Writing: Writer vs. Reader Opinions

I didn’t have a good title for this post, but I’ve tried 3 times to write something similar and it hasn’t worked yet, so we’re going with this title for the time being and maybe someday I can come up with something better (I’m open to ideas!)

The thing is, I’ve been reading books lately by male authors and I’m surprised by how much I am liking the female characters.  I’m reading a Brandon Sanderson book right now and damn if he doesn’t write females that I like.  And variety.  They aren’t all simpering male-hunters or just background or evil hags or… pick any of the stereotypes that plague female characters.

I also can’t help but see elements of discussions of race and equality in books lately.  I’m seeing political discussions that I’m not sure whether the author meant them or not.  Authoritarianism vs. independence, responsibilities of leaders to those they lead – I can’t tell if the art is reflecting my own thoughts or if the authors I’m reading are also picking up on the political climate of our world.

They say “art reflects life” but could my life be reflecting in art?  I don’t know.  But sometimes when I get hit by something that makes me go “did they reference Kapernick kneeling or am I imposing my own experience there?”  There have been multiple times in reading books that have come out in the last year or two I feel that way and it’s getting freaky.  I can’t decide if my brain is twisting or if society is filtering into these authors’ words.

Review: Pride & Prejudice

I love this book.  I have it in at least 3 different forms and always have it loaded on my table and/or phone.  It’s one of the rare books I keep around to pick up and put down regularly.

It isn’t a great love story.  Damn, I get mad about the women in the book and their manipulation and the toxic society they lived in that led to those machinations.  But it it is one my favorites nonetheless.  I love Jane, the sister who loves everyone and lives in her own idealized version of the world.  I love Charlotte, the ultimate pragmatist.  I even love Lydia, the sister who you love and dread.  And of course I love Elizabeth.  The woman who doesn’t want to compromise her ideals for pragmatism.  She wants love; even at the cost of fortune.  She isn’t willing to give into her society that says material wealth is the only option for her.

I would love to see the book where she never met (or at least never married) Darcy.  Maybe Darcy didn’t come with Bingley.  Maybe he went to his aunt’s and ended up getting married to Ms. DeBourgh.   Either way, Jane ends up with Bingley and Elizabeth ends up without Darcy.  What would she have become?

Anyway.  That’s a different story (pun!). What I want to discuss is actually the different TV & Movie versions.  I rewatched the Kiera Knighly (2005) recently and it just made me want to want the 1995 version (Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth).  I don’t think I will ever watch the 1940 version (Greer Garson) again but… “never say never.”  It might make a good girl’s night of drinking and roasting sometime.

The biggest reason I like the 1995 version best is the time they give to developing the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.  In both of the theater-length versions it’s very forced when he proposes.  It feels out of the blue.  It feels weird and unnatural. I don’t think it’s just that Colin Firth is a good actor, but it’s also because he and Elizabeth had some good scenes where it was clear his attraction was building and she was missing all the clues.

It is rare a book modifies well to the big screen (adult books, kid books are easier) simply because of length.  Much less first-person-perspective books.  Thankfully, P&P isn’t first-person, BUT… it is dense.  The book is dense.  There is little description.  There is a lot of assumption about scene.  Almost everything is done through conversation.  It’s hard to condense that into a 2-ish-hour box.

The Ehle/Firth version is six hours and they still had to condense a few scenes from the book.

Hell, Lord of the Rings was over 9 hours long and still cut a LOT of shit out – and anyone who has READ LOTR knows it’s like 1/3 scene description.  Tolkien happily spent pages on trees.  Not even the talking/walking trees.

Just my opinion, but can we officially stop trying to turn books into crappy short versions?  We see tv series is a better medium.  Let’s do it right.

Writing: I want to write a TV Show

I have been re-listening to Ready Player One – and it has made me go from “dislike” to “UGH THE WORST” on the movie.  I have moved my dial from “well, you can tell it was “inspired by” to “were they even trying?!?” And I know, they probably had a ton of difficulty getting rights to stuff (stupid copyright holders probably being greedy, selfish, bastards).

