Archive for February, 2012


Over on a mailing list I’m on, there’s been a discussion about how wrong the movies and TV often are about guns (e.g. how easy it is to hit a target while jumping, running, etc.), which led to a discussion of how wrong fiction often is about other things, like horses and computers.

I’ve learned that the more you know about anything (computers, horses, guns, medicine), the more you realize that fiction and the popular press get them completely wrong. It’s really not a good idea to believe anything you read.

When writing popular fiction, you will never be able to satisfy 100% of your readers with the accuracy of your portrayals (the TV show ER had several doctors on staff as technical advisers, and they often disagreed even with each other), so there’s no point in researching too much or worrying too much about getting it 100% right. Furthermore, even completely accurate facts, backed up with research and personal experience, may bounce the reader out of the story if they conflict too much with the reader’s expectations. But if you rely only on what you remember from reading fiction, not only will your facts be wrong but the story will be lazy, flabby, and unsurprising.

It’s a balancing act. The trick is to do just enough research that you can surprise your readers (the average reader) with unexpected details that make the work feel fresh and realistic.

Often the only way to get to that point is to do too much research and then, reluctantly, leave a lot of the really cool stuff out.

Potlatch and Clarion West

I have received my programming schedule for Potlatch (February 24-26 in Seattle):

Saturday 10:00 AM: Walter Miller Reading
Saturday 4:00 PM: The Author as Reader
Sunday 1:00 PM: E-Publishing Panel

The complete Potlatch program is available online.

I will also be leading a section of the Writers’ Workshop on Friday afternoon (sign-ups for which are already closed). Potlatch is one of my favorite small conventions and I’m looking forward to this year’s edition with great eagertudinosity.

On a related note: as you may know, Potlatch is closely associated with the Clarion West writers’ workshop, of which I am a proud alumnus and supporter. Applications for this year’s workshop, with seven fabulous instructors including Mary Rosenblum, George R. R. Martin, and Chuck Palahniuk, are now open, but the deadline is March 1. Apply now!

Portland International Film Festival, part 1

Word count: 24965 | Since last entry: 13070

Our films in this year’s Portland International Film Festival will be crammed into just a few days due to lots of travel in February. We’re seeing one or two films a day for a week, and that’s it.

So far we have seen…

Target (Russia) reminded me a lot of Kubrick, especially A Clockwork Orange. Stately in its pace, full of intriguing ideas, with gorgeous cinematography and subtle but effective touches to convey the near-future Russia of 2020, it’s beautifully made. But it drove us out of the theatre with its relentless violence, appalling misogyny, numerous scenes of ugly joyless sex, and complete lack of any admirable qualities in its characters. It takes a lot to make me walk out of a movie, but this film managed it. this review is pretty much the one I would write if I wanted to spend any more time thinking about this film, which I don’t.

A Cat in Paris (France) was a delight. An animated film with a colorful, energetic visual style that reminded me of Lynda Barry, it was full of adventure, humor, and fun. Tightly plotted, with serious tension, great moments of humor, and some genuine human emotion, this film works at multiple levels. The villain manages to be ludicrous and seriously threatening at the same time, there are some delightfully unexpected visual tricks, and the score is fabulous. Also, the cat (although smarter than the average cat) is a cat, and manages to be the film’s central character without talking, fetching things (other than a dead lizard), or doing anything else impossible for a cat in the real world. Highly recommended for adults and kids.

Hello! How Are You? (Romania), an Eastern European You’ve Got Mail!, was a bit of a mixed bag. A romantic comedy about a long-married couple who each begin an online flirtation with a stranger, the best thing about this film is the subsidiary characters, especially their horndog son whose self-aggrandizing audio diary provides unconscious insight into the lives of his parents. This is a movie about sex and romance, and how sometimes getting what you thought you wanted is the worst thing that can happen. And, although I describe it as a romantic comedy and I laughed out loud on many occasions, the overall impression I came away with is sweetly sad. A reminder, as many romantic comedies are, of how important it is to communicate with one’s partner.