I’m noticing a trend that fewer and fewer works of Monster fiction are being classified as “Horror.” Stories containing non-humans characters such as Demons, Vampires, Ghosts, Werewolves, Aliens, and anything with Tentacles, used to be clear-cut Horror. Now they’re about as frightening as getting a flat tire.
Have we gotten used to the idea of monsters? Have they been watered down until they just aren’t scary anymore? “Diet Horror”? “Horror Lite”?
Of course, media geared toward kids have always brought monsters down to an un-scary level; nothing new there, and Disney certainly isn’t helping things. Monsters, Inc. turned monsters into cute, cuddly creatures who were Frightened Of Kids! And now Monsters vs. Aliens turns monsters into our allies!
Monsters for Kids are nothing new…
But that’s all kids stuff. What I’m talking about is more than simple cartoonification of monsters. Media across the board have sucked the horror right out of the monster market.
Before I get started, just a disclaimer that I don’t believe that all horror stories must contain a monster. I bet the majority of horror stories written don’t have a “monster” in them. I’m just suggesting that the modern monster has lost some – if not most – of its bite.
How far have the horrific fallen? Let’s take a look:
#1 – The Fanpire Shift
You know you’re in trouble when Underworld makes fun of you.
I’m going to single out Vampires for two reasons. They really weren’t that scary to begin with, and they have become more popular than all the other monsters combined. These two points perpetuate each other in what I’m going to call the Fanpire Shift.
Think Vampires are scary? Guess again. If there was a list of “Pleasant Ways to Die” then getting your blood sucked out of your neck in the embrace of a hot vamp would be at the top of it. If you think Twilight or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any of the Underworld movies depict vampires as scary, try watching 30 Days of Night. Then you will understand why I think the way modern vampires are depicted, they barely classify as monsters at all.
Keep in mind the original Dracula by Bram Stoker was more Gothic than Horrific. Simply the idea of someone drinking the blood of others to prolong their own life was horrific enough. But Dracula-Done-Right had a sense of inhumanness about the vampire character that was at least unnerving if not flat-out frightening. 30 Days of Night was able to capture the alien feel of vampires, but the majority of books and movies today portray vampires as regal, bureaucratic, pompous socialites. Well-dressed dandies with pointy teeth who drink blood from wine glasses with their pinkys out while listening to Bach. In other words, about as frightening as 70’s fashion.
Because of (or in spite of) this, the popularity of the vampire genre cannot be contained. From the massive success of Anne Rice’s series of vampire books, and the Buffy franchise which took the vampire genre out of Horror and into the Throap (Part Thriller, Part Soap Opera) vampires are IN. People can’t get enough, or water them down enough. Stephanie Meyer is doing her best to continue this trend, placing vampires in the least frightening genre ever created; heartfelt, awkward, teenage relationship stories.
Adding the popularity of the Vampire genre to the fact that they’re barely tall enough to make it into the monster pool without a parent or guardian, means the entire monster pool gets watered down.
Hey, if it gets kids to read, I’m all for it. But even if the surge in interest of Vampires actually Raises the number of monster books across the board, if sure feels like there’s less and less media focused on the particularly horrible horror monsters when the market is drowned in Horror-Lite.
#2 – The Paranormal Romance
A smooch from beyond the grave…
Proof that Romance will sleep with anything, Paranormal Romance is the bastard offspring of Horror and Romance genres that extends on the notion of ‘Love Conquers Death’ – the belief that Love persists beyond the demise of one or both partners. Paranormal Romance takes ‘love from beyond the grave’ to its extreme. Ghosts and spirits used to be something that you AVOIDED. But Paranormal Romance bravely stepped from the shadows to explore the ATTRACTION to the (un)dead!
Borderline necrophilia. Spirituophilia? But there’s more than just ghosts to love here. Romance knows no bounds, especially in the Para-normal.
It should be no surprise that Vampire Romance is growing in popularity. Of the 66,722 Vampire books listed at Amazon today, 1,491 of them are listed as Vampire Romance.
One would have expected that werewolves might have escaped being dehorrified, (with the exception of Teen Wolf, natch) A quick search of ‘werewolves’ on Amazon.com will show you the truth. Out of the 1529 Werewolf books, 279 are Werewolf Romance.
