Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Back In The Motor City And Wondering Why

I find myself back in Michigan. I came here for a surprise birthday party. I decided to stay through Thanksgiving.  As I drive around the Detroit area, I realize how little of I ever captured in my novels. I don't have that many scenes set in winter. Yet winter, desolate and unforgiving, seems to be the dominant season here.  The clouds hover at about a hundred feet off the ground. The trees are barren of all leaves. The small houses set back from the broken roads look as if they are trying to turn away from the wind. Everyone here hurries from one indoor place to another. I wondered to myself, as I have so often before: why does anyone live here? I know that sounds superior and is surely insulting. But I pose the question sincerely: why does anyone live here? If the US had been discovered from the West Coast, everything east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line would be a vast, empty nature reserve. People would leave California and Arizona and New Mexico to go to New York to hunt or fish or just take pictures. The residents of the sprawling cities of Oregon and Washington and Nevada would marvel at how rugged the landscape is in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The entire northeast of the US would be like Wyoming is now.  Surely, the trends cannot be stopped. We all originated in Africa and we yearn to live in the Sun. The Midwest is fading away as a place to live and work.  Demography is destiny, as they always say.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Big Books Are Back?

Having just published Exile, I was interested to read in a couple of places that long novels are back in vogue.  Kirsty Gunn in the Guardian pointed out that some very long novels are getting very positive buzz.

Someone named Garth Risk Hallberg just netted two million dollars in an auction of his manuscript. Apparently, his book is 900 pages long.  I note with some interest that this books sounds sort of familiar to me.  It is called City On Fire. This, naturally, brings to mind my own book, Smoke.  The description I have of City on Fire includes the question: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse? That sure sounds a lot like one of the main issues in Exile: what exactly is going on at Phlogiston Fabricating? Congratulations to Mr. Hallberg for his great financial success. If he can spark interest in really long novels, so much the better.

My sense of the future of novels is that no one is going to read them. The few novels that do get read are likely to be very short. I think within a decade, a novel will need only comprise about 25-30,000 words.  Anything longer than that will be called an epic.

I don't see how a generation raised on Twitter and SMS and email and all the rest will ever be able to concentrate long enough to read a 300,000+ word book. It just won't happen. Already, we see evidence that the brain itself is changing in response to non-stop bursts of very brief stimulation.  This will necessarily mean that all forms of communication are going to get shorter. TV sitcoms will be 5-7 minutes long. A movie will be no more than 60 minutes. Long-reads in journals will comprise no more than a few hundred words.

So, as the novel flickers into obscurity, lets hope for a brief renaissance that will see books like Exile and City on Fire have their moment, as it were, in the sun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Low Winter Sun

I sat down to watch Low Winter Sun recently. I had high hopes for the show. I had seen the original version. That one was set in Edinburgh, Scotland. I thought that the original was one of the better shows I had seen. It was filled with creative plot twists that kept me wondering. So, when AMC broadcast their version, I thought that it might be good. It's not. In fact, it's terrible. I think the problem is that the Scottish version was two episodes, totaling about three and a half hours. The AMC version is ten episodes, each forty-five minutes long. Clearly, the AMC version was going to need some filler. The writers kept the original story but grafted on an absurd companion tale. This subplot involved some would-be gangsters stealing cocaine from a crime boss and blah, blah, blah. You've seen this a million times. When you take a tight, three-hour story and try to make it open-ended, the quality has to suffer. That's what happened here.

What most intrigued me, I think, about the new Low Winter Sun, was that it was set in Detroit. It featured homicide detectives. That sounds pretty familiar to me. I wanted to see how the director would depict the City as well as the detectives. I think they were pretty good about showing the decrepit Detroit Police Headquarters. They got the “ruin porn” down, as well. But that's not complicated. All they had to do was stop anywhere in the City and get some B Roll footage. Detroit did all the hard work. With a smart phone, you could go to Detroit and shoot evocative images of decay. One thing that Low Winter Sun really missed on was the race issue. I presume they wanted a mostly-white cast for ratings purposes. But, this seems at odds with reality. That said, race is very hard to deal with. I, myself, avoided it almost entirely.

I could not help thinking what Heroes or Smoke would look like on film. It might bear some resemblance to what the new Low Winter Sun looks like. But I would hope that a film version would get a lot more of the details right. I would be delighted if Heroes and Smoke and Exile (and the others I have yet to publish) made it onto the big screen. The actors in Low Winter Sun, especially Mark Strong, could do the project nicely. I see Strong as Christopher Garvin more than George Hofmann.

If you have not yet seen the AMC version of Low Winter Sun, do yourself a favor and skip it. Seek out the original. That is a superb story well told.