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  • Jeff Marker


    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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Millennium Trilogy

lisbeth

I’ve been re/reading Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of Millennium novels and re-watching the Swedish film adaptations as part of research for an academic paper. I had read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor/Men Who Hate Women) but this is my first time reading the other two novels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes/The Air Castle That Was Blown Up). I’m a handful of chapters from finishing the third book and feel like sharing some random thoughts, just because.

These novels are great, but Larsson needed a ruthless editor and the time to pare down some elements. Sadly, Larsson passed away prior to publication of the novels. There may not have been the opportunity to do the usual editorial process. But there are entire subplots that do not progress the narrative. For instance, The Girl Who Played With Fire begins with Lisbeth Salander vacationing in Grenada. She has an affair with a local in his late teens. She encounters a couple from the U.S. in which the husband abuses the wife. She ventures out into a hurricane to rescue her young lover and ends up saving the wife and killing the husband. These events never come to bear in the remainder of the novel. And with only several chapters left in the final installment, it still hasn’t come into play and would be unnecessary if it did. Many passages and narrative strains along the way are redundant, too. It’s almost routine for the reader to be already aware of the perpetrator of a crime or a criminal’s identity, only for Larsson to give us a procedural account of one investigator or another trying to solve this crime. He shifts from one character’s perspective to another and repeats exposition we already know. The trilogy is brilliant in its creation of a vast diegesis populated by interesting characters. That sort of world-building is usually found in fantasy or science fiction narratives, not a realistic crime series with a social conscience. All of that could have been accomplished with at least 100 fewer pages in each novel.

Back when I first encountered The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I thought it was a great title. At this point, though, I greatly dislike the English-language titles of the first and third novels, neither of which is a direct translation of the original Swedish. Salander is the true protagonist of only the second novel. The first is primarily about Mikael Blomkvist’s investigation of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, and the third is an ensemble. The narrative shifts among Blomkvist, Erika Berger, investigators Jan Bublanski and Sonja Modig, Monica Figuerola, a whole network of criminals, and Salander. The English titles position Salander as the character that drives the narrative, and she simply isn’t for the great majority of the narrative.

It’s also part of a trend of characterization that somewhat undermines the feminism Larsson infused into the novels. Salander is “the girl” rather than a woman. Every male character who encounters Salander is fascinated by her. They dwell on her appearance and attempt to solve the mystery of her character. There are copious, detailed descriptions of Salander’s body. It’s a fine line between representing Salander as the object of the male characters’ gaze in order to interrogate that gaze versus being guilty of indulging in the male gaze. Unfortunately, Larsson steps over that line in ways. His feminism ultimately seems naïve and facile, although undoubtedly well-intentioned and valuable in a mainstream crime series.

bergerSpeaking of Berger, an entire feature film could be adapted from her subplot. I’d watch it, and it could be pointedly socially relevant. I am quite certain what she endures is a mere dramatic exaggeration of what many women in leadership positions deal with, and I’d bet harassment of exactly this kind is more common than most think. Oh, and if such a film were made, it would be a crime NOT to cast Lena Endre, who played Berger in the Swedish film adaptations, in the lead. She is the perfect Erika Berger, and I now realize how much her character was reduced in the adaptation process. What a shame. Both Endre and Berger deserved more.

Finally, does anyone else think Donald Trump is a mixture of Martin Vanger and Hans-Erik Wennerström? 😉 Sorry to throw in a political comment. We’ve been mired in the presidential campaign for months now, and that comparison kept occurring to me.

Despite any criticism I might have, I’m still a big fan of Larsson’s Millennium novels. I’m quite certain this won’t be the last time I read them.

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If I only had the noive

The latest draft is done, and it’s time to call the publisher for a follow up.  It has taken me two weeks to build up the courage to call – and there’s a chance I might still chicken out.  Why is this so utterly terrifying?

For a while, I hesitated to call because I didn’t want to seem pushy and therefore doom my chances of publication.  A very experienced author and friend, though, assures me that the accepted period of time between submitting and following up is about three months (it’s a bit like deciding when to call that pretty girl who gave you her number last night).  In my case, three months and then some have now passed.  Besides, I’ve reached a point where I’d rather err on the side of being too aggressive than passive.  So it should be completely acceptable for me to make a polite and enthusiastic phone call asking if we could discuss my project.

However, I’m finding the fear of rejection just terrible.  And I’ve been rejected professionally before.  In academics, it’s just a part of life.  You apply for scores if not hundreds of jobs, and you might get two or three interviews.  Then odds are, you won’t get any of those jobs.  You send out an article to a journal, of course sending it first to the most respected journal in your field, only to receive a rejection letter three months later.  Then you submit the article to a second-tier journal, often get the same rejection letter simply because the journal is inundated with submissions.  I’m a big boy and have learned to cope with most types of rejection I encounter in my career.

But creative work is completely different.  I’ve worked on this book, either writing or revising, for just about a year.  I started this novel and conceived of the series as something that would be fun for me to write and hopefully for others to read.  It was meant to be fun, first and foremost.  Yet now I find myself hugely invested in it.  Invested in my time, sure, but much more invested in the characters and story.  What was planned as an escape from all that academic work I mentioned (which I am neglecting as I write this, by the way), has become a passion.

