what I draw upon to write.

Nathaniel Hawthorne used a fountain for his metaphor. The magic which brings forth creation is what springs from that fountain. Magic gives us a sense of wonder. It pulls that wonder from our childhood and gives it back to us so that we may once again drape ourself in its freshness and innocence.

I believe in magic.

Where does your creativity come from? Me? I've a date tonight with a young lady. We're going to wait for the rabbit and then follow him down the hole, or perhaps through a mirror. Maybe we'll see if we can find the boy who has lost his shadow and follow him as he heads for that first star on the right and follows it straight on to morning.

Monday, January 29, 2007

And The Groupies Proclaimed...



The Yardbirds are one of the most amazing groups in rock history and also one of the most horribly overlooked. It shouldn't surprise us this band pioneered some unique guitar effects for its time, including innovative uses of fuzz, feedback, and distortion. After all at one time or another it claimed as its members the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and the Spenser Davis Group were raw bluesy rock, putting out an energy that would shape the world of album oriented rock and give Americans back the blues championed in the south, but now heard through an electronic, distorted filter.

If we were to write a bible it might run thus:

So The Yardbirds did give birth to Eric Clapton who went forth to join John Mayall, and onward to Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes. And the groupies proclaimed: "It was good".

And from the loins of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers came Peter Green, who would cofound Fleetwood Mac. The groupies would proclaim him: "Questionable".

But Mayall also gave forth Mick Taylor, who met up with Mick Jagger who sought to replace Brian Jones in 1969 and so Taylor became one of the Rolling Stones, and the groupies pronounced: "It was good..very."

And still The Yardbirds gave forth talent. And The Yardbirds begat Jimmy Page, and Jimmy Page begat Led Zepplin. And the groupies pronounced: "It's really good. Pass the joint."

While most of you have probably wandered off, let me assure you I am always fascinated by the history of popular music, and watching how one band gives birth to another. Looking at a cd, I am always checking who the studio musicians are and who wrote certain songs.

Let me close by saying that if you like Led Zepplin, or Cream, or Steve Winwood, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the members' earlier works with the likes of Spencer Davis Group, Yardbirds, or the John Mayall. Blue Eyed Blues..sweet guitar licks, moody music, primal. Pictured:(top) Jimmy Page, (middle) Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton as Cream, and (bottom) Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

And It's Only January


I know I said I would refrain from political postings for the most part, but I thought you might like to see some of the Congressional resolutions passed just this month. Now, don't consider this a negative statement toward the Democrats, because I assure you, the Republicans were just as bad, and most of these resolutions were passed unanimously:

  • A resolution recognizing the valor of WesleyAutrey of New York, New York
  • A resolution designating January as "National Stalking Awareness Month"
  • A resolution expressing "the sense of the senate as it regards Martin Luther King, Jr. Day..."
  • A bill to recognize the heritage of hunting (and to make available certain federal land for hunters)
  • A resolution honoring the National Academy of Music
  • A resolution commending the Nebraska-Lincoln Women's Volley Ball team
  • A resolution honoring the contribution of Catholic schools
  • A bill establishing Dutch-American Friendship Day
  • A resolution congratulating Lovey Smith and the Chicago Bears
  • A resolution demanding the return of the U.S.S. Pueblo from N. Korea (taken in 1968)
  • A resolution offered in support for prayer at school board meetings
  • A resolution congratulating Tony Gwynn for his election to the baseball hall of fame
  • A resolution recognizing the importance of western civilization
To be fair, most of Congress' time isn't spent on the above meaningless resolutions, and most the bills that get passed, and there are many (see this wonderful site to track the path of legislation), don't make it out of committee. Some of the bills, which will stand no change of passing (such as a law extending protection under the 14th amendment to embryos), will still allow a lawmaker to return to his constituent and brag about what windmills he tilted against.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy


Moving on...

I sing in my car. And I sing poorly. I also sing lyrics abominably. I either sing them wrong, or when I don't remember them, it's either.."Da, da, da, da,...." or "ah....ah...yeah..."

I don't know how many years I went singing Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" with the lyric..."Excuse me, while I kiss this guy!" Yeah, I got a lot of strange looks. As for the Rolling Stones, well, anything sung by Mick is by nature hard to understand. Think about "Jumping Jack Flash". I remember playing that over and over and over....until I finally had something that would pass as the correct lyrics, but probably weren't. Go ahead, listen to the tune and you tell me.

I remember in high school listening to ZZ Tops' song: "La Grange". Oh God. We loved the guitar riffs, but as for the lyrics...whenever it came on, we smiled knowingly and said: "Oh, the Incoherent Song."

It's always been hard to understand some lyrics in rock. Too bad it's not hard to understand lyrics in rap. I always seem to understand those too well. But putting aside my old fogginess, here are some bands that seem impossible to decipher without repeated listening: Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Motorhead, etc. And I know some smart ass out there will suggest: just go online and look up lyrics.

Recently my wife's brother had me put a disc into my cd player. It was nothing but incoherent screaming. Seriously. The singer snarled in monotone, stretching the words out so that they were not understandable. His voice was razor blades. If he wasn't screaming slowly, then he was screaming and ripping through a lyric so that God himself was crying.

"He sounds different in this song," her brother said. "I think he's changed his style. I like his old stuff better."