But part of the problem is containing that scale into a movie.  I have been tumbling through my Plex list of movies and IMDB to see if I can think of a single movie that gives a scale to the universe that RPO should have had and honestly, the closest I get is Star Wars IV A New Hope, but that is journey movie – they have 3 major locations (Tattoine, Death Star/Alderaan, and Yavin) and they are SO DIFFERENT it helps.  Now, it might also be that I grew up so entangled in all three of the orignal movies my mind immediately includes all that information when I watch the first one.  I won’t say I can 100% I disassociate from them.

The Pilot episode would definitely be about Wade getting to the Tomb.  Episode 2 would be getting through the tomb & end as Art3mis comes in with drawn blade.  Episode 3 would be like 1/2 chat with Art3mis.

It would have to be more than Wade.  In my TV show, there would be a side plot that develops pretty early in Season 1 (probably episode ~4-5) of 3 sixers who hate IOI.  One would be indentured. One would be the “disaffected rich kid” (daddy works for IOI) who can’t win anyway ’cause of Daddy.  The third…. I haven’t decided.  Maybe just a smart-but-truly-socially-inept young girl who got conned into it and only after the contract was signed understood the true cost?  Maybe starts out as a “true blue” and gets disaffected later?

Anyway, I would build out the world of sixers with a “sympathetic inside team.”  Their plot lines would revolve around seeking some of the high-profile artifacts that show up at the end game – like the tablet the sixers use to find the 2nd key.  These three would be the ones that found it/acquired it.  Instead of just “buying” all these at auctions – sixers need to keep their skills up and these three do… They hate IOI, but it’s “work or worse” for all of them.

They would also get to have “personal avatars” and I think one of them (maybe the third poorly defined character) would have a romantic relationship with H – at first hoping to use H to find shit out and then realized H is amazing and she can’t imagine not being in love with him (her). Kind of a truth to pansexuals of “I don’t care what your gender is – I love YOU” towards the end.  They would have to meet on the final battlefield and the poor sixer chick knows who H is but H doesn’t know it’s her…. oh it would be beautiful tension!

I understand that not all IP’s were willing to get in on a movie – but maybe if they could be a shown a script that shows the depth and beauty of how their specific IP will be loved and honored…

I know, I’m all kinds of adorably naive about greed and whatnot.  Maybe HBO will pick me up and buy the TV rights…. We know they can do special effects right!

Politics: Too many Boswells?

So some background here (and eventually I’ll explain the picture!): As I was writing my thoughts on Scalzi, I went looking for Dickens quotes and found (God I love Gutenberg) letters!  In one of them (I was searching keywords but this letter made me pause for context) I found this AMAZING line:

I can imagine a succession of Boswells bringing about a tremendous state of falsehood in society, and playing the very devil with confidence and friendship.

-Letter to John Foster Devonshire TerraceSaturday, April 22nd, 1848

Ooooooh…..

Do you know what a “Boswell” is?  It is a confidant who publishes your life.  The famous-ness of the phrase is probably retained from Sherlock Holmes calling Watson his “Boswell” because it was a term known in that age.  But Dickens wrote about it and wrote negatively.  Ok, again this was as I was thinking on Scalzi writing fiction as a commentary on my time… so I couldn’t help but have these two thoughts collide.

Dickens called the excessive use of biography as negative.  Competing biographies degrade trust in society.

There are over 7,000 books in that tower I have at the top of this post – and all of them are about Abe Lincoln. Oh, and in 2012, that was less than half the books that had been published regarding that president… Now granted, not every one of those books is a Boswell Biography (which is a style) BUT… BUT!

I have been mulling in my mind WHY.  This is probably the question that has founded more of my thinking than any other. And this quote (granted, you should read the full context) made me STOP.  Like full mental stop and connect two things (at least in my mind).

