During the Age of Enlightenment (that the Renaissance put in motion), Romance became associated with anything fanciful, unrealistic, unscientific, as those tales of old certainly were. A Romantic notion was anything unsupported by Science. The Fantastic had fallen on hard times. One had to look to parodies of the fantastic for any kind of fancy.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Romance: Dwelling in the Genre Ghetto
The word Romance has changed in the last 500 years. Its original meaning was a tale from the Roman, being tales of love and intrigue told in the Romance languages. These date back to Medieval times when French troubadours spun fantastic stories of King Arthur, Amadis of Gaul, Charlemagne and Roland. Then the Renaissance came along and ruined everything.
But you can't keep a good Romance down. All that logic and reason had to give and it did in 1765 when Horace Walpole got Gothic literature under way with The Castle of Otranto. But it didn't stop with spooky tales of castles and Scooby-Doo endings. Inspired by Walpole and German writers like E. T. A. Hoffman, the Romantic Movement gave us Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats and a new love of everything old, mystical and fantastic. Art movements followed with the Pre-Raphaelites and the modern Romances of William Morris.
By the 1800s Romance was anything that ran counter to the accepted scientific norm, so a tale like H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines was considered a Romance. Any story that involved ideas like "True love wins out", "You can't keep an honest man down", "Crime does not pay", "Honesty is rewarded", all were seen as unrealistic and only suited for tales of Romance. If you didn't want that kind of thing there was the Realist school that shunned all such ideas and sought a journalistic, fatalistic, and largely bummer-ness some like to call "The Human Condition".
So now fiction had been split into realistic fiction (following Sir Walter Scott, then Henry James and on to modern writers like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.) and genre fiction bursting with lovely loads of "Romance". But Romance was still pretty general. Consider that the novels The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsey were all considered "mainstream reading" in their day but today such books would be classified as Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy and would not be read by "Mainstream" readers. Genrification was starting in the 1800s but it had not yet arrived.
The magazine explosion of the late 1800s largely drove the creations of genres. Magazines like Dickens' All the Year Round and Household Words promoted ghost stories. The Strand created the vogue for "detective stories" with Sherlock Holmes, Pearsons ran most of H. G. Wells novels, along with many other general magazines using all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. By the turn of the century, magazines were still general audience with titles but things were changing. With the creation of Argosy by the Munsey Co. in 1882, fiction magazines took two tracks, the Pulps and the Slicks. The Slicks were expensive magazines published on 'slick' paper thus their name. The stories they promoted were largely of the realist school or a very watered down Romance, while their pulp paper poor cousin, the Pulps, were dedicated entirely to genre fiction in bold, garish varieties. Romance had at last found its home.
By the 1920s, all those general audience magazines such as All-Story (that published Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs side-by-side) were under attack by specialized genre magazines. In a matter of a few years every genre had its own special magazines. There were Air, Railway, Boxing and Sport Stories, secret agents, super hero, jungle stories, Science Fiction, horror tales, Westerns as specific as Ranch Romances. The modern meaning of that word "Romance" had finally arrived. The meaning that equated it with a later Radio term "Soap Opera", a tale of the emotional travails of individuals. No longer did it mean traveling across unknown Africa to find a lost city as it did in 1885.
This splintering of genres into their own little ghettos has been applauded by some genre critics like Lester Del Rey, who sees the ghettoizing of Science Fiction after 1926 as a necessary incubation period, where SF could grow without influence from other kinds of fiction, to establish its own rules and its own aesthetic (rules by which it is judged), and now it can emerge like a butterfly from its cocoon. I'm not so sure. This might be true for SF but it certainly isn't for horror. The same silly ideas about horror that critics of the Gothics had (that they promote idolizing bandits, killers and madmen that will only end with you becoming a Satanist) in the 1790s remain today. Are we truly at the point when the genre is just a label that booksellers put on the spins so minimum wagers will know where to place the books at Chapters?
