Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tip the Top Hat

Last night, after I finished my devotions to the Saint, I climbed up the library ladder and took down from the dusty top shelf another handful of dirty paperbacks.

Books about "The Toff," by John Creasy.
Obviously a step-son of the Saint.

Printed in something called 10 point Baskerville and produced by Corgi Books.

Fitting. That anticlimax. He's an imitation.

The frontis reads "He's cool...he's rich...he's debonair...He has friends in Mayfair -
and friends in the Bow...the Hon.Richard Rollison -alias- The Toff."

Remember the Saint had this little stick figure with a halo?
So does The Toff.
A top hat.

The faithful retainer - check.
The friend/enemy at the Yard - check.
Bee-utiful women - check.
And so on.
All the necessary elements present and accounted for.
Except the humor.
Richard is - to put it plainly - a dick.

Creasy cashed in on a popular trend - a public hunger for an iconic figure that straddled the law, bashed the bad guys without compunction while indulging in the wine, women, and fine dining sort of thing. And cool clothes.

Much like Chick Lit.
According to an editor mentioned yesterday by Agent Kirsten, the market for Chick Lit is "in the toilet."
Tossed like yesterday's wad of gum.
Market's been saturated, readers may have moved on, too much mediocrity. That's moaning you hear.
Which reminds me - can you list cliches that make you want to mincemeat - with malice and without the slightest taint or touch of civilized restraint - a piece of writing?
When I see "tip of the iceberg," just as an example, I really want to rend, maim and mangle.


R.J. Baker said...

Interesting how today's hard candy hits the toilet tomorrow.

My point all along. Write what you like to the best of your ability, hell - better, and let the market descide.

Bernita said...

This trend shift/market correction will be especially hard on those writers for whom the fashion suited their particular voice and style, R.J.
Probably publishers will still buy Pink, but the bar has been raised.

Savannah Jordan said...

When I worked as an editor, I would circular-file recycle any submission that had the phrase "next best seller" written on it. Even if it was. That verbal swagger irritated me.

"It" is only 'it' for so long. I look for a good story, with solid writing.

Bernita said...

"verbal swagger'....neat phrase, Savannah.
I always wonder if that claim is caused by simple writerly conceit or just the slavish adoption of promo, hyper-marketing advice from some wing-nut "expert."

Rick said...

The same thing happened to horror a few years ago. There'd been a boom, a lot of really lame stuff got into print, readers were turned off, and the horror market tanked.

Generally I agree with RJ's point, but yeah it is tough for authors whose natural strength is in a genre that is swirling down the porcelein bowl. Lucky for me I'm not a horror writer (nor, no surprise, chicklit).

I can't think of particular cliche expressions that turn me off (I probably would if I read one), but cliche elements in SF/F, certainly.

Elves - I'm genocidal about the pointy-eared, bad-poetry-spotting bastards. Yeah, the Elder Days are over, so sail into the damn West already and out of our hair.

On the SF side, nanotech, "beanstalks," and the damn Singularity. They're all so 2000. Though truth to be told I have a crisis about SF in general. Google and Wikipedia are way cool, but on the whole The Future has been one big bust. Which is why I find myself hanging out in a fake 16th century!

Rick said...

That's supposed to be bad-poetry-spouting bastards!

Bernita said...

I must confess I like elves - partly because of the mythological link - but I am very, very tired, like you, of the whole fin de seicle treatment.

Rick said...

At risk of dreaded topic veer, now that I've opined on them, just what are Elves, anyway?

The High sort seem like mythologized Celts - once a lot more of them, receding into the West, excessively prone to break into song. But aren't there also the little Cornish piskie sort that make mischief and that you never quite see except on your fourth mug of Olde Malt (or, here in California, your fourth bowl of pipe-weed)?

I liked the Elves in The Hobbit a good deal more than the sigh-so-noble ones in LOTR.

Bernita said...

There's an entire hierarchy of half-world beings ranging from the malevolent to the capriciously naughty to the beneficient to the noble -but-with-non-human-priorities, Rick, drawn from our legends.
I like Kay's elves and Elizabeth Moon's elves, but the most of the tales base on the foundation of fairyland dying, the conclusion of fading power, bright glory gone, melancholy and loss of magic.
Echos in the wind. Damned depressing in some ways.

Back to trends.
Have you, with your magic eye/crystal ball/ mirror pond perceived any replacement trend, fortune's next favorite?

Sela Carsen said...

