My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Another Round of Not Writing Questions (Mailbox)

Am I a communist? Is my tongue pierced? Why are all the "You Should be Writing" memes white dudes? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple a week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. And while I will answer these weird non-writing questions for cheap laughs, I tend to pick the writing kind most of the time.]   

It's time for another round of Questions that Have Nothing (or Very Little) to Do With Writing™. Gathered over the weeks and months and years, I usually don't answer them until I have enough to do a whole post.

Mike asks:

Are you some kind of communist or something?

My reply:

Don't you know that every artist is a dirty pinko commie? That's why you have to be very careful around us.

I'm not as much a [any label] as I am not a big fan of capitalism, which is sort of a bummer because I live in a place where being anti-capitalist is sort of outside the boundaries of what is considered acceptable political discourse. The Demliest Dems in Demville still cleave to the idea that capitalism is the best thing since exploiting the proletariat to slice their bread. We fight wars, suppress whole populations, assassinated heads of governments against treaties we've signed for screwing around with socialism, and call any effort to mitigate intergenerational poverty cycles a "welfare state."

I could rehash all the weirdness of capitalism here like the rampant commercialism and conspicuous consumption, the privatization of services which should be part of the public good in a bidding war race to the bottom, liability shields, a need for humans to be "productive" despite growing automation, and the anti-democratic, anti-free market, and anti-individualism tendencies within capitalism that unfailingly show up whenever those things threaten a bottom line.

But mostly it's that capitalism requires inequality. And not just a little inequality because "humans don't have equal abilities, bro." It requires massive human suffering and human indignity. It requires an inexhaustible supply of exploitable labor. And in order to feed its insatiable hunger it requires the increasing commodification of things like health and shelter. It incentivizes naked self interest at the expense of ethics, the environment, communities, or any rival system of resource allocation. Nothing–not human life, not human dignity, not human health, not other species existence, not ecological sustainability, not even planetary health, NOTHING–matters more than profit.

And it requires a narrative that utilizes the greatest propaganda machine in all of human history to convince us that no other system is even possible, a narrative that blames people for their own suffering under it's baked-in inequality, and that manipulates our feelings of love, community, ambition, creativity, and solidarity to take our resources from us in an effort so sustained there is literally no getting away from it without leaving society altogether–all so that ever more can flow into the hands of a tiny few. A narrative that continues to scratch its head in bemused wonder every time a corporation screws people, our access to clean air and water, a species of super-fauna, entire biomes, and indigenous peoples because it's good for their bottom line. And a narrative that says that we're too are all just a few hard day's nights from being millionaires ourselves, so we must never think of ourselves as exploited.

So, no, I'm not a fan.

Unfortunately, I live in a country with a political landscape where my most pragmatic choice against the erosion of social security, progressive taxation, and health care I can actually afford is to vote against the person who swears to Charlie Brown that this time she won't pull the ball away the American people that this time tax cuts for the wealthy will create jobs even at the expense of every social safety net that exists, and to hope that the politicians on the left will move towards democratic socialism instead of placating an increasingly shrinking neoliberal center left group of monied constituents while failing to realize that playing nice with plutocracy will only get them the mad scrill they want for as long as it takes those plutocrats to defang the other bases of their power like unions and colleges.

But don't think for a moment I'm going to shut up and not say nothing.

Mindy asks:

Is that a tongue piercing I see in your pictures? Why on earth would you ever do that to yourself?

My reply: 

Yes indeed.

As for why..... Um...I'll, uh, tell you when you're older.

Farah asks:

Why are all the you should be writing memes white dudes? Can we get some that are something else.

This question is referencing my Facebook page and Tumblr blog where once a day I post some sort of "You Should Be Writing" Meme.

I only create a handful of these with text adding apps–and am particularly fond of using meme creators to fit them into the "grammar" of existing memes–but most of them I find hither and yon across the wide interweboverse. And yes they are overwhelmingly white men. (Not all, but boy howdy....) I dig around and look for others, but finding one that is anything else is quite a quest.

