website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Sucker Literary Magazine Issue #1

A Rookie’s Guide to Good Self-Editing by Allie B. 

Editing is important. It goes hand in hand with writing and publishing. You can’t publish a story without editing it, and you can’t edit a story without writing it…

But what is an editor?

Believe it or not, they are regular people, with regular interests and regular lives.

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/guest-post-from-allie-b-on-self-editing/

Editors don’t live in ivory towers, they aren’t out to destroy your career, and they aren’t heartless monsters. They are business professionals, and they are interested in a quality story.

Having a good story, a complete story, is the most important part of getting published. The second most important is telling that story with great writing.

So how do we make sure we accomplish these things before we send our work to an editor?

We edit it.

Yes, you read that right. We must edit our work BEFORE we send it to an editor.

Editors and writers are busy people so sending an editor a mess of a story with plot holes, inconsistent characters, and no understanding of grammar is a waste of time for BOTH of you.

You don’t learn anything as a writer by getting an automatic rejection based on the first or second sentence of your story.

The goal of sending a story to an editor is to have them read it—the whole thing. We do this by self-editing.

On my own blog, Allie B Books, I take you through a rigorous and sometimes painful step-by-step description of my own process, but today we get the cheat notes on the importance of self-editing.

TEN STEPS TO A GOOD SELF-EDIT

1.     Keep a fresh mind.

Once you rip through your first draft, it is important to rest. Separate yourself from the work by taking a break, working on something else, or focus on your “real” life. Do whatever you need to do to get your head straight and make sure that you have taken enough time so that when you come back to the story, you are seeing it with new eyes.

2.     Read it like you didn’t write it.

When you read over your story for the first time, do so as if someone else wrote it.

Keep this question in mind and ask it frequently as you self-edit: ‘What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?’

3.     Perfect the concept

I was told that if you can’t describe your entire story in one sentence, then it is too complicated, or you have not figured out the focus yet.

My first reaction to that was “Whatever, that’s just what agents tell you so you don’t ramble for hours.”.  But now that I have decided to set my first novel aside due to self-diagnosed plot complications I retract all former snark and doubt. It’s true. I had no focus because I didn’t take the time to really think about my concept and perfect the base of my story, and it showed.

Write a one-sentence summary for your story; write it a hundred times in a hundred different ways if you have to. This is your concept and the stronger and more compelling the sentence is, the stronger your story is. If you cannot, for the life of you, come up with something, then there is something wrong with your story or your focus.

4.     Write a review

To find out what is lacking in your story, refer back to the question “What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?” Write a review of your story, and not one of the goofy reviews found on Goodreads with the gif’s of dancing cats. I mean rate your piece seriously and write a real review. It is here where you will find out if there was too much/not enough romance, if the characters were too flat, if the tension needs to be boosted etc.  Remember: What would you expect from the story if you hadn’t written it?

5.     The five R’s

Once you’ve focused your concept and decided the story’s strengths and weaknesses, you can go through the story scene by scene and make changes based on the five R’s.

  • Review what you’ve written and make notes about what you could do to make it better.
  • Refer to your one-sentence summary.
  • Revise the scene based on your review notes.
  • Rewrite it if there are too many problems with it.
  • Refresh your mind by stretching, taking a break, napping, checking your email or whatever activity time permits.

6.     Don’t be scared to CUT CUT CUT

Here are two of the most important questions to ask yourself for every scene, paragraph, sentence and word:

a) Does this advance the plot?

b)  Does this develop the characters?

If the answer is “no” to both of those questions, CUT IT! Never hold onto something because you think it’s clever or funny or smart because chances are it’s not. As they say in the biz, “Kill your darlings!”

I wrote a newspaper article with a finishing line that I thought was the best line of the whole feature, and you know what? The editor cut it… it was the ONLY line that was cut from the piece. If it doesn’t help tell your story or bring your characters to life, get rid of it.

It’s easier said than done but divorce yourself from the work and remind yourself it’s not about you: it’s about the story.

7.     Tighten up

Now that the story is complete, focused, and clear, it’s time to get into the POWER of the writing. Time to focus on the pacing, tension, emotion, and language of your story. Go through every scene, paragraph and sentence and ask yourself:

a)    “What am I trying to convey here?”

b)   “Am I achieving the desired effect?”

c)     “Is there a better way to convey what I want?”

If the scene you are reading is a fight scene and you have massive paragraphs and sentences, loads of description and babbling characters telling backstory, chances are it’s a boring fight scene.

Fight scenes are fast. High tension. Clanging swords. Thundering hearts ringing out over short breaths. Fear. Short sentences. That’s how to speed it up.

Did you do that?

Can you do it better?

Try.

I dare you.

8.     Be consistent

There is nothing worse than reading a story with inconsistencies in it. Nothing. I can deal with the odd spelling mistake but POV head-hopping, character inconsistencies, setting flubs, and an all over the place voice is THE most annoying thing about poorly edited stories.

Some questions to consider as you read through:

a) Is my character clear and believable in their actions and dialogue? (Keep your character sketches handy for reference).

b) Do I head-hop or is the scene from one POV? If I’m head-hopping, is it intentional? Is it clear and obvious who’s POV it is? Are the transitions from one POV to another clear and smooth?

c) Are my descriptions engaging? Are they consistent with other descriptions I’ve made about similar places? Are they vivid and clear?

d) Is the setting obvious and well-developed? Or do I just have talking heads with no clear idea of where they are, what they are surrounded by and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the environment? Is my setting alive or do I have characters in a bubble?

e) Is the voice consistent? Am I staying true to the character’s voice (if first person)? Is the distinction between different character’s POV voices and narrator clear and effective?

9.     Proof of quality is in the proofread

For the proofread I suggest three things. First, read this post on revisions by Sucker Literary Magazine and familiarize yourself with the common errors writers make.

Second, read your story out loud as if you were reading it to a hall of people. Project your voice and point to each word as you read it. If the sentence is not grammatically correct and/or well written, you will stumble over the words. Well-written sentences will flow off your tongue beautifully. The reason I say to point to the words as you read them is because as writers, we spend a lot of time with our stories and after a while we start to see what we THINK is there not what is actually there. Pointing to the words forces you to read what is written.

Last, check for clichés and over used words. I have a secret love for the word slightly. I use it ALL the time. It’s a toxic relationship, and I’m almost over it… almost. Slightly. I do searches of random words to see how many times I’ve used them in the story. For example: I’ve used the word ‘story’ 35 times in this post. I should find other words to use…

10.   Be honest

The final step may well be the most important in the self-editing process and that is being honest with yourself.

I know you are excited and you want to send that story out and you want editors to love it and you want to get that letter that says you’ve been accepted for publication, but if the story is not ready, it is not ready.

If you don’t think the story is ready than go back to step one and refresh. Work on something else for a while then come back, take another look and decide if this story is worth fixing or if you are better off breaking up and moving on to stories that make you happier!

END NOTE: You are going to miss things. In every step you will miss something but that is OKAY! This is the self-edit! You CANNOT edit your own work to perfection, but the better you self-edit the more your editor will love you… and the better your writing will be, because the less time your editor spends rolling her eyes at your all-over-the-place character descriptions and your non-existent knowledge of comma splices, the better s/he can help you improve your story and your writing.

Happy Editing from Allie B!

I am not an editor. I am a writer that hates editing but knows how truly vital it is on the journey to publication. I developed a self-editing method that works for me and share it in hopes that it may help someone else. I value the hair on my head and my sanity and suggest if you also value these things that you take the time to do things right. It may take a bit more time and seems more painful, but in the end it will save you worlds of hassle.

That I promise you.

Allie B, an emerging Young Adult writer fascinated by the joys and tragedies that come with growing up. She grew up loving all things fantasy and all her work reflects that love. She currently lives and works as a Graphic Designer in Yukon Territory, Canada. When she is not writing or hibernating, she spends most of her time outside being inspired by the majestic northern landscape.  Follow Allie B on Twitter at  @alliebbooks and check out her blog  alliebbooks.wordpress.com and visit her on Goodreads at  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6963769-allie-b

Allie B’s Urban Fantasy short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sucker Literary Magazine, so stay tuned!

my notes on Sea Swallow Me (2008), RF Brown

A young Japanese monk, yielded to a life of prayer and ministering to the poor is marked for love by a mischievous yosei, a shimmering male fairy with a fetish to tempt mortal chastity and piety. This chassis supports many of Craig Laurance Gidney’s stories: a young character in the ordinary toils of  earthly existence, crosses paths with a metaphysical experience. As in the case of the monk, “He who was studious and practical had caught the eye of something supernatural.” More often Gidney’s protagonists are young black and/or gay men in modern settings. A bored club kid unwittingly keeps psychokinetically murdering his sex partners. A lonely, island tourist pulled in by over-curiosity is dragged to the floor of the ocean and given physical wholeness from a benevolent, giant serpent. A nebbishy, underachieving artist chases off the cloying  ghost of his racist mother by deliberately having sex with a black man on her antique bed [respectively: “Etiolate”, “Sea Swallow Me”, and “Her Spirit Hovering”].

Gidney’s visionary universe exists in a literary dimension somewhere between James Baldwin and The Twilight Zone. The author’s imagination is alternately funny, melancholy, and fantastic and there is the consistent thread in this collection of his expressive narrative voice. He has dazzling skill at painting amorphous scenes with tangibility-  colors are carnal and smells are emotional. It’s never explicit whether the bizarre experiences of these characters are something truly supernatural, or if these phenomena are the delusive manifestations of their broken black and gay souls. Are they cursed or crazy? The character lives are humdrum, but not normal. Whose life is?

I have a couple of quibbles with the actual publication of Sea Swallow Me. First, the book was put out by an indy press and there are frequent typos. I know some readers for whom mistakes are maddening and others who would regard it as bohemian charm. I seek the noble path on the presence of typos because ideally it should be easier for a great writer like Gidney to find a big-six publishing deal that pays for unlimited editorial resources. But readers dropping $13 bucks on this book should be aware there are errors. Writers who are constantly encouraged to go indy or self-publish can take a sip of reality here: even a brilliant writer can get sandbagged with a sloppy book. Second, two of Gidney’s stories, “The Safety of Thorns”, about a young American slave who finds out the Devil is an apathetic drunk, and “Strange Alphabets”, a transcendental roman à clef about French poet Arthur Rimbaud in Jail, are pleasant guests here but otherwise foreign to the rest of the collection. In my editorial opinion they would be at home someplace else. It’s feels weird to launch this criticism given that these two stories in particular are each excellent standing alone, perhaps my two favorite in the book. If there is a collection of historical fiction somewhere in Gidney’s future canon he certainly has the background, discipline, and command of voice to put one together. Those two problems aside, Sea Swallow Me is a magnificent and mysterious body of work.

“The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.”

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91, Martians, and Sci-fi Man-juice

by claytondiggs

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/ray-bradbury-dead-at-91-martians-and-sci-fi-man-juice/

You ever just sit around and think about Ray Bradbury? I did, yesterday when I heard that that great American writer had made his final journey to the Martian landscape that lies beyond the great beyond. No, that’s,not quite it… He got cornered by imaginary lions in a virtual reality who tore him into worm food…No, still not right…He morphed into a heap of books, heated toFahrenheit 451, turned to ash, and blew into little bits of cosmic dust to then descend on some Red Planet at the edge of the Universe. Yeah, that’s a little more like it. Hot damn! I’m sorry. I’m not. I really am!

I am sorry that we’ll no longer share airspace with a guy who, to my mind, was one of the most original and gorgeous voices in our American literary canon.

Old Ray was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920. He grew up during that tonic for the restless imagination, the Great Depression, a time when the future seemed not only bleak and depressing as shit but, well – unimaginable. But imagine it Ray did, and with a visionary zeal that always took our collective breath away. The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.

But we do know that his stories sprang from the deep and potent well of his childhood fears. In an interview on Fresh Air he once said: “As soon as I looked up, there it was, and it was horrible,” Bradbury remembers. “And I would scream and fall back down the stairs, and my mother and father would get up and sigh and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go again.’ “

Childhood was indeed an important time for the budding author. Ray read and read and read everything he could get his grubby little alien hands on. He dug on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and dreamed of outdoing them, and so, between frenzied bouts of cranking out adolescent sci-fi man-juice (to pics of big-boobied Martian chicks no doubt), he also managed to crank out a short story a week. Lesson: the only way to (re)produce is through consistency!

Great American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury dead at 91

When the Bradbury fam up and moved to SoCal, little Ray took to hiding out in the dank, scary basement of the UCLA library, where, for 10 cents a half-hour, he could rent a typewriter. Said Ray years later: “I thought, my gosh, this is terrific! I can be here for a couple hours a day. It’ll cost me 30, 40 cents, and I can get my work done. Also, it’s awesome to spew sci-fi man-juice in a public venue. Much more exciting than at home.”

Ray hit it big with his 1950 collection, The Martian Chronicles. Then, while that fat old cow masturbatorJoe McCarthy, was looking to anally violate anyone evenly remotely aligned with anything Red, planet or otherwise, Ray did a right ballsy thing — he shot a FUCK YOU ray-gun at censorship in general with his best known work, Fahrenheit 451, and did so in a FUCK YOU kind of way, having the story that would become his signature novel first printed in Playboy.

Have you read that fine, fine book? If not, put down whatever you’re doing, go out and get a copy, and sit the hell down. It’s about a future society in which McCarthy-like fat old cow masturbators have firefighters burn books for the purpose of keeping folks dull and ignorant. There’s never been a revolution without there first being a revolution of ideas, goes the theory. In practice, the only trouble comes when the firefighters become curious about what exactly it is they’re being made to burn. Then all hell breaks loose! Shit fire! Hot damn! Great book.

People the world over and even those in outer space loved old Ray. The crew of Apollo 15 so totally dug Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine that they named a lunar crater after the it. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second guy on the moon, and the man forever-and-a-day frustrated by the fact that he scores way less poon than Neil Armstrong, had this say: “Ray Bradbury is one who is contributing to the understanding of the imagination and the curiosity of the human race.” Hey, it would have been better if pussy-champ Neil Armstrong had said it, but novelists can’t be choosers, right?

Amazingly, despite his visions of the future, Ray never got into using computers. He even once told The New York Times that the Internet was pointless. Well, buddy, on that point at least, we’ve gotta say: FAIL!

It’s okay – nobody’s perfect!

Old Ray finally settled down to family life right here on Earth in 1947, when he married a gal named Maggie, and the happy couple had four little Martian girls. Ray suffered a stroke at age 80 and, sadly, couldn’t write anymore. He did, however, keep having his strange visions of things to come. He felt sure we’d be landing on Mars right soon and asked that his ashes be buried on that vast and vacant red planet.

We’ll sure miss you, old buddy, old Ray, venerable imaginer of humanity’s many possible destinies. We’ll sure miss you. I raise my cup of Dandelion Wineto you, Sir. I truly do.

GET RAY’S ASHES TO MARS: A FUND

  • If you’d like to help Ray complete his dying wish, shoot me an email: me (at) claytondiggs (dot) com.
  • It’s gonna take a lot of dollar bills to make it happen, but if Ray taught us anything, it’s that every dream has got to start somewhere.

“I’m so fucking cool. How big will penises be in the future? THIIIIS BIIIIG!”

On Giving Feedback

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/on-giving-feedback/

We writers are very sensitive about…well, everything : ) But mostly, we are sensitive about our work.  And that’s why when we give one another feedback, we need to choose the kindest approach.

I prefer a certain approach when giving feedback. This approach was further reinforced by Meg Kearney to me when I was a student at Solstice: When faced with having to criticize another writer’s work, choose kindness over harsh criticism. What this really boils down to is tone, use a kind tone when responding to a writer’s work.

I  think that sometimes when we read a piece and are asked for feedback, our own mood is really the determining factor in our tone and approach. My advice is this: if you find yourself irritated with the writer’s work, take a breath and walk away before you compose your feedback; you might choose harshness as oppose to kindness.

Helpful Versus Hurtful

Recently I read a feedback sheet from one of the Sucker Staff Readers (don’t worry, I’m not naming names). Anyway, this feedback sheet was very useful, and I agreed with all of the commentary, including that, ultimately, we have to reject the piece. What I made me pause while reading was the tone of some of the criticism.

For me, there is a helpful way to tell someone their piece isn’t very good, and then there’s a way that will just result in a writer getting defensive, which means they won’t “hear” the feedback.

It’s About The Delivery

While I think it’s helpful to tell a writer that their piece, well, bored me, I don’t think it’s helpful to add insult to injury in the form of an added metaphor or hyperbole: “Your story bored me out of my mind…The story was so long winded, I prayed for the end to come soon.” Or, “this story is SO pointless” and “the characters were SO poorly developed, that I actually hated them”.  Other cringe-worthy comments I’ve seen are: “The writing in this story is VERY corny and VERY lazy.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above criticism…except the tone is kind of mean. The very’s and so’s in all caps could be interpreted as yelling, so this writer might feel reprimanded rather than constructively criticized. The use of the phrases “your story bored me out of my mind” and “I prayed for the end to come soon” are borderline cruel. : ( A better way to say the same thing is: “I didn’t find myself turning the pages quickly while reading. Some of the paragraphs of description seemed too long, and I wanted to get to the action faster.”

Doesn’t that sound nicer? Isn’t that more helpful?

Antidote: BE SPECIFIC (and, yes, I’m yelling : )

Being specific in your feedback actually can change the tone from harsh to helpful because you are providing the writer with concrete evidence to support your opinion. If you just say that the piece was “filled with corny language and lazy writing”, the writer will probably take that to mean the whole thing plain sucks.  If you tell the writer what parts were corny or even just provide an example of the corny writing, than they might just feel empowered to fix the problem:  “The dialogue was corny because it used words like “golly” and “gee whiz”. Likewise, if you say the writing is lazy, point out exactly what parts were lazy, and, furthermore, explain what lazy means: Do you mean there’s an over use of certain words? That the writer chooses to “tell” rather than “show”? Does the writing have too much clichéd language or need more careful and exact word choice?

Bottom line, when you give feedback, be specific and point to the writing to support your comments, that way your commentary comes across as based on evidence in the writing and not a more subjective place…like your mood.

Encourage Rather Than Discourage

Ultimately when you read someone’s work and provide criticism, you want to encourage rather than discourage. Tone is what really makes the difference with this; constructive tone rather than destructive tone is crucial.

Our staff of readers are doing the very best they can to be kind and encouraging to our submitters, but sometimes I think we all forget or don’t notice our tone…Tone is subtle but super important in any form of communication and especially in writing. We don’t have inflection of voice or facial expressions to assist us in conveying our intended tone, so you have to choose your words very, VERY carefully.  : )

link: Top Famous Fictional Heroines « Armida Books

Top Famous Fictional Heroines

By: Haris Ioannides – Armida Publications

Heroine is defined as a woman admired or idolized for her courage, outstanding achievement, or noble qualities. In a more literary context, the definition is trimmed down somewhat to the chief female character in a book, a play, a movie who is typically identified with good qualities and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.

Antigone by Frederic Leighton, 1882

Image via Wikipedia

Although there have been many examples of literary heroines throughout history, being Greek, I am more familiar with the amazing work of SophoclesAntigone. Antigone is a daughter of the accidentally incestuous marriage between King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. She is the subject of a popular story in which she attempts to secure a respectable burial for her brother Polynices, even though he was a traitor to Thebes and the law forbids even mourning for him, on pain of death. Sophocles’ Antigone ends in disaster, with Antigone hanging herself after being walled up, and Creon’s son Haemon (or Haimon), who loved Antigone, killing himself after finding her body. Queen Eurydice, wife of King Creon, also kills herself at the end of the story due to seeing such actions allowed by her husband.

Even though many years have passed since then, I still remember being taught this play in high school. I vividly recall me questioning Sophocle’s choice of tormenting Antigone for wanting to the do the ‘right thing’. This is the beauty of literature, the ability to generate either internal or external discussions and debates over basic human experiences and emotions. Sophocles is a master and Antigone became my definition of a true heroine, the benchmark for all future references to this specific noun.

Sophocles is long gone (what a shame) but thankfully many more authors have created amazing characters for us to enjoy and admire. Just to name a few: Edna Pontellier, Madame Bovary, Moll Flanders, Anna Karenina, Lily Bart, Jane Eyre, Hester PrynneElizabeth BennetDaisy Miller, and Murasaki Shikibu.

And maybe a few more: Lucy Honeychurch, Antonia Shimerdas, Ellen Olenska, Josephine (Jo) March, Isabel Archer, Scarlett O’Hara, Cathy Earnshaw, Daisy Miller, Lizzie Bennet, Lily Bart, Eliza Doolittle, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Gertrude, Beatrice, Maid Marian

Read more about famous fictional heroines. These novels feature just a few of the many…

Imagined in the late fourteenth-century, the Wife of Bath is one of literature’s earliest promiscuous ladies. Jovial and clever, she regales a band of traveling religious pilgrims with tales of former husbands. (She’s got five, the first one wed at the age of twelve.) Hence the name: she’s been a wife over and over and over again. Some women are white bread, she says, but freely admits that she’s a coarser loaf of barley—and this is exactly why I’m drawn to her. She’s not ashamed of her sexuality, or how it serves her desire for power.

Rosa Dartle, from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

Rosa Dartle has had a scar across her face since she was young—the cruel gift of a narcissistic step-brother—and it’s turned her undesirable and bitter. The scar almost becomes a character in its own right; it nearly glows whenever she gets upset. Rosa’s mean to almost everyone. But I like her anyway, maybe because no one else does. She’s not appealing to men, she’s pissed about it, and she’s willing to say so. She’s the essential wounded lady. I respect her anger, and the fierce intelligence beneath it.

Anna Karenina, from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

She’s a married woman who abandons her husband and son to run away with the charming playboy she’s fallen in love with. But despite all this—because of it, actually—she’s become one of fiction’s most enduring tragic heroines. Why do we care about her? She wants something more than stability from a man. She wants passion. But it’s not just that she believes in love, it’s that she suffers for this belief. She doubts herself. She’s needy. She ends up vulnerable and pathetic, betrayed by her own love as much as the society that disproves of it. She isn’t afforded any glory as compensation for her aspirations. She has to pay for them. I never know what to make of Anna. I get angry with her, and love her, and root for her, and root against her, and feel deeply sad for her, and what good is a heroine, in the end, if she doesn’t make us feel all these things?

Lena Grove, from William Faulkner’s Light in August

Lena Grove is young and poor and pregnant in the middle of the Deep South. The father of her child has abandoned her, but she’s determined not to let him get away with it. She sets out on foot to track him down. Destiny deals her the victim’s portion but she refuses to accept it. Without money or companions or even a horse, she fights back. She’s not particularly clever or subtle, but I don’t miss these things in her; she’s determined to be a mother, and this means finding her baby a father. She’s on a primal quest. She turns resourcefulness into an art.

Maria Wyeth, from Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays

Maria Wyeth is a washed-up film star with a troubled marriage and a disabled young daughter. Didion’s minimal, knife-like prose brings her hardened psyche into pristine focus—besides her daughter, Maria isn’t sure what to care about, and her reckless self-destruction and affairs are the only way she knows to articulate this hopelessness. I didn’t like Maria, but I found something deeply moving in her plight—the way she’d given up, but kept on going, the fact that she kept caring about her daughter long after she’d stopped caring about herself.

Patsy McLemoore, from Michelle Huneven’s Blame

When we first meet her, it seems like Patsy might be a tough character to root for. She’s an alcoholic history professor—smart and beautiful, sure, but also deeply thoughtless and self-absorbed—who accidentally runs over two Jehovah’s Witnesses in a drunken blackout and kills them. The novel follows her through years of prison, recovery, and atonement. Along the way, we see her struggle through a kind of guilt nearly impossible to comprehend. She doesn’t live a martyr’s life, but she tries her best to live a good one. I found, in the end, that she’d dug herself out of the hole of her own character—had, somewhere along the line, captured my sympathy and my respect.

Maria Christina, from Richard Romanus’ Chrysalis

View on Amazon

Chrsyalis‘ tells the story of 17 year old Maria Christina, who lives in Metsovo, a small mountain village in Greece, where women are judged according to their physical strength. World War II, the Greek Civil war and other calamities transform this young woman into a heroine. The crisis affects the fate of three generations, all of whom experience the peril of those years in different ways, changing not only the community and Maria Christina’s destiny, but also redefining the role of women in society.

I am absolutely certain that you’ll love these books, not only because they are very well written but because they are full of love, honesty and sincerity.

Partially based on a list complied by , (About.com Guide)

link: Cliches: Why We Love to Hate Them – Carl Plumer

CLICHES: WHY WE LOVE TO HATE THEM

I love cliches! Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/astama/3534657697/in/photostream/

As writers, we are told to avoid cliches like the plague. Cliches, we are told, have no place in our poetry or prose. We should strive to forever forge new metaphors in the fire of our imagination. Cliches don’t work, they’re tired, they elicit no response from the user.

Poppycock

Well, to that I say, Poppycock. Cliches are our language. We have hundreds of years of cliches, idioms, bromides, local sayings. They fill up volumes1. Studies have been done on them. The do have value because they define us as a people, regardless of the culture we’re in. Cliches are comfortable, they help us recognize each other. New cliches are created every day, with each new expression that comes out of the business world, sports, and especially the hip-hop culture. Today’s cutting edge paradigm is tomorrow’s jiggy cliche. Yes, I know the previous sentence was not an illustration of cliches. I wanted to simply illustrate that words, regardless of their origin,  are original at some point, regardless of how we treat them over time. Groovy? Groovy.

What’s old is new again

But cliches do belong in our writing, our latest stories. I know a 100,000 writers just gasped out loud, 10,000 writing teachers are aghast or fainting, and 1,000 agents just noted in their file, “note: don’t touch Plumer’s queries with a ten foot pole.” But I know this is true: cliches help us define our characters and situations. It’s how we speak. If a character exclaims, “Holy crap, what a surprise!” we know them differently than if they had said, “Well, you can knock me over with a feather.”

What’s past is prologue

Mark Twain was a brilliant writer who originated new terms, new expression, and was ahead of his time by at least a hundred years. But even the great one used cliches, the sayings of his time. (In Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly says, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Fits her, fits the story.)  So too with Shakespeare, who invented so many of the words and expressions we use today. In fact, every time we write or say common cliches such as, “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” or “too much of a good thing,” we are quoting Shakespeare!2

I don’t believe cliches make our writing bad any more than brilliant new metaphors make our writing good. It’s only in their use and application. Does the cliche work, does it serve a purpose? Then use it. Does your shiny new metaphor detract from the story?  Will every reader stop and think, “My, that’s a clever turn of phrase”? Then don’t. Lazy writing is lazy writing. Write with purpose, cliches and all.

What do you think, am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?3 Comment below!

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/ernest-hemingway-hard-living-and-sharks/

Ernest Hemingway, Hard Living, and Sharks

by claytondiggs

You ever sit just sit around and think about Ernest Hemingway? We’re coming up on the 51st anniversary of Hemingway’s death, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it kind of weird that we remember him on the day he died? I mean, remember how he died? He grabbed a shotgun and shot himself in the face, decades before Kurt Cobain thought of it. You know what else? His wife was in the house and she was the one who found him.

That must have sucked it.

You see, for months and months, maybe even years, old Ernie was convinced that the Feds were tapping his phone, bugging his house, and basically driving him nuts, and nobody believed him. They just thought all the years of scotch and sodas were taking their toll. Eventually, he couldn’t take it; not the feeling of being hunted like an animal, and probably not the feeling of everyone thinking he was batshit. He actually tried to off himself several times before he bought the farm. He also spent time in a mental institution. And you know the worst of it? Turns out the Feds were tapping his phone, bugging his house, and driving him nuts. The fuckers!

See, that’ s not really how I want to remember Hemingway, as an old guy, kind of fat, full of regrets, telling anyone who would listen that the government was trying to get him. I grew up reading his stuff. I love The Sun Also Rises. Those people in the book are screwed up, big time, but I’d still like to hang out with them, have some wine, some more wine, more wine, fall down, see a bullfight, get in a fight, and go fishing. Hell, you substitute bourbon for wine, that pretty much describes my youth. Oh, and Brett Ashley? Apart from having a dude’s first name for a last name, hottest woman in literature.

Thanks, Papa Hemingway!

I like to remember all the times Hemingway probably should have done himself in (accidentally) but made it through. I once read this book about him and there was a rundown of all the accidents he suffered during his life. It was like two damn pages long, and included: two plane crashes, two car accidents, bringing a skylight down on his head by mistaking its rope for the toilet chain, breaking his foot kicking a door in anger, and (my favorite) shooting himself in the leg while trying to gaff a shark. (If you want the full list, check out the bookIntellectuals, by Paul Johnson.) Hell in ‘tarnation, that’s my kind of boy. You think he was drinking a lot to have that much bad luck? He was. He was putting down 17 scotch and sodas a day and going to bed with a bottle of champagne (he often wasn’t going to bed alone, so you’ve got to wonder about what else that champagne bottle might have been for). Anyway, point is, for years and years the son of bitch did a bunch of stuff that by all rights should have ended in a funeral, but didn’t. He was this tough bastard who drank and hunted and boxed and fucked.

So that’s how I like to remember him. I know, in the end his fucked-up, self-destructive side took over, but why dwell on the last chapter of his life? Look, we’re all going to end up six feet under eventually, so let’s remember him like he was in his glory days. The hell with the day he killed himself. I’d rather think of old Hem on the day he shot himself in the leg trying to gaff a shark and then had a drink. I think that’s more who he was.

So, here’s to you, Ernie. You weren’t a perfect human being, but you sure were cool.

Thinking of Hemingway makes me thirsty. Want another great way to remember Hemingway? I once heard that he’s the guy responsible for making daiquiris popular in the States. Don’t know if it’s totally true, but here’s a good daiquiri recipe just in case:

Hemingway’s Daiquiri:

  • A fat shot of white rum
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp maraschino juice
  • A little bit of grapefruit juice
  • Some sugar
  • Ice
  • A gaffing hook
  • A shark
  • A gun

Stick all the very fine, good, clean, bright shit into a shaker with ice and shake until your hands sting. Serve in a highball on the rocks. Chase with some rum or bourbon. Then gaff the shark and shoot yourself in the leg. Avoid medical treatment because you’re a tough bastard. Have another daiquiri and some more rum. Cheers, friends!

