The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Wild, Wild West, and "E"

One of my cable stations is rerunning the old "Wild Wild West" series with Robert Conrad (little relation to the terrible Will Smith film), one of my favorites from my boyhood. It holds up quite well, the very best job television ever did imitating 007. And my first sustained exposure to martial arts. Man, Jim West kicked BUTT. And anyone who listened to Conrad's criticism of Smith's film and thought him racist were off target--he thought Wesley Snipes would have been just tine. (Imagine THAT casting!) At any rate, I always wondered what martial art West was using, and recently came across an interview with Conrad where he told: It was based on Kajukembo, Shotokan, and...(wait for it) Flaminco dancing! I laughed my ass off. Watch an episode, and you'll see the dance movement quite clearly. This guy was WAY ahead of his time...

E is for Entertainment

Again, in reference to my new book Casanegra.
The primary intent of Casanegra was to see if
Tananarive and I could create a mystery series
that could broaden our fan base and expand
our careers. Blair's participation increased the
likelihood of a movie deal, of course. I wanted
to experiment with collaborating with my good
lady wife, and also a chance to do something
different. Never written a straight-out
contemporary mystery before.

But there were also serious intents. I am horrified
by the percentage of commercial rap that is
violent and misogynistic. Those qualities per
se don't bother me, but the fact that there is
so little balancing imagery, as well as the
violence in the world of the musicians themselves
(and don't think it's something intrinsic to
"black culture"--the
Temptations didn't shoot at the Four Tops)
curdles my stomach. Something is very
wrong, and those who speak the truth about
it are attacked. I strongly suspect that many
of those doing the attacking are themselves
afraid of admitting there is a problem. Why,
I don't know, and that's a subject for another
time, perhaps for my blog (

But I wanted to deal with that issue. And there
were other social issues as well: poverty, sexual
power games, and personal responsibility,
among others.

But there is a truth in writing: entertainment
value must come first. Your reader doesn't
read fiction (or go to the movies) to be
"educated." They go to be entertained,
taken away from themselves. If you don't
see to this first and foremost, you'll never
win their hearts. In essence, entertainment
is the "carrier tone" that gives you a chance
to present images and ideas that might go
deeper than "mere" entertainment.

But this must ALWAYS be your primary intent.
As one of my mentors put it, a book costs
about the same as a six-pack of beer. You
have an obligation to provide that amount
of entertainment, otherwise Budweiser will
get your customer's money next time.
Cynical? No just realistic, and you'd better learn it
if you want writing to be your day job.

You see, it is very possible to satisfy both
the mind and the heart, if you will clarify your
priorities. FIRST tell a great story, with great
characters. Then flesh out the world with
telling details and background. The way the
universe of the story interacts with the
characters in response to their actions will
give you every chance you need to expand
theme. Your use of language and imagery
lets you play all kinds of subtle games with
your reader's mind. If you're good, if you
have mastered your basics, you'll have all
the opportunity you need to teach the reader.

But FIRST, and foremost, you are an entertainer.
Learn your basics. Make your reader laugh,
cry, shiver. And then, very stealthily, you
can teach them as well.

No comments: