Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

~ Mark Twain

The sentiment above can be found in Twain's autobiography, and I find it to be an artful way of communicating what I think is simply a plain truth in the world of storytelling--it's all been done before. 

Original ideas are exceedingly rare, and by that I mean that we're talking generational timelines here. The major literary blockbusters of the new millennium aren't original stories. Fifty Shades of Grey and the Twilight saga have been done before (and much better, I might add); even J.K. Rowling's admittedly imaginative magnum opus, the Harry Potter series, owes a narrative debt to the works of such masters as C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle.

I find this idea liberating and comforting, all at the same time. I recently finished my first fiction since wrapping up my doctoral degree at UCF (a novella about introducing shoggoths into the treatment of infertility), and it has been exhilarating taking work back out on submission and then settling into another story. 

I ran hard today, thinking about which of the dozen or so stories that have been banging around in my head I wanted to write would be. I thought about length and plot and themes and markets. I thought about deadlines and workflow and attempting something new and fresh.

And I found an "in" and I'm thrilled to be working on the next story. 

But the truth remains that every story we write is the product of taking an old idea and running it through the mental kaleidoscope. If the story works and is well told, creative, and says something about the human condition, then the writer has succeeded in making a "new and curious" work of art.

This is a great thing, and it's why I kick back every night for a few hours with a good book. I love reading different approaches to communicating universal truths.

I just read Ray Bradbury's sinister, delightful, perplexing, and masterful short story "The Veldt." It's a vicious tale, told largely in spare, keen dialogue punctuated sporadically with Bradbury's trademark virtuosity for breathless, whimsical description.

But is it a story about technological overreaching? That's a large part of it, sure, but at its core its about patricide and matricide, and the uncanny emotions of the maturing child. In that way, it's as timeless as the works by the ancient Greeks and just about everything in between--up through contemporary stories like Stephen King's "Children of the Corn."

It's important for writers never to become paralyzed by the looming specter of originality. Doing so may actually have an inverse effect, in which an attempt to create something wholly unique spins the artist off into the realm of foolishness, incoherence, or absurdity. 

Keep that imaginative cupboard in the back of the mind open. Listen to the world around you, and work to find those interesting connections that add depth and complexity to timeless human stories. Doing so is a clear and honest path toward good storytelling...


"Heartbeat" by Mat Kearney

Sometimes a person just needs a bit of positive dance music to get going, so here is one of my favorites by the serially underrated Mat Kearney. Mat's an Oregonian, by the way...


Moving The Players Championship Back to March

 I first attended The Players back in 2006, which was the last year that the tournament was contested in March. It was a riveting event, and it catalyzed my love for attending PGA Tour events live. There is something about watching the approach to the game by those who make millions playing it that is both inspirational and instructive. I have always enjoyed studying how these players prepare, carry themselves, and interact with each other and the fans.

PGA Tour professionals are great with interaction. I've seen superstars like Fowler, Spieth, and Day spend hours signing autographs. Phil gives fist bumps. Bo Van Pelt once complimented my daughter, and Vaughn Taylor and I had a conversation. These athletes are approachable and genuine, and watching them has been a pleasure. It's why I not only attend The Players Championship, but I also attend the Winn Dixie Open and the RSM Classic up in Georgia.

Good times...

So when the news broke last night that The Players had moved back to March, my wife was super stoked. Since 2007, the tournament has concluded on Mother's Day. That's a good thing for moms that love golf, but not such a great thing for moms that are indifferent, but who are married to husbands that love golf. Couple that with my son's birthday in early May, and the tournament has always been contested at a congested time in our personal schedule.

My wife was excited. Me...I'm fine either way, and I mean that sincerely. It's cooler in March, but I love wearing sweaters and the rain didn't bother me at the tournament that I attended. Will the weather chase away some fans?

Possibly. I think the social fans that come out after 5:00 p.m. to be seen around 17 on Friday evening might find other things to do. But the tournament will be more comfortable for walking fans like me (I once walked more than twenty miles in a day, watching it from the first group to the last) and I don't expect it to compete too directly with March Madness.