“I am manly. I damage myself almost constantly. Pass the Scope. I’m thirsty!”

I love this self-effacing letter from T.S. Eliot to V. Woolf. BTW, anybody know to what MSS refers?

link: Paris Review – Document: T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot.

Document: T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Printed with the permission of the T. S. Eliot Estate.

38 Burleigh Mansions, St Martins Lane, London W.C.2.
27 August 1924

My dear Virginia,
Forgive the unconscionable delay in answering your charming letter and invitation. I have been boiled in a hell-broth, and on Saturday journeyed to Liverpool to place my mother in her transatlantic, with the confusion and scurry usual on such occasions, and the usual narrow escape from being carried off to America (or at least to Cobh) myself. In the tumult on the dock an impetuous lady of middle age, ‘seeing off’ a relative going to make his fortune in the New World, by way of the Steerage) stuck her umbrella in my eye, which is Black. I should love to visit you, seriously: the Prince of Bores to refresh his reputation: but the only pleasure that I can now permit myself is, that should I come to Eastbourne (which is doubtful) we might visit you by dromedary for tea: if I leave London at all I am most unlikely to get done all the things that I ought to do (such as my 1923 Income Tax Return) and certainly not any of the things that you want me to do. I have done absolutely nothing for six weeks. One thing is certain: I MUST stay in London, where Vivien will be, after this week, is uncertain. But
When do you want to publish my defective compositions?
When do you want the MSS?
I should like at least to provide a short preface, which might take two or three nights’ work, and make a few alterations in the text to remove the more patent evidences of periodical publication. These three essays are not very good (the one on Dryden is the best) but I cannot offer you my ‘Reactionary’s Encheiridion’ or my ‘By Sleeping-Car to Rome: A Note on Church Reunion’ because they will not be ready in time. But you shall see for yourself, as soon as you wish, whether you think these three papers good enough to reprint.
But what about a FRAGMENT of an Unpublished Novel from you to me? One exists most of the time in morose discontent with the sort of work that one does oneself, and wastes vain envy on all others: the worst of it is that nobody will believe one. But no one regrets more that these moods should occur to Mrs. Woolf (of all people) than
Yr. devoted servt.
Thos. Eliot

Document from The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volumes One and Two, edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton, published by Yale University Press in September 2011. Reproduced by permission.

The letter is a part of the T. S. Eliot collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

10 Literary Bars in Manhattan

link: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=1749#m16281

Booze and books have a natural affinity: both look great on a wooden shelf, both are designed to be consumed, and, for better or worse, writers have tended to gravitate toward certain booze dens through the years. Here are 10 of New York City’s best bars with a literary past and present, ranging from dive bars to darkened Bohemian writers’ dens to some where only bestselling authors could afford more than a drink, presented with the help of Lonely Planet and its U.S. digital editor Andy Murdock.

Blue Bar at the Algonquin (Midtown)
In the 1920s, the Algonquin Hotel was the meeting place of the Algonquin Round Table. The regulars met almost daily at the bar and included the likes of Dorothy Parker, George S. Kauffman, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun and New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross. The Blue Bar recently underwent extensive renovations and is once again open to the public, beckoning thirsty literary historians in for a tipple.

Old Town Bar (Flatiron)
Old Town Bar lives up to its name. In fact, it’s old enough to have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the urinals in the men’s bathroom in 2010, and how many New York bars can say that? But unlike some of the others on this list, Old Town Bar boasts a modern list of literary heavies as its customersm including Frank McCourt, Seamus Heaney, Nick Hornby and Billy Collins. Madonna fans might remember her relishing a cigarette in her Bad Girlvideo (1992) lit by a helpful Old Town Bar barkeep (also featuring Christopher Walken in his second best scene involving a pocket watch).

Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel(Upper East Side)
Named after the author and illustrator of the Madeline children’s books, this bar features Ludwig Bemelmans’s only publicly displayed art, the mural Central Park, which rings the Art Deco cocktail lounge. Look for Woody Allen, who brings his jazz band to the Carlyle on occasion.

Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel (Midtown)
At the Plaza, you can relive the Thompson & Knight Eloise stories. And for a more adult experience, scoot into the hotel’s classic Oak Bar at the Oak Room, a favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald (a scene from The Great Gatsby is set in the hotel’s Palm Court). Fun fun fun, but pricey pricey pricey.

White Horse Tavern (West Village)
Famed as the bar where Dylan Thomas drank right before he died, the White Horse Tavern was also patronized by another Dylan (the one named Bob), not to mention Anais Nin, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. Kerouac got tossed out of the bar on several occasions, and wrote that he once found “Go home Kerouac” written over the urinals (in some versions of the story it’s “Jack Go Home” or “Go Home Jack.” People still write variations on the wall).

Sardi’s (Theater District)
Known as the restaurant and bar plastered with celebrity caricatures (and occasionally plastered celebrities themselves), Sardi’s also holds some interest for those with a bookish bent. Heywood Broun, of Algonquin Roundtable fame, also was a member of Sardi’s “Cheese Club,” a group of journalists, critics and agents including Walter Winchell, Ward Morehouse and Ring Lardner that met frequently at Sardi’s.

The Half King (Chelsea)
A bar and restaurant owned by writers might sound like a tragic recipe for failure (particularly considering that one of the writers wrote The Perfect Storm), but the Half King steadfastly defies such easy ironies. Owned by Sebastian Junger, Nanette Burstein and Scott Anderson, the Half King has created a successful hybrid between a comfy pub and candlelit writer’s hideaway. Weekly readings feature some of today’s foremost writers.

Chumley’s (West Village)
One of several theories on the origin of the verb “eighty-six”–to throw out, remove, or refuse service to a customer–comes from the back door address of the classic literary watering hole Chumley’s. If the police raided the bar, patrons–perhaps even the famed literary ones including Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald–were told to eighty-six it out the garden door. Chumley’s itself was eighty-sixed after the chimney collapsed in 2007, and is still working on reopening, but unfortunately for BEA attendees, that probably won’t happen until later this year.

Kettle of Fish (West Village)
Kettle of Fish has moved several times since it opened in 1950 above the legendary Gaslight Cafe, and it picked up some interesting clientele (Dylan, Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson among others). Today it’s a dive bar, sports bar, gay bar, boho literary bar all in one cozy cellar.

McSorley’s Old Ale House (Lower East Side)
McSorley’s has been serving ale since about 1854, but only began to allow women through the door in 1970. It’s still y-chromosome-heavy (and tourist-heavy)–little has changed through multiple waves of hipness, unhipness, and so-unhip-that-it’s-hip-ness. No matter what you want to order you get two mugs of ale. Notable patrons such as Joseph Mitchell, e.e. cummings and Brendan Behan, not to mention two presidents (Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt), also got two mugs of ale (at the very least, Abe could put it away).

Letters of Note: It has never got easier.

It has never got easier

In March of 1962, acclaimed author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to Edith Mirrielees — a lady who, as his professor of creative writing at Stanford 40 years previous, had been an enormous influence on his development as a writer and, he later claimed, one of the few things he respected about the university.His fantastic, insightful letter later featured in the paperback edition of Mirrielees’s book, Story Writing.(Source: Story Writing; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

March 8, 1962

Dear Edith Mirrielees:

I am delighted that your volume Story Writing is going into a paperback edition. It will reach a far larger audience, and that is a good thing. It may not teach the reader how to write a good story, but it will surely help him to recognize one when he reads it.

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.

You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.

The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.

As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.

So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that you set us on the desolate lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades you gave my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterwards upheld your side, not mine.

It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done, thanks to your training. Why could I not do it myself? Well, I couldn’t, and maybe it’s because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

I wonder whether you will remember one last piece of advice you gave me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic twenties and I was going out into that world to try to be a writer.

You said, “It’s going to take a long time, and you haven’t any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor.”

It wasn’t too long afterwards that the depression came down. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame any more. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely you were right about one thing, Edith. It took a long time—a very long time. And it is still going on and it has never got easier. You told me it wouldn’t.

John Steinbeck

Notes on The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Argot, Slang, and Terminology

by Don B. Wilmeth (1981)

If you’re like me and looking for jargon related to popular theatre and Broadway then you are also running into the wrong book. However, despite what this glossary doesn’t include it can be an excellent and thorough reference source for anybody writing or researching 19th and early 20th century American carnival, circus, magic and minstrel shows. Wilmeth’s glossary is not in a sophisticated package. It’s pretty much alphabetical listings of 3200 entries, no cross indexing. I love exploring reference books like this but then always find myself in a mobius when it comes to everyday use, if I knew what word I was looking for I wouldn’t need a glossary. Some categorization might have been a more practical format. Online you can find similar glossaries but entries are fewer, less researched and mostly the sites are weakly designed with limited search tools. Someday all books like this will get e-booked and send us right to what we’re looking for. Until then this is best effort out there in its subject matter. And frankly the subject matter is a fascinating historical record. Again the book is heavy on words related to carnival or circus but it also provides terms from magic, minstrel shows, vaudeville, burlesque, tent shows and Toby shows, medicine shows and pitchmen, early cinema and optical entertainment, fairs, puppetry, pantomime, and wild west shows.

link: A brief history of four letter words.

A Brief History Of Four Letter Words

by Ester Inglis-Arkell

“Scumbag,” sounds like the kind of hokey insult that would get you laughed at if you used it. When it was used in a New York Times, it got protests from some older readers, because once upon a time it meant “a used condom.” Think about every time you’ve seen Batman refer, in children’s cartoon, to criminals as scum, and you’ll begin to understand how obscenity evolves.

There are people who say that animals swear when they, for example, growl or gesture aggressively at people. Although no one could mistake such things for friendly gestures, showing anger isn’t the same thing as swearing. Swearing is more complicated than just aggression. Swearing can be a form of affectionate teasing among friends, it can be a way of insulting someone, it can be a way of letting off steam or frustration, or a way of showing unbridled enthusiasm. The only thing all verbal obscenity has in common is the deliberate crossing of social norms. And this is why swear words are always changing.

The Newly Innocent Obscenities

Golly! Zounds! Gadzooks! These are the kind of things Captain Marvel would say. Almost any other superhero would be too mature for such, childish silly words. And yet, during Shakespeare’s time, they made him one of the more edgy writers out there. They’re not just random sounds, but contractions, meant to make absolutely shocking sentiments less outright obscene. Golly, zounds, and gadzooks were, in order, god’s body, god’s wounds, and god’s hocks. While thinking about the Almighty’s ham hock region might offend a few people, each of these words are the kind of things now deemed perfectly innocent. This shows a huge shift in social mores since the time of the Shakespeare.

A brief history of four letter wordsReligious obscenities, when half of Europe was at war with the other half over the right way to practice Christianity, were a big deal. Referring to God in the corporeal sense was a way to scandalize people. To take the Lord’s name in vain was to go against explicit Biblical instructions. These were some of the more obscene concepts of the age, but today are the most mild swear words most people can think of. God, hell, damn, and, to some extent, Jesus Christ, are no big deal anymore. Most people use them.

Ironically, the reason they got a toe hold in current society is the same reason they were so scandalous a few centuries ago. They could be genuine swear words, but they could also be expressions of religious ideas. Far, far back in Simpsons history, there was a storyline about how the kids got a lesson on hell in Sunday School. When asked, afterwards, about what they learned, Bart replied, “Hell.” When Marge scolded him, he told her that, no, they had learned about the literal hell, and kept saying hell over and over until Marge, tired of hearing a word she considered inappropriate when coming out of her son’s mouth, said, “Bart, you’re not in church anymore. Don’t swear.” The line between actual devotion and blasphemy is tougher to delineate than most censors, and most people, imagine. Eventually most English speakers just stopped trying to find it at all, and people saying things like, “Mother of God,” just became a noncontroversial emotional outburst.

The Animals Diverge From Their Excrement

A brief history of four letter wordsOther swear words, which managed to skate into acceptability under a protective barrier of literalism, are bitch and ass. Both of those started out as literal meanings – animals – and might have been used as insults in their own right in their time. Ass is actually two words blended together to become an obscenity. Ass, the swear word, started out as irs, which meant the back end of anything, not just animals. Over time it became arse, and eventually rounded out and emerged as an ass. The two words were so alike that it was easy to sneak some ass into everyday life. Who remembers the West Wingcharacters constantly calling each other “jackass,” which, being a donkey, was perfectly okay. In the next few years the first part of the word was peeled away, with the understanding that an ass still meant donkey, but eventually everyone stopped kidding themselves and allowed it to be another mild swear word regularly said on TV.

Bitch started out, and remains, a female dog in breeding condition. From there its meaning expanded to anything female in breeding condition, and eventually it expanded to become promiscuous women, angry women, angry or promiscuous homosexual men, or anything “especially disagreeable.” Sliding between the slightly sexual, the slightly referring to sexuality, and the literal meaning of the word got bitch into general conversation, and most television shows. It also helps that being “especially disagreeable,” rather than meek and accommodating has become a point of pride for both women and male homosexuals, and so even at its most insulting, the word has lost the power to shock as society has moved on.

As for things like pissing and shitting, which is what bitches, asses, and all other animals do, they’re old English words. At least one of which dates back to the King James Bible. (2 Ki 18:27 But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?) These words, though not refined back then, have gotten both more abstract and a little more outré. This is an example of the way culture can continually reach for more delicacy. In France, “toilet” used to mean a small towel, which was kept near the chamber pot. It also meant the act of cleansing oneself. Old books often use the phrase, “She spent some time making her toilet,” which means grooming and preparing oneself for an event. “Toilet water” was a kind of light perfume. Since these actions happened in private, near a chamber pot, they were used as a euphemism for actually using that chamber pot. Eventually, the word came to mean the actual toilet itself, and not the things near it. After that, saying “I need to go to the toilet,” became indelicate, and people had to come up with more abstracted ways of saying the same thing. Cycles like this made piss and shit, while more commonly used in society, more vulgar than they originally were.

Four Letters and Starting With F

And then there’s the swear word that’s held steady for half a millennium; fuck. It seemed to spring upon the landscape fully-formed, and already an obscenity. The first instance of use of the word “fuck,” came from a satirical poem, written in Latin, in the year 1500. The line is referring to a group of friars, and runs like this: “Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.” If it suddenly starts looking like Kryptonian instead of Latin after the word quia, it’s because it had to be written in code. Each letter of the word was swapped out for the letter following it in the alphabet. Remember that the alphabet was in a different order back then, and that Latin conjugates verbs differently, but gxddbov translates as “fuccant.” The overall line states, “They are not in Heaven, since they fuck the wives of Ely.” That is one racy poem!

The word was, and continued to be, the big daddy of all swear words in English for many years. It became one of the words that keptLady Chatterley’s Lover banned in plenty of places. The word was unutterable in polite company. It’s still banned from most television stations and most print media.

