Writing by the Numbers

I don't care how confident you felt. At some point, you thought your life hinged on this sheet of paper.
I don’t care how confident you felt. At some point, you thought your life hinged on this sheet of paper.

February 4, 2013

Once again, I’m teaching SAT classes, and once again I meet the blank stares of two dozen high school students who really didn’t want to be in a classroom at nine in the morning on a Saturday. And once again, I start with the same question.

“How many of you would consider yourselves to be good writers?”

Every year, without fail, this elicits embarrassed looks and almost no hands up. No worries. I expect it. Of course, I then ask why these young people are so scared of writing. The most common response is the lack of confidence in their ability to write what they wish to write. One student said she just didn’t know what to write.


Fiction Writer’s Cheat Sheet by =abstract1106 on deviantART

These classes are interesting because I have a total of nine hours to teach these kids how to write an essay and analyze passages. That’s it. Nine hours, or a little over one school day, but stretched out over three weeks. I spent years learning to write, both by reading and practicing and seeking out teachers who could help me. I was lucky enough to be taught by men and women who loved their craft and had the patience to guide me as I struggled to discover my voice.

Sadly, I don’t have that kind of time with these kids. I get a few ours on three Saturdays.

Time for writing boot camp! First thing’s first. I had to get them to understand that writing is a process, a combination art and science. Before getting started, they had to understand why they were writing and what was required. They had to understand the prompt. Are they arguing? Telling a story, showing pros and cons? Once they figure that out, we can move on.

Next came the “slow” part of the class. For one hour, I broke down the basic parts of any essay (introduction, body, conclusion), and then broke those down further into their constituent parts (hook, background, thesis statement, topic sentence, reasons, evidence, etc). In the end, the class had a shopping list of sentences, their purposes, and order.

I put them in groups, gave them a prompt, and had them outline for twenty minutes. They saw how quickly time flew and they saw their mistakes when reading the instructions. After a quick review, I turned the clock on and gave them just thirty minutes to write an entire essay with a completely new prompt.

The SAT only gives twenty minutes, so I was being nice.


Writer’s Notebook by ~Devox92 on deviantART

I stopped the clock at five minutes and told them that if they were still outlining and making lists, they’d better get to writing. At seven minutes, I made them actually start writing SOMETHING, anything, regardless of how prepared they felt. At twelve and a half minutes, I let them know that if they weren’t in their middle paragraph, they had to speed up. With five minutes left, I told them to wrap up and start checking their essays.

Once the class was wrapped up, I asked them how they felt. I had looked through their essays while they went on a quick break and saw a lot of writing. They felt confident. They actually sounded excited to have a map.

And that’s what these boot camps are like. I told them that they could of course deviate from the format I represented. They were welcome to get creative with the prompt, but if they weren’t sure and needed that template, they should use it.

It’s like one of my college professors told me. First, you learn the rules. Then, you bend the rules. Finally, you break the rules. Everything has a purpose, but these students didn’t understand the purpose of writing or the components of an essay. Now they know.

One day, they’ll take their writing further. They’ll have fun with it. Maybe one or two will make up new rules. For right now, this works.

For right now, it’s good enough. Now, let’s look at some people who really should have thought about their life decisions.

Man on a Mission (To Self-Destruct)

I’m going to listen to the Dresden Dolls until the pain goes away…

November 6, 2012

Politics, religion, and sex are the three most taboo topics in the world. That might explain some of the weird searches people use to get to this site…

I’d be lying if I said I felt really terrible for not posting as much the last two months, but the truth is that the website has really take its toll on me. Yes, it kept me writing. Yes, it’s been a blast hearing from all my readers, your wonderful comments on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, everywhere. At the same time, it’s exhausting. The research, the cross-checking, everything.

I was in Washington during the last presidential election. I remember receiving the first batch of “Obama is from Kenya” emails at the office. I remember walking into the chief of staff’s office and asking if he’d seen this. The “WTF” look on his face as he realized these people were serious is something I’ll never forget. I asked, half-in-jest, if it was acceptable to write an email to send back to these concerned citizens and call them the frakin’ morons they rightfully should be called.

I was told to be as polite as possible. And I was.

