January 25th, 2005

Roll Them Bones

Rant (with spoilers) Steve Martini's "Undue Influence"

I am forced, once again, to talk about something I’ve read in detail. Sorry to those of you to whom this might be a spoiler, but I don’t think there will be many. It isn’t a new book, or a particularly good one.

The author is Steve Martini, and the book is “Undue Influence,” part of a series about a lawyer named Paul Madriani. If this sounds like something you’d be likely to read, and you don’t want me to convince you otherwise, stop reading now….this is the official SPOILER ALERT.

The thing is, I’m once again struck by the inanity of the publishing world. This book has been reviewed as “gripping” and “wonderful,” and what it is, in my opinion, is contrived and ridiculous. The entire novel is based on a murder case that – if tried as it was written – would never even have made it to trial. No weapon. No physical evidence, the only thing keeping this woman at trial is the accusation of her psychotic ex-husband, a legislator with nothing but crooked bones in his body and not much intelligence, who pointed and said she must have done it. The few bits of physical evidence are completely refuted early in the trial, and yet the author has his lawyer bemoaning the fate that leaves him with no way to save his client. What a pile of crap. There isn’t the scrap of a case against his client. Add to this a very convenient love affair with THE VERY PERSON who happens to be behind the Federal Government’s cover-up of a botch in their witness protection plan; characters who act out of character throughout the entire novel, kids who act like adults one moment and then idiots the next (okay, THAT isn’t so far-fetched, but the contrivance to further a flagging plot is just too obvious). The entire book is summed up in about a paragraph (the point of it, I mean) when the author bemoans how we live in a time when the US Government acts like organized crime. What time did they not? I think the 1950s and 1960s show that they weren’t too far removed.

Here’s an example of why it was infuriating to read this book. Guy has a new wife. The lawyer decides to prove HE killed the new wife. She was pregnant, HE had a vasectomy years before. They have him on a phone conversation taped and FURIOUS when he finds out she is pregnant. He tries to use her death and his ex-wife’s disappearance to make a bid for custody of his kids…this all being a ploy to get leniency from the feds for his crooked lobbying and keep him out of prison. Sounds reasonable to me. Enter one medical examiner. He performed the autopsy. He just happens to have had enough left in his lab to go back and run a DNA comparison between vasectomy boy and the child. He also just happens to have done a sperm count on vasectomy boy, whose vasectomy he proclaims to not have “taken”. Okay, even if I accept that all of this would be allowed in court w/out the defense having access to the tests, the information, and a chance to perform independent tests (which I do not) – how does it change ANYTHING? Lawyer Madriani is devastated – his case is in ruins, he can’t believe all of his hard work has been for nothing….

??????

The guy did not KNOW his vasectomy didn’t take. He still believed it was someone else who got his wife pregnant, there is nothing to indicate otherwise, so how does the fact he actually WAS the father change anything? And the worst is Martini’s style in pounding these points home. He goes into literary back flips trying to use metaphors and flowery language, he bemoans the “obvious” facts even as he paints the ridiculous picture they are based on.

Don’t get me wrong. Many of the characters are well drawn. There is some tension, and there are good points to the novel. They are RUINED by the obviously flawed trial and case…ridiculously flawed at every turn. There was never enough evidence to try the woman in the first place, and in real life it wouldn’t have come close to a court room. Add to this the stereotypical stupid cop who breaks the law at every turn just to get back at Mr. Madriani, and the prosecutor, who you are led to believe is a very good lawyer, but is then portrayed as a single-minded bitch who wants a conviction and death for the woman being tried no matter whether she’s obviously NOT guilty…and the sort of bushy-browed, white-haired old judge with surprising intelligence that is hidden in the beginning and comes out along the way…another stereotype of modern law novels.

The point of all of this? Sour grapes, of course (lol). This is a BEST SELLING novel. This is not a bottom feeding author, this is someone making more on a book advance than I make in two years of working at my job…and given that he receives all of this in return, I’m pissed off that the book wasn’t better. I will never read another novel by this author, and I’ll likely miss whatever book it was that won him his status because of it, but I got physically angry at portions of the trial…lost my happy place, and all that…and life is too short to do that. So, now I have vented, hopefully putting a tiny balance on the scale against all of those people who’s incite lead them to write stunning reviews like “I read all of Steve’s books, they are wonderful.” Makes you wonder if they read any of it, and if they did, it makes me glad I’m not on trial with them in the jury. FEH (lol).

Long, drawn out day, and now that I’ve ranted about that, I don’t feel another rant in me. One last thing…none of the obvious candidates for murder did it…the man’s son (who of course would be a close DNA match) had knocked up the step-mother and beat the contract killer to the punch COINCIDENTALLY the same night said killer showed up….again..

FEH!

DNW
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temptation of blood

Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was born this day a long time ago. By all accounts, a very strange life. She lived at home until she was 22, not allowed to leave until after her father’s death. Her family was made up of rich literary snobs and her own reading material was chosen for her from her father’s library. She believed a writer should write what they want to write, and that any departure from this was “treachery.”

