Archive for 'endings'



What Stace had to say on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Spoilers

(No, there are no spoilers here, or rather, not of any of my work. I promise.)

A few weeks ago I had the misfortune of catching the movie The House at the End of the Street on TV. I say “misfortune,” because no one watching this thing could ever feel that they were experiencing anything but bad luck, or the laughter of fate. It’s not that it’s an awful movie; that’s the problem. It’s not interesting enough to be awful. It’s just dull, a series of nothing moments that lead to nothing, and every time the movie makes you think something interesting is about to happen, it decides instead to show you another very dull or pointless thing.

This isn’t a movie review, or rather, the movie itself isn’t the subject of this post. Spoilers are the subject of this post, and it was conversation about this movie that inspired that subject, so I’m talking about the movie as background and example. And along the way I’m just saying–for informational purposes, really–that The House at the End of the Street pretty much sucked, despite its rather interesting and spooky-sounding premise.

Here is that premise: A girl and her mom move into a big expensive house on a secluded street. The house across the street (or behind them, I’m not exactly sure; what I do know is that neither house was actually at the end of a street) was the scene of a murder years before, wherein a teenage girl murdered her parents and then presumably drowned, though they never found her body. The movie give us one moment of “Hey, what’s that? That’s creepy” when Elisabeth Shue (who plays the mother and looks gorgeous) sees a light on in that house, and looks scared by it. Lucky for us, though, the movie is quick to reassure us–almost immediately, in fact–that there’s nothing to be frightened of, there’s just a dude living there. No ghosties or anything, just the son of the murdered parents/brother of the murderous sister, who is around twenty-one now. He was away visiting an aunt when the murders occurred, so of course, like any normal young person, he wants to keep living all alone in the big huge secluded house fifteen miles outside of town where his parents met their violent ends at the hands of his sister. Makes sense to me, sure.

So. There’s some dumb scene with a subplot or something with some guy who skeeves all over Jennifer Lawrence (and, okay, I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. I do not see the “OMGMOSTBEAUTIFULGIRLEVERANDSOCHARMINGANDTALENTEDTOO” thing. Sure, she’s a pretty enough girl, but so is just about every other young actress. JMO.) and her walking home from a party; it’s a ten-mile walk, we are told, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t try to get someone else to take her or attempt to call a cab or anything. A Mysterious Guy drives past and asks if she needs a ride; she wisely says no, but then it starts to rain and she gets in the car after all.

It turns out–here’s where the post topic comes in–that this guy is Ryan, the suburban murder-house hermit. It turns out he’s taking classes at community college, slowly making his way toward, and saving up for, a four-year college education. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking, “Dude, if you sold that enormous chunk of real estate you rattle around in by yourself, you could skip the community college,” but apparently it’s all Ry-ry has to remember his family by, and that’s why he stays, all by his lonesome in a house where his family were slaughtered in a town that openly loathes him. Yes, Ryan, I’m sure your parents would want you to struggle and be ostracized in their death house because pictures just aren’t enough sometimes.

Anyway. We meet Ryan. He drops Jennifer Lawrence at her house and goes home. We watch him for a minute or two as he wanders around, a tiny lone figure in a huge house, and makes some soup from a can or something (it might have been spaghetti-Os? I don’t recall). He puts the food on a tray and heads downstairs into the basement, where he pulls back a rug on the floor to reveal a trapdoor, which he lifts, which reveals a whole ‘nother underground hallway–I mean, not a tunnel, but a full-on hallway–which leads to a locked door (he leaves the key above the doorframe, because why would you keep that key with you?), beyond which is a small bedroom, and in that bed is a girl in a slightly ragged nightgown with semi-ratty blonde hair. The girl sort of grunt-screams and tries to attack him, but he sedates her with one of those tranq syringes it’s so easy for people to acquire just in case. “Calm down, Carrie Ann,” he says, and we in the audience stop rolling our eyes and guffawing long enough to gasp! In shock! Carrie Ann is the name of his murderous sister! Clearly he, when he was a teen, dug and remodeled this sub-basement to keep his sister a prisoner because he loves her and can’t let the law or a hospital have her (or maybe his parents did so, because they wanted an extra guest room and thought it would be fun to treat their guests like prisoners at a gulag? Maybe they just really wanted to dig out a secret room under their house as an experiment in engineering? Maybe they planned to mine coal in secret, for kicks?)! Clearly, this is why he stays in town–it’s not the memories, it’s so he can keep his sister locked in this sub-basement rather than keeping her in some other above-ground bedroom somewhere nobody knows them and thus would not recognize her! Clearly he keeps her there because it would be awful to alert the authorities and thus get her the help she needs! It makes perfect sense!

