One of the primary reasons I never dove into journalism is because I tend to fictionalize events. My personal belief is that I convey the same messages and emotions as real-life through creative accounts of people who never existed, yet are immortal in our imaginations. On occasion, however, some nonfiction writers, primarily journalists, abuse my love for the unreal in order to secure their position in the literary world.
5. Jonah Lehrer
It's difficult to get into The New Yorker. And by difficult, I mean damn-near impossible. Once a writer is in the most popular clique of the literary world, certain pressures tend to drive them to less than admirable lengths.
This was the case with Jonah Lehrer, who up until this week wrote for The New Yorker. Tablet's Michael Moynihan suspected Lehrer's "facts" in his book about Bob Dylan called Imagine: How Creativity Works were something less than true.
Lehrer was originally charged with "self-plagiarism", which primarily consisted of Imagine content appearing in his blog. Granted, stealing from yourself is a strange offense, it is considered dishonest. Although Lehrer apologized for borrowing his own work without mentioning it was previously published, the act served as a catalyst for other scrutiny, which lead to numerous accusations of fabricated quotes and facts.
Ultimately, Lehrer admitted to his lies and the bestselling book Imagine was placed on a stop-shipment by Houghton Mifflin Harcourtt prompted by Lehrer's resignation from The New Yorker. Of course, Twitter users are having a ball with fake Bob Dylan quotes.
4. Jayson Blair
New York City is a gold mine for writers. It might be one of the few states that offers significant writing positions. When I visited, I was looking for writing internships and there were so many I had to turn a lot of them down. I currently search for side gigs in Indiana. So far I was a SEO article writer and was let go after a week. You see why New York is home to so many famous writers and an equal amount of scandals. It's the law of averages.
At any rate, in 2003 Jayson Blair resigned from The New York Times. He wrote for the paper for around four years - and man did he write. As with the Lehrer scandal, the suspicion was that he was too hard pressed to keep turning in new material that he finally made up stories completely.
After admitting to several cases of fabrication and resigning, Blair left the almost 160-year-old paper but the eyes didn't. The attention he brought to the paper ended up with a long trail of other deceptions, which changed the way Americans viewed the once-credible news source.
3. James Frey
You might remember this one or at least remember the South Park parody of the book A Million Little Pieces.
There's really only one thing worse than fudging a source: Lying about yourself. I mean, it seems to easy to writer a memoir or biography. You just tell your life's story. What might be boring to you could be reassuring or curious to others. There's no reason to lie, and if you feel the urge, you could polish your tales.
No, but Frey, master of the first writing sweatshop, lied a lot.
Frey is known for A Million Little Pieces, in which he lied about every major event. He was originally an overnight success due to Oprah's approval. She gave him a chance to appear on her show again to explain how the same curse that led to his addictions led him to lie. In short, she made him out to be a real ass.
Now Frey is misleading dozens of MFA students in a quest to publish the next Twilight.
2. Stephen Glass
Click photo for source.
Head south from New York to Washington DC and stop at The New Republic. This magazine is famous for exposing political corruption, which Stephen Glass was a master of. In fact, he was the go-to guy for such things.
That was until he was exposed.
He was accused of going so far as making up stories, facts, and sources. He was good at fabricating information and often created fake articles, websites, photographs, etc.
Now Glass is in a constant battle to regain his credibility. He wrote a fictionalized book about his fictionalized stories and went to the Supreme Court to make sure his bar exam counted and that he could become a lawyer.
Oh, and if you haven't seen the movie about this, I highly recommend it.
1. Jack Kelley
Click photo for source.
A lot of people don't know who this guy is, but there's a reason I made him #1.
His a quick bio: He's not the hockey coach. He was once a famed long-time writer for USA Today and a nominee and finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize.
Before March 2004, Kelley was the journalist many sought to be, but the USA Today reported about the ex-USA Today reporter . . .
"Seven weeks into an examination of former USA TODAY reporter Jack Kelley’s work, a team of journalists has found strong evidence that Kelley fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work."
If I'm missing a major player in the lying game, let me know in the comments.
One of my goals as a writer is to be banned in some form. Having a banned book is almost the greatest literary achievement when you consider it's happened to the likes of Mark Twain, Dan Brown (I'm not sure he's really an idol for any writer), the creators of Merriam Webster and American Heritage Dictionaries, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Bill Martin Jr., Ronald Dahl, Anne Frank, Louisa May Acott, Ernest Hemingway, Chuck Palahniuk, Shel Silverstein (did you know he originally published through Playboy?), and many others. Amongst the countless authors with banned manuscripts is J.K. Rowling during the early years of the Harry Potter saga.
Rowling was criticized for "support" of the occult, views on accepting death, political criticisms, Christian and anti-Christian allegories, and most recently, her support of homosexuals. The reason many writers are ridiculed for their books derives from the belief that novels influence formative generations, which has been seen with On the Road and The Lord of the Rings. Many have commented on the gay themes in Harry Potter and have proposed the question Did the content of the books influence the Harry Potter generation to be pro-gay?
All that magic and Dumbledore still hid in the closet.
Although the Huffington Post is often criticized from an alleged bias, it often provides us with some interesting information.
In this article, it's suggested that many believe the Harry Potter series was so strong that its readers, The Harry Potter Generation, adopted many of its "hidden" messages.
What started the controversy was J.K. Rowling's announcement that Harry Potter's mentor Albus Dumbledore was gay.
During eras of intense social activism, it seems as though socially-aware books and socially-active authors can influence the upcoming generations. Those who started out with the first of the Harry Potter series were likely to have read the final installation in college, at the time in which most young adults share their first experience in progressive activism.
During high school, many teenagers come across the ideas and beliefs they will follow for years to come, but there isn't much of a window to go out into the world and shout out ideologies and combat preexisting norms prohibiting them from exercising their personal values.
In college, however, you might be the odd man out if you're not standing up for what you believe in. On any level, this can be one of the most memorable times in an adult's life. One exemplar is the current Chick Fil A controversy, which in some sectors is a mere joke. Around many universities, however, students and professors are boycotting the fast-food chain for, not it's beliefs, but for making significant contributions to organizations wishing to deter opposing viewpoints of preexisting, religious-based norms.
With that said, it's fair to say the Harry Potter series remains a threat to some people. Teenagers, soon to be young adults, are receiving compelling viewpoints from the media they consume during the time they construct their own beliefs and prepare to implement them in public displays.
As far coincidence goes, the time frame of the Harry Potter series and the new strength behind sexual equality movements is perfect.
Formative Years & Literature
Let's face it, right now the country is in ideological turmoil. We're at a point where the only thing slowing down progress is progress. Why Harry Potter is back under the light of scrutiny relates the number of similarities between current events and the notions within the Harry Potter series before much of the protests began:
1. Heroes like Harry Potter would "occupy" certain prominent locations to resist negative social consequences, while characters like Ron would "leak" progressive threats.
2. Much of the magic in Harry Potter matches up with the creation of an invisibility cloak and nanotechnology-based medicine, insisting books still influence technology like Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and Arthur C. Clarke.
3. In Harry Potter there are quite a few religious allegories, but most of them are puzzling. There's a strong resistance towards Christianity in the series, but at the same time Harry Potter dies, experiences the afterlife, and comes back one last time to save his people.
There are many more similarities, but perhaps they are just that: Similarities.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac faced the same public outcries during the height of The Beat Generation and the tremendous social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 70s. The book spoke quite a bit on race and was often blamed for everything that went wrong in America during the constant battle for equality. Some said the book was patronizing the battle for racial equality, while others said it blended black and white in perfect harmony.
The book also explored recreational drug experimentation just when those who followed The Beat Generation follow suit. In the same regard, Rowling is often criticized for her pro-gay stance within her writings. Those who believe same sex marriage should be widely legalized support the book for a primary character being gay and having no real consequence. That is, it's never really brought up in the same way heterosexuality is often left unsaid or assumed. They also support the notions of challenging authority, which is primarily present in the book to influence children to challenge false truisms and authorities. Arguably, challenging ideas is all part of growing as a human being.
Of course, those who oppose homosexuality and/or same-sex marriage blame the book for corrupting young, malleable minds. Perhaps I don't need to say much about this stance because it's been prevalent for too long as it is.
Personally, I wouldn't say The Harry Potter Generation supports gay rights because of the books themselves. Just like with On the Road, the books found success because they represented evolving ideas of a younger, progressive generation. It's possible many people always wanted equal rights all across the board, but needed some powerful ideological support such as that from a franchised series of novels. As far as blaming books for a new wave of protest and "radical" thinking, it may be that less progressive mindsets are always trying to rationalize their embedded views by prexisiting texts and using opposing media as scapegoats.
It's a sticky argument, though, so I'm wondering what YOU think. Let me know in the comments.
DO YOU THINK TEXTS LIKE HARRY POTTER CAN INFLUENCE AN ENTIRE GENERATION?
In the meantime, here's Part 1 of a conspiracy-themed video about Harry Potter's secrets.
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Today I bumped into an old friend from high school at a grocery store near Indianapolis, and although I had my suspicions he was just patronizing me, he said he'd just finished my novel Excluded.
While I'm almost certain no writer will fully admit to enjoying their own work, when he pointed to a few chapters he recalled in an almost creepy detail, I knew why I enjoyed writing some of them.
Around the time Excluded was written, I was heavy into the arts. I was always typing away, strumming the guitar, acting, and filming. All four activities helped my writing out, but it was the latter two that truly made a difference.
Be a Character Before You Create a Character
If you read and write every day, your words become stronger in terms of craftsmanship. You build your vocabulary this way and your writing becomes much cleaner on the page.
However, the act of writing won't directly influence the art. What's wonderful about art is its mirrored portrayal of reality. No matter how extreme or nonsensical a manuscript is, people will enjoy it if they can relate to it.
This is where acting comes into play. If you're a writer of sorts, you should consider taking an acting course or at least exposing yourself to theater or film performance. There are directors, mirrors, and audiences that will explain where your acting is strong and where it can improve.
Acting can play a crucial role in your writing. In essence, writing is all about character interactions and stage directions. How you act out a character can translate to the way you create one on the page. You discover what people can relate to and what they believe is honest. Verisimilitude is key. The stage directions will add to a story's sense of physical location.
Plays and cinema work well because they are designed to. The stage directions should operate in such a way that an audience can keep track of when or where characters are. It's advantageous to picture your physical locations and actions in a story as stage directions, for it will allow the reader to truly visualize the words on the page.
Acting alone will contribute to your writing success, but another place to turn is cinematography.
Hold a Camera Before You Hold a Pen
By no means am I the best cinematographer in the world. I can't even say I qualify as the worst, since that's a sort of championship on its own accord. But I have handled a camera, and in my mind, it has done wonders for my writing.
With acting you've already discovered the best ways for characters to interact with others and their environments. Let's be honest, though, he said this and he did that can become boring. Description is crucial for any work of literature.
My recommendation is for you to try to film something. Notice the certain way you can look at a forested trail and capture all of its beauty. Try to record the natural sound of cicadas at night. Little snippets such as these add to the art of writing. In another words, these slight details (if not overused) bring beauty to the page.
