(Fear The) Fear The Walking Dead

Hello world.

No preamble today, as time is of the essence.

I don’t like Zombies. I don’t like Zombie movies. I don’t like Zombie books. That’s me. But there are a couple of exceptions. Among the very few is the series “The walking dead“. Continue reading

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Two Faces Of The Same Coin

Welcome back folks,

Hope you’re well on your way to get all your holiday shopping done (cause God knows it ain’t about the holiday anymore…). If you got a minute, I’d like to let you in on a little (not very secretive) secret.

I like the bad guys in books and movies.

I have nothing against a good hero (as have been documented on this blog, more than once… Or twice…), but as likable, capable or strong as the on-screen good guys are, the protagonist is only as good as the antagonist makes him. Want to test this theory? Let’s look at some of the best protagonists:

  • Clarice Starling / Hannibal Lecter – How good is Jodie Foster’s character in this story? You got it. As good as Anthony Hopkins’.
  • We sure loved Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy as opposed by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
  • Dr. Richard Kimble was framed and threatened by some devious men, making his flight and fight far more interesting.

We could run down the imdb database for hours here, but instead I wanted to talk about one “bad guy” in particular. Well, “bad guy” is not really doing him justice. He’d prefer “Outlaw“, or if you insist, a man living truly by his own set of rules.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)

crowder1

(Image credit: http://www.breitbart.com)

I love Raylan Givens’s character. I love Timothy Oliphant’s job as the Marshal. But try to imagine this with a lesser rival than Boyd. Not only is this a match made in TV heaven, a phenomenal casting job. It is first, and foremost a well crafted character.

A villain can be extremely malicious, cruel, even psychotic. He can be a megalomaniac, demonic and a generally nefarious prick. But every once in a while, you find a villain who is not as extreme. In fact, sometimes, the better villain is someone who is just bad enough to oppose our hero but not very far at all.

The reason I love Boyd Crowder as an antagonist (again, with all credit to Walton Goggins) is that when things are said and done, he is Raylan’s childhood friend. He is a lot like Raylan in many ways (least of which is his attitude towards “norms”). He is nothing if not your normal small town Joe. Sure, he’ll go outside of the law to achieve his goals, and do some really bad things in the process. But not only does he truly believe what he does is right (my favorite kind of villain – a villain who thinks he’s not one), he always play right around the line between right and wrong. Is he hurting people? Yes. Is he looking to hurt people? No. Stay out of his way and you’ll be fine.

Put a Hero who’s all of the above, just inside the confines of law, and you have conflict, but with so much room for story development. These guys can interact in ways that others can’t (not believably anyway). You have freedom to explore developments which may put these rivals on the same side of a fight, while putting their own rivalry “on-hold”.

The amount of banter gold (see a few samples below) couldn’t have possibly be written in, unless there was a significant familiarity and shared experience (and shared partners).

Justified – one of my all time favorite TV shows – ended aptly, with these two friends doing what friends do. Sit down for a chat. There was no real need for these two to go out guns a blazing. It was never their weapon of choice anyway. Raylan might be the fastest gunslinger east of the Mississippi and Boyd was an explosive expert, but what they got, they normally did by using their deep well of words.

And on that note, allow me to end this post by sharing some of these words (credit: imdb.com):

Raylan Givens: I’m Raylan Givens!
Boyd Crowder: No, I’m Raylan Givens!
Raylan Givens: Are you trying to be funny?
Boyd Crowder: A little.

Another one:

Raylan Givens: You didn’t happen to bring your rocket launcher, did you?
Boyd Crowder: I didn’t think to pack one.

Another:

Boyd Crowder: Truth always sounds like lies to a sinner.

And another:

Boyd Crowder: Well if my survival is a happy bi-product of my selfless act, so be it.

One last time…

Raylan Givens: Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.
Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.
Raylan Givens: That’s right.

Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.

If you haven’t watched Justified, too bad. Go watch it. Now.

Until next time,


Guest Post – “Writing: Agony Or Ecstasy?” by Christina Ranallo

Happy Monday everyone!

