Thursday, September 1, 2011
Sometimes we all need a wake up call; an event or a sign illustrating that we’ve strayed off our particular straight and narrow, an indication that adjustments are necessary if we’re to salvage our objective, our case or our cause. That goes for authors, too. It takes a few brains and a large dose of common sense to listen to those big or little voices babbling to us in our heads, and the sooner we listen the sooner we get those heads out of our ass and back on track where they belong.
That might explain why I’m packing my bags while Kyoko’s calling us a cab to the airport. I can smell the burned rubber from the tread marks left by my author’s abrupt about-face, but I’m supposed to be a nimble sort of guy who can deftly change directions on a dime. His authorial brain is feverishly plotting out the implications that the change of scenery will have on the case, and has even stumbled on another twist in the plot that opens up an over-sized satchel worth of new possibilities that could pay off big time as the story unfolds.
I can’t spill my guts prematurely, of course. The devilish details haven’t been set in stone, yet, and I don’t want to spoil our collective fun of finding out what happens as we turn the page. The guy who writes these potboilers would really be pissed if I tipped my mitt on what he has in mind. Then again, he’d also probably take offense at my calling my adventures ‘potboilers’. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s the sensitive sort, and likes to think he’s writing literary suspense, whatever the fuck that means. My guess is that he thinks that using the term ‘literary’ implies he’s not an out-an-out hack and that the words, when strung together, have some value as literature beyond their more pedestrian function of moving the story along. I’m not sure he’s gotten the memo that no one really gives a flying shit anymore.
I say this with affection, of course, but the guy at the controls is something of an anachronism. He’s been plugging away writing things for a very long time with barely the proverbial pot to piss in or window to throw it out of to show for his efforts, and he sometimes gets thrown by change despite his frequent embrace of it. His thinking, especially about his art and his craft, can sometimes border on archaic. Take this blog, for example. He knows absolutely nothing about writing a blog or the social networking that can make it such an influential tool in both the ether and the marketplace. Its ulterior purpose, of course, is to sell the brand I’m trying hard to become. Hopefully that commercial intent doesn’t dampen the fun we can have together, but reality must occasionally intrude on these exchanges if author dearest is to put food on the table.
But that’s what I don’t get about him. To say he doesn’t always do what’s in his commercial best interest as a writer seeking an audience would be a gargantuan understatement along the lines of saying the Titanic sprung a slight leak after hitting that iceberg, He hasn’t exactly been the best friend of his own career. The first strike against him, besides his being a pathetically poor networker, is that he writes for himself, not a prospective audience per se. He doesn’t stop to think what the public might want to read; he only considers what he wants to write, and he doesn’t always understand how far behind the eight-ball that puts him. I’m not sure he understands just how self-absorbed our audience today really is. They’re too obsessed with their own problems to care very much about the ones he would call attention to. They’re also not all that into risk-taking. Hell, even werewolves and vampires these days have been de-clawed and de-fanged, transformed into antiseptic creatures that live mundane middle class lives save for the curious circumstance of their particular ‘condition’; which is about as central to their being as their hair color. They’re different, but in a pretentious, harmless, innocuous sort of way and, though looking somewhat pale or iridescent in daylight are still safe and presentable enough for teenage girls to bring home to mother.
The second strike against author dearest is that he’s one of those writers who mix more than just metaphors in his stories; he mixes styles, traditions and genres, not to mention tenses. My opening case, Portrait of Deadly Excess, for example, is equal parts suspense, classic noir mystery, neo-noir, genre horror, supernatural noir and attempted social commentary. Is it any wonder traditional publishers and agents wouldn’t touch it! They probably couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up. I keep telling him the public — and that includes the so-called gatekeepers and doyens of the entertainment industry — wants known, well-defined and tried-and-true formulas, unpredictable around the edges perhaps to give the illusion of novelty but at core conforming to dozens of books and vehicles they’ve read, represented and produced before. People don’t want new and they don’t want different. People want a sure bet, the homerun, the in-your-face slam dunk that brings down the house. They want comfort amusement that mildly surprises but more importantly reaffirms and reassures. They want more of the same, the same as themselves, the same as their next door neighbor, the same as the cardboard cutouts we call ‘celebrities’ and ‘leaders’; any bright, sparkly designer bag filled with warmed-over crap aimed at diverting us from the deeper, darker questions threatening the promised safety of our lives.
To that overriding sentiment of today’s marketplace author dearest delivers me, a hard-assed son-of-a-bitch who threatens your safe, sanitized status quo with his very presence. I’m an uncompromising half-breed who goes off in search of all sorts of inequities and injustices that you would prefer to totally ignore if not deny, and I also have the audacity to try to set them right against not only assorted villains and bad guys but also against known and accepted pillars of established power. Worse still, I somehow manage to actually pull most of that off. I challenge everything, have the ability to, like Samson, bring down roof, and I don’t even bother to pretend to offer up new idols and reassuring answers in exchange.
Which brings me to the third strike against him as an author: he expects the reader to work and to have something invested in the story while reading it. You’re supposed to read between the lines and make definite associations using your own frames of reference. He expects you to understand my mixed racial identity is as much metaphor for where we’re at as a people and a species as it is a real issue in my pathetic excuse for a life. You’re supposed to get the hint that my refusal to embrace one half of myself at the expense of the other is really a larger rejection of false opposites and an insistence that we focus on the more important subtleties of who and what we as individuals and peoples are, and not get caught up in the barbed wire of the shallow differences of ethnicity and race. He expects you to realize it’s not simply black and white I’m rejecting, but up and down, right and wrong, good and evil, liberal and conservative, etc. I’m calling them what they are, bullshit, deliberate lies and well-crafted prevarications, archetypal red-herrings, and a magician’s artful misdirection where a carefully planned gesture or eloquent banter distracts you long enough for the box-jumper to pick your pocket as you applaud in the dark.
I’ve already mentioned how all the mumbo-jumbo about the power of Kane’s paintings was just another one of his metaphors taken to the extreme; the nature of art and its ability to transfigure everyone with whom it comes into contact, including the creator. He and I were probing into the real power of art; not only over the viewer, but over the artist. That was the real case I was working in Portrait, wasn’t it? We were probing less what is entailed in owning art but more what is involved in creating it. What determines artistic success, and what are artists willing to sacrifice for it?
There are no easy, trick answers to such questions. My author and I know what we think, but shocking as it seems, we want you to have an opinion, too. We don’t necessarily give a shit what that opinion is, but we want very much that you have it. Please remember we’re not writing ‘Which Way’ stories, here, where you, the reader, choose the path the story takes. Piss on that! Writing, like all art in general, isn’t democratic. Author dearest has definite ideas of where my next case, Blood Rituals, is heading, but it should be clear by now that I’m following his lead about as much as he’s following mine.
If you want to influence something in a genuine way then influence the pandering imbeciles you entrust to elected office, influence the safety and cost of the food and products you buy at market, influence the nameless lobbyists and multinational conglomerates who daily hold you and whole nations hostage, and who, like the aforementioned magicians, dangle bright and shiny carrots in your face with one hand while they steal your lunch, if not your soul, with the other.
But leave my cases to me and the guy at the wheel. They’re hard enough to write as it is.