Months ago when the publisher asked for the complete manuscript – which is like making the first cut – my hopes were sky high.  Now they are a phone call away from being dashed.

Yes, I know that’s the fear talking.  Because the more optimistic, more faithful side of me is saying, those hopes are a phone call away from being fulfilled, or at least buoyed.  We have to remember, after all, that the purpose of the call is to keep the project alive.  Publishers contact you if they’re going to give a definite yes.  Nothing will be settled or finalized today, unless it’s a final “no.”  I’m hoping merely to hear that it’s still a possibility, and maybe get my manuscript closer to the top of the editor’s stack.

Real courage, I know, means making the call despite the possibility of rejection.  I might find myself back at square one, but at least I’ll know exactly where I am.  It’ll take all my own optimism, probably a call to my wife, and definitely a prayer in order to summon up that courage.

Finished with draft #3! (or 4?)

The other day, I announced a goal of finishing the latest draft of First Boy on the Moon.  And I did!  This of course feels great, and I’m certain the novel is much better now.  Especially the ending, which was far too anticlimactic.  I’ve already sent it to publishers and agents, but ironically, only now do I think it’s strong enough to share with friends and family.

But here’s the reality: I know it’s still not in final form.  For one thing, I’ve given it to my wife so she can critique it.  She’s my most enthusiastic supporter and I respect her opinion, so she became my personal editor when she married me.  (She knew what she was getting into and still said yes!)  She has already pointed out a flaw in chapter one.  It’s only a one-sentence fix, but I’m sure it’s only the beginning. 

And even if she had told me it’s perfect, I am an obsessive reviser.  Can’t help it.  I will certainly change at least several sentences the next time I read it. 

And finally, any editor who chooses to publish it will no doubt ask me for revisions–maybe minor but possibly major.  I’m told they almost always do.  By the way, if some editor did ask for revisions prior to publishing it, I would be all too happy to do it.  I’d stick up for myself and my work if they asked me to change the main characters or major story actions in some significant way, but I’m no divo, either.  I’m trying to write something that will entertain, and if someone who has more experience tells me I need to make changes, I won’t let pride get in the way.  As I tell my screenwriting students over and over, it’s not about your feelings or your ego, it’s about the work.

But this is the reality of getting published and, really, of producing any piece of writing of which you feel truly proud.  It’s not the romantic, John Keats listening to the nightingale, divine inspiration phenomenon I thought it was when I was younger.  It’s messy and solitary.  Frustrating and slow.  It raises hopes then dashes them.

And I love it more each time I sit down to write something.

Today’s Goal

I have exactly one new chapter to write, and about four to go back and revise after adding the new chapter.  Today’s goal is to write the last new chapter.

I wish I were the kind of writer who knocks out something eloquent in the first draft.  (Do these people really exist?)  But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not.  I am absolutely an example of the writing motto, “The writing is in the revision.”  My first drafts are clunky and ugly but express the primary action of the story.  And that’s enough for me. 

Except, the writing process for me has come to resemble one of my former, not too glamorous occupations – mowing lawns.  When I (hopefully) finish that chapter today, I’ll feel good about it.  Then I’ll look at it sometime later, and I’ll realize the damned thing is actually weedy and unkempt.  Then it’ll be time to go over it again…

Still, I remind myself of one of my other favorite statements on writing, which was spoken by the very wise Dr. Michelle Ballif: “I hate writing, but I love to have written.”  I suspect anyone who says they love the writing process is lying.  We keep subjecting ourselves to it only if we have, in the past, experienced the thrill of walking away from a finished piece feeling like we’ve expressed something of which we didn’t know we were capable.  And we want that feeling again.  And again and again.

Time to mow the lawn…

Back in the saddle & other metaphors

I’ve been neglecting this blog for too long, darn it!  But I have good reasons…

Over the past year, I’ve been able to complete a full draft of a young adult science fiction novel titled First Boy on the Moon (echo echo echo…).  It’s my first novel – the first time, if I’m being honest, that I have set my sights on a long term project and maintained the stamina of effort and belief to finish it.  I’m now in that emotionally wrenching stage so many other aspiring authors have reached – trying to sell it.  I’ve sent queries to many, many publishers, one of whom asked for a complete manuscript.  This is all very encouraging, and even if my efforts to publish the book through traditional means don’t pan out, it’s an accomplishment just to be considered.  At least, that’s what I will repeat to myself endlessly until the sting of disappointment wears off.

Meanwhile, I realized not long ago that I sent out the queries and manuscript too soon.  The novel wasn’t as good as it could have been.  So I’m nearly done with a revised draft – revised rather radically in fact.  As soon as I feel good about this draft, it’ll be time to call those publishers from whom I haven’t heard in months.  All of this happens far too slowly for an impatient person like me.

I’ll update as I learn anything.  Meanwhile, I’ll be posting movie reviews and things related to my more academic pursuits.  That is, after all, my career.  All best!

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