Saturday, May 6, 2023

Bad Dialogue vs Good Dialogue (Writing Advice) by Brandon McNulty

Just watched this video.  This has some interesting and amusing examples of good and bad dialogue, and the explanations are fantastic.  

Worth the watch.

I'm going to watch some more of Brandon McNulty's videos.  Anyone know his books?

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Online Writing Groups--Another Chapter

 Funny, Covid started two years ago, and although the worst of it has passed, our writing group, like so many other events in life remain in that small electronic box.

The last years I haven't written much.  I have plenty of excuses.  Lots of them.  I pray that these excuses will dwindle in the coming years.  

The writing group remains my link to the world of writing.  Well, I suppose I have other threads that tether me to this world, but mostly, my memories of this life and the web in this part of my brain sometimes seem to be withering.  One of the many excuses I have for not writing is maintaining the plants in my yard--flowers from my grandmother mostly.  I am grateful to have these flowers bloom in the Spring.  But as they bloom, parts of me seem to wither.

The writing group reminds me that I have a life that many others do not.  Often, before I log on for our writing group, I wish for more time to prepare my notes for the writers and want to remember the terms like I once did.  Always, after we finish with the little square, electronic session, I shut down my computer, have a quick conversation with Randy, and sigh.

I feel liked.  Appreciated.  Respected even.

The people in the writing group seem to appreciate my feedback and value what I have to say.  

This feeling lifts my heart and warms my soul.

And I remember that a part of me is not a slave to a corporation, a part-time gardener, and all of the other duties that take up my time and turn into the excuses keeping me from writing.  Even if I am not actively producing writing, I support other writers in their work and get to talk about writing.

This is something for now.  Something pretty good.

I look forward to meeting our small group in person for a Spring gathering.  This time brings hope and encouragement to my heart.

Monday, February 13, 2023

A Late Christmas Present

A few weeks ago, a small package arrived--yes, a late Christmas present.  My husband is not perfect, but he has this magical ability to find thoughtful and meaningful gifts--I have always been lousy at buying presents.  I struggle and debate about Christmas presents, trying to find something unique or interesting or practical.  Nick can always find something right, and I marvel at this wonderful ability.

I unwrapped the package.  It was a lovely Graham Greene first edition--but a title I did not recognize.  That in itself is unusual.  The only reason I have not read all of Graham Greene's books is because I'm trying to savor them a bit.

But this book is more unusual than that.

The Name of Action is the title, and as I opened the lovely old cover, my husband told me more about this one.

The Name of Action is Graham Greene's second novel.  This book, the one in the picture, is a first edition, but this is the only edition Graham Greene printed.  

He didn't care for the book.  I believe he hated the book.  When the publisher asked for a second printing, he refused, and only 1,000 books were printed.  That was in 1930.

Who knows how many copies are left?

I ashamed to say that I have not read it yet.  It is wrapped in bubble wrap on my desk, waiting for me to finish the Taylor Caldwell book I started around Christmas.  

This little book makes me smile.  As much as I admire Graham Greene, he wrote this book and didn't like it.  Even as a young and struggling writer, he wouldn't publish more copies.

I can sympathize with this.

Can't wait to read it.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Grammar Foundations

Maybe a couple of years ago in our fiction group, I said something about perfect tense, and Kristen asked me how I knew so much about grammar.  I shrugged and said I learned a lot in graduate school.

Funny, I have thought about that brief comment and that pseudo lie in the years that have passed. 

I didn’t mean to lie. 

I didn’t have an answer.

Truth is, my love of grammar started long before this.

My story begins when I was in tenth grade.  My family had moved to New Jersey when I was in eighth grade, and I struggled in school—but that’s not quite true, either.  My older sister was a year ahead of me, and she excelled in everything without trying.  I may have been smart, too, but I had different skills and different interests, so I bounced back and forth between the college prep courses that required an A to continue to the next year and the regular courses.  

Funny, I would get As in the regular courses without trying which would kick me into the college prep courses.  Then, I would get a B in the college preparatory course, and the system bumped back down to the regular course.

This was a typical pattern for me.  

I didn’t care much for my grades.  I didn’t much care to follow in my sister’s footsteps.  I was a gloomy teenager without much hope.  But I loved writing and words.

