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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

To the last, I will grapple with thee

First of all, apologies for the long dearth of communication between the last post and this one. I blame gremlins getting fed after midnight.

So about the title of this post. Don't worry. There's no Khan-esque rage a-brewing here. No shaking fists, no prefix codes, and no Genesis torpedo. And for Heaven's sake, no bloody brain worms.

Isn't that a pretty bracelet? I love my pretty bracelet. Also, REVENGE.
Remember those resolutions I listed down in the previous post:

I Will Experiment
I Will Help Other Writers
I Will Control My Fear
What Goes Up Must Come Down

I've taken them to heart as good goals to aspire to in this upcoming year. To be honest, I've been thinking long and hard over the last two months on how to change things up for the future. Ruminating done, I've decided that this will be the last post I make on this blog--not that it's much of a big deal.

If you wish to continue enduring my insufferable rambling (friends!), I'll be making my new blogging home on the front page of www.theporkchopexpress.com. I'm doing this for some practical reasons and some not-so-practical reasons. First off, I've been running that site for a while, as an outpost for the music and shenanigans of the band I belong to, The Pork Chop Express. And, well, it's just been sitting there, collecting dust, being awesome all by its lonesome. I figured that I'd use that space, as I pay for it and its many multimedia capabilities that this plucky little blogspot site does not have.

Second reason--and the root of this is why I've been thus far tight lipped on my personal publishing journey thus far--is that I wanted to use that site as the launching point for a nutty experiment in e-bookdom. I've always espoused a DIY ethic, both as a method of streamlined practicality, and as an aesthetic. I've always loved stuff that looked like it was put together with love, skill, and a bit of zaniness. So after an agent search, several dozen edits, and a good amount of soul-searching, I've decided to release the book myself as an e-book. And an original album of music. And a webseries. And an online community that celebrates and shares all manner of DIY efforts on the web. All at the same time.

As you may have guessed, that little voice of logic in my head has had something to say about this plan:

You're crazy. I know that. I thought you knew that.

You're an unknown. And thus, I shall catch you in your sleep, like a ninja...after I get stitches for my hand. These throwing stars are hella sharp.

How are you going to do this? I'll show you through blog posts, vlogs, and other methods of online insanity.

Why are you doing this? I believe in the story that I've written. I believe in the tonal anarchy of Wes Alexander (my bandmate, and musical force of nature). I believe in all those dudes and dudettes toiling in the darkness on their own masterpieces. And most of all, I think it'll be fun.

What if you fail? Well, then, things will be very interesting. My hope is that any failure of mine helps someone else succeed. In the very least, I'll have a litany of my non-success to look back and laugh at.

So at the start of 2012 (the Year of the Chop), come on by to the new and improved blog at www.theporkchopexpress.com. And have no trepidation about coming over. You're always welcome. After all, you're in the f'in band.

Happy New Year.

By REINHARDT! with 2 comments

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

There are a lot of things that I think I should tackle for the year 2012. Chief among them is watching the entire run of the Mysterious Cities of Gold cartoon to brush up on all things Maya, Olmec, and Inca before that pesky Mayan calendar runs out on December 21 (and also to dance to the catchy intro music). As well, I shall view informative "docu-dramas" such as 2012, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, and if all else fails, The Omega Man.


And then there's writing...oh, if I only had a broadsword for every broken promise I've made to myself in the writing arena, I could form a brute squad.

You are the brute squad.
Indeed, each writer out there is the brute squad in this new, weird world of publishing. No matter if we're attempting a self-pub route or toiling under the banner of a big traditional publisher, gone are the days that you can hole up in your study, James Joyce-style, and lament over the same seven words over and over. You often have to do your own marketing, website development, and other sorts of things on top of writing, and on top of doing things like eating, bathing, showing your ugly (or pretty) mug around town so that your friends and relatives don't think that vagrant down by the tracks has kidnapped you for his underground harem.

Not that that's ever happened to me...much.

