June 26, 2012
Mary and I have coined a new term: the “muffin plan.”
Follow me on this. Perhaps you and your friends want to accomplish some sort of short-term goal. This can range from getting cash for a night out to finding your way across town. Maybe you lack the resources to make this work. Maybe there are obstacles in your way. Whatever the case, a muffin plan hinges on your apathy as to whether or not the plan actually succeeds.
You see… a muffin plan is a plan wherein the mere execution of the plan is so fun that it doesn’t matter whether or not the original goal is met.
In order to find your way across town, maybe you decide to hop on buses and talk to people and see where you end up. To get cash, perhaps your friends put on a show at a park and work your supper for one afternoon.
There is, in fact, a story behind the term “muffin plan.”
Several months ago, my D&D players were trying to find out who in a small village was afflicted with lycanthropy. They managed to find some wolfsbane, which was rare because the local baron WANTED the werewolf to remain hidden. They also discovered that, even in their human form, werewolves were very much averse to this plant, so they decided they needed to get close enough to see if their suspects had any reaction.
However, each of their suspects would instantly recognize the plant and try to act nonchalant if he or she really was the werewolf…
So the team baked the wolfsbane into some muffins and, through a series of performances that would make Jersey Shore look like Masterpiece Theater, got close enough for all their suspects to get a whiff of the muffins. And yes, they found the culprit. The most fun part, though, was seeing them act out how they were going to get these muffins to a doctor, a priest, a guard, etc.
That’s a muffin plan. You have so much fun trying that you don’t really care if the plan works. It’s part of what I love about writing. Drafting an idea can go in seventeen different directions. My notes for Charcoal Streets are probably longer than the book itself, but all that learning and planning has actually been enjoyable.
I still want to sell a million copies, though, so tell your friends.
Whatever you’re doing, have fun. If nothing else, if the plan falls apart, at least enjoy the process.
And now, I’d like you to share your own muffin plan stories below. When have you ever done something so fun that it didn’t matter if it worked or not?
April 10, 2012
Characters are funny.
I’ve been writing since I was in fourth grade. And by that I mean stories, not just writing in general. I can’t for the life of me remember the names of any of my early characters, but I can certainly remember the ideas and images that made e want to use them. Characters, I found out early enough, need to be able to breathe. They must feel real and alive.
A character does whatever a character does.
I found this out playing Dungeons and Dragons, too. Most monsters are faceless and nameless thugs, thieves, demons, and occasionally fey who are there to provide a good combat challenge. For the big dogs, though, the characters that become recurring villains, I have to do a little more work. The same thing goes for Charcoal Streets. I need to sit down and figure out what makes these guys tick. Once I do that, I can put them in a situation and see what they do.
It’s an interesting thought exercise, but it’s not something out of reach for most people. If you don’t have time to make up your own characters, try to figure out what two established characters would do in a situation. What would happen if you put Richard Riddick in a maze trap designed by Jigsaw? All the people he could just let die and not care… but what WOULD make someone like that care? How could you raise the stakes?
When I designed my current D&D campaign’s primary villain, I set to make her something that would resonate with everyone and just let the interactions color future installments.
Her name is Keyleth Greymoon. She was a paladin of light until her xenophobia and paranoia made her leave her unti with several dozen soldiers in an attempt to gather power to “properly protect” her realm. This included trying to free a fallen angel and killing every non-fey in an isolated valley.
At first, she was just a xenophobe. She was particularly sickened by our half-elf rogue whom she called a half-human and, infamously for my players, a “half-breed bitch.”
Two and a half years later and they’re still steamed at her about that.
And that’s when I knew I’d made a memorable character. The line was ad-libbed. It sounded like something Keyleth would say, but it struck such a chord among my friends, all of whom abhor any sort of racism or elitism, that Keyleth is still around and the mere mention of her makes their skin boil. There are other incidents, but they all started with a few background notes.
I have similar notes for the characters of Charcoal Streets. Miguel, Carmen, Luz, Father Flores… if you think I don’t know their favorite drinks, hobbies, and hang-outs. You’re sadly mistaken. I know why Carmen prefers Glock pistols. I know what Father Flores’ tattoo means. I know why Miguel lives in that crappy apartment.
