Lots has happened this year, but instead of recounting all of that in a tedious end-of-year round up (which I used to bore my family in the annual Christmas letter), I’d rather raise my glass to all of you who have read my writing, e-mailed me your thoughts, or simply stopped by and then clicked away without another thought (and yes, that is a very sweaty glass of whiskey).
Here’s to you, your health, and a happy and successful New Year!
For far too long, we, as a nation, have glorified guns. They’re cool and sexy and powerful. They make men men and women invulnerable to assholes—unless that asshole has a gun, and then a man’s man with a bigger gun and crazy fist throwing abilities will have to come in and save the woman (but misogyny in media is another post). That’s how we roll in America. Violence, especially with a gun, solves all dilemmas.
Certainly, what I write here will mean nothing, since it comes on the heels of millions of other commentaries that have been shoveled onto the internet in the last couple of days, and my opinion doesn’t carry much weight as it is. Still, I would be unfaithful to those few people who care enough to read what I write if I didn’t say something.
I may own twenty guns or none, but that shouldn’t matter. I have nothing against gun ownership, and I don’t have a problem with people who say they prefer not to own any. Unfortunately, the arguments that usually emerge in the U.S. regarding guns run along two lines of thought: No one needs a gun, so ban’em all, or, if you don’t own a gun, you’re an un-American pussy who should be deported to France. Essentially, you end up with people shouting at each other about needs and rights and no one is actually listening. No one actually tries to figure out how we keep from shooting each other and watching mothers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, dads, and LITTLE KIDS dying.
What people in Europe and Canada don’t understand as they sit on the sidelines and see this shit happening in the U.S., all the while sadly shaking their heads at the gunslinging barbarians, is that we have the right to bear arms written into our Constitution. It is Amendment II, coming right after the one that guarantees all U.S. citizens’ right to freedom of speech and religion. Argue all you want that our nation’s founders didn’t mean what the amendment is interpreted as. It doesn’t matter. We used guns to rebel against he British monarchy and defeat the most sophisticated army of the time. They thought the right to have weapons to fight an oppressive regime important enough to insert into DNA of our fledgling country. Start fucking with Amendment II and there is nothing stopping the government from changing the first, and then moving onto the other twenty-four (yeah, there are twenty-seven amendments, but one was used to repeal another one, so, really, only the most recent one counts). Hell, we're clinging for all we're worth to Amendment IV as it is.
For the record, guns are as American as the Rocky Mountains and the obesity. They aren’t going anywhere.
That doesn’t mean that controls are completely out of the question.
Let’s start with de-glorifying the gun. Just stop it. I’m tired of hearing, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Anyone who says that is simply spouting a bullshit NRA catchphrase. You might as well say, “Hammers don’t pound nails, people pound nails.” No, people with hammers pound nails, because I’ve never seen a dude pound a 20d nail with his bare hand. Guns are meant to do one thing: Kill. You don’t use a gun to build a house, or plant a garden, or dig a trench, or assemble a car. You use a gun to force your will upon someone else, the ultimate threat being death if they don’t comply. You use a gun to hunt, which, by its very nature, means killing. Guns destroy, end of story.
Can you use a gun to protect yourself? It might be a deterrent, but unless you’re trained military, a policeman, or the veteran of gangland firefights, it’s unlikely you’ve got the ability to do much else other than pull a gun and shoot yourself or some other innocent before getting blown away. Sorry, but it’s the truth. You aren’t Neo, Wyatt Earp, or any character from The Walking Dead. And even if you are trained, there’s every chance you’re still going to get killed if someone draws a gun on you and takes you by surprise.
This is what I mean by de-glorifying the gun. Owning one doesn’t make you invincible. Hell, it doesn’t even make you less likely to get killed. You may feel that way, but feeling it doesn’t make it so.
Another way to de-glorify the gun is to make it a helluva lot of responsibility. Right now, owning a gun is like owning a car. Pay for it and you can have it, no training necessary. I don't care if you want one or a hundred guns in your house. However, you shouldn't be able keep a working firearm unless you've passed a training course in which you are licensed to own a gun. You have to pass the course every two years. This course covers proper storage and use, and includes a marksmanship test. If you can’t hit the target, the weapon doesn’t do you much good, does it? Getting the license should also require gun owners to look at images of gunshot victims so everyone understands what kind of damage the weapon can inflict. If an owner doesn’t pass the test, a trigger lock is installed by the local police. Once the owner passes the test, the trigger lock comes off and the license issued.
