Friday, October 19, 2007

Fan Fiction

As a Star Trek fan, I'll admit that it's crossed my mind to write stories involving characters like Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and the rest of the crew. I never did, but throughout my younger years I dreamed of joining the crew of the Enterprise -- "No bloody A, B, C, or D," as Scotty said in the "Reunion" episode of The Next Generation.

Of course, I grew up. Got interested in girls. Found my true love. And generally found myself more interested in writing about the characters springing up in my head, rather than those that already "existed" in television or movie history.

It had never occurred to me that there might be money to make in writing fan fiction, but apparently some people do that sort of thing and it's even becoming respectable. Far be it for me -- an unpublished novelist -- to pooh pooh the works of those who have several books under their belt, expanding the universe of characters I hold dear. Indeed, some writers are able to do quite well in that genre, and there's something to be said for claiming a piece of Captain Picard or Ensign Ro for posterity.

But I'm learning about the people in my head right now. Maybe sometime in the future, I'll worry about those already created.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

She Writes Like a Woman

There was an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times recently. Written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, the viewpoint was not merely about "politeness and authority" that the title references. Rather, it speaks to attitudes that are apparently held by women in Minnesota -- and probably in much of the United States. Specifically, the author suggests that women writers –- at least those Ms. Klinkenborg has taught -– tend to practice "self negation … a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant … to help create a sense of shared space."

In other words, many women authors don’t write with confidence; their narrative voice is timid. While I’m sure there are many men who emasculate themselves in their writing, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. That’s probably because I think of writers –- male or female –- who impress me with their voice; I don't usually think about the ones whose voices are soft and uninspired.

I had a conversation with one of my sisters-in-law recently. She's a voracious and strong reader who can discern quickly whether she'll like something or not. She's also not a snob; I learned about Christopher Moore's delightful B-film novels from her. And she can explain why she likes something beyond the typical "I love the characters he creates" answer. Anyway, she described a conversation she'd had where she told a woman "I generally don't read women authors." She gave her reasoning, which I won't display here, except to say that Klinkenborg would have understood it.

Personally, I'm not bothered by women writers in general, though as I look at what I've been reading the past couple years since I started working in New York again, I've found that most of what I've read have been by men. Notable exceptions N.M. Kelby's Whale Season, which is kind of like Chris Moore only without vampires or demons, and Book Doctor by Esther Cohen, which I enjoyed (Ironically, it feels like it needs a book doctor; the ending was rushed and included a deus ex machina character to hasten things along. However, there were also a couple works that I started recently and didn't finish because they were treacly crap.

I found Klinkenborg's comments interesting coming as they did soon after Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Without having read a drop of her work, I can tell she's got a unique voice just by reading the interview she gave from her doorstep. The woman has confidence and pride, opinions and perspective. I hope more writers -- regardless of gender -- recognize the value of developing such an honest voice. Readers and other writers appreciate it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hey Jack Kerouac, I Think of Dr. Seuss...

I apologize for mangling a Natalie Merchant lyric for my own devices, but it's what came to mind after reading David Brooks' very funny social commentary in his recent New York Times column. Perhaps if I pondered longer about his column, I'd find a better title for this particular entry, but in a convoluted way it helps characterize the point I'm trying to make (and what else is a good headline to do?).

Brooks discusses Sal Paradise, the main character of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and points to a literary debate that apparently is broiling in the English departments of America's Ivory Towers: Is the book about youth's frenzied search for affirmation or is it about loss. Of course, to a liberal arts major like myself, the answer is easy: I can say without a whiff of irony that it's both -- and probably more.

But Brooks took a much more interesting approach to the issue. He argues that all cultural artifacts -- and at a half century, On the Road is certainly a dusty artifact in my opinion -- have to be interpreted through whatever experiences the Baby Boomer generation is going through at that moment.

How typical of a Boomer to say that. I'm no Boomer, thank you, but I can still chuckle at this line:
“On the Road” is the book you want to read if you find Sylvia Plath too upbeat.

Though, I'll admit I laughed out loud when he wrote:
In 20 years, "The Cat in the Hat" will be read as a commentary on unreliable home health care workers.

Still, I was struck at how true his words rang in my head when he noted that the real secret of the book was its discharge of youthful energy -- "the stupid, reckless energy that saves On the Road from being a dreadful novel. The delightful, moronic, unreflective fizz appears whenever the characters are happiest, when they are chasing girls or urinating from a swerving flatbed truck while going 70 miles an hour."

I can relate to that, and I think I can draw from that in my own work. (After all, I come from a generation balanced between everything being about Me and 'greed being good.') But I wouldn't cast all Boomers with the same brush strokes. Technically, the Baby Boom lasted until 1964 or '65. But I think there's a major difference between those kids who came of age during the Summer of Love and those who learned about life after waiting in line to get into Studio 54.

Kerouac wrote about the thrill and fearfulness of being a teenager. Even teenagers with the blues may be guilty of pissing off the backs of moving vehicles. Put into a good literary context, that can be powerful stuff. I don't think being reminded of that will be enough for me to wipe dust off my Kerouac, but if I write a little better now because of it, I'll tip my glass to the ol' drunk and take another sip from the sweet nectars of the Knowledge Tree.