Lee Martin: the artist must risk failure

Throughout my young writing life, I’ve always been searching for a method to the madness, a system of sorts. Then someone comes along and reminds me what I’m doing all this for. Amazingly, it’s a college professor giving advice unlike any of my own professors! I need to wrap my mind around this now.

Kudos to someone who teaches not for the sake of knowledge itself, but to inspire.

Draft No. 4

Celebrated novelist & memoirist discusses how he became an artist.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. . . . This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point.— Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I’m trying to learn from Lee Martin whenever and however I can, as a writer and teacher. I haven’t yet made it to his celebrated fiction—one of his novels was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—but I’ve read just about all of his nonfiction. His recent collection of linked memoir essays, Such a Life, is on my creative nonfiction favorites page, but it’s also on my private list of touchstone artistic works. Yes, it’s that good.

Such a Life is my personal textbook on how to write stand-alone memoir and personal essays. That’s how I’ve…

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RIP: The Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady

Breaking News

Just a few moments ago while I was out on a stroll, I was contemplating writing a perspective article on the strong female leads on the Game of Thrones series. In a surreal turn of events, my first search results on my phone shows the breaking news of the passing of Lady Margaret Thatcher – British politician, opposition, and eventually the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. If there is any woman who can claim to be strong, fictional or in-real-life, the Iron Lady who dominated British, European and International Politics in a 12 year reign over 3 elections, clearly stands second to none.

This morning, Margaret Thatcher passed on from a stroke at the age of 87. To be clear, this isn’t a sudden onset. She has suffered a series of strokes since 2002 which made her retire for good from politics. And she has been in and out of hospitals ever since.

Please note: Just to be clear, I refuse to get into discussion about political views and whether her actions are right or wrong here. Everyone has a point of view, Instead I will focus more on her character shown through the impact of her actions, rather than behave like a spineless after-action pundit. There are plenty of raunchy political sites that’ll welcome you if that’s your thing. Just not this one.

At the height of her power

At the height of her power

Who is She?

For more on the life of Margaret Thatcher , please refer to her Wikipedia entry. For more about her unfortunate demise, please refer to this CNN article.

If you are still unfamiliar with this woman, perhaps you would be familiar with the Iron Lady movie in 2011 which revolves around her life from her younger days to the passing of her husband in 2003. It did win the beautiful Meryl Streep the leading lady award at the Oscars after all.

Her most memorable moments

Margaret Thatcher has a brashness that the sleazy snake-oil politicians of today can only dream of. She didn’t stay in office because of her affable charm, she stayed there because she pulled her nation out of a long-lasting doldrums of economic depression, racial tensions and worker union issues. From the moment she stepped into office, she literally pulled the baby from the teat (she abolished free milk in public schools) and got the United Kingdom on an incredible 10 year journey to economic and social recovery. Though the journey is often wrought with more drama, tension and turbulence then a season of Game of Thrones itself.

Just imagine if someone in the Obama administration is strong-willed enough to do the same for the United States now.

A few key moments of her illustrious career:

Falkland Islands – The United Kingdom fought a short, sharp war against Argentina over the Falklands Islands under Thatcher in 1982, responding with force when Buenos Aires laid claim to the islands. This directly resulted in her first re-election since the country was still going through a very tough transitional phase.

Announcing that Britain had recaptured South Georgia Island from Argentina, Thatcher appealed to nationalist sentiments, advising the press: “Just rejoice at the news and congratulate our forces.”

A journalist shouted a question at her as she turned to go back into 10 Downing Street: “Are we going to war with Argentina, Mrs. Thatcher?”

She paused for an instant, then offered a single word: “Rejoice.”

Source: CNN.com

Hate me, or love me, I don't care.

Hate me, or love me, I don’t care.

Pissed off the Russians – Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet press after a 1976 speech. She then made peace with them later when the British cold warrior played a key role in ending the conflict by giving her stamp of approval to Soviet Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev shortly before he came to power.

“The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.”

Source: Wikipedia

First Iraq War

“This is no time to go wobbly!”

PM Thatcher to President Bush Sr, 1990

Source: Wikipedia

She was in the US on a state visit when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded neighbouring Kuwait in August 1990. During her talks with US President George H. W. Bush, she recommended intervention, and put pressure on Bush to deploy troops in the Middle East to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, prompting Thatcher to remark to him during a telephone conversation that “This was no time to go wobbly!”

Post Political Years

Post Political Years

Personal Opinion

I applaud you Lady Thatcher, for never backing down, for believing in yourself after multiple defeats and scepticism. While you may have your quirks and was ultimately brought down by your iron-fisted unpopular fiscal policies. You showed the United Kingdom what needs to be done, and can be done, to move forward as a nation and super-power.

