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Shut Up About Seinfeld!

I might not have ever watched Seinfeld if I had seen this cover first. (image via wikimedia)

My daughter told me to shut up about Seinfeld.  Those were her exact words:

“Shut up about Seinfeld!

My daughter and a bunch of her friends had been binge-watching the television show Friends on Netflix and were talking about it within my ear range.  I thought, FriendsFriends? People are still talking about Friends?  After my daughter’s own friends had left, I went on a rant about Seinfeld and how Seinfeld deserved to be watched instead of Friends.   Just so you know, it didn’t start off as a rant.

It just irked me that these teenagers had watched Friends instead of Seinfeld.  Twenty years ago, the two shows had been broadcast on Thursday nights, and Friends had kind of piggybacked on Seinfeld’s success.  Friends was okay.  It did really well after Seinfeld was done, but it was no Seinfeld.

And I wasn’t trying to disparage Friends with my rant by any means.  But the more I tried to explain how awesome Seinfeld was, the less attention my daughter gave me.  She nodded and said “uh huh” occasionally, but she stared at her phone the whole time.

And then she told me to shut up about Seinfeld.

I didn’t care that she said “Shut up” to me.  So much of “Shut up” is context and there was nobody else around when she said it.  She’s never said shut up to me with other people around.  But she had told me to shut up… about Seinfeld!

My daughter is a lot like me.  When somebody tells me how great a book is and that I MUST READ IT, I automatically won’t want to read it and I will try to find reasons to not like it if I do read it.  It’s a character flaw that my daughter inherited, but with television shows and movies instead of books.  As soon as I started praising Seinfeld, she didn’t want to watch it.

This was my fault.  I should have just strategically begun watching Seinfeld when she just happened to be around.  She would have noticed Seinfeld on her own, but she wouldn’t have been forced to watch it.  It would have happened naturally. She would have eventually gotten into it.   Instead, I have ruined Seinfeld for her.  I should have known better.  I’m old enough to know better.

Maybe in a few years, she will forget my enthusiasm and discover Seinfeld on her own.  That’s what it takes sometimes.  A couple decades ago, I praised Buffy, The Vampire Slayer to some friends during Season One, and they laughed at me for watching what they thought had to be a stupid show.  A year or two later, they were raving about it to me after they had discovered Buffy for themselves.  Neither of them had any memory of me telling them about the show.  The important thing was that they had discovered it.

I don’t understand why I’d care if anybody watches Seinfeld.  I wasn’t in it.  I didn’t write any of the episodes.  I had nothing to do with the show except watch it.  I didn’t even know about it for a season or two.  I can’t even brag that I was one of the early viewers who “discovered” Seinfeld before it became popular.  I was just an average schmuck who liked the show.

“Alright,” I said to my daughter.  “I won’t talk about Seinfeld anymore.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“You probably shouldn’t tell me to shut up,” I said.

“I know.  I’m sorry.”

“I know what you meant, but don’t do that around other people.  They might not understand.”

“I know.”

“Definitely don’t tell your mom to shut up.  It doesn’t matter what the context is.”

Of course, that’s when my wife walked into the living room.  “What are you talking about?” she asked.

Both my daughter and I spoke at the same time: “Nothing.”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure my daughter will like Seinfeld if she ever watches it.

Literary Glance: Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich

Even though the latest Janet Evanovich book is titled Dangerous Minds, there doesn’t seem to be anything dangerous yet.  The mystery (I think) is about an island disappearing, and the two protagonists Riley Moon and Emerson Knight so far are wise cracking with each other, so we haven’t gotten to the dangerous part yet.  But I’m counting on a dangerous part.  It’s in the title

Despite its title, maybe this book isn’t meant to be suspenseful.  Maybe it’s meant to be something else.   Here’s a conversation between the two main characters in Chapter One:

Riley smacked her forehead.  “You couldn’t possibly be confusing your life with the movie Cast Away, could you?  And if you are, Tom Hanks worked for FedEx, not UPS.”

Emerson stopped flipping.  “That explains a lot.  I always thought it was weird that Tom Hanks would just randomly show up at my front door and give me a package.”

“You’re a very strange man.”

“My Match.com profile says I have a quirky sense of humor.”

“You have a Match.com profile?”

“Actually, no,” Emerson said.  “I just have a quirky sense of humor.”

Riley stared at him for a couple beats thinking it was a good thing he had great abs because he wasn’t going to get far with the quirky humor.

I think the author was trying to make a point that Emerson Knight was quirky.

