The Storyteller Reports: Is There Too Much Darkness In Today’s Fiction?

I am pressed for time, so I will speak swiftly. For those of you wondering about the FastPencil edition of The Quest, it’s still rebelling against me. It won’t publish. I’m working on it, but I’m also juggling college coursework.

In the meantime, I want to leave just a thought today. Have you ever gotten the feeling that a lot of modern fiction tends to be grim and violent? I was writing on Friday about why I put down Watchmen in favor of more optimistic literature. Now I’m wondering whether Watchmen and other dark tales have too much power in today’s storytelling landscape.

Look at movies like The Dark KnightThe Road, and A Prophet. They were all critically acclaimed and all full of deadly moral choices. Think about the works of Cormac McCarthy, or Stephen King, or even Brad Thor. Think about The Hunger Games. Think about Twilight, even. The Wall Street Journal uncovers a brutal trend in YA novels that turns my stomach.

We still have our Harry Potters and our Frodo Bagginses. I don’t hear such hopeful works discussed in the same tone. Films like The Help, and books likeHotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, rake in plenty of cash, and people say they love them, but they don’t carry the same weight as The Godfather or a drug addict’s new book.

The message that I am being sent is this: successful, serious fiction needs to be dark. If you want to be successful and seriously considered in your literature, you have to focus on the dark side of humanity. Inspirational stories, or stories with pure good and evil, are lightweight and don’t merit as much esteem.

Am I right?

***

Hello! I don’t know if you heard, but this blog is moving to a new one. It’ll have all the same weekly features, and news about The Kingdom Trilogy. It will also acknowledge the other projects that I dip my toes in. Check it out here. I’ll post the weekly features on both sites for a while, but before long I’ll make the full transition to the new site.

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day!

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The Storyteller Reports: Business Doubleheader

RANT OF THE WEEK: The Many Genres that Highly Effective People Read

My adoration for The Wall Street Journal has gone on for years. Once again they tickle my thoughts with a feature on some books that business leaders call influential. Before I go on, let me test your expectations.

Of the four titles below, what would you expect Ray Fisman (professor of social enterprise and co-director of the Social Enterprise Program, Columbia Business School) to call an influence on his view of business?

A) The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

B) Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad

C) Frog And Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

D) The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

Believe it or not, it’s C. That’s right. The business brain in the suit names a children’s book as one of his big influences in business theory. A few others like him cite books like Henry IV, Part One by Shakespeare, and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. You can check them all out here.

In the meantime, allow me to do the commentary that the Journal didn’t do. I have never read a business advice book in my life. I probably will someday, but I received Crime and Punishment and The Faerie Queene for Christmas. Somehow The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People doesn’t seem as appealing. It will be a while yet before I read Covey’s famous book, or anything like it.

Why should I, if one of the primary influences on Mark Cuban was Ayn Rand? It seems to illustrate something that I have subconsciously held for a number of years. Business books seem to deal with business. Literature and philosophy deal with the human condition as a whole. Why should I spend my precious time with specifics when there is so much to be understood in the whole? And if I approach life, reading and improving myself as a whole, will this not trickle down to specifics like business management?

I know there’s at least a couple of my followers for whom this is relevant. I, too, am an indie author, selling fiction for money. My reading choices have higher stakes than the average American. My time with words is a powerful investment in how I look at the world. Every deposit I make must yield bountiful returns. Too many failures will ruin me not as an author, but as a human being.

Am I being snobbish? Of course I am. I needed some sort of self-confidence to start writing in the first place. Will I read a business book? Someday, if it’s truly worth it. But until then, I run to the arms of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Edmund Spenser. They will teach me more than Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It ever will.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

You may or may not know E.D. Kain. He blogs for Forbes.com about “nerd culture”. Whether you’re a nerd or not, you should be interested in what he has to say about the “evil corporation” stereotype in movies. After watching the trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Prometheus (an Alien prequel that doesn’t call itself an Alien prequel), Mr. Kain commented on how it might continue the corporation stereotype.

He also comments on how we can expand on that. I won’t steal any of his thunder. Check out what he has to say. For his insightful ideas, I name him Storyteller of the Week.

The Storyteller Reports: For Once I Don’t Have Anything To Complain About

For those of you who’ve seen one of my “Rants of the Week”, you know I can be cruel with these posts. Guess what? It’s three days until Christmas, according to my time zone. Therefore I shall do an Ebenezer and make myself merry. I’ll even write a positive “Rant”. Happy holidays.

RANT OF THE WEEK: A Brilliant Idea By A Brave Man

When World War I hit Europe, the response of culture was something more fragmented and cynical than what had come before. The Romanticism of James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne yielded to the harsh bite of Ernest Hemingway and Sigfried Sassoon. Literature was never quite the same.

Or was it? An Englishman named J.R.R. Tolkien survived those horrors as well. You might be familiar with some fantasy titles he wrote. His work seethes with pain and loss, but never with the same harshness as some other veterans of war. In fact, it’s remarkably beautiful. Perhaps it is even more beautiful than anything Cooper ever wrought with his pen, or even Hawthorne.

