Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dick Lit

I've been in a sci-fi writer's group for over a year and garnered some awesome friends who are eagle-eyed readers, thoughtful critics and open-minded ... normal folk.

Awhile back, I had to temporarily run the writer's group by myself. It was fun at first but after a couple of less-than-great meetings, I started to feel psychically drained.

There's something about the genre of science fiction, aka speculative fiction, which seems to bring a specific type of crazy out enforce. They're almost always white and male and anywhere from Baby Boomer old to Millennial twentysomething.

At the meetings, a predictable scene plays out. A guy (usually wearing mis-matched fleece and khakis) shows up with a slightly creepy smile on his face clutching some tome he has self-published. He'll eagerly tell everyone he spent $5,000 getting it published (an amount equal to a nice used car).

I've yet to see one of these self-published novels that looked good enough that I'd actually pick it up in a bookstore. Usually the cover is glossy, the paperback is over sized and there's some lurid color scheme surrounding a title that over uses all the words they tell you to never use like: space, death, god, stars, love or alien.

Mr. Self Published has brought it to show everybody he's serious about this writing thing, it's not just a hobby! Depending upon his level of crazy, the guy will either tell us the basic plot ("it's about a guy who travels thru time with the help of aliens to rescue the space program from mind-reading CIA agents disguised as runway models"). Or if he's really nuts, he'll smile coyly and tell you it can't be summed up, you must read the entire 750-page doorstop.

During the meetings, we bounce around the room doing an impromptu meet-n-greet where everybody will give their first name, mention what they're reading and what they're working on. Usually Mr. Self Published will interrupt with snarky remarks so the whole process takes twice as long as normal.

About 30 minutes in, maybe while we're talking about "World War Z", Harry Harrison or the next comicon, Mr. Self Published will pick a fight. He'll snicker loudly at the meek college girl who says she loves Terry Brooks and is writing her own fantasy story. Or someone will say something about Ursula LeGuin and he'll pipe in with "Oh, the feminazi ... I mean feminist writer".

Or if he's like the winner I dealt with, he'll take the discussion of post-apocalyptic sci-fi (something both Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy have dabbled in) to interject his theory on human extinction and why using nuclear weapons in the Middle East is a cool idea! The fur will start to fly and then Mr. Self Published will gloat, safe in his delusion of superiority, 'cos ya know, he already wrote a book predicting all this.

These freaks like to attack women authors, even roaring successes like Joanne Rowling.

I have yet to meet one of these trolls who did not use the slur chick lit; which is applied to any novel, play, script or short story ever published by a writer with a vagina. Don't expect Mr. Self Published to actually have read anything by a female author. He's way too busy and women authors just don't interest him! (This includes everyone from Joan Didion to Virginia Woolf). Mr. Self Published and his ilk are the reason why women's literature programs were invented.

I've coined a new phrase for this group of socially stunted bigots. (DISCLAIMER: as usual this applies only to some men, not all 4 billion of you.)

Dick Lit.

I define it as sci-fi or speculative fiction that has several specific elements.

Dick lit must adhere to the uber-geek norms for science fiction already set down by their favorite homophobic, misogynistic authors. It must have a machine, it must involve the hard sciences and it must involve space in some way like the launching of a futuristic space ship (think: erection).

Dick lit must have an average-looking male protagonist who is deeply misunderstood by everyone around him. A hero who everyone has failed to recognize as a genius (every cardboard character Michael Crichton ever invented).

Dick lit must have a female character (nothing but dudes would be gay), possibly extra terrestrial or part cat, who is overtly feminine and exotically beautiful in a sort of dominatrix way but who, weirdly, recognizes the genius in the story's hero and either strives to help him in an appropriately subservient fashion or, works against him since all girls are duplicitous.

At some point in the story, the female character, despite her extraterrestrial-ness or over-powering wiles, will get stuck, lost, arrested, kidnapped, gagged, brain sucked, encased in dry ice or put into a chemically-induced coma. Then, surprise, the misunderstood genius hero will come to her rescue. This will happen because from birth, we are all read stories and taught that women are people whom things happen to and men are people who do things.

Dick lit has to have action because stories where people just sit around and talk are lame, like most books women authors write. Those are just people sitting around and talking, right?

Dick lit can have sex scenes as long as they’re non-sentimental and brief, because damn it, the hero has work to do! He can’t be bangin’ intergalactic babes all day like Capt. Kirk. And there should be some weird distancing aspect to these sex scenes like sex with zombies or sex with She-Rah the raging lesbian from planet nine so if the hero has to break things off with her, it’s okay because he’s not emotionally attached, it was just random humping like on that video game, Grand Theft Auto.

Finally, the hero has either some sort of special power or a special machine for kicking ass (think: getting back at anyone who picked on the author in school).

I strongly urge every female reader and author out there to start using this cool new pop culture term at any given opportunity. Like if your boyfriend starts rambling about Peter Parker’s special powers in Spiderman, interrupt him by saying “Oh, you mean like dick lit!” Or if he begins to rant about how they got the warp drive configuration in the new Star Trek flick wrong, say: “Dude, that’s such a dick lit thing to say!”

