A Dark and Stormy Night

I’m sitting in my darkened apartment, hiding from trick-or-treaters, thinking about my great novel-writing adventure which is due to start in just a couple of hours. And for you, the loyal readers of my website, I’m going to give an extra-special bonus and give away the ending:

I’m not going to be able to finish it.

Eh, I don’t know. I’ll still give it a go of course, and see how long I last. But my hopes and attention span have dwindled already, and I haven’t even started yet. Plus all the other distractions — the work which I can’t seem to finish, the fact that I’ve got to spend the entire next week in LA for work, and so many other things that it seems like I’m just looking for something to distract me.

Part of the reason I’m so disillusioned is because I just read Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. Reading the NaNoWriMo site gives you the feeling of a bunch of excited people on a skydiving plane, getting themselves and each other psyched up about jumping out the door and feeling the exhiliration of making something creative. Reading Bloodsucking Fiends gave me the feeling of seeing the guy in front of me give everybody else a high five then make a battle cry and throw himself out of the plane, having his parachute fail to open, getting chopped up in the blades of a passing helicopter, bounce off a high-rise building, then land in a garbage truck.

It’s not the worst novel I’ve ever read — I’ve got about 15 Star Wars novels, remember. It’s not even the worst vampire novel I’ve ever read. But it’s one of the most depressing. It’s got this smarmy residue over the whole thing, a gross combination of the respective smarminess of Los Angeles and San Francisco that are bad enough on their own but even worse when combined. And you can tell the guy has been told by friends and agents all his life that he’s funny, and he’s writing the whole thing thinking how witty and clever he is and how his characters are lovable misfits and his situations novel and inventive and his dialogue just sparkles. And that in the end maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn a little something about ourselves.

But the characters are annoying, the wacky and subversive things they do are all contrived (they bowl with frozen turkeys in a Safeway after hours! how crazy is that?!?), the characters are stereotypes, and a lot of it is just downright offensive. He’s got plenty of the stock stereotypes, like the guys in Chinatown who talk with ls instead of rs, or the noble AIDS victims who are ciphers except for their disease. But also the American Beauty-style stereotypes: where you take a totally trite and insipid character, put one predictable spin on it, and act like you’ve suddenly created life from clay. I’d heard lots of positive reviews about it, and I’m sure that they liked it just because it made a half-step of effort past the most obvious cliches into slightly less obvious ones. And they probably like it because it’s so “refreshingly free of political correctness,” which means that it’s misogynistic and racist. Plus, he name-drops Anne Rice and Queen of the Damned as if they were good.

The whole book just feels like having an over-long conversation with someone who has above-average intelligence and a reasonable imagination, but is horribly, cripplingly shallow, and just doesn’t have the talent to reach his aspirations. And that’s about the least inspiring thing to read when you’re supposed to start writing. Reading something transparently bad just gives you the reassurance that no matter how talentless you are, at least you’re better than that. And reading something really good, of course, gives you something to aspire to. Reading this was just unsettling and depressing — it’s possible to be an uninspired C-list hack doomed to mediocrity, and still get published and praise and positive reviews and never realize how much you suck.

On the other hand, I’m still wanting to do NaNoWriMo out of spite. Spite for Alma Hromic, a humorless, bitter, self-important woman who would be bad enough just for writing “I was born with ink in my veins, in a town on the banks of an ancient river, in a country which no longer exists.” But she secured her place as a hero to the creative process with this screed against NaNoWriMo which shows how much she completely misses the point. (Unfortunately, it also demonstrates how much people put their self-worth into their own writing ability, but I guess that’s a topic for another therapy session).

So this book, if it ever gets finished, will be dedicated to you, Ms. Hromic!