Borderline bestiality. Lycanthrophilia? Like I said, love knows no bounds. Even Sharks are finding themselves subject to loving de-horrification:
What’s next? Borderline Tentacle Porn? Chuthluphilia? A search for ‘chuthulu romance’ returned no hits. Thank the gods. Maybe someday when the stars are right…
I don’t dislike Paranormal Romance stories any more than I dislike Romance stories. But turning monsters into love interests wrings the horror right out of them. The rise in popularity of Paranormal Romance alone is enough to un-horrify the monster market.
#3 – The Zombidy and Horror/Comedy
Scene from “Fido”
Zombies have always been funny. Undead, true, but they’re slow; both physically and mentally, which makes them more disturbing than frightening. That is, until you add in the fact that they generally come in large numbers, and the whole “Eat Your Brains” thing (crossed with poor table manners) gives them a more secure seat on the horror bus than Vampires nipping daintily at your Jugular vein.
There’s nothing new about horror/comedy, but the success of well-done films like Black Sheep and “Zombidys” like Shaun of the Dead and Fido, which raised the bar and ushered in a new wave of films and books that weren’t just laughably bad low-budget B-movies like Chopping Mall or Jack Frost.
Even people who don’t like Horror can appreciate a Horror/Comedy, making that market larger, and simultaneously eroding the pure Horror market; which includes our Scary Zombie and Monster friends.
#4 – Chasing the Horror-Lite Market
Seriously bro, this movie is like so totally scary, its sick! I think it’s Rated PG-8!
Dark Fantasy is the kissing cousin of Horror. It appeals to a wider audience, and it’s growing.
Part of the rise in this trend comes from the explosion of the Young Adult book market. Ever since the success of the Harry Potter series, the publishing and movie industries have launched a massive assault on the teen market. In this market, it seems that monsters are less of a main course and more of a side dish adding flavor to a plot, and not a plot in and of themselves. For example, each book of the Harry Potter series contains some kind of monster or terrifying creature, but the books are labeled ‘Fantasy-Adventure’ not ‘Horror’.
Because of the larger market for Dark Fiction, Horror authors and other artists looking for a bigger audience might tone down the Horror and play up the Dark Fantasy aspect in order to give their work a broader appeal. The results are stories like The Graveyard Book, and Twilight, books that were inspired by, but never intended for, the horror section.
So where are the scary monsters?
I want to reassert here that I’m not opposed to any of the genres or movements listed above. Mostly. But I like my monsters scary damnit, and I’m on the verge of calling scary monsters an endangered species.
While horrific horror monsters might not be extinct, there’s no question that the points listed above have conspired to shove the monster market back under the bed. The increase in Vampires, Paranormal Romances, Horror/Comedy and the growth of the Young Adult market may have increased interest in works of darker fiction, but it certainly seems to have drowned out the small slice of authors and filmmakers creating frightening Monsters.
But like the things hiding under your bed, just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, lurking in the dark and forgotten corners of the bookstore… Stories about creatures that could kill you just by stepping into broad daylight, their very wrongness would rip your sanity asunder.
They might even lurk in the minds of dark fiction authors such as myself. You might come back here and find some one day… if you are brave enough.
If you know of any scary monster stories, please share!
Four Hundred and some-odd slices of dead tree stood stacked up on the desk. Nearly One-Hundred-Thousand words that have taken me years to choose and arrange…
…and I was looking for lighter fluid and my lucky Zippo lighter.
I’d just read a Real book from a Real author, then I looked back at my own work, something I had the audacity to actually print out. I felt bad for the tree that was killed so I could redline the latest version of the Evil Looks Good manuscript. Turns out a red pen wasn’t enough. I was going to need a 12″ wide red paint roller. It would have been easier to highlight the sections that weren’t complete garbage. There wouldn’t be many.
There’s lots of names for this phenomenon, Burnout, Inner Critic, Self-Doubt, and more, but I call it “Hitting the Wall”.
What is “The Wall”?
You Are Here.
Some who discuss this anomaly are quick to label it as a form of Writer’s Block. This gives them immediate access to the wealth of books, advice and ready-made solutions for that particular problem.
Unfortunately, hitting the wall is not writers block. It’s motivation block. I’ve had both, and believe me, they are two different animals. Their only similarity is that when you have either of them, you don’t get anything written.
Hitting the wall isn’t writers block. It’s motivation block.
Writers block is when you are Stuck For Something To Write. When you hit the wall, You Don’t Want To Write Anything At All.
