I am a college professor of English, and besides stories that are filled with drama and action, I like baseball, movies, and especially pizza. My favorite current film is 'Boyhood,' and I feel the best classic comedy might be 'Back to the Future.' I do have to admit that my favorite books are those that have a scare-element, and my favorite author is Stephen King. I am a big fan of the old Harry Potter series (as nerdy as that might sound), and I always felt the best classes in school were the ones where the teacher gave up on "textbooks" and let us talk about things we had strong feelings about. My wife is a school teacher, my son is an education major at Arizona State University, and we live in Pennsylvania.
More About Becky's Kiss
I wrote 'Becky's Kiss' based on an idea I came up with when I was coaching my son Max's Babe Ruth baseball team a few years ago. The head coach in between innings told me about a kid that got hit by a fastball square in the chest. The boy collapsed, but then he was all right. Still, my imagination took over and I wondered...what if the best hitter in Southeastern Pennsylvania got hit like that and died at a young age? What if he was meant to go to the majors, break every record, and go down in history as the greatest to ever play the game? What if he had an opportunity to have that fateful at-bat all over again? Change things? Make things right? And...what if on the return journey he met the girl of his dreams, and it came down to a choice between being with her and being famous for eternity?
Today's blog is about friends and relationships. Some of us fall into sarcasm at times, thinking it's funny or "cool" to make fun of someone in the social group. I would suggest that even under the guise of "fun," these scenarios are never positive. First off, no one ever wins them. We all have flaws. Next, it prevents trust, the thing we are always yearning almost as much as love. Find something nice to say. it's harder this way, but better in the end.
Today's blog is about the holidays, the season and the self. We are about to go through to the new year, and I wanted to share some goals I might humbly suggest. I am no psychologist or cultural philosopher, but I've been around long enough to have seen resolutions fade quicker than the fog in the Philly area will this morning.
Instead of dieting, add something good to what you're already eating. Smoothies make veggies taste like fruit. They're good! Try listening to a new type of music. Give a new genre a chance and try to understand why people like it. Clean out an old closet. Find old stuff, look at it, and remember. Open the drawer where you have important things recorded on antiquated equipment: old VHS stuff and CD's. Watch and recall. Take up an instrument. Get lessons. practice. For you. Exercise once every other day even if you feel it takes time away from other things. Get the butt in gear and the spirit will follow. Call an old friend and re-connect. Tell a family member, a cousin or second aunt why they have always annoyed you, and fix it. If your wife knits, ask her about a pattern. If your son vapes, try a flavor. Compliment a teacher. Clean your car. Watch something new on Netflix. Help your spouse make dinner. Pick a sport you think you don't like and follow the statistics of a certain player. LIVE!
Today's blog is dedicated to my favorite horror author Michael Aronovitz. He is writing rock reviews. Here's his first.
Today's blog is important to me, because I am not "promoting" Becky's Kiss necessarily, but talking more generally about what people expect from books. Some initial reviewers of my first young adult work have called it "very young" for young adult, and others have claimed it to be too "squeaky clean." To respond to the former issue, my protagonist Becky Michigan is in 9th grade, and I find that to be the perfect age for young adult drama. Kids older will reflect back, and middle school students will have an interest as to what awaits them in high school. As for the "squeaky clean" thing, I believe these reviewers are referring to the idea that there is no overt sex or criminal violence in "Becky's Kiss." My response is, "So what?" Conversely, I write die hard, violent, highly sexual and gratuitous horror under a different author's name, so I am quite familiar with how all the "moving parts work." My issue is that in terms of these critiques, it seems that sex and violence are to be considered the fictive staples, when I would strongly argue that these two things are actually just frill and flash that might, repeat might add favorably to the mix, depending on the book.
A good story has a marriage of awesome characters we can relate to, and a plot that reflects an engaging peril our characters have to work through. Characters and plot are the real staples, and to be honest, the mechanics of sex and violence are usually mishandled by most authors. When someone is stabbed FIFTY TIMES we don't get an interesting read, we get hyperbole, comedy, parody. When there is sex on the first page, or even in the first chapter, we get porn, though some people prefer to pass this off as "Erotica," as if the froo-froo genre titling makes it more plausible as good fiction.
Violence is part of life. If I want it I'll watch the news. If I want it in my fiction, it has to have purpose and a sort of poetry if you will. Same with intimacy. It is a part of life, and if relevant to the given dramatic line, it works in fiction. My problem is that one has to be able to determine a context for the use of sex and/or violence, not as requirements for a good read, but instruments in the overall lexicon to be utilized when appropriate...when they would further enhance a good story.
