Cover copy: In Jim’s revealing journal, which is the substance of this moving book, we share the experience of that terrible summer – the LSD and marijuana, the hippies, the disillusionment, the helpless confusion and fear. It is all recorded frankly, to the final horror of Kevin’s freaking out and the shaky beginnings of his redemption.

The freaking out silhouette is even more detailed and hilarious in real life.

Written in 1968 by a very square author determined to plumb the horrifying depths of drugs she clearly never tried herself, this novel is regrettably only intermittently amusing: one part Reefer Madness to three parts unconvincing teen angst.

Sixteen-year-old Jim idolizes his nineteen-year-old brother Kevin to a rather disturbing degree. This is how the novel opens:

One day I ought to find out how it is with other kids. I don’t think I’m abnormal or anything for sixteen, but I don’t think that there are many guys my age who are still crazy about their older brothers. They might actually love them, but I just don’t think they are crazy about them. […] It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything like that, but how do you explain that Kevin is not just a brother to me? Besides being the greatest guy I know, he’s someone I’ve got to have. I mean it’s very important to me to have him.

Fandom! Stop making me go to the bad incest place!

Jim goes on and on and ON about Kevin for the entire rest of the chapter. He offers to be Kevin’s “Boswell” and follows him around writing down everything Kevin says to preserve it for posterity.

He is important.For one thing he never says ordinary, cruddy things. When he speaks he almost always says something really brilliant.


I really want his opinions on these things so they can become my opinions too.

Then, at the end of an entire chapter of that: I’ve been re-reading these last couple of pages, and I do sound sort of creepy.

Yes. Yes, you do. I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that the author wrote this entire thing as a first draft and never re-wrote, but rather added in stuff like that as she went along.

Kevin comes home from college, and he’s become a marijuana fiend! He giggles maniacally, flaps his hands, hallucinates evil circles, and demands that Jim smoke pot (“You know. Tea. Grass. Marijuana.”) with him. Jim does so, despite his a Public Service Announcement’s worth of reservations. What follows is certainly the most unique pot high I’ve ever come across in fiction. While Kevin freaks out over the circles, Jim experiences ecstasy, hilarity, and then is visited by a devil who is out to get Kevin’s soul and an angel who urges Jim to save him. The angel-devil-Jim dialogue goes on for pages and pages and pages. Then Jim comes down and pukes his guts out. But lo! The angel is still there! The angel is real! Jim’s soul really is in danger from the Demon Marijuana!

The angel takes off, having convinced Jim that pot is bad. Kevin then hauls Jim out to score LSD, which Kevin has never tried before. They meet naked, dirty hippie chicks in a filthy squat, and nice adults who warn them of the terrors of “freaking out.” Kevin trips and – all together now – “freaks out.” This is disappointingly tame: he thinks the circles are attacking him, breaks a mirror and goes catatonic.

Kevin is taking to a mental hospital, where a nice psychiatrist fixes him up. He and Jim swear off drugs, and Jim resolves to try to get some of his own opinions. And then he goes and gets himself killed in Vietnam. The end!

Oh, forgot to mention: No one in the history of humanity has ever taken heroin and not become addicted, and it is impossible to ever get off it. If you take heroin, you are DOOOOMED.

View boggled reviews on Amazon: Tuned out; a novel
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Dec. 16th, 2008 12:49 pm)
...finally locating the missing space heater (in my garage) and discovering that it still works.

Footnote # 1: Yes, my apartment is heated. But it doesn't get through to my bedroom very well.

Footnote # 2: NEVER leave a space heater unattended, or leave one on while you sleep. They are for heating rooms you are present in, or warming them up before you go to bed. Personally, I turn them off and unplug them when I'm not in the room or asleep.

When I worked for the Red Cross, I did damage assessment on burned-down houses. The single most prevalent cause of house fires was unattended space heaters.
My YA Agony Awards inspired a showdown of traumatizing PSAs -- with links to the actual PSAs on youtube!

ETA: Oops, now down to the quarterfinals.

The UK does some damn horrifying PSAs. Like Donald Pleasance gloating over death by water. And the sentence "The last sound Jenny ever heard was her own neck snapping." And the profoundly disturbing Amnesty International commercial. And the zombie child. And the bombing raid on the Smurf village. I gather that some of these air before movies over there, so there is no escape.

When I was in high school in the 80s in California, the entire school was forced to watch WWII-era videos of venereal diseases, including gonorrhea sores and a man whose chest wall had been eaten away by syphilis, so that you could see his skin balloon in and out when he breathed. I think some kids fainted.

After that, we had to watch a presentation by some conservative group that said, "Yes, condoms are ninety percent effective, but that means that out of every hundred of you who use them, ten of you will get AIDS and DIE." I sat there thinking, "This is going to be the next bio class lesson in 'lying with statistics--'" a pet peeve of my excellent bio teacher.

Then they used duct tape as a metaphor for sex, and said that if we had sex before marriage our tape would be all ripped and dirty and no one would want it.

That was also the decade of the "brain on drugs" commercials: "This is your brain." Egg. "This is your brain on drugs." Egg sizzles in frying pan. In a voice which promised that all questioners would be taken out and shot: "Any questions?!!"

What public service announcements terrorized you, as children or adults? How many of you are old enough to have been subjected to "in case of nuclear war, cower under your flimsy desk" drills?
No, I don't mean Anne Rice. I mean this account of the making of David O. Russell's latest movie, whose preview looked quite intriguing:

"Mr. Russell shouts: "Eeeeee! Eeeee! Keep rolling!"

