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Germany Wanderings


The sun is setting in Quedlinburg as I step out of my hotel in search of an ATM and food. The ATM is easy. I have a clearly marked map and even in the fading light, the streets are easy to follow.

I turn toward where I think the city center is an start walking, figuring I find somewhere to eat along the way. It’s a tiny town after all.

A shouting, laugh conglomeration of teenagers ambles down the street. Two ride rattling skateboards on the sidewalk.

A man sags past alone and lonely.

Then, a family of three generations, grand parents, youths, children rolling forward in strollers.

Other than these few encounters, the streets are quiet. Empty. The cobblestone are black and shiny with reflected streetlights. I am beginning to think every shop and restaurant is closed in the entire tiny town, when the image of Frida Kahlo in a window stops me. I adore Frida and feel a warm glow at the sight of her.

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Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

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I've been having issues with the cross posting application on Wordpress, namely that it's not cross posting.. Since I have been lazy about posting in general lately, fixing it has not been a priority. But I am planning to work on it over the course of the next month.

All of which is to say that I'm here and alive and I miss all of you here on LJ.

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Books Completed in July

1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
2. A Good Indian Wife, by Anne Cherian
3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy, by Carol Leifer
4. TEN (chapbook), by Val Dering Rojas

Still in progress at the end of the month: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Echo and We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley — these two books are the reason why it’s been such a slow reading month for me.


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Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

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Five Things Make a Post

1. Last Thursday (July 17), I rolled down to Iguana’s in San Jose to participate in an open mic with the same group of artists I joined previously. The open mic was filled with a variety of wonderful, creative, inspired performers. The Hella Famous Lindsey Leong was a damn good host, full of energy and joyful humor in the face of the struggle, and of course it was a delight to once again see my favorite dynamic duo Q&A — Alice and Quynh. As I hoped, I managed to finish my new poem in time to read at the open mic. It was a wonderful, supportive environment and such a delight to be a part of.

2. Progress on the novel! The Board spawned new post-its, which has helped me shape out more of the beginning of The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. I now know where I’m planning to start with Adam’s POV, which is a huge relief.

3. I just learned about #365feministselfie, in which women (and I’m sure some men) have been posting daily or weekly or whenever selfies. I love the idea of using the selfie as a form of personal empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. The challenge started at the beginning of the year (so I’m late to the party). Viva la Feminista is where the challenge started and it has a great explanation as to the why. I’ll be posting my selfies on instagram and tumblr.

4. This really should be number one, but the Monster (my niece) turned two on Monday. She has two new princess dresses and has paraded around shouting, “I’m a princess!” Love her so much!!

5. Tonight the Writing Gang reunited! Even though one of our members has transplanted herself to the East Coast (*sniff*), we will meet by skype to discuss our work.

Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

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Lifting Our Voices to the Moon

Last Friday night was lovely. I attended Glowing with the Moon, an open mic hosted by my amazing, wonderful poet friend, Lorenz Dumuk. Lorenz is an amazing poet and one of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I know.

The night included a mix of featured poets and open mic participants with a variety of styles, including Yvette McDonald, Lindsey Leong, Scorpiana Xlynn, and others. The out pouring of words as the sky darkened into night was wonderful.

Q&A also performed a couple of sets. The musical duo is comprised of Quynh Nguyen and Alice D. Chen. They play a mixture of covers and original music in a style that is sweet and slightly eerie. They don’t have a website or facebook page that I can link to yet, but they have definitely made a groupie of me.

Lorenz presented several lovely counterparts to the mixture of spoken word and music:

  • He asked everyone to participate in a salt-art table, to draw out our dreams or what we’re looking to let go off in salt, then to sweep it into a bag, which he will later take and return to the ocean.
  • At another point, he asked everyone to stand up and greet a stranger, saying our name, what we hoped to call to ourselves, and what fears we wanted to let go of — the result was an opening up to someone new, perhaps letting in a little vulnerability along the way.
  • Since it was that kind of night, Lorenz also asked us to close our eyes and listen to the wind singing in hushed tones in the trees around us.

I don’t know that I can properly explain how grounding and wonderful a night Friday was and what a great community these artists and poets are. I find myself sometimes longing for community of this kind, a creatively charged group casting their words into the world (I do have my Writing Gang, though life has intervened making it hard for us to gather). Such kinds of communities makes me feel alive to words.

