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The TRUTH about Standardized Tests!!!!

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Even though the standardized testing season is weeks away, my kids are already complaining about it.  They’re whining about how many tests there are this year.  They’re moaning about how long they have to sit in one classroom and stay quiet.  They’re griping about how stressful and boring the tests are.

I don’t blame my kids for dreading the tests.  Testing wasn’t such a big deal when I was a kid.  We took one test that I recall, but there was no build up to it, so nobody really seemed to care about it.  Instead, we stressed over the semester exams that our teachers gave us.

Nobody (including teachers and principals) likes the current testing system, but the government insists that students take a bunch of tests anyway.  I’m starting to wonder why.  Why does the government insist that so much time is spent on standardized testing?

Maybe it’s about measuring student learning.  Maybe it’s about improving education.  Or maybe… it’s about something more nefarious.

Remember, I talk to myself when I write, and sometimes I go off topic.

Author Success Strategy: Work for a Publishing Company!

When The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn came out last year, it was a bestseller immediately.  A bunch of famous authors like Stephen King and Ruth Ware wrote extremely favorable reviews that were plastered on book site promos and the book cover itself.  Stephen King even made up a new word, calling it “unputdownable.”

The Woman in the Window was going to be the next Gone Girl.  There have been a bunch of novels over the last few years that were supposed to be the next Gone Girl, but not many of them got praised by Stephen King.  When I read the book, I thought it was average.  The character wasn’t that interesting, and the author seemed to try too hard with all the film noir references.

I knew something was odd.  The author A.J. Finn had never published a book before, but this author’s first novel was a #1 bestseller immediately.  At the time I wondered how this no-name author had gotten the publishing company to put so much publicity and Stephen King’s praise into this book.  If it had been J.K. Rowling with a new name or a book coauthored by James Patterson, I’d understand.  But it seemed weird that this bland novel by an unknown first-time author was a bestseller the very first week it came out.

How did this happen?  I wondered, and I hoped the first-time author had a strategy that I could use.

The answer is kind of anti-climactic (especially since I put it in the title of this blog post).  A.J. Finn worked as an executive editor for William Morrow, the company that published the book.

What?

The Woman in the Window might technically be A.J. Finn’s first novel, but he’s not some nobody schmuck sending query letters to literary agents and wallpapering the den with rejection letters.  A.J. Finn’s real name is…  well, it’s in this link to an NPR story about him, , but it’s not important what his real name is, at least it’s not important to the point of this blog post.

I think promoting A.J. Finn and The Woman in the Window as a rookie author success story last year was kind of lame.  An executive editor has advantages that regular shmucks (such as bloggers like me) don’t have.  Maybe the publishing company should disclose that to the public when it puts out this book: “Hey, this book was written by an executive editor in our publishing company, and it’s really good!  Even Stephen King and Ruth Ware say so!”

I’m not even faulting the author for working on a novel while he’s an executive editor for that publishing company.  If that was his plan the whole time, that was a great plan.  If he hadn’t planned it, then it was great improvisation.

But he’s not really a first-time author.  Technically, under the letter of the law, he might be.  But everybody knows he’s not.

The only thing that annoys me about this situation is Stephen King’s use of the word unputdownable.  If you’re going to make up a new word like unputdownable, use it for a better book.

Stephen King’s unputdownable review makes me again question King’s judgement in book reviews.  I put down The Woman in the Window very quickly.  I also made the mistake years ago of pre-ordering a book based on Stephen King’s review in an weekly entertainment magazine.  The book that King praised was so mediocre that I don’t believe Stephen King actually read the book.

I can’t prove that Stephen King doesn’t read the books he reviews.  I just don’t believe that he does.   I believe he WRITES the books he’s written, though, and that’s more than a lot of authors do.

Anyway, the lesson here is that if you want to be a famous bestselling author, work for a publishing company.  I’m probably too old (and cranky) for that now.  But some of you youngster bloggers and readers out there can do it.

No matter what, though, please do NOT write the next Gone Girl.  I liked Gone Girl, but we don’t need another one.

*****

What do you think?  Is it honest to call an experienced executive editor a “first time author”?  Is working a for a publishing company a brilliant strategy, a cynical strategy, or both?

*****

I also make videos while I write.  You can click here to see what I’m talking about!

 

Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom

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When it comes to me and dating, high school was the worst.  At that point, it seemed like I had peaked in first grade when I’d had two girlfriends at the same time and they’d fought over me and I thought it was cool.  In 7th grade, I got hit on by a 9th grade girl, and that could have been a dating milestone, but my mom put a stop to that.  At the time I was ticked off, but now I know my mom did the right thing.

Then I started getting weird growth spurts.  I became really uncoordinated.  My clothes never fit right.  I spent all my time and money on comic books (it was cool in elementary school but not in junior high).  My face broke out, and 1980s dermatology usually made complexions worse.  Once I started wearing glasses, my transformation to nerd was complete.

The good news is that I wasn’t one of those lonely, angry, near-suicidal misfits who are often depicted in movies, TV, or books.  I wasn’t picked on.  I was tall and could talk sports, and I could almost fit in with every group (except jocks).  I had friends, and I had my share of fun (or an introvert’s version of fun).  But I didn’t date.

I knew in high school that girls weren’t interested in me.  It was a lousy feeling knowing that certain things weren’t going to happen, and even in the 1980s teenagers were bombarded with sexual messages in music and television/movies.  It’s gotten worse since then, I know, but the sexual messages were still out there.

It was frustrating, but unintentional abstinence prepares you for adulthood better than things coming too easily.   When you know certain things aren’t going to happen, you’re better prepared to deal with those situations as an adult.  I later made some good decisions as an adult because of my high school (in)experience.  I know some guys who were smooth in high school who then made horrible life decisions as adults because certain situations with females had been too easy for them.

Here’s my point.  The prom was coming up in a few weeks, and I was hanging out with a bunch of guys at a restaurant on a Saturday night.  If a guy was planning on getting a date to prom, there was still time.  Nobody had that sense of desperation or urgency yet.

Proms back then were set up to be awkward.  If a guy didn’t have a girlfriend already, he was still expected to attend with a girl, probably one he’d never been out with before.  Today, kids seem to go to prom in groups, and that takes the pressure off.  But in the early 1980s, guys were expected to have dates.  I mean, it was okay to go with a bunch of friends, but that was a last resort, and it was seen as lame.

I liked my chances of getting a date.  My status had improved a lot my senior year.   Our school had just finished its musical.  I’d had a decent part (not the lead) and had stolen a scene (with the director’s permission).  My grades were good.  I’d been accepted into a Prestigious University (and hadn’t found out yet that I couldn’t get enough financial aid and scholarship money to attend).  The acne was clearing up most of the time.  I was fitting in better than I ever had in school.

Anyway, a bunch of senior guys who couldn’t get senior girls to go with them were asking out sophomore girls, but I wasn’t going to do that.  I knew sophomore girls who would go if I asked.  A sophomore girl would almost always go with a senior guy to prom, unless the senior guy was really detestable.  I wasn’t that undateable.  I was going to ask out a senior, and I already knew whom.

Once the guys at the restaurant that Saturday night started talking about prom, I felt I needed to join in.  And I made a rookie mistake.   Every teenager knows not to make this mistake.  Even a gullible naïve guy like me knew not to make this mistake, and I did it anyway.

And I’ll tell you about it in the next episode.

*****

To be continued!

Or you can start at the beginning at Awkward Moments in Dating .

BONUS VIDEO!!

I talk to myself when I write, and sometimes I go off topic.

Indie Author Success Strategy: Write a Ton of Books!

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Every independent author knows it’s almost impossible to make a living off of writing by itself.  An author has to do more than write quality content or promote books on social media.  A successful author has to do something that stands out from all the other struggling authors.  Some authors use a group of allies to sell books.  Some act crazy to stand out.

And in this case, an author simply writes a ton of books… literally.

Last month a publishing website put out an article called Helping Indie Authors Help Themselves.  It sounded nice, an indie author writing his own books, promoting them on social media, and then reaching out to other indie authors with an indie publishing company.  The publishing website’s article focused on how the indie author formed his own publishing company to help other indie authors.