It might also be a good idea, seeing that there is the whole clause about “a well regulated militia” in the Second Amendment, that everyone who ones a gun should be immediately pulled up for service in the National Guard or reserves. Get ready to defend your homeland, boys and girls, because owning a weapon also means putting your hiney on the line when your country needs you. Ask yourself how badly you want to defend your right to bear arms. Are you willing to defend your country for that right? How about help out during natural disasters? Give up a weekend every month to train? At the very least, running obstacle courses might help with our obesity problem.
Are my suggestions the answers we’re looking for? Probably not. But we need to have this conversation. We needed to have it after Columbine. We probably needed to have it earlier. We can’t afford to lob attacks at each other from ideological strongholds that only stymie progress. I have a son in 4K this year and who will be in kindergarten next year. His mother works in a school. What happened in Newtown, CT, scares me to death, but that fear is nothing compared to the loss the parents and grandparents and siblings and friends and aunts and uncles and teachers are suffering through right now after twenty children have been erased from this planet before they ever got a chance to experience the sweetest gifts of life. If that isn't cause for changing how we view guns in our society, we're lost.
My dad and I were both born in November, separated by 41 years and 24 days. That in itself doesn’t make November hard. As a kid, I thought it was cool that Dad and I were born in the same month. Once, when I was six or seven, I tried to convince him that it would have been better if we’d been born in December. “No. Too close to Christmas,” he said with a wink. It took a while for his reasoning to sink in.
He had these amazing jade-colored eyes with brown occlusions that seemed to sparkle when he talked. He told stories of his days playing amateur football and triple-A baseball and howitzer exercises with Dog Company. Dad had the gift of gab, could talk to anyone and find something in common, no matter their background. And he loved to laugh.
He and I used to take trips from Anchorage to Soldotna, only the two of us. He’d have business to attend and we’d drive down there. We’d be going along, just enjoying the silence, and he’d ask, “What you thinking about?” Sometimes I wouldn’t have an answer and I’d shrug, “Nothing.” But other times, I burbled away without comma or period about whatever was in my head, and he’d listen and listen, never interrupting. Maybe he tuned me out, but I don’t think so. To uninterested adults, kids have a way of talking that makes every word seem like a monkey smashing cymbals together while a braying mule sings along. It’s a mutant power most kids grow out of; those who don’t become writers.
Dad died six years ago, just two weeks shy of his birthday, due to a brain disorder akin to Parkinson’s disease. I was out of town attending a convention for a magazine. Mom called me sometime around 4 a.m. to tell me. After I clicked off, I collapsed onto the hotel room floor and keened into a pillow until my voice gave out. I’m not sure how much good the pillow did, but no one called management or the police.
I know I did things that disappointed Dad, but he did what fathers should do: loved and protected and taught to the best of his ability. I struggle every day to live up to his example. My greatest hope is that one day my son will look back on our times together when he was young and love me nearly as much.
November begins with Dad’s birthday and ends with mine, and in between, I dwell upon that missing part of my life, how close we were, and how far apart we are. During November, more than any other month, I am reminded that the universe waits to reclaim what it has loaned, and how much I still want to do in my ever shortening time.
Eventually, no matter where I'm writing, I grow tired of my surroundings. They become too familiar or too distracting. And then whatever it is in my skull that feeds me the story ideas and helps put one word after the next — let's call it Ned — gets all weird and won't talk to me anymore.
It's true, writing is a solitary process; solitary in that you and you alone can write your story. It also requires focus. To write while a four-year-old boy sings you a story about his day to the tune of "Jingle Bells," a dog howls in the kitchen that she needs to go outside, and your wife complains about you starting a load of wash that had come out of the drier this morning takes a focus unachievable for someone who only ever has about five bucks worth of go juice in the creativity-tank at any one time. So, someone like me. However, I'm not one who needs complete silence to do my work. Nor do I really like being alone. I like being left alone. There's a difference.
