Nonfiction

A Dime a Dozen

Even the most practiced writers make mistakes. Here’s one I found today, in Slashfilm’s piece “The 28 Best Movies of 2017 So Far“, in a section written by Ethan Anderton:

Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and most of them aren’t even worth that 10-cent piece when all is said and done.

Well, no, of course not. If they’re a dime a dozen, then one would be worth about eight tenths of a cent.

News

Delay

Hi everyone,

Very sorry, but my usual Monday post will be delayed this week. I’m swamped with non-S+P work, and have been unable to get what I want to share into satisfactory shape.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a sketch that Cybou of Cybou Creations, a friend of mine, did, completely unasked, of me:

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I highly encourage you to check out her art on her site and to visit her Facebook page—she’s pretty awesome!

News

Big News!

I’ve got two bits of exciting news today! First off, we’ve been getting a bunch of new visitors from various places lately, which is fantastic! I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all of you. It’s so nice to see you here! Please, kick your shoes off and stay a while. And feel free to leave comments—civil, creative discussion is encouraged!

Second, you may have noticed the new orange button off to the right, just under the banner. Well, my Patreon campaign, which I’ve been secretly working on for several months, is now live!

What is Patreon? you ask. Simply put, it’s a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, except that instead of donating one large sum to help finance a single project, fans can contribute smaller amounts on a monthly basis, allowing artists to have a stable, reliable sort of regular salary. So if you want to support what I do, please click the button and check it out. Your help goes a long way toward making this site possible.

Nonfiction

Read All the Things!

I’ve got this crazy idea that’s been banging around in my tin can for almost a year now, and I want to share it with you. Now, don’t get your hopes up too high—it’s not a creative project, per se. But I realized that I have a lot of books. A lot of them. Maybe not the most ever, but enough to make moving a real pain in the back. More significantly, though I’m ashamed to admit it, a good many of these books are ones I have never read. (Gasp! And I call myself a reader, a literary man.)
So here’s what I’d like to do to rectify the situation: I’d like to methodically read through every single book in my house.
To make it a bit easier, first I will be selling off or donating about 90% of them.
Just kidding. I’m not going to do that at all. Instead, I’m going to create a spreadsheet with the bibliographic information for each book as I read it. I’ll post the link somewhere on this site, and maybe on others, so that those who are interested can follow along. I think I’ll make it all-access, just for fun. And if I feel up for it, I’ll write a little critique or review of the book after I finish it and share that with my patrons. Or maybe with everyone, and also link to a GoodReads account. We’ll see.
Or this is what I hope to do. Right now, it’s just an idea, the smoke of something yet to take form, and many other, more pressing, more solid concerns are manifest before me.
Nonfiction

Blogging the 30-Day Novel

A colleague of mine a couple of months ago turned me onto The Guardian’s pieces on how to write a novel in 30 days. Admittedly, their title is misleading (and mine might be, too), since the process they tout (created by XXX) really only (“only”) has you create a sort of very thorough and detailed outline that (they say) should practically count as a first draft, or at least make your first draft potentially your only draft.

But I started looking at the process, and I’m intrigued. As an experienced (but, silly me, practically unpublished) poet, I am familiar with, and comfortable, writing short pieces that I can revise in great detail ad infinitum, until they feel perfect. This procedure doesn’t really work for novel writing, though, and so I’ve become interested in various authors’ systems for getting their bigger stories down on the page. I’ve tried the Snowflake Method (helpful for me in some ways) and 5KWPH (which has dramatically improved my ability to ignore errors and let go of my tendency to tinker endlessly with the tiny details that might make or break a poem but would be of infinitesimal significance in a novel). Now I’m trying this one.

But here’s my idea: like others before me, I’m going to blog about my process. Maybe I won’t follow the method to the letter—I do have many other things to manage in my life—but I’ll follow it all the way through and talk about what I come up with. Maybe show you some cool things. And at the end, maybe I’ll have a novel!

Nonfiction, Uncategorized

A Return

New year, new face, renewed self. Despite all the horrible news in the world, I am positive: already much good has also come out of the bad, with millions organizing and becoming active voices in their local, regional, national, international communities. That alone is inspiring, but on a more personal level, I am also coming alive and active in different ways. Looking forward to exploring that here! Stay tuned for a change of pace, and a change of space.

Nonfiction

What’s in a name?

Here’s a little something I posted on Facebook this morning after seeing Star Wars 7:

Ok, Star Wars 7 was awesome. I want to go live in that world again, and that’s quite an accomplishment after the failures of the prequels. But let us just acknowledge that “Snoke” is kind of a lame name given what the character is. It’s not puerile like “Dooku”, nor does it try too hard like “Sidious”, but it feels lackluster, wanting both mystique and menace.

The Bard, of course, asked the title question, and argued that the name doesn’t change the nature of the thing. But in the Star Wars universe, names are often onomatopoetic, giving a strong indication of how viewers are meant to take characters—or at least matching in sound what they are in personality and role. Chewbacca, for instance, may sound a bit like a loyal canine companion (or maybe that’s my retrospective interpretation). Ewok is appropriately cute with maybe a hint of bite. Han Solo, of course, is an independent, buck-authority, make-your-own-rules type. Yoda is appropriately bizarre and perhaps guru-like.

