I’m not a big fan of country music.  That said, when done well, it captures our human condition better than most contemporary musical genres.  I think Dwight Yoakum and, more recently, Miranda Lambert and Zac Brown write some poignant, moving songs that don’t sink into melodrama.  
 
     Unfortunately, they seem to be the exceptions.  I live in a house of country music fans.  Sadly for me, I regularly hear all the rest of the formulaic crap.  Apparently someone in Nashville issued a memo on how to write a country song.

     First, your song has to be about “here.”  Here is the mythical southern place you claim to be from.  Here is far better than all other “theres.”  In here, people do honest work unlike in all those big city theres.  Here doesn’t happen to be rife with meth labs, racism or rampant poverty.  Everyone has a good time on the weekend in here, but they all go to church on Sunday morning.

     Next, your song must be sung with a ridiculous southern twang regardless of where you’re from.  A current chart topper is from North Dakota.  There is no hint of a Fargo tinged “Oh, hey dere” in his singing. And then there is Keith Urban.  He also sings with a southern accent.  He’s from fucking
Australia.

     Your song must reference cold beer or sweet tea. If it does not, it isn’t a country song. You’re assured of a megahit if you reference both in the same song.

     There must be a pickup truck and a girl in cutoff jeans in your song.  A tractor may be substituted
for the truck.  There is no negotiating the girl in the cutoff jeans.

     A lot of writing, particularly genre fiction, is also formulaic.  (See what I did there?) 
Fantasy novels are practically required to adhere to the greek heroic myth.  Hero crosses threshold, reaches anagnorisis, etc, etc.  YA novels must deal with a dystopian future or a young girl coming of age through abuse, bullying, a fractured family, illness, death, and whatever other shit you can pile on the poor protagonist.  
 
     Yes, I understand free market economics.  What sells gets done…over and over.  Going back to the music analogy, we need more punks in all facets of our lives.  Punk rock was born because people looked around at disco, “If you like pina coladas,” or “Sky rockets in flight, afternoon delight,” puked in their mouths a little and said, “Fuck that.”  We need more grunge and not just because I like flannel shirts.  Grunge happened because the hair bands had made a parody of rock music.

     I may not sell a lot of books, but I will never be an Australian singing with a southern accent.

 
 
Pit any book against its film version and odds are you’ll find someone who claims the book was better.
Unless it’s one of these, then both versions leave you empty.
Sources: Atlas, Twilight
Not everyone feels this way of course, but those who do will tell you that books are better because they provide background information that movies leave out because of time restraints.

After all, who wants to watch a movie that stops every 27 seconds to fill you in about what the characters are thinking and why they're thinking it?
For example, these two are pondering their horrible career choice.
Source: The Atlantic
Not that all movies are void of description, though. Sometimes directors will try to give the audience hints about what's going through the character's mind by cutting to a shot of what the character's staring at.

Sometimes the character is contemplating the deeper thoughts of a painting and how it applies to their life. Sometimes they're flipping through a photo album and reminiscing about someone they love. Sometimes they're silent, and sometimes they're overlapped with music and/or a character's thoughts, which serve as expose.
"As we ate after the funeral, all of us remembered how Dad used to extend his finger and ask us to pull it."
Credit: Liz Lawley

I'm not saying that books don't provide better depth than movies. They usually do, especially when it concerns character development. It's just that movies aren't meant to present information the same way as books.

And, no, that doesn't mean the book is
better than the movie.

I have never heard anyone listen to a song and think, "This would make a better poem." That's just me, though. My sample size is small. There's probably at least one person out there that has thought that before, and they deserved to be shot.

Songs are meant to have music - and sometimes words. Movies are meant to have video and sound - and sometimes no words. Expecting a movie to be exactly like a book is the same as expecting a PowerPoint to be exactly like an essay.
"And now I will read you every word of my presentation."
Credit: Ohio Sea Grant
Books are made into movies because the two formats are closely related. They're like cousins. Unfortunately, books can't be shoved into a magic movie-making machine and be turned into a movie a few hours later. It takes people to do that, but only because machines haven't even mastered translating words, let alone emotions and intent – yet.
Translation: To use most happy time make not toy in eye poke.
Credit: Thomas S.
Directors, script writers, set designers, and actors are artists. They bring their own interpretations to a piece and odds are you'll hate it because it’s not exactly the same as yours. That, and because it you liked the original better than the remake.

When you read a book, it's your voice, and your set design. You've chosen the actors, the background settings, and the tempo. You create the music and the ambiance. And all of that's personal to you.

Unless you're listening to one of those books-on-tapes.

So that's why Satan has such a sexy baritone voice.
Source
Just because a character watches a sunset over the ocean doesn't mean you are picturing the same thing as another person that read the same book. Even if the author writes that the "sunset was a pool of orange floating still on a gray ocean" doesn't mean you're picturing the same hue of orange. Just the idea of a black leather couch contains a hundreds of different options.

If you don't believe me, run a Google Image search for "black leather couch." There are hundreds of results, and all of them are probably better than anything you own.
Even this one.
Think of it this way. Have you ever bought a product before? Maybe it was a 5-gallon coffee maker with an intravenous drip. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that you love it.

Then, someone tells you they think that 5-gallon coffee maker with the IV drip is a waste of time and money. They don't need it. They don't even drink coffee. Suddenly, all you can think about doing is ripping that smug grin off their non-coffee drinking face.


Guess what. That's exactly how people feel when you say the book was better.


Yes, you are entitled to your opinion. This one's mine. I don't think the books and movies are equally comparable, and I enjoy reading as much as the next person.
Unless the next person is this guy.
Source: Time Enough at Last
But it's time to stop telling people that the book was better than the movie because all you're really saying is that you read the book, and you want everyone to know that.

Besides, sometimes
even authors think that the movie version of their book was better.

- S.R.
 
 
Men and women are different. No, I didn’t just learn this lesson from seventh grade physiology.  As I age, it just continues to strike me how completely dissimilar our wiring is. There are days when I’m not even sure we’re the same species. I found these gender contrasts especially vivid in my MFA program, and I was reminded of that on a recent vacation with two of my grad school besties.
                 
Twice a year we attended a residency.  Think of summer camp but for grownups and with lots of reading and writing, and it cost more than any summer camp ever…and there was alcohol. 
Residencies were intense, and incredible bonds of friendship were made.  When you read someone’s writing, not the polished and edited finale, but their raw, neonatal words, you
peek into their soul. 
                  
At one residency, on Star Island, I went to visit one of the aforementioned vacation besties. 
This woman is an all around awesome human.  I would not describe her as “girly,” and I mean that as the highest of compliments.  There was a group of our female classmates in her room, and they invited me in.   They had snacks in serving bowls.   We were on an island.  Where the hell did they get serving bowls?  They had napkins. They had a bar set up, with glasses, and all arranged on a lace doily.  I can’t even speculate where the doily came from.  We sat and talked writing and lives and kids.  They comforted and consoled one another about manuscripts and edits and deadlines.
                 
In contrast, my room had a bottle of bourbon and no glasses.   When the guys came over, we just passed it around.  There is a monolith on that island.  Think Washington monument, but smaller.  Every night, at midnight, even the night the Nor’ Easter raged, a group of males navigated
through the dark to the monolith, and we read something we’d written.  Then we insulted each other, made jokes  about penis size and writing ability, and assured each other that they were all
going to fail.  
                  
Why did we hike to the monolith at midnight?  Because it seemed cool in a “Dead Poet’s Society” sort of way.  Why did the women need a lace doily?  I assume it brought a degree of civility.  No female
hiked to the monolith in the middle of a near hurricane to read and be insulted.  It probably didn’t occur to them.  In my group of guys, it certainly never occurred to us to have things like glasses or mixers.  
                  
