awful alliteration alienates all

Sean Penn wrote a book. By all accounts, it lingers awkwardly between over-ambitious and flat-out dreadful.

A couple of excerpts (via Huffington Post):

Whenever he felt these collisions of incubus and succubus, he punched his way out of the proletariat with the purposeful inputting of covert codes, thereby drawing distraction through Scottsdale deployments, dodging the ambush of innocents astray, evading the viscount vogue of Viagratic assaults on virtual vaginas, or worse, falling passively into prosaic pastimes.” ― page 36

“While the privileged patronize this pickle as epithet to the epigenetic inequality of equals, Bob smells a cyber-assisted assault emboldened by right-brain Hollywood narcissists.” ― page 99

Now, I applaud anyone with the creativity and tenacity to write a book. As we all know, many begin but few finish. And to do so as a celebrity, heightening the attention and, perhaps, the vitriol, takes definite courage.

So I’m not going to slam Mr. Penn. Despite the accidental horror found between the pages of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, he’s not the problem.

What I find interesting is what this predictable misstep says about the Big Five Publishing Houses. (Or is it Big Four now? Big Three? I forget.)

First of all, the bar for what they publish – when celebrities are involved but more and more just generally – is increasingly low. Almost nonexistent. If you have a bold-faced name and something of a Following – or write in certain one-click-heavy genres – they’ll apparently pay you a generous advance and then print whatever you turn in.

They shouldn’t.

Secondly, I’m now convinced the Big Houses no longer employ editors. Period. Of any kind. In fact, I suspect the Big Houses are assigning what meager editing duties there are – spelling? punctuation? – to their first-year college interns who, themselves, struggle with the basics when it comes to putting pen to page. How else to explain the consistent disasters I find in those few – and fewer and fewer nowadays – Big House books I read?

Now, those two alone are annoying. But this is why those two combined really worry me: writers will begin to believe that bad, horrible, terrible writing is the way to get published. That the shyte they read on the page is somehow “good.”

Young writers – hell, writers of any age! – will forget what makes a great book great and a breathtaking sentence breathtaking.

We’ve already seen this in the romance genre with its endless avalanche of breathless, poorly-written e.l.james-wannabes. And now, with Mr. Penn’s overwritten opus, there’s a strong chance people out there will think THIS is how to write. Heck, even Salman Rushdie gave it a blurb (he claimed Thomas Pynchon would love it) and Sarah Silverman compared it to both Mark Twain AND e.e. cummings!

See the problem here?

Because the Big Houses have placed profit above quality, writers in search of inspiration and readers seeking a great story are inundated with consistent examples of what NOT to do. We are buried under bad sentences and atrocious grammar. An almost careless misuse of words – per Penn’s “an elderly neighbor sits centurion on his porch watching Bob with surreptitious soupçon” (note: that’s not even close to being a wise use of “soupçon”) – and what feels like a wholesale abandonment of cohesive narrative.

The awful has become normal.

So, it’s not just Sean Penn’s overwrought disaster of a debut novel. Like I said before, he’s not the problem. The problem is an industry that has the bar set so low that it’s forgotten what good writing, believable characters and a great story are. The problem is an industry that has, I suspect, lost any sense of pride about what lands on the shelf stamped with their name.

And it’s readers who’ve come to not only expect the worst but who support, encourage and applaud it with sales and pithy Five Star reviews.

So, where does this leave writers who can actually write? Who work hard creating stories with an emotional arc? Who wince when they’ve stumbled onto a bad sentence and immediately self-edit it out of existence? Who people their pages with characters who feel real, sound real and, for all you know, could be real because they leap off the page with such sincerity and force?

It leaves us with small, independent publishing houses who care about what they publish. Who aren’t burdened with the massive umbrella of being a corporation and, because of this, know that a few sloppy books could mean the end of them (something the majors apparently don’t consider anymore). Who take a personal interest in their authors, knowing, if their authors feel cherished, their work will reflect that.

It leaves us realizing that the name of a Big House emblazoned on a book no longer guarantees quality.

Read that again:

The name of a Big House emblazoned on a book no longer guarantees quality.

And, knowing that, seeking out those writers – regardless how they’re published – who know what they’re doing. And then supporting, encouraging and applauding their work with sales and sincere, heartfelt reviews.

It means we need to take responsibility for what we read. If it sucks, put it down. Return it. Get a refund. Demand better. And leave a review that calls out what you felt was wrong with it. Will that change anything? Probably not. Or at least not anytime soon.

But if enough people start demanding better and taking their business to those who care about creating great books, at some point the Big Houses will have to change.

