The Un-Natural

Last night, looking for something to watch while eating dinner, I saw that Netflix had added The Natural to its list of Acclaimed Movies from The Past. I remembered liking the movie a lot as a kid, so I started it up.

Seriously, Cheese Man makes more sense than this movie.

My memory of this movie was pretty patchy. Like, Robert Redford got hurt somehow — maybe it had something to do with war? — and that made him an underdog, and there was some kind of sinister money plot, and at the end he hits an amazing home run and starts bleeding and manages to run the bases before he dies. Maybe?

The rewatch didn’t do this movie any favors. To start with, it’s little Roy Hobbs and his nobly poor farmer dad, and nobody else except the well-off farm girl Iris hanging around in worship. Where is Roy’s mom? No mom? Okay, maybe they’re just trying to keep this story succinct. Roy’s dad dies and lightning strikes the tree he died under. So Little Roy makes The Perfect Bat from the wood. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is earnestly aping Aaron Copland, which along with the Model T tells you that it’s the Olden Times, i.e., the early 20th century.

Roy Hobbs brands his bat WONDERBOY. So far what this movie seems to be missing is symbolism.

So cut to a few years later when Roy is off to make his fortune, but first he stops to have a midnight barn tryst with Iris. Then he gets on the train with…some dude who’s agenting him. A mysterious Woman in Black is on the platform. Some baseball insiders are in the dining car musing over a newspaper story that two sports greats have been mysteriously shot with silver bullets. I wonder if this will have any bearing on the story!

Roy and his agent get into a dick-wagging contest at a local fair with the baseball insiders, and Roy strikes out the legendary batsman. Back on the train (that was the longest half-hour water stop I ever heard of), the Woman in Black approaches Roy alone and draws him out so far as to say he intends to be The Best That Ever Was.

At their destination, the Woman in Black invites Roy to visit her in her hotel room, and he goes. She gets him to say again that he intends to be The Best, and then she lowers a black lace veil and shoots him.

What?

TITLE CARD: 16 YEARS LATER

Roy shows up at the dugout of a washed-up team in New York with a scout’s contract, and Wilford Brimley, pissed off at getting sent an Old Dude, refuses to play him. But eventually he has to, and discovers that he is The Best. Suddenly the team becomes good. The co-owner tries to bribe Roy to suck so that he can buy out the team from Wilford Brimley, and Roy nobly refuses.

Meanwhile this whole time, Roy refuses to let on a) where he’s from, b) why he didn’t keep playing ball after high school, and c) what the hell he’s been doing with himself for 16 years. We know he didn’t go home because there’s a scene where a lonely Iris goes into a diner and sees a newspaper article about this sudden phenomenon. No matter how many times people ask him, he deflects the questions.

Then Roy’s rival on the team crashes through a wall trying to catch a fly in right field, and somehow this kills him? Which leaves Roy a clear path to Wilford Brimley’s daughter and a place on the starting lineup.

What??

This is the halfway point of the film. I skimmed the cursor through the rest to see if there were some hope of a sensible plot, and I didn’t. So I noped out.

I can’t remember how Roy suffered the relapse of his wound in the side. Maybe the Woman in Black, annoyed at having failed to eliminate a Paragon of Masculinity, comes back for another try?

No doubt there was some kind of reveal when everybody finds out Roy’s Tragic Past, but it can’t be any less ridiculous than the build-up. Roy is too ashamed to admit to being the victim of a random malicious misfortune…why? Roy didn’t wind up back home…why? No newspaper article connected the dots with the other silver bullets…why? Roy’s agent mysteriously disappears at the point of the shooting…why?

It’s like Roy takes a 16-year hiatus for Doylist reasons, and his creators, the perpetrators of this plot, write it this way for Watsonian reasons.

I guess having your masculinity perforated is a fate worse than obscurity.

I must not have noticed the absurd misogyny of this plot when I was a kid because it read like randomness to me. After all, the potential is great. Robert Redford! as a baseball hero! facing incredible odds! in a dashing 1930s knickerbocker uniform! This could be great!

But you were failed hard, Roy Hobbs. No mom, no home community (highly improbable, WTF), no arc of team camaraderie, no war angst, no Great Depression angst, no best male friend, not even an honorable rival. Nope, just a lot of inept men and unfathomable femme fatales, a drab backdrop for the luminous Natural. If this were football there’d be flags all over the field. Illegal Succubus, Intentional Incomplete Use of Wilford Brimley (like, The Firm made better use of him, WTAF), Improbable Wounding, Running Out the Play Clock…I can’t even.

So, file this one under Beware Movies You Enjoyed As A Kid.

