Writing Wednesday: Know Your Onion’s Enemy
In Monday’s entry I talked a little about commitment and the need for research. This brings to mind a few months ago when Mr. Offutt was schooling me on the boarding school scenes in “Where You Belong.” He thought that in particular my presentation of the young gay males in the school was not accurate, especially concerning the AIDS epidemic that began in the early ‘80s or so.
And he’s right. I should have done some more homework on that. Maybe I should have done some interviews and looked stuff up about AIDS back then. But I’m lazy. As I said in the last entry, I’m a measure once guy. I just let ‘er rip most of the time and worry about researching later, or try to do just enough to get by.
Which reminds me of when I was watching “Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked” on the History Channel (when it was still the History Channel and they didn’t just show programming about rednecks). Comic book guru Stan Lee was talking about an issue of Spider-Man where Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborne overdoses on some pills. To paraphrase, Lee said, “I didn’t know anything about drugs, so I just made up some pills or something.”
That’s how comics and SF books back in the day did it. You just made shit up. Can a radioactive spider really turn you into Spider-Man? Hell no! Would gamma rays turn you into the Incredible Hulk or cosmic radiation make you Mr. Fantastic? No, they’d probably just kill you. Could you take a rocket ship to Mars and battle little green men? You could try, but it’d take years (if you got off the ground) and you’d find no one there once you arrived.
But for books grounded in the real world, especially “literary” books, you need to have a little better grasp of the details. Maybe a lot of people won’t notice or care, but those who do are going to be pissed off, like when I read “The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford and he said people in Michigan pronounce Grand Rapids as “Gren Repids.” No we don’t! I don’t know anyone here who says that! Or in “Next” by James Hynes where he kept calling the airport in Detroit “Detroit Metro” when no one here would call it that. Or when I read “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides and he said they made B-52s during WWII and Al Kaline played first base. The latter was slightly true (at the end Kaline played a few games there) but those were obvious goofs. When you start making goofs, whoever catches them is going to think you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. If you can’t get the small things right, maybe you’re not right on the big ones either!
Another example actually concerns music. I was reading a critic’s review of the latest Decemberists album “The King is Dead” and the critic was going on and on about how the band wanted to sound like REM. I thought, “What are you talking about?” To me the album sounded much more like Tarkio, which was the alt-country band the lead singer of the Decemberists was in previously. If the music critic had done some damned research he might have known that!
But then it might not have suited his point, which is how Fox “News” does all of their research. In the end, if you don’t do your homework, someone’s going to give you an F.
Friday: Find out who’s the only true movie star left in Hollywood…