April 8, 2006

On the Da Vinci Code Lawsuit and A Writer's Truth

I am happy to hear that Dan Brown and his publisher were acquitted of any copyright infringement charges, brought against them for the publication of The Da Vinci Code. The way people are beginning to hound publishers worries me. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on the integrity of a piece, especially if it rips off someone else's work. I was supportive of the drive to make Frey own up to his lies, because in the context, I feel they really mattered.

It's a tricky thing. I really embrace the quote from the Wachowski Brothers' new film, V for Vendetta about the relationship between Truth and Art. "Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use them to obscure it." Of course, I may be biased, but I have to agree. As any generalization goes, it promises to be false some of the time, but true most of the time.

Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use them to obscure it."

V for Vendetta 2006

Frey had a problem because he was telling a tale of redemption, and selling it as Non-fiction. That is a very specific incident, and I found it galling, to say the least, that a man would do such a thing as dress up, doctor, and invent (or omit) crucial scenes in such a story. Because when a tale is told as "Non-Fiction," and it is a tale of struggle and soil and subsequent redemption? Certain things have to be true, or you destroy the entire spine. Frey claimed artistic license. But there is a difference betweem changing the song that was playing on a radio to changing the fact that you heard it in the mall, and not the Sheriff's office.

Frey did writers and readers and publishers a great disservice by crumbling to the imperative of greed that caused his publishers/handlers to advise repackaging his fiction work as a "Non-Fiction" book. Because none of us really want memoirs held to such a candle as a matter of course. The purpose of a memoir is not a sterile presentation of data; that is for other types of books. A Memoir is to show the writer's viewpoint. And as such, dry and empirical fact are simply inappropriate. Perhaps the distinction I make is not one you can follow. If so, I would simply point toward the framing of the text. For myself, I would rely heavily upon the Caveat, as I did in my memoirish type pages of notes here. That was one of the major Sins O' Frey. That unabashed, unqualified "Non-Fiction" label. Mine reads "I have discovered that I tend to have rich and poetic memories that probably have more to do with my own inner dialogue than with any common plane of Reality. Ultimately, the tale is true, for if I tell it with fear or flourish, you can trust that that is how I experienced it, as well," and a reader is then properly oriented to my frame. Come the day I write edit together my memoir (I have already written over 2,000 pages of memoir type diary writing), I will also preface it with a very similar inscription. But you know what? I still tell the truth to the best of my ability, and certainly in any area that would affect the overreaching message or truth of the entire arc.

There is more to be said about The Da Vinci Code, to my mind. But my thoughts there veer more into talk of religion and social ills/patterns. And here, I keep my topic to writing, books, the written word, literature, cinema and (of course) All Things Horris.

SO, I'll close by saying that I feel a writer of fiction must be allowed to draw upon historical texts, for they are what tell us of the past of our race and kind. Is that not correct? If one is to use the truth of our history to inform a story (and don't all stories do this?), then he or she must not be prosecuted for such.

Copyright doesn't protect ideas and copyright doesn't protect facts. That's why we have genres, fiction and nonfiction, and a number of people can write novels based on the same idea and still have freedom of expression."

The Bryan College Station Eagle, "'Da Vinci Code' author wins court battle," 6:29 AM, Saturday, April 8, 2006

My concern also comes into play specifically because some of what I do in the SCARY series of books is use actual history to build a framework for a fictional narrator and character (Horris). Now, clearly, in book one,SCARY: A Book of Horrible Things for Kids , there are bits of myth and urban legend. It's a snack-pack of scary, creepy, frightening "Things" (as the title notes), and the goal was just to offer a fun and dark book.

But from Horris' SCARY History of Egypt on, I am doing much more involved research, and the books will be (unless noted otherwise) totally rooted in historical fact. This is because I really had no idea, when I made the first one, that a series would be next. That's how publishing goes. But when it was made clear to me that a series was wanted, I had to think over the entire arc of this potential series. I had to consider longevity, and what the books would actually consist of. I couldn't go on and on having Horris show only unrelated "scary things" for a whole series.

