Posts Tagged publishing
We had a very lively and interesting debate over the 50 Shades cultural “phenomena” on Friday. I’m deeply grateful for all those commenters who posted such thoughtful opinions, even those who didn’t agree with me. I actually am not afraid of people disagreeing with me and I have zero interest in my blog simply being an ideological echo chamber.
Yet, there are a few things I’ve “heard” in the comments or even on Facebook which leave me flummoxed and I believe these assertions call for a closer examination.
It’s ONLY a Story. It is FICTION. JUST a FANTASY.
One argument that baffled me was this idea that 50 Shades is just a book and only fantasy. I do not begrudge James her success nor am I lambasting anyone who likes the books. To each, his or her own. I never called for banning, burning or censoring.
Since I never read the book in totality, I never left a review. I also didn’t review the film because I am not a reviewer. I never commented on the quality of the prose, film, actors etc. etc. only the message.
And, as an abuse survivor and someone who has spent years working with battered women? I feel my opinion is more educated than, perhaps, many who finished the books. Grey exhibits all signs of a sociopath by Chapter Three (which is right about when I quit reading). More on sociopathy HERE.
I didn’t want to go there. Lived it. Don’t need to read it. I’ve also read many novels and watched many movies I would not recommend because I had to put down the book thirty pages in or walk out of the film in the first half hour.
In my opinion, that is as viable of an opinion as someone who gutted through all 90 minutes of Showgirls to know it was crap.
***If I were a reviewer then it would be my professional duty to formulate an opinion based on the entire body of work…because that would be my JOB.
Yet, the reason I did feel a need to discuss this work is because it has gone beyond being a book and has become a cultural force. With over 100 million legitimate copies in circulation (not counting for borrowed copies from friends and libraries, pirated copies or used purchases) that many books will make a societal impact by sheer volume.
It’s the equivalent of a literary comet strike.
Add in a possible hit movie? Could be an extinction event.
THIS was when I felt it necessary to step in and state my analysis and at least posit the hard questions.
Fiction is NEVER JUST a Story
To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).
During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.
Neil Postman, in his book “The Disappearance of Childhood” cites one of the first legal cases where an adult was censured for hurting a child. It was a woman who gathered orphans and fed them, but put out their eyes with knitting needles then planted them on the street to beg. Apparently, blind kids made more money.
When the woman was finally brought to court, she was not punished for cruelty, rather fined for “destruction of property.” In fact, animal rights organizations had been established a good ten years before anyone thought children might require similar protection.
A Christmas Carol was one of the many literary works that led to society establishing legal protection for children, which didn’t exist until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Oops, Did I Do THAT?
Sometimes the author even misses the mark. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to highlight wage slavery and the horrific treatment of immigrants in the Chicago meat-packing industry. The story, however, had a very different impact than the author intended.
Readers were horrified about the conditions of the FOOD. Public outrage and political pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry, which was renamed the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.
Sinclair later bemoaned that his work had ended up helping the very institutions he’d rightly demonized and issued that famous quote in the October, 1906 Cosmopolitan Magazine—“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Thus for us to say that fiction is only fantasy is to say that “Red Badge of Courage,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and others are equally fantastical and benign.
And before anyone says, “Well, E.L. James is certainly NOT a literary master and no one will hail this work as a classic” we are wise to appreciate a couple factors.
First, what we today view as a classic was often mass market pop fiction of its time. It’s often only in retrospect that we can witness how a novel, a play, a movie, a whatever, shifted the trajectory of a culture. Secondly, “literary classics” aren’t the only transformative works.
Star Trek only ran three seasons before being canceled in 1969, and yet I feel it did more to impact race relations and redefine women’s roles than any piece of legislation. Though as Trekkie, I FEEL Star Trek a classic, I have yet to see it on any syllabus at a university.
Additionally, Horror was once an extremely popular genre, giving us such classic tales as Frankenstein (which greatly impacted science) and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau where Moreau crafts humanoid-animal chimeras via vivisection. Yet, The Island of Dr. Moreau also addressed deeper issues of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility and scientific tampering with nature. It was instrumental in forming our modern scientific standards of ethics.
But, one movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre redefined what the public viewed as “horror” and almost single-handedly laid waste to the genre.
Granted, there were probably slasher flicks like this before TSM, much like there were rape fantasy books before FSoG. But THIS one was the one that HIT and served to alter the genre.
Soon, there were no longer “Horror” sections in bookstores because the silver screen gore porn (and public demand for these movies) had tainted the genre.
Horror stories then had to be hidden under such categories as Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, etc. so that these works could distance from the stain left from the plethora of slasher films that became so popular after Vietnam. Horror, as a genre, has never fully recovered since “horror stories” are too often held up next to Saw Part 15 or Friday the 13th Part 26.
How did this happen?
