Monthly Archives: December 2012

Goodbye, Fontella Bass (1940 -2012)

The Grim Reaper has been working overtime in the entertainment world this week.

We lost TV legend Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple, Quincy M.E.) and veteran character actor Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon, The Sting, and about a million other films) on Christmas Eve, and today it was announced that 1960s soul singer Fontella Bass has also departed for the great beyond. She was 72.

Some of her better-known tunes include “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” and “Recovery.” Here is Fontella’s biggest hit, “Rescue Me,” which came out in 1965 and hit #1 on the R&B charts. You’ll know it when you hear it, because it shows up in a lot of commercials and movie soundtracks:

A reminder not to take for granted the people you care about… even ones you only admire from a distance.

Peace.

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The Worst Christmas Story Ever Written

Happy Holidays! As my gift to you, I have composed The Worst Christmas Story Ever, full of stupid plot points, embarrassing constructions, impossible dialog, tonal inconsistency, and implausible characters. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to read. Dig in!

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SANTApocalypse

Chapter 1 – The Beginning

Deep within the bowels of The Ice Caves of Crendor, that most secret of places hidden deep within the larger bowels of Mount Kringle (the mightiest volcano of the North Pole), Santa’s retinas accepted light reflected from the naughty-or-nice list (and its accompanying gradations of color and shade) with not inconsiderable trepidation and alarm.

He called out to Clorex the Elf. “Clorex! Appear before me as I speak.”

hunky santa2Clorex arrived at Santa’s side in due course, the green color of his elf costume uniting with the red color of Santa’s red suit to stir Christmas passion in all those who observed, had anyone been observing. Had the pair not been inside but, rather, outside, where the likelihood of being observed was greater, they would have appeared as living holiday vignette that belied the true tension of the situation.

“Yes, Santa,” Clorex chimed.

“Clorex,” Santa repeated with some loudness. “What’s all this about flesh-eating?”

“Santa, I beg your pardon sir, but what flesh-eating?” Clorex inquired with a questioning air.

Santa held aloft the list. “Clorex, the flesh-eating on this naughty list,” he edified.

Clorex’s elfin gaze fell upon the still-held page. His pupils dilated ever so slightly so as to permit more light to fall upon his retinas. Only then was he able to see the words by the firelight being cast from that which burned inside the kerosene lamp, largely being wick.

“Ah, that,” Clorex offered. “Yes. I remember now, Santa. There has been a zombie apocalypse. Those children have become zombies.”

Santa pondered upon this most grave of news scenarios with a face of woeful seriousness and far-off wondering. “Zombies. Zombies,” he uttered in a repetitious manner. “Yes, that is very naughty. Very naughty indeed! Why hath you not spoken of this before, Clorex, my trusty elf supervisor and confidante?”

Clorex looked away sheepishly, though with more sheepishness than can be anthropomorphized by such a small ungulate, thus rendering his look-away rather more bisonish. “You seemed busy with all the toy making, my lord, so-”

Santa cut him off, interrupting him. “By the gods, Clorex! What to do with all these toys I’ve made!”

Clorex piped up with, “There are two named on the nice list.”

“By the gods, Clorex. You’re right! I know what to do!”

With that, Mrs. Claus burst into the room. “Don’t Kris, don’t go! I beg you!” she pleaded, throwing her arms around the legendary present maker and sleigh flyer. Her copious bosom smashed against his muscular, well-oiled chest.

“I have to, Greta!”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“No!” She held aloft her hand. “I won’t let you.”

He held aloft the list in one hand and held aloft his sword in the other as he gripped her by the arms and pontificated. “Gwen, all my life I’ve been searching, always searching for a purpose in life, aimless and adrift and lost for a reason to go forth in life and choose my path. But now I know what I must do. Nay, what I was born to do. I must stop the zombies!”

Her warm, limpid eyes filled with tears. “I know. By the gods, I know!” She pressed her full, throbbing lips to his, kissing him. “Will you be back?” she said worriedly.

He broke away from the kiss. “You’ll have to find out.”

Chapter 2 – The Middle

Circling overhead, Santa saw the zombie horde surrounding the house. “Son of a bitch.”

“Sir,” said Rudolph. “I think I can set us down on that roof. It won’t be easy, but-“

“Do it, soldier!” Santa ordered.

With his steely glare, the young pilot aimed for the shingles.

“You’re coming in too hot!” screamed Cupid.

The sleigh’s runners bounced twice as the nine reindeer fought to keep from plummeting into the throng of flesh eaters below. Rudolph ordered a hard turn, sending the sleigh spinning toward the edge. The deer dug their hooves down and held fast.

Once still, Rudolph glanced back toward Cupid, his steely eyes in close-up. “You were saying?”

Chapter 3 – The End

“You mean all the kids are zombies but you two?” Santa said to Terry and Terry, the Johnson twins. Santa had climbed down the chimney and down to the main floor and found five survivors holed up in the boarded up house, six upstairs and six downstairs, though they were all in the basement.

Their neighbor, Ira Feinstein, stepped forward to communicate his thoughts verbally. “It’s very mrs claussad, but it is true, there once were many Johnsons and now there’s only two.”

“Bloody hell, man, what’s with the rhyming?” Santa interrogated.

Terry, a year older than the younger twin, verbalized, “Ever since Mr. Feinstein found out you’re real, he’s been rhyming. The doctors say there’s no cure.”

“With reindeer for fauna and holly for flora,” pronounced Mr. Feinstein, “I fear I no longer can use my menorah.”

“Bloody Hell, man!” Santa murmured. “Everything about me is borrowed from Norse pagan mythology. In other words, there’s room for everyone’s beliefs in this crazy world, as long as we can learn to tolerate our differences and welcome diversity!”

Sensing a story theme, rousing music welled around them. Feinstein smiled. “Damn it you’re right! I am going to fire up that menorah after all! And you, McGillicuddy, in the corner. I am going to celebrate Ramadan with you! And Mrs. Swanson, sitting at the kitchen table; I shall go to your Kwanza party! And Spagnetti, lying on the couch; I will cut off chicken heads and do a voodoo dance with you!”

Everyone smiled.

“Now,” Santa enunciated. “Let’s go kill some zombies! Right?”

Feinstein, McGillicuddy, Swanson, Spagnetti, and the Johnson twins said, in unison, “Right!”

They burst outside, swords held aloft, ready to do battle with the zombie hordes, when they were suddenly attacked by thousands of zombies. Elgard the Dwarf king fell to his knees, shouting, “Nooooooooooooooooooooo” in slow motion. When all hope was lost, Santa heard a familiar voice.

“Santa!”

The jolly, fat toy maker looked up to see his old friend Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer throwing down the sack of toys, which landed in the snow with a sack-thumping-on-the snowy-ground noise. Just as the zombies were .5 seconds away from biting them all, Rudolph dove across and tossed something to Santa. “Here!” he promised.

The activator button landed in Santa’s aloft hand. He knew just what to do: Press it.

The toy boxes burst open as the gifts inside transformed into robot warriors, who then cut down the zombies with their mighty swords of fire and laser guns, which they held aloft.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!”

“Not so fast,” said Satan as he leapt up and planted his feet on the ground, holding his pitchfork aloft. “Have you forgotten about me?”

Santa dropped his sword to his side, no longer holding it aloft. “Well, well, well. If it’s not my twin brother, Satan. I should have known you were behind this!”

Terry and Terry, the twins, said to each other and everyone else, with knowing smiles, “Twins? We know a little something about twins, don’t we?” Then they put on their magic rings, which, only when worn by twins, can create an evil-destroying shock wave that destroys all evil in the universe.

The ground split, Satan screaming loudly, and swallowed him back to Hell.

Santa ruminated, “Well kids, since you are the only survivors of the zombie apocalypse, I guess this robot army is yours.”

Simultaneously and in unison, both twins at the same time said, together, “Awesome!”

