28 October 2013

Halloween! (A Warning to the Unserious!)

'Tis the end of Octember and the spooks are about, so it seems the thing to do is to wax poetic on the Halloween and Samhain themes.

For the quick studies among us, I offer these "cheat sheets":

Some Halloween history   and    Some Samhain history

On the personal side, I haven't cared much for the day. Love the season, but not the rituals. I've never been a ritual kind of guy. But I have history on my side...my backside, thankfully.

First Halloween I remember (didn't know about Samhain then) was in a distant realm where costumes were crafted by hand. I perfected the robot by combining several boxes, a larger one for the body, a smaller one for the head, still others for feet. Arms and legs remained sheathed in cloth. In the second grade I won a prize for having the best costume. What was special about the robot costume was that the non-steam-powered device was also an early form of the personal computer. If someone were to write out a question and introduce the slip of paper through the designated slot in the body of the robot, the robot would [eventually] produce a verbal answer to the question. The robot proved to be 90% accurate, which pre-Windows, was a remarkable feat.

Then came other costumes full of commercial interests: characters from TV shows, classical monsters, space aliens (the fierce and loathsome kind, not ET), and finally the minimalist kind of costume. Minimalist? You know the type: you put on a clean shirt and glasses and say you are dressed as a "nerd". Later, as an adult, I graced one-maybe-two adult Halloween parties where others went full out as sexy witches and vampire studs. I was still dressed as a nerd--still long before nerds were cool.

I often went trick or treating with my cousin, but our chief goal was less about collecting candy than harassing his sisters. Gradually, we forgot the costumes and ran wild through the night, sending rolls of toilet paper up into the trees of houses where girls who did not like him lived. We could, by then, buy our own candy--and we did. Then the reverse happened.  We became candy givers! Definitely less fun. Ah, I have not given out candy for many years now. You see, congruent with my emerging adulthood came the cultural shift away from children ringing doorbells and begging for treats. Too dangerous now--pins in candy, creepy pedophiles, whatever.

Well, it was never really about the candy or the costumes, anyway, I soon learned while hanging out with people who called themselves witches.  Real witches. Though they dressed like "ordinary" people, they had many of the same beliefs I held at that time. None of us threatened people nor begged for snacks. A few preferred to dress in black year-round, and all wore the pentacle around their necks or emblazoned on their black t-shirts. All in all a friendly, charming bunch of social rebels whose chief activity was "raising awareness" of their existence, then complaining that everyone disrespected them.

Other cultures celebrate death and welcome back the dead at this time of the year. That's fine with me. I've had it both ways--err, well, perhaps not both ways in the way you might be thinking. Someday I will, of course. No, what I meant was the fun side and the serious side of the day. Now, however, it seems like just another commercial venture: Halloween "memorabilia" is presented in stores hours after Labor Day has ended. I can deal with fake cobwebs and spiders and bats, even a few talking skulls or laughing zombie heads, but let's be real.

Death ain't so great. That's what I was told by a rather decayed ancestor of mine who happened to pop up in the middle of the night beside my bed--a day early, no less--just to warn me that one of these Halloween nights I might not be around to celebrate much of anything. I said, in my sleepy voice, "Fair enough."

The laughter that followed my ancestor out through the cracks in the walls was unnerving enough to get me up out of bed. I had to splash cold water on my face and awaken fully, just to be sure I was still alive. Shaking my head in front of the mirror with all the lights on, I knew it had not been a dream.

So, carefully, I made my way back to bed yet lay awake for hours, unable to close my eyes, afraid of the next snap, crack, squeak, creak, breath, or sigh--most of them, thankfully, coming from my neighbors arriving home late when the bars finally closed.

And the dawn sprite told me to go to sleep; my time has not come.

17 October 2013

Censorship and a confusion of sexy words!

Once upon a time happens every half-year or so, it seems, when book retailers suddenly act insane and throw out a lot of books and their authors for no sensible reason. Panic attack!

Once again someone complaining about a self-published book of erotica caused a panic in the industry. The result? Of course the book in question was burned. Then other books of erotica were tossed. Then any book that was self-published was given the heave-ho. The "reasoning" seemed to be that because erotica is generally self-published that by association all self-published books are suspect. After all, there are no purveyors of "good taste" to filter the good erotica from the back alley variety.

Naturally, there was an uproar by self-published authors of all genre, not only erotica. Unfair, they claimed, that all self-published books were taken down from online retailers Kobo and W.H. Smith in the U.K. Sales are hard enough to come by without such negative publicity and removal from the sales venue, even if, as the retail entities were quick to explain, the books would eventually be made available again "as soon as possible." We know how that goes.

