15 December 2012

Dialects of Modernity

I'm going to be reblogging the posts from my blog tour earlier this past October, just in case anyone missed them in their original locations. They discuss writing generally, but are all tied back into Rmnce, my most recent release which tells a story of new love through the text messages and letters between characters.

The third post of the Rmnce blog tour was hosted by the delightful Brooke Johnson. Brooke wrote the steampunk novel The Clockwork Giant.

I have been on both sides of the prescriptionist/descriptionist divide over the years. On the one hand, its undeniably maddening to see things that were patently wrong when you learned the language embraced as the new normal. That being said, in my experience changes to the language tend to be for the better, at least insofar as better is defined as more usable, convenient, and relevant.

The extreme of this, of course, lies in full-fledged dialects. Perhaps 15 years ago America saw a brief push to have Ebonics declared a legal dialect, with the potential for school curriculum to be altered commensurately to both teach it and teach in it. This movement was, as one might imagine, roundly defeated, but it brought up the issue of whether dialects can be considered valid evolutions of the language. Certainly Ebonics has a number of expressions which serve purposes traditional English needs served; this in itself gives validity to the existence and perpetuation of it, no matter what opinion one may have of its general appeal.

By the same token, text speak, the other principle American dialect of our time, also adds to the English language, albeit in a very different way. By taking words and sentences and hyper-simplifying them, condensing them into an utterly optimized form, it sacrifices the structural beauty, and a degree of the expressiveness, in favor of efficiency. The irony, of course, is that the very people for whom efficiency is a nearly overriding concern are those who dismiss text speak as the domain of children and imbeciles.

In evaluating a dialect’s usefulness and hence broad value, one must ask oneself if it adds to the language as it stands, and in most cases dialects which do not simply die out. Any which has stood the test of time must be looked at closely in terms of applicability. Rmnce demonstrates that art and meaning can be carried by this strange new configuration; beyond that threshold nothing more ought be required.

06 December 2012

Composite Characters

I'm going to be reblogging the posts from my blog tour earlier this past October, just in case anyone missed them in their original locations. They discuss writing generally, but are all tied back into Rmnce, my most recent release which tells a story of new love through the text messages and letters between characters.

A.M Jenner is the author of the Sci-Fi book Assignment to Earth, and hosted my post on composite characters. If you didn't catch it there, here it is!

They say that creating characters from real people lies at the vertex of laziness and subliteracy. And when I say “they,” I mean the Bitchy Goblins That Live in my Head. Yet at the same time, a composite of a dozen people becomes more than the sum of its parts, or else less than the sum of its parts. In either case, there is art in it, beauty of an open and apparent kind. More over, in an attempt to capture the mind of a generation, it pays to take a few pieces from the individual, as well as from the collective.

Britney Morgan, the female lead of Rmnce, is one of those characters. She combines a sequence of men and women whose mannerisms were unique enough to remain steadfastly in my mind, some of them for years past our parting, whose tendencies and paradigms were both a product and a mockery of those people. The irony in this is that the character came out decidedly unlikable. She demonstrates the point of the work as well as I could ever hope for, serving her purpose flawlessly and without alteration.

Yet she exists in my mind, a personality which I could almost put in place of my own were I to choose, and perhaps part of the reason she eats at me like a Herculean poison is that she exists as an unnatural aberration, a creature of a certain sort of beauty which nonetheless simply ought not be.

Beauty in all things. So chew on that, Bitch-Goblins.

29 November 2012

Art is Pain

I'm going to be reblogging the posts from my blog tour earlier this past October, just in case anyone missed them in their original locations. They discuss writing generally, but are all tied back into Rmnce, my most recent release which tells a story of new love through the text messages and letters between characters.

The opening post of my blog tour for Rmnce was hosted by the sci-fi author Len Berry, who published the dystopian novel Vitamin F this summer. The tour begins with an age old question.

29th September – What is Art. Hosted by Len Berry.

Art is Pain

They say art is pain. They say the same thing of love and beauty, and while these sorts of platitudes are the written equivalent of drunken regret the parallel has a bit of validity. Art IS pain, it is very much the emptying of a tortured soul onto a page, a canvass, or a stage. And what more ubiquitous and artful agony is there than that of romantic love? It is the defining pain of human existence, a fragile and tempestuous emotion; it builds on itself exponentially until it either reaches a sort of Singularity, a critical mass which alters its form subtly into a force harder than steel, or else collapses under its own weight like a star with the tiniest bit too much mass.

Thus, one will often find that a great writer (painter, actor, musician) will have behind them a tumultuous and nearly self-destructive romantic history. After all, if art is pain, more pain would, it stands to reason, tend to produce more art, whether in the sense of pure mass of production or greater concentration. However, what one has to ask oneself is, do artists become artists because their history of disfiguring romantic entanglements gives them the inspiration to do so, or is the artistic temperament simply prone to the sort of emotional extremes which produce the romances which burn twice as hot and half as long?

