Sunday, 24 November 2013

Words Still Have Meanings

So I'm back, and I am once again compelled (not really) to point out that words have meanings.  The English language, as well as History, are commonly suffering serious abuse from the ignorant and the mendacious, and while it is true that language is fluid, facts are not.  A recent controversy reared its perfectly coiffed head when Sarah Palin, part-time governor of Alaska, complained that President Obama's economic policies were putting the US in debt to China and this was, on the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, just like slavery.  This is patently absurd, though as with everything in the history of ever, apologists appear to try to polish this turd.  Usually the explanation is along the lines of "the Bible/dictionary describes debt as also being slavery in a sense", which would be remotely relevant if Palin were capable of reading either.  The context of her remarks make it clear the particular type of slavery to which she was referring, and MSNBC's Martin Bashir took great offense.

Then his offense caused offense in the Republican camp, because they cannot accept that anyone on their primitive tribal side could ever do anything remotely wrong.  Bashir summed up the horror of slavery with a story from the diary of a slave owner who recounted twice forcing one slave to shit in the mouth of another.  He then used this as a pointed attack on Palin having the temerity to imply that one country owing money to another (most of that debt, as it happens, having been accrued under the previous Republican administration, often off the books), and suggested that if she had gone through something similar, she would not be so casual or ignorant with her terminology.

Cue sharp intakes of breath and a torrent of appalled commentators at Bashir's remarks.  The man even spelled out the word 'shit' on TV!  Appalling.  Outrageous.  Completely inappropriate.  Even liberals were disgusted with Martin Bashir, though they were quick to continue sniping at Fox News' professional outrage in their own way.  Just not while defending Bashir, you know.  They do not condone what he said, because saying Palin should eat shit and die is completely indefensible.

I can defend Bashir's remarks, and I shall: he didn't say Sarah Palin should be forced to eat shit, he said that if she had an inkling of what it was like to be the sort of person others found it acceptable to force to eat shit, that might be enough to get her to understand what slavery truly is and how wildly inappropriate her remarks about debt to China were. His point was that she lacks empathy and lacks perspective and her entirely selfish nature means it may require simply putting her through the same circumstances in order for her to get it. He did not, at any point, suggest that it should actually be done. It was a colourful and complex metaphor pushing back against an obtuse and despicable abuse of history.  It was, in a word, accurate.

The commentariat of the left has got to stop crumbling into a litany of mea culpas the second somebody says something a bit awkward. This woman could have ended the world with her ignorance if she got into the White House, she encouraged shooting political opponents, and we're falling over ourselves to make sure we're clear that we don't condone somebody insulting her in a manner deliberately misunderstood by the Republican whinge machine?  I call enormous, several storeys tall and stinking bullshit on that.

And The Blaze's Amy Holmes can fuck off with her infantile remarks about Bashir's show not having particularly high ratings. This is fucking politics you fucking moron, not a playground argument about which comic book hero is better because he sold the most issues. When the commentary turns from pushing back against bullshit to hand-wringing and token apologies for daring to say something that is true, this kind of inane crap gets to be floated unchallenged and the viewing public get just a little dumber by osmosis.

Now, since I said the word 'fuck' a couple of times, obviously I am much worse than a serial liar who ignores reality and upends political discourse on a zany whim between helicopter hunting trips.  At this point, might as well contort what I said into a suggestion that Palin should be fucked by a polar bear or something equally ludicrous and flat out wrong, because in the present media climate, what you say and what they hear are two entirely different things.

Until next time, your moment of zen:

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Nice Day For A Red Wedding

June 2nd, 2013: a day which will live in infamy.  That Sunday night, the world sat in their living rooms, holding their loved ones, and stared at the bright and blaring box that we call television as horror on an unprecedented and unimaginable scale unfolded before their very eyes.  That night and into the next morning, bleary eyed and hoarse from crying, the masses sent out a collective groan of anguish across all forms of media.  They were confused: How could this happen?  What will happen next?  They were angry: Who let it happen?  Why did it have to happen?  When will the bastards who did it get what is coming to them?  People talked of revenge, and people talked of turning away in disgust and never looking at this brutal, horrific world again.

That world is the universe of Game of Thrones.  Naturally, spoilers for Season 3, Episode 9 are to follow.

In the few days since the massacre of the Starks in the event known as the Red Wedding, I have been struck at the reaction by many fans of the Game of Thrones series.  First, I have to say how much I admire the capacity of those who have read the books to keep a lid on what was coming.  Spoilers appeared here and there, but it was not so ubiquitous that I, a layperson who kind of likes the TV show, had come across any inkling of what was about to happen.  I found out at the same moment Catelyn did, and if I weren't a robot I imagine I would have been shocked and dismayed much like her.

Shock and dismay, though, is putting very mildly what appears to have happened to the collective culture that calls itself Game of Thrones viewers.  The Internet has been flooded with memes over the episode, news shows have thrown their tuppence worth in, and in forums across the web I continually see angry, stunned fans express a peculiar sentiment: this is the final straw.  The almost annihilation of the Starks means they will not watch this program any more, and the reason is that it is too painful and upsetting to endure the torment and death of their favourite characters.

Um... what?

Game of Thrones is a fictional TV series, based on a collection of fantasy novels.  It is a story where lots of nasty characters do nasty things to one another.  It is a heavily political story, and we all know politics does not make for a world that has clear good and bad guys.  The Starks aren't saints, and even if they were, this maudlin response as though the Red Wedding was this generation's 9/11 is perplexing.  These people are not real.  Their deaths did not actually happen.  And I get that the viewers know that, this is not a rant at a stupid strawman who bizarrely cannot tell fantasy from reality.  What I am getting at is this strange anger and resentment that came about in response to this plot twist.  So many viewers seem furious at the show, at the novels, at the author himself, for killing characters they happened to like.  So furious, in fact, that there have been numerous cries of "I'm not watching any more".

Why would you not watch any more?  Is it not the stuff of melodrama and the basis of conflict for the protagonists to be beaten down to their lowest ebb and to come clawing back?  Is it just not acceptable for bad things to happen to characters you like?  This is like deciding to stop watching Star Wars because Luke got his hand cut off.  It is shutting down the story in a fit of pique, before giving the author a chance to redress the balance.

Perhaps they fear, with good reason, that the balance will never actually be redressed.  Perhaps viewers are starting to hide behind their proverbial couches because they are terrified that the show won't end the way they want it to.  This is Game of Thrones, after all.  But to that, I have to ask... so what?  You are not the writer, you are the viewer.  Pardon me if this sounds high handed, but it's not your job to decide where the story goes next.  Stories unfold how they will, and you can enjoy them or not.  If you find yourself not enjoying a rather bleak story where the good guys keep getting a pasting, by all means stop.  There is no obligation to carry on a story that turns down a path you would rather not follow.  But there appears to have been a strange sense of betrayal in the reaction to the Red Wedding, as though G.R.R. Martin and HBO are just trying to upset people by daring to steer their own ship their way.  I have seen forum posters argue that next week, the fans will have to be appeased.  Have to?  Since when?  Next week the only thing that has to happen is whatever has been scripted to happen.  Where do fans get this idea that creative endeavours are a zero-sum game where everything they don't like has to be off-set by something more pleasant?

Perhaps it is simply the shock that has got people upset.  I certainly did not expect most of the 'good guys' to get wiped out at the dinner table, and even for Game of Thrones the level of violence was extreme.  Yet even those who saw it coming had trouble accepting what occurred.  I have seen numerous people describe how they read the scene and then threw the book at the wall, in the trash, or out the window.  Some people gave up on the books right there.  Some describe watching the TV show, knowing it was coming, but hoping that for no apparent reason the producers would make something different occur.  They were heartbroken to discover the TV show pretty much made it worse than on the page.  And all the time I can only wonder: why?  Why would you expect something different, and why does it matter so much that something bad happened to some fictional people?  Let the story go where it is going.  Again, if you don't like it feel free to get off the bus, and if you think there's something wrong about the show there's nothing wrong with saying so.  Still, it appears this is not an issue of quality; I haven't heard any arguments that Martin's plot is poorly written or problematic for technical reasons.  It's just that a lot of fans really don't like what actually ends up occurring.  It is as though they are happy to view the stark (pardon the pun) and cold world Martin has created, but are not at all comfortable dealing with the ramifications of it.  There seems to be a great reluctance to accept that bad things happen and the designated good guys aren't necessarily going to win.