“Yes it is,” said a feminine voice. They all turned.

It was Mrs. Claus, smiling. Santa smiled too, and she ran into his arms, the top two buttons on her blouse popping off, unable to contain her ample bosom.  The pair embraced, the rippling muscles of Santa’s arms glistening in the moonlight.

“I shall never leave you again, Glenda,” he proffered feelingly.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!” The snow began to fall and, together, they sang secular holiday music.

The End.

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Every single sentence in that tale had something horrid about it. I quite enjoyed being awful.

But wait, there’s even more content today:

A few weeks ago I posted a humorous lament about missing Darlene Love’s performance at BB King’s in NYC. Well, I managed to catch her show in Newark this Saturday night. It was an amazing performance that included perhaps the most incredible and emotional moment I’ve ever witnessed at a live music event. You can read the full story and review here. It’s roughly the same length as my lovely masterwork above.

Cheers!


Cheers, writers

Writing is a lonely passion, isn’t it? We lock ourselves away physically or isolate ourselves mentally (I’m talking to you, Panera people), spend hoursweeksmonthsyears in a heated internal debate about which word should go next, and then chop, rewrite, revise, and bludgeon until we end up revolted by our own creations.

We are Victor Frankenstein.

"Puuuuubliiiiish meeeeee..."

“Puuuuubliiiiish meeeeee…”

To be honest, most of us are a bit cracked in the head. Take me for example: Between work and home, I spend about 60 hours a week pushing words around, and I’ve been at it for years. When it comes to my personal writing, you’d think I would have come up with something I’m satisfied with by now. But no. I detest everything I’ve ever written. That includes every single blog post, all my weekly arts-and-entertainment pieces for PFC going back almost three years, dozens of short stories, and both full-length novel manuscripts. I hate ‘em all.

A metaphor for my writing process: Going to a bar, pounding way too many drinks, meeting the most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen, and feeling all puffed up when she asks me to go back to her place! Then I wake up the next morning with a shattering hangover and realize her name is actually Steve and he’s the drummer from a Twister Sister cover band.

Perhaps the biggest cause of my mental derangement is that I fancy myself a fiction writer. With blogging and art reviews and such, we’re our own publishers, or at least we are contributing writers on a schedule. There’s little in the way of high and low emotion. Fiction, on the other hand, is simply masochism without the welts.

My experience with the world of fiction publication – and I suspect at least some of you can relate – is that of shoving one’s children into a thick-as-soup fog bank and wondering if they will come back, find someplace better to live, or vanish into oblivion. Most of the time they come back, unharmed but unwanted by anyone else. Others vanish and you shrug. Every once in a while they miraculously knock on the right door and are invited in. The head-scratcher is that you put the same amount of heart, agony, and passion into perfecting each one… so how come no one wants most of them but you?

Before I started blogging a few years ago (this is my second blog), I used to wonder what was wrong with my fiction. Why weren’t agents and publishers snapping it up? I did all the right things: Open with an attention-grabbing line, invent motivated, flawed characters who speak snappy dialog and experience meaningful arcs, and keep the action moving and the stakes high. Sometimes I’d imagine that no one was actually reading my submissions, because you secretly had to know somebody at the publisher if you wanted to avoid the recycling bin. Publishers are just like HR recruiters, damn it!

Then I started exploring the writing blogs on WordPress and got a pretty satisfying explanation of why it’s so hard to place a story. You guys are legion, and you guys are good! Real good.

Off line, I don’t know too many writers outside of my business connections. A few dabblers, perhaps, but no one near my skill level. Now that I’ve seen the amazing things you lot can do, though, the ferocity of my competition has become explicitly evident.

I followed a few of your publication links today (including this one that I particularly liked) and encountered prose that was tight as a drum head, layered with vivid imagery, and as professional as anything I’ve read in a book. I also regularly read your essays that are funny, evocative, moving, stark, bittersweet, and any other adjective one can think of to describe essays worth reading. And every day I soak up writing advice that is witty and insightful and full of ideas and suggestions I’d never considered.