Still, it has always been used, and its increasing popularity means that it’s becoming less likely to be held back from media discourse. Lately things have been changing especially fast. The FCC lately had to change regulations about fining news stations that aired spontaneous utterings of “fuck,” in their news footage. It was found that the word has come to be something people use to express their frustration, instead of solely referring to sex. Frustration is not obscene, so it’s highly likely that fuck may be sliding its way into generally and even media acceptability. As soon as the word acquires tones that aren’t exactly the literal and obscene meaning that it was originally used to convey, censors relax. They have to. As we’ve seen, it’s too easy to play with language, hiding deeper meanings behind compound words, resetting context, and making words seem innocent. Is it only a matter of time before five hundred years of dirtiness becomes sanitized as a mere expression of frustration? And if so, what to do we say then?

Top Image: Guillaume Carels

Shakespeare Image: Guardian

Donkey Image: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Cartoon: Tomia

Via SlateBrazil TimesBostonNY Times, and SocyBerty.

Clayton Diggs into Great Gatsby, the novel and movies in his unique, um…brogue. Brills!

Clayton Diggs

(Editor’s warning: links might lead you to some insanely funny shit… or not.  It depends on the link.)

You ever just sit around and think about The Great Gatsby? I did recently and I realized, yet again, that it’s a great fuckin’ book. Hot damn, F.Scott Fitzgerald, as a writer, I gotta hate you! But man, as a reader, I gotta love you. How did he write that shit, you know? Deal with the devil? Was it all the booze? And if so, what was he drinking and where can I get me some? Hot damn!

In case you’ve been so  foolish as to never read what may well be the best novel in the English language, here’s what it’s about: Nick Carraway, a penniless day-trader, finds himself fascinated by the lavish lifestyle and sexy parties of his much richer neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby, as it…

View original post 776 more words

A CRITIC AT LARGE

EASY WRITERS

Guilty pleasures without guilt.

by MAY 28, 2012

May 28, 2012 Issue

ABSTRACT: A CRITIC AT LARGE about guilty pleasures and genre fiction. When Matthew Arnold keeled over, in April, 1888, while hurrying to catch the Liverpool tram, Walt Whitman told a friend, “He will not be missed.” Arnold was, in short, “one of the dudes of literature.” Whitman probably figured that his own gnarly hirsuteness would save him from becoming a dude. He was wrong, and therein lies a lesson for all hardworking scribblers: stick around long enough, develop a cult following, gain the approval of one or two literary dudes, and you, too, can become respectable. Commercial and genre writers aim at delivering less rarefied pleasures. And part of the pleasure we derive from them is the knowledge that we could be reading something better. For the longest time, there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction: one was good for you, one simply tasted good. In 1944, Edmund Wilson published an article in this magazine that contained some disparaging remarks about the mystery genre. Nonetheless, it was a senior literary dude, W. H. Auden, who pointed the mystery writer Raymond Chandler canonward. It was Chandler’s blend of stylish wit and tough-guy sentimentality that made it easier for the commercial writers who followed. If you were good, you could find a booster among the literati. Indeed, scores of novelists in a variety of genres—P. D. James, John le Carré, Donald Westlake, Dennis Lehane—routinely receive glowing writeups in major newspapers and literary venues. In 1995, Martin Amis dubbed Elmore Leonard “a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers.” Skilled genre writers know that a certain level of artificiality must prevail. It’s plot we want and plenty of it. Basically, a guilty pleasure is a fix in the form of a story. Mentions Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan of the Apes.” The guilty-pleasure label peels off more easily if we recall that the novel itself was once something of a guilty pleasure. Hence Dickens was considered by many of his contemporaries to be more of a sentimentalist and a caricaturist than a serious artist. Mentions George Orwell. Today, the literary climate has changed: the canon has been impeached, formerly neglected writers have been saluted, and the presumed superiority of one type of book over another no longer passes unquestioned. So when Terrence Rafferty, in the Times Book Review last year, expressed disappointment with a novel that tried and failed to transcend the limitations of its genre, he caught some flak. Mentions Ursula K. Le Guin, Lee Child, Harold Bloom, and Stephen King. Compares Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” with Ford Madox Ford’s “Parade’s End.” Christie’s language wants us to settle in; Ford’s demands that we pay attention. The typical genre writer keeps rhetorical flourishes to a minimum, and the typical reader is content to let him. Readers who require more must look either to other kinds of novels or to those genre writers who care deeply about their sentences.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/05/28/120528crat_atlarge_krystal?printable=true#ixzz1vjQIqhqu

Writing Wednesdays: Henry Miller’s Eleven Commandments.

Henry Miller’s Eleven Commandments

By STEVEN PRESSFIELD | PublishedMAY 2, 2012

With gratitude to Maria Popova, from whose February 22 article on Brain Pickings I pilfered the following (and to George Spencer, who turned me on to the wonderful Brain Pickings), here is some priceless wisdom from one of my literary heroes, Henry Miller.

Tropic

(What I love about these notes is that they’re aimed by Miller only for himself—without a glimmer of self-consciousness, nor even for a moment intended for public dissemination. Here is a writer lashing himself to the mast, though not too tightly, as he bears down on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer.)

COMMANDMENTS

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no new material to Black Spring.

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5. When you can’t create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it the next day.Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

If you weren’t so miserable in high school, where would you be today? For writers, angst is everything. Here’s a reblog:reblog by Hannah Goodman on turning high school’s funny and/or humiliating moments in literary gold.

Sucker Literary

Dear High School, Thanks for being so sucky. Love, H

View original post 872 more words

Sometimes writers have snobbish attitude toward the writing we witness in movies and television shows. Snobby to the point of not watching. I think if we plan our television or movie time well and think of it as research, there’s a lot to learned from other kinds of media. What’s surprised me most as I’ve become an editor of writing, is how much editing of tv shows I do in my head as I’m watching.

5 Ways Novelists Can Benefit from Watching Movies and TV Shows | The Passive Voice.

Aside from the immediate benefit of getting yourself away from the computer screen and the blackhole of the Internet, studying movies and TV shows is a great way to enhance your storytelling skills. No, writing a script is not the same as writing a novel. But if you look beyond the differences in written format you’ll find some amazing similarities.

. . . .

We all have film characters we love, hate, or even love to hate. Have you ever stopped to think of why? Is it their viewpoint? Dialogue? Mannerisms? Something you never really noticed until asked this question? The most accurate answer is “all of the above.” Character = the sum of its traits.

If you’re having trouble making your characters individually unique, or the main players don’t seem to have that It Factor, select one of your favorite film characters and study everything he does in the story. What makes him stand out? How does he react and interact with the other characters? What does he do when faced with a tough decision? How do you know what that character is feeling without being “inside his head”?

To sharpen your character viewpoint skills, try this exercise:

Watch one scene of a movie (that you’re familiar with) that involves two or more characters. Now write that scene from each of the different characters’ eyes, as you would in a novel–include setting description, thoughts, sensory details, emotion, whatever is relevant. Different characters have different views of the same situation. This should show in your writing.

. . . .

Select five movies you’ve never seen before. Watch each movie and note whether you were engaged from beginning to end. If you weren’t, note what point you lost interest. If a movie isn’t doing it for me, that point is often within the first 20 minutes. Then ask yourself, Did I lose interest because my expectation for that movie wasn’t met? Or, Did I lose interest because, no matter what my expectation, the movie was just plain boring?

Bad pacing bores the audience. But a good pace doesn’t necessarily mean fast and action-packed. Good pacing means constant forward momentum of the story. This is why good literary fiction can be thrilling, and bad science fiction can put you to sleep.

Anything that doesn’t move the story forward must be cut. Analyze individual scenes in movies. They begin in media res, and end as soon as the point of the scene has been made. The same should be said of your novels. No room for boring fluff, no matter how beautiful the prose. We live in a busy world. Even prolific readers don’t have time to read everything. More often than not, they will choose the book that feels like it’s moving toward something over one that feels like it’s going nowhere.

I also write with a soundtrack. My novel, Merrily He Rolls Along, theatrical musical comedy with fiction. In my iTunes I’ve even created a special playlist for each chapter. Sometimes I imagine the voice I want to convey through whatever lyrics. But mostly, as this blogger writes, it about how the music makes me feel as I write.

My Memories of a Future Life

It’s all about capturing the emotion’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by YA author Laura Pauling @laurapauling

Soundtrack by Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Colbie Caillat, Natasha Bedingfield, Christina Perri, Adele

To quote Randy Jackson from American Idol: ‘The transference of emotion is what the audience wants.’

Readers more than anything want to feel what we’re feeling when we put our hearts into a story. Whether it’s heartbreak, humour, revenge, sorrow…etc. And sometimes listening to the right kind of music, a certain song that pushes my heart to its limit, can transfer over to my writing.

Stories at your fingertips

So when I was writing A Spy Like Me, I…

View original post 602 more words

“They should send all those sidewinders back to the desert,” Dad looked up from his Pennysaver to proclaim.

“And I should exchange you for Paul Newman,” Mom volleyed back across the kitchen. In my chair at our little kitchen dinner table I might have looked like a dispassionate referee on the sideline of my parent’s argument, but my quietness belied a history of unpredicted angry outbursts. Although that night I didn’t snarl into their fray which I recall was over a simple report from Mom about the new family in our neighborhood joining the summer car pool. She was standing up next to her electric drip coffee maker in a vain effort to hover above Dad with rational thought. “The Siarmanjanis are exiles from Iran,” Mom defended them. “Nobody in PTA seems to know the whole story.”

link to complete PDF: athomewolveslambs.rfbrown.web

Link to Poets and Writers:  Lists of Note.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hemingway’s Favourites

In the February 1935 issue of Esquire magazine, an article by Ernest Hemingway appeared that was titled ‘Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter.’ In it, Hemingway reeled off 17 books, all of which he “would rather read again for the first time […] than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.”That list can be read below.(Source: Esquire, Feb. 1935; Image: Ernest Hemingway, via.)

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Far Away and Long Ago, by W. H. Hudson
Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
A Sportsman’s Sketches, by Ivan Turgenev
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hail and Farewell, by George Moore
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas
La Maison Tellier, by Guy de Maupassant
Le Rouge et le Noir, by Stendhal
La Chartreuse de Parme, by Stendhal
Dubliners, by James Joyce
Autobiographies, by W. B. Yeats

PBS Announces OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II – OUT OF MY DREAMS : PBS.

Courtesy of Rodgers and Hammerstein: An Imagem Company

PBS Announces OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II – OUT OF MY DREAMS

Matthew Morrison Hosts a Look at the Man
Who Changed the American Musical Forever

– New One-Hour Special Premieres on PBS in March 2012 –

ARLINGTON, VA – JANUARY 18, 2012 — PBS announced today that OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II – OUT OF MY DREAMS will premiere on PBS stations beginning March 3, 2012 (check local listings). Hosted by Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominated Matthew Morrison (“Glee”) — who starred in the 2008 Tony-winning revival of South Pacific as Lieutenant Cable — the film is a celebration of the most acclaimed lyricist and librettist of the 20th century, the man who worked in the theater for over 40 years, writing the lyrics for over a thousand songs and the libretti for dozens of operettas and musicals performed on Broadway, in London and in Hollywood films. His legendary works include Rose-Marie (1924), Show Boat (1927), Oklahoma! (1943),Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music(1959). Brimming over with movie clips from his greatest musicals, this new PBS special features interviews with Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, Shirley Jones, Mitzi Gaynor, Hammerstein family members and others.

Born into a theatrical dynasty, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) changed the course of musical theater forever with a series of landmark productions, from Show Boat, composed by Jerome Kern in 1927, to the “Golden Age of Broadway” musicals written with composer Richard Rodgers from 1942-1959. The American musical, which began as purely light-hearted and escapist entertainment, was transformed by Hammerstein’s groundbreaking works that told believable stories about plausible (often real-life) characters, with songs that enhanced the narrative, and a message that was sometimes political, and nearly always inspirational.

OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II – OUT OF MY DREAMS includes segments from five of the timeless, ever-popular Rodgers & Hammerstein films, including iconic scenes fromOklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and the most popular movie musical of all time, The Sound of Music. Also featured are songs and scenes from among the several movie versions of Show Boat, as well as a clip from the rarely seen film, Lady Be Good, with Ann Sothern singing “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” written by Oscar Hammerstein II on the day Paris fell to Nazi Germany. Set to music by Jerome Kern, it won the Academy Award as Best Song in 1941.

While footage of Oscar Hammerstein II is rare, he is seen and heard in excerpts from a 1958 television interview with CBS News’ Mike Wallace, as well as recorded comments from conversations with contemporary journalists Arnold Michaelis and Tony Thomas.

Stephen Sondheim, mentored by Hammerstein starting in his teen years, is also interviewed and discusses the lessons he learned from the man he considers a theatrical revolutionary and both an artistic and a surrogate father. Also interviewed are: Broadway director Harold Prince; Shirley Jones (star of the film versions ofOklahoma! and Carousel); Mitzi Gaynor (star of the film version of South Pacific); Tony winning playwright/lyricist Joe DiPietro (himself mentored by Hammerstein’s son James); Ted Chapin, President of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company; biographer Hugh Fordin; and Hammerstein family members, including his daughter, Alice Hammerstein Mathias; grandchildren, Oscar Andrew Hammerstein, Melinda Walsh, and Peter Mathias; and his stepdaughter, Susan Blanchard. Seen in archival interviews are Hammerstein’s late wife, Dorothy, and their late son, James.

This program also celebrates Hammerstein’s extraordinary work as a humanitarian and political activist, a part of his life that is not as well known as his artistic achievements. From the beginning of his career to the end, he used his creative talents to raise the social consciousness of audiences all over the world. Show Boat — to a degree unprecedented in the musical theater of its time — took an unflinching look at racial oppression in the post-Reconstruction South, and South Pacific (with its controversial stance on prejudice, expressed in the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”) took a bold stand on the issue of civil rights.

PBS special programming invites viewers to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; hear diverse viewpoints; and take front-row seats to world-class drama and performances. Viewer contributions are an important source of funding, making PBS programs possible. PBS and public television stations offer all Americans from every walk of life the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content.

– PBS –

Underwriters: Public Television Viewers and PBS, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation
Writer, Producer, Director: JoAnn Young
Produced by: Creative Retrospectives – A NJ Non-profit Corporation/Young Productions Inc.
Editor: Laura Young
Producer: Sven Nebelung
Consulting Producer: Oscar Andrew Hammerstein
Associate Producer: Amy Asch
Re-recording Mixer: Richard Fairbanks
Format: CC Stereo HD

Roger Kimball in The Weekly Standard on the place of fiction in our culture today. I agree with just about everything this guy says even though he’s still an uptight ahole.

link:  The Great American Novel | The Weekly Standard.

The Great American Novel

Pico Iyer reflections on writing and reading long sentences. Stolen from the LA Times

link: A long sentence is worth the read – Los Angeles Times.

 

The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence

Pico Iyer says writing longer phrases is a way to protest the speed of information bites people are subjected to each day.

January 08, 2012|By Pico Iyer, Special to the Los Angeles Times

“Your sentences are so long,” said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn’t quite mean it as a compliment. The copy editor who painstakingly went through my most recent book often put yellow dashes on-screen around my multiplying clauses, to ask if I didn’t want to break up my sentences or put less material in every one. Both responses couldn’t have been kinder or more considered, but what my friend and my colleague may not have sensed was this: I’m using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against — and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from — the bombardment of the moment.

