After several years in a will-they/wont-they purgatory, the digital revolution in publishing has finally become more a matter of when than if, where “when” seems to be 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad–which featured five of the big six corporate publishers as partners and only ignored the sixth because someone within the company had outed the device the day before official launch–got the ball rolling and demonstrated that ebooks were not just a novel trend but rather new media for novels and all sorts of other forms of storytelling. In late August, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle, with its improved screen and form factor and its lower price, effectively killed the counterargument. The only thing left to really argue about is price.
But really, that’s fodder enough.
Since Apple got all those publishers on board and got its iBookstore rolling (or did it? Has anyone heard anything about the iBookstore? All I hear about are the devices–Kindles, nooks, iPads. Not so much about the stores), there’s been a debate about what’s a “good” price for ebooks. One common idea discussed when the iPad launched was the so-called “agency model,” which basically meant that publishers got to set their own price. Tech Eye mentions that this is in opposition to allowing, say, the vendor to decide the price. In other words, it’s the difference between, say, Harper setting the price of its books and Amazon doing so.
Publishers, of course, want high prices. This was why $10 ebooks were so common during the beginning of last year. Right after the iPad? Seems like publishers–corporate and otherwise–got a little high off the power of the partnership and suddenly decided that the right price for ebooks was between ten and fifteen bucks. The New York Times discussed the phenomenon.
To really get into the discussion, though, we have to consider factors regarding price. There are myriad.
Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale
Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.
I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.
This past decade may have been the one that most changed music, both as an industry and in general (will we even have albums anymore, at the close of our new decade?). Apple introduced its iPod in 2001 and then its iPhone in 2007, both of which helped the Cupertino-based company located at One Infinite Loop become the largest music retailer in the industry. Before we go on, let that sink in a moment: iTunes Store is a larger retailer of music than Wal-Mart or Amazon. Part of it is convenience—the iPod dominates the digital music player category, while the iPhone continues to grow as a cell phone—but there’s more to it than simply that people just want something to plug in and forget. It’s changed browsing, publishing, and exclusivity, not to mention access; more musicians have more access to put up their music. It no longer takes the likes of Sony and BMG to reach an audience; now, anyone with a microphone and a guitar can record their music in their basement and charge a buck a track to anyone who wants them.
Which is not to say that anyone with a microphone and a guitar should (although at times it’s sounds like many have and still are); as with movies and books, few people ever want to believe they’re just not that good at what they want to do. Most publishers, be they of music, movies, or books, want the general public to believe they act something like gatekeepers, which may be one of the biggest PR con jobs in the history of people making stuff up for other people to enjoy.
But the past ten years have been really good to music. Spectacular, even, with introductions to fantastic new bands and new releases from ones we hadn’t heard from in a lot of years. So good a top-ten list is tough, and again, filled with lots of CDs that very nearly make it but either way certainly deserve a mention as elevens. In no particular order:
You should totally read the book before you go see it, and if you can get your hands on the audio version: listen to it. Gaiman reads it himself, and it’s brilliantly creepy and hauntingly charming in all the best ways.
I can’t imagine it’s a secret that, if pressed to name a favorite writer, I’d cite Neil Gaiman, and I only say “if pressed” because let’s be honest: why play favorites, right? Still, I’m a big fan of his books, particularly Anansi Boys and Stardust; he’s always seemed to me to have a very instinctual grasp of story. He just gets them.
So, last year, I’d planned to send my book out to a bunch of people, but life, as it so often does, got in the way, and in the end I only managed to send out a couple of copies. One went to Neil. I’d just kind of hoped he’d enjoy it. I’m not sure if I really expected to hear much back from him. I mean, the man’s always seemed busy enough to fill several people’s schedules. For the next, like, five years, at least.
But not long ago, I got the following in the mail:
Neil Gaiman says I rock?
Neil Gaiman says I rock!
I’ll be framing that bad boy, of course.
Incidentally and by the by, Henry Selick’s adaptation of Neil’s Coraline is coming out in the next month or so. It may well be, so far, the first movie of 2009 I’m excited about. The movie’s website is here.
When I first researched graduate school, what seems like all those years ago, one of the first things I did was order books from faculty members at every institution that caught my interest. Some great programs, like Johns Hopkins and Iowa, I had dismissed early because they hadn’t seemed to jibe with my direction, which left places like North Carolina and somewhere in Arizona. I don’t remember all the institutions, and only a few of the authors.
I didn’t have to do that this time around. This time around, NYU came to me with the same certainty as USC; all that’s left is getting in.
Which meant I felt I should familiarize myself with some of the work of some of the faculty members, the stand-outs of whom include E.L. Doctorow and Jonathan Safran Foer. Neither of whom I’ve ever read. Nothing against them, just never seemed like my thing; I’d rather read Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter and Joe Hill, most of the time. For me, the novels whose scope doesn’t stretch much beyond characters coping with ordinary lives have never really excited me so much. I’ve tried reading guys like Tom Wolfe and John Updike, and I generally feel decidedly meh about them. I hate to call it “serious” fiction, if only because it seems to imply that people like Gaiman and Rowling aren’t serious about writing and stories, and I think that’s foolhardy. I’d hate, too, though, to attempt to claim it’s all about marketing, because it’s really not.