Now. At this point we are barely thirty minutes into the film. We have just met Ryan, and the camera has essentially stayed with him from the moment he meets Jennifer Lawrence all the way through his fascinating food-making and into the basement to his conversation with and drugging of Carrie Ann.

I went hunting around for reviews and such of this film, and found many that mentioned this plot point: Ryan lives in the house and keeps Carrie Ann in his basement.

Every one of those reviews had someone–often numerous people–bitching about the “spoiler.”

You guys, something the movie shows you in the first half-hour is not a spoiler. It’s a plot point.

When a movie introduces you to a major character in that first half hour, and follows him back to his house to show you-the-viewer what’s in his amazingly professionally-finished sub-basement, that’s not a spoiler. That is a character and plot point that the movie wants you to know before it goes any further.

When a movie’s trailer essentially says to you, “ZOMGYOUGUYS CARRIE ANN’S LIKE TOTALLY STILL OF THE LIVING CHECK IT OUT” by showing you characters conversing with and about Carrie Ann…that’s not a spoiler. It is a plot point. (Seriously. That shit is in the trailer. See for yourself.)

A spoiler is something the movie makers (or author/s or songwriter/s or whatever) want to keep hidden. When M. Night Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense, he did not, in the trailer, show any bits of the film’s final scenes. He did, however, include the kid whispering, “I see dead people,” which tells you that it’s not a spoiler to say the movie is about a kid who sees dead people. In fact, even without the trailer, it’s not a spoiler to say the movie is about a kid who sees dead people, because not only is that a pretty intrinsic part of little Cole’s character, which we as viewers are shown this pretty much right away when we’re introduced to him, but it’s an intrinsic part of the movie’s plot.

So, to get to the essence of my point, I personally think any events which take place in a movie’s first half hour or so–or the first third or so of a book–or any character points which are brought to light while we are introduced to that character, are not spoilers. They’re plot points which must be laid in place before the rest of the story can unfold. Every damn thing is not a spoiler.

What do you think?

(Oh, and if you’re curious, the House at the End… movie goes on to be a basic, and very dull, sort of quasi-slasher movie, where people do stupid things for stupid reasons and it never occurs to anyone to call 911 like a normal person would do, and it’s all just dull, dull, dull. It’s not even fun to make fun of, it’s so dull and insipid.)

Also not a spoiler: I’ll have some news for everyone soon.

Also also not a spoiler: I have been very busy lately, making lots of new words.

What Stace had to say on Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
The Last One

Say my love is easy had,
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad –
Still behold me at your side.

Say I’m neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tounge –
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I’ll get me another man!

–Dorothy Parker

Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. That’s fine. Most of us don’t. We understand that reviews are for readers, not for writers. I don’t even like the “they can be helpful/constructive” because no, they really aren’t constructive, and they don’t help me, and more to the point, they don’t have to be. There is absolutely no reason in the world why a reader should have to remember a writer’s “feelings” when writing a review. There is absolutely no reason in the world why a reader shouldn’t say whatever they like about a book. It’s totally allowed.

But more to the point…who allows it? Nobody. There have been writers out there who’ve been shitty about “amateur” reviewers, and gone around huffing and puffing that they shouldn’t be listened to, or that no one should be allowed to write negative reviews ever, or whatever other self-entitled silliness. Funnily enough, last time I checked that didn’t actually stop anyone from blogging their opinion of a book, or from reading that blogged opinion and giving it whatever consequence the reader chose. Last time I checked, no gang of writers in a black windowless van started making the rounds of reviewers’ homes, grabbing them off the street and releasing them, naked, in a public park several miles away after telling them they won’t be writing any more reviews if they know what’s good for them, dig?

Last time I checked, a reader did not need a writer’s permission to read whatever they liked, and to say about it whatever they liked. So why the idea has come about that writers can or somehow are trying to “censor” readers, I don’t know. Where the idea came that the opinion of writers on that subject matters worth a fidder’s damn, I don’t know either.