With writers block you stare at a blank page, desperate for some spark of creativity, or some muse to come flirt with your brain. You want to write.
When you hit the wall, you don’t stare at a blank page. You stare at the television, or a video game, or another book, or perhaps (ironically) a wall, because even that is preferable to wasting your time trying to be a writer when you know you are a hack who won’t ever amount to anything and this delusion of being a writer, this temporary insanity that anything you write will ever be read or is even worthy of being read saps all your motivation away, and not only do you not want to write ever again, but you’re compelled to cut your own hands off with a bandsaw as a public service….
Sorry, I digress.
Let’s take a look at some likely de-motivators that can create a wall between you and completion:
Brick in the Wall (part 1) – Burnout or Overexposure
I think the reason I hit the wall with my story is because I spent too much time on it. It isn’t hard to do. Musicians do this all the time. You can keep working on a song or book forever, supposedly making it “Better”. But after working on the same thing for an extended period you will eventually get sick of it, like eating the same meal for lunch every day. Some people call this phenomenon “Burnout”.
If you run into Burnout or Overexposure, the cure is to minimize contact with your own work. Limit the amount of time that you allow yourself to work on a piece. (Especially the duration measured in weeks/months.) Put it away for a while and work on another section or better yet, another story. Lock it away for a while, and come back to it later with a clearer mind and fresher eyes. Then, give yourself a deadline for completion. If you are your own publisher, start acting like it and make some deadlines and hold your author (yourself) accountable.
Brick in the Wall (part 2) – Unhealthy Comparisons
What really lit my fuse was reading another author’s work that was an example of really good and inspiring writing. Then I read my own work…yikes! Nothing will taint your own work like comparing it to someone else’s professionally edited (and proofread, and published, and bestselling… you get the idea) book.
To avoid this scenario, avoid comparing the perceived ‘quality’ of your work to the work of other authors. This is the ‘grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ dilemma. It may be better than yours, it may not, but the fact that you’ll never write like someone else also implies that no one else can write like you. No one else can write your story but you.
Know that when you’re done, someone else is going to look at your story and feel bad about their own. But this won’t happen if you don’t finish it!
Brick in the Wall (part 3) – The Fear of Completion
One type of wall you might hit is the Fear of Failure disguised as Fear of Completion. This can make you doubt if not outright sabotage your own efforts, especially if it happens when your story is nearly finished. If you never complete the book, then it never gets judged. If you pre-emptively judge it as ‘sucky’ and never release it, it spares you the possibility that anyone else might judge it as ‘sucky’. It’s the same philosophy of people who don’t enter contests. They don’t want to lose, and if they don’t play, then they don’t lose, right?
To overcome this version of the wall, you have to change the definition of failure, and make it work in your favor.
Realize that failure = You Not releasing the best book that you can at this time and place in your writing career.
Re-writing the same book over and over won’t help you to become a better writer. At some point, you are simply changing the book, and not making it better, you’re just wasting your time. You won’t get better if you don’t finish your work and get it out there. If you don’t complete it, you Lose.
Better yet – you’re a Loser until you complete it.
Success isn’t releasing the best book ev-ar, it’s releasing your book as the author you are now. Don’t worry about making this book better than it is, make it the best you can right now, and get it behind you so you can grow. Then you can worry about making your next book better than this one.
Continuing to release better and better books is how you progress as a writer. If you can get this mindset, it will help you to overcome the fear of failure and motivate you to completion.
Tear Down The Wall!
The way out is through.
It was a huge relief for me to recognize The Wall for what it is. Both a fantastic album by Pink Floyd, and a step in the writing process.
Just the knowledge that others go through this phase (often enough that there’s a name for it) makes it more tolerable. It isn’t just this story you’re working on, and it isn’t just you.
The Wall is a test. There’s ten thousand things that will get in the way of you writing a book. This is just one of those ten thousand things. A conflict for you to overcome the same way the hero in your story overcomes their conflict. One of the very first conflicts is getting started, and some people never get past that point. If you’re up to the point where you are having problems like hitting the wall and motivational block, be thankful because you have actually made it further than most people.
Remember, to breach the wall of motivation block you don’t need jump starts to your creativity, you don’t need to tickle the muse, what you need is motivation. There’s ten thousand places you can get it. Here’s just one.
Outside the Wall
My lighter didn’t work (lucky, eh?), and so my manuscript is safe. For now.
