The Show Must Go On

It’s funny that when one is working on a project, one sees similar themes and ideas everywhere. I am–probably too–proud of the fact that I’ve taken a scene I knew was bad and am rewriting it. Sometimes I think parts of my story are bad, but then in reading them later, think they are ok and keep them. It’s tough with writing because you can read your own stuff one day and think it stinks and the next barely recognize it and think, “who is this brilliant writer?  Can’t be me, can it?”  But some scenes are bad from the beginning, bad ideas, uninspired, and so on.  I’m excited because I genuinely found one I wanted to change and know the new one will serve the story better.

Speaking of rewrites, what person calls themselves a writer and thinks there will be no editing? No rewrites? No criticism? Now imagine that writer is writing for movies or TV and can’t stomach the possibility of their script being changed?  Bizarre.  I mean, who doesn’t know that the script changes constantly, especially when filming starts, and if it’s bad with movies, what about TV shows?

But I’m rambling. I’ve been watching this kdrama called The King of Dramas. It’s an awesome show with a huge flaw in that the writer lives in this fantasy of “no revisions, no changes” to her original script. Fortunately, she is learning (like I am) as the episode sprogress, but still. Her rigidity stuck out like a sore thumb at first and it was hard to suspend my disbelief.

The King of Dramas, or, in my mind, The Show Must Go On! with same-titled song from Moulin Rouge, is a 2012 kdrama about producing a Korean TV show. With epic music and everything from mafia financing to last-second deadlines, this show will have you wondering how any dramas are made at all. I mean, who would want all that stress and headache? And it become clear why showbiz people can be a bit neurotic. Anthony Kim (Kim Myung Min) is Macbethian in his strive for power, with ruthlessness and an alarming propensity for lying. Kim, the actor, has a magnetic presence about him and although everyone claims to dislike him you get the feeling they secretly want to be on his team.

The naive, stubborn writer is played by Jung Ryeo Won, and it’s refreshing to have a heroine for whom romance will turn out to be incidental. She’s also not overly crazy, mannish and loud, but womanly and thankfully doesn’t have any part-time jobs. I like the down-and-out-girl-with-10-jobs-and-a-relative-in-the-hospital, trope but it’s nice to have a break from it. Lee Go Eun is refreshing in her normalcy. Jung Ryeo Won also has a unique look that compliments her thoughtful character.

The comic relief in the show falls on the chosen lead of Lee Go Eun’s script, handsome and famous Kang Hyun Min. This guy fits every bad stereotype of an actor–vain, money and fame hungry, selfish–and he’s hilarious! Choi Si Won overcomes his distracting Ken-doll  looks by actually…acting, something that other K-pop stars seem to take eons to figure out.

Both male leads are jerks and the farthest thing from husband material. I’m about halfway through the series and am wondering if they are going to go with a love story eventually and if either will prove themselves worthy enough for the quite nice, but stubborn writer.  And being that she’s working with overbearing people, it’s also a good thing that she’s so stubborn, but I’m glad she learns to do some self-reflection when it comes to her writing. And the show is actually fine without a love story, so different still.

My favorite character, though, is the middle-aged cutie Jung In Gi. He plays recovering alcoholic director Koo Young Mok. Jung’s a bit more disheveled in this than I’m used to seeing (he’s in a ton of Korean shows and movies), but he adds much needed gravitas when the others are too over the top. He also is very believable as a kdrama director and steals a lot of his scenes simply by his presence. He’s a likable father figure to the younger characters–someone who has “been there, done that” but is still struggling himself.

I don’t know what else the real writers of The King of Dramas will throw at their characters in the remaining episodes, but I’m guessing there’s a good many inside jokes going on for those whose careers are built in show-biz. No matter the country or culture, entertaining people is rarely as easy as it seems. And somehow the shows do go on and on and on in miraculous precision.

–P. Beldona

See Also Murder: book review

As much as I love YA sci-fi and fantasy, adventure, and Regency-era romances, my all-time favorite genre is mystery. Nothing tops a good mystery, and unfortunately they are very rare. My favorite mystery series right now is the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley. I’m reading his latest, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d at a snail’s pace in the hopes I can make it last until the next one is published. I also peruse my local library shelves periodically in the hopes that I will connect with another series. I may have found it.

