Saturday, March 19, 2011

On writing stories.

Although new at this, I nevertheless learned a very important lesson early on.
Stories are about people.
Without people, there is no story. A good plot, excellent prose, and superior writing skills mean nothing unless the story is about people.
At first I thought I should write realistic stories. Stories about common ordinary people who were thrust into extraordinary situations and battled to find a way to triumph. My efforts were met with a “ho-hum so what” attitude.
I read stories of substandard quality that seemed to resonate with the reader and were consequently more popular than mine, and I started to question myself. What am I missing here? I re-read these stories, all about dysfunctional relationships; women or men who had miserable or abusive childhoods and who, consequently, were unable or unwilling to learn to cope with their adult selves, characters who seemed to be powerless to do the intelligent things or in fact resisted any attempt to learn from their mistakes, and then It came to me.
Readers want to be swept away from their mundane existence. They want to experience the bizarre, swept up by a muscular man with impressive sexual equipment, mesmerized by the antics of a harlot who doesn't have a clue how to live, frightened by the idiot who steps into harm's way, knowing that at any minute the monster that lurks in the dark will sink his or her fangs into their neck and drink blood. Readers want to escape reality and enter new worlds that may frighten them, make them weep, or disgust them. They want to be swept away to exotic places, terrified by violent danger, stimulated buy sudden, passionate romance, captivated by quirky characters who have shaky pasts they never experienced, and intrigued by new ideas and concepts. In the world of books, one can snap back, simply by putting the book down, back to sanity and safety. It's a hard job, but somebody's gotta do it.
I got the message...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Walk in the Park

At 67 years old, if I set at this damn computer typing for too long, my legs start to lose their ability to support my body. So, my wife convinced me to undertake a daily exercise walk. Here in San Diego there is a park, a wildlife preserve located in the southern part of San Diego Bay. The park has a trail for hikers and bicyclists that meanders through the marshlands. Since it is nearly Spring, the plants are green and flowers are blooming. Water is still flowing from the winter rains so there are streams burbling and connecting with the lagoons. It never fails to bring me peace. I look back over a lifetime, a lifetime I don't regret, and I remember the hectic pace that prevented me from enjoying moments like this. Then I think of all the young people who are flung headlong into the unrelenting demands of today's society and I can't help but pity them. They never have the time to just walk along with nature surrounding them, and enjoy existence.
What's worse, the younger generation is busily engaged in dismantling all the protections that my parents suffered and sometimes died for. Protections from bank failures, protections promised from Social Security, protections from the greedy bastards that manipulate the stock market, and protections from the environmental disasters such as the one that nearly destroyed Lake Erie back in the sixties, are all being threatened by the illiterate, moronic fools that call themselves the Tea Party.
When I was a young father and provider for my family. One income provided for home. Car, food and three children. Since I was an industrial worker, I was protected by a strong union that kept the predations of the companies from intruding upon my life. In fact, I never worked at a job that didn't have a union, including my time spent as a college professor. Never, that is, until just before I retied. It was a retirement job at an aerospace company, and as non-union, the workers were powerless. The pay was substandard, the workers worked seven days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day (I didn't, I refused to.), just like the miserable conditions of the early twentieth century.
As I say, I pity the younger generation. Now it requires two incomes to make ends meet, so the children must be left at a daycare center. Mom and dad may be required by the employer to work long hours so they're too tired to enjoy life or their families. This seems to be escalating, and I fear for the future. People can only take so much misery before they react. The Tea Party fiasco is typical of their reaction, but it is certainly not the right one, that will only make the problems worse.
The hell with it. I'm in my life's twilight. It's not my problem anymore. I think I'll just walk along the trail and enjoy the flowers.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sex in Novels

Sex sells.
I've been in the business of writing novels for a little over a year, but I discovered sex sells early in my career. List a novel or a short story in one of the several categories provided by the web publishers such as romance, fantasy, science fiction, etc. and sure, you'll get a few downloads; but list it as erotic or adult content, and the sales will double.
Sex sells.
But why does sex sell?
Could it be because at any given moment, nearly half the world's population is engaged in the pleasurable act of making babies?
Half. – over three billion people.
Maybe more than half, if you count those people making love in the daytime.
So, why hold back on the one aspect of life that prevents the extinction of the human race?
In the U.S. We have a very skewed outlook on sex. This is a country in which a three letter word, describing the act of killing people, is considered heroic and brave, but a four letter word describing the act of making babies is considered obscene. Is that rational or sane?
So I put sex in my works. I don't do it to sell, I do it because it belongs there. Sex is an essential part of human life. It's grand and sometimes glorious if it includes love. There's nothing nasty, obscene or degrading about it. It's about the closest you'll come to experiencing heaven in this life. The French call orgasm the little death. They've got a point. If a good orgasm never stopped, I think I would die.
Check any novel, novella, or short story ever written and you’ll find sex ranging from either blatant sex or sex hidden somewhere between the pages. Even Harry Potter has sex in it and that's supposed to be a kids book. Lord of the Rings has the romance between Arwen and Strider, and between Sam and the barmaid. Sex is the natural outcome of romance. Everyone knows it, it hovers in the back of their minds and that's what makes romance work.
I studied psychology in college and learned about Adlerian Psychology. Alder felt there were two types of love. One, he termed agape and the other, Eros (from the Greek words). Eros is the love found in romance novels; grasping, jealous, heart pounding, sweaty, physical love, the really fun stuff. Agape is the distant, worship from afar, love of God, in other words, boring and unfulfilled. The old Jane Austin novels are like that. When you read these romances, you have to wonder how the human race survived. Surely someone, somewhere during the Victorian era just wanted to hop in bed and fuck, didn't they? Every happy-ever-after love story that ends with the heroine bouncing a new baby on her knee means the couple jumped in bed and screwed their lights out. It takes a lot more than one session to make a baby unless you're really, really lucky – or unlucky as the case may be.
I look at it this way, if two people fall in love, then sooner or later they'll have sex, make love, or in other less acceptable words, fuck. It's as inevitable as sunrise. So, if the end is a glorious, loving sex scene, then why not write about it?