Tuesday, August 4, 2009
But Break My Heart, For I Must Hold My Tongue.
My Day, Abridged Version: a rising, a drive, a friend, a job, a meal, a chat, a completed task, a sense of accomplishment, a drive home, a second meal, a blog post, a movie and a book. Everything beyond this is filler.
There's this scene in Apocalypse Now. A Small gunboat is taking Martin Sheen up river, and has just past the northernmost US outpost, at a bridge manned by troops without a leader - a bridge that they build every day only to have it blown up every night. Anyway, it's the next day, they are continuing north, into enemy territory, on their own. They're tooling along as if they had good sense, reading some recently-arrived mail from home. The surfer guy is waving around a smoke grenade, dancing around in the purple smoke, chuckling. The young black soldier (Lawrence Fishburn) is listening to a taped letter his mom sent him, on an old tape recorder. The biker dude is reading a letter and chatting away to no one in particular about his girlfriend back home. The boat captain is silently continuing course. Martin Sheen is tucked away, pondering his mission to find Kurtz (Brando).
Anyway, this snapshot, in and of itself, is a potent scene. But then the fire starts erupting from the nearby jungle just off shore. RPG rounds and small/medium arms fire, peppering the boat. Everyone obviously hops into the gun turrets and begins to return fire on the hidden enemy as the captain floors it. In 30 seconds, they are through the hot zone, but it was long enough for Fishburn's character (named 'Clean') to take a round through the chest and die on the deck. The biker dude is grabbing him, beside himself, calling out his name. The captain is horrified and speechless, standing over him. The surfer is asking where his puppy went, and yelling how they needed to go back and get it. And in the background, the taped letter from Fishburn's mother is still playing, telling him that she loves him, to be careful, and come home soon.
Seems to me that scene sums up Vietnam in a lot of ways, all by itself. HERE is the link on You Tube; watch it if you dare. I'd embed it, but it has some strong language, as you can imagine.
Josh and I had a great conversation today over lunch, and the topic of profanity in war films and literature came up. It's hard to imagine an accurate portrayal of battle without profanity - it seems to go hand-in-hand with it... right and wrong seem to have little to do with it. So as a Christian artist, what do you do with the issue of hard language in film/stories when the scene sort of requires it? I mean, if you want the scene you're writing to ring true, wouldn't you have to include it? I assume it stems from the natural tension and fear of battle, as does smoking. Can you write a realistic scene without either?
As a Christian writer, I wrestle with it because the climax of my current novel takes place during the battle of Okinawa during WW2. It is a very solidly "Christian" book, wherein I try to paint a strong, vivid picture of what I feel Christian maturity is supposed to look like in action. Yet I don't know that I will be able to write a strong battle scene that isn't an insult to the men that fought and died there - not to mention the men who have fought and died since - if I don't try my best to show it for what it is. A task hard enough as it is, having never personally experienced it myself, relying solely on the memoirs of those that have...
If I include the language, it will lose the "Christian" label, and cannot be published as such. And yet, it is very strongly Christian, and so that will likely rule out more shall we say "worldly" avenues? Too "religious" for mainstream publishing, too edgy and offensive for Christian publishing. If I keep it squeaky clean, it still likely won't succeed in the Christian market, because some of the concepts I am illustrating fly directly in the face of widely-embraced orthodox doctrine. Yet, I'm certainly not chomping at the bit to write a stream of profanity. But its absence would be conspicuous and likely erosive to the integrity of the scene.
I know what I'll end up doing is just writing the scene with the grit and language that I feel is appropriate and accept the fact that it will likely never be published, unless I self-publish and sell it out of the trunk of my car at swap-meets. The question then becomes, is it even important to get it published? Why am I writing it in the first place? I think subconsciously, my inability to settle these issues in a satisfactory way is contributing greatly to my inability to finish the project.
I'm nearing the end of Best Served Cold, a novel that itself is fairly saturated with profanity. To me, it seems jarringly out of place in a fantasy novel. But the language aside, I'm enamored with the book less and less as it proceeds. I don't anticipate rattling off any SPOILERS at this point, but just in case you plan on reading this book soon, consider yourself warned - you may want to skip this paragraph (and the next) just in case. For the rest of you, I shall proceed. Abercrombie is unfortunately quite heavy-handed with his underlying message in the book. And several times he resorts to what I feel are tired tricks of the trade to keep the narrative moving. Gratuitously hideous wounds that very soon either heal up magically, or cease to be any sort of hindrance. The character that dies, and then turns up alive again. Repeated survival of certain-death situations. The often-predictable reversals of fortune, leaving the reader (me) feeling a little too obviously manipulated. The inconsistencies in certain characters that defy logic or explanation. I don't know... I mean, I certainly enjoy the author, and he is easy and enjoyable to read, but some of his choices puzzle me. I don't regret reading it - along with being a fun read, it is a study in story choice making, sort of an indirect display of do's and don't's... of what works and what doesn't quite work... and possibly of the pitfalls of being a newly big-named author, feeling the pressure of needing to get another book out, perhaps before it has had sufficient time to cook.
Abercrombie himself left a comment here in my blog back in February, when I was reading (and raving about) his First Law series - not sure how he ended up here, but it was so cool, it made my month. If he somehow finds his way here again and reads this, I hope he's not insulted. He is certainly a highly competent and enjoyable author... I just wonder what might have happened had he had the time to finish the manuscript and stick it in a drawer for 6 months untouched, while he worked on something else, and then take it out again after some distance was established so he could re-read it again with a fresh pair of eyes.
Maybe the results would have been exactly the same - perhaps I just don't "get it." Certainly a possibility - I don't claim to be an expert, just a random dude who loves to write & read.
OK, that's the end of SPOILER Threat.
Josh leaves on Wednesday, late morning. He says he had a great time, and I believe him. I trust he'll be able to come out again, maybe next year, and bring his wife this time. He's of the strong opinion that she would love it out here in San Diego as much as he did/does. We shall see. In the interim, we have an awesome, detailed plan of attack for the development of Rug Care Central. I tell you, it feels great. Trying to formulate a plan of attack myself when I have no idea what I'm doing to begin with is really an exercise in frustration. Being able to brainstorm with someone as bright, willing and able as Josh made all the difference in the world. Not only is the feeling of groping in the dark dissolved, but it's been replaced with confidence.
Sorry for the unorthodox, rambling post tonight. What can I say? It's just where my head's at at the moment. If I think of something different to add, I'll edit it in later tonight. If not, you'll hear from me tomorrow.
Until then, remember, though this be madness, yet there is method in it.