ETA: I went over to Wikipedia and read the rest of the plot summary. Oh my God, it only got more egregious from there. Two succubi and a Penelope. Oh, and Roy doesn’t actually die in the end; he lives to sire a line of Naturals while his loving long-lost Iris looks on. Well, at least the next generation has a mom. Baby steps?

Smashwords sale!

Good morning, cats and kittens! The summer solstice (or winter solstice, for those of you in the Antipodes) has come upon us, and if you’re not being burnt or drowned or jackbooted by Nazi thugs, you’re probably headed for the beach (or similar cozy spot of your choice). In which case you’ll want to nourish your soul with a radical, epic tale of postdystopic courtesy.

And you’re in luck: Ryswyck will be listed in this year’s Summer/Winter Sale at Smashwords. From July 1 to July 31, you can get Ryswyck for 50% off (that’s $1.50, folks), along with other great e-book titles that will be on sale all month. This automatic coupon applies at the Smashwords site only; for other distributors, the price remains the same. You should definitely take advantage of the sale at Smashwords, but if for some reason you’re committed to buying your e-books elsewhere, you can still benefit: I’ve extended the promotional launch price of $2.99 for another month. After July 31, the regular price of $3.99 will kick in across the board.

Why am I doing this? Well, let’s be real, I like it when people buy my book. Money is nice. I like money. And getting a return on my investment, on all its levels, is a worthy goal and firmly in my sights. But the reader who buys the book gets something even better than that: they get, at the least, a pleasurable reading experience they can repeat any time they like. And possibly they even get food for the soul, in a magic jar that never runs out. You can’t really put a price on that.

That’s the artistic endeavor in a nutshell: to brighten reality for as many people as possible. And don’t we all need our realities brightened?

So if you haven’t read Ryswyck yet, by all means take advantage of the opportunity this summer. And if you have read it, be sure and put up a review at Goodreads or Amazon or Apple or wherever you bought it. That way, my characters’ future readership won’t have to take my word for it!

I got mad and wrote a poem

Sometimes that happens. I can’t avoid every headline, damn it.

What is Sin?

I can point you to what catechism you choose
Or I can tell you this. The unnamed man
Who vandalized and killed the Holy Thorn
Distilled an act of speech with just one aim:
To hurt its lovers’ hearts. In actual fact
The worst things ever said to me were things
I heard said to my mother. To profane
A thing someone holds holy is to take
Their soul in effigy and burn it, so it does
Not matter then if you were only careless.
Paradise has been wiped off the map.
The inferno’s wave swept over, and the still-
Frame frames of burned-out cars mid-flight
Still sign their silent testament of ash
To what carelessness means. Do you hear me?
But it gets worse. All I can do is write
A verse as blank as my expression is
On contact with the boasted atrocities
Done in my name. They would, quite literally,
Destroy the world sooner than have to see
People they hate escape their suffering.
The people they hate are holy. Nero burns
His tiki torches in Charlottesville, and thinks
He’s good, cause Snopes debunked that faulty tale
That said he fiddled while Rome burned. He’s not.
Those torches were people, and now they’re witnesses.
Thick clouds of witness boil across the sun.
Don’t spit your decalogues at suffering souls,
Don’t pour contempt on how they name themselves,
Don’t roadblock their escapes from cruelties,
Don’t jeer and scoff, lest you turn and find yourself
An arsonist, or an idiot with a match.

Gives a new meaning to “shock and awe”

Guess what! I found out this morning that Ryswyck has been included in the Summer’s Most Anticipated reads on Apple Books! You can check out the iTunes link on apple.co/summerbooks!

(I admit when I saw the email from the nice man at Smashwords I did a little cursory checking before I clicked any links. Indie author, sophistication in phishing, Occam’s Razor, &c. But it’s legit. O.O)

Exciting!

Postscript from the John Spencer files

Further to my last, I heard back from the SET Game customer service. It turns out they have decided to remove QRE from the dictionary of valid words altogether. So the change is not arbitrary, and I’m not crazy thinking it’s not really a word.

Meanwhile, I have given up recreational complaining for Lent. It’s amazing how when you give something up for a time, you realize just how much you were doing it. It turns out rants are a significant part of my day, go fig. I’ll have to provide genuwyne quality content without!

And finally, I am getting close to a cover reveal! I have seen a draft of the cover for Ryswyck and it’s going to be awesome. Watch this space!

They hang up every time

It’s part of my morning routine to play the daily puzzles on the Set Game website, and naturally the Quiddler puzzle is my favorite. (Though the new Karma one is growing on me.) The goal is to use every one of the cards laid out in the puzzle to make words of at least two letters, and I usually set myself the additional goal of equaling the bonus achieved by the high scorers. The following day they post the words played by the highest scorer, and I’ve picked up a lot of valid words that way.

