Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'Glee' Lovers (And Writers) Please Get A Clue

I love comic books. I am not ashamed to admit it.So when I attack the people who like the hit FOX show 'Glee' understand it has nothing to do with me mocking people who like things that are weird, different or juvenile, it's more about the way they love it.

I appreciate comic book super heroes because they are the American Mythology. Every great nation has its own mythology, rooted in hundreds, if not thousands of years of history. As a nation we are barely out of our infancy so we don't have ancient heroes to reflect upon. Instead we have Superman, Batman and Spider-Man to worship.
(At least I do.)

But what the hell is wrong with these folks who like 'Glee'? Do they have a screw loose or something? I mean, it's great to see them getting all gung-ho about a show that supports musical performance, but have they visited their local high school lately?
I have. I was a reporter for almost two decades and I covered dozens of schools. Let me tell you, public education is a freakin' war zone. Arts have been gutted, completely decimated by the draconian cuts made to education. If they have a show choir it is completely self-funded. No school money to pay teachers, buy costumes, pay for road trips or support the performers in any way shape or form.
Hell, the cutting is getting so bad many elementary schools have eliminated their annual science fair competitions. Forget show choir.

'Glee' might be fun, and it might conjure up good memories, but the writers of this show clearly have no connection with the world in which they live. And neither do the fans of the show.

With superheroes I know where I stand. They are not real. They will not save the day. I know if I get bitten by a radioactive spider I will likely die of blood poisoning, not develop super human powers.
With 'Glee,' folks think they are getting an inside view of what their local high school students are doing with their free time. And that simply is not the case.
Students today are knuckling down hard to get every bit of scholarship money available to them. Or, they have given up completely on the very notion of going to college at all and have already found a job they working nearly full-time while they inch their way toward graduation.

Get a clue, 'Gleeks.' Your show might be fun but it is hardly an inside look at the state of show choirs in America. It's no more realistic than a super hero comic book. And tragically, it does a disservice to the teachers and students who right now are struggling just to survive another day in the American public education system.

I don't mind suspending disbelief for a good cause. But when I have to suspend disbelief in order to keep the contents of my stomach from spewing forth at my television screen, I have to draw the line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pete Townshend Is Writing A Memoir (As If His Songs Weren't Autobiograpical Enough)

Pete Townshend is writing a memoir. It's due out in 2012. In the meantime I can't help wondering what he has left to tell us that he hasn't already told us in song.

In case you don't know who he is, Pete Townshend is the guy who wrote all the songs for The Who.
You know, The Who. Arguably the world's most influential rock band.
Townshend penned such memorable lyrics as "I hope I die before I get old" "Let my love open the door" and "Teenage wasteland."
He also smashed the hell out of a lot of guitars. I mean a lot. In fact, after every musical performance he would smash his guitar, kick the drum kit and generally bash the hell out of whatever was set-up on stage around him.
Despite his obvious anger management problems Townshend was known for writing from the heart. He wrote angry, bitter, heart felt and heart-wrenching lyrics that touched the souls of people who enjoyed his music halfway around the world.He was a rock musician, sure, but he was a writer first.

He was a bit of a wild man, as were just about all the rockers from his generation. Townshend was no better and certainly no worse. He fought and cursed and spat and much much worse; bedding his share of women (and men, given his admittance that Mick Jagger made him first want to fuck a man) and he threw his angry chip-covered shoulders around a room like a primadonna.
But the fact was, Townshend could write. He could play guitar and he had musical talent, of course, but in the end, in his most primal incarnation, he was a writer. He used his pen to pour out his heart in his songs, airing his dirty laundry on the line he drew across the stage.

This is not to downplay the importance of the other members of his band. Roger Daltry, John Entwistle and Keith Moon formed the group that rocked more stadiums and crowds than any other previous group--by sheer volume if nothing else.
Townshend lost most of his hearing from playing in front of the massive speakers they dragged on stage with them wherever they played. (This fact is disputed by some who say it was likely caused when he was standing too close to Moon's drum kit as it blew up during a failed special effects stunt on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.)

