How to pitch me a story

I got this pitch after publishing a story on Jermont Tigner. While I won’t be pursuing it, I loved the pitch. This post will explain way. But first, the pitch:

Subject: Great Story About Jermont Tigner

My son Matt LaMunion is the dispatcher who took the call. Matt is 24 years old, single, loves his job there, and is making a career in public safety.

Matt told me about Jermont and sent me the link. I was a police officer with Dallas PD and got Matt into the Cadet program there when Matt was 17 and a senior at Plano High School so he started his LE career almost at Jermonts age. He was with DPD 2 years, then went to Lewisville full time in communications while enrolled in UNT near full time. Matt has been with LVPD about 5 years, he is also in his last semester at UNT for his BS degree in Emergency Management.

With Jermont being 15, having turned his life around and looking at what he wants to do for a career. Y-all ought to introduce Jermont and Matt, get Jermont up into the 911 center, put on a headset like a “ride along” and spend a half shift or shift with Matt. Matt could share his career path and it may be beneficial to Jermont. Matt is a good mentor, he had a lot of influence on his younger brother Mike who is 22. He could be a good mentor for Jermont and be another caring person who keeps Jermont progressing.

Getting them together would be a cool follow-up story for you as well. The person in charge of communications there is Lynda, I do not know her last name. Or you may know their PIO or a deputy chief.

I am still a cop, but left Dallas PD, for Fort Worth. So Matt and I are pretty close as I mentored him quite a bit in the career area. If you follow-up with LVPD and they move forward don’t Matt or anyone there know his Dad was behind it…. that would probably be very uncool having “Dad” involved…. LOL

If you need any help with anything in FW or Tarrant area keep my contact info and feel free to reach out.

Howard T. LaMunion, Jr.

Now, here’s what I loved about it.

Howard had an eye catching subject line, including a name he knew I’d recognize. If your pitch doesn’t have something similar, try something like “Cover story idea for neighborsgo about a new local business” or whatever it happens to be.

This shows that you understand what the publication is and tells me specifically what you want off the bat.

Next, he writes, “My son Matt LaMunion is the dispatcher who took the call. Matt is 24 years old, single, loves his job there, and is making a career in public safety.”

This is important because it tells me who Howard is and his relation to the previous story. It also introduces his son,  who he is pitching as the subject of a potential follow up, and places him in my coverage area. If he didn’t have this line or it was not related to my coverage area, I may have stopped reading here.

If you are pitching me for the first time and working in public relations, or not, tell me who you are with and who you are representing.  Then tell me why it’s relevant to my area. 

So, instead of what he wrote, you would have something like, “My mane is Adam Schrader and I work for the PR firm Schrader and Associates representing our client Coca Cola. Coca Cola, while not based in Lewisville, is looking to expand its offerings in southern Denton County.”

Next, while unnecessary, it’s nice to know how you heard of me. Howard wrote, “Matt told me about Jermont and sent me the link.”

Most pitches won’t have the following information, but it’s nice as it establishes credibility and rapport.

Howard wrote, “I was a police officer with Dallas PD and got Matt into the Cadet program there when Matt was 17 and a senior at Plano High School so he started his LE career almost at Jermonts age.”

This builds credibility because it gives me personal information about Howard, the pitcher, and why what he has to say is worth noting. It also has background information on his son which is necessary for understanding the potential story he’s pitching.

What I don’t like is that he used the abbreviation LE for law enforcement, which was distracting and almost made me stop reading.

I can’t say this enough. Never. Use. Jargon.

Next, Howard gives me more necessary background information. Having this information is crucial to journalists because we can think of what the lede and nut graf of the story are before the interview, and frame our questions accordingly.

He writes, “He was with DPD 2 years, then went to Lewisville full time in communications while enrolled in UNT near full time. Matt has been with LVPD about 5 years, he is also in his last semester at UNT for his BS degree in Emergency Management.”

Next, Howard tells me why this story is important, not just on a geographical base, but as a good human interest story with “Jermont being 15, having turned his life around and looking at what he wants to do for a career.”

