Monthly Archives: April 2014

As if the world needs another post about Adverbs.

horse

Standing in a circle, we face each other, panting and glazed with sweat. Blood-smeared clubs dangle from our hands, heavy now from all the blows. On the ground before us lies a mass of pulverized meat, guts, bone, and hair.

It’s the Adverbs Suck horse, and we have killed him across all the known universes of the cosmic alliance. He is ready for the glue factory, little in the way of processing needed.

Then Baker says, “Can I just make one more comment about adverbs?”

The rest of us groan.

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Never Use Adverbs 98% of the Time

So I happened upon a dude’s blog the other day in which he discussed the “ly” thing. I got the feeling he didn’t think they were the worst thing ever, but also that they weren’t great and should generally be avoided.

Generally.

Yeah, I used an adverb.

I’ve long maintained here that writing rules aren’t rules but firm guidelines. When you begin to view rules as absolute, you lose sight of the story. Would you wreck a sentence that works to ensure it conforms to rules?

I agree that adverbs can be indicators of lazy writing and that they tell instead of showing, the main knocks against them. I don’t agree that they are absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances.  See, I just used another one, absolutely. It works for the sentence. It lends dramatic emphasis to “unacceptable.” I could find another way to write that sentence, but the sentence would be equal, not better, and it might even be longer.

Adverbs can make a point in an economical manner. Or, they can do it “economically,” which is more economical. Ready for some blasphemy? Sometimes telling is OK, like when it’s necessary to connect the interesting bits of the story with a line of exposition so quick you won’t even notice it’s exposition. Every writer uses exposition, and everyone who freaks out over one line of it is too worried about rules and not enough about enjoying the story. Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” what some may argue is (AKA arguably) the most famous line in all of fiction, is exposition.

I’ve digressed. Adverbs are 98% bad for the reasons often cited. Here are my guidelines for when not to use them:

horse21. When integrated into the action. This is the lazy part people mention.

He struck the horse angrily, as if somehow killing something already dead would make people realize that JJ Abrams ruined Star Trek, despite the movies being pretty good, winning acclaim, and being successful.

A better choice: He struck the horse until his palm stung…

2. When integrated into a dialog tag. This is the telling part people mention.

“I’m going to keep hitting this dead horse until you admit I’m right,” Pinky said passionately yet frustratedly.

A better choice: Pinky’s face knotted and he challenged Mina with a glare. “I’m going to keep hitting this horse until you admit I’m right.”

3. When it makes you cringe.

You know, this is a pretty good guideline for any component of writing. If it sounds awkward, it is.

The moral of the story: Adverbs are not great, but neither is unbending compliance to and enforcement of any single writing “rule.”

Thoughts? Comments? Abuse?

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Bonus content!

Gender stereotypes are silly, and few are more silly to me than the notion that a woman carries a purse and a man does not.  I’ve got a wallet, a big wad of car keys with two remotes and a bunch of store cards, a Samsung Galaxy phone, lip balm, nail clippers, minty sugarless gum, and sometimes a CD or two to carry around. You think all that junk is going to fit in the pocket of my jeans?

So here it is, as requested by my blogging buddy Janna Noelle, a picture of me with my brand new man purse. No, it’s not a “messenger bag.” It’s a purse. I grew a beard and scowled just to accentuate my manliness. That is, if this Chuck Norris-like bucket of testosterone can carry a purse, so can you, fellas.

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?

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I Hear Voices. Writing Voices!

opera singer

All writing is good writing.

No, not that drivel other people grind out like so much alphabet sausage. I’m talking about your stuff. All your writing is good.

Good for you, that is, like spinach. Even the stuff you didn’t want to write. All those application essays for college, the apology e-mails at work,  the gangster novel you were duped into co-authoring with “52Pickup,” that guy you met on the online-poker site (who, you found out, was also bluffing about his writing talent). Think of it as cross-training, when you work different muscle groups in different ways so you are ready for any fitness challenge.