Anyway, next year he is putting out his memoir and some eager fans have already started placing their orders. But not me. If I want to learn something meaningful about Pete Townshend I'll listen to one of his albums. Everything we really need to know about him he has already told us, in song.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Script Writing Ain't Easy No Matter What Chris Baty Tells You

Chris Baty is the guy who started National Novel Writing Month and all its subsequent websites and Twitter accounts and blah, blah, blah.

I say "blah, blah, blah" because while Baty may envision a world where everyone can write a novel in 30 days if they really set their minds to it, he fails to truly credit the creative genius that goes into writing.
I could write a novel in 30 days if I wanted to, but what would I produce? A steaming turd, in all likelihood because the creative processes inside my brain have not finished congealing yet, therefore, I am not ready to finish it yet.
Does that make sense to you? If it does, you are a writer. If it doesn't, if you think all that is keeping me from completing my novel is a lack of effort, then you are a motivational speaker or a salesman who has no idea how the creative process works. You are not a writer.

Has NaNoWriMo produced any Pulitzer Prize winning books? No. Has it made a bunch of people feel that just anyone can write a book and therefore writing can hardly be considered a skill? Yes.

Fresh from his effort to reduce novel writing to little more than sustained sentence production, Baty introduced Script Frenzy.
NaNoWriMo happens in November. Script Frenzy happens in April.
Guess what Script Frenzy is all about? If you said, "making people think writing a script is simply a matter of churning out 100-pages in the proper format" give yourself a cookie.
Movie and television writers are among the least respected writers in the world. They churn out episodes and films every year but go mostly unnoticed. They toil in obscurity while the directors, stars and producers receive both the accolades and the big paychecks. When was the last time you saw a script writer on the Red Carpet? Did you recognize them for their work, or only because of the running caption beneath their photo?

I agree, if you sit down and force yourself to write you can churn out a novel or a script or a poem or a 1000 word treatise on the importance of eating leafy green vegetables, in a month or in whatever time frame you allow yourself. The question I have is, will it be from your heart? Will it be good? Will it be something that you bled; something that crawled weeping and sweating from your brain; burst forth from your loins?  Or will it simply be the product of mass production? And more importantly, which would you rather read?

Novels and scripts do not come from a pen, they come from people. People we call, writers.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The New Testament Is A Fake (And Other Stuff That Will Make Christians Angry)

The oldest profession in the world is not prostitution, it is ghostwriting.

I say this because in ancient times only a select few people could write. If you were a powerful leader, chances are you never took the time to learn to read and write. Instead you worked on whatever it was that made you popular--killing, preaching, converting, whatever.

So, it comes as little surprise to me to hear the New Testament is mostly forgeries written by early Christians to settle theological debate. This is the theory put forth by noted biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman in his new book, "Forged."
I don't understand why this would come as a surprise to anyone who has read the bible. It reads like a movie script. Unless they were writing as they were walking, working, preaching, eating, sleeping--oh, and using some sort of digital recorder to get every word in every quote exactly right--there is simply no way it is original.

I suppose, if you believe in God you could make the argument that He had something to do with the text. That His hand guided their pen, or whatever. The problem I see with that argument is that God likely has more important things to do than choose one religion over any other, and spend any time writing anything down.
He is God. What else do you expect?

Forgery in antiquity was not as big a crime as it is today. People had a lot more common sense back then. They knew a yarn when someone spun one for them, and they could extract the moral without much effort. They didn't need the New Testament to be written by Paul, Mark, Matthew or John in order to understand the message it contained within.

Times have changed. For many people, if the New Testament was not written by the people it claims to have been written by, then it must be rubbish. But I beg to differ.
The Lord of the Rings was a great book. If we discovered tomorrow it had actually been written by Barry Smithson of Waterloo, it remains just as it was before. The only thing that changed was the author. Not the story. Not the words on the page. Not the concept.

So, for true Christians, they shouldn't care who wrote the New Testament, but they will anyway. In fact, they will likely take exception to me comparing their holy text to the Lord of the Rings, too.

