I’m looking forward to next weekend’s Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., conference.
Liz won’t be able to attend, and that will be the only downside to the trip.
The upside is I get to hobnob with fellow writers and some of the movers and shakers in the writing profession. I get to be of service as well by volunteering to be a shepherd and a go-fer.
During the past five-six years, the workshops/sessions I’ve attended have rarely yielded anything I don’t already know. I’ve written long enough, have had a dozen book sales, and read several writer/editor/agent blogs and writing news, so I know the game.
So, why attend?
Simple answer: I need a pep talk. I need to hear someone chide me for not doing what I should be doing everyday. I need my ego bruised and my envy at the success of others to rise to the top.
I need a quick kick in my writing butt, is what I need.
I don’t think of writing conferences as “learning something new” but as a spiritual retreat to renew my vows to Tell-Tale story making.
I recently changed my eating, drinking, and exercising habits, which are parallel to changing my writing habits.
I eat as much protein as possible, nearly cut out all fat products, am conscience of my choices in a restaurant.
I power walk 12-15 miles a week. I’ve gone from doing a 2.5k in 50 minutes to doing a 5K in 39 minutes in one year. I do resistance exercises on those days I don’t power walk.
I make sure to get eight to nine hours of sleep a night.
I’ve stopped drinking nearly all colas, fruit juices, and other “unnatural” drinks.
One of my new favorite habits is a SuperFood Smoothie I quaff on a daily basis--and I’m working on developing a SuperWriting Smoothie to get my tell-tale career up and going on a daily basis once again.
Larry Mike’s SuperFood Smoothie
½ cup blueberries ½ cup strawberries 3 slices grapefruit (remove pits) ½ banana 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt ½ cup skim milk ½ tsp ginger ¼ tsp nutmeg ¼ tsp chili powder (optional) 1 square unsweetened (baking) 100% dark cocoa 2 to 4 drops pure vanilla extract (according to taste)
I like using frozen berries as this makes for a chilly, nearly frozen smoothie drink.
Chop up the cocoa square into small pieces. Put all ingredients in a blender and fire up the blades! When all is liquefied, pour in your favorite drinking vessel and enjoy!
Makes one serving. Double or triple or quadruple for serving to family and friends.
Can freeze for later--make it overnight, freeze it, take it to work for a nice mid-morning repast.
Some optional additions to make the SuperFood Smoothie interesting. Choose one, not all, unless you want to make it really interesting:
I must constantly remind myself to write everyday. To tell the stories in my head that are yearning to be free.
My SuperFood Smoothie has now become a daily habit, a ritual, something I don’t miss on a daily basis.
And, constructive writing everyday is becoming a habit once more. My mind and soul don’t like to miss a day without writing
There’s no great secret to staying healthy: Just eat what I know is good and healthy for me. Change my cravings from those foods that contribute little to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Eat Super Foods.
There’s no great secret to writing: Just write. Put down one word. Then put down another word after it. Put my fingers on the keys and tap downward with a purpose. Change my cravings from those distractions that don’t contribute to my tell-tale story making. Write Super Tales.
Oh, I still have a pizza or ice cream or candy every now and then; however, the taste is not really as satisfying as it once was, and my body yells, “What the Hell was that? Where’s the Super Food, buddy boy?”
And, I still watch brainless TV shows on occasion; however, after a bit of watching, Myself says, “What the Hell you doing? Laynie or Sati or Whatever-Character is waiting for you to get back to their tales, and you’re pissing them off!”
The 44th Annual OWFI conference is in two weeks. It's theme is Story Weavers, and we've got some great folk coming to speak and teach.
I have been blessed to be one of the shepherds, and I get to shepherd the remarkable Chuck Sambuchino--pick him up at the airport, make sure he has what he needs at the conference, introduce him at the sessions, and make sure he makes his flight at the end of the conference.I’ve read his blog for quite some time, and am excited about finally meeting him.Being a writer is more than just writing. It’s about service as well. I’ve always done something at the OWFI conferences I’ve attended--volunteering to be a shepherd at the first one before I even knew anyone or knew what OWFI was all about.
I had to miss last year’s OWFI for personal reasons, and I vowed then I wouldn’t miss another one no matter the reason short of life-or-death.
