This is what a terrorist looks like

I hate to vandalize my blog with this scum's face, but I need it to make my point. My apologies to the humans in the room. And their pets.

I hate to vandalize my blog with this scum’s face, but I need it to make my point. My apologies to the humans in the room. And their pets.

Trigger warning: This post contains honesty and talks about things that make some people feel defensive.

I’m sorry, my fellow white people, but we can’t keep pretending this isn’t a problem.

When an Islamic fundamentalist sets off a bomb in a crowded place or shoots a cartoonist, we say, “Muslims are dangerous. If they’re so peace loving, why don’t the so-called law-abiding ones speak out against violence?”

Translation: All Muslims are terrorists.

When a black person commits murder, we say, “The black community does nothing but complain about racism. Why don’t blacks speak out against murder instead?”

Translation: Black people are violent criminals.

And when yet another white person goes on a mass-murder spree like the one at the black church in South Carolina Wednesday night, what do we say?

“He was mentally ill.”

Translation: He’s not one of us. He’s an aberration.

Millions and millions of Americans suffer from mental illness. Most of them have jobs and families and cars and want the same things everyone else wants. A small fraction of them are violent.

The scumbag pictured above is a terrorist.

I’m sorry if it makes some of us uncomfortable, but the biggest terrorist threat to the general American public these days is angry, young, and armed white men. I don’t know what to do about it, but we can’t address it until we admit it, can we?

Instead of becoming defensive or tuning it out or tweeting #NotAllWhitePeople or trying to deflect by tossing out crime and prison statistics (which are already problematic for several reasons), why don’t we do what we admonish other groups to do?

Speak out against the violent white criminals and terrorists in our midst.

Instead of rolling our eyes and derisively calling people who write blog posts like this one “Social Justice Warriors,” why don’t we look in the mirror and address our own prejudices? It never stops amazing me that the biggest, most privileged loudmouths who whine incessantly about political correctness (“Why can’t blacks/women/gays/ take a joke?”) are the most dramatically wounded when challenged on their prejudices.

Instead of saying “I’m not a racist” while sitting silently among people who are, why don’t we try calling them out for once?  Why don’t we show some courage? Why don’t we observe our own behavior and make sure we aren’t inadvertently teaching our children to dehumanize other people?

No excuses.


Spoiler-free review of Jurassic World

jurassic world

Plus:

1. Jurassic World cost Universal $150 million to make (or so I’ve read), which is relatively cheap for a big summer blockbuster, and every last penny is on the screen. Almost non-stop visual splendor (thanks to a seamless blend of ultra-realistic dinosaur effects and striking cinematography), which is more than I can say for recent productions like Godzilla and Skyfall, both of which had much larger budgets and far less to show for it.

2. I don’t know much about graphic design, but that logo up top is flat-out brilliant. The design, the colors, the textures, the font, the blue tracing inside the lettering. You could teach an entire course using this graphic alone.

3. Dinosaurs.

4. If you’re a crankypants who is too sophisticated to acknowledge popular entertainment, why are you reading this?

Minus:

1. The screenplay appears to have been written by an eight-year-old with ADHD.

2. This plot has more dropped threads than a yarn store after an earthquake.

3. All the 3D glasses in the world won’t give these cardboard cut-out characters depth.

4. And since when does an “embedded dinosaur tracking device” look like a vacuum tube from a Marshall guitar amp?

marshall tubes

Overall: You really have to love dinosaurs or you will get absolutely nothing from this movie. I guess if you think Chris Pratt is hot…


My 3 favorite Christopher Lee movies

chris lee

By now you’ve probably read that horror movie icon and cinema legend Christopher Lee has died at age 93. One of the most prolific actors in movie history with 281 screen performances spanning 8 decades, Lee found fame portraying Dracula but is probably better known to young filmgoers as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films and as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.

I’ve been a huge fan since I was a wee lad, so I simply must come out of blogging retirement to pay tribute to the man. For Sir Christopher Lee, my three favorite of your many great films:

3. City of the Dead (1960)

(sorry he’s not in the trailer than much)

2. Horror of Dracula (1958)

1. Horror Express (1972)

 


Dating Advice vs. Writing Advice: Which is worse for your self-esteem?

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Hey. This new thing came out the other day ago and it’s called The Internet. You should get one!

The Internet offers four things: The chance to insult people anonymously, porn, photo-shopped celebrities, and relationship talk. All of which, when swirled in that crazy blender known as your brain, conspires to foster body-image anxiety and ruin your self-esteem.

In real life, you prioritize. Your house is burning down = important. The creepy guy across the street who lives in his mom’s basement and never talks to anyone = not important.

On The Internet, however, everything is your house burning down. If some anonymous creepy guy who lives in his mom’s basement says, via an online comment, that you look like a squid, then OMG, people think you look like a squid. If a Love & Relationships columnist makes a generalized statement about attractiveness (you expect her to come up with actual content? She’s on a deadline!), then that statement applies to everyone all the time.

