Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rubyfruit Jungle Party Massacre

Back in my early university days when I was toying with the idea of teaching English for a living, I became fascinated with post-Summer of Love literature, i.e., the novels and stories written by authors who were either involved with or influenced by the social movements of the late sixties and early seventies. A friend of a friend, who was a professor of Feminist Literature, suggested I read a few books by Rita Mae Brown, specifically Rubyfruit Jungle, a breakthrough feminist and lesbian novel of the 1970s, and Southern Discomfort, a novel published in the early 1980s, but written in the late 70s, and set across two generations in the American South.

Ms. Brown was deeply involved with many social movements of the 1960s and 70s, writing essays and novels, and participating in marches and social demonstrations. As an outspoken advocate, Ms. Brown was a woman's woman, exposing and arguing against many stereotypes and archetypes women of previous generations had been forced to comply with. She took an unpopular stance in the early 1970s at the height of the ERA era when she admonished the National Organization of Women (NOW) when NOW publically backed away from supporting lesbian causes. She later became infamous for a statement she made in a TIME magazine interview when she said, "I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it's a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became [in the late 1970s] the only lesbian in America."

Recently, as I rearranged some bookcases, I looked back at a lot of the novels I read during that time period, and thought it was about time I put Southern Discomfort higher up on my ReRead list. I had purposely quit following Brown when she began writing mysteries - little cozies she claims are co-written with her pussy cat Sneaky Pie Brown (I'll let my Cheesy Readers figure out the double-entendre of that name). But because I had quit following her career at that point, I thought I'd hit Wikipedia first and figure out what she'd been up to lately.

As I was reading along, looking at her list of published credits, I was surprised to seen Screenwriter among those credits, then even more surprises to see...

Slumber Party Massacre

What?

THE Slumber Party Massacre? The cult classic slasher movie of the 1980s? The movie filled with gratuitous shots of college-age girls in sheer underwear being chased by a serial killer with a giant phallic symbol drill? A film that any feminist would decry as everything that is wrong with female exploitation films of Western culture?

No! That has to be a mistake. Wikipedia can be said to be only 90% accurate on average. Surely some goofball playing a practical joke put that in there to see if anyone would notice.

A quick trip to IMDB confirmed - nope, not a joke. Rita Mae Brown, the bastion of the lesbian and feminist movement of the early 1970s, the woman who fought for equal rights for all people, be they man, woman, transgender, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or non-gender, was the screenwriter.

WTH?

Was she desperate for money? Emotionally lost? Did she write it while on a three-day acid trip?

None of the above.

She wrote it as parody. She was poking fun at the popular slasher films of the time. The problem was, the director and the rest of the production crew didn't know how to film it as a parody, so they shot it as a straight slasher film, and it was so bad, it was good. It became a cult classic, an icon, a symbol of 80s horror movies that many teenage boys stayed up late watching over and over again. Essentially, it became (in the words of your beloved blog author)...Cheese.

Who woulda thunk it?

See how fun this kind of thing can be? Maybe next time I'll tell you about the degrees of separation between Slumber Party Massacre and Fannie Flagg (yes, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes and regular guest star icon on Match Game that you can catch in reruns on the Game Show Channel!).

Until Next Time...
Feminally Yours,
Michael
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague III (FOR JOURNALISTS)

This post is directed at anyone in the media. I'm thinking specifically of journalists, either print, television, or bloggers, but in all honesty I'm speaking to everyone.

I understand that sometimes the words we use to describe things aren't always that exciting, and the urge to be witty or add a small bit of humor has a certain appeal. But sometimes journalists "out witty" themselves and use a cliché under the impression that they're being funny and/or cute or even original. So without further ado, please journalists, stop using these two clichés:

facelift -- this is a lame way of saying a building has been remodel or reconstructed. Not only has this word been overused in this capacity, but it's technically inaccurate. To get a facelift requires a face. That doesn't stop journalists from using it every single time they broadcast a story about some place undergoing reconstruction or a remodel, and every single time they say with a little chuckle in their voice as if they are the first ones to ever use this word this way. Seriously, Cheesy Readers, start paying attention to how often this is used, and you'll notice the trend too.

across the pond -- this flippant way both Americans and the English refers to the divide the Atlantic Ocean creates between the countries might have been cute the first time it was used, but since then it's been overused to the point of annoyance. Could we at least modify it to "across the lake" or something, anything?

