Headbanger’s Ball

What’s this? You need an excuse to bank your head in that nice head-shaped divot on your desk? We here at SB HQ are happy to assist, as is Zumie, who sent me these excerpts from her creative writing textbook, The College Handbook of Creative Writing by Robert DeMaria.

Excerpt the first, from page 16:

“Male-female relationships have become very complex since the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s. Nowhere has the loss of tradition and structure in society caused more confusion than in the relationships between men and women. Romeo and Juliet may have had their problems, but they knew exactly where they stood and what was expected of them. Today’s proliferation of paperback romances may be an escapist reaction to the confusion, or even a simplistic way of dealing with the varieties of interpersonal problems. There are also, of course, many worthwhile literary works on the subject, most of them by women who have been writing with greater freedom in an atmosphere of liberation—writers such as Alice Walker and Cynthia Ozick.

 

But wait, there’s more! Excerpt the second, from page 20:

The broad literary spectrum ranges from the silliest kind of romance or comic book adventure to the works of such major literary figures as Herman Melville and Jane Austen. Some critics try to draw the line and create criteria for what they call true literature, as opposed to mere entertainment or downright junk. Drawing a precise line is always a bit arbitrary, and not really necessary. What we have is a continuum from the very trivial to the very important. Since the range is very wide, some of the material between these extremes can prove quite interesting without actually being worldshaking. What good fiction, poetry, or drama does for us is leave us with the feeling that our experience has been expanded vicariously and that perhaps we know something afterward that we did not know before. In other words, good literature has an impact that, in some way, changes the reader. Trivial literary entertainments such as thrills and romances and television dramas, however, cannot be dismissed with contempt. They have a role to play in the lives of many people, and many of the writers involved find such work a pleasant and profitable form of employment, though significance in such works is clearly minimal. Their aim is to thrill, chill, and titillate. Frank Lloyd Wright once described television as “chewing gum for the eyes.” It’s an excellent description of that medium and might also apply to most of our light literature. Chewing gum gives you a lot of action but no nourishment. Great literature, on the other hand, is full of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment.

I love the dancing tango of “Have I insulted you? Have I? No, how about now? How about now?” that DeMaria is playing here with that added dollop of piquant elitism. It’s not necessary to draw a line between the erudite and the junk (but romances are junk) and even romance has a role to play in the lives of their readers (ignominious fools though they are). Jesus fucknuts, what kind of self-absorbed superiority fix is this guy on in the quest to teach creative writing? Thrill, chill, and titillate in the absence of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment? MY ASS, SIR.

I bet he giggled when he typed “titillate,” too.

What an outrageous pity that this boneheaded statement is being used to instruct a venue of creative encouragement. Discouragement is more like it. Pass me a romance. Preferably a hardback. So I can aim it at his groin.

 

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Well, this part actually makes sense to me:

    What good fiction, poetry, or drama does for us is leave us with the feeling that our experience has been expanded vicariously and that perhaps we know something afterward that we did not know before. In other words, good literature has an impact that, in some way, changes the reader.

    The rest is self-important crapola that sounds like it was recycled from somebody’s college dissertation.
    Spamword:  want34.  I want 34 new books to read when I go on vacation next week.

  2. 2
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Speaking as someone with an MFA (and as someone who attended one of the top creative writing programs in the country): WHO THE FUCK NEEDS A CREATIVE WRITING HANDBOOK? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Neither Hollins (Pound for pound the most productive creative writing program in the United States—The New York Times) or San Francisco State (the best poetry program on the West Coast) uses any such useless collection of drivel to “enlighten” their students.

    And I love the fact that his moron has entirely glossed over the fact that Austen, in her own day, was writing popular fiction (the dreaded “novel”, which was dismissed with nearly the same slanders he now uses against the entire romance genre).

    I say unto Mr. DeMaria: Crack a fucking book and do some research before parading your ignorance for all the world to see.

  3. 3
    snarkhunter says:

    Le sigh.

    I also love the implication that male-female relationships were not at all complex prior to the sexual revolution.

    (Captcha: man21. Nope. Still looking for the first one.)

  4. 4
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Couldn’t help myself . . . went and looked up this guy’s publishing record and what do I find: All his novels are with “Vineyard Press”.

    Never heard of ‘em.

    Look them up, and what do I find: On the homepage is a statement from someone named “Michael DeMaria”.

    Interesting, no?

  5. 5

    WTF!  As Kalen so aptly pointed out, Austen (and the Bronte’s…even Byron and some of the touted male authors) were considered to be overly emotional and not serious by many in their day.

    As for taking something away from these books, I really think that my voracious reading had something to do with my ability to write and certainly it all sparked an interest in history.

  6. 6
    Zumie says:

    I actually have since found more stuff that’s even more condescending, amazingly. Here’s an especially ripe one: (from page 52)

    “Some characters are superficial or two-dimension; other characters are three-dimensional and more fully created. They are as complex and convincing as real people. Flat characters have very little depth and are often stereotypes—the tall, dark, handsome lover in a romance, for instance, and his beautiful, virtuous, and devoted sweetheart. Entertainment literature does not require characters with depth. It needs only stock characters to amuse us or help us wile away our leisure time. It is devoted largely to love, sex, and violence. It needs heroes and villains, and, especially, husbands and wives and lovers with all the romantic agony humanly possible.”