Before this becomes a discussion of genre in fiction, though, let’s move on to the reading. Because the first book I picked up was Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
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.
Now, I seem to be dreaming of water, and of cities falling into it. The ground beneath my feet has given way at least three times in the past . . . well, I don’t really know how long; it took dreaming about it last night to remember I’d dreamt of it before. And the title of this post is a bit misleading; it’s not inundation like a wave or a tsunami. It’s just giving way.
I don’t know where I am in the dreams. Part of me thinks Los Angeles if only because Los Angeles is the only city I associate with falling into the ocean. There was an amusement park-type setting last night, and maybe a Ferris wheel, which may or may not have been Santa Monica pier . . .
I wonder if it’s because I feel I’ve become unbalanced lately. In many ways. I’ve been teaching and grading and studying so hard I haven’t had nearly as much time to write as I would like. I feel like I’ve gone a bit overboard on politics, here in the blog, in the past couple of weeks, but then again I think that’s because so many of my feelings about the upcoming election are tied to my feelings about September 11th. I know that in many ways (and especially in recent weeks) Obama is just politics as usual (mainly, I think, because he’s playing to undecided voters), and I know many disagree that he is a good candidate, but something about him hits me in the same place watching WTC 7 crumble down hit me. Something about him gives me hope in those places that day deflated.
And yes, I realize that’s more an emotional response than anything, but then again, McCain makes me anxious in the same way those apocalyptic dreams always have.
And again: I didn’t mean to talk about politics here. I meant to talk about dreams and disbalance, because I know we’re all a little exhausted by the whole process by now.
I found out, last week, my grandmother passed away. I don’t know if that has anything to do with these feelings and dreams. She was actually a grandmother-in-law, through marriage (my uncle’s mother), but she was still often present in my childhood, whether as the first house on our annual Halloween trick-or-treating adventures or at my cousins’ birthday parties (three cousins, three parties per year). But I don’t actually remember the last time I saw her; I know it was at the local supermarket, but I’ve returned home less and less these past few years, and Jersey feels farther away than ever. I couldn’t go to her viewing/funeral, but I think what bothers me most about that is that I couldn’t hug my aunt and shake my uncle’s hand. She had a full life 88 years long, children and even grandchildren she watched grow up, and my mother told me it’s a blessing for reasons of recent health, but still, mum mum Kit is no longer around, and I’m a little sad about that. I don’t remember mum mum Kit with hair any other color besides white, pulled so taut back it became an old-fashioned facelift, voice full of old cigarettes and bourbon forgotten years before.
Anyway, I’m going to try to move back from politics. I’m going to also be trying to do some more writing. My real writing, that is, not blogs. That’s not to say I’m taking a break; this doesn’t feel like I’ve felt when I’ve realized I need to walk away from the blog for a while . . . it’s different, somehow. I’d meant to talk about Lulu, but I may be saving that for a couple of weeks just yet, as I’m still trying to figure out the best thing to do with my book.
In the spirit of lightening things up here a bit, I figured I’d post something more cheerful. To quote Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! (which is certainly one of the most underrated movies of all time), I thought I’d give you something happy, something poppy.
Because it’s a perfect day for a ride, ain’t it?
I should really just sell the damned thing. Manhattan just isn’t a place for such a beast, much less the Village. New York’s a walking town. A subway town. Sometimes a bus town, and some other times still a taxi town. It’s a bustling town and a jogging town, a drinking and dancing and staying-out-till-4-am town, and in fact it’s a different kind of town just about every minute for just about every person in it, but it’s not so much a driving town. There are too many cabs, too many long limousines with precious celebrity cargo, too many delivery trucks and big buses, too many Lincoln Town Cars shuttling CEOs to the office and back. The air is too bright and the sounds are too vibrant and the color is too loud to be shuttered away from the world by four windows and a growling engine, but still I keep the dilapidated duster.
I tell myself I keep it because I wouldn’t get much for it. The old lady who used to own it never did know much about anything she put a key into, and the engine’s hoarse in her memory. The duck tape on the torn cloth top; the old, nearly bald tires; the muffler that might as well not exist—selling it might cover a month’s rent or a fancy night on the City, but not much more.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
But I know the truth. I don’t keep it because selling it wouldn’t make enough; I keep it for days like this.
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.
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.
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).
Man, have I ever been blocked. Totally for seriously.
And one thing about me is that I’m a Taurus. Remember I hit 30 last month?
Okay, so here’s my story about writer’s block.
Usually, when asked about writer’s block, I say I don’t believe in it. Because I don’t, really. I tend to look at writing not as a talent or matter of inspiration but rather of craft, and that if you sit down and do it, it works. I try to work on multiple projects simultaneously, though, because I also know that you just can’t force anything, or maybe shouldn’t.
And I have been. I’m finishing The Prodigal Hour, and at the same time working on two projects that I’ve mentioned before even if never in much depth; one is tentatively titled A Little Heaven, the other Meets Girl. Both are marked changes of pace for me, as a writer; both first-person narratives (despite that nearly every piece in Entrekin is told first-person, it’s not my usual mode for writing. I tend to prefer third-limited, probably because I grew up reading Koontz and King and Crichton before I moved onto Gaiman. You can trace some lineage, not to mention influences, there). I’ve tried to switch back and forth between projects when the going got tough.
This time, I failed. Because I wanted to finish my novel so much. Because I like it so much. And so normally, when I would have worked on something else as I felt the story klurge to a halt because it just wasn’t yet ready, the stubborn, belligerent, dammit-do-you-know-who-I-am-and-what-I-can-do Taurus in me kicked in, and seriously, yo, fuck that bull, man.
Anyway, I spent a few days anxious. Restless. The sort of days that inspired the old exchange between James Joyce and his wife–
James’ wife: What’s the matter, honey?
Joyce: I wrote seven words today!
James’ wife: But that’s great! That’s almost your usual tally.
Joyce: But I don’t know what order they go in!
I’d write a paragraph, and then realize, no. Then do it again. Then open previous drafts and try to flip through–
Anyway. Long story short, I’m making my way out of it. More slowly than I would like, but with some certainty. And no, I didn’t finish by July, as I had hoped, but man, I can taste it.
(sometimes that’s the most fucking frustrating feeling in the entire damned world)
So that’s where I was.
And that’s where I’ll be. Wrestling the fog. Because that’s what it’s like, really; it’s a slippery, elusive little fucker you just can’t find a decent grip on to save your fuckin’ life. In its way like happiness, or love, but in its own way again more frustrating than either and, in a way yet again, more rewarding.
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″
(Neil Gaiman muses on his spot at #3 on this list.)
Actually, I think Neil’s right. The list seems a little… off. I mean, J.R.R. “motherfuckers walking, my novel’s are the literary definition of plot coupon” Tolkien at number 2?
I do like Pratchett, though.
My top five, in no particular order, would be Neil, Terry, Stephen King, Jo Rowling, and Jonathan Carroll. With a further five to Joe Hill, Jo Walton, Richard Cox, Will Shetterly, and Audrey Niffenegger.
Caught this article on the New York Times site this morning. Seems to be a day or so old, and it’s supposed to be about a movie that takes place in academia, but the article seems to be about how strange it is for a fiction writer to work in Hollywood, and what a difficult time of it said fiction writer would have.
I actually get that, at least considering the author in question, one Mark Jude Poirier. I’ve never actually heard of Poirier, but he’s apparently got two short story collections and two novels under his belt, and he studied at both the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins, both of which have renowned writing programs, though the article doesn’t mention what Poirier studied. It does mention what Poirier writes about, to some degree:
His published writing, which also includes a second story collection, “Unsung Heroes of American Industry” (2001), and a second novel, “Modern Ranch Living” (2004), is distinguished by good, dry jokes, a fine appreciation of messy families (he is one of 11 children), a tremendous affection for teenagers and losers, and a strange fascination with amusement-park rides. Only the last is missing from “Smart People.”
I could see why that might not work in a movie, or at least might become one of those pointless, “character-driven” pieces that inevitably come up for Oscars. Rafferty uses this dichotomy, though, to make some blanket statements:
But mostly nothing happens, except in the sense that novelists and short-story writers understand. For them moving a character from not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event.
And that may be why so few writers of fiction manage to succeed, or even to be minimally comfortable, in Hollywood. There was a time when the studios, hankering for prestige, would throw money at well-known literary figures and set them to work on projects to which their actual talents were almost risibly irrelevant: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, among others, all did their stints and went home, for the most part, baffled. (Playwrights, with their expertise in dramatic construction and ingrained audience-pleasing instincts, usually fared better.)
These days Hollywood — even “independent” Hollywood — doesn’t frequently come calling on novelists of any literary stature. John Sayles, who directs his own screenplays, has had a productive career, and Richard Price and Larry McMurtry get work too, but it’s a short list. Producers care less about prestige than about marketable stories, and what in the world do fiction writers know about stories?
The fact that “not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event” for many current writers of short stories and novels is I think, for the most part, why some many current short stories and novels suck worse than a gaping chest wound and are crappier than a sewage treatment facility.
I can’t argue with Rafferty’s list of writers of the golden age, nor with the quality of their output; I’ve often said that the best thing William Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep, and the thing about it was that Ray Chandler had already done all the heavy lifting for him. Most successful novel adaptations weren’t written by their novelists; The Shawshank Redemption was written by Frank Darabont, and Jo Rowling hasn’t touched any of the Harry Potter scripts (well. Except to approve them). There are a few writers I can think of who do both successfully: Alex Garland (The Beach), David Benioff, and Neil Gaiman are, roughly, it, but the thing about them is that each seem to have an understanding that, for stories to work, something must happen and someone must change.
If nothing happens and nobody changes, is it really a story?
Or is it actually just a handful of competently composed sentences, told by idiots full of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing?
I’d argue most fiction is the latter, nowadays. Which I suppose makes Rafferty right, in his way, but for all the wrong reasons.
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.