Don’t Drop Jesus!

South Brisbane

When I was a professional actor, which was some time ago now, I became involved in the presentation of Christmas shows at Brisbane’s Southbank. If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you may not be aware of Southbank, which (as the name suggests) is on the south bank of the Brisbane River, one of the finer waterways in the civilised world. It’s a public recreation area very popular among the local population.

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Anyway, I would be part of the Christmas shows there. Each year I would be involved in the week leading up to Christmas. The public would come to Southbank and we would put on a variety of entertainment. Now, I don’t know if I was good or bad, but the truth is I was offered a different role each year, like they were trying me at everything until I found what I was good at. Actors worry a lot about how good they are.

So I did a different role each year for five years. With the Christmas season upon us, I thought I’d reveal some the good (and bad) times involved with being an put-of-work actor struggling to put bread on the table and taking on whatever was on offer in order to do so.

Year One:
This will live in my memory forever. I was a gypsy dancer. Yes, me. For those who don’t know me personally, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm. None. And the first year I had to dance the length of Southbank in a parade, accompanied by a gypsy band (guitar, drum, violin and flute), while proclaiming something or other that had something to do with Christmas. I forget what it was now.

I was married at the time. At one of the performances my wife was present along the route and I ran over and kissed her and later the band members were saying to me: “You did know that chick, right?” which probably meant my role as a hot-blooded gypsy was fairly realistic.

I wore the same costume each night, which mostly failed to make me look anything like a gypsy. It got soaked in sweat because of course it’s summer here in Brisbane at Christmas time and Brisbane is a particularly humid part of the world. It also didn’t help that accompanying me and my gypsy band was a fire-eater, who would shoot great gouts of flame from his mouth as I sang and danced my way along. I had to time things just right or else he would have blasted me with fire, which would have upset my Mum.

Year Two:
This year they put me at the head of the parade. I was there complete with foot-long beard, dirty robes, staff and loud voice, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. The first person the assembled crowd saw was me. Two moments stand out. The first was when a boy (must have been about 18, but a boy to me) stepped out in front of me and said ‘Can I have your staff?’ I mean, really! Here I am, floor-length filthy prophet’s robe, obviously using my staff as a vital prop, and this kid wants to use it for some reason or other. I just ignored him and moved on.

The other moment was when I spied a friend in the audience, a fellow actor named Jacy. She was right at the end of the parade, sitting with some of her friends. I remembered my success of the previous year when I kissed my wife and it made a major stir, so I went over to Jacy and said hello and announced loudly, “It’s very lucky to kiss a prophet!” and planted one on her. Fortunately she took it well and accepted the kiss. It made good theatre and people thought “Here’s a prophet we can relate to!”

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Year Three:
This is the Don’t Drop Jesus bit.  I was one of the Three Wise Men this year. Mr Myrrh, in fact. We were further back in the parade this time riding camels and preceded by Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus represented by a doll. Mary rode on a donkey led by Joseph, holding Jesus in her arms. We paraded along the river then went to a stage area where Joseph and Mary sat in a Nativity scene suitably decorated with real animals. At a certain time we Wise Men entered and presented our gifts with appropriate speeches.

Being Mr Myrrh, I was in line behind Mr Gold. So I had a pretty good view of Mary on the donkey, so I was in a good position to see precisely what happened.

Mary was, as I said, riding the donkey. At various points on the path that follows the Brisbane River at Southbank there are brightly-coloured mosaics set into the cement. The donkey, which up until this point had had no problem with these mosaics, for some reason stopped suddenly at one of them. Maybe it had noticed it for the first time and got a fright. Anyway, its sudden stop meant trouble for Mary. She was riding bareback and side-saddle, being dressed in robes, with the doll representing baby Jesus in her arms. This  meant she couldn’t hold onto anything else, but Joseph was walking beside her leading the donkey in case she needed help to stay on at any time.