You are wife, mother, leader, voice and will of your family and your people. You stood up to the barbarians at the gates, and using words that will echo into eternity, stared them down and made relics of the Cold War turn tail. You are truly role model, not just for women, but for anyone who truly wants to know what it means to believe in themselves.

If I ever write a story starring a feisty dame bent on leaving her mark in the world, you can be sure I know whom I’m taking my inspiration from. (Hint: Her name isn’t Bella). For anyone out there looking for material in creating a strong-willed female character, this is it.

Goodbye Iron Lady. The world will be a poorer place without you.

Update: The news stations are still scrambling to get biopics and the reviews of her life in place, but here’s a few that’s ready to give you a brief overview:

Bloomberg gives their take on how Margaret Thatcher has impacted history

Movie trailer for 2011’s The Iron Lady.

Writing Tools: The Idea Matrix

The Creative Process

In the beginning, stories are nothing but paper filled with ideas. Your ideas. Everything, from the characters to the story to the dramatic twist comes from your little head. You are the creative master. So why not make things a little easier for your noggin’ and add a little structure to your process.

Why a Matrix

Let’s use characters as an example for now. Anyone who had ever written something probably knows that you never ever just write a story about a boy. Your story of a boy eventually becomes:

The bullied – boy in school – who lost his mother at a younger tender age – and lives with his caring uncle  – who wishes the boy will crawl out of his shell one day  – to fulfil his fullest potential.

OR

The bullied –  boy in school – who loathes his mother for abandoning him – because his uncles hides the truth from him – thus making him think that she is the devil incarnated – which is why he cuts himself and just bit off the tip of Eric’s nose.

He doesn’t even need to be a boy, you can turn him into a girl, or a middle age accountant. The idea here is to identify the key traits of the character and put them down into a interchangeable grid format. In the above examples. the characters can easily be swapped with just a few key words. Boy – Girl, Angry – Sad, Fulfilment – Frustration.

And to do this efficiently, you need some sort of matrix. Here’s an example of a matrix that I have used to build my own characters thus far:

Simple Matrix

Looks simple doesn’t it? Yet, it still managed to serve multiple purposes:

  1. It clearly presents to you the choices to transform your character.
  2. It inspires you by allowing you to randomly mix and match.
  3. It saves you a lot of rewriting, forgetting and headaches.
  4. It acts as a database for your old characters if you ever need to reference them.

Using A simple Matrix

You can use very simple ones like the one above, which focuses purely on the characters and let your creative juices filll in the rest. Below are just some examples I just thought of literally 2 minutes ago:

E.g. The Hungry Video Game Nerd opens his fridge and grabs a coke, accidentally brushing against the head of his father. He wouldn’t let him game in peace, so he killed him.

E.g. The Jaded Pregnant Girl is sitting at the abortion clinic… again. All the waiting is making her mad, she has a hot date coming up in a few hours and just wants to get it over and done with.

Going further with the concept, you can even take a well-known, well-referenced character, change enough parts of it, and you get a new character completely unique to you and you alone!

Expanding the matrix

If you’re sort of a OCD freak like me, and would like to creative a more extensive matrix which extends the concept to plot, theme and what-nots, here’s my expanded matrix.

Big Matrix

Click for a better view

For an extended Matrix, the basic premises should be filled:

  • Who? The Main Character + optional major secondary characters or villains
  • Why? The Purpose + optional smaller conflict that leads to the big one + optional plot twists.
  •  Where? The Setting + optional smaller, more intimate start point and bigger end game
  • When? Time Frame + Optional jumping to and fros if your story calls for it.
  • How? The story of the character moving ahead + logic fail-safes + your gimmick

Of course, none of the above should be compulsory. If anything else, having a few gaps would allow you to get the creative process going. This full blown matrix should really only used for archiving purposes or just to stare at when you’re fresh out of ideas.

The combinations here are endless if you’re looking for zany wacky possibilities.

Jaded – Superhero – who attends a High School Reunion – but feels he has nothing else to live for – meets a WitchDoctor –  tell hims he can be someone else in another life – makes him goes back in time to kill his own parents – ending up in a alternate universe of his own doing – but climax and conclusion open for you to fill in. 

Will that work? I don’t know. But it is a hell of a original idea as far as I’m concerned, and that’s what counts. From a bunch of old stories I came up with something new, in two minutes by the way. And I only have eight tracks to work with now. Think of the endless possibilities when you fill this up to twenty, forty.

If you’re a burned out writer looking for inspiration, give this method a try. It helped me, I’m sure it’ll help you too. 

Writing Tools is a series I wish to expand upon in future where I talk about the various resources and processes that budding writers out there can use to better their own creations. Most of this concepts should be easily replicatable and I will present them in the form of my own exercises. If you have any ideas of your own, kindly share them as well, in your own blog or in the comments below!