It’s all in the details, in the little things that nudge a character. Make sure you know what your characters do. Let them breathe. Let them have a drink, a smoke, and go to bed with whatever or whomever they want.
Characters are trees. You can’t tell where the branches will go. Just let them grow.
And now, until the next post, please enjoy dumb people this month.
March 23, 2012
Trayvon Martin’s death and the subsequent stall of justice and prosecution of his killer has made national news in the past few days. Florida’s gun laws and the ability to Florida citizens to seemingly kill with less oversight and consequences than police officers is under scrutiny. But we have to remember something. As much as people are arguing over the gun laws and as much as people are wondering why we haven’t done more towards Zimmerman, there is something more vicious going on.
Some are actually blaming Trayvon for his own murder.
Just when you thought the Right Wing noise machine couldn’t get more despicable, Gerardo Rivera, a man famous for being ordered to leave Iraq after divulging troop positions, went ahead and said one of the worst things I’ve ever heard.
Among other things, Geraldo thinks there’s nothing wrong with crossing the street when you see a black or Latino youth because we’ve all seen punks rob convenience stores wearing hoodies. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie, so Zimmerman may have been partially justified in his reaction to shoot an unarmed teen in his own neighborhood.
This is the same kind of mentality as blaming rape victims.
“Oh, you went out with make-up and a skirt, and you had a drink at the bar? Well, you just looked like the type of woman men would assume wanted to get laid. You were probably asking for it.”
The rape justification is horrible. Blaming a teen for his own murder because he was wearing a hoodie, you know, an article of clothing for cool weather, is downright disgusting.
Then you have Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze. After Captain Blackboard got the boot from Fox and was dropped from several radio stations, this became his little haven. And boy, he may not have written it, but he’s not said anything about it, either.
Mytheos Holt, an associate editor at the Blaze, wrote an article claiming we didn’t have all the facts yet. For example, did you know that Trayvon was suspended from school? We don’t know why, but the list includes:
- Harassment (non-sexual or isolated)
- Petty theft (under $300.00)
- Assault/Threat against a non-staff member
- Breaking and Entering/Burglary
- Bullying (repeated harassment)*
- Sexual harassment**
- Grand theft (over $300.00)
- Sex offenses (other) (including possession and/or distribution of obscene or lewd materials)
- Armed robbery
Is The Blaze implying Trayvon was a promiscuous murderer who liked to set fires and steal? They just put the list out there as if to say, “You decide, America!”
Well, we have. It’s why Beck lost his show and why people like Holt and Rivera are horrible human beings. We have plenty of facts on the case. It’s become such a national story specifically because we know so much about the case and nothing’s been done about it. If it had been a murder and Zimmerman had been arrested on the spot, it would have still been a tragedy and would likely have garnered some national attention and started a conversation on Florida gun laws.
And even IF Trayvon had been a homicidal pyromaniac, when he was killed, he posed no threat to anyone, especially someone with a loaded gun. Unless, of course, The Blaze is advocating killing people on the basis that they MIGHT have done something wrong.
This just goes to show just how disconnected from reality some people can get. Here we have a case of an overzealous man who shot and murdered an unarmed teen and while most people are trying to figure out the legal implications of the state’s gun laws and how this Zimmerman has not yet been arrested, we have Geraldo and Beck’s cronies wondering how Trayvon himself caused his own murder by being black and wearing clothing.
If anyone asks me why I write these articles and why I keep making videos, I point to things like this. If we don’t actively go after these self-righteous bastards and their insane semblance of “logic,” others might follow suit. It’s why education is important. It’s why we need to learn proper critical thinking skills.
If you look at this case and wonder how Trayvon Martin went so long without getting shot, you should be sterilized for the good of humanity. And set on fire. Also for the good of humanity.
To help wash away the hate and usher in the weekend, here’s the full trailer for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
March 19, 2012
I was excited when I heard Dark Shadows was going to get a movie adaptation. First of all, it was being directed by Tim Burton. Second of all, it starred Johnny Depp, though that’s kind of a given at this point. Burton and Depp did a great job adapting Sleepy Hollow, one of the great horror comedies of all time as far as I’m concerned. Burton has a good track record (even considering Alice in Wonderland) and he has a style that would lend itself to the campy soap opera.
