My Childhood Destroyed

It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.

On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.

"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."

My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."

Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.

The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.

I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.

Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.

Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it.  Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.

And I have to agree.

As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.

In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.

In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.

An example from the original:

We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.

The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."

Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.

The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."

She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"

The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!

"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.

The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.

The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.

Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.

The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.

I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.

If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.

There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.

You Mad?

Working with a writing coach has been interesting because The Grinder, as I call her, has torn my manuscript to pieces. In other words, it sucked ass. I think the story is good but that remains to be seen. The execution of it was really bad. And I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what nor how to fix it. So I called The Grinder.

She has given me line by line critiques, and I had to decide whether to use them or not. When the critique was technical, like grammar or structure, there would be no question. I'd either make the edit or rewrite that part. However, when it came to suggestions such as logical progression of the story, or to reveal certain story elements earlier, then I'd have to take the time to think if this would work for the overall book. I'd either do the edits/rewrites, or decide that her suggestion won't work and move on.

Having done an overhaul on my book over the past two years, I needed people to read it to see their reactions, do some fine tuning. So I'm fortunate to be a part of a writing group filled with writers that are also working on their own books. We trade pages each week and critique each other's work. And it's going really well. For me, reading other peoples' works allows me to apply what The Grinder has taught me.

Yesterday was an interesting session because one of the authors challenged my critiques.

He tries to be really efficient with his writing. He doesn't use dialogue tags, which makes it difficult to know who's speaking, especially at the start of the scene. Many times I have to re-read lines to figure out who's speaking. I think making the reader work hard when they're already piecing together the images he's trying to paint isn't a good idea.

The other issue I have is he's telling instead of showing. A simple example, he often writes something like 'She lets out a sigh' instead of 'She sighs'. If he wants his writing to be efficient, then 'She sighs' is it, and the wording is stronger. Look at it this way:

She gives her man a beating

She beats her man

They're both still telling, not showing, but by linking the noun directly with the verb, the wording is much stronger. To make it vivid:

She punched her man in the face

This is a much stronger image that plays against the expectation of her kicking him in the balls, leaving us wondering why she punched him instead.

Here's another example:

She gave him a pointed look

I suggested that he show this. He then gave me a pointed look and asked what I thought that meant.

It doesn't matter what I thought because he wasn't showing, at least not clearly enough for me. She could be pointing with her forehead, chin, index finger, nostril, tongue, or tits. Or was he describing a look that was pointed, whatever that means.

Now the critiquer in me wouldn't mind this as much, but he was telling way more than showing, and I thought he needed to help the reader out a bit.

The thing is that he challenged my suggestions on his work that are just that: suggestions. It's his book. He can ignore everything I say. I have no power when it comes to his writing. Literally.

In one of my suggestions, I told him I didn't have a problem with one of his sentences, but remembered something similar that my writing coach had pointed out. He said, "She's not my writing coach." And I said, "OK," and moved on. I'm not about to argue with someone who isn't willing to listen, and again, it's not my book. I'm just trying to help.

The lesson here is that my opinion, or anyone else's, has no real power over you. And if you think there is, then you're the one giving those words power.

Sticks and stones. 

The Writing Dead Strikes Again

Tease. Don't you hate it when you make out with a woman, and your hand glides close to her chest, feeling the tightening of her shirt as she breaths, then she says, "I have to go," and leaves.

Crow.

Or have you seen friends fall to drink collectors at bars? For those not in the know, they're girls who have guys buy them drinks, then walk off with those said drinks.

This is what The Walking Dead writers have done to their viewers. If you haven't heard by now, a baddie named Negan from the comic book series of the same name has finally made his appearance on the television show. The writers have teased his appearance for most of the sixth season, especially through AMC's show, The Talking Dead. Fans knew that Negan's appearance would result in the death of a character, as dictated by Negan himself. And as he promised, he took his love, Lucille, a bat, and whacked somebody's head. Again and again and again.

But the episode ended without showing which character got the axe. Sorry. The bat.

As a writer, a storyteller, I would not do this. It's plain manipulative. Meaning it's done on purpose to fuck you over.

Scott Gimple came on The Talking Dead and explained that the end of the story is what we got. And the beginning of the next story is dealing with that character's death.

No.

First of all, the surviving characters can deal with the death in season seven even if who ever died was shown on the finale. Second, the writers did the same thing with Glenn in this season. In other words, don't be boring.

