Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To Outline or Not: Aye, Tis the rub

I have started many novels only to leave them unfinished.  Most of these novels began with a germination of an idea that grew and then withered on the vine.  Some, just weren't meant to be, really.  As I was sifting through this veritable graveyard of manuscripts one day, I noticed that many of the "best" discarded stories had some sort of outline attached to the file. 

The point is, it seems, that outlines provide more direction.  I have always felt a little confined when I use outlines too ardently.  However, I have noticed that the best outlines leave flexibility to the characters and the plot to grow and move within the confines of the outline.  Plus, it is always good to be reminded that the outline isn't chiseled into stone like the Ten Commandments. 

Every writer has a method to writing outlines.  My most successful attempts at outlining have been to create "chapter outlines" with general plot queues.  This allows the novel to retain a structure, stay true to the "story" but allow for the creative juices to infuse the narration. 

See, writing a novel tends to tax two sides of our soul.  First, we always credit the "Muse" for the creation, the creativity of our imaginations.  But, for a novel to speak clearly, we must tap that other, more logical side of our soul so that the story is not only imaginative, creative and artful, but also meaningful, clear and realistic.  It must have structure, it must have clear sentences, it must have likeable characters, believable dialogue and gripping conflict.  The outline is one part of the craft of writing. 

So, how do we marry the craft of writing an outline with the art of telling the story?  Whatever form your outline takes, it must give your story a backbone.  It is your "Muse" that will form around that skeleton and breathe life into the bones.   Without the outline, it is possible that your story will seem amorphous or without a skeleton, being all blood and guts, skin and sinew.  But, with a concientious attempt to provide structure through an outline, your story can stand on its own and seem more solid.

For practice, try using a short outline form for a short story or play.  Focus on the actions that direct the plot like conflict and movement.  Then, using that plot outline, fill in the spaces by writing the narration and dialogue for your short story.  Note how your outline can constrict, but also how it can direct and guide what your creative side wants to do.  Allow the outline to be your friend.  Compromise with it, allow it some space and some influence over you, but do not allow it to control you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Realism in Writing

I recently read a post by Nathan Bransford.  He was commenting on spicing up dialogue and made a point that everyday dialogue is boring.  I partially agree.  But, I think that, as with many "rules" in writing, this situational advice cannot be applied with a broad stroke.

Our goal as writers is to willfully suspend disbelief.  Dialogue is difficult.  It must convey tone, mood, and character, move plot, provide action and back story, and most of all be believable.  To spice up dialogue to make it more appealing is a slippery slope.  My point is that ordinary dialogue or dialogue that is about everyday life, is very boring.  Choosing toothpaste, asking your children to take out trash, mundane discussions about clothing, politics, and such do not make for riveting dialogue.  They do not provide action, or move plot.  With this much I can agree.

However, dialogue that is too well planned out, too stilted, too exact can lead a reader to see through the thin veil of fiction.  Often, every character is suffused with the intelligence, cadence and voice of the author.  No differentiation between characters exist. This can be dangerous.  It does not provide the reader with palpable differences between characters.  They all become similar because they all talk the same.  And if their dialogue isn't different than the narration, then the slippery slope becomes even steeper.

Try this experiment.  As writers, we are supposed to be good observers and cataloguers of human nature.  For one day, try sitting in crowded rooms or busy places like parks.  Listen to conversations.  Don't eavesdrop, per se, but allow yourself to listen to the different voices, the different deliveries, and intensities.  We are limited in writing sometimes--often we can only get across auditory tones by way of descriptions of the conversation delivery.  But, note the content.  Note how different deliveries of speech color the message.  A nasal delivery drones, a deep voice booms, a gravelly voice sounds testy, a soft voice sounds melodic.  Use those cues. 

In this experiment, you can also note what content is mundane and what may qualify as "spicy" dialogue. This exercise is a great writing prompt.  Try using this experience from time to time to write a scene from a novel, a short story or just a journal entry.  It is a wonderful way to practice dialogue cadence, to learn how to convey the natural rhythm of speech in your writing.

It is important to understand how people talk.  It is also important to know when to edit those conversations for the sake of the novel.  Spicing up can mean cutting out dialogue that doesn't fill one of the duties of dialogue I listed earlier.  Spicing up dialogue can also mean adding elements of conversation that make a conversation seem real and connected to the characters that are speaking.  What your characters say can make them come alive as much as what they do. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy July (Canadian Independence Day, My Dad's B-day, etc.)

