Writing “Blood Ties” Part 1: Genesis of an Idea

In preparation for the coming release of the first book in the Blood Ties series, I thought it’d be interesting to look back on the process and do a little documentation. Things don’t just come out of nowhere, right? Mighty oaks grow from trees, people come from embryos, and books (as it turns out) come from ideas. In this case, it was a slight twist on an old idea: instead of totemic power granting strength to people, what if people derived strength from that which they wore…like the skins of animals?

One of the (many) series I read when I was younger was the Shadowrun series. There were tons of interesting ideas in there, and I loved the duality of the contrasts between the orders of magic and technology. On the technology side, there were datajacks and whole universes inside the ‘net (which actually predated a lot of common internet knowledge). On the magic side, there were trolls, elves, dragons. Oh, and people of course. The one that was most interesting (I think he was the main character) had a totem that gave him access to abilities. This stuck with me for a while and rolled around in the back of my mind like a rock rolls around in a gem tumbler (which I never had, sadly). I’d occasionally pull out the idea of having a character with a totem for other books, but would end up dismissing it every time because it seemed too easy, too formulaic. If I were to ever write a book with heavy Native American themes, then fine; otherwise, it seemed too much like a copy.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been working in retail for years now and have trained myself to work physically while letting my mind wander. While putting out stock at Walgreens (cause face it, you can only put out so many constipation remedies before going insane) the idea came back to me, only this time in a slightly more clear fashion. What if instead of just having a totem, you wore your totem. It wasn’t wholly unique; after all, Native American cultures often wore masks of the animals they wished to honor or derive power from. In this case, though, the person wearing the item would actually gain their power. Wear the skin of a bear and you gain the power of a bear. Wear the skin of a cheetah and you gain the speed of a cheetah. The possibilities were as wide ranging as the animal kingdom itself. I had an idea. I didn’t have a specific direction, but the idea itself was strong enough that I didn’t put it back in the tumbler for more polishing. I wanted to study this one, drill down on it, and see where it could take me.

Tomorrow in Part 2, I talk about sharing the idea and gaining a partner.

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Why I’m Proactively Hating the New Smurfs Movie

I’ve discovered that you can get a pretty good feel for how a movie is going to go based on its previews and can therefore weed out the movies you don’t want to see and highlight the ones you do. I find myself gagging at some movie trailers, be it over content or idea, but few incite me to the blood-boiling rage I felt when I first saw the trailer to “The Smurfs”. Forget the obvious feelings of disgust over the continued assault on my childhood memories…this one is an out and out assault on childhood in general. Why am I so angry? The question actually should be “why aren’t you angry?”

When they originally aired, the Smurfs taught us lessons. Greed is bad. Brotherhood is good. Working together is powerful. They spoke in strange sentences, throwing in the word “smurf” for random words. “Absosmurfly”. “Smurf for all and all for smurf!” “We’re going smurfing on the River Smurf today.” Now, though, at least according to the previews, they’re throwing in the word “smurf” to replace the f-bomb. Yeah…the word smurf is about to become equated in the minds of millions of children with the f-word. Don’t believe me? Lemme ask you…if you heard the sentence, “Where the _____ are we?” come out of the mouth of an adult, how would you fill in the blank? It wouldn’t be with the word smurf…it’d either be hell (if someone was around kids) or the f bomb. How about, “I think I just smurfed in my mouth.” Even the website is horrible – www.Smurfhappens.com. Smurf happens…gee, I wonder what word we could substitute for smurf that fits the saying? Columbia Studios is either blithely stupid or intentionally malicious for letting this get to this point. Will certain adults find it hilarious? Of course. Do I want those adults raising the next generation of leaders? Hardly.

Sex sells, but do I really want to see it in movies expressly targeted towards my child/children? The universally accepted American sex symbol of the 1960’s was Marilyn Monroe. She solidified her position as this symbol with the shot from the movie, “Some Like it Hot” in which she stood over a steam grate and let her skirt billow up to the point where she was almost exposed. When I attended college (1994-1999), there were still men who had this poster in their room. Marilyn is a sex symbol to this day; when you think of her, you don’t think of her brains, you think of her body. Now take that image and transport it directly into a children’s movie. Oh yeah…Smurfette is portrayed as Marilyn Monroe. How in the world is this a good thing? Who in their right mind wants their daughter to emulate the prototypical sex symbol? Seeing a generation succumb to the helpless motif of Princess Barbie or Ariel or Cinderella is one thing, but now we have to push the envelope and make them brainless as well? I’m sure the movie later portrays Smurfette doing something brave and heroic later as a sop to women’s groups, but how many pointless sex references and innuendoes do we have to plow through to get to that “revelation”? If the studios wanted us to think they were honoring Smurfette, they wouldn’t have presented her as a trashy object in their previews. Since they did, though, I drew the only conclusion I could – Smurfette is going to be a slut. Thanks again Columbia Studios for planting this idea in my daughter’s mind…as if I’d ever let her come within 100 yards of this tripe.

