A (kind of) Holiday Letter

Dear: (#1)

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. Readers
  4. Random web search guests.
  5. Any and all of the above.


As you may know, I: (#2)

  1. Teach
  2. Give myself wedgies
  3. Cross- stitch

When I’m not enjoying my life at home.


Since I write so many quizzes and tests, I: (#3)

  1. Am no longer able to write anything else . . . which explains this odd Holiday Letter.
  2. Have decided to smash my keyboard.
  3. Figured you all would love one of my quizzes just as much as my students surely do.


There are so many things to celebrate. While it is true that: (#4)

  1. People.
  2. Nature.
  3. Middle-Earth.
  4. All of the above.

Are/is far from perfect, I can’t help but look around and: (#5)

  1. Smile.
  2. Spit.
  3. Curse.

At all of the joyous things in my life.


Even when what I see in the News brings me down, I spring back to my happy self because: (#6)

  1. Star Wars: Episode VII is coming out in approximately 883 days.
  2. I am surrounded by wonderful people.
  3. I spend a lot of time on trampolines.
  4. I’m actually writing this from the moon, so bouncing isn’t really a choice due to the gravity difference.
  5. Both A and B.


During the Holiday Season, please make sure the important people in your life know you care about them. Celebrate them and always remember that: (#7)

  1. Big Brother is Watching You.
  2. The world is what we make it.
  3. These people can turn on you at any given moment.


If you’re having trouble thinking of people you really like, try getting out and meeting some new ones! Your new best friend: (#8)

  1. Could be just outside your door.
  2. Is really an actor about to play a hilariously mean prank on you.
  3. Does not, nor will he ever, exist–though you might have fun looking.


I wish you all best: (#9)

  1. Whoever you are.
  2. Unless your name is Jeremy and you live on Briar between Halsted and Broadway.
  3. But only because I’m banking on karma to bounce these “well wishes” back my way.


Finally, please take your pick of the following salutations: (#10)

  1. Merry Christmas
  2. Happy Holidays
  3. May the odds be ever in your favor.
  4. God bless.
  5. Salutations? We don’t need no stinking salutations!



ANSWER KEY: # 1 = E.     #2 = A.            #3 = C             #4 = D             #5 = A             #6 = E   #7 = B                       #8 = A             #9 = B            #10 = Congratulations! You got this one right!

Transformation in the Hero’s Journey – Part One

Since the New Year is nearly upon us, it seems appropriate that I write about “Transformation” in the Hero’s Journey. After all, many of us are looking to change ourselves in the New Year.

The most important aspect of the Hero’s Journey is that the Hero must change during it. The hero’s transformation is the central storyline. Because he experiences new things, meets new people, and is introduced to new ideas, he will come out of the journey a different person than he was at the start. Often the change is gradual and is a natural occurrence given all that he goes through. However, sometimes the change is sudden and dramatic–as when there is a literal physical transformation. However, even when there is a physical transformation, the more significant transformation is still psychological or spiritual. The physical change is merely a way of showing the overall change. EXAMPLE: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and physically changes, gaining the powers of a spider and becoming Spider-Man. However, the more important psychological change is that he realizes that “with great power, comes great responsibility” and that he must use his powers to help others, even if that means making some pretty important personal sacrifices.

The change must be significant (deciding to give a one-time donation to the poor does not count). The transformation is a total change of lifestyle and values that may cause change in others or the world/universe as well. Stagnation is a terrible thing in stories and in life. We all feel the call to become something individual, new, and try something dangerous. This is why these stories are so popular, widespread, and appealing.

In any case, the hero learns about himself and the world. This knowledge usually aids him or enables him to succeed in the end. For instance, the hero may use a new trick he’s learned in order to win the battle, may use his new insight about people and the world to beat his enemies, etc.

In many stories, the hero’s change is represented by a death and rebirth sequence that signifies the new person who emerges. The death and rebirth can happen anywhere in the story and is usually symbolic (though it can be literal). How many can you think of?