But this morning, one of the words I had picked up and even used from time to time was rejected. What! What do you mean, “qre” is not a valid word?? I used it two days ago!

It burnished a suspicion I’ve had that the funky tricky little words in this puzzle aren’t consistently accepted or rejected. For a while I thought I just had a bad memory for what worked and what didn’t. But if the puzzle makers really are excluding words from the valid list from one puzzle to another, that’s. . .not a word game at all.

So I used the contact form to write a comment to deplore the arbitrariness of accepting a word one day and rejecting it the next. I don’t really care whether it’s one thing or the other, just so it’s consistent. I mean, do you know what qre means? Don’t tell me if you do.

I swear I turn more into John Spencer with every passing day.

I gotta skip my prayer meeting

Snow ice cream wants just eagle brand
And I’ve got eagle brand on hand
And I’d rather not walk to the store
Bringing tracks from my boots on the floor
There’s an 8-inch cake of snow on my car
(And my right windshield wiper blade won’t come about)
And things being how they are,
The morning church service is OUT!
So it’s sticking around on the spot:
But tea, loungewear, and ice cream I’ve got!

My filking muscles are atrophied; I’m not sure what else Nathan Detroit would make of my snow holiday. I do, however, know what I am making of my snow holiday: I’m writing. My aftermathy novella is coming along, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that it’s developing a crunchier plot than I prepared myself for. Still, writing is writing, and I think I’ve nearly reached the halfway mark of the piece.

Of course, one can’t spend a snow holiday entirely buried in one’s laptop screen; like everybody else in the city, I had to get out and take pictures and put them on Facebook (obnoxious as it is; note to self — look into getting an Instagram account). People become like small children again, studying the details of the transformed outdoors with earnest enjoyment, shyly waiting till others were out of direct sight to take pictures with their phones.

The gloves I put on for my walk, in a happy serendipity, had a hole in the seam of the right forefinger, and I used it to stir the screen of my phone to take photos, snow lighting wetly on the lighted surface. I took shaky video, too, of drooping branches dotted with berries, of the shifting crunch of my boots as I made my way among the laden branches on the neighborhood sidewalks.

Why? Is it that we can’t help knowing that snow is transient, and therefore want to capture the experience of seeing it, hearing it, being out in it? The way it transforms the everyday look of things and makes them new? My footprints on this walk are visible in the snow — I can see exactly where I’ve come and what my steps look like getting here — but on any other day, I can’t see them. The silence, maybe: the way the snow-filled air wraps one around in a strange acoustic warmth. Maybe those things together make for the urge to reach out — not in the moment, that’s too much a treasure — but right after. On my walk, I met some people and left them to their privacy as I valued mine, but others looked up and smiled, and I greeted them back. I stopped at the entrance to the park to watch families sledding and making snow angels. I almost wanted to take a picture of that too. A picture of the beauty and hardship and holiday and inconvenience that is all so obviously shared by everyone present — a situation — a scene.

Like that old canard about how, when the talk turns to politics or other contentious things, someone suggests: “Let’s talk about the weather.”

Well, why not?

Hey, what’s the big idea?

So, I appear to have a new author website: a genuwyne, public-facing, on-purpose address on these here Internets. Because I also appear to have gone into business for myself, as a purveyor of words that I wrote.

Writers, as a rule, aren’t inherently attracted to public-facing, on-purpose entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to words they’ve written. But there does come a point at which one has to spit on one’s hands and tackle the learning curve: and so here I am, climbing gear and all.

Because even if writers aren’t natural entrepreneurs, most of us are seized with the conviction that we have meaning to offer the world through our words: and I am no exception.

For the past six years I have struggled mightily to bring forth a project that, like all worthwhile projects, nearly defeated me more than once. I’ll be saying more about that project, and its sequels, in future posts, and as the release date draws near. For now, I will only say that the world in which I conceived this story of courtesy in desperate times, and the world in which we live now, are so widely different that the story has been thrown into sharp and urgent relevance, as if laid over with a differently-vivid color frame.

It’s a frame and a story that I am eager to share.

This blog will be my regular outlet for topics related to writing, reading, craft, narrative, and fun, with a dash of recreational complaining added for flavor. Check out the manifesto on the top menu for a taste.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a site I am happy to toss money to every year: the best ambient noise generator site on the planet. I’ve returned to this site again and again for inspiration, and since the hardworking proprietor has recently gifted us with the ability to combine stems for unique sounds, I made a generator to evoke the sentinel comm tower at Ryswyck, the titular school of my forthcoming novel.

Enjoy, and see you again soon!

L.