Saturday, March 31, 2007

Productive Procastrination

Some things I did instead of cramming for 4 hours, as I originally intended:

+ Had trouble getting out of bed. . .1 or 2 hours

+ Caught up on our TiVo programs, like The Riches and Blood Ties. . .2 hours

+ Continued the development of my short story. . .1 hour

+ Combing through Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching and Plato's Republic for the quote: 'A true leader doesn't by nature seek his own advantage but those of his subjects'. . .3 or 4 hours

And now I plan to halfheartedly cram while watching a movie. Hope I have better luck tomorrow. . ..

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Netiquette Opinion Poll

If someone sends a personal (not business) invite, a link or a file to multiple people -- especially when they could have set up a mailing list for regular e-mails of this type or used Evite -- does a recipient have a "right" to e-mail back to everyone on the list or should they default to just responding to the original sender?

Check Out Kargadan

Budding new blog hosted by the Chicago Speculative Fiction [or Sci-Fi] Group:

Kargadan


It has some interesting bits of information.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yet Another Confession

Dear Readers,

I need to confess something. Studying for this insurance license has kept me busy, but it hasn't taken up the majority of my time away from you. No. I've spent the majority of the time after work writing.

I've focused most of my energies on writing my story about the once difficult angsty high school story. It has sucked me in and become something of an obsession. It takes me away from you and stops me from wanting to write here. It gives me the joy I need. The passion that keeps me going.

I'm sorry, but you just compare to the power this story has over me. Can you understand? Can you wait for me? Can you expect less of me? Will you still come back? Will you continue to like me? Oh. . .

Maybe it needs to be this way. Maybe you will need to move on with your life and find new horizons. Maybe I can't give you what you need. Maybe it was never meant to be.

Please remember one thing, though. I will come back here. I will write more often someday. Things will work out for me. I'll find balance and learn how to make time for my writing and you. Maybe we can meet here sometime in the future. I don't know when, but maybe it can happen. We will have to let Fate decide the course of things. I don't think we'll have any other choice.

But will you remember me? Will you remember this special place? This place where our passions, our joys and our curiosities can meet together and co-mingle. Or will it disappear from your memory and have no more meaning?

I truly wish you would, but I have no choice in the matter. This story must get down. It must get published. It must be told.

But please. . .remember me. Please come back here every once in awhile with the chance for us to meet again. I can't say when it will happen, but it will happen. Please come back.

With love,
The_Lex

Sunday, March 25, 2007

BUSY!!!!!!

Yeah, this whole hiatus has been occurring because I have gotten very busy. Hopefully it will pass after I take the health and life insurance licensing test sometime soon. Cross our fingers!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Starting a Writer's Life?

I have had one long week. Didn't get to bed before 11 PM and averaged a bed time of 12:30 AM. In summary, my time management skills had taken a vacation, and I wanted to do too many things every individual day.

Work has really become a damper to my day, too, especially since it requires me to study for a licensing test at the beginning of April. In addition, I have to deal with a lot of frustrated customers during the day and figure out the intracacies of companies we represent and the laws they don't mention in the industry source book. Combine those two without any real culture of mentorship nor the time for training, and I often feel stranded in the middle of a room without any gravity.

On the flipside, I have had a lot of writing activity this past week. To start, I attended the Chicago Writing Meetup workshop Thursday night, plan on attending a more spontaneous one tonight with the fiancee and a friend then on this upcoming Tuesday, the second Chicago-SF workshop happens.

A mash up of forum/e-mail messages I've made about the Thursday night workshop:

I just received an agenda for the next Writer's Meetup. It looks like they've dedicated about a half hour to each piece. I haven't done that much research into the organization of the group (how they distribute pieces, the culture and so forth), so I don't really know what goes into that half hour.

My report back:

Setting a limit to each piece isn't productive.


Forum thread 2:

Just another observation from the Chicago Writer's Meetup Workshop I attended last night: At least two people (10 or 11 attended) mentioned that that group doesn't work the best for workshopping novels. Apparently has to do with the incosistent attendance of individual members.

