Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

Why are Mormon Women So Attractive? (Part II)

28 Jul

Continuing on my strange topic, you may be wondering, “Why am I blogging about this?” Because of my Hamilton fix, the online performing group Working with Lemons did an amazing job of taking the musical and putting it “in real life” (off stage). They’re also from Utah, and no surprise, Mormon. They also have incredibly hot women performing in it. No surprise either; the acting profession tends to be self-selecting, because beautiful women tend to be more successful. However, that’s what got me thinking about this–and check out their channel!

Self-Selecting Immigration

When the LDS made their first foreign missions, they hit England, right as the Industrial Revolution hit. Brigham Young himself immigrated from England. However, part of the reason there was a push to polygamy was because they converted a LARGE number of English women (who were probably working in cloth factories in terrible conditions), and ended up with more women than men.

In early 19th Century thinking, you can’t leave a large group of single women around unprotected. So all these women get scooped up. Following waves of converts from other parts of Europe generally are folks who a) believed and b) felt an opportunity in Utah. These people tend to be the folks who think they can get ahead and those folks tend to be more attractive.

Is this sexist? Sure–but how many ugly salesmen and saleswomen have you met? Go ahead–I doubt you can count them on more than one hand.

Modest is Hottest

Let’s face it, a woman in a bikini is pretty amazing, but it’s not like they’re hiding much. The same woman in a concealing blouse and skirt… wouldn’t you like to know more? On a similar vein, let’s try…

Happy is the New Sexy

Mormon women tend to be happier. And let’s face it, a happier girl is a sexier one; she brightens up a room. Could it be good living, frontier politeness, and avoiding drugs and alcohol? A greater emphasis on family and friendship? Doing things together and for others? Perhaps. It doesn’t work for everyone in the church–trust me, I’ve met several ex-Mormons–but generally all the LDS folks I’ve worked and hung out with are great, interesting, and happy people.

What do you think? Am I an asshole to bring this up? Do I just need to visit Utah to have my perception change? Or am I right on the money? Let me know in the comments below.

Why are Mormon Women So Attractive? (Part I)

27 Jul

Your mileage may vary, but this something that has puzzled me for quite some time – why are Mormon women so attractive? Is the water? Self-selecting immigration? Or is there some Sisterhood class that I’m not aware of? (Why would I be?) Let me throw out some wild speculation, put in some quotes, and see where this takes me?

Not Everyone Agrees

This was not considered “gospel” a hundred years ago. Mark Twain wrote about them in Roughing It: “My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically ‘homely’ creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, ‘No – the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure – and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.'”

Best Foot Forward

Whenever LDS missionaries come over, I always invite them in. As a student of Mormon History (but not a member of their church), I find them interesting to talk to and love to go back and forth on the BoM. 9 times out of 10, Saints on a mission are generally young – between 19 and 24 – so it could be that we’re just seeing them at the right time. Certainly, there’s plenty of beautiful women on Arizona State’s campus… although they have an LDS training center on campus… wait a minute…

When I was 25, I went on a road trip and landed in Independence, Missouri. Because I like Mormon history, I decided to check out the temple site… and pulled into the wrong parking lot. Turns out there’s three different denominations claiming different parts of the Temple Site and the mainline denomination has a visitor’s center right next to the Community of Christ’s big temple. So I’m walking into the visitor’s center and five of the most beautiful women I have ever seen are working there as tour guides. I had to admit, it was a great conversion tool: “Seduce your way to Christ!” 🙂

Wow! This article is getting too long – I’m going to have to finish this tomorrow. But am I full of it? Am I right on the nose? Let me know in the comments below.

Wacky in Wickenberg

26 Jul

Last weekend, I went on a roadtrip to Wickenberg, Arizona – for reasons that even the locals weren’t really sure why I came. Sometimes I just like to explore places, and considering this small town’s downtown was decorated just like a Wild West town, made it pretty neat… and a little creepy.

Wickenberg is about an hour northwest of the outskirts of Phoenix, still within the same county (because that’s how the southwest works). and it’s just under 8,000 people. Personally, it kinda reminded me of the town where I grew up (without the Wild West kitsch). I chose to travel there because a) I’ve never been there, b) it was referenced in an MST3K short, and c) because I knew that a chapter of the club I belong to would be open.

The decoration was one thing – the statues were another. Apparently, they decided to a “Cows on Parade” thing, but instead of cows, they put up people statues in Wild West outfits. That was pretty creepy.

Not sure if it was because they were life-size or just really good or I simply wasn’t expecting it. However, when I checked out the local chapter, the people there were incredibly friendly, great to talk to, and it made it worth the trip.

Unfortunately, the trip getting there wasn’t that exciting – it was flat, it was desert, there was precious little between Phoenix and there. However, I did take a different way back, avoiding the 10 to get home (really crowded interstate).