I have some theories. I don't think any ONE thing is the only reason, but I think they all work in tandem to form the ultimate combo move. Based on where I find these memes, I think they are often made by women FOR women (heterosexual women, you understand). They sometimes have "Darling" in the text or are particularly "smoldering" views. The few that have women in them are usually more of the "badass and empowering" variety than something made for the male gaze. They are also usually of actors (not writers), particularly following fandoms, and that means lots of white dudes because Hollywood and fandoms have nothing if not a profusion of white guys in them.

Interestingly, from what I can tell having posted these daily for years, if I put up someone who is NOT a white dude, the comments are much more....argumentative. Sometimes they include slurs (though those folks get swiftly banned), but I honestly think the white guys are seen, in a racist and sexist society, to have more authority.

I also wonder if anyone who might feel like we need more YSBW memes that are not white dudes might be exactly the type of person to not just slap that text on any ol' picture of someone from a more marginalized group to appropriate their image for a message that that person didn't necessarily endorse.

Regardless I'm always on the prowl, and if you find any, please feel free to send them on my way, and I'll happily work them into the rotation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Best Dystopia [Diversity Poll] (Last Call for Seconds and Nominations)

What is the best (worst?) dystopia written by a woman or a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls, and as such it can't includes authors who are cishet white men. Please adjust your nominations accordingly.

I am excited to run polls that don't just celebrate the same 20-30 white guys over and over, but only you can really see those polls succeed.

We totally need more nominations!

Be sure and drop the comment ON THE ORIGINAL POST, or it will get lost in the crossfire. That's also where you'll find the rules if you're confused about anything. There was a time when I could really go round and gather up all the breadcrumb nominations from all the various social media and posts, but things are way too busy these days.

Seconds are also needed. (And thirds. And fourths.) Remember that I will no longer be doing endless quarterfinal and elimination rounds. I will find a number somewhere between 8 and 22 of the most "seconded" titles. And there will either be two quick semifinal rounds or just the final round. I know that three and beyond aren't actually "seconds" but I'll still be taking the most.

So drop a nomination or two and second everything you want to see on the poll.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Is Fanfic Legit? (Mailbox)

What are my thoughts on fanfic?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple a week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Feel free to turn my crank and aim me at the haters–I do that pretty well.]    

Arthur asks:

A friend and I started talking about the merits and shortcomings of fan-fiction. I think it's weird that people talk down on fanfic as an idea, because frankly I see nothing wrong with people taking an already established aspect of writing and utilizing it to flex their creative muscles. I do understand taking some issue with the quality of a piece of fanfic writing, but mostly in the sense of letting the writer know what and where they can improve on. That might be applicable only if the writer asks for that kind of feedback though.

It made me wonder what your thoughts on it are. Is fanfic a "good" thing, as long as the writer of it has a copyright disclaimer? Is it somehow selling oneself short by using another writer's characters/world rather than making one's own?

My reply:

Here's my basic attitude about people going after fanfic. (Copyright prevents me from embedding. You'll have to click the link.)

I'm really here for all the changes that the internet has brought to the world of writing (and not just because I'm a blogger who can (juuuuuuuuuust barely) afford to live in the Bay Area because of Patreon. For a long time the world of writing simply didn't have the strata of unpaid (or very low paid) artist in it. Your band could do do their gig for five bucks and free drinks or you could be a part of the local theater where maybe all the ticket sales could make for a cast party. You could do a community art show and maybe even sell a piece without a major deal. If you were a writer though, you could maybe show something to your friends, but that was about it until you cleared the threshold of profitability for a print run. Maybe you could get in on some tiny community newsletter type publications, but basically you were either "officially" published or no one had ever read you.

Then came tech. And tech has no time for your anachronistic culture based around yesteryear. You can print one book. Or just publish electronically. You can write for blogs or zines or just make your Facebook post public and hope it goes viral. And the role of the hobbyist writer to see their work in the world and even feedback has opened up and flourished.

And, of course, there's fanfic.

Lots and lots and lots and lots of fanfic.

