Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Accepting Critique

Critique is a beast that grows from a cute cub to a preditor that bites.  It's wonderful when you're in the beginning phases of a project, when reactions from readers can cause a cascade of ideas to burn through your imagination like rivers of lava from Mauna Loa.  Later it becomes harder and harder to take, as your project takes on shape and a life of its own, and the resistence to effort becomes greater and greater. 

So, critique last night was a mix.  Very difficult.  I wanted to quit--both critique group and writing.

For those familiar with my ouvre (Steve, among some others) I wrote an epic fantasy that I finished in 1987, and workshopped through 1990 or thereabouts.  It's in pretty good shape.  I read the very first scene of the novel for my group last night because I'm attending the Surrey International Writers Conference in October, and there are going to be so many publishing industry professionals there looking for fantasy.  And since the novel exists, why not pitch it?

One of the plot elements in my novel has to do with magic artifacts.  The "evil" magic artifacts are called Sorcerules.  They are medallions with obsidian centers.  The "good" artifacts are Staves and Rings which are used in conjunction to form a focus to draw power from the elemental planes.  In the first scene, my character Drue, sees one of the good artifacts, the Ring of the Air, embedded inside a Runestone of obsidian (evil stone).  The other fantasy author in the group said that the "ring" concept was too derivative in feeling and tone.  I took that very personally right off the bat.  My inner critic lambasted me with "See, I told you so, it's trite, derivative and worthless."  But I have been learning from Pam to filter feedback and find the kernel of value in it, and that's usually hidden by emotional baggage.  That is certainly true in my case. 

So, ultimately, the pain gave way to a new solution.  Rather than magic artifacts be rings and staves, the "good" wizards will also have sorcerules--only their stones will be different.  For the Earth: Chalcedony, for the Air: Crystal (which has caught the light of the Aurora), and for the Water: Nacre. 

So, by filtering the feedback and abstaining from self-flagellation, I managed to find a solution which may not be unique and completely original, but certainly seems more in keeping with my theme, and the title of my novel.  This method of accepting critique is a supreme victory for me, and demonstrative of a wholesale raising of my consciousness.

Monday, July 25, 2005

When is a Witch Hunt not a Witch Hunt?

Answer: When it's outing.  Mainstream press in Seattle has characterized the outing of conservative politicians who conceal their sexual orientation from their constituents as a witch hunt.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  In a Witch Hunt, the victims are either accused of something untrue, such as being witches, or punished for a truth, such as being communists.  In outing however, a community is taking steps to protect itself from someone in a position to do it great harm, a position that is steeped in hypocrisy.  All outing does is state the truth where the truth needs to be stated.  The gay community is not interested in punishing anyone.  Nor are we slandering anyone.  The truth is simply the truth.  To accuse the gay community of a witch hunt, who have historically been the victims of witch hunts throughout history is to turn the facts on their head.  Not all exposures are negative.  And sometimes, the vampire needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the cleansing light of truth.  Then let the chips fall where they may.  All a politician needs to do if they do not want their sexuality exposed, is to abstain from voting against the interests of the gay community.  They don't have to vote for them, but if they vote against, their sex lives become fair game if they are foolish enough to be indiscreet.  On the other hand, a conservative politician who is also "out of the closet" has nothing to fear, now, does s/he?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Out Out damned GOPs

