August 30, 2013

Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:52 PM

"Lovecraft is a bad writer." Oh yeah?

Came across this wearisome recapitulation of the doctrinaire belittlement of Lovecraft as a "bad writer," a racist, etc. via Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Seeking to assess the "badness" of writing as a discrete quality unrelated to the ideas expressed or whatever cultural engagement with them that it instigates reflects an impoverished view of literature and art and is also quite easy to do with most writing, of any quality, if you have a mind to. There certainly are writers who produce gorgeous, flawlessly engineered sentences, and Lovecraft isn't one of those, particularly in the context of our modern/post-modern aesthetic. But beyond the mechanics of sentence building, I think in most cases people would agree that the "ideas" are part of the "writing." The style must be in service of something, and that something is really the meat of the thing.

I'd also take issue with the notion that the subsequent use of the Cthulhu mythos produced great works of art that are obviously superior to the stories that originally iterated it, by virtue of being freed from the burden being expressed in the awful writing of a racist. The author gives no examples, but I've read pretty much everything there is to read in this secondary and tertiary corpus and seen all the movies as far as I know and I can't think of one that works as well as the original stories. The ungainly, retrograde, mannered style is in fact part of why it works. It's a unique blend of pseudo-18th Century language filtered through Poe and 19th Century anthropology and the clichés and tropes of gothic/Romantic supernatural horror, all clashing with radical scientific materialism and a view of the universe as utterly uncaring and harsh (and a thousand other things that foster the effect, no doubt.) You may not like bits of the complex, or you may like none of it and find yourself wondering "why on earth isn't he Neil Gaiman?" and that's perfectly valid, but it is part of the "writing," whether you like it or not. What is writing, if not that?

Bottom line is, if you're critiquing style and writing by "staring at the shape of the text" and blanching when, from this distance, you see no dialogue: you're doing it wrong.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:30 PM

August 27, 2013

Bad Tabs

I'm sure many of you have noticed that the "tabs" (meaning chords, pretty much) that appear on the internet tend to be wildly inaccurate. So much is this the case that it strains credibility to imagine anyone with any familiarity with the actual song sincerely believing that these are the correct chords. I've noticed this when trying to remember how my own songs go from time to time (and finding the internet to be pretty much no use at all) and even more so when there's someone else's song I'm trying to learn. At least with my own songs I have a chance of remembering how they go in the end. You can learn a lot from trial and error, and that's how I wind up doing it, usually, but if I'm stumped on something, the internet tab-o-sphere is almost always no help whatsoever.

So the question arises, if the tab-o-sphere doesn't tell you the proper chords to a given song, what's it actually for?

Well, my theory, which is mine, that I have made, is that guitar instructors and the publishers of their how-to-play-the-guitar method books have deliberately flooded the internet with moronically inaccurate "tabs" in order to foster a sense of helplessness and despair among self-taught guitarists that will, they hope, spur these poor bastards to cave in and pay for the privilege of learning the True Secret Chords of the more difficult popular songs which are carefully guarded by the guild, for paying customers' eyes only. Now of course, the Guild can't prevent accurate chords from being published. But it can overwhelm them with the bad tabs, to the degree that wading through the muck and sifting the silt to try to find the rare accurate nuggets amid the vast mass of dummy slag is so painful and time consuming that very few will bother to try. If they're doing it to make money, say, by causing a revival of the sheet music industry, I fear they're in for a disappointment. But if their motive is simple malice, which I suspect it may be, a certain vengeful joy in the suffering of others for its own sake, then it seems as though they've done pretty well so far.

Now it occurs to me that this could be done with recorded music and books and any other "content" that people get for free when they can and are basically reluctant to pay for unless they have to. For instance, I could re-record "More than Toast" rewritten with terrible rhymes and an excruciatingly awful drum track and terrible vocals and flood it everywhere so that 99 times out of a hundred trying to download it would result in the bad version. (And I'm sure there are those who might listen to some of my recordings and wonder whether that's not what's been happening all along. I remain silent on that point.) Maybe it wouldn't actually spark sales, but it would annoy people, and really, that's what rock and roll is all about in the end, isn't it?

Or I could produce an edited version of King Dork where the jokes are all lame and make Tom Henderson this weepy, simpering guy whose dearest dream is to be popular and all he wants to do is win the dance competition and go to the prom, plus he likes the Doors. Or I could make the ending ambiguous and unresolved, answering none of the reader's questions about what actually happened in the story. Again, maybe it wouldn't boost sales necessarily. Nevertheless, the only way to know for sure that you had the real book would be to buy it, and even then you wouldn't really know. If nothing else it would cause confusion and suffering. We're writers. It's what we do.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:06 PM

August 14, 2013

Your Own Worst Enemy

Advice on doing revisions, among a great many other how-to-get-published tips from Delilah S. Dawson:

Don’t read it like it’s your precious perfect baby darling. Read it like it’s your worst enemy’s magnum opus and your job is to expose its every... flaw.
I think a lot of writers feel that way about their own stuff to begin with already. Or maybe it's just me? When I'm revising a manuscript I often catch myself thinking about how much I'd like to punch the guy who wrote it in the face, whoever it was.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:37 PM

August 05, 2013

Deja Vu all over Again

If someone publishes a book, some of the money from sales of the book should be paid to the author, right? Not so fast, say the commenters on this Atlantic article: paying authors has really gotten out of hand.


Q: "Harper Lee wrote one book and lives off the income from it. Do you think that's unjust in some way?"

A: "Yes."

It is remarkable how closely these discussions track the ones people were having when the music industry was in the midst of its eventual collapse.

(Not commenting on the study that is the subject of the article itself, though many of its assumptions seem highly dubious to me, as outlined but some dissenters in the comments.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:18 PM

David Mitchell on "Dating"

If I sound cynical about dating, it's because I've never really understood it. But then I was never introduced to it properly. At a formative age, nobody ever told me that it was something you were supposed to do if you fancied a girl: that you should invite her on some sort of pre-arranged social encounter and, in so doing, irretrievably and unilaterally betray your feelings. Obviously I'd seen dating depicted in films and stories – but the same could be said for dragons and talking badgers.
Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:38 PM

August 02, 2013

Sad but True



Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:09 PM

"It has to do with the order of chapters, doesn't it?"

So, as I've mentioned before, I'm always quite nervous when I see someone reading one of my books in public. I feel like I really shouldn't be there, or, alternately, like I really should say a few solemn inspiring words to commemorate the occasion. Usually, though, I just wind up pretending to read my phone till the moment passes.

The other day, however, I did wind up talking to the Andromeda Klein-reading girl on BART, because she recognized me from the book cover and approached me. It was her third time reading the book, she said, and she was convinced that there was a hidden, coded spell in the text, and was hoping for further clues. After the conversation, she informed me that I was "no help at all" and declined to let me take a photo for my AK gallery. But she was real nice about it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:56 PM

August 01, 2013