Anyway, the donkey pulled up sharply. Mary, according to Newton’s First Law of Motion, kept her momentum and continued along Southbank, slipping forwards over the donkey’s shoulder. As she clutched at the animal’s neck to stay on, she let go of Jesus, who, also in accordance to Newton’s laws, took off out of her arms. Mary let go of the donkey and fell off. Fortunately, she landed on her feet and managed to catch Jesus who was at that point descending in a head-first power dive towards the cement path. The crowd applauded and we Wise Men breathed a sigh of relief. Mary climbed back on and the parade continued as if the whole incident was just part of the show.

We congratulated Mary afterwards in the dressing room for her brilliant save. The girl who played Mary explained she’d been rather good at netball when she was at school, so it’s good to know the Mother of God had a keen interest in wholesome team sports, and found them useful.

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Year Four:

This year I was Santa’s Head of Security. You may think the he doesn’t need such a thing, but I took the role very seriously. So there I was, dressed as an Elf (yes green tights and all) with sunglasses and a rather fiendish looking “Naughtiness Detector” which could make various sounds when buttons were pressed. I’d mingle among the crowd prior to the show starting and run the detector over children and adults, making the detector beep and bray according to whether the target had been naughty or nice that year. Of course, all the children had been nice and all the Dads had been naughty. This amused the kids, of course, as well as the parents.

I also had the job, as head of Security, to announce Santa’s arrival. I’d get on the public address and make announcements like “The Fat Man is five minutes away”, “The Fat Man has landed”, etc. All good fun. Santa was played by a man who actually ran a Santa School teaching other people how to be Santa. He had an amazing trick he did with the kids who came to visit him in his tent. He had an Elf assisting him. The child would enter the tent while Santa was talking to another child. The Elf would ask the waiting child their name, and then pretend to look them up in his big book that he had in front of him. Now, I don’t know how it was done, but by the time the child arrived in front of Santa, he already knew their name. Santa would smile and say, “Well, hello Billy!” or  “I remember you, Sally. I visited your house last year!” Because, of course, Santa knows the name of every child in the world. He never missed it once. Since he was talking to another child at the time, it was hard to see how he could overhear what was going on between the waiting child and the Elf, especially as he was several metres away on his big chair. It was a neat trick, but out of respect for his methods I never asked how it was done.

Year Five:

This was my last year with the Christmas Show because I moved out of town after that. My final gig was a storyteller. There were several actors scattered around the arena and while the families waited for the show to start we would gather kids together and tell Christmas-themed stories to keep them occupied.

I remember my story was about a Green Tree Frog and while I told the story I acted out the Frog. I had an assistant who would play the other parts in the story and help with the voices and narration. It was a lot of fun and the story was actually quite funny.

The only incident of any note happened when a small boy, no doubt assuming that since I was a frog and therefore liked water, decided to shower me with his drink bottle right in the middle of the story. Since I was squatting down pretending to be a frog at the time he was tall enough to upend his water bottle over my head. It was actually quite refreshing on a sticky December night.

So those are five Christmases I remember fondly. I haven’t been with the Southbank show for ages now, but I had a great time and I hope the crowd did too.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.

holly

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

I Don’t Like Chilli

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Well I don’t. I see no sense in eating something that, to me, takes away the taste of the food, if the food has a perfectly agreeable taste of its own. The same can be said of curry. I can understand some people liking it, and that’s fine. That’s not my gripe today. I don’t like chilli. And I should be allowed not to like it.

My gripe is levelled at those people who tell me I have to like chilli, who insist that I like chilli, who put it in my food whether I want it there or not. And those TV chefs who put it in everything and those food critics who regard chilli as some sort of venerable but fiery god that must be incorporated to “bring out” or “enhance” or “zest up” the flavour of a dish.

It isn’t, apparently, addictive, although some people claim it is. One psychologist at least, Jason Goldman, declares that some people have a masochistic tendency to enjoy harsh, bitter or fiery flavours. To me, chillies are just a pain in the mouth.

So if some people like Jamie Oliver want to nibble on a chilli instead of having a cup of coffee, that’s their problem. What I don’t like is when chefs put the chilli in their dishes as if it’s a normal, everyday ingredient. It happens: go to a restaurant of even moderate swankiness and peruse the bill of fare. Many of the dishes, in my experience, contain chilli. Mild, perhaps, hidden, perhaps, but nevertheless present. And if I don’t like chillies, which I don’t, then my choice is limited. Because try asking the chef to leave out the chillies. Not going to happen.

I once argued with a chef about this. She said that in a restaurant, one must eat the dish as it is prepared, like it or not.

‘But I’m not going to eat something I don’t like,’ I replied. ‘If I don’t like chillies, I don’t want them in the food I eat.’

‘That is ridiculous,’ she replied. ‘The chef is an artist. How dare you comment negatively on the way they prepare the dish. They have created it!’

‘If I don’t like a book, I don’t read it,’ I countered calmly. ‘If I don’t like a movie I don’t watch it. If I don’t care for a painting I won’t look at it. So why is it different for a chef?’

After spluttering a few moments the best she could some up with was, ‘But the chef is an artist!’

True story.

Anyway, my point is that there are people out there who enforce their tastes on us. And a lot of people eat chilli because they feel it’s the thing to do, that someone who seems to know something about something tells them they should be doing it, so they do. Like getting tattoos. Or wearing their baseball caps backwards (I have seen this STILL going on in 2014!)  Or following some banal TV show. But some of us don’t want to do these things, thanks, and we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t be pressured by people to do so.

So chilli is a fad. It’ll pass (there is a very mild, indirect scatological pun there). But until then I’m finding it hard to eat in restaurants.

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By the way, I also don’t like bananas or mangoes. Living as I do in Queensland, Australia, I’ve people almost faint when I reveal that little nugget. ‘How can you not like bananas?’ they cry, with as much horror as if I’d questioned the matrimonial state of their parents. ‘You’re not a Queenslander!’

Um, yes I am actually, born and raised.

I just don’t like them.

So I’m sorry if any chilli fans out there feel outraged. I’m sure most of you are sane, decent people who can cut others a bit of slack because they don’t like eating something that physically hurts. But there’s always a few who spoil it for everyone else. I try to ignore them, but it’s hard sometimes, especially with people like Jamie Oliver putting the vile things in every single dish and expecting us to like it.

Please keep your tastes to yourself. People should be allowed not to like something, and should be allowed to insist that food be served the way they want, not the way some ‘artist’ wants it to be. I am perfectly entitled to write an unreadable book. That’s my prerogative as a writer. But if no one reads, I’m in no position to complain. If I want people to read what I write, I need to think of my audience.

So lay off, chilli nuts who demand I like them too. I don’t. Get used to it.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Voice that is Passive

 

My students have been told by me to avoid the passive voice when writing. Weaker sentences are those that are written passively. More effectiveness and control are possible by sentences that are active. Following the subject with a verb is the more active way of writing and is a sign of more consideration on the part of the writer. This whole article was going to be written by me using the passive voice. It was found, however, that a strain on me was caused by doing so.

So I’ll stop now.

What is the passive voice? Well, English grammar has two ways of writing a sentence. The first, and most common, is ACTIVE. This is where the sentence follows the structure: Subject – Verb – Object.

The dog bit the man is active voice. The dog (subject) bit (verb) the man.

PASSIVE voice turns things around. In passive, the object of the sentence becomes the subject. The man was bitten by the dog.

So what’s the difference? Well, it all depends on what the focus of the sentence is. In The dog bit the man, the important noun in the sentence is the dog. In The man was bitten by the dog, we are more focused by the man. In the first, active, sentence, we are interested in the dog and its doings – in the second, passive, sentence, the man is our concern. Imagine someone asked a question:

‘I saw Bill walking around with a bandage on his leg. What happened to him?’

‘He was bitten by a dog.’

Contrast that with:

‘Why does Bill have a bandage on his leg?’