Their main problem had to do with, say, they wanted to critique the middle of their novel, they would have to provide a synopsis of the important things that happened up to that point, which could be onerous. I would guess the same thing would have to apply if they were submitting the novel, chapter by chapter, then a new member or more started coming. The new member would need the background to provide a satisfactory critique.


Oherwise, the Thursday night workshop provided me with some amount of culture/age shock. I haven't workshopped with non-age peers before. Most of them obviously didn't fit into my age group, a majority of them having lived 10 or 15 years more than me. At most, three or four of them fit within a 10-year range, up and down, from me that I could tell easily.

Not having a full impression of the group's culture or organization, I still spoke out and didn't face any repercussions or anything except for the usual sense of ego bruising all around for such a large group. Did I forget to mention? 10 or 11 people showed up, and we critiqued 4 pieces. In the end, though, no serious ego bruising, arguments or anything like that. I just formed my (probably wrong) bad impression of at least one person and surprisingly got along well with a person whose piece I found relatively well written but not compelling to me.

As I've mentioned in the past, writing workshops have always proved tricky atmospheres, especially when relative strangers or distant acqauintences fill the ranks. Also, exposure and favoritism to different genres by workshop participants can make things a little more difficult, too, because it take them awhile to start tolerating a new genre then even a little longer to learn how to read and critique such a strange new form.

I don't know how much of my work I'll submit for critique with this group. As I mentioned about genre, a lot of the pieces written for this last meeting fit into the realism/naturalistic genre with a heavy amount of expository character meditations, whether through fantasy or flashback. One guy there talked about his thriller/adventure novels that he published, but I haven't seen anything he's written and have somewhat of a bad impression of him. I wish I had a better way to describe the category that most of the submitters wrote, but they didn't really fit sci-fi/fantasy/thriller/adventure, the type of stuff I usually write. Maybe mainstream attempts at middle to high literature?

Honestly, I wish I had an easier time getting into that type of stuff. Back after getting our school, when I had more time to read, I made a point to switch off between speculative fiction and more realistic fiction. It actually felt unnatural, but I felt too pigeonholed sticking with spec fiction, especially since the "mainstream culture" doesn't necessarily "get it." I wanted to "get" the realistic stuff so as to understand my potential audience more. And at that time, I wanted more understanding of it to find more acceptance in it, too.

I still would like to work on "getting" the mainstream realistic stuff, so I'll continue attending this workshop. My criticism might help someone, and maybe I'll learn to get it more by working with these people.

Having all these workshops to attend also feels like I've gotten a lot more involved in the writer's life. The job that I don't so much like has exposed me to some writing organizations, also, which may help me improve my skill and also get more connections. Who would have thought those type of connections could have come from working in insurance? But yes, I do feel like I'm living something more of an aspiring writer's life. I just want to pass this licensing exam in April and get a better work-domestic-romance-life balance going so I can enjoy living more and not feel so tired at the end of the week.

Ugh. . .oh right, there's also the wedding after I pass the licensing exam. Ugh. . ..

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Criticism of 300, the Movie

I got what I paid for with this movie. Make note that I paid the afternoon matinee price at an AMC theater.

By now, I think most of my readers know the setup. Xerxes, the Persian emporer, sends a messenger to Sparta to threaten and ask surrender of King Leonidas. Leonidas refuses and against the objections of the ancient deformed mystics, the Ephors, and the Spartan politicians. In defiance of their objections, King Leonidas and 300 of his men go off to battle Xerxes and the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae, with the help of some other Greek volunteers. Both in history and in the movie, Leonidas dies at the end, but not in the same way. And oh yeah, the movie also has semi-shallow and predictable political gaming back in Sparta.

Historical accuracy when it comes to details generally goes out the window, and sadly, the real history I've gleaned from Wikipedia strikes me as more dramatic and provocative. The military tactics of the Spartans goes against the common sense of anyone who thinks twice about these things and even contradicts Leonidas's argument earlier in the movie.

Culturally and topically for today, the movie feels insulting and propagandist, something of an example of Orientalism. Not knowing much about Persian culture, I found it annoying that all portrayals pretty much pointed toward decadence, hedonism and deviance according to Western culture.

At the same time, Spartan (Western) culture got portrayed aS tough, spartan and proud. Further, though, "free" (even though the government takes their male children away from their families for tough training), united, respectful of reason and threatened.

