Is it great or only made up of great things?

sold out show

The difference between a hit song and something that is not can be readily detected, particularly by fans of The Artist in question. Sweeping along on the ‘shuffle mode’ of iTunes recently, brought to ear a song by the beloved band Journey that I had never, ever heard before: Lay It Down. The album it came from that I’ve held in my account for years now, never happened to select that particular track when shuffling. And long past are my days when I would listen to EVERY TRACK on a new album I purchased in view of a quiet respect to The Artist.

The song was notably not good, interesting, catchy or lyrically poetic. Yet it held all the attempted trappings of a hit song in that era: the twin guitars’ power chords, multi-harmony chorus, BIG ARENA SOUND, lyrics vaguely directed at sex and rock ‘n roll. Somehow, in the assembling of these Frankensteinian (not a word) musical appendages, they lost all appeal and turned out ugly and forgettable. I’ve never heard the song on any radio anywhere, nor has anyone ever pointed it out to me as some of the best of Journey. For a Youtube of the song, you must enter it manually as it does not come up on their list of popular hits.

Contrasting this with their ever-popular and rebooted, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (that made for a punctuation nightmare) you find the similar formula: Keenly processed sound, voices, chords, lyrics. But what you get with this combination is, of course, ARENA ROCK DYNAMITE. Or, rebooted high school choir tribute ad nauseum/cutesy.

This made me concerned for my writing. Not because I’m worried that I have the pieces of a blockbuster hit and joined them together poorly. No, no, we’re dealing with much simpler issues such as proper grammar and how to make it. More to the point, if I ever start unearthing gold nuggets by the heapful (not a word) into my literary wheelbarrow; will I even recognize them as such, will I even know what they are?

I read a lot right now, new writers, old writers, published, unpublished, self-published, bloggers, Great American Novelists of the Golden Age Who Shat Diamond-Encrusted Prose for Dinner. I know what I like, I can hear what sounds good, even what I WANT to emulate, but at the moment my own writing voice still feels oddly unfamiliar. As the first time you heard your own answering machine greeting (remember when we called them THAT?!), self-consciousness poured over and you hit the record button again, saying nothing the next time. Letting the beep answer for you.

I don’t know if what I’m making is any good or if I can even trust the feedback I receive. If, as I suspect, it is not, will it ever be? To extend further, if the writing is not good and will never be of high quality, that feels terribly, unusefully (not a word) wasteful and tiresome to me. I think learning an ancient dead language would seem more fulfilling because at least I could say at my death bed, “Well ONCE UPON A TIME someone knew what I was talking about!” Instead of working, correcting, drafting, editing, disciplining self not to go eat something and stay at the damn laptop.

Perhaps I’ve finally found the truth of Jack Black’s dictum:

not hardcore

Please forgive the lack of ‘you’re’

Which reminds me I need to practice my bass. Digression.

Still, if becoming a writer who writes, okay I’ll say it, GREAT writing, is something to be grasped, if it takes time, commitment, hardcore-ness (not a word), chocolate, gritty keyboard determination, frequent pots of coffee, humility in the cold, stark light of edits, good posture, a hungry mind, chiropractor visits because of not having good posture, a quiver-inducing stubbornness to just GET IT DONE.

Well, I don’t know if I have all that. But finding out, even if I’m unsuccessful in the journey, may prove more illuminating than learning an actual dead language and bearing with the inevitable requests of, “Hey, how do you say ‘Dude, that’s such b.s.’ in Phoenician?”

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Change is . . . inevitably fearful

Reading this comment today, about her Hugo award for blogging, Kameron Hurley mentioned how surprised she was to be awarded due to the passion and intensity of her posts given that Sci-Fi/Fantasy critics, publishers, etc are very resistant to change. Having not read her blog before today, I can presume that this is because of a counter-cultural perspective of airing the frustrations with her peers when they conform to formula stories; afraid to break out of the mould.

I read this with some astonishment, honestly, because here we are, delving into stories, ideas, other worlds and so on – looking for an escape, looking for ourselves, finding something different but also familiar; running far away, yet finding ourselves back home as well. But we can’t have too much of that because, well, dear readers, it better be marketable and sellable, lucrative, growth-earning-ratio-to-some-economist-term-I-never-really-studied-this-field-much. GAH! Are you kidding me? This is the world(s) I’m living (traveling across space/time continuum) in?! It sounds like the start of a joke, “So there’s this Science Fiction author whose afraid of change and new things and risk and the unknown . . .” 

Yea, we have a name for those folks – they’re called “Serious Writers” and they don’t do genre fiction, they work in the normal routine of life, forging it into the next Great American Novel. I know, I know, there are many daring Serious authors. Working their non-genre spellcraft of prose bending into the staid, suburban life that still transports you across moonbeams and sunsets without being magical or otherworldly but still feeling as though they are.

Gosh folks, if there were ever more patent evidence that humans have a problem with change across all cultures, borders, organizations, clubs, institutions, departments, villages and mud huts, you couldn’t find it in more pristine representation than the SF/F group that can’t quite seem to find new ideas to make money from. The department I work in, the church I go to, the town I live in, the state legislature I vote for – all of these places are juggling unwieldy lumps of uncertainty as they move into the future from a known past and it creates fear. Each of these looks outwardly brave and inwardly frightened with varying degrees of capability to face the same old, same ‘ol.

Yet, perhaps for Ms. Hurley’s industry, that’s the newest change of all. Perhaps by her award, as she acknowledges, SF/F has begun to look at itself and found something unexpected. Writers who are bold enough to look hard at themselves, each other, their writing, the state of their market and platform, call it like it is, do something about it and move on.

The fear of losing what we’ve known, whether it be profits, accolades, readers, or the plain comfort of none of these – just your own voice on its own page – melts away when we finally embrace the change that cannot be stopped anyway. There you find the bracing cold freshness of new horizons; unknown places devoured by ready audiences sated from a hunger they didn’t know was there. 

I long to be found in awkwardly new places brimming with risks both grand and bawdy. If I had the capacity to write them myself, I would. Perhaps someday, I will.

Who enter . . . all ye abandoned . . . have hope . . . welcome! We have come to share our banana guacamole and give you a new porpoise!

So, I’m pretty fuzzy on exactly what it’s supposed to say over Dante’s entrance to Hell – I don’t plan on ever going there myself, you see – but I wanted to let you know that here at My Marvelous Maelstrom of Moving Memes, Musings, Malformed Manuscript Machinations and Millieu, that there should be some measure of giggles, hopeful pondering  and thoughtful insights from squeezing into the spaces between all of us; feeling individually abandoned, collectively herded. But it might also resemble literary Hell. Just a heads up. Could go either way, really.

I have no right to write any more than the rest of you, right? I think that would be something – all of us writing a blog, scrambling for time to make sure everyone gets read. Gosh, there’d be no time for endless Survivor marathons or Happy Days reruns. Therefore, my ridiculous idea isn’t shot down so much as Dead On Arrival.

You really should consider writing something yourself, though. It feels good when the words are flowing and the key strikes keep coming and coming. There’s a purpose, a creativity vein is crumbled loose from the deep shaft of living and breathing that kept going further and further without really knowing where or perhaps why. All of a sudden, you find it. This rich, deeply ancient ore long forgotten that whole new industries and processes are developed in your life to find ways of leveraging this discovered material with so many uses.

Or, you could just keep coming to sites like mine, with zero visitors and followers, hoping to find some break in the monotony – a quantum of solace! (James Bond reference #1). Yes, it looks very bleak at the outset, of course, all journeys do – the more risky and unlikely, the worse it looks. But the better the payoff if they do! NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS! (Star Wars reference #1, gosh, I really thought SW was gonna get in first but James was a spy so I guess it makes sense he’d find a way around the rules).

Well, whatever you decide to do, write, don’t write, rerun, don’t rerun, find life-giving literary ore or just pretend Minecraft ore (virtual ore! how sad IS that? Yes, yes, Tommy is so creative and being productive with his fake creations, at least he’s not blowing up something – what’s that you say? oh, look he’s making bombs in the game . . .) it’s yours to do or do not. There really is no try. (Ha! #2, okay – I’ll stop) There are merely professionals or dilettantes en route to becoming professionals or becoming nothing. That’s just how it is. Sorry, but not everyone in real life gets an award AND A PRIZE! For showing up, for participating; for having a pulse. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’, someone once said. They’re too busy – not-reading all those blogs – hoping they’re life might become so wonderfully benign it becomes it’s own story worth telling in a sitcom, later rerunned, later blogged about.