Genre has had its bestsellers. In Science Fiction Frank Herbert's Dune series, in Fantasy, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, in horror the novels of Stephen King, in Mystery and Suspense Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs, in Westerns, Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove, in Romance, Diana Galboldon's Outlander series, to name some specific titles. This isn't even to mention those odder hits like Richard Adams' animal fable Watership Down or the vampire romances of Stephanie Meyer. Ranch Romances, well, you can't win them all. The Romance spirit of H. Rider Haggard lives on in popular writers like Michael Crichton and James Rollins.
I don't see the old meaning of Romance ever returning but it truly is the spirit which fuels all my own writing. I'm a genre guy. I know that's the kiss of death in publishing. But I'm also a horror guy and "the kiss of death" is not unfamiliar to me. Romance on, my friends.
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 5:32 AM
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Public Domain and the Secret of Eternal Fame
With the relatively recent one hundred mark for Edgar Rice Burroughs (2012) and L. Frank Baum (2001) these authors have moved into a new phase in their fame as writers. Let's call them "Legacy" writers. (Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and a host of others all have this status too. Burroughs and Baum are the latest.) As Legacy writers, they have survived long enough in the tastes of reading public that two things have happened: 1) their creations have become icons (think Tarzan, Dorothy and Toto, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) and 2) their works are no longer controlled by the heirs who inherited them. For the last 75 years or so, the grandchildren of the authors have decided what adaptations have been allowed (and royalties collected, of course). The descendants of ERB run Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. I'm not sure who controlled Baum's estate (and still do for the later works of authors such as Ruth Plumly Thompson). All that's in the past.
With the advent of their creations moving into the public domain, new "unauthorized" creations are springing up. This can be a big budget film like Tarzan (1999), John Carter of Mars (2012) or The Great and Powerful Oz (2013) (all cases of Disney waiting until copyright has lapsed to avoid paying royalties) or it can be less obvious fare. With the popularity of zombie rewrites like Pride and Prejudice with Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith, writers are coming up with some unusual ways to enjoy old classics again. The Steampunk writers have taken a shine to Baum's post-Victorian fantasy and turned some new tales out of the stuff of Oz. And this is great, for let's be honest, both Burroughs and Baum are great storytellers (largely unappreciated by critics up to recently) but their works are a century old and a little dated. A new spin on old novels gives modern readers a way to enjoy the innocent favourites of childhood or teen years. It also gives you a way to go back and enjoy new stories in familiar places if you read all 26 Tarzan novels, all 41 Oz books, or the 11 Barsoom sagas.
An aside I must point out: it strikes me as hilarious that the books that seem to be surviving into the "Forever Club" are not those that critics and librarians of old would have chosen back in the 1930s or later. Baum's Oz books were kept out of libraries when they were originally published because they were seen as ephemeral trash. Thank goodness, they were sold as annual Christmas books and were loved by millions. Burroughs had similar struggles until the 1960s paperbacks came along and made Ballantine wealthier. No one can predict who will survive to become a legacy writer. No one. Hollywood can help or hurt. Some writers have bad or unpopular films made from their work and would seem to be hurt by this, but survive. (Think The Golden Compass.) I hear Alexander Skarsgard is the next Tarzan. Will it hurt Burroughs after all those Johnny Weissmuller films? I suspect not.
