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19 posts from October 2006

October 29, 2006

Television Update

Okay, so all that stuff about the economics of buying TV shows on iTunes ... pure bullshit.

ABC and NBC are posting full episodes online a day or two after they're aired. The free online episodes usually beat the iTunes paid episodes to the interweb. The free ones have commercials, but not as many as on TV. Basically, it's win-win.

As a result of this, I've started watching "Ugly Betty" (The Devil Wears Prada without the makeover and with a Latina, Queens, and Spanish-language soaps) and "The Nine." I'm probably going to drop "The Nine," though. It's not really that interesting for me. Big deal. So they were holed up in a bank for 52 hours and some things happened. I don't really care what happened, to be honest. Maybe I'll keep watching.

I have room for more hour-long dramas because I'm probably not going to be able to watch "Dexter." I don't have a TV and won't buy one or get cable just for one show. And it doesn't look like Showtime is in any rush to make free episodes available or to sell episodes on iTunes (why not? I dunno). So it'll probably slip off my radar. Which would be a pity.

So that leaves the lineup:

1. BSG, which I would walk through fire to watch, but fortunately don't have to, Showtime execs.
2. Ugly Betty
3. Heroes
4. Studio 60

and maybe

5. The Nine

That enough TV for you?

October 26, 2006

Get Out the Vote!

Every election year since I moved to San Francisco I've been feeling helpless. Californians always return our Democrats to the two houses so Congressional races are so ... boring, especially in a mid-term election where we don't get to waste our votes against a Shrub, and where we're forced to watch a (nother) movie star hijack the centrist agenda so he can get those coveted Sacramento parking spaces for his Hummers. But I digress.

I moved to California to be around the like-minded, but being isolated in a liberal oasis has meant that I can't affect the course of national politics a whit ... hasn't it? Well, as it turns out, I can.

Here comes the pitch: I've been volunteering for Moveon.org's current campaign, called Call for Change. The campaign is simple:

1. Moveon early identified 30 congressional races around the country where the Republican seats are vulnerable.
2. They put together phone lists of Democratic-leaning voters in those districts who seemed unlikely to turn out for a mid-term election (and they got these lists the hard way, through much research).
3. They're recruiting moveon.org members, who live in areas where the congressional races are not contested or vulnerable, and having them call these apathetic voters in contested districts and remind them to get out and vote.

The efficacy of a reminder call in turning out the vote is demonstrated. The closer to the election you call, the more likely the voter is to actually vote. If you call the day of the election, the voter is almost 100% likely to go vote.

So now it's up to those of us in "safe" districts to call those in contested districts and make sure they get their butts out the door on Nov. 7. You don't have to go anywhere to do it: you can do it from home! There are a lot of people to call, so if you can make even a single hour of calls between now and the election, you'll be affecting at least 10 voters, which, as we know from the previous two elections, can well be the deciding difference.

Click here to sign up to make calls from home.

I've been making calls 2-3 times a week and it's super easy because you're not selling anything or trying to convince them of anything. You're just putting a notion in their heads. The call takes about a minute (unless they want to talk) and there are actually very few angry or unpleasant people. So DO IT. Seriously, here's your chance to do something effective. Take it.

Now, the disclaimer: I do not represent moveon.org. Otherwise, you can impute any evil progressive agenda to me that you wish.

If you have any questions, or want to come to a phone bank with me, use comments or email me!

October 25, 2006

Studio 60

Okay, while I'm at it, let me just say that it's only the fourth episode and they don't have any right to do a sentimental walk-down-memory-lane episode yet, but I loved the episode this week. The shot at the end where the old guy talks about his crush while Harriet appears briefly in the doorway is beyond cheesy. But actually kind of beautiful, too. Argh, and I'm not even drunk.

Watch it.

Who's On First?

Was watching Studio 60 (on the internet) tonight and they kept mentioning "Who's on first?" which I haven't heard since I was a kid. So I went looking for it (on the internet) and naturally found it. Who? Naturally.

For Your Delectation. And I don't give a darn!

October 23, 2006

Help Sita Turn 25

Sita Bhaumik is turning 25 in a few days and she has a free ticket to fly anywhere in the continental US. She wants some good ideas about how to do this weirdly, impactfully, and ritualistically. There are some rules. Go to her blog page and suggest those things that you really want to do and get them done vicariously.

Reading Update

When animals get stressed out, they stop grooming. When I get stressed out, yes, I stop grooming too (TMI, y'all) but I also stop reading. I guess that makes me human.

It's taking me, like, two weeks to get through Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings, which is weird, because that means not that I'm reading slowly (I can't read slowly, only jerkily) but that I'm reading only small amounts at a time.

