Saturday, July 28, 2007

For The Manly

As a writer I am always sensitive to the presence of archetypes in literature and film, and while I extol the virtue of character development beyond these archetypes, it is sometimes fun to celebrate the appearance and endurability of these iconic figures. Okay, I'll put it differently...

I've been recently playing Warcraft and glutting myself on testosterone inducing cinematic experiences. You know, macho films. Manly movies. Studly Cinema. Is there anything more inspiring (in a manly way) than John Wayne taking the reins in his teeth as he charges down a hill to meet the badguys, both hands filled with hot iron? Is there anything more inspiring than the manly self sacrifice of Bogart, looking down at Bergman as he intones: "You're getting on that plane. If you don't you'll regret it. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, but soon and for the rest of your life. We'll always have Paris. Here's looking at you, kid."

Icons. Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, Harry Callahan, Rooster Cogburn, James Bond.

So, before slipping away once again to do battle in cyberspace, here's a quick nod to my own list of the ten greatest guy films in cinema. In no certain order:

1) Magnificent Seven
2) The Great Escape
3) Star Wars
4) Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark
5) The Dirty Dozen
6) Bullitt
7) Die Hard
8) XXX
9) Predator
10) True Grit

yeah, there are more..and manly men know them and celebrate their manliness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Warcraft

I make no apologies. I have been in the throes of "World of Warcraft", and as soon as I am done posting here, I'm heading back. You wanna criticize someone? Go to Chuck Zaglanis' blog and give him hell. He's the one who turned me onto this damned thing.

And there's so much I could have been posting about. I could have been writing about the cat who lives in a nursing home and intuitively snuggles up to patients hours before they die (yeesh!); I could have been bashing the Bush administration and the upcoming constitutional crisis; or I could have been waxing and waning about the Detroit Tigers. But no-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, what do I do? I play World of Warcraft.

So I'm off...and no apologies. Thanks Chuck.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Go Away Tom

I know many people who read this blog aren't fond of my political posts. So, I'll just slip this in and then I promise, I'll do another post for the rest of you later tonight or tomorrow.

Tom Delay, the former House Majority Leader, the guy who resigned from office because of an ongoing investigation into his involvement with Abramov and other corruptions, spoke before a group of Young Republicans the other day. Ordinarily I would let this pass, but considering how hilarious and sad his statements, and considering how he remains a fixture in the national Republican party, I thought I would print this quote attributed to Delay from the The Huffington post"

"I contend [abortion] affects you in immigration," DeLay told the Washington-area gathering. "If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn't need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today. Think about it."

So, Tom, the implication here is that abortion is depriving the country of an underclass and makes it necessary for us to bring in illegals? Now whether you agree or disagree with abortion, I'm sure you will look at this point of view as being rather frightening.

I'm surprised Tom hasn't included a statment about genetic engineering.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Just whining

Sometimes when in a writing slump, I look to the web for inspiration. Let's see...ah The National Endowment for the Arts! Yes, I think, they usually have something inspiring. I shake my head as I read that more than half of the adults in the United States won't pick up a novel this year. Sonovabitch.

And apparently that rate of decline has tripled in the last ten years.

Hell. You're being published depends, of course, on supply and demand. If there isn't a demand for your type of literature out there, then why should someone invest in your manuscript?

So who reads? The greatest market is composed of married, middle-age career women who make an average of $88,000 a year and have at least a bachelor's degree, says a new survey. This, from the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to the article nearly 43 percent want to write novels as well.

What does this mean for genres such as horror? spy thrillers? Obviously, romance doesn't have to worry. On another blog I bemoaned the amazing amount of fantasy on the shelves and the shrinking numbed of hard science fiction titles. Of course, science fiction and horror have always been marginal, so I'm not really complaining.

So what's on the Barnes and Noble bestsellers' list this week? 1)The Quickie by James Patterson 2) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 3)High Noon by Nora Roberts 4)Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich 5) The Judas Strain by James Rollins 6) Double Take by Catherine Coulter 7)The Bourne Betrayal by Robert Ludlum 8) The Bungalow 2 by Danielle Steele 9) The Navigator by Clive Cussler 10) The 6th Target by James Patterson

Do you notice how some of these names seem to be on the bestsellers' list over and over again, summer after summer, year after year? New authors have a hard time squeezing in unless the corporations are willing to back them, and to be honest, would you rather back Danielle Steele or Stewart Sternberg. Danielle Steele is going to guarantee you solid sales, regardless of the quality of her fiction. Sternberg? He's going to guarantee you headaches.

It's harder than ever to have a novel published (congrats, Charles), and publishing doesn't mean success. Consider that the average shelf life of a book at your local store is six weeks. Hmmm...for people who read one novel every couple of years, that means they are going to be missing some major titles.

These statistics shouldn't scare writers away from their craft, but it might help them put it in a more realistic perspective. Selling's a bitch. Writing is a business. Be a writer, but be a businessman, or businesswoman. Yeah, go ahead and hold your nose in the air and say something about art. I don't want to hear it.

Save it for creative writing class. Maybe someone there will care. But for most, they aren't publishers, are they?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mr. Irrelevant

Have you ever heard of Marty Moore, Fred Zirkie, or Mike Green? I don't see how you could have missed them? What about Kevin McMahan, Andre Sommersell, or Ryan Hoag? These men have all earned the unique title: "Mr. Irrelevant". Yes, I know I'd want that on my resume.

Apparently "Mr. Irrelevant" is the title given to the last person in the NFL draft each year. When I think about how painful it was being picked last in sandlot from time to time, I can't imagine the humiliation and misery of being selected "Mr. Irrelevant". Pick 255.

Rookie camp must be heaven for these fellows. And you're probably wondering what team picked Mr. Irrelevant this year. Get ready. ...The Detroit Lions.

Dear God. So not only is Ramzee Robinson the new Mr. Irrelevant, but he plays for Team Irrelevant. I want to cry for this man. I want to offer him cookies and take him to Cedar Point to enjoy the carousel. I want to tell him that things won't always be this bad.

Starting today, I'm raising a mug of beer to this hero of heroes, Ramzee Robinson. Be brave Ramzee. Know that being on the worst team in football means that you've most likely found a home. They'll probably make you first string.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Windsor Incident

In journalism the mid to late summer is sometimes referred to as "Silly Season". Mostly because the dog days of summer tend to offer up few major news stories and so serious media sometimes turns to something frivilous to hold reader interest. So what sort of stories will the press dredge up? Bigfoot sightings, Men In Black, and UFO sightings are all ripe for this time of year. And mostly fun.

Stories about Roswell are big right now, there's an expedition getting ready to hunt Sasquatch in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Australians are excited about a half ton squid that has washed up on Ocean Beach.

In 1995, while living in Detroit, I remember turning on my radio in the morning and hearing that something had crashed in Windsor. Apparently a fireball had been seen over Ohio and travelled over Michigan before crashing into a trailer park there. Later that morning, a second story followed where a representative from emergency services told the press a craft had been found in the wreckage. He later denied this, claiming to have been joking at the time. By late afternoon the radio stopped broadcasting information about the story. News of the fireball was played down and the fires in the trailer park were instead attributed to arson.

I don't know what happened, but such a story was grist for Silly Season. It should have been plastered everywhere. And while CNN and few other sources gave mention to the incident, it received none of the attention one would have expected. It amazingly whispered into nothingness.

Some UFO enthusiasts have started calling this "The Windsor Incident"
One website even has a blurred videoclip.

Most Detroiters I talk to scratch their heads when I bring this up.

It was Silly Season, after all, and we all know what sort of stories play in Silly Season.




Monday, July 09, 2007

01-18-08 (Cloverfield) or The Parasite

I thought the advertising campaign that preceded the release of The Blair Witch was brilliant. I think the advertising that is circulating the net preceding the release of J. J. Abrams (Lost)'s untitled horror film (currently only known as Cloverfield) will make advertising history before it is complete.

The thing began with a trailer before the recently released "Transformers" movie. The trailer hinted at a monster movie from the perspective of average people on the street, perhaps most of it the product of handheld cameras. A pretty slick idea that moves away from the seamless special effects of the last couple years. By narrowing the experience to handhelds, it personalizes the action in a way that may connect with people in visceral manner. A brave ploy.

To continue the advertising saga, following the release of this mysterious trailer, a couple of viral advertising sites opened. They produced puzzles, which when solved, would lead a person to certain videos to further develop the mystery. These videos show a fuzzy image of a man rambling about Aug 1, and about how the end of the world is at hand, with the returns of ancient ones. Actually, here is some of the text:

The great war of the gods will come upon the earth; the fires and terror of their rule will return for a time, but the children of the gods may be thus prepared, themselves aware and powerful…they may stand along side the gods not as equals, but as allies, feared and ready.

If you are into Lovecraftian mythos, then this is crack for you.

Abrams denies these videos have anything to do with his project and indeed they seem to point here: http://www.mindstormlabs.com/products.html. The wild thing is that they have become associated with Abrams' film to the point that he would be foolish not to continue to have people believe.

Still, with these messages crossing and criss-crossing the web, we are witnessing an astonishing act of advertising acumen, and wait until the mainstream media gets hold of it. I predict that in the next few weeks there will be numerous pieces in Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek about how Abram's company has whipped up interest in this new project. Probably August 1st we'll see a new website open with further clues and maybe another trailer.

The Cloverfield campaign is viral advertising at its finest. For those who may not be familiar with this term, viral advertising refers to a marketing technique using pre-existing networks. People pass around the message voluntarily. For instance, the day after I saw the trailer I went on SQT's website and posted 01-18-08. No explanation. Just the date. My goal? To generate curiousity and interest, and to spread the virus.

While many people will point to the internet and complain that fans of genre have too much time on their hands, I think instead that critics should sit back and enjoy all the hoopla as it unfolds. In a time when headlines pound away and reality shreds our positivity, I think something that could have been devised by P.T. Barnum is worth a little attention. So here's to Paramount, Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams.

Until then...
The Phnglui mglwnafh Cthulhu Rlyeh wgahnagl Ftagn!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Rose By Any Other...


Scout Finch--"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Harry Potter--"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
Billy Pilgrim-- "Slaughterhouse Five"
Frodo Baggins--"Lord of the Rings"
Scarlett O'Hara--"Gone With The Wind"
Howard Roark--"Fountainhead"
Heathcliff--"Wuthering Heights"
James Bond--"From Russia With Love"

What's in a name? How did these authors happen upon these combinations of vowels and consonants?

I know Ian Fleming named his famous spy after a British ornothologist when he cast about for inspiration for a name and saw James Bond's "Birds of the West Indies". Harry Potter just came to Rowling one day on a train; no great significance offered. Named for fellow infantryman and fellow prisoner-of-war, Edward Crone, Billy Pilgrim's name is a reflection of the theme of "Slaughterhouse Five" and an allusion to the character's journey through time and space.

I love looking at a chracter's name when reading works. Why Anita Blake? Where did Valentine Smith come from? Jonathan Harker? Dr. John Watson? John Clayton, Lord Greystoke?

For some reason, I usually have difficulty with names in my own writing. I usually insert the first thing that pops into my head. Gerald Case. Levon Druery. James Maloney.etc. No deep meaning, just the character speaking out and saying: "Hey, Stewart...here's who I am."

Just speaking out loud here. No special purpose. Earlier today I worked on a mystery/fantasy with a hardboiled dick named Kevin Falcon. Again, no real meaning behind the name...it just felt right. Maybe, like Charles has said, not everything has to have meaning. People are born. They are given names. Bang.

Of course if I had named Kevin something like Sylvester Arbuckle III, then we might have had to stop and wonder why.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Wee Touch O Satire

Okay...sometimes we just need to step back and not take everything so seriously. So for your late Saturday night/early Sunday morning giggle: Cheney Hides In Plain Sight.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Purple

I've mentioned this before, but let me draw greater attention to Purple Prose.

One definition:
A term of literary criticism, purple prose is used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself.


I'll raise my hand and claim guilt for this. I can't help it...occasionally I put on my Bradbury cap and wax poetic. Then, the sound of the tale, its texture, sweeps me along.

Here's an example of me at my worst:

Levon gently closed the door to his room and stared at the moonlight spilling through his window. He bathed in it, feeling the radiance stream over his skin, rushing along the hairs on the back of his hand. Intuitively he turned his hands palm up and gathered moonlight until it filled his palms and ran through his fingers. Then, he brought it to his face and let it run over his skin.

Another author narrowed the definition for purple prose, stating that it tended to be cliched, stilted. That is ran on past the point functionality. Another author stated that it "had too many adjectives". Hmmm. Not quite sure about that one. Someone else argued that if a reader becomes aware of the writing, if the writing distracts from the flow of the narrative, then it's purple prose.

As a teacher, I can say that teens are great at purple prose. They lack the experience to edit themselves, to keep from filtering their emotional content. "It rained hard, storm clouds hurling water at the earth as lightning crashed and thunder roared through the black velvet night. The wind blew with fury and the rain pelted in sheets the slick streets."

One thing, people hate hearing the word applied to their own writing. Their eyes widen, their brows slide together, their jaws clench and they begin defending their work by insisting that they are deliberately following
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Hey.

I think we need to look at cliched writing next, don't you?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Setting

Some of the writers I have been communicating with these days have been discussing setting and purple prose. Okay, I whine and they pacify me, but I like to consider that still some form of communication.

The big discussion at this time is the use of setting as an externalization of the character. For instance, if I am writing about a person who is struggling with loss and seeking meaning.

He had walked for a long time before resting against an old tree which had been downed in a storm. All sorts of life had sprung up around the fallen branches, the forest constantly in change, renewing itself. Life and death part of the one continuous process. Stepping over the tree, he moved on, pushing through the underbrush, listening to the sound of small animal life scurrying at his approach, an unseen world acknowledging his presence.

I have read some writing where an author meticulously writes about an environment, giving the characters a place to breathe and die, but not using the environment in any way. Some people argue that if you write about a room, where the windows are open and the wind is blowing through, flapping the red curtains...that there should be a reason the window is open and the wind is blowing in. It doesn't have to be earthshaking..it can be something obtuse.

Rick Moore and I recently discussed proofreading. One of the things I suggested was proofreading a work maybe four deliberate times. Once each for character, plot, theme, and finally setting. And maybe a last one for good measure.

But in working over a setting, in allowing it to become another character, in wisely utilizing colors, scents, shadows, texture and taste...one can add another dimension to a story, re-enforcing character and manipulating a reader subliminally.