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Writing a Series that Can Be Read Out-of-Order

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 9, 2016 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (1)

**First published at Place for the Stolen

As a reader of mysteries (and, to a lesser extent, fantasies), one of the difficulties I run into is finding a series where I don't have to start at the beginning -- like if the library or bookstore doesn't have a copy of the number I need. And, sometimes I just wanna grab a book, read it, enjoy it, and not feel either guilty or unsatisfied because I "have to" wait for the next one.


As a writer, I appreciate what a difficult task this is to accomplish.


Quite frankly, no mystery-series author I've read (including the late, great Agatha Christie) has done as well in creating recurring characters, in a single location, working together in a single police unit, than Tana French.


I know this because I didn't read her books in anything like the "correct" order. I did start with the first book, In the Woods, but then I jumped to the fourth, Broken Harbor. Followed that up with the fifth, The Secret Place, then hit the third, Faithful Place, and finished up with the second, The Likeness. I feel like I've missed nothing by skipping around like that.


"And why is this?" I ask myself.


Myself has come up with some reasons:


1. French focuses each novel on a specific character.

With the exception of The Secret Place (#5 for those keeping track) and a chapter here and there, all of the Dublin Murder Squad books are told entirely in first person. Even The Secret Place is predominately in the first person. This keeps the focus very tight on a single experience and covers a single arc. This can probably be accomplished in a strictly third person narrative, but I imagine you'd have to be really disciplined in order to avoid the siren's call of other characters taking their place on the page stage.


2. French has not repeated POV characters as POV characters.

In the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, the first person POV is always Stephanie Plum. (I'm not knocking the Plum novels -- I really dig them as a matter of fact, but you can't really read them out of order.) What this does is create a lot of self-referrential moments, so unless the reader is familiar with the previous Plum novels, they'll have a hard time following relationship entanglements and even some bad guy plot points. French avoids this by bringing a new character to the forefront every time. So, wherever you pick up, you are getting to know a new character.


3. The recurring characters become Easter eggs.

"But," you may be saying in my imaginary conversation, "the reason to read a series is because we become invested in the characters.


Point taken.


With French's series, characters do recur, sometimes to play significant parts in other novels, but the filter changes with the POV character, which makes these repeating characters more interesting and more well-rounded. (In fact, I'm so fascinated and impressed by the effect French creates that I'm going to try to explore it in a couple different ways -- stay posted!)


For example, the most-recurring character is Frank Mackey. In The Likeness he's a stubborn, Undercover Squad legend who pushes a protege too hard. In Faithful Place he's a broken-hearted daddy with some serious family problems who deals with his high-school sweetheart's murder. In Broken Harbor he's an asshole who gets in the way. In The Secret Place he's an overprotective cop-daddy who "doesn't get it." And every facet is just as cool and fascinating as the last.


4. A single arc per book -- the story is started and completed.

Tied to the single POV character, there is only one story arc per book. It starts at the beginning of the novel and it goes through to the end. No cliffhangers.


5. French doesn't feel pressured to give all the answers.

Here's something interesting that French does: she doesn't always solve every bit of the mystery. (This epically pissed off some readers of her first novel.) Strangely enough, this doesn't make you feel like you have to read the book immediately following in the series. It feels like a fact of life. As an individual without omniscient abilities, you just can't know everything. The Dublin Murder Squad books feel like that -- and generally it's a little bittersweet and beautiful.


***Are there other series that you don't have to read in order? What makes them stand out? Do you prefer having a series move from A-Z, or do you like the freedom to move around?

New Year, New Mentors: Tana French

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 6, 2016 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

***Originally posted at Place for the Stolen***

Welcome 2016!!

New years are for new starts and I'm gonna kick of 2016 with a brand new batch o'mentors.

First up, we have Tana French!


Tana French is one of my very favorite authors. Based in Dublin, Ireland, French trained as a professional actor at Trinity College. She's worked in theatre, film, and voiceover. She's well-traveled. But, most of all, she's a spectacular writer.

Her books are all based around the Dublin Murder Squad. No, that's not a squad of murderers...though that would be interesting too....It's the squad of detectives who solve homicides in Dublin. There's plenty of murder, darkness, and angst to be found in her books.


However, if her novels were just mysteries, I don't know if I would be as interested in these stories. Instead, the murders/mysteries tend to serve as triggers for the internal struggles of whichever detective French is focused on in a particular novel. She creates real people dealing with some troubling circumstances...which the main characters themselves are often responsible for.