Mr. Hoffman: "We're rolling. What's `Eeeeee'?" There is no response, but Mr. Law keeps emoting.

On the next take, Mr. Russell lies on the ground, just behind Lily Tomlin, but out of view of the camera. Perhaps he's trying to add to her feeling of unease in the scene. "Most likely he was looking up my skirt," she deadpans while watching the playback a few minutes later.

It seems impossible that a film set could feel any less formal — but come lunchtime, it does. Mr. Russell sheds the rest of his clothing, leaving only his boxers, and starts to exercise — first jumping rope, then sparring with his personal trainer, right on the sidewalk of the suburban street. Many of the actors and crew join in. They, however, keep their clothes on."

The article, which is well worth reading in entirety, reminded me of the years I spent doing theatre. I majored in it as an undergrad, focusing on stage management, and then got my MFA in playwriting. I also spent a few years stage managing professionally in LA.

One of the things which became clear to me early on was that a rehearsal hall, like the set of a film or TV shoot, can very easily turn into an echo chamber. Everyone inside thinks they're doing brilliant work, there's a real and thrilling excitement in the air... and then the show opens to universal puzzlement, sneering, or worst of all, boredom. And the scary part is, if you're honest with yourself, nine times out of ten you don't think the audience is wrong. You realize that all of you were wrong. You were creating garbage and somehow you never noticed.

This is why it's good to invite outside observers whose judgement you trust to take a look at your work. Whether you're working in a team or at your desk all by your lonesome, sometimes your ideas about what your doing can become completely detached from the reality of the work and float away like a blimp. Sometimes, as seems to have happened to Russell, you decide that indulging in raving semi-consensual insanity is a really good idea. Sometimes, as seems to have happened to Anne Rice, you conclude that everything you touch is gold and should not be sullied by anyone else's thoughts. Most commonly, you think it's complete garbage and would ruin your reputation if anyone saw it. But whatever you think, it's not a bad idea to get someone else's take on it. Maybe they will prevent you from inserting a totally meaningless dream sequence into your revival of a classic play which the hero is trussed up in leather bondage gear and suspended from the ceiling while all the other characters emerge from the wings and march around him in a circle, chanting "Schnapps. Schnapps. Schnapps."

Or maybe they won't. But it's good to give them a chance. Think of how wise it would be if authors would ask their friends if they would read the letter they're planning to send to their critics, and taken the friends' advice on whether or not to actually mail it. Think of how much pain David O. Russell could have saved his actors from if he'd turned to that New York Times reporter and said, "Give me your honest opinion: Is my behavior on the set producing great work, or am I just embarrassing everyone and making myself look ridiculous?"

In other words: if the whole world thinks you're wrong, that should not be taken as proof that you're right.

This has been your Anti-Lone Individual Standing Firm Against The Masses public service announcement for the day. Thank you.
In the last month I read a Laura Kinsale romance novel, THE SHADOW AND THE STAR, in which the romantic lead is a blonde ninja from Hawaii, and a middle-grade adventure novel, BLUE FINGERS, in which the main character is a Japanese farm boy who becomes a ninja.

Both are well-researched when it comes to martial arts, although both take the entirely forgivable liberty of portraying legend as fact within their novels, but both also picked up a curious misconception which I think they thought really was a fact. It's one that I've come across a number of times before in books which are otherwise fairly accurate when it comes to martial arts, but were written by people who had done the research but don't train.

It's that yell. You know the one. "Haaaiiiii-yah!" "EEEEEEEEEE!" "Ai-soh!" "HUH!"

It's called a kiai. Technically, it's not a yell (which comes from the throat) but a... whatever it is that comes from the diaphragm, the place you're taught to project from if you've ever studied acting or public speaking. There's a lot of ideas about why we kiai-- to psych ourselves, to express our spirit, to scare our opponents, to empty the breath from our lungs and tighten our bellies so it won't hurt if we get smacked-- but there are several things the kiai is not.

It is not something that you practice as a separate technique, or at least I've never seen anyone doing so. You kiai as you execute another technique, like a punch or kick. You don't go to the dojo and stand still while practicing your kiai.

More importantly, it is not a magic psychic ki attack. I assume writers are getting the idea that it is from the common translation, which is "spirit shout." But you cannot stand still and yell at your opponent and have your vocally projected ki knock them flying. At least, if anyone can do that, I would really like to see it.

Also, a "silent kiai" is expelling your breath with the same feeling but without the yell, and is generally done when you're trying to train without disturbing the neighbors. It is not a magic psychic ki attack where you silently project your ki at someone and make them drop dead.

So if you write a book with a magic psychic ki attack, please do not call it a kiai. The kiai is something else. (In karate, anyway. If there are magic ki-projecting kiais in aikido, I'm sure my readers who study it will let me know.)

Also, it's fine to write a novel, which is generally understood to be fiction, in which ninjas dislocate every bone in their bodies as children so that later in life they can dislocate them at will in order to fit into tight spaces and cast funny-looking shadows. However, you should not have an afterword which states that ninjas really did this, or at least not without citing a source for it. An explanation of how this practice would do anything other than weakening every joint in your body and causing them to spontaneously dislocate at inconvenient times would also be good.

This has been your Public Service Ninja Announcement for the day. Thank you.


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