"How can you tell?" I asked. Seriously, it was just raw, hideous screaming. Behind him the guitars roared without any sense of melody or pattern...and the drums...? Now I like hard music, but this wasn't

"I'll grant you sometimes he's hard to understand, but..."

Hard to understand? Metallica can be hard to understand (although not really), Nirvana and Foo Fighters were occasionally hard to understand, but industrial music...?

Of course the ultimately misunderstood song has to be "Louie, Louie" as slurred by the Kingsmen.

All this being said: Here are some of the most misunderstood lyrics in music. I went to this site and looked them up. http://www.kissthisguy.com/ It felt good to see I wasn't alone in my confusion over Purple Haze. Check it out, you'll be amused.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Published?


In the last month several people have said: "You're not published? I can't believe you're not published." At least three comments in my last post contained that line. I nodded to myself and felt this uneasiness ride over me, this weariness.

So, why am I not currently published? Well to be honest, I have been. As a writer/editor for a now defunct weekly newspaper in Detroit, and as a movie critic/interviewer for a now defunct cable magazine.

I've also been published online in the now defunct "Zuzu's Petals", "Alternate Realities", and "Shadowfeast". Also, there's been one anthology (through "Shadowfeast") and the now defunct print magazine "Sinisteria". You notice the word that characterizes all those publications? Defunct.

Do these outlets count as being published? Especially with the last one being over two years ago? No. Not really. Not in my book. Not really in your's.

I blame myself . I haven't been diligent about submitting my work. I haven't worked hard enough to market myself. It's only been in the last six months that my novel: "Palpable Illusion" has started to be shopped around to agents. And even now, I am putting that on hold to make some final edits to that novel (probably I'll have it done by April).

I've set a goal to submit at least one hundred times this year to paying markets, online and otherwise. If my expectations hold true, I should sell about fifteen short stories. Maybe.

It drives a person to ask: is it worth it?

I should have run for public office.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Assignment: Pets

I love the old English folk tale: "King O The Cats". I think I have written that that story was one of my first horror stories as a kid. What follows is my assignment, a reworking of that old story.

KING O THE CATS

Tom licked himself, wondering why he never saw humans grooming themselves in the same manner. Perhaps because they weren't quite so limber. More likely because they weren't quite so clean. Humans weren't cats, after all.

His master, George Underwood bathed rarely, and when he did, it was a household event of enormous proportions. The Woman, she might have a name, but no one called her anything else, would set a kettle on the fire to later pour steaming water into a wooden tub. George would then make a big show of stepping in, screwing up his face with resolve as his bum hit the surface.

"Annoying man," thought Tom, stretching, then moving closer to the fire. The Woman walked by, carrying several vegetables in the crook of her arm. She snorted at Tom.

"I just saw a rat by the barn," she said to him.

Tom looked up with yellow eyes feigning interest. He then yawned, amused at his own wit, and fell back with a chuckle. The Woman rolled her eyes, chiding him further as she hurried into the kitchen to prepare dinner.

The sound of a horse outside told him George was home at last. His human came in through the door, red-faced, eyes wide with excitement. He removed a jacket, beating it first with his hand, then laying it across the back of a chair. He went to his wife, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and went to warm himself before the fire.


"Oh, you will never guess what I saw this night. What a thing! What a thing!"


She ignored her husband, she always did. Tom, however, couldn't help but find his curiosity unaccountably ignited. He sat up, black fur highlighted by the fire's glow.


"I was coming home, as I always do, when what should I see?" asked George. He waited futilely for The Woman to show interest. Undaunted, George continued. "I saw a group of cats bringing along the body of another, dragging it behind them. Can you imagine? And behind them, behind them were at least a hundred other cats, all keeping a respectful distance."

"You've been drinking," The Woman said at last.

"By God's blood, truer words by me were never spoken," objected George. He reached out and stroked Tom, who leaned back, resisting the urge to swipe a claw at him.

"But there's more, my sweetness. More," said George. "The cat they were dragging had a knife sticking from its side. Not a big knife, like we would keep in our kitchen, but a little knife. It was a black cat, like our Tom here, and its fur was covered with blood as though he had been stabbed over and over again."

Tom looked nervously toward the door, his ears strained forward to listen to the night. A shiver passed through him.

"And one of the cats who led this whole gruesome parade kept shouting..."

"Wait," said The Woman, "you're saying a cat spoke?"

"I swear by your life and by your mother's life. I swear by your sister's life. God rest her soul."

"And what did this cat say?"

"He said 'The King is dead, the tyranny is over.'"

The Woman laughed to hear this. She started to return to the kitchen area to continue cutting up the vegetables. George looked a bit put out at this response. He stood, talking as he chased after her.

"That lead cat, a big yellow tab with the queerest eyes, stopped. He looked at me and said: 'You're George Underwood.'"

"'You know me?'" I asked. "I shouldn't have been so amazed. After all, our's is a smallish town, but it did put me out."

"'We know you," said the tabby. 'Tell Tom his precious king is dead. He'll not ascend to the throne now. The reign of terror is ended.'"

"'The terror?' asked The Wife.

Tom began pacing nervously, his eyes darting about. The fur along his spine raised up. He wanted to run, to find safety, but he had to hear the rest. Anything stupid old George could offer up might be useful.

"What was that?" asked The Wife.


Tom lifted his head. He had heard it, too. The sound of feet on the roof. No, the sound of many feet on the roof now.