To briefly digress, I will argue until I am blue in the face that "Fifty Shades of Gray" is a good book, not a great one, but good, and that has nothing do do with the "mommie porn" everyone talks about. Some of the book is poorly written and this includes the sex scenes. The first encounter is rather average, and every one following is the same scene written over and again, with similar physical acrobatics and identical climaxes, forgive the punning. They're boring to tell the truth, with the exception of the idea that they are "vanilla" until the dude can work in the bondage scenarios he so brags about. Then, those scene units turn out to be boring too. The reason the book works, is that we can honestly relate to the lead female character being a relatively innocent college senior who is falling in love. The book starts working with the emails between the two soon-to-be lovers, and we can feel the electricity building on an emotional platform, and therefore helping to construct a psychological landscape, not a sexual one. The sense of risk and vulnerability in the communications between the two creates the tension, not the sex scenes. Those are just exercise.
In terms of "Becky's Kiss," my reaction to the criticism is so emotionally charged because saying it is "young" and "squeaky clean" implies that it is "vanilla." I assure you it is not. It is simply a matter of sex and violence not being relevant to the plot. Becky is a klutzy girl, a 9th grader in a new high school, who falls in love with a boy on the varsity baseball team. The issue with him is not sexual, but paranormal, as he keeps disappearing. The tension is in the idea of the ghost, not the bedroom, which wouldn't be relevant for a 9th grader anyway! There is also massive tension drawn with her father, who is an alcoholic and someone who ignores her. If you don't think this is a relevant, dramatic, and often catastrophic issue for female teenagers, then you clearly don't know any. This particular relationship is painted between Becky and her father Brett with an intensive and dark sense of moment for moment tragedy, and it's anything but vanilla. Then there is a baseball theme, and the idea of fierce competition within the greatest sport ever created. And if you don't think there's valid dramatic tension in youth baseball, please, go to a little league game (or better yet, a travel tournament) and watch the parents with their fingers clawed in the fence, eyes wide as full moons, screaming at their little Johnny up at bat to keep his weight back and to stop letting his shoulder fly open.
Not vanilla. Red hot. And in this case, quite simply, the story was so strong I didn't have to include the proverbial car accident.
Excerpt from Becky’s Kiss. Becky finds one of her classmates to sit with at lunch, and something weird happens.
There was only one place left to sit in the crowded cafeteria, at the empty table by the trash cans next to the concrete support beam that had a poster of Frederick Douglass on it. It was an old science desk at the edge of the walking aisle separating the two halves of the room, and one of its legs was broken at the base. The wobble-table. For losers.
One kid was sitting there, the Asian boy from English class. He had stuck his math book under the short leg, and was politely sipping soup, robotic and rigid, nothing else on his tray but a couple of pieces of fruit. Becky walked over, pulled out the chair across from him, and slipped off her backpack.
“What’s your name?” she said.
He was startled, but clearly glad he had a visitor.
“Joe,” he said. “Joey Chen.” He smiled then, and even though he had funny teeth, the expression had an interesting effect, like craft-show glass, like sidewalk art. His eyes glinted. “You,” he said, “are Becky Michigan.”
“Are you new here?”
He looked down at his soup.
“I am from China. I been here one year, three months, eleven days.”
Becky sighed. A whole year and he was eating lunch alone. And counting the days.
“You like this great food?” she said.
“And I don’t like bullies,” he said. “This place is full of them.”
Becky sighed again, and then something hit her in the ear. The projectile rolled and wobbled across the table, settling at the far edge. It was a grape. A purple grape.
Another one struck her right on the end of the nose, leaving a hint of moisture, making her blink stupidly, and yet another plinked off her forehead. So immature! Bullies, oh yes, Joey had a point now didn’t he? She pushed back her chair and looked over in the general direction of the assault. There, across the aisle and about eighteen rows down, was Cody Hatcher, the big kid who had been teasing her in English class, sitting at the edge of the table with what seemed to be four of his idiot friends, all of them laughing like hyenas, one stamping his foot he was so overcome with the hilarity of it all. Hatcher stopped and looked right at Becky. He reached in front of him and took a purple grape off the stem. He put it in his mouth and chewed real slow. Swallowed. Licked his top lip and winked. Then his friends were laughing again, slapping him on the back.