Sure, this could be seen as "par for the course"; we've been through this kind of mass censorship before. A few of my colleagues declare this is not censorship because retailers can sell whatever they wish to sell, and no one is forced to sell someone else's book, erotica or any other genre. That's true; they are in business, after all. And yet, "censorship" comes not in some political definition but as more common sense jargon. Those retailers chose to make products unavailable for sale based on a hot, rushed decision made from scantily clad evidence related to a particular slutty book. (So the story goes....)

They have that right, yet I would still call it censorship because their actions were because of the content of those books, hence touching upon freedom of speech--which, of course, has never really existed except in some limited, brief conditions. They determined that others should not have access to that content. Someone deciding that someone else cannot have something made by a further someone is censorship, regardless whether a government entity is responsible for it or a business. Said another way:

Joe won't let Mary read the book Terry wrote because Joe thinks the book is not suitable for Mary. Joe does not allow Mary, therefore, to judge Terry's book for herself. Thus, Mary does not get the experience of reading the book and Terry does not get the benefit of compensation for writing the book. Joe, however, gets the satisfaction of affecting control over both Mary's pleasure and Terry's livelihood. In the end, only Joe gets off cleanly...though in a dirty way.

Well, I was not personally inconvenienced by this latest incident. And it did not seem to raise as much of a storm as the previous episode did. Perhaps we self- and indie-published authors take it as the cost of doing business. The rush to judgment, casting the widest possible net to catch any and all who may have slipped in a clever double entendre or an innocent first kiss or the simple delight of a bodice-ripped heroines pining for manly men in Romance novels is the offending act. I noted in subsequent discussions online that erotica written by better known authors (e.g., E. L. James) and published by traditional publishers (the popular Fifty Shades series) was not thrown out.

That certainly smells like a double standard. Is traditionally published erotica more (or less) sexy than self-published erotica? Which is more dangerous? Are the fantasies of midnight novelists somehow less wholesome than those of 24/7 erotica authors who are promoted onto bestseller lists by big company marketing departments? And in the final analysis, isn't all erotica the same? Aren't there only a few basic moves and all the rest mere variations on what seems, practiced over millennia, to work best? Granted, there are "how-to" books which may offer some tricks and gimmicks to dress up the behavior of the undressed. Even so, one aroused person's trick is another aroused person's fetish. Right?

I've even dabbled in some nasty bits, but I tend to "keep it real"--plausible, that is. Nothing that is physically challenging for the more idealistic acrobats of the bedroom--or, as the case might be, in a janitor's closet in a foodcourt restroom in a shopping mall...or whatever.* I tried using metaphors in my romantic adventure novel, AFTER ILIUM, but nobody figured out what was going on. Not good erotica, I suppose. Here's a sample from the big sex scene:

He continued collecting souvenirs as she directed him southward, showing him a lush garden of delicious, juicy fruit to sample, even daring him to taste the puckered kumquat. The festive banquet of Eden spread before him! Drowning in the sea of pleasure, she sighed, like the wind in the sails, and encouraged him to gather all the treasures that he could. He responded by lapping furiously at the fountain of youth, growing not younger but older, gaining maturity. And when he feared he might finally be satiated, she called for him to return to port, to push hard into the harbor until his vessel was fully docked and his wares completely unloaded. (p. 41)

It's all sailing terminology! What is so objectionable about that? Docking...harbor...unloading ware...?

So, in the end, everything remains the same: business as usual: you get what you pay for. Unless someone decides it's not worth your money. Granted, there are subjects, especially in erotica, which make me uncomfortable or disgusts me. I have a threshold. So I don't read them. I don't buy them. But I'm not about to set up a wall to keep people out. Their business is none of my business. Unless...?

On the other hand, I trust people--I want to trust that people are reasonable, that they don't like certain "filth" (rape, incest, abuse, etc., as alleged by the complaint) because of a desire to act out what they read, that they are not likely to be as bad as characters in fiction might be. Faith in humanity. Yes, we've been fooled before by people committing heinous crimes, but we must hold fast to the basic belief in the rightness of the majority of our neighbors. Or we stop being human. End of lecture.

Now, everyone please turn to Porn #69 in your hymnals....

