zeitgeist


It’s taken me a long time to realize there are people who love to read but who don’t give a damn about how a thing is written. Yeah, I know, should have been obvious with one browse of bestseller books—but, somehow, the concrete realization of this fact  managed to elude me. Of course, not all bestsellers are badly written. Many are quite well written, in fact. But now and then someone comes along like Stieg Larsson or Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer or E. L. James who are really atrocious at narrative but still manage to concoct a compelling story and capture that certain something in the zeitgeist that has people flocking to them.

Full disclosure: I am again attempting to read Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and this time it seems to be sticking, but I have bounced off Larsson and these other writers. I probably won’t try the others again as there seem to be diminishing returns and too many other things I’d rather read. The thing is, as I have been struggling with my own writing, I have also been struggling with my ability to read fiction. I keep bouncing off of books, even well-written ones, even those by old favorites, and I’ve been longing to become immersed in something. I’m far enough past Larsson’s tell-not-show and long infodump opening that the mystery of Tattoo has had a chance to hook me, so I may actually finish this book. No guarantees, though. It’s been the first part of December since I finished anything, even rereads of old favorites. (The last was Deborah Harkness’s Times Convert, the follow-on book to her All Souls Trilogy. It was meh, but I’d loved the other books and wanted to catch up on the characters.)

My writing and my fiction reading have always been connected. One feeds the other, even if what I’m reading has nothing to do with what I’m writing. Being immersed in someone else’s world for a time helps stimulate the mystic place in my brain where my own singing starts. I can’t help thinking that if I cure one symptom it might help cure the other.

I’m still writing almost every day, and it’s still mostly like pulling teeth, but I do plant butt in chair. Most days it isn’t much more than 500 or so words. Some days I’m blessed by 1000 or so. Today, all I managed was 250. But the important part is sitting my butt in the chair, opening the file, and doing something.

So, readers who don’t care how a thing is written. It’s all good. People should like what they like regardless of nerds like me who care about those things. I once had a friend who absolutely refused to read when he was younger, even though it caused him problems in school. He was a bright, imaginative, funny fellow but he just hated reading. Then one day when he was in high school a perceptive teacher shoved a science fiction book into his hands. He was intrigued by the premise and started to read. From that moment on, he became a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy. He always had a book in his hands. He did confess to me, though, that he often skipped the descriptive parts and dialogue tags and read just the dialogue so he could get through the story faster.

And therein hangs a tale: there are many people like him. Not only do they not care how a thing is written, they want to get through the story as fast as possible to find out what happens. No savoring. They don’t really care about “the art of story,” that immersive feel of a book. It’s a mystery to me why they read at all—but again, that’s not for me to decide. People should be allowed to like what they like and how they like it, and no one—well-meaning nerd, politicizing authors, crusading literati, anyone—has the right to tell them otherwise.

There are no shoulds in reading. Only what gets you through the night. And the book.

 

 

I’m not such a believer in prophecy. I give credence to premonitions because I’ve had experience with them, but grand prophecies always seem a stretch to me. Still, sometimes you can read the currents running through a society; sometimes the zeitgeist speaks clearly.

But when I was cleaning out some old files this morning, I came across this old post, “The Beauty of Moonlight,” written not long after George W. Bush launched his war against Saddam Hussein. I was not a supporter of this war. I thought it built on very shaky ground, and that it was mostly launched for two reasons: 1) because Bush wanted revenge against Saddam Hussein trying to kill his father, and 2) because the Bush Administration wanted to seem to be doing something in response to 9/11. I think the attack against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan was a direct response to that attack, but Bin Laden eluded capture and the dogs of war were baying for more and more visible and easy to hit targets. And so we launched an illicit war.

Make no mistake about it: Saddam Hussein was an evil mofo. But there are many such evil rulers across the globe which many U.S. administrations have turned a blind eye to. The attack against Iraq wasn’t about that at all, and I believe the U.S. sold a piece of its soul when we launched it. I will forever honor the men and women who fought in that war, but their honorable service was done at the behest of deceivers.

But prophecy…The first part of the post referenced above is about 9/11, the second half about the karmic debt we might have to pay as a nation for our actions in Iraq. I won’t restate it here because if you’re interested you can read that post.

The purpose of this post is to say that . . . we may currently be paying that debt. Our democracy, our “sacred” institutions are under attack in a way they have never been before. We’ve elected a Fascist and the Republican party is goose-stepping along in sync with his attack on the rule of law; hate groups are rising at an alarming rate. The good news is that we have good children who seem willing to take up the activism necessary to fight this evil, but we still have a long way to go before we can clean this mess up. And let’s be real–things will never be the same again. Once those dogs of hatred are loosed in any society they only want more chaos. It will be a long, hard fight to defeat them.

If we can.

I believe in our children. I still believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the American rule of law that once before brought down a crooked president. I was never more proud of this country than I was in the aftermath of Watergate because it proved that no American was above the law, even a president.

