Monday, September 24, 2012

General Update (and a bit on the difference between books and novels that isn’t quite substantial enough to be its own blog post)

Hi all. Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been in full-on-writing-the-next-book mode and it’s consuming every last bit of spare time I have these days. Which is good. I’m sure you’ll agree that a completed book trumps a few blog entries every time. And before you ask, the writing’s going well. I remain cautiously optimistic that there will be a major release from me by the end of the year. It may, in fact, almost be time to start talking in public venues about what this release will be. Not quite yet, but almost.

(BTW, here’s a handy tip: Never ask a writer how his writing’s going. Because it’s either going bad, in which case he’ll wear a pained expression and basically start evincing an unhappiness that’ll bring down everyone in the vicinity, or it’s going great and he won’t be able to keep an annoyingly giddy smile off his face and there’ll be a strong possibility that all he’ll want to talk about is how his characters are coming alive most vividly or how he successfully solved a plot problem with particular élan and you won’t be able to shut him up. Both scenarios make for an unpleasant evening for you and everyone else in the room.)

I will say I’m writing the first book in a multi-volume series. I have high hopes and high expectations, and I look forward to the challenges involved with working on a giant canvas.

When I say I’m working on a book, I do mean just that—a book, as opposed to a novel. What’s the difference? To be honest, I’m not sure there technically is one, at least in the way I’m thinking. Yes, novels are generally book-length works of fiction, while a “book” can be any genre. All novels are books, but not all books are novels, that sort of thing.

But I also use the term “book” to describe a particular kind of fiction as well, something distinct from “novels.” To me, “novels” imply a more literary-minded sort of fiction. “Novels” win prestigious awards like the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer. They teach “novels” in college classes. These are not the types of books I write.

I admit that this is largely a semantic exercise. A lot of people would call Deadly Reflections a novel, and they wouldn’t be wrong. This is just a distinction I feel on a gut level.

It’s kind of like the difference between “movies” and “films.” There’s really no difference between those two terms, but we all instinctively know there are some movies we would never call “films.” House at the End of the Street is not a “film.” Neither is Resident Evil: Retribution. They aren’t out to change cinematic history, nor do they aspire to be some great artistic achievement. They are just out to entertain as many people as possible on a Saturday night in 2012.

Likewise, my stories are meant to entertain, to provide an experience that is as diverting and pleasurable as possible. I feel weird attaching such a loaded and elevated term as “novel” to them. Hence, they are just “books” to me.

This is not to say that “novels” are inherently better than “books,” or that “films” are better than “movies.” I wouldn’t call Iron Man a “film,” but it is a supremely kick-ass movie, and certainly better than a lot of so-called “films.” It is true that films have more on their mind. They tackle the big questions and big themes. But even though films and novels might illuminate the human condition (or try to), many do so at the expense of fun. On the other hand, movies and books, as I define them, get to devote themselves solely to entertainment, an endeavor that I consider no more or less important than what the more highbrow artwork out there is trying to accomplish. There is something vital and necessary about a great piece of entertainment, which is why I think Stephen King’s and Elmore Leonard’s books will prove to be just as immortal as Salinger’s and Updike’s.

Ultimately, there is room for both entertainment and edification. Sometimes you feel like one and sometimes you feel like the other. Most people are willing participants in either audience, depending on how they feel at the time. (“Should I read this novel that’ll make me a better person, or this other book that will just be plain fun?”) As for what an artist decides to do, I can tell you it isn’t much of a decision. An author just writes words as they occur to him, and essentially does what he feels he can do, and offers what he can in a way not dissimilar to how most people live their day-to-day lives. It became clear to me early on that I may not be able to give everyone the secret to life or uncover universal truths in a virtuosic way.

But I could probably tell a pretty engaging yarn. So I tossed my hat into the entertainment arena and haven’t looked back and am so far without regret.
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With all that said, I’m going to see a film tomorrow. J I’ll be at the 6:30 showing of The Master in 70mm at The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston. I’ve never been there before, and I’m very excited because it looks like a pretty classy place, a perfect venue to see what may very well turn out to be my most anticipated movie of the next 5 years (or until PTA makes another film). I’m not looking forward to the roughly five-and-a-half hours of travel time involved to get there and back, but on the bright side it will afford me plenty of writing time.

Have a good evening everyone.

DHS

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