Anyway, much ballyhooed (negatively and positively) self-publishing author, JA Konrath, has set forth a list of New Year's resolutions on his website, as he has done for the past few years. This year he's listed some biggies:

I Will Experiment
I Will Help Other Writers
I Will Control My Fear
What Goes Up Must Come Down

These are reasonable in my estimation. Very reasonable, in fact. Moreover, as I finish up on the writing/editing on the novel, I am increasingly thinking about next steps, and what exactly will I do with a manuscript that's been through the wars of an agent search, some professional editors, several trusted readers, and a lot of soul searching. Resolutions seem very appropriate for me to ponder. 

Konrath, unlike myself and the vast majority of the world, has this strange idea that maybe carrying through with New Year's resolutions is a good thing. Along with this year's crop of goals, he lists his past resolutions, the great majority of which he has accomplished with great zeal. More than that, these lists of resolutions can be overlaid onto the careers of so many artists and writers out there who have succeeded. The only difference between them and Konrath is that K-Dogg puts it on the line publicly. It's pretty inspiring, really. Inspiring enough for me to do the same thing. Stay tuned for the blog post in which I muck everything up and lay my junk on the line for fortune and glory, kid.

Fortune and glory.

Booty traps. That's what I said.

By REINHARDT! with 3 comments

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Your Thursday Ray of Sunshine

For all those struggling writers who think they're writing the stupidest novel ever, please watch the following clip.


Now remember, someone signed off on this--someone who ostensibly had the proper combination of sense, tact, and intelligence to be in such a power position.

In other news, sorry I've been AWOL. Work has been a bear. Also, I've been working on nefarious secret plans which I will unleash tell you about soon!

Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Happy Holidays to you all.

By REINHARDT! with 3 comments

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Sinkhole of Research

I love researching. That is why I hate researching. 


It is said that there are two ways of going about writing: write what you know, and write what you don't know. I, unfortunately for me, fall into the second camp. For me, writing isn't so much lording my own awesomeness over a reader (though I'll take the chance to lord whenever I can get it). It's about the exploration of a topic that I don't know about in the hopes that I can learn more about it. With the Internet around today, I can quickly access a ton of information about most any topic and start that train rolling.

And let me assure you, train is the right word.


When I was a kid and had to research a topic for class, I'd schlep myself to the library, seat myself down in the reference section, and pull out the books I'd need. Most of the time, I'd start with the encyclopedias and then work my way outward into more specialized reference books before finally venturing into the wilder, woolier parts of the library. However, my big problem was that I found it so incredibly hard to stay on task. Let's say I had to research elephants, and in reading the E volume of the encyclopedia, I came across "Einstein, Albert." Well, I'd think, elephants aren't going anywhere. They're slow and smell like dookie and fly when given magic feathers. I'll read about them after I read about...Einstein.


My intention would be to spend 15 minutes on the father of relativity and then return to my regularly-scheduled pachyderm project. And I intended to stick with that...until I came across a mention of "The Manhattan Project" in the Einstein entry. Oh my god, I'd think again, I gotta know about that project. How can I know anything about Einstein without knowing about the Manhattan Project? So I'd grab the M volume and go to town. Again, I would only intend to spend a few minutes at most researching secretive government dealings before returning to my real project about...waitaminute, there was a movie called the Manhattan Project? Starring John Lithgow? Holy crap! I love that guy!


I had to grab the L volume. Just a couple of minutes, and I'll be...holy shit! He was in Twilight Zone: the Movie? Playing the same character once portrayed by William Shatner? William FUCKING Shatner!


And also:


But wait:


Can't forget:


And that is why my report is on the career of African-American actor, Ernie Hudson, who played the unappreciated Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2.


Wait, elephants?

By REINHARDT! with 4 comments

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sliced Bread 2.0

At heart, I am a old phogie tech geek, having cut my teeth on Commodore 64s and venerable 8088s in dazzling 4-color CGA. Lately though, I have felt myself lapped by the newest generations of tech--the smart phones and tablets and all that stuff. The one area that I haven't lost a grip on is word processing software, and that is because MS Word in 1990 sucked as much as MS Word does today (I was a Wordperfect/Lotus 123 guy for a long time).

And then I found Scrivener, by Literature & Latte Software.
For someone like me who writes text prose, screenplay, and other highly structured forms, it is great. It's like having a friendly (instead of fiendish) MS Word that also has Final Draft Pro built in, along with a project management and research section for every document. So you don't have to set up folders or different documents for notes, pictures, audio and video files that you need to write--all of those files can be imported into the single Scrivener document. What's more, you can set up your screen so that all these features are visible at the same time. And if you're like me and figure out halfway through a book that the flashback in chapter 18 should have been a scene in chapter 2, you can lift whole scenes or chapters and replace them without messy cut + paste. Believe me, that's been a godsend.


