Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unexpected Applause: "Memories"

Note: This review will be full of spoilers. The work is short enough that there's no practical way to talk about aspects of it without actually talking about those aspects of it.

In "Memories," author Alex Hurst has given us a bitter-sweet story of love and its importance no matter what kinds of gender boundaries may exist. From that perspective, it is well worth reading, this look back through the important moments of two lives that have come together. It's sweet and it's sad, and it could, really, be the lives of any two people that have come together in love and lived out their lives that way, which is where the power of the story comes from.

However, I found the vehicle for that story to be... distracting. And, actually, unconvincing. But, first, there is a brief introduction for the audience that spells out what's going on which I also thought detracted from the story. The story itself is really one of discovery or, actually, re-discovery by  the story-teller. I think introducing the story to the audience by telling us that she has entered a shop of memories takes that journey of discovery away from the audience, removing some of the power the story could have as we figure out what's going on. It removes rather than adds to the tension of the story.

The real issue for me, though, was the artificial limitation of "you can choose only one thing" which just made me want to know "why?" I get that the author is using that limitation as a vehicle to stroll the memories of the character and examine them while contemplating the importance of each, but that didn't stop the question of "why" from bouncing around in my head. It reminded me of those silly games people do:
You're stranded on a desert island and can only take one book, movie, food with you; what do you choose?
And I want to know, "Why am I stranded on a desert island?" and "If I am stranded on a desert island, what good is one book going to do me?" And "how am I going to watch this one movie while stranded on the desert island?" And "What? There's going to be a pizza tree there?"
So, yeah, this idea of the narrator only getting to pick one memory from her life before going on to wherever it was she was going really got in my way of enjoying the story itself.

Which may or may not be fair to the author and may or may not affect anyone else, but it did effect me.

Also, there is the issue of the ghostly store clerk, which I couldn't stop thinking about in terms of a static-like TV image after the description of it being like bad radio signal. If the memories are the narrator's and it's her store, so to speak, why is there a sales clerk following her around? And, if she has all the time in the world to choose, why does it keep interrupting with "have you chosen, yet?" Yes, I'm sure some of that is just my own issues. But I was annoyed on behalf of the narrator and wanted to tell the clerk to "go away and leave me alone! I'll call you when I'm ready."

And here's the problem with such a short piece: what I'm saying here makes it sound like I liked the piece less than I did. I enjoyed it well enough. It's well written. There are only a couple of grammar issues (which I can't even remember now, so they couldn't have been that big a deal). And it has a message that, probably, more people need to get. Okay, not probably, certainly. This is the kind of piece that might be able to give people a connection to how a real person feels about the issues being dealt with in the story, and, for that, it's worth the read.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Religion of Writing: The Final Dogma

As I've mentioned before, when I entered college, I had to take a "dogma" test. It was something the school I went to, having a high percentage of ministerial students, required of all incoming students. You took the test going in and, again, going out, with the goal that they could figure out some way(s) to keep students from graduating thinking they knew everything. Specifically, this was aimed at the religion program, but it's something that would be valuable everywhere. [Just as a note, one of my suite mates my freshman year came in with the highest score ever, higher, even, than the scores of people graduating, which were generally pretty high. He was very proud of this fact.]

People have a hard time, as they get older, not deciding that they have things figured out. Sometimes, they think they have everything figured out. Usually, this is accompanied by not thinking about anything, because, really, why bother to think about anything when you already know it all? And this, this issue of becoming more and more dogmatic over time, is why people like priests, pastors, politicians become unassailable pillars of authority. This is why people will switch from telling you "here is A way to do" something to telling you "THE way to do" something. Whatever that something is.

And it's no different in writing, as can be seen just from the comments to some of the posts in this series as many people have responded to various parts with things like, "no, that really is required."

A few weeks ago, John Scalzi responded to a quiz posted by another writer. The quiz was supposed to tell you whether or not you are a "professional writer" or just a "hobbyist," as the author of the quiz put it. Scalzi (and if you don't know who he is, you should start following his blog) failed the quiz. Miserably. Out of the 10 questions, he only got one correct, so, apparently, he is not a "professional writer" despite the fact that that is how he makes his living. And a very good one at that.

See, the problem is that the author's quiz was all about the things she does to actually get the writing accomplished. Her process. She leaves her home a mess so that she can spend time writing. She doesn't watch TV so that she can spend time writing. She turns down invitations from friends so that she can spend time writing. And, evidently, if you don't do these things, you are not a writer. Like a neat writing area? Sorry, you fail the writing quiz. Like spending time with friends? Nope, you can't be a writer. If you don't follow her process, you are merely a hobbyist. Even if writing is the source of your income.

As Scalzi put it, she actually left off the only question that matters: Do you get paid to write? If the answer is "yes," you are a professional writer. Except that I would amend that somewhat and say that you'd need to actually be making enough at writing to live on to be doing it professionally. I think there's a definition about that somewhere.

But, see, the author of the quiz has decided that she knows the process, the process, and that if you are not doing it her way, you are not doing it correctly or adequately or professionally. You're just a hack. And that's dogma for you. Here's how Scalzi responded:
The problem with [the author's] quiz is that it confuses process for end result. Her quiz is about process, and presumably her process -- what she thinks is necessary for one to do in order to produce the work that create the end result of making money as a writer. But process isn't end result...
So, sure, we can measure end result, but we can't measure process, nor should we try.

Which really brings us to the point of this whole series. In different ways, people will try to tell you how to write. The way to do it. The way to get an agent. The way to get published. The way to become a bestselling novelist. They will tell you that you have to have beta readers, that you have to have an agent, that you have to pants it or you have to plot it. That you have to listen to the universe. That you have to eschew life so that you can write about it. That you have to drink coffee or that you have to drink tea. All of these things if you want to be real.

And it's all a stinking pile of manure. It's all dogma. It's all personal religion wrapped around the way that one person writes and, maybe, whoever else that person has turned into disciples. And those people... well, just feel sorry for them, because, mostly, everyone who writes does it his or her own way and trying to do it the way someone else says it ought to be done is just going to mess you up. Like trying to follow exactly in someone else's footprints rather than finding your own stride. Not to mention wearing shoes that match the other person, especially if your feet are bigger than his.

With writing, as with so much else in life, the only way to do it right is to find your own way to do it.The way that fits. The way that is right for you. Forget the dogma that other people preach. At least, forget it as dogma. Take it as an idea, maybe. Something to try out. If it works, great; if it doesn't, discard it. I'll leave you with a quote from Steve Jobs, because, really, I won't say it better than this:

"Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Redneck Fun Part Two (a Fair post) and "Loss"

Before reading this, you should go back and read part one if you haven't already.

