Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Superman Lost His Underwear

Superman, defender of truth, justice, and the American way, is returning to the big screen. Without his briefs.

“I tried like crazy to keep the red briefs on him," claims director Zack Snyder in an interview with the New York Post. "Everyone else said, ‘You can’t have the briefs on him.’ I looked at probably 1,500 versions of the costumes with the briefs on.”

Eventually, he capitulated. The undies got stripped off. Because, you know, the role demanded it.

I suppose Snyder thinks "everyone" wins.

I beg to differ. I, for one, am sorry for our loss.

It’s not enough that our heroes fly. No. We are people of science. Of technology. We insist on knowing what makes the hero tick. We know there must be a trick. Because we don’t trust ourselves, we suspect subterfuge in our heroes. We unmask them, probe their privacy, force them to doubt and disrobe, all the while reinventing them to make them darker, edgier, more like us. We have become the audience equivalent of the TSA.
Photo by bigal101 via

We insist on seeing ~ahem~ the whole package.

Other civilizations gave us Easter Island, Stonehenge, and the Sphinx – creations shrouded in mystery.

We’re the ones who put a human on the moon. Then we crammed more computing capability into a phone than into the equipment to make the lunar landing and promptly used those super phones for...


Ours is a legacy of removing the mystery from what once was revered.

And so we strip our Superman. We’ve become a consumer of our icons, insisting upon greater and grander sacrifice while removing every shred of dignity.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jumping "Out of the Box" - Celebrating the Short Stage Play in Southwest Michigan

How to support your community theatre? Show up!
On the evenings of Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1, the Box Factory for the Arts will host the Out of the Box Playfest.

Eight ten-minute plays, selected from submissions to the first Out of the Box Playwrighting Competition held earlier this year, will be performed in a reader's theatre format.

The contest was open to playwrights in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. It emphasized creating plays suitable for community theatre actors and audiences. (Translation: smaller casts, manageable props, few explosions, no elephants. That sort of thing.)

Judges will evaluate and score the plays during the performances, naming the top three plays at the end of the second evening. An Audience Choice award will be presented to one play each evening.

Last Friday, Berrien Artist Guild President Judy Sokolowski, actor Chase Samuelson, and I were featured on WSJM's "In the Spotlight" with Brenda Layne, talking about the playfest and our roles in it. I suspect I was invited because everyone else they asked, including Director Greg Ladewski and Artistic Director Lisa Kelleher was away for Thanksgiving. No matter. It's always fun to be in a radio studio.

I am honored that one of my plays is in the running. I'm really looking forward to seeing something I've done performed live before an audience and seeing the reaction it gets.

The plays that will be performed each evening are:
Community theatre: few explosions. No elephants.

Cleaning Up by Pearl Ahnen
Divorced Playwright by Maureen Perideaux
Detection by Greg Ladewski
The Interview by Ami Hendrickson
Beep by Bob Lawrence
Laundry Day by Debra Davis
Conversation by Sandra Thompson, and
What Dog by Lynn Spear.

Hare & Tortoise (and a Pair of Ducks), an additional play by Greg Ladewski, will also be performed, though it is not entered in the competition.

Good luck to all contestants!

Doors open at 7:00 p.m. both nights, with performances beginning at 7:30. General admission tickets are $10 each; seniors and students get in for $8. If you're in the Southwest Michigan area and enjoy the energy and camaraderie of community theatre, come on out and see the premieres of these eight original short works.

*  While writing this, I had hoped to include a link to each playwright's website and a short blurb about each play. Every attempt was made to do so, but with -- as you can see -- minimal success. If you are one of the playwrights listed and you have an online presence, let me know in the comments and I'll remedy the situation with an appropriate link in this post. A.H.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Great Escape: What "Twilight" Taught Me About Why I Write

Last Thursday I played hooky from my generally responsible life. For 12 straight hours, I didn't chauffeur anyone, cook for anyone, clean up after anyone, or make sure homework had been done. I even put my clients on hold for a day and didn't do a stitch of writing. Instead, I, my BFF, and about 300 of our closest friends attended the Twilight Marathon at the local theatre where we committed nutritional suicide over-indulging on popcorn, pretzels, and other empty carbs while watching all 5 films -- from Hardwicke to Condon -- back to back to back...

Frankly, I felt a bit self-conscious about the whole deal. I'm not a rabid Twihard. I can't actually make it all the way through even one of the books; the writing just puts me off. Swanning around the theatre wearing a big black lanyard emblazoned with the "Twilight Marathon" logo is not my idea of sporting the latest fashion accessory. 

Still, the event sounded like fun and, as my friend and I rationalized: When would we get the chance to see all of the films together in a theatre again?

Don't judge me.

Nah, go ahead. Judge me if you must. The experience not only gave me an unexpected infusion of motivation, but it was also a huge eye-opener into why I write. 

