Thursday, December 20, 2012

Double Dose

Twofer this week, as I discuss trivial pursuits and make pithy observations.

Walk on the Wild Side

I recently caught the tail end—yes, pun intended—of Born Free on Turner Classic Movies. As I watched the Adamsons struggle to teach Elsa the lioness how to catch game in the wild, I couldn’t help comparing her to the neighbors’ cat, which slipped out the door and went feral in a matter of weeks without any help from anybody. On the one hand, you’ve got a lion that’s only one generation off the veldt and can’t feed itself without help. On the other, here’s a house cat, the product of centuries of domestication, that goes wild at the drop of a hat, or the opening of a front door. He’s a little skinnier than he used to be, but he’s been on his own for close to two years now and seems to be doing okay.

So what’s the deal? Kittycat DNA trumps lion instincts when it comes to catching food?

Granted, feral cats have a size advantage. They don’t have to hunt antelope, warthogs, zebras, water buffalo, or other big stuff that can fight back in order to fill up their bellies. They can make do with rabbits, birds, field mice and squirrels. Also, they have alternatives, like garbage cans and those soft-hearted schmucks who put out bowls of food for the “poor hungry kitty.” (I’d do this myself, but I’d rather not encourage the skunks, opossums, or other rabies-prone locals to make themselves at home on my deck.) A cat can get by on donations while it perfects its hunting skills. For lions, it’s learn on the fly, or starve in a week. And field mice don’t have horns and hooves.

I’m also inclined to think house cats are smarter than lions. They have to be, since so much of the world they live in is so much bigger and deadlier than they are. What do lions have to worry about, other than Tarzan and Ernest Hemingway? The lion will lie there and size up the guy with the rifle. The cat will take off automatically. Later on it’ll wander back and duck in between the buzzards to get its share of the carcass.

As we all know, Elsa eventually caught on that those fourleggers out there in the grass tasted damn good once you caught them. I’m assuming Kitty figured out the same thing in between scrounging for handouts. I know I haven’t seen as many squirrels or rabbits around the neighborhood lately.

Three’s a Crowd

There should be a deep, dark circle of Hell reserved for that publishing exec who looked at Tolkien’s massive manuscript and decided Lord of the Rings should be three separate books instead of the one humongous volume Tolkien meant it to be. Ever since then, we the reading public have been inundated with trilogies.

Having just finished all three volumes of The Hunger Games, I’ve decided some books shouldn’t have sequels or, if a sequel is demanded, for God’s sake make an effort to maintain quality. The dropoff between Hunger Games and Catching Fire was noticeable, and Mockingjay was just plain tedious, not to mention depressing. It makes me wonder how the series was conceived. Did Suzanne Collins plan to write an epic in three volumes? Or did she just write a damn good first book, then get pressured by her publisher to continue the story when sales took off?

I forgot to look at copyright dates, so I don’t know how quickly Book 2 followed Book 1. On the first book you can take your time. Subsequent volumes get rushed out to ride the crest of the sales wave. And what if you’ve said all you wanted to say in the first book? How do you write a sequel, let alone two, after the story’s told?

I wonder if that’s what happened to Frank Herbert. Dune is a one-volume epic, a classic of SF. The follow-up, Dune Messiah, reads like first-time fanfic. I don't know if it was the publisher or Herbert himself who wanted to cash in on Dune’s success. Maybe a combination of both, since your average SF writer doesn’t make a ton of money. It didn’t stop them from coming out with Children of Dune, since (thanks to Tolkien’s nameless publisher buddy) there have to be three books in all. That one wasn’t too bad. I should reread it to check.

I don’t know who to blame for trilogymania, the publishers or the writers. If I wrote a book that went gangbusters, I’d probably rush out a follow-up too. That’s not always a problem with me, due to my inherent sequelitis. But what if the book was meant as a standalone, and would only be weakened by continuations? Margaret Mitchell never wrote another book after Gone with the Wind. She sure as hell didn’t write the sequel. That was the publisher’s idea. These days we’d probably have the Tara Trilogy confronting us on the bookstore shelves.

It isn’t just books. It’s my understanding The Hobbit movie, already three hours long, is only Part 1 of a trilogy. Are you kidding me? Three hours of running time and I don’t even get to see the dragon until the third movie comes out? There’s no good reason The Hobbit couldn’t have been a single movie, other than the studio wanting to rake in more money. Overkill, guys, overkill. Give us a break already.

I’m going to stick with my plan of writing interconnected standalones rather than actual trilogies. Read one, read three, read a dozen, read ‘em out of order, who cares? It worked for the Darkover series, it can work for me. Assuming I don’t have a book whose sales go nuclear and I start getting pressured by publishers and readers for more of the same, only different. Yeah, we should all have such problems. Be interesting to see what the new year brings. Happy writing!


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, yeah, good observation about feral kitty, or like this one feral cat who was so smart that she would figure out ways to communicate with us, and ask us for help. Smoke was absolutely amazing!!!

Course, part of the problem might have been that Elsa didn't really want to leave, regardless of her wild heritage. At one point, back in early Egyptian times, lions were often pets. They still have that DNA memory. I say that based on my experience with breeds of dog who had to stay partly wild for centuries to survive... once they are in less stressful life situations, they change in critical ways, especially how loving they become.

Plus, not every wild animal wants to 'run free', as in actually only living in the wild. They forced [cruelly imo] Willy, the whale, or whatever his real name was, to return. And he would always find his way back to people.

The whole trilogy thing... I only wish I could write the second book in my New Atlantis trilogy. But time and energy escapes way too fast.

Some stories are naturally ongoing. But if they're forced simply for the sake of demand and profit, I don't think that ever works. Muses don't like it. I personally couldn't write that way, unless it was a true matter of survival for my family... which might be true for some authors.

Actually, all of my books so far, could easily be continued, even the stand alone ones I wrote... if only I had that out of time writer's cave... ~sighs~

Pat C. said...

That's one of my big fears, that some book I write takes off and I stand to make a ton of money by cranking out sequels ... and no ideas appear. The closest I've got to a trilogy is the "Belonging" books, and the third one hasn't been written yet because the plot went flat on me. I wrote the kid book instead. Now THAT looks like it might have a sequel, or at least a continuation. Unless it dies on me, of course. Or I get a better idea. I think I've figured out why I'm having so much trouble making a living at this.

Another problem with trilogies or series is that the grand conclusion rarely lives up to 2-3-5 books' worth of buildup. If you've ever read Stephen King's Dark Tower series (or heard about the ending), you know what I mean. Take it from a pantser, pantsers shouldn't write series.

I'm going to stick to connected standalones. Then readers can skip the bad ones. Or if they're bad, I won't write them.

Pat C. said...

The people who are feeding Kitty have their house up for sale. I don't know who if anyone will take over once they move out. I think skunks hibernate, so I could probably slip him a few bowls to tide him over until spring.

Savanna Kougar said...

Maybe they'll take Kitty with them. Or, yeah, hopefully you'll be able to find a way to slip him some extra food, over what he can catch.

Could be about the pantser as far as writing trilogies. In my case, I don't think it would be a lack of plot or ideas. It comes down to time because it takes me so long to write it the way I want it.