As a tool of communication, it can’t be beat. It’s far-reaching, ubiquitous and interactive. A couple of posts ago I mentioned an obscure kids’ TV program from the late 1960’s called “Robot Boy”. My little essay was a nostalgia piece and the last thing I expected was that it would provoke a flurry of notes from folks who shared my warm (if vague) memories of the show.
And then I received a communication from Wes Chambliss, whose step-father used to work at the Yorkton TV station where “Robot Boy” was filmed. Mr. Chambliss inherited a box of reels, Super 8mm footage his father shot…and included in those many feet of celluloid is a few snippets filmed on the set of “Robot Boy”! Mr. Chambliss also confirmed that the original tapes were indeed lost, alas, so those fragments are all that remain of “Robot Boy”.
Wes has graciously allowed me to share that footage with you…augmented with an audio clip from the show’s intro.
It’s a thrill to re-introduce Robot Boy to the world after a 40 year absence. Long live Robot Boy!
Now, let me be clear—when I say that, I’m talking about a certain segment of people, who meet a very specific criteria. I’m not referring to “young writers”, “aspiring writers” or “beginning writers”; those are entirely different categories (to my mind). Aspiring authors are humble and don’t take on airs. They possess few, if any, professional credentials; they might have a couple of poems or short stories published or filled dozens of notebooks with their secret writings over the years, but they certainly make no claim to any kind of status.
The wannabe is far less circumspect. These folks make all sorts of exalted statements and assign themselves great prominence in the literary community. They’re very quick to proffer advice, usually in the form of smug, self-assured pronouncements that speak of enormous (alas, unrecognized) talent and a vast breadth of wisdom and worldly experience (ersatz). That they have virtually no standing among accomplished, professional, full-time writers is entirely beside the point. Why, they’ve written dozens of books (no one has read) and have been putting words on paper all their lives (no one has noticed). They offer their services as experienced editors and are quick to thrust their work on you, in order to prove they should be taken seriously. God help anyone who questions their undisputed brilliance.
The on-line universe has been a bonanza for wannabes. If they have written anything—some of them, like the proverbial hundred monkeys at keyboards, are amazingly industrious, despite their utter lack of talent—they can post every word of it on their blog and to hell with the editors who never responded to their submissions or the people in that stupid writing group who said their suite of poems about losing their virginity was “childish and cliched”, “needs a lot of work” or just “ARE YOU KIDDING?!!!”.
Sometimes I’ll skim through some of the literary sites in the blogosphere and far more often than not I’m appalled by the really sub-literate tripe that people post on a public forum. Puerile verse and poorly rendered soft porn/romance and slightly fictionalized episodes from real life. Juvenilia. Artlessly composed and stupefyingly dull. Painful and embarrassing stuff, the sort of thing you might find in the locked diary of an emotionally disturbed adolescent. Some are clearly cries for help: look at me…aren’t I special…I feel things more deeply than most people…love me…I’m lonely…no one understands me…I need affirmation…
There might be a few sympathetic comments left by either kind-hearted readers…or fellow wannabes offering cautious praise before inviting them over to their site (presumably to see what real writing is all about).
I have heard it said that the explosion of on-line writing has led to an explosion of bad writing and I have to admit that this is demonstrably true. The vast majority of what people post on the web is dreadful, godawful stuff, unfit for human consumption. The lousy rep e-books have is well-deserved (most of the time).
One of my roles as an indie writer who publishes exclusively on the net is to work hard to demonstrate that cyberspace is not solely the domain of amateur hacks and weekend scribblers. There are some truly gifted writers out there, producing original and ground-breaking work. Some, like myself, have chosen to put their writing on-line because of the desperate state traditional publishing is in these days. These are experienced authors with real world credentials and undeniable literary chops. By maintaining the highest standards, tirelessly subjecting our work to the most intense scrutiny, editing ruthlessly, eschewing conventions and formula, we wish to reward intelligent, discerning readers who are tired of the status quo and are exploring other venues, seeking alternative visions and fresh perspectives.
But it can be disheartening for readers, sifting through the thousands upon thousands of blogs and literary sites, trying to find something of value. And that’s why a credible on-line critical community is required. With the newspapers cutting or drastically paring down their book sections, I’m hoping more good critics will start web sites and help single out particular writers who shine amidst the dross…and dismiss those who don’t make the grade.