My dear dad turned 66 today.  It got me to thinking about my roots and I got a little homesick.  I called him up and he was on his lunch break at work. It is always nice to hear him.  We didn't have a lot to talk about, but I let him go as I got a business call I couldn't put off.  It was abrupt, but I felt good. 

It also made me think about growing older.  I know, middle age man concern, right?  Well, there it was:  a son going off to college, a Dad officially retirement age, my youngest staring puberty in the face;  I didn't know what else to think.  I mean, I still feel young, mostly.  I certainly still act like a teenager from time-to-time.  But I find myself more cynical, easier to irritate, less tolerant of others, my energy lacking, my interest waning.  And there is that nagging feeling I am letting things slip by--time, opportunities, finances, health, my soul, etc.  But, mostly, I know that my creative time clock is ticking.  I know that most writers can write well into their seventies.  I haven't even become established yet.  Ahh.  I can tell now I am just being a sucky-baby. 

I will stop for now.  And I will start doing something about it.  What better day than today to make a change, right?  Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Obama Administration and 2010

Well, it has been no picnic, has it Mr. President?  And why did you want so badly to do this?  Power? Change?  Ok.  With the War on Terror dragging on just like it would have without you in power, it brings to light your comments during the election that mocked the policies at the time. 

And enviromentalists.  You didn't ever think during the election you would have them beating down your doors all hopped up on soy lattes and veggie burgers.  You thought they were in your camp.  That was before you let BP off the hook, let the false security of their promise that their drilling technologies were sound lull you to sleep at the proverbial wheel. 

I, for one, do not fault you directly for either of these missteps.  You inherited some poor situations and haven't handled them any better than your predecessors.  And I wasn't convinced you were going to.  You were doomed, Mr. President.  Superman would have failed.  You have inherited a broken America.  A broken world. 

Health Care? You should drop that for now.  Economy?  Do you really have any control over that? Afganistan?  Worthless cause.  Why are we there?  Why stay?  Why spill blood--good American young men--when everyone else has abandoned the cause?  Why stay when the Al Queda has moved on to greener pastures?

And McChrystal? Wow.  This sort of pistol-toting, flag-waving, snuff-spitting was the exact reason you won the election over McCain.  The McChrystal-Bush clone is a renegade in camo, a wanna-be politician who openly sought to create a new nation through his COIN military initiative, a guy that was already wrapped in controversy and had a history of insubordination. And this was your guy.  After criticizing McCain for not properly vetting his running mate, you assign McChrystal who by all accounts seems intelligent but beligerent and unconcerned with chain of command.

COIN was a few cents short of being a viable military policy.  It has never worked in real life.  Never.  McChrystal is no Alexander or Cyrus the Persian.  He is no Ghengis Kahn.  He is no Napoleon, even. His Waterloo: Marja?  Culture cannot be dictated by artillery and a baton.  It can be defended.  It can be punished.  It can be conquered.  But I wax philosophical.

Mr. President, you have already demonstrated a propensity to bury America in further debt for centuries to come.  You trade immediate gratification and government subsidized quick fixes for municipalities and unfortunates for our grandchildren's future. You are weakening our military position.  You are allowing the Gulf of Mexico to be an epic natural disaster.  You have bowed and cowtowed to corporations, socialists, and special interest groups.  Your ony "victory" to date?  Healthcare.  Really?  Just another vehicle to sink America in the financial quagmire of your confused and destructive policies. 

And you thought your only battle would be the ants at the picnic, didn't you?  Instead, a thunderstorm came and you have elected to stay under the tree as the lightning splits the sky.  God help us all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Change in Agent/Writer Relations

I published this comment on earlier today.  It was in response to the general discussion of a hypothetical question of what would the world look like if writers paid agents to read their work and other such weighty matters regarding the greatly exaggerated demise of the publishing industry (replete with the REM soundtrack: "The End of the World as We Know It")

The product of a writer's work--whether it is marketable as an artistic distillation--is determined by an imperfect system. Often the distillation is malformed or downright unreadable. But, the scary thing that writers everywhere decry is the trust we must put in strangers' judgment. It is often such a small polling of the general interest, we are forced to wonder if this singular judgment is correct. The publishers pay big money to writers/agents that flop, right? Is it unfathomable to think that they also may let a Hemingway slip through their editorial fingers?