The publisher and those involved found the latter chapters, and my take on world history (ahem, Horris' take on history, excuse me) interesting. So I thought I would make history a large chunk of what the books do. And in that light, I knew I had to make them not only fun and spooky, but rather reliable, and well-researched.

Unlike this post, which is entirely make-believe. I'm hungry. Time for breakfast, thanks.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

(neuralpermalink established at 07:57)

January 15, 2006

Frey's Lies - A Million Little Dollars' Worth

It's not easy to grow up hard, to suffer abuse and loneliness; to travel a road of persecution, institutional life, violence, and addiction; of jails and rehabs, of nights where you put yourself through it again and again, your self-administered medication threatening your very life; amazed when you see the dawn's light one more time. Amazed that the part of you that is trying to kill you has once again, somehow been bested by the part of you that wants you to live.

There are many horrific, lonely, moments in this road, and they can stretch out like a chasm that swallows up every bit of light in the sky. These chasms rip across lives and souls; they swallow hope, years, love, and belief, and claim many, many casualties, even entire families and generations—gutting the very essence of a person, haunting them and stealing away their center. This is an old story, and an enemy that never grows stronger when confronted with truth. This beast that the book A Million Little Pieces is supposed to be about, only grows stronger in the dark; in the lack; in a lie. But I thought you'd know that, Mister Frey.

It is to this mass spiritual grave that grows over the years to which we owe our honesty, when we retell these stories. Telling these stories is what allows those who suffer such a path to feel they have not wasted their entire life; the tale is the coin they have earned and have the right to spend. To steal this coin is worse than stealing food from a baby's hands. Because it perverts the true Tale that must always be told and sullies it with self-interest, immaturity, lies. It obscures the truth, and it dishonors the many who have truly walked that path, and given their blood or lives in doing so. and And this is why I condemn James Frey, who wrote a fiction book but weakly went along with his publishers when they suggested that he dress it up as "Non-fiction."

Money made that choice. Not Truth. That's right, surprise, surprise. The "Million Little Pieces" are currency.

For most people, the insecurity and fear that lead to these type of exaggerations needs to fade away before they can really start trying to figure out how to go about fixing what went wrong with their lives."

Seth Mnookin, "How James Frey flunked rehab, and why his fakery matters"

Oprah Winfrey, on her own (admirably motivated) crusade to tell every self-actualized person's story on her show before we all finally go up in a petroleum mushroom cloud, rolled up right behind Mr. Frey, because he fit into the mise-en-scene of her Parade. It would be like Lou Dobbs finding a xenophobic Customs Offical who was fired for being overzealous. I think Lou would smile so wide, his head would fall off, and before you know it, CNN would be rolling out stickers with this border guard's face on it. Even if half the world were sending Mr. Dobbs email opining that the guard was out of line when he physically attacked a puerto rican kid waving a Puerto Rican flag in Texas, Lou probably wouldn't budge. Just like Oprah. Is she standing behind a liar and a fraud because she cannot see beyond her own all-consuming mission, and needs any symbol available to help bolster her crusade? Or is that she needs to stand behind her original decision, even if it was wrong, because she's afraid she would look stupid, now?

Or is it just money that keeps her preachifying the praises of her false prophet?

Whatever the reason, I cannot once again salute the creeping death called "Ends Justify the Means" that is sprouting lately in this land. It does matter if the tale is true. That way, when someone is suffering, empty, and in need of one grain of hope that they can grab on to, they can find a story of somebody else who has traveled the same path. They can rest every bit of their precious dwindling faith in the assurance that if someone else made it, so can I. They can tell themselves I can have the courage to admit the truth to myself...because this person did.

Oprah says she stands behind the book anyway, because it helps so many people. Again, the Ends Justify the Means, she pleads with us.

