I’ve set things up so that whenever I review something which I have spare copies of on hand, you'll see a PayPal "buy now" button on the page for that item. I've started doing this because I've noticed that some of the things I've reviewed have been extremely rare, and people often ask "Where do I get one of those?" when I just so happen to have a spare copy.
Check out Tokyo Flashback 2: P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler and Rays of Beauty (C.M. von Hausswolff) for examples of how this is being implemented. I’ll eventually have a way to browse all of the items for sale on a single page, too.
A friend of mine with no particular writerly ambitions of his own (but with good tastes in reading) popped me a question the other day: If the point of something like NaNoWriMo is to give you a boot in the rear and get you writing through a combination of peer pressure, mutual support and a hard deadline — why do it if you’re already a “professional”, or already in the habit of writing and finishing long-form work? Why the gimmickry?
Answer: Because sometimes the gimmickry isn’t gimmickry. Sometimes it is the only way to get from where you are (would-be “writer”) to where you need to be (honest-to-God writer).
Saying all that reminded me of something. A couple of years back, I came across a truly mean-spirited anti-NaNo post linked to by the Paper Cuts blog at the New York Times. The sum total of the opinion expressed was: a) Most writing sucks anyway, so b) why are you adding that much more drivel to the crapflood that we already have?
Said I, “…Oh.”
I am not about to debate the first point. Most writing is not particularly good, for the same reason most things are not particularly good; thank you, Mr. Sturgeon. But the second point is impossible to take seriously as anything but pure spleneticism. Maybe it is the kind of motivational mean-spiritedness that Zen masters used to screen prospective acolytes — the better to see to see which of his potential hot-in-the-biscuit disciples has both the fire in his belly and the patience in his heart to follow through.
It sounds great as long as you don’t actually think about it. Confront all who come to you with a piece of writing that they just plain suck, and all the dabblers and the fakers and the people who really shouldn’t be there will fall away naturally … and leave behind only the true, the talented, the devoted and the brilliant. That’s like saying if you shoot ten thousand people in the back of the head and one of them survives, you’ve found a way to learn who out there has a bulletproof brainpan.
Leaving aside the elitism of this POV, you know what this sounds like? A protection racket. A way to scare off potential competition, because if there’s one thing I know about writers, they’re horrendously insecure people — at least as insecure as actors and singers, if not more so, because they don’t have as many johnny-on-the-spot opportunities to win approval from peers and audiences. I imagine that there are plenty of them who agree with the above outline, if only because it means that much less competition for them. The less people writing, period, the less people they have to worry about potentially taking acclaim (and bread) away from them. And the less people they have to tiresomely talk out of the same old traps.
The idea of “competition” is lame, because it implies there’s only a finite amount of room for writers to operate in. The more genuinely good writers out there, the more I’ll have to read that’ll be worthwhile, to take inspiration from, and to learn from. And if some of them get their start by banging out fifty thousand words in thirty days, more power to ‘em.
Those who grouse are probably just not suited to suffering other people’s baby steps. Far be it from me to tell them how to deal with amateurs, or even other would-be pros. Go dig up Lester Bangs’s Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste and flip to pages 363-364, wherein Brother Lester relates a scene that ends with some gawkish-mawkish Middle America type asking said literary King of Scum: “Would you suggest writing as a career?” (Bang’s telling of the anecdote is downright Aristocrats in the way he builds up to the punchline; that section alone — and the Emerson, Lake & Palmer interview — are reason enough to drop dimes on the book.) I can only imagine Bukowski telling that poor wretch to go commit anatomical impossibilities upon his person: go ‘way, kid, ya bodda me.
It’s happened to me, sort of. A couple of conventions ago I got pegged down by a kid with some mishmosh of an idea about these young tykes who go into their closet and discover their nightmare world exists in there for real. Great, I said, but the more I pressed him for details, the more he thrashed around helplessly. He was all ideas and no story. After asking “Why does x need to be this way?” or “What are you trying to accomplish with y?” and getting no coherent answer — not just once but many times in a row — I realized I was in the position of a man trying to talk someone into climbing out of a hole when their arms didn’t work.