Finally, let’s address the overall humor found in movies target directly at children. Burping and farting is funny to kids and some adults, but should it really be the center of humor? Pixar has yet to have a bad movie, though I’m fond of some more than others, and I believe I can count the number of burp and fart jokes on one hand…with 4 fingers tied down by duct tape no less. They take the higher road each time. Come on…a movie with a dog where he doesn’t pee or fart or sniff someone’s butt outrageously? Unheard of in other children’s movies! Dug the dog, though, caused me to laugh so hard I almost peed, and that was just the trailer! In the theater, kids laughed out loud when he spoke, awwwed when he looked cute, and almost cried when he was yelled at (as did I). He was a character, not a portrayal. I’ll grant you right from the start that the Smurfs lend themselves towards stereotypes – witness their names like Papa, Brainey, and Handy…but the previews show characters burping bubbles, falling into toilets, and of course the aforementioned billowing skirt. Contrary to what it may seem, I’m no prude, but I do believe there is a good way to do humor and a bad way. We aren’t bringing our children down to the lowest common denominator…we’re inventing one so low we have to dig for before we can use it as a high-water mark. s

Columibia Studios, I hereby state that I am disgusted with you based on your trailer for the Smurfs movie. You had a chance to take a beloved and well known children’s property and turn it into something real, something solid, and something heartfelt. Instead, you appear to have distilled it down to the lowest common denominator in search of money. I sincerely hope your ploy fails. I hope this movie tanks. I hope others can learn the lesson your studio obviously can’t. Treat children with intelligence and respect and their parents’ wallets will follow. Treat them like crap and expect it to come back tenfold.

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Kids of Strangers

Today I was a jerk. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a playground with kids, so I hope everyone can forgive me the following rudeness: today I ignored a stranger’s kid who desperately wanted my attention. I was … Continue reading

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Voting by Proxy

Plausible Deniability. Straight Ticket. Generic Polling. We Americans love keeping our distance from things until we know where the wind is blowing. Disagree with me? How about Fairweather Friend? Bandwagon Fan? Alliance of Convenience? We like knowing the outcome before it happens so we can position ourselves on the right side, and to make sure this happens, we constantly ‘test the winds’ and ‘check the temperature’ of movements and things around us to make sure we’re going the right direction. This is why I fear the current state of Dancing with the Stars. Yep, that’s right…DwtS terrifies me.

The theory behind Dancing with the Stars is that professional dancers team up with celebrities from various walks of life which include movies, sports, music, and television. A set of judges declares who rocks and who sucks, after which the viewing audience gets to put in their opinion. I have no idea how the balance works in regards to the weight given to the judges’ scores and the audience votes, but after Tuesday night’s results, I know that the judges are officially worthless. The worst dancer stayed yet again. Who is that? Bristol Palin. Why does this scare me? Because this is a temperature check, a test of the winds, a proxy vote on Sarah Palin’s political moves 12 months from now. America has voted, and apparently they like the Palins.

Sarah Palin has been in the audience every week so far as I can tell. She’s making her presence known on television with her own “reality show” about her family. She’s gaining the kind of exposure that politicians can only dream of, and she’s getting paid to do it! Make no mistake – Sarah Palin is ‘testing the waters’, ‘taking the temperature’, and ‘testing the winds’ to see how the public would really react to her candidacy for President. I’m sure she likes what she’s seen so far.

Palin is counting her proxy votes and tabulating her supporters. Her daughter’s people are her people. Bristol’s votes are her votes. Soon the mirror ball trophy will be Bristol’s. How long before the Presidential podium is Sarah’s?

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Book Review: 1491, Charles C. Mann

Why must I constantly seek out things that blow my mind? Seriously, this book will blow your mind. Stay away from it if you’re comfortable in your current “understanding” of how the Americas were before Columbus came along. Go ahead … Continue reading

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A Hesitant Attack on NPR

Dear NPR,
I find myself in the awkward position of pointing out a strange case of seeming racism that occurred in one of your broadcasts Monday. While discussing schools in Winston-Salem, your reporter talked about African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and…Whites. So now my ‘race’ is defined by a color? Why do your reporters refer to some races by their hyphenates and some by their color? It’s not like it happened in two different reports; it was the same reporter in the same report talking with a school principle that he’d been talking with for several minutes, so it’s not like there’s an excuse. Please, either call African-Americans ‘Black’ and Caucasians ‘White’ or vice versa, but don’t do one for one group and another for another. Have some consistency.

