Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Ye be warned: strong opinion to follow.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I just don't get things that 'most people' do.
Could be. If you’ve read here before, you know that I’m not really big on ‘mainstream successes’.
I bailed from Facebook in May and am grateful for the clarity, understanding, and truth doing so has brought into my life. When times are rough, you find out who your real friends are right quick. (One more quick thing on that- I did smile when I read that apparently about seven million other people got fed up with FB about the same time and bailed in May too so I guess it wasn't just me.)
You also know that thanks to Snooki and the Kardashians I no longer have any feelings of inferiority as a writer when it comes to the fact that my life’s work as a storyteller may never be deemed marketable enough to be printed by one of the big houses. I'm not worried about finding an agent. I don't need industry validation of my art. It is what it is, and it's mine.
As of today I no longer care if my work ever finds a large, mass-market audience. Granted, that wasn’t a big concern of mine to begin with- but now it means even less. Now, when it comes to being a bestselling author, I have completely and officially stopped caring.
Because if this is what's selling, what is popular, and what is considered funny or cool, then I don't want anything to do with it.
I saw an opinion piece on CNN.com today that made me look not once, not twice, but fifty times at least, eyes impossibly wide, jaw hanging open. In that sickening, heartbreaking moment I saw just how low people now go as far as what they believe constitutes a humorous book worth buying.
I speak of a new, "hilarious" (not my word for it certainly but I have several others...) storybook parody basically written by a disgruntled parent for other disgruntled parents: the title of which I will not even say here for fear of giving the thing more press.
To me this is so vile, so evil, so absolutely disgusting I am seeing red. I have this reaction as a woman who, as a child, was aware every day of her life that her parents often wished she’d evaporate and knew if she didn’t stay out of their way she would feel the sting of that sentiment physically without reason and without warning.
It also disgusts me as a parent who has never, EVER, no matter how tired, how sick, how weary, or how upset with my child’s refusal to lie down and cooperate with bedtime proceedings would ever THINK let alone WRITE DOWN a sentence as demeaning, at worst dangerous and at best passively-aggressively violent, as the one that makes up not only the ‘poetry’ in this book but also its unfortunate title.
Think I’m upset about this? You’d be right.
I was determined to find out who published this...thing...ready to make another snarky comment on the taste of the major publishers. My bad for jumping to conclusions. After looking it up, I found out it is an independent publisher (and I again will not use the name because they deserve no more attention for this unless it's a warning to writers that if they go with these people the 'author' of this book will be one of their contemporaries.)
I feel I not only have to bow down with gratitude to those I know out there who are running respectable, quality small publishing houses for passing on this but also forgive (just a teensy bit) the Big Guys for the Kardashians and Snooki ‘cause damn, people, even they had the sense not to publish this horrible book.
I had hoped that the only person foolish enough to actually release something this toxic into the world might be the person who wrote it thinking it was funny to begin with (and 'they' say that self-publishing authors are unprofessional…) but nope.
Someone else actually looked at this, considered it amusing enough to publish and now, the thing is at the top of the most prestigious bestseller list there is.
What is the world of writing coming to?
I don’t know. However I do know this.
If you think this book is so funny, would you still think so if your child found it, mistaking it for a real storybook, read it aloud one broken word at a time in those halting, new-reader sentences, and then looked up at you and realized that at some point you’d felt so much hostility toward them that you’d actually spent money to buy it?
If you can answer yes to that, then I truly pity your children. And wish you’d been more responsible about your birth control choices because anyone who can look at their kid and think such thoughts toward them really shouldn’t have had any to begin with.
As far as the actor that has apparently narrated the audio version (if I’m reading the news right…) don’t even get me started.
People really should think a little about the affect of their thoughts on their behavior, and what that behavior can do to their children.
Parents who foster such deep resentment even beneath the surface may really believe that the kids don't know it, but you’d be surprised. Kids are perceptive, you can't bullshit them. They're way too smart.
Someday, parents that have so little patience and that much resentment in dealing with their children just being children may find that there is a ‘book’ written for them too by their adult kids: “Mom and Dad's New Life at the Nursing Home”. Count on it.
Some may call this book ‘honest’.
Honestly, if you feel that close to the end of your rope in dealing with your kids- get help. Now. Before you say or do something that you can’t take back.
Because once your child realizes this is how you feel they will never, ever, look at you the same.
Trust me on this.
I never did.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I am so excited it's like Christmas, New Year's, my birthday, and the first day of Spring all rolled up with Twinkies and Ding Dongs and Jedi Knights!(Translation: I'm very happy about this post.)
Why am I so excited? Because the man I consider to be a Jedi Master of Voice is here today, to chat with us a bit about that mysterious creature, our 'voice', about writing in general, and so I can bug him to tell me about his newest project.
You may already know him from his work or his classes and/or you may know him as one of the amazing minds behind the Literary Lab. Please help me give a big Pitch Slapped welcome to brilliant author (and, in case you didn't know, scientist!) Dr. Davin Malasarn.
FG: Welcome! I'm just thrilled to my pink-shoed toes over this. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and have a chat. You know the drill. Tea is on the right, Twinkies to the left. Peanut Butter Cookies are still baking, gee, I hope you're not allergic.
First question: How old were you when you realized that you wanted to be a writer?
DM: First, I just wanted to let you know that since you brought your pink-shoed toes to the table, I just ran and got my writer's cape. I used to always wear it when I wrote, but I've outgrown the habit...until today. And it's a little mustier than usual. But still appropriate.
FG: Wait, wait! That means I have to put on my official Star Wars Fan Club Skywalker Fatigue Jacket, circa 1980...and yes, I am a geek why do you ask? I still want a Lit Lab official lab coat, by the by...sorry, didn't mean to interrupt you know how excitable I get and you did bring up costuming so what could I do?
I'd love to see that writer's cape. Picture, please?! I promise, if you provide one I will find a suitably embarrassing photo of me from my childhood and display it at the end of this post (I know just the one. Four words: Me. Tutu. Mom's Wig.)
FG: Annnnd there it is. Very cool! I guess I have to make good on my promise at the end of this. Moving right along, you were about to tell me when you knew you wanted to be a writer. Please, continue.
DM: Funny, I don't have an immediate answer to your question. I guess I'd say 18-ish. Sometime during my freshman year in college I was simultaneously reading John Updike's Rabbit at Rest and Yasunari Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain, and reading them together somehow made me understand that, as a writer, you can uncover any topic, no matter how taboo. (I think they were both writing about old men who were attracted to their daughters-in-law.) I wanted to have this sort of freedom. I explore a lot of taboo subject matter when I'm left to my own devices because I've always been fascinated by the range of human behavior and emotion.
FG: Excellent. Back then, did you think of it as an art, as just telling stories or was it about seeing your name on a book in a store or a library? I ask that question just out of selfish curiosity. I never considered trying to get published until a couple of years ago- and I've been writing since childhood so I just wondered if anyone else just did it because they loved it or if it was always about being an 'author'.
(that question may suck, if it does I apologize- I can take it out...)
DM: This is why I had a little trouble answering your age question. It's because I've always felt the need to be creative and make my version of art. As a kid, that manifested as crayon drawings of Muppets for whatever reason.
FG: No. Way. *hysterical laughter* It's no wonder you and I felt kindred, with my being a Muppet and all my talk of Crayola crayons *more laughter.* Again I say, I want to see the pictures!
Then what happened?
DM: Well, I unfortunately don't have any of my old Muppet drawings. I've always had a binge and purge streak in me when it comes to my art. Every once in a while I have to get rid of it...all of it...now. In college, when I had my one and only show at a San Francisco gallery, I ended up cutting my ties with the organizers afterwards, leaving them with all of my unsold paintings. I have been better about preserving my writing, but I think that's mostly because I forget what I wrote where...like squirrels that bury their acorns and then forget where they hid them later...
FG: I am squirrely that way myself.
DM: But, back to your question, after my earlier drawings, I started painting stuff. I ended up getting into surrealism, which is really no surprise since I was an odd little kid and picked odd little role models.
FG: *singing softly* There was a boy...a very strange, enchanted boy...
