Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's Not What You Say, but How You Say It

After teaching my jaycee class this evening, I'm thinking of changing my blog series from "To Quote My Grandmother: 'Why are teenagers so stupid'?" to "Why the fuck am I teaching?"

I spent the weekend grading the first of five essays they will be writing for me; I would have rather been plucking my pubic hairs out one by one. It was that painful. I may not come out of this semester with the same intellect with which I went into it.

My jaycee students have funny experiences and a decent repetoire of wisdom to share, but they don't know how to share them.  Assaulted by texting language, misspellings, countless grammar errors, and slang that I don't understand, I found myself flinching as I read. (Did you know that if you are "talking to a guy/girl" you are in the first stages of dating? I talk to a lot of people, so I better rephrase how I communicate that otherwise I might be known as the whore of California). 

To address this problem, and save some of my brain cells, I developed a lesson that I thought would exemplify the importance of rhetoric. I started by projecting following scenes onto the board:

Bermuda hoped that the dude she jacked from the bar weren’t no microwave minded guy in bed.  Because sex is fun. Sex is a way to show love.
            She took her pants off, he took his pants off she looked at him he looked at her. The light was on.  Bermuda turned down the bedshits and then she got in bed and told him to "come here" and so he said "okay" and got into the bed.  He was so hot.
            She put it in her vagella. He said “ahhhhhh,” she said, “ohhhh” but she really liked it you know so anyways he came and then she came.  He got up and put on his pants. Right?
            Don’t u want 2 have this kind of six LOL!!!!  I mean, you know, sex?

It lay before me: hot, open, ready to be devoured.  Licking my lips, I caressed my fork before taking it up and thrusting into the pasta.  I twirled the firm yet tender noodles around the prongs and then scooping up a meatball, drew all toward my parted, red lips.
            I enveloped the bite dripping with marinara sauce. A few spicy droplets escaped through the corner of my mouth, but I lapped them up. Cradling the meatball on my tongue, I sucked it, rolled it around in my mouth, and slide it down my throat—warm, sweet and totally satisfying.

I asked my students to write about which activity they would rather engage in and why.

The response? Sputters of discomfort, shifting around in seats, avoidance of eye contact --with me--at all costs. 

Apparently, I had caused confusion. 

And then, one student asked: "Can't we have both? You know, have sex and then enjoy the spaghetti?"

Apparently, my students thought I was giving them the choice of having bad sex or good spaghetti. And a few seemed to have inferred that offer included my involvement.

To ameliorate this discomfort, I went into a lecture about how great writing can save an otherwise boring topic and how sloppy writing can ruin a stimulating topic. Careless writing created awkward sex; great writing created orgasmic spaghetti.

So then I asked, "Who wants to have some spaghetti?"

Two out of thirty students raised their hands.

I pointed out that given the two options, I'd rather have spaghetti too. And that what they have given me was bad sex.

Wide eyes stared at me, their slack expressions saying, "You'd rather have spaghetti than sex? You're an idiot."

And, I'm willing to bet that more than a few were thinking: "Man, do you need to get laid."

Maybe I do, but that wasn't the point.

Or, maybe just before I collect a class set of essays I need to have phenominal sex so that I don't give a shit about the quality of their writing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Little Fact; a Little Fiction: The Intruder

The goldfish bowl teetered, but my resolve did not.
     The pounding on my door at 1 a.m. rattled me; withdrawing the knife from the kitchen drawer calmed me.
     Going to the door, I said, “Who is there?”
     “Open the door, you fucking bitch,” he bellowed.  I jerked back, knocking the small table next to it. I reached out and steadied the fish bowl.
     Steadied myself.
     More pounding on the door; more demands to open it.
     Smiling, I unlocked the door and stepped back. “Come on in,” I said, raising the knife.
     I had always wanted to do this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vampires

I love vampires (hence, the email address). I teach my students how they represent their contemporary culture. Movie posters of Nosferatu and Dracula hang in my classroom.

Promotional Picture for Dracula Film

My obsession began with the film Lost Boys (Kiefer Sutherland, if you happen across my blog: Will you marry me?) released in theaters during the summer before my freshman year in high school. I went to see it eight times; I listened to the soundtrack a hundred times.

In high school, I read Stephen King's Salem's Lot, which drew me away from the pop-culture sexiness of these creatures and mesmerized me with their evil, horrific side.