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Time Magazine and the Loss of Subtlety

Time magazine has been around since before I was, so I can honestly say that it feels like it’s been part of my culture ‘forever’. I remember reading Time and Newsweek while working at a book store just to see what the difference between the two was. Being in high school and reading these magazines made me feel so grown up that I still get a strange feeling of validation when I pick up a copy or find myself reading one of their online pieces. It makes me feel smarter, more ahead of the curve than everyone else. I don’t feel like an elitist, but I feel like I have a leg up.

Still, reading Time magazine has become, to me, like walking in my backyard in that I have to watch out for dog bombs. (Yep, I just compared parts of Time magazine to dog leavings…guess that ruins the validation, huh?) In an article entitled “The Dirty Dozen: Who to Blame for the Oil Spill”, Time focuses its ire on folks like those at the top of BP and, strangely, even the American driver. I knew they’d hit Bush and Cheney; that was a given. I was impressed for about 2 seconds when I saw they hit Obama as well and thought they might actually be balanced. 2 joyful seconds…and then despair as I hit their dog bomb.

Part of the new media experience is linking stories to other stories in order to keep the reader, well, reading. The WSJ does this terrifically by having a pop up come from the bottom of the screen as you approach the end of a story directing you to a story with similar interests. Time, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as sophisticated. Under the Bush/Cheney story, the link says, “See George W. Bush’s Biggest Economic Mistakes”, which then links to a 2009 article entitled “A Look Back at Bush’s Economic Missteps.” What does Obama’s link lead to? “See Pictures of Barack Obama’s Nation of Hope”. Yep, a Nation of Hope compared to Budget Blunders. Want to know what’s even worse? The Obama article doesn’t even focus on Obama…it focuses on the history of Civil Rights and the lead-up to the election of the nation’s first non-white president!

Nearly every single other picture of the “Dirty Dozen” comes with a negative article with titles such as, “See the world’s top 10 environmental disasters”, “See pictures of people protesting BP”, “See the 50 worst cars of all time”, and “See pictures of critters caught in the Gulf Oil Spill”. Ken Salazar (number 9 on the list) has an entry that says, “See who’s who in Barack Obama’s White House”…just above the article that says, “Read Whose Heads will Roll Next in the BP Disaster”. What, no photo journal on the beauty of Colorado? Has Ken Salazar done nothing worth criticizing? Is your reporting that far off base that you haven’t found a single negative thing worth inflating on the former Senator, or do you just not care since he was appointed by Obama instead of Bush? Even when you talk about Elizabeth Birnbaum, you say, “until she was ousted on May 27 and became Washington’s unofficial scapegoat for years of MMS mismanagement.” See – she wasn’t all that bad, she was a scapegoat for years of mismanagement (read: Bush’s fault again).

There’s a lot to dislike about Bush, including his invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that Katrina occurred on his watch, his (failed) attempt to revamp the Social Security system, the rise in the Federal deficit, and overall economic crisis. Those that scream at Bush and hate his every move should be aware, however, that there are those who dislike Obama just as intensely for his doubling or tripling down of troops in Afghanistan, the fact that the Gulf Oil Spill occurred on his watch, his (successful) attempt to revamp the health care system, the Federal deficit has broken records two years in a row, and the overall economic crisis hasn’t gotten any better at all. Question: why to those who hate Bush for the things he did not hate Obama for the things he’s doing? Is it because of the small letter that goes after each one’s name, or is it something more subtle, something not so easily detectable or understandable? Is it simply because the people we listen to tell us to hate the person they hate, or is it that we just haven’t been able to see past they hype and dig into the issues?

The Greeks had a word for what is happening: hubris; those who got too ‘high and mighty’ upon themselves were often brought down by the ‘gods’. I have a much simpler vision: a pendulum; science says that if I lift a pendulum so high and let go, it’ll swing just as high on the other side before returning to its original position (essentially). The even more common saying is “what goes around comes around”. It’s as steady as the tides…even including the occasional Tsunami.

Fair warning, all you subtle and not-so-subtle bashers of Bush – your guy’s turn is coming. If you’re smart and start taking the high road today, you can serve as an example of the way things should be instead of the way things have been. Instead of weighing the actual “Budget Blunders” against the historical photolog “Nation of Hope”, consider weighing each President’s response to their greatest disaster; feel free to build one man’s reputation while showing the other’s faults, but at least you’ll be comparing apples to apples instead of oranges to wagons. Build, don’t burn, and see how much better the next guy treats your guy when his turn is up. Or, you could continue your ‘subtle’ attacks and see how long it takes before the pendulum swings back your way. Just remember that the harder you push it one way, the harder it hits when it swings back.

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