If you don’t look any deeper than that, it seems like a heart-warming indie author success story.  When I did my own research, however, (that’s often a mistake), I found a list of all the author’s books.

Ummm….

This guy has written over a hundred books in three years!

It’s tough even to tell how many books this author actually writes because he’s pulled a James Patterson and is coauthoring a bunch.   Every book that I’ve checked (I didn’t check them all: I’m a blogger who writes for free) has his name on it.  It seems like he writes two books a month himself and puts his name on several others.   I think he has written (or published) more books than I’ve read in the last three years.

There’s no way anybody can write that many books and have an acceptable quality of writing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought that quality of writing gave some indication about how serious an author is.  Here are the first two sentences from a random book I chose ( Karma Is A Bitch: An Urban Fantasy Action Adventure (The Unbelievable Mr. Brownstone Book 12)by Michael Anderle) with a bunch of five-star Amazon reviews:

The chaos entity who went by He Who Hunts floated in a darkened chamber surrounded by glowing windows in the air, each a magical screen relaying images and sensations from the Brownstone team’s assault on the Council base.  He watched as summoned monsters and wizards fell to bullets, grenades, rockets, and even swords.

I admit, this isn’t my genre anymore, so I’m not the best judge of how pedestrian this opener is.  About 20 years ago, this might have appealed to me.  Maybe fans of urban fantasy adventure don’t have any problems with this kind of writing, but I’m not going to dissect the sentences as I sometimes do.  When an author writes at least two books a month (maybe more), a reader might be lucky all the words are spelled correctly.

The publishing website treated this author as a success story but barely mentioned how this author blitzed the market with a bunch of cheap and (probably) low quality books.  They didn’t want to delve into that?  Am I the only writer who sees this as a bad faith writing practice?  I know some writers are highly motivated to be successful, but as a reader, I don’t trust writers who put out more than one book a year.

I have to be careful not to be too critical of independent authors because it can come across as sour grapes.  I’m sincerely interested on how some authors succeed, but I don’t like shadiness either.  Writing so many books so quickly with so many five-star reviews strikes me as odd.

Maybe I’m too quick to react so negatively.  You can easily find sloppy writing in a bunch of bestselling novels.  If bestselling authors can get away with sloppy writing, then why shouldn’t an indie author?

Maybe I should respect a guy who cranks out that much writing.  At least the indie author is taking his/her own financial risk.  It’s tough making it as an indie author.  If co-authoring over a hundred books in three years is what it takes, then more power to that highly motivated indie author.

At the very least, I need to step up my game.  I haven’t self-published an ebook since 2015.  I need to quit blogging and publish some stuff!

*****

What do you think?  How many books can an author publish each year before you start getting suspicious?  Is this a writing success story, or is this a publishing scam?

Book Publisher Sues Netflix over Black Mirror Episode

I have issues with Netflix, but I don’t want to cancel it!(image via wikimedia)

It’s interesting to see Netflix get sued by a book publisher, even though the legal part of it might be boring. Legal stuff is interesting to most people only when sex or violence is involved.  Netflix has lots of sex and violence in its programming, but this lawsuit is only about possible trademark infringement.

Here’s the short version, probably with a lot of details missing (you can get more details here).  Last month Netflix (and the BBC) released an episode of Black Mirror called Bandersnatch.  The episode is set in the 1980s and centers on an interactive book that was part of a Choose Your Own Adventure book series in the episode.  The legal problem is that there actually is a Choose Your Own Adventure book series which was popular (I think) in the 1990s.

The publishing company doesn’t like the way Bandersnatch portrays Choose Your Own Adventure and is seeking… ugh… this is where I get a headache.  I’m glad I didn’t go to law school.

I think I remember the Choose Your Adventure books (or something like it).  They were popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the nerds, geeks, and weirdos (today they’d be called the cool people) played fantasy role playing games with boards and cards and dice.  Computers were too expensive for most families to purchase, so interactive entertainment was through books and board games.

Anyway, the publisher of Choose Your Own Adventure is claiming damages because Netflix used the phrase/title Choose Your Own Adventures without the publishing company’s permission.  Trademark infringement is different from copyright infringement (I’m not a lawyer, but I know just enough to be dangerous).   You can’t copyright a book title, but you can trademark a term or phrase as a brand.