[I’m assuming that’s what happens to people who exercise]

We bloggers talk often talk about finding one’s “writing voice,” a concept that can be challenging for beginning writers. I even wrote a post on the subject back in the early days of Clawing at the Keys, which you can enjoy or mock right here if you missed it the first time.

If you’ve been kicking around the writing scene for a while, though, you already have your voice and don’t think much about it. The next challenge becomes finding your other writing voices. Like all the “people” manufactured by your multiple-personality disorder, you have other voices, not just the awesome one you show off in your stories and on your blog.

I bring this up because of a mildly humorous comment I left on my pal Shelina’s blog, A Writer Inspired, yesterday. Every April she posts thirty writing challenges in thirty days, and yesterday’s challenge was to rewrite an existing passage or story from one’s own oeuvre using a different writing voice from usual. Earlier, at work, I had finished writing an ad-hoc software-training guide, which of course reads much drier than the stuff I post here, and I jokingly asked her if that counted as fulfilling the challenge (she said yes).

But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized I kind of enjoyed writing the guide. I’ve compose plenty of training material, but this project was far more of the “From the sidebar, select McFly. You will be redirected to the Flux Capacitor page (see fig. 2.1)” variety, which is new for me. When I read the document back for revision, darn it if it didn’t sound like a real technical guide. Of course, it is real, but I was happy to have captured that voice exactly on my first attempt.

singing catWhere did I find my inner software-guide voice? It didn’t come from writing speculative fiction.

Looking back, I think of the surveys I created for research courses I took in college. My papers on medieval architecture. The press releases I had to write for my Public Relations Management class, that 3.5-hour-long beast that ran from 6:30 to 10:00 every Tuesday night throughout my final spring semester.

Even farther back, filling all those high-school English journals. The report on the history of Maryland I had to write and present in fourth grade (I puked during the presentation. Sorry Maryland. Nothing personal).

I’m not sure how those writing experiences conspired to help me come up with polished technical instructions, but I do know I have many distinct writing voices that can be applied in an array of scenarios. I admit I was not excited, at the time, about those writing assignments in college and primary school. Yet here they are, paying back the investment time and again.

So next time you’re slogging through some drab writing project or alphabet-sausage assignment when you’d rather be hammering out the third draft of your novel or weaving a soul-touching tapestry in poem, remember that your writing is still being served.

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How about you? What other kinds of writing do you do? Do you consider yourself a versatile writer?


Back in (Orphan) Black

Orphan Black

Being addicted to TV shows while trying to write a novel is a futile endeavor. That’s why I have a rule: Follow no more than three series at a time.

I’m sure I am missing out on some terrific storytelling for the sake of attempting my own. But I also can’t hear every great album ever recorded or taste every delicious dessert ever baked. Life is making choices, and I want to publish a novel one day. Thus, three shows. If I want to pick up a new one, an existing one has to go.

Thank Zeus, then, that The Walking Dead just ended. Orphan Black is back and I’m not going to miss it.

BBC America’s sci-fi mystery resumes this Saturday night nearly a year after season one ended in a cliffhanger, and it’s well worth your hour. If the term “sci-fi mystery” turns you off, don’t let it. You don’t have to be a Star Trek geek to love Orphan Black (though I’d adore you even more if you were). This show is very soft science fiction: No space ships, no aliens, no laser beams. It’s all concept and story, Earthbound, and features little in the way of technical effects, aside from the ones you won’t notice.

Whatever your taste in TV drama, you should watch it for one reason, and that’s lead actress Tatiana Maslany. Brilliant is too tepid a word to describe her performance, for Maslany plays not one, not two, no three, but eight (!) characters, many of whom routinely interact. At several points throughout season one, Maslany even played characters impersonating other characters. Often I forget it’s one actress, like when I get a crush on one character while simultaneously being irritated by another in the same scene.

I think awards shows are self-congratulatory marketing tools at best, but if this woman does not win a best actress Emmy next year, that event is rigged.

