Sunday, January 29, 2012 Question of the Month

The fine folks at Hyperink post a good question: What makes a compelling character in a book or movie?

To me, a flat character is one who always acts in the way that’s expected. The good guys shouldn’t always be good and the bad guys shouldn’t always be bad. But too often, especially with amateur works, the characters do little that’s surprising. The easiest way to spot this trend is by looking at the villains in almost any action flick. I’m going to be writing about Percival Everett’s Assumption for the Front Porch blog, but the book is haunting because the main character, Deputy Sherriff Ogden Walker, doesn’t always act like you’d expect a Sherriff to act. This is an important lesson for me to learn while I’m working on my own novel. Don’t be afraid to make a character do something, within reason and motivation, that he or she would not normally do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unstuck Magazine and Literary Genre Fiction

This Saturday, in Austin, I attended the launch party for Unstuck #1.

The goal of the new magazine is to blend literary fiction with speculative/fantastic fiction. Unstuck will only come out once a year, which is probably good since, at more than 300 pages, I'll be able to take my time with the journal.

The launch party, at the Hyde Park Theater, featured dramatic readings of four stories. "Monument" by Amelia Gray, "Death and the All-Night Donut Shop" by Rachel Swirsky, "Second Grade" by Charles Antin and "An Account of My Neighbors"  by Edward Carey.

Each story was read by a single actor, and the Edward Carey story was read by Edward Carey.

"An Account of My Neighbors" will appear in Issue #2 of Unstuck and was the most enjoyable performance of the show. Carey's narrator is a hyper-aware, most likely unstable, observer of his neighbor's peculiar tendencies. For example, one of his downstairs neighbors has a disease unique to fish, and another neighbor has a small dog that smokes Winston Lights on the roof. The narrator clamors for, but seems unlikely to find, peace and quiet. Carey's story manages to be both disturbingly funny and sweet. It's impossible not to feel sorry for the manic narrator even while laughing at his ridiculousness.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Criminal Element

I'm going to be blogging both here and over on Criminal Element for awhile. My posts for Criminal Element will mostly cover crime films and fiction while over here I'll ramble on politics, writing my  novel and other things. My first post at CE is live. It's a little piece on A. Alvarez's classic book on the 1981 WSOP "The Biggest Game in Town."

Friday, July 22, 2011

An Important, if Obvious Realization about Dialogue

OR: A Realization Courtesy of Edward Albee
I'm writing a novel. Sometimes just saying that phrase impresses people, but really, hang on to your impressed face until the novel's done--or even better, hang on until it's done AND good. 
Anyway. One element I've been struggling with is dialogue. I mean, I can put two characters in a room and have them talk and their words will sound fairly realistic--not too wooden or strained. But there was still something bothering me about several of the conversations in my book. I'd read the scene, tweak a few words, delete something obvious, move something around, and it'd be better, but still not quite right.
This summer, I'm helping out in an American Literature class at Texas State and the kids are reading Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It's one of my favorite plays, but I hadn't read it for years. Re-reading the play yesterday I realized what was wrong with my dialogue and what was so right about Albee's.
 (Here's where the obviousness might start for you fellow writers out there, but I was blown away.)
 Too often the dialogue in my novel is about something. My characters are discussing plot points, important facts about their past or their present, they're chattering away about things that should be remembered by the reader.
 Now, back to Albee.  Virginia Woolf really doesn't have much of a plot--George and Martha have a party, Nick and Honey comes over, everyone's ruined forever. That's pretty much it. And that frees Albee to focus on the subtext, the hidden struggles that the characters are going through. The really dramatic stuff, the plot-heavy stuff, happened long before the play actually starts. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Palin Not Running/ Santorum Not Running/ Gingrich Not Dead and Perry's Secret Dilema

more thoughts on the GOP candidates...

Sarah Palin...still not running for President...still not going to run for President.

       It's pretty clear to me that once she says she's out then the media will stop paying attention to her. Right now she commands attention. She's not going to say she's out and chop off her own publicity at the knees.

       Also, and the press will eventually turn on her for this, I think that she will NEVER actually say she's not running. She'll combine a little bit of Trump 2011 and Clinton 2008 and string along her potential campaign for months and months for the extra TV time (that's the Trump part). Don't be surprised if there's even rumors of her throwing her hat in the ring at the RNC convention (that's the Clinton 2008 part) and of her joining the ticket in the number 2 slot again. 

