pretty excited here, me

I was going to post something today, some sort of thing I was writing or something, but that’s on hold because of this!

I intend to watch this at least once a day until the movie comes out, or at least until there’s a second trailer.

The scary thing is that for pretty much every frame in there I can tell you exactly who everybody is and what they’re doing.

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Posted in Inherent Vice, Movies | 5 Comments

please don’t tell me the genre

I’ve been thinking about genres again.

I wrote before about the difference between genres of subject (mysteries, sword and sorcery, sea stories) and genres of age, but now I’m thinking about (specifically) LGBT fiction, and (generally) whether books should come with labels or not.

I remember a book (well, I remember about it, and what it looked like, but not the title or author’s name… no, searching has revealed that it was, probably, Farragan’s Retreat, by Tom McHale, who was a big deal in the 1970s but seems to be sort of forgotten now), and for the first half it was a pretty good “literary” type of novel, and then halfway through it suddenly became a murder mystery.

What an unexpected (and pleasant) surprise. If the book had arrived labeled as a “mystery novel” there would have been a tendency to skim, perhaps impatiently, waiting for the part with the murder. Instead, the murder and the mystery happened without warning, which is usually how it happens in life.

I thought of this in relation to LGBT fiction (this applies to other genres, too). On one hand, I see the need for such a genre classification to sell books, but from the point of view of the fiction it’s kind of a shame.

I think it’s so much more interesting if gay characters pop up in whatever type of fiction you’re reading and writing (as happens in life), along with characters of more mysterious sexuality, and characters whose sexuality is never revealed at all. Why not? That’s world we’re all living in, after all.

From a commercial point of view, of course, categories are essential, because that’s how a lot of people buy their books. But it does take some of the fun out of reading.

I was reading a YA-ish book recently, and I’d neglected to look at the blurb, so I suddenly realized as I was reading that I had no idea whether was going to be a paranormal aspect or not. Based on what I’d read to that point, it could have gone either way. I deliberately didn’t investigate — it was much more fun to read it and find out as I went along.

Someone read all of my stories once, and he commented that there were a lot of lesbians. Well, I decided to crunch the numbers. I listed every female character, excluding the ones where there was no basis to say, and the I calculated the percentage. I don’t remember what the number was, but as far as I could tell it was surprisingly close to the estimated percentage of gay women in the actual population.

The lesson I take from this is that fiction in general (excluding that which comes labeled as “LGBT,” of course) underrepresents gay characters, by a significant margin. Which is, I know, another reason that there needs to be “LGBT” fiction.

But it’s still a shame.

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vice anticipated, and evil postponed

Just a few quick things this time around.

1. Okay, this is a little exciting

Of course, it’s the movie vs. the book, blah blah blah, but come on. A movie of a Thomas Pynchon novel? And a Pynchon novel that I’m somewhat obsessed with? That’s an event!

(There’s plenty of time to be disillusioned after it actually comes out, when I remember that I’m not a huge fan of the director, and the lead actor annoys me, and…)

 
2. In other news about movies directed by people named Paul Anderson, the final Resident Evil film has been postponed.

Well, an RE movie wouldn’t be the same without Ms. Jovovich doing all of her own stunts, so I’m happy to wait. Beats the hell out of body doubles and CGI.

 
3. I’ve decided to pause work on my current story. I think it’ll be good when I do write it, but this isn’t the best time to write about Jan Sleet’s relationship with her mother.

I’ve started making notes and writing scenes for a different story, actually, and it’s interesting to think about it because it will be set some years in the future relative to most of what I’ve written so far.

I’ve talked before about the things I’ve learned from Tolkien, for example how to spend your life writing about a single world, but while his tales of Middle-Earth covered many ages of the world, mine have really only covered a few years in the lives of my characters.

Maybe it’s time to let them grow up a bit.

 
4. Meanwhile, I do recommend my most recent story, “One Night at the Quarter,” which I’m quite pleased with.

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links: creativity, and a funeral

Two links today.

One is from The New Yorker: “Creativity Creep” (It’s not a great title, but the article makes interesting points about how “creativity” is increasingly valued by what it produces — and these days in terms of what it can produce that people will want to buy. As a writer who writes but doesn’t seek to make money from it, this is always an interesting topic to me.)

The other link is from my novel, U-town. I’ve been thinking about funerals, and I wanted to link to the funeral that I wrote about, a long scene that still pleases me. This is smack in the middle of a very long novel, and there are a ton of characters, so it will probably be pretty thick going, but I wanted to post the link in case anybody would want to peek in.

To set the scene, Marshall (assistant to Jan Sleet, who was not invited — she’s about the only significant character who won’t be there) is going to pick up his friend Vicki, who is going to the funeral with him. Vicki works in a club called The Quarter, so he’s going to meet her there. The funeral is at midnight, so the club is closing at 11:30pm, because all the regular clientele will be at the funeral anyway.

The funeral is for Carl, who was the drummer in a band called Kingdom Come, and Jenny, who was the girlfriend of the guitarist in the band. The funeral is being put on by a local motorcycle gang called The Jinx.

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condolences, cremation, and in medias res

This will probably meander a bit. In addition to recent events, I was sick last weekend and part of last week.

An interesting thought came to me after the last post, and it’s reflected in the comments there. Does coming into the middle of a story actually help to get us hooked on it?

