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The Cuban Sandwich (et frites)

On November 8th, 2009 I made one of my first posts, and it was about a Cuban Sandwich. Yet I had never thought to take a picture!

The remedy for my terrible grievance is finally here:

100_6354 (JPEG Image of Cuban Sandwich)

For your viewing pleasure, the Cuban Sandwich. Mustard, meat, pickles, cheese… some seem to be unlikely combinations, but they work so well. The finger making its debut in this photograph was used to prop up the sandwich. It’s intentional. Not one of those, “whoops! Stuck my finger in the photograph again!” moments.

Bon appetit.

Adieu.

 

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My Story, Jake’s Story: The Writing of a Novel

Foreword

Some time ago I drafted an essay for an English Comp. class. I ran it past a well-acknowledged literary professional at a local writing center, and they believed the writing to be quite good. The essay begins with a prologue to my novel, not included here, and discusses the technical process of writing (what it takes to develop a masterful writing style), as well as the up’s and down’s of the publishing world. I wrote in a style characteristic of one of my novel’s characters, an Irishman by the name of Aedus Butler. It’s much less formal and much more witty.

My Story, Jake’s Story

This isn’t my story. Far from it. It’s about Jake Laskaris, a seemingly average teenage boy with extraordinary powers. While my tale, my yarn of a narrative, may not have my novel’s, The Labyrinth of Cosa Nostra (LoCN), explosive properties, it literarily packs a punch. Yes, literarily is a word. I had my doubts too. If it was literally, you’d have a very sore jaw right now.

To avoid common stereotypes of writers, I’d be wise to clarify about my novel journey and myself in particular. I like adventure. No, scratch that, I love adventure, and not just writing about it. When I first went zip lining, I was a bit shaky in the legs, just like I usually am after giving a speech, but I knew I was going to have an amazing time, so I went for it. White water rafting was… well, insane to say the least. While we navigated the malevolent, white crested river, our guide told us all the ways we could die. If we were to, say, make a mistake on the next bend, our boat would be pulled underwater and we’d be crushed.

This is to say, I have experienced my share of adventures. Therefore, I am quasi-qualified to state that writing a book is just as thrilling, just as frightening, and just as worth it. Though that comes later. Before I could be up to bat with a novel, I needed to prep myself, just as I had to sit through the safety protocol of one of these events.

My first lesson was a fun time because it involved reading, one of my passions, and something, despite my other shortcomings, I’ve had a sure grasp of. Certain novels were a bit trying though. I had been told, through books by authors of bestsellers and all across the grand internet, time and time again: READ READ READ. All caps, I realize that’s yelling, but I would’ve deserved a scolding if I had disregarded this simple tip. Reading is the bread and butter of any good writer. And if I couldn’t have gluten, then it would be the gluten-free brand. That is to say, if I was not at the level where I could read high-level books, I had press on until I got there. Because until I had at least a partial comprehension of the English, The Count of Monte Cristo, and not the kiddy version, I wouldn’t have the literary comprehension I needed to proceed and succeed in the various genres of the writing world. Therefore, I took this advice, and I read.

I took reading classes, not because I was behind in the game of comprehension, but because I knew I had to press forward to find the golden nuggets that would provide me with the wealth of knowledge that I so desperately needed to be up to par with the amazing writers of this world.

Once I had read a great deal, I wrote a great deal. I finished a novelette in ninth grade, wrote a serial, submitted short stories to a contest, and finally, when I felt comfortable that I could write something worthwhile, I drafted my current novel. It was slow-going at first, until I reached scenes of passion, action, and humor. Then it all began to flow so much easier.

In my mind, it was as if a film were playing out. I could see the story going by in completed form, in all its grandeur. I longed to see it become a reality, so I wrote. I wrote till’ my faculties were spent, then I went to Barnes & Noble’s Starbucks and started writing again, this time munching on a blueberry scone. I sat staring at the blank paper until the next antagonist was presented, until the next bullet let fly and I would record the event in a flurry of pen and paper. The pen is mightier than the sword, for the pen may envision. It may create. It makes declarations of great import. It captures the human element.

Writing this novel wasn’t just a simple process of envisioning a story. At the end, I did not just experience euphoria, I felt a part of the tale. Now as I contact agents, ascertain a publisher, and the bookstores are persuaded to carry my book, it shall be shared with the world. A sentiment I could not have imagined back in Middle School, because I was so far from my goal. Even now, I have those areas that I struggle with.

