Monthly Archives: November 2015

I’m a Real Writer

I should write some meditative piece about how it feels to finally be published in a lit mag, but I have nothing incredible to say besides this:

It feels awesome.

Seriously, if this is your dream, go forth and achieve because even at this baby step, the validation for the effort is incredible.

Read the story here: http://www.bodypartsmagazine.com/5-grave-photographs-by-kl-morris.html

Body Parts 5 Grave Digging SM Graphics Grave Photographs SM.png

Graphic courtesy of the awesome folks at Body Parts Magazine.

In case you’re curious, my favorite snippet-as-synopsis is:

“Candy Kent, I solemnly swear that I have no intention of raping you.”

I like their choice, too.

 

 

The Bad Writing Series: “The 100”

Before we get started, caveat: I liked season 2 of “The 100.” I think it took a lot of risks and made some brave storytelling decisions. Overall, I think it’s written solidly. Go check it out. That being said, let’s move on to what I didn’t like.

There were a lot of questionable leadership moments in season two of “The 100.” Thematically, that season asked probing questions about the tough decisions leaders make in tight spots, and what the consequences are and should be. Despite all of this meaty and valid stuff, there was one scene that stuck out in my mind because it was bad, bad, bad, and it underscored a point I’ve only just begun to realize. Bad writing isn’t just bad, it’s dangerous. Here’s why.

“The 100” is set in a post-apocalyptic world where survival comes at a high price. Our Leader, Abby, was only just reunited with her daughter, Clarke, before Clarke ran off again to save someone else, leaving the relative safety of the camp. Abby is under duress, stressed from her position as Leader and worried about Clarke.

In this scene, Abby, walks up to her daughter’s friend, Raven, and asks if Raven helped Clarke leave the camp. Raven denies having anything to do with it. They repeat this exchange, Abby asking more forcefully, and Raven denying everything. Here’s where things get dicey.

Abby lashes out and smacks Raven across the face.

But here’s the bad writing: After Abby displays vulnerability and fear (dropping her face to her hands and hiding it), Raven immediately forgives her, symbolically pushing her cup across the table to share.

Abby’s momentary lapse, her split second of power abuse, happens because we need to sympathize with her. The best way to do that is to show her cracking under pressure. She needs to have a reaction to her daughter’s disappearance, so she lashes out at Raven because we care about Raven.

Except this isn’t okay. Abby is the Leader. She’s In Charge of Raven. Raven is not only her subordinate, but her daughter’s friend. What this scene actually shows is an abuse of power made forgivable by extenuating circumstances.

Abuse is never okay. There are no mitigating circumstances that could make it okay.

When shows/books/media/art portray abuse like this as acceptable and forgivable, then viewers/readers/consumers digest it as okay. Television shows affect the way we think and feel about the world. Seeing a character we respect and like get smacked in the face by their superior and then forgive their superior makes us think, Ah, forgiveness trumps abuse. It’s okay if someone I am subordinate to hurts me if they’re under stress. Circumstances make unacceptable actions acceptable. It takes work to step back from the show and realize that it isn’t okay; that the thing we’re being shown is a plot device meant to create sympathy for Abby.

That’s the real danger of this scene, but I want to break it down to show you why it works. There are three beats in this moment: Abby’s escalating frustration, her release (lashing out and smacking), Raven’s forgiveness.

This follows a pattern that we know and expect. A character is frustrated, they react to that frustration, something makes it okay. Because the responses all seem appropriate—Abby’s smack is a response to the frustration, Raven’s forgiveness is a response to the smack, the scene feels complete. It feels done. We aren’t asked whether it’s acceptable. Had the scene ended with the smack and a glare or stare from Raven, it would have asked questions. Was that okay? Can Raven react? Does she have the power to react? The sense of not-doneness created by ] Raven’s lack of response would have encouraged viewers to probe deeper.

Or, the writers could have gone a different direction. There could have been no slap: Abby wantsto smack Raven, but holds back and breaks down, instead. Or Raven doesn’t forgive the slap. She calls Abby out on the inappropriateness. It would be within character for Raven.

***

It’s possible to argue that the second season of “The 100” is all about the dangers of power, leadership, and the ease with which you can abuse that power, and so this moment is thematically appropriate, except for one thing: this moment is never scrutinized. Abby’s misstep is washed away and forgotten. Taken both out of context and in context, it’s wrong for her to have slapped someone under her charge, but it’s more wrong for the writing to forgive her for it. She never realizes that what she did was inappropriate. In a season filled with bad decisions, abuse of power is never put under the microscopic.

Tampons, Bad Writing, and a New Series

I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” in a grocery store. Wouldn’t you know the first scene I opened to was the infamous tampon scene? And hands down, yes, I was turned on, so it did its job (if awkwardly, given that I was standing by my mom and there was a rack of half priced bread nearby). But while “Fifty Shades” may be an effective piece of erotica, it isn’t a well-written piece of erotica. And that’s a plum shame for the really well-written erotica out there.

At least, I thought it was just a plum shame, but now I’m starting to get really angry and really embarrassed about it. It’s good that a piece of erotica got so popular. It’s good for a sex positive world, and it’s probably good for a lot of people, but it’s not good for writing. I’m really pissed that such a poorly written book is selling so well. It isn’t even the only one. So many of the mega hits right now could have been better written by pterodactyls, and they don’t even have thumbs (at least, I don’t think so). And that’s embarrassing for me and every other wielder of the English language–and if you’re reading this, you’re a wielder of the English language.

There’s a serious gap between being able to read and being able to recognize good writing. If you’re wondering why recognizing good writing is important, ask any musician why pop music is bad. Shitty writing lowers the general expectations for writing everywhere. Shitty writing leads to shitty books, shitty readers, and back again to shitty writers. Shitty writing depreciates the art as a whole, and that is a serious shame. So, for that, I’m starting a crusade to try and show you what shitty writing is, how to recognize it, and what to do when you find it (buy something better!). For however long it takes, I’m going to work on a series called “The Bad Writing Series.” (Okay, no points for the title, but it gets the message across.) I’ll take on bad books as whole, and moments of bad writing in otherwise really good books, and I’ll talk about why they’re bad. And you should learn from it because bad writing should matter to everyone who cares about books, stories, and English.

Well, I Author’d the Shit Out of That

Part I: The Request

I get one little publication credit, and I upgrade myself from ‘writer’ to ‘author’. See how that goes?

Along with the story, the amazing people at Body Parts Magazine asked if I had an author photo, and all hell broke loose. The crazy came out. I mean, top level insanity here.

Like every hopeful author, I’d spent my life studying author photos, judging them, and dreaming up the perfect one. Of course, I never took any actionable steps to achieve the Perfect Author Photo because that would mean jinxing any possibility of getting published. (Preparing for something means it won’t happen, obviously.)

So when Body Parts emailed me asking for one, I said I would totally get them one that week, like the professional I am. Then I spent most of the week flipping through old social media profile pics wondering why I’m so un-photogenic and such a nerd.

Then: lightning bolt moment. I have a fancy camera! I’ll do this myself. (Because doing something well without ever practicing has always worked out.)

Part II: The Set Up

I globbed on the makeup, fiddled with the camera settings, and sat in some sunlight. Then. Selfie time. And I ended up with what I thought were some kickass photos. So I shared them, which turned out to be my mistake.

“You look like an old, hardened woman.” –My Mom

“Uh. I think you look hot? Sexy, maybe?” –My Sister

“Did you intend to look pissy? Because if that was your intention, right on!” –My Friend who is a Model

“Why aren’t you smiling? You should be smiling at least a little bit.” –Assorted Friends

“Hot damn. That is my sexy wife.” –My Tall Person (who has been taught to say such things)

Part III: The Meltdown

I spent three full days wondering if I had a sort of face dysmorphia where what I saw in the photos wasn’t what other people saw. I mean, I was looking at the version of myself I always wanted to exist, and people were recoiling from it. This chick in the photo was somebody I wanted to be, and nobody else liked her. What did they say about me? About what I wanted and who I aspired to be?

And then one of my friends said, “But as long as you like it, that’s all that matters.” And that’s when I realized it. In my line of work, that isn’t true.

Part IV: The Overthink

It doesn’t matter if I like what I write. What matters is whether the reader responds it. Of course I write what I enjoy, or what I would want to read, but at the end of the day, that isn’t enough. If I bring a piece to workshop and they tell me it’s failing, I have to listen. If I don’t, I’ll be hanging onto an unsuccessful piece.

In the case of the photo, what I wanted to know was how people were responding to it. It wasn’t a picture of me, your friend, daughter, sister. It was a picture of a person who wrote a story. Does that picture make you want to know more about them? Find them on Twitter? Connect with them? Seek out their work? Does it jive with what I wrote or enhance it? It’s just about the only visual aid my short story’s going to get online, so it had better be doing something. Just sitting there looking pretty isn’t enough.

And, I think, that’s what my friends and family wanted. They wanted a picture of me that conveyed good ol’, amicable (if slightly moody), me. And this picture wasn’t it. It was a little pissy, a little edgy, a little intimidating. It wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t necessarily someone you’d want to be friends with. It wasn’t me.

But in some ways it was the me that wrote the story. It was the me the way I saw myself as a writer. That vision, that edgy, intimidating self was there. It had been built up through years of looking at author photos—my own persona (though not in person, never in person, because I will never be able to shed my awkward, goofy self). But on a jacket cover? As a profile pic? Yes. That’s me the writer.

The whole meltdown could have been avoided if I’d thought before I shot. What do you want this picture to say? What do you want it to achieve? How do you want the viewer to respond? The same way I think about short stories. Then, based on the feedback I got, I could have seen if it was working or not. And then I could have decided if I wanted to change my approach. Since I dove in headfirst, jumping from fifteen minutes of selfie to “Look at me! Did it work?” without ever wondering what working would look like, I ended up with a jumble of responses and thoughts, none of which were what I was expecting.

It’s very possible this is a long and convoluted way of saying, “Set your expectations and know them before you check to see if they’re met.”

But that’s how an author author’s. What do I want to achieve? How do I achieve it? Now write it. Then check with readers to see how they’re responding and rewrite.

The collision came from how other’s view me and how I viewed myself, a dichotomy I could have been saved from me had I acknowledged it.