Monday, March 28, 2011

From Paper to Film

More often than not, a film adaptation of a book ends up falling short. The original format tends to be richer in almost every facet. Characters, plot, setting...the book version of a story tends to be so much better than its cinematic counterpart. Usually, a film adaptation is a big letdown, but in many ways it's not a fair comparison. Stuff in books doesn't always work in the movies and vice versa.

Despite this phenomena, there are several examples of films that either equaled or were even better the bookly origins.

  
Book: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a short story by Stephen King 
Movie: The Shawshank Redemption
This movie really is one of my favorites. Through darkness and horror, the movie gives such a strong and compelling message of friendship and hope. I don't think it did that well in theaters. In fact, I've never met anyone that actually saw it at the cinema. Like so many others, I discovered this gem of a movie on VHS. There's also ton of scientific evidence that the prison where they filmed (Ohio State Reformatory) is super haunted!

Book: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick
Movie: Blade Runner
Cyberpunk at its finest. The book is excellent in every way, so this is not a knock on the novel at all. I remember that the cover was really risque. It had a robot having sex with a woman. But the film starring Harrison Ford is incredible! And I liked the "darker" ending in the director's cut version. Despite becoming a huge star as Han Solo, Ford cemented his career as a true actor by playing the character of Deckard.

Book: Forrest Gump by Winston Groom
Movie: Forrest Gump
Maybe I'm just being a sentimental idiot here, but I thought the character of Forrest Gump in the novel wasn't nearly as loveable as Forrest Gump in the film. In the movie, Forrest was the hero you cheered for. Despite having a low I.Q., the man knew "what love is." But in the book, not so much. In the movie, could you imagine Jenny dumping Forrest because she didn't like him being a professional wrestler? Yeah, me neither.

Book: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Movie: The Princess Bridge
This is one of my all time favorite movies EVER! It's a "hot" fairy tale, and although I find Fred Savage a little irritating, the film translated so well on the big screen. I have to say, it's better than the book. The book does go into a little more detail (particularly about the giant Fezzik). And it was great to see how all of the character's names are actually spelled. But this movie has the greatest sword fight scenes in cinema, romance, tons of action, humor, and Andre the Giant.

Book: The Body, a novella by Stephen King
Movie: Stand By Me
Once again, this movie is up there in my Top 5. Maybe I'm a Rob Reiner fan, as he also brought The Princess Bride to the silver screen. This coming of age movie was so fantastic, and the characters are incredibly believable and vivid. Why is this movie so cool? River Phoenix's earth-shattering performance, bad-ass Kiefer Sutherland, and of course blogger extraordinaire Wil Wheaton. The novella is great too, and I remember reading it in middle school. But the movie expands the story and is really much better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Best Worst First Line Contest!

In literature, there are some very memorable and iconic first lines. For example:

Call me Ishmael. from Moby Dick

Lolita, light of my life, fire in my loins. from Lolita

The first line of a novel needs to grab your attention, set the tone for the entire story.

 But what about the best WORST first lines? The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest wants you to come up with the absolute most atrocious first line of a "made up" novel. This funny contest goes back to 1982 and is sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University.

The winner gets $250 and quite a bit of notoriety. And even if you don't win, you might get a Dishonorable Mention, runner-up award. Edward George Bulwery-Lytton is the author of the famous 1830 novel Paul Clifford, its first line lives in infamy: It was a dark and stormy night...

The deadline for the 2011 contest year is April 15. So get a move on! Here is last year's entry:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.--Molly Ringle,  Seattle, Washington (2010 Winner)

(giggle)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blogging Feng Shui

I love blogging, and it's been interesting seeing how the medium has changed in the last six years. When microblogging took center stage in 2009, people have wondered if blogging was dead.

Not dead. But different. I like the fact that more mature people are blogging, and writing longer posts is OK again.