Normally what this means is that I'm kinda bored with a book and I'll eventually grind to a halt. Normally, really good books are like pringles: once I pop, I can't stop. But with Kushner, I find that I can't take too much, but I keep coming back, day after day, for small but necessary doses. I wonder what this means? Am I ... maturing? Am I learning how to eke out the pringles two ducks' bills at a time?

Or is it Kushner herself? Is she such a unique entity, the writer who can make you want more but also make you stop when enough is enough? The fudge of writers?

Let me just say this now (and I will come back to it when I've finished The Fall of the Kings): Kushner is either the best middling writer, or the most flawed brilliant writer that I've ever read. I'm absolutely enthralled by what is going on in her books and by my responses to them. Yes, I will come back to this.

In other news:

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; long-anticipated. Gene is one of the Bay Area Asian American comix posse (most of whom seem to have won a Xeric Grant) who showed up year after year to sell their wares at APAture and make the tables a lively place. Pretty much every year I made a sweep of the tables and picked up what my favorites had done the preceding year: Jason Shiga, Lark Pien, Thien Pham, Derek Kirk Kim, et al. And I managed to get three photocopied issues (bound in colored cardstock!) of Gene's terrific comic about a Chinese American boy from SF Chinatown who moves to a white suburb and suffers from racism, culture shock, magic realism, and bad sitcoms. Plus, Monkey King!

I never got the final issue/s, though, probably because I stopped attending APAture regularly after I stopped being responsible for it. Gene's moved up in the world since then. He did, indeed, get a Xeric Grant, and used it to publish Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Then he published American Born Chinese, just this year, as a proper graphic novel, hardcover, softcover, and all! I went to APAture three weeks ago, sick as a dog, and paid 8 bucks to get in, just to pick this sucker up, although I could've gotten it on amazon. Like you could.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: I don't wanna hear it. I loooove this movie. I don't wanna hear it.

So I figured the book would be even better, right? But no. It wasn't. It was sex in the suburbs fiction masquerading as magic, so the magical bits not only sounded tinny and untruthful, but I could actually see the seams. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't ... magical. And yes, the movie was magical and I. don't. want. to. hear. it.

Gifts by Ursula! Damn. I love her, I really do. But she's not holding up. She's still good---damned good at times. But I haven't really fallen for a novel of hers since ... I dunno. Since I read all the good ones after college. Her short stories sometimes really kick ass, but her novels just don't have that urgency and energy anymore.

Gifts feels one draft short of a novel. It's actually just an extended revisioning of the short story "Darkrose and Diamond" from Tales of Earthsea, a latter day collection of unconnected stories from the Earthsea world. Only, "Darkrose and Diamond" is better. Let me put it this way: I made my high school students read "Darkrose and Diamond", thinking it would be a treat for them---you know, bildungsgeschichte-cum-love-story with wizards and magic and Dads Who Just Don't Understand.

They hated it. It was the one story I made them read that they were united in hating. After much discussion I finally figured out why. It was because Diamond, the hero, who is gifted in both magic and music, ends up deciding (SPOILER ALERT!) to pass on the magic and become a lowly itinerant musician instead. They were furious. This was a fantasy story about the education of a fucken wizard! How dare he refuse to become a wizard! What had really jazzed me about the story---aside from the crystalline writing---i.e., LeGuin's twisting of expectations, was exactly what had turned them off. Too clever by half.

So the novel, Gifts, is not as perfectly written, and it doesn't lead your hopes and dreams in one direction while secretly nurturing a whole different fate for its protag. The sudden decision (SPOILER ALERT!) at the end to leave home and wander the earth isn't set up, so it doesn't provide any satisfaction. I'd recommend the short story over the book.

Anyhoo, enough with the judgments. Onward!

October 20, 2006



I hate that my name is so in vogue these days. If you look at the nifty and ever-useful Baby Name Wizard (result above), you'll see that in over 100 years, incidence of "Claire" naming never broke the 600 babies per million limit. Not a popular name (but still in the top 1000).

You'll also see that the name's nadir occurred in the early seventies, right when I was born. So when my parents named me, there were only around 100 babies per million of my cohort named "Claire." It was an unusual name.

I grew up not knowing, or even knowing of any other Claires. It was my name only, well-known enough so that no one questioned it, but unusual enough that I didn't have to contend with preconceptions. When Judd Nelson in "The Breakfast Club" claimed "Claire" as "a fat girl's name," it was truly one of those gaffes inevitable in a teen movie written by adults: no 80's teens knew any Claires; the stereotype was one from an earlier era, or perhaps had sprung full-blown out of John Hughes' head.