Then he tells me exactly what he wants me to do. I just wish this was further up in his email as this was the whole point. It turns out he didn’t want a story, he wanted a video.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make the video, but his pitch made me wish I did.

“Y’all ought to introduce Jermont and Matt, get Jermont up into the 911 center, put on a headset like a ‘ride along’ and spend a half shift or shift with Matt. Matt could share his career path and it may be beneficial to Jermont. Matt is a good mentor, he had a lot of influence on his younger brother Mike who is 22. He could be a good mentor for Jermont and be another caring person who keeps Jermont progressing.”

I also like that he provided a potential nut graf (if this was to be a story, not a video), with “[Matt] could be a good mentor for Jermont and be another caring person who keeps Jermont progressing.”

Next, he provides other options for me. I like that because it keeps my attention and tells me what could be done instead of a video.

“Getting them together would be a cool follow-up story for you as well. The person in charge of communications there is Lynda, I do not know her last name. Or you may know their PIO or a deputy chief.”

He not only provides other sources that could be used in the story, he offers his assistance.

In the future, remember that while I occasionally do video, I am a writer first. Instead of pitching me the video first, pitch it to me where Howard pitched the follow up story. I still want to know what multimedia I can include with the write up.

The rest of the pitch is kind of irrelevant, but it’s laid back and is still nice for building a personal connection.

One other critique is that Howard had many grammatical and spelling errors, a turn off for any journalist.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!

Brand New at Pegasus Fest in Grand Prairie

Brand New, the alternative rock band from Long Island, formed in the middle of my youth. Having grown up in the Dallas area, our middle school was full of young scenesters with their greasy straight black hair slumped over notepads where they drew hearts around vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Jesse Lacey’s name. The teenage angst dominating their first pop-punk influenced album Your Favorite Weapon in songs like “Mix Tape,” “Failure by Design” and “Seventy Times Seven” filled our hearts and heads. Through closed doors, the school cried as a gorgeous senior video montage our high school made slowed, turned black and white and played the final track “Soco Amaretto Lime.”

As we matured into high school, Deja Entendu hit our new iPod videos with new force as we hear the classic “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” and “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades.”

The album also got us to watch and re-watch film favorites like Amelie (played by Actress Audrey Tautou for which the song “Tautou” is named), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (“Okay I Believe you But My Tommy Gun Don’t”) and the Wes Anderson cult favorite Rushmore.

Of course, my personal favorite was always Me vs. Madonna Vs. Elvis, a powerful song that isn’t really about rape. They also move further away from pop-punk and incorporate more elements of screamo, the growing genre at the time, which led to their release of Daisy two albums later.

When we turned 16, we made mixed CDs or bought tape adaptors to make sure “Sowing Season,” “Jesus” and “Degausser” from the newly released The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. And no matter the temperature, our windows were down so the deep vocal harmonies and screamed lyrics could be heard across the Metroplex while we stole our parents’ cars and alcohol to party like only 16-year-olds can. Our MySpace walls were stacked with brand new Brand New lyrics.

When Daisy hit in 2009, I was out in Lubbock attending school. I hadn’t liked The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me much until then but as I grew older I started to appreciate the album for what it was worth. Brand New announced concert dates for Lubbock as part of their Daisy tour and the city went crazy. Though I never grew to like Daisy, I still hoped I could hear Lacey give the screamo a rest and slide back into the songs that I feel helped define who I am.

Unfortunately, the concert didn’t happen. And neither did new music.

So, when Pegasus Festival announced that Brand New was headlining, my girlfriend and I both screamed and played their first three albums on repeat for a couple weeks. Since they hadn’t produced new music in a long time and they were the headlining band, we hoped they would play some Brand New classics.

As the crew finished setting up the stage for Brand New, the house dimmed the lights and played “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting” by Olivia Newton-John.

