The Guilty Party

Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 449

Current Word Total: 14453

Current Chapter: Seven!

Don't you just love short chapters? I know I do. Chapter Six, which was not particularly short, gave me almost as much trouble as Four. But the worst part about the first draft of Chapter Seven was just getting the first words down. That's the way it is with almost any new chapter for me. Hurray! I've finished a chapter! Oh crap! I have a whole new one waiting to be formed, what in the heck is going to happen in this one? But Seven, which is one of the short, Here's-What's-Happening- Elsewhere bits (this time we travel back to the fictional Middle Eastern country of Bodhran for a nice little explosion and a little quality time with Prime Minister Hadi ali Ahmad) came easily once I got the fingers moving and it was undeniable fun. I hope that once I get it all shipshape it will read fun too.

Well, it is after 9:00 PM and the day will start early tomorrow, so it is time for a bit of reading (I am rereading the marvelous book The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins) and then off to snoozeland. Five o'clock will come around soon enough, eh?

See ya.

Here's the link if you want to check out what I have so far.

Close Enough for Jazz first draft

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 360 or so

Current Word Count: 14004

Current Chapter: Chapter Six is on its own for a while. Time to move on.

Friday I got another rejection note from an agent regarding Boomerang. Yep, even though it is a real book and you can buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all that (hint, hint) I am still every once in a while trying to see if maybe it can see more of the world through the good services of a bit larger publishing enterprise. One that can actually put it in bookstores and give it a snappy cover. The rejection was one of those supposedly "encouraging" ones I read about in the latest Writers' Digest magazine since she included the phrase "your work sounds intriguing" although I suppose that could be standard verbiage for that agency's form letter. But it was not quite the usual "Please excuse the impersonal nature of this note" that is the norm, so that was nice. Still, it was a rejection and so there we go. I have sent out four queries in the past few months. Two have come back with No Go. A third was sent to an agency that promises not to respond at all if they are not interested (don't know why I bothered) and the fourth, which was actually the earliest one I sent and the only one that went snail mail, accompanied by SASE and the first fifty pages, is really the only one I'm very much hoping will say "yes". At this point I'm thinking that's either not going to happen or their incoming box is so stuffed they haven't even gotten to something sent close to three months ago. In any case I just keep on with the new one. Not much else to do, eh?

So here's my report on the last couple of days.

Once again going against what I declared my was going to be my modus operandi (did I spell that right?) this time around, I did spend a bit of time yesterday before work and this morning trying to catch typos, logic gaps and whatever else wasn't up to snuff in what I had already written. I've really cut down on this Revise As I Should Be Forging Ahead thing, but I still do it and I still find ways to justify it in my head. The main defence I have is that a big reason I love to write is because every once in a great while I craft what might just qualify as a Really Good
Sentence or a Choice Turn of Phrase and the satisfaction that comes with doing so is tremendous. My heroes are writers who do that on an irritatingly regular basis. They are true wordsmiths, forging sparkling gold necklaces from the same twenty-six letter links most writers struggle to form into paperclip chains that get themselves tangled with little or no encouragement. I don't want to just tell a story, I want to make the page sparkle. And for me to come even within shouting distance of that goal means lots of revision, lots of fine tuning.

But you can't refine what you haven't mined. And I am getting better at bringing the ore to the surface.

I do think I will have some fun with the character of Rimtan. He is like a younger, hyperkinetic Jerry, so the two of them should drive Ted completely out of his gourd. Not sure if we're going to have a corpse here soon, but it's looking like a possibility. I hate to kill people in my books, but sometimes it's just the best thing for the story. Ya gotta be heartless in this business, I'm tellin' ya!

Oh, I'm not at all sure how this would work properly, but is anybody interested in setting up a sort of betting pool (no money involved, please) on when the first draft will be completed? I know I have what should be inside information, but honestly, I've only finished one first draft in my life and that took waaaaaaay longer than it should have, so I have little on which to base my guess other than optimism and giddy enthusiasm.

I say February 20, 2010.

Any other guesses out there?

See ya.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 877 !!!

Current Word Count: 13639

Current Chapter: I think we’re about done with Chapter Six. Maybe.

If you would like to read what I have so far, that can be found on my Wordpress blog.

