1. First and foremost: The Wisdom of Walt Disney got another content strike against it. I sent Amazon a reply with the case number of the previous content strike and the fact that they cleared it. So, hopefully it’ll get cleared up again soon, and in the meantime only the Kindle edition is available for purchase. I might just give up and re-do the cover to prevent this happening in future, but we’ll see.
2. Over at Song of Joy we got a link to a John W. Campbell editorial on Civilization, Barbarism, and Tribalism. It’s worth reading, but it’s…well, your typical reductionist nonsense wherein a simplistic division is applied to the immeasurable complexity of history. Like a lot of this sort of thing, it has a certain superficial plausibility, but when you dial down into specifics it quickly becomes laughable. Always be careful about claims to show the structure of history, especially when it seems to have a definite qualitative trajectory (worse-to-better or better-to-worse); they’re usually more a matter of what the author wants to be true than a useful pattern for understanding.
3. Authors, take care about the first impression you make with your story; because the first couple chapters are when it’s easiest for people to toss the book aside. I started reading an independently published novel recently expecting a Louis L’Amour-style western. Got a fair amount of graphic sex in the first couple chapters, along with brutal accounts of abuse and so on. Made me not want to pick it up again, so I dropped out and started a different book.
That sort of thing can very easily make people want to throw the book away, especially if it comes too early, because, frankly, it’s gross. Grossness and nastiness are not in themselves necessarily problems with a story (says the guy who just got through celebrating The Thing), but you’ve gotta be careful with them. Usually it’s a bad idea to push them too soon, because at that point the audience probably isn’t very invested yet and so the cost of putting the book aside is low. If it’s a choice between being grossed out for no reason and just picking up a different book…well, it’s a pretty easy choice.
4. Going back to The Thing as an example, we don’t get our first manifestation of the Thing until about forty minutes into the film. By then we’ve gotten to know the main characters, had the mystery laid before us, and have been eased into the grossness via a few remains. We know something horrible is going to happen, but we’ve had time to get invested and to want to see how it turns out.
Likewise, most of the Dean Koontz books I’ve read / started follow this rule. His books often have some really horrific stuff, but he usually doesn’t throw you in the deep end straight away: he lets a chapter or a few chapters go by before things start getting real. Or, at the very least, he sets the stage and starts you asking questions before he enters into the grossness.
The first Odd Thomas novel, for instance, has a fairly lengthy sequence of Odd getting up, showing off his eccentrically charming personality, making some self-deprecating jokes, hinting about the mystery of his gift, and only then brings in the murderous pedophile (and Odd only describes what he does second-hand; we don’t get a loving depiction of it).
5. On the subject of sex scenes, I always like to keep in mind a bit of advice from How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman:
“Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half a kitten. It’s not half as cute as a whole kitten; it’s a bloody, godawful mess.”
(I recommend that book, by the way: it’s both useful and very funny)
Again, you really gotta know what you’re doing with this sort of thing. Because there’s a world of difference between making something you find alluring and something that readers will find alluring.
Personally, I haven’t even tried messing with it yet, so I won’t try to instruct, but my recommendation with sexy-time / Sixth Commandment stuff is, as a rule, “imply, don’t show.” It’s more morally sound and more effective.
6. So my first week at the new job has been okay so far. I’m loving the work-from home opportunities, and I appreciate being in a small company, so that it actually feels like I’m doing something. It isn’t necessarily very interesting work in itself, but for the time being it’s good enough.
7. Finished up ‘Super Mario RPG’ this week and found this: