Blinded By The Light Dept.

How not to appropriate history in the name of middlebrow art.

The Problem with Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See | The New Republic

A novel is not a historical document, but it does become one, regardless of its author’s preference. Our entertainments reflect their times: how we choose to remember historical events, and how we prefer to remember them. Especially when the worst of times, World War II, becomes material for the lightest of entertainments.

Emphasis mine, in big part because of how it echoes something I've been reiterating in various venues: all entertainment is art whether or not we want it to be, so we owe it to ourselves to make better art.

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Tags: literature writers writing

Alan Smithee's Revenge Dept.

The screwing of screenwriters: they can't even take their names off a production anymore.

Film bosses accused of mutilating scripts and pushing out writing talent | Film | The Guardian

Three of Britain’s Oscar-nominated screenwriters say that an increasing tendency among film studio bosses and directors to “mutilate” film scripts is forcing top writers to either direct their own work or write for television, where they command greater respect.

... Writers’ Guild rules do not permit writers to take their name off a screenplay if they have been paid more than a certain amount. Studios can, in effect, buy their names.

It's not exactly news that writers get treated like dirt in Big Entertainment, but the way the noose has not only been tightened but lined with razor wire on the inside never ceases to appall me.

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Tags: Hollywood screenwriting writers writing

Music: Soul Discharge (Boredoms)

Does humor belong in music? Yes, but even if it didn't, you're getting it anyway.

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There was at least one kid like this in every class. Turn your back on him for five minutes, and the entire surface of his desk (and maybe the floor around his desk, too) would be lacquered with crayon scribbles. Not one school supply in his possession was used for its intended purpose: erasers up the nose, paper clips attached to the earlobes, and hole punchers used to create confetti that would be sprinkled into his own hair and then shaken off into your lap as fake dandruff. If a kid like that doesn't grow up to become Yamatsuka Eye, lead singer of the Boredoms, and go on to record shrieking, twitching, roaring, shaking, shocking albums like Soul Discharge, then the universe makes less sense than I thought it did.

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Tags: Boredoms Hanatarash music noise review Yamatsuka Eye

Brokedown Castle Dept.

The peril and pain of DIY blogging.

For some time now I've been investigating migration options for my various blogs and sites — as in, out of Movable Type. WordPress seems like the likely choice, but my biggest objection to WordPress is that it doesn't do static sites by default, and it doesn't make sense for a blog to be a dynamically generated asset.

Now, there's various plugins which can produce something akin to a static blog, and after some experimentation with them I think I have a reasonably stable end result. But I still have to think about a whole host of other issues:

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Tags: blogging Movable Type

The Rut And How To Get Out Of It Dept.

This is either the smartest or stupidest thing I've done in a while. I'm tilting smartest. I went back and re-read many of my posts from the past several months. Stupidest, because it made me nod my head and realize...

This is either the smartest or stupidest thing I've done in a while. I'm tilting smartest.

I went back and re-read many of my posts from the past several months. Stupidest, because it made me nod my head and realize I might be on to a bunch of things (self-reinforcement!) Smartest, because the sheer amount of topical repetition made me realize I was getting stuck in a rut.

What I've decided to do, then, is to take all the stuff I was shelving in favor of regular blogging — the reviews, mainly — and bring those back all the more. Rather than complain about all that's wrong, it might be more constructive for me to focus on what's right, or where to look to find what's right.

It's easy to get stuck in a rut, easiest of all when you're not paying much attention to what you're doing. By that I mean doing something, perhaps even with close focus on the thing itself, but not so much on what the doing of the thing represents for you in the larger picture. Much of my nattering about the cultural ecology, as I call it, has been as much for trying to figure out my own position in it as trying to figure out how best to deal with it. But the fact that I've circled back constantly to the same answers over and over tells me this is something of a dead end. The best thing for me to do, then, is produce the best work I possibly can, find the best audience I can for it, and let the rest take care of itself.

This doesn't mean I won't be discussing that subject from time to time — I still have some posts queued up in that vein, after all — but after that, I'll re-tackle the subject only when I think I have something genuinely new to say about it, and not just make a restatement of a previously established position. Instead, I'm going to try turning my energies in other directions, and seeing what comes of that.

Wish me luck.

Time Has Come Today Dept.

Breaking news: 'Welcome to the Fold' will not be self-published. At least, not at first.

Sometimes it takes someone else to say what's on your mind. Sometimes they say it better than you do.

Seatbelts, folks; this could get bumpy.

My comrade-in-arms Zach B. has been talking at his blog about electing not to go with self-publishing as a default option. He laid out his position in a post titled "Humility", then defended it further by explaining some of the toxic attitudes he felt the self-publishing circuit encouraged. Among them is a reflexive hatred and distrust of conventional publishers.

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Tags: Genji Press publishing self-publishing Welcome to the Fold

Factorysimile Dept.

Why Do All Records Sound the Same? — Cuepoint — Medium Just as a modern politician’s job is to deliver seven second soundbites, [Maroon Five]'s job is to deliver seven second audio clips which will encourage young-ish people with a...

Why Do All Records Sound the Same? — Cuepoint — Medium

Just as a modern politician’s job is to deliver seven second soundbites, [Maroon Five]'s job is to deliver seven second audio clips which will encourage young-ish people with a high disposable income to turn a little red knob at least 180 degrees clockwise. No wonder they look so stressed. 

... Why does most music sound the same these days? Because record companies are scared, they don’t want to take risks, and they’re doing the best they can to generate mainstream radio hits. That is their job, after all. And as the skies continue to darken over the poor benighted business of selling music, labels are going to cling to what they know more fiercely than ever.

One of the largest risks involved in producing any kind of creative work for a mass market is not the creation of the work itself, but its promotion and distribution. There's only so much shelf space in the physical world, and in the online world, there's only so much time to grab someone's attention and convert that into a sale. In the end, it's the boys who run the pipeline who win; they have many more opportunities to seize peoples' attention and let them know about something they don't.

Various attempts to find a technical solution to this problem have come along. So far the most promising ones seem to be projects like Goodreads, something focused specifically on consumers of the media in question, and designed to get them to participate in the joint project of enjoyment and promotion. But even that has bottlenecks. A number of my books have landed on peoples' to-read lists, but I would scarcely call the momentum that's resulted from that a viral phenomenon. There's only so much time in any one person's life to read, and only so much time to spend pawing through something like Goodreads recommendations lists.

The easy way to draw attention to something is to just produce something that sounds, or reads, or looks like everything else out there — or enough like everything else out there that you can leverage the existing mass of material to get it promoted. This is not the worst idea, actually: few people are able to recognize what makes something interesting without being able to recognize how it connects to other things in their experience. But too much of that, and you're at risk of losing your boots in a bog of sameness, one where people aren't able to figure out why everything has suddenly become so boring.

It's tough to get people to pay attention without throwing tons of money at the problem, and it's tough to throw tons of money at the problem without worrying about hedging your bets. If someone else has an answer to this dilemma, I'm all ears.

Tags: promotion publishing writing

The Imperfect Potato Dept.

On my misshapen books.

Not long ago I talked about how mainstream entertainment feels like the quest for a better hamburger, one where at the end of the day, all you have is a hamburger. So, I asked myself, what would my books constitute? And then out of nowhere, I thought: They're like potatoes.

Misshapen, irregular, imperfect, lumpen (how I love that word). Left in the dark (after they're finished), they sprout, by provoking me with their alternate possibilities. I could have done this, I could have done that. But you take them, cut them up, fry or bake them. And in the end they all get et.

I try to make the best potatoes I can, at whatever moment I happen to be making them. I know there's always room to improve. But there's no sense in letting that stop me from making something now. And in the end, I'd rather have something a little misshapen that it is its own thing, instead of something made to order.

Now. How much of this is acceptance; how much of it is just self-indulgence? I'm still mulling that one over. If I can help it, I don't want to let these kinds of insights lull me into a self-reinforcing conformity all its own. Maybe there's no way to know except by having someone else come in and disturb your peace, without you asking for it.

Tags: creativity writing

Movie Reviews: My Dinner With André

Out of two men talking, nothing more, came one of the best films of its decade.

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The concept could not be simpler, or at the same time more audacious: Two friends, out of touch for years on end, reunite in a tony New York City restaurant and get caught up with each other. No gimmicks; no distractions; no injections of comic relief on the part of the wait staff or the chef; just two men of wit, intelligence, and sharply divergent worldviews sharing the lives they've been living. Most people, when confronted with the film's concept, say: That's it? To which I'd reply: That's all you need.

The André of the title is André Gregory, a longtime veteran of the theater, tall and greyhoundishly handsome in the manner of Roy Scheider. His friend is Wallace Shawn, a balding, rotund, squeaky-voiced fireplug of a man; Princess Bride fans will remember him immediately from that film as the cackling, villainous Vizzini. André and Wally are essentially playing versions of themselves, not improvising in real time (as many people mistakenly believed) but instead acting from a screenplay distilled down from dozens of hours of conversation between them.

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Tags: Andre Gregory movies review Wallace Shawn

But How Interesting Is Your Pain, Really? Dept.

Not all forms of suffering make for great drama, let alone great art.

There's a lot of damage in life for which the best prescription is "get over it", but I suspect a great many people don't want to hear that. (This was me once upon a time.)

Said folk know, on some level, getting over it is precisely what they need to do — but why would they vent and fume to others for so long, unless they were holding out for an exception to the rule? What they need is to get over it, but what they want is for someone to come to them and say, "Yes, you're right, this is terrible. Let me wave a magic wand and set it so that you're in the right."

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Tags: creativity creators drama writing

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I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

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