Month: April 2015
Even though I am very nearly illiterate when it comes to technology, I spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet—an hour or more every day. Yes: checking email and facebook, but I also regularly check out featured news items on Bing and msn.
Invariably, I find myself drawn to reading the “comments” sections following these stories. Don’t ask me why. I know these are offered up largely by people who spend more time at their computers sharing their opinions than they have ever thought to spend in researching data on which to form those opinions! They appear to be mostly people whose sources of information are TV sound bites and Twitter messages.
The comments—even from those labeled as “Top Commentators”—are superficial, offering up little in the way of substantive, verifiable information. And they often consist of little more than labeling other commentators as “conservative” or “liberal”—both pejorative terms in cyber commentary! (Often couched in such original and clever terms as “repuke” or “libtard.”) Everyone is entitled to have opinions—and apparently equally entitled to broadcast them ad nauseam no matter how inane.
Many comments are downright mean: mean-spirited and resorting to crude name-calling (as above). One must acknowledge a degree of cleverness as writers seek to convey such brilliant epithets as f-ing this or f-ing that and the unique ways they devise to refer to each other in terms of the anal orifice. Far less amusing is the “cleverness” of thinly disguised racist comments.
Anyone with a small degree of education must be appalled at the multitude of errors in simple sentence construction, especially spelling! Don’t these folks proofread at all before hitting the “send” key?
A classic example that illustrates all these objections appears quite frequently: “Your stupid.” Never mind the confusion of your and you’re. Such writers, hiding in the anonymity of the internet, label other writers as “stupid” when one assumes the commentator means to object to the content of an idea or an opinion expressed in an earlier entry. Name-calling. Nonny-nonny-na-na.
So why do we (I) bother reading these comments? I don’t know. Maybe it’s like slowing down to gawk at an accident. . . .
Writers have a lot in common with whores.
Well, consider: In terms of longevity, telling stories has to rank side-by-side with the world’s oldest profession. And, like those other professionals, we are engaged in selling ourselves. (What else is this matter of “platform building” all about?) What’s more, if we want to sell—or continue to sell—we have to meet customer demands to some degree.
Two very talented members of my writing group find this latter concept difficult to comprehend fully. Both are capable writers, often showing downright brilliance in a given turn of phrase or image.
I think they both really want to sell their work.
One of them is a very devout Christian woman who is writing a novel based on a Bible story. She is doing a terrific job of fleshing out details and characters where the Bible gives us only rudimentary outlines. The problem is that she cannot separate herself from being a “witnessing Christian” to get on with her novel. Her preaching at the reader keeps interrupting the flow of the story.
Try as we might, members of her critique group cannot convince her that if she will just tell us the STORY, the characters will convey the message more effectively—and with far more subtlety—than when she merely beats us over the head with Bible passages. Her book has great potential, but I think she underestimates both her own characters and her readers.
The other writer is a young gay man. (Our group is nothing if not eclectic!) He is writing an experimental novel on the gay experience that is truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, because he goes overboard in salacious sex and graphic torture scenes, the book will probably have only limited appeal.
Several of us have posed the “less is more” argument, but he seems to feel that modifying his content for a mainstream audience will somehow violate his artistic integrity. Perhaps he is right, but as it stands now, if the work finds a publishing home at all, it is likely to serve only a small niche audience. Which is really too bad—because there are elements of this book that simply soar on a universal level.
As writers we must ultimately be true to ourselves, but sometimes it seems difficult to see the forest when certain trees are so mesmerizing.
Writing sex scenes in a novel becomes a rather tricky business at times—at least it does for me. Readers (and some editors) seem to demand a certain number and/or degree of sex scenes in romance novels. I write these scenes, but I confess that I am not always really comfortable doing so. I mean sometimes I just feel that I am invading the privacy of my characters!
But for some readers (and some editors), the more explicit detail you get, the better.
Pornography has always been with us. Any visit to the murals on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum will quickly reveal that truth. And, admittedly, often enough visual and literary depictions of the most intimate human interaction can be truly beautiful. What’s more, sex in mainstream fiction has evolved just within the last couple of centuries. Madame Bovary and Tess of the D’Urbervilles seem pretty tame now. Even D. H. Lawrence, who took such abuse for Lady Chatterly’s Lover, is far from shocking to a modern reader of romance novels.
