Salvatore Pane

Tag: Angry Video Game Nerd

A Disturbing Trend

Every so often I find myself stuck in strange, sometimes unproductive writing routines. The first one I really remember started in spring/summer 2006. I was preparing my application for grad school and tried to write a new story every two weeks. The only problem was they all had the same voice: first-person working class dude in his mid-fifties.  I’d try to write other things, but they just wouldn’t go anywhere. They’d stall out after a page or two and I’d revert into that familiar voice that was one part everything I’d grown up with at my father’s garage and one part Ray Carver imitation. This consumed my writing for about four months, until finally, I produced a story with this voice that wasn’t mind-numbingly terrible. I put it in all my grad school applications and luckily got into Pitt. So the end result was positive but all that time spent drafting failing stories with the same exact voice felt pretty unproductive, and at times, like a personal affront.

Recently, I’ve found myself going through a similar cycle. Ever since I’ve finished my novel (or at least, slowed down enough where I could focus on short stories), the same routine keeps recycling itself. I write about five or six pages of a new story, get an idea for something totally different, drop the first story completely, then finish the sexy new thang. For example, during the cataclysmic snow fuck that was February, I started writing a story based very loosely on the Angry Video Game Nerd’s wife. I don’t know a thing about her, but I’ve always wondered: who married that guy? What does she say at office parties when people ask her what her husband does? “Oh, he used to work in an office but now he reviews video games from the 80’s and early 90’s and the odd nostalgic board game.” Who is that person?

Clearly, that’s not a good basis for a story. There’s good character potential but zero idea for a plot. And after the aforementioned office party scene, it stalled out and drifted towards the most overused plot device in all of my work: the classic love triangle. I took a long walk around Squirrel Hill on one of the days Pitt closed on account of the blizzard and came up with the idea for my final workshop story: a piece about a former NCAA swimmer from Egypt who works in athletic advising at Pitt and knows his wife is going to leave him after work. That seemed to go a lot better in that I actually finished the story and revised it considerably. The AVGN piece sits untouched on my desktop.

Since then, the same process has repeated itself twice. A few weeks back I posted about my frustrations with my novella. I thought the problem was a post-novel slump, but the truth was I just couldn’t deal with that material at the moment. I swapped it out for something more familiar (aging comic book writer deals with a love triangle via Twitter!) and called it a day. Even this week, I started work on a project about President Garfield’s assassin’s time in the Oneida Society as narrated by his death row grandson, but the scenes just wouldn’t go anywhere. Its failure left me in a funk until I abandoned it and moved onto, again, something at the opposite end of the spectrum.

What I’m interested in is whether or not all writers develop odd quirks or routines. Do you ever find yourself  going through a strange process that you know isn’t the most productive way to be doing things even if at the end you come out of it with a decent story? I’m not talking about having a specific writing chair or pre-writing routine. I mean an actual tick that develops in your writing, like a superstitious belief that every other story you write is crap and must be sacrificed to the ghost of Richard Yates in order to produce something worthwhile. TELL ME I’M NOT ALONE!

Digital Distribution? Video Games? Marvel Illustrated? The iWhat?

In my Salinger post a few days ago, I made a quick jab towards the end about the video game-ization (I coined it here first, folks) of novels. So in case you haven’t heard the news, the 14th century Divine Comedy is being converted into a video game by EA, the same company responsible for this. Numerous sites have already lamented the transformation of Dante’s words into a corpse-littered action game, so I won’t belabor the subject. What’s interesting to me is what’s next. Take, for example, Penny Arcade’s take on where this could go in  the future:

This is obvious farce, but it does bear the question of what shapes literary fiction will be made to fit in the future. Are we that far away from an Old Man and the Sea game? Maybe something that fleshes out the conquering back story of Othello? And what happens when we throw other forms of media in the mix? For years now, Marvel Comics has been adapting great literary works that have fallen into the public domain into graphic novels. That’s all one branch of their publishing house, Marvel Illustrated, works on. Check out their takes on Pride and Prejudice, The Odyssey, and yes, a deluxe, hardcover edition of the aforementioned Moby Dick.

So how will literary fiction be represented in the future? Writers are already bemoaning the fact that they have to keep up blogs and concoct elaborate viral videos even as major publishing houses slash their advertising budgets or focus everything on a few mega-blockbusters. What will happen when the release of a new novel must coincide with a tie-in video game and comic book? Will the actual work on the page suffer? Improve? Stay the same?

Obviously, e-readers like the Kindle are one way this whole digital distribution thing may shake out, but perhaps you’ve heard of Apple’s iPad, a project so long in development you can find cave paintings about its impending arrival. The iPad has promised to revolutionize the print industry through iBook, a digital distribution system/eReader. With the iPad and a wifi connection, users will be able to download books, order magazine subscriptions and even purchase comics without ever leaving their home. And the best part is that everything’s in color and the text can be displayed in two appealing ways: horizontally and vertically. It doesn’t resemble the monochromatic Kindle that looks suspiciously like my Gameboy circa 1989. It doesn’t matter if you think eReaders are the worst thing to happen to literature since Dan Brown. If the iPad has even a fraction of the impact on the book market that the original iPod had on the music industry, then we’re on the precipice of a major turning point for how the publishing industry will operate. There’s no point in commiserating. 

And if all this news about the digital is too much for you to handle, I suggest you take a deep breath, relax, and check this out.  It’s the Angry Video Game Nerd reading the novelization of Mega Man 2 in its 90 minute entirety. Enjoy.