I write in the evenings, more out of neccessity than preference. About six months ago, I started writing in the living room, after my son had gone to bed, because my office just wasn't doing it for me anymore. Too quiet. Too solitary. Too many guitars to play and songs to learn. Too much porn.
In the living room, I feel a little more connected. My wife usually has things she's doing, so she's in and out, or working on her computer across the room. Sometimes I put the stereo on. For me, it provides enough outside stimuli to get my imagination — Ned, I mean — moving.
Ned also likes it when I run forty minutes on the treadmill and ask it questions right before I go to sleep at night, though it won't usually answer right away. On the other hand, Ned doesn't like trying to shout through the awful indie pop blaring at Starbucks, despite the free wi-fi and faux coffee, and will more often than not lock up all the good stuff in the high-security backbrain vault, daring me to access it with anything less than a syringe full of morphine and a sheet of Timothy Leary's best. Ever seen a man try to turn egg salad back into eggs?
Ned can be a real bastard.
Many thanks to Craig Schneider for my website's new look. He's a talented guy and has been working on some very high-profile websites that I'm not sure I can talk about publicly yet. Any shortcomings you may encounter here are entirely my fault.
As I promised some time ago, here's a link to the music my friend Bill "Billy Dynamite" Maynard and I recorded for FineScale Modeler magazine's web videos.
I just picked up The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Don't know why I haven't read it before now. I don't know anything about it, but am looking forward to the creative stimulation. I bought the Barnes & Noble Classics version, and I find it humorous that the introduction by Professor Steven Marcus is nearly as long as the novel itself. I understand there is a lot to be said (or resaid) about Conrad and his work. But I want the story, not a New Criticism analysis of what Joe was really trying to say. Shame on me for treating Joe as escapist and not literary. What could I be thinking?
I’ve been sick more times this year than I’ve been during the previous three years combined. I think it comes with having a four-year-old in school. Between the crippling bouts of coughing, alien nastiness incessantly streaming from my nose, and trying to keep my son and wife in fighting spirit, the writing continues. Always onward, though completion seems to be farther away and people are starting to wonder if I'll ever finish the project and get onto the next.
So, about the current project: It’s fighting back. I was two-thirds finished when I decided to do a little review and edit before pushing on to the end. That's when I scrapped two-thirds of the two-thirds. I guess better that than finishing and scrapping practically the whole thing. Yeah, this one’s been a bear. On the up side, I’m pleased with my prose.
I’ve seen the mock-ups for the new web design. They look great and will be way more functional than what I’ve got here right now. Hopefully, it’ll be up sometime in the next month or so. Of course, it’s about filling them. As with everything else, I’m working on it.
Lest I forget to mention it, there’s also the added benefit of a nine-week-old Siberian husky puppy in the household now. Christ, my sleep and work schedules have more holes than a tattoo and piercings convention.
Well, that's enough of this. Back to work . . .
Today, a friend asked me what it meant to "drop out of the job market" and wondered if it was like "going on the dole." A recent article he'd read said more and more young people were dropping out.
I told him dropping out means you've stopped looking for work. Once you stop looking for work, you're no longer considered hunting for employment and therefore not counted in the unemployment stats. It's more like you're staying home and living with Mom and Dad; or you're living with the girlfriend; or your spouse supports you.
We're in a strange place right now where either you have too much experience or you have too little. I faced it when I got out of college. No one wants to give you a chance to do what you're trained to do because you don't have the experience, but then again, the places you'd think you'd get hired in a heartbeat tell you you're over qualified. It can be frustrating.
Then you have your parents and everyone else telling you that you went to school for the wrong thing. What're you gonna do with an English/Journalism/Communication/etc. degree? Teach? No, I have loftier goals. Yeah, good luck with that. Fuck you, too.
I also think a lot of it is the "I won't do that" mentality. I had it. I went to college and there was no way I was taking a job flipping burgers. It's degrading to take a job after you spend four years or more in college because you've been told that college opens the doors to a better life. It may, but the hard pill is that the better life doesn't happen right away, unless you go into finance and you're comfortable lying and cheating your way into vast sums of money.
We go through this crap in every downturn. When things get rolling again (and they will), we won't hear about it as much. Truth be told, I think these are the times when you really see the people who want to go somewhere make things happen for themselves. They work hard at creating new things. If I can't get a job doing what I want to do, then I'll make the job. I bet we end up with a lot of entrepreneurs over the next decade — think Jobs and Gates. Necessity breeds innovation.
This week, I received a rejection for a short story submitted to Ideomancer. Yes, rejection comes with writing for publication. That knowledge never makes a rejection any easier. Each story we write contains a little bit of ourselves. When we send out a story, we want that soul slice to find validation and recognition among others. Or why share them? If you say money, you're missing the point and I'd really like you to consider going into finance. It'll suit your shriveled, ghoulish spirit far better.
I'd be lying if I told you that with every rejection I don't consider why I write. Why not stop? Imagine the goddamn free time! I could get my ass handed to me playing PvP Call of Duty. I could read all those Bernard Cornwell novels I've never gotten to and brush up on my French. And I wouldn't have to contend with voices in my head that sound convincingly like family members saying shit like your prose sucks or your ideas are cliché or you're not entertaining or you've lost the war with "be" verbs and the Passive Voice will forever dominate your destiny. I also wouldn't have to deal with other people telling me the same things — these people may be real or hallucinatory. I'm often at a loss to tell the difference.
Quitting means doing nothing, accepting where you're at, believing change for the better impossible, and all possibilities exhausted. When you quit, you give up. I can't think of a more unacceptable decision. I love creating new things. I love telling stories. I haven't yet achieved what I know I can achieve. I haven't yet written the best story that is in me.
Too fast, the truck driver took the corner going through July and August, and now the eggs on the flatbed have all tipped off and shattered, coating the road in a rheumy yellow slick. My son sleeps with one eye open to make sure that his parents haven't been stolen away in the night by the gigantic five-legged spiders that infest his closet. But at least I have my son and my wife. The survivors of mass murders in Aurora and Oak Creek have memories of their lost, many of them poisoned by sick fucks who were once innocent, little boys like mine. They were boys who played and jumped and fell and feared and loved, and then they got all twisted up inside. Why?
When an elected government official speaks (one chosen from among us to represent us because he is supposedly representative of our views and beliefs) of "legitimate rape," vomits falsehoods about women's bodies, and his defense is that he meant to say "forcible" instead of "legitimate," is it any wonder we're raising children who are warped and poorly educated?
I'm sorry, but there is nothing clever to say about this month's happenings. There is only horror and sadness. I look at my son, with his one eye glinting from beneath its lid, watching me, making sure I don't disappear before the morning when he's able to remind me to take my phone, keys, and wallet, and not to go too far. Oh, and bring me some money for my piggy bank. And I love you, Daddy. I will do everything in my power to make sure he understands that he needs to have compassion for everyone around him, to be kind and understanding, to be a caretaker of the world. If I don't, I may one day wish with all my heart I had and only have poisoned memories, too.
I've spent the last two months playing hooky. My unscheduled time off began with a cold in the midst of one of the driest, hottest summers I can remember. I lay curled in bed for nearly five days straight, with barely enough strength to spit chunky green goodness into the waste basket already choked and bubbling over with wadded tissues. Everything that took effort ceased as I convalesced.
"What?" you ask. "It was a fucking cold! Grow up! Convalesce? Dick."
Yeah, all right. Fine. But I was wretched sick. Really. I wasn't up to doing much requiring me to produce anything but snot. So, I spent most of my time reading or watching movies and television shows on Netflix. I need to take in lots and lots of external stimuli in order to keep my brain working and producing new ideas. It makes me think. It makes me critique. If I was going to be laid up for a few days, this was a chance to do just that.
