In defense of ‘New Moon’

twilight It grossed more on its Thursday opening than both “Harry Potter” and “The Dark Knight,” and everyone has been ragging on the movie, but let me make an apparently earth-shattering statement:

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” is really not that bad.

It’s no worse than the various dude-bro films that make tons of money and have huge budgets and people who know film acknowledge are bad but many laypeople like just fine. “Transformers” comes to mind.

Yes, “New Moon” sucks. Trust me, we all know. You can stop saying it.

What bothers me is that the people who are pummeling “New Moon” about its terrible-itude (which is fairly substantial) are not, at all, the people for whom the movie is made. I’m reminded of a review I once read for a Winnie the Pooh movie. The critic’s various reasons for not liking the movie included that it was “childish.”

Really? A children’s movie included simple, easy-to-understand concepts that were too low to engage an adult viewer? You don’t say.

Meanwhile, everyone is lining up to take a jab at “New Moon.” And what’s really irritating is that they’re all sitting around, giggling at how clever they are as they pan the film.

Roger Ebert, being a leader in his field, had this to say about the movie:

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” takes the tepid achievement of “Twilight” (2008), guts it, and leaves it for undead.

Most of the rest of the reviews I’ve read, from local and national outlets alike, have pretty much the same things to say about it: bad acting, bad dialogue, boring movie. Yes, all are true.

As hilarious as it is for critics to make fun of “Twilight,” why not just go around punting wounded puppies? Puppies flying through uprights are just as funny and they’re wounded, so they’re just as vulnerable.

But Ebert also says this:

Long opening stretches of this film make utterly no sense unless you walk in knowing the first film, and hopefully both Stephanie Meyer novels, by heart.

Exactly.

If a movie makes no sense to you, maybe you’re not the target audience. The people who are showing up for this movie in droves do, in large part, know it and the novels by heart. Trust me, I feel for these guys who had to sit through this movie because it’s their job – except stop whining, it’s your job to watch movies. I used to do it too. It’s a sweet gig.

We’re not talking about a movie that ludicrously sucks, such as“Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” which I myself ravaged in a review. I feel there’s a key difference. I’m a fan of the “Resident Evil” franchise, and the movie is god awful. Not just from a technical standpoint, or an acting standpoint, but from a standpoint that the movie fails even its built-in audience of people who like horror, like action, like zombies, like monsters, and like “Resident Evil.”

That movie is hard to watch for all involved. No one leaves “Resident Evil” happy.

“Twilight” might suck for critics, parents, boyfriends and the male gender as a whole, but it does one thing: It makes those 10- to 17-year-old girls who do know it by heart and who do like it extremely happy.

The movie is true to its source. It’s true to its fans. It doesn’t break any ground and it doesn’t work extra hard to appease critics, or even males.

It is “Twilight.” It is exactly what it is supposed to be, for exactly the people who want it to be that.

And the people who want it are happy. So happy that they outspent “Batman” and “Harry Potter” fans. They also blew away nerds of all sorts on releases reaching back years that include “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Because there is no “Episode I” debacle when it comes to “Twilight.” “Twilight” is perfectly “Twilight.”

Sorry that you’re not in the “it” group. Neither am I. But do we really need to pick on the Special Olympics of film here? It’s not for us. We don’t belong. Let’s just let those who like the thing like it, and all be on our way. It’s not that clever or funny anymore.

Setting Detroit, post-zombie

joe louis A project I was struggling with for the last few months is my latest entry to Wrath of the Damned. The story, “The Desert Stretched Before Him,” came out okay, but it took a long time to write and it ended up being long – like 9,500 words long.

If you haven’t read it and you care to, or you like me at all, jump over and give it a go before continuing here. The rest of this post contains spoilers about the story.

The writing of the story itself was intriguing for me. The theme comes mostly from when I read “Dune Messiah,” the sequel to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece “Dune,” way back in high school. “Messiah” is set on Dune, the desert planet that’s central to the entire space-faring society described in the novels, and concerns greatly the somewhat-nomadic desert tribes of people who live there.

At the conclusion of the novel, the leader of the tribe is blinded while warding off an attack from whoever happens to be fighting them that week (it literally could be anyone). Rendered a burden on his people, he takes a weapon and heads out into the desert – to die. That always resonated with me.

I wanted to apply that idea – that a person would put the needs of his group ahead of his own, and accept a death on his feet fighting rather than slowly wasting away as a burden – to a Wrath story. Zombie fiction sometimes deals with the “infected,” a person who is bitten and, as we all know but characters rarely do, is on their way to becoming more than just dead, but a very real threat to remaining survivors. This lack of knowledge consistently leads to carnage, but it’s cliché and predictable.

Instead, my character, Brad, heads out into his own desert, rather than risk the lives of his people.

But there are no such deserts in the Midwest, and specifically none in Michigan, and one of the things I (usually) strive for with Wrath is an authentic feeling, and that often requires real places. Besides that, at the end of the world where there are no people, everyplace can be a desert.

So the story was set in an urban area I could get behind – Detroit. Specifically, the survivors hole up at Joe Louis Arena. The only problem: My real geographic experience with Detroit is limited.

I hate to admit it, but I’m a suburban guy. I’m not happy about it. My time in Michigan has been almost completely suburban, apart from a short stint in a Detroit neighborhood when I was really little and a summer spent working in Grand Rapids. (Full disclosure: My apartment was in Kentwood, a GR suburb. Lame.) And while I did live for almost a year in a real urban setting, that real urban setting was Chicago.