If you retain anything I've said, let it be the following tips:
1. Read every day.
2. Write something, anything every day.
3. Go out into the world with real people doing real things.
4. Try acting. Actually read the script and accept criticism on stage.
5. Try to film something, even if it's with a smart phone.
I'm interested: What Helps You Write?
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I wouldn't dare bore you with a comprehensive list of every novel containing sexual explicit material in this post. Honestly, I'm not even sure such a document could be composed considering the longevity of sexual encounters in fiction and the endless push of new romance novels that would make gothic romance authors, like Shelley or Coleridge, blush. It's no secret that sex and romance sell. The question really is WHY?
The flood of romance novels is not a recent phenomena. For a bit of brief history, visit here. In short, though, romanticism started in Western Europe during the 17th century as a rebuttal to "The Age of Enlightenment", which influenced literature with reason and logic. The Age of Enlightenment made no room for emotions, experimentation, or individuality. Romanticism offered all of the aforementioned and more.
Although Germany and France still fight over who ignited the movement, it was the publication of "Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge around 1978 which more or less outlined the central elements of romantic literature.
Elements of Romantic Literature
The serendipity of love is often the first dose we all get high on, and it's this first taste that we become addicted to. In reality, it's rather hard to describe the feeling of love. Some say it exists; others say it doesn't. Despite your view, there are certain circumstances in which we grow close to another person and can't get enough of them.
In literature, however, no one will wait 6,000 pages for the writer to accurately portray emotions such as love, so let's go with the outline that stems from the original romantic movement in literature.
The main concerns in romanticism were the core feelings from human interaction and the horror felt by people when they started to embrace it. Remember, these were times when things went from peace to the chaos that ensued the Industrial Revolution. Let's face it, we all loved nature a lot more back then.
Romanticism also borrowed from folklore and popular art, which may also be why today's romance novels center around supernatural entities and the darker side to life. It's no surprise the bestselling romance novels focus on vampires, zombies, werewolves, demons, and so on. Although today's vampires may be a slap in the face to Bram Stoker, they still serve a similar purpose: We long for a stranger to come into our lives and reveal who we really are. Love could be considered a type of self-realization only someone else can show us. Nature was always associated with self-identity - being one with the larger picture - and the creatures in romantic literature are often associated with the wilderness. From there, you simply connect the dots. Or do the "chemistry".
During the era of Gothic Romance, Coleridge actually used the Kubla Khan (well as much as poet literally refers to anything Interesting subject, but a completely different story). What's important here is why we like romance so much. I've explained how and romanticism came to be, but now we must wonder why there's so much sex in the bestselling books. Ideally, romance and sexual encounters are different and should not replace each other.
So why would there be less romance and more sex now?
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There's no reason to despise Young Adult novels simply because they're geared towards teens. In fact, there have always been Y.A. novels (remember good ol' The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Flowers for Algernon?). What should be a concern, however, is the way Y.A. books could affect the way our youth will read in the future.
Apples to Bookworms
I'll reiterate so there's no confusion: I don't mind Y.A. novels. Granted Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter allusions bore me to death at times, all of the Y.A. series have been crucial to literature in the last 20 years for two main reasons:
1.) Y.A. books, especially fiction, have inspired more teens than ever to read. In fact, since 2007, teens have dominated certain markets which were normally ruled by 20- to 40-year-old women.
2.) Literature, especially genre fiction, needed a fresh look. Let's face it, Vanilla Ice was cool before he wasn't, right? Dean Koontz used to be as much of a household name as Stephen King and has holds as many, if not more, titles to his pen name, yet I encounter countless individuals who've never heard of the guy.
What I want to focus on is the first part - how teens are gobbling up Y.A. literature.
One post started by Andrew Karre claimed Y.A. was a disruptive force in literature akin to Apple's presence in the last 10 to 20 years. This is an interesting point. In short, a disruptive force or technology is a game changer. For instance, the way we consume technology has completely changed since the emergence of superfluous iSomethings.
Our technology is mostly for consumption now. As I've mentioned before, eReaders in the form of tablets can be more a distraction than useful tool. It's like if you could open a print publication and Skype at the same time. Even more interesting is a concept not fully explored in Karre's article. He states we have a new look on literature like we do with cell phones since the iPhone. These game changes aren't necessarily "bad", but they shake things up. If you're in doubt, my argument alone should serve as some evidence that Y.A. and Apple have both caused a stir.
While I like Karre's viewpoint, I want to explore deeper into the aforementioned comparison.
The Counter Culture Paradox
I think Y.A. literature has the ball in its court, but it's not passing when it knows it can make a 3-pointer.
Let's digress for a moment. Remember MTV when it was full of Beavis and Butthead episodes between music videos? Remember the MTV-sponsored Sprite commercials?
What happen was MTV and Coca-Cola were partnered in youth-centered social venues and certain promotions. They did substantial research, which included face-to-face interviews with their teenager consumers, and found direct advertisements didn't work. That's when they started using celebrities and sport stars to advertise in the most anti-advertisement way. In a strange sort of metacommentary, the advertisements made fun of the way people advertise, while still advertising.
Teenagers dug this concept. It was new and interesting. It responded to their views on the topic of blatant advertising. However, after awhile, teenagers became wise to their act and the above-mentioned practices became too common and fake to say the least.
This is my fear with Y.A. There's nothing wrong with a story that targets a younger audience or simply has a lot of young characters, themes, motifs, etc. The problem is the marketing.
We've all beaten vampire novels to death with our new-found stigmatization. It seems from readers to publishers, everyone is sick of monster-based melodramas. Nevertheless, more and more keep becoming available. Before long, Barnes and Noble Showrooms might have to add on a vampire wing.
See, magic took off again with the Harry Potter series. Then we had Twilight, which to be honest was an easy transition.
