Posts Tagged ‘beatles’

This is a difficult post to write. I’ve tried several openings, but they all point toward an apology, and that’s not what I’m aiming for. On the other hand, I’m not looking to posit any excuses, either. I am what I am, and my work is what it is.

I write fiction. And there is violence in my fiction. The question is, does that violence, along with all of the other written, televised, sung, animated, and filmed fictional violence that permeates our society, make the creators thereof liable for the real violence that threatens to overwhelm us?

I don’t know. Plainly it has an effect; when I used to play video games, I knew I needed a break when I could feel my aggression levels rising. Fortunately, for me, as soon as I turned off the game I was fine. I am not an aggressive person, let alone a violent one.

But my fiction is violent. Fictionally speaking, I’ve killed off a lot of people. How do I reconcile those actions with my real-life views?

To me, fictional violence is like nudity in art. When is it Art, as opposed to pornography? The short answer is that it depends on the intent, whether to educate (or at least entertain) as opposed to arouse. (Further than that, I will not venture on the subject.) And I believe the same is true of violence. I use violence to tell a larger story; my novels are not about violence, although violence occurs. I try to use violence as a tool in telling stories of romanticized justice, not to romanticize violence (although I agree the line can be thin). My characters try to use their brains as much as their fists, and frankly, I would not find them interesting otherwise. When I do kill off characters, I try to make it serve the larger story. I am not writing slasher movies. It’s kind of like the difference between chess and checkers, applied leverage versus brute force annihilation. There is also the fact that most of my stories take place either in fantasy worlds or another time, giving them a sense of lowered reality, like a fairy tale.

I am fully aware, however, that a reader could take what I have written and pervert it in his own mind to some end which I would find abhorrent. There is nothing I can do about that. The Beatles did not write “Helter Skelter” thinking it would inspire a madman to kill, and no one blames them that it did.

Nor, it must be noted, does violence in fiction mean that only violence may be taken from fiction. Harry Potter has a great deal of violence, much of it perpetrated against children, but the charitable achievements of J.K. Rowling’s fans are admirable.

In the end, I believe only the intent of the artist can be judged (and that’s difficult enough). For me, it comes down to this: I write violence for the sake of stories, not stories for the sake of violence.





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If you’re like me, for years an aspiring writer, you probably get a special thrill every time the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” comes on the radio. I dream of the day I will, in fact, be a paperback writer. (Yes, hardcovers are better, but that’s not what the song’s about.)

And yet, I also can’t help but think, every time, of how much of a hash the writer in the song makes of his pitch. I mean, can you count the mistakes?

1) “Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?” Okay, right there, learn the editor’s name! And if you can’t find it, say, “Dear editor.” For heaven’s sake, stop flaunting your ignorance. Not that there isn’t plenty to go around.

2) “I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer…” Oh, brother, if you need money, you are in the wrong business. First, you’re submitting your novel over the transom (without an agent), so your markets are limited. (They were less limited back in the day, but still.) Second, even if you sell, it’ll be months before you see any real money–as in, maybe never. The advance on a first book is not going to pay your bills for long, and you’ll probably never see another cent from that book.

3) “His son is working for the Daily Mail. It’s a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer…” An aspiring writer writing about an aspiring writer. How original. But he did point out that “it’s a dirty story,” which should net him points.

4) “It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few… I make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round…” Oh man. Assuming we’re talking a thousand manuscript pages, that’s a 250,000 – 300,000 word novel. There are trilogies that only run 300,000 words. Make it longer? Make it stop! And if you can “change it round,” it’s not done. Or else you have no idea what you’re doing. Any editor that reads past this point in your letter has had too many martinis at lunch.

5) “If you really like it, you can have the rights.” I sincerely hope I do not have to explain what’s wrong with that sentence.

6) “It could make a million for you overnight.” Sell the story, not the sales. It won’t make a million overnight. The editor knows that, and the writer should know better than to say it.

7) “If you must return it, you can send it here / But I need a break…” Don’t be whiny.

The moral of the story is, don’t take novel submission advice from a songwriter, not even one of the greatest writing teams of all time. Because while Lennon and McCartney might have sold a novel with that pitch, you won’t.

I still love the song, though.

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