Friday, 29 April 2011

Friday Wonder Ponder #7

Say farewell to another superb week and welcome a new and exciting weekend!

Today is the Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. My best regards to the young couple and I sincerely wish them well in the future.

I don't like following trends or succumbing to peer pressure, but for the life of me I can't escape the newest fad that's sweeping the male population.

What is this, you ask?

"This" is they, and they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Some fly, some have horns, but what is synonymous about them is their long gorgeous locks, hooves and snout. Yes people, I regret to inform you that I like My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic.

I used to flee at the sight of them at toy stores, or whenever my sister watched them on TV, but now...I.CANNOT. HELP.MYSELF!

Is this some kind of voodoo? Like the one supposedly employed by Pokemon to infatuate people of all ages and creeds?

I tried blocking the Youtube string for anything remotely related to ponies, but every time I sit at work, alone at my desk, I think of Wind Whistler, my most favorite pony of all.

Look at that face. Look at that hair. Oh god, someone HELP ME!

Am I becoming a woman?

No offense to you ladies, but I can't handle having boobs, periods and fighting over shoes.

Please, if any guys out there have found a way to get over this "thing", a My Little Pony Rehab, if you will, please, by all means SAVE ME, man!

This pandemic has brought a very interesting query to mind, so on this the seventh Wonder Ponder, my question to you is simple: What were some of the toys you loved as a kid/adult?

Have a healthy and holy weekend!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Truth About The Chocolate Boy

He won't take you far.

Write about a black character and your book will be shoved in the AA section of bookstores and suffer a horrible death.

You can be mad.

You can be disgusted.

But what you cannot do is call this a lie.

We live in a society that has come a great way since the 1950s. African Americans can sit anywhere on the bus, apply for any job they so desire (though, they might not be considered equally), and can speak without scorn or prejudice.

The United States has a black President.

A black woman is one of the richest people in the world.

Yet segregation still undermines these achievements.

When was the last time you saw a novel written by an African American or a work that featured a black MC as the lead on the NYT children's Bestseller list?

Perhaps no one is writing about them, you might say. But how very wrong you are.

One particular case involves a friend of mine who lives in the Upper East Side. We used to talk about our WIPS during Math in Middle School. His was a bold and unique idea called Release the Beast that featured a gritty black boy as the MC.

"I think people will like it - it's different and has a kick ass hero that looks like me!"

This was before he or I understood the industry the way we do -  before ten year old boys became adults.

Fast forward twelve years later and his black lead is a white guy. Now, it is perfectly normal for an artist to switch his muse, but not for this reason, and I quote: "There really aren't any Black Authors of note who write for kids, and none on the "list". But beyond this, is the fact that black books die a slow death in the AA section of bookstores. Sure, I can write about one -- a great one -- but the reality is, it will get nowhere, and I want my book to go places -- It's just as good as any other."

He is selling out -- and this will hurt and offend a lot of people -- but can you blame him for wanting the best possible success rate for his work? Is he so wrong to seek riches and fame (and a spot on the list) like all authors out there?

The truth is, and it is a hard reality: books with black MCs don't sell as well as those with white ones. Regardless if written for kids or adults.

Our society has curbed racial segregation in almost every notable nook and cranny, but it is still prevalent in publishing.

Here is a short snippet from an article in the Huffingtonpost on this matter:

Publisher's Weekly's article "African-American Books in Today's Marketplace" makes clear that the "just Bess" attitude lives large in the American publishing industry. The article mimics the industry's tendency to believe that a) black writers write only for black audiences b) only black audiences could show interest in books by black authors, and c) books by black authors and/or with a black principal is inherently a "black book," and thus strangled in the market by the above limitations.
Today, there is a publishing ghetto. Mainstream white-owned houses have black imprints. Here, they publish books by, for and about black people. They publish under the assumption that none of our songs could be hummable outside of our own heads, that our experiences are more specialized, less "mainstream" and "universal" than those of any other ethnic group. In fact, they suggest that it's reasonable to believe that no one else gives a damn about our stories.