Now you may be tempted to write your own Tarzan novel. I know I've thought about it a few times. Look at all the Sherlocks that have been written since 1987. There could be a mad rush of new jungle adventures appearing on Amazon already. Tarzan of the Apes with Zombies. John Carter of Mars versus the Sparkling Vampires. I'm waiting. I won't read them but it wouldn't surprise me. What I hope to see is something more like the works of Guy Adams who writes post-Wellsian novels like The Army of Doctor Moreau (2012) or J. W. Schnarr's Shadows of the Emerald City (2009). There is a movement under way right now in which writers are playing in other people's backyards. It's exciting, but it is also ... a little dangerous. It's great if it drives new readers to old classics. This will cement the fame of these centurion writers with new generations and continue their fame into the 21st Century. It's dangerous if it floods the Kindle shelves with very poor hackjobs and juvenile fan fiction (though I have to wonder, what is the difference between "fan fiction" and an "unauthorized" work. Not much outside of court perhaps.) The result could be a muddying of the waters that results in a lack of interest. But I don't worry about this too much. Four million bad Lovecraftian pastiches and an equal number of bad Howardian Conan copies haven't blunted their swords. The Cthulhu Mythos and Sword & Sorcery are as healthy as ever. (Cthulhu and Conan are in a kind of grey area copyright-wise and we'll see them join the Legacy crowd in a decade or so.)
Reader sophistication is really what we're talking about. You can read the original Tarzan of the Apes, appreciate how it broke new Pulp ground, how it's a little racist by modern standards, scientifically impossible, not quite Science Fiction but appeals to SF fans anyway, etc, etc. How you enjoy it is up to you. You can also then read Tarzan and the Valley of Gold by Fritz Leiber (1967) or Joe R. Lansdale's Tarzan: The Lost Adventure (1991), a book that is 25% Burroughs and 75% Lansdale, the last two authorized pastiches, (or Philip Jose Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1977), an unauthorized one!) and you can decide if they hold up against ERB's wonderful storytelling. And now you can plunk down $4.99 and buy that latest novel, Tarzan and the Pyramid of Blood by Wryter B. Anonymous or I. Wright Kindles or whoever, and see if Tarzan pastiche is worth the time. (Personally I would grab it if it was written by Joel Jenkins, the only writer I know who has captured Burroughsian excitement without slavish imitation. His Dire Planet series is as much fun as Barsoom.) Your sophistication allows you to enjoy the Burroughsian or Ozian novel from a standpoint of connoisseur, as co-conspirator in a literary game that promises some new fun in old places.
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 5:13 AM
Certain kinds of stories seem to set their own agendas as far as style is concerned; you ignore the demands of the material at your peril. If you write a story about princesses, dragons and magic rings in the style of Ernest Hemingway, for example, you may have an interesting story, but it is unlikely to feel much like fantasy.
-- Lisa Tuttle in Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction (2001)
Can simple language be used to effectively tell a Fantasy tale? I wrestle with this every time I write what I consider Sword & Sorcery fiction. My style tends toward the modern, unadorned and fast-moving. I call this the curse of Ernest Hemingway because he is usually acknowledged as the writer who simplified 20th Century diction. F. Scott Fitzgerald also gets credit. Personally, I think it happened in the Pulps with writers like Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Cornell Woolrich, but WHO is not as important as the fact that it happened. Suddenly, wordy meant Victorian, and therefore old-fashioned. Tolkien, Clark Ashton Smith and many earlier writers get dinged for being poor stylists (style being defined by Hemingwayites, of course.)
David Gerrold in Worlds of Wonder: Writing Science Fiction (2001) says:
Your writing style, whatever you choose, whatever you create, whatever you evoke, will determine what effects you can create. Style becomes the flavor of the story...But most of all, the language should always be clear. Short simple sentences convey meaning.
So what to do? How does a writer know when they have evoked enough of the "Fantastic" or if they should just get on with the story? Let's consider the opening paragraphs of my latest flash-length tale, which I call "The Story of Vorn". Here is the first draft, simple, unadorned:
The grasslands beyond Akton had a bad reputation. None who ventured into those swaying waves of grass ever returned. No one.
Vorn looked out over the expanses and smiled. He was ready. He had his long sword, Skullcracker, to deal with any skrulkings who might lurk there. (The old folks said there were no skrulls there.) Vorn had his crossbow to ventilate any winged drakons who came from above. His throat was decorated with the claws of such beasts. (The drakons dwelt in the mountains, the old men said.) And in direst measure, Vorn had his enchanted wand, cut from the hand of a undead sorcerer, containing an elder stone of jet black.
