One of the bands I totally love is My Chemical Romance. I've loved them since the first time I saw the video for their song "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," which looks like a movie trailer for the best revenge of the nerds video, ever. Take a look:
That is a great video. And it didn't hurt that the song was just as great--a fresh and angry take on being abandoned by someone you thought really liked you.
That song, their breakout hit, was on their second album. Their third was the epic The Black Parade, which deviated from the emo rock template and was both bloated and grand. Everything about The Black Parade was big. The songs, the videos, the tour, and the post partum depression that followed it, which is why it took four years for them to make a follow-up album.
The album -- Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys -- came out last Monday, and is...well, from a hard rock emo band like My Chemical Romance, it's a surprise. A wonderful one. There are a number of amazing songs on this album, but this one -- "The Only Hope For Me Is You" -- is my current favorite, and was released as a preview, so I don't feel bad posting it here even though it's not the current single. Listen to this*:
It's beautiful, right? It's haunting, and somehow familiar, although there's nothing like it on the radio. And it's sad, but also hopeful. And, compared to "I'm Not Okay" it's positively mellow. Just lovely.
Where were you when all of the embers fell?
I still remember them,
covered in ash,
covered in glass.
covered in all my friends.
I still think of the bombs they built
A post-apocalyptic love song. Fantastic.
But after a few listens, and a little help from my iPod, I realized why the song sounded so familiar to me immediately. It's because of the first fifteen seconds.
Listen to the first fifteen seconds of "The Only Hope For Me Is You" and then listen to the first thirty seconds of this:
That's right, the beginning of one of the songs off MCR's new album is eerily reminiscent of the beginning of "Your Wildest Dreams" by The Moody Blues, released in 1986.
That's not to say that they're copies of each other, the way some Nickelback songs are copies of other Nickelback songs,** just that the similarities are enough that MCR's song made me recall the Moody Blues' song.*** And the songs are similar enough in tone that that recollection wasn't jarring--so natural, in fact, that it felt like I'd heard the MCR song before, even on the first listen.
Is it intentional? I don't know. MCR's always been one of those bands who wears its influences on its sleeve (take a listen to anything on The Black Parade--it's so full of Queen that you expect to hear Freddie Mercury any second), but The Moody Blues hasn't been on the list of influences that they've mentioned thus far (although Danger Days is very influenced by the 80s in general). I doubt that they thought "let's remake the first thirty seconds of 'Your Wildest Dreams.'" I suspect it happened the way that influences make their way into my writing -- you hear something or read something and somehow it sticks with you, in your subconscious, until it seeps out into the work. And then, someone like me comes along and says to you "hey, that's sort of like this" and you look at it again and say "holy cow! You're right!"
Either way, it's a kickass song.
* The song hasn't been a single yet, so there's not a video for it.
** No, really. COPIES. Listen to this:
*** In fact, after the first fifteen seconds, the songs diverge and aren't really similar at all.
Last week, Steph Bowe wrote a post about how she is not a fangirl. She's a fan of things, of course, but she's not obsessive. And it's a little embarrassing that I, a grown adult, am being out-matured by a 16-year-old, but there you go.
Because I'm totally a fan girl.
It started when I was 12, with a band, and then there was a book (and it's author), and then there was another band, and then a tv show, and another tv show, and now there's another band. I'm not one of those fan girls who falls in love with whatever's popular at the moment; in fact, the things I have fannish love for are about 50/50 split as to whether they're generally popular or not. But there's usually something.
And just like Steph can't explain why she's not a fan girl, I can't explain why I am one. Why do I spend hours of my life engaging with a cultural artifact that doesn't engage back? I've flown across the country, waited in line for hours, suffered through rain and sleet and dark or night, and spent money I shouldn't have spent to indulge my love for these things I love. I've even bought books in hardcover!
Some people think that this tendency in an adult is silly or immature. Maybe it is--I don't care. Because, honestly, part of the reason why I write, part of the reason why I'm so attuned to character, is because I'm such a fan girl. I hope that my books, my characters, turn teenagers into screaming fangirls and boys. Popularity is not something that the writer can control,* but if I as the writer could have the effect on one teenager that some of these books and bands have had on me? That would be the ultimate.
And now I have to go. The current love of my pop culture life has a new album out and I haven't memorized all the words yet.
* Lessons learned from fanfiction: you can never predict exactly what the audience is going to respond to.
1. This weekend, I went to see Burlesque with Cher and Christina Aguilera. It was AWESOME. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a good movie, but it was hilarious, and campy, and had snappy dialogue, and Cher sang twice and Christina sang about a hundred times and the amazing thing that saved the tiny burlesque club from destruction is totally not the amazing thing you think it's going to be, and yeah...AWESOME. If you like Cher and/or Christina Aguilera, you should totally go see it.