Everyone went insane but the cheering died  to laughter as we all realized that they intended to play all five minutes of the song. The music stopped and the crowd erupted as Brand New started Sowing Season. When they hit the chorus the lights started flashing and it was so loud and crazy, then it stopped for the next verse. As the lights were flashing you couldn’t see anyone’s faces, since a boquets of daisies between purple flowers enveloped Jesse Lacey’s and all other mics onstage. Lacey kept a ball cap on for most of the show, Tierney mostly kept his back turned, drummer Brian Lane was masked by his cymbals, and Accardi was blocked by a mat of ever-moving hair. “Sowing Season” proved the most powerful opening to any concert I’ve seen and remains one of just a few songs from the album I still know the words too. The crowd went wild and in that moment, I knew that this would be the best concert I would ever see.

So happy @brandnewrock played #sowingseason at @pegasusfest. #PegasusFest #brandnew

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

Then, Brand New played “Vices,” followed by “Sink” and “Gasoline”—three songs from Daisy, which wasn’t surprising but a little disappointing.

With a funny transition, they moved into “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades.” The crowd went wild and mosh pits on the floor could be seen from the balcony.

Vid 3 of #sictransitgloria by @brandnewrock at @pegasusfest in #GrandPrairie #brandnew #PegasusFest

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

Vid 1 of #sictransitgloria by @brandnewrock at @pegasusfest in #GrandPrairie #brandnew #PegasusFest

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

The energy from Sic Transit Gloria carried over into Okay I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don’t which was undeniably the highlight of the show, played about halfway through. It was the loudest as the audience sung so loud it almost drowned Lacey out…thankfully, as his voice was cracking.

A little disappointed but at least @brandnewrock played "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't!" at @PegasusFest

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

Vid two of @brandnewrock playing "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't" for @pegasusfest in #GrandPrairie

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

"I hope this song starts a craze." @brandnewrock @PegasusFest #brandnew #GrandPrairie #PegasusFest

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

"Something they can't diagnose…" @brandnewrock at @pegasusfest #PegasusFest #GrandPrairie #brandnew

A video posted by Adam Schrader (@schrader_adam) on

They followed that with “Welcome to Bangkok,” “You Stole,” and “At the Bottom.”

“Jesus” tried to return to the energy of  “Okay I Believe You…”, but the song is naturally slower and the audience didn’t sing as loudly.

Degausser kept me interested until Brand New ended the show with “You Won’t Know.” The ending was powerful, elegant and excellently executed as each musician left the stage one by one letting the music loop and ring in the air.

Though it was a festival, and bands typically don’t have an encore during a festival performance, Brand New and Pegasus Fest continued to frustrate because concert etiquette is that when house lights remain dimmed, no announcement is made declaring that everyone should go home and music is still playing, an encore can be expected. Grand Prairie stayed in Verizon Theater and chanted “one more song” and “encore” for a full five minutes before they decided to turn the house lights on.

I’ve been waiting to see Brand New since I entered high school and I guess we all hoped that Jesse Lacey and the band would return for an acoustic set ending in the powerful and nostalgic “Soco Amaretto Lime” just as they had when I ended high school. Had I not gone into the concert with the mindset that I would hear more than just four songs I actually liked, I would have been a lot more impressed with the show. I mean, everyone else seemed to know the songs from Daisy a lot better than I did.

This is not to say the concert wasn’t good or enjoyable. Overall, besides Lacey’s stretched and strained vocals, they performed flawlessly. Guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Vincent Accardi is an animal with wild hair head banging and flying around the stage or throwing his guitar in the air to return to playing immediately. The sound quality was clear and crisp, just loud enough, and paired with appropriate lighting. They transitioned between songs effortlessly but didn’t forget to engage their audience.

Open Letter to the Journalism Community

One of my best journalism buds, a talented young professional, has been struggling to find a job as hard and longer than I have been. He’s decided to give up and restart the search in another industry. I wish him the best, but that’s really discouraging. Older members of the journalism community need to understand that age doesn’t equal wisdom and experience doesn’t equal talent. If you all gave us youngins a chance, you’d realize we can improve the industry and have just as much or more to offer then you do. So shame on you editors hiring for jobs we can easily do and dismissing us so easily.

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It’s all just Coffee, Cereal and Downstairs Drama

This is one of my favorite posts I’ve posted on North Texas Narratives and thought I’d share it on my professional blog.