So... the "take away" from this post is don't try to be witty, or if you do, at least be original about it.

Until Next Time...
Cutely Yours,
Michael

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mailing Labels in the Middle

We all know that magazines choose their covers based upon what the editors believe will make their publication stand out on a magazine rack. The hope is that the cover catches your attention enough to pick it up and impulse buy it. For science fiction and fantasy magazines, obviously the art must be fantastical and pique the imagination.

Those of us who subscribe really don't need an attractive cover - we've already paid our money and will read the magazine regardless of what the cover looks like. With that being said, though, we subscribers should still have the opportunity to enjoy the cover, and slapping that mailing label right across the middle kind of spoils the fun. Not only that, the names of some of the authors are covered up as well. As an author, getting your name on the cover of a magazine of this reputation is a big accomplishment. Then to have it covered over by a stupid mailing label has to be disheartening.

Eventually time may cause the label to fall off, but honestly, how does this happen? Can't they have their label gluing machine put that label over the barcode since that isn't needed for mail delivery? Seems like a logical place to put it to me. But, I'm just a reader, so what do I know about these things?

Hopefully, whatever process put that label where it is, will be corrected so we subscribers get to enjoy the artwork that off-the-shelf buyers do.

Until Next Time...
Coverly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Avoid Cliches Like The Plague II

I was reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility when Austen used the phrase "to all intents and purposes," and it reminded me I hadn't written a cliché blog post in quite a while.

Obviously it is a cliché, but the etymologist in me began wondering when it originated and when it became a cliché. Considering that Sense and Sensibility was written over two hundred years ago (published 1811), I thought there was a possibility that maybe the phrase wasn't a cliché when Austen used it. Considering how much I love Austen, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt (which, for those keeping track, is a cliché as well).

A quick peek at Wiktionary.com revealed that the phrase has been in use among the English since the 15th Century when it was used in legal documents, which means by the time Austen used it, the phrase was probably well-known and used quite often, like it is today.

It is funny and sometimes irritating when people get it wrong. Seriously. If you're going to use a cliché, at least try to get it right. "For all intensive purposes" is not only wrong, it sounds stupid, but you wouldn't believe how often I see it and the places I've seen it, for instance, in business documents and internet news stories - basically, people and writers who should know better.

Of all the clichés, this is the one of the few I find most tolerable, but I still avoid using it, and can't even remember the last time I may have. A cliché is a cliché, and this is one to add to your list.

Until Next Time...
Purposely Yours,
Michael

Friday, November 21, 2014

You've been there too...

As my Cheesy Readers know, I own enough unread books at this moment that it would take me nearly five years to read them all at my current rate. My Cheesy Readers also know of my self-imposed grounding from buying any more books, but they also know I'm terrible at self-discipline and I buy books anyway. I make it worse by dropping in at bookstores from time to time, browsing the stacks, and finding even more and more books I want to read. Like many bibliophiles, the compulsion to load up a basket and head to the checkout is strong. But I have learned to control this urge - up to a point.

On my most recent trip, I thought I'd pick up two particular leather bound editions of some classics that I had seen online, but the volumes weren't available in store. Since I was there, I thought I'd go ahead and pick up a book or two anyway. But that turned out to be tougher than I thought.

I have book related restrictions, for instance I've decided to not start a new fantasy or science fiction series without finishing up some of the ones I've already started. The catch being, I'm not always clear which ones I own and which ones I don't. Once I read a book, I never forget it, but until I read it, I may not always recall having it.

Thus was the case on my last trip. I have so many that I've purchased the first one or two or three books in the series, I'm never quite sure when I stopped buying them.

Eventually I admitted defeat, continued to wander the stacks, wanting to buy so so many and just take my chances. I took the safe route and picked up a Barnes & Noble printing of Persuasion (which I knew for a fact I did not own), and the latest edition of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Until Next Time...
Forgetfully Yours,
Michael

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A picture is worth...

