The birds all sing as if they knew

10 11 2013

Yeah, they did it. Surprise, surprise: did anyone really think a mere church burning would stop them?

I’m talking about Brennan and Booth on Bones, of course. They got married. Of course. After numerous obstacles (because psycho-killer Pelant wasn’t enough of one) they married in a white tent, with Cindy Lauper singing “At Last.” Of course.

It wasn’t terrible, as these things go, but utterly entirely predictably predictable. I mean, why introduce the former-priest pal-o’-Booth at the beginning of the season unless he’d be the one to perform the ceremony?

Oh, about that: If these two were so tight, why didn’t we meet Mister Former Priest Bartender before this? And where were Jared and Russ? Did these brothers not even merit a mention?

Bitch bitch bitch, I know. I’m not hate-watching Bones—really! I’m not!—but it is true that I’m grumpy after almost every episode. Why am I even bothering?

One, even though it’s nowhere near as good as it was in the first 4 or 5 seasons, it’s still not bad. The plots have gotten pro forma, but the writing is still pretty good.

Two, I like the characters. Hodgins is my favorite, and I like his relationship with Angela (even if he is a bit too moony), and I like Cam quite a bit. Booth & Brennan may both be a bit stale, and Caroline has been softened too much, but she still gets some good zingers.

Sweets is all right, still slightly annoying, and Daisy is still very annoying—which kinda endears her to me. The rest of the interns are, whatever, interns, and it seems as if they dropped Mr. Southern Gothic from the line-up, which is fine with me. (I liked the actor just fine, but Edgar-Allan-Poe they overheated the character’s backstory.)

Three come Friday night I am not at all ambitious, so sitting down to watch Bones, even in its exhausted state, works for me. I’m mildly entertained, which most Fridays is enough.

That last may be the most important reason I’m still watching the show. There are other shows I will theoretically check out (Orange is the New Black, Scandal, Top of the Lake, The Bridge, Misfits), but I’m just really. . . lazy when it comes to getting to know a new cast & set of storylines.

Anyway, I keep thinking This season will be the last, so the coda-reason is that I want to be there not just at the end, but through the end.

If it ever ends. *Sigh*

Thinking the point was step on every crack

9 10 2013

I’ve been dilatory (cause: laziness) in continuing my reviews of Fringe.

That’s because (in addition to laziness) I did not continue watching Fringe.

There are basic leaps one needs to make whenever watching science fiction (or police/security procedurals), and for the most part I leap away. An FBI agent has a math genius brother who’s able to fulfill his teaching and research obligations to his university while also romancing his former grad student and chalking out formulae to help solve crimes? Okay. An FBI agent who partners with a socially awkward forensic anthropologist genius and her wacky pack o’ squints and their cool tools in order to solve crimes? Sure. An FBI agent whose sister was stolen by aliens when he was a boy paired with a rationalist medical doctor-slash-FBI agent to chase down oddities and supernaturalities in order to discover the truth out there? Sign me up. Hop hop hop.

An FBI agent who partners with a lobotomized genius who accidentally killed a lab assistant and whose been locked away in an asylum for 17 years as a result but now runs a lab in a spare basement room at Harvard in order to chase down oddities and cross-dimensionalities (while romancing that lobotomized genius’s son)? Wellll. . . .

I like the characters, I really do.  Olivia seemed like a real person, and I like(d) her relationship with Charlie and Philip. Nina Sharp is a fabulous cypher, and William Bell is, well, Leonard Nimoy, so, okay. Astrid, the FBI agent-turned-new-lab-assistant, is pleasant, but mostly a non-entity. Peter’s hinted-at background as a criminal matters not at all—and no, one doesn’t need to be a criminal to know dodgy-yet-conveniently-helpful small-timers—and his ambivalence about hanging around his head-chopped dad is meant to connote a kind of agony but shrinks into mere irritation. Still, one can hop along with these two.

The problem, really, is with Walter. He was apparently a real sonuvabitch pre-brain scoop, but while he retains his genius and enough of his memory, he’s mostly just pathetically creepy. He has a hankering for weed and candy, keeps a cow in his lab, and shuffles quite convincingly between his burbling beakers. He giggles at the thought of some of his experiments and appreciates the weirdness the Fringe Division throws his way, but coupled with his constant mispronunciations of Astrid’s name and his keening for his son’s love, his own weirdness comes off as less lovably eccentric than, well, pathetically creepy.

As I write that, I wonder if the show wouldn’t have done better to have pushed even further on the creepiness. The other characters periodically voice their concerns about his trustworthiness, but more because he’s pathetic than that he’s creepy. Had he retained some of those characteristics which made him such a piece of work before, Walter might have become something much more compelling than a quivering mass of goo in a sweater.