Realizing that others have this problem is a big help, and I hope I’ve helped other writers recognize this problem for what it is. If you have other suggestions on how to avoid, circumvent, pierce, penetrate, or otherwise ‘tear down the wall’, drop them in the comments section. Best of luck, and I’ll see you on the other side…
Mythology meets high-tech in this thrilling military shooter by Jeremy Robinson. Pulse is the first installment in Jeremy Robinson’s ‘Chess Team’ series, and sure to be a hit with those who like action-adventure…
Wait, let me rephrase that.
…those who like ACTION-ADVENTURE!
Damn, there’s more bullets in this book than a whole week’s worth of Minneapolis nightlife!
Story Premise for “Pulse”
A genetic research company is trying to perfect the process of human regeneration. They have experimented on test subjects who are able to regenerate at an amazing rate (Think the X-men’s “Wolverine” on speed) but there’s a problem. The more they regenerate, the more their mind devolves into a crazed state. They become maniacal and enraged, with an insatiable hunger.
When the research company discovers an ancient artifact and a scientist that might unlock the key to regeneration, it’s up to the ‘Chess Team’ (Code Names: King, Queen, Rook, Bishop, and Knight) to infiltrate this organization and stop their horrific experiments and recover their friend before its too late. But how to you destroy a creature that heals instantly and gets more and more insane and angry as it takes more damage?
Things go from bad to worse when an huge, ancient monster is awakened that not only has regenerative abilities and a hunger for human flesh, but also has multiple heads!
Fight scenes were well-done. It’s easy to write too much description into fights, which distracts from the story, but I think Jeremy Robinson nails it. He focuses on the heart of the fight, and I definitely learned some style tips to implement in writing my own fight scenes.
The characters were very memorable. The code names helped me remember our main character friends and each member of the Chess Team had the kind of personality you might expect of their respective chess pieces.
Good use of technology. Jeremy Robinson credits several people as sources for his military and genetic terms and descriptions. This gives the book a real feel to it; a grounding in reality (despite my frustration of weapon descriptions under Not-So-Good, see below). Wicked cool tech, from the stealth plane HALO jumps to the Metal Storm weapons with three barrels, which throw three rounds per trigger pull.
Pulse has great pacing. The chapters are short and Jeremy Robinson knows how to use chapter breaks to build tension, which makes for a real page-turner. He knows how to keep the pace moving and not let things drag. Despite multiple characters experiencing multiple pieces of the story simultaneously all over the world, the plotline is simple and easy to follow. You won’t get lost, and you definitely won’t be bored.
Part of the quick pacing comes from the author’s use of narrative description to cover lots of storyline in a short time. It was well done; the equivalent of scanning FF through the boring parts of a movie.
Speaking of movies, Pulse would make a great movie. In fact, changing the Chess Team over to the cast from the recent movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra would not be a stretch.
A touch of eye-rolling prose here and there, although this is not uncommon in military shooters. Descriptions of death sure to get a giggle out of the most stoic reader. (Campbell’s Chunky Soup?)
Lots of product placement. I hope Jeremy was paid for the product endorsements to Chevy, Metal Storm (and Campbell’s? LOL). I’ve been discussing the possibilities of paid product placement and in-book advertisement with other authors, and have yet to hear Jeremy Robinson’s take on it. If he was paid, then God bless, but it would be a first.
I felt there was a touch too much of the military weapon descriptions. I don’t really need to know the rate of fire of each weapon used, country of origin, or even its model name. “Pistol”, “SMG”, “Rifle”, “Grenade Launcher” – these are all definitive enough terms for me – add in the other details during mission briefings if you must, but not during a fight. This might not bother other readers, but I personally find it distracting to read something like, “…approached his target and drew his Chrome-Plated Colt Anaconda .44 Revolver with a mounted laser sight, custom pearl grips and mounted M203 Grenade Launcher, capable of turning an entire school of hammerhead sharks into tiny bits of cooked sushi…” as opposed to “…drew his .44 revolver…” and let the weapon show us what it can do through the story instead of telling us about it.
But these are all minor quibbles and none of these things ruined the story for me.
Pulse by Jeremy Robinson is a real page-turner, stuffed full of fast-paced military action, monsters, archeology/mythology and well-written fight scenes.
I enjoyed Pulse enough that I’ll be looking for the next installment. In the meantime, I’ll probably give his deep-sea thriller, Kronosa try.
For those who don’t know about Sound Unseen, it’s a Music/Art/Film fest themed out by a slew of cool Minneapolis Artists and Venues. Its for those people who need a damned reason to get off their ass and experience some local art. Sound Unseen 2009 runs from Sept 30th until Oct 4th.
One of the more original events that goes on during Sound Unseen is the “Rock and Bowl” where you get the chance to bowl with/against your favorite local bands. More details (including band links) are below.
This year’s Rock and Bowl is on Monday, September 28 from 7pm -10pm at Memory Lanes in Minneapolis.
So set your Tivo up to record “Scrubs” then check the Sound Unseen website and your local news sources for more cool Sound Unseen events!
Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot covers the effects of the internet on music and bands over the last decade, touching on some stuff back in the 90’s like the Beastie Boys mad sampling on Ill Communication, but really starting around the time of Napster file sharing and RIAA’s first acknowledging the internet as a threat. The book ends with Radiohead and NIN’s ‘pay what you want’ internet marketing strategies in late 2007 / early 2008.
The entire book plays out like a game between the Musicians who want to get their music out, the Fans who want to get the music, the Internet that makes it possible, and THE RIAA who simply doesn’t get it, and fights tooth-and-nail against the whole process of internet file sharing.
Summary of Ripped
“Ripped” presents the first definitive account of the digital music revolution, which changed the way music fans have sought and acquired music and led to the end of the recording industry as we know it. In the mid-1990s, advances in Internet and digital technology made it easy for fans to store, play, and share music, and leveled the playing field between better-marketed major-label bands and smaller independent artists who communicated directly with their audience. Instead of embracing these new possibilities, the music industry turned their customers into criminals with lawsuits, even as on-line music sharing exploded. With firsthand access to artists such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire, “Ripped” chronicles the industry’s decline and the rise of a worldwide grassroots community that transformed music.
There’s some great information here on how the music industry works, and especially how it does Not work. Payola is explained in layman’s terms, with some dollars thrown in so you can understand the scope of the problem. You also get to read about Clear Channel’s involvement with band tours and ticket sales. The RIAA keeps showing up like Jason in a Friday the 13th movie, rearing it’s ugly head to cause problems just when you think things are going well.
I’d never heard the full story of Metallica’s legal dispute with Napster back in 2000, and I found that chapter very interesting. I wondered how a band so big could do something so absolutely guaranteed stupid as to sue their own fans for sharing their music, especially when they got to be famous because of file sharing (via mix tape trading) in the first place. According to the quotes in “Ripped”, Metallica played it like they didn’t really understand the interwebs or what they were doing. I don’t blame them, since claiming stupidity is better than admitting they are evil, but everyone knows what they did, especially their audience, and they don’t have short memories. I hear Metallica are still making albums though, so I guess it didn’t wreck their career.
The chapter on Prince was also enlightening. It covered his break from his record label, and how he was 1 of the first big artists 2 attempt 2 run his own business over the internet, directly relating 2 his fans. Strangely, you’d think I would have heard about these ‘indie’ releases from Prince, being we both lived in Minnesota at the time.
Ripped – The Bad
After the first few chapters, the stories devolve into the less interesting and less innovative – Death Cab for Cutie, for example, were blissfully unaware of the internet. They were just surprised that people were coming to their shows and wondered how they were finding out about them. No ‘revolution’ here.
I’d rather have seen shorter examples of more bands instead of the few detailed analysis of the handful of bands like Wilco and Arcade Fire which read more like band bios, and could have been condensed. Same thing with the rise of Pitchfork Media – some punk with an opinionated blog becomes a millionaire. Pitchfork’s effect on bands’ record sales was important and an interesting read, but hardly worth an entire chapter.
Sadly, there is no mention of Jagged Spiral, who announced their intention to release their 2007 debut album Days From Evil with a ‘pay what you want’ system on the internet before Radiohead released In Rainbows. And no mention of the band Atmosphere releasing an entire album online for free as a Christmas present for their fans in Dec 2007 (The album Strictly Leakage is still available at this link.)
Of course, Greg Kot hasn’t heard of Jagged Spiral, so I can’t really fault him, but established bands like Radiohead and NIN releasing their albums on the internet for free isn’t news. They were already releasing tracks for free over terrestrial radio. No revolution here. The revolution would be up-and-coming bands like Jagged Spiral and Atmosphere changing their tactics and releasing their music for free and trading in Fortune for Fame; a gamble to jump-start their careers using the internet.
I would have enjoyed a chapter on the RIAA. They only seem to pop up in the book to say “No. You can’t do that.” I would have enjoyed more detail on the RIAA’s decision to endorse DRM (Digital Rights Management) and to read about other copy-prevention methods they might have considered.
Ripped – The Upshot
Ripped gives a good overview of the past ten or so years as music and musicians get more tightly caught up in the internet, and the Recording Industry fights against it every step of the way.
Whether you are an ASPCA-er or not, you won’t want to miss tonight’s Benefit to Fight Animal Cruelty at the 7th Street Entry. There’s a great lineup of bands for a good cause, but mostly you will want to see Revolver Modele. This is Revolver Modele’s last show. So come and say goodbye to one of the best bands Flyover Land has to offer:
I hear there’s a lot of bad art out there. Bad movies. Bad TV shows. Bad books. Bad music. Bad paintings. Bad sculpture.
And worst of all… bad interpretive dance.
How Bad Is It?
Apparently, bad art abounds.
Is it true? Is there a lot of bad art out there? When there’s an entire gallery dedicated to Bad Art, I’d say that signs point to yes. But there’s a lot of good art out there too. The problem is, it’s tough to see the good art going on around you at any given time.
Take movies for example. There are more movies available than ever before from more sources than ever before. 16-screen mega-theaters? DVD players in laptops and cars? Cable/Dish-On-Demand/Netflix/Redbox/YouTube/I-Pod/BitTorrent?
And music? Like movies, only more so. Every group of hacks who can stumble across the audio input jack on their computer are releasing their music online.
And books? Don’t get me started at the quantity of “literature” being released. The last conservative estimate I heard was 1,100 books PER DAY being released in the United States alone.
Interpretive dance? Sorry, I can’t help there. I did see a kid at the grocery store having a tantrum that could be classified as interpretive dance, (and I’d say it was better than most) but that’s where my experience with that art form ends.
The massive influx of art is awesome for art junkies, but at the same time it can be easily overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the internet free-for-all lends itself to the McDonald’s method of art production where Quantity trumps Quality.
But you know there is good art out there. Movies that would blow your socks off, Books that you’d want to read again as soon as you finished the last page, songs that prevent you from turning the car off because they’re So Damn Good. But you haven’t heard of them, because they’re lumped in with all the crap. Buried.
Some people would tell you this is a bad thing, but they would be wrong. It is a problem, but it’s a problem that hasn’t changed with the internet, it’s just been amplified. In fact, I’d say its a nice problem to have. And there is a simple solution.
Not to bad art that’s stood the test of time
Time is the solution, or rather, the filter of time that hasn’t yet been applied to art coming out today.
It will take time for the cream of the crop to rise, and all of the over-hyped poop to sink to the bottom. It’s difficult to see what will stand the test of time until some time has passed, and the luster of evil marketing, advertising and product placement has worn off, and the public is left with simply the product.
And things are going to get worse before they get better. As the world gets more tightly connected to the internet, and as the internet reaches higher speeds and takes wireless wings, the volume of art available at any given time/place will increase exponentially.
“But Conrad, I don’t wanna wait!”
Hey, who’s running this blog, you or me?
“Sorry Bro, but I just really, really, really want good art now!”
Typical American. Fine. If you really can’t wait, if you really want to know what’s going to stand the test of time before too much time has passed…
“Oh, I do! Please tell me!”
Here’s the secret:
If you want to find good art that’s being made right now, you have to get off your ass and find it.
No charge for this wisdom.
I know, it’s not the answer you were looking for. But if you want it, you’re going to have to work for it. You’ll have to dig. And that means getting your hands dirty.
There’s three ways about it:
Option 1 – Find a filter for good art
Are you really going to agree with all the choices at Pitchfork? Rolling Stone? NME? The New York Times? I doubt it, but for every one of these well-known sites, there’s ten thousand indie blogs trying to be the voice of authority, and if you’re lucky you might find a particular reviewer who you agree with more often than not.
You might also look at user-generated filters like IMDB, Amazon, GoodReads etc, and see what others are saying is good, but these take time to get all the opinions weighed in, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid, right? Because you can’t wait, right?