Today, I want to share a motivational post, written by my friend Christina Ranallo of PenPaperWrite. No further preamble necessary. Here it is:

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Raymond Carver said:

“Writing’s not terrible, it’s wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. I’m doing what I most wanted to do all my life. I’m not into the agonies of creation. “

So why is it that so many writers show up at our writer’s groups with pained expressions when they talk about the craft Carver anointed as wonderful, liberating and life fulfilling?

Did they miss something?

Carver makes writing sound like a dream come true but for the majority of new writers the dream is often a nightmare and it looks like this:

“I keep rewriting and rewriting.”

“I don’t know where to start”.

“I never seem to finish anything.”

Then there is the agony masked by logistics:

“I can only write a paragraph a day because I work.”

“I have no place to write.”

“My family doesn’t understand that I want to write.”,

“I have an old computer” and the list goes on.

Raymond Carver’s casual dismissal of suffering for the sake of creation hides a life filled with obstacles that one would argue caused more than mild upsets along the writer’s path to success.

Carver’s life as a writer started out as a teenage father submitting stories for cash to help ally financial difficulties. In his own words from a Paris Review interview (1983):

“Nobody ever asked me to be a writer. But it was tough to stay alive and pay bills and put food on the table and at the same time to think of myself as a writer and to learn to write.”

Carver turned to drinking full-time, abused his wife, cheated on her and finally got sober, and remarried less than two months before his death from cancer at fifty years old.

Doesn’t sound agony free to me.

The point is Raymond Carver saw writing as wonderful. He saw it as liberating and life fulfilling. Take this as a lesson in focus. Facing obstacles in a matter of fact way leaves writing a path all it’s own.

Whatever task it takes to bring your words to the page do it. Whatever excuses stop you from writing, discard them.

If people tell you that you can’t write, ignore them.

At the end of Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral a blind man asks the narrator to close his eyes and draw a cathedral.

In the end all creation comes from the same place; the idea waiting to be born, to see the light. How difficult it is to bring that idea into the world is up to you. Avoid the agony or embrace it, either way it’s up to you, the writer to find the wonder.

It’s worth it. Writing is worth it.

Christina

QUESTION: Is there agony in your creative process?

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Can you answer that question?

If you’re a writer, or want to be one, you would’ve drawn some strength from these wise words 🙂

If you liked this, please make sure you visit www.penpaperwrite.com and see how it can help you (I know it can).

See you soon with a post all of my own.

Jane Austen, Feedback and Sainthood (Among others)

Hello and welcome back folks.

After reading through two posts that correspond to each other, I’m compelled to throw in my 2 cents. I’m not speaking from any kind of authority on writing (or anything else for that matter), and that is an important disclaimer to make, as by the end of this post I’d like the reader to reflect on the essence of writing, the value of feedback and “Sainthood”.

The post that started it all is “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop” by Shannon Reed on BuzzFeed, in which the author presents a fictional person, giving fictional feedback to Jane Austen on “Pride and prejudice“.

Well, there is an inherent flaw with this theoretical post. It is that the author supposes that an individual will give Austen this particular feedback. Can another author propose an entirely different kind of feedback? Would it not serve the post better to pose that opposite kind of feedback as an alternative?

Now, I know that the author simply meant to use this as an example for feedback that is, in fact given to writers these days at workshops around the world, and to be honest, I’ve seen that kind of feedback, among many others in various forums.

On top of this post by Shannon Reed, another post was written. “Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class” by The Incompetent Writer.

In this post, the author elaborates on the types of feedback coming from different groups of people, and proposes a reasoning that could be compared with choosing a programming language. I found the post very interesting and the comparison refreshing. But I still have a couple of things to say on the matter.

Both posts revere Jane Austen’s text. Why should they not? The numbers don’t lie. “Pride and prejudice” doesn’t just stand the test of time. It passes with flying colors and a parade. The same could be said for other masters of the craft. For me, enough cannot be said for Isaac Asimov, or Robert Silverberg.

But let me raise a couple of questions:

Is it possible that, somewhere in this universe, exists a person who dislike Asimov’s writing? I know. Shocking. Could there be someone who dislikes… wait for it… Jane Austen’s?

Another question with your permission – Once a writer finished a novel and published it. Does that make it perfect?

Let us leave these questions open and get back to the workshop.

