The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The 11th Hour

So I am on the playa, unaware of what is going on in cyberworld.

We almost certainly failed Blogust. Numbers were great even before I left. Better than they've been since last year when Creepy Guy was still doing the rounds, but with 15,000 left to go, it just doesn't seem possible.

I have pretty much done my "We did the best we could," deep and heavy sigh (while striking a look of complete ambiguity with exactly equal parts satisfaction and disatisfaction). I am content. Perhaps even zen.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, and many of you have already been far too kind about sharing articles, but you want to see Writing About Writing, somehow pull out an 11th hour win, it's going to take a lot of love.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Will We Make It?

By now, I am either out on the playa or in a stuffed car on my way.  I suppose there is a non-zero chance that I am descending into maddening frustration at the fact that the car isn't loaded yet and we still haven't gotten on the road, but I'm hoping for the best.

I'd ask you to do me a solid, and share this post, but it would be pretty boring for your friends. It may just have to be a post that only the dedicated Writing About Writing fan knows about.

I won't be home until the first or the second and you might be wondering how to know if I've made my goal for Blogust of 50,000 page views. Or, more likely you're wondering how to find out just how badly I'm going to miss the mark.

So if you go all the way down to the bottom of the page, you will find the total page views of this blog. It looks like this.

This was on Monday when I wrote the entry, so it's probably bigger now.
If that number is over 860, 375 by 5pm on August 31st then I have (somehow) managed to succeed at Blogust.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Off to Burn the Man

Writing About Writing is about to go on a small break as I head to the Black Rock Desert to go be A Writer At Burning man for the 13th year in a row.  

I shall return with poignant tales of moments at the temple and the renewed fire to write a certain story that I started last year (but which got put on the back burner due to the coming of The Contrarian). 

Vigor: it shall be renewed.

I may not actually leave until tomorrow, but I need to pack and prep and I teach tonight. I might have a moment to continue my Tabs Menu clean up of The Cast and Crew, or I might not. It depends on how quickly I can stuff rainbow costumes into plastic baggies.

There is at least one post scheduled for while I am away, but I will have no way to promote from a land with no internet. So you'll have to check back (or follow us in one of the auto-update ways) if you're curious about whether or not we hit our Blogust goals.

As of this writing, I am 16,800 page views shy of Blog's ambitious goals for August. Short of the viral spread of Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative last summer, I have never seen traffic come anywhere close to this. However, you will all know before I do if I made the 4,200 hits a day needed. So stay tuned.

There is a non-zero chance that I will be back Monday, Tuesday is most likely, Wednesday at the latest.

Take care, and keep writing!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Worshiped (Some Call Them Cats)

You can tell how much I hate her.
Princess Mononoke- I rescued an orange tabby girl (rare, I know) named Mercedes from a friend whose partner thought it was spiffy to abuse animals. Orange girl immediately informed me that she needed a new name to go with her new life. She liked to run around at night, starting at exactly ten and going on for six hours or so, and changed direction so fast that she reminded me of San (from the Miyazaki movie Princess Mononoke) running across rooftops and dodging bullets. She became Princess Mononoke. Unfortunately, the minute she found out that she was a princess, she seized upon her birthright, and relegated me to slave. (Like, even more than a normal cat.) A decade later she is old and crotchety and meows like a cranky elderly woman to get off her lawn even if all I did was shift in the bed. Her kidneys are slowly deteriorating and she tells me her blood hurts in order to get almost anything she wants. Her room smells like old lady cat.

James Bond- A sweet cat started poking around our yard in 2011 with tuxedo markings. Not just "Hey does this cumber bun fit?" tuxedo markings but "Damn I make this look good!" tuxedo markings. We named it James Bond, later to discover that the sweet James was a girl. Fortunately, James rejects society's gender binary, so she's totally cool rocking a name that's typically male. She strolls around acting like she owns the place and calling everyone Moneypenny.

Moneypenny, I could use some scritches under my chin. Shaken, not stirred.
Oh and tell me I'm not rocking this tux on the brown background.

Benjamin J Cat- The J does not stand for anything. It's just a J.

Benjamin is fuzzy.

Also, Benjamin is probably not college material.

I'd really like to snuggle you.
To death.
To understand Benjamin, you have to personify him in sort of a soft "Lenny" voice from Of Mice and Men. "Hey guys. It's really silly that you think I'm not college material. Colleges are made of wood and stone and stuff. I'm made of fluff. I like snuggles. Do you guys like snuggles? I also like soft things. You know what I really like? I like snuggling on soft things." Lately he sounds more like Doug the Dog from Up.

Don't be too hard on Ben. Early in his life there was a door to a bedroom that he could open by slamming his head into it--Alien Queen style. Unfortunately it took him a LONG time to learn that it was JUST THAT ONE DOOR, and that all the others were going to stay closed. There were some serious head-banging sessions in his early life. Ben has no delusions of power or nobility. But he does like snuggles. Also....he is trying to murder me.

No Apologies! A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Needs No Defense (Part 3)

Return to Part 2
All the Way Back to Part 1  

It is actually very hard to get a reader to keep reading some avant-garde, experimental work long enough to appreciate what an author is trying to do with language when the reader couldn’t give a crap about the characters or the plot. This isn't about "good literature" vs. "genre." It's about "a good story" vs. "a boring story."

And "literary fiction" is guilty of an awful lot of boring stories.

