seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
If ever a post deserved my Reasons I'm a Bad Person tag, it's this one.

For Yuletide, I was assigned to write Henry Reed fic. I did.

The Glass and Reed Advertising Agency

Um... Henry Reed, for those who don't know, is a series of children's adventure books that were seminal in my childhood. Henry is the son of an American diplomat who is sent to summer in Grover's Corner, New Jersey, to experience what life is like for the average American teenager, since his globetrotting life in Naples, Manila, and other outposts of American post-war soft power is atypical and his parents worry that he won't fit in with other Americans later. He makes friends with Midge, one of the neighborhood kids, and together they engage in capitalist adventures.

Grover's Corner is a fictional unincorporated town near Princeton, New Jersey that is roughly based on Grover's Mill, NJ. Grover's Mill, NJ, of course, is famous as the site where the Martians landed in Orson Welles's radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. The whole area where the Henry Reed lives is about twenty minutes from where I grew up, and consequently Henry Reed and the War of the Worlds radio broadcast are both important parts of my canon of formative New Jersey stories, alongside Mallrats and Clerks and the Hoboken Chicken Emergency and Goodbye, Columbus, and a handful of other random things nobody has ever heard of. For as long as I have known Henry Reed, I have wanted the crossover where Henry's Grover's Corner is invaded by the War of the Worlds Martians. Because I am a bad person. So I have finally done it. YES. SPOILER ALERT. MIDWAY THROUGH MY CHILDREN'S BOOK PASTICHE THE TOWN IS INVADED BY ALIENS.

Structurally, [personal profile] sanguinity and I have consistently spoken of the story as consisting of two parts, even though my actual outline was somewhat more granular: The Bait, and the Switch. This is an evil story to give as a Yuletide gift, especially without tagging for the crossover, and considerable deliberation was given to how to balance reader expectations appropriately. On the one hand, this is the obvious crossover for Henry Reed and I don't know any fans of the series who haven't at least contemplated it for a quick giggle. On the other hand, to move from a Henry Reed story about a goofy business venture into a story where people we know and love are dying at the hands of tentacled monsters is narratively cruel, and definitely the riskiest Yuletide move I've ever made. I leaned heavily on the flexibility in my recipient's letter, and I hope that I did not overstep the flexibility granted to me. I would have been unsurprised, if disappointed, if my story had ended up on the anon memes as "This author was asked to write a fluffy adventure story based on a children's novel, and instead they added in an unsolicited crossover without tagging it, killed off an important supporting character, and just generally ruined Yuletide."

I wrote it despite this fear, for a few reasons. The first is that this was the story I have wanted to write for years, and I always believe you're likelier to write a good story when you're excited to write it. Second, because the bait and switch structure meant that at any time I could decide against it, if the fusion wasn't working, and just give the first half of the story as my Yuletide fic. If the story ended at the barbecue, I am sure my recipient would also have been quite happy. But third, I wrote it because I believe deeply in fanfiction's ability to do things that canon is unable to do. Robertson could never have written this story, because he created his story's genre conventions and then he lived within them. Because I am not beholden to his conventions, I can do things his stories can't, and that is an incredible power worthy of being exercised thoughtfully. My Henry Reed is, barring the differences in interpretation that are always inherent in translation, the same as Robertson's, but my Henry is in a situation that tests his mettle in a whole new way. The thing that makes Henry so charming is that the struggles he has are so very low stakes, but he takes them seriously anyway, so putting him in a situation where the stakes are genuinely high is, I think, a really interesting kind of rulebreaking.

And fourth, this was a story worth telling because being from New Jersey is a thing you take a weird sort of pride in. Our greatest musical talent made his career by singing songs about escaping to New York as soon as possible. We have the densest population in the country, and all sorts of related statistics about pollution and car usage and traffic and high rents that flow from that fact, and yet we are still the Garden State and we have not completely abandoned our farming roots. Two governors ago, our governor put his lover on the payroll and tried to distract attention away from his corruption by publicly announcing "I am a gay American"- and he is still beloved in our state as the man who fixed the DMV. New Jersey is a weird state, and I have a lot of genuine affection for its weirdness.

My parents are inveterate New Yorkers who came out to the suburbs to raise kids, as part of the 1970s/80s wave of sprawl that literally transformed the landscape of the state. There is a part of me that is not proud of this. I grew up at some unconscious level with an ingrained sense that the pre-1970s New Jerseyans who remembered when all of the subdevelopments were farms and Jews only lived in Newark and Hoboken were the real New Jerseyans. Henry Reed is, almost accidentally, a document of the last moments of this Real New Jersey, and that is definitely a major reason I always loved reading the books growing up. It let me read about places I'm familiar with, back in the days when you could safely bike across the highway without fear of getting clobbered by a truck. This crossover, perversely by connecting Robertson's fictional New Jersey to a different fictional New Jersey, let me stake a claim for Grover's Corner as a real place and a place that is important to me. That's why the short photo tour at the back of the fic is essential to my concept of the story, that I actually invested several hours over two weekends in driving around Princeton's environs in search of the shots I needed: it proves the reality of the story.