"What was what?" asked George. "I don't hear anything."

Tom yowled, partly in anger and partly in fear. The old fool had led them back here. While he had sat before the fire, spinning his stupid tale, the rebels had been creeping into place. Tom could feel them on the roof, getting ready for the strike. He could sense them in the garden, feel them just under the window. All waiting for the signal to strike. Stupid George. Stupid old man. Tom hissed, circled, hissed again. He yowled.

The king was dead. Now he was the king.

"Look at our Old Tom. I wonder what's wrong. What is it, old boy?"

The Woman shook her head, her face grim, and her eyes fearful. "Put him out," she said. "Put him out."

"What's this?" asked George.

"Do as I tell you. Put him out now."

A yowl sounded from without. Another followed.

George nodded, his stupid eyes expressing a sudden awareness that something was wrong here. He went toward Tom, who backed against the wall, exposing fangs, and preparing to run for his life. He wasn't going to be put outside. Not tonight. George reached for his coat, holding it to trap Tom.

The yowling outside continued to build as more voices joined the horrible cacophony. It was as though misery had been given a voice and thrown to the wind to scream its song through the night. Tom heard the anger, the hideous demand for blood. His blood. If he could stay here until morning, he might make his way down country to the city. His kin still held sway there.

"Got you," said George.

Tom had allowed himself to become distracted, giving George an opportunity to pounce, throwing the coat over him. He screamed, slashing with claws through the thick wool as George bundled him up. Shouting with rage, frustration, and terror, Tom couldn't escape.

The door opened and he found himself dropped into the dirt before the small house. The yowling stopped.

Hundreds of cats crept through the yard. They moved along the fence, by the barn, over the small shed where George kept his tools. They moved as one predatory, casting one shadow by the moon.

Tom studied them, trying to see where the opportunity to escape might present itself. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw George, faced pressed against the window glass, eyes blinking in amazement.

Tom drew himself up, moving toward a tabby with queer green eyes that had seperated slightly from the hoard. The cat gave a cruel and triumphant smile.

"I'm the king o' the cats," Tom proclaimed. He strutted forward, listening to the hissing that had begun.

"I'm the king o' cats," he shouted. Feeling his strength, reveling in his nobility, he moved forward, head held high. "I'm the king o' the cats."

He stopped and let his tail swish once or twice. He almost allowed himself a sliver of hope. Then they descended on him.

-

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PETS

Assignment: Write something under one thousand words or so (flexible on length), from a pet's perspective. No first person narrative. The goal is to work on Point Of View. The story may be in any genre.

I have begun to receive completed assignments and I will post them as I receive them through late tomorrow night. Please visit these postings, read what people have put together, and offer comment. Remember to coach critiques positively, offering helpful suggestions where appropriate. I'm not posting my own until tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An editor told me that while one of my short stories was gramatically correct, sometimes in fiction some writing has to break rules. Sometimes for the sake of mood, pacing, and voice, the author has to do things that would send E.B. White and his friend Strunk into a corner in a profound depression.

Another person took me into a corner and said: subject, predicate, subject predicate..don't get into a funk. Start with a participle from time to time. "ING" can be fun.

Another person, a poet, showed me a paragraph.

"That's not a poem," I pointed out.

The person argued it was.

"What makes that long paragraph a poem?" I asked. "It's a paragraph. You're describing a setting, but it's several sentences strung together in a logical progression. It's a paragraph." The poet smiled patiently and said:


"It's
a
poem."

What's the point?

The point is that I think a writer needs to have a strong grounding in fundamentals. We've all heard a teacher say: "You need to know the rules before you break them." And people, in my book, you better break them for a strong reason, not just out of laziness.
I know, you're thinking, I write fine. Well, great. However, there are many writers who should stop and look at difficulty with changing tenses in midstream, difficulties with POV, difficulties with sentence structure. Maybe some people get so excited when they write that they lose track and just want to get it down. Maybe some people get too close to their work and can't see the errors that other so quickly note.

I read an author's work last year, helping to edit an anthology which I knew would never be published (I'll just walk away from that story now). Her submitted work had spelling errors, it was poorly paced, and worst of all---grammatically weak. She loved run-on sentences. They were everywhere. I pointed out the strengths and weaknesses, and then suggested "Strunk and White". Just in case I need to elaborate, "Strunk and White" are the authors of a classic book on grammar and usage.

Some people will say: well, your writing here isn't always correct.

No? Really? (listen to the sarcasm)

A blog is someone's house. Sometimes the floor's not vacuumed. Sometimes the dishes aren't done. Me? I'm in my underwear right now and typing quickly on my laptop. Except for the most glaring errors, I am not going to do any heavy proofing on this entry or revision. Why? Because this is my house and I'm not interested. This is my writer's journal, and as we know, one doesn't edit one's journal. At least I don't.
Writing clearly to convey exactly what you intended to convey starts with having the proper tools. Grammar.

Again, rules are made to be broken, but one should know what rule is being broken and why. Clarity is everything. Whatever helps the reader most easily understand what the writer is intending to communicate is the most effective type of writing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday Blues


Sometimes you have to talk about something fun, especially in the dead of winter, when the cold keeps beating at the arthritis in your back. I was browsing through the web and started picking up on old cartoon strips that I've enjoyed. Memories flooded back. I remember my first love: Peanuts. Then, turning to the back of the newspaper later and enjoying the likes of Gil Thorpe, Beetle Bailey, B.C., Marmaduke, Garfield, and Pogo. Then, I discovered Gary Larson, Gary Trudeau, and Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes".