That's why so many people like certain canonical authors beyond just what they are forced to read of them in high school or college. Austen, Dickens, Woolf, and Shakespeare are all great with language, but they also spin an irresistible yarn. Even the cardboard dry writers like Melville and Hawthorne that take some getting used to are enjoyed and appreciated by more fans than most modern day authors.

It's almost like plot is a major element of literature. It's almost like stupid linguistic flourishes don't much matter if your story sucks.

Dismissing the audience for philistines is all too easy.

"Ug do appreciate human condition.
But Ug rather hear story about great hunter.
Boring story about Oog not interesting--even if deep."
Sadly, when you have a perception so ingrained about the superiority of a single style, things in the sommelier word can get a little...circle-jerky. This idea that the unwashed plebs don’t appreciate good art is simplistic. It’s seductive. It’s comforting. It makes a writer feel better about the fact that even small press won’t take a chance on them because their last book only sold 128 copies...mostly to their MFA writing group peers.

Oh and ten copies to their mom.

However, the perception of mainstream unwashedness isn't true. It’s a sweet lie. Literature sells. People read it. And a good writer, like Woolf or Joyce, can create compelling plots and characters AND be completely avante guard for the time. And of course, Shakespeare can play with language beautifully AND sell out a theater to those plebs with a compelling plot and some bawdy jokes.

Another factor to consider is that there often is an illustration of the quality of a work as being EITHER commercial OR literary (and mind you, I hate these terms) in the same way that a light is either on or off. However, I would also suggest that this dichotomy is not a dichotomy at all, but a continuum. The literary world speaks in absolutes, and in value judgements. But the reality of a work’s quality is far more complicated.

Exactly when has this light switch sold out?

Authors like Kurt Vonnegut, JRR Tolken, and Phillip Pullman (all speculative fiction authors if you're keeping score) clearly present a conundrum to the ideas of writing as EITHER commercial OR literary (in as much as either of those terms is synonymous with “high artistic quality”). Unless one is dismissing speculative fiction outright (as some do), none of these authors could be put squarely into either category—commercial or literary. Not, at least, without considerable difficulty and a number of exceptions. There is clearly more going on in these authors’ works than could be dismissed as commercial, and yet none write definitively at the caliber of high literature—whether we define that by canon authors or by the quality of “literary fiction” we might find in the Pushcart or awarded an O Henry. We could probably debate about exactly where on a line each author might go. (Personally, I would place Pullman slightly to the commercial side, but just about dead center, Vonnegut very close to literary, and Tolken somewhere between the two, but that’s just me). The point is that they defy straight classification, as do many other authors of both “genre” and “non-genre” alike.

Stevenson, this is really hard to pigeon-hole.
Can we add a Vxendrathi space cruiser and be done with it?
Like the assumptions of most communities, the assumptions behind the vernacular of the literary community usually go unexamined and most dialogue or discourse assumes their truth without question, but we must be careful about letting established community culture fall into the fallacy of begging the question, EVEN if that community is the literary community. It is this sort of examining the forest for the trees that can reveal how patently absurd the rest of the prejudice towards speculative fiction really is.

Really, REALLY stupid.

To fully understand the prejudice against speculative fiction, it helps considerably not to try to be disingenuous about its quality. The devil must be given its due if we are to proceed honestly or with integrity. So let us be honest. There is a lot of extraordinarily bad writing within speculative fiction. Genre sells well—and speculative fiction sells particularly well among genre—so publishers and agents will lower their standards when deciding to take a chance on speculative works--particularly sci-fi or fantasy.
It is possible that this might not be some of the best literature ever written.

It is not unlike how the current trend in the popularity of reality television has led to producers giving the green light to shows SO stupid that they actually have the power of performing non-surgical lobotomies on the audience.  They do this because they know that a bad reality television show is a better risk than a bad sit-com.

Within speculative fiction there is work that isn’t so much plot driven as plot railroaded, there is character dialog that is mostly a round robin of exposition, there is melodrama, sentimentality, Star Wars and Star Trek clones by the cartful, and there is work where the fantastic elements do nothing for the story but change a pedestrian setting out for a fantastic one often called the “….in space” factor.

As in “this is just Beverly Hills 90210…IN SPACE!!!!"

And while we all care if Kelly is going to pick Dylan or Brandon before Starship Melrose docks with Dawson's Space Station, this writing pretty much sucks.  Speculative fiction is the comfy EZ chair for flat characters, clich├ęs, tired tropes, and enough truly awful work to fill a giant library with nothing but writing that the world would probably be a better place without.

Beyond the patently bad exists another strata that is simply mediocre and uninspiring. Reams upon reams of speculative fiction exist that aren’t necessarily of poor quality—and when some people grab for pleasure reading, it’s their first choice—but it certainly isn’t deep, moving, or literary writing either.

This is the fiction of preference—the fiction of someone who would prefer to read a story about space pirates than one about Somalian pirates. This is the fiction of people who want to read to visit other worlds, or take fantastic journeys. (That this motivation to pick up a book and read is judged as a less valid than immersion into banal realism is little more than a value judgment manifest as an objective criteria, but we’ll explore that soon.) Speculative fiction is home to Harry Potter, Twilight, Xanth, Dragonlance, dozens of Stephen King novels, and so much unnamed dross as to—at first glance—warrant any degree of prejudice about its quality as absolutely valid. A glance across the landscape of speculative fiction would seem to confirm that it is the denizen of little but bad and mediocre writing. And this is the position from which many fans of speculative fiction find themselves defending their tastes.

But of course they shouldn't have to.

On To Part 4 (COMING TUES Sept 2nd)