pens and stories, words and consequences

1) When I was younger, starting a new story often meant buying a new pen. We’ve always been big on office supplies in my family, particularly pens. And different pens sometimes seem to have different stories in them.

These days, a new writing program or app can be the same. I was reading an article online about top apps for writers, and most of them were things that don’t interest me (an app to keep your characters organized doesn’t really appeal to me — my characters are much happier when they’re disorganized), but there was a paragraph about an app called iA Writer. It sounded interesting, since I’ve always been drawn to writing software that presents a completely clean screen to write on.

iA Writer doesn’t even have settings or options. The message being: “Don’t waste time fiddling with the settings — start writing!”

As soon as I started using the app, I got an idea for a new story. I’ve been wondering for a while if I’d ever write a story that drew on my small obsession with…

Oh, but that would be a spoiler… :-)

2) I was interested in this article: “Mo’ne Davis asks Bloomsburg to reinstate baseball player behind offensive tweet

In brief, a college athlete was kicked off his team for tweeting something offensive about Little League phenom Mo’ne Davis, and she is expressing forgiveness and asking that he be reinstated. Being an athlete herself, she knows how hard he’s worked to get where he is.

It made me think of a recent blog post over at Maggie Madly Writing, called “Frat Houses and Free Speech.” Maggie brought up some good points about responsibility. I particularly appreciated her point that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

And I’m not advocating for Casselberry being allowed back on the team, but I do like the fact that not only is he exposed as a sexist jerk but he also just got schooled in maturity by a 13-year-old girl.

It also made me think about what I wrote recently about Ronda Rousey. People do get weird about men in sports having to play against, and possibly lose to, women. Casselberry, the player who was kicked off the team, was a top hitter. Davis is a dominant pitcher, achieving her Little League victories against boys. Not that Casselberry has to worry about batting against her (she’s only 13), but, as I say, the whole idea does get some people upset. And he’s obviously familiar with the games she’s played so far in her career.

And, of course, Casselberry is white and Davis is Black. Which could also be a factor.

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an original and an adaptation

1) I enjoyed reading this, “Robert Altman: the genius who’d ‘reinvented the language of cinema,'” though I think that claim is a bit overdone. I don’t think he did, nor was he trying to, reinvent the language of cinema.

It was nice to read the review, because it’s always nice to see people appreciate Altman, but I don’t think I’m going to rush out to see the movie.

It is a cliche to refer to Altman as a “maverick,” but I disagree with it and I always have. He was a Hollywood insider who figured out how to make the movies he wanted to make within the system. That’s what the best Hollywood directors have always done — that doesn’t make you a maverick.

(Orson Welles was a better candidate for the “maverick” label, for example — after his initial success, he mostly didn’t get to to make the movies he wanted to make, and the ones he did made were mostly made in Europe, often financed by his own money.)

Also, some of the people interviewed in the film seem to be odd choices. Bruce Willis? Chosen because of a long association with the director (he was, very briefly, and hilariously, in The Player — but I think that was about it), or just because he’s a big star?

It’s interesting that Inherent Vice is mentioned as an Altmanesque movie. Well, I’m sure P.T. Anderson would like it to be, and it certainly does have a lot of characters, as many Altman films do, but there’s not a moment in the picture that seems spontaneous.

2) On the Wikipedia page for the novel The Burning Court, it’s mentioned that there was an adaptation done for the radio show Suspense in 1942. I decided to listen to it, though I couldn’t understand how you could cram a whole novel into thirty minutes (minus time for commercials).

The answer is, really well. You can hear it here. Most of the characters are trimmed away, the plot is streamlined, and some events have different, and simpler, explanations, but the spine is there. And the ending is not a letdown (I was worried about that).

Similar to the movie of Under the Skin, it was adapted by first throwing out most of the book, and then figuring out how to make the essential parts of the story work best in the new medium. And the radio adaptation found a way to convey the spirit of the ending through sound — in the book its all visual description.

This is not a popular way to adapt a novel these days — mostly adaptations of popular books try to cram in as much detail as possible, even if they miss the point.

And I’m not just talking about Harry Potter and so on. It’s equally true of Inherent Vice and every Henry James adaptation I’ve ever seen.

But it’s much more fun when they get the point and work out from there.

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sometimes you do have to fold ‘em

Kristan Hoffman had an interesting blog post called “Have You Done Absolutely Everything You Can to Reach Your Dreams?

In it, she links to an essay by a football player who has persisted and who made the NFL despite obstacles, including being considered “too short.”

My comment was this:

I’ve seen people take these stories in two different ways. Some people think, “Hey, this person tried and tried and never gave up and eventually got where they wanted to go. So, if I do all that, I’ll get the same result.”

Well, no. Probably not. These stories become news because they are the exception. And a lot of other people, the ones who didn’t get there, they probably wanted it just as much.