North Texas Narratives

Photo Credits: Images were taken from his Facebook page

I started in January for a course in narrative writing and continued it through the spring semester with the intent of freelancing it. However, I was never able to find a publication interested in running the story. Since the article was written, Doug has left the Dallas Museum of Art for an exhibition presenter position at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. This article should be read imagining it is still March 2014. This is the article that I am the most proud of in my career so far so please enjoy. Words of criticism and encouragement are welcome. Thanks, Adam.

Doug draws a project board for circuitry, a needle, a wad of silver wire and a crystalline rock from the pockets of his black slacks. Using the needle, he threads the silver wire through holes in the project board precisely…

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Review of I Am America (And So Can You) by Stephen Colbert

Note: This was written as an assignment for a class I took a while back and some information may be outdated. 

I am a member of Colbert Nation you should be too.

Colbert Nation is very similar to Rush Limbaugh’s “ditto heads.” For lack of better words, it is a fan club. This fan club is a means of supporting the role of Stephen Colbert—a fictional character created by Comedy Central for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” His fame increased and he was given his own show. However, Colbert makes note to differentiate his character from himself “Now, as you have explained to your grandparents, my name is Stephen Colbert, but I also play a character on TV who is named Stephen Colbert. I don’t always know which of us has been invited.”

Anyway, let me tell you how I was introduced to the character of Stephen Colbert.

When I was in high school, I discovered the “Jesus is a Liberal Democrat” clip on the “Colbert Nation” website (produced by Comedy Central). I loved the clip and was routinely sharing links to the videos. I had already kept up well with the news but it was Colbert’s style that really got me to care about the news. I also began to watch and keep up with “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which also features the character of Stephen Colbert.

These two shows have created a new style of comedic television programming meant to provide commentary and humor much like talk shows such as Jay Leno or David Letterman. But, “The Colbert Report”approaches the humor differently as it is more of political satire modeled after Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” He even makes many references to O’Reilly who he calls Papa Bear- like in the clip that began my addiction.

Oh, I also think you should become a part of Colbert Nation because everyone else is. Stephen Colbert and his character have become dominating media leaders. With the publication of I Am America, they have reached every medium currently available. ‘“The Colbert Report’ has a nightly viewership of 1.5 million, and with ‘The Daily Show,’ its companion fake newscast, beats both Leno and Letterman in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old viewing segment.”

I Am America is simply a manifestation of “The Colbert Report” in written form. However, what is extremely sad is that while the character remains the same between “The Daily Show”and “The Colbert Report,” Colbert remains lower in ratings than “The Daily Show.” People don’t understand that the purposes of the show are different. The character of Stephen Colbert as stated in his interview “will not change. He’s the exact same guy from ‘The Daily Show,’ and he has just been promoted into the host’s chair. We’re trying to establish a persona here. He’s a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot.”

This differentiation between Colbert and Colbert is crucial because the book is written by Colbert as the character of Colbert. This book reflects his show in that it is political and cultural satire—based on facts but purely fictional. It is simply a book of satire and opinions (of the character of Stephen Colbert). “Well, like a lot of other dictators, there is one man’s opinion I value above all others. Mine. And folks, I have a lot of opinions.” As his show mimics the “O’Reilly Factor,” I think that this book is simply a mockery of all narrative non-fiction books that may or may not have high levels of “truthiness”. You need to understand this; otherwise, I Am America (And So Can You) can be considered highly offensive and libelous.

I also have to explain his qualifications as a character or as himself to write this book, I guess. Apart from his importance as a media leader and his massive following, there are no real qualifications to write this book. He says so himself in the introduction:

“I am no fan of books. And chances are, if you’re reading this, you and I share a healthy skepticism about the printed word. Well, I want you to know that this is the first book I’ve ever written, and I hope it’s the first book you’ve ever read. Don’t make a habit of it.”

Now, you might ask yourself, if by yourself you mean me, “Stephen, if you don’t like books, why did you write one?” You just asked yourself a trick question. I didn’t write it. I dictated it. I shouted it into a tape recorder over the Columbus Day weekend, then handed it to my agent and said, “Sell this.”

