Been a while since I posted any progress on Isis Rising. Been busy with Snow, but still been cooking Book Three on low heat. I’m happy to report it’s time to turn the heat up again. Just cleared page 100. And I’ve found a song to help. Music is a huge inspiration for me. For The Chosen it was Behind Blue Eyes by The Who. For Daughter Cell it was Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones. For Isis Rising it looks to be River by Bishop Briggs. Have a listen and let yourself get swept away.
Wherein yours truly once again innovates in a bubble, entertains widely, but leaves folks scratching their heads.
On Sunday, at the Baycon science fiction convention, I gathered a half dozen of the musicians who performed on The Mirror’s Revenge original cast album and led a CD release concert. That would have been the normal thing to do, and that’s what the audience of about 70 expected. But I wanted to show off the entire work, not just the music. In the tradition of musical theatre, you can follow the basic story by listening to the songs. I figured, while I’ve got an enthusiastic audience, why not also tell them the whole story that goes with the songs. I also thought to make it a party, with dancing, since most of the music is waltzes. So we had the hotel install a dance floor. I ran a slide show of images to help the audience follow the story. I even rented a fairy tale wedding carriage for folks to take their pictures in.It was going to be a chance to live the fairy tale at a multimedia event folks would never forget.
So I put on my best William Shakespeare and narrated the story from the beginning, in order to the slides, with the band playing the songs at the appropriate places. People were fascinated. So fascinated they never got up to dance or take their pictures in the carriage. I made a break between acts and folks bought lots of the CDs, so I can only assume they liked what they heard. To be as impartial as I can, my partners in creative crime, Margaret Davis and Kristoph Klover, have created a soundtrack for my play that exceeds my wildest dreams. The Chair of the convention approached me at the break and asked whether I had made it clear this was supposed to be a dance. I had, but they weren’t interested in dancing. Yet the event was clearly a success. Very few folks left at the break.
After the performance, many folks came up and thanked the band members for their fine playing and singing. Then they came over to me and said they loved the story. They also said the presentation initially confused them, that until they got into it, they didn’t know what to make of it.
I later saw pictures taken from the audience’s point of view, and I now see I rather overwhelmed them. My fifteen year old, who likes to dance, observed that after every three or four minute song, the music would stop and I would tell some more story. She pointed out at dances, the band plays back to back for ten or fifteen minutes and folks stay out on the dance floor. I also now see where the slideshow, while it got a few good laughs and did its job of assisting the story, was indeed a visual impediment to anyone spinning around dancing.
A cardinal rule of the stage is to never do anything that breaks the audience’s suspension of disbelief. A stage hand moving a prop at the edge of a scene will rip an audience out of the bubble the actors are working hard to maintain. I did not think adding new ways for the audience to live the performance would distract from the story being told. It seems to have required more effort from the audience to find the rhythm of what we were doing. It was inadvertently more experimental than expected.
The audience did find the rhythm. Although I’m sorry I made everyone work so hard, I’m really pleased they got into it. There were a couple of missteps, and there was at least one large missed cue on my part, but the audience followed along happily. So the experiment worked. That does not mean I’m going to repeat it.
I think I will follow the example of storytellers and actors, and give the audience one thing to concentrate on at a time. It’s easier to hold their interest, and you can tell if you’re losing them. Traditional theatre does this. The same actors who are telling the story, sing the songs, and provide the visuals that help the story along. It all gets covered, and the audience only has to follow one thing, the actors.
I have seen what is called experimental theatre. I used to think it was odd mixings of media, like opera singers providing the dialogue for ballet dancers. But “experimental” usually means stories told out of sequence, or told by characters you would not expect to be the Point Of View characters. Even artsy challenging juxtaposition pieces try to keep the audience focused on the message being attempted. Very few risk giving the audience opportunities to be distracted by different things being thrown at them.
I wasn’t trying to invent a new kind of theatre experience. I just tried too hard, and ended up making my audience work to keep up. I am very pleased that folks stuck around and got what I was trying to tell them. I think I will leave media innovation to folks who work with tech. Things like web comix, MMP games, and VR theatre have met with enthusiasm. Good for them. I will remain happy simply to add Playwright to my business card.
Get two or more science fiction authors together for more than five minutes and they will start trading theories on why dystopian fiction is so popular. It is, but no one knows exactly why. Are people thrilled to visit bad times and be glad their lives aren’t so bad? Have people lost faith in tomorrow and want to explore our options? Are post-apocalyptic stories appealing because all the crowds are gone, or because tough times would offer more opportunities for heroism? Maybe it’s all of these, and others, or none.
One thing we can point to with certainty is how this genre contributes to the backlash against intellect. Intellectuals are nearly always the ones responsible for the downfall of civilization. Some egghead figures out how to subjugate humanity. Some egghead unleashes a biohazard. Some egghead tries to rob the system and breaks it for everyone else. If this wasn’t bad enough, the heroes of these stories almost always win the day with heart and not thought. Heroism, faithfulness, and integrity are portrayed as the antidotes to unrestrained curiosity and self-interested scheming.
In the Golden Age of science fiction, threats were exigent enemies that could only be defeated with intellect. Heart and firepower alone were useless against the ravages of space, alien invaders, or technology run amok. Educated thinking applied with a healthy dose of competency porn would find the solution and save the day.
As much as we fans loved those stories, the general public never bought into the notion that scientists were going to save us all. The public saw plenty of evidence to the contrary, with the atomic bomb, oil spills, and breaches of medical ethics. There is a reason why hard science fiction was always and will always be a very small market segment.
