Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Warning! Profanity...

We might as well jump in with both feet here. I read all kinds of books; some have blue speech in them and some do not. But what happens when, in the book—in the story—a writer; let’s just say he’s me, is crafting some kind of life and death struggle between hero and villain and he wants the reader to be able to buy in 100%?

Let’s use examples. Which of the following would you prefer?

Jimbo holds a Glock .40 point blank to Harold’s face. “What’s it gonna be, Harold? Are you really willing to die for her?”

“Keep her out of this.”

Jimbo laughs cynically. “I wasn’t the one who brought her into it. And now, my friend, you both have poopy pants.”

Jimbo holds a Glock .40 point blank to Harold’s face. “What’s it gonna be, Harold? Are you really willing to die for her?”

“Keep her out of this.”

Jimbo laughs cynically. “I wasn’t the one who brought her into it. So now, fucko, you’re both gonna die.”

It may be distasteful to you, but I personally believe the second sample is, if nothing else, more realistic. I don’t know of any villains who would use phrases like “poopy pants.” At least not believable ones. Unless, of course, we’re talking about some slapstick comic version of the story. But in a serious drama, if a person is evil enough to threaten to take another person’s life, they’re probably evil enough to use blue speech.

I’ll give ya that Jimbo could have said, “idiot” instead of “fucko,” or even “you’re in deep shit.” It depends on you, your audience, the situation in the story, and whatever religious preferences you might have. And probably a lot of other stuff as well.

All this to say that I have come a mighty long way on my journey out of religion into freedom. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Christian—but not by virtue of attendance on Sundays. I’m a Christian by virtue of Christ. That’s a post for another day. Some might see a contradiction inherent when I use profanity, whether it be in my writing or in my daily speech. I’ll say this: a lot of it just depends who I’m with. And whether or not I have a cigar in my hand. But that too is a blog for another day.

I’m just curious though, because my rough draft of this novel has profanity in it. Is it something you as a reader would refuse to read, try to muscle through, or enjoy thoroughly? Or something else, possibly?

What I’m attempting to do in my story is show the situation—paint the picture—as honestly as I can, depending upon what's happening. If a character’s decisions are producing mortal peril for him, depending on what hangs in the balance, I’m pretty sure depending on who they are profanity will be a part of it. At least in real life. Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Just Finished LOST...

Wanna know what I don't get? I don't get why so many people were so hacked off about how the show ended. I thought it ended just fine. But I'm a writer; I'm weird.

Aside from Nathan Bransford's infamous post on The High Cost of WTF, which I thought was hilarious and well-deserved, I beg to differ, at least on a few things.

The thing about Story, which I covered in a previous post, is that these days, in order to keep people guessing, the writer has to pull out the stops on WTF occasionally. And yeah, the team on LOST definitely did that, and I think it was purely intentional.

That's why I think the ending was entirely apropos considering context. When Christian tells Jack that basically here and now doesn't exist, it fits, because for the entire sixth season, the audience is wondering when the hell they are. And though I'm not positive on this, I'm pretty sure everybody was dead in all those off-island scenes.

Here's the deal: LOST doesn't fit Biblical doctrine, at least not entirely, so nobody should try to make it fit. If anything, it fits eastern mysticism and New Age hippie bullshit more than anything, and I don't have a problem with that. I still think it's got a lot to contribute to the community, insofar as it provokes thought.

And speaking of, I thought there was a wry polar irony, if one can call it that, as concerns certain characters.

Sawyer, for instance, traveled a complete journey from con to cop.

Hurley graduated from being completely crippled by his anxieties to finally attaining the supreme self-assurance that was required to be the new Jacob.

John Locke overcame insecurity as well, finally being able to let go of being pissed off at the entire world for everything from his wheelchair to his daddy issues.

Sun and Jin passed their test of selflessness in the submarine by each one preferring the other, and in turn accepting the other's refusal to be selfish.

Claire finally got over her obsession with abandoning Aaron because of her paralyzing fear of being somehow doomed to be a bad mother, though this was not made as clear as I feel it could have been.

