Does The Room Piss You Off, Too?

If you’re any kind of movie nut you’ve heard of, if not seen, The Room. Released in 2003 it was written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, who also played the leading role. It is famously bad. I’ve seen it referred to as the “Citizen Cain of bad movies.” Its badness is so noteworthy that it’s the subject of a new (much better, by all accounts) movie, The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau.

I’ve seen The Room and it’s as bad as advertised. In spite of that, or really because of it, it’s become a cult favorite, so much so that it’s actually made back the initial money spent on it (north of $6 million, all from Wiseau). Not because people actually like it, but because they revel in its awfulness. Wiseau seems to have made his peace with this, but it kind of pisses me off.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve said over and over again that a person’s response to art, what they like and don’t like, is deeply personal. In addition, I’m fond of enjoying stuff that consensus suggests sucks, what generally get called guilty pleasures (I hate the term). I, for example, have a deep affection for lots of movies people consider lousy that tend, for some reason, to involve Max Von Sydow (Victory, Dune, Flash Gordon). I like them because I like them, in spite of the fact that most people don’t. I’m cool with that kind of thing.

But from what I’ve read from people who have made The Room a cult favorite it’s not because they see it as an undervalued gem. Nor does it appear to fall into the “so bad its good” category, as everybody involved takes the thing completely seriously. No, it seems that people just really enjoy watching an artist fail, enjoy watching a horrible product because it’s horrible.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s dentist (a very pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) converts to Judaism and proceeds to tell lots of jokes of Jewish people. Jerry seeks out a priest to tell him of his problems with this.

As a mere consumer of pop culture I’ve got no problem with people interacting with The Room in any way they want. As a producer of it, as a writer, it kind of pisses me off that people take such enjoyment in something they know, and will admit, sucks. I know so many people – musicians, authors, visual artists – who put their heart and soul into their work and make good, but completely overlooked, stuff that it honks me off to see something celebrated because it’s bad.

My plea, I suppose, is this. If you love The Room because you really like it – which is a perfectly valid way to feel – then, by all means, go ahead and love it. But if you’re interest in it is merely to be part of the cool crowd that knows all about it because it’s horrible, spent your energies elsewhere. Try a new writer, stream a new musician, go to a local gallery. There’s good – even great – stuff out there waiting for you if you’re willing to look for it.

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Weekly Read: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

On September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York (not too far from Buffalo) took control of part of the prison. For the next four days they negotiated with authorities over a list of grievances, at times with the help of notable civilians such as attorneys and journalists. After reaching an impasse, authorities stormed the prison on September 13, killing 43 people – including 10 correctional officers who had been taken hostage. It’s no wonder that the events at Attica galvanized the nation and quickly worked their way into pop culture:

What’s interesting is how different people refer to those events. Some call them a riot, with all the connotations that word brings – senseless violence, brute force, unfocused rage. Others, such as historian Heather Ann Thompson in her Pulitzer-winning book, Blood in the Water, refers to the events as an uprising – an event where a repressed group of men sought change in the only manner available to them. Which camp you fall into probably says a lot about your politics in general.

Which is appropriate because politics is a driving force in Thompson’s book, beginning with the political aspirations of New York’s governor at the time of the uprising, Nelson Rockefeller. He wanted to be president and couldn’t afford to be seen as “soft” on crime or criminals (it’s no surprise that Nixon backed his play at Attica). In addition, he viewed the uprising as the tail end of leftist activism from the 1960s and worried that if the Attica uprising wasn’t suppressed it could spawn an actual revolution.

The inmates didn’t do the most they could to dissuade Rockefeller from this position. Although their long list of demands dealt mostly with conditions at Attica or within the criminal justice system in general, there were (at least at some points) demands for a plan to take anyone who wanted to go to Africa and other broadly political requests.

Having said that, the negotiations made progress. The sticking point turned out to be amnesty for those involved in the uprising. Rockefeller insisted he didn’t have the power to do it (doubtful) and all rested with the local prosecutor. The inmates, for their part, didn’t seem to realize that once one of the correctional officers who had been attacked in the early stage of the uprising had died there was little chance of a blanket amnesty, anyway.

That authorities eventually stormed the prison to regain control wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising was how it was done, with a collection of state troopers, correctional officers, and National Guard troops armed to the teeth. Similar, if smaller, uprisings in other New York facilities (including New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail) had been put down without the use of firearms and the associated loss of life. Authorities went into Attica with guns blazing, however, and left a horrific toll in their wake.

Thompson’s great achievement in Blood in the Water is taking those four days of the uprising and laying out what happened in serious detail. She also provides a great deal of context for the uprising, placing it as one of a series of such things around the country, not just a sudden, confusing spasm of violence. It’s an important portrait of a watershed event in American history painstakingly pieced together.