We have flooded the market with biographies and monographs on great people or perceived great people AND we have an issue in society where people pick and choose their “experts” based on… intuition?  There is an issue of trusting “experts” in society.  There is an issue of people cherry-picking data to confirm their own bias instead of seeking a truthful answer even if it proves them wrong.

I’m not saying competing biographies and new information can’t change the narrative we understand.  Just taking any information and then applying a lens of declassified information can drastically shift historical events.  But a lot of books are written by folks claiming to be “expert” in some way which compete with each other – and how do we know which ones to trust? And how do we determine who to give our confidence to?

Dickens was a smart man.  I think he might have been on to something.  I don’t want to silence (most) people, but… could this be exasperating some of the issues we have in our politics and social commentary?  This explosion in the past 30-50 years of “experts” without a way for the common person to vet them?

Not having a solution, I am mostly putting the question out there.  I will indubitably continue to mull on this one and look to other smart people to see if they say anything that sounds like a solution.  I don’t like the idea of “committees” who choose what we can read.  This removes any kind of certification board; academic panel; etc.  The closest is some kind of peer-review in terms of non-fiction books. And if it isn’t peer-reviewed, then we (society) can teach our children to read such books with deep suspicions.

I mean, I hope people know Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fiction but at this point… I can’t help but wonder if there are folks that either think he’s a fictional character (despite the like 15,000 non-fiction/semi-fiction that predates vampire hunting) or there are people who think he really was hunting supernatural creatures.  I’m not sure which makes me grieve more.

Musing: Book of my Time

This is not a review of Collapsing Empire (John Scalzi) because it’s the first of either two or three books – and I am chomping at the bit to be able to get #2.  I am actually really glad I waited to read it until now – if I had read it when it first came out I would have been soooo cranky. Ok, by read I do mean “listen to Wil Wheaton read it” and thoroughly enjoy his performance.

I have been musing over this book since last week – I woke up Saturday morning at 6am and found my mind turning over bits of it.  It is is the first time in my life I’ve read a book and thought “damn, if/when they read this in 100 years, what will they say of us?”

Let me clarify here.  John Scalzi has never considered himself a paragon of literature.  He has said (I am paraphrasing here) a thousand times he writes books he hopes entertains people.  He isn’t writing to make social commentary (again, as I understand from his blog) and he isn’t writing to change minds.

I wonder if Charles Dickens would have said the same thing.

I have been told in my entire academic career that Dickens was writing on purpose to change minds.  But I don’t remember ever seeing a quote from him saying this was his goal. HELL – he called A Christmas Carol “his little christmas book” and he just wanted that to make some money to pay the bills!  THAT I remember. I don’t think he was trying to pen the great novel it turned into.

Did he have a social conscious?  God yes. Clearly.  Do I think he was trying to spark social revolution with his novels? No.  I think he was writing those to entertain. I ran searches for keywords (society, poor, etc.) and he didn’t talk about these things in his correspondence.  The closest I found was a letter where he came to Virginia (1842!) and wrote about slavery.  (seriously, go here and read his letter to W. C. Macready in 1842!)

Interestingly, Dickens & Scalzi have something else in common.  Scalzi has written very openly about the difficulties he experienced growing up.  Dickens’ father went to debtors prison and at 12 Dickens had to go to work at a factory to support his family.  They both had some truly lucky breaks during their teens (Scalzi went to a great school, Dickens got a white-collar job – at the time a truly amazing break for a boy from a lower-income family).

I can’t help but wonder if Collapsing Empire might be one of those books kids read in school in 100+ years and talk about how Scalzi wrote it as a commentary (he says he didn’t!) on early 21st century society.  Some of the issues it touches on (gender, sexuality, stratified societies, greed & power, language…. God I don’t want know how many times “fuck” is used) are things that are just so real to me these days.

Whether intentional or not, the book does (in my opinion) touch on some of the mental/social fights we are having today.  It might just be Scalzi working through it in his own mind or reflecting his own dreams of how society could be into text.