Plus, in a feat that's verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry difficult to pull off, French manages to make each book in the series stand alone. There's no need to read any of the series in order. Every story is complete within itself. The fact that you recognize characters and get different perspectives on those characters is just a delightful bonus.

There's lots to admire here and there'll be a lot more of Tana French talk coming at you.


If you haven't read her yet. Please, do yourself a favor and grab any one of these: In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, or The Secret Place.


As for the rest of 2016, the mentor line-up is as follows:

 Tana French: January -- March

Robert Louis Stevenson: April -- June

Sarah Ruhl: July -- September

Cormac McCarthy: October -- December


So, it's a packed year. Hoping for lots of good conversation!!

Intellectual Lineage: Rocking Out vs. Writing Books

Posted by Oliver on June 24, 2015 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (2)

I spent the last few days reading the lists Rolling Stone magazine compiled enumerating their take on the hundreds best--the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Aside from making me feel cultured (I had heard of almost every artist and I had heard most of the five hundred greatest songs), anyway, aside from that, this stuff from Rolling Stone felt kind of annoyingly bland. It felt bland for the particular reason that it didn't illuminate any great mysteries into the heritage of my favorite bands. All I got from reading this stuff from Rolling Stone was that rock-and-rollers have a respect for their history and, when they're good at what they do, they recognize the direct line they can trace in their craft from themselves backwards, almost without variation, to Robert Johnson, and through him to Irish immigrants in the Appalachians. Any attempt to trace rock and roll further back than that takes it into the slipstreams of ultimate history and Music of the Spheres type navel gazing. The great thing about American rock and roll is it is possible to put boundaries on its history and study it as a semi-nuclear phenomenon. In that way it's a really neat sort of petri dish of history. In a semi-enclosed system, your aspiring historian can look at rock-and-roll as a study of the way culture develops. Wars, strife, victories, losses, ethnic diversity, technology, monuments, myths--it's all there.


Writing hasn't got that kind of history. I mean to say, writing has got history. It's got among the grandest histories in the world, if you think about it. Before humanity even made an attempt to figure out actual cause-and-effect explanations for things, we made up highly improbable and fantastical stories to explain things. Reading into the oldest history of mythology is interesting because it's a little like reading into the history of rock-and-roll legends: you can see trends. For instance, the head honcho in the Mesopotamian pantheon was the god of storms. I've always had this hypothesis--and it's slowly becoming a theory--that the first myth got invented because some little kid was scared during a storm and his grandmum, feeling a maternal drive to comfort the kid, invented a story about the man in the sky driving the storms. If this is the case then it's also the seed of all religion, all literature, and, really, all civilization. It's a pretty thought.


Mythology is the first and greatest example of stories getting bigger and more important than storytellers, and that has been a trend in writing ever since. Writers don't have the same defined, nuclear history as rock-and-rollers. When a rock-and-roller sits down and looks into the history of his craft, he finds his roots--he finds a rich and intricate history filled with people, many of them still alive, who he can go and personally study. The rock-and-roller finds paved roads, often covered in graffiti and marked with confusing signs sure, but he finds a recognizable heritage that he can step into, if he's clever enough.


As a writer, I feel differently than that. When I study my intellectual history, I usually feel like I'm staring into an infinite depth with no way in and, should I be so unwise as to take some steps into its myriad floods, no survivable way out. When I look at the lineage I'm attempting to inherit I feel like I'm looking at a cave of light populated by everything produced by everyone before me ever. You can get lost in there.

The Advantages of Keeping a Hand in

Posted by Oliver on June 19, 2015 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an ass, but he is an ass in a way that most experts are an ass: they can see all the advantages of their discipline better than they can see the strengths in other disciplines. Yeah, fine, that works perfectly well, right until expert Tyson starts inadvertently ragging on other people's disciplines.

He didn't on purpose, poor man. Old "Defender of Knowledge and Advocate of Free Thought" Tyson had his heart in the right place." target="_blank" rel="nofollow">I found an interview or three of Tyson explaining perfectly sound and reasons why everyone should learn higher math. When boiled down, his reasons are: even if someone never needs to use calculus and other higher mathematics in their personal or professional lives, those skills and the disciplines inherent to them open up neural pathways in the brains of the person who has learned them. The mere fact of learning higher maths has, in Tyson's reasoning, trained up a human who works better.

