Tag Archive: racism

Advice for Struggling Writers: Read Crappy Work

I’ve had a long dry spell of writing barely a word for over a year. Then I procured this book from the library: Columbo: The Glitter Murder. I am a huge Columbo fan and was excited to find that books existed for the series.

Immediately upon finishing it, I wrote a short science fiction story.

Why? Because the writing in that book was so godawful, it boosted my confidence. That writer (may he RIP) got paid for that book! It got past (lazy, incompetent?) editors. It was manufactured on a printing press! People bought copies of it! At least some readers loved it…it has 4 stars on Amazon! (Only six reviews, but still!)

Just for fun, here are some of the problems I found with the book, in order of importance:

Racism

Perhaps as a white person, one would think to be careful about describing people of other ethnicities. Maybe don’t describe them in a particularly unflattering– or especially, dehumanizing– manner. Some take it too far and describe ethnic folks as exotic in a fetishistic way. But not this guy. The main character, Ai-ling, who is multi-racial (Chinese and white) is described thusly: “She was more often described as handsome than as beautiful. She had straight black hair styled to curve under her ears, dark eyes, and a compact body that was trim and taut. Her slender hips and legs and her flat bottom were the envy of women known as greater beauties. Her face was round, with a pug nose.” [pg 8] Please note, her nose is not vaguely reminiscent of a pug’s nose– which would have been bad enough. No, she was literally described as possessing “a pug nose.” Have you ever met a human with a pug nose? White women are envious of her ass though. (“See! Not racist!” I can hear the writer saying to himself.)

The first African American character to show up is a carjacker. Even worse, he is described as “a huge black.” [pg 136] Not a huge black man. A HUGE BLACK. Would anyone in the book be described as a small white? Or an average white? Or any size at all of a white???? Even worse, he speaks like a toddler. And is assumed to be on drugs. And of course he dies less than one page after his introduction. His murder was never solved because nobody cared. The title of the book is “Murder” not “Murders” even though Ai-ling killed two people. (“I guess that’s kind of racist,” I can hear the writer saying to himself. “But I’ll make up for it later!”)

The second African American character to show up is a car mechanic who is fishing on the beach. From Columbo’s point of view the meeting is described as follows: “Columbo looked up into a bland, honest, black face.” [pg 203] Because obviously if it’s a black character, you need to establish right away for your white audience that he’s not a criminal or a suspect, right? Just like every non-criminal white person is described in the book as having an “honest, white face”– right? Sigh. No. He becomes friends with Columbo and they have dinner together with their wives. (“See! Not racist!” I can hear the writer saying to himself.)

Incomprehensible Passages

If I were the editor I would have thrown this manuscript in the garbage after reading the opening paragraphs:

“Everyone who saw it was intrigued by the name on the masthead of Glitz: Ai-ling Cooper-Svan, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. [paragraph break here] The name Ai-ling was of course Chinese. The famous Soong sisters had been Ch’ing-ling, who married Sun Yatsen, Mei-ling, who married Chiang Kai-shek, and Ai-ling, who married H.H. King. This Ai-ling was named for her great-grandmother, the daughter of an enormously wealthy Cantonese merchant. Ai-ling’s grandmother, too, had been Chinese, the daughter of a Shanghai merchant. The dowries brought by these two Chinese brides had contributed hugely to the Cooper family fortune. The business alliances the marriages had cemented and contributed even more.”

My rewrite: “An intriguing name dominated the masthead of Glitz: Ai-ling Cooper-Svan, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. The name Ai-ling was Chinese. She was named for her great-grandmother, the daughter of an enormously wealthy Cantonese merchant. Ai-ling’s grandmother, too, had been Chinese, the daughter of a Shanghai merchant. The dowries brought by these two Chinese brides had contributed hugely to the Cooper family fortune. The business alliances the marriages had cemented and contributed even more.”

This removes the confusing reference to “this Ai-ling” right after a reference to a different Ai-ling than the one he meant (which I only figured out from re-reading the paragraph many times). I still do not know how Ai-ling Soong-King is related to the main character, after reading the original passage about 13 times– I don’t even think filling out an ancestry diagram would help me– so I just edited it out. Also it chaps my ass when people generalize about what “everyone” thinks or feels, and he did that in the very first words on the page.

A second confusing passage: “It was tempting not to bow to Mrs. Yasukawa as she did to him. Instead, Columbo smiled and said he was glad to see her and hoped she was well.” [p 156] Can I just say: WTF? Why is it tempting not to bow? Why “instead”? What does it all mean? I need a diagram to sort this out. He wanted to bow but was tempted not to bow for mysterious reasons so instead of doing the thing he wanted to do but was not tempted to do, he smiled. Any questions?