       It is in Sarah Palin's best interests if she remains the legendary GOP savior forever perched at the edge of the race. In no way is it in her best interest to get in the race and have to deal with the actual dirty mechanics of campaigning. She gets the best of both worlds now--hyper coverage every time she says a thing, but not the real scrutiny that derailed her the last time.

Santorum (google it) isn't actually running for President

       He's running for his old Senate seat. This may be obvious to everyone but it just occurred to me. He gets national attention (sort of, or at least more than he'd get if he was just running for Senate) and theoretically gets to look all statesmany and wise. This enables him to pivot to the Senate race (and transfer what money he's raised to that campaign) and say that he traveled the country, has spoke to the people, and now has the broad experiences to make an even better Senator than he was last time. He'll still lose to Casey in the general, but there will be a large and vocal contingent of Republicans who will welcome Santorum back home with smiling faces and open arms.

Gingrich isn't dead yet--he's like a movie serial killer, don't turn your back on him. McCain was declared dead in the primary back in 2007.

Perry doesn't actually want to run. 

I've had trouble trying to figure out what Rick Perry was up to. For awhile I thought he actually wanted to be VP and wouldn't actually enter the race. Now, it's looking increasingly likely that he will run for President. But why is he waiting? Is he waiting for the debt ceiling impasse to end? Is he just biding his time for some reason?

Here's what I now think, although I feel less confident in my Perry predictions then in my other forecasts. I think he wasn't planning on running, that he wanted to flirt with running so he could get the attention and then be an automatic, stone cold VP lock.

 Seriously, Romney/Perry would be a dangerous ticket.

But then people began to tell him that Romney might not win. That someone Bachmann might win. Someone as conservative as Bachmann will need a relative moderate on her ticket--not Perry. Once Romney's hold on the nomination began to slip, Team Perry realized they needed to make their own noise. That hitching themselves to the Mitt Train was not the only option.

However, I think that behind this hesitation is also the fact that Perry doesn't actually want to run for President. It sucks. It's tiring. He has to go to places like Iowa and NC and SC where he's not automatically worshiped. Perry hasn't had to introduce himself to voters in twenty years, not since he ran for Lt. Gov with W. way back in the day, and he's not eager to start now. 

And if he does run, then I think he's going to fall apart because he hasn't had to do serious campaigning in so long. This is the Perry dilemma--don't run and risk your relevance vanishing, or run  and risk getting all dirty with the grime of real electioneering.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Something New and Webby

You don't have to look too hard to find all sorts of accounts of how the internet has changed how writing is distributed to readers. But here's my recent story, which I think is interesting for how "new" it will sound. Some of the terms in this story would have been total nonsense only four or five years ago.

My most recent publication is called "Something Bad and Stingy" and you can find it at Briefly, here's the story of how my story made it that site:

1. The First Line
2. Twitter
3. Submishmash
4. Saved Twitter Searches

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why I'm Nervous About The GOP Candidates

The five guys in the first GOP debate...really.
As of today the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for President are a guy who was a moderate governor who installed universal healthcare, a 75 year old U.S. Rep who wants to get rid of the Department of...well, everything, Newt and a pizza magnate. 

Standing on the sidelines of the race, out of it for now, but possibly entering, is a Representative who said abolishing the minimum wage would help unemployment, a Bush, a less-than-half-term-Governor who’d run if he didn’t have more skeletons in his closet than Jame Gumb, and the most famous half-term Governor in U.S. history. 

There’s been much gloating from Democratic-leaning commentators and blogs. Comedians from David Letterman to Andy Borowitz have made jokes along the lines of “the Republican race to determine who loses to Obama.”

And at first glance it seems that there’s much to be hopeful about. The Republican Party has moved so far right that Mitt Romney is likely to face an organized Tea Party Revolt, which would lead to their endorsement of someone patently unelectable like Paul, Bachmann, Santorum or Cain. Roger Ailes is reportedly lamenting helping turn the right into a bunch of conspiracy-minded Palin/Beck worshippers (click that link and read the NY Mag article, it's amazing). And the Republicans in the Senate are doing their best to not win a majority next year by nearly unanimously voting to end Medicare, and likely voting to not investigate terrorists who buy guns.

The long primary battle between Obama and Clinton made the Democratic Party stronger across the country. They took the fight, and Democratic messaging to places that hadn’t seen real campaigning and organizing in years. Obama lost Montana to McCain by 3,000 votes, and performed better than any recent Democrat in a number of other states. 

Now we’re eighteen months away from the Presidential election, and the Republicans are flying so far under the radar they might as well be driving lawnmowers.

But why I am so nervous?