Friday, July 15, 2011

Getting Irked By A Master

Status: Groggy But Happy

What's playing on the iPhone: I GET IT by Chevelle

I can't remember the last time I read a book that both annoyed the living crap out of me and kept me riveted at the same time. Until today.

And what book, you may ask, could evoke such two polar opposite reactions from someone normally inclined to love an author they consider both a master and a mentor from afar? (that would be Stephen Frickin' King, one of my all time favorites)


First off, it was awesome. I'd recommend it to anyone. HOWEVER, and this is a big fat however, it downright irked me, had me clenching my jaws and rolling my eyes, not the story mind you, that was just about flawless, but something the author did.

If there’s one rule I’ve learned—well, I’ve learned hundreds—but in the top three, one of the most crucial qualities of any good story is that the reader MUST be able to suspend belief in reality and that can’t happen if the AUTHOR keeps flinging out political zingers. It’s jarring, annoying, and it takes me right out of my reading zone. Granted, Stephen King is one of the few authors who can wield the omniscient pov with dazzling proficiency, but the danger is that connection between character and reader can be broken, especially if ideology trumps story. Blech!

Whether I agree, disagree, or am indifferent to the author’s ideology, if it detracts from the story, even if only to illicit a ‘hell yeah’, a few layers of illusion are swiped away. Don’t get me wrong, I love rooting for a character, but note my use of ‘character’, not author. Even as I write this I could play devil’s advocate with myself; some authors get off on pushing their point of view across, might even say that it adds flavor to a story and some readers might dig that, just not this reader. It always comes down to the story, and as a writer, I want a fifteen year old hipster saying that was bad-ass, and I want a seventy-two year old Greek Grandmother saying, ‘that was bad-ass’. Is it possible? Of course it is. Just got to find the right story. Which I aim to do.

Numerous times. Mwa ha ha ha ha.

My point is this: If I didn't love Stephen King so much I probably would have dropped that book. I was offended. Not by the ideology, to that i say whatever blows your hair back, but to the method in which it was employed... one-sided, without giving creedance to an opposing viewpoint. Maybe it's the Libra in my first four houses, but a flag goes up when I see that and... I got miffed. And if I did, I bet you a bunch of other readers did too. Unless you're trying to alienate a block of readers, at least be evenhanded. That's my take.

Steve out.

P.S. Despite saying all that, I still must say… UNDER THE DOME was bad-ass.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Soul Tank--A Writer's Best Friend

Status: Bleary-eyed but chugging

What's playing on the iPod: THROUGH GLASS by Stone Sour

Everybody has a soul tank.

At the present, mine is brimming like a mug of dark roast coffee with no room for cream. The question I'm sure you're asking is: What the heck is a soul tank? And why should I give a rat's furry butt?

Easy enough. Allow me to begin by offering an example. Today I got some bad news, bordering on tragic. I won't bore you with the details, but instead of looking for my handy tanto (Japanese shortsword) to commit seppaku with, I did what I always do when I'm emotional. I wrote. Not only did I write, but I wrote sixteen pages of nearly flawless brilliance, quite the contrast from the clump of gerbil niblets I pumped out yesterday. The trick was simple--the settings of my soul tank.

The soul tank is a crossroads of the heart and mind, the vessel within us where we take that volatile, flammable and concentrated emotion and convert it. The question is...convert it into what?

Most people's soul tanks are set to default. Some shop, some eat, and some sing, while others spontaneously combust taking as many people with them as they can. It could be used to catapault the Space Shuttle into orbit, neglected and allowed to dissipate, or abused to leave a Nagasaki-sized crater in our souls and beyond. I myself am a big fan of the exosphere so my settings are on growth, learning, and of course creation via my own writing.

Some of the most touching songs I've ever heard were written by artists mortally wounded by heartbreak or by the elation of true love that transcends the normal spectrum of experience.

I sure hope I'm not sounding preachy, it's just a little visual I came up with to help keep me all woo-sah when the need arises. I figured that if everybody did a little rummaging within themselves, found the dials and set them to what they wanted them to be, the world would be less fugeize. And that's always a good thing, right?