But here’s the lesson I do take from that, and I think it’s a really important one.

What do you want your life to be like? There’s the “you’ll regret it if you don’t try” thing, but this is bigger than that. Do you want to play the odds, assume you won’t succeed, and sit on the sofa watching cat videos your whole life?

I was a professional musician, and the bands I was in really gave everything we had to make the big time. Short story: we didn’t make it.

I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I think quitting on a dream can be a very positive thing (if you do it for the right reasons, of course). As I describe in one of my comments on Kristan’s post, Henry James and George Bernard Shaw had dreams of becoming, respectively, a playwright and a novelist, and English literature is a whole lot richer because they gave up on those dreams and became, respectively, a novelist and a playwright.

And I wouldn’t have half as much fun writing these last couple of decades if I was still trying to be a musician at the same time.

Or, to take it away from the realm of art and sports, getting out of a bad marriage can be a very positive change in a person’s life, but it does inevitably involve giving up on a dream.

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seven sentence sunday #6: on the medical team

This one is only eight sentences, and I chose it for a very specific reason, which I’ll explain afterwards.

* * * * *

As soon as they got off the bridge, the wind shifted and SarahBeth said, “Oh, my God, what’s that smell?”

Perry made a face. “It’s even worse than the regular smell.”

Katherine sniffed a couple of times. “Somebody’s burning bodies,” she said.

“Oh, ick,” said SarahBeth.

Perry shrugged. “It’s better than the alternatives.”

* * * * *

Characters reveal a lot about themselves by what they know. That’s why I liked this short scene when I came across it in the re-reading the novel.

And Katherine, who regular readers know is a mass murderer, knows what it smells like when bodies are burned. Exactly why she knows this is not stated, but it’s definitely plausible that she’d know it.

My favorite “who knows what” moment is in the movie Mystery Train. There’s a character named Luisa (played by Nicoletta Braschi). She’s transporting her dead husband’s body back to Italy, and she’s having a layover in Memphis on the way. We see her wandering around, preyed on by various minor cons, and she ends up in the fleabag hotel where most of the movie’s action takes place, sharing a room with another woman who has no money. In the morning, they hear a gunshot from another room in the hotel.

The other woman says something like, “Was that a gunshot?”

Luisa says, “It sounded like a .38.”

It tells us a lot about her that she has an idea about the caliber of the gun just from hearing the sound through the walls of the hotel room.

I was just watching an episode of the old TV show The Prisoner called “Hammer Into Anvil,” and at one point Number Two is threatening (as usual) to break Number Six, and he (Two) says to Six, in German, “You must be hammer or anvil.” Number Six understands the German and recognizes that it’s a quote from Goethe, and the rest of the conversation shows that he understands the real meaning of the quote while Number Two does not (anvils break hammers, not the other way around). We know very little about Number Six, but it is telling that he has all of that information.

You do have to work carefully and keep it plausible, as I talked about here, but it can be a lot better to reveal some character background in this way, rather than by dumping a bunch of exposition into the story.

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writing about hate?

Maggie over at Maggie Madly Writing wrote a blog post called “Thoughts about Hate.”

At first I thought, “Oh, I don’t write about hate” (with the inevitable following thought, “I should write more about hate…”).

But then (I admit, kind of a “Duh!” moment), I thought, “Well, you write about people murdering other people — hate might figure in there, at least a little.”

So, I thought about the murders in what I’ve written. Thinking analytically, they seem to fall into three categories.

1) Personal and specific. You find out that your lover is cheating. You find out that your friend killed your lover. You can no longer tolerate your lover beating you. Hate is clearly involved here, even if sometimes mixed with love.

2) Impersonal and specific. Someone is standing between you and something you want. Hate may not be involved here, and in fact you may never have met the person face to face. It could be anybody who is blocking you from a goal. As the Mafia say (at least in the movies), it’s just business. Nothing personal. So, hate doesn’t really enter in here.

3) Impersonal and general. Someone belongs to a group that you hate. Obviously this is hate, and hate mixed with fear as opposed to #1 where it may be mixed with love.

Now, there are some mixtures here (one might murder a lover who threatened to expose the affair, which would be somewhere between #1 and #2, for example).

Interesting. I wonder if there are other configurations that I’m missing…

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more commas!

As I’ve had indicated before, I’m fascinated by commas. And now, the New Yorker has started a video series, and the first one is about commas. And, for all the reputation the New Yorker has for their unrestrained use of commas, this video is about when you should not use them:

(I do have to say, as somebody who has been reading the New Yorker pretty much since birth, the phrase, “the New Yorker has started a video series” seems very odd to me. I switched to getting the magazine digitally for a while, but I switched back to print. Newspapers are fine on the Kindle, or on the web, but the New Yorker needs to be on paper.)

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