So, what is going on here?  Is the reaction to the Red Wedding happening as expected overblown and kind of entitled?  Does it come from a place of fear of bad things happening and not being able to stop them?  Or is there something wrong with me and I cannot grasp the connection people have to fictional characters, so do simply cannot fathom their outrage?  Feel free to let me know.

Until next time, here's your moment of zen:

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Numbers Have Meanings

I have spoken a few times about how important it is to remember that words have meanings.  Since they have meanings, we must be clear about what we mean when we used them, and as a writer I always aim to be judicious and accurate in the terms I lay down like so many bricks in the wall.  It will not do to throw around words willy-nilly when writing a story, otherwise the real meaning of your piece is lost, and the weight of your terms is diluted.  When a character is a 'murderer', I mean a murderer, somebody who decides to kill other human beings.  I don't mean somebody who killed a friend in a terrible boating accident.  In real life, I have pointed out that words like bigot do have an application, and you cannot simply wash the label off yourself if you make yourself sticky enough to wear it in the first place.  Try as many a homophobe might, cries of "I'm not a bigot but..." immediately negates the first four words of their own sentence.

Now, I'd like to point out that numbers, too, have meanings.  This is not a quasi-existential conundrum or any attempt at fuzzy mathematics.  I'm not very good at maths anyway, so I am not going to compound on how 2+2 can equal 5 (apparently it can, for adequate values of 2, and not only in the world inhabited by Fox News).  2 is a good number to start with.  2 is the chart position of a particular song in the UK singles chart.  2 is the number of times I can recall that the British Broadcasting Corporation has chosen to obscure the position of a song in that same chart.  The first time was when the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen appeared, which was considered far too politically inconvenient to air.  Now such aggressive and troubling punk rock seems almost quaint, but its anti-fascist message apparently has not been heeded, as the BBC has whitewashed today's chart and allowed only a five second clip of Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to appear in the news instead.

Yes, yes, calling the BBC fascist and getting bent out of shape about a song is rather petty.  But it is no more petty than an organisation that is meant to report simple information like the position of a song in a chart deciding that, since a song's position may be embarrassing, the song must be buried.  And it is not simply the dodging of playing an embarrassing song; it is a purposeful effort to alter history.  A transparent, incompetent attempt, that makes the BBC look suspect and brings their general credibility into question.  If they will in essence cover up a song because it doesn't suit the political climate, what else will or have they obscured from the public?

The BBC is not alone.  If one were to Google "UK singles chart" right now, the results would provide info taken directly from both the BBC and the Official UK Chart.  The former mysteriously omits song number 2 from the top three visible on Google; the latter simply lies and pretends song number 2 is something else.  Of course visiting the actual sites provides the real data (though for some reason the Official UK chart does not provide a 'buy' link for the number 2 song), but if one were simply surfing on Google, one would be misinformed.  This is not an accident.  This is not important, in isolation, but if a song is enough to get these bodies so worked up they will simply lie, why should they ever be trusted?

Worse than burying information, the BBC have opened themselves up to accusations of bias as they did play I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher in full.  This has been adopted as an anthem in opposition to those who are celebrating her death, though in reality the band behind it, the Notsensibles, have said their intention was satirical.  The BBC also, in the five seconds they did air of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead broadcast the eponymous line.  If they were so concerned about offending and upsetting people they had to bury the song, why air the specific line that would be most concerning?  The BBC insists they were acting out of balance, but they appear to have fallen flat on their faces, pleasing nobody and shredding their credibility all to avoid taking a decisive editorial stance.

In their intention to avoid controversy/reality, the BBC have made this minute-long song a national issue.  Their objective appears to have been shielding a nation from its own opinion, and in their arrogance they think they have both the right and capability of doing so.  What has really happened is that people sitting in their bedrooms have clicked a button to download a song and the result is the British Broadcasting Corporation felt obliged to mangle reality. That’s power. None of these ordinary people will get state funerals, or see anything like the £10-£40 million spent on them in their lifetime, nevermind just to put them in the ground, but their simple act of defiance has rattled the halls of power. Like Toto, we have pulled back the curtain, and pay attention to what cowering and weak mortals lie behind it.

Here it is, today's moment of zen:

Monday, 8 April 2013

If a picture's worth a thousand words...

How many lives are worth a barrel of oil?

As a Scot and a curmudgeon both, I would be remiss if I didn't mark the passing of one Margaret Thatcher, former UK Prime Minister and good friend of the morally handicapped.

Words have power because, in spite of our relativistic bent, words have meanings.  We like to think of ourselves as a society where words constrain and control us: we write laws and statues, enshrining them with the ability to tell us what to do.  Imagine, beings of flesh and blood and power, but we give ink on a page the capacity to stop us from doing something rash, or compelling us to something for the greater good.

But then, we are still people, and sometimes people just don't care what laws say or what words mean: they want what they want and they will step on everybody else to get it.  People, with their squishy brains and hypocritical natures, can easily find themselves arguing from both sides of their mouth and proudly declaring that black is white.  And what's worse, people can convince themselves that they mean it.  While words written down do not change, minds do, sometimes because they learned something new, often because it becomes politically expedient.  Sometimes the same people who railed against abuse of power, excess in business and punitive poll taxes suddenly find themselves scrambling to find nice things to say and wagging their finger at those who do not meekly hide their hard-earned hate.

In short, fuck off BBC and the rest of the quisling media with your bullshit fawning over a murderous thief who wrecked the future and ended the lives of so many for the sake of her own vanity and the power and pocketbooks of her flying monkeys in business suits.

Now here it is, your moment of zen:

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Sim City That Never Sleeps

 I've been an advocate of the indie gaming scene here before, as well as indie publishing.  This is as much about the quality work they put out as the satisfaction gleaned from sticking it to 'the man', whomever that man may be.  In gaming, we all know who the man is: he's the soulless corporate suit whose medic-alert bracelet reads he is allergic to generosity and whose social security number consists solely of 666.  His driver's license lists his eye colour as green and his tongue as forked.  His initials are E.A. - Electronic Arts.

Normally I talk about the great sense of story to be found in indie games, but Sim City is different.  Sim City is, obviously, a city simulator.  You build your city, you watch it grow, you put out fires and you manage budget crises.  You can create a socialist paradise full of libraries, solar panels and hemp shops, if you balance things just right; or simply rest on your laurels and watch your city descend into a crime-ridden, polluted dystopia that's every libertarian's dream come true.

Speaking of not caring about the consequences of an entirely free market, Electronic Arts have released a new version of Sim City, and if you're remotely interested in the gaming world, you will have heard by now that it has had its share of teething troubles.  I say "its share" because it is the share that everybody saw coming, and then some.  It is resolutely the share of troubles that were inevitably allotted to the game from the moment EA announced in their raspy, Emperor Palpatine voice that this game where you build a city would require you to be always connected to the Internet to play it.  Specifically to their servers, which crashed on release, because lots of people who paid $60 for a game had the temerity to want to play it.

Things got so bad that at one point Amazon withdrew the game from sale because for a large portion of customers it simply didn't work.  When retailers pull your product from the shelves because of a defect, you screwed up big time.  This is lead paint in Chinese toys territory, for the games industry.  So naturally EA responded by refusing refunds for their defective product, and all hell broke loose online.  They later made the more accommodating gesture of offering a free game, though of course this still has the effect of keeping Sim City's sales buoyed, allowing them to pretend on paper that the launch was a success so they should keep doing things like this.

You've probably seen the arguments somewhere.  You might even have been caught in the fallout as it spilled across the vastness of social media, as disgruntled customers fume over not being allowed to use a product they paid for due to the publisher thinking they should control access to your own possessions.  Or you might be here because you like writing and be really bored with my occasional off-topic ramble, but bear with me.  This does tie in to the publishing industry.  I won't bother rehashing the ins and outs of the situation, I'll simply offer this point: when you try to control new media using draconian measures from the old media world, you are playing with fire.  Publishers in particular should try to avoid that, because they are surrounded by lots of dry paper.

