07 November 2014

Toute l'année

It's been nearly a year since my last post, and that one being about my plans to learn French. Here's a quick update.

In the past year I've succeeded in "touching" French for at least 15 minutes everyday. There were times when I'd climbed into bed and be nearly asleep, only to sit upright, reach for my tablet, and go through flash cards for a few minutes, just so I didn't break the chain.

Over the last year, my list of tools that I've used is slightly different from the list of tools I had gathered before setting off on this quest. I've continued with Rosetta Stone, although I recently put that on hold to focus on cementing what I've learned. I don't feel as if my foundation is as good as it should be. If, after this long, I'm still confusing the verbs avoir, aller, and être, well, that's a problem. So instead of adding new, for the next little while at least, I'm going to focus on reinforcing what I've already learned.

The way I'm planning on doing that is to focus on three things:
  • Listening
  • Reading and speaking
  • Writing
Evernote was used extensively early on to capture the new vocabulary that I was encountering. But from there, I moved much of that data to an OpenOffice spreadsheet, keeping all of it in one place and allowing me to upload those files into Brainscape, a flash card app/website. I'm using that as my flashcard system instead of Study Blue for a couple of reasons. They offered sets of French vocab and sentence builder flashcards (for cost) and I'm using those to supplement my learning. My girlfriend has also installed Brainscape and we can share the flashcards I've created. Flashcards are one of the primary ways I'm trying to reinforce what I have already learned or encountered. I'll go to the Flashcards several times a week. From the start I have listened to the podcast Coffee Break French. It often, wholly coincidentally, reinforced whatever lesson Rosetta Stone was giving me.

And now (again, coincidentally) it is focusing on portraying conversations in French that are then broken down and explained. So that fits in as part of my efforts to improve my listening comprehension skills. Early on, I listened to a radio play for new learners from RFI called L'affaire du Coffre, but that was about the only thing I've done with RFI. Once that was finished, I listened to One Thing in a French Day and have now been using a podcast/app called News in Slow French which is, well, news read by French speakers nice and slowly and then they discuss what they had presented. Their app is very good (for cost) and provides a full transcript of what they are reading, along with links to definitions of many of the words and phrases they used. One can use the podcast,which is an abbreviated version, for free. I have the newsletter for One Thing in a French Day, which provides the transcript, but I'm more likely to listen to News in Slow French. Not sure why. The events in One Thing are often entertaining and enlightening, but it's just less convenient than the app.

For reading, I have purchased a subscription and some back issues of French Accent Magazine. This is intended for non-native speakers and learners of the language. There are sections that cover various language-learning issues, provide dialogs in both French and English, and for the bulk of the articles (which are still a reach for me to read) the more obscure words and phrases have definitions described in a side bar. I work with my tutor in reading out loud to both practice pronunciation as well as reading comprehension. Alas, it usually takes my time with the tutor before I understand most of what I'm reading. I'm also beginning to spend more time in conversation with my tutor. I haven't gone to the French Speaking Group Meetup because it's been described as conversational level and I'm not there. I hope to be before too long.

For writing, the goal has been to write a short journal entry or email to my girlfriend about once a week. I've not been as consistent an that as I'd like, but I know that writing will be as important as conversing for me to get the language more thoroughly in my head. 

In the summer I traveled with my girlfriend to Quebec City and Montreal. In preparing for that trip, I approached it almost like a final exam! We spent a lot of time talking, listening to talking, and working on phrases to use. The highpoint for me came when I had two total transactions in French! Scripts with shopkeepers can be rehearsed. I never did get a simple conversation going. And the accent is obviously apparent because, at the start of the trip, we'd burst out a hearty "Bonjour!" and hear "Good morning, what can I do for you?" as the response. That was less likely by the end of the trip, and that change was nice.

However, since then, I've feel as if I lost all of that facility. In focusing on the three elements above, and going back to basics to really get a solid foundation, I hope that another trip next year should be even more successful.

01 November 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Seven years ago, I joined and "won" NaNoWriMo with what eventually (like 5 years after that one month) my novel A Call of Moonhart. That time, I knew I had a novel-length idea, I had the world building in hand, and the timing was right to get a jump start on all of it. Eventually, that 50k words formed the basis of two novels (one still more-or-less in draft form) totally nearly 250k words. NaNo was a good way to get all that started.

This time around, I'm in a totally different place. I have two, no THREE totally different projects that I'm thinking about at the same time. One of them, which seems the most commercial, is going to take a whole lot of research that I've only just begun. An entire time and place that I'm only passing familiar with. Don't get me wrong, the research is half of what I like about my writing. Maybe even two thirds. But the story idea is strong for that and I'm excited about the project.

I'm not writing on that for NaNoWriMo this year.

Another project, taking least as much research as the first but with extra added world building required, is a really powerful concept. I LOOOOOVVVVVEEEE the concept, and it includes an expansion of one of the worlds I first began writing in about 20 years ago. But I have a concept, not a story (although I may finally have an inkling of one now) and it takes a story before I can write. Even me, a "pantser" by NaNo terminology. If there isn't a story, then what I have are research notes, and no one wants to read that.

I'm not writing on that for NaNoWriMo this year, either.

What I'm working on isn't even a novel. Unless I've badly underestimated how long the frame tale is, or I come up with another entirely new idea for a set piece, this is novella length at about 30,000 words. Even so, I won't know until I get there if this is even a story with a defined arc, or a series of character sketches. You see, these are some of my favorite, most familiar characters. I've been writing them, or versions of them, or their friends, or people who hung out in the same area at one point, for at least 30 years. They are comfortable old friends to hang around with. They are all too pretty, too smart, too good to hang contemporary fiction on. To borrow from Ellen Kushner, I love to write about these fine people all hanging around, drinking, and having sex. Fun to write but boring to read and it isn't commercial. In my case, my NaNo project this year is going to be some very self-indulgent crap that I'm taking the month of November to churn out. But, you see, (and I have the time lines if you're silly enough to ask for them) there's this gap where I have my male character making his way alone in the world, nursing a hurt from ten years before when his best friend/sometime lover left without a word. I have a later period where he is reunited with this woman, but not as lovers, for he is with a third woman. What I don't have is: what happened in those ten years? How did they reunite? Just how awkward was it when the love-of-his-youth comes back into his life just as he's beginning a very adult relationship with an amazing woman? What happened to make them all friends? More than friends?