Freshman year I was in the regular English course.  I breezed through this with an A.  

Sophomore year I was in the accelerated, college preparatory course taught by Ms. Stout.  She was particular about being addressed by Ms., and God planned for me to be in this class.

This was years ago.  Decades ago.  

Ms. Stout gingerly handed each of us a small blue writing handbook, a paperback, which was unusual for a textbook in high schools in those days.  This was a paperback named The Lively Art of Writing, and we called this the LAW book for short.  

We sniggered and called it the bible for Ms. Stout’s outside of class.

Ms. Stout was an intense woman with fiery blue eyes.  I wouldn’t want her to know that we joked about the LAW book.  

But maybe she would have laughed, too.

I think we had a list of about 30 rules outlined in the LAW book, and I think I wrote about this in an earlier blog.  These 30 rules were LAWs.  According to Ms. Stout, if we broke any of these laws three times in an essay, this would our grade to a C.  Any subsequent infracture would drop our grade down.

So, three broken rules would bring us down to a C.  Four to a D.  Five to an F. 

We learned quickly.

I doubt any teacher today could get away with such strict rules, but we learned the rules and how to identify them very quickly.

Most of these rules I have forgotten.  The best I learned quickly.

Passive voice was perhaps the most valuable.  I recall combing my essays for passive voice on the bus before school, looking for the tell-tale be-verb combinations.  I found them quickly and learned to distinguish them well.  Once, I questioned her passive voice question, saying it was not a verb phrase, and she agreed with me, raising my grade with a smile.  She seemed pleased that I knew the difference between a passive verb phrase and what might have been an adjective phrase.

Passive voice seemed to be the most useful tool.  Ironically, I use passive voice steadily in my current, medical job, and this continues to annoy me because the requirements of my job demand the passive.

The other rules were numerous but logical.  The only other one I remember clearly is, Avoid “it” and “there” as a subject when they are placeholders without any specific meaning.

Other rules are less impressed on my memory but probably just as marked on my style.  Not using “wise” at the end of words was another rule: “Grammar-wise, the class was very fruitful.”  This sloppy contraction never seemed useful or helpful except when I needed to avoid it.

Ms. Stout was a funny woman with large blue eyes and dark black hair.  That classroom in New Jersey was just a partition off a larger common walkway, and yet I remember Ms. Stout vividly talking of essays and meaning and words.  Every word conveyed meaning, she had said.  Make every word count and make every word effective. 

I made a B in her class and ended up in the regular class the next year.

Funny, when I started in college, diagraming sentences and learning about transformational grammar, I thought of Ms. Stout.  The foundations of my grammar probably started earlier, but Ms. Stout solidified some of the excitement and passion for what I learned.

Then, I read tons of Chomsky and Pinker, and I don’t know if I agree with everything that Ms. Stout taught us as a straight rule.  I think I learned that grammar is communication and understanding, not just rules and formulation.

But I learned some rules and formulation to understand the expectation and parameters around us is extraordinarily good.  The more we understand about language and its patterns and its deviations and its transformations the more we can communicate more effectively.

Or so we think.

Or so I have thought.


Monday, September 5, 2022

Tales of the Tragically Unhip - Volume 1

     As many of you remember (or perhaps you don't as it has been so long since last I posted), I am not made of the same stuff as the younger generations. The stardust and quantum energies that coalesced to form the haunted and ruinous temple that is me are older and more basic than those of the generations that have since been born. Were I to make a real world comparison, I would liken myself to a rotary phone with a ten foot spiral cord that was ever getting tangled to an iPhone 13.

    Evidence of this sad little truth lies in an incident that occurred some months back when I made a trip to Starbucks. Now, I would like to point out that I do not drink coffee. Coffee and I do not play well together, digestively speaking. However, I do love the smell of coffee and I have tried to drink it on many occasions, but the resulting reactions are unpleasant for myself and everyone around me. 

As such, I drink tea. Starbucks is not known for tea.

My family, you see, they drink coffee. They enjoy the fanciful concoctions with names that sound as if they belong in one of my novels. Chocolate flavored coffee or those with flavored creamers seem to delight them the most. And I, being the considerate patriarch, decided one day that I would stop by one of the local Starbucks on my way home just to surprise them with something they enjoyed. I was feeling very proud of myself as I turned into the drive thru lane. I mean, there did seem to be an inordinate number of cars, but it was a Friday just after rush hour so I was still feeling confident in my generosity.

The universe had other ideas.

My turn was soon approaching and I had come within site of the menu board. This is where I should have realized that I was in over my head. Still, undaunted, I stalked the listings like a Hanna Barbera lion in search of my prey. To my compounding confusion, I fond things such as: Cappuccino( I have heard of these from TV and movies), Honey almond milk flat white (ummmm...), Cinnamon Dolce Latte (Sounds...fancy?), Macchiatos (WTF?), Mocha (Chocolate-ish?), Clover Brewed coffees, and these are just the "hot coffee" items! 

Steady on, lad. You can do this.

Right then, it's nearly my turn though the person in front of me seems to be ordering for all of the city and the surrounding counties. More time to decipher these hipster (do people still say that?) runes. Hmmm...mocha. I've heard the wife say that before cream, maybe? No, something to do with desserts. It means coffee flavored chocolate? Well, I suppose it would be the reverse here. Mocha it is then. 

The surburban-elite-land yacht finally pulled forward taking the far too tight turn like hippopotamus in a sluice. I slunk forward like the coffee Philistine that i am and prepared to order. The speaker crackled on a woman asked me what I would like to order. 

"Two mochas, please" I answered.

"Which kind would you like?" she asked in return.

Which kind? There' s more than one? Bother.

I hurriedly look at the menu trying to see what I had missed. There were really only three options, but my brain latched onto the Frappachino (whatever in God's name that is) menu a glitched. There are at least a dozen varieties of those and so I replied, "Mocha Cookie Crumble."

There was a pause before she replied, "So you want Frappacinos, then?"

Frappaccino? What the hell is that? Oh, bother and damnation! I'm on the wrong menu.

"No, just a mocha please." I said hoping to steer the conversation back to where i thought it should be.

"Sir, which kind would you like?"

At this point, I could feel the judgement from the professional coffee drinkers in line behind me. Their vexation flew forward and piled itself on top my growing anxiety. Steady on, old bean. You can do this.

"Chocolate Cream, then, please"

Another slightly longer pause before she answered. "So you want a cold brew?" 

Cold brew? What...oh, for the love of...wrong damn menu again! Wait, was she laughing?

I could feel the heat rising at the back of my neck and in my cheeks. My ancestors were looking down on me and facepalming in despair at my ineptness. But then just as I was to pull out of the line in shame, I found the right part of the menu.

"Ah, ha!" I exclaimed. "Two reserve mochas, please"

There was definitely laughter in the ranks when she answered. "What size would you like? Tall, Venti, or Grande?"

Venti? Grande? I haven't studied Latin in 25 years. What the ever loving f....

At this point, one of the cars behind me honked its horn followed shortly by another. 

Frustrated and in a panic, I replied, "Look, I don't know the words to tell you that I want the chocolate flavored coffee in the large cup!"

There was a longish pause after that before the speaker came on again. Laughter tumbled out in digital buckets. She tried to reply but had to cut off her mic. I didn't wait for her to answer. I just pulled forward to the window and then handed my card to the person at the till. I didn't look at them save for a brief moment when they handed me the drinks. I believe I saw pity in her eyes, but I didn't linger long enough to find out for certain.

I am told that I did indeed get the right coffee drinks, though I think my family may have taken pity on the old man and told me what I wanted to hear. I have not returned to that Starbucks or any other as I am certain the tale of tragically unhip old lion has been spread far and wide. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Writing Groups!


This is a little dated.  I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago.

Our writing group has been meeting online during Stupid Covid.  I think we tried to have a group once--but I've seen a few of these awesome people through this time.

Certainly not often enough.

A couple of weeks ago, we had an in-person workshop, and it was fabulous.  The picture above is from the brewery where some of us wandered after the meeting.

I know I said this previously, but I will say this again: online workshops do not replace the camaraderie and bonds that we build in the writing world.  I think writers have an innate vulnerability, and we need the support, encouragement, and creativity that Zoom cannot replace.