Now here it is, your moment of zen:

Monday, 11 March 2013

Am I a Savvy Author?

After appearing over at Romance Lives Forever, where I also appeared on the cover of their March 5th edition, I have another guest post.  This time I am hosted by the good people at Savvy Authors, where I wax lyrical about pancakes and confessions.  Don't forget to check it out.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Romance Lives Forever Interview

An interview with yours truly (also yours falsely, I suppose, since I write fiction) has just gone live at Romance Lives Forever.  Big thanks to Kayelle Allen for interviewing me and giving me yet another platform to ramble.  I talk about my romantic fantasy The Red Queen, published by Books To Go Now, as well as giving some exciting info on my current works in progress and what the future holds.  Check it out, and let this interview be today's moment of zen.

Monday, 25 February 2013

When You Don't Know What To Write...

I have been in kind of a funk all day, not utilising my time the way I could be and just not finding the motivation to get to work on the multitude of projects I have sitting in my in-tray.  Well, it's a virtual in-tray, since all my writing is done on a computer, but to be able to tick something off that task-list is as addictive as collecting Pokemon.

Note to self - get a new Pokemon game for the DS.

I use a lot of lists to help organise and prioritise tasks, and it does feel good to clear them systematically.  Sometimes things crop up that delays or expedites one or another, and often I wind up juggling and jumping between tasks as my creative energy drags me along like a strong current.  I have made good progress on my primary WIP, getting over half-way through the first draft since the start of the new year.  This past week, though, I have felt myself getting a little bogged down.  I'm antsy to write, but as much as I love the story I'm currently doing, there are always new and exciting things just over the horizon.  On the other hand, I'm reluctant to leap in to a new project with my current one unfinished.  I could do some editing on PICT, which has been sailing slowly along as well, but sometimes when you're in the mood to write and not to write, you just have to put pen to paper and see what spills out.

Proverbially speaking, of course.  I can't hold a pen.  I have a blog though, so I threw up a post.  I have been hanging out on Twitter a bit lately, so I always have some quip at my fingertips.  What really felt refreshing, though, was to try to write a short story right off the top of my head.  Remember creative writing classes back in school?  Somehow it was so easy (at least, for those of us who had designs on being an author, the rest of the class hated it).  You were given an hour, maybe two, and a few sheets of paper.  Maybe you even got a prompt, something suitably vague like "time" or "family feuds".  Perhaps a location, like an island, or an event such as a funeral.  Then you wrote, and if your muse was smiling on you that day, you got a heck of a lot more work done than an adult trying to write in their home office for five hours straight.

I'm not going to share it here, it was simply an exercise, but I quite liked my little story.  It was a mild erotica, of all things, and had a nice arc to it with a solid beginning, middle and end.  I even detected some subtext as I read through it again, and the best part was I managed to keep it under 2000 words.  Usually my 'short' stories are in the 10k region.  I'm not incapable of being brief, but the kinds of stories I tend to tell generally require a slow burn to build the tension.  They're 150 minute dramas rather than 90 minute action movies, which doesn't make them better of course, it just means they play by different rules.  Thinking back to the Oscars, all the big movies this year were quite lengthy, but I have noticed a trend toward action films filling up screen-time as well.  The Hobbit naturally was three hours long, and the finished piece will last nine.  That's a lot of sword swinging and pipe smoking.  The Transformers movies were all over two hours, and I can't help but wonder if they would have made just as much cash with twenty or thirty minutes less of explosions.  What this ironically rambling paragraph is trying to say is that I feel stories should be given the room they need to breathe, but sometimes a quickie is highly satisfying.

Hmm, maybe that mild erotica went to my head.  Still, never be afraid to experiment, and if you've got even a tiny story in you, see if you can get it down.  When you don't know what to write, know that it's worth writing anything.  Now back with a vengeance, your moment of zen:

Yes, it's just blank space.  Can't get much more zen than that.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Silver Lining Storybook

Movie review time!

