Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sex and Violence

.

So, like most of the civilized world that’s ever picked up a YA book, I saw the Hunger Games film last week. I was intending to see John Carter (it’s also based on a book people – a book no less ground breaking than HG in its day, but whatevs) but the traffic gods conspired against me. You know that scene in the old Clash of the Titans film where Zeus has his little action figures, all fucking relentlessly with the lives of mortals and whatnot? He does the same thing these days, but with a model of my car instead of Pegasus.

So tHG is about a bloody gladiatorial contest between children for the amusement of a callous, bloodthirsty mob. To me at least (and maybe I overthink things) it’s about dehumanization. It’s a statement about our own society and our desensitization to violence as a concept. We have no problems turning on the TV every night and seeing dead bodies being pulled out of smoking rubble. Bloodstains and chalk marks and spent shell casings. Street hardened cops solving the brutal murder of the week through SCIENCE!™ Real life bloodsports like UFC bigger than ever.

And that got me to thinking (run while you can, my pedigree chums). Because while my own personal issues with HG stem from Katniss really only deep-sixing a SINGLE competitor with any real intent, it’s still a reasonably violent film. We see heads bashed open with bricks. People torn apart by wolfthings. Death by throwing knife, hatchet, arrow. A girl being stung to a screaming, agonized death by genetically altered wasps. And of course, a 12 year old girl getting stuck like a pig with 6-foot of spear. Weirdly, I think the film perpetuates our callousness to violence as a culture, rather than doing anything to actually address it.

Case in point? The Hunger Games is a PG-13 rated film in America.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America website, here’s what PG-13 means:

A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children… There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.

So essentially “You should check this out before your kids see it, but if they front up with their money, we will take that money and not think twice about it. BAM.”

Now in the other hand, I’ll hold up a documentary called BULLY, which recently wore an R-rating from that same rating body. For your edification, from the MPAoA site:

An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian… Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

There is no murder in BULLY. No intense or persistent violence. No sexually oriented nudity or drug abuse. Just conversation. Some talk of homosexuality and the abuse/bullying suffered because of it. Some F-bombs. And it wore an R rating. The Hunger Games, a film in which 24 teenagers set about brutally murdering each other for the amusement of the bloodthirsty mob, is rated PG-13.

What does this say about us as a society? That its cool for an unaccompanied child to go see a 12 year old get spitted, heads bashed open, popped with arrows, but it is simply ILLEGAL for a child to go alone and see a film about an issue that any school teacher will tell you is a persistent and growing problem in our school system? And the MPAoA makes a big frowny face in your direction if you decide ‘No fuck you, this film is important and I want my child to see it’?

“Generally, that is not appropriate. We glower at you now. Grrr.”

Is BULLY’s message any less valid than HG’s? Doubtful. Is BULLY going to strike home harder because it’s a documentary rather than a Hollywood spectacle? Probably. Is it more threatening to a conservative right wing establishment? Definitely. Is being exposed to violence and murder perfectly acceptable, but being exposed to the notion of homosexuality and profanity somehow not? Apparently, yeah. It is.

This makes no sense to me.

And this isn’t a phenomenon limited to the world of film, either. We live in a world where it’s cool for Author X to write a book where people are beheaded, eviscerated or dismembered, but some stores won’t stock it and some librarians won’t recommend it if it contains a kid smoking pot. Or swearing. Or being gay. This is the reality of the society we live in. I know authors who’ve been warned ‘stores won’t stock your book if you use profanity in it – you can keep the bad words in there, it’s totally up to you, but ya know… sales and stuff. Hint hint.” I know other writers who’ve been told point blank, flat out “Take out the profanity” by their publishers. “We will not print this book with the word ‘ass’ in it. Change it. Now.”

I’m not fucking with you here, people. This is the world you live in. Violence is okay. Murder is okay. Spent shell casings and chalk lines and children killing children – IT’S ALL OKAY.

But bad words? Sex? Drugs? No, we’re not having it. We can’t. We won’t.  Take it out. Cover it up. Hush it away. Slap it with warning labels and overly-harsh ratings so nobody will see it, hype up the new Hollywood blockbuster with buildings disintegrating and mass carnage and kids killing kids, because the world as we know it will end right this second if a child smokes a joint on film or says ‘ass’ in a book.

