Blizzard pics from New Jersey

UPDATED

I attempted to dig out our cars but gave up after 45 minutes, once I realized it was coming down faster than I could shovel it. Can’t wait to see what my back and shoulder feel like tomorrow.

blizzard pics 001

Sorry the next one is blurry, but the wind and snow was blowing right into my face.

blizzard pics 004

blizzard pics 006

Here’s a few more I took after the snow stopped. My shadow on this snow mound is actual size.

blizzard pic two 001My car is under here somewhere

blizzard pic two 006

Thigh deep

blizzard pic two 008


I don’t believe in heroes

David Bowie performing at the Hammersmith Apollo

It’s unfair to designate someone a hero. Heroes are brave, wise, honorable, honest, and noble exemplars. And if you poke deeply enough into a real person’s life, you’ll likely be disappointed at what you find, what with humans being inclined toward selfishness, spite, and bad decision making. How can we expect someone to live up to the impossible standard of “hero” for one day, much less forever?

Ok, so what is Bowie to me? Beyond all doubt, a musical genius. Most artists stick to the one thing they do well and typically embarrass themselves when they venture outside those cozy confines. Bowie jumped musical genres like a nimble 9-year-old playing hopscotch, effortlessly trying on rock, pop, electronica, techno, folk, glam, R&B, and just about any other kind of popular music style you can name.

Yet, I can’t call him a musical inspiration. His songwriting and lyrical prowess is so far beyond my own that I am unable to channel even a feeble likeness of it. Hunky Dory is the very first album I ever bought, and it’s still my favorite. Every song on it would be the best song most other musicians ever wrote.

Bowie was also avant garde in every aspect of his artistry, be it his clothes, his music, his stage show, or his ever-changing persona. He was a charismatic actor, a playwright, and maybe even an alien. But not my hero. He smoked heavily and became addicted to cocaine and no doubt acted like an arrogant prick at times in the early days of fame. He surely disappointed people throughout his life and may have been rude to a fan or two.

Well, I guess there are two heroic aspects to Bowie, because they inspire admiration in me, and admiration is the main ingredient when you set out to make a hero for yourself. One:  After the Let’s Dance album sold a bajillion copies, Bowie could have spent the next 30 years reaping countless riches doing greatest-hits stadium tours. Space Oddity. Changes. Life on Mars. Ziggy Stardust. Starman. Young Americans. Rebel Rebel. Suffragette City. Ashes to Ashes. Let’s Dance. Modern Love. China Girl. Cat People. Under Pressure. LatherRinseRepeat.

Instead, Bowie continued his experimentation with such commercially inaccessible releases as Earthling, an unmelodic album laden with hard techno grooves that were sure to alienate the “greatest hits” crowd.

Two: Whether releasing albums he knew wouldn’t sell many copies (because he wanted to do something new), or dressing as a woman in public, or performing on Soul Train, or doing whatever otherwise struck his artistic fancy, he didn’t care what you, I, or anyone thought about it. He believed in his vision and followed his muse, and he didn’t need beta listeners or approval from anyone calling himself an expert.

Ok. On that count, I’ll let Bowie be my hero. Just for one day.

 


What is the “point” of blogging?

Fangs

Why did you start a blog? Are you getting what you wanted from it, or has your experience gone in an unexpected direction?

Here are the reasons I can think of for blogging, starting with the most basic:

  1. You like to keep an online diary, which, as we know, was the original purpose of a blog. A web log.
  2. You have opinions and you want to share them.
  3. You want to socialize but are shy or busy, and blogging allows you more control over how and when you socialize.
  4. You want to interact with like-minded people.
  5. Writing practice, argument practice, formatting practice, etc.
  6. You are building a social media presence.
  7. You are promoting your writing, art, photography, business, etc.
  8. You are trying to acquire customers for your freelance editing, graphic design, writing, or other skill-based service.
  9. You intend to create a blog that gets so much traffic you can sell ad space and make money.
  10. You are hoping to leverage your blogging popularity into a full-time career.

I am a writer and began blogging a few years ago to “get my name out there” and to generate interest in my writing. So you can say I got into it for reasons 6 and 7. I have accomplished neither.

The lack of achievement on latter objective–promoting my writing–has to do with the fact that I have little to promote. My stubborn resistance to self-publishing practically renders my blog useless, since writing novels is my game and I haven’t sold one to a publisher yet. Also, let’s face facts. The only people we are blogging to are other writers. Potential readers don’t troll WordPress looking for new novelists. This is an echo chamber.