You might think I’d feel threatened or depressed to discover the amount of writing talent I am up against, but it’s strangely validating. If I’m going to lose out on those few precious pages in a literary magazine, at least I know I’m losing out to someone good and to someone who puts as much work into this writing affliction as I do. I can take losing just fine when I lose fair and square to someone better.

Cheers, writers. It’s my pleasure to keep your company.

 


When Grammar and Political Correctness Collide

I see a lot of corporate documents every week, and the writing contained therein could keep me supplied with blog topics for the next year (assuming the chronic eye rolling doesn’t do me in first). Inflated language, random capitalization, buffer verbs, redundancy, awkward syntax, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction problems abound, and each of those deserves a separate post.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565Today I shall discuss a truly cringe-inducing trend: Using nouns as verbs and adjectives. For example, let’s look at the word “partner.” We can all agree it’s a noun that refers to someone who takes an equal share of responsibility with someone else in an effort to accomplish a shared goal. Not all partners have the same significance in one’s life, but they are always nouns.

In college, you may have had a temporary partner in your “Japanese Superhero TV Shows Masquerading as American Productions 101” course. She created the Power Rangers charts and diagrams, while you researched and presented the various iterations (your thesis being that Dino Thunder was the best). Later, you might have a life partner who shares your bank account and helps you screw up the children you are raising together.

It has lately become acceptable to use “partner” as a verb, such as, “Jacob Marley partnered with Scrooge to form Bain Capital.” I’m not a big fan of this usage, but it comes in handy when I’m writing someone’s bio and already used “collaborated” and “worked with.”

It’s the adjective version that gets my cringe machine firing. “Our company seeks a partnering manager who is willing to work alongside and support the communications team in producing awful writing.”

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to this atrocity: Using “architect” as a verb.

That’s what I said. Architect is now being used as a verb in place of “design and implement.” For example, “The successful candidate will be called upon to architect a more efficient and streamlined production process.”

If you aren’t cringing by now, we can’t be friends.

The good news is that my job permits me to change these beastly little nuisances. Bless my employer for entrusting me to make those decisions many hundreds of times a day.

Ah, but the world always finds a new way to needle you, doesn’t it? It is no longer politically correct to use the adjective “female” when describing a human being. We must now use the word “woman” in its place, though the rules of English unequivocally state that the latter term is a noun.

Examples:

“There are not enough women directors in Hollywood.”

“Car-repair customers are more trusting of a woman mechanic.”

“We have not yet had a woman president, though we’ve had plenty of men presidents.”

Am I to understand that the biological descriptors use to differentiate between humans with two X chromosomes and humans with an X and a Y chromosome are degrading and oppressive? So much so that we mangle the language and wedge nouns in the place of adjectives?

Let’s take it to the extreme and see what we get:

“All embryos are inherently woman, but the release of testosterone at a certain stages induces the formation of man genitalia in some fetuses.”

“The woman alligator cares for her hatchlings while the man alligator has moved on to search for another mate.”

“To install your fiber optic cable, insert than man end into the corresponding woman receptacle on your surround-sound amplifier.”

How about it, folks? Am I an insensitive clod for caring more about grammar than about making sure crybabies don’t get offended by phantom insults?

Hmmm. I suppose that question wasn’t framed with the utmost neutrality, was it? Perhaps I’m just hopelessly operating from a male perspective. Er, a man perspective.

power rangers


Show me don’t tell me

No, not those mechanics!

No, not those mechanics!

Once a writer grasps the mechanics of composition, it’s time to sit back, fire up the Cuban cigar, and let that novel write itself. It’s all just paragraph breaks and dialog tags anyway. Right?

Wrong! Once you acquire the mechanics, it’s time to animate your prose and turn your story from a bunch of words on a page to a living organism. And how is that done? We’ve all heard writing instructors say those three magic words, and they aren’t lying: Show, don’t tell.