I’ve never heard a man call himself quirky before.  Maybe it’s happened.  I haven’t heard every single word every male has uttered, but from my own experience, men don’t refer to themselves as quirky.

I don’t trust people who call themselves quirky or weird or strange.  Usually, people who call themselves weird or strange are trying too hard.  If somebody else calls you weird or strange, then you’ve probably done something to earn it.  If you have to say it about yourself, then maybe you just wish it’s true.  Cities like Austin, TX (“Keep Austin weird”) and Portland, OR (“Keep Portland weird”) both want to stay weird, and I’ve been to both, but I know of other cities that are weird too and don’t brag about it.

I’ve never heard anybody say they want to keep a city quirky.

If quirky isn’t on an annoying word list, it should be.  Maybe it’s not as bad as moist or slacks, but it’s right up there.  If you walk around saying “Quirky, quirky, quirky” over and over, you’d probably get punched out or arrested.

And if you walked around in public in quirky moist slacks, you probably wouldn’t last long either.

Maybe I’m wrong about quirky being an annoying word.  I think share is an annoying word too, but nobody seems to agree with me.  Whenever I hear the word share, I’m reminded of a boss a long time ago who told us to “shay-air” ideas with each other.  I cringed whenever I heard “shay-air,” and now I cringe whenever I hear “share.”  I don’t cringe when I hear quirky, but I almost do.

Dangerous Minds was a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer about 20 years ago.  But that’s alright.  You can’t copyright a title.  I could write my own book and call it Dangerous MindsDangerous is a good word.  Dangerous implies scary.  You don’t want to mess with somebody who has a dangerous mind.  But nobody would buy a book called Quirky Minds.  I don’t think even quirky people would buy a book called Quirky Minds.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Feel free to try it and see.  After all, I can’t copyright the title.

*****

What do you think?  Have you ever heard a male refer to himself as quirky?  Would you buy a book called Quirky Minds?

4th of July Story: The Kid Who Got His Thumb Blown Off

The problem with 4th of July stories is that something really bad usually happens in them. If you tell a story about the 4th and nobody gets hurt or there’s no property damage, then the audience ends up disappointed. Keeping that in mind, here’s the 4th of July story that I wrote last year.

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via wikimedia) (image via wikimedia)

The 4th of July is a weird holiday.  Not everybody gets the day off.  We don’t exchange gifts.  We don’t eat a big feast.  We might go to a parade, but we pretty much don’t do anything until it gets dark, and then we watch a giant fireworks display.

Back in 1976 when the United States turned 200 years old, I lived in a rural area where we’d have to drive about 20 miles to see the county’s lame fireworks show.  In our community a lot of us were pale and had necks of red, and people with necks of red don’t like watching somebody they don’t know (like an outside entity hired by a community leader) shoot off fireworks, no matter how impressive the display is.  Most people with necks of red would rather control the fireworks themselves, even if it’s just a bunch of firecrackers…

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4th of July Story: Waiting for Fireworks

Last year I wrote a short story on this blog about something that happened to me on July 4, 1976. It’s been year since I wrote this story, and I still haven’t thought of a better title.

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via wikipedia) USA!  USA!!  USA!!!  (image via wikipedia)

Even at a young age, I was taught to be proud that I was a United States citizen.  I knew to stand up while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  I made sure our United States flag never touched the ground.  I even tried to sing along as the Star Spangled Banner was being performed, but I was told to mouth the words instead because my singing voice wasn’t good and I sounded disrespectful.

Some people are uncomfortable expressing pride over being an American.  Maybe they even feel like it’s arrogant to feel pride in a country.  I don’t think my pride is arrogance.  I simply recognize that I’m fortunate to live in a country where our U.S. Constitution guarantees certain freedoms and human rights that our government may not arbitrarily take away.  This freedom allows Americans to reach our potential in ways that may…

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4th of July Story: The Box of M-80s

When I think back about my childhood, I often remember doing stuff that I’d never let my kids get away with. This is one of those stories.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Relax. This picture was created in 1902. It was okay for kids to fire off guns back then. (image via Wikipedia) This picture was published in 1902. It was okay for kids to fire off guns back then. (image via Wikipedia)

I was 10 when the United States turned 200 years old.  It was a big deal back then, but at the time, the meaning of the 4th of July was lost on me.  As an adult, I understand July 4th  is the annual celebration of the signing and approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

I understand how important the following sentence from The Declaration of Independence is:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That one sentence had a bunch of concepts that were unique way back in 1776.