10 August 2012

Fuck Your Ending; Or, Why You Musn’t Ever Matter Except if There's a Lot of You and Even Then Only Sort Of

What I want to talk about today is the cultural background, the cultural context of written work, and by extension all art. I'm going to do that through the lens of 99 Brief Scenes From the End of the World, by a man who might just make himself the voice of a generation his bio insists he isn't even part of, one T. W. Grim. (Yes, I'm aware Usenet came about in 1980, Fact Checking Reader Who Lives in my Head. The point stands.)

First, though, I want to do a brief review of the book, because it's my party and I'll review if I want to. Review if I want to. 

99 Brief Scenes From the End of the World (henceforth 99S) is, and believe me when I say that I don’t use this term lightly or regularly, absolutely brilliant. It combines a technique which I've never seen before, writing 99 stories each several pages in length, with a nearly breathless but nonetheless well-paced tone.  I know I’m supposed to be in superlative rehab, but I'm jumping off the wagon with both feet because it really is the best thriller I’ve ever read and in my top 5 books written within my lifetime. It is also very possibly the most blatant and uncompromising look at the beauty which lies in ignoring the reader. 

Read it, and if you don’t love it quit reading and take up another hobby because you are clearly just plain not fucking cut out for it.

As for the cultural context, the Not Review portion of this post, 99S was originally written as a serial on Reddit, a site which is something like a sequel to that far more famous, or perhaps infamous, hive of scum and villainy, fiction and falsehood from the olden days of the web. What that means, for Reddit that is, is that despite its toothless debility it is still in many ways a microcosm of internet culture, a mirror of the inherent nature of a people which hide at the bedrock center of hundreds of web communities, providing us with everything from lolcats and  trollception to unbounded intellectual inquiry and sociopolitical activism.

99S embodies that same mindset: Digressive, irreverent, almost combatively uninterested in the comfort of anyone, anywhere; in short, all that the web is at its best and its worst, with nothing in between. It is a book which could not exist without untold millions of 1’s and 0’s and the culture they spawned. The beauty in this is that, unless I miss my guess, the occurrence is entirely unintentional. The book isn’t about the internet, doesn’t say a single word directly about internet culture; it was simply birthed by a creator possessed of, or perhaps possessed by, a cultural phenomenon beyond his control. 

As writers we are in no way immune to the influences of culture. Those of us whose egotism is exceeded only by our single-minded dedication to a goal very nearly unattainable often like to pretend that we exist in a world unto ourselves, somewhere between a fantasy and a vacuum, but at the risk of disabusing some pleasant notions, no man is island. I would go so far as to say that we who fancy ourselves artists are more so mirrors of the time and place in which we live, inadvertently exposing our cultural heritage for the viewing public in a way which is inextricable not just from the self but also from the collective. From what some might call the collective unconscious, the zeit- or volksgeist, or if they're dumb and whining at me (as is the wont of so many), the esprit d'corps.

The question, then, is how much is a work truly ours, as writers? Does the fact that we are often channeling some unseen force, drawing our story not entirely from ourselves but from the world we live in mean that in some way the work is the property of that collective unconscious? This is not a rhetorical question. 
As an extension of all this, we must face the topic which has occupied my mind for what would be fairly described as an embarrassing amount of time if I was capable of embarrassment; I am consumed by curiosity as to what the literary analysts will (or would...) find in my work, what voices enter unbidden...

So, I’ll issue this challenge, through not a spirit of generosity I’ve never possessed but rather in pursuit of what only you may give me, my dear readers:

If you fancy yourself a literary sort, the sort of person who finds things the author cannot, email me and I’ll have a PDF of anything published in your hands in hours, God willing, with the sincere hope that you will return to me a work of sublime insight somewhere between 1 sentence and a graduate thesis.

In the meantime, abandon your thoughts of my work, and bury yourself in Mr. Grim’s. It is, in a word, unapologetic, reveling carelessly in a quagmire of the sort of guiltless imperfection which stands in stark contrast to self-conscious literary vanity, a paragon of the nearly imperceptible.

I didn’t care for the ending, but you know what? Fuck my ending. And fuck yours, too. Genius answers to no one, or in failing to abandons itself to the mob.

03 August 2012

Seek Bliss You Self-Important Tit; Or, Popcorn is Good, Too.

This Not Review is about a freebie I stumbled across on Amazon, a book called Clockwork Blue that if I’m being honest I wouldn’t have picked up if it hadn’t been free. It’s an alternate history fantasy romance about the intervention of pixies in the Napoleonic Wars, or more accurately in the time leading up to the Napoleonic Wars. Or not leading up to them, if the fairies win. I don't know. Didn't finish it. Sorry dearest Gloria... you're in the 99%.

