Friday, November 23, 2007

Weighing Entertainment Value, The Message and Realism in Novel Writing

The Chicago Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop had something of a negative reaction to my recent submission. Understandable, considering that I wrote it years ago and see that I will have to go back to do some major revisions at some point later.

One part of the negative reaction they gave me, however, strikes at the heart of an intentional effect I aimed for. I left the connotation and denotation of a word, used relatively regularly and even redundantly, vague in an attempt to make a point in the realm of social psychology. My fellow workshoppers cited the redundancy and lack of definition often, and my guess is that they feel that it takes away from the piece.

Dealing with this critique certainly puts me into an interesting scenario. In one sense, it creates tension between entertaining the audience and trying to transfer some important message, which can take away from the entertainment side. If not handled well, having the important message become heavier than the entertainment can lead down a slippery slide of "what's the point of trying to impart an important message when someone doesn't read the piece in the first place?"

The workshoppers, on the other hand, either had their first exposure to this story through this submission or haven't read previous submissions in months. Such phenomena is the drawback of trying to have a novel workshopped in a very informal workshop that can cancel individual workshops on a moments notice. The people familiar with the story hadn't even recognized a major character, mainly because they hadn't kept up with the story for months. Not really a big deal for me, at the moment. I'm not ready for the story to face serious, major critiquing, anyway.

Weighing these two factors really makes for an interesting exercise, especially when also trying to consider aspects of realism. It's a science fiction (I consider it a bit of fantasy, at times), but the characters in it should be acting like real human beings with their pasts and in their situations. Scary or surprising (well, maybe not as surprising, if you know me), the realistic part has proven very difficult for me and the novel. . .especially since, at times, I have tried too hard to write realistically. . .for a piece of science fiction.

My first reaction to the consistent critique of at least 2 or 3 people on the redundancy of a term without proper definition was resistance. I want to entertain the audience, sure, but I also want to get that message across. These people might be something of a subset of people, too, who have certain tastes that may not represent a lot of people. I don't want the novel to get committeed to death by trying to please everyone. At some point, an author has to put their foot down and ignore some critiques. . .even though there might be a special except for a publisher that says "do this or the book dies."

The context aspect comes into the debate at this point. Do these critiques come from not having read the previous excerpts ever or recently? Or what if after reading a chapter later or by the end of the novel, a reader would go "Oh, that really does work for the novel! At first, I didn't think it did, but it did. It couldn't have been any other way." That aspect, I really can't know until I've finished the novel, and people have read the entirety of it to provide feedback. Working with this in mind, however, falls back on the dependence on committee.

Before the novel gets submitted to a publisher and hopefully once it gets released to the market, it should come down to the novelist's intuition meeting that of an editor's intuition. Market research shouldn't enter into the equation. With anywhere between 6 million to 6 billion people to fill such a market, the tastes of the market would tug a novel in so many directions that in the attempt to please everyone, it wouldn't frustrate them all and please no one. Yes, try to write for as many people as possible, but trying to please EVERYONE is a fool's errand.

I think the reason I have contention with my fellow workshoppers giving me the critique they did is because they're critiquing something I did intentionally. If they saw something that I didn't in my own piece, I would just write down the issue and weigh the pros and cons of it without any internal conflict. Since I meant to do what I've done and it made the critiquers uncomfortable, like the situation would do to me in real life (and I think does happen a fair amount of time), I think the effect has been accomplished, but not to a good extent that it could reach.

Elements of realism enter the equation at this point, and it becomes a useful tool. I believe that I can pull off a useful effect in the novel without compromising the entertainment of my audience. The critiquers will get what they want. At least, depending on the critquer, they'll get part of what they want. I don't plan on denoting the vagueness for the words used by this character. Plenty of connotations will be presented, but nothing completely and utterly clear will be given. Such denotations get made in academic and scientific spheres and for the law, but even then, the denotations change in adaptations to reality.

To accomplish this goal satisfactorily for the audience, I'm going to have to do a fair amount of research and experimentation. I will have to push my brain to its limits and beyond. Already, I have touched upon the topic and even crtiqued one or two other people's works based on this research, but I still have a fair amount to do. Some ideas are form in my mind, but trial and error will have to occur to see if the novel will accept it or some kind of immune response will try to reject it. Something good will come out of all this, though, and hopefully moreso than just satisfactory.

I will have to face a lot of work and frustration. That's what's fun about writing a novel and taking on these big projects, though. The work, the frustration, the engagement and, in the end, the accomplishments. Unfortunately, I would be happy with admiring my accomplishments of a finished novel and project at the moment. Oh well, at least there's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Birthing and Marrying Relatives, Views on Education and Absurd Speculations on the Sincerity of Memoir

On June 30, I gained a nephew and niece through marriage. I'll be getting my first niece by blood relation at some point in the next couple days. Strangely shocking but very neat.

Cool as that news is, it doesn't really help the word count for this entry.

