Three Pound Brain

No bells, just whistling in the dark…

Month: October, 2010

Ahem… Two farts does not a flatulence problem make.

by rsbakker

Disciple, I suppose, could be described as a put-upon, down-on-his-luck investigator who tries to get his own back by continually ducking sideways. He takes the back way home. More and more it’s starting to look as though Disciple of the Dog will be every bit as put-upon and down-on-its-luck as its namesake character. The Publisher’s Weekly review has found its way to Disciple’s Amazon page. It begins, “The cleverness Bakker displayed in his Prince of Nothing fantasy trilogy (The Darkness That Comes Before, etc.) is lacking in this suspense novel introducing Disciple Manning…” In other words, it starts with a dismissive tone. “Clever” is the word people use to describe things not quite as profound as they are: I should know, since this is how I use the term all the time myself! The review then lays out the shape of the plot before ending with: “A crude, off-putting hero with a flatulence problem may leave few readers eager for a sequel.”

Had to break for a laugh… Too fucking funny.

Primarily because I would bet my next royalty check that whoever wrote this review farted at least ten times as much while reading the book as the two farts attributed to Disciple in the story. Funny how two farts can become a “flatulence problem” so quickly. Books are like elevators that way, I guess.

The reviewer should have ended with “Disciple is a dog… A yukky, yukky dawg.”  Then I could have said, “Huh. Go figure.”

Oh well. Dem da breaks. I’ve always said that liking this book depends on liking the hero. Leave it to Disciple to find his way into the hands of a prude. There’s few mechanisms in the brain more difficult to get around than those involved in disgust. Once you trigger these systems, it’s pretty much game over. They should get her to review Bukowski next (I’m just assuming she’s a she because of the whole “fart chauvinism” thing, but I could be wrong).

As Disciple himself says, “One man’s dog is another woman’s pig. I get that.” 

It really is a game of chance with every book: not only does it need to reach the right reviewer, it needs to reach them in the right way at the right time. Reviewers are almost as heterogenous in their make-up as the general population of readers. So if you game expectations the way I do, self-consciously try to rub against the grain of certain sensibilities (in the case of Disciple, the kinds of micro-proprieties that people use to cobble together the moral character of people they meet), you are bound to get smacked. All I can do is shake my head, shrug my shoulders, and hope the next roll of the review dice doesn’t come up… craps.

And at the same time I can’t help but feel that, “A crude, off-putting hero with a flatulence problem [that (sic)] may leave few readers eager for a sequel,” would be a damn good blurb to put on the mass market paperback’s cover. The only problem is that it would scare the prudish away, when I would much rather give them a rash.

And on top of that, I’m going to succumb to the gambler’s fallacy and say that Disciple has suffered so much bad luck that his number is due. Not everyone is averse to his brand!

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Denmark 10, Bakker Zippo

by rsbakker

Daily Aphorism: Writers kill their characters the way alcoholics beat their children: it’s their way of spreading the blame.

There’s something to be said for working out all your raping and pillaging in your pre-Medieval past, because the Danes have to be the most urbane, friendly, and civilized people on the bloody planet. Last night I presented my final lecture (the fourth in two days!) in – get this – the English Department’s bar… Too cool, I have to say.

They make me feel like the longhaired savage – except, of course, I no longer have long hair.

So I’ve been ranting and railing against the literary establishment in both its academic and non-academic incarnations, all the while expecting some descendent of Kierkegaard to stomp on me and tear my arguments to pieces. Nothing of the sort happened, with the exception of one bearded philosopher, who seemed to have more of a problem with me than with my arguments per se. I’m not a real scholar, see. I actually had a self-professed Derridean tell me that he agreed with 95% of what I said. That’s the thing with these Danes – they’re every bit as polite as Canadians! The only difference is that you get the sense that some element of their Wodenistic past lingers, and that behind their accomodating smiles they’re actually thinking of way to grind your bones to roll into their flour. Make you into a Danish…

(Speaking of which, the danishes here are easily the best I’ve tasted in my life. I’ve made a couple of cavity raids to the wonderful bakery across from the Guesthouse here. Me, oh my.)

Seriously, though. Mathias, Nik, Lars, and Christian have treated me like royalty, and I will be forever grateful. The weeks leading up to this trip had been very difficult. Aside from my frustrations with Disciple’s release and the resulting existential career fears, a wonderful friend of mine succumbed to cancer shortly before I left. I was literally cramped with guilt because I couldn’t make the funeral. And as some of you have no doubt heard, Ralph Vicinanza, my agent’s boss, and the genius who rewrote the agency playbook for genre fiction, passed away suddenly. It’s strange the way a string of bad and painful news can convince you that only bad and painful things await you in the future. Such has not been the case. The talks have far and away exceeded my expectations. The Danes actually get my quirky – and thoroughly vulgar – sense of humour (and even managed to outdo me on several occasions (Christian, I’m talking about you, bud)). Today, the boys are cooking me a traditional Danish dinner – and the fools even bought a copy of NHL11 because they knew I would be missing the opening of the hockey season!

And they presented me with my very own Zippo as a gift.

I still miss my daughter horribly (this the first time I’ve been away since she was born a year ago), but I’m inclined to say that I’m climbing out of the fog of negativity that has baffled my heart for much of the previous month, infecting these posts, and leading to the indiscriminate slaughter of at least two major characters.

If It Feels Like Complacency…

by rsbakker

Daily Aphorism: Only fools burn anymore, which is why so many literary bellies are filled with fill–dirt shovelled from better graves.

I’ve been spinning my wheels this past week. The key to my productivity, since I quit my two pack a day smoking habit, anyway, has been routine. There was a time, back when I still tried to will my way into writing, where I really worried that I wasn’t cut out for a career as a writer. I literally started working in the fields when I was eleven years old – I’ve spent the bulk of my life driven by the expectations of people who where actually looking over my shoulder as I worked. One of the first things I discovered when I began writing full time was that the solitude and independence that I had spent so long yearning for possessed an entirely different motivational structure, one that will send you skidding down innumerable paths of least resistence if you don’t find some way to adapt. Before you know it, you’re finishing your fifth full campaign of Rome: Total War, or winning you fifteenth EA Games Stanley Cup, cursing yourself for being such an unproductive loser.

Since I had no faith in my willpower whatsoever, I decided to relieve my will of command, and replace it with habit. So I started leaving the house every morning and going to coffeeshops – someplace where work was all there was to do. And that has been the cornerstone of every book I’ve written since The Warrior-Prophet (which I finished as a smoker and recovering graduate workaholic).

This is one of the reasons I’m so reluctant to do cons, even though I have a total blast whenever I do go. Any interruption in my routine, it seems, sends me crashing from the rails altogether. If I take even a single day off, I’m three days recovering. If I miss a weekend, then I’m at least a week recovering. Now, with Denmark looming, Disciple languishing, I find myself in a bona fide creative slump.

And I find myself wondering whether this is way literary writers must feel: as if they’re stuck trying to ignite dirt.

I say this because I’ve come to regret my earlier post on Tom McCarthy. After watching and reading a number of interviews with Justin Cronin and Jonathan Franzen over the past weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that McCarthy actually has a programme, that he is actually trying to accomplish something with his fiction. The easiest thing in the world, it seems to me, is to take shots at someone who is trying – earnestly trying – to forge a stormy relationship with readers, even if, as I happen to think, he is really only going through the motions of a certain bureaucratic genre.

He has the fire… You gotta give him that.

In an age where only fools burn, no less.