How to Pass Healthcare Legislation

Call me brazen for even suggesting that I know better than anyone else how to do politics–but that’s what blogs are for.  While this blog usually focuses on science fiction and fantasy writing, it has, on occasion, gone off the cuff.  

I have a way to pass Healthcare legislation.  

If a Representative or Senator votes against the Healthcare legislation and it passes, those districts they represent do not benefit from that Healthcare.  Let them OPT OUT their district and see how long it takes for folks to MOVE from that district, or elect someone else to represent them.  

It’s been proven that Republicans are only after ousting President Obama and the Democrats from power.  They no longer care about policy.  If you don’t believe me, watch this clip from MSNBC where Rachel Maddow proves that the Republicans are trashing the Stimulus bill and voting against it, while accepting the money generated from it and taking credit for it.  

With Healthcare, I think their constituents should pay the price of their vote.  If they vote against Healthcare, they don’t get it.  No one in their district will get it.  Let’s see how long it takes for people to say—“Oh, I SHOULD HAVE HAD this Healthcare that these other people are enjoying.  But my STUPID REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVE voted against it.  He’s outta there!!”

In fact, why not make it a place by place vote—skip trying to “make it pass” through votes.  Tell anyone who votes for it, that they can have it.  If it’s so bad, it will fail.  But if it’s good, then people will scream if they DON’T get it.

The Thrill of Deadlines, and How to Meet Them Alive.

(Corrected: eliminated all the bad advice about the two week story)

That race to a deadline is fun and satisfying.  It’s a test to see if you can pull it off, get that story done and out by the time that clock strikes.  But you have to plan ahead, or else you’ll be turning in bad stuff, or stressed so much you miss the deadline.  

Douglas Adams loved deadlines too.  “I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound as they shoot past.”  

New Scientist says your heart attack risk rises six times normal at the approach of a stressful deadline.  

(But they also list sexual activity as a precursor to heart attack, and who wants to cut that out??)

My history has been spotty on deadlines.  I’ll admit, like Adams, I let them reluctantly whoosh past me, relieved at the amount of stress reduction they can have when they do leave—or when the professor gives you another day, or another hour—but this has not been good for me in the long run.  Always hoping that I’ll get an extension on a deadline has made me think that anyone will give an extension.  And this is not the case.  

I remember when I got my story in to an anthology Claude Lalumiere was editing at like 12:40, forty minutes past the deadline.  He said, no!  Holy cow.  I thought that he was a stickler, but I’ve learned this is standard practice.  Not everyone will give you an extension, and no one is obligated to.  There has to be a cutoff time.  Chaos can ensue.

And really, it’s bad form (Jerome!) to ask for extension on deadlines outside of real emergencies.  I’ve done that once in awhile, and I’m very happy for those who accommodate me.  But that puts them at risk.  An editor I know once had a rule about her deadlines: “Never tell the author the REAL deadline.”  She always told me a false deadline, in advance, knowing I would push it.  She actually had three false deadlines (one day I pushed through nearly all of them! eek).  But this was a magazine deadline, not a submission one.  

Submission deadlines are part of life.  They should be hard.  They make you plan better, and I think, increases the thrill without increasing bad stress if you aim accurately for the deadline.  

I can’t wake up two hours before a story deadline and think I’ll be able to pull off a winner: I’ve tried writing stories too close to the deadline, and I get bad stories.   But when I’ve had a story go through revision about six times and then I spot an anthology deadline, it really makes me polish well.  And a polished story, even if you send it in 17 minutes before midnight, still feels great!   

My heartfelt applause goes out to all those who made it by Tesseracts 14’s deadline, and the man who made it by the stroke of midnight!  WOO-HOO!  

How to plan ahead for deadlines.  Okay, I should preface this with the following disclaimer: I don’t write stories in two weeks, not normally.  And so I can’t tell anyone to write a story in two weeks.  A lot of my stories have been through lots of drafts, some over years, to figure out what the dang things are about.  But there are a few tips I have to think about when I’m writing towards a deadline.  

I go backwards from the last thing I have to do and count that as time I need.  So I save enough time for the spell-checking, the last minute editing, the spit-polishing.

I also try to save enough time for multiple drafts.  My worst writing comes out in the first draft, usually.  Bad, stinky writing.  So, you have to save time for yourself to redraft and rethink your story.  How long? I don’t know.  Sometimes, if I’m doing nothing but writing, a few days.  But this doesn’t count the thinking time in between a first draft and the multiple drafts that come after.  I’m working on a story right now that started life in 2002 as a 2500 word short story.   Then it had another incarnation in my dissertation as a 7000 word short story and now, in 2009, well, it’s getting another draft.  Not everything takes this long—but some of ’em do.

A week is only enough time for me to get an adrenaline draft—that first idea that you run on a pretend course to get to some conclusion.  Like a pace car.  But that isn’t time to see all the layers, the themes, etc.  It’s barely time to get the first draft out of your fingers.  