Once the uprising is put down, however, the book begins to lag. Initially the response of the state is familiar to anyone in 2017 watching the news when an unarmed black man is gunned down by police. First, authorities lie – in this case, by claiming that the 10 hostages who died during the retaking where killed by inmates, often in ways that involved mutilation. Second, authorities dehumanize the inmates – everyone involved at Attica was a murderer or rapist or similar kind of thug. In truth, many were there for minor parole violations and other non-violent offenses. Third, when the truth comes out – medical examiners refused to be silenced about what actually killed the hostages – the authorities downplay, obfuscate, and at no point apologize or formally correct the record.

It’s no surprise, then, that litigation about Attica – criminal and civil – dragged out for decades. Thompson deploys the same attention to detail to that litigation, but to less effect. There are so many trials with so many different players that the narrative becomes scattered. Also, there are things that jumped out to my lawyer eye that deserved further detail. For example, there were mutual defense groups set up to help defend the Attica inmates during their criminal trials. Such a setup is rife with ethical issues (conflicts of interest, primarily), but Thompson never addresses them. Another example is when there’s a ruling by the judge in one inmate’s case that, we’re told, profoundly impacted several others, but there’s no discussion of the ruling itself.

What Thompson’s exhaustive stroll through the litigation does is drive home just how much the apparatus of the “state” – meaning both the New York and federal governments – were determined not to really find out what went down at Attica. Most obviously that’s borne out by how the New York players obfuscated when it came to the facts, but it’s smaller things, too. There’s the fact about how the state tried to lock the families of the guards who had been injured and held hostage into taking small workers’ compensation payouts rather than actually suing anybody. Or there’s the ultimate brush off – the federal judge handling one of the civil cases went on vacation while the jury was deliberating. It doesn’t paint a good picture of a society coming to grips with a horrific event.

For all its cachet as a touchstone in the culture, it’s amazing that it took until last year for a definitive history of the Attica uprising to be written. For that Thompson deserves all the praise she’s gotten. That the entire story isn’t as gripping as those four days in September of 1991 isn’t her fault. For that part alone, I highly recommend Blood in the Water.

Attica

Author Interview – Holly Evans

This time we head to the Emerald Isle for some words with fantasist Holly Evans.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 I’m Holly Evans, an English expat with a love of blades, fae, and predators that hide in the shadows. I’m currently living in the Republic of Ireland. I write Urban Fantasy, mostly with LGBT+ casts, and mostly set in a huge fantasy kitchen sink world that I refer to as my Ink World.

Do your Ink World books tell an ongoing story or is it a shared universe with lots of separate stories going on?

I’m careful to keep the Ink World series separate so none of them spoil any of the others. If you look closely and read all of the books you’ll see there’s a larger arc there, but it’s kept far in the background. So really it’s more the latter, a shared universe with some overlapping locales and characters.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

Seers Stone is book one in a new series. It follows treasure-hunting alchemist Kaitlyn Felis. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for years. It’s a quick-paced, adventure-focused Urban Fantasy set in my Ink World. Kaitlyn’s a vibrant character who has such a lust for life, she’s amazing fun to play with.

In Seers Stone she takes a new job in Prague and is sent to retrieve the mythical Seers Stone for her new boss. That takes her across Europe and sees her in a lot of fun situations along the way.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

 Urban Fantasy. It’s what I naturally write, I can’t imagine writing anything else. I love the mix of myth, magic, and mayhem, all set in the modern world. The idea that magic and adventure could be hiding just around the corner is too good to ignore. If you know which shadow to slip into, or which door to knock on, you can be transported into this amazing new world. How can I not love that?

 Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

 I don’t really have a set process. The idea gets written in my planning book. I’ll jot down broad strokes, scenes that pop into my head, and everything I can about the protagonist. That will involve lots of colour, my brain loves colour. That will sit and percolate in the back of my mind for a while, while I work on other things. When it’s time to write it I’ll return to my planning book and make more notes. They’re not usually too organized at that point, it’s lots of colour and notes on scenes that call to me. From there I’ll start pulling together an outline and then writing.

I tend to write roughly the first 10k pretty quickly, then I’ll pause, update my outline, and carry on. Once I hit the 20k mark I start wailing about how much I hate writing middles. I’ve started writing the endings before the middles as my ADD means I get bored and frustrated which leads to rushing the ending. So I’ll write the opening as much as I can, then the ending, then go back and gnash my teeth through writing the middle!

From there it goes over to my editor. I have a language-based learning disability, so my books require *a lot* of copy editing. My editor gives the draft a copy editing pass then a developmental pass. It’s rare that the developmental will call for anything more than tweaking a few sentences and expanding on a couple of scenes. Once I’ve done that (usually that takes me about 48 hours) it’ll go back to my editor for two more copy editing passes. I’ll then format it, and it goes on Amazon.

Have you ever had a situation where you wrote the beginning, wrote the ending, then in filling in the middle part decide that the ending you wrote doesn’t work anymore?

I came really close to needing to rewrite the end of one of my Infernal Hunt books. I wrote the book completely out of order from four different points. Fortunately the end only needed tweaking not a complete rewrite but it was a close call for a moment.

What’s your strategy for publishing a series (i.e., do you release each book as it comes, hold them all until the series is done, etc.)?