As writers, we must paint a picture with words. We have to put our readers in the room (or spaceship, dragon’s lair, submarine, etc.) with our characters and make the action happen around them. If we expound on backstories, describe past events in depth, and list details, we’re telling. That’s easy but boring. We need to show.

The irony, from my experience, is that experts often tell us to show, but they don’t show us. If you sometimes struggle with how to take your “tell” and make it “show,” perhaps the following example will help. I just made this sequence up, so I hope you appreciate that today’s post has value-added content in the form of a fiction vignette. Who else in the blogosphere gives you free content? That’s what I’d like to know!

Wait… all blogs are free? Oh. I just thought… Uh, let’s just get on with it, shall we?

Here’s my vignette in “tell” form. Try to stay awake:

Stars

By Joe Bland

Clark had been staying late at the bar with his buddies every night for weeks, playing cards and drinking beer. He kept promising Andrea that he would stop; that we would start coming home early, spend more time with her, and try to make things like they were in the beginning of their marriage. He wanted to make it right, because he still loved her, even if their relationship had grown stale.

He meant to leave early tonight! He really did. But he and his boys were drinking and laughing and having a great time. He didn’t care that he lost money in the poker game.

Andrea would care; she’d be pissed. Just after she got done being pissed about him getting home at three in the morning, which he was about to do yet again. He pulled in the driveway, got out, and tiptoed up the porch stairs, trying not to make noise but failing.

Andrea liked to watch TV and sometimes fell asleep in front of it. Clark hoped that was the case tonight. He peeked through the window to the living room, but it was dark in the house. She must have gone to bed. He’d catch hell tomorrow, but at least he would be able to sneak in.

He located the house key on his key ring, trying not to make jingling noises as he did so, and unlocked the door. He slipped quietly inside and closed it, then listened to hear if Andrea was stirring. He was reaching for the light switch when…

Sorry, I was getting bored with all that telling and became worried you were, too. My mechanics as a writer are sound enough that the tale was easy to follow, but who would want to follow it?

Let’s try “showing” the vignette instead. Notice how we can convey every piece of information in the “tell” version without repeating a single line from above or resorting to exposition:

Stars

By Me

Clark jammed the shifter into ‘park’ and cut the engine as fast as he could. Why are pickup trucks so much damned louder at three in the morning than at three in the afternoon?

He stared at the house, looking for signs of life. Quiet as a graveyard, he thought. Keeping his eyes on the upstairs bedroom window, he spit the wintergreen gum into the wrapper and stuck the wad in the ashtray.

She’s still smell the booze, but he had to try.

Clark turned the handle downward, slowly, and nudged the door with his elbow. The dented sheet metal popped and he grimaced. He shot another glance at the house… still nothing going on.  He crept out, swiveled his head as if about to commit a crime, and then pressed the driver’s door shut with his shoulder.

Do driveways stones always make so many snaps and pops? He hopped over to the grassy side and made for the porch steps, whispering, “jeezuss,” when the stair creaked. He shook his head. How come these sounds never conspired against him when he got home at a normal time?

From the porch, he crouched before the side window to the living room, hoping to see the flickering of a TV left on and Andrea passed out in the couch. He cupped his hands against the cool glass to block the moon’s reflection and peered through. The couch was empty, the afghan folded into a perfect square. Too perfect.

Shit. She was going to kill him tomorrow. Especially when she discovers how much he lost in the poker game.

He rubbed his hand print from the glass with his sleeve – why leave evidence? – and reached into his pocket, clutching the keys tightly to silence them. He squinted to confirm he was using the correct one, swept himself silently into the house, and shut the door, thanking God for inventing the WD-40 he’d sprayed onto the hinges a week earlier.

He stood. Save for the hum of the fridge, the house was black and still and silent. Andrea was upstairs, asleep, dreaming of killing him, probably. Rather than fumble in the dark and knock something over, he decided to take the risk of turning on the florescent light over the sink. He ran his fingers across the wall, feeling for the switch, trying to avoid the coffee can full of pens.