DM: Exactly. Oh, if you had seen my "aesthetic" then, you probably would have hesitated a little longer before befriending me. Anyway, eventually, I got really tired of getting paint on my elbow and then rubbing my elbow on the couch and then sitting on the couch and getting paint on my pants. So, I stopped painting and started writing, which was neater and cheaper and more reproducible than a painting, which I liked. So, I thought of writing as art, and I thought of it as part of a continuum of expression. --I figure you understand this since you write and paint and sing. I never really thought about story. I just wanted to express myself. My earlier work was fragmented because of that. It took me a long time to be able to tell a story.
FG: I totally get that- and those mediums all interact for me. Music inspires what I write, what I paint, sometimes I'll paint something and think of a story to go with it. It's all connected for me, I love that it is for you too. Your 'coolness factor' which was already dangerously high on my meter, by the way, just went off the scale...
DM: Coolness? I don't think I ever score very highly on the coolness meter. Unless by coolness, you mean dorkiness, then I have a shot.
FG: I know you've traveled quite a bit, tell me, where is the most exotic place in the world where you've written?
DM: For me the most exotic place is a gold mine in Brazil. I had the opportunity to sleep in a mining camp, on a cot beside an engineer, with rats scratching away on the other side of the drywall.
FG: ACK!!! I regretfully admit that my idea of 'roughing it' is staying at a hotel off the monorail loop at Walt Disney World...I am humbled and intrigued. Please, tell me more!
DM: It was during graduate school. A group of geologists wanted a Spanish-speaking biologist to go with them to act as a sort of tour guide through the Amazon rain forest. My boss, who grew up in Argentina, had volunteered to go but canceled at the last minute. I went in her place, and I had an amazing time. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember my toothbrush turned red because of all the dust. Red dirt is really beautiful, though. I think it's what made Brazil seem like such a magical place. The ground was always a brilliant red, and at night it got so dark that you saw ten times more stars than I can see here in Los Angeles.
FG: I miss being able to see the stars-- too much 'light pollution' where I live. I have a story to tell you about seeing the stars for the first time in two years after I got my eyesight back- remind me to tell it to you sometime. While in such a magical place, did you write something there that you particularly love(d)?
DM: I tried to write several things during and shortly after that trip. I felt a lot of magic there, and I wanted to capture that. The trip was, for me, my first true meeting with Mother Nature. But all of my attempts to write about that have failed so far. I did write one story about the mining camp, which I like, and which is in my collection. The story is called "God In Frogs."
FG: Kermit and his little flipper-flopping brethren totally rock. I want to hear more about this collection in a second...bear with me. First tell me, what is the greatest payoff to you in writing? Creating a world, giving a character their voice, or connecting with a reader on an emotional level? Or is it something else?
DM: Everything you listed is definitely a payoff. But the greatest payoff for me is much more selfish. I feel like if I write about something then that something belongs to me. I can put it on my shelf. I can capture characters and places and emotions, and they're all mine.
FG: Captains of the time and space, aren't we? Building our little ships in bottles, like trying to catch lightning in a jar. People who don't write don't know what they're missing.
You have absolutely incredible voice as a writer. What is, in your opinion, the most important thing a writer can do to help develop their own unique voice?
DM: Well, thank you very much! I define "voice" very, very loosely. For me, it's basically just the combination of decisions a writer makes that are different from the decisions other writers make. To really find my voice, I have to be as sensitive as I can be to those decisions. I have to recognize that there are decisions to be made, and they are my decisions and not anyone else's. As far as voice in a more formal sense, I think two things contribute the most to the voice I use in my story. One, I speak Thai, and Thai is a very vivid language. The word for "chair" in Thai is "gao-ii" and when you say it, it sounds like a chair creaking. The translation for "laughing" in Thai is "head unraveling." Isn't that cool?
FG: Yes it is very cool despite the disturbing image it puts into my head *laughter* Damned Idealist imagination. I wish I was spoke multiple languages- I bet it must affect the way you write everything in English.
