So for awhile now one of the biggest reasons people have visited this site has been to see if there's news about a follow-up to The Darkest Path. Well now there is! It exists! And you can buy it!
It's called The Darkest Path: Bear's Story and it's ready for you to purchase either as an ebook or a paperback.
I've been working on this for awhile now and am really excited to finally have it out in the world. It's a little bit prequel and a little bit sequel and is told entirely from the point-of-view of Bear, the intrepid dog Cal hooked up with early on in The Darkest Path.
The inspiration for this book came from a few big unanswered questions in The Darkest Path. The first being--how did Bear end up all alone in the desert where he met Cal? Where was he before? Did he have a family? If so, what happened to them?
On top of that I was wondering the same thing many of you were, namely, what happens after the end of The Darkest Path? Does Cal find his parents? Does he ever see Bear again? All of these questions, and a few more, are answered in The Darkest Path: Bear's Story. Plus I think it's a pretty darn good, fast-paced adventure story in its own right.
Hi all! So, as the title suggests, I happened to check the stats for visits to this site and saw that quite a few of you come here only to find very little in the way of new content. Sorry! I think I'm not necessarily the most adept blogger in the world. But I'm so happy all of you come to check out the site. So here's a little update that, hopefully, explains what I've been doing instead of blogging! This also might give you a little insight into what it's like to be a full time writer person!
Basically I've been writing. A lot! I'm currently in process for three different books. They are, briefly:
Black River Falls - This is the new standalone novel coming out Summer of 2016 from Clarion. It's about a kid growing up in a small town that has been quarantined due to a plague of amnesia. I'll be getting the final round of edits from my editor soon so it's almost done. Very excited about this one!
The Darkest Path Prequel/Sequel - The tentative title for this right now is The Darkest Path: Bear's Story, but that could change. The first draft is written and I'm giving it to my editor in August, which hopefully means that it'll be ready for you all to see in late Fall/Early Winter. Yay!
Untitled Standalone Novel - This will hopefully be my follow up to Black River Falls. I have a completed first draft and am editing it now to get it ready to send to Clarion. I can't really tell you anything about except that I'm really enjoying writing it! (and I really need to finish the blog post and get back to it!)
Miscellaneous - As always, I'm in the midst of generating ideas for new projects. Lately I'm thinking alot about a short and fairly bloody horror novel, a sci-fi epic for kids 8 and up, and a Western. Whew!
Oh! And I'm also acting in a play! Things are busy around here!
Hi everyone! If you're a young writer here's something you should definitely check out. The Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia is now accepting applications for its Summer 2015 program. YWW is basically writers camp. I attended for two years when I was in Middle School and it absolutely changed my life. Got take a look!
Hope you all have an absolutely awesome holiday season! And if your holidays are of the Christmas persuasion and you need a dose of Christmas spirit, allow me to recommend my very favorite Christmas movie ever. A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott. I watch it every single year and the whole thing is on YouTube.
You know that writing quote about "killing your darlings?" I was thinking about that today as I edited this 1st draft I'm working on. I think it's a really cool quote that urges writers to think of every component of their writing–each paragraph, each sentence, each word–as something that doesn't exist for its own sake but exists to serve the whole. You may write the purtiest most thoughtful sentence you've ever written in your life, but if it doesn't work to further the goals of the book then, the quote instructs, it's got to go.
This is one of those quotes that I think is awesome right up to the point where I think it might be total nonsense.
See, what I worry has happened is we've all taken this quote so seriously (myself included) that we've become delete key happy. Something doesn't fit right away? Delete it. Something seems just a little too pretty, a little too whimsical? Delete it. All those beautifully oddball paragraphs and scrappy orphan sentences? Delete! Delete! Delete!
I think the appeal of this is that doing it makes us feel like we're real writers. Weren't not some dilettante following our muse up our own butt. We're tough. We're merciless. We take no prisoners.
It's just so....fascist.