Don't go away, it's not going to be entirely irrelevant.  And I won't gush about the plot, or get all keyed up about the potential awards coming their way, but I did find Silver Linings Playbook surprisingly enjoyable.  I am not normally a romantic comedy kind of person.  I just finished Season 4 of Breaking Bad on Netflix, and on occasion I cackled along with Walter White as he descended into madness, because I was just so taken with how powerful and indulgently good the writing was.

You know writing is good when it has the confidence to just run with something truly ridiculous and act like it is the most profound thing in the world.  SLP was a film that clearly was unashamed of its flighty, misfit nature.  I have not read the book (yet; I do hear good things), but the story of the film was one that seemed to go all over the place.  Normally that would spell disaster - I have seen far too many unfocused and therefore unfunny comedies in the past year.  Seeking A Friend for the End of the World was one.  The trailer looked quite humorous but they squeezed just about every laugh from the film into those two minutes (and a couple that didn't even make the final cut), leaving an incoherent discourse that could not decide what it wanted to be and, like a pothead without drive or ambition, just kind of hung around with a couple of quirky characters until falling asleep.

Not so Silver Linings Playbook.  On the surface it is the most standard of rom-com fare: boy meets girl, boy proves himself, boy wins girl.  The girl is a MacGuffin, a woman literally objectified and turned into a trophy for the hero to overcome odds and risk terrible consequences in order to capture.  As a feminist that plot point gets annoying and played out; as a romantic and somebody whose lonely adolescence was filled with fantasies where doing x would magically make me good enough to win y girl, it is embarrassingly satisfying.  I can see why it still sells.  Yet this story did what Hollywood is pathologically afraid to do - it did it differently.

I will try to avoid spoiling the plot too much (as much as one can spoil a romantic comedy's standard story), but if you really care about going into this film cold (and haven't seen it yet - it's been out for five or six weeks), you might want to look away now.  In short, the story begins in media res, after the inciting incident where our protagonist Pat finds his wife in the shower with another man and beats him so severely he is incarcerated in a mental hospital.  Skipping this action is an unusual take and one that was particularly surprising since a comedy could have made plenty of hay out of a bipolar man snapping and beating the crap out of his wife's illicit lover.  Instead we begin with him leaving the facility and planning to get on with his life and, he hopes, return to his wife.

We have a protagonist (Pat).  We have a vulnerability (mental health issues, rage and insecurity) and we have a goal (get his wife back).  It's as clear cut a beginning as a story could ever hope for.  Pat starts down the road, trying to get in shape and read his wife's syllabus to show how much he cares.  An aside - it may have been a good idea to cast somebody who was not already looking like an Adonis if the producers wanted a character who felt the need to 'get in shape'.  'Hollywood ugly' is an irritating problem, and it really does nobody any favours to imply that Bradley Cooper somehow needed to work out.

Back to the story, Pat hits some obstacles to his goal (we're really hitting all the notes on this story).  His wife doesn't want to see him, his family are trying to dissuade him from trying to get back together with her, and his mental health is not as controlled as his parole officer would like.  While jogging in order to drop the absolutely zero excess weight this fit and handsome gentleman is carrying, he meets up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  She also has mental health issues, which in movie-land translates to being blunt, rude and very forward.  She's quirky, and of course attractive, so we know immediately she will be the magic pixie who will fix poor Pat's first world problems.

So far, so much cheese.  It is bog standard rom-com fare, aside from dodging the bullet of making Pat's breakdown an on-screen joke.  But then things get interesting.  Pat and Tiffany become friends.  Real friends, who hang out and work on a project together and have weird private jokes.  Pat still wants his wife and Tiffany will help if he is her partner in a dance competition.  It's a premise designed for awkward man-handling and tense staredowns, but these are essentially absent from the film.  They practice dancing together in scenes where the characters appear to be having fun, without the film beating sexual tension over the audience's heads.

I could have phrased that better.

