Friday, August 31, 2012

Vampires vs Superheroes

According to Pop Culture, the two most important and rewarding career paths open to young people today are “Comic Book Superhero” and “Vampire.”

During this Back-to-School period, when so many of our young people are thinking about their futures and weighing the options open to them, I felt it would be appropriate to compare and contrast the these popular choices.

You're welcome.

Comic Book Superheroes
“Do-gooder” “Blood-sucker”
Wardrobe palette: primary colors Wardrobe palette: black
Flies around helping people Flies around eating people
Limited to two dimensions Limited to nighttime
Motivation: early childhood trauma leading to a life of vigilantism Motivation: hunger
Known associates: police, elderly servants and/or relatives, sexually confused youth Known associates: other vampires, werewolves, Anna Paquin
Main antagonist: brilliant-but-insane super-villain bent on world domination/destruction Main antagonist: the sun
Primary Assistant: sidekick Primary Assistant: minion
Common Habitats: secret lairs, telephone booths, Halls of Justice Common Habitats: graveyards, mausoleums, sexy goth night clubs
Affinity for long, dramatic capes: Yes Affinity for long, dramatic capes: Yes
Ability to wear spandex in public without embarrassment Year-round leather
Potential sex appeal as a Halloween costume: 7 Potential sex appeal as a Halloween costume: 10
View from the Whedonverse:
The Avengers
View from the Whedonverse:  
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Best Genre Flick Featuring Rutger Hauer: Batman Begins Best Genre Flick Featuring Rutger Hauer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
MPAA warning: Violence, Language MPAA warning: Violence, Language, Nudity, Sexual Situations

Today's lesson: Netflix owns my brain.

Next: Posting will be sketchy for the next week or so, as I'll be in ABQ, NM attempting to eat my weight in green chile. (Any Blake's fans out there?)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vampire Hunting In Storyville

Once upon a time, when I still did stupid stuff like that, I took a “Vampire Tour” through the New Orleans French Quarter.

In recent years, ghost, vampire, and other such “themed” historical tours have become tourist trap “must haves.” This was a while ago, though, when both the concept and I were much younger.

For this walking tour, I wore – as one naturally would – head-to-toe 1970s disco-wear, complete with platform shoes. I also invited my brother, Fino Chevere, as every responsible elder sibling does when going on a glorified pub crawl.

We met our guide on the corner of Burgundy and Something Else Streets sometime after dark. The only reason I remember that much is because said guide – a confused and charisma-challenged young man – pronounced it “Burr-gundy.” “Oh good,” I remember thinking, “He's a local.”

Storytelling is an art. A gifted storyteller leads you, transfixed and transported, through his story.

Unfortunately, this was not that guy. Our guide managed to make telling sexy and/or gruesome ghost stories at night in the midst of the French Quarter feel like a 4th grade social studies lecture on the chief imports and exports of Brussels.*

And did I mention it was raining?

Fortunately, the real mission of these tours is not to tell vampire stories, but to drive your tourist dollar into bars off the beaten path who have contracted with your tour company to do just that. So, ultimately, it worked out well for all concerned. 

In one of these bars, we met the now-departed Ruthie the Duck Girl, but sadly, not her duck. When asked, she informed us that it was “too wet” out... for a duck. Which made our soggy lot feel very clever, indeed...

At one point, the guide led the ever-dwindling group down to the bank of the Mississippi River. I guess we were looking a little the worse for wear at this point. On our shuffling death march toward the water, we passed a couple of locals passing a bottle. We overheard one ask the other “Who are they?” and his friend reply, “I dunno, but if they all jump in, I'm going in after them.” I still think that was awfully goodhearted of the fella.

At some point in the tour, our guide gave up even trying to tell stories – that point being long after we'd all stopped listening – and quietly accepted his new role as babysitter of a bunch of tipsy idiots. He hustled this small, tight-and-I-do-mean-tight knot of hardcore remainders from bar to bar for a while longer, before dumping us unceremoniously in front of St. Louis Cathedral. Or I think he did... It's also possible that Fino and I got bored and wandered off when he started talking about Blue Dog.