Becky didn’t think, she just acted. Joe didn’t have time to move. In a flash, she reached across the table, knocked over his milk, grabbed his orange, and pivoted back, side-stepping into the aisle. She had a split second to look at her target, and Hatcher had his mouth open, all teeth, eyes up at the ceiling he was laughing so hard.
She kicked up a knee and spread her hands, throwing-arm dangling way low behind her. There was a moment of perfect balance there, and then her body became a machine: all hot fluid and angry levers. She stepped into it deep, cocked up her arm, snapped her hips, and fired.
The orange flew out of her hand as if on a clothesline. Even through the noise, she could hear it hiss through the air, and heads turned with it as if in slow motion. Hatcher had just enough time to adjust his eyes from the ceiling and focus on what was coming. It hit him square in the forehead with a hard splat and his hands flew up. It knocked him straight back out of his chair, and the fruit ruptured in a blast of spray and peel.
People roared. Gossip exploded, and Becky could hear a lot of “Did you see that?” and “Who is that girl?” and “What happened?” and “Did you see how freakin’ hard she chucked that?” Everything was echoing, sounding unreal, and the teachers on lunch duty were darting their eyes all around to pinpoint exactly where the disturbance was. Becky got back in her chair, and Joe had his mouth open.
Becky was trying not to shake.
“He had it coming,” she managed.
Great Blog posting today on this site. Check it out!
My Blog Tour for Becky's Kiss is on, so I will not be talking about music or movies today! Please visit these sites. I have interviews on these, excerpts, and give-aways!
CBY Book Club:
I Love Books and Stuff
Cupcakes and Vodka
Tea With Elsa
The Cutest Blog
I've been trying to find as much as I can on the internet about Halestorm, my favorite current band. I uncovered a lot of bio stuff, and I will certainly put some of that material in later this week. Still, blogs tend to just repeat each other all over the place and I am going to give some of my personal observations about things others are not writing about.
I want to talk about the many personas of Lzzy as a performer. Her appeal is not just plain beauty, yet I don't know too many who would deny that she is drop-dead gorgeous. She's tall, expressive, wide-mouthed, and lovely, yes, that is there, it is happening. But there are interesting contradictions going on that make her more intriguing than just another pretty face, often right in the same line of music on a particular video. The first thing we see, like in the very beginning of "I Miss the Misery," as Lzzy is waiting to go on stage with a look of angelic anticipation, is the girl we all feel we could meet and be friends with...the one who wouldn't shoot a guy down for trying to help her with her math homework or apply for a job at The Outback Steakhouse. I've also heard interviews with her, talking about growing up, her brother, her mom, and she is simply a nice person, someone you would want in your corner, the type you'd help move without batting an eye, the girl you could talk to live and in person and she'd actually put her cell away and really listen.
Then there is the rocker chick, and I don't mean that in a cliche kind of way. I hate to be sexist, but she rocks like a dude, and the only reason I say it this way is that we've never had a famous female rocker do what Lzzy does. Ann Wilson was strong, but one dimensional, with her sister playing mostly open chords on an acoustic, the classic simplistic rhythm guitar player. Joan Jett had no real voice, and banked more on catchy hits than technique. There are a number of females in the game now, yet most lean on image and a singular vocal style and range more than stage substance. Lzzy can play first of all. Not only does she take the actual lead at times from Joe Hottinger, but look closely at her rhythm work on songs like "It's Not You." She ain't just bar-chording, I'll tell you that. She's doing some kind of pull-off technique that Joe Perry would drool over...while singing (or cleverly right between riffs)...and often going with the band to a tight mixed meter Rush fans might envy. She plays hard and sings hard, then soft when it will appropriately blow you away. Her vocal dynamics are for another blog however, and here we'll stick with stage and video presence. If you want to see this girl rock like a guy, or rather the whole band rock like ROCKERS, watch the circle at the end of Arejay's solo at the TLA performance. It is the epitome of team work, unity, gigging, and doing it hard.
Nice place to transition to another of Lzzy's elaborate yet subtle masks for performance...the rough girl who...well...likes it rough. Many of the Halestorm lyrics paint pictures of post-teen, red hot erotica, and no one has any doubt that what Lzzy is selling is the idea that intimacy in general nowadays is a complicated labyrinth of urgency and freedom, as she makes the walls shake and tempts you to "go on and hit it." Still, it is not her good looks and "slightly" foul mouth that make us die inside as she unfolds her story. It remains those facial expressions, video-portraits that are complicated puzzles in themselves, where she comes off simultaneously tragic, beautiful, a bit unbalanced, and finally someone you ache for but might not be able to quite trust (we are all wired to crave the one who might be a bit bad for us, right?)...the combination of which that is intoxicating and addictive.
