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August 2012 December 2012 Now available!

Zombie Opera

Another guest post by the austere and infernal H. Smiggy McStudge. Take with the usual quantity of salt; that is, if you have no salt mines in your neighbourhood that are willing to make bulk deliveries, strain half a gallon of seawater through your teeth for each sentence. —T. S.

I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.

—Charles Beaudelaire

Professional jealousy causes artists to say some terrible things; even, in extreme cases, the truth. For the purposes of the McStudge clan, Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen marked a crucial turning-point in our age-long struggle against Art. In one or two very important ways, it foreshadowed the ultimate fate of grand opera, which was once so dangerous to us and is now so useful to our cause.

If you mention ‘high culture’ to anybody in the English-speaking world, and ask them what is the first thing that comes to mind, there is an excellent chance that they will reply: ‘Opera.’ For generations past, the opera has been the playground of the wealthy elite and the social-climbing sub-elite. I do not, of course, mean that these classes of people write or perform operas: that would be absurd. Though the snobbery and self-importance of the people who do perform operas for their benefit, I am happy to say, is equally absurd and quite real.

No, I mean that rich people and senior bureaucrats gather at palatial opera houses, not to see the opera, but to be seen as opera-goers. They dress up, to this day, in passable imitations of the clothing worn by nineteenth-century aristocrats – the closest some of them ever come to being elegant. They then spend hours of agonizing tedium brought on by music that they do not like, by acting that nobody could praise, and by singing in an artificial and constipated style, all done in a language that they do not understand and for which no translation, as a matter of etiquette, is supplied. (Only a philistine, we teach them to say, would ask what an opera means.) But during the intervals, they have the ecstasy of chattering with their fellow elite in the lobby, eating awful finger sandwiches, swilling champagne, and generally carrying on as if they were the favoured guests of Le Grand Monarque for an unusually exclusive evening at Versailles. Like the Pharisee who prayed on the street corners to be seen praying by men, they have their reward.
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Death by Bebop

A guest post by our Evil Alter Blogger, H. Smiggy McStudge. He says that if I let him rant, he will give me back my blood-pressure medication, maybe even before I have another stroke. Do not trust this man. He would steal Tiny Tim’s crutch. —T. S.

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes.

Will Self

Listen: I write pretentious, artsy-aspiring, insufferable literary fiction and even I don’t think there was ever a time when literary fiction was “alive” enough to be called “dead” now.

Libbie Hawker

Literary fiction is dead, my dear Will and Libbie; and I am proud to say that we McStudges killed it. If you want to make out the certificate, I can tell you that it died at precisely the time when it first began to be called literary; you can work out the date from that. A McStudge never sleeps; he may put his audience to sleep, but he himself is always on duty. In the past hundred years, we have killed opera, we have killed poetry, we have killed painting and sculpture, the ballet and the symphony; we have sent ‘serious’ live theatre and ‘serious’ literature to that great arts council in the sky. Latterly, we have started in on merely popular art forms. Even the king of pop culture, the Film Industry (you can tell it is pop because we call it an Industry), has the name of McStudge written across its face in lovely necrotic blotches. We have got written science fiction starting to pine for the fjords, and now we are rubbing our hands with glee, and wondering which genre of popular fiction to kill next.

You may wonder, my poppets, why we McStudges take such delight in killing off art forms; and for the time being, you can take it out in wondering. I may deign to tell you later. For now, I will tell you how this delightful and invaluable work is done. Then you will be in the  position of the pathetic Winston Smith, when he wrote in his diary, ‘I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.’ He got his understanding in the torture-cells of the Ministry of Love, and you, my dears, will be there soon enough. You may rest assured of that.
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The purpose of fiction

Fiction can educate intellectually, but that is not its main purpose, which is to educate and regulate the sentiments. If you can wiggle it in, an argument that shows that courage is good is good, but first and foremost, what a work of fiction should do is show that courage is admirable.

Mary Catelli

Told by an idiot, No. 8

There was a time, still within living memory, when indoor plumbing was a luxury for the upper classes. Nowadays, of course, indoor plumbing is an evil conspiracy by the American cultural imperialists; but that is neither here nor there. The point is that back in the day, certain members of the English upper classes held that bathtubs were too good for the masses. It was usual to attribute this attitude to old ladies from Brighton; and the classic form of the sentiment was this:

‘What ever would be the use of giving bathtubs to coal-miners? They would only use them to keep coal in.’

This, of course, is proof positive of how evil and reactionary the old ladies from Brighton were. Not, mind you, because they believed such things; a person may believe all sorts of things, and act on those beliefs, without opprobrium. No, no, they were evil because they said them, and that just will not do. Anyway, they erred by aiming their sentiments at the downtrodden industrial proletariat, instead of venting them upon a worthy target.

So in the spirit of the old ladies from Brighton, suitably corrected and brought up to date, I should like to say a few words about this monstrous plague of self-publishing. The publishing industry, as everyone knows, was divinely ordained to be the sole curator and seller of literature to the world. By taking their business directly to readers, these self-published cads represent a terrible threat to publishers, to all that is right and noble – to Culture itself. Of course it is impossible that this threat should ever amount to anything, because the publishing industry, being divinely ordained, will obviously exist in its present form for ever and ever. But the sheer impudence of the attack is an affront to every right-thinking literary person. It is for this reason that I offer a rebuttal.