Like anything else in this world, there is a right and a wrong way to do things. If you want your blog readership to flourish, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1)Get a real website address. What does deankoontz.com, jkrowling.com, and jamespatterson.com have in common? There's no BLOGSPOT, WORDPRESS, or TYPEPAD stuck in the middle of their website address. Unless your blog is simply a personal journal for you and your loved ones, get a domain name for yourself. Especially if you are trying to market yourself. Get a personalized domain - it'll be the best $10 you've ever spent. And while you're at, go buy domain names for your kids too. Check out my 10 year old son's at dominatorsworld.com. As you can tell, my boy loves robots and Lego.

2)Make the blog easy to read. I love bold, striking colors. But a black blog with white lettering gives me a migraine after awhile. If you want people to actually read your posts, go white a lighter background and dark lettering. It's easier on the eyes. Otherwise, put a warning on your blog for those with epilepsy.

3)Stop with the damn widget overload. Widgets are like knickknacks. Cute, but really just clutter up the place. If your side margins are just stuffed with extra crap, it's distracting to the body of your blog. Plus, it shows insecurity. Many of the music playing widgets also make your blog slooooow to load up and can even freeze our computers

4)Respond! If people take the time to read your post and give an insightful comment, respond back. Thank them at the very least. Your readers' feedback is your blog's lifeblood. And if you're not getting ANY comments on your blog, either you are writing just for yourself, or you are not going out and connecting with other blogs.  Blogging is a two-way street.

5)Connect! Blogging is a community, and be an active participant. Create a blogroll. It's a great way to promote your favorite blogs and connect more readers to your own blog as well. Any type of blogroll widget is one of only a few widgets I believe are must-haves.

6)Protect Your Content. Go to Copyspace and check to see if anyone has copied your blog's content without giving you credit. And if you do borrow something from another blogger or source, give them credit! It's a great way to share awesome information, give proper citations, and show respect for other people's work.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Wanna Piece 'a Me?

I'm an action junkie. And I won't lie, I like violence. There's something primal about two opponents facing off, no weapons, just fist against fist. Let's be honest, 99% of writers have never actually been in a blood-thirsty, nasty, violent fight. And what you watch in movies and TV is not accurate at all, and there's such a huge difference between choreographing a fight and writing about it.

Writing about a fight is much more difficult.

I studied martial arts, and yes, I've put on the gloves and headgear and had the crap knocked out of me. I've had my knuckles slammed with escrima sticks or wooden swords (bokken). So hopefully I can provide a little insight as to how to make a great fight scene.

*Make it emotional. Use dialogue, get inside at least one of the character's mind, and unleash the fury or fear or both. Is he surprised by the violence and the quickness of an opponent's blows? Show it. Lets get into the mind of a character.  Is he so scared he can taste the acid in his mouth? Does his fist throb from making contact with the opponents face? Allow the reader to feel what's going on, and you'll have an engaged reader for sure.

Don't just describe the choreography of the fight and use ordinary overused terms like, "threw a swift jab to the face" or "avoided the punches with deft movements." Don't tell us. SHOW us.

*Make it realistic. Getting punched in the face hurts. It hurts bad. In the movies, getting rawked in the jaw is no big deal. You know what? That's bullshit. You know how in the cartoons they see stars after slamming into a wall? Dude. You REALLY do see stars. Remember Rocky's blurry vision. Holy crap, that's for real. The slow motion, not so much.

If your characters takes a rocket to the head, made it real. Make them woozy. Make them dizzy. You don't see double, but it's like putting on really powerful glasses when you have perfect vision. It's out of focus. You will see these little sparks of light floating around in your field of vision.

*Make it make sense. This one's very common. If a fighter unloads on a roundhouse, she's not going to be able to suddenly leap in the air after the strike. It's physically impossible. In fact, unless you're describing a martial arts duel, most people do not kick in a fight. In real life, if you try to kick someone and you miss, you will pay the price. Nothing says "slam your first against my testicles" or "break my pelvis in half, please" like throwing a weak kick. It leaves you so completely vulnerable. Don't believe The Matrix. (Unless you're writing about zero gravity or a setting that defies such laws).