See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy (love the name!) is subtitled “A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery,” so I hope, hope, hope that means there will be more of them. The sleuth is an indexer caught my eye. Once upon a time I worked as a proofreader (oh, how my grammar and spelling have plummeted since then!) and we also had an indexing department in the building. I was always a little jealous because the indexers had their own offices with doors, and aside from having to proofread their spelling and check occasional page references, I didn’t learn much about their job. According to the author of this mystery (a longtime indexer), not just everyone can be one, at least a good one.  Indexing takes a certain kind of mind that can notice key phrases and points in a work and correctly categorize them for future readers. It also might help to be a lister, or one who writes lists. That’s not me. I keep short lists and often either forget I wrote them down in a dusty day planner or typed them into my notes app. Weeks or months later when I open said planner or app in an effort to prove to myself I actually use them, I’m amazed to find these lists and somewhat embarrassed I wrote them down at all.

(Ah, organizing for the sake of organizing. There’s this great line in the movie The Jacket with Adrien Brody: “I’ve been approached by the Federal Trade Organization. … They have asked me to head up the Organization for the Organized!”)

So, one needs a knack for indexing. And Marjorie Trumaine has that knack. She quickly and easily categories and organizes people, ideas, clues and so on. See Also Murder is set in the North Dakota plains in the 1960s and the story is fully infused with the atmosphere and culture of that era. Readers who’ve grown up in middle states, or “flyover country” as it’s often called, will connect with the story in a way the “coasters” probably won’t.

As a mystery, See Also Murder isn’t so much a whodunit (avid mystery buffs will be able to spot the culprit fairly quickly) as it is a character study. Marjorie Trumaine lives a lonely isolated life and it becomes obvious that any threat to her or her husband could quickly become terrifying, especially if they find they can’t trust the few people they know.

I also want to give a shoutout to Scandinavian history and mythology. It’s not something I know a lot about and what I do know mostly comes from the Marvel Thor movies. Sweazy inspired me enough that my latest book purchase was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I come from half Norwegian, half German stock and once in a while I find it worthwhile to dig into my roots.

See Also Murder is a great, atmospheric read that will stick with readers long after the story has been closed and put away. Isolation is rampant even, and maybe especially, in our modern technology-filled times. Easily seen as both vice and virtue, isolation is a perfect setting for a ghastly murder.  Isolation is the “single effect” (as E.A. Poe would say) that defines the book.

P. Beldona

Complicated Stories

The trouble with writing complicated stories is that they quickly run away with you. The details start to overshadow the narrative and can easily confuse the reader (and the writer!). One begins to see only the trees and not the forest.  Still trickier is making sure all of those details make sense and crucially deciding which details to leave out. Me, I tend to minimize rather than leave out, a storytelling flaw I hope to overcome one day, and I really only decide to do that after exhaustively rereading the manuscript until me head spins. Also, some details need only to be revealed certain places, so sometimes I have to go back and remove prior references to them.

In fantasy in particular critics are always on about “world building,” but for readers who just want a good story it is a turn off to read too-detailed descriptions of how this fantasy world operates. I’ve found generally in using magic in a story it’s best not to explain too thoroughly how the magic works. Magic isn’t logical, so it’s going to be difficult to explain it logically and then one starts leading the reader down a path of fitting that magic into the real world, which can’t be done, or at least can’t be explained. Going as far as saying magic words or employing certain hand movements, etc., as in Harry Potter is about as far as one can really go in explaining it. In TfD I mostly explain the magic by a creature using dust and then concentration and/or willing something into being. It is a bit vague, but I find it works for the story and is much tied to the Christian idea of creation, so that picture will hopefully be in the readers’ minds as an example. For myself, I don’t mind the magic working being left a bit vague, though I do need to work at highlighting the limits of Etherland magic. Will I leave that for this book or the next one? A good question to think about on the weekend.

Right now I’m organizing a lot of players, both “real world” and “show world,” for the disappearing act finale. Have a few traitors to manage also. That’s gotten a bit ridiculous, so I might just go with that – quintuple agents and beyond!  Sometimes the piratical Jack Sparrow fan in me gets the best of me, the writer.

I think it was Stephen King who said something about writers not inventing stories, but unwrapping stories already there. That is how I feel about Trolls for Dust. It was this whole, gigantic, complicated story just waiting for me to start unwrapping it. Some of the paper is sticking, but little by little I’m stripping it away to the goodness underneath.

–P. Beldona

Sensitivity Readers

This baffles me. Why hire someone to read your work and ensure you don’t offend anyone? Actually, not “anyone,” but those who live and breathe by whatever current form of political correctness is in place. As a writer, there is no guarantee, no matter what you write, that you will never offend someone. That truth alone should make the practice of hiring a “sensitivity reader” a poor investment, but pour on top of that the increasingly shrill culture of offense today and the question becomes: Why write in the first place? How in our overly sensitive PC culture can one hope to be any sort of artist without offending that culture at some point? And the rules of what is “offensive” are changing all the time.

It used to be a badge of honor for writers and artists to offend the prevalent narrative or world view. Why the heck would any writer want their stories or essays to be so lukewarm that they offend no one? How far down the rabbit hole have we gone even thinking that’s it’s possible to never offend. What about the readers who want exciting stories that challenge how they view the world? What about the offense they take at a boring story with feminists rants they’ve heard a hundred times already? No, no, let’s give them more drivel toeing the PC line. Keep to the status quo, everybody’s doing it. Marxist collectivism, when it’s not murderous is actually really boring. Everyone must be the same all the time with no differences, whether in dress or viewpoint. Used to be that artists were the ones holding this stuff back. Now, they share in the oppression of anything remotely interesting.

Fellow writers, if it’s authenticity you’re worried about, hire a good researcher, not some “sensitivity” tool.  If your book sparks a reaction, great, that means that people are reading it, that they care about it, and that they will tell more people about it who will spend their money to read it and will also be talking about it.  Twilight had a lot of mockers and offended many, but they were all talking about it and you couldn’t walk anywhere for months without hearing about sparkly vampires. Guess who now has enough money to continue writing and getting better at her craft? Uh, huh, that’s right.

Should our goal be to offend? I suppose that depends on what kind of writer you want to be. Satirists thrive on offense. If you’re just a storyteller like me, though, the goal is to tell an exciting and engaging story and often that involves challenging readers’ sensitivities. So what?  They are reading, and that is the point.

 

A Good Ending

Tonight, I contemplate what a good ending for a book looks like.  It’s Trolls for Dust, so it must end on a cliffhanger, and as there will be a Season 3, it’s a midway point in the series but still needs a decent ending.  I ask myself, do endings really have to make sense?  They can just be exciting, right?  Ha, ha, if only.  Things are going to be a bit crazy at Vale Studios while Sandra implements her master plan.  If only she were actually as diabolical as she thinks she is.  Oh, what she will learn in Season 3.

Like Season 1, this ending will attempt to mix two worlds together, that of the onscreen show and the fiction real world.  In Season 1, I emphasized this by turning verbs in the real world parts to present tense to match onscreen.  Although I can certainly implement that again, I’m hoping to come up with something more clever but that doesn’t take readers too much out of the story.  Talking about being taken out of the story, this series started with an idea of having actors compete to stay on a teenage fantasy TV show, but as the creator and writer I’m finding that the least interesting aspect now.  The competition is showcased less in Season 2, but is more disruptive to readers (the fictional viewers don’t care, they’re just enjoying the ride).  My goal is work on making the disruptions as funny as possible to smooth things over.  Hopefully, that will do the trick.

Also, being that I’ve become such a huge Korean drama or Kdrama addict, I’m fantasizing about Trolls for Dust becoming a Kdrama, and I have to focus on finishing the story instead of making up possible cast lists in my head.  American TV, this is how far you’ve fallen.  What was once inspired by The Vampire Diaries (Season 1-3, so good!), now is being considered to be best adapted by Korea!  Okay, hopefully that’s more a reflection of my changing tastes than the actual value of American TV, but I think either way America can step up the competition.