Think of this post as the inversion of my Pride and Prejudice and Zombies post; that is to say, a post about how things that aren't art can still be good.

What I want to write about today, if you haven't picked up on it, perhaps because you were distracted by the brilliance of that Not Review I linked above, is this: that of shallow, mindless storytelling. 

Now, reading that, you are probably becoming whiney and outraged, if you’re the sort of reader who should really sort themselves the fuck out like seriously, complaining that it’s unfair for me to look down on a work simply because it doesn’t adhere to my standard of what a book ought to be. Perhaps you’re even attempting to draw a parallel to the ‘artificial’ standards of beauty, if that happens to be your cause (as it seems to be for an anomalous number of my readers). However, this is not the case. Or at least, not entirely.

Some of you may recall, a while ago I wrote a brief treatise on G+ about the popularity of meaningless pop music. My approach to it was deemed artistic elitism and inspired a bit of ire, and if you were the sort who had that impression of it, prepare for a sense of déjà vu.

That question with regard to music, the question of why meaningless, musically questionable pop music continues to top the charts as it has for as long as charts have been a thing, has long been, and perhaps still is, a source of no minor bafflement in many of my correspondents. It is my suspicion that the same question may arise with regard to literature, so I’m going to address it. To summarize my previous work, what one must keep in mind is that not everyone goes to music in order to be altered as a person. Often they go to it to be entertained. This is also true of literature, perhaps even more so since ‘deep’ literature tends to be a little tiny bit 

Clockwork Blue is what Yahtzee Croshaw might call a popcorn book; a little bit of fluff which serves to distract us from the mind-numbing tedium which makes up the average human lifespan (not mine, of course, because I’m an international man of mystery, but work with me here). It isn’t very substantial, and I can almost guarantee it won’t change your perspectives on a goddamn thing, but it nonetheless serves a purpose, perhaps an important purpose, in the lives of its readers, and indeed in the world of literature as a whole.

While it’s important to continue to expand our minds and seek experiences which shake the foundations of our identity, it’s also important to embrace bliss, and bliss comes in many forms, not the least of which is the simplistic, the subliterate, the quietly pleasant and unassumingly enjoyable. 

The moral of this story is that you musn't allow your pretention to override your pursuit of pleasure. 

12 July 2012

Guest Post by JD Savage: Writing for the Market, or Just for You

Today we have a guest post from fantasy writer JD Savage, one of my fellow Literary+ luminaries whose new book "The Seeds" has just been released. He's talking about something many authors face; the question of whether writing, which like so many forms of expression is both an art and (for a lucky few) an industry, should be a product not only of inspiration but also capitalist necessity.

Writing for the Market
-Or Just for You?

Some of the authors that will be published in the wake of such a juggernaut have been writing and seeking a publishing home for years before such a thing happens. They find themselves in the right place at the right time, and boom! They get their sparkly vampire love triangle story published. Good on them. Others see the trend coming, craft a story that fits the genre, work really hard to polish it and make it a good book, and they get published, as well. Then they are doomed to an endless sea of comparisons to a book or series that may be less polished but more accepted by the reading public.

We should all be so lucky.

In the midst of this, writers are faced with choices. If they have a relationship with a publishing house, they may be under pressure to follow the latest trend. Or, they may be feeling the pressure from their own fans, clamoring for a similar story written in their style. What trends are coming, ready to be seized?

There are plenty of blogs out there that track these sorts of things. The Hub, has a list of trending topics that are beginning to emerge in YA literature, (my personal favorite, young girls that know how to kill). I have no personal connection to this site, I just thought they provided a pretty balanced list. If you are looking to make a living as an author, it may be that capitalizing on an upcoming trend is the way to go.

But, before you go and write the next happy-go-lucky dystopian shoot-em-up, consider this. Somebody started those trends. Some author wrote something that was still done in a unique way. Maybe it wasn’t wholly original, (is there such a thing?), but eye-opening, nonetheless.  It was cool enough to garner a bunch of readers, get people talking about it, and be interesting enough to start a trend.

When you first sat down to write, is that what you wanted? Did you want to take the world by storm with your unique viewpoint? Or, did you hope to be the voice in the crowd who rises above the din, doing what everyone else is doing, only doing it better?

There’s no right and wrong here. Oh, to be sure, some will sniff haughtily at the trends and think themselves too artistic for all of that. But writers, in general, are not wickedly interested in seeing you fail. Success is hard to come by, and whether you walk the well-worn path or blaze your own, most writers, (avid readers, all), will applaud your efforts.

