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…this is a question?

Appropriately enough, on Shakespeare’s birth/death-day (yes, they were the same, how sucky is that?), a new controversy has come to my attention. Not content with questioning whether the man himself actually wrote the plays, now some are questioning if we should keep putting on the plays the way he wrote them.

I’m not talking about abridged versions; these plays are long, and I will be the first to admit that I would have a hard time sitting through an entire one in many cases. No, I’m talking about changing the language–and when I say changing the language, I mean just that: They want to update Shakespeare. You know, because it’s “too hard” to read him or understand him these days.

Well, guess what. It’s Shakespeare! I’ve seen some of the proposed “translations,” and they are, to be charitable, not Shakespeare. The entire reason entire college courses–required college courses–are devoted to the man’s works are because they are overwhelmingly considered the greatest words ever set down in English. So heck, let’s just change them.

The argument is made that Shakespeare is translated into other languages, and does just fine. This may be true, but isn’t the dream of every reader of a translated great work to be able to read it in the original language? If  you love Don Quixote, don’t you want to read it in Spanish?

And this isn’t a question of whether you can read the original language, it’s a question of whether you will bother to try. The plays are written in English, albeit old-fashioned. It takes extra work, but you can understand it if you try. Remember the movement to change the language in Huck Finn because Twain used the n-word? (I wrote about it here.) You can’t change the text simply because society changes. Literature is a window into the past. Taking out the stained glass won’t let you see any more clearly.

And if we’re going to change the plays, well, we’d better change the sonnets, too. Good luck with that.

If you change Shakespeare, who’s next? Milton? Pope? Cervantes? Dorothy Parker? Me? I sure don’t belong in that group, but I pick and choose my words carefully. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to read them, but you sure as heck don’t have the right to translate them into English.

#SFWApro

Since “Dead Guy Walking” is making make its dramatic-reading debut tonight in Portland, it seems appropriate to visit (or re-visit) the question of where writers get their ideas, with the point of view that they get them where everyone else does–from real life. I like to say that DGW, about a man who thinks he may be dead, was taken from real life. This is not to say that I have ever had any delusions on that subject; I know perfectly well. But it was based on a real-life experience, or actually, the combination of a couple of experiences.

First, I once took a bad step on a steep staircase, and by some miracle managed to run down the stairway about thirty feet to the ground, hitting probably every third step, and I landed upright and completely unhurt. Second, I lived in an apartment years later where I had to carry laundry down another steep stairway. Somehow the two melded into falling down stairs while carrying laundry, an accident that could very well prove fatal. That’s Bobby in the story. Sparky, his dog, was inspired by my own dog when I was a teenager, who, like Sparky, lived in a house with a flat roof where he could sun himself. The part where Bobby may be the living dead? I have no idea where that came from.

The point, however, is that even the most far-fetched fantasies have their roots in the writer’s own life. (Please don’t ask me how much Lovecraft’s real life intruded into this stories. I don’t want to know.) SFF authors are just like mainstream novelists, except that we sprint where they fear to tread. And yet, ironically, we cover the same ground.

Because the point of science fiction and fantasy is just like any other writing. In its simplest and purest form, it entertains. But it also illuminates the human condition. Look at how many epic fantasies explore the question of courage, for example. In fact, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter both take that examination one step further: They delve into the courage that it takes to fight Evil when you’re not the chosen one. And they inspire that courage in their readers.

Two of the three most recent finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction were genre works. (Of course, the third, that wasn’t, won.) If there were ever an argument to be made that genre labels are strictly a marketing ploy, that’s it. Even the Pulitzer committee recognizes that SFF and mainstream lit are the same. They’re just not dressed in the same clothes.

And yet they each pulled their clothes out of a closet. Just because the SFF writer’s closet leads to Narnia doesn’t make it any different from yours.

#SFWApro

It’s surprising how much writing is like the weather. (It sure surprised me, when I thought up the idea about 90 seconds ago…) There are good days and bad, days when you think it will all work out and everything changes in an instant, days when…well, let’s list a few reasons, shall we?

  1. Good or bad, you kind of have to have it every day. You should really try to write every day. Although in practice the only people I’ve ever seen able to write seven days a week are those who write for a living, we’d be better writers if we did. On the other hand, weather is pretty much a daily occurrence, and we’re certainly all the better for that. After all, a day without weather would be like a day without sunshine.
  2. Every once in a while, you need a good storm to clear the air. The best way to cure writer’s block is to bang around for a while until something bursts.
  3. Breezy days are lousy for getting things down. Whether it’s leaves across the yard or ideas flying through your brain, if nothing stays put, you’re in trouble.
  4. When the heat is on, you don’t want to do anything. And it is when you most need to work on those edits that you least want to.
  5. Sunny, balmy, and calm is the best. When you’re in that zen state, you can do anything! The words fly from your pen (or keyboard). But then, when it’s nice outside, who wants to stay inside and write?

And of course, there’s the bonus reason: 6. You can never predict how things are going to work one day to the next. From writer’s block to 4000 words in 24 hours. From a fully-realized short story one night to realizing your story is crap the next day. Writing, like the weather, laughs at consistency.

There is, of course, one significant difference: Weathermen make a lot more money than most writers. Not that I want to rain on your parade…

 

#SFWApro

 

For any of you in the Portland, Oregon area, on April 21, my story “Dead Guy Walking” will be part of a live dramatic reading series. The evening also features a bunch of other excellent writers  of SF and fantasy, and if you still can’t find anything you like, hey, you’re in a bar. You can always order a Zombie…

 

Another LA Times Festival of Books has come and gone. It seemed a little less crowded this year, doubtless because of the (slight) rain and the impending threat of more significant rain. Yet we volunteered and persevered.

Although we like to say that often the most fascinating panels are those we never thought we would attend, we as often pick panels whose topics already appeal to our interests, possibly featuring an author we’d like to meet. But once again we proved the validity of the former, when we escorted the authors of a panel entitled “Writing Epic History.” Gee, that sounds enticing, but what does it mean? Is it writing an epic history of some event, or writing about epic historical events? (We asked the moderator. She didn’t know either.)

Nonetheless, Elizabeth Taylor guided Richard Reeves, Jonathan Bryant, and Dan Ephron from a wrecked slave ship in 1820 through the Japanese-American internment and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin up to today’s political climate changes in a fascinating hour that could have been stretched to two and no one would have left.

If you live in Southern California and you’re into books and you haven’t been to the LATFOB, you are cheating yourself. It’s the biggest book festival in the West, it’s free, and there are low-cost options for transit that can take the sting out of parking fees. (And there’s no gainsaying that April is the best month for visiting LA.) If you want to come next year, drop me a line and I’ll tell you where to buy coffee. (Not at the Starbuck’s! The line is too long!)

 

The Dragon Awards

In case you weren’t aware of it, DragonCon is a hugely popular annual SFF/book/movie/comics/gaming convention held every year in Atlanta. It’s become big enough to push the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon“) away from its traditional home on Labor Day weekend. And now it’s starting its own line of awards, called, appropriately if rather unimaginatively, the Dragons.

“Another trophy,” you say, possibly enthusiastically, perhaps dismissively, maybe with a touch of boredom. Or maybe you say it with an appraising tone, as do we authors who think, “Hey, there’s another award I can aspire to (and probably never win)…” Regardless of your personal reaction, the awards are here and presumably they’re going to stick around a while. (America’s thirst for awards ceremonies is almost as impossible to slake as its thirst for reality shows, or sleazy political drama. If it ain’t a competition, we’re not interested.)

All of these reactions are quite understandable. What I don’t understand is those who believe that this development somehow spells trouble for the Hugo Awards given out every year by the aforementioned Worldcon. One would assume that those who espouse this view are associated with the Sad Puppies, but I have no evidence thereof. (Like Donald Trump, I could say the Sad Puppies are involved, but I don’t have any proof, so I won’t say “the Sad Puppies are involved.”)

Anyway, the idea that the SFF field isn’t big enough for two awards seems, well, as rampant as support for a candidate with no experience, no platform, and a slight tendency toward passive-aggressive campaigning against his competition, the press, and anyone who is not demonstrably American. I mean, have the Hugos been supplanted by the Locus Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Tiptree, the Arthur C. Clarke, the Philip K. Dick, the Sturgeon, the Heinlein, the Saturn, the Skylark, the Parsec…? Heck, no.

These folks seem to think that the Hugos are dead because only Worldcon members can vote for them; a more widely-sourced award would render them meaningless. The problem with this concept is obvious: The awards are not mutually exclusive. You could win a Hugo and a Dragon. And even if you only win one or the other, both can have value to the reader, which is all that counts.

It is true that Dragoncon could supplant Worldcon, because it’s so much bigger. People who prefer Worldcon often do for that very reason: an 80,000-person convention is a nightmare. Comic-con is a nightmare, and that’s only 50,000 people per day. On the other hand, Dragoncon pays its guests, which Worldcons simply cannot do. It might be that if the Dragon becomes a widely-recognized arbiter of quality, nominated authors will find it incumbent upon themselves to make the journey to Atlanta to be seen.

There are, of course, problems with that, and only time will tell if they can be resolved. But Worldcons would still continue; they are world-wide, after all, and not everyone can or will go to Atlanta in September. It’s very possible, though, that this would result in more international Worldcons (i.e., outside of the United States). That in turn could make attending authors more visible in other  countries, which have burgeoning SFF communities hungry to meet their idols, making its own marketing opportunities.

So maybe this is all a good and necessary thing. One thing that it is not, is a competition. And please don’t let it become one. Being a writer is hard enough as it is.

#SFWApro

 

It should come to no surprise to any regular reader of this blog that I feel writing is a pain in the neck. It’s hard. It’s slow. If it’s good, it requires you to lay yourself out on the pavement on a hot day and let people walk all over you, making comments. Some of them stand there for a long time (which can contribute some much need shade, so there’s that). And even when it comes fast and high like a home-run pitch, and you feel that connection when the wood meets the ball just right in the sweet spot,* you still have to run all those bases and there’s a good chance that at any point you’re going to be thrown out.

Yes, writing is like baseball. But I’ve already done that one. So in this episode, we’re going to examine how writing is like your daily commute.**

  1. You have to do it every day. (Some of us do take the weekends off.) And unlike commuting, you don’t typically have to watch for people cutting into your lane when you write. But you do have to watch to make sure someone else didn’t just write that story about the robot Romeo and his gelatinous Juliet and sell it to Asimov’s…d’oh!
  2. It can be a real slog. Sure, some days there’s no traffic, and it’s all clear sailing, but usually on holidays when you shouldn’t have to be commuting in the first place. But there you are, driving to the office–and knowing that when you go home, your night job will still be waiting for you to finish that chapter.
  3. It’s a long way to get to somewhere you already know. Okay, there are writers who don’t know how their books are going to end. To me, that’s like driving to a job when you don’t know where the office is. You may get there in the end, but it would be a lot easier if you looked at the map first.
  4. You don’t know what you’re going to find when you get there. This isn’t the same as not knowing where you’re going. This is the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to that story when it’s finished. Will someone buy it? Will you get a good rate? Will there be coffee in the pot or has that guy from Personnel just left an inch in the bottom so he wouldn’t have to fill it up–again? Because if he has…oh, sorry, off-topic.
  5. Tomorrow it all starts again. You know this. It’s going to be like this every day until you retire. Or get a better job…

Yeah, like there’s a better job than this. That’s the bonus round in “How Writing is Like Commuting”: You don’t do it because you want to; you do it because you have to. Just like commuting is part of your job, writing is part of you. And that’s why you do it, day in and day out, hoping for one of those days when traffic and your stories are all sails.

*Yeah, I said “wood.” None of this aluminum for me.

**Ironically, if you write for a living, you don’t have to commute.

#SFWApro

 

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