Real fights last just a couple minutes at the most. In the movies, you'll see two guys brawl for 20 minutes. No way unless they're both patsies. All it takes is the right strike - a blow to the temple, a chop to the throat, kick to the groin. And it's over. That being said, take your time too. Wallow in the moment. Let it simmer before the first strike is unloaded. A fight might last only 30 seconds, but savor all the details of the fight.

*Maybe get a partner and act it out so you can get some of the physical possibilities down. You'll notice that if you have two fighters close together, elbows and knees can suddenly become effective weapons.
And if you don't have a partner to act out a fight scene, go get some action figures. I find GI Joe works very well.

Happy writing, and happy fighting!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's Your Style?

I did one of those goofy online quizzes, "Which Famous Writer Do YOU Write Like" where you copy and paste a sample of your writing and the online generator comes up with an answer after careful calculations and analysis.

I write like: Chuck Palahniuk.  Author of "Fight Club."

These dumb quizzes are pretty pointless, but I was a little bored. But the funny thing is, this little online program was right on. My writing style is similar to Chuck Palahniuk. And what style would that be?  If I could describe my style, I would say I'm very much a minimalist.

In person, I love to talk. I talk for a living. I persuade for a living. I'm a talker. And I can talk. I can get verbose. At the end of the day, my voice is hoarse from talking.

But in my writing, I really try to keep my words to a minimum. I don't like reading long flowery paragraphs of description. One of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, is guilty of this. I will read a few sentences to get an idea of the surroundings, but skip the rest to get on with the plot. Too much description brings a halt to any momentum.

So I don't write that way. I like to think of myself as a storyteller that happens to write down my stories. So my writing keeps with the oral tradition. I just want to get and keep your attention through my storytelling. I don't like adverbs. I use them, but I try to avoid them as much as possible. I like verbs. I like action words. I will give the reader a description of the environment, of what people look like, or what people are wearing through action. I weave it into the goings-on of my story.

But I keep the words and description to a minimum for one simple reason: I want the reader to fill in the blanks. Why spoon feed the reader? Allow a little room for imagination. Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) and Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) have been called literary lightweights because of the lack of flowery detailed prose and powerful vocabulary. But me personally, I love their style. It's to the point. It doesn't let words get in the way. They use words as tools, not as a way to flex literary muscle.

So this online quiz made me think about my style, which is something I don't really contemplate. But yeah, I write like Chuck Palahniuk.

What's your style?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle of Los Angeles AGAIN???

In "celebration" of Hollywood's latest alien invasion movie, Battle: Los Angeles, I present to you a post from my old blog from 2007 about the REAL battle in LA.  A reported UFO did freak the people of LA enough for the military to fire anti-aircraft guns at it.

This is real. This did happen. You cannot make this stuff up. Enjoy!

Late at night, on February 25, 1952, strange flying objects in the sky over southern California created a scary scene right out of such movies as Independence Day or War of the Worlds. Air raid sirens awoke the residents of Los Angeles, and hundreds of thousands of eye witnesses watched the 37th CA Brigade fire a barrage of anti-aircraft shells at the invaders.

The reports as to the number of UFOs descending upon Tinsel Town are varrying. In the very early morning of the 25th, an unidentified object was picked up by radar about 120 miles west of Los Angeles. The information center was later flooded with calls concerning incoming "enemy planes" even though the object disappeared on radar while over the ocean.

Just before 3 AM, "enemy planes" were spotted near Long Beach, and minutes later, a coast artillary colonel reported seeing about 12 craftsw flying towards Los Angeles. Soon, four batteries of artillary fired anti-aircraft shells at the UFOs.

The UFOs dropped no bombs, and despite being hit with over 1440 rounds of ammo, none of them crashed or suffered any damage. The UFOs simply hovered south, and quickly disappeared over the ocean south of Long Beach.

Below is the story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on February 26th:

That top picture is actually a photograph of spotlights hitting the UFOs while anti-aircraft shells are being fired at it. We'll take a closer look of that one picture in a second. But as you can see, lots of shrapnel from the missiles also fell upon L.A. Six civillians were killed and others were injured!

Below is that top picture from the inside page article. This picture came directly from the negative, so it's much clearer than the photo from the 1942 newspaper article. If you look very closely, you see some very interesting things...


First of all, from this very clear picture, you can make out only one object - and it's triangular. Secondly, those little bursts of light underneath its hull is probably the explosions from the anti-aircraft shells. Now remember, this is 1942 - the time of "flying saucers." Those explosions could be mistaken as UFOs flying in formation, as many witnesses stated. Finally, it's interesting how the spotlights have converged onto one single spot. Later, the military would conclude there were NO enemy planes over Los Angeles. Yeah right. So what were the spotlights trained on? And what did the artillary unit shoot at?

Following the "battle," the military began it's investigation. The Navy said there were no enemy aircraft at all. The Army went back and forth until saying it was a false alarm. And the Air Force said they didn't think there were any enemy planes above. After an investigation and hearing, the War Department disagreed and concluded that there were at least one to five planes that flew above Los Angeles, and were probably meant to figure out the coast's defenses.

If that's true, then they're admiting that their artillary unit guarding the West has to be the absolute worst marksmen in the universe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Excerpt from Prologue of 'The Dragonfly Warrior'

(Below is a rough/first draft of just a part of my prologue for The Dragonfly Warrior, a young adult novel I'm finishing. You can find a synopsis of this project by clicking the button on my blog's header. A little background: My main character, Zen, is a 12 year old prince of Nihon [Japan] in this scene. I'm posting this because part of being accountable for my writing is putting it out there. So here it is).

...There was a growing darkness in his belly, and a panic began to rise from out of his throat. He fought back these sensations, allowing his mind to record every word, every sound, every shallow crease on his mother's anguished face.
“You were born for greatness, Zen. Know that. Generations to come will know of Kanze Zenjiro's heroic deeds. I know, for I have seen it in my dreams. I see you as a young man...so handsome you will be.”
Zen's grip on her hand tightened, and she seemed to find comfort in his strength. Her eyes blinked rapidly, fighting off the deep sleep that craved to take her away from him.
“Be brave. Protect Nihon. Love your father.” Her breathing became labored, shallow. “Remember and think of me always.”
Zen kissed her hand. “I will, Mother.”
Her eyes began to roll backwards, her weak breaths coming at longer intervals. The nurse at the bedside was crying, and Zen could hear the muffled sobs of his father from behind.
“Zen. Greatness will be yours.” Her voice was barely audible over the sound of rain striking the walls of the chamber. “You must...”
His mother's eyes were closed, her lips barely moving.
“Must what?” Zen said into her delicate ear. “What must I do?”
She gasped and her body tightened, her lungs not able to expand. Then her body went limp again. Her mouth still struggled to relay her final message.
“I must what, Mother?” Zen asked again, his eyes blind with tears.
It was only an instant moment of clarity, a moment without pain or agony. Her eyes opened and her face became intense. Her voice less than a whisper struggled to convey her final message: “Save. You must save the machine boy.”
With Zen still clutching her warm hand, a flash of lightning lit the chamber through the windows. And by the time the rolling of thunder followed, her spirit left the confines of the material world.
Into the unknown realm.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With

What'll we do baby...?
 As I inch ever-so-closely to 40 years of age, it's a lot of fun to think back to the stuff I loved as a child. From TV, to movies, music, and of course books - there's so much that I still enjoy and can't help but feel that warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling when I think about these things.

They were more than enjoyment to me, and I really do believe they have influenced me throughout my life. Aren't we all a nice combination of natural born temperament mixed with all the external influences that shape the people we are today?