Books and films containing drug use or sex (straight or not) do not condone/encourage drug use and sex, any more than the Hunger Games condones/encourages the spearing of 12-year old girls. Saying the word ‘ass’ or ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ will not cause the sky to fall or the world to end, and I have news for you folks – your kids say those words already. In all likelihood, they talk about and experiment with sex. Ditto for drugs. And instead of fretting on it ‘til you shit blood, instead of doing your best to make this a world where entertainment trivializes brutality and murder and hides away every other ‘taboo’ in some R-rated closet, instead of doing that, understand that not talking about the issue will not stop kids having sex, or doing drugs, or saying bad words. It will only mean they do these things without your guidance. Without perhaps understanding risk, or consequence. Without being as informed as they could be. In some arena over which you have no control.

Declaring a subject taboo only makes it more desirable to the average young person.

Your attempts to shield your children only make them more curious, and more vulnerable.

In the words of the immortal Zack De La Rocha:

Wake up.


STORMDANCER UK cover reveal

.

In case y’all missed it, the 100% official cover for the UK edition of STORMDANCER got launched yesterday over at the TorUK blog.

<insert multiple exclamation marks here>

There’s also a reveal over at the Story Siren, along with an interview with Your’s Truly and a chance to win a signed copy of the UK hardback.

March like zombies, bitches!

All the links you need to pre-order (which would be lovely of you) can be found on the ABOUT STORMDANCER page.


A quick dose of awesome

Quick one this week to share some cool to absolutely frackin’ amazing stuff. I do this in point form, because I’m feeling slightly OCD today.

**The UK cover for STORMDANCER is done, and awesome, and set to be launched next Monday, 26th March. It’ll be up on the TorUK blog and also featured over at the Story Siren with an interview from Yours Truly. Lock up your daughters and run to the hills.

**Marissa Meyer, NYT bestselling author of CINDER has read STORMDANCER, and dug it mightily, and gave me a simply awesome cover blurb (which you won’t see til I launch my website in April). She’s off rocking socks at the Bologna Book Fair atm, but still took the time to read and blurb, so yay Marissa. Much ❤

**I tweeted about this a while ago, but I guess I tell this story to illustrate the power of social media. I don’t believe in spending hours and hours every day on Twitter. I’m absolutely certain that thousands of Twitter followers do NOT represent thousands of sales. But. Here’s a story that shows there’s at least a little value in being out there and being heard:

At some point a few months ago, I tweeted something amusing (hard to believe, yes). It got retweeted a few times and floated around the net until it wound up in the feed of one Beth Revis, NYT  bestselling author of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. She clicked on the twitter handle to find out who this extraordinarily witty and devilishly handsome bastard in her feed was, then back-tracked to my blog, then wound up on my About Stormdancer page, and finally emailed me and asking if she could read the book.

0.o

And I was all OMFGOFCOURSEYOUCANREADIT  “Yes, madam, that will perfectly acceptable, thank you.”

So she’s reading it right now. And if she doesn’t think it sucks horribly, she may say something nice about it for the cover. And hey, she MIGHT think it sucks horribly. Or that our audiences will clash. Or whatever. But the point is, a single tweet started it. So, authors, if there is a lesson here, it is this:

Get the frack out there.

Get on Twitter. Have a blog. Have a page about your book. Try not to come off like a three-toed sloth raised on a diet of cheetos and fuckwittery when you speak online. Make sure if people want to know about you, they can FIND YOU (and won’t run away screaming when they do). Because the person looking for you just might be a NYT bestseller willing to give up some of their life to read your shit.

**I tweeted about this yesterday, and I’m STILL tripping out about it. But this is another lesson learned thing:

So, I wrote a few articles about Steampunk on this blog over the last year. I don’t claim to be an expert or anything – truth be told, STORMDANCER is probably a little more fantasy than SP, but still, there’s definitely SP elements in there, and I love SP as a genre, so I did my best not to sound like a crazy homeless person when I talked about it. Tbh, I don’t really know how, but Scott Westerfeld, NYT Bestseller of the kickass LEVIATHAN trilogy recently found them. And he linked them in his Twitter feed along with a shout-out to me, and my hits went batshit crazy through the roof for a few days. And I thought ‘Wow, that was pretty nice of him. I must buy him some expensive wine or perhaps the services of an exotic dancer if he is thus inclined and I ever have occasion to meet him’.

So I sat around fretting for about two weeks, but eventually mustered the courage to email him and say thanks. And – in what will probably be the straight-up ballsiest maneuverer I pull all year – DARED to ask this dude to read my book. This dude who’s pretty much the biggest author anywhere near SP atm, and probably gets requests like this every single day. (We ourselves tried approaching through official channels, but I don’t think we got past the gatekeepers)

And Scott said yes.