With this option you still are going to have to do some slogging, but not for long. Find a filter you can trust; one that’s right for you. Finding it may take some work.
This option is a shortcut, and it comes with two disadvantages. First, some things that are good might slip past their radar. Second, there’s no guarantee your likes will align perfectly, and you might end up with some referrals that you think are awful. When your favorite radio station plays a song you don’t like, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The key here is to find a source that gives you a better ratio of successes to failures than you would get through random chance.
Option 2 – Be the art filter
This option takes more work than the first. It means you’re going to have to become your own art critic. It means you’ll have to do some critical analysis (ie: thinking) for yourself. It also means you’ll have to read ten horror novels to find a good one, and thirty to find a great one.
The good news is that if you focus on doing this, you can’t help but get good at it. You’ll be able to explain WHAT you liked/disliked and WHY – the two things every art critic must do. Then, you can add your three cents into the collective pool of the internet, and maybe someone will seek out Your opinion on what’s good or bad.
In the end, this is the only real option. Because we all have different tastes, we’re all going to have a different list of what makes for Good art.
Option 3 -Opt Out
You can always give up on arts entirely. I know people who don’t read books anymore. I know people who don’t play video games anymore. I personally don’t watch television anymore. Opting out can be an act of cowardice, or it can be as simple as saying “I have no interest in that, and I’m focusing my energies elsewhere.”
But life without any art would be boring. So in some respects even bad art is better than no art at all. Hopefully when you give up on Country Music (a wise decision), you’ll be able to spend more time listening to Northern Rock.
“But Bro, I only want to read awesome books by awesome authors!”
No, you’re a greedy, lazy and mindless automaton who wants to be told what to read. Marketers, Politicians and Organized Religions love people like you. I don’t. Bro.
It also means you’re stuck with the classics; art that has withstood the test of time, and the majority have agreed is ‘good’. There’s no guarantee you’ll really like it, but then again, if you’re that kind of person, you’ll like it if you’re told to. Furthermore, you think this blog post is spectacular, and you want to give me all your money.
Bad art has a purpose.
One thing to consider is that if there wasn’t any bad art, there wouldn’t be any good art. We need a reference. If you waved a magic wand and dispelled all the bad art from the world… well, for one thing this blog wouldn’t be here, but also there wouldn’t be anything to hold the good art up against to show its “goodness.”
Another thing to consider is that all the masters got good at their craft by practicing. By trial and error. By releasing art and getting feedback on what people thought was good and/or bad about it. In other words, by releasing bad art. It’s part of the process, and even if you aren’t an artist yourself, you can become part of the process by providing that feedback.
Mr. Krueger’s pedigree looks really good. (If he were a dog, he’d be worth a lot.) He’s a local guy with plenty of novels under his belt, and enough awards to make me puke jealous. He’s also a member of Minnesota Crime Wave.
I won’t lie to you. Crime Fiction ain’t really my genre. This would be me taking a distinct break from Horror/Fantasy. So I went into this book quite cold to partly, with a high chance of low expectations. From the cover copy, I was taken more by the location (of both the story and the author) than the genre. I was also interested in reading a book which won an Anthony Award, was nominated for Minnesota Book Award and got tons of great reviews in the press.
Blood Hollow – Cover Copy
When the corpse of a teenage girl is discovered on a hillside three months after her disappearance on New Year’s Eve, all evidence points to her boyfriend, Solemn Winter Moon. Despite Solemn’s self-incriminating decision to go into hiding, Cork O’Connor, Aurora’s part-Irish, part-Ojibwe former sheriff, isn’t about to hang the crime on the kid, whom O’Connor is convinced is innocent. In an uphill battle to clear Solemn’s name, Cork encounters no shortage of adversity. Some he knows all too well small-town bigotry and bureaucracy foremost among them. What Cork isn’t prepared for is the emergence of a long-held resentment hailing from his own childhood. And when Solemn reappears, claiming to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ in Blood Hollow, the mystery becomes thornier than Cork could ever have anticipated. And that’s when the miracles start happening…
Blood Hollow – The Good
The writing was very good. Enough description to get you into the story, but not so much that it slows the story down. Good pacing. Great phrases like a sky “…the color of an old nickel.” Read the first two chapters and you will be able to feel the cold of a Minnesota snowstorm.
