Posts Tagged ‘Hints’

The broader issue of the recent sexual abuse/harassment revelations is the depravity of the media based celebrity machine. Louie CK would never have been in a position to behave the way he did if not for the perceived authority attached to fame and media success. This is the biggest lie of the cult of celebrity. Entertainers, while a lot more fun than your average motorcycle mechanic or fast food delivery driver, are actually less important. This goes for the producers, editors, writers (Ugh! They got me, Joe) and technicians in movies and television as well. Actors like Spacey, producers like Weinstein, they are instrumental in providing a product you may like or pass on. But they aren’t important. Their failures, however criminal, don’t matter directly to you and yours, unless you are a victim or concerned with the very real problem of predatory sexuality. We all should be. And we all should do our part to change the social environment so that the victim is free and even comfortable telling.

The problem is the Baby Boomers have gotten increasingly paranoid and they’ve shared that paranoia with the Millennials. Every new violent crime, immediately brings out the [x] Broadcasting Company, or the [y] News Network to open the big top and pedantically call the play by play like some OCD sportscaster. “Okay, let’s go to Jimmy Joe who’s watching from the police barricade. Tell me Jimmy is the suspect wearing paisley with stripes? That looks like stripes. Did you know that Paisleys are made int the shape of the perimeter of the Himalayas?–”

This is followed by an endless cry for tighter laws governing every spoken word, meal item, clothing choice, etc. of the private citizen. Every move is strategically placed to further limit individuality, choice and privacy guaranteed by the US Constitution. From Louie CK to Civil Liberty? Really? Well, yeah. If louie had done the same thing in a protest against organized religion, guns, Donald Trump–staged on the White House lawn–the same people crying “foul unclean, go thee to perdition” would be celebrating his brave act of conscience in pursuit of PC values. The media would not be concerned with the collateral damage to young impressionable minds of children or young women. Why? Because as a celebrity, he would be perceived as having some authority on issues social and political.

This is the heart of it. If Weinstein were just an employer, a choice among many, women would have felt free to avoid his casting couch–and report to man for sexual harassment or rape. But as celebrities they had to protect public opinion about their private life. A Rumor of misconduct by those women, would have lead to an end of career. “A few phone calls,” and they’d “never work in Hollywood again.”

Why should an actors private sexuality, criminal misconduct, political opinions, religious affiliations, etc. matter one whit. They really aren’t stars. They are artists and craftspeople. They make a product you like buying. Nothing more. But nothing less. If a factory worker can’t get a job because he spent time in prison as a young adult, we say poor man. It becomes and Hallmark movie about human triumph, and we get Spacey to play the poor unfortunate. If a young girl struggling with too much celebrity and a total lack of privacy, shoplifts to self-medicate we crucify her and relegate her to years without work, until we forget and move on to the next victim.

The star system is nothing more than a particularly successful marketing scheme. It’s like fast food games and giveaway, BOGO, get your free gift with purchase, over a billion served. If it’s kept in propotion it serves its purpose. But when it creates a standard for vetting employees it is a problem. When that trend spreads and corporations begin vetting employees based on their social media, background checks, and an invasion of privacy worse than Big Brother, it is a threat to peace and security and needs to be put on hiatus.

When a young man has to wait 15 years to report a sexual assault by a drunken coworker, because he will be seen as a troublemaker and his career ended, due to his attackers Star status on broadway– When a writer finds it difficult to be published, not because of his skill with the elements of story and plot, but because he falls in the wrong canine classification– When a rising actress and comedienne can’t complain about a drunken lout masturbating in front of her because he thinks her discomfort is comedic–It’s not time for stars to fall, its time to take down the black velvet curtain.

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Dodging the Coffee Clutch

Author: Fred Grenvile

Yesterday, I was at The Coffee Place, or the coffee place, depending on my mood. I laid my burdens on the big black, enameled table and ordered a cafe’ au lait, with my usual swagger. The coffee came, I took my seat, and unpacked my little mobile office. I ride a gas powered scooter (Chinese made 150cc gy-7 with 16″ rims), so I’ve learned to travel with a courier’s bag and a computer case smaller than most purses. But, out of these, I can soon fill a large desk with pages of manuscript and electronics.