Discovered this little graphic the other day. It's not the best of quality, but it does a good job of epitomizing the things that genre fiction can do without us even realizing it. It reminds us that sometimes we don't notice symbolism, but it's there.

We are human; symbols mean things to us, even if we're not aware of it. And this graphic points it out more succinctly than I think I could ever do.

I don't know who created this, but kudos, because you Get It.

Until Next Time...
Symbolically Yours,
Michael

Monday, October 13, 2014

'Tis the Season

Every year I try to read 52 short stories, i.e., one per week. This works out well for many reasons. First of all, I love the short form. Second, it helps support the short form industry. And third, it allows me to read per season. Sometimes I'm in the middle of a long novel when a particular season rolls around, like the Halloween season coming up on us, and I don't want to abandon the novel I'm reading to read a more seasonally appropriate novel. The short story, thus, solves all my problems.

This year, I'm going to reread some great H.P. Lovecraft short stories.

During Lovecraft's times and prior, the distinction between science fiction and horror was not as sharp as it sometimes is today. For instance, many consider Shelly's Frankenstein as a horror novel, but among genre readers, it is actually the first distinct science fiction novel. By Lovecraft's time, though, these types of stories were referred to as Fantastic Tales or Tales of the Fantastic, and many times combined elements of horror and science fiction. What we call fantasy today was called S&S for Sword & Sorcery, which also border-lined into horror.

What made Lovecraft's tales of the fantastic unique though was that Lovecraft was an atheist, while the traditional monsters of the day were always in some ways tied into occultism, demons, or Satan worship. So how did this atheist author address that little gap? Well, his monsters were creatures escaped from other dimensions, gaps between parallel universes, or escapees from the Eternal Void. All could be summoned, contacted, or accidently released if an individual - any individual - had the arcane knowledge to do so. A person didn't have to have magic power or be the seventh son of a seventh son to do so.

So to wrap up here... In the mood for some horror as these leaves turn color, a chill nips in the air, and the traditional icons of Halloween pop up all around you? Turn to the short form, read a few of tales of other-worldly beings, and you'll be all set. Remember don't stare too deeply into The Abyss because it will stare back.

Until Next Time...
Cthulhuly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Banned Books and Irony

We are constantly hearing about various books being banned across the United States and other countries. Usually in the United States, it's a small group of people from the Christian persuasion who find a book offensive, pornographic, blasphemous, etc. etc. For example, the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman is offensive to Catholics who then attempted to have it removed from various schools and libraries around the country (they even picketed outside movie theaters when the first book, "The Golden Compass," was made into a movie). It didn't help that Pullman admitted he intended for it to be offensive.

An attempt to ban a book by a group of small group is nothing new. 

But what is new is the (so far successful) attempt of books being banned for being "too Christian." Yes, you read that right. A small group of atheist in California successfully lobbied and compelled a local school to remove books from its library shelves for being overtly Christian. One of those books is "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Bloom. The book is an autobiography about how a families faith helped them survive the Holocaust. It does not preach or try to convert, and does not insist that the reader believe in God. It simply tells the story of a family who believe in God and how that belief affected how they treated and viewed both their fellow prisoners and their captors.


Maybe your first reaction is - Good! Maybe you're thinking, "It's about time those over zealous Christians know how it feels."
Maybe you aren't thinking those things. Maybe, like me, you're thinking of that old cliché: "Two Wrongs don't make a Right."

Banning a book because of the ideas it contains is bad. Period. Your opinion of those ideas is irrelevant. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to express your opinion, and people have the right to disagree with you.

You do not have the right to NOT be offended. If that sentence looks odd to you, then read it again and think about it. Just because you don't like something, doesn't mean you have the right to deny other people access to that material. Just because something offends you, be you a Christian or an atheist, a Jew or a Muslim, does not mean you have some moral right to prevent others from sampling the pool of ideas that make humans thinking creatures.

Freedom of speech exists to protect unpopular speech. Some of the world's greatest ideas and mankind's greatest steps forward started out as an unpopular ideas. But freedom of speech applies both ways, speech that comforts you and speech that offends you.

Sometimes Freedom is messy - Get used to it.