Out of Character Actions

In all the seasons of Columbo, he never once referred to his coat as a “raincoat,” but in this book it is incessantly referred to as one. Further, in the show, he is doggedly attached to his rumpled old overcoat, even though he is sometimes mistaken for homeless because of it. In this book, he wears the “raincoat” against his wishes because his wife likes it, and he even hopes she burns it instead of washing it. I think I speak for most Columbo fans when I say: Hell to the NO.

In the series, Columbo is distinctly uncomfortable when he goes to a fancy restaurant to confront a suspect. He is aware that he is never dressed “correctly” and he is shocked and appalled at spending more than a few bucks on a meal. In this book, he is eating veal and and pasta drinking red wine with his friend at a restaurant as if that is normal for him. [p 206]

Unlike in this book, most murders by women are not committed by bashing out the person’s brains. The murder scene was also way bloodier than Columbo stories ever are. It also becomes unintentionally funny at one point because, covered in blood, Ai-ling notes that “God, murder was not easy!”  [p 37] This reminded me of the old recalled “Math is hard!” Barbie dolls. I guess you could argue that having Ai-ling bash her husband’s brains out could be taken as a feminist statement from the author.

The Japanese housemaid makes for dinner, of all things, lasagna from scratch. [p 63] Yes, of course that is possible, but it’s not especially likely that you would hire a Japanese person, who dresses traditionally and bows, to prepare Italian food for dinner. If this were the only problem in the book, I would have dismissed it.

Too-Easy Resolution

What makes the Columbo stories interesting is how he stalks and often tricks the murderer into implicating him- or herself. This story was more like a regular procedural which depends upon the murderer’s identity being a mystery until the end of the book (unlike in the Columbo series’ highly original format) to keep it interesting. Consequently, it was not very interesting. He barely talks to Ai-ling until the anticlimactic conclusion. The evidence used seemed pretty circumstantial and hinged totally on the fact that Ai-ling lied about having sex with her husband the day he was murdered. I’m not sure they would have gotten a conviction out of something that flimsy in reality.

Plot Holes

Ai-ling told friend of Columbo that she stopped having sex with her husband because he was having sex with prostitutes and she was afraid he was diseased. Later, she tells that same friend of Columbo as well as Columbo himself that she had sex with husband directly before the murder happened. Friend of Columbo never notices or mentions this.

This might not count as a plot hole, but it is mentioned that Ai-ling does not get along with her father, who didn’t like the fact that they had Chinese ancestry. Why the hell did he name her Ai-ling then?

My final, and perhaps most damning criticism of this book is that there was no glitter involved at all…very disappointing for the queers (lol).

So anyway…

My point is that if you’re suffering a dry spell, consider not only reading your favourite authors for inspiration, consider also reading something a bit more shit for a different kind of inspiration. TV and movie adaptations seem a pretty good bet. Perhaps romance novels could work as well (Note: I tried several times to read Fifty Shades of Grey but I just couldn’t do it. If I had an inner goddess she would have been saying, “Please god, make it stop.” I read Fifty Shames of Earl Grey instead and I have no regrets). Personally, I am picking up the next titles in this Columbo series from the library right away.

The Thing About Trump, or 3 Mistakes People Made With Hitler

Imagine what things must have been like when the Nazi party was first coming to power in Germany. Many people must have seen Hitler’s prancing, screaming and posturing as comical– even his infamous and silly moustache was the one Charlie Chapman made popular. I would venture that a lot of people didn’t take him seriously, and didn’t think he really meant the things he said. Surely many folks couldn’t fathom that legions of fellow human beings would eventually “follow orders” into absolute madness.

But they did.

Comparing Donald Trump to Hitler is becoming uncomfortably easy. Of course Trump is totally ridiculous, with his orange bouffant, his brazen and often bafflingly pointless lies (see Trump Steak-Gate), his pathological narcissism, and his third grade bully mentality. So at first you laugh at his antics because you’re a reasonable human being with a firmly held belief in the good in most of humanity– making you feel pretty confident that nobody would really vote for such a baffoon in this day and age. And then he wins a few states in the Republican primaries. And a few more. And then you read one young kid’s account of going to a Trump rally for the LOLs and instead ends up sickened at all the hate. And then you see violence against protesters on the news, and Trump encouraging it.