On the other hand, agents and editors are inundated with such a large outpouring of potential work--and they sadly cannot print it all--that they must choose what they deem to be the best business decision. They do not want to invest poorly. They are gambling on interest in a creative property. It is more volatile than selling a tangible product via a pitchman on tv.

This means that writers must remember foremost it is not the art, but the marketability of their creation that must drive them. That is, of course, if they wish to be published.

Agents are inserted into the publishing equation as both a "gate-keeper" and a marketer/career manager. Their dual role is sometimes conflicting. They must demonstrate both attraction and repulsion, addition and subtraction. Agents have created more frustration in exchange for taking the onus off of the big bad editors. It is the agents who are often regaled with the constant whine of unpublished, unloved, confused (and dare I say, talentless) aspiring writers attracted to the bright lights of the publishing world by their common passion for the written word...and those fat advances that they are reminded of constantly.

I say all this to say that I feel that the future of books is not doomed. Readers’ tastes and expectations will change as they always have. Eventually, writers will catch up, despite their own reluctance to change.

As we move forward into this brave new publishing world, I think that a shift in the relationships between those who fund the publishing of books and those who produce the works of art will be affected most. The debate over the next decade will not be the mode of artistic delivery. It will be the business model of its production and distribution. Additional "middle men(women)" may be inserted to ease the strain of submittals (which I predict, God forbid, will increase exponentially), and a more hands-on approach will be invested to ensure the quality of the material publishers are buying is secure. Editors will enable agents better as to what the market trends are, share more openly with the potential writing clients their needs and much of the mumbo jumbo hocus pocus of writing will be removed.

This will produce a more sterile, more-informed-but-less-personal writing style with mass-market appeal that will prove effectual until another invention will force us to concentrate on greater artistic forms and deeper human communication.

Whew. Sorry for the long comment.

I wanted to write more, but I will save it as fodder for posts later this week. And I heavily edited this after I originally posted the comment.  The author of Eats Shoots and Leaves would have choked on her raspberry scone if she was browsing the comments section today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writing on Hold--a Choke Hold

I am in a writing rut.  I'm not.  And that essential part of me has been replaced by the obsessive/compulsive video game playing part of my personality.  And it is getting a little bothersome.  My inner nerd has hooked onto first person shooters (like Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 2) and I can't seem to care about anything else.  Trash needs taken out?  Wait until I am in the pre-game lobby and rush out and do it.  Dinner needs cooked? Just hope I don't burn stuff between games.  Need a shower or use bathroom?  All these must wait until the right moment. Writing?  Who, me? Nope, I gotta get this acheivement before I go to bed.

Sad, but true.  It is my meth, my cocaine, my habit.  I doubt I will ever kick the habit. I can truly see myself kicking Major Buttocks against my grandchildren.  But, I am working hard (in my head, where it counts) to gain a balance.  I need to pursue that which drives me (writing) and put away that which is driving me (video games).  It is the tumor I must excise myself.  But, chances are, it is benign. 

I think that part of me wants to write about games:  video games, board games, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.  I suppose I could dedicate part of this blog to that or to start a blog specifically for that...and I have just decided.  That is what I am going to do:  start another blog just for gaming.  I promise I won't be the first or the best, but if you like gaming, come join me there. 

The best thing about a gaming blog?  I get to write about my obsession.  That's like obsession squared or something.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Irony of College Conferences

What a roller coaster week of college football--and no one even put on pads.  Well, maybe Nebraska and Texas did, but who wants to see Dodds and Osborne go at it?  If you weren't glued to ESPN or over the past week, then you probably aren't a college football fan and that is alright.  But for us die-hard followers of the amatuer pigskin classic, it was a wild week bordering on apocalyptic proportions.  That is overstatement, to be sure, but the topsy-turvy world of conference alliances was on the verge of a drastic change that would have meant the loss of a major conference and the fattening of another. 

To me, it was odd to note all the ironies that developed or that almost developed. 