Sadly, I had covered the large table and, realizing I was being bad neighborly, I asked the woman at the next table if I might have the empty chair next to her, to pile on some of my stuff and clear room for others to share. She had her purse perched in the chair, in just the same way, but, after an awkward negotiation where I declined the chair and she pushed, I finally stacked my courier bag and helmet in the chair, and cleared the table, except for my netbook and my computer case (the little one).

Thus situated, I decided to check my Skype, before getting down to work. A friend had shared this story, about a four-year-old, Mini, and her precocious imagination, and the embarrassment it caused her mother. The story was funny, and touching, and a quirky commentary on the paranoid, judgmental culture, that is America today (or when Mini was four). When we got to the part where Mini was explaining proper water-ride etiquette to her exhausted mother, I burst out in laughter.

It was spontaneous, but the septuagenarian at the table next to me jumped nearly out of her seat. Apparently, she’d been watching me and paying an inordinate amount of attention to what I was doing. Rather a funny coincidence, given the story I was reading.

Since I’d disturbed her, asking for the chair and again with my laugh, I decided to give a short, very short, explanation of the conversation tween Mini and her mom. I was quite terse, but hit the high points regarding infectious water and water ride etiquette, (you really should read it). That done, I said, “Well, I best get back to my writing.”

Okay, technically, I was reading. But I was nearly finished with the entry, and about to move on to writing. I had a short story to finish–about a mysterious traveler forced by local bandits and an ignorant police inspector to investigate a murder he is illegally charged with. With the aid of an array of anachronistic inventions–you get the picture. But now I was stuck in one of those conversations.

Ah, yes. Those conversations. They are a pitfall of the coffee house. The large number of aging boomers and homeless who congregate as the coffee house have a tendency toward garrulousness that approaches the level of social disorder. They are a real impediment at times. It’s very hard to write bout faeries and steam powered interstellar craft, when the guy next to you won’t stop regaling you with the details of his motion for conservatorship over his father, or her forbidden love with a Mexican celebrity who she must watch from afar using Google Satellite images of his villa in Yucatan.

In this case, it was the movie she’d seen with her son. How disgusting! It was one of those juvenile romps where an adult who should know better, goes out and acts like a teen-ager on break in Cancun in the eighties. Of course there was the obligatory, unwanted insinuation we should go see a movie together. I listened politely, making concerned noises and even sharing a quick anecdote from my own life, to show my basal concern for her as a person, before excusing myself and getting back to writing. Remember that? It’s the reason I’m even at The Coffee Place.

That’s when things took a decidedly distasteful turn. In the course of the movie discussions, Siskel and Ebert came up. Of course, she felt the need to stress the tragedy of Roger Ebert’s disfiguring cancer. I pointed out that Gene Siskel had been a bit of a healthnick, and still died far earlier than Ebert. Rather than allowing me to return to my computer, she continued talking as if I had simply made a bad joke. Now, she began to try and get personal information about me. I tried to be polite, but I did, again, remind her I was there to work. She quizzed me about my computer, tried to drag me into a critique of the ethics of dumping beta tech on an unsuspecting buyer at Fry’s, and used colonoscopy recommendations as a means to try and get me to tell her my age.

Mind you, it never occurred to her to simply ask for the information she wanted, or to have an frank conversation. She was too busy playing at pushing to get anywhere with me, and her lack of subtlety only made it worse. Bearing in mind I’m a heterosexual, I’ve been hit on by both men and women. Not that I’m a George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but it happens. This is the first time, however, I’ve ever encountered:”Have you had a colonoscopy yet, they say every man should have one at fifty,” as a pick-up line. My advice don’t use it.

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Critical Reason

Author: Fred Grenvile

As most authors must at some point or another, I have involved myself with reading circles. You can probably imagine, if you haven’t been through this personally, it is a best a mixed bag. Authors are artists first and craftsmen second and that means egoism is unavoidable. The obvious form of ego is defensiveness toward the work, though some authors scruple so stridently that they seem nearly masochistic in their desire to find negative criticism. This is partly because no one wants to be made a fool of. In other words, when your hair is mussed, you expect a concerned friend to tell you before letting you go out in public.

