Friday, December 30, 2005

About Art: My four year old loves to dance. It's just a natural thing in her. Ever since she gained any coordination at all, she's had to move if there was any music on. One of my fondest memories is her as a little bald-headed toddler, lying on the couch. We thought she was asleep, but when she heard some music from a TV commercial, she had to raise her barely-conscious arm and bounce it with the music.

She's learned a little more about dance since then. She'll do her version of ballet when she hears classical music. She'll rock out, even play air guitar when she hears rock. Tap to tap. You get the idea.

I'm not saying she's a child prodigy or anything. She's not particularly graceful and I'm not all that sure about her sense of rhythm.

But man, does that girl ever love to dance.

There's an honesty in her dancing, where you can tell she's doing what she feels with the music. No matter how it might look to anybody else, to her it feels right, and it shows.

So tonight, I was watching her dance to some music on a National Geographic for Kids video they'd picked out from the library. Some animal or other was cavorting to the music on screen, but Miriam wasn't watching so much as she was listening, so she could dance.

And I got to thinking. About the things that draw us to art in the first place. About that raw love we have for the art form, for the way performing or creating that piece of art makes us feel. The way it is for my four year old, just to move her body the way the music tells her to. The way it seems to be for my three year old and drawing--even though the shapes are barely starting to become recognizable, she loves making them. The way it was for me, as a kid, making up stories.

And that got me thinking about the transition. The one that comes as we begin to go from yeomen in our art to journeymen. We start learning the techniques of the craft, the way everyone else does it. The things people have decided work and don't work. What was raw and free form is given a structure, an organization.

In some ways, that can expand our abilities. We discover things we didn't previously know about. Our means of expression expands.

But in some other ways, we begin to feel boxed in. All that organization and structure begins to put limits and boundaries on what had previously felt to us to be limitless.

Even the language of our art begins to put boundaries on us. I realized this when I learned another language. In Portuguese, there's a really terrific word--jeito. Now if you plug that into Babelfish, it will tell you that word means "Skill." That almost makes me laugh. The word jeito is actually a terrific concept. When you talk about a person's jeito, you're talking about their aura, their comportment, their methods of doing things, the whole way they present themselves, their charisma. But it's more than that--it's almost the whole way a person interacts with the world. When you say you're going to get something to change, you say you're going to give it some jeito.

Now Portuguese speakers are probably going to post here to say my definition here is inaccurate or incomplete. They're right. Again, the whole concept doesn't really exist in English. For us, it's complicated to explain. For them, it's one word. It's jeito.

It's the same way as we start building the vocabulary of our art form. Suddenly you're not just flinging out your arms because it felt right, but you're getting a name for that, and a way to fling them that's the right way, and reproving click-clicks of the tongue from the teacher if it's not.

Like I said, there's value in learning what you can about the art. A musician can never dream of making the beautiful music their heart yearns to create without being willing to slog through repetitious scales that familiarize their fingers with the instrument. A dancer, through repetition and training will enable their bodies to do exhilarating things the casual dancer only dreams of.

The trick, the hardest part of it, is maintaining that love of the art, maintaining that spontaneity and creativity that drove you into the art, even while you're having to spend all that time focusing on the nuts and bolts of it, seeing the rough stitching on the underside rather than the lovely presentation up top.

That's the part where a lot of people get lost as they work to become artists. All of that analysis, criticism, study--it's like taking your favorite dog and dissecting him on the kitchen table. All of that doesn't really reveal all that much more about true "dogginess." And it certainly doesn't explain the magic of the bond the person has with their companion. If anything, it strips a little of that magic away. It denigrates it. It says, look--this is all there is! Just flesh and bone and puppy parts. What were you getting so worked up about?

So that's the key. I don't know the language for dance or music or painting, but for writing, it means absorbing and mastering the principles of plot and character and hooks and twists and viewpoint and pacing and beats and still being able to generate that little squeal of a thrill from feeling that a story or a scene or even just a sentence feels right.

Like a basketball player who's done drills and learned plays and knows techniques and form, but in the heat of the moment all of that gets pushed to the back of his mind as he gets by on that same instinct that got him by on the asphalt courts at his junior high.

The difference is, now his instincts have the benefit of all that training and study and practice to rely on. Because he managed to maintain his love of the game through it all, he's now able to be paid to do it. Others want to crowd arenas to watch him do it.

I think that makes the difference in taking him from journeyman to master.

So I know that my daughter is eventually going to have to make a choice. It's the same one I have to make in my writing. The same one you've got to make in whatever you do. Do you love it enough to lay it out, dissect it, and understand it? Can you endure all of that enough that it can bring you back to where you started, that place of innocent creation, only this time, armed with the tools to create what you only barely sensed was possible in your first fledgling attempts?

I sincerely hope the answer is yes. For me at least.

My daughter's still got time to decide.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For Pete's Sake: Will everybody stop talking about this letter as if it's news? Seriously, no one, not Lewis, not Lewis's Mom, not the president of Lewis's fan club would have thought The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe would have made a good live-action movie. He basically said, live action effects don't do these kinds of films justice, and he was right.

But that was nearly thirty years ago. That was the year Ben-Hur won the special effects Oscar. Peter Jackson wasn't even born for two more years.

This letter was pulled out of some vault somewhere by some PR guy to get a little more buzz going for the movie. It's anything but news.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

On Kids: I was going to post this in my friend's blog's comments, in response to this post, but when it go long, I decided to share with everybody.

I have girls.

And there's only one way to stop having situations like this.

And that's to not be afraid to have situations like this. In fact, you have to be willing to have situations twenty times worse than this.

But it does not go down the way it did for the Mom in the store. You don't melt into a pool of jello.

You leave. Right there. Leave the grocery cart in the middle of the store, and you leave. No train ride, yes, but that's just the start. No cocoa puffs, no pop tarts, no whatever the thing is that gets the kid's mojo going. No groceries.

The store, and shopping, and even food are stuff for kids who know how to behave themselves in public, and they are most assuredly not that, and they are not going to continue to embarrass Mommy.

Now, this probably would not have helped this woman. These are the kinds of lessons that have to be taught before Thanksgiving shopping trips and deadlines and whatever else this woman probably has on her plate.

They definitely need to be taught before four. Even the three year old should have them well in hand--if it was autism, though, that could have either helped or hurt him, depending.

The point I'm trying to make is, in order to win fights like this--every time--you can't make it a fight. Ever. Because if you make it a fight, there's a chance the kid could win. So if it's any kind of struggle--a battle of wills, a battle of bribery, any type of battle--the kid knows he's got you. The mere fact you've given him that much means he's got leverage.

And he knows it.

So you don't yell. You don't fight. You don't raise your voice. You take both kids out of the cart, put them in an empty one, and you cart them back out to the car. You put them in their car seats.

"Grandma's going to be disappointed," you tell them, "when there's no turkey. And no olives. But If all we have with us is kids who act like babies, we can't go to the store like the big kids."

And you have to mean it. You have to honest-to-goodness be willing to leave the groceries at the store and find some other time to go shop.

Yeah, I know you don't want to do it when your mother-in-law's coming and you don't want to have to explain why you can't control your kids.

But two things.

First, if your mother-in-law is worth earning of the respect of, she'll respect you for trying to raise civilized human beings in this world of children who are spoiled by parents' feelings of guilt and inadequacy over failing to raise their children as civilized human beings.

And second, if you had bothered to give this a shot before your kid's fifth Thanksgiving on this planet, Thanksgiving V would have gone fine.

I'm sorry if I don't sound sympathetic.

But when I sit in church on Sundays while five and six year old kids run up and down the aisles, while parents just smile and shrug and say, "I just can't control them!" I'm reminded of the Sundays I spent with both my daughters before they were two training them on how to behave for one hour of church.

Not by giving them toys to quiet them down--lest they feel they've been rewarded for being bad. Not by taking them out to the lobby--lest they see being bad as a way to "escape" from the meeting. And not by spanking them or otherwise doing something that will lead to further tears and lead to me having to hug them to calm them down--another indirect reward.

Instead, I would take them out of the meeting and hold them. Not hug them--it's not a reward--but hold them, so they can't play. If they're crying or fussing, I would sing to them softly or otherwise let them know that I wasn't angry or mad or mean. Once they calmed down, I would talk with them about why they needed to be quiet in the meeting, until they'd agree they could do it.

And then the reward was that they got to go to the meeting and draw or do whatever we did for quiet play. They came to feel that the meeting was the good place to be--not the lobby--and they'd work to be there.

