How the Grinch stole NaNoWriMo... or at least said rude things about participating in it...

>> Thursday, November 04, 2010

I'm not actually doing National Novel Writing Month this year. I have writing projects ongoing, actually, is why. Including (maybe) getting back to a novel project that's been bugging me for years now.

None of which merits an announcement, but is something I mention here because quite a few friends are NaNoWriMoing this year again, and power to them. I'm keeping an eye on friends' announcements on Twitter and their blogs and elsewhere, I'm wishing them luck, I'm here to stand and testify in the Temple Of Calliope for the brothers and sisters-uh, who are ready-uh, to sell their souls-us, mortgage their souls-uh, render their souls-uh up to the Muse. Can I get an "amen"? I said can I get an "amen"? I said can, I, get, an, a-huh-men?! I hear you.

(The preacher schtick doesn't work as well in pixels, does it? Oh well. I tried. If you want to call it "trying"?)

I'm also here to get annoyed at Salon's Laura Miller. Regulars may recall I tend to get exasperated at Ms. Miller; I don't know why I even read her posts at Salon. That's not true. I know exactly why: I like books, Miller writes about books; I read Salon, Miller writes about books for Salon--from these premises we proceed to the conclusion wherein I'm tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth. Figuratively. Neither hair nor enamel was actually lost in the making of this paragraph. Also, you know, Miller's pieces tend to have interesting titles, and notwithstanding the adage about judging books by their covers, what actually draws us to pick up a book (and to buy or borrow it, and to read it) is frequently an interesting bit of cover art or some exterior superficiality like title, author, blurb, review, or prize that may or may not indicate anything about actual contents.

So when Salon titles a Miller piece "Better yet, DON'T write that novel" and adds a subheading like, "Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy," yes, yes, yes: I know she's trolling. I am aware, cognitively hip to, I grok that I'm not supposed to read the piece, much less write a response commenting on it. Rule number one is "Don't feed the trolls." I know. It's what they want you to do.

And so when I say I don't know why Miller would write a piece like that one, where she basically hacks everybody who wants to observe NaNoWriMo for whatever reason--because they always wanted to write, because they already write and NaNoWriMo gives them a structure and deadline, because everybody else is doing it, whatever--when I say I don't know why she'd write that, well of course I know why she'd do it. She'd do it because writing a piece trashing the efforts of hundreds of thousands of passionate amateurs and various pros who are maybe slumming or just being encouraging of the aspiring writer crowd.

I don't know that I need to really get into the self-evident grinchiness of her piece, do I? November has become a month when all these folks who love words and the idea of expressing themselves gather around and hold hands and sing the happy writer song, and if she really doesn't get it, I don't suppose my passing comments are likely to cause her heart to grow two sizes this day or any other. I would merely say that her effort to steal all the toys, presents and even the roast beast is a bit of, as the kids say, FAIL, since writing a glorified blog post about the stupidity of the season is less like loading up poor Max's sleigh and taking the goodies up to the edge of a cliff than it is like drunkenly goading Max through the town while you shout obscenities at every Who you zip past from your cocked-over position where you bounced over the bench and into the back on that really bad turn back there. (Then Cindy Lou Who asked, "Was that drunk, Sandy Claus?" To which no Who in Whoville had an answer, giving only a pause.)

No, I can't really say much about that, but what I would say is that I did find it modestly amusing that Miller failed to disclose a possible conflict-of-interest in her piece; not necessarily an issue in an opinion piece or rant, but still perhaps something relevant to the latter part of her post encouraging reading. Now, before we get into this, I might emphasize that there's nothing wrong with reading. I might also point out that most writers I know are voracious readers, that I have yet to encounter an actual, real-world Garth Marenghi who proudly boasts of having written more books than he's read; along the same line, one also notes that one of the recurring bits of writerly advice from folks like Stephen King, et al. is to read, read, read. So the problem with Miller writing something like:

Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there's not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there's no one left to read it.


...is that it's a really, profoundly stupid thing to say. No, wait. That wasn't my point, either.

Sorry.

No, what I meant to say, actually, is that the problem with the above-quoted paragraph and the one that follows, encouraging people to join writing challenges, is that Miller perhaps ought to explicitly mention what she's surely hinting or at least hoping: that those engaging in a reading challenge might consider starting with the 2008 Little, Brown and Company publication, The Magician's Book, "the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia," that reader (and subsequent writer!) being one Laura Miller, co-founder of and staff writer for Salon....

