Miserable

As always, I take a moment to remind everyone out there that my 10th novel, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, is out in stores now.  I’d recommend buying it, and if you like it, buying another copy and giving that as a gift to a friend.  Or just mentioning it in passing conversation with your friends once every hour or so.  Maybe getting a tattoo of the cover.  Maybe make up a little song about it, post it on the Youtube, and make both of us very famous.  I’d be very cool with that.

Basically, spread the word, Action Force.  The longer the book is out, the more important word of mouth is, and I rather like getting paid to write books and wouldn’t mind continuing to be paid to do so for a few more years at the very least.  As much as I might like to believe otherwise, my career depends entirely on your efforts.  So, hey, no pressure, but you are the only thing standing between me and unemployment, and I’ve never had a real job, so I’d be kind of screwed it the bottom drops out of this racket.

But enough sniveling self-promotion from this C-list novelologist . . .

 

I finally watched some of Game of Thrones, and I can say it just isn’t for me.  I’m not making any judgments on quality.  There’s little doubt the show is well-made on every conceivable level.  The acting, the direction, the plotting, the scripting, and so on.  It sets a standard of excellence that fantasy fans could only have dreamed of a few years ago.

But it just isn’t for me.

Understand, this is not a criticism.  I think it’s okay to admit that some things, despite being well-made, are not going to be to our tastes.  I don’t like pineapple on pizza, and there’s really not anything that can be done to fix that.  And I prefer my fantasy . . . well . . . more fantastic.  And watching this show, it just makes me miserable.

It is, by the literal definition, a miserable show.  It features miserable characters in a miserable setting doing miserable things to each other.  It is a story designed, by intention, to take much of the fun out of fantasy and replaces it with a more “mature” version.  While I might not agree with that interpretation of “mature”, I can’t argue with its success.  And I’m not begrudging the show, its creators, or its stars their success.  They’ve earned it, and good for them.

But, yeah, it’s not for me.

I’m not here to talk about a specific show, but to talk about the transformation of a culture.  I won’t label it as good or bad because change is change.  It can be good or bad, and is often both at the same time.  But I get that this is the future of fantasy and science fiction, and it isn’t a place I’m very interested in going.

I also finally get why I will never convince many people that I am not a “light” writer.  It’s not just because I’m not interested in maturity for maturity’s sake.  It’s because the entire definition of what constitutes maturity is different than it was even a few years ago.  While my stories would never have been considered “dark”, they are even lighter by comparison.

Everything is relative, and the darker mainstream fiction gets, the lighter mine becomes.  As people become embroiled in more and more soap opera-like sagas, my standalone stories are working uphill to be considered anything other than trivial snacks.  And I get that.  I even accept it.  What choice do I have?

I’ve railed against the grimdarking of popular culture in general, but there’s little point in denying it is how things are going.  When even Superman is maudlin and mopey, it’s safe to say we are living in a different world than I ever expected to be in.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine said that he didn’t understand why anyone thought Man of Steel was so dark, and I realized that he wasn’t far off the mark.  If you’d tried to pass of the unpleasant version of Superman in the 8o’s, it probably wouldn’t have been well received.  But today, a Superman who leaves Metropolis in ruins and who struggles to do the right thing isn’t much different than most mainstream heroes.  Watching Metropolis fall to rubble or this Superman kill a guy doesn’t draw much attention from at least half the audience.  Heck, Superman even kind of feels bad about it for a few minutes, so, hey, that makes him seem positively quaint by today’s standards.

We are living in the culture where a hollow deconstruction like Kick-Ass can be viewed as groundbreaking and where I read “Good guys are boring” at least once a day when perusing the internet.

I get all that, and I realize it doesn’t help any that I’ve become reflexively more interested in heroism and sincerity as a response.  Where once I might have enjoyed cynical anti-heroes, I find them more and more off-putting.  When I watched Game of Thrones, I realized I could only watch so much of the despicable characters mutilating innocent victims before I needed a hero to sweep in and do something about it.