However, it was a really nice place to visit, and would really like to go back sometime. Have you ever traveled to a place and discovered a hidden gem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

No Shoes, No Shirt… Why?

25 Jul

Shirtless guy… what immortal hand or eye makes you think that your naked top is worth being seen by the rest of the world? Do you just not care? Do you have a level of self-confidence that we need to be in awe of? What is the raison d’etre of shirtless guy?

Don’t try to justify it with “It’s hot.” Hell no. I live in Arizona – it’s always hot. It’s gonna be 110 degrees today, you’re gonna get your ass burned. There’s not a lick of sunscreen on you. This is a conscious decision – “sun’s out, guns out, whoooooooooooooo!”

It’s not even justified. If you actually work out, got the six-pack, shaved chisel chest, all right – you want to show off your good work. I get that. It’s the dad bod man. Even that can be justified – you’re at the pool, you’re working out, you’re working in your own yard. No, no, no… this is “I’m walking in public and I want you to see me without my shirt” guy.

Privately, I’m in awe – even when I was in high school, 180 lbs soaking wet and 6 foot tall, I -still- wasn’t “show my chest” guy. Because I recognized my flab (even though laughable by today’s standards), and my shame didn’t need to be pointed out by my community.

So if it’s not an abundance of self-confidence, it must be, “I just don’t care. I don’t wanna wear a shirt today so… $&%* it!” Which again, I must ask, “Why does fresh air on your skin matter so much?” My guess is that you’d walk naked if you could get away with it. I’d go to sleep naked if I didn’t have kids, but I do, so I don’t. A lack of shame is understandable, if lamentable, for shame prevents us from doing many things that are undesirable. One might say that shame creates society–the desire NOT to be looked down upon–but something happened to you not to care about that.

Maybe I’m going down the wrong mental highway for this guy. What’s your theory? Put it down in the comments below!

Most Disputes Die and No One Shoots

24 Jul

My son got obsessed with the musical Hamilton about two… three months ago, which means I heard half the soundtrack before I even heard one minute of the actual Broadway cast. When I actually heard it, and later saw it on Disney+, I found it very interesting what he chose NOT to sing.

What was my son’s favorite song list?

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • My Shot
  • The Schuyler Sisters
  • Right Hand Man
  • Ten Duel Commandments
  • History Has Its Eyes on You
  • Yorktown
  • The Room Where It Happens

What was my favorite songs from Hamilton?

  • Right Hand Man
  • Satisfied
  • Ten Duel Commandments
  • Yorktown
  • Dear Theodosia
  • Cabinet Battle #1
  • It’s Quiet Uptown
  • Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

What I noticed was that my son chose songs that are mostly from the first half of the musical. This is when Hamilton is up and coming, young, willing to take risks, seeking glory. He’s also big on the big numbers. My list also included the big numbers, but they were the ones that tend to pull at my heart strings more. Unrequited love, fawning over your children, thinking about your legacy.

This shouldn’t surprise me, but I’m amazed how the same musical can have different effects on people. My son really loved the intensity and power of the main character’s personality; I gravitated to his struggles, his failures, his feelings of inadequacy. Part of that is life experience. Certainly, I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to do at 13 – nowadays, I’m not sure I want to, because I know exactly what it costs to achieve them. At the same time, “there’s a lot of things I haven’t done” and I worry if it’ll ever happen.

In the musical, I take comfort that A. Ham was a real person. He had great ideas, but he frequently did them in ways that made enemies, he made big mistakes, and he felt like he had failed even after everything he accomplished. I weep openly every time I hear “It’s Quiet Uptown,” because the loss of a child is something I fear, and I understand what that means to a parent.

Of course, history has a way of repeating itself. Like when my brother (four years older) watched Fiddler on the Roof every day for six months. He was trying to get the lead of Tevye in the high school production. I can still sing every %*(#*$ line from that musical. That was thirty years ago.

So what did you take away from Hamilton? Have you been avoiding it? Did you hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

What Conan the Barbarian Teaches Us About Fatherhood

23 Jul

When did saying “I Love You, Son” stop being taboo? As guys, I get it, we don’t talk about our feelings that much – makes us seem “unmanly,” but there was a change in my generation in which it started to be okay to tell our sons that we love them. What was the disconnect? Was the taboo always there or did it evolve with our concept of manliness? Of course, we turn to cheesy action movies for our answer.

How did this thought come about? Well, I was watching Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, and in that version, Conan is raised by a single dad until he’s 12. His mom dies in childbirth in the middle of a battlefield. Badass. Of course, when your dad is played by Ron Perlman, you’re guaranteed to become a badass. But Conan’s dad was a very harsh father, and it’s only later when he inevitably is about to die, it’s only then that he says, “I love you, son.” Then pours a giant ingot of boiling metal on himself.