My intent was to set up the reputation of the grasslands and establish Vorn as a character. Here is Version Two, what I call the "Poet's version" with an eye on augmenting the language to create a more vibrant picture. Some readers may find it too elevated, too self-conscious? It certainly slows down the pace:
The wind-grazed grasslands beyond the village of Akton had a bad reputation, one whispered about in dark corners and over glowing campfires. None who ventured into those swaying waves of grass ever returned. No one.
Vorn, the slayer of wolves and warriors, the pillager of palaces and strongholds, looked out over the expanses and smiled. He was ready. He had his long sword, Skullcracker, four feet of razor-sharp steel, to deal with any skrulkings who might lurk there. (The old folks said there were no skrulls there.) Vorn had his crossbow, a weapon so powerful most men could not draw the string into place, to ventilate any winged drakons who came from above. Vorn's thick throat was decorated with the blackened claws of such legendary beasts. (The drakons dwelt far away in the mountains, the old men said.) And in direst measure, Vorn had his enchanted wand, a rod of blood-ash cut from the hand of a undead sorcerer, containing an elder stone of jet black.
This process of bejeweling can go further and you end up with what I call the "Clark Ashton Smith version":
The zephyr-blasted moraines beyond the solitary village of Akton had a morose reputation, one whispered about in shadow-filled corners and over coal-glowing campfires. None who ventured into those swaying, monotonous waves of verdure ever returned. No one.
Vorn of the Vroskayne tribe, the slayer of dire wolves and deadly warriors, the pillager of jewel-encrusted palaces and sword-filled strongholds, looked out over the grey-clouded expanses and smiled with grim, scarred lips. He was ready. He had his grandsire's long sword, Skullcracker, four feet of ebon, razor-sharp steel, to conquer any skrulkings who might lurk in the vertical shadows. (The old grandfathers said there were no skrulls there.) Vorn had his ram-horn crossbow, an engine of death so powerful most men could not draw the elk-gut string into place, to ventilate any winged drakons who came from cloud-scudded skies above. Vorn's thick throat, a tattooed appendage, cut criss-cross with white scars, was decorated with the desiccated and blackened claws of such legendary beasts. (The drakons dwelt far away in the white-topped mountains, the old men said.) And in direst measure, when all hope was fled, Vorn had his enchanted wand, Shadowcane, a rod of blood-ash hacked from the shrivelled appendage of the undead necromancer, Xàltuun Shu, containing an elder stone, of Kh'rr, a jet black orb the size of a child's fist.
I would never write in this mode, for me it feels too much like a parody of another writer's style, but for discussion purposes I wanted to present it. There are times when I think editors want this. They don't, but I think they do.
Orson Scott Card in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1988) says:
However, there is great danger in trying for elevated diction-primarily because it's so easy to overdo it or do it very badly. You have to read a lot of brilliantly written formal prose before you're able to handle it well and there isn't much of it being written these days..."
***Artwork by the wonderful Harry Clarke, of course!
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 4:53 AM
Saturday, August 31, 2013
"I used Grammarly to grammar checkthis post, because despite being a conjugator, a collaborator and confabulator I'm not always the grammarian I wish to be. And despite our modern disregard for language (r u c-ing it?) communication hasn't really changed in -- ever. I can imagine cave people arguing after an unsuccessful hunt. "He motion 'bird'." "No, I motion 'cave bear'." The early grammarian gets involved. "It's 'motioned', not 'motion'." Where upon the two arguers pick up their clubs and beat the grammarian to death.
As a writer I always try to make manuscripts as sharp as I can because it's like a job interview. You wouldn't show up in a suit and tie but wear it backwards. Or covered in cheese sauce stains. (We don't have to worry about the coffee rings on ms. in this digital age when submissions are done electronically but plentiful typos are the new coffee rings.) We have spell check but use it properly. Because their are words witch bare looking at in moor detail. Grammar checkers are also handy, especially if you received the same liberal education I did. You did not spend time in class sweating over "who" and "whom". (And if you are a writer you were probably more worried about dodging bullies anyway.)
