Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Holidays

Beyond Where You Stand is going on winter break.  A new post will appear on Thursday, January 8, 2015.  Have a wonderful holiday celebration and a happy New Year.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


     Henry Moore, an English sculptor, said "I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year's."  It suggests that, perhaps, small, daily decisions are ultimately more powerful than large, unusual ones.  By some interpretation, though, it is also an interesting comment on how even a vast resolution one might make (say, for New Years, maybe) requires renewed resolve to achieve it every day.  In some sense, every resolution we make is a resolution to have the strength to carry through on our promises to ourselves.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


     A few weeks back, I mentioned the dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette.  As you may already be aware, this dispute has been settled, with the publisher receiving a reasonable portion of the e-book profits it was asking for (at least as far as I understand it).   This is good news, of course.  It's hard to debate a publisher's desire to share equitably in the profit from their own product.  The settlement is being hailed as an important one for publishing in this country.
     What the settlement does not address is this: Amazon is a single corporation currently in control of fifty percent of the book market in America.  Now, Amazon is, among a vast array of things, a smart company providing a useful, highly-valued service.  We are a capitalist country and much of what we are entitled to here is measure by success.  Does Amazon's success entitle them to this kind of control and what, exactly, does this kind of control enable them to do?             

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks 2014

     Like last year and all the years before it, the world is a complex place, filled with big things to be thankful for and not.  As in posts past, though, here is a list of some small things that are worth feeling good about.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes - A riveting police procedural involving one of the most bizarre homicides in literary memory alternates with the perspective of the lead detective's teenage daughter, whose own life is flying apart at the seams.  Written with both intensity and humor, Beukes creates a tone of deep uncertainty both by setting the story in the teetering city of Detroit and by suggesting a sense of the supernatural pushing in at the edges of reality.  This would be a great choice for fans of HBO's True Detective.

The Hole on DVD and Blu-Ray - An outstanding example of that seldom attempted hybrid: the family horror movie.  Joe Dante directs this story of the new kids in town who discover a hole in their basement that . . . well, the nature of the hole is part of the fun, but let's just say that it isn't where the hole leads that's the key, but rather where the hole leads you.  Hinging on a great, creepy idea and making sparing but effective use of scary images, this works for ages twelve through adult and turns out to be a movie that uses its chills to really explore its characters.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan - A haunting story told as a list of rules to help two brothers navigate the bizarre dangers of their summer vacation, this is anything but a simple picture book.  Both creepy and sweet, surreal and symbolic, the remarkable Tan creates an intricate link between his minimal words and his lush illustrations to create a narrative of surprising emotional depth and complexity.

     Happy Thanksgiving and don't leave without your free turkey joke.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Problematic Tense

     A few weeks ago, I touched on some ideas about first person perspective (and why I'm not crazy about it).  A far less discussed element of writing is the tense.  Past tense is the natural default and the vast majority seem comfortable both reading it and writing in it, and I'm no exception.  Doing some recent writing, though, I started to explore its implications a little.
     Whether consciously or unconsciously, when we read something in past tense, there is an underlying sense of security.  The story being told is already over, we just haven't finished reading about it yet, thus the world the story is a part of is still around and relatively intact.  If it's being told in first person, then the person telling the story is still alive (usually).  Perhaps the past tense lets us off the hook a little.  Their are certain stories and certain genres which might benefit from the very opposite, however.  Horror and thrillers, for instance, function primarily on a lack of security and using the present tense can be very effective at undercutting this foundation.  There are no shortage of examples in recent literature (The Hunger Games by Collins, 5th Wave by Yancey and Broken Monsters by Beukes to name just a few).  From the very beginning, there is something just a little bit ominous about them.
     As a footnote, the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft was a master of subverting the security of the past tense story.  His narrators usually began with a dire warning about how their stories must be listened to, lest the world itself come crashing down.