Once my underachieving white blood cells finally got around to kicking the mutant bug's ass, I was chest deep in three series and two novels. I also found myself spending the sacred time allotted for writing with my son and wife, doing family things. My plan: finish the series and novels and reestablish boundaries. Yeah, right. It's all well and good to say, "I'm writing now!" But when a four-year-old says you you have to come out to play soccer or he's going to dance in your office without pants or underwear singing the theme to Phineas and Ferb until you relent, plans have a way of disappearing. Regarding my wife, well, I can always get back to a manuscript tomorrow. Fortunately, she knows my weakness for her and is usually good about giving me space. But other times, she's very, very bad. Er, uh, anyhow …
We all experience these hiccups. They often distress me because I feel as if I'm lazy or not living up to some ideal of what I, a writer, should be. I have to remind myself that I sometimes edit and write for fourteen hours a day. To take a little breather, to unplug and enjoy time with my family, to be entertained: These aren't bad things. They are necessary. They are much of what life is about.
However, a time must come when the boundaries are redrawn, hours are set aside, and work recommences. If not, then you lose what you are and become something other.
I always carry a Mead composition book and write all sorts of mind-maiming LSD-lightshow insights in it. It sits on the bedstand at night with a pen wedged into the binding, waiting for the moment that I'll lovingly spread its covers and ravish its pristine pages with dreamy purple poesy eliciting morning wood and a craving for a vodka straight up. In my car, it rides in the passenger seat as I make my wife ride in the backseat with our son. This, I tell her, is because I want to protect her, not that I consider the composition book my true partner in life and she just the host that carried my progeny and now nurtures him while I go off on months-long expeditions to hunt ellusive velvet-backed yetis and play beaver jai alai with Colorado dwarves.
Today, I was reading through my composition book and happened to flip to the back to see how many blank pages were left. Here I found an odd passage scratched in the middle of a page, upside down, orphaned, without a hint to tell me where the poor thing came from or why. I didn't include a date with it, so I must have had some gin in me when I wrote it. Gin, I have found, is the main reason writers who are in the habit of dating their notes leave the dates off. Don't argue. It's science.
(If you're reading this and failing to use an authoritative but kindly narrator's voice, you're doing it wrong.) It is always impressed upon the writer that the first sentence of any story needs to grab the reader's attention. So deeply rooted is this phobia that writers who have turned their names into household words write books and articles devoted entirely to warning writers following in their footsteps to watch out for the opening sentence that does not grab. The Cult of Grab is a dangerous one for the unwary reader, for a grabby sentence is about as trustworthy as a serial killer's promise to not murder you and as pertinent to the story you're about to read as an aching tooth is to good music. That is to say, not much at all. (You can stop using the big narrator voice now, if you'd like. Or carry on. It may add something to your read.)
What other senseless gabble can I find in here? Oh! Look! Something about gambling houses and prostitutes! More to come ... probably.
There are few things as entertaining as hearing sci-fi or fantasy experts (we'll call them geeks) rant about how a movie screwed with their understanding of a sci-fi universe and how a writer or director is wrong for having pissed in the pool where they were swimming. Yes, sometimes a film is just a display of old crap-stained panties. However, just because a film (or book, or TV show, or anything for that matter) is something you didn't expect doesn't make it an immediate psychic hockey stick to the nads.
Take Prometheus for example: strong story, impeccable pacing, incredible cast (holy creepy Fassbender!), and the inevitable label as "prequel." This word, this most adored and abhorred word in geek parlance, is a phantom more menacing than an alien's elongated head and bitey penis-mouth—even when the director says it's not one!
Yet there it is: prequel. This is when you hear complaints in the theater's parking lot that things look more futuristic than they did in a movie that came out in 1979. The inattentive filmgoers don't realize that LV-223 is not LV-426 and shout that the weather isn't the same as was depicted in the "sequel." And of course, then none of the other events line up either.
The problem with geek groupthink is that many details go missed. The ire of one pissed-off geek usually fuels that of another, and then another, until there is a wreck of flaming geeks stumbling and bumbling into each other, making a terrible mess of what could have been a rational discussion.
By Binks! Take a little time to reflect. Think things through. Drink a grape soda. Sleep on it. Calm consideration is something woefully lacking in the opinion-slathered, butane-scorched perpetual titty twist we call modern life. If you still have a negative opinion, great. But at least you'll have more a chance to have firm reasoning behind it. I'll say a benison for you, go forth and lash away.
To be fair, I fall into the trap of engaging the mouth before properly engaging the brain. Hell, this post is probably just that. However, I like to ponder, swish thoughts around from one side of the skull. Research is often helpful.
Prometheus was a helluva strong showing from a great director, forging a new path in a universe that has a lot of room for smart stories. Yeah, I'm out on a limb here, right?
Inevitably, there will be a sequel to Prometheus. Fox couldn't possibly let it go. I doubt it will be as good as the first, but maybe they'll bring James Cameron back to direct it. Wait. Nope. He's sworn off work that doesn't have giant blue people in an annoyingly 3D environment that had viewers, probably predisposed to drug dependency, depressed that they didn't live on Pandora. Boo effing hoo, people! Maybe if you took care of your own planet, you wouldn't feel so shitty about not visiting a made-up one.
Ah, crap. Did I just post that?
It was a hot Friday in March, and my wife decided we needed to get out of the house. Of course, as soon as the suggestion left her mouth, the four-year-old was all over it. Yay! Tag! No. But Dad! Did you call me Butt Dad? We went to the playground at our local public school. It has cooler play sets than the park. And it's closer, so I didn't have to drive nearly as far, because I'm lazy and the thought of making more than two turns of the car's wheel caused my shoulders to ache.
No sooner had we arrived than POOF! Our son was out of the car and climbing, running, sliding, and swinging. Good, I thought. This'll tire him right out. A night of reprieve. No reading to him. No goddamned infernal Candyland. No incessant queries for water or after-dinner dinners. Just a tired, sweaty kid in pajamas passed out from his own exertions. Nighty night.
We're at the playground for barely half an hour when I heard the ominous tinny tinkle of Turkey in the Straw wash out of one of the nearby neighborhood streets. And it was getting louder. My hopes of a quiet night were just about to go squish beneath the narrow tire of the approaching pedophile-piloted murder-mobile—also known as the ice cream truck. Doesn't anyone else find it remotely creepy that these guys drive around enticing kids to do exactly what their parents tell them not to do: talk to strangers and accept delicious saccharine temptations? No? Fine. Whatever. Bury your heads in the sand.
More to the point, I wasn't in the proper frame of mind to deal with a sugar-fueled ramjet burning around my house at Mach 6 and begging to play just ten more minutes of Super Mario Bros. Dance Dance on the Fucking Couch with My Underwear on Backwards Tetris for the next two hours.
There stood our son, atop the slide, his nose to the wind like a wolf sensing nearby wounded prey. Bugger! He'd heard the siren's call, that irresistible jaundiced jangle Mary Had a Little Lamb. The truck appeared around the corner. Numerous zombified children followed close behind, enthralled by the hellish bugling, their parents' hard-earned easily wasted dollars and cents clutched in sticky, anticipatory palms. Quick thinking was needed now.
I leapt from the swing I'd been swinging in and pointed in horror. "The Kiddie Kapture Wagon!" I shouted. "We gotta go! NOW!" And with that, I took off running. My wife looked like the Easter Bunny had kicked her in the teeth, but then called for our son to hurry and followed me at a flip-flop hobbled trot. I glanced over my shoulder. The boy stood on top of the slide, staring after me with an expression somewhere between "You gotta be shitting me" and "If Dad's scared, maybe I should be too."
"Run!" I shouted, and then poured on the petrol, racing toward our car faster than I've run in ten years. I was elated to hear the four-year-old shout, "Wait for me, Daddy!" It was at this point that I ran right out of my shoes. Unwilling to stop—because it would break the magic—I yelled over my shoulder: "Angie, get those, will ya?" and pounded on, blacktop shredding my feet.
I reached the car and yanked open the door. My wife was half way to the car and our son had just started his not-so-urgent trek. I'll light a fire under him, I thought. "It's gonna get you! There's nothing I can do! I'm going!" I jumped in the car, fired her up, threw it in gear, and hit the gas. Our boy shrieked the highest note recognizable to the human ear and raced a sprint a second-grade Marion Jones couldn't have matched. I slammed on the brakes, threw the car into reverse. My wife opened the backdoor and our son dove in. "Buckle me!" Angie handled the honors and got in herself, red-faced and not sure whether she should have slugged me or laughed.