Now that they're a little older, I just use time-outs in empty classrooms. I don't have to do it often, but they know I'm willing to do it, and that's why a raised finger or a knowing smile usually quiets them down now. They just smile back as if it say, yeah, dad, you got me, and they settle down.

So what I'm saying is, it wasn't easy. I know I'm not giving this lady an easy solution.

But I'm saying in the long run, it's easier if you do it early, earlier than most parents are even willing to admit their kids are able to respond to them, than if you wait around until your kids have figured out where your buttons are or how to wrap you around their finger or otherwise learned how to get their way every time.

And, also in this woman's defense, it's easier if Dad's around and doing his job. I don't know how the church thing would work if Mom wasn't around to sit with the kid's who's being good while I'm out missing the whole meeting so I can sing "In The Leafy Treetops" to a crying two-year-old. In this case, I got no idea what continent this guy's husband's on, let alone what town.

But--as harsh as this probably sounds--that's why she's got to get this going now.

Maybe do a couple practice trips with the kids on days where she's got the time for it. Make definite plans for how to react the next time it happens.

Because it's just going to continue. And that five year old who won't mind when you tell her to leave her brother alone really is going to morph into a teenager who won't be able to make sensible decisions when Mommy's not standing right beside her holding her hand.

So there really does have to--have to--come a moment where you stop merely trying to get through each day and you assess where you truly are and what you have to do about it. If you don't know, get help. It's one of the biggest idiocies of our society that we think that just because the kid came from us that we should somehow know everything about how to handle them. I have infinite more respect for parents who admit to feeling overwhelmed--the ones who probably feel the least competent--than the ones who just shrug and say, "I just can't get them to do anything. The former are at least acknowledging the enormity of the task. The latter are basically saying that if there's anything about it they don't know, it isn't worth knowing.

And I fear the life of a child in the hands of someone who puts that little value by doing it right.

Incidentally, to my friend who made the initial blog post--the mere fact that you recognized you were seeing, the empathy you felt for the woman's situation, the mere fact that I know you're tough enough to stand up to complete strangers when the need arises, and you're certainly not the type who's going to allow your toddlers to go careening of course while you stand by wringing your hands and wondering what to do, and the fact that I know you've go the brains and the courage to learn any new concepts you feel responsible for knowing--all of these would make you a great mother.

Even to girls.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Watched Pots: I think a lot of us, when we decided we wanted to be writers, thought of it those terms--we wanted to be writers. We never really stopped to consider what we would spend most of our time actually being, which is people who were struggling to become writers. Which basically consists of typing for a living.

No, that's not true. It basically consists of typing in the hopes of one day having a living, while in the meantime you spend all your real creativity and energy doing something else for a living.

So that's the first reason more people aren't real writers. Because the writing part, no matter how much you love it, is hard.

But then there's the other part. Like writing, some people are better at this part than others. But it's just as vital.

And that's the part where you send the stories out to editors and cross your fingers.

I'm lousy at this part. Absolutely terrible.

I know there are writers out there who can send their stories out and forget about them. They can keep cranking out the fiction day after day while the dozens of stories they've already written float around the markets. The ones that sell, great, and the ones that don't--well, they just pop them in another envelope and try out the next-best-paying-market.

Not me. When I tuck one of my babies in an envelope and send them off, it's like I've got a kid on trial for murder. I can't sleep until I know his fate.

It's not healthy. You have to forget about the stories. It's hard to decide to have more kids if you're still not sure if you screwed up the last bunch.

But I know I'm not alone in this. Otherwise there wouldn't be as many "Response Time Trackers" as there are.

What? Never heard of a response time tracker?

Well, those of us who want to obsess over our submitted stories have found a way to use the internet to pool our resources. See, my own submissions are basically a two-day process. One day I send it, one day I get the response. There's not much tangible there to fret over.

But if all of us send in those two dates, now we've got something we can follow in real time. We can track exactly where each story market is in its reading process. We can get average times for each market, so we know about how long we're going to be waiting. And of course, we can read far more into it than we probably should if we see people getting rejects back who submitted to a market after we did.

My own daily "Doom Loop" through response time trackers includes the one at Speculations, Andrew Burt's much-loved Submitting to the Black Hole, and (If you've got a favorite I missed, feel free to leave it in the comments).

I'm hoping that once I break out of the semi-pro market and make my first solid pro sale that I'll give up this obsession. That at that point, whatever crazy validation I'm pining for will have come to pass and that I can just settle in and write, confident that regardless of what response I get to each story, my status as a pro writer is secure.

And maybe a leopard won't need it's spots any more once somebody says, "Hey! Look! A leopard!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Crit Up: Just a heads up that my short story, "Moonshine" is up for critique this week over at Critters if you're a member and were looking for which one to read.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

First off, if you're a fan of the book, it's worth it to rent this movie just for the "Really, Really Deleted Scene." It features Arthur, Ford, and Zaphod bursting through a door like something out of an Ah-nuld film, and Arthur shouting, "The name's Dent! Arthur Dent! DO panic!" before firing off a few rounds.

What about everybody else in the world? Is this one for the fans, or will everybody love this one?

Well, I'm sorry to say, you'll probably find it a mixed bag. I definitely think you'll enjoy it, but if you're not a fan of the book you're not going to understand what the big deal was.

I think the movie's biggest weakness is how busy it constantly is. There's always something happening on the screen, and if there's not something funny happening, there are usually seven or eight things happening all at once to try to distract you from the fact that there's really nothing happening.

Part of the charm of the book was how understated everything was. In the book and radio play, the babel fish is a rather clever idea cleverly presented. Here, it's turned into an action scene--and I'm not talking about the Rube Golberg-esque action of the babel fish scene in the computer game. Arthur and Ford literally wrestle around for a while as Ford tries to get the fish into Arthur's ear.

Yeah, that's what I always loved about the Guide books. The wrestling.

Some of the new stuff absolutely works. I loved the Vogon home planet, Ford's nervous feeling that he ought to hug Arthur whenever he thinks Arthur's upset was terrific, and Trillian was absolutely delightful.

But Sam Rockwell played Zaphod so obnoxious that it almost made the movie obnoxious, and Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast was forever ruined way back when I first heard rumors that John Cleese was being considered for that role, so any performance would pale in comparison to the one I shall forever imagine could have been done by Cleese.

But all the best bits are there and a few good new ones. I can comfortably say that I still don't think the definitive H2G2 movie has been made, though, so there's a chance we still have that to look forward to someday in the future.

Oh, and my daughters enjoyed it.

At least, they keep asking to see the singing dolphins.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

How Do You Do That?: Whether you're interested in magic or not, I strongly recommend Mallusionist as a source for magical secrets.

I recommend the stage magic section for the biggest secrets, but if you want a trick you can do for your friends, check out the principle of Magician's Choice or Memorizing a Shuffled Deck.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Saturday Story: I have another story. It's not the one I've been working on. The one I've been working on I'm really excited about, and everyone should come back next week and ask me for it, because I want lots and lots of feedback on it so I can turn it into my first pro sale.

In the meantime, I have this overwhelming wish sometimes to hold a book in my hands that has something by me in it. Whenever this happens, I try to write something to fit an anthology. I then go to Ralan and pull up the anthology list and try to find a print anthology that appeals to me.

This happened to me again tonight.

I decided to write a story specifically for Carnifax Press's upcoming Clash Of Steel Book Three: Demon. The guidelines are here. The story, which is much shorter than my usual stuff to fit their guidelines, is available for critiquing and commenting and helping if you email me.

It's hot off my fingertips, all written by me this very night. Which means it probably needs a lot of help.

Just drop me a line . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fate Smiles On The Doc: Well, it just happened that I went to post a long, drawn-out and probably overly mean post about something, somewhere, and then vanished it myself on accident before I could post it.

Here's the thing about me: I'm not short winded. I tend to try to draw as crystal clear message as I can. I tend to be long because I want to be understood. I don't just want to be so clear as to be understandable--I want to be so clear I cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Granted, I generally fail miserably at this, but that just makes me inclined to go on even more the next time.

This means that I usually keep two windows open in any BB thread I'm going to post in. One for the window I'm replying in, and one for the thread. That way I can refresh the thread and see if anyone posts anything while I'm posting. I'm sure others do this too.

The problem comes when you hit "refresh" on the wrong window. After you've typed a lot.

It was probably for the best. I should probably get some kind of default timer put on my computer that makes me verify, after a monitor verifies my blood pressure and pulse rate are back to normal, that I still want to post something.

Or better yet, I should get a program that refuses to let me post (or blog!) anywhere until I finish that week's story.

I promise there will be a story Saturday.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What Order?: It's a problem that people have faced for years. What order do I read these books in? What order do I watch these movies in?

