Friday, December 27, 2013

A Writer's New Year's Resolution

A list of clichés in crime writing recently made its way across Facebook.  I read it over and sighed.  How many of them had I/have I been guilty of?  The one that stung the most was the ‘daddy issues’ cliché.  I was 20,000 words into a novella called Daddy Problems, anxious to pound out the second half.  But, goddammit, that list was correct.  I was well aware of the cliché when I outlined the project and started writing it.  I have always had fun turning clichés upside down and “deconstructing” them according to my 21st century attitude.  I now question, though, whether or not I have just been lazy.

How many movies have announced their villains with dialogue that sounds something like—“Vee half bin vaiting for you Mr. Zo und Zo…”?  It’s Hollywood’s throwaway antagonist, the closet Nazi.  Indicated by a thick, stereotypical German accent.  Hollywood has Krautphobia, and I understand its historical origins.  However, how much longer can the general public be expected to give screenwriters a pass on the complete lack of imagination required to make their villains Nazis?  I find the use of dime store psychology in fiction as the primary source of motivations for characterization to be no different from Tinsel Town’s cut-out Nazis.

Fathers have been vilified since the Frankfurt School cleverly positioned the father as metaphor for oppression.  Artists, particularly male artists, have since become much more sensitive and decided, collectively, to bash their strict dads who had the audacity to provide food and shelter in exchange for the outrageous expectation that their children do something with their lives.  Don’t get me wrong—there are bad fathers.  But they are the exceptions.  And writers have been using them as easy scapegoats for too long.

It is much more challenging to find new motivations for character behavior.  A good, (actually) progressive writer has to do what writers used to do on a regular basis—invent.  Be creative.  Most importantly, be original.  This takes more time to achieve, but the rewards, I’m willing to bet, are unimaginable.

I am taking a vow, at this point, to attempt to motivate my characters in ways that do not fall back on the same, tired ideas that have fueled fiction (not just crime fiction, oh by the way,) for far too long.

Oh yeah, I’ve put Daddy Problems away.  No need to finish it.  The cycle of short stories I’m working on for my MFA thesis deal a little bit with dads and the way they treat their children, but the overriding theme of the entire collection is really about the evolution (or, perhaps devolution) of masculinity in America since World War II.  Whining about daddy problems, I suspect, has a great deal to do with that very neutering of the American male.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My brief best of 2013 list

So folks are making their best of lists for 2013.  I had to host a radio show about books in order to allow an official excuse to take the time to read (and now I'm applying for PhD programs--my own version of AA's definition of insanity...).  The result is that I didn't read nearly as much as I should have.  Here are my favorite three books that I was not in some way involved with (if you don't have the All Due Respect anthology, then you've missed out; Chris Rhatigan just may be the hardest working man in this LUCRATIVE independent publishing business!)--

My favorite book of the year was Country Hardball, by Steve Weddle.  Steve's refusal to tie up every loose end in the collection helped me with my MFA thesis.  Before I read Country Hardball, I was scrambling to make sure I had every character and situation explained.  Realizing that wasn't necessary was liberating.  And, you know, the stories in Steve's book stand on their own and some are emotional knock-outs without being sentimental.  A wonderful trick only the best writers can accomplish.

I'm a fan of originality.  I was lucky enough to read collections by two of the most original writers in this LUCRATIVE independent scene-- David James Keaton's Fish Bites Cop! and Glenn Gray's The Little Boy Inside and Other Stories provided hours of imaginative fiction that generally traveled to the very edge of realism.  Whenever someone says something moronic and defeating like, "There's no original ideas," I send them over to Mr. Keaton or Mr. Glenn's work to have a look at just how many possibilities still exist.

I read a lot of other great books and I apologize if I didn't mention them here.  I wanted to make sure these three books got mentioned in the end-of-the-year discussions.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Submission deadline for Pulp Modern #7 is April 1, 2014

So the working title for PULP MODERN #7 is "The Dens of Babylon," from a super-long William Blake poem about Milton (" is Jerusalem, bound in chains, in the dens of Babylon..."). 

The basic idea is: dystopia.  Now's your chance to explore crime in a world where crime is nearly impossible.  Horror and science fiction are, of course, easy to match with dystopian fears.  And if you think westerns don't relate to dystopia, just research the 1800s and see how many utopian disasters sprung up around the U.S.

The deadline is April 1, 2014.  Stories should be between 2000 and 3500 words.  If you've got a longer story, send me an email telling me what it's about and I might make an exception for this issue.  Also, I will look at any non-fiction articles you might have on the subject of dystopia.

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