Friday, October 2, 2015

Fish in a Barrel, Or, A Writer Breaks Bad

The concept seems simple enough: sit down, put some well-chosen words on the page, send it in, sit back and enjoy the fruits of published expression. Gravy. Piece of cake.

So why has it been so hard to get the words out there?

The answer to that gets complicated. I hate it when things get complicated. Or, better said, I don't like that I care how little writing I have gotten together in a form that some editor will find worthy of publication.

Part of the problem lies in my belief that writing worth publishing should ask something of readers, push them to think, to consider the bigger questions of being human -- literary, in other words. 

"It's good," publishers say in the rejections, "but it won't sell. Why don't you pump out some easy-to-digest writing that people will buy? Nobody has the time to work through your high-minded, serious material."

"Literary" stuff is on the skids, while "genre" stuff tends to rake it in.


Can't help but wonder what to do.

OK, so maybe it's time to climb down from the tree of literary merit to consider some lower hanging fruit. Maybe I should start writing soft or hard core erotica. Or action-packed fantasy. Or -- the lowest fruit of all -- the dog story. People want escape, titillation, heart-warming love that doesn't talk back, vicarious luxury, other worlds. I can't blame them. Life in the digital age is pretty mind-numbing. Simple good and evil makes easy sense.

It would also help to incorporate a celebrity, and maybe a political message that would speak to those one percenters who have discretionary cash to spend on books.

Of course, there is good "genre" stuff out there. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series are both well-crafted, offer thoughtful critiques of society, and limn round, complicated characters. Fifty Shades of Gray? Nah. What I need is some way to put all the hot trends together in a potpourri of sex, action, wealth to spare, easy-on-the-mind ideology, and heroes that bring the tribe together again.

All of that, packaged and movie-ready, now that would be a wiener. 

That, or try and make it to Oprah... We'll leave that one alone for now. 

It's just what is. There is no shame in trying, a rough draft anyway.

So here goes (think special effects, violence as drama, PG-13 nudity, endorsement by bi-partisan think tanks) :

Guns, Vampires, Dogs, and Hot Love

The weight of  The Donald's weapon pressed against his thigh as he sat down with his loyal golden retriever, Pumpkin, to consider the fortified lair of the evil vampires, commies, drug dealers, and puppy millers. 

A scent of lavender reminded him of her, and the ache in his groin as he swelled with reverie made his leather pants even tighter. Pumpkin looked at him with her doe eyes and braced herself for the fight to come. 

He shook off his daydream and got down to business. Just as he was about to shoulder the grenade launcher, the convoy of black SUVs rounded the corner of the only road leading to the evil doers' hideout. Quietly, slowly, he set down the RPG before glassing the situation. He and Pumpkin took turns with the binoculars, the eyes of each meeting the other in a telepathy of tactics that needed no language.

When the body guards jumped from the lead idling and sinister GMC to raise the gate and to scan the perimeter, he saw inside the bullet-proof Suburban to where she was bound with duct tape in the back seat. In the dimming light, he could just make out her ample bosom between the diving neck lines of her red satin cocktail dress. Her skirt had been hiked up enough to reveal a smooth, nicely muscled, silken thigh. One shapely foot still wore a stiletto pump, the other foot, small, pointed as that of the ballet dancer she used to be, thrust forward between the front seats. Her stockings had run but her toes were perfect. How he loved those toes, those feet, her shoe closet. He wondered what had happened to that other shoe, with its leather -- sweet leather -- straps, so thin, so strong, so... grrrr... Pumpkin gave him a look that snipped that line of thinking in the bud. 

Though he could not see her pouty lips or her mysterious eyes, he knew they were burning with indignation and unbowed dignity. She would have a thing or two to say about this when the tape came off.

The thought of her there, in their clutches, it made him, well, pretty mad.

His outrage fueled a focus like that of ten Ninjas. He could have leaped over the concertina-lined wall with the adrenaline that coursed through him, but he instead focused his rage. Revenge would be sweeter if he waited, bided his time, and called upon the powers of his inner canine. 