I can’t wait to see the whole thing play out. I will have to read them again.  Hell, I might even buy some copies in paper-form that I’ll write in/mark up and do I truly in-depth review of them!  I haven’t done that since college…. mmmmm that sounds mentally yummy.

Review: Here, There be Dragons (James Owen)

This book is imperfect (I have critiques) but it is definitely on my list of “books I’ll recommend to someone.”  If that sounds like a contradiction – well, you can enjoy something that is imperfect despite it’s imperfections.

Here, There be Dragons is, at it’s core, a fun adventure novel.  I thought it was a little predictable, but it is a fun twist on the “fairy tale” genre.  It fits into the trend of re-examining the classic tales and/or referencing them without expecting them to be some kind of “TRUTH.”

I listened to this book, and the reader of the audiobook (James Langton) did a great job with the accents and character voices without making them take over the story. Especially in books where the author didn’t plan out audio (and so made sure to say “Said John.” type things) it helps for the narrator to have voices.

The biggest critique I have in this book is some (I suspect unintended) sexism.  There is one female character of note.  Oh, I think one of the 3-fates might be the most memorable but she had one scene versus the woman who was in the book the entire time.  I don’t think (or at least I’m going to assume it) James Owen meant to be sexist, I just think he assumed his primary audience would be young boys and they would want male protagonists.  There isn’t really a romance plot-line, which is more common in male-marketed fantasy (female-marketed fantasy is critiqued if they don’t have a romance plot…)

I DO like the way James Owen tackled myths and their interactions.  I like how he pointed out the “3 women controlling fate” has different names in different myths – and there similarities and differences and how they can be handled.

It is worth getting the end and seeing the twist he included.  I can’t say I “saw it coming” but I had been suspicious of something from pretty early in the book and when the twist happened I was able to think “Ha! I knew that thing I’d noticed couldn’t be an an accident!  THAT’S what he was doing with it.  Nice.”

It is absolutely worth the read, but it isn’t a book I would say “your kid needs to read this to grow up” (like I did with Alanna).  I don’t know that I would even say “it will make you think” – I don’t know that it would make an adult think (I kind of home not).  BUT, it was a fun romping adventure that made me want to find out how they’d reach the end.  It is one of the better “twisted fairy tale” stories I think I’ve seen lately and for that alone, I’d give it about a 3/5 stars.  Good, not brilliant.

Review: Bad Characters

Oh the irony that I got called out for “always liking the books I read” and then I read something awful.  Thanks universe. Thanks a lot. (Thanks OBAMA)

Without naming names, this book was pretty awful.  It’s the first of a trilogy and as much as I hate leaving a plot unfinished, I don’t think I want to drag myself through another 2 books with these characters.  They were terrible.

So the book is urban fantasy – low fantasy so most of the people aren’t “magical” and what magic there is tends to be brushed off and/or explainable.  And the concept of the story is engaging.  It’s the characters I have a problem with.

The main character is a sixteen year old girl with apparently no friends and not caring about it.  This is my primary beef with this book: what sixteen year old is happy when they have no friends?  Hell, any age could be (should be?) unhappy when they almost entirely isolated.  And yeah, she’s got her mom and the random women who live with her mom….

Ok, it helps to know her mom is a psychic – of course a real one.  The women who live with her are also psychic (real ones).  These women are basically the only relationships “Jane” (her name in the book is so terrible another character nicknames her Jane…) has. This caused me serious frustration in the book – there is this character who has lived in this tiny speck of a town her whole life, but apparently is friendless. I know I’m ranting.  The frustration this caused (in me) is that the character felt like she didn’t “exist” before this story.

The other primary characters, her love interest and his two friends were pretty similar.  Well, actually they had more backstory.  One of them was abused, one was a seventeen year old rich kid whose parents are loving but apparently don’t care about him (the one time the character met his parents they were decent people – but it’s like they don’t care if their son is literally just running around the world after a mythical legend….)

It was weird.  It was awful. I dragged myself through the first book and gratefully sent it back to the library.