Cult of Personality

As we approach the third year of the Trump presidency, I have been thinking about why his tweets so effectively influence his most ardent supporters.  They’re not especially well-written, and their content is bombastic and mostly false.  However, I believe that Trump writes with such authority and conviction that he easily wins over impressionable minds.  How exactly does he do this?  I’ll enumerate a few ways.

  1.  Capitalization and punctuation marks:  Trump frequently uses all-caps to emphasize his words, and loves using exclamation marks at the end of sentences.  Although I think that this punctuation suggests that he is shouting all the time, I can see how some readers might appreciate such emphatic statements.  These loud declarations demand attention, and they are only too happy to grant it.  Plus, I can’t deny that such tactics make the tweets more visible and memorable, and I’m sure that Trump is counting on this.

2.       Sacrificing proper grammar for simplicity of message:  Trump often passes off     sentence fragments as full sentences, just to quickly get his point across.  This is probably a good idea for tweets, since Twitter restricts character count.  And while I think that such writing comes across as simple-minded, and more appropriate for a newspaper headline than a sentence, such shorthand closely mirrors colloquial speech.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump’s followers feel that he is trying to relate to them in this manner.

3.  Frequent misspellings:  You may be asking yourself, “How can this be good?”  The answer is that if journalists spend too much time criticizing Trump’s spelling, along with his grammatical mistakes and abuses, his followers might feel that they are nitpicking just because he is a Republican.  Many followers might see these misspellings as endearing rather than egregious, and admire him for his failings.

Now, let me offer a hypothetical tweet to make my point.  “DEMS denied funding for Wall, and now they COMPLANE about Federal Workers going broke!  Can’t have it both ways!  Pay up or shut up!”

The fallacy here is that the Democrats should shoulder all of the blame for the government shutdown.  In fact, Trump previously said that he would take the blame for the shutdown–only to backtrack when it was politically convenient.  Also, eight House Republicans recently voted against Trump’s border wall.  That’s not many, but it’s still enough to prevent unanimous support.  Moving on to sentence construction, we see that he is brief and emphatic.  The capitalization draws attention to key points, and the exclamation marks lend authority to the statements.  The misspelling is obvious, but relatively unimportant given the rest of the tweet’s contents.  Lastly, this hypothetical tweet once again targets Democrats as enemies and deflects attention away from himself.

So, should Democratic leaders adopt Trump’s writing style if they want to win over supporters?  I would advise against it.  Not only would such mimicry appear to be blatantly mocking Trump, but most Democratic supporters would feel that such statements would mock their intelligence.  However, it might not be a bad idea to project the same level of authority.  Don’t distort or ignore the truth, and don’t paint your opponents as enemies of the people, but write confidently, angrily, and with purpose.  Call your supporters to action, and convince them that your way is the only way.  It might seem uncouth, but we might be past the point where decorum matters.  Going high doesn’t necessarily mean going properly.  If speaking LOUDLY and carrying a big stick is what it takes, then by all means do it.

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Personal Politics

With today being Election Day, and as I near the completion of the first draft of Actorburg (a very political novel), I would like to discuss how my personal politics influence both my writing and how I see the world.  Strong political advocacy has always been important in shaping authors’ voices and communicating their beliefs, but perhaps it has never been more important than it is now.

I am a registered Democrat, and I am not afraid to admit it.  However, just because I regularly vote for Democratic candidates (because I cannot in good conscience vote for Republicans), that does not mean that I agree with all of their policies.  On abortion, I wish that the party’s pro-choice message was more nuanced than what I have heard, since abortion can be traumatic for the women who undergo the procedure. Even if a woman feels that she needs and wants to abort her fetus, she might not be happy to do so, and is likely conflicted about her decision.  However, I agree that a woman has the right to decide if and when to have a child, because she is the one who has to carry and bear that child.  On guns, I support the Second Amendment, and believe that the government should not control access to guns.  Rather, it should work harder to regulate the sales of firearms, as well as monitor the activities of those who use them.  It’s not that I don’t trust anyone who owns a gun.  It’s just that I am very concerned for public safety, and would rather err on the side of caution than offer blanket freedom to the owners of potentially dangerous weapons.  On the economy, I favor some sort of welfare system, because I am aware that too many citizens lack the abilities and/or aptitudes to obtain high-paying jobs.  Access to wealth is not solely determined by hard work, as some might have you believe.  It is also determined by circumstances of family history, race/ethnicity, sex, location, and other factors.  However, taxes and wages cannot be so high (or low) that they bankrupt companies or individuals.