She was brilliant, and this leads me into a short segue into the modern world of publishing. Virginia lived with brothers and sisters, and she and one brother started their own publishing house, Hogart Press. She was then able to write whatever she wanted to without worrying about selling the work to an editor. This worked out well for her, but it has worked out poorly for many modern authors. The reason is simply this, to my thinking. For every Virginia Woolf that is born and leaves a literary legacy behind, there are thousands of others. It isn’t enough to believe that your work is just too avante garde, or special to be published through normal channels – it has to be true. Telling everyone you are a great author isn’t sufficient grounds for canonization. Virginia Woolf grew up with great literature, wrote literary criticism, and spent her life finding the voice that would carry her words through literary history. She understood language, and she was familiar with the concepts of grammar and plot.

This is the pit so many people fall into. To point at someone like this and say that because a form of self-publishing worked for her, it is a viable road for yourself is a form of self-diddling. Really. The easier it gets to get into print, those seeking to get there put the less effort forth. Places like Publishamerica and Cyber Pulp are examples of this. There are a great number of sites on the net where you can literally upload ANYTHING and have it shipped to you in a box, bound with card covers and looking like a book. Anything.

Most of you are familiar with the books I’m talking about. There are a lot of places now where, if you decide you want to be an “editor” you can publish an anthology. You can’t pay the writers, and you probably won’t make a dime yourself, but if you are willing to shell out 40 or 50 percent of the cover price, you can hold the book in your hand and say you “edited” it, and for the same price your authors can own one too.

Not everyone who draws is going to be an artist. Not everyone who writes is going to be famous (God knows I seem unlikely to be). Not everyone who writes is even going to be published – and the mere fact that you can do this at will now does not mean that you should. If your entire goal is to put the book on your shelf in your office, or hand it out to a few friends and relatives – a hobby – then self-publishing may well be something you can live with. If you intend to shake that book in people’s faces, advertise yourself as the next Stephen King, or Anne Rice and carry them around in a backpack to harangue people at conventions, you are probably expending a lot of energy better spent honing your craft. Take a course in grammar – or a workshop in creative writing. Spend that money that Publish America wants for the book on a fiction-writing course.

This will sound funny coming from me, because I’m anything but, but be patient. It took me many many years to gain a bit of confidence in my writing, and even now I have just that – a bit of confidence. When I started writing? I had all the confidence in the world. I was the best thing since sliced bread, and I cursed the first fifty editors who rejected me as lowbrow heathens who did not know the Holy Grail of fiction when they had it in their hands. Now I shudder if someone brings up that early work – or if I run across it in some moldy corner of my hard drive. I used to look at other authors and say, “I can do better than that,” or “I AM better than that.” Now I look back at the crap I spewed in my early career and say, “Well, I’m sure as HELL better than THAT,” and I move on.

I’m getting better, and as I get better my publishing credits get better. Things come together if you work at them.

Part of this rant comes from a frank appraisal of some awards recommendation lists I’ve seen recently. Places like Cyber-Pulp – non-paying markets filled, for the most part, with stories already turned down by the paying markets, or written by folks who are more interested in seeing their names in print than in an actual career in writing – for the most part. Don’t take this as a personal insult to anyone, it’s a choice some have made, and it’s their choice, but the work is not on the same level with a professionally published anthology, and should not be getting serious recommendations in large enough numbers to make it onto award ballots where professional achievement is the standard. I suspect that, now that HWA, for instance, has changed the rules so that those who are in a book can’t recommend it, this will shift toward reality a bit. Maybe not. Maybe two anthologies of separate groups will just recommend one another mutually. I wonder what the authors believe is gained by this. What would it say if the best work in the genre was in a market where no one got paid a dime? That we don’t respect our best well enough to pay them? The simple fact is – it is NOT the best work, not award caliber publication, and embarrassingly ridiculous when put under a microscope.

If I self-published a book that sold less than 100 copies and won an award for it as the finest in its field, I think I’d turn it down. In fact, I would withdraw the nomination. It’s like winning a prize as the prettiest baby and the judges are your mom and dad. No one will ever grant legitimacy to an award garnered in such a fashion – and that would include an anthology – for instance – that won an award because all of the people IN the anthology recommended it, then voted for it. It hasn’t happened yet, and I suspect that the self-correcting manner of the HWA award system will kick in again on the preliminary ballot – but I don’t know that for a fact. Think about it. Not only would no one ever really respect you for winning the award in such a manner, but the very fact that you DID win it would then put a stain on the quality and legitimacy of all other past and future winners of that same award. An award should be a high standard we strive to reach, not something manufactured out of whole cloth and held up to the world as spun gold.

I’ve gotten caught up in the awards fever in the past, but I’ve had occasion to rethink this, and here’s what I came up with. The awards start to mean something when you stop jumping up and down and saying LOOK AT ME to get the nominations and start getting them because others are jumping up and down and saying LOOK AT HIM/HER! Until that point, it is yet ANOTHER form of self-diddling.

Unless, of course, you are Virginia Woolf…

DNW
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