Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year (2012) in Photos

Because photos are pretty.

Disclaimer:  I am not a professional photographer, as the following photos will demonstrate.

Here are some of, but not all, of the highlights of this past year (the ones captured in photographs, anyway):

My sister-in-law's husband (is there a name for that?  is that a thing?) and I destroying snow elementals with swords.

Running the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon with our friends Jon and Andrea (it was actually quite gorgeous).

My sister-in-law and I both graduated with our Masters degrees in April.  (This is my wife's family.)

Notice my brown hood.  And check out those sleeves.  Yeah, you don't see that stuff often.  MFA all the way, baby. (?)

My Dad, sister, and her husband were able to make it down for the graduation as well.

The fattest man I know got married and it was awesome.

We moved to Lehi, where I started writing full time in this shnazzy little office.  That's white-board paint on the wall, by the way. 

A couple of fun trips this summer, including Zion National Park.

Oceanside, CA with Rachel's family (okay okay, this picture is from a few years ago...apparently I didn't take any pictures there this year).

Florida with my family, including Disney World and--of course!--Harry Potter World (or whatever it's called)!  Notice our wands, here.  Pretty awesome.

Rachel was much more excited about halloween than I was, this year...but our costumes turned out quite well.

This guy got re-elected, and I'm pretty happy about that.  Thanks for the low gas prices for Christmas, Obama!  (Hey, if you can blame him for high gas prices, I can blame him for low ones.  He is equally involved in both, and when I say equally I actually mean infinitesimally...)

My parents and brother came down to UT for Thanksgiving--that was the first Thanksgiving we'd spent as a family in at least 5 years, so, yeah, that's pretty cool.  (This was when we went to Temple Square to check out the lights.)

The parentals.

Rachel and I celebrated 6 years of dating and 4.5 years of marriage on 7 December of this year.  Don't you wish your marriage was hot like

It actually snowed in Utah for the holidays this year, which is quite the miracle considering the dismal showing we had last year...

We spent Christmas in La Crescenta, CA with Rachel's family, and had a blast.  Saw Les Miserables on Christmas Eve, and it was just about the best Christmas present ever.

More taking advantage of the snow.  Rachel and Kristi made a pretty sweet snowslide in our backyard.

Also, I had a beard.

There are some other pretty awesome things that happened this year, but those are the visual highlights according to my hard drive.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"I'm afraid we have a slight apocalypse..."*

So it's 21 December 2012, and I've got to post something.  Life as we know it hasn't ended yet, at least not in my part of the world, and I'm pretty sure I know why.  Four words:

Just so you know who to thank when tomorrow rolls around and the majority of people aren't burning in fiery precipitation, or sucked into a surprise black hole, or possessed by a race of ethereal space demons, or just regular dead.

Happy holidays! :-D

*  So sayeth Giles, from BtVS, Season 7, Episode 9.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lock, stock, and...well, you know the rest.

Last week, I mentioned there were some feelings of anger that I might blog about one day.  Well, for at least one of those issues, today is that day.

Here's just a sample of the dozens of memes I've seen circulating social media lately*:

First of all, grammar police time:  a family GETS, families GET.  Second of all, need the obvious be stated?  This particular family's security is of national importance.  Your family's security probably isn't.  Not to mention a secret service detail for every family is something we just don't have the manpower to support, and providing one for every family in America would be a logistical nightmare.  (Wait, that system actually sounds familiar...something about feudal lordship...)

Ad populum, red herring, sweeping generalization, false analogy...need I say more?  And this is one of the more sound memes I've seen out there.  (Of course, I recognize memes are generally reliant on rhetorical fallacies in the first place, so perhaps my expectations are just too high.)

Really?  REALLY?  Would you like to go explain to the victims of Sandy Hook that the reason they or their loved ones are dead is because God is annoyed He isn't allowed in schools?  Or should I?  That's not the God I subscribe to, thanks.

Figured I'd include a positive one.  This, in my opinion, is a much more appropriate reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, CT than any of the above memes.  Focusing on the tragedy and how to deal with it is much more useful than baring your teeth in defense against accusations and legislation and that haven't even been made/proposed yet.

So, yeah, I'm going to talk about gun control.

Quick caveat.  If you haven't read this yet article, go read it.  It's written by a mother with a son who is mentally ill, and it's both poignant and relevant.  The issue of mental health in our country (or, more accurately, the lack of it, and the lack of appropriate, available methods of identifying, dealing with, and treating it) is appalling.  A number of people very close to me deal with mental illnesses, and I've seen firsthand many of the effects.  That said, this post is not going to be about mental illness.  That is an issue.  It does need to be addressed.  Things do need to change.  And, while we're on the subject, there are quite a lot of other factors that go into mass murders like the one in Newtown, CT.  (As pointed out by my friend Jon on his blog.)  A discussion of said factors could be the subject of an entire series of blog posts, or an entire blog, for that matter.

But let's not fool ourselves; gun control is an issue, too.  And while most people would probably agree that our country needs to approach its mental health issues differently, something tells me (memes aside) that not quite as many people would be on board with gun control.  So, let's chat.

First thing's first.  I don't own any guns myself, but I've fired and handled a few different types of firearms in my day.  Many of my family members and friends own guns (and my Dad, as he would say, has "more than you could shake a stick at").  Overall, I think the Second Amendment is a neat thing.  I think it's an important part of our Constitution.  As many of you know, the original intent behind the Second Amendment was to allow civilians the ability to protect themselves from the government.  Hopefully I'm not the only person who thinks that particular purpose is more than a little outdated.  Trust me, if the US Government wants to take you out, even an automatic assault weapon with an expanded ammo cartridge, a fancy laser sight, and scope-y magnificence (redundant, I know) isn't going to save you.  Unless we legalize aircraft carriers, biological, nuclear, and chemical weapons, oh, and drones, than I think you're just out of luck.

That said, I think there are legitimate reasons for owning firearms.  Protection is one.  Hunting is another.  Zombie apocalypses are a very real threat, and we all know how essential firearms will be when one of those comes around.  I'll even, hesitantly, add recreation to this list.

Long story short, I'm not completely against guns.  I don't think guns should be banned.  So all of you who are having a first-class freak-out about how the government is going to confiscate your weapons and murder your family, relax.  Take a chill pill.  I don't want that, and I'm pretty sure the majority of America doesn't want that, so it's probably not going to happen**.

Here's what does need to happen, though:  more regulation regarding the procurement and possession of firearms.  Seriously.  When it's easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver's license, or an apartment contract, or a bottle of Nyquil, something is wrong.  I went with my sister, who is considering purchasing a firearm, a few weeks ago to look at some options.  We could have walked out of the store with a gun that day.  To me, that was a pretty scary realization.  Utah, of course, is one of the most gun-liberal states in the union, but still.

Now, I'm no expert, (neither on guns nor legislation), but I have some vague and ill-informed suggestions that I'm going to propose, anyway.  Which is my First Amendment right, by the way, and we all know First comes before Second, so there.

Suggestions:  Gun licensing might be a good idea--and I mean licensing for any firearm, not just the right to carry a concealed weapon.  Mandatory firearm safety classes could be a good thing, too.  Background checks (including a check for specific forms of mental illness) might also help.  Registering every owner of a weapon, and the make and type of weapons they own, on a national or state list is another possibility.

Many states already operate under some of the above mentioned options, or other similar firearm regulation policies.  And there is indeed a general relationship between states with tighter gun control and states with fewer gun-related deaths (of course, a relationship doesn't indicate direct causality, but it's certainly helpful in piecing these situations together).  While adopting such policies wouldn't eliminate mass shootings, it would help.  These types of laws also wouldn't prohibit common, gun-savvy citizens from exerting their Second Amendment rights.  They could go hunting, go to the shooting range, and perhaps even stop mass shootings from happening (a benefit of bearing arms that the gun-savvy are always so eager to establish), as long as they do the paperwork, as it were***.

What if they don't want to do the paperwork, you ask?  What if it's just too damn inconvenient?  Well, screw inconvenience.  Tell them to suck it up.  If this sort of thing could even potentially stop another Columbine, or VA Tech, or Sandy Hook, then it is worth the effort ten million times over.