Pumpkin's hackles went up when she heard the muffled cries of Penelope, the hostage held by the ruthless drug-dealers, most of whom were also pedophiles with connections to ISIS. 

He knew for sure only a few things: he was in the right, and that because he was right, he was entitled to carry bigger weapons, that Penelope's heart was true, even though she had scorned him, and that, after the carnage, he, Pumpkin, and Penelope would find peace and euphoria following great sex -- if he could only isolate the evil Hispanic/Arab/Asian/Black/Mixed-Race villians, catch them by surprise, and take the fight to the embodiment of all that is wrong, mano-a-mano,  his wholesome dog against the villainous broken-bad but un-house-broken pit bull. 

As a white, straight, (but secretly questioning) male, he carried forward a crusade of goodness in a world gone mad with chaos and conspiracy against America, against freedom, against his preferred pecking order. He wanted simple things: a blonde woman, a ski chalet, a frosted bottle of Bud Lite with drops sweating and cascading down the bottle, a Japanese pick-up truck, well, and maybe, a BIG tower that would advertise his masculinity. It was what he was owed, what he deserved, and he would settle for nothing less, even if he had to get it all himself, which he had. No help that is, just like now. One man against a tide of stupidity and slackers. He almost gave himself away as he began ranting to no one. Luckily, Pumpkin whimpered that something was happening below. There was more movement. 

Once the gate was open, the black SUV inched forward between the land mines. Only the most expert of drivers could navigate the perimeter of the high-altitude fortress. 

He saw immediately that his flying squirrel suit would get him over the wires and into the compound. But he would have to wait until dark, the wolf hour, when the blood sucking guards let down their guard, when all was silent save for the beating hearts of ripe desire,unconditional dog love, and rippling guns that carry small arms with a big clip. 

He crouched, waited, wound tight, ready to spring at the perfect moment. Nothing premature could satisfy his mission, bring all of this to the climax he hoped for. Only death, the petite mort, could keep him from bowling over the evil and corrupt king pin...

 [For full text, send advance and contract for royalties.]

Now with an appeal like this, who could say no? He asks, knowing that this is a joke, satire, parody. But thrill, eros, gender stereotypes, celebrity, dog, politico/socio acceptability and kowtow schmoozing to the elites, and a dog (did I mention the dog?) all seem to add up to the right ingredients. All it needs is some football scenes mixed in between the vampires and we're golden.

Look out publishing world, here I come.

A more polished, unironic version of this could be marketable, in part, because it reinforces the master narratives of gender, American self-importance, and moneyed ways of doing and being. That tends to work better than writing, or art of any kind, that is complex, less clear-cut, asking deeper questions of what it means to be human. 

The best writing, I hate to say it, has to perform some social critique, not to slavishly pander to fashion, trends, or low hanging appetites (not that those things can't be part of good stories; they are). But writing that just makes the status quo feel good about itself, or just leads readers into escapist fantasy, is not the best writing. The "real," "serious" stuff goes after the "hidden narratives," the stories that aren't splattered all over the popular media, that speak the truths of those who aren't making it in the current system, that are not given privilege, that work in dead-end jobs because it's the best they can get from a system that excludes them.

The hidden narratives take work to understand, ask that readers think, go beyond mere titillation and entertainment. And, problem is, not many publishers are interested in them. Publishers think they won't sell. I think readers are smarter than that. They likely want the "real" stuff, and would buy it.

OK, that's enough. This is starting to sound shrill and strident. Suffice it to say that noble, serious, and earnest don't pay the bills. Those values and two bucks will get me a cup of cheap coffee.

Just can't bring myself to dance to the piper's tune, la chingada del perro bailarin. Fookin Aye.

I think I'll keep fishing for the wild ones, even if means I come home empty-handed. 


  1. Hahahaha! What a story...if it makes it to the movies I might just fall asleep, something my life has been lacking chingada del perro bailarin indeed!

    1. Hijole Manita. The amount of resources and technology that goes into making crap is staggering. Would be nice to divert even a bit of that to the cool stories beyond the master narratives.No?