I guess it really depends on which workshop one attends, and I will replace the word “workshop” with the word “forum” because I suspect we all have a varying definition of what a workshop is. I’ve been to a few, none of which even resembled the experience as described in the two referenced posts.

So, to use a person who I do see as an authority on writing – Stephen King – I think great value can come from feedback. A writer can benefit greatly from other eyeballs reading his text. To follow-up on the comparison to programmingpeer reviews are a very common and positive tool to improve code quality, efficiency and best practice.

Does one have to get that feedback in the form of a workshop? Of course not. Anyway, I think that workshops serve different goals (but that’s another discussion). But feedback should be provided by “other people“. We can call that forums, as it varies between each one of us. Some value the feedback coming from a single individual, others choose a group of people, and so on.

Who can provide feedback? Anyone the writer asks… who’s qualified to give feedback? Anyone the writer asks… Does the provider of said feedback have to be in possession of an academic degree? Does one have to be a successful and prolific writer? Personally I think the answer to both is – no. I know a great many who love Jane Austen without publishing as much as a line of text anywhere.

How should feedback be provided? Well there are two rules in my book:

1. Respectfully. Do not provide feedback on the writer. Provide feedback on the writing.

2. Make it meaningful. “Your work sucks!” is almost as inconsequential as “Your work is great!”.

Other than that, it’s a free country baby.

What do we do with the feedback? This is the real question.

One can listen to the feedback given, smile politely and decide to completely ignore it. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

One can listen and decide based on the feedback, if that makes sense to him/her and make whatever change he/she deems necessary.

Either way, the responsibility is the writer’s and the writer’s only.

So what about Jane Austen and “Pride and prejudice“? My problem with the use of “Saints” is that by making them so, we essentially set an artificial bar of writing. Even in the best books I read, by the best authors both alive and dead, I see things I think should have been done differently. Do I throw the book in disgust? Of course not. But to say that Jane Austen, Stephen King or even William Shakespeare are beyond criticism is not how I see art. Nor would I accept comparisons such as “who’s a better writer?“. To me, good story telling is good story telling. Whether the telling is done by Isaac Asimov or John Grisham. Who I’d rather read is pretty much my artistic taste and it is as subjective as anyone’s.

These 2 cents were not meant to negate the other referenced posts, which I encourage you all to read. I hope that it helped the discussion.

Your feedback will be valued in the form of comments, shares, and likes.

Until next time,

Reality Bites

Hello there fellow web-surfers,

Sometimes I cannot stop the stream of ideas that jump at me every waking moment (and a little during sleep) and sometimes… well, sometimes I can stare at the wall and wonder how uninspiring life can be. Such is this week. A lot happens all over the world that I can certainly write a few words about, but I’ll be damned if I care to. I did actually write THIS, but other than that I find it quite boring to be honest. All the drama around this or that. So much drama.

So, in times like these, In order to keep the writer-ly juices flowing, I sit down and pour a stream of seemingly unconscious words onto the page. Do they always make sense? One can argue they don’t. I’d argue that – besides stimulating the brain – these words can later be used to find inspiration. As everyone who ever told people that they wrote can testify, the most frequent question we get is “How do you get ideas?” Well, this is one of many ways.

Turn the corner when you’re ready, not before, as you’d hit a wall. A brick wall. Made of memories and aspirations. Once you make the turn keep going, full speed ahead to your new destination. No need to declare anything at customs, no need for a passport here. Just go. The next turn you make is when you hit the next wall. Walls are strong but not unbreakable, they’re made of bricks and mortar jammed together like we are. The bricks of memory didn’t ask to be jammed with the bricks of aspirations. The architect must have been drunk. Too high on inspiration, he cobbled up a plan. So if you want to break that wall, You should expect to shatter dreams and decipher pictures instilled in your mind. You may do so, but be prepared for what they mean. Otherwise, turn the corner and keep going, until you’re ready to break a wall. Once it’s broken you’re on your own. You must cross it in order to make a leap into another path, and guess what… you’d hit another one eventually and have to choose again. Turn the corner or break another wall. The bricks don’t care and why should they? after all they’re just ideas, images, thoughts. Only you should care as you’re the one who sees and dreams them. Proceed with caution. Or don’t.

That is all for today. Happy 4th of July America. See you soon.