And perhaps then we can get back to reading fantastic writing and leave the Bob Honeys of the world in the dust bin of literary history.

 

Advertisements

Fisting Immortality

I’ve decided Martuk needs to do more fisting.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for weeks, nay months, actually, but after watching the sudden and quite unexpected success of the obscure author E.L. James (Google her) newest book in her very difficult to find Fifty Shades of Baby Got Back series (is that what it’s called? I think that’s what it’s called), I think it’s time to take a deep breath, find my quiet space, remember my Safe Word, relax everything and just let it happen. Just allow the Writer in me to open up to Martuk and the rest of his merry Martuk … the Holy crew fisting things.

For instance, E.L. James writes:

“He grabs me suddenly and yanks me up against him, one hand at my back holding me to him and the other fisting in my hair.

So, with that in mind, in the pivotal scene between Martuk and The Elder (before the sacrifice and the demons and the bloodshed) in the first book, what had read:

“He took a sip, allowing the liquid to linger in his mouth, on his tongue, obviously savoring the sensation.”

would now be

“He took a sip, allowing the liquid to fist his mouth, fist his tongue, obviously enjoying the sensation.”

See? Instant bestseller, right?

Or in 1st century Jerusalem, after he’s cursed with Life Everlasting, when Martuk sits with the Messiah:

He shoved the bread in His mouth, the glass of wine now in hand. Silently chewing, His eyes watched me as He washed it down with a healthy drink. Swallowing, He then sighed, focusing, inhaling deeply, exhaling, growing quiet as His eyes narrowed.”

would then become

“He fisted the bread in His mouth, the glass of wine now in hand. Silently chewing, His eyes fisted me as He fisted it down with a healthy drink. Swallowing, He then sighed, focusing, fisting deeply, exhaling, growing quiet as His eyes narrowed.”

Now THAT’S a memorable passage, right? RIGHT?

Wow. I think this might actually work!!!!!

You think the second book, Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche, could do with some good ol’ fashioned fisting?

Let’s see.

Okay, let’s start with Martuk talking with The Sister, his friend, in her apartment in modern day Paris:

I sat back as well, my arms stretching up and along the back of the sofa. “And I will continue my tale, if this is what you’d like.”

With a gentle smile on her lips, she nodded, urging me to begin.

Wrapped in the comfort of her apartment, the dark of a Paris night outside, the cool air from the open windows kissing my flesh, my heart feeling safe, my soul feeling secure, I took a deep breath.

And cradled in her kindness, I dove back into the blood-soaked memories of this, my life.

might be

I sat back as well, my arms fisting the back of the sofa. “And I will continue my tale, if this is what you’d like.”

With a gentle smile on her lips, she nodded, fisting me to begin.

Wrapped in the comfort of her apartment, the dark of a Paris night outside, the cool air from the open windows fisting my flesh, my heart feeling fisted, my soul feeling fisted, I took a deep fist.

And fisted in her kindess, I dove back into the blood-soaked memories of this, my life.

Hmmm, I might need to think about this one.

Okay, okay, I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. How about later, when Martuk discovers his friend Tiber in the hills surrounding 3rd century Antioch?

His skin rippled with the swarming of those that feast on the dead. Their small white bodies crawled out of his ears and wiggled from his nose and spilled from his lips to litter the smattering of hair on his slender chest.”

could easily be

His skin fisted with the swarming of those that fisted the dead. Their small bodies fisting his ears and fisting his nose and fisting his lips to litter the smattering of hair on his slender chest.”

Um … that’s probably another one I need to carefully consider.

You know what? Perhaps this E.L. James-style of, oh, what’s it called, writing? — yeah, I think so — might not be the right fit for Martuk.

Because no matter what I do or how hard I try, this fisting just isn’t working. I’ve done it this way and that. In modern Paris and ancient Uruk one thousand years before Christ. Even 1st century Jerusalem with the frickin’ Messiah! I even had Martuk’s friend fisting up in the hills of 3rd century Antioch and, still, nothing. It just feels somehow wrong. Off. Not right.

Yet it worked so well for E.L. James. Her fisting seemed so natural! A bit clumsy at times, yes. And painful to experience on the page, most definitely. Still, though, she really made that fisting work. Just jammed her fist into any sentence she could find, regardless how well it fit or even if it should fit. Forget being gentle. Forget being kind. Miss James took no prisoners! She shoved it into everything everywhere.

But when it comes to my fisting, I think it might be time to pack it up. Call it a day. Obviously, despite silly things like hopes and dreams, it’s not for everyone. Not even my immortal Martuk.

