Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: american gods

Titles seem to be one of the elements of writing writers fret over most, and justifiably so. Chances are, titles are the first thing readers see, so they take on a lot of importance. Under ideal circumstances, they somehow carry the whole theme and story all in a quick phrase. My favorites include Needful Things, American Gods, Peace Like a River, and The Silence of the Lambs. All are not just effective but evocative; Stephen King’s Needful Things, in fact, begins with a character discussing the name of the new shop in town, which happens to be Needful Things–“What do you suppose something like that means? Why, a store like that might carry anything. Anything at all.”

And indeed it does. It’s where you can buy anything your heart desires–or at least the fantasy of it. For a price.

Knowing how important a title can be, I always fret over them. Which was why I was relieved when The Prodigal Hour finally came to me.

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Speaking of awards seasons, the Bloggies are upon us, as well. I guess they’re a bit like the Oscars of blogging, except without Joan Rivers and boring montages. I’ve been reading blogs since before it was even a common term, back when Neil Gaiman started his American Gods blog (which has since morphed into his uberblog), and over the years, lots of my favorite blogs have always come up for Bloggies (and many have even won).

I always liked when my favorite blogs won.

And I just thought I’d let you know, because who knows, maybe after all these years, I might even be someone’s favorite blogger. It’s really totally rad that I can somehow say I’ve had people reading my blog for years now.

You can find the balloting stuff here. I say go nominate your favorite blogs, whomever they may be. And if you want to nominate this here blog for, I don’t know, say, Best Written Weblog, or Best Kept Secret, maybe, I won’t argue. I’d probably even blush and stammer and shuffle my feet.

I’ve mentioned before I’m currently in the submission process with my novel, The Prodigal Hour. So far it’s okay; not spectacular, but not terrible, either. Of course, “spectacular” would probably be defined as “offered representation,” and I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens. I considered talking more about the submission process itself, but I think I’m going to do so more after I’ve been offered representation, and not before.

I’m going through the process as you’d expect; search the Internet and Writers’ Market and etc. for agents who are either actively seeking new clients or sound like they may be vaguely interested. And then I send a query, which looks pretty much as you’d expect a query to look: intro, synopsis, bio, and out. The intro gives me some trouble, though, because that’s where I mention the title, word count, and genre of my novel, and boyhow is that last characteristic ever a trouble spot. Many might think it’s easy: time travel automatically = science fiction.

But not so fast, I say.

Because I don’t feel like I wrote a science fiction novel. I don’t generally read science fiction novels. Science fiction is all wars among and treks across the stars, and it has a long and illustrious history I don’t feel a part of. Growing up, my choices for reading material were all Dean Koontz and Stephen King pretty much straight across the board, with digressions into Douglas Adams and Christopher Stasheff. Given that among my first experiences with Stephen King was a short story called “Strawberry Spring,” after which I read Different Seasons, I always had trouble thinking of him as a ‘horror’ writer. I never read It and never got to his straight-up horror until after I’d already read “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”

Try showing someone with no previous knowledge of their origins the movie adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me and then explaining to them they were both based on books by a horror writer.

Because they certainly aren’t horror stories.

Admittedly, King is a bit of an exception; he himself is pretty much as much a genre as “horror”. People buy his books for his name, not for the genre.

Few people are going to buy The Prodigal Hour for my name, and you’re probably already reading this, anyway.

So far, I’ve been calling it a techno-thriller, but even that is a bit of a misnomer. It is thrilling (well. That’s the hope, at least), but character and plot work in pretty much equal measure, and it’s certainly not just about the thrills.

I sort of understand the requirement; it determines, basically, where your book is placed on bookstores’ shelves, which is key. I rarely venture to the scifi/fantasy shelves except to grab Neil Gaiman’s newest book, and again, I’m buying the name, not the genre.

I’m also thinking ahead. This one may be about time travel, but my next two big ones are about vampires and then werewolves, and both do things with those myths I’ve never seen nor heard done before. You can lump them all into science fiction/fantasy, I suppose, but I certainly wouldn’t, and I honestly think publishers and booksellers do more harm than good in categorizing books. Yesterday, Mitzi Szereto wrote about how publishers label books and how those labels can affect their sales, specifically related to erotica.

One of the things that’s gotten me thinking about this, too, are the writers who write stories that seem pretty categorically genre but whose books are not placed there. Lethem started out writing mostly weird science fiction tales. Crichton’s got Jurassic Park and Timeline, at least, not to mention Sphere and The Andromeda Strain. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was narrated by a dead girl, while Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife seems like science fantasy.

And then there’s Michael Chabon. He just won a Hugo for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The Hugo is a major award so known for science fiction that, when a handful of fantasy novels won (including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Gaiman’s American Gods), some controversy got stirred up.