The speakers/presenters who come to OWFI conferences are highly impressed with the professionalism and personableness of OWFI folk, and it’s people like the shepherds and other volunteers that make it so.
Sometimes, OWFI is a speaker’s or presenter’s first visit to Oklahoma. It’s up to me (and the others) to make sure they leave knowing they are welcomed, appreciated, and a part of our OWFI family.
The last time I was a shepherd I got to usher the knowledgeable Josh Getzler around. I remember he had an impromptu session at the bar after Saturday’s duties were done. During our friendly talks between sessions and such, I had learned of Josh’s enjoyment of a particular drink, and while wide-eyed writers were picking Josh’s well-honed brain about the writing business and craft I was whispering to a few what his favorite drink is, and Josh was quite surprised when a refreshed beverage showed up in his hand every few questions.
Currying favor with those who are successful in our little profession is very important, not simply for the sake of self-serving desires, but because it’s the nice thing to do. --------------------------------------------------------
Larry Mike's Curry Mustard Salmon Patties
1 can (16 ounces) salmon
1 medium onion, finely grated
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp curry
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
¼ tps garlic
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 to 1 1/2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons shortening
Turn salmon and ¾ liquid into a medium mixing bowl.
Flake with a fork, removing OR mashing any bones (they are edible).
Mix in onion, parsley, mustard, garlic, curry, cayenne pepper, and pepper.
Mix beaten eggs with salmon.
Add enough bread crumbs, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup, to make thick enough to shape into 12 small patties.
Roll patties in 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
In a large heavy skillet over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter; add patties.
Fry patties slowly on one side; add remaining butter, turn patties, and fry until brown on the other side.
The Writing Profession is a Family Business. We are brothers and sisters in a craft as old as humankind. Some of us, though, have forgotten this. Some of us have forgotten that making and keeping friends--writers, agents, editors, publishers--is important.
The best selling book rarely makes it up the list without “family” help.
To some “currying favor” is brown nosing, sucking up, and selling out.
As I writer who has had some modicum of success, I still curry the favor of others, not just for the sake of doing something to please them to meet my own means but because I’m a friendly guy with some talent and drive and I realize that I need others to help me along in my craft.
Besides, it’s just the nice thing to do.
No man is island. No writer is wholly successful solely by his own efforts.
Every time I hear the term “zombie” applied to the flesh-eating, bacteria-virus-infested cannibals either of film or print, I cringe.
They are not “zombies”--they are ghouls.
A “zombie” is a person brought back from the dead to serve as the slave of another person.
A “ghoul” is the malignant spirit of a dead person, a dead person whose body has been possessed, or a demon in human form who terrorizes the living by eating live flesh and causing havoc throughout the neighborhood.
The “zombie” movie that started it all never even called the dead cannibals “zombies”. Night of the Living Dead is attributed with having started the whole dead-eating-the-living craze. However, if you actually watch and listen to the movie, the dead-eaters are never referred to as “zombies”.
Because they are not “zombies”.
Check out Ray Dennis Steckler's 1964 B-movie opus The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? No flesh-eating here: just a crazy dead person killing those who did him and his crazy gypsy sister wrong.
I feel a heated passion arise in me of late when I hear or read the terms “apocalyptic” and “dystopian” being used as synonyms. Comments and reviews of The Hunger Games have helped to blur the line between the two distinct terms, but it's not the first story to do so. I don't know what Suzanne Collins calls her tale, but others have given it both the “apocalyptic” and “dystopian” labels—but it's really only one of those.
So, which is it?
It's the difference between "ketchup" and "catsup".
Some will argue that the only difference between "ketchup" and "catsup" is the spelling. Such culinary pundits are woefully mistaken.
As with so many other foods that have become a staple of Western cuisine, "ketchup" was invented by the Chinese (鮭汁, kôe-chiap and kê-chiap) and brought to the West by Italian traders.
It was a sauce for fish. Those wacky Italians, though, made it into a sauce for just about everything else, including ice cream. I swear to God, I've seen people put it on ice cream.
So, I offer you my Chinese Vodka Ketchup recipe of my own particular taste:
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vodka or red wine or beer or whiskey
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon curry
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk to eliminate lumps while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to low.