I love the economy of a well drawn script. The sometimes subtle delivery and the beautiful melding of picture and word. And it wasn't just the stuff in the black and white newspapers, but the single panels of Charles Addams from the New Yorker and Gahan Wilson (my hero) from the pages of Playboy.

So, cheer up...here are a few of my favorites. Copyright infringement? No, merely a tribute. Click on a picture if you want to make it larger.

By the way, the one to the left, the Gahan Wilson cartoon entitled I Think We Won. I want to retitle it: Iraq.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

When did Fabio Become A Vampire?

Wayne Sallee seems to think I have some kind of power. If I thought that was the case, I would put a paypal button on the blog and ask for donations. Alas.

Yesterday I strolled through Barnes and Noble, remembering Rick's comment the other day that eighty percent of the people buying books were women. I flipped through books by Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, and MaryJanice Davidson. These books all deal with the supernatural adventures of young women who cope with an array of monsters of the night as though they were dealing with minor, coming of age inconveniences. It's sort of like "Sex and the City" meets "Dracula".

Here is a pasting from Amazon describing one of the books:
"Parker personifies Harris's perky Southern heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic cocktail waitress of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Parker buoyantly and cheerfully reads this engaging but bizarre tale peopled with vampires, "were people," demons, and other supernaturals."

Another book is described this way:
"Santa Claws" is a tale of Europe's most powerful werewolf falling in love with a plump, bell-ringing Santa on a Boston street corner. "Monster Love" examines interspecies love when a spinster werewolf who "hit like a Teamster. And swore like one, too" is abducted by a lonely vampire."

A spinster werewolf???? A lonely vampire????

I hate sounding like an old fuddy duddy, but this genre seems to have grown up while I wasn't paying attention. This genre, let's call it supernatural romance, seems to be the reading matter of young women raised on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "The O.C.". I don't begrudge them this reading material, and if the writers are making money, and it seems they are, then more power to them.

As a horror writer though, I find myself growing a little surly over what I view as the domestication of horror. To me a vampire is a sinister creature of darkness, not the gothic hunk who moons with the sensitivity of Fabio. A werewolf is a primal thing which rends its prey apart with razor claws. It is not Laslo the Dog Boy, tamed with a biscuit and a gentle hand.

Again, I don't mind this new trend in horror literature, I just haven't really paid attention before now. If any of you have insight into this subgenre, please talk to me about its appeal and the elements that make it special for you. Even if you aren't a fan, perhaps explain it to me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I'm Enormous

I have two stories I almost posted here. One called "God" which is about the deity visiting a couple kids on the playground. The other is "Lost Town", a story about a teenage runaway's experience as a homosexual prostitute. However, at the last minute I decided to send them off to try and publish them. If you want to read either one, let me know and I will be happy to email either or both to you. I can't publish them here, because then the magazine would consider them as having been previously published.

A couple years ago, a few writers in one of the groups I attended were unwilling to put anything on the net. Not because they were concerned about the publishing rights, but because they were afraid someone could come along and steal their work. I've thought about that. However, if I'm having trouble getting stuff accepted, it would surprise me to find someone else having success. I remember a now defunct online magazine known as "Shadowfeast" published one of my stories. I googled it later and was stunned to find that someone in Great Britain had taken the tale off the site and published it on his website as well. He even gave me credit. I was flattered.

So here's to the two magazines about to receive my tales. Here's to electronic submission. It makes it so much easier to send stuff off. Finally, here's to Jon, home from the hospital today. I hope I see you on Thursday.

One last note. I am enormous. I am a corpulent mass that burbles as I pull myself from chair to chair. So, for the twelfth time, I am joining Weight Watchers this co
ming Monday. I will not be asking them to tell me my current weight, I do not want to know. Nor will I be making note of how much I lose a week. I don't want to know that as well. Instead, I will tell them that when I hit fifty pounds...we'll celebrate. Not before. I say that now, but we'll see how I feel about this all on Monday.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's A Pet's Life


Why writing assignments? They began at the Bay Area Writers as something to push people to write. I put some of these assignments on the blog here so members could come and see what to work on for the next meeting (with the understanding that these assignments were voluntary--some people were working on short stories, novels, etc.). A few people on the web asked if they could do the assignments as well, and so here we are...

Pet's Life

This assignment is due next Wednesday. I will post links to pages of those who have chosen to participate and who have posted the assignment. Please email me your links on Wednesday.

The assignment: Write a story from a pet's perspective, alhough not using first person. The point here is to work on POV, something that gives many authors difficulty. Your story may be in any genre. It must be under two thousand words.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Question For Writers: I Really Want To Know

I am curious about some of the writers' groups some of you may be a member of. If you can give me some information I would be appreciative, whether or not you are still in the group, or if the group is a thing of the past.


Some of the questions I am interested in are:


1) Is your group focused on a particular type of writing. Are you all in the same genre, for instance. Are you all the same age range?

2) Where does your group meet? A book store? A library?

3) Can anyone join? Or does the person have to go through some kind of vetting process? Or is the group by invitation only.

4) What are the rules for the group? Do you read out loud? Do line crits passing out work ahead of time?

5) How long has the group been in existence, and how long have you been a member.