As I usually do after such an event, I went home and threw some words down on a poem I’ve been working on for a while. There’s going to be another open mic at Iguanas in San Jose on Thursday. My goal is to finish this poem in time to read it at the Thursday open mic, which is intimidating since this poem makes me feel vulnerable writing it, let alone reading it out loud to others.

I hope everyone is having a lovely week, full of creativity and joy.

Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.


Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work

As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn't know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.

It did just that.

Here are a few of the tools from the book I'm using to try to build forward momentum.
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Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder


Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay "rules" and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn't working.

The Importance of Structure

I've heard a lot of praise for this book, both from screenwriters and from novelists, and a lot of this praise is in regards to Snyder's discussion of structure. As both a novelist and a screenwriter, I found this valuable. Understanding the beat points of a story helps a lot in the actual writing process. The beats* let the writer know where important points of action should fall within the story, such as the catalyst that leads the heroine into adventure. (The Save the Cat! website includes a breakdown of the beats in a variety of popular movies, along with other valuable tools, which is awesome.)

Structure is especially vital to screenwriting, where space (i.e. movie length) is limited. Snyder talks about specific page numbers where certain plot points should fall (midpoint on page 55, for example). In the movie industry, these specific plot points are the kinds of things executives and decision makers are looking for, especially from new writers.

For the novelist, this strict structure seems less relevant, but there's oodles of more leeway. Though it can help create a framework around which to build the giant story that is a novel.

Simple Tools

Another great piece of advice Snyder gives for both kinds of writing is being able to sum up the story in a single sentence or two, called a logline. The logline should state the heroine's objective, highlight obstacles, and have a hook. For example:

Legally BlondeWhen a blonde sorority queen is dumped by her boyfriend, she decides to follow him to law school to get him back and, once there, learns she has more legal savvy than she ever imagined. (from IMDB)

The simple summary helps the writer (screenwriter or novelist) get clear on their story before writing, provides an anchor as they work through actually writing, and gives them an easy, simply summary to use if they get the chance to pitch to an agent. Kristen Lamb has a great discussion of this bit of advice on her blog.

The book is full of simple to follow advice like this (if not always easy to execute).

What Drove Me Bananas

Save the Cat! is written in a snappy, conversational tone, which is great because it makes it an easy read. But it also came off sounding pompous, like I could see his smug smile reverberating through the text, and sometimes grated on my nerves. It's clear Snyder had a preference, he wrote and mostly enjoyed family and romantic comedies. So, it's when he talks about the genres he's not into and is less comfortable with that I found myself wanting to rage and beat him over the head with his own book.

Clearly, this was a bias on Snyder's part. He doesn't get these kinds of flicks and seems to not be hot on ind flicks. That's fine, but it annoys the frack out of me that he's including this bias as part of his "rules" and it distracted me from focusing on the valuable tools he was teaching.

Ranty Bit #1 - One of Snyder's "rules" is the Double Mumbo Jumbo rule, which states that only one type of magic is aloud in a single storyline. Essentially, don't confuse the viewer/reader by throwing in many different kinds of magic — decide on the rules for your world and stick to them. Makes sense.

But the example he used, Spider-Man, made steam come out of my ears. He basically wrote, here's a guy, bit by a radioactive spider and gains spider-like abilities, then you have the Green Goblin begin to gain his own superpowers using a completely different method, and it's mixing different kinds of magic!

At which point, I began to mentally shout at the book. It's a COMIC BOOK universe, I told the book. Both superhero and super villain are changed by the SAME kind of "magic", both are changed by a kind of mad-science, which is logical given the rules of the universe! Who would you have be the villain of Spiderman?? Joe Schmoe robber? By you're own rules, Snyder, you demand that he bad guy be BIGGER AND BADDER than the hero! ... and it went on from there.

Ranty Bit #2 - In his discussion about structure, knowing that young screenwriters will bring it up as a non-structured movie that worked, Snyder mentions Memento. He calls the movie existential and boring. "Fuck Memento," he writes. "I know how much it earned."

This pissed me off on two levels.

One, both Snyder and the young screenwriters are wrong. Even though it presents its story in reverse chronology, Memento is highly structured. It has to be. The movie wouldn't work without structure. I took a screenwriting class once and watched a teacher lay the structure out, following the same beats that Snyder recommends screenwriters use. (I may even break down the structure on my blog at some point, if I get a chance to rewatch the movie.)