The first two rounds of the demolition derby were meant to work as elimination rounds, and they did, but it was rather haphazard. Like, there were twice as many cars involved in round two as in round one. One of the cars that was meant to compete in round one, after driving by during the segment when they announced the cars, broke down and never made it into the arena. So they worked on that car during round one and it made into round two. It made me wonder how many other cars didn't make it into round one because they just weren't ready to compete. They also said that it would be the winners of the first two rounds that would compete for the final prize money ($4000? I don't remember for sure), but, when we got to the third and final round, they let any cars compete that were able, which didn't seem exactly fair to me, but, then, it was my first one. Maybe, that's normal?

The favorite car from round two was Party Artie.
And he won, too, but he's the car I mentioned last time that, once he had won, he had to have his car towed off the field. I kind of feel like he was also the one that was supposed to be in round one and couldn't get his car started for it, but I'm not sure about that. At any rate, he was a fun car to watch. Fast and bouncy and the driver was very experienced. They even held the third round for him while he finished getting his car going again, but his car gave out on him pretty early in round three.
And this is probably the most smashed up car of the event:
He managed to survive round two and compete in the final round.
This car, however, didn't make it:
That other car there is car #1. Here are some better views:
My daughter was very impressed with car #1, and I have to admit that he had shown some impressive persistence in his driving. He was one of those cars that would just barrel on through and do some smashing. A real powerhouse of a car.

Another very impressive car was #63:
63 was really good at staying to the edges and building up speed, then dashing in and smashing a car and backing out again. As my wife said, he was "wily."
And don't forget
#42, the shark car, that lost a tire in round one and kept competing.

It got too dark for my camera to take pictures by the time the third round was starting so a brief down without pictures:

  • The cars that were going to compete came into the arena, which included the shark car. As soon as it came in, my wife said she was going to root for that car.
  • When car #1 came in, I asked my daughter if she was going for that car, but she was undecided. She remained undecided through a large part of round three, which sort of defeats the purpose of choosing whom you are rooting for beforehand, but, oh, well...
  • When #63 pulled in, I announced, "I'm for 63!"
  • My wife immediately announced that she was for #63. That caused a short argument over the validity of that after having already picked a car. Her only defense was, "I didn't know #63 was going to be in this round." I gave her the pick.
  • I took car #1 since my daughter was still being ambivalent.
  • The round started and 4 or 5 cars were knocked out almost immediately, including "Party Artie," whose car just died.
  • It came down to cars 1 and 63, hence the reason that my wife and I joined so willing into the cheering. My daughter remained ambivalent.
  • 63 hung to the outskirts, speeding around the track and looking for opportunities to strike. 1 tended to bash his way through the "dead" cars in the middle of the arena. 63 took the advantage early on and looked like he had it wrapped up.
  • But #1 was persistent and managed to get 63 hung up on another car and proceeded to bash him several times. Eventually 63 got away.
  • And car 1 got stuck on another car while moving through the center melee. It looked like it was the end.
  • But 63 moved in to strike 1; 1 managed to power into the other car and move it so that he avoided a direct hit. Instead of smashing 1, 63 just knocked him loose, and that gave 1 all the opportunity he needed.
  • He caught 63 in the same place where 63 had been stuck before and plowed into him several more times until 63 went dead.
It was all very exciting, and, yes, I do realize that, to a certain extent, you just had to be there.
Here are a few more cool pictures from the event:
Yes, that is one of the cars pushed up the embankment and another stuck in one. They had to stop the derby to get 777 down. Getting stuck in embankments became more common as the derby progressed.
Yes, those are teddy bears on the burning car.
Those cars are stuck together. That happened more than once.

If given the chance, I'm sure I'd go see another demolition derby. It really was much more fun than I thought it would be.

Also, today!
Today is the release of "Part Twenty-nine: Loss." It's FREE! today, August 26 and tomorrow, August 27!
Also, remember, the first 5 parts of Shadow Spinner are available as one collection, which you can get here.
I'm still looking for reviews on this (since I lost so many because of switching over to the collection from the individual parts), so, you know, if you were to feel so inspired, it would be greatly appreciated. By me, even.

Here is a list of all of today's FREE! parts:
"Part Twenty-nine: Loss"
"Part Twenty-eight: The Shadow Place"
"Part Twenty-seven: Leaving"
"Part Twenty-six: The Bitter Fruit"
"Part Twenty-two: The Undying"
"Part Twenty-one: The Chase"
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire"
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and The Dark"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
That's 17 parts for FREE! today! Pick them up now while you still have the chance!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Seven -- The Priesthood

The idea of the priesthood in a religion is an interesting one. Generally speaking, the idea of priests (no matter what they're called: pastors, rabbis, politicians) starts out as a group of people meant to help their congregation or flock. They're assistants.

But it never ends up that way, because those guys always end up with the authority. No longer are they there to help people out, they're there to tell them what to do, how to think, what's right and what's wrong.

It's not all their fault.

People like to have other people in authority over them. They like to have people tell them what to do so that, if (when) it goes wrong, they have someone else to blame. Besides, thinking is hard, so why not have someone else do it for you? Also, for instance, reading the Bible is a lot of hard work, so, if you can have someone else do that and just tell you what it says, why not? It certainly makes life a lot easier and more convenient.

So, ideally, you'd have people reading the Bible and going to a priest (or whomever) and saying, "I don't quite understand this; can you help me with it?" And the priest would say, "Well, because I have studied this stuff and based on these other texts, my interpretation of this is... Now, here are some other resources you can use to figure this out, because you shouldn't just take my word for it."

Instead, you have, "What does the Bible say?" And you get:

  • The Bible says <group a> are all going to Hell in a handbasket.
  • The Bible says <group b> are all going to Hell so fast that they don't even get a handbasket.
  • The Bible says <group c> aren't even going to make it to Hell because God is going to strike them down here on Earth.
  • The Bible says that if you wink your left eye while crooking your pinky you will also go to Hell.
  • Or if you crack your egg on the small end. (How's that for a literary allusion?)
Basically, you have people preaching their own, personal feelings as scripture, because, I'm here to tell you, the Bible does not say "abortion is a sin," and anyone that tells you that the Bible says that is a liar. Whether abortion is a sin is based upon an interpretation of other things the Bible says, so the correct way of dealing with that is to say, "Based upon these passages, I have come to believe that abortion is wrong," or, conversely, "Based upon these [other] passages, I do not believe abortion is wrong." Because the Bible does not speak about abortion.
For example.
And, yeah, I picked a touchy subject, but it was the first thing that popped into my head, and, no, I am not going to go into my personal opinion (because it doesn't matter and isn't what we're talking about), and, yes, there are passages of scripture which support both sides of that argument. (Maybe, I should have chosen the death penalty as my example, but I think people could get just as riled over that.)

