Thursday, December 29, 2005

Moychandise! Moychandise!

If you've read my online novel DARC AGES, and like it, you can now buy DARC AGES merchandise - t-shirts and posters, for starters, and more to come soon.

Go here to find a link to my CafePress online shop, or go straight to A.R.Yngve's Moychandise Shop here.

King Kong As A Dirty Old Man

During the Xmas holidays, I and some of my relatives went to the cinema. My sister and her hubby went to see Disney's NARNIA movie, while me and my old mother went to see Peter Jackson's KING KONG remake.

Mom walked out halfway through KING KONG, saying out loud: "This is ridiculous."
(That was a bad sign. Normally she loves science fiction films.)

When the heroine started climbing after Kong up the skyscraper, I was tempted to walk out, too.

And just before Kong fell off the skyscraper, when Kong and the heroine exchanged looooooong teary-eyed looks, I thought: "If they start French-kissing, I'm OUTTA here." But, having paid good money (and being a cheapskate) I stayed through the entire film. It didn't improve.

Why does this remake fail as a coherent piece of storytelling? The easy answer is, it's too badly pieced together, overlong, and full of inconsistencies. (For example, how did the natives suddenly disappear from Skull Island?)

But personally, I reacted most strongly to the significance of making Kong an old, aging gorilla instead of a monster-as-primal-force-of-nature. Briefly put, Peter Jackson's KING KONG is a "Horny Old Man" plot.

Look: here you've got this hot young thing visibly and explicitly falling in love with a grumpy, scarred old gorilla with a human personality. This is a completely different Kong from the 1933 and 1976 versions. Both previous versions made Kong a beast in his prime, a larger-than-life figure.

Also, in Jackson's version, the young heroine is more in love with than she's sensibly afraid of a giant hungry monster who might kill her just as well as play with her.

In other words, when you ask yourself "What's it all about?" you think "It's about an ugly old man needing the love of a much younger and prettier person, and how to make this seem noble, romantic and rebellious - despite the fact that it's so overwrought, self-righteous and downright perverse."

It's the kind of plot that Bernardo Bertolucci did in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, or perhaps Thomas Mann with DEATH IN VENICE.
I loathe "Horny Old Man" plots! They pander to dirty old men, and I'm not one.

Also, the ending of Jackson's KING KONG is a big stinking lie. It wasn't "Beauty killed the Beast" in this version. It's the director Carl Denham - a metaphor for the director of KING KONG if there ever was one - who, against the forceful protests of the heroine, captured Kong and brought him to New York. And yet he says "It was Beauty killed the Beast" and we're supposed to believe it. I didn't.

So what went wrong?

Well, it appears the scriptwriters and the director got confused about what their story is "about"... and precisely for that reason, because they didn't really know the meaning of the story they wanted to tell, it turned into a "Horny Old Man" story. How exactly this came to pass is beyond me (Peter Jackson isn't that old) ... but maybe they took the "Kong" character too literally - he's supposed to be a monster, not a real person.

And what are monsters? Emblems of fear and guilt...
When you miss the point of a metaphor and interpret it literally - "he's this big gorilla, and there's just one of him, so logically he must be old and lonely"- you get fundamentalism, shallowness and ultimately stupidity.

Now go see the original version. It makes more sense - and it's less racist, too. Yes, it's true. Watch that scene in the 1933 version, where the Skull Island natives and Denham's expedition work together to block the gate that keeps Kong out. It shows, without the need for lofty speeches, that the natives and the "whites" are in the same boat.

But in Jackson's version, the natives are monsters - mindless, vicious murderers, totally without redeeming features, barely human - and so Jackson tacks on an idiotic, phony "message" bit just at the end, and thinks he's taken a stand against racism.

(Yeah, it's the scene where a bystander says Kong pointlessly climbed the tower because he was one of those dumb animals who can't think... while a single African-American man walks past to imply that the bystander is "really" talking about him. The pot calling the kettle black, eh, Mr. Jackson?)
Lucius Shepard has a very good (negative) review of the film here:
"Everybody Loves-a Da Big Monkey"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My Short Story in BYZARIUM

The webzine BYZARIUM bought and published my short horror story "Nightmare Number Six" in it December 2005 issue.
Read it for free here.

(The story's title was inspired by Robert Bloch's story-poem "Nightmare Number Four".)

Films About Writers & Writing

I like film just as much as reading and writing. Trying to depict the writing process on film is rarely successful, since most of the "action" takes place in the writer's mind.

But here are some interesting, entertaining (and scary) movies about writers and the writing process:

WONDER BOYS (2000) - Based on the novel by Michael Chabon, this movie is really about procrastination and aging. The protagonist has been stuck on his unfinished Great American Novel for years, while younger and hungrier colleagues are experiencing their first major success. How does one fail gracefully? A love song to the loser in every writer.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, (a.k.a. JOHN CARPENTER'S IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)) - This is a guilty pleasure. A horror hackwriter, inspired by Stephen King and H.P.Lovecraft, becomes so successful that his books become real. Silly, yes, but makes you think about what fiction means to people.

