Friday, December 13, 2013

O Come All Ye Unfaithful

This is gonna be a bit of a thematic departure from previous posts (all three of them). Rather than going off on a vitriolic frothing rant about my imagined slights as a misunderstood writer and how that makes me inherently better than you, I am going to do something else I'm good at: going off on a vitriolic frothing rant in defense of one of my many obsessions because some people are too dumb for words. And yes, this also makes me better than you. You know who you are...

So the new Hobbit movie is out. I haven't seen it yet, this is obviously the top of my list of things to accomplish because I was very fond of the last one and Martin Freeman is my spirit animal. Of course the reviews are already out and I haven't seen many, in fact I have seen one, but it already feels like I stepped through a time portal and am somehow back in last year because the crap these people are poo-pooing is the exact same stuff they were poo-pooing last year. And I am not about to get butthurt about people dissing a franchise I enjoy, especially as I haven't seen this new installment and for all I know it could suck donkey dick. I just don't know. But that isn't what this is. You can love it or hate it, I don't care. What I care is that you stop bitching about the same things over and over again, because to be honest, you aren't even bitching about the right things.

I am tired of all these critics blubbering over the "extraneous" detail they accuse Jackson of cramming into these movies in a supposedly bacchanalian attempt to glut himself on power, or whatever they think the reason is. If your opinion is that the way this material is handled makes for a slow, plodding, and overall worse movie, fine. However, I find so many of the assertions that one single movie would have sufficed to be pretty damn erroneous. The Hobbit is a short book; it isn't that short. What really bothers me, though, is that most of the "additional" material people are whinging about isn't even "additional." Hell, most of it didn't even come from the Appendices where all the other belabored points and expansive genealogies went to die. The bulk of this material that everyone seems to think of as an indulgence of Jackson's are actual events that actually are mentioned in the story that he is choosing to dramatize rather than include as exposition only. In the style of children's books, the narrator is almost interacting with the reader and explains things to the reader as though omniscient. The narrator knows everything that happened "off set" but doesn't mention it until later.

Imagine, if you will, that after the big climactic Battle of Five Armies, Bilbo and Gandalf have a sit down over a pipe and all of a sudden Gandalf goes, "Oh, and the reason I wasn't there to help out when you were getting attacked by giant spiders and imprisoned by xenophobic Elves was because I was engaged in battle with one of the darkest powers ever to plague Middle Earth, along with three or four of the most powerful beings this side of Valinor and BTWs, he got away. Yolo."

Now imagine you just paid upwards of $11 to watch that moment in a major motion picture. Want these movies kept "pure" with the exact layout of the book? It would be full of shit like that. Most of the "extra" stuff, the White Council, the battle at Dol Guldur, the very identity and presence of the Necromancer; it's all in the actual book, all brought up as asides or somehow mentioned by the characters. Is that what you want? To watch characters sit around making passing reference to awesome/obscure/complex things they did off camera with no elaboration or explanation? The book was written for kids, a fact everyone uses in support of the argument for the movie being more streamlined and simplified, whereas I view that as support for the exact opposite. Yes, it was written with kids in mind. Kids are typically not deep thinkers. They can't handle side plots, time skips, flashbacks, sudden unexplained shifts in POV or scenery. That doesn't mean Tolkien didn't plan for things to be happening, parallel to the main plot; he just didn't remove the narrator's focus from the main plot to explore it. Hence the post-crises exposition, Gandalf's long-winded explanation for why he left the company at what was clearly about to prove the most complicated part of their journey. Wouldn't you rather see this potentially badass skirmish dramatized as it happened temporally, with full context? Wouldn't that be a better use of resources instead of resorting to an abbreviated flashback, a dragging verbal recap, or simply not bothering to mention the fact Gandalf keeps flitting away and back to the Company for seemingly no reason at all?

So go ahead and question Jackson's decision to extend what had been two movies to three (I do). Go ahead and think including all of this slows and confuses the movie if it's not done right. But if you've read the book, don't sit there and pretend that leaving those blurb-moments as is would be any better or make any more sense than this does. Go ahead and be disappointed in the directorial vision, the pacing, the impact of invented characters, the fucking frames per second, whatever. Including the expansions is the least of these movies' potential concerns and in fact, after casting Martin Freeman as Bilbo, this was the decision that made the most sense to me. This isn't Jackson trying to recapture the glory days of LotRs, or giving into a fanboyish obsession with foreshadowing the rise of Sauron for all the Tolkien nerds to winkwink-nudgenudge each other over. This is Jackson trying to make a movie-going audience understand the full scope of this story, it's full impact, to the fullest extent he could manage. If you want to bitch about something, bitch about Tolkien dropping allusions to other stories and events in his pre-thought-out world when he had no intention of explaining any of it. 