And it would be most helpful if amateur writers used the new technologies to better develop their skills before they foist their cringe-worthy efforts on the rest of us. I’m talking about searching out like-minded souls, joining on-line writing groups and vetting their work with a diverse assortment of fellow writers (from around the world), getting feedback. Sharing their work privately, rather than punishing the general public, exposing not their beautiful, unblemished souls (as they hope) but their ineptitude. If you truly wish to be seen as someone with designs on being a serious writer, worthy of respect, give some thought to what you’re making public—believe me, you’re doing no one any favors if it’s garbage. You’re hurting yourself…and you’re making it more difficult for your talented, hard-working colleagues to reach potential readers.
Naturally, these words of caution will not sit well with wannabes. They’ll sniff that I’m being “elitist” and that the internet belongs to everyone. Unfortunately, the democratization of the web means that an entrenched cult of amateurism has developed and these people guard their domains like pitbulls. They brandish their imaginary credentials and howl in outrage should anyone refuse to defer to their alleged expertise. Why, their writing has been read by thousands of people (who knows how many?) and they’ve published everything from young adult novels to a ten part vampire series, not to mention their “erotic” fiction and two volumes of poetry about a beloved Pekinese that recently went to doggie heaven (all of it available in e-book format, listed on a site with a thousand other books no one in their right senses would attempt to read).
I plead with new and aspiring and upcoming writers to avoid such a ridiculous mindset: recognize your limitations, don’t publish precipitously, before your work is ready for public perusal and consumption. Have respect for the legacy of fine writers and great literature that preceded you; after all, you initially dreamed of becoming a writer because of the joy and succor and inspiration the printed word gives you. Your favorite authors wrote hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of words before they had mastered their craft to the extent that they were, at last, worthy of publication.
Why, in God’s name, should it be any different for you?
Here’s a link to a new site devoted to indie writing and publishing. I wanted to show my support so I wrote a “guest” editorial and Zoe’s just posted it.
Pop by Zoe’s joint and show your support for writing that veers from the mainstream and presents readers with original, challenging work. I predict very soon it will be the place to go to for authors seeking alternatives to traditional publishing venues and information on the exciting new technologies that put control over their writing/careers back into authors’ hands.
Publishing Renaissance will be an invaluable resource to writers and readers and I can’t praise Zoe’s efforts and energy enough.
Good luck, kid…
Yoko Ono is right, there are a lot of lonely people out there.
Yup…and a lot of weird ones too.
And a site like mine is bound to attract its fair share of strange individuals. I mean, I use the occasional multi-syllabic swear word when expressing my somewhat hyperbolic views on matters of interest to me and I’ve written books with titles like Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. So when people are tapping in key words for salacious subjects near and dear to their perverse little hearts, some might just bring them to Beautiful Desolation.
Poor dears. Go searching for good whacking material and instead get sent to me.
The thing is, thanks to the people here at WordPress I can actually view the search words and “tags” people are using when they get steered to my site. Some of them are hilarious, some disturbing, others are out and out surreal. I’ve written down the best of them so far and will now take this opportunity to share my “Top Ten” list with you (hopefully the folks involved won’t be too embarrassed). You type in the following terms and, somehow, you will be directed to a blog devoted to the scabrous scribblings of some Canadian nutter:
10. “stupid editors at publishing house” (okay, that one I understand)
9. “male masturbation hobbyists”
8. “words that rhyme with forget”
7. “fantasy invisibility sex stories”
6. “man is not born a thief but circumstance”
5. “stories about wrestling action figures”
4. “pissing snap on mouth”
3. “will short child be short adult”
2. “opinions are like assholes”
–and, at numero uno, easily the most fucked up turn of phrase that people used to find my blog: “self pissing for pleasure”.
And Sherron wonders why I’m a ball of nerves every time the kids are out of my sight even for a second.
Well, keep ’em coming, folks. Reading through that “Top 10” list fills me with joy at the sheer diversity of people out there and also a rather smug sense of satisfaction because it has always been a central tenet of my worldview that there’s no such thing as an ordinary, normal human being. “The sane are madder than we realize,” the great Anthony Storr has noted and he’s a guy whose opinion should carry some weight.