I really want to know.
If you're more comfortable making this a posting on your own blog, fine. But I really, really want to know. I currently belong to two groups.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fat Cat

I'm a sucker for animal stories.

This one was floated over the local news service. Apparently in Oregon, a twenty pound stray cat was found wedged in a doggie door in a home in Gresham. The homeowner, who owns six cats, came home and saw major cat butt wiggling to free itself from the door. She guessed the overweight feline had gotten stuck trying to sneak in to steal food from the cat bowls in the kitchen.

Fortunately, after seeing the cat in a story on the local tv show, the cat's owner stepped forward to claim the pet, who had been missing for six months.

In a press release, the Oregon Humane Society added that over forty percent of the nation's cats are overweight.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

That's Me...Mr. Patriarch (or subcategories of fiction)

Someone recently accused me of representing the patriarchal establishment. I think they were trying to imply that I was acting out the will of institutional sexism. As a leftwing pinko, I took umbrage. But not enough to keep from having fun with it. Still, it got me thinking about labels, which got me thinking about writing and literature. What doesn't get me thinking about writing and literature?

Have you noticed the obsession we have with trying to classify forms of fiction? It's not enough to call something science fiction or fantasy, we have to break it down into one of a hundred absurd little subsets that somehow makes the fan of a particular author feel special. Let me take a genre I know something about: Horror.

Gather a group of horror fans together and they will immediately start jockeying for position, trying to shove different writers into different cubbyholes. You'll hear the discussion go on about psychological horror, sociological horror, allegorical horror. They'll sing and dance about erotic horror, splatterpunk, and Gothic horror. Then, as the evening revs up, they'll raise their voices as they argue over Lovecraftian horror, supernatural horror, and visceral horror. There's apocalyptic horror, zombie horror, vampirical horror, lycanthropic horror.

And all the while they discuss and argue, using these terms with a deadly seriousness, they actually keep a straight face.

In one recent call for submission, an editor actually said she was looking to create a new subgenre which she was dubbing: "pirate horror". Arrgh.

Don't feel superior out there. Allow me to once again don my patriarchal mantle. Let's talk "CHICK-LIT" (what an obnoxious term) a genre that some have absurdly deemed "post-feminist literature". What??? Others have dismissed it as a subcategory of romance.

Yet, this sub-genre has exploded.

I recently asked a woman to define chick-lit and she shrugged and said: "You know, 'Desperate Housewifes", "Sex in the City". One source tried to describe Chick Lit this way:

"Chick-Lit is hip, stylish, confident and sharp - it's also honest and very brave. It battles and conquers the term Chick. It's about coming of age."

Yeah.

How about this. Why don't we stop this nonsense. I think there are only so many levels of pretentiousness we can climb before we topple. I'll accept that there are types of literature. I'll accept the divisions of mystery, horror, science fiction, western, fantasy, romance, thriller, etc. But let's stop the subgenres. Let's stop trying to find legitimacy by labelling. And that's what it really is, isn't? All this labelling is nothing more than trying to legitimize something which may or may not be able to stand up on its own merit. You can use all the terms you want to classify something, but if a story lacks the rudiment of plot, character, setting, theme....then there is only really one label that can truly apply:
Garbage.

Friday, January 12, 2007

More Word For The Weary

As you've seen from two earlier postings ( For The Love of Words and Ba-a-a-a-d Words, Go To The Corner )I love words. They are the paints we use to create our literary art. A writer without command of words is a poor artist. Knowing when and how to use a word or phrase in context can take a mediocre expression and turn it the most profound of statements. The key there is context. For instance: "George, I get to tend the rabbits," is an absurd statement on its own, but put into context, it defines the gentle giant turned murderer, Lenny, in Steinbeck's "Mice and Men".

Context is everything. Context means the difference between divorce and a night of extreme passion. Of course, sometimes the reverse leads from one to the other.

Sometimes words demand historical context. Taken away from their period, they take on new meaning, often so divorced from the original that they would be unrecognizable in their original context. To prove my point let me offer a few phrases we take for granted today, but which have seperate meaning away from our world and back in the original context.

I dedicate the following trivia to Jon Zech.

PAGAN- This word today is often meant to define someone who believes in more than one god or a person who doesn't believe in God altogether. Oddly, the term is from the Latin paganus. Meaning? One who lives in a rural district.

PANDEMONEUM- The word today means "a state of extreme chaos or confusion". There is some conflict over the origin here. One group believes it was first coined by Milton for "Paradise Lost" and that it literally meant a place of demons, or Hell. Another group believes the term refers to the god Pan and the affect he would have on young maidens who found themselves lost in the wood.

BOB'S YOUR UNCLE- I never heard this expression before the last few years, then suddenly I seemed to hear it from several sources. It's origin? An unpopular political appointment in 1887 when Lord Salisbury appointed his uncle Lord Balfour to the post of Chief Secretary for Ireland. At the time this expression this was a sarcastic allusion to nepotism. Today the phrase means "there you are" and "mission accomplished".

KATIE BAR THE DOOR- this odd phrase is only used by extremely odd people. It sort of means "unbridled enthusiasm" to some and "here comes trouble" to others. I know. The phrase itself has no clear origin. Some people attribute it to the Civil War in the U.S., other people attribute it to a poem by Rosetti, written in 1881. In the poem a lady-in-waiting is attempting to save the King James as the king cries out "Katherine, bar the door!" Who knows.