His satirical approach to writing does not detract from making great points on everything from religion to the media. It is also important because of his commentary on the media in chapter 10, “What’s wrong with NPR? Just listen to Morning Edition. This is by far the least zany “Morning Zoo” ever to hit the airwaves. Instead of the get-up-and-go-larity provided by your local Scott and Tom, or Ted and Zeke, or Denise and Santana, or Coyote Mike and The Beemer.”

On a final note: if politicians are taking Stephen Colbert and other political comedians more seriously then why shouldn’t you?

As a member of Colbert Nation, I believe in Truthiness and this letter is truth,

Adam Schrader


That one man can have so much influence over an audience is fascinating.


Colbert also is deeply catholic — he even teaches Sunday school. The Rev. James Martin, a friend and the culture editor of American magazine, a weekly catholic magazine, said these are not small points: “I think, in a way, Stephen is participating in what the Vatican calls the new evangelization, which (is) trying new ways of spreading the gospel. Satire can be a form of evangelization. Jesus used parables as satire.”

Hamlet (1990) Movie Review and Character Analysis

In the Hamlet interpretation starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet (a normal age as Hamlet is 30 in the text), interesting conclusions can be made from the analysis of the characters. The value of watching different interpretations is that it can give different perspectives of the same text, perhaps seeing things that others did not catch.

Obviously, this movie was based on the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. If you don’t know the plot, go read a book.

Director Franco Zeffirelli is known for his directorial interpretations of famous Shakespeare works. Through his directing and Gibson’s acting, Zeffirelli achieves a very “human” interpretation of “Hamlet”- especially concerning Hamlet himself. Hamlet and the others are not overly dramatic, and certainly relatable to the audience in this interpretation. This movie was also enjoyable because it portrayed Hamlet’s initial “playing the part” of being crazy as humorous. It is a highly sexualized interpretation, with emphasis on the mother and son romance.  The bedroom scene with Hamlet and his mother and queen of Denmark Gertrude, played by Glen Close, are loaded with Freudian overtones, displaying their unhealthy attraction to each other. What is interesting in this portrayal is the characterization of Hamlet as the aggressor, almost thrusting himself onto his mother. Perhaps the sexuality and the humor throughout his transition from acting to madness are what make this interpretation of Hamlet so human.

Another characterization of Hamlet is the accentuation of his intelligence and rationality resulting in his indecisiveness, and ultimately, his madness. He begins playing the part of being crazy as a tool to supply revenge for the death of his father, but misses the most opportune time to act upon his quest for vengeance because of his indecisiveness on the merits of the murder. It can be seen that this extremely irrational choice was the result of the declension of his ability to reason after the death of Polonius played by Ian Holm. More or less, he’s thought himself into a corner. This movie places emphasis on this, thus emphasizing the argument that Hamlet is the most clear and levelheaded at the end of the movie/play when he acknowledges that he must follow through with his plan, even though it will result in his death.

This movie showed Hamlet as a very “round” character, with an arguably distinct transition from acting to true madness. While many could dispute the scene in which the transition is made, the descent into madness occurred after he fights with Ophelia about her father and the catalyst into true craze occurred in the scene where he realizes her death. Once she dies, Hamlet realizes that his moment of anger at her betrayal not only affected him, but his love. While many argue the legitimacy of his love, including characters within the story, this interpretation did a nice portrayal of a legitimate love between Ophelia (played by Helena Bonham Carter in her most normal role) and Hamlet. Her death gave to the rational-minded young prince of Denmark the human realization that he caused her death. Perhaps, he feels helpless and unfulfilled after Ophelia dies because of his inability to reconcile the situation.

What really motivates Hamlet are:  his grief over the deaths of his father, Ophelia, and Polonius; his love for Ophelia, Horatio, Polonius, his mother, and especially his father;  pursuit of revenge for his father; and the acknowledgment that the appearance of his father’s ghost was not a figment of his imagination.

