Archive for the ‘Soapbox’ Category

I was googling Stephenie Meyer and bad writer (don’t ask me why) and came across a question on Yahoo Questions where someone had asked why Meyer was considered a bad writer by some people, and that the questioner considered her to be amazingly talented, brilliant, blah blah blah. A responder (known only to me as the mysterious Una M) stated it perfectly in her rebuttal – if you can’t look at an excerpt from Dickens and an excerpt from Meyer and see the difference, you’re part of the problem.

‘I sat frozen in my seat, staring blankly after him. He was so mean. It wasn’t fair. I began gathering up my things slowly, trying to block the anger that filled me, for fear my eyes would tear up. For some reason, my temper was hardwired to my tear ducts. I usually cried when I was angry, a humiliating tendency.’ (Twilight)

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ (A Tale of Two Cities)

Can everyone write like Dickens? Of course not. Should they aspire to? Fuck yes they should. That is the point.

Speaking of points…

If it isn’t blatantly obvious by the title of this post, I’m going to get on my soapbox for a bit on why I am so totally appalled and mind-boggled by the Twilight phenomenon. (Disclaimer: If you are a rabid Twilight fan incapable of discussing the novels in any kind of objective fashion, leave now before you’re traumatized. You have been warned.)

If you have been living under a rock on the other side of the Milky Way, you might be unacquainted with this particular work of fiction. If so, I’m going to assume you have access to Google just like everyone else. I’ll wait.

*waits*

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, here are my biggest issues with Meyer’s series:

The writing is bad, okay? It’s just bad. But Kellye! I can hear you say. A gazillion readers can’t be wrong! And anyway, there are tons of books out there that are just as badly written as Twilight, and you don’t hold them to some ridiculous standard of competent writing! 

A: Actually, as an editor I do hold authors to high standards of literary competence (and maybe unfairly so – when you spend ten plus years of your life studying literature, it kind of ruins pulp fiction for you). While there are thousands of books out there that are published and poorly written, they typically languish in the midlists or on remainder tables. As Twilight, by all sane accounts, should have, because that is the level of competency it hits, both in terms of prose and the power of the story itself. But it didn’t – it became a blockbuster breakout smash with a multi-movie deal and a comic book and the hits just keep on coming. As such, I keep expecting the dead to rise from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Also, there is something to be said for building on the canon that other writers have set up in genre fiction. (There is also something to be said for breaking out of that canon, but that’s the subject for another post.) Meyer does do something unique with her vampires and werewolves who captivated the imagination of millions – unfortunately, her “new take” on vampires missed the mark for me. This is probably more of a personal issue than anything else, because I’m a horror writer and because I have been reading vampire fiction for a long time. Meyer’s take on vampires and werewolves is overwhelmingly juvenile and unrealistic, given the canon. In any case, I do not associate “sparkly” with vampires, and am offended in the name of all the ravenous undead for their depiction in this manner. When I think of vampires, I think of bloodthirsty demons of the night. I want John Steakley and Stephen King. Hell, if I want my vampires a little…well…gay, I’ll go to Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite. But I do not want a sparkly, sniping uber-teen who is a “vegetarian”. Thirteen-year-old girls may prefer the Prince Charming version of the vampire tale, but luckily they don’t set the bar for what makes good literature – they just (apparently) set the bar for what gets published and consumed by the masses.

^ Reasonable portrayal of vampire. Notice lack of sparkles and foot-like countenance (I’m looking at you, Pattinson).

Finally, speaking of suspension of disbelief, Bella and Edward are two of the worst protagonists I have seen in a novel in a long time. Bella is underdeveloped, basically acting as a shell for the reader to project on (which works really well to emotionally manipulate romantics and thirteen-year-old girls). She’s obnoxiously dependent on Edward, even though he spends half his time being cruel or distant towards her (that’s a really good message to push on our impressionable young women). She is the epitome of a Mary Sue, which is (via Wikipedia) a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Why is this important? Because Meyer wrote a novel with a wish-fulfillment protagonist in a really grim, harrowing time period for people across the world (and for Americans in particular). As such, Americans are especially susceptible to “wish-fulfillment” fantasy these days, as the runaway success of several escapist narratives lately will tell you. What does that say? It says that Twilight might not be the best book around (might being a laughable understatement) but it is filling an emotional want for a lot of people.