Yes, I know these are sort of routine, stereotypical gender examples.  What I found fascinating
was the subtext.  In both cases, there was a fostering of community and support.  How we went about bonding was so polar opposite. Jon and I became lifelong friends out of a shared, competitive desire to eat well.   Dining on that island is communal and family style.   The first night they ran out of food, and Jon and I were given bowls of soggy, overcooked carrots for dinner.  We spent the rest of our time there devising and perfecting a system that ensured we were having seconds before most people sat down.   (it involved excluding vegetarians and kosher Jews, required exactly ten
people who could move quickly, etc).   Shane and I bonded over our mutual enjoyment of stealing a guy’s  wheelchair.  Jon would take a bullet for me.  Shane probably would too, but he’s so scrawny it would just pass through and kill us both. Jon, on the other hand, could definitely stop a bullet…or a missile.
                 
I was reminded of these things on the recent vacation.   The BSW (that’s Beautiful Sunny Woman for the uninitiated) and I rented a beach house. Two great friends, females, from the program, joined us.  As we prepared for the trip, the BSW wanted to know lots of things.  What did they take in their
coffee?  Were there certain foods they liked or didn’t?  Were they early risers?  One of them was  coming with her husband and kids.  What do the kids like to do?  What kind of cereal do they like? And on and on.
                 
My answer to all the questions was, “How the fuck would I know?”  She gave me the “I’m being patient with you because I know you’re borderline retarded” look.  I was pretty proud just to recall that one of them was deathly allergic to seafood.  I really only remembered that because I wanted to stab her with her Epi pen in the event of anaphylactic shock.
                 
By day two of the vacation, the BSW knew the answers to all those questions.  In contrast, the other
husband and I stayed up late one night and compared broken bones and best fight scenes in movies.
                 
Really, isn’t awareness of a fractured collarbone more important than one sugar and a dash of cream?  Nah, they’re the same.  They’re how we connect.

 
 
I was sitting in my living room watching Gossip Girls on Hulu while scoffing down three Healthy Choice macaroni TV dinners – I needed to lose twenty pounds – when my bulldog, Penny, jumped up on the couch. She was soaking wet. 
“What happened?” I asked. 

She just looked at me and burped.

“What do you mean the washing machine overflowed?”

I paused my show and went into the laundry room with Penny in tow. The floor was completely flooded. My cat, Tripper, was stuck in his litter box, floating in my new indoor pool. Penny sat at the waters edge, wagging her stump of a tail, knowing his feline adversary was hers for the taking. What was I to do? I'm an unemployed writer.  I can’t afford a new machine, so I reached out to my boys. 

“There’s a used appliance store next to my van,” D.R. Leo said. I had to remind him that a junkyard is not a store. 
 
“What about Craigslist?,” Remer said. I questioned Remer about this Craigslist. “It’s a fabulous website where people get things cheap.” 


I go to the site and I am amazed. So many links to chose from, but one catches my eye, PERSONALS.
I forget about my search for a new washer and investigate.  There are women seeking men, and men seeking women – there is even a link for men seeking men – and casual encounters. I couldn’t resist.

As I combed the ads of people searching for that special connection, I noticed a new language of abbreviation. There were acronyms with no definitions.  I did what any good journalist would do and deciphered the ciphers.  Here are the deciphers of my top five personal ads.

1.      BBW  ISO  BBC for a  BD: This is all common sense stuff.  Better Business Writer In Search Of a Bible Baptist College for a Business Degree. I applaud this person for wanting to better themselves at a college of faith.

2.      WC  ISO  BSM  for a  FWB: This one was easy.  A Working Couple In Search Of a Body Style Molding for a Fleetwood Brougham – that’s and old style Cadillac. Nice, right!

3.      BBW ISO for NSA: Better Business Writer In Search Of a Native Speaking Arab.  Yes, I thought the same thing. These adds are filled with writers.

4.      TS needs WS, LTR:  For this one decipher, I had to ask a friend of mine who just returned from Iraq.  Tactical Sergeant needs Weapons Specification on Light Tactical Rifle. Even when they are home, our men and women are still training to keep our country safe.   

5.      WE  GM looking for a BBC connection: Another one that took some digging, but here it is.  Women’s Entertainment Global Media looking for a British Broadcasting Company connection.

I am sure the first time you looked at Craigslist Personals Section, you thought it was all about people wanting to hook-up.  Women trying to sell their bodies for money, and horny men promising anything for a meet and…greet? But let me assure you, CPS is all about connecting people who just want some PC for the LT or ST.  It’s all about coming together.  

Now, about that washer.

~ J.S. 
 
 
Can women eat a cookie? Can they walk up and down stairs? Can they ride a bike?
Can they arrest you for insulting them?     
Credit: Richard Masoner
If you didn't find those questions baffling, offensive, or sexist, then you probably need to live alone and without contact from society. Maybe a cave within a cave. Someplace dark until you're ready to open your eyes.

Yes, I am male, and yes I’m writing this. But I believe men can - and should - write stories with leading women. I also feel society should stop modifying "female" with strong, and "strong female" with character.

This shouldn't be challenging. Others have succeeded at it with no more struggle than they've had at writing male characters. The only real difference between the two is that one has the capability of becoming pregnant and reducing testosterone through crying.

Joss Whedon, known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers and having his name mistaken for Josh, constantly writes strong characters. Sometimes his characters have y-chromosomes, sometimes they don’t. When they don't, the characters have all the traits you would normally expect – goals, beliefs, flaws, struggles, and abs. They have pasts to overcome, ethics to be challenged, and imperfections to hide.

It doesn’t matter if they’re male, female, gay, lesbian, transgender, or hermaphrodite.
What were you picturing?
Credit: Thomas Brown
They all have something to worry about, something to fear, something to go after. They’re not just waiting around for someone to come sweep them off their feet and claim them as a prize for bravery.

Again, what were you picturing?
Unfortunately, in an effort to clean up the transgressions of the past, writers have avoided stereotypes and commonalities at all costs. Women have become unrealistic kick-ass soldiers that know eight forms of Taekwondo and complex computer codes - all while still hitting the gym six hours a day.

They’re stripped of what makes them human and left with shallow caverns where their personalities and emotions once were. They have a total disregard to everyone with and without a pules, yet still accomplish anything they want. That doesn’t work for any character.

"We gave her 'car knowledge' because having Shia Labeouf claim her at the prize desk was too sexist." - What the screenwriters probably said about Megan Fox's character in Transformers.
Credit: lopex2k95
It’s not even that strong characters have to bend gender stereotypes like Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie series (bet you didn't know her first name was Ellen), or Sarah Connor from the Terminator films.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice wants to marry, but her pursuit involves the societal contradictions of the 19th century. Matilda from Roald Dahl’s surprisingly titled, Matilda, was strong, and she just wanted some parents to support her.

"One day, I'll live in a home where there isn't abuse."
Source
And then, there’s Skyler White from Breaking Bad. She might possibly be the most hated woman in television history. (Fans?) have (dedicated?) sites to despising her, including a Facebook page that might just be the world's attempt at listing every offensive thing you can say about a woman.

At least that’s what it turns out to be after you read the page title correctly and realize it’s not a prostitution ring.

Skyler, for all intents and purposes, is a woman in the role of a housewife, despite once working in the accounting department of a local business. When her husband’s meth-cooking scheme goes too far, she responds. She struggles. She fails. She turns outright nasty at times. When she does, she draws the ire and hatred of so many fans who feel she’s not being supportive enough or giving her husband whatever he needs. Some of the comments people post about her are down right misogynistic.

WARNING! - Offensive and crude language in the following image. Skip ahead to avoid it and your loss of faith in humanity.

Might as well just say you hate women while you're at.
It's unfortunate when a strong character, which happens to be a woman, receives this response, especially when the character opposite of her has become a power-craved murderer, whose only purpose in life anymore is to see how many people he can squish under the treads of his shoes.

Sure, it's natural to cheer for the protagonist despite their flaws and shortcomings, but protagonists can only be liked as much as the antagonists are hated. In this case, there aren't many people more hated than Skyler.

