Me on Alex Toth on the Loss of Innocence in Comics

Aside form the occasional political forward my Brother and I don’t communicate much via email. When I got this terse note this morning–sent to me at 3AM his time–I was taken a back. It’s not the sort of thing he and I talk about normally. But we certainly could…

>Dustin wrote:

> Subject: what do you think?
> Content: http://www.oklahoma.net/~silvrdal/tothop.html

Douglas replied:
Alex Toth died the other day: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Toth

Or maybe you knew that.

At this time, I don’t find anything personally compelling about stories of innocent-minded wonder that would pull me away from a more gritty storyline. I was a fan of Super Friends, Johnny Quest, and even Space Ghost for a time–I was much younger (heart, mind, and body) then than I am today.

I think a person’s tastes and sensibilities evolve and/or cycle with their own lives. It’s not fair to suggest that just because I have developed preferences for a bit of grim prose and dramatic black-inked artwork that I am a bad person or encouraging others to be bad people. I was full of wonder when I needed to be–now I am not.

My guess is that with my children getting interested in books and movies that I will return to a renaissance of wonderment and be able to enjoy it through their eyes in a fresh new way.

What do I think?
Not worried.

Is that what you mean?

John Scalzi is a Fucker

According to Bloglines I have been a faithful scalzophant since January 26, 2005. Except in a lurky fanboy way: reading his blog and his books. I sent a couple unanswered emails which I chalked up to spam capture and not the delete button.

But now, in the middle of what’s clearly been a great relationship, he drops this turd in my lap.

I was once a teenage writer like you (see goofy picture to the right), although that was so long ago that between now and then, I could have been a teenager all over again.

I am no longer a teen. No longer in college. I am not even still in my first or even second career. And, near as I can tell from anecdotal evidence and my weakening memory I am several month’s John’s senior. Would that we were six and half and seven and I could lord the extra half year over him like it was a full year and I’d be back to being even after this helpful advice of his. He’s not talking to you kids, he’s talking to me. I am certain that the use of the word teen throughout the post is subtext for wannabe’s like me.

In the beginning, I didn’t realize how many writers there were out there. I was happy to dream about becoming a novelist–tomorrow. I had a dozen or so good ideas for stories that would eventually flower in the right soil–tomorrow. Then I had a bit of time and found myself actually getting busy becoming a writer: making maps, going to critique groups, reading about it online, buying a domain, and starting a blog and wiki. I had everything I needed to stop being a writer and becoming an author.

Then in the midst of all the reading about writing and the mapmaking and semi-related surfing, I started really getting what the net was telling me, "You need to write."

What the hell?

Writing?

What about the maps?

First it was Holly, then ironically John, and most recently Miss Snark. They all agree, writing and writing well is the key. Here ya go: shit on a stick.

Now, in the middle of trying to choke down that bitter pill for the last several months, John tells me not only is it hard to do in the first place, not terribly lucrative in the second, but that it’s also gonna take me ten years!

Fucker.

While I am not working with a fully flaccid motivation here, it’s admittedly barely half-staff…I don’t seeing it successfully hardening in that kind of time.

What can I do?

I regroup, take a few deep breaths, put the map away for a moment, and do a little math. I figure based on his discussion that I might be allowed to shave a few years off for no longer being a teen and for having had life experiences–one for each decade and two for the wife and kids seems fair. And, I am sure as shit gonna take the six months I have on him. Maybe another blog would help. Three plus two plus half earns me back five and a half years.

Maybe I could even find an online word processor so I could write on the road or a task management tool to help me organize, speed things up.

Hmm.

That leaves me four and a half years to even be good at all once I start writing–tomorrow.

Snark America

Miss Snark has an interesting comment on Publish America that I have’t heard elsewhere:

Third, and most interesting to me is there isn’t a single NAME of a staff person, or company officer anywhere on the website.

While the entreprenurial side of me is a little less alarmed by POD and that ilk than most well educated authors are about self-publishing, I like her assessment for both what is says about PA and her relationship with authors.

I don’t question that it’s all a business.  I think that I embrace that more than many of my aspiring cohorts.  What the lady of sarcaustic advice is saying is that the real publishing business has people in it.  People that care both about your work and payoff, not just the payoff.  Or at least she is saying that once you crack through her crusty snarky exterior you’ll find a delicious chewy center.

Meaning, not Color

Tobias Buckell on this from Pam Noles

But I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn’t have black people back then. He said there’s always been black people. I said but black people can’t be wizards and space people and they can’t fight evil, so they can’t be in the story. When he didn’t say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn’t say anything else.

…and then me (not that anyone will find this):

So I nearly nothing in the way of a frame of reference for my thoughts of opinions on this.  I have grown up nearly as middle-class white American as anybody that’s white and American could–as far as I know.  My three basic exposures to actual (not TV or music) African-Americans are thus:

  1. My mother describes an incident from my unrecallable childhood in which I saw my first black person: “What’s wrong with him?” I ask. “Nothing, he’s just a different color than you,” Mom says. “OK”.