So, the choice is yours. Read up on the trends, pick one, (or two or three…), and make it your own. Or, tell that unique story you want to tell, make it great and keep at it. The really prolific might even try to do both. Whichever path you choose, remember that you can do it. You can be the one that tells that story in the way that the public needs to hear it. You can write just for you, and people may fall in love with your voice, your style - whether you writing a time-honored tale or something totally personal.

I plan to keep writing books I want to read.  If I like it, that’s a success for me. That’s the choice I’m making. Although a story about young female assassins may not be so far out of my comfort zone…
What do you think of Katniss as a character name? … Too soon?

About The Seeds and its author:

This is not your grandmother's fairy tale. A fantasy novel that turns the genre on its head, "The Seeds" follows Trooper Angus Mayweather as he is thrust into the conflict faced by twin sisters Dartura & Varia, Generals of the Tarol Nation. As the sisters uncover a new threat from an old enemy, Angus must do what he can to help as the Tarol Nation faces all-out war.

Where to buy: "The Seeds"
Website: www.jdsavage.com
Writer's Blog: Tarol Nation
G+ profile: JD Savage

13 April 2012

A Fresh Assault on Literature: Mastercard Steps into PayPal's Shoes

As you (almost certainly don’t) know, I have a strange love of patterns. Not the sort of patterns which are stable and predictable, patterns which leap around while maintaining a central theme, graffiti-esque amalgamations of ideas and emotions tied together only in the abstract. This post will break a pattern of beautiful and artistic narcissism on my part, but it will do it because I must once again make a stand in hopes of breaking a very different sort of pattern.

Over the past several months, we’ve had one attack on our freedom of expression after another, a string of violations as gratuitous as they are invasive. Some, like SOPA, are governmental in nature, broad stroke assaults under the guise of piracy or something equally hot button and gimmicky. These have received attention on a large scale, so we shall move briskly past them. What hasn’t, and what is worse in its way, is the economic strangulation of ‘objectionable’ writing.

I’ve spoken vehemently and repeatedly of this on G+, many comment sections, and of course the inimitable meatspace, but apart from my Lockpick Pornography post have not done so here. A new instance of it has sprung up, though, giving me both an opportunity and an obligation to do so.

Mastercard has in the past few days decided that they wish to strangle erotic content which covers ground they do not wish to see explored. They are doing so by refusing to process payments for any online outlet which allows content they dislike, and their position in the market allows them to make great strides in assaulting our freedom.

This is not the first time, but it is my hope that a show of grassroots force will mean it is the last, or at least the last for a while. PayPal, as many of you know, did something similar in the past, a policy activists like me fought back against and saw overturned. However, where PayPal did it through the banning of broad themes, Mastercard has taken a rather more Orwellian approach by banning specific words outright. Below appears the list:

Alcohol, drink, liquor etc.
Asphyxia, asphyxiate, asphyxiation etc.
Bled, Bleed, Bleeding etc
Drugged, Drug
Force, Forcing etc
Hypnotize, hypnotise etc
Incapacitate, Incapacitation etc
Intoxicate, intoxication etc
Lactate and variants
Menstrual, menstruate etc
Molest, molestation, molested etc
Murder  (and variations)
Mutlilate, Mutilation etc
Passed out
Pedophilia (and various alternate spellings)
Rape, raping, rapist etc
Scat, shit, fecal, bukake etc
Fetal, foetal etc
Sedate, sedative sedation etc
Sleep, slumber
Smother, snuff
Violate, violating etc

Now, what many of you are thinking is, “That stuff sounds fucking terrible… maybe Mastercard is doing the world a favor.” Now, yes, much of it sounds terrible (though, menstruate?), but the thing about it is that this is art. Erotica is art, and as art it must of necessity be unrestrained, must be able to deal with themes which are unpleasant, even sickening, in order to do it’s job.

If you doubt that, look to the Dirty Minds vs. Debit Cards series which Eden Connor curated on her blog during the PayPal incident. It shows that the writing and reading of such material has tremendous potential to aid in healing for those who have experienced these things in the worst possible way. The stories you find there are those of people whose lives have been directly and measurably improved by this material – for someone like Mastercard to deny that to the web is repugnant in the extreme.

Yet this is not truly relevant. Even if this material had no potential to heal, no artistic merit, no reason to exist whatsoever, the fact of the matter is that this work harms no one, indeed effectively does not exist for anyone who does not actively choose to seek it out and engage with it. There is no reason for Mastercard, PayPal, or anyone else whatsoever to be indulging their own narrow morality by attacking it.

Now, those of you who have read my work are perhaps wondering why I feel this is my fight. After all, my content is not erotic in nature, and while some of these words do appear in my work, the fact that it is not erotica will likely spare me Mastercard’s wrath. In short, you are noting that I have no immediate dog in this fight.

