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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inspiration: a dissection

I got a wonderful challenge in the mail from Yael Roberts, whom I met last year as one of the editors of an  Orthodox high-school literary magazine. She sent me a postcard out of nowhere -- actually, two postcards -- and asked me about inspiration for an art project. No idea what the project is going to grow into, but here's my little part of the birthing process. Here's what she wrote me (click to embiggen the images):

This is what I replied:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Heeb Magazine + Kafka

The generous folks at Heeb Magazine just put up a review of My First Kafka, and they seem to like it:

[T]here’s a sense of childlike wonder that permeates even the strangest of Kafka’s parables. That’s a tricky proposition to pull off effectively –My First Kafkaespecially for Roth, who is tasked with the unenviable job of transposing Kafka’s prose into child-sized morsels. Fortunately for weird kids (and their weird parents) everywhere, Roth is more than up to the task, reconstructing three of Kafka’s works into the sort of stories that would fit nicely alongside the Shel Silverstein’s stranger works.
My favorite part is the description of Rohan's illustrations, though: "His ‘Nobodies’ in Kafka’s “Excursion into the Mountains” call to mind Maurice Sendak’s eponymous “Wild Things”, transforming what was originally a passage about Man’s isolation into a whimsical adventure with imaginary friends. Similarly, his Gregor Samsa-bug in “Metamorphosis” is at once monstrous and sympathetic."

Okay. My day is made. Now I'm gonna go and read and stay up all night.

You, on the other hand, can read the review or buy the book (and then stay up all night with me, if you want).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tension and Subtext in Tales of the City

For my screenwriting class today, we had to analyze a scene where the dialogue is multilayered, text vs. subtext, and where two completely different things are being said. Because I have to hand it in on a computer -- and because it's about Tales of the City, and you can never have too much Tales of the City -- I'm posting it here, too.

This scene (from Tales of the City) is a remarkably multilayered example of dialogue. In one way, it’s a cheat to use as an example of dialogue that says one thing and means another -- it’s flirting, after all, and flirting is by its very nature saying one thing and meaning another. But reducing this trio of interactions to flirting is as cheap as -- well, as Mary Ann Singleton is trying to be.

When the scene starts, Mary Ann is fresh off dumping her high-school friend and current roommate; she’s just found a new place to move. They went clubbing together, and the roommate brought home the (admittedly creepy) guy who was trying to make a pass at Mary Ann. Now she’s in the middle of a supermarket, checking people out in a decidedly not-supermarkety way. She’s emotionally wounded and volatile and looking to earn her power back. When she encounters this new creepy guy, the balance of power in the scene shifts remarkably -- he hits on Mary Ann, she turns him down, thereby gaining control of the interaction. She’s also not turning him down, per se -- she’s venting her frustration on her ex-roommate and being single and the whole singles scene. His parting shot is a last attempt to shift the balance of power in the scene to him. It works, momentarily -- she smarts, embarrassed. This provides a springboard for Robert, the hot mustached guy, to insert himself and get some cooking tips.

He’s polite, refined, respectful -- all these things are giving power back to Mary Ann. She thinks he’s flirting with her. She literally giggles with the transfer of power back to her. When she says you have to make hollandaise sauce “hot...really hot,” we know she’s talking in a multilayered rubric -- she’s totally coming onto him. It’s an interesting place in which the audience knows more than the character, not because we’re given background knowledge, but because we have more life knowledge than the character. We (at least, an expected plurality of the audience) know that Robert is blatantly, flamingly gay. Mary Ann, the poor dear, has no idear.

It works partly because it’s an in-joke, and partly because it doesn’t last that long. Also, partly because it does no real damage -- we still love Mary Ann, and we feel truly sorry for her when Robert’s hand is played. Author Armistead Maupin, and director Alastair Reid, crafted this interaction to be embarrassing and humbling, sexy at the same time that it’s completely undermining its sexiness. And the real treat of it all is the introduction, at virtually the last second, of Michael Tolliver, Robert’s boyfriend -- who, ten minutes or so later, will reappear and become one of the principals of the cast. He’s involved in the scene almost not at all, except for an amiable last-minute introduction between he and Mary Ann. He says almost nothing. However, the cumulative actions and emotions from the scene tumble onto his character, and when we remember the scene, we remember him -- the harmless gay guy in love, inserted in the middle of the trashy Social Safeway. He was the only one using the Safeway for its given purpose. He was actually trying to cook dinner. But the moment he shares with Mary Ann in recognizing their shared attraction to Robert, stays with us as the defining moment of his character.

Bonus: Here's Mary Ann's intro scene.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

About Those Games I've Been Working On...

You probably won't be going to the Games for Change conference -- it's a convention that brings together video games and positive social change -- but if you are, some of my posse will be making appearances and talking about some of the video games I've been writing. Here's part of the write-up for our presentation:
As a major part of its effort to reinvent elementary and secondary school curriculum, Amplify Learning is producing an ambitious portfolio of digital games. For the first time, these designers, from across the United States and the United Kingdom, are gathering at a public event to discuss this work and share what they have done so far. 
And here is what they're saying about the games. It's the most anyone has said (meaning, more than anything I've been allowed to say) about what they are.
Micro-Presentations from Game Developers:
  • Jesse Schell (Schell Games) – Lexica, an ELA Game World focused on getting students to read more. Mukashi Mukashi, a syntax and story-telling game based on Japanese folklore.
  • Phil Stuart (Preloaded) – Storycards, a collectible card game featuring authors and characters from classic and modern literature. TyrAnt, a real-time strategy game of competing ant colonies.
  • Britt Meyers & Eli Weissman (High Line Games) – Education version ofW.E.L.D.E.R. (top selling iOS spelling game).
  • Ira Fay (Fay Games) – Tomes, a choose-your-own-adventure series featuring characters (and vocabulary) from classic literature.
  • Zach Barth (Zachtronics) – Metaboism, a pinball-style game about how plants and people get energy. Habitactics, a puzzle ecosystem game.
  • John Krajewski (Strange Loop) – SimCell, a game which enables sustained exploration of a human muscle cell.
 I've written anywhere from little tiny bits of some of these games to the entirety of others. Feel free to guess which are which. Not that I'll be able to tell you, but I want to know what you're thinking.

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