Dodgy London

I went to the UK for the first time in December 2003. I spent my first week "abroad" holed up in Friend One's house down in Somerset; rural, southwest England. He graciously drove me and a couple of others to see the sites -- Glastonbury, Bath, Dorset.

In the second week of January, Friend One drove me (and another holiday visitor) up to London. I then stayed with Friend Two at his tiny flat in east London, in one of poorer parts of Essex.

Ilford's main features were a giant 12-story heroin rehab facility two blocks from the "town centre" overlooking the rail station and a sea of curry shops and convenience stores predominately owned by Pakistani or Indian first-generation immigrants.

A day after I got to Ilford, the Ricin Scare happened. I perched on Friend Two's sofa, watched Sky News, cleaned his apartment and nursed an appallingly bad flu cold before I started venturing into central London via the train. (I kept a death grip on Friend Two's digital camera the whole time I walked miles in the artic weather taking pictures of everything because I didn't really have any money to do anything else.) I heard stories about the crime rate in the UK having increased 300% in the last decade and saw some crazy take downs of perps by meaty, humorless Met officers ... and they do carry guns.

Now the criminal hazards of life in London have popped up again, in a very glamorous way with a jewelry heist. Just so happens one of the suspects was apprehended at a house in Ilford.

And the jewelry robbery itself happened not too far from where I had to go to get my plane ticket changed at a BA office on Oxford Street.


Monday, August 03, 2009

I see your un-read novels list, and I raise you!

Supposedly, the BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Copy this. Look at the list and put an 'X' after those you have read. Tag other book nerds.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - (saw the flick)
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - X
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - No
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - No
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - X
6. The Bible - X (NAS)
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - No
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell - No
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - X (read in 2002 and remember almost nothing)
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - X
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - No
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - No
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - No
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare - X (the high school standards: Julius Cesar, Hamlet, Romeo-n-Juliet (the censored version)
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - No
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - X (junior high)
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk - No
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - X (multiple times, was on Elko County H.S.'s banned list)
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - No
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot - No
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - No
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - X (but I don't remember much)
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens - No, but read parts of Oliver Twist and Christmas Carol
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy - No
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - No, started to, lost interest
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - No
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - X (again, don't remember much)
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - No
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - X (loved this when I was 12)
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - No
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - parts of it
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis - X (over and over again from age 11 to 16)
34. Emma - Jane Austen - No
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen - No
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis - X (yes, yes!)
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - No
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres - No
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - No (dominant paradigm sexual fantasies put me to sleep)
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne - X
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell - X (another one I barely remember)
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - No
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - No
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - No, but I read "The World According to Garp" and started "A Widow for One Year"
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins - No
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - No, but I remember my mom reading me this
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy - No
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - X, yes, YES!
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding - X, Golding was one of my favorite, also read two other books of his
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan - No
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel - No
52. Dune - Frank Herbert - X, two or three times
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - No
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - No
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth - No
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - No
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - No
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - X, another I barely remember
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon - No
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - No
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - X
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - No, but I saw the more recent movie and really liked it
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt - No
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - No
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - No
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac - X, YES!
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - No
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding - X, and I read "Edge of Reason" and laughed till I peed
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie - X, yes, love Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville - No
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - X
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker - No, but I've read like every other single vamp story out there
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - No
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson - X, YES! And his other books
75. Ulysses - James Joyce - No
76. The Inferno - Dante - No, but parts of it
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - No
78. Germinal - Emile Zola - No
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - No
80. Possession - AS Byatt - No, but I own the DVD and have read one of her other books
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - X
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - No
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker - No, but I read FIVE of her other books
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - No
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - No
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - No
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White - X, but don't remember it
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom - No
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - No
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton - No
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - No, but have read parts/excerpts
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint - Exupery - X, but I don't remember it
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks - No but I've read one of this others
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams - X, in fact just re-read it for the sixth time this Xmas
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - No, but I really should
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute - No
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - No
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare - X
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - No
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - No

Actually read: 29 ... I'm gonna say 28 1/2 just because

On my list and in the house: Hardly any of them. I'm a creative minimalist ... plus I took a painful trip to the used book store in May and unloaded almost two full boxes of paperback and hard bounds I'd been hauling around since before college.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


I started reading this old historical fiction novel the other night that I've been hauling around for years. I became a fan of the author in my twenties and have read most of his stuff, though my memories of specific plot details are real hazy.

Anyhoo, I was just gonna flip through this 1988 paperback and then toss it on the Get Rid Of pile but, damnit, the author keeps surprising me. He does things with adjectives I don't know how to do. I'm envious.

I came across one phrase the other night that blew me away:
... they fled into the muscadine shadows.

And another: ... the darkness emerald with waking dreams.

There's more: ... the yard swirled with children and ... he took it for its earthing power.

I'm having trouble deciding whether you can commandeer nouns like 'emerald' and force them into adjective work. Is it grammatically correct?

I don't care. I think I'll keep (re-)reading.