In answer to that unspoken question, I’m here because we as writers have a transcendent right to sell our work, to share it with those who want it or need it, to bring light to the abysmal darkness which is the human experience with the products of our minds. With that right comes an overriding responsibility to defend that right not only for ourselves and our readers but for all artists, all consumers, all mankind everywhere. It is my sincere hope that this message will inspire you to act, to spread this message and those like it to all those lovers of art in its myriad forms such that we may continue to show the corporate puppeteers who dream themselves our overlords that we will not and cannot stand idly by while they enforce themselves on those who seek freedom.

The contact information for Mastercard may be found on their website below:

If you have any more information on this issue, better contact information for Mastercard, petitions or open letters to sign, or even if you just want someone to rant to about all of this, by all means email me.

03 April 2012

Derivative Bullshit, Emphasis on the Bullshit; Or, Why Horrible Things Can Still Be Art

Image Source: www.collider.com

This is Not a Review… mostly. But in order to make my point I’m going to have to do a little reviewing. If you are a NaRB purist, I will understand if you choose to wait until next Tuesday to find another Not Review. Today’s book is not a good book. It’s barely a decent book. In fact, it perpetuates the single worst trend in the modern era. I’m talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. What it is, however, apart from a shit Popsicle, is an object lesson in the power of derivative works.

For those of you who don’t read things written in the past 50 years, and who could blame you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice except with… zombies. Now, those of you who have followed my work closely already know that I consider zombies the single worst fantasy/sci-fi monster in the entire world. In fact, I’m going to go on record, at hazard of reputation, as saying that never at any time in the past, present, or future has there been or will there be a worse monster than the zombie, or indeed a worse character of any kind. They’re boring, pointless, not scary in any way, and have no legitimate message to convey whatsoever.

However, they are emblematic of all that’s wrong with modern fiction; to wit, idiotic pandering to a demographic which, in a just world, wouldn’t exist in the first place, a demographic which a cursory genealogical study would demonstrate serves only to drag down the human race into a festering cesspool of incest and genetic degredation, a demographic which is so utterly without merit that its survival instinct has been subverted by the perverse desire to be cannibalized by the resurrected corpses of its betters, nature having turned against her own in sheer madness at the consistent failure of evolution which marks their reproduction. Yet the fact remains that in doing so it accomplishes something that very little else has. By juxtaposing the Victorian culture espoused so beautifully (if interminably) by Miss Austen with the far more modern (Don’t link me to zombie texts from the 1800s that wasn’t the same and you fucking know it) concept of zombies and pseudo-Eastern martial arts, and continuing to explore the themes of womanhood and feminism as Austen herself did only taken much further in accordance with modern concepts of them, Grahame-Smith created a true work of art. It demonstrates the shifts in society, both positive and negative, setting the beauty of history alongside the freedom of modernity and standing back with its arms crossed daring anyone to see past its façade of childishness to the artistic core within.

This teaches us two things. The first is that allowing derivative works has a tremendous potential to advance art without undermining the original (after all, I seriously doubt people have quit buying Pride and Prejudice in favor of Seth Grahame-Smith’s fetid tome). This leads us to a copyright debate which I won’t launch into except to say that there is a difference between allowing someone else to create something new from the work of a dead author and allowing anyone to publish the work of whomever because fuck people who want to make money off their work.

The second is that a book doesn’t have to be good to be art. It doesn’t have to be enjoyable or well-written, it merely has to convey a message beyond the obvious, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does so in stunning(ly shitty) fashion.

27 March 2012

The Only Way to be Remembered is to Piss Off Everyone; Or, How to Win Fame and Alienate People

This week’s book is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The same Ayn Rand who is so well-known in the US that I’d rather assumed the rest of the English-speaking world would be aware of her as well, but whose work seems not to have made the jump into the socialistic murder-pit that is Peninsula of Peninsulas. Even the Czechs I asked, largely literary and capitally capitalist, were unaware. I have never felt so ethnocentric in my entire life. The sensation was so overpowering, so all-encompassing that I came dangerously close to experiencing an emotion. For those of you who are not familiar with the book, it is best known for two things. The one we’re going to talk about is the philosophy of Objectivism, essentially the idea that the market will handle all needs whatsoever provided that there is an incorruptible government which can enforce contracts, protect IP, and so forth. And no, I’m not going to talk about the other thing it’s known for. You know… that scene. Feel free to argue it in the comments, if you like, but I’m here for something else.