When I began writing for a living, my feeling was that my job was to give the reader something vivid, quick and concrete that she couldn’t get in any other form; a writer was an information-gathering machine, I thought, and especially as a journalist, my job was to go out into the world and gather details, moments, impressions as visual and immediate as TV. Facts were what we needed most. And if you watched the world closely enough, I believed (and still do), you could begin to see what it would do next, just as you can with a sibling or a friend; Don DeLillo or Salman Rushdie aren’t mystics, but they can tell us what the world is going to do tomorrow because they follow it so attentively.

Yet nowadays the planet is moving too fast for even a Rushdie or DeLillo to keep up, and many of us in the privileged world have access to more information than we know what to do with. What we crave is something that will free us from the overcrowded moment and allow us to see it in a larger light. No writer can compete, for speed and urgency, with texts or CNN news flashes or RSS feeds, but any writer can try to give us the depth, the nuances — the “gaps,” as Annie Dillard calls them — that don’t show up on many screens. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker.

Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we’re taken further and further from trite conclusions — or that at least is the hope — and away from reductionism, as if the writer were a dentist, saying “Open wider” so that he can probe the tender, neglected spaces in the reader (though in this case it’s not the mouth that he’s attending to but the mind).

“There was a little stoop of humility,” Alan Hollinghurst writes in a sentence I’ve chosen almost at random from his recent novel “The Stranger’s Child,” “as she passed through the door, into the larger but darker library beyond, a hint of frailty, an affectation of bearing more than her fifty-nine years, a slight bewildered totter among the grandeur that her daughter now had to pretend to take for granted.” You may notice — though you don’t have to — that “humility” has rather quickly elided into “affectation,” and the point of view has shifted by the end of the sentence, and the physical movement through the rooms accompanies a gradual inner movement that progresses through four parallel clauses, each of which, though legato, suggests a slightly different take on things.

Many a reader will have no time for this; William Gass or Sir Thomas Browne may seem long-winded, the equivalent of driving from L.A. to San Francisco by way of Death Valley, Tijuana and the Sierras. And a highly skilled writer, a Hemingway or James Salter, can get plenty of shading and suggestion into even the shortest and straightest of sentences. But too often nowadays our writing is telegraphic as a way of keeping our thinking simplistic, our feeling slogan-crude. The short sentence is the domain of uninflected talk-radio rants and shouting heads on TV who feel that qualification or subtlety is an assault on their integrity (and not, as it truly is, integrity’s greatest adornment).

If we continue along this road, whole areas of feeling and cognition and experience will be lost to us. We will not be able to read one another very well if we can’t read Proust’s labyrinthine sentences, admitting us to those half-lighted realms where memory blurs into imagination, and we hide from the person we care for or punish the thing that we love. And how can we feel the layers, the sprawl, the many-sidedness of Istanbul in all its crowding amplitude without the 700-word sentence, transcribing its features, that Orhan Pamuk offered in tribute to his lifelong love?

To pick up a book is, ideally, to enter a world of intimacy and continuity; the best volumes usher us into a larger universe, a more spacious state of mind akin to the one I feel when hearing Bach (or Sigur Rós) or watching a Terrence Malick film. I cherish Thomas Pynchon’s prose (in “Mason & Dixon,” say), not just because it’s beautiful, but because his long, impeccable sentences take me, with each clause, further from the normal and the predictable, and deeper into dimensions I hadn’t dared to contemplate. I can’t get enough of Philip Roth because the energy and the complication of his sentences, at his best, pull me into a furious debate in which I see a mind alive, self-questioning, wildly controlled in its engagement with the world. His is a prose that banishes all simplicities while never letting go of passion.

Not every fashioner of many-comma’d sentences works for every one of us — I happen to find Henry James unreadable, his fussily unfolding clauses less a reflection of his noticing everything than of his inability to make up his mind or bring anything to closure: a kind of mental stutter. But the promise of the long sentence is that it will take you beyond the known, far from shore, into depths and mysteries you can’t get your mind, or most of your words, around.

When I read the great exemplar of this, Herman Melville — and when I feel the building tension as Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” swells with clause after biblical clause of all the things people of his skin color cannot do — I feel as if I’m stepping out of the crowded, overlighted fluorescent culture of my local convenience store and being taken up to a very high place from which I can see across time and space, in myself and in the world. It’s as if I’ve been rescued, for a moment, from the jostle and rush of the 405 Freeway and led back to something inside me that has room for certainty and doubt at once.

Watch Dillard light up and rise up and ease down as she finds, near the end of her 1974 book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” “a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by the witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world’s rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down.”

I love books; I read and write them for the same reason I love to talk with a friend for 10 hours, not 10 minutes (let alone, as is the case with the average Web page, 10 seconds). The longer our talk goes, ideally, the less I feel pushed and bullied into the unbreathing boxes of black and white, Republican or Democrat, us or them. The long sentence is how we begin to free ourselves from the machine-like world of bullet points and the inhumanity of ballot-box yeas or nays.

There’ll always be a place for the short sentence, and no one could thrill more than I to the eerie incantations of DeLillo, building up menace with each reiterated note, or the compressed wisdom of a Wilde; it’s the elegant conciseness of their phrases that allow us to carry around the ideas of an Emerson (or Lao Tzu) as if they were commandments or proverbs of universal application.

But we’ve got shortness and speed up the wazoo these days; what I long for is something that will sustain me and stretch me till something snaps, take me so far beyond a simple clause or a single formulation that suddenly, unexpectedly, I find myself in a place that feels as spacious and strange as life itself.

The long sentence opens the very doors that a short sentence simply slams shut. Though the sentence I sent my copy editor was as short as possible. No.

Iyer is the author, most recently, of “The Man Within My Head,” published this month.

as stolen from NPR.org

link: How To Name Your First Novel : Monkey See : NPR.

If Your First Novel Will Be A Busted Romance

[ANY OF THE SEVEN DWARFS]: A Love Story

If Your First Novel Will Be A Harrowing Historical Account

The [A COLOR] [REPEAT THAT COLOR] [A FLOWER]s Of [A CITY IN EUROPE]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Withering Teenage Quasi-Memoir

How I Flunked [YOUR WORST ACADEMIC SUBJECT] But Passed [THE FIRST MUSICIAN YOU SAW IN CONCERT]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Workplace Satire

At Least They Left Us The [A PIECE OF OFFICE MACHINERY]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Quirky Woman’s Story From Someone Else’s Point Of View

[A CHILD-CARE-RELATED TRANSITIVE VERB]ing [THE NAME OF YOUR PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Quirky Man’s Story From His Own Point Of View

[THE FIRST NAME OF YOUR MATERNAL GRANDFATHER]Reads The Works Of [CLASSIC AUTHOR]

If Your First Novel Will Be A Miserable Story Of One Person’s Suffering

My [A FRAGILE OBJECT] Is [A WORD THAT MEANS “BROKEN”]

If Your First Novel Will Be Self-Consciously Ironic And Self-Congratulatory

[A COMIC-BOOK SOUND EFFECT WORD] Goes [A NEIGHBORHOOD IN BROOKLYN]

If Your First Novel Takes Place In Gorgeous Locations

The [ANY COUNTRY] [ANY COMMON SOCIAL EVENT]Chronicles

If Your First Novel Is Intended To Launch A Giant Moneymaking Franchise

Everything Starts With [“1” OR “A”]

West Memphis 3, Paradise Lost 3

(cinema) Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory (d. Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011) It’s been 16 years and two sequels since I saw the first Paradise Lost documentary at the Film Forum in New York City. I’m glad the wrongfully accused are set free but I still feel the truth rots a in dark, incarcerated place. I remember that the first documentary, a compelling story of wrong compounded by wrong, was also a frustratingly unthorough piece of journalism. The synopsis is that in 1993 three eight year old boys were murdered and thrown in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenage boys, to be nicknamed the West Memphis 3, were convicted of the murders under highly questionable investigatory and judicial procedures. The first film fell well short for me in providing a sufficient account of the prosecution’s so called case. A year after seeing the first PL the friend I went to see it with called me up and said, “I heard those documentary guys made it all up to make the teenagers look good. When you hear the whole story they are totally guilty.” Really? What’s your source? None, really. Is there a whole story?  I have always been convinced that the teenagers were railroaded. But after years of sequels, cult-like public outrage, websites, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp I still have no idea what happened back in 1993. If the WM3 were not murdering cub scouts that night in 1993, where were they? None of these films have ever discussed an alibi. If a documentary is presenting itself as the balanced account of its subject matter and one side of the argument is being left out, there must be a reason. I can’t speculate the reason because facts in this case have always been overshadowed by emotions, self-righteousness on behalf of the WM3 supporters, stubborn obfuscation by law enforcement, and repeated attempts by the filmmakers to offer alternative accusations that frankly are as shoddy and irresponsible as the lousy case against the teenagers. There is another feature documentary ,West Of Memphis, in circulation as well as many tv magazine pieces which may provide more information. I’d like to know if there is more to know about what happened the night those young boys were murdered, and I’d like to know more about what the police actually had on the WM3. In Purgatory the defense has gone to all the trouble of pulling together world renown criminal profilers and DNA experts. Yet the new documentary doesn’t reveal one thing we didn’t already know. These films succeeded in calling attention to injustice perpetrated on the accused and the fact that the real killer will never be brought to justice. The Arkansas court system created an outcome in which the case will never be reopened. The whole story is fascinating and sad, but these movies aren’t very good either. ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Grey(d. Joe Carnahan, 2012) An airplane transporting ruffian oil workers

The Grey. Your enemy or your conscience?

crashes in barren Alaska. The men must try to survive arctic conditions, interpersonal conflicts, and attacks by an aggressive pack of wolves. The wolves are of course metaphor for the organizational behavior of a pack of men on the brink as well as the haunting pasts that brought each man to this frozen Purgatory. The challenge includes lots of tense survival action and man-chewing wolves, but what keeps the film interesting are the metaphysical elements, both in the blurry camerawork and the cryptic storytelling. Is this situation real or are we in the self-exiled imagination of the central character? Not brilliant but  an experience, however harrowing. ๏ ๏ ๏ out of ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… (theatre) West Side Story (RISE theater company at Stadium Performing Arts Center, Woonsocket, RI) I go to a lot of community theater and you might think I am fortunate to live in a place where there are many local companies. One has to approach community theatre with prejudice of lowered expectations. Some of the worst crap in the world gets to Broadway with multi-million dollar underwriting. Under what circumstances can one expect no-budget theatre to be any better? Surprisingly often the risk does pay off in community. I see performers all the time who have dedicated their lives to craft and not to making it big. But “big” took on new meaning for me in seeing this production of WSS when the curtain went up on a cast of teenagers who were mostly all overweight. I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about casting a play in suburban area where your company may also be completing with a lot of other companies, but surely someone had to realize the absurdity. WSS is as much a dancing show as it is musical as no one wants to see roly-poly people rolling around on the stage floor. I will say that the lead vocals were excellent. But the show itself seemed out of the director’s grasp. The pacing was awkward, the actors were bad, and the choreography was an embarrassment waiting for wincing audience. Whoever you are RISE, you need to set your ambitions lower for now and find material that is appropriate for your acting pool.

Everybody Hates Rap And Opera

Not really. I like one of ’em. NPR article on why some of the same people can’t listen to rap music and opera music.

 

Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera?

link: Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera? : Deceptive Cadence : NPR.

So what’s wrong with rap and opera? Not much, really. Except that last week when we asked readers to name their musical blind spots (genres or bands they ignored, either by choice or neglect) a distinct refrain emerged within the responses. Two examples:

“Oh, and by the way, rap is not music. It is mostly a bunch of meaningless drivel by people with no real talent and who certainly should not get paid.”

“Very little of opera is worth bothering with and even then only as instrumental music rather than as the sounds of tortured cats.”

It was clear that opera and rap, more than any other genres, hit some kind of nerve with people. And it’s a fact that seems to hold true far beyond our highly unscientific social media polling. But why?

 

For some people, taste — why we dislike one thing and prefer another — is complicated. It’s connected to self-esteem, personal branding and creating social divisions based on things like class and education. In a 1996 article for the American Sociology Review, Bethany Bryson attempted to show that people use their musical tastes to erect what she calls “symbolic boundaries” between themselves and others.

There’s little doubt that both rap and opera have traveled with significant prejudicial (if stereotypical) baggage: Opera is for rich, white, elderly snobs; rap is made by poor, young, black thugs. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion. Bryson would say perceptions help determine musical choices and vice versa.

On a less academic level, I asked a couple of my NPR Music colleagues to weigh in. For Bob Boilen, creator and host of All Songs Considered, social structures, he says, have nothing to do with it. It’s all about communication. The languages of rap and opera just don’t speak to him. “If the crux of the music is focused on the words and if the words don’t relate to the listener then it’s all is a big disconnect,” he says. But he’s willing to admit exceptions, including the mournful strains of Portuguese fado: “I don’t care what they’re singing about, I’m with them.”

Frannie Kelley, who swims in the world of rap like I do in opera, agrees that at first glance the two genres would appear to have little in common. Digging deeper, one can argue that there are many connections, not least of which is the obsessiveness of each genre’s most dedicated aficionados.

Opera fanatics incessantly evaluate all aspects of singers, conductors, directors, composers, set designers and opera companies. True geeks know the intricacies of how the human voice works, and how it should work in any given operatic role vis-à-vis any given singer. Opera roles are like clothes, which singers “try on” to varying degrees of success. Certain voices fit certain roles perfectly, but singers often try on roles a size or two too big. Not pretty.

In the higher realms of rap, Frannie says, you have to navigate the interior social strata, the subtleties of sampling and layers of meaning behind the braggadocio and how it relates to selling records. Rap, like opera, also has complicated “cast lists.” Keeping up with who appears on whose singles, mixtapes and remixes can be as confounding as keeping track of who sang what on the famous Knappertsbusch Ring cycles. And with rap, like opera, there are a huge amount of regional variety, from Compton to Atlanta to the Bronx, London and Istanbul.

And then there’s the language, as Bob mentioned. Both the actual language that each genre uses in performance and the cryptic vernaculars each has engendered (click here for a handy Bay area hip-hop dictionary, and here to decode some opera jargon). Opera and rap rely heavily on words, many of which are not immediately discernable. Rap can have complex poetry (and profanity) zipping past at indecipherable speeds (especially theturbo rappers). Opera often has foreign tongues and high flying phrasing, requiring CD listeners to run to their printed librettos and opera houses to install supertitles.

Opera and rap take work to appreciate — perhaps more effort than many of today’s music consumers are willing to expend. In an age when more and more music is available to anyone’s ears, are we turning into lazy listeners? Is it too easy to download too much, to acquire everything but actually hear nothing? Does any time remain to fully appreciate a complete hip-hop album, let alone an entire opera? It also takes work to enjoy music that’s as in-your-face as opera and rap are. With all the melodrama, social consciousness, violence and intense vocal styles, they certainly are not musical wallpaper.

