Monthly Archives: May 2013

Book Cafe

In order to pass the time while unpacking clothes at White House | Black Market, I reminisced a bit.  Back in high school my dream was to attend the Culinary Institute of America (the other, tastier CIA), become an amazing chef, and open my own restaurant.  I had all these ideas about themes and menus.  There was one idea I had that I still remember which was to open a restaurant called The Inferno and serve really spicy food.  The appetizers were going to be called “Warming up” and the desserts “Cooling off.”  All that jazz.  Of course I soon realized after thinking of the name that people might mistake it for a strip club.  That probably would’ve caused some issues.

It was after speaking with one of The Cheesecake Factory’s head chefs that I realized that the life of a chef was not for me.  Long hours, high stress, no sleep, etc.  Not a good idea.

But I was passing time, so I started thinking about opening a restaurant again.  I decided I should make my fantasy restaurant relate to my current career aspirations, and that is how I came up with the idea for my very own book cafe.

The Layout:

The cafe would be sectioned off like a bookstore.  There would be a section for historical fiction, YA urban fantasy, nonfiction, mysteries, thrillers, romance novels.  You name it.  Each section would have a server who liked to read that particular genre, in case anyone needed a suggestion.  The books would be free to read, though you’d be welcome to bring your own, and all the seats would be designed for a comfortable reading session.  There would be a table, of course, and it would be a full service restaurant.  It would just be a restaurant where you could sit and read while you ate.

The Menu:

Delicious foods cooked to order, and easy to eat with one hand.  Soups, salads, sandwiches that are cut in half, pasta dishes that you can easily get your fork into like mac ‘n’ cheese and ravioli.  No noodles, though.  Too hard to eat those while concentrating on a good book.  We would have book stands on every table though, so you could prop your book open in front of you while you eat if you wanted to.

The Gimmick:

Come and read.  Shelves upon shelves of books that are free to read.  You can donate your old books, or buy a new one if you try it out at the restaurant and decide you like it.  Loyal customers get a loyalty card that doubles as a bookmark.  And you don’t even have to worry about remembering what book you were reading or what page you were on!  When you are finished with your stay, simply tell your server the name of the author, the title of the book, the page number you’re on, and your name.  The server will input that information into the computer so when you come back again, all you have to do is ask and the server will tell you what you were reading and what page you were on.

Book Cafe

The Perks:

Good food, a quiet place to read.  Come alone or with friends.  Maybe not with young children, though, since those things tend to be loud and disruptive.  Free wi-fi, too, for a quiet workplace.  And the servers would be really polite when they quickly interrupt you to take your order or serve your food.  There would be soft, ambient noise playing over the speakers, but nothing more.  Plus, authors could do book signings there.  We could hold events and fundraisers, too.  Endless possibilities.

The Sad Truth(s):

Someone else probably already had this idea.  I’m sure places like this already exist.  On top of that, it would probably be impractical.  A lot of people, myself included, can sit and read for hours.  Meaning tables would take a long time to turn over, leaving new guests waiting forever for a table or walking out the door.  Ah well, such is life.  Maybe that second problem could be solved by encouraging reservations and only designating a section of the restaurant to walk-ins.  Who knows?  I am not a business woman.

Business 101

Living the Dream:

I might not be able to have this restaurant in real life, but the Bex who lives in my comics can!  You might start seeing a lot more of Bex’s Book Cafe in the comics!

Thanks for letting me share that with you!

Writer's-Block-Strip-28

Word of the Day: Aspiration (n) – strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition.

[Edit 5/30/13: Reading back through my blog, I realized I already used the word “aspire” as a Word of the Day in a post.  Whoops!  I knew I was going to start repeating words eventually.  It’s hard to keep track of them.]

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Character Squiggle

As you may know, I occasionally like to go back through my blog to freshen up on the topics I’ve covered and keep an eye out for typos.  Sometimes when I do this I realize I was an absolute nut job when I first started this blog, and I find myself issuing apologies to make up for it.

Yes, I still feel awful about the juvenile writing and “advice” that I dished out in my first few posts.  But at least one good thing came out of it: I thought up a new post.  I’m going to revisit a topic I already “covered” way back when.  Even though I already sort of revisited that post already. 

The topic is character development.  Or rather, the character arc.  See, when I think of an arc, this is what I imagine:

arc

But character arcs aren’t that simple, because characters aren’t simple.  That got me to thinking about the different forms or “shapes” that character arcs can take that regular arcs won’t.  They can look like this:

Upside Down Arc

Or even this:

Squiggle Arc

This isn’t an arc in the traditional, mathematical sense, but it can be one in the literary sense.  I shall show you what I mean, because that is what I do.  First I’m going to put some letters on it…

Squiggle Arc Labeled

Ok, so Point A is on a dotted line, which represents the part of the story that is not included in the book.  Instead, points A to B represent the character’s backstory that is intermittently revealed throughout the book.  This backstory represents a low point that climbs to a high.  So say our character is a rich CEO.  Points A to B would represent the part of his life when he started out in the mailroom and clawed his way to the top.  The book doesn’t start with him in the mailroom, but we get glimpses of that part of his life from time to time in the narration.

Moving on to Point B.  That’s where the story starts.  Rich McBoss is a CEO with swimming pools full of money.  He’s happy, he’s got a trophy wife and two spoiled kids, and he has about a thousand underlings at his beck and call.

Squiggle Arc Labeled

From points B to C, we get a good part of the plot.  Everything that goes up must come down, and our rich CEO finds his life spiraling out of control.  He makes some bad decisions, nearly goes to jail (or does go to jail?), drives his company into the ground, etc.  We’ve all seen this story before, yes?

C is the lowest point.  He has hit rock bottom, which means it is time to begin the process of healing and starting anew.  There’s nowhere to go but up.  Up to Point D.  Not as high as Point B, but higher than C.  This is where the story ends.  Rich has learned the error of his ways, cleaned up his act, and come out of the ruin a better man.  (I could get into the fact that putting D lower than B goes against the very lesson this character is learning, which is that being happy with little is a better place to be than being falsely happy with a great deal of excess.  Thus it could be argued that Point D should be higher than Point B.  But I won’t get into that.  Too time consuming.)

See?  Arc.  Looks like math, reads like a story.

Just so you know, a character arc implies that a character starts out one way and ends up another.  Rich McEveryman up there started out (in the book) as a rich CEO who had few scruples and lived in the lap of luxury, and ended up an honest man who was content with what little he had.

I remember when I was in high school, every year there would be a film assembly where a selection of student-made short films would play.  One assignment for the film students that year was to present a character arc – where a person started one way and ended up another.  A film started.  A homeless man was sitting by the side of the road “drinking” from a clearly closed bottle of “liquor.”  He collects some money from passersby, and then a car drives up and he hops right into the passenger seat.

“See?” he says to the driver.  “Told you I could be homeless for a day.”

This was not a character arc.  The student had taken the parameters literally – his character had started out one way, as a fake homeless man, and ended up a different way, as a guy who was admitting to pretending to be homeless.  The character himself had not changed or learned anything.  No arc had taken place.  All the film had depicted was a character straight line.  This is something you probably want to avoid, unless (because this “unless” always crops up) you are making a statement.

That’s it!

Comic!  (We’re back to clicking to enlarge)

Writer's-Block-Strip-27

Word of the Day: Scruple (n) – a moral or ethical consideration or standard that acts as a restraining force or inhibits certain actions.

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The Shy Comedian

I’ve never been a stand-up comic.  This is in part because I have only been alive on this earth for a very short time (relative, of course, to the grand scheme of things), and most of that time was spent sitting at tiny desks learning about exponents and analyzing the messed-up life of Boo Radley.  (For those who don’t know who Boo is: Leave.  Leave right now.  Buy a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and read it.  Seriously, how on earth have you lived?)  Not a lot of time there to visit open mic night.

But mostly I’m pursuing other careers that aren’t stand-up comic related, and I don’t intend to change that.  I don’t think I’d be very good on stage anyway.

Stand-up

Despite that, I think I’ve accumulated some good material in my relatively short life.  And I decided to share a bit here.

First off, I’ve told this story to everyone I’ve ever met because I can barely believe it’s true:

My roommate in my sophomore year of college was a fashion design major who was a bit…confused.  One night, as I was sitting on my bed reading, my roommate was talking to a friend.  She was trying to tell her friend about a certain scandal of sorts behind a young woman who  had run in a race earlier that year and won.  The woman’s gender had been called into question and it was just horrible.  But as my roommate attempted to explain this, she fumbled a bit.  “The problem was that she had a uterus but no testes…or wait…she had testes and a uterus…”  Finally she asked the question, “Is the uterus a male or female part?”  (I paraphrased here, since I can’t remember her exact words).  And this is a true story.

