Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.


Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.

The Strange 50s

History of modern literature

Image via Wikipedia

As in, the decade last century, not the period of life of which I have no experience.

It didn’t really occur to me but recently that I hadn’t read much literature from the 50s. Not like my literature classes covered modern works at all—or at least not those written after the thirties (because those are technically modern). And I haven’t exactly gone out of my way to look for novels or other works written in the 50s, mostly because I rarely go out of my way to look for any reading material, I just happen to be exceptionally good at picking anything/everything up.

Specifically I read a lot, and unlike many more disciplined readers, I don’t even have a favorite genre or subject. That’s a different issue.

Anyway, recently I’ve been introduced to two different works produced in the decade of the 1950s. The first is the play in which I ended up with a fairly significant role by some mysterious twist of face (re: they didn’t have enough people audition), and the second is the novel Thirty Days Hath September, by an author who may have lacked some longevity in history because her last name is Disney, and I’m pretty sure she’s not related to The Disney. But that’s the conspiracy theory; the truth may just be that there are lots and lots and lots of authors out there who produce a great many more books, and most have not had any kind of staying power—particularly those from the 50s. Now I’m just getting factitious.

And as soon as I typed Disney, the recommendations filter went “yay! a word used as tags!” or something, and showed me The Disney.

To find Thirty Days Hath September on I actually had to use both author names, who I don’t feel like looking up right now, because it’s just a 50s genre novel. Much like asking how easy it will be to find one of those random paperbacks in a dime store in fifty years. Yeah, not so much, even with the internet.

But back to The Curious Savage. In it, an old woman who is committed to an asylum by her three stepchildren, who are evil and crazy. And then we find out that she essentially stole all their inheritance, which was her money anyway. But she only kept the money to start a fund that would support “people with a desperate need to be foolish.” So that she could commemorate her husband. In the end, evil husbands lock their wives away after driving them crazy in the first place, but husbands who don’t (or are crazy themselves) earn the undying love of said helpmeets. As happens to Mrs. Savage, devoting your entire self, including desires and dreams, is completely fine until the husband dies, after which you devote everything to make sure he is remembered.

At least she did go out and act, since she couldn’t dye her hair blue when he was alive. (What can I say, the play is a little odd. As is the playwrite, but that’s another subject.)

Thirty Days Hath September has a great title and a moderately interesting and reasonably well-told plot. Genre-wise, it’s a mystery, and isn’t too bad—it’s full of gun shots in the night and fainting, screaming women and twins and dumping butter in the garden. Not to mention the crazy people (yes, more of them: were there just more crazy people in the 50s?) and the body under the seashells. But the narrator is a man who consistently refers to his wife as a girl (which you’d think would be disturbing) and though she has her own agency for the most part, she is still the good little woman. However, as part of this is from the narrator (who really is rather stupid) and both he and his wife come across as rather child-like, especially in comparison to the sheriff, who is very competent. They’re the summer people on a vacation island/resort area.

So both were rather problematic on several levels: you should have seen Tom’s (in Thirty Days) description of Jenny the murder victim and former career woman. But like I said, Disney’s work had a first-person narrator who wasn’t particularly clever in the first place, and for the most part all characters were given a chance to be developed. Yes, most of the women ended up weak or crazy (again) but Sally (Tom’s wife) ended up not too bad and had her own resolve, and the men weren’t any better off.

Sort of all rich people are stupid theme, come to think of it.

The Curious Savage is a little more problematic to me, mostly because of the beyond death devotion, and expectation of complete sublimation to the man. Of course, this is only what the characters say, and I really haven’t gone through and analyzed the text. In fact, I actually feel much better about my role when talking to two of the other actors who in real life serve counselor-type functions work-wise. But from all the notes left by the author, John Patrick just sounds rather pretentious anyway, so I’m probably right.

Isn’t that sound reasoning?