The Spartan portrayal wouldn't come off as so insulting if they showed the movie before 9/11 and the arch conservative propaganda of the United States. The inspiring speeches in 300 sound almost word-for-word like the conservative rhetoric I heard a couple weeks during the debates in Congress about the war in Iraq. Even more entertaining, the queen made plenty of speeches that sounded like Nancy Pelosi except twisted to justify the Battle of Thermopylae.

Now, I don't make any opinion about the Spartans and Greeks battling the Persians in this campaign. The battle happened on the open battefield and the threat was apparent. On the other hand, I'm almost surprised Frank Miller wrote the graphic novel back in 1998 but not so much about the movie coming out now. I won't say anything about conspiracies, but the decadent and deviant portrayal of the Persians, the threat to the Greek sense of existence (which is one of the strongest influences on our current Western civilization) and the need to stand up for your civilization really rubs me the wrong way, especially since the Spartan way of life didn't seem all that attractive. These two historical times don't compare, but the portrayal of these civilizations of then and now do.

So since most of the aspects that interact with reality simply don't pass my tests of enjoyability, I have to say that the stylized dramatic aspects, the special effects and action parts worked well for me. Maybe the portrayal of fighting styles didn't work for me, but they looked cool. The cinematic portrayal and special effects made me believe these things existed in the movie and were also cool.

At the Battle of Thermopylae, the soldiers convinced me they believed in the battle and felt the passion. Even one very predictable moment worked for me, even though I saw it from the beginning. I rooted for the soldiers and felt the honor of their tragic battle. In Sparta, though, I didn't really care for the politicking. The acting felt wooden and everything that happened there felt very very predictable and much much worse than what I've read about the real history. To make this part even more annoying, the film makers added the politicking. . .. And, seriously, what was with the guy with the beard who totally looked like Abraham Lincoln? Nonetheless, I found these aspects generally redeeming and worth the matinee price I paid.

The coolest note about the movie, though: Tyrone Benskin, the actor who plays Karl Lubinsky, the revolutionary conspiracy theorist reporter, on Charlie Jade. Very, very entertaining contrast to Lubinsky.

EDIT: To clarify on the feeling of insult, I simply thought none of portrayals of cultures or characters had enough complication. They didn't really try to sell us either which way or they didn't have the "pitch" complicated enough. It was more, this character is the protagonist, so root for him, while this guy is the antagonist, so boo on him. Some people think this is a postmodern criticism, but hey, the lack of complication took away from the entertainment value for me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Props to TV Writers

Over at The Lextopia, I've done a fair share of criticizing TV shows; good ones, too. After thinking about writing for TV, though, and doing my own writing for short stories and a novel, I have to give them some props.

Now, when it comes to say. . .LOST, I won't be retracting any criticism for most of the second season and the pre-hiatus third season. After seeing them do a better job with show and having seen other shows that pull off solid work, I believe there's room for criticism, even while giving props.

But seriously, they deserve the props. Maybe I'll take one or two back mainly because writing TV is their full time job. They can dedicate tons of time to the labor of love while, lately, I can only give 10 minutes a day to my writing, and that's a maximum. I've been working on my current main short story project for something like 3 months now, and it still doesn't reach the standards of a good story ready to get published let alone meet my own standards. This thing needs two whole new scenes developed then everything needs to get re-ordered, AT THE LEAST!

My working alone does provide one advantage: the end product will most likely not have any continuity or characterization inconsistencies. Nor will it suffer from blandness because of a community writing atmosphere.

These TV writers do deserve some props, though. Sure, they probably have the first couple episodes written up and fully edited before a season starts. They have to deal with tons of time constraints and have to deal with:

* Creating quality work

* Writing extremely efficiently without having the time to draft, draft and draft some more

* Keeping up with the continuity

That last one really strikes me as an amazing feat to accomplish. Sure, a lot of shows have inconsistent continuity issues and require the occasional retcon (if they care enough to do it) to correct the continuity. Nonetheless, think about it. With a short story or novel, you can tinker around with it, change information, character histories, change events, etc. etc. to accomplish the effect that you want or to allow for consistency between scenes.