And then I saw the trailer. If you missed it in the last article, here it is. Keep a tissue handy. You may cry like I did.
I’ll admit I’ve never seen Dark Shadows. I wish I had. It was one of those shows that had a good amount of camp to it but managed to hold its own despite a hectic schedule and soap opera storylines. The fact that it’s still watched and talked about today makes me think it’s something to put on my Netflix queue. In fact, two of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel could be seen as spiritual successors to some of the things Dark Shadows started, namely using supernatural themes
I’m getting flashbacks to Alice in Wonderland. I love Burton’s style. It’s like a child’s fantasy on acid. My on artwork was influenced by the darks and playfulness and the way something cute might become something horrific at any moment. Lots of black, lots of white, a little gray, and let the creepiness do the rest. Burton, though, seems to be forgetting the lesson he learned from Sleep Hollow.
If you change something, it better be to make the end product superior.
Sure, the old series was full of little mistakes and the production could have used some polishing, but at least it tried. Now, instead of a drama, we’ve got what looks like a fish out of temporal water story. We’ve already got the same tired joke of the visitor from the past getting freaked out by television and the very unfunny mix-ups with modern slang. So far, I haven’t seen anything that tells me this will build on the original series’ legacy or form. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it.
Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. Alice in Wonderland was an atrocity. This looks no better. Next thing you know, someone will take Quantum Leap and make it into a zany buddy comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Jack Black. Ooh! How about we bring back Law and Order but make it a musical comedy starring Zac Effron as Lennie Briscoe?
Hollywood, cut it out before we, the fans, decide to pool our resources and invest in a neutron bomb.
And to clean out the broken dreams, here is every episode of Itchy and Scratchy, all in one place.
March 16, 2012
I don’t really play video games. The last video game console I owned was a Super Nintendo. That doesn’t mean I don’t play Wii or Xbox games when possible, and don’t think I won’t snipe you from across the map if I get the chance. It’s just not something I invest a lot of time on these days.
Others, however, do, and that’s fine. I have my entertainment, they have theirs. Nothing wrong with that. I do, however, have a few questions for people who are furiously up in arms about the Mass Effect 3 ending.
I haven’t played Mass Effect. In any way shape or form. The last modern game I played was Arkham Asylum almost a year and a half ago. I’m asking this as a storyteller and a writer.
Was the ending so bad that players needed to start a campaign to change the ending?
I’m no stranger to franchises that have spiraled into the crapper. Star Trek Nemesis and the Star Wars prequels left me feeling hollow, like their writers had abandoned me for a round of masturbatory filmmaking that left me feeling sticky and alone. Sliders left such a foul taste in my mouth that I almost gave up on science fiction television. I almost wanted to pretend the first season and a half contained the only episodes. I know what its’ like to have something you’ve cared for turned into crap.
I understand all that, but is there really any point to having the designers and writer change the ending?
Think about it. What would that accomplish? They made an ending you didn’t like and you’ve made your anger known. To keep going, just stop buying games from the company. They’ll be forced to listen. That’s the standard procedure whenever someone makes a bad product, right? Of course, I understand games have changed. It’s not a matter of looking for your princess in this castle or just getting to the end. Today’s games have a story. They are immersive in a way my generation couldn’t have seen twenty years ago. That changes things. You’re part of the story now. You have a personal interest in things.
Unlike watching a show, you’re knee-deep in alien guts… but are there really that many different options available to you? How many possible endings can there be in a game? This is one reason I love tabletop games more than video games. Last night’s game, for instance, I could make things up on the fly to keep the story going and still keep my players happy. A game designer, whether in print or a video game, has to come up with as many combinations as possible to keep the players interested. There’s no improvisation.
Like I said, I haven’t played the game. Based on some of the reviews, I’m sure players feel cheated. It’s entirely possible. You should be angry. But a call to change the ending? That means you would have to return your games and wait for new ones and play the whole thing again and see the new ending. Or you would have to watch the new ending on YouTube or elsewhere anytime you finished the game and wanted the “better” ending. Maybe you could download it, but going from complaining to demanding a better ending from the designers seems like a waste of time.
