So; it's official. Amazon's ebook sales have surpassed their print sales. Is this the beginning of the end for the printed word? Perhaps, and we are certainly in for some changes concerning how fiction is sold and perceived, but the extinction of books, and magazines, and (say it ain't so) bookstores and libraries? Well, libraries are already not what they used to be, but this is likely due more to increased consumer pressures to buy rather than borrow [Netflix for books? Is this a Million Dollar Idea?], and bookstores are suffering in the current economy, but does that mean we can predict readers of the future reading their stories only on electronic media? I'm not so sure.
Technology is a funny thing; it's made and marketed as a means for solving problems, but, as certain problems are solved, others are created. When the personal computer began to surface (alright, I was just a kid, but I can still talk about it), there was a lot of talk about using less paper and how computers would replace the need it. This never happened; there is still a whole hell of a lot of paper being used; we still use paper even though we can "create" on a computer screen. Technology is cyclical, it makes big promises and then double-backs on itself.
It may happen; printed books may be replaced with e-readers, and really, is this really going to change much? The population of actual readers is already abysmally low; maybe everyone having a Kindle will help this... But, what I've noticed is that a lot of people have Kindles and a lot of those people have them stuffed in a drawer somewhere caked with dust. I think that the kind of people purchasing Kindles are mostly "casual" readers (as in, they read 1 or 2 books a year - like The DaVinci Code and The Kite Runner and popular-curlture-bestseller shit like that) and are not likely to provide a lot of business for Amazon. I heard a statistic that only 2% of American's are actual "readers" (as in, they actually read, you know, when they can, more than just in the airport). That's a very low number and, in my humble opinion, a little scary. I read a lot and when I read, I'd rather have a physical paper book than an Ipad or something. I've tried to get into e-books, but I don't have the same personal connection with words on a screen that I have with a book. Is that weird? A personal connection? What do you think? When I read a book, I become emotionally investing in the story, the characters, and the actual physical copy of the book I am reading.
What really makes me think print media will never die is my experience with the editing process of my own writing. When I write, I type on the computer and I can do limited editing and re-writes on the computer, but when it comes to the serious stuff, I just can't edit as well as I can on paper. My friends at work keep showing me apps on the Ipad that can write on PDF documents and such, but, even so, its not quite the same. There is a different feel to things on the computer and on paper, and a different mindset is used with the two mediums. And that's the key - Different Mediums! Just because there are artists who create using the computer does not mean they do not still paint, or draw, or sculpt; electronic mediums do not discount or replace other methods of creation.
For more on why e-books will never replace real books, check out this article:
Bold Prediction by Jan Swafford
Kindle sales surpass print sales on Amazon:
I don't know, just my thoughts on things...
Jack Torrance: Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you're breaking my concentration. You're distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?
Wendy Torrance : Yeah.
Jack Torrance : Now, we're going to make a new rule. When you come in here and you hear me typing
Jack Torrance : or whether you DON'T hear me typing, or whatever the FUCK you hear me doing; when I'm in here, it means that I am working, THAT means don't come in. Now, do you think you can handle that?
Wendy Torrance : Yeah.
Jack Torrance : Good. Now why don't you start right now and get the fuck out of here? Hm?
-From Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980)
Concentration. That's the trick isn't it. Most of us writers have, at some point or other, imagined the perfect writing environment: a secluded spot with all our favorite books, and writing materials, and no one to bother us for hours at a time. Not many of us, however, here in the fucking real world, have much time of this sort (I've heard a rumor it doesn't even exist!); unless, of course, you are able to support yourself financially with your writing, or happen to have a trust fund or inheritance or a rich husband/wife (or you happen to stumble upon a Van Gogh in your basement or some pirate gold), you probably have a job that takes up most of your time. And you might have a husband/wife who is as equally bereft of financial security as you are, and perhaps kids, and perhaps a lot of other things going on in your life. All these things make it very difficult for us writers to do what we really want to do and do it well; we want to write, but how can we with all these distractions?
But, honestly, can you really only write in total secluded silence? Don't you play music or have the television on low in the background? I've found that a few distractions are not as bad as you might think. You can write even with things going on around you and someone knocking on your door every few minutes with questions and other such annoying things. I believe it is a myth that one can only produce quality writing in a vacuum of total concentration; some distractions may even be good. I believe us writers have to learn how to write in short bursts and in multiple sections without losing the overall focus of our work. This is the same practice we have to learn with our reading; to be able to snatch a couple of pages here and there at breaks and in between the everyday-mundane-action of our lives.