I am pretty happy with my word count for yesterday. The action moved forward and we got to meet Rimtan, the young jazz musician from Bohdran as he makes a flying entrance from a second floor Hooters restaurant in downtown Tempe, AZ. Since I didn’t have to be into work until 3:00 PM yesterday (it is now 1:18 AM and I just got home from work about half an hour ago) I had plenty of time to do some by-golly writing, and although I will admit that too much time was squandered in Facebook dithering and seeing if I really remembered how to play “Body and Soul” on the guitar, all in all it was a good day of writing production.

But after reading over some of my stuff during my dinner break at work, I think it is important that I point out the fact that the work I am posting here is EARLY DRAFT MATERIAL. This is kind of like the way a play comes together. If you watched the early rehearsals of a play, especially one where the script is still being fine tuned, the dance numbers worked out and the lighting and scenery still to come, you would think to yourself “This is all that professional theater people are capable of producing?” and wander away, shaking your head. Well, early drafts of a novel are kind of like that. It takes lots and lots of fine and not-so-fine tuning to take the rough material of what initially pours (or dribbles) out of an author’s imagination to turn it into a polished bit of storytelling. Everything from misspelled words to amazing gaps of logic in the storyline can be part of the first, second or third drafts. But without those early, oh so rough versions, there can be no shiny end product. You gotta have one before the other.

So please, keep in mind that what you are seeing here is not, by any means, the final product. You can see lots of final products at Borders and Barnes and Noble. But if you are interested in where that Final Product came from, I’d be mighty pleased to have you follow along as Close Enough for Jazz goes from basic idea to completed rough draft.

And then you can say “I was there. I witnessed the birth. And you know what? It was messy. But interesting.”

See ya.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 280

Current Word Count: 12762

Current Chapter: Still working on Chapter Six.

Yesterday, at least as far as writing is concerned, was mostly puttering around with the end of Chapter Five and what I already had for Six. Not what I really want to do, but when you get an idea on how a sentence, paragraph, bit of action, whatever, can be improved, I think it's best to act on it while the thought is still warm. Heck, while it's still on the radar. My notekeeping skills are way below what they should be, so if I don't incorporate a change, especially a minor one, Right Now, I'm screwed.

Still, I did get a bit further in Chapter Six; Ted and Jerry and Special Agent Parker are on their way to meet Rimtan, the jazz musician from the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Bodhran, when they suddenly have to take a detour into downtown Tempe. Seems sixteen year old musical prodigy Rimtan has a taste for the ladies and he has escaped from his hotel to the nearest Hooters in order to sample the local culture. Parker has bolted out of the car, after giving Ted and Jerry instructions to stay put. Of course Jerry follows close after, which means the limo driver/other agent goes to fetch him back. Ted is left alone in the back of the limo with Sarah, his beloved Gibson jazz guitar which also featured in Boomerang. Does Ted follow the others to see what the fuss is in Hooters? If so, does he take Sarah with him? At this point I'm not sure what is going to happen. And heck, I may come up with something and have a much better idea two days or five weeks from now. But the action has to move forward and that's what is going to happen in about ten minutes when I'm done with this entry.

Today is a Go In At 3:00 PM day at work. Merchandise offload shift which should keep me there until midnight or a bit later. It's a long day when you get up at 5:00 AM in order to get the kid to band practice a bit after six o'clock, but it hasn't killed me yet. I'll sleep in tomorrow and my wife will somehow squeeze in being the school taxi before she heads to work.

Just for jollies (and to properly limber up the typing fingers) how about we have a look at just a few of the headlines that are in today's Arizona Republic newspaper?

Arizona panel: Ban paddling of schoolkids. Yep, it seems that thirty-two of the state's 214 school districts have policies that allow a teacher or administrator to hit a child. You can call it corporal punishment, you can call it paddling, but hitting is what it is. And the lesson a child gets from being hit? Well, seems to me the lesson learned is usually this: If you're bigger and/or in a position of power, and/or don't like what someone else is doing, you can hit people. Tom Horne, our state Superintendent of Public Instruction, who has enjoyed a bit of publicity lately due to his tendency to acquire speeding tickets, is quoted near the end of the article. "I've always felt corporal punishment is inappropriate in schools." Good on him. But maybe he could have stopped before adding, "Only parents should be able to do that." Hit kids, that is. Oh, in the earlier article chronicling Mr. Horne's challenges as regards traffic laws, it was mentioned that he is considering running for State Attorney General.