Imagine you've captured the attention of a drink collector and make it to the point of sex. You do this by describing a night that includes a scrumptious seafood dinner, followed by a tour of your mansion where you show her a serene lavender-scented bedroom, in which your strong manly hands give her a massage that will bring her to the brink of orgasm, and then continue the evening on your silk-covered bed with the solemn promise of multiple orgasms that will be more of a spiritual moment than having a conversation with God.

But...what she actually gets is a quick wet kiss, fast honking of the tits, a few pumps of the pelvis, and then you roll over and sleep. Worse of all, she wasn't even wet.

When Gimple was asked about people being upset at the cliffhanger, he said:

I would say, when they opened up the hatch [on Lost], we had to wait and see who was in the hatch. I liked thinking about that. I liked talking about it...blah, blah, blah...

He didn't answer the question. And is he that dumb to think that people wouldn't have talked and thought about it, despite revealing who was killed? Or is he that insecure about holding the fans' interest? Or worse yet, is he that arrogant to purposefully fuck with the fans' emotions through manipulation? Well, his non-answer to the question in regards to people being upset really says that they should like whatever he puts out.

And, yes, I know this is only a television show. Many fans have stated this as a way to dispel the huge disappointment in the ending. But if you asked the producers of The Walking Dead if they rather have us watch their show or skip it and watch something else, they'd want you to watch their show. And they want us to be invested. That's why they do this, but it's so unsatisfying. And if you search Twitter for #TWDfinale, you'd see the huge dissatisfaction from the fans. And that's just one tag. Reading comments from articles and YouTube videos discussing the ending show the same disappointment.

I'm not saying you have to give in to the fans, but pissing people off by doing a stupid stunt like this can reduce viewership. But then again there's no such thing as bad press.

Life Is Fair

I remember as a kid my niece scooped more ice cream than I had and I told my brother, "That's not fair."

"Who said life is fair?" he retorted.

I always hated that question. Who said life is fair? Well who the fuck said life is unfair?

Dude. A lot of people.

I just came out of a writing group that is surprisingly going well, and one of the critiquers said my main character has faced a lot of opposition and is going through a lot of opposition. In a way life has been unfair to him. Obviously, I've set up this character and his life in this manner to make him a more compelling and interesting read.

But when we look at real life from the perspective of labels, situations and material wealth life can be unfair. There will be people that are richer than you. There will be others that are poorer. Certain people will have talents that you will not have. And you will have talents they won't even want. A coworker may get promoted faster than you. Some people work hard and withstand stupid people (retail workers) for little money. And hard work doesn't guarantee success.

So, yes, from the perspective of the have and have-nots life is unfair.

Going back to my main character, he is now at the top of world. He's married to a beautiful woman who was highly sought after in her day. His two adult children are well adjusted. He's the general of the most powerful military force in the seven provinces. He's also the most talented and best swordsman this world has seen. Yet, he's unhappy.

Jimmy, this is crap. No one on Earth, the real world, who is this successful can be unhappy. Not true.

Now, I'm not saying that if you're rich, you're unhappy. But people who do not consider themselves rich may think that having more will increase their happiness. And we can see that's not true. And I don't need to provide proof that unhappiness exists in people that are considered poor.

And this is where life is fair. Happiness can be had by all. Because for anyone to say they are unhappy, they at some point in their lives were happy.

The question becomes how can people herd more happiness into their lives?

For my main character, one of the things he can do is let go. As one of my critiquers have said, he's faced a lot of opposition in his life. One is portrayed here. Enduring this kind of tragedy obviously takes a mourning period. But the mourning period can extend as long as he holds onto this memory. I'm not saying he'll forget it. What I'm saying is how often does he remind himself of this tragic event can extend the mourning period.

I think losing a child is too extreme of an example. So let's take my friend Mr. Vagina. Well, don't actually take him.

My friend had fallen for a girl, hard. And he's had the damnedest time trying to heal from it. And that's the crux of his problem. He's trying to heal. You get a cut on your hand. Your body naturally begins the healing process. You don't need to pray, talk to someone, pay anyone money, or look in the mirror deep into your soul every morning and night and affirm that your body will heal itself. It'll fuckin' heal itself.

Mr. Vagina's mind is the same. It will naturally heal and move on from his perceived emotional torment. But every time we've met up for dinner, he would sink into his victim hood.