A good sentiment, but shallow. I have not got anywhere near credentials enough to tell Mr. "The Power of Power is Power Power" Tyson his business, but I have got a wealth of personal experience discovering that I am both very good at math and much, much better at words. In the periods of my math when I had the most mathematics to do, I discovered that I have a natural aptitude toward absorbing the methods for arranging, rearranging, and manipulating arrangements of numbers. I am shit at it now, because these words give better shape to my thoughts, and I lost interest in attempting to describe the world numerically. There are other, more interested humans to do the math. I'll write the poetry.

Concluding this: People should be taught at higher levels, yes, but in whatever field most supports however their mind works. All our minds work differently. I am touch and sound dominant. It's difficult for me to conjure images from my memory, but I can remember the swoops and turns of a rollercoaster's rolling and coasting like it's still happening.

As an analysis, this so far has been hedonistic and self-centered. Well, yes. Mr. "Down with the Mind Jailers" Tyson did the same thing, I feel. If we need a more scientific approach, here's a link to an article about the purposes of holistic learning. Other, more interested minds have already done the research. I'll concentrate on my now honed and useful capacity with words.

Review of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid

Posted by Oliver on March 13, 2015 at 12:05 PM Comments comments (0)

The Colorado Kid succeeds at something I’m always trying to do. Now I know why people get annoyed with me when I’m trying to be “clever.”


Stephen King wrote this book allegedly because he was a fan of indie publisher, Hard Case Crime. They were about to go under, apparently, and he offered to write them up a book so they could say that they published a big author and use that to market their brand. It seemed to work for them.


My dad says this thing about George Lucas sometimes: Lucas could totally release a tape of his home movies and call it “Star Wars,” and he’d make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, his fan base is that established. It’s a good point, and King has a similar kind of clout. He could have cobbled together a meaningless mash of cock-up and given it to Hard Case Crime and it would have attracted significant readership. When I was told the impetus behind The Colorado Kid, I figured that’s what I’d see: some pointless mush that King threw together over a weekend. I’m pleased to have misjudged King’s integrity.


The Colorado Kid isn’t a creeping, eerie masterpiece of hard boiled crime. King will not be the next Dashiell Hammett, and we won’t be speaking his name on lists of crime fiction writers with P.D. James. We cannot go that far. For The Colorado Kid, the distance we can go is to say it’s an engaging read and–given a certain kind of taste–as satisfying a novella as you might spend a few hours ruminating on.


King designs a king of “pick your own ending” mystery scenario without seeming to do it in a stereotypical fashion or even necessarily inviting that type of reading. The Colorado Kid also serves, rather unexpectedly, as a vessel for the opportunity to examine the form and function of story structure and what people seem to mean when they say “good” or “satisfying.” In my opinion, this is a really good example of “writer’s fiction.” There’s a phrase in rock and roll history: musician’s musician. Obscure artists who earn the moniker “musician’s musician” earn it by making things easier to appreciate by people in their field than by the general public–people say of them that “hardly anyone bought their album–but I guarantee that everyone who did went off and started a band.”


The Colorado Kid isn’t so abstractly authorish to earn the credential of being something only writers will really get, but it is definitely going on my list of books I’ll suggest to people who are studying character and plot.


Side note, this is what King did in this book that I’m always trying to do: King wrote a “story” that deserves quotation marks around it without veering into realms of surrealism and obscurity.


I think I respect King more than I used to respect him. I didn’t used to respect him very much.

Originallity: If Possible, Should You Even Care?

Posted by Oliver on January 27, 2015 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (1)

A friend of mine reads avidly; good on to her. She reads only nonfiction; in itself, that isn’t bad. She explains why she only reads nonfiction with this question: aren’t you afraid that what you write will end up looking like what you read? She explains that reading all nonfiction avoids this difficulty.


I see her point. If I read too much of one author or too much in one style I notice myself making choices veering in favor of the intellectual drag caused by such things. I go ellipsis crazy if I read too much Harry Potter…. If I read too many comic books, I get glib, impractical, and overdramatic! When I read Cormac McCarthy I killed everyone—just for the violence (I’m not sure I understood what McCarthy was going for). It’s a legitimate thought, in a way. I haven’t yet solidified what I’d call my “voice” in writing, but I’m getting there, and I would hate to see the confounding of the limited progress I’ve made by the invasion of other whisperings.


My friend, though, didn’t mean by her comment only that she worried about copying styles. She worried about advertently or inadvertently copying story structures and plots and premises. I mean, yeah, I can see the problem with that. You don’t want to spend all your time reading Jane Austen then set out to write a gritty crime noir novel only to realize that quirky young do not make for very good hard-boiled private investigators, and that you should have been writing about murders instead of ladies falling in and out of love with stoical rich gentleman. It is a reasonable point.