But heroes . . . they’re old-fashioned.  Now, we’re all just living in shades of gray, and in a world where there are no heroes, the only way to make the bad guys bad is to make them so terrible that they fill the audience with utter disgust.  And I can even live with that, but I can’t help but feel like we’ve lost something important in the transition.  Or not.  I don’t know.

Given the nature of current popular culture, there’s little chance of me ever being taken seriously as a writer.  I’ll certainly be good for a laugh or two.  I might even give the more thoughtful reader something to think about.  But I still have a tendency to make even my bad guys into good guys (of a sort), and I’m unapologetic of my love of heroes who step up and do the right thing because they are genuinely heroic.  I’m not going to drop in a rape scene to show how bad the bad guys are.  I’m not going to mutilate the heroes’ scrappy girl or boyfriend just to show you how serious I am.

That’s not something I’m interested.

That’s not entirely true.  If HBO or Showtime or anybody came to me with the idea of turning one of my books into a “mature”-style show, I would be more than happy to jump on board that train.  Recognition is everything in this biz, and I’d be an idiot to turn something like that down.  And if such a show came out half as good as Game of Thrones, I’d have every reason to rejoice.

But I realize that the odds of this happening are pretty damned small, and they’ll only get smaller as I continue on my own path.  I see that path going away from serious artist each passing day.  That’s a problem I haven’t figured out how to solve yet because if it continues at it does, my books will be considered lighter and lighter and lighter until they’re considered to be little more than cotton candy of fiction.

I think it’s okay to admit that I’m a little bit troubled for my future as a writer, and that those worries are only getting worse as time passes.  I admit this to you, Action Force, because it’s not getting any easier.  I love writing fiction, but I feel the gulf between myself and pop culture widening, and it is kind of scary.  It’s why I take something like Man of Steel so personally.  Aside from the fact that it screws with one of my greatest heroes, it’s also a grim omen of a world where what I write will be less and less relevant.

And here’s where I would normally try to put some kind of positive spin on things, but I hate to say it, I’m not sure how optimistic I am at this point.  It’s not the end of the world just yet, and I make no judgments on the choices others make in their entertainment.  But there are times, more and more, where I’m not sure whether what I write will be deemed valuable in five or ten years.

And that scares the crap out of me.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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10 Comments

  1. Cathy/greytfriend
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    I am a fan of Game of Thrones, but it has it’s time and place for me. I’m not at all a fan of HBO’s version of True Blood because it is so dark and depressing, visually and thematically. The books were about the tension between the light and dark and what she would choose, and were much lighter to read and enjoy. Anyway, my point is that there’s always a backlash with these things. My time frame may be shorter than most, after a few dark books I need a brighter, more open story like one of yours as a contrast. Maybe the larger society as a whole is moving in that direction more slowly, but trends never last. Vampires go to zombies. Zombies go to sharks. Before you know it, it’ll be a 1 hour dramady about a robot detective with a gorilla partner with debates about robot citizenship cleverly referencing the immigration debate being part of subtext of the story. Could happen before 2016.

    And if none of that crap happens, who cares? You write clever books that are fun to read. In and of itself a totally worthwhile product that many of us are happy to purchase. We can even glean a few lessons from them here and there without trying too hard to overanalyze every aspect of the stories. It’s good stuff. So please keep on keeping on as long as you feel up to it and I’ll keep doing my part and read and review whatever you put out there for me. Looking forward to it.

  2. Posted August 14, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    While I like Game of Thrones, I agree with everything you’ve said about the darkening of pop culture. I like heroes; anti-heroes do not appeal to me at all. But, I don’t think the future of pop culture in general, and your career in particular, are in such dire straits. I think these anti-heroes, the darkening and such are a product of the times we live in. Since 9/11, our pop culture has trended this way but I think, as times get better we will start to demand entertainment that reflects this optimistic mood. You can somewhat see it this summer with the box office bombs of movies that would have been huge hits in previous years. Like the publishing industry, the movie/tv industry are a few years behind the pulse, but they will catch up to us. In case you can’t guess, I’m optimistic things are getting better and better. But, I’m an optimist in general.

