Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Significance of Today and Tomorrow

For a very large number of people in North America, the signficance of October 31 is the opportunity to flaunt good dental health. Junior apprentice writer #1 will do so as a pirate (known for poor oral hygiene), junior apprentice writer #3 will do so as a bumblebee (known for production of an oral hygiene impairing substance), and junior apprentice writer #2 will do so as Thomas the Tank Engine (oral hygiene status unknown).

For a smaller number of people, the signficance of this date is 'National Knock Knock Joke Day'. Why this form of humor deserves such attention is a question for sociologists to answer; to mark the occasion, Apprentice Writer has built the phenomenon into one of her works-in-progress.

And for yet another group of people, the significance of this date is 'Listen to Your Inner Critic Day'. Apprentice Writer is uncertain of origins; is this day supposed to create awareness of or in people with impulse control problems? Theatre review aspirations? Psychotherapists?

However this day came to be, it has meaning for authors. An inner critic can be a valuable safety belt, leading the writer to trim words, thoughts, characters which muddy a story or slow it down, leaving only the best parts of a first draft alive. In this way, Apprentice Writer will spend today ruthlessly weeding seven chapters before sending them on to the pruning shears of a critique partner.

But there is another side to the inner critic. It can morph into an out-of-control tyrant, harassing the writer into the belief that nothing he/she has written is fit for reader eyes. How many brilliant creations have been killed by artists with overly harsh inner critics? During her first viewing of 'Shakespeare in Love', Apprentice Writer actually shouted 'No!!!' at the cinema screen when the lead character (after passionately writing all night) tosses the finished pages onto a bonfire in disappointment. Granted, he was disappointed by his girlfriend rather than his words on that particular occasion, and granted, the movie is a fictionalization of his life, but the principle remains: even the best authors can be plagued by self-doubt.

So if writers are sometimes their own harshest critics, making many a worthwhile manuscript stall indefinitely or die altogether, what can be done?

Ignore the inner critic.

This is the basic principle behind National Novel Writing Month.
The now global writing race runs from tomorrow to the end of November, with participants declared 'winners' if they achieve 50,000 words. This is next to impossible to accomplish if one weighs every word and punctuation mark. So the aim is to turn one's inner critic completely off, and just write whatever the creative juices provide without any judgement whatsoever, NOT STOPPING to go back and delete or even read again what one has produced until the very end. For many, once the madness is over, there is much lopping off of paragraphs and pages. But for some, there is an astonished recognition that this insane quantity-over-quality approach actually produced something fresh and viable. A concept, a character, a setting, a turn of phrase that wouldn't have come to life any other way.

The possibility is addictive, and keeps tens of thousands of writers of all ages and genres coming back every November. That, and the endless entertainment to be found chatting with like-minded participants the world over on the message boards.

Apprentice Writer will throw her hat into the ring, with the goal of finishing a first draft. It means self-discipline, dedication, and a good supply of Halloween loot filched from junior apprentice writers' stash.

It also means this blog will need to amuse itself until December.

Gentle Readers: if you don't nano - see you on the other side.
If you do - ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Word Dares

This week's new word creation:

Connectile Dysfunction (noun) : inability to connect. Most commonly associated with cell phones and laptop computers with Wifi cards.
Word Smith: unknown Source:

Finally, a dysfunction truly free of gender-preference. Men and women enjoy it equally.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #9

Time for another book review, with the focus: funny or not?



Screenwriter muses about life and lessons learned.

What Works
The author’s style flows easily. Engaging, warm, funny and mildly self-deprecating (such as her analysis of why she was the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House at whom JFK never made a pass) in a way to which many a reader will be able to relate. It’s not that her life has been all sunshine and roses; there are references to a failed engagement, two divorces, mother succumbing to cancer, the horrific death of a dear friend. But these realities are touched upon lightly, within the larger context of other more ‘regular’ topics of day-to-day life. The author has clearly grasped one of the basic principles of getting one’s message across effectively – that a serious point is more easily understood and accepted by the audience in the form of humor rather than angry / bitter / solemn / pious preaching. The piece ‘Serial Monogamy’, for example, isn’t a heavy-handed rant about the perils of romance (as Apprentice Writer dreaded, judging from the title), but a description of how the author fell in and out of infatuation (cooking-wise) with a series of celebrity chefs and cookbook authors.

What Doesn't
Not every essay is as sharp or relevant as the titular piece, and some references may be lost on readers who don’t share generation-tied experiences with the author. But these are minor quibbles, and shouldn’t be held against the overall calibre and charm of this collection of memoirish thoughts.

One would expect the co-author of such mega-hits as ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘You’ve Got Mail’ to be able to deliver a funny line or two. The author does not disappoint.
From the title essay: ‘Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck. Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever’s writing it says it’s great to be old...What can they be thinking? Don’t they have necks? One of my biggest regrets…is that I didn’t spend my youth staring lovingly at my neck.'
From ‘I Hate My Purse’: ‘Evening bags, for reasons that are obscure unless you’re a Marxist, cost even more than regular bags.’
From ‘Serial Monogamy’: ‘…two historic events occurred: the birth control pill had been invented, and the first Julia Child cookbook was published. As a result, everyone was having sex, and when the sex was over, you cooked something.’ And: ‘…this was right around the time endive was discovered, which was followed by arugula, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisee, which was followed by the three M’s – mesclun, mache, and microgreens – and that, in a nutshell, is the history of the last forty years from the point of view of lettuce.’

But does it make you laugh? YES!
Gentle Readers feeling age creeping up on them or just plain having a bad day can do themselves a favor by spending some time in the head of someone who has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale with style and wit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Notable Quotes

On the occasion of junior apprentice writer #3's very first cold, here this thought:

"Everyone thinks I'm a hypochondriac.
It makes me sick."
Tony Randall as Felix Unger, in "The Odd Couple"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #8

For a change, we depart from the world of publishing to broadcasting.

DVD, Seasons 1 & 2

Competent, ethical, common-sensical middle son is forced to run the family business, deal with his jailed father's charges of fraud and 'light treason', and manage family members who share none of his qualities.

What Works
Pretty much everything. The casting of each part is spot-on, without a flat performance in the bunch. Michael Cera as the sweet teen, Jessica Walter as the alcoholic non-maternal socialite mother, Jeffrey Tambor as the ethically challenged father, and Jason Bateman as the straight man and nominal central character are especially brilliant - but really, all the main characters are superb.

The guest star choices are inspired, with celebrities gleefully poking fun at themselves. Liza Minelli (cast as the mother's chief rival in more ways than one) grumbling "Everyone thinks he's Sinatra!"at a lacklustre karaoke performance, Henry Winkler (cast as the hopelessly incompetent family lawyer) whipping out his comb to repeat his iconic Fonzie mirror image gesture, Julia Louis Dreyfuss (cast as a trial lawyer pretending to be blind) channelling Elayne's extreme pragmatism and abrasiveness, Charlize Theron (cast as a beautiful, developmentally delayed British woman) whose overprotective uncle comments she was lucky to have enough money for surgery as the camera cuts to a 'Before' shot which is really a movie still from Theron's comparatively overweight, underattractive character in 'Monster' - all are priceless.

Jokes become running gags throughout the season and are suddenly given a new twist (the secretary who keeps flashing her surgically enhanced breasts at the unwilling Michael while saying 'This is the last time you'll ever see these!' and the brother-in-law suddenly being inspired to do the same but with the exclamation 'And you'll be seeing more of these!'). There is simultaneously an exquisite attention to detail (in an episode about people acting like sheep, a group of employees board a bus simply because it is there; the bus side carries the caption 'Church of the Good Shepherd'), and a cheerful refusal to explain basic background (Why does Gob go everywhere by Segway? Why is there next to no information about Michael's deceased wife? How in the world did clueless but lovely fashionista /cause supporter Lindsey meet much less marry the dorky and forever bumbling Dr. Tobias Funke? Why was daughter Maybee given a name synonymous with 'perhaps'? This question is highlighted even more during an episode when Maybee and her cousin have a conversation at their school in front of a poster exhorting students to vote for 'Surely', Maybee's altar ego.)