So the spike in Claires in 2005 gives me more than pause. It gives me menopause, especially since it is accompanied by a sudden spike in movie and especially TV Claires:

• Claire Fisher in "Six Feet Under"
• Claire Bennet in "Heroes"
• a massive number of one-timers on nighttime dramas, especially some ingenue about to die in medical shows
• a girlfriend who did die in flashbacks in movies
• a number of wives and girlfriends in B movies too embarrassing to mention.

It's so gross hearing people onscreen use my name for all of these boring, pretty, white beloveds. They're not Claires! None of 'em are! Just stop it, y'all! Stop!

October 17, 2006


Some of the incorrectitudes I correctituded in Strunk & Light are actually "eggcorns": homonyms or close-to-homonyms of the real expression which are substituted for the real expression because they kinda make sense.

Frex: "tow the line" is incorrect, but calls up an image of dragging a heavy weight using a line or rope, which sorta relates to the meaning of the expression, which is to obey the rules. The real expression, of course, is "toe the line", i.e. line up your toes to the line on the floor, i.e. stand where they tell you to, just like everyone else.

Here's a database of 'em.

Via the NaNoWriMo forums (or fora ;)), which I found because somebody linked to Strunk & Light from there.

October 16, 2006

Soundtrack To Your Life Meme

Via Gwenda Bond, a new meme:

IF YOUR LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE? So, here's how it works: 1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc) 2. Put it on shuffle 3. Press play 4. For every question, type the song that's playing 5. When you go to a new question, press the next button 6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...

Opening Credits:
Cater 2 U: Destiny's Child
I hate this song, but I kinda love it. Just like my life.

Waking Up:
Bad Habit: Destiny's Child
Actually, a pretty good wakeup song.

First Day At School:
Seeing Daylight: The Mountain Goats
Too perfect! Boil, boil!

Falling In Love:
You've Got It Bad Girl: Stevie Wonder

Fight Song:
Corazoncito Tirano: Downs Lila
Not bad.

Breaking Up:
A Tender Lie: Dolly Parton
2 Perfect! 3 Perfect!

Exo-Politics: Muse
Uh ...

Life is Good:
Quezalcoatl Comes Through: The Mountain Goats
Yeah, anytime Darnielle sings about Quezalcoatl, life is good.

Mental Breakdown:
Another Flavour: The Sundays
Good fit; bitterness song, lotsa sour grapes.

Aphrodisiac: Bow Wow Wow

Bhatyali: Jolly Mukherjee with the Madras Cinematic Orchestra
Innnnteresting. What kind of flashback would this be, now? That time you dropped acid before your parents dragged you to the symphony?

Getting Back Together:
Oh yes!
My Friend Foe: Maria McKee
My iTunes rocks!

HA! Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! I am soooooo not having this kind of wedding!
Jesu Bleibet Meine Freude: J.S. Bach

Paying the Dues:
Tomorrow Started: Talk Talk
Hmmmm ...

The Night Before The War:
Unmade Bed: Sonic Youth
Double Hmmm ...

Final Battle:
Legal Tender: The B-52's
Okay, that's inappropriate. ... or maybe not ...

Moment of Triumph:
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology): Marvin Gaye

Death Scene:
Lost in the Supermarket: The Clash

Funeral Song:

Bring Me To Life: Evanescence

End Credits:
Heh he he *giggle*
Golly! Golly! Go Buddy!: Bow Wow Wow

The Evil of Navelgazing

Words cannot express, although once before they have tried, how much I hate, despise, and fear this, slick, appealing, yet ultimately empty memoirist, whose name I will not mention because I fear (did I mention: fear?) the power of technorati.

Here's why:

Most people would rather look outward than inward, but it seems to me this Information Age bullshit has cloaked avoidance in virtue and made the distraction an obligation. I went cold turkey five years ago. No news—no television, no magazines, no newspapers, no blogs, no op-eds, not even, sadly, The Onion. I've never been happier. This is the headline I hope to see on the Drudge Report one day, the day before the blessed end of the Age of Pseudo-Information, just below Matt's Flashing Red Light Of Pseudo-Importance: GO ON WITH YOUR LIVES! STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE TRAINWRECK IN BANGLADESH—YOU'RE THE TRAINWRECK... YOUR WIFE IS HAVING AN AFFAIR AND YOUR SON HATES YOU... THERE ARE NO ANSWERS HERE... DEVELOPING...

