The Thunder Road

Thursday, March 1, 2012
By HeRoCoMpLeX

Ranting and Raving…

Rachel walks into Joey’s apartment and asks if she can borrow some ice. When she opens the freezer door she finds a paperback novel in there. “Joey, why is there a book in your freezer?” She asks. “It’s The Shinning, I read it about once a year. It’s my favorite book. When I get too scared, I put it in the freezer to cool off a little,” Joeys says to the roar of the studio audience. “I have book like that,” Rachel says, “I’ve probably read Little Women at least once a year since college. It’s my favorite.” A friendly debate over which is better ensues and they decide to trade books to see which is the better read. Later they are sitting in “Central Perk” with Chandler and Joey spoils The Shinning buy telling Rachel how it ends. She retaliates by telling Joey that Beth dies toward the end of his book“She doesn’t really die, does she,” Joey asks Rachel in a sad voice. Rachel seems to ponder whether or not to be mean and spoil the ending and complete her revenge when Chandler cuts in, “Rachel, Joey is asking you if you’ve just ruined the only book that he’s every loved that doesn’t star Jack Nicholson…”

Is this what we’ve come to gentle reader? Sadly, in this case, Joey seems to be the voice of the majority in the entertainment world. When was the last time you saw a commercial on TV for a new book release? I’ve got a case of the ass about this because I was talking to a friend the other day and we were cracking jokes at each other. I ended the razzing by telling him he needed to shut up and go back to reading his vampire books. I was trying to imply that he was like a little girl curled up with one of the Twilight novels. That came through, but this sparked a conversation about books we had recently read. The most common answer I got was, “I don’t read much.” My friend commented that in this day in age, if they didn’t make a movie about it, then nobody’s reading it.

No, no, no, NO…

Is fiction dead? I don’t think so. I think fiction is a sleeping giant just waiting for the alarm clock to go off. He set it for “wake me for an innovation” about 20 years ago and I think it’s time we, as writers, go ahead and stop his snooze smacking. He woke up enough to take a leak when J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter novel, (say what you want, but the concept of Harry’s world is really cool) and he’s got an afternoon tea date with Stephen King whenever he decides to put quill to parchment again, and say what you want (again) about the Twilight series but Stephanie Meyer took an old concept and innovated it into something so big that even Uncle Steve has got to be thinking in a petulant voice, “They didn’t make that big a deal about my vampire stories…”

I know that we’ve all got our own opinions about what makes a good novel and what doesn’t so please, don’t fill my comments with indignant reviews of your favorite fiction novels. That’s not the point here. I’m simply pushing for innovation. I want you to take something old and make it look new. Not new like the 88 Ford Pinto you rolled a bunch of change up to buy. That’s just new to you. I want you to write something that is going to make America sit up, wipe the Dorito crumbs off their shirts, and take notice of professional writers again. I’ll give you the perfect example. It is, in fact, one of the inspirations for this meaningless rant.

I was watching an old fantasy movie from the 80’s called Red Sonja. Does anyone remember this? The movie is horrible (but I love it) and the dialogue blows. I kept thinking, “I could do so much with a story like this.” Then another voice in my head piped up and said, “Then do it!” The idea seemed so fresh and exciting to me. I had scene’s running through my head faster than a fat kid after you stole a turkey leg off his plate and took off running. I shot an email to a friend of mine that I consider to be much wiser in the ways of fiction then I could ever hope to be and pitched my Red Sonja idea to him. This is what he sent back:

“I think there is room for a Boudica character in fantasy fiction, but I think it should be an original character, rather than Red Sonja or anyone already extant. The other thing is that you want to find some original edge, or aspect, to the character. While a female warrior in skintight leather is, I’ll admit, attention-grabbing all on her own, if we’re to follow the character for the length of a novel, and care about what happens to her, she needs to have a VERY well-developed personality, and something that makes her different from any other warriors who might be kicking around this world (or any other sword-and-sorcery kind of world). With fantasy especially, you’ve really got to have something unique to define its place in the world. There are scores of writers who went on creating Conan for decades after Conan already existed. You don’t want to create Red Sonja, or someone who already has been created. You want to bring something new into the world. Ideally, anyway. Think about who you want to spend 60,000 words following, and think about why other people should care.”