My two examples where we see right there in front of us this strange dichotomy, are first "I Miss the Misery" and next "Apocalyptic." In terms of the former, while the pose in verse 2 where Lzzy is sitting on the slanted brick near the viaduct or bridge or whatever it is, with the heel of her palm on her forehead, seems "positioned" and rather "staged," in the former verse when she stands before the burned out factory and sings to the camera, with the mascara bleeding off horizontally, there is an honesty to her rage that simply has to come from a real place. Here is the girl of your dreams who actually likes you, she who amazingly tells you everything on the first date, then boldly asks for all your social media links, next buys you elaborate gifts, and waits for you on the steps outside you apartment with wilted flowers after you put in a night shift, next stalking you, blowing up your Twitter with private messages, contacting your mother in Florida trying to get old pictures of you so she can make a shrine. Then you forget to call her, and boom...you get bleeding mascara and a rant about how you "leave her a mess." All coming from the saintly girl who at the beginning of the video was waiting to go on stage, looking up at the entrance stairs like the girl next door who wears a ribbon in her hair and twirls a baton at halftime. And yes, I believe Halestorm is well aware of this split in persona, as when one looks closely, the video producers intertwine footage of "angry" Lzzy in color, with "saintly" Lzzy playing the song in concert footage in black and white. Then they flicker them together.
Then there is the later version of Lzzy, in "Apocalyptic," hair straightened in a modest, comely manner, looking (slightly) older and wiser, yet still talking trash, goading you to come back for "one last shot" before you move the heck out. For me, the most fascinating issue in terms of persona, comes from the bridge area in the song where she gives the drawn out, "Heyyyy," (really "Hooo - long O sound), then moves to the no-one-loves me-knows-me-better phrasing. Here, within one line they play the "split" cleverly with the editing, as the first "Hooo" exclamation reflects a crinkled nose, wide-grinned rowdy yell one might give when the home team scores a touchdown. Then they cut away, leaving you the haunting lyrics lamenting that no one knows her better without the benefit of seeing her expression. In pure visual dynamics then, they do the "Hoo" once more, but when Lzzy sorrowfully says right to the camera that no one loved her better, it tears your heart out.
In all, Lzzy Hale is not just a pretty girl tapping a tambourine. She is a complex individual, a talented artist, surprisingly humble, and of all things, valid. Rock on, Lzzy Hale!
This month we will be looking at rock bands. The guys from Rush were interviewed on Serius Radio, claiming there are no electronic, nor televised (really) platforms for rock bands anymore. All the glory goes to the American Idol type set-ups with background players and a pop singer, good as he or she may be. This month we celebrate modern rock, hard rock, something that was a mainstay back in my day, but has become "niche" of late (sadly).
This week we feature Halestorm, in my opinion the best band to come around since Queen (though of course they sound nothing alike). Lzzy Hale is the best female vocalist on the planet and her brother Arejay is the perfect mix of energy, technique, and variety, not sounding like a "machine," the way so many Scream-o drummers do with the over-emphasis on rolling double bass riffs, but bringing back the tradition of the small set and massive tasteful fills, like we heard on old Zep albums. Plainly, Lzzy Hale is an absolute star, and she has a band around her that does not just "back her up," but forms an image identifying each, (Arejay...guitarist Joe Hottinger...and bassist Josh Smith) as individuals crucial to the sum total, yet original in their own way. You want to see a SHOW? Go on You Tube and find their concert at Phildelphia's TLA Theater on South Street. My GOODNESS! Here is a sample from that show with the drum solo.
Check out these blog appearances by Vinspire!!
December 3rd--Book Briefs
December 4th--Buried Under Books
December 7th--Long and Short Reviews
December 8th--Word Spelunking
December 9th--Tsk Tsk What to Read
December 11th--Wonderland's Reader
December 15th--Stuck in Books
December 17th--Mudville Dames
December 18th--Wholly Books
December 24th--Enthralling Dimple
December 25th--Resch Reads and Reviews
Check out the first appearance of "Becky's Kiss" with an excerpt on the Rolo Polo Book Blog. Awesome!