I don't care that it's all done with tongue in cheek. So much evil is excused through intra-cheek lingual implantation. Enough I say! If you're a memoirist who writes only about himself, and then you write a cheeky-tonguey column about how you refuse to read the news because it distracts you from contemplating and writing about yourself, then you might as well have left your licker in the middle of your mouth.

Hate Hate Hate!

October 15, 2006

More "Dexter"

Okay, folks, show some support!

You can watch edited (as in edited for tv) versions of the first two episodes of "Dexter" for free here

Let's get some buzz rolling, people! I like this show!

(Caveat: these online streaming thingies don't really work well on my computer. I don't know if it's just me or if it's the fault of the website and the tech they're using. I'm too unsavvy to tell. I wish they'd clean it up, though. It's really hard to watch.)

October 14, 2006

Writer's Block

Ever' body's askin' me if I have writer's block re: the nobble, and I didn't think I did. I thought I had a massive case of avoidance, which I didn't think was the same thing. But then I read this thing in the New York Times which said:

depression, which ''afflicts writers at a rate 8 to 10 times higher than the general population.''

(yoikes!) and:

'both very low and very high levels of arousal interfere with performance.'' In other words, too much motivation, as well as too little, can trigger writer's block, and this explains why ''the bigger the project, the bigger the block.''

hmmm ... and:

A friend of mine once invented a ''cure'' for minor blocks ... : to counteract a procrastination, create a bigger one. Think up a grand, long-term, world-changing project -- something like Mr. Casaubon's ''Key to All Mythologies'' from ''Middlemarch,'' or that old reliable, the Great American Novel -- and in your mind invest it with such life-defining importance that everything you do that doesn't contribute to realizing it becomes a waste of time. As long as meeting this week's deadline is a way of avoiding the really big thing that you ought to be doing instead, it becomes much easier. A pretty feeble ruse, perhaps, but it works.

which might work except the nobble is pretty damned big ... that's the problems; and then there's writing as avoidance of writing (kinda like this post!):

In ''Out of Sheer Rage'' Dyer achieves a Cartesian state of procrastination, leading his readers through so many densely nested layers of avoidance as he travels the world visiting Lawrence's haunts that not writing about Lawrence becomes an end in itself.

Okay, maybe I am blocked.

October 12, 2006

I'm Reading at Litquake's Lit Crawl

Okay, it's time.

Time to tell you that I'll be reading (for eight! whole! minutes! I love festivals!) at Litquake's Lit Crawl event this year.

Lit Crawl is a nifty three-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, except you go from reading pillar to literary post rather than from dive to dive. (Most of these places will be bars or will be providing drinks, though, so don't worry. You can still get drunk and make an ass of yourself. I plan to.

I'll be reading with the Writers With Drinks group during phase three (there are three sessions or "phases"), which supports Other magazine, and yes, I will be reading something woo woo: specifically, an excerpt from a story in progress about what happens when all the men in the world disappear and the women get all predatory with the pubescent boys that are left. For eight! whole! minutes!

Here's the deets:

PHASE III, 8:30–9:30 p.m.

Latin American Club (21 and over)
3286 22nd Street
Getting Boozy: Writers With Drinks and Manic D Press
Writers With Drinks: Claire Light, Lauren Wheeler, and Alvin Orloff. Emcee: Charlie Anders. Manic D Press: Jennifer Blowdryer, Justin Chin, and Jon Longhi. Emcee: Jennifer Joseph

Come talk to me afterwards!

October 11, 2006


I just recently added the "TV" category to my blog because, with this whole iTunes thing happening, for the first time in forever I've been able to keep up with TV shows as they happen.

I don't own a TV. I did own one for several years, but didn't have cable, so I could only get in two channels well. Also, for years I had a job that required me to work evenings, so I never could get into the habit of being at home at a certain time on a certain day. DVDs took away the urgency to do this anyway.

But now, with the leetle TV serial drama revolution that's happening, and with the existence of truly great shows (like "Carnivale") being so fragile, I'm inspired to watch them as they happen, in ways that can make my dollars into votes. Also, free sneak peeks on the internet!

It's interesting about paying for TV shows on an individual basis, because it feels expensive, yet these are mostly cable shows that you could only get by paying $40+ a month for cable. By choosing to buy $30-40 seasons of four shows, I'm actually saving money (not to mention the time I would be spending trying to justify having cable by watching more TV). The economics of this are fascinating. I love how enormous-budget industries are finally figuring out how to use the internet to make massive profits by picking up small units from a nearly infinite number of nibbling individuals. New Economy Fascinating! Too bad we don't have enough oil to make the new economy last long enough to turn into something cool.