I have been doing very little writing while I shopped for an agent for my last novel. At the end of that period, I have no agent and no new writing. Pulling out these old, friendly, comfortable, well-loved characters is a great place to find my writing flow again. I wrote an extended character study in early October, but now I want to know what happened in those ten years, and how it all resolves.

I won't "win" NaNoWriMo this time around, but that's not my goal. I want to write. I want to answer these questions. And I want to try out a new set of writing tools. Instead of OneNote and WordPerfect and a laptop and desktop, I'm now using Evernote, and Scrivener, and a tablet and the desktop. Getting to know Scrivener and developing a new toolset seems like it would be a "win" to me.

23 November 2013


The only D I got for a grade in high school came from my French teacher. Oh, I deserved it, no question. I spent more time paying attention to the blonde next to me (hi Beth-Alison!) than the teacher in front of me, and if Beth-Alison wanted to skip class for any reason, well, allons-y !

Tried again in college but that effort failed almost as badly but for less reason: no pretty blonde distracting me from my studies. I had great hopes. I still have my copy of Nausea en français but I've never been able to read it.

For my master's in English, I needed to have a foreign language component, so once more unto the breach! In this case, I just needed to be able to read it and I mastered enough of it that I could pass the test. Never felt like there was a command of the language and, after getting my degree, I didn't have a reason to keep up with it, so my study of foreign language languished.

Then, a couple years ago, my sweetie and I decided to try again. I advocated for learning French (because, dammit) and she was willing. We bought Rosetta Stone and had a go. I don't have a great ear or, more to the point, I was told at an impressionable age that I don't have a good ear, for either music or language. I've been told by others that my accent doesn't suck, but guess which voices I listen to? In any case, we had a go for a bit, and then Life interfered and it fell by the wayside. Again.

Now I'm researching my next novel. Based on what I've come up with so far, several elements of it will take place in areas that are now part of France. Also, there's a chance for a trip to France -- both for research and for pleasure -- in the coming year and so I'm back at it.

This time around, I've amassed quite the tool kit. I like the Rosetta Stone approach for learning nouns and certain constructions, but I have a feeling of floundering when it comes to trying to pinpoint exactly what is it about that sentence, what does that mean, why is it done that way? Immersion works, I've no doubt, but it also needs context and additional information to fill in the gaps. So, I'm doing more.

Also, one of the reasons that it floundered before was that I would pick it up and put it down again. I have enough trouble that I need to not build in gaps into the process. I've "touched" at least one of the following tools everyday since the trip to France became a possibility. There are more tools to use (see below) and I'll get to them, too, because I'm more aware of what isn't making sense and how I might reinforce an idea or add to it.

Below are the tools I'm using or plan to use in my quest to actually, finally, learn a foreign language:
  • Rosetta Stone is the main language tool. It's an immersion approach, so no explanations about what or why en anglais. It is stupidly expensive and then they charge you again for access to their online content.
    • Games - I use the games, quite a bit. Good way to keep involved in the language without feeling like everything is a test.
    • Studio - I really should use this more often. I'm paying for it, after all. But talk about feeling like things are a test! It's an opportunity to go over what you've learned with a native speaker and other students. But, again, all en français and so, if one feels a bit floundery, it doesn't help with that.
    • Chat - IM with other students. Seems like a good idea. Someday I may even try it. With so much of this, I seem to feel I have to be "here" before I utilize some of these tools. I'm not there yet.
    • iPad/iPhone apps. They have at least three of them. One is the coursework on the phone. Another provides more of a vocab quiz, and the third -- free and separate from the rest of it -- is a Travel French lesson app. I have all three of them, but haven't used them much just yet.
  • Coffee Break French podcast. Gives me a chance to learn similar things to what Rosetta Stone is teaching me (so far, lots of good overlap).  But it is not an immersive approach, which means there is an English explanation of what is being taught and why it is that way. I like knowing the why of things. While Rosetta Stone is so much visual and written, this is entirely aural for me since I haven't signed up for their complete series. I'll listen to it in the car during my commute on those days I don't plan on taking the time for a Rosetta Stone lesson.
  • Evernote. There are a lot of ways that Evernote can be used for language study and I'm exploring which ones work best for me. Right now I'm using it as a way for me to keep track of new things I've learned.
    • I hear something in Rosetta Stone or Coffee Break French or another source. I add it to my Noun or Adjective or other appropriate page. I also have a note for the various questions that can be asked because that seems like a good way in to synthesizing the language.
    • Skitch to capture screen shots of concepts that I'm having issues with and paste them to the appropriate note.
    • Copy links to pages or articles on French or on learning French
    • Have shared a language notebook with my sweetie. We can share insights into what we're learning and practice our writing skills by "passing notes" about our study.
  • Websites. In many ways, beats paper, but it means when I sit down to study, I have three programs and a handful of websites open at the same time.
    • for French <--> English dictionary
    • Great way to look up French verbs and get the conjugation. They do have an app and installed version, but those cost money. The app may prove worthwhile, not sure about the Windows version.
    • I get what Rosetta Stone is trying to do with the whole "immersion" thing, but sometimes I need to get a sense of certainty that I've figured out what they are trying to say/ask me. This becomes even more important as I move towards different tenses of verbs. Not that Google is 100% but a second opinion is useful.
  • RFI Also an app, also audio files. Mostly, so far, I'm using the L'affaire du coffret serial podcast. But they also have a whole bunch of other things, including another serial, the news in simplified French, and other written and listening sources. I have plans on getting to all of these.
  • StudyBlue App and website. I went to this because it can link to Evernote, but so far I haven't seen a good use for that. Since I was using tables for my word lists, StudyBlue wasn't able to take those lists and make into flashcards, which is what I really wanted. So I take the word lists from Evernote, paste into Excel and create a file, then upload that file into StudyBlue to become flashcards. I've found the flashcards to be really useful even if the process of creating them is cumbersome. I know Rosetta Stone to boast that there's "no memorization" but that's bull. Also shit. Call it what you will, but a knowing has to happen. For me, it takes some work to know the French word for something, the French way of asking that question or how to answer that question in French. I need the exercise of something like a flashcard to help me remember the things that are so different from my experience, such as masculine and feminine nouns, ways of asking questions, etc. And it's a great way to while away some of the more boring meetings I have to attend.
  • Books. I have the usual 501 French Verbs and a French <--> English dictionary, some picture books, etc. But also, since one reason I'm wanting to learn the language is to be able to do research in France, I also have history and guide books. These are in English, but they are keeping me focused on the country and that has actually helped.
  • Films. this is yet to be tried, but have gotten some good ideas on how to use French language films to help learn the language. Will report back on that when the time comes.
  • French language meet up group. Haven't gone there yet. But once I'm past the "Je m'appelle David" level of conversation, I'd like to go and hear others speak and try to speak to others.
  • Duo lingo. Started using it last time and should get into if again. I really need help with spelling. 
Of course, this is all so much different from the first time where it was Rosetta Stone, my sweetie, and some picture books that we read together. I realized after my most recent experience that I need to A) touch French everyday so that I keep it active in my mind and B) I need a range of options that will provide a range of learning approaches. So now I have written (flashcards, RFI websites, my own notes), aural (podcasts, serials, newscasts), visual (Rosetta Stone, program and games, film).

