Monday, February 25, 2013

HUMOR! Now why couldn't I write this??

© Copyright Jake Jaxson 2013. All rights reserved. 
Recently, a friend suggested I write humor for a blog he hosts. I told him I was terribly flattered, but I can't write humor; friends would tell you that in my real, outside-the-internet life, I'm actually pretty damn funny. Go figure . . . I write dark, emotional novels.

I have been studying humor writing - I'm convinced that people who can do this are just wired a certain way: their brains translate the eccentric, hilarious way they view the world, into the keyboard. With me, the eccentricity goes out my mouth, and never makes it onto a keyboard. But I say it here out loud - you're all witnesses - I will learn to write humor. Maybe this decade!

Meanwhile . . . I present for your consideration and amusement the funniest thing I have run across this week, by young model/stylist/blogger George Alvin, who lives in New York City and apparently is far too familiar with the joys of riding the subway. Thank you, George, for this side-splitter! If you ever need an alternate career, consider comedy writing, seriously. You'll make a fortune! Meanwhile consider yourself the holder of a standing invitation to write posts for this blog!

(George's blog - not suitable for work or the prudish! but always entertaining and often touchingly  insightful - is at )


George Alvin's Tips for Riding the MTA

If you’ve ever visited New York and you haven’t used the mothah fucking MTA then, well,  you’re NOT missing out on much.  Besides . . . well . . . hobos that piss on the floor, rats with 3 feet, and black girls in cheetah print. Wait - don’t forget the pick-pocketers, AIDS, and did I mention the hobos that piss on the floor?

It’s disgusting, but living in NYC, unless you want to always get ripped off by Gandhi cab drivers, you learn to tolerate the subway. Personally, I’ve grown to love what tourists call ‘the underground’… It’s actually one of the places where I actually have time to think. It’s cool to go down there with your headphones blasting some Lana Del Rey and your notebook; you’d be surprised at all the cool ideas you get. Actually, I wrote 2 of my most commented-upon REAL TALK posts while riding from Brooklyn to mid-town in the subway. All the cool kids take the subway anyways… Katie Holmes even takes it.

It’s not that bad, but if you aren’t EXPERIENCED or PREPARED you can end up somewhere in Harlem with no wallet and phone… So I’m going to provide a couple tips that can make your first experience one that you don’t regret.

Step 1: Don’t ever make eye contact. You can get shot, stabbed, or beaten. Unless they’re famous, a model, or have a big bulge.

Step 2Avoid all Nicki Minaj impersonators; don’t be blinded by their bright hair… they have a dark soul.

Step 3Never leave your wallet, cellphone, money, or baby in any UNZIPPED pocket. They will get stolen.

Step 4Make sure you never hold on to any railing, bar, door while riding the subway. Do use old people with canes, friends,  and Asians. REMEMBER hobos pee on them.

Step 5: Don’t ever take photos of people's weird shoes… no matter oh hard you try to sneak it. You’ll forget flash is on and they’ll punch you in the face.

Step 6Never take the subway after the club. No matter how sober you think you are, you will pass out and wake up with your shoes stolen (yes, this really happens).

Step 7If you’re a girl with big boobs, expensive jewelry, and "fuck me" boots NEVER ride the subway after 11:30pm. You will be sold into sex trafficking.

Step 8: Make sure you’ve downloaded my lifesaver while taking the subway, the iPhone app: iTrans NYC. Use it for finding which train to take, transferring trains, train times, nearby subway stations, and info on service advisories, delays or cancellations.

I hope these helped you prepare for your next ride on the MTA. I promise it’s not bad and you WILL survive if you follow those pointers. Trust me either I know from experience or this has happened to someone I know. Try to always ride w/ a buddy!


© Copyright George Alvin 2013. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Characters: The Inspiration of Attraction

Years ago, I read an interview with Mark Twain in which he discussed his characters. Perhaps it is accurate to say that, in American literature at least, few writers have drawn more memorable characters than Mark Twain did. I was just a young, green writer at that time, and I was interested to read that he had based Tom Sawyer on a real person that he knew - a friend from his own childhood. The character of Huckleberry Finn, on the other hand, was based upon three characters merged.

In my young writer's head, I had assumed that every character was made up, from out of the thin air of one's imagination. This seemed the only pure way to go about it - to do otherwise was taking a shortcut, cheating somehow. And to admit that a character was some sort of muddy hodgepodge of three people, why that was blasphemous!