Opera and rap. Who knew they could be so far from each other and yet so close? And who really knows exactly why they both act like lightning rods when it comes to musical preferences? Is it deeply rooted in social psychology, elitism, racism, self-image? The discussion has already been interesting around the NPR Music water cooler. Need to weigh in yourself? Have a story about opera, rap and the reasons why like and dislike what we do? Let us know in the comments section.

This is great advice to writers on thinking about the scope of your work. I know the little truths come easily for me. The big Truths always look line a moving target.

link: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/25K6lO/justinemusk.com/2012/02/17/meaning-truth-novel-how-to-blog/

JUSTINE MUSK

how to find the Big Meaning of your novel (+ blog) that will make your readers fall wildly in love with you

1

So I realized I was coming at my novel from the outside in.

I’d created a complex storyworld with a cast of characters and tangled backstory shaping the frontstory. It was like I had the map, but couldn’t find the interstate freeway leading to my destination. I was going down some dark country roads, and it was only a matter of time before I’d end up in a town of cannibals or something.

(Cue the sound of a chainsaw.

…On second thought, DON’T.)

As Roz Morris suggests in her book NAIL YOUR NOVEL, one way to help yourself get unstuck is to remind yourself why you wanted to write the damn thing in the first place.

For me, for this book, it was the idea of repetition compulsion: how we recreate relationships and situations from the past in an ongoing effort to resolve them. I’m using reincarnation as a metaphor for that.

But what is the point of the book? If art is the creative demonstration of a truth, what is the truth I am trying to prove? I needed to get at the novel from the inside out.

Back to basics: a story is about a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles to get it.

But in order to do that, she’s forced to change in some way.

It’s in the overcoming of those obstacles that she finds what she lacks, and acquires what she needs, to achieve her goal (or not). The meaning of the story – the thematic significance – is in that character growth. That shift in consciousness that makes a new life possible.

In her book THE PLOT WHISPERER, Martha Alderson advises you to look to your own life, for your own truths, that you can then bring to bear on your novel. What are the big truths of your life?

I’m talking what Jim Signorelli refers to as big-t Truths, those metaphysical truths that we can’t measure or quantify but recognize, somehow, as right. We vibe with them.

In contrast, little-t truths are the facts and figures we find in the history books, for example. So-called objective information. (It’s not like history is, you know, written by the victors or anything.)

Little-t truths can be manipulated.

Big-t Truths cannot: they are what they are, and they remain the same from Homer to Shakespeare to Spielberg to Joyce Carol Oates. They are the abstract truths that live behind, and in between, and beneath the other kind. Little-t truths inform us; big-T truths live inside us, and a writer doesn’t teach or preach so much as stir them to life. We feel that shiver of recognition, that sense of deepening alignment with the values of the novel, as we live vicariously through the characters and arrive at a sense of what it all means.

2

Big-t truths live in your platform as well, your blog – that is, if you want to create something powerful enough to attract and engage new readers and deepen your connections with your fans.

It comes back to the question: What do you stand for? What is your purpose? What is your defining value or ideal?

The nature of blogging (and online writing in general) is to provide information that solves problems, that illuminates or improves your reader’s life in some way. Think of that information as the bait on the hook that draws your readers to you (you just want to make sure that it’s the right bait for the right kind of audience).

But to turn those readers into fans, you need to deepen that engagement, because information on its own isn’t enough.

The gurus will say that you need to connect with readers emotionally, and that’s true. But more than that, you need them to resonate with you. And that happens when they can sense the big-t Truth living behind that information, shaping the delivery of that information, and they recognize it as their Truth as well.

Community develops around shared values.

To find yours, Signorelli suggests what he calls the “laddering interview”, or what is elsewhere known as “the five whys”. You explore the motivation behind your motivation behind your motivation until you get to its root cause. That’s where you find your Truth.

For example:

Why blog about creativity?

Because I think it’s important to a well-lived life, a healthy society.

Why?

Because it deepens your connection to yourself and the world.

Why?

Because it helps you explore and develop your identity, your voice, your vision, and project that into the world.

Why?

So you can interact with the world as your full-bodied, amplified, authentic self, which allows you to stand in your power and connect with like-minded souls.

Why?

So you can work together to create a movement, raise awareness, find innovative solutions, that change the world. And sell your work and make some money as a side benefit.

You try it.

3

Getting back to my novel, this is the thematic statement I came up with:

The hunger for love leads to distortions of love, but only real love can heal and transcend the cycle of exploitative relationships.

So my character has to grow toward genuine love and intimacy in a way that helps her save herself (and others). I have to create the events, characters and situations – the objective information, the little-t truths, the ‘plot’ — forcing her to do that.

Wish me luck.

What are the Truths that you’re working with?

I had the opportunity to see a lot of theatre in the last week, both on Broadway and near home in Rhode Island. A reminder, I usually give theatre a simple SEE IT  or SKIP IT recommendation based on content not performance. In cases where good material is performed badly, I’ll add an additional note.

Take Me Out

TAKE ME OUT, writer Richard Greenberg. In 1993 the novelist Richard Lefcourt published a popular book “The Dreyfus Affair” not about the famous French Dreyfus Affair but about a gay, inter-racial  romantic affair between two major league baseball players. Although amusing enough, Lefcourt, whose primary occupation is television scriptwriter, clearly wrote a novel looking for movie rights. His actual knowledge of baseball seemed slight and as far as I can tell he is also a straight guy who failed to capture gay sensibility with any substance either. Lefcourt’s readers were sort of told: Dudes, just move those yummy, round tits down under a schlong and it’s the same thing. It aint. Also not the same thing is the 2003 play TAKE ME OUT by Richard Greenberg (and I confused these two for years) but it’s about a professional baseball player coming out of the closet. Fortunately instead of trying to tackle everything about baseball and gayness the play draws its dramatic energy from issues about all kinds of  intolerance. There actually isn’t any sex in it, which is ironic because many of the scenes call for full male nudity. The dialogue comes off too polished and overly theatrical for my taste, however the characters and the social commentary are complex. TAKE ME OUT won a Tony Award for best play. The cast at the production I just saw at 2nd Story Theater in Warren, RI was as talented as any you’ll see on Broadway.  SEE IT.

COMPANY, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. COMPANY is sometimes referred to as Broadway’s first successful “concept” musical. That’s historically arguable, but COMPANY was very influential in moving musical theatre away from the grand and formal Rodgers and Hammerstein book form. Instead COMPANY is a plotless musical about married couples done sort of in vignettes or review style. The common thread is the bachelor character Bobby who is a friend to each of the couples and a prism for their modern upper-middle class angst. COMPANY is my favorite musical on any stage, largely for Sondheim’s brilliant music. SEE IT for the music alone but be warned that the current production at Black Box in Mansfield, MA has a weak cast.

If you are reading this in the New England area both of these shows have their last performances this weekend through Feb. 19th, 2012.

Merrily We Roll Along

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. Another great Sondheim work, and underrated for decades, is MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG currently in revival at Encores in New York City. The concept here is to tell the story of three bickering friends in showbusiness starting at the end of the story and moving backwards twenty years to when they first met as idealistic young people. So we begin at the bitter end, and end at the hopeful beginning. The first Broadway production of MWRA in 1981 was an historic flop for Sondheim. It closed after two weeks. The music was brilliant but the concept was confusing to audiences. Over 30 years Sondheim and his collaborators have tinkered with the show. One of the big things that changed is the nexus of the story-  it’s gone from being a critique about artistic integrity to being more a reflection of how adult friendships change over time. I’m still  interested in that story but I think dramatic efficacy gets lost in backward plotting. I love MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG because it’s unique but I don’t know if the concept will ever really work. SEE IT.

Nick Jonas, How to

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, music and lyrics Frank Loesser. If Merrily We Roll Along is an intellectual musical H2$ is the opposite. H2$ is what everybody’s talking about when the say that musicals are dumb stories surrounded by sometimes good music. I love Frank Loesser’s score and I think there are sometimes brilliant subtleties to this broad comedy about a window washer who climbs the ladder of business. I did not have the opportunity to see this revival’s first cast with Daniel Radcliffe and John Laroquette. What they have now on Broadway with Nick Jonas and Beau Bridges is pretty bad, particularly Jonas. To me the character of Finch is supposed to be an opportunist but not necessarily conniving. The comedy is in that everybody at the company keeps promoting Finch because he stands in the right place at the right time. Jonas seems to think that the way to play Finch is to play Nick Jonas playing Finch and he just comes off as smug. Jonas’ vocal performance also isn’t ready for Broadway.  SEE IT somewhere but skip the current production on Broadway.

CHRONICLE: CAN ANDREW CRUSH HIS PROBLEMS?

(cinema) Chronicle, d. Josh Trank, 2012. There’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers, a very practical guy: When you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging. I offer this aphorism for consideration to the lead character Andrew in Chronicle and to the filmmakers behind Chronicle as well. Andrew, a shy teenager, finds himself part of a trio of boys who discover a strange crystal artifact in an underground cavern. The crystal, for some reason, gives the boys telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and even figure out how to fly above the clouds. The external benefits of Andrew’s new physical power include making new friends, becoming popular at school and even attracting the interest of girls. But ultimately Andrew’s damaged ego and personal problems at home are more powerful than his abilities his father is an abusive drunk and his mother has a terminal illness. As Andrew’s telekinetic powers strengthen, his emotional self-control weakens. Instead of being a hero, he becomes a menace of violence and destruction. The “chronicle” part of this is that the whole movie is shot in so called “found footage” style. I call it faux-verite. Andrew carries a video camera and his recording of everything that happens is our viewpoint into his rise and fall. There are a lot of movies using faux-verite but experimenting with the form, Chronicle ventures into original territory. I like the special effects work of the suspended objects and flying teenagers. I also like the story in the first two thirds a lot. Is all this really happening to Andrew or are we a voyeur into his fantasy life? Is this an origin story of Andrew as a comic book style hero, or super villain?  There are probably a hundred interesting places Chronicle could have taken us but it doesn’t go to any of them. Instead the story runs out of gas creatively and begins to get boring, even at under 85 minutes. In the desperate feeling last act, Andrew goes on an I-can-destroy-you-all-if-I-chose power binge. The filmmakers have no idea what to do with their own character. So they drag Andrew into a hole of explosions, nihilism, and waste. Unfortunately, Andrew lacks the ability to think of any better solution than to just keep making things worse. In the same manner Chronicle goes from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I should mention that I saw a strong homoerotic subtext here as Andrew’s fantasy-come-to life seems to be finding a phallic object in a cave and using its secret power to convince attractive, popular boys to runaway with him- just something I was thinking about as I watched this movie go to pieces.  ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Harvey Girls, d. George Sidney, 1946. Not everybody knows who Johnny Mercer was but everybody knows a Johnny Mercer song: “MOON RIVER”, “JEEPERS CREEPERS”, or “YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY.” Mercer wrote lyrics for and recorded hundreds of songs in the Great American Songbook including “ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE”  for the movie musical The Harvey Girls (music: Harry Warren). That song is used in a grand Hollywood production number at the beginning. What happens after that are some less fantastic numbers and a thin story. Judy Garland plays a 19th Century mail order bride from Ohio whose train stops in an old Western American town. Garland takes a job as a Harvey Girl. That’s an ebullient, hard working server in a friendly whistle stop restaurant called Harvey’s. It’s a respectable opportunity for a young, unmarried woman, especially compared to the girls who “entertain” men more provocatively across the street at the local casino and dance hall. A cultural conflict is set up here between the two kinds of girls in town, a conflict repeated in the battle of affections over the same man by both Garland and the leader of the showgirls. There is a longer discussion to be had about how these microcosmic conflicts attempt to play out familiar value themes in musicals: work versus leisure and chastity versus sexual promiscuity. But the case is well summarized at the end when all of the town drunks and gamblers come over to Harvey’s to learn how to waltz. As the town parson says, “For the first time the men in this town chose having a good time over having a wild time.” This movie is a good but not wild time and there are some great, less recognizable Mercer/Warren tunes as well as an amazing tap dance specialty number by Ray Bolger.๏ ๏ ๏outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ … (television) Smash. This show premiered on television after a great deal of marketing and other ballyhoo. It’s premise is to follow the evolution of a fictional Broadway musical and the lives of its creators and performers. So far I don’t quite give it a “smash.” The pilot was more of a “ring” or a “bang” to me. The characters started out kind of flat but they promise to be much more interesting than the nitwit cartoon characters on Glee (Hate it!). I’m impressed with the quality of Smash’s original music by Marc Shaiman, composer/lyricist for musicals like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. I wonder if they’re going to be able to maintain the quality of that music over the course of a television series. One of the principle character conflicts is going to be the two young singers fighting for the lead role. I thought Megan Hilti, the blonde, was amazing and that Katherine McPhee, the brunette, was just really good. However my unbinding straw poll revealed that there are people who feel completely opposite, that McPhee clobbered Hilti. What did you think? I think Smash could turn out to be a lot of fun to watch. WATCH IT… In my continuing power screening of old Golden Girls episodes I just finished the 3rd season. LARCENY AND OLD LACE (S3, Ep.21) Sophia is dating a retired gangster and finds a wad of money she thinks he robbed from a bank just to impress her. One of the big problems I have with GG is that they enlist a lot of great Hollywood and Broadway actors as guest stars and then never give them anything funny to do, perhaps to contain them in upstaging the regulars. However, this episode features Mickey Rooney as the old crook and he’s in great form. WATCH IT. BTW, Mickey Rooney was older than any of the GG actresses. They’re all dead except for Betty White and Rooney’s still alive. ROSE’S BIG ADVENTURE (S3, Ep.22) Rose has to convince her newly retired boyfriend to do something with his life. Also, the girls hire an old Sicilian architect to remodel their garage. This isn’t a bad episode but neither story line is particularly believable or funny. SKIP IT. MIXED BLESSINGS (S3, Ep. 23) Dorothy forbids her son to marry a woman twice his age. Meanwhile the bride’s family is forbidding the marriage because they are black. It’s a weird pattern to me that the adult children are always flying into Miami to spring shocking news to their Golden Girl mother at the front door. Ever hear of a telephone? And what’s with all the parental forbidding? It’s okay though, the white people come out looking really tolerant in this one. SKIP IT.  MR. TERRIFIC (S3, Ep. 24) Now Rose is dating a television kiddie show super hero named Mr. Terrific. What happened to the good for nothing she was seeing two episodes ago? Through sitcomy circumstance Dorothy gets Mr. Terrific fired from his gig and has to fill in for him on the air. I wanted that situation of comedy to be funnier. Also, I’ve always disliked the character actor Bob Dishy who plays Mr. Terrific. He never fails to irritate. SKIP IT.  MOTHER’S DAY (S3, EP.25) Each GG recalls a memorable Mother’s Day story. Again, the show goes to the lengths of getting the great comedian Alice Ghostley as a guest star and she’s barely in it. But the writing in this episode is pretty touching. WATCH IT.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know the author Bruce Jay Friedman. I came across his novel Violencia! (2001) while doing research for my own novel in progress. Friedman, now in his 80s, over decades has written a bunch of novels I never read, some off-broadway plays I never heard of, and the screenplays for movies made in the 1980s I couldn’t care less about, e.g. Stir Crazy, Doctor Detroit, Splash. If Friedman is a famous author I gather it’s because he’s supposed to be a master wit in hysterical fiction. Hysterical is a pretty good word for describing the mania of Violencia! A retired police precinct clerk is recruited to write the libretto for Violencia!, a Broadway musical based on gritty experiences observed in the crime fighting world. Despite knowing nothing about writing a musical and being a rather ordinary man, the clerk unwittingly becomes a swiveling node for the novel’s cast of neurotic producers, composers and theatre actors. They all see the dull clerk as an embassy for their vanities, character flaws, and harebrained ideas about art and audience. Violencia! follows the attempt to put on a big musical from it’s distasteful concept, to dishonest financing scheme, to pointless and vulgar production numbers, and then to calamitous road tryouts. The novel is intended as a satire on the affectations of backstage Broadway. Situations and characters in this book are clever I have to admit, but satirical comedy like this too often proceeds plausibility: the fatigued composer returns energized after vacationing in less than a day’s travel from New York to PuertaVallarta, no-nothing producers with hundreds-thousands of dollars at stake insist that Violencia!’s success is held in suspense by the script’s call for use of the word “doody.” This style of writing allows for comical leaps in logic and abandoned story detail. Friedman’s novel is creative but I also find the storytelling a little lazy considering it’s something he’s been doing for decades. This may be a good light read for someone in the mood for lampoonery; I take my comedy much more serious.