The Declaration of Independence is also known…

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Literary Glance: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Oh God, please don’t let my wife read the beginning of this book.

The book is The Identicals by Elin Hildebrand, and the prologue reads like an advertisement for Nantucket.  My wife wants a nice vacation this summer, and if she reads something nice about a place like Nantucket, she’s going to want to go.  Nantucket is expensive, and we don’t have that kind of money.  I was hoping for one of those nice places that nobody has heard of (I can’t think of an example because I haven’t heard of it yet).  Those types of places are less expensive, and that’s what my family needs right now, less expensive.

Here’s what I mean about The Identicals.  I open the novel to the first page, and I already get a bunch of nonsense about how wonderful Nantucket is.

Like thousands of other erudite, discerning people, you’ve decided to spend your summer vacation on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. You want postcard beaches.  You want to swim, sail, and surf in Yankee-blue waters.  You want to eat clam chowder and lobster rolls, and you want those dishes served by someone who calls them chowdah and lobstah.  You want to ride in a jeep with the top down, your golden retriever, named Charles Emerson Winchester III, riding shotgun.  You want to live the dream.  You want an American summer.

My wife would read that paragraph and want to go to Nantucket.  I read that paragraph and think: DON’T TELL ME WHAT I WANT!!!

Plus, there’s namedropping in this book.  My wife is a sucker for name dropping.  There are a lot of names in the first couple chapters, the names of people, the names of places, and the names of specific food.  I think most of the names are real, but I’m not sure.  I’m not familiar with Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Here’s an example.  After all the bragging about Nantucket, you turn to the next page and get a smothering tour guide for Martha’s Vineyard.

The Vineyard has diversity- of races, of opinions, of terrain.  We have the Methodist campground, with its colorful gingerbread houses; the Tabernacle; Ocean Park; Inkwell Beach; Donovan’s Reef, home of the Dirty Banana- and that’s only in Oak Bluffs!  We have dozens of family farms that harvest an abundance of organic produce; we have the Jaws Bridge and the cliffs of Aquinnah; we have the East Chop and the West Chop, the Katama airstrip, and a neighbor in Edgartown who keeps llamas on his front lawn.  We have…

That’s enough.  I can’t take it.

I don’t know much about these places, but I know we can’t afford to go there this summer.

I’m not sure what the book is even about.  It’s probably about identical twins.  Maybe one lives in Nantucket and one lives in Martha’s Vineyard (or Cape Cod). Maybe the twins are really different from each other or maybe they’re estranged.  Maybe something bad happens that forces the twins to resolve their differences.

I don’t know any of that stuff.  All I know is that I can’t leave this book lying around the house.

Maybe there’s a good bestselling novel about Tulsa that I can leave lying around the house instead.  I’ve heard Tulsa’s a nice city, and it’s not expensive.

Literary Glance: Camino Island by John Grisham

John Grisham usually writes about one thriller a year, and if you’ve been following his career since the early 1990’s, the novels can kind of blend together.  His latest book Camino Island isn’t a legal thriller like a lot of his books, but at least it starts off with a unique crime.

The first chapter is called “The Heist,” and sure enough, it’s about a small group of thieves stealing something.  The something in this case is “interesting,” especially for a guy like me who reads a lot of books.  If you like literature, you might enjoy reading the first part of Camino Island, just to see what these thieves are stealing.

It can be tough to write a scene where a lot is going on.  The writer has to juggle several characters and explain what each is doing without confusing the reader.  In this heist paragraph, Grisham begins to describe the heist quickly without getting bogged down in details:

By nine o’clock on a Tuesday night, Denny, Mark, and Jerry were inside the Firestone Library posing as grad students and watching the clock.  Their fake student IDs had worked perfectly; not a single eyebrow had been raised.  Denny found his hiding place in a third-floor women’s restroom.  He lifted a panel in a ceiling above the toilet, tossed up his student backpack, and settled in for a few hours of hot and cramped waiting.  Mark picked the lock of the main mechanical room on the first level of the basement and waited for alarms.  He heard none, nor did Ahmed, who had easily hacked into the university’s security systems.  Mark proceeded to dismantle the fuel injectors of the library’s backup electrical generator.  Jerry found a spot in a study carrel hidden among rows of stacked tiers holding books that had not been touched in decades.

That’s the actions of four characters getting described at once.  All four are in different locations, doing different stuff, and it was easy for the reader to follow.  At least, it was easy for me to follow.

