Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein

A “universe of souls where manifestation is a literal thought away and the Strong-Willed harshly rule”. . .

An etheric plane between dimensions with no rules save that the weak will be consumed . . .

Such is the setting of I, the One, the debut work from author Dominika Lein.

Lein posits a world some souls do not move on to paradise or ultimate rest upon death, instead ending up in The Other Side, a Wild West free-for-all where the strong rule. Niman finds himself in the thrall of the spider-like Hanhoka, his Guide, who teaches him and the mysterious Katilo how to find and consume souls from multiple dimensions . . . though Niman himself has no interest in doing so.

Still, he is tasked with training Meelik, a lizard-like lik, how to survive in The Other Side, in the hopes of revealing Meelik’s guide, who has something that Hanhoka desparately wants.

It’s an interesting set up that becomes all the more poignant when Niman realizes that he’s not ready to meekly submit to the will of those stronger than him.

All told, I enjoyed I, the One. I had to read it twice, though–and at 48 pages, it’s quick enough to do just that in one sitting.

My first time through, I felt bewildered and cheated, as if I struggled through pages of difficult description and confusing action just to arrive at an inconclusive, ambiguous ending. “What the hell was this?” I thought to myself, frustrated at both Lein for creating something that should be in my wheelhouse but wasn’t, and at myself for not fully grasping such a short, albeit dense, story.

Then I read it again after several weeks and wow, I have reversed my previous opinion. Lein does an excellent job creating her strange setting and the lost souls–some pure, some malevolent–who inhabit it. Continue reading “Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein”

Must We Politics?

Must politics ruin everything?

Must politics infect even our art?

Must blog posts have bad grammar?

These thoughts came to me recently (well, maybe not the grammar one) as I witnessed author Jon Del Arroz on Twitter going back-and-forth with other authors about the seeming impossibility of keeping politics out of fiction. Jon, clearly, thinks that it is possible to write politics-free fiction, and that it is, in fact, easy to do. This is part of the impetus behind the Pulp Revolution, after all:

Just don’t write politics into it.

 

Author Jon Del Arroz
Jon Del Arroz

On the other side is the view that it’s impossible because political viewpoints form who the author is, and that such a fundamental part of the writer–or artist in general–is always going to seep through:

Politics are a part of the author, and every work is a piece of the author’s soul.

I have a problem with this second position, for four main reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy on the part of those who make this argument. These are the same people who try to tell us that, in our politicians, character doesn’t matter and that personal beliefs, whether philosophy or faith, need to be kept out of politics. Yet it’s “impossible” to separate personal values and beliefs from something with arguably far fewer consequences like art? Do we pick and choose based on some arbitrary metric? How does this even make sense?
  2. The conflation of contemporary politics with universal themes about humanity. Much of what passes as contemporary political philosophy is meaningless gibberish. Deconstruction, critical theory, tax policy, post-modernism, and the reduction of every single facet of human interaction into the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy has as much to do with the human experience and the intellectual life as your bowel movement has to do with high art (unless you’re a Dadaist, I guess, then have at it).
  3. It demonstrates a lack of skill. This one is short but sweet: a good writer can write from the perspective of anyone, and make the reader believe it…without the character sounding like a mouthpiece for the author.
  4. The conflation of politics with values. This is the big one. Values might determine what political affiliation–if any–you gravitate towards. But when we talk “values,” we usually aren’t talking “I’m a Republican!” or “I’m a Democrat!” Or at least we shouldn’t be.

I am a firm believer that one can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics. Don’t like Nazis? No one does! But just because Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favorite doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy The Nibelungenlied.

What’s that, you say? You’re not a Che-worshipping, Lenin-loving murderous Marxist? Well guess what: You can still listen to–and enjoy!–Rage Against the Machine (though those dudes will still hate you).

You get the idea.

But far more interesting is the “power lifts as values” issue. Let’s explore this a bit further. Continue reading “Must We Politics?”

The Creation Disease

In times of strife and trouble, uncertainty and violence, people seek escape. This is not weird at all. Imagination is a key that unlocks the door separating what is from what could be. And the mind is the one place that is uniquely yours.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Think about the period of the Great Depression through to the end of the Second World War. America fondly remembers this era where Hollywood, using the power of talented storytellers and actors, produced films that not only bolstered America’s spirits during the war, but also its soul.