I couldn’t believe it! I mean, the idea seemed so good. I wrote back an email expounding upon my marvelous piece of literary gold in an effort to convince him that it was a great idea for me to put a new spin on the Red Sonja story. I sent it off thinking that he would, of course, see my point of view and tell me what a wonderful author I am…

“The problem with using the name Red Sonja is that the character (and by extension, her name) are intellectual property, belonging to whoever owns the character. That means you would have to be commissioned by whomever to write a Red Sonja story, in order to get it published. Which would probably be tricky. I think you’d be better off finding an original name for her.”

What!? You mean my wonderful, marvelous, and innovative idea is foiled by copyright infringement??? Then I looked back and really read what he wrote to me. Turns out he was telling me to come up with my own damn idea and make it awesome instead of trying to make someone else’s idea awesome. He was telling me to throw an ice cold bucket of water on that snoozing hulk we call fiction and make him stand up and take notice of my ideas. Innovation is the key to writing a book so scary that a reader has to put it in the freezer. It’s what makes them lose sleep because they can’t put the damn thing down.

Is fiction dead gentle reader? No, not by a long shot. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.

(This rant has been brought to you by a pint of Bacardi and a pack of Newport’s. I’m not sure if it makes sense or not, but it’s from the heart and it is, after all, just my opinion.)

Until next month

Keep Scribbling!

4 Responses to “The Thunder Road”

  1. Holy CRAP! Now, I gotta say first you took me totally off track with your typo[?]. The Shinning? Really? So, here’s me going … the Shinning? What’s that? Then I half ass catch references to some obscure TV show that I should know by the names. Which I don’t so .. there you go. I have to do a google seach and find this .. http://www.friends-tv.org/zz313.html This is another of those aha moments for me. Something like the time I realized Jessica Simpson was not Homer’s sister. Hey man, my head was so far into the black hole of Union activities I was lucky if I could keep tabs on the local news. In fact, I couldn’t and one of my friends would bring me up to date as to what was going on in the real world which didn’t include Jessica Simpson because he was a noble union radical who didn’t care a fig about the goings on about irrelevant riff raff. It was the Jack Nicholson reference that made me realize you meant The Shining. You then create an excuse[?] for your continued typo which ID’s a pint of Bacardi and a pack of Newport’s. I’m not going to look up Newport’s because I believe it might be a tobacco product which doesn’t need to be researched due to me smoking -whatever – for far too many years and which I’ve spurned now for .. wait for it .. 143 DAYS!

    Now, I’m thinking .. okay .. what’s with The Shinning anyhow? Is it someone else’s typo he’s copied verbatim to respect that – sic thingie? In the same italics there’s a ‘buy’ instead of by which gets me further muddled.

    Now, to your point. If I’ve seen the movie I won’t bother with the book and if I’ve read the book I won’t go see the movie. Why? Because the only damn movie that followed the book accurately was ‘The Eye Of The Needle’ by Ken Follett.

    Your column reveals some truths about writers being insecure to the point of whining about their lack of popularity when they’ve made billions thanks to ardent readers. That pissed me off too! Stephen King? Did you know he wrote Shawshank Redemption? I didn’t and won’t be buying or borrowing the book because I watched the movie cause Morgan Freeman was in it.

    The last book I read was John Vaillant’s The Tiger and I hadn’t read a book since [true confessions here] The DaVinci Code and why? Because I thought Dan Brown was a crappy writer and .. I still do! I was appalled that a best seller could be written so badly until I reminded myself about V.C. Andrews gawdawful clap trap that raked in the money. The number of times I almost threw the ‘Code’ across a train or wherever I was in Europe at the moment can’t be calculated on fingers and toes. I left that book in the Copenhagen train station with a notation of who’d donated it to the traveling public. Anyone else do stuff like that? It’s a great idea that isn’t mine.

    The Painted House which was referred to in another column here this month reminded me that Grisham is a fantastic writer. I really enjoyed his Playing for Pizza too http://www.jgrisham.com/playing-for-pizza/

    Now, perhaps what I’m really whining about is that I spent a fair amount of time searching for answers in this column because I was perplexed as to who Rachel and Chandler and Joey are. Jack Nicholson I know. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t.

