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Books Lying Open
¤ Dark Tower VII, Stephen King
¤ The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams
¤ Middlesex, Jeffery Eugenides

Soul-Devouring Worry:
¤
Heavy stick blisters.

Answer of the Day:
¤
Because they cost too much before the sale, and vanished too quickly after it.

Curse of the Day:
¤
May most flavors of ice cream disappoint.

Phrase of the Moment:
¤ Phrase: "Alone... alone... alone..."
¤ Usage: Repeat the word repeatedly as soon as you are left alone in a room, even if someone else can be found less than ten feet away.
¤
Origin: We've got Dusty to thank for this one, since it's his habit. Whenever he's restless, or whenever both Malaya and me change rooms, leaving him alone in the living room or bedroom, he wakes up, looks around and begins sounding in a sonar-like fashion, as he repeatedly meows, each yowl at exactly the same pitch and tone.

¤ Notes: He's not actually saying "alone" of course, at least not that we know, but since he only does it when he's suddenly alone, either due to his wandering or our movement, it seems a reasonably translation, based on the context. Since I made up the "alone" joke, whenever Dusty wanders off and begins yowling pathetically in the otherwise-empty bathroom or bedroom or living room, Malaya and me amuse each other by saying, "Alone, alone, alone..." over and over again, in the same pitch that Dusty uses.

Hey, it beats, "Shut up!" which is what we used to yell, which had about as much effect on the cat as you might expect. -- August 16, 2004

Monday October 4, 2004
Quote of the Day -- QotD Archives
"Writing is a lot like sex. At first you do it because you like it. Then you find yourself doing it for a few close friends and people you like. But if you're any good at all...you end up doing it for money."
--Anonymous

he weekend came and went with hardly a splash in the still pond of my life, and here it is Sunday night again. Already. The weather was nice, at least, but since I spent 98% of Saturday and Sunday inside I hardly noticed.  Malaya was out a great deal, and I watched a couple hours of football each day and spent a few more hours reading Dark Tower 7, my weekend slipped away while leaving me very little to show for it. Fortunately, the blog is done (I'm writing this part last) and it's just 1am, and since I've got a good 5 or 6 hours of coherent consciousness left in me, I can yet produce something of use. If I get right to work.

No news today, and no book reviews. There is a lot of book and fiction discussion below though, if that's your sort of thing. And since you're here, it probably is.  I'd comment on the football over the weekend, but I didn't watch anything for more than 15 minutes at a time. I realize that I still enjoy watching the American sport of football (which is not at all the same thing as football in the rest of the world) a great deal, at least in theory. In practice I have no preferred teams, no favorite players, and no gambling interest in the sport, which doesn't leave me with much more than a desire to see exciting scoring plays while avoiding boring games or TV commercials. So yes, I'm really quite a bit happier watching the highlight packages on ESPN Saturday and Sunday night than I am watching any of the actual games during the day.

Of course I often forget about the highlight shows since I'm deeply involved in work or dinner or reading or whatever by 11pm when SportsCenter comes on, but the fact that I don't remember is probably a pretty good sign that it wasn't that important.

As for today's blog, there's lots of discussion of books below, my work, King's new Dark Tower novel (no spoilers), Anne Rice's amazon.com reviews blowup, John Sauls' dreadful hackitude, potential happiness with a mediocre career, and more.

ook talk time.

Nothing much to say about my novel, since anything I talked about would 1) make very little sense, 2) require a great deal of explanation, and 3) be a spoiler.  So I drop in general purpose comments from time to time just so you know I haven't forgotten about my impending and no-doubt glorious fiction career, but I can never really get into any specifics, since the interesting stuff would be plot twists I've thought up, or cool scenes I've just written, etc.

It occurs to me that just because I can't post those sort of blog entries now is no reason not be spend a few minutes writing them, for posterity. It would be nice to have a record of what I was thinking and doing as I worked on early drafts, since things change greatly as I revise the work, and I often forget early ideas, or at least forget the logic behind them. So yes, it would be nice to have a record of my thoughts as I'm writing, and I could eventually post those once the book is released, or even save them as an appendix to some hypothetical future unexpurgated version.  It would be funny to look back and laugh at the ideas I had early on or changes I'd made, at any rate.

Hmm, I think I just talked myself into it.  It's just that after 7+ years of working mostly online, I'm so used to writing things that will be posted immediately that it seems strange to write for future use. Fiction aside, at least, since with fiction I actually proof read it. And stuff.