What are your settings?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Demons--Part II

Status: Movin' and Groovin'


I know, I suck, it's been a while, but I got into a little tiff with Mr. Murphy (of Murphy's infamous law). Fortunately I pursuaded him to go elsewhere so without further ado, allow me to finish my little dance with terror.

I get a phone call, about six, seven weeks out from Christmas. It's Jen. There's only one reason why she would be calling me on this date. The play. Dun dun dun dunnn. Immediately dread sinks in. I answer with the greatest of trepidation but I feign enthusiasm. "Hey, how's it goin'? How's life...?" Happy, chipper, go-lucky Jen is down and ready to resume play terror. With the guh-reatest of reluctance, shaking my head, gritting my teeth and clenching my fist I say, "Deal me in." Inside I was thinking, God, this one's for you. I did NOT want to do this play. Play=Terror.

I had no idea we'd be rehearsing three times a week. I work full time in CT, live in Queens, am presently finishing up novel number two, and dealing with the usual tornado of life, long story short, resentment festered. And I'm not an actor! The furthest thing from it, remember, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 9 and a half was my dread for the thing....I didn't want to do this play! I was busy. I might have even threw a mini-temper tantrum or two trying to make this work, who knows?

Something happens though when you rehearse something a ka-billion times--you actually learn your lines, even as many as I had. As the date neared, the dread did not dissipate, but for the first time I thought to myself, "We just might pull this off." Not only that, but Jen is a gifted director. Of course, my experience with any directors is nil so what do I know? Yet nevertheless, I found myself...releasing. Getting into character. Sure helped having a great co-star, too, Jean-san rocks.

And then the day was upon us. Our church meets in a highschool auditorium every sunday so there were the proper accoutrements of sound, two giant screens, (which the disciple Luke would be referring to with his cosmic remote control) stadium seating and media. I'm told it was the largest crowd we've ever had with the exception of Christmas and Easter services.

Of course.

I'd purposefully invited NOBODY, but word got out anyway and there was my family, friends, even two of my friends from work, both of which were not even remotely Christian, in fact one is a proud aetheist, but they came anyway. God bless'em. And dammit.

As I sat in the dark, by myself, lines evaporating in my mind as I tried to conjure them, I detached, like any good writer, and gave myself a good once-over. "Well, here's a fine situation you've gotten yourself into," I thought. "Bet you didn't have this on your things to do this year." This modern rendition of scrooge was all me for the first ten minutes, I'd be rocking out to AC/DC, berating my intern and sound booth, fielding pre-recorded phone calls from listeners (I'm a jaded DJ) and then have to pretend they were real, and then have to deal with angelic disciples in the form of the great Jean-san...craziness I tell you--terror inducing.

And then HIGHWAY TO HELL blared on the speakers, the spotlight blinded me and it Death itself couldn't have tempted me to look at my audience. I just did it like we'd rehearsed a thousand times. Jen had told me that when it came down to it, we'd rock, that everything would come together. Of course Mr. Murphy wasn't done with me quiiiiite yet. Evidently, he's not a fan of sloppy backhands. See, in the middle of the second act, an evil thought whispered through my brain as I listened to Luke tell me how it was. The thought? "You're fly is down."

Evil I tell you. For just the briefest of moments I broke my concentration and verified in tsunami-grade relief that my fly was NOT down, but instead of saying the lines I was supposed to, I said the conclusion lines of the third act. Result? Play ends in the middle of the second act. Awkward silence. Knowledge of mistake. Ensuing terror. But we winged it. Jean points his cosmic remote control to the left, the lights go down as the prerecorded version of Mary from last year (Sahani, you rock too) showed, Jean leans in to me and whispers, "I think you said the wrong lines," and I'm like, "Yup. I sure did. Just roll with it, we're going to keep going as if it never happened." With a suppressed smile he was like, "Okay," and we did it.