I love golf, and this is my favorite tournament of the year. What can I say? Sawgrass puts on a great show and puts up a great test. That isn't going anywhere, and everything will be fine in March.

In the final analysis, this will be a good move that makes the PGA Tour better overall. It cements a huge tournament in every month from March through August, and it makes the FedEx Cup a better set of events because it won't have to compete with the NFL.

I hear so much negative feedback about the move, but that feels like a lot of hype to me. The tournament might lose some of the sun dresses, but that was never what it was about anyway. The Bogey Grille isn't going anywhere, so play golf, fellas!


Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

I was fortunate to steal a little bit of time last week to see movies in the theater with both of my girls. My daughter and I enjoyed Spiderman: Homecoming on Wednesday, and my wife and I watched War for the Planet of the Apes on Friday. These were two fine films, but Mats Reeves's contribution to the Planet of the Apes series was hands-down the finer film. In fact, I don't think I've seen anything this year that I enjoyed (or would recommend) more than that film.

Reeves tells a compelling story that pays homage to Apocalypse Now (in one subterranean scene, someone has scrawled "Ape-pocalypse  Now" on the wall in red paint) while commenting on the nature of intelligence and the importance of speech. The movie plunges us into the central conflict with some expository notes on the simian flu just before a harrowing battle scene. The pacing here was excellent. Reeves (who co-wrote and directed) seems to have a keen eye for when to take the foot off the gas an allow for some fine moments of narrative reflection.

This film impressed on all fronts for me. The writing was excellent, the acting was strong (Woody Harrelson gives one of his best turns in a long time here--his final scenes are riveting), the effects are believable and will hold up over time, and the score was pitch-perfect. It's rare that I notice the score very often in great films, and that's usually a good thing. I don't like to be given clues about by emotional temperature by the filmmakers. But I was cognizant of the score (that insistent, single-note piano snippet particularly) throughout this film and it was always complementary to the storytelling. This is a violent film that feels contemplative and reflective as well. It's definitely a film that asks some important questions about the nature of mercy, the importance of our ability to articulate our thoughts, and the horrors of genocide.

Andy Serkis, as is usual for his work, is awesome here as Caesar. The swagger, gate, and facial expressions he renders bring the character to life, making the film's third act all the more difficult to swallow.

I give this film an 'A' mark and put it high up there in the pantheon of recent sci-fi and fantasy coming out of Hollywood. Give it a look in the theaters, friends, because you'll want to feel that audio in the film's violent conclusion. I thought Cinema 14 was launching for outer space, right there beneath my feet...


I Am Pulling For You, Blake!

The Jacksonville Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option on Blake Bortles yesterday and, predictably, this news is the talk of the town. I think it's even overshadowing the risky maneuver the Jags pulled to draft Dede Westbrook.

Starting quarterback is the most important position in all of American professional sports because it is the most important position in the most lucrative and popular league this country has. The fortunes of these teams rise and fall with quarterback play, and finding a trustworthy signal caller is the core of any NFL scouting department's mission.

The Jaguars have struggled in recent years to draft a franchise quarterback. Byron Leftwich had a cannon and he was tough as nails but his mechanics were off and he never could get it going here in Jacksonville. Blaine Gabbert has all of the measurables, but Gene Smith and company never put a decent team around him. He's not a great quarterback, as evidenced by what he's done in San Francisco, but I think things could have gone much better for him if we could have surrounded him with even an average offensive line and receiving corps.

Blake Bortles is an interesting case study in this subject. He had a rough go of it as a rookie, piled up some fine stats in his sophomore year en route to breaking the Jacksonville touchdown record, and then seriously regressed last year. But even in that regression, he played two strong games (including one with around a 70% completion percentage) with a new coaching staff. Did Doug Marrone pull something out of Blake that Gus never could have, or is that sample size too small for any meaningful analysis?

I think it was wise of the Jaguars to pick up the option on Bortles because I believe that he can be a top-twelve NFL quarterback. I also see it as relatively low risk and high reward, as outlined in this rundown from the Florida Times-Union. Blake has some major financial incentives to put this team on his back and improve his play, but I don't even think those incentives are the end-all and be-all of why he will succeed here in town.

Blake is tough. His teammates appreciate that and they play for him, even if he doesn't always throw the best ball.