Now Y.A. books all seem to be very similar. They all want to cash in on this moment in literary history. From a everything-is-a-business standpoint, it makes sense. But here's what happens:
Too Dark to Read, Too Light to Care
When everyone is trying to push similar fiction onto the market, they have to reach a new extreme. This is nothing new.
The problem is, teens often want to read things that are banned. You've probably experienced a high school library removing certain novels because they were too graphic, violent, etc.
As Y.A. fiction became more popular, the amount of "darker" fiction increased. Take the term to mean whatever you'd like, but simply put, fiction had to be a bit more risque to keep teenagers reading. Then, of course, Y.A. novels like this one, reached a level in which they started being banned.
In this situation, two things happen:
1.) The books available to young adults are too bland and PG to keep their interests. This, in turn, could lead to a disinterest in literature altogether. Let's face it, if you can only consume PG information or 19th Century literature, you might lose your mind or need to take a break.
2.) Our books become cookie-cutter. Think Pokemon here. Damn popular franchise that was ruined by it's own success. The more popular it became, the shorter it's life expectancy became. Twilight is a victim here too. I don't think people would've minded the series until t-shirts latched onto clothing stores like parasites and you couldn't go a day with out someone comparing their significant other to a vampire.
If Y.A. stays tunnel-visioned, then we might see teens turning away from literature again, because most of it is too similar to care or too light to be interesting. Right now publishers have the opportunity to keep things fresh or keep cashing in. I have faith, but then again, remember how traditional publishers originally felt about this whole "eBook" thing? Like that ever caught on.
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if you spoil this for me.
I'm ashamed today.
I've been going to the midnight releases of the last two Batman movies by Christopher Nolan and intended on seeing The Dark Knight Rises last night. But no . . . that didn't happen.
Thus, I've spent the entire day trying to avoid spoilers about the movie. For me, I don't like spoilers unless they increase my interest in a movie, but my views aren't the same for books. Let me explain why.
It's relatively easy to spoil an entire movie for someone, and at times, it's almost impossible not to. When a movie is really, really good, you can't help but chat about it. This works if you're around people who also checked out the film, but you need to consider the eavesdropper.
Rubbernecks don't mean to be rubbernecks, but sometimes you can't help but notice things. When people say the word "Batman", I cannot help myself from tuning in for a split second.
Movies depict so much detail in such little time, which also aids in spoiling movies. When you're told what to see, what to hear, what to feel, etc. there's not much to really access. (Film theory is something completely different, however.) But as far as plain, old play-play story lines, a movie is easy to grasp and easy to regurgitate. There's a reason more people quote movies and TV shows than books.
For this reason, book spoilers operate a little differently.
Can You Spoil a Book?
Yes, you can spoil a book. Now that the answer is out of the way, there's no reason to keep reading, right? I spoiled the ending.
But it's not true. I told you how this blog was going to go, but I didn't tell you how. See, when it comes to blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises, a simple snippet of the storyline can sometimes be a bit too revealing. Honestly, if I would've told everyone the ending of Inception or Fight Club, those films would've been ruined. Interesting, yes, but spoiled.
With literature, it's sometimes advantageous to know the inside information. In the cinema world, you might completely lose interest in a story once it is spoiled. Quite honestly, many flicks in mainstream cinemas don't bury the detail or give too many subtle build-ups.
However, knowing the ending of Hamlet doesn't stop you from becoming involved with the story. Also, the more detail you pick up in a book like 1984, the better. It's the sort of book you re-read after it ends. You go back and see how beautifully it was constructed (or not). You stop to smell the roses or see when exactly the female FBI agent disarmed the criminal.
Some people actually love spoilers. Once they figure out some of the primary plot points of a story, they can read and make their own analyses. Where was the twist? How did it work? Oh, so that's why she used to pick grass in the outfield. You get the idea.
Books also allow the mind to imagine. Horror movies aren't always scary because they assume your fears and portray them in the way that might make you cringe. Stephen King, on the other hand, uses how you see your own fears against you. When you're reading, you're conjuring up your own evil clown (Pennywise), not Nigel Thornberry - er, Dr. Frank-N-Furter - I mean Tim Curry.
There are ways to spoil a book, but they're intricate stuff.
In short, feel free to a spoil a little bit of a book, but don't you dare spoil Batman until I see it. Remember, this isn't Gotham City. No one will save you if you do.
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The main difference between the cynical news broadcasts and fiction anymore is that, in fiction, there's always someone fighting to change the world for the better. Whether it's a global situation or something personal, fiction can be relied on for providing the character we all wish we could be. Sometimes when we watch the news, it seems like the world is on fire. In fiction, someone tries to put it out. However, on rare occasion, a report breaks through about someone who is indeed the exact type or protagonist we dream of being or creating.
With all the bad news these days - stories of robberies, murder, fire, and criminals - it's hard to be optimistic. Since very few news stories portray the notion of all people are good at heart, I decided it was time to push a story about a hero we'd only find in well-written fiction.
In Santa Ana, California, a local witnessed a hit-and-run, something most people shy away from these days. Often, I hear stories of people witnessing a shooting, only to pretend like nothing happened. Or worse, there are people who come across an illegal situation and decide it's best to walk away.
Beatriz Jimenez, however, was not one of those people. Unlike those who know what is right but don't want to risk their own lives, she saw a hit-and-run and decided to do the only thing she could - the right thing - chase after the driver.
Although the story is not one of happiness, it does remind us that we need to model ourselves after those whom we admire.
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The popularity of paranormal stories from ghost and goblins to demons teeters, but for some reason paranormal stories remain popular. Constant stories of haunted houses on television are ubiquitous and at best amusing, but such saturation sometimes transforms the things were fear in small, uncomfortable jokes. Parodying such ghost investigations as Ghost Hunters is entertaining, but on the other hand, facing fierce paranoia on a night you're totally spooked is something else.