The cads defend their horrible activities on the grounds that they are giving more money and artistic control to writers. This is a feeble excuse. For what ever would be the use of giving money and artistic control to writers? They would only use them to write fan fiction.

I intended to say more, but I have an urgent deadline to meet. You see, I am under contract with a very prestigious publisher to write a brilliant and slyly referential homage to Gabriel García Márquez. Only it’s not fan fiction, because we don’t call it that when it is Literature.

   (signed)
   H. Smiggy McStudge

The weight of the story

Does your book suffer from a flabby middle?  Well, then it’s time to take it to the gym.  Make it do some stretches and lose that extra fat – can you tell what my New Year’s resolution is?  Yeah.

Most of the time, the flab in the middle of the book is like the flab in your middle – stuff you don’t need but are storing because your body thinks it should be a certain weight.  If you know you’re contracted to deliver eighty thousand words and you find yourself suffering from premature ending (hey, it happens to the best of us) it might suddenly seem very tempting to just start describing everything ad nauseam and with relish.  You may suddenly feel a need to explain the fashions of your world or give us a lecture on alien textiles.

Do try to resist it.

—Sarah A. Hoyt, ‘May You Write Interesting Books’ (part 5)

The logic of corporatism

Fragment of a conversation, overheard:

‘The second oddest thing about the Yintulites is that most of them volunteered to be eaten by the Imperial Dragon. You see, they were so afraid of the ordinary man-eating dragons, they could imagine no other way to protect themselves than to make friends with the Imperial Dragon. But in point of fact, the Imperial Dragon never promised to eat the other dragons, or even to eat its human servants last. It merely had power over the other dragons, because they were its offspring and its pets; and so the silly Yintulites imagined that it would use that power to benefit them.’

‘But why did they have to be eaten by any dragon? Why didn’t they just run away?’

‘That, my dear, is the first oddest thing about the Yintulites. In their minds, the best possible thing in life was to choose which dragon to be devoured by. The idea of not being eaten never occurred to them.’

Autonomous

A comment I left at The Passive Voice, reproduced here for possible discussion:

Look at any dysfunctional corporate culture (and I use ‘corporate’ in the broadest sense; this applies to governments, churches, and armies as well), and there are at least two things you are certain to find:

1. Systems that are inadequate because they are autonomous. Nobody can design a set of rules to cover every possible contingency, and if they ever did, someone would immediately come up with a new contingency that the rules did not cover. (Call it Gödel’s Law of Bureaucracy.) But when the system and its rules are allowed to make the decisions, when people say to sensible proposals, ‘We can’t do that because it’s against policy,’ the whole organization becomes frozen in the way of doing things that was enshrined at the time the rules were written.

2. Systems that are autonomous because people are lazy and afraid. Rocking the boat requires effort and courage; doing anything new requires effort, courage, and creativity. It’s easier and safer to just show up, put in your hours, do your job as defined by the existing rules, and collect your pay. So people hire out bits of themselves – their employable skills, narrowly defined – and leave the rest at home: not only their courage and creativity, but their enthusiasm, their best efforts, and in too many cases, their conscience as well. How many people do things at work that they know are stupid, because they are going along to get along? How many people acquiesce in doing things that are downright wrong? If they brought their whole selves to their work, they would not do these things; but they leave behind whatever part of themselves might conflict with the system and the rules, and — we see the results.

‘When the means are autonomous, they are deadly.’ —Charles Williams.

Shades of grey, twilight, and other bestselling bad ideas

Just because there’s twilight doesn’t mean you can’t tell the difference between night and day.

Kelvin R. Throop

Sarah Dimento explains literature

From Nine Literary Movements Explained Snarkily:

Books can be complicated, because they’re full of words and stuff. Apparently book words are not complicated enough to justify research grants though, so academics made up new words to describe what the words in books do. As a graduate of Fine Arts, I’m here to demystify some of their terminology so you can sound smart and stuff too.

1. MODERNISM

Yo, we’re sick of them elitist Classicists not letting us in their clubhouse, so we’re going to make our own isms, with blackjack … and hookers.

2. POSTMODERNISM

Screw those Modernists not letting us in their clubhouse. We’re going make our own isms, with blackjack, and hookers. Actually, forget the isms and the blackjack.

Read the rest from Sarah Dimento. (Who is, by the way, not only a Grandmistress of Snark, but my cover artist as well. Plus she can operate cats and other dangerous equipment.)

Heather Lovatt asks about selling books through Amazon

In a comment on a previous post, Heather Lovatt asks some good and searching questions about what happens when an independent author sells books through Amazon’s KDP program. I shall try to answer as best I can, but bear in mind, I am neither a lawyer nor an expert at online commerce.

To simplify matters, I am breaking things down fisking-style and answering bit by bit. But this is by no means a fisking; I thought I would throw my horrible nature to the winds and try being friendly for a change. Here goes:

I am looking into the idea of publishing on Amazon. I’ve hit a lot of walls on this.

Dear Heather,

I hear you. I hit a lot of walls myself in the same process. I hope I can be of some help. [Read more...]