But I never forgot how I had to sit there and write a letter that was the equivalent of telling a charging rhino to sit. The whole time, I just sat there and thought of what I really wanted and needed to say:

I’m sorry, I agree that you have concerns, but I can’t really say that you’re the biggest fucking idiot I’ve ever met since my job depends upon my boss making everyone happy at the expense of not showing any spine or actual conviction. However, I understand you like to believe reality is a big conspiracy against you and the scary black man is going to take away Jesus and apple pie, and while such a scenario is about as likely as me gaining the powers of the Q Continuum just because I’m bored, I have to hold your hand and tell you that you’re right. Why? Because while liberals may have mistakenly latched on to the idea of relativism, the Right took it even further and declared that reality itself is so subjective that tangible, verifiable facts do not matter if you believe strongly enough. They believe that they can change reality by simply stating a bald-faced lie. Sure, I’ve been working in this office for only a few months, but even I know that both sides stretch the truth, exaggerate, and so on. However, I would present to you the following analogy.

Both of us are asked how to better move a couch up the stairs. My side suggests getting a bunch of people together to lift it, move it over the railings, and getting a few people inside to maneuver it through the door. Unwieldy, sure, and perhaps inefficient, but at least it worked. Your solution? Empty a gun into the sofa and hope God pulls it up.

I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be tactful, right? Positive? Okay.

Dear sir and/or madam, I am quite positive you have a massive learning disability, possibly self-inflicted from years of watching Fox and listening to Limbaugh. But just because you’re offended, you’re not right. Just because ten thousand people say it, it doesn’t make it true. Dismissing science, logic, and maturity does not make you quaint and homey. It makes you a child.

But I’ll be nice to you. Because it’s mean to be mean to children. Unless they’re idiots and refuse to learn from their mistakes. You know what? Forget it. You’re an idiot.

I’m pretty sure that was the moment I decided to try to reach out and educate people, maybe get a discussion going. I know some people will never be swayed by facts and experience, but I’m thankful for the things I’ve taught and for the things I myself have learned.

But frankly, the last year has been exhausting. I’ll be glad when the election is over. I’ll be more glad when I can finally tell myself I’ve edited Charcoal Streets as much as it’s going to get edited.

Good night. See you tomorrow, and remember…

Stories don’t tell children dragons exist. Stories tell children the dragon can be beaten.

Horror Movies for the Squeamish

For your viewing pleasure.

October 16, 2012

It’s Halloween season again! It’s like Christmas, but watching movies about idiots getting butchered is not frowned upon, so I’m good.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been helping students from several classes, but one class in particular is making students write their review essays on a horror movie. You can imagine my excitement. However, not everyone is willing to just sit down and watch a good dismemberment. And that’s fine. Here are a few films to watch this Halloween season if you don’t want to see blood and gore but would like to see what all the hoopla is about.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

An old manor somewhere in New England has a dark secret, and a father and his daughter, along with Daddy’s new girlfriend, are moving in while the happy couple restores the home to its former glory. However, something has been let loose in the basement, something small and with teeth.

The story has a bit of violence, mostly with one unfortunate victim of the creatures in the basement, and aside from a brief moment in the beginning and the hint of blood, it relies more on suspense and character development. It definitely looks like a Guillermo del Toro movie, too, which is just icing on the cake.

The Last Exorcism

A pastor who specializes in performing exorcisms hires a camera crew to follow him around so he can show them just how the game is played. He’s tired of conning people in the name of God and wishes to show what exorcists actually do. A worried father writes him a letter saying his daughter is possessed, but as soon as our intrepid preacher arrives, he thinks this case is different. This one might be real.

While not the greatest exorcism movie out there, it’s light enough on the blood and gore to still meet expectations. What blood there is mostly shows after the fact and the camera moves away from anything too graphic. The primary horror comes from the mystery of whether or to this young woman really is possessed or if she’s playing an elaborate trick on everyone.

Fair warning, though. The ending really divides people.

Mimic

Another Guillermo del Toro flick, this one has his trade-mark bugs and slime. As a plague seemingly moves to kill every child in New York City, a group of scientists identity common roaches as the problem. Using some slightly unethical genetic engineering, they create the Judas breed, a new insect whose only mission is to destroy the roaches… And it works.