Bear climbs ladder to escape sunken skate park in Colo. Good for the bear and good for the Parks and Rec workers of Snowmass, Colorado for lowering the ladder and giving the bear a means of exit.

No cure for health care at town halls. Columnist E.J. Montini once again writes plainly and convincingly about the real and disastrous effects our current health care "system" has on real, hardworking, law-abiding, citizens of our great nation. Montini writes of a man who would have liked to have attended Senator John McCain's town-hall meeting on health care reform but couldn't because he had to sell his car to pay his medical bills. A bit later in the column, Montini cites a study recently published in the American Journal of Medicine that said that roughly 62 percent of bankruptcies are due to medical bills. We may or may not need a government run health insurance option, you know, like the one that covers our elected representatives so well? But we sure as hell need reforms in place that keep insurance companies doing what they should be doing, instead of spending so much time and energy figuring out ways not to because they think it will increase their bottom line. If some folks (Sarah Palin, anybody?) are afraid of death panels, they need look no further than the accounting departments of health insurance companies.

Big headline on page one of the "Arizona Living" section: Seduced by 'Sexting' It seems teenagers are sending inappropriate images and texts to each other. Really? Who put the means to do so into their hands? Sure, we can all trust our kids to do the right thing all the time. Lapses of judgement never afflict the cautious teenagers in our lives. Right? Besides, if we catch 'em doing it we can always correct the behavior by smacking 'em on the butt. With a two-by-six with holes drilled in it for increased speed. Tom Horne says it's okay.

Lastly, and then I'll get on with Fun with Ted and Jerry.

Pizza guy's car back for lots of dough. John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's Pizza, is all happy because he located and bought back his 1971 Camaro Z-28. He had sold it in 1983 to raise money to help save his father's tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana. A worthy and commendable sacrifice. But he missed the car. So Schnatter put out a quarter of a million dollar reward for it. The people who had originally purchased it from Schnatter had sold it, but they did some searching and found the current owner, who, admirable fellow that he is, put aside his own affections for the vehicle and sold it back to Schnatter for the reward of $250,000. The folks who helped track it down received $25,000 for their trouble. In celebration of the Finding of the Lost Camaro, Schnatter had all his Papa John's locations hand out free pizzas Wednesday to anyone driving a Camaro.

I know that it was Schnatter's money and he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. I know I don't want people telling me how to spend the fiver that every once in a while strays off course and finds its way into my wallet, but does anybody else think $275,000 could have been put to better use?

We'll have to see how I view this scenario after I become quite nicely rich.

See ya.

Oh, wait a sec! I baked scones yesterday. With dark chocolate chunks in 'em. They are good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 282

Current Word Count: 12482

Current Chapter: Six

I'm sitting at my desk, mildly and quite pleasantly distracted by Radio Deluxe. It's a weekly program with jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli and his wife, jazz singer Jessica Molaskey, or jazz singer Jessica Molaskey and her guitarist/husband John Pizzarelli, whichever seems appropriate to you. I just discovered the program through the email updates I subscribe to on John Pizzarelli's website. They spin favorite jazz tunes (right now Rosemary Clooney is singing the achingly lovely song "Always"), have some light conversation with a special guest. This broadcast their guest is David Hyde Pierce. He talks about his involvement in the Broadway musical Curtains, they play the ten tunes that is the required host/hostess gift guests must to the Pizzarelli.Molaskey digs "high atop Lexington Avenue". Outside of the fact that every once in while Pizzarelli is trying just a tad too hard with the humor, it is just an enormous amount of fun.

I've been a fan of John Pizzarelli's for many years. He is a wonderful guitarist and singer, I really like the material he selects, and often as not he sings them in keys I can negotiate without too much trouble while driving. Okay, maybe I don't quite hit the notes dead on, but hell, I'm alone in the car and I'm not what would call your super critical audience. Where was I? Ah, another big reason I like Pizzarelli is because he always conveys a real joy in his music; he has that impossible to fake vibe that comes from doing something he loves. And now that I have had my first chance to hear Ms. Molaskey both speak and sing, I detect the very same joy in her. I now want a Molaskey CD of my very own.

Now. I don't know these people personally, but it sure seems like what we have here are soul mates who know what they want out of life and work hard and with, here's that word again, joy, and they are making it happen.

That's really cool. And it's something to aim for.