The author didn’t get bogged down describing how Ahmed hacked the security system (I wouldn’t have understood it).  The author didn’t worry go into step-by-step details about how Mark took the fuel injectors apart (my eyes would have glazed over).  He simply explained what happened.  As a reader, I appreciate that.

As a writer, I might have changed a couple things (here comes the usual nit picky part of the Literary Glance).  I was taught never to use the phrase proceeded to.  Instead, I was taught that a writer should just state outright what the character did.  In this paragraph, Grisham wrote:

Mark proceeded to dismantle the fuel injectors…

I was taught (by writing instructors and writer’s groups) to say:

Mark dismantled the fuel injectors…

There was also a passive-verb sentence that caught my attention.

Their fake student IDs had worked perfectly; not a single eyebrow had been raised.

That could have written as…

Their fake student IDs had worked perfectly; no one even raised an eyebrow.

My writing instructors years ago would have gotten on my case about using such a cliché (nobody raised an eyebrow), but Camino Island is a bestselling novel.  I’m not sure how an author can write a novel without using the occasional (or even frequent) cliché.

I haven’t read everything by John Grisham, but I read a lot of his early stuff.  I still have a soft spot in my heart (cliché, I know, but this is a blog post, not literary fiction) for The Firm because it was pretty good and it came out of nowhere.  I might have to read The Firm again and see if it’s as good as I remember it.

Or maybe I should leave the fond memory alone.  I can get nit picky sometimes.

*****

What do you think?  How difficult is it to write a scene with several characters in it?  Should a bestselling author worry about nit picky stuff like passive voice verbs and clichés?

Is There a Glut of Superhero Movies?

A couple weeks ago, I saw the new Wonder Woman movie. A couple weeks before that, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy II. Last week, I watched Logan. Last night, I watched Dr. Strange. Seeing all of these superhero movies within a short time reminds me of this question I asked last year.

Dysfunctional Literacy

When the superhero movie is no longer a novelty, Marvel and DC will have to team up. The Superman/Spider-Man movie hasn’t happened yet, but you never know.

There are a lot of superhero movies coming out in 2016 (and 2017… and 2018).  Marvel has a bunch of superhero movies coming out.  DC has a bunch of movies being released too.  As much as the general public love superhero movies, at some point the novelty is going to wear off.  And when it does, the superhero movie bubble will burst.

As a former comic book fanboy, I would have loved this superhero movie glut 40 years ago.  When I was a kid, there were no superhero movies, except for the cheesy Adam West Batman movie that local TV stations played on Sunday afternoons.  Other than that, there was only the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman and Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk.  Lynda Carter and Lou Ferrigno were great, but their shows were low budget.  I wanted to…

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Literary Glance: Against All Odds by Danielle Steel

 

Even though I’m probably not part of Danielle Steel’s intended audience, I picked up a book of hers to see what her writing is like.  She has to be doing something right as an author, and I’d like to know what it is.

Against All Odds is a recent novel, but maybe not Danielle Steel’s most recent.  That’s tough to tell because she writes so many books.  Maybe not as many as James Patterson (but most of her books don’t have coauthors, so she’s at a slight disadvantage).

Within the first few pages of Against All Odds, there’s a noteworthy block paragraph, a description of the protagonist’s business:

Kate carried a lot of Chanel at the store, Yves Saint Laurent from Paris, and Dior from the days when Gianfranco Ferre’ designed it in the eighties and nineties.  She also had Balmain from when Oscar de la Renta had done their haute couture, and Christian Lacroix before they closed, both haute couture and ready-to-wear.  And Givenchy, from both the days of the great designer himself, and its more recent incarnations by Alexander McQueen and Ricardo Tisci.  There were designers others had forgotten, the many young designers who had died in the seventies and the eighties, and some later, at the height of their talent, Patrick Kelly and Stephen Sprouse among them.  And she sold the American brands of ready-to-wear that everyone loved, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Oscar De la Renta, Carolina Herrera, and here and there a nameless brand that she bought not for the label, but because it had style, or gueule or chien, as the French called it.  That ephemeral something you couldn’t really describe but that made a woman look special when she wore it, if she had the guts to pull it off.  Kate also found wonderful basics like simple black coats, pea coats, expertly cut Prada, and skirts and pants and sweaters that were timeless.

I have no idea what this paragraph just said.  I mean, I understood the first page of Finnegans Wake more than I understood this list of… fashion stuff?