 

¤ As for Stephen King's seventh and final Dark Tower novel, it's pretty good so far.  No spoilers here, providing you've read up through DT6.

Malaya tore through it last week and was quite moved by it, but she couldn't say why, since she didn't want to spoil the twists and conclusion for me. She wants me to hurry up and finish it so we can talk about it, and she's curious to see how I react to the twists, what I think of the ending, etc.

It's good though; I'm enjoying it more than any of the other DT books thus far, and I really like the series and several of the books in it. King's constant blatant foreshadowing annoys me, (every time a critical scene approaches some character inevitably thinks something like, "If only he'd known that one of them was going to die." which 1) steals away every bit of suspense, and 2) drives me crazy) and he's thrown in several very strange authorial intrusions thus far. Like a section will begin and suddenly there's a paragraph that's like an aside from the author, "Forgive me for this next sadness I must write..." Those have, without exception, taken me entirely out of the story, and I greatly fear what they might mean overall. Knowing what we do from DT6, that there is an actual Stephen King character in the stories, and that as he writes them they sort of become real in the larger universe, I'm worrying about some very cheesy Twilight Zone style ending, where he writes it happy so he'll continue living, but I am curious to see how King he handles that aspect; as an author who is also a character in his own story.

As the end of DT6 made clear, Stephen King, the author in the DT series, dies in the minivan accident that nearly killed him in real life in 1999, when he'd only written 4 books of the series. So now in book 7 one of the subplots features the Gunslingers trying to get to King's word to save him from being hit by that van, thus keeping him alive to write their own lives. But since we're reading about that in book 7, he must have survived to write books 5 and 6 and at least half of 7, right? It's all very time travel/alternate dimension paradox-filled, and would probably make no logical sense if you really sat down and worked it out mathematically.  Perhaps King isn't really writing anything; he's merely a sort of subconscious reporter, connected to the events on some psychic level and writing them down after they actually occur, though the "when" is very open to debate the way the time flows differ from dimension to dimension?  As I said, it's paradox-y, and I hope it's resolvedly neatly, and that the plot wraps up as well with some satisfying solution to Roland's Quest, a showdown with the Crimson King, a revelation of what's actually inside the Dark Tower, and so on.

Regardless of the quality of it, just the fact that there is a 7th book is nice, since as Malaya has been saying, at least one good fantasy series will wrap up in our lives. Apparently Harry Potter is going to, in some years, but most fantasy series have no larger plot than what you get book to book, and they just go on and on forever anyway, while gradually decreasing in quality (Or wiping out entirely, ala Anne Rice's newest. More on that below.)  Jordan's Wheel of Time looked to be on target and it's got a huge overarching plot that ties all of the books together. Of course as most of you know, he's bogged down badly since about book 7, books 8-10 have been greeted with great displeasure by his increasingly-impatient fans, and we're still waiting on book 11 since he took a year to write a long and entirely unnecessary prequel novella.

As for DT7, so far I'm enjoying it, but since I can't say much without being a spoiler myself, I'll just save it for the review. Which will have some spoilers, I suspect.

 

 

¤ As for Anne Rice, whom I mentioned a moment ago, I hadn't given her work any thought in years (I'm not much of a fan) but in the last Entertainment Weekly there was a note in the books section about some controversy. Apparently her last book, Blood Canticle, was a huge disappointment to most of her fans, and they've been free with their opinions on the Amazon.com reader reviews. That's nothing out of the ordinary, but what made this instance worth national media mention is that Anne somehow stumbled across the reviews, got pissed, and wrote a long rebuttal which she concluded by offering a refund to anyone who wanted one, and including her home address and email. Hey, you might think she's a dreadful writer, but at least she's not afraid to put her money where her mouth is. Or fingers were, as the case may be.

I'm not going to recap the whole debate, mostly since I only got through one of her books (The Witching Hour) and that was over a decade ago, so I have no opinion on the quality of this new novel. To summarize the argument though, many fans hate the new book, hate the way her hero vampire Lestat narrates it and talks in slang and acts like a big kid, and especially hate that Rice has said this book is the last in two of her ongoing series, the Mayfair Witches and the Vampire Chronicles. Apparently lots of the characters from both series are in this book, the main female from the Witch series falls in love with Lestat, and everyone is going to live happily ever after.  Unfortunately for the fans, this represents a huge change for both characters, and dozens of other long time characters are hardly in this last book or aren't mentioned at all, and none of the other major plot lines wrap up at all. Or at least not to the satisfaction of most of her long time readers.