That's sad, because her character is one the best written on television. She’s deep and nuanced. She serves as an amazing on-again, off-again antagonist. When the show devotes time to her character development, it's still just as good. She's a character that anyone could spend hundreds of hours studying and analyzing. She's strong and she just happens to be a woman.
And she can drive, too!  (See how stupid that sounds?)
Source
People need to take the time to recognize that her character should be lauded for the complexity and drive she has. Every choice she makes, every thought she has, every quirk she displays all match her past experiences and her future desires.

If Skyler were a man, or if the character traits of her and Walt were switched, I think everyone would still see her as a conniving backstabber and Walt as the hero. Even if their characters were switched, we would still be asking why his character is so riveting and entertaining. We would be asking how to make other characters as strong and immersed as him.

So, there are really two options here. Either we can acknowledge that there are no differences between female and male characters other than anatomy, or
we can continue stuffing our heads in dark, moist places and keep asking, Can women be people, with thoughts, emotions, and desires?

~ S.R.
 
 
Picture
Been home from the Shire for a few days and like most recent MFA graduates, I have been doing my best to avoid writing at all costs. Therefore, in my finite wisdom, I decided to have a super hero marathon – this has lasted several days.  

I’ve watched Superman, Batman, X-Men (all of them), Wolverine, Spiderman, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man (one and two), Ghost Rider, and even went as far as watching The Avengers and The Justice League animation series.  

Three days into my Super Hero Festival, I hadn't showered.  My English bulldog, Penny, with all her burping and farting wouldn’t come by me. I took a shower.

As I was removing the stench of stagnation, I realized my favorite super heroes have always been
from DC Comics, but my favorite super hero movies and TV shows are Marvel Comics.  How could this be?  Who doesn’t want to wear Hal Jordon’s ring, or take a ride in the Batmobile or Lois Lane. 

I just couldn’t understand why I enjoyed Marvel more than DC.  Then it hit me like a fight scene from the 1960s Batman and Robin TV series (the one staring Adam West): BAM! POW! SLAM! Stan Lee, the major creator for Marvel Comics, creates flawed super heroes. 

His heroes, and his villains, are character driven, not plot driven like DC Comics. Peter Parker is constantly dealing with the consequences of his past choices. Tony Stark has everything a man can want, but is alone. Ant-Man and The Wasp have relationship difficulties. The list goes on.
Even Marvel’s Villains have moments of clarity where the viewer or reader thinks they might give up their evil ways. In recent years, Magneto has become a popular Marvel villain. After being freed from the Nazis, Magneto teams with fellow mutant Charles Xavier to help other mutants.  After being betrayed by those he trusts, he decides there is no room for normal humans in the world, and vows to help create a world ruled by mutants.  There are times throughout the course of his storyline that Magneto seems to question his evil ways.  Not unlike the greatest villain, Darth Vader, who starts off as good, but when events turn, turns evil only in the end to save the day.  It is this human quality.  This glimpse into humanity that makes super villains likeable.  The chance of redemption. The Joker is just pure evil; no redeeming qualities. 

Good story telling is good story telling no matter what form the story takes, whether a literary novel, poem, movie, or comic book.  Great stories have great characters and those characters drive the story's arc not the plot. We want to see our characters in motion whether it be morally or emotionally.  We want them scared with demons and a past to overcome. We want to be invested.

Once there, we want some good fight scenes and many explosions. BOOM!

If literary fiction and nonfiction are defined as character-driven stories, then I will make the argument that comic books and graphic novels that follow the same disciplinary agreement should be considered literary, and thus, should be required reading in high school and colleges across the nation.

What better way to judge a society than by what society’s artists and intellectuals are debating and creating.  Comic books combine art: visual and written.  The stories contained inside the colored, stapled pages tell us of our pasts and let us foresee our future. Within those pages are stories of characters who struggle with their own sense of self, and just like us, they are flawed.  The only difference between them and what we call literary writers is they write in bubbles with pictures.

~J.S.