As the writer of this post, that's my prerogative. And unlike the New Testament, at least you know who wrote this post.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lack Of Education Disgusts Me But AOL And The Huffington Post Disgusts Me More

So, I am reading a story on The Huffington Post about this 84-year old Kenyan woman who enrolled in the first grade just as soon as the government decided to provide a free elementary education for its citizens. 

The story is amazing, truly inspiring. To think she waited her whole life for something so many of us here in the United States take for granted. I can write, and thank god I can write because it has given me a voice I would not otherwise have.
It saddens and disgusts me to think, with all the things we humans have created we still can't manage to provide a decent education, the most basic tenet of our society, for everyone. I am not suggesting we force people to get an education, but for those who want one, governments should provide it.
Yes, in fact, I believe in unicorns and fairy tales as well.

As I was reading the story I was struck by something else: The Huffington Post is still chugging right along as if all is well. Fresh from the news they have been employing unpaid staffers to provide content for years and gave them nothing after receiving more than $300 million in their sale to AOL.

I used to enjoy reading The Huffington Post until I realized they were using writers as slaves. Ignorant slaves who agreed to work for free, but slaves none the less. I realize there is value in having your written story, your by-line, appear on The Huffington Post. That does not excuse them from taking advantage of people.
AOL is no better. Their Patch online news sites hire hundreds, soon perhaps thousands, of unpaid bloggers, offering them publicity and recognition instead. I tried to buy milk with my "recognition" once. It didn't work out well.
And no matter what you believe, writers are people. It's true. We are not machines which simply churn out millions of words until some of them make coherent sentences. We are living, breathing, thinking creatures who enjoy eating every now and again. Getting paid for the services we provide is the easiest way for us to eat. We could also sell our plasma, but that is just not as fulfilling spiritually.

So, yes, it disgusts me that humans beings in the 21st century still do not have the freedom to be educated, but it also disgusts me that people who should know better still do the wrong thing when it comes to creative talents. Where would The Huffington Post and AOL be without the content providers they do not pay?
They wouldn't be linked in this post, that's for sure.

One other thing--if you are one of those unpaid bloggers, or you are considering it, I suggest you first get your head examined, then go sell some plasma instead. It's less demeaning and far more lucrative in the long run. And you can write while you are doing it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dinosaurs vs Aliens and Other Great Ideas

I remember reading 'Men in Black' comic book (created and written by Lowell Cunningham) when it was a thin black and white comic, printed on the cheapest newsprint, and available only at a select few comic book shops willing to take a chance on a book no one had ever heard of.
But it kicked ass.
I still have my original issues of 'Men in Black' and will likely take them to my grave. Yes, I have seen the movie. Yes, I enjoyed it. No, I don't think it was very true to the comic book at all, but that's ok by me.
Not every comic book needs to be made into a movie. And not every movie based on a comic book needs to be perfect and faithful. Just good. It is only common sense that if you are going to spend millions of dollars on a film it should be decent.
Comic books are fertile territory for screenwriters who can't think for themselves. Much better idea to mine the treasure trove of tales that have been glamorized in four-color comics rather than stay up all night and come up with something original.
Grant Morrison is a great comic book writer who understands the value and importance of plot and character development when you tell a story. Morrison is teaming up with the director of the 'Men in Black', Barry Sonnenfeld for a film project called 'Dominion: Dinosaurs Versus Aliens.'
I could go on at length about what the film is about, but the truth is all anyone knows is it features an alien attack during the reign of the dinosaurs. What else do you need to know?

I count on Morrison to deliver a story that is coherent, exciting and well worth my time, and I count on Sonnenfeld to deliver a quality film based on that story that is also exciting, coherent and well worth my time.

Hopefully, neither of them will let me down.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Young Writers Weigh-In On Killing Osama Bin Laden

When the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, there was a small sector of U.S. society that likely didn't know exactly what to make of the news. The fact there was jubilation, cheering in the streets and around the country for the death of a single man only had meaning to people of a certain age. After all, the attack on the World Trade Center happened a decade ago. Unless you are in junior high school or after, you hadn't even been born. And even for those kids it happened when they were still quite young.
So, what did it mean for them? What do they think of it all? How are they taking the news?

