Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the Sound of an MRI

One day a filmmaker made a blockbuster movie and he claimed that he paid the utmost attention to detail so as to make it as realistic as possible. He went over the details of everything in his historical movie to the nth degree. He even used submersibles to go down to the icy depths to examine every single detail of a ship that had sank on April 15th, 1912. I'm talking about the movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron, that went on to gross $1,843,201,268 worldwide.

To call it a blockbuster is no misnomer.

Years later a famed American astrophysicist and science communicator went to see the movie and while sitting though the film he noticed something. He noticed that the stars in the sky during the sinking of the ship were all wrong! Not only were they wrong, one side was a mirror image of the other. This egregious error drove Mr. Tyson up the spout, and he went on to try to correct Mr. Cameron on several occasions. For a movie that was to have supposedly paid so much attention to detail, how could Mr. Cameron let such an error fly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B6jSfRuptY)?

Such a horrible mistake made by Mr. Cameron. When approached about it he had only one response. He said to Mr. Tyson: “Well, last I checked, Titanic, worldwide has grossed $1.3 billion dollars. Imagine how much more it would have grossed had I'd gotten the sky correct?”

What is the biggest lesson to be learned here?

Can a writer, ANY writer, take something away from this? Yes, we all can. There is a big lesson to be gleaned if we understand what's really important.

The reader, the moviegoer, the fan, wants to be entertained not educated.

I like writing cop fiction. I love cop fiction and I love police procedurals. I read through books on the subject, I also listen to online seminars, read blogs, check Google+ and Facebook posts. I love the subject, but I don't make the mistake of thinking that my readers love the subject as much as I do. I want to give the most realistic experience that I can for my readers and that's important to me...somewhat.

I assume that a reader of my work does not want to go to school to become a cop, no more than someone who watches Gray's Anatomy watches it to become a doctor. When someone reads a book or watches a film, such as Titanic, do you think they care that the plates lack the exact design of the Titanic crest? Is the detail that important?

Let's go further. A blogger on a blog post pointed out that the noises of an MRI scanner are completely different from a CT scan and how the show Hannibal got it all wrong (http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2013/06/author-beware-know-your-equipment.html). This post was under the title: “Author Beware: Know Your Equipment.” Author beware, huh?

Again, I ask, is there a lesson to be learned here? Yes there is. It might be a painful one for some, but it's one that they need to know for certain. Why? Well in my opinion, which is what my blog is, these critical individuals and many others have their priorities all wrong.

I have a blog that I follow religiously that debunks specifically a lot of cop shows and books. They shoot down many shows and books that 'get it wrong', when it comes to cop procedures. Once again, they make the smallest things seem egregious. Not singling out that blog, but I've also come across another grousing over the fact that Castle shouldn't be working on the police force as closely as he is being that he is a writer.

Let's hit the brakes here.

We need to take stock of several things. It's easy for people who don't write fiction or who don't entertain fans to be over-critical. They loose sight of the fact that writers today are pushing the limits of everything. Now that there are self-published books, the envelope has been broken and flights of extreme fancy are beginning to emerge. Further, a writer can't know EVERYTHING. Writers are not gods, although they are the gods of the worlds that they create, and because of this, stars can be where they wish. MRI machines can make whatever noise that they want, and Castle can be given an assault rifle by Detective Beckett anytime she desires. This is the unvarnished truth.

Who can correct these gods? Who can nit-pick about the smallest things as if they affect the story? The fans. Remember, millions of people sat through Titanic and saw the same sky as Neil Degrasse Tyson did and were more focused on if Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson (Winslet and DiCaprio) were going to survive this horrible catastrophe. Who cared that the major characters in the movie NEVER EVEN EXISTED? But we are to care that the sky was incorrect? What made the fans go see this film? The STORY.

In the episode “Buffet Froid” the tenth episode of Hannibal, Will Graham is put through an MRI to see if there was damage to his brain. The MRI shows that he has Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. But Dr. Lecter persuades Dr. Sutcliffe to tell Will that his brain scan was “completely normal”. Hannibal no doubt had more insidious work to do with the protagonist. What, I ask, do you think was the most riveting part of this exchange? The fact that a homicidal doctor was lying to a patient to make him believe that he was the killer in many murders, or that the MRI machine was making the wrong noise?

