I’ve written here before about the necessity — in my opinion — of making one’s villains well-rounded characters and not merely evil mustache-twirling sockpuppets. By which I mean granting them their virtues as well as their vices, and giving them friends as well as enemies, and generally treating them with a certain amount of respect even as they go forth to meet their richly deserved ends at the hands of the protagonist of the tale.
I don’t know if what I’m encountering a lot of lately is the start of a disturbing new trend, or just the result of seeing a lot of plain old-fashioned bad writing and worse criticism . . . but readers and writers both seem to be getting more into villains who are evil all the way through, from the flaky top crust of their characterization down to the soggy underbaked bottom. Anything in the line of subtlety or multidimensionality or (dare I use the word?) empathy is decried as normalizing or valorizing their badness.
This is, in my opinion, wrong. We as writers humanize our monsters in order to drive home the idea that not only are they people just like us . . . we are, if we’re not careful, people just like them.
And yeah, there are always going to be some readers who simply don’t get it, in the same way that there’s always some genius in the English Lit survey class who thinks that Jonathan Swift was speaking literally when he wrote A Modest Proposal.†
But we shouldn’t have to be in the business of writing for those people.
†Spoiler: He wasn’t.
Back when I was first writing for publication, Jim Macdonald and I wrote a number of YA novels, mostly for book packagers (that was one of the entry points back then, before packagers turned into high-profile wheeler-dealers and were instead mostly borderline sleazy providers of work-for-hire content to publishers who were too dainty to make such deals themselves.) Some of the stuff we did I’m still quite proud of; and all of it was the best we could provide given the sometimes-weird constraints we had to work under.
But my golly, I’m glad I’m not working in that end of the business right now. We’ve come to a place where a pre-publication social-media campaign can — shall we say, bully? yes, we shall — bully an up-and-coming author into withdrawing her own book before it can be published. And that sort of thing can happen more than once.
Whatever happened to publishing the book and letting actual readers decide for themselves whether it’s a Bad Thing or not?
(Right. I forgot. This is YA literature, and therefore falls under the purview of all those good-intentioned people who want to Protect Impressionable Young Minds. Thank God for all the impressionable young minds who are already way ahead of them in finding the stuff that young minds actually want to read.)
If you look at Duncan Eagleson’s work in the art show, you can get a sneak peek at the cover art for our planned re-publication of our YA novel Knight’s Wyrd.
(Keep watching this space for more news on that front.)
A word of warning to anybody contemplating the acquisition of offspring: Be aware that anything you do for Christmas just once instantly becomes a Hallowed Holiday Tradition, and you fail to do it again every year thereafter at your peril. By the time all your kids are teenagers heading for college, you will inevitably be dragging a whole sled-load of Tradition behind you as you head into the joyous season.
And a further, happier thought: If you’re still stumped over what to give as a holiday present to the writer in your life (even if that writer is you), remember that my seasonal sale of editorial and critique services is ongoing through Twelfth Night (5 January 2019.)
One of the things I used to wonder about when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle was that literal died-in-a-train-wreck ending . . . it always seemed to me like a rabbit pulled out of a hat. Then one day while idly mousing around the internet, I found out about the 1952 Harrow and Wealdstone railway crash, a three-train collision where 112 people died and 340 were injured, and I thought, “Yeah . . . for a book published in 1956, something on that scale that happened in 1952 would have still been taking up space in the author’s mind during the writing process.”
Writers aren’t necessarily in control of what sinks into their memories, and they don’t always have a say in how it may bubble back up to the surface later.
While idly mousing about the internet the other day, I followed a link to this page, which is all about an artist in Texas who’s been re-imagining images of classic Western heroes using female models, with awesome results:
And my thought, instantly, was “Damn, I want to read the books that those are the covers for!” Because behind every powerful image is a good story.
Just a quick reminder that my seasonal winter sale ends at midnight on the 5th.
In other news, it’s cold up here. And if you’re living in the continental United States, or in Canada, it’s probably cold where you are, too. (It’s probably also cold in northern Europe and Asia, but I don’t know if it’s unseasonably so. If it is, here’s some profound fellow-feeling coming at you from the northern end of New Hampshire.) In any case, here are a trio of blog posts about surviving, and driving, in extreme winter weather conditions: Cold Blows the Wind Today, Fimbul Winter, and Dashing Through the Snow.
This is the kind of weather that inspired the cautionary tale of Young Charlotte, who thought that a silk-lined cloak would be proof against hypothermia on a fifteen-mile sleigh ride on New Year’s Eve. She was, alas, fatally wrong.
Milo Yiannopoulos is in the news again, what with his lawsuit against Simon&Schuster for choosing not to publish his book, which resulted in the publisher entering the manuscript-as-submitted into evidence, complete with the editor’s notes, highlights of which are now all over the internet. (And great fun they are, too – they would go well with a glass of nice wine and a slice of schadenfreude pie.)
My request is a simple one: If you are, as many will be, indignant that Simon&Schuster bought Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book in the first place, please don’t also wax indignant that they are allowing him to keep the on-signing portion of the advance. This is customary, when bad things (deserved or not) happen to a book between on-signing and publication – but the word to note there is “customary.” For the sake of all the rest of us writers out there, don’t give Simon&Schuster an excuse to say, at some later date, “Well, it may have been customary in the olden days, but it isn’t going to be customary from now on.”
In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend. My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.
As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.
†The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.
Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”
Okay. Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:
You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.
And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.
The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways. And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.
*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.
**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.