Follow the Money
If no one bothered with the early slasher flicks, Hollywood would have never bothered making more. They also wouldn’t have felt the need to keep upping the ante with every movie. More blood, guts, and shock. Soon we were anesthetized to suffering because it became all too common.
And, before anyone laughs, remember those early bad 50s horror movies scared the bejeezus out of people. Now? We laugh at giant spider puppets that, at one time, had people fleeing from the theater to calm down.
Tarzan was criticized because Tarzan and Jane were living in the jungle together without being married ;) . Today, audiences would laugh at such a puritanical notion. Just watch HBO for an hour and tell me times haven’t changed.
But It’s So PRETTY, How Can it Be BAD?
How could it be harmful? Often some of the most dangerous substances don’t show consequences until later. It reminds me of the Radium Girls who painted watch dials with radioactive paint during WWI. The glowing paint was pretty and harmless and “cool.” Their employer told them they could just lick the end of their brushes as they worked, so surely it was harmless.
The women, thinking radium was safe, painted their nails and faces so they could glow in dark for their men at home. And they all died slow horrible deaths years later.
Ideas (books) can act similarly. They can seem no big deal until they are. AGAIN, I am NOT for censorship, only critical thinking. Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care ;) .
The Coming Generation
As I stated in the last post, my concern is less for the older reader and more for the youth who will go see the movie. I am a social media expert and we have an entirely new generation that is completely immersed in multimedia.
Young people have all the impulses, hormones and emotions of an adult, but lack maturity, experience and a fully developed frontal cortex that governs critical thinking and discernment. They have a far more difficult time separating fantasy and reality.
Young people do a LOT of dumb stuff. Hey, I did. And as a teen I argued with my mother that Me So Horny was “just a song” and now as an adult, I can see why she sat down and had a LONG talk with me.
Teens or even tweens don’t see that sexting can come back to bite or that pic in lingerie on Tumblr might affect them getting into college.
My bigger concern is that, when we package sociopathy as “romance”? Sadists as Alpha male heroes? That is a confusing message (and a dangerous one) for everyone, but most especially for those still forming opinions and identities. In fact, I probably would have had NO problem with FSoG had it been in the genre of psychological thriller or horror. But slap “ROMANCE” on it? Whole ‘notha’ ballgame.
The Bottom Line
Read what you want to. Watch what you want to. I have an opinion, you have one. I’m never for censorship, EVER. But, I feel we have to at least own what we are doing as consumers, but most especially as writers. We cannot be Janus-faced over this. Either fiction is vital and transformative and matters…or it doesn’t.
History has proven we have almost no control over what will shape culture or even how it will shape it as The Jungle illustrates. We also have almost zero control over what will be considered a classic in fifty or a hundred years.
And if fiction is ONLY a story and has no power, then why should we care about literacy, libraries and freedom of speech? If fiction is only fantasy and doesn’t impact the world? Why bother? Why does it matter?
Food for thought ;) .
What do you guys think? And again, I have no problem if anyone disagrees so long as we remain polite. Do you feel we can have our cake and eat it too? That as a culture we can contain the genie? Or do we have to choose? Either fiction is powerful or it isn’t? And if fiction doesn’t change the world, then why are we even doing this job?
Do you hope your characters and stories will create a better world? Challenge ideas? Reinforce what you think is good and noble? Topple what should be done away with? Do you think (as I do) that many people are unaware how powerful writers and artists actually are? That maybe even some writers fail to appreciate the influence they could one day wield?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
Sorry I’ve been lax about posting. The Attack of The Peanut cascaded into a splendid ER visit and a bad case of Shingles. Nothing to make a gal feel young like a case of Shingles. I now need denture paste and glitter. I am sure there is some mayhem I can create with that ;) . Oh, and I want an obnoxious pink cane with a tennis ball on the end so I can sit in my driveway and yell at people that they’re driving too fast.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, was going to chat some about writing (in this weird gap I get between waking up and pain meds kicking in). No precise time when THAT happens so should be FUN. Being laid up in bed doped on pain meds gives you LOTS of blog ideas…and seriously weird dreams. How does one translate competing in ice skating against Nancy Pelosi and she wins because she has the better Monster Truck?
I REALLY want a Monster Truck.
Today we will use an acrostic because they’re cool and keep this ADD teacher/blogger on SQUIRREL! …um, task.
Writing takes H.E.A.R.T.
Hard Work—Yep, no magical program that can whip out a NYTBSA. But frankly, would we want one? Those in writing for the wrong reasons (make a quick buck) abound. Some succeed but they’re rare. Most of us do this writing thing because of LOVE. We love to write, to teach, to share, to tell stories. We are explorers who can venture into the human mind or into galaxies never before imagined. And no matter where we go, there is coffee.