All of this change was predicated by the rise in interest of college football.  More people watch, more people buy tickets, more people diligently follow college football now than ever.  As more alumni graduate, as television draws in the masses of Americans dedicated more to pursuits of entertainment than any other single thing, as the pockets of universities, television networks and marketing companies are filled with more money than anyone ever dreamed, "more" has become the buzzword of college athletics. 

Six major conferences (Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10, Big East, SEC, and ACC) hold the keys to the National Championship vehicle.  They also hold keys to television revenue vehicles.  Some, like the Big East, are driving a late-model Cadillac, while others like the Big Ten, are driving a brand new Aston Martin.  So, as the television contracts for the Pac-10 and Big 12 end in 2011 and 2012, these conferences (as well as the SEC and Big 10) are looking to draw in more television sets to sweeten their deals.  The logic is that if a conference can draw 10% more viewership, the payoff could be exponentially larger than the previous television agreement. 

Two ironies occur in this thinking.  First, although a larger conference may be able to attract a larger television agreement, the pie is being cut more times.  The second irony is the assumption that adding a Nebraska to the Big 10 would drive more revenue than the Big 10 Network is currently getting is a large risk.  The same would be true for almost any one university to any particular conference.  For example:  Colorado is not going to financially improve a television network deal when they were more than a non-factor in the Big 12. 

So, besides the television money, what else is at stake here?  Well, the NCAA requires that a conference have twelve member institutions in order to have the privelege of hosting a conference championship game.  The Big 10, Pac-10 and Big East conferences have been criticized over the last few years for the lack of a "title game."  After Alabama earned a national championship berth through winning the SEC championship game against Florida, conference commissioners saw the wisdom in pairing the best two teams in their conference.  The formula would seem to be:  Conference Champion = National Championship Game= more money for the conference.

The irony of this, of course, is that the formula doesn't always work. If Ohio State plays Penn State or USC plays...wait, that won't work for another three years.  The point is, sometimes the way the conference divisions are laid out, the best two teams in a conference may be in the same division.  In addition, if multiple conferences have undefeated teams that go on to win the conference championship, we still may not have a concensus.  Take for example the 2003-2004 season when Oklahoma played LSU for the national title. OU actually lost their conference championship game for their first loss of the season and USC played Michigan in the Rose Bowl.  LSU beat OU handily and USC complained that they (at 11-1) were more deserving to play LSU than OU.  But a better example was in 2004-2005 when Auburn, USC and Oklahoma were all undefeated.  Auburn and Oklahoma won their respective conference tournaments but the championship game was decided to be OU vs USC, a game that due to NCAA rules violations, USC had to vacate the win and no champion was awarded.  Ironic, huh?

If all of this isn't enough to make your head swim, this week has probably done it.  The aggressive growth of the Big 10 to incorporate 12 teams and the surgical removal of two teams from the Big 12 to bring the conference to 10 teams has created yet another irony.  Due to the "branding" of these two conferences, it is likely that neither will change their name. 

So, this all boils down to money, really.  Even though the Big Twelve is sticking together right now and saying it is to ensure regional rivalries, in the end it was the promise of money and preferential treatment of the conferences two biggest revenue earners that was the glue that adhered these universities.  And, money will continue to drive the decisions from here forward.  If the SEC is as aggressive as the Pac 10 and the Big 12, it will raid the poor ACC or Big East and take as many televisions and revenue as it can.  It already has a championship game, but adding regional rivals like Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina or Louisville to the mix would certainly improve their lot. 

The landscape of college athletics has not changed as dramatically as the prophets and pundits had predicted, but I can still see Kansas from here and Colorado is still wrapped in its mountain fog (or is that cannibis smoke?).  Note that during much of these discussions, dollars were what moved universities to sit, think about moving or go away.  Very little was thought of competition or titles.  And almost no consideration was given to why these schools exist in the first place:  education. 

We may see more movement in years to come, but I doubt it will be movement toward equity.  Money will still be the impetus and irony still the humorous backdrop.

Friday, May 28, 2010

If you haven't read the news, Jamarcus Russell was cut from the Oakland Raiders a few weeks back and now the Raiders are seeking to get back $9.55 million dollars that they already paid him.  They released him because he underperformed and are convinced that due to his lack of work ethic that his actions (or inactions) constituted breach of contract. 

A comment on by 1shot2many suggested that the money in question should not go to either the Raiders nor Jamarcus, but the money should be given "to an association for the prevention of overpaid-underperforming obese athletes and to halt the collective stupidity of professional sports overbearing and napoleonic managers." 