That said, I’ve never experienced that it was much of a danger. I said above that I very nearly have an idea about my “voice.” I developed it by self-examination, study, and by mimicry. I always get this story wrong, so I won’t tell it, but look up the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write. He did it by copying other essays, and he copied a lot of essays. If you read his stuff—and I have—then you discover that he’s a damn good writer, and he’s extremely unique. He sounds like himself and not like anyone else. Sure, he didn’t write fiction. It ought to be very close to the same kind of discipline. If what we’re examining here is the idea that reading things like what you write might have the issue of overwhelming your way of writing, then Benjamin Franklin’s a great example. I intentionally muck about with the writing styles of authors I like. I’ll copy things they say word for word, because some things they say strike me so deeply that I want to understand what happened. It’s an incredible learning tool to get into the head of people who know better how to do what you’re doing than you do. You figure stuff out.


As far as structure goes, I don’t see that it’s possible to avoid accidentally copying the types of stories that other people tell. I study story structure a lot. I have been for most of my life. After my study, I get closer and closer to realizing that…well, formula is good. There are two kinds of “stories” people tell. The first kind is the kind that does, in fact, fit somewhat neatly into one of those basic categories we sometimes hear about—i.e. man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. self, etc.. The second kind is the kind that doesn’t fit into any of those categories. The second kind is what we call experimental fiction. Maybe someone will discover a new plot type. (Man vs. computer? No, that’s man vs. nature if you think about it. Man vs. progress? That’s man vs. society. Man vs. psychotic alternate self? Maybe—maybe—a mix between man vs. self and man vs. man.) Usually what happens with the second type is that it veers into obtuse blah and either people don’t like it very much, or people don’t remember it very well. No, see, “cliché” structure is inevitable. It is not, however, in any way bad. We don’t read stories because of their original structure. We read them because of their original perspective. I mean to say, it could be argued that Dr. Doolittle and Jurassic Park are the same story—man vs. nature—but we remember them totally differently. It’s not inevitable to have an original perspective, but most people do.


Plus, like, back when I was doing a lot of baking, I’d copy the voice of cookbooks. So, yeah, like you run the risk of copying any voice and structure you read, fiction or no.


Last point: It’s infinitely educational to have an idea what’s out there in the genre you’re writing. If you haven’t got an idea about that, you run an equal risk of inadvertently copying someone else. I often experience an excellent idea then watch someone else make a movie about it.


I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to tell people write and wrong things to read. I am curious, though, if I’m unique in my interest to copy other writers in order to learn. How ‘bout it, then?

A Misunderstanding of Explication: Apologetics vs. Analytics

Posted by Oliver on January 23, 2015 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Last night I got asked an interesting question: Do you ever explicate your prose or poetry?

Initially, I misunderstood the question, but answered it anyway because I didn’t realize I had misunderstood it. When she explained what she meant, I answered that too. Here’s both answers.

When I misunderstood, I thought my friend meant, “Do you ever explain your writing?” My answer to that was, no, I try not to. She asked why, and I gave a two part answer.

Part one (the main part): I feel like if my writing requires explanation then I did something wrong. If I did something wrong then the writing requires repair, not explanation.

Part two (possibly more important, really): If I propose to take my writing seriously, then the writing I produce deserves my faith and respect. If I put forward a piece of writing and claim it’s in some state of completion, then it deserves autonomy. Once I start explain it I start shifting the importance of the piece of writing. The importance of it ought to be in its relationship with whoever reads it. If I start explaining it, then the relationship shifts to a relationship between myself and the reader, when it ought to stay between the writing and the reader. Explanation from me merits a kind of intervention between the reader and the writing. I become a third wheel in the reader’s experience. I ought to be able to sacrifice whatever ego boost I get from the experience of hearing the reader’s cooing—or booing—and let the writing stand for itself.

I just thought of a third part: Some have said that much of my writing defies explanation. I would never believe the truth of that. When the explanation for a story requires a longer word count than the story itself, though, I hope I can be graceful enough to bow and accede obscurity.

So that’s interesting. It turns out that what my friend meant was: Do you ever use tools of literary analysis on your own writing? Like, while you’re writing and afterward too.

I found this more interesting but also simpler. My immediate answer is yes, I definitely do. That’s all I answered her, because she understood what I meant. I didn’t sleep well last night, though, so I kept thinking about my answer and the implications of it.