Here is a gallery of her characters (a few didn’t make it to the end of the season, but I’m sure she’ll introduce new ones to replace them):

Sarah

orphan Black sarah

Beth

orphan black beth

Alison

orphan black alison2

Helena

orphan black helena

Cosima (My crush. Hey, she’s a sexy science geek. Can’t not)

orphan black cosima2

Katja

orphan black katja

Rachel

orphan black rachel

Jennifer

Orphan Black jennifer

 

How about you? Do you allow for TV time? What’s your show?


Interview with Music Journalist and Author Amy Yates Wuelfing

City Gardens bookFresh from her appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, music journalist and author Amy Yates Wuelfing sat down with little old me, of all people, to talk about her new book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens. What was she thinking?

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For the unfamiliar, City Gardens was among the country’s most notorious punk rock clubs of the 1980s and ‘90s, and everyone from the Ramones to the Dead Kennedys to Green Day graced (?) its rickety stage. The stories told in this book are quite literally insane, the mayhem on stage frequently surpassed by the lunacy playing out on the dance floor and in the parking lot. It’s a must-read for music lovers, psychology majors, and people dangerously obsessed with fire.

EJB: Why write a book about a punk-rock club in New Jersey?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me.  And unlike the clubs in Philly or New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.  

EJB: People will be shocked by some of the stories recounted in the book. What are some of your favorites?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: I like it best when people have completely different recollections of the same event.  It is left up to the reader to decide who, if anyone, has the story straight.  The one story that people seem to gravitate
to is the riot at an Exploited show.  Some people say that the band’s van was completely ransacked and set on fire, CGardensother people say, no, just a broken window or two.  Which is correct?  You have to decide.  There is a similar story about the one time the Beastie Boys played there. Was it the best show ever – or the worst show ever? That’s why I love oral histories so much; you get every side.

EJB: You talked to members of The Ramones, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and other big punk acts as well as plenty of pop, metal, and rock bands from the era. How receptive were these musicians to being interviewed? Did anybody give you a hard time?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  No one gave us a hard time, but some people just didn’t take part in the project and that’s fine.  In the end, the book turned out exactly like it was supposed to.  Anyone who passed on talking to us isn’t missed.

EJB: You told me a lot of publishers were iffy on your plan to interview “normal” people (as if City Gardens’ patrons could be qualified as normal) along with the bands, believing readers wouldn’t care what they had to say. However, I found that to be the most fascinating aspect of the book. I’m convinced a sociology course on disaffected youth could be built around this thing. What it your plan all along to paint that kind of picture, or did the theme and direction of the book evolve as you compiled and transcribed the interviews?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: The book started out as a project to write the memoirs of City Gardens promoter Randy Now, then it just kept expanding in scope.  Early on, I realized that the club was so important to so many people, that I felt it was essential to include those viewpoints as well.   The normal, not-famous people had great stories. cgardens2And you are not the first person to recognize the sociology angle!  It is a total case study in how misfits found each other before the internet.  As we began interviewing people, it all just came together.  The book became what it was meant to be, not to get too “new age” on you. The book had a force of its own.

EJB: This title is selling out all over the place. Someone stole mine before I could resell it on eBay for a profit!

Amy Yates Wuelfing: Dude, that’s so punk rock.

Where can people get a copy?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  The first pressing, which was 2000 books, sold out in less than a month.  If anyone had told me this a month ago, I would have laughed and bought them a drink.  We are doing a second pressing right now.  To get a copy of the book, head to infinitemerch.com.  They are the first people we will restock with books when they come in, mainly because they are really close to my house, which is where the books will be delivered.  This whole thing is DIY, just like the old days.  No publisher wanted to touch this, so we have to do the grunt work, but we don’t mind.  The book was a labor of love and to it see it get this much attention makes me so happy.  At every signing we do, people thank [co-author] Steve and I for putting it together. That alone makes it worth the time and effort.

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico