Friday, March 03, 2006

My Dr. Frankenstein moment

Something very cool happened to Stewie recently: A review he wrote for HorrorTalk was quoted on a box cover for a movie called "Fear of Clowns."

(Ask Aric about it, he's the resident expert.)

Anyway, Stewie is thrilled to death, and he has good reason. Because if anyone on HT is deserving of this kind of thrill, with all due respect to the site's other fine members and reviewers, it's him.

I can say that with confidence, because I'm his editor.

Here's the thing: By day, I'm a copy editor. (Well, by night, but you know what I mean). And being a copy editor means I do a lot of line-editing and headline writing, but one thing I don't get to do much of is work with the reporters. And while it's not necessarily something I'd want to do on a full-time basis, it's something I've always wanted to try.

And I ended up trying it with Stewie. A while back, in the interests of professionalism, HorrorTalk's various reviewers paired off to edit each other's reviews - the better to get grammar and spelling right, etc.

So Stewie and I, being buddies, paired up; and we made a deal - I'm a professional editor, and he would have to deal with my icy professionalism, and in exchange, I'd do everything I could to help him achieve his goal - which was to become a better writer/reviewer, the kind who gets his name on a DVD box, among other things.

Understand a couple of things here: First of all, Stewie is not, by trade or training, in the business of words. Whereas, I am, on both counts. And HT has a stable of excellent reviewers, and there is no offense or disrespect intended toward any of them in this post. I can say that without false modesty because, well, I'm one of those excellent reviewers.

But here's the thing: Stewie, once upon a time, wrote a dreadful review. Really dreadful - he'll admit it, he's his own worst critic. And he got called on it by a reader. And that may have been the best thing that happened to him. Because, for whatever reason, Stewie decided he was never going to be embarrassed like that again. And he set out to become the best reviewer he could be.

And he did it. Stewie is, for my money, the flat-out, hands-down best reviewer on HorrorTalk. Let me reiterate - HorrorTalk has plenty of damn fine reviewers. But if I had to pick one, right here, right now, it would be him. (Lest you think I'm completely full of it, let me point out, I still think I'm a better writer than him. Insert grin here.)

The best part is, I was part of that journey, that transformation, that he went through. It took years, thousands of words, and plenty of notes back in forth in different colors and increasing levels of bold fonts. And it's been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

One of the greatest. I swear to God.

Let me explain.

If there's one character trait that defines Stewie when it comes to movies, it's enthusiasm. Stewie loves what he loves, hates what he hates, and isn't afraid to shout so to the rafters.

He's fair, and that's clutch.

But when I started working with him, he had no voice.

And a voice is what makes a writer.

Look, writers learn and (hopefully) improve every day. I'm still learning - I'm twice the writer I was before "Dead Hunt," and I owe Don Dohler and Joe Ripple a lot of that. They had the experience that I didn't, and they used it to teach me.

I tried to do something similar with Stewie. I tried to use my own experience, my own training, to help him find his voice.

That's not always easy. Because every writer has a different voice, and mine is not Stewie's. But in the beginning, the only way I could show him how to find his, was by showing him mine.

That sounded far more perverse than I mean it.

But after four years of college in a creative writing program, three scripts, countless newspaper articles and so forth, I have what I'll call a mature voice. That is to say, while it may grow and change over time, the basic structure is there. It is what it is, and it is mine.

The problem with working with Stewie in the beginning is that we have some definite similarities in voice, but some very fundamental differences.

My reviews are very journalistic. Objective, precise, clever, but ... detached, maybe? Cold? It's my style - they read like they're written by a newspaperman, which is, after all, what I am.

And while the beginning stages of my partnership with Stewie involved elevating the level of his writing, the danger I often felt like I had to skirt was that I didn't want my voice to rub off on him. I just lacked the training or technique to be able to teach him without using my own voice as an example.

(OK, I'm going to pause a moment to make it absolutely clear, this is not intended to steal Stewie's thunder or horn in on his glory. On the contrary, I want you, my dear readers, to see what he went through to get to this point. This is a tribute - to him, not to me. We now resume our regularly scheduled posting.)

We'll fast-forward a bit, though, and get to the point that was really rewarding for me: The point where Stewie really began to find his voice.

At a certain point - and I always edit him with the caveat that the name atop the review is his, and thus the final call on any point of dispute is his - he began to stand on his own two feet. That is to say, he began to stand up to me.

In the beginning, he more or less had to take my word for certain things, and when I offered him suggestions on word choice or phrasing, he usually accepted mine. No more.

One day, more or less, he began to be able to say what he wanted to say.

It came in fits and starts, and sometimes he needed help, and sometimes he'd get mad at me, and sometimes I'd get mad at him. Let me tell you, two stubborn people, communicating without the benefit of inflection via the Internet - oy!

But more and more each review (I almost said "each day," since he is undoubtedly the most prolific of our reviewers!), he began finding the words to say just what he wanted to say, just what he meant.

I stopped being a teacher and really began to be an editor - a collaborator. And Stewie had found his voice.

And I love his voice. I love it. I know I'm biased, but I think he brings to the table exactly what a great reviewer should.

• He tells you what he thinks.
• He tells you if a DVD is worth watching or not.
• He tells you in his own way, in his own style.
• He tells you with eloquence.
• He tells you with enthusiasm.

You can really feel the love Stewie has for movies in his reviews. And they're damn funny. But thorough. And fair. And all the things a good review should be. But this inimitable style, this inimitable voice, that's become, to many parts of the horror DVD world, the voice of HorrorTalk.

And that benefits all of us who put our own reputations on the line with our words at that site.

There's an irony in that, in Stewie's crowning moment, Lionsgate quoted exactly one word. Because the thing about Stewie's reviews is that you have to read them. They make you want to keep on reading. I don't even have the words. The "je ne sais quoi" that is what elevates man above the apes, is what elevates Stewie above the common reviewer.

And to think, I knew him when.

He gives me plenty of credit - maybe more than I deserve - and while I appreciate the thanks, unquestionably, the rewards of our partnership go far beyond a thank you or two, a favor, the editing he does for me.

The reward I cherish the most is seeing what he's become, knowing what he had been, thinking about what he will become - and smiling all the while.

Stewie is one of my best friends - our friendship extends far beyond HT, far beyond our writing together, far beyond our carousing. There are many things I thank him for, many reasons I am grateful each day that I know him. But this post isn't about that. That's for me and him. And maybe Freak.

This post about something special. Someone special. A reviewer who set out to become the best reviewer he could be, and did it.

Enjoy the DVD box, Stewie. You earned it. I would know. I got to watch from the best seat in the house.

Lionsgate Horror
"Fear of Clowns"

And, on a lighter note:

• Random gross anatomical fact of the day: McDonald's Shamrock shakes come out the same color they go in: Bright freakin' green. I knew I gave up fast food for a reason. That's what I get for indulging myself.

• And finally, the Ling-Ling moment of the day: (Ling-Ling, as in "Drawn Together.") So Cyndi Lauper put out an album recently called "Body Acoustic." And on it, she does covers of her own songs in remixed fashion. Of course, she does a version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," her biggest hit. And she pairs up with a Japanese pop group called, of all things, Puffy AmiYumi. It's two girls, Ami and Yumi, and in that respect, I suppose, not too different from the Twins (see earlier post). But the Ling-Ling moment comes when Ami and Yumi sing the chorus - I should pause to point out a Ling-Ling moment is my new way of describing when something so ridiculously stereotypically Asian happens that I just have to cringe for my heritage. So the chorus is "Girls, they want, wanna have fun. Girls. Wanna have..." And Ami and Yumi, in their little Asian accents, sing, phonetically: "Girs, they wah, wa-ah have fuh, girs. Wa-ah have..." That's right. They can't pronounce the "n"s and "r"s in the damn words. And we wonder why people make fun of us.


Lesley said...

Wow, this is like My Fair Stewie!

So when are you two announcing your engagement? Can I be the flower girl?

Stewie said...


Damn, dude, thanks!

I honestly don't know what to say.

Lesley, yes, the date is set for the end of the year. And with an attitude like that, no, you can't be teh flower girl.

Ace said...

Hey, Stewie, like I said, in many ways, the pleasure was mine.

Can I be the groom? I have a shirt for tuxedos.

Stewie said...

Is it one of those tuxedo shirts?

Cause those rock.

Ace said...

No, it's a shirt FOR tuxedos.