But James Frey is not helping suffering addicts with his tall tales. He is hurting them. If he wants a piece of the glory that he has stolen and wrapped around his quaking shoulders, let him try some honesty. Let him stare into himself and tell of what he really sees.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

(neuralpermalink established at 08:46)

December 6, 2005

Holiday Party at Books of Wonder

So Herm and I went to the "author/illustrator/related" party at Books of Wonder, and had a good time. Ate some cheese, drank some wine, talked books, talked projects, laughed a lot. It was good fun. As always, we were surrounded by so many great books. Every time I am in that store (or really, any good bookstore), I am simply awed. Awed by all the talent and beauty and lore, and awed that I get to be a part of it.

Talked a little bit about possibly working on a project with Michael Buckley, something he is writing now? Who knows what will come of it, but it was nice to be thought of (as illustrator) for a project. He and his wife were very good people, friendly. I have to send Alison an email, got her card last night. Which reminds me, now...I was speaking to Jon Scieszka, too, about a project when we were at a signing together. but haven't spoken since on that. Well, I'll wait to see if he contacts me, as I think that's how we left it.

So yeah, I recommended the smoked mozzarella to many folk, and I think I was drinking Pinot Grigio. I was also sampling the Gouda and Extra Sharp Cheddar, as well as some round, rich, wheat crackers for the cheese that tasted like cookies. I augmented this with many grapes, celery sticks, and grape tomatoes. At the end of the night, we were given a Thank You box containing truffles. It was a good night, a good night for eating.

Now, I begin again on the book. Or rather, I pick up. I'm closing in on the end. Dont know when that will want to write itself, but I keep moving toward it. I am getting close, now. I have to have it done by Friday, I know that m uch.

I love picking up the manuscript and holding it. It's huge, feels massive. I smile to myself, remembering when I banged out stuff on my Olivetti electric typewriter. How precious each page was. You couldn't just print out another. And when I made a mistake, I had to xxxxxxxxxx it out. I had no corrective ribbon, don't even know if that old beast used it.

Here I go.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

(neuralpermalink established at 06:35)

November 24, 2005

Two Children Whisper Under the Fireflies

Hopped on the book early today, around 0600, and just finished a nice run. Corrected/smoothed out the last chapter, and wrote seven new pages. Now on page 129. Counting illustrations, frontmatter and backmatter, I really only have 50 pages to go. But again, I am writing to the story, not the page count. I am very excited about the story. it is good, good, very good! Very dark in parts, yet hopeful and magical throughout.

I am making a lot of effort to be original, which can be hard when so many stories have been written, so many evils, so many heroes, helpers, traps and treasures. And I am fighting like hell to live up to the masters, and the makers of my favorite worlds when I was a child. These were Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Ursula K. Leguin, Lloyd Alexander, and Madeleine L'engle. The fantasy series by each author (L.O.T.R series; Chronicles of Narnia; The Earthsea Trilogy; Book of Three, Wrinkle In Time books) are my Gold standards. I don't presume to assume that this book approaches those Great works, but I am doing my best to make something I can be proud of.

But at a certain point (I repeat), something takes over and the story just runs on its own. Which is the most freeing part. I feel that is where I am now. The story is mapped out, the hard work is done; the backstory is done, the outline is done, Acts I and II are done, and we are well into denouement. Now it is all the telling of the story, and bringing to life the how of it. At this point, I feel I am just opening my hands and all the characters I have populated this world with are walking about on their own, no strings. They are running and planning and speaking and moving toward the inexorable climax of the story, heedless of the hands that brought them forth.

And I am laughing and watching over it all, grateful and thrilled.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

(neuralpermalink established at 10:20)

November 21, 2005

Book Signing for SCARY: A Book of Horrible Things for Kids, NYC - Dec 1, 2005

There will be another book signing on Dec 1, so if you are in the NYC area, feel free to drop by, buy a book, and get it signed! I'd be happy to see you.

The signing will involve myself and four other authors talking for a bit about our books, taking questions, and then signing. For times and directions, go to http://www.booksofwonder.net and click the "events and happenings...more" link.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

(neuralpermalink established at 08:40)