For self-publishers, Scrivener is like Balboa coming across the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Scrivener has native output in .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats, meaning that once you learn this program (the learning curve is very modest), you don't have to seek out anyone else's aid in formatting your own ebooks. Inserting different text styles and even illustrations is a cinch.

The only thing that Scrivener doesn't provide that you might have use for are tracking changes and making comments, which come in handy when working with an editor or proofreader. Fortunately, Scrivener saves out to MS Word .doc and .docx format, so you can handle that in ye olde Word style.

As you can probably tell, I'm a huge fan of this software. I'm not being paid to post this, nor am I getting any sort of pub or non-monetary compensation. I just think that it's been so useful to me in the three or so weeks I've been using it, and wanted to let others know how cool it is.

If you're interested in trying it out for free for a couple of weeks, you can go to the Literature & Latte website linked above and download the trial. If you like what you see, you should buy it. For a limited time (ending Dec. 7), you can get a 20% discount through this page. And if you actually meet your NANOWRIMO goal of 50,000 words, you can get a phatty-phat 50% discount. At full price ($45), the thing is a steal. So 50% off is kind of a crime.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a fun, relaxing, gastro-intestinally moderate Thanksgiving.

By REINHARDT! with 1 comment

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A nice day to fence-sit

In my increasingly abbreviated foray into the blogosphere, I came across a very cool post on a great blog called Bookriot.com. The runners of that blog have a regular segment called "Crossover Appeal" which pairs YA books with an adult/literary title. You can find the inaugural post here. I love this idea because not only does it show the very thin wall that separates YA titles and adult/literary titles (in both content and construction), but it also challenges readers and writers alike to transcend the divisive paradigm created by the publishing public relations and marketing machine to help it keep its efforts streamlined.

Aah! Not that kind of crossover!
The stated point of Crossover Appeal:

Crossover Appeal is a weekly feature that challenges the idea that you have to choose a side between YA and adult fiction. Each week we’ll feature a book that has been marketed as YA and a book that has been marketed as adult and tell you why everyone should be reading them, no matter what happens to be your comfort zone.

There's a lot of rhetoric thrown back and forth about what makes a book fall into one camp or another. There's the tried and true older readers are much more sophisticated than younger readers (check here and here for refutation). There's older readers don't like stories about high school (which relegates John Hughes and much of his fandom to merely figments of our collective imagination). And there's younger readers aren't interested in current events, politics, news, and other highfalutin concepts that belong in adult literature (I can offer the anecdote that the best, most cogent, most interesting comments I have heard or read about the Occupy Wall Street Movement--including on CNBC and in the New York Times--came from a 15-year-old in casual conversation with other 15-year-olds).

I think we've progressed enough as a species to regard any broad generalization with a liberal dose of suspicion. Here's the cliche: every person is different, so every person will have tastes that differ, in large or small amounts, from others. Thus, actions undertaken with a broad generalization as a given are inefficient and highly prone to failure. It's a cliche because it's true.

So why do we as writers still buy into these broad assumptions? *Shakes fist* They didn't really exist in any strong way before thirty years ago. Was Catcher in the Rye or The Outsiders written to be targeted at teenage audiences? Who knows, and really, who cares? They're great books for everyone, regardless of who is supposed to read them.

The selfish reader in me is sick and tired of books that purposely pigeon-hole themselves into any one camp, whether it be tired, navel-gazing literary fiction, or yet another Twilight retread with twue wuv conquering all. Some potentially game-changing voices keep themselves caged because this doesn't fit into a market.


I want to read books that defy genres, that don't fit into norms, that try to push forward literature as a whole and attempt new ways of exploring the human experience. Today's authors owe it to the pioneers who got literature this far, through bannings and burnings and burninatings. They also owe it to the authors who will take over tomorrow.