This is not a rant directed at non-book readers. This is for those critics who have maybe read the book once, and are making asinine comments like they actually know something. If your only experience with Tolkien is the movies and you offer a critique of them as movies, completely unto themselves and divorced from the books that's one thing, that is fine, got no problem with that. But if you have only a cursory understanding of the books and assorted other materials and talk about them in your review with impunity when you clearly don't actually know what you're talking about, that I have a problem with. Don't bring it up if you can't back it up. You misrepresent the movie, you misrepresent the novel, you look like an idiot and most importantly you piss me off. This is a universal principle, really. Simple stuff. Don't mouth off on a topic if all you know about it is gleaned from Spark Notes or other people's synopses or reviews. You will only be decimated as a result. You're probably whining now, "But freedom of speech, man, I have the right to express my opinions!"

And I have the right to use my freedom of speech to express what a goddamn moron you are. And now we're both miserable.

Just kidding. I feel great.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like none of your goddamn business

So I've been thinking lately about my future and my potential as a human being and what I was put on this Earth for because I have a job predicated by sitting still and not doing anything or interacting with anyone. This is the sort of thing that, after day-dreaming about what existing in Middle Earth would be like for three hours, one inevitably works themselves around to pondering. It's been mentioned more than once that I am a writer and I do actively write, and I even fancy myself pretty good at it. It's clear with every breath I take and every moment I can't be bothered to have a real career that this is what I was meant to do, because I don't have any other marketable skills. Also it's programmed into my mitochondria and the only thing I've ever wanted in life, so why not? I've also been reading a truly foul amount of celebrity magazine tripe, and I guess that's what kicked off this tangent in my brain. To whit:

I realize my chances of getting famous via my writing are vanishingly slim, but I like to fantasize. As a role model, I'm not one. I've read about Demi Lovato and Katy Perry and how they are always "championing" the bullied underdog, because once upon an origin story they were one. I've never had to overcome much, having been blessed with a great support system of people who believed in me with not much convincing. I think it helped that none of them had really gone to college, earned degrees, or really had "proper" careers. My dad is a salesman and a former CEO of his own company which was then bought out and took him on because he was so awesome at the job, but he was first and foremost a self-made man and entrepreneur. He understands that self-reliant trail-blazing instinct that makes me want to go my own way as a writer and my aunt Kiki worked at Nicor gas. That's the closest to corporate anyone in my family has ever been, and no one expected me or Conor to follow in their footsteps. Even still writing isn't precisely a stable career path, but I haven't encountered many naysayers. The nearest to adversity I've come is everyone's supercilious disbelief that this will actually come to pass.

My friend's cousin, for a start, who I already mentioned in my first post. Also my former boss at the diner where I used to waitress. It's as if everyone is tolerantly indulging my little fantasy regardless of how long I've held the idea or how serious I am about it. My uncle drunkenly telling me I was naive for ever thinking I would actually be successful enough to support myself was a high-point.

Then I finished my first book and shut up all the shitty grins and useless platitudes. But that was back in July, and it's four months later, and it isn't enough anymore. How many people have a manuscript rotting in their drawer that they never did anything with? I need to publish, now, and that's the new smarmy condescension: "Have you published yet? When are you gonna publish? How long does it take, anyway?"

It takes awhile, asshole, okay? Back off. And even when I do publish, it won't be enough for long. Because then everyone will wonder when it's going to turn a profit, waiting for it to flop. Then when it does turn a profit, even if it's a big one, even if it takes off and I get picked up by a major publishing house and go on book tours and signings and get interviewed by talk show hosts wanting to know who my damn inspiration is, it still won't be enough because then they'll say, "Do it again. Prove it wasn't a fluke."

