Tag Archives: language

“Passing” versus “upholding” a law.

First: I am thrilled that today the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) was judged by the Supreme Court to be constitutional.

Second: The Supreme Court did not “pass” this act.

Third: The Supreme Court did uphold this act.

Fourth: “Uphold” and “pass” are two different things, and in fact it would not have been possible for the Supreme Court to “pass” this legislation. As much as we talk about legislating from the bench, the court has to have a law presented to them before they can rule on it, and Congress is where this law was actually passed. If it hadn’t been passed, then there would have been no way to challenge it. I’m sure the lawyers out there will correct me on that if I’m wrong. But I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong.

As happy as I am that many many people will continue to get health coverage and not fall victim to pre-existing conditions, discriminatory premiums and more, the writer and editor in me is dying to take a red pen to all those tweets talking about how the court “passed” the law.

What the court did do was uphold the law, i.e., agree that it was constitutional (although not on the grounds that most expected it to be upheld upon). Alternatively, it could have struck down the law.

But the law had already passed. In Congress. Which is where laws get passed. They do not get passed in the Supreme Court.

Thus ends today’s civics lesson. Thank you.

Writing Spaghetti

Right now my “writing plate” feels like it’s full of a dense, stodgy pile of concept-rich spaghetti. Everything is tangled up with everything else, and once I get through this plate of stuff I know it’s going to take a long time to digest.

I try to do three entries a week here, and after the pointed focus of the recent vaginathon, it’s been tricky to find a topic that doesn’t feel self-indulgent and limp by comparison. It’s because of where my various projects are at, I know: that frustrating time between initial brainvom and settling-in.

I have two short stories that need to be worked on; in putting together a collection for this fall, I’ve wound up with little screaming chunks of fiction waving their arms and running around my mental writing desk. I’m trying to keep them in a drawer and only take them out one at a time. Working on one becomes a distraction from the other, then working on the other takes some of the tension out of working on the first.

One, I have to go back through and re-thread a point, because of something I took for granted that turned out to be false. It reminds me of the maps they make of the London Underground – disproportionate, based on connections. I can choose a different point – something that fits the descriptions and scenes I’ve already written (in which case the tapestry of the story still needs to be reviewed in full, to make sure the patch doesn’t show) or I restitch the scenes from the ground-up. Either option will work. I’m just not sure, yet, which choice will result in the stronger story.

The other has a distinct theme in my mind that isn’t coming out yet in the text. The full text of the second story has not been written yet. So this is okay, if gelatinous.

A friend’s novel needs proofread. I should go to the gym. I should be out in the city, enjoying today’s gorgeous weather, doing something instead of home and hunched over the computer, particularly given the abatement of the heat wave of the last few days.

At the very least, I should take a shower.

I’ll start with the shower.

Conflicting Emotobooks?

Somebody get me an emotobook, stat. I need to figure these things out.

There’s been a steady background buzz/chatter, via the usual social network suspects, regarding emotobooks for about a week now. I looked into them about a minute ago.

Near as I can tell, an emotobook is a book created for consumption on digital platforms, with a text injected with pieces of abstract visual art. That art is meant to evoke a certain mood or feeling being experienced by the characters, thereby bringing a new level of emotional involvement to its readers.

Color me socked in the stomach. Is this a new evolution of the book, a new bridge in the gap between unillustrated texts and graphic novels? Is the writing/illustration a collaborative effort? What is the quality of the writing and is it possible for writers to create a piece that doesn’t wind up leaning on the ability of painting/artwork to provoke emotions? What does this mean for the commercial future of painting as an art form? Is using abstract art to evoke emotion in the service of the written word a new thing, or is this just an updating of the classical idea of illustration? Knowing how some authors have had negative reactions to having their works illustrated, what is the level of interaction between author and artist, here, and what will it become if emotobooks take hold as more than as passing fad? If an editor feels a writer needs “help” pulling an emotional reaction from their audience, will the decision be to make the writing more resilient and communicative, or to throw in a graphic that “nudges” the reader in the right direction?

Anticipating the answer to that last question makes me a little nervous, particularly in light of my feelings on the quality of writing in some recent bestsellers. At the same time…it’s an exciting idea, if executed well, and potentially opens reading up to much larger audiences. While my gut frets, “What about the ghettoization of unillustrated fiction?!” my mind replies, “Don’t be an idiot, art is not a zero-sum game.” So for now, I’m going to tell my gut to shut its big mouth, and see where emotobooks take us.

On the reader’s side, I’ve only heard good things about the experience of reading in this form, and I’m glad of that. Mostly, people are talking about the emotobooks making it possible for them to connect with what they’re reading to a degree they hadn’t quite understood before. A new way to open up the classics? I’m in.

Think about it: haven’t you ever had the experience of watching a movie, and that making it easier to get through a classic work of literature? I wouldn’t have been able to make my way through Jane Austen (who I grew to adore) if I hadn’t had the six-part BBC miniseries to help me learn how to read them to hand. But some writers don’t lend themselves (in my experience) to quite the same kind of graphic dissection. I’ve got about a hundred pounds’ worth of books by Russian writers, and as many times as I try, I can’t get into them.

Maybe I’m reading crap translations. But maybe having some emotionally evocative visual art inserted into “Crime and Punishment” would help me – and other readers – follow along.

An Exercise in Editing, or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed

From the back cover of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The following quotes, from other writers in what one might call “related genres,” are meant to draw attention to the positive features of Collins’ work.