I think people in their 30s-40s will point to Star Wars as something that changed their lives, defined an entire Generation (or two, or three). That's an obvious one, methinks. But I just wanted to mention a few other things I loved as a kid and am still fond of today:

*Family Ties. I was a big Cosby Show fan. But Family Ties was on a different plane. It had the everyday humor of Cosby, but had a much more dramatic level. To me, in my pre-teens and early teens, the show struck deep to me and my friends. Who can forget the episode where Alex P. Keaton goes to the psychologist to deal with the death of his best friend. It was a one-man piece of television goodness! Funny and profound.

The show proved TV could be both funny, entertaining, and downright serious all at the same time.

*John Hughes: One of the greatest film directors/producers/writers of all time. This guy truly did shape a generation. National Lampoon Vacation, Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and of course Weird Science. He captured the essense of what it was like to be an adolescent in the 80s. And who can forget all the memorable lines in his movies?! How many movie quotes come from Hughes' work?

Two of my personal favorites: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -- Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
AND..."We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."--Breakfast Club

*MTV: Yes, I was one of the first ones to sit down and watch this crazy new channel premier on a hot August day in 1981. I was eight years old, and my dad had told me about the brand new music channel being added to our brand new cable TV system. I remember the moon man and the rock n' roll guitar hanging the MTV flag. And of course, the first music video ever played on MTV, the ever-so-prophetic "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles.

MTV introduced the world to the faces of the musicians we loved to listen to on the radio. And most of the time, that was NOT a very happy introduction. Now I know where that old saying "You've got a face for radio" comes from. But many artists relished the creative possibilities with this new medium...and music videos became small little movies. Some of the first early pioneers of music videos were Hall & Oats, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, and of course Madonna.

Too bad MTV doesn't actually play music videos. Man, I'm gettin' old.


 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

They Messed with Huck Finn

This story really bothered me when I first heard about it in January.  NewSouth Books plans to release a new version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that removes the "N word" and replaces it with "slave." Also, the revised books will replace "Injun" with "Indian."

Alan Gribben, a Twain historian assisting with the revisions, believes the changes will allow more schools to remove the books from the banned lists and back into the classrooms. While I agree that both of these classics should be taught, or at least offered, in a high school classroom, I completely disagree with removing the racist and derogatory words.

First of all, since when was "nigger" a direct synonym for the word "slave?" There is a relationship, sure. But historically, they are two separate words. Here in St. Louis, I've waited for the Metrolink train in some very rough neighborhoods and heard the word "nigger" at least ten times before boarding my train. Don't tell me the guys calling each other "nigger" or "nigga" would use "slave" in the same context to address their buddies.

Also, Tom Sawyer, reflects the ideas and beliefs of white Midwest America at the time. The book is a detailed snapshot of the attitudes and fears 20 years after the Civil War. And yes, many were outright racists against blacks and indigenous people. Will changing "Injun Joe" to "Indian Joe" change the dark, evil, and animalistic images Twain paints of the Native American villain?

Hell-to-the-naw.

Reading both of these Twain classics can serve high schoolers in many ways. A teacher can teach about "local color," tall-tales and hyperbole, irony, stereotypes, and racism. There are valuable lessons to be taught with Twain's works. Censorship of the racial slurs, put in its historical context, does no justice to our young people.

As an Asian-American, should I be freaking out about reading a piece of fiction about World War II where the soldiers refer to the enemy as "Japs" or a German pissed of about an American GI calling the enemy a "Kraut?"

Can you imagine To Kill a Mockingbird with a racist character calling Tom Robinson a "slave" (which historically makes no sense) or an "African American" in spewing his hatred? Stupid. During the Depression in the South, many people called black people "nigger." It's how it was, and exposing our kids to our historical injustices displayed in literature does not glorify racism, but gives our kids the knowledge to understand our American past. And you know what they say about learning about your past...

What NewSouth is doing is plain historical and literary censorship.