Fast forward a few years and something’s hunting people in New York City. It’s big, strong, and looks oddly bug-like.

Being a horror movie with a monster, of course there are plenty of deaths and eviscerations, but they’re off-camera and mostly in the shadows. There’s blood, but nothing you wouldn’t see in an episode of CSI. It also has plenty of creepy crawlies.

Bubba Ho-Tepp

This is perhaps the best example of a weird idea that just works. Elvis is in a retirement home after having faked his “retirement.” The man in the home is an impersonator, or so everyone thinks. The man in the unassuming room really is the King of Rock after he paid an impersonator to take over his life.

But now, something is stalking the halls of the retirement home, and it’s up to Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, also in hiding, and now black, to save the day.

The movie is pretty light on horror at first, being more of a character study, but when it gets going, it gets going. This may not be the best “party” movie, but it’s certainly great once you get a few drinks in you and you want the kind of movie that just screams “acid trip.”

Lo

Man loses girl. Man summons demon to find out what happened to girl. Demon proceeds to give man the It’s a Wonderful Life treatment with a theater set that seems to break the universe’s fourth wall with everything from poorly-staged productions to dance numbers. It’s equally sappy, narmy, and disturbing, but it has a sense of humor about itself hat just oozes class.

It’s fairly trippy and very dialogue-heavy. Watch at your own risk. Honestly, I can see people getting bored with it early on, but if you stick with it, the payoff is worth it.

So there you go. Some nice, non-gory horror. And now, for those of us that remember good, old horror, let’s see if the first teaser for the Carrie remake lives up to its source material.

Also, all the previous movies are currently available for streaming on Netflix.

Review: Transfomers 3 AKA I WANT MY 150 MINUTES BACK

Restraint? Plot? Characters? What’s that?

September 18, 2012

I did it. I finally sat down and watched Transformers 3.

And there isn’t a drug on this planet that will make me forget what I just saw.

Let me be perfectly honest. I detest Michael Bay movies. They’re vapid, shallow affairs that could only ever be truly appreciated by a 14 year-old boy who’d never seen a breast in real life and has an unhealthy fascination with fire. Also, it helps if said 14 year-old thinks fart jokes are funny.

That being said, this movie was a big step up from Transformers 2. That compliment, however, is a bit like saying that getting kicked in the happy sack by a steel-toed boot is better than getting kicked in the happy sack by an out-of-control 18-wheeler. You’re still getting kicked in the happy sack.


Go Away, Michael Bay by *LadyVenomMyotismon on deviantART

I’m not going to go into too much detail, mostly because I have Charcoal Streets to edit and I need to find a BIG drink. Suffice to say, at least Bay wasn’t jerking the camera around like the was jerking… you know what? Too easy. I’ll just say that at least I could see the action. I’m fair. Plus, the music was pretty good.

Everything else sucked a fat one.

It’s bad enough this movie somehow managed to get good actors. It’s worse when the movie makes blatant references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and somehow thinks its subtle. It’s bad enough when every woman aside from Sam’s mom looks like a model and somehow manages to wear clothes one size too small. It’s bad enough when the human stories feel like they’re tacked on and the movie has five or six genres it tries to get off the ground, kind of how Bait 3D tried to cram five movies into one.

In short, the only way to watch this movie is to fast forward to the fights. That’s it. End of story.

Speaking of “end of story,” the film just ends with a devastated Chicago and the heroes standing around with a “huh” look on their faces. I’m sure I had the same look on mine.

It’s sad.

Let’s wash that feeling away with a trailer for the new horror film Mama. Let’s hope it’s good.

Updates for the next week

We’re moving again, so there will be no updates this week except through the Facebook page. Keep watching, though! More good things are coming up.

Aurora Shooting and the Culture of Guns

Why do we need guns? Because others have guns! Makes sense, right?

July 25, 2012

The shootings in Aurora, Colorado have once again brought up the debate about gun control, and once again, the Right is shrieking that it’s being persecuted all because someone used the laws they passed and killed a dozen people.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first.