World’s smallest violin

World’s smallest violin

He would give me a history lesson of how all this pain started, how he's a good guy, how she's at fault, and then asks me for confirmation of all those things. I don't give it to him, but that's not the point here. He's taking the cut on his hand and slicing it again and again everyday. He's the proverbial self-cutter. Not only that but he either refuses or is unable to see that this is all self-inflicting, despite me showing him. He's been unhappy for a very long time because he's a true master at holding on to grudges.

Once he lets go, happiness, like a healthy body, will naturally show itself.

For my main character, losing a child is a very deep cut. And with that, it may naturally take more time to heal. And like some severe injuries, the human body has limits. Does the mind?

Why Read?

Writing groups. What is it about writers? As God is their witness, they declare they are writers. Some want to write. Some write. Some don't but say they're writers. And if you join a writing group, shouldn't you give your best feedback? In the end, it may not be useful, but at least try your best. Right?

I've written my experiences with writing groups. They weren't good. But sometimes things that do not work out has its reasons. Here, it had led me to work with a writing coach who opened my eyes to just how crappy my writing was.

Now that my work with her is almost over, I needed a way to see if all of my edits and revisions worked. And a friend contacted me about joining a private writing group where we could workshop our pieces. What timing.

There are four of us, so two writers submit pages to be read each week by the rest of us. And then the next week the other two writers would submit pages. One of the guys couldn't make the first day, which was fine. Life either gets in the way or shits on us sometimes. I'll call him Walt.

We're three weeks into it, and Walt and I had submitted pages. I spent a lot of time going though his work, giving him mechanical corrections and suggestions, writing detailed notes of what I thought needed to be worked on. And I made sure my handwriting was legible. I'm sorta like a doctor where my writing can be illegible. Even to me.

I wrote my first drafts in longhand. There had been many times where I turned my notebook upside down, inside out, used a magnifying glass, trying to decipher just what the fuck I had written. My thoughts moved so fast that my writing tried to keep up, and in doing so my words looked like old leftover spaghetti.

Anyway, this past Saturday we met in this cool cafe on Market Street close to Union Square in San Francisco. And the group chose my piece to talk about first. Two of the writers gave me really good feedback. They told me where they got confused, where they saw some inconsistencies, told me what they liked and didn't like, specific things that I could use. Walt, on the other hand, said, "I normally don't read this stuff (fantasy)."

"You wouldn't be writing to me," Walt said.

Ah. Awesome. Good to know.

Walt continued, "For me, I need to know why I should read this. Instead of creating this whole new world, this story could have been told with regular people."

Not showing up the first day and reading my first three chapters doesn't help your understanding of my story either...

Walt yammered on about my piece, then gave me some generalities, none of which I could use, and then said it was well written.

In other words, he didn't read it. Or at most, skimmed through it.

So the question was, why read any kind of science fiction or fantasy? When real world fiction, taking place in the real world, is plentiful in real bookstores around this great nation of ours that's real.

I was listening to a personal growth lecture a long time ago, and the speaker brought up Lord of the Rings. Why would a speaker of enlightenment do this? He said that there's no guarantee when it comes to our goals and dreams, so all we can do is move toward them one step at a time. But what we can have is hope. Because it's in our despair that our dreams can fade and disappear. Lord of the Rings is really a story about hope. Hobbits, the smallest creatures in Middle-Earth, do the seemingly impossible. Frodo Baggins is tasked with holding the most powerful ring and resisting its evil influence, while trekking across Middle-Earth, avoid getting killed by the Orc armies, and destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. Frodo doesn't know how he'll accomplish this, only that he needs to, so he sets out on foot with hope in his heart.

Another example is Star Wars. Luke flies into the trench of the Death Star, and he hears the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi say, "Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke." Luke turns off his targeting computer. We, the audience, already witnessed another pilot miss using his, and we intuit that Luke needs to trust himself. That somehow his own wisdom will guide him. In a way, the Force symbolizes that wisdom and that we should trust our own.

What Walt may not understand is that all stories are quests. Whether the quest is for love, revenge, balance, or world domination doesn't matter. It's in that quest that teaches us something about ourselves. It's in the ups and downs of trying to destroy an evil ring that can show hope. It's in our trust of the magical Force that we see that wisdom resides inside all of us.

And science fiction and fantasy allows the storyteller to remove the boundaries of the real world, and let's us use fantastical things to showcase truths of the human condition.

Get Off Your Soapbox

Recently, I've had a lot of people tell me not to date the girl I'm currently seeing. One woman even told me to turn around and bolt. Like how do I do that?