What, you may well ask, is the point of the above story?

It happened around 1995, ten years before Hurricane Katrina became New Orleans' primary narrative. Even then, the city had been host to enough scenes of violence, disaster, and tragedy to fill a long, storied night. It also has a long history of storytellers – writers, musicians, and other artists –  acting both as witnesses to and curators of these events.

It's true that the New Orleans I knew and loved no longer exists outside of the stories I have to tell, but more or less drastically, that ends up being true of all places from our past. No place and no person is exempt from the progress of time and change will happen both for good and for ill. Chapters end, but the story goes on. 

Today's lesson: No lesson. Just a ghost story.

Next: Vampire vs. Superhero

*Not brussel sprouts

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Worst Novel Ever Written

by Michele Feltman Strider

After my first book Homecoming: A Novella was published, I wrote a second one.

Nope. Not Hometown. That's actually number three.

My second book is an untitled novel that will never see the light of day.

It was set in Miami and featured an heiress/socialite named Rachel.

And, dear lord, is it awful.

The first problem was the characters. There was:
  • Madeline, Rachel's mother, a flighty, spoiled widow with a mysterious past...
  • Alexander, a handsome, older, Eastern European businessman with a mysterious past...
  • Ian, the charming British advertising wizard with a mysterious past...
  • And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

There were at least six major characters, all with mysterious pasts. I'm telling you, Agatha Christie would have loved these people – but she'd have been the only one.

The settings were all ultra-fabulous: chic Miami art galleries, glamorous clubs in South Beach, a stunning wooden yacht on Biscayne Bay... There was even a whirlwind trip to Paris to go lingerie shopping.

And let's not even get into the sex scenes. Really. Let's just don't.

Halfway through reading it, my most respected and cherished editor said, as lovingly as possible, “I'm not really sure why I'm reading this.”

Which was a valid question. I wasn't really sure why I'd written it... or why it turned out so badly.

Some sections are decent, I think. I've even culled a good monologue or two from it. The book as a whole, though – disastrous.

And that's OK.

Since then I've spent time with it, analyzing why it doesn't work, and that exercise has served me well. So did failing.

Too often we stifle ourselves with the blanket question “What if I screw up?”

Chances are good that you will, the first time... and maybe the second, third, fourth, and eighty-ninth times, too. Everyone does. The popularity of pencil erasers, liquid paper, and the delete key are evidence of that fact.

As for my truly awful second novel, though no one else will ever, ever lay eyes on it, I've decided to keep it on my backup drive, so I can revisit it from time to time. Like a child's height chart on the kitchen wall, looking back on it will show me how much I've grown.

Reward doesn't come without risk and every failure is an opportunity for growth. Backsliding only means you have work to do to catch up and falling down just gives you a chance to try again. The steeper the mountains you climb, the more rewarding the view from the summit. 

Today's lesson: I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down. (Enjoy the earworm...)

Next: Depends on what I run across on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Writer Prepares

When corresponding with my legions of adoring fans,* the question I am most often asked is: “How do you write your books?”

OK, the actual #1 email question I get is: “Will you help a deposed Nigerian prince with a complicated international cash transfer?” But for the sake of this blog post, let's go with the other one.

The most truthful and complete answer is: I dunno.

If that's not long-winded and self-serving enough, allow me to go into more detail.

As many of you know, I dedicated my misspent youth to stage acting. Why? I guess I couldn't think of anything less germane** to our modern society.  I seemed to think I was an actor – if by “actor” one means “attention-seeking neurotic with a dubious grasp of reality.” As you are also aware, the chief occupation of actors is attending classes. Thus my B.A. in Theatre...***

In my short academic career, I attended a reasonable number of English Literature classes and feel that they, undoubtedly, made me a more sophisticated reader. They introduced me to the depth and breadth of literature already in existence and gave me the tools to better appreciate it. By and large, though, these classes taught me little about how to create new literature of my own.

For that, I had to go to the Theatre Department.

