Friday, January 22, 2010

Response to Jen Widrig's Truth-Telling

Jen Widrig, my friend from college (and fellow teacher, and a writer, and a parent) has just posted a good piece about telling kids the truth on her blog here. I thought I'd share a similar (but less fraught) incidence of some truth-telling tonight.

Tonight, while we re-watched an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender (great show, by the way), Noah asked why the camera cut away from a fight scene right in the middle just because the protagonist flew away.

"Well," I said, "because this is third person limited narration."

Paige burst out laughing. "Noah, your dad is such an English teacher."

"What I mean," I explained, "is that this episode is Appa's story, so when Appa leaves we follow him."


"Can you say 'Third person limited narration'?" I asked.

"'Third person limited narration'," he said.

"There. Now you know something that I teach to 9th graders, and you're only five. Not bad, eh?"

He nodded. "Not bad."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pat Robertson's Service to the World

I expect that everyone has now heard about Pat Robertson's comments about the earthquake in Haiti. If you missed it, he claimed it was a punishment from God for a pact the Haitians made with the Devil to free their country from France.

Here's what he said: "And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story, and so the Devil said OK it’s a deal. And they kicked the French out."

Well, this complete myth about Haitians sacrificing to the Devil supposedly happened in 1791 (and whatever). That's four years before Napoleon III was born (true story), and, if you believe the myth, they gifted the nation to Satan for two hundred years, which means Satan's lease ran out in 1991. (Thanks to Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver for pointing this out on The Bugle.) But why quibble over details when the man's logic is so sound?

I had a little insight about Pat Robertson I'd like to share.

Now, this is no defense of the man, mind you. But I've tried to be charitable and imagine why he might say something so thoroughly awful. And here's my guess. I think Pat Robertson sees a genuine tragedy and wants us to take our minds off it. He's not doing this to gain attention for himself. That would be selfish douchebaggery. No, he sees our pain and wants to help us. He realizes we feel a sense of helplessness in the face of such horror, and is concerned that we'll blame God. As a man of the cloth, he has to do his part to defend the Big Guy, so he tries to redirect our hatred towards himself.

Pat Robertson's logic, in a nutshell: Hate the giant earthquake that just caused such devastation? Well, maybe I can make you hate me even more.

Remember what he said about 9/11?
Jerry Falwell: "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."
Pat Robertson: "I totally concur, and the problem is we've adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government."

See, it's Pat Robertson logic again (with the help of Jerry Falwell): Think 9/11 was a bad thing? I can try to do worse.

Like I said, I'm not defending the guy. He's essentially said we should worship a God who would cause things like 9/11 and devastating earthquakes. Way to evangelize, Pat.

Still, I give him points for effort. I think 9/11 and the Haitian earthquake are, on balance, worse than Pat Robertson. But you have to admit, he is competitive. It's hard to hate something as abstract as the shifting of tectonic plates. But hating the host of The 700 Club? Easy.

Thanks for replacing my sadness and despair with revulsion and anger. Heckuva' job, Pat.

Pitch for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

I'm going to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. They ask for a 300 word itch. Here's my 297, with some very good feedback I've received on the list-serve on Amazon for exactly that purpose. Please feel free to add your two cents. Nickles and dimes are better. Feel free to hammer it (how much change would that be?).


On her knees, hands tied behind her back, Portia looks up at the two government agents who will torture her before killing her. Why would she give her life for the boy who showed up at school halfway through the year? Sure, he's special. But Portia doesn't care about politics. So why is she helping Calum escape from their boarding school? After all, he's not interested in her. He's dating her roommate and former best friend. As one of the agents touches the knife to her skin, Portia acknowledges the sad fact; she's broken her strict rules. She's fallen in love with Calum.

Portia’s Broken Rules tells the story of Portia, the consummate popular girl who knows all the tricks for getting the right boy, handling herself at the party, and staying in the spotlight. It also tells the story of Calum, the lower-class guy who finds himself at the elite prep school. And the story of Jenea, Portia’s mousy best friend who finds herself in a relationship with Calum. So what if Portia has secretly fallen for Calum, despite all her rules? It’s the most innocent love triangle in the world.


Except that world is the most elite prep school in Phalangium, a country where the upper class maintains control through The Subjugation, the ritual Highs use to take control of the bodies of their servants; to humiliate, to punish, to kill. Calum, a Low, could destroy the strict caste system if he can’t be assimilated, because he knows how to perform The Subjugation. If Calum steps out of line he’ll have to be killed, along with anyone foolish enough to get too close to him. There is no innocence in Phalangium. But in the midst of so much pain, can there be any real love?

Comments so far:

Barbara J. Angstadt says:
Benjamin -
I really like your pitch; it starts out sounding like a fairly routine boarding-school novel (except the government agents bit, a teaser to the final paragraph) and then it adds the twist at the end. Personally, I'd love to read your book. It sounds original and edgy. Good luck in the contest! :-)

Sheryl Dunn (SWOOP) says:
Benjamin, don't use any wording similar to "tells the story of" in the pitch. That's telling. Just show us what the story is about with the emphasis on your main character.

Kieth Massey says:
Hi Benjamin,
I wonder if you shouldn't bring in a description of the alternate world/country where this happens a bit earlier, perhaps even highlight it as a fusion of a fantasy world with elements of a typical teen's existence. For me, I was reading this as our world/country, albeit one in which a young person is facing down an intelligence officer, so when the final description came, it seemed intrusive to me, kinda like, oh, all the above was taking place in Phalangium, etc.
My two cents.

Vivian Davenport says:
The story starts out sounding like Portia's story but the last paragraph makes it sound like Calum's story. It's difficult to critique the pitch without knowing whose story it is.
We should know the sci-fi/fantasy aspects of this in the first paragraph, not the last.
If this is Portia's story...
The first paragraph has way too much detail about Portia. The first two sentences are real grabbers, and I think you should answer the question right away, not wait until the last sentence. You could combine two things like: [She loves him, and she loves him more than her country's strict caste system.] Then start the next paragraph with info about the Highs and Lows and The Subjugation.
If this is Calum's story...
Don't start off with Portia.
Now why is a lower-class guy attending an elite prep school? Is he attending there under false pretenses?
Capitalize the title.
Drop the 'finds him/herself'. They weren't dropped from a plane, were they?
Good luck!

Any other suggestions out there?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Experimenting with Twitter

I've never been quite the early adopter I want to be. I reluctantly bought a cell phone long after everyone else, not wanting to give up that much of my personal space-time. Now I can't imagine how my wife and I found one another from opposite sides of a Target without them. I got into Facebook when my wife told me she'd just friended my mother. Yes, Mom beat me to Facebook. Now, while watching two football games, a basketball game, and the two hour season premier of Chuck, I have some time on my hands and think I'll experiment with this Twitter phenomenon.

Here's the big question: Can I manage to express even the simplest idea in only 140 characters?

So, I'm at teachergorman

We'll see how this goes.