If Super Mario Brothers had ended badly, I would have just not bought future games. But maybe that’s me. I wasn’t invested in the gripping story of a plumber and his lost love as much as gamers today are invested in stories of alien invasion.
And now, let’s cringe at another bad idea: Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows.
This story blew up in less than 24 hours. Everyone here is talking about it. Please watch, share, and read some of the comments on Youtube. It’s really hilarious when people try to pass off racism as logic and science.
January 30, 2012
A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away, Star Wars had more humane marriage laws than we do in modern America.
And the Right is not happy.
It seems that Star Wars: The Old Republic, the latest Star Wars video game, will allow players to enter into homosexual relationships as part of the plot. That’s great! In a modern world where many young people have embraced the idea of gay marriage and gay relationships, it makes sense to give that part of the fan base and population an opportunity to be themselves, even if it is in a world of turbolasers and lightsabers.
Of course, you know what this means?
Star Wars is going to make your kids gay. I know, I know. But now, to my eternal delight, someone has summoned the poor, innocent children. Won’t someone think of the children?!
By the way, the group that is protesting this? It’s the same group that called for a boycott of Girl Scout Cookies. The Family Research Council really has a knack for going after things that are trying to help children or just provide entertainment. I love how they’ve got their tighty-whities in a knot over the possibility of kids seeing a digital gay couple that won’t be able to do anything besies announce its gay and they don’t bat an eyelid over the fact that, in a Star Wars game, starships filled with hundreds or even thousands of people get blown out of the sky on a regular basis. There’s also the little fact that you can have a high Dark Side score by committing questionable acts.
This is what I love about anyone spinning like a top over something like a gay character in a game somehow corrupting the youth. Said critics never seem to be worried about the MASS MURDER going on in video games. It might be the sci-fi aspect, and it’s not like people didn’t complain about killing and guns in games like Grand Theft Auto. But add sex to the equation?
It’s like yelling Frau Blücher. Somewhere, a horse is going to bray.
We live in an interesting culture. We can show Starship Troopers on TV and no one bats an eyelid when humans get mangled and torn to bits. Have someone say a curse word or show a boob?
All I’m saying is…
Actually, I’m not saying anything. Let’s just point at the Family Research Council and laugh at them for wasting time trying to warn us of the gender-bending dangers of Star Wars.
And now, let’s watch a sleeping dormouse and start the week off with something cute.
January 11, 2012
Ladies, please stay. Guys, you can leave. Actually, guys, stay for this one. This is our fault. All of us. Yes, even the ones who are single right now. Actually, especially the ones who are single right now.
The Daily Mail recently put out a picture it claims is a composite of the most beautiful celebrities. Apparently, based on a poll of most attractive features on various celebrities, the final composite should be the most beautiful woman in the world, a Venus of perfection, the genetic offspring of a billion wet dreams.
In truth, it looks like a mutant reject from Victoria’s Secret.
Is this what we’ve come to? It’s not bad enough that we’ve Photoshopped the hell out of perfectly good-looking women. It’s not enough that we’ve agreed on some perfect weight and figure everyone woman must achieve. It’s not enough that “young and blond and cocaine-chic” is standard for any actress who wants to break into Hollywood or stay there. You have to have the same facial structure and body type. The more plastic, the better, eventually.
What happened, people? Look at older actresses. They have their slight imperfections, every one of them. Jennifer Connelly, for example, has those big ol’ eyebrows that would make Robert Pattinson envious. Even someone like Marilyn Monroe, despite actually being quite thin yet well-rounded, is not a sexual icon because everything fit together perfectly or she had no imperfections. It was the way she carried herself.
It’s those little imperfections that make a woman beautiful. It’s everything. Mind, body, and heart. My fiancée is a beautiful. Everything about her is gorgeous. I love the little beauty mark above her lip. I love the way she looks just as she wakes up and smiles. It’s not just her looks, either. I love when she, as she puts it, “gets girly,” and giggles when she’s normally very sarcastic and blunt about things. I love hearing her laugh.
