Friday, February 24, 2012

The Promo Bullshit Is So Thick, I Can't Get Across the Publishing Pasture

I cannot believe the promo bullshit I see by some authors. "If you like Ray Bradbury, you'll love _________." I mean, come on. Really? If I LIKE Bradbury, I'll LOVE you? Because, of course, Bradbury tried his best, but you've kicked it up a notch. Bradbury is kind of like the watered down version of you. Bradbury is but the pupil, YOU are the master.

I mean, if I would dare to make such a comparison, in my case for instance, I would turn it around: "If you LOVE Gore Vidal, you'll LIKE Robert Szeles." I would probably even add, "you MIGHT like Robert Szeles."

I understand the desperation that comes with wanting to get attention for your book (especially if you think it's decent and had that validated by outside sources). But after awhile, all the phony 5 star reviews and exaggerated praise and complete lack of perspective turn even the valid claims into so much noise.

The bullshit's so thick I can't walk through the pasture. NONE of us can, anymore. And that's bad, because ALL THE GOOD BOOKS ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE!!!

Trying to deliver less bullshit and more good writing,
Robert Szeles
If You LOVE Gore Vidal, Terry Southern or Nicholson Baker, you MIGHT LIKE Robert Szeles.
Jack & Dora Do L.A. Paperback:
For Kindle:
All other ebook formats:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading is Pleasure: Genre or Literary Fiction

We read fiction books because they give us pleasure. Our minds are caressed by the splendid use of language, delighted by clever dialogue, seduced by intriguing stories and ideas.

One can come up with all kinds of rational-minded, literary and intellectual reasons for why we like books. But in the end, it is because they make us feel good or they make us think in a certain way, which makes us feel good. Some people like to read a book that makes them feel bad or sad or scared, but they read the book because they want to feel that way. They believe they will derive some pleasure from going into those emotional states or they believe that eventually they will feel better from having experienced those states.

“Genre” fiction is often said to have less value than “literary” fiction because it is supposedly written more for entertainment than for literary achievement. Michael Chabon doesn’t believe this and defends genre fiction in his essay, “Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands” from his non-fiction collection, Maps and Legends. There’s an interesting interview with Michael Chabon on the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex site written a few years ago about this subject. As Chabon says, the majority of genre fiction is lowbrow crap, but the majority of literary fiction is highbrow crap.

Chabon was greatly influenced by many genre writers, as was I, and I feel a kinship to him. I have had a hard time categorizing my novel, Jack & Dora Do L.A., partly because it has fanciful elements (partly because it has explicit sex, something else that is prejudiced against, which I will discuss in an upcoming post), yet is mostly a romantic comedy drama perhaps in a similar catogory to Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Chabon has ventured into this allegedly questionable area of genre fiction with some of his own work, such as Gentlemen of the Road and The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Chabon also talks about how reading puts us into a certain pleasurable state that’s connected with our mindset in childhood and early adolescence. I couldn’t agree more. Like Chabon, my interest is in good books, no matter what the genre, that will give me the sort of free, dreamy pleasure that I remember from childhood summers.

I understand the suspicion toward much genre literature, which is badly written, with more emphasis on surface thrills and often a lack of care for language, style and meaning. But I have equal suspicion for books that are heavy on style or overwritten, with little regard for the reader. No matter how important a work is supposed to be, I have no interest in reading it if I derive no pleasure from the experience.

On the genre side, this is why I so love Fritz Leiber, one of the greatest fantasists of all time. His fantasy series of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is an incredibly imaginative series of tales with style, wit, humor and passion. I have derived countless hours of pleasure and joy from reading and re-reading them, and I would never consider them less important than any “literary” fiction. Another writer of incredible imagination, poetry and style was the science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith. Dashiell Hammett and Robert E. Howard were two of the most consummate storytellers to ever write. Within half a page, you are completely lost in the world and story they have created. The brilliance of their style was that you couldn’t detect any. There are, of course, many other great genre writers.

On the supposed “literary” side, Gore Vidal, Shirley Jackson, Michael Chabon and John Fowles come to mind as brilliant writers who entertain. And few novels are more readable than Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov. But some novels are very difficult to read, yet give much pleasure as well. A perfect example would be Justine by Lawrence Durrell. Again, there are many others great and entertaining “literary” writers.

What these writers all have in common is that they give us pleasure. They may also help us to find some comfort or meaning in our lives, make us feel less lonely, and perhaps help us better understand reality and our place in it. And that also gives us pleasure.

Robert Szeles
(pronounced saylesh)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Books Shouldn't Be Free

My favorite authors are all professionals, meaning they get paid for their work, some more, some less. Some worked other jobs (most did at some point, and it's a valuable experience), some didn't.

I hear many authors (and other artists) say that they don't mind giving away their work because they don't do it for the money, they do it out of love for the work and because they want people to read what they've written. But the idea that someone doesn't need to be or should be paid because they're not doing it for the money doesn't hold up. Only artists are taken advantage of that way, and we let it happen by the false sense of competition created and the devaluing of our work ("You should just be happy someone's reading your story.")

"Hi, I'm a doctor. I don't do this for the money, it's because I love healing people. So, no, you don't have to pay me." 
"Hi, I'm an architect. I love what I do, and heck, think how many people are going to see my building. No charge for my services of course." 
"Hi, I'm an inventor. I love dabbling and creating new things, so sure, you can have my patent. I don't do it for the money." 
"Hi, I'm a scientist. Science is my passion and my life. Of course I don't expect to be paid for what I love to do. I'm happy to help society." 
"Hi, I'm a teacher. I love children and helping them learn and become better grown-ups. You don't have to pay me for what I do, I do it out of love." (oops, that's just about true for teachers, who are also screwed!) 

Our society values what we teach it to value by our choices. Some of those choices are difficult and require courage. I don't think every author should be paid a large amount of money for their work. I think those whose work has value should be compensated financially in a reasonable way because THAT is how our present society expresses cultural value. As soon as tech gear and rent and food, etc. is free, I'll be happy to give away all my stories.

We all shape our society by the decisions we make. Whatever yours are, as a person who creates or as a person who enjoys the creative work of others, realize you're affecting more than just yourself.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Stop Fighting and Start Creating

I've noticed an interesting phenomenon. People get caught up in causes that seem so dire and suddenly something changes: a scientific discovery, for instance, that makes the whole thing irrelevant.

For instance: stem cell research controversy. The "pro-life" crowd is up in arms about it and tries to stop it because they think there's some conspiracy to create abortion mills to harvest stem cells.

What's hilarious is many of these controversial subjects would be irrelevant if people put their focus on finding solutions instead of championing the cause of the day. Guess what? The issue will soon be irrelevant and these kind of people will have to find some other witch to hunt.

Same thing with eating meat. I totally get why people are against it. But now, they're growing edible meat from cow cells. So, you'll be able to have a steak without killing a cow. Issue over. Time to lay down the picket signs and find something else to do. If humans stopped putting their efforts into justifying themselves and demonizing others to make themselves feel righteous and put their energy towards solving our mutual problems together, all this bullshit would go away and we'd live in a fucking Star Trek-like utopia.

I get so irritated with people and their self-righteous causes. Instead of looking at "the other side" as demons intent on eating your children, look at the core problem, the core human need and try to address that. Use some of that energy towards creative problem solving instead of demonizing others and championing your self-righteous cause. That is, do that if you REALLY are interested in improving the human condition for everyone.

If not, just keep on doing what you're doing. Feed your ego and let the suffering continue. It's up to you.