Now, years later, my mind has opened with experience. Perhaps real persons truly fascinate me now - far more than a creation made solely of my own limited imagination could do. I suppose every writer has a different method and finds a technique that works best for him or her personally - but for me, I have learned what is to me the most interesting and exciting way to build a character from the ground up.

The artwork in the illustration to this article comes from artist Rowan Lewgalon. It was a surprise Christmas gift to me. It is based upon a character I write for an ongoing project in which I am involved - a sort of medieval story (11th century) where each writer has developed a character and adds chapter installments in turn. My character is a young Welshman/Breton Celt.  Braith ap Derfael was born of many years of interest in the Celtic culture of the early medieval period. What a joy it was to incorporate those interesting details about live in that place - which I learned almost thirty years ago now - into a story setting. Once I had pulled all those details together, I knew who Braith was - his history, his heritage, what his eyes saw, what his mind worked on, how his heart felt.

But that was only a shell of a character: I needed to know, in order to describe him and help the reader see him, other kinds of details. I needed a clear picture in my own mind of Braith as he moved through the streets of early London. I needed to see him move, his facial expressions, hear his voice, predict his physicality. I find personally that the way to draw a strong physical sense of character is to base it upon real people - if I can visualize in my mind someone I have observed closely, that clear image seeps into my work, draws the reader closer, and makes the character a stronger experience for the reader.  And here is the key: the only way I can know so many details about the physical essence of a character, is to have based it upon someone with whom I was enamoured.

Now I don't mean enamoured in the romantic sense. I mean enamoured in the sense that the person fascinates me. It's so much more than cerebral: there are some people who move us deeply, who we feel some knowledge of instinctively, before we really do know them.  Our experience of their presence in the world changes us, and we can't look away.  They may be someone who is truly a friend; they may be a family member; they may be a teacher or mentor; they may be a person whom we have encountered in the course of life who seemed troubled and lost, but held some magical, mesmerizing quality all the same; they may be an entertainer or other public personality.

In my own life, I am particularly drawn to two things:  people who are creative and innovative in their lives and mode of thinking, and people who are strong-willed in some sense.  Not coincidentally, my main characters have these traits as well. It is logical, fascinating, inspiring and lucrative for me to take the personalities I admire in real life and transfer them to my writing.  I'm not saying, however, that I think of someone I like and simply write them as a character, trait for trait. Not at all. Rather, I use the physical essence of a specific person from real life, and then write a character around that.

Look closely at Braith: those who know me recognize a certain entertainer. Rowan did not do this by accident: although Braith has little in common with a modern-day musical artist, she recognized small elements in my descriptions of Braith's looks, movements, speech pattern, etc. that suggested a specific person.  She was correct: keeping this person in my mind's eye made drawing a physical image of Braith very easy.

In my novel Gentlemen's Game, the character of Greyson - both physically and in terms of speech pattern and movement - is based upon a character from a television series I follow closely. I believe I borrow his looks from the actor, and his demeanor more from the character he plays (the character being very different from the actor's normal demeanor). In that sense, Greyson is a combination of two people. Other details - his profession, carelessly fashionable dress, past history - came from my imagination.  Thus, Greyson is uniquely mine, but because I was able to visualize a real person as I describe him, he rings truer in the reader's mind. I am able to present a picture in sharper focus to the reader.

The character of Jack in the same book is a little tougher. I saw Jack in my mind's eye physically, and he was also based upon someone I knew, but he was a much younger version. Still, having a real person set in my mind allowed me to write a better Jack.

For my story Quandary - upon which an upcoming novel is based, many readers are struck by the young character of Ryf. This character was a mix that was fascinating to me: he was a combination of another entertainer physically, with exaggerated edginess, and also a little of a teenager I know thrown into the mix. When I combined these two real people with elements of my own experience and imagination, I came up with an extremely unique character - nearly eccentric, and thus memorable - and once again I was able to paint a very sharp image of him physically for the reader.

Now, I look back on Mark Twain's words, and in the garish light of age, I understand I think what his technique must have been. He took people he knew, added and mixed, and came up with unforgettable characters because he was able to recall, visualize, and relate to the reader a very specific phyical presence for his characters - based upon looks, mode of dress, speech pattern, gestures and expressions - all the details that make a person fascinating. 

