Hunger Games as a Force for Good

I earn my benjamins as a teacher. This week kicks off the massive load of state and district testing. It’s our Super Bowl. Our World Series. And, I think, possibly our Hunger Games.

The kids always stress during this time. I work with eleven and twelve-year-olds. Some still bring stuffed animals to school this week to lower their anxiety. I typically purchase candy and little goodies to pass out during testing. Tiny ways to boost their moral. Yet this year, I stumbled onto what I think is a brilliant idea.

The idea sprouted last week when the students were completing our end of unit exams. One boy was terribly sick and miserable the whole morning. I busied myself putting up a hand drawn Finn and Jake picture from Adventure Time, and (because so many kids have read the books) a giant mockingjay. Underneath I penned: “May the odd be ever in your favor.” By recess, the boy had a smile on his face. I asked him about it and he said that Katniss had struggled and not given up. He knew that he could do the same.

That did it. I decided to go whole hog on the Hunger Games theme. Cause that’s essentially what we do to the kids. The Capital (State of California) requires tributes (students) to battle for their entertainment (bubble in multiple choice questions). The same pressure the tributes in the books feel, my students get in spades. There are even careers. You know the kids. The ones that adore testing and always seem to come out on top.

This year, instead of just walking around to give kids treats, I purchased some silver tissue paper. I’m wrapping the treats in aluminum foil. Then their sponsor (me) will drop the silver parachutes on their desks when they need it the most. I’m hoping to put in little notes (like the ones Haymitch delivered) to help inspire the kids.

I certainly hope the testing doesn’t end with most of the kids deceased and two holding poisoned berries.

Tim Kane

Use Pinterest as a Reading List

A fellow writer of mine told me how she uses Pinterst to catalog the books she reads. Yes there are other websites out there that do the same. Goodreads comes to mind. But none have the ease and popularity of Pinterest. I already have a list of books I recommend on this blog, but not with pictures. It’s a hassle to put them in. Pinterest solves this.

I plan to pin each “good” book I read. Then I get an easy to find list of my favorite books. What could be better. Click over to see the list. There are plenty of great reads.

Four High Production Book Trailers

In the last post, I explored four low budget book trailers. Well here are the big boys. Not always better, as you’ll see. Most of these have a hefty budget and were most likely produced by the publishers.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This trailer certainly has that Hollywood feel. It clearly delivers the premise of this books. I’ve actually read the sample chapter and it dovetails with this trailer almost scene for scene. It shows the reader exactly what he or she would expect.

Going West by Maurice Gee

Are you amazed? You should be. The cut paper art is breathtaking. I couldn’t take my eyes away. Now, can you tell me what the book is about? Yeah, there was the voice over reading snippets from the book, but I didn’t listen. The visuals overpowered the text. This is an example of the production team going too far.

I can’t say for certain, but I believe the art may be by Peter Callesen.

The Return Man by V. M. Zito

The trailer, put together by Swank Banana Productions, sucks you in with very simple visuals and text that interacts with the smoke. I have to say, I was drawn to this trailer. I can see the same techniques working on a smaller budget (perhaps without the fancy text).

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The illustrations by Keith Thompson drive this book trailer. It shows that if you know someone who can draw, the trailer can center around this artwork. Again, this does a superb job of hitting it’s target audience of steampunk readers.

Tim Kane

Four Intriguing Low-Budget Book Trailers

I am creating a book trailer for a friend of mine, so of course I perused the YouTube offerings to see what’s what. Book trailers seem to fall into two categories: the low-budget and the “hey did a Hollywood filmmaker direct that?”. In a subsequent post, I’ll tackle some of the high end book trailers. The ones below are anywhere from a near zero budget to knowing some film students to help you. Let’s check them out…

Souless by Gail Carriger

This trailer appears to use found footage, or perhaps recreated footage, in a grainy black and white. Instead of a voice-over, black screens with text outline the premise of the book. Like it or not, this trailer gives you want you need, a reason to buy (or not buy) the book. It clearly explains the genre and premise as well as giving the mood of the writing. Compare the Souless trailer to the one below.

A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell

This trailer is quite clever and low budget (simply a camera filming the author). It engaged the viewer, but perhaps not enough to click over and check out the book. Despite the shocking title, I get no sense of what the book is about. I did click over to Amazon, but only so that I could be sure it wasn’t really about pornography (you never can tell these days).

Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

This is the man that gave away so much of his writing that gathered tens of thousands of followers. The publishers came begging to sign him. Although this trailer has a heightened budget, it is still essentially drawings animated to outline the plot. It’s the pacing and style that capture you. I was instantly enthralled. It also serves its purpose: you know what the book is about.

i am in the air right now by Kathryn Regina

I am addicted to this trailer. It not only captivates me, but makes me want to read Regina’s poetry. Partly this is due to her reading some of poetry for the trailer. She “animates” her poems, matching the images to the words. While the we see images of a bird crying for help and wasting away, we hear this:

“I was thinking of the bird that flew into a man’s head, hard, so that it actually flew inside the head and it got trapped there and confused.”

Addicting. This is clearly a brilliant book trailer, though not easily emulated unless you’re writing poetry.

The next post will explore some of the higher budget book trailers.

Tim Kane

6 Greek Figures that Made it into the English Language

Yes, I love my Greek myths. Here’s another bout of guys and gals, all mortal this time, who have inspired words in our Mother Tongue.