[I do know that it's not like this everywhere, but those other places are the exceptions, not the rule.]

At any rate, the point of the priesthood (and, yes, I do include politics and, even, science) in any religion should be to help people to understand things and come to their own conclusions, not just deliver the "Word of God" and expect people accept it blindly. Except that, like I said, people want to accept things blindly. It doesn't take so much work.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to editing and editors, the priesthood of the publishing industry. You know, because "no one can edit their own work. They're too close to it." Which is just like "common people shouldn't read the Bible. It's too confusing to them. Only the priests should read it and tell the people what it says." And before you accuse me of Catholic bashing again (which is not to say that I'm not bashing that idea), most religions promote that kind of thought. Sure, the Baptists want you to have your Bibles with you on Sunday so that you can open them up and read along with the pastor, but the pastor is actually going to tell you what that thing you just read means, and you don't have to worry your pretty little heads over it. And, sure, Bible studies are promoted... full of handy little guide books that will explain everything for you. Forget any other interpretation which may be possible.

So, yeah, I hate that whole "no one can edit their own work" thing. And I hate that publishers give editors greater power over the work than the author, the one that knows the work and what it's there to communicate. Or not communicate. Or whatever. There was a time when an editor was just someone that came alongside the author to help. "Hey, this may not be the correct word here." "This sentence is confusing; what did you mean?" "What happened to Billy? He just disappears after chapter four?" Editors were meant to help authors think about what they had written and make sure they were saying what they thought they were saying. And the grammar? The author was expected to know all of that, because why? He was the author and knowing how to write, the grammar and punctuation, was his job.

But, you know, if we can let the editors be the authority on grammar and whatnot, why should we bother to know that stuff? So we fail to be as knowledgeable as we could and, then, complain at what the "editors" (and publishers) did to our works. [Not that that is the case with all authors, but there are plenty of big name authors out there that take issue with the editing in their works, and there are plenty of "author's preferred editions" out there trying to overcome what the editor did.]

Here's the thing that complicates all of this: Many, probably most, authors out there do need an editor. Or three. And I don't just mean someone to catch typos, either; I mean someone that can help them make their stories readable. And I kind of have to wonder at that point, if that kind of editing is needed, if that person should be seeking publication at all. For instance, there's an article or something written by Lovecraft about all of the things a "novice author" needs to master before seeking publication; many of those things were grammar related (this is not that article, but it does summarize it and link to the original text) and almost all of them are things authors (or publishers) expect editors to do these days. And Lovecraft has not been the only author to to talk about how novice writers need to learn their stuff before trying to get published. Don't let the editor be the authority.

And I'm hearing, again, many of you saying, "But you're too close to your own writing." To that, I will respond with a quote from my wife (because she's smart that way (and we talk about this kind of stuff all the time)):
To that I would say: Then what did we spend all that time in high school and college to learn to write for? We had to self-edit our papers, theses, and so on. We had to learn structure, pay attention to spelling, provide references and all of that. Did we forget it all just because, maybe, we're writing fiction? Do we believe that editors (people who edit) just sprang from the womb able to do it, or is it something they maybe learned? It's like a priesthood.
And, yes, that's what gave me the idea for the title of this one, because it is like a priesthood, and only the priests are allowed to edit. And that's just... foolish.

Of course, the key here in all of this is knowing your strengths and knowing where you need to get help. No matter what it has sounded like I've been saying in this post, I'm not advocating for people not to get editing help. Far from it. I wish more people would get better editors. What I am saying is that the idea that no one can edit their own work is fallacious. What I am saying is that authors shouldn't just give over authority of their own manuscripts to other people. What I am saying is that authors do their parts of the job and learn all the technical skills about writing as they can, because, to paraphrase Lovecraft, "Anyone can learn that stuff in school." The implication there is that if you don't know it, go back to school and learn it. Be able to approach an editor with, "I'm not sure about this part right here (whether it's a grammar question or a structure question); what do you think?" rather than, "Here's my manuscript; you do the rest." Know your stuff well enough to be able to tell editors, "No, what you're saying doesn't fit with my manuscript."

There was one point when Lovecraft was still starting out when he sent this:
"If the tale cannot be printed as it is written, down to the very last semicolon and comma, it must gracefully accept rejection. Excision by editors is probably the one reason why no living American author has any real prose style."
I'm pretty sure no one these days would get published under any traditional model with that attitude, and it was already rare a century ago, but Lovecraft did get published and is still considered the master of his... field? Genre? Man, I don't even quite know what to call what he did, and I don't like the title "weird fiction" which is what I often see it being called. The point is that he became his own authority. Clearly, self-editing is possible. Tolkien often had to go back and re-edit his manuscripts because the editors, not being as skilled or as knowledgeable as him, would cause problems in his works. The first edition of The Hobbit doesn't have "dwarves" in it; it has "dwarfs," which is a completely different connotation, because the editor thought Tolkien had made a mistake and didn't bother to check with him about it. That was not the only time that happened in the early days of Tolkien's books being published.

Editors have no special gifts. They have not received divine inspiration. They are not magical. They do not know anything that any author cannot learn. Any author should learn. But, of course, if you don't bother to learn that stuff, I suppose an editor can seem like an all-knowing priest.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Redneck Fun Part One (a Fair post)

The County Fair came through here recently. We try to go to the Fair every year although I'm not always sure why. It's way friggin' more expensive than it's worth, and the kids do their best to make it as unenjoyable as possible most of the time. But, still, every year, we forget about the pain of the previous year and drag ourselves out to it. We went twice this year: once to look at stuff and once for rides. I do have to say that the first trip, the trip to look at stuff, was quite a lot of fun.

Let me sidestep a moment. I grew up in the 70s. The 70s birthed a lot of weird things: disco, bell bottom jeans (really?), and cars smashing into each other. When I was a kid, we called the car thing "crash 'em up derbies." I never got to go to one. I did, however, own a couple of zip racer cars (one red, one blue) that blew up when they crashed into things. The hood and doors and stuff would fly off, and you could put them on so that they cars looked new or crashed. I loved those cars. Then we moved and the cars disappeared, so I think my mom probably trashed them, but, anyway...

There was a demolition derby at the Fair this year. Maybe there's always one; I have no idea. Somehow, though, the topic of the demolition derby came up between my kids and their grandparents which spilled over to us and my declaration of, "I've never been to one of those." I don't quite understand why these statements of mine generate the kind of "What? You've never..." reactions that they do, but that is what it is I guess. So, much like last year's "I've never been to Disneyland" generated a trip to Disneyland, this year's statement of "I've never been to a demolition derby" generated a family trip to see cars smash each other to pieces.