I consider myself a craftsman. I have a great respect for tools and a greater respect for the good usage thereof. I love listening to conversation about technique and reading books about technique and seeking interviews with authors I respect to find out about their technique. Technique is gorgeous—tools are gorgeous. Sometimes I think of myself as existing inside this metaphor: all of the thought impressions of the universe constitute an unformed block of cracked marble, I am a (very) fledgling Michelangelo, and I’m obtaining my first set of chisels in the form of Aristotle’s Poetics, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Bugs Bunny’s sense of irony.

Right, thing about that is that it sort of applies to writing technique. There’s a different attitude taken in the approach to literary analysis. Overlap obviously exists between the two; both require consideration of mechanics like plot, tone, grammar, etc. You could never divorce creation entirely from scrutiny. That said, Roger Ebert never made a movie, and people rarely quote Steven Spielberg’s opinions of movies. By a similar token, writing and literary analysis assume very different attitudes toward their subject, and they therefore have quite different tool sets.

I bore all that in mind when I answered my friend with a simple yes to her question about whether I explicate my writing. I often think about my writing as if it’s a book that I’m reading. I’ll make attempts to analyze its flow and tone consistency, and I try to look at it like a literary analyst while I’m writing it. People will ask me what I’m reading, and I’ll sometimes answer with an impetuous, “Well, I’m writing a book right now. It’s really interesting.” Even though I answer impetuously I mean it seriously. I try to treat the books I write exactly like the books that I read.

I can tell you, it gets damned exhausting to apply all the techniques of literary analysis to a story simultaneous to applying as many applicable techniques of story construction as I can remember in any given moment. If my trains of thought were literary trains then they’d be the entire train network of southwestern Europe. It’s tiring, but it’s supposed to be work, for Dickens’ sake. You should be tired after writing. Rejuvenated too, but mostly tired.

And Another Thing...

Posted by Debbie Meldrum on May 3, 2014 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I learned aboutwriting from my critique group.


5. Listen to all the feedback.


Even if you disagree. Violently.


This can be a hard one--it is for me. But even if you don't agree with the feedback, you should listen. Because something didn't work for that person. It may be a style thing, which you don't want to change. But the thing is, what they may have given as the reason in the critique may not be the real cause of their discontent with your story.


I'm not saying that anyone is lying to you or purposely obfuscating. But sometimes a piece of a story doesn't gel for us, and we can't quite say why. So we might look at the things we can identify: sentence structure, pronouns,adverbs--anything to try and help the author.


So do yourself a favor and try to figure out what really went wrong. Remember that one reader in your group represents a lot more potential readers for your finished work. Do you really want to lose that many people for something that you could have fixed without giving up your personal style?



What I Learned About Writing From . . .

Posted by Debbie Meldrum on April 15, 2014 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Critique Groups

I have been a member of three different critique groupsover the past 12 or so years. Which, I hear, makes me pretty lucky. Somewriters bounce around a lot more than that. I met all the members of my second,Creek Writers Council, at the first one, Colorado Springs Fiction WritersGroup. Right now I’m working one on one with another person who was a member ofboth of my previous groups. Many lessons were picked up along the way. Here aresome of them.


1. If you have to explain it . . .


I've been on both sides of this one. A reader will say, "I don'tunderstand how George went from standing on a hill in Italy to hanging from a flagpole in Quebec." Once the writer starts explaining that, "Well,you see, he boarded a blimp in Tuscany, then he flew to Madrid where he hopped a train for Calais . . ." Yeah. But if it's not on the page, the reader doesn't know this. And you, as the writer, don't get to sit down with every reader to explain that. At least you hope not.


Jenny calls it "getting it on the page." What I see left off the page most often is setting. Where am I? What's it like there? How's the weather? All things that the writer has in his head when he's writing, but that he needs to show me as the reader.


I'm tried my best to overwrite my submissions. Most of my critique group found it easier to show where to cut than trying to figure out what was left out. I didn't always get there, but it was great exercise


2. Don't assume everyone knows what you do.


Not everyone has the same specialized knowledge. And the terms from that specialized area may not be easy to decode for someone not in the club.


Dancers, musicians, computer programmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, etc.all use terms that people outside of those realms may or may not know. Or it may mean something different to other specialties. A paradiddle in dance sounds like a paradiddle in drumming, but one is executed with the feet and the other with the hands.


This is a hard one, because once you learn something, it can be difficult to remember that you didn't always know it. This is where critique groups from diverse backgrounds are essential.


