Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stories Worth Your Time

Stories Worth your Time

The agent hunt continues. I’ll be signing copies of the 2013 Saints and Sinners fiction anthology in New Orleans on May 23rd at the Hotel Monteleone. (It’ll be on Amazon afterward. Check out my story, “Mountainview”, about a gay middle school student and his bully finding common ground amid disaster.)

I got my first yes on JESSE RULES. Unfortunately, it was from a fundamentalist publisher, who definitely didn’t understand that it’s a book about a gay teen who turns into a homicidal megalomaniac because he refuses to be honest with himself. Maybe they thought I was saying all queer kids kill. Sigh.

Anyway, moving on.

That’s all on the business front. Here’s something new.

Stories (books-movies-video games) worth your time:

We Need to Talk About Kevin – The film and the book are equally enthralling. Here is a mother wrestling with the age old question, ‘to breed or not to breed?’. She has lived the thrilling life of a traveler, and met and married a man she loves. Now she’s stuck with a big, fat, angsty, ‘What next?’
            Babies are supposed to be next. But at seven billion people on the planet and counting, we have a choice in that matter now. People can say no to breeding and do other things with their time. (Although what to do with one’s childless time may be the scariest question of all.) We can even self-assess, come to the conclusion that we would be terrible parents, and choose not to breed accordingly.
            But somehow, this educated woman of the world gets pulled into motherhood. Her desire to “turn the page” as she calls it, combined with passive-aggressive pressure from her husband, leads her to have a son, Kevin.
            From the start, Kevin can tell he isn’t wanted. And everyone is going to pay for it.
            I love this novel for tackling taboo head-on. I also have selfish reasons. The novel was a critical and commercial hit, proving you can disturb and entertain an audience at the same time. This is what I’m going to do with Jesse.

Prometheus – Some folks didn’t get what Entertainment Weekly called the “heavy, heavy, heaviosity” of this movie. Plus it’s a prequel, and let’s face it, most of those are derivative shit.
            Not this one. By being a “sort of prequel”, it maintained the mystery that most prequels lack. You had an idea of what was going to happen but not how, and that kept it fresh. The basic idea is a hundred years in the future, two scientists hypothesize that they’ve found the planet where our creators came from. “The Company” from the “Alien” movies funds an expedition, though their motives are, predictably, as pure as an interstellar Goldman Sachs. This results in a monster movie with a philosophical backbone. Not a lot of those in captivity.
            Besides being an FX extravaganza, it also sports stellar performances from Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, and awesomeness incarnate, Michael Fassenbender. (He’s been in X-men and Inglorious Basterds. The prosecution rests.)

Bioshock (Game Series) – I’m jealous of this tagline: Shooting game with psychic abilities set in libertarian dystopia under the sea. How cool is the concept alone?
The first game features my favorite plot twist since Samus Aran turned out to be a woman at the end of the first Metroid. One of the people guiding your character through the combat zone dystopia of Rapture turns out not to have your best interests at heart. He’s hypnotized you to obey whenever he uses the word “kindly” to “ask” you to do something for him. It turns the gamer’s perception on its head, and it motivates you for the latter half of the game, where you are driven to find and kill your former puppet master.
            By the time you hear the line, “A slave chooses, a man obeys,” you’ll be hooked enough to check out the latest installment, Bioshock Infinite.

Killing Them Softly – Ever rent a movie on a whim with no expectations, and then find yourself pleasantly surprised? That’s how I felt with this one. It had Brad Pitt and enough Sopranos alumni to draw me in, but I wasn’t expecting much but another faded copy of “Goodfellas”.
            It was a lot better than that for a few reasons. It starts predictably, with mafia guys ripping one another off, eventually calling in Brad Pitt’s character to settle things down with a series of executions. Pitt likes to “kill them softly”, meaning from a distance, so there’s no begging, no emotions, no intimacy. He’s a killer with a conscience, trying to be a killer with none.
            Meanwhile, news of the 2008 deregulation-fueled stock market crash pervades in the background. Brad Pitt screams the movie’s thesis at the end. “This isn’t a country, it’s a business. Now pay me my fucking money.”

Rebooting the American Dream – You may not know Tom Hartmann, but you should. In this book, he does what no politician has had the courage to do in my lifetime – he identifies the main problems our country faces and proposes solutions. (Some, like worker cooperatives, deserve at least a closer look.) This is the best case I’ve read for tax-and-spend liberalism as an alternative to don’t-tax-still-spend conservatism of the Cheney-Wolfowitz crowd and Lord of the Flies libertarianism of Ron and Rand Paul.
            He makes a lot of valid points. Globalization was never voted on. It was forced on the majority of humanity by the international rich. Trustbusting the media could lead to true diversity of opinions on the public airwaves. There is such a thing as “the commons”, things that we all own like our national infrastructure. The profit motive does not bring out the best in people, particularly when it comes to prisons and health care. A constitutional amendment could solve our largest problem: Government has to be larger than the largest corporation; otherwise you get corporate government, which is what we’ve had since Reagan. It hasn’t worked out well if you weren’t already rich when E.T. came out in theaters.
            I know some folks fancy themselves “apolitical”. I don’t buy it. I think most people care but they don’t know what to do. Start small. E-mail your Senators and Representatives. Sign an online petition here and there. Go to one protest a year for something you believe in. This book could fire you up to do it. Even if you’re conservative, it could fire you up to go shout on the other side of the picket line. Either way, it starts a conversation long overdue.

So that’s me finding stories to love, while I chase my author dream. Feel free to comment about a story that moved you, book, film, Youtube kitty clip, whatever. As long as it made you think and feel.

-James Russell

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