*Did not really happen!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

13 October 2013

The Art of Observation: Denouement

Remember a short time ago when I was hanging out at the mall and observing people? (It was here.) Yes, strange habit. Most mall-goers ignored me and pretended I did not exist. That was fine, as I also did not engage them in any sort of meaningful activities. However, I dared return to that mall recently and--shades of "OMG"--there was that same couple I saw previously: the ones shopping for a ring at the jewelry store. What're the odds?

They appeared rather different now. Cordial; friendly enough though not exactly loving. No longer holding hands, no longer smiling, they seemed to be undertaking a task that was required of them yet neither wished to do. Returning a ring? Perhaps. Selecting something more modest? Good chance of that. Or simply indulging in the nostalgia of the moment--an awkward return to a moment already lived yet kept on the periphery of consciousness. Who can say for sure?

It's possible, I guessed, that they had had difficulties since my last observation, and I could imagine serious discussions about the nature of society and society's expectations of them, as a couple and as individuals--and reasons society should care which path they took.

But life is that way, sometimes: we do what we do, not knowing if it is the right thing or the best thing to do. Then, only after doing it, when we can turn and look back over our shoulder and measure the path we have strode upon as straight or ragged, curvaceous or zigzagging in such lovely, looping trajectories, or as unyielding as a ruler can we determine whether we have moved forward, forward in some moral sense. Or not.

So they stood against the counter once more, sales person smiling and bowing and waiting for his commission, while they were making up their minds. As though minds could ever be arranged or rearranged into something that made sense. People do what they do, naturally, and most acts are inexplicable, easily condemned to categories and classification or piles of judgment and social media's 'liking' quirks. Nothing real is but an illusion except to those who live it.

In the end they seemed pleased with the result. A balance had been achieved, it seemed. Each could take a fresh breath and go on without baggage or burden, stepping lively once more. Not, however, in lockstep. I could only wish them well and imagine in my ultra-romantic and idealistic way that they would remain friends. At least that. Because friendship in any hue is tough to find and even harder to make last.

(Not the couple I observed. These two seem happy.)

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

07 October 2013

Got Author Bling?

I've been noticing--because I am a professional observer of life, though semi-retired--that being the author of literary fiction or science fiction is not the best way to be noticed. That is, if one wishes to be noticed, of course. I always had the idea that by merely arranging words on a sheet of paper, the world would beat a path to my door, demanding more. That was my childhood dream--after deciding against being a magician. After football player and Classical music composer....

No, it seems if I want the world's attention, I'm going about it all wrong. I need to stop writing silly stories and get on the reality bandwagon. Plenty of Reality shows out there, of course, when when the first one, Survivor, appeared I really believed the poor participants would be savaged and left rotting in the jungle. But no, it was just a "crummy" game show--to borrow the phraseology of Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

Now we have the ol' song 'n' dance shows, where if you were an alien visitor from planet Xanax you might presume that those kind of talents were most valued of all. Or, in the pejorative sense, the ol' song 'n' dance was meant to distract the audience from the deception going on. Hmm, perhaps there may be something to the reality show phenomena. But I digress...which is also a song 'n' dance simulation.

What I would like to propose is a reality show--game show, if you must--based on the fine art of writing. Instead of a new act to perform each week, contestants would prepare a new story (or poem) to present to an audience of literary aficionados. The audience would vote on the best story. I realize this would be difficult to judge, writing being such a subjective thing. But they have Country and Hip-Hop and Rock competing against each other, so why not Romance versus Paranormal versus Crime Thriller? Judge them on plot, characterization, twists, and spelling.

That way, authors could once again stand tall and be somebody. Authors would be praised and become role models! Kids would want to grow up to write. Authors would be on TV and strut down the streets with their entourages and fight with paparazzi. They could show off their swag and jiggling their bling, and be part of the glitterati. Remember when an author could be pulled aside at a cocktail party for a good quote or some juicy gossip about characters in a sequel? For that matter, remember cocktail parties?

Another variation could be poetry. Much like comedy improv, a contestant would be given a topic and a poetic form and be required to produce a poem on the spot, or with some brief time to prepare. Take the limerick, for instance. Of course, the natural evolution of the poetry contest would be something akin to a slam poetry reading. Or, taken further, we find ourselves in a rap-off, two rappers competing against each other for the best rap lines. And there would be singing and then dancing and then bling....

Well, it seemed a good idea while I thought of it. But given that I thought of it, it was doomed from the start. Therefore, I need not worry about becoming a Renaissance rapper. I don't know where to shop for bling, anyway. And I only have swag when I swagger down the dock on Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day.

Bling for Writers

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.