GIVING SOMEONE THE BIRD: Ah...well, this apparently comes from an old Australian theater usage. Actors were given the bird, which meant they were hissed at. Hissing is of course what geese do. The term eventually came to represent another gesture of derisiveness.

WHOLE NINE YARDS: Originated in the WWI. A Vickers Machine Gun had a nine yard magazine belt. The phrase referred to using an entire magazine when firing on the enemy.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Quick Note

Quick note: Bird on a Wire's blog "Dispatches in Surburbia" has a posting, the next in the "Chomper and Donkey" writing string started by Lucas Pederson, continued by me a couple posts ago. If you would like to read what Bird has posted, here is his link:http://suburbanwarfare.blogspot.com/2007/01/chomper-and-donkey.html
ALSO, Be sure to check the links in the posting below for any links which might have been posted since your last visit to this site. I have just posted a link to Sue Miller's superb offering below.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HEAD RUSH: Writing Assignment

The assignment was to write a story under seven hundred words about unrequited love. It had to be from the opposite gender's perspective and told in first person. Also, the narrator had to have some deformity, imagined or otherwise. It had to be entitled Head Rush.

Below are the links of the brave souls who have taken on this challenge. Please go to their blogs, read their works, and comment. If you offer critique, please remember to give it in a positive fashion. I will add more links below as I receive them.

This assignment's participants:

*Donkey Blog gives us a carnal taste of surrender
http://thisdonkey.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

*JR give us a staccato beat to follow in a brilliant voice
http://jrtomlinson.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

*SQT's story has the words "I shouldn't have gone off my meds.." in it. That can't be good.
http://sqtspareparts.blogspot.com/

*Christine Rundell writes about teen angst
http://christinarundle.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

*Lucas Pederson has written a disturbing, violent story of obssession.
http://through-the-never.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

*Me? I wrote something about a woman too beautiful.
http://house-of-sternberg.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

*Brad, a new member of the Chesterfield group has given us this gem:
http://gugon.blogspot.com/2007/01/assignment-head-rush.html

*I am an enormous fan of Sue Miller's work. Here is her take on Head Rush.
http://buckatunnaqueen.blogspot.com/2007/01/head-rush.html

HEAD RUSH

He had been staring at me covertly for the last fifteen minutes, watching as I sat there nibbling at my salad. I’m used to being stared at though. People can’t help themselves. I’ve always been the most beautiful woman in the room; when I was a little girl, adults put me on a pedestal. I was cherished.

The man, a roly-poly individual with a shiny face marred by a red rash on either side of his nose, kept pushing his glasses up against his nose. Shifting in his seat, he looked tortured.

"You're a little goddess," my mother used to say. She liked dressing me in bright colors. "Pastels are for ugly children. You don't have to worry about being upstaged by your wardrobe."

I always knew my appearance set me apart from others. When I was a young teen, my mother became nervous, fearful my looks would make me prey. She needn't have worried. Boys stayed far away from me. Girls were uneasy. I remember an older man who approached me once when I sat at the bus-stop. Tall, his shadow stretching forever, he looked down, drinking me in for the longest time before speaking.

“If you were my little girl, I would never let you grow up,” he said. “I would keep you in pretty little dresses and you would never ever be allowed to go out. You’d be just like this forever.”

I remember thinking he had the kindest voice. I smiled at him. I heard him sucking in air. Abruptly turning, he left the bus-stop.

The roly-poly man stood up, something momentarily igniting his courage, and started toward me. He slowed though and made a great show of having to stretch his legs. There was something sweet about him. He looked so vulnerable. I was touched.

Yawning, he shuffled back to his table and occupied himself with his place setting.

At another table of the restaurant a couple were beginning to argue. Her face turning red, her eyes often shifting in my direction. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I was sure it was about me. She had caught her husband looking my way, or had tried conversing with him only to be frustrated by his distracted state. Shaking his head, he nodded at me, then made the mistake of turning and making eye contact. I couldn't help but smile. His eyes widened slightly, his mouth turned down.

The argument ended with her leaving the table. He followed reluctantly, glancing at me back over his shoulder several times on the way out. A waiter chased after them, their bill in hand.

The roly-poly man had gathered courage again and was starting to rise. His red face damp with perspiration, he walked toward me. His arms were stiff at his side. I didn't want him to collapse again. I held my breath, waiting as he continued his brave walk, waiting until he stood next to me to look up at him, trying to appear as receptive as possible.

"Hello?" I asked.

The man's breathing quickened, his eyes widened slightly. He stood there for as long time studying my features. I felt his need, his loneliness. I felt his inadequacy.

The air rushed out of him, his shoulders sagging, his spine wilting. His face turned an impossible shade of purple. Tears ran from his eyes and he began to sob, making a terrible lowing. Without a word, he whirled about and charged from the restaurant, his cries rising and falling with each stride. Again, a waiter chased a customer out the door.

I felt horrible disappointment. My appetite vanished. I stood and looked around for my own waiter. He came stumbling to me.

"Can I help you?"

God, yes. I wished someone would. "The bill," I said.

The waiter smiled, and I already knew the answer.

"That gentleman who left here a few minutes ago has already paid your bill, Miss."

Thanking him with a gentle touch of my hand to his cheek, I left the restaurant in search of something worthy.



Monday, January 08, 2007

What's The Plural of Donkey?