I am pro-second Amendment. I believe it’s a good idea to be able to own guns. I understand hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage and can exist without animosity or hate towards others. However, I also have the capacity for critical thinking.

And the NRA and pro-gun lobby are dangerously wrong on a lot of points. And poor me, all I have is documented evidence instead of calls to fear and persecution.


We will rise again | Batman: The Dark Knight Rises by ~chanchan222 on deviantART

“If there had been another person there with a gun, this could have been stopped!”

Really? Holmes was wearing ballistic armor (which you can apparently just buy online) and had thousands of rounds at his disposal. Unless the other person inside the theater was a crack shot and managed to shoot an area without protection, handguns would have been near-useless. Assault weapons might have done the trick, but then you’d be advocating we should be allowed to bring rifles into places like movie theaters.

The idea that some lone hero could stop these tragedies lies with our romantic notion of the lone gunslinger, the brave soul who steps up and solves the problem before it starts.

Consider this. Katie Pavlich was in a church when an armed assailant went in with the intent to kill. She put him down before he initiated a massacre. Sounds like a great argument for being able to own guns and take them anywhere, right? One problem, though. Pavlich was an armed security guard hired by the church. Yes, a gun stopped the massacre, but that’s because she and her team knew who was and wasn’t supposed to have a firearm inside. Plus, they were on watch. In the middle of a chaotic shooting, if more than one person is firing, how are bystanders going to know who to shoot at?

Also, remember that human reaction time is roughly a third of a second, but if everyone had a gun, this might offset that sort of delay, right?

A few years ago, an armed assailant got the jump on four police officers. Who were armed. And MAYBE managed to hit him once before he ran off. You can only react so fast. You’d have to be actively looking for trouble, but even then, having more guns on the scene is not a good thing.

During the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year, multiple civilians had firearms on the scene. It didn’t stop the shooter, and one of the supposed heroes almost got shot himself. Joe Zamudio rushed someone else that had already disarmed the shooter… and nearly killed the wrong man. By Zamudio’s own admission, it was a stroke of pure luck that kept him from executing an innocent bystander. A lot of people made a big deal that Zamudio had a gun and he helped stop the shooter. True, he did, but he didn’t use his gun. The gun had no direct impact on his actions. In fact, the gun just made him more confident he would be safe and he wasn’t shot at. In the end, it wasn’t the firearms that helped stop the shooter. It was sheer guts and courage. The gun almost resulted in MORE death.

Let me put it another way. This is a loaded example, but follow me on this. When we developed nuclear weapons, we didn’t say that every country should have them. We still don’t think some countries should even THINK of developing them. We didn’t go out and give everyone the plans to make sure we could police each other. I don’t think ANYONE thinks giving North Korea or Iran is the best way to make sure we’re safe. A nuclear weapon is designed to kill. A gun is designed to kill. I don’t see a huge difference in why we want to limit one but not the other.


Batman – for Colorado by =uniqueLegend on deviantART

“Banning guns will just keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.”

First of all, I’m not saying we should ban guns. I’d just like to know that people with guns are not convicted felons. Take cars, for example. In order to drive, you have take a test, show you are capable of maneuvering a ton of steel of flammable fuel, and get insurance and registration in case anything should happen. Last year, we had 32,000 automotive fatalities in this country. Compare that to roughly the same number of gun-related deaths in the same time period. How much lower could that second number be if we actually forced people to receive proper training and get licensed?

When people died in car accidents, someone realized we could build a strap to help keep people from flying out the window. Then someone came up with the air bag. Then someone thought about including crumple zones and all manner of technology. Now, we can’t legally text and drive. With cars, we’ve made the machine safer and instituted penalties for reckless usage.

It’s not like we say we need more drivers on the road to corral bad drivers if they get out of hand. We don’t ask soccer moms in SUVs to push drink drivers to the side of the road. Why are we asking everyone else to be cowboys when it comes to guns?

“We need to trust our citizenry to get trained and be responsible. It’s up to the individual to make these choices.”