Now its time to write. With joy. And maybe there will be a fart or two. Still don't have a dog in CEFJ, but I'm sure one will show up before too long.

See ya.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 418

Current Word Count: 12200

Current Chapter: Six

I suppose some people are a whole lot better right from the get-go knowing and acting on the fact that we only get so many chances in this life to get ourselves on the right path. The fact that goes along with that one is that there is absolutely no way to know if the chance you've got right now is the last one. It's really easy to ignore this pretty important bit of info when you're young, but that doesn't mean the young are the only ones guilty of doing so. Every day I wake up next to my wife, every day I get to talk to my kids, every day I am given the chance to meet somebody interesting, and there are lots of interesting people out there, I need to make the best of it, because another chance may not happen.

Same with writing. If I've got a chance to put words down, whether it's on a notepad, a nice journal or here in my computer, I need to do it. Not dither about checking the Amazon ranking of Boomerang or seeing if anything earth shattering has happened on Facebook in the last five minutes. I may have another chance to get back to the writing, but even so, would the same words be coming out later? Doubtful. The words, sentences, paragraphs, revelations to me about my characters, surprise turns in the storyline that come out right now are bound to be different, and just maybe even better, than anything that might come later. Because there is always the danger that the good stuff won't wait around. In life, and in writing.

See ya.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Words Since Last Update: 251

Current Word Count: 11782

Current Chapter: Six

I think I mentioned that we went to see the movie “Julie and Julia”. And I’m just going to come right on out and admit that the story behind the movie was a major inspiration for doing this whole Blog About Getting Something Accomplished thing. Although I’ll bet Julie Powell was not the first and that lots and lots of other folks have done the same thing since: chronicling online their own personal climb up the mountain of their choosing. When something is a good idea there’s no reason for it not be see widespread use. We just can’t all expect the same sort of outcome. Heck, I have no expectations that my little adventure here will result in Amy Adams playing me in a popular movie. For one thing, she’s too short. I know, Meryl Streep played Julia Child, a woman who was, at 6′ 2″, a good eight inches taller than Streep. I spotted the platforms she was standing on and those weren’t flats she was wearing to the Cordon Bleu school.

But that’s not the point. The point is that even though I sort of realized it before, now it has become clearer to me that there are lots of folks who want to get something more from their lives and the ones who succeed are the ones who keep looking for a way to make it happen, to kickstart things. And then, and here’s the real point, they keep at it, even, or maybe especially, when it’s a pain in the ass to do so. You just gotta get up in the morning and get stuff done. Or else it don’t get done. And if you need something like a blog to give you focus and accountability, well, send a nice thank you note to whoever it was who gave us the internet and get on with it.

Yesterday was a screwy day from a scheduling standpoint. I’m never crazy about working Sundays, but if retail is what is paying bills, Sundays you will work, at least occassionally. But yesterday was a split work schedule, which can really mess with any sort of rhythm to your day. I had to be in to work at 7:30 AM for a two hour meeting (which of course ran over, but only by about ten minutes or so) and then I had to come back at 3:00PM. From 6:00 to 1o:00 PM, I headed up a team of four doing the initial setup for a sale that started the next day.

So it was early out of bed, quick breakfast and off to the meeting. Stop at the grocery store on the way back home. Have lunch with the family, watch a DVR’ed recording of “Psych”, which is silly and so I really like it, then try to help my daughter with her chemistry homework. I was of little use there, I think I helped her with one or two answers. I managed to sneak in about fifteen minutes of actual writing before I had to go to work again.

I’m still taking my walking wounded computer to work with me so I got a bit more writing done during my dinner break, which was shorter than usual. Lots of folks who wanted to talk to me, but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t putting up much of a fight about protecting my writing time. With the sale setup project on my mind, it was tough to dive into Ted and Jerry World. But I think I still got more done than I would have if I didn’t know I had this blog to report to. And even though I never had a chance to get immersed in the thing, I am finding there is something to be said for simply Getting Words Written. Might be good, might not. But Some Words is Always better than No Words.

I just wish I could serve them up to my family for dinner, like Julie Powell did after making a dish from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.

See ya.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

We're going to try out a sort of Quick Progress Report format here. So just in case folks start following this there will be an easy way to see where I'm at and time can be saved for other things, like Your Own Life!

