Sunday, 27 April 2014

Romance, transgression, censorship and the Eww! factor

I'm perfectly comfortable with my conviction that censorship is a Bad Thing. That's particularly true when it comes to writing and reading fiction. Fiction is making stuff up. There's no need to worry (as there might be when watching a film featuring human beings) that someone might be participating because s/he has been coerced into doing so, or lied to about what participation entails. There aren't any real participants in fiction.

That's one of the reasons I'm always a bit boggled by people who devour 'misery memoirs' of the 'Please Daddy, No!' variety and consider themselves superior to those of us who'd rather read Shaun Hutson or American Psycho. Do you really think it's better to wallow in a real person's anguish than lose yourself in a made-up story?

(You could, of course, run away and read the magnificent My Godawful Life: Abandoned, Betrayed, Stuck To The Window, of course.)

But I surprised myself by having bit of an instantaneous 'Eww!' on discovering that there's an actual booksellers' and publishers' category called Interracial Romance. Of course, all romantic and erotic fiction contains a fair bit of objectifying, but then so does fiction in general. And I certainly see no reason why an author shouldn't create characters outside his/her own ethnic group: if we didn't, then our stories would often be very one-dimensional (as a lot of hack genre fiction is anyway)

I think it's the concept of the label that unnerves me, really. I'm already a bit unthrilled with the way erotica and erotic romance seem to be going for division into narrower and narrower categories, with fewer opportunities for people to write a story with a mix of characters, different connections between them and assorted motivations for the erotic action. We don't all want to read erotica that's just about Someone Like Us getting off with Someone We Might Find Sexy - as is demonstrated by the biggest growth area in erotic romance at the moment: gay male interactions written by and for women.

I appreciate that readers want and need some sort of genre-indicator. If you don't like stuff that's unrealistic, you want prior warning that the book with the tempting cover actually has scenes of magic and elf abuse as well as snogging and shagging; if you are deeply vanilla you like to know how far any 'kinky' stuff is going to go. But I suppose the thing I find the most offputting about the concept is the realisation that it's actually such a big deal to some people that characters in an erotic romance are from different ethnic groups - so big a deal that the fact they are from different ethnic groups is the whole story.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Don't quote, just link...

Some things, while not actually unfair, are a bit fucking annoying. One of them is the matter of song lyrics and wanting to quote them in fiction.

Don't. Do. It. Not unless you are seriously minted and/or have a publisher who is. Song lyrics (unless the song was written before 1923) are copyrighted, and the normal concept of 'fair use' doesn't apply. So if you want to bung in a few lines by John Lennon or Madonna or these unjustly forgotten geniuses then you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder and pay whatever fee they ask. There's a pretty straightforward article on how to go about doing so here but it's obviously going to be a bigger problem for the little indie or self-publisher to find the money, let alone get an email answered by whoever deals with Justin Bieber's publishing rights.

It always used to nark me a bit, as I often find myself wanting to quote a line or two from either a favourite song or one I loathe, if it seems particularly apposite when I'm writing a key scene. But I do accept that people who have written a song deserve a share of the take when someone else makes use of their work
There are ways round it: the easiest is probably just to mention the song's title and say that the characters are listening to it, or have it on the brain, or even that they are singing/quoting it as long as you don't actually repeat the lyrics. At least these days the curious reader who isn't actually familiar with the song you've namechecked can usually go and find a version of it on Youtube and see how appropriate the chorus is to your story for themselves.

If that doesn't suit you, another option is to make it all up, just like the rest of the story. Invent a band or singer, scribble yourself a few lines that are at least rhythmic and maybe rhyme, and use those. Though if you are an old fart who is writing about pop music while not liking it much, this may not work at all: one or two novelists whose work is otherwise briliant turn embarrassingly awful when it comes to fictitious song lyrics.

The plan C I used in Black Heart is probably one that would only work once: a friend of mine was once in a band and I happened to be listening to his old demos around the time I was writing the middle section of the book. It then occurred to me that the band who feature in Black Heart ought to sound like my old pal's lot, and therefore it would be useful to quote the relevant lyrics - and all I had to do was email him and ask.

Probably the next move, for those of you who had actually wondered about the songs Daniel sings for Rosa, would be for me to work out a way of uploading the actual tracks to DoD so you can all have a listen for yourselves...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Waaah! Waaah! There goes the Entitled Whiny Man alarm!