The right to own a gun is not the same as magically acquiring responsibility, much like turning 21 doesn’t automatically mean you know how to drink responsibly. It’s the reason we don’t allow things like drunk driving and go after drunk drivers HARD. We’ve shown time and time again that left to their own choices, people are outright stupid. I’m not advocating government control of our lives. I don’t think Big Brother should be monitoring our love lives, our search history, or whether or not we just mouth the pledge of allegiance. I don’t think the government should have a hand in every business…

But I also think we need monitoring and regulatory agencies to make sure companies don’t dump poisons into the air and water and pay fair wages while not abusing employees.

There’s a reason we enacted these laws, and yet when it comes to technology that allows one person to shoot one hundred people in a crowded theater, we don’t bat an eyelid. We just say, “Oh, the people who were shot should have brought guns too.”

“Americans don’t want more gun control!”

Liar, liar.

Yes, America wants more gun control and restrictions. The NRA is the one that wields a megaphone, but being loud and being right are not the same thing. This isn’t an appeal to the masses, either. If the question comes down to a vote, the majority wins and we get more gun control.


Gun Control by ~SoleOne on deviantART

“Even if we change the laws, we can’t round up all the guns out there. It would be impossible.”

Correct.

There are a lot of guns out there. There are people who have purchased extended magazines for pistols. There are people that bought assault weapons. There are collectors who have a dozen or more guns in their homes. They bought all these things legally.

Changing the law won’t mean they have to give them back if we word this right. The easiest thing would be to outlaw the sale of certain magazines and weapons after a certain date. Those bought before that date would still be legal, but perhaps restricted. Possibly transporting them or re-selling them would be an issue, but the point is to not keep making the same mistake just because we can’t undo the past.

This is like saying, “Well, we can’t pay back all these people for slavery, so why get rid of slavery?”

Small changes add up.

“Gun control is not the issue. We need to address drug regulation/ fear/ mental health/ etc.”

Banning certain types of firearms or making it difficult for someone to stock up on 6,000 rounds of ammo and enough guns to take on a Terminator may not stop the whackos, the lunatics, the crazies, and the criminals from finding them through less legal means… but it will certainly stop other, less-determined idiots.

Yes, we should address the root causes of this violence, but in the meantime, we can make it harder for one lunatic to wipe out a room full of people in ten seconds. It’s like saying we shouldn’t focus on AIDS treatments since we should be looking for a cure.

“The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. How dare we interfere with this fundamental right?”

Because, as we all know, the US Constitution is unchangeable and sacrosanct… except for all the changes we’ve made over the years.

I’m always dumbstruck by people who fall back on the argument that the Founders did this and the Constitution says this so it must be right. Why? What made the Founders these pillars of wisdom and common sense? They had some wonderful ideas, but they were a very diverse lot. Some wanted more state’s rights. Others thought the federal government should have final control over the states. Others thought only white men should vote.

Looking back at the fact that Americans in the 1770’s could own flintlocks and using that as the basis for allowing every citizen to buy assault weapons, extended magazines, or who knows what else misses the point. We’re all adults. We can ask if freedom of expression should protect people who yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.

That means we can also ask if we should allow everyday citizens to purchase weapons that can empty a thirty-plus round magazine in two seconds. I seriously doubt deer have equivalent firepower.

And, on another, note, people like the gentleman in this article that says he would feel naked without his ammo and guns scare me. They’re basically saying that they feel wrong about something, so it must be true. That’s not an argument. That’s an opinion. Give me facts, damn it!


Gun Control by ~Takes2ToTricycle on deviantART

Conclusion

Look, Obama is not coming for our guns. The United Nations is not going to ban firearms. Hunting will still be allowed. I and people like me want background checks. We want a red flag to go up whenever someone buys thousands of rounds of ammo. At the very least, we’d like to know the people who purchase and own a handgun are competent, well-trained individuals who can be punished for misusing their newfound power.

In the end, though, this debate comes down to fear. The NRA and extreme gun-nuts are afraid they won’t have their dick-extenders to hold on to while they watch Fox.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say that out loud?


Control Your Tongue by #christians on deviantART

Being Complacent With Failure?

Those aren't tears! That's life lubricant!

June 8, 2012

If there’s one surefire way to get me utterly mad at you, it’s to tell me “Everything happens for a reason” right after something bad happens.