Realize that the FANS dictate what's important in a book or movie. Critics who produce nil need to realize that a writer or director can only do so much and can't cover over ever single base, even if they wanted to. James Cameron in fact really wants to make every aspect of Titanic realistic, because he changes the sky in a later release of the film (http://www.mediaite.com/online/james-cameron-alters-stars-in-titanic-on-neil-degrasse-tyson-insistence/). But this is past tense, and behind the fact that his fans have already bestowed him with the highest honor that they can grant him, their patronage, even when he got the sky wrong.

Critics, no matter their degrees or specialty, should realize that to an author or director, it's their fans that they seek to please and fans are not interested in miniscule details if they are reading a book about vampires, zombies, homicidal doctors, crooked cops or whatever world the writer creates for them.

It's the STORY that the reader or viewer is interested in.

Sorry extreme critics, your priorities just do not count. Just like Cameron said, $1.3 million dollars in revenue can't be wrong. The strong seasonal Nielson ratings for cop shows like Castle and Hannibal are what keeps them on the air, and this is not undermined by miniscule errors. One needs to realize that this century isn't the first one that has books and television shows with a raft of errors. This has been going on since time immemorial, because above all else, we are all human.

But fans are the key, they are the arbitrators of the gods of worlds. If a fan finds that the smell of cordite in a gunfight is incorrect and is not more worried about the characters in the gunfight, then the writer indeed has a poor story and has not done his or her job. Remember, the creator of a story can have pets come from the dead, Orcs rise from Wizards, bullets stop in mid-air to have a discussion, bodies dissolve into phonebooths, and people spout fangs, and if the reader or viewer has no problem with it, if they even accept it, how ridiculous is it to find some miniscule error and blow it all out of proportion, as if IT was the basis of the book or movie?

There will always be critics like Neil Degrasse Tyson in the world that will nit pick everything about someone's work and try to hang the value of the entire book or movie on their astute knowledge. Is this really about bettering the movie? Or is this more about self-importance? As Mr. Tyson says himself: “I was just completely immature about it.”

To writers I say, attain your position as god of your world, make water flow up, make people shrink to a quarter of their size, lose ships in space, cause serial killers to jump from three story roofs. Who cares? As long as your readers love your story. Do your research, give your readers realism, but as they say in the urban world: “Don't sweat the small stuff.” Your fans, people that really like your work and are not going over it with a fine toothed comb are the only people that you need to please and the 'minutaeists' (my word) can continue to critique and grouse as they wish. Don't let them rob you of your forward momentum by causing you to walk on eggshells because you might have something small wrong.

Worry about your story, let them spend sleepless nights over the sound of an MRI.


Friday, October 18, 2013

On the State of Publishing

People are clamoring over the state of publishing today and there seems to be some dispute as to what direction Self-publishing and Traditional publishers are going in today. In digging through this stuff I learned a raft of new words, one being 'disruption', which is what they are calling the changes that are being affected upon publishing today by the advent of the self-publishing revolution. There are more, but unless I use them I won't bother remembering them.

I will use the word Disruption though. Because it is a very good usage and visual as to what is happening today in publishing. Visualize a restless sea, churning and rolling with white capped waves, going about it's business, doing its thing, that is, being a body of water. And then see a boiling, dark cloud bank blot out the sun, flashes of lightning, not only in its depths but also lancing down to strike the agitated waters, bringing up angry waves. Deep valleys and huge swells of sea, crashing and exploding in gaudy sprays of white.

This is the disruption that is tearing through the publishing industry. The oncoming storm that is changing the face of the waters. The same with Self-publishing changing the face of publishing. Many people in the industry believe that Traditional publishers will be around in another ten to twenty years, but whatever is left of it, will not resemble what it looks like now, just like it doesn't resemble what it looked like ten years ago. People fail to realize that publishing was done by authors in years past.

Before publishing became an industry it was the simple tool of authors after they finished writing their books, a logical extension of the writing process. A writer went to a printing press, had a few hundred copies of his book manufactured out of his/her pocket or maybe the pocket of a patron, and then went to the neighborhood bookstores and left copies on consignment. This was the true face of publishing. This was a direct line between author and reader with very little in between. The creator handing their work over to the patron.