By REINHARDT! with No comments

Monday, November 21, 2011

Life Lessons from the Steps of the Philly Museum

I just wanted to chime in and heap my two cents worth of encouragement for all those NANOWRIMO writers out there. This is the home stretch, guys. Ten days out. You can make it. It's kind of like Rocky said:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you areit will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! 

By REINHARDT! with No comments

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Virtue of Finishing

Just re-watched the last five episodes of Felicity yesterday (believe me, I do work...it's just that I work faster when there's internet TV on). Not only does it bring back memories of me and my mom getting together every week to geek out over Ben vs. Noel, but this last arc is one of the more entertaining time travel stories to see the greenlight on TV. Seriously, there aren't too many stories in which the time traveler goes back in time and just screws everything up more or less on purpose--even to the point that she just matter-of-factly tells everyone (including her future lover) that she's come back in time to choose one past love over another. Great stuff. 

What does this have to do with anything? Well...not a lot. Except that I wanted to jump back in my own wayback machine to the first week I was a writing student in New York. 

1.21 Gigawatts not included.
A lot like Felicity, I decided to go to NY for the most frivolous reasons. I just thought it would be cool to be there. Nothing about proving myself or networking. I didn't want to be in Chicago and thought, hey, why not New York? I didn't know anyone at all. Not one soul. Nevertheless, in that first week, I found myself on top of a roof in the East Village with people I barely knew. At one point in the night, I was on the edge of the roof, looking northward to the Empire State building all lit up like the magical spire at the center of Oz's Emerald City, and next to me with this tall dude. 

Me and the dude got to talking, and I quickly learned that he was an author, fairly recently published, and that his book had just been optioned for a movie. Color me floored--this guy had attained the goal I was in New York to pursue. So I asked him point blank: What does it take to be a successful author? Now, I didn't say what does it take to be published, or to make boatloads of cash. So he gave me a two part answer:

1) You're in New York. This may not seem like a big thing, but it definitely gives you advantages when it comes to networking. Take advantage of the city and the contacts that come your way.

2) (and most important) Finish something. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare. Just finish. Most people who try to be writers never finish, and if you don't have a completed work, you can't even begin to test the markets. So finish. Finish as fast as you can as often as you can.


I've never forgotten that advice. Today, it's something that I try to pass onto a lot of writers I meet and deal with professionally and personally. In fact, in the online writing group I work with, I often have to step back and tell writers not to listen to me or to others' comments until they finish a draft. I think the reason why many writing groups are ineffective is that the writers write a chapter or two, then submit it to the group, where it gets ripped to shreds. Then the author re-writes the chapter, submits, gets comments, re-writes, etc. 

Nothing ever gets finished. I've even made this mistake until I figured out that I was writing on a treadmill. I was making little to no progress story-wise, and enthusiasm-wise, I was totally drained. So I won't ever again submit something to an editor or a reader without the piece being a complete draft. Only then can the critic actually have the context to make informed suggestions.

So to all you writers out there. Finish your goddamn books. Don't listen to anyone while you're forming your story. Only after your draft is complete do you let other people in. Believe me, this works.

By REINHARDT! with 2 comments

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday #1: Karaoke Songs

At some point, I think all blogging writers figure out that they can't just talk about writing. I, for one, love writing blogs, and love to blog about writing. But as writing/editing is an integral part of my workday, I get pretty burned out on the topic from time to time (to time to time). In an effort to keep myself fresh (also signed up for the deodorant of the month club), I want to devote some days to non-writing stuff. Idiosyncratic stuff that I don't really believe anyone but me will pay attention to.

Enter Top Ten Tuesdays--largely meaningless fun for everyone. This week's topic:

Top ten songs sung by chicks that make kick-ass karaoke picks for fearful men.

I know what you're thinking. Why would a fearful man sing a song meant for a woman in front of a crowd of raucous potential naysayers? Answer: shock factor. We've all been there at karaoke when some dude steps up and the familiar intro to Bohemian Rhapsody or Crazy Train or Thriller kicks off. You know instinctively that it cannot end well--first off, the vocal ranges are probably not in the cards for most guys. Second, those songs are EXTREMELY long. Third, they carry a certain amount of expectation. After all, you pick Freddie Mercury, you're kind of saying, "hell yeah, I can pull off a song sung by the greatest frontman in history."