The problem is, of course, in maintaining focus and tone in the piece you are working on; and it's not easy. Every individual is going to have to find what works for them, but for me the trick is to keep careful notes of what you are trying to write; about character motivations and possible plot events (which will likely change as you write if you are an organic writer like I am). It's not a perfect system and re-writes are inevitable, but it allows me to produce even though I have very little scheduled writing time by myself. It's a tough skill to learn, to be able to plug-in in an instant and pound out the next couple hundred words on your current project, but it is possible. If you are a writer, it is important (absolutely imperative) to find a way to write no matter what.
This is not to say that having specific times set aside where you can close the door and write for a couple of hours without being bothered are not invaluable; they are. Stephen King writes for 6-8 hours undisturbed every day, but he's one of those I mentioned earlier who writes professionally (and makes a boat-load of cash doing it!), but he got there by writing on his lunch breaks and after work, publishing short stories in small magazines and working his way up from there. Probably none of us can expect to ever reach the commercial success of King; he is, after all, perhaps the single most successful novelist of our time (of all time?), but we can write goddammit, and we can find fullfillment in the fact that we are expressing ourselves; this is important in a world where 90% of its people are emotionally-stunted lumps hypnotized by television and advertising that will contribute very little to the world before their eventual deaths. All I'm saying is that at least we have something, even if you're never published and only your family reads your work - you still got a piece of yourself out there. That is why (well, it's one of the reasons anyway) we find time to write, even though the mundane outer-world keeps pulling us back.
Which brings me to the quote above from Kubrick's movie version of The Shining. I think Stephen King would agree with me on a few of my points; he understands that some of the best writing is done in a state of concentration, becoming completely immersed in your work, but he also understands that some of the best writing is done under less, shall we say, desirable circumstances. It's about writing, no matter how you do it, as long as you do it. No matter how much undisturbed writing time Jack Torrance had (the Overlook Hotel is strikingly similar to the writing retreat King describes in On Writing - hmm...) he just couldn't get all those voices from the hotel out of his head; he just couldn't keep from going stir-crazy and chasing his family around all those creepy hallways with an ax. There's a lesson here...
BTW - The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) is a very good horror movie. Most have probably seen it; if you haven't, you probably should (and I have so much to teach you...)
I think it's about time to talk movies - scary movies - movies that leave us with our stomachs churning and our mouths gaping. There are, however, different levels and types of horror movie, anywhere from the cheesy to the downright weird. I prefer the weird. I also prefer to be left frozen in my seat, with a bad taste in my mouth, watching the credits scroll by in a daze. In order for a movie to do this, it has to work on a deeper level than the jump-out-at-you scares that are the mainstay of most shitty made-for-teens horror movies (see Wes Craven for an entire library of these kind of films). I like movies that are scary because they disturb; make the world seem less bright; make the things around you, however mundane, appear malevolent; make you question the solidity of things, of reality, of everything. We all know, after all, (or we should) that things are often not what they appear to be.
Ah, David Lynch; this guy (the director of Eraserhead) is a weird one. An artist-turned-film-maker, Lynch has created some of the strangest movies you can find in "mainstream" Hollywood. Eraserhead is his first full-feature film and its quite the piece. If you like structured plots and don't like to be confused, this movie is NOT for you. If, on the other hand, you're willing to open your mind to the possibilities of symbolism and imagery, this is an excellent movie. Eraserhead is not as difficult to figure out as some of Lynch's later films (check out Mulhouland Dr. - another good one), but contains some of his more disturbing scenes. Some of these scenes include when the main character's head pops off and is used as the material for the making of pencil erasers (hence the title - I could write an entire college paper on the symbolism here) and when a strange woman who won't stop smiling with puffy cheeks dances on a stage singing "In heaven, everything is fine," in the creepiest way possible while stamping on these fishy-fetus things. Lynch's genius lies in his ability to present surreal things that disturb and leave us feeling on edge. I highly recommend Eraserhead to anyone looking for a horror movie that goes beyond the tired old troupe of being-chased-by-that-thing-that-lurks-in-the-dark.
Requiem for a Dream
When I talk about movies that leave you breathless - a stunned lump on the couch watching the credits roll-on-by - I can only think of a few movies that actually physically evoke this response; Requiem for a Dream is one these movies. Darren Aronofsky raises this film from what could be a simply depressing story about an unfortunate group of Brooklyn residents that become entangled with drugs, to an exploration of human suffering and tragedy that evokes terror in us all. The final moments of this film are a nightmare cascade and the soundtrack (Clint Mansel) is eerie and perfect. People either love this film or they hate it because they come unprepared to deal with how horrific things can be in the "real world".