CS Lewis said, the minute he wrote it, that he thought people should read The Magician's Nephew first. It took place first chronologically, so that made sense, right?

Only people rejected that. Since they'd read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe first, they thought the only way to give people the full impact of their own experience was to have others read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe first, too. So strong is the thought of that as the first book that Disney is filming it first, even though they're clearly looking to turn this into a Lord Of The Rings-esque series of blockbuster movies based on a beloved book series.

So now, there's two questions, posed by Becky. The first is, can you read "Mazer in Prison," the short story in the Enderverse from OSC's new magazine, without having read the last couple of Shadow Series books? And the second is, can you watch Serenity without having watched all of Firefly?

The first question is easy--I'd argue that you can read "Mazer in Prison" before you've read Ender's Game. There is nothing in the story that would even spoil that book, let alone any of the books in the Shadow Series. Some people might argue that you want to read Ender's Game first, because that's where they first met Mazer and some of the other people in the story, but I don't think knowing who a character is is so much a spoiler as some might.

So what about Serenity? I'll tell you, there's a part of me that wants to tell everyone to see this movie right now, because it's doing bad at the box office and it's the kind of movie I want to make, so I'd like to see it doing better. So I'll warn you up front that my first response is to say, "Go! Now! Take twenty friends and see it!"

And I would not be at all wrong in this. You can absolutely enjoy every minute of Serenity even if you never saw a minute of the TV show. The writer and director of this is used to writing for episodic television, so he knows how to hook people in while catching them up.

But I've got to be honest--there are some moments in this movie that absolutely will not have the same effect if you haven't seen the series. If you don't know who these people are, if you haven't got to know them through the series, then some things in the movie won't be nearly as important to you as they could be.

In other words, if you go watch the movie without having seen the show, you'll have a great experience. If you go watch the movie having seen the show, you'll have an incredible experience.

I will say I don't think you have to watch the whole series. In fact, I know some people who only watched the pilot--they were even a little put off by the pilot, which is why they never finished the series--who went to the movie, "got" everything, and loved the film enormously. "Browncoats" will probably want my head for saying this, but if you're on disk 3 or 4, for heaven's sake go out and see this movie while it's still in theatres!

If you've heard some bonehead say you have to watch the series first and you have no intention of giving that many hours of your life to a $50 set of some cancelled TV show, ignore them and go see it. You'll dig it.

And for those of you who have heard the title--Serenity--and thought it sounded like a chick flick with Emma Thompson in it, go here at watch some trailers and video clips. It should ease your mind.

I guess what I'm saying is, prepare yourself to the degree you're interested in preparing yourself and then see the movie. But above all, most important, no matter what, do see this movie.

Editor's Note: I realize that I'm making a terrible mistake here. I'm hyping the movie so much that it may end up being a let down for some people who see it. They're going to go in thinking, "Erik said this would be the best experience I had in the theatre this year," and then end up disappointed when it's still only a movie. I use such adamant language not to get you overly hyped, but to overcome what seems to be some level of resistance to seeing a movie that has no known stars in it and a chick-flick title. So I'm not going to tell you it will be your new favorite movie. I will make this promise though: You will like the characters even though you don't know the actors who play them. You will like the story, even though the title puts you off. And you will definitely be glad you went.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I Would Have Believed: I can't believe I missed this. Why don't they do the news stories for these kinds of things at a time where I can do something about it?

New Online Magazine: Orson Scott Card is going to be going live with a new online magazine this weekend. Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show should cost about $2.50 an issue (less than a gallon of gas!) and features orginal fiction, with at least one story in an OSC universe, usually (although not always) written by Card.

Issues include audio stories, and the first issue even looks like it will have some type of software included as a bonus. This issue's Card story is set in the Ender universe and is called, "Mazer in Prison."

For a sneak peek as they finish construction, look here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

It's Back: Now that is back up, look for updates frequently. We've even begun to consider dabbling in flash animations and podcasting. We'll probably get around to doing them right around the time when something else is hip and new.

Saturday Story: This is not one I finished this week, but rather one "From The Archives," so to speak. It's a little bit of nonsense called, "Moonshine," and if you're wondering why you've never seen it before, it's because it never really did what I wanted it to do. I got exactly one critique on it before, and it was before I knew enough about criticism to know which questions to ask, so it's still mostly as it was then.

It's about 24 pages and just over 5,000 words long. As always, email me if you're able to give it a look. I could really use your help on this one.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Saturday Story: This week's story is a short one. It's called, "At The End Of His Rope," and it's a juvenile western about a kid who's about to be lynched by a mob of goldminers who think he's a jinx. It comes in at under 10 pages, about 1500 words.

As always, email if you're able to send a critique.

And while I'm on the subject, anybody know any good markets for juvenile westerns?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Saturday's Story: The story I'd like to send around this Saturday is a rather quirky little piece called, "The Karmatic Balancing Act." I'm a little nervous about sending this one out first, because while I like it a whole lot, I'm afraid that may be totally personal predilection and others may find it merely odd.

So even at the risk that it will turn you off to reading anything more by me, I ask: Who would like a copy?

It's 32 pages in double spaced courier, right around 7,500 words. It tells the story of an accountant who learns Karma guarantees the medicine always has to be as bad as the disease.

Why I'm Not Libertarian, Part II: Some time ago, I posted a bunch of reasons why I wasn't Libertarian. I won't bother to find that again.

But I found a quote today that wonderfully sums up the other part.

So much of Libertarianism is tied up in my mind with Objectivism, the philosophy that says if you look out for yours and I look out for mine, we will both of us end up alright.

Objectivism, as I understand it, even goes so far as to explain altruism in selfish terms, saying that because I "love" another, that makes him part of me, and so in looking after him I am ultimately looking after myself.

Here's the quote I found:

Many of us can recount experiences in which we lost ourselves in the service of others and found those moments to be among the most rewarding of life. Everyone actively involved in serving God by reaching out to others can recount similar stories, as can devoted parents and marriage partners who have given of their time and means, who have loved and sacrificed so greatly that their concern for each other and for their children has known almost no bounds.

What a therapeutic and wonderful thing it is for a man or woman to set aside all consideration of personal gain and reach out with strength and energy and purpose to help the unfortunate, to improve and beautify the community, to clean up the environment. How much greater would be the suffering of the homeless and the hungry in our own communities without the service of hundreds of volunteers who give of their time and substance to assist them. All of us need to learn that life is a mission and not simply a career.

Tremendous happiness and peace of mind are the results of loving service to others. Nobody can live fully and happily who lives only unto himself or herself.

Now granted, I'm not a Democrat either, because I do not believe virtue like this can be "imposed" on those who don't have it.

But the idea that selfishness is a virtue and that being self-serving will lead humanity to reach its greatest potential requires mental and semantic gymnastics I won't be a part of.

Yeah, yeah. I know the circular argument. "If co-operation is truly what's best for us, then our craving to have the best for ourselves will drive us to co-operation!"

We agree it's a circle, we just disagree on which direction we should be moving in. The objectivist says to start by looking in, and your frustration and lack of fulfillment will eventually give you reasons to look out.

I say start out by looking out, and by the time you get around to noticing yourself again, you'll already be delighted with what you find there.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Readers: First, my heartfelt thanks to all of you who read my last story. I really appreciate it. Your comments were all thoughtful and helpful. You're an amazing bunch of friends.

Now, I have kind of an insane request.

First, let me be up front that I'm confident the answer this question will mostly be no. In fact, I expect "NO's" all around.

Here's the situation.

I want to put myself through a writing "boot camp" for one year. From now until the end of next year, I want to write one story a week, and rewrite one story each weekend.

Most of these would be short stories (less than 7,500 words) although occasionally, I might write a longer story over a two-week period. Also, I'll probably miss a lot of weeks, especially in the beginning.

The hope is that by the end of next year, I'll have 50 stories kicking around, and that I will have learned a little something about the process of writing. About the discipline that it takes to get words out consistently, about the process of turning a fraction of an idea into a story, and, most importantly, about entertaining readers.

It's this last part I need help with. What I'm wondering is if there's anybody who's willing to read at least some of this massive amount of stuff I'll (hopefully) be cranking out.

It would be reader-response criticism, like I've talked about before. It doesn't require anything more than what you already are good at--reading something and deciding what you like and don't like about it. Letting me know when the story was exciting, when it was boring, when you cared about the characters and when you didn't. It's not just criticism, but also an accounting of your experience as a reader.

In other words, I will try do one thing when I write the story, but your job is to tell me what I actually did.

No obligations to finish anything. If you read three pages and decide it isn't for you, great. Send it back and tell me why you were able to put it down. No obligations to do it every week. If you don't have the chance to get to a bunch of them, don't sweat it.

But what I'll do is post here each week that I finish one, and then, if you think you might be able to get to it, email me and tell me. If not, don't sweat it.

This will give me a motivation to write, because I know people will see here if I finished anything, so it will be a kind of check-in.

What I'm looking for, though, are thoughts on whether anyone feels they'd even be able to participate partly. If not, that's fine, like I said. But if so, then please let me know either in the comments here or in my email.

If you're someone who reads this blog, but has never read my fiction, here's a little info: I'm a decent fiction writer. I've been an Honorable Mention in the Writers Of The Future contest, been published semi-professionally, and received lots of encouraging comments from editors. In other words, I'm getting ever closer to that precipice that separates the pro from the amateur, and I really want to make the leap.

This means the fiction you read will not be unspeakably bad, but it will need comments, suggestions, tips and help to make it be, as they say, all it can be.

And, hopefully, it will gradually get better.

So if anybody is willing to hang in there with me, to any degree, please let me know, so I know whether or not to worry about posting the info here as each story becomes available.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Speaking Of Reality Shows: I finished a peice of fiction this week that deals with reality TV. It's around 7,000 words. If anybody's interested in reading it and giving me some feedback, please drop me a line. I'll probably have the second draft ready to go out to you a week from today.

It's a little brutal. Just a warning.

Book Review: Sometimes The Magic Works: Lessons From A Writer's Life by Terry Brooks

I had exactly two bits of exposure to Terry Brooks prior to picking up this book. Well, maybe more than that. I had a friend who loved the Shanara books, and I own a copy of Running With The Demon I picked up at a used bookstore but have never read.

I guess it's more accurate to say, I'd read two of his books.

The first was the book that turned me off to him, and that was his adaptation of the movie Hook. I really enjoyed Hook. I'm a fan of the Peter Pan books and movies in most of their incarnations, but most of all in the original book. The movie was true enough to that to win me over, and so I rushed out to buy the novelization.

See, most of you are already giggling behind your hands, because novelizations are bad. We all know that, right? Well, I didn't. I had only read a couple of novelizations. The first were the Craig Shaw Gardner ones he did for Back To The Future II & III and Batman, and the other was Orson Scott Card's novelization of The Abyss. The Gardner books were interesting, including deleted scenes that weren't in the movies (Including my favorite line that didn't make Batman) and the Card book would have likely was award-worthy but largely ignored solely because it was a novelization.

That's all a long way of saying I hadn't yet met a bad novelization. So then I came across Hook, and I swore off Terry Brooks forever.

Well, not quite forever.

Because then he did the novelization for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Like everybody else that year, I was caught up in the Star Wars hype, and since one of my soon-to-be brothers in law had bought it, I gave it a read, despite my fears about Brooks.

And you know what? It was a terrific book. And it fixed the biggest flaw in the film.

People blame their feelings about little Annakin on Jake Lloyd's acting--the real culprit was George Lucas's script. Here's a little boy we're supposed to feel bad for, but in Lucas's script, it looks like he's got everything going for him. He gets to build robots and race pods, he has lots of friends and a mother who loves him. We're never given any real reason to root for him, because it doesn't look like he's got much to worry about.

Brook's book fixes this flaw. We get one extra chapter at the start of the book about Annikan. We see him lose a pod race he's forced to run and almost die doing it. We see his owner knock him around a little for his incompetence. In other words, we get some conflict around this character. We're given reasons to care.

So now I had two conflicting views of Brooks--one good, one bad.

Then along comes this book, Sometimes the Magic Works. It came out about the same time as Stephen King's On Writing, and is similar in a lot of ways. They're both part writing guide and part autobiographical. They're both a little whimsical and chatty. And they're both worth your time if you're interested in writing.

The most reassuring thing, for me, was that Brooks seems to share my disdain for the Hook book. The folks at Amblin apparently didn't realize they were going to be getting a New York Times Bestselling author to do the adaptation for them, and had been extremely limiting in what they would and wouldn't allow him access to and information about. The whole experience had been as dismal for him to write as it had been for me to read.

As for his advice--well, it's an interesting mix of practicality and whimsy. As you can see by the title, he acknowledges that a certain amount of the process is just magic. You can't really account for it or explain it.

But yet he strongly encourages outlining and pooh-poohs the notion of freewriting off the top of your head without one. (Why waste your time writing pages and pages of prose you'd have known you were going to throw out if you'd have done an outline?)

He's flexible with it, of course--if a wonderful idea occurs to you on page 100, you don't chuck it out just because it isn't in the outline. The outline is a tool, not the rule, and is as fluid and changeable as you need it to be. It's just a lot easier and less time consuming to change than pages and pages of nearly finished text.

My favorite bit of advice, though, comes late in the book. If you read the Amazon reviews, you'll see a couple are down on some bits where Brooks talks about his Grandson. I'd argue that the bits where he talks about his Grandson are two of the most important parts of the book.

I won't tell the anecdote, but I will tell you the moral of at least one of the stories:

There's a reason why fiction, be it a book, or TV, or film, is more noble than "reality" books or "reality" shows. Reality shows only show us as we are. It's only when we journey into fiction that we discover what we ultimately could be.

So I recommend it. It's a thin book, and it won't turn your world upside down. But it will reinstill some of that sense of what you're doing and why.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Good-Bye, Kinda: I'm not closing the blog down, but I am giving you fair warning that this is going to be updated infrequently. Once a week at the most, once a month at least.

If you want to take down reciprolinks, I'll understand.

Some stuff has come up--my church has asked me to teach an early morning seminary class for high school kids--that will take several hours of my day. If I want to keep exercising and writing fiction, I'm going to have to give some things up somewhere, and after careful consideration, I've decided blogging is one of them.

Not that I've ever really updated this blog anywhere close to regularly, but I just thought I'd give a heads-up this was coming.

And if you do see me posting here regularly, yell at me and tell me to get back to working on stories.

Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

NPOV: I like Wikipedia. I usually go there first when I need a bit of information. It has served me well--even giving me a useful timeline to let me know where a couple of fairly minor historical figures were during the months before and after the start of the Civil War, a remarkably specific fact, and incredibly useful for the script I'm currently writing.

But see, there's a seedy underbelly I wasn't really aware of until today. See, the idea behind wikis is that anyone who wants to can show up and make a change. Then, somebody else can change it another way, or change it back. So any stupid changes disappear forever, and any useful changes remain for all posterity.

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that there are a number of things we all disagree about. Pat Moynihan once said (as you can read on WikiQuote, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Well, apparently a bunch of people never heard that.

If you click on the little tab on the top that says, "Discussion," you'll find the behind-the-scenes of the article you're reading. People fighting, arguing, name-calling, and slandering each other over what actually ends up on that main page.

You see, Wikipedia has aspirations of achieving a true "Neutral Point of View," or "NPOV," for short. A noble aspiration, to be sure, but tough in practice.

A review of disputed articles includes the expected--does the existence of an article on the word "Chinglish" already make an NPOV impossible?--and the obscure--what really happened to the original ending of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game?

There's even arguments about NPOV regarding the Solar System in Astrology, and it's not the ones you think. One argument is about whether the article has too many references to a single source. Another is about whether the page should even exist, or whether the discussions should be moved to the pages about the individual planets. After all, wouldn't a true "NPOV" treat the astrological implications of Venus as seriously as they would the geological ones?

So I made a change somewhere. Then I discovered I'd thrown myself into the midst of a controversy. So I changed it back, and voiced my opinions on why it should be changed. But it's not like a forum, really. It's an encyclopedia. So when do we "decide" which is right? Who gets final say? Who knows.

So I decided to change an incorrect fact, just to put my foot down.

And now, hopefully I'll stay away from that edit button like I should have all along.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters: To go along with my earlier posts about the online game, here are some secrets and tips for a high score on the Disneyland ride.

First off, the obvious targets have different point values depending on their shape.

Circle: 100 points
Square: 1000 points
Diamond: 5000 points
Triangle: 10,000 points or more

The triangle targets are often hard to hit, and sometimes require hitting another target to create some kind of motion to "expose" them. For instance, one room has a Jack-in-the-box near the front of the room where you have to hit the square target on the outside of the box to get it to open, then hit the diamond target inside the box lid to get the triangle target-clad figure inside to pop out.

