Friday, October 29, 2010

Two Fisted Critique

I submitted several more chapters of my novel THE EDGE to the Moosemeat writer’s group last night with generally negative results. Again, the pulpy tone seems to put most people off. In fact, it seems to make some members of the group downright angry. Strangely, the member who reads the most pulp-style material seems to be the most negative toward the piece, which I confess perplexes me more than a little bit.

A great deal of the critique time seems to be spent on suggesting that the piece can only be made worthy by pushing further away from, or attempting to transcend the pulpy themes and prose.

I know that most of the members are really trying to urge me toward the best possible result I can attain, and I truly appreciate their time and efforts. However, their help always seems to be subtly predicated on the assumption that the genre itself is fundamentally flawed. That’s tough for me because I simply don’t agree with that position. Several ‘Meaters have made statements along the lines of; “This isn’t the kind of thing I’d ever read on my own.” Hey, I could say the same thing about much of the work I read there from other members, but I usually don’t. 

To be fair, a few members of the group did offer a mostly positive response. I award my eternal gratitude to those fine individuals.

I know that there are fans of this type of material out there, because I’m one of them. I certainly never have any difficulty finding similar stories in the bookstores. Someone must be reading this stuff!

The heartbreaking thing is, when I read my story, I really get a great deal of joy out of it. It would be exactly the sort of thing I’d like reading. I don’t think my book is perfect by any means, but all I’m really trying for is a fun read.

I guess maybe I’m asking for it by aiming that low.

It isn’t that I don’t want to write at the top of my game, and it isn’t that I believe that a more thoughtful or “literary” piece is forever outside my abilities. (Though it may be.) For me, it’s more about taking things in bite-sized chunks. This is my first novel, and I thought my best bet for any kind of success was to choose a style I’m familiar with and enjoy reading. Then find a workable premise and just try and fulfill the basic requirements of the genre.

I wonder; is that a flawed approach?

Must a writer always aim for elegant prose, deep significance and sublime transcendence?

Perhaps they should.

Perhaps by aiming low I doom myself to mediocrity.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Critical Damage

Our Mascot

For me “MOOSEMEAT” is not a novelty burger item gobbled down at a county fair or the unfortunate result of a rural driving mishap.  For me, Moosemeat is my writer’s group. It’s a magical place where writers gather together in a warm, trusting environment twice a month and eviscerate each other, creatively speaking.

(Okay, it’s not that bad, really.)

It is, however, a very formidable and demanding group. Its members are very honest, highly insightful and deeply thoughtful. They vary in their approach to critique, some gentle and encouraging, some passionate and challenging others blunt as the south end of a northbound rhino. Though the members run the gamut of stylistic influences and preferences they are always open to whatever sort of riff you are laying down. Well… mostly.

I confess to feeling a bit hard done by, on occasion, due to my populist approach to the medium. It’s a minor prejudice for most of the members, and one that I’m cantankerous enough to push back against if I’m feeling unfairly slighted. However, having said that, it can hurt sometimes too. (One member once tossed off this little riposte: “You should send this out. Luckily genre stuff doesn’t have to be that great to get published.” Ouch, man… ouch…)

Hey, what can I say? I like pulp and adventure and horror, and all things low culture. For the most part genre stories are what I want to write, and I make no apologies for that. But, in a group as well educated and literary in its tastes as this one, it can sometimes give one the feeling of being the bumpkin relative at the royal dinner. You try not to drink from the finger bowls.

I don’t want to overstate anything here. Being part of this group has done wonders for my writing, mostly by giving me an excuse to get off my ass and do it, already. And most of the criticism is thoughtful, truthful and generous, regardless of the genre. There is a real sense that, whatever your style, everyone wants you to do your very best work. For me that is a wonderful thing indeed.

I’ve sent several stories into the masticating maw of the Moose, and generally the results have leaned toward the negative, but the appraisals have always been very helpful to one degree or another. 

I’m currently doing something really crazy. I’m writing a novel. It’s a genre piece of course, but the response has been pretty positive so far, with some acute reservations here and there. I’ll be discussing some of the responses here, and probably putting up a few of my stories as well.

Stay tuned for the sweet, sweet humiliation.