Evidently, Netflix’s version of Choose Your Own Adventure was too disturbing or violent or adult and didn’t reflect what Choose Your Own Adventure really is.  The publisher thinks Bandersnatch’s version of Choose Your Own Adventure could negatively affect its brand.

I can understand an independent publishing company trying to defend its product.  Publishing companies don’t find successful books (or book series) very often, so they have to milk it or defend it when they can.

Even so, I have no idea how strong of a case this publishing company has.  I don’t know how damaging a warped version of Choose Your Own Adventure would be on a children’s series with the same name.  I don’t know if this is a case where an entity like Netflix automatically wins because it’s Netflix (or if it automatically loses because it’s Netflix).

The biased part of me wants protection for the small publishing company, but that’s just me.  Even though I subscribe to Netflix, there’s a lot I don’t like about it.  I don’t like the binge-watching model that too many of its original shows use, where the story takes up the entire season of 10-15 episodes.  There is a lot of wasted time in that model, and that wasted time is probably intentional.

It’s not just Netflix, but a lot of people use Netflix to refer to streaming services in general.  These streaming services have glutted the market with so much programming that it’s affecting how much time people spend reading books.  Yeah, I know the lawsuit has nothing to do with binge watching, but I feel like I need to root for the books.  I guess I can’t be on the jury now.

Bandersnatch is a long episode of the series Black Mirror, and I see Black Mirror the series as the opposite of most streamed programming.  I actually like Black Mirror (from what I’ve seen) because each episode is a self-contained story.  The episodes can get kind of weird, but you don’t have to invest an entire day to get to the end of a story.

I’m getting old.  I have little interest in watching the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, but I’m interested to see how this legal case turns out.

*****

What do you think?  Do you get more or less interested in legal stuff as you get older?  Is it wrong for me to root for the small book publisher just because I like books?  Or should I be… ugh… objective?

I Found a 1930s Grammar Textbook in My Closet

If you think this cover is drab, wait until you see the pages.

Old books are awesome!  When I was going through a bunch of stuff in my closets a few months ago, I found this old grammar book from the 1930s.  I actually got excited about it.

If I had found a grammar book from 1983, I wouldn’t have cared because it probably would have brought back accurate memories of school.  Unlike some people my age, I’m not nostalgic about my childhood.  It was good (especially when I hear about other people’s tales about growing up), but adulthood is way better.

Finding a 1930s textbook is great because I’m not the one who had to suffer through it.  Some other poor fool (I mean that in a nice way) had to endure this book decades ago.  If I choose to skim this book, I won’t get penalized in any way.

So let’s take a few minutes and peruse this ye olde book of Depression era English.  There’s a lot to learn from this book, and most of it has nothing to do with grammar.

Author Self-Promotion Strategies: Call Yourself Crazy!!

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Some authors can sell books based on reputation.  Some authors brand themselves as funny, or intellectual, or rebellious.  The occasional author even wants to be known as crazy.

The short version (you can read a longer version here) is that a few years ago an author tried to personally confront a reviewer who left a nasty review.  This author was called a stalker, and now the author has written a book about it.

The book (which is set for release in a few months) is called Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker  by… you’ll never guess… Kathleen Hale.  It takes some craziness to put your own name in the title of your book, especially if you’re not a celebrity.  Or maybe it’s arrogance.

If the author hadn’t referenced the “crazy” controversy in book title, her book of essays might not have received immediate negative publicity.  But of course, the author would put the crazy in her book title.  What’s the point of being crazy if you can’t put it in the title?

This craziness got so much attention that some online book reviewers are pressuring the publishing company to cancel the book.

I don’t like online mob outrage.  Even if I think the author is a horrible person (I’m not saying she is), I don’t agree with going after the publisher.  If online outrage mobs can shut down books I don’t care about, there’ll come a time when they shut down a book I actually want to read.  I’m not saying publishing companies shouldn’t exercise good judgement (whatever that is); I just don’t think outrage mobs should be the major factor.