Sayid finally embraced grace, through the simple act of providing it to those trapped on the sub--plus, he found his reward in his reunion with Shannon--his true love.

Kate was able to pay a kind of penance for her rashness, though this has been played out over the last two or so seasons with her character, because she was able to nurture Aaron in his most vulnerable state, then rescue his mother and (ostensibly) reunite them, facilitating the restoration of a family. Remember that the story starts out with her utterly shredding her own.

Jack was a special case. Jack was hard-wired to fix stuff, and that was his function in the story. He fulfilled that purpose, but he also was able, finally, to be right about a decision he made as a leader. He installed Hurley as the new Jacob, and that turned out to be destiny. But he also saved the island, and was able to pay the penalty his prior mistakes demanded of him, by giving his life for his friends--and what's even more precious is that he was able to witness their escape as the plane flew over the bamboo forest (which, by the way, was a mirror image of how all of this got started, to include the close-up of his eye--this time, closing rather than opening).

And speaking of that, I notice a perfect symmetry in the story of LOST that I just love, and frankly, of which I stand in awe. The writers did a bangup job of it.

It also apparent to me that the cast is a nice cross-section of humanity. Practically every major segment of the contemporary global population is represented in the characters, which I think makes the message more universal.

So, what's the message?

I think it can be almost anything you want to make it. One message is "what's done is done;" in other words, get over it. The characters in the story have to deal with all kinds of pain and suffering, but ultimately they get past it--in life or in death (but most often in death). I find that inspiring for my own daddy issues, and maybe that's why I identify so wholly with John Locke's character. In that sense I found the show to be very inspiring.

I think though, that there's a larger perspective that one can gain through the story. There's so much human nature in there, paraded for us in all its ugliest and most beautiful costumes. There's so much intrigue and betrayal, but there's also tenderness and sacrifice. There's a lot of death and blood, but it also seems like every time one turns around there's some kind of childbirth going on; or at the very least a pregnant woman in the plot. All of it echoes with the grandness of our designed-in potential as human beings. But it shows the seamy underside as well, dealing with addictions, murder, ambition unbridled by morality, and deception, therefore telling all of the story--or at least a more accurate version.

So what story am I talking about? Why, the universal one, of course. Every good story is an echo of the archetype. LOST definitely fits the bill.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I just finished with a book. Notice that I did not say I "finished" it, but instead that I finished with it. Such is the plight of the borrower at the public library. One can always try.

And try I did. The book I'm talking about is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. While it was amazingly helpful, I couldn't get through it, and it's not the first book I've failed to finish. I've been known to be a bit of a book whore, truth be told--I'll take five of them home with me on a given day and be faithful to one or none, I don't care. If they don't grab me right, I have better things to do with my life.

And this one grabbed me right. It's just that I ran out of time on it. It would be a great addition to my reference shelf, even with the obscene amount of copy errors it contains, because it resounds so deeply and truly in regard to story. Capital S Story, actually.

Given my lifelong immersion in Biblically sourced values, to include my perspectives on philosophy and religion, I came away from this book with a rather large exclamation mark over myself. Mr. Booker makes a case for the existence of seven basic plots, or archetypes of story, that define every book ever written, every fireside ghost tale ever told. But he also makes a case for these seven being types of each other, and gives examples of books that are exemplary of all of them at once.

Tolkein's Lord of the Rings is one fine example. While this work is monumental (and I would argue remains as a singular representative of the fantasy genre), there is another story that resounds as The Archetype of all History.

That, in my opinion, is the Gospel. The story of creation, the fall, the flood, the giving of the law of Moses, exiles, ongoing redemptions, prophets, priests, judges, kings, and the innocent babe born right into the poverty of the midst of all of it, that hearkened back to a time before time, and the plan of redemption that we can see from here near the end has been interwoven throughout all of it--stuns the imagination and challenges any denial of its veracity. It actually takes a lot more energy to deny the truth of the Gospel than to accept it as the simple truth it is.