DM: When I choose words, they need to come to life for me the way these Thai words do. It's an intuitive process, and I don't really question it. The other thing, though, is that I'm synesthetic, which my computational neurobiologist friend Tracy suggested to me one day while we were eating lunch. "Have you heard of synesthesia? Because I think you have it." I looked it up. It basically means that when I hear sounds I see floating blobs of color floating around me. All my senses are slightly mixed up, and scientists think it's because of sloppy brain communication. My brain is sloppy.
FG: 'Sloppy' is the last word I'd use to describe your brain. I am going to have to look that up- that's a term I've not heard before. I see colors when I hear music- I wonder if it's related to that! Research project, dead ahead! *Squeal!* Is it any wonder you're one of my absolute favorite people I've met through writing or any other way for that matter? I know I can learn so much from you (and already have!) *scribbles notes furiously...* So did this info on 'synesthesia' come as a revelation to you?
DM: I thought everyone experienced things this way, only to realize in my twenties that it is just some people who do. That was very eye opening. It explained why no one could understand the descriptions I used in my first ever attempt at a novel. I describe a guy as having giant shrimp tails in his belly, which somehow resonates with me and absolutely no one else. Now, when I write, I'm more aware of this "sloppy brain syndrome", and I often translate what I experience into clearer language on the page.
FG: I can totally see that! I have to think that you MUST be an Idealist on the Keirsey/MBTI, have you ever taken the test, must ask?!
DM: I'm an INFJ, but I don't always feel bound by it.
FG: *jumping up and down* I knew it! I knew it, I knew it, I KNEW IT! And I knew this because I am actually the textbook INFJ myself. But that's another show! Of course I imagine that you don't feel bound by being an INFJ- we're always on that long journey to figuring ourselves out. Apparently we're also all given to destroying our art from time to time *laugh*. I still don't know where they hid that painting I tried to do of a nebula but when I find it...
Now, on to your Big Important News!!! You've just published a collection of short stories- I'm very excited about this. Seriously. You know how rarely I talk about what people are writing and publishing here- like, almost never. This I have to talk about. I can't wait to read it (No, folks, I haven't read it yet and I think that keeps the interview completely objective!) Please, tell me about it.
DM: Well, I called the collection "The Wild Grass and Other Stories", but I almost called it "It All Comes Up" to reference vomiting, which is a frequent occurrence in the stories: actual vomiting, emotional vomiting, the sudden release of built up pressure in some way. These stories are very personal to me because I wrote them during a time when I thought my life was a valid and interesting subject matter. I think my life is valid and interesting, but the fact that I got 160 pages out of tens years of writing goes to show that my life is not THAT valid and interesting. Hopefully I picked the best parts to include. The stories take place in a bunch of different places around the world, which I like. And, I follow a wide range of people, which is one of my favorite things to do. There's a conversation between a woman, a dog, and a goose, told from all three points of view, which I like. Always, emotion is my main focus, and I think I captured some nice emotion in the pages. Sometimes, I flip through the book, and I'm really proud of the small body of work that I have collected over my first decade of writing.
FG: As well you should be! Though I admit I am an easily queased-out (it's a term now!) and squeamish little reader, I am really looking forward to reading your collection. I've loved your short stories I've read here and there (I will never forget I Am Waiting for My Dogs to Die) and I know there has got to be a lot of stunning, memorable language in your book. Which, I must say, is something I really love about writing and writers of times past- such beautiful language. Today it's all about what the attention span of the main segment of the public (ever shortened by Playstation and Twitter and Facebook, in my opinion) will notice and that does the rest of us a huge disservice. We deserve writers who go after the emotion- we deserve writers who look into themselves and the reflection of us all as it goes out into the world and try to capture that, as you do.
So thanks for doing it, and thank you so much for coming by today- this has been an absolute thrill for me and I completely love this interview.
DM: This has been fantastic for me too! I had a lot of fun, thanks!
FG: You can find Davin's book here at Amazon. He's also having a contest called "Spread the Word"- so check that out too! And you can read more about his thoughts on writing, writers, and all that good stuff over at The Literary Lab. See you there! Capes and pink shoes, optional.
AND...because I'm a woman of my word and Davin came through with that cape photo...