As far as controversies go, this one’s pretty mellow.  I mean, nobody got hurt or arrested.  Yeah, stalking isn’t ideal, but Hale wasn’t following the reviewer around step-by-step, peeking through windows, or harassing her at a public restaurant.

I’m not a stalker apologist, so back off!

I don’t even know how much of the author’s story is true.  If there’s no unedited, unspliced video, I don’t completely believe anybody’s versions or interpretations of events anymore.  I don’t know who has exaggerated what.  Maybe Hale exaggerated how crazy the reviewer was acting online.  Maybe the author was exaggerating her own stalking behavior to get attention.  Maybe the author was really the reviewer and the whole thing is a set up.  Uugh.

Ever since James Frey apologized and cried on Oprah years ago, I distrust writers who talk about how crazy they are.  Writers have a talent for embellishing, and books are a great opportunity to lie.  The motive is there too; crazy stories sell.  The only possible drawback is risk, and I don’t think lying about craziness is that risky.

All James Frey had to do after the Oprah debacle was change to his name to Pittacus Lore and write YA fiction.  If Kathleen Hale turns out to be lying, she can just say, “At least I’m not a stalker” and write a fantasy series under another name.

If you’re not sure about Hale’s writing ability, she has already written about the experience here.   Even if you don’t believe that the story is true, you can at least get a feel for her writing style.

To me, writing style is more important than 100% truth when it comes to a memoir.  I almost expect writers to embellish a little (or a lot).  If an author can embellish (a little bit) in an interesting way, then maybe I’ll read the book.  But I cannot tolerate under any circumstances a poorly written lie.  If you’re going to lie, write it well.

*****

What do you think?  Do you believe this author really stalked a book reviewer?  How far would you go to get attention for your book?  Would you buy a book written by a stalker?

How White Can You Write? A University Wants To Know!

(image via Wikimedia)

This is one of those issues where some people will choose a side based on politics and stick with it, no matter what facts come out later.  I usually avoid such sensitive topics, but this subject matter involves writing, so I want to be familiar with it, even if I don’t form an opinion yet.

A prominent university in the United States is having a seminar for faculty in February about grading standards.  The university’s webpage with the names of the seminar and sessions has gotten some minor media attention, even though the page doesn’t provide many details.

Let’s start with the title of the entire seminar:

Grading Ain’t Just Grading- Rethinking Writing Assessment Ecologies Towards Antiracist Ends

First of all, putting the word ain’t in the title probably triggers the grammar Nazis, but I’m sure that was the point.  If you’re going to trigger somebody, trigger a Nazi.  Since there statistically aren’t any Nazis in the United States, trigger a grammar Nazi.  I have to admit, I kind of like grammar Nazis (and you can read about that here).

“Rethinking writing assessments” is okay because educators should always rethink how they do things.  It doesn’t mean they need to constantly change, but it’s okay to rethink.

And then there’s “toward antiracist ends.”  Here’s where things get potentially controversial, and maybe the university wants it that way.  After all, it’s combined one of the most polarizing topics (race) with one of the most boring (grading standards).

Then there’s one of the sessions:

“Plenary Session: The Language Standards That Kill Our Students: Grading Ain’t Just Grading

This plenary will argue against the use of conventional standards in college courses that grade student writing by single standards.   (The presenter) will discuss the ways that White language supremacy is perpetuated in college classrooms despite the better intentions of faculty, particularly through the practices of grading writing.”

Grading writing is difficult because there’s no objective way to do it (except with grammar… kind of).  Using the term “White language supremacy” makes me think the facilitator is looking to be controversial.  I might be wrong, but I’m guessing the session is in danger of focusing more on the White than the actual grading.

I’ve heard the argument that the current (White… with a capital W) language standards put certain demographic groups at a disadvantage.  Maybe that’s true.  There is a place for that discussion, and college is an ideal place for these conversations.  On the other hand, a student looking for a good/job needs to use those language standards, and it would be irresponsible for a university to deviate from those standards (if that’s the university’s intention).

Higher education in the United States isn’t cheap.  If students graduate with a bunch of debt and can’t get a job (and it seems sometimes college makes their prospects worse), then the only people who have benefited from the education are the universities (who got paid) and the government (who can profit off the debt or use it as a political tool).