Which of course is the joke behind the other half of the crossover. Orson Welles would have never used a fictional town name. The obsessive verisimilitude of his War of the Worlds broadcast is one of its hallmark features. I had a debate with [personal profile] freeradical42 about whether I should name the town in my story Grover's Corner or Grover's Mill, given the conflict in the crossover, but ultimately I decided on Grover's Corner at least partially because it let me dissect the fake reality of Welles's story, divorce it from the ideal of verisimilitude, claim it as a piece of fiction. A good portion of WotW-inspired fiction is centered around the idea that the hoax story is a cover story for an actual alien invasion of some kind, and I wanted to steer away from that and just work with the other hallmark of Orson Welles's War of the Worlds- that it is an emotional, dramatic story, told really, really well.

One last observation on the crossover: Several commenters pointed to the first half of the fic as 'a perfectly normal Henry Reed story' or words to that effect. I think what makes the crossover work is that there is no such thing as a normal Henry Reed story. Strange happenings are always happening when Henry's around, an excitement that I use for ironic foreshadowing throughout my story. Oh, how we chortled after I shared my favorite line in the story with [personal profile] sanguinity: Uncle Al looked at me strangely. "Any other time of the year, I would have said that surely aliens could have found any other place on Earth to be a more suitable landing ground. But these summers..." he trailed off thoughtfully. The key behind this story is that having Martians land is exactly what you'd expect when Henry's around, because Henry is a force of nature.

Anyway, this story is utterly weird and features a jarring tonal switch, but I believe it works anyway, and I hope you enjoy. Very little canon knowledge necessary, Henry Reed is the kind of children's book series where all the important details of the premise are reiterated at the beginning of each new book to catch up new readers, and I mimicked that style relentlessly.

And of course, thanks to [personal profile] sanguinity for great beta help.

Fic Rec

Oct. 29th, 2013 01:44 pm
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
[personal profile] naraht wrote this amazing fic for [profile] fictional_canon_fest, and I want to rec it to everyone.

For the uninitiated, [profile] fictional_canon_fest is an exchange dedicated to fic for 'fandoms' that only exist within the canon of another fandom: Fillory in Lev Grossman's The Magicians, Robert Templeton novels in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, the Escapist in Chabon's The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay, "The Murder of Gonzago" in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ghost Soup Infidel Blue in Yuletide fandom, etc... It's a daunting challenge, since you generally have very little canon to work with, and these works largely exist to serve other storytelling purposes.

[personal profile] naraht wrote "The Study of Questions, which is just absolutely glorious. (The title is from Auden, of course) I don't want to spoil you for the combination of fandoms- since they're all fictional fandoms, it's not really all that important for you to know the original 'canon' going in. But the blend of historical humor and penetrating, insightful character moments is really terrific.

As you all know, I love stories that ask questions about where our faith comes from and what sacrifices one has to make for that faith. By connecting Luke to the Biblical Luke, [personal profile] naraht takes the story in a really unusual direction, especially when we get to the part with the tentacles, but the whole thing really works.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Yesterday I acquired Ajax_lesser, my new iPad. I am super pleased that I own two computers named Ajax. I also renamed my iPod Tecmessa after Ajax Telamon's concubine from Sophocles' play Ajax, because see: bad person.

I've started playing with the iPad to see what I can do with it. Amazon Instant Video and Marvel Unlimited apps are superior to the Touchpad web apps, and in general the screen is gorgeous. Stanza is at least comparable to pReader. I miss cards, though. Apple multitasking is wonky and annoying. It especially bothers me that if I switch out of an Amazon video because I got an email alert, it loses my place in the Amazon app. The WebOS card interface was such a great design. At least Safari does tabs. I also think I liked the Touchpad email program better, but I bet there are third party email programs out there I'll like.

And I'm looking forward to dipping into the universe of iPad apps. The app catalog from HP was so sparse that it limited my imagination of what you can do with a tablet. Anybody have recommendations of things they've found cool and/or useful?
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
So this is a piece of meta that I think is worth sharing, even though it can potentially be read as criticism of my Yuletide author(s)*. To my author(s): Do not take it as criticism. Take it as dialogue. There are few things in the world that I love more than arguing religion, and the fact that you produced stories that let me argue against them is a strike in your favor, not a strike against you.