The ideas take longer:  you’ve been mulling over a cool idea, or have a vision of a great scene, so you’ve been jotting notes…this can take as long as it takes before it gels enough into a story.  Normally I won’t count this in the time I need.  If it hasn’t gelled, it’s not ready for a story.  

Your timeline will be different, but know where you are in the course of your writing, and what your normal speed to write your best story, in order to know how to plan for a deadline.  I remember a story not too long ago that I planned too short a time for….. and all I got was a nice first draft out of the story.  Yikes!  So, now I get to go back and give it work and it will shine!  

Thomas Jefferson had his deadlines too.   This quote from the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia:  “Thomas Jefferson wrote the rough draft of the Declaration in only a few days? He spent a period of two weeks refining it and even gave a copy to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for their review.”  I’m no Thomas Jefferson, but I’m imagining he was under a tough deadline and had to get it right.  

Know your writing speed, and count backwards from the deadline.  Then you’ll be alive when you cross it.  Really, really alive!

How to do a House Party Right

bghome2I attended a house party Saturday night–sort of like the one pictured here. I’ve heard of things like this.  Anne-Louise Genest explained a bit of the history of the kind of music she was playing with Sammy Lind and Nadine Landry that evening–how it might happen in a kitchen. The intimate setting was right. Miche and Hector had opened their home–moved back the furniture, rented folding chairs, made snacks. There was a charge of $15 at the door to pay back the hosts and the musicians for what turned out to be a beautiful evening.

It was planned well–limited to 25-30 people; people brought their own drinks; and the music was a mix of bluegrass/cajun with fiddle tunes throughout. There were two 45 minute sets, with a half hour break in between for mingling and snacks. And a lovely wandering dog in the midst giving out love to whomever reached out for her.

I remember back in 2002, a night in someone’s home after a party was drifting into the evening.  Folks would bring out guitars. It was a lucky moment, but only the six of us experienced it. Kind of a convergence of good fortune, talent, a long evening to linger around guitars.

But you can create a moment and plan it well too. The only difference between that moment in 2002 and this one in 2009 was the event that was created. Saturday was a performance in an intimate setting–aimed to be the focus of the evening. They asked friends (and a sister) who were performers to perform for us, rather than all of us hoping guitars might pop out after a dinner.  The performers were spotlighted.

My grandparents used to host Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in their home. I don’t know how my grandparents knew them—I vaguely remember that Alpha and Jeff Stueart were friends of Bob Wills. But they played music in their home in between gigs around Texas and Oklahoma in the 30s and 40s, a time of Western Swing. I don’t remember that my grandparents ever played music themselves. My grandfather dug ditches and my grandmother was a cook, but they loved music and were good hosts. They opened their home to other people who would enjoy that music as well. They were dirt poor. But they knew the value of music.

We can’t always have a convergence of singer/songwriters at our dinner parties. But we can host a House Party and bring in performers that are coming through town. I bet we can do that with small theatre too. It had great planning and Miche and Hector created an evening I won’t forget.  I’d rather go to concerts like this, I think, than sit in a large auditorium.  Here I was a few feet away, and food and drink were handy.  Like an Irish Pub, in some ways.  But in your home.

House Parties eliminate having to make the modern choice between a night at home with the family or going out to a show. It takes us back to a place where we relied on each other. They brought the show to their home, and brought us to their home too. As Laurel Parry (now known as Larry) said to open the night. “Either we’re very cutting edge or we’re reviving an old practice–or maybe a bit a both.” Blogs have talked about this new phenomenon before and websites telling you how to host a gig like Concerts in Your Home.

But I think the one at Hector and Miche’s went really well. Maybe they were cutting edge, maybe just wanting to find an intimate way to have music in their home. Maybe we only remembered something we forgot we needed. I’m just glad that, clapping and stomping our way into the night, we all remembered it together, .

How not to write Fantasy: The Forbidden Kingdom

The movie is based on one of the oldest known novels, Journey to the West, a Chinese Epic. Written down finally in the 1590s from oral stories dating much farther back, it’s 100 chapters long and is one of the four classic novels of Chinese literature, so any screenwriter would have challenges in writing up even a portion of it for screen. Whether The Forbidden Kingdom works on a literature-to-movie basis or not is not my point below. It doesn’t matter to me if the movie represents any part of the classic novel itself, or whether the Monkey King is true to character as depictd by Wu Cheng’en, the purported author of the novel.

To me the problem is always how the film stands up as a story. And here for me the movie serves as a good example on how not to write a Fantasy.

