Thursday, December 11, 2014

NBC's Chuck

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 8:45 A.M.

A nerd meets a beautiful, out-of-his-league woman and they fall in love. That simply put, Chuck had the same premise as The Big Bang Theory. Without a DVR, I flipped between the two series when they premiered in the same timeslot in 2007. Big Bang won the bid for my attention in the long run, but I held onto the notion of buying the complete set of Chuck on Blu-ray if the price were right. This past Black Friday, it was.

I've been binge-watching the show this week and have pinned down why I wasn't more into it when it aired. I bought the premise that the contents of the massive intelligence-gathering Intersect computer were subliminally uploaded into Chuck's brain, giving him flashes of information that put him at risk, warranting a protective detail of the CIA's beautiful Sarah Walker and the NSA's brawny John Casey.

Through Season 2, the show did a good job showing why Sarah was attracted to Chuck in spite of her trying to stay professional. Chuck was only reluctantly involved in spy work, and his reluctance showed Sarah the appeal of civilian life. In late Season 2, the government wanted to put Chuck in lockdown, but Sarah went rogue to save him and offered to go into hiding with him. At the very end of Season 2, a second exposure to the Intersect gave Chuck acrobatic ability and fighting skills.

Season 3, six months later in story time, found Chuck in field training, having declined Sarah's offer. Half the season was spent repairing their relationship, after which Chuck explained that he chose to become a spy to be with Sarah. I couldn't buy that. Sarah had fallen in love with Chuck as he was in Season 2. His uncharacteristic choice to be a spy, more than anything else, drove them apart.

The series went on to prove the Intersect a plot device of the worst kind. It granted knowledge and abilities that disappeared in a flash. It altered personalities and wiped memories, getting in the way of what I'd enjoyed most: the characters' natural growth and the core story of a spy falling for a regular guy.

That said, as many elements as the show juggled—spy thriller, workplace comedy, family drama—each episode hooked me into the next. Speaking in book terms, it's the "One more chapter" effect. I didn't intend to blow through five seasons in four days, but here we are.

Chuck was narrowly renewed a couple times over five seasons, and only Seasons 2 and 4 were standard length. I wonder what impact this had on stories. Was Chuck's physical upgrade and sudden desire to be a spy a blatant play for ratings?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

At The Five-Two: "Robbed" by Brenton Booth

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 4:50 A.M.

This week's poem is by Aussie author Brenton Booth:



I've begun booking next year's 30 Days of The Five-Two blog tour. Join in.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanks In Advance

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 4:34 A.M.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because anyone can stand behind being grateful for what we have, most of all for life itself. Unpredictable as it can be, that's what excites me. Thank you for your friendship along the way, and all the best to you on the occasion.

Pin the Genre on the Story

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 4:00 A.M.

Writers of literary fiction have long clashed with writers of genre fiction. Literary writers want genre writers' popularity; genre writers want literary writers' respect. As I see it, "literary" is itself a genre. Genre labels came up in Short Mystery Fiction Society discussion with the recent release of The Anthology of Cozy Noir, whose publisher is an SMFS member.

Cozy and noir, if strictly defined, appear quite different: Cozies typically have polite settings and little if any onstage violence; noir typically presents hopeless settings and the characters they shape. One wouldn't think noir could be cozy or cozy could be noir, but stopping there leaves no room for creativity. And don't we read fiction to see writers' creativity in action?

Genre labels frustrate writers because they seldom pinpoint a story the way noun, verb, adjective, etc. denote parts of speech. Writers and readers, in their enthusiasm, are quick to assert that a story is more what any particular genre label brings to mind, that it "transcends the genre".

Yet genres exist because they are the simplest way for reference and sales people to organize their stock. Giving stories the rare label "cozy noir" invites readers to think of them in a new light.

There will always be argument over stylistic labels because they are open to interpretation. Even if it were possible, I doubt many writers would like being exactly pinned down.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Write and (Try to) Sell Short Stories?

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 6:28 A.M.

As it has seemingly become easier for writers to sell their work directly to the public, a frequent topic of Short Mystery Fiction Society discussion is, "How can writers make more sales?"

Several writers and publishers chimed in with soberingly-low sales figures. I replied, citing Lawrence Block's observation from his writing manuals that novelists need one premise per book while short story writers need as many ideas as they have stories. I write short stories and poetry because my mind is suited to many ideas and many ways of expressing them. I'd prefer to sell them all in print for as much money as possible, but I'm not against electronic form.

Ultimately I sell stories electronically as well as in print because I see no reason not to do so. I do question novelists who sell their books in electronic form for low prices as I think this devalues fiction-for-sale as a whole. I can see the short-term gain for popular authors, but in the long run, it seems to be hurting the market.

There will always be readers who dismiss short stories as inferior to novels. In their eyes, 99-cent stories or collections can't compete with 99-cent novels. I can't say I write for readers in that sense. I write to see how well I can present in words the images and worlds in my mind, and I try to reach just one person who can see them as I do.

Viewpoint-Hopping

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 6:04 A.M.

Last night on his blog, Bill Crider began a post:

It seems that more and more often these days I see readers complaining about what they call "point of view hopping." I can see why they might object to shifting points of view in a paragraph or [maybe] even a chapter, but what the heck is wrong with telling a story from the points of view of several different characters[?]


I commented that when readers complain about viewpoint, they are really questioning the place of viewpoint changes in a story's logic. I was going to say viewpoint change within scenes jars me, but I think any viewpoint change that seems unnecessary or illogical, that kills suspense instead of building it, jars readers.

As a reader, I ask to be allowed to follow a story. Illogical viewpoint changes usually lose me, but I might go along with them if chaotic storytelling were the point. In general, the viewpoints in a story should be the ones I naturally want when they come up or the ones I need for best dramatic effect.

At The Five-Two: "November Storm" by John David Muth

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 5:45 P.M.

In the midst of a storm here on Long Island, I give you John David Muth's poem:



Submissions for guest editor Erica Guo close November 30.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reviewer Bias Revisited

© by Gerald So | geraldso.blogspot.com | 4:00 A.M.

The topic of reviewer etiquette came up yesterday in Short Mystery Fiction Society discussion. A member blogged a review of a story in an anthology including his own story. Another member pointed out the pitfalls of doing this, mainly that some readers discount such reviews as veiled sales pitches.

Many reviewers find it a good rule of thumb to declare biases up front, but I replied with an example of how even this can backfire: Lee Goldberg declared his friendship with Reed Farrel Coleman in an August review of Coleman's novel, Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot, leading one member of my Parker discussion list to dismiss Lee's review as biased.

My reply went on to say I have reviewed work by authors I've met in person, as well as stories in anthologies including my own work. In some cases I've mentioned it, in others I haven't. The tone of my reviews is always as objective as possible. I focus on the work alone. I don't delve into my knowledge of the author because readers may not have that knowledge. I don't compare the author's writing to mine. As such, I don't feel obligated to mention my personal relationship or my own writing at all. What I do bring up in reviews is valid regardless whether the author is a friend or the anthology includes my writing.

What drives my reviews more than anything is the material evoking a response. If the desire to respond is strong enough, I go ahead, without worrying how readers will perceive my well-thought-out review. Individual reader perceptions, as shown above, are beyond a reviewer's control.

Have a look at my review of "A Visit to the One-Eyed Man", a story by my friend Bill Crider, published in Noir Riot Volume 1. The same volume includes my poem "A Definition of Noir".