2. When I am 69 years old, I want to look like Cher. In fact, I'm willing to look like Cher now.
3. Lately, I've been watching Law & Order UK, and it's fascinating to see the familiar cases from the original Law & Order remade from an English point of view.* The English legal system fascinates me, and the stories are just as good as ever. The original was on television for 20 years for a reason.
* And the barristers wear wigs! Really ill-fitting old fashioned ones that look crazy at first, like this:
But you get used to it quickly.
Recently, I've been seeing a lot of commercials that, superficially, seem to say one thing* but also saying another much less flattering thing. This cracks me up, because it seems like, if I'm seeing these things, shouldn't the people who get paid a lot of money to create the commercials see them, too? But let me give some examples, so you can see what I'm talking about:
1. The Swiffer Commercials
Look, I love Swiffer. I use Swiffer (the plain ordinary wipe-on-a-stick ones, not the crazy jet ones). But this series of commercials is way screwed up. Take a look:
There's a whole series of these, in which the broom or mop essentially stalks the woman (never a man, notice) who has switched to Swiffer. On the surface, oh, ha ha, the broom and mop are sad that you left them. What a cute-ish commercial! But even if we set aside the fact that the commercial is essentially making light of stalking behaviors (since stalking by a broom is, you know, not very likely), the commercial has another, even more disturbing implication, namely that the woman in question was...um...romantically involved with a broom. And a mop. That is at the very least an uncomfortable suggestion and at the most? eww.
2. The Microsoft "Windows 7 was my idea" commercials.
These are the commercials where various regular people take credit for inventing the new Windows operating system, which, as a Mac user, crack me up anyway, because really? You want to take credit for that? But even looking past my own Mac bias (which is large), the message of the commercials is odd. Take a look:
On one hand, the commercials along this vein are awesome, because each of them demonstrates a new feature of Windows 7 and makes that feature look easy to use. On the other hand, these commercials basically state that Windows 7 users are (a) stupid, and (b) not as attractive as they think they are. Oh, and that Microsoft steals ideas from its customers.
For real. The common features in each commercial are these: (1) a Windows user talks about how he or she had this idea for a cool new feature. (2) We see a flashback, in which a hyper-attractive version of the user (not played by the original actor cleaned up to look better, but a totally different, much hotter actor) has the idea. (3) The we're back in the present, where the schlubby user demonstrates the new feature, and (4) then the schlub takes credit for inventing Windows 7.
I'm sure they're trying to counteract those smug Mac v. PC ads that were so successful from a year or two ago** by reassuring their customers that PCs are for normal people. I get that. But really, what these commercials are saying is "PC users are deluded and maybe not so bright." And that's never a message customers want to hear about themselves.
3. The Clorox Mad Men Commercial
I love Mad Men. I do. I've watched it since day one, and one of the really interesting things about it is watching the social attitudes in the show about women's roles, and parenting, and masculinity in the workplace and all those other things that make it feel like a slice of life from the 60s (even though, you know, it's really not). But while I admire the show, many of the attitudes of the characters (about adultery and the treatment of women, especially) aren't things I particularly admire. Don Draper is hot, for sure, but I don't want to be his wife or girlfriend.***
So when Clorox bleach decided to run this ad, I can only assume that it was the result of an anachronistic three martini lunch. Take a look:
Yep, that's right. Here's a laundry detergent company, whose primary market is probably women, married women, suggesting that it's product is best for getting rid of the incriminating evidence of their husbands' affairs.
This one, unlike the two commercials above, isn't a muddled message, it's just a bad one. Unless the product is being marketed to (a) men who have affairs or (b) mistresses who do their partner's laundry before sending him home****, who the heck is this commercial supposed to be appealing to?
What commercials with mixed messages (or just plain bad ones) have I missed? I'm sure there are millions out there -- I do have a DVR and a tendency to skip them.
* That one thing being "this product is awesome and you should totally buy it."
** Although some people would argue that the Mac v. PC ads really just portrayed Mac users as smug hipsters and PC users as cool funny guys like John Hodgman (who, by the way, is a Mac user. True story.).
*** Jon Hamm is another matter altogether, though. Wow. That is an attractive man.
**** I've never been anyone's mistress, but it seems to me that one of the advantages of mistressing would be never having to do the guy's laundry.
Lately, I've been reading a lot of series YA books,* books that have two or three or four sequels, and I have to say that it hasn't been going so well. Usually, this is what happens:
(1) I love the first book. It's awesome and original and the characters are great.
(2) The second book is good. Maybe the idea isn't as good, or the characters seem a little stale or something. But it's still a pretty good book, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
(3) I read book three and think "really"? and put it down halfway through after skimming to the end to find out who dies.
