“Thinking Out Loud” (For Today)

Yes, we have been watching The Witcher:

[From my Instagram Stories, May 15, 2020.]

A point. I am not overly squeamish. Nor am I put off by sex on screen. (I know what sex is.)

That said, I am stunned by some of the content in age-rating terms. Here in the UK it is rated “15.” Yet it has some of the most graphic violence and overt (and abusive) sexuality I have seen broadcast lately. (I admit I have never watched that supposed masterpiece, Game of Thrones.)

Sitting through one cult-like scene, for some reason The Exorcist jumped to my mind. I found myself comparing the two. That 1973 film which is not nearly as relentlessly violent and has no unclothed sex or even nudity, got an “R” rating – no under-18s unaccompanied by an adult – in the US and a similar “18” here in the UK.

And that makes sense: that film is for ADULTS. Interestingly, The Witcher is TV-MA (not for under-18s) in the US, but only a “15” here in the UK – which is a huge ratings difference. In that, I think the UK has it wrong: I would not allow a 15 year old to watch The Witcher “unaccompanied by an adult.”

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Another recently streamed program:

[From my Instagram Stories, May 16, 2020.]

2016’s Cape Town was well produced and often gripping. The only content rating it appears to have received is age “16” in Germany. There is sex and violence in it, but I consider The Witcher to be A LOT worse.

Indeed I think a “16 year old” watching this will actually get something “educational” out of it. (I have been to Cape Town and it is an astonishing – and at times truly dangerous – place.) A teen raised in comfortable, safe, Britain or elsewhere, will see glimpses of the incredible differences in lifestyles between the halves and the half nots, and officers of all races trying now to staff an apolitical, diverse force struggling to leave behind the horrible legacy of its “policing” under the former apartheid government that had then seen police used primarily as a tool for racial oppression. It may actually prompt useful discussion with a teen and lead a teen perhaps to want to learn more about policing there and life in that country.

South Africa now would make a great backdrop for cop and crime television. This mini-series – made on location and produced by a German – proves it could carry an ongoing internationally watchable series. Get writing, you South African crime writers!

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On a desire to read “new” books, but offering this different perspective, an old – no pun intended – complaint:

“Unpopular” is never a problem. Ignorance is. If a student in one of my classes had voiced a view like that, my reply would have been something like this.

The argument (some) “classics” are not “good” reading compared to books written more recently misses the point as to WHY they are deemed “classics.” We read often centuries-old works not because they are a final word on anything. We read them because knowing them is vital if we are to have a good understanding of why literature is where it is now: the present owes a huge debt to the past.

You may find Jane Austen at times heavy going, her language dated, and many of her references unfamiliar. But if you want to understand romance novels in 2020, you are putting yourself at a great artistic disadvantage as a romance writer if you do not read at least a couple of her 1810s books because SHE is where so much of it all started.

Similarly for action-adventure writers. Novels such as Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, or Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers should not be ignored or slammed because they are “old.” Any LITERATE writer in that genre should know that most of the tropes found in current action-adventure writing and even today’s superhero action films have their roots in such two hundred year old books.

And if you want to write detective stories? You are doing yourself a HUGE knowledge disservice if you try to write them without being at least familiar with Raymond Chandler

[Page one of The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. 1947 edition. Photo by me, 2015.]

…and Dashiell Hammett. They virtually created the genre.

And you say you love sci-fi? You should step back and re-read Jules Verne. He practically invented science fiction.

The list goes on.

And on this matter that tweeter is simply wrong: “the pool” of books two centuries-old ago was pretty large then too; but most from then are actually NOT considered “classics” now and thus not widely read because they were often not considered very good even in their own time. In romance, for example, we all know Austen, but few other than scholars of the early 1800s could probably easily name any of her “competitors” because their books were simply not as good as Austen’s. Good lasts.

Bottom line: If you believe you should read only books written in the last “fifty” years, you will be a terrible writer.

Indeed I tend to think similarly that little that we write and read that has been written in the last “twenty” years will be read “200 years” from now either. For as we do not read MOST books written in 1813, most books written in our 2020 will in “2220” likely be seen as merely cultural relics of our long ago literary era. But some will probably stand out even in that distant future, and some smart aleck on whatever passes for “social media” then will opine: “Most classic books of the 1900s-2100 that are still shoved at us? Ugh. That Harry Potter by Rolling? Oh, please. So boring and irrelevant now.”