Aesop wrote many fables featuring talking animals acting like humans. However, the underlying purpose was to instill moral values in the reader. Originally, Aesopian simply meant “characteristic of Aesop’s fables.” By the 20th century, it began to refer to writing that had a hidden meaning (much like the morals).

Draco was an Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. His laws were supposed to be exceedingly severe, yet from the fragment that survives, they don’t seem so harsh. “Even if a person commits homicide without the intention to do so, the sentence is exile.” Not too bad really. Yet, the man has been saddled with the idea of harsh laws. Now, Draco is associated with all things cruel and harsh. No doubt, the inspiration for Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter. However, today’s cruelties might be an overly strict parking attendant.

The Myrmidons were the legendary inhabitants of Thessaly, Greece. Their king is someone you might recognize: Achilles. The Myrmidons were his faithful soldiers. Myrmex means “ant” in Greek. No one is quite sure how loyal warriors came to be called ants. Some suspect that a ancestor could take the form of an ant, or that the Myrmidons themselves could become ants. Today, the ant association sticks, meaning loyal follower. However, it has a derogatory sense that the follower is a subordinate, as lowly as an ant.

Everyone knows Alexander the Great (he has Great after his name after all). Few know that his path to glory began with his father, Phillip II of Macedon. In 351 BC, a Greek named Demosthenes laid out just how dangerous Phillip was in a speech. He chastised his countrymen for their inaction. Every speech Demosthenes made after this became known as philippikoi logi (speech relating to Phillip). Today, a philippic is a tirade.

Sibylla was an aged woman who could foretell the future. Sounds dull right? Well how about that she threw herself into an ecstatic frenzy to make her predictions? She must have been good at it because her prophecies were recorded and handed down over the centuries. Eventually any such prophecy became known as a sibyl. Today, it means a prophetess or fortune-teller.

Sophists were  Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy. Socrates did a decent job of maligning them so that now we think of them as only shallow thinkers. Plato went so far as to describe them as charlatans who would say anything to win an argument. This evolved into a type of reasoning that seems plausible, but is in fact unsound. It can also be an argument that is used to trick the listener.

Tim Kane

Historical Gotham was a Town Filled with Madmen

I can’t say I’m a Batman fanatic, but I do enjoy the vigilante crusader. Little did I know the sordid history behind Gotham’s name.

It turns out that Gotham was a village in England known to be populated by madmen. The villagers feigned insanity to prevent King John from building a royal road near them (at the time, villages would have to pay for the upkeep of the road). When the king’s herald arrived, the townsfolk were engaged in all manner of madness. Needless to say, they rerouted the road.

Twenty of these tales were bound together as The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham in 1540. Over time, the “mad” part was replaced with “wise.” Makes you wonder just where madness ends and wisdom begins.

One tale, called “Of Drowning Eels,” concerns the fishermen of the village. It seems that all the fish vanished from the local pond. Only a great eel remained. They presumed that the eel must have eaten all the fish, so the folk of Gotham put the eel on trial. Finding him guilty, they sentenced the eel to death by drowning. (Yes, drowning). They cast him back into the pond, saying: “Lie there and shift for yourself, for no help thou shalt have from us.”

A nursery rhyme concerning the loony Gothamites survives. It first appeared in Mother Goose’s Melody in 1765.

Three wise men of Gotham,
They went to sea in a bowl,
And if the bowl had been stronger
My song had been longer.

Washington Irving borrowed the legend of the town filled with crazies and used it as a label for New York city. In a letter printed in his magazine, Salmagundi, on February 13, 1807, he writes:

One of the most tickling, dear, mischievous pleasures of this life is to laugh in one’s sleeve – to sit snug in a corner unnoticed and unknown and hear the wise men of Gotham, who are profound judges (of horseflesh) pronounce from the style of our work, who are the authors. This listening incognito and receiving a hearty praising over another man’s back is a situation so celestially whimsical that we have done little else than laugh in our sleeves ever since our first number was publisht.

So Gotham was filled with mad men long before Batman appeared on the scene.

Tim Kane

Why I Write

I was talking to a friend the other day about how most writers have vastly unrealistic ideas about the business of writing. I once shared their views as well, so this is not purely peering-down-my-nose at “those folks.” We dream of writing one stellar book, becoming instantly famous, and then retiring to a) a yacht in the Caribbean, b) a log cabin in the woods (this the Stephen King dream), or c) a villa in Italy.

I’d laugh if I didn’t have this dream myself. And I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Way back, when I first discovered my passion for writing in a class with Susan Vreeland in my senior year, a local author came to speak to us. His name was Vernor Vinge. If you love SciFi, then you’ve certainly heard of him.

We asked him a multitude of questions, but mostly he tried to illustrate the process, and demystify the glamor. I was like Teflon, and it slid right past me. One thing did stuck. He asked us all why we wanted to be writers. We had to write down our response. Of course visions of books covers with my name on it, money and fame flitted through my head. What I settled on was this: Because I have to.

I’ve spent the last twenty some odd years since then working this out. I find I’m happiest when writing, even when it frustrates me. Maybe it’s because I end the session creating something? Writing offers a level of control that is ephemeral in real life (I think this is the lure of video games to some). That’s my world in there. I created it.

So why do you write? Do you have what it takes to go the long haul?

Tim Kane