For a while I wasn't sure why I was having that reaction. I mean, these are all different authors, writing about very different topics, so how was it possible that my reaction was pretty much the same each time? Was it
Then I realized what was happening--it was the adults.
I went back to confirm and, sure enough, in each of these different series, the first book is all about the teenager. Who the character is, what problems the character faces, the relationships between the characters and the big conflict, that's all about the main character, the young adult.
But starting in book two, that focus starts to shift. Suddenly, adults matter more. Suddenly, there are politics. ::shudder::*** And here's the thing: I don't care about adults. I mean, in real life, of course I care about adults. And I care about adults in books, too, when I read books about adults.
But, for me at least, YA fiction is supposed to be about teenagers. Young adults. Not the political machinations of adults who use teenagers as their pawns or try to manipulate them or control them. So when a series becomes more concerned with the doings of the adults than the doings of the main character I signed up for? That's when I start checking out.
I think this happens, at least in part, for two reasons:
(1) the people writing the books are mostly adults. So they sometimes lose sight of the fact that the goings on of the adult world? Not all that interesting to kids (and readers with the minds of kids, like me :) ).
(2) in a series, you need to raise the stakes. So something that starts as a deliberate and focused story in book one (that maybe was never even meant to be a series, keep in mind), has to get bigger and badder in book two and three and four and etc. Suddenly, the boy just out to save himself now needs to save the whole town or the whole world. The stakes get bigger, the cast gets bigger, and BAM! suddenly you're in the middle of a debate on the floor of the Imperial Senate wondering how you got there and why your main character is suddenly a spectator instead of an actor.
And that spells trouble. Right here in River City.
It's also something for me to keep in mind as some of the stories I'm writing could serve as a jumping off point for a series. And if that happens, I have to make sure that my books don't fall victim to the same sorts of problems I'm seeing in these books.
* Some of these are new series, and some of them are old series (like 60 years old).
** Maybe I am also part of the problem. I'm willing to consider that possibility, but it doesn't make for a very good blog entry.
*** For a perfect example of how politics can ruin a good story, see the prequels to Star Wars. I'm sorry, we went from Darth Vader and Han Solo to the debates of the Imperial Senate? Guess who couldn't care less about that?
Lately, I've been seeing a lot of blog posts about writing contracts and clauses. As a lawyer, the contracts part of the publishing business is one of the interesting parts of the business for me, and since I don't do publishing contracts myself, I thought I would gather up all the posts into one giant linkfest. Enjoy!*
1. Here's Jane at Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency on the importance of reading your contract, a post that was inspired by a publisher sending out a notice of amendment for their contracts.
2. Here's a post over at Bookends LLC by writer Sally MacKenzie, about how she realized there's no such thing as a "boilerplate" contract.**
3. Here's Agent Kristin at Pub Rants talking about why you might not want a multi-book deal. (Hint: it involves the term "cross-collateralization."
4. And here's Agent Kristin again, on how one unethical person can ruin things for the rest of us. (Long story short: an agent tampered with a PDF version of a contract and made unauthorized changes and tried to get it through at the publishers. This is NOT a good idea, people.)
5. And here's Stroppy Author's blog, a whole blog about reading your publishing contract.*** Note that she's in the UK, where contracts vary from those in the U.S.
6. And finally, here's Agent Kristin again with why publishers shouldn't be holding a reserve on returns on ebooks.
* And even if you don't "enjoy" reading about contracts, they are a really important part of the publishing journey.
** Sally also talks about some other aspects of the business of writing that might not occur to writers before they get a contract.
*** Please note that Stroppy Author is just that, an author, and isn't a lawyer. And that your results should you follow her advice, may vary. It's still a good introduction to things to be thinking about when you read your contract.
I used to be awesome at titles. For real. My fan fiction has awesome titles, catchy and intriguing and epic in scope.
That has changed recently.
I don't know what's up with me, but right now my titles are boring and descriptive. Agent Ted and I are agonizing* over what to call The Book. And my Next Book is titled something so boring I can't even bring myself to type it here for fear that you might fall asleep just reading it.
And there are so many good titles on the market, recently.** The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Dead and the Gone, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Winter Girls, Don't Judge A Girl By Her Cover, Shiver, ...I could go on and on and on. We're having a real title renaissance at the moment, I think, and, as a result, I'm having a bit of title jealousy.
Jane, over at Dystel and Goderich, had a recent post about titles, and so did Eric over at Pimp My Novel. Neither of these posts have fixed my title malaise (yet!), but they're a good place to start.
* By "agonizing" I mean "sending emails back and forth saying stuff like 'do you like this one? Or this one? What about this one?'" So...not so much agonizing as discussing. You get the point.
** I mean titles, not the books that have the titles, although they might be good books, too, but I haven't read some of them. I'm just talking about the titles here.