You will note, no doubt with an overwhelming mixture of shock, anger, and betrayal, that it is not an eBook. Apparently I’m not even trying to stick to the flimsy pretense of promoting my fellow Kindle and Nook guttersnipes and am just writing about whatever I read like the objectivist asshole Ayn has made of me. That (if I may say so) brilliant segue brings us to the thrust of the post, which is to talk about fiction, specifically novels, as a vehicle for the propagation of ideas or philosophies. This is a technique which was more common in centuries past, with things like Philosophy in the Bedroom and Candide taking up special places in our hearts (and, in the former case, often in that secret place near our beds where we put all the things we’re “not” getting off on). However, despite their taking rather controversial views, even (or perhaps especially) by modern standards, they raise none of the ire that Ayn Rand has managed to.

 I’ve contemplated this for a number of years, having read her other major Objectivist tome, Atlas Shrugged, in what ought to have been my formative years. Obviously my first thought was that the concept of a selfishness as a virtue was simply not something people could accept even as a possibility. This is reinforced by the fact that owning a copy of Atlas Shrugged was sufficient justification for being exiled from the dating world, as The Hairpin reminded us in a half-joking article (which is worth a read for the humor if not the insight). And yes, I do read The Hairpin. No, I don’t think that calls my masculinity into question. Well, you know what, I don’t need to justify myself to you with all that weird porn you keep in your bedside table and yes I saw it! Ahem. Anyway.

My point is, Philosophy in the Bedroom is usually (and wrongly, in my opinion) interpreted as a guide to committing dire sins against nature purely for the sake of taking mirthful glee in perversity; surely the idea that capitalism will cure what ails us is not a more repugnant concept than that for a society so obsessed with sexual restraint that at time of writing there are a dozen states with signs that say “good girls don’t” hung in the halls of their public schools? I think not. So I locked this  particular line of questioning up in my head, taking it out every so often to roll it over before getting bored and putting it back again.

When I began to study the history of philosophy after realizing I knew literally everything else in the universe that didn’t involve math, I found that Voltaire’s work with Candide, even more so than his more straightforward philosophy which was or ought to have been more controversial in itself, was not taken well by the body politic. It was, in fact, met with a notable degree of ire. What this tells us, apart from the fact that I am apparently content to draw conclusions from only a couple data points so long as the alternative involves some form of work, is that  we must, perhaps, look to the format. My suspicion is this: People get upset when they go into a book expecting a narrative and instead get philosophy, especially philosophy which disagrees with their sensibilities (which all good philosophy must, not just because its job is inherently to challenge the status quo but because the average person is so overwhelmingly wrong on virtually every subject that writing in agreement with them must of necessity involve monkeys and typewriters, or else the fetid Bard himself), they become rather outraged. This outrage lasts a few generations as one teaches the next to hate the things they hate, and then dies out because who actually gives a fuck?

The moral of the story is this: If you want to be remembered, piss off a lot of people. If you want to piss off a lot of people, write a philosophical fiction piece. If you want to write a philosophical fiction piece, get in fucking line because mine’s getting published first and there’s nothing you can do about it.

20 March 2012

People Will Accept Whatever Stupid Shit You Give Them; Or, Don't Prey on the Shittiness of Others

I’m probably not going to touch on a lot of non-fiction, but this time I am because it serves to teach a lesson. Great Captains Unveiled by B. H. Liddell Hart is ostensibly a work of military science meant to teach lessons through the lens of historical fact. I’m not going to say it doesn’t do that, necessarily, but in doing so it bestows a nearly deific status on the leaders it touches on. It’s simply bad history.

“But Gabriel,” you say, a sense of indignant disinterest rising in your breast, “who gives a fuck?” That’s an excellent question Reader Who Lives in my Head! To my eye, this should stick out as a very, very bad idea that will take your reader out of the work. However, my eye is clearly wrong because some of the most popular works of fiction do precisely this: See Dune, which did this at least once per book, creating the sort of epic power creep normally associated with horribly-run tabletop gaming, or the vast majority of anime (Yes I’ve been known to partake. Don’t judge.). Even something like Bones or Rambo has this same sort of inhumanly capable character that makes any real, plausible character seem quaint and tawdry. Truth be told, a really solid portion of Hollywood films, all the way from The One and The Matrix to A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting employ this exact same trope of the impossibly awesome character. (No, don’t link me to the TVTropes name for that. Don’t do it. TVTropes is made by the devil to undermine all that’s enjoyable in the world.)

What does this demonstrate? It demonstrates that there is a willingness in the reader/viewer to accept characters which verge on deus ex machina personified, provided they can put themselves into the shoes of the character, or at least into the shoes of the character’s love interest or bff. Ask yourself why there is a pseudo-‘normal’ opposite-sex companion to every Dune Ubermensch. It’s not because there needs to be a crowbarred-in romance subplot, though that doesn’t hurt; it’s because people are willing to accept any level of absurdity so long as it’s their absurdity, an absurdity they feel some ownership in.