As much as I update anything on this blog, I'll update my experience of learning French. Fifth time's the charm?

18 August 2013

Escape Velocity

If you drop a penny, does it fall to the ground? Do you ever expect it might not? Cultural attitudes towards children, relationships, and religion can be described in a similar fashion. Most people don't even think to think about these beliefs any more than they think about gravity because to even question the general flow of the cultural zeitgeist takes an enormous amount of energy, let alone break free from the gravitational pull.

A few weeks ago, Time Magazine had their cover story on people who decide to remain child free. There are many reasons that people give when they defend this choice, but the point is, they have to defend it, especially if they are white women, as Jill Filipovic points out in this post for The Guardian:

Bring up the possibility of educated white women choosing not to have children and you'll be met with intense hostility. The desire to forgo childrearing is a "banal fantasy"; having kids is the only way for adults to avoid "destructive self-absorption". The photo of the child-free couple on the cover of Time Magazine this month showcases "lazy yuppies" whose "matching swimsuits reek of self-satisfied, in-your-face Dinks [double income no kids]." The cover model's smile "is supposed to communicate her disdain for her uterus and her utter satisfaction with her size-4, cellulite-free, vacation-filled life".

That's a lot of pressure. What kind of energy does it take for someone to decide what is best for them when the cultural gravitation is pulling in another direction?

Perhaps part of the same gravitational construct is the idea of monogamy as a cultural constant. A recent post on the MS blog for MS Magazine asks whether feminists should be questioning "compulsory monogamy" as many have come to question the assumption of heternormativity and, I would add, having children.

Filipovic pointed out the censure that child free women meet but that's actually less than the cultural condemnation of non-monogamy. A recent Salon post by Angi Becker Stevens currently has over 600 comments, most of them condemning the woman who wrote the post for everything from narcissism to child neglect. It was even worse for Sierra Black after her Huffington Post article of a year or so ago, with over 1000, mostly censorious comments. Those are just the ones I'm most familiar with because I read all of the comments. On both. The pull being exerted on both Black and Stevens can very rightly be seen as the hands of thousands trying to pull them back to earth. They might say "reality."

There is something, besides simply tradition, to the powerful indoctrination of "grow up, get married, have babies" that adds to that cultural gravity. As Stevens says in a post on the MS Magazine blog:

Of course one function of compulsory monogamy is that polyamorous relationships are widely condemned, by both liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s important to reflect on the root of that condemnation. Whenever a society prohibits a certain behavior or identity, that prohibition is most likely serving the interests of people in positions of power.

Finally, the report of a study making the rounds the last few weeks purports to show a relationship between how "intelligent" a person is and the likelihood that someone is atheist. Religion is one of the biggest cultural gravity wells we have in our society. America is one of the most religious countries on earth. Most people grow up with a religion and even for those who don't, religious beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions abound. Pull a dollar bill out of your wallet and take a look. Go to a baseball game and wait for the "God Bless America" to be whipped out in the seventh inning. Even from a simply literary point of view, the assumption that a god exists underlies much of western literature.

Pulling away from that sort of gravity well takes a lot of effort. Is intelligence one of the boosters helping people escape it? As posted at PZ Myers site, the abstract of the report says:

First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs.

Now, as Myers points out in the link above, there are plenty of issues with the studies that have been done and none of us atheists can go high-fiving each other over our smarts. Filipovic thinks that "[t]o see some nebulous, grainy, other potential for which there are few mainstream models and say, "I want that," takes courage and imagination." Stevens says "We all stand to benefit from supporting relationships that serve as a model for less patriarchal, less hierarchical ways of intimately relating to one another."

To me, these three things: living childfree, nonmonogamy, and atheism all question the dominant paradigms of our culture. As such they are incredibly threatening to those who either benefit from the current paradigm or call into question another person's acceptance of that paradigm. It takes a lot of energy to fight against that gravitational pull.

Maybe it takes intelligence, however broadly defined, so that someone can be less likely to "conform" or more "analytic" in order to question the inherent inconsistencies within the dominant paradigm. Maybe it takes "courage and imagination" to envision a way of life different from those around one and then stick to it. Maybe we just like being nonconformist and maybe shaking the foundations of those in power, even just a little bit.
Maybe it takes affluence and privilege. The Time article talked mostly in terms of Western white women, where "an increase of 15 IQ points decreased the odds of [a girl] becoming a mother by 25%" (p41) and then goes on to point out that these women are also more likely to have had higher education. Self-identified polyamorous folks tend to be white, middle class, and with graduate degrees. As too many news articles to mention point out, higher ed costs money. There's a safety in money, in being part of the dominant class. There's less need to rely on institutions such as family, marriage, the church. The freedom to make one's own way is a kind of power itself, maybe the greatest power launching towards escape velocity. 

02 August 2013

Begger that I am

In my Netflix queue at present, there are 5 different movie adaptations of Shakespearean plays: Twelfth Night,  Henry V, Richard II, and Hamlet. There had been three Hamlet's at one time, but I've already watched the Gibson followed by the Brannagh, with only the Tennant one left (not Olivier. Never Olivier. Perhaps Kline).  I studied non-Shakespearean Renaissance drama for my Honor's degree as part of my Bachelor's in Literature and didn't get enough of Shakespeare when I earned my Master's degree. I still study the plays as I have three different Shakespearean lecture series that I listen to every year or so. The language got me early on and I go back regularly.

However, I've rarely seen the plays performed on the stage. Movies, yes. Reading, surely. But performed? In that I have been much amiss.

Last Saturday, on an impulse, I went out to the American Players Theater in Spring Green to see Hamlet and I wanted to put some thoughts down. I'm assuming that I won't have to go into detail about the plot or the characters. If you need more of that, I can recommend some lecture series.