Odd.  I've read two articles about outing in the mainstream press this week.  One, a column by Danny Westneat, columnist for the Seattle Times, the other an article from Fox News online about the editor in chief of the tabloid Star deciding that they would no long speculate on the sexual orientation of celebrities.  I had thought that the issue of outing in the press had been settled, but it appears that only applies to the gay press.  The mainstream press has just woken up to the issue.  It appears that conservatives like to have some closeted homosexuals hanging around, just as they like some Uncle Tom African Americans within reach.  Best of all, they like those homos whose sexual orientation is an open secret, such as the daughter of Dick Cheney or political strategist Arthur Finkelstein, who married his "longtime companion" in a civil ceremony in Boston last year.  That way the neocons get to sound progressive, they get to say that sexual orientation is a private matter and nobody's business.  That's what they say in public, in private, however, they acknowledge that homosexuality is a bar to advancement and the best that homsexuals can expect in the corridors of power is the position of Machiavellian consultant ala Arthur Finkelstein, Terry Dolan, or Roy Cohn.  They simply don't want to think about it.  I've had several conversations with conservatives who like to dance around the issue of sexuality and engage in "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" banter.  Sometimes they want to apply their fantasy to your relationship (I have a friend who does this to me all the time and it drives me crazy).  If you show up on the arm of your same sex partner at some event or other, they want to ignore the elephant in the living room, and reduce the relationship to "friend" or "companion" in that special Victorian sense.  They want to be able to define the relationship so that they can both accept the exterior and deny the reality, or fit you into their fantasy.  In any event, they want to be in total control of all information. 

It is an interesting phenomena of psychological bracketing akin to "compartmentalization."  There are also those, usually of an older generation, who consider gay sex to be on a continuum of sexuality, that it is a taste of something obscene in an otherwise heterosexual orientation.  They go in for boys every once in a while, but they regardthemselves as "normal", i.e., straight. 

These are the most dangerous to the gay community, because they are prone to transfer their guilt and self-disgust onto other homosexuals, their envy for the gay life, and their fury that they are unable to participate in it openly, onto the gay community itself.  This is when outing is most effective.  We saw this last year in the case of Ed Schrock, an otherwise straight man who cruised gay chatrooms and voted against gay civil rights.  This was outing at its most effective. 

On one level I agree with the editor of the Star.  While gay movie stars are not in a position to harm the gay community as a whole, they are in a position to reinforce the idea that hiding one's sexuality is normal.  I believe that if one lives in the public arena, one shouldn't have the expectation of that level of privacy.  Your sexuality is no more a private matter than who you marry.  What you do in the privacy of your bedroom, whether one is a top, or a bottom, however, is, and should remain, private. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What are these piercing sounds I keep hearing?

At home this morning, as I wait to give access to my unit to the folks who are coming by to clean out the dryer vents.  At the same time, the folks who test the fire sensors are also here, and every few minutes, they're giving off short, powerful sonic bursts which startle and annoy, like firecrackers or gunshots.  I put my earplugs back in and that cuts the startle factor down to a manageable level.

So much has happened in the world since last I blogged.  Clutter expurgation has occupied my free time.  It is amazing how much junk accumulates from move to move to move, until you're swimming in useless crap.  Yet, sorting through it is so onerous that you're just willing to throw it into a box and take it with you on the off chance that you just might need one of the items inside for something someday.

As a very wise coworker said, "I can afford to replace something much more easily than I can afford the square footage."  Words to live by. 

Friday, July 8, 2005

A WotW Scenario

The motives of the aliens in WotW don't make much sense.  However, they aren't outside space and time, like the diuternal entities that populate the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, whose mere dreams cause catastophe and dissolution.  Spielberg's aliens are (just as H.G. Wells' were) quite physical, and subject to the laws that govern flesh, those of gravity, of time and space, and last but not least, of Murphy. 

Why?  Aye, there's the rub.  Must they be simply evil?  Or does humanity's presence in the universe pose some sort of implicit threat?  Obviously, life does--they are (as in H.G. Wells) susceptible to microorganisms.  They catch cold and die.  I'm not spoiling here--this is exactly the same ending as in Wells' novel and the 1953 version.  But what if, what if the Aliens were being damaged by television?  No, wait, before you scoff, what if radio waves, going out into space, were lethal to the aliens?  Reruns of Three's Company actually killed them?  They have to destroy humanity in order to preserve their own species?  Or at least, destroy television?