So folks will watch colored people on television and vote a black man as president, but they won't read about them? 

African American culture is everywhere and there is no denying it. Perhaps this is their way of preserving the last "white profession"? Maybe, just maybe, they're insinuating that, despite great strides, most white people are racist?

When a man has to change his lead's skin color because it is the only way his work will sell, there is a problem both internally and externally - with said author and the industry.

However, reading is such a personal experience, because it is an engagement of the mind and soul. We often envisage ourselves as the characters we read about; that's kinda hard when the person looks nothing like us, but, then again, an animal is far from human as it is possible to be, yet they sell...




Why not the story of a little black boy?

Well, one very plausible cause consists of four words: Write what you know. 

It is a tendency of any author to personify their experiences in their writing. It is often what makes it truly unique. Only in this case, who would've ever thought writing what you know, the oldest literary aphorism, could undermine an entire race? 

Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday Wonder Ponder #6

Yeah, baby, shake it!

And this is exactly how I'm feeling right now, because not only is it Friday (Good Friday, to be exact) but I was just presented with the Stylish Blogger Award by the incomparable Kelly Hashway!

I am honored by this accolade and humbled that Kelly chose me - 'lil ol' me?

So, with this honor comes the responsibility of sharing seven things about myself, but above all else, I get to present it to seven others.

How awesome is that?!

Now, what about me is interesting...?

1. When I was a wee lad I had dreams of being a scientist. So powerful an impulse it was, that for the years that followed I aced every exam in hopes of attaining that dream. Until...well...until I discovered they have no life.

2. Although I like video games, like a lot, I play them for only forty minutes a day. That sucks, 'cause I have no bloody time!

3. I dated a forty year old woman when I was nineteen. HA! I know many of you raised your eyebrows at that one. Hehe. Truth is: age doesn't matter to me, so, yes, I'm a Cougar's Cub. I'm not at the moment, 'cause my current girlfriend has me on a leash, but older men do it all the time, so why can't the ladies get some love? (LOL)

4. I have two sisters. Two amazing, annoying, smart, silly, drown them in the toilet sisters. And I'm their big bro. I can't tell you enough how protective I am of them.

5. I rather live in a hut by the beach than have riches untold. If that doesn't speak volumes of my character, then I don't know what will.

6. I can eat over three thousand calories a day and burn half of it sitting down. No joke! My doctor told me I have an amazing metabolism! Eat your heart out.

7. Last but not least, I am Latin. And bet your monthly income it drives the ladies wild.

This is the part I am happy to do, because I get to share this award with these other FANTABULOUS bloggers.

For their wit, humor, informative posts and oh so stylish blogs, I present the Stylish Blogger Award to:

And to CBame13, not because I think his blog is stylish, it's kinda drab (sorry buddy), but simply for the fact that he's a super awesome dude, who would love this!

There were so many people who I wanted to give this to, but they had won it already. I'll continue to search through my list and find other fantastic people to bestow this award. Until that time, have an awesome weekend everyone.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Narrative Gods

Plot  vs Theme

What are they?

And if they were gods, what would they look like?

Well, you're about to find out.

Plot is defined, per Wikipidea, as a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.

But in my own words, plot is action - action caused by your protagonist(s) or antagonist(s). It is not simply a chain of events that happens to these characters, it's what they do.

If Plot were a person it would look like this:

Why? Quite simple: A plot is enigmatic until the very end - when everything comes full circle and "the cup runneth over", if you will. Like many a bad guy, their true motives are never understood until the resolution. To this effect, plot may as well be a shady individual who is more than meets the eye.

And speaking of more than meets the eye, Theme is one such thing.

As per Wikipedia, Theme is a main idea or message, of an essay, paragraph, movie, television program, book or video game. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plotcharactersetting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction

Super awesome blogger CBame13 posted a great list of characters from famous books and their motivation. Mind you, Motivation and Theme are two different things, but one can help the other and I'll soon show you how. For now, here's a brief excerpt from that post.

Star Wars the Real Trilogy- Luke is a whiner, but he always thirsts for adventure. Setting him up as an adventure seeking character makes it feasible that when his home is destroyed, he heads off to live his dream of fighting in the rebellion

Harry Potter- Their main motivation is just to be nosy little brats as most kids are. This would be fine, but even little kids know not to kill themselves and to, at some point, call for help.

The Heir Trilogy- Most probably haven't heard of this series, but i'd recommend it for a pretty easy read with an entertaining story. The motivation starts out with him just wanting to see what he can do with his cool new powers and it ends up being a fight for the freedom of huge groups of people. A bit shaky, but still amusing.

The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm- Another book most people haven’t read, it starts out with a group of detectives being hired to find some missing children and it turns into this whole huge epic quest. Similar to the Heir Trilogy, The initial motivation is fine, but it makes little sense why the three detectives here would go and save the world like they do.

The Lord of the Rings- I’m sure most people don’t want to hear anything bad about this series, but the idea that a midget of a person would willingly venture into the fires of Mount Doom to drop a ring in a volcano seems silly to me. Love the story, not the motivation.

Iron Man- Tony Stark sees his legacy being tainted and put in the hands of the same murderous bastards who tried to kill him. Simple revenge motivates him, then turns him into a modern-day super hero. I really like how they did it.

To my understanding, Theme is what the central idea of the story hinges on: hope, bravery, hate, love and what have you. It's what inspires motivation - the very root of it - and here's a simple reason why: A woman is killed by a gangster and her father grabs his gun and seeks out this thug. For revenge, obviously (and this is motivation), but what is the root of revenge? Hate, right? And that is your theme (considering the summary I gave is the entire plot).

Without motivation there could be no theme and vice versa. And if theme were a god, it would obviously be this one:

Like Demeter, Theme is the force behind a great foundation - full of color, vim and vigor. It inspires without persuasion and, like mother earth, you often forget it's there.    

Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday Wonder Ponder #5

Another marvelous week; another weekend of mischief. MUAHAHAHA!

I've been as busy as a bee working my day job and writing. I must say, I've been battling with my opening for quite some time now, but I think I've finally created a gem with voice, tone, character and plot.

Here it is:

Cindy Bindy Boo wanted to be a Superhero when she grew up; she vowed by the hair on her chinny chin chin that she would give her money to the poor, save all animals from abuse and make the world a place of smiles; but as sweet little Cindy skipped down Time Square on this cold and windy June, little did she know it would be her last. 

Poor Cindy. What do you think?

The story has just begun and already she's going to be kicking the bucket. Or is she? 

While you try to mentally save Cindy from a horrible death, allow me to share some of the seven things I can't live without. 

1. Internet and Laptop.

2. Meat and Pasta.

3. Girls. But sometimes I wish I could throw them in a toilet. They can be so darn annoying. 

4. Some sort of Video Game. 

5. My family and friends.

6. Shelter. Duh!

7. My imagination. This is the premise behind my story, because without it our world and its people would be a vacant chasm of nothingness.

So, what are the seven things you can't live without? 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

When you read that first line you immediately know who wrote it and what book it hails from. Yes folks, first lines are as enigmatic as a woman's purse; as imponderable as Paris Hilton's IQ and as inspiring as a sun-kissed morning. It takes skill to create a good one, but far more so is what it says about the novel: its concept and voice. 

My most favorite first line of all time comes from the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude: 

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

That is the most touching and heart pounding first line EVER! It evokes so many questions while immediately capturing our hearts; this man is about to die and all he could think of was the day his father took him to find ice. We feel for Aureliano even though we have no clue exactly why he is about to be killed. So...what do we do...? Read, of course. And that's the magic of this opening. It. Makes. You. Want. To. Read. More.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a great first line hooks more readers than a blurb or cover art. 

I can't wait to read the next great one that will make me all a flutter.

What's your favorite first line EVER?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Friday Wonder Ponder #4

It's Friday, Friday gettin' down on Friday - everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend, weekend...

I love that song.