To answer these questions, of course, writers to the rescue.

Vermont based Young Writers Project, posted a list of questions to students in grades K-12 asking them how they felt. Assuming the kids were able to put pen to paper and form coherent sentences, they supplied the answers.
For many young people, the killing of Osama bin Laden marked the end to a cycles of events that began when they were very young, or even before they were born. Comment & Debate presents excerpts from pieces written by students involved with the Young Writers Project and submitted to the project website curated by Geoff Gevalt, executive director and editor of the project. For the full posting of each of these pieces, go to writers -- identified by their usernames for the Young Writers Project website -- responded to the prompt: What are your reactions to this news? How did you feel about news coverage of celebrations at ball games, in the streets, in front of the White House? How did you feel? Does this mean anything to you? Why or why not? Does it affect you? How/when did you find out? What does it mean for the U.S.?

It is not too late to contribute to this project. If you know a student, or if you ARE a student, you can send your submissions here.
I cannot say enough good things about this project. It was smart, it was timely and it gives students, children, a voice. They are sentient beings, after all, and for better or worse they share this world and these times with us. Knowing how they feel, how they perceive what is happening and what has happened has a lot of bearing on the future they will build for us all as they grow up.
Here are a few of my favorite submissions:

Osama bin Laden's death

Osama bin Laden was hated by many people, but a role model for others. The news that he was killed was unexpected. I never thought that anyone would be able to find him, let alone be able to get close enough to shoot him. I'm very happy that he was killed. Now he can't do any more harm to the United States. Someone told me that people chanted "USA" in front of the White House all night long. I personally think that's a little crazy, but I do understand why people are happy and celebrating.
Submitted by Evelyn.C

The Death of Osama bin Laden

I recently found out that the leader of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, has died. My reaction to his death is kind of neutral. It is great that people found a man that caused so many deaths in our nation's history, but I feel that it is wrong to celebrate over someone's death. I don't think that it is right to fly with helicopters to a compound in another country and kill someone in a firefight. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have killed him, but something just doesn't feel right about having parties because someone died.
Submitted by muffins123 

No longer beautiful (no longer alive)

She asks me if I've been on the Internet yet today, asks me if it's been working. I say no, I haven't checked. That's the truth.

I secretly hope that it's not working. I secretly hope that cyberspace has overflowed with life that it will never work again. I secretly hope that all the news reporters got sick and no one was around to care. I secretly hope I could say yes, yes I've been online and yes, I've heard the news. I already know what happened, so please don't tell me again. I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear what people have to say.
Submitted by Magzdoodle

An apology to a murderer and family

It is OK, right?
That they can shoot down a man
Who shot down our men
Who shot down all men
That are sleeping
In beds in a quiet America
That never feels a thing.
I wonder if the blood on the compound walls
Is a shrine?
Do you have a family, my dear?
Or did they disown you for wanting those virgins
Wrapped in Muslim heaven.
My little American head doesn't know what that is called.
Submitted by rebecca_v

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blogging After Death Pays Big Dividends

Apparently there is a trick to being a successful Blogger: Die.
That might be the lesson learned from Derek Miller, a blogger from Burnaby, B.C. who has been blogging about his fight against colorectal cancer the past couple years.
Miller lost that fight last week and his final blog was posted by his friend immediately after. Miller had written the blog post in anticipation of his impending death. He wanted the final word, and he was adamant that his wishes be followed exactly.

"Here it is. I'm dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote—the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive.
If you knew me at all in real life, you probably heard the news already from another source, but however you found out, consider this a confirmation: I was born on June 30, 1969 in Vancouver, Canada, and I died in Burnaby on May 3, 2011, age 41, of complications from stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer. We all knew this was coming."

Miller had been blogging about his experiences dealing with life with cancer and seemingly preparing for the inevitable. Miller is survived by his wife and two young daughters and often expressed his sadness that he cannot be there for them when they need him.