Becky's Kiss went live today!! Order links on the front page, but you can get to Amazon here at:
This book is special to me, dedicated to my dad actually. I usually write hard core adult horror under a different name, and to tell the truth that stuff often scares my family! This piece came to me, as said above, at a baseball game. I realized I didn't always have to write about darkness, and the tale that sprung in my head was one of conflict, love, baseball, ghosts, and eventually triumph. "Becky's Kiss" is my statement for drama and happy endings, a statement about teens, sports, hometowns, and growing up.
One of the tastier films of the awesome 90's was Wes Craven's "Scream." Not only did it revitalize and therefore re-establish Drew Barrymore's career, but helped Courteney Cox wriggle out of the character on "Friends" that was so affixed to her. The film employed stars rather than unknowns, earning a wider audience, namely females, (though I always thought slashers were the perfect date movies to begin with). The script did twists on horror stereotypes and infused as many mystery elements as those horrific. And how about that mask? Still makes for the best Halloween costume ever!
If you asked me what my movie faves were of all time, it would be "Seven," "Pulp Fiction," and "Forrest Gump." Still, I can't forget "The Silence of the Lambs," 1991. First off, it is the best sequel ever made, and not many realize this. Thomas Harris released "The Red Dragon" in 1981 and it was adapted for a relatively unsuccessful film called "Manhunter" in 1986. "Silence" came out as one of those films people couldn't decide whether to label as "horror" or "thriller," my favorite kind! It had horror elements, such as Lecter's escape and his face mask for transportation, yet a heady, detailed script and point of view through Clarice Starling of the FBI. This one is old-school, based on a novel that will be hailed as a classic and filmed with 90's polish. Here, we aren't scared by monsters and cheap effects. We are terrified by a little old man who says, "Good morning."
Still in the 90's for great films. My favorite of all time is "Seven" starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. Best filming, best script, best twist, best devastating resolution. perfect theme and darkness here. There were superstars in this film, not acting like superstars, but truly acting. Favorite scene is when Pitt finds the serial killer's apartment, and Pitt goes into the dark room, gets in a circle of grisly photos and his flashlight is popping on and off showing the cadavers in strobe effect. Brilliant.
Check out my trailer on You Tube also for Becky's Kiss. Short and sweet!
In 1999, we got the movie that changed horror filming at its core. "The Blair Witch Project" was a statement against computer generated images and high tech special effects that had made horror rather "expected." This was a gritty film shot like a home movie, never showing the witch in the woods where the college students are lost, just their panic. On Wikipedia, strangely, it mentions the idea that the producers used the internet (first people to really do that) to promote "realistic footage" as if this really happened, but does not mention the promo film they put together for the Sci Fi channel. THAT was the scariest thing I had ever seen...a mock documentary I thought was real, all with interviews and history of this "Blair Witch" in Maryland, ending with a cop claiming he hadn't found the lost college students, but had their video camera, the evidence being "inconclusive." Then, we are shown fifteen seconds or so of the "bumpy real footage" and end with Heather Donahue holding the camera on herself in the first weird "selfie" of all time, only getting half her terrified face, snot dripping down as actively as her tears. I was mortified. I thought I had seen a real "snuff film" and wondered why cable had let it air. Then I found out it was an ad for a film, and the film wound up scaring me just as much. Not my fav of all time, but landmark all the same.
The 90's were chock-full of "smart movie making," and what I mean by that is expert cutting, haunting visuals, and directors who chose scripts that challenged and amazed viewers. David Fincher was one such director, most recently hailed for "Gone Girl." When "Fight Club" came out in 1999 people treated it as a sensation, not only because of the fabulous (and unselfish) acting of Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and especially Helena Bonham Carter (wonderful performance as Ophelia in the 90 version of "Hamlet" with Mel Gibson by the way), but the amazingly good script, especially in the first half of the film where Norton does voice-over not only in clever narration, yet a criticism of daily life that never comes off like a lecture. Personally, I thought the "twist" in the end was a bit hackneyed, and the ultimate "cause" slightly contrived, but the bulk of this film was well filmed, dark, rich, engaging, and especially thought provoking.