Which still blows my frackin’ mind. Scott Westerfeld is reading STORMDANCER as I type this.

Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff…

And yes, again, he might think it sucks. And politely excuse himself from blurbing it. Which would flat-out killlllllllll me, but hey. But the point is, again, if not for the blog, and that weird kind of osmosis that goes on between authors and those wonderful, wonderful readers on this thing called the interwebs, it wouldn’t have happened. Official channels didn’t cut it. But me spitballing for a few thousand words about Steampunk in my tiny, excrement smeared corner of the interwebs did.

It’s luck, pure and simple. But a good buddy of mine says ‘you make your own luck’ and in a way, these episodes kinda prove that point. You still need to be lucky for your shots to hit a moving target, yes. But, you’re not gonna hit a gorram thing if you’re not firing shots in the first place.

As Jimmy Malone said to Elliot Ness, ‘Here endeth the lesson.’

Six months til STORMDANCER hits US shelves. 5.5 before it hits UK shelves. 5 til it hits Australian shelves.

gulp


Two Minutes Hate: Trailer trailers

Dear Hollywood,

I like movie trailers. Even though you over-enthusiastic prats have a terrible habit of showing me all the funniest/coolest/sexahhhh-ist bits in your previews and completely spoiling me for the actual film, I appreciate the effort you take in showing how truly excremental the latest Jennifer Anniston RomCom is, or allowing me to make a rational and informed decision about where to place “See Mirror, Mirror” on my “Things I want to do this June” list. (right after “Develop colon cancer” atm)

But the “trailer for the trailer” bullshit has to stop. Seriously.

I don’t give a shit how good the movie is. I don’t care if you shot two solid hours of Kate Beckinsale making out with Liv Tyler in the back the Millennium Falcon, piloted by the ghost of Bill Hicks, scored with a heretofore unreleased 120 minute version James Brown’s ‘Sex machine’ (tell me you would not watch the FUCK out of that movie) – I don’t need to see a sneak preview of the mother fucking PREVIEW.

What’s next? A trailer of the trailer of the trailer? The sneak preview of the preview’s preview’s preview? Where does it end, a sane man might ask? And I’ll tell him where. It ends with me preferring to punch myself so hard in the fucking brain it kills my unborn grandchildren that see your goddamn movie.

STOP IT.

The Two Minutes Hate is a semi-regular feature on this blog, where I basically rant like a pantsless hobo about something that irks me. Feel free to ignore me. I probably just need hugs.


Epicnessness

So, I’m getting into the business end of my first draft of Stormdancer 3. Yeah, I know book 1 isn’t even out yet. Deadlines is deadlines, people.

Interlude: I feel ridiculous saying ‘Stormdancer 2’ and ‘Stormdancer 3’. These books have names, and though I’m not allowed to reveal them yet, calling them ‘Stormdancer 2’ and ‘Stormdancer 3’ is like my parents referring to my younger siblings as ‘Jay 2’ and ‘Jay 3’. And my siblings are both GIRLS. It makes no sense. So enough of this. Enough I say!

From the remainder of this post, ‘Stormdancer 2’ will be referred to as ‘Albert ‘Danger’ Fantastic’ (Mr Fantastic to his peers, and ‘Danger’ is his middle name) and ‘Stormdancer 3’ will be hereby referred to only as ‘The Dude’.

So.

True to campfire rumor, The Dude has been far easier company than Mr Fantastic. Mr Fantastic is all about set up. You can have conflict, you can have minor resolution, you can have earth shattering revelations of the Empire Strikes Back variety (No, Darth Vader is not Yukiko’s father in case you were wondering) but in true man of mystery style, Mr Fantastic leaves  the big questions unanswered, and the big bad guy undefeated.  By comparison, all the pieces are on the board in The Dude, and my job as an author is to tie up the threads with some suitably crunchy action and gut-wrenching tragedy and make everybody cry at the end.

Yes, it is The Dude’s intention to make you cry. He’s mean like that.

I’m also finding The Dude comes with a metric shit-tonne (slightly less than a fuck-tonne, significantly more than a frack-tonne) of battles. And not Michael Jackson filmclip style battles, either, where hardened street thugs work out their differences with a dance-off. I’m talking Pelennor Plains style battles. Cities under siege. Fleets of sky-ships riddling each other with shuriken-thrower fire across storm-torn skies, armies clashing on stretches of ashen, dead earth while colossi of black iron and smoke so tall they blot out the sun crush legions underfoot and godDAMN it’s fun to write.

