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Two Pages (12/10/16)

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Between scenes in Lawful Evil, I enjoy taking breaths on the page, respites from the tension that I have built and I look to avoid taking away from that entirely. It also allows me to show the changes in the characters as the story has continued. If your characters have not fundamentally changed by the end of whatever you are writing, then you have problems that require fixing before it goes out. In truth, it’s unlikely to go out because any editor or publisher will struggle to see how such a work can find an audience.

They do, though, especially literary fiction. Genre fiction is seen as the dishevelled relative, the kind who shows up at Christmas without a present and eats all the stuffing, but in truth, there’s a robustness, a pragmatism to genre fiction that shows up some of the literary fiction, that is seen as superior. I say that, as someone who enjoys both, and has developed a passion for nuance and ambiguity in the reading that I enjoy.

Genre fiction has it’s flaws too, but to dismay it as merely entertainment in comparison to literature denies it’s power. Entertainment is tough work, I’ve read a lot of literature and a lot of genre fiction, and the genre fiction moves because it has to. Some genre fiction has little more to distinguish it than a strong conceit, or a steroidal macguffin but it can pass a train journey. Literary fiction, can be beautiful but empty and afterwards, you’re left dismayed. It’s also prone to plotholes and characterisation that have led me to want to throw the book across the room. I love ambiguity in endings, but god when it’s done poorly, it’s really irritating. Susan Choi’s My Education was a perfect example of that. It also has a tendency to communicate elitism and disdain without offering a more substantial alternative.

Genre fiction has a bit of a self-esteem problem, self conscious at times because it may feature orcs, elves, vampires, werehamsters and robots made of cheese. Yet, remember that it is as entirely fictional as middle aged professor facing a midlife crisis and his waning libido. Real life, there is the latter but on the page, all bets are off. If you come to the page, do not do so lightly. The best work I’ve read combines literary and genre elements – Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin combine elements of both, Gun Machine and Normal by Warren Ellis all combine fantastical and political/socio-economic elements into dizzying displays of fury.

You could class Gabriel Garcia Marquez as genre fiction, festooned as it is with beautiful language. There is good and bad, and that depends on your preference and point of view. So long as you are reading, and mindful about it, like what you like.

As Shaky Kane, the cartoonist said, don’t be cool, like everything.

I can read Austen then pick up Stephen King and feel the same rush of pleasure. I can move from King to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. I don’t bring my politics to the page, in that I am ruthlessly egalitarian. A good book is a good book and sometimes a bad book can be entertaining in the way a bad movie can be, but the time invested in a bad movie can be collaborative joy whereas we seldom read together, unless it’s to our children. Or a book club but that’s in retrospect.

So, at the moment I have finished My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates which was stunning and biting in it’s pain and satire, a fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsay case, which has come to attention after the recent documentary. It combines different textures, ramps the unreliable narrator volume up to full and ends on a note of hopeful redemption that unmanned me a little bit but you read at 0400, you deal with what hits you. I’ve now started Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong, who’s been a genre author that has a snappy, smart style that amuses and entertains me.

In other news, editing on Until She Sings is going well, it’s humbling to see where you were and where you are on the page. Much like going through a photo album and seeing that the light in your eyes hasn’t changed all that much.

Thank you for reading.

 

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The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

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The Dead Lands is beautifully written, massive in scope and invention, giving a relatively new take on the post apocalypse novel with slavery and mutated animals, the return of a system of magic that sits in the pocket of the furthest realms of quantum physics. Yet, it did not satisfy me as a reader.

It’s structure felt a little off, too enamoured of the setting and the concept to really deliver the story that I felt Percy was aiming to tell. It might be a good demonstration of Dunning Kruger but Percy can and does deliver some lovely set pieces, but the underlying energy isn’t there in this book. The start and ending feel rushed, and the middle, which veers between an expedition fraught with tension and horror and an impending rebellion against a decadent dictator does not move with the energy. It was a little affected, and when I compare this to Justin Cronin’s The Twelve trilogy, of which we have had two parts, then it does not match up to the literary power of those books. I was unconvinced, reading and then continuing on the credentials that he established so effortlessly with Red Moon.

Which I could enthuse about at great length, but here the proficiency and the expectation that I had for this work against it. The Dead Lands chases trends rather than sets them. It feels slightly tepid, cautious in the wrong places and too enamoured of itself to really have gone in and given it a more robust story. I couldn’t connect with the characters at all and found that I was merely interested to see how the story ended rather than invested in them.

I wanted to enjoy this, but it was disappointing. A collection of elements all too common and none of them hanging together particularly well. It felt rushed and insecure and the lack of confidence made it’s flaws apparent. I was looking forward to this book immensely but it let me down in the finish.

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Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

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I found out about this book from Warren Ellis’ newsletter, and found it in the library. Two simple steps that led to about a week spent lost in a hypnotic, melancholy blend of delicate emotional nuance and body horror, swept along on a tide of considered revisions to our mutual history to accommodate the existence of werewolves.

It is stunning. The pacing, the characterisation and the language. Sometimes the presence of the supernatural/supernormal tends to create an out but here Percy brings together a quiet depth to the horror. This does for werewolves what Justin Cronin’s The Passage did for vampires. It’s Don DeLilo jamming with Stephen King. Margaret Atwood jamming with Alice Hoffman, an amalgam that comes across as boldly original and yet it taps into deep rivers of emotion and archetype.

So, with Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere, I am now into the second act, which is increasing the tension and making the characters suffer.  I’ve pared away a lot of the extraneous details that bloated the exploratory draft and kept it lean in terms of things that happen.  There is more to do here, but it’s making for a leaner, more intense book. There is pain in this and writing from a male perspective allows me to tap into that into a different way.

I take the approach of always having something to work on. No hanging around to let the frustration bite, just putting that ambient energy into the next project. I enjoy being productive and challenging myself.  It’s always a learning opportunity for me, each challenge and frustration has been become fuel for the next book. It’s trying to sustain a professional and productive mindset when there is no incentive to do so. That discipline leads to a set of internalised values and routines, which creates a place of happiness that isn’t dependent upon anything more than showing up and doing the work.