Overall, the movie was visually and mentally stimulating giving an accurate portrayal of his madness. Many argue Zeffirelli cuts a lot of “important” things from the play but that’s irrelevant because he’s a master film maker who pulled the human spirit and hidden depths from a hyper-analyzed play.

The King of horror’s “On Writing” proves a surprisingly insightful read

The King of horror has an impressive resume. He is an award-winning author and has more than 50 published novels and story collections– many made into major motion pictures. Movies based upon his works, “Carrie”, “Stand by Me”, “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption”, have been nominated and won Golden Globes and Oscars.

Stephen King’s “On Writing,” is written as a memoir, style-book hybrid. It contains three forwards, three postscripts and four main sections titled: C.V., What Writing Is, Toolbox and On Writing. The C.V. acts as a “Part One” and contains the memoir of how he became a writer. The remaining three sections act as a “Part Two,” and contain the style-book. Even after the C.V., King uses wonderful examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate his points in the style-book.

He also references Strunk and White numerous times throughout the book. The first time is in the second forward.

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit,” King wrote. “One notable exception to this bullshit rule is The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. There is little or no detectable bullshit in that book. I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style. Rule 17 in the chapter titled Principles of Composition is ‘Omit needless words.” I will try to do that here.”

Though many of his points simply reiterate Strunk and White, the commentary and anecdotes around them provide any aspiring writer and editor with an enjoyable and insightful rant on writing and editing practices. He consistently stresses the importance of editing and editors.

“No writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection,” King wrote. “Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.”

On this note, the most beneficial section for an aspiring copy editor is in his second postscript. Here, he includes: the original draft of his short story “1408” devoid of editing marks, with editing marks, and commentary on the editing marks. The finished text can be found in his three-story collection, “Blood and Smoke.”

A particularly insightful moment was when King reflects on his job as a sports reporter.

“When he [the editor] finished marking up my copy in the manner indicated above, he looked up and saw something on my face,” King wrote. “I think he must have mistaken it for horror. It wasn’t; it was pure revelation. Why, I wondered, didn’t English teachers ever do this?”

The King of horror is not only practical. He is inspiring as he attempts to comfort and eliminate the horrors felt by any aspiring writer and editor. He is convinced that the root of most bad writing, and editing, is fear. Once one can eliminate their fear, their craft will exponentially improve.

He wrote that the method to eliminate fear is to understand how English works structurally.

“I want to suggest you to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you,” King wrote. “Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.”

From there, one can build a writing toolbox. The chapter titled “Toolbox” explains the tools necessary for being a writer by relating them to a toolbox. King wrote, “Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary.”

For those concerned that King’s book may not apply to them, he is not simply a horror and fiction writer. King has worked as a high school English teacher and a college professor. Prior to these positions, he worked at his school’s paper as editor and city’s paper as a sports reporter.

One original tip particularly useful for journalists is the use of “said” in dialogue attribution.

King wrote, “The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said…. the reader will know how he said it—fast or slowly, happily or sadly.”

The book reads like one of his novels. While his books may frighten the reader, they are easy to read. His language is typically simple and conversational in tone and structure. His books also have a lot of white space. This book is no different.

Stephen King wrote, “You can tell without even reading if the book you’ve chosen is apt to be easy or hard, right? Easy books contain lots of short paragraphs—including dialogue paragraphs which may only be a word or two long—and lots of white space.”

The book, published in 2000, was written in a two-year span. It has received awards and been placed on bestselling lists. As is written in the inside flap, “On Writing” is “Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower–and entertain–everyone who reads it.”

Stage rushers at Neutral Milk Hotel

Dallas audience disrespects Elf Power and Neutral Milk Hotel

February 18, 2014

We’re a little early, so we grab a few overpriced drinks as we take our seats in the beautiful Majestic Theater in Dallas to watch the much-anticipated Neutral Milk Hotel reunion tour. Two drunk men stand in front of us as the crowd trickles in, taking obscenely. The groups sitting around them are obviously as annoyed as I am, so when none of the speak up, I ask the men to sit down as Elf Power, Part of the Elephant 6 Collective, takes the stage to open the show. They refuse to take their seats, so I approach security who encourages the men to sit down. After debate, the men concede, fidgeting.