  1. The first comic book I ever bought was the second half of a two-part story (Fantastic Four #26 – “The Avengers Take Over”). I remember at the time thinking that comic books, which I’d been told were very childish, were more difficult to follow than I’d expected.
  2. As I said in the comments to the previous post, I got hooked on Dark Shadows despite coming into the middle of the series and into the middle of a story.
  3. I saw the movie Serenity before I ever saw the TV show Firefly, and I was eager to go back and catch up on all the characters and history.
  4. The first Resident Evil movie I saw was #3 (Extinction), and I was intrigued by the fact that the characters obviously had some history that I wasn’t aware of.

Hmmm.

 
I’ve also been thinking about condolences, for obvious reasons, which made me think of a book called This Immortal, by Roger Zelazny, which I’ve started reading again.

There’s scene in there where Conrad, the protagonist, has just heard that his wife has died. He’s conducting a tour of post-apocalyptic Earth, for an alien visitor who he dislikes and who someone is, apparently, trying to kill. The suspects are his traveling companions, many of whom he knows very well, and he wonders if, as they come one by one to offer him their condolences, one of them will reveal something.

He’s making an effort to be a detective to help take his mind off his grief, but it doesn’t work. How people offer condolences doesn’t have much to do with what’s happening at that moment — it comes pretty deep from who they are and the culture they come from.

I’ve read the book many times, over decades, and it’s all very familiar territory — one of my favorite of his books if perhaps not one of the greatest.

And it’s always fun to be reminded of how playful Zelazny was with language. (His book Lord of Light has an absolutely terrible pun in it, and I’ve heard that he wrote the whole book to get to that pun — which is unlikely but not impossible.)

For example, Conrad is at a diplomatic function, and he’s stepped out onto a balcony with a woman who was his lover the previous summer and who is, and was, married to one of his best friends.

As they talk, discussing the fact that he is now married also, he notes that:

…she had lots and lots of orangebrown hair, woven into a Gordian knot of a coiff that frustrated me as I worked at untying it, mentally…

I love the placement of “mentally” there, but then I’m a connoisseur of scenes with palpable sexual attraction which is not, for whatever reason, being turned into action.

The book is steeped in mythology (for example, Conrad’s wife is named Cassandra, and, yes, she periodically makes predictions which he disregards, and which always turn out to be right), but it’s very down to earth. This was pretty much Zelazny’s favorite mode, and he wrote a lot of books which balanced these elements in different ways.

For example, like Alien and The Fifth Element, this is the future where everybody smokes (also a Zelazny trademark).

It also has the riddle of the kallikanzaros.

“So feathers or lead?” I asked him.
“Pardon?”
“It is the riddle of the kallikanzaros. Pick one.”
“Feathers?”
“You’re wrong.”
“If I had said lead’ . . .?”
“Uh-uh. You only have one chance. The correct answer is whatever the kallikanzaros wants it to be.”
“That sounds a bit arbitrary.”

Conrad, who is Greek, explains that this is an example of Greek subtlety, which is not actually very subtle.

The riddle gives us the great scene much later, when Conrad has been tortured and is about to be killed, and, at the final moment, he starts to laugh and asks, “Feathers or lead?”

His would-be killer is a cultural anthropologist and knows the legend, so he turns around, quickly, just in time to be squashed by the sudden arrival of Conrad’s (giant, armored, mutant) pet dog.

There’s another, even better, last-second rescue later (Conrad is a tough individual, but he does require rescuing from time to time), but that’s a huge spoiler, so I won’t.

Anyway, it’s been nice to revisit such familiar territory. Maybe it’s been comfort fiction — the literary equivalent of comfort food.

 
Over at the blog Pages of Julia, Julia just reviewed a book called “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Other Lessons of the Crematory),” which is another subject that’s been on my mind recently.

The books sounds interesting and entertaining, though I’m not sure I’m ready to read an entire book on the subject. I did leave a rather extensive comment on the blog post, though.

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Posted in Death, Movies, writing | 2 Comments

some can stand alone, but not all

I haven’t been writing much in the past few weeks because of recent developments, but I’ve written a paragraph here and there in my current story, enough to start to realize that that a problem I’ve been ducking for a while now has to be solved.

It is the question that always comes up when you write serial fiction. How much do you rely on your readers having read what has come before?

I remember there was some comment when the second Lord of the Rings movie came out, that it started cold — with no prologue, no quick summary of part one.

In that situation, of course, it was a pretty good bet that the audience had seen the first one, and quite possibly read the books as well.

On the other hand, I remember Joss Whedon saying that in television your first six episodes are each the pilot. You can’t rely on people starting at the beginning (and in fact you really want the audience to grow as you go along, meaning you have to do your best to help them come along with you).

In my case, I try not to count on readers being familiar with what’s come before. The Jan Sleet Mysteries book follows A Sane Woman and U-town, but it’s designed to stand alone. The same with Stevie One.

The two stories I’m writing now, though (tentatively called “One Night at the Quarter” and “It Was A Dark and Stormy Night“) are kind of working out to be two halves of one story. They’re about parents, of course — one about a father and one about a mother — and those two things do kind of go together (even though the father and mother don’t meet in the stories).

So, I’m saying they’re Part One and Part Two of the same story. The first part is done, and it’s around 35,000 words, so if the second part is about the same length, then it will be a novel, more or less.

This is not absolute — I think “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” can be read alone — but readers would have to work a little harder in terms of who the characters are and how they relate to each other.

Heck, the first comic book I ever read was the second half of a two-part story, and I managed to find my way through.

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Posted in writing | 3 Comments