There are also other targets that are not marked with a "Z" symbol at all. A few of these have been made known on the internet, including this little hidden Mickey block. It's in the first room, on the left of the track. There's some debate about whether these are actually a target or not, but there's not much debate over this one:

The real target on Zurg isn't the "Z" target, but a space between his chest plates. In this picture, taken from this tread at, the green dot shows the spot. This actually applies to both Zurgs, although the first one is apparently easier to hit, despite the way it wiggles around animatronically.

There's other little things on the ride--for instance, if you fire six times, even if you miss you automatically get 100 points, allowing even the littlest of riders gets some kind of score.

Good luck!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fonts for Fiction: Does anybody else find that the font and layout of a book affects their feelings about it?

As in, when a book is written in big letters in a big hardcover book with lots of empty space on the page, it feels different in tone than a little paperback book where the words are packed in close, and there's not so much blank space?

I think for me, the denser the words on the page are, the "denser" the book feels. The wider spaced the words are, the "looser" the feeling I get from the book. I've had different impressions of the same book based simply on whether I read it in paperback or hardcover.

I know it's not just my imagination--obviously, the word "SUNSHINE!" would have a dramatically different feel if it were written in two-feet tall letters of dripping blood across a brick wall--but I wonder if it has the same effect on other people it has on me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Critic's Job: So this guy wrote a review that panned the new Harry Potter book, and a bunch of people wrote in to tell him that he didn't know what he was talking about.

So he wrote a reply saying they didn't know what they were talking about.

Now he didn't say they didn't like the book. What he said was, basically, they didn't know what a critic was supposed to do.

Actually, Mr. Kipen (May I call you Kip?), I don't think you know what a critic is supposed to do.

I hope you don't feel too bad about this! This ignorance is contagious, and just about every critic in America seems to have caught it. It's a common misconception, but allow me to set the record straight:

Myth No. 1: Critics decide if a book or movie is good or bad.

Sorry, Kip, but you don't.

Critics see themselves as the gods of Mount Olympus, sitting above the fray of books and films, ready cast judgment upon them with the stroke of the pen (or thumb) and forever relegate them into categories of "good" and "bad." They think studios usher them in regally, like the deities they are, for special screenings of their films, and said filmmakers then sit biting their fingernails waiting for the critic to decide if the years of effort were worthy.

I don't know how to break this to you, but if books and movies were giant, sea-going creatures, critics would be the little organisms that attached themselves to their nether regions. They are not ushering you into screenings like royalty, but they're herding you like a cow, shoving you in with the rest of the cattle, shoving shiny press-packets in your face hoping the shiny objects will keep your attention.

The book or movie would go on without you just fine.

You don't get to decide if the movie is good or bad. In some cases, that debate may rage on for years. In fact, when the work becomes a classic, you may have to find yourself quietly rewriting the review you initially wrote, when you thought you were above it all.

You don't serve the movie one way or the other. Your real responsibility is to the readers of your reviews. They're the ones who go to your review looking for a service. And the service is this:

They want to know if this is the kind of work they would like.

That's it! They hardly care whether you like it or not. They probably don't even know your name, let alone whether or not you're the same guy who wrote the review of the "brainy" indie film you wax poetic about two pages later.

In the case of Half-Blood Prince, a blind, dying monkey who only speaks sign language could have told you, after reading it, that it would be devoured just as voraciously as the previous books were, by people who enjoyed that series.

If it had been some kind of radical departure from the prior books--if Rowling had suddenly attempted to say, write in a way that emulated James Joyce, or if it had become a Naked Gun-style comedy--this would have been a useful thing to point out to the readers, so fans of Joyce who hadn't previously tried the books could give it a whirl, or people who hated the Naked Gun movies could skip this book.

But she didn't. Rowling wrote another book with the same sense of mystery, magic, light humor, and suspense as her previous books.

I won't accuse you of not reading the book, Kip, but I will accuse you of not knowing your job.


Okay, reading this over, I think it comes across a bit harsh. But it's silly to say the books aren't getting "fresher." The series is exploring new areas nicely.

So let me explain the way it's worked to Kip, since I'm sure he's read the whole series (Naturally, mild Harry Potter spoilers follow).

In book 1, we got our intro. Meet the characters. See the school. Learn the games.

In book 2, the characters solidly in place, we got to have a fun adventure in this world.

In book 3, we start getting into the backstory and the mystery. Where did all these people come from? This gives us clues as to where we're going.

In book 4, we get a wider, broader view of the world, by seeing kids from other wizarding schools, but more importantly, the end of this book is where the walls get blasted off the whole thing. It stops being about a little boy at school, and we realize, as we must eventually realize in all epics, that the fate of the world is at stake.

In book 5, we get the start of the heroes reacting to this new threat. Since book 4 changed the nature of things so much, this book has to show us how everyone reacts to that change. It's no accident it's the longest book so far--it had to be, to show the series' new direction.

So now, book 6, the penultimate book, is the Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter series. If you related as much to the characters as the regular readers do, some of the things in this book would be agonizing.

Of course, book 7 will be the vindication. The forces of good, from all over Rowling's world, will be in conflict with all the forces of evil her series has given rise to. The ultimate confrontations will, I am sure, have the full force of all six prior volumes behind them, as the climaxes of each of the prior books have been a bit stronger for having been tied to what had gone before.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Some Notes: Just a reminder that has gone away for a bit, but will be back. For this reason, those of you who have my email address probably don't want to try it for a while.

Ditto the other email address I was giving friends. Since I'm not using my dial-up connection any more, that one is also going the way of the dinosaur.

So which email to use? The one under "Contact The Doc" up on the left. That one will work fine, and is probably going to become my primary email. Gmail does a decent job of filtering out the junk, and they have lots of good ways to organize.

My hotmail account is used mainly for websites I fear will sell my address. So don't even worry about it.

Also, thanks to Lynn for the link and comments. Ever an interesting source of fun stuff, she points to this entry in the "I gotta get me one of these!" category.

And former Freespace blogger Timothy Sandefur has quietly snuck back onto the internet as part of the group blog Positive Liberty.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Speaking Of Tripods: I was really surprised to find that there is a lot of anti-Tripod Trilogy sentiment out there. Apparently, Mr. Christopher's books are sexist. Or are, at best, guilty of "outdated attitudes towards women."


As Orson Scott Card once said (and I'm paraphrasing), "No man can stand up to feminist criticism. If they write strong, tough female characters, they get accused of making their women into men. If they write feminine characters, they get accused of feeding into stereotypes."

There are absolutely legitimate concerns raised by feminist criticism. For example, I do not want my kids to watch The Little Mermaid. It's the story of a girl who defies her father, makes a deal with the devil, and in the end is saved by her boyfriend and father. She does nothing but stupid, selfish things and eventually the men in her life make everything all right.

I agree completely with this interpretation of The Little Mermaid.

Cinderella? No better. Mice save her.

Snow White? Dwarves and a Prince do all the work.

Sleeping Beauty? Same thing, without the dwarves.

But see, these characters are supposed to be the heroes of these stories. It deeply undercuts these stories that the heavy lifting is all done by the men. Any editor would reject these tales in a heartbeat today. "Your protagonist should play a greater role in the denouement," would be scrawled across the form rejection.

But the Tripod trilogy is about three boys. It's told from the point of view of boys. We see the boys' side of the story, not the girls'.

Honestly, it's been too long since I've read the books for me to do a thoughtful refutation of this. But sorry, folks. I ain't buyin' this one.

Obscure Movie Review of the Day: War Of The Worlds

This was a little foreign film I saw the other day--Russian, judging by the opening titles--that starred Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning and was directed by Steven Spielberg. I expect it will be getting wider distribution soon.

There are three reviews you could write of this movie, really. The science fiction review, the political review, and the straight-up review.

The science fiction review: I have to laugh at this entry from the IMDB goofs page for this movie:

Incorrectly regarded as goofs: It's a special Hollywood EMP that disables only the electronic equipment that the filmmakers want it to.

That's good stuff.

You know--I'm a huge fan of the genre of book and film where a vastly more powerful group of creatures conquer another race, and the weak, inferior creatures have to defeat them.

Unfortunately, nearly all of them end with a Deus Ex Machina. It's like once Wells did it, everybody else felt like they had "permission." I'd like to see more sci-fi books and movies do an alien invasion with vastly superior aliens that actually were defeated. I'd hoped Silverberg would have done it in The Alien Years, but no, those aliens just packed up and moved out. Independence Day doesn't count either, although they get a sticker for the effort since at least some human involvement was required, even if the tools were ludicrous.

I think the old Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) did a good job of it, and I think it shows how it has to be done. At some point you have to get the big scary aliens out of the tripods and start seeing how their society works and then exploit some weakness in it. More the stuff of a trilogy than a single film, though, so we may not see the movies do it for a while.