And yet, none of it was wasted time. It gave me something to tell other people, those who were not nearly that mired down in the swamps of their own frustrated ambitions. Not everyone, I guess, has the patience for such things, but by the same token, not everyone doesn’t. W.B. Yeats had, from the sound of it, little patience to spare for mundane little people who sapped his time when he could have been spending it more productively talking Deep and Meaningful Things with his friends, or better yet at his desk composing verse like this:
Dear fellow-artist, why so free
With every sort of company,
With every Jack and Jill?
Choose your companions from the best;
Who draws a bucket with the rest
Soon topples down the hill.
But to an artist, any time spent is going to be time well spent, isn’t it? To think less than that is to cut yourself off from the very world you draw from and give back to.
The New York Times has a piece about the new Kenji Mizoguchi set from Criterion's perennially excellent Eclipse line of DVDs — this one's series #13, and features Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Women of the Night, and Street of Shame. After Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, this is a welcome addition to the same shelf.
The movie reviews section now has soundtracks for selected movies, wherever they may be available on Amazon.com or eMusic.com. Alien, Casino Royale, Doomsday, the Miyazaki productions, and a number of others already have entries.
“Show, don’t tell” is easily the most common of all writer’s-class clichés — right up there with “Write what you know” and “Don’t depend on your mom for criticism”. (That last one might work if your mom was Doris Lessing, but you get the idea.)
What I’ve discovered over time, though, is that “Show, don’t tell” is at best misquoted and at worst slightly misleading. For me, the choice isn’t between showing and telling alone, but when each is appropriate for the circumstances. A better way to put it would be “Show when you can, tell when you must”.
Much of my thinking about this issue was spawned by this post wherein C.E. Murphy demonstrated showing vs. telling. I opined that both had their place depending on the circumstances. One example that came to mind after the fact is the first two chapters of Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. The first chapter shows us Macon and Sarah’s marriage in its final stages during a tense conversation in the car (“Macon, I want a divorce,” Sarah told him); the second tells us a welter of details of what life is like in the house after Sarah leaves (The windows shrank. The ceilings lowered. There was something insistent about the furniture, as if it were pressing in on him).
You could probably respond by saying that both of these are “show”, not “tell”, because a “tell” here would have consisted of something like Macon and Sarah broke up early that year … True enough. But as with many other things, the context is what sets the two apart. In the larger context of the book, one classifies as “show” and the other “tell”. Each one also has their own context: it helped to first show us the marriage up close, and then tell us details about how things had been before, and why things fell apart. That way we get something specific and immediate to begin with, and then have that expanded outwards to enrich our understanding of the whole.
I’m going to try to come up with some more examples in the future.
The second disc of Blood+ draws Saya and her adoptive family — and her “Chevalier”, Haji — deeper into the dark world of the “Chiropterans”, the vampire-like creatures that only Saya can stop by using her blood as a weapon. It’s a good, balanced mix of action, intrigue, and most importantly strong characterizations, because all the sneaking around and blowing things up in the world isn’t going to matter unless it’s happening to and with people we care about.
And one of the things Blood+ did from the git-go was give us a Saya that was far more identifiably, well, human than the kill-eyed creature she was in the original Blood: The Last Vampire movie. There, she was so cold and closed-off that it was difficult to find her situation interesting. Here, she’s clearly torn between everything that ties her to the “regular” world — her new family (especially her firecracker of a brother, Kai), her life in school — and an ugly underworld where monsters are bred by men of power to do terrible things. The original Saya had little or nothing holding her back. This one has everything to lose. Read more
From Criterion’s homepage:
Japanese actor Ken Ogata died this Sunday after a battle with liver cancer. The star of several films by Shohei Imamura, including The Ballad of Narayama and Vengeance Is Mine, in which he memorably played charismatic serial killer Iwao Enokizu, Ken Ogata is perhaps best known to American audiences for his searing portrayal of controversial writer Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Ogata also worked with such other filmmakers as Peter Greenaway, Takashi Miike, and Kinji Fukasaku. He was 71 years old.