Sitting around a table, discussing the possibilities in a new story, and yes, sometimes sharing a beer make the bonds in writing groups really powerful and so dang interesting.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Neil Gaiman reading at Butler

I've intended to write about the reading at Butler.  Randy, Nick, my mom, and I went to the reading and had a fantastic time.

I have been listening to different videos on Youtube for Gaiman and have been tremendously impressed by his presentation.  Not only does he write well, but also he sells himself well; he is funny, engaging, interesting, and accessible.  He tells stories about being a writer and appeals to his audience.  At times, I felt like he was speaking to an audience of writers, not just readers, which seemed clever.  I  suspect many of his readers are hopeful writers.

Anyway, during his reading at Butler, he read short stories--nothing of his novels.  I liked this.  I'm certain that he could have read from his novels, but not everyone would have been able to engage with all of his novels, so reading his short stories pulled everyone into the tales, and we could experience each of those stories. 

Here is a story, not one that he read that night, but one that I listened to recently.  This story is suspenseful, and the tension does not disappoint--although the ending is a little sad.  And yes, I have cats and love them dearly.

Here is "The Price" by Neil Gaiman.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Writing Advice from Neil Gaiman

Another quick video with Neil Gaiman.  Can you tell I am excited to see him speak?

Neil Gaiman is coming to Butler!

Neil Gaiman is coming to Butler!

Saw this on Youtube a few weeks ago.  A couple of sections of this made me smile.

We--Nick, Randy, and I--are going!  How exciting.

I'll post an update after we hear him speak!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Kafka, Korean Movies, and Spike Lee (Spoiler Alerts)

I am neither an expert on Kafka or on Korean culture or on Spike Lee, so forgive me if my logic is absurd.

Recently, I listened to The Metamorphesis and The Trial.  Usually, I listen to some commentary and some criticism about the books, too.

Thug Notes amuses me.  Here is a quick commentary on The Trial:

Quick thematic overview on Kafka.  Kafka explores punishment.  Early in his writings, he wrote about unreasonable punishment from an authoritarian father, but later in his work, as in The Trial, he writes about punishment from a legal system that is nonsensical and unjust.

Now, I'm about to make an illogical jump to Korean movies.  

I discussed popular Korean movies like The Host with a Korean friend.  He told me that in Korean history, Koreans have felt trapped by chance, invaded by China or Japan simply because of their location, and often pulled into brutal wars.  This history influences Korean culture, being punished by large, outside forces and being unable to control or withstand the punishment.

While living in South Korea, I watched different Korean movies, including The Vengeance Trilogy by director Park Chan-wook.  These movies, while disturbing and not intended for the faint-of-heart, explore a similar theme to Kafka: irrational punishment.  The main characters in these movies fight against horrible, severe punishment, seeking vengeance against cruel punishment.

Old Boy is the second installment of the trilogy from 2003.  

Here is where the spoiler comes.  

I'm not sure that I can easily or briefly summarize the plot because this is a complex story and because the characters have Korean names.  Basically, a mystery man imprisons the protagonist in a room that is like a hotel room.  The mystery man lets the protagonist out after 15 years but tells the protagonist he must find out why he was punished.  

In the end, the mystery man is someone the protagonist knew in high school.  The protagonist caught the mystery man having sex with his sister and spread rumors around school.  The rumors caused the sister's humiliation and suicide.  The mystery man blames the protagonist for his sister's suicide.

The final, and most horrific blow, is in the final punishment for the protagonist, the mystery man tricks the protagonist into falling in love and having sex with his own grown daughter.

The mystery man/antagonist punishes the protagonist for his own horrible actions--and tricks him into doing the same actions that caused him to loose his sister.  

In the end and through a strange twist of fiction and stretch of willingful suspension of disbelief, the protagonist is hypnotized to forget everything that has happened, choosing to live a happy life with his daughter--presumably, as husband and wife.

These parallels struck me as I was reading Kafka.  Perhaps Park Chan-wook takes this to a different, more graphic level, but the irrationality and brutality of the punishment in Old Boy reminds me of Kafka. 

Here comes Spike Lee.

Spike Lee did a remake of Old Boy in 2013.