Go ahead. Read ’em.

Note that each of these quotes, from luminaries and sources including Stephen King (Entertainment Weekly), Stephanie Meyer (OMG she’s OBSESSED), and John Greer (The New York Times Book Review), talks about the plotting and structure of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Not a single one of the back cover comments brings up the question of the quality of the book’s prose. 

There are many reasons this might be the case: the marketing team may have learned that putting quotes about suspenseful page-turners sell more copies and left out things like “Collins’ prose challenges some of the greats of our era with its artistry and subtle evocation of the stresses that authoritarian governments manufacture to maintain control of their populations.” They could have left out, “Her words added an emotional depth and clarity to this packed, well-paced story.” They could have left out lots of things. I haven’t looked up the full reviews.

My personal feeling is that they cherry-picked quotes about pacing because THE HUNGER GAMES suffers from a case of seriously bad writing.

Which brings us to this blog entry. Collins is an author who presumably worked with an editor to get her words to this pointI presume they both considered it publishable. (And charge-for-able). Editors do a lot of different things when it comes to getting manuscripts ready for publication. One of those things is language. And I think both Collins and her editor fell down hard on that front.

My background with THE HUNGER GAMES:

I read chapters 1-4 on my Kindle when @tyyche gifted me a copy. I was at the tail end of two weeks of intensive editing work on Hot Mess, and while I could certainly see why Collins’ story was an entertaining one, the actual quality of the writing made it impossible for me to continue. I said at the time, and continue to maintain, that my guess is the book translates better to the screen than most adaptations. If I ever see the film, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

Anyways, fast forward to the end of May. My roommate’s copy is lying on the kitchen counter and it’s Memorial Day Weekend and after walking past the book a few times, I think, well, maybe I should pick that up and just breeze through it, so at least when people start defending it on Twitter I can come back with a more informed opinion than the one I have now, which is based on reading four chapters of the thing on a Kindle.

There was no way in hell I was going to start reading the book from the beginning again. I backtracked about a paragraph into chapter 4, then continued with chapter five, which was badly written but at least kept moving, then headed into chapter six. It wasn’t until the last page of chapter six that I became aware of a string of paragraphs I probably would have let go through without too much rewriting: page 85 in my edition, from the point where the Avox girl is picking up Katniss’ unitard (UNITARD!) to the end of the chapter. This was the first time that the spare, simple voice beneath Collins’ prose really came out to me, and one of the first times (only 85 pages in!) where I felt like Collins had really hit her stride.

Then it was into chapter seven, and that wasn’t any bloody fun at all.

By this time, half of Twitter had figured out that I was actually reading the book I’d been complaining about for months, and I started getting snarky comments from my co-writer, Eric, particularly because I’d given him such a hard time back when he did the reviews of the first book for The Masquerade Crew. One thing led to another and when I started talking about how what I actually want to do is a top-to-toe rewrite on the entire thing, and I half wanted to do red marks all over a page from the book and show people what my editing process was like, Eric challenged me to do precisely that.

So everything after the break is his fault.
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Upcoming Public Appearances & Signings

Public appearances are tricky for a writer. We’re naturally introverted folks, we like keeping ourselves to ourselves. Nonetheless, I’ve learned over the years that the ability to get in front of an audience and have a discussion about your work is an invaluable experience, both  in terms of public speaking ability and the role it plays in everyday life, and because it offers a chance for more personalized exposure than just an @reply on Twitter.

As an independent writer/artist, too, public appearances are practically a requirement. They help access new audiences and – equally important – get writers out of our garrets and into the real world.

All of which is my long way of announcing that the Cornelia Street Cafe, in New York City’s West Village, will be hosting a reading, discussion and signing for Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change on May 17th at 6pm.

Not only is this exciting for me because of – well, the obvious reasons, I suppose – but also because as a venue, the Cornelia Street Cafe has a long and illustrious history of supporting new writing.

We’ll have four of the five HOT MESS authors on hand, each giving a short reading from their work. After a short discussion with the audience about ways in which climate change is affecting us today, we’ll move onto a book signing.

Doors open at 5:45pm and reservations are encouraged – all the info is on the Cornelia Street Cafe website. If you’re available, please try to come – and make sure to say hi afterwards!

THEATER REVIEW: Outside People at the Vineyard Theatre

Down-and-out Brooklynite Malcolm (Matt Dellapina) heads to Beijing on the invitation of his college buddy Da Wei (also known as David, and played by Nelson Lee). There, he meets English tutor Xiao Mei (Li Jun Li), falls in love with her, and ultimately falls prey to the cynicism that comes hand in hand with believing everybody else wants a piece of your country. Ultimately, Malcolm leaves a burdgeoning romance thanks to a lack of faith in his lover’s motives.

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THEATER REVIEW: Dublin by Lamplight at 59E59

Jered McLenigan, Megan Bellwoar and Sarah van Auken in "Dublin by Lamplight"In theater, each night of an individual production’s run is different. When two different companies – seperated by both miles and years – perform a play, the separate interpretations magnify both flaws and strengths in their texts – and the differences in their productions become tools for gaining new insight into the multi-faceted fragility of this collaborative art form.

Having first seen Dublin By Lamplight when The Corn Exchange brought it to the Traverse Theater during the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, my second viewing was at the hands of Inis Nua, a Philadelphia-based company taking part in 1st Irish 2011 – a festival of Irish Theatre that spans New York City.

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