Tetsuo: the Iron Man
How many movies have you seen where a sensual love scene turns into a nightmare gore-fest involving the becoming of a penis into a pneumatic drill? This movie is a terrifying drug trip. It involves a man who is struck by a car and becomes terrified of the technological, first being chased by a woman who has become some sort of crazed lunatic with a whirling mechanical arm, to infusing his own body with all sorts of gear-driven devices. This one is Japanese and its subtitled, but even if you didn't read the subtitles you'd get the point. The opening scene, involving our protagonist driving a steel bar into his leg, is particularly disturbing. I believe this movie is about the fear of how technology may adversely affect our humanity and it's a nail-biter. This movie is truly scary.
Alright, so you've probably seen this one, even if you haven't seen some of the movies on this list; if you haven't, and think its too dated now to be worth your time, then you need to jump on your Netflix account immediately and put this one in your queue. The Exorcist is one of the most successful movies (commercially) of all time; it's been named the "scariest movie of all time"; this movie is great (even though I wouldn't say "scariest ever" myself). There are a lot of urban legends surrounding The Exorcist, including numerous accidents during filming and the fact that the guy who did the voice over work for the demon killed his wife, his children, and then himself in some crazy murder/suicide in 1987. Besides all the strange rumors surrounding the making of the film (I read somewhere they went to slaughter houses and recorded the screaming of pigs for some of the demon voice scenes), the movie itself is fantastically frightening. Everyone remembers the little girl puking green gunk all over the priest, but there are a lot of scenes in this movie that are equally as crazy. Check out the spider-walk scene that was cut from the original release and all those twisted facial expressions; I mean, why can't Hollywood do this kind of stuff anymore?
I'm a big fan of Roman Polanski and Repulsion is one of his best. I've never seen a better film made about the decline into insanity. Everyone who sees this movie remembers different moments, those that stuck out for him/her that made the most impact. Most remember the strange moment early in the film where Carole (our lovely protagonist) sits down at a park bench and stares a crack in the sidewalk and later the sudden cracks and in the walls of her apartment. Moments that stick out for me include the creepy man peeking and reaching around the dresser Carole has pushed up against the door to her bedroom and the hands coming out of the walls in the hallway. This movie is about Carole, who is terrified of sexual interaction and being raped (and sometimes 'dreams' of being raped), and how her fears manifest themselves and drive her into a steady decline of her sanity (Losing sanity is almost always entertaining in my opinion - Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn! Sorry- nerd joke). This is simply an excellent horror movie; a horror movie of the highest class.
Last week I mentioned Fritz Leiber's novel "Conjure Wife" and how I may have been over-critical of Leiber when I began reading it. I began Leiber's novel by prickling and obsessing over its dated qualities. I took offense to every little sexist thought or remark made by the narrator; I thought it was slow-paced and the characters were boring (yet another story about college professors with perfect lives); I thought, why am I reading this dated crap? (It was originally published in 1943... interesting year). I thought this, that is, until the dragon statue came to life and came a-knocking on the door one rainy night. After that, I was hooked, and read the rest of the novel eagerly.
I picked up "Conjure Wife" because it is on the Horror Writer's Association reading list. It is my goal, after all, if you read the last line of my byline to your right, to become a "master scholar" in horror fiction (whatever that means). This means (here, I'll tell you), I have to read all the greatest horror fiction out there and then read all the crap on top of that. I'll be the first to admit I have a long way to go, but the HWA must have some idea what they're talking about because "Conjure Wife" is an excellent novel of the macabre.
The story itself is engaging and has a lot of twists. Leiber's language is simple and flows easily from page to page. Although Leiber is said to have been inspired by H. P. Lovecraft into his early writing career (which includes "Conjure Wife" as his first novel), he does not concern himself with intricate descriptions of setting or internal soliloquy, as Lovecraft does. He writes simple and convincing dialogue and leaves his description to only the details that stick with you, even after you have put the book down: "A thick lock crossed one eye socket, like a curtain, and curled down towards the throat. One eye stared at him, without recognition. And no hand moved to brush the lock of hair away from the other."
At the beginning of the novel, the tale of Bluebeard and what happens to his wife when she snoops around is mentioned (he cuts her head off, in case you didn't know); a perfect foreshadowing of events to come. The message seems to be that sometimes it is best to live in blissful ignorance of the dark forces around us. As Professor Norman Saylor, our protagonist, learns more and more about the sorceress practices of the woman around him (and perhaps all woman), he learns a great deal about the consequences of actions that may appear insignificant, but are anything but.
I highly recommend "Conjure Wife," written by the guy who wrote the classic Sword and Sorcery series "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser," which was a main influence for TSR's Dungeons and Dragons game (nerd trivia! had to put it in there). This is a great novel of the macabre. The HWA is right about this one; "Conjure Wife" is a horror classic.