If you want to help, there is nothing more helpful than honestly pointing out poor habits and writing flaws, and explaining them clearly. Vague statements like, “you need to tighten it up,” are not only unhelpful, they generally disguise one of the following failures in critique. If you’ve been honest and found a real issue that is not actually a failure in your own critique, you’ll be ready to give concise examples of specific errors and suggestions on how to improve them.

Similarly, one would hope that a writer you’ve built a relationship with would have the compassion to honestly tell you when and how you have blundered in your own work. But the bugs-in-your-teeth, stoicist nightmare where all you hear are attacks and negative comments, is just as bad. If you allow yourself to be drawn in, the predatory instincts of those negative writers will distort your vision and your voice. Give them enough opportunity and they will try to make you and your work conform to their own images. When there are several, this can make for a very bad mess.

The answer is to make yourself a good critic and surround yourself with good critics. I know. The “C” word. It’s the filthiest word in the writer’s vocabulary. How much worse can you insult a fellow author than to call him or her a critic? But it remains the only salvation of the Writer’s Circle. The only way you can be sure to avoid the opportunity to harm or be harmed by the “writer’s circle” is to learn some basic rules of good criticism.

Now. I don’t propose teaching a course in Philology and Hermeneutics, but here are some critical don’ts to establish in your circle:

  • Poor Reading

It might not be intuitive, but not everyone who appreciates great books is observant or patient enough to comprehend what they read. I don’t know at the times I’ve shared a piece with a fellow writer in hopes of getting some insight or tip on how to improve it, only to find that I can’t recognize any part of the critique. For all intents and purposes they have read a piece that I never provided to them.

Such critiques, even if favorable, are insulting. As a caveat I’ll concede that agents and acquisitions editors do break a lot of the reading rules. That’s because most are inundated with a stream of hopeful writers, all of whom want to be the one chosen. They have to trim the stack so that they are only seriously considering a limited number of final choices. At that point, failing to read well would be dereliction and would cost them money and probably leave them jobless.

In a speech course in college I had a professor who suggested that you thank the audience for coming before hand. After you’ve spoken you wait for applause (or rotten eggs) but you never thank the audience because you have just provided them with a service. You’ve spoken for them and, whether they enjoy and appreciate it or not, you’ve given them something, it’s improper to thank them for listening. When you provide a work to a peer to read, you thank them for agreeing to read it before hand. After the fact you’ve done them the honor of allowing them to read it, if they can’t be bothered to actually do the reading, and do it well, then they’ve failed you and themselves.

  • Blinding forestructure

We all come with baggage. For a writer this is gold. You can draw on your own experiences and perspectives to flesh out your characters. Only a little bit of synthesis can turn that childhood haircutting faux pas into an insight into the tortured psyche of a werewolf with a heart of gold.

When reading for pleasure, that forestructure of memories and ideas helps to shape our choices and helps us to identify with characters and situations. But that is a double edged sword. The same baggage that makes reading and writing a rich experience, colors our perspective and prejudices our analysis. The good critic has to be able to set aside personal forestructure and read objectively. This is tricky because too much objectivity makes Joan a dull girl. There is a balance to be maintained. Allowing our forestructure to inform our reading, while recognizing our own preconceptions, is central to good critique.

  • Skimming

One of the most common types of bad reading is skimming. Students learn to do this, some even call it speed reading. Realistically it’s nothing more than laziness. Some claim “comprehension levels” with high percentages and justify it as a superior method of reading. However the speedy delivery does little for most readers and while they may retain an impression of the content, the details will be blurred at best and, in most readers, they’re just wrong. Real learning and effective critique is completely dependent on a steady, careful digestion of the material. If fact, I recommend rereading several times. Now if you initially skim, that may work, so long as you don’t rely on that for critique.

  • Quitting

Finish the work. I don’t care if it is the most trite and boring drivel, or if it offends you to the core. There is no good excuse for critiquing a work that you haven’t carefully read all way through. There may be some material that so boring, offensive or poorly written to your sensibilities that you simply cannot read it. That’s fair, if your certain you’ve given it a fair shake considering the previous issues. Your only option to finishing is to quit and explain that fact to your fellow author. Another reason you may not finish is distraction or overwork. Maybe you feel you have too little time. Whatever your reason for not finishing the work, DO NOT CRITIQUE. It’s fair to explain the content that offended you and why. Be honest. But don’t assume that your partial reading gives you any room to critique the work as a whole. For all you know the plot turns and the elements you found distasteful become the core for a very strong and appealing argument of your own view of the material.

  • Anachronism

After poor reading the next most common problem is anachronism. This is a variation of the basic theme of blinding forestructure, but it qualifies as a discrete issue because even otherwise careful and conscientious readers fall prey to it. We start to learn about what is real and observable by the age of three. Between three and nine most people learn the fundamental perspective that will shape the remainder of their lives. The whole nature versus nurture and early socialization bug-aboo comes back to bite in the most awkward times. It’s only to be expected that it would affect the reader by causing them to interpret the believability of a story element in terms of one’s “real life” experience. This is death to the critic. A part of fiction is the need to seduce the reader into accepting the character’s preconceptions in place of their own.

For a medieval fantasy character, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that the supernatural is all around. A devout religious person in Europe, would still leave a saucer of milk on the back porch, “for the fae folk.” The large number of fat stray cats was entirely unrelated to the fact that the fairies drained every drop during the night.

If a reader can’t get past her own culturally bound view that belief in fairies is silly, that reader is useless to you. This principal usually crops up in less obvious places: clothing styles, sexual moires, religious experiences, common household tasks, political correctness, etc. A great example is the banning and revision of Samuel Clemmons’ (Mark Twain’s) Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Two works whose entire purpose was to enlighten and teach racial tolerance and progressive ideals, have been butchered and history has been perverted to serve the purposes of extremists.

  • Narcisism

By far the worst negative feedback error, is being so self absorbed that you spend a large chunk of your critique allowing your own voice or person to be the focus. You’ve agreed to help someone else to perfect themselves, to improve as a writer and critic. That never means making them over in your own image. That never means being derogatory or snide.

  • Mistaking your personal preferences for quality standards

Every author has his or her own voice. Perhaps you dislike the flow and play of a given author’s work. You probably aren’t the best critic if every time an author you are reviewing says something, you feel the need to change the word order and rewrite. Now that rule could be taken to extreme. I’m not saying you shouldn’t point out bad writing. There are commonly accepted standards for bad writing, these include but aren’t limited to: excessive use of passive voice (the gun doesn’t get picked up, the villain picks up the gun), bad grammar, excessive misspelling and typos, lack of punctuation, run-ons, inappropriately florid prose (where it doesn’t fit the tone of the subject or setting), unrealistic dialog, and too many more to fit here. Really, covering them all would require an undergrad program in lit. 😛 But we know them or learn them quickly enough. But when you go beyond the common standards by applying personal preference, pet peeves or trendy conventions as a standard of quality, you’re too narrow minded and incompetent to be an effective critic. It’s a fine balance and one that has to be learned by experience. It can’t be taught wholesale.

The other main way personal taste can adversely affect the quality of criticism is by comparing this author’s vision to another author who dealt with the same subject. The temptation to do so is palpable. But just don’t do it. Using other authors as exemplar models is fine and it’s probably the best way to teach. But it’s one thing to find an author with a similar concept and style and use that  to demonstrate ways of improving. It’s quite another to compare to an author’s work with that of a completely dissimilar author who happens to have written your favorite treatment of the same subject. The second is just sniping. Never tell your subject that he or she has failed to handle the subject well simply because of a different approach to the same subject. Morte’ d’Artur is often held as the standard of Arthurian Romance. This doesn’t entitle you to tell the author of an YA about Arthur that she’s done poorly simply because she doesn’t focus on the sexual tension and murderous jealousies that tore Camelot in shreds, and doesn’t use Hoc Seil Latin of the French court as her chosen dialect. Understand that a new perspective on a work is not the same as the tawdry “revisioning” so rampant in Hollywood film.

Again, there are cases where the new perspective is tawdry or just bad. It’s a matter of practice and judgment to discover where that line falls and to identify where personal prejudice lies. You’ll have a much harder time seeing narcissism in your critique than other readers. The only other reader to that is likely to be as blind to your failure as a critic is your subject author. If that author lacks criticism as a skill, he or she may be so crushed and discouraged as to quit. You may have eliminated competition but you’ve helped no one, especially not yourself.