"Hey, I miss you. Um..." I say and do a 180 and run. I ain't that fast. It's not like one moment I'm there, the next, BAM, I'm gone. Or do I dance my way out?

The reason behind this wonderfully stupid advice is because of my girl's background, in particular her religion. There has been a lot of backlash against her religion, but that doesn't mean I should just give up before anything starts. And most of the fear isn't about the religion itself but the major differences in culture between her and I, that the divide is too great for love to overcome.

Romeo and Juliet anyone? But that's a freakin' movie that starred Leonardo and Carrie from Homeland.

First of all, nothing in life is guaranteed. Except death. Maybe. How many weddings have happened this year alone that will end up divorcing? What's the going statistic? Half of all marriages end in divorce?

'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all -Alfred Lord Tennyson

And I'm not writing this to defend my situation, since I've given very little information to support my cause. There's just something about me, about a lot of people out there now, that wants to do our own thing, despite the good-natured and ill advice that we get.

I'm not surprised that so many people feel unfulfilled. So many times we want to pursue a dream only to be beaten down by naysayers. And, I feel, most of the time those naysayers are trying to knock us down from our own pedestals because they're afraid to chase their own dreams. That's when I say:

And that's the key to moving forward (not the bitch part), realizing that that fear is not real. Unless you're being stared down by a grizzly bear, in which case do a 180 and bolt. No. Don't do that. Play dead. Not sure if that works or not. You know what? Just avoid confronting a grizzly. It ain't good for your health.

It's like writing a book. No, writing a book is not like confronting a bear that can tear you apart limb from limb and feed you piece by piece to her cubs. There's a lot of doubt that flows through my mind that anyone outside my circle of friends and family would read it. Hell! Most of friends and family haven't even asked about my book, let alone read the first chapter, which can be seen here.

But that's OK.

I write because something, maybe the story, has called on me to write. So I write. I sacrifice hanging out with friends, seeing movies, or partying through the wee hours of the night, so I can write. Instead of spending money on my heart's desire, I pay my writing coach to tell me how much I suck. OK. She doesn't do that. Despite her very honest critique, I write through my tears. OK. I don't actually cry. Cuz I'm a man! Will the world read my books? I don't know. A part of me says no, but here I am, writing.

Since I can't tell the future, or have any real control over my literary success (no one does), I take one step at a time and trudge forward. So should you. Whatever makes your heart sing, do that thing. Unless it includes hurting others. Avoid that. Please. Instead, go bother a grizzly.

 

A Beautiful Death

Sup?

A beautiful death –Stelios in 300

It’s an interesting way of thinking where one searches for glory, for that one thing that will complete us, fulfill us, give us meaning. That one thing differs from person to person. Some people are fulfilled by being good parents. Others yearn to be great artists. Neither are less than the another. And that one thing seems to signify an end like having riches or being married forever to your soulmate. 

A friend of mine asked me about the publishing industry because he wanted to write a book. So of course he asked the expert, me, who has yet to be published:

I told him there were basically two ways to publish your book: the traditional where an actual publisher sells the book, and self-publishing where the author sells the book, an e-book for example, through a market place like Amazon.com.

He lamented the lack of a physical book if I chose the self-publishing route.

“Don’t you want the glory?” he exclaimed.

I shrugged. “What does that mean?”

He couldn’t quite put it into words, but motioned with his clawed hands, holding an imaginary book, the finished product. 

This isn’t a criticism of him as a human or a man, but an observation by me as to the kind of person that I am. I tried to explain to him that the reward comes from the process of writing, rewriting, polishing, editing, working on it ‘till I feel I can’t offer anymore because I have no control over the outcome of what happens. That doesn’t mean I won’t do my best to write as well as I can or more. And that doesn’t mean I don’t want the world to read my books, but that want comes with the wisdom that the resulting tipping point of my books’ success is out of my hands.

And the freedom to do this, to pursue my passion is something that I’m content with, thankful everyday. There's a comfort when I write. So it’s strange to me that we seem to be only thankful during this time of year, though, I understand why. It’s the holidays.

So when my friend asked me if I want the glory, I said:

But to focus on that would take away from my ability to control what I can, not crying when my writing coach rips my work apart. I smile as I type this because I truly appreciate her wisdom and immense knowledge, while I do my best to console the little boy’s dream within me.

Merry Christmas ya’ll. Eat. Drink. Have sex. Enjoy the short time we call life.