Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Two Cent Tuesday: Sometimes Imitation Isn't the Best Form of Flattery

I suppose tomorrow is the day when y'all talk about writing insecurities, but I'm going to kick it off a day early with a Grumpy Bulldog rant about some writing stuff that makes me insecure.  Meanwhile, tomorrow I'll post the Box Office Blitz so if you're going off on an extended Independence Day vacation you can get picks in.  Phony Photos will be moved to Friday--as if you care.

There are a lot of books out there where I read them and say, "Jeez, how did this ever get published?"  Followed closely by "How did this [expletives deleted] get published and my book can't?!"  There is a somewhat similar form of professional jealousy when you read a book that involves similar material to yours and while that book might be more popular you can't help thinking, "OMG, this sucks!"  So I'm going to vent about two such books.

The first one doesn't suck that much, I had to grudgingly accept.  It's just really paint-by-numbers uninspired.  The book came to my attention because it's called:  Sidekick:  The Misadventures of the new Scarlet Knight.  It came out five months after mine, which I think I've mentioned before is annoying.  It is slightly gratifying in an evil way to see it only has 1 Amazon review and a lower rating on Goodreads than mine.  Anyway, I think what annoyed me the most by the end is there's no fucking reason he had to call his character the Scarlet Knight.  I mean he could have called it the Crimson Cockatoo for all the difference it made.  The original Scarlet Knight in his novel was just a mash-up of Batman and Iron Man, so the name was just some random name the author picked that could have come from some superhero name generator.  And at first mine was just some random name I picked back in 2002, but by the end I'd developed a whole history for the Scarlet Knight, evidenced in the Dark Origins prequel.

Like pretty much all other superhero novels I've read, his is aimed at the mainstream people who still associate superheroes with Adam West's Batman.  He's the Joel Schumacher to my Christopher Nolan in that I tend to take a grittier take on it.  The latter's made more at the box office but when it comes to books, people still seem to prefer the former.

I guess my problem is I didn't feel like doing some deconstructionist parody of superhero comics.  I just wanted to create a hero who kicked some ass against a badass villain.  For some reason literary audiences are not as into that as theatergoing audiences.  Sad but true.

The one that really irritated me was last week I read this book called The Turning.  Amazon suggested it to me because it involves a similar concept of my novel Chance of a Lifetime.  In my book a big tough detective becomes a young woman when he's injected with an experimental drug.  The Turning though is more of a wide-scale event like the comic book series Y the Last Man.  (One of Pagel's blogs has a review of that.)

From the way it's categorized on Amazon, The Turning is supposed to be humorous.  But it's really lazy and stale sitcom humor that really defies any concept of logic--even the logic of a ludicrous situation.  In my review I called it both misogynistic and a little homophobic.  That's evidenced by how one of the first men to become a woman is taken shopping by a female friend that afternoon and instantly falls in love with shopping and doing her hair and makeup and wearing heels and so forth.  Because, you know, those things are just innately coded in female DNA. (cue laugh track)  And within a couple of days she's out at a bar hitting on and then shagging some dude.  Because, you know, everyone is just innately and instantly attracted to the opposite sex.  (Repent, Offutt, ya big faker!!!)

The idea of this is to hook up roommates, one of whom has "turned" and the other (spoiler!) is immune.  Their love affair plays out like a bunch of recycled Friends scripts.  Really the whole thing is just a bunch of stale old sitcom plots.  Sadly I don't think he worked in any "women are such terrible drivers" jokes because, you know, women are such terrible drivers, am I right fellas?

By the end I really was laughing because the end features such a ridiculous gap in logic.  (Spoilers!  I don't care about spoiling shitty books, seriously.)  So the one guy is immune (like the eponymous Y the Last Man and perhaps my knowledge of that was why this plot point was so obvious) because he has some funky testosterone that kills the evil man-changing bacteria.  The genius scientists can make an antidote to change all the world back with his blood because you only need a microscopic amount.  Here's the gap in logic:  they say they have to take all his testosterone which will cause him to turn into a woman.  Why?  You just said you only need a microscopic amount of this stuff to cure someone, so you really can't just leave a microscopic amount in his blood?  I mean it's not like every "turned" person in the world would want it.  And you can inject him with regular testosterone to keep his levels up.  Which really why didn't men afraid of turning start shooting up with steroids?

On top of it, the book ends with a "Here we go again...yuck, yuck, yuck," scenario.  (Thump goes my head on my desk.)

It annoys me because I tried to take a logical approach with my book.  When Steve becomes Stacey, she doesn't instantly love shopping for girly clothes.  She starts off in tomboyish outfits.  Later she does go on a spree in large part because she's a fugitive and needs a cover identity.  She doesn't instantly know how to do her hair or makeup or how to walk in heels; she has to learn all those skills, which sometimes involves pain.  And she definitely doesn't start screwing guys two days later.  It takes pretty much five years and 2 1/4 books for that to happen.