Freddie Mercury has just crushed your balls.
No, if you're a little bashful, but still want to make a splash with the crowd, pick a song off this list. All expectations go out the window because even trying one of these cross-gender classics makes you A LORD.

Since You've Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson

This song has so much going on in the background that your vocals will most likely be washed out. Jamming guitars, synthesized backup vocals--you can even get up there and lipsynch. Most people won't notice.

Hit Me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears

There is a tried and true tradition of male karaoke performers making this their own. A former classmate from graduate school rode this baby all the way to the title of Karaoke King of the Czech Republic. Miss Britney actually has a very limited vocal range, so simply singing an octave lower (think crooning) will make you sound like a star.

Complicated by Avril Lavigne

For those whose own vocal range skews high, this song is perfect--because you don't really have to know the words. The chorus is more or less smeared all the way through to the last two syllables (e.g., the words complicated and frustrated). All you have to do is hit those hard, and you're good to go.

Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar

Okay, so this is not so easy to sing. You need some balls. But I've included it on the list because it has an extended instrumental smack in the middle of it. That will allow you to vamp mid-song and use your illustrious wit to charm the crowd. You do have wit, don't you?

Torn by Natalie Imbruglia

It never ceases to amaze me how many people know this damn song. I put this song on the list because it satisfies one of the chief karaoke tenets: always pick a song that everyone knows. That way, they're too busy singing to notice that you suck.

I Think We're Alone Now by Tiffany

Like Torn above, everyone knows this song. However, instead of spontaneous singing, it induces spontaneous dancing. Always. I did this one this past Sunday, and I kid you not, it inspired a near-riot. Again, most folks will be too busy to really hear how you can't hit those notes. Bonus points if you can pull off the Tiffany shoulder dance.


I'm Just a Girl by Gwen Stefani

With this song, you're betting on its sheer absurdity to carry you through to the end. Because you're NOT a girl. Get it? Anyway, you're probably going to want to take this one an octave lower.

Stay by Lisa Loeb

Like the Britney song above, this one is not so challenging. I'm sure Ms. Loeb has a fine enough vocal range, but she doesn't demonstrate it in this song. This is only to your advantage. Timing is more important. If you indulge in gangsta rap while showering, that'll help you with this song.

I Touch Myself by the Divinyls.

Well, because it's true. Right? Right?

I Love Rock n Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Joan Jett is an icon. And this song is an anthem. I guarantee you that by the second line of the song, people will be screaming so loud that you won't be able to hear yourself sing.

I hope that helps all you guys out there. Knock 'em dead.

William Hung, Patron Saint of Karaoke

By REINHARDT! with No comments

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tolling that Bell: The Death of Jean DeWolff

I recently started a story that begins with a death. Now, I've read a lot of advice about handling death in fiction, as it is never a flippant thing to do to a character. There are lots of differing opinions. One of the most quoted pieces of advice I come across is never to kill a prominent character--one who figures hugely in the story--at the beginning. The reasoning is that the character is a no one to the reader. What does it matter that Adolphus Bigglesworth was the greatest father anyone could ever have? He hasn't shown his fatherly ways a whole page when he's smeared against an alley wall by the nefarious Lord Heinous. How can a death have a dramatic impact when you don't even know one thing about the person who was killed?

It's an interesting question that has a complex answer. I don't much believe in axioms when it comes to writing. There are too many notable exceptions, too many writers who defy the "rules" to make stuff that lasts through the ages (yes, I'm looking at you, Proust...Calvino...Saramago...Tolkien). Character death is not immune to this. One of the most notable comic book stories I have ever read begins with the death of a one of Spiderman's bit characters.


Jean DeWolff was an NYPD captain and one of the only allies Spidey had on the right side of the law. Though she held a prominent position within the Marvel version of New York, she wasn't Daredevil. She wasn't Black Cat or Scorpion or even J. Jonah Jameson. So when an issue started with her being blown away by a shotgun, it wasn't so much the end we envisioned for a crusader for justice. And that was the point. Author Peter David intentionally began this way so that we would be shocked, yes, but also feel this sense of loss that we never really got to know the character (perhaps it could be argued that banking on human empathy was a mistake, but that's something I'm not prepared to tackle right now). 