There’s a discussion going on right now in the NaNo forums about bad books that inspired their readers — if only in the sense that if someone could write something this horrible and get it published, then the odds of one of us being able to pull that off should be pretty good, right?
It’s a pretty tempting thing to believe, but there’s one essential problem with the argument: it assumes that literary quality is a mitigating factor in book publishing. Marketability is what matters most to a publisher, not the stamp of “quality” applied by readers or book critics. As with the movies, it’s the retailers (the theater chains) they have to please and not the consumers (us shmoes who fork over $10 for a ticket).
So what about all those books that come out of nowhere and don’t fit into any established mold and eventually become classics of their kind — the To Kill A Mockingbirds or the 1984s? They’re the vanishingly tiny exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of what finds its way into print is not designed to last, because a) no profit-driven enterprise I know of is capable of seeing past the next couple of fiscal quarters and b) nobody knows what people will be reading 50 years from now anyway. John O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick was a massive best-seller in its day; today, you can barely find copies in a public library. (The last printing I can find on Amazon was from 1985.)
Books are meant to sell to whatever coherent demographic the marketing people can squeeze out of their sales figures. The whole business of “books for the ages” is a by-product of the current system, not a result of it. Just because a guy can get a book published doesn’t mean he’s produced anything you’ll want to read. I should also add this does not mean people who follow the DIY route are automatically undiscovered geniuses — it just means the whole “I could write better than that” argument doesn’t take into account the whole picture.
I’m also not saying, don’t try. I would love nothing more than for someone to get fired up and write a great book because they read thirty bad ones and were convinced they could do better. Hell, Summerworld was borne from something very much like that: after slogging through hectares of bad fantasy, I decided to do something about it by writing something that broke every single one of the clichés. But I was also fairly certain it wasn’t something a publisher would pick up. Maybe my certainty in this regard will be my undoing, but I’ve had enough exposure to the finicky, now-how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-sell-this? attitudes that publishers labor under to know this wouldn’t be something they could get to the right people. I decided to do that job myself.
I can’t recommend this to everyone, of course, but so far I’ve had the kind of fun I used to have to pay people to give me.
Last night I watched one of the first Blu-ray offerings that could be filed under the “Japan” category — a double feature of Shogun’s Ninja and Killing Machine. Both star Sonny Chiba, both are from Toei, but the two movies could scarcely be more dissimilar. The first is a wild, loopy samurai-vs.-ninja spectacle (courtesy of Norifumi Suzuki), which also stars a young and spry Hiroyuki Sanada, and sports an oh-so-Seventies funk-jazz score and Echoplex tape reverb sound effects. You gotta love any movie where the hero responds to the deaths of his comrades by building a giant bonfire and performing an interpretive dance to portray his suffering, all on top of a score that sounds like something John Shaft would come crashing through a window to.
Killing Machine, also directed by Suzuki, is a jingoistic (even when it tries not to be) and not-credible version of the Dōshin Sō story, he being the creator of Shōrinji Kempō. The folks at Frog in a Well have done a much better job of dismantling the film than I ever could, especially since they’re able to put it into a historical context that I could not provide. What’s most striking is that today, the movie’s overheated style would be indistinguishable from parody. Good thing for them they didn’t get Seijun Suzuki to fill the director’s chair; he might well have made it into a parody.
Of the two of these, I think I know which one I’d be talking about in detail; at least with Shogun’s Ninja I won’t feel like I’m encouraging people to see something which wallows in stereotyping even when claiming to be above all that.
What with one thing and another, I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of writing about Just Plain Stuff — goings-on with friends, other things apart from my writing or personal interests, things like that. A lot of the time I don’t do it because I feel like I have nothing to contribute to the conversation — there scarcely seems to be anything I can add to all the ongoing commentary about the mortgage/credit/banking crisis, for instance. So — time for some mundane and boring personal news!
First off is the endless straightening-up of the office — which has become a perpetual project due to my horrible habit of adopting an organizational strategy and then forgetting about it. The good news: I’ve found a few ways to get around that. For dealing with the endless stacks of books in here, there’s Libra, which I can use in conjunction with my webcam to scan-and-tag everything pretty quickly. Libra’s big downside is that the program hasn’t been updated in over a year, but at least it works reasonably well and I can always export the data from it into another form to be re-used in some other program. (So far, though, I haven’t really found one that works terribly well.)
On the plus side, I have managed to relax my attachment to a great many things that I thought I would never be able to let go. In one drawer I found a whole cache of tidbits dating back at least eight years, stuff I’d squirreled away and told myself I was going to need or think of as important one day. Flyers from conventions past, bits and pieces of things I’d picked up from various giveaway tables in stores … I wadded it all up and dumped it into the recycling box.
There’s only so much I can keep track of or worry about. Books and records are one thing, but memorabilia that doesn’t consist of things I actually created or had a hand in are another. After a while, you just get overwhelmed. A while back I found diaries and journals I’d kept when I was much younger, but after leafing through them I saw there was nothing worth keeping. Not everything a person produces in their lifetime is going to be valuable, and what was in there amounted to a glorified bunch of grocery lists.
On the other hand, I kept pretty much every business card I’ve ever been given. Yes, I still have the weird feeling that at some point something in there is going to come in handy, even though the total number of times I’ve actually used a business card in that fashion (outside of work) I could count on a single hand with fingers left over.
Tags: daily life
Back at A-KON this year, I blundered into a somewhat weatherbeaten copy of a DVD that at first didn't seem to have an English title. It took some squinting and peering at the thing under a strong light to make out the name Ashes of Time on the face of the disc.
I almost broke my own fingers digging out my wallet.
Ashes of Time was maverick Hong Kong director Kar-Wai Wong's foray into martial-arts epic territory, and it had roughly the same trajectory as a movie like Blade Runner. It was costly and long in the making, and a test of patience for all involved. Greeted with hostility and poor box office take on its release, it languished in obscurity at first but built up a cult following; in this case, fans of the director's other movies learned about it and sought out what few copies could be found on home video.
A decade ago, Wong started to buy up as many prints of the movie as he could find, since the original negatives had been stored poorly and were now disintegrating. For five years he poured his own money and sweat into restoring the movie, and it's now being released into theaters thanks to the good graces of Sony Pictures Classics.
The New York Times has a witeup.
Odds are the remastered version will be released on DVD as well. When it is, I plan on sitting down with it, along with a copy of the original, and giving both of them their day in the sun. Not long ago when my previous Samsung phone died (I think I dropped it on its face one too many times), I upgraded to a Nokia 6133 with Bluetooth, MP3/WMA playback, and tons of other trimmings. I'd actually planned to use it as a replacement for my now-dead music player, but I've run into so many stupid little limitations that I have to wonder if I'm just being too finicky for my own good or if this really is just bad engineering. I'd love to have a phone that can double as a music player and not kill my wallet, but at this rate I see myself sticking with my legacy MiniDisc player until the ribbon cable to the laser head finally develops an internal short (the cause of death for many of those devices). ... But other than all that, it's actually a pretty good phone.
Odds are the remastered version will be released on DVD as well. When it is, I plan on sitting down with it, along with a copy of the original, and giving both of them their day in the sun.
Not long ago when my previous Samsung phone died (I think I dropped it on its face one too many times), I upgraded to a Nokia 6133 with Bluetooth, MP3/WMA playback, and tons of other trimmings. I'd actually planned to use it as a replacement for my now-dead music player, but I've run into so many stupid little limitations that I have to wonder if I'm just being too finicky for my own good or if this really is just bad engineering.
I'd love to have a phone that can double as a music player and not kill my wallet, but at this rate I see myself sticking with my legacy MiniDisc player until the ribbon cable to the laser head finally develops an internal short (the cause of death for many of those devices).
... But other than all that, it's actually a pretty good phone.