"You can't have me, Kiddie Kapture Wagon!" our son hollered out the window as we pulled away. "I'll poison you!"
Really? I'll poison you? Kids say the damnedest things. Oh well. At least I didn't tell him that if he didn't finish his PB&J, the sun wouldn't come up in the morning. That was his mom.
It was a hot day in May. In the living room with my son and wife, we hear Do Your Ears Hang Low? slipping through the tiny space between the door and the jamb. It's getting louder and louder. Our son runs to the window, and behold! A truck, kind of rundown and lacking any sort of self-confidence, trundles past. "The Kiddie Kapture Wagon," the boy utters.
"No!" I say. "That's the ice cream truck. You have to learn to tell them apart. Want to get an ice cream?" You know the answer. We chased the truck down the street barefoot, he yammering the whole way for it to stop, finally catching the driver's eye at the corner.
Jerry, the driver, was new to the route, just learning the ropes. But he handled our order in style: two cones and a SpongeBob SquarePants ice cream bar. Hey, this isn't my first dance. Plus, I like to get to know my purveyors of frozen milky goodness.
Back at faded olive-green Kidwell Manor, we three sat at the picnic table in our front yard, laughing while the ice cream melted over our fingers and dribbled down our chins. To say our son was overjoyed would be too small a word.
I think he made the sun shine that day.
But I'm soft and melty.
The 21st century has become the supposedly post-era era. We're supposedly post-racism. We're supposedly post-gay hatred. We're supposedly post-9/11. And, now, I realize, we're supposedly post-literary-fiction-versus-genre-fiction. In a time during which every dick with a computer thinks he should tell you about his latest bowel movement via Twitter, fanfic of fanfic presents us with a horny Harry Potter two-fisting it over a circle jerk of Final Fantasy baddies, and self-published douche bags proselytize the virtues of being a great marketer over being a half-ass decent writer, you'd think we could get past the completely one-sided pissing contest over what is literary and that genre fiction at large is not.
In his recent article, "Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology," Lev Grossman rebuts the article "Easy Writers," by Arthur Krystal, which appeared in The New Yorker magazine (May 28, 2012, pg. 81). In it Krystal essentially plays the century-old saw that literary and genre fiction is different, but adds that there are some genre works that meet the qualifications of literary, such as those by P.K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. Essentially, Krystal says literary is better, but let's not have hard feelings about it, okay? So I'll spit in your soup, but don't be upset because I won't spit in everyone's soup, although I really want to and think I should.
To Grossman's credit, he goes on to deliver a well-argued treatise, bravely trying to clean up the nasty diaper full of stink that Krystal so readily flings, such as his lavish damning of the quality of writing in genre works.
"What he [Krystal] is describing sounds more like shitty genre fiction. The writing in good genre fiction is not at all uneven. … God knows there's plenty of bad writing in literary fiction, too, by Krystal never talks about that. … You wouldn't want to judge literary fiction on the basis of mediocrities. So why judge genre fiction that way?"
What Grossman misses here is the opportunity to answer his own question. Why judge genre fiction that way? Critics who buy into this thinking do it as a way to legitimize their claim that genre works are not what the serious, learned reader reads. Genre fiction is for children or those who don't have the ability to grasp sophisticated wordplay and metaphors. Further, these garrulous masses wouldn't be able to discuss the works at length while sipping sherry and smoking cigars in a room where only whites are allowed and we say "Bully!" a lot. Too much? Probably, but the whole literary is better than genre smacks of privilege and arrogance—the privilege and arrogance of the critic, who, from a self-appointed bishopric showers qualitative proclamations upon those below.
It seems that this is what Grossman is getting at as he continues to scrub away at Krystal's notions concerning plot and that there are some lucky few genre books that "transcend" their lowly birth to become literary. But Grossman never does come out and call bullshit on the whole argument. In fact, Grossman caves to tradition. While he says that there is a "revolution" occurring in contemporary fiction, calling genre fiction a "technology that will disrupt the literary novel as we know it," he stipulates that he thinks literary and genre works are two entirely different creations, although one not necessarily better than the other. So, genre writers, when a critic says you're work isn't literary caliber, don't feel bad, because it's not a hierarchical thing, it's just that you thought you were a lion and it turns out you're a sea slug. Totally different kingdom.
The whole literary-genre dichotomy is fallacious. What we are working with is literature, which is defined by J.A. Cuddon as:
"A vague term which usually denotes works which belong to the major genres: epic, drama, lyric, novel, short story, ode. If we describe something as 'literature', as opposed to anything else, the term carries with it qualitative connotations which imply that the work in question has superior qualities; that it is well above the ordinary run of written works" (505).
From Webster's New World College Dictionary 4th Edition, the second and most pertinent definition of literary is:
"characterized by the more formal, balanced, and polished language of literature rather than the informal language of speech"
Nowhere in either of those definitions was there a female/male, good/bad, on/off distinction drawn between one subject and another. I believe Edward Albee has written about a man who has an extramarital affair with a goat, and I'm pretty sure that's considered literature. What genre is that?
Critics should critique a novel, poem, or what have you, on the merits of the work, without prejudice. To say that the incredibly huge and diverse body of sci-fi, or fantasy, or historical fiction, or detective stories, or whatever else you want to throw into the pot is inferior to the amassed pile of pulped wood consumed by authors who write "literary" fiction, is to disgrace those authors of fantasy and the like who care deeply about their craft and spend time pondering sentence after sentence, who edit out clichés to the best of their abilities, and are trying hard as fuck to say something in a way that is fresh and unique to them. If a critic is willing to inflict that kind of harm on all writers and books of a so-called genre, then he or she should be willing to say the same about the Latina-American genre, or the African American genre, or the LGBT genre, or the Greatest Generation genre. If we wanted to, we could group everything into one genre or another.
Basically, genres are bullshit used to pigeonhole writers so agents and publishers can figure out who writes what subject matter and how to market it. Critics should be above all that. Read writers' works as individual pieces, each with their own successes and failures. And don't be a jerk about it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Cuddon, J.A. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Ed. Michael Agnes. Webster's New World College Dictionary 4th Edition. New York: Macmillan, 1999.
Holy crap! It's gonna happen. I've talked to a web designer, and he's putting together some ideas for updating TEKidwell.com so it's functional and cool. And I'll get rid of the pipe smoker at the top there. Who wears a baseball cap and smokes a pipe? What is he smoking? What sort of message is he trying to convey? Look, it was the best pic I had at the time, which was more than a few years back, and so there it went. It could have been me passed out on the floor, drunk, with only a pillow hiding the wedding tackle. Anyhow, you'll probably notice some things going missing or getting moved around here pretty soon. I, for one, am looking forward to it. Hope you are too.
On the project front, it seems that Goodbye Rock 'n' Roll is mostly dead. I don't want to believe it, but due to scheduling conflicts, personal lives, and separate paths that must be traveled, the project is on permanent hiatus. Demo recordings were completed and we were in the process of recording the masters. Three songs are in the can; the remaining seven are in various stages of completion. I know that those of you who were with us from the beginning are unhappy about this, but all I can say is that maybe one day we'll pull the whole thing together, production and all. Believe me, I've lived with GBRNR for so long, it's hard to let go.
I'll look into posting the final draft of the play, along with the rough cuts of the songs. Then again, there's Kickstarter. I'll have to think about this.
Work on the new novel, Little Wolf, is progressing, slowly, but fruitfully. I will post some excerpts soon, with illustrations.
A long time in the works, the first mixed and mastered recordings for William Maynard and Tim Kidwell's musical, Goodbye Rock 'n' Roll, have been finished. Listen to the songs, "Goodbye Rock 'n' Roll" and "Final Solution" by clicking the links.
Tim's short story, "Perfectly Imperfect" appeared in 1,000 Words, edited by Janet Kuypers, from Scars Publications. Click here to order a copy.
Tim completed editing on Chazz deMeyer's autobiography, The Fire Within. It tell's deMeyer's amazing story of musical promise, a debilitating injury and his struggle to overcome and achieve what many thought was impossible. To learn more about Chazz deMeyer and the book, The Fire Within, click here.