In the end we may like the rush that partners with being creeped out, but real-life encounters could make our nightmares pale. Perhaps this is why we still like stories of demons and the paranormal. However, how we see and what we now consider demonic are undergoing some drastic changes.
At one point we were hovering over the deathbeds of our friend. It was dark in the small room and the bed was nothing more than a glorified table. As our friend takes a deep breath, we see a certain glow - a certain glaze - that we can only associate with death itself. A higher being is angry, and perhaps it's a more powerful being from below. Either way, something possessed our friend, and that's why he suffered before death.
This was how demons began. Every time there was death, we believed a demonic or other spiritual source was pulling the strings. We wished not to anger any of the entities the brought obstacles. In early medicine, we worked to remove demons from the body and we sought religious powers to banish the source of many ailments.
But then things changed.
How Demons Have Changed
In the pre-modern world, we spent most of our time trying to avoid an encounter with, please, and ward off demons. During an era notable for its strong ties to religion, we believed most shortcomings and demises derived from demonic presence or possession.
Today, however, we hardly give the notion of demons a thought. Sometimes demon stories are fun to see on the silver-screen, but most people don't even tease any fear of demons. Part of the reason we might enjoy a good demon story is because we want to laugh after a good scare. Being scared is fun, which is the opposite reaction anyone would have experienced during the pre-modern era.
Prior to certain advances in medical science, we never dared to break demons down by dichotomy. They were as real and organic and natural forces, although supernatural at heart.
The most common fear was disease. This was our first practice at protecting ourselves from unseen circumstances. Our lives would be comprised of mostly carrying measures to stop all dark forces, such as foreigners (in a relative, fear-provoking sense), disease, and death.
For this reason, the fear of demons became strong. While the term demon was normally reserved for oppressing forces, we still demonized other human beings. If they were ill, they were processed and we desired to run away. Outsiders could be under the influence of demons and might bring death or disease. And basic social actions, especially expressions of greed and lust, could result in a demon at your doorstep.
Tim Kreider is a popular guy lately. As of late, readers are starting to pay attention to him for his comments on the difference between being "too busy" or "too tired" and this cartoon. And while I would love to comment on saying your too busy when you're really too tired, I think there's something else in a recent Huffington Post that moved along a few wheels in my head: The concept of messy writing.
Messy writing is certainly an under-appreciated thing. There appears to be a disconnect about how much work actually goes into writing a messy book.
It's Not a Lack of Discipline
Admittedly, there are quite a few disorganized books out there, and I don't mean for effect. These are the sort of stories an author haphazardly writes in an effort to make money or because they don't read enough. They're sloppy and terrible.
Then there are the other type of messy books. These are the stories in which a tale is told from middle to beginning to end to middle to beginning to 1,000s of years ago in the future. Stories like these are written with the intent of being disjointed. Writing a decent disjointed tale takes a tremendous amount of patience, planning, and revision.
Some people will automatically disregard such novels because they aren't verse-chorus-verse. But should all books be?
Euphoria Comes Before Epiphany
The standard way of writing a novel is to pick a starting point and build to the end.I think we've all encountered Freytag's arc. Most novels anymore have this unrealistic progression of events. Right now you might be thinking my stories aren't the most realistic, especially stories like Excluded or Lovely Weather in Long Brooke. However, my focus isn't whether or not hands can reach out of walls or whether a man's identity can be literally stolen. Instead, my argument surrounds the way a story develops.
We tend to have a certain mindset that after something happens, we immediately learn from it. I don't know about you, but I'm normally left in disarray after something momentous strikes. For example, the minute you lose a loved one, you might not immediately think, "Oh, I should've listened to them more." On the other hand, you're more likely to lose yourself to thought.
This is the sort of messy story I like. After significant events, characters should spend some time in a euphoric or miserable state. They need time to sort things out and make great or terrible decisions as they begin to learn and change.
Writing a disjointed tale, one that is messy and all over the place, can sometimes be serendipitous to the read. Unfortunately, they require a second or two of patience, but they tend to be worthwhile in the end. While we all - myself included - are influenced by the norm of it-has-to-make-sense-by-page-two, we should consider reading a novel in which things aren't linear and don't always make sense right away. At the beginning, you might think, "Now why would Character A do that?" It's likely you'll know the answer in the next few pages, as long as you're willing to travel to past, the future, throughout the present, and somewhere else in time.
He's a rough snippet or my disjointed narrative in-the-works:
from His Daughter
Someone in the mob yells “bastard” at my second-story bedroom window. They all sway in my front yard, trying to keep warm and all yelling the same word. They’re like geese calling . And considering I’m a girl, their insults don’t even make sense.
On the tenth anniversary of the bridge incident, I remain indoors, hiding. I don't understand these people, or how they can ridicule me for a past I did not control. Just because my father murdered those eight people, doesn't mean I possess the same blood-lust. I’m not like my father. Not at all. Consider this my confession.
It's the third day of October, and in Lakeside that means something—means something more than any Halloween. This day means something more than any goddamn Styrofoam cup of hot apple cider or ghost costumes made from bed sheets. Halloween’s essentially a holiday when kids pretend they are things that matter. The third of October is the day when the adults of Lakeside do the same. At times, however, the mob in my front yard means nothing more than the crinkled, dead leaves on my front lawn.
The protests mean more nine years ago, when I’m ten—the first time anyone gathers in my front yard. I still live with my mother. My mother still lives.
