Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Author Bumping- Theodore Sturgeon

Author Bumping – Theodore Sturgeon

Newbies: Please check my blog archives for Author Bumps with the likes of Stephen King, Robert B.Parker, and James Michener. Just enter Author Bumpings in the search bar at the top.

It was 1984. I had just graduated magna cum chatterbox from kindergarten. Okay so maybe I’m off by a few years. J

Florida Atlantic University was hosting the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Begun in 1980, this celebration brought together some of most talented writers from Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. Guests at this event ranged from Stephen King to Issac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, and my all-time hero, Theodore Sturgeon.

One of the legendary figures of the “Golden Age” of science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon was a regarded as the primary influence on Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut among other science fiction luminaries. Sturgeon wrote over 200 novels and short stories. He won the Hugo, Nebula and International Fantasy Awards. His book More Than Human (1953) was a classroom classic.

Science fiction writer, Damon Knight said of Sturgeon, “He was a superb stylist, and that was unusual when he began writing in the field. He had his own individual viewpoint of human relationships. I think he had a Messianic streak. He wanted to find ways that people could live together better.” Or to paraphrase Star Trek… to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sturgeon wrote some of the early screenplays for Star Trek. The Vulcan Hand Greeting, “Live well and prosper” AND pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual were all introduced by Theodore Sturgeon. When I bumped into him I had no idea about his Vulcan background - now it just adds to his mystique.

I discovered More Than Human when I was a child. I carried the paperback version with me everywhere. It became the seminal book that instilled in me the passion to write. Sturgeon  created a haunting, creditable last step in man’s evolution.

With my battered but much loved copy of More Than Human, I approached Ted Sturgeon as he sat in the FAU auditorium. A slight, wizard-like man he beckoned me to sit with him while he signed my book. Under his signature he placed a symbol… a Q with an arrow through it. He was wearing a pendant with that strange symbol on it. His explanation: “Ask the next question. And the one that follows that, and the one that follows that. That’s how we realize our potential.”

He offered me the seat next to him. “Join us when he’s done,” he nodded to the author on the stage who was graciously signing books for hundreds of his adoring fans.  It took Stephen King over an hour to sign all the books presented to him. Sturgeon beamed like a proud parent.

Steve then stepped from the platform and walked toward us. Sturgeon, frail, took my arm and we exited the auditorium - King walking on my right and Sturgeon on my left.

Theodore Sturgeon seemed to channel pure energy even as he needed to brace himself on me. He leaned over, nodded at Stephen King and said to me, “Barbara, someday the world will recognize this young man as our greatest living American author.”

Looking up at all seven-feet of Stephen King, I know he said something humble… but for the life of me I can’t recall it. I was doing an out-of-body somewhere on Mount Olympus between two creative gods. It was an awesome moment.

Sturgeon died the following year. I still have my copy of More Than Human. Each time I read it the book has a profound effect on me. Don’t we all wish we could create a story that would so mark our readers for life?


If you ask me, I’ll explain the Vulcan Mating Ritual.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chick Lit, Jock Lit, and D**k Lit

We can recognize Chick Lit with our eyes closed. It’s the scent of Pride and Possessions. In Publisher’s Weekly, Amy Sohn defines Chick Lit as being about women who can stand on their own two feet. The stories are frequently about females dealing with real issues we face or would love to face.

Do men have the equivalent?  Is there a male version of Chick Lit that parallels female frustration, fashion, friends and foes?  We have our pink book covers and snappy titles, but exactly where is the male literary hot button?  And if the godmother of Chick Lit is Jane Austen, then who is her male counterpart?

Curious, I bellied up to the Google search bar and plugged in “Jock Lit.” The wheels spun and up came Away Games: The Life and Times of a Latin Ball Player  by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas. The book chronicles Oakland A’s shortstop Miguel Tejada’s journey from shoeshine boy in the Dominican Republic to the major leagues in northern California.  Yawn.

I hit Search again and up popped - Those Damn Yankees: The Secret Life of America’s Greatest Franchise by Dean Chadwin.  More books about gents chasing little white balls with a stick. Is that the answer for all men?  Surely some guys veer off in another direction.  As I peruse these tomes I find no mention of a passion for fashion – it appears men only lust after uniforms. They have a genetic need to blend in and yet at the same time to excel at ball chasing.