Therefore, I took to the Internet. With the help of Google Earth, I was able to map with extreme accuracy the path of the main character through Downtown Detroit from Joe Louis to (somewhat meanderingly) Hart Plaza. It worked pretty well and I was able to establish the area in the story to a degree that made me pretty happy.

Here’s a Google Earth video I made of the path, complete with markers noting where some of the major plot points occurred. I think you might need the Google Earth app in order for it to work, though.

In creating the path and researching Downtown for the sake of the story, I was reminded of a similar process James Joyce engaged in during the writing of Dubliners. Not to compare myself to Joyce in any way – his process used letters in the mail and friends in the city to verify his information and was much, much more arduous; not to mention I’m writing horror fiction about zombies, and he’s James Joyce.

But there are parallels in the process. Joyce was relentless in his correspondence to make sure that he recreated the city in literature as it appeared in reality, to the chagrin of his publishers and their lawyers. And he had to do so from overseas, removed from the city he was trying to capture, which adds to it this voyeuristic longing to see the place, to be part of it, to know it and make others know it.

Okay, so imagine some low-level semblance of Joyce’s need to immortalize Dublin about a hundred years ago. That’s kind of how I felt.

And of course, there’s an interesting element in thinking about Detroit devoid of life. The city’s on this cusp right now – failing, emptying of people, and in urban decay as it has been for years; but also ready to be reborn, with a recent election of a new city council, various programs attempting to pull it back up, a recent Superbowl and a lot of national attention recently. Two very different ways to look at the city – and despite being a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested frozen nightmare for Brad, Detroit isn’t necessarily cast that way in the story, at least visually, and the whole thing is spiritual and ultimately positive.

“Desert” is, after all, a desolate vision quest for a doomed man in a doomed city. But neither are, necessarily, beyond saving.

So back to the techno-savvy way of walking through a city. It’s definitely strange to do things this way. The ability to virtually wander around Detroit for the purposes of fiction was convenient, but as to authenticity, I feel a little weird about it.

But I did end up in Detroit not long after for, conveniently enough, a hockey game. We walked from near the Renaissance Center to the Joe, past Cobo and Hart Plaza, so I got the lay of the land first-hand, even though it was dark. And I got the layout of Joe Louis, which was very cool on account of I hadn’t been there in a while and the interior pictures on Google were lacking.

It’s a far cry from Joyce’s postal reconnaissance and I feel kind of bad about it being so easy. But I enjoy the fact that I, like Joyce, have been able to find some process in which to make a city into something more than a setting at least in this one story – with a little (or a lot of) help.

Game on, novel writing

It’s National Novel Writing Month. You can go ahead and read that as “kick in the ass necessary to get something done for real for a change,” which is how I read it.

So I’ve logged on and saddled up. I’m planning to finish “Millennium Men,” the novel I’ve been working on since the last of my creative writing classes at Central Michigan University. This is technically cheating, as the NaNoWriMo program is geared toward writing a new novel start-to-finish in one month, but my need is completion, not to wander off in a new direction.

I hope to finish the novel by focusing my efforts for the month chiefly on finding this story’s middle. I have the beginning and I’m happy with it. I know where things will eventually end up. But it’s fleshing out that interior portion that’s tripping me up.

I’m also hoping that the structure of the novel will make it easier to eventually sell. I’ve been impressed by my friend Brandon Doman’s efforts with self-publishing on his project, “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and I definitely think there’s something to self-promotion.

But I am sure that I am no good at it.

I’m no salesman. That’s something I’ve always known about myself. I hate self-promotion, I hate “pounding the pavement,” I hate doing the grunt work associated with creativity. It’s the reason I haven’t sent short stories to markets in the last nine months – I hate it. It’s an epic pain and what’s more, it distracts from writing, from spending time with people, and from exposing myself to other people’s work.

Beyond that, there’s something validating in finding someone else to publish your work, I think, and that’s the kind of reinforcement that I really, desperately need.

In high school, I went to a reading and book signing in Ann Arbor by Chuck Palahniuk when his novel Choke came out. Palahniuk read a chapter from one of my favorite novels, Survivor, during the event. It was spectacular.

The chapter previously had appeared in Playboy. Palahniuk gave advice to the audience: If you can get a few chapters of your novel published as short stories, it’s a lot easier to sell the whole thing.

That’s been on my mind for a while. I finished a fantasy novel during the early portion of high school, although, looking back, the story is far too influenced by The Lord of the Rings to be really viable. Other than that, I’ve got two other half-finished books that I doubt will ever go anywhere. Both of those were high school projects and lent more to learning than to publishing.

“Millennium Men,” though, is different. Right now, it’s my opus. It encapsulates the whole of my experience up to now and I think it’s a story worth telling and a snapshot of this time and what it has been like growing up in the modern era. When I do finish it, I think (and more hope) that someone will want to buy it. It definitely feels like it’s worth finishing.

Finally, to the point I started some paragraphs ago: “Millennium Men” actually is a series of interrelated short stories. And while working on trying to get it published piecemeal is a HUGE pain in my ass, it’s a two bird-one stone situation: Publish and get paid for the stories while writing the novel, then sell the novel. That’s pretty much living the dream.

One of the stories, “Walking Dead and Other Personal Problems,” appeared in CMU’s The Central Review. It’s one of two stories I’ve ever had (somewhat) professionally published, and neither for pay.

You can read a couple of “Millennium Men” excerpts here that have appeared on my blog in the past. I’ll post “Walking Dead” at some point, but in the meantime, here it is on my MediaFire.

It’s Sunday, Nov. 1, and I’ve been up since 5 a.m. Time to get cracking.