And others. Darth Vader echoes “invader” and thus threat. Darth Maul’s name mirrors how he is used. And for the most part, this seems to work well—Lucas and other writers have to balance this wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve aesthetic with appropriate restraint and taste so as not to go overboard and end up with something that undermines the audience’s ability to take the character seriously. Jar Jar Binks may be one example of such failure, or you might argue that his name fits almost perfectly his role in the story. (But don’t go bringing up that “Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord” bullshit. That’s fan retconning at its worst, an attempt to transmute flaws and gaffes into something more subtle and refined, a deliberate, secret crafting.)

Dooku is probably the strongest slip-up—rather than sounding sinister, the name resonates with “poopy”, “caca”, and “doodoo”, so that rather than some evil Force master, I think of a pile of crap (like those prequels) and imagine small children snickering and whispering “He said ‘dooku’!” Sidious isn’t as bad in that sense, but it and Snoke both lack imagination. He’s Sidious because he’s an insidious threat? Really? Why not just leave him as “Palpatine”, a name that sounds snakelike and sinister without directly pointing to a particular quality? And though Snoke echoes smoke, what does that give us? Smoke doesn’t carry any real danger in itself. And swapping “n” for “m” sounds faintly ridiculous, a character bearing a slightly silly pompousness, something out of Dickens or Rowling or maybe Susannah Clarke. Not what the towering alien figure onscreen evokes at all.

There is precedent for onomatopoetic and thematic naming all throughout literature, so that ain’t a problem at all. Shakespeare gives us Dogberry, Snug the Joiner, Bottom (the Ass), Touchstone, and more. Dickens does it, too, and so do many others, to great effect. It’s just that you have to hit that fine, sweet spot. Lucas messed up a number of times in the prequels, which added to their ridiculousness. Abrams and Kasdan, in 7, generally do an excellent job with interesting names that at the least fit well in the Star Wars universe (Rey, Maz Kanata), and at best resonate with interesting meaning (Poe). They just missed with this one character, who, unfortunately, needed to sound more significant and imposing that it ends up doing.

Nonfiction

Off-ramp

A short poem or snippet or thingy by Brian Andreas (source: Story People), which I like a lot, but which also needs a tiny bit of improvement. See that last little phrase there? Yeah, “& there are no words for that”, that’s the one. It’s nice because it calls up once more the opening lines talking about specialized cultural vocabularies. So it gives a sort of circularity to the poem. But what it expresses? That’s already included (and very strongly so) in the phrase immediately prior. 95% of what these last words do is already done and far better; they simply serve as a way to wrap up the piece—elegant, sure, but also unneeded, extra.

Here, try this: cover up that last, extraneous phrase with your hand, and then read the poem. See how the evocation of two lovers snuggling against each other in bed hits you, right in the solar plexus, knocks the wind out of you? That’s where the poem needs to end.

(The depiction also implies that that very snuggling is a language in itself, its own vocabulary—a suggestion that is not borne within the statement “& there are no words for that”.)

(Also, I am aware that I do not know the context for this snippet. Maybe it all makes sense in its original place. Maybe my critique is not valid. Maybe not.)

Nonfiction

Master Stroke

Ok, The Trenches annoys me. Frequently. I don’t know why I keep reading it, really. I mean, it is well written, and the characters have depth. If the events are mundane, it’s because that’s the focus of the comic—it’s about the mundane lives of a bunch of mundane people working a mundane job. (What’s that adage about how the only normal people are the ones you don’t know yet?). It’s all slightly exaggerated, because that’s what caricatures do. But something about it, some sort of background buzz perhaps, ticks me off. The tone, maybe, or the setting. Or the fact that I don’t really like (or identify with) most of the characters. In fact, almost none of them are likeable; they are mostly petty and self-interested, with a smattering of other not-so-hot traits thrown in for seasoning. Isaac, ostensibly the main character, is a scheming dick (but happily, an incompetent schemer). Gwen is selfish and somewhat lazy. Marley is admittedly not selfish or petty, but his brain is so fried that he’s lost touch with reality, and I just don’t want to be near him. Q is an arrogant corporate climber, and also a bit of a dick. And the others are pure caricatures, and caricatures that depict only the banal, the weird and the pathetic, at that. (One person thinks he is a bat. One is batshit looney.)

Let us be clear. I think the comic is masterfully dislikeable. (I want to use words like “repugnant” and “repulsive”, but they are too strong.) It is not awful. The characters are not detestable, not horrifying or disgusting. They are unsavory. Shady. Everyone (except Cora) is trying to have an angle, some sort of advantage for him or herself, or is so far gone on some trip or another (weed, dementia, whatever) that he or she can no longer really see reality.

But this particular strip is spot on. It “exposes” (scare quotes because this is not news to readers) and makes fun of Isaac. He is a villain, or he wants to be one, unconsciously. He is exclusively self-interested, and actively tries to harm others for his own benefit—not out of sadism or a desire to hurt, just out of greed, selfishness, power-hunger. But he is an incompetent villain; his plans fail, backfire. And as this strip makes clear, he is incompetent enough not to realize that he is not a hero. He is the opposite.