Two, Snyder seems to take the assumption that box office earnings equals a successful movie. In his dismissal of Memento, he skips over to discuss a movie he's more comfortable with, Miss Congeniality, which follows a clear traditional structure and earned $106 million at the U.S. box offices. His comparison is absurd, since Memento was an indy flick and never intended to be a blockbuster movie.

Besides, box office earnings don't mean a movie was profitable. As CNBC writes in their article on the 15 Most Profitable Movies of All Time, "A profitable movie doesn’t just do well at the box office. Toy Story 3, for example, is the highest-grossing movie of 2010 so far, with a worldwide take of over $600 million. However, its budget was $200 million, meaning that it has only made three times its investment. Even the mighty Titanic, the second highest grossing film of all time, could only realize a 900% return on its budget."

Let's take a look at Memento and Miss Congeniality. As noted, Miss Congeniality made over $100 million, while Memento made only around $25 million at the box office. From that point of view, there's a clear winner.

However, Memento only cost around $9 million to make and Miss Congeniality cost $45 million.

If I do my math right, this means Memento had a return on investment of around 278%.

Miss Congeniality meanwhile had a slightly lower return of around 236%

It's all WAY more complicated than that of course, but if you look at the real profitability of the movies, it's clear that Memento is a far more financially successful movie than Snyder made it sound to be.

Taking Action

Ultimately, none of these annoyances detract from the core tools and the value of any writing or advice book is whether it inspires the reader to actually take action and get to work. After reading Save the Cat!, I immediately jumped to work. I started creating loglines for all the novel ideas I've been working on and planning and I bought a board to lay out the scenes and acts in a tactile manner (I've been needed a new way to approach my current novel). The book also has me thinking about all the screenplay ideas I have on hold. I've learned oodles of valuable tools and my creative juices are flowing, so this book is a win.

If you've read Save the Cat!, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Did you find the tools in the book useful?
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Poetry Review: Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May Publisher: Alice James Books Date Published: November 2013

Description: "In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next."

I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a "phobia" poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored"), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It's an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there's a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the "phobia" poems. For example, reading "Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored" on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.

Hum is dedicated to "to the inner lives of Detroiters." When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalyptic states of decay. May's poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. "Still Life" presents a "Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops" as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in "The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks," a girl wanders in "the caverns of deserted houses," performing "her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle."


These poems thrum with rhythm, and sound plays a vital role, natural sounds mix with manufactured sounds mix with inner soul sounds. They are full of texture, bringing Detroit imagined and real into vibrant life.

"A humming bird draws nectar in my thoughts, wings beating 80-something times per second but there aren't many flowers here; it's been many summers since I stopped even listening for bees." — from "A Detroit Hum Ending with Bones"
"Neat" is a disorderly pantoum, in which the repeated lines are almost but not quite repeated. there is enough variation that the new lines slip by almost unnoticed as repetitions. It describes a bar scene and a man sitting alone, drinking. "No one is above being invisible / not even me, with my shirt tidily pressed, // another man who's seen the bottom of a tumbler." The feeling is despondent and mundane. The pantoum form works perfectly here, the almost-repetition of lines reflecting the slipshod redundancy of everyday life and looping thoughts and questions that never seem to lead anywhere.

"You are a quarter ghost on your mother's side. Your heart is a flayed peach in a bone box." — from "How to Disapper Completely"

In "Macrophobia: Fear of Waiting," he writes, "I was fascinated / that every time I tried to type love, / I missed the o and hit the i instead. / I live you is a mistake I make so often. / I wonder if it's not / what I've really been meaning to say." I make the same mistake quite often, and I have found myself thinking the same thing (I am only a little jealous that he put it into a poem first). There are so many passages, phrases, poems I love in this book that I find it hard to know which ones to focus on.

"Is the sun a flash grenade? This heat is so heavy the fruit stands buckle and ripple like mirages, but your brother shivers" — from "Chionophpbia: Fear of Snow"

This book is amazing (another I need to own) and is one of the best collections of poetry collections I've read this year.

For a more expanded look at this collect, there's a great interview with Jamaal May up at The Normal School.

You can also watch a video of May reading "I Do Have a Seam" from this collection.