The Political Review: Somebody said this was supposed to be an allegory for the Bush administration's occupation of Iraq. Sounds silly, right?

Well, that somebody was actually one of the screenwriters. Talking to a Canadian horror magazine, he said the film showed how the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq are doomed to failure.

And guess what? It still sounds silly.

I don't know if he was just trying to kiss up to a foreign press, but there are clearly more ties to 9/11 in this film than there are to the Bush administration's Iraq campaign.

The ships sitting in wait, among us, without anyone knowing--that's what the terrorists did. Bush attacked from without.

The way the aliens indiscriminately destroyed anyone who got in their way--that's the terrorist's track. Bush was so confident of our troops' ability to do the job humanely and discriminatingly that he allowed scores of embedded reporters to travel with the troops, and there have been remarkably few instances that were even questionable, let alone flat-out abusive towards civilians.

There are the obvious 9/11 images as well--the posted pictures of the missing, the white ash covering Cruise after the initial appearance.

And if they truly wanted to show how difficult military occupations are, they aliens needed to try to get the humans to do something. This film showed the easiest occupation in the history of the universe--if you don't care where people run, as long as you're able to kill off a few of them and trap a few others, how can your occupation not succeed?

In other words, even if these guys intended to make any sort of message out of this movie, they muddled it up so bad that it's not there any more.

So don't worry about politics while you watch it. If they did mean anything by it, it's not really there. Just relax and have fun.

The straight-up review: Keeping all that in mind, you will have fun. It's a fun movie.

I think I understand Spielberg movies better now that I have kids myself. You don't know how scary it is to have strangers attacking a van your daughter is trapped inside until you have a daughter. A lot of the scenes that would have hit me on one level as a teenager strike a whole new chord now that I have a little bit more of a clue what that guy is feeling.

But this movie is a grown-up movie. Yeah, you do have to shut your brain off for parts of it, but the conflicts are grown-up conflicts. The main character is, ultimately, having to make the transition from adolescent to grown-up over the course of the film, and Cruise handles it well.

But I will warn you that if, like my wife, you're so sick of Tom Cruise right now that you can't stand the sight of him, his performance is not actually good enough to change your mind. So you may want to check out your own internal Cruise Tolerance Meter before you fork over the money.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Putting the Oh! In Oklahoma: With all this talk of Daylight Savings Time going on, my father shared a story he'd heard when he was living in Oklahoma.

Apparantly someone had complained to the state government about their Daylight Savings policies. The extra hour of sunlight, you see, was burning up his lawn.

Image and Images: I did something I never, ever do yesterday. I called a radio talk show.

I don't call radio talk shows for the same reason I will never go on a game show or a reality show. Why should I put myself up for public ridicule so that somebody else can make a buck? I'll put myself up for ridicule for free, like I do in this blog, or so I can make a buck, like I do with other writing. But I will never feed into the entertainment frenzy for a dangled carrot or because some radio guy manipulated my emotions.

But yesterday John & Ken, the talentless KFI drive-time hacks managed to find their way into a Muslim mosque, with an audience that was a fair balance between Muslims and non-Muslims.

It was part of the Islamic PR campaign that follows every single terrorist attack. Muslim spokesmen come out and express their frustration at the public association between terrorism and Islam. The public is wrong, they say, to associate Islam with terror.

And the spokesmen are absolutely right. It is not fair to characterize all Muslims in this way. I completely understand their frustration.

I would like, therefore, to give them some advice. Here are my suggestions to the Muslim community for how to change the way the public perceives them:

Stop accusing non-Muslims of ignorance. Stop saying the problem is that people don't know enough about your religion. You are so adamant in your disapproval of people's ignorance that at times it comes across as if your disapproval of thier ignorance is more powerful than your disapproval of the terrorists.

Remember--what happened on 9/11 was an action. The images of those towers falling down are powerful, powerful images. Actions and images will always be more powerful than simple words. You cannot merely tell people you are good and noble. You must show them.

The only way to completely disavow yourselves of the events of 9/11 is to provide positive actions and images that are so strong, so noble, so good, that it counteracts the imprint made by those monsters who want to co-opt your religion in the name of their cause. Surely, if a dozen so-called Islmaic Fundamentalists can do the damage they did in a single day, imagine the positive impact the 7 million Muslims living in the US could make, if they made a concerted, direct effort for even longer.

Imagine the awesome power of even a quarter of those--a million and a half people--all brought together as one unit to display solidarity with the United States, with their Jewish, Christian, and atheist brothers and sisters, and against the terrorists.

I have simple ideas, although I am sure better ones will be clearer to you than they are to me. Public vigils for the victims of terrorism, where the monsters are decried and the idea of brotherhood is embraced. Money always speaks loudly--a donation of $10 by every Muslim in the US would provide over $100,000 to the families of each victim, all done in the name of Islam. Not as atonement or apology, for you have done nothing wrong.

But these evil men are stealing your religion from you. They are desperate. They will resort to terrible means to convey their message. If you wish to win back your religion, win back the name and the image that you know Muhammad intended, then you must begin, not merely to tell the American people you are something else, but to show them. You must be just as desperate in your attempts to provide good and positive images and actions frequently and often, as those beasts are in providing their damaging, hateful ones.

And to the non-Muslims who are reading this, perhaps feeling the superiority that comes from viewing a situation as an outsider, I must say we are guilty of this ourselves.

We want the world to know that America is a loving, caring nation. That our actions in the world are noble and good.

We lament that other nations hate us, and we either say we deserve it, or we dismiss their feelings as unimportant. In fact, we politicize all our international action. When the man in office is on "our side," we embrace his wars, and call then humanitarian and good. When he is on "their side," we decry it as power grabs.

What we do not do is, as a people, unite together in agreement that whatever our governments are doing, whatever their governments are doing, we love the people of these nations, and want them to have happiness. What we do not do is look to insure that the interests of good are, in fact, being served, but merely grant morality to the actions of our leaders based on whether they were standing under the right banner when they said, "Vote For Me."

You and I should be reaching out to the people of the world, not just willing to send our sons die for them, but willing to live for them ourselves. The people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan, the people of the world should find themselves showered with food and clothing and fuel. And it should be clear--this is a gift from the American people. People who saw you suffering and in need, and who knew they had the means with which to give.

And then, on their heels, come the teachers. Those knowledgeable in farming and engineering, education and medicine, not to do, but to teach. To impart replenishing, renewing horns of plenty that will continue to provide for these people for generations.

And when they say, your government is so generous, to send you here, the teachers can say, no, brother. I have sent myself here. My government gives me the freedom to act as I will, and I choose to use that freedom to serve you.

Then the people of the world will truly understand what freedom is. Then the people of the world will understand who we are--not because we told them what to believe, but because we shared so much of our hearts with them that they knew us for who we truly were.

Chris Angel: Magic is my favorite hobby that I never get to practice, and consequently I have far too few magic posts here.

But what's sad is, in my absence, I've got a bunch of hits from people looking for stuff on magician Chris Angel, and I have no idea what he did lately that got everyboy looking for him.

I feel so out of the loop.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Coming Up: PBS is doing a documentary version of the excellent book Guns, Germs, and Steel. (Saw it at Incoming Signals.)

Obscure Movie Review of the Day: Durango Kids

I can forgive a lot in kids movies.

I don't like to. I honestly feel that kids care more about the internal consistency of movies than adults do. It's kids, not adults, who want to live in the worlds they watch on TV, and get obsessive about which heros were born where and which weapons do what. For kids, movies are like religions, and each is a fully immersive experience. It's adults who sit back and say, "Oh, it's just a movie."

But I still do. The fact that the movies are being made for little people who don't always need to understand how the grown-up world works means we can make allowances for gaps in logic here and there.

But there was a scene in this movie that was so unbelievably ridiculous I couldn't stop laughing. My wife had to tell me to calm down after a while. It was just such a howler . . .

See, the movie is about a bunch of kids who are led back in time by the ghost of a guard who was killed in an old frontier town robbery. Their goal is to save his life and stop the late night robbery.

I'm sure it's no surprise that they manage to do this. In fact, they do it using dynamite, a walkie-talkie, and a baseball. However, the twist is that they then get accused of planning the robbery, and they're all thrown in jail.

Okay, all of that's fine.

But see, the next day, the other boy who came back in time with them, who had been more interested in hitting on the guard's daughter than foiling the robbery, is told what happened, and rushes over to the bank, where he finds, in the middle of the busiest street in town, with people bustling by all around, the get-away wagon, the baseball, and the walkie-talkie, all exactly where they were the night before.

Oh, man.