Back when I was starting reading, a few authors *coughannricecough* would send really nasty with "Cease and Desist" notices to anyone fanficcing their work. Today, most of them seem to realize that's a pretty useless hill to die on *coughbutnotannricecough*, and they're just happy if no one is making money off of it or passing it off as official. Technically–legally–those copyright disclaimers don't mean jack shit unless the author has explicitly given their permission, and one of these days someone enjoying the spoils of a nice Patreon is going to get sued over intellectual property rights, but right now it's a pretty rare thing. Most content creators have come to realize that fanfic is basically free advertising for the source material and whether they are amused and encouraging or simply have an uneasy detente, they let it go on without blowing into the wind.

Are their shortcomings to fanfic? Sure! A lot of it's terribad all the way down to the punctuation and spelling. Characters becoming Mary and Gary Stus are ubiquitous. The disregard for the source material sometimes crosses into offensive disrespect. It's never going to make money for the writer who has done a shit ton of hard work making it. When people find their audience, they often stop publishing or go longer and longer between subsequent chapters.

And then there's the ships. Not that the ships are all bad, and don't think for a minute I'm too pure to slide into bed with a mobile device and the MCU Scarlet America ship with some Wanda threesome thrown in that I just happened to (quite unintentionally) run across earlier in the day. But...you definitely have to be ready to dig through some smut if that's not your jam.

But here's the thing and there's no getting around it.

(And if anybody asks you, this is why I'm really, really, really NOT here for that "Oh now anyone can be a writer,"/"They'll just let anybody in the country club these days" bullshit that goes on down its nose at the fanfiction. Or any claims that it isn't real writing. Or this convoluted idea that fanfiction is peeling away readers from "real" writing. Or that "real" writing–even occasionally the published kinds–don't ever have shitty writing or grammar errors.)

Fanfiction is done for the love of writing. It's done for the fun of creation. For the enjoyment of the craft and the characters and their journeys. It is done without regard for payment of any kind and often despite social censure from judgemental little snots who paint them all with the same brush and call them parasites, but who, in all likelihood. aren't doing half as much of their "real" fucking writing. It is done from the same impetus with which we've been reimagining and retelling stories since the beginning of our species–it is actually owning an "idea" and holding rights over it (particularly as a source of income) that is the fairly new development. Most people won't like it, some may be shitty about it, there will be no "tangible" rewards, and yet folks write it anyway–just to see it in the world. For me there could be few acts of writing done for purer artistic reasons.

And not that it HAS to be this, but in many cases it is the stepping stone to an author writing one's own worlds and characters (practice, so to speak), so people shitting in the fanfic sandcastle feel particularly to me like someone telling the junior high concert band to stop playing that Star Wars medley because they're not fucking brilliant at it yet and it isn't their own composition. Shit one of the best learning tools for new writers is to try to closely emulate the writers they love, so all this fanfic hate is really doing is saying "How DARE you show this to other people who like it! Crawl back into your cave!" Lots of starting writers make grammar mistakes and have clunky prose. That's not particular to fanfic, it's particular to starting writing, and counting only the worst of an offering is the same reason lit sommeliers are too fucking snobby to accept "genre" and "speculative fiction" (all while hailing a bunch of writers who have the same damned things in their fiction).

Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but most of the shit we think of as brilliant masterpieces ARE fanfic. The Hours is just a retelling of Mrs. Dalloway. Hag Sea is The Tempest. Cinder is Cinderella. The Coming of the Dragon is Beowulf. Shakespeare actually wrote ONE play–the rest are his creative reimaginings of other source materials. Many fan fic writers have changed a few names and gotten published–even mega-successfully so. And do you even know how many books are ancient myths and legends redone? This is one case where that high horse is actually a shetland pony with rickets.