Over time unscrupulous individuals saw the benefit of exploiting an author's labors to their own gain. They took over the printing process and distribution channels and collected the works of authors to make a profit. Authors became lazy and publishers became greedy. As time wore on, others added themselves to the process, interjecting themselves between the Author and Patron. Editors were given the unlikeable task of reading from the slush pile to pick out the worthy manuscripts from it. Agents stepped into the process, at first working to represent authors, then acting as intermediaries between authors and publishers, finally turning into the same gatekeepers as the editors had become.

These three interlopers between the author and the reader began to see the author as something other than the beneficial source of their financial gain. Because there were so many authors, they began to view them, not as the wellspring from where everything came from, but as a spigot to be turned and used and then turned off when done. These Three ruled over the very people that they derived their livelihood from. They had what writers craved—authorship. They dangled the carrot and hundreds of thousands of authors fawned before them. The power indeed went to everyone's head. Yes indeed, there is power in being able to harness the work of thousands.

We see this in the maltreatment of authors in general, like when they are accepted by these gatekeepers, the price of authorship is so high. This is evident in the contracts that they are forced to sign in return for their services. The author signs away a great deal of their rights to their own work, and they are given a low percentage of the profits. One might falsely believe that many writers get such a hefty advance prior to the publication of their work, but this too is skewed. It's beneficial if the book is a flop, but burdensome if it is a hit. With the state of self-publishing today, it doesn't take hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and market a book. Why does an author have to give up so much of the profits and so much of his/her rights? In profit negotiation alone, couldn't the split be at worst 50/50?

It gets worse. Agents, Editors and Publishers began huge seminars where they built the audacity to charge writers to come and learn how to approach them. They gave irrational instructions on how to write queries and pitches and how to even address them as professionals. They charged writers to hear them speak at these conferences and writers flocked to this further infrastructure whose only purpose was to fleece them of money promising them that which they were not actually willing to give to all of them—authorship.

I'm not saying that no one benefited from anything that the Three had done, but sad to say, only a small majority are ever published. It's a golden ticket handed out to children to the chocolate factory to make the factory ever more enticing and desirous to all the many more children that do not get the chance to walk its delicious halls and wonders. It's a fabulous system that benefits itself by building such lopsided rewards that really have nothing to do with ability but more a game of chance to the benefit of the Three.

However, suddenly Amazon, wittingly or unwittingly took a writer's work and put it on an electronic bookshelf right next to a trade published work. Like being struck with a madness, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other electronic retailers became the printing presses of old, returning to a time when the author had a direct connection to his/her readers. Now the process is much easier. An author goes to an e-book distributor who moves it to the online retailers, but clearly it's smoother and facile. All an author has to do today is to create a quality manuscript and they can hand their book directly to someone interested in reading it.

The question now is where does this put the middlemen in the guise of Publisher, Editor and Agent? They are suddenly where they were before this amazing edifice was created. Nowhere. They produce nothing, they create nothing, and really have nothing to offer that the writer can't do on their own in this coming dawn. They'll offer their services, but now other individuals can also offer the same services. Such as editing. Publishers can offer up just their editing services, but there are already thousands of freelance editors out there doing the same. Or marketing skills. Publishers can offer their immense marketing machines, but as time goes on, writers will be able to pay for the same services from outside the publishing sphere.

Agents will lose publishers to offer their services to when authors go directly to their readers. Editors will have to only provide editing services and their power as gatekeepers will be completely lost. The publishing construct will begin to separate, fragment, then splinter and dissolve in the ocean of competition that they never had to fight against before. The great walls that held everything and everyone at bay will collapse and sadly, they will vanish behind them.

There just isn't any reason for writers to split their proceeds with individuals who do nothing but offer the services of others. The problem is that people don't remember how publishing was in its beginning. They are under the impression that publishing has always been the way it is now, when this is a process that is greatly akin to a growing vine on a tree. The vine has no connection to the tree, and at best believes that there is a symbiotic link between the two, when in fact its a parasitic pairing, the vine using the tree to reach higher an attain more light. The loss of Traditional publishing will be of no loss to anyone. That is why there is so much doomsday rhetoric coming from publishers, agents and editors about the future of publishing in the hands of self-publishers. But instead of crying the demise of themselves, they cry the end of publishing in general as we know it. This is false.

This will only revert to the way it once was.

The author will be able to give their hard work to the reader directly. And all services will go, not to interfere with this process, but support it. A process that was and once again is becoming organic. The artificial will not survive.