"I don't know what they want from us, Cameron," mother says. She gazes out the front windows of the living room, her eyes barely peeking between the blinds. She shakes her head every so often and mutters something I cannot quite understand. I don't know that she really says anything; perhaps, her words are as broken as her thoughts.
The second anniversary of the bridge incident isn’t much better. I lie on my bed the entire day, alone in the townhouse; my uncle out somewhere. It's a narrow place. Hardly accommodates three, which by some standards, is significant. To me it means a little less than half as many people as my father killed. I need people around—as many as possible. Otherwise the world hates me; radiates animosity, hot and stinging. On the second anniversary I pray to God—something I haven't done in years. I ask for my mother back. I ask to go back in time so I can take the gun out of her hands.
I prepare for the day, sliding neon green gages through my earlobes. I brush my teeth and straighten my black hair. Setting the straightener down on my sink, I glance at the pack of cigarettes on my medicine cabinet. I pull them down and flip open the lid only to find that the box is empty. “Fuck,” I mutter to the mirror.
Moving on, I slide on black and blue Chuck Taylors and creep downstairs to my living room windows. Through parted blinds, I see the mob taking a break. They all sit on the ground, munching on thick sandwiches stacked with deli meats and generic American cheese and foam cups of steaming something. It’s all routine procedure for us, like we’re counterparts, except I’m not the one allowed to take a break.
Changing my direction, I sneak underneath the windows and scurry out of my backyard. In case I haven't painted the right picture yet, this is what it's like every October 3rd. Normally I would stay indoors, but a mob on your front yard will make anyone want a cigarette. Even if you don't like cigarettes, you can understand what this feels like to me. Imagine having to sneak around your own house or town for a large cup of coffee. I have been denied such simple guilty pleasures. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just stay indoors. Then again, I won’t succumb to their torturing.
Determined to have my safe blanket of cigarettes, I head down the street, where something heinous is bound to happen.
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By looking at the title of this post, you might be already thinking that not everyone enjoys violence in their stories. Let's be honest, though, whether it's violence in the extreme sense of an airplane crash or a murderer on the loose, we as human beings love strong conflict in a story. Without conflict, we might not even have stories.
Instead, we would indulge in tales of two men sitting on a porch swing discussing how great life is. Of course, even discussing the serendipity of life can be difficult without discussing the obstacles we overcome in every day. A story about mundane tasks without any extremes or criticism is boring. If we read about someone sitting at a cubicle each and every day, there better be a thought or two about blowing up the place of work , as we see in books such as Fight Club.
While we might be able to agree we like an element of danger in a story, the question remains why we tend to like violence in our fiction.
Preparing for the Worst
In previous posts like this one and this one, I wrote about wanting to start up a zombie novel. Since then, I've started the pre-writing stage. However, my original plan was to provide a decent zombie novel that went against the popular rom-zom-coms that are plaguing our media; as a measure to prevent the misuse of paranormal creatures such as the vampire. Now I realize there might be another reason I like zombie stories.
In this article, Paul Bloom's argument about zombies and How Pleasure Works insists the zombie tale isn't something we necessarily enjoy for the gore and possible threat of a zombie invasion in real life. Bloom suggests we love zombies stories because they are about strangers breaking into our lives and they are about betrayal.
Zombie tales provide a sort of insight to human relationships. None of us enjoys a stranger emerging into our set lives and stealing away all we've ever worked for. Think about: In zombie tales, even the most fortunate souls are brought down to mediocrity. Their money no longer matters. Their legacy pales to the need to survive at the most animalistic nature.
Also in the case of zombies, there's always that secondary character - usually someone's best friend of sidekick - who is infected and then attacks the protagonist. This emphasizes betrayal. We've all been betrayed in our lives on some level, be it a lost friend, loved one, or coworker. We need know what it's like to love someone one moment, have them turn their backs, and then wish their death. Violence, in the sense of zombie stories, teaches us about strangers and betrayal.
But what else can we gain from violent texts?
Dealing With Death
Violence in stories can also teach us how to handle death in real life. Whenever we speak of violent tales discussing how to deal with death, we have to look no further than the Harry Potter Series for a basic understanding.
This isn't a new discovery of the Harry Potter background, but it's exemplar for how fiction can teach us how to cope with death.
In fact, J.K. Rowling has had plenty to say about death:
"I know it's unfashionable to use this word, morality, and I never set out to preach, but I think the books do explore the misuse of power, and there's an attempt to make some sense of death. That said, when a plot is going well, you can't imagine just what fun the stories are to write. I mean, it's indecent the amount of time I spend thinking up wizarding ways to subvert arrogant Muggles."
While exploring betrayal, strangers, and death is important to psyche development, it is other worth noting what else can be can from acts of violence in fiction. Sure, some stories may scare us or dive into the depths of the unknown extremes, but what sort of messages might we gain beyond simply exploring the subject matter?
Taking Nothing for Granted
In this article, I think Disney films are a perfect example.
Although they've been criticized for depictions of sex, racial stereotypes, and sometimes over-glorified violence, I think there's some sort of purpose.
During my linguistic studies at Ball State, we often analyzed popular films and ridicules their makers for such scenes as Mufasa's death in The Lion King. Why does the scene have to be so long, and why do we need an exaggerated close-up of Mufasa eyes right before his slow-motion death-trample?
You could argue forever about the scene being a bit too dramatic, but I think what we are supposed to gain from the moment is Simba's world coming to a standstill. Moments before, he was meandering and singing about how much he wants to be an adult and how he is sick of being told what to do. At the sight of his father's death, however, he discovers he should have listened and he discovers the new feeling of regret in his life.
Moments like the aforementioned are great for teaching us not to take everything for granted. Sometimes we think we have it bad until we face unfortunate extremes. While perhaps violence is not the best illustration for morals in fiction, it takes us straight to the core of the matter.
