Thursday, January 26, 2012

Apocalypse How?

Years ago, in my high school astronomy class, my teacher (“Mrs. R-4-Short”) told us of an astronomical event called “the great convergence” that was occurring, where all 9 planets (yes, there were 9 of them then) of our solar system would be in perfect alignment. This was deemed by some to be a sign of impending doom, that our solar system and perhaps our universe would be destroyed. I took this as a sign to hold a party, indeed “the end of the world party.” The party happened, I had my first vodka drunk (no hangover, though), but the world kept on spinning.

And then there was Y2K. Yawn. We all seem to have survived that close call.

More recently there was Harold Camping. He predicted more than once in 2011 that the world would end. It didn’t. He recalculated, gave a new date. The world didn’t end. He tried again. Nope. We’re still here. I guess he must feel kinda silly about that.

But now, we are coming up on December 21, 2012.

According to the Mayans, who have never been known to lie, and were apparently always right about everything (thus the success of their empire) have predicted that the world will instead end on December 21st of this year.

Here’s a site that will fill you in on everything you need to know so you can start panicking now.

But—how will the world end? There is some debate about this, and no one seems to know for sure.

All I know is that stories about the end of the world are big entertainment. The first apocalyptic story I was exposed to was “Night of the Living Dead.” Then there was Godzilla, Mad Max and “I am Legend” and “The Stand” and even “The Road.” All stories about death, destruction and the waning of humankind. And I like them all. So much so that in my own two books (in progress) I am trying to kill the human race, or rather demons and vampires are. Good times, good times.

So will the world end in 2012? It seems about as likely as the last few attempts to kill us off noted above. BUT, if the world must end, you might as well have a say in it.

End of the World Survey Here

(I will post the results when I am able)

A suitable poem about world ending:

The Horses by Edwin Muir

My wish for you:
Live (and write) like the Mayan’s might be right. It's not that long until December.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Be a little dangerous

You have no idea how badly I want to be done with To Kill the Goddess.

And I'm close. So frakking close!

But there's still work to do.

I started working on the public beta draft of To Kill the Goddess shortly after the new year. I was feeling good. I had two solid drafts of Witness It (my new novella) completed and I was ready to kick some ass and take some names.

“This should be a breeze,” I thought. “I shouldn't need more than a day or two of fine editing per chapter and the whole thing should be done in a month or so.” And for the most part, I'm on track. I'm cruising through chapters, one after another, and then…

You see, here's my problem: my thought process is really methodical. That's great when we're talking about  down and dirty low level sentence structure changes and that sort of thing. It's demanding work, but it's also kind of like climbing a steep hill; you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Unfortunately, all that methodical logic only takes you so far. What do you do when the path disappears? What do you do when you come across a comment as vague and troubling as, “the argument these two characters is having feels wrong.”

Speaking very broadly, there are three basic tools that are writer needs. The first is to think logically. For example, event or action A leads to B, leads to C. The second is creative inspiration, coming up with those great ideas and twists that make for an engaging story. The third is the ability to blend the two, or maybe more appropriately, to develop the ability to sense which tool to employ at any given point in time.

My first impulse is to tackle a problem with logic. I want to reason my way out of everything. When I see “the argument between these two characters feels wrong” I immediately start looking within the argument to fix it, or to the section immediately preceding it, and when that fails I get frustrated. Part of the reason for that frustration is that I just want to be done with this book, but the greater and more important reason is that now I'm out of my comfort zone. Logic has failed me and I need to turn to that other tool, to creativity. I need a burst of inspiration to pull me out of the hole I've dug for myself.

Those situations are always a challenge for me because I have to go against my nature. I can't tackle the problem head-on. I have to free my thoughts from that rational part of my mind that wants to grab hold of and fix everything. I have to set aside expectation and want.

Because sometimes there is no straight path to the top of the hill. Because sometimes you have to let go and be … a little dangerous.

Friday, January 6, 2012

But Think of the Children!

I recently read a blog which featured artist Dave Devries’ The Monster Engine project, wherein he takes children’s original drawings of monsters, and paints them realistically. I think it’s really cool; the results are both surreal and somehow primal – and I think Devries taps into something basic about the way children think, and view the world, and translates it so we adults are transported back to a time when we were scared of what might be – what most likely was - under our beds.

According to the comment section, however, it seems there are a few parents who don’t feel the same way. These folks said that the project was cruel, dishonored the child’s vision, and two women stated that their children would be ‘devastated’ if someone ‘did that’ to their art. They accused him of twisting a sweet child’s sweet vision into something nightmarish.


Okay then, many other commentators commented – but… Devries is collaborating with the children. He isn’t asking them to draw a precious fwuffy bunny, and then turning it into a blood-soaked serial killer. He’s asking them to draw a monster.

No, no, the mommy brigade insisted. Twisted. Appalling. Heartbreaking for a child. The argument became so heated that the blog moderator eventually deleted some of the nastier digs, and shut down the comments section.

