Thursday, August 21, 2014

Battling Constructive Criticism - Ferret Style

Scholarly ferret has answers.
There are many things we'll hear from critique partners during our writing journeys. I've heard them about my stories and you'll hear them about yours, if you haven't already. These words are hurtful when you first hear them. After all, writing fiction is an art form and the creative soul cannot be judged, for art has value only to the artist. But if you want to sell your art, you are opening yourself up to scrutiny, right?

I encountered such criticisms in one of my first creative writing classes and I can tell you my reaction wasn't pretty. I'd spent almost $400.00 to take this class and I had better not hear anything but how great my writing is and how wonderful my story.

That didn't happen, unfortunately. I heard many things, and I'm about to share them with you. Trust me, I was steaming mad. The vulgar gestures I produced after having read the "constructive criticisms" of my classmates, went largely unnoticed, mainly because it was an online class and my computer shielded me from the rest of the group.

Q: Whose story is this?

A: What the hell are you talking about? It's my story, bitch!

Just kidding. When I was first asked this question, I wasn't sure what folks were talking about. I've introduced three characters already, so obviously it's about "at least" three characters, right?  ...right?

Confused ferret asks question.

It's their way of saying that they believe a story should have one main character and that character should have a story all about them and their journey. Fine and dandy! I get it. For new writers, maybe it's smart to stick to this "template" but seriously, there's more than one way to write a story folks.

Q: What is the main goal of your character?

A: Shouldn't you read more than the first chapter before you ask that question?

This is no joke. Why do you have to know the goal of my character when you start reading the story? Do you want to know the goal in the first chapter so you can then decide whether or not to buy the book? Is more than 15 minutes of reading in Barnes & Noble too much time to waste deciding whether or not the goal of my character is important enough to fork out $5.99? Read the back cover!

Angry ferret's favorite acronym RTFM

Okay, so the goal of my character is to travel to China, unlock the mystery behind the ancient Chinese secret, and rescue the world. Tada! End of story in only one chapter. Chapter Two: Does the Character Meet Her Goal?

Q: Do you expect us to believe your character actually drove off that cliff and survived?

A: It's fiction! 

The answer to this question is obvious. No, I don't expect you to believe it because it didn't happen for real. It happened in my story, and my story is fiction. If you do the same things my characters do and think you'll get away with it, then you deserve to die! Much like the Mountain Man.

Ferret wants you to chill.

Q: Couldn't you change it to read more like "blah blah blah blah blah, "blah, blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah?"

A: No, because then it would be YOUR story, not mine.

Writers are so funny when we critique other work. We all do it, but let's be honest. When we like something, we always want a crack at it to see if our version will sound better, look better, smell better, or taste better. Just like chefs, there's always a twist to make it better. Just remember, it's my food you are sampling. If you like it, get the basic recipe. You can always add your twist to it in your own kitchen, when you make your version.

Ninja ferret is not happy!

Q: Why is there so much head-hopping going on here?

A: What the hell is head-hopping?

I seriously did not understand this whole concept of head-hopping. It made me angry for so many people to tell me I was doing this when I didn't even know what it meant. In the voice of a whiny, little brat, "How does Jane know that John is feeling sad? She's not privy to his thoughts."

Can you guess ferret thoughts?

Um, I'm the author writing the story. Jane doesn't need to know that John is sad. I'm telling you he's sad! I know he's sad and because I know he's sad, Jane knows he's sad, and now so do you! Now shut up and read the rest of my story.

Do you recall any criticisms which made you feel immediately defensive about your writing? Please share!

Smiley faceIf you enjoyed this article and would like to receive future articles in your inbox --- Subscribe to our free newsletter

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do You Know Me? Crossword Puzzle

I found this fun puzzle maker online today. The answers can be found on my blog by using my simple search function. If you enjoy filling this out, create one for yourself at the puzzle site and invite your readers to learn more about you. Let's get interactive! I'm on vacation this weekend so I get to play just a little.

Relating to characters is so easy when they are doing things we enjoy. Why not crossword puzzles?

"I need another word for convince."

"How many letters?"


"What about urge?"

"That doesn't fit."

"You said four letters."

"Yeah, but the third letter is an A." After a brief moment in thought she says, "I got it. Sway."