Hating on fanfic is like so much elitist twaddle that belies the fact that its own supercilious snobbery is unable to feel superior without tearing something else down. It's the same "I don't read that crap" all over again repeated (loudly and often) as a marker of class and sophistication by those who don't want to be seen enjoying something "beneath them." If anyone doesn't like fanfic, they can just have a coke, shut the fuck up, and scroll wheel on by. And that's OKAY. We all have our tastes. (To be honest, I don't read much of it either) But acting like fanfic is this blight that must not be suffered to let live is pretentious and shitty.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Why are Movie Adaptations so Iffy? (Mailbox)

Why do movie adaptations of books so often suck?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple a week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  Talking to me on the street may end up in your "question" being a mailbox and your name becoming Cedrick.]   

Cedrick asks:   

I just sat through The Dark Tower, and man I really wanted to like it, but...just no. I think the last time I thought a movie was really honestly true to its source material was The Shawshank Redemption. Even Lord of the Rings added all that Arwen bullshit and took out some of the best stuff. Don't even get me started on The Hobbit. What the fuck! They usually make such crappy changes to movies. Why can't movies just do a book fucking....RIGHT?

My reply:

They're not bad, Cedrick. They're just not BOOKS. Only books are books. I love movies, and I love books, but they're very different.

Full confession: this question didn't exactly get sent to me. It was more one of those questions that someone asks me and I pretend I got it as a letter. ("Surely that conversation I eavesdropped on overheard on the bus COULD be a letter someone sent in!") It was actually from a conversation I had around the time that I was doing The Book Was so Much Better poll a couple of months back. I'm not even sure the person's name was Cedrick, but they looked like a Cedrick, so I'm running with it. I'm writing it because last week Facebook has split down roughly the middle over whether A Wrinkle in Time was a terribad Disney adaptation that chose form over substance or a touching adaptation that cleaved close to the soul of the original while giving it a well needed makeover from it's 1962-strong-Christian-overtones source material. (And I'm sure that none of the comments on any social media will try to rehash that discussion because that's not really the point of this article. Yep. Just sure of it.)

Book nerds always want perfect movies and they'll pretty much never get them. Yes, of course there will always be the usual cavalcade of reasons movies suck from budget problems to director firings to producers trying too micromanage an artistic vision. But even accounting for the regular reasons movies suck, most word nerds won't get their fantasy come true, and there are several reasons for that but we can unpack the big ones.

1- Movies are just different.

If you want to piss off a film student, show them that meme with the iceberg.
That's the one.
Oh look...an angry mob outside my window. I wonder what they're on about.

Man oh man, will this make them turn that really pretty purple. You will get pages long screeds about how reductive this is. (Why don't they ever make a film about it, I wonder.) They will make counter memes and call you names. Whole empires will be crushed. It's inspired really.

The thing is, it's both true AND reductive. A movie is a different medium. You could just as easily reverse the words here and also be right. A movie shows you different things that a book can't.

You can't describe every last detail of a room the way a camera panning across it would, and if you tried your audience would be in a coma before the forty pages you needed were half over. One sweeping panoramic shot can take the place of pages of clunky attempts to describe a place's geography. Acting–especially good acting–can bring life and inflections to words. (Ever READ a Mamet play? Everyone either doesn't finish a sentence or says it at least twice, all while "MMMMM" ing their way through the scene changes.) A filmmaker has tools at their disposal that the pure linguistics of the written medium simply doesn't. Similarly showing a character's inner thought processes is a lot different unless you want to do shitty Dune-style voice overs. And a book can clear five minutes of vital exposition in a short paragraph. And no amount of prose rhythm or wordplay genius is likely to make it to a movie. Books have tools at their disposal that films don't. Different media will always create a different story.

2- You have to take out something. And not everyone's going to like what you pick.

You know the reason Shawshank Redemption moved to film so well? It's actually a surprisingly simple and oft unknown fact about movie adaptations. Obviously it had star power and a good director and a lot of things going for it, but the main reason the adaptation was so loyal to its source material is that it wasn't a novel.

It was a novella. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption clocks in at 38,000 words. Which is about 85 pages or so. (I'd have to dig up my copy of Different Seasons to verify this, but the PDF is 88, so I'm guessing that's about right.)