It was way more fun than I expected. And full of the kind of people I grew up with, which are not the kind of people you really associate with Sonoma County, but there they were. A whole stadium full of people chugging beer and... well, I don't know. It just felt like watching the people in the "beer garden" at Shreveport Captains games when I was in high school (because watching the people in the beer garden was usually more entertaining than watching the games). I have to say, though, that by the end, the big finale of the event, my wife and I were rooting just as loudly as anyone. Because, see, we'd bet each other which car was going to win.

Before I go on, how about some pictures of the event (because, yes, I took my camera (who's surprised?))?
The cars coming out for the first round elimination event.
Round 1 gets started.
Things start to heat up.
And I do mean heat up. That's smoke, not dust.
That's 300 about to plow into the burning 69. (That sounds dirty, doesn't it?)
The shark car lost a tire...
...but kept driving anyway, which is fairly impressive, especially considering that he did pretty well.
But he didn't win. Some of the losers being towed from the field, which is a pretty good indication that you didn't win.

However, there was one guy that, after being declared winner, had his car give out on him, which had to be towed from the field. That was the end of round two, I think. Then, in round three, pretty much any cars that were able to make it back to the field were allowed to compete.

What's amazing to me is how quickly these guys were able to repair their cars and get them back out to compete. They were literally (and I don't mean in that in the sense of the new google definition, either) pounding their cars back into shape with sledgehammers in order to make repairs on the engines and stuff.

Exciting bits:
  • The shark car (42) lost a tire and kept competing.
  • Another car (I don't remember the #, but maybe I will find it when I go through the rest of the pics for the next post) broke the front axle but continued to drive around on it for a while. When it got towed away, though, the whole thing flopped down and dragged on the ground.
  • Cars caught on fire. Occasionally, this meant they had to wave the red flag to start the derby so that fire extinguishers could be brought in. Let me just say: it's hard to get the drivers' attentions during something like that.
  • Which brings me to the guy that got trapped in his burning car and couldn't get out because they were being unable to get the drivers to notice the red flag. Finally, they blared some big horn, the guy jumped out of his car, and they put it out.
  • Sometimes, after they put a car out, the driver would start it back up and get back into it. Crazy!
  • If a bumper fell off of a car, they would stop what was going on long enough to go out and retrieve it, which they didn't do for other parts of the cars. However, bumpers, depending upon how they were run over, could come up through the bottoms of the cars and seriously injure (or KILL) the driver.
Next time I'll tell you all about the finale and show you some more pictures.

Okay, wait. Here's that car being towed off the field in the middle of round two. This was the only car they stopped the derby to tow out, I guess, because it was blocking too much of what was going on. Notice the front, passenger tire dragging the ground.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tiberius, "The Shadow Place," and Change

Well, this is it, the day of change. I'm  not actually a huge fan of change; I tend to like things to stay the way they are even if I don't like the way things are. Which is not to say that I don't want to be on the other side of the change; I just hate the process of the change itself. I blame my mother.

No, seriously, I do. When I was a kid, especially when I was in middle school, she used to like to move the furniture around all of the time because she'd get bored with the layout. I was the furniture moving guy. My brother was to little (I'm six years older than him), and my dad just wouldn't do it. There was a point early on when I think she was asking him first, but he would always say "later" until she'd get frustrated enough to make me do it. Eventually, she wouldn't bother to ask him anymore. My assumption is that the furniture moved so much during those years was because I was finally big enough to do the heavy lifting and it was before I quit being home all the time. That is to say, once I was a sophomore in high school, I was never home anymore, so she no longer had anyone to help her with the furniture, so it went back to staying put.

I just want to say, here, that if it had just been the normal kind of rearranging the furniture, everything would have been okay. But it wasn't...

See, when I was in 7th grade, we moved into a two-story house. There was a spare room that ran the length of the back of the house that connected to my parents' bedroom but could also be accessed through one of the bathrooms. My mom had a crusade to put that room to some kind of use beyond just being a spare room where stuff paused on the way to the attic and, then, never left.

Her first big plan was to make it into the "family" room. That meant moving the entertainment center we had in the "family" room up to the spare room. This thing was huge. It was, like, seven feet tall or something. It only just fit up the stairs with less than an inch to spare, but it wasn't the trip up the stairs that was the problem. It's just that it didn't really take all that long, a couple of months, at most, for my mom to realize that sleeping in on a Saturday morning would never be possible with the TV right outside of her bedroom (it didn't bother my dad; he could sleep through anything), so the entertainment center had to go back down the stairs. That was the hard part.

Then, she decided she would make that room the laundry room. It would be more convenient, she said, to have the washer and dryer right there in that room rather than lug the clothes down to the back porch and back up again. Yes, I had to move the washer and dryer up the stairs into that room. We won't go into the altercation my parents had over the issue of getting water to the washing machine. Eventually, though, the washer and dryer went back to the back porch; I'm pretty sure it had to do with the fact that my brother and I were travelling through my parents' bedroom all the time to get to our clothes.

And I'm not even gonna start on the time she wanted to move the piano up the stairs...

So, yeah, me and change... not hand in hand. Just ask my wife.

But here I am changing things up. Today is the release of the first collected volume of Shadow Spinner parts:
"Shadow Spinner: Collection 1: Tiberius (Parts 1-5)"
Yeah, that's a lot of colons, but what can you do? You try taking a colon out of a place where it's needed and see what happens. But, anyway... the biggest process of change is recovering the 38 reviews I have scattered over the first five parts of series. It's kind of like moving furniture except that I have to ask other people to help out. "Collection 1" is only two bucks, which is less than the five bucks it would have cost to get the parts separately, so I hope you will pick it up, read it, and leave a review. PLUS! There is the excellent bonus story by Bryan Pedas, "Like An Axe Through Bone," which is actually longer than five chapters I have in this collection. It's worth the price all by itself.

[Oh, and just a note: I'm still looking for at least one more author to feature at the back of one of these collections, so let me know if you're interested in writing an Imagination Room or House on the Corner related story!]

So, now, after asking you to spend money, I'll give something away, because today is the FREE! release of "Part Twenty-eight: The Shadow Place." And, remember, there will be a new chapter every Monday until the serialization is finished. And, hopefully, the second collection will be ready in a few weeks as well. Here's the list of today's FREE! offerings:
"Part Twenty-eight: The Shadow Place" (also FREE! tomorrow, Tuesday, August 20)
"Part Twenty-seven: Leaving"
"Part Twenty-six: The Bitter Fruit"
"Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge"
"Part Twenty-one: The Chase"
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire"
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and The Dark"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
That's 18 parts for FREE! today. You can't beat FREE!, right? Well, unless someone is paying you take it...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz was never that big a deal to me when I was a kid. Not that I didn't watch the movie every year when it came on TV, but it was never my "thing." No, that was Star Wars. Still, I probably would have read it if I had known it was a book, but no one ever bothered to tell me that. I suppose that's what comes of having non-reading parents. By the time I found out it was a book (probably during high school, certainly not before), I just wasn't interested in it.

This was all sort of like my experience with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which was a movie that I loved as a child and still do to this day. But I didn't know it was a book and had never really even heard of Roald Dahl until I was in college, and I had no interest in reading it at that point. That came later after the second movie was made, which I didn't like but the Dahl family did, so I decided that I should probably read the book. And I didn't like it. It just wasn't magical like the movie had been. And I didn't like Charlie and the Glass Elevator, either, despite the high hopes I'd had for it since there was no movie to hold it up against.

Despite all of that, I decided I should give L. Frank Baum a try. If nothing else, I wanted to see what it was like before passing it on to my daughter, especially since she loved the Charlie books despite my dislike for them (which is great; maybe, I would have liked them when I was a kid).

In a certain sense, both Baum and Dahl borrow their style of story-telling from Carroll. As in the Alice stories, crazy things happen to the main character, and that character just goes along with those things as if they are normal. There's no plot as such. For Carroll, this is certainly true. Both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass just end. It's as if Carroll decided, "I'm though with this now," or, maybe, he just couldn't figure out how to end the story, so Alice wakes up and everything is over. I had that same sense from Glass Elevator. Dahl just got tired of writing or didn't know what to have happen next, so he just had it end. Chocolate Factory did have a bit more plot, but it was still kind of all over the place.

The stuff coming up about The Wizard of Oz will have spoilers. Now, you know. Also, it's kind of impossible to talk about the book and not talk about the movie. Okay, it's not, but I'm going to compare some things in the two mediums.

The book starts out describing how gray Dorothy's life is. Everything is Kansas is gray. The land, the sky, her aunt and uncle. Everything but her little, black dog, and, by extension, Dorothy herself (because there is a heavy implication that Toto is the only reason Dorothy has not become a gray person herself). On the other hand, Oz is full of color and life that Dorothy has never experienced and is amazed by (I'll come back to this).

The movie starts off in black and white, mirroring the tone of the book, and bursts into full technicolor after Dorothy arrives in Oz. I think this is the most amazing thing about the movie and possibly the one thing that has made the movie so beloved for so long. I can't imagine the effect on an audience who had almost exclusively only seen black and white movies.

The Ruby Slippers. The issue of the shoes is one of  the things I've most heard complained about from people that love the book, wherein the shoes are silver. But, well, I get the desire to make them red for the movie since they were doing the big color shift in Oz, and I think going with the red was the better choice. Visually, it just stands out more. So, no, there was "no good reason" to change the color of the shoes... except that there was, and there is no significance to the shoes being silver in the book except that that was the arbitrary color that Baum chose. Or not really color, because I think he was just going with "silver shoes" to contrast against the "golden cap."

And speaking of the "golden cap," it's completely missing from the movie, so why not change the slippers to red since there is no golden cap to go with the silver shoes. I get dropping the whole "golden cap" thing from the movie, because that was a plot thread that the movie didn't need. That's just what frequently has to happen when you adapt a book to a movie: you have uncomplicate the book, so leaving the golden cap out of the story makes sense.

Beyond all of that, I liked the book. It has a more careful attention to plot than either Dahl or Carroll put into their stories while keeping the whimsical "you have no idea what might pop up next" quality. Bad things happen to the characters, and, if I hadn't seen the movie, I might have wondered what was going to become of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman during Dorothy's captivity. I also like that Dorothy is actually gone from Kansas in the book rather than seemingly just waking up like in the movie.

The book does, however, have one great flaw which keeps me from liking it more: Dorothy has no real motivation to go home to Kansas other than that she ought to want to go home to Kansas. It's clear at the beginning of the book that she doesn't like Kansas. She has no joy there other than her dog, and the dog goes to Oz with her, so, really, there's nothing that ought to make her want to go back, especially since she loves Oz. But she does want to go back, and it is her unwavering desire to go "home," for going home's sake, that drives the story. I found that, along with the lack of growth on Dorothy's part that accompanied that, to be rather inexplicable. Other than to make the story happen, why did Dorothy want to go back to a place she didn't like to people that, as far as we can tell, she had no true emotion for.

And, speaking of the lack of growth on Dorothy's part: Dorothy doesn't grow as a character during the story. She's the same girl going back to Kansas as she was when she got to Oz. However, she does serve as the catalyst for all the other character growth in the novel, which was interesting to watch and not often done, so, whereas I would normally dislike a story where the protagonist is static (see my review of Brave), I found that I didn't mind that so much in Wizard. Well, except that I really did wish she would have realized, "Hey, I don't have to go back to Kansas."

Mostly, though, I found the book most interesting in how it and the movie deviate from one another. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it so much just all on its own. At least not, now, as an adult. I wish I'd read it when I was a kid, though. However, I found it enjoyable enough (and Baum himself interesting enough) that I want to read more of the Oz books, so, I guess, you can't really ask more from it than that. Making me want to read the next one is its job, right? And it accomplished that. I'll have to wait and see how the rest of the books are.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow? (an Indie Life post)

I haven't spent a lot of time talking about our little mini-garden; at least, not here on the blog, I haven't. It's not really much of a garden, since it's just a planter box, but we did get a ton of tomatoes out of it last year. This year, we expanded the tomatoes into the backyard, too. But I'm not here to talk about tomatoes. Not today, anyway.

One of the things we planted last year was nasturtiums. I think it was because we had some fantasy that we
would use them in salads or something, but, mostly, we never did. I'd throw some flower petals in occasionally but not enough to really count. We skipped planting the nasturtiums this year, but that was because we didn't have to plant them. The above picture is our little nasturtium plot for this year, and, if you can see it up there in the top right corner, they didn't grow in the planter box. No, we had our own little patch of nasturtiums spring up all on their own this year, outside of the box. That's kind of cool, because they are pretty.

As you will notice, the nasturtiums are yellow and orange, which is what we planted last year, yellow and orange nasturtiums. As a big patch of flowers, they are very pretty, but... BUT none of the individual flowers stand out. It's just a bunch of yellow and orange flowers all mixed together. One flower is as good as the next. So let's say I was making a salad and I was going to throw in some flower petals for color, there wouldn't be a lot of thought involved in which nasturtiums to pick. I'd look for the ones that were more freshly bloomed and pick a few.

And that's kind of how choosing books are for a lot of people: What's newly published? What's "freshest"? But, really, it's all the same stuff, so it doesn't really matter. To a large extent, for example, fantasy written today is pretty much the same as fantasy written 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Look back up there at that picture of the flowers. Just orange and yellow nasturtiums. And that's all it was for a while. But, then, inexplicably, we had this:
That, just to be clear, is a red nasturtium. We didn't plant any red nasturtiums. It grew up all on its own. And that's kind of like when something new comes along in the book world. It really stands out against everything else that is just orange and yellow.