Speaking of fashion (sort of), I now have two jobs.  One is at IHOP, and the other is at a store called White House | Black Market, which sells over-priced women’s clothes.  One thing I noticed at WH|BM is a line of dresses that are supposed to make women appear two sizes smaller.  I haven’t tried one on, so I don’t know if they work.  What I do know is that they sell that dress in a size zero.

Let me break it down.  Size zeros are so thin that the clothing industry can’t even assign a numerical value to their body type.  (I will ignore the fact that WH|BM also stocks a size 00).  So what happens when you take a dress that reduces your size by two, and you put it on a size zero?  You get a dress that doubles as an invisibility cloak, I imagine.

Invisible

I will close with an observation on the concept of slimming dresses.  Do I think they’re a good idea?  I don’t know.  The whole point of wearing one, I assume, is so you can look more “attractive.”  (I put “attractive” in quotes because I am using it in the context of the fashion industry’s impossibly high standards for women which dictate that thinness is key rather that admitting that every woman has a unique body type that should be cherished and celebrated, and encourage their models to starve themselves just to fit into the clothes that were only made to fit a select few in the first place, all of which plays into an elitist class system of sorts that serves to make a good majority of women feel inferior as they gaze upon an ideal that they are conditioned to believe in but biologically unable to live up to.)  But if you think you look more attractive in that dress (or in that padded bra that turns your Bs into Cs maybe?) then surely you’re hoping that other people will find you attractive.  And when other people find you attractive, well…one thing leads to another.  Maybe that dress comes off.  And maybe it looks like you’ve been wearing a visual lie.  And maybe you don’t care about that.  Hopefully the person who got that dress off of you doesn’t care either, because shallowness is not a virtue.

Have I rambled enough today?  I think so.  Especially since I think I veered off the “stand-up” course a little bit.  Ah well.  This is why I’m not cut out for the stage.

Comic! No need to click to enlarge today!  (You still can if you want, though)

Writer's-Block-Strip-26

Word of the Day: Subterfuge (n) – an artifice or expedient used to evade a rule, escape a consequence, hide something, etc.

P.S.  Wanna see something cool?  Check it out:

Strip 26 Panel 1 Stripped

This is panel 1 of the comic minus a couple layers.  I thought it looked artsy and cool.  Maybe I’m wrong.

P. P. S.  Sorry the post got a little preachy today.  Working in retail…it does things to you.

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John Dies at the End (The Film)

It’s time for another film-based-on-a-book review!

Two nights ago I decided to watch the film adaptation of John Dies at the End on Netflix.  It’s available for instant streaming.  For a link to the book on Amazon, just go to the Books I Recommend page.  Because I do recommend the book.  Highly.  It was awesome.  I talked about it in this post.  I haven’t read the sequel yet, but I will one of these days.

I will start with this warning, though: John Dies at the End, both the book and the movie, appeals to a very specific audience.  Let me see if I can explain by telling you the genre of the book and film.  I think it is best described as a psychedelic, horror, sci-fi, thriller, dark comedy, cult-classic.  Get it?  I hope so.

I know as an author I’m almost always going to tell you that you have to, have to, have to read the book at least once before or even after seeing the movie.  It’s what I do.  But I will admit that many movies can be enjoyed without reading the books they are based on.  Not this time.  This time I’m really going to stress trying the book out first.  Because if you don’t like the book, you are most certainly not going to like the movie.  And if you go into that movie blind, and it ends up not being your cup of tea, you might think I’m crazy for recommending it.

That being said, I did like the movie.  I was surprised by that.  The book had so many tightly woven and interconnected subtle details that I didn’t think a filmmaker would even know where to begin cutting it down and reworking it for the camera.  But this is how they did it – they stuck really close to the book.  For the most part.  They had the main character, David, offering voice-over narration throughout the film, and they framed it with an interview between David and a journalist named Arnie.  Just like in the book, these devices worked for the movie.