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Books like this one recently written would not exist as they do had it not been for Austen, the Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and Edith Wharton. Looking for new stuff to read has been important to many of us in these last couple of months. Stumbling upon it a couple of weeks ago via Twitter, I was initially impressed by its Amazon description and came within a click of buying this “historical romance”

…until I read its entire free sample. That lengthy “peek” into it caused me to stop and conclude it was not going to be my cup of reading tea. In fact the experience left me holding my head.

I am not one to pull up excerpts from other authors’ books and point to them as “representative.” (You know I almost never do that.) For I am well aware that anyone could extract isolated parts in my books and “dissect” them too. I accept that.

That caveat offered, I feel strongly enough about this matter, and that book has large enough sales, that I believe doing this not is unreasonable or being “petty.” As examples, I will cite these two. They are the style found throughout the sample, so it is reasonable to assume as a book potential buyer that it is the style for the entire novel, which opens in 1833:

[Screenshot from the free sample.]

First, bear in mind that excerpt starts with the book’s fourth paragraph of chapter one.

Honestly, I am unsure quite that much needs to be shared about the countess’s prized fish.

And it appears with that the author is just warming up.

[Screenshot from the free sample.]

Second, my main rule as a writer is a reader should NEVER find themselves feeling “overwhelmed” and/or genuinely “confused.” This author hurls at readers an array of names and titles and relationships and marriages and locations and back stories usually punctuated by further asides… and all of that is still just in this chapter one. The former lecturer in me was thinking I would love to spring a pop quiz on those who claim they have read it cover to cover, to see what they really do correctly remember.

Indeed not long after sharing the back story on the prized fish, notice above in that second excerpt that FIVE sisters with names that all read much the same are introduced to readers in quick succession. Their “S” namings is amusing in its way for that line. But is it necessary that there be FIVE of them? An editor thought that was a good idea? Because to me that setup leaves no “good” way forward. One is clearly the “main character,” yes; but if all FIVE are going to be important to the story that is a LOT of them to have names that all sound so similar. And if all FIVE will NOT be important, but only, perhaps, say, TWO of them will be, why burden readers there with those other THREE “S” names that will not really matter in the long haul tale?

I found myself feeling I am reading an author frantic to demonstrate to us how much she knows and how quickly she can manage to, coupled apparently with being fearful that if she is not rushing into another “witty” aside about an earl of somewhere that we will stop reading. I found I wanted to reassure her: you have hundreds of pages, you do not have to try to describe everything in such detail and to fight to introduce everyone and everything in the first “5,000” words. It reminded me of that experience we have all had sitting across from someone in a restaurant on a first date when the person is determined to tell you their entire life story over the starter. You want to put up a hand and stop them: “It’s okay. Take a breath. I don’t need to know all about Aunt Esther in Amsterdam just yet. We have all evening and a second date too perhaps, and maybe a lifetime even.”

As to the overall story, one (3 star) reviewer notes:

The plot line in one line:

A lady causes a scandal at a party and escapes – dressed as a boy – on a marquess’ carriage only to spend the next weeks getting into scrapes and having sexy times with said marquess, who is himself trying to escape his troubled past.

There is certainly a readership for those sorts of period romances. There is nothing wrong with them as long as we know that is what they are. While the sample indicates what follows is going to be much better than some “bodice ripper,” what I think bothers me about books like this is when they are positioned, as this one is, as somehow “feminist,” “intellectual,” and a serious historical fiction/romance effort.

As I was reading through the sample, and trying to avoid being run over by yet another duke in his carriage, hovering in the back of my mind was that my entire Conventions: The Garden At Paris opening chapter is built around an 1840 Catskills conversation between 74 year old “Robert” and his 20 year old Irish housekeeper “Nancy,” while they are enjoying teas on his shaded front porch on a hot summer afternoon.

That Rogue author has lots more readers than I do.

[Sighs.]

I must be the one doing it all wrong.

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“Thinking Out Loud,” by Ed Sheeran…

[Photo by me, May 18, 2020.]

…my wife says, should be my personal theme song. LOL!

Hope you are having a good day, wherever you are in our insane world. 🙂