You see, I met Charlotte.*

Between screenings, I got talking with the woman sitting next to me. She, unlike me, IS a Twihard. Big time. Where my friend and I bought our tickets three days before the event ("If they're sold out, it's no big deal..."), Charlotte bought hers six weeks earlier, as soon as they went on sale.

Charlotte told me her husband has a t-shirt that states: Twilight Ruined My Wife. She is Team Edward all the way, baby, and sported a shirt to prove it. She was politely aghast when I admitted to not having read all 4 books. She's read them all -- several times. And she has attended every marathon before every new release.
Every one.

Now, you can judge me all you want, but don't you dare judge Charlotte.

Because Charlotte's husband has a job that takes him away from home for extended periods of time, she is, for all extents and purposes, a single mom. She has several children, the oldest of whom has several serious long-term medical issues that will never go away or be fully resolved. She had left her kids in her mother's care for the night, but confided that because of the eldest child's special needs, she could only get away for a night out once or twice a year.

Thursday was one of those nights.

For twelve glorious hours Charlotte put her life on hold and gave herself a break. So what if she chose to spend it watching sparkly vampires, impossibly ripped guys, CGI werewolves, and a morose teenage girl? Twilight gave her a Free Pass to another world... just for a little while.

Of course, afterward, she had to go back to her life. She had to once again shoulder the responsibility of doling out meds, keeping the peace, driving to doctors' appointments and school events, managing homework, and raising the next generation. She had to get back to paying the bills, buying groceries, maintaining a long distance relationship, and keeping her sanity. 

She wasn't shirking her responsibilities by taking a 12-hour Twilight break. She was recharging her batteries so she could charge back into the fray.

Go ahead: discount escapism. Say all you want about fans of such stuff looking for a way off the merry-go-round. But beware any feeling you may have of superiority. You never know when life will deal you a hand that has you looking for the escape hatch.

Here's the thing -- though it would be nice to write a bestseller, that's not the be-all and end-all, as far as I'm concerned. It's not all about numbers and sales. Instead, it's about connection.

For me, the Writer's Brass Ring would be to write something that allows people to escape whatever chains are binding their lives -- if only for a little while. That's why I write. And that's why I will never again judge a diehard Twihard. Or Gleek. Or Hunger Games aficionado. Or a fan of any other writer / singer / series / actor. Instead, I'll just do my darndest to create something that moves people half as much. 

* Not her real name.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Simplest Advice for Writing to "The End"

If it's within your grasp, take it!
or, How to Finish What You Start

"I have all these great ideas. So many stories are started -- but I finish so few." 

I hear this from writers all the time. There are a million things I could say about sticktoitiveness, evaluating an idea's merits, and choosing one's projects wisely...

...but all that would just fill up space, without getting to the real core answer.

How does one finish a writing project? Do one of two things:

1.) Pick the lowest hanging fruit. Choose the story that is closest to being done -- the one that won't take much to push it over the edge to completion.

Work on nothing but that until it is finished, edited, polished, and ready to send out into the cold, cruel world.

This is soooo good, I know I'll finish it!

2.) Feed your soul. Choose the project that most speaks to you. The one you can't stop thinking about. The one you *have* to write.

Work on nothing but that until it is finished, edited, etc.

Notice a common thread?


Working on multiple projects at a time is like fighting a war on many fronts. It disperses your creativity rather than distilling it and concentrating it, making it far too easy to lose focus, drive, or passion.

The end is near! And that's a good thing!
Pick one.

Stick with it.

Wrestle with it.

See it through. Then move on to another.

I never said the advice was easy, but it is simple.

What's the best advice you ever heard for finishing something? Tell me!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Gamechanger: A Simple Solution to Show, Not Tell

"Show. Don't tell."

It is the rare writer who hasn't heard this advice at some point in his or her career.

"Show, don't tell" is as much a writer's truism as "kill your darlings" and "marry a trust fund baby."

"I've heard that," I've had writers groan. "It might even be true. But what does it mean? And -- more importantly -- how can I fix it in my writing?"

The "show" mandate simply means your story is strongest when you are presenting the reader with an experience as opposed to reporting on that experience after the fact.
At the game... vs.

It's a matter of involvement.

Showing makes the reader a player -- present during important revelations. Telling keeps the reader at arms' length, removed from the action and sitting on the sidelines, following the game from the bench.

When you tell the reader a fact it does little to engage any of the reader's senses or imagination. Statements like "My father had a soft spot for puppies," or "Col. McShale was a raging alcoholic," rarely have much of an impact on the reader's immersion in the story. They are the literary equivalent of report writing. As soon as you begin telling the reader what happens instead of taking the reader along with you on a journey of discovery, you have lost an important part of your connection to your reader's mind.