    Now .. onto another item in your column. I know who Boudecia was. I know because I’ve seen her statue on the Thames embankment. Your friend ID’d the character in this message of his. “I think there is room for a Boudica character in fantasy fiction, but I think it should be an original character, rather than Red Sonja or anyone already extant.” This got me thinking about rock band names like Sweeney Todd … Def Leopard and many others – the time I spent explaining to my young son about how those were historical tidbits that well read rockers had run away with and made them their own. This is what it’s all about. Making it your own because it’s probably done before. If it hasn’t been .. like my published poem Bazaar Shades of Sorrow then one wonders .. how come. When it comes to horror full ideas that one is pretty gutting.

    okay .. so what am I saying here? I’m saying I read your column and paid it the respect your writing deserves. So there ..

    keep smiling
    Pen

    #8789
    • HeroComplex

      I’m not really sure what to make of this Pen. I don’t know if you meant this to be funny or what, but it came across as excessivly mean. I consider myself fairly good at taking critique’s (I have in fact, accepted some tough ones from you, with what I hope was a decent attempt at grace.) I’ve always said that critiques are what make us better and I mean it. This felt like more than that though. However, let me see if I can address some of your issues with it.

      You’re right, “The Shinning” as opposed to “The Shining” was indeed a typo. Apparently it effected you deeply and for that I apologize. Next time, I promise to spend more time editing to ensure that typo’s like this don’t happen again. :)

      Calling my reference to “Friends” obscure is inacurate. The series finale alone was watched by 51.1 million viewers, making it the fourth most watched series finale in television history. The series Finale was also ranked one of the most watched TV episodes of that decade. (The finale episode aired in May of 2004)

      As to the series itself, it ran for ten years and for all ten of those years was ranked in the top 10 in prime-time ratings for any particular season, becoming one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. The series won many awards and was nominated for 63 Primetime Emmys. Many critics now regard it as one of the finest shows in television history, including TV Guide, which ranked it #21 on their list of the 50 greatest TV shows of all time. So, all of that being said, forgive me if I assumed that most people would have at least heard of the show and its characters.

      The crack about this being brought to you by a pint of Bacardi and a pack of Newports (and yes, they are a type of tobacco product) was a joke. I’m sorry that it didn’t come through as one. I was not trying to make an excuse for the typo that you spent so much time pointing out to me, I honestly didn’t notice it until you pointed it out. It happens to the best of us I’ve been told and since I’m certinaly not one of those, it probably happens to me more than I would care to admit. :) I also didn’t notice the buy instead of by thing until I read it again after reading your comments. Again, all I can do is plead that I didn’t notice and I’m sorry that you were muddled.

      As to your comment about their being no new ideas, I completely disagree, but I do agree that its perfectly ok to take something old and make it your own.

      I’m sorry that you had to look up some stuff to undertsand what I was going for here, and as to your final words on giving my writing the respect it deserves…I guess after you spent nine paragraphs telling me about two typo’s and the fact that you didn’t get the friends reference, that you don’t consider it deserving of much, so I’ll try and do better next time. :)

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment…so there!

      Much Love,

      Dave

      #8952
  2. Hi Dave,
    I certainly hope fiction isn’t dead! I went through a phase when I didn’t read much but it had more to do with concentration.

    I understand the copyright infringement would prevent you from being able to borrow a character. But in fan-fiction they do it all the time. Check out fan-fiction on Wikipedia and maybe read my article on fan-fiction at: http://symackay.blogspot.com/2012/02/writing-process-in-fan-fiction.html

    You might also google Red Sonja Fan fiction.

    hope that helps,
    Sandra

    #8803
  3. Hi Dave…as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t normally read fiction. I’m so busy with my other activites and poetry, that when I do stray off the beaten path into prose…I invariably reach for my Jane Austen cache or the Bronte` sisters realm of novels.

    As to fiction being dead…I’m afrain the Information Highway as put the kabosh on so many of our tried and true levels of communication..i.e…, Land Phones, Newspapers are dying like flies, snail mail (post offices are being closed all over the country!) etc, etc, etc.!!!!

    Is this a good thing…I’m not so sure…but then…my grandfather said the same thing about Electric Lights!!!! (I started to agree with him when storms hit the area and we had to resore to the oil lamps once again!

    To each his own…my thoughts are that we will follow our hearts and do what makes us happy…and a good book on a stormy night, appeals to me!

    Good Column once again my friend.

    Bea

    #8877