The play was performed outside on their thrust stage, an approach that I favor, having had my first theatrical experience on the thrust stage of Hopkins High School (now supplanted by a proscenium arch. Pity). The in-your-midst approach that it provides, coupled with the very minimalist set dressing made the play feel immediate and compelling. That I have to do more to imagine the setting makes me more complicit in the experience perhaps. It's an approach that APT does well and this production was no exception.

Seeing the play live provides a much changed response to many lines. There are laugh lines that I'd never read as laugh lines. And crowd reactions that Shakespeare never would have anticipated! I'm pretty sure old Bill would not have expected derisive guffaws at the line "Frailty, thy name is woman!" And yet, this 21st century crowd no longer buys into the casual misogyny of the play. That's a good thing, and I am resolved to see more live theater to regain my sense of the vitality and energy of the lines.

The performances were generally strong. Matt Schwader plays Hamlet and he hit all the right notes. Jim DeVita (who I believe played Hamlet the last time I saw the play at APT) was quite good as Claudius. Almost all of the main roles were well cast and properly acted. The one exception has me concerned, a bit. I have tickets for a later performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Ryan Imhoff as Rosencrantz was a bit overplayed for my taste. I hope the character isn't that much of a clown in R&GaD.

But I'm not overjoyed by the production. Well acted, yes. True to the text and spirit of the play, of course.  True to Shakespeare, without question. So what's my problem?

The play felt very much by-the-book. Do the lines, hit the marks, let the text carry everyone along. I never got the sense that any of the actors were pursuing a portrayal that included a character arc or change during the course of the play. The mania of Hamlet after seeing the Ghost his Father was not all that much different than the mania that he put on for Polonius. But that seemed like it was him doing the "crazy schtick" more than a conscious decision to either draw a parallel between the two to cause the audience to wonder if he was actually mad instead of "mad in craft."

There are so many ways to approach the role of Claudius and DeVita has been a marvelous actor. Again, he hit all the right notes, played each scene very well. But I didn't get a sense of connection between the Claudius of the first scene welcoming he who is "most immediate to our throne" and the one who cries out "Yet what can it when one can not repent? / O wretched state!" and the one who calmly plots with Laertes to murder his wife's son. As written, there's an arc to the character, a movement from someone who got away with it, to one who might repent, to one who countenances even the death of his queen. Each scene: delightfully done. But the whole?

One question that was not answered I alluded to above. Hamlet can very easily be read as a misogynist. He rails against his mother's sexuality and then Ophelia's and then his mother's again. This is something that really needs to be addressed by the performers and director. Just, please gods, not the Olivier approach that it is all about the Oedipal complex. But Hamlet DOES have issues and there should be a plan for dealing with them so as to address a 21st century issue for 21st century audiences.

In my opinion, Hamlet's railing against Ophelia is mostly for effect. He should know that Polonius is there and is condemning Polonius by his words to Ophelia (I like Brannagh's take that H and O had consummated their love). The issue with his mother is a bit harder to take. Again, not because he wants to fuck his mom but because he can't see his mother wanting to be with any other man than his father. It is loyalty to old Hamlet that has him say such stupid things, and Gertrude should react to them as stupid things to say. Shakespeare was at least 35 when he wrote Hamlet. I seriously doubt that Bill believed "The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble, / And waits upon the judgment." Depending on your approach, Hamlet might be near that old or Gertrude not much older. Perhaps it is our era, where people of any age can act as fools for love, but I don't think people have changed all that much.

No, it isn't about his mother getting it on, it's that she got it on with Claudius! That same set of lines supports my thought:

     have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this?

It's not about mom, it's about dad, and should be apparent to everyone that is where Hamlet has issues. But I didn't see it in this production. Hamlet is a jerk to Ophelia, but was he just trying to get her out of the line of fire? He's an ass to Gertrude, but was he just unnerved that she might move so quickly from his hero, his dad, to the scheming uncle?

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the play. It was well acted by those who obviously relish the material. But I had higher hopes for a stronger, more nuanced production.

12 July 2013

Nice Song, or Nice Guy - the first in a series

A new, semi-weekly, semi-regular feature of the blog is going to be "Nice Song or Nice Guy™?" These are the songs of my youth, the songs I loved as a young man coming of age, the "sound track of my life." But as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that many of these songs are horribly sexist, full of whiney, entitled boys of the kind I despair for the women desperate enough to date them.

Not all of the songs, of course. Some have withstood the gradual eroding of the patriarchal landscape so that I can still listen to them without wincing or pretending they mean something else. But some songs are so much of the aural landscape of the time and so infused with the male-entitlement of the broader culture that the only way to listen to them is with a hipster-level degree of irony.

Which leaves the question: Nice Song? Or Nice Guy ™? First up, "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield, 1981.

Jessie is a friend,
Yeah I know he's been a good friend of mine
But lately something's changed
It ain't hard to define
Jessie's got himself a girl
And I want to make her mine

Ok. Well, it starts off innocently enough for the first four lines and then we veer off into women=object and, more importantly, an object that the I of the song wants to possess.  I'm thinking we could stop right here, this song is about as Nice Guy™ as one could get. But, maybe I'm wrong?

And she's watching him with those eyes
And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it!
And he's holding her in his arms late, late at night

You know, an argument could be made that he's jealous of the girl and not envious of his friend. I'm just sayin'.

You know I wish that I had Jessie's girl
I wish that I had Jessie's girl
Where can I find her, a woman like that?

Now we come to the crux of the problem with this song. Not that we didn't know it by the very title, but now we're deep into it. The POV character of the song doesn't know who this girl is. He doesn't see her as a person: "Those eyes" and "that body" and "a woman like that." Like what, exactly? Is it too much to ask for something as prosaic as, oh I don't know, A NAME!?!

I'll play along with this charade
That doesn't seem to be a reason to change
You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love but the point is probably moot

Dude. Srsly. You may lust her (not that there's anything wrong with that) but love? Unless love here is in the same category as "I love pasta" or "I love Corvettes" I think that your definition of "love" may be part of the reason you can't "get a girl like that."

And I'm lookin' in the mirror all the time
Wonderin' what she don't see in me

A personality? A concern for her as a human being? Just spitballing here.

I've been funny; I've been cool with the lines
Ain't that the way love's supposed to be?

No. I mean, srsly, no. Really, you aspire to be a pick up artist?