And speaking of the things we love: I've always found it fascinating to discover people's passions. More so, when they were a child. When I was a kid, I loved watching Thundercats and playing Super Mario on Nintendo - still do! But my most favorite thing of all time was catching and raising river fish.

Mom and Dad had a plot of land with a farm-esq quality about it: lush Pomerac (Mountain apple, Malay apple) trees grew on almost every inch; green grass as far as the eye can see; and we had chickens, goats, dogs, cats, wild opossums, a cow and a very creepy brown owl that lived in the roof. Another feature was the river that sat just below our backyard (yes, we had our own private river - cool, huh?). Everyday, me and my best friend Whitney would take old tin cans, tie a string around the mouth and place crumbs of bread inside. We would then place it in the water to set and when the fish came for the bait...WHAKA! Twenty or so fishies with bodies as colorful as a rainbow.

Ah be young and full of fun.

Of course we caught catfish, eels and coral snakes, too - yes we knew they were HIGHLY poisonous, and, no, we were never bitten - but those were seldom and required a lot of waiting and setting to get them; thing is: they are not only big, but very aggressive - and they can leap really high.

I miss that river. To this very day I still think about fishing. I quite enjoyed it and I'd rather do that than go mountain biking, playing rugby, ATV racing, hiking and partying anyday!

So, today I want you to share some childhood memories. What were the things you loved to do as a kid?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

10 Tips For A Fruitful Beginning

Okay, so I've posted the opening of my WIP here twice. The first was swell but was in passive voice, so I went back, redid it and the second try was met with high esteem. Be that as it may, I'm still not happy with it, because though it's "engaging", I'm not sure it's exciting enough to hook a 8-12 year old.

Yeah, yeah, I know it's adults who mostly pick books for kids, so they might wade a bit more till the good stuff, but what happens when they give their child the book to read? What if they yawn at your quiet, albeit necessary scene? Or worse...what if they don't even bother reading until the exciting incident?

That's scary!

I understand perfectly well Miss Rowling's opening wasn't quite as exciting either (though full of voice); however, that was some odd years ago, when there really wasn't anything decent on the market; today's kid readers are a lot less patient, what with E-readers and the constant distraction of TV and Video Games, so I have doubts her opening, and those that don't hook them right away, will cut it.

Or perhaps I'm wrong? Will a child wait for the good stuff? (Say, five pages or so?) Or will they simply yawn and put the book down? I'd love to know. In the meantime, have fun with  these ten easy ways to strengthen any opening. It's a bit long, but a very informative read.

So, buckle your seat belts...ur...I mean, fasten your knuckles or die mah nig - whatever, just enjoy it. (LOL)

1. Build momentum.
The first cardinal rule of opening lines is that they should possess most of the individual craft elements that make up the story as a whole. An opening line should have a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterization. By the end of the first paragraph, we should also know the setting and conflict, unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information. 

This need not lead to elaborate or complex openings. Simplicity will suffice. For example, the opening sentence of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” tells the reader: “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.” Already, we have a distinctive voice—somewhat distant, possibly ironic—referring to thegrandmother with a definite article. We have a basic plot: conflict over a journey. And we have a sense of characterization: a stubborn or determined elderly woman. Although we do not know the precise setting, we can rule out Plato’s Athens, Italy under the Borgias and countless others. All of that in eight words. Yet what matters most is that we have direction—that O’Connor’s opening is not static. 

Immediately, we face a series of potential questions: Why didn’t the grandmother want to go to Florida? Where else, if anywhere, did she wish to go? Who did want to go to Florida? A successful opening line raises multiple questions, but not an infinite number. In other words, it carries momentum. 

2. Resist the urge to start too early. 
You might be tempted to begin your narrative before the action actually starts, such as when a character wakes up to what will eventually be a challenging or dramatic day. But unless you’re rewriting Sleeping Beauty, waking up is rarely challenging or dramatic. Often, when we start this way, it’s because we’re struggling to write our way into the narrative, rather than letting the story develop momentum of its own. Far better to begin at the first moment of large-scale conflict. If the protagonist’s early-morning rituals are essential to the story line, or merely entertaining, they can always be included in backstory or flashbacks—or later, when he wakes up for a second time. 

