Anti-Environmentalism is at the Heart of Modern Conspiracy Theory
According to conspiracists like Alex Jones, the so-called "globalists" (the latest term for the Illuminati) are motivated by environmentalism as much as their desire for raw power. The eco-Illuminati idea is absurd yet insidiously brilliant: by giving the Illuminati an environmental agenda, conspiracists can weave together every possible government action, down to the most inane local zoning board meeting, into a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory. Never before could someone link gun control to infill development or 9/11 to bike lanes—but anti-environmentalism makes it possible.
Firing Weapons Through Hyperspace is Way Scarier than Blowing Up Planets
JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan dropped a giant bombshell on us in The Force Awakens: the First Order can fire a weapon through hyperspace. Through hyperspace! Until now, weapons in the Star Wars universe have always operated at visual range. The Death Star was powerful, but needed to be in sight of its target. Because of that, the rebels always had time to prepare a counter attack or flee. However, a weapon that can fire through hyperspace, regardless of its destructive capacity, is the ultimate weapon of terror.
Follow the structure, formulas, and story logic of the original trilogy.
Hey Star Wars fans, didn't like the prequel trilogy? Want to write your own alternative Star Wars prequel trilogy? Go for it. It's just for fun. It's fan fiction. But how should you do it? The biggest problems with the prequels are not the wild improbabilities (Darth Vader built C3PO?), or the intense dullness of senate debates, but the many ways in which they do not make sense in light of what we learned about the Star Wars universe from episodes 4, 5, & 6. So if you want to write an alternative prequel trilogy, follow the guidelines, formulas, and story logic of the original trilogy. Here are the ground rules.
There is a divide between Fine art nature photographers & conservation photographers.
Fine art nature photography allows viewers to disappear into photographs, to imagine themselves in landscapes of rapturous beauty and momentarily forget their actual surroundings. But what if a photographer doesn't want to sell fine-art prints? What if they don’t want the viewer to escape into the photograph? What if they want the viewer to help save an endangered species, tear down a destructive Dam, or protect the Everglades from rising sea levels? What if their intended audience is poor, working-class people who do not buy fine art? I have some ideas.
There's the exposure triangle, and then there's the rhetorical triangle.
When taking a photograph, there are three factors that inform decisions about subject and composition:
1) the audience for the photo
2) the purpose for taking the photo (aka the photo’s message)
3) the medium through which the photo will be seen.
These three things form the rhetorical triangle. In the exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, a change in one affects the other two — each one tugs at the other. Raising the ISO, for example, either pushes the shutter speed up or pulls the aperture down in order to maintain a proper exposure. Similarly, changing one element of the rhetorical triangle will alter the other two.
There are right and wrong ways to describe a forest.
When I write about wild animals, I am speaking for them and advocating on their behalf, in the same way that my congresswoman speaks for me and advocates for me within Congress. What appears on the page should not be confused with living creatures in the wild, no more so than I should be confused with my congresswoman. In a representative democracy there are just forms of representation and unjust forms, (what political scientists call "illiberal democracy"). So too are there just and unjust forms of representation of nature within nature writing.
I propose 12 rules that affect environmental destruction regardless of place and time.
What laws or principles underlie every separate and seemingly unrelated case of environmental destruction and degradation around the globe? Activists and writers like Carol Merchant have argued for one of three fundamental causes: capitalism, Christianity, and/or the scientific revolution. These supposed causes are not only demonstrably wrong, but wildly unhelpful in our efforts to save our air, land, and water. I have a better answer.
Want to lead readers toward the inscrutable? Let them enter the story through an obvious front door.
In the introduction to his anthology 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote about “accessibility.” He said poems should "begin in clarity and end in mystery." Blade Runner does this, and its a lesson every fiction writer should take to heart.
Race is a social construct, but in fantasy novels it's a meaningful biological category.
Many of my students read and wrote fantasy. They grew up with the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies so it's no surprise then that I have read many, many student stories where a young person discovers they have supernatural powers, magical abilities, or is descended from a race of magical beings -- and that last part is where things get dicey because then we need to have an uncomfortable conversation about the word "race."
No one has written an account of the art form's evolution.
I love movies, so much so that during my first two years of college, I watched all 400 films nominated to be on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies list. I decided that if they were good enough to be nominated, they were probably pretty good. These 400 movies were an incredible journey through the canon of American film.
Recently, I watched Mark Cousins' 15-part, 900-minute documentary The Story of Film, itself an incredible journey through time and around the globe. After watching it, I can't help but wish someone would write The Story of the Novel and take a similar approach as Cousins.