As far as a social media presence goes… I have done zero research and am speaking anecdotally, but I don’t see much overlap between blogging and other forms of social media. This blog has almost 3000 followers. I’ve been on Twitter for a two years and have 160 followers.

Do you want to hear about a social media experiment I’m conducting? Four days ago, I created a second Twitter account with a different name and much more Twitter-friendly identity and have collected close to 200 followers already. I also started a WordPress blog associated with that account and have made two posts. Not test posts, either. True content-heavy, image-saturated, well-researched posts that should appeal greatly to my new followers. I have gotten all of 7 hits.

fangs2My preliminary hypothesis (and common-sense observation) is that blogging does not draw the same audience as do Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like. Ergo, blogging does little to build your social media presence, and your social media presence does little to promote your blog content.

I’ve left out one major social medium that is unlike all the others, and it seems to be the only one that offers a path to the top of whatever mountain you are climbing: YouTube. More than a couple of YouTubers I’ve followed when they had fewer than 100 subscribers are now regularly appearing on MTV and other youth-oriented television channels and making a living at it. I’ve even made a few dumb little videos of old Motown songs–built from scrolling B&W photographs and nothing more–that sans any promotion have collected 10,000-20,000 views and counting, which is more than I can say for any WordPress post I’ve written. Maybe I should invest in video equipment.

How about you? Have you ever thought of packing it in as a blogger or does blogging offer its own intrinsic value? All opinions and perspectives welcome!

 


Is Your Story Self-Propelled?

Flintstones car

Every novel and short story needs a hook if its writer expects attention from publishers and agents. The better it sounds in a logline, the more likely it is to get noticed.

For example, Alice Sebold’s The Lovey Bones offers this intriguing concept: “After a young girl is brutally murdered, she tries to intercede from beyond the grave as her father searches desperately for the killer.”

Not that he needed a logline at that point in his career, but Stephen King could have described Pet Sematary with this one: “After a young doctor discovers that the pet graveyard behind his new house can bring dead animals back to life, a heartbreaking family tragedy tempts him down a grim path from which he can never return.”

Those are pretty great hooks. The problem with a lot of books, though, is that the hook is not supported by an actual story. In recent months, I’ve quit a number of books with good hooks because they lacked something ultimately more important, which is internal momentum.

That is, a good story must not be able to end before it ends. I’m going to be vague in this example because I think it’s bad form for a writer to publicly trash another active writer, but I will explain why I just stopped reading yet another novel with a good hook but zero momentum.

It’s about a guy who is saved from a terrorist attack mere moments before it takes place when a strange woman hands him a note from his dead girlfriend urging him to flee.

Given the way modern stories are sold to publishers, that’s not a bad hook. The problem is that the hero survives the terrorist attack unscathed and then spends the next who-knows-how-many pages asking around and asking around and hitting dead ends, at least when he is not reminiscing about all the fun things he and his girlfriend used to do. Perhaps a threat and a villain emerge later in the novel, past the point at which I quite reading, but for quite a long time, the story has zero conflict. The hero could easily have said, “You know what? I have no idea what happened, but I’m fine, so I’m just going back to Wisconsin to finish radiology school.” The end.

Meow?

Meow?

One way around plot inertia is inevitability. Pet Sematary is a shining (pun intended) example of inevitability. The doctor doesn’t have to return to the cemetery that revives corpses, but you know he will. King masterfully sets up the tension by showing us how deeply the doctor loves and cares for his family—that he will do anything for them—and then showing us the dark magic of the graveyard when the doc buries his daughter’s dead cat there, hoping to protect her from discovering the critter had become roadkill.

The dark magic works and the cat returns alive… but it is decidedly off.

Then, when the person he loves most is killed in an abrupt and gruesome manner, the doctor misplaces his perspective on right and wrong and… well, if you haven’t read it, you can probably guess where the story goes. If you have read it, you know it goes there and then ten times farther still.

A writer can also inject story momentum by giving the hero a stark choice: a Seemingly Impossible Challenge vs. an Inevitable Dreadful Outcome.

The movie Alien pulls this trick off more than once, which is why it’s one of the most suspenseful films of all time. When the “facehugger” attaches itself to Kane’s face, the heroes have to choose between letting it potentially kill their friend or cutting it off and hoping the creature’s acidic blood doesn’t eat through the hull of their spaceship.

Later, after the Alien has killed two of the crew and is hiding somewhere in the ship’s air ducts, Dallas has to choose between going into the air duct with a flamethrower to hunt the monster, or letting it hunt them. I’ve seen well over two thousand films, and I’d rank this air-duct sequence alongside the restaurant scene in the Godfather as the among the most nerve-racking moments in cinema history.