I watched this remake last weekend for the first time.  After watching this, I was disappointed for two reasons.  First, the amazing shots and cinematography from Park Chan-wook's original were duplicated without much originality.  The angles, the color, the camera action, and the sets that made the original so interesting seemed very recognizable in Spike Lee's version.

Second, and again this is another spoiler alert, the ending differed in three significant ways.  The antagonist in the Spike Lee version did not have sex with his sister.  The protagonist caught the antagonist's father having sex with the antagonist's sister.  The movie implies that the father slept with the sister and the antagonist--the antagonist was a victim of incest as well as his sister.  

When the protagonist humiliates the father and sister, the antagonist's father kills the sister, himself, and tries to shoot the antagonist.  The father intended to kill both children (including the antagonist) and himself, but the antagonist lives to fulfill his vengeance. 

And one last, significant deviation: the protagonist chooses to leave his daughter in the end.  He leaves a letter for his daughter saying he will never see her again and she must forget him.

Why are these deviations significant?

In the Park Chan-wook's version, the antagonist punishes the protagonist for something the antagonist himself did wrong.  Certainly, the protagonist spread rumors in both movies, but I believe most people would not consider gossip as harsh as incest.  In Spike Lee's version, the antagonist punishes the protagonist for something his father did wrong--he was a victim of his father's wrongs.

In both movies, the protagonist is just that--the protagonist.  In the beginning of both movies, we see him as foolish and as a bad father, but through his unfair imprisonment and his struggles, we root for him and want him to understand why he has been treated so unfairly.

In the Korean film, the protagonist is punished for the antagonist's wrongs, but he chooses to forget everything and continue a completely new life.  In the American version, the protagonist is punished for someone else's mistakes, but he chooses to leave his previous life and to remember the pain forever.

I'm not sure with which version Kafka would identify?

Friday, February 25, 2022

A Critique--The Castle of Otranto

I have lots of books.  

I'm trying to go through and filter the ones with which I can part and with which I want to read again.

So, I'm rereading some of the books that I may end up on the departure pile.  It's a sad, mournful task, like I'm saying goodbye to old friends, but like I said, I have lots of books.

I recently reread my old copy of Slaughterhouse Five.  It's falling apart, and I need to turn the crumbling pages as if it's 100 years old, but it's as good as I remember it.  Funny, much of the rhetoric and narrative have been imitated since Kurt Vonnegut wrote this--the narrative within the narrative, the overlapping time, the repetition--but the quality and wit still stand.

But I want to write about a different book: The Castle of Otranto.  I would not have read this if I hadn't had to read this for a wonderful graduate class about the progression of novels of the gothic and romance.  This class mapped the progression of gothic and romance novels from the 1600s to the early 1900s.  Fascinating stuff. 

The Castle of Otranto was in the list.

This is an extraordinary book for several reasons.  First, printed in 1764, this is credited as being as the first gothic novel.

Let me pause here.  The term "gothic" is very problematic, especially in contemporary times, when we think more about Trent Reznor and emo than traditional gothic.  But this novel created the first literary world in charming castles, ancient history, romantic clashes, illusive ghosts, and heroic honor.

Horace Walpole (did I mention he's the one who wrote this?) set the tone and mood and identity and basic foundation for all of gothic literature.

But that's not all.  For the next 100 or so years, most of the gothic novels imitated his basic plot and characters.  His plot is pretty complex in places, but essentially, he introduces a curse and then a beautiful princess, an evil villain, and an unknown prince.  There are some chases and some complications, and then the villain gets punished.

So this is the second point.  Sure, he created the genre, but he also created the plot and basic characters that we see today.

Walpole's plot is pretty tricky for how short it is, but essentially, this is the foundation for so many gothic novels and Disney movies we have seen--the curse, the princess and the prince get together, and the villain gets punished.  Also, his characters are a bit lacking--if not very stereotypical--but again, the volatile villain, innocent princess, and valiant prince are stock characters we meet all the time.  Walpole set this stuff up and created these for the first time.

As a novel from 1764, you can't really sit down to read this like you would sit down to read Dean Koontz or Janet Evanovich.  However, this book offers such a foundational look into the history of the novel and the genre, and we rarely have such a definitive novel as to say, "This novel set the foundation for all other novels like it."

In this case, I think we can.

I'm keeping this one for a few more years.