To be clear, this is not a license to write terrible characters. This is an observation on human nature. Don’t take advantage of this any more than you would take candy from a baby simply because the baby can’t fight back. Write good characters who aren’t irrationally capable, and allow people to experience them at a level deeper than “I wish *I* could kill everyone in the world with a single thought!”

06 March 2012

Art Requires Gay Sex; Or, Fuck Censorship in the Ass But Not in a Homophobic Way, Seriously

This post is going to focus on Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau, who happens to be my own personal Jesus Fucking Christ. It will also directly relate to the PayPal debacle which I haven’t taken a day off from yelling about in weeks. Normally I would link to the text, but it seems to have been pulled from absolutely everywhere so I'm linking to the Mr. Comeau's webcomic, which is also wonderful.

If you haven’t read it, Lockpick Pornography is an allegory on gender issues and civil rights. It’s also very gay and highly erotic in places. What this gives me a chance to touch on is the concept of explicit, titillating erotic material which is integral to the plot and the message of the work, but which nonetheless is not something many are going to ‘get off’ on and some will find outright off-putting.

You see, lately PayPal or possibly the credit card companies or the Illuminati or who-the-fuck-ever it is that actually pulls the strings on this sort of idiocy has been trying to force out 'erotic' material which relates to 'objectionable' topics. I will state unequivocally that there is no argument whatsoever that can be made to justify this, but that fact hasn’t stopped people from trying. The argument, as best I can suss it out, is that material which is objectionable has no place in artistic expression if it is titillating or explicit.

However, Lockpick Pornography teaches us the object lesson in that. I didn’t really get off on it, and if I’m being honest was a little disgusted in at least one place. I expect I'm far from alone on that, yet without the erotic content it absolutely could not have been as effective an allegory as it was. There's one scene in particular that was a MMF threesome with two biological men and a biological woman all struggling with their concepts of gender constructions in some form or fashion. It leaves nothing to the imagination, but the details of their coupling (tripling?) are absolutely necessary to illuminate the internal struggles they're all facing. Would the book have worked without it? Sure. it would have worked without proper nouns, too, if we're being hypothetical.

Now obviously gay material isn’t ‘objectionable’ anymore by the standards of the body politic or any of the more mainstream corporate overlords, but it was once, and may well be again if certain factions have their way. What it is, is unpleasant to certain sensibilities, in which way it is quite identical to bestiality or incest. If we begin to censor things because they are titillating to some and offensive to others we will destroy significant works of art, or else prevent them from being created in the first place. I was truly edified by this book, and yet if the standard of PayPal and co. was applied it would be forbidden to purchase on the internet, and indeed if I allowed my own distastes free rein I would have been deprived of the experience regardless.

There are lots of kinds of sex that lots of people don’t like, and limiting literature, erotic or otherwise, on that basis is an unforgiveable assault on the artistic community, and moreover one that is non-directional and unlimited. Everything worth writing is going to ruffle feathers. That’s what we do.

ed; Apparently Lockpick Pornography went out of print in preparation for The Complete Lockpick Pornography which appears to include a second story which may or may not be related.

27 February 2012

Why Everyone But Me Is Wrong; Or, Why Professors Shouildn't Be Allowed in Public

This one is not directly book-related because I, like most writers, hate reading. This is a story about two English professors who hate each other. The first English professor is a writer with the sort of passion for grammar usually reserved for librarians and characters with an IQ above 110 in every single Hollywood movie ever made. The second English professor is a reader with the sort of disdain for grammar usually reserved for 7th-grade gangstas and characters the audience is meant to relate to in every single Hollywood movie ever made and isn’t that just about the biggest implied insult to the cinema-going population that could ever be?

These two professors work together at one of the (5) universities I attended, and being the sort of petted anthrophobes that make up the vast majority of university faculties take every opportunity to make little jabs at one another. I had the singular pleasure of taking classes from both simultaneously (Classic lit and the mandatory comp class which was to writing what the robots in a GM factory are to painting) and hearing both sides of the story.

On the one hand was the (less insufferable, but no less wrong) latter professor, the one for whom grammar was, on alternating days, a benighted relic of the dark ages or an active enemy attempting to tear down the edifice of modern expression. In either case, he took every opportunity to point out that anyone who had a firm dedication to grammar was no more capable of writing a work of literature than a robot was of writing a symphony (no, stop, do not link me to the robot who wrote a symphony; applying a formula to music is not art, it’s math, and we don’t like math at Not a Review Blog).

This is partly true, in that an unwillingness to deviate from the established rules is at the very least a significant limitation on your ability to be expressive (which is to say, stop emailing me about Enki I’m well aware it’s missing commas and has sentence fragments WORKING AS INTENDED I HATE YOU) and perhaps just as likely indicative of a mindset not conducive to art. After all, ‘rules people’ and ‘art people’ are two sets with an absolute minimum of overlap. Show me a writer who has never been detained by the authorities and I’ll show you a writer who… well, who grew up in the Czech Republic, land of freedom and abject lack of police presence.

