Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekly Update: 2/23/12

This week, I learned what an invaluable tool my weekly planner is.  Not because I use it to keep track of important events.  That would imply I have a life.  No, in fact, I use my weekly planner to record the hours spent at work--either subbing or writing.  At the end of each week, I tally them up.  For me, it's kind of exciting to see how much effort I put in.  It helps my self-esteem.

This week got off to a spectacularily awful start.  Monday was President's Day, and I celebrated by going on a lazy binge.  I got nothing accomplished.  Nothing.  To sum up, I browsed the web and watched T.V. and entered a do-nothing trance, that left me hyper and anxious.  I couldn't fall asleep that night, leaving me unable to focus come Tuesday.  Halfway through the week, and I'd already fallen far behind.

Truth be told, at this point in the week, I didn't want to look at my planner.  A cloud of guilt hung over my head.  I knew I had to write and write to make up lost time, yet I was halfway convinced I'd have to write the whole week off as a loss.  As I struggled, I decided to write down my hours and you know what--it turned out to be more than I thought.  My feelings of guilt were blinding me to what I'd accomplished.  By Friday, I'd logged in 38 hours of work, including both writing and subbing.  By Saturday morning, I'd completed a 40-hour work week.

Not too shabby, I think.

Of course, the more exciting news took place last weekend, when I went to Santa Barbara with my parents.  We did some window shopping and walked on the pier and I took a couple dozen pictures of all the lovely statues decorating the streets.  But the most unexpected event was coming out of a pottery store and finding the parametics on the sidewalk right in front of us.  A man lay with dark blood pooling behind his head, his eyes rolled half-back, a parametic holding onto his limp wrist.

I had no idea whether this man was alive or dead, if he'd injured himself or if he'd been lying between planters for hours and no one saw him.  It seemed like a part of a bigger story, but one I would never know.  The poor man.  I hope he was all right. 

Hours Subbing: 12.5
Hours Writing: 28
Total Hours: 40.5

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Title: A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Author: Tom Standage
Genre: Non-fiction/ History


The rise of six beverages coincides with different stages of Western Civilization.

Beer: The Dawn of Cities in Mesopotamia
Wine: Greek Culture
Spirits: Colonization in the Americas
Coffee: The Age of Reason
Tea: British Imperialism
Coca-Cola: American Globalization

There are twelve chapters in total, plus an introduction and epilogue.  Each drink has two chapters a piece.  The first chapter documents the discovery/ invention of the drink as well as how it becomes a popular phenomenon.  The second chapter showcases the power and consequence of the drink, the role it plays in war or revolution.

Spirits, for example, came about due to the adoption of the Arabic process of distillation and really started to thrive when it was discovered how molasses from sugar plantations could be turned into rum and used in the slave trade.  Later, rum helped along the American Revolution as a tax on molasses--which America cheaply distilled--was one of the earliest and bitterest grievances America had with Britain.


The strength of this book is its accessibility.  The history is broad and expansive and pretty much covers everything you should have learned in public school.  In a way, it's a nice refresher course.  The twist is that these events are viewed from the lens not of kings and explorers, artists and inventors, but rather six popular consumer products.  And that opens the history to all sorts of interesting factoids.

For example, I love coffee, but I had no idea where it came from or how it grew to be so popular.  In this book, not only did I learn such information, I also got a glimpse of Enlightenment "Internets," coffee houses where thinkers grouped together to pass on information.

One gripe I had about the book, however, was its clear Western bias.  "The history of the world" apparently means the history of Europe and America, with a nod to other cultures tossed in.  Tea, for example, is a quintessential eastern beverage with deep roots in China and Japan, so I was surprised to find it the second to the last beverage in the book.  The author chose to tie the "rise" of tea to the rise of the British Empire, rather than exploring tea in an eastern context.  I was a little disappointed by that.

Overall, though, the book was enjoyable, interesting, and easy to read.  The structure worked well, and the author succeeded nicely at fusing Western history with a shot of alcohol and caffeine.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Weekly Update: 2/15/13

I wore a pink sweater for Valentine's Day and spent the whole day hard at work.  A chemistry teacher got a bad case of the flu, so I found myself subbing for her on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  (I would have gotten a job on Wednesday, but another sub snatched it out from under my nose.)  Unfortunately, by Thursday, she'd run out of work to assign, so I had to improvise.