So, how do those beliefs impact my writing?  Simply put, I view the world through rose-colored glasses.  I believe that everyone should be able to satisfy their personal needs and wants (within ethical reason), and that changes and differences can be positive.  In my past writing, these beliefs have manifested themselves in characters who fight against oppression, discrimination, and an imbalanced social system that heavily favors the rich and powerful.  In my future writing, they might inform the ethical ramifications of unchecked freedoms, or the difficulties faced by underprivileged minorities.  For as much as I am an optimist, a strong cynical streak runs through my life perspective, and consequently my works of fiction.  As you may have noticed, none of my novels have traditional happy endings.  While the characters may triumph over their adversities, they do not vanquish their oppressors.  They must learn how to live within their means, and be happy with what they can personally accomplish.  This is because I believe that certain power structures are so tightly woven into the societal fabric that it is difficult if not impossible for someone to enravel them (or even change them in any meaningful way).

Does that mean that there is no hope?  Of course not.  There is always hope.  However, I believe that the world cannot change for the better if we do not embrace the beliefs of others.  We must work together to create a world that respects everyone, offers real opportunities for their emotional and financial successes, and creates some parity between groups from disparate social spheres.  Needless to say, such achievements will require compromise and sacrifice.  I know those are dirty words, but the solution is not to accept the status quo–nor is it to create a radically different status quo.  The solution is to find a balance between overly conservative and overly liberal.  That won’t please everyone, but bear in mind the old saying–“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  It will be a start, and at least that’s something.

Bambi Bazooms — The Complete Soundtrack

Now that The Burgeoning Heart of Bambi Bazooms is available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I can list the full track list for the novel.  Yes, it is unusual for a novel to have a soundtrack, but it felt natural in this case.  As a stripper, Bambi dances to music, and I wanted to tailor specific music to her personality (as well as to those of Fanny and Cinnamon).  There was other music that I had in mind for certain scenes in the book.  However, in those cases, it was not natural for me to mention them, because they would have been playing “in the background” (as in a movie).  But if Scott Pilgrim (a graphic novel series) and The Atomic Girls (a book) can offer their own song suggestions for readers, I figured that I could do the same.  So, without further ado, here is the track list.  Please note that this list contains story spoilers, so I recommend that if you haven’t yet finished reading the book, do so and come back to this blog post.  Here we go:

 

  1.  I Want My Fanny Brown — Wynonie Harris (Fanny’s opening dance number)
  2. Snatch and Grab It — Julia Lee (Bambi’s first dance number)
  3. One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer — Amos Milburn (Cinnamon’s first dance number)
  4. Take the ‘A’ Train — Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn (Flashback at the Green Mill)
  5. Baby Got Back — Sir Mix-A-Lot (Fanny and Cinnamon perform during Human Night)
  6. Rag Doll — Aerosmith (Bambi’s performance during Human Night)
  7. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts — Merv Griffin (Cinnamon’s “jungle-themed” performance)
  8. One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show — Stick McGhee (Bambi’s “jungle-themed” performance)
  9. Jungle Love — Steve Miller Band (Fanny’s “jungle-themed” performance)
  10. Poison — Bell Biv Davoe (Bambi’s farewell performance)
  11. (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You — UB40 (Bambi and Steve make love)
  12. Free Your Mind — En Vogue (Protest in front of the Federal Building)
  13. The Sign — Ace of Base (Bambi arrives at the Kedzie Green Line station for her trip back home)

And there you have it!  If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments :).

There’s no such thing as coincidence?

When Suzanne Collins first published The Hunger Games, many readers complained that it was a blatant rip-off of the Japanese novel Battle Royale–even though Collins herself claimed that she had never read the latter book.  Many people didn’t believe her, and I regret to admit that I was one of people.  The similarities were too obvious for them to be coincidences.  Both books are about children who kill each other in a no-holds-barred survival game, and both games take place in a forest.  The number of participants is roughly the same in each book, as is the number of survivors.  Now, however, I am more inclined to believe Collins, and that is because I have unintentionally “ripped off” concepts from other media.

In my most recent book, The Burgeoning Heart of Bambi Bazooms (which should be published this summer), Bambi delivers a speech to Reverend Franklin that is very similar to one that Roger Rabbit delivers to Eddie Valiant in Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (the basis for the film).  It hits all the same beats about similarities between Toons/Cartoons and humans, and is also a plea for understanding.  Thankfully for me, the exact dialogue differs greatly enough to avoid charges of plagiarism.

The same can’t quite be said for the “coincidences” from my latest book (minor spoilers ahead).  In Actorburg, Jenny Davis and her fellow classmates/inmates live on a relatively isolated campus run by an ultraconservative organization.  They wear color-coded clothing (pink for women, and light blue for men), and at one point perform gender-segregated labor.  If any of that sounds familiar to you, then you have likely watched Jamie Babbit’s film But I’m a Cheerleader.  I swear to you, I had never seen that film before I began writing my book.  Because the plot takes place in a conservative re-education camp, it made sense to have the characters perform gender-based labor (thankfully, the women plant vegetables rather than vacuum a house; the men are still chopping wood).  I hit upon the color-coded uniforms because it seemed so perfect.  If the camp wants to truly debase its residents, why not dress them like babies?  Unfortunately, and honestly unbeknownst to me, someone had already beat me to that idea.  Will I now change those aspects of the book?  I am very reluctant to do so, since the coincidences were unintentional and they fit so well with the story.  However, I will name-drop Jamie Babbit, because he deserves at least part of the credit for putting those ideas into the collective unconscious.  And Mr. Babbit, if you’re somehow reading this, you can be sure that I’ll give you a free, signed copy of my book (along with my thanks for–hopefully–not suing my pants off).

 

 

Back from the Dead

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here–partly because I couldn’t think of a new topic to talk about, and partly because I didn’t have any big news to report.  Well, I have some big news now.

My third novel–The Burgeoning Heart of Bambi Bazooms–will finally be out this summer, through a new publisher.  I won’t say any more than that, because I might be violating confidentiality laws if I do.  However, I can say that I decided to abandon CreateSpace because I was unhappy with the book design and wanted someone else to take control of marketing and distribution.  This new publisher will do that.  The cover art will be from a guy named Mike Walters, as opposed to someone from the publisher.  That’s because I am very happy with the final product, and I hope that you will be, too.  I’ll keep you updated on the book’s progress, and report back with a firm publication date when I have it.

As for Actorburg, I took a break from it in December in order to focus on the holidays, and that break has continued as I have attempted to publish Bambi Bazooms.  I’ll write a bit more of it today, and even more (hopefully) in the upcoming days.

In September of last year, I joined the Pantheon Council of a movie-reviewing group called Adventures in Videoland.  Founded by Brad Hawkins, the group discusses movies on Facebook and through podcasts (available on ITunes and SoundCloud).  As a Council member, I review older movies and decide whether or not they belong in our Pantheon–what the nine of us decide are the best movies of all time (or those that are unique and merit special consideration).  Earlier this year, I also became the editor of A.V.’s website, and my duties have consisted mostly of cleaning up and clarifying the text.  All of this has kept me busy.

My job at my local Pay-Less Supermarket has also kept me busy, as has searching for and applying to higher-paying jobs.  Still, I plan on finishing the first draft of Actorburg this year, and publishing it next year.  I also hope to be busy promoting Bambi Bazooms once it’s out in print and digital editions.  I have my fingers crossed on that.  Stay tuned to this blog for further updates, and wish me luck.

Aren’t you a little short for a story?

I’d like to write a little bit about story length.  I currently choose to write long stories, either novels or fan-fiction.  When I was younger, though, I mostly wrote shorter stories, and primarily for English and Creative Writing classes.  Although my teachers instructed me to write these stories, and they did not mandate a minimum or maximum length, I was free to write about whatever I wanted.  These stories came relatively easy to me, and ended because I felt that I had written all I could (or wanted to) about the plots, settings, and characters.  Today, though, I am more inclined toward the idea of exploring a fictional world, and like to give myself as much time and space as I can to tell a story that I set in that world.  If I were to write a short story nowadays, I feel that it would be more of a writing exercise than a full-fledged narrative effort (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course; writing exercises serve definite purposes).  Herewith, I’d like to run down why I currently shy away from short stories.  All of them center on limitations.

  •  Length limitations:  Often, literary journals and other publications will set word counts for the short stories that authors submit to them.  I struggle to limit my stories below a particular word count, because I find that this constrains the narrative.  I worry that because I need to keep my story below a certain length, I won’t be able to include important narrative details about setting, characters and plot.  That will result in an under-developed story, which publishers have accused me of writing (not harshly, mind you, but still pointedly).  I would much rather run over a word count and push for a novella or novel, than stay under it and turn in a half-baked story.  Currently, I lack the ability to flesh out a narrative world within a limited word count.  That may change, but right now, I’m not a fan.
  • Access limitations:  Many publishers forbid simultaneous submissions.  That means that if you submit a story to them, you should not submit it anywhere else.  Unfortunately, that means that my readership would be limited to a particular journal or magazine.  I could submit multiple stories to multiple publications, and have done so, but the size of my readership would still be relatively small compared to what it would be for a novel.  Also, some publications only publish stories by well-known authors with agents.  If I wrote for the sake of writing, and just getting my work out there, that would be no big deal.  However, if I can, I would like my stories to reach as many people as possible, so I can receive feedback from as many people as possible.  Part of that is because I want to be famous, yes, but another part of it is so I can improve my writing strategies–content, style, and targeted audience.   The larger audience I can get, the better chance I have of accomplishing both goals.
  • Wealth limitations:  Right now, this is purely speculative, but still a real consideration.  Most magazines and journals pay relatively little for individual short stories.  On the other hand, book publishers have sometimes paid million-dollar contracts to promising authors.  Of course, that is rare, but it still happens.  If I can maximize my profits from my stories, why shouldn’t I?  My dream is to become a full-time author, and I am much more likely to achieve it through writing novels.  If I strictly wrote short stories, I would need a day job.  I am not opposed to that, but it would have to be a well-paying, highly-enjoyable job for me to consider that.  Right now, I am struggling to find such a job.
  • Narrative limitations:  Most short stories are self-contained, and set in their own universes.  Even interconnected short stories tell distinct plots, even if they share settings and characters.  Furthermore, I imagine that one would have to write many  such interconnected tales before one was able to paint a clear picture of the larger fictional world.  However, novels allow authors free range to tell long stories that span several books.  With such space, they have little trouble creating entire worlds and fleshing out many characters.  Authors also have the freedom to base their entire career in a particular world, or to one day explore another world.  And they also allow one to explore as many concepts, themes, and messages as they can in several short stories.  For me, it’s also a case of genre.  Many journals request literary short stories, and fewer request stories of more niche genres.  Some publications also restrict genre stories to particular volumes, and set submission deadlines.  Therefore, by writing novels, I have the freedom to write whatever genre story I want, whenever I want, which works best for my personal writing style.

As always, you should take these words with a grain of salt.  This is just my personal opinion, and may not fit with others’ personal styles.  If you feel more comfortable writing short stories, and are adept, go for it, and I commend you if you succeed.  Short-story writing is a challenging, demanding art form.  It can command great respect and wealth to those prolific enough to garner attention and lucky enough to be successful.  And if you can successfully write both short stories and novels, even better.  However, I’m happy with my chosen path, and hope to be even happier if I can find success as I move down it.

Fiction For Everyone?

As I browse the shelves at my local bookstores, or read about new releases online, I become increasingly aware that the publishing landscape is becoming more fractured.  There are some authors and genres that still have mass appeal, like Stephen King and horror, or James Patterson and thrillers.  However, it seems like more and more, authors and genres are catering to particular readerships.  There are good aspects to this, as well as bad ones.  On the plus side, readers are able to more easily locate books that seem to have been written just for them.  On the minus side, books are losing their mass appeal in favor of these niche audiences.  Along with established genres like fantasy, romance, and mystery, there is fiction for different racial, age, and gender demographics–black fiction, women’s fiction, young adult (gay and lesbian fiction is also out there, but isn’t quite as visible, IMHO).  Perhaps this is indicative of a more egalitarian approach to life in general, and thus a more politicized landscape.  This is all well and good if disparate readers enjoy what they like and don’t force their choices on others, but becomes a problem when influential groups cater to minorities at the expense of the perceived  majority.  For example, take the case of the Rabid Puppies/Sad Puppies negative influence on the Hugo Awards.  To those unaware of this movement, Sad Puppies was a voting bloc founded by author Larry Correia, to push Hugo voters to nominate a pulp novel (as opposed to one with a progressive political agenda or literary bent).  Many other Sad Puppies nominations were by male writers, with few women or minorities represented.  These latter groups sparked backlash against the Sad Puppies, with the result being that in recent years, many of the major Hugo Awards and nominations have gone to women and minorities (rather than white men).  I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing.  White men have had their proverbial day in the sun, and it is nice to see more diversity among the Hugo Award nominees and winners.  And I’m not supporting the Sad Puppies’ tactics (which are admittedly antagonistic and exclusionary).  However, I also don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong about fiction written by male authors.  There should be a balance.  Oh, I know that cis/hetero/white men (myself included) will be just fine.  I just don’t want to see political correctness (see my previous blog post) overrun the publishing landscape to the point that one agenda dominates over all others.  I’m probably just being a bit paranoid.  If I write a good novel, it will eventually find a readership, because readers will judge it by its merits, rather than the race, gender, and sexuality of its author.  But I kind of miss the days when readers, authors and critics promoted books based solely on their quality.  Because if–in the worst case scenario–people start ignoring quality in the name of diversity, then the literary landscape will suffer, and that won’t be good for anyone.