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m possessed of XY chromosomes, but I like writing violence. I like building sand-castles made of words and then smashing them to pieces before the tide comes in to wash them away. And maybe my epic battles suck more than my mum/sister/significant female other when the navy is in town (this is the standard measurement of suck, or so the wonderful and well-balanced young gamer gentlemen in the League of Legends community would have me believe), but since I’m writing so damn many of them lately, and since it’s been a while since I wrote a ‘writing’ type article, I thought I’d share a few pointers on how I go about writing them here in this little microcosm of mine, which you can feel free to ignore or adopt as you see fit.

Hell, I gotta blog about something while we wait for cover reveals. So, awaaaaay we go:

Short introductions – In an epic battle, you’re dealing with thousands of people trying to murder the bejeezus out of thousands more. The armaments, formation, disposition, size, mood and personal hygiene of each of your combatants is something you can spend a lot of time on if you really want to. But I’m not sure many people care. You need your establishing text to describe the forces involved, but spending an enormous amount of time talking about the peculiar braiding on the collars of the elven archers cloaks, or how the pikemen from Southern Whosiwhatsit were descended from a race of sheep buggering madmen from the Upper Thingamabob… I’m not sure. Flavor text is good. Flavor text will help establish some color in the scene. But spend too much time on intros and you’re going to bore your reader stupid, particularly when they know most of these fellows are going to be decorating the sharp pointy things of your main protagonists soon. I’m not sure readers care much about the canon fodder.

Keep your wide shots to a minimum – Think about any showpiece battle you’ve seen on film – after initial introductions, the camera usually spends very little time following the movements of large bulks of troops. After we’re shown that, yes, that is an awful lot of Uruk-hai, and yes, those Riders of Rohan are proper fucked, the camera takes us up close and personal. It’s only in clutch points during the battle, when the tide swings one way or the other, that we’re given a wide view. Most of our time is spent medium/close up. Battles are visceral. Terrifying. If you find yourself using terms like ‘pincer movement’ or ‘flanking manoeuvre’ you’re shooting way too wide. Your audience is removed from the action. They need to be so close they’re worried a stray shot might take their head off. A guy in the thick of battle doesn’t know the enemy is performing a ‘pincer movement’. All he knows is that there’s another guy with a broadsword the size of a small tree trying to cleave him in twain.

Cleave him in twain – NEVER use this turn of phrase in an epic battle. Or in any other fashion, actually. There is a special circle in Wanker’s Hell for writers who do.

Carnage – People die in battle. And to be honest, they die in brutal, painful ways. Compare the melee in a film like Braveheart to a film like the Phantom Menace. Menace has these huge set-pieces with thousands upon thousands of figures all pew pew pewing at each other, all very visually impressive. Braveheart has a couple of hundred dudes swinging big sharpened chunks of metal. The difference? In Menace, the combatants are robots. In Braveheart, the combatants are big sacks of meat and blood. When someone gets hit, you feel it. You see the aftershocks. The camera gets little splashes of blood on it. Which battles are more spectacular? Which ones are you more heavily invested in? Which one will you be more excited reading? Battles are about crunching bones and spraying arteries and people screaming. They’re about the stink of blood and smoke and excrement (Fun fact! People void their bowels when they die!). They are noise and chaos and red, red krovy. PG’ing that shit isn’t going to work. Nobody will care.

Point of View – God’s eye is functional for establishing the ebb and flow – who is winning and who is losing. But as discussed above, it’s also impersonal. Epic battles are not about armies. They’re about the people inside them. And not necessarily the heroes leading the charge atop a disco unicorn, golden locks all blowing in the breeze and whatnot. Sometimes, sure, you want to see spectacular heroism and feats beyond the ken of mere mortals. But doing it too often gets boring quick. Try writing the battle from some grunt on the front line. Lord Richard of Gobblecock, last Scion of the great House of Withknobson wants to win this battle to claim the throne from the evil clutches of usurper King Tackleout (waheyyyy, pee-pee jokes!). But Garreth of Pigswill, some pressganged farmer with a wife and three kids to feed and the local Magistrate eying off his plot of land? He just wants to stay the fuck alive. Reading from his point of view, rather than the Lord atop his gleaming unicorn, will give your battles a different kind of gravity. And gravity is what you’re after.

Lastly, never, EVER use the phrase ‘Cleft in Twain’ – I know I said this already, but it’s so important I thought I should mention it twice.

Alright, I’m gonna go hang out with the Dude some more. See if he can make me cry, the big meanie.

Big ups.