Monday, July 18, 2005

Harry Potter & Villains & Fiction & Music

Before I get to the main post: Happy 21st Birthday, Chris.

Harry Potter: So far, I'm enjoying the new Harry Potter. I've been reading it more slowly than I usually read books. I keep stopping to think about what I've read so far. This book is both like and not like the others. Like in that it's the same world, the same characters, the story is a continuation of the one she started way back in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But it's different in that there's not a specific evil event Harry's supposed to stop, at least not yet, and I'm almost halfway through. It's not as clear-cut, the stakes are significantly higher, and, as everyone seems to be saying, it is much darker than the others. Rowling doesn't hold back or wimp out when it comes to conflict.

I wish people were less envious. It seems like everyone who complains they "don't like Harry Potter", inevitably connects it with "I don't understand why Rowling's making all that money." Well, Rowling's making all that money because a lot of people disagree with you and DO like Harry Potter. Get over it! The worst are the ones who come up with "literary" reasons for not liking Harry Potter--"Rowling's not a great writer." "Rowling's books lack depth." And so on. But always, always there's that little envious dig that sounds like sour grapes. "I'm a much better writer than she is, so why is she making all the bucks?" Because a lot of people think her writing is just fine and has enough depth to tell a story they care about. Get over that, too! I feel that way about Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code . I hated it. I think he's a mediocre writer. And I kept stumbling over facts and technical details that I know are wrong, which made me wonder about the people who praise his research skills. I don't understand why so many people are loving it and recommending it to their friends. But I figure that I'm just not his audience.

I'd like to write something millions of people want to read, too. I don't expect to be the one person in all of human history to write something every person on the planet resonates with. Does that mean that because John Doe and Mary Sue Parker might hate my books I don't deserve to be successful? It's the same with Rowling and Brown and any other bestselling author. Just because I'm not this or that author's audience, or you're not their audience, doesn't mean they don't deserve their success. Whether I'm their audience or not, whether I can write as well as they do or not, is irrelevant. They wrote their stories and they resonated with a huge audience. And that's why they're successful. All I can say is,"Congratulations." May the rest of us find our audiences, too.

Villains & Fiction: Holly Lisle talks about villains in the last sentence of her post. She says, "I look at villains this way -- just because the cops don't have one like that on the books doesn't mean there isn't one out there." That resonated with me. I think it's important in fiction to balance realism with, well, fiction. You want it to feel real. But if you write it exactly the way reality is, it's highly likely you'll write the life out of it. You'll take out what makes it interesting. A serial killer that's exactly like the medical texts is not nearly as interesting as one who's enough like the texts to ring true, but enough different that your reader, particularly one who's a fan of serial killer stories, can't predict what he'll do.

My friend, June, has a favorite quote, "Nobody ever paid to see 'under the top'"--Joel Schumacher. I agree with Mr. Schumacher. Think about your favorite fiction or about the bestselling books you've read. They're all "over the top" in some way or other. No one really wants to read about an ordinary person, having an ordinary life, with ordinary problems. Something has to be extraordinary or out-of-the-ordinary or super-ordinary or it becomes just like the life the reader is trying to escape when he picks up your book. I think when an outrageous idea that works perfectly to tell your story, or the perfect villain is not "textbook perfect", don't wimp out. Go for it. Write that because that's what will make your story stand out.

Music: We had a treat yesterday. One of Paul's former bosses plays drums in a swing band, The Swing Solution. They played a free concert in Santa Clara. They play old big band standards and stuff by current big bands like Brian Setzer or The Cherry-poppin' Daddies. They mostly play private parties, but they have a public gig coming up in August at the San Jose Jazz Festival. There's info on their website, if you live in the area and like big band music.