Don’t Tell Me

There are a couple of things I hear/read periodically that I find absolutely infuriating. These are false statements that pretend to be encouraging but that actually undercut a writer’s confidence and motivation.

1. If you want it badly enough, you can achieve it.

Not true. You can want something, you can try every possible avenue, and still not achieve it.

2. If you’re talented enough, you’ll rise to the top.

Again, not necessarily true. You can be very good at what you do, but there are other factors. Networking and connections play a big part in success. So does grit. There are many smart, capable people who fail, not for lack of desire so much as lack of motivation. Or even lack of support, since, despite our individualist society, few people are able to make it on their own. And even brilliant people don’t know everything, so sometimes it’s know-how that the person needs.

3. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

You can’t promise that. Unless you have a specific ability to help the person in question—you have connections, knowledge, etc.—don’t say this. I realize it’s meant to be reassuring, but we already have a culture that falsely believes that only good things and people succeed, that the way to judge something’s or someone’s worth is to see if they (a) make money, (b) become famous. Since we all can point to plenty of terrible rich and famous people, you can see this is a flat-out fallacy. We can point to bad books and movies that somehow still get published and made, which again proves that not everything that rises is cream.

Am I bitter? Sometimes. I don’t think there’s any harm in being honest and admitting that. It can be difficult to keep going when the road seems to be one dead end after another. And so many people say the above things to me, which, while I understand the good intentions, I’d really rather have the help and support rather than hollow words.

Art/Artist

Most media, barring things that are biographical or autobiographical, are designed to be consumed in the absence of the artist. When you read a book, the author is seldom there to explain his or her work. When you watch a film or television program, the actors and directors and screenwriters and producers are not whispering in your ear… unless you’re playing the commentary track, I suppose. The musician shouldn’t have to explain the song’s meaning. Even stand-up comedians, who often pull from personal experience, are editing the stories they tell; as the audience, we laugh, but we never really believe we’re hearing the whole thing.

However, with the rise of social media, and with greater access to authors and actors and comedians, etc.—with the popularity of those commentary tracks, and with the growing sense that the person with the most trivial information somehow “wins” because it proves he or she is the biggest, best fan—we seldom consume media without knowing something about those who make it. Sure, some of these creators remain coy, but many more have embraced Twitter and Instagram and whatever else is popular these days. One can communicate with them, one can chase them and their work all over the Internet, collecting facts and tidbits like squirrels collect nuts.

But what happens when an artist or creator is an asshole?

“Never meet your heroes,” the old saying goes. The unspoken conclusion being that you’re bound to be disappointed by their simple humanity. But when your favorite author or actor is not only human but in some ways seemingly subhuman… What then? Are you allowed to like their books or movies or TV shows any more?

It’s the age-old conflict: separating the art from the artist. Can you?

Art isn’t created in a vacuum; each contributor puts something of him- or herself into the work. Why else do we spend high school lit classes deconstructing things like The Great Gatsby? Every time we had to read a book in school, didn’t we also have to read that little biographical paragraph about the author? And who decides what to tell and what to leave out of those?

Back in the day, it was okay to like Woody Allen movies. Now you can like them, but only if you feel guilty about it. Many more people would rather just not watch than have to feel that way. But they can’t erase the fact that they have seen some of those movies. Do they say, “Well, I watched those before…”? Does watching or reading something by a disgraced artist make you complicit in whatever caused their downfall?

It’s an honest question. I’m not defending Allen or any other condemned creator. I really want to know how people feel about this.

My understanding is, largely, that not buying books by, or watching movies by, artists who have behaved badly is a form of boycott. “Don’t give them your money,” seems to be the underlying notion. Of course, most of them have plenty of money already, so… But what if you borrow the book from the library? Or watch the movie on a streaming service you subscribe to? Are you not meant to patronize these artists at all because to do so suggests tacit endorsement, not only of their work but their life choices?

I, for one, end up having a tough time enjoying work by “bad” artists because I can’t forget what they’ve done (if I happen to know). It lingers in the back of the mind. It taints the things I used to enjoy, like food that’s starting to go off. You might still can eat it—it’s not so far gone—but it tastes wrong. I mean, even if it’s something as minor as having read that this or that author was rude in a situation… Maybe I can excuse them, depending on the circumstances, but if I hear that it happens regularly… When I read a book by them, I won’t be able to not think that this writer is a jerk. And knowing a jerk has written the book I’m reading definitely dampens the enjoyment. Sometimes I might even transfer those feelings to the book’s characters and think they’re all jerks, too, because of course a jerk writer can only create jerk characters, right?

Well, no. Of course not. Writers create all kinds of characters. But knowing something about the author creates an overlay to anything you read by them. Same with actors; suddenly, every role they play is colored by that personal knowledge. Instead of diverse characters, you begin to see them all as similar because they are connected by this mental tint.

