Tolkien Would Have Hated the LOTR Movies

Art produces secondary belief , and story-making is the highest form of art. It’s not about bewitchment or delusion, but, as Tolkien says, “[it seeks] shared enrichment, not [slavery.]”TOLKIEN

We love movies. Blockbuster after blockbuster punching our eyeballs, and we don’t have to do any work for it. Just sit there and let the colors and the noise and the nonsense pummel you. Tolkien states in his essay on Fairy-Stories that drama is a bogus, substitute magic. “A visible and audible presentation of imaginary men in a story. That is in itself an attempt to counterfeit the magician’s wand.”

Sorry, Elijah Wood! You may have nice, expressive eyes but you contributed to a medium that Tolkien describes as de facto flawed.

So what do we do about this? Are all movies, and all scriptwriters just doomed to occupy the lowest levels of story-making? To languish in the lowest levels of Dante’s Heaven (or Hell?) What are the reasons Tolkien gives for this? Pure story-making, he thinks, is different than stage-plays (or movies) because they focus on characters instead of things. This is a key distinction he is making: writers have to think through their characters to give a story verisimilitude, but Tolkien wants the setting to be a character too. Care about the trees, the grass, the roads and the skies. This doesn’t mean that Fantasy is only about being fanciful, rather it is about truth. It’s not enough to tell a reader that the your world has pink grass unless you have a reason for it. “The keener and cleverer is the reason, the better fantasy it will make.”

The best television I have ever watched, now that it comes to mind, are stories that try to give a place a personality. The first season of True Detective does this, as does FX’s first season of Fargo. These stories are not Fantasy; rather tales about the human condition contending with a world that is mostly absurd and hostile. Tolkien might approve of the way in which well-don detective stories invite viewers to participate in catharsis, and then re-orient their view of life after being pushed to the edge of the surreal.

But the surreal is not “Other Time,” the surreal is attached to our world. The fantasy writer has to make a sub-creation, a Secondary World the reader’s mind can enter. We don’t like fairy-stories because there are tiny creatures in them, we like them because we like stepping behind the curtain. All stories are true unless they betray our trust.

 

 

The Difference Between Men And Women

He looked down at his phone. “Car will be here soon,” he reported.

“What color is the car?” she asked, standing on her tip-toes to get a clear view of the road from the peopled sidewalk.

“It says black.” He replied.

“What’s the license plate number? Do we have the driver’s name?” She asked.

“Man, you really check them out, huh?”

 

FIN

Rethinking Lavinia

In 2011 I was one of those people. I left a one star review for Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Lavinia. My problem with it was that, in my mind, she just rewrote the Aeneid.

arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

It’s hard to upstage Virgil.

So, I wondered, what was the point of rewriting the entire epic from Lavinia’s point of view? There was something unremitting about the narrative, and I had hoped for something fresh. Instead of a new tale I saw Lavinia go through the motions of Virgil’s canto, and frankly, I had already read that.

I’m not that much older or wiser now, but I have had a bit of an epiphany about this work. The tribute Le Guin makes to epic literature is on the nose (oh yes, even with references to Dante and his Virgil), but it’s not the point. The point is that the feminine point of view isn’t useless or unimportant, it’s just different.

“Without war there are no heroes.”

“What harm would that be?”

“Oh, Lavinia, what a woman’s question that is.” 

The feminine, in this book, is about constancy in tribulation. It is a source of energy that never burns too brightly and all at once, like the glory of a male warrior, but steadfastly like a warm coal. A man’s stubbornness is a weakness, something dogged and without joy.

“Men call women faithless, changeable, and though they say it in jealousy of their own ever-threatened sexual honor, there is some truth in it. We can change our life, our being; no matter what our will is, we are changed. As the moon changes yet is one, so we are virgin, wife, mother, grandmother. For all their restlessness, men are who they are; once they put on the man’s toga they will not change again; so they make a virtue of that rigidity and resist whatever might soften it and set them free.”

I once had a philosophy professor point out that feminine traits are often equated with something undesirable when men show themselves to have them. Even crying, he said, can be something men are conditioned to be ashamed of. This is a prison. Closing all of the doors only makes a person adapt to living in the dark, and we know how those odd, blind creatures in caves strike us, no?

Revel in the feminine. Be free. Be whole. And understand the point of re-imagining an epic story so often dominated by the male gaze.

That’s what I’ve learned.

Five Stars.

I Have Some Good News This 2016: Published!

So yea, 2016. This wounded artery of a year.

dicaprio

But, I am able to share good news for once: I sold my first short story, to be published in a Science Fiction Anthology either this Dec or Jan.  The contract is signed and the publisher working away on the printing.  I’ll share the details once it’s put up for sale.

Honestly, this is amazing news. I’ve worked very hard to get here, and hopefully this is the start of a writing career. I have several other subs out, so I’m hoping to keep up the momentum!

This particular story was rejected 6 times- but the sub times were long. One publication held it for five months, so I lost some time there. I finished the story in March 2015, after it went through eight drafts. The rewrites were helped along by Critters (I’ll report to them this “Woohoo!” once published) and one last, very incisive critique by a major magazine editor.