Simmer partially covered (careful, the hot bubbles splatter) for 20 minutes, until thickened.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Homemade ketchup won’t last as long as commercial ketchup, but with sugar and vinegar as natural preservatives, it should keep fine for a week or two in the fridge.
So, what's the difference between my Chinese Vodka Ketchup and any other "catsup"?
For "catsup", use white sugar and add more of it; leave out the vodka, wine, beer, or whiskey and use white vinegar instead; and leave out the cumin, curry, paprika, ginger, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and cayenne pepper. This will produce the bland sweet "catsup" Americans slather on everything.
Okay--the difference between "apocalyptic" and "dystopian" genre.
First, an “apocalyptic” tale involves a story in which some catastrophic event has occurred in which the survival of humanity is in question. On the Beach is a good example of this. So are The Core, Armageddon, 2012, I am Legend, Resident Evil (et al), and the flood stories of Gilgamesh, Noah, Quiche Mayans, and many, many more. An "apocalyptic" tale results either from man's own negligence or God's wrath or nature's revenge.
Stephen Vincent Benet’s short tale “By the Waters of Babylon” is a perfect example of the apocalyptic event caused sometime in the distant past by humans themselves.
An “apocalyptic” tale almost always includes some spiritual message within the story. Benet’s tale turns the apocalyptic event into a dream of a great burning in which the gods were displeased with humans and mankind was nearly wiped out.
A “dystopian” tale is one in which a repressive government enslaves its people in the belief that humans need repression in order to save them from themselves-- or simply because those in power are in it for the sake of the power itself.
In a dystopian story, society believes it has achieved Utopia and cannot or does not see the fatal flaw within its system that is actually working against the advancement of Humankind--usually the repression of individual choice and creativity, as in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and Lowry's The Giver. In almost every tale, the government sets out to repress individual choice and creativity and even destroy human productivity and enlightenment.
V for Vendetta is one of the best examples. Nineteen Eighty-four is an excellent example of a government enslaving its people simply for the sake of power: “Do want to see a picture of humanity?” O’Brian says to Winston. “It’s a boot in the face.”
Other good examples of true dystopian fare are Equalibrium, The Postman, the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, The Handmaid’s Daughter, and, yes, The Hunger Games.
One of the best tales in which a dystopian culture is belched from an apocalyptic event is Repo: The Genetic Opera. In Terrance Zdunich's tale, the apocalyptic catalyst is the failure of human organs. The dystopia arises when Genco offers savioristic transplants and a culture paradigm shift emerges in which everyone believes society has achieved utopia.
Another good example of the apocalyptic-to-dystopia scenario is P.D. James's The Children of Men. This tale of the future demise of humanity begins with the last child born on earth dying--and he's 18-years-old. Humanity can no longer reproduce. Society shifts into paranoid mode in which whole countries are now barb-wired from each other, each blaming the other for the "disease" of sterility, and everything from a space virus to God's Armageddon is offered for the explanation as to why humans can no longer produce children. A new culture arises as human kind slouches through the apocalyptic slough, a dystopian culture.
Collins’s tale is not “apocalyptic”.
I will submit that a dystopian setting can arise out of an apocalyptic event and an apocalyptic event can result in a dystopian society’s choices.
Generally speaking, though, the tale is dominated by one or the other. The Hunger Games is without question dystopian, not apocalyptic. Maybe it will morph in apocalypticism or the society is the result of an apocalyptic event, but the events in the story itself lead to only one conclusion: dystopian.
My tale NEVЯLAND is apocalyptic whereas my story Popinjay is dystopian.
I have approached each with the distinct definitions clearly delineated in order to keep the two tales straight and true to their intended purposes. The backstory of NEVЯLAND does not have dystopian catalyst just as the backstory of Popinjay has no apocalyptic event.
Okay, I know some will protest: “This is a distinction without a difference, like zombies and ghouls.”
And thus I taunt you with this: Nuts! It’s the distinction that makes the difference in the first place.
Since Syd Fields so astutely wrote about screenplay writing, the three-act structure of plotting has been a staple of screenwriters for decades.
Once upon a time, in some lonely writer’s den, a novelist or short story writer struggling to find Voice and Structure in his tale read Fields’ screenplay bible, drew a red line from Fields’ premise to the structure of story in prose writing, and ever since that epiphany moment, the hue and cry of publishers, editors, agents, and writers has been, “A writer must write in the three-act plot structure, or write not at all!”