The throwing star pinned his sleeve to the sheet rock before his brain even registered the whooshing sound. He yanked free and turned, ready to run for the truck, but realized his keys were no longer in his hand.

The ceiling-fan light over the kitchen table flickered to life. He froze, gripping the door knob, and looked behind him across the room. Andrea stood in the archway to the living room, dressed in billowing black, her index finger poking through the ring and swinging the keys back and forth.

“Looking for these?”

Clark turned to face her, glancing quickly at his empty hand. “How did you-”

She unleashed a second star, which imbedded in the door frame a quarter inch from his right ear. “You forget you marry ninja?”

Oh shit. She told him she was retired.

Clark fell to his knees. “Baby. I can explain! Sylvester… you know Sly… he started having stomach cramps. Me and the other guys, we took him to the hospital.”

Andrea crossed her arms. “Don’t bullshit me. I got no shortage of ninja stars!”

“It’s true! Sly is in the ER, getting his appendix out. The other guys stayed, but I said I couldn’t stand to be away from my baby another minute, so I-”

She kicked the door to the basement and it fell open. In the stairway, a large net dangled, imprisoning three men, a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best, and several playing cards.

“These guys, you mean?”

Sylvester, his face smashed against the netting, managed a feeble wave.

Clark’s eyes welled. He bowed his head. Ninja punishment was legendary. And swiftly chosen.

Andrea stood over him. “You take me to outlet mall every weekend for six month!”

He nodded.

“You get Brazilian wax. I like you smooth down there.”

Clark whimpered.

“And…. My mother stay with us for one year!”

The neighborhood dogs howled at the unearthly cry issuing from the little blue Cape Cod on Sullivan Street. It’s the place all the kids call, “The House of Flying Stars.”

All right. Maybe I got carried away there, and I haven’t taken time to refine it. But I hope that by showing the vignette instead of telling it, I brought it to life just a little bit. Yes, it was way harder to write than the “tell” version, but nobody said this writing thing was a cake walk.

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 For more about showing not telling, here’s this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Rush singing the lead track from their Presto album from 1989:


Pretentious, inflated, indulgent writing is bad. Always.

I don’t like to speak in absolutes when it comes to writing, partly because I’m not a fan of rules. For every writing rule I hear, a successful rule-breaker comes to mind.

However, with absolute certainty, I can declare that wordy, pretentious writing is bad. If a sentence has 90 stuffy words when it only needs 25 short ones, it’s bad writing. If a writer is trying to impress us with his expensive-looking vocabulary instead of informing, entertaining, or touching our souls, it’s bad writing.

Wordy, pretentious writing is only acceptable as satire. Or when I use it as an example in a blog post, because everything I do is dripping with cool.

Elmore Leonard: an unpretentious writer who never wastes words.

Elmore Leonard: an unpretentious writer who never wastes words.

In practical terms, I majored in public relations (though that is not what my school called it). On the scale of popular perception, PR people are somewhere above politicians and serial killers, uncomfortably close to used-car salesmen, and looking directly up at the girl from Macy’s who sprays perfume on you without asking (Don’t worry, she’s wearing pants, not a skirt).

But PR people did teach me a lot about writing. If I can boil their writing instruction down to two words (which is exactly the kind of thing that would make them proud), it’s “write tight.”

Meanwhile, in more traditional areas of academic study, where the professors sport bushy beards (even the women) and have been wearing the same moth-eaten suit jackets for 37 years, the writing motto seems to be, “Obfuscate a conflation of explanation, implication, and interpretation through profligate verbosity and wanton clause abuse.”

I once ruffled a professor’s plumage by mocking a rambling, incoherent article we were forced to read. By “read,” I mean stare at the first 900-word paragraph (which also served as the opening sentence) until my eyes glazed over.

When Hitch said, "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible," he wasn't talking to writers.

When Hitch said, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible,” he wasn’t talking to writers.

The professor said, “But this is college-level writing, you must understand.”

And I said, “Indeed. It’s also bad writing. I have the intellectual firepower to understand the article, but I don’t have the patience to read something that is deliberately made obscure by someone more interested in waving her Ph.D. around than she is in conveying meaning.”