This film suffered from that much-misdiagnosed malady of having a script that needed "another pass." The dialogue is full of amateurish repetitiveness--Yes, we're talking about the gold again, but we're doing it in a new place now! That's what scenes are!--and there are glaring inconsistencies--Was it the tunnel that sent them back in time, or the ghost's fairy dust? If it was the dust, then how did the principal get back in time? If it was the tunnel, then what was up with the dust?

I'm glad I saw it. Some of the performers, particularly the fat kid, were fun to watch and obviously having a good time. And the scenery was lovely--did the budget for this come from the Colorado state tourism board?

But most of all, it gives me hope that just about any script has a shot at getting in front of the cameras, no matter how simple. And that gives me hope.

Well Done, Scotty: Like anybody who's had any interaction with him, I adored James Doohan. If you don't understand what the fuss over this guy was about, I recommend you go rent Trekkies and see a bit of him.

Amidst the hoopla and pomp of Trek actors like Shatner who can't quite decide whether to mock the fans or love them or just be embarrassed for them, Doohan is the one guy who always seemed humbled and awed by it. I think he sensed, more than any of the other cast members, both how insane it was that people loved the cast the way they did and the power that gave them to touch lives.

I'm reminded of a line from Evita, when Che's singing to Eva about fame. "You won't care if they love you," he sings. "It's been done before. You'll despair if they hate you. You'll be drained of all energy."

Far too often, that's the way with celebrity. You have to be cool, take it in stride that everybody's falling all over you. But the second they look away from you, boy, let's dive headfirst into the booze and the drugs and the blow-all-the-money.

Not Doohan. If anything, the doting, obsessive fans humbled this guy. Made him more down to earth. I genuinely liked him, and I regret never having had the chance to meet him.

Wil Wheaton was on NPR today confirming everything I've ever felt about Scotty. He hasn't posted a real eulogy on his blog yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it when he does.

Here I Come Back From The Dead, Oh No!!!! . . . .: I always lose a ton of readers (in other words, like three of the five) whenever I go a while without posting. Apologies. Hopefully, it won't need to happen again, because I can now get on and off like that.

Um, I just snapped my fingers.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Chan: Buried in this article is the tidbit that Jackie Chan will be making a film with Hero and House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou.

Okay, I'm excited.

Stop The Aid!: Check out this interview with a Kenyan economist about why Live 8 and G8 are bad for Africa, and what should be done instead.

Friday, July 08, 2005

My Other Rant: Okay, you want hypocricy? How about this:

When we went into Iraq, the media tried to convince us it was stupidity on the President's part. Just a bone-headed decision.


Because there was no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein may as well have been Coke and Pepsi for all their connection in Middle Eastern culture. Going into Iraq was like invading the Boy Scouts of America because a gang of boys the same age had robbed a liquor store.

Only now, when Al-Qaida has blown up more people who were simply going about their business, we're supposed to believe it's because George Bush's invasion of Iraq is perceived as such a threat by Al-Qaida.

So which is it?

My Rant: I know I haven't been very political on this blog as of late, but this rant has been building in my head all week, steamrolling as events have steamrolled, so forgive me this indulgence.

It seemed the big news story of last weekend was Live 8, the big concert where a bunch of rock stars got together, talked about poverty, and raised a bunch of money to send to the african dictators who keep people impoverished. I'm sure they mean well.

In the meantime, Sean Hannity puts on his annual "Freedom Concert," which has raised 6 million for scholarships for the children of the soldiers who've died in Iraq, and nobody bats an eye.

Now I'm no fan of Hannity. His show is mostly just him gushing and drooling all over guests, but I do listen when it's a good guest.

But it truly does bug me that the media is so slow to recognize the charitable contributions of conservatives.

Even if you hate talk-show hosts, the fact is, they're celebrities. Hannity brings out rock-show sized crowds everywhere he goes. Limbaugh, heaven help him, is worshipped as a god.

So why no Entertainment Tonight at the Freedom Concert? Why no press coverage for Limbaugh's annual Lukemia/Lymphoma Society fundraisers?

Why does Bono get introduced as "Singer and Social Acitivist," and real social activists who are right wing get no such credit for their humanitarian efforts?

Guys who have way more listeners than Stern still get less press than stern, simply because of their politics.

Can we really argue there's no bias here?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Shakespeare Question: Okay, so I've been asking this question of a few different people, but I thought I'd ask it here, since I know a pretty intelligent bunch of people noses in here once in a while.

Reading some of the reviews for Orson Scott Card's new book Magic Street, it seemed a lot of it would be connected with Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not being familiar with it, I rented the Michelle Pfieffer/Kevin Kline version.

I enjoyed it--particularly the last third. I'm a fan of Mr. Noodle and that guy from ALF, and thought they pulled off the bit parts great.

What I don't get, and the focus of my question, is what the last third of the movie/play had to do with the first two thirds. How does the final bit--a comi-tragic parody of Romeo and Juliet--have to do, thematically and story-wise, with the first two thirds?

Is it just meant to underscore that, even though everything turned out happy for our heroes, everything's really still up to the whims of fate, so they should enjoy it while they've got it, and count themselves blessed they ever had it?

Or is there something else?

Help is appreciated.

(Oh, and what does the picture have to do with this? Nothing. I was just seeing how the new Blogger image thing works.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Coming And Going: Just a heads up that might be taking a month off this summer. Don't worry about your future mild chuckles--the site will be coming back. It just wants to take one of those "alone" trips where it "finds itself." I just hope it doesn't start wanting to see other people.

I got another website for you to check out, though: The Frog Report.

Froggie's taking those late night infomercial guys head-on. All I can say is guys--the game just got a little more serious. And entertaining.

More On Buzz: Okay, I stayed up way too late last night playing AstroBlasters, but here's some more tidbits.

Look for things that increase in value as you do them.

For example, if you only collect one battery color, the point value of the battery will go up each time, getting larger and larger until each battery is worth thousands of points. However, if you grab any other color, the whole thing resets.

Also, watch for the Cyclopsbots. There are 11 in the game, and each time you hit one, the point value doubles. The first one is only worth 100, but then 200, and then 400, etc.

The first eight are all in the first scene. They're chasing little Buzz ships, and they're small and hard to catch, but the 8th one is worth over 12,000 points by itself if you get all 9.

The last three are in the asteroid scene. The first two are easy to see--they're the "Z" targets. The last one is hard even to see--it's hiding behind the asteroid with the Dogbot on top. Hit these last three, and they'll be worth 25,000, 50,000, and 100,000 points.

The little green men also increase in value as you catch them. The more you catch, the more they're worth.

It's the law of increasing returns, I guess. But it works in this game.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Yeah, Yeah: Do I realize that by posting about a game, then disappearing for a while, and then posting about it again, it looks like I've been playing that game this whole time?


But I haven't, I swear. I can only play it when I'm online, and when I'm online, I usually blog. So I haven't been playing it, either. So there.

What have I been doing? Mostly being sick, but also fireworks and stuff. Happy Independence Day, one and all.

Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters Online: Because I spent some time searching for how the points system works on the online version of Astro Blasters and couldn't find it, here's what I know. Hopefully, this will help somebody else. Here's the hints and tips I've found.

When Buzz says aim for the Batterybots, he means it. If you play the training version, you can see the Batterybots are little guys with sacks full of batteries. Three batteries come out for each one you hit, tripling your potential for points or power-ups.

The Dogobots are easy to hit, and seem like good points, but they're red herrings. If there's something else on the screen, aim at it.

The Boxobots seem like a pain. They're hard to hit, and it might seem like they give relatively few points. Don't be fooled. Each one you hit gives you greater and greater points. I'm not good enough to know how high it goes, and I don't think I'll ever be able to hit that last one in the asteroids, but the point totals do get higher and higher with each one you hit.

Obviously, you want to get the little green guys. They're one of the highest scoring elements of the game, so try not to pass up a "Z" target, and pray there's somebody on the ride at the park who knows what they're doing. That part is a lot of luck, from what I can tell.

There are also points to be had in the asteroid belt. The smaller meteors give you points, and batteries, if you destroy them, and it clears the way and keeps you from having to try to dodge them.

You have to blow up three of the "legs" on the last ship before the target at Disneyland will light up. Your best bet is to grab any red battery you can find. Also, you will most likely not be able to capture Zurg at the end if you don't have a red battery at least part of the time you're shooting at the Helmet ship, so grab one or two if you see 'em (You most likely will. There are batteries over the place when the ship blows up).