Until Next Time...
Messily Yours,
Michael 

Monday, October 6, 2014

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book, with many calling this the weakest of the five published thus far. I disagree with that assessment, but can understand it. It's the publication dates that matter and mold a lot of opinions.

Book Three: A Storm of Swords was published in 2000, and left the readers in quite a pivotal point in the story. So five years later, here comes the next book in the series, A Feast for Crows. Fans flocked  (pun sort of intended) to stores and online, they feverishly read the book, only to be shocked that there wasn't one bit of story about some of their favorite characters whose lives hung in the balance from the ending of A Storm of Swords. Imagine the indignation, the frustration. Five years, and not a word.

*****This paragraph contains minor spoilers:
But to those fans in an uproar, Martin threw them a bone… at the end of Book Four, he semi-promised them the rest of the story within a year, give or take. He also explained why the story was published this way. Basically, there was so much story to tell he split it in two and instead of telling half the story of each of the characters, he choose to tell the entire story for half the characters and would follow up with the entire story for the other half. Many fans thought he picked the "weaker" story lines for Book Four as a way of guaranteeing the sales of Book Five, which may be true, but I disagree that the storylines were weaker. I feel that Arya, Brie, Jaime, and Cersei are just as strong and just as compelling stories as the others characters.
*****Spoilers end here


No big deal, though, the fans had waited five years, they got a bit of the story to whet their appetites, and although they were not happy about it, they could wait another year with a minimum of grumbling.

So…. the first year passed, the second year passed, jokes began to emerge – the most memorable of which was: "Is Winter Coming?"

Third year, fourth, etc.

YEAR SIX!
A Dance with Dragons (2011) was released. So not only did fans have to wait six years for the story to continue, they had waited a grand total of eleven years to find out the fates of characters they hadn't read since 2000.

That makes it a little easier to understand the belief that Feast of Crows is the weakest of the books to date, but in a general overall view, and when read back to back, it neatly fits into the plot gears and does much to propel the plot forward.

Until Next Time...
Feastly Yours,
Michael 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Odd Reading Habits

When I was in high school, one of my teachers was an avid reader, but there was a catch - he only ever read James Michener novel or reread The Lord of the Rings. Why?

I have no idea.

I found it fascinating though that someone who loved to read restricted himself to only those books. He even commented that he sometimes got tired carrying around a Michener heavy-weight novel, but he did it anyway. That was many many years ago, and maybe he eventually read all of Michener's novel and found another historical author to follow. But the thought and the image of that huge Michener novel sitting on the top of that file cabinet where he brought it in and set it every day that semester has never left my mind.

His love of Michener made me rethink my opinion of the author. At that point in my young reading life, I had read Space and enjoyed it well enough, but nothing else by the author compelled me enough to read anything else by him. Then his novel Texas came out and was a colossal sized book. At that time I was obsessed with reading exceptionally long books (one day I'll write about how I discovered Hubbard's Battlefield Earth), so Texas seemed like the perfect book to add to my "to be read" pile. My parents must have put two and two together (they had seen me reading Michener and knew I had developed a recent obsession 1000-plus page books) and bought Texas for me in hardcover for Christmas. The only problem was they also bought me the Stephen King short story collection Skeleton Crew and an omnibus of the Richard Bachman books. Considering that at the time I was practically obsessed with Stephen King, Michener was going to have to wait.

Michener is still waiting because I just never got back to that Texas-sized novel. But I never let it go, either. It's remained on my bookshelf all these years, hardly opened, and ready for me to read at any time. I occasionally lug it off the shelf, flip through those 1000-plus, view that exceptionally small print (especially in such a long novel) and ask myself if I'm ready to commit so much time to a novel about the state of Texas. I'm never quite ready. Every year I make the resolution that this will be the year I finally read it, but I also make the resolution to read the unabridged version of Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, The Satanic Verses, and reread Vanity Fair, The Mill on the Floss, Barchester Towers, and Battlefield Earth. None of which ever happens. I have too many other books to read.

It's September now. I have a stack of books I need to read before the end of the year, and I just don't see Texas moving from the "to be read" pile to the "read" pile by December 31.

Oh well... there's always next year.

Until Next Time...
Colossally Yours,
Michael