Ladies, young women, and girls, you’ve been done a disservice. You’ve been told you’re not young enough, thin enough, white enough, dark enough, any number of things. You’ve been told to get liposuction or get your stomach stapled. You’ve been told to dye your hair to match some unnatural hue. You’ve been broken and beaten and made to feel like crap. Now, someone took the time to show everyone what “beauty” is based on a series of polls and bad photomanipulation.
You’re beautiful. You don’t have to look like Kim Kardashian. In fact, even looking like Kim Kardashain can’t hide the sheer ugliness inside. If there is any ugliness in you, it’s personality-based. No matter how much you hate your hair, your stomach, your breasts, your legs, or anything else, a body that’s been splayed over every magazine cover on Earth won’t help you.
It’s been said every woman has her own special beauty. Don’t be ashamed of what you perceive to be your imperfections. They may be part of what makes you unique.
Guys, don’t forget to tell someone close to you she’s beautiful. Every day. Don’t let them forget. Ever.
And now, so we can all just feel a little better, here are some people getting hurt because of stupidity. Their own.
January 4, 2012
I was fortunate enough to spend New Year’s Eve with my family and my beautiful fiancée. I had a slight breakdown, but I’m better now. The massive doses of caffeine I’d been depriving myself are working better than before. We watched the ball drop on Mexican television, which is an odd thing to say because the ball is in Times Square and we watched the feed from Mexico City.
I was also fortunate enough to not have watched Cee Lo’s performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” one of the classics of pop culture from one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists. If I had, I’m sure I would have foamed at the mouth and rushed the television.
See if you can spot the point at which my brain would have decided to induce in me a 28 Days Later-style rage.
Did you miss it? The iconic lyrics “Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion true” were changed to “Nothing to kill or die for/ And all religion’s true.”
Changing a lyric, adapting a work of any kind, to suit the new artists or a new audience is nothing new. Tim Burton managed to turn “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” into a full-on horror movie and made it work. Jimi Hendrix turned “All Along the Watchtower” into one of the definitive rock songs of all time. These covers and adaptations took the original and made it something greater.
Cee Lo dug up John Lennon and humped the corpse to keep warm.
And before anyone starts claiming that I’m just some Lennon ubber-fan who can’t stand someone messing with his idol, I’m not. I’m always weary, though. I watch those who would take Star Trek and cast someone besides Shatner and Nemoy as Kirk and Spock and await in the wings for the new film with napalm at the ready. I listened the Susan Boyle’s cover of “Enjoy the Silence” and thought she did service to Depeche Mode. These adaptations kept the message of the original and put it through the filter of a new artist.
I do the same here. These are my words. Take them. Do with them what you will.
But do NOT make it sound like I endorse a Republican, think censorship is good, or believe teachers are overpaid. I will find you. I will hunt you for sport. I’ll nail your dog’s head to the coffee table and have a tea party.
By changing one line, Cee Lo said something Lennon would never have said. Lennon was an atheist, pure and simple. The song is a dream of a communist utopia complete with atheism and lack of religious magical thinking. This isn’t a dream of a world where the religions of the world come together and we find out all faiths are expressions of the one true god. “Imagine” is a world where we find out the ultimate hoax of religion, a world where heaven and hell are gone and humanity is left alone to realize the beauty of life and communion with our fellow brothers and sisters.
What Cee Lo did was intellectual hijacking. It would be like making Lord of the Rings about the benefits of industrialization. It would be like making every slasher film about the benefits of premarital sex and rampant drug use. It would be like inserting actual characterization and plot into a Michael Bay movie.
If you don’t like the message in the song, write your own song. You can interpret lyrics differently, sometimes coming out with wildly different themes that are a reflection of the listener’s thought process, but to change the lyrics to suit your needs is an insult.
And I don’t care if it’s John Lennon or a first-year writing student. When you do a cover, you agree to care for the source material. Sometimes you make it your own, like Hendrix did. Other times, you create something so horrible and so numbing that your only real reaction is to gag on your own bile as you charge the so-called artist with the full intent of choking them with the original lyrics printed on steel wool.
Oh, and one more thing. Did he have to sing a song about no possessions while wearing a fur coat and enough jewelry to stock Tiffany’s!?