In college, I devoured Stoker's Dracula, Le Fanu's Carmilla, and nearly questioned my sexuality after reading about Geraldine in Coleridge's "Cristabel." 

Then I discovered Anne Rice. Her seductive writing had me wishing I was a gay man living in the 18th Century. She truly revolutionized the vampire in a way that I find engaging and culturally relevant. But, regardless of how sensational she portrayed the vampire life, the tinge of sorrow and tragedy associated with immortality made her readers voyeurs: titillated through observation but not quite ready to shed our mortal coil.


Now as the Twilight series and those of the same vampire vein infiltrate our culture, I wonder: What in the Hell happened?

Don't get me wrong, I think Stephanie Meyer is a great writer. She understands her audience and yet she doesn't write down to them.

I am all about the vampire evolving to fit its contemporary culture, but I am disappointed by the vampires of today.  I don't want my vampires to be in love; I don't want my vampires to propose marriage. I don't want a vampire with eighty-something years of experience to fall in love with a seventeen-year-old high school girl.

True Blood?  The Gothic Pleasantville.  But, the HBO series (sorry, haven't read the books) balances the tender and the terrible of the vampire.  I do like the angle of the vampire blood being a hallucinogen drug to us humans and becoming part of the illegal drug industry. Oh, and there's some pretty nice eye-candy (Alexander Skarsgard, if you happen across my blog: Will you marry me?)

But fairies and vampires--I think I'm out.

I'm dark. I like the forbidden. I like the idea of evil. If it's not "appropriate" or if I'm not supposed to do it--I really, really want to do it. Now that vampires are appropriate and popular, I find my interest waning.

I know. Real mature.

When I gripe about the current condition of the vampire, my friends usually suggest that I write a "respectable" vampire story. I finally did, a short piece entitled, "Rosemary for Remembrance" which was instantly accepted and published in an online magazine and is now available for download on Barnes and Noble's website. Even with that success, I resist a vampire novel because I feel like if I produce one now, I'd just be lumped with the mainstream vampire madness.

And, quite honestly, I didn't have a story line.

But, I think I do now.

A woman is found ripped apart in her Long Beach apartment. This is the first of a string of murders that span over LA and Orange County. The investigation leads detective Dr. Alan Zotikos to Fiona Blake, a history doctoral student at UCLA, who is protecting a secret concerning the killer's identity . . . if anyone would believe her.

During her research for her doctoral thesis, Fiona stumbled across a secret society of vampires whose mission is to both witness and record the most critical moments in history. This society not only houses the truth, but also controls how these events will be documented by the human race. These vampires, who call themselves The Chosen, keep their posts until too much life skews their objectivity and then they select their replacements. One of The Chosen who has rejected his mission and in his search for the perfect human to make his vampire companion begins a killing spree that threatens the secrecy of the society itself.

Weighing her passion for truth, her faith in history, her hunger for answers to history’s mysteries against the love for her fiancĂ©, her growing attraction for Detective Zotikos, and her desire to stop the renegade vampire's murders, she must decide whether or not she will try to substitute herself in place of the next Chosen or expose them.

So, what do you think? I admit that "The Chosen" is a bit cliche, but that's all I have for now. I'd love some feedback: which historical mysteries would you like to see featured? If you read this blurb on the back of a book, would you be tempted to buy it? 


Please comment!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A contest . . .

There is a writing contest from a professional editor, Lynette Labelle that is really easy to enter. If you win, she'll provide you with some free editing services. Check it out at  lynnette_labelle@yahoo.com

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What we writers do for our readers

I am one-third of a writer's group. During the years I have spent work-shopping my pieces with these wonderful ladies, my writing has blossomed (but not enough to come up with a more original metaphor). Without their guidance, support, and threats, I probably would still be working on finishing my third novel (with that parallel universe twist, dammit), would never have survived the synopsis process, and would be prostituting myself in the lobby of publishing houses instead of using other respectable means of getting picked up.

There are many dimensions to the dynamic that makes this particular writing group exceptional, but what I appreciate the most is our differences: we each write for a different genre and we each bring unique strengths to the craft.

JennyB is the master of detail and can write one hell of an introduction (see Missed Periods). Also, she has an uncanny eye for spotting contradictions and a witty way of weaving contemporary culture into her writing. When I start to stray from the fundamentals of my characters, she steers me back on track. And without JennyB, this blog would not exist.

