Travel the Road Less Taken

Critics. What's the saying about critics? If you can't do, critique? That's not it, but something like that.

When I began writing, one of the things I had done was read Roger Ebert's movie reviews. There were times I agreed, and others when I disagreed, like when he gave four stars to PROMETHEUS and one to KICK ASS. Either way, I always learned something about story and film. With Ebert's passing, I'm left with no critic that I really trust.

That's a monstrous woman

I read a favorable review on RogerEbert.com for the movie GODZILLA. I saw the film and was smiling because the monsters destroyed Honolulu and San Francisco; two of my favorite places in which I'm very familiar with. They got some details wrong, but who cares?

One of the commenters of the review stated Hollywood can't come up with an original idea, therefore the remakes. How many Superman, Batman and Spiderman movies have been made? How many gawd dayem Paranormal Activity movies will there be? The fifth will be released late 2014 per IMDb.

Another commenter responded more profoundly: Would the market support original movies (indies)?

And this is the crux of the issue. Will the market—dat be us, folks—support it?

I've spent endless hours researching literary agents. Their initial acceptance is whether they like your writing. They'll say talent, voice, original idea, perfection are what they look for. But it comes down to do they connect with what you've pored your heart into?

From reading hundreds of agent interviews and blogs, I know that they ponder who they can pitch your book to. Because you can have all the talent in the ten dimensions of multiple universes, but if they don't think they can sell your book, then they'll reject it.

It's not you, it's the passion that is your book. Ouch.

Who's behind me?

People think Hollywood has a very narrow view of what can make money, and they wouldn't be wrong. There are several indie movies that have made it big (please don't say the Paranormal Activity franchise), but the likelihood of that happening is small. And there have been many blockbusters who've failed as well, which is why the suits in Holly's wood (sounds kinda dirty but I can't picture why) are hard pressed to greenlight projects unless there's a market for it—dat be money, folks.

Worse, is that the suits in the publishing world are even tighter. So tight that if you stick a lump of coal up their asses you wouldn't be able to take it back out. Plus, that would be painful. And smelly.

So why write? Some passionately declare it's their passion. Others call it their calling. Me? It's just what I do. I love to storytell. So sue me. Wait! Don't. Seriously. Don't.

In spewing the end of the world, I suggest that we all try new things. Watch indie movies. Read mid-list authors. Take the road less traveled, unless you get lost easily. Then maybe carry a GPS device. 

Got Romance?

Macho, macho man, we are macho men...

Macho, macho man, we are macho men...

What is romance? And why are half of the books sold romance novels, trashy or otherwise? Is it indicative of women's lack or need of it? Variety is the spice of life, so maybe they need different men as stated in Steve Harvey's book.

I, being a macho, macho man, am stereotyped to not know the answer to this or any other thing about women. Oddly, this myth is not perpetuated by women, but by men. I can't count how many times men in the media state they know nothing about women and never will. And if that were true, then freakin' learn, dammit! Women certainly want us to, which may be why romance is so lucrative.

Having completed my first novel, I've been asked is there romance in it? I don't know.

I think you need a tic tac

I think you need a tic tac

Hey! Have you seen this:

A man gathers his briefcase, closes his office door, enters an ambiguous, crowded elevator. Taking a deep breath, he looks at his Tag timekeeper, exits the sky scrapin' building, and raises his hand.

A yeller taxi screeches. A radiant woman gets out, with hair from a high-priced salon wafts in the warm breeze, dressed in perfect fitted clothes, carrying a Burberry purse. Don't ask me how I know that brand.

They're eyes lock and the world comes to a startling but pleasurable halt. Her hair waves coyly at him. His stature postures over her like a gentle beast ready to pounce. Her eyes gaze ever so softly into his. She brushes her hair with the back of her hand.

What do we know and have been programmed to know from this cliche? A scene we've seen in countless movies, TV shows, books, plays, and commercials.

He is the it boy. She is the it girl. And by the massive powers of God, the universe, Shiva, Buddha, Geezus Krist, and the dominant iPhone with FaceTime, they're meant for each other for all time, passed time, into infinity and beyond, and a little more.

Whew! I need a smoke.

Going back to the question, does my book have romance?

