Monday, November 17, 2008

Through The Looking Glass

There comes a time, in our modern age, when a writer feels a powerful compulsion to put his personal minutiae on the internet for the world to digest. Generally, it is best for him to ignore it. When he gives in, it is generally best for the world to ignore him. But here we are.

Chances are strong that you already know I am Hank Whitson; writer, procrastinator, smartass. If you want to know more, click on the dashing portrait to the right for my Facebook. To those of you without Facebooks… consider getting one? Regardless of how well you know me, it’s safe to wager you’ve come seeking some sort of entertainment, either to stave off the wild bores or to escape unpleasant tasks that are breathing down your neck.

Here you can expect witty Holkinsean commentary on recent trends in the media, important current events and brief reviews of movies, video games and books. I might post short stories and excerpts of my own writing here, until I can craft a proper home for them elseweb. On occasion I will talk about what’s going in my life; the sort of projects I’m working on, and the various demons trying to thwart me. That being said, I will do my damndest to keep pretentious reflections on my process and self-pitying “life is pain” posts to a minimum. Should I falter, call me out on it.

Right now I am in the middle of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Travelers Wife on audiobook, and I can honestly say that each chapter blows my mind. Other than recommendations by trusted friends, nothing is more likely to sell me on a story than a great premise. You might go so far as to call me a premise whore. Of course, nothing is more heartbreaking than looking at a good premise which fails to realize its full-potential, a “What if…?” which fails to answer all the subsequent “how about”s and “then what”s. And in their efforts to ask and answer all of these questions, many authors allow their characters to fall through the cracks, and really, Characters carry the story.

This is precisely where Niffeneger excels. Her dual-first person narrative develops her characters fantastically, allowing us to appreciate every angle of their unique circumstance. The much lauded premise is centered around a man who suffers from “chrono-displacement," a genetic disorder which plays out like temporal ADD. She answers basic time travels questions like “what would you say to yourself in the past?” but also breathes life into the romance genre, exploring more complicated inquiries such as “What would your relationship be like if you corresponded with your spouse as she was growing up?”

It is my most earnest desire to write books like this one day. Presently, I fear that I am on track to follow Frank Beddor’s footsteps with Looking Glass Wars. He had a great premise; Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland explored through epic battles a-la Star Wars. Despite a brilliantly defined atmosphere, developed by high quality concept art, a companion soundtrack and a pretty swank website, the characters are thin as the decks of card soldiers they do battle with. They possess the grim solemnity and angst of adolescence, but they lack the complicated emotional and motivational dualities which are inherent to that turbulent age. This triteness is exacerbated by pithy lessons like learning to be yourself and using imagination for good. To give you an example of what passes for wit and originality in Beddor's world, Queen Redd, based on the Red Queen of Carroll's Alice, is the main villain of the book, and the title of the second book in the trilogy is Seeing Redd.

There are plenty of other unrealized premises I could chose to pick on, but Beddor’s shortcomings are enjoying a particular clarity in my mind at present, as I am reading The Annotated Alice for the first time. I can only imagine how fans of the original must have felt when they read Beddor’s book. Even going backwards, it’s painfully clear how he failed to capture the spirit of Carroll’s masterpiece. He has made it plain that he was not trying to duplicate the former text, but one cannot help but wish that he took more from Carroll's characters. In the end, they are what make exploring the depths of wonderland so appealing. I don't mean to suggest that Beddor made no effort; Looking Glass Wars is rife with references, homages and inside jokes, but the man isn’t a skilled enough writer to do his concept justice.

It’s a shame too, because I believe Beddor’s multi media approach should be regarded as a signpost of things to come. It leaves me to wonder if we will soon see people Intellectual Property Engineers who will conceive, publicize and oversee fictional worlds, then hire more talented artists to truly bring them to life. I can see myself taking up that mantel, especially if I can’t hack it as a writer. But I want to try telling my own stories first. Just seems like the right thing to do.

That’s all for now. Be warned that this blog will not follow a strict update schedule. I live too fast and dangerous for that sort of commitment. Someone would end up hurt. Instead, I will try to provide readers with a sort of general forecast for future content in each post. Since we’ve still got that nice New Blog smell, you can expect scattered showers of updates popping up in the next few days, provided the impending academic pressure front doesn’t foul everything up. Good Bless and God Night.


Jack Plum said...

Granted that I haven't read any of the Looking-Glass Wars books yet, I think the title Seeing Redd isn't that bad. I will admit that "Redd" is too much and "Red" would have been much better, but the ideas that "Seeing Red(d)" invokes is still pretty cool, especially if it's the same story of the previous book but from the Queen's perspective. Like I said, I didn't read the books, so I don't know about the characters/plot. The title itself, however, is interesting.

And dark grey and black is a bad combo.

Uniform Disorder said...

Tasty literary criticism. I will be eagerly following this blog until I forget, at which point I will not be eagerly following this blog anymore.