If we are going to celebrate 90's film, we can't let another day go by without saluting "Pulp Fiction." Not only is the script new and interesting at every step (even by today's standards), spoken between the strangest of characters, but this is the best example of Quentin Tarantino's odd use of timelines, basically smashing the more common rise to climax and bringing us things structurally that affect us emotionally. If you were like me, your favorite players in this made for a tie between hit-men John Travolta as Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson, as the self proclaimed non-prophet Jules Winnfield. When Vega was killed at the half way point in the film, I was sure there would be a let-down. Still, Tarantino magically brings him back through his lens of skewed timeline, even ending the film where it begins, in the diner in another point of view. This was a masterpiece of altered structure, psychology, and empathy, and remains my number 2 choice for best film of all time. (#1 tomorrow).
Possibly my favorite film, Forrest Gump, (1994) was an absolute delight from front to back. Many don't mention it in the "best of all time" conversations, because it was so well liked in its year of release it almost became a "bandwagon" issue, like backing an already known winner when we love finding the diamond in the rough. Hanks did a fabulous acting job, but the script itself was air tight, an especially difficult feat since Gump was superimposed on major world events either redefine them or use them for some odd sort of personal gain. The absolute unbelievable is made tangible here, and there is no part of the film that is not engaging. In terms of straight script, I often paraphrase in my college classes to initiate discussion about our world view, his line while standing over the grave. There, he ponders the ultimate riddle of life, claiming that he doesn't know if there is fate or we are just particles floating on a breeze, but maybe we're a little bit of both. How perfectly can a simple man teach us such complex philosophy...
The 90's were a fantastic time for film, as we moved away from Spielberg's influence and enjoyed excellent script writing and special effects on a whole new level. To start the "90's week," I will jump right to 1999, and talk briefly about what I feel is one of the best fantasy films ever made, The Matrix. Not only did it contain the "Bullet Time Effect," where we could see in slow motion an action from multiple view points, but wonderful acting, subtle and real, and a script that had legitimate peril after peril around every corner, not contrived and silly like multiple car chases, but scenarios with meaning and heart and surprise. My only complaint is that at the beginning of the film, Neo is made to sit at a desk while an agent opens his file and "tells him who he is," a piece of shameless exposition (like we see in a lot of bad movies, like Rambo II). And it was un needed. We did not need to know if he was a computer programmer or a trash collector...the film would have still worked!
1985 was a fantastic year for films about teens, giving us "Back to the Future" and "The Breakfast Club." Both were outstanding presentations, the former for its perfect plot, with all the foreshadowing coming together in the end in delightful payoffs, and the latter, with its edgy, cutting, and often so-true dialogue. Of course, today is Friday the 13th, so I could do a tribute otherwise, but Jason will have to wait. Today, we celebrate feel-goods, made the way films should be made. With meticulous attention to details and human psychology.
While Stephen King is known best for his movies, his books are the best commercial fiction of the last 50 years. While Stephen King is known for his scary movies, ironically, his best films were the ones outside of the horror genre. Many feel "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) is the best film ever made (it comes up on list favorites all over the place), but I would argue "Stand by Me" was his best (1986), based on his short story "The Body." Here, he gives the ultimate guy - pal film, showing what young men are really like growing up together.
I believe the 80's represented the dawning of film, or at least the new age, similar to the effect the Beatles had on music and culture. The 70's had fair scripts, some excellent, but many were plagued by long pregnant pauses and film shots extended in silence for no apparent reason. The 80's brought us intensity we hadn't seen before in terms of script, rhythm, and cutting. My faves comes from different genres, though today's blog begins with my personal go-to which is horror. 1) The Shining (1980). King said at first that he wasn't a fan of Kubrick's adaptation, but the film is a beautiful work, filled with shots (blood slow mo from the elevator and girl twins asking Danny to come play forever) we will never forget. 2) Poltergeist (1982). If you forgive the silly, now often parodied, lack of good script in the portion where the characters shout to go back and forth in and out of the light, this film has excellent suspense and one hell of a scary clown! Three more tributes to the 80's tomorrow!
I would argue that "They Live" (1988) was one of the best horror movie of the decade. While some might find it slow moving at first, the dramatic irony of both audience and character trying to figure out what is going on works like making a delicious stew all day in a crock pot. Patience! In a field of slashers celebrating comedy at times (Freddy Krueger cracking bad jokes, Chucky offering snide remarks, and Jason killing with such ferocity there was often no real plot), "They Live" used the elevated concepts of subliminal suggestion to teach us about the way we blindly accept advertising and politics around us. We become the fear factor. COOL!