But I've been turning in my head why my response to "Interactive Complexity as Indigenous to Human Systems" has been continual confusion, rather than sheer unmitigated joy. The story is extremely well crafted and full of things that I love. And I think one answer may be because of Moshe's relationship with 'the CEO', i.e. God.

Moshe respects the CEO because She appreciates algorithms herself, lets him fulfill his potential as a researcher where other CEOs would hold him back. But we never see Moshe in actual dialogue with the CEO, and the only time such conversation is alluded to is after the Golden Calf and Meribah disasters, when he must go to Her to apologize. We don't see Moshe and the CEO as really having a continuous, personal relationship.

So much of my writing on Moses und Aron focuses on Buber. Schoenberg's Moses, I claim, has an I-Thou relationship with God and Aaron has an I-It relationship. Buber claims the goal of a religious experience is to develop an I-Thou relationship with God. Moses has succeeded; Aaron has failed.

Schoenberg's central problem in his story is that Moses is right. His Moses should not be understood as an out of touch intellectual, but as a man with a highly developed spiritual life. What Schoenberg is saying is, Moses is right, but the world sets us up for failure. It is bleak and despairing, and ultimately that is what I find hopeful about it. Doubt is always where I find faith.

In this story, though, we don't see Moshe talk to the CEO in conversation. She is a shadowy New Testament God whose only interventions are second-hand (Ha, take that Christians and your sneering Old Testament God stereotypes! How does it feel when the glove is on the other shoe?) So the author hasn't established Moshe's I-Thou relationship with the CEO.

Essentially, the author has re-written a new Act I of the opera that puts Moshe and Aaron on a more equal footing. It's more balanced, dualistic, and it is certainly dramatically effective. But there is a sense of theological misalignment for me that I think comes from not putting Moshe on the higher spiritual plane that Schoenberg does.

Because I agree with Schoenberg! I think Aaron sets the Jews on a dangerous path that they needed to be corrected off of. I think the Israelite nation has always struggled with the impossibility of understanding a God who we not only can't see visually, but cannot see any direct evidence of in the world. It is hard to take revelation on faith, that our ancestors were blessed with God's presence in a way that we aren't. And so we must struggle to be Moses in the face of Aaron, even though it's impossible, even though inevitably we are going to have to settle for a kind of religion that involves Aaron's contribution. Even though Moses is a failure as a leader because he can't.

Putting that in words makes me feel better. Again, to my author(s), do not take this as ingratitude, just take it as me being thoughtful and in dialogue with the text and with my own faith.

*And for what it's worth, I think I have a pretty good idea of who my author is.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Happy Chanukah!

We had our family holiday party last night, with latkes and pastrami sandwiches and presents and candles and watching the Giant game. So that was great. My grandmother got me an Amazon gift card and I ordered Plotto, because I am a bad person. I also ordered Juan and his Latin Lantzmen, an album of bad salsa covers of Yiddish pop tunes which failed to be a novelty hit back in the '50s. Because I am a bad person. I also ordered music and books with somewhat less dubious qualities.

I finished first draft of Yuletide story yesterday, too! And volunteered to beta-read a couple of stories for people. Yuletide is going well. Time to start revising my story, and also to consider treats.

Apparently I have already been gifted two (probably Moses und Aron) stories. The amount that I am excited about this knows no bounds. We're doing Jewmas at [personal profile] freeradical42's house this year, and I will likely be absenting myself from the proceedings for a bit, as I usually do, to read the stories as soon as I possibly can. And then bounce up and down and try to get everyone else as excited as I am about Yuletide.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
This is probably going to be the best news I get all day:

I have been trying to figure out if this word existed for years. I'm not kidding. Though now I'll just have to waste braincells trying to figure out what the word is for fifth to last.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
My new laptop came yesterday! Anyone want to try to see the Philadelphia Opera Company's Romeo and Juliet this Sunday afternoon?

Still, her voice is gorgeous and her simple, mincing verse gives me chills. I haven't been to any of their shows this season, and I want to rectify that. It's even telling me that it's receiving and transmitting data, but I can't connect to my network. Damnit, the wireless should be working.

Then I'm going to shuffle them up sentence by sentence because I'm crazy. The joyful multilingual songs of the first album were a large part of the appeal. I'm not really a fan of it as a story, but I think it's been a stunningly deep well of musical inspiration over the centuries. I'm really pleased with it, it really seems to be everything I want, but installing Linux has been kind of hassly.

Also yesterday the new Yael Naim album arrived from France via Amazon. Listened to it this morning on the car ride. I'm going to write a series of miniposts because I have many things to say. But I'm disappointed she doesn't sing in French or Hebrew. I like much of it, and several songs really stand out.


seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

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