Tell me why can't I find a woman like that?

Because you're a Nice Guy ™ and women can spot you a mile away! You're an entitled asshole. You're so self-centered that you can't even be bothered to remember the name of your best friend's girlfriend not even for HIS sake! Get your head out of your ass and start seeing women as people and you might find a "woman like that."

You know I wish that I had Jessie's girl
I wish that I had Jessie's girl
Where can I find her, a woman like that?

When I want to be generous, I think: ok. It's a funny song. Rick Springfield has created an "I" character in this song that's so obtuse, so entitled, such an asshole that Springfield is obviously making fun of him. The song is an ironic dig at the self-centered jerks that populate every bar and nightclub from coast to coast and from 1981 until today.
"Springfield says that he does not remember the name of the girlfriend, and believes that the real woman who inspired the song has no idea that she was 'Jessie's Girl'...."
Ok. Never mind.

13 June 2013

Making it up as we go along

I caught an episode of "Bones" the other day, "The Daredevil in the Mold" from Season 6. One of the sub-plots is that Booth asks his girlfriend Hannah to marry him. That's pretty much the only scene I saw that day, so there may be some issues surrounding the proposal I've forgotten. But by the end of that episode, I was shaking my head. This was bad drama and lazy writing. Even worse, it shows a limited grasp of relationship possibilities. First, the setup:

  • Booth unilaterally decides to ask Hannah to marry him
    • DESPITE the fact that Hannah had told him she wasn't the marrying kind
    • DESPITE the fact she'd told him this repeatedly
    • DESPITE the fact that her job took her away often (iirc)
  • Hannah says no
  • Booth, shocked, shocked I tell you! that despite all of her earlier declarative statements regarding not wanting to get married that she does note want to get married. Being all butthurt, the mopey Booth ends the relationship and kicks her out of the apartment

Lazy writing. I'm guessing that, as fun as the Hannah character was, the writers needed to get rid of her in order to make room for Bones and Booth to get together in the next season to give an explanation to Emily Deschanel's real-life pregnancy. I'll give them this: they kept Booth's actions consistent with his long-demonstrated reactionary approach to relationships as well as his less-than-stellar record of actually paying attention to the women in his life. Sure, it served the dramatic purpose of breaking them up, but BORING.

But what fascinated me most (having almost zero investment anymore in "Bones") was how easy it was to use the "relationship escalator" as a convenient (and lazy, don't forget lazy) shorthand to create a dramatic break between characters. The audience all knows the escalator and most even sympathize with Booth for attempting to "take it to the next level" and being shot down by the woman who just doesn't understand how wonderful a life filled with Booth ignoring their explicit statements detailing their wishes would be.

Unfortunately, the writers reward Booth for his simplistic and immature behavior towards Hannah and "give" him Brennan to create the family he wants (regardless of the fact that it wasn't anything that Brennan wanted. What women want isn't held very highly by the writers/producers of "Bones.") He fails "upward" in his attempts to stay on the relationship escalator. Boring. Lazy. Safe.

Especially galling is the fact that so very few relationships fall into the standard narrative anymore. And we all know this! Not everyone gets married. Hell, a bare majority of adults are married in the US. Not all families are made up of one each, male and female. There are unmarried people with families and remarried people with families, chock full of step- and half- siblings and parents and guardians. Most states still don't allow gay people to get married and not all gay people would marry if they could. The escalator no longer describes most of us, and yet most of us seem happy to let that model be our definition, even if it means feeling like a failure for not being in a relationship that matches that model.

In my writing, I try to depict different relationship models and structures. It isn't that I think no one should be a couple made up of male-bodied and female-bodied people. Far from it. What I want to show is that the effort people put in to deliberate relationships will make it more likely that everyone involved has a good shot at long term happiness. Why? Because the effort expended is most often about what will improve the odds at happiness. They don't simply assume that riding the escalator all the way to the top will result in happiness. Instead, they question their own needs and desires, they interrogate the needs and desires of the people in the relationship with him, and together, everyone involved seek the path that will maximize the happiness of all those involved.

This is not to say that Booth would be good at any other relationship structure. For one thing, his identity is based on doing the "right" thing without ever actually questioning what that means. He constantly gets rewarded for being unimaginative, anti-intellectual, and unevolved.  I'm not saying all successful polyamorists are highly evolved individuals, but few successful polyamorists are as unevolved as Seeley Booth is. I'm sure the writers will make sure that Booth is happy with Brennan. But that's only because the writers are fine with so completely rewriting Brennan's character as to make her fit with Booth. It's her show, but his narrative, and that's not only boring. It's annoying.

09 June 2013


I love WisCon. I really do. It was the first SF/F convention I ever went to. It's my hometown convention. And I've yet to see a Wookie, Cthulu, or Hobbit walking the halls. (I love my friends who are into Cosplay and if Renaissance Faires are cosplay, then I'm into it as well. But I like my 'cons to be about the writing and the craft, the stories and the business, creation and exploration. BEING a character from my favorite bit of Scifi just isn't my thing).

This year's WisCon was the 37th iteration and perhaps my 15th. I've gotten better at finding panels that will be beneficial or interesting and a wee bit better at mingling at the parties. This year, as well, I did a reading. It was perhaps my 3rd or 4th time I've read. But more on that in a bit.

It may have been me, but it seemed that there were fewer people at WisCon this year. And yet, the panels were as full as usual, the Tiptree Auction was packed, the Guest of Honor speeches standing room only per usual. Maybe I sensed less energy or excitement about the place. The fault, Dear Brutus, may have not been with the 'con. I had my reading on Sunday night to look forward to, my friend and colleague Kat Beyer was reading from her second novel, and the Guests of Honor, Jo Walton and Joan Slonczewski were interesting to hear and great writers.  But the whole thing seemed a bit off.

There have been changes, over the years. I started at WisCon because they had a great track for Writing, including critique groups held on the Friday before the 'con proper began. I haven't done one of those for several years (not really since I found my fantastic group of writers) but the focus on writing used to be pervasive. Now it is still a track, but not with as much focus or importance. Just another track of programming lost amid all the others.

There have been great changes. The schedule -- always innovative -- has moved to an electronic format, an app for iPhone and Android and damn, it is fantastic. Made it so much easier to find what I wanted, when I wanted to go to it, who was on those panels, what other panels are they on, oh I didn't know that about them! It's a tech wonder and was one of the most exciting things about this year's 'con.

