The Thunder Road
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