That’s a perk *bada bump snare.*
One thing that CAN feel weird though is often what we do doesn’t feel like work so it freaks us out that we’re being lazy. No, trust me. Reading books, watching movies, series, TV IS work. We’re studying the craft. And others can laugh at you, but who mocks the NFL player who watches the same football replays over and over? Or plays Tic-Tac-Toe and no one wins? I have yet to see them draw a line through any of the Xs or Os. *rolls eyes*
Ok. We laugh at them. But they don’t care and make millions for throwing a ball. Take a lesson.
We might be weak at something. Remember that our greatness is only limited by our strongest weakness. We can be a pro at dialogue, but if we have no clue how to plot effectively? We can limit how well we connect to the reader. Still focus on your strengths, but acknowledge and develop your weaknesses so your writing is balanced.
Allies—Again, this is why I started WANA. I knew what it was like to be completely alone trying to do this writing thing. I might as well have told friends and family I was pursuing a career in coloring books.
The world oddly devalues what we do, yet they spend most of their disposable income on what artists create—music, movies, books, video games, TV, TV series. Writing changes the world. It’s ended slavery, given hope to the hopeless, been the greatest catalyst for equality and often is the spark that lights the scientific innovation. *cough* Star Trek. Thank Gene Roddenberry for that smart phone the world is addicted to.
But you will need others to remind you that what you are doing is important. Also, learn to spot allies versus energy vampires. We all have them. People who have problems they want us to solve and then they do what they were going to do in the first place.
Use those words wasted on someone who won’t listen anyway and put them on a page. Also, learn to say NO to time-suckers and YES to allies. No is rarely popular, but I’ve learned I would rather be respected than popular.
Empathy—The mark of an excellent writer is how well she can get in a character’s skin/head. Study people. Listen. Pay attention. Get in another person’s head/heart for real. What would they think, say, feel? If we fail to do this authentically, readers will spot it.
Rhino Skin—I wrote an old post about critique groups someone stumbled across. I mentioned that we gutted each other’s work. This vexed the commenter, but why? I would rather someone be hard on me in private than get slayed in reviews that are for public view permanently. And even if the person is a total jerk? Great training for this thing called reality. There are some reviewers who will post venom for the sole purpose of being mean. I don’t know why. But bullying has always been around and likely not going away. Though I’ve been blessed with wonderful, thoughtful reviews on Amazon, there are people on Goodreads who clearly never read my book who gave me one star just because they could.
But, if you’ve been in a critique group of respectable peers who give tough love? @$$clowns are easier to write off (or write INTO a novel).
If you can possibly find and join and RWA group? DO IT, even if you don’t write romance. This is the greatest collection of pros you can hope to find.
We have to develop discernment (which comments are crap and what’s worthy of looking into), but even if it’s pure jealous hate B.S.? Still useful. Hey, we always need someone to shame/torture/kill in our next novel, right?
I won’t sugar-coat. If you write anything, especially anything worthwhile? The haters will flock to you. You are the light that reveals their fear and suckiness. Actually hate is proof we are doing something right. But it will still hurt. I’ve been in martial arts my whole life and getting hit in the face still hurts. I just no longer take it personally.
Same with writing. Feel the sting, then let it go….until you can create a plot involving a serial killing H.R. Manager with tragically small man parts or a former coworker with terminal cellulite.
Time—Rid THIS phrase from your lexicon. “I can’t find the time.” Time is not the remote control hiding in your couch cushions. Pros don’t find time, we make time. You are a priority and so is your writing. Again, it is better to be respected than popular. I’m not saying these can’t coexist. But, those close are NOT writers. They do NOT understand us and won’t. Most people have no clue why anyone would write anything unless there was a grade at the end or a boss expected it.
We will have to say NO. Guard your gift because I can’t do it for you. No one can. As the late great Robin Williams said, “It’s like partial circumcision. Either go all the way or $#@%#@$ forget it.”
Before we go, I AM going to mention a series of classes I have coming up in early September. I call them the Going Pro Series. Back to School for AUTHORS. There’s Craft, Branding/Social Media, and Business (which publishing path might be the best fit for YOU/your work). Often we make stuff too complicated. Hey, we are writers. It’s our thing. I am here to help.
These classes are designed to streamline ALL you do. In craft, you will learn essentials, how to plot leaner and meaner and write better and faster than you might believe you can. Branding/Social Media? It’s simple and doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as some might tell you. Business? We writers are in the Entertainment BUSINESS. Which path is a good fit? Not all writers were meant to self-publish. Not all works are good for traditional. This series is a guide to help you accomplish much more with far less effort. Feel free to take one (use WANA 15 for $15 off), but if you take all three in the BUNDLE? The cost is a lot less (and notes and recordings are provided for free for all classes).
What are your thoughts? Which parts of the H.E.A.R.T. are hardest for you? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of writing? Are you feeling pressured and strapped for time? Need help going a thicker skin? Feel at war with family or friends over your desire to write?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.