Notes From the Undergrads #3

Notes from the Undergrads is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class, comprised primarily of undergrads, with a few grad students thrown in for color.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Undercurrents editorial board.


Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

by Lindsey Messner

I’m not usually the one to jump onto the bandwagon when it comes to newly released novels.  I didn’t read A Million Little Pieces, the Twilight Saga or any one of Nicholas Sparks’ hundreds of mushy gushy romance novels.  However, when I went into a bookstore last week, I couldn’t help being sucked into the obsession with the living dead and blood-sucking fiends all of the preteens rave on about.  I knew of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as his other novels, but his most recent publication, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter instantly grabbed my attention, and I was hooked – Abe Lincoln was a killing machine?  Unthinkable!

But apparently true, in the world of fiction anyway: “Abraham Lincoln would never take another life.  And yet he would become one of the greatest killers of the nineteenth century” (21).  This monster mash-up novel exposes the unknown truth of America’s sixteenth president.  Grahame-Smith presents the reader with selections from a newly discovered historical document, Lincoln’s journal describing his struggles to destroy the vampire population in the United States.  To avenge his mother’s violent death by a supernatural killer, Lincoln, with his unnatural height and his trusty ax in hand, uncovers the sinister deeds of the vampires: using slave owners as pawns and keeping slaves as a food source.

Not only is the story interesting, but the amount of effort put into making this novel into a faux factual piece of historical evidence is astounding.  Along with journal entries, pictures document the truth behind Lincoln’s time spent in the White House before his tragic end.

For those looking for an action-packed thriller, this book may disappoint.  Because the author is trying to achieve the tone of a historical text and not a fantastic work, the tone is fairly flat and dry.  However, this creates a sense of credibility for the author from the audience that would have not been achieved if the subject matter weren’t taken seriously.  The direct connection between vampirism and slavery is astonishing, and, if the living dead existed, surprisingly plausible.

Although I hate to be one to jump on the bandwagon, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fresh, intriguing and innovative.  I recommend it to everyone who likes a good vampire novel with a side of historical documentation.


Why Books Rule and Movies Drool

by Rachel Ford

You read an amazing book and hear it’s being retrofitted into a movie.  You can’t wait!  You loved the book, how great will the movie be?  All they have to do is follow the book and it will be wonderful!   You can’t wait to see your favorite characters brought to life on the big screen!  Fast forward a few months.  You’re exiting the movie theatre wondering if you walked into the right movie.  How could they have gone so far wrong?  Wasn’t someone there to tell them what the book was about?  Bueller?  Now, most importantly, people that never read the book now never will.  How annoyingly familiar is that scenario?

When a movie based on a book gets it right, it makes you want to re-read the book, or read it for the first time.  It’s that enticing that you have to know more.  You are interested.  In today’s society that word is a big deal.  “Interested” means they have won your attention in a culture constantly competing for it.  I can barely get my Starbucks without being twittered to death.

Why are movies not able to re-create the emotions and depth of story that books do?

1)     Books have more time whereas a movie usually has two hours to get it all done.  Certain things need to be cut or altered.  Classic example, Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.  She has two children from her prior husbands in the novel but only one with Rhett in the movie.  Apparently this decision was made to make her character more sympathetic in the movie version (which is accomplished); whereas the book had more time for details to make you sympathetic towards her.

2)    Books and Movies are different art forms.  A film leaves very little to the imagination.  In a novel you are creating your own movie in your head.  You imagine a scene a certain way and there is no budget limit.   It’s very difficult for a director to re-create that scene to match the masses imagination.

3)    Directors don’t always cast roles the way we want.  Twi-hards freaked when Robert Pattinson was cast as Edward Cullen in their beloved Twilight series.  They simply couldn’t imagine him as Edward.  Now they love him and have accepted him.  However, at the initial announcement it was hard for them to picture him in that role.  He just wasn’t their idea of Edward.  For me, Tom Hanks was cast incorrectly in The Da Vinci Code.  I pictured Russell Crowe or Harrison Ford.  I loved the book but sat through only half the movie; Tom Hanks just wasn’t believable in the role.

4)    Movies aren’t “just like the book.”  This is probably the most popular complaint.  Screenplays are adapted from the book and don’t follow the book word for word.  The majority of readers can handle a change or two; however when large chunks are missing and important scenes altered, faithful readers will lose their minds.

5)    You prefer the medium presented to you first.  Most likely if you’ve made the argument the book is better than the film, you’ve read the book (we hope).  The majority of the time the book is read first.  Popular books are usually turned into movies, not books nobody reads (although it does happen on occasion).  If you’ve read the book first then you have a personal connection to the story from experiencing it on a deeper level.

I’m not saying that they should stop making movies out of books or that we should stop going to see the films adapted from books.  I love reading and I love seeing movies made from the stories I admire.  However, I do think as readers we need to be guarded when watching adapted films.  We need to let ourselves enjoy them for what they are, someone else’s interpretation.  They will rarely live up to our personal expectations, especially if we loved the book.  Loving the book is what started it all, let’s focus on that and pass the popcorn.


Communal Music

by Raymond Currie

One of my current personal projects in music is to devise a series of what I call communal pieces. These are works where anyone, both musicians and non-musicians, can perform the works. The emphasis is not on “quality” of the performance; rather, it focuses on participation. This is a very old concept and is still practiced by many tribes such as the Suya Indians of Central Brazil or Inuit of the Northern Pacific, where the influence of the modern world has not reached. Maybe this is hard to understand since most people reading this are from a modern society. We are trained to think, in our culture, of music as a competition or game, therefore communal music could be viewed as an oxymoron. We divide people from music, or other arts, based on talent. This composition is designed to get away from the idea of competition. It is community driven music. There are three musical things everyone can do: talk, sing, and tap a rhythm. If you can do these three things you can make music. It does not matter if you are a great singer, musician, or whatever, the idea is not quality, it’s participation. With that said, let’s try an experiment:

1)    Pick a note or series of notes in your mind. Sing it aloud and if they are different notes try to keep them the same, but if it varies a little that is okay.

2)    Pick a phrase in your mind (ex. I’m a freaking rock star). With your note(s) speak the phrase without saying the words. Use a single sound for each syllable (ex. I’m a freaking rock star = da da dada da da). Don’t tell anyone the words of your phrase. You are now Voice 1.

3)    Find a friend to repeat steps one and two. Guess what? That Person is Voice 2, and remember Voice 2, use your own phrase and keep the words to yourself.

4)    Repeat step one and two to add as many voices as desired.

The composition can now begin.

1)    Voice 1 begins reciting their phrase (keep repeating it over and over).

2)    Voice 2 begins their phrase after a few repetitions of Voice 1. If they are unsure of when to begin, start ten seconds after voice one. Entry for each additional voice is the same process.

3)    Continue repeating your phrases separately for at least a minute.

4)    Begin to listen to the other voices and begin mimicking another parts voice.

5)    All voices continue mimicking other voices until all voices are singing the same thing.

6)    When all voices are singing the same thing repeat for a few seconds, look at each other, and stop.

Hopefully this was a fun little venture and gave you a better understanding of communal music. Or maybe it just gave you a headache. Just try it sober first.


Review: Living Writers Series
by Matt Silva 
The Living Writers Series began at San Diego State twenty-five years ago.
Since the time it has been running, the writing series has achieved
national recognition as one of the longest running reading series across
the country.

During these past twenty-five years, The Living Writers Series has brought
established as well as up-and-coming writers to the beautiful campus of
San Diego State. Although I have only been able to catch a handful of
readings in my short time at San Diego State, I thought it would be nice
to share how great my experiences have been.

What makes these writing series even more special, is that most writers
that attend not only participate in readings but classroom lectures and
workshops as well.

Scripps Cottage, where the readings are usually held, would best be
compared to a diamond in the rough, as it’s situated close enough to the
hustle and bustle of students making their way to and from classes and
while at the same time blending into the landscape that surrounds it. The
average student most likely ponders what occupies the quaint cottage as
they bask in the sun next to the turtles and their pond.

They would be THRILLED to know however what I know.

What I know, is the enthusiasm and great spirit that fills that cottage is
unlike any other readings I have ever been to (which have been more then a
handful). The work that is read there is alive and detailed. Whether
it’s an old shmo professor that’s trying to test out his latest work or a
well known author that’s traveling the states, the work is always
interesting to say the least.

I remember one time I was there earlier this year and the two writers that
were presenting were Katherine Towler an award winning author and San
Diego State Professor Joseph Thomas. Thomas, already known to be a corky
individual to say the least, got up there before award winning Towler and
 it was hilarious to watch and listen to the things that came out of his mouth. 

Not to mention the way he presented himself and the way in which he described 

his methodical way of writing.

The audience that attends can be heard buzzing with anticipation
beforehand and active in participation afterwards with comments and
questions for the readers.
The readers that attend The Living Writers Series at San Diego State WANT
to be there and to me that’s more important then anything. I’ve never
gotten the impression while being there that anyone was too good for
anyone else. The unpredictable and sometimes bashful MFA students that
participate in the readings before the big dogs take stage are also given
equal respect. Everyone that attends these readings does so in good
spirit with wide eyes and ears.

The Living Writers Series is a good spot to meet fellow writers and enjoy
the friendly hospitality that the hosts of the program provide. Whether
it’s a local writer, better known participant, MFA Student, or unknown,
The Living Writers Series in Scripps Cottage at San Diego State University
is an excellent place to spend some time and listen to fellow writers.

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