Bret wonders why she even asks anymore.

Smiley faceIf you enjoyed this article and would like to receive future articles in your inbox --- Subscribe to our free newsletter

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Parsing a Feed with PHP

Maybe this isn't such a big deal for many of you out there, but to me it's something of an accomplishment. Had I known it would be this easy, I would have explored this option way before now.

Upon learning PHP, I had to dig in to find out what all I could uncover with this new language. For the past several years, I've migrated toward the web side from mainframe development. Get it? It's like Internet double speak combining website with a reference to the dark side. Still don't get it? Okay, never mind.

So anyway, if you are learning PHP and want to see your code rendered, try out XAMPP. You can run it on your PC's localhost. This will allow you to run your PHP scripts without having to upload to a server on a hosted site.

Includes: Apache 2.4.9, MySQL 5.6.16, PHP 5.5.11, phpMyAdmin 4.1.12, OpenSSL 1.0.1, XAMPP Control Panel 3.2.1, Webalizer 2.23-04, Mercury Mail Transport System 4.63, FileZilla FTP Server 0.9.41, Tomcat 7.0.42 (with mod_proxy_ajp as connector), Strawberry Perl 7.0.42 Portable.

To all of my techie readers out there, try PHP to render RSS feeds from all your "fed" sites like Youtube, BBC News, Facebook, and your Blog. Of course, I haven't figured out the blog thingy just yet. I'm starting on a new adventure.

The instructions can get a bit hairy, but don't worry. If you perform all the steps exactly as written, it will all work out for you. I promise. I just ran some PHP code to grab and embed my last three uploaded videos from Youtube. It's all rendered in HTML at the end of the script with one simple line of code "echo $html;"

Published material has never been so easy to aggregate. Now that's progress! Don't you agree?

Smiley faceIf you enjoyed this article and would like to receive future articles in your inbox --- Subscribe to our free newsletter

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Writing Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Don't call me crazy, but I was a bit depressed this past weekend. I wanted to write something so desperately and my brain wouldn't work. As a matter of fact, it worked against me!

Tim asked me why I was being so quiet and I didn't have an answer. He knew I'd had writer's block for the past month and the concern on his face was quite touching, so I blurted it out, "I want a ferret!"

He had this WTF look on his face, but I pressed on, "They're like cats and you can litter train them."

"They smell."

"No they don't."

"They do!"

"Let's go to Carol's Critters. I'll call them and see if they have any. I just want to look at one. You'll see how cute they are and you'll agree that we should get one."

Turned out they did have one and when we arrived at the store, there she was, resting in a hammock suspended from the top of a 90 gallon aquarium tank.

What a coincidence! I have a 90 gallon tank at home taking up room in the garage. Three years of maintaining a salt water fish tank had done it for me, but I knew I would eventually use the tank for something else.

She was a cutie, too! The ferret. The only problem? She was already 9 months old and not litter trained.

Also, I didn't have a lid that would support a hammock suspension system like the one in the store, which is something I would have to get because you can't have a ferret and not add that level of cuteness. No way.

I handed Carol my business card and asked her to please call me when she had new arrivals of baby ferrets and I would return. I couldn't help but notice Tim looked mighty pleased that we were leaving without the ferret. He knows me too well. I'm the compulsive buyer. Give it a week and I'd forget all about the ferret.

Back to my deep thoughts and sadness...and writer's block.

Today was my flex day, so I came home from work and found Tim in the driveway building something. It couldn't be! He had started working on the lid to my future home for Mo and Bo!

"What do you mean Mo and Bo?" he asked.

I must have said that out loud.

"Well, remember, Carol had said that ferrets come into the store in pairs of two. You can't just separate baby animals when they've been cuddling together all the way to their new destination. That would be cruel. Maybe even traumatizing!"

I'm so excited. The inspiration to write hit me instantly and so here it is. Now that I'm done telling you all about my new future ferrets, Mo and Bo, I must go thank my wonderful husband.

Wait, why is he staring at me like that?

Smiley faceIf you enjoyed this article and would like to receive future articles in your inbox --- Subscribe to our free newsletter

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Top 5 Coming of Age Movies

I woke up this morning feeling a bit nostalgic and spent 30 minutes reflecting upon the past. I'm still amazed at how we've gotten as far in life as we have with all the obstacles we faced in our early, formative years. I'm talking to you, the 80's crowd. We're now facing 2014. How's this for progress?