Should I close my legs?

Should I close my legs?

I didn't know how to answer that question until I readRoger Ebert's essay on Lost In Translation,starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen, directed by Sofia Copola. In fact, I saw this in the theater years ago and didn't know why I loved it until now.

In many ways, the movie starts out to be a cliche. A lonely man visits Japan. He runs into an equally lonely woman. They're subtly attracted to each other, but by no means are they the it couple. He's an older married man, she's the younger married woman. I thought they were going to hit it off. A nice romp in the bed, some drama about his wife or her husband catching them, then a climatic ending where they both leave their respective spouses, and run toward each other as the waves splash onto the sandy beach.

Why do you have pants on while I'm in a bikini?

Why do you have pants on while I'm in a bikini?

Nope. The movie is about a deep connection between two people, which is probably why I loved it so much because I cherish deep connections.

Does my book have romance?

No. Not like the taxi example above. My story focuses on a married couple who has to contend with the death of their child. Then they have to contemplate the mortality of their other, who is called to duty when a looming war approaches.

My goal was to explore the pain of loss, the guilt one spouse places on the other, on oneself, and to explore war itself. It has been a painful and enlightening experience in the sense storytelling.

She Said, She Said

You Lookin' At Me?

You Lookin' At Me?

One of the coolest things about all art is the interpretation. Debates go endlessly about movies, books, paintings, poems, sculptures. And who's to say who's right and who's not when we can't even agree what's art and what isn't.

In trying to get feedback on my book, I've been giving out copies to my friends and family to get initial reactions, both kneejerk and constructive. I had readers who are fans and non-fans of fantasy, which is my genre.

One of my readers stated that my main character was highly sexual and emotional. I wanted honest opinions and here we are!

My kneejerk reaction was of course to defend.

My toof?

My toof?

But I'm here to learn so I asked her question after question, trying to keep an open mind.

None of my other readers had mentioned any of this. And just in case they missed something my friend hadn't, I asked one of them specifically about the above points.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Highly sexual was something that really surprised me. I asked her what made her think this. She said that my hero thought about his wife's scent, was enamored by her silky hair, and in a key scene couldn't sleep due to the absence of her breathing next to him. I asked another female reader what she thought about this without mentioning what my friend thought. She said my hero was in love with his wife that it was about love.

Who's correct?

Both.

There's a saying. What you hate in others is what you hate in yourself. When I look at the lives of these two women, I can see why both thought the way they did.

I'm not saying they hated my book, but often what we see in art is often a reflection of us, an aspect anyway. I mean, haven't you listened to music that reflects how you feel in the moment? We listen to love songs, or angry alternative, when we've broken up with someone. Or listen to ambient music when we want to be calm. Or listen to heavy metal or techno when we're working out.

Is that garlic I smell?

Is that garlic I smell?

And knowing how 50% of sold books are romance novels tells you what women are feeling or needing.

My friend's second point, complaint really, about my hero being emotional was also interesting.  For one, he is.  It being a complaint is a judgement on the character. Kinda like saying someone being short is not good. It's not their fault.  My hero just turned out that way.

This brings us to the definition of art. First off, I don't think it can be defined. It's like defining the soul. Or God. You can't. But a famed photographer once said that art is the language of the soul. Isn't that where inspiration comes from?

But if you want to see a cool and heated debate of what art is, check out an articleRober Ebertwrote about how video games aren't art.

[poll id="30"]

Girlfriend Experience

One of my favorite critics is Roger Ebert.  I've watched his show Siskel and Ebert, a TV movie review show that made the two thumbs up famous. On hissite, he had reviewed a movie call TheGirlfriend Experience. In meandering around Neflix, I had come across this movie that stars Sasha Grey, directed by Steven Soderbergh, director of the Ocean's Eleven movies, The Informant starring Matt Damon, just to name a few.

Suggestive Poster?

Suggestive Poster?

GFE is filled with unknown actors except for one, Sasha Grey. She is a porn star. Don't ask me how I know this. I just happen to be really smart. Ahem. GFE is an actual term used by escorts who give the girl friend experience. They usually charge by the hour or clients can arrange overnight stays, which seemed to be Chelsea's (Grey) bread and butter.

