What Escapes Me

April 24th, 2012

A writer buddy of mine recently noted how his escapist pleasures as far as books were diametrically opposite from the person he was chatting with about it.

I’ve thought a lot about what for me makes good escapism, in pondering what types of stories work for me as an editor and what types don’t.  I get most all my escapism from the world.  Stuff in the setting that’s cool or neat or odd; quirky, awe-inspiring, or amazing to think about.

But when I’m reading or watching TV/movies even just for escapism, I still need some complexity to the character for it to hold my interest.  I need a character in an acute situation facing some struggle in a way that will move me, or a puzzle or mystery to that situation that will intrigue me.  Without that, I’m not entertained.

So is that truly “escapist”?  I don’t know.  If say “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” novella and movie, moves me by saying something profound about the human condition, is that “escapist”?  I think most people would say no. :)  For me it’s not whether the story is dark or the ending to that struggle is happy or not (in “Shawshank Redeption,” the ending is ambiguous, and I love hard-fought happy endings as much as I love ambiguous ones).  It’s a level of engagement that such complexity or mystery provides for me, without which I’m not entertained enough to escape.

Which may explain why Hollywood movies rarely ever work for me. :)

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Komet, and Impact

April 13th, 2012

Me163 Komet

That’s the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet in the Smithsonian Air & Space annex, snapped on a recent visit with a fellow writer and history buff.

The Komet was one of the late-war German “wonder weapons.” It was a revolutionary and amazing design–a liquid-fueled rocket plane. But it was utterly impractical–it flew so fast it couldn’t shoot other planes down. And it had zero impact on the war.

By contrast, many if not most American, British, and Soviet designs were dull and plain, yet were inimitably practical and had huge impacts on the war.

Maybe there’s an analogy for genre novels in there.  The huge impact seems to come from novels that might be dull and plain but are also inimitably practical.  And the revolutionary and sometimes impractical often has little impact.  And maybe ends up ogled in museums.

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A Thirsty Friday Duel

March 16th, 2012

For Friday, and in honor of my buddy Justin Howe sharing this thirsty link, I present to you “Serrated-Sword Man vs. the Mug Monster”:

Serrated-Sword Man vs. the Mug Monster

As you can see, Serrated-Sword Man, backed by an old BCS flyer, standing on the infirm footing of a page of short story notes, is battling his much larger foe, and the Mug Monster appears to have lost over half its vital fluids.

You don’t see that type of English pub mug often here in the States. The RAF blokes in that old advert have them. My folks got a bunch of them when we lived over there. My favorite American pub, the anglophile (and sadly departed) Wharf Rat, used them. I’ve had several sets going back fifteen years, and I use mine every day!

So I hope this one emerges unscathed from its mortal struggle.

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“Demo Love,” Rewrites, and First Draft Spark

March 14th, 2012

One of my music buddies years ago coined a neat term: “demo love.”

Sometimes the first version of a song you ever hear is not the original but some other band’s cover of it.  Then later you hear the original version, by the original artist.  But the cover version you heard first is so indelibly impressed on your mind that the original never sounds right.  Your lasting impression of that song is dominated by the other version that you heard first.

Sometimes for the better–Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” takes Dylan’s original to a new level. But sometimes for the worse (I pity all the kids in the late 80s who the first version of “Purple Haze” they ever heard was Winger’s cover…).

My buddy has a home studio and records lots of bands. He noticed this phenomenon with demo recordings.  Bands usually record a demo version of their songs first–to get the ideas on tape; to help plan their approach for when they record a real, fancy or polished version. That demo was the first version of those songs you ever heard, and sometimes it would stick so indelibly in your mind that you had “demo love”–you always liked the demo better, even compared to the later fancy polished recording.

I think there’s another reason that demo love happens, in both music and fiction.  First drafts often have some subconscious spark; some bit of raw inspiration or “quan” (cf. Jerry McGuire). There’s something very cool in there that’s more than the sum of the parts.

And sometimes when writers aren’t careful on a rewrite, that spark gets lost.

I see this happen in stories rewritten for BCS. One cause I think is writers rushing the rewrite. They spent months writing the story; then they spend thirty minutes on the rewrite.  The new insertions don’t have the same spark as the rest of the story–maybe they don’t match the story’s voice, or they’re inconsistent with the tone of the character, or any number of things.

Sometimes I see writers adding a lot of new stuff.  Bigger or longer changes to me means more risk of spoiling the original voice.

Another cause I think is writers not making a dedicated effort to match the voice that the previous draft has.  We writers often get into an odd “head space” when writing a story; a mental state colored not only by the character and the story but also by who we are on that day; what we’re thinking about or dealing with. I think it takes a deliberate effort to recapture that same “head space” when you’re making insertions into that story.

This is why I pretty much beg the writers I give rewrite requests to to take their time with the rewrite.  All the time they want.  However much time the story needs. And to make their changes or insertions as small as they can–the smallest possible tweak that will fix whatever the problem is. And to do all they can to match the same voice that the original had.

So for rewrites, demo love can be a good thing. To help you preserve whatever innate spark the demo had, that you (or the editor!) fell in love with.

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