Harry Potter is a good example of this. Not that Harry Potter is really all that new, because it still uses many of the familiar fantasy themes: orphaned boy, who finds out he has previously unknown powers, who is the subject of a prophecy. Etc. It's a fairly standard fantasy setup, except for the setting. That's the thing that makes it different. The thing that makes it standout. The thing that makes it red. It's no longer just some apprentice wizard boy with his wizard master; it's a whole school of witches and wizards and it's set today. People stopped to look. "Ooh, look... that one's red."

Which, incidentally, is the same thing that happened with Fifty Shades of Grey. I mean, nothing has changed in romance in, like, ever, but Fifty Shades came along, and it wasn't just the same old yellow or orange flower and, whereas before, no particular book got lots of attention because of that; suddenly, Fifty Shades was the only red flower, and everyone wanted it.

Now, of course, we have lots of red flowers,

which has changed the look of the nasturtium patch somewhat (but only somewhat, as they tend to hide under the leaves more than the orange and yellow flowers), and, now, of course, we have lots of books like Harry Potter, which is not a bad thing. Adding variety is a good thing, and, although a lot of "copycats" can seem antithetical to variety, it does, actually, add variety to the overall landscape of the book world, just as it's done with our flower patch.

Then, we have these that have popped up in the planter box along with the tomatoes:
I'll call these mixing genres, which also produces some pretty flowers (and interesting books). In fact, I actually these are prettier than the red ones, though harder to see from a distance. I mean, I'm not a zombie fan, but even I have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sitting on my teetering stack of books to read.

Often, publishers don't want to take a risk on anything but that's not yellow or orange. They look out at he flower patch and see that everything is yellow and orange and just decide that that's all people will like. But people like variety, and it doesn't always have to be good (see 50 Shades) for people to be attracted to it. The difference is all that matters. Which is not to say that you should give up on quality for being different; I'm just saying don't stick to the same old orange and yellow flowers. Or, even, red, when a lot of that comes along. Don't be... safe.

That's what I've tried to do in my own writing. I like fantasy, but I don't want my stuff to just be the same old fantasy. And, evidently, I like it to be scary, because a lot of people call what I write horror, especially Shadow Spinner, but, you know, I'm okay with that, because I don't want anyone to read this and think, "Well, this was okay, but I already read this book." [Which is what I think of anytime anyone starts talking about how great Martin is, because I already read that story except it was called The Sword of Truth and, before that, it was called The Wheel of Time, and, before that, it was called...] So, you know, write what you like, but put your own twist on it. Make it yours.

Be the red flower.

This post has been brought to you in part by Indie Life.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Shelf Life of Serial

Every time I do one of these posts, it makes me think of cereal. I just can't help it. Last time, I talked about Grape-Nuts; this time I'm thinking about cereal I liked when I was a kid.

I suppose my first favorite kinds of cereals were those ones with the dried up marshmallows in them, specifically Boo Berry and Fraken Berry.
(Yes, I had to get the Star Wars one in there.)

My aunt used to buy those for my cousin and me down at the farm when I was little. I mean, like, before I was five, but I never got those at home, and, as we got older, my aunt and cousin quit being down at the farm all the time (because of school, I suppose, like me), so that cereal quit being available to me. I always wanted Lucky Charms, but my mom would never buy them for me. Or any marshmallow cereal for that matter. Any time I got any of those was over at friends' houses.

I ended up settling on Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch. Thinking about it now, that was because my mom liked that particular cereal, so that was the only kind of sugar cereal we had around my house as a kid. Okay, not true: we also tended to have Frosted Flakes, but I didn't really like those, so I tended to ignore their existence. Now, don't get me wrong; I really liked the Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch (and still love the idea of it, even now, but, after being off of sugar for... years, now, and after not having had any of it since, basically, living in California, I don't want to go back and try it, now. I might find out it tastes like dirt), but, sometimes, I wanted to have other kinds of cereal, like Crunch Berries, which is still Cap'n Crunch, but my mom wouldn't even go for that.

Actually, all of this cereal talk is making me realize some things about my childhood that are better saved for another day, especially since this post isn't actually about cereal. So let's play Homonym!

and talk about The real answer here: Serial!

I've been doing Shadow Spinner as a serialization for over a year, now, and I've learned a few things. You'd hope so, right? As I said when I started all of this, it's all been kind of an experiment, one in which some  of you have been participating, and I figure it's about time to let you in on some results.

1. Overall, I'd say that serialization is a very viable option in today's publishing world. I know that I've gained a lot more exposure by releasing Spinner in parts rather than if I'd just released it all at once. In that respect, it has worked very well. I've gotten reviews and ratings from people I don't know who, for the most part, have really enjoyed Spinner, and that has been gratifying to see. I've also gained an unknown number of friends on Facebook due to Spinner, people who are following me there specifically because of Spinner. So, yeah, I'd say doing the serial thing has been a positive experience. And I may do it again...

2. However, I think 34 parts is too long. I knew that from the beginning, but, not having done it before, I didn't know that I knew it. Of course, I didn't write Spinner to be a serial when I was first writing it, and the format I wrote it in, the short chapters, was to fit in with the creative writing class I was teaching. If I had known what I was going to do, I would have structured it differently. Or, if I'd really thought about how long the process would be that I was setting up, I may have combined the chapters or something. But none of that matters for this particular project, because I can't go back and change how I've done it, only remember it for the future.

3. The Kindle releases do not help the sales of the physical book. That was a bit of secondary experimentation I was doing. Release the full physical book before the serialization was finished, but I can't see that it made any impact on sales. People wanting the physical book will buy it, but it has nothing to do with the serialization.

4. At this point, I can't see that Shadow Spinner has had any impact on sales of The House on the Corner. Maybe it has, but, if it has, it has been small enough that I can't see it. What that means is that House has continued to sell at approximately the same rate as before I started the serialization of Spinner. But, then, House has been out for a while, so, maybe, without Spinner sales would have dried up altogether and it's only Spinner that has kept sales going. I have no way of knowing.

5. What I do know is that the release of new Spinner parts has almost always resulted in the sale of various older parts, depending on what was available for free on any given release day. Actually, most of those purchases would come later during the week after one of the free days, so that tells me people must have been reading and deciding they wanted to go on. At least, I think that's what it's telling me.

All of this means a few things:
1. As I've said before, I'm going to be collecting the individual parts of Spinner into collected volumes. That will keep it in a serialized format but also make it cheaper for people to buy in the future (once I've gotten beyond the free release days). The first of these collected volumes, "Collection 1: Tiberius," will contain
parts one through five. As an added bonus, I will also be including Bryan Pedas' story "Like An Axe Through Bone" because so many people have requested that I make it available other than in the physical book. [Each of the other collected editions will have a different story from a different author.] Collection 1 will be released on Monday, August 19 (along with "Part Twenty-eight: The Shadow Place").