Okay, back to Tippa Andrews, my favorite character, that Taiwanese Born American Pixie, or TDAP!  Hmm, sounds like an vaccination.  Also, she wasn’t actually…oh, better not say it–spoiler!  Anyway, girl of the purple hair, I promise I won’t leave you stuck with the Gremlin-driving guy in Chicago.  He’s so weird!

–P. Beldona

Forgiveness

At church today I was struck by how profound Christian forgiveness is.  It is full and complete, a fresh start where one shouldn’t even be possible.  Why God, who hates sin, would choose to offer such a gift to sinful mankind is a wonderful mystery we’ll never be able to understand.  Yet as completely forgiven as the repentant sinner is, God’s grace is never a license to continue sinning.  Such is the struggle of the Christian life, to have that old self of sin trying to throw one back in the gutter while the new self strives to lift one up to unimagined heights.  Struggle must be important to God.  He offers no easy answers.  He could have taken away all of the bad and made us holy robots, unable to waver.  He could have destroyed the world completely long ago and forever rid himself of sinful beings, but he didn’t.

Repentance, forgiveness, struggle.  This is a story God likes and although he is the hero in it, he didn’t set his Son an easy task.  It was a task that required sacrifice and death.  Why does God find our struggle so worth leaving in existence?  The concept of love barely scratches the surface in my mind.  I really can’t wrap my head around it.  I can’t wrap my head around how many fresh starts God has given me and how many times I’ve caved to the wrong side of the struggle and how many times I’ve had to come back to him in repentance, each time being offered that blessed, complete forgiveness.

It sounds like something that would be a boring, repetitive cycle, but it’s been the opposite.  If my ordinary life has any of the epic about it, that is entirely due to God’s grace and forgiveness.  It is the knife edge between life and death, being saved or damned.  Every day I have the power, the choice to reject him and what he wants for my life.  Just that thought leaves me breathless, leaves me wanting to run back to his gracious forgiveness and love.

Getting Back to Writing

2016 ended up being a crazy year for me.  I became addicted to following the 2016 Presidential campaign and watched in awe as Trump took down one political foe after another.  Never had it really hit home to me just how opposed our government, both parties, and especially the mainstream media had become to the interests of the American citizens who actually live in this country.  I, like so many, were “red-pilled” as they call it, and became supports for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and all he stood for, which boils down to: America first.  A country acting in the best interests of its citizens shouldn’t be a novel concept, but in this day and age, so many have yet to wake up to the lie that is Globalism.  That “false song,” as Trump calls it has done much damage over the years, and like the Tower of Babel before it, was always doomed to fail.

So I followed politics obsessively and Trolls for Dust, Season 2 ended up on the back burner and still needs finishing.  I also got sick a few times, moved, and was in a sort of shell shock from all the red-pilling and also the downright ill will from family and friends alike due to my support of Trump.  That mean-spiritedness, I don’t think I will ever forget.  The only way to explain it is that even good people are terrified of actual, real change, and maybe precisely because it will be in their benefit.  Now that Trump is President we’ll get to see what actual change looks like and if the U.S. Government putting Americans’ interests first is the right thing to do.

I’m not proud that I let my writing mojo fall to the wayside, but I’d like to begin again, finish this story and start new ones.  The good thing is, as so much time has gone by, I have gotten some feedback on the story as it stands and I know what needs fixing.  I know where to go, but it’s how I get there that’s the problem.  This month I am reassessing TfD2, this blog, and also trollsfordust.com.  I want to get back to writing and posting regularly and this is my month to make a plan and then put that plan into action.

On more of a note for long-term writing:  For once in my life I have an entire room set aside for writing.  I have a desk that lets me sit or stand as I choose, a cushy, but not too comfortable bar chair to sit on, and an area free from distraction.  Speaking of changes good for one being terrifying, this is!  As a writer I have all I could ask for a distraction-free writing space.  That means this is where the rubber hits the road and there can be no more excuses.  Either I make this work, or I have to acknowledge to myself that maybe I don’t really want to write.  It’s scary, this big desk and this quiet room, but it’s exciting, too.  With effort, great stories are just ahead, just waiting to be sprung on the world.  I cannot, I must not, let such a wonderful opportunity go to waste.

 

–P. Beldona