3. No two people read exactly alike.


Everyone approaches submissions in his own way. Some read straight through the first time, then go back and dissect. Some mark as they go and only read once. And each person has his own focus for critiques.


I've seen puns be a pet peeve for one reader and a delight for another. Some will add a comma to your sentence and others are just as likely to mark one out. I once had a woman tell me that I had a male character describe a room as only a woman would. The scene didn't bother the man in our group at all.


All of this can be really frustrating. But it is good practice for when your work goes out into the wider world. Get used to people misreading your work, your intention.


I'm learning to weed through the feedback so I can determine what to act on and what to leave as is. Notice I didn't say "ignore." I do listen to and read all feedback. I just don't always agree with all of it.


4. It's your work.


That's the biggest lesson from working with critique groups. Your work has to reflect you. Your voice. Your story. Your style.


We shook up how we ran the second critique group, because the original format was no longer working for some of us. It's not that it was wrong, just that we are at a different place in our writing. The strength of the group was tested and held. We discussed the issues and made a change that everyone could work with.

And even though we don't meet as a critique group any more, we're all still friends, which is huge. And we still read each other's work when asked.


I've learned that I need to speak up when something isn't working. Because of Lesson #3. It's my work, and I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for making it the best it can be.

With the help of my friends.



Pop Culture and Ghost Stories

Posted by Oliver on January 11, 2014 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

If my writer friends and acquaintances reflect the opinions of the average writer at all then the average writer wants to write significant works. Significant, of course, has different levels: there are the writers who want to be the next Great Author like Hemingway or Kerouac and write "important" work that'll be taught in college some day. Some people want to be the next Chandler or Lovecraft and leave a memorable and milieu-inspiring impact on the world. Some want to be the next Gaiman or Moore (Alan or Christopher) and make money and have fans while maintaining a certain level of artistic integrity. No one wants to be Higgins, and almost no one wants to be Meyers. If asked why not them, the answer is often, "I'd love making their money, but I wouldn't want to compromise myself like that." While the instinct is commendable, there is a possibility that the context of the statement has not been fully understood.

I shall now invent a protowriter who shall represent all writers in abstract. I shall call him Mr. Slightly, for the name pleases me.

I have asked Mr. Slightly why he wishes to avoid association with teen vampire novels and harlequin romances. The reason he has given me today is this one:

"They're not literature, dude. That stuff's jus' pop culture shit."

Is that so, Mr. Slightly?

"Yeah, man. Too true."

What would you prefer writing instead?

"Important shit, like they used to write. They never used to write pop culture shit."

That is illuminating, Mr. Slightly. Mr. Slightly gave more reasons. He seems to think that pop culture is an unforgivably profit-driven. He also claims to think that the productions of pop culture are shallow reflections of the lowest common denominator that are designed to have a limited temporal appeal; he thinks that expressions of pop culture are inherently so topically specific that their relevence will swiftly die. These opinions have truth in them, but they're unfair to apply across the whole gradient of pop culture products.

I think that it's become unfair to pick on Jane Austen and Shakespeare on the subject of being sell-out commercial successes that did nothing but write inside a specific formula and deliver precisely what their audience wanted. It's true, though; these things can be looked up. I want to pull other ghosts forward to represent pop culture in history.

I'll pick on Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens and his contemporaries never thought he would be significant. Dickens never sought to be significant. Dickens lived in a period of time when writers thought all significant things had been written. Faced with that paradigm, Dickens decided to do what he knew how to do well: spin a good yarn for a few bucks and bring some thoughtful entertainment to Britain. He did a great job too. As time has revealed, Dickens turned out to have a great faculty for clever and compelling depiction of character. He had an expert command over language, and he elected to utilize that by being as keen a mirror to the world as he could be. Without once pretending to need a grand heritage, Dickens carved himself a happy place in his lifetime by wielding his interest in the socioeconomic circumstances that happened to surround him and his skill with words. It could be argued that Dickens raised his craft higher than mere frivolity, but I'm quite confident that Dickens would have laughed off any suggestion that he would be taught in college in a couple hundred years.

I believe the lesson I would learn from Dickens is this: history chooses its heroes; we rarely choose the heroes of the future, no matter how emphatic we are about our heroes of the present. When they look back on us, we cannot know what college professors will look at with their pompous eye. All we can do is recognize our talents and the circumstances of our lives and do, as Dickens, the best we can with those things. "Pop" culture we tend to view as "low" culture, which is sometimes true, but in general "pop" (popular) culture simply reflects the times. It would behoove an intelligent artist to make an effort to understand his circumstances.


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