Here's a quote from one of the most agreed-with reviews:

I thought BLOOD CANTICLE was not only extremely disappointing as the swan-song episode of Rice's two-decade homage to the macabre, but also whiny, affected, uninspired, and poorly written. I could have written a better final installment myself ... even if I'd never read the rest of her series. For her diehard fans, Rice provides absolutely no closure. Her heroes, antiheroes, villains, vampires, witches, monsters, ghosts, and saints act and react entirely out of character with the personalities Rice established in previous editions. And most of her major protagonists are left dangling, or worse, absent completely. Clearly, what started out with a bang, has ended with a barely audible hiss ...

 

So what did Anne say about it? You can see her rebuttal here, and if the link doesn't work for you just sort the reader reviews by "most popular" and hers will come up first. It's got 321/692 recommendations now and will always be on top, since even though most readers don't recommend her remarks, the Amazon.com sorting simply counts the total recommend votes in sorting them. However, if you scroll down past the author's own 5/5 star, defensive and completely-nonobjective retort, you'll see that the majority of other recommended reviews are pretty poor.  In order, by number of recommends, the next 9 reviews give the book 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 2 stars.  The overall average is just 3/5, which is very low for a best seller by anyone.

I'd quote Rice's entire commentary, but since it's 1216 words (I pasted it into Word just to count them.) with no paragraph breaks at all, it's huge and difficult to read. It also addresses issues I can't comment on, since I haven't read the book in question. I did like this one bit she included, defending her practice of flying without an editor.

And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art.

The problem here, is that editors aren't so much interested in nibbling around with every sentence in a book. In fact with Rice's work they probably wouldn't try that at all, since her writing style is so dense and florid that you've just got to let her ramble on; if you started cleaning up her prose you'd have to rewrite the entire novel.  No, where an editor would come in handy for her, and for other writers (Jean Auel, for instance) who refuse to use them while desperately-needing them, is in keeping a book on track, cutting extraneous sections, pointing out things that need to make more sense, need more explanation, etc. I couldn't get through more than a few chapters of Interview with a Vampire because it was so poorly-written, in terms of the prose, but that's not what anyone (that I saw) is objecting to about Blood Canticle. The Amazon reviews Rice so dislikes aren't bitching about her word arrangement or grammar; they're upset that she's changed the characters so radically, failed to wrap up the plot threads or character arcs adequately, etc. And that's the sort of thing an editor is very good at pointing out, since as I know from my own writing experience, it can get very hard to see the forest for the trees when you're rewriting and editing your own work. You get too close to it, too caught up in the small changes, and I'll often reread something months or years later and see huge plot holes or large sections of exposition I could have improved that were invisible to me at the time.

Rice does address a lot of the more-specific criticisms of her novel further down her rebuttal, but since I haven't (and I'm not going to) read the book, I'm not quoting or commenting on those. I did find her defensiveness somewhat disappointing though, since it demonstrates a lack of objectivity that any good writer must possess.  Just the fact that she gave her own book a 5 star rating throws me off, since I can't imagine ever liking anything I write that much. There are always things I could have done better, could have improved, and I'm not unhappy with my work, but it seems impossibly immodest to give one of my own stories a perfect rating.

If you want more of Rice's thoughts, she's added a post on her official website about the issue. It's borderline-insufferable, as she talks about how 95% of the emails she's gotten re: her amazon review have been from huge fans who told her to ignore those meanies, how she never thought her post on Amazon would be noticed or elicit any comment, how she's just a big Internet noob who doesn't know anything about a "flame war" and so on.  It makes her sound impossibly smug and caught up in her own little world, where anyone who doesn't like her work can't possibly have anything to base their opinion on and should safely be ignored.  And so she does, and continues on her merry editor-less way, much to the detriment of her novel quality, it would seem.