I spent about two and a half hours making a worksheet to go with a video.  On Friday, while the students watched the video, I graded the previous class' worksheet.  I must have graded 150 worksheets.  On the one hand, I felt like a real teacher, making plans and grading papers.  On the other hand, I felt like a bad teacher as I wasn't really teaching them.  It was all busy work.  The poor students had four days without learning anything new.  And I couldn't teach them, because I could hardly remember even the basics of chemistry.

In other news, I re-took my driver's test and flunked it a second time.  Man, that was depressing.  I got criticized for not braking right, going too slow, and using my side mirror too much while reversing.  But what disqualified me was not looking over my shoulder when I shifted into the left turn lane.  So, to summarize, driving sucks and I'll probably wind up as a pedestrian for the rest of my life.

While all this was going on, I somehow managed to edit 9 pages of my novel, post my pokemon fanfiction, and finish A History of the World in 6 Glasses.  (The review will be coming along shortly.)  I feel sort of exhausted, but my week ain't over yet.  This Saturday I'm going to Santa Barbara for the weekend.  Yay.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Books I Read, Books I Keep

There are books I don't even look at, invisible to me as the wearer of the one ring.  These include Harlequin romances and celebrity biographies.

There are books who's cover I find interesting and I might glance inside, but who's first paragraph is so repugnant to me, I immediately put it down.  There are some classic books I feel I ought to read and then struggle through the first chapter and immediately dismiss it from my mind.  A Clockworth Orange, for example.  I'm not going to struggle through near incomprehensible slang just to feel depressed.

Other books I buy and they sit on my shelf, until I move it to a box, and finally give it away.  I don't know why I can't bring myself to read these books and I feel sad for their lost potential.  Some books stay on my shelf for a long time.

Still more books, I crack open and get through about the midway point.  And then I realize I have no desire to go on.  Maybe the plot hasn't caught on soon enough.  Maybe I realize I don't care about the characters.  Whatever the reason, I put it down and never pick it up again.

Then, there are books that compells me through until the very end, even though I don't like it very much.  Catcher in the Rye, for example, or the latter books of the Twilight series.  I can't figure out why I can't stop reading and I feel sort of angry, like an addict who can't quit his drug.

Some books I read with enjoyment all the way until the very end, when the author does something so terrible, it ruins the whole book.  The Family Tree, for example.  I feel so upset I throw the book down in disgust and spend another hour ranting in my notebook exactly how the author screwed it up.

A few books I read and I enjoy and I may even recommend to a friend or family member, if I remember.  But they don't particularily stick to my soul, and I find myself forgetting them over time, like an aquaintance I met at a coffee shop.

Some books stick to me in a way I don't like.  Like 1984.  I will never forget that torture scene and so help me God, I will never read it again.  It traumatized me for a week.  It was an important, eye-opening book, but I just cannot let my soul go through that sort of pain again.

And then there are a few rare gems of books that attach to my heart and bloom there, books whose characters I know like the names of old friends, books I pick up and re-read every few years, because it's like having a chat with a long-lost friend.  There are books whose characters enter my dreams and we go on new adventures together.  There are books that make me think, not because they bash my head over with an idea, but because they make me feel and wonder and ponder what I would really do if I were in the character's shoes, if I would rise to heroics or merely break. 

These last are the books I strive to write.  The books that spoil me for all others.  The books I keep.  

Weekly Update: 2/10/13

This week, I got two subbing jobs and Rejection #15.  I wrote two new short fictions and another 50 pages for "Three Floating Coffins," originally supposed to be a short story which I am now considering turning into a children's book.  I read half of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012 (Dan Arley, editor) and finished No ComfortZone: Notes on Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Marla Handy).  I got to see my good friend Ashley on Saturday and hang out with her.

Also I learned that a person on an ex-cop-turned-murder's "manifesto" (hit list?) lives about five houses down in our neighborhood.  There are several cop cars just hanging out in our street and a helicopter with a search light circled us on Thursday night.

Other than that, an uneventful, typical week.

Work: 42 hours.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dissecting The Chosen One, Part II

Last week, I dissected my dislike for "the Chosen One" as they appear in fantasy.  But it's also sort of unavoidable.  So, if you must have a Chosen One, how can you spice it up, add a twist, or just give depth to the character?

Here are some of my suggestions for things to consider.

1. Who Chooses Them?

It almost always seems to be destiny or prophecy or something vaguely mystical.  It's almost never God because then we leave the realm of fantasy and get into religion, which is less comfortable.  The Chosen One is Chosen by... Something.  Forces outside our comprehension.  Yeah, that sounds good.

This bothers me.  It's not that I need all the mysteries of the fantasy world unraveled before me.  I happen to like a little mysticism--so long as the author knows what he or she is doing.  Prophecy or destiny has to be deeply and consistently integrated into the world and--this is important--there needs to be a reason for people to believe it.

In other words, throwing in a random prophecy just isn't going to cut it.

Now, let's drop destiny for a moment, and consider the second option: that the Chosen One is actually chosen by someone or something.  For example, I've seen a moderate trend of the villain actually choosing the Chosen One.  (For example, in Harry Potter, Mistborn, and even The Hunger Games to some extent.  In the T.V. series Once Upon a Time, the villain pretty much makes the Chosen One.)

This is an interesting concept, for several reasons.  It adds depth to the hero/ villain dynamic, and it actually spins the concept of destiny on its head.  You would think that the villian would pick someone they could defeat, but the hero often surprises them.  The hero chooses his own destiny.  Or perhaps some higher force than the villian has a say.  

Of course, people besides the villian could choose the Chosen One.  You could take this literally and put it to a vote, though I suspect that would be a more comedic example.  Or the Chosen One could just choose themselves.  It would be an interesting twist for the hero to decide he's the Chosen One, while everyone else scoffs in disbelief--a nice reversal.

To sum up, I feel like there needs to be some connection between Chooser and Chosen, whether positive or negative, mystical or tangible.  The Chosen One cannot exist in a void.  Someone or Something must choose them, and that element should not be ignored.

2. Why Are They So Special?

When contemplating what makes the Chosen One special, two things do not work for me: 1. power  2. being in the right place at the right time.  I also have a problem with self-sacrifice, but I'll get to that in a minute.  Let's start at the beginning.

Power.  This includes but is not limited to: any kind of extraordinary magic or skill with a weapon, extreme healing, impossible genius, invisibility, telepathy or ability to block telepathy, magical pet or object, and extreme speed or toughness.  Basically, they are special because they are powerful and they are powerful because they are special.  It's an ever-turning wheel.

There's nothing wrong with your hero having power.  But it's a problem if that's all they have or if that power is so vast as to make them a walking deus ex machina.  What makes them "Chosen" has to come at least partially from their personality and moral choices.  Otherwise, you might as well just have the gods of prophecy hand a nuclear bomb over to the good guys.  It makes things simpler.

Coincidence.  Here's one I hate more than power.  You have a Chosen One, let's call her Pretty Girl, who does nothing the entire story long--in fact, she needs to get rescued by men several times.  But for some reason, everyone decides she's special.  Then, suddenly, at the last possible minute, Pretty Girl kills the bad guy, let's say, Evil Witch.  Everyone gives a big hurrah.

I'm actually thinking of the early 2000's miniseries The Tenth Kingdom, though Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland fits nicely as well.  In The Tenth Kingdom, protagonist Virginia accomplishes zero heroics until a brief fight scene at the end, wherein she kills the evil queen by flicking her with a poison comb.  Okay...?  So why couldn't anyone else have done that?  Does one moment of being in the right place at the right time make you a hero?  I think not.  If you have a Chosen One, they'd better do something.

Self-Sacrifice.  In real life, self-sacrifice is hard.  In books, it's easy and common.  A hero may die like a martyr, but that doesn't mean I'll weep for them.  (Of course, the hero may survive their death--but that's another rant.)  

Besides, when you think about it, how many other characters have already died in service of a cause? They may have even sacrificed themselves for the hero.  What makes the Chosen One's sacrifice more important than theirs?  