Maybe I’m making too much of this.  All I have to form my opinion is what I’ve read on the university’s own website.  The seminar hasn’t even happened yet.  Maybe there will be some honest discussions among the faculty and they can figure out how to help struggling students without messing with language standards.

I’m all for helping students.  When I was in college, I worked 20-30 hours a week, took a little debt, got a decent job after I graduated, and paid off that debt in two years (The good news is that I never had to walk 20 miles uphill in the snow both ways).  I missed most of the partying and the protesting in college, but at least I put myself in a position to be a young professional with no debt.

Now I’m in my 50s and grouchy and see some of today’s colleges as institutions that make their students unemployable.  Maybe that’s too harsh, but seminars like this seem to confirm my opinion.  But I admit I could be wrong.

Normally people wouldn’t care about discussions about grading standards at a university.  Seminars like that are probably really boring.  Throw race into it, though, and everything changes, and people take their predictable sides.  As a writer, I’m more interested in how the faculty wants to change their grading process.  Unfortunately, most people will want to focus on the other stuff.

Here’s my cop-out analysis.  I’m not going to form my opinion until I know more (if I ever do).  Maybe the university will release a transcript or video of the sessions.  Until that happens (or I learn more), I’m done.

The Rat Race of Writing Gets More Ridiculous

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When it comes to money, writers hardly ever get good news.  The Authors Guild (whatever that is) just released its most recent survey of author earnings , and to be blunt, the money sucks.

The simple version is that famous authors are earning more money than ever, and the rest are earning less.   Most authors can’t make a living off of their writing alone.  If you want to be a writer, you probably shouldn’t do it for the money.

The Authors Guild puts some of the blame on self-publishing independent authors for flooding the market with more books.  Yeah, that’s true.  There are lots of self-published books available now.  On the other hand, nobody is forcing readers to choose self-published books over traditional books.  I’ve purchased a few self-published books, partially to support independent authors, and partially to stick it to the establishment.

The rich and famous authors don’t get hurt by independent authors.  Authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Michelle Obama are doing just fine with book sales.  It’s the authors that nobody has heard of that struggle making enough money.

Streaming services like Netflix are also cutting into the average person’s reading time.  Television shows are now designed to be binge watched, and that takes time, especially when there are more and more shows getting put out on more and more outlets.   When I was a kid, there were only three television networks (PBS didn’t count) and no internet or video games, so reading was a good way to pass spare time.  For some people today, there is no spare time for reading.

I’m not complaining.  Even without money, there are benefits to writing.  As famous author Elizabeth Gilbert once said,  “Writing is f*cking great!” At the time, she was criticized for the comment because she was already a rich author; of course she thought writing was “f*cking great.”  Nobody cared that she said f*ckingF*cking doesn’t have the shock value that it used to have.

I agreed with Elizabeth Gilbert, even though I’ve made almost no money from writing.  And I’ll get to why in a moment.

The Authors Guild president James Gleick got a bit melodramatic about the income inequality when he said, “When you impoverish a nation’s authors, you impoverish its readers.”

Impoverished?  As a reader, I don’t feel impoverished.  There are more books out there than ever.  And that’s not going to change, unless the grid gets shut down.  And if the grid shuts down and society collapses, then the lack of reading material will be the least of my worries.  Except for survival manuals.  Survival manuals will be the most valuable books out there.

As long as there is an audience (and the grid is working), writers won’t stop writing.   Writers will write, even when they’re broke.  I figured out years ago that I wouldn’t make a living off my writing.  Instead of depressing me, it’s freed up my writing.

Since I’ll never be published by a major company, I have the freedom to openly mock James Patterson’s books, even writing the occasional James Patterson joke.  People might not laugh at my Best James Patterson Jokes Ever, but I have the freedom to write the jokes.

Since I’ll never be represented by a literary agency, I can openly ask the question: Is Stephen King a hack?  I’ve asked the question several times, and I seem to change my mind each time.  Stephen King fans might threaten violence, but they don’t usually follow through with it.

Don’t get me wrong; I love it when people buy my books.  Yeah, they’re cheap (and they’re pretty good, I think!) and I don’t make much from them, but it’s still a blast to see it happen.