Blake is mobile. Yeah, he's had 23 and 22 combined turnovers in the last two years, but his critics rarely discuss the many times that he has scrambled for first downs and touchdowns.

Blake can get the ball downfield. He led the league in 2015 in passes of longer than twenty yards.

He needs to take better care of the ball and improve on his touch and accuracy, but I think he's a smart guy and a great athlete. I really hope that he is improving his mechanics and training hard in California, or all of this will be for naught. I'll let those rumors of Blake's bar habits out at the beach alone--the man is 21 and can do what he pleases, but he needs to follow the example of players like Brady, Brees, Winston, Mariota, and Newton, who all take exemplary care of themselves in the offseason.

I would say that, for Blake's career, he has been above average 75% of the time. He has been bad 25%. He has never been great. 

Can he get there? Which Blake will lead the Jags in 2017? I'd like to think we'll see the great version of Blake Bortles, and it's not just because I'm a UCF alum. I love my Jaguars and I don't want to go back to square one. I want Blake Bortles to be the man here, make that option pay off, and take this team to the postseason.

I am pulling for you Blake. Make it happen... 


The End of A Vast Landscape and the Beginning of a New Journey...

I began researching graduate schools in late 2011 with an eye toward finding a terminal credential that would help me improve my skills with digital composition, communication theory, and media studies. I looked at programs across the country that had a variety of different approaches. There were creative writing PhD programs, American Studies programs, and old-fashioned English PhD programs. I got into some and was denied entry into others. I thought seriously, albeit fleetingly, about a move for our family that would have taken us into a completely different part of the country.
Ultimately, I found a program in Orlando at the University of Central Florida that has exceeded my expectations and helped me grow as a scholar and a person in ways that I never could have anticipated when I began attending classes in the fall of 2012.

UCF was rigorous, practical, and engaging. I took courses in HTML and XML theory, Web design, transmedia narrative theory, electracy, technical writing, modern rhetoric, writing for the Web, and cultural studies. I published three essays, completed thirteen classes, passed three qualifying exams, composed a six-chapter, 300-page dissertation, and successfully defended that research project in a culminating exam last week.


I am very thankful to UCF and to the faculty in the Texts and Technology program. The aims of the program, which combines traditional and historical communication theory with cutting edge computer science, are perfectly applicable to my work in Florida State College at Jackonsville's Converged Communication program. I have forged friendships and made relationships that I plan to keep well into the future, and I know that I am a stronger writer because the work I have completed has been met with greater enthusiasm by editors and readers. 

I am participating in commencement in a few weeks with my family in attendance, and that will formally conclude at least one part of the process. But beginning with my classes at FSCJ in May, I will begin a new journey as I completely re-vamp my teaching approach and curriculum to help our students at FSCJ. 

These are exciting times, and I couldn't have arrived at this place without UCF, the Texts and Technology program, and T&T's amazing faculty and community of scholars.


The Wind Through the Keyhole

I am re-reading The Wind Through the Keyhole, and I am enjoying it just as much the second time through as I did a few years ago. I love the narrative approach here, as Sai King both fills in some backstory on Roland's life as a greenhorn gunslinger while also delivering a truly delightful (if not somber) embedded narrative in the center of the tale. 

King does this often, and to great affect. Whenever writers trot out that old saw about showing versus telling, folks are curious about the actual strategies one might use to reveal character or setting or plot in a way that feels natural and unforced. That is showing, and one of the best strategies is to tell a related story. King wants to illustrate the scope of Bobby Fornoy's genius in "The End of the Whole Mess," so he has his narrator tell a pair of stories about how he built a glider and a radio as a child. His chilling novella 1922 is chock full of great tangential, but wholly engaging and necessary, stories. All of it amounts to depth and complexity in the storytelling. 

I am also reminded of King's depth as a writer when I revisit his stories from this universe. It's easy to overlook his skills in writing magical realism and epic fantasy, but one shouldn't. He's got a lot of Tolkien and Lewis and Bradbury in him, to be sure...

This is a fine novel for both engaging with a great story and studying the structure of a pithy fantasy with a keen embedded narrative...

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....