Just as Elf Power reaches the last verse of their first song, the men rush the stage and start to pull the covers off the instruments, already onstage, for the Neutral Milk Hotel performance. Eventually, other security guards catch up with them.

“Does anyone know who those guys where?” Andrew Rieger says to laughter.

“Way to waste a bunch of fucking money,” Jimmy Hughes says to applause.

Though I was glad they left, several things bothered me. Why would they rush the stage on the first song of the first band? Did they not have the consideration to at least wait until the headliner like everyone else? Plus, the guitarist had it right, it is a waste of money- and these guys didn’t look like they had any more money to burn.

The disrespect of the audience continued into Neutral Milk Hotel as many took photos despite hundreds of posters saying there would be no photos at the request of the musician. Before Mangum took the stage, an announcement reiterated the point. Within the first five minutes, audience members flashed dozens of photos while security guards, like the woman who let the drunkards rush the stage, commenced engaging in vicious stare downs with venue guests.

The musicians handled each instance perfectly and the music was excellently performed- I just wish Jeff Mangum had allowed photography, even without the flash. I want to remember the sights and sounds of the concert of a lifetime, but will have to do with a few flash-less photos snapped unknowingly to security.

Divergent, book review, Hunger Games

Book Review: Divergent

February 25, 2014

Beatrice Prior lives in Chicago in the near future. The city is divided into five groups hosted in different parts of the city, each founded to dedicate themselves to the values they deem virtuous and their antitheses what the deemed to be the fall of humanity. These factions are named after their relative values, so that Abnegation promote selfless; Amity promote peace; Candor promote honesty; Dauntless promote daring; and Erudite promote knowledge.

On a Choosing Day, all sixteen-year-olds take an aptitude test that tell them for which faction they are best suited. The aptitude only allows for the designation of one alternate faction. After receiving the results of their test, with the “faction before blood” ideology, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction.

The students receive mixed schooling, but once an adult, cannot interact with the other factions. Beatrice, born into an Abnegation family, struggles with the selflessness naturally manifested in the rest of her family. Drawn to her untamed Dauntless classmates as the aptitude test approaches, Beatrice begins to realize she might not be an Abnegation but is conflicted on staying with her family and being who she really is.

To her surprise and horror, Beatrice’s aptitude results are inconclusive meaning that instead of one faction, she shows equal aptitude for three: Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless, making her divergent.

The test proctor, a Dauntless member, explains the dire consequences if anyone were to uncover her results and helps her by adjusting her scores. The explanation is vague and isn’t resolved in the book, leading the reader to wonder “who cares?”

Upon returning home to consider her choice, her brother Caleb unexpectedly sympathizes with her-leading her to correctly think that her brother might choose a different faction which is unheard of in Abnegation. The last person who fled the faction was Tobias, the son of the Abnegation leader Marcus.

Her crippling guilt fails to control her decision as she selects Dauntless. Her brother Caleb chooses Erudite to her and her father’s horror.

Beatrice renames herself Tris after being asked for her new name when she, a Stiff, is the first to take a leap of faith into the abyss of the Dauntless compound.Though we don’t know the details of the other faction initiations, Dauntless initiation resembles a military boot camp more than a fraternity pledge week. Four explains that they must rank in the top ten at the end of initiation or be dismissed and become factionless. Tris becomes good friends with fellow transfer initiates Christina, Al, and Will while developing an expectedly unrealistic yet predictable and annoying relationship with the initiation instructor Four (he has four fears) who is later revealed to be Tobias.

Also predictably, she develops a vicious rivalry with another transfer initiate, Peter, a psychopathic and ruthless bully and tortures Tris with his two lackeys, Drew and Molly.So I don’t give away too many spoilers, battles in ranking and the initiation continues until a battle at the end of the book.