Acknowledging that Syd is much more intelligent and creative than I am, I propose that writing in the three-act structure for novels and short stories is anathema to the art and craft of tell-tale storying.
Now, I realize I just stepped on some very tender and sensitive grad school creative writing toes and can hear the collective gasp of the three-act faithful at my heretical statement.
I submit that writing tales utilizing the ritual of three-act structure is unnatural to storytelling.
I remember watching the old F.B.I. on television and each segment of each show began by naming the “Act”. A couple of other shows did this as well.
What exactly was each “Act”? Simply, that meant “End of commercial interruption; Now, on with our show.”
I listen to much Old Time Radio shows on iTune via http://radio.macinmind.com, and I hear the same pronouncements by the announcers: “End of Act One” or “And now, for Act Two of Suspense.”
However, short stories and novels don’t have commercial interruptions. A person can stop at any point in the tale to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, get a glass of tea, eat something, clean the house, et cetera.
Thus, writing in “Acts” doesn’t really fit. Movies, television shows, and even Old Time Radio programs are different media from short stories and novels, and, therefore, require a different approach to tale-telling--a division into Acts.
Think in terms of natural structure of the problem:
The action that created the problem—inciting action
Threat—who/what created the problem
The action that resolves the problem—principle action
Anti-threat—driving force of the principle action
“Anti-threat” is, of course, the “protagonist”.
What I like about calling the “protagonist” the Anti-threat is that this perspective requires the writer to look at his tale from the point of view of the “antagonist”, the Threat who caused the Inciting Action (Problem) in the first place. Without the Threat, the writer has no story whatsoever.
And this is where good writing is separated from Really Good Writing: the THREAT is the reason for the story NOT the Anti-Threat.
Begin with the Threat, not the “protagonist”.
Just like I begin by adding vanilla before I add any other ingredient in my Banana Juice. Vanilla is an intoxicating smell for me. If Liz wore vanilla as a perfume, I wouldn’t be able to keep myself off of her.
I love bananas. I love vanilla. I love cinnamon. I love milk.
And I love combining all the things I love into a tasty treat. For the following quaff, I added a bit of nutmeg, which reminds me of Christmas, which I also love very much.
Larry Mike's Banana Juice
16 ozs skim milk
2 tsp honey
¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
Blend all ingredients together.
Drink immediately or chill in a covered cup until later.
Makes one serving for me.
Of course, you can make this a really interesting quaff by adding one-two ounces of your favorite adult beverage. Mine is vodka. I use McCormick’s Vanilla Vodka and leave out the vanilla extract.
Okay, I hear the grad school and high school creative writing teachers screaming: Write in Acts! Write in Scenes!
Beowulf isn’t written in Three Acts.
Dante’s Inferno isn’t written in Three Acts.
Milton’s ParadiseLost isn’t written in Three Acts.
Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex isn’t written in Three Acts.
Each of the aforementioned classical works of literature follow a much simpler and more natural approach to tale-telling.
Although Syd is a saint in the Gospel of Screenplay Writing, I prefer Aristotle’s simple approach to writing a good story:
Again, writing a tale from the point of view of the Threat (antagonist) rather than the Anti-threat (protagonist) provides the tale-teller with a profound insight to story structure and creation:
Resistance—the Threat that caused the problem; resists the Anti-threat’s attempts to resolve the problem
Complications—those events set up by the Threat that resists the attempts of the Anti-threat to easily resolve the problem, which leads to the
Crisis—an event that defines the Anti-threat’s character and forces the Anti-threat into
Climatic Action—that then forces the Anti-threat into
Crisis—in which the Anti-threat is forced by fate or sheer will to the only
Resolution—possible because of the choices made by both the Threat and the Anti-threat
Okay: Once you get all the above into your tale, if you still feel the urge to “divide” your story into Acts for the sake of discussion with other writers, prospective agents, and/or potential publishers, then do so.
Otherwise, every good recipe has one little secret, and you can keep your antithesis to the “acceptable” format for tell-taling to yourself--and I’ll keep your dirty little secret as well.
And, so, I raise my Banana Juice to each of you tale-tellers, and I wish you