To me, Booker's work on the archetypes of story is yet another witness to the Glory of God, among millions of others that, wittingly or not, have verified the truth of the Original Story. One of the most amazing parts of it is that 1) the story is ongoing, and 2) we are participants. And what else can be said? I am intensely warmed and encouraged by all of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ownership v. Access

Imagine this: for the same price, you can either buy one book (or attend one movie) or you can have access, for one or two or possibly even three months, to a collection that makes the legendary Library at Alexandria seem pointless. Which would you choose?

More and more people are choosing to pay for access rather than ownership. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are at the tip of the spear on this issue because they are central to what technology has made so ubiquitous now. I have a Netflix membership, for example, because ten bucks is far less than I would spend on buying movies I would like to see—never mind rentals and satellite or cable service. These may not be the latest greatest shows, but I also don’t have to try to explain anti-depression ads to my seven year old. For me, it’s a no brainer.

The same kinds of generally accepted “best practices” are being challenged in the world of books. What’s happening in publishing is akin to a reformation, really, and it’s all market-driven. The savvy authors and publishers are rising up, challenging the self-appointed Keepers of the Flame of Tradition (or whatever) and asking the question, “why does it still have to be done the old way?” This is like a guy standing up in church and asking why there’s this crazy dividing line between pastors and the “throng” when we’re all supposedly brothers. Such temerity is usually received with a gasp of shock.

The Big Six can be as shocked as they wanna be. What’s happening in media today is placing Power in the hands of the people, and the market is sorting out and rewarding appropriately those with the ability to handle it. What’s happening in publishing now is pretty much what happened in music in the age of Napster. Unfortunately for them, the powers that be are reacting in pretty much the same way; attempting to hold on to the conventional business model and in the process losing everything. All that will be left for those who want to “own” is the ultra-niche, like rare and antique books.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of a company that has embraced the access side of the access v ownership debate. It only makes sense that, rather than pay $25 for a hardcover book, people can buy eBook versions for their eReader for a fraction of that and carry their not inconsiderable library with them wherever they go. And by the way, did you know that Kindle can display most office docs too? Yeah, it’s pretty neat. What’s even neater is how, every once in a while, a secret gateway opens in the deep woods of life and maybe once a guy just happens to be standing right by it when it happens.

People like Aaron Patterson have been shouting about this for a long time now, and I’m joining the chorus. What’s weird is how so many people are so stuck in their ruts of strife that they’d rather stick with the familiarity of failure and rejection (authors? Do ya hear me?) than explore the possibilities. Oh well. More for me, I guess.

Chris is acquisitions editor for StoneHouse Ink and has co-written a thriller with Aaron Patterson entitled Airel. He has also started up the illustrated Jammy adventure series for kids. Check out his other blog and his Web site.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


It comes at the most inopportune moments, I find. Like last night.

First of all, my boys weren't sleeping well anyway. There must have been some kind of atmospheric anomaly (i.e. dad made chili for dinner or something). Anyway, I was up a couple of times at the rude hours, and finally around 5 AM I crashed into my bed again, only to be hounded by the most vivid mind-picture.

I know what happens in these circumstances. I say, "self, thou shalt remember this later," only to wake up and either disremember it completely or remember it enough to regret not writing it down. So I have to give in these days, and write this stuff down.

And dammit, my notebook was not at bedside where it should have been. When it is, I write in the dark the most disturbing sentence fragments in the worst hand. When at last I behold it in the light of day, I shiver. It looks like the handiwork of a madman.

In this case, I found a scrap of paper with crayonized illustrations by the hand of my two year old, reversed it, and stood by the light of the microwave oven in my kitchen with a pencil that I had found there and wrote the following:

  • peach-orange translucent fish flesh
  • someone else was speaking, telling the story he was seeing but he had no control of his own faculties; as if what was happening was theft.
The idea is that some monster, or some part of a monster, fits the first bullet point as it takes control, perhaps, of the character in question. The character can see the second bullet point, or perhaps the first, in his mind's eye, but he can do nothing about it--because the monster is inhabiting him to the point where his mouth is forming the words of the story without his permission. But there's a definite feeling of take going on here.

So where will I use it? Who knows. But at least I wrote it down.