Anyway, where he went wrong (why yes, I do feel comfortable correcting a man twice my age with a PhD, 40 years teaching experience, and numerous non-fiction publications, thanks for asking) is that he assumed that using grammar and knowing grammar were the same, and that by simply not knowing it one’s writing would be better.

Now, as you recall, there is a second professor in this story, one who fancied himself a writer but whose writing was, I understand, abysmal. I didn’t read it personally because fuck books but I take the word of the people I strongly hesitate to call my peers. Actually, as I think of it, that might not be a great idea. Still, we’re here now. Now, I know what you’re (probably not) thinking.

“Gabriel, what made it so bad? He was an English professor; surely he knew how to write? I’ve never met an English professor so I’m just acting on blind assumptions!!”

Well, Uneducated Reader Who Lives in My Head, his writing was terrible because it rigidly adhered to the precise rules of grammar and rectitude and thus had no verve, no spirit. It was also terrible because he was a painfully dull man whose capacity for creativity stretched no further than a slightly more inspiring version of the MLA handbook, which was rejected, incidentally, for being ‘too spicy.’ Thus, the idea that people who know too much grammar are shit as writers is not necessarily true, but the idea that knowing grammar will make you good at writing is at least as untrue. Knowing how the language is supposed to work and choosing not to do it properly is art, and allows for nuanced, expressive writing. Not knowing how it works in the first place is how we got the internet (HAHA internet joke straight off the cuff bitches).

Here’s the lesson section, children, so those of you who have been reading the last 700+ words on autopilot may want to begin paying attention now. Actually, you may want to look into how you’re spending your time because not reading things is apparently rather time consuming for you. Anyway, it’s important to differentiate there, because at the very least knowing most of grammar is, if not necessary, at very least quite helpful in writing. After all, much of grammar was added in not “to give halfwits like Dr. Bumblefuck something to ‘teach’ so they don’t go out and inflict themselves on the literary world” but rather to make things more expressive. If you grasp what it was trying to do, and decide you don’t want to do that, you can always “say to hell with it and just write whatever you feel like a real artist,” but if you don’t know why it exists in the first place you’re not so much writing as stringing words together because you like the sound of them (you know who you are with your ‘overcoming miasmatic vagina vapors’).

24 February 2012

Fuck Originality; Or, Why Being a Pretentiously Judgmental Fuckwit Ruins Your Reading Experience

First up is the book I just finished, Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig. I linked to it on G+ on the 23rd with a relatively positive note, which you could take as a sort of recommendation. It didn’t change my life, but then neither do most books. However, this is Not a Review Blog, so if you’ve been paying attention you’re now asking yourself where I’m going with this. If you haven’t, this is the time to start.

What I mentioned, and what may or may not have been taken as a positive, is that it reminds me greatly of the work of Stephen King, who is a rather subliterate sort of man but nonetheless quite brilliant at what he does. Relevant to that, the thing that I wanted to touch on was the overwhelming sense of King–ness that pervades it. It is impossible to miss, that sort of Kingian echo, and whiile one would perhaps not mistake it for King's work outright, it's still hard to deny the parallel. That established, we have to ask ourselves a question.  Can a work of literature borrow so heavily from its contemporaries and still be art?

I would tend to say yes, and while your mileage may vary (though if it does you are wrong) I’m going to tell you why. At the end of the day, what are we really doing here? We’re expressing. We’re taking people to emotional places that they wouldn’t go otherwise, whether remembered or imagined, and that fundament is not undermined by borrowed voices. Yes it would be better and more engaging if it had a more unique voice, and yes we could ask ourselves what impact it has on the blah blah blah, but that’s not the point. The point is that the book has something of its own to say, and the way in which it says it is not enough to overrule that. It can, perhaps, be distracting, at least for those of us who obsess over such things,but that's a problem which largely lays at the feet of the reader.

Meeting a work halfway, accepting it for what it is rather than what it could be, is the responsibility of all readers, and if we refuse to do that our experience will never be complete.

Introduction; Or, Actually Let's Stick With Introduction

When I first considered starting this blog I envisioned it as a review blog with an emphasis on constructive lessons to be gained from each work, and perhaps periodic updates on my own work. I realized, though, that my relentlessly critical approach to reviews was rather unpleasant to read and not all that constructive. That in mind, this is Not a Review Blog, and it will Not tell you whether to buy a book.

Instead, it will focus on the intellectual and artistic edification which I see in books, whether through their flaws or their strengths or just the subject matter they cover. It will be, in a very real sense, the philosophy of literature.