Update – Practical Exercise Example 

Forgot to include a practical example. Here’s how I came up with a story combining 4-5 elements of what I’ve written before into what is more or less 1/2 the material I need for an entire story. Using a Private Eye from an un-uploaded early work regarding a Demon pet, using the old man from The Biodegradable Urn, using Butterfly Lady from the self-titled prompt, using Japanese man from The Immortal Jellyfish and basically borrowed plot lines from everywhere else. I can easily throw in Irish Manager Bob from Pixel Land as a circus ring leader, and the sugar-loving crazy demon imp from my first story (which sadly I will never upload). Maybe borrow a few spiders from Peter’s work as well.

I just picked and matched this in 10 minutes

Instant Plot

Click for a better view

Christina Hendricks – Mad Men Returns

Joan Harris

Tonight on AMC – The Christina Hendricks show! …I mean Mad Men.

One of the most well-executed original shows in television history makes it’s long awaited return this Sunday evening, taking us on a meandering journey through the lives of the Madison Square advertising executives of the 60s.

The superlatives I have for this work of art is endless. Iconic, memorable, classy, smooth… and oh yes, they also have Christina Hendricks, one of the most beautiful woman alive today and my vote for the Marilyn Monroe of our generation. Heck she doesn’t even need to try.

However, as much as I worship her as the goddess amongst the mere mortals on this earth, and constantly try to find a way to switch bodies with her husband, I have a blog to maintain. So let’s focus on something more relevant to boobies.. I mean writing shall we.

Plot vs Characters

Is there a overall plot to the show? Maybe. Is there a point to the show? I don’t think so. Yet, one of my biggest regrets is ignoring watching Mad Men until its 4th season.

Without so much as a unifying plot, the characters of the show are all allowed to live their lives without the need to intersect or cross paths to form a bigger picture. Don Draper might be somewhat the star, but the show still provides brief glimpses into the somewhat tragic lives of Peggy Olson, Joan Harris, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling and recently Megan Draper and Betty, the former Mrs Draper.

A brief glimpse, but I assure you, you will not be forgetting any of these characters soon. They are not there to be fodder to feed the ego or storyline of the main character, they are all fleshed out and oozing with personality and their own chest of secrets. I personally find Roger Sterling’s tragedy the best one of all.

Booby Trap!

If you’re here because you clicked on the picture, naughty naughty! But here’s another 121 photos of her from Mad Men. From what would seem to be a bit-role in the first season, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) has risen to become one of the leading lights of the show, fighting against the male dominated culture of the advertising world with her own brand of guile and competencies that see her rise through the ranks. She’s not just a flower pot, she’s one of the stars.

Best song on television

No, not the theme, the fantastic performance by the French girl. If you’re interested in one of the most iconic moments in the show and television history in my opinion, click here for Jessica Pare‘s rendition of Zou Bisou Bisou.

I just hope this season doesn’t disappoint me like with recent season of Spartacus which started pretty horribly but is getting better somewhat, and the recent season of Walking Dead, which started pretty well but ended pretty horribly.

Zooby Zooby Zoo…

Christina Hendricks

Tags: Beautiful, Sexy, Woman, Hubba Hubba, Wow-Wee, Heart Attack

World War Z: Screw The Movie Edition

Wow, great trailer right! Now that I got your attention, kindly get this upcoming movie starring Brad Pitt out of your mind. I want to talk about the novel here. You know, pages, words and stuff.

Just another case on injustice done by Hollywood as per I Am Legend, which I have reviewed before here. My beef is this, two of the GREATEST vampire / zombie horror novels ever written by man, turned into star-driven dull-a-thons which totally destroys essence of the movie. I’m referring to I am Legend by the way, as for World War Z, we’ll know how the movies turn out this summer, though I’m pretty certain I’ll be on the right track.

The NOVEL, World War Z, is absolutely nothing like the trailer. The entire setting is wrong, the entire description of the zombies is wrong, the entire approach to the conclusion of the zombie outbreak is wrong. And that’s just from the trailer, what right do I have to prejudge the movie? Well, let’s just say anyone who has read the novel will know what I’m talking about.

Update: For those more interested in a debate between the book and screen versions of WWZ. Kindly refer to this article on Screenrant.com – World War Z Movie Debate: Too Different From The Book.

 

World War Z

World War Z: The Novel – in a nutshell

Firstly, think Wikipedia. Now think of a Wikipedia about Zombies. Great, Now think of a Wikipedia about a Zombie Invasion that forces humans to learn from their mistakes, adapt to their environment and very methodically, fight back.

What do you know, that already exists – The Zombie Wiki

Now this wiki isn’t exactly the wording in the book, but honestly, it comes pretty darn close in terms of presentation. The novel is essential a fake-mockumentary about how humans handled a zombie outbreak, minus the dramatisation, and minus the character point of views (except one particular storyline about a survivor from Japan).