The times are reflected in art, and whole there’s a push-pull, with art often driving and normalizing certain things, very little art can be divorced from its milieu. And people create, no matter how dark things may be. Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war relate how the power to keep their imaginations from being broken by their oppressors.

And for those of us who like to create, it really is like a compulsion or a disease to do so. Whether it’s music, painting, fiction, poetry, machinery, or tinkering with cars, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. Tough circumstances only seem to drive us further into our crafts.

I suppose this makes sense. If you feel that your days are numbered, or that there is precious little sunlight poking through the gloom, then you’ll want to get as much out of you as you can before the end comes.

Of course, this is melodramatic. Things aren’t that dire yet. Or maybe they are. Some days I really do think that the world order as we know it is coming to a violent, ugly end in a matter of weeks. Maybe it is.

See, one curse about having the creation disease is that you think of weird things all the time. That’s why you want to get them out on paper, on canvas, or tell jokes about it. A part of thinking these weird things involves being curious and making connections, extrapolating what could happen, when it could happen, and why.

We’re not always the best at game-planning what to do about it, although I may only be speaking for myself. Still, seeing a lot speculation from prominent creators whose answers tend to be “Vote the way I do!” or “Agree with me about everything or you’re evil (and stupid)!” leads me to believe that this is a common failing among the majority of creative-types.

The creation disease is not only a disease of creators, but also a disease of creation. This dark strain is present in the mainstream nihilism that is still so fashionable in much of our culture: There is no hope. Everything sucks. The impulse to “burn it all down and start over” offers precious few hopeful scenarios as to what that starting over would be like, or why it would work.

Even worse is the impulse to take something beloved, cherished, and that works, and deliberately ruin it, like an angry teenager pissing on a Rembrandt. “Watch how I totally subvert and ruin the legacy of Tolkien/Lovecraft/Shakespeare/Austen/Star Trek!”

Such edge! Such insight! Such talent! Three cheers for destruction! Continue reading “The Creation Disease”

Retro Inspiration

Video games are a part of modern culture. Whether you like it or not, they are here to stay.

I know I've written about the downsides of gaming in the past. But I've also written about the creative aspects and how, at least in my mind, they really are a type of art, particularly in the music department. But what I haven't talked about much is that, while I'm definitely a casual gamer these days, how much I love what are now called "retrogames."

Seriously. If I'm going to fire up a game, it's going to be an old NES, SNES, Genesis, or PC title from the 80s/90s. There are some PlayStation 1 and 2 games I have a fondness for, the PS2 being the last system I was really in to. I got a Wii as a gift, and do own a DS, but aside from a handful of games on each, I haven't touched them in years.

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: Many of these games remain an inspiration. 

Especially in my writing.

I've made no secret that I'm an aspiring author. I'm serializing my short novel Reset, chapter-by-chapter, on this blog every Sunday, and I've shared the first chapter of my soon-to-be-published novel The Rust Man. I'm also working on a new novel as we speak, and have a previously finished one I want to clean up.

What I haven't talked too much about is my inspiration for these things. I do consider myself peripherally attached to both the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive movements, though both represent ideas that I found myself holding long before the movements came into being.

On the PulpRev side, while I haven't read that many of the Appendix N, the ideals behind the "old" stuff appeal to me, as does the sense of fun, adventure, and "anything goes," unconstrained by genre labels or conventions and served with a healthy slice of heroism and goodness.

And as far as Superversive, let's just say that I'm not a fan of nihilism. At all.

So where do video games come in? Continue reading “Retro Inspiration”

Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)

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“Whoa. You guys are pretty cool,” said Jonesy.

“I know,” said Nick, smiling at the smaller boy as he picked gooey cheese off of a breadstick.

Jonesy was short and slight with shaggy brown hair and a round cherub’s face, looking like an overgrown toddler. He’d eventually start to look somewhat more grown-up, but Scott Jones would never lose that boyish roundness.

So far, the day and their conversation was progressing as it had all those years ago as they sat at the Hollister House of Pizza in downtown Hollister, New Hampshire, home of New Hampshire University, the Granite State’s finest, largest, and most expensive institute of higher learning.

They ate as they spoke in a cautiously open manner, the two pairs of friends feeling each other out. Joe felt more like an outside observer than an actual participant, the words and actions coming unbidden. He had no way of remembering verbatim what had been said over a dozen years ago, yet he somehow knew that this was it.