But don't take my word for it--look at Australia.  In 1996, Australia suffered the worst mass shooting in its history, and immediately set to work on legislation limiting civilian access to firearms.  And, wonder of wonders...they haven't had a large-scale massacre since.

There's a recent OpEd in the NYTimes that offers some more information on the necessity of gun regulation in America.  I encourage you to check it out for further information.

And don't go all liberal-media on me, either, because, look:  Justice Antonin Scalia--appointed by Ronald Reagan himself, if that means anything to you--said the following****:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.  It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose:  For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues.  The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
The Second Amendment isn't all-powerful, after all--according to a conservative Supreme Court Justice, anyway.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed.  We can't hide behind outdated laws and ignorant claims of entitlement when twenty innocent children are murdered.  Things aren't just going to get better.  On Monday--the next school day after the massacre in CT--a child in Utah brought a gun to school.


Brought a gun.

To a school.

That a child even has access to a firearm without parental supervision defies all forms of sanity.

He claims to have done it to protect himself against a shooting like the one in Newtown.  He also, allegedly, put the gun to a classmates' head and threatened her life.  Another source says his parents encouraged him to bring the gun to school.   Which is, to me, a sign that the entire gun-culture of our country needs to change.

I hope you're willing to help that change along.

*  While I'm quite sure there are some equally offensive/factually incorrect memes out there from the liberal end of things, I haven't seen any. Apparently 90% of my Facebook friends are conservative (or, at least, the majority of the active posters are).

**  This does not mean that I think specific weapons bans--or even a ban of firearms altogether--would be a bad thing.  I see a lot of good that could come from that kind of legislation.  But it might also cause more problems than it solves, and, let's be realistic, that kind of legislation is never going to pass in the USofA.

***  While on the topic of preventing shootings, particularly in schools, I'll briefly address the idea of arming school staff and teachers.  It's ludicrous.  You seriously want to put more guns in schools where children, apparently, don't even understand the danger?  Where there will undoubtedly be people of questionable mental health in close proximity?  Or, let's just indulge the slippery slope for a moment:  why don't we just start arming everyone in schools, students included?  That can't possibly be a bad idea.

****  From the 2008 DC vs. Heller ruling.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

a happy thought

Waking up to snow like this on a Saturday morning is a wonderful thing.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2012

some questions are only meant for god to answer

I cannot--I cannot--imagine what the friends and family members of the victims in Connecticut are experiencing.  I cannot imagine the trauma the survivors are dealing with, and will continue to deal with, for years and years to come.

I don't know what to say about the shooting at Sandy Hook.  I don't know if there's anything to say at all.

So why do I write about it?  To cope, I guess.  I don't pretend to be a victim of this tragedy.  I don't pretend to know what those affected by the shooting are thinking, or what the perpetrator was thinking. I don't pretend that my sorrow means anything compared to the sorrow of those close to this horror, or even to the sorrow of those affected by similar horrors, or even to the sorrow of parents who have children that attend any elementary school and will now--again--suffer the anxiety of uncertainty regarding their children's safety.  I don't pretend that my words will do anything to alleviate their pain.  But the awful truth is that this tragedy, in one way or another, touches all of us.  I just need a way to deal.

Today the media is focusing, overwhelmingly, on the tragedy.  That's fine.  That's to be expected.  But I hope that, in the coming days, more and more stories will emerge about people who acted heroically, who acted rightly, who acted with charity and love and comfort and courage and grace during this event.  I hope that's what we can focus on, and I hope that those are the people and actions we can foreground.

I've been angry about many things I've heard today.  I've been angry at the shooter.  I've been angry about what I've heard about the shooter.  I've been angry about what others have said about the shooter.  I've been angry about the comments I've heard trying to spin this situation one way or another regarding a particular political issue.  I've been angry about the situation in general, and some other things besides.  And, perhaps, I'll write about those feelings of anger one day.  But not today.  There's been enough of those kinds of feelings today.

Instead, today, I pray.  I pray for the shooter's family, and, if I can, I'll pray for the shooter.  But, more importantly, I pray for the families, victims, and survivors.  I'll send my thoughts and condolences to them.  I'm ashamed that's all I can do, but that's just it--right now, today, that's all I can do; that's all I know to do.

I really don't know what else to say.  Some questions are only meant for God to answer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Thoughts on Glee (from a writer/fan's perspective)

So I'm a Gleek.  I admit it.  (Oh, and this post is going to contain some vague spoilers, so if you're worried about that sort of thing and aren't caught up with the episodes, get caught up, and then come back and read this.)  Rachel and I have watched Glee since the pilot episode first aired in May 2009, and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon.  We both love it--the music, the writing, the acting, the humor.  There's a lot to like!

Which is not to say that the show hasn't had some less-than-amazing moments, the whole cliffhanger with Quinn's accident being the one that stands out most in my mind.*  I'm sure there are others, but honestly, I can't think of them.  Hey, I'm biased--what did you expect?

Of course, Glee has had some great moments, too.  Lea Michele and Idina Menzel singing "Poker Face," for example (see below--and excuse the poor quality, but the full performance is worth it). Or when Finn doesn't want to spend too much time talking to Kurt in Quinn's bathroom because "they'll think I'm pooping!"  Pretty much every insult on the show is brilliant (kind of sad, but true, and hilarious), too.

And, most recently, the beginning of a relationship between Brittany and Sam takes its place among those great moments.

Some key elements of backstory:  Brittany is a bisexual and has a cat named Lord Tubbington.  She's (seemingly) always been pretty confident with her sexuality, and has had relationships with a lot of people, but most significantly, and recently, with her best friend Santana (who, on the other hand, was very insecure about her own homosexuality for quite a while, and who happens to be a pretty feisty, often violent, latina).  Sam's a straight dude who happens to have a huge mouth and gigantic lips.

Then, in last week's episode, after a few weeks of hinting at the two potentially getting together, they have this conversation** after Brittany shuts down Sam when he tries to kiss her:

Sam:  Is it my lips?

Brittany:  No.  Your lips are so soft and horizontal.  I just like you too much to put you in danger.

Sam:  Santana broke up with you.

Brittany:  No, it's not just Santana.  It's like...all the lesbians of the nation.  And I don't know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did, they started sending me, like, tweets, and facebook messages on Lord Tubbington's wall.  I think it means a lot to them to see two super-hot, popular girls in love, and I worry if they find out about you and I dating that they'll turn on you and get really violent and hurt your beautiful face and mouth.

Now, later on in the episode, Brittany has a slight change of heart.  Because Sam is the only person who has been able to make her smile since Santana left for college, she decides to give him a chance and sets up a date for them.  "What about the lesbian blogger community?" Sam asks.  "They're not going to like it," Brittany says.  "But the way I figure is that they know they're my sisters, and love is love."  (What, I told you there would be spoilers...!)

HA!  Now, I think this is some great writing.  In one fell swoop***, the writers manage to develop character, begin a relationship in a pretty smart way, and acknowledge in advance some of the criticism they and the characters will certainly receive because of this relationship--if not outright pacify some of that criticism.

Now, some more backstory is in order, here, and this involves some generalizing, so don't murder me for it.  Just take it at face value.  The LGBTQ community (and any minority community, for that matter) tends to invest themselves quite heavily into any characters in television, film, or literature who happen to share their lifestyle choices.  (And for good reason!  They have very few "investment opportunities" to begin with [a phenomenon that is gradually changing for the better], so it makes sense they appreciate and follow very closely those opportunities when they do arise.)  When those characters begin to move in a direction that many in this community don't appreciate, the more active LGBTQ voices tend to state their discontent pretty strongly (whether that discontent is justified, which it often is, or not).  The most significant instance of this that I'm aware of is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the end of Season 6 with Tara and Willow (who are in a homosexual relationship****).  Tara is killed and Willow essentially goes evil-uber-witch crazy about it, and a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, who had been completely inspired and appreciative of the Tara-Willow relationship, got up in arms about this (turns out it is a pretty common trope for a lesbian couple to be "punished" for being lesbians in about the same way--dying and/or going "evil").  Now, despite the fact that neither Joss Whedon nor Marti Noxon intended that part of the storyline to play out as "punishment," they got a lot of flak for it anyway.  And, that sort of thing happens a lot.  (And, I should repeat, that this sort of outrage doesn't just happen with the LGBTQ community--it happens with anyone who feels they are being misrepresented in the media.  I figure that's a given, but I might as well say it.)

So, anyway, back to Glee...I think they handled this inevitable criticism perfectly by essentially breaking the fourth wall***** and saying "hey, look, I know this will disappoint some of you, but please don't freak out--we like the statements we make with the show, but in the end, it's a TV show, and characters kind of run it...and this is what Brittany's character is doing, these days."  Of course, just stating this doesn't make this writing decision okay.  The fact that Brittany is, pretty obviously, a bisexual is a huge reason why this is even possible.  If they were to suddenly put Santana--a staunch homosexual--in a happy relationship with a man (or one of the straight characters into a sudden homosexual relationship, for that matter), that would be a much more difficult plot development to swallow.  But they foreshadowed it well, and prepped their audience well, and then went ahead with a smart story choice.  There's a lot to respect and learn, there.

So, anyway.  I guess this is a really, really long way of saying that I really, really like Glee, and that a huge part of that boils down to something Brittany said.  Love is love, people.


*  I still think that Quinn should have died in that accident.  Not because I don't like her character (I do), or because I think she "deserved" it (I don't), but because, in my ever-so-humble opinion, that's what the storyline needed.  If Quinn would have died, it would have created a great opportunity for Glee to address yet another significant issue (death) with the teeny awkwardness, wit, and panache with which they've addressed homosexuality, bullying, teen romance, and a plethora of other issues.  I also think it may have made the show a bit more manageable.  This may sound cold, but often authors use death as a way to keep the story under control when the characters are threatening to become unmanageable.  The characters in Glee were, and even more so now are, threatening to do that (the characters can barely fit into a one-epidose-a-week format this season).  Killing Quinn off would have alleviated that, if only slightly.  My one qualm with this decision would have been that it might take away from the incredible scene that began the same episode (whatsisname attempting suicide during Blane's rendition of "Cough Syrup"), but honestly, I think the accident already did that either way, which is part of the reason Quinn actually surviving was kind of a let-down in the first place.  Anyway, obviously I have a lot to say on that topic, but essentially it is one of the few choices the show has made that I really didn't agree with.

**  Which I transcribed from watching the episode, so it may not be 100% accurate, but it's probably pretty close...

***  "Fell swoop" might be one of the worst phrases in the english language...and, for me, that's probably because swoop sounds so close to poop.  Hey, I'm just being honest.

****  Incidentally, one of the most genuine, sincere, and natural homosexual relationships on television to date--despite being on a TV show about a high school cheerleader who slays vampires in her spare time.  (By the way, I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably the single greatest TV show in existence, and that is neither exaggeration nor sarcasm.  That's a blog topic for another day.)

*****  Breaking the fourth wall is, essentially, speaking directly to the audience.  Stating "Dear Reader" in a novel, or an actor in a play speaking directly to the audience (which, incidentally, is the literal origin of the term).

Friday, December 07, 2012

Brief Writing Update, oh, and Revision

I'm still working on "Wretched Queen," as you can probably tell from the sidebar.  I'm a bit miffed that I'm not back to working on my novel yet, but honestly, I think it's a really good thing.  Better to put something into the WOTF contest that I feel confident about, first of all, but I've also been learning a bit more about the revision process with this piece, which I think will be immensely helpful when I move back into my novel.

During my MFA program, and pretty much up until this story, my revision process has been sort of a hodgepodge frankenstein conglomerate of writing groups, workshops, line edits, consulting with professors, and so forth.  Don't get me wrong; all of those things were (usually) immensely helpful, and that's how my MFA thesis evolved into what it is now.  But there was no structure to the process.  I'd workshop when a workshop class came around.  I'd be involved in a writing group until it dissolved (which they all inevitably did).  I'd go to a professor when I felt I really needed some direction.  I'd edit for conciseness and clarity right before a deadline.  That's about it.