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe the last thing he needs to be doing is Fisting Immortality.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of EL James

If Variety is to be believed — and it’s usually more right than not — “author” EL James has decided to write the script for the second Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Let me attempt (and I can’t promise my head won’t explode while doing this, but I’ll give it a go) to count the ways this is so very, very wrong.

A) Screenwriting, especially the adaptation of a book to film, is more than recording in script-form what happened in the book. If Miss James’ fiction writing is any indication, her work as a screenwriter will almost certainly lack the finesse, sophistication, pace and, oh I’ll just say it, SKILL that a screenplay for a major Hollywood movie needs. As I’m learning with my own spec adaption of Martuk … the Holy, you need to have a ruthless eye for what’s essential and what can be consolidated or completely chopped. It’s a very delicate balancing act, one that Miss James, according to first hand accounts from production, steadfastly refuses to do.

Listen, if Kelly Marcel, a gifted screenwriter with some very good films under her belt, can beat her head against the wall for months trying to turn Miss James’ first person present tense narrative-free drivel into something – ANYTHING – that might work onscreen and still come up woefully short (due, in part, to Miss James’ constant intrusion and obvious need for control), how in the hell does Miss James think she can pull it off?

She can’t.

B) The success of a book adapted for film is found in the creative team that works WITH the author to successfully help the story make the transition. In other words, the author needs to surround themselves with the best team possible and then let go and allow those who know what they’re doing get busy and do what they need to do. The goal should be having the film be a success for everyone, and that’s damn hard to do if a newbie keeps inserting his or her busy-body into every frickin’ decision.

Miss James’ unwillingness to take her hands off the wheel — and Universal’s head scratching (and, in hindsight, no doubt desperate) decision to give her unprecedented control — has taken what could have been a fairly good film based on an infamously bad book series and turned it into a hilariously bad movie (one that had a great opening weekend, but has seen a 60% drop since then).

Allowing a hack writer to pen what will most certainly be an amateurish script is asking for trouble. It’s putting a hopefully respectable and respected Director in a position of having to work with something that might be impossible to shoot, forcing a production team to work for many months on something that reeks to high heaven from the get-go, and cornering a Studio — A STUDIO — into putting a successful franchise in the hands of a first time (say it again with me, kids) FAMOUSLY PISS POOR WRITER. After the reviews of the first film, they NEED the second to be better. Period. Full Stop. End of story. And for a non-screenwriter to demand she write the screenplay …

My god, a gamble of that magnitude makes even MY head spin. And the clueless arrogance and hubris of Miss James … I don’t even know where to begin.

C) The audience.

So, yes, let’s talk about the audience. The first movie had a smashing opening weekend. Driven by curiosity and, for fans, an almost knee-jerk need to defend something they like, people hit the theaters in droves. And if the reviews and audience feedback are any indication, the adaptation was a disappointing dud. One that made money, yes. But will it get repeat business, the cornerstone of every blockbuster franchise? Probably not. Will people be lining up as eagerly to see the sequel? That’s a big question mark.

Because if the sequel is as bad as the first one, the curious, having been sated with the first installment, may decide it’s not worth the price of a movie ticket and just catch it on PPV or Streaming. And the Fans Who Seek to Defend? Well, if they’re feeling disrespected — ANOTHER bad film of a book I love? Are they even TRYING? — they may reconsider.

Listen, the sequel NEEDS to be stronger. Period. And it needs a better script and less author intrusion. The chances of that happening if Miss James is in charge? Slim to none. And with her contractual control? Good luck getting her to do rewrites or agree to cuts that everyone agrees are necessary, but that she believes are fine.

Again, my head, it’s spinning, spinning, spinning with how off the rails this can go.

In conclusion, what remains is this: for writers like me who are just beginning their Hollywood journey into AdaptationVille, the willingness of a Studio to allow even the slightest bit of control in the future is hanging by a thread. What if so-and-so ends up being another EL James with his or her hand in everything? And they have no idea what they’re doing? And they’re bullshit slows down production and costs us money? Ack! They’d run for the hills.

You know, it kinda sucks that, as writers, we’ve had to work doubly hard to help readers see they deserve better than the stupefying pile of stinking shit that called itself Fifty Shades of Grey. And, as readers, we’ve had to sift through the mountains of atrociously written Fifty Shades wannabes that have spread through the publishing world like an unfortunately timed yeast infection.

Are we now, as screenwriters and moviegoers, going to have to pay yet another price for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of EL James?

God, let’s hope not.