Readers can say whatever they want.

Writers cannot.

I accept that. As I’ve said before, I knew that getting into this. I knew there were a lot of subjects I could no longer be myself on. Frankly, it’s a privilege to be in that position, and I’m grateful for it. Of course, I foolishly believed that standing up for readers every time the situation arose would mean people would remember that later; I foolishly believed that going out of my way for people, that being a good person, would mean something, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is, I totally understand, accept, and whole-heartedly approve of the idea of writers staying away from reader reviews, and keeping their mouths shut regarding opinions of them. Fine. Just as I don’t have any overwhelming need to review books on my blog, nor do I have an overwhelming need to blog about readers and their reviews. I mention them, yes, because as I’ve said before, when a reader shows appreciation for my work I like to repay that; they work hard on their reviews. I want to give them credit for that work and let them know how much I value it, and them. Some of them–most of them–are damn good writers, and it makes me proud to have such smart and awesome people recommend my work. I won’t stop doing that, either, because my readers are important to me.

But the only real thing I’ve ever said on the subject is that readers can say whatever they want. Then I said readers who review and wish to become writers–who review as part of their aspiring writer persona–might want to be aware that they could find some writers who aren’t really eager to do them favors if they’d been negatively reviewed in the past. Funnily enough, last time I checked a favor was just that: a favor, something people are under zero obligation to do for someone else, and can turn down for any arbitrary reason. “I don’t feel like getting my lazy ass off the couch” is an acceptable excuse to refuse a favor, frankly, so I’m not sure how this is different. Favors aren’t obligations.

And for a long time things have been pretty smooth. But now? Now I’m finding that not only is it not okay for me to respond to reviews publicly, not only is it not okay to respond to them privately, but I’m not even allowed to have feelings about them.

Sure enough, the “My books aren’t me and they’re totally separate from me and I’m so professional and detached that I don’t care what people say” crowd leaps in to prove how much more professional they are than those of us who admit negative reviews can be hurtful or sad or disappointing, as if they’re far better than us pussybaby freaks with an emotional attachment to our work. That their work isn’t them, and they are totally detached from it, as if it was something they spat into the sink, because they’re True Professionals.

Sorry, but no.

I fully accept that not everyone is going to love my books or even like them. I know that. I can take it. I knew going into this business that there would be people who don’t like it. I’m happy to stand back and not engage. I don’t let them have their say–it’s not up to me–but I’m glad they have it. More power to them. I have never once tried to quiet another person or keep them from expressing their opinion.

What I will not stand for is the idea that not only can I not reply, not only can I not reply privately, but it’s not even okay for me to feel something about a review. Even feeling privately hurt or upset or down is now wrong and unprofessional. And fuck that.

My books are not my babies. I have babies. I have books. They’re different. But you bet your ass my books are part of me. Every word on every page came from me. Every word on every page matters to me.

Now it’s not supposed to.

Or at least, it’s not supposed to if I write genre fiction. I’ve found a few articles/discussions about literary fiction writers who made the Mistake; funnily enough, no one writing those articles or commenting on them implied that it was wrong of the writer to even feel bad about the review. It was understood that their work was important to them, that they would care about the response it gets, that they would have opinions on those responses. No other literary fiction authors jumped in to say how ridiculous they were for wanting people to like their books, or for feeling kinda bad when they didn’t. It would never occur to most people that those writers aren’t supposed to be personally invested in their work. (For that matter, it would never occur to most people that anyone isn’t supposed to be personally invested in their work. I worked at a Dairy Queen once in high school; I made the best damn Strawberry Shortcakes and Peanutbuster Parfaits you ever saw. My Dairy Queen curl was always perfect. Why? Because I cared. Because I liked the satisfaction of knowing I’d put something of myself into my work, to give someone else the best possible experience.)

And I ask you to show me someone whose boss told them their work wasn’t good enough, wasn’t acceptable, who didn’t feel the slightest twinge of sadness or pain because of that. It’s expected that people will be a bit hurt. It’s expected that they react professionally; no screaming “Shut up, asshole!” It’s expected that they not take it hugely personally and freak out, or be inconsolable for months, or tell that person they’re obviously morons, but it’s expected that it might be a bit hurtful.