I mean, your darlings are your darlings. They're beautiful and awesome and sure, maybe that sentence doesn't seem to fit into the grand scheme of things right away, but maybe that means the grand scheme is wrong, not the sentence.
What I'm saying is, when you come to an oddball piece of writing, something you love but aren't sure has a place in your book, remember that you have a choice–You can delete it or you can try and find it a home. The first one is the safe choice, no doubt about it. But it you choose the later, if you let the unexpected or the oddball effect your writing then maybe, just maybe, you'll make your work richer and stranger and more interesting.
So to answer the question which, according to my analytics, brings the vast majority of you to my website.....Yes! There is going to be a sequel, of a sort, to The Darkest Path. I just finished the first draft of a short companion novel currently titled Unification Day. It's going to tell you a whole bunch more about what happened both before and after The Darkest Path. And the whole thing is told from the POV of Bear the Dog.
This will be a digital only release. I'm not entirely sure when it's going to be out yet, but if you gohereand add your name to my mailing list you'll know before anyone else when it's available.
Hi all! I'm so excited about this new, cleaner, simpler website. Have a look around and let me know what you think. This site was built using Squarespace, which I can't recommend highly enough. It's super flexible and super easy to use.
I recently decided that blogging is something that is best left to real bloggers, not moonlighting novelists. Given that, you won't see a ton of posts here. I'll be using this space mainly to keep you updated on the latest happenings with me and my books.
When I go to schools I find myself comparing being a writer to being an athlete alot. Which is probably weird since I'm about the furthest thing from a sports fan as you can imagine. But I was thinking about this again today as I was editing Dog Soldier (which, by the way, is not going to be called Dog Soldier much longer. Not sure what it will be called instead yet. Stayed tuned) and I came to a scene that was just not working. I came at it from one direction after another until I finally realized that the problem was that I had absolutely no idea what one of the two characters in the scene wanted. I had no idea why she was there.
That, my friends , is that the sporty folks would call a problem with my fundamentals.
See, when you think about it, baseball comes down to throwing a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball and running. As you move higher up in the sport layers of strategy and complexity are put on top of that but the foundation is always throwing, catching, hitting and running. Look at pro athletes, no matter where they are in their career they are still practicing those fundamentals. It's the basis of everything they do.
I think with writing, especially after you've been doing it awhile, you can get too wrapped up in the complexities of things and, like I did in that scene, lose sight of the fundamentals. To move forward I had to stop thinking about theme or character arcs or any of that stuff and simply ask myself...why is this person here? What does she want in this scene?
Of course this raises the question of what exactly are the fundamentals writing wise? Opinions absolutely vary, but for me at least, I think they are....
What need is each character trying to fill?
How do they go about trying to fill it?
What gets in their way?
Specificity and clarity of language.
I'm curious. What do you all think are the writing fundamentals?
Not alot of detail yet and nothing to link to, but I can tell you that MAGISTERIUM has just been made a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2012!!
This is super exciting! If you don't know the JLG, their mission is to help libraries wade through the mass of books published every season and pick what's best for their collections. They review thousands of upcoming titles and pick just a few as their official selections in several categories.
So happy to be a part of it! Thanks to the Guild!!
Just as a heads up, this brief posts assumes you have either A) have already seen Prometheus B) Haven't seen it, don't plan to and therefore don't care about spoilers.
If you answered B, well, all I can say is that after having seen the movie I wish I had made the same decision.
Don't get me wrong, there was some good stuff in the movie (Pretty much the beautiful visuals and Michael Fassbender) but there were also things in the movie that are really great object lessons for people who write. Namely:
Don't set up that your characters are all brilliant and then make your plot dependent on them acting really really stupid: Honestly this is the movie's worst failing. Sure, no one says that the crew are all geniuses or anything, but hey, they're scientists good enough that a company is sending them a trillion miles from earth in what may be the greatest scientific expedition of all time. They've probably got some game, right?
