Over on Tor.com, Shoshana Kessock compares the portrayal of women in Game of Thrones and Girls and comes down on the side of the genre show, despite its problems.
Me, I haven’t seen either show. I have read Martin’s novels and I listened to an interview with Lena Dunham on NPR. Maybe that limited exposure should disqualify me from commenting on the topic, but this is my blog and I can be wrong if I want to.
Anyway, while listening to Dunham on NPR, she specifically addressed the whole “Voice of my generation” bit, making it clear that the character was ridiculous even when she wasn’t stoned and that she hoped viewers would recognize it wasn’t to be taken seriously. In fact, she made it clear that she was making an effort to portray a character who was not admirable at all–she admitted that others involved in the show had to make her pull back on the amount of humiliation heaped on her.
And my first thought was “She’s writing to literary protocols.”
Years ago when I was studying everything I could find about writing, someone (I’ve forgotten who) said that genre characters always (or nearly always) operated at the best of their ability. Whether it’s Conan fighting a giant snake or a CPA who discovers that her daughter has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang, the characters may not always have skills and competence in a particular situation, but they do the best with what they have. If they do make mistakes, it’s either like Peter Parker letting the crook escape (a lesson that needs to be learned/kick off the story) or it’s the cop who arrests the wrong person (a mistaken action based on a misunderstanding of the evidence at hand).
When a character persists in their error, the way Neo continues to resist the idea that he’s living in a computer simulation, the instinct is to become exasperated with them. The same is true for stories where the audience wants the protagonist to operate at their best but they don’t (or don’t appear to be) such as addiction stories.
But in stories aimed for a literary market (at least the ones I’ve read) the characters rarely operate at their best. They’re feckless, selfish, self-delusional, or flawed in all sorts of ways. They don’t get out when they should. They don’t address their problems in a way that would fix them. It’s like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd: The movie starts out with him shot to death, and you see the long awful comedy of errors that led him to that fate.
Obviously, there’s overlap here; you can’t make large generalizations about groups of books (or readers) without begging exceptions or edge cases, but to me it looks like a clash of two conflicting artistic impulses.
I’m going to turn my computer off for the rest of the evening. It’s World Book Night, supposedly, so no Twitter, Netflix, email, whatever. Just my family and their books.
See you on the far side.
So, Forbes is reporting that JOHN CARTER has earned back its budget overseas, partly by topping the box office for two weeks in a row in China.
Of course, there’s still the marketing budget, but never mind about that. DVD preorders are strong and I like to imagine that quality will out.
But this does give me an excuse to revisit the film, just a little, in a way I couldn’t before.
After seeing it a few times, I think I might have worked out one of the reasons people didn’t go for it in large numbers. The ending. [Spoilers, obvs] In most movies, the big fight scene/marriage would be the end of the film. It feels like an ending.
Then you cut to Dejah waking alone in bed, and Carter walking around the tower deciding to throw away his amulet (wouldn’t it have been nice to take Dejah to Jasoom at some point to see the sailing ships, assuming she could survive in Earth’s gravity?).
Then he’s back on Earth, and we return to the journal and ERB, and…
Okay, here’s where I make a confession: One of the tropes I completely fucking hate to see in a book or movie is “Death will reunite you with the ones you love the most.” I seriously hate it, because to me it seems to be objectively pro-suicide.
There was a novel–I thought it was written by Dan Simmons but a scan of his bibliography doesn’t show anything familiar–that ended that way. His family died at the start, he traveled around like Kwai Chang Caine until he finally jumps off a bridge and is reunited with his loved ones. God, how I hated that ending! I hated it so much that I felt queasy at the finale of GLADIATOR.
But the ending of JOHN CARTER is pretty similar: the protagonist happily walks into his own tomb and shuts the door, then lies back with the lilies around him. He smiles speaks the words that take him out of the this world and into the one he calls home.
And as much as I love this ending, I think it’s the reason people were soft on the movie. Lawrence Block tells the story of a time he sat on a plane while the man beside him watched the movie BURGLAR, which is based on one of Block’s novels. As he tells it, the man was engaged throughout, laughing often. When the film ended, Block asked him: “What did you think of the movie?”
The reply: “It was okay.”
Block believes it was because the ending was soft. The guy enjoyed the whole thing, but it didn’t have a strong ending so his last experience of it was a let down. And what about the people who see JOHN CARTER, expecting a typical action movie denouement? So many folks complained about the nested flashbacks (always with the tone of “Some other people might find this troubling, but not me) that I think the real source of the objection is that ending, where things feel like they’ve been wrapped up, but there’s a whole frame scene story that everyone’s forgotten about.
Did I mention that I love the way it ends? I love fantasy novels and movies. I love adventure stories. And the end of the movie seems so like the way I enter into a fictional world that it felt like falling into a story all over again. Very powerful. Yeah, the movie is flawed, but for me that ending was quite strong.
And now I’ll stop writing about this movie for a while.
So, the first round of the Suvudu cage match has ended, and Ray Lilly survived. He’ll face Tyrion Lannister, a character so popular his name is in WordPress’s spell check (j/k). To be frank, I’m a huge Song of Ice and Fire fan, and of Tyrion in particular. I’m looking forward to this, and I have an idea or two that I think will be fun. We’ll see.
As for round one, things got contentious early and stayed that way, but that’s not a big deal. What is a big deal is that I think people might have gotten the wrong idea about R. Scott Bakker’s books.
If you skimmed through the comments looking at his fans’ description of the Kellhus character, you might think Bakker has written a munchkin’s wet dream, but the books are more interesting than that.
Check out this review of The Darkness That Comes Before by Victoria Strauss. Here’s her review of book 2, The Warrior-Prophet. At this point, the trilogy is complete and the second trilogy is nearly finished.
Anyway, these Suvudu cage matches are supposed to be an opportunity for readers to try out new books. Here’s the Prince of Nothing series:
Check them out.
Commenters on Ray Lilly’s cage match have gotten pretty hot, calling Ray a “mary sue”, saying my writeup was weak, and a couple of other insults.
I don’t link to it because I want people to rush over to my defense (please don’t). I pretty much expected this and at least one of Bakker’s readers has already backed off and expressed regret at letting things get too serious. Besides, much worse has been said in Amazon.com ratings. No big.
Still: interesting human behavior and it’s cool to see that Bakker has such passionate readers.
Added later: I’ve tried twice to post a comment on that thread to say “No blood no foul” but my comments aren’t showing up. What’s more, the page won’t reload with newer comments, even after I clear my cache. I wonder what’s going on?
reading The outside world: internet publishing wasting time
by Harry Connolly
The poll is up. Head over there to read the fight scene featuring Ray Lilly, and see him take damage like never before (and of course he has no idea he’s in a cage match).
If he wins I get to write another one, so why not drop a vote for him?
added later: Hey, be aware that this one gets a little… intense. Don’t click through if you don’t want to read a scene that’s very physical and a little over-the-top.
Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m not much interested in awards. I don’t pimp my own stuff and I don’t talk about yours. When the Hugos or Nebulas get handed out, I skim blogs for drama but otherwise ignore it. A few days ago I got a notice from SFWA announcing the Nebula Award nominees for this year and I deleted it unopened (not that I didn’t see all the names plastered all over my window into the web by lunchtime.
I don’t have anything against awards, but I just don’t care.
Well, as I was scrolling past one of the many, many copies of this years Nebula Award nominees, I noticed one particular book up for the “Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy”
“Hey, son. Remember that book The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout? You liked that, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, it was awesome! He should get paid a million dollars to write a million sequels.”
“Well, it’s up for a big award.”
He read over the list, but The Boy… was the only one he’d read. “Cool!”
“Do you want it to win?”
“Yeah, Dad. Tell everyone I said they should vote for it.”
In 2007, I had just started reading The Fox by Sherwood Smith (the mmpb will be rereleased in April) when I signed with my agent. I’d enjoyed the hell out of Inda, the first in the series despite the long section set in military school. I’m not a big fan of school stories, but Inda won me over.
The Fox is even better. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but it’s a fantasy set mostly on sailing ships with lots of politics and action. The best thing is that the characters are so very real.
You hear a lot about gritty/realistic fantasy, and it’s always so cynical, as though realism is people behaving really badly. The characters in these books cover a wide range in a way gritty fantasy usually doesn’t–using omniscient POV, which isn’t used often enough.
And the world-building is terrific, yes, and there are so many characters it sometimes is hard to keep track. The hero is one of those super-capable types that make fantasy fun, but he has enough quirks that he rises above the generic hero stereotype. The whole thing is terrific.
There are two more books (which I’ve already bought) and the series is complete. You should totally read it.
The auction for The Wooden Man and the ghost knife prop has ended but the Worldbuilders fundraiser will continue until February 7th. It’s a lottery system; for every $10 you donate, you get a chance to win any one of hundreds of prizes.
Most are books, signed by the author. Some are ARCs of unreleased novels. Some are graphic novels. Look at this!
An ARC of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust
A “Best of” collection by Caitlin R. Kiernan
A full set of Tad William’s SHADOWMARCH
An ARC of Seanan McGuire’s newest novel
And much, much more stuff.
What’s more 50% of your donations will be matched.
Don’t miss your chance for some terrific books.
reading The outside world: everyone loves blue dog harvest of fire internet man bites world
by Harry Connolly
The Dusk Society set a… well, is it a new low? Because I’ve read some genuine shit in my time, and this book, while it was definitely bad, was mostly just dull and anti-dramatic. The villain continually thought up reasons not to kill his enemies, the photo-based art was ugly, and if there was an interesting way to get a plot point across, this book dodged it.
Sure, it’s supposed to be fore kids, so they didn’t want a lot of bloody murder, but you can’t call a villain worse than Satan if all he ever does is collect magic trinkets and tell his henches not to kill people.
The plot covers the recruitment of four modern teens into a monster-fighting society (they each have Speshul Powers Or Skills). I got bored with it less than halfway through, but my son read the whole thing, laughing all the way through.
Then you get to the end of the book, when the sexy teacher in the bad clothes who inducted the students into the Dusk Society offers a contract to the reader. Would YOU like to be a secret monster fighter???
The large size is easier to read. But here’s what the contract says:
I solemnly promise to serve The Dusk Society, with my life* if needed.
I understand that my life will at risk–everyday.
Signature of member
Notice that asterisk? What it refers to is handled in a caption, not even on the contract itself. It reads:
*UPON DEATH, ALL YOUR LIFE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY WILL BE SEIZED BY THE DUSK SOCIETY. WITHOUT NOTICE, THE DUSK SOCIETY MAY ALSO EXERCISE THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE THE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY OF ANY SURVIVING RELATIVES.
That is one helluva clause, isn’t it? I’m tempted to make a joke about asking kids under 18 to sign contracts, or about the ways cults enrich themselves from their members, but in truth this sort of dopey story choice just makes me depressed.
By the way, that thing beside the couch is a cat.
Some years ago, when Miss Snark was active online, she recommended that aspiring authors read debut novels to study up on what’s selling. I did that for several months straight, and one of the books I read was Joshua Palmatier’s The Skewed Throne. It was pretty intense stuff.
Since then he’s released a new series under the name Benjamin Tate, and since I will probably be adopting a pen name for my post-Twenty Palaces writing, I asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about it a bit. Here he is:
First, thanks, Harry, for having me guest blog today. I hope your readers enjoy!
One of the most common questions I get as soon as I introduce myself at signings or on panels at conventions is, “Why are you published under two names?” If you weren’t aware, I have a split personality. My “Throne of Amenkor” series and most of my short stories are published under my real name, Joshua Palmatier. I also edit anthologies under that name. My newest series (check out LEAVES OF FLAME, just released) is published under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate.
The short answer to that question is easy: marketing. All of the more detailed reasons I’ll get to shortly boil down to that: marketing. The publisher is attempting to make as much money off of the books produced by the author as possible. Marketing is what drives the publishing machine, and most decisions—from the cover art, cover copy, even what appears inside the book—comes down to what the publisher thinks will sell the most copies.
Let’s talk about some of the marketing reasons that a pseudonym might seem like a good idea. I’ll only hit a few, some of the more obvious ones, because I don’t think you want the entire novel. And the reasons are numerous enough that you could probably get a book out of this. Let’s stick to two:
First, SALES: I’d hazard that this is the most common reason a pseudonym is used. Basically, the number of copies ordered by the bookstores like Barnes & Noble depends on the number of copies of previous books sold by that author. If the author is new, B&N has no previous numbers to base their ordered on, so it comes down to how well the publisher can excite them about the book. But once the author has a second or third book on the shelf, the publisher can talk all they want, but B&N is going to look up the previous sales before they order the new book. And in general, if the previous book sold, say 20 copies in one store, they will order FEWER copies of the new book. I see you shaking your head; I shake my head as well. I don’t understand it, but that’s how it happens. Sometimes the publisher can convince the bookstore to order more, if the title has some particular buzz or other selling point, but most of the time not. What happens is what writers and publisher refer to as the “death spiral.” Book 1 sells 20 copies in a particular store; the store orders in 15 copies of book 2 (and typically won’t reorder if these sell out); the store looks at the 12 copies of book 2 sold when book 3 comes out and orders 10 copies for the store; etc, etc, etc. You can see where this is heading.
So, if a particular series from an author is caught in the death spiral, when that author introduces a NEW series, the publisher can risk the bookstore looking back at the old sales and saying it didn’t sell well, we aren’t going to order much of this new series, even though its new . . . OR the publisher can introduce the new series under a pseudonym. The bookstore has no previous sales records to look at, so they order 20 copies, as if it were a debut author. And then the publisher and author hope that the book and pseudonym takes off and avoids the death spiral.
A second reason for using a pseudonym is GENRE. Often an author is interested in writing in more than one genre of fiction, say fantasy and mystery, or science fiction and romance. In this case, the author may want to keep the marketing of the two genres separate. You don’t want the exuberant fan of your cozy mystery novels seeing your name on the cover of a new book, pick it up expecting a cozy mystery, and then discovering that the new book is erotica. That could alienate your fan. (Or it could make them an even bigger fan, who knows? It’s a risk.) To avoid this possibility, you write one genre under one name, and the other under a different name, thus keeping the two genres separate. No one accidentally picks up your western novel when they’re a fan of your science fiction. This can also be done for subgenres as well—say using one name for your historical romances and a second for your paranormal romances, just to keep them separate.
As I said, there are other reasons for using pseudonyms, but I think those are the two main reasons. Both of them come down to marketing in the end—whether it’s marketing a new name to escape the sales records, or marketing a new name for a particular genre. Which reason was it for me? I have to admit it was the death spiral. While the sales of my “Throne of Amenkor” series weren’t horrible (they were modest), my publisher felt that I might be able to expand my audience by using what’s called an “open” pseudonym—basically a pseudonym whose real identity wasn’t kept secret after the release of the new book. It was hoped that the “Joshua Palmatier” fans would learn that I was now writing under the “Benjamin Tate” name and buy the new books, while I’d pick up new readers for the “Ben Tate” books by catching people browsing the shelves and running across this debut author.
Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy—The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne—under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series—Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame—by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind (edited by Jennifer Brozek), Beauty Has Her Way (Jennifer Brozek), and River (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). Find out more about both names at www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).
Just to throw my own two cents in, when I first started coming online in the middle 90′s, I discovered that some editors hated pen names and actually refused to honor them in their magazines. Apparently, writers used to use them to hide the shameful truth about their second, science fictional careers and this editor (who is dead now and shall remain nameless) just assumed that anyone using a pen name was being insulting. Oh, genre, you’re so wacky.
Hey, check out the cover to “Tate’s” new book:
It looks fantastic.
Stephen Blackmoore’s new novel is out from Penguin (in trade, no less) and over at the B&N review blog, Paul Goat Allen gives it a terrific review, saying: “… the story is relentlessly paced and literally filled with nonstop action from the first page to the last” and “If City of the Lost is any indication, Stephen Blackmoore could be the illegitimate lovechild of James Ellroy and George Romero – zombie noir at its bloody best!”
And I’m all: Damn. It’s a zombie novel? I knew the guy came back from the dead, but I didn’t know it was zombies. Still, it just got a great review from a guy who wouldn’t look at a twenty dollar bill if it had my name on it.