    Later, Mom finds me running around with a friend in the trees behind their house. I guess it looked somewhat oragized into a predator-prey type activity so she asks, “What are you doing?”, “Oh, we’re playing ‘nigger’.” I don’t know if she had a reply at this point or if she was just incredulous and decided to let it slide and not take the time to have a teachable moment of some sort.

    Finally, a few days later I run up to my mother as ask, “Where can I get a ‘nigger’ friend?” When she tells the story this is basically the crux and she stops there. Implicit in my mind and hers is the innocent lack of concern for color but the ignorance of language.

  2. For a brief time in the third grade of the Catholic school I went to in Kansas (from what I hear not the same as Catholic school back east) there was a girl named Rochelle Ramsey that I was good friends with the left as mysteriously as she arrived. Maybe her family couldn’t afford the tuition–mine couldn’t 3 years later–maybe ‘the powers that be’ encourage the only family of color that school had ever seen to find a better place to integrate. All I knew was that my friend was gone.
  3. Then a gap of decades until you find this author riding around in a low slung small-sized pickup with hip-hop playing so loud that the speakers in the bed are making the side mirror shiver–objects in mirror may be less blurry than they appear. Dan was from San Antonio, a former defensive lineman for a university around here. I think he took it on himself to reaquaint this white-boy with as much reality mixed with stereotype as possble. Other than a lost friend who’s humour was the only thing bigger than his waist that I have from that was that “niggas love orange soda”–I just don’t recall which brand.

So one thing come out of all that: where in all my experience am I supposed to reliably concoct a speculative fiction story that involves people of other (real) races?

Oh sure, you hear folks bather about doing research for a book, but I seriously doubt that they intend for one to ‘go live among the black people and learn their ways’. If I chose to write a story containing a more multicultural cast I would be at best able to call someone black at the onset, maybe a remark about brown eyes or crinkly hair and then I would be done. Every word out of his (sexist post later) mouth would be either as white as I don’t know how not to be or ridiculously contrived. I don’t (can’t) do this for the same reason I don’t write legal thrillers or romance or business books: I know nothing about the true subject.

I submit this is one of the underlying motives of authors for creating new races. We can invent elves and dwarves and the like and say they like fried chicken and watermelon without coming off as totally inept asses.

Though none of this matters a whit to me when I am writing or more likely when I am reading. I read the first Earthsea book for the first time about a year ago. It was nice and short, but other than a guy on a boat and some fog it didn’t really stand out as earthshatteringly evocative–not something I would read again. Also, I didn’t really notice he was not white. I suppose it’s mentioned in the first chapter or so, but that means nothing to me. I don’t recall his eye color, height, or sexual preference either.

When I read a book, nearly all that matters is the dialogue and action.  What one character says to another; what one character does with another. You know why? Because after all the description of a character is laid down at the first meeting all that the author gives me is what he says and what he does. Now I will grant that culture and language are indelible, but once I have read (or heard) the line “I ain’t saying she’s no goldigger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke nigger” it gets put in my brain as meaning not color.

Kathy Lynn Harris

Soon–not soon enough–you’ll be able to read a book that I have helped critique as part of my chapter of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I don’t want that to sound like my contribution to the creative effort was significant in bringing this new author to light. In fact, it is entirely possible that my characteristic pause while collecting my thoughts before speaking was more detrimental than constructive to the endeavor. Oh well, apoplexy amuses me a somewhat and it’s nothing a drive up Fall River Road can’t cure anyhow.

I searched for the right way to say what I felt, to arrive at a perfect aggregation of Ms Harris’ work–the blurby-kind that end up on the back of the book if you are a bit more noteworthy than me. Thankfully I have finally got it and in the interest of sharing you can take this next bit under a creative commons license so that if you are reading blog and you are more likely to end up on the back of this new author’s book with a blurb than I am, you can save yourself the rumination:

Kathy Lynn Harris’ writing is as warm as a table-top beer and as refreshing as that beer poured over ice with a wedge of lemon…and as funny.

There you go.

Free for the taking.

And spot on. There are other juicy bits I’d like to squeeze in but can’t since it would over burden the metaphor–just assume that’s all in the lemon wedge part.

I would love to tell you what the title might be, but I am not even sure she’ll know until that’s all worked out with her agent [place agent name here to look like I bothered to research]. I read it under at least two working titles. Hopefully I can come back an update this entry when the time comes.

Her main character, a young Texas woman named Bailey, is on a journey of the soul that she projects onto a physical journey to Colorado. Several friends, old and new, and as round as the writing books tell you to make characters (a little bumpy too) help and hinder her in various ways: inspire her to leave, beg her to stay, or turn her away.

At times you feel Bailey will discover what she seeks and at others that she will realize she has always had it. Or maybe that she never needed it in the first place. Whichever it turns out to be you will enjoy the real–no, robust…rowdy…rambunctious…risible…definitely something with an ‘r’–people inhabiting Ms Harris’ dusty Texas roads and clear Colorado skies.