Well, if they do then one would think they wouldn't:
Remove their helmets on a completely alien world. Sure, we know the air is breathable but how can they possibly know that there isn't some alien super flu (or whatever) just floating around ready to make their innards into soup? I mean, wouldn't it pay to be a little extra cautious when you're the first person ever to step onto an alien world?
Stuff alien artifacts into ziploc bags and the take them onto the ship to examine them without bothering to put them into some kind of isolation before you do it. (Also, why were they in such a hurry? Sure there was a huge storm coming but this stuff had been sitting there for thousands of years and I don't think the dead guys head was going anywhere. Again, a little caution was called for.)
See a bizarre alien cobra thing floating around in an icky black lake and think "Hey! I know! I'll just go ahead and touch it!"
Now sure, smart people do dumb things all the time and maybe these people are overcome with, I don't know, space madness or something, but if that is the case the audience needs to be made aware of it. I need to understand why they're making these decisions or else I just wonder why the mega corp sent the Three Stoooges on a trillion dollar mission
Don't do things just because they're convenient for your as a writer: Ok these drove me nuts as well. Three things. Fassbender using his weird helmet thing to see Rapace's extremely exposition heavy dreams, the incredibly convenient but baffling Engineer holograms we see running around inside the ship and Rapace's magical de-aliening surgery.
Seriously? The dream helmet thing? It was used once in the whole movie simply to communicate a piece of exposition that A) the robot could have known in many other ways and B) could have been simply communicated in a line or two of dialogue. (For brevity's sake we'll ignore the fact that it really wasn't an important piece of exposition anyway)
And the Engineer hologram thing? I grant you that it looked neat and all but, why would it have existed? I guess the aliens were recording everything they did on the ship in hologram form. Why would they do that? Seems awful convenient for our heros. And our writers. Again, ultimately I guess this was done to communicate some exposition to us and the team but man, it was a pretty heavy handed way of doing it.
And the surgery? Ok, we sometimes have to fudge the timeline on things a little, but seriously? She has what is essentially a C-section, while awake, and then she is stapled up and running through the ship literally minutes later. I think, at most, she winces once. Now honestly, it's not so much that it wasn't realistic that bothers me, it's that the writers put a character in a huge and interesting predicament and then solved it with what is essentially a punt. "Eh she gets magic surgery and she's fine. Whatever. Let's move on." That's just weak writing. I think if you embrace the difficulty of a problem and the seeming impossibility of solving it, you are forced to come up with better and more creative solutions.
Shut up already: I had this same problem with Dark Knight Rises. Too often writers think that if characters spend alot of time talking about big heady issues--like faith or the responsibility of creators to their creations--then it means that the movie is about those things in some significant way. It's not. A story is about, say, faith when we see the ways in which faith, or the lack thereof, effects a characters actions, when it creates conflicts, when it is the engine of the story. Not when people talk about it. This is a classic show vs. tell problem. Don't talk about your ideas, show us your ideas in action and let us make the connections.
How about y'all? Anybody see this and take other lessons from it?
So have you guys seen this? Basically there's some talk that there should be movie-like ratings created specifically for YA books.
On one hand, I get it. I'm not a parent but I can get why parents would want a hand figuring out which books do and do not conform to their values. There are alot of books out there so asking for a simple way to look at a book and it's content isn't out of line.
But I think my problem isn't so much it being done, as it is how it would be done. Any rating system is going to be based around a list of flagged content, right? In movies its nudity, language, violence, smoking, drug use, etc. When it comes to books some board will have the job of deciding what deserves to be flagged. Langauge? That one is pretty cut and dried. Violence? OK, but how do you deal with the way violence is depicted? Is it action movie type glorification? Is it critiqued? Does it matter? And what about sexuality? Will hetero sex be flagged in the same way and to the same degree as gay sex, for instance? How about the way religion is handled in YA books? Could "blasphemous content" become an issue thats flagged? I can sure bet there are people who would want it to be.
And once a list of flagged content is determined how do we weigh these instances and arrive at a rating?