If you have any other tips or hints or suggestions, post 'em here or email them to me. They don't seem to be anywhere else, so let's put 'em somewhere.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fame!: I'm usually a notorious Technorati checker, but I haven't been as diligent lately, and I missed that Byzantium's Shores had linked to my quote about whether or not old stuff is cooler than new stuff. Here's one back at ya, jaquandor!

. . . And Beyond: So what's my new stalling tactic, if I'm not blogging?

Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters Online. I play as "Wally The Hutt." The game pairs you up with somebody riding the Disneyland ride, and when you hit certain things, it opens up certain targets for them and then when they hit them, it opens up certain targets for you. It's terribly fun to try, although it does take forever to download on dial-up.

Oh, and do check out the all-time team high scores.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

For Your Spaceship One Shopping Needs: The Mojave Air and Space Collectibles site has officially opened. Go have a look-see.

Updates: On a tip in a comment, I updated my links in the sidebar. I added a few guidelines sites, Speculations, and updated the link to story I published when I was in college.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Send A Story: Remember the days when you had to send an SASE out to every magazine in the world to get their guidelines?

Things are so much easier now. Check out StoryPilot. Easiest way to whittle down potential markets for a story that I've seen.

On Writing: Viki King uses a phrase in How to Write A Movie In 21 Days that rings so true to me. She says something along the lines of, "No other book deals with the fact that you think you're going to die of this."

She's right. You do. At times it feels like pushing out another sentence will absolutely kill you.

It doesn't make sense at all. All you're doing is writing. A story which you made up. A story you can alter any way you want to if, by some chance, you write something you don't care for. In fact, after you type the sentence, you could instantly delete it, and nobody will ever know it was written to begin with.

So why is it that there are moments when the prospect of putting that sentence down are meant with the mental resistance of a dentist appointment?

It kills you not to write. It kills you to write.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

AFI's Quote List: I don't have enough time this morning to read over any blogs and find out how much whining is going on in response to the AFI show last night. If it's anything like the last bunch I'm sure it's a lot.

And there's a lot to gripe about. Interview William Goldman and Rob Reiner, but ignore Princess Bride?

But remember, the only reason people do lists like this is to get attention. They're trying to tick you off. So feel free to point out their idiocy--sometimes deliberately inviting criticism can be biting off more than you can chew, and AFI should be disrobed and proven to be the as undefinitive as any other source--but keep in mind the attention is really all they're after.

That said, the actual content of the show last night was a bunch of films and interviews done by other people, and all of that was tremendously entertaining.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Another Website?!?!: As part of my new web service, I now have MB with my name on them over at Earthlink. I can't think of a single thing to use them for. It's not like I don't already have enough websites all over the net.

So my MB are just sitting out there . . . somewhere.

Maybe the infinite particles on the servers will arrange themselves into something interesting for me. Like an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters.

Although, I must admit that I've never really bought the infinite monkey theories.

There could be an infinite number of parrallel universes that are all slightly different from each other, and many in which I don't even exist, but I can guarantee that in none of them, no matter what, would you ever catch me at a Rob Schnieder movie.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Firefly: I've been reading Firefly hype everywhere, so I've been anxious to give the show a shot. Last night, I watched the pilot episode, "Serenity." I must say I was enjoying it--until they stumbled upon my pet peeve in all of television, and committed the nearly unforgivable sin.

Needless to say, "Serenity" spoilers follow.

The absolute, positively worst thing a filmmaker can do--especially in sci-fi--is mock the viewer for believing. The second you do that, you absolutely destroy the willing suspension of disbelief, and you drive the viewer right out of your story. Trust is destroyed--at that point, if their heart was ever in it, it has stopped being in it, and you will have to work even harder to get them back.

As you've probably guessed, "Serenity" has one of these moments. There's a character who is shot, and though she spends most of the episode trying to recover, there's a moment when "the hand falls." Now, if at that point she'd have turned out to be alive, I'd have been okay with that. But then, the guy who dropped her hand actually tells someone she's dead.

Now I knew the character wasn't dead. She's on the IMDB cast lists, and she's in the opening credits montage. So when I see the religious character headed towards the girl, I think, "Ah. There's going to be a fantasy element here, where they bring her back from the dead."

But it's nothing so profound as that. See, it was a joke.

The character was joking when he told the other character the girl was dead, and, apparently, joking when he let her hand fall. He and the other characters get a good laugh out of this.

Except the real joke isn't on any of the characters--it's on the viewer. And when you mock your viewer for believing you, you lose them.

I'm not saying I'm not going to continue watching the show, nor that the show has no redeeming qualities. I will and it does.

That was like something out of a student script, though. I hope the rest of the games they play aren't as amateur.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

One Day Down: Twenty to go.

Happy Birthday To Me: The 21 days starts today. If you see me nosing around online or on MSN or something, tell me to get back to writing. It'll be like you pitched in for my present.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

My New Favorite Amazon Reviewer: This guy makes me sorely tempted to delete every review I ever wrote and start over.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Yeah, I was at the beach today. No, nobody else was there. No, I don't think this had anything to do with the tsunami warning--that wasn't until I was already over at Disney watching the fireworks.

Yeah, I was at the beach and watching fireworks at Disney all in one day.

How was your Teusday?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Obligatory Post On The Verdict: I missed the OJ trial. So I'm just discovering all the stuff that you folks found out way back then.

Like that prosecutors aren't super-lawyers. Just because the guy's brought charges against Michael Jackson doesn't change the fact that he's just a government employee in some town who's just doing his job. Putting him up against a team of super lawyers who make seven digit incomes is like putting your local dog catcher in a pit full of tigers.

This wasn't a verdict about Michael Jackson at all. At some point, he stopped being on trial, and the accuser's mother became the defendant. As soon as the case stopped being about him and started being about her it was all over.

Of course she was a money-grubbing, greedy lady who was looking to get ahead. Who else would have let their kids near MJ after the last $20 mil settlement? What other types of people would Michael even be able to find, let alone molest?

Does that really make him innocent?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Netflix: Well, I'm probably going to be cancelling Netflix. While I adore their selection of films, with my current financial goals, my main concern is value, and lemme tell ya'--Netflix ain't a value.

That's not neccesarily a bad thing. There's a lot to be said for convenience and selection. Right now, that's just not what my priority is.

Plus, I'm fed up with their customer service department. It's like communicating with Liza, or one of those prototype AI personalities that are all over the internet. They just spot random keywords and generate form answers. Kinda silly.

Which means I'm going to have to have to figure out some new entertainement options on my budget.

I guess that's probably a good thing.

Attention American Theatre Owners: In China, they've begun to sell a little card for like $12 that you can use to get in to up to 30 movies during off-hours.

I realize that with the way film distribution works in the US, this is a little less feasible, but you really should start entering into negotiations with studios to begin to offer something like this during the summer. You'd have your theatres bombarded by families with kids who'd probably buy lots of your over-priced concessions, since in their minds the movies were "free."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Urban Legends: I usually don't go in for rumors, but I must admit to having bought this one. I'll never trust you again, Ryan!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Birthday Presents For Myself: I have this tradition that I go through on any holiday that involves presents, such as my birthday or Christmas.

About a month before my birthday, I always tell myself I'm going to give myself a present for my birthday--my first finished screenplay.

Then I grab Viki King's How To Write A Movie In 21 Days and start writing. For maybe three days. Enough for the first draft of the first act. Then I run away screaming like a madman.

So, I'm giving it a shot this year. This year, I've actually followed through on a few things for a while, so I'm hoping this bodes well for my getting what I want for my birthday.

I almost didn't tell anybody about this, but I do recognize the power of reporting results in trying to reach a goal--so you're all going to get to hear all about my little adventures.

Pre-writing starts tonight. Twenty-one days start Monday.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Lyrical Twists: While listening to Dial-a-song, I came across a delightful cover of a song by artist Walt Kelly, from The Pogo Songbook, called "Lines From A Tranquil Brow." Here's the lyric (and a tiny video, if you care):

Have you ever, while pondering the ways of the morn,
Thought to save just a bit, just a drop in the horn?
To pour in the evening, or late afternoon,
Or during the night, when we're shining the Moon?
Have you ever cried out, while counting the snow,
Or watching the tomtit warble "Hello":
"BREAK OUT THE CIGARS! This life is for squirrels
We're off to the drugstore to whistle at girls"

It reminded me of this little ditty Rowlf the Dog used to sing on The Muppet Show:

When the whipperwill is singing in the forest
When the gentle brook is murmuring a tune
When the mockingbirds are singing in the wildwood
When a lonely wolf is howling at the moon
When the leaves of the old oak tree start a rustling
And the waterfall makes sounds like woman's tears
When the whole world is filled with Mother Nature's noises
That's the time to stuff cotton in your ears.