“So you guys went to high school together?” asked Carlos. He was taller than Jonesy, with an angular face and a tight-lipped set to his jaw. His hair, shaved nearly to the scalp, would progressively grow longer and puffier as the years went by.

“Yeah. And law school too,” said Joe, before the realization hit him that this was not a part of the original conversation.

Carlos and Jonesy looked at him like he was having a stroke or something, but there was no cosmic jolt, no tolling of a divine bell marking his anachronistic error.

Going to go to law school,” said Nick, poking Joe with his elbow. “We’re going to law school. That’s the plan. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe. He took a hasty gulp of soda.

“Wait a minute,” Carlos said to Nick.

“Didn’t you just say you were into computers?”

“Yeah? So? Ever heard of a patent attorney?” said Nick.

Carlos said nothing. He picked up a slice of pizza and took a desultory bite.

“My brother’s in law school,” said Jonesy.

“Let me guess: he hates it,” said Nick.

“How’d you know?”

“Magic.” He took a swig of soda. “Everybody hates being a lawyer.”

“Then why do you want to go to law school?” asked Carlos.

“Good question,” said Nick. “Joe?”

“I don’t know,” he said. He wanted to get up and leave. But Jonesy and Carlos were good guys and for some reason he wanted to make sure they all still became friends. Acting like things were normal helped keep him from thinking about the enormity of his situation. “I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Which is pretty stupid for people who want to be lawyers,” said Nick, “but I digress.”

“Well I know what I’m going to do,” said Carlos. “And I know why I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a composer.”

“Yeah, for video game music,” said Jonesy. “Games I’m going to design.”

Joe, who knew that Jonesy ended up writing business software and that Carlos would soon switch his major to business and become a major player on Wall Street, said nothing.

But not Nick. Nick was always one step ahead of everybody. “Then let’s make sure that happens! Maybe we’ll join you and found a company together. You’ll need lawyers. What do you say, Joe?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Joe’s an idea guy,” said Nick. “He likes to write. Right?”

“Right,” said Joe flatly.

“Cool,” said Jonesy. “So why’d you guys come to NHU?”

Nicked shrugged. “The weather. The beaches. The bar scene. The same reasons everybody comes here.”

“I’m serious. You guys are from Mass. In-state tuition’s high enough in New Hampshire. Out-of-state must be crazy.”

“We just really wanted to get out of Lowell,” said Nick. “Everybody we went to high school goes to UMass. We needed a change of scenery.”

“Yeah,” said Joe. He was getting annoyed with Nick’s upbeat unconcern. Nick was normally glib, but he had been high as of late. Now, completely sober and fully aware of things, he acted like just as much of a dilettante. It was highly annoying and honestly quite shocking.

“Well, I’m from Hollister, and I still went here,” said Jonesy. “It’s a cool place. I think you’ll like it.”

“I’m from Manchester,” said Carlos. “Half of my high school ends up here. My sister too, but she loved it.”

“Then I guess we’re one big happy family,” said Nick. He elbowed Joe playfully. “Joe’s the mom. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Five: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (2)”

Why Pulp Revolution is Perfect Response to 24/7 Politics: Guest Post on Hollywood in Toto

Some of you might realize that politics has invaded all of your entertainment. Over on one of my favorite websites, Hollywood in Toto, I take a look at an antidote to the intrusion of heavy handed political messages in your fiction of choose: the Pulp Revolution.

Or #PulpRev, if you're hip:

Few people want to spend time with hectoring scolds in their everyday lives. But much of our arts have turned into moral crusaders telling you that, if you disagree with The Message then there must be something wrong with you.

Stories are methods of communication, but they should above all else be enjoyable.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have found such stories. There is a movement that does not care about writing message fiction. And what’s even more exciting is that it has no rules, no set guidelines or genre-definers, and most importantly, no political litmus test dictating what stories can and cannot contain.

It’s called the Pulp Revolution.

All that the Pulp Revolution—PulpRev for short—cares about is telling amazing stories based on timeless human principles. The purpose? Have fun without alienating half of its potential audience.

But what is the Pulp Revolution? To answer this, it’s helpful to talk about what it isn’t.

Read the whole thing at Hollywood in Toto. I've been a fan of Christian Toto since he was writing at Big Hollywood, and it's an honor to have written something for his excellent site.

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