I struggled to write fluid paragraphs, with neat transitions and sufficient imagery, while not going overboard into superfluity. I did the latter for far too long. I cringe when I look at my past manuscripts. Stories which I started, but didn’t have the confidence to finish, and then stories that I finished, but that I didn’t feel were worthwhile to share. It felt like a hopeless endeavor. As if I were on a weight loss plan, starting off a one-thousand pounds and making my way down to a hundred. An extreme example, yes, but it is truly telling of the emotions that were at play in my heart. With time, however, which equated to many years, I started to notice my own progress. I began to like my own writing, and instead of being my own worst critic, I built myself up through constructive criticisms, and by heeding the advice of others.

Now I struggle to get it out there. It, being my novel. It, being that stack of papers that I, as the cliché goes, poured my heart and soul into for many, many hours every day. There, being the world. What stands between me and my readers, is no longer just myself. It’s the agents and publishing companies. After my first query letter, my first attempt at pitching an agent who would help me make it to Barnes and Nobles shelves, I received a rejection within about twenty minutes. Oh, and it wasn’t a form rejection either. It was only five words telling me they were passing on my project. No reason, whatsoever. I moved on, because I wasn’t going to give up after I had gone so far. I tried another agency, followed by a couple more. I altered my pitch to sound better, give them what they wanted to hear. I waited. No response. In the traditional publishing world, no response is as good as a rejection. Nevertheless, I moved forward. To this day, I still don’t have an agent, but I will. I must.

Writing a novel wasn’t the romantic journey I expected. I didn’t get there right away, and it took a lot of hard work. That’s the American dream having the opportunity to succeed, and working hard to achieve your aspirations. It’s been worth every moment. The thrill I feel in writing transcends the action I experience in the physical, and I want to share that sentiment with everyone who is willing to open up my book cover and relish the words within.

Query Craft: Step One

The novel is complete. By all means this is a great relief, and now the journey continues in its publication.

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“Taking each element of the book and compounding it into a few compelling sentences may be a challenge, but it is one I relish!”

Having decided to forego self-publishing in preference for traditional means, I find myself in need of a captivating hook for my story. The name, Labyrinth of Cosa Nostra, may raise an eyebrow but the catch must raise awareness.

The 2012 Guide to Literary Agents has been a fantastic resource in formatting the query letter, avoiding various greenhorn faux pas, and, without which all prior would be rendered ineffective, identifying particular agents of interest.

My novel is a rollicking, fast-paced adventure that is stripped down of unnecessary embellishments, yet remains an artful piece of literature. Suspense is the key element, as each chapter renews the reader’s interest with further complications, almost in the fashion of a serial. Characterization becomes more involved as the story proceeds, deepening relations between guests to the world of LoCN and its denizens.

Characters span a variety of cultures, as the novel absorbs the whole world in its conflict. There is Jake, Michelle, Lucio, Domenico, Inahka, Chun, Izo, Owen, Renfort, Kabu, Cніr… despite their numbers, they each hold a great significance in the scheme of things, and some even garner some extra spotlight with appellation repartee (for example, Cніr means snow. She is also a cold character).

Taking each element of the book and compounding it into a few compelling sentences may be a challenge, but it is one I relish!

(“The Labyrinth of Cosa Nostra” Novel ©2012 Zechariah Barrett – All Rights Reserved)

Make That A Triple Stacker: Manuscript Completion

Manuscripts and Burgers

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Not quite like writing, though much more delectable.

What is quite like the feeling of completing a book? Perhaps completing a burger (veggie or meat, take your pick)? I believe the latter’s jubilant expression, mixed with grease and morsels, is hardly able to compare with the writer’s exhausted cry. Especially since the former is often accompanied by abdominal pains and regret of the worst sort… unless it’s a slider. Those are more harmless.

“Ludicrous, appended to my delicious tropical friend…”

-Jean Rusé

Literary Excursion

With some parallels to the foodie fandom, the writing journey is filled with a series of stages, often including bouts of perseverance, jubilation, courage, ingenuity, boredom, aggravation, and rain clouds (“Writer’s Block”). When the haze of conflicting emotions finally fades, however, all that is left is triumph and relief. In my case, there is also an overwhelming sentiment of gratitude.