Anyhoo, here's the haps in my TV-watching world:

1. When is Showtime going to make "Dexter" available for download on iTunes? I'm seriously considering writing them about it.

2. "Battlestar Galactica" Season 3's season pass finally is available on iTunes. Yep, that's $40 that'll keep on giving. Mmmmm ... fat Apollo.

3. "Studio 60" is taking days to get their new episodes up. And what's up with not providing season passes?

4. "Heroes" is better about the timeliness. In fact, I'm already an episode behind.

These are my regular picks for this season. Anything I'm missing that I just have to see? Plus:

5. I'm picking up individual episodes of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days", as they interest me. This is a tough show, because some of the issues it addresses make for boring television. The episode where the pro-choice advocate went to live in a pro-life home was super-yawn, because both the pro-choice woman and the pro-life couple were smart, active, well-educated in their work, and had not an ounce of room to budge. So nothing happen. They were even too polite to really argue. On the other hand, the illegal immigration piece was fabulous, because the Minutemen guy they sent to live with the undocumented family was so counterintuitive: an immigrant himself, and Cuban, too. Documentary TV, though, folks! Cool!

6. I have dropped "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." In fact, I was watching them only on DVD so I dropped them both after the first season. With so many good shows on, it takes more than loyalty to keep me watching something that bores or embarasses me. I'm probably dropping "Nip/Tuck" as well. I barely made it through the DVDs of season 3. Shark jumping is a sad thing. I have definitely dropped "24," not merely because it was getting incredibly stupid (it spun the shark when Jack killed his lover's husband) but because it's so obviously a political tool to prepare the public to accept torture. Politically incorrect TV bad!

7. I might pick up "The Nine" on DVD later.

8. Where the hell is my "Deadwood"? Why can't I download HBO shows?

My world is so sad. I think I'll go donate some money to moveon.org in penance.

October 09, 2006

Why Are Interracial Relationships Important to Society?

Some people have been linking to this blog via an ask.com search on "Why are interracial relationships important to society?" So I'm going to address this question (again) directly.

Q: Why are interracial relationships important to society?

A: They're not.

Yeah, that's right. They're not important to society. Period. Know why? because interracial relationships are relationships, not government-sanctioned social tweaking, like affirmative action. Interracial relationships are romance, family. It's important to accept them, yes. It's important to society that you accept interracial relationships, because then your society will be less racist. But your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships not because interracial relationships perform that all-important deracifying function on society. Your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships because you are being less racist.

You have frequent opportunities throughout your day, week, year, and lifetime to be more racist or less racist, and to affect your society, to make your society more racist or less racist. People partnering interracially and entering your public space create opportunities for you to be more racist or less racist. But if no one partnered interracially, you'd still have opportunities to deal with race; you'd still be forced to deal with race.

People partnering interracially are not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society. They're doing it because they're in love, or because they make each other hot, or because the sex is fantastic, or because every day is a delightful surprise, or because they have a fetish and this person is the perfect embodiment, or because they're feeling adventurous, or because they have something to prove, or because they want to piss of their parents, or because they're abroad and they're really, really homesick and this person is comforting, or because they learned the language and wanted to practice it on somebody and chose the wrong person to try to practice on who then lambasted them about how they were actually American too and didn't speak the language but their lips were so mobile as they said it and they did such a cute thing with their hair that one really couldn't help oneself, or, okay, maybe because they think they should or because it reflects their values. But they're not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society, and turning their relationship, their sex, their dating and fucking and having brunch and arguing over the remote into an important societal function is just plain stupid.

People do what they do, the world changes, and you adjust. Or you don't adjust. Interracial relationships are a symptom of the world changing, not the cause. They are not important to society. Your response to them is important to society. They're not the problem, but you might be.

October 05, 2006


I am now officially being used to market tv shows. So cool! Some marketer from Showtime sent me to a sneak peek website for the new Showtime drama "Dexter" to get me to write about it and, because I want to keep getting free sneak peeks, I'm doing so. I'd post the info on how to get the free sneak peek, but the website sucks and the streaming video tech was faulty. The show didn't stream smoothly so it was really difficult to watch. So don't bother.

Anyhoo, the show is based on a novel, which in itself is cool, because it means there's a new way for novelists to sell out to Hollywood, which is what I'm hoping will happen to my nobble. I don't want 2/3 of it cut out so it can fit into a 2 hour movie, I want a tv drama made out of it! (Hmmm ... maybe I should finish writing it first.)

Anyhoo hoo, the title character, Dexter, is a forensics expert with the Miami police department (he specializes in blood splatters) and, it turns out, is also a sociopath who has channeled his homicidal tendencies into murdering serial killers. Yep, that's right. He's a serial serial killer killer.