Besides, money is just one currency.  Time, health, and freedom are all important in their own ways.  I need money, but it doesn’t have to come from writing, so I make my income with a job that has nothing to do with writing.  When I’m done with my job for the day, I have the freedom to write what I want.

Some writers choose the other path, and I respect that.  But it’s tough.  There are a lot of writers out there, probably more than ever.  And every time one writers quits out of despair, two more are there to take his/her place.

Because of the odds and the numbers involved, I’ve dropped out of the rat race of writing.  I still write because the opportunity is there, and it’s fun.  When I write, I can express myself with thoughts and sentences that I can’t put together when I talk.  And even if I become impoverished (I hope that doesn’t happen), I’ll still think… you know it what I’m about to say… writing is f*cking great!

To Kill A Mockingbird !!! now written by… Aaron Sorkin?

Last month Broadway opened  a new stage version of  To Kill A Mockingbird with a script written by Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin (famous for stuff like The West WingThe Social Network, and much more).

I originally thought a Sorkin-Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird would be a bad idea.  If I were an actor, the one role I wouldn’t want to play would be Atticus Finch, because I wouldn’t want to be compared to Gregory Peck.  And if I were a script writer, the one novel I wouldn’t want to touch would be To Kill a Mockingbird, because I wouldn’t want to be compared to Truman Capote.

Right now, Hollywood actor Jeff Daniels is Atticus Finch, and I can see that working alright on stage.  Daniels has a lot of charisma, but he can come across as really pompous in The Newsroom, and a pompous Atticus Finch might backfire.  After Jeff Daniels, I don’t know who else could do it.  Who would want to be compared to both Gregory Peck and Jeff Daniels?

It’s kind of ironic that Aaron Sorkin is the author to rewrite To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most universally loved novels in the United States (according to a PBS poll ), and Aaron Sorkin’s writing can be a bit polarizing.

Sorkin has a reputation for writing great dialogue, but some critics claim that he writes clever dialogue.  The dialogue isn’t necessarily great, detractors say, because most of his characters talk the same way, with speed, wit, and lots of self-importance.

I understand that.  To me, it sometimes feels like Sorkin is showing off with his dialogue rather than writing characters.  Nobody I know talks like a Sorkin character.  In fact, where I work, people who talk like Aaron Sorkin characters would get fired.

Sorkin dialogue is easy to spot because he has certain tendencies.  I don’t need to chronicle them.  Others have done a much better job (like here in this Sorkinisms video) than I could ever do.

I don’t blame Sorkin for wanting to write a Broadway screenplay.  But why To Kill a Mockingbird?  I mean, I like the book and the movie was okay, but I never heard of a demand for a new To Kill a Mockingbird, even one with an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. It seems really unoriginal.

The only thing I know about Broadway in the last few years is Hamilton.  I have a teenage daughter who is into theater, and all I heard about for two years was Hamilton, Hamilton, and more Hamilton. I’m not a huge fan of Hamilton (especially after hearing the soundtrack nonstop for several months), but at least it was original.

My daughter knows about To Kill A Mockingbird, but she has no interest in it.  From her point of view, it’s already old.   Maybe this new version is pretty good.  Maybe it’s even great.  I know attendance for To Kill a Mockingbird has been pretty good (I think even record-breaking), but I wonder how long that will last.  We’ll know more in a few months/years.

As a writer, I appreciate how Broadway audiences are often aware of who wrote the plays.  Movie audiences hardly ever know who wrote the movie, and music lovers often don’t know who really wrote the songs.  But this Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird?  Everybody knows that Aaron Sorkin wrote it.  That has to be a great feeling for a writer (unless the play is a dud).

Maybe Sorkin could write another script from another American classic, one that hasn’t already been turned into an iconic movie, like The Catcher in the Rye.  That book needs a damn lot of improvement.  In fact, The Catcher in the Rye needs to be improved like hell.  Too much damn whining in that damn book.  Too much damn whining like hell.

*****

What do you think?  What other beloved classic novels would you like to see performed on stage?  Does Aaron Sorkin write great dialogue, clever dialogue, or both?