So from here out, I think we'll begin each entry with:

Words Since Last Update:

Current Word Count:

Current Chapter:

After that will be whatever seems pertinent or maybe even a bit of rambling.

So here's the latest...........

Words Since Last Update: 394

Current Word Count: 11531

Current Chapter: Six

Inertia? Did I say inertia in my last entry? I don't think so!

Okay, maybe I didn't crank out two thousand brilliant words today, but I did finish Chapter Five and begin Chapter Six and even though I tossed some of the earlier stuff in Chapter Five I still came out with a few hundred words net gain. The tossing and some of the fresh material happened before work, the rest during my dinner break.

I almost didn't take my computer to work with me because that repair I made to the hinge unrepaired itself. Crack, slight droop from my beloved laptop, big gasp from me. But it is holding together okay and I'm backing up everything about three times a day. Chapter Five will be posted here toot suite and the partial Chapter Six might make it there too.

So I'm going to do that right now. It took forever to get Wordpress to come up tonight after I got home from work. And I've got to go in for an early morning meeting tomorrow, so bedtime is beckoning.

Words have been written! More will come!

See ya.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

I came pretty close to not posting anything for this day because I have nothing to report in the way of progress on the book. An entire day off from the day job, not much in the way of around the house chores to do, and really no running around chores either. And yet I made no headway in CEfJ. Don't know what it was, but even the thought of sitting down and trying to make actual prose come out of my head made me feel, well, I think the best way to describe it is an incredibly nasty case of inertia. Even though I knew that the one thing that would raise my spirits and make the day seem worthwhile was getting some writing done, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I did laundry, cleaned up the yard, messed around in the kitchen, watched more of my Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD, I even ironed about ten shirts. But all I wanted was for the time to pass, the rest of my family to get home from work and school, and go out for the evening.

That part of the day was just fine. We went to see "Julie and Julia", which is a wonderful movie with an incredible performance by Meryl Streep. The shots of Paris made me want to go there and Right Now. The food made me hungry. And the story about how Julie Powell brought focus, not to mention a degree of fame and fortune, to her life by blogging about her self-created goal of cooking her way through Mastering The Art of French Cooking in a year, made me more determined than ever to use my own blog to keep myself accountable. It would be nice if people actually started reading the damned thing, but whether that happens or not is really immaterial. What is important is that I finish Close Enough for Jazz and do it in a reasonable amount of time. And following Ms. Powell's timetable I have decided that a reasonable amount of time is going to be one year. By August, 2010 I will have the book ready to start sending queries to agents. A year may seem like a long time, especially to someone who has never attempted this novel writing nonsense, but considering the fact it took me over a decade to get my first one into print and even then I wasn't completely happy with it and jumped at the chance to rewrite it and bring it out under a different name, one year is a sprint from start to finish.


So if anybody wants to come along for the ride, that's great. If not, I suppose that will have to be fine too, since a writer's (or at any rate, a novelist's) work has always been of a solitary nature and the goal is mine alone.

See ya.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Rechristening

A couple of weeks ago I began a new blog over on Wordpress. It is an almost daily (I know, I need be more disciplined) journal about, well, writing my new novel while still trying to do all those other things in life. You know, earning a living, being a husband and dad and son and friend, those kinds of things. Anyway, I have decided that maintaining two separate blogs just isn't feasible, or particularly smart, so it's just the one, although I will be posting it both here and on Wordpress.

If my Blogger friends would like to see any of the earlier posts, please visit my Wordpress blog. After this, I'll have all of the entries in both places. The one advantage of the Wordpress blog is I can have extra places there to post chapters as I complete the early drafts. So you can see that I'm actually making some progress!

Wordpress Blog for Writing a Novel, Living a Life

So that's the deal. I've got a year to complete my next book. Nobody is waiting for it. It's a follow-up to Boomerang, which has been read by maybe three hundred people, fewer than half of them what you could call paying customers.

I have no idea why I have to do this, but I do. There are many days when it all seems monumentally insane. Other days when it seems incredibly stupid. And a few days when I know beyond anything I have ever known or can hope to know that I am a writer and would expire if I didn't keep writing.


