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.

15 comments:

Claudette said...

i get the first comment! hey, do i get points for that? coz that would be really cool. not as cool as the feeling i have mpw that you and josh got to meet and have a great time together, though. i will read your book, wags, and i won't even complain about the language. i read Koontz after all. thanks for showing josh such a good time. i can read him like a book (he is my eyeball, after all) and what i see in his face and eyes is pure enjoyment. did you have a good time, also? i hope so. take care, buddy. and give me some points!

Bobinho said...

the title and the last sentence are from Hamlet...

uuu.. 2 for 1 :D

havah said...

Dave, don't sweat the profanity issue too much. My boyfriend made it through the start of the war in Baghdad without using profanity...I'm sure some of your characters can too.

Abbie said...

Hey Dave... yeah, I know how it is generally "accepted" if someone swears because they are in battle, but, from a christian standpoint, I still don't think it is that acceptable... but I don't want to knock my friends who have been in battle and have been under that heat, so I see where your dilemma comes from... Maybe you should just ask Jesus what he'd say if he were in a battle situation... or, when he was angry in the temple, what was going through his mind... I mean, he did break out a whip and all, so he was pretty in to the moment...but still, that is different than bombs bursting all around you...
Sorry for the rambling, I guess I don't have any better answer than the one you posted lol :P
Glad you had a good day...

David Wagner said...

Abbie: I guess the problem is, these soldiers in the Okinawa battle are just regular dudes - some 18, 19, 20... not even necessarily Christians. James is, but the rest are just determined, scared guys trying to get a job done and stay alive, thousands of miles from home. Marines, in other words. If I try and write them all as if they were each Jesus, then I might as well be writing a straight-up fantasy novel. It'snot even an issue of how I think I might behave if I were there - I'm trying to capture a moment in history as accurately as possible, and drop my character in the middle of it. I doubt seriously that there was even one soldier among the thousands that fought and died in the death-soaked mud that was offended by the occasional F-bomb of his comrades. Pottymouths were likely the last things on anyone's minds, either side. Probably not many WWJD bracelets to be seen...

Ah, what to do, what to do... I could just write a completely different climax, but that would be the cowards route. Beside, I want to make Dave-O a character in the climax...

Krista said...

Well, I've seen this done before but I don't have a quote right in front of me, but maybe instead of using the actual curse word you could say he "cursed" or "he mumble under his breath a few obscene words" or something like that...I'm no writer LOL! Anyway, I'm not sure if you're even allowed to do that in a Christian book? It’s just a thought.

Also, since you are a man of religion and not into profanity much I think you would really be intrigued by Brandon Sanderson's novels.(I'd suggest starting off with his Mistborn Series.) Maybe it might even help with your dilemma, who knows?

Krista said...

Or maybe Sanderson's Elantris...LOL! I can't decide they’re all really great! He focuses a lot with different religions in all of his books...

David Wagner said...

10 points for Bob, and 10 random points for Claudette, because she asked!

Krista: Sanderson is definitely on my "read soon" list now...

Paula Titus said...

Your descriptive writing in the first few paragraphs about Apocalypse Now is superb. Really drops the reader into the scene. It not only sums up Vietnam, but life. One minute we're dancing around in our purple fog, and the next - after the bomb drops, everything that was normal seems a million miles away.

My two cents about your profanity dilemma - let your writing be about the writing, not about you. Then you'll know what to do.

Avari said...

ok. I love love love love the pic at the top. Awesome. The sky, ahhh, the forever green, ahhh, the fog, ahhh. And that little house just seems to fit right in claiming the vast wideness as its own.

The girl in that cover has sweet clothes. You should make that kind of clothing along with your T-shirts. You could call it your Battle line of clothing. And perhaps make some swords to come with it. Then, you will truly be rich, and I, will truly be happy.

Ahh, cussing. Hmmm, well, you could ask Jesus if it is okay for you to write these words. Or perhaps he can give you some words that are harsh and set the mood without taking it too far. Some people are really good at doing that. Or, maybe it is ok if the "bad" or "unsaved" ones are saying it but not the Christian, I mean there are people like that in real life. But then, I really think cussing ruins great books. I mean I just hate reading it. I guess you need to just map it all out and it's between you and God because, it's whatever He wants. Personally I would try my hardest to do without but if becomes necessary, then that between you and the man.
Did I go on long enough? HAHA. Power to you Dave! I know you can do it!

Rebekah said...

Krista: My brother got me started on the Mistborn series and I really enjoyed the first. It was like a sign of relief, "Finally, a satisfactory book."

But I don't know if it's a Dave book. I think of GRRM when I think of 'Dave books' and this one seems like just a fun read.

Dunno, guess we will find out! Glad there is another um, Mistborn-er out there. :P

Krista said...

Rebekah: Yay! Another Mistborn Fan!
I don't know Dave too well, so you could be right, but if I can get any and all people to read one of Sanderson's books I will!..LOL! Sanderson is one of MY all time favorite! I've read all of his work and won't stop there...

Mostly though I was going off the fact that Dave's not into Profanity which Sanderson has Never used, and also his out look on religion - I could quote him here, but I'll just leave the link: Question: What are your religious leangings, and how does this effect your writing?

http://www.brandonsanderson.com/faq/section/1/Questions-About-Brandon#

havah said...

Just a thought: While I know a lot of non-Christians (and Christians) use profanity, and war is a high-stress situation, that doesn't mean that all non-Christians use profanity in high-stress situations. You get my drift?

Anyway...I'm going to go do something constructive now...like move furniture. :-/

Abbie said...

dave... i like what Krista said about not actually writing the words but implying that they said it... I think Frank Peretti does that, and you know his writing is strongly christian, yet there are still unchristian characters mingled about.
You'll know what to do, I'm sure, and I would love to read about a Dave-O type character for sure, joker tats and all :D

cmartin8 said...

First and last lines are Hamlet right?