Monday, August 27, 2007


I mentioned months ago that tyranist introduced me to EscapePod, a weekly podcast of Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories. Not long after, I introduced it to my pal Merrill, and he and I made a goal to listen to them all. He started at the end and I started at the beginning (which just made more sense to me), listening to them on our commutes and/or lunch breaks, or while mowing the lawn, going to the post office, or shaving the monkeys.

Well, Merrill handily beat me, but I have really been enjoying listening to these stories. And this week, I finally finished them all. There are some I like more than others ("Impossible Dreams" is a great one, as is the "Union Dues" series), but they're almost always worth listening to (I really enjoyed one called "Just Do It" and "Craphound" by Cory Doctorow).

And there's a way in which I'm different from a lot of people: if you're a non-professional writer, and you share something (be it with a class, a discussion group, a website, or a suicide note), you deserve my praise. Or at least my support. In L.A., I was part of a writers group that I tried to go to every other week. The writers there ranged from fiendishly brilliant (like my friend Brandon who has, like six shows on the air now), to truly horrendous (like the guy who would bring in his new pages of typo-ridden, unformatted misogyny each and every meeting), but you gotta be respectful, and you've got to at least acknowledge that it takes balls to put your . . . well, balls on the chopping block for other people to see.

In a college writing class, a guy wrote a wonderful, poignant story, about a boy who befriended a homeless man, and I was impressed and moved by it. It did, for me, what all the best stories do: it spoke to me on a personal level, and it's the only story from that class that I still remember.

But other people don't feel that way. There are some writers who unrepentantly bash the writing of others, and some podcasts out there who are so critical of the stories they present that I have to lose all respect for them. In this class, everyone felt obligated to "fix" the story, pointing out things they didn't like, lines of dialogue they found false, ways they would've written it better. When it came my turn to criticise his story, I gave it the second-best compliment I am capable of: "Dude, I loved this story. Don't change a word."

I understand why there was some eye-rolling, since that kind of comment doesn't help him improve his work, but you know what, if somebody said that to me, I'd be a hell of a lot more motivated to keep writing than the typical, "This doesn't sound like a real woman" or "I don't get the ending at all" or "Your characters lack motivation" or "I saw this in a movie just the other day" or "You obviously didn't do your research," all criticisms I've gotten before.

Encouragement is really important, and while I feel that criticism and nitpicking are helpful, I try to keep my remarks positive. People don't improve if they are so depressed by your feedback that they pull a Kraven the Hunter.*

I recognise that this may sound odd coming from someone whose review of JACK-O stated "What King Kong is to monkeys, this is to pieces of shit." But those are professional movies you can find at a video store by writers who were paid for them, and if it's just something an amateur filmmaker sent us, I'm much more forgiving (in fact, chances are that the lower the budget a film had, the more lenient I am with my criticism).

The only time in my writing career (or "career," if you prefer) that I shared one of my stories with my father, he focused so solely on the negative that a lesser boy would have esteem issues to this day. Apparently, "a lot" is two words, not one. So anyway, I believe in letting somebody know when they've done good work, because that should engender more good work.

Wait, I'm rambling again. I do that so much, I ought to call my blog that, or something similar. Whoops.

I'm not a very literate person. I really like books and I enjoy reading, but I probably read in a year what you read in a summer (or what my pal tyranist reads in a month). So Escapepod has been great to experience a lot of fiction (good fiction) with almost no time or effort on my part. I heartily recommend it.

I guess that's what I wanted to say.

Rish Outpod

*I'm sorry. You may not be a sad, pathetic geek, so you may need that phrase defined. My friend Matthew used to say, "Pull a Kraven" as a euphemism for suicide--specifically gun-related suicide--due to the way that Spider-man villain took his own life. I probably should've said, "Pulled a Kurt Cobain," but hey, everybody might have gotten that reference.

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