After his death, as word spread across the Internet about his final post, Miller's site was inundated with visits. So inundated, in fact, that the servers couldn't handle the traffic and crashed. It has since been restored, however. Click here.

I wish his Blogging had somehow led to a break thru, a cure, a last minute reprieve from death; something that would have given the story a happy ending. For him, for his wife, for his children. Alas, it does not happen that way in real life.
In real life people die, the nice guy usually finishes last and evil often triumphs over good.
The fact is, if you want a fairy tale ending don't search the world. Head over to the library and grab a good book. Fairy tale endings are compliments of your friendly, neighborhood writer. Real life, well, it just happens.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I Remember "Leave It To Beaver"

I remember the old black and white television series, "Leave It To Beaver." I'll admit it wasn't a favorite of mine, but it was certainly memorable.
The kid's name was "Beaver." Who wouldn't remember that?
I remember his brother's name, Wally. His dad, Ward, and his hot mom, June(ok, she was hot then, in a Betty Crocker kind of way.)
I even remember their neighbor, Eddie Haskell. He was always flirting with their mom which, at the time I thought was weird, but today seems like he was just way ahead of his time.

I just read this interesting little blurb from writer-director Paul Feig. He's the guy who brought us "Freaks and Geeks" which was a pretty decent show and also, like Eddie Haskell, way ahead of its time. Feig goes on at length about how inspired the writing was for "Leave It To Beaver," what a great influence it was on him and his work in Hollywood. He credits the show for creating characters which seem wholly three dimensional instead of the cardboard cutouts we are so used to seeing on television today.
It was great to read Feig laud a show which has really taken a lot of abuse over the years for being overly simplistic. It just really irks me that not once did he mention the name of either of the guys who wrote the dialogue and scripts he was praising. They did HAVE names after all: Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher.
Connelly and Mosher created and wrote "Leave It To Beaver for six seasons, modelling the characters and the way in which they spoke and acted (which Feig credits for inspiring his work on "Freaks and Geeks") on their own children.
Would it have been so hard for Feig to do some research into who wrote the scripts he claims to cherish so much? Connelly and Mosher also wrote "The Munsters" and before their stint on television, "Amos and Andy."
As for that wonderful dialogue that Feig apparently thinks materialized out of thin air, Connelly reportedly followed his children around with a pen and paper, writing down their conversations in order to make the dialogue on "Leave It To Beaver" seem even more realistic.

As a writer I know what it is to work hard on a project. To conceive a project is difficult enough. Being original, fleshing out a story, plotting, creating characters, is hard work, usually with no reward in sight. Not many writers are working on commission. Most of us do what we do as a leap of faith. Maybe someone will read it, maybe it will make us money, but most likely, we're just entertaining ourselves and our inner psyche.
The least someone like Feig could do, when they are going to praise someone's written work, is find out the name of the person who wrote it.
Consider it a professional kindness. Or, as my six year old would say, "call it common sense."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Welcome To The Complaints Department: Please Take A Number And Have A Seat

What surprises me the most is not when someone wants me to write a 1,000 word article for them in an hour for $5. It's when they send it back to me for multiple re-writes then complain because it took me the entire hour.

Writing is easy. Any monkey with a typewriter can churn out words dozens at a time. It's only when we start talking about the need for quality that I become perturbed. Clients want quality articles, well-researched, with 100% original content. No problem. But pay me for it.

This is true of my work as a freelance writer and the nearly two decades I spent as a print reporter. Every organization is the same. The boss can't compose a sentence to save his life and often spells his own name wrong, but you should be able to churn out a 100 page document by lunch time. Tomorrow, you can re-write 'War and Peace' and have it on his desk by 5 p.m.

Unfortunately this is nothing new for writers. Charles Dickens did not develop his eloquent style by sheer force of will or his love of flowery sentences. He was paid by the word, therefore, if he spent an entire page describing a doorknob, all the better for him.

I am curious how it is for you. Have you encountered the same sort of lack of appreciation? How have you dealt with it? How did you react to it? How did you survive it?

Or are you still, a Starved Writer?