  • Talking about yourself rather than the piece.

By far the worst error, is being so self absorbed that you spend a large chunk of text talking about yourself, and your own experiences rather than the work you are critiquing. The author who has entrusted his work with you doesn’t need to hear about the other books you’ve read and loved. He doesn’t need to hear about your skill levels. He doesn’t need to hear how you are more honest, responsible and knowledgeable at critique. Get yourself out of the picture so you can see objectively enough to help the other author improve his work. That’s the only way you’ll deserve the same from him.

  • Ethnocentrism

You and the family, community, nation, federation, even continent you live on are not the center of the universe or the literary world. You must be capable of allowing alien environments in novels to be alien. That means your cultural and moral standards do not apply to the characters. You are allowed to disapprove of the characters, of their choices, even their society. That’s part of what novels, and speculative fiction even more so, are intended for. They let you explore your feelings and reactions to things you are not likely to see in your own environment, or consider feelings about elements of your environment in an objective manner. Granted, sometimes an author is using a scoop shovel where a teaspoon is needed and that “over the top” style needs, in many cases, to be reigned in to make a story work. But sometimes splashy, in your face, confrontation is needed to make the point and build a thought provoking and entertaining story. Ask yourself if your reaction is really in proportion to the elements that offend your sensibilities.

  • Personal Offense

At some point you will be offended. An author will write something that is just so offensive you cannot avoid reacting negatively. For some, a novel portraying US soldiers conducting a pogrom against Native Americans, or National Socialists running a concentration camp would be difficult. If the men acting in this way were then portrayed in a positive light, it would be offensive. There are other hot button topics that many others would react to as violently.

What’s the answer? Give a review explaining how unrealistic and stupid the novel is? Hardly. Nazis and 19’th century US Army personnel were family men and had private lives filled with loved ones and sentimental, even sympathetic themes. You may know that intellectually, but may still be deeply offended, because history shows they were also monsters. The answer is to inform the subject that those elements are offensive in a deeply personal way and you are not capable of reviewing the work. That’s the end of it. Even if the subject begs, you should never do more than explain why you took offense and how the tone would have to change for you to be able to accept it. This must never be couched in terms of “the story is bad because” and “you must do this to make it better”. Offense distorts reason. You can’t honestly know if the novel is bad, you aren’t qualified to review it.

  • Spare Feelings

I’ve dealt the major negative reactions that kill a critique, but the worst overall flaw is the false positive. As I said initially, an honest critique with negative responses is like saving a friend from humiliation. You don’t let a friend leave the house with bed-head or mismatched shoes. You also mustn’t set someone up for failure by looking for all the nice things you can say. If there really is nothing good you can say you should say so, and explain why. If you actually can find nothing that needs improvement you should say that too, but the likelihood is that you aren’t being honest with yourself or your subject. Honesty is the greatest kindness. Honesty in reading, honesty in analysis, honesty in personal preference and reactions — these are important to keep you from discouraging the subject unfairly. But it is just as bad to unfairly encourage them, while setting them up for failure and embarrassment. If you are positively impressed by the work, and you have been honest in critique, you’ll be able to offer concise examples and encouragement.

As most authors must at some point or another, I have involved myself with reading circles. You can probably imagine, if you haven’t been through this personally, it is a best a mixed bag. Authors are artists first and craftsmen second and that means egoism is unavoidable. The obvious form of ego is defensiveness toward the work, though some authors scruple so stridently that they seem nearly masochistic in their desire to find negative criticism. This is partly because no one wants to be made a fool of. In other words, when your hair is mussed, you expect a concerned friend to tell you before letting you go out in public.

If you want to help, there is nothing more helpful than honestly pointing out poor habits and writing flaws, and explaining them clearly. Vague statements like, “you need to tighten it up,” are not only unhelpful, they generally disguise one of the following failures in critique. If you’ve been honest and found a real issue that is not actually a failure in your own critique, you’ll be ready to give concise examples of specific errors and suggestions on how to improve them.

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