I agreed. In fact, I think we could start several more funds to slush this type of mis-spent money. Like, the "Get out of Jail Free" for athletes that find themselves incarcerated after drinking, smoking, injecting, partying, whoring, etc. and need to find a way back to the (obviously more important) football field. For that matter, maybe they could use the fund to also absorb the inevitable fines from Roger GODell.

But seriously, we support this crap. We buy the tickets, merchandise, parking and concessions. We watch the games on tv which drives even more revenue. And this is our money and how it is spent. All we ask as a fan is that the owners of our team spend the money wisely so that the team wins or at least has some respectability. By continuing to put on the eye black and don our crazy Raider Gear or wave our Terrible Towels or wear our "Dog Pound"/Pig masks we are condoning the organization's choices.

If the owner of your favorite team mis-spends money in such a way, does it encourage you to "Show your support in your home and office" and "Shop Now?" Does it motivate you to fork out that mortgage payment for tickets/concessions/parking? Are you salivating over your cable provider's NFL Sunday Package? Or do we blindly and subserviently continue whipping the dead horse and funnel money into owners' hands that are either poor decision-making egotists at best and crooked at worst?

No, the Ryan Leafs and JaMarcus Russels of the world are written off as abberrations, as jokes. Some assistant coach or middle management player personnel guy finds his head rolling into the alley beside the stadium and the organization moves on. Its lawyers decide to pursue the lost dollars (because they know odds are in their favor and even if they lose, heck, the owner is gonna pay them--they paid that poor slob QB, right?). No, the joke is that we get caught up in the whole drama. Coaches hitting coaches, players hitting coaches, coaches fired because a RB doesn't like them, owners hiring coaches as if the only qualifications are that they have a food handling card and aren't averse to wearing team color windbreakers in interviews: these are the atrocities to which we are subjected every year.
I say, stop. Maybe if we stop, they will start running our favorite team like they care. Stop watching. Stop buying. Heck, stop praying. If God doesn't care who wins, then let's pray for something meaningful. Like a playoff in college football or a new commissioner in major league baseball.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The air is beginning to feel pre-spring-like and it is getting my fishing bones vibrating.  I can just imagine the trout fighting valiantly on the end of the line, its incandescent sides reflecting like a rainbow as it turns upstream.  Calgon (or Orvis), take me away. 

I am plinking away at my computer, wondering if I will have time this weekend to make a jaunt down to Gore, OK to reel in my limit of trout.  It would certainly be carthartic...relaxing...enjoyable.

Sometimes, I think we create for ourselves a life that is too busy.  A life full of do's.  And, then, sometimes I think we imagine our lives busy when, in fact, they are not.  We dedicate ourselves to recreation.  Watch TV.  Watch a movie.  Read a book.  Play a game.  Watch a game.  The recreation goes on. 

I pray that I may make better choices with my time.  Even at 40, I find myself distracted like that dog on "Up!"--"SQUIRREL!!"  As beneficial as fishing is to me, personally, I need to evaluate its importance.  So, until this weekend, we will see what God plans for me, rather than what I have planned for me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Winter Olympics are over and I am sad.  Gone are the drama, the personal vignettes, the spirit of competition and the mind-numbing commentary.  I enjoy the Olympics, and since my wife is Canadian, I enjoyed them doubly this year. 

My favorite part of the Olympics?  Sid the Kid scoring the Gold Medal-winning goal in overtime.  What a finish!  I was torn, since I bleed red, white and blue, but my solace is that the Kid was vindicated and my wife was overjoyed.  That, to me, is priceless.

My second favorite moment at the Olympics?  Watching Shawn White do his thing.  He is a marvel to watch.  The distance between his ability and the competitors' is intimidating. 

My favorite Pre/Post Olympics moment?  It's a toss-up between the whales seeming to pop out of the ground at Olympic Stadium and the 60+ Folk/Rock legend, Neil Young singing "Long May You Run."  It was wonderful to hear him sing so clearly.  His voice is classic.  I loved the beat-up acoustic/electric guitar and his casual dress.  It was like he was singing to us in his den or on his back porch.  I will probably have to say, Neil, if you twisted my arm.