A very powerful scene and one I really enjoyed, but why did Conan’s dad have to be a dick to him his whole childhood? He was trying to toughen him up? Okay, you’re a barbarian, it’s a harsh world, I get it. But it’s not going to cost you anything to hug your boy every once in a while.

Compare this to the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan’s dad is still tough, badass, and still has a heart-to-heart with his young son. This speech is one of my favorites in all of movie history…

Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky, but Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the Earth. Once giants lived in the Earth, Conan, and in the darkness of chaos they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered, and the Earth shook, and fire and wind struck down these giants, and threw their bodies into the waters. But in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel, and left it on the battlefield.

We, who found it, are just men: not gods, not giants, just men. And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline. For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust.

The way William Smith plays him is great. Now this actor is a Korean war vet, gave up finishing his doctorate, and became a B-movie villain. (Funny how life takes you strange places.) Notice that second paragraph, though, as he talks to the eight or nine year old Conan with compassion, but seriousness. He’s also holding five pounds of broadsword as he talks. He obviously cares at the same time he’s telling his son, “You gotta be tough.”

Interesting enough, the tone of the movie also continues into the main plot. The difference between the main villain, Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones) and Khalar Zym (played by Stephen Lang) are also obvious. Both have that sad look towards their work. Doom has been personally learning the mystery of power. Zym’s a single dad who is trying to bring his evil wizard wife back from the dead. When facing Conan father’s killer, Doom is blase: “Really?” Zym takes a moment, but remembers Conan.

In the Schwarzenegger version, it’s the love of his family that was lost is reflected in the blandness of the evil that took it away. In the Momoa version, it’s the toughness he learned as a kid that is reflected in the passion of the evil. Maybe that’s the key – my father certainly wasn’t an affectionate man, my stepfather was more affectionate, but we weren’t a family of huggers. When I went to college and I met my first Italian friend, suddenly embracing someone you love was wonderful! I love hugging people! That contact is essential for feeling good and giving you strength later on.

Naturally, when I raise my own son, I don’t hold back my love and affection for him… at the same time, I try to prepare him for the world he’s going to live in. Compassion should be balanced with toughness, a man can be manly and still not an impassive dick to those he loves. You can cry at movies and be stoic in the face of pain or weakness. There is a balance that one needs to live… and that’s the lesson we need to pass on to our sons.

If you have kids, how do you balance toughness with kindness? Allowing independance versus keeping them safe? Put your hints in the comments below. In the words of Red Green, “Hang in there, we’re all in this together.”

World Building vs. Plot… Fight!

22 Jul

It took me twenty thousand words, but I finally figured out why I was having such trouble with my current work in progress – I was more concerned with the world I was building than the plot I was going to put in it. I guess I just figured that the plot would naturally feed itself, since I fell in love with my idea, but that quickly proved not to be the case.

This particular novel started off with a comment that Peter Gold, a fellow member of The Royal Manticoran Navy (a great fandom), told me. “The
sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s knew the importance of the merchant
marine during WWII, and wrote sci-fi stories built around merchant
ships rather than the navy.” So this got me researching how merchant marine worked today, watching great videos from mariners on YouTube (TimBatSea, JeffHK, Chief MAKOI), and figuring out how to fit that into a sci-fi situation. Trying to avoid being Firefly, I reused one of my previous universes, shifted it ahead 40 years, and BOOM! I’ve got a great universe.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up,” I tell myself, “let’s grind this out and write a story in this universe!” I came up with a comprehensive character sketch for the crew members on this merchant ship, so I knew who to have my main character interact with. My main character? Eh… he’s the POV character, so naturally not knowing anything (like the audience) is fine. But then, I never bothered to develop his backstory, or character traits, since I figured that would come out in the writing. (Partly right.)

Now what I should have realized as soon as I started is that all I had in my head for the plot was a couple scenes. Once those wear out, well… I can talk to all the characters I worked so hard to sketch out. Okay… then what? At some point, my main character has to DO SOMETHING. That’s where things got iffy. “Oh, crap! How do I keep my word count up?”

So I pulled a trick that Scott Lynch did in his book, The Lies of Locke Lamora: start in the middle of the action, flashback to the character building later. That worked… let me get back to who this character actually is. Still don’t have a plot, but hey, I’m getting more scenes in. I’m getting a glimpse of where I want to go. But that only lasts so long.

Now I’m at 35,000 words and I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what story I want to tell in this universe!” Now I’ve got 11 more days in the “contest,” I don’t want to stop when I’m so close, I don’t really want to keep writing it either. So I’m left with the realization that I’m going to finish this, a novel that is unpublishable, and it’ll take another month or so to rewrite this into something that I’ll be proud to show. And editing is not my strong suit – and I’m too cheap/broke to hire someone.

Oi.