So? Orlando Bloom was, like, sooo hot with the ears and the braids! LOL!

Bernita said...

That's a double whammy, Sela. Ten points.

Rick said...

Sela reinforces something I've already gathered - Orlando Bloom gave Elves a whole new lease on life, at any rate with women. ;) It's not like I have to avert my eyes from either Liv Tyler or Cate Blanchett, but somehow not the same.

Trends, hmmmm. Fantasy continues to broaden its scope, but I don't have any right-off take on what the Next Hot Thing is.

What determines whether a book triggers a whole genre boom? LOTR pretty much created genre fantasy, and I assume some book or handful of books created chick lit and the horror boom - in the latter case, presumably the collected works of Stephen King, with some help on the side from Anne Rice.

But while agents and editors doubtless saw a truckload of Harry Potter knockoffs, it isn't like English boarding-school fantasies have become an identifiable subgenre. I also somehow doubt that The Vermeer Cryptogram or The Tintoretto Cypher will be showing up in bookstores. For which we can likely be thankful!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Bernita...thank you for mentioning Pink (the title of my friend's new book) The death of the Chick Lit market has been exagerated...There will always be young girls who want to read that genre. I'n Christian publishing it is actually a growing market, so if secular markets are dropping off, you may find 'conversions' in writers of the genre.

As for cliches I used to be very guilty of writing that way until it was brought to my attention. Now I only use them when necessary in dialogue.

When I read them in other writer's work or in older books, they seem to stick out like sore thumbs...funny how our tastes change! LOL

Bernita said...

Like you,I think it is more of a market correction than a morgue, Bonnie.
The fascinating thing about some cliches is that they weren't when they first appeared - another case of over-exposure - and I enjoy it when a dead metaphor comes back to life.

Erik Ivan James said...

Anybody think the new "hot" market may have just been set by Broke Back Mountain (or whatever the name of that movie is)?

kitty said...

Hey, Bernita! Just stopped by to say thanks for noticing my question about a market for stories. Neat blog you've got here :)

Bernita said...

Interesting guestion, Erik.
Is it basically a western?
(Me duhh)
A best-selling movie might either boost a stable market or refurbish a sagging one.
Examples, anyone?

Thank you, Kitty.
Your icon always delights me.

Erik Ivan James said...

Haven't seen the movie, don't intend to see the movie, so don't know (daaah).

Tsavo Leone said...

Not so much a cliche within the context of storytelling or genre, but (and this is equally true of music and film) I always find the phrase "The Next (insert author/band/film's name)" somewhat insultingm both to the potential audience and the auhor is question: what's wrong with the 'old' Stephen King/Minette Walters/William Gibson etc. that we have to have an updated version.

Rick said...

"Brokeback Mountain" isn't in my viewing plans either, but the media hype made the basic story line pretty clear! It might influence films more than books, now that Hollywood knows that women (mostly) will turn out in droves to see a three-hankie love story with two presumably hunky guys. OTOH, this may have been just a one-trick pony.

Successful movies revitalizing a book genre? Good question. Epic fantasy didn't need revitalizing, so the Jackson LOTR films aren't a factor here. The Star Wars films may have helped to revitalize space opera (quite apart from the media tie-in books), after the New Wave era in SF. I've never heard any mention of that, though.

A few years ago I was working on an SF novel, Silk Road, that was a bit scarily similar to Firefly/Serenity. (Interstellar tramp freighter, and a nightclub singer of slightly doubtful virtue.) I shelved it for unrelated reasons, but if I go back to it, I might be better off because Firefly/Serenity weren't hits. If they had been, my book would just look like a knockoff. As it is, their favorable reception in SF fandom just shows that there's a market for that sort of thing.

Bernita said...

That irks, doesn't it?
Why not "Another" which gives the sense of comparison without the displacement?
Because "another" has two syllables and three more letters and doesn't give the same sense of the newest, latest, hyper-bestest,step-right-up-ladyees and gentl'men, I guess.
I have seen "another" used when a singer or band was climbing the slope but never when s/he/they were close to the top.

Bernita said...

Strategic thinking, Rick.
Myself, I'm wondering about a certain trend towards older heroines.

Tsavo Leone said...

Grumpy/taciturn dwarves.

Harry Potter-a-likes.

Animals that speak English.

Aliens that speak English.

John McClane syndrome ("... the same s**t can't happen to the same guy twice..."). Very similar to Jack Bauer syndrome.

Stereotypical characters playing 'against type' for no reason (other tan the author thought it would be 'fun'/'interesting'/etc.).

Bernita said...

Your last, Tsavo.
Could you expand on that?
Wondering if I may be guilty of it.

Erik Ivan James said...

Rick: so if women (mostly) will turn out in droves to see such a movie, would't they also buy "same-theme" books in droves?

Rick said...

Bernita - Older heroines may be looking viable. I don't know anything about romance and para-romance fiction, but in films there are gals like Rene Russo playing sexy/glam roles in their 40s - something you never used to see.

You're right about "another," but it is after all a marketing tool - when a band (or writer) is near the top, they don't need the comparison.

Tsavo - I would cut some slack to aliens speaking English - it makes the dialogue a whole lot easier to write. Less justified in a book than a film, though, since in a book you can spend more time with the fumbling attempts to establish communication.

Bernita said...

Ticklish question, Erik, about cause and effect - chicken and egg - if a hit movie jump-starts interest in a different medium.
Westerns have always been popular, have they not?...whether Harlequin romances or Zane Grey/Louis l"Amour.
I like to think of The 13th Warrior as a Beowulf. fanfic.

Carla said...

Re the discussion on Elves, Terry Pratchett's 'Lords and Ladies' is a witty take on the conventions. I was reading it recently looking for something else.

Re the rest of the discussion, no, there are plenty of things I don't much like, but nothing that would provoke instant, irredeemable detestation. Sorry.

downfall said...

Nice.Just this.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Downfall, in the U.A.E.

Rick said...

Apparently traditional Westerns are hurting as a genre. (I started to say "straight" Westerns, but the pun is misleading.) See:

The blogger has a pretty grumpy take on the subject - you'll have to go back a couple of weeks to where he discusses it - but I have no reason to doubt him on the basic facts. Apparently the genre Western market has just about collapsed in the last 10-15 years.

Could that make it due for a revival among readers who no longer even have much preconception of what a Western is? I don't know, but surely an awful lot of SF/F is in some sense displaced Westerns.

"Beowulf fanfic" - love it!

Tsavo Leone said...

Bernita; nope, no slight in your direction. Difficult to put into (written) words, but how about: A Wood Elf (ha!) being portrayed as a complete and utter b**tard without any justification.

That's the most obvious example I can come up with off the top of my head. I've come across it once or twice in the past and it annoys me somewhat (shock tactics: "but vampires don't act like that!").

It's almost as bad as having a stereotype as a principal character. Bet we won't be seeing too many raving Islamic Fundamentalists in the near future... or have I just jinxed us all? Likewise the 'serial killer' of the week which Alex Cross seems to keep finding himself dealing with...

Rick; well, providing the aliens have been monitoring Earth I've no problem with them speaking English (though they might have been tuned in to Latin America which would make it so much more fun... "Ola cabrone!" "What did that little green man just say Harold?" "I've absolutely no idea Ethel!"). It's those pesky aliens in outer space we keep meeting who speak our language. Isn't it about time we learned to speak their language? That being said, Douglas Adams did rip on that issue with the Babel Fish, so...
But, from a literary perspective I s'pose a little leeway has to be given (it's all those blasted italics that everyone hates so much!)

Bernita said...

I think I get what you're saying, Tsavo.
And I can assure you that my Islamic fundamentalist acts like the member of les Assassins that he is.

Rick said...

Erik - missed this last pass-through: would't they also buy "same-theme" books in droves?

My first thought was that movies are different, because the gals get to see (and drool over) the two hunky guys. But scratch that, because when we read a book the characters can be as good-looking as we want them to be, unless the author says otherwise (and maybe even then).

So, maybe! Which also raises the interesting question of whether romance fiction about gay men, written for a primarily female readership, would end up having a different sensibility from gay fiction intended for a gay (male) readership.

Segue to an interesting observation I read a few weeks ago. The romance market is about ten times larger than the SF/F market, and now includes significant subgenres of futuristic and fantasy romances. So it's possible that more SF/F is now being sold from the romance aisles than from the SF/F aisle.

Tsavo - since nearly all SF space travellers are English-speakers, and mostly Americans, they're naturally as hopelessly monolingual as their early-21st-century counterparts. Fat chance of them learning the aliens' language!

Tsavo and Bernita - portrayal of Muslims (or para-Muslims) in hist-fic and historical fantasy has gotten more complicated, hasn't it? Now I have to wonder what contemporary editorializing people might read into my 16th c. characters' attitudes toward "Monites."