I just happen to be of the opinion that what you want and what you need are two different things.

Basically, in a nutshell, I blame Twilight for the death of Michael Jackson, the recession, and the devolution of literature at large. However, here are a couple of vampire stories I would recommend:

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (and her other Anita Blake novels)
Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
Five of Cups by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Vampire$: A Novel by John Steakley
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
30 Days of Night by Steve Niles

^ Out of this list, I’d have to say Five of Cups and Lost Souls are the best of the lot, even beating out my beloved King. And that’s saying a lot. 

PS: Team Jacob.

 

Jason Sanford’s post about Harlan Ellison and Prince quitting the Internet (and the discussion that ensued in the commentary—click the link to see what I’m talking about: http://www.jasonsanford.com/jason/2010/07/harlan-ellison-and-prince.html) got me thinking about a couple of things with regards to the whole issue.

Just to reinforce the fact that I am not singling Ellison out here, first of all, I sort of understand his beef with the Net. A lot of days the Internet and its accompanying online community seem like one big version of chat roulette—that is, you have to wade through a lot of dicks just to find anyone worth talking to. I am not an active user of Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Xanga, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…mostly because I consider them a waste of time more than anything else. (If I ever develop any kind of real notoriety, that will probably change.)

However, as someone who has been both on the authorial and the editorial sides of the desk, I find it very hard to watch people justify the bad behavior of a few writers just because they are celebrities or because their work is considered to have unique artistic significance.

Authors of legendary status like Ellison often get put on pedestals because of the near-universal appeal of their work, but at the end of the day they’re just scraping rent like everyone else, and in my opinion, one of the most absolutely cool things about writing is that it isn’t just for little gods like Ellison. It’s for you and me too. Harlan Ellison is no better than you are, and he has no more right to verbally abuse a stranger in a bookstore than you do. Neither does Stephen King, nor Neil Gaiman, nor any other literary genius for that matter.

We are all peers in this business, and we all got into it for approximately the same reasons. One only has to go over a list of famous rejections to come to terms with exactly how much undiscovered literary talent there is floating around out there, ready for someone to snatch up and deliver to the world.

On one hand, I totally understand what it is like to be a writer—I am one. As a general rule, we’re a neurotic, temperamental type, sensitive to criticism and often embodying egos like bad-natured dogs on long leashes. Ellison is not alone in that regard. I can completely sympathize.

But, on the other hand (and this is the snub-nosed, practical side of me that has to do stuff like pay bills and redline manuscripts all day and listen to authors bitch on a regular basis) as an editor I know exactly what it’s like to work with “holy terror” writers like Ellison. One guy whose work I have edited in the past consistently turned in really good copy, but trying to collaborate with him on anything was like slamming your head in a filing cabinet. I would rather take the most hapless misspelled hopeless case of an amateur over working with him any day. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how good you are if people can’t stand you.

Let me repeat that, because it apparently bears repeating: It doesn’t matter how good you are if people can’t stand you.

Yes, writing is art, and one in which the art’s creator is pretty removed from the art itself, unlike acting, another realm where artists are known to act the ass on occasion. But at the end of the day, writing is also a business. And you know what? It’s the business aspect of it that buys the groceries and maybe a posh crib in Bangor one day if you’re talented, smart, lucky and gracious (not at all in that order).

As a writer you are perfectly free to rant, wail, whine, gnash your teeth, punch walls, pour Jack Daniels on your cornflakes, whatever it is that helps you do your thing – by all means, go wild. It’s one of the perks of the field. But as soon as you step out into public, real public—whether that’s attending a marketing meeting, speaking with editors and publishers, signing autographs for fans, or even just organizing a marketing campaign, you better have your most charismatic and loving game face on, because a reputation like Ellison’s can follow you around for a long, long time. And it’s really unfortunate when your bad temper gets more publicity than your stories do.

In the words of the King: “Let the word and the legend go before you. There are those who will carry both. Fools, perchance. Let the world go before you. Let your shadow grow dark.”