Jean DeWolff's death was also used as a catalyst for an exploration into the boundaries between a superhero and a vengeance-driven vigilante. It was not only about bringing a killer to justice but also about what constitutes that justice. When the perpetrator believes he was wronged, and the avenger believes he was wronged, who is in the right? This Spiderman story tackled all that, and the fact that it involved death was instrumental in raising the stakes of Spidey's existential conflict.

I totally recommend reading this often forgotten masterpiece. It really is one of the best comic book stories ever written, and one of the more innovative ways a seemingly "meaningless" death can be used to make a powerful story.

By REINHARDT! with No comments

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Television Love: Veronica Mars

I will say it. Veronica Mars, more than any television show I have ever seen (including Lost), just slams it home. The first season should be required viewing for anyone constructing a television series. From the first episode, I was totally enthralled by its titular character AND by its myriad supporting characters that seem just as fleshed out as Veronica herself.


For those not familiar with the series, Veronica Mars is about a teen detective, played by the immensely talented Kristin Bell. The first season has her trying to unravel the mystery behind the murder of her best friend, Lily Kane, sister of her rich ex-boyfriend, Duncan Kane.

There are a few principal reasons why I hold this show in such high regard, especially for those interested in learning about plot and structure. First off, while Veronica is quite knowledgeable and skilled in the ways of detectivery (yes, I made up that word), she is still a high school student, and the show never lets you forget that. Even though her intellect far outweighs that of most adults on the show, she is also prone to impulsive decisions, overconfidence, and narcissism. Just like a lot of teenagers out there. This never becomes something that turns off viewers, however, as she does learn from her mistakes--a product of the series's tight continuity.

Second, as I stated before, the supporting cast is exemplary. Most prominent among these is Veronica's father, Keith Mars, played by Enrico Colantoni. He and Kristin Bell have a chemistry as father and daughter that make you believe they share DNA. This chemistry carries over to other characters, like Veronica's best friend, Wallace, the neighborhood thug, Weevil, and the spoiled rich kid, Logan Echolls. Great care was used to give each of these side characters families and parents, responsibilities and faults. What I really liked was that special attention was given to the parents of Veronica's classmates. One of the hugest faults I find with young adult writing is the quick elimination of parental characters. I wish that more would engage parents, as they are the most important figures in children's lives.

Third, the plotting is flawless. Full seasons of television shows don't follow the same strict formulas used to mold many novels into shape. Veronica Mars is no exception to this rule. But, it never strays too far from its season-long throughline: who killed Lily Kane? And as we watch every episode, we find out that many of the smaller mysteries presented in the show are inextricably tied to that single murder. Every episode is structured to have an A and B plot, one of which is always tied to Lily Kane.

Fourth, the show is not afraid to delve into topics that actually interest young people economic inequality, racism, sexism, violence, rape, social responsibility. These topics are dealt with head on so as not to insult the intelligence of the viewer. This is rare in television, even more rare in television oriented around young people, and exceedingly rare in young adult literature (for a multitude of reasons).

I don't often review things on this blog, as I am wont to get mean and nasty when it provides the funny (see my various forays into Twilight criticism). But in this case, I am going to go ahead and recommend this as essential viewing. What's more, you can watch much of the series (there are three seasons) for free on the WB website here.

By REINHARDT! with No comments

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Present Tension

I've recently begun a new writing project and made the creative choice to use the present tense. While this may, on the surface, seem a mere particular of how I want to write this project, there is more to it. First off, I've never understood why people get into a big tizzy about these sorts of POV choices. Close third, first person, second person, past tense vs. present...as long as an author chooses the POV he or she thinks will be the best for the story, it's all good.

The present tense is much maligned in the circles of "literary" writing. It is often frowned upon as "gimmickry" and suggestions to use  past tense fly fast and furious in present tense's general direction. And I don't know why. First off, the vast majority of books out there are written in past tense. We're talking upwards of 80-90% in the English language. This, to me, seems natural, as most tales are relations of events that have happened some time in the past. Now perhaps it is the human compunction for complete sets, or the need to have uniformity, but highlighting such a small percentage of works as harbingers of narrative doom doesn't much make sense. Why not more present tense? Aren't there enough books out there for everyone that fans of each should be able to enjoy?

True, there are but a handful of writers who have used present tense to its maximum potential. The one I know best is Lorrie Moore. Her short story collection, Self-Help, is a wrecking ball of literature. The stories are in your face and unflinching, threaten to punch you out (and you know they mean it, what with the brass knuckles). That was her point. Her use of the present tense in that book is meant to make you feel the immediacy of the events, the herky-jerky hesitancy of the characters' choices. (To be honest, Moore's "gimmickry" only begins with her tense choices. She also makes fine use of second person narration. The set pieces in these stories are incredible, as are the narrative structures she throws at you. Basically, this book is an MFA program between the covers.) So there is a purpose to the madness of the present tense beyond being eye-catching.

In another article, I read about Phillip Pullman's (yes, THAT Phillip Pullman) strong feelings against the use of present tense. In it, he states that:
I want all the young present-tense storytellers (the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible) to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: to use the full range of English tenses.
Excellent points. Except I contend that the full range of English language tenses is most readily accessible from the "home base" of present tense. Let's look at it now.

When you work in past tense, you are pretty firmly locked into using past tense narration UNLESS the narrator is speaking from a present locale and reflecting on the events in the story (then you can throw in a bit of present here and there). Here's an example:

Willy Dervish rode his bike down the lane. As he took his bike across the street, a semi truck ran a red light and nearly plowed into the boy. Just that morning, Willy's mom had told him not to listen to his iPod while crossing the street. If he were going to go riding, he would need to have all his attention on the road. But riding silently was no fun! So, standing in the middle of the street, he placed his ear buds in his ears. Willy was listening to Nirvana when a Good Humor truck creamed him. What would his mother say?

That's in past tense. Your available tenses are: simple past, past subjunctive, past progressive, past perfect, conditional. Not in this example, but possible with past tense, are simple present, present progressive, and present perfect (again, these past three only occur when the narrator is localized and reflecting back on a tale told). Here it is in present tense:

Willy Dervish rides his bike down the lane. As he takes his bike across the street, a semi truck runs a red light and nearly plows into the boy. Just that morning, Willy's mom told him not to listen to his iPod while crossing the street. If he wants to ride, he should have all his attention on the road. But riding silently is no fun! So, standing in the middle of the street, he places his ear buds in his ears. Willy  is listening to Nirvana when a Good Humor truck creams him. What will his mother say?


Not that different, right? I really don't detect a fundamental loss of narrative depth and breadth in the second version. Really, it's almost the same...with two notable differences: 1) present tense allows you these tenses: all the ones that past tense has access to in addition to all the future tenses. That's at least three more basic tenses, and if you're an experimentalist, perhaps even more. 2) the movement between times is fluid. In fact, I think that it is this ease of transition that makes some readers so uncomfortable with it. If you're in present tense, you don't have to switch to a complex tense like present perfect to denote an event that happened in the past farther back than the rest of the events in the past narrative (e.g. Just that morning, Willy's mom had told him not to listen to his iPod while crossing the street. ). The present tense allows you to invoke the full power of the simple tenses. Simple past is something that has happened in the past. Simple future is something that happens in the future. A transition to a flashback, for instance, is painless: Dick goes to the store. He went there last Tuesday. In past tense narration, it would be: Dick went to the store. He had gone there last Tuesday. Present tense allows an economy of words because the complex tenses do not necessarily need to be used.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that writers shouldn't be chided for their personal writing choices. I've read a lot of stuff in print that I HATE, but I can't remain on any sort of ethical/moral high ground while calling for those works to be eliminated. I like what I like. I support what I like. I don't buy what I don't like, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy that same thing. As a reader, you're ultimately in the driver's seat. If you don't like the thing, put it down.

Present tense narration, like other types of narration, can be abused and misused. But it shouldn't be strung up and burned.

Post-Script: I really hope I didn't just pick a fight with Phillip Pullman. 'Cause that would suck.

Post-Post-Script: The Cinema Snob has a great review of the "found footage" movie, Apollo 18. In it, he raises a pretty significant point that has always plagued me about past tense stories (especially those told from the first person perspective). Namely: how the hell is the story being told? Why did the narrator sit down and start telling this story? So there are always questions about POV, no matter which one you pick.

By REINHARDT! with 3 comments