They did cut out a huge chunk of the middle portion of the book, but I understand why they did.  If they’d tried to leave everything in, the film would have been six hours long.  Also, you will notice that the special effects budget wasn’t terribly large, but they made it work.  It just contributed to the “cult classic” part of its many genres.

So, to sum up, I liked the movie.  It was a fun ride, and the actors were well chosen. Paul Giamatti was spot on as Arnie the journalist, Rob Mayes was a lovable, crazy John, and Chase Williamson showed us a believable everyman hero in his portrayal of David.  If you liked the book, I think you will be quite satisfied with the movie.

That’s all for now!

Strenuous (adj) – characterized by vigorous exertion, as action, efforts, life, etc.

Writer's-Block-Strip-25

P.S. Though the owner of the dog is just a fictitious character in my comic, the dog himself is based on real-life Radar.  Here are a couple pictures:

Radar Derp Radar smile

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Villainous Vocabulary

While I was revising Hellbound, I found myself running into trouble with a certain villain’s dialogue.  This, I realized, was because villains are just so…done.  All you have to do is watch a Disney movie to realize that there is a formula that many cliche villains follow.

[EDIT 5/30/13: It seems like a lot of the pictures I put up keep failing to show up.  I can’t tell if that’s due to an error on WordPress or Disney/the owners of the pictures taking them down or something.  I don’t really know how the internet works.  So sorry if some of the pictures are missing.  Feel free to Google anyone you can’t call up an image of in your head]

They are ugly…

Jafar, Aladdin

Governor Ratcliffe, Pocahontas

They are smooth talkers…

Scar, The Lion King

Dr. Facilier, The Princess and the Frog

They want to kill puppies…

Cruella Deville, 101 Dalmatians

You get the drift.  But mainly I wanted to talk about the smooth talkers.  Seriously, there are a lot of villainous smooth talkers…

Hades, Hercules

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is, as I said, I was trying to write a villain.  And he ended up talking like so many Scars and Hades…es that I had to completely rewrite a lot of his dialogue.  It got me to thinking about what makes a villain’s dialogue so cliche.  I mean, there are a ton of phrases out there that have been used so much that they can turn an ordinary character or situation into a cliche.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one (but really don’t):

“Impudent brat”

“Petulant child”

“Just stay out of my way”

“Meddling kids”

“Curses!  Foiled again!”

“You’re going to regret that”

“Get them!”

“MWAHAHAHAHAHAH”

Seriously, guys…what is so funny about being a villain?  Why do all villains laugh?  That’s just crazy.  I really never got it.  They’re all “You’re about to die!  AHAHAHAHA.”  What is hilarious about that?  I’ve gotten off topic again.

What I’m talking about doesn’t just apply to villainy.  There are a lot of phrases in the English language that are used more often than anyone can count.  Some of them are unavoidable…

“I love you.”

“I hate you.”

“Half past…”

“Quarter ’til…”

“See you later.”

“Come again.”

And some of them are avoidable.  For a list of the avoidable ones, just scroll up.  How many villains have given the order, “Get them!” to their minions?  A lot.  Does your villain have to?  No.  I’m sure you can think of a way around it.  And this will set your villain apart from the rest.

Another thing…villains might be crazy, but the crazier they act, the more cliche they become (sometimes).

Ursula, The Little Mermaid

Sometimes, a villain can be “crazy,” but still think that they are super sane.  So they act sane.  They speak rationally, and they don’t go for the dramatics.

Villain

If you make your villain a person, just a regular Joe like the rest of us, then you’ve created something scary: a monster that can walk among us, unseen and unsuspected.  Someone who will buy a bouquet of flowers for their girlfriend on the way home from murdering a middle-aged couple in their own home.

Unfortunately, that type of villain has been done, too.  (Think Patrick Bateman, the antihero from American Psycho)  They’ve all been done, really.  But there is a way to take a cliche and make it your own.  You just have to fiddle around with it a bit.

Done now!

Writer's Block Strip 24

Words of the Day (I couldn’t pick):

Impudent (adj) – of, pertaining to, or characterized by impertinence or effrontery.

Petulant (adj) – moved to or showing sudden, impatient irritation, especially over some trifling annoyance.

P.S. – Sorry for using all your images and whatnot, Disney!  I swear I’m not trying to profit off of them, so please, please don’t sue me.

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