In the end, Pat is put into a position where somehow his parents' life savings are resting on the result of his dancing with Tiffany.  He really tries for her, but not for her.  He's trying because he cares about his family and he cares about his friend's dream and he respects her.  On the surface, his climactic showdown is supposed to be about winning his wife, the previously unseen MacGuffin of the film.  It's a strange picture that has the lead character chasing a woman who we don't even get to see until the climax.  How are we supposed to be awed by the beauty of this human-object so that we understand what sexiness is at stake?  And wasn't magic pixie Tiffany supposed to be the new object to pursue?  Pat ultimately comes through and makes an effort for other people, showing that he has grown, but strangely not for the sake of winning either woman.  He does begin a relationship with Tiffany, but this is a mutual decision later, she does not stand waiting on a podium for him to pluck her into the air.  In fact plucking her into the air goes rather badly.

It makes zero sense on paper but the whole film just asks you to indulge its convolutions, and against all my training and instincts as a writer, I let myself be carried along for the ride.  Apparently its complete lack of shame or self-consciousness paid off, because the Academy found it refreshing enough to nominate the picture in numerous categories.  I walked out of the theatre confused, wondering why it was that I had enjoyed the mess I had just seen.  It probably helped that unlike most comedies I've seen recently, this one had a good number of laughs.  But more than that, it took its time and let the characters just hang around with one another, developing a friendship that was palpable on-screen and not simply a forced coupling of two attractive actors.  In particular, the characters had respect for one another.  This was not a sexual wolf chasing down a deer.  The happy ending was an egalitarian arrangement, not a conquest.

It's a very strange story, one that flirts with the most standard of clich├ęs one minute before dashing off into brave new territory the next.  It is a story that's not afraid to tell itself, undaunted by the expectations of form or function, and it is encouraging to see this boldness rewarded.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Query Shark Hunting Minnows?

Lately I have been on something of an anti-orthodoxy kick.  It's never a good idea to become too comfortable in your surroundings and complacent in your ideas.  Unfortunately, I fear that is something that is becoming more and more common as we socially catalogue ourselves based on increasingly rigid criteria.  The Facebook and Twitter generation knows how to tag people, and once you're tagged you're either in or out.  Pretty soon you can be comfortably hearing nothing but the sound of your own thoughts rattling back at you in a noisy echo chambers.

In an online game I enjoy, I was part of a league where I was a big fish in a small pond, so I jumped ship.  Mixed metaphor?  At least both involve water.  And as I mentioned on Twitter, after spending a lot of time on a writing project lately (more on that in an upcoming post - it's a pretty interesting concept, and it could well be a new novel!), I've kind of burnt out my usual writing music.  I'm not that old, despite the cane, but I've always liked what this generation might call your dad's rock and roll - REM, Pink Floyd, Bowie, along with some of the British greats from the 90s - Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Radiohead.  Unfortunately there's only so many times you can listen to classics before you start to miss the magic of hearing something exciting and new.

Writing can be like that - working on a novel can leave you aching to be done, no matter how passionate you first were about the idea, leading to a rushed finish.  I really feel this happened with Harry Potter (yes, I read it, and I liked it, so sue me).  I may even discuss why in a later post.  And later in this post, you'll see where all of this actually ties in to writing.

Part of my thirst for new things and re-examining old ones comes from my travels across the Internet.  Repeat visitors will have probably noticed my occasional rant about politics and religion.  Don't fret, I'm not going to get into that right now, but in the kinds of places I frequent to talk about these issues, I've noticed a sudden up-tick in the intolerance of unorthodox ideas.  I've seen one person float solipsism only to be vigorously attacked and treated like a child, which was clearly more of a response to the same person earlier daring to mention Bigfoot on an atheist forum.  Oh dear.  I'm fairly agnostic toward Bigfoot - it seems distantly plausible but there's scant evidence and much of what is available isn't particularly credible.  It's not exactly a harmful idea, though, but it's an unusual one in secular circles, and that really got a lot of backs up and wound up with both sides bickering.  In another instance, I saw someone suggest that a very rude word associated mostly with women be used less because of the potential for misunderstanding its context (though admittedly they did not express this particularly carefully), and they were swiftly rounded on for daring to try to control people who really want to use that word for some reason.  The suggestion that reason be used to look at the real issue raised was greeted with unreasonable hostility.