It's a constant game of show-me-the-money, all these people with their glinty eyes and snub-nosed smirks never outright saying they don't believe I can do it, but with every sneering inquiry into "how it's coming along" I can tell they're just coddling me. And that not-so-deep-down (because of course they only think they're being subtle) they don't really think I stand a chance. And maybe I don't. But fuck them anyway. It would just be nice if people took this even a fraction as earnestly as I do, if they'd just stop seeming so genuinely surprised when I explain to them that, yes, I carry a notebook around almost everywhere I go because I write things in it, because I am a writer, and they say, "Wow, you're really serious about this."

Uh, yes. Yes I am. I wrote a book, for Christ's sake. Did you think I did it on a lark, didn't have something to do of a Sunday afternoon and thought I'd make up a whole world and people and backstories and just crank out a narrative, simple as you please? No, goddammit. I did it because I had a story and I wanted to and I needed to. It's a compulsion, a requirement of my existence. I write because that's what I do and that's what I am and it's the only thing I've ever known. Some person much cleverer than myself and likely dead once said, "The only good reason to become a writer is because you can't help it."

Truer words, and all that jazz.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Don't mind me, just slouching towards Bethlehem....

So I've recently done the unthinkable, seemingly insurmountable task of finally finishing one goddamn story amongst the dozens of failed attempts I've left malformed and half-finished along the way, like my own much less impressive version of Michelangelo's Hall of Slaves. I don't count any of the fanfiction I've finished (which even that number is dauntingly small in comparison to the sheer volumes I've started or thought of starting) because it's fanfiction, and reasons. But this is a real, totally original piece that I have thought of, written out, and completed all on my own. It hasn't been edited yet, and perhaps I should have done of bit of editing, or at least flushed out the rest of the narrative structure before letting my nearest and dearest see its raw, undiluted state. Because to be honest, it's not exactly a pretty picture yet. I've only recently been told of a huge glaring plot-hole that totally missed me, because halfway through writing the thing I had evidently changed my mind on something and never went back and fixed it. And as a writer I know I need to pull up my Big Girl Panties and deal with whatever sort of feedback I get from people, because no writer manages to gain unanimous approval and even my friends and family could end up hating this thing. I get that, and I promised myself I would take a few breaths before replying to any criticism and take it in the spirit it was (hopefully) meant: as an attempt to help me produce a better story. Which is why it seems like bad form to add any qualifiers to it before anyone reads it because I'm clearly biasing them in my favor, but I think it bears mentioning.

I wrote this particular story during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November), which means two things, really: 1). There was no pre-planning or outlining the story before I started, not that I'm ever that thorough, anyway, and 2). I didn't edit as I wrote. So whatever random thought I had and then discarded thirty pages later? That thought is still in there, sitting around with a thumb up its ass because I changed my mind and never pulled it back out of the story. I would just like it if people understood that this isn't the "polished" version. This is not the manuscript I would pass out to publishers, or try and publish myself. I know this thing needs massive overhauls in some places, and a cleansing brush over pretty much the entire thing. This read-through is really just to gauge people's interest in a story like this, whether they think the plot is interesting, the characters fun and attention-gathering, whether they think it has any sort of mass-appeal. We can get into the nitty-gritty when I'm a little closer to publishing. Having said that, I've already gotten some feedback from people, some of which was a very no-holds-barred critique that in no way spared my feelings. Knowing the person who gave it to me, it wasn't really a surprise. Now here's where the rant comes in.

I'm not trying to get on a soapbox and demonize the friend who gave me this criticism because he's entitled to his opinion and to be honest, it isn't so much him that I'm frustrated with, it's the school of thought working behind the scenes of his comment. One thing he called into question was my use of narration and how it wasn't "right." It was too "biased" and should have been more distant from the characters and their emotions. Thing is, what he described is only one kind of narrative style, or Point of View. It just so happens it was one of several that I decided I didn't want to use. And that's where the real stinger is. Of all the things he critiqued me on, and there were several, which, fair game, the assertion that the narrative voice "has" to be anything is what struck the bullshit-cord with me. What the "Literati" (term coined by the lovely Thomas Shippey), don't want the public to know is that there aren't any "rules" to writing. There isn't a right or wrong way to do it. There are guidelines that are generally considered good ideas for a book to be popular, or even coherent, like having a plot, a protagonist, a goal to be reached, and maintaining some sort of POV or verb tense throughout. But even those guidelines get played with, bent to the author's purpose and vision. The first author to ever try presenting an anti-hero as the protagonist; how much shit do you think he caught? Oh, this protagonist isn't the virtuous saint we've all come to expect, ergo, you're doing it wrong.