The fact his book has 25 reviews and mine has 1 makes me wonder if maybe I should have gone with the cookie-cutter, recycled sitcom style.  Though I don't think I can manage that, despite I grew up watching a lot of old sitcoms.  I think my brain is permanently damaged from reading books that are more literary.  That or too many years in the accounting game just have me too oriented on logical thinking, or at least logical effects from completely illogical situations--see above.

In his review of Chance of a Lifetime, Nigel Mitchell said he thought it would be funny.  I can see that because it is a ludicrous scenario and since he's read my blog he knows just what a magnificent wit I am. (See, self-depricating humor!)   But while I might kid around on this blog and your blogs and Twitter and Facebook and all that, you should know I am dreadfully serious when it comes to writing.  Not to say there aren't jokes, though they're usually more of the deadpan humor variety, but mostly I take every ludicrous scenario seriously and try to work through it logically.  With one exception.  This would be my writing face:

But maybe I should go for the cheap, lazy joke more often.


  1. So you've come to the point (maybe again?) that I hit when I read, about two years ago, an essay (?) by Kevin Smith followed by a blog post by Rachel In The OC, and realized (again) that people love formulaic stuff, and went on a rant about it, and then went back to just doing whatever it is I want to do, because I like formulaic stuff sometimes, too -- McDonald's Cheeseburgers? -- and if you want to be successful, the easiest way is to give people what they want. There's a reason there's no international chain of restaurants selling challenging food like Asian Fusion cuisine, just like there's a reason that Taco Bell's dishes all taste the same and Olive Garden is wildly successful: people don't like new stuff, almost ever.

    That said, the Scarlet Knight thing seems a bit rip-offy of your own concept, although apparently it's far enough apart that you didn't sue. The other set of books sounds like you did it better, for sure. I can't imagine that if I suddenly became a woman I'd be all graceful and know how to wear a bra or whatever, let alone start liking guys. No offense to Michael, but guys are gross. I don't know why all women aren't lesbians.

    But, doing it better + $1.25 will get you a ride on a city bus, as you already know.

    1. Sexuality is not something you can choose Briane. I think that was P.T.'s point in the blatant sarcasm of his "repent" line.

  2. That second book sounds as if the author doesn't know anything about science or hormones. Both men and women have testosterone, though they make and use it at different levels. And if your body continuously makes the hormone, how can you take it all away? Why not just clone the special T gene into another host for production?

    As for women automatically knowing how to shop and put on makeup, no, we have to learn it, and we vary in skill level and interest.

  3. I think your book covers are terrible for translating the message of your book. For example, I was thinking the other day of the kind of cover I'd put on "Where You Belong" and it wouldn't be the one you have now. I would draw Frost and Frank and put them on the cover wearing tuxedos and kissing and then make sure it was categorized properly in the gay section of Amazon. And I'd make sure the guys looked smokin' hot (with Tobey Maguire as your inspiration for Frost that wouldn't be hard at all).

  4. The Turning sounds like script made for M. Night Shyamalan!

    1. In my review I said it would be a great vehicle for Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen. So there you go, just get one of them together with M Night and in 2015 we can have another crappy summer comedy.

  5. I've heard it said that there are no new ideas, especially when it comes to creating plots. This might or might not be true, but what is certain is that you and you alone can interpret material through thee prism of your unique personality. No one can rip off the essence of your writing because no one else is you. I have little doubt that you will become a major success one day and people will be clamoring for that unique PT Dilloway touch.

  6. Well, I say, never give in to the stupid. I'd rather write something good that few people read than write a 50 Shades of Crap novel. Which can make it difficult when you look around and see that 50 Shades was something like 1 out of every 5 books purchased in 2012 and you think "how can people like this crap?" But, then, people like crap, and you just have to deal with it. Give in to it and wallow in it or stay out and watch.

  7. There are always going to be good ideas and bad ideas based around the same concept. Yours are firmly on the good side. Cream rises to the top.

  8. I knew "Chance of a Lifetime" wasn't going to be funny by reading the description, the sample, and knowing your style. Still, you have to admit...a tough middle-aged cop getting turned into a young woman? That's kind of funny. And while the book did get into some serious drama, it did have its funny moments, like when Stacey first tried on high heels.

    As far as the imitation, it's true that there will always be similar stories out there. That's why we got two volcano movies, and two asteroid-destroying-the-world movies in the same year. And the idea of a man being turned into a woman has been done in movies like "Switch" and "The Hot Chick."

    I recently discovered "Toonopolis," another book series set in a cartoon world like my book series "TOONS." Of course, there's also the elephant in the room, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." More on that later...

    It's not so much about the idea as the execution. "Turning" decided to do a wacky comedy (badly) and you did an emotional sci-fi thriller. Now if someone wrote a novel about a tough cop getting turned into a woman and called it "Opportunity of a Lifetime," I'd be calling my lawyers.



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