Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My review of Peter Furler: On Fire

Hey, Gang!

Since I got a lot of good feedback on my review of Owl City, I thought I'd post a link to the review I wrote for OnCourse Magazine for Peter Furler's new album, on fire.

Comments aren't enabled over there, so please leave comments here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lust of the Steel: Michael Bay Sells Sex And Robots

When I was growing up, there was one kid that my parents forbid me to hang out with because he was a "bad influence." He was violent, a pig to the girls, and a little bit racist.

That kids name was Michael Bay.

OK, that wasn't true, but it could have been, based on the movies he creates. Transformers is the perfect example of his particular brand of bad influence.

Bay's overgrown man-part is illustrated best in his pandering to three stereotypes, and one other offense that my wife took issue to:

Stereotype #1: Women are for sex. The first time we see the new girlfriend, Megan Fox's replacement, Bay starts a long camera pan up from her ankles, pausing far too long on her butt, barely holding up panties. It was gratuitous, as was the rest of her role in the movie. In fact, the only other two females characters (aside from many scantily clad minor characters) was Sam's mom, awkwardly doling out sex advice, and the government woman, who is annoying until she's finally sexualized in the end. But, what do you expect from a guy whose first directing job was shooting a Playboy centerfold video.

Stereotype #2: Black people must be portrayed formulaicly as either cool or funny. Yes, Michael Bay, you did good with Bad Boys. No, I don't think you're a racist. But please, give us some developed black characters! Not the jive talking idiot robots from the second movie that were the 21st century equivalent of the slaves in Gone With The Wind. And not the tough with no character development soldiers in this installment. Give me well thought out characters cast with black actors, for once. Actually, that's a complaint for all of Hollywood, so maybe I'll give you a pass on that.

Stereotype #3: The more violence, the more men will like it. There's a line, and I got to tell you, this movie crossed it. You can only kill so many people, burn all their skin off, kill parents in front of their kids, rip a head off with the spine attached, and massacre an entire city before I start to question the MPAA on their rating system. Ok, I ALWAYS question the MPAA, but still.

Final Offense: This comes from my patriotic wife, but I totally see her point. Bay treats American history as though it's nothing more than a box of legos for him to build tittilating imagery. From shooting Abe Lincoln in the head, to mimicking the challenger explosion, to buildings falling like the trade towers, it was just too much. Even Megatron dressing like a taliban came across as bordering either offensive or ridiculous, and I wasn't sure which one it was.

Was there anything good? Yup, the 3D was amazing, worth the ticket price, and Sam finally had an intriguing storyline, which kept my interest throughout, even though it never got resolved.

But, Michael Bay, my mom says it's not enough to change her opinion of you. I can't come out and play.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Even Colbie Caillat Has To Send A Query: A Basic Guide To The Process

Many times those of us who have finished a writing project and are attempting to get published will say that we are “querying” agents, and anyone who has never had exposure to the massive amount of available publishing information might wonder what the heck we’re talking about. So, here is a brief guide for the uninformed:

The querying process is a lot like finding a job: you browse the want ads, submit a resume, go for interviews, get turned down a lot, and finally land some form of employment.

The want ads for writers are (generally) agent listings. Agents will give information about what kinds of writing they are looking for, and the wise writer picks only the agents that match up.

The resume is the query letter, and it represents both you and your work. Just like with any job, you want your resume to be crisp, concise, and compelling. Also just like any job, no one gets hired strictly off of the resume.

The interview is the request for materials. This is where the agent, intrigued by the query letter, asks to see some or all of the work you’re trying to get accepted. Just like you wouldn’t show up at an interview disheveled, drunk, or distracted, your manuscript should be the best representation it can be.

There might be more interviews for a job, and there might be more requests from the agent. You might even get a phone call or two. They might even seem GREAT. But, anyone that has ever been job hunting knows, you don’t have the job til you’re offered it. Same thing with this process, until an agent offers representation, you don’t have an agent.

And that’s ok.

There have been plenty of jobs that, in retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t get. Great interviews, great jobs, just not for me. Same principle applies to agents. There are a lot of great agents, and some may even really enjoy your work, but in the end, only one will be the right fit for your work.

Now, if we could just find that danged unemployment line…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Expose your sexy timbre: The essentials of voice.

You know that show with Christina Aguilara, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and that other guy? What was it called? Oh yeah-

The Voice.

I've been following a lot of agents and editors, perusing their blogs, inhaling their tweets, studying their clients, etc. And I have discovered that there are certain qualities of writing that they are always on the lookout for, and others that they don't worry about as much. You'd be surprised at how often writers are worried about things (word count, grammatical minutia) that agents shrug off, as long as the more important elements are there.

A smattering of examples would be: a riveting plot, tenacious characters, unforgettable dialogue, captivating setting, and that element that is so confusing for authors, but may be the most important element of writing, the unique, engaging voice.

So, what is "the voice"? Putting it simply, it is the "you" in your writing. If plot, characters, dialogue, and setting are the building blocks of the story, voice is the substance of the telling. (story+telling. You got that, right?)

Even though there are a limited number of stories out there, and the same story has been told a thousand times, it's the voice of the writer that sets each one apart. How can you read a piece and know that it's Mark Twain, or H.G. Wells. Not because they tell different stories, but because their stories are told in different ways.

So, how do you develop your voice? I think it begins with exposing yourself to as many authors as possible.

To clarify, I'm not endorsing flashing your favorite writers. (no matter how many of them are hoping for that advisement.) Rather, I mean you have to read. And read. And read some more.

But don't read for prestige. In other words, don't read because you need to read certain books to be "well read" or something. Instead, read to hear the voice of the books. Don't worry about reading all of the books, really, but focus on reading just the first chapter. If the voice doesn't capture you, move on. If it does, read on.

Once you've read and read and read, start writing. Not your book, though. Sure, your book is important, but try writing something more personal. Recount an event from your life, and try to really get your voice in place. Maybe do it a few times, emphasizing different aspects of your voice. Remember, this isn't for publishing, not even for anyone else to see. This is just for you to experiment.

Once you've started really finding your voice, it's time to go one more step. Now you have to learn to write in a voice other than your personal one. That way you can write the mysteries, the romances, the kid-lit, etc. How do you do that? Try acting classes. Seriously. Learn how to embody another character, learn how to make someone else's voice your own.

Then you can put yourself out there. You can write with confidence, knowing that you can maintain an authentic voice no matter what it is you're writing.

And your stories will be that much better.