That’s why I’m excited and proud to hear about Benjamin Buchholz. This man went through the war in Iraq as an officer for the American army. On only his second day, a little girl was killed in an accident. Who knows what other dark things he saw after that. In any case, upon his return he decided to write a fiction book.

All of the works I’ve heard of concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem hard-boiled to me. Generation Kill and The Hurt Locker don’t have many traces of Romanticism in them. Breaking the trend (according to my limited knowledge) is Buchholz’ novel One Hundred and One Nights, about a scarred man who befriends a girl. Every night, his new friend tells him a story; Buchholz specifically drew from Scheherazade’s famous exploits to inspire his own work.

The Baltimore Sun was the first link to alert me about this. Buchholz has some amazing things to say about his literature and his experience. Give yourself an early Christmas present and see what he has to say. 

I think this could be a little different from the usual take on the Middle East. I know little about the modern literature that surrounds that (I haven’t even read The Kite Runner), but that doesn’t cool my excitement. Once I pay for next semester’s college tuition, I may want to save up and get a copy of this book. I feel like taking a chance.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

Charles Dickens.

If you even need to know why, go read “The Christmas Carol”. Or check out my laud to one chapter that he wrote (the greatest chapter of any novel, anywhere, any time). All hail the master.

The Storyteller Reports: Banned Books Week, and Stories That Are Worth Telling

Happy Wednesday. As always, for those of you who who aren’t hopelessly addicted yet, I’m back with my weekly storytelling news/commentary, and my storyteller of the week. Read to your heart’s content!

RANT OF THE WEEK: It’s Banned Books Week…

… and I am laughing my rear end off.

All across America, libraries are bravely taking a stand and honoring those books that dared to challenge social norms, scare traditional parents, and anger those stupid Bible-thumping Christian lunatics*. Even to this day, we carry on the valiant fight against ideological oppression, as indicated by a recent scandal in a Missouri library, and a glorious triumph in Massachusetts.

It’s touching, and in fact it would make me cry if it wasn’t for the fact that censorship has no more meaning in 21st-century America. I publish e-books. I know what the Internet’s capable of. You can’t control what’s on there. I can guarantee that with the click of a button, kids can find much more disgusting stories than the toilet passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses. The times they are a-changin’. At least the MPAA still makes sure that no disturbing movies get rated PG-13…

The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)

… never mind.

All jokes aside, there’s no point to celebrating banned books when most media in the world don’t even know what the term “banned” is. As author Sarah Ockler puts it…

“In a country where the daily news media spotlight more violent, sexualised and sensationalised images than a teenager could ever find in the school library, does anyone truly believe that forcing students to ask parents to check out their books is appropriate? We don’t prepare teens for coping with life’s challenges by hiding information or pretending that the issues explored in books don’t exist. Grief, death, war, sex, heartbreak, loss – these things happen in life. By this time next year, some of these students could be serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. Yet they need mum’s permission to check out a library book?”

Last week, I published a short story with a lot of nastiness. Torthan the freedom fighter goes on a quest for vengeance, and at every step he leaves a trail of blood and corpses. I didn’t try to make it gratuitous, but I didn’t pull any punches either. Neither did Mel Gibson or Flannery O’Connor, but they convey much more profound things about the human race than any cliche “feel-good” story.

Now that censorship is no longer a problem, let’s focus on celebrating the stories that are truly worth retelling.

*= As a Roman Catholic, I feel compelled to mention that I use this term in sarcasm. For the record, J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor were both stupid Bible-thumping Christian fanatics. This does not seem to have had a detrimental effect on their literature.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

J.C. Martin, please stand and be recognized.

When I went blog-hunting at the start of this summer, J.C. Martin’s “Fighter Writer” site was one of the first destinations I found. J.C. was my introduction to indie literature. She had a free short story on Smashwords called “A Thousand Tears”. When I finished the last page, I leaned back and blinked a couple of times.

“Whoa,” I said, “I need to step up my game.”

“A Thousand Tears” astounded me. It remains the most memorable short I have read with nameless characters. When J.C. announced a full-length novel called Oracle, I paid attention. You should too. She has her feet in several projects right now- including the most creative blogfest I have ever seen in my life. Find out what she’s up to at her official site.*

Especially considering this Banned Books Week nonsense, it’s a relief to see writers like her practicing their craft. Why celebrate a fight that has been won already when you can celebrate stories like “A Thousand Tears”? There’s a deep literary theme in that story, the progression of which is nothing short of enlightening to witness.

My fellow storytellers, let historians deal with the past. Let us not ignore history, but let us not lose ourselves in it either. Let us join J.C. at the tip of the spear, and write some new meaningful tales for a new generation.

Get “A Thousand Tears” for free from SmashwordsApple or Kobo. And even if you don’t do that, please give her a storyteller’s salute.

*= Some of her projects involve erotica. If you are opposed to this genre, there are references to it on her official website.