My least favorite part of the Olympics?  The announcers.  Most were doing their best, I know, but it was a disaster in general.  The hockey announcers did fine until you got to studio and they were like school kids with Nintendos.  I know the hockey was out-of-this-world good, but crank back on the sugar, boys.  The rest of the announcers (especially the figure skating) were atrocious.  And someone tell Chris Collinsworth to go back to football.  Even there, he is annoying, but sheesh!  He's a cliche-machine.  The one bright light?:  the announcers at speed skating--good on ya, Dan Jansen.  For a former athlete, he kept the commentary to the simple and the expedient and gave us insight that even laymen could comprehend. 

So, did you watch the Olympics?  What interested you?  What made you laugh?  My biggest laugh came as the American bobsled team was preparing to go, the lead pusher (who looks like Jack Black's older brother) and his teammates were referred to as athletes.  In those spandex, skin-tight uniforms, with no room for the imagination, it would be difficult to look at the specimens to which the announcers referred and tag them with the term "athlete."  Before anyone responds to that, let me say two things: 1)I am rotund as well.  I would never put on spandex (without monetary reimbursement for mental and physical damage) let alone expect for others who gaze at me to consider my form to be athletic; and 2) I recognize that their sport takes immense stamina, strength, courage and determination.  My comments do not in any way disparage their sport, but only the notion of recognizing them as athletes.  In my mind, an athlete is svelt, muscular of form, without excess stores of fat, and shuns the buffet at Big Ed's Pork Palace.  That's all I'm sayin'.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My wife and I watched a quirky romantic comedy last night titled "Lars and the Real Girl."  I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of vulgarity and the dryness of the humor.  It sort of caught me off guard.  It was deeper than its surface and its romantic elements were adorable. 

It left me pondering, though.  I don't want to give too much of the movie away to those who may not be familiar with it.  However, I can say that the core of the conflict came from a man's journey into a delusion and then out again.  It was this trip that sparked my imagination.  The screenwriter chose an offbeat way of expressing a human condition.  Specifically, how do people cope with emotional pain, emotional apathy when they have been raised in a single parent household where the adult is seriously depressed?

Its not your everyday movie theme, that's for sure, and to frame it in the comedic light in which this movie is set strikes a strange chord.  It illuminates and heightens the irony and escallation of the ridiculous.  At the same time, the audience is subjected to an intense feeling of compassion for this individual.  Remarkably, a sense of human esprit d'acord erupts as we venture deeper into this bizarre world.  We are captivated by the reality that springs from a delusion, as an individual delusion transforms into a community delusion.  And it is all because of love. 

I can recommend this movie, although I understand that is not for everyone.  If you were entertained by Napolean Dynamite or O Brother, Where Art Thou, then you may like this movie.  It is extremely Canadian in its humor, so if you like British humor, you will probably enjoy this as well. 

If you have watched the movie or watch it on my recommendation, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kindle-IPad-Kindle-IPad-MacMillan. Whoa!  Amazon, Apple and one of the BIG 6 publishers are duking it out.  $9.99 or $14.95?  Nucleur or Agency Models?  70/30 split or regular pay and loss leader?  For an author, all this can just make your head hurt.  And it is only the tip of the iceberg.  It goes beyond who is vying for the sales lead in e-book readers.  It goes beyond guerrilla business tactics and shaky ethics.  This is cataclysmic, world-shaking book events here, folks.  And, it seems the universe of publishing will never be the same. 

My humble opinion is, frankly, the proverbial "sky is falling."  I am not your local doomsday prognosicator.  I am not reading tea leaves or hunched over a glowing orb.  God has not granted me a prophetic vision.  I am just reading the winds, gentle reader.

Authors will notice a wider acceptance from publishers soon.  That is a plus.  But, they will be greeted by paltry sales and lack of respect.  While the gatekeepers will sigh and go home penniless and frustrated, the eager unpublished masses will surge forth, their 125,0000 word behemoths held forth proudly as a family heirloom on Antique Roadshow. And the whimpers will be heard for a decade as the reading audience laments the days of print when their choices were scanter, the prices steeper, but the selection grander.  The glut of early sales as readers try to fill their reading devices with cheap or free written entertainment will soon slow to an eddy.  In the end, the readers lose interest and go back to reading classics and dusting off the books on their shelves, finding nuggets of wisdom and escape among the tomes of their younger, dark-age days. And authors, a million strong, will continue their unending cathartic excercises of bleeding out their hearts on paper and computer bytes to no avail, no fanfare, and no coin.  Publishers will dry up and blow away, no longer needed to be the lethargic giant dragon hordeing their cache of treasure.  Agents will diversify and survive on peanuts:  they are used to this life, nothing changes. 