I’m glad the internet did not yet exist when I was a wee, insecure lad. Instead of blundering through my adolescence oblivious to all my shortcomings, I would have discovered just how unappealing I really am.

pierceFor example, it has come to my attention, thanks to The Internet, that body hair below the neck is disgusting. Thank you Pierce Brosnan for wallowing in repulsiveness with me all these years. You’ve been like a brother.

I’ve also learned that my speaking voice is a whole note too high. That’s only about 1/6 of an octave, but the ladies want what they want. It turns out they want blue eyes as well, not the brown ones currently soiling my skull holes like sad circles of fetid mud. And, of course, at 5’9”, I am two inches too short to ever get a ride on the love train. I actually read this matter-of-fact statement online last year: Men under 5’11”, who are not considered attractive…

What’s cool about the internet… the vast amount of information available at a single click… is also one of its problems. Your mind can’t process it all and it blurs together. If 51 percent of people think something, that “majority” turns to 100 percent in our heads. Yeah, probably more than half of the women out there would rule me out because of my height, but there are over 3 billion women in the world. I applied the Barry Manilow approach to dating my whole life without even realizing it. Barry Manilow didn’t care that 95% of the western hemisphere mocked him in the 1970s. He focused on the 5% that loved him and ended up selling 80 million albums.

Writing advice works the same way. We are bombarded with it daily (admittedly a self-induced affliction for most of us bloggers) and read way more of it than we can possibly soak up. The sum of all this advice, once it forms an opaque gelatinous substance in our minds, is that we need to be The Perfect Writer. The one who hits every possible style and substance point with each sentence. Nothing less than total awesomeness will do.

Rather discouraging, isn’t it, to try and please everyone?

If someone hopes to fit a (fictional) beauty standard that is attractive to 100% of the population, he is going to end up a hopeless wreck with shattered self-confidence. One doesn’t need to attract everybody, just somebody who appreciates the combination of quirks and qualities that make him unique. Fair warning: you may have to meet 50 people before you find that one. Now consider that your reach as a writer is rather broader than your reach as a potential romantic partner. If 1 out of 50 potential readers appreciates your quirks and qualities that make your writing unique, you’ll end up with a successful story.

♥♥♥

This post partly inspired by a comment thread on Timi’s blog, which included contributions from Timi, Uju, and Nancy.


Hilarious Amazon Recommendations

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

Anyone who shops online or browses free content knows that websites use search algorithms (or something else mathy) to get an idea of your interests and then make recommendations for additional purchases or other forms of consumption.

YouTube is pretty good at this. I watched a video of former Prince protege Sheila E on a whim the other day, and the right-side column of recommendations included a bunch of other 80s-era Prince proteges like Morris Day, Vanity 6, and The Family.

Amazon, on the other hand, is comically off target most of the time.

As you may deduce from my lead image, I am a fan of horror and monster movies, particularly the grimy, “video nasty” kind that played at drive-ins and urban cinemas in the 70s and 80s. “Why” is a different post; suffice to say that you won’t find many mainstream films on my shelf. Which is the reason I shop on Amazon in the first place. Best Buy and Target simply don’t carry much in the way of Japanese giant monster flicks or Spanish werewolf movies.

I receive nutty Amazon recommendations… or should I say “wreckommendations,” and took a few screen shots for your amusement. Note the reason for the recommendation in the red box at the bottom of each screen shot:

Amazon wreckommendation - Mickey Xmas

 

Look, either you’re one of them Disney people who can’t get enough of It’s a Small World, or you are obsessed with giant, toothy destroyers of worlds. There is no overlap. This is from Godzilla vs. Biollante:

godzilla vs biolante

 

******

And then there’s…

Amazon wreckommendation - breathless

Because they both start with B? Because “breathing” shows up in the poster art?

beast of hollow mountain

*****

 and…

Amazon wreckommendation - my girl

Look at the picture from Demons 2 below and tell me what complex statistical analysis determined it was made for the same audience that enjoys a sappy, gentle love story featuring two precocious children.

demons 2

*****

or…

Amazon wreckommendation - The Interview

Yes. The controversial 2014 comedy starring two current high-profile movie stars is practically an unofficial sequel to a trashy, no-budget splatter flick from 1977 that played at 3 drive-ins for all of a week.

Amazon wreckommendation - melting man

*****

and finally, my favorite:

Amazon wreckommendation - sound of music

scream blacula scream

One is a lush, sweeping epic featuring the most glamorous, beloved movie stars of the era, full of unforgettable music and directed by a Hollywood legend. The other is some drivel about a governess who falls in love with a Nazi and gets in trouble for turning the drapes into ugly clothes and putting them on his obnoxious, entitled children.


What exactly are “unnecessary” words?

Never hire a Dalek to edit your manuscript. They don't understand nuance.

Never hire a Dalek to edit your manuscript. They don’t understand nuance.

One of the problems with writing rules is that writing deals in words, and we, as writers and readers, experience words differently.