"Emotional truth" is not the same as "truthiness."
If we say that Tolstoy or Steinbeck's novels are "true to life," we certainly don't mean that they are factual accounts — that these authors wrote non-fiction. When someone recommends a novel because it is "genuine" or "authentic" this is not an endorsement of its factual accuracy. We know this intuitively. We're talking about emotional truth.
However, if one argues that an author should try to uncover and explore the emotional truth of a character or subject, inevitably someone will reject the argument, calling it Steven Colbert's "truthiness." After all, isn't there actual truth, which is supported by evidence? Isn't emotional truth simply what the person feels and uses to manipulate actual truth? Well, not exactly.
Good fiction is filled with triangles.
In the pilot episode of 30 Rock, NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) explains the GE Trivection Oven and its “three kinds of heat” to Liz Lemon when justifying changes to her show. The gag likely spoofs something an executive said to Tina Fey, but it’s an accurate description of what is needed in storytelling. Character triangles abound in fiction and without them plots feel thin, pacing slow, or characters underdeveloped. read the entire post
Literature professors think talking about authors is wrong. They're wrong.
In a creative writing classroom, when the class discusses and analyzes a work of fiction, poetry, et cetera, often the main business of that discussion is to discover and understand the choices of the author. Why third person instead of first? Why break the line here instead of there? Why a fragmented, nonlinear structure instead of a chronological one?
Ask the same questions of a text in a literature classroom and you will be told those questions are invalid and not worth considering. You are guilty of the "intentional fallacy." Literature departments have missed one of the great lessons of twentieth century art, illustrated by Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain”: intent of the artist is what makes something art.
Formatting choices make Heart of Darkness hard to follow, so I reformatted it.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a pain in the ass to read — not because of thematic depth or dense prose — but because of the formatting. You know what I’m talking about. When you first read it in high school, you got confused and thought: Who the hell is speaking? Marlow? The narrator? Some other guy?
I wanted an edition formatted like a regular novel, where a new paragraph begins when a new person starts speaking. Such an addition did not exist, so when I went to re-read the novel recently, I reformatted it myself and made a PDF to share with everyone else.
Interpreting art is not about decoding hidden messages, but that's what many people think.
The documentary Room 237, explores different conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Nine interview subjects discuss nine wildly different interpretations of the film, each of them believing they have decoded hidden messages that reveal a secret meaning. One believes the film is about the genocide of the Native Americans, another the Holocaust. One even asserts that deviations from Steven King’s novel are Kubrick’s confession that he faked the moon landing footage for NASA.
I didn’t learn a single thing about The Shining from Room 237. However, it did make me think about how some (probably many) students erroneously approach and interpret films, novels, poems, plays, and other works of art.
The South Carolina Democrat doesn't share Democratic values.
My first degree is in political science, and I’m interested in how fiction authors write about politics. An author of political fiction must ask themselves why a character holds their particular political beliefs. What is it about their background, experience, values, religion, et cetera that informs their politics? The reader or viewer may not agree with the character’s beliefs and may even have radically different politics, but nevertheless they need to be able to understand the character’s motives. Without realistic motives for their beliefs, the character becomes a caricature, a one-dimensional figure representing an abstract idea (gun control, abortion restrictions, et cetera), rather than a real human being. At the end of House of Cards season one, I’m left with a big unanswered question — why is Frank Underwood a Democrat?
Can new writers rank lit journals from "easy" to "hard?"
Let's face facts: some literary journals are out of my league. I’m not getting anything published in The Paris Review or The New Yorker any time soon. Where then, should I submit my work? Every aspiring writer faces this conundrum and our instincts tell us the solution lies with ranking journals. If only we could graph every journal along a continuum from the hardest to get published in, to the easiest. Then we could start at the bottom at work our way up, right? Well, not exactly.
An open letter to Orson Scott Card
Dear Orson Scott Card,
I collect conspiracy theories. I’m something of a conspiracy theory enthusiast enthusiast. I’m know how fifth-dimensional reptiles secretly rule the planet. I’m up to speed on how all the blacks in South Africa will take free cab rides into the cities and kill all the whites when Nelson Mandela dies. Obviously, the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation staged by Obama in order to pass gun control legislation — I mean, it was so similar to the Dunblane Primary School shootings in Australia, it couldn’t have been a coincidence! But I never thought, Mr. Card, that I would find you, the Nebula and Hugo Award-winner, swimming along with me at the deep end of the crazy pool. Strangely, you don’t seem to be doing it ironically.