Violence will always be controversial as it is depicted in media. However, it goes without much argument that it is a beneficial tool to show us how to deal with important matters in our lives and how to cope with even the most dire of situations.
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Could Rating Systems Come Our Way?
Bestselling Alamy children's author GP Taylor recently decided to take a new direction with his fiction. He originally wanted to offer the content young readers craved. If you can remember back when you were in school, you might remember how many books you couldn't find in the library. It probably seemed like every week the school boards decided what was "inappropriate" for young audiences.
To solve this problem, many groups in England - one of which contains Taylor -propose an age certificate system for literature to ensure the profane, obscene, and violent stay out of the hands of younger readers. But is this really the best solution? Could a rating system, much like that of movies, TV, and video games really help determine what is appropriate for some readers and not for others?
Are Books on the Same Level as Video Games?
In order to see how an age certificate program might affect literature, it's important to realize what the rating system for video games has done. Although games rated MA cannot be sold to minors, it's without question that children still get their hands on them.
More importantly, it's worth considering how video games affect younger consumers. A game like Mario is rated for all ages and hasn't proven to lead children towards block-smashing or taking psychedelic mushrooms. Nor has any report shown a child hopping down manholes to save a princess from a fire-breathing dinosaur.
However, there's been a great battle between those who believe a game like Grand Theft Auto can lead to crime and violent acts and those who believe it cannot. Most studies suggest there is little to no connection between violent video games and real-life acts of violence, but one Indiana University study suggests there is a definite psychological affect.
During the IU study, results showed those who played violent video games developed a lesser sense of emotional depth and activity, attentiveness, and inhibition of impulses. In short, it might be possible that violent video games could lead to more violent behavior in the sense of losing control. We might be tempted to act out in anger rather than spending time to analyze a situation.
But could the same research show a connection between violent books and their readers? There aren't many conclusive studies regarding violent books and actual violence. The problem with rating books based on violence is that a book like Huckleberry Finn or 1984 could be considered too violent for minors, although both are an important staple in literary education at the junior- and high school levels.
In addition to violence, age certificates would also restrict books based on other criteria, including profanity, language, and sex.
There's No Sex In Your Violence
Mark Twain always wrote life as he saw it with a satirical touch. Although we might consider him one of the literary masters, Twain has sparked controversy many moons after his run as an author. After the great censorship debate, many were wondered if more classics would be censored.
The things is, all the books play an important part to education and literacy. Literacy is not about forcing children to read what we consider appropriate. They teach about human interaction, social contexts, and history. Imagine a censored history book.
While I'll concur that vampire porn and other contemporary releases are perhaps too profane and provocative for some audiences, I think it's important to base any sort of rating system on content rather than matters such as vulgarity. If we take books out of the hands of young readers solely based on how many times the word "fuck" appears, then we may be dramatically limiting the intellectual growth of students. Down These Means Streets is a fantastic and important read, but there is no way it would make the certification for its intended audiences.
If You're Gonna Do It, Do It Right
What it comes down to is this:
After England starts something, the United States always follows suit. We cannot simply restrict books based on foul language, sexual depictions, or violence. We need to grade on substance and relevancy. While all these guidelines would be subjective at best, there needs to be a little wiggle room for books that are important towards the intellectual growth of children - stories that teach development, historical relevance, social commentary, empathy, sympathy, etc.
Besides, we should be happy young adults are reading in the first place. What the problem truly seems to be is too many writers are just scribbling down violent nonsense they think young adults will like. If writers and parents are worried about the content their children are getting their hands on, then they can control what comes through. If parents read smut, children might think it's OK to read smut. Parents: stop reading smut like Number of Hues of Color. Writers: Stop following trends. Write something with meaning. It can even be within a genre!
That's my take on the situation. Now I look for yours.
DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD HAVE AGE RESTRICTIONS ON BOOKS, AND IF SO, WHAT SHOULD MAKE UP THE GUIDELINES?
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There's nothing worse than a bad critique. As a writer, more people are willing to correct your work than actually read it, and one of the most common comments you might see at the bottom of a manuscript is, "I don't understand why X would do Y. It's not logical."
While it may already be a fallacy to expect absolute logic in a work of fiction, there's another reason such a critique is presumptuous at best: Decisions are not based on logic; they're based on emotion.
Throughout life, I've always tried to think logically or from a financial standpoint. Will Y leave me in a better standing or hungry? The thing is, I always assumed rational decisions were much better than emotional ones. In fact, many people suggest you should never make a decision when you're feeling "emotional".
As it turns out, if you're not emotional, you cannot make a decision.
A neuroscientist by the name of Antonio Damasio discovered a strange similarity between his subjects as he studied people who were literally emotionless. That is, the sphere of their brain that computed and generated emotions was either inactive, damaged, or nonexistent.
His subjects were as normal as you and me, but they were unable to process emotions. As it turned out, they were always unable to make decision. They could make a suggestion of what to due based on tried-and-true facts, but they couldn't even choose what to eat or drink without great deliberation. Furthermore, the same concept was applied to negotiations: You can make a logical argument, but you seal the deal with the emotional touch.
Now back to fiction.
Myself included, we sometimes question a plot point based on the surrounding facts in the story. Why would a character do this or that when other options were available? However, with the recent discovery in neuroscience, it seems one of my rules of thumb can, indeed, make a story more realistic.
Base a character's decisions on emotionas rather than rationality. Whenever someone suggests your character made an illogical move, just smile and be proud of yourself.
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Will We Ever Be Original Again?
During tough financial times, the biggest burden falls on the arts. The cross between art and entertainment has always existed simply because, if an audience doesn't enjoy something, the concept will most likely never see fruition.