It’s enough to make one not want to ever know anything about their favorite authors, actors, etc. Isn’t it?

How do you feel about these things? Do you refuse to support certain artists because of their past behaviors? Is ignorance bliss? Is ignorance even possible in a day and age in which information moves so fast?

On Decoding

Monty Python had a skit in which Graham Chapman was a guest on a talk show, and when he was introduced as “Raymond Luxury Yacht,” Chapman gently corrected, “It’s spelt ‘Luxury Yacht’ but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’.” It’s a funny punchline not only because the names are so ridiculous but because it’s seemingly out of nowhere; who reads ‘Luxury Yacht’ as ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’? Those letters don’t make those sounds, not even in a liberal interpretation. Right?

I promise I’m not changing subjects when I mention that, in getting a degree in cultural media studies, we talked a lot about encoding and decoding texts (“texts” being our word for any film or television, whether a scene, an episode, or an entire series). It’s simple, if narrow-minded, to say there’s only one correct way to interpret something. It’s facile, however, to say there’s no wrong way to do so. You can’t [reasonably] look at ‘Luxury Yacht’ and decide it really means ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove.’

Almost anyone who went to school has a story of a lit teacher who had very fixed ideas about the symbolism or imagery in a book or poem. Something they’d been taught, or something they especially felt invested in for whatever reason… Maybe they’d read a biography of the author and had drawn a conclusion based on information about the writer’s life. Whatever. Film and television fans can be just as aggressively rigid about how they see and interpret what they watch. And the more they love a show or movie, the more they dig in. At least in my experience. If and when another viewer, or even a writer or actor or producer on the show or movie, contradicts them, these fans double down. They insist that their reading of the text is valid. (Sometimes they insist that theirs is the only valid interpretation.)

The wonderful thing about books and films and television programs is that they are open to a variety of insights, and once they leave the authors’ hands, the writers (and actors, and directors, and producers) no longer truly own them. What’s encoded is one thing, but what’s decoded is truly personal and therefore necessarily biased. This is why fans fight so hard—because validation of their reading is a kind of validation of self.

BUT. As with Luxury Yacht vs. Throatwobbler Mangrove, not all interpretations are reasonable. In this day and age, when people readily consider their personal opinions to be as valid as hard facts, this statement can be difficult to swallow. Yes, you are allowed to see whatever patterns you like in the wallpaper, but sometimes the patterns really aren’t there, no matter how much you insist they are. You’re desperate for the wallpaper to be yellow stripes—you love yellow stripes—but if it’s pink flowers… Trying to convince others it’s really yellow stripes is a waste of time and energy. You’re only going to end up frustrated and angry because you’re trying to turn what’s there into something that it isn’t.

This is, one supposes, where the joy of fan fiction comes in. When writing fanfic, one can change the wallpaper and make it whatever one wants it to be because there really are no rules. If you want to pronounce Luxury Yacht as Throatwobbler Mangrove, in fanfic you can. You might even find other fans who will nod and say, “That’s a neat way to read it.”

As for the primary text, the source text, whatever you want to call it… There are rules. They’re pretty flexible, but they do have limits. In sketch comedy, you can turn Luxury Yacht into Throatwobbler Mangrove. But if you were watching an actual news program and someone said that? It wouldn’t fly.

Why I’m Leaving Kindle Unlimited

Used to be, I made most of my money from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. I made as much—often more—from page reads as direct sales, so I kept my books in KU. But in recent months that has fallen off considerably to nearly nil. Therefore, I think it’s time to broaden my horizons and put my books out in wider form.

Amazon continues to have a stranglehold on the market, but it also makes it nearly impossible to be discovered. If you’re not already a known name, people aren’t looking for you or your books. And if you aren’t published by one of Amazon’s imprints or don’t pay them big bucks to advertise, you get buried.

That said, any new releases will get an initial KU launch. But if that ends up not making financial sense (as it no longer does with my existing catalogue), I’ll find other outlets. And of course I’ll continue to put my books out in paperback as well. The K-Pro is going to be re-edited and reissued, and I hope to have Peter edited and available again soon as well.

Movies: Hereditary

I don’t particularly like horror movies; I have a very low tolerance for gore. But I’d heard this one was good and not too bloody, so…

It still had some pretty gross moments, let me tell you. But it was interesting, and fairly intense if you like that kind of thing.

Toni Collette plays Annie, whose mother has passed away. Then her daughter also dies in an accident. As Annie grapples with these tragedies, she meets a woman named Joan (Ann Dowd, somewhat typecast) in her grief group. Joan shows Annie how to contact the dead, and things go from there.

Annie is also an artist who creates disturbing dioramas. The movie hints at her mother having been crazy, and so maybe Annie has inherited (get it?) whatever genetic disposition made her mother a nutjob.