Surprise, surprise, some people got mad over nothing on the Internet.  You didn't have to be the sole being in the universe whose mind was projecting all things to figure that one out.  I'm not writing to whine about it, just to observe it.  Consider this entry a form of Mindfulness.  What really concerns me, though, is that the anger erupted from people being asked to challenge their preconceptions, to step outside their comfort zone just a little bit.

Doing this seems incredibly difficult for humans, and I worry that it's really getting in the way of a lot.  In politics, that's probably rather evident.  Whatever your stripes, you'll likely be mad at all the other people not opening their minds.  For writing, I'm concerned that authors are not simply hurt by their own complacency, but that of the publishing media and readers.  Readers only have so much time, energy and funds, so naturally they're going to be judicious about what they purchase and read.  We can't really fault them for it, much as we might love for them to try something different (especially Last Confession, where a former priest follows his daughter into death and hears the confession of God's sins). 

It's our job to appeal to readers, and it's our job to appeal to editors and agents.  That's part of the game, but sometimes I worry that the other side may not be paying so much attention.  When I read a blog like Query Shark, where Janet Reid mercilessly critiques the query letters of hopeful writers (they volunteer), I see an unsettling pattern emerge.  Frequently she cites reasons to automatically reject a query, often within the first glance.  Agents obviously do not have a lot of time to weed through queries, but if they are simply looking for the first reason to reject something, what are authors to do?

Write the perfect query, obviously, but nobody's perfect, especially not starting out.  Also, authors generally concentrate more on writing the perfect story, not the perfect letter.  If we were perfect at selling ourselves and our work, we wouldn't need agents.  Now, many of us don't.  With the publishing industry continuing to slide into oblivion, one would think they would be willing to take risks.  But complacency, and comfort, appear to reign.  Every excuse is found to say no to a writer.  Every barrier and hurdle is held up as the gatekeepers continue to bar the doors to keep the unwashed out of the castle walls.  And there are a lot of unwashed out there - authors who are struggling to keep their ideas coherent long enough to compose a letter never mind a novel, writers of glorified fan fiction who unfortunately are not aware of intellectual property, and those who somehow think it's not necessary to spell-check a query.

Yet is that enough reason to scan every approaching author with an eye toward what to toss, rather than what to keep?  Is it a disservice to aspiring writers to be met with what amounts to a hostile gauntlet, where they dare not put a comma out of place in case that's the one thing the agent needs to reject their years of hard work?  What do you think?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Story Continues

Exciting news - I have another couple of guest appearances coming up in a few weeks, where I will be popping up on other blogs.  Keep an eye out for my entries over at Savvy Authors and Romance Lives Forever, and enjoy what their other contributors have to offer.

But first, here's part two of the episodic steam punk political police procedural (deep breath) action thriller serial I'm working on: Portman Island Counter Terrorism.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year, New Story

I've talked a few times about a story concept I have been working on, throwing together elements of fantasy, steampunk, and serialised television thrillers.  Set in the dystopian cavescape of my first novel Underworld, Portman Island Counter Terrorism follows a crop of government agents as they strive to preserve law and order and do the right thing, increasingly coming to the realisation that these are not necessarily one and the same.  Colonel Vox leads his PICT Element from their base aboard the Allied Steam Ship Tranquility, constantly clashing with naval commanders and politicians as they vie for jurisdiction and use PICT as a bludgeon against civil unrest and political discord.  In the manner of classic series such as Twin Peaks and The X-Files, Colonel Vox finds himself double-crossed and mired in secret government projects, including the sinister Dr. White's pet, a mentally disturbed young witch of unknown and unnerving power.  His team, including newcomer Nate Stratigias, grow closer as they come under increasing threat from all sides, and must work together to both perform their duty and follow their conscience, following in the long beloved footsteps of teamwork procedurals such as NCIS.  And like the action-packed 24, the entire story unfolds over the course of a single day and events occur in real-time.

Episode 1 of this serial is available free at WattPad.  I'm always looking for beta readers and feedback, so feel free to leave comments here on the blog or over at Wattpad.