88 pages became a 2:22 minute movie. And they STILL took some minor stuff out. (Red's trial and such.)

And while they changed a few things, they were able to make a NEARLY two and a half hour movie and cram in almost the entire narrative. The same is true of Stand By Me. With short stories you have to add a bunch of padding and with novels you have to take a HUGE amount of stuff out. It's impossible to hit all the beats. And we're not just talking about Tom Bombadil and the scouring of The Shire. The shorter a source is, the more likely its movie will be loyal to its vision.

Now if an 88 page novella becomes a two and half hour movie, how much do you suppose you have to cut from a 200 page kids book to get a 100 minute film (which is around the average for younger audiences)? What about a four hundred and fifty page book with a run time of a couple of hours? Or a seven book series into a single movie?

You have to take things out.

And anyone who really likes that book isn't going to like one moment of it being cut away. ("What?? How dare they leave out Fiyero's diarrhea in this remake of Wicked.") And whatever choices you make, not everyone is going to agree with what you cut and what you kept. The ascension of serial television might see a great adaptation on Hulu or Netflix or Amazon, but we're probably not getting one down at the AMC-14

3- Not every change is for the worst.

We all know the Jonah Jameson Hollywood exec caricature lighting his Cuban cigar with a hundred dollar bill and saying: "Needs more sex! I'm not doing Wuthering Heights unless it has a car chase in it. Get me pictures of Spider Man!"

Reality is a bit more complicated.

This movie is crap crap crap megacrap.
I'll give you $200 million to produce it if you add a giant robot lizard. Kids love robots.
Image credit: Columbia Pictures CorporationMarvel/Enterprises/Laura Ziskin Productions

Yes, many decisions Hollywood makes are based on what will make a movie more profitable, and some of them display a remarkable lack of source-material knowledge (somehow I don't think Demi Moore gasping and grinding on the New England rice* harvest was quite what Hawthorne had in mind), but they do occasionally take a chance or release something that doesn't just sound like sweet angels printing money.


Hollywood is a business though. You want art films that lose money, you can go to film festivals or dig around on Youtube. Honestly. I'm not kidding. Some of that stuff is Br-fucking-illant. And yes, you might have to spend some time wondering why the clown is making pancakes, but a lot of it will just be fantabulous compared to Hollywood formulas. This isn't just my artsy fartsy side either. They're often compelling and fun and extremely well done.

When it comes to making movies out of books though, you probably need a budget that even a grad film student with a shiny grant isn't going to be able to match. And Hollywood has to try make back its significant investment, pay about ten gagillion guild and union members, and turn a profit because it's a business and THIS. IS. SPARTA CAPITALISM.  (Though some movies make back LOTS of money, most movies lose money, and so Hollywood is constantly trying to refine its recipe.) And that means someone's going to do some market research and try to figure out how to make the movie more accessible. "Accessible" is a little different than "add a giant robot."

Now here it's important that we acknowledge that two roads are diverging in a yellow wood.

When I say "not every change is for the worst" I want you to understand that some of them truly goddamned were. Turning Gatsby into basically a music video, dragging out a kids book into three indulgent movies (with shitty CGI), putting the white person front and center in the narrative even when they weren't, casting Mike Myers, whacky voice overs to replace "thought" text, stripping the religious undertones from a book about religious undertones and just turning it into a movie about a really kick ass polar bear, or abandoning the religious OVERTONES in a book that is an allegory about Christianity and turning the movie into a story about white kids running around killing Mediterranean looking bad guys, trying to completely change the tone from satire to serious or from serious to satire or from satire to satirizing the serious people who don't get that it's satire....well, you get the idea.

And then there's THIS shit.
New Line Cinima
Some changes suck and are terrible and are made because cis het white dude executives think cis het white dudes are "everyman" (and will sell) and white dude lenses on the world are the only ones that count.

But that's not always true these days...