For this story, my process has been pretty different, and actually aligned with a revision philosophy I've been formulating for the past couple years, but just haven't put into practice until now.

I start with the first draft (version 1.0) of course, where I just get the story out onto paper (or my computer, as it were).  Nothing fancy, just getting the story down.  I've decided, at least for now, that I don't appreciate outside feedback during this process*.  I want to get my idea of the story completely out of my system before I allow anyone else to give me their input.

Next, I do my first revision (version 2.0), but again, I do this one with the door closed.  I'm a discovery writer**, and in a first draft I almost always end up taking things in a different direction than I'd anticipated.  Characters that were there in the beginning suddenly disappear halfway through the story, or characters appear out of nowhere.  Settings change in my head, but I don't change them on paper.  Plot twists develop out of nowhere and need some retroactive foreshadowing.  So, generally, before I show a story to outside eyes, there's a lot I need to fix after the first draft.  I know I need to fix it, so I figure I might as well do that before I show it to anyone else; that way I don't have people wasting their time telling me things I already know I need to change.

After the first revision is when I finally give the story to my first readers (a group that usually consists of my wife and one to three close friends or writer acquaintances).  I give them time to read the story and give me basic feedback--nothing about the grammar or writing on the sentence level, but rather the more global issues regarding plot and character development, etc.--and after receiving this feedback, I jump into my second major revision (version 3.0).

At this point, depending on how strong I feel the basics of the story are, I may or may not do a more micro-level revision (version 3.n, depending on how many times I've gone through the second major revision) in which I focus on the writing itself--using active verbs, eliminating unnecessary words, etc.  I won't put a ridiculous amount of energy into this, but I'll do what I can before I send it out to my next group of readers.

Once that's done, I send it out to another group of friends/writerly acquaintances--my beta readers.  Same cycle as before:  they read, give me basic feedback, and I read through that feedback and make the changes I find necessary*** in the third major revision (version 4.0).

At this point, any number of things may happen.  I may feel it is ready to submit to the contest, or send to the journal, or query to the agent, etc.  If that's the case, I'll do one more cutthroat revision (version 5.0) in which I look once again at the story on a paragraph and sentence level and really focus on streamlining the writing.  I'll often have a goal of cutting 10% of the total wordcount of the draft (hence the title of this particular revision) to make sure my writing is as efficient as I can possibly make it.  At that point, it's submission time!

If I don't feel the story is ready after that third major revision, I'll essentially repeat the process of finding more readers (or a writer's group, at this point), getting feedback, mulling over that feedback, and then integrating it into the story until I'm satisfied ("satisfied" being an extremely relative term in this case).

That's the revision process I've been following with "Wretched Queen," and so far (I've just received feedback from my first readers and am about to move into the second major revision) I've really liked it.  I feel much more direction with this process than I ever did while I was in school, which makes sense, because this particular process actually...has...direction...

This is also the revision process I plan on following with my novel.  Once "Wretched Queen" is done and submitted, I'll jump back into my first major revision of Before the Dark.

So there you have it!  That's the process I've developed at this point, and I'll stick with it until I find something better (which I may very well find; writing is an organic process, I think).

*  In his book On Writing (which, I think I've mentioned before, is one of the best books about writing on the market), Stephen King essentially says to "write with the door closed, revise with the door open."  I think that's a great concept for me, at least in this stage of my craft.

**  A discovery writer, in a nutshell, is someone who writes without the direction of an outline--also called writing by the seat of your pants.  Outlines have, historically, limited me more than motivated me.

***  I don't think I've ever taken ALL of someone's revision advice.  There are almost always things I completely agree need to change/happen, and there are almost always things that I know I can ignore for whatever reason.  That's just the nature of feedback, I think--that was even the case with my writing professors in my MFA program.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Yep. That's right. It's real.

My bow tie, that is:

Not some clip on, clip around nonsense.  And yes, I tied it all by myself.  Don't they have awards for that sort of thing?