2. In relation to the additional stories, I need a couple more. If you're interested in submitting an Imagination Room (from The House on the Corner) themed story to be included as a backup story at the end of one of these, please let me know. I'd really like to feature some other independent author at the back of each of these volumes.

3. Here's where you can help! And, really, I mean that. I'm not keen on asking for this kind of help, because it actually involves me asking you to spend money in a way beyond the general, "hey, buy my book," which is, actually, what I'm doing, but with a purpose. See, I'm going to lose all of my reviews on the individual parts of Spinner as I transition to the collected parts. [Yes, I've tried talking to Amazon about this, and, maybe, I'll explain in more detail later, but it would be too long to add to this post. Let's just say it's another thing I learned.] What I really need is for those of you that have already read and reviewed any of the first five parts (and any of you who have been thinking about doing it) to

  • On Monday, August 19, buy Collection 1 of Shadow Spinner.
  • Leave a review some time during the week of the 19th. [For those of you who have previously left a review, this should be an easy process. For those of you who have not, the first five chapters are really not all that long.]
Because "The Tunnel" has been out for so long, I think it's really important to make up as much ground as possible during the switch to the collection, so I would really appreciate your help.

Also, you know, you could post about the release. If you really wanted to. That, also, always helps.

4. I will be moving from a biweekly release schedule on the remaining parts to a weekly schedule. The new releases of the individual parts will still be free as will as many of the other individual parts as possible each week. However, the collections will not be free. The feedback for the later collections will not be as critical as replacing the feedback on this first collection, so, you know, pick up the later parts for free while they're available that way. But, please, buy Collection 1 and leave a review on Amazon and, even, a rating on goodreads. I can't tell you how much this will help me out. Thanks!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Catfish Tastes

I grew up on catfish... Wait, no, that makes it sound like it was the only thing I ever ate. Let me try that again:

When I was a kid, to say that we were having fish meant that we were having catfish. It was the only kind of fish we ever had (other than the rare trip to Long John Silver's). But we didn't buy it (and, now, I'm wondering why anyone would ever buy catfish), because to say that we were having fish meant that we were going fishing. And I don't mean a few of us, either.

No, when we went fishing, it was everyone. Everyone includes my parents and brother, my grandparents, several uncles and aunts of various sorts, and at least a cousin or two. It was a family event. And, really, you had to have a lot of people, because all of those people were going to be there to eat the fish no matter how many people went fishing, so the only way to make sure there was enough fish was for everyone to go fishing. However, in actuality, the women mostly didn't fish. I suppose they went along because it was an event. That and they made sandwiches and stuff for everyone.

Often, these trips were "caused" by me and, possibly, a cousin or two asking my grandfather to take us fishing. We loved it when he took us fishing, because, no matter how many people were along on the trip, it was my grandfather taking us fishing. The rest of the people were... superfluous. (Except for that time I caught this huge fish and one of my uncles knocked it back into the water. You can't be merely superfluous when you cause someone to lose such a big fish.)

After the fishing trips, we'd bring the fish back to the farm and the men would sit around and clean the fish. It was always catfish except for the very occasional perch, which we called sunfish, because no one liked cleaning them except my Uncle Fred (scaling a fish is much different than skinning a fish), so those got thrown back unless he was with us.

It was my grandfather that taught me how to fish. How to bait a hook (and where to find said bait). How to hook a fish (turn a nibble into a caught fish). How to take the fish off of the hook (which is not an easy task with a catfish (for those of you who have never done it)). How to clean a fish, both catfish and scaled fish (but, yeah, I know why no one liked doing it, because you get scales all over you). He taught me how to do all of it up to the cooking part. I had the eating part all worked out on my own, and I figured out the cooking part later.

When I got to be a teenager and we no longer did those huge fishing trips and it was just my nuclear family that would go fishing (basically, whenever my mom would decide that she felt like having fish), I was the one that had to do all the maintenance stuff, meaning that I was the hook baiter and fish remover. Yeah, I hated those trips, because I never actually got to do any fishing. I got plenty of bites, but they were all from mosquitoes, and, when all you get from a fishing trip is mosquito bites, it's just not any fun. Why was I the hook baiter and fish remover? Because no one in my family would do those things. I mean, one time when I was doing something else and my dad caught a fish, I turned around to find him stepping on the fish (so that he wouldn't have to touch it) while trying to get the hook out of its mouth with a pair of pliers. I started finding other things to do rather than go fishing, so the catfish eating dwindled away.

But, see, I grew up liking, even loving, catfish. And I didn't have to give you all of that background, but I wanted you to have the context of my relationship with catfish. In my mind, it's associated, mostly, with these great family fishing trips with my grandfather and him teaching me how to do all the stuff. He gave me my first fillet knife and skinners one year when I was probably around 9 or 10, and I thought that was one of the greatest presents ever.

But we don't do the whole catfish thing out here in CA. It's just not a thing here the way it is in the south. Out here it's salmon and, well, I don't really know, because I lost any inclination I had for fishing when my grandfather died, so it's not a thing we do. I mean, not a thing my family does. I know plenty of people that take off to fish for salmon or do ocean fishing. I don't know anyone that does catfishing.

On Friday nights, we do special family dinner night. Special dinners are things that take more time or are more elaborate than we can do on a night when people have to get up early the following morning. Every so often, I'll do a fried fish night, but those are more rare than even the normal special dinner nights, because it takes a lot of time to prep and fry everything. Like the onion rings. Because, according to everyone that's had them, I make the best onion rings ever. And fried mushrooms, too. But I digress. So... fried fish, which is generally cod.

Last week I was out buying fish because were going to have our first fried fish night in... I don't know, months, at least. So I was picking up the cod, and there in the display case with the fish was catfish. Catfish. Oh, man, I hadn't had catfish in so long. I mean, I've lived in California for a long time, and I think I'd only had it once before since I moved out here. I love catfish. My kids should try it, right? My kids that don't actually like fish that much to begin with, and I was thinking they should try catfish of all things, but I'm not really to that part yet. I bought some of the catfish. I love catfish.

Friday night came. I mixed up the batter. I sliced up a couple of onions. I chopped the mushrooms down to appropriate sizes (because they hadn't had anything of an appropriate size at the store). I started frying those up. Everyone was eating onions rings voraciously. My wife and I were eating the mushrooms. I got out the fish, the cod, and sliced it up and started frying that up. People started eating the cod. I pulled out the catfish...