The MPAA, the group that does movie ratings, is frequently challenged for it's tendency to allow astonishing acts of violence in a PG-13 movie, but will slap an R on something that has a tiny bit of sex or a few bad words, no matter the context. Or, in another recent controversy the anti-bullying film Bully, a well reviewed film and an important one for our time, was given an R rating for using a bit of bad language. (As an aside, the MPAA is primarily made up of former big movie studio execs and, in what I'm sure is a total coincidence, the board tends to be much harder on indie films, even when they have similar content to studio films.)
And all of this brings us to the huge economic issues that will be at play. If a book is rated as being for more mature teen readers will B&N carry it? Will Target? Or Wal-mart? Now, buyers may read a book and decide that despite challenging content it's an important book and deserves to be on their shelves. Once you start putting letter grades on things suddenly it becomes very easy for corporations to make a blanket statement that they won't carry anything with this or that rating, no matter the context. Saves them from being criticized. And once buyers say they won't take them you'll see publishers stop publishing them. This ends nowhere good for books.
So in some ways I'm at a loss. I get some parents desire for this but I just can't think of how this can done in a way that doesn't get hopelessly tangled up in politics and doesn't ultimately hurt publishing and deny readers good books.
Hi all! I'm coming off a pretty intense few days of book events and have now caught myself a bit of a cold. But before I finish up my tea and put myself to bed I wanted to put together a short Halloween related post.
If you haven't seen it yet, Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls) is doing a great series of Halloween themed posts on her blog. Mine will be up there later today. By all means give it a gander. But I also wanted to talk about one of the other posts in this series that went up last week. Nina LaCour (Hold Still) wrote up an awesome true life ghost story that, in addition to being supremely creepy, illustrates an important writing principal.
From here on out there are going to be SPOILERS so before we go any further, read the whole story. Don't worry it's short. I'll wait....
Ok. Wow, spooky right? A few nights after I read this I flew into Los Angeles late at night and as soon as I got myself settled into my big empty hotel room this story came rushing back to mind and I got properly freaked out.
Now about the writing principle I think this illustrates. For me, this story works so well because of the twist at the end, where Nina theorizes that it wasn't some kind of ghost taking the pictures but the girl herself waking up in the middle of the night as this malevolent "other person" and taking the pictures. There's just something so chilling and unexpected about that interpretation. That there's this other person living inside you that lives to terrify and undermine you. Nina could have easily left this story as just a creepy occurrence, maybe it's a ghost, maybe not, and it would have worked perfectly fine. That she takes this extra step to come up with a novel interpretation of the event is really what does it for me.
One standard test of creativity is to ask someone to list as many different uses for a brick as they possibly can. You know, you can hold a door open with it, you can crack a walnut with it etc etc. Generally when people do this the first few uses they come up with are the most obvious ones and then the longer they go the more outlandish and surprising the uses get. The idea is the more credible uses you can come up with for a brick the more creative you are. To me, this is what LaCour did so well with this story. She didn't stop at the most obvious explanation for the occurrence, a ghost, she kept going until she found something that had the shock of surprise. She found a new use for a brick.
This is something I'm trying to keep in mind as I work on my new book. If a character needs to get out of a tight spot, I don't want to stop with the first gambit that comes to mind, I want to come up with as many options as possible and pick one that feels fresh and surprising. It's the same thing when it comes to interpreting a character's behavior, or exploring their point of view, or describing a feeling or an image.
Our first idea is not always the best, often it's simply the most conventional, but if we keep pushing we can get somewhere really surprising and, in this case, scare the hell out of people.
What about you all? Do you make a point to push past your first ideas and find new ones?
Over the last few years we've seen a major transformation in the publishing industry. No, not talking about digital books this time, I'm talking about all the ways the publishing industry is coming to mirror the film industry.
There are some surface similarities of course, the film industry survives on the blockbuster genre series, now so do we. Movies do trailers; now we do trailers. How many times have you heard a new book refferred to as being X meets Y? Harry Potter meets Twilight? The Hunger Games meets Sweet Valley High? That all comes from the film industry.