I generally don't like serial killers, serial killer movies, serial killer books, or serial killer shows (like "Profiler") because I find serial killers scary without being at all rewarding. I didn't bother seeing the other Hannibal Lecter movies, and I avoid most horror films anyway. And frankly, "Nip/Tuck" jumped the shark for me when they made the serial killer a series regular. But this one I like. For several reasons. And no, I'm not just saying that to get more free sneak peeks.

First of all, serial killers are scary without being rewarding because we only get to see somebody profiling them, and then, at best, shadowy images of them killing people in horribly creative ways. We don't get to (and you'll know I'm a writer when I say this) sympathize with them, see into their point of view. Well here, that's exactly what you get. We're welded to Dexter's very forthcoming first person. We hear him thinking, we hear him addressing us in his thoughts, we see everything he does, and get in on his conversations, too. Everything short of a direct address into the camera eye. He's our guy.

He's no talented Mr. Ripley, though. Ripley was a work of genius (book, not movie) because Ripley had no excuses, wasn't trying to channel his selfishness into good, and wasn't whining about his troubled childhood, yet Highsmith made him sympathetic. Dexter, on the other hand, only kills bad people, although he does so really horribly, and the pilot episode hints with ribs-bruising nudges that he was badly abused as a young child (he admits to his loving foster father that he can't remember anything before he came to live with his foster parents--and started carving up the neighbors' pets).

The whining is limited, although I'm worried that we'll develop his sad past as the show goes on. I think that would be a mistake. The hint is enough. What's great (so far) about the show is that Dexter may have learned from his foster father to channel his violence, but he's a violent sociopath nonetheless. He's extremely disturbing, his responses to others' murders are extremely disturbing, and no punches are pulled about why he's killing his victims: he's hungry for the kill and he can't help himself. He doesn't fool himself or try to fool us that he's in it for the good he's doing.

There's also a lot of attempted humor in the show, some of which lands and some of which doesn't. Because we're following Dexter's pov, there's a lot of poetry and drama in his pursuit of victims and his study of their killing habits. But when he's forced to interact with people, the lights get too bright, as does his smile, and there's a touch of absurdism to all the proceedings. This is deliberate, but it's not "American Psycho"-style attempted social critique. The absurdity of his human interactions is intended to alienate the audience from the people in his life and marry them to his pov. It works.

The pilot centers around Dexter meeting a soul mate: a serial killer whom he calls an artist, who is smart enough to figure Dexter out before Dexter figures him out. The end of the pilot is a calling card from the mysterious other asking Dexter to come out and play. By the time we follow Dexter into his house to find the creepy message, we're so inside his head that we don't find the message creepy, or scary, or disturbing at all. We find it, like Dexter does, exhilarating.

The show also has some beautiful visual moments, not least a scene in a drug lord's all-white apartment where Dexter, for his forensics work, has drawn lengths of red wool from the blood splatters on the walls to a central point to demonstrate the splatter patterns caused by the killings.

Plus, Julie Benz, who played Darla on "Angel", has a plum role here as Dexter's girlfriend, a woman he picked out because she was so damaged from her last, abusive relationship, that she has no interest in sex, which characteristic she shares with Dexter, although he can't let her know that.

Altogether, a show I'm planning on downloading, as soon as it shows up on iTunes ...

If you have Showtime, the pilot is playing for the next three days or so, so definitely go check it out. It's complex, it's well written, it's well produced, and who knew Michael C. Hall was so hot--especially because he's so creepy?

October 04, 2006

In Defense of Transparent Prose

I wrote this post in mid-July and stopped, because I had more to say about it, then forgot about it. I'm posting it here now, because I'm working my way back in to the "fad writing" issue and this sort of belongs with that set of questions. Please excuse the untimeliness.

Via Gwenda Bond, I read this post from Elizabeth Bear on beautiful prose and SF/F. Also recently I was pressing my copy of His Majesty's Dragon on a friend, saying it was the perfect example of what transparent prose should be, and he asked what "transparent prose" was.

Our brief discussion brought up some of the knee-jerk reactions anyone with any literary pretensions has to the concept of transparent prose, so I went searching on the internet for a definition and came up only with befoulments and complaints . (With the dramatic exception of this ancient and delicious essay, "A Reader's Manifesto".)

I'm not about to say here that everyone should write transparently any more than everyone should write "poetically" (wait for it, I'll be taking issue with these terms later.) Everyone should write how they best write. I'm just sick of this discussion that has everyone should-writing either one way or another. I'm ten-fold sick of this coercion that has everyone with (again) any literary pretensions padding their prose with ill-considered detail and unintelligent meditations because both are de rigeur. And I'm a thousand-fold sick of stories that aren't stories, but rather 3 - 5000 word-strong masses of undigested would-be poesy, because "style" and "voice" give bad writers permission to vomit on the page and pass it off as considered work.

I'm currently more than halfway through a novel by an acquaintance that has no story. I was encouraged to read this novel not merely because of my acquaintanceship with the author, but also by some enthusiastic reviews, as well as the blogasms of various other acquaintances, one of whom said that s/he wanted to slow the reading down because the prose was so beautiful. I quailed at this, but soldiered in.

After all, there are novels which you want to slow down your reading of because the prose is so beautiful. One Hundred Years of Solitude is almost a cliche for being one of them. However, Solitude's forward movement---its structure and "plot"---are so compelling that you can't slow down. And this causes a great deal of the tension in that brilliant book. In fact, you can't possibly want to slow your reading of any novel down, unless it has that compelling forward motion, because, otherwise, why wouldn't you just slow down?

And that's the problem with this current novel. So far the writer has given a great deal of detail, many meaningful and poignant "moments", but no actual story. Now, more than halfway through, I've given up hope of goodies over the horizon and do not look forward to the next chapter, or even the next page. This might be okay if there were other goodies besides plot, but the author has glued the authorial viewpoint so closely to the first person narrator's (oh yes) that there are no little peeks around the narrator's obstructive, big head.

There's no greater perspective than the narrator's moment-to-moment philosophizing about a whorl of dust or a secondary character's sudden quirk. The era in which the book was written---one positively swarming with opportunities for global political and cultural exegesis---is frequently referred to, never felt. Even a greater understanding of the immediate community is lacking. The characters have refused the arc of great novel characters (from stereotype, to particularity, to archetype) and have jumped directly into the realm of delicately shaded archetype, without any intervening characterization.

I wish I could say the novel is unusual in possession of these faults, but it's actually fairly typical of the results of brain-wringing among our Literary Writers of Today. In fact, it's better (so far) than most of the NYT-reviewed sludge tainting Borders' bookshelves of Our Era. When Elizabeth Bear in her post (above) writes:

most of us find one easier to do than the other [i.e. slammin' plot and slammin' prose style], and we learn pretty early in this business to play to our strengths. We won't please everyone; the trick to surviving as a fictioneer is to find one's audience (those persons who are in sympathy to what one is good at or what one is interested in talking about) and satisfy their expectations and desires.

Also, it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that writing is too hard to do well. It's a juggling act, and a balancing act, and one is working with limited space and resources (and there's the necessity of maintaining pacing), and every decision one makes, as a writer, means that several other possibilities can no longer be explored. And then, of course, there is the issue that this thing is not easy.

all of what she writes is true, but it sounds too much like an excuse. I think only genre-fiction-as-entertainment has that excuse. Nothing with literary pretensions ever does.

That is to say: if you're writing to sell a lot of books and to entertain people only, then you can play to the strengths you already have, and ignore your weaknesses. But if you're trying to be a conscious practioner of an art form, if you're trying to be an artist, then you have to work the muscles you don't have until you're able able able. As Bear herself wrote: it's a balancing act. This is why it's "too hard to do well", because playing to your strengths alone is a cop out. So you have to work harder and not let yourself get away with easy, meaningless crap.

Basically, what I'm saying is: everyone has to attempt their own sort of balance, but they have to attempt it! That means no saying "My novel is all about beautiful language." Well, then, it's not a novel.

Which brings us back to the defense of transparent prose in the title of this post: Who says prose that buries itself in favor of the story is easy? That's what's constantly implied. What's also constantly implied is that transparent prose is bad. But the whole point is that transparent prose is ... transparent, as in, you can't see it. That is so hard to do. There's no question of doing it right or doing it wrong. If it's transparent, you've done it right ... and if it's not, if the prose trumpets its own presence, if the prose is noticeable, noticeably bad, then it's not transparent. Period.

Which means, of course, that transparent prose is the best and the most difficult and the rarest of writing styles, 'cause, frankly, you almost never see it. It's really, really difficult to write without particularity of voice because everyone writes with particularity of voice. It's almost the whole reason why we write: to screech our presence as writers to the skies. It's really, really difficult to write without mistakes or misjudgements of style. I don't need to explain that; anyone who's been in a writers workshop knows this is true. It's really, really, really, really difficult to know your plot, setting, and characters so well that you don't need to obfuscate them (or their lack) with language, voice, or style, but can rather bury language, voice, and style without revealing your poverty of plot, character, and setting.