  • Major League: Taylor (the catcher) makes the conscious decision to mature and change as he tries to win back his ex-girlfriend. He reads (for her approval) and becomes a mentor for the younger players. Vaughn changes by improving his control over his pitches (the glasses helped). Pedro Cerrano realizes that he must stop putting faith in Jo-bu and believe in himself.
  • Stand By Me: The boys grow up, each having faced (or at least voiced) his fears. By the time they find the body at the end of the film, they have matured enough to know that finding the body of a young boy is no way to gain fame. They place an anonymous call to the authorities instead.
  • Harry Potter: Young Harry changes in multiple ways in book one and by the end of the series he is a far more mature person (and quite a bit darker). In the first story, he is introduced to the world of magic and begins his education. He learns a lot about potions, spells, etc. but more importantly for Harry, he gains friends and faith in himself. He has people who genuinely care about him (his step parents do not care about him). He gains mentors in his teachers. He is told that he has value and that he is important . . . even that he is loved (though I don’t know that this is actually stated, he certainly knows it is true). As a result, he gains enough confidence in himself that he is able to win the final battle.
  • The Godfather: Michael starts off as a “good guy” who is honest with Kay (his girlfriend). By the end of the story, he is definitely a “bad guy” who lies to her face (that’s actually how the film ends—with Michael lying to her, then shutting the door, closing her off from the reality of what he is doing). Michael’s change is a fall. He becomes a murderer to avenge his family but later kills his own brother-in-law and in The Godfather Part II, Michael kills his actual brother who has always loved him. Michael’s evil is best shown in the first film’s montage baptism scene in which Michael’s henchmen go all around town murdering people while Michael baptizes his child and “renounces” Satan, Sin, and Evil.
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne learns about fear and conquers his own fear of bats. More importantly, he transforms himself into a weapon against crime. As Batman, he is a new man, having transformed into an incorruptible symbol of justice.
  • Lord of the Rings: All of the major characters go through changes, but the most dramatic is probably Frodo’s transformation. He begins as a happy & simple Hobbit with no real ambition to become anything more than that. However, his journey (and the evil ring of power that seeks to corrupt him) takes its toll. By the time Frodo and Sam make it to the volcano where they can destroy the ring, Frodo reveals that he has changed and no longer wants to destroy it. The evil ring has possessed him and he has become evil. It is only due to the intervention of Sam and Golum that the ring is destroyed. Yet even this isn’t enough to return Frodo to the happy fellow he was in the beginning. He returns to the Shire hopelessly depressed. His experience has corrupted him and he can no longer find meaning or happiness in his simple life there. So he leaves.
  • Star Wars: Luke begins to learn the force and joins the rebellion against the evil Empire. He grows up a bit, though he matures even more in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as he learns a lot more about himself, his heritage, and his destiny. In A New Hope, Han Solo has the more dramatic transformation: he goes from being a money loving mercenary to someone who willingly endangers himself for the sake of his friend.

Choose the Perfect Setting for Your Story

The perfect setting for your story is the one that helps illustrate the story’s action or theme.

Setting is a choice that you make. This is an important decision that many do not consider seriously (they just choose New York because it is a big city—not because of the architecture, history, culture, etc.).

The setting is one of the main characters in your story. Important Note: Setting is more than just the geographical location and time period in which the story takes place—it is also the emotional, religious, political, economic, and social environment of that area and period. These elements are vital to your World Building.

Try answering the following questions as you brainstorm:

  • Given the plot, characters, and themes you want in your story, what setting makes the most sense? What setting can help “visualize” those elements? What setting can intensify the drama that you want to play out?
  • Does it make sense for the story to be in a city (if so, which one?), small town, or wilderness, or an imaginary world? Why?
  • Should the story take place in the past, present, or future? What benefits and limitations exist within each of these choices?
  • What kind of cultural, religious, and socioeconomic conditions will help the story along? How can you make each of these “do the work” of telling your story?
  • Can your descriptions of the setting/background somehow help explain the theme?
  • Is the setting connected to the plot or character in some way?

I’m sure there are many other important issues to consider when deciding upon the setting, but coming up with answers to the above would be a good start.

The Call & Refusal

In the Hero’s Journey, the call is when the hero is either asked to leave the ordinary world and try something new or when the hero simply realizes that he must do this. If a person initiates the call, then that person is a herald—someone who literally asks the hero to help or informs him of the problem that needs his attention.  The hero can have several “calls” in a story.  Calls are requests or impulses to do something.  For the hero to begin a journey, he must first receive or experience a call.

