Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Midweek Miscellany

Apologies for the bloggy silence of late; I've been doing a lot of work on my book in the evenings, and catching up with my reading, and watching Mad Men (about which more below), and thus not having very many original thoughts worthy of a whole blog post. So here's a little miscellany of stuff.

Kidlit Drink Night tomorrow night, August 5, at Characters Lounge on 54th between Broadway and 8th. Come prepared for a little fun with nametags, related to the name of the bar. And as always, if you want to join our mailing list, send an e-mail to nyckidlitdrinks at gmail dot com.

James and I just finished watching the third season of Mad Men last week, in time to catch the second episode of the new season on Sunday; and I have that familiar itchy readerly desperation for more -- more with these characters; more revelation of mysteries; more, more, more, now, now, now, tell me, tell me, I want to know what happens next! This desire bemuses me a bit, first because it's so at odds with the studied cool of the characters and events themselves, and second because, when we started watching the show, that very cool kept me at a distance from the show well into the first season. I admired it aesthetically for its gorgeous period design (and Jon Hamm), and artistically for its refusal to cut anyone any breaks (including Jon Hamm, or rather, his character Don Draper). But as I read somewhere, the show excels at accumulating events and emotional reactions over time, so that the decisions made in one episode don't just have consequences later, but they reverberate in the characters' actions forever after; and the lives of minor characters hum along in the background until they spill into Don's life unexpectedly. Thus it is a wonderfully novelistic TV series, with a strong author's hand in the work of creator Matthew Weiner; and watching it reminded me most of my experience reading the Patrick O'Brian books, actually, in that the same way I would often think affectionately, "Oh Jack Aubrey, you foolish, foolish man" as he did something stupid ashore, I was saying "No, Don! Don't! DON'T!" to the screen, as he did something equally idiotic this last episode. . . .

Writing this, it's occurring to me that the show excels at the "Suffering" strategy of getting viewers/readers to care about the characters. Because before Sunday night, I don't think I had thought more than "Oh, cute dress" about the character over whom Don made an ass of himself; but her consequent Suffering made me feel for her and furious at him, and now I am quite invested in how she feels and what she will do next. Same for Pete and Joan and Paul and Peggy and Don himself, that I could point to specific moments when I thought, "Oh, poor ______"; and perhaps the reason I feel merely a liking for golden boy Ken Cosgrove is because everything seems to come easy to him, with no suffering at all.

Anyway, contrast that to Glee, by far my favorite show of the last year, but where I gave up expecting any coherence to the characters and plot early on -- particularly reverberations for suffering, as most characters seemed to stay at more or less their same emotional notes all season long. And thus, while I loved many individual episodes, I never felt the same driving desire to know more, because not much really changed hugely and permanently from episode to episode. If Mad Men is a beautifully written John Updike novel of 1960s turmoil, Glee is an Archie comic of the time period, its racial and sexual boundaries exploded, but mostly playing the same set conflicts and relationships out over and over again.

Still, there is one place where I keep hoping for things to truly move forward. . . . I've been a big Rachel/Finn partisan, which kind of puzzled me when I thought about it logically. I mean, of course I will always root for the dork girl to get the hot guy over the cheerleader -- Dork Girls of the World, UNITE! -- but he's kind of dumb and she's deeply annoying and there is nothing in their characters that should make them a good couple, other than their mutual talent and passion for music.

But then I realized that what I really loved about them was the possibility of moral development that each one represented for the other, the chance that they could make each other better people. (Jennifer Crusie writes about this aspect of a satisfying romance in her v. smart post today, "How to Critique Romantic Comedy.") In their best scenes in the show together, they've been really honest with each other, and that makes me have hope that he could teach her actual social skills and social restraint, while she could inspire him to go beyond his I'm-cute-and-a-sports-star laziness and actually do something useful in life. Occasionally they've done this already: Of the three boys in the "Run Joey Run" video, Finn was the one who articulated for her why her using all three of them was wrong, and it's partly her talent and love of music that's kept him in glee all this time anyway. I'd love to see their romance develop further along those real, characterful, painful lines, rather than falling back on the popular vs. unpopular, football/cheerleaders vs. glee club trope the show has kind of overplayed already.

On vacation, I also read The Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire sequence by George R. R. Martin; and I really, really liked it, so this series also is causing me mental itchiness to know more. (Someone should make a cream for this condition.)

If you have to cut pages or words from your ms., here's a strategy I'm finding very personally effective: Pretend that you have to print each copy of the book yourself, and you're being charged roughly 1.5 pennies per page. (A 250-page book is thus $3.75 to print; a 300-page book, $4.50; a 400-pager, $6.00.) You have/want to keep the price in the average trade paperback range of $10-15, so every additional page in the book eats directly into your overall personal profit. It is suddenly much easier to slash and burn.

This is a situation we publishers face regularly, actually: We spec our books out usually a few months before we have the final copyedited manuscript. If the book then comes back from the typesetter sixty pages longer than the P&L promised and our specs specified, that doesn't hurt the writer directly, as his or her advance and royalties have already been fixed by the contract; but it does hurt our overall profit on the book, which can have negative consequences for everyone later if we don't make that money back. Often this situation can be resolved by creating a tighter page design to start with; sometimes not. Oh, lovely dead-tree publishing. . . . But I am grateful for the limits dead-tree publishing still imposes on us, the beauty of having to work within sixteen-page forms, especially when it comes to picture books, where every one must be like a sonnet.

James just came in and turned on the Daily Show: No, Jon Stewart! Bad goatee! (I haven't seen the show in a while.) And it won't be on today's episode, but yes, California! Way to go on Prop 8! I liked this summation of facts.


  1. Great post...I am convinced I MUST start watching Mad Men..

  2. Everyone suffers on MadMen--in season 3, Don's daughter Sally gets her own strange, moody sullen face. What keeps me addicted is the unpredicitability of their suffering, from Pete Campbell,with his boyish tantrums and broody sense of always being passed over, to Betty, the world's worst mother, who's growing into such a shrew but who can blame her?

  3. Well said!!!!

    I watch Glee on hulu when I'm on the stairmaster--nice entertainment and fun music.

    I watch Mad Men when my house is completely silent and I can totally soak in the stories and characters. Uninterrupted. And, yes. You can often hear me gasping and saying "no!no!no! Don't do it . . ."