But most importantly, when people talk about books these days, especially when they give advice on how to write one, what I hear sounds alot like Screenwriting 101:
Use a 3-act structure that includes a very early inciting incident, major plot reversals at the end of each act and a couple mid-act turning points.
Focus on character arcs where a character must grapple with and overcome a personality defect in order to succeed.
Create very clear protagonists and antagonists.
Skip descriptions and backstory whenever possible.
Now screenwriters didn't invent any of this--the 3-act structure has been around since Aristotle--but structuring a story around points like these has become the standard way of writing a screenplay, and since film is the dominant storytelling medium at the moment I suppose it makes sense that these points have come to to dominate other mediums as well. And, hey why not? It works and everybody likes a tight, well-structured story.
What concerns me though is that if we adopt the language and techniques of screenwriters will we lose a sense of how a book is a fundamentally different experience than a film?
All mediums (fiction, film, poetry, theater, non-fiction etc) have particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to storytelling. So when you choose to write a story you have to decide which medium's strengths and weaknesses work most to your advantage. You ask yourself "This idea I have, is it a book? A movie? A poem? A play?" You can only answer if you know what the strengths and weaknesses of each are.
So what are the strengths and weaknesses of fiction vs. film?
To speak in a few ridiculously broad generalizations, I think a book excels at being an immersive experience. We'll spend days or weeks poring over a book, while we'll generally spend no more than 3 hours with a movie. Because of this a book is good at doing a deep, sustained dive into characters, relationships, and worlds. Books are great at historical sweep and complex multi-layered stories. Fiction is also better at presenting ideas and character's inner lives.
Film, due largely to time constraints, is a more compact medium. Films tend to have fewer characters and settings and take place over a shorter time frame. They also need to get to the point very quickly and keep the action at as brisk a pace as possible. For this reason film has really embraced the 3-act structure we talked about above. It's a structure that's all about keeping a story tight and moving.
Now, if this is true, if our talks about writing fiction have become overwhelmed with talk of film structure, a structure that maybe serves another medium far better, what do we do about it? How do we talk about writing differently? Do we?
I have no answers here so I'm eager to hear any of your thoughts. Are we fiction writers veering too much into a film world? Do we need to make our books more...booklike? If so, how?
Ok, everyone may have seen this at this point but there's some truly timeless wisdom here.
From now on if anyone asks me my thoughts on pursuing writing or publishing I'm just sending them to this video. Sometimes we adults make things too damn complicated and it takes a kid who just learned how to ride his bike to put things into perspective.
So after that post on revision, I thought I'd take a look at the other side of things and talk about the process of giving feedback. I'm no expert or anything, but here are some things I've noticed are helpful after years of telling people what I think of their writing either in a classroom setting or one one one with felow writers.
Before you read their work, ask the writer if there's any particular sort of feedback they're looking for. Maybe they only want broad over-arching notes on story arcs and such. Maybe it's a later draft and they want more granular notes on language, individual moments and scenes, etc. Try to remember that when you give someone notes it's about what the writer needs, not what you want to say.
Read what you're critiquing at least twice. The first time read the work straight through without taking notes to get the overall sense of the thing. Ask yourself what the story is about on a plot, character and thematic level. What is the writer trying to achieve? What are they trying to say? Your goal is to help them, through your notes, achieve these things. Once you've done that, go back and reread taking careful notes throughout.
When it's time to give notes start by talking in detail about what was working in the book. What you liked. What intrigued you. What you'd like to know more about. It's important that you let the writer hear what grabbed you about their work. You may surprise them! Remember, vague praise reads as false praise; if you want the writer to know you really liked something, be specific.
Again, what every writer wants is different, but in general terms I think it's good to then offer a few key over-arching notes in rough order of importance and then work down to smaller ones. (What's an over-arching note? Something that effects either the entirety of the book or at least a major section or act. Think the arc of the plot. Character and relationship arcs. The world of the book. Things like that.) Getting feedback can be overwhelming, so giving someone three key notes can sometimes be better than a hundred small ones. Lots of times I'll start big and then ask if they want to hear smaller notes. Sometimes they don't, and that's fine.
A note on tone. Starting notes with "I thought..." or "I felt..." or "I wondered..." is less confrontational than taking the tack that you know best and are going to instruct someone on what to do. Some may think this sounds mealy mouthed, but being strident or acting like the authority can make the person getting feedback shut down. Try to say things in such a way that the person can hear and understand you, not feel threatened, belittled or talked down to.
Ask if the writer has any questions about your notes or about any aspect of the book you didn't touch on.
Lastly, the big no no in my book is to offer a writer solutions to the problems you see in their work or suggestions about where the work could or should go. Even if you have an idea that you're sure would make the book so much more awesome, keep it to yourself unless the writer specifically opens the door to such comments. Remember, your goal is to help the writer write the book that's in their heads, not the book in your head. It's about them, not you.
Ultimately, I think you want to leave the person you're critiquing feeling like they understand the rough points in their work but that the challenge ahead of them is manageable and even exciting. A well done critique, even one that is very plain about the problems present, should inspire the writer to
immediately go off and write.
I'm sure I left out a few things. How about you all? Any critiquing words of wisdom?
Here's the deal. I'm deep in revisions now, trying to turn a rough draft of a new novel into something I won't be horrified to show to someone else (namely my wife/agent/editors) so I'm a little revision obsessed right now.
Over on the league blog I wrote about approaching revision like triage. Start with one or two of the most central changes you need to make and then work down from there. I also had a few other random thoughts about revision I thought might be worth mentioning.
1. Don't be afraid to ask people what they liked. Too often I see feedback seekers asking people to "be brutal" and to "tear their work apart." They seem to regard getting praise as ego stroking. It's not. Sure, it's important to get unvarnished opinions about your work, but if you want a clear and balanced understanding of what you've written you need to know what's working just as much as what isn't. I can't tell you how many times I've had people point out some aspect of my work really resonated with them and it was something I never would have guessed. Finding out that an unexpected element in your book is really working can take you in new and exciting directions. Added bonus: if you know something is awesome you won't make the mistake of cutting it.
2. Ask one question. When asking folks for feedback I have one question that I ask every single time without fail. First, I write down everything they have to say and then I ask:
"If you could give me only one single note, what would it be?"
I find the question forces people to think deeply about the work and weigh major and minor concerns. I think the answer to this one question can really help focus a rewrite.
3. Run Away! After you receive feedback put it, and the book, away for as long as humanly possible. The best scenario is to get involved in another project entirely while you're mulling feedback. Write a short story, start a first draft of something else, pursue a hobby, anything that will take up all your brain power. In an ideal word you'll come back to your work in progress and it will seem just slightly alien to you. You want distance, from your writing and the notes you got on it, so you can approach a rewrite objectively.
4. To hell with Faulkner. We all know and love Faulkner's (or was it Hemingway's? Or Twain's? Or Sir Arther Quiller Couch's? ) quote about killing our darlings. The exhortation to find your favorite, most loved bits of writing and brutally cut them sounds satisfyingly bad ass, but there's a real danger there. Sometimes a piece of writing that seems superfluous in one spot is absolutely essential in another. Or sometimes what looks extraneous only seems that way because you need to build to it better. The point is that, yes, there are times you need to be brutal with your cutting, but don't start cutting willy nilly. If you love a bit there's a good chance your audience will too so try to make it work. Tweak it, move it, build to it differently and then, and only then, if it doesn't work, then you kill it.
5.You're not a writer, you're a sculptor. Here's a quote by Michaelangelo that I love and always think about when I'm writing a rough draft.
"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me... I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it...."
