Part One Hundred Six of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.
Monthly Archives: March 2013
And it looks like while things have calmed down to the east, that piracy off the coast of Nigeria is becoming a hot topic.
A less humble, more boisterous person might note that this shouldn’t be real news, especially if one looks at notices about action here from July of 2012 or July of 2010 or March of 2010 or even June of 2008, though in all fairness there was a lot to distract people out there; didn’t the Kardassians have some kerfuffle or something…?
What makes this of note now is the fact that action in this theater is affected by the dreaded sequester, also known as “failure to embrace Keynesian principles like we used to.” Buried in the AP piece that finally recognized West African piracy was word that the US Navy may not have the resources to patrol the Gulf of Guinea, which considering the potential such actions have to destabilize a member of OPEC could be considered either (a) an act of wanton folly, or (b) betting heavily on projected US crude output figures making us a net exporter sooner rather than later…
The idea that we might not be able to afford projecting our power on the sea lanes is a little unsettling. I’m not entirely sure Jefferson was all that worried about going after the Barbary pirates 200 years ago, but recognized it as a good investment worth making at that time. The idea that we have come to the point where we look at our ability to do things the way the dystopia in George Lucas’ THX 1138 used to consider their actions makes me sweat as I consider it:
Hell, the idea that THX 1138 is an appropriate metaphor for American power projection in my lifetime is scary enough, almost as scary as how few other people out there may have actually seen this picture; futility is trying to discuss this with anyone I know for more than a few seconds before the blank stares stop me like the gaze of Medusa…
What would it take for Nigeria to get the same level of interest in time before it got bad the way it did off Somalia? A few civilian hostages? Maybe if the Nigerians took a Kardasian or someone else from the over-privileged class(less)?
How much will we allow before it becomes unbearable? And why in hell can’t we do something before it’s needlessly too late?
Ever find yourself where you never expected to be?
So I’m reading the Times Books section and came across a review of Black Irish by Stephan Talty, a crime novel set in South Buffalo, which of course draws my interest. Maybe it’s because both Talty and myself have projects we’re sharing set in a Buffalo in decline where people are meeting grisly fates.
And the first victim in the book found in the basement of the local church is one Jimmy Ryan…
Damn, I don’t know what I did to get that kind of treatment, but I hope it’s not too late to apologize…
Part One Hundred Five of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.
To take a little break, I recently started reading some fantasy.
Yes, we’re talking mainstream fantasy, the I-last-saw-this-when-I-played-D&D kind of fantasy; the other kind I wouldn’t bring up here lest we fall heavily into the NSFW category…
Anyways, there again among the offerings was the whole “clean the land of the monster” trope across multiple works to look at. It’s been a part of the genre since Beowulf was first composed, and will be of some interest at the multiplex for the next two years, and is as inevitable in fantasy work as a pirate chasing treasure in pirate fiction.
Which has always made me curious, how such a creature could wander onto the land and set itself up so readily. Sure, you could try and cite Edmund Burke and leave it at that, but even if you did and could come up with irrefutable proof that yes, Burke did actually say that, you still wouldn’t explain how something so foul could get such a toehold into a land that needed saving.
So it was a revelation this Saint Paddy’s Day weekend, when I read an account of how the end of Ireland being the Celtic Tiger brought the snakes back to Eire. Suddenly, it all made a lot more sense: Monsters as blowback from a bust in an economic cycle!
If we think of such creatures as the inevitable result of the bad side effects from our efforts to create wealth, either a large risk we’d thought manageable that wasn’t or scores of small inconveniences combining into an eval gestalt that overwhelms us, then the set up makes a whole lot more sense.
And it does indeed become fantastic, that one person or a small group could come in and kick the ass of something thousands of folks (if not more) allowed in while they were making money and were unable to overcome. Which helps explain why we can call Beowulf a fantasy, because he can see this man take on Grendel and win, while this isn’t, because these folks can’t even begin to try and reverse the effects of climate change.
Now, the whole fantasy-as-economic-parable schtick may not be entirely new; the political-economics of Oz have been well considered ever since Henry Littlefield’s observations in 1964. And back when I was more heavily gaming, I would have loved to have been in any D&D campaign run by Tom Morelleo of Rage Against the Machine; those sounded epic!
I’m sorry I myself never got into that element of fantasy earlier. I am going to have a bit of free time later in the year after I wrap up Red Jenny, though, so…
No, this isn’t about my last post…
In the course of putting together the novel, I thought I had considered everything in terms of climate change, and what that would mean for a city on Lake Erie. Breakdown of most non-essential government, check; geopolitical realignment leading to resource war, uh-huh; looks like we got most of it here…
And then I read about the return of algae blooms to Lake Erie, due in part to climate change leading to more agricultural runoff into the lake from increased rains.