And here we are, folks. These are three mistakes I believe a lot of people made with Adolf Hitler that we need to stop making with Donald Trump right now:

1. Being fooled by a comical appearance. Hitler had his Chaplin moustache and Trump has that flamboyant– whatever– on his head. They both pull faces and strut in a way that I find ludicrous. The screaming and practically frothing at the mouth– Who the hell acts like that, except in a bad movie? It is tempting to dismiss them, because most reasonable people would dismiss them. But playing the fool could be a tactic to confuse the opposition. Despite some of the crap that comes out of Trump’s mouth, the man is not a complete idiot. He knows how to manipulate people and get attention. I believe acting a fool is part of his strategy– and it is working.

2. Not taking hateful things he says at face value. Hitler dreamed up the evil genius idea of “The Big Lie,” which is when you make up lies of epic scale and repeat them often so that few will dare doubt them. Trump, whose ex-wife paints him as something of a Hitler fanboy, seems to have taken that idea to heart. It would take pages to discuss this is properly, but suffice it to say that Politifact found that almost none of Trump’s statements they fact checked through 2015 were rated “true” and they awarded him the “Lie of the Year.” So as far as liars go, Trump is a highly accomplished and decorated one. Hitler would be proud.

Some claim Trump’s being allegorical when he talks about building a wall on the border between this country and Mexico. Some say he was joking when he said he would pay your legal fees if you beat up protesters at his rallies. Well, how do we know what he’s serious about? Trump lies and exaggerates so much, even about the stupidest things, that it is tempting to believe some of his more problematic statements are also exaggerations (lies). But this is probably calculated. He’s set the stage so he can say whatever he wants and then claim he was “only kidding” later or, conversely, start deporting Muslims and say, “I told you so.” He’s covered either way, and some people won’t even stop to consider that we maybe shouldn’t have a president who just makes crazy shit up as he goes. Perhaps we’re so used to being lied to by politicians that Trump’s trainwreck spin on it is refreshing?

Hitler blamed the Jews for the collapse of Germany’s economy and Trump blames Mexicans for the woes in ours. In both cases, a scapegoat is cooked up in a fashion that draws in the racist, casually racist, and/or weak-minded supporters like flies– with a little honey promising how great things will be when all those bad ethnic people are gone. Pepper with the laughter of the wealthiest Wall Streeters as they bathe in Cristal. Mix well and enjoy the delicious taste of fascism.

Anyway, it’s not surprising that people are not taking some of Hit– I mean Trump’s– outrageous statements about certain religious or ethnic groups completely seriously because he’s a big fat liar. But one thing I have learned about narcissists is that they will lie– a lot– about many different topics for a lot of completely incomprehensible reasons. That is pretty much a hallmark of a pathological narcissist and there is no sense in wasting energy trying to sort out why. But when they say something horrible– that’s when you should pay attention. That is more likely to be the truth than anything else they say.

3. Believing he couldn’t possibly rise to power. This belief (along with a little bit of faith in humanity) is being rapidly squashed as Trump continues to nail the Republican primaries. Those of us who are aware and awake no longer have the luxury of hoping that a Trump presidency could not happen in this country. It could definitely happen.

Remember the old saying: The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

I can’t close this without mentioning that Hillary Clinton is not much of a better choice. She is another pathological narcissist– she just holds it together a bit better than Trump. Her lies are (usually) not quite as shocking and her racism and calls to violence are more nuanced (See Clinton’s comments about bringing young black folks “to heel.”). That does not mean that her effect on our future would necessarily differ that much from Trump’s because her motivations are clearly similar– greed for power and riches. As a known war profiteer, Clinton could very well usher in WW3 because it would be good business for herself and her buddies/corporate masters. By the way, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are friends– the web is littered with photos of them hobnobbing together as well as evidence of his fat campaign contributions to her. In short, Trump vs. Clinton is an illusion of choice. The upset in Michigan, with Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic primary against supposedly impossible odds, is proof that people are waking up and realizing that we’ve been lied to for far too long, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

I hope you will join me in making Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States. Let’s make this country great again for real, instead of it being a place from which many of us fantasize about fleeing. Personally, this is the first time I have had a little hope for this cesspool of poverty, racism, injustice, and imperialism. Let our children to go to college for free instead of dying in pointless wars that make the 1% richer. Let us get the money and corruption out of politics. Let us end poverty because we can and because it is the only acceptable course of action. Let us have fair wages and universal healthcare and sound infrastructure. Let our police departments be de-militarized and let profit-making prisons be torn down. Let drug addiction be a healthcare issue, not a criminal one. Let us have the America we were promised. Like Bernie says, these ideas are not radical. Other civilized countries have accomplished these things, and we can too. https://vote.berniesanders.com/