I've been thinking about memoirs for the last couple days, inspired by a late night discussion that I had with the wife and someone considering going to grad school for creative nonfiction. The conversation, itself, really harked back to the days of late night undergrad discussions. . .which I didn't actually experience. Most of my crazy non-assignment-related late nights in undergrad were spent doing silly fun things with the fascist fun party or cursing myself for having insomnia.

A disclaimer in regards to my view on grad school or any college experience for that matter: a lot of it is about putting qualifications down on a resume. Seriously, anyone driven enough can teach themselves or find ways to learn about a subject or topic without paying tons of money for the education. . .in regards to a liberal arts, creative or artistic direction.

Maybe the undergrad degree isn't so bad, since it really provides a fast track to learning a lot of stuff and for honing the mind for thinking without the distractions of the real world. A grad degree and non-accredited classes, however, in my opinion, can pretty much suck away money and time that could be better used making money or focusing attention on a particular project, which can then be sold as a product at some later date. For those who need to put something on a resume or have certain experience to achieve a certain goal, grad school may just be a good option.

Let's move away from my disclaimer that could turn into a long long tangent, though.

Apparently, as I gathered from the seminar about getting a literary agent that I attended with the wife a few weeks ago, memoirs are the latest raging trend for reading material. Chick lit was the trend a few years ago. The memoir trend worries me at a gut level.

Some introspection and light research has led me to believe that the trend causes me a bit of anxiety for two reasons: (1) As an aspiring novelist, I fear my market share will be stolen away from me and (2) a career memoirist strikes me as something of an inauthentic vocation. I won't dignify the first reaction with any further attention, since it comes from the gut and probably doesn't have much grounding in reality.

The authenticity angle intrigues me, though, especially since many people, including Plato, have made remarks about fiction being a lie, which could thus lead to an accusation of inauthenticity. Why do I feel comfortable with writing fiction but see memoir as something that could spawn insincerity?

In full disclosure and at the risk of sparking the wrath of the wife, I don't have an issue with memoirs, in themselves, especially if they have a novel angle, have the ability to edify a reader (how aristocratic is that?) and, to some degree, the writing of the memoir is incidental to the experience that provides the content and inspiration. It's the mass production then commodification of human experience, similar to reality TV (and explore in the novel that I'm writing), for the entertainment of an audience that gets me in the craw.

Memoirs written after an out of the ordinary experience or even everyday life with a novel spin on it that would have happened anyway strikes me as a noble thing to do. It could affect someone else to look at the world differently and have a real connection. As I've heard writers talk about how they have their memoir and plan on writing more in a way that novelists talk about their book and wanting to get it published that punches me in the metaphorical gut.

To me, discussing it this way gives me the impression that someone plans on writing another memoir afterward, another one after that and another one then one more and so on and son. Addressing the memoir in this way makes me thinking of someone thinking to themselves, "OK, I've marketed that memoir to all hell, and I've made a good deal of money off of it. . .now what kind of interesting experience can I have now to provide the content for my next memoir, which an audience would want to read and will buy! What kind of experience will I have to have?"

Does a memoirist even need to write another one once they've become a celebrity from it? Why not hang out with Brad and Angelina? Or how about party it up with Brittany and Lindsay? Hell, the memoirist could probably just do a reality TV show to ween other memoirists, "America's Next Memoirist!" Or how about star in an effects-laden horror or science fiction movie? Guest star all over the TV. Record an album that your producer could perfect until the memoirist isn't even really there, just their face. Do a whole bunch of advertisements on TV. . ..

Would the memoirist even need good looks or an amiable personality? That could even add to the mystery of the memoirist's celebrity status. How could such a cantankerous ass get all this attention? Everyone's paying attention to the windbag, though, so I better keep an eye on them to see what they're doing next, so I can talk about it at the water cooler.

Um. . .yeah, I lost track of my thoughts there, got carried away with the limits of absurdity there. Let's leave it at that, though. Maybe someday I'll return to it with some real thoughts (isn't writing a blog with the intention of attracting attention just as bad as being a career memoirist?). . .the idea of comparing memoir to fiction sounds like an interesting challenge. Maybe I'll have to take it up someday.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Libraries are so Coooooooool

More particularly, the Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington branch really really rocks! They even have half or a whole bookcase dedicated to utopianism.

7 or 8 stories filled with books and other media of information and literature contributes a bit, too. The mandatory computers that provide access to the World-Wide Web do a good job of providing knowledge and entertainment.

In so many ways, though, the Harold Washington branch embodies the image of a library that I have in my mind. Roman columns, fountains here and there, shelves everywhere, tables and chairs, very wide open rooms, high ceilings. . .and I wish I had more focus right now to write a better description of it. I just feel that it was missing people walking around in togas and white robes.

I plan on going there on a regular basis. Already, I have gotten myself a library card and took out a book that I had thought wasn't released yet. While looking through Amazon, I made the mistake of thinking the book was going to be released in a month or two, but instead, it was released back in 1997. Yay!

But it's very convenient and quite inexpensive to have all these books available. It's also just across the street from an "L" stop. After work, I can walk a couple blocks to the train then ride the train a half hour to the library. Since the wife works and goes to school downtown, we can meet down there, do some studying then go out for drinks, dinner or whatever else downtown has to offer.

