Monday, February 13, 2012

Writer's Conferences: Not the Best Invention

I just read this guest post over at "Girls With Pens" and it pretty much confirmed what I've always thought about writer's conferences: they're not as necessary as they'd have us believe.

I usually avoid book/writing festivals, but I did once attend one. I was in school at the time and got roped into introducing an author (weirdly enough, the author was none other than Randall Wallace, the guy who wrote the screenplay for "Braveheart"). But I high-tailed it out of there as fast as possible afterwards.

Because I've never completely understood writer's conferences.

Let me back up. I do understand their essential function: to bring lots of authors and agents and book readers together to network. The same way scientists hold conventions in their fields of specialty, etc. I get it. But what I've always resented is how people portray them as ESSENTIAL to becoming a published author.

Don't get me wrong. Most writers I've met are nice people. Actually, they're usually more nice than the average person. I enjoy their company usually. Where I have a problem with my fellow writers is that I'm an ultra-competitive writer, and I assume that any other writer worth his salt is the same way. So it doesn't exactly make me want to jaunt off to my local convention center and hang out with a thousand of them.

It's like the Hemingway character says in Woody Allen's masterpiece "Midnight in Paris" when he refuses to read Gil's novel manuscript, saying that he hates it before he's even read it:

If it's bad, I'll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it all the more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.

It's like this: I've read 16.3 billion books. I've written a few unpublished novels, short stories, and screenplays. I've edited a billion reams of other people's writing. I know, probably better than most agents, what good writing is. Ok, maybe I don't know what the hottest thing on the market is, I don't know how to sell a million copies of a book. But I know what good writing is, and that should be the most important job of any writer.

All that hooey about workshopping your writing? The supposedly conventional wisdom that says you have to fork out hundreds of dollars to get people to look at your work? Not necessary. It's like Cormac McCarthy says about teaching writing (and I'm paraphrasing):

Instead of talking about writing, we should use that time to write.

This is why, in my opinion, self-publishing is such a revelation. No more schlepping across the country dreaming of a chance encounter with an agent at a drinking fountain or whatever. No more pushing your stuff onto other people who won't give you the time of day.

No more desperation.

Instead, you can start working your tail off for yourself, and whether you succeed or fail, you'll have no one, and I mean no one, to blame but yourself. To me, that's the best luck a writer could ask for.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Disturbing Persistence of Star Wars

Listen, I'm a mega-huge Star Wars fan. It hit me at a very formative time of my life, and I've basically measured every other movie--consciously or unconsciously--against it.

But come on, man. All six movies in 3-D? Really?

Ok, I'll admit: it would be cool to see Episodes IV and V in 3-D. I can't deny it. The space battle scenes would be sick--I can just imagine T.I.E. fighters flying straight at my face. And it gives me chills.

But what about the massive pile of stinking wreckage that is Episodes VI and I-III? Does Lucas think the visceral outpouring of bile against these movies was just a fluke?

I mean, I didn't even really like "Jedi" when I first saw it, and that was 17,000 years ago. It has not gotten better with time. And the prequels were just unwatchable. I don't care what anyone says about Ep. III: it stunk to high heaven and lowest hell.

It is no mistake that Hayden Christensen has faded from public view. He's an absolutely atrocious actor, and I will not--NOT NOT NOT!!!--sit through watching his massive dopey pouting-lipped head on screen anymore.

OK, the CGI in Ep. III was OK. Granted. But the story was so derivative, so transparently thrown together as a ploy to make piles of cash, that I welcomed Darth Vader's silly "Noooooooo!" the end as validation that George Lucas had lost his friggin mind.

I have no larger point in writing this. I just barfed a little in my mouth when I saw the preview for Phantom Menace in 3-D during the Super Bowl (can you possibly imagine a more huge waste of life than seeing that movie again?).

But I guess once you get as rich as Lucas, you can surround yourself with vaccuous sycophants who tell you how great you are, even when you clearly lost your mojo around the time of the George H.W. Bush administration.

I'm convinced that we'll be seeing different incarnations of this once great trilogy in every new film format that's introduced over the next hundred or so years (just wait for the hologram version of Star Wars where you can actually get inside of Jar Jar Binks and walk around).

This, folks, is the definition of too much of a good thing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fiction is the Best Way to Tell the Truth

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I want to be a writer. Or if I even want to be a writer. There are a trillion infinity reasons not to be a writer: it's a massive pain in the neck, it's a lonely thing to write all by yourself, if you haven't published something by the age of 30 people start looking at you like you're a gorgon, etc.

But then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and thought about the reasons why it's great to be a writer.

And nothing came.

Until I hit on this: writing is just about the only time in life you get to be totally honest.

Honesty is the best policy, right? Whoever made up that saying should be thrown into the deep end with cement water wings. Because if you're always honest, you will not live a comfortable life. For instance, people don't want to hear your "honesty" in the office:

"Hey Jane, you look really dumpy today. Did your whiny son keep you up all night because you don't show him enough outward signs of affection?"

No. You will be summarily fired. And you can't even be honest with your own family. Not even about the little stuff.

"Dad, let's drop the charade. I hate Duke basketball."

Your dad will look at you like you just kicked him in the solar plexus. I repeat: you cannot be honest.

Except when you write, that is.

When you write, all of the rules change. You can make the most outrageous, easily falsifiable claims ("Gee Nate, it looks like that asteroid made of gouda cheese is on a collision course with the planet Hamglubla!") and no one can say a darn thing about it.

Not that the above sentence drips with honesty: alone, it's a totally meaningless string of words. But if you couch it in the context of reality--say, if the cheese-filled asteroid is going to destroy a planet where people kill each other because they can't control their tempers--then you know what? It's good that that stinkhole of a planet blows up, because people need to be kind to each other.

Just try saying "people should be kind to each other" to your friends, and watch their faces drop. Witness the awkward silence that ensues. Before long, if you persist in your campaign for kindness, society will force you to go live in a hippy van out in the desert somewhere. Dress your mantra up in an apocolyptic vision of a cheeseball evicerating a whole planet, however, and now you've got their attention.

When else can you get away with such honesty? I'll tell you when: never. This is why you should be glad you're an artist, if an artist you are. Chin up.