1. There is very little character set-up for the main character and the character that does develop is unlikeable. His name is so forgettable that I have forgotten it. Josh or Seth watches a LOT of kung-fu movies–we know this because of his room decor, posters and posters of old films. He rents movies. He has a thin relationship to the old shopkeeper–who seems to run a kung-fu Movie Warehouse and Knick Knack store. The movie seems in a hurry to get us to the “object”–the staff–and so makes Josh/Seth see it through a door that’s been left open, pick it up off the floor, and we get to feel the “weird” importance of the object. In the next scene, unknown girl gets Josh/Seth to tell us what he does and why he lives there–she’s so much a schill that she doesn’t even scream when Josh is then beat up by a gang of thugs. He doesn’t react much either. When they discover he has rented movies from Shopkeeper’s Kung-fu Emporium, they assume he can get them in to see the old guy and rob him. He walks them straight to the shop, tricks the shopkeeper, and watches as they beat him up.

Okay, I don’t like this character already. He’s shuffled through his plot points like an understudy during a rehearsal (and then you’ll stumble here and then you’ll look pathetic here and then ….) and allowed to have no reaction to what the director wants us to think as weakness. But this isn’t just weakness of strength and skill–as the movie makes it out to be–but HUGE weakness of character. He doesn’t have to lead Thugs to the Shop. He has taken thugs to an old man to beat him up. Without more plot to tell me he was forced or coerced, he’s an accomplice. I could have actually liked him if they had beat him up because he hadn’t led them to the old man. But now I think he’s worthless. The Thugs are merely there so we can (spoiler!) see them beat up at the end.

We know nothing about Josh/Seth but that he has an addiction to Kung-Fu. No background, no relationships–he’s a cypher. His choices are to not choose. I don’t believe he doesn’t try to run or fight back against the thugs. I don’t believe he would lead them to this shopkeeper. I don’t believe he’d stand back and let the shopkeeper get beat up. And if I DID, that would make Josh/Seth into a worthless person, not a sympathetic one, and not one who gets to go to 13th Century China, or is that 12th? Anyway.

On another note, the only movies that the writers have seen are the Karate Kid movies—Josh/Seth is a dead ringer for Ralph Macchio, and the beat-up gang scene and the old man are plot point for plot point Karate Kid; even Josh/Seth’s past–a kid from New Jersey–is straight from KK’s bio.

2. Pick up Companions at the Corner of First and Main. Well, Joseph Campbell would have been happy. Naive character, after going unwillingly into adventure, is taken to an otherworldly bar. I was waiting for the Star Wars Cantina theme here as Josh/Seth tried to get Jackie Chan to help him. All the main companions will say no first and then there they are marching with him. We merely pick them up as the plot goes on, and we pick them up for no reason. There are no extra characters–those we might pick up, those who might become important–just the Main Characters and the Villains.

3. Josh/Seth’s unprecedented rise to Kung-fu competency: never before has one mastered Kung Fu so quickly except in the Matrix. There are some funny moments here, more than anywhere else in the movie, genuinely good dialogue that plays on J/S’s knowledge of kung-fu moves, or rather the names for moves. This should have been a constant shtick–J/S quoting movie references, etc and pitting them against “reality”. Unfortunately, he seems to know as much about those movies as Wikipedia could tell him. He can list off moves. But what do his movies tell him about plots, expectations, characters?

4. None of the places are really used. I loved the movie, Hero, because each setting became a living character, part of the plot, and part of the action. Here a cherry blossom orchard is a backdrop. A pit that leads to magma is merely a piece of furniture–not a real obstacle for any of the fighting….there’s no threat that anyone will fall into that magma. A field of very long reeds/wheat/something is merely there to cut into for some training. Our characters go from sudden desert to sudden lush green hills–quite the ecosystem juxtapositioning.

5. The characters are plastic with plastic motives. Sparrow is out for revenge. Jackie Chan is along for the ride, perhaps to be the kid’s mentor, though we don’t know why. Jet Li is a monk seeking the staff. The Witch wants immortality–because everyone wants it (apparently there’s only enough juice to make one person eternal). The Jade Warlord wants the staff. The kid has to return the staff to “its rightful owner.” No one in the story thinks about the motivation they were handed on a card. No one thinks of turning back, of making a different decision, of negotiating a deal. There are NO complications. Fantasies can’t be built on a single plot system–with no twists. We know that the characters have to reach their destination–it’s in the script. I’m never in doubt because these aren’t real characters–they are an assembled entourage for the audience. They escort us through the plot–and, dang, they aren’t even that entertaining.

I almost walked out of the movie–it had nothing to hold my interest. Even the fight scenes. Nothing new was given to Kung-fu repetoire–not like the movies it purported to love in the opening credits. I got tired of watching the kung-fu kicks–and I can watch Matrix 1-3, which can’t be comparable to classic Kung Fu, several times!

There was one surprise in the movie, and I won’t give it away, but it wasn’t possible even by the movie’s logic. I think I will show this movie whenever I get half way through teaching a Fantasy writing course. Yes, it still manages to string together a bad plot, but getting to the end of your plot is not the end of your quest, Grasshopper.