The location was perfect. For those who enjoyed the movie Fargo, this story has the same ‘small town’ feel to it. Everybody knows everybody. The characters, scenery descriptions and little details (McCullough Chain Saw, Sorel Boots, Minnetonka Moccasins, etc…) made me realize that William Kent Krueger isn’t just a visitor here. He knows this place, and he does a good job of transporting the reader there.
He also does a great job with his portrayal of the Ojibwe culture. Blood Hollow includes plenty of the Ojibwe language and customs. I can vouch for his accuracy, as I have family who are Ojibwe and live on the rez in Minnesota . Very well done. I wanted more!
Mr. Krueger has a knack for names. There were plenty of characters, but I never got them mixed up (Hey, JRR Tolkien, are you listening? Sauron/Saruman ring a bell? Oh wait, he’s dead. Sorry.) The protagonist’s name is “Cork” and there’s a “Solemn Winter Moon” and “Dot”… the list goes on. The last names of the townsfolk were particularly Minn-ee-soh-ten. “Soderberg”? I went to school with some Soderbergs…
The dynamics of the character relations were well done. The underlying tone of mistrust and prejudice between the townsfolk and the Ojibwe was a nice flavor. The miracles that occur and the problems they cause for the town add plenty of spice to the story.
Blood Hollow – The Bad
The plot was C.S.I. Aurora, MN. By that I mean linear, with the most meager of subplots. The entire storyline is a series of introducing new evidence pointing at a character as a potential suspect, then further investigation eliminates them as a suspect, and repeat until you swear that everyone in the whole town was involved and has some secret to hide.
This isn’t a mystery you will be figuring out on your own, the clues simply aren’t there. I read it passively, and tried not to guess where the story would go. I was just along for the ride, which I think you’ll find more enjoyable than the frustration of trying to solve the mystery before Cork does. Those looking for a Northwoods Sherlock Holmes story will be disappointed.
Cork O’Connor isn’t particular memorable for a main character. He has NO distinctive traits, and his family life is pretty emotionally sterile. He’s a bit like Sam Spade, only “over medium” instead of “hard boiled” and without the internal monologue. Cork is stoic, hard to read, and he goes light on the action. He’s an all-around-good-guy, and I mean that in a bad way. He needs a bad habit, or a patch over one eye, or a mysterious past that haunts him, or something to give him some depth.
Blood Hollow – The Upshot
Blood Hollow is a well-written, fast-paced crime story that takes place in a small mining range town in the northwoods of Minnesota. The story is flavored with small-town prejudice, miracles, and Ojibwe Culture. Light on the action and heavy on the investigation. Cross “Fargo” with “CSI” and you’re on the trail of a good read from a well-read author.
The 2009 Minnesota Fringe Festival opens this weekend. The craziness begins on 30 July and runs until 9 August.
If you’re not familiar, the Fringe Festival is what happens when an ungodly number of indie theater productions land in town. They run all hours in all the theaters, back alleys and grocery-store produce sections in town. Its a great chance to see a wide variety of shows. In fact, the selection is almost overwhelming.
The beauty of the Fringe is that you get a lot of entertainment for your budget dollar. Split the cost of a punch card with some friends and share – the punch card gets you into multiple shows. You’ll be surprised at how inexpensive they are. Keep and eye out for 2-for-1 deals and discounts.
I have it on good faith that the fringe show Sodom, Gomorrah and Adam will be worth attending, mostly because of the people involved instead of anything I actually know about the show, which would be about this much:
A tale of revelry and reformation: Young man recalls a lifetime of sin through rock songs. A bit like a cabaret only with more self-loathing and music created by a hybrid of Brian Wilson and Freddie Mercury.
Sodom, Gomorrah and Adam was created by Local-Mad-Evil-Genius Chris Strouth. If you don’t know about Chris, just buy me a pint or two after the show and I’ll tell you all about his lurid behavior back at Totino-Grace.
Here’s the schedule. I’ll probably hit the Saturday show and report back with a lovely review.
Sat., Aug. 1 @ 10:00 p.m.
Sun., Aug. 2 @ 5:30 p.m.
Wed., Aug. 5 @ 5:30 p.m.
Fri., Aug. 7 @ 5:30 p.m.
Sun., Aug. 9 @ 4:00 p.m.
If you have a good/bad/indifferent experience at Fringe Fest, post it in the comments here, or on the fringe website so that others can benefit from your experience.