The writing is unpredictable and irreverent, taking skillful shots at such topics as car culture, Spanish language soap operas, the Hollywood industry, alopecia, detox programs, fundraisers, nudity in media, and even the war in Iraq (via spoofs of the pursuit and underground discovery of Saddam Hussein) to name but a few. The relationship between show creators and viewers is constantly tweaked - no more so than when the series was threatened with cancellation and the Bluth family's efforts to prevent their company going under become a transparent, cheeky vehicle for the show's efforts to keep itself going, to the extent of a 'savethebluths' website address being flashed on the screen and a very funny discussion among family members about which other networks might offer refuge.

What Doesn't
The only thing Apprentice Writer can criticize in this series is the fact that the public, and therefore the broadcasting powers-that-be, decided to pass on its continued brilliance and cancelled the show after only three seasons. Apprentice Writer chooses to see the silver lining of this cloud; having gone out in a blaze of glory, 'Arrested Development' won't suffer the indignity of jumping the shark (Ha! another Fonzie reference!) and deterioration from genius to mediocrity (Twin Peaks, anyone?).

Rather than sameness-overload and resulting boredom, watching the episodes back to back intensifies the humorous edge and makes the running gags more apparent.

But does it make you laugh? YES, YES, YES!
This series is a satiric treat. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of a highly entertaining weekend, and many happy repeat viewings.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Banned Books Week

Today concludes Banned Books Week.

The American Library Association compiles lists of books most often targeted for complaints about content. Frequently, the reasons why someone decided to lodge a complaint are easyto spot: sensitive topics such as sex (even if sometimes only the possibility of is implied), euthenasia, substance abuse, killings, different forms of families, etc. Sometimes the reasons are more difficult to figure out. A number of books including youthful protagonists, for example, seem to be controversial because of a perception that showing young people thinking for themselves might foster disrespect for authority figures. The travelling cartoon wanderer of 'Where's Waldo?' makes the list (possibly due to a miniscule exposed breast in a fantastically overcrowded beach scene), as does a picture book by the author of the charming 'Little Bear' books (apparently because the preschool-aged hero dreams that he falls out of his pyjamas and becomes coated in cake batter, and is shown briefly unclothed in between).

This week, rather than evaluate a book for humorous content, Apprentice Writer analyzed a young adult book with a more serious theme; 'Julie of the Wolves' by Jean Craighead George. First published in 1972, this Newberry Award Winner follows a 13-year-old Native girl lost in the Alaskan tundra as she attempts to make contact with a wolf clan in order to survive. The review is posted at . The book touches on themes such as conservation, cultural change, childhood marriage, sexual assault, and alcoholism, and continues to stir strong feelings. Should Gentle Readers have come across this book, during their childhood or as adult readers, Apprentice Writer would be interested to know of your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Word Dares

In a follow-up to the previous post, the definition of a freshly created and evocative word comes to us straight from it's inventor.

Pencil Face (noun) : "a person with a long face, a pointed nose, a yellow pall, and an implicated lack of humor"

Word Smith: Lani Diane Rich Source: 'Time Off for Good Behavior'

Usually Apprentice Writer takes a stab at writing a sentence applying the new creation, and dares Gentle Readers to do so as well in the comments. This week, the original will stand instead:
" ...the defense lawyer representing the sleazeballs..was definitely not Mother Teresa. Instead, he was a pencil-faced guy, the kind who couldn't smile without sneering just a little. The sort of guy..demanding that the Salvation Army volunteer stop ringing that damn bell and write him a receipt."