Friday, June 04, 2010

Childhood Thoughts And Vanity Plots

I’m editing a vanity novel purporting to be filled with James Bond-style international intrigue except the writer lacks (among other things) even the most rudimentary knowledge of Cold War politics; imagine a story about the first successful English colony at Jamestown where, before the colonists boarded the Mayflower, they stopped at a US consulate and droned on for thirteen badly written pages about the hoops they jumped through to get their H1-B visas.

That’s the level of historic accuracy the novel portrays. And as I plow through the story I suddenly remember my childhood, being seven years old and hanging out with friends the same age. We were all playing Star Wars and acting out exciting pretend adventures which we resolved with the same level of sophistication my aspiring Ian Fleming displays:

LITTLE JENNIFER: This is Princess Leia! Mayday! Darth Vader and the stormtroopers are attacking the rebel base and the whole planet is surrounded!

FRIEND #1: This is Han Solo! Let’s use our lightsabers to fight them!

FRIEND #2: This is Luke Skywalker! I’ve got my lightsaber! I’ll fight them too!

(All wave sticks serving double-duty as lightsabers, and shout what they imagine to be lightsaber sound effects.)

ALL OF US: Whoosh! Whoosh! Hum!

FRIEND #1: Darth Vader and the stormtroopers are running away!

FRIEND #2: We beat them!


Such suspense! Will our hero escape the bad guys? Whew! Good thing he was able to run really fast and get away!

Actually, my childhood memories had better plots than this novel, because at least my memories are free of blatant historic inaccuracies. When I talk about my childhood, the stories never sound like this:

FRIEND #2: Take that, Darth Vader!

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: (inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale) Luke, I am your father.

LITTLE JENNIFER: You’re not Luke’s dad! That doesn’t happen until Empire Strikes Back, and since I’m only seven they haven’t started filming it yet.

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: I swear by my hot ex-wife Natalie Portman it doesn’t matter, because you’ll edit vanity novels when you grow up and run into worse anachronisms than this all the time! Something something something Dark Side.

LITTLE JENNIFER: I will not! You take that back! (Bonks him on head with lightsaber.) Take that, too! I just shot you full of electricity and threw you down the big canyon we keep on the Death Star and now you’re dead. So there.

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: That doesn’t happen until Return of the Jedi.

FRIEND #2: Also, you’re thinking of the Emperor.

LITTLE JENNIFER: I don’t care. He started it.

And now, back in the present day, I refer you to the steamy, sexually explicit vanity romance novel I wrote here.


Blogger Windypundit said...

With the kind of creative writing talent you display here, maybe YOU should try writing a novel. It could be about a snarky semi-employed female journalist who's beginning to doubt herself after taking a job editing terrible vanity novels...until she discovers new reserves of compassion and inner strength when Connecticut is devastatd by Hurricain Katrina.

(Pre-order Jennifer: A New Hope on Amazon Kindle today!)

11:35 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Windy, for confidentiality reasons I of course can't discuss my actual novels, but seriously -- the one I've got now really IS as bad as a novel about Englishmen in 1620 complaining what a pain in the ass it was to navigate the immigration maze set up by the United States government.

Such willful ignorance amazes me. If you are writing a novel about the Jamestown colony, that would suggest you have a personal interest in said colony, right? Which means you'd read books or watch documentaries about it, and LEARNED things, no? There are some Jamestown facts which the average person might not know -- for example, the glasshouse was one of the first businesses they put up, and the English investors who backed the colony were specifically hoping to get rich off glass (which was hellishly expensive to make in England, because of a shortage of wood to make charcoal for fuel).

But this guy doesn't simply not know trivia like the importance of the Jamestown glasshouse -- he doesn't even know such basic facts as "there was no such thing as a United States government in 1620" and "for all the hardships the early colonists faced in the New World, the hardship of navigating the American immigration bureaucracy wasn't one of them."

Seriously -- how is that possible? It's like being an American history buff but never knowing that we had a Civil War. Or a Britainophile who has no idea they've still got a monarchy over there. "Those British papers keep talking about Elizabeth II -- who the devil is that? Is she Kim Jong's North Korean half-sister?"

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Cap'n NoStar said...

With a few tweaks, all those historical inaccuracies can be interesting points of difference in a sci-fi epic involving an alternate universe where the Iroquois Confederacy de-evolved into a USA style bureaucracy long before the pilgrims arrived.

7:08 PM  
Blogger KevinBBG said...

When I first read "Englishmen in 1620 arguing about the US government" I thought you must have made a typo, but further reading shows you are serious!! And you can't say anything to the author or he won't pay you. What a predicament!!

1:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Ever see National Lampoon's monthly feature, "Lines from the Slushpile"? Just a bunch of editors' excerpts from really awful manuscripts. Some of them were rupture inducingly hilarious.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

No typo, BBG -- I know 1620 was the wrong date and the Jamestown colonists never went near the Mayflower, but not all historical novelists apparently have such knowledge.

Kevin Carson, I remember you mentioning the slushpile feature the first time I wrote about vanity editing. Yes, yes, it often really IS that bad.

Naturally, I resisted the temptation to suggest the man write another novel. Maybe one about the Civil War. That would make a very exciting story, how Abe Lincoln led the Confederate Army to victory against Hitler to free the Jewish slaves.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Forgot to mention, Kevin BBG -- I DID make some suggestions to the author. I was completely straightforward and serious but it was still one of the funniest things I've ever written, and nobody can ever see it: "Also, Mr. Author, John Rolfe married Princess Pocahontas rather than Queen Elizabeth I, and his tobacco company wouldn't have faced the governmental problems you described because the US Surgeon General's office had not yet been established."


11:27 PM  

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