Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Woolly Novelist

We slush-pile warriors may be the woolly mammoths of our time.

We think in terms of 85,000 words, a novella, a chapter... not a fifty-word installment to a cell phone novel.

In the age of a mouse click and a blink, is storytelling defunct?

Will next year's cliffhanger be: "Y R U leavin me, Studley?"

An interesting comparison of The Simpsons and Family Guy sparked further thought. Not that this analysis rivaled a discussion on quantum mechanics -- but the article indicated that The Simpsons writers are storytellers, whereas Family Guy relies on one-liners, or wisecracks that have no context to the scene or plot.

The last three romantic comedies I've seen have a disjointed quality, too. Cast of thousands, mini-stories, really, with loose connections. Make that very loose connections. Couple one are ghosthunters who can't decide whether to LCD or plasma their den TV. Couple two struggles with fertility issues and works part-time as carnies. Couple three obsess with plastic surgery perfection and second-mortgage their house for a set of matching nostrils. Meanwhile, their Quaker in-laws (ill-fated couple number four) fly to Vegas, baby. While in baggage claim purgatory, their luggage gets switched with a Mafioso and his stripper wife. A flatulent dog rounds out the cast.

Run, Forrest, run!!

Story isn't dead. Proof exists. Scorsese's "The Departed" and Pixar's "Up." They're riveting, harrowing, unpredictable. Much deeper emotional experiences.

For every "Up," there are dozens of mediocre kid flicks. I know, because I've accompanied my children to these animated duds... all along, cursing myself for buying the overpriced Twizzlers AND not waiting for the DVD rental.

The cell phone novel. The 75 word sidebar magazine article. The death of newspapers. The computer game with the user-determined ending. How the Internet is rewiring our brains, frying our attention span. We're less literate. Most Americans never set foot in a bookstore.

Is that a Geico caveman charging toward me with a spear, or does this smell like extinction?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Slap! Slap! Thanks... I Needed That

Hurtling along the Dan Ryan expressway, we spied with our own little eyes U.S. Cellular Field. Narrowing his eyes, my husband gestured at the empty stadium which seats 40,000. "Imagine you're in a crowd that size -- times one hundred -- and you start to understand the odds against becoming another Madonna."

Only Spock, a.k.a. my husband, can drill reality home. Like a laser right through the skull. Or a (hilarious)
cold slap in the face.

Only 20 or so authors seem to dominate fiction's bestseller list, and it seems ever harder to break in. Gone are Jacqueline Susann days of half-a-mil advances, of no-name authors reaching the stratosphere overnight, flashbulbs popping at the unveiling.

Now, the only popping sound seems to be to our own ego balloons.

These days, blogs seem to be a foot in the door to a book deal. Specifically, blogs that attract millions of hits and advertisers. But at what cost to my privacy?

Some bloggers cover some raunchy, salacious material. A
suburban dweller of my humble stature can't possibly compete. Unless...

I make up something.

Example: "Cheryl's Exclusive Dish on Brangelina: I Restrain Brad Pitt While Angelina Shaves Off That Weird Beard."

Well. Anyhoo. I write because I love it. It's (wait for it! -- you know the cliche's coming) -- a passion.

And I have Spock to keep my delusions in line.

"Face it, after we're dead, our grandchildren will barely remember us." My husband is grim, fighting me for the remote. "And they'll pitch all your college art work."

"Great," I say, raising an eyebrow. "Are you available for inspirational keynote speeches, too?"

"The road to publication's bumpy. Just know what the odds are, Madonna."

I do.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Even My Dog Wishes I'd Cool It

El Pooch looks at me quizzically. Not because he suspects I have stash of dog biscuits, but because I have that crazed glint in my eye.

The gleam of a new idea. Accompanied by the maniacal energy that fuels such delusions, that we writers have all the time in the world to chase every single beam of light. I can't even surmount the laundry downstairs, much less contemplate the heavy research an "epic" would require.

Oh, and don't get me started on the term "epic." Smacks of pretense, of pinkies and noses in the air, moldy books on the shelves, pipe smoke in the air. "Smedley, ole chap, how is your epic coming along?"

Meanwhile, Smedley is nearly comatose, twitching on a settee, having overdosed on ideas but produced no real work.

Or let me put it another way.

Tolstoy would roll his eyes. "You, O'Donovan? An 'epic?'"

I've yet to read "Angela's Ashes," which I know is autobiographical and approaches 'epic.' Author Frank McCourt had the idea of the book in his mind for many years and struggled with the narrative. Until one day, when he decided to write it through the eyes of a child, no sentiment, unvarnished. He was in his mid-60's when his masterwork won the Pulitzer, and before he died last year, was able to write three or so more books.

I wonder how many ideas he had.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blogging -- Arrrgggh!

I Do Not Like It, Sam I Am,

I Do Not Like Self-Centered Blogs and Ham.

Boy, my writer friends and I debate this.


We really don’t want to do it.

We’d rather write fiction, do some research, interview, compose an article, hit our deadlines. In fact, we’d prefer a colonoscopy or watch a Police Academy movie, than sit down and ‘blog.’

But everything’s gone digital, leaving skulls and debris in its wake, the Kodak film cartridges, the smudgy newspaper, the printed book.

Meanwhile, my buds and I creep toward establishing an Internet presence. Having a mere e-mail address gave me hives. We crawl to the Internet in our commando gear, reluctantly joining the fray. Red-eyed crazies out there post disturbing comments, even to the most innocuous of statements, e.g., “The Sky is Blue," or "The cleaning power of this Comet really helps dissolve the grime on this sink." Wham! Torched with a scathing comment. Which leads to kitchen table discussions with the spouse of “can we legally change our last name, and how fast,” and Googling how to undergo witness protection.

“Better get on board and blog, if you write,” we are told. Established writers with a national profile don’t have to blog. On a book shelf, they are the name brand, and we no-names are the dust.

Saw Garrison Keillor speak in 2008, and he cautioned that good writing wasn’t about “narcissism.” Yet a lot of blogging reeks of it.

The self-promotion, too. Geez. Don’t get me started. I’d rather take a blow torch to my laptop than float around a room like I was God’s gift to humankind. “Oh, look at me, the famous write-rrrr.” Puh-leese. One glance at a Steinbeck novel will humble any writer – and fast. And me, I’d gladly send in a stunt double to do the promoting. Yes, I know. Necessary evil and all that, but can’t the work sell itself?

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said at his heresy trial. He encouraged students to think for themselves, to challenge the status quo. Bloggers Gone Wild fly over etiquette’s speed bumps. These guys examine everything about their lives. They’ll drive their Springer-fueled cars, gorging on Web hits and traffic, shooting snarky replies to commenters who can’t even spell an expletive. They’ll push right to the brink, until a cop shows up at their front door with a search warrant.

One journalist friend put it like this. A blogger is like “a drunk who sits at the bar, ranting to himself. People don’t really care and all the drunk does is embarrass his family.”

Or, here’s my mom’s take: “Why does everyone need to render an opinion today? What makes people think they’re so important, that every thought they have contributes to society?"

I gotta come up with something more meaningful in a blog, other than what I had for breakfast.

I’m a writer. Experts advise writers, “Build a blog, and they will come.”

Uh-huh. Right.