Lastly, I would like to say that personally, I really have no opinion of Anne Rice. I read one of her novels and sort of enjoyed it until the very end, when I thought it went to shit, and I couldn't get through her most famous novel since the prose was just so impossibly florid and the pace so glacial, but I know a lot of people who love her work, and clearly she's influential in the horror fiction genre.  I've never read an interview with her, I don't follow her book sales, and I don't read any forums about her or dislike her just because lots of wanna-be goth white kids identify much too strongly with her particular take on vampires. Other than seeing some press about her being carried down Mardi Gras in a huge glass coffin some years ago, and vaguely knowing that her house is a big gothic shrine along the style of her vampire characters, I really know nothing about her, and had no idea her long-time husband had recently died until I saw some mention of it in the Amazon reviews.  So really, while I've seen enough to not want to spend any more of my life reading any of her work, I don't mind that other people enjoy it, or that she's popular. I'd certainly love to have a career half as successful.  She doesn't inspire the disgust I feel towards really hack-tastic authors, like R. A. Salvatore or John Saul, for instance.

 

 

¤ And speaking of Mr. Saul, here's a quote from a recent email from Donnie.

I have recently started to read the latest John Saul novel, not that I neccesarily want to, but when a friend sends you a personalized, autographed copy of it for your birthday there is a bit of an obligation.

I read the first ten chapters of that book while I was sitting on the toilet today...Not that it is a real page-turner or anything of that sort, no, it is just that chapter 11 starts on page 62. I will give Saul at least a little bit of credit for the type being small, but come on. So, ten chapters in 61 pages (not sure if they counted the 'prologue' in that number). That is a bit weak.

One of the entire 'chapters' in this novel (the sixth one, I think) would have only been two pages were it not for the fact that half the first and last page were blank. That is just horrible, especially for someone who is getting paid a hell of a lot of money to turn out the damn story in the first place.

What is far, far worse is the fact that I really believe that I have read the 'prologue' from the most recent story pretty much verbatim in at least two of his other novels. Sure it might be cancer that kills one guy, while it is a freak accident with another, but the story remains the same.

It has been a lot of years since I read my last Saul novel, but I am those 60 pages (and 10 chapters) into it, and I already know pretty much how it is going to end. I don't know which person he is going to make the killer, but I know how it is going to end - much like those little 9 piece jigsaw puzzles that you were given as a child - You know that the picture will appear once all 9 pieces are in place, but what will it be a picture of?

Could the fact that you can predict the ending of every John Saul novel just based on the prologue factor in here? Hmmm... I really don't know...

My entire John Saul reading experience is related on the above-linked Horror Novelist's Overview page, and just to quote myself briefly:

My entire John Saul experience is currently derived from reading the first half dozen pages of one of his novels. I'll try to find the time/interest to check out something by him and update my comments once they're coming from a more informed POV.

That time has yet to come.

In Saul's defense, Donnie said that some of his other novels aren't that bad, and since Donnie's read at least 20 of them he's got to be doing something right. As for the chapter length though, that seems ridiculous. Maybe Saul has progressed to a nearly god-like level of brevity and concise wording, but it seems ridiculous to me to format a novel so it's a sort of Cliffs' Notes version of itself. I mean really, 6 pages per chapter? Or more like 5 pages per, since there's got to be at least one blank page with the chapter heading on it.

Saul's most recent novel is Black Creek Crossing, (March 2004) so I'll assume this is what Donnie is stuck reading. The Amazon reviews are mixed so far; 3.5/5 average from 30 reviews, while most everything by a popular author is guaranteed a 4/5 or better. If you want more information you're out of luck, since there's no novel excerpt there, or on Saul's own site. However, when I did a quick Google search I found a link to this bit of chapter one. It's dreadful; possibly the most melodramatic crap you'll ever see outside of a soap opera script, and based on what Donnie said, this isn't a short excerpt from Chapter One... this is chapter one! Go read it, or the following discussion won't make much sense. Just go, it won't take long; it's shorter than this blog. 

I could spend a whole blog discussing the problems with just that brief excerpt, but it would cause me great pain. Just going on the reality of the chapter; the events Angel remembers happened on Halloween when she was three, and yet she remembers them as an adult would, with perfect clarity and recall, including word for word memories of the age-inappropriate conversation she had with Granny that day.  My comments, if I were editing this from some aspiring writer (since I can't imagine a professional would write this poorly) would be things like, "Too long an off topic flashback in the middle of the chapter. A three-year old would never remember this level of detail; make some things vaguer. Tinge this with more emotion; you're all 'telling' and not enough 'showing'."

And that's not even going into how impossibly-melodramatic it is, or how poorly the words are arranged.  Check out these two sentences from the end of chapter one:

Now they were wrapped in tissue paper and packed away in an old hat box she'd found in the basement of the house they lived in when she was nine, and even though her mother thought they should be thrown away, Angel knew they never would be. They were all she had to remind her of Grammy, who died a little while after that wonderful Halloween when she'd worn the angel costume, and Grammy held her hand and led her up to the porches decorated with jack-o-lanterns.

I'm not even sure what you call the grammatical catastrophe in the first sentence; it's a run-on, but the whole bit about the basement when she was 9 and her mother thought should be thrown away is a train wreck. As for the second one, there's a verb tense error (It should be "who had died"), and I'm pretty sure Granny wasn't wearing the angel costume for Halloween, despite the dangling participle doing all it can to make it sound like she was. I'm also pretty sure Granny died after taking little Angel trick or treating, though the sentence's word arrangement makes even that unsure.

I took Rice's word that she didn't need an editor for her prose, but perhaps she could recommend one to Saul?

Elsewhere I found an excerpt of the prologue of Saul's novel, and it's literally unreadable. A breathless quote:

The nightgown was gone! She was naked!

And she was no longer alone . . .

Somewhere in the darkness, somewhere just beyond the limits of her vision, there was something.

Something that was hunting.

Hunting for her.

It's exactly like the prologue of Hellfire, which I so gleefully-ridiculed on the John Saul page linked to above. I don't know if the action-heavy prologues bring out the worst in Saul or what, but if I were running an internet fiction site and someone submitted a story that began with this, I would thank them for their submission but return it immediately. If they asked why, I'd say that they'd have to try harder to write something that wasn't such a godawful stereotyped cliché of bad horror fiction. (I might not word my mail quite so honestly/harshly, mind you.)

This sort of thing is why my genre of choice ("horror," regardless of the fact that my first published novel(s) will almost certainly be classified as fantasy) is so disrespected and mocked by "serious" writers and most book reviewers. The more I look at genre fiction (fantasy and horror mostly) the more I realize how lucky I was in my early reading. The first horror I ever read was Stephen King, and after reading Firestarter and loving it I read everything else he'd written up to that time, and then I found Clive Barker and liked his work even better. I've read lots of other horror since then, but those first two authors, who I think are head and shoulders better than any other authors in their field, shaped my opinions and ideas about what horror fiction should be. If I'd first hit upon Saul, or Lumley, or Koontz, or others of much lower literary pedigree, I have no idea if I'd even have stuck with horror long enough to consider wanting to be a writer myself.

But that is, most certainly, a topic for another day.

 

 

 ¤ Another topic for another day is something Malaya often asks me, and I'm throwing it in here at the end largely to remind myself to talk about it in a future blog. The topic is; what do hack writers/artists/whoever think about their work? Are they happy being successfully mediocre?  Does it burn them that they aren't really very good at ________, while still being good enough to make a successful living at it?  Malaya usually asks it directly of me, in a hypothetical question that sounds something like this:

"What if you had __________'s (insert rich-but-untalented artist's name here, e.g. John Saul, Britney Spears, Casper Van Diem, George Lucas, etc) talent and career? Writing/performing derivative, mediocre genre schlock that no one but your most devoted fans thinks is any good, but still making millions doing it? Would you be happy? Or would you rather be less popular but more talented, creating work that earned your living, but that you were proud of and knew in your heart was far better than what those millionaire hacks were churning out?"

It's easy to glibly answer by saying, "I'm sure my millions could buy me some happiness." but if you really think it over, is that true? Very rich people often score as low or lower than very poor people on personality surveys. Being a rich and successful hack certainly beats being an unknown and poor one, but how would you feel about yourself if you really wanted to be the best at what you were doing? How would you live knowing no matter how hard you tried, you'd never really be any good?

Take Anne Rice for one example. Churning out her umpteenth cheesy vampire/witch novel, too insecure to let an editor improve her material, myopic about the quality of her own work, unable to take any sort of criticism without unleashing a defensive rant, etc. Are those traits signs of denial and desperation and unhappiness? Or does she really believe she's a great artist, as or more talented than any other writer, and that everyone who thinks otherwise is jealous, or bitter, or just criticizing her to be a dick, and is she perfectly happy with what she's done with her career?

Anyway, it's something we think about here in Casa Malalux from time to time, and you're free to turn it over in your own mind, or share your thoughts thisaway for inspiration and possible quotation when I do eventually blog about it at greater length.

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