But see? I think that's the problem. The most excitement I got was from the app! So, my 'con high had been deflating from about Friday on. Then came Sunday night and the reading I was a part of. I hadn't met any of these people before Sunday, but they were all good folks, all published writers. They did a drawing for books, and I had none to give away. The reading began after the Guest of honor speeches, 10:00PM on a Sunday night. I had a few friends there and the turnout -- considering the time -- was actually pretty good.  I read, and thought my delivery was fine. My friends there said the applause was sustained and genuine: I didn't really hear it myself.

That night and all the next day I was in a pretty deep funk. It reminded me nothing so much as of the Mondays after Renaissance Festival: tired, wrung out, worn down. It lasted a day or so, and then I began to feel better, find my energy again.

Good thing, too. Two days later, I had my first writing job.

06 November 2012

Both And

I'm finding it challenging to perform both the business and the creative sides of writing at the same time. The two mindsets are so radically different and use diametrically opposed creative processes that I find I have only limited success at doing both at the same time. The most I've been able to manage is both in the same weekend. Lately, I've been doing the agent search during the week and hoping that I have brain cells left over to work on the next short story/novel/series (no, I'm not yet sure what it will be! Sheesh) on the weekend.

I'm hoping for early success at the agent search in large part because I want to get that over with so that I can concentrate on the creative side. I do approach my writing as a business, albeit one with a very long product development cycle. I'm seeking an agent now because that's what happens when one has product development at a point where one needs the additional investment of an editor and publishing house.

While I'd love to be in the "I'm Getting the Next Round" sort of deal on the Scalzi scale, I can't bank on it. I know that the "investment" won't be more than a modest one, most likely a "Shut Up!" kind of deal, no matter how long I've taken developing my "product" or how much I've spent to finish it.

But I hate thinking of my writing as "product." I don't write to produce "product" but to tell a story, to create and explore worlds, and questions, and characters. In the story I'm shopping I've set up two radically different cultures, with ancient ties and enmities. The dominant culture thinks the sub-culture is something to ignore or exploit, depending, but what they'll find is that the two cultures are, actually, interdependent. There's a balance between the conflicting modes and economies and cultures.

It was a hell of a lot of work to set up, damn hard to weave the story back and forth between the two POVs and keep both moving and interesting, and creating worlds and histories and even writing plays. In verse! (and then cutting lots of it, but the plays were written).  Work? No kidding. And some of the most enjoyable work I've ever done. I love that stuff and I can't see ever not doing that sort of thing. My bookshelf grew by a significant percentage to hold all of the books I used for research. How fun is that?!

And now I'm starting on the next series: seeking out books/authors to read to begin building the world, carefully considering who would be the best to tell what story, all of that. A new long product development cycle, going much more slowly than the last one because I've had to spend lots of time on the business side of things. Ok. That's the way it works. But I can hope for a quick resolution so I can go back to doing what I love: creating worlds and characters and then putting to the test.

01 November 2012


One chance in 11,000. That’s what an article in Poets & Writers magazine gave as a back-of-the-envelope estimate for the chances of a new author not getting a rejection from an agent based on an unsolicited query.

Those kinds of odds are nearly enough to be discouraging. Of course, the chances of being noticed by an agent isn't random and the odds are much better than playing the lottery which is random. There are ways to improve my odds:

  • The odds improve when I target my queries are sent to agencies that are open to new authors.
  • The odds improve when I target an agent who has shown, through previous sales, to be interested in taking on a project like mine.
  • The odds improve when I craft a query letter that successfully represents my novel and showcases my writing abilities.

But  the process by which an agent determines which project she might take on as described in that article isn’t random, pull-an-author-from-a-hat. The example used was of how I, as a reader, might choose a book from a table in a bookstore: glance at the title, at the blurb, see if it grabs my attention. If so, read further. By doing the best job I can to put my query into the hands of an agent receptive to what I’ve written, I’ve improved my odds significantly.

Great. That, and the hope that the agent has the right cup of coffee on the day he gets to my query letter probably improves my odds to 1:6000. As a rough estimate, of course. Maybe those odds are a bit discouraging.

What really improves my odds? Actually sending that query out. Excuse me. I have work to do.

29 October 2012

The Nothing

I wrote the other day about how the time I worked at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival thirty years ago affected me in ways both subtle and profound. Like all of its kind, the Festival is a place of wonder, of creativity, of bawdy jokes, lewd and wonderful songs, and general silliness, with amazing performers and talented crafters.

It's also a business.

To the best of my knowledge, the owners of the Festival don't own the land it sits own. It has had a long-term lease on a bit of rocky ground outside of Shakopee, MN, owned by a gravel company. Thirty years ago, the stone being quarried from the earth took place at least a mile distant, no intrusion upon those who wanted to do something utterly silly for six weekends a year.

But every year, the quarry took out more rock, moving the boundaries a bit closer. But every year, the economics of the faire changed. The lease on that quarry land went up. Rents were re-negotiated. Tastes changed (or so we're told). Actors were paid less, performers had their contracts cut, sending some of the best acts to other faires.

The Nothing moved closer.
When I'd last worked there, the performers parked on a broad expanse of trampled green grass which provided a pleasant walk to the performer's gate (or a quiet spot to snog while parked in the car ofter the sun went down). Sure, the car got a little dusty being parked out on a field, but no matter. We worked out under the sun, we drank and laughed and sang and acted the fool. All was right with the world.

The Nothing moves closer.

This year, we drove out to the Festival, down a bumpy and narrow gravel road, to the bottom of a gravel pit. Huge mounds of sand and stone towered above us, forcing us to wend our way between them, looking for an open place to park. For several years, my friends who worked at the Festival had been commenting on the ever-present dust resulting in "Fest Crud" that ended up afflicting pretty much everyone who worked out there. I now got to see where the dust came from.

That isn't early-morning fog making a haze of this shot.
We parked on the gravel, surrounded by silica sand, and got out of the car. The festival was right there, only about 50 yards away. Unfortunately, it was also about 50 yards or more above. A sheer rock wall towered over us, huge boulders strewn about at the base of it from the last blast that brought the Nothing ever closer to consuming the Festival.

