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On Turning a Blind Eye

Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2.  I enjoyed the movie, but it has some seriously problematic aspects, from our opening shot of Megan Fox on the motorcycle to the Decepticon pantybot* to the Infinite Dorm of Gorgeous Girls.

But as I was reading other reviews and commentary, I kept coming across the same reactions.  “It’s just a summer action flick.  What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie?  Stop analyzing and just have fun!  Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?”

I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique.  The attitude seems to be that critical analysis is best left for dusty old tomes in the ivory tower.  Joyce, Melville, Shakespeare, and so on.  If we’re going to think about movies, we’re supposed to limit it to the highbrow art-house films.

Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems backwards to me.  How many people actually read Joyce these days?  Compare that to the number of people who went out to see Transformers.  So wait, we’re saying discussions of racism, sexism, and so on are fine, so long as they’re not about the stories most people are actually reading or watching.

I don’t write deep literary fiction.  My books have flaming spiders and nose-picking injuries and Sleeping Beauty & the Little Mermaid kicking the crap out of each other.  Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on?  Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest.  When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it.

I understand these discussions can be uncomfortable, especially if we’ve enjoyed the story in question.  I’m still struggling with major dissonance over Transformers.  I have serious problems with the stereotypes and clichés in this thing.  I also had a lot of fun watching it.  What does it say about me if I enjoyed a movie while at the same time finding it problematic on so many levels?

Personally, I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**.  It’s important because it’s popular.  Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.

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*Decepticons can create perfect human doubles, and the best plan they can come up with is to send her to hop into bed with Sam?

**I say this as a man who wrote about Darth Vader in my Master’s thesis.

Vacation and LOLPrime

Tomorrow morning we head off on vacation.  I’ll be away from cellphone signals, wireless … not even reliable land lines to dial out and connect.

I’m sure I’ll be sneaking out with the laptop to hunt the Wild Wireless Signal of Northern Michigan from time to time, but there will be little blogging for the next week and a half, and if you e-mail me, don’t expect an instant response.

In the meantime, negative reviews or other complaints should be directed to my friend Optimus.

Bookscan

Busy day, so this is gonna be quick.

Agent Andrew Zack blogged the other day about Bookscan, a service to track and report book sales: The Lie that is Bookscan.

My own agent, Joshua Bilmes, has posted his own thoughts, disagreeing with Zack’s assessment: A Bookscanner Darkly

Personally, I tend to agree with Joshua, and not just because he sells my books.  As far as I know, most writers, publishers, and agents know perfectly well that Bookscan represents a percentage of total sales, and that percentage could be anywhere from 70-80% for one author but under 50% for another. Bookscan seems to capture a lower fraction of mine, since I do better with independents.

I don’t think Bookscan ever claimed to report ALL sales. It’s more data than anything else I’ve seen, save from the publisher itself, but it’s definitely not 100% of my sales.

A publisher using Bookscan as the sole criterion for rejecting an author (as described in Zack’s post) is troubling, but I see that as a problem with the publisher, not with Bookscan.

(I do still track and graph my Bookscan numbers every week to fulfil my neurotic validation needs, of course. They don’t tell me actual sales, but they do help me see trends.)

Day in the Life

I talk about wanting to quit the day job some day and write full time.  Every once in a while I get a weekend with nothing planned, and I get to see what that might look like.  It ain’t pretty, folks.

Done so far:

  1. Wake up to a little boy crawling into the bed with us.
  2. Take care of dogs and cats.
  3. Quick home repair job, thanks to dog’s chewing habit.  Grumble.
  4. Front lawn mowed.  Back lawn procrastinated until tomorrow.
  5. Lunch for kids.  Lunchtime already?  Dang.
  6. Finally, some actual writing!  3000 more words on the final (for now) rewrite of Red Hood’s Revenge.
  7. Dinner break, courtesy of my wonderful wife — thanks, babe!
  8. Short story feedback for the writer who won my critique in the Brenda Novak diabetes auction.
  9. Start working on an interview with a tight deadline.
  10. Break to watch old Transformers episode while doing the 4-year-old’s nebulizer.

Still to come tonight:

  1. Page proofs for The Mermaid’s Madness.
  2. More work on the interview, hopefully.
  3. Read through notes on Red Hood to figure out the next chapter so I can do it all again tomorrow 🙂

Can someone please explain how 8:45 pm snuck up on me like that?  Seriously, what just happened?  Where did Saturday sneak off to?