Then the question becomes how much of what is happening is actually supernatural, and how much of it is Annie.

Which would have been great if the movie had left it there. But it insists on going a bit further and answering these questions. And while I can appreciate the final result, I think a bit more ambiguity would have actually made the whole thing more compelling.

As it was, however… Yeah. Pretty damn creepy.

Movies: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya
Directed by: Jon Watts
Screenplay by: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
Sony/Marvel, 2019
PG-13; 129 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)

_______________________________________________________

I’ve mentioned many times that I suffer from superhero movie fatigue. I’m at the point where I’m not really sure why I’m still going to these movies, except that my family loves them… And then I start to think I’ll somehow miss out if I don’t go too. Truth is, some of them are pretty good. And of all of them, I think I enjoy the Spider-Man ones the most.

In this movie, Peter Parker (Holland) just wants to enjoy his school trip to Europe. He’s hoping to use the science trip as a backdrop for a declaration of love to MJ (Zendaya). All that gets screwed up when Nick Fury turns up and needs an assist with some “Elementals” that have been attacking various places across the globe.

It’s a deceptively simple setup, which is probably why it works so well. So many of these films are convoluted to the point of ridiculousness. And in this one, the after-credit sequences almost trip over that line as well. Ugh. Can’t they leave well enough alone? But no, everything needs to be a little tweak, something to launch the next movie(s). It’s one of the reasons I’ve come to dislike this series of films.

But overall, this is a fun movie. A popcorn flick, as we used to call them. I know so many people who invest real time and effort into analyzing and deconstructing and whatever with these, and hey, whatever makes you happy. That’s the point of entertainment, after all. Get as involved (or not) as you like. For me, comic book movies are more like watch, enjoy, and then pretty much forget them… until I’m told I need to remember a million things for the next installment. Again, ugh. These movies should not be so much work.

Well, whatever. I had fun.

IWSG: July 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced I would continue to participate in this because I’ve pretty much shut down my writing network. I deleted my author page on Facebook, abandoned my Instagram, and have removed my Twitter app from my phone. I left every writing group on Facebook, too, unfriended a ton of people, and muted several more. I’ve had a real struggle with the lack of support from friends, family, and the community at large, and I’m pretty close to giving up completely.

That said, I do have two good writing friends helping through my crisis. So I’ll post this month, for now, and continue taking things a day at a time.

Question of the Month: What personal traits have you written into your characters?

A: I’m sure several bits of myself show up in my characters, but you’d have to ask those who know me (and have read my work) to point them out. I never intentionally put parts of me into my characters. But I can say I’ve shared experiences with some of them. For example, I based some of The K-Pro on my time spent on film sets. There is likewise a story in The World Ends at Five that is extrapolated from an author signing I attended. In fact, I remember thinking that story up as I walked to work one day. Anyway, I’m sure my characters do have telltale signs of my DNA, but to parse that would take no little time.

Intro to Tarot: Major Arcana

I mentioned a while back that a friend of mine had asked me to write a sort of tarot manual for her. Basically, I’ve bought her a tarot deck and have been mailing her cards, a few at a time, with information about them and how to read them. I thought that since my most popular posts on this site are my astrology and tarot posts, I might start posting excerpts from this manual here.

The manual begins with an overview of the Major Arcana, which is what I’m going to share with you now.


The Major Arcana
 
The tarot is divided into two main sets of cards: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards and explores the journey of the first card in that set, which is Card 0: The Fool. In this text we’ll travel with the Fool through the Major Arcana, but here I just want to say a few things about what it means to have Major Arcana appear in a tarot reading.
 
The easiest way to look at it is to say that the Major Arcana are Big Things in life and the Minor Arcana are little things. Some read the Majors as signs of destiny, fate, or karma. Some read them as things that cannot be changed versus things that can (meaning the Minor Arcana). I hesitate to ever say that anything is set in stone and cannot be changed. I simply don’t believe that to be true. But I think, when you see a lot of Major Arcana in a spread, some big life lessons are—if you’ll forgive me—in the cards.
 
A surfeit of Major Arcana cards turning up means one of two things. (1) This is important so pay attention to what we [the cards] are telling you. (2) You didn’t shuffle very well.
 
Eventually, as you learn the cards and become confident in reading them, you’ll intuit what it means to have many Majors in a spread. What I don’t recommend is reshuffling and asking again. Asking the same question, even rephrased, over and over is a surefire way to irritate the cards and only confuse the issue further. If you feel like you’re not getting the message, set the cards aside. Or if it has been a while since you cleansed and recharged them (more on that later), do that. Then still set them aside for a few hours. The cards, like people, need breaks, and jumping from question to question wears them out.

From Introduction to Tarot: Card by Card by M Pepper Langlinais

If people get interested, I’ll start posting about each card.