Tag: literature

literature

Scandalous! Examining Sex in Banned Literary Classics.

“The material to which children are being exposed in certain classes in Republic Schools is shocking… This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The “f word” is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”–Wesley Scroggins, Springfield News Leader The book that Scroggins was suggesting banning from the public school curriculum back in 2010–not in the 1970s, as one might expect–was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, a classic anti-war novel regularly listed in the top 100 books of the century by literary scholars. Reading his editorial, one might expect to find a graphic sex scene a la Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. In reality, not much happens. The PTSD-suffering hero, Billy Pilgrim, is transported (or believes he has been transported) by aliens into a zoo in which human beings are observed by little green men. An actress is sent there to be his mate. They’re both nude, a detail that is stated rather matter-of-factly in the […]

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Left of Center

We recently completed mini-“personality type” assessments at work, sort of Myers Briggs Light. The assessment grouped us into four broad categories that corresponded to the Meyers Briggs acronyms. One group consisted of innovative rule breakers, another of detail-oriented rule followers, another of analytical loners, and a final group of gregarious harmonizers. (I fell nowhere near that last group, by the way.) While the survey painted a surprisingly accurate picture of our work and interpersonal styles, it didn’t delve into the descriptions we think of in our day-to-day, away from the workplace, sense of the term “personality;” descriptions like cheerful, moody, somber, and—my favorite—quirky. While writing about dysfunctional protagonists for yesterday’s post, I thought about my favorite characters, the ones I love, who jump out at me from the page or screen, who stick with me long after I leave the theater, turn off the TV (or exit the streaming app), or close the book covers. I realized they’re all quirky. Some are more unusual than others but they all peg out somewhere on the positive end of the quirk scale. Bobby Goren, Mike Shepherd, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe—they all exhibit unusual traits, odd characteristics, or strange habits that endear them to […]

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Next Stop: Dysfunction Junction

  One of my favorite TV series is “Midsomer Murders,” the British cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town England, now in its twentieth season. Other, newer favorites include “The Brokenwood Mysteries,” a darker cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town New Zealand, and “Hinterlands,” so dark it’s actually Scandi-noir masquerading as village fare, set in small town Wales. All three shows share commonalities. They focus on police investigation of crimes in rural areas with adjusted per capita murder rates that rival Chicago’s. The biggest difference between the three is the degree of dysfunction in the main characters. Midsomer’s DCI Barnaby is an ordinary guy, a well-adjusted everyman with a well-adjusted wife and daughter. His home life is ordinary, if not outright idyllic. The drama and trauma occur on the job. Brokenwood’s DSS Shepherd, on the other hand, is a man with a complicated past that includes several ex-wives and at least one dead one. You get the sense he’s experienced a lot of unhappiness in a life accented by the show’s country/alt rock soundtrack. Hinterland’s (the darkest of the shows) DCI Mathias makes Kurt Wallander look like the president of the pep club in comparison. Devastated by the death of one of […]

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I Can't Go For That, No, No Can Do…

   I read a blog post a few weeks ago about a novel that had celebrated—or notorious, depending on which side of the debate you fell on—twist ending. Comments on the blog lined up in one of two columns—loved it or hated it. The haters complained the book had run afoul of one of their pet peeves: cop-out/too-convenient endings, genre switching, unconvincing characters, etc. The reactions to that novel prompted me to ask my fellow Missdemeanors:  What do you hate most in fiction writing, mystery or otherwise? What’s your pet peeve? Alexia: I hate it when a mystery author conceals a fact from readers when that fact is critical to solving the puzzle, then has the sleuth produce the fact out of nowhere, leaving readers saying, “Where’d that come from?”. For example, Snuffy Smith’s long-lost identical twin is revealed as the murderer but his twin was never, even once, mentioned/hinted at/alluded to–not even the suggestion of the possibility Snuffy might have a twin–before the big reveal.  That’s cheating. To paraphrase the rules of the Detection Club, a detective can’t have out-of-the-blue hunches that turn out to be right, can’t withhold clues from the reader, the solution to the crime can’t be chalked […]

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Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…

 Another confession. I’m crushing on men who don’t exist. No, I’m not delusional. I have fictional crushes. It’s a thing. Google it. I watched Father Brown, the BBC series streaming on Netflix, last night while doing my taxes. (Filed ’em at 11:55 pm–all hail the Queen of the Last Minute.) By the time I hit send in the e-file program, I realized (read: admitted) I had a crush on Inspector Sullivan and Hercule Flambeau. An odd dichotomy to crush on–a by-the-book law enforcement officer and a ruthless master thief. But they have something in common. They’re both Father Brown’s antagonists. Inspector Sullivan reminds me of Inspector Javert. Not actually a villain, but a man so dedicated to law and order he’s sometimes blinded to the greater cause of justice. Flambeau, on the other hand, is an antagonist along the lines of Professor Moriarty. A criminal mastermind, he’s Father Brown’s true nemesis. What, aside from the skill of the casting director in choosing talented, attractive actors, makes antagonists on-screen (and in-print) crush-worthy? Or at least appealing? Unforgettable? What draws us to the Dexter’s, Jokers, Moriartys, Voldemorts, and, yes, even Lucifers of the fiction world? I doubt there’s a single answer. Each reader and viewer has their own […]

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Good Bad Guys

 I binge-watched “American Greed” on Hulu tonight. The show, in its eleventh season, airs on CNBC. Stacey Keach narrates each episode which details a fraud investigation. The show doesn’t focus as much on the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who pursue the fraudsters as it does on the con artists who commit the crimes. That’s what fascinates me about the show—the look inside the mind of a criminal, what motivates a person to lie, cheat, and steal. I remember someone in one of my writing classes asked about creating an antagonist. I don’t recall the exact wording of the question but the gist was, how do you create a believable, relatable villain? The answer was, make sure the villain is the hero of his or her own story. Every villain has a reason for their actions. Their motivation for doing what they do makes sense to them even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. When I’m plotting a mystery the first things I figure out are whodunit, howdunit, and whydunit. Literature has given us spectacular villains, some as remarkable as the heroes they oppose. Professor Moriarty,  Mr. Ripley, County Dracula, The Joker, Cruella DeVil. In 2013, The Washington Post published a […]

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