When it was done, I went out the back and hid in a corner, repeatedly gonging my head against the wall for being so stupid. HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN MY LINES? I felt humiliated, dumb, embarrassed, and I stayed hidden backstage for a good twenty minutes which was a looooooong time considering the circumstances. Finally, I ventured out and took my seat, but instead of the rest of the cast being there, there were only empty seats, as if to say, "Yeah, you suck, sit by yourself in the front seat of SHAME." Which I did. Feeling about the size of a stag beetle. And then a tap on my shoulder. My head sank. Last thing I wanted was some person blowing a load of sunshine my way, telling me I did a good job when I knew I'd screwed up and that I sucked and that I was going to be scarred forever because it was being recorded and was going to be posted on a podcast for everybody to see for the rest of my life to laugh at me. Yay.

"Are you an actor?" these two girls ask me (I forget her name but I think I've known her for years but haven't admitted it yet cause I'm not sure) And I'm like, "Fu*k no!" (I didn't actually say that, it was church after all) and then the craziest, coolest thing that could have happened...happened. She looks at me and whispers. "My God, natural talent; you were amazing."

Amazing? The girl next to her nodded and was looking at me like I had seventeen extra eyeballs. "Really?" I ask. Dare I hope? There was nothing contrived about the looks in their eyes. When the sermon was over I was bombarded with accolades and baffled looks. I got a lot of, "I thought you were a novelist," remarks and then I got the biggest high five and hug from Jen (she was the one I'd been afraid to face the most) "You hit it out of the park! Oh my God that was great!" Even my best friend was looking at me in a way I've never seen before but then...irony struck.

This whole time I'd decided I never wanted to see it. Ever. But in light of the reaction, maybe it would be worth checking out. Maybe. Who knew? One problem, though. Nobody ever hit the record button on the camera.

Nobody else would ever see it, including me. Just like I wanted.

Funny, no?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Demons--Part I

Status: Intrepid

What's playing on the iPhone? YOUR NECK by Alkaline Trio

I am not an actor. I've never wanted to be one, the very thought of it puckers my stomach and on a scale of 1-10 I'd estimate my aversion to acting a nice solid 9. Maybe even 9.2. Stage terror.

It's ironic, I'm a very social person, i think if nobody was ever actually going to see me act, I'd be great. If it wasn't for those pesky audiences. Anywho, I find nothing pleasant about the squadrons of butterflies armed with sidewinder missiles that bombard my innards right before having to perform, or give a talk, or...act. We hates it prrr-ecious!

So, you can imagine my initial alarm when a friend of mine approached me about a church play she was writing. I immediately looked at her and criss-crossed my index fingers to ward off any attempts to recruit me to acting, but no fear, she simply wanted my opinion on the writing aspect of it. Now that's a different story. Of course I know nothing of stage writing, or do they call that playwriting? Either way, I write novels, which is a completely different animal, but hey, why not?

Famous last words.

As it turns out, the MAIN character of my friend's play abruptly had to go to another country (China, I think) for work. When Jen told me, I was like, 'that's terrible, what are you going to do?' I thought my uninvolvement was self evident but....guess who she asked? And I was like, 'no way, not in a hundred quadrillion years'. And that's final.

Or so I thought. Evidently Jen can talk a rabid wolverine into having tea with a grumpy rhinocer0s with hemorrhoids. I told her that ONLY after she asked everybody in the whole universe FIRST that I would even consider it....

Think she found anybody? You so smaht. Of course she didn't, plus she was like, 'you're perfect for the role' and 'you know all the lines'. Barfballs. So with EXTREME trepidation I agreed. Kicking and screaming.

It's an epic story, but I'll be succinct. We rehearsed a lot. To my considerable dismay, not only was I the lead but I had a lot of lines. Like a hundred and twenty! I had to remember all of them! And anybody who knows me knows that that my not my biggest strength. What in God's good name did I get myself into??

True, I grew as a person. And got to make two new dear friends (Jean! Jen!) but it didn't change the fact that I still didn't want to do that play. It was going to be a fiasco, I was certain of it. I just wasn't ready. I KNEW I wasn't ready, and I was the lead and I was going to bomb and I wasn't looking forward to it. At all.

But, hark! Divine intervention--A SNOWSTORM!!! The play was cancelled. For me it was beams of play! No terror! Of course, I didn't dare admit to my friends but I was so gloriously happy that went outside and did snowangels.

As an afterthought, (I should have kept my trap shut) I said, 'maybe next year'. And then I forget about the whole thing. Until November 26th....