The 1980's decade was a golden age for awesome horror films. "An American Werewolf in London" (1981) gave us the American in a strange land theme and special effects we'd never seen before, having the wolf transform before our eyes with no camera cuts. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) combined heady special effects depicting a horror-dream-world, irony (children playing and singing slow motion and off key), and bawdy humor mixed with the chills as Freddy gave his famous one-liners while dragging along those razor fingers. And then there was Chucky, the horror doll in "Child's Play," (1988) a throwback to "Trilogy of Terror" and "Alien," at least when the monster was small, first bursting out of the scientist's gut.
In "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) McMurphy, a criminal assigned to a mental institution and faking illness to avoid hard jail time, winds up helping the others institutionalized more than the nurses and doctors. One of the best comedy / tragedies I've ever seen.
In John Carpenter's "Halloween," they had little money for special effects so they had to scare us with suspense. While the dialogue wasn't very good, it was there to provide rhythmic build-up to a Michael Myers sighting at the end of end scene unit, in little clips and pieces until the final claustrophobic scene in the closet.
They say "The Godfather" is the greatest mobster film of all time, and I would disagree. While it does create atmosphere and high tension in places, there are flaws, like the clip where Sonny beats up Carlo in the street and you can see the fake punch missing because it is a side-shot. Really? They couldn't edit that out? I am a "Goodfellas" fan myself. Better filming. Better story. And by the way...I began this entry with "They say..." Who on earth are "they" anyway??
Changed my mind. This month will be movies, and this week we'll look at the 1970's. "Rocky" was classic for a number of reasons, yet I believe it was a wonderful example of the protagonist and antagonist being inside the same person (both in Rocky). Apollo Creed is not the "bad guy" here. Even Rocky admits that the man is the best. Rocky's issue is that he wants to go the distance, proving he isn't the "bum on the corner." He must master the self, which is much more important than beating the champion.
This month we focus on things teacher's look for in high school writing. Hopefully we will identify some pet peeves and figure out how to manage these for better grades! In terms of "style" I have found the number one thing teachers dislike is the use of "you" as the generic individual. I get it. If "you" do this "you" sound needy, like you are identifying the teacher as a character and seeing if he or she is listening. Keep it universal. Say "one" or "we" instead! Better still, would be to engineer the sentence so it doesn't refer to anyone at all, just making a bold universal statement. It is stronger to do it this way! Example: Wrong- "If you use the death penalty, you risk cruelty yourself." Better - "The use of the death penalty promotes cruelty in everyone."
Hemingway's debut "In Our Time" is a masterful collection of short stories and vignettes, some of them unrelated, yet a number following the sequential growth of a character named Nick Adams. The main theme in all of the stories however, is that men put their boys through difficult rites of passage before they are quite ready. This is still relevant. Go to any Pop Warner game or little league contest and watch the dads with their wide eyes and white-knuckled fists gripped into the cyclone fencing, shouting at their boys.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is written as a diary, illustrating a woman going insane as a result of male foolishness and misguided cultural manipulation. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos is written as a diary, illustrating a woman getting rich as a result of male foolishness and misguided cultural manipulation.
Modern horror author Michael Aronovitz wrote his debut novel "Alice Walks" originally planning to build on the legend of Bloody Mary. He wound up with much, much more...
Sharon Draper's "Tears of a Tiger" uses a number of writing structures like dialogue, prayer, newspaper articles, and announcements to get the plot across. The is no narration in the entire book.
Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in Ralph Waldo Emerson's house at one time. Henry David Thoreau was Emerson's baby-sitter for a time period as well.
Check out the awesome interview with Book Reader Magazine:
One month and a few days until the release of "Becky's Kiss!"
While a fun tale, Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is gravely flawed, and if my class was reading this in high school I would ask the teacher to do reader's theater to play out the physical action of the ending. Fortunato, no matter how drunk (which is a poor excuse for misguided action in good drama anyway) would NEVER allow himself to be chained in the manner described. First, it is not to be believed that he would walk straight into a dead end of granite and just stand there. Next, we are to buy that the narrator wraps chains around Fortunato and padlocks them "stapled" to the granite, with no protest or struggle from the victim. Then we are made to believe that Fortunato, now chained, is still asking to sample wine, like he doesn't realize he is bound.