MISERY (2000) - based on Stephen King's novel, this is a writer's own personal nightmare: the crazed fan who won't let him "bury" a popular character - she'd rather bury him!

BARTON FINK (1991) - may not be to everyone's taste, but it has several interesting things to say. First, this writer protagonist is an unpleasant, pretentious character - he thinks he's writing for "the common man" but he's not. Second, it portrays a writer who sells out to Hollywood - and fails. Third, it deals with writer's block.

Enjoy these movies when you're stuck in your own writing...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Feedback - Rules Of Thumb

Not all editors give you a pre-written rejection slip.

Some offer substantial constructive feedback, and suggestions for improvement. I'm glad when I receive such feedback, even when I don't agree with all suggestions.

Now, receiving reader/editor feedback is a test of your true character....
If you can't bring yourself to listen to ANY suggestion, no matter how trivial, you're a crank. Cranks rarely write stuff that others want to read.
If you mindlessly accept ANY suggestion, no matter how absurd, you're spineless. You'll become a rich, successful Hollywood script-hack -- but you'll never be a good writer. (Cry all the way to the bank.)

So how do you know if a suggestion is worth listening to? A few rules of thumb:

1. Always, ALWAYS take spelling advice seriously. I don't care if you've got a degree in linguistics, I don't care if you won the 1994 national spelling bee - look it up in a dictionary.

2. When someone suggests that a character name or the story/novel title should be changed, it could be either good or bad advice. People can show unbelievably bad judgment in their choice of names - just look at the names some people give their own babies! Trust your instincts.

3. Plot changes: If the suggested change makes the plot more difficult to follow, REJECT it. If the suggested change makes the plot easier to follow, CONSIDER or ACCEPT it.

4. Never take writing advice from your parents. (Never ask them.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Free Sample Inside!

I've been working on two SF novels in 2005... one is TERRA HEXA 2 - in Swedish - which is complete and slated for publication in Sweden next year.

The other novel - in English - is not "signed" with anyone. I wanted to try a "military SF" novel once... and I didn't want to imitate or emulate anything else.

I will post sample chapters from the novel on this site, http://yngve.bravehost.com/aboutsoldiesse.html , starting December 17 2005, and continuing into 2006.

So you may ask: why post these samples at all?
Answer 1: It helps me focus. As soon as I'm aware that other people are reading my text, I start paying more attention to what I write.
Answer 2: Or, you could say it brings me one step closer to live storytelling, something I'm very fond of but rarely get the opportunity to do (except with standup-comedy). It's hard to explain, but I like the idea of digital text being a "living document" that can change and grow even as you read it, just like live storytelling.

Enjoy (I hope)... and remember, it's only a little story I made up in my spare time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Standup-Comedy Act

Last night (December 5, 2005), I did a 10-minute standup-comedy act in a Scandinavian city, to an audience of mostly students.

I was one of 6 people doing their acts - mostly beginners - but I had the advantage of previous experience: I had done standup several years before - in that town and in Dublin, Ireland.

And my December 5 act was, according to the three workmates who sat in the audience, and the manager of the comedy club, a success. People laughed and applauded, for instance when I enacted my explanation of why women in the Herbal Essences TV commercials shout "Yes! Yes!" (you see, they are disguised aliens whose genitals are placed on the top of their heads).

Furthermore, I poked fun at the monarchy, plastic surgery, the former Prime Minister, UFO abductees, and myself.

So what has this got to do with writing?

Well... In order to become (any) good at standup-comedy, I had to learn that it's not at all the same as "acting". You can't "act yourself", rigidly following a script - the audience sees through that immediately. You have to be yourself on stage - warts and all, and be prepared to improvise. It feels great once you get the hang of it.

Writing prose fiction is similar to stand-up comedy, in that your writer's voice has to be your own voice. If you try to fake that, the prose will come off as false-sounding. It doesn't ring true.

Be yourself - warts and all. Not necessarily in the sense that you must serve up your life's story, but... you have to believe in what you write. It can't sound like a committee wrote it, or a by-the-numbers collection of clichés. Perhaps this sincerity comes with long practice, or a good mentor. I have no idea.

Bad fiction is like failed stand-up: the author appears to stand rigidly before a microphone, reading from the script in a strained voice: "I AM BEING SPONTANEOUS NOW..." (Argh.)

Good fiction flows like the machine-gun delivery of a Robin Williams or a Billy Connolly: You buy into the act at once. Suspension of disbelief is total.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Read My Books For Free!

My homepage has been updated - as happens once a week - with new installments of my old novels DARC AGES and THE ARGUS PROJECT. The novels are being released as weekly serials, and can be read for free.

Also on my homepage: short fiction, essays on writing and literature, and some of my artwork. Have a look! It's free.