I think the internet grants timid souls the anonymity they crave so they can explore certain aspects of themselves their innate shyness and squeamishness usually forbid or deny. And I suppose that’s a good thing…but the flip side is that it emboldens creeps and arseholes to seek material to feed their sick fantasies, using cyberspace as the ultimate porn emporium.
Anonymity also allows one to embark upon “flame wars”, harassing and belittling other individuals by employing gutless pseudonyms. These lame fuckheads wouldn’t have the nerve to behave like they do in face to face encounters, they know they’d get the shit knocked out of them. There have been a few people who’ve posted to this site, noses out of joint because not only have I just served up one of their sacred cows to them, I also offer a full range of condiments to enhance their dining pleasure. Some of their remarks are nasty but I promised myself when I started out I would never censor people for their views or offer any kind of public rebuttal (that would be unsporting). Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to reach through cyberspace, grab certain twats by their throats and squeeze ’til their fucking eyes pop out but…I manage.
Civility is in short supply, I notice it in on-line forums…but I also see it in supermarket lines. Unsmiling faces, not even a nod of thanks if you surrender your place in line or hold the door open for someone, the cashier looking haggard, refusing to make eye contact. Are the “trolls” popping up all over the internet a manifestation of the deep sense of anger and unhappiness people are feeling? There’s a disconnect out there, the global villagers locked in private houses, browsing for internet porn or arguing over the latest film remake of a bad TV show instead of meeting in the market square for shopping and socialization. Or maybe that browbeaten cashier is just counting the minutes until she can go home and get on-line and switch to her other identify, an avatar known only as “Coquette”, courtesan and spy in a digital community with the virtual population of a medium-sized country. Tens of millions of people assuming the personalities and lives of nonexistent alter egos…and pining for those invisible realms when they’re away from them for any period of time.
We just signed up so we can read our own utility meters and pay our bills on-line. No longer any need for the friendly, neighbourhood lady from SaskEnergy to pop by in the afternoons to check my meter or any necessity to wait in line at the bank, chat with the cashier, pay my bills, crack a few jokes.
All of this bringing to mind my tale “New World Man”, a family isolated within individual rooms of a house, locked in their own private worlds, largely oblivious to each other. Is that where we’re headed? Is that how you want to live?
* * * *
Progress on the novella: it’s coming along slow and steady. No big breakthroughs. Because I was having some trouble getting started I made the choice early on to write the novella out of sequence…a decision I may come to regret. This approach presents some special difficulties, coming up with segues and links, for example. The natural “flow” of the story mustn’t be inhibited by its episodic structure (God I love writer talk).
Plenty of music keeping the office rocking. Recent arrivals include new Foo Fighters and Radiohead (thanks, Jess), as well as Modest Mouse’s latest release, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” (courtesy Elaine). Still enamoured with Interpol (I slam on “Heinrich Maneuver” to get things started in the morning) and “The Fountain” soundtrack (Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet collaborating) provides great atmosphere, as does Schubert, Jeff Beck, Aqualung, music from “Black Hawk Down”, Jesus and Mary Chain…
Last night I decided to unwind with an old movie and went down to my basement and dug out a VHS copy of “Dark Star”. It was late and after a long day tapping away in the office I was too tired to really give it my full attention. But it was fun, a trip down memory lane. “Dark Star” was made around 1974 and has managed to garner that much-sought after designation as a “cult” favorite, largely because it was John Carpenter’s directorial debut and features Dan O’Bannon in a variety of gigs (including supporting actor–er, don’t give up the day job, Dan). It’s fun stuff. Made me want to haul out my old Super 8 movie camera, string up a model on fishing line (just like the old days, eh, Brent?) and waste an afternoon making magic.
Hmmm…but not today.
There’s magic to be made, all right, but it’ll happen upstairs, first room on the left. The novella awaiting my attention, the house to myself until tomorrow afternoon, no excuses or distractions. Hoping that this morning I’ll feel inspired, the tumblers falling into place. Not oppressed by pride or envy, working with courage and perseverance. Waiting in anticipation of my muse seizing hold, watching with growing wonder and awe as the story unfolds before my eyes, the process still as mysterious as it ever was: a lovely bit of misdirection, a sleight of hand I must’ve seen a thousand times and have yet to figure out the trick…