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“The Three Tier Papier”

It often takes a measure of encouragement to get a good book going, to establish momentum, and I’m grateful to those who have joined me in cheering the story onto completion. It does, at times, seem to be a very detached process, the story unfolding itself like a scroll tossed in the wind. This is why I include myself in the story’s audience, for some details are only revealed in the process, and I am equally awed as the reader when they come to light.

Seeing the story in its printed form, aside from word count statistics and page numbers, was a surprise at first. It looked very much the manuscript I was hoping for, although it was shy of aspirations of a few hundred pages.

Two-Cents Worth

While assembling the book, I found it tremendously helpful to keep a “To Do” .docx or Pages file on hand, to jot down ideas and plot points which had yet to be resolved. On occasion I’d visit Barnes & Noble’s Starbucks and brainstorm whilst (as I put it last time) munching on scones and sipping smoothies and hot cocoas. As an INFP personality, I found it imperative to set a deadline, even if I couldn’t reach it in time. It was better to have a goal than to leave it unrestricted, likely to fade into the oblivion of daily life. Break-time was also a must, both in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and retaining concentration.

“Have you finished relaxing?”

-Mr. Lombardi

Book Excerpts & Quotes ©2012 Zechariah Barrett – All Rights Reserved

The Avengers (2012): Movie Review

Marvel’s The Avengers is a box office hit, topping The Dark Knight’s midnight premier

The Avengers (2012 film)

The Avengers (2012 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

records and emerging as #1 opening weekend at $207,438,708 [1] in the United States and Canada alone. However, is this highly acclaimed film worth the hype? Or is it simply another blockbuster blown out of proportion? Even many of the staunchest critics agree – The Avengers is a superhero masterpiece.

Incorporating elements from the previous films, The Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man II, Thor, and Captain America, The Avengers embodies a fantastic medley of the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes and villains, all the while, paving the way for the next installments. It is highly comedic and intensely action-packed, superior to the Transformers series which attempts a similar plot-line in Dark of the Moon.

The Avengers opens up with a most ominous, alien voice, rambling on about some plot which entails the power-hungry Loki, banished of Asgard, like something produced by Garage Band’s “deeper vocals” voice modifier. Following this singular introduction, we find SHIELD agents and scientists (some from Thor) working diligently at unlocking the secrets of the divine Tesseract, a source of seemingly ultimate and limitless power. Albeit, as one might expect of the suspenseful setting, their experimentation goes terribly wrong. The Asgardian device suddenly reacts with a violent burst of light and generates a portal, which may be likened to the destructive force which presumably annihilated the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, sending forth the vengeful Loki who is bent on conquering Earth with an army given him in return for the Tesseract. The available SHIELD agents surround the self-proclaimed “god,” albeit are disposed of by a few blasts of Loki’s newly acquired staff. Nick Fury arrives on the scene, shooting a few rounds in vain, whilst Loki uses his staff to mind-control the mercenary Hawkeye and Dr. Erik Selvig to aid in his escape. The next few moments are without respite – the SHIELD complex sinks underground, collapsing inward as a maelstrom, due to the effects of the Tesseract. Fury and company give chase, although lose their quarry and are forced to flee.

On less dramatic grounds, fan-favorite Tony Stark and his girlfriend Pepper Pots, are debating who deserves the most credit for Stark Tower – a top of the line, self-sufficient complex inspired by the reactor core. Amusing quarrel aside, SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson -promptly arrives with a briefing for Iron Man, in preparation for the “Avengers Initiative” – it would appear the world is once again in peril and only the aforementioned team of heroes can save it.

In another part of the world, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), after dispatching with a Russian general, is sent to extract Dr. Bruce Banner (The Hulk), and Director Fury introduces Steve Rogers (Captain America) to the Initiative. The team slowly comes together as the peril grows greater, and there is much dissonance among the members, as they fight to recapture Loki, and then amongst themselves (Thor vs. Captain America & Iron Man) to retain him. All the while, the preparations for Loki’s army is nearly complete… will the team be able to come together and save the world, or will the alien apocalypse fall upon them?

The Avengers is a barrel of fun, with enough intrigue to keep the audience guessing until the end and a good portion of comedy to provide the necessary balance. It introduces [to the series] the developmental process of a team, rather than a single protagonist. The villain is likewise in control of a massive army and it is evident another power is pulling the strings at the start, adding depth. In this way, it separates itself from its superhero predecessors outside of the animated realm, attaining the claim by some that it is “the best superhero movie ever.”

Family Perspective

This time around, the violence gets a little bloody, with the death of a great number of characters (as opposed to those scenes which are given little reflection), some more evident than others which are merely suggested.

Language is fairly minimal, albeit a few curse words are used in the course of the film.

Natasha Romanoff, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, remains a source of eye-candy, albeit not as overt in as in the Iron Man films and much more of an independent protagonist. Her top, during the Russian interrogation, is low cut and gratuitous during fighting scenes, yet the “buck stops there” so to speak, in that the female form is not exploited for the vast remainder of the film (note: at the beginning, Pepper Pots wears “short-shorts,” she, however, plays a minor role in the film and takes up only a small fraction of screen time), aside from the skin tight suits.

The Avengers is better suited to teen and adult audiences, especially on account of much more mature conceptions and visuals.

Notable Quotations

“Earth’s mightiest heroes type-thing. / Yeah. Takes us awhile to get any traction, I’ll give you that one. But let’s do a headcount here. Your brother the demigod, the super soldier living legend who kind of lives up to the legend, a man with breathtaking anger management issues, a couple of master assassins, and you, big fella, have managed to [anger] every single one of them.” -Tony Stark to Loki

“You miss the point, there’s no throne. No version of this where you come on top.” -Tony Stark to Loki

“I’m in the middle of an interrogation, this moron is giving me everything.” -Black Widow

“I’m bringing the party to you. | I don’t see how that’s a party.” Iron Man | Black Widow

“How desperate are you? You call on such lost creatures to defend you. / It burns you to have come so close. To have the tesseract, to have power – unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share, and then to be reminded of what real power is.” -Loki

“Well, let me know if real power wants a magazine or something.” -Nick Fury

Christian Perspective

The Avengers delves deep into what it means to be a hero, as clashing egos and selfish motives are put aside for teamwork and integrity.

Captain America, Steve Rogers, stands for traditionalist, Christian America, when, after a remark is made about Loki and Thor’s “godhood,” retorts “I mean no disrespect ma’am, but there’s only one God, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that!” All the while calling for team to unite and realize their duty.

References are made to the macro-evolutionary theory, as Loki jokingly states he had thought “humans were more evolved” than they were behaving. Loki, furthermore, observes the depravity of man and the hopeless nature therein (without a remedy).

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Review)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Image via Wikipedia

“A five minute game?”

-Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.)

“If you think you can manage it.”

-Professor Moriarty  (Jared Harris)

Take the world’s most famous detective, a singular and most riveting case, add an arch rival, comedic brother, and a medical companion with a knack for gambling – stir, bake for 25 minutes under the cover of a bullet proof oven and out will come a piping hot Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. 

Critical analyses go anywhere from five stars to zero – with a plethora of praises and distastes. The film takes an initiative of which its predecessor partially abstained. In the first film, one may recall a deal of action, yet the overall plot was filled with a rather supernatural air of mystery and peril, with Sherlock Holmes’ deductions casting light on a seemingly foggy night. Once the big reveal is made, we find a case of dramatic proportions.

“This is so deliciously complicated.”

-Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows rids itself of superstition and focuses entirely on action and rapidly-paced deductions. A war is on the brink, and only Sherlock Holmes can stop it. The stakes are higher than ever before, thus, an action film rendition of Conan Doyle’s literary feat is what we find at the theaters.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens onto a crowded London Street, following the urgent pace of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). With a singular-looking package in one hand, and a homeless gent following quick behind, we find ourselves immersed in a suspenseful endeavor. The man rushes up beside her, covertly steals her package, and warns there are two men behind Irene with “unsavory” motives. Sherlock Holmes is on the case with one of his many disguises. Irene makes a humorous jibe about Holmes’ apparent situation of poverty, then enters an empty alleyway and stops three men joining her. Irene takes back the rectangular package from Holmes and reveals the men are her guards, ensuring the safe delivery of the package. With a few flirtatious remarks and a kiss goodbye, she hurries off – leaving Holmes to deal with the formidable thugs. A fight immediately breaks out, and it is uncertain who has the upper hand. Sherlock knocks one man to the ground while another shoves his head through two unsteady wooden beams. Holmes recovers and once again joins the fray. As two police officers walk by, Sherlock Holmes plops into an odd seating position and the thugs toss him a few coins, feigning innocence. During this time Sherlock Holmes deduces their next moves in the fashion of the first film (boxing scene deductions) with slow-motion observations with voiced over deductions, with a speedy follow-through of punches, jabs, grabs, and slams – leaving the enemy out cold. After scaring off his final opponent, Sherlock resumes his investigation.

