Sunday, November 27, 2011

Now that's what I call writing: funny stuff

Comedy is so subjective - that's why it's my least favorite movie genre, because when it doesn't work, it's deadly.

The following selections are from books that may not necessarily be great writing - they won't win awards for the beauteous lyricism of their prose - but they made me laugh, and that's always a good thing.

First, from Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding:

Tuesday 19 December
9:45 a.m. Oh God, feel awful: horrible sick acidic hangover and today is office disco lunch. ... Better go to work - but will not have anything to drink at disco lunch, just be friendly and professional, stay til about 3:30 p.m., then leave and do my Christmas cards.
2 a.m. Course is OK - everyone drunks office Christmas parties. Is a good fun. Must gust sleep doen mattr about clothesoff.

Wednesday 20 December
5:30 a.m. Oh my God. Oh my God. Where am I?

And this one's from David Wong's John Dies at the End, as a group of people are about to face a horde of demons.

John said to me, "If I die, I want you to tell everybody I died in the coolest way possible. You can have my CDs. My brother will demand the Playstation, since I borrowed it from him a year ago, so don't fight him for it."

Jennifer hesitated for a long moment before saying, "Um, there's a loose floorboard under my bed. I keep stuff down there. There's some pot and a little notebook with like, some guys' names in it, and - some other stuff. If I die I want one of you to go in my bedroom and get all that stuff out so my mom doesn't find it."

Next Fred piped up. "Okay. If I don't come back, and say they don't got my body, like if Justin eats me or somethin', tell everybody you don't know what happened. Make it mysterious. And then a year later spread rumors that you've seen me wanderin' around town. That way I'll be like Bigfoot, everybody claiming to have seen me here and there. Legend of Fred Chu. And then, like, once a year go out and mutilate some livestock. Tell everybody I did it, that you saw me flyin' my UFO around that night it happened."

It turns out that the character John is the singer for a band, and the band's songs have an effect against demons, in particular the song "Camel Holocaust". Given the lyrics, you can understand this.

My melon soul
Crushed by your Gallagher of apathy
Sledgehammer! Hammmerrrrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!

There's a wolf behind you
No wait, it's just a dog
Oh, shit! Badger! Baaaaadgeerrrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!

I'd happily cough up some money to make this song a reality.

So if you need a laugh, check out both of these books. They're lots of fun.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writing craft: Getting ideas from advice columns

I've always been an advice column fan. Even back in high school, I loved reading Dear Abby over my morning coffee and Cheerios. And nowadays there are lots of advice columns, thanks to the Internet, to provide me with reading pleasure and yes, some artistic inspiration.

Admittedly there's a certain voyeuristic aspect to reading advice columns, with their real people and real problems. But the columns do provide valuable insight into people and how they do or don't deal with the things life throws at them. This is a real boon, especially if (like me) you've led a fairly sheltered existence and have a family and upbringing that's pretty darn functional.

A good source for online columns is this one, where you'll find several columns for your perusal. My favorite of them being Annie's Mailbox, which offers a good blend of problems mundane, serious, and batshit crazy. Another good column, Ask Amy, can be found here. And then there's the Since You Asked column, which is good fodder if you're interested in First World Problems.

The columns - including not just the questions but the replies and any reader comments - give a good window into peoples' emotions and actions. After reading these columns for any amount of time, as a writer you'll understand that it's perfectly plausible for characters to avoid conflict and not talk to each other about matters that could be solved with one simple conversation, because people in real life avoid conflict and don't speak about their problems.

It is possible to get burned out on advice columns, particularly when you notice that a resounding majority of the questions can be answered one of three ways:

  1. Mind your own business
  2. Grow a spine and deal with it
  3. Write back when you have an actual problem

But it's all worth it for the genuine problems, which provide real food for thought, and grist for the fiction mill. And it's REALLY worth it for the occasional doozys. Just off the top of my head, those have included:

  • A dad who wants to turn in his daughter to the FBI because she's now an atheist
  • A dad who's worried that his preschooler daughter will grow up to be promiscuous because she has lots of stuffed animals (no, I don't understand his logic either)
  • A woman whose neighbor has raised her kids to think that the ghost of their dead brother controls the weather
  • A woman who wants to bust up her son's relationship with his girlfriend because she makes him happy and encourages him in life (the woman wants her son to be prepared for life to be a disappointment)
  • A woman who thinks her sister-in-law deliberately got pregnant at the same time the woman did to share the spotlight
  • A woman whose boyfriend is demanding that she take a lie detector test to prove that she's faithful

And so on.

Online columns are a particular boon because readers will project the most amazing things into their responses, especially when the person who wrote in did not go into excruciating detail. Often the reader responses are more entertaining than the columnist's responses.

So read away! I know that some of the things I've read have been helpful for characterization in my books.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Watch this now: Trailer for The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games trilogy was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had this year, and to my relief, the trailer for the movie adaptation looks pretty good. Watch it now.

Happy that November is here

Not for NaNoWriMo. As usual, I am too busy to make much headway on fiction. (Why can't we have "Write a novel in March" month? Nothing much happens in March.)

But November and December are my favorite times of year for several reasons. One is the weather. September and October should be considered Autumn, but Southern California still thinks those months are Summer, so you have a lot of hot, dry, nasty weather. This is a problem not just because I'm sick of the heat, but because I'm sick of grilling and want to roast something or make some soup.

October is an improvement on September, but not by a whole lot. Yes, there's a holiday but it's Halloween. This will come as a surprise to those of you who know that I like horror movies and books, but I really don't care much for Halloween. I don't like dressing up in costume, and hate having to come up with a costume for the kid. Yeah, candy's cool, but the last thing I need right now is a bunch of candy sitting around tempting me.

But November and December? My time.

For the most part, the weather finally starts to realize that it's Autumn, or as close to Autumn as we get in these parts. This means I can leave the grill alone and fire up the oven. Just last weekend it was cold and blustery and rainy, and I made French onion soup (with my home-made veal stock). Lovely!

The weather also means I can change my reading habits. Some books are more suited to warmer times of year, and some are best suited to cooler temperatures. Ditto with music - call me crazy, but I cannot listen to k. d. lang's album Drag when it's hot and sunny. It's a rainy-day record.

The best part of November/December is, without a doubt, the holidays.

Thanksgiving is an overlooked holiday these days, mostly because it doesn't lend itself to merchandising the way Halloween and Christmas do. Also, the traditional Thanksgiving feast is considered to be a duty rather than a pleasure, at least for the cooks. Well, not this cook. I've done the feast often enough that I've got it pretty much down (though the final coordination and timing can be tricky, especially the mashed potatoes). It's a busy day but I take pleasure in the cooking, and in knowing that at the end of my efforts we'll have a big feast the whole gathering can enjoy.

As for Christmas, I've talked before about my affinity for the season. All that I talked about then still holds true, and let's not forget planning the feast. (The Christmas feast is a bit more fun than Thanksgiving, as fewer set-in-stone traditions mean I can play around with the menu more.) I am sad to see that traditions like Christmas cards seem to be fading away, but the month of December always has a special place in my heart.

And the best news for my Constant Readers? Once the holidays are done, I should be all fired up to get serious on a new project. Anyone interested in a murder mystery set at a cheesy theme park?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Watch this now: Quentin Tarantino - the Works

An excellent montage of Tarantino films.

Makes me want to watch them all again, right now.