Another thing about the film vs. the novel.  When H.G. Wells published WotW, Louis Pasteur had only recently revolutionized science and the world with his discovery of microorganisms.  A remake of this story should find something, anything, that is as recent as Pasteur's science was to Wells.  I would think that nanotechnology would have been a likely choice.  There is something wonderful about Wells' ending, anticlimactic though it is--human beings have the right to be here.  But it is better to put more science into science fiction. 

If movies are feeling the pinch, and they are, box office is extremely poor these days, it's because Television is catching up.  Shows like Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Nip/Tuck, The Shield/Rescue Me, Oz all succeed because they place character at a higher premium than spectacle.  As spectacle comes more and more from the palatte of a software program, the days of justifying $20 million to sign a movie star are numbered.

The entertainment industry is on the cusp of vast change, due in part to satellite, cable, HD TV and DVD.  We no longer have to go to a cineplex in order to see something thrilling.  For too long movies have been spectacular but devoid of heart and soul.  That's going to change.

Monday, July 4, 2005

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is similar to many dreams I've had, of running away, ducking and hiding from vague, barely glimpsed but still terrifying, gargantuan shapes.  As an anxiety dream, WotW is a slam-dunk success.  As science fiction it fails, just as all of Spielberg's SF since Close Encounters has failed, and as a blockbuster it succeeds.  Two out of three ain't bad, and is good enough, in this instance, to justify the ticket price. 

But pierce the veil, and WotW is a lot more.  It is a universal conflict played out as a domestic drama, and it is also a 9/11 passion play.  No famous, familiar landmarks are lovingly destroyed as in Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow; rather, the action is kept to a tight focus--viewed only through the experiences of the main characters.  This gives the film a claustrophic feeling and keeps the anxiety at a fever pitch throughout.  There are times when it almost becomes unbearable, and the desire to flee one's seat for the safety of the lobby is seriously entertained.  Of course, the competing desire to see how it comes out wins.  H.G. Wells is present in this film in spirit.  These are his tripods and his moments of destruction.  Spielberg, in an attempt to justify the innate instability of the tripods shows us the aliens who drive them, three toed, three fingered, three legged (should have been three-eyed).  They have created machines that look like themselves.

Scenes of people running from explosions and collapsing buildings, of dust covering Tom Cruise, of the impotent anger felt in the wake of a surprise attack, all bring to mind the zeitgeist of 9/11.  This is intentional, and one is not surprised to see SF return to the state it was in in 1953, when the George Pal WotW was released, a state of national anxiety caused by an outside threat.

The alien's motivations seem pointless--what do they want?  Why didn't they plan their invasion better--have they never encountered a microorganism?  But that itself, plays well into the whole 9/11 theme--and the nonsensical motivations of the terrorists and their ill-conceived and pointless attack. 

Sunday, July 3, 2005


The best, most concise definition of "Gothic" I've read was written by Roger Ebert, in his review of The Piano:

[Campion's] original screenplay for "The Piano" has elements of the Gothic in it, of that Victorian sensibility that masks eroticism with fear, mystery and exotic places. It also gives us a heroine who is a genuine piece of work; Ada is not a victim here, but a woman who reads a situation and responds to it.

Saturday, July 2, 2005


In his review of The Weight of Water, Roger Ebert has this to say:

Another problem is that psychological conflicts get upstaged by old-fashioned melodrama. The storm at the end, which I will not describe in detail, involves violence and action which would be right at home in a seafaring thriller, but seems hauled into this material only to provide an exciting action climax. It is not necessary to the material. And the revelations in the historical story would have more depth and resonance if we'd spent more time with the characters--if all of their scenes were not essentially part of the set-up.

This is something I needed to hear.  With After the Fire, I kept trying to force a gun-fight, car chase, abduction and/or lying in wait--none of it was necessary to the material, which my critique group kept telling me, Kate Sykes in particular.  It is gratifying to hear Ebert say the same thing.  A book as psychological as mine does not need the trappings of melodrama.  The material and the story must mesh--when they don't--you get a mish-mash of distractions, like The Weight of Water.