My point was not well received.

I bring this up because I just started reading a book on Alfred Hitchcock, the intent of which is to examine how his films reflect a British expatriate’s view of American culture. Now, I know going in that I’m going to get inflated, pretentious writing; film historians cannot help themselves. Still, what is the point of deliberately obscuring one’s point? Here is a quote from the introduction:

“Film offers not only, as critics since Benjamin have been reminding us, a radically new form of apprehension for a radically new kind of audience – one organized by the logic of the mass, in Benjamin’s influential terms – but also a new way of thinking about the powers of visual representation at the moment of modernity.”

Gah! Why is this sentence 55-words long? Why is it composed in such an awkward, impenetrable manner?

Why not say it this way?

“Critics since Benjamin have pointed out that film is the first medium with a mass audience and reflects the apprehension of the time in which it was created – the moment we became a modern society. This is why the power of visual representation is so ripe for analysis.”

I shaved seven words, broke it into two sentences, and, if I may be so bold, made it far easier to digest. Sure, we could all read and, after a couple of passes, understand the other version, but why make me trip over bloated, awkward sentences on my way to finding the meaning? I don’t care what your diploma says; bad syntax is bad syntax.

If you plan to write a scholarly tome on an academic subject, I have two bits of advice.

1. Leave the deconstruction to Picasso.

2. Write tight.

So what are your thoughts? Do you find wordy academic writing to be sentence shrapnel, like I do? Or am I just a simpleton with a low-wattage mind? Maybe you just enjoy free-form word art!

Do tell.

picasso


Don’t Judge a Reader by His Cover

harry potterDispensers of writing advice will frequently say, “Know your audience.” I think that means we should pick a genre and follow the conventions of that genre (yawn). They can’t be suggesting we know who is going to like our material, can they? Can you really judge a reader by his cover?

Here are some random examples that say “no,” culled from real people in my life:

1. A thirty-something fashion plate who’s poised and modest. She’s definitely not into greasy kids’ stuff and disapproves of undignified behavior. Wouldn’t be caught dead watching a movie about superheroes or fighting robots.

Yet she’s totally obsessed with the Harry Potter universe. She knows every book inside and out.

2. A man in his mid-twenties, sports fan, and devoted scholar of world history and foreign cinema.

You know those Twilight books? He’s read ‘em all, cover to cover, more than once.

3. A man in his early fifties, gun collector, with the appearance of a former biker dude.

In his spare time, he pores over books about horticulture and grows exotic trees.

One of the most fascinating things about life with humans is being continually surprised by what they are into, not the least of which is their reading choices. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I write speculative fiction, AKA science fiction, horror, and supernatural. You probably know I’m really into music, both as a musician and a listener. I’m married, got a kid, work in an office building. But when it comes to books, can you guess what’s on my shelf?

  • Piles of cozy mysteries by Agatha Christie and others. Give me British aristocracy, an old mansion, and a murder, and I’m yours for 250 pages.
  • Rows of film studies and analyses. Who made what movie and when? Why? What does it say about: society, philosophy, the human condition, the inherent destructive nature of man, pretentious film writers? Less-serious titles about low-budget trash cinema abound as well.
  • Heaps of books on art history and criticism, especially French, Dutch, and Italian. Some ancient Greek and Roman thrown in, plus some really dry stuff about medieval architecture and metalwork. Never mind that I can’t paint a fence.
  • Titles on popular science, evolution, and critical thinking (the latter of which don’t seem to be working).
  • Assorted stragglers, like whatever Elmore Leonard novels I haven’t gotten to yet, plus a few literary works and classics.
  • And writing books, though that is a given for someone who blogs about writing all the time.

So there’s my book collection in a nutshell. Very few horror or science fiction novels. No fantasy or supernatural. Not much about music. Maybe not what people would expect based on my “cover.”

How about you? What’s on your bookshelf, and which titles would surprise us?

botticelli