Of course everything happens for a reason. It’s cause and effect. Things don’t happen without a reason. If they did, it would mean physics themselves had broken down and we were two seconds away from reality coming apart like a cheap sweater.

“Everything happens for a reason” is a nice way of trying to comfort someone by saying that something bad had a greater purpose. This supposes a universe that runs on a set plan that cannot be altered and is eventually going to come to a happy ending for someone. For example, major disasters “happen for a reason” to maybe teach the rest of us about humility and what is really important. Good for us, bad for the victims. 9/11 “happened for a reason” to bring us together as a country. Great, except we started two wars, destroyed our image abroad, and have a few hundred thousands dead people overseas that would disagree.


depression by ~deathswife666 on deviantART
Me? I’m currently trying to pitch a book no one seems to want to buy and am eating nothing but vegetables because meat is too costly. Oh, and I haven’t filled up my gas tank with more than ten bucks at a time because I never have that much available at any one time.

“Elves With Shotguns” is selling… not well. People who’ve read it like it and have left wonderful reviews, but it’s not getting the exposure it needs. This mostly has to do with not having any money for a budget. My bank account is pretty much shot. A month of no work will do that to you. I wish we had the time to do everything that’s asked for us, as well as pay comparable to other institutions around the country, but that’s never going to happen. I’d be happy to be able to work just 30 hours a week.

And yet…

A long time ago, I learned something about being frustrated and angry and down. I learned from both being in that position and being the teacher that gave a bad grade. Yes, you can be down. Yes, go get a drink. Get a lot of drinks. Vent. Punch a pillow, not a wall. I learned that last one the hard way. Play a video game and blow stuff up. Let it all out.

Then move on.

Everything happens for a reason, I know. Politics, favoritism, the economy, whatever. I can’t control those things. I can, however, control how much harder I look for freelance work. I can control how I decide to just power through the depression and get going with my life. I’m the one who decides I will look for a second, third, even fourth job. And if that fails, I’ll go out and drink, I’ll vent, I’ll punch a pillow…

And then I’ll take a deep breath, gather myself, and start over. Again. As many times as necessary.


Morning of Determination by *xkillz on deviantART

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to scrape by. It’s not the first time a plan to bring in extra income blew up in my face. It’s not the first time I felt the world was coming down on me.

I can’t afford to get some drinks, so here’s what I’ll do…

I’m going to have a minor freak out, calm myself, and remember the people around me. I’m going to get back to work and finish Charcoal Streets. I will spend time with my friends and family. I will keep my mind busy on the goal.

Frankly, I don’t have time to fail. No one should. Everyone should have something they aspire to do. Write, draw, read, cook, whatever. It’s not enough to just work, eat, and watch TV. We have to keep creating, doing something productive. Yes, watch cartoons, go out with friends, but creation is what keeps us sane, what keeps us going. Passivity is the death of the soul.

“Everything happens for a reason”?

Yeah, it does. I’m choosing to keep going. I would never ask anything of my students I wouldn’t do myself, so if they get upset they didn’t pass a practice test, I’ll just smile and tell them to keep going. I expect nothing less from them. The reason I’m still going is because to choose to do so.

That’s the reason. And I made it. You should, too.

And now, to help lighten the mood, let’s enjoy a mini-pig going down the stairs and nailing the dive.

Working on Big Things

You may have noticed the utter LACK of articles in almost a week. I’ve been putting together the final images and editing on “Elves With Shotguns,” the first book from Randomology Games. It’s also the end of the semester and things at the university have been… hectic.

Nevertheless, the site is NOT dead, and WILL continue writing and making videos, and you can expect a lot more goodness in the coming weeks. Until then, keep checking in, stay tuned for the release of “Elves With Shotguns” next month and Charcoal Streets in the fall, and I’ll see you all soon.

Happy Holidays and Hiatus

I’ll be going off-line until the new year. I’ll check the Facebook page and the blog for any comments and such. I want everyone to have fun this holiday season, be safe, and if you’d like to get me anything, how about you guys keep being awesome and keep sharing those links?

That would be all kinds of banana nut bread awesome.

See you in 2012!