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I said something dumb this weekend.

I know, you're shocked, right? But before I get into that, I want to thank everyone who chimed in on my author photo poll. I'm grateful for your input. I plan to close the poll later today, but I have received a couple emails suggesting I scotch all those photos and try again, next time with a professional photographer. Now I'm not sure what to do.

Anyway, onto my stupidity: Over the weekend, I read a post where an f-lister expressed her rage over a book she'd just finished. In effect, the villain kicked a puppy during the finale, and she was furious that the author had put that in front of her. She wanted all puppy-kicking on page one, where she'd notice it in the store and not buy the book.

Immediately, I was reminded of one of those moments that tend to stick with me. (For me, it's usually some odd human behavior that grants me pseudo-insight into how people think.) The memory was of a standup comic on TV (I watched standups obsessively during the '80's) who was telling a story about an elephant. The animal fell and died, or fell and broke its leg, or something terrible happened to it, whatever, it's not important what. Upon hearing this, the studio audience let out a long "AAWWWWWWW!"

The comic turned to the audience and, with full scorn and sarcasm, said: "Awwwww, the poor pretend elephant!"

The audience laughed, but I was startled. Of course it was ridiculous to feel sympathy for a pretend elephant, and when I read that puppy-kicking post, I immediately commented "It was just a pretend puppy, wasn't it?"

Which is pretty freaking stupid. God knows I've gotten angry at books for things characters did and said. I don't think I would have hated City of Pearl as much as I did if I had thought of those characters as pretend hypocrites.

Which brings to mind a question I haven't thought to ask: Why does some bad behavior trigger a sudden flinging motion in my book holding arm but others rivet me to the page?

In the case of City of Pearl, it was that the narrative treated the protagonist's infuriating hypocrisy as though it was wisdom. So in that instance, it was the world-view of the novel.

I can also remember the opening to a Douglas Clegg novel (not the title, though) Graham Masterson's Master of Lies in which a home intruder brutalizes a family to the point that they all commit suicide once he leaves. The scene showed amazing cruelty (plot-wise, the home intruder wanted to summon a demon, but didn't have cultists willing to kill themselves to finish the spell, so he had to gin some suicides up on his own) and after reading a little past it, I put the book down and gave it away.

I just didn't want to see that. If he'd opened with the scene where the cops pieced together the crime I might have been able to stand it (and maybe would have been willing to buy a father who kills his own kids). As it was, I just didn't want to Go There.

So, those are two different kinds of NO! triggers--scenes we don't want to experience and repugnant-to-me world views. And I'm sympathetic to both, when I'm not being an ass. There are several people, like buymeaclue that I would warn away from Everyone Loves Blue Dog, as an example, because of the way animals are treated.

Are there other kinds of triggers? Are there some triggers that affect you more powerfully than others? I know there was a year or two after my father's death that I couldn't watch movies with dying fathers in them, but that feeling is long gone. Maybe I should dig up a Clegg a Masterson novel again in a couple decades.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
I cannot handle stories or movies about pain inflicted on children. It's hard just to look at news photos of injured children. Hurts.
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, news can be hard to take sometimes.

It's funny about the kids--I watched all of ALIENS without once feeling the urge to flee, but the scene where Dracula calls the little girl a bitch broke THE MONSTER SQUAD for me.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the worst stories are the non-fiction ones. Genuinely deranged people are always much worse that writers' imaginations.

I remember nihilistic_kid criticizing a horror villain that was tamer than third world torture squads.
Jan. 5th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
I will not go to a movie where a child is in peril.

There is a book that was so well written I could smell the smells. I put it down for a few years. Tried again. Still can't do it. I know there is a great book in there, I just can't get past the odor. Also I know that if he starts out this way, what is to come? I have read all of his books, and I think I own them too, but this one, still can't do it.
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
Was it the smells that turned you off the book? Or was it so good you could smell the environment, but couldn't continue because of the child-in-peril thing?
Jan. 5th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Not sure I wrote that one.
Wait, I wrote that? What book was that? I can name all my books, but can't come up with one that opens with a home intruder who brutalizes people to the point that they commit suicide.

Let me know if you figure out the title, because I can't. You may prove me wrong, but I don't think I ever wrote the book that opens the way you've described. Maybe it's another writer?

On the other hand, there's an intrusion near the opening of The Halloween Man, and maybe that's it. I'll have to re-read it to see if that matches. I guess what I mean to say is: I may well have written that scene, but it must be that the experience of having written it was not as intense as the reading of it.


Douglas Clegg


Edited at 2009-01-05 10:26 pm (UTC)
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Not sure I wrote that one.
In the world inside my head, you wrote that book. In the outside world that everyone else lives in, it was Graham Masterson's Master of Lies.

Sorry about that. I don't remember as well as I used to. I've edited the post above.
Jan. 6th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: Not sure I wrote that one.
In the world inside my head, I've written all the books.

On a message board, someone once attributed some Bentley Little fiction to me. I kind of like this idea.


Douglas Clegg
Jan. 5th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
I find I drop a book when I don't care what happens to the main people. That could be any number of reasons, from the characters don't seem real to finding a dystopia so bad I figure the folks in it are lost, anyway. or any society so different from reality that it has no relevance.
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the Eight Deadly Words test: I Don't Care What Happens To These People.
Jan. 6th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
As for the author photo: I recommend going the head shot approach.

You + dress shirt + plus solid background behind you (some sort solid color piece of cloth) + well lit area + camera = head shot. Keep four versions one black + white and one color, one with glasses, one without.

It doesn't have to be head on pose either: The pose in #3 was fine just need to get rid of the house in the background. And the suggestion of a solid background isn't a definite either just some sort of neutral background that doesn't scream: I just did this in my backyard on a whim.

If you were in the New England Area I'd recommend getting in contact with my brother (he did my last head shot and the icon) but he's at Macworld this week...

Edited at 2009-01-06 02:53 am (UTC)
Jan. 6th, 2009 06:46 am (UTC)
All good advice, except for being in New England where it's crazy cold. I'm not sure what I want to do with all this yet. Thanks.
Jan. 6th, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
The book you sent me, Ghost Story, I had a really hard time reading past the beginning. Even though he doesn't kill the kid or even touch her, creepy guy holding girl hostage = ick, don't read any further.

Usually, though, I guess it's not what horrible thing happens, but why.
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
I understand that.
Jan. 6th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I think the photographer is fine. I think the subject's unease comes through a bit too well.

Outside is good because the lighting is always better. Maybe off-center, top of shoulders to just over top of head, and can you put it in black and white for us?
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
The subject is very uneasy with having his picture taken, and no honest picture would try to hide that.
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
then give the camera to Mango and tell him he's supposed to be a ninja photographer. The candids should be worth some money!
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
He loves to sneak around, and he's truly, amazingly terrible at it.

BTW, Sshhh.
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
Hey! You took all my advice and you came up with a winner!

That one's my favorite. Not too crazy about the LHO body with the gun and manefesto, you should have gone the Palin route with a stars and stripes bikini.

Also, you took the others down. Now we have no proof of them.
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Hey! You took all my advice and you came up with a winner!


... you should have gone the Palin route with a stars and stripes bikini.

Don't tempt me.

Also, you took the others down. Now we have no proof of them.

Actually, I f-locked them before I sent the link to my editor. I didn't want anyone from Del Rey skimming the site and choosing one of the old ones instead.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )