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Words that make us buy

Slim and Modern tags on pantsI was shopping for clothes, and I came across these pairs of pants. They were available in two sizes: “Slim” and “Modern.” “Slim” seemed obvious: They are for people who ate right and worked out. In other words, they weren’t for me. Then, what is “Modern” supposed to mean? If “Slim” is for slim people, “Modern” has to be for people who are not. This size was called “Husky” when I when I was a kid, before “Husky” became an insult. Since companies don’t want to insult their customers (although I can think of a few that do), they won’t use any term to call them fat. That’s why we get sizes like “Modern,” “Regular,” “Loose,” “Classic” — names that complement us for not being “Slim.”

“Slim” and “Modern” made me think about all the other words companies use to entice us to buy. Here are three of them.

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Leave Anne Frank alone!?

Anne Frank ca. 1942

Anne Frank not showing enough gravitas

My work in progress, The Ghosts of Reseda High, is about contemporary teenagers facing their own mortality. What better way to do that, I thought, than to have them read the ultimate book about a teen facing mortality, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

As my characters read this book, they face their own issues about loss. My main character has a mother who escaped the 1990 anti-Armenian pogrom in Baku. He is trying to help his best friend who is suffering from physical and psychological abuse. My main character is also falling in love with a girl who lost an aunt in the Rwandan Genocide. Their teacher still feels regret over the murder of a classmate when she was a high school student in 1976.

I already knew including Anne Frank had problems. For starters, I’m not sure which organization to contact for permission to use quotes from the book.

I then came across this article by Jason Diamond in Flavorwire critiquing other books that used Anne Frank in their stories. (I haven’t read any of those books. Now, I suppose I have to.) He took those books to task because they didn’t “seem to have anything to say about the weighty and loaded topic from which it takes its premise” and they “trivialized, rather than made moving art in tribute to, the real lives of Holocaust victims.”

So, what exactly does it mean to trivialize the Holocaust? How much weight is needed? Does it mean that Anne Frank is off-limits as a subject for fiction?

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What Reseda could teach Lake Forest

Just to clarify a few things about my old hometown of Reseda: There are no freeways running through yards, no Terminators saying “Hasta la vista, baby,” and no one will teach you karate by washing a car. But Reseda does have some lessons about how public involvement can benefit a community. This is especially important for my current hometown, Lake Forest.

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Ask me a question

Raise your hand!

Image from Vicki Caruana’s education blog Apples and Chalkdust

I like to ask questions. (In fact, you can buy a book with 500 of them and follow my Twitter feed to get a daily Table Topics question.) Now, I’d like to get questions from you. Ask me anything about the subjects in my blog, including my books, independent publishing, technical and creative writing, communications, and leadership.  I will answer your questions in full in upcoming blog posts. Use the form below. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

The JOBS movie and other problems with biographies

Ashton Kutcher in Jobs

Only Ashton Kutcher can make nerdiness look oh-so-sexy. (Photo from Cult of Mac)

Poor Steve Jobs (both the late Apple visionary and the character played by Ashton Kutcher). The JOBS movie has already taken plenty of hits in the press before it even came out. I suspect that many of the opinions depend on whether the person loves or hates Apple, Steve Jobs, Ashton Kutcher, or any combination of them.

The real problem is that biographies are hard to write. Here are the reasons why (and things to avoid if you’re writing a biography).

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