This isn’t the first time I’ve been puzzled by the details in books.  When I read military novels, my eyes glaze over at the pages of weapons’ descriptions.  When I read science fiction, I skim past the descriptions of how the new technology works.  When I read fantasy, I ignore the intricacies of the made up languages and maps, and spells that the authors create.  In a lot of ways, I’m probably not a good reader.

I have to give Danielle Steel credit.  She knows her fashion stuff.  At least, I think she knows her fashion stuff.  Maybe she made up some of it (but I doubt it).  If she just made up all the names, I wouldn’t know the difference, but somebody would.

Maybe it’s better to have the specific details in your story than not to have them.  Interested readers can enjoy the author’s expertise, and skimmers who just want to get to the point can move on to the next paragraph/page/chapter.  That’s what I did in this case, skim it.  And that’s what I usually do, no matter what the genre is.

When I write fiction, I tend to leave out these kinds of details and let the readers fill in the blanks themselves.  I think it’s easier for everybody that way.  The writers don’t have to do a bunch of research to get everything correct, and the reader can go straight to the good parts of the story.

But Danielle Steel probably disagrees with me.  And she’s sold a lot more books than I have.

*****

What do you think?  Do you enjoy block paragraphs of specific details?  Or do your eyes glaze over as your skim for the good stuff?

Literary Glance: BookShots- Kill or Be Killed by James Patterson

Maybe I’ve been wrong about James Patterson.  For so many years, I thought his co-authors did all the work and Patterson just put his name on all those novels he gets published every month.  After glancing at four Patterson BookShots from his collection Kill or be Killed, I’m not so sure.

All four stories in this collection sound so much like they’ve been written by the same author that I’m not sure Patterson even needs coauthors.  All four bookshots have 2-3 page chapters.  All the stories have outlandish situations with almost no basis in reality.  And the writing is kind of… cheesy.

You can turn to any random page from any story in Kill or be Killed and find cheesy writing.  Here are some examples:

The Trial by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Chapter 28 (out of 34 chapters in a 95 page story)

We were alive not just because of what we knew about bad guys with guns, or because Conklin and I worked so well together that we were like two halves of a whole.

That had contributed to it, but mostly, we were alive and drinking because of the guy who’d dropped the AK and given us a two-second advantage.

After I’d downed half my second beer, I told Conklin, “We weren’t wearing vests, for Christ’s sake.  This is so unfair to Julie.”

“Cut it out,” he said. “Don’t make me say she’s lucky to have you as a mom.”

“Fine.”

“Two dirtbags are dead,” he said.  “We did that.  We won’t feel bad about that.”

“The guy with the AK.”

“He’s in hell,” said Rich, “kicking his own ass.”

Or maybe he’s reading James Patterson books.  Either way, that last line was cheesy.

And you don’t have to look hard to find more cheese:

Heist by James Patterson and Rees Jones

Chapter 30 (out of 35 chapters and an epilogue in a 109 page story)

Barret’s world was black.

A hood had been pulled over his head and the former Commando recognized the dank, musty smell of wet burlap.  It was a sandbag that was hiding his captors from his eyes, and Barret could almost laugh at the irony that he’d pulled the same bags over the heads of dozens of Iraqi men.

But Barret wasn’t laughing.

Barret was scared.

But Barret wasn’t lactose intolerant, which was good, because that entire story was cheesy.

The cheese continues in…

The Women’s War by James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Chapter 21 (out of 39 chapters and an epilogue in a 127 page story)

We let loose on six AGM Hellfire missiles.  The dope field had no chance.  The power of a Hellfire is unreal.  Think of the impact of a monster truck barreling through a pillow fort in the middle of a freeway.

Overkill.

My favorite type of kill.

Cheese.  My favorite type of dairy product.

Little Black Dress by James Patterson and Emily Raymond

Chapter 5 (out of 26 chapters and an epilogue in a 95 page story)

You don’t even know his name, Jane! said the small voice of my sanity.

So ask him, and then see when he gets off work, said a different voice entirely.

When he put the popcorn in front of me, we both took a big handful.  But suddenly we were both too shy to speak.

Then I said, “I think-” at the same time that he said, “Do you want-”

We laughed awkwardly.  It was like being in seventh grade again.

We were saved by a pearl-bedecked waitress, who appeared by my elbow with a cheese plate.

A cheese-plate?  That sounds perfect for the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like cheese.  I eat, read, and write cheese.  I’m just surprised James Patterson gets away with writing so much of it.  He really ought to slow down.  Too much cheese is bad for you.

*****

What do you think?  Do all four writing styles sound alike?  What is a good definition of cheesy writing?