‘A dog bit him.’

Both are valid responses. However, the first is more focussed on Bill from the start. In the second, the focus starts with Bill but the responder to the question is changing the focus to the dog, perhaps in order to emphasise the cause of the accident rather than its consequences.

And therein lies the difference between active and passive voice. Active, the pedants say, is stronger than passive. In writing, there is less need for passive voice. Readers respond better to active, strong, positive statements.

True, they do. But there is no need to throw out the passive voice entirely. it’s used a lot in business documents, for instance and in informative writing, or where it is not necessary to state the doer of the action, or the doer is not known or relevant.

The verb of a sentence is active when the subject of the sentence does the action:

Mary had a little lamb.

The passive tells us what happens or is being done to the subject:

The lamb was owned by Mary.

 

If the doer of the action is unknown or irrelevant, passive also has a role:

He was run over.

Or:

The song was sung.

So don’t abandon the passive voice entirely. It does have a stigma attached to it, but it is still a vlaid form of communication.

 

- Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

 

In Defence of Adverbs

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Horror writer Stephen King would have us get rid of adverbs. He hates them. He considers them timid writing. And to some extent, he’s right. Of course, he’s sold a gazillion books and has the perfect right to tell other people how to write. I’m not denying that. But I’m not sure he is totally correct on this score. You can’t eschew all adverbs in your writing.

So, for those who aren’t quite sure what an adverb is, let me explain.

An adverb is a category of word that modifies verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Many adverbs in English end in -ly. Many don’t. For example, adverbs ending in -ly include:

quickly, firmly, silently, appropriately, suddenly, sadly, wearily, etc.

Adverbs that don’t end in -ly are sneakier. They creep into our writing when we don’t even know they are adverbs.

afterward, already, almost, even, often , more, near, too, etc. Even malapropos.

If we follow Stephen King’s advice, we must dispense with the sneaky adverbs as well as the -ly ones. But looking at a list of sneaky ones, that would be difficult. They are just so damned useful.

The problem is exacerbated when you consider that adverbs aren’t always just one word. There are adverbial phrases and clauses, groups of words that together do the work of an adverb. For example, in the sentence, He ran as if his life depended on it, everything in bold is an adverbial phrase, telling the reader how he ran. And not a -ly to be seen anywhere,

Of course, the above example constitutes a cliché as well, and should probably be avoided for that reason anyway. But it’s just an example.

So what do we do? Can we never use an adverb? Well, my opinion is we shouldn’t use them too much, but we shouldn’t avoid them altogether (altogether is an adverb). Stephen King declared the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Good for him.

Too much of anything is bad for you. Too much water, too much oxygen, too much red meat, too much running, too much work. Even too much Penfolds Grange 1956, although that last one is hard to believe. The point is, using adverbs without being judicious about it (that’s an adverbial clause by the way) does constitute what King refers to as fearful writing. A writer who fears, he claims, uses adverbs as a prop for their writing.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t use them at all.

It all goes back to “show, don’t tell”. Your writing should show how something is done, without you having to tell us. Adding an adverb to tell us how someone says something, for instance, is a lazy way of doing it.

“Don’t you dare!” she shouted angrily. In this sentence, the word angrily tells us how she shouted. It’s a classic use of an adverb. But the context of the sentence should show us the speaker is angry without having her anger pointed out to us.

This is a fair enough criticism. But like all rules, there are exceptions. The judicious use of adverbs where they add something to the sentence should not, in my opinion, be avoided. Adverbs are words. There are lots of them, and they deserve a place in writing.

For example, take my own sentence above: Of course, the above example constitutes a cliché as well, and should probably be avoided for that reason anyway. Now, this contains an adverb: probably. Its job is to modify the compound verb should be avoided to show the degree of advisability of avoiding the use of a cliché. In that sense, it creates modality. If I was to avoid the use of the word, what are my options?

I could delete it altogether. The sentence then becomes Of course, the above example constitutes a cliché as well, and should be avoided for that reason anyway. But that allows no modality; my advice becomes a command to avoid the cliché and allows no exceptions. Probably (damn – there is it again!) a bit strong. I could use other modal words, or a modal phrase. The trouble is, modal words are adverbs and adverbial phrases. That’s what modality is.

Alternatively (another adverb! Heavens!) I could give a reason why it’s best to avoid clichés: Of course, the above example constitutes a cliché, and should be avoided for that reason anyway, since clichés are also an example of lazy writing. The trouble is, this still allows for no modality.

Adverbs have purpose. They are useful. They have a job to do. So avoiding them totally is not correct advice.

Don’t overuse them. Avoid them when modifying dialogue (but not always – even here they are useful). But feel free to plant a well-chosen, effective adverb within your writing when the need arises.

I Know I’m a Writer

russellproctor:

Yvette Willemse has nailed what it is to be a writer. In fact, Yvette Willemse IS a writer. Enough said.

Originally posted on yvilorsfantasyfiction:

I know I’m a writer because
I make jokes that make no sense;
I drink way too much coffee;
Every single song reminds me of
A particular scene in my book;
I look at people and think:
“Yes, you could be a villain in my story”;
I get lost in conversations because
A plot idea just overran my mind;
Half the time I don’t hear what people say,
And the other half, I’m incorporating it
Into my book;
I flinch at the sight of sunshine;
I do push-ups in my room to get psyched up
For the next thousand words I write;
I read dictionaries and Shakespeare;
I understand grammar so well
I’m boring and incomprehensible;
Typos make me unbelievably angry;
Spelling mistakes make me laugh my head off
(At someone else);
I don’t know any actors or sports teams;
I drive very unpredictably
(“Oh, look, there’s a minotaur!”);
I…

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Uncanny Issue 1 Cover & Table of Contents!

russellproctor:

It’s great to see a new science fiction and fantasy magazine coming out. And the line-up of talent for the first edition of ‘Uncanny’ looks formidable. So I thought I’d share this for all those people, both readers and writers, wanting something new to explore.

Originally posted on Uncanny:

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Coming in November, THE FIRST ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half in December.

Table of Contents:

Cover by Galen Dara

Editorial
The Uncanny Valley- Editorial by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

New Fiction
Maria Dahvana Headley- “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White”
Kat Howard- “Migration”
Max Gladstone- “Late Nights at the Cape and Cane”
Amelia Beamer- “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy”
Ken Liu- “Presence”
Christopher Barzak- “The Boy Who Grew Up”

Classic Fiction
Jay Lake- “Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors”

Nonfiction
Sarah Kuhn- “Mars (and Moon and Mercury and Jupiter and Venus) Attacks!”
Worldcon Roundtable featuring Emma England, Michael Lee, Helen Montgomery, Steven H Silver, and Pablo Vazquez
Tansy…

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The OneStop Apocalypse Shop

Did you ever want to help produce a movie? Well,  now you can. Permuted Pictures are running a Kickstarter campaign for their first movie , The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. A worthy cause. So today’s post is a guest blog with author Derek J. Goodman…

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Hi, my name is Derek J. Goodman, and I would like to talk about the Kickstarter for the movie The OneStop Apocalypse Shop, based on my novel The Apocalypse Shift.

The one thing I get asked the most about the novel is if I, like the characters, have ever worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store. The answer is yes, I did indeed work for a year doing the night shift at a 7-11 in a seedy section of Denver. It is, without a doubt, the worst job I’ve ever had. I could tell you stories. But after a certain amount of time passed, I found myself actually growing nostalgic about it. Not because I actually wanted to go back and do it again, but because, unlike most of my jobs since, it was interesting. The idea occurred to me that if vampires, werewolves, and zombies had walked through that door, it wouldn’t have changed anything. That job would have been equally as crazy.