So, to go back to the central question, why is the Chosen One so special?  Well, there's no easy answer.  The best I can suggest is some kind of blend: the character's unique power and personality mixed with their moral choices happen to be exactly what's needed at that time.  Again, let me emphasize uniqueness.  A generic Chosen One is bland and boring.

3. Why Only One?

How many "Chosen Ones" actually save the world alone?  Almost none.  Harry Potter has Ron and Hermoine; Neo has Trinity and Morpheus; Luke has Leia, Hans, Chewbaccca, and two Driods.  So why is it only one person gets "Chosen" when clearly defeating evil is a group effort?  Can you even imagine the Chosen One going it alone?  They'd be dead before the sequel.

So why not name multiple Chosen Ones?  (I sort of do this in The Changelings.)  That takes some of the pressure off the individual.  Tasks can be divvied up. Virtues such as friendship, loyalty, and love can take root.  Other characters can get credit for their accomplishments.

Or why not have multiple Chosen Ones.  Spares, perhaps, or alternates, so that if anything happens to the Chosen One (gasp!) or they choose not to accept their destiny (double gasp!) you're not completely up the creek.  Now, this sounds like satire or comedy, but it could probably be written seriously.  You could have a whole group competing for their chance at glory.  Or you could alter the final outcome just slightly based on different character's personalities and decisions.

Maybe I'm ruining the whole concept.  Maybe multiple "Chosen Ones" fly in the face of a singular "Chosen One."  But I happen to enjoy the twist.  Very rarely does a Chosen One exist in a void.  At the very least, choosing the right companions is part of what makes the Chosen One unique.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weekly Update: 2-2-13

Since I had no subbing jobs this week, I had plenty of time to write, which had the unfortunate result of me getting ahead of schedule.  I say unfortunate because as soon as a gap opened up, another quarter-life crisis pounced.  These are coming with rapid frequency, so don't be surprised if I cover this topic again.

On Thursday morning, I got no calls from the school district and since Friday was a furlough day, I came to the sad realization that I'd get no jobs this week.  This was the second week in a row.  For all of January, I'd gotten 4 whole days of work.  Feeling mildly depressed, I turned to my writing, but I had only two scenes left and plenty of time to write them.  I felt distracted.  I opened my box containing all the chapters of my novel and started to read.

And I kept reading until dinnertime.

What compelled me forward in my reading was not suspense or a sense of delight, but rather the growing horror that my story was polished and vivid and brilliant... and dense and confusing and boring.  It had parts I loved and parts I cringed at.  I wanted to edit it all over again and correct its mistakes--but I no longer knew how.  My story had become nearly the best I could write it, I had reached the utter limits of my ability... and it still wasn't perfect enough.

That's a scary feeling.  When all your potential has been used up to create something real, and then all you can do is wait for judgement to fall.  I just kept thinking of my family and friends and all my supporters finally reading the book I'd put ten years of hard work into and wrinkling their brows with a look of What is this?  Failure was suddenly real.

On the one hand, I knew what I had to do.  Finish the last three chapters.  Get an editor.  Make my story as clear and as simple as I could make it.  And release it onto the world.  And that's it.  If it's too complex, too long, too dense, too slow, too much... well, that's just how it is.  I believe that the actual soul--the story--is good.  It's just that it's vessel--my own writing--is a poor thing.  And I have to hope that people will accept my work, accept me for what's good, and forgive what's not.

It's Saturday morning.  I've finished what needed to be done.  My crisis had the courtesy to wait for a week where I had free time.  But I'm still left unsettled.  Work might dull the edge of my fear, but I'm still looking into an unknown future.  I'm coming to the end of my novel.  I'm running out of money.  Changes are looming ahead and I don't know what to do.  Crisis is inevitable, and it will come over and over again.  I know this.  But somehow, I'm just going to have to keep going.

Hours spent on Draft of Novel #1, Chapter 27: 17.5 (a sloppy 10,800 words written)
Hours spent on Fanfic, Blog, Brainstorming Novel #2, or Editing Stories for Writer's Club: 16
Hours spent Re-reading Novel/ Angsting: 10
Total: 43.5