However, this whole process has taught me the valuable lesson – figure out what story you want to tell first. Even if it’s not completely fleshed out, have a goal that you want your character to reach, and this will go to a far, far better place.

Have you ever had this problem? Most of the time, I’ve given up on the story, but have you just muscled through a story that you knew was going nowhere? Tell me in the comments section below!

What The Hell Did I Just Watch?

21 Jul

I happened to see Zardoz (1974) was available on Hulu. All I knew is that it was terrible and was one of those films I’m sure Sean Connery wish he never did (including Highlander II). But then one of my friends convinced me, “Oh, no – it’s really good. Watch it!” Okay – and I descended into movie-watching hell.

I’m not going to put a spoiler warning here because this movie is already spoiled. There is no way to describe this film–even the official description makes absolutely no sense after the first fifteen minutes. It starts off with a floating head explaining sophomoric philosophy, followed by a killing spree and a (different) giant floating head while Beethoven plays in the background.

You follow the floating head for the credits, which should have told me to run away right there. I already had the “pretentious” flag from the intro, the killing spree by men in scanty clothing, the Beethoven… but then, the “written, produced, and directed by” warning right there? I should have stopped right there!

Now if you love this film, then you and I expect different things out of movies. I expect a story. I don’t expect a visual representation of the pointlessness of existence or the ennui of being really… really old. The story should be the plot. You can have a message, you can have a really obvious message, but there needs to be a story. This has no story – it is “look at this cool universe” and “this is the message” kind of movie. The first could be forgiven – the second screams “art film.”

It’s not just that this is 70’s sci-fi. I love Logan’s Run. I love Soylent Green. But I was reading a review of this film that encapsulated it all. Will Thomas said, “A fascinating reminder of what cinematic science fiction used to be like before Star Wars, this risible hodge-podge of literary allusions, highbrow porn, sci-fi staples, half baked intellectualism and a real desire to do something revelatory misses the mark by a hundred miles.”

There is a lot of boobies. A lot of “Show me more of this human thing called sex.” I now understand the “Big Giant Head” joke from 3rd Rock from the Sun. I feel asleep twice during this film… and only felt the need to rewind once. I skipped past a five minute montage of teaching Zed… with lots of boobies. There were two redeeming points in the movie – and I’m giving nothing away here – one is where Zed learns to read, the other was the Apathetics licking Sean Connery.

And then it ends, as you knew it was going to end, with a denouement which would have been nice if it hadn’t been so creepy. It reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of the film is slow-motion shots of “Look how cool these effects are!” set to the Blue Danube Waltz, fifteen minutes of “That’s a neat story,” and an artsy ending.

I’m gonna give this a 8/10 on the WTF meter. The only movie I’ve ever seen that rating higher (9/10) was Motorama (1991); I figure a 10/10 would destroy the fabric of the universe. I am also going to punish my friend for telling me to watch this film. My retribution will be swift.

How would you punish my friend? What piece of garbage would you make him watch? Write your answer in the comments below.

P.S. Shaktimaan (the TV show) is not an option. That’s just cruel and unusual punishment.

Prayer Reimbursement

20 Jul

Prayer really is the first social media; everyone has access to it, some people “post” more than others, and some have more “followers.” You run into the same problems as other social media. You don’t like somebody’s prayer, you’ll mute them. You might “unfollow” someone after they do or say something you find offensive. And yet, it still one of the most effective forms of mass communication on the planet!

Let me approach this idea in a non-judgmental way. I happened to come across the term “payer management” on someone’s site and misread it – I thought it would be a catchy title. But the more I think about it, social media is a good metaphor for prayer. You start off following one god because one of their followers invited you to join them. You go along and start following other followers in the group, because you like what they have to say, or they bring the funny, or make good music.

If only your worship team was this cool.

Many people stop there. Others will start following other followers to see what they think, or to get a different insight into their prayer life. Some with try out other traditions – or follow those from other traditions – to read more posts. Some people actively cultivate followers. Some post really radical things that you may or may not be in agreement with. Even if they don’t, there’s a wide variance of prayer out there, even in the same religion. The difference between a Charismatic Catholic and an Irish Catholic church is just as vast as an Orthodox synagogue and a Reform synagogue. You might recognize some of the same words and songs… but that’s it.

But let’s get back to the title – reimbursement – what do “pray-ers” get out of it? Same things as social media; a sense of community, of connecting with something more, and sometimes, getting something they want. Your goal in prayer may be to connect with the infinite, but it also may be something more concrete. You may want to heal a sick friend or to get a better job. That’s why marketing on social media (and religion) is such a big industry – there is a goal in mind. You may want to save souls or pitch the Sleep Bible app on Cable TV.

Whether you “speak it into existence” or you get a direct benefit as a “follower,” prayer has a direct impact in people’s lives, and has for thousands of years. Okay – have I butchered this metaphor enough? Am I way out of line? Tell me in the comment section below!

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