Minz might be the most creative writer I've come across (see Melinda J Combs). She dreams up plot lines that I couldn't mold three acid-hits into a transcendental experience, but at the same time can still relate to commonly shared experiences of her audience and make them feel her writing. And thank god, she knows the ins and outs of this publishing game.

What do I bring? You'd have to ask them. If you asked me, I'd just say my hot ass.

Our differences really manifested during our last workshop. Each of us are working on books: Minz, a memoir; JennyB, contemporary romantic comedy; and I, a serial-killer thriller. In each of our recent submissions, our focal characters have moments of reflection that will impact the rest of the story. In JennyB's, her character's reflection came too early; in Minz's, it appeared unnecessarily; in mine, it came way too late.

This Goldilocks scenario is typical of our group, and we had a good laugh over it. But since we all were playing the writer and the reader simultaneously, I realized just what our reflection-timing might be doing to our readers.

In JennyB's case, her character has a meaningful experience and immediately sees the relevance of it. Therefore, by the time I have processed what has happened, her character already has reflected and already has internalized the significance. Don't get me wrong, she does this beautifully in way that is so real, so contemporary but I don't have a chance to mentally go "ah-ha" just before the character does, but I do have a chance to panic and mentally plead "Wait for me!" Instead, of feeling enlightened and wise, I feel slow and clueless.

Minz manages to weave subtly her reflection into her prose, but then at the end she spends a good paragraph summarizing the reflection just one more time.  At that point, it doesn't seem necessary. This can make the reader feel one of two ways: either it will just add an extra level of reassurance, as if Minz is handing just one more blanket to her chilly reader who is already curled up in front of a fire, just in case they might need it; or it might exasperate the reader because they are warm enough, dammit, and don't need that extra blanket.

As for me, my reflection comes about two chapters after the character has a plot-altering, mind-fucking experience. This might make my reader extremely frustrated with my seemingly obtuse character, as he or she wonders why in the hell I'd make such an idiot my protagonist.

Or, maybe I am providing a public service.

My lagging reflection makes my reader feel like a genius! Maybe, just maybe, the reader will feel witty and intelligent if he or she is two chapters ahead of my character! I give my reader the opportunity to feel as intuitive as Sherlock Holmes! And who doesn't want to be as insightful as that guy? I could be raising confidence levels, inflating egos, adding a mental swagger to my readers' lives!

Whose with me? Anyone?

I should change my pen name to Watson. Or, I should just move the damn reflection two chapters earlier so that my readers don't think the only way I got published was because I slept with an agent.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The most valuable form of social commentary is the one you write about yourself (or . . . yay ego!)

I am having my students write a caricature sketch of themselves in third person as part of our social commentary unit. Of course, I am going to create a model of one for myself to guide them. I'd love to know what you think, how I could improve it, and for those of you who know me, how does it compare to your perspective of me?

Ms. Vance is an unconventional teacher: she loves to teach her students about vampires, incorporates a lot of slang into her lectures, and will shout "Woooohoooo" and clap her hands just before a grammar lesson.  To quote one of her students: "She's really cool, but she'll cut you."
     One of her means of control is her eyes that bug out further than those of a preying mantis. A student says something inappropriate or random, they open wide as the moon. When she's angry, they scrunch up into slits of fury that are powerful enough to silence a room. When she's really, really mad she'll boom out, "Are you kidding me right now?" or "Really? You really wanna go here?"
     The rest of her visage is formed by cheeks puffy enough to hold a winter store of grain and a forehead high enough to host a hockey game. But sometimes, when she says something lame, she'll smile so wide that those balloon-like cheeks can hide behind a row of clenched, white teeth.
     When she does something really dumb, like spelling "represent" r-e-p-r-o-s-e-n-t or not noticing she wrote "importenance" on the board until the end of the class, she'll laugh it off and say, "It's a good thing I'm pretty, because clearly I'm not very smart."
     If one pops into her classroom, he or she will find her organizing the papers on her desk (she's convinced that organizing and grading are the same thing) or digging into her refrigerator for a Diet Coke, of which she will clutch as if her life depended on the contents. She's always up for a casual chat and a good laugh, but don't you dare ask her if she's graded an assignment--she hates grading more than anything--or those bug-eyes will narrow and you will wish you had never stepped into room R102.