If you’re so inspired as to like, share or leave a comment, by all means…

Hero under fire

Hello everyone, yes yes, I was away for a moment. Yes, I was busy with my “day job” as well as with work on what is now the fourth draft of my book.

During this time, I allowed myself the occasional stroll down Facebook lane and the corner of Twitter ave, just to check that the universe hasn’t in fact blown away in my absence. Good news everyone! The world is still there. At least to the best of my judgment.

Now, during one of these strolls I stumbled upon a post that was shared in a writers group in Facebook. The title itself caused the predicted knee jerk reaction. You know the one where you just HAVE to comment on the post. But since I have matured somewhat in recent years and learned to count to ten, I bravely fought that instinct and held my tongue until I had the time to… you know… actually read the post.

By the way, the post in question was titled – Eight Reasons Why The Hero’s Journey Sucks (Link at the bottom of the post – please visit and read).

Hence the title.

Since I’m not one to just bash anyone’s opinion I decided to take the time and respond to that post right here, with some depth, rather than whatever thought I could’ve half-assedly compiled in a distracted Facebook comment.

Ok, let’s dive in to a journey, eight points long to see if we can help our hero (Not that our hero is really being attacked, mind you – nor does our hero need my defense):

*Disclaimer: I will do my absolute best to speak to the topic, not at the author (though will make reference to quotes from the author for… well… reference). None of that is meant personally obviously. The writer wanted to spark debate and I’m only too happy to jump in.

  • It’s a formula – Well, no argument here. Since Campbell looked for similarities, it makes perfect sense that at the end somewhat of a formula would evolve. Now it’s easy to take George Lucas as the example and dub the use of this formula “lazy”, though I’d argue with anyone that Star Wars holds some aspects that are nothing short of genius, with depth that rivals any masterpiece both ancient as well as contemporary. Why not take other writers’ adherence to this formula as an example? whether by choice or by default? The simple truth it, it works. It works very well. And really, I can put many things into formulas, including love life, painting, mix martial arts. Which leads me to…
  • It discourages originality – I beg to differ. I don’t call Star Wars mythic because it’s about a hero who’s singled out – as the original post accuses – again, not every story written based on Campbell’s hero’s journey is Star Wars. Some are quite different. Some are considered – with pretty good reason – classics. Some (Lord of the Rings for example) are super original. Moreover, in quite a few of them our hero is definitely NOT singled out. He or she (we’ll get back to that one shortly) might be accidental heroes. Now, we can definitely champion great stories, based on the journey or not (and I have). That in itself does not make the journey suck.
  • Why is one hero so special anyway? – I apologize, but this point I don’t really understand. I read a couple of books in my life and on so many more than one, our hero does not come pre-installed with every skill and good quality known to man… In fact, I like it far better when our hero is just a simple person (just a slob like one of us…). Nowhere in the journey does it prohibit such a hero. So not sure what the complaint is about… Next, the author of the original post asks the following questions – What about a hero who’s the greatest because she decides not to put up with the shit that everybody else is putting up with? Like 1984’s Winston Smith or Fahrenheit 451’s Montag? Yep, they’re way up there on my favorite protagonists list. What about a group of people who decide to work together to change the crappy status quo? Excellent, now I hear that one quite a lot. Here’s what I have to say about a “group”. A group has no personality, nor characteristics. A group is not an organic being. A group is made of more than one individual. So my suggestion is – If you’d like to make a group your hero, in my mind you have two options: Either you focus on the most interesting character who’s part of that group, giving her the fair treatment of a character the reader can get behind, Or – write as many books as there are people in that group, dedicating each book to a member of that group. Here’s my question – who was the hero? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? or “the movement”? I’m by no means saying that the millions of people who rightfully supported Dr. King are any less important. I’m saying, that people rally behind an individual who represents these values we hold dear.
  • The “hero” is always a d00d – Really? Really? That’s because of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey too?… Silly me. Here I thought it’s because society is still mostly chauvinistic. These are concepts. Yes, the goddess can be a dood… It’s up to the writer.
  • It’s cheesy as hell – Well I can’t help you there. What you find cheesy, I may not. Tomay-toes / Tomah-toes and all that. However, new-agey or not, there’s nothing wrong with looking into the soul of our characters (Hold that thought as we will get back to this in the last bullet point).
  • He shoehorned a lot of myths into his theory – Again, I do not see this as a contributing factor for the suckiness of the journey. The fact that Campbell might have not chewed our food for us does not make it suck. As the author says, he consciously looked for similarities only. Which alone can say that there is a lot of room for differences, which in turn might say that the formula is not the limiting cookie cutter the author makes it out to be.
  • It confuses personal growth with solving problems – It does not confuse. It claims that in order for the story to be more than a sequence of “things” happening, and in order for our hero to be more significant and identifiable (i.e. more like a real person) to the reader, the hero should learn something, some things. Does it not make sense that the story would be far more compelling if the person we cheer for is a little more than a device? Even when the solution to a problem is – as the author says – “fighting like hell and doing what has to be done, and there’s no time to meet the goddess or touch your magic wand or any of that stuff“, wouldn’t the hero need to know when to fight? Wouldn’t the hero need an ally? or allies? Wouldn’t the hero (since we don’t want an Ender Wiggin type chosen one hero) need to learn anything before going into a fight? and would it make any sense at all to the reader if that hero wins the fight (which should be a significant one) with zero development? and most importantly, if we don’t look at that new-agy, physiological “stuff” and reveal to the reader some things about the make up of our hero, background, past experiences, state of mind etc. would the reader care to follow her into battle? I think not.

Bottom line: Yep. If one thinks about the hero’s journey as a manual, takes every word literally, ignores the importance of building a character who evolves during the story, focuses on the less stellar examples of the use of the hero’s journey and forgets that at the end of the day it’s up to the writer to write the story then yeah, the hero’s journey sucks. Only it doesn’t.

HERE is the LINK for the original post.

Comments, like, shares, they’re all welcome of course.

And until next time,

State of the union – January 21, 2015

Welcome all, Republicans, Democrats, others. I don’t really subscribe to this divide, but you’re all welcome on this here blog.

You might have notice a “slight” slowing down here in recent weeks and I just wanted to update you on the current state of affairs. I promise that on this SOTU, you will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me god.

So what have I been up to?

Well, first and foremost, as advertised – I’m busy with the re-write of my finished first draft. In case you were wondering, This is not the process of crossing all my T’s and dotting all my I’s. What this process involve is another review of my objectives, the character’s development, the plot. I want to make sure there are no gaping plot holes, ensure that the story is actually told as promised, my main character go through the full transformation, that the other characters play a role that justifies their existence in my tale.

As you can see, it’s call re-write because the probability of having to re-write some of what I already did in the first draft is about a 100%.

I’m done with about 60% of the text, so pretty satisfied with my progress here, and at the same time, that means I’m really engaged in this process – which comes to explain the main reason for the relative slowness of updates on my blog.

Before taking on this laborious task, I gave myself a month to let the first draft sit. In the meanwhile I binge-watched the second season of “The Americans” (Fantastic season, better than the first) and the mini-series “The honorable woman” (great series! Wish I saw it before I started this book). I finished reading Tad Williams’ “Sleeping late on judgment day” which is the final installment of the Bobby Dollar trilogy. I can’t say enough about Tad Williams. The greatest living fantasy/Sci-Fi writer I know. I also started Ursula Le-Guin’s “The Dispossessed” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451“, both of which I’m finding immensely satisfying reads. So there. Some R&R before renewing efforts on my project.

Another thing that happened, and happens, is obviously life. Not whining here, as my problems are of the infamous 1st world ones. Work, family etc. Suffice to say that one should always consider too much work as preferable to the alternative, and family? well, that was a conscious choice wasn’t it? 🙂

Other than that, as is dictated by the Murphy set of laws, of course that while I’m excited about working to finalize my book, new ides keep popping up in my head. The danger here is clear and imminent. Distraction. So for now, I am writing these down and focusing on the tasks at hand.

This book WILL see the light of day in 2015. I hope that this will happen well inside Q1.

In the meanwhile, thanks for stopping by again. I will not neglect this outlet and you can surely expect to find some cool stuff in the coming weeks.

Until next time, feel free to leave comments, questions or request down here and I will see you soon!