But I sometimes wonder if we have not gone overboard in this evolution of sex in fiction. That “insert-tab-A-into-slot-B” approach has gotten so ho-hum that we now we have to spell out kinky stuff, too (think 50 Shades . . .). Even conventional romps in the bedroom have to be seen in extreme detail. For instance, we get graphic details of cunnilingus and fellatio in addition to a myriad of positions for inserting tab A into slot B. And they go on for pages and pages and pages!
While there are no rules set in stone for writing about sex in romance novels, there are a few (very loose!) guidelines to which most writers try to adhere. Character and emotion should be paramount. Characters are regularly in an on-going relationship: they are making love, not merely engaged in sex. A few publishers (very few these days!) say “no body parts.” Others encourage the use of (sometimes laughable) euphemisms. Whatever the terminology, it should be consistent with the sensibilities of the characters one has created. In these, as in other scenes, careful writers pay attention to sensual imagery, tension, and pacing. And, often enough, a sense of humor helps!
I don’t have an answer for the implied question I am raising here: How much is too much? It often seems that a little subtlety would serve very well. . . .
Sometimes characters have a right to their privacy, don’t they?
But, there is no denying: sex does sell!
Western Secular Humanism is a phrase one sometimes hears spoken with a distinct shudder by those with little real understanding of the term. This is especially true, it seems to me, of evangelical Christians—and certainly true of fanatical types of any “fundamentalist” persuasion, who so often mistake it as being decidedly antithetical to religion.
In the mid-1970s, an American novelist, the late Chaim Potok, presented a cogent argument for understanding secular humanism in a speech he gave in San Francisco to the National Council of Teachers of English. He specifically spoke of it in terms of writing fiction and teaching literature.
Allow me to reiterate some of what he said.
“Western” because the concept, which appeared in ancient Greece, later gained focus in Western Europe. Europe’s ideas of egalitarianism evolved differently from—and in sharp contrast to—the social mores of folks in the Middle and Far East who adhered to stricter hierarchies of class and clan relationships. (Recent history would suggest this is still true.)
“Secular” because it is NOT a religious view, though it does not preclude such a view. Western Secular Humanism neither advocates nor denies religion and spirituality. Indeed, it truly does see humans as sentient, spiritual beings who are also rational beings—emphasis on the word rational!
“Humanism” because it sees humankind as a focal point of the universe—which, if we are to take Biblical injunctions to heart, would seem to be the view of religionists, too. In other words, humanism holds people, not a god or gods, responsible for the ills that have beset human beings.
Potok spoke of Western Secular Humanism as a “cultural umbrella” that, instead of insisting on particular theological and political views, allows for any number of disparate views to co-exist under its aegis. He saw this as America’s unique contribution to a world always in turmoil. Europeans fleeing religious and economic woes brought these ideas to the New World. Yes, there were/are pockets of intolerance (think Puritan New England, for instance), but for the most part the founding fathers adopted a live-and-let-live approach to what they saw as ideal for this then new nation.
It is a view that we might well reexamine in this age of polarization—not only in American politics, but also in the world at large. We’ve lived with fanaticism and adamant refusal to compromise quite, quite long enough. My way or the highway just does not really work very well, does it?
Now—to bring this discussion back to what is at least tangentially related to the topic nearest to my heart: writing fiction. As a writer, I try to make my characters themselves responsible for their own actions. Both they and readers must be aware (eventually) that it was largely their own choices that brought about whatever challenges they face. They may or may not invoke a higher power in moments of crisis, but essentially human dilemmas are resolved by rational human beings. To have it otherwise is simply too easy, too unrealistic.
Life is full of choices.
And human beings make those choices.
I discovered the works of Miranda Neville. Never mind that she has, indeed, been around for a while. Her work was new to me.
Miranda Neville writes Regencies and I always feel a special kinship with Regency writers. Though I am rarely moved to jump up and write a fan letter—all right, an e-mail message—on finishing a new book, I was moved to do so by her Lady Windermere’s Lover.
OK. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that in this book she employs a plot circumstance that I have now used in two of my own books—The Wagered Wife and my newest, The Memory of Your Kiss. That is: a prolonged separation of hero and heroine and later renewal of their relationship on a rather different basis.
Naturally, the first Neville book I would pick up was No. 3 in a 4-book series! I’ve since read two others and, take it from me, Miranda Neville’s work holds up well. Very well. Her characters are not cardboard cut-outs. Quirky, flawed and sexy, her heroes and heroines are memorable individuals for whom you find yourself rooting. The plots of the three I’ve read so far are only tangentially intertwined—each is very much a stand-alone novel.
Discovering a new eminently likeable writer is a thrill. That that writer delivers readable Regencies is frosting on the cake!