Calls can come in a wide variety of ways: people need aid from an outside source and must seek out this aid, the hero receives a message that someone needs help, he is told that he has a particular destiny and mission, or he may finally get sick of the status quo and decide to do something about it.  Often the normal order and balance of things in the ordinary world is thrown off somehow and the hero seeks to restore the proper order (a cop who wants to catch the bad guy in order to ensure justice and safety).  In a romance the call may be when the hero sees the heroine for the first time and he falls in love.  In any case, the call to adventure establishes the stakes to the game and makes the hero’s goal clear.

Often, the hero will refuse the call at first (the refusal). This is about fear of change. The hero feels safe in his ordinary world and is reluctant to leave it behind for the unknown.  He does not want to cross that first threshold into the sacred world.  This refusal stage usually does not last very long because something will convince the hero that he must go.


  • Major League: Indians General Manager Charlie Donovan acts as the herald who literally calls the players and coach on the phone.  Each one initially refuses the call for one reason or another (and this is part of the comedy). Coach Lou Brown is more interested in the guy on the other phone line who is interested in buying some white wall tires. Catcher Jake Taylor thinks someone is playing a prank on him and hangs up. Rookie pitcher Rick Vaughn is in jail and isn’t sure he will be out before spring training, so he can’t commit.
  • Stand By Me: The call is when Vern asks the other boys, “You guys want to go see a dead body?”  There is some worry about getting in trouble as the boys discuss how they could pull off being away all night and into the next day, but no outright refusal. Although Gordy doesn’t say it, his narration tells us he is conflicted because his older brother, Dennis, had passed away four months before.
  • Harry Potter: Harry gets the call in the form of letters sent by the Hogwarts school (though his threshold guardian step parents keep these from him). Finally, Hagrid acts as a herald by showing up and inviting Harry. Harry doesn’t really refuse, though he is a bit confused.
  • The Godfather: Michael gets his call when he sees the headline that his father has been shot. He immediately calls home and is compelled to help in some way. Since this is the journey of an anti-hero, things work a little differently than in most stories. He has already refused the call as he has made it clear that he does not want to be part of the sacred world of the mafia. But now that his father has been shot, his attitude changes. When he begins discussing what to do next, his older brothers prevent him from getting too involved—acting as threshold guardians. Michael isn’t sure what to do until there is second attack on his father’s life while his father is recovering in the hospital. At that point, Michael accepts the call and tells his father, “I’m with you now. I’m with you.” And then he goes home, makes the plan, and prepares to cross the threshold into a life of crime.
  • Batman: In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne’s old friend Rachel Dawes gives him the call and acts as the herald. Twenty-two-year-old Bruce wanted vengeance on the man who killed his parents. It is Rachel who shows him the real problems in Gotham city (corruption and a seemingly untouchable criminal elite) and explains that there is a difference between vengeance and justice. He argues with her (his refusal), but quickly realizes that she is right. After this conversation, he goes to see the big crime boss, Falcone, who further educates Bruce about the city, crime, and fear. It is only after this conversation that Bruce realizes what he has to do in order to save the city. He accepts the call to become its savior (though he has no idea how to do it). He hops on a boat to China and begins his long quest and training.
  • Lord of the Rings: When Gandalf discovers that the ring in Frodo’s possession is the evil ring of power, they realize that it must be destroyed. However, neither one of them wants the ring (refusal). Frodo tries to give it to Gandalf and he refuses on the grounds that if it corrupted him he would become far too powerful (he’s already a powerful wizard). Frodo finally accepts that he should be the one to carry the ring, though he isn’t planning on carrying it all the way to Mordor. He wants to get rid of it and hand it off as soon as he can. Later in the story we meet another hero, Aragorn, who willingly helps in the quest to destroy the ring, but his real call is to accept his position as the rightful leader of the humans (in a positive way) and unite them. However, he refuses this call until the 3rd and final book/film.
  • Star Wars: When Obi-Wan tells Luke, “You must come with me to Alderaan,” Luke replies, “Alderaan? I have to get home! I’m in enough trouble as it is!” and then the two argue. Luke wants to go but his uncle won’t allow it (kind of like Harry Potter!).  Luke refuses to go on the journey until his aunt and uncle are killed. At that point, there is no reason for him to stay and he accepts the call to save the princess, learn the ways of the force, and join the rebellion against the evil galactic empire.