And so I came up with stories of the OneStop and the poor schmucks who worked there. The OneStop was in a special section of the city that tends to attract magical forces once the sun goes down. Most of the monsters that walk through the door are just minding their business like any other customer. They want Twinkies, nachos, doughnuts, Slim Jims, and Froztees. But every so often some mad power-hungry demon might come in for a quick bite on their way to destroying the world. The crew at the OneStop need to stop them. It’s part of their job, right up there with mopping the floor, keeping the coffee pots full, and ringing up the customers.

The Kickstarter is being run by my publisher, Permuted Press, who happen to have several really talented film students among their staff. The script will be by Ryne Driscoll and it will be directed by David Walker. I recently had the opportunity to talk to them in person and I’m confident that the project is in good hands. This is all around a great opportunity and I’m happy to be a part of it.

For further information about the Kickstarter and how to donate to it, you can  click here. I really hope that other people will be as excited about this as I am.

-Derek J. Goodman

And from Michael L. Wilson, President of Permuted Press, we have the following:

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I’m assuming that you know who Permuted Press is, given that you probably landed on this page as the result of a Facebook post that we, or perhaps a friend of yours, shared in your news feed. One of yesterday’s Kickstarter supporters for the OneStop Apocalypse Shop film pointed out that we may not have made it very clear what Permuted Pictures is all about. So on a chilly Sunday Tennessee evening as I sit at my kitchen table eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, feeling like a barbarian because I just had to hand-wash a cereal bowl because the dishwasher is broken, I’ve decided to take a moment to share a bit more about our little pet project.

(Yeah, I’m a little sore about the busted dishwasher.)

Several people that make up the Permuted Press staff are film school graduates. I’ve seen their student films and even acted in a few. They’ve done some pretty respectable little productions on a shoestring budget. One day it came up in conversation, “We should do a Permuted Press film.” It seemed like a goof at the time, but the thought sat with me. I began doing some research and realized that if we chose the right script that could be filmed inexpensively enough, we could probably take a weekend or two and have some fun by making an ultra-campy horror flick and have some fun posting it online. I bounced it off the team, and before long, they were in.

When I mentioned the idea in passing to Permuted’s owners, they suggested we think bigger. Rather than try to bootstrap the film by saving our milk money, they challenged us to aim higher and go for a more professional production by doing a Kickstarter campaign to finance the project. We were even encouraged to move forward by some friends in the “real” film industry who have offered to advise us on things like production, casting and distribution.

Around the same time the idea for doing an indie Permuted film began to take shape, we received a novel pitch from Derek Goodman for a series he’s writing called The Apocalypse Shift. The elevator pitch for the series called it “Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That quick comparison closed the deal. We knew we had to make this movie! The entire idea was just too much fun to pass up.

What we’re doing with Permuted Pictures in no way compares to what our film agents are doing in Hollywood. Those guys continue to pitch our books to the big studios. Permuted Pictures isn’t the answer for all of Permuted Press’s authors to have their books made into film. It’s really just a grand experiment. If it goes well, we’ll hopefully do more. There are some amazing stories in the Permuted Press catalog that would make great, inexpensive grassroots film projects.

We know that in order for this campaign to be successful, it will require authors to use their author platforms to solicit support for the film. A lot of people will need to decide to get onboard with the idea and pull together to help make the whole effort doable on even the smallest scale.

At the end of the day, we realize that our job isn’t to make movies. It’s to sell books. So the whole film thing is something we’re committed to work on primarily over lunch, evenings and weekends. But it’s still fun, and we think it’ll be fun to watch, too.

If you’re an author, an indie film fan, a horror enthusiast or just want to be part of helping an eager young group of film school graduates hone their craft, we’d deeply appreciate it if you’d spread the word about Permuted Pictures and The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. If you can pitch in a few bucks, we appreciate that, too. Sharing our Kickstarter updates during the coming month will also go a long way in making the campaign a success.

Now my Fruit Loops are soggy and the dishwasher is still broken. When does the glamour of being the President of an indie film studio kick in?

- Michael L. Wilson, President, Permuted Press