But I have no prophecy or premonitions to offer here. I only have hope that it’s still true.

Okay, so the plot of that novel is nothing like any of my vampire novels (all 3-1/2 of them), but there are certain elements in the worldbuilding which really sounded familiar:

  • A 1500-year-old vampire
  • A group of powerful supernatural being overlords called the Congregation (mine was the Covenant)
  • Vampires who can eat normal food but don’t, mostly because the smell is abhorrent (especially garlic)
  • Vampire growth spurts, in which the vampire gets larger and more of an apex predator after being “changed” from mortal
  • Other piddling things that slip my mind at the moment

Now, none of these elements are earth-shatteringly similar, but chances are that if any of my vamp novels sees some form of publication someone will surely think I’ve ripped off Ms. Harkness, even though I did this worldbuilding twenty years ago now. It no longer depresses me when this sort of stuff happens, no longer even irks me especially hard, because I have been through this same thing so many times before. Seriously, click on the “simultaneous invention” tag if you want to listen to more hardcore whining on this subject. No? Can’t say as I blame you.

The thing is, the concept of simultaneous invention is quite well-known in science. And if it’s true for the tech fields, it’s also true for creative fields. It happens all the time—to me, to my friends, to writers and artists of all sorts. It’s just the way the zeitgeist operates, propagating certain ideas into the culture when their time has arrived. Some individuals are quick to pick up on them and “get them to market,” while others (like me) are painfully slow about the whole thing or otherwise blocked from getting their version before the public eye time. As with Ms. Harkness and I, nothing sinister is involved, no one has stolen anything.

Most of the time. Ideas do get stolen. It’s happened (verifiably) to friends of mine, it’s happened to me—which is one of the reasons I decided I didn’t want to be involved with Hollywood anymore. But most of the time, I firmly believe it’s just a case of that ol’ zeitgeist playing with folks, hoping somebody will take the idea ball and run with it.

The strangest example of this for me happened about a year before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out. I started working on this idea about a guy name Roy who was a state trooper. One night when he’s out on patrol on a lonely stretch of highway, he has a close encounter with a bunch of UFOs that radically changes his life. He loses his job, his marriage breaks up, and he spends the rest of his time obsessing about and trying to solve the mystery of these strange alien craft. Sounds familiar, huh? I never heard a word about the movie in production until I was about six months into the worldbuilding on my own idea. The thing that is really freaky to me is that both my character and the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters had the name of Roy. The zeitgeist was working overtime on that one.

So, onward. If I do publish any of the old vampire stuff, I’m sure there are many elements in my books that have been used in other (and many) books since I first came up with the concepts. They can’t help but be labeled “derivative.” I guess the answer is to just keep writing new things, to keep moving forward.

Oh, and what did I think of A Discovery of Witches? I quite loved it, despite the cliffhanger ending. Which is all I’ll say about that ending—but you have been forewarned.

Ever since the Syfy Channel’s new series, Haven, debuted I’ve been in a slight funk. You see, the novel I’m doing revisions on is a contemporary fantasy which involves people in a quirky rural Southern California county where the paranormal is an everyday occurrence and the inhabitants take it for granted. Much like the quirky small town of Haven on Syfy. It was bad enough when their show, Eureka, premiered. That was about a quirky small town in which wild experiments in fringe science took place, causing paranormal-like events to happen all the time. Everyone there pretty much took it for granted, too.

I think the story of my novel is original, but it can’t help but be overshadowed by all this quirk and all these strange towns. I continue to polish the novel, however. It’s what I have; I will market it. It’s a stand-alone, but it’s also part of a trilogy, see, and I really want to write those other books. Maybe even more than I wanted to write this one.

I first came up with the concept of Dos Lunas County, my quirky entry, about eleven years ago. Formulating the concept, the characters, the plotting took awhile, and this novel had at least two false starts before I finally finished it. This is not an atypical pattern for me, unfortunately. For a time I was finishing a novel a year, but those individual novels were often years in the making. One would come on strong, then need restructuring so I’d work on another until I solved the problems. About once a year, one of them would finally click completely into place and I could push forward to the finish. This has, as you can imagine, sometimes worked to my disadvantage, marketing-wise.

If only I weren’t such a slow writer. If only I didn’t think so much. If only I didn’t think up perpetual if-onlys. This isn’t a whine, not really, because I know that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in my stars but in myself. I could get back to the novel a year pace, I think, but I seriously doubt I will be able to conceive, plot, and write a novel in a year. They surge and wane and surge again, so I’m always a beat or two behind the rhythm of the market.

I write on and continue to market my arhythmic novels. What else can I do? I am what I am, the market is what it is, and the zeitgeist is always pumping out ideas in multiple directions, hoping that somebody will take up the challenge and run (fast) with it.