This convenience along with the vast amount of "free" access (at least my tax dollars are going to something worthwhile) to information in books and media comes as something very new to me. Growing up in a relatively small town and going to a very small liberal arts college doesn't really lead to thinking of a library as somewhere to find vast amounts and of sometimes esoteric knowledge.

Even when I got onto a college van for a ride to a much larger library at a larger school, I didn't really take advantage of the opportunity. Now, though, I'm really excited to have this resource available to me. It's so cool, especially considering that I have a whole lot more of research to do for my current paper.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Everyone Else is Blogging About the WGA Strike

Other bloggers are either ranting about how much they think the WGA writers are acting like spoiled brats or are posting support and news about the strikes going on. I'm on the side of the latter, but I don't want to post any news, arguments or whatever about the strike itself.

You can find that type of stuff easily elsewhere, like at Dead Things on Sticks, Uninflected Images Juxtaposed or Complications Ensue. There's probably plenty of of American blogs and websites focusing on the WGA strikes, too. How lame is it that I get my TV news from Canadian blogs?

Me? I'm kind of sick of taking part in the incestual blogging, as in posting links and providing my own angle on something. Maybe it's more of a matter that I'm really just kind of burnt out on my real life activities that I don't have the time to do the usual blog thing and try to get as many hits as possible.

Right now, I want to be the primary source of news if I post anything newsworthy here.

Something more unique that stands out from the herd would probably do a better job at getting The Lextopia out there better. In many ways, it's unfortunate that main interests and activities lately have such an esoteric edge to them and that I'm not famous and cool, so people take an interest in what I say just because of who I am.

Someday I'm hoping that happens. I'm OK if it happens after I die. Frankly, that idea always struck me as a Romantic idea that I could accomplish. I wanted fulfill that goal ever since I read but couldn't understand Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod. I still treasure that feeling and Thoreau, even though I now would get sickened by Thoreau's and Ralph Waldo Emerson's ultra-individualism.

Blogging really can really harken back to Romanticism, in a way. Romanticism is supposedly where the idea of "expression as art" came about, even for the unskilled artist. The individual perspective came to the fore through Romanticism. Stereotypical blogging generally has that level of individual Romantic egotistical expressionist "art."

But I've been going on and on on a tangent there.

The "unique" viewpoint I wanted to bring up is something that a radio DJ on Q101's The Morning Fix had to say. Pretty much, he looked forward to when the scripts would run out, and the networks had reruns to show. Then he could get onto doing some of the others that he meant to do.

I totally agree with that guy. I'm just enjoying way too many TV shows lately, and the TiVo hasn't been helping with manging my time when it comes to putting TV in my schedule. In all, the wife and I have committed to about 13 or 14 hours of TV: How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, Journeyman, Reaper, Bones, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Scrubs, 30 Rock, Blood Ties, The Soup, Best Week Ever, The Legion of Superheroes, The Batman and Torchwood. And that's not including shows that I haven't committed to or out of season shows (or shows that other people have provided great acclaim but I haven't seen yet). . ..

No wonder the writers have gone on strike. Yeah, sure, they have a valid purpose with the need for electronic residuals. But when was the last time they've had this much pretty good TV? Not only do the writers have a just, virtuous and righteous reason for striking, they also have the demand of the audience and the TV stations' profit margin as leverage.

At the same time, though, this audience member does kind of look forward to a break from all this TV watching!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Joys of Copy & Paste

Writing workshops coupled with the copy & paste function on the word processor make for a good time.

Remember how weeks ago, I ruminated on how my novel would work better if it were more linearly focused around the plot (rather than jumping from one character to the next then to the next then to the next, chapter by chapter)?

With the workshop happening in a couple weeks, I got to play with my submission to it by copying & pasting sections from different chapters into a version that I envision the story in the future. Other than the copy & pasting, I haven't done any drastic. . .but if I get more proactive in the future, I can see myself making more major changes.

I'm interested to see how my fellow workshoppers react to it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sleep is Good

Last week, I averaged between 4-5 hours a sleep a night. Combine work, chores, minimum socialization and hyperfocusing on research and attempts at coming up with a hypothesis for the last paper, and I lose sleep.

Frankly, it's the hyperfocusing that causes the problems. At the same time, though, it definitely has its advantages. It makes life a little difficult in the short term, day-to-day, but for the project and things require intense concentration, it helps wonders.

If only I had that hypothesis, though, things would go so much smoother. . ..

Friday and Saturday night, however, I got 9 or 10 hours of sleep, and I FEEL GREAT! Even after only getting 4 or 5 hours last night, I still feel good. Hopefully I can average better sleeping hours this week to help on the short term.

I don't know if I should expect better or worse sleeping hours tonight. The wife and I are going to see Tori Amos in concert. I'm not a fan, but since she's one of the big quintessential musicians from my teenage years, I figure I should see her at least once.

Should be interesting to see if I get to bed at a good time or not after a concert that starts at 7:30ish.