On the bright side, I’ve got 12,000 words on Red Hood after four days.  If I keep up this pace, I should have no problem making my deadline.  On the down side, this is not my natural pace.  if I keep it up for a month, I’m likely to go a little nuts.  But I want to get a head start before we head up north on vacation.  I’ll be taking the laptop, but I doubt I’ll be doing 3000 words a day while we’re there.

SF Novelists & Electronic Goblins

Today is my day at SF Novelists, where I wax not-so-eloquently on what makes a story. I also offer another free book, ’cause I like giving away books 🙂

http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/06/24/whats-a-story/

Oh, and before I forget, it looks like Goblin Quest is going to be released in Kindle and other e-book formats on July 7.  I’m excited, since this means the entire goblin trilogy will finally be available in electronic format.

Finally, I’m told I should be getting page proofs for The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] very soon now.  Between this and the rewrite on Red Hood, blogging and e-mail might be a little light for the next few weeks.

Series vs. Standalones

Why are all the SF/F writers doing series these days?  What ever happened to the good old standalone novel?

I can’t give you a thorough answer on that one, but part of it is simple economics.  Let’s start by comparing Goblin Quest and Stepsister Scheme, and please forgive me for geeking out with math and graphs.  Nothing here is all that complex or life-changing, but I tend to obsess a bit.

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Rape Posts & Resources

I’m angry with myself.

Years back, I posted a page on my site with articles I had written about rape, as well as a link to a resources page I put together for a local crisis center.  (The crisis center hasn’t updated the page in several years, unfortunately, so those resources are now out of date.)

Anyway, this was right about when my career as a writer started to take off.  I revamped the web page to be more businesslike and focused on my writing.  I left the resource page posted, but it was no longer linked from the main page.  Looking back, I think I was getting all caught up in being a “professional.”  I was worried that including rape resources would take away from my image.

Looking back, I want to smack myself.  It’s the same sort of thing I’ve vented about: men not speaking out because it’s easier that way.  Because we’re afraid of what people will think.  Afraid of alienating potential readers, maybe.  I don’t know.  All I know is that in this particular instance, I chose silence, and I’m disappointed in myself for that choice.

I’ve updated the rape page on the new site, and I’ve put the link back in the menu bar.  I’m working on adding more links and resources.  (I’m open to suggestions if you have any.)

So, yeah.  Disappointed and angry with myself.  And grateful to the reader who indirectly kicked me in the pants to do better.  Thank you — you know who you are.

Updates from Around the Writersphere

A while back I reviewed Steven Harper’s book Nightmare, the second of his Silent Empire series.  The books have been out of print for a while, so Harper is making the first book available for the Kindle as an experiment.  You can pick up Dreamers for the low price of $1.79 $1.43! (significantly cheaper than any of mine 😛 ).

Greg Wilson, a friend of mine, just had his first book come out from Five Star.  The Third Sign [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is fairly classic epic fantasy.  As some of you know, Goblin Quest started out as a Five Star release, so I’ve got a soft spot for them.  You can read the first three chapters of Wilson’s book at his web site.

In my own ever-thrilling life, I figured out how to rotate quotes on my web site, so I’m putting up quotes from my various books and stories.  Will the excitement never end? If you’ve got a favorite line from one of my characters, please let me know and I’ll try to get it added to the rotation.

Finally, just to dispel the myth that we famous authors (ha!) get it right the first time through, here’s a glimpse of page one of Red Hood’s Revenge.  Please remember this is the second draft, marked up in preparation for the third.

Get a Real Job

It’s an interesting paradox. As a writer with four novels in print, one of the most common questions I get is “When are you going to quit your day job?” On the other hand, take a writer who has done just that and runs into financial trouble. One of the first questions they hear is “Why don’t you just get a real job?

Writing “professionally” is a real job.  It’s more work than any day job I’ve had.  There’s the actual writing, the rewriting, the communication with editors, agents, and fans, the paperwork (contracts, taxes, etc.), and that’s before you decide to go to that convention or booksigning, or try to do some publicity for your work.

The real question is “Why don’t you get a safe job?”  One that would provide you with stable income, health insurance, and everything else you needed to avoid this mess.

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Jim C. Hines