Outsports.com posted on their blog the link to this 1978 academic paper in the journal Western Folklore. In the piece the author, Alan Dundes, argued that American football  is a ritual between all male groups attempting to socially legitimate homosexual behavior. To prove this idea Dundes offers psychoanalysis of  signifiers in the game  and its folk speech:

I think it is highly likely that the ritual aspect of football, providing as it does a socially sanctioned framework for male body contact … is a form of homosexual behavior. The unequivocal sexual symbolism of the game, as plainly evidenced in folk speech coupled with the fact that all of the participants are male, make it difficult to draw any other conclusion. Sexual acts carried out in thinly disguised symbolic form by,and directed towards, males and males only,would seem to constitute ritual homosexuality.

The argument is a reach if not completely specious academically. But it is fascinating and a little horny making.  Here’s a link to the whole thing:

Into The Endzone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic Consideration of American Football

Media Log: 01.25.2012

Owen "Woody" Wilson with Marion Cotillard

(cinema) Midnight in Paris, d. Woody Allen, 2011. A few years Woody Allen got to old to play himself. Being a septuagenarian and casting himself as the male romantic lead against the likes of Marion Cotillard would seem as unseemly as, well, as Woody Allen’s real life romantic life perhaps. Anyway, the guy playing the Woody Allen character in Midnight in Paris is Owen Wilson and his Allen-esque comic delivery is an adequate replacement. Although, I prefer my neurotic nebbishes a bit more Jewy. With all the attention drawn to this movie, including Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and screenplay, one might draw the conclusion that Woody Allen has returned to making great films. I don’t know about that. The character in the movie is a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and other artistic heroes of the era. What he learns is that everybody thinks the era before their’s was better. I didn’t find this revelation all that profound. Nor did I think the comedy was consistently side-splitting. There are many intended to be funny scenes that come off completely flat. Midnight in Paris, like Woody Allen himself is likeable but too awkward to love. ๏ ๏ …(television) Alcatraz. Last week I reviewed the new J.J. Abrams vehicle and determined that I would watch one more episode to see if it was going to go with its mysterious premise or go with its boring cop-show gimmick. This week’s episode got no closer to investigating where all these prisoners went for 50 years and I got bored. Alcatraz is closed for me. Skip it…. Golden Girls, AND MAMA MAKES THREE, S3-Ep.20. Sofia is lonely and Dorothy is sorry when her mother starts attending all of Dorothy’s dates with a new beau. Sofia’s obliviousness to the imposition she becomes is inconsistent with her character as is Dorothy’s inability to tell her mother to get lost. But the episode is, overall, really funny. Watch it.

I Handicap The Oscars

You didn’t ask for it, so here are my guesses for Oscar winners based on today’s nominations:

Sup. Actr – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Sup. Actrss – Octavia Spencer (Help)

Actr – Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailr)

Actrss – Viola Davis (Help)

Adapt Screnply – Moneyball

Orig Screnply – Artist

Directr – Hazanavicius (Artist)

Picture – Descendants

(cinema) The Innkeepers, d. Ti West, 2011. “Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.” That’s a funny line from this horror movie that is playful in its script without ever degrading to farce and stupidity. It is the lobby level of Innkeepers where the movie works, at least for the first three quarters. Two slacker clerks in a New England hotel kill time on their long shifts by trying to record proof the old place in haunted. Besides the funny banter between the clerks there is the role of the horror movie “last girl” presented here as quirky, nerdy, and on time with her slap stick. You don’t see girl characters like this in any kind of movie except for maybe one with Drew Barrymore. Kelly McGillis also makes a strong appearance as a psychic guest in the hotel who warns the clerks against waking up spirits. Yep, Kelly McGillis was the sex object in Witness and Top Gun back in the 80s who never did anything again except come out of the closet. I don’t know if I can say McGillis is slumming now in indy horror. The cast is the best part of The Innkeepers. The worst part is the proposed ghost story. That fourth quarter is fairly suspenseful, scary and bloody but the back story on why the place is haunted never comes together. ๏ ๏ ½

I’m both bothered and thrilled that someone did all this research on nostalgic breakfast cereals.

http://grub.gunaxin.com/a-tribute-to-discontinued-cereals/11570

Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Costello's design for a puppet on PR All Stars

(television) Project Runway All Stars, MISS PIGGY. The competition in this special run of Runway has been great despite the producer’s seeming attempt to infuse it with the most stupid, embarrassing themes like dress-up Miss Piggy. But all star designers continue to bring it. I don’t know if people are watching this version of the series. If you prefer the smash up derby aesthetic of the regular show you might find All Stars a little dull. I continue to be impressed by the resurrection of Michael Costello. He was made out to be persona non-grata of Season 8, everybody hated the bitch because she kept winning despite being a compulsive complainer who couldn’t sew (if you go back and find the episode where Costello hysterically imitates Michael Kors wearing a burka you’ll see he was always a likeable guy). Finding the only one winner in on All Stars has been difficult, but so far Michael Costello has been the most consistently good to great… The Golden Girls, GRAB THAT DOUGH (S3, Ep.16) The girls are jazzed up for their chance to win hundreds of dollars on a game show, Grab That Dough, but the trip out to Hollywood turns out to be nothing but a series of comical disasters. This in another one of those girls-go-on-a-trip episodes where the characters we used to know all act they’re possessed by the ghosts of Lucy and Ethel. Writing terrible, comedy lame. Skip it. MY BROTHER, MY FATHER (S3, Ep17) In order to impress an uncle who she hasn’t been seen in forty years Dorothy has to pretend to still be married to her ex Stan. Does that sound like a contrived, sitcomy premise? Your right. I hate Stan episodes. Skip it.

Media Log: 01.20.2012

(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the

Ezra Miller as Kevin

scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the

Miller in Afterschool

sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏

Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.

Media Log: 01.20.2012

New Show on Fox: Alcatraz

(television) Alcatraz. I kind of thought I was going out to Alcatraz to find what was new from the producers of Lost. Lostwas an ensemble show about seemingly normal people crashing into an impossible situation and, by the end, confronting paranormal forces. What’s behind the disappearance of the prisoners of Alcatraz Island, and their reappearance fifty years hence, may also turn out to be paranormal. The first two episodes that premiered this week are closer in genre to tv cops shows than to Lost. Alcatraz early on seems like it’s part of a trend in cop tv cops that are built around a single story telling concept: Numb3rs – every week mathematics are used to solve a crime, Without A Trace – every week somebody goes missing, Person of Interest – the good guys try to stop a bad guy before the crime happens. My problem with this kind of show is that often the characters are slaves to the gimmick and things get worn out very quickly.  Alcatraz – the cops have to stop a new/old criminal every week. Maybe Alcatraz will reach a little higher over time but right now the gimmick is already a bore, the dramatic situation of the cast is illogical, and the crime solving has been implausible. I’m not done with Alcatraz yet but I am, so far, disappointed… Golden Girls, DOROTHY’S NEW FRIEND (S3, Ep.15) Dorothy is befriended by a local novelist and starts brushing off the other girls to rub elbows with intellectuals. She learns to value her friends when the novelist turns out to be a snob and an anti-Semite. This is a pretty funny episode as normally only simple-minded Rose goes full retard.

THE THEATER WILL ROCK: A HISTORY OF THE ROCK MUSICAL FROM HAIR TO HEDWIG (2006)

There does seem to be a common understanding that before the musical Hair there was nothing like Hair and that most of what followed Hair were flop imitations – Dude, Via Galactica, Rainbow. Though Hair became a classic, theatrical producers stopped throwing their money away on rock scores by about 1975. What Elizabeth Wollman’s through history brings forward is that Hair’s influence in musical theatre can be seen in decades of cultural tug-of-war between keeping rock music’s aesthetics authentic and produce musicals that have mass audience appeal. Hair’s long beautiful hair grew into Grease, and Les Mis, and Mama Mia but through the use of softer forms of rock music. We don’t really recognize how things of changed since Rogers and Hammerstein. Unlike any work I’ve read on the topic of musical theatre, or even in rock journalism for that matter, Wollman finally provides language for describing the variety of very different kinds of musical theatre that are too often lazily categorized as “rock musicals.” For once Hair is rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar is rock opera and Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe’s Cafe are other things too, well categorized here. I have a couple of quibbles. First, I think Wollman doesn’t emphasize that much of the failure in those fabulous post-Hair rock flops lies in being rushed to Broadway with big money backers and no existing source material. Most of the truly great shows in musical theatre are drawn from novels, plays or history. At least Hair had the huge benefit of a long and sometimes painful gestation period before finally coming uptown. The big rock flops of the early 1970’s were being made-up on the spot. Ironically two of the successful rock musicals from the same period, Your Own Thing and Two Gentleman of Verona were adapted from that rebellious beatnik Shakespeare. Next, Wollman makes frequent reference to off-off Broadway shows like House of Leather and The Legend of Johnny Pot which barely ever opened, meanwhile her research overlooks shows like Promenade (259 performances) and Salvation (239 performances). Finally, between her socio-historical chapters the author includes some short academic meditations on audience attitudes, marketing experiments, and musical aesthetics. These interlude essay are well written they do seem like step children, sections from a different book. If you are seeking musical aesthetics and composition for musical theater, you won’t find much here on the specific shows or songs. However this is excellent work on cultural commodification and the economics of Broadway over the last forty years.

link: Irving Berlin Music Company Re-Signs with Imagem Music Group, Rodgers & Hammerstein :: Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization :: News.

Irving Berlin Music Company Re-Signs with Imagem Music Group, Rodgers & Hammerstein

Relationship Dating From 1990 Continues With Global Representation of Irving Berlin Brand and Grand Rights, and On-Going Music Publishing Representation in North America

The Irving Berlin Music Company (IBMC) has just re-signed its ongoing representation agreement with the Imagem Music Group/Rodgers & Hammerstein for international brand management and grand rights exploitation, and music publishing in North America. “Our partnership with the IBMC and the Irving Berlin family began in 1990,” says Ted Chapin, President of Rodgers & Hammerstein, a division of the Imagem Music Group. “We have enjoyed working with Mr. Berlin’s three visionary daughters over the years, with unprecedented success in the arenas of publishing, recordings, TV specials, books and events, major revivals of his musicals on Broadway, in London, and on the concert stage, and the creation of new stage properties such as WHITE CHRISTMAS and TOP HAT. We look forward to a continued, and fruitful, collaboration with the IBMC and the Berlin family.”

About Irving Berlin

Born Israel Beilin in a Russian Jewish shtetl in 1888, he died as Irving Berlin in his adopted hometown of New York City in 1989. Songwriter, performer, theatre owner, music publisher and soldier, he wrote scores to more than a dozen Broadway musicals (including ANNIE GET YOUR GUN), and dozens of Hollywood movie musicals, including two which have recently become successful stage properties: WHITE CHRISTMAS and TOP HAT. His more than 1,200 songs include “White Christmas,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Easter Parade,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “God Bless America.” Irving Berlin’s love for, and generosity to, the USA is legendary, and through several ongoing foundations, including the God Bless America Fund, he donated tens of millions of dollars in royalties to Army emergency relief and the Boy and Girl Scouts. Numerous awards and accolades include an Academy Award for “White Christmas,” a Congressional Gold Medal, a special Tony Award and commemoration on a U.S. postage stamp. Learn more about Irving Berlin at www.irvingberlin.com and www.rnh.com. Like Irving Berlin on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/irvingberlin.

About the Imagem Music Group

Imagem Music Group (André de Raaff, CEO and Co-founder) is the number one independent music publishing company in the world, unique for its leadership role in classical music, Broadway, and pop/rock. Boosey & Hawkes represents the world’s leading classical composers from Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky to such contemporary artists as John Adams and Steve Reich. Rodgers & Hammerstein controls the rights to the world’s most popular stage and film musicals, including THE SOUND OF MUSIC,OKLAHOMA! and THE KING AND I, as well as representing works by Irving BerlinAndrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz and more. Imagem Music’s ever expanding pop catalogue includes such writers as Elvis Presley, Ludacris, Phil Collins, Genesis, Anna Nalick, Temper Trap, Steve Robson, M.I.A., Bombay Bicycle Club and Daft Punk. Imagem is also active in production library music; London-based Imagem Production Music represents over 100,000 tracks, while California-based 5 Alarm Music represents more than 40 different music libraries. The Imagem Music Group has offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam, and exclusive agents throughout the world. Imagem: making the difference!  www.imagem.com.

50/50 : Gordon-Levitt/Rogen

(cinema) 50/50, d. Jonathan Levine, 2011. Can you take a movie seriously that starts with the line, “I can’t have cancer, Doc. I recycle”, even if it’s a comedy? What if  it’s a comedy about cancer? The script for 50/50 attempts to straddle a fence between being a wise cracking comedy about a young guy facing death, and an insightful drama about a young guy facing death. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cancer patient adequately, he isn’t given much to do. When his mother, his best friend and his girlfriend all react in different ways badly to his condition, Cancer Boy comes off a bit blase to me. I don’t think he even looks that sick. But most of the characters in this movie aren’t very convincing. The girlfriend’s shallowness seems forced, all the doctors wouldn’t be so robotically insensitive, the perky new psychologist couldn’t possibly be so badly trained, and don’t tell me the mother would have actually said “I smothered him too much because I loved him.” The problem with 50/50 isn’t with any of the actors or even with trying to milk comedy out of a sad subject. I think Seth Rogen as the funny, knucklehead best friend who has no filter is the best character. But, on the whole, 50/50’s dialogue and characters just aren’t genuine enough for laughs or tears. When Gordon-Levitt’s character finally has an emotional catharsis near the end it’s too much too late… (television) Star Trek DS9, PROGRESS, S1-Ep.14. Major Kira, assigned to evacuate a Bajoran Moon for mining, confronts a stubborn farmer and an ethical dilemma about repeating the abuses perpetrated by the Cardasians on the Bajoran people. To this point in the show I have found Nana Visitor’s performances as Kira to be annoyingly at full volume. For once her over-excitement seems to have collided with a good script. I like Kira in this one and the turmoil she has with hating and having to do what’s right. Brian Keith as the irascible but wise old farmer is great too… The Golden Girls, BLANCHE’S LITTLE GIRL, S3-Ep.14. Blanche’s estranged daughter shows up after three years with a fiance and a lot of pounds heavier. When it turns out the fiance is a mean creep, Blanche is torn between protecting her daughter’s interest and butting into her life. This one is a better comedy episode than it is a drama, especially Sophia’s fat jokes about the daughter. It’s a little weird that the Goldies get so ticked off about the fiance making fat jokes when they were being just as mean.