Gasp! Can you believe the sheer nerve of it! Here's Ms. Miller, a writer, suggesting that people write less and read more books, and unless you noticed the sidebar to her column, you might never notice that she herself has a book she would like you to read. Convenient, no? A book about reading books, no less. This is something like a shill for an oil company writing a New York Times op-ed saying people ought to waste less time riding bicycles and spend more time driving SUVs, or a purveyor of (goddamn delicious) fast food chicken sandwiches suggesting you eat less cow and "mor chikin." I think it would've shown more good faith and integrity if Ms. Miller had prefaced her piece with a disclaimer. Something along the lines of:

PLEASE NOTE: THE AUTHOR OF THE FOLLOWING ESSAY IS HERSELF A WRITER. FURTHERMORE, SHE IS A WRITER OF BOOKS, AND HER SUGGESTION THAT YOU READ MORE BOOKS AND STOP TRYING TO WRITE YOUR OWN MIGHT BE SEEN AS A LITTLE SELF-SERVING. AFTER ALL, WHILE IT'S UNLIKELY YOUR BOOK WILL SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY (SORRY, IT'S TRUE), IF IT DOES, SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT READ YOUR BOOK INSTEAD OF HER NARNIA THING, AND INSTEAD OF FEELING GOOD FOR YOU AND BEING SUPPORTIVE OF A FELLOW-WRITER, DEEP INSIDE THE AUTHOR WOULD DIE JUST A LITTLE. OF COURSE YOU MIGHT ASK, "WELL, WHY CAN'T SOMEONE READ MY BOOK AND MS. MILLER'S BOOK? OR, IF IT'S THAT IMPORTANT TO HER, I CAN EVEN READ IT MYSELF THIS MONTH, WHEN I'M NOT WORKING ON MY 50,000-WORD EPIC ABOUT SPACEFARING MICE WHO HAVE NINJA POWERS (IT'S BETTER THAN IT SOUNDS)."

"WELL," THE AUTHOR WOULD REJOIN, "WHAT IF THE PERSON WHO BOUGHT YOUR BOOK INSTEAD OF MINE, MEANING TO READ MINE LATER, GOT HIT BY A BUS. I GUESS IT WOULD BE ALRIGHT IF THEY'D ALREADY BOUGHT IT AND HAD IT IN THEIR READING PILE, BECAUSE THAT'S STILL A SALE. BUT WHAT IF THEY HADN'T? BUS. BANG. IT WOULDN'T EVEN HAVE TO KILL THEM. IT MIGHT JUST KNOCK THEIR EYEBALLS OUT, BOINKY, BOINKY, BOINKY DOWN THE STREET INTO A STORM DRAIN LIKE A PAIR OF PING PONG BALLS AND I HAVEN'T PERSUADED MY PUBLISHER TO COME UP WITH A BRAILLE EDITION YET, SO DON'T EVEN START WITH THAT. WELL? GUESS YOU NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT, DID YOU? WELL, I THINK ABOUT IT EVERY NIGHT WHILE I LIE AWAKE IN BED AND TRY TO THINK ABOUT WHAT MY NEXT BOOK SHOULD BE. I THOUGHT ABOUT A SEQUEL FOCUSING ON THE "SPACE TRILOGY," BUT CHRIST ON A CRUTCH, HAVE YOU EVER TRIED ACTUALLY READING THOSE? ANYWAY, I DON'T NEED YOU COMPETING WITH ME, SO STOP WRITING. YOU PROBABLY SUCK.


Come clean, Ms. Miller! Admit it! The reason you fear there are too many books out there are that you have one of your own you've written! And another you've edited! And an introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House, but you totally get a pass on that one because everybody should read Hill House, so we'll waive the issue on that one. But the rest! Have you no shame!

Why, Ms. Miller... I suddenly imagine you going into a big chain bookstore and seeing a glut of C.S. Lewis books on the tables near the entrance--the movie version of Voyage Of The Dawn Treader is about to come out and it's nearing Christmas, so I think we'll be seeing mountains of these over the next three or four months (heavily discounted after Christmas, of course); anyway, I imagine you seeing this table, and your eyes narrowing. "What if some of these copies of The Magician's Nephew were replaced with The Magician's Book," I imagine you're thinking. The Magician's Nephew is possibly the shittiest book in the whole Narnia series; if you substituted a pile of one for the other, you'd probably be doing everybody a real favor. Looking around for store security, you do the next-best thing: removing an ARC of The Magician's Book from your purse, you carefully place it on top of the pile of Magician's Nephews, angling it so it perfectly obscures the tops of two whole columns of Nephews. It won't work, Ms. Miller! It's one copy, plus the cashier will have to call a manager if someone tries to buy it because it won't have one of those bar code stickers gumming up the back cover, and then the gig will be up!

Well.

But more importantly, and for all others, the benediction: Welcome, NaNoWriMo, bring your cheer. Cheer to all writers far and near. NaNoWriMo is in our sight so long as we have hands to write, NaNoWriMo will always be as long as we have we. Welcome NaNoWriMo, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand!

Merry NaNoWriMo, everyone!




2 comments:

timb111 Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 9:15:00 AM EDT  

Does your book on spacefaring mice who have ninja powers also have zombie sex? The answer will determine whether I consider buying it in hardcover or waiting for paperback.

Eric Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 10:29:00 AM EDT  

The spacefaring mice with ninja powers have pirate sex during a zombie raid. Also, the zombies are all riding sharktopuses. Or sharktopi. Whatever. So, anyway, I'd say you need to splurge on the hardcover.

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