More importantly, we have recent and compelling reasons not to trust intellectuals. When the economy failed, Congress called in the heads of Wall Street banks to explain their role and to justify their ludicrous commissions. The bankers didn’t bat an eye. They hire only the best and the brightest who deserve disproportionate pay. They play a vital role in the economy and we should all be glad we have them managing the economy for us, regardless of how they crashed it with unmitigated greed.
The novel I want to see is where the security guard standing behind the banker is smart enough to see through the lies, pulls out his gun and caps the bastard.
Wouldn’t that feel good?
That’s the problem.
When real life paints intellectuals as evil, it only makes sense people would flock to a genre of fiction that has perfected the formula. How far has this gone? Check the box office. Check the bestseller lists. Ask random people around your workplace. Everyone loves a rousing dystopian tale, even hard science fiction fans who believe in intellect.
So is dystopian fiction causing a backlash against intellect? No, but it is fanning the flames. We are at the endgame of a social engineering experiment that started in the 1960s. The Republican Party saw an opportunity in the wake of the Civil Rights movement to win over disgruntled white Southern voters who had historically voted Democratic. This tactic of appealing to people’s baser instincts proved successful, and became the model for divisive politics ever since. Strategists were able to paint silver spoon candidates as everymen by playing negative cards such as racism, classism, and anti-intellectualism. The irony of our times is that evil intellectuals are gathering support from folks who have been bred by those intellectuals to hate intellectuals.
I have no solutions. I have to clench my teeth, grip tight my faith in Jefferson’s majority rule, and hope a majority of people in the upcoming election will see the manipulation for what it is. This is not a foregone result.
As writers we should be aware of the impact we have on the public. There is a lot of money to be made in dystopia right now. But unless you want to see it come to be, I can only plead for you to think twice before you paint another coat of hate on your intellectual bad guys.
Note: Until I can figure out how to get the RSS feeds to work from my new website, I will continue to post from here. Please visit my new site to stay up to date on all my projects. Thank you for your support! jaywrites.com
I have moved jaywrites.com to a new site and expanded it to include everything I have had scattered over the old Chosen promo site, WordPress, Facebook, Amazon, and GoodReads. Everything ME is now all in one place at jaywrites.com.
With that in mind, this will probably be my last blog entry here on WordPress. I will leave this site up as an archive of many years of sharing and working things out with you. Many of my essays and articles only exist here. This has been a good space, but now I need to build one strong house under one roof.
Please come visit jaywrites.com. And visit often – I will have an active presence there updating all the projects I have going. (The Mirror’s Revenge, Isis Rising, and Mermaid Steel are just the one’s I’ve told you about so far.)
One performance only!
Why did Snow White’s stepmother go insane with jealously and try to kill her? Whatever happened to Snow’s father and how did his death set events in motion? How happily ever after could she live after being dead for six months?
Join Bay Area musical favorites Margaret Davis and Kristoph Klover with dark fantasy novelist Jay Hartlove as they showcase The Mirror’s Revenge, their musical theater sequel to the beloved Grimm Brothers’ classic. Come live the fairy tale at this interactive storytelling party with live music and dancing, and discover the rest of the story you think you know!
Baycon. May 29, 2016. San Mateo Marriott, San Francisco Airport. http://www.baycon.org
Once again the Oscar nominations are out, and once again it seems the movie industry is openly demonstrating racism by not including a single actor or actress or color, in either a leading role or a supporting role. Nominations are submitted by people who work in the categories they nominate – actors nominate actors, producers nominate producers, etc. So why, with so many actors of color working in film, do we get an entirely white slate of nominees?
The answer is history has created an enormous bias, but it can be easily corrected, if the industry wants to. The nominating members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences amount to about 6000 folks. To be a member, you have to have enough screen credit to be allowed in by the existing membership. The current breakdown tells the tale. 94% are white. 76% are male. The average age is 63. So how is it that 3000 members are over 63 and only 3000 are under 63, when new actors get on screen every day, and old actors die every day?
Up through the 1960’s, studios signed actors for multiple picture contracts. Once you were signed, you could expect at least two films a year for many years running. Since the 1980’s, studios no longer sign such contracts. Actors are all free agents, and roles are open to competition. So a lot more actors under 63 have appeared in one or two films, and a disproportionate number of older actors have dozens of films to their credit that they made decades ago.
Given this pattern, it is no wonder we have the membership demographics we have today.
The solution is to open up membership to actors who have shown their commitment to the craft, but not wait until they have multiple films released. I do not know enough about how the industry sees itself to propose a simple formula, but if the Academy wants to be taken seriously, they need to fix the membership demographics immediately. The membership needs to reflect the people who actually work in film, not just the ones that have the biggest track record.
The WordPress reader metrics show me that someone sat down and read all the posted chapters of Mermaid Steel today. Whoever you are, welcome and I hope you enjoyed the book! It was a lot of fun to write. Tell your friends.
I am doing an overhaul edit. I am not changing the story or the characters in any significant way. I am adding a couple of subplots that I overlooked the first time through. I am adding a lot more description and tailoring the language to better convey the moment. I do not have a publisher yet, and I do not have a release date. I am planning an elaborate cover.
Back in the day, I was a competition costumer specializing in sculptural techniques. I want the cover to be a close up photograph of Chielle hugging Sten on the beach. This will mean building a lifesize model of her cuddled up to a human actor. I don’t know from computer graphics, but I do know from sculpting. I have a really good photographer who will have a ball with this photoshoot. News as it develops!