That, my friends, is the future of e-books.  The future of Amazon control.  The future of the death knell of a fat, lazy, narcissistic, elitist book publishing industry. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I was reading Nathan Bransford's posts and entered a contest that closes today at 4PM Western.  It was an interesting premise:  "Write a compelling diary entry."  The writing prompt was to make a diary entry in the voice of a teen.  I read some of the entries.  Wow.  Some really unpoignant stuff.  Not that my entry was incredible.  I sort of treated it like a writing excercise rather than a contest, really. 

It really struck me, though, that many of these people (there were over 580 entries when I posted mine) read and write young adult fiction.  It was odd to read the entries and think back to my teen years.  I never thought like that.  As a teen, my opinion of adults was respectful, benign and I had a feeling that they were hopelessly out-of-touch with my reality, my world.  It reminded me that each generation creates a new perception of reality.  Often, it begins with a narrow, insular view of the world through our own, inexperienced eyes.  It is then formed and shaped by our world and by our disposition or reaction to it. 

As I read these fictional entries, I felt that outside of demonstrating some obvious lack of talent, they represent what I have come to loathe about young adult fiction.  I think too often, adults tend to look down their noses at youth.  We poke fun at their lack of focus, their tendency toward cliqueishness, their adherence to the principles of their peers, their vanity, their angst, their awkwardness, their general fumbling for identity and belonging.  What we lose track of, though, is that we have not outgrown these things.  We are still considered awkward, fumbling, vain, conformist, alarmist, sicophant, and suffer from middle age syndrome, identity crisis, job stress, relationship stress and male pattern baldness. 

Yet, as authors seek to capture the younger audience, they speak in cliches, mumble about broken hearts and puppy love and jealousy and envy.  We all ask "why me?"  We all seek to understand "why not me?"  But to think that young adults, ages 13-19, dwell on these as much as we remember is to mire ourselves in nostalgia too much.  Maybe my own memories are tainted. 

I remember at age 13 singing "Erich's Girl" instead of "Jesse's Girl" to the Rick Springfield song.  I think I cried, too.  I learned to play the song on my grandmother's electric organ one weekend.  I remember longing for a chance to "go out with" Renee.  It dominated my life for a whole two weeks.  Yes, Renee, I was one of the long line of geeks hanging on every flip of your hairsprayed blonde bangs and every thin smile from of your angular chiseled face.

But, for every lonely moment longing for a girl or spent in misery over an inevitable break-up, I spent hours and days just seeking a good time.  I played games, stalked deer and squirrels, read books, watched television and wrote stories.  I "hung out" with friends, listened to music, played Dungeons and Dragons and thought more about how many repetitions of bench presses I needed to do to make the starting lineup than I did about how my hair looked.

I guess what I am saying is that although I had more hair with which to concern myself then, things like vanity, puppy love, and fitting in with the crowd took a back seat to enjoying life as it came.  There is an exuberence about youth, a restlessness, a cloying sense of the NOW that screams DO SOMETHING.  I remember watching my mother and father, who lacked a circle of friends outside of our extended family, only have fun when they were alone and thought:  that can't be me.  And now look.  No offense, Dad, but I am your son.  And then, with the energy, the ambition and the unquenchable desire of youth, I blithely led fun, exciting, fulfilling teen years.  I can earnestly say that despite my family's poverty, I never lacked for anything.

And I think that is the essence of youth.  We cannot pigeonhole or stereotype the energy, the excitement, the steamrolling, rollercoaster ride that is teendom.  And the thought of distilling these things down to a diary entry is an excercise in hopeless optimism.  I read about a dozen entries and was appalled, disappointed and was left wondering how poor Mr. Bransford was to glean a winner from these tawdry, grasping, insulting and superficial fictional diary entries.  Oh, there was drama, there was mature thought and often the authors used a genuine stream-of-consciousness, I-am-talking-to-my-diary-friend technique.  But, I think they missed the point.