If you are a fan of Dystopian novels, this book does not disappoint. However, though the book remains a must read for Dystopian lovers of all ages, it does not remotely compare with the Hunger Games. The book is too long to have as many explanations missing that appear in later books. Instead of being suspense building, it is distractingly confusing and a deterrent for people who may want to read the sequels.

Though the characters are interesting and their lessons are pertinent in today’s world, I hated every character for various reasons.

Beatrice is not even close to being as likeable as the less annoying Katniss. She is a whiny, Bella Swan-like immature and insecure female heroine. She is cruel and acts superior to her friends. I need to go back and count how many times she needs to tell herself she’s brave.

In addition, the Dauntless never really seemed braved, the Abnegation were selfless to a fault, the Amity were a bunch of hippies, and Jeanine is an evil witch (not literally, this isn’t Twilight or whatever.)

Though the action is well-written and the scenes are intricately described, their contrived and cheesy dialogue appeals to the younger audience and the romance deprived.

Take this example from the end of the book: “Maybe I’m already sure, “he says, “and I just don’t want to frighten you.” I laugh a little. “Then you should know better.” “Fine,” he says. “Then I love you.”

Its saving graces from being overall inferior to the Hunger Games lie with its original plot and the fact that it’s more realistic and more universal truths can be drawn from the text on identity, self-preservation, and resistance though those revelations mostly occur in the sequels.

Tricky Business, Dave Barry, Miami Herald, Miami, Book Review

Book Review: “Tricky Business”

February 26, 2014

As a journalist, I truly appreciated the second novel of former Pulitzer Prize winner and Miami Herald reporter Dave Barry as he documents the fictitious rundown luxury cruise ship, The Extravaganza of the Seas, which makes nightly runs three miles offshore so people can gamble away their money. The ship is the only one to set sail as ordered by Lou Tarant, a balding gangster who uses the nightly voyages to smuggle drugs.

Bobby Kemp, a sleazy South Florida “entrepreneur” specializing in defective car air bags and bad breast implants, is the supposed owner of the ship and frustrated with the hijacking of his business empire by Lou Tarant and his lackeys. After supposedly ordering his fast food chain’s promotional homeless man in a conch-shell costume aboard ship, he has chosen the night of the tropical storm to hijack the ship and its drug trafficking from the mafia who truly run things.

The characters aboard the ship are mostly lovable despite their miserable lives that brought them to work on or the ship in the first place.

Though the chapters are broken down to follow each character as they prepare for boarding, the heroes of the story are Fay Benton, an attractive cocktail waitress and a single mom new to the ship, and Wally, the guitarist and primary vocalist for the ship’s band Johnny and the Contusions. The failed rockers provide a few collective chuckles from their dialogue. Included in the cast are an assortment of disgruntled waitresses, smugglers, and overbearing mothers. However, my favorite characters were octogenarian best friends Arnold and Phil, the snarky and endearing escapees from the Beaux Arts Senior Center who only wish to feel alive again.

Some of the truly hilarious scenes involve the satirical events of the reporters for the fictitious Newspex Nine news station. When a boy is reported to have been electrocuted by a fallen power line in the storm, the station sends out a series of reporters who all fatally fall victim to their deemed apocalyptic storm. Barry may have drawn from personal experience for the unfortunate consequences of reporting a tropical storm in south Florida as he worked for The Miami Herald.

Other hilarious scenes include a gangster vomit session so descriptive it nauseates the reader and the concept of swishing- an analysis of why women’s farts are never heard. The gangsters’ level of violence is inventive and disturbing, and occasionally disruptive from the flow of the story, but necessary and add to some of the funny scenes.

The main problem I had with the story was following the plot. The seemingly short-form narrative documents one night aboard the Extravaganza, but the entire first half has a range of timelines interspersed between all of the characters, explaining why they’re going out on such a fateful night. Occasionally, I would also confuse characters because of the lack of clarity in different scenes as the characters refer to each other or describe events. Another issue is that even though there is a disclaimer at the start of the book, some of the language seemed a little over the top.

But in the end, I laughed my way through this hilarious mystery novel- rampant with dark comedy, suspense and plot twists that kept me from putting down the book- and highly recommend Tricky Business.