Maybe part of me is such an optimist, that I didn’t want to believe that the lake could be dying again the way it had back in the 1970s. Those were bad times for the lake, which seemed all the worse when you consider that Lake Erie is Buffalo’s main source for drinking water; a return of the possibility of lake death would have changed the tenor of the piece. I make reference in passing to acid rain and zebra mussels, but a serious algae problem just wasn’t coming up in the crystal ball.
A scene involving a pirate raid on a smuggler where glops of algae are churned in the wake of the boats would have been an interesting set piece to build on, the characters too busy pursuing a few dollars’ worth of booty to pay attention to the damage around them, or even willfully ignoring the greater damage around them. That could have really punctuated the work, and made a sly point with some dramatic imagery.
No point in bemoaning the lost opportunities. There’s always the next work to try and get it all in…
It’s spring in New York, which means we’ve had our first robin sighting in the parks, our first hint of green from the trees, the Allman Brothers are making their annual stand at the Beacon, and soon we’ll face opening day at Yankee Stadium, to be followed soon after by the first in-season Page Six story about A-Rod…
And of course, what would spring be without something to make the literary circles here a little perturbed, like this essay Gawker reported on from Robert Lewis Stevenson that appeared in the latest issue of The Strand Magazine.
(As an aside, it’s interesting how the throwaway comment Maggie Lange makes at the end of the article gets a lot of challenges from fans of Treasure Island, which is a bit of a heart-warmer, I confess…)
For those looking for the executive summary, Stevenson complained about the state of current literature (which for him was from the Victorian era) being devoid of reality, which seemed daring in the midst of the purple rage that most writers fell under during the late 19th Century, but a criticism that would be abandoned by most writers come the advent of Hemmingway. Of particular interest is this one comment he makes about pirate navigators, and how they would appear askance in pirate fiction of the time (including his own work, which was being written at the time of the essay):
If you read a true account of these rogues you would be thunderstruck. Again and again they try to cross the Atlantic – what hundreds of decent, respectable merchant skippers do successfully every month – and again and again they lose their way, cannot find the trade-winds, and, from sheer block-headedness, suffer the last extremities of thirst and hunger.
Let’s take a moment to consider what is a quite frank comment about those plying the Sweet Trade by a man who would make his reputation discussing pirates. What would drive this man to bite the hand that would feed him, with enough force to sever fingers from palms?
Is it the frustrations of writing in that we want to do by our characters the most justice we can, even if it means portraying them with the same techniques you’d find in a 40-plus minute Yoko Ono steady-camera kind of art installation? Which, despite the amount of Absolute Truth you bring to the piece, you know in your heart of hearts is going to drive your readers to drink or worse…?
Is it the feeling that Art needs to trump over Truth, because Art is the flighty one that needs the special attention? Seriously, if Art and Truth were personified, would Art be the one that needed to get past the velvet rope every night to enter the clubs where Chris Brown was going to, to abuse amuse Rhianna, to be there for the event, or at least the possibility of the event, while Truth was happy to be at home keeping the accounts?
Is it guilt the authors feels that they are somehow misrepresenting the characters they create that makes them worry about an absolute truth when they ignore the drudgery that we as real humans wish we could just skip over? And why isn’t there some sense of guilt we feel that we mere humans ask that 165 hours of our week be skipped and that we relish the three hours we really want? (And the idea that if we could appeal to that Greater Writer to do that for us, that we wish like hell that said author wasn’t Alexander Solzhenitsyn…?)
Or is it just my own neuroses playing in me, while the rest of you are able to enjoy life? Hey, if I’m the only person tied to New York writing tonight with self-doubts, at least I’d be in good company…
But excusing the personal issues (which every writer has, and the ones who claim otherwise are either lying or have had more drinks than I have tonight), there’s still the overriding issue of Stevenson’s worries about how to portray pirates, which for some of us-
OK, damnit, for me! Yes, I have my own beefs. And it has to do with events not so far away, but recent. In particular, it seems my musings about characters with guns post-Newtown were not unfounded, as readership has diminished as of late. It could be a large part of this is due to the public losing a taste for people in a gun-based culture having to turn to the tools at hand to deal with their issues, and abandoning accounts of such activities.
That, or else the fact that I suck as a writer; hey, at this point, either works…
Whatever the cause, I find myself coming to the end of Red Jenny with the same enthusiasm Dave Sim faced when Cerebus #300 finally came around. Somehow, I thought it’d be… well, not like this…
No, I don’t want pity. A party, maybe, but not a pity party; that much work posting every week, someone needs to buy me a drink, damnit!
But beyond my personal issues, there’s still the unresolved matter of what writers need to do to stand by their works. Is there an over-reaching Truth they need to serve to honor their characters, or does the story need to make them compromise the way we real folk need to do every day? Are we honoring our characters and/or readers by glossing over the long bits of boredom between punctuations of terror/drama?
And if a much better writer than any of us here today like Robert Lewis Stevenson couldn’t come up with an answer, what f’n’ chance do we have…?
If nothing else, this makes for good conversation over drinks. Which, if you ever look me up, I’m still available for…