I release each book as they come in a series. I held onto the first three books of my first series so I could release them quickly, but after that I just release them when they’re done. I’d rather have regular releases than hold books back.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

 I’m so hopeless about picking favourites! I think that’s a tossup between Tyn and Kaitlyn. Tyn’s a secondary character in both my Ink Born and Hidden Alchemy series. He’s my broken little kitten. He’s a Cait Sidhe (a fae cat) with a really tragic backstory, he’s so snarky, and broken, but also sweet, fierce, and incredibly loyal.

Kaitlyn’s amazing fun. She has such a lust for life. She lives to have adventures, and she’s just so vibrant, so incredibly alive.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

 I don’t do much research for my writing. I have a pretty good knowledge-base of myths and such from spending my childhood and teenage years devouring everything I could find on that. I can’t think of anything to be honest.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

 If you want to make readers happy, you have to keep them in mind. I wrote some books that were for me under another name, and they didn’t make readers happy. Looking back, I can absolutely see why. It’s so easy to go, ‘well I’m an avid reader, of course I know what readers want!’ and then it turns out that well, actually…

I suppose that really comes down to why you write. I’m a storyteller, I write for my readers, so I want to make sure that I write books readers love. If you’re writing more for the pure love of writing, then do what makes you happy.

What’s the best way to find out what makes readers happy?

Ask them 😛 I survey my newsletter subscribers on a semi-regular basis and ask what they enjoy, what they want, etc. I try to offer as many methods for engagement and reader feedback as I can. Reading reviews, your own and those of bestsellers also helps a lot. You can look down the top 100 in your genre and read the reviews, positive and negative. You’ll see some trends.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

 My husband and I want to become digital nomads, if I won that money we’d pack our bags and start travelling the next day. I’d visit all these wonderful places I want to visit, and I’d put them all in my books.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

 I’m not normally an eRom reader, but a friend had a new book out that people were raving about so I picked up a copy. It was fantastic. Finn by Liz Meldon is exquisitely put together. I’m really impressed with how much character development she managed to pack into a little space.

What do you think your next project will be?

 I’m bouncing back and forth between the Ink Born series and the Hidden Alchemy series, so it’ll be whatever sequel is due along those lines. Right this very second that’s Ritual Ink (Ink Born 4). That being said I’m really tempted to start a third series in my Ink world, I’m weighing up the pros and cons right now.

Check out Holly’s blog here.

All 99-cents All Month!

To celebrate the successful end of NaNoWriMo, and in an attempt to spread a little bit of holiday cheer, I’ve lowered prices on all my books to 99 cents across all platorms for the entire month of December!

That includes Moore Hollow, the entire The Water Road trilogy, and even my short story collection, The Last Ereph and Other Stories.

Get ‘em for a friend, get ‘em for yourself!

Thoughts From an Experimental NaNoWriMo

Right – so where were we?

Oh, yeah, National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Did I have a good month? I’d say I did.

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The book I started for NaNo, The Messenger, is different for me in a lot of ways. For one thing, it’s pure space-based science fiction. While I’ve written some near-future sci-fi short stories, I’ve not done anything this long or, well, spacey. For another, I started the project having done very little prep work. So to be past 50k words and looking at another month’s writing (at least) to finish it is making me a little giddy.

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Not an actual picture of the author. Think metaphorically, people!

Let me explain why.

Writers generally like to divide themselves into two groups – plotters and pantsers (putting to one side the ones who don’t accept either label). Plotters, as you might imagine, are people who do a lot of work before they actually start writing a first draft. They outline, develop characters, build worlds and all that kind of stuff before ever sitting down to write “it was a dark and stormy night.” (LINK). Pantsers are the complete opposite – they do little prep before writing and are, as the name implies, flying by the seat of their pants. In truth, I think most people are a little of both. Anybody who writes exactly the same book they planned to write or really sits down with a completely empty noggin and pours out a book are few and far between.

I tend to be a plotter. Lots of that is down to writing fantasy and the heavy lifting of world building. I like to get that stuff out of the way so I can let the story develop against a fairly fixed backdrop. Still, things never go precisely as planned, even when (as with The Bay of Sins, my last NaNo project) you lay out all the chapters you think you’ll need from the beginning. I suspect it’s something like attorneys say about oral arguments – there’s the one you plan to make, the one you actually make, and the one you wished you’d made after the fact.

So The Messenger was a very different experience for me. I had about a page of notes, compiled from thinking about the story over the years, but it was lacking lots of important things. Like, for instance, the names of the main characters or any of the names of the planets or alien races they’d encounter along their way. As for the way? I had an idea of how things began, but after that? I decided to let it see where it went. I’m glad I did, because I don’t think I would have come up with some of these things ahead of time.

It’s particularly interesting to do this one right after finishing the first draft of The Orb of Triska. That has a lot of work done on it before I started writing and I always felt like I knew where I was going. I think that first draft is a much better, more coherent final product, but, of course, neither one of them are “finished” after a first draft. It will be interesting to see how the final products compare once they’ve been polished up.

So that’s how I spent my November.

Also, we got new puppies:

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Zaria (L) and Kalindi (R) are ready for their album cover.

How you all been?