Fuck that, I say. I'm not "doing" anything "wrong." These people are reading wrong. Instead of letting literature change their minds and open new ways not only of viewing certain ideas or culture, but more fundamentally, how stories are told, they just try and cram every book they read into the same "one-size-fits-all" box and get pissed if parts of it are stuck hanging out over the sides. As a woman who struggles regularly to buy clothes off the rack in almost any department store, I am qualified to say "one-size-fits-all" is a lie. It is crap of the dumbest, most ham-fisted order. If stuff doesn't fit in your box, expand the box. Or do away with it altogether. Or just draw an outline of the box in the sand and study how different stories operate within, around, or outside of those lines. Y'know, like a true goddamn scholar would.

This irritation has gone well beyond a writer being exasperated about an arrogantly-made comment on her work, and has ballooned grotesquely into a dismayed reflection on the Literary Elite and how regardless of the changing years and the shifting of literary movements and ideals, there will always and forever be that smug condescension of the people who "know better." The "Oh, I've read Aldous Huxely and George Orwell and George R.R. Martin, and I know what a book should be." And I don't mean to accuse my friend of being part of this Literati, but he is a result of this school of thinking; that just because a book is a classic or its popular, that the writers of such are somehow "doing it right," and they the reader have discovered the secret of writing by extension and feel qualified to let you know about it.

It's easy to know better when you don't have the balls to create it yourself. You try putting an intense amount of feeling and patience and thought and hope into something you love and then have simpering fuckwits sing-song "You're not doing it right" in your face. Oh that's right, you can't handle that sort of scrutiny. That's why you "know better."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Propositions for a future self

Everyone had a bucket-list of perfect jobs, the eternal well-spring of all the stuff you know you won't ever be able to be or do. Probably you've shared of few of these pipe-dream callings with people over the years, friends, teachers, family. I'll bet you your dull-as-paste 401k package that all they ever told you was, "That's not a real job," "You can't make any money that way," or just plain "No."

Well, I am tired of being told no. I am tired of people smirking at me and going, "Yeah, sure" addressing me with a sly look and air-quotes around my one true calling.

"So how's your 'writing' going?" my friend's cousin asks, complete with two-handed double-finger wagging, like I'm being a ridiculous child with illegitimate ideas of how to spend the rest of my life, like you know any goddamn thing about me. Wanna know how my writing's going? Sometimes shittily, thanks ever so for asking. It can be the most frustrating thing I ever embarked on and I often catch myself wondering why, exactly, I bother. But sometimes it's so amazing and clever and fits together so well I think my head will explode with the sheer enormity. I'm not just making up stories here, slinging nonsense to see what sticks, inventing pretty lies that I hope to cash in for a get-rich-quick-scheme and I hope you go to hell for even implying such a thing.

I am a writer. I will be published. And I know my books could go far. I know they could get read, purchased, loved as much as I love them. I can visualize it so perfectly, everyone knowing these beautiful, flawed people who exist in my mind. But not for much longer. Maybe not this year, or next year, or in the next ten, but it will happen. And won't you feel stupid then? Haha, Miss Corporate Sell-out. Who's laughing now? Oh yeah, the girl whose dream came true. Try not to asphyxiate while you gorge on your own words, jackass. Bet that craw tastes bitter.

But to get down to the real of situation, in today's economy it isn't the 9-5 workaday life that's gonna get you anywhere. It's not the diligent employee, the play-it-safe desk-jockey. All that shlock will get you is square in the middle, stuck in a rut, wheel-spinning while you wonder where all your vitality went. Oh, that's right, out the window with your good friend Empty Bottle of Jim Beam and all your self-esteem. The risk-takers, the opportunity-makers, the entrepreneurs with the balls of adamantium are the ones who get any traction, gain any ground, make any sort of dent in the world. And why not the artists? Why not us too? If we play it smart, make our money on the side and support ourselves comfortably, then who the hell can tell us we can't do what we want? That we can't hang back for the big reveal, the dramatic opening-week gala-event, first-edition-release-party? What's so wrong with that? What's so wrong with wiggling outside the box a bit? Just cuz you find yourself stuck in said box and forgot where the damn exit sign was isn't my problem.

Go cry in your pillow, Sad Fuck. I have a life to dominate.