The whole thing got me thinking about children's and young adult literature, and what exactly is appropriate for children. And also, who is the best to judge?

First of all, I know that every child is different. One 8-year-old could be blithely watching Tales From the Darkside alone with the lights off, and the next could be unable to sit on the couch for a week after watching that one Muppet Show episode where the furniture starts eating people. (Yes, those are examples from the 70s and 80s, and yes, I was the latter kid.) Also, I know that a parent should be the person to choose what is appropriate for their child to read. No question. It’s their job. But I’d argue that authors, parents and, most importantly, children themselves all have different criteria about ‘what is appropriate.’

Of course, the question of appropriateness is not limited only to how scary a thing is. There’s sexual content, violence, adult themes, religious philosophies, even language and humor. The big question on all fronts is, “Is the child ready?”

I am not a parent. Barring some bizarre and/or tragic happenstance (knock on wood), I will never be a parent. One of the first times in my life I was awed by the protective instincts of a parent was at my friend Dan’s house. He was having a party in the back yard, grilling out. There was a gaggle of children tearing about the place. I was sitting on the deck, in a lawn chair, the hot charcoal grill a mere 6 feet or so in front of me. I was watching as a little girl, at that age where she had just started to walk, suddenly started careening, hands out, toward the grill. Dan, who was not the father of the girl, but who is a parent, was in a conversation all the way on the other side of the lawn, not directly facing the girl and her imminent charring. I don’t know how he did it, but Dan was over there, the girl’s wrists clasped firmly in his hands, stopping her short, before I had even managed to completely rise from my chair. Don’t be too horrified; I would have reached her in time. It’s just that Dan, distracted, and way farther away, nevertheless got there first. He had the advantage of finely-honed daddy instincts.

The protective instinct is so innate; it’s really a wonder to behold sometimes. Sometimes, however, it gets in the way of reality. Or, more specifically, manners.

My friend Shannon was on a plane, sitting in the window seat, and like any good Midwesterner, she didn’t want to disturb her neighbors, so she waited until she really had to pee before she climbed over them to go to the bathroom. When she got to the back of the plane, dancing from foot to foot, there was a line. As she was waiting, a mother and her approximately 7-year-old child got in line behind her. The door opened; it was Shannon’s turn, but the little girl walked in front of her and started to go into the bathroom. Shannon said, “I’m sorry, honey, I think it’s my turn.” The mother, in a loud, indignant tone of voice exclaimed, “She’s just a CHILD!” Shannon, not to be daunted, crouched down in front of the little girl and asked, “Sweetie? Do you need to go really bad?” “No,” said the girl, shrugging. “Then do you mind if I go first?” “No,” said the little girl, smiling. Shannon walked into the bathroom. The mother huffed and glared.

Okay, so. No parent I know would ever behave in such a way. The woman was rude. But it’s a good, albeit extreme example of that protective instinct gone bad. It’s a miracle that the little girl, despite her mannerless mom, didn’t behave like an entitled asshole – or at least a coddled little baby chick. In truth, she had more on the ball than even her mother cared to notice. Which I think is true for many young readers, as well.
I’ve heard the “She’s just a CHILD” argument applied to children’s lit, too. How dare they market this to children, how dare they put this in that section of the store, how dare they carry this at a school! When it comes to what parents want their own children to read: fine. When it comes to institutionalized ‘protection’ of children to exposure to ‘harmful’ works (I’ll stop air quoting now), that’s when we authors, avid readers, aunts, uncles, and erstwhile children get uppity – along with every savvy parent out there.

I sometimes wonder if people who never have children somehow remember more accurately what it was like to be one. No, we’re not necessarily exposed to kids every day, but then again, our memories of childhood are not filtered through the parental lens. My friend Rhoda, for instance, a mother, had to stop reading Philip Pullman’s children’s lit book, The Golden Compass, because it featured the kidnapping and torture of children. I knew Rhoda as a child, and I can guarantee she would have loved the book then. Likewise, she would have devoured it greedily at any point as an adult, before she had become a parent.

Childhood reading experiences are fundamental in the development of language, humor, imagination and knowledge of the world. I may have been terrified of Muppet ottomans (ottomen?) as a child, but I could take most anything in book form. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at 11, and the Thomas Covenant books when I was 13. War, rape, torture, sex, death, cruelty… I distinctly remember my wide-eyed fascination, reading ‘beyond my level,’ stretching my understanding… what I don’t remember is being traumatized. I read books at a time when I only had one digit in my age, books about terrorists, murderers, kidnapping, obsessive love and abuse. Sure, I also read about magic and friendship, kindness, beauty and true love. But I think I understood the good things all the better for the bad. Protecting children from books containing big ideas and big evil seems backwards… after all, what gentler way to introduce a person to the big bad world then through fiction?