It's a business, and if it doesn't make money, it won't be around, dust or no. But it also exemplifies the worst elements of American corporate culture. The owners of the Festival knew 30 years ago that they sat atop a quarry on land they didn't own, and they did nothing. Instead of making the Festival a better value for the ever-increasing ticket price, they made it more common. The best place to see this is the food: everything that you get out at the Festival you could get out at the State Fair or the freezer section of the local QuickieMart, with the possible exception of turkey legs. Instead of investing in the best of the current acts that roam from faire to faire, they relied on their old standbys Puke and Snot (emphasis on "old") to draw crowds. No acts are being groomed for the main stage when that act finally hangs up their swords. Already, one of the original performers has died, so, just like the quarry, it isn't some unforeseen calamity approaching. It's lack of planning. It's "what does the bottom line look like this quarter?" kind of thinking.

Instead of building up new acts, encouraging young performers, and paying the current ones well enough to give them the opportunity to hone their craft, the owners cut wages, end contracts, and generally treat the workers out there as expenses to the business instead of the means by which the business continues. In short: there is less music, fewer original acts, over-priced bland food, and lots of dust.

The Nothing is here.

I'm sure the owners are making a tidy sum off the estimated 300,000 people who go to the Festival each year. Very little of that seems to go to the performers or crafters or workers in the food service areas. The grounds (what's left of them) seem to be in relatively good shape, but even there the shoddy business practices are apparent. Before the last weekend of the 2011 run, a fire took out several food concession stands. I visited the faire this year on the last weekend in 2012, a full year later. The food booths had been rebuilt, yes. Going full blast, slinging tasteless, overpriced food to all and sundry.

The booths hadn't been painted. In the "fantasy Renaissance village" ye olde unpainted OSB faced the paying patrons, their entre to the Renaissance. The disdain for both the workers and the customers is painfully obvious.

These are tough times for any business. But any business that relies on coasting through the tough times, taking what is best and making it more common, while ignoring the particulars of the market that you occupy, is the sort of thing that makes companies fail in tough times. As usual, it falls onto the workers to make up for the shortsightedness of management. The people who work (both those actually under contract and the "playtrons" who actually pay at the gate just so that they can play) at the Festival are, and have been, amazing. They love what they do, they bust their asses, they get sick because of long days and poor working conditions. But I'm afraid their dedication is going to come to Nothing. I don't see any transition strategy for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. I seen an exit strategy. When the quarry wants its land back, I see the owners cashing out and going into retirement, the richer for having made us poorer.

The Nothing will be all that's left.

07 October 2012

You did What in High School?

Before high school, my geek pedigree wasn't too different from countless others: I'd been writing for years, starting my first novel with another friend when I was in 6th grade if I recall correctly. I sang in choir and both sang and acted in plays in various venues. I loved to read, to write, to sing, to create, and imagine. Once I got into Lindbergh High School, the creative geek quest continued. I sang in a garage band for a brief shining moment (which I remember quite fondly but I’m not sure my bandmates can say the same). I continued to make attempts at writing stories long and short.
My sophomore year I joined the Lindbergh theater group and worked both on- and back-stage, performing and running the lights. The theater group was under the direction of William John Quincy Lauder III, aka Willie. He was … a unique individual. I considered him a great mentor and inspiration. He suggested, to me and others in the theater group, that we check out the first year of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival Academy, to be held that summer of 1981. Many of us took him up on the suggestion and began the summer school with the goal of becoming a performer of some sort out at RenFest.

I had no clue that being at RenFest would change the course of my life.

And not just mine. Before high school ended, a huge percentage of the theater group was working out there every weekend.
Many continued to perform there for decades. My run lasted only about two full years, parts of two or three others. Perhaps, if I'd been in a position to continue out there as some of my friends did, I would have figured it out, gotten it out of my system. There are a few of those friends who are so done with the place they never want to step foot out there again. Not me. I now go back every year, and also go to my more-local Bristol Faire as well.

I was a writer before I went out to RenFest and I've been a writer since. But because of RenFest, I became a better writer once I discovered the impossible beauty of Shakespeare and other Renaissance poets and playwrights. I developed a love of history that leads me to try to understand the very alien culture of medieval and Renaissance Europe and add those facts into my stories. I became fascinated by the way our culture has changed over time: language, music, society, technology, beliefs. And how they don't, for the foundation for so much of what we do today got its rebirth in the Renaissance from classical roots.

In college I stepped back from theater and performance and focused on writing. One of the primary classes I took was a creative writing class. But since the instructor for that class condescendingly volunteered that he had read, perhaps, "one or two good" fantasy stories, I pointed my quill at much more realistic stories than I had up to that point. I wrote and rewrote vague coming-of-age stories, some with romances, some with no dialog (one, memorable at least to me, with both a romance AND no dialog). These slice-of-life stories meandered for page after page and never really came to any conclusions.

I got all As.

But even during that time I began writing a series of vignettes that centered around the RenFest. I peopled these stories with characters  that I'd met out at the faire and put them through various conflicts, only some of which I'd actually experienced myself (to the point where my memories of what I did and of what I wrote have overlapped to such an extent that I’m not sure which are which). The characters and the setting provided me with a surfeit of situations to explore, from the safety of my writing desk.

Most of those stories were coming-of-age issues. I was early 20s, in school and then recently married. I'd passed through many stages of life in a short time and I found the liminal space, the thresholds, to be utterly fascinating. Still do, even though I write about them far less often. But the questions that I struggled with then, as those vignettes coalesced into my first complete novel length work, were larger. When I found myself on a 22 acre stage doing improvisational street theater for 10 hours, or so, a day, it forced me to engage with what the question of who the fuck did I think I was to be doing such a thing?

Sometime, late in the run of that first year, that question stopped being rhetorical. I mentally took a step back and began examining the different facets of who I was. I had the great good fortune of being able to see that I presented a different facet of myself depending on where I was. If wearing the clothes of a 16th century peasant, then that’s who people took me as. Those of a 16 year old high school student? Same. Church choir, food service employee, son, brother: set the stage and put on the costume and I played the role as expected.

Again, however, it was the liminal spaces that brought me up short. Who was I when I was off-duty at RenFest but still on-site? Or off-site but with the others in the theater group who I knew on-duty? Transitioning from one space to the other made it apparent to me how much of who I was relied on where I was and who I was with. The, not artificiality of it so much as the constructedness of it, became a rough point in my consciousness.

Yours Truly
Through my writing, I’ve been rubbing at that rough spot ever since.

26 September 2012

Cultural Templates

I've begun the research into what will become the world for my next novel. I think it will be a story of the Fae, so will involve immortal beings thousands of years old, their technology and culture. So, of course, I watched a handful of Dawson's Creek episodes.