See ya.
Alan

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ah, For the Good Olde Days





One of the things that some folks have a problem with in regards to my fiction writing is the way I occasionally insert what I suppose you would call Authorial Asides. It's just not done, at least not anymore, not if you want the Modern Reader to stay awake, turning pages and telling all of his/her acquaintances what a breathless experience it was to read My Vampire, My Own, A Tale of Blood, Lust and Shopping. I see their point, but I'm not so sure it is or should be a hard and fast rule. Heck, in writing as in any art form the hard and fast rules are pretty much there to light the path for those who want, or need, to have a path in the first place. And most of the time that is just about everybody, since without a path we end up wandering, lost and eventually being eaten by wolves, which is another way saying not finishing the story or finishing a very bad one. Geniuses are at liberty to shun the hard and fast rules, and that's fine. Of course, they risk the rest of us scratching our heads and shuffling quietly away from their creation, but that probably won't bother them because they are geniuses and I hope they take comfort and sustenance from the fact.

But there are rules and there are fashions and in the case of authorial asides, interjections, interruptions, tangents, whatever you want to call them, I say we are talking strictly fashion. And as long as people find joy in reading Dickens, Austen, Collins and the like, there is no reason why somebody sitting in front of a computer can't celebrate the joy of a well phrased observation on the human condition in the midst of a contemporary story.

What brought this to mind is the fact that I have just begun rereading Wilkie Collins' masterful novel The Moonstone. Collins uses what was then (and still is) the quite unconventional method of using multiple narrators, but he also keeps what is one of my favorite things about the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel and that is The Observations of a Keen Eye Expressed With a Precise and Eloquent Pen. Do they always move the story forward? Not really, not in the way all of the wags on the writing sites and many of today's editorial functionaries would define it. But even if all they serve to do is give us insight into what it is to be human and therefore help connect us all to one another with understanding and empathy, I think I will tolerate the extra ten or fifteen seconds it takes to navigate through their verbiage.

Here are a few examples I have written in my commonplace book. As you can see, sometimes the easiest way to get away with this particular offense is to write in the first person. Of course, for many unwary writers, this is also a perfect reason to stay away from writing in first person.

I mean, while one lives for ones Art, so to speak, and cares little for the public's praise or blame and all that sort of thing, one can always do with something to paste into ones scrapbook, can one not?---P.G. Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster See It Through

There are very few moments in a man's existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.---Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Elsewhere he is delighted with the presence of what is new, there tormented by the absence of what is old. Elsewhere he is content to be his present self; there he is smitten with an equal regret for what he once was and for what he once hoped to be.---Robert Louis Stevenson, The Master of Ballantrae

Interestingly enough, the gods of the Disc have never been bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that's where they believe in their deepest heart that they deserve to go. Which they won't do if they don't know about it. This explains why it is important to shoot missionaries on sight.---Terry Pratchett (oh yes, Pratchett can get away with it) , Eric

A cheerleader's function is to lead a sympathetic gathering in urging their team to victory, not to taunt an apparently defeated and demoralized foe. ---Alan Hutcheson, Boomerang

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise

Thursday, August 6, 2009

America's Got Talent

I suppose I should feel fortunate and/or smug about that fact that out of the seemingly hundreds of "reality" contest television programs filling the cable boxes of America, I have only been sucked into two of them. The Next Food Network Star and America's Got Talent are both must-sees in the Hutcheson household. Good thing they both have relatively short seasons and those seasons for the most part do not overlap.

We may talk about the Food Network program in another entry here, although some of what I am about to ponder out loud about AGT applies to both shows. But for now we'll stick with Simon Cowell's successful attempt to capture me when I couldn't be bribed with a Klondike bar to sit through his more famous creation American Idol. And I really like Klondike bars.

Anyway, this post is really just me trying to express a couple of thoughts about the show and in the process work out why in the heck I can't help but watch.

For those of you who are not familiar with America's Got Talent, the basic set-up is very much the same as American Idol, and I've got to assume that most of the English speaking world knows about that show or the British version from which it sprang. Thousands upon thousands of wannabe stars flock to the half a dozen or so massive venues sprinkled around the nation where the first stage of sorting, humiliating and general crashing back down to earth takes place. They don't come out and say it, but my guess is that a small fraction of the people who show up actually make it as far as the theaters where the three judges sit in court along with audiences that are exclusively young, amazingly well dressed (at least if they are going to be within range of the cameras) and vocal past anything seen outside of a bullring or Steelers game. The judges say Yeah or Nay, usually with at least a modicum of tact: the audience, well turned out though they might be, takes great joy in employing no tact at all, especially if they disapprove.