Lucas Pederson, on his new blog, Through The Never, has posted his own activity. He has written a couple hundred words beginning a story. Then, he has invited anyone to take what he has written and change it, or continue it. It's sort of a writer's version of telephone. In my experience in writers' groups, the chain tends to peter out quickly. However, I'm always game for something a little different or fun, so I've accepted Lucas' challenge. Below is my variation and continuation...


The Valley


Chomper emerged from the shadows, muzzle dark and dripping. Donkey watched him uneasily, a shiver passing through him. The dog’s killed again, he thought. One of the two-legs this time. How would the dog justify the kill to the others? He wouldn’t. They would never know, and Donkey didn’t have the courage to tell them.

“Two-leg tired to trick me,” said Chomper. The dog bared its teeth, pantomiming how it had leaped to grab the two-legs’ throat. With the performance completed, it crouched and studied Donkey with large brown eyes. “I had to,” he said.

“We better get along, where there’s one of them, there are more,” said Donkey.

“There can’t be that many of them,” said Chomper.

A sound made Donkey look up. A mewling. Chomper growled, the fur along his spine rising in places. The mewling became cries. A baby.

“You killed a mother,” said Donkey.

“I killed a two-leg,” said Chomper. “Now I’ll go kill another.”

The dog’s eyes shined with a predatory hunger. That look came too often to Chomper’s eyes these days. Too often. Marietta, the oldest of the Originals, had warned that the mastiff couldn’t be trusted.

“Chomper’s a killer. It’s his breeding,” she said.

“He kills to eat,” acknowledged Donkey.

“It ain’t just that. I’ve watched the two of you together. I’ve seen him nip at you. I’ve seen him draw blood. He likes the taste. And you’re afraid of him.”

Donkey hadn’t been able to deny the last statement.

“We’ll have to deal with him,” she said. “Eventually.”

Chomper started toward the sound of the crying, ears flat against his head. Donkey stomped a hoof to distract him.

“Let it be,” said Donkey.

Chomper stopped, ears suddenly forward in surprise. Appraising Donkey, he let a tongue loll from one side of his mouth. “I didn’t know it had a pup. But it did, and now it’s dead, and so will the pup be. It’s better to kill the two-legs’ pup, than let the poor thing starve. It’s helpless. I’ll be quick and merciful.”

“No,” said Donkey.

Chomper turned from the him, ignoring his stupidity. He couldn’t stop the dog. His words had no strength, the dog had no fear. Donkey remembered the last time Chomper hurt him. He remembered the feel of those fangs, the tearing of flank. The pain lasted days, and though his friend was conciliatory, their relationship shifted and they were no longer equals.

Donkey moved to block Chomper, not sure what he was doing. Anticipating the pain, he shut his eyes. Muscles tensed. Hind legs kicked. A shocking sound followed as Chomper yelped and hit the dirt with a thud.

Horror. Donkey brayed, leaping about in panic. He stopped himself, fighting to control his breathing, and looked down. Chomper was dead. Donkey, backed away a couple steps, unable to imagine what the Originals would say. No, Chomper’s side moved; he was alive, stunned.

The two-leg colt cried. Donkey’s head lifted.

Chomper would get up. When he did, he would know what Donkey had done and strike out after him to seek revenge. Stupid Donkey. Worthless Donkey. Run away. Leave the valley. Or. Donkey looked down. Or finish the job. He moved toward Chomper, feeling the weight of his hooves, sensing it wouldn’t take much to finish the dog.

Except that’s not me, thought Donkey. Forlornly, he backed away, back toward the sound of the two-leg, unsure what to do next, sinking into panic. He couldn't kill Chomper, not intentionally. He wouldn't do it.

That's it...that's my contribution..now..if someone was to take up this mantle, there sure are a lot of ways it can go. What's happened to society? What's the valley? Who are The Originals? Hell, it actually has potential for something, doesn't it? As long as you stay away from a simplistic Orwellian narrative.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

GOOD GOD, Y'ALL



While people may know me as a writer and educator, one other of my many passions is popular music. I'm talking the kind of music that put the "boom" in babyboomer. I'm talking hard driving rock and roll and lean, mean R&B.


WAIT!!! Stop the music! R&B? You mean like Snoop Dog? Mary Blige? Ciara? You talking Toni Braxton? What about Usher?


What? Stop. {doing my best James Brown spin and shuffle cross the stage.} Snoop? Mary who? Good God, Y'all. I'm talking 'bout Edwin Starr, Wilson Pickett, Bo Didley, and THE GODFATHER hisself, the hardest working man in show business--James Brown. Don't ever put Snoop Dog and Aretha in the same category.

Now, I'm not sure when we allowed the term Rhythm and Blues to be co-opted, but it has to stop. Shall I tell you where the term came from? According to sources, Jerry Wexler coined the term in 1947. It replaced the label: race music. What is R&B? Listen up you misguided lovers of hip-hop and you might learn something.

Rhythm and Blues is a twelve bar blues format that combines boogie woogie with a backbeat. Amen. Rhythm and Blues would form the foundation of good old fashioned twelve bar rock and roll.

So give me some Chuck Berry. I want to hear that guitar, I want to hear the sax. I want to dance with Sam and Dave, clap my hands with Little Richard, and hang with Ray Charles. You wanna boogie with Snoop? Head on down the hall.