    Think of the history of the movies. In the twenties, the movies were new, racy and borderline pornographic (according to the Catholics at least ;). The movies reflected the party attitude of the twenties. When the 30s hit, movies became more realistic, but luckily they still tried to entertain us with lighter fare. Hollywood and America hadn’t become jaded. The forties brought noir to the forefront, capturing the disillusionment people felt after the war. The fifties reflected our new optimistic attitude about life. The sixties and seventies were rebellious, etc., etc. You get where I’m going here so I’ll stop.

    My point, that it has taken way too long to make because I’m wordy by nature, is I believe the current depressing anti-hero darkness of entertainment is a phase. This too shall pass.

    mel

  3. Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I watched Game of Thrones when it was free from my cable company. Generally I’d say it’s like a soap opera with more blood and violence. Basically if you took “Dallas” and set it in the Middle Ages.

    Anyway, if everything else is into misery then I guess you can be part of the counterculture. Or you’ll just be positioned at the right spot when things turn back the other way.

  4. Posted August 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    While I like anti-heroes and some of the darker pop culture, I still like my real heroes. I watched MAN OF STEEL and though I liked the whole “what if”, I still shed a tear at seeing Superman do something that he had never done, and I had hoped would never do. The Mark Millar comments of using rape as a story trope is kind of sad. It kind of looks like he doesn’t have any real creativity when he has to resort to that.

    Yes, I like watching Christopher Reeves swoop down and catch Margo Kidder at the last second. I like watching the Lone Ranger, with theme music blaring, chase the bad guys. Again, I enjoyed the new movie, but I will agree, it’s definitely not the one I grew up on. I love reading a book, where I can cheer for the good guy, because I know that he is good, and just, and will save the day without having to wash regret and blood off of his hands at the end of the day.

    And yes, I will record a youtube song for you and your book.

  5. KJ
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Heroes follow their inner moral compasses, external consequences be damned. So that’s what you’ll be, as long as you keep writing what makes your heart sing.

    It ain’t art if it ain’t sincere. And you’re here to make art–yes?

  6. lora
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy your books. I’ve even read a couple more than once.
    Stop worrying about whether your writing will be relevant in five or ten years. The world changes so quickly, you have no idea what is going to happen. Stop whining and go write a good story.

  7. Craig
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I have read all of the Game of Throne books and I will freely admit I have enjoyed them for what they are. And I have read (and own) every book you’ve ever written or ever will write and enjoyed them even more. In thousands of pages GoT has one “joke”. Writing comedy/fantasy is damned hard work and anyone who says differently clearly some seltzer sprayed down their pants. You have a special talent and don’t you dare stop writing because then I will have to start writing and frankly it will take me years to get to your level. People shouldn’t have to wait that long. Now write me a story about a robo-dino and his/her search for true love and a good mechanic.

  8. Jesse
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    How silly would you feel if I actually went out and got a tattoo of one of your book covers now?

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      I cannot fully endorse this course of action.

      But if you were to do it, I would probably send you a signed book at the very least.

      But, again, do NOT do this unless you really really really want to do it.

      There’s a guy who is walking around with an Emperor Mollusk logo tattoo somewhere.

  9. Annie
    Posted August 25, 2013 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    Hey Lee!
    FYI, I can totally relate to what you are saying on SO MANY LEVELS. Right now, you would think with much of the real world picture so grim, the creative forces wouldn’t be in so much of a hurry to throw in the towel, and have their character’s MO’s start looking like post-therapy session,’selfish affirmation sessions, eh?
    It would be one thing if no one had any fight left, but selfish muscle-flexing sessions (to put it nicely) get real boring, real fast!
    Good thing I have your books to look forward to! Unfortunately, I’ve already read & thoroughly enjoyed Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest, because NOW I’LL likely have to wait a couple more years for your next (sigh), and I have already read ALL YOUR others.
    Don’t get too disillusioned, dude! Some of us really DO “get” you and really appreciate and truly get off on what you do!
    Keep on writing the good write!
    Aloha & Namaste!
    -Annie

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