In a Literature class, written works are viewed as the final product of the author's artistic process. Each is self-contained and final – a closed system, a completed statement. 

In the Theatre – whether you're an actor, director, or designer – literature is the inspiration for the artistic process. Written works are treated as dynamic, open to investigation and interpretation. It was this “living” treatment of literature that taught me how to actually tell my own stories. Below is just some of what I learned:
  • Conflict is not optional. Neither is research.
  • The piece should have an overarching theme/concept. (which might or might not be apparent to the author before the story is complete.)
  • Each work inhabits a fictional universe, with it's own inviolate rules which must be established for the audience.
  • Each character needs an ultimate goal or “through-line” to motivate them through the piece.
  • In every scene you write, each character needs to have a desired outcome and should use varying tactics to achieve that goal.
  • The goals and tactics assigned to a character in any given situation must support that character's through-line.
  • Characters' goals, tactics, and through-lines need to be supported by the text and your research, and cannot violate the rules of the fictional universe.
  • All of the above must be interesting to your audience.
The process by which I create a character on paper is very similar to how an actor prepares for a role. In writing and populating a novel-length story, I liken my role more to that of a director. Like a director, I also rely on a crew of editors, proof-readers, etc. for valuable technical assistance.

I also depend on my audience, for your suspension of disbelief and – most importantly – your willingness to be witness to the stories I tell. My thanks to you all. I'm not just being glib when I say that I literally couldn't do it without you. (Pun semi-intended)

Today's lesson: There is only one way to know if I've achieved any of the above. Read Homecoming and Hometown. (And write a review, holding me to the above standards, if you're so inspired.) 

Next: Something less self-serving. (Yeah... prolly not...)

*Hi Mom.

**Until I decided to write literary fiction, that is. And have I mentioned my stint in public radio? Next career move: Learn VCR repair.

***Suitable for framing or for folding into a harisen for slapping one's self in the head while reading this: The 20 Best- and Worst-Paid College Majors (My thanks to Zonbi_Kira  for introducing me to harisen!)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kickin' It On the Six-Six

As you may know from my obsessive need to “Check in” on Facebook, I spent last week on a road trip to, of all places, Gallup, New Mexico.

What?!? You've never holidayed in Gallup?

Actually, Gallup is a lovely area. Someone should consider building a town there.

Gallup is located on historic Route 66. I mean, right alongside it. It's the town's main thoroughfare. If you're looking for a gas station, drive-in/thru burger joint, or “real” Indian jewelry, boy howdy, do I have the place for you.

Americana: I have now officially cruised Route 66 on a Saturday night in a Ford while listening to Bill Haley. I could not have felt more American if I myself had been “made in Detroit.” Oh, wait...

If you should ever find yourself in Gallup for longer than it takes to fill up at the gas station, allow me to recommend Virgie's Restaurant. Do not be put off by the adult bookstore next door. This slightly sketchy-looking restaurant serves family friendly New Mexican home-cooking and does not have a functioning website. What's not to love?

An open apology to Camille's Sidewalk Cafe in Gallup: I now realize that the food fight was ill-advised. My apologies and I hope you were able to get all of the salsa off the wall.

We also took a quick detour over to Albuquerque to visit Fino Chevere, owner of the best stocked liquor cabinet in New Mexico. Thanks again for the hospitality, little brother, – or, at least, what I remember of it.

To the waitress with the pink-trimmed panties at The Library in Albuquerque: We were amused. Thank you.

Fun Fact: It is possible to drive from Albuquerque, NM to Albany, CA in one day, if you miss your cats enough.

That being said, I do not recommend trying this stunt on a Sunday night, when half of the earth's population is also trying to go north on I-5*... with multiple lane closures... and Pea Soup Andersen's is closed for the night... Boo!

Though there is no reason you ever would be, if you're ever in the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas,** try the posole. Really.

Today's lesson: With road trips, as in life, it's the journey not the destination that matters.

Next: That bit about my writing process that I threatened last time.

*I-5 = smelliest Interstate in the U.S. The feed lot... oh, dear god, the feed lot...

*≠ Las Vegas