According to Ebert's research on IMDb, Grey has starred in 161 adult films, and she now has her own company managing other girls. I've done no research into Grey.  That is a lot of movies.  I know guys who haven't had sex that many times.

For Soderbergh to choose a woman who has sex for money to play a woman who has sex for money seems obvious. But why choose Grey? Mainly because of who she is and the depth she carries. Further proof of depth was revealed when she listed her top five movies on Current's Rotten Tomatoes show.  I've heard none of those movies because most of them were foreign films.  Her explanation of why she chose them indicates her depth.

Porn stars are not known for their acting ability, nor are they even required to. And for a woman who I think would have thick skin, Grey plays Chelsey with a level of sensitivity and vulnerability.

The movie takes place during the 2008 presidential election, follows her through several of her transactions, while following her boyfriend's as well. He's a personal trainer who's trying to get a clothing line up and explores more lucrative job opportunities.  Chelsey's clients talk mainly about the downed economy, telling her what she should do with her money.  I couldn't help thinking how we're all selling a part of ourselves. Chelsey may be selling her body, but how many of us work in meaningless jobs, selling parts of our souls.

The character arch seemed to be a tragic one. We're lead to believe that she is special, that she's the creme of the crop in the escort industry. But as the film moves along Chelsey realizes that she's not. A bit depressing since we get the same sense that her clients are also nothing special despite their wealth. Chelsey is expensive.

I liked the movie. It's was an experimental film by Soderbergh. Did I need to see it? I guess so, having watched it.

Do Ya Hear Me?

Propaganda.  We've all seen it.  Heard it. "Elect me and I will save the world."

"Read my lips:  no new taxes."

I've worked in many corporations.  The one thing they all do is shell out propaganda.  They hail how innocent and awesome they are.

When I turn on my computer at work, the homepage is locked to our intranet webpage.  Every day we're bombarded by propaganda.  Sometimes I feel chained.

So it was a bit entertaining for me to read an article my company posted about why teens are angry.  They even had a doctor share some advise.  I mean, he's got a PhD.

"I think zombies are defined by behavior and can be "explained" by many handy shortcuts: the supernatural, radiation, a virus, space visitors, secret weapons, a Harvard education..."  -Roger Ebert in reviewing The Crazies.

The doctor's article was a magnificently crafted and well written piece of crap.  I found one crucial thing missing.  And upon teaching and mentoring kids for most of my adult life, there has become no one-size-fits-all advice, save one.

Listening.

I had a student once whose parents put him under so much pressure to do well in high school that he was on the verge of suicide.  At first I thought, "What did I do?"  But it had been a year since the end of our sessions.  So I thought back to them to see what was the root cause of such destructive behavior.

My student and I had taken a walk one day and just talked.  My approach in teaching, despite coming from a very tier-structured martial arts background, was to view any student as an equal.  I'm not a teacher.  They are not students.  We are human beings.

The subject of ivy league education came up, something his parents expected of him.  I asked him if he wanted to go.  He answered yes.  There was a lot of trepidation in his voice.  So I asked him if he was sure.  He slumped his shoulder and said he really didn't care about going to an ivy league school.  That he was happy to just receive a normal (whatever that means) education.

I presented what I'd learned to his parents and, of course, they were upset.  Like I had opened Pandora's Box.

A couple years later, he was on the verge of suicide.

Being loving parents, they got the best help they could afford.  Interestingly enough, the parents were instructed to relieve all pressures of any kind, which included the pressure of school, and to allow him to express himself in anyway he wanted to.

Today, I'm very glad to say he's thriving.

We talk so much about listening when in intimate relationships.  But we rarely talk about it when it comes to raising children.

I tell parents that their children are like people (wink wink).  Treat them like people.  Ask them how they feel.  What they want? Why do they want or feel that way?  Is there anything they need?  If not, let them know you'll be there with no judgement.  For judgement is the lock that will shut the door to their children.

Be open with them, and they'll be open with you.

In my lessons, I let my students, no matter the age, say what they want.  Swearing included.  I do give advice, if they want, but I tell them it's up to them to follow it.  My mentoring process changes as they change, which is why I believe there is no one-size-fits-all guide to children.

Just listen.