To my mind, when you sit down to write that off-the-top-of-your-head rough draft you're not really writing a book. You're creating the raw material for a book. You're making your block of marble. You'll chip it into a sculpture later. So throw every wild idea you have in there. Over write like crazy. Go down a hundred blind alleys. Be as creative as you can be. Once it'd done and you get some feedback, and you get a little distance from it, you'll be able to see the "lovely apparition" that rests inside. Then all you gotta do is bring it out.How about y'all? Any revision words of wisdom you can share?
Just sat down and re-watched the first half of the 1984 George C. Scott, A Christmas Carol. If you haven't seen it you really should. It's on Netflix's streaming service right now. Scott makes a fearsome Scrooge, but one with a sense of humor and a deep humanity bubbling under surface. This is definitely my favorite version of the story. (With Bill Murray's Scrooged coming in at a very close second, of course)
Watching tonight I was struck by this line, spoken, wailed really, by Marley's ghost just after Scrooge comments that he was a good "man of business."
"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
There's alot of great stuff in these three sentences. The urging to greater charity and mercy is wonderful, but I also like that it isn't unrealistic. Marley isn't telling Scrooge that his trade is meaningless or wrong, he's simply saying that the world, and his responsibilities to it, are greater than that.
Yes, I guess this is the obligatory "Christmas isn't about presents" post. I swear I'll make it brief.
All around us there are people who are cold and hungry and horribly alone. We tend to think of them more around this time of year, which is great, but the trick is to keep those people as a part of our business year round.
Now there are all kinds of ways to do this, but if giving money is your thing, know that giving to charity in the age of the internet is great. Almost any charity you can name has a system in place where you can pledge a small recurring amount, say $20 a month or less. You give them your info, the money comes out of your account every month and, honestly, you will likely never even realize it's happening.
Another tool I love and use often is Charity Navigator. There are alot of people out there asking for money so it makes sense to learn as much about a charity you're thinking of giving too as possible. Charity Navigator gives you a central place to browse charities and then get detailed info on a charity's finances, their governance, their programs as well as editorial and user reviews. It's a great portal to giving with an unworried mind.
Ok, that's my pitch. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas!
Just read this great article in Rolling Stone and it got me thinking about evil.
The RS article follows the story of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. If the name doesn't ring a bell, he was the guy in charge during the the worst mining disaster in the US since 1970, the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 miners in May of 2010. In the five years leading up to the explosion this particular mine, overseen by Mr. Blankenship, received 1,342 safety violations. It received 57 in the previous month alone. Many of these sited the improper ventilation of methane and poor escape routes that were key causes of the disaster.
Needless to say, nothing was done about these violations and there is every indication in the world that Blankenship knew of these violations and did nothing about them. Fixing things would have cost money and slowed down coal production. Money and human lives were put on a scales and guess which won out.
So there's bad behavior, there's immoral behavior and then there's this other thing that we call evil, which seems to have a grander, almost mythical connotation. A kind of absolute zero of iniquity. For me Blankenship's actions crossed the line into evil, but I had to stop a moment and think about why.
What defines evil?
For me, I think the root of evil is the absence of empathy. Without some ability to appreciate the pain and the humanity of others, to be able to see them as you see yourself, maybe it's not so hard to overlook a pile of bodies for a pile of money. But simply not caring for others is probably not enough. I think we don't see real evil until a lack of empathy is married to power. Put the two together and you've got Don Blankenship.S
To expand it even further this person needs to live in a society that looks the other way. Sure, Blankenship is the root here, but he couldn't have done what he did without the help of regulators who issue 1,342 safety violations but do nothing to see that actual changes are made. He couldn't have done it without a government and a community that allowed it.
Now I'm sure that definitions of evil may diverge wildly from person to person so I'm curious to hear what you all think.
Back when I was in grad school I TA'd for a professor's cult films class. One of the most fun classes I was a part of while I was there. I became pretty passionate about these films while in this class and think they're something everyone should know a bit about.