Media Log: 01.14.2012

(cinema) Drive, d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011. I just watched Drive for the second time. On closer inspection I figured out that if this movie with the same L.A. crime underworld story had been edited too fast and too furious and amped with a soundtrack of Kidd Rock anthems it would have come off as total trash. As one gangster character who used to produce low-budget films says, “One critic called them [movies] European. I thought they were shit.” For Drive the filmmakers adopted highly stylized and deliberate editing with brilliant, catchy, 1980s sounding synth music are these are the two elements that hide all the flaws in this movie and make it so captivating. As produced, Drive is brilliant in its turns between the actors subtleties and violent action excesses. Drive is the best movie I saw in 2011 and goes on a list of great of great American films. ๏ ๏ ๏ ½… The Mothman Prophesies, d. Mark Pellington, 2002. Richard Gere is a recently widowed reporter who inexplicably wakes up in a West Virginia town four hundred miles from home. He starts encountering townspeople who are having their own paranormal encounters with a moth-like man who whispers warnings of a looming catastrophe. Mothman is a successfully weird and suspenseful thriller that never tries to over-explain its phenomena. We are never told exactly what is going on between life in the town and whatever dimension the Mothman comes from, nor is it resolved why reporter id dragged into it. I like that these mysteries stay in tact. I like that we don’t really know how much of what is transpiring is just shadow of the reporter’s unresolved trauma. Is he imagining everything? Is he Mothman? In the end it’s a well acted drama about the reporter trying to move beyond his tragic past. But this is a false ending as we find out there really is tragedy about to collapse on the town. Apparently the story is adapted from an investigation into a real incident in 1968 where a West Virginia bridge collapsed and killed forty-six people. That part of it may be factual but it didn’t make for a better ending. One other issue with this film is the terrible casting of Laura Linney as the town cop and love interest for Gere. I love Laura Linney in everything else. Would Elizabeth Taylor have made a good Barney Fife just because she was a good  actress? If the movie had got its priorities straightened out it could have been a modern classic.๏ ๏ ๏… (television) Star Trek DS9, THE STORYTELLER. O’Brien and Bashir visit a village of idiotically superstitious Bajorian yokels who think only O’Brien can save their village from the wrath of a giant cloud entity that looks a lot like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. In an equally idiotic subplot, a teenage ambassador, negotiating for the future of her own village, gets the best advice from the only other kids on DS9, Jake Sisco and his Ferengi chum Nog. This episode plays like it was written for and by children. Not the worst of the first seasons episodes, but quite irritating.

Media Log: 01.13.2012

(television) Project Runway All Stars, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Design a gown that will only be worn to the opera. This is the sort of challenge I watch the show for. Ambitious, fantasy gowns where the designers can show both their modern creativity and nod to formality. It’s a much more interesting challenge to me than make a dress out of only things sold at Radio Shack. The opera episode was great too because the competition was truly all star; there were at least six designs which could have been a winner. But first, the judges definitely got all the losers right. One trend across the competition seemed to be a lack of knowledge about what a night at the opera looks like, manifest in high waisted hoop skirts. She’s going to the opera in 2012, not playing the part of Violetta in La Traviata. In the case of designer Sweet P’s losing gown it was a hoop skirt with a summer free festival color palette. Her girl looked like Violetta smokes hash at a Joni Mitchell concert. At the better end  I liked Rami and Mondo’s designs best and neither of them made the final judging. Some of middle-of-pack finishing gowns may have been deliberately left out of the final. Are the producers keeping the show fresh by holding back their ringers while the also-rans play out their role, which is to be cannon fodder? This may sound cynical but I’m beginning to question the veracity of reality shows… (cinema) Tree Of Life, d. Terrence Malick, 2011. This movie got a lot of attention last year and deservedly for being an amazing achievement. Frankly I’m surprised that something so abstruse and non-plot driven garnered so much attention. The late Andrei Tarkovsky made films that were just as lyrical and ambitious but nobody ever heard of him. Lars Van Trier makes films that are perplexing and unorthodox and nobody goes to see them. Perhaps at least part of the draw into Tree of Life is Brad Pitt and the reputation of the ascetic director. Terrence Malick has only directed five feature films over nearly forty years, most of them great. It turns out the middle-class family depicted in Tree is at least partially autobiographical. These are memories of Malick’s own childhood in a film he’s apparently been making since 1973. It’s highly personal but it’s also universal. In fact Malick depicts both the beginning of the universe and the end of it as bookends around the mundane experiences of his family. I thought the creation of the universe, special effects sequences were amazing (real photography techniques, not CGI). The family stuff I didn’t respond to as strongly. If I can get personal on you, the ontological questions, what is the meaning of suffering, is God responsible stuff didn’t evoke in me the kind of response I think was intended. It just made me think “Look, there’s no God, get over it.” But Tree of Life is an epic poem spoken though film and it’s extraordinary.

One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s is the 6th of Ethan Mordden’s 7 volumes reviewing the history of Broadway musicals. Mordden has had an eclectic career as writer and composer from novels, to other non-fiction books, and whole off-broadway musicals. Mordden’s familiarity with theatre makes him more than qualified to write about the subject matter but I’m surprised that a publisher would be so committed, volume after volume, to one person’s idiosyncratic style, or that an editor would let the infusion of the author’s personality overwhelm the history. These historical essays account for just about everything that ever lasted a day or more on Broadway, but they are also outlets for the author’s unsolicited opinions. Unfortunately along with opinion comes the author’s voice and an irritating sense of humor. I want to read something that is comprehensive about the shows of 70s. Why is this guy here? There are actually occasions when Mordden tells the reader what their favorite show is. I find it invasive. The volume is a treasure chest of information but it’s wrapped around an authorial style that I can’t abide.

MEDIA LOG – 01.10.2012

(cinema) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, d. Thomas Alfredson, 2011. I’m sure there are people who love this British Cold War cloak and dagger stuff. I’m either too dumb or too impatient to keep up with mysterious plots that turn on a word mumbled over a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a dark room. I might also benefit from an English to English lesson as everything including the title in TTSS requires having foreknowledge of British noir lingo as well as the political context. I’m pretty sure Gary Oldman is great playing the role of soft spoken detective who struggles to contain his outrage, but I miss Robert Mitchum. The ending where Oldman sets a trap to draw out the mole totally confounded me. I watched it twice and I still don’t get it. If anyone can explain it, I come with a degree in media studies and I’m all ears. 2 movie spotlights… Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, d. Guy Ritchie, 2011. The reboot of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead a couple of years ago set out to depict the iconic detective character as uninhibited, amoral, Saturnalian, and manic. If the original Holmes was a little neurotic, the new one is supposed to be bat-shit crazy. That was an update I could live with as Robert Downey was so good and the movie was well produced. There were great effects and modern editing trends but Victorian London was believably dark and pugilistic. The action sequences were an engaging addition to a good detective story. Game of Shadows abandons the detectiving of Holmes and Watson to show them instead as adventure characters. And I find the whole adventure pretty uninteresting. What we get is an endless series of escape sequences from boring villains. Sherlock’s sleuthing acumen has become either quasi-supernatural or silly and defiant of logic. The special effects are impressive, but what Guy Ritchie has done with Holmes is turn the legend and the franchise into a video game. 1 movie spotlight… Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, d. Nicholas Meyer, 1982. Somebody just told me that after Wrath of Khan all the makers of subsequent Star Trek movies felt they had to unfairly compete with Khan, that the series reached its high watermark early. I think a lot of the films are great, especially the last two from Next Generation, Nemesis and Insurrection. Wrath of Khan is great because the characters are familiar enough that the story has time to explore Kirk’s anxieties about reaching middle age. As a character study this is manifest in Kirk being chased around the galaxy by his demons- an old enemy, his illegitimate son, the death of a friend. I hadn’t seen this movie for years and for the first time I picked up on some big holes in the science. Ironically Khan could be the best script in the series but there are better overall post-Khan Star Trek movies. 3 1/2 movie spotlights.

MEDIA LOG 01.09.2012

(cinema) Deep In My Heart, d. Stanley Donen, 1954. This is a tall tale biography of 20th century composer Sigmund Romburg. MGM did this same type of movie for Jerome Kern (Till The Clouds Roll By) and Rodgers & Hart (Words and Music) where the biography  is manipulated into the connective tissue for a review of musical set pieces highlighting the artist’s career. The idea is to also employ a parade of big stars doing cameos. Deep In My Heart includes fabulous stage productions with Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, and my favorite hot-as-lava dancer Miss Ann Miller. But the Oscar goes to Jose Ferrer playing the role of Romburg. Ferrer was not famous for being a singer, but if you watch five minutes of this picture go right to the Jazza Doo number. Ferrer is brilliant and hysterical. He actually only got a one Oscar for something else. But he puts a tremendous performance into the otherwise dull bio sections. 3 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Vortex.” Odo transports back to the Gamma Quadrant a prisoner who claims to have knowledge of a colony populated by other shapeshifting Odos. I think this is the first Odo-centered episode and it’s excellent. The evolving relationship between Odo and the prisoner characters from enemies to allies is well written and the space chase through the vortex is genuinely suspenseful. 3 1/2 spotlights.  “Battle Lines.” Commander Sisco is giving the Pi Opaka (she’s sort of like the Bajoran Pope) a tour through the wormhole when they crash land on an abandoned penal colony. The colony’s prisoners are condemned to fight a bloody war in which nobody ever dies. It’s a cool sci-fi concept but kind of a mouthful for 45 minutes. More backstory would have been more interesting to me than the opportunity to see Kira (Nana Visitor) overact. 2 1/2 spotlights.

The Last Sweet Days of Issac is about a guy trying to make it with a girl in an elevator and then, in the second act, the same guy, in jail, trying to make it with a different girl through a television screen. I don’t think we’re in Oklahoma anymore. The play appears to be Brecht inspired and the music is the definite offspring of Hair. Issac was a decent off-Broadway hit in 1970. The show’s creators were the female-female team of Nancy Ford (composer) and Gretchen Cryer (lyrics and mother of actor John Cryer). Ford and Cryer got what ever they needed to bring another show to Broadway called Shelter. Shelter flopped, but after that they had their biggest hit I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It Out on the Road. The songs in Issac are so much like Hair you could transfuse “I Want to Walk to San Francisco” and “Herein Lies the Seeds of Revolution” into the Hair lineup and not know they’re from different shows. That’s a compliment. I love Hair, and I love a lot of the rock ensemble pieces in Issac. This show has its pretentious clunkers, but it also seems to have its own point of view about living life to the fullest. I would love to see this show revived somewhere. 3 gramophones.

The vinyl copy I found has some distortion, especially during the louder tracks on side two. I think it’s an issue with the pressing rather than the recording. I’ve seen this soundtrack in the record swap bins a couple of times so it’s not hard to find and it should be cheap.

(cinema) The Help, d. Tate Taylor, 2011. I didn’t know anything about this movie or

from "The Help"

it’s source novel before screening it (In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was under the impression it was a comedy about black people who hire a white maid). I enjoyed it overall but I couldn’t stop thinking the whole thing doesn’t seems inaccurate. The conservatism of the Southern whites seem behind the times of the setting and the black characters are patronizingly simple-minded. The telling of America’s civil rights struggles in the 1960 is territory that has been well covered in better movies. It’s interesting that this story about black domestic help is told mostly from the white character points of view. And while I hate to say it, there is something cloyingly liberal about the depictions of “proud” black people and “good” white people. The movie is well made and well acted but the level of story telling never goes above something you might see on Lifetime. 2 1/2 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Move Along Home.” Quark is forced to participate  in a game with a gang of gamblers who all look like roadies for a Southern rock band. The stakes of the game involve transporting the DS9 senior officers into a holographic maze that is filled with trap doors and dangers. You would like to trip with our characters into this Alice In Wonderland like fantasy game. But the episode fails completely to ever establish a plausible connection between what’s happening in Quark’s game room and what’s happening in the hologram. It all comes off to me as under imagined and lazy. 1 spotlight. “The Nagus.” Quark is put in charge of the Ferengi trade alliance and becomes the target of assassination plots. This is the first episode in the ST universe that gives us some flavor and background of who the Ferengi people are besides cartoonish filchers (and vaguely anti-semitic stereotypes). It’s a fun episode even it is light on sci-fi and drama. 2 1/2 spotlights… Golden Girls, “Charlie’s Buddy.” Rose falls for a con-artist who is pretending to be an old friend of her deceased husband. This a pretty well-balanced episode that handles both its dramatic story and its comedic subplot with some maturity – a quality surprisingly lacking in many episodes of this show. 3 spotlights.

I’m still catching up on Christmas records that come from my mother’s record collection, a collection that I finally rescued from a Denver storage locker last summer. Today I attempted to make a digital rip of A Merry Christmas With the Four Aces.

The collection included all of my favorite Christmas albums from my childhood. But there were also a bunch I don’t remember. I think some of these were already in bad shape before I ever got there and they were already retired from the holiday rotation at our family turntable. Every track on the Four Aces Christmas is fucked up with skips. I’m not even going to save it, even though I love the music.

The Four Aces were a bunch of buddies from Philly high schools and the Navy who first formed a jazz instrumental group before discovering there was more demand for their vocal talents on the nightclub circuit. You have to be a real fan to remember which group of four Italian guys did which big vocal harmony hits of the early to mid-fifties era – The Four Lads, The Four Freshman, The Four Preps. The Four Aces are the four who did popular versions of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “Stranger In Paradise”, and “Shangri-La.” All great records.

This Four Aces Christmas album has some great musical arrangements, including a lot of vibraphone. Even the usually slow tempo Christmas standards like “White Christmas” and “We Three Kings” are pepped up. And of course the Aces have perfect vocal arrangements. If you can find a clean copy the album it’s worth preserving. 3 gramophones.

Media Log 01.04.2012

(television) Star Trek DS9, “The Passenger.” A criminal scientist tries to outrun capture by hiding inside the mind of others. This is the 9th episode and the first Dr. Bashir story opportunity. The science is unconvincing and the plot is a snore. Beside that, Dr. Bashir only demonstrates what a poor cast member he is and the weaknesses of the actor whose mind he inhabits. 1 and one half spotlights… Friends, “The One With the Embryos.” This is one where Phoebe gets implanted with her half-brothers baby. That’s a nice story line but what makes this a Friends classic is the gameshow style competition. It leads too the girls having to swap apartments with the boys. One of the funniest episodes of the entire series. 3 and one half spotlights.