Fast Times (1982)

 Who doesn't remember first love, or rather first spurn? This movie doesn't discriminate. Guys, girls, they all get some form of enlightenment in this coming of age movie. Makes me cringe at times, especially when watching it for the first time with my grown kids, "Hey mom, why do they all sniff the paper like that?"

Mike Damone: I mean don't just walk in. You move across the room. And you don't talk to her. You use your face. You use your body. You use everything. That's what I do. I mean I just send out this vibe and I have personally found that women do respond. I mean, something happens.
Mark Ratner: Well, naturally something happens. I mean, you put the vibe out to 30 million chicks, something is gonna happen.
Mike Damone: That's the idea, Rat. That's the attitude.
Mark Ratner: The attitude?
Mike Damone: Yeah! The attitude dictates that you don't care whether she comes, stays, lays, or prays. I mean whatever happens, your toes are still tappin'. Now when you got that, then you have the attitude.

The Sure Thing (1985)

I had no idea this movie released before Better off Dead, which is the movie I recall being my first love for John Cusack. I was wrong. Either way, you should watch both! The Sure Thing isn't as much about my love for Cusack as it is about the complex relationship his character shares with Alison Bradbury, played by Daphne Zuniga.

Alison Bradbury: [checking her calendar] Let's see, Friday. 5:30, dinner. 6:00, Calculus. 7:00, news. 7:30, shower. 7:45, phone call. Eight o'clock?
Gib: [sarcastic] Gee, I don't know. That's when I rearrange my sock drawer.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

St. Elmo's Fire (for me) was the best "out of college" movie EVER! There's a scenario for every level of fresh out of college newbie life, and there's no holding back on reminders of how much it hurts to be a newbie college graduate. Welcome to  adulthood is the message in this movie, but it's a great ride and packs a load of fun.

 Kirby: She is the only evidence of God I have seen with the exception of the mysterious force that removes one sock from the dryer every time I do my laundry.
Kevin: Love, love, you know what love is? Love is an illusion created by lawyer types like yourself to perpetuate another illusion called marriage to create the reality of divorce and then the illusionary need for divorce lawyers.
Jules: I don't know why you're both so worried... So, I bop him for a couple of years, get his job when he gets his hands caught in the vault, do a black mink ad, retire in utter disgrace, then write a best seller and be a fabulous host on my own talk show...

About Last Night (1986)

Whether you've seen the 2014 remake of this movie or not, this 1986 original is a must see. Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins do their supporting roles justice in the 1986 movie about a young couple making a life together despite friends who clearly have plans to sabotage the blossoming relationship. The remake has Kevin Hart and Regina Hall playing the same roles yet they are clearly better suited for their own star a different movie. Their presence butchered this lovely story-line. The over-acting in the support roles really put a damper on this newer version. Please watch the original and don't let this modern day race for remakes get you down.

Bernie: What do you do?
Joan: Me?
Bernie: Well, yeah for a living?
Joan: [sarcastic] I'm a neurosurgeon, you?
Bernie: I'm a prizefighter. Do you know much about boxing?
Joan: No...
Bernie: I'm the heavyweight champion of the world.

Shrimp on the Barbie (1990)

The theme is love and relationships, but a more substantive one. Rather than overcoming personal barriers and simple obstacles encountered with young love and establishing relationships, this storyline casts a wider net, incorporating social class and ethnic diversity. Cheech Marin has a dual role: the funny, lovable jester, and the supporting friend with a big heart.

Carlos: Hey, do you mind if I use that stick?
Alex: What stick?
Carlos: The one that's up your butt!
Carlos: You can get a lot of suckers to do this shit. I come all the way down to impress Bruce in front of daddy. I didn't come here to be insulted by these bigoted assholes!

These are older movies and though the content, setting, etc are clearly dated, the stories stick to core concepts and solid relationship struggles. Now I'm wondering. What movies stick out from your "coming of age" formative years?

Smiley faceIf you enjoyed this article and would like to receive future articles in your inbox --- Subscribe to our free newsletter