Making art is hard work. Lots of rejection, lots of technical and creative skills required, many late nights spent just trying to hit a word count so that they day can be considered well spent.

So, here’s to my little story. Hurrah!

Fiction Tropes!

now_word_explode

Ah, tropes: when you start reading through a submissions pile, you start to acquire pet peeves, and you start to notice overused tropes. Now, tropes become, well, tropes, because they’re useful. They get a job done. But if you’re a new writer, using one thoughtlessly is going to out you!

I’ve been reading the submissions pile at F&SF for about a year now, and here are the most common ones:

Character describes herself in a mirror

What does your character look like? Maybe she should take note of herself in the hallway mirror, or while brushing her teeth. Thing is, this is almost overdone. So be aware of that and try to do something fresh with it.

It Was All a Dream!

On it’s face, this is just lazy: get to a brick wall in the plot?  Instead of working it out, TWIST! The character was dreaming! If you want the reader to toss the book across the room or set it on fire, do this.

Women in Refrigerators, or “Fridging”

This one requires some explanation. Fridging is when a female character dies/ is treated brutally for the sole purpose of inspiring the male hero to action. It happens often. The death of Gwen Stacy in the original Spider Man is a good example. Gail Simone talked about this phenomenon in comic books:

An important point: This isn’t about assessing blame about an individual story or the treatment of an individual character and it’s certainly not about personal attacks on the creators who kindly shared their thoughts on this phenomenon. It’s about the trend, its meaning and relevance, if any. Plus, it’s just fun to talk about refrigerators with dead people in them. I don’t know why.

*As a subcategory to this, I’d add: violence towards women. I’m surprised by how many stories open with a violent rape. Female protagonists don’t need to have sexual violence in their past as a motivating factor, but it’s very common in fiction and kind of disturbing to me. Chances are you’re not writing the next Jessica Jones, so don’t shoehorn a past rape/ harassment incident if something else will do. Remember, you’re trying to make a whole, human character, not a bowl of soup.

Stories that start with characters waking up

Face it, you can’t top the master:

One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.

Don’t try unless you’re a super hero.

(Original post Oct 2016, updated Feb 2018)

 

 

Seneca on the Friendship of Kindred Minds

seneca

Seneca, British Museum – By Marie-Lan Ngyen (2011) Public domain

“When I urge you so strongly to your studies, it is my own interest which I am consulting; I want your friendship, and it cannot fall to my lot unless you proceed, as you have begun, with the task of developing yourself. For now, although you love me, you are not yet my friend. “But,” you reply, “are these words of different meaning?” Nay, more, they are totally unlike in meaning. A friend loves you of course; but one who loves you is not in every case your friend. Friendship, accordingly, is always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm. Try to perfect yourself, if for no other reason, in order that you learn how to love.”

 

-Epistle XXXV, Seneca

Mulling this over with my morning coffee. It packs a punch, as it makes me consider my parenting style (my kids are all under 5) and my relationship with them as they grow. It also makes me consider the difference between acquaintances and friends, and how we view family members.

 

I have Fun Crits This Morning…

Just had a story make the rounds through Critters, and boy are the reviews mixed. I’ve got people tripping over their tongues as though sozzled, the tintinnabulation of their praise ringing to the stars! Write more! Write often! You are a wizard with words!

And then there’s the Dark Side, the turgid fusillades at my disregard for SCIENCE! Don’t I know better? Don’t I know that people only bothered to read this story because they were dedicated to giving a crit? That if the readers were not dedicated, they’d print my story only to be able to set fire to it since my opening line was SO BAD? DON’T I KNOW I’M KILLING TREES?

And then, there were three people that struck the Golden Mean. The types that said, “this is good, here’s what I think about this since I’m a Scientist,” or the “This will be a harsh crit, but it’s better to hear this now, trust me.”

You guys. We’re cool.

stanley

An Open Letter to That Book I Never Finished

BOOKS

Dear Book,

It’s not you, it’s me. 

Sure, you hooked me right away. The way you spoke, the way your outer appearance hinted at something deeper…that grabbed me. Stopped me in my tracks. Beguiled me. It was a crush.

And sure, you held me like a book ought, for a while, but I realized that I actually need to love you. In any courtship, the reader has to be won over. And so we cannot continue on in this lie.

There will be other readers for you! I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Will you stop texting me at 2:00 in the morning?

Thanks.

I Unpublished My FB Page

I unpublished my Facebook page- not my personal page, just the author one. I have a blog and Twitter, and that’s been helpful in connecting me with writing pals without the extra medium. In fact, it was just redundant… people who became personal FB friends were linking the page, but not too much traffic otherwise.

Plus, I just shared my author page with my friends anyway, so I was starting to feel silly.I see so many established authors using their personal pages as a way to connect to their friends/ readers, and I’m more comfortable with that approach.

So I’ll just keep writing and editing and being a fandom nerd-gal and see where that goes!