Horror – Slowly, Surely, Methodically

World War Z is a horror novel. There is no doubt about that, but it’s not about senseless scares or shadows in the night. There are no suddenlys, plot twists or miraculous escapes here. It’s horror comes from the way the writer chooses to feed the information and plot to you – slowly, and bit by bit, letting you savour each zombie lumbering towards you and each human very slowly chewed up.

By the time you finish reading half the novel, you probably learnt more about zombies then all the rest of the Resident Evil movies put together, such is the difference in approach.

The Telling In This Story Works

They say telling a story doesn’t work. You have to express it, emote it instead of simply telling it. Not for Max Brooks. Taking the style of adventure guides and documentaries, he takes the present fiction as fact approach and puts his storytelling high up, away from the action and in a “this is how things went down” manner.

Some of the most incredible scenes in the book are retellings of epic battles that changed the course of mankind. These include the Battle Of Yonkers and the Battle Of Hope, basically the two big pillars in the book that swung the war in favour of whoever won them. He methodical describes the build up to the battle scene by scene, and then proceeds to dissect the action post-mortem, again scene by scene. You literally feel utterly hopeless and depressed by the end of the battle of Yonkers, and liberated and cheering by the end of Hope. And not once did he use emotive writing to create this whirlwind of feelings.

An Excerpt Of The Writing

ADS, that was my enemy: Asymptomatic Demise Syndrome, or, Apocalyptic Despair Syndrome, depending on who you were talking to. Whatever the label, it killed as many people in those early stalemate months as hunger, disease, interhuman violence, or the living dead. No one understood what was happening at first. We’d stabilized the Rockies, we’d sanitized the safe zones, and still we were losing upwards of a hundred or so people a day. It wasn’t suicide, we had plenty of those. No, this was different.

Stripping Storytelling To Its Essence

I don’t think this happened by chance. Max Brooks is able to accomplish this because of the risk he took in planning out the novel. He strips away almost EVERYTHING you ever cared for in a story – characters, emotions, choice, opinions – and presents just the story and nothing else.

P.S: He did leave some bits in, particularly in telling the story of individual survivors.

If you ever read a history book about World War 2, and remember how you felt as you went along with the rise and fall of the Allies, that would be basically what he managed to accomplish in a fictional novel.

For Writers

Even if you’re not a big fan of zombie or war novels. You really should give this book a chance, if only to learn his technical prowess in telling the story – the method to his madness. Not only is the story itself very popular, but the individual scenes themselves became major references and talking points. Don’t believe me? Google them.

For Everyone Else

Please, please, please, for the love of God and all humanity, don’t just wait for the movie and ignore the book. This is a fabulous piece of fiction that brings the “B” grade zombie genre up to the level of Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker in terms of monster fiction. Fifty years from now, when people talk about THE zombie author, it will be Max Brooks, while the movie will wither away with sub-50% tomato ratings.

If I can convince 1% of the people who will spend $10-$15 to buy the book instead of watching the movie. This book will probably shoot back up the bestseller’s list. Book! Book! Book!

Related Articles (All about books not the movie)

The Cure For Writer’s Block: Writing Through The Pain

I was originally going to title this post “There’s something about Mondays.” since it has occurred to me that my most productive content-creation days have always been Mondays, but I don’t want to curse myself.

Not only am I up to 15,000 words now, or halfway through my story. I’ve written close to 3,000 words today with another 2 hours of scheduled writing time to go, I’ve also managed to rewrite my first 5,000 words 1.5 times in editing. I think a schedule where I just go about my editing when my energy is low, is really helping a lot. Not in the sense that the edits are good, but that it drives me forward to write later on. My day started horribly, and now its just going so smoothly.

Another day, another new idea that randomly comes up while writing and I’m rushing through the dialogue and action now, intending to go back and squeeze in the narrative in the places where I want it to slow down. Looking back, I think I might just let my imagination run wild beyond my 30,000 word limit now and cut out the boring bits later on – which tend to be narratives… honestly what gives, feels like I’m writing a script.

Oh well, after 3 days of burn, at least I’m back to having fun again. Hope this boom-bust in my writing doesn’t turn out to be a cyclical thing.

Also, as a side note, I guess it’s important to plan out the boring / transitioning bits of the story as well…. those are the parts I have the MOST trouble on. The rest of the story which are really the important parts, is where I have no trouble with once I get into the flow.

So cheers! Suck it Monday blues!

P.S: Game Of Thrones Season 3 is off to a very good start! Still has a meaningless nude scene, but I absolutely love how deep the scarred the Lannisters are beneath all that pomp. It’s hard to believe there can be a antagonist as well-liked as Cersei and Tyrion.