Although there are several exceptions, from cinema to novels, most large companies aren't interested in being edgy or even releasing new material. The fact is, even a book is viewed as a product in the end, and if a product doesn't sell, no one wants to produce it. If something doesn't fall into a current trend or an ideology picking up mainstream speed, many producers and publishers don't want to adopt the content out of the fear of a financial loss. When Seinfeld first came into light, it failed miserably. However, whether you personally enjoyed the show, it possess all the qualities many of us wish of all forms of art and entertainment.
There's no reason to pretend Seinfeld was for everyone. Some people didn't like the New York centralism or care for the dry humor. As a matter of fact, when Seinfeld was first used in sample audiences, it was a complete disaster. Despite the fact that initial audiences despised the pilot and many producers were turning away from a show outside of a trend, Seinfeld's producer still decided to pick it up.
Most certainly it was a risk, but sometimes risks do pay off. Here's what he had to say:
Former NBC president Warren Littlefield provides us with some very reassuring advice. It is often tempting to give into mainstream trends - that is, writing a vampire drama because vampire dramas sell.
Many artists are discouraged from what they see all around them. There's too much of the same. While sticking to market trends will definitely lead you to an immediate check, sometimes it's best to stick with what feels right. Your instincts will always lead you in the right direction. In my mind, it's a lot like sticking with your first answer on an exam question.
There's no reason for the rehashing of the same generic art and entertainment over and over. You don't have to strive for complete originality. If you work to be yourself and produce what you believe in, the risk is likely to pay off. Break away from the status quo if it means doing what you love, and keep believing in it.
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5 Authors Who Despised Film-Versions of Their Books
I remember watching The Shining starring Jack Nicholson and thoroughly enjoying the performance. Years later, I swiped the novel from my mother's King collection and discovered a whole new story. That is, I couldn't believe the movie was even related to the book. The Shining (novel) was about this kid with telepathy who had all these supernatural encounters with a sprinkle of domestic violence. Stanley Kubricks' The Shining, however, was the exact opposite, and even though I loved Nicholson's performance, I now thought the movie was an atrocity. As it turns out, there are plenty of authors who couldn't believe their eyes when they saw their stories on the big screen. You might be surprised to see who and what is on the list.
5. The Shining - King vs Kubrick
Kubrick's The Shining was a hit with audiences. Many critics raved it was one of Jack Nicholson's greatest performances. But Stephen King shocked the world of cinema when he came out to say,
“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. … Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn’t believe, he couldn’t make the film believable to others.”
He was also very disappointed with the way Nicholson portrayed his main character Jack Torrance, for he wanted The Overlook Hotel to possess Torrance and make him crazy. Nicholson hinted Torrance was insane from the very beginning.
And although I may be mistake, tell me exactly what page, "Here comes Johnny!" is on.
4. American Psycho - Easton Seems to Always Be Complaining
There are certain authors who have written amazing books that I completely despise, but not in a competitive Hemingway sense.
Bret Easton Ellis is the epitome of those authors. Ellis tends to complain a lot. He's been fairly public about how much he dislikes the film adaptations of his books, but the one he hates the most is perhaps his most famous work: American Psycho. Regarding the film version, Easton said,
“American Psycho was a book I didn’t think needed to be turned into a movie. I think the problem with American Psycho was that it was conceived as a novel, as a literary work with a very unreliable narrator at the center of it and the medium of film demands answers. It demands answers. You can be as ambiguous as you want with a movie, but it doesn’t matter — we’re still looking at it. It’s still being answered for us visually. I don’t think American Psycho is particularly more interesting if you knew that he did it or think that it all happens in his head. I think the answer to that question makes the book infinitely less interesting.”
Of course, when it comes to unreliable narrators, Easton certainly sets the standards. Less than Zero was another one of the movies he disliked, but he wouldn't take the blame for its shortcomings: “That movie doesn't work for a lot reasons but I don’t think any of those reasons are my fault.”
3. Forrest Gump - Mamma Always Said Never Let Someone Adapt Your Book
It's rather difficult to imagine Forrest Gump as a bad movie, but writer Winston Groom thought it was. In fact, he was so disappointed by the way certain plot points were omitted and how the sex was altered into 100% humorous scenes, that we wrote the following lines at the beginning of the proposed sequel:
"Don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story."
That, of course, is probably why we've never seen Forrest Gump 2.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest - And Flopped
This star-studded film swept audiences and critics and won numerous awards, but author Ken Kesey was not impressed. Though he was supposed to help with the actually production, he took off once he found out they were not keeping he perspective of Chief Bromden. However, his wife later claimed he was happy the movie was made, but he still never wanted to see it . . . although he did and still didn't like it.
1. Mary Poppins - And Her B!t$h Slap
When I came across this story, I was completely baffled. How could some hate Mary Poppins? Looking back, I recall watching the film as a child.
But to author P.L. Travers thought it was a left-handed slap to her face. She despised the animated sequences, originally made Mary Poppins much more strict, and cried when she saw the movie at the premiere. She was given the right to accept or reject scripts of the story, but none of her edits or recommendations were taken to seriously. Frustrated by what she thought was a complete disaster, she walked away from the series and allowed Disney to have its way.
A Movie You Will Never See - Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger actually agreed to have a short story adapted to the screen. "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" was made into the film My Foolish Heart. After she a gross misrepresentation on the screen, Salinger swore to never have another work butchered by Hollywood.
In a similar light, Anthony Burgess swore the same thing after watching A Clockwork Orange. He was also known for hating the story altogether. Burgess claimed he wrote the book in 3 weeks for the sake of money and was vexed by how his story could be misinterpreted as a tale promoting sex and violence.
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Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.