... In the shape of one David Foster wailing away in the Grauniad about how it's Just Not Fair that women object to having creepy men approach with their cocks out all the time.

Foster says 'there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances.'

David, David, David, you silly tosser. You might as well just get a biro and write 'Creepy Fucker' on your own forehead. It's the absolute hallmark of the creepy fucker to insist that women are too stupid, humourless and paranoid to be able to tell the difference between the dangerous predator and the well-meaning idiot.

It's men who seem to have a problem understanding that there is a difference between shy clumsiness and whiny, entitled Nice Guy TM behaviour.

There are plenty of easy ways to make the acquaintance of people who are, or might well be, happy to have sex with you. There are dating websites, hookup websites, clubs, bars, parties, gigs, all full of people who are at least potentially interested in finding a sexual partner. 
If you've tried these methods and got nowhere, the problem is not Evil Feminism gluing women's legs closed. The problem is probably you
But but but, waah waah waah, women only like rich handsome men and the rest of us get friendzoned and served with restraining orders and LAUGHED AT.... You don't have to be rich or model-perfect, but it's helpful to make the best of yourself. For the really slow-on-the-uptake, that means making enough effort not to smell like a neglected laundry basket, checking there's no food stuck in your teeth, and managing a little more conversational competence than 'Hurr, I really wanna fuck all your holes'

It isn't, actually, totally impossible to connect with an attractive stranger at the bus stop or in the library, of course. But to do this successfully, you have to accept a very important truth. You are not entitled to so much as a second of this person's time. If s/he doesn't want to talk to you, you need to leave that person alone. If you're not sufficiently socially skilled and intelligent to read the signals - person holding eye contact with you, smiling at you, offering a few polite opening remarks means IT'S OK TO TALK TO ME; person reading, turning away from you, talking to someone else,  on the phone or playing Candy Crush or whatever means DO NOT APPROACH ME - then you really shouldn't be let out of the house without a minder.

It's not puritanism, sexual repression, political correctness or feminism that makes women complain about men's poor behaviour.  It's men's poor behaviour that's to blame.  When it comes to street encounters and approaches, maybe sexually desperate, 'oppressed' straight white guys should consider the social and legal rules that apply in general. Think about the chugger, the religious nut, the Big Issue seller and the individual dressed as a giant mushroom trying to tempt you into the new pizza restaurant. You hope they'll get out of your way. You try to communicate that you're not interested. But you don't expect them to call you an uptight cunt and physically attack you if you just walk on by...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Twenty years ago? Oh come off it!

It was one of those unexpected jolts that occasionally occur even when you're, well, young at heart. A piece showed up on my Twitter feed mentioning that it was 20 years ago the Kurt Cobain topped himself and Britpop sort of began. And I thought, 20 years? Can't be right. That was only a couple of summers ago, surely.
And then I thought: 1994! I didn't even have a mobile phone, then. And though I did have a book out, sort of (it was full length but printed in 'magazine format' ie softcover A5 and sold in newsagents rather than bookshops), the main promotion I did was borrowing copies from the office and taking them round the various rock clubs of the West End to show them to my mates and deal with the delicate social ramifications of people thinking that this or that character in the story was based on them, or on their boyfriend or girlfriend. No Twitterstorms or Facebook pages for that one. It would be about another year before I even worked out what the Internet was.

I don't think there are many copies of Cathouse still in existence, and glancing through the last survivor on my own bookshelf makes me wince a bit at its many flaws, but I do remember how much I enjoyed writing it, and how incredibly exciting it was to tell all my friends that it was ACTUALLY OUT NOW! IN SHOPS!

As it is, I'm in the early preliminary stages (or at least my Other Self is) of piecing together a new book, about which I can say only that it does involve the effects of the past on the present, so thinking back is a moderately useful exercise. And music is one of the best tools for taking your mind back into the past. While I was out of my teens in the Britpop era, I was still very interested in music, still buying records on vinyl (does anyone even know what that is now?) and still, as I am even now, fascinated by bands, their dynamics, their stories, their ideas. 

I think the new book might be about to get interesting even if it's not possible to quote song lyrics without getting in a legal stew.