In my last post I talked slight crap about fan fiction. And after a few moment’s reflection I thought, “Well, shit, have I really even read much fan fiction?”
So I sought some out.
I did a Google search for Firefly fan fiction and came up with gold. That’s been my reading material for the past two days. And beside the Craiglist personal ad aspects of some of it (erotic pairings of Book & Wash, Mal & River, and Jane & everybody), I think I’m getting a better handle on what it is in fan fiction that grates on me. But before I tell you that, let me say that reading these stories has made me realize that the thing I don’t like about fan fiction is also the thing I need to learn how to do.
Back to what bothers me about it – it’s the immersion level of the work. And this is where I think it overlaps with a genre hang-up I have. I don’t enjoy being so deeply immersed in a story. Sure, I love when I’m immersed in the act of reading, but extreme moment to moment story immersion feels confining. I feel drowned by a writer that describes everything, every moment, every thought of a character’s life. Yeah, that’s hyperbole, but with some books it feels that way. It feels that the writer is holding my hand and directing what I can or can’t pay attention to while they monologue about the movie going on in their head.
But the thing is for fans of shows, fans that would want to write about their favorite show, and a good number of genre fans that level of immersion is what they’re after. They want to be deep in the paracosm on the moment to moment level. It’s not a bug, it’s a design feature. And that’s something I need to learn.
So today’s piece of writer enlightenment:
The thing you dislike in other books is the thing you need to learn for yours.
In most genre books I skip the sex scenes and the fight scenes.
All the fight scenes tell me is you the author have watched The Matrix (or MMA matches or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) enough times to describe it.
All the sex scenes tell me is you have an internet connection.
Having just finished a Western (Valdez is Coming* by Elmore Leonard; I recommend it) I saw it wasn’t these two things but the lead up and repercussions from them that made things interesting. It’s only that people are obvious and put pages of dueling MMA wizard anal elf sex in their books for some reason. If you love it, then hey, that’s great. But for me, it feels like I’m reading the fan fiction for the RPG supplement you wrote in novel form.
“Out there far away the rest of the world has gone modern. With whole new jumping generations. And holy hell is the only thing we have up to date here. To make the stars bark. When the west’s awake. Over the cliffs and roaring sea. Where the moon hides and weeps at night.
Here’s a superstition I’d never heard of before:
During my recent trip to the USA my mom came back from church with a handful of hay she’d swiped from the nativity display in the chapel. She’d heard from someone that keeping a bit of the hay in your wallet/purse would bring you good luck all year. So she doled out bits to my dad, brother, and me – and I dutifully tucked it into my wallet where it has dried out and become flaky brown powder.
Like I said, I’d never heard of this. Ichalked it up to the general undocumented world of spells and superstitions that exist in our world. Like how putting a blank check in a plastic bag and leaving it out on the night of the new moon will make an unexpected monetary wind fall come your way. (A chain-smoking witch told me that one on the day we got our holiday bonuses back in 2004. She had cast the spell a few days before.)
Has anyone else heard of this? All my attempts to Google it have failed, and I’m curious if it’s a widespread superstition. Maybe it’s just an iteration of the general belief that church things bring good luck.
Some background for you all: the program that employs me is called EPIK. It’s a government agency overseen by the Department of Education. It was formed in 1995 and places NETs in public schools. Overall I suspect it’s a pretty expensive program to run. We’re paid quite well and receive other benefits like having our rent paid for along with receiving a decent renewal bonus. There are other programs, TALK and Fullbright Fellowships, that place NETs in Korea. I just know a lot less about them. Like most education programs EPIK is influenced by politics.
Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, has decided to focus less on English education and has done away with NET teachers in middle and high schools. This began in Seoul a year or so back, but has now been implemented everywhere. I teach elementary school, and figure I’m safe for a while yet.
Anyway, all this has got me thinking about English education in South Korea, and in particular the NETs role in it all. We’re a phenomenally underutilized resource. But at the same time I have no idea if it would be possible to measure our effectiveness.
First off, throw out whatever image you have of teaching English. Much of what I do is what I call Vocational English. Phrase book stuff. And what my students are tested on is their proficiency using these phrases. Understanding these phrases or being able to use them fluently are less important than being able to parrot the “correct” answers back. If I have a student that approaches an organic fluency or proficiency that’s great, yay for me. But that can’t be my goal. Nuance, organic fluency? If I dwell on those things, my students fail their tests.
Not that they want to pass them.
Other schools may be different, but 90% of my students could care less about learning English.
I teach in the old part of an industrial city in the poorest and most conservative province in South Korea. My students come from working class homes. Some are being raised by a single parent or their grandparents (or in one case I know of by an older sibling).
For a time now Korea has made English a benchmark in society. And what it’s spawned is an industry of parasites and resentment. Parasites in the form of testing agencies and pointless certifications (I have no respect for TOEIC exams). Resentment in what I see every day in my students, which I have to suspect is resentment they pick up from the society around them.
By having me or any other NET there, we’re likely increasing our student’s resistance to learning a foreign language. For one, there’s no payoff for my students. At best it’ll arrive 12 years or so down the line when/if they apply to college. They’re certainly not going to use English outside of school. Okay, maybe when they play video games, but again that’s phrase book “warrior needs food” parroting. Two, they’re bombarded with the general anti-foreigner mindset of their culture. To learn English would get them singled out as disloyal and unKorean.
The kid that’s really into English and dreams all the time about leaving Korea is a similar joke set-up to that kid in Ohio that always talked about going to LA or New York and making it big after high school. So why learn it, if it’ll single you out from your peers? And that’s not something Korean culture wires people to do easily, go against group consensus.
Social mobility? Errr, maybe. But the way the gap is growing between the haves and have-nots here is stunning, and I doubt the haves want to share.
Someone once said to me it was to make sure Korea got the jobs that outsourced to India, instead of those that get outsourced to China. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but Korea has no problem stuffing its own people in horrible factories for others benefit. Sure, the slogan is to make Korea a global player – but it’s an odd vision they have of global, when everything outside the country is depicted as broken, dirty, and/or immoral.
I suspect every Korean born after 1990 likely has English anxiety, all because it’s been forced upon them.
“Here’s another failure for you to dwell on, Sunmin! Only it’s English, and that’s okay, you can make fun of that.”
All I’m doing, I fear, is inoculating my students against English.
What’s more important to you?
My wife’s a cartoonist and she’s been creating a comic for the past 6 months. In that time she’s built up something of a fan base.* One thing she’s noticed is that her fans are less fans of her comic as a whole than fans of this or that character. It got us talking about what makes us like certain books. Whether it’s the genre/series itself, the character, or the writer.
Put another way, when you read a Sherlock Holmes mystery, what’s more important, the mystery or Sherlock Holmes? What about a Philip K. Dick novel?
There’s no right or wrong to this. I can think of two somewhat similar writers whose books I enjoy, Liz Hand and Kameron Hurley, both of whom write grim, violent stories. But I read Hurley’s Bel Dame series, for the series itself, then the characters, while the writer remains in the background. In the case of Liz Hand’s recent mystery novels I’m reading them more to see how this particular writer, Liz Hand, uses the mystery genre, yet while being less attracted to her messed-up “detective” character, Cass Neary.
And I don’t think it’s something you can maximize. Like if you blend all three effectively then you will write a blockbuster. But I wonder whether other folks have considered this. What do you think?
Do you read by genre, character, or writer?**
* When a complete stranger draws a picture of a character you’ve created, I’ll say you have developed a fandom.
** And yes, this questions skews towards popular genres. Though maybe not.