Monday, January 28, 2013

Cake or Death?

I discussed videogames in my last post as a growing field for writers, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts about another field that's become increasingly popular and even profitable: food writing.  This field has begun to evolve beyond the traditional, stale cookbook.  Back in the old days (I'm intentionally leaving that vague so as to lower my risk of being skewered by age-sensitive readers), aspiring cooks would clip recipes from newspapers and magazines or even from the labels of popular food products.  After all, there's more than one way to enjoy Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.  I prefer it straight out of the can, but that's a disgusting story for another day.

Recipes were just a set of instructions for a person to follow.  There wasn't any sort of excitement to go along with it.  Fast forward to the 90's, and the birth of the "foodie" culture, and recipes have evolved into more of an experience than a mere process.  It wasn't uncommon to find cooks and chefs hosting TV shows prior to the 90's, but with the launch of the Food Network, cooking and its close cousins (i.e. baking) received more exposure than ever before.  Follow that up with the internet where information is freely shared (i.e. food blogs) and people come to realize how much they appreciate good food.  Food writing has really picked up, especially within the last few years.  Have you picked up a cookbook recently? A lot of them now feature stories about the history behind the recipes, information on cooking techniques, and I've even seen a few experimental books that combine fiction with recipes sprinkled throughout the story.  Food writing has grown into a huge field, encompassing more than just recipes.  You've got restaurant reviews, recipe reviews, food blogs, novels with food as a central focus, etc.  Not to be outdone, traditional cookbooks still do incredibly well with the general public.  Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten was #22 on's list of best selling books of 2012.

What's awesome about this field is that anyone can enter food writing with relative ease.  I'm sure you've heard of  Posting restaurant reviews is a great way to get into the field and create a following.  Using that site as jumping off point to make your own food blog isn't that far of a stretch.

If you're very passionate about food, this field might be worth getting into.  Personally, I love all kinds of food and happily give restaurant recommendations to friends and family.  However, I don't think food writing is for me.  I've always enjoyed writing speculative fiction above all else.  You might be a different story, though.  Give it a try sometime.  Maybe you'll find a passion for writing that you didn't know you had.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Princess Is In Another Castle!

Ah, videogames, how my childhood would have been so different without you.  Like, I could've been all bronze and tanned instead of being pasty and pale.  Thankfully, I grew up in the 80's when arcades were still a predominant fixture in shopping malls, and Nintendo and Atari were just starting to show up in homes across America.  I remember receiving an original NES when I was about 6 years old because I had been a good boy.  Santa was kind enough to give me something that was on my wishlist.  Nintendo was second on that list, but in retrospect, that's perfectly acceptable.  A pet T-Rex would have been too much hassle to take care of.  I don't think they make appropriate sized pooper-scoopers.

Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt were my first experiences in gaming.  While Duck Hunt was fun (give little kids a gun to shoot animals... brilliant idea), the laughing dog made losing almost unbearable.  I ended spending most of my time playing SMB, stomping on turtles and eating mushrooms.  Too bad this game didn't come out in the 60's.  I think the hippies would've been all over it.  The controls were simple enough to understand, but the gameplay got more and more challenging as you progressed through the levels.  Perhaps the biggest obstacle to playing SMB, however, were my own parents.  I used to fight with them over who got to play with the Nintendo first.  I even caught the two of them playing late into the evening, which they deny to this very day.  After getting through all obstacles (both virtual and parental), whenever I reached a castle and defeated Bowser, I inevitably received this message:

Just when you thought it was all over, stupid Toad had to give you the bad news.  This went on for a while until you find the actual Princess.  Apparently, Bowser had no problem abducting half of Mushroom Kingdom on his way to storming the palace.