Transparent writing is, in the purest, best sense, mature writing. It's writing that isn't adolescent, that isn't selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. It's writing of the most difficult, that realizes that the better it does its job, the less it will be recognized for doing its job. You have to be a grownup even to want to write transparently, much less to succeed at it. I don't even want to write transparently, although I worship the rare few who are able to do so.

So can we stop being silly teenagers about it, and talking about the dowdiness of grownups, as if we were the first children ever to discover a generation gap? Just because you've stopped writing like a robot and started your petty thief's ventriloquism career, doesn't mean that: a) we care and b) transparent prose (ooo! notice the presence of the word "parent" in the term!) is somehow lesser than your Jonathan Safran Foer derivation. 'Kay?

October 03, 2006

Things Goin' On In My Empty Head

Still fighting a cold (a cold! I haven't had one of those in years!) and my head is emptier than usual.

But yes, I am always this obsessed with television drama, especially when it's good. Why are we getting so many good television dramas these days? Could it be because our leaders are so shockingly horrible that we can't really watch what they're doing or we'll gouge out our own eyes? We've gotten used to torture and kidnapping and not habeusing corpuses and all sorts of anti-social-programs and anti-education hijinks ... but a pedophile heading up the anti-pedophile caucus in the Senate? Wow.

No wonder people are shooting up the Amish. The world is crazy.

October 02, 2006

A Defense of "Heroes"

I've heard some bad feedback on the new tv drama "Heroes" and I'm a bit confused. What's so bad about it?

I've only seen the pilot, and not subsequent episodes, but the main issues I've heard of so far have been that it develops too slowly, that there are too many characters, and that the characters are stereotypes.

The show is about a buncha people who discover that they have superpowers; I think there are supposed to be ten main characters. So far in the pilot we've only met nine of them. Okay, it's traditional to intro all your main xtrs in the pilot, but why do you have to? Answer: you don't. I've had no trouble keeping the xtrs intro-ed so far in order, so I'll have little problem adding one more, if that's what it takes. My favorite shows (Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, not mention my less-favorites like Lost) all have ten or more major characters to keep track of and no one seems to have any trouble with this.

I think the problem here is that if each of the xtrs has a superpower, then each should have equal weight in the show. In other shows, only two or three xtrs are presented as main xtrs and the rest are supporting. So, because there's a hierarchy, no one has trouble keeping track, even if all of the xtrs have equal time. Actually, it might be a cognitive thing: I seem to remember reading somewhere that you can only focus on so many things at once, but you can note and follow a much great number, provided all these things are given different priorities. Does anyone know anything about this?

As far as the pace goes: most of these characters are only just starting to discover their powers. I've heard complaints that they're taking too long, but discovery of and learning to use their powers appears to be the narrative arc of the first season. Is half the story supposed to take place in the first episode? That's a lot to ask of a show. I'm a big fan of "Unbreakable", which I understand a lot of people hated. I think there's going to be a similar division for this show: people who loved "Unbreakable", the mature pacing and novelistic examination of character, will enjoy this show and people who hated it because it isn't a fast-paced action flick will not enjoy this show.

Yes, some of the characters are riding the edge of stereotype. The Japanese xtr is a Star Trek geek. The Indian xtr is a science prof. The two women heroes (so far) are both blonde, and one is a stripper, one is a cheerleader. Where's the ugly geek girl? Didn't they make so many xtrs to have diversity?

On the other hand, the stripper is the mother of a biracial genius-boy. Yes, the show gets points just for including a multiracial child, extra points for not falling all over themselves to explain his presence ('cause, really, how multiracial children come about is pretty fucking obvious.) There's another, unremarked, interracial relationship on the show as well, and points for that too. Points for the token black being a beautiful woman--possibly a damsel in distress--and not one of those mysteriously-ebonics-speaking-yet-completely-isolated-from-the-African-American-community-and-happy-to-be-a sidekicks. Am undecided about the Latino being an artist; seems like a latent stereotype.

But some of the superpowers seem designed to complicate or subvert the stereotypes of the xtrs. The cheerleader is the strong, unbreakable one (not that we haven't seen that before); the victimized stripper is the vicious killer; the male nurse can fly (maybe). Basically, there hasn't been enough time spent on xtrization to make any definitive statements about stereotypes yet. Wait and see.

Altogether, I'm excited about this show. There are enough smart, culturally savvy elements here to keep me watching for awhile, and since Lost lost me (yes, there is such a thing as too slow, even in my "Unbreakable"-lovin' world), I need something to take its place.

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