Next time you're feeling that you can't see a character clearly - pull that list from your mind of the people you are most strongly drawn to in life. Visualize those individuals who hold your gaze and attention - whether for positive or negative reasons - those people for whom the details of their essence are etched in your mind. Use the clarity of that vision, along with your imaginings, in your description to paint a picture for your reader that will render a character truly one of a kind - unforgettable!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: The Rebuttal

Review: The Rebuttal
by Romell D. Weekly
Genre: Non-fiction (Apologetics)
5/5 Stars * * * * * 

Pastor Romell D. Weekly had a revelation. In 2008, troubled by the anti-gay feeling he saw in the congregation of his Missouri church, and the anti-gay rhetoric he heard from other theologians, he began to do something he hadn't before: to study the Bible in great depth, with cold hard logic and an objective eye. His instinct told him that insisting that he himself read the "clobber" passages in the Bible - those that are used routinely to condemn homosexuality - in their social, historical, theological and literary context, would lead to the truth.

I was raised in a liberal church. The Congregational Church - more formally known as the United Church of Christ (U.C.C.) - was the first to openly welcome and advocate for, the GLBT community, back in the 1970's. Its basic tenets support acceptance and tolerance of ideas. The notion that the Bible would be used to reject, to shame, to exclude, to justify hatred and the denial of dreams and the dissolutions of families, was something foreign to me, and still shakes me to the core when I encounter it. Equally, the anger present in the GLBT community toward Christianity as a whole is disheartening to me: I have never known how to explain, how to prove, how to shout loud enough to be heard over the intensity of fury, that not all churches operate in the same way. And of course, I myself see the bigotry in churches that twist the religion of my youth, and don't know how to confront it intellectually, when their entire theology is built upon hatred, exclusionary thinking, and blind emotion. And so it was with a sigh, a lot of skepticism and a tiny bit of hope, that I sat down at a cafe on Sunday with a large pot of coffee, to dive into The Rebuttal.

But Pastor Weekly surprised me at the first paragraphs, and went on to do it again and again. The new perspective that Weekly's studies had given him, had offered a life-changing choice: placate his congregation, stay quiet, toe the line  - which meant leaving  centuries of misinformation and bigotry unchallenged; or stand up, tell the truth, encourage the changing of minds, and endure the consequences.  He made the braver choice, lost his congregation, and was faced with building a new one from the ground up.

Weekly has gathered his arguments into The Rebuttal: it offers a logical, informed presentation of the arguments that anti-gay "Christians" rely upon to propagate a mythology that caters to - as Weekly describes it - predetermined negative attitudes toward gays. Weekly - all the while maintaining a calm, respectful, informative tone - directly addresses the assertions of six of the most prominent anti-gay theologians of modern Christian scholoarship: Robert Gagnon, Dr. James Dobson, Joe Dallas, Thomas Schmidt, James White, and Jeffrey Niell. His attacks are never personal, they are focused solely on the instability of the argument.

The book begins with an overview of the history of the anti-gay position in terms of Christianity. Weekly focuses on two issues. First, he looks at the tendency of human nature to form an attitude and then interpret scripture to back it up. He discusses the ways in which this has obviously been in play historically and in terms of the modern-day teachings from some Christian groups.  And then - for we history fanatics, the fun really begins - Weekly discusses each of the commonly-quoted passages used to back up bigotry, examines them through a correct historical and social context, and then carefully dismantles each one. He uses a broad view of the history behind each passage - social movements and customs of the era, as well as comparison to like passages - to put specific verses into context. He drives his point home again and again - that not one of the controversial passages stands up to scrutiny as proof of the validity of anti-gay thought, when examined in these contexts. In the case of each passage, he finishes by looking at the writings of the six men listed above and discussing precisely why each argument lacks merit.

Weekly is one of those rare people who reached a frightening turning point in his professional and personal life, and has stood up to the status quo and accepted the personal cost without complaint, his eyes intent on the prize: which in his case is the mission to educate and to recreate a Christianity that is a safe and welcome place for all, regardless of sexual orientation.  The Rebuttal is easily accessible to the casual reader : the language is conversational and non-scholarly, while the material itself is meticulously researched. Arguments are clearly and skilfully presented, and points thoroughly discussed. It is a comfortable, enjoyable, enlightening, and ultimately extremely hopeful read.  It is everything, really, that a rebuttal of this long-standing fallacy should be.

View a trailer for The Rebuttal here

The Rebuttal can be purchased through Amazon (where it is available in paperback and for Kindle download) and at other retail outlets, or directly from the book's website, from where one can also download a free chapter.
Pastor Romell D. Weekly is the pastor of New Revelation Christian Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri. He is also the founder and president of Judah First Ministries, a non-profit organization committed to advocating truth and justice within the Christian community and society.