Yesterday's blog was fun. Next month we'll do film! For today, we'll talk about dialect. May authors have experimented with having people talk the way people "really talk," like Mark Twain with "Huck Finn" and Zora Neale Hurston with "Their Eyes Were Watching God." The one who gave us a modern template (the one I teach in writing classes currently) was Margaret Walker with "Jubilee," the wonderful novel about the Civil War, where people speak more formally, with a "y'all" or a "we's" strategically placed to created the illusion of cultural flavor rather than an exact rendition that might slow down the read.
In the first Hunger Games film, our female protagonist hides in a tree to escape the gang of "experienced fighters" who light a fire near the tree to keep warm while they "wait her out." Why not just burn down the tree?
The problem with Lois Lowry's "The Giver" is basic logic. We are made to believe that the people in this strange world experience a pure and neutral psychological existence because all the pain and pleasure is held in The Receiver's head. If so, how are the care givers for the birth mothers able to lie about killing the elderly and deformed babies? They can not lie and not know they are doing so, and so the guilt-free, pain-free paradigm is horribly tainted. Lowry can't convince us it is one way and then "slide it to us" the other way when convenient.
In Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," many scholars feel the characters were not simply telling stories, but having a running conversation with each other. One such example is "The Marriage Group," bantering back and forth about different ways to view this union. These characters are: The Wife of Bath, The Franklin, The Clerk, and The Merchant.
Onomatopoeia was made famous by Edgar Allan Poe, using a word to represent a sound as he does in "The Cask of Amontillado" with "Ugh" representing coughing. The work onomatopoeia is in fact, a tribute to Poe. Do you see his name in it?
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" to show that the evil in us is a smaller percentage than the good. This is why Hyde was represented as a dwarf.
The lead character in "The Catcher in the Rye" thinks his biggest problem is with "phonies," yet I might argue that a bigger issue is that he can't help invent people's histories. When he imagines what someone else went through he gets depressed, so in a sense, he carries everyone's burdens. (One example would be the scene with the prostitute, and his obsessing about what it was probably like when she went out and picked out her dress).
I believe Ralph Ellison, author of "Invisible Man" was well aware of Ben Franklin's earlier autobiography, that which was known universally as a portrait of American success. Why else would Ellison have his character promised letters of recommendation from his Dean, just like Franklin was promised letters and money from his local Governor to start up a printing business in England? Of course, Franklin prevails, yet Ellison's character winds up in the sewer, suggesting Ellison is claiming the fate of African Americans turns out differently in this country and that possibly our view of "The All American Story" is misleading. It is a wake up call, and a powerful one!
With Macbeth, many teachers focus on the symbol of "pouring," especially with Lady Macbeth pouring poison thoughts into her husband's head. I might argue that a stronger symbol is "planting" as a sign of feminine nurturing and "mothering." King Duncan is a weak leader, depending on his Thanes and subjects to adore him. He is constantly wanting to "plant" things in their hearts, ruling from a position of affection rather than strength. In the beginning, is Duncan not being invaded by a foreign nation, led on by men who betrayed him from his own lands? That is why the ending is so scary. Look at his son's final speech where he takes over the throne. More of the same??
In "Of Mice and Men," there are many themes, one centering around the American dream and having a place of one's own. The tragedy of this story could be the incident BEFORE the big climax, when Lenny goes to visit Crooks in his small room above the stable. Crooks is ready to join in the plan to buy the small farm, and Curley's wife shatters his willingness to participate with prejudice. Without Crooks, there is no dream. George would have been the work foreman, Lenny-the manual labor, Candy the representative "woman" tending the house, and Crooks, the brains. He was the only one who knew how to read very well! They needed him to run any sort of business.
It is literature month for my tips, especially since so many students are just getting into their major reads for the marking period. Remember, when you write a paper, do not just summarize, showing that you read the book. Pick a few specific areas, even to the very line, that impressed you. Pick a literary element and appreciate the author's use of it. For example: 'The Great Gatsby' is about lost love and new riches, but the most odd thing is that Fitzgerald practiced Hemingway's "new" idea of omitting information to make the reader fill in the blanks. The difference is that Hemingway kept descriptions of character and setting thin. Fitzgerald removed entire scenes! For instance, how did Nick end up in Mr. McKee's apartment after the party and the scene on the elevator at the close of chapter two? Discuss!
I have started up on Twitter under Nicholas Fisher@nichola03538773. I am excited for the release of the book on November 30. I plan to do a blog tour and have some giveaways, so keep posted!
Today's Literary Tip: Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" is about succeeding without witnesses and wondering whether it counts. (BTW it counts!)