The other reason I always worry about the little things is (or is that are?) is that editors are human too. They vary in ability (believe it or not) and if they are lax you'll look bad when they don't catch all the errors. If they don't have to waste their time correcting your "its" when it's "it's" (clever grin) you'll get a better reception from them in the future. Some of this comes from knowing the editor's submission preferences: "No paragraph idents etc." varies but good grammar, spelling and punctuation are standard. You can argue about whether "colour" has a u in it or not later.
I sometimes hear new writers give the old excuse, "I'm a creative person. I shouldn't have to worry about all this stuff." Really? Did Leonardo Da Vinci whine he had to use light and shadow properly to create "La Giaconda"? (Yah, The Mona Lisa. What a show off!) Of course not. He wanted to use his technique perfectly to get across the creative aspects. (Of course, he worked on it for 11 years, but that was his choice.) We do the same with words. Use the hammers and nails well, because we want readers to imagine our fantastic worlds, not to focus on our tools.
My Grammarly check came up with 49 issues but one of these was that there is no such word as "grammarly". That doesn't seem fair...
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 6:03 AM
Friday, August 30, 2013
With the choosing of the new Doctor, the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, it is time once again to warn people about the effects of D. R. S. Symptoms include saying things like "Matt Smith is the greatest Doctor ever!" or tearing up at the mention of "fish custard". Yes, Matt is stepping down (or is it aside?) And the thought may cause a tightness in the throat but...it will pass.
Because we've all been here before.
I've created a new term this time around because I've had more time to observe the behaviors of Whovians. My new term is "Doctor Acquisition Moment Notification" or D. A. M. N. This is the moment when you say, "Damn, he really is my new Doctor." It's an epiphany moment that 'you will survive', not just go on watching re-runs of Amy and Rory, but will enjoy what is to come. Let's think back to when David Tennant took over in "The Parting of the Ways". The D. A.M. N. (for me) was after he fought the Syarax and grew his hand back. I remember saying to myself "Damn, he is my new Doctor!" With Matt Smith the D. A. M. N. happened much faster because he wasn't knocked out for half an episode. That moment was the "Fish Custard" scene in Amy Pond's kitchen. I remember back even farther for Christopher Eccleston. His moment was quite long in coming I think because the first episode he did called "Rose" was really more about Rose. (Go figure.) I had to wait until the second episode on the burning space station in the far future for that D. A. M. N. but it happened eventually. It must have because I remember wondering if the new guy could cut it.
And that's exactly where we are now. Sitting here, suffering with D. R. S., waiting for Peter Celardi to get to his D. A. M. N. show on the road.
So you can spend all your time making Matt Smith bookmarks (later you'll hide them in the same place that houses your David Tennant photo cubes or your Christopher Ecceleston macaroni picture frames.) That's okay. No one is judging you. It's just D. R. S. You'll survive until Christmas....somehow.
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 8:45 PM
Thursday, September 27, 2012
I decided to do some blog division since this one is so scattered. So here's what I did:
Genrewriter (this blog) is about writing and personal stuff
Horses of the Night - mythosman21.blogspot.ca is horror
Legend of the Pulpster - pulpster.blogspot.ca is Science Fiction and Pulps
Murder By Six - murderbysix.blogspot.ca is Mystery
Savage Sword of Sorcery - savageswordofsorcery.blogspot.ca is heroic fantasy
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 8:00 PM
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The Judas Gift and Other Tales of Mystery features the Jessie Roland stories (detective stories about a conservation officer) "The Pail", "The Judas Gift" and "The Burden of Our Remembrances". Find the Kindle here. You can read "The Judas Gift" free online here.
Ghoultide Greetings also has a Kindle version now too. That's here. Eighteen Christmas horror stories.
Posted by Dark Worlds Club at 6:25 AM