I haven’t heard any such controversy about the award having gone to Chabon’s novel, which is mostly an alternate history set in the present (I haven’t read the book. I tried. Got about twenty pages in before I gave up on it). But Chabon is an author with both mass appeal and a Pulitzer under his belt, and, in fact, more so than controversy, the win has mainly stirred up discussion like here, where IO9 asks which mainstream authors its readers would like to see write science fiction.

Personally, I don’t want any mainstream authors to deign to write anything they don’t enjoy. Personally, I’d like someone to point out, hey, wait a minute, twenty of the twenty-five movies with the highest worldwide gross ever have been genre movies, and, arguably, science fiction or fantasy movies. The only exceptions are Titanic, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Da Vinci Code, the last two of which are certainly genre movies (adventure and thriller, respectively) even if not science fiction or fantasy.

Seems like it’s mainstream to me.

It’s like people expect good entertainment from all media until they hit books, and then some weirdo mechanism steps in and says that it must be “literature” to be any good while preventing the memory that the whole reason Shakespeare is awesome is because he wrote swordfights and fairies and witches so damned well into really exciting stories.

I will admit that I nearly opened with a joke about being given the keys to the Impala, but I figured, best just use that one to the once.

I don’t remember how I first encountered Supernatural; I’m sure it was an online discussion somewhere, but I don’t remember the specific pointer like I remember The Shakespeare Code. In fact, the first thing I remember about Supernatural is its Wikipedia page, which notes that its creator, Eric Kripke, cites Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and American Gods as influences.

That was really all I needed. I’ll state a caveat here in the interest of full disclosure: Neil Gaiman is the only person on Earth who has ever sent me into total fanboy catatonia. I had been 23 just a month when my best buddy trekked up to Jersey City from regions farther south so we could see Gaiman open for The Magnetic Fields at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. I had been corresponding (roughly) with Neil for nearly a year by then on The Well, but still I couldn’t bring myself to say hello (it took an introduction from Claudia Gonson of the Fields to actual render me speechful).

I had, by then, read everything Gaiman had written except Sandman, and I was totally looking forward to American Gods (the copy on my bookshelf, just a few feet away, was the first one signed on the American Gods tour, and it was signed at the Borders WTC. It has, of course, become somewhat of a talisman in my life).

I wanted to love American Gods, but I’ll admit, back then, I didn’t; my visceral reaction was that it read very much like exactly the debut novel it was–a writer learning how to write a novel as he did so. While it has grown on me in the years since, I still think Coraline and Anansi Boys are better, novel-wise, than American Gods was (Anansi Boys is, I believe, one of the greatest novels ever: very nearly fully achieved and perfect for what it is. It seems like it understands, in a way some few books do, what it means to be, and quite successfully achieves it).

My point is that I’d been reading Gaiman for a few years by then, and that he’s one of two novelists I continue to both read and enjoy (the same I cannot say for either King, Koontz, Carroll, or Pratchett [the other novelist is Rowling]). Which was why, when I saw that citation of influences, I just had to check out Supernatural.

Supernatural: two slightly dysfunctional but also very cool brothers drive around in a vintage Chevy Impala while listening to Asia and hunting things that go bump in the night.

And if that’s not very nearly a perfect logline, I don’t know what is.

Over three (so far) seasons, Supernatural has followed the brothers Winchester, Sam and Dean, as they drive back and forth across the country hunting . . . well, just about everything for which a season does not exist. Vampires? Check. Werewolves? Check. Djinn, changelings, and killer clowns (though not from outer space)? Check, double check, and wait, let me confirm–yep, check all over again.

And I think it’s way better than it has any right to be. I mean, one of the brothers is best known for a recurring role in the Gilmore Girls while the other has the sort of suitably pouty lips directors hire make-up people to moisten every ten minutes, but hell if it ain’t Tiger Beat heartthrobs battling evil, and boyhow does it work.

Don’t get me wrong; there are a couple of things about the series that, ultimately, unfortunately, fall flat, the single biggest being that the series seems to have an undue amount of trouble letting characters stay dead. Perhaps this is a reaction on my end, in that both television shows I’m currently most into (Supernatural and Doctor Who) don’t seem to want to let anyone actually die. And, of course, there is some wriggle room in Supernatural; when you’re dealing so much with things that go bump in the night, you are, story-wise, generally allowing that things do bump in the night, and the things that bump in said night probably used to be alive in some way, which means that there is acknowledgement of the afterlife. Especially when you’re dealing with demons and Faustian bargains and a bunch of characters who care about people they love more than they care about themselves.

When people keep dying but keep not exactly staying dead, it reduces tension for the viewer. It makes suspense and danger (not to mention: death) not mean nearly so much. You stop worrying when a character seems about to die, because you think, well, no biggie, they can just bargain that out of the way.