But it seems that over the last few years, and of course especially the last couple of weeks, there’s this attitude–sometimes spoken, sometimes implied–of “It’s not like your work is important. You only write genre fiction, you know. It’s not important, what you do. You only churn out a product. So shut up about your feelings.”

You know what? I think that’s utter bullshit. I think if you can detach from your books that completely, maybe you’re not really putting enough of yourself into that book.

My books are not a churned-out product. My books are not a fucking TPS report that’ll go in the shredder as soon as the boss gets a glance at the numbers. My books are not a paint-by-numbers picture of a unicorn that anyone can put together.

My books are mine. My books are me. I’m in there. I’m in every word and every page and every character. Megan? Me. Chess? Especially me. My past. My outlook. My dreams. My thoughts on the world and people in general. My books are what they are because I make them that way. They come from my conscious mind; they come from my subconscious. They speak to parts of me I’m familiar with and parts I don’t know exist.

In other words, my books are me stripped bare. My heart and soul is on every page of every book. They are part of me.

Why? Because I think I owe it to you. Because you as a reader want something, and I want to give it to you. You want a book that will make you think and feel; that is what I want to give you. And how the fuck can I expect to make you feel, really feel, if I’m not feeling when I write it? How can I expect you to have an emotional reaction to my work when for me it’s just another fucking day at the office, whatever, toss out some words and who cares what they are because as soon as the book is finished I’ll emotionally disavow it anyway?

My books are not written according to some formula. My books are not thrown together with a “That’s good enough for the likes of them” sort of casualness, for me to dust off my hands when they’re done. My blood, my sweat, my tears, my pain, my joy, my thoughts, my feelings, go into every goddamn page. My books matter to me. They are important to me.

Yes, my books are genre fiction. So what? Does that mean they can’t be meaningful? Does that mean I have to shrug them off when they’re done, like they’re just some widget I built on an assembly line? Does that mean I’m not trying to say something big with them, that they don’t have a theme that’s important to me, that they aren’t a plea for change or a light being shone on something negative or anything else?

Some writers think we all should be able to completely detach from the book and not care if people like it at all, have it not effect them emotionally in any way. Well, just as they obviously think something is wrong with me and I’m unprofessional for caring if people like my work, I frankly think their work can’t be that damn good or meaningful if they’re so easily able to wash their hands of it and not care about how people take it. When I pour my heart into something I don’t just walk away when it’s done. When I really connect to something and it really matters to me, I don’t just shrug it off when it’s finished and forget it ever mattered. And I think it’s bullshit that I should be expected to. Fuck that.

Yes, it’s just genre fiction. Yes, of course there will always be people who don’t connect with certain books or characters. We all know that; it’s a given, and it’s fine. But don’t you dare tell me that because I just write genre fiction I’m not allowed to care about my books, and the only professional way to write genre fiction is to view it as some sort of toenail clipping, something that came from me but to which I have no attachment whatsoever.

My work matters to me. My work is part of me. I put everything I have and everything I can into my work.

Quite frankly, if I don’t feel deeply when I’m writing it, if I don’t dig deep and push myself and expose everything I can…how the hell can I expect readers to feel something when they read it?

They deserve everything I can give them. And I deserve to not be ridiculed for caring about my work in the privacy of my own home. Because I will never stop caring about my work, and I will never stop trying to make it the best it can be.

An endnote. This will be my last post on writing/writerly topics. I’m tired of it and I’m done. It’s not worth it to me. Yes, I know the people who read and enjoy my books are smart enough to know what I’m actually saying and not what some alarmist claims I’m saying. Yes, I know those who read this and haven’t read my work but know what I’m actually saying are just the sorts of people who probably will like my work. But giving time and energy and feelings to shit like this takes away from what I should be giving time and energy and especially feelings to, and that is my books. (This isn’t just related to stuff on the blog; you AW members may have a good idea of some other things that have contributed to it.) So I’m making some changes here on the blog, and that’s one of them. I will probably be blogging more often, but shorter posts, and I will no longer be commenting on things happening in the online writing world. I don’t want to be part of it anymore; I haven’t wanted to for a long time, actually. I’m happy to let other people have their opinions on things and rarely feel the need to challenge them; the same courtesy is not usually extended to me, and the way to avoid it is simply to stop posting opinionated things, and that’s what I’m doing.