In the case of a series of novels or short stories, the writer has to deal with making current and future works consistent with past work, but that's probably a whole other story. How many J.K. Rowlings are out there writing a series of books? Now that I think about it, though, a similar set of props need to go out to early written storytellers, like Charles Dickens, who wrote serials and had to write on a similar schedule as TV writers.

But just take a moment to think about how TV writers pretty much have to write a story a week and after it's totally finalized or broadcast, they have to write their current story to make it completely consistent with past episodes. Unlike the novelist or short story writer, they can't go back and change events to make for a great effect, event, character or to make the story stronger for the viewer. Once it's out there, they have to work with it. And if they have run themselves into the corner with a story, they just have to deal with it and come up with a solution.

At least with a lack of story, a new writing crew or even the current one can just come inand tie up loose ends. For a series with a story, though, they have to reckon with the story they've made or come up with a damn good way to change things.

Props go to TV writers for not having the freedom to change the past for the benefit of the whole. . .and at least 25% of the time, making something pretty respectable. Good going.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Using My Life Arc as an Example of a Good Character Arc

A compelling thought just entered my brain that has plagued me for years and has a personal touch to it but touches upon narrative somewhat. It has to do with me. . .and partially with the arguments I've had lately and over the last few years. It also gets me thinking about getting into the heads of characters I write.

The idea feels almost too pretentious, too Russian. . .it reminds me of a poem or short story I read for college by, I think, Leo Tolstoy. I can't think of the play's name, and I don't think it directly relates. If I brought up, people would probably just go, "huh?" I bring up thoughts and ideas like that. . ..

But, in essence, this thought of mine has to do with how I use to think more rationally and supportive than I do now and didn't really let go to my passions or emotions. Another thought has to do with throwing away my intelligence, education, good sense and so on and so forth to have more success socially, have more friends and more girlfriends. Nowadays, I kind of miss that cool-headed me and feel happy with my fate.

Despite making more peace with the cool-headed me from the past, though, I appreciate that I allow myself to let go of my good sense to the passions. I kind of miss the rationally supportive connections I've had in the past with people from my cool head, even though I don't miss the loneliness that came from a less natural and more anxious presenation of myself.

Nowadays, I act both more spontaneously in some ways and more determined and deliberate in other ways than I have in the past. My relations sometimes meet tension from my self in the present, but you know what? Even with that tension, I feel more sincere connections with people than I did during my cool-headed days. I could stay out of trouble and led a prudent life, but I felt isolated and unhappy.

Deep down, I have the feeling that I will return to a more cool-headed, contemplative and prudent version of myself. When that sense of being comes again, though, I believe that I won't feel the isolation that I had felt before. They will reconcile each other when that time comes again, the prudence and the natural emotional connection with the people and the world around me. I find it hard to get back to the cool-headed version because I enjoy the connection so much, but I also remember the value that cool-headed me had for myself and the people around me.

This starting at one point, experiencing a fall from grace for the passionate flesh then reconciling feels like a great character arc. The really great part comes from the fact that the fall from grace has to happen. Before, I didn't FEEL the connections with the world, even if the prudence had value and people appreciated me and my emotional support. For real grace beyond the cool-headed prudence of my youth, however, I need to go through a time of exposing and losing myself in the passions and emotions of humanity. It will bring me the wisdom of experience, defeat and victory that will help me more sincerely connect rather than acting out some kind of wisdom without true understanding and knowledge.

Someday, it will make a great story, maybe even a very enjoyable memoir. I would like to embody this tale more often in my narrative stories, though, along with many other forms of narration. Such a variety that I can imagine, and I have to go through a process of experimentation similar to my life arc to make each of the stories great in a way that will connect with the reader. So exciting, yet so frustrating. . ..

Monday, March 05, 2007

Explanation for My Absence

I've been fighting off a flu for just over a week now. Today has been my first day at work for five days. At the moment, I pretty much only have superficial symptoms like a stuffy nose, slightly sore throat in the morning and. . .that's really about it.

Unfortunately, I've got a rush of adrenaline from a dumb fight with someone. May have to take some melatonin or something to make sure I actually fall asleep at something of a good time tonight.