I pulled out the catfish and fried up a few pieces, nuggets, because I was eager to pop one into my mouth. Long time since catfish. I love catfish. I was... actually excited, I think. I toss the first couple of pieces onto the plate to cool. Before it was quite cool enough, I popped one into my mouth...

And, man, it was like eating a mud ball. And, yeah, I know what dirt tastes like. I was a kid that played in a lot of dirt. Not that I ever actually on purpose ate any, but, you know, it gets in your mouth. And that piece of catfish was the equivalent of a handful of dirt down at the farm when I was a kid.

It must have been a mistake. Just a bad piece, right? Right...
So I got another piece and... dirt! OH MY GOSH! Catfish tastes like dirt! Then I thought back to the previous time I'd had catfish, the last time, years before, when I thought "I love catfish; I should get some for everyone to try," and it had tasted like dirt, too, and no one else liked it or would eat any of it. Just like this time. And I realized: I had grown up liking the taste of... dirt. [And, see, when I was growing up, I'd heard people say they didn't like catfish for that very reason, but I'd always dismissed them as not knowing what they were talking about.]

But that's what growing up is for. I also grew up drinking only soda, but I can't stand the stuff, now, after being off of it for the last five years or so. The sweet of it is just too much for me. And I grew up liking some shows (mostly cartoons) that I look back now and wonder what I was thinking when I was 15 and watching G. I. Joe every day after school. And there have been books and/or authors that have been that way for me, too. All of it dirt.

There are a few things, I suppose, that you could come away with from this, some of which I've talked about before (like, just, outgrowing things), but it would take too much time, at this point, to talk about all of those things. Instead, I will just mention this one thing:

Sometimes, you have to get away from something long enough to realize that it was dirt all along. Some things that we think are good are only good because we've never experienced anything else. But, when we go on to new things, hopefully better things, we can later recognize that that thing we used to love was really just dirt and we'd only loved that thing because it was the only thing we'd ever had. Which is why we need to always be broadening our experiences. Trying new things. Reading new books.

And, on the book note, I suppose that's why it bothers me when I see people saying things like, "I only read YA" like it's a good thing and, worse, like that makes them better than people who read a variety of types of books. What I want to say to that is that you're eating catfish. [Which is not to say that all YA is dirt.] Or, maybe, baby food. I get that you grew up reading YA and you love YA, but, really, you're 30 now; branch out a little bit. Seriously. You might discover that some of that YA you always thought was so yummy is really just a mud pie.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part Six -- The Prosperity Doctrine (an IWSG post)

For thousands of years, we have had the belief that god, whatever god it happens to be, rewards the just and punishes the wicked. If something bad happens to you, you must have displeased god and are being punished. If something good happens to you, you are being rewarded, which shows that god favors you. Even more, if you are rich, through whatever means, god really, really likes you, so you must be one righteous dude and, therefore, you are justified in whatever behaviors you've been doing to get ahead even if they're wrong. God wouldn't be rewarding you unless you were doing what he wanted you to do, right?

There's something primal in that belief, no matter how ill-founded. It goes right along with that whole "beautiful angel"/"ugly demon" thing. We tend to forget that Lucifer, the head (and arguably worst) demon is also described as the most beautiful being in creation. [And we forget that whenever anyone in the Bible ever saw an Angel, the first response was always the wetting of the pants. Or loincloth. Or whatever. That was followed by the Angel saying, "Do not be afraid."] So it's very attractive to believe that rich people are somehow better than everyone else. If, that is, you are rich. European culture survived off of that belief for centuries. And, if you're not rich, you want to be rich so that you can finally be proven correct in your internal belief that you are, in fact, just as better than everyone else as the people that are already rich.

The prosperity doctrine started getting popular in the United States in the '50s, but it really took off with the charismatic movement and televangelists in the 1980s. The basic idea is that God wants you to have health, wealth, and happiness. The only problem is that, well, you have to pay for it. Now, there's all kinds of theological background and stuff I could go into here, but that would be a whole series of posts all by itself. So let's just put it like this: Just like with the whole Pentecostal thing of having to speak in tongues to get to go to heaven, the prosperity doctrine cherry picks just a few passages upon which to base the entire philosophy. [The central passage that's used is an Old Testament passage that they pull completely out of context.] What it boils down to is that people who are wealthy are "good" and everyone else is not. Which, of course, pushes the "nots" to try harder and give more, making the wealthy richer and "gooder" and everyone else "notter."

I'm pretty sure most of you out there would not say that having lots of money (success) makes a person somehow better than those that don't have lots of money, but that's not how we act. And, more importantly, that's not how they act. Rich people tend to act as if they are inherently better than other people. More valuable. More deserving. The money they have doesn't make them better; they have money because they are better. The cream, as they say, has risen to the top.

And we believe that in publishing, too, even when it's glaringly obvious that the cream does indeed not rise to the top. Unless we are now claiming that Twilight and its ugly step-sister Fifty Shades of Grey are the cream. If that's the case, well... actually, I'm not sure. If that's the cream, then there's no real hope for humanity.

The truth is, in most cases, the best books go completely unnoticed. There can be many reasons for this, none of which are important (and would take too long to list); the main thing is realizing that the statement, "the cream will always rise to the top" is a falsehood. Or, maybe, it's not, but, then, books aren't cream. The point is that the "best" things most often do not enjoy the most success.

Most of the people in the world that are the most "successful" are not people we would say are the best people. Sure, there are a few good ones, but most of them got there by taking advantage of other people or stepping on other people or cheating or lying or maybe even just dumb luck. And, no matter what people say, cheaters do not always lose. The most successful hamburger in the world is not one that I think anyone other than, maybe, Briane Pagel would say is the best. And it got there by just being the same anywhere you buy it. Which is no small feat, but it's hard to not find a "better" burger (although some might argue that its sameness does make it the best). And the best books... Well, the best books get run over by the ones that appeal to the masses. Like those hamburgers. They succeed not by being good but by being the same. Simple language. Simple, straight forward story. Plain.

Which is not to say that exceptions don't come along. Things like Harry Potter and Middle Earth succeed despite their "goodness" by being something new and different. Novel. (heh pun intended) But Rowling has proved to us that "good" does not equal success with her experiment in publishing under a pseudonym. The cream does not always rise to the top.

All of that to say that a lack of sales does not mean that your book is not good. And massive sales does not mean that it is. Books sell well for one of two reasons: 1. The author has put a lot of work into writing books and become known through being a steady and dependable writer. 2. Luck. The book just happened to be at the right place at the right time. So to speak.

But, still, we like to worship success here in the United States, so I'm sure we will continue to use such statements as "the cream will always rise to the top" and, even worse, continue to believe those statements.

What I want to say about it is that you shouldn't rate your "creaminess" on whether you're on top or not.

Today's post has been brought to you in part by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG. The rest was all me.