There are a few things that I have observed about this show.

David Hasselhoff has a very small bucket of phrases from which he plucks his "professional" assessments of the extraordinarily varied (in content as well as quality) acts with which he is presented. "You're what this show is all about", "Man, you just owned the stage" and "America needs to see you" are three of the most well exercised phrases he trots out. There is considerably more variety from him when he has bad news for the hopeful in front of him, and he often as not he tries to soften the toe of the boot with a sympathetic look and carefully chosen stock phrase. But the question that keeps coming to mind is: What qualifies this aging stud to judge anybody? So far I've failed to come up with an answer.

Sharon Osbourne brings the soft, kind, yet perceptive eye of the female to the show. As I understand it she has for many years managed her husband's career and apparently kept her sanity, so kudos to her on that. All in all she seems like a decent, clear-eyed judge of talent with a goodly amount of empathy who knows how to express herself with clarity nicely balanced with diplomacy. She's got a grip on life it seems.

Piers Morgan is blunt, brutal, not nearly as funny as he tries to be sometimes, and the one of the three I agree with the most. I do wish he would stop already with the constant reminders that "this is a million dollar talent contest". We know. Those of us who have watched in previous years also know that if you read the scrolling verbiage at the end of the last show of each season that million dollars is doled out over a twenty year period. Nice to have a steady income, but hardly the sort of thing to fling somebody from the Hum-Drum Everyday into a Beverly Hills zipcode. And so far exactly one winner of this show has established any sort of career. They trotted out ventriloquist Terry Fador once again this season, but I haven't heard a peep about last year's winner. Shame on me, I don't even remember his name, just that he was quite round, loved his mother very much and sang opera.

Stock phrases are not the exclusive province of the Hoff. Contestants uniformly proclaim that their moment before this Almighty Threesome "means everything" to them and, regardless of their age, that they have been "waiting my whole life for this opportunity". Maybe it's just me, but that sort of comment sounds just a tad different coming from an eight year old singer/keyboard player than from a seventy-five year old stand-up comic.

There is no doubt in my mind that some pretty talented folks never even make it to the stage/TV screen because that would take away from the time given over to the crazies. The early shows devote an extraordinary amount of time to the acts that have no chance whatsoever of advancing. And why do the massively untalented get all this air time? Because shame on us we all get at least a bit of a kick out of watching the deluded amongst us. Makes us feel, if not superior then at least comfortable in knowing that we would never make such fools of ourselves. We know our limits.

This week saw the first twelve of the forty-eight acts that advanced to the Whatever-Finals perform on Tuesday and then receive the results of the viewer voting on Wednesday. Five stay, seven go back to what they were doing before. That is, if they haven't already been replaced at their workplace. The top four vote getters come back for the next show, the fifth place is decided by the three distinguished judges between the acts that placed fifth and sixth in the viewer voting. Last evening it came down to two very talented young people. A girl singer and a boy dancer. If I recall correctly they are both about fourteen or fifteen years old. The girl sang very well, although I'm not a big Belter fan. Heck, I was hoping that when Whitney Houston went off the radar we would be spared all that noise, but for what she did she did it extremely well. The boy took a chance by showcasing some impressive piano skills before getting down to the dancing. He's good, really good, but he needs a better choreographer. When the three judges came back with their votes, it was no surprise. The show is loaded with girl singers but there is only one boy dancer (we're not counting the hip-hop and acrobatic groups, this kid is aiming at Broadway or maybe the ballet). In order to keep the show filled with as many different sorts of acts as possible they had to go with the dancer.

In the end I guess the reason I watch this show is because I can relate it to the publishing world. It's not always about finding the best talent, it's about doing what is perceived to be good for business. AGT isn't really about giving unknowns the chance of a lifetime. It's about selling advertising time. And the roadmap they are following to that El Dorado is the one in which you appeal to as wide, and as undiscerning an audience as possible. Step One: Make Fun of Others; Step Two (alternated as evenly as possible with Step One): Give Us a Brave Soldier/Against All Odds Story; Step Three: make sure Everyone Has Somebody To Cheer For and Everyone Has Somebody to Boo.

I've no problem with that roadmap. But sometimes I have a problem with me allowing them to take me along for the ride.

Usually this is where I put "Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise" but I think we'll pass this time.

A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.