This is not a great leap (!) on my part: Alternate-universe Walter, who retains all parts of his brain, is an arrogant, vengeful leader out to destroy those who are destroying his world. He turned out to be far more complex than goo-Walter, and offered a far better character through which to consider how far one should go in order to defend oneself—and one’s world.

Still, as good as “Walternate” was, the extended stay in the alternate universe in season 3 leached away a lot of my enthusiasm for the show. I like dips into alternate universes (one of the best episodes of the terrible Star Trek: Enterprise was bad-ass Enterprise) and well as skips across the timeline (at which Star Trek: Voyager excelled), but I do not react well to permanent shifts in the time/storyline. At all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Eureka, but when they time-shifted the series in the fourth season, I stopped watching. When the fifth season hit Netflix, I did go back and rewatch the entire series, but that shift was something I had to get past. I did—Eureka‘s comedy-drama sensibility helped—but had the show not acknowledged, through the necessity of the characters themselves constantly managing that shift, that they had just messed with something good, I would have stayed gone.

Fringe was hampered in this shift-management insofar as Peter was the only one aware of the previous timeline. The other characters apparently come around (I did dip in and out of season 4), but, coupled with the cross-posting of “Fauxlivia” (yeeks) in the regular universe, I just thought, This shit is too much.

And the fifth season? Haven’t seen it, not least because the setting has been shifted once again, this time into the future, where our plucky gang has to save the world from, apparently, genocidal Observers. Whatever.

I’m not saying I won’t go back and finish it out. But that will only happen once I no longer care so much about those characters, and thus am no longer so bothered by the artless manipulation of them.

Home away home

24 08 2011

That’s my current title for my second novel: Home Away Home. It may change—it’s changed many times before—but I think it fits the tale. And a quick check on B&N and Amazon didn’t reveal any other novels with that name.

Unlike The Unexpected Neighbor, I edited the shit out of Home Away Home (back when it was called Split Lives) and thought, at the end of the process, that I was finished.

Oh no. No no no.

Now, it is in better shape than was The Unexpected Neighbor before I got out the hatchet, but this baby still needs a sharp blade slicing through it, to wit:

    It was Amy’s turn to breathe deeply. ‘You’ve been thinking?’ she enunciated. ‘Really? And when did all this deep thought occur? While you were doodling in your notebook? Out drinking with your friends?’ Her lips flatlined. ‘For chrissakes, Maggie, how can you say you’ve been thinking about this if you haven’t spoken to your dad or me about it?’ Amy watched as her daughter swung her leg against the side of the chair, carefully avoiding her mother’s face. ‘A wonderful education, and you want to throw it away, because you’ve been ‘thinking’. Jesus.’

Dixie wandered into the room, sniffing Maggie’s backpack before jutting her nose beneath Maggie’s overhanging hand. Her tail whisked the floor as Maggie stretched to scratch the long ridge. Dixie shook off her fingers, padding around to the front of the chair and climbing halfway in it. Maggie responded with a full embrace, bending over to rake her fingers through Dixie’s fur. ‘Dix. Gotta get the full treatment, don’t you?’ she mumbled into the dog’s ear.

‘What, you’ll talk to the dog, but not your parents.’ Amy leaned into the corner of the couch. ‘Good thinking.’

Maggie continued scratching Dixie, looking over the dog’s shoulder at her mom. ‘Just because I didn’t say anything to you doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. I can think for myself, you know.’

‘Oh, really? Like the time you got so drunk your friends had to pour you out of the car on to the lawn? Or when you puked all over the neighbor’s driveway? Or when your dad caught you and Tom half-naked in the car?’

‘What does college have to do with cars?’

‘Don’t get smart with me!’ Amy propelled her body forward. ‘These past few years are not replete with shining examples of your analytical abilities.’ Dixie dropped down on all fours, and looked over to Amy. ‘What about the accident? You didn’t even think—that’s right, there’s that word again—you didn’t even think to wake us up to tell us.’ Amy’s lips again disappeared. ‘And you still have headaches, don’t you?’ Maggie raised her eyebrows and lowered her eyelids, saying nothing. ‘If it weren’t for all the bad decisions you made before that, I’d think that knock on your head was responsible for your faulty reasoning. But no, that’s just another result.’

That ain’t right.

One issue I’ve had in both novels is making my characters too knowing, such that any conversations are a kind of smooth and clear representation of any position one might hold. But that’s now how we are with one another. We hem and haw and circle around and get things wrong and don’t always have the words for our thoughts or feelings and don’t always even know what are out thoughts and feelings. We don’t always represent ourselves well or truly, and to offer dialogue which indicates that we do is to make the characters mouthpieces rather than people.

Did you ever read BF Skinner’s Walden II? Or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland? Or, goddess forbid, any Ayn Rand? There’s always a “point” to these stories, and the point matters more than anything else.