“Did you kill my wife? …you just threw her off a train!”

 -Dr. Watson

“I timed it perfectly.”

-Sherlock Holmes

One thing happens after another – Irene dies, explosions abound, and Watson decides to get married.

Professor Moriarty. From the Sherlock Holmes s...

Prior to the marriage comes a party filled with gambling, fortune telling (by Sherlock Holmes to a key character gypsy), a rotund and comical Mycroft, and  a series of thwarted assassination encounters. Watson gets married, boards a train to honeymoon, and finds himself in danger as Sherlock “knocks antlers” with his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, the criminal king who is bent on fortune and glory. Will Sherlock manage to best his foes, or with he lose all that is dear to him? Such secrets are hidden in a game of shadows…

“Now are you sure you want to play this game?”

-Prof. Moriarty

“I’m afraid you’d lose.”

-Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Featurette

Critical Review

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the best installment yet, and I certainly hope for a third to exceed my expectations. Robert Downey Jr. makes for a brilliant Holmes, utilizing all the quirks of Conan Doyle’s original character with a few new aspects, such as a greater romantic interest with Irene. Likewise, other characters have been “remodeled.” Mycroft Holmes, the self-secluded introverted twin of Holmes (sharing the same, even better, deductive abilities) became a comedic relief in the film, creating the only nude scene present (again, for humor. The nude scene consists entirely of Mycroft holding a newspaper while talking to Mrs. Watson about a telegram he has received from Holmes and Watson who have delved deep into their investigation. He acts normally, and there is no sexual innuendo aside from the fact of Mycroft’s nudity. He is ignorant of the opposite sex and is acting purely out of this vice.) I personally enjoy the extra additions of action and suspense and appreciated the film’s dramatic “reference” to The Final Problem (Sherlock Holmes book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). (Spoiler [highlight to read: the scene is question is the second to last. Where Sherlock Holmes plummets into the waterfall’s depths with Moriarty, leaving the audience to think them dead. The final scene where we find Sherlock Holmes camouflaged, sitting in a chair while Watson types his memoir, was not in the novel, albeit I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.)

“Competent but predictable – now allow me to reply.”

-Prof. Moriarty

Christian and Family Perspective

The spiritual concerns I had noted with the first film (drawing of the pentagram by Holmes, and virtually the entire nature of the case until we learn it is all faux) are not a problem with this sequel. There is a fortune teller, however, and before she has the chance to make any prediction, Sherlock interrupts and (mockingly) informs her that he would like to tell her a fortune. He picks up the cards and uses them for illustration in his points: she has been driven to drinking, has a brother whom she holds dear, and a client who has come to kill her.

From a Christian and family perspective, this movie is a bundle of fun with a plethora of concerns. There is a gypsy woman whose occupation is fortune telling. The demonic is not, however, as fully pressed in this movie as it was in the first. Before she can even get out a word of Sherlock’s fortune, Sherlock tells her he would like to give her fortune. He uses the cards while presenting his points, then rescues her from an assassin. Therefore, it is not as dark as one may suspect from the previews, yet the concept should be noted. There are many fights, such as those between Sherlock and Watson against various mobs, including at a place where gambling is taking place. This movie, taking into account the action, flirtatious content (to be discussed in the full review), should be suitable for children aged 15+ (Common Sense Media recommends age 14+, however, it may be a bit much even for fourteen year olds, depending on their maturity level and “tolerance”).

-Adventure Writer's Blog: Preliminary Review

In addition to the points noted above, there is also a great deal of alcohol consumption.

“Never let these gypsies make you drink (paraphrased).”

-Sherlock Holmes, who proceeds chug down the gypsy's wine.

This film is certainly a pleasure to watch for the most part, although it is certainly not a family film, as it is unsuitable for younger children due to the above points.

Undercover Kitty

Undercover Kitty

I altered this photograph to appear like something viewed out of night vision goggles - somewhat grainy, and definitely quite green.

British Humor

Been studying British accents in order to be able to act out a British character… and I came across these videos by the BBC.

Funny or Cheesy? You decide. Either way, they’re good for the accents.