Looking back at Super Mario Bros. and comparing it to more modern videogames, such as Mass Effect or Assassin's Creed, one can see the vast changes that have occurred throughout the history of gaming: graphics, music, voice acting, etc.  One of those much-improved areas is the amount of story and writing that now goes into modern videogames.  In the 70's, games had very little text, some none at all (anyone for a game of Pong?).  But in the 80's, you start getting more scenes like the one above.  It has now gotten to the point that videogames require a lot of text in order to tell a story, and because of that, game companies have made it a standard to have a team of writers tackling just one game.  Think about RPGs that utilize a ton of text.  In addition to the important scenes that impact the main story, you also have lots of NPCs that someone has to write dialogue for.  Even a character that says "Welcome to BlahBlah Town, the biggest town shaped like a thistle!" has to have a writer behind him.  In this golden age of gaming, being a "game writer" is now a legit career.  The Writers Guild Of America just began to recognize the achievements of writers in the gaming world by including videogames in their annual awards ceremony.  Last year, Amy Hennig took home the award for "Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing" for the brilliant action/adventure title, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

Writing is a very universal skill that can be applied to so many different media.  For those who wonder "what can I do as a writer?", I implore to you to delve past the usual forms of writing we're accustomed to.  Aside from novels, movies, and television, writers also work in the fields of videogames, medicine, science, sports, and even instruction manuals.  That's right.  Someone wrote that piece of paper that taught you how to set up your DVD player.  It may not always be clear ("Engrish" is pretty much its own language these days), but someone spent time to type all of that up for you.

Now, since it's Friday, I'll leave you all on a funny note (fans of Mass Effect may appreciate this more):

Please note: This scene is not in the actual game.  It's just a meme that someone put together for the lulz.
Happy Friday!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

Every year on January 1st, people sing this old Scottish song, usually butchering the lyrics because they're all drunk.  That's okay, though.  When you're watching people like Ryan Seacrest on television, I can imagine wanting to do a few shots of whiskey just so you can deal with his prissy hair cut until the ball drops.  Seriously, how does this guy find his way onto every TV show? The man should be run out of Hollywood with an angry mob carrying pitchforks, torches, and burning effigies.  It's his fault for getting those horrible Kardashians their show, and now that family won't go away.  Ever.  They're like a bad rash you pick up during a night full of debauchery in Las Vegas.  Or so I've heard.

Anyway, "Auld Lang Syne" loosely translates to "days gone by."  That's what Wikipedia told me, and since it's on the internet, it must be true.  A lot of people like to reflect on the past year and make resolutions so the following year will be even better.  I'm one of those sentimental people (but don't take that as a sign of weakness...  I won't hesitate to roar like a lion, which I assure you looks ridiculously scary).  Looking back at 2012, I've managed to accomplish a few of the goals I had set for 2011: I lost a good chunk of weight (14+ pounds and counting), I read 26 books when I pledged 25 for the GoodReads Reading Challenge, I traveled to a country I've never been to before (Mexico), and I barely survived an apocalypse.  I hope to do more of the same for 2013, perhaps with a bit more traveling (if I can stay on budget) and maybe dodging at least two apocalypses this time around.  Now that the Mayans have had their fun, a few other ancient civilizations should be allowed to scare modern mankind with visions of death and destruction.  What are the Sumerians up to these days? Still writing up rules? Or how about the Phoenicians? I hear they're really great with words.  I bet they could come up with a good apocalypse.

Since I'm trying to keep this blog more focused on writing, I thought I'd share some of my writing goals for the new year:
  • Finish that damn novella that has been hounding me for the past two years.
  • Get at least three short stories published (3 have already been submitted to various online lit mags, but I'm still waiting for responses).
  • Work on creating at least 6 new stories, including at least 1 in a genre that I've never written for.
  • Take at least one new writing course from the UCLA Extension.
  • Keep a travel journal.

The list looks ambitious and daunting to me, now that I've typed it up.  I hope that I can manage to accomplish most of those goals.  This blog should help to keep me focused and act as a constant reminder that I need to do more if I want to be a good writer (i.e. stop being such a lazy ass).

I hope you all have a fun and exciting new year.  Good luck fulfilling your own resolutions!