Sunday, October 30, 2016

Overwhelmed By Events

Sorry, folks, but no post this week.  Life became overwhelming recently.  This is one of the reasons I went to one post a week, and, unfortunately, I can't even make it this week.  I'll return next week.  Until then, my apologies.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Being A Snob

I am a pretentious prick who scoffs at most of what passes for literature out there.

No, I can be honest and admit it.  I'm not the usual consumer of mass marketed books that everyone seems to love.  For example, I hated The DaVinci Code.  I thought the plot was simplistic, the characters lacked depth, and that I could've written a better and more compelling book while sitting on the toilet.  I think Twilight is drivel designed to appeal to the base emotions of 14-year old girls who don't fit in in high school.

To some people, this makes me a bad person.  At the very least, it makes me extremely picky.  I look down my nose at most books out there because I think most aren't very good.  If people choose to shun me as a result, that's fine.  I know what I like, and I won't change that to fit in.

The reason I consider myself a snob when it comes to novels is that I want smart books with depth and characters that seem real.  Endings I can see coming a mile away annoy me, and any book not consistent within its own universe strikes me as lazy.  I can get shallow by reading the front page of any newspaper, so why would I waste my time on terrible stuff?

And I know I'm not alone.  Mas market books appeal to society at large, but let's be honest - most of society doesn't regularly devour books.  Most people read two or three books a year, usually on the recommendation of a friend, or because it happens to be the "in" thing right now.  True readers, the ones who gobble up books at more than one a month, know how hard it can be to find an enthralling story.

Here's the thing, though - those of us who are snobs not only have to accept that fact, but we also have to accept that it's going to be hard to find a book we really like.  We have to accept sifting through tons of debris out there to find the occasional gem that we can go back to time and time again.  It means accepting limitations on our selection rather than shaking our heads in frustration because what's out there just isn't good enough.

It's okay to be a snob.  It's okay to be picky.  Embrace it.  Don't worry about what other people will say when they find out just how discerning you are.  Also accept that you don't have to be picky about everything, and that the occasional guilty pleasure(maybe you like Warhammer books) is a great escape.  Stop worrying about what other people, including other snobs, think about your tastes.  After all, reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and even snobs deserve enjoyment.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pulling The Rug Out(aka - Twist Endings)

I think there's this push/pull dynamic at work for most writers.  We want to be edgy and unpredictable(to a point), but we don't want our audience to be screaming for our head.  It's this dilemma that plays into how far afield we take endings that aren't in line with the way we set things up.

Twist endings can be great.  So long as some of the seeds are planted along the way so that a discerning reader can go back and say, "Aha!  I missed it, but it's right there!," then a twist ending can make a good story great.  Unfortunately, so many of us get so caught up in wanting to make an impact that we create twists simply for the sake of twists, and we end up looking stupid.

Readers have certain expectations.  When reading a mystery, they expect to not necessarily see the end coming.  Absent that, though, they want to see things like the main character's love life resolved or for grandma to save her farm.  Undercutting them leaves them without closure and usually pisses them off.  And remember that pissed off readers rarely return.

I'm not saying to get all predictable where any five year old could see what you have in mind 400 pages down the road, but don't swerve just because you're feeling froggy.  M Night Shyamalan has become a joke because he does almost nothing but twist endings.  It was fine with The Sixth Sense, but it got tiresome after a while because audiences started trying to figure out the twist that they knew was coming.

That's another part of the point - by being "unpredictable" all the time, aren't you becoming...unpredictable?  Surprises aren't surprises if everyone expects them.  You need a good reason to occasionally throw a curve, and it needs to be so overwhelming to the audience that they forgive you for not fixing things up the way they wanted.

The best advice I can give on this is to not be a douchebag.  Give your audience closure, and save your twists for those rare works you want to stand out.  Otherwise, you'll be shoved to the back by your readers.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

I recently ran across a few articles about a writers conference in Brisbane, and some apparently controversial remarks made by Lionel Shriver.  Shriver is most famous for the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, a book about a disturbed young teenager who commits a shooting spree at school.  The novel has received critical acclaim and was even made into a movie.

At the conference, several writers criticized Shriver and her remarks about cultural appropriation.  They said that only a person from a particular background can write about characters of that background.  Many complained that their own works were being outsold by others not from their ethnicity and that Shriver, and others, should stick to their own ethnic groups when creating characters.

Pardon me while I say...what the fuck?!?!

Okay, maybe I'm violating one of my own rules by wading into the cultural/political arena, but this one concerns one of the very essences of writing, making stuff up, and happens to be absolute bullshit.  Writing about others is the soul of writing.  Does anyone seriously believe that you should only write about people that look and talk just like you?  Do any of these namby-pamby-offended-all-the-time social justice vigilantes know what such stupidity and separation would've done to literature over history?  Would we have ever gotten Carrie, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Bovary, or even any of the Harry Potter books(after all, JK Rowling isn't a teenage boy)?  We're writers; we make stuff up.  We borrow histories and people from other cultures all the time - that's what we do.  To limit yourself to only those you look like would constrict writing and make the world both dull and separate.

I wonder if those who were upset that Shriver outsold them ever considered that maybe she's just a better writer.  The market decides these things - if people like your book, they'll buy it.  If they don't, then they won't.  It's that easy.  Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world where everyone is looking to get all butt hurt because people don't do exactly what we say or adhere to our ideology and have the temerity to be public about it.

"Cultural appropriation" is a complete farce, and it's a form of separatism and prejudice.  It's a way to gather unto yourself all that is yours and can only be yours, and others better not try to play in your sandbox.  It's infantile and reminds me of a toddler screaming "MINE!  MINE!  MINE!"  If writing about something with which you're unfamiliar crosses the line, then the market will let you know, but these holier-than-thou PC freaks need to let this stuff go.  Part of cultural diversity and inclusion is allowing others into your circle.  It brings us together when we look to other cultures and try to form bonds between them.  Writers have to look outside their own experiences in order to write stuff that appeals to more than a few people.

In other words, to those who got mad at Shriver(and others like her), take the fence pole out of your ass.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Shrinkage And Being Overwhelmed

I wish it hadn't come to this, but I have to reduce my number of blog posts for the time being.  With my work schedule being what it is right now, keeping up three blog posts a week is a bridge too far.  I've also found myself repeating topics, and I know it's hurting the quality of this site.

Therefore, for the next three months, I plan on doing only one posting per week.  Don't worry - I'll still be here; it'll just be a little less often.  Since my book launch for Akeldama begins in earnest in January, I'll get back to three postings per week at that point since I'll have more material.  However, expending the energy at this point, along with a work schedule a lot more intense than I thought it would be, would be crushing.

I know some of you may think that this is the beginning of the end.  You'd be wrong.  I first have to put food on the table for my family, and I want to be sure I'm ready when the march towards May 18th really begins, so I've got to scale back.  It won't be for long, but I have little choice.  I'll put up a new post each Monday morning so you'll have something to read for the week.  Hopefully it'll make Monday a little less boring as well.