Sometimes these changes really are inclusive and increase the access (not just the marketing image of whiteness, male gaze, toxic masculinity). Some of these books were written before civil rights or the ERA. They maybe have themes that are more resonant for the era in which they were written like anti-tribalism, capitalism, or exceptionalism. Perhaps they are are sausage fests and lily whitewashed whitefests. They espouse toxic masculinity. They have characters who are homophobic, transphobic, racist, or misogynist in a way that adds nothing to the story. Changing certain things to make the story more enjoyable to a wider audience is not always a bad thing. And I know you have some feels about Arwen, but she's probably in that movie because someone said: "This fucking wangfest needs more than just Galadriel and Eowyn!"

We've been telling stories a little differently to reflect the social values of the time since Beowulf and before.

Or sometimes it's just a case of what has happened in between within media and/or the genre. Having your villain be just a brain in a 1962 book is different than after 55 years of that being a sci-fi trope that got so cliché it became lampooned and then a big joke.

"Michaelangelo...dude, one smack with the chucks ought to
totally detubularize his pizza movie night."

And if our author is not beloved to the point of being understood in their own time (like maybe Shakespeare and a few others), some changes might get made.

Other than a few hundred thousand raging book nerd purists (and I want to make it perfectly clear that I am one of those raging book nerd purists), not a lot of people are going to see some anachronism that's dry like Russian black bread or steeped in postwar Christian allegory or because they loved the book. They're going to want the relatable (to today's multicultural audiences) protagonist, the resonate (to today's topicality) conflict, and...maybe that one scene that was a little navel-gazing could be given some panache.

Or you know....a car chase.

4- Once the changes start, it's really important to figure out what matters

Okay so now you, intrepid filmmaking team given a budget by the studio that isn't enough but will have to do as long as you add an action sequence that isn't in the book at around 30 minutes to keep the pace from plodding and losing the audience.

You also have to change a few things because it's 2018 and no one wants that purely cissexist heteronormative source material.

And you have to take a lot out to make a movie that isn't nine hours long.

You HAVE to make changes, so what will it be? What do you change? What if you pull an important character or relegate them to a minor role then farm their lines to someone else. What if the new person wouldn't say it that way? Which subplots will you be getting rid of? Is the narrative more important or the theme? Which characters do you focus on?

How do you go about deciding which core ideas are essential to the soul of what this book is? Once you've decided that and a vision begins to crystallize, it becomes a lot easier to decide what's not going to make it into the movie medium. ("Okay, I want to focus on the story of what it means to have free will, then I'm going to take out cyber babbel parts that focus on the tech and what it can do.") And whatever you pick, it's going to disappoint some of the people who know your source material well enough to know what you left behind.

5- And then you get the creative licence.

Not because a cut had to be made or a thing changed for today's audiences or whatever, but just something the filmmaker decides to change. Because that's something artists do. Because movie adaptations are essentially one artist retelling another in a whole different media. And a lot of times, even if their change is right on the money for a general audience and and right for someone who'd never read the book and right for a casual fan and right for a the folks who found the change interesting and delightful, they still annoy the folks who just wanted to see the print come to life on the screen with absolutely no alterations.

This is why the more reread and beloved a book is, the more likely you are to probably hate the movie. Those books you read once and can't really remember are the ones you'll not shed too many tears over.

All of these are the reasons why occasionally you get a movie like Blade Runner, The Godfather, or Princess Bride that arguably ends up being better than its book. (Rare, but it happens.) A team identifies a far more resonating facet of a story to focus on, and a lot people run around never even knowing there's a book.

So when we book nerds go to see movies, we can accept that if we're lucky, we're going to see a bit of audio/visual media roughly similar to the book we like with some familiar moments that hopefully cleaves close to the spirit of its source material. If we're not so lucky, the filmmaker has made some changes that pretty much ruin the whole thing. But either way we're not going to get "THE BOOK ON SCREEN™" so it's important to remember that we're watching the movie for a MOVIE'S sake and that it's an adaptation.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mailbox Week Coming

Hi everyone!

So this weekend turned into a swirl of side gigs and long nights.

Next week, in addition to a couple of other posts, I'm going to try to plow out some of this backlog of mailbox questions.