The term “rule” implies (to me) a black-or-white statement with no nuance. Do not drink bleach is a pretty good rule. Get rid of words that do not add meaning, however, is more complicated. Applying that rule without nuance may not leave you with the best-possible finished work.

Look at my post title as an example. On a mechanical level, the word “exactly” is unnecessary. Without it, “What are unnecessary words?” is still an easy-to-understand construction. But on a subtextural level, is does not at all mean the same thing as “What exactly are unnecessary words?” The addition of that single word says, Eric is skeptical about something, and this post is going to challenge the status quo. Not bad for one of those crappy old adverbs everyone hates.

If writing served the solitary, utilitarian purpose of conveying information, banishing words that do not add literal meaning would be a sound objective. But writing isn’t solely function; it’s also art. Art has style, rhythm, form, and flow. In the previous paragraph I wrote that “What are unnecessary words” does not at all mean the same thing as “What exactly are unnecessary words?” At all does not add surface-level meaning. A robot would not glean additional information from it.

However, I’m not writing for robots, I’m writing for humans. I added at all because I like the rhythm of the sentence that way, and I like how it flows with the rhythm of the sentences before and after. You may look at that sentence and say, “I would not have written it that way,” which is fine, but, see, it’s my sentence. Write your own blog post. Damn it.

Danger, Will Robinson. You are forgetting why you started writing in the first place.

Danger, Will Robinson. You are forgetting why you started writing in the first place.

If you have taken a writing course or read books on said subject, you’ve likely been presented with an essay showing the power of lean, simple, crisp writing from which all unnecessary words have been excised. No doubt the essay was at once like a cool breeze blowing off the ocean and a bright blue sky with life-renewing sunlight washing over your body. You were suitably impressed by the writer’s (and editor’s) expertise.

Of course, those essays are great lessons for the rest of us. Learn how to be a lean, mean writing machine! But what if you are going for gothic dread or satire or noir? Sometimes you need those “unnecessary” words to lend weight or make people laugh or perfect the timing associated with stylized storytelling.

I do not suggest that when writing teachers talk about “words that do not add meaning” they lack the insights presented in this post. I do think, however, that the nuance of this message gets lost by the time it filters out to inexperienced writers and novices, leading some of them to obsess over rules and, in the process, lose the unique character of their writing.

Most times, extraneous words are exactly that: Clutter that must be cut away to reveal your voice and bring your story to life.

Sometimes, though, a word that adds no meaning can change everything.

♦♦♦


The Art and Science of Editing

Writers. Your best friend is your editor.

The members of your writing group and your beta readers can be great assets, nudging you toward the type of material you were meant to create and, sometimes, painfully, letting you know it’s time to move on from a piece that isn’t working.

Mike Babcock

But whether we writers want to admit it, we are competitors. Pretend you are a hockey player for a moment, and imagine your fellow writers as team members. You all want to win the game together, but that doesn’t mean they are okay riding the bench while you get all the ice time. What player ever fantasized that someone else scores the big overtime goal?

When our fellow writers read their pages in a critique group, or when we are asked to beta read a story, a big part of us wants to provide support, encouragement, and guidance. Meanwhile, a deeper, more concealed, far less secure part is busy comparing ourselves. Am I as good as this writer? Am I better? Would I have written it that way? If I slam this piece in front of everyone, will I feel a bit too much sadistic pleasure?

Your editor lacks something your writer friends carry into every writing-related interaction with you: An agenda. Or maybe I should say you and your editor share one agenda. Your success.

Ideally, your editor also has experience and fluid intelligence, since these tools are essential to the science and the art of the editing craft.

I’m going to get the “science” out of the way first. The science of editing, of course, deals with grammar, punctuation, syntax, and language mechanics. A good, experienced editor can spot the extraneous words, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction errors you passed over a dozen times in revisions. Your editor can also see story logic problems and help fix them by moving a paragraph or sentence up or down the page.

When your editor makes such corrections, it does not mean she understands writing better than you do or that you are not good enough. Every writer makes mistakes. Your editor makes those sorts of mistakes in her own writing, which is why we all need an editor. Writing is hard.

As an editor, the art of editing is the aspect that intrigues me the most. The art entails appreciating and respecting the writer’s voice, embracing the poetry in his words, understanding the rhythm and flow of his prose, and, for lack of a better term, “getting it.” A good editor can see the aesthetic quality in a manuscript, and her edits only remove that which obscures the writer’s vision.

A good editor does not try to change your vision or trample your voice. If your editor is caught up in rules and cannot see the words for the letters, get a new editor. If you write noir and your editor does not understand noir, get a new editor. If your editor tries to take over your manuscript and make it read as if she wrote it, get a new editor.

If your editor is smart and makes suggestions that sometimes sting but that you know, deep down, to be true, listen. A good editor is your most trusted advisor.

In our hockey metaphor above, your editor is the coach. She never gets to leave the bench. She wants all of her writers to score the overtime goal, because no matter who scores that goal, she wins.

You.

You.


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