In most cases, the stakes are at least changed (and sometimes raised), but still, I feel the creators stumbled a bit with all the dead-not-dead stuff.

Even still, I remain impressed by the adventures of the brothers Winchester. Most of the episodes are self-contained, which is a hallmark of the shows I love (e.g., Doctor Who and House, MD), with development over arcs contributing to but not overwhelming the self-contained nature of each episode (or two-parter). I’ve always been the sort who avoids anything in multiple parts each of which can’t be enjoyed on its own, mainly because I’ve always felt like I’m being strung along (part of the reason I’ve always enjoyed TPBs to single-issue comics. Fuck single issues. Fuck waiting a week (or worse) to find out what’s going to happen next [the Harry Potter series is the notable exception, but then again, reading Harry Potter is a bit like watching a season DVD all in a go]).

Which is the other nit I pick with Supernatural; apparently, renewal goes to the creators’ heads, as each season pretty much ends on a cliffhanger of some sort. There’s a way to pique interest to keep people watching (or reading) and there’s a way simply to infuriate them.

But Kripke and McG (who exec produces) manage to avoid trouble by consistently putting together terrific, clever episodes. Some of my favorite bits: the names the Winchesters use to pose as detectives (Landis and Dante, Page and Plant, Bachman and Turner); the way Dean Winchester is written; uber-hot chicks in just about every episode; and layers. I’ve watched straight through Season 3, and all the characters seem so fully realized; the highest compliment I can pay, I think, is that you believe these characters had lives before you started watching, and you believe they had lives after the screen goes dark. I tend to think that in addition to the cited influences, Stephen King’s canon casts a long shadow across, at least in terms of character dynamics and interactions, as well as humor and story (and that’s one of the single highest compliments I would pay. Say what you will about Stephen King’s writing [hey, I like it], but you can’t claim he’s not a great storyteller).

I worry about next season; three seemed a bit uneven, though I wonder if that was mainly because it was truncated due to the writers’ strike (a lot like House, MD).

(cross-posted to Mightygodking.com.)

I read somewhere, I believe, that something like three of the top five bestselling novels in Japan last year were published via cell phones. Interesting, in its way; the idea seems popular, and I’m all for getting new readers and new books to those new readers any way possible. But I wonder a bit about the content. I try not to judge such things, because it makes me feel like a pompous douchebag, but I worry that the kind of novels that lend themselves to being read serially via cellphone are the kind of novels, say, Tila Tequila might write (if you don’t know who she is, count yourself lucky).

Amusingly, though, I caught a feature in the latest issue of Esquire–great works of literature as text messages.

Click the image below to visit the slideshow:

I had some ideas for others:

Macbeth: “I can haz crown? Out damn spot!”

American Gods: Meet new godz. Same as old onez.

Old Man’s War: “I fite everything! My DAN makes me teh wassum!!11”

Hamlet: 2 b or not? Not.

I’ve read a bit about Marie Philips’ Gods Behaving Badly (though not the book itself, I’ll admit). The premise, to quote its Amazon.com page, is:

the Greek gods and goddesses living in a tumbledown house in modern-day London and facing a very serious problem: their powers are waning, and immortality does not seem guaranteed. In between looking for work and keeping house, the ancient family is still up to its oldest pursuit: crossing and double-crossing each other. Apollo, who has been cosmically bored for centuries, has been appearing as a television psychic in a bid for stardom. His aunt Aphrodite, a phone-sex worker, sabotages him by having her son Eros shoot him with an arrow of love, making him fall for a very ordinary mortal-a cleaning woman named Alice, who happens to be in love with Neil, another nice, retiring mortal. When Artemis-the goddess of the moon, chastity and the hunt, who has been working as a dog walker-hires Alice to tidy up, the household is set to combust, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

And while this sounds intriguing, as such things go, the reason I haven’t already picked up the novel is that, reading that, I feel like I read the book back in 2001, when Neil Gaiman wrote it and called it American Gods.

American Gods is not my favorite Neil Gaiman novel (that’s Anansi Boys), nor do I think it’s his best (actually, I think that’s Anansi Boys, as well), but it’s certainly damned good enough to have won a whole mess of awards and slake quite well my thirst for novels about no-longer-employed gods. It’s long and meandering (in a very good way), with an extraordinarily likable protagonist matched up against extraordinarily likable antagonists.

I bring this up because, for the month of March, HarperCollins is basically giving the book away. Well. Close to, at any rate.

So here’s my part: I’m going to embed their code here, which you can click to follow and read the novel in its entirety.

If you like it, you can pick it up here.

And I think you will. Like it, I mean. It’s a great book.


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