I’m not opposed to points, but it’s really fucking hard to make a novel with a point. Even Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 suffers from this, but the main set-up, of fire-fighters tasked with burning rather than saving from burning, is marvelous, and the action moves swiftly to its logical conclusion. As a short (very good bad) book it works, but stretched out to a Galtian thousand pages? Unbearable.

Anyway, I’m not interested in making points so much as offering a glimpse into the lives of these people for awhile. Yeah, I guess one possible takeaway is that even after a great rupture in one’s life, life still goes on. People may be changed by events (such as the aforementioned Maggie leaving home for good, and having no contact with her family), but they don’t have to be stopped by them.

That’s a pretty basic point, however, and pretty damned muted. I’d hope that readers could take any number of meanings from this novel—there are any number of dynamics to consider—and that I’d give them enough to find their own relationship to these people.

Yeah, I like control, and want to control my presentation of my characters, but I don’t want to cram myself into my readers’ heads and force them to see these folks through my own eyes. I want to use my control to make the characters separate from me, to make them their own people, with their own stories.

But that ain’t happening with the kind of dialogue I use, above.

Gotta sharpen that blade. . . .

Doesn’t anyone stay in one place, anymore (pt II)

9 04 2009

She grilled me for about 20 minutes, then requested—or was it offered?—to read my second novel.

I hesitated. She’s not sure if she buys the premise, namely, that of a young woman who leaves home and doesn’t look back, not once.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Really? She never gets in touch them?’


‘I can’t believe that.’

At this point C. chimed up and said, Oh yeah, I could believe that. Who hasn’t dreamed about just walking away from everyone? (Besides this co-worker, apparently.)

Thus, part two of the whole social networking/past/new life gig. Only this time it’s about writing.

This second novel isn’t bad. My first novel wasn’t bad, but it has all the defects of a first novel, not least of which is too much explanation going on in the dialogue.

I’ve cut that back on this one, way back. I’m less interested in directing the reader in her interpretation of events; rather, I lay out a scene, let her eavesdrop, and then decide for herself what’s going on. There’s no ‘she retorted hotly’ or ‘he smiled in confidence at his abilities.’ Nope. ‘She responded.’ ‘He smiled.’ Plain text, with, perhaps, unplain meanings.

I’m still working out what I want to do in my novels, but the more I’ve written, the more adamant I’ve become in not poking into the characters’ minds and spilling it out on to the page. Yes, when a character is alone, the reader may have access to her thoughts, but I don’t, as the writer, tell you what she’s feeling. She has to decide for herself what she thinks and feels, and it’s up to the reader to decide if the character is right or is full of it or whatever. (And yeah, maybe you’re right or full of it or whatever, too.)

You, the reader, are the witness to the events, neither the confidant to a first-person narrator nor the one who apprehends her true self. The character is her own, and the only privilege granted to the reader is that of witnessing aspects of the story not always available to the other characters. That’s it.

But that’s not why I’m hesitant to show the novel to my co-worker; hell, either the style works or it doesn’t. I guess I’m protective as well of the undercurrent of the novel, which is that allegedly big things happen to ordinary people, and they deal with them.

A daughter leaves her family, and life goes on.

Someone has an abortion, and it’s not traumatic.

There’s a car accident, and marriage difficulties, and births and deaths, and none of it is epic. It’s all just. . . life, and the characters mourn and adjust and move on. That’s it: Here are these characters, and here are their lives.

The co-worker, at the mention of the abortion, reacted as if I’d outlined a ‘Lifetime Movie Event’ or set up some kind of schema of which buttons to push. As if abortions and car accidents and marriage difficulties never happened in real life.

I’m particularly touchy about this kind of reaction precisely because I don’t have any kind of outline for my stories. I set up a situation, and let it spin out. Did I know ahead of time that a character would have an abortion? Nope. Car accidents, marriage difficulties? Nope, nope. They come up, the characters deal with them.

Now, if the characters aren’t real to you, none of this will work. And that would bother me, but that would also seem like a legitimate criticism: I wanted to create real characters, and failed.

But the notion that if something big—out of the supposed ordinary—happens, then it’s not real, well, I disagree. Strongly.

Making all cuts clean and all memories unclouded, providing closure and wrapping everything up in a  nice psychologically-convenient bow—that’s what’s not real. Yes, there can be regrets and reconciliations, but the force of the regret can mutate and attempts at reconciliation can fail.

These characters have their own lives, their own integrity—at least, that’s what I want for them. And no, I don’t always understand what they do, either.

This is why I hesitate in sending my novel to my co-worker: There’s no agenda, and I don’t like the notion that there must be one, and that it must be ‘right’.

That’s the delight of the writing: Even as I lay down the words, they take off on their own.

And no, they don’t look back.