I will always be open for suggestions on topics, and I will always be happy to answer questions here on the blog; I’d like to do that regularly, actually, so I encourage you all to ask away.

What Stace had to say on Sunday, March 15th, 2009
Thoughts on finishing a book

I was going to blog today–well, tomorrow, actually, because it’s 12:25 am right at this moment–about pantsing, and how sometimes really cool stuff just appears, and I’ve had two incidences of that in the last two days and it was awesome. And I might go ahead and blog about that at the League in the morning; I probably will.

But right now…right now I feel awful.

I just finished the book.

It should be a good thing. And it is, really. Finishing a book is a Good Thing. We *should* finish books. Especially contracted books.

But this one–new title DEVOURER OF GHOSTS–is the third Downside book. The last contracted Downside book. And I have no idea if I’ll get to write more.

I certainly hope I will. I hope the series is popular enough, sells well enough to justify another contract. But there are no guarantees, as we all know; especially not in this business.

So right at this moment, instead of celebrating, instead of gleefully sitting back and having a cocktail, I am bereft. Totally and completely.

Sure, I’m not done done. I have edits. I have a subplot to strengthen and a Baddie to make badder. I have copyedits for DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Heck, I have edits and line edits and copyedits for this book. It’s not like I never get to visit this world again, or play with these characters I love so much–and I do, I really, really love them. I’m looking forward to actually reading this book first page to last, as I haven’t done that yet.

But I don’t know how much more playing I’ll get to do. I don’t know if I’ll get to create new stories for them, to expand what’s there. I have some scenes already waiting in my head, some plot twists and moments and scares; I have no idea if I’ll ever get to write them. I have full plots for the next two books, in fact, including an entire weeklong ceremonial celebration complete with blood sacrifices and roaring fires and haunted streets…and I might never get to write any of it.

Intellectually I know I’ll get over it. That after a few days I’ll have found something else to work on–I’m actually 17k into a new project and I am looking forward to making some heavy progress on that–and, hey, if things don’t work out I can spin those ideas into a new world and it just might work, right?

Intellectually I know I feel this way when most of my books end. It’s worse for the non-series books, when you really *are* done with those characters when you write THE END. I’ve never cried after finishing a book until now, but I usually feel like it. Writing a book takes an enormous amount out of a person, or at least, out of me. By the time it’s done I’m usually sort of a drooling goon, unable to think or talk about anything else, unable to see anything else, I’m so focused on bringing a good ending home; my eyes burn, my hands ache, my right arm is sore from moving the cursor, my knees stiff from being folded in one position for so long. I haven’t gotten a solid night’s sleep in a week; I wake up three or four times, jerked from dreams in which the characters act out scenes in my head. It’s always like that for me as the book starts wrapping up, but this one has been worse.

So I know all this. I know I’ll get over it and be okay, that I’ll go to sleep now and wake up feeling much better and ready to start editing. But it doesn’t help, not right now. Not when I’m facing saying goodbye. This is the series that got me an agent and my first NY deal; the one that paid for us to go back home in a few weeks. And I just love it so much and I feel so lonely and uncertain.

The part that was up to me, the real heavy lifting, is done. I know pretty much what needs to be done in edits. Aside from the subplot and strengthening it’s just fine-tuning: fiddling with sentence structure, eliminating redundancies, etc. I’ve done what I can do, what I needed to do, and I’ll continue to do so, but soon it won’t matter at all. It won’t matter what I think or how I feel. Because the book will be out there, in the hands of readers (um, or not, which of course is the real fear), and what they think of it will make all the difference. That’s scary. Very scary. This is a very dark series, about drugs and poverty and ghettos; in this climate, are people really going to want to read about my punk-rock ghetto no-hopers? I sure hope so, but there’s no way to tell, is there.

So there you go. My unvarnished thoughts on finishing a book, specifically this book, which is the last book under contract. I hope I get to write more. I want to write more, desperately.

But I might not get to. And it’s hard to think about and it makes me sad. And that’s where I am at this moment; just sad. And hopeful, and nervous, and scared, and wishing I could start it all over so I don’t have to say goodbye.

Sorry, everyone. I’ll have cheered up by Thursday, I promise.