There are assumptions made by all of us as to what form our relationships will take. We also make assumptions about our friends and family and their relationships, all based on our culture, what we know of their culture, etc. Watching Dawson's Creek, I got to see how the writer(s) of those episodes portrayed the young people, their group of friends, their relationships, sexual or otherwise. Particularly how the dynamics of the group strained and were changed when two of the people began a sexual relationship.I found it fascinating to discover what the depiction of the reactions told me about the assumptions -- shared between the writer and the audience -- of how this newly sexual couple should/would react and exist amongst their friends.

I also read this article on the Moral Case for Sex Before Marriage and thought that it did a great job of arguing the case for moving beyond the religiously inspired cultural assumption that the "best" way of forming a relationship is a chaste one until marriage (which, while dominant, is still only one of many templates for how relationships will proceed). It also laid bare the distance between how people act and how they say they should act, as well as the shift in cultural mores and assumptions that are made over time. Technology, exposure to other cultures, and actively working to progress toward a more egalitarian society work changes on our cultural assumptions regarding relationships. There wouldn't have to be such strident insistence on the Only Right Way to have a relationship if it was assumed by all to actually be THE only right way.

I'm in a relationship that one could call "non traditional." That means that together my GF and I had to create what she called a "deliberate" relationship. We sat down and discussed/are discussing, the terms of our relationship. We delineate both boundaries and expectations. We make mistakes and misunderstandings, of course, but that means we go back and clarify. There are far fewer assumptions, and the ones that we run into we root out, pull up into the light of day, and examine to see if there's anything worth keeping.

This is hard work.

But if I may continue my metaphor a bit, it's work like gardening is work. There is something very beautiful and nourishing as a result of all that work. But what is there is unique in my experience because it is based on what the individuals involved want from the relationship, not what is assumed based on cultural expectations.

One of the ideas that I'm considering as part of the world building for my next story/novel is creating a culture for which that kind of lack of assumptions regarding relationships is the norm. Or rather, that the assumption of the culture is that each relationship is consciously created based on the needs and wants of the people involved. There are no assumptions about genders of those involved or numbers of those involved. The duration of the relationship is not assumed: it is assumed neither to be fleeting nor forever. (the only time the culture insists on  something different is when children are concerned, which makes sense given the rest of the culture which I haven't written about here).

What would such relationships look like? I feel like they'd be better for the people involved. I could be missing something. Perhaps there are several "templates" or relationships so that people can at least be in the same hymnal if not singing the same song.Another challenge is that I'm not setting up a utopia. What are the problems associated with every relationship being built from scratch every time?

Where is all this going? Not sure. These are just some of the several threads that I notice dangling because I'm in the stage of novel writing where I go looking for threads. But it could be pretty interesting, if I can find the story that weaves the threads together.

23 September 2012

Hunger Games, movie and book review

Last week I watched the movie Hunger Games and last weekend I read the book by Suzanne Collins. I’m not usually a YA reader, although I’ve read more in last year than I usually do. My gf had bought the book on Kindle and so, when we were together last week, we watched the movie on PPV. I was impressed enough to ask for the book, and she was able to loan me the first one.

Now, having both watched the movie and read the book, I have to say that the movie was one of the best adaptations of a book into film that I have ever seen. Like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, the writers managed to capture the essence of the book and make a movie out of it that captures the story but makes it a movie, not a book. No mean feat.

Reading and watching movies are such completely different entertainment modes that it amazes me how often people expect movies to be "just like" the book and vice versa. They want the story the know from the book and are (almost universally) disappointed when the viewing experience doesn't manage to capture the reading experience they had (I'm not even going to go into the whole participatory element of reading. But I could. You stand warned). Utilizing differences between those two types of experiences to tell the best story that the movie medium allows, while still retaining the impact of the book is impressive. Take Point of View for instance.

The book is told in first person point of view. For this story, it is the perfect choice. We get to experience Katniss’ reactions to the events in her world, learning just enough at just the right time to keep the world understandable for us (always a challenge in any SF/Fantasy or Historical fiction where the world building has to happen fast enough to allow us to follow the action but not so fast we lose track of the action in the details of the world). The first chapter of Hunger Games is the perfect first chapter. Plenty of action, smooth introduction of characters, just the right amount of world building. I think that most of this is a credit to the choice of first person as the POV.

In the Games section of the book, the close POV heightens the feeling of dread as she doesn’t know (so we don’t know) who of her enemies is where. We get her dread, her resilience, her pain, her motivations as she tries to stay alive in the game. I don’t think that even a close 3rd would have given the readers as much. At the end of the game, we get to follow her thoughts as she realizes that the double-suicide would mess with the gamemakers’ plans and to the extent that (she hopes!) the gamemakers will interrupt them before they're both dead. Because we know her true motivation, that she know what would push the gamemakers and chose that action because of it, we then know at the end that she *did* rebel as far as they were concerned. The danger as it is shown at the end of the story is real. The same is true for the “romance” between her and Peeta: we see her motivation and so we know it is a ruse for her, even as it becomes gradually more than a stratagem. She doesn’t know, and so we don’t, just how much of it is a ruse for Peeta, and just how much is heartrendingly in earnest.

The movie, however, is a movie. First person isn’t really an option. And, for the film, it wouldn’t be a good idea. This is a visual medium and we want to be able to have the expansive scope available to us. The film makers can raise the stakes by showing us how close her opponents are, for example, showing us what she doesn’t know. Effective in the movie given the visual medium. Would not have been as effective in the book. Because it is 3rd person, we get to see the machinations of the president and the efforts of Haymitch and others on her behalf. This works in the movie to add tension. In the book, it might have worked as well, but the close identification with Katniss worked better.

But. It is a different story than the book. They are both good, they are both effective, they are both eerie and enraging as hell. In both cases, the writer(s) used the medium best to tell their story.

One quibble: the “meta” fact of the movie wasn’t played up as much as it should have been, in my opinion. The book, being a book, telling us about the televised Hunger Games, gives us a distance. We’re not watching the games, like those ghouls, those decadent assholes in the capitol. No, we’re with Katniss, in her story, not outside of it. Watching the movie, however, is the same psychic distance as watching the televised Games would be for those other decadent assholes. The movie could have made much more of this by using shots that showed the story as if we were seeing it on TV. More “hidden camera” shots, more documentary style filming. We should be uncomfortable watching the violence. We know it’s not real, but our society has very little compunction about watching simulated violence. Being made uncomfortable by that, wouldn’t have been a bad thing.