Dallas (Tom Skerritt), armed with only a flashlight and a blowtorch, crawls through his spaceship's air ducts searching for the titular ALIEN in one of the most hair-raising suspense sequences ever filmed.

Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), armed with only a flashlight and a blowtorch, crawls through the spaceship Nostromo’s air ducts searching for the titular ALIEN in one of the most hair-raising suspense sequences ever filmed.

Still later in the film, after the monster proves virtually unkillable, last survivor Ripley turns off the ship’s engine-cooling system to destroy the whole craft and the alien with it, only to discover the thing has blocked her only path to the escape pod.

There are many other ways to imbue a short story or novel with internal momentum that keeps the reader turning the pages. What are your favorite methods?

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When Literary Agents Turn You Down: A Useless Analogy

Rodney Dangerfield

For novelists seeking traditional publication through agency representation, the most spirit-crushing moment in the whole sordid affair may occur somewhere around rejection number 8. That’s when reality hits, shortly before the numbness kicks in. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let us go back to the beginning of the querying process for a moment…

Though you have written a literary masterpiece, you know on a rational level that rejections are coming for one of the following reasons:

  1. No one wanted the last thing you wrote, proving rejections do exist.
  2. The book people warned you about rejections.
  3. The book people are idiots who don’t recognize a brilliant, innovative, blockbuster work of art and/or a merchandising goldmine when they see it.

There’s no concrete evidence yet, but scientists who can’t get their books published believe C is the correct answer. Still, you’re different from the other writers. You are meant to be.

You start querying.

The first two rejections hit. No problem. Those were only part of the pre-game warm up anyway. The next two submissions bounce back. Who cares? You didn’t want to work with those agencies anyway. Then another drops, and you adjust your tie, Rodney Dangerfield style. Did you overestimate yourself a bit maybe? Then another. You start to sweat. A seventh! What? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Surely somebody should have recognized—

Your smartphone chimes to indicate a new email. You look. It’s her! The agent at the very top of your wish list, the one who needs exactly what you wrote, is about to tell you she is simply dying to read your manuscript. You tap the icon and the email opens.

Dear Author. Thank you for considering our agency. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of submissions, we regret that…

You delete the message in an instant and jam your smartphone into the front pocket of the handbag you got for 75% off at TJ Maxx so you don’t have to look at the stupid ugly ungrateful little bastard anymore. But it’s not your phone’s fault you keep getting rejected, is it?

No. It’s because you suck. You are the worst writer who ever lived. Ms. Agent probably forwarded your query letter to all the other agencies, where it was laughed at hard for good 30 seconds and then forgotten forever.

That’s not remotely true either. You are as talented as anyone. Writing futility is just another reminder of the meaninglessness of life (that’s the numbness kicking in, by the way. Congrats. You are now dead inside).

Though we all know the chance of landing an agent for our novel is slim, it still stings when you are not picked, because statistics aren’t especially effective at buffering disappointment or boosting self-esteem. Most of us who manage to actually finish a novel, revise it, polish it, and dream about publishing it are also the kind of people who work incredibly hard at honing our craft. After all, the agent said she was looking for New Adult Paranormal Romance Spy Thrillers in Esperanto, and you wrote a New Adult Paranormal Romance Spy Thriller in Esperanto, putting two years of your life into making it as awesome as you possibly could.

Ready for a non-sequitur?

I have two superpowers. One is the ability to compose funny limericks on any subject. The other, unfortunately, is not the ability to solve unsolvable problems, like why a good writer can’t find an agent. My second power is to come up with analogies (that may or may not stand up to logical scrutiny but at least sound good on a folk-wisdom level).

So here’s my analogy for when literary agents turn you down. If you are a frustrated, unpublished novelist, it won’t get you any closer, but it might help the sting feel less personal:

But does he speak Esperanto?

But does he speak Esperanto?

Pretend you are looking for love and sign up at Match.com. In this scenario, you are interested in men who are over 6 feet tall and have dark brown hair and eyes, and you let your potential suitors know this via your online profile.

The caveat: If you make it to a third date, you have to stay with him for at least a year, and you have to give him a lot of attention despite your insane schedule. Not only that, you have to find him a job with a company that has only a few openings but thousands of applicants. All this time, he doesn’t have to spend a penny on you.

Are you gonna take the first 6-foot-tall brunette that asks for a date? The second? The third? You might meet 50 guys fitting your dating preferences and not click with a single one of them. Not to mention all the short redhead and blonde dudes who didn’t bother to read your dating preferences and cluster-bombed you with requests.

In this analogy, you are the literary agent.


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)