3. Remember that small hooks catch more fish than big ones. 
Many writers are taught that the more unusual or extreme their opening line, the more likely they are to “hook” the reader. But what we’re not taught is that such large hooks also have the power to easily disappoint readers if the subsequent narrative doesn’t measure up. If you begin writing at the most dramatic or tense moment in your story, you have nowhere to go but downhill. Similarly, if your hook is extremely strange or misleading, you might have trouble living up to its odd expectations. As a fishing buddy of mine explains, the trick is to use the smallest hook possible to make a catch—and then to pull like crazy in the opposite direction.

4. Open at a distance and close in. 
In modern cinema, films commonly begin with the camera focused close up on an object and then draw back panoramically, often to revelatory effect, such as when what appears to be a nude form is actually revealed to be a piece of fruit. This technique rarely works in prose. Most readers prefer to be “grounded” in context and then to focus in. Open your story accordingly.

5. Avoid getting ahead of your reader. 
One of the easiest pitfalls in starting a story is to begin with an opening line that is confusing upon first reading, but that makes perfect sense once the reader learns additional information later in the story. The problem is that few readers, if confused, will ever make it that far. This is not to say that you can’t include information in your opening that acquires additional meaning once the reader learns more. That technique is often a highly rewarding tool. But the opening should make sense on both levels—with and without knowledge the reader will acquire later.

6. Start with a minor mystery. 
While you don’t want to confuse your readers, presenting them with a puzzle can be highly effective—particularly if the narrator is also puzzled. This has the instant effect of making the reader and narrator partners in crime. An unanswered question can even encompass an entire novel, as when David Copperfield asks, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

7. Keep talk to a minimum. 
If you feel compelled to begin a story with dialogue, keep in mind that you’re thrusting your readers directly into a maelstrom in which it’s easy to lose them. One possible way around this is to begin with a single line of dialogue and then to draw back and to offer additional context before proceeding with the rest of the conversation—a rare instance in which starting close up and then providing a panorama sometimes works. But long sequences of dialogue at the outset of a story usually prove difficult to follow.

8. Be mindful of what works. 
Once you’ve given some concentrated thought to your own opening line, obtain copies of anthologies like The Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories and read only the first sentence of each story. As with any other aspect of writing, openings are their own distinct art form—and exposure to the masterwork of others is one of the best ways to learn. (Of course, the challenge of this exercise is to avoid being lured into a story with such a compelling opening that you aren’t able to put it down!)

9. When in doubt, test several options. 
Writers are often advised to make a short list of titles and try them out on friends and family. Try doing the same with opening sentences. An opening line, like a title, sometimes seems truly perfect—until you come up with several even better choices. 

10. Revisit the beginning once you reach the end. 
Sometimes a story evolves so significantly during the writing process that an opening line, no matter how brilliant, no longer applies to the story that follows. The only way to know this is to reconsider the opening sentence, like the title, once the final draft of the story is complete. Often a new opening is called for. That doesn’t mean your first opening needs to be scrapped entirely; instead, file it away for use in a future project.

Needless to say, a brilliant opening line cannot salvage a story that lacks other merits, nor will your story be accepted for publication based on the opening alone. But in a literary environment where journals and publishing houses receive large quantities of submissions, a distinctive opening line can help define a piece. A riveting opening can even serve as shorthand for an entire story, so that harried editors, sitting around a table as they evaluate the crème de la slush pile, may refer to your piece not by its title, but as “the one that begins with the clocks striking 13” (as does George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). Even after the rest of the story has evaporated from conscious memory, the opening may stick with editors, an iron peg upon which to hang their hats—and, with any luck, it will have that effect on readers, too. 

My own personal favorite opening is the first line of Elizabeth Graver’s story “The Body Shop,” which appears in The Best American Short Stories 1991. It begins: “My mother had me sort the eyes.” I dare you not to go out and read what comes next.  
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