Thursday, January 04, 2007

B-a-a-a-a-a-d Words. Go To The Corner

Some lists can be fun. Here is one from Lake Superior State University's (Michigan's smallest university, with an enrollment of 3,000 students)English department. It's an excerpt from their annual list of banished words. "Ba-a-a-a-ad words. Bad. Go to the corner."

The following was taken directly from the univerity website (http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php):


GITMO -- The US military's shorthand for a base in Cuba drives a wedge wider than a split infinitive.

COMBINED CELEBRITY NAMES -- Celebrity duos of yore -- BogCall (Bogart and Bacall), Lardy (Laurel and Hardy), and CheeChong (Cheech and Chong) -- just got lucky.

AWESOME -- Given a one-year moratorium in 1984, when the Unicorn Hunters banished it "during which it is to be rehabilitated until it means 'fear mingled with admiration or reverence; a feeling produced by something majestic."

WE'RE PREGNANT -- Grounded for nine months.

UNDOCUMENTED ALIEN -- "If they haven't followed the law to get here, they are by definition 'illegal.' It's like saying a drug dealer is an 'undocumented pharmacist.'" -- John Varga, Westfield, New Jersey.

PWN or PWNED -- Thr styff of lemgendz: Gamer defeats gamer, types in "I pwn you" rather than I OWN you.

NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS -- Heard in movie advertisements.

ARMED ROBBERY/DRUG DEAL GONE BAD -- From the news reports.

TRUTHINESS – "This word, popularized by The Colbert Report and exalted by the American Dialectic Society's Word of the Year in 2005 has been used up.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR -- The chewable vitamin morphine of marketing

i-ANYTHING -- 'e-Anything' made the list in 2000.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Assignment: Head Rush


HELLO MEMBERS OF THE BAY AREA WRITER'S GROUP. Hi John, Jon, Kelly, Brad, Lindy, Phyllis, Mary, Jim, and Marcia...and those who may not be around in body but in spirit. I just wanted to be able to leave an assignment. The assignment below is of course not just for the group but for anyone who wishes to participate.

Writing Assignment. DUE: Thursday, January 11.

Using first person narration from the gender perspective oppposite your own, write seven hundred words about unrequited love using the title: HEAD RUSH. And just to make it more interesting, your character must have some deformity, imagined or otherwise.

As with other assignments, if I receive an email from you with a link to the assignment, I will post all the links at once so people may read what others have done and offer comment. Please hold off sending me the email links until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. I will be posting a couple remainders.

For The Love of the Word

I love words. I love to talk them, to read them. They’ve gotten me dates with hot women. They’ve kept me out of fights and swept me out of trouble. I love big words, small words. I love them all equally. Except for “treacle”. I’ve always found that one a bit unapproachable.

The funniest word? “Pickle.” Look it up.

Multitudinous shades of meaning, murky origins, the words build a temple.

Bill Clinton, no matter what your political background, was one of that temple’s high priests. When he testified about the meaning of “IS”, I was enthralled. His linguist ballet (no innuendo intended) was magnificent. Please, no partisan comments here, I am talking about the ability to tame and command words.

Words change. They evolve. Some fade away and are never seen again. Some deserve to fade away. Some are so charged with emotion they can only be uttered by using their first letter. Imagine when a word is so powerful that it can't even be said. Uttering some words will even cost money. The legislature has even set a price on some words. Uttering one such word can cost a television network $500,000. One word, or even one breast. Thank God they are leaving Jerry Springer alone and our violence unchallenged.

Still, even under the stalwart watch of the Word Police, the language is ever changing. In fifty years from now, speech patterns and words will be subtly different, influenced by technology (Google anyone?) and by the input of immigrant cultures. You may be marked by that difference.

Let’s go back in time some fifty years to peer over the shoulder of a writer who imagined slang in a future tense. Anthony Burgess, author of “The Clockwork Orange”. I’ll leave you with this thought, filtered through his weave.

“I know sometimes govoretting can be an oozhassny strain, make you wanna platch, my droogy. It’s a gloopy problem, but you have to filly the eegra. Eventually you start to pony and then it’s all horrorshow. So take cheer lewdies, if you have the keeshkas, you can win the devotchka in the end and maybe even a little of the old in-out in-out. Just keep your gulliver, my droogie. Keep your gulliver.”

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Who Reads Anyway?


I have just read an article detailing how literary classics are disappearing from library shelves around the country. They've been culled. Since no one was reading them, the librarians decided to remove them from the shelves. According to the article, in one county, thousands of novels were eliminated after a new computer software program showed that they hadn't been checked out within the last two years.

According to this Washington Post article by Lisa Rein, "Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax [County ] is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves -- and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone -- even if they are classics."

The article continues: "We're being very ruthless," said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system since 1982. "A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that's a cost.
Classics such as Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" are among the titles that haven't been checked out in two years and could be eliminated, although some librarians have so far decided to keep them."


Nothing makes me feel more mortal than this. Nothing makes me want to stop writing more than this.

Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe we need those forty feet. However it hurts to think of all the great literature that will go the way of the dodo. That already has evaporated in favor of DVD and CD.

I know this is pointless, but here's something I plan on doing. My own little gesture. I'm taking out books. When I go to the library next, I'm taking out a minimum of five books, and at least two of those will be classic works of literature to preserve.

Otherwise the fire trucks will be coming to burn the books, not to put the fires out.