However, if, say, the father's affinity for puppies is an important piece of the character puzzle, relating a short incident that shows this could be quite effective. Something like:
"Without so much as a right turn signal, Dad whipped the Volvo to the side of the highway. A semi train three trailers long roared past only a foot from where my head rested against the back seat window. Dad pried his linebacker-sized body out behind the steering wheel and, faster than I could say 'what the hell are you doing?' darted into traffic. 
Time hiccuped. 
My mouth froze in a little 'O' as I watched Dad race across all four lanes and into the median. There, he scooped something dark and bedraggled up to his chest, protecting it like a SuperBowl winning pass as he braved the interstate and returned, panting, to our car. He deposited his prize (a damp, terrified bull terrier pup who stared at him with adoring eyes) in my lap, put the car in gear, and continued our trip without a word."

I'm not suggesting that the preceding piece is literary brilliance. You could probably write a way better example. So go ahead. Do it. I promise: readers will remember Dad's puppy love (or the Colonel's drinking problem, or Aunt Erna's Chippendale addiction, or the next door neighbor's predilection for barbecuing road kill) more if they have the opportunity to see such things for themselves.
...IN the game.

Whenever a character trait is critical, look for ways to show, not tell. Remember how much it impacted the viewer to see Indiana Jones' aversion to snakes? Imagine how much punch would have been lost had the writer simply had a character say something like, "That Indy isn't afraid of anything. Except snakes. I hear he hates snakes."

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. So How Do I Fix This Sucker?

If you have a tendency to rely on report writing and tell more than you show, try this exercise:

1.) Go through your manuscript italicizing every instance of telling instead of showing.

2.) During your rewrite, on each instance of telling, ask yourself if the story really needs this information for clarity or craft. If "no," cut it. Be ruthless.

3.) When you're finished cutting, revisit everything still italicized and revise to engage the readers, immersing them into the world you have created, giving them a shared experience with your characters. Let your readers get off the bench and join in your game.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

When The Election Shoe Drops

My nine-year old daughter is a far more political animal than I ever was at her age. Politics fascinate her. She loves the arguing, the half-truths, the spin, and the hype. I suspect WonderGuy and I are largely to blame for this for several reasons:

1.) We saw her propensity to argue with alarming mastery of debate and rhetoric at a young age and encouraged, rather than discouraged it, reasoning that some day she'll be a lawyer and able to keep us in a manner to which we'd like to become accustomed.

2.) We own the complete Bloom County library, which the 9 y.o. has memorized and can quote ad infinitum, thus necessitating explaining the historical implication of such lines as "Frankly, if Hart can diddle a blonde, I can smoke a schnauzer,"


Binkley: Ooo baby baby! You tear me to pieces! Would you love me any more if my tush was like Ed Meese's? TAKE IT, MILO!  
Milo: Take it WHERE?

"A SCARY anxiety tonight, Binkley boy! We'll be bringing out all the Democratic presidential candidates!" (circa 1984)

...among others -- always to her bemusement.

3.) She loves history -- holding a special affinity for Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. The thought that a population comes together to collectively choose a single person who can have a lasting effect on the direction of that nation mesmerizes her.

I confess: I never saw the elegant grandeur in democracy that she instinctively grasps. So, while I avoid political ads whenever possible, my daughter seeks them out. She analyzes them, tears their logic to shreds, and gleefully points out their inconsistencies.

The Election Shoe
She fondly remembers watching the televised election results coming in live when she was in kindergarten, not to mention seeing President Obama's inauguration. I view election campaigns as chaotic shouting matches full of invective and aural sewage. To her, the entire process is a grand and glorious interactive multi-player game.

Because of this interest, as November 6 approaches she has devised her own countdown to "E-Day."

I present Exhibit A: The Election Shoe.

The Election Shoe is a silver sneaker with a two-foot scavenged stick stuck into it. Taped to the stick is a sign announcing "Election Shoe" with an arrow pointing toward the ground.

Atop the laces, a neatly lettered and colored sign says "Toys." Small trinkets find their way into the shoe each evening, to be removed and exchanged for different trinkets the following day. It's a sort of Advent Calendar for the politically inclined, with each toy having some larger meaning in the whole grand Shoe of influence.

The Election Shoe made its appearance over a week ago and has graced our dining room ever since.  The nine-year old takes it very seriously; the Changing of the Toy has become a weird sort of daily ritual.

The purpose and significance of the Election Shoe escapes me as much as understanding why anyone in his (or especially her) right mind would ever vote for--

No. That's too easy. Let's just say that it eludes me.

But that doesn't keep it from holding significance to my kid.

The other day, I joked that if she kept this interest up -- who knew? -- maybe she would become the first woman President of the United States.

"Oh, Mom," I got, with all the disdain a nine-year old can dish (that's a lot of disdain, by the way). "There'll be one way before I'm old enough to run."

I may not understand her passion for politics. But I admire, and I envy, her optimism.