So we're all on the same page. Cult films are marked by a couple different, sometimes related, qualities. First, a cult film was almost always a commercial failure when it premiered only to gain a rabidly devoted following over time. Whether it was a success initially or not, cult films are generally marked by a transgressive quality, oftentimes depicting transgressive ideas about sexuality, violence, gender and morality. Sometimes what's being transgressed are basic notions of cinematic competence.
A good cult film challenges your ideas about what's possible or permissible in a film. It takes you deep into the odd and sometimes dark corners of an artist's imagination. Whether they'e technically well produced or not, most cult films feel lovingly handmade, a product of a small group of artists' intense passions.
Here are a few of my top cult films with accompanying clips. All of these are definitely worth checking out! Keep in mind though that some of these, even the clips, are not for the faint of heart.
Rocky Horror Picture Show: If you know any cult film it's this one. It's really the perfect cult film. It bombed when it came out but developed an obsessive following and is full of transgressive sexuality, gender play and a little violence. Is it a good movie? Not exactly. But it has some fun moments, a few good songs and an extraordinary central performance by Tim Curry.
Faster Pussycat. Kill! Kill!: Great art often documents the peculiar obsessions of it's creator. This is absolutely true of Russ Meyer, the director of Faster Pussycat. But where Monet had haystacks and Woody Allen had New York, Meyer's obsessions ran towards amazon women with huge breasts dominating weak men. Hey, give him credit, he had a point of view and he ran with it.
Freaks: This is a one of a kind cult classic. Todd Browning made this strikingly shot film in 1932, with a cast consisting largely of actual circus sideshow performers. It makes a powerful statement about how it is not they but the "normal people" that persecute them are freaks and monsters. Even today there are scenes that have the power to haunt.
Harold and Maude: This is actually one of my all time favorite movies. It's sweet and funny and strange. A quality film. What makes it a cult film is largely it's central transgressive sexual relationship between a death obsessed young man and a much older woman. Funny that we would have very little problem with this if their gender were reversed, huh?
Pink Flamingos: This is John Waters at his best, or worst, depending on how you look at it. The movie involves the hunt for the "filthiest person alive" and includes graphic scenes of sex involving a chicken, a lip synching anus, and Divine, a 250 pound transvestite, eating actual dog feces.
Why would anyone want to watch this? For me it's that handmade quality I talked about. It feels like a group of like minded friends got together and made this over the course of a few days for kicks. It is the perfect antidote to boring, over-produced and over-focusgrouped mainstream entertainments. The below clip is decidedly NSFW.
Blue Velvet: Another of my all time favorite movies. This is a perfect intro the seriously strange world of David Lynch. The whole thing is a relentless Oedipal nightmare fueled by sex and violence, and featuring an unbelievable performance by Dennis Hopper who plays a demonic small time hood named Frank Booth
Un Chien Andalou: This is a foundational bit of weirdness that still has the power to make people squirm. It was made in 1929 by surrealists Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel. The entire film is available below.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!: I don't care what anyone says, this movie was seriously ahead of its time. For me, it plays like the movie version of a book Tom Robbins never got around to writing. How can you not love a movie about a Physicist/Neuroscientist/Rock Star/Race Car Driver named Buckaroo who saves the world from Emilio Lizardo and the Lectroids from the Planet 10? They don't make pulp like this anymore. I'm still waiting for the sequel they promised me.
Plan 9 From Outer Space: This film is famously the worst movie ever made and if you've ever seen it you'd know why. Made by Ed Wood 1959, it was badly shot, horribly written and acted with astounding woodenness. It is the towering achievement in bad cinema. If you can't bring yourself to see it, at least check out Tim Burton's Ed Wood, a well made and fairly touching bio of the director.
Hope you all enjoyed these! There's so much more out there that's worth exploring. You can find a couple good lists of notable cult films here.
You guys have any favorite cult films of your own?
Hi guys! Just wanted you all to know I just did my first interview with Heather Kelly over at Edited to Within an Inch of My Life.
Take a moment and check it out, why don't ya? And if you don't already follow Heather's blog make sure you press that little follow button.