Entering  “Jock Lit” in Google yet a third time I discover Jock Itch – cure for.  My quest is sliding downhill – fast.  Not one to give up easily, I take out the quote marks and slowly type in Jock Literature. Magically the answer appears: the godfather of contemporary guy literature, Nick Hornby.  

Hornby has elevated the Peter Pan figure to cult status, his protagonists are made even more lovable by the on-screen performances of his characters by Hugh Grant and John Cusack. I have found the male version of Chick Lit. This British author has mastered the art of combining the serious quest for male adulthood with that terrifying fear some guys have of growing up. He has an amazing talent for zeroing in on serious contemporary male emotions and serving them up in hilarious style.  His men walk with one foot firmly planted in childhood and the other touching lightly into the adult world.  They limp.

Jock Lit differs from Chick Lit in that the protagonists often don’t have successful jobs.  The men are usually card-carrying members of the Geek Squad and desire to live beneath the radar. If they have longings, they are a melding of careers beyond their reach and unattainable females. His lads look for love and success in all the wrong places, and unlike their female counterparts, they usually don’t apply themselves except in a hit or miss manner. Hornby’s  heroes are less than perfect, frequently neurotic and horny. In the beginning of his books, the guys are more interested in getting drunk and watching football on television. They’re often selfish and have lessons to learn about caring and sharing, usually taught by good women who see through their stumbling boyishness by novels end.

In a classic Hornby story, About a Boy, the central character (Will Lightman)  is a thirty-six year old slacker who lives off the royalties of an old Christmas song his father wrote. He’s not the kind of fellow who would get his jollies roaming the aisles of Home Depot or have an orgasm in the tool department of Sears. He’s a womanizer who has run out of hunting grounds. Envious of his friends who are all married and having children, Will continues to seek meaningless relationships that ensure he will be dumped by the gorgeous women he dates. He discovers SPAT (“Single Parents – Alone Together”) and passes himself off as a single widowed dad. “He was acting, yes but in the noblest, most profound sense of the word.”  He becomes the perfect catch for a young mother who should, according to his plan, be willing to dump him after an interlude of sex. She will discover that her child is not ready for a man in their life, allowing Will to run off into the arms of yet more ladies in distress.

The catch in Will’s plan, the thing that causes him to step over the line into adulthood comes in the shape of a twelve year-old boy (Marcus) whom Will meets while attending SPAT disguised as a widowed father. This boy is a victim at school and at home. In rescuing the child, immature Will eventually succumbs to what he has fought off for so long… he grows up.

In 1995, Hornby published his delightful analysis of contemporary underachieving males with High Fidelity. In many ways the opposite of Bridget Jones, protagonist Rob Gordon manages a used record store.  He recounts his top five breakups as if they were hits on the music charts. This is a comedy about fear of commitment, loathing your job, and falling in love. This is pure Jock Lit.  Men being the visual creatures that they are, Hornby’s characters fall in and out of love with the ease of a wiggly ferret in a toddler’s arms.

 Many people think men are less romantic than women. But men fall in love quicker because they are so visual.  Statistics tell us that men are two times more likely to kill themselves when a relationship ends. But according to my research as The Love Investigator, men are NOT willing to die for the woman they love.

Is love necessary in Jock Lit? Yes, but just a smidge. Is sex necessary? No, but that’s where D**k Lit enters the game. When I originally started my investigation of Chick, Jock and D**k, I was told that in the Australia I could replace “Jock” with “D**k” giving me D**k Lit. D**k means something entirely different in the US. I censored myself even as I researched the meanings of the three lits. Peculiar how some words don’t translate as well as others.

Women read Chick Lit to enter a Cinderella world where they have the option of pulling themselves up by their own strengths while falling in love. Men read Jock Lit to become – if even for a few pages – invincible. It’s a world free from concern with unemployment or cracking the ball over the back fence. At the end, they’ll rescue themselves while clearing the goal posts and making it into adulthood. Similar to the Chick Lit happy ending.

D**k Lit is basic mating drives without human bonding. The stories usually combine erotic descriptions of drive-by sex. Quick dopamine releases, almost but not quite pushing the protagonist over the threshold of falling in love. But it always comes short and leaves us turned off. Women need that sense of connection, that intense romantic love. So do most men. If it weren’t for those pink book covers more men might veer from Jock Lit to Chick Lit bypassing D**k Lit completely.

Now I’ll take comments from the floor.