    When was the last time this dude cracked open a romance book, is what I want to know.

  7. 7
    Jessica says:

    This is a bit of a mystery to me. There’s a literature professor at Vassar named Robert DeMaria Jr, who’s a specialist on Samuel Johnson (which might explain a lot, actually) but then there’s this Robert DeMaria on Amazon, etc., who has published a bunch of fiction on, As Kalen Hughes pointed out, Vineland Press.

    They are two different people (right?), but which is our culprit?

  8. 8
    Silver James says:

    Chewing gum gives you a lot of action but no nourishment. Great literature, on the other hand, is full of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment.

    *passes around the chewing gum* I’ve read some pretty emotional, spiritual and intellectual romances in my life. So there, Mr. DeMaria. *pbtthhh*

  9. 9
    Noelle says:

    And did you see what the asking price is 73.75!!
    I was going to say poor ignorant man bless his heart. But now I think he’s just evil.

    Spam: going87 -yep by next semester it will be going for 87.75
    While in ‘10 my “trash” will be going for only 12.50!

  10. 10
    Kelly C says:

    Well, this part actually makes sense to me:
    What good fiction, poetry, or drama does for us is leave us with the feeling that our experience has been expanded vicariously and that perhaps we know something afterward that we did not know before. In other words, good literature has an impact that, in some way, changes the reader.

    It may make sense, but it also implies/infers (whatever) that you can’t/don’t/won’t learn anything from any “trivial pursuits”.  (ie, romances, TV, etc. ) @@

    SpamWord: white98 – – – yes, I was white in ‘98.  ;-)

  11. 11
    dillene says:

    Well, I’m glad that there are worthwhile literary works on the subject.  I hate it when literature isn’t worthwhile.

    Jesus, what a poltroon.

  12. 12
    Kalen Hughes says:

    This is a bit of a mystery to me. There’s a literature professor at Vassar named Robert DeMaria Jr, who’s a specialist on Samuel Johnson (which might explain a lot, actually) but then there’s this Robert DeMaria on Amazon, etc., who has published a bunch of fiction on, As Kalen Hughes pointed out, Vineland Press.

    They are two different people (right?), but which is our culprit?

    Same person as far as I can tell. Unless the guy writing the creative writing tome has never actually published a work of fiction . . .

  13. 13
    Carrie Lofty says:

    They have a role to play in the lives of many people, and many of the writers involved find such work a pleasant and profitable form of employment, though significance in such works is clearly minimal.

    Pleasant and profitable and minimally significant. I’m so proud.

  14. 14
    Jessa Slade says:

    Ah yes.  I remember my creative writing classes in college.  First semester, all 12 people in my class killed off our main characters because we wanted our stories to be “taken seriously.”  And of course nothing is as serious as death. 

    As for Creativity Handbooks?  Run away, run away.

  15. 15
    Cat K. says:

    But! But! But! Isn’t it also true that when a book that is romantic in nature makes the Literature cut, it is then removed from the “romance novel” pile? Is this not what he might be talking about? I mean, not all stories of love/ romance/ affection/ HEA are necessarily going to be romance novels, but it seems to me that once a book is deemed to have light(er) reading and sufficient romantic content, it then gets defined as a “romance novel” by everyone (from B&N;, to Amazon, to my public librarian). No?

  16. 16
    MC Halliday says:

    What Kalen found, prompted me to do further research and I found out Vineyard Press Inc is listed as an ‘author funded’ publisher. (MacRae’s Industrial Guide)

    And on Amazon, from Vineyard Press, are several fiction books by a Robert Demaria (the cap M is shown as lower case).

    Cat K, if I might answer your question, the romance genre is simply defined by HEA.  It can be dark (noir) but must have a happy ending. Even if it has romantic elements, it isn’t a true romance.

  17. 17
    Paige says:

    What really got my goat about this whole article was the complete regard for television dramas as unimportant.

    The West Wing introduced political discourse (in a way M*A*S*H never could because M*A*S*H wasn’t allowed to discuss Vietnam) into fictional primetime and PEOPLE WATCHED. House discusses dysfunctional friendships, drug abuse, and medical issues—and it teaches us about them in a starkly different way than any other show has: the main character is a drug abuser, and an asshole, but the two aren’t interconnected…I thought the stereotype was that drugs ruin your life? Gossip Girl, even, is a treatise on the importance of material goods, the transformation of friendships into frenemyships among young women, and the blindness and apathy of the Y2K generation.

    The majority of people in our world won’t read great literature or watch McNeil Lehrer News Hour or even know what Noam Chomsky has to say about anything. However, people will watch tv and read romance novels and generally partake in popular culture. This popular culture, this trivial, insignificant drivel, is a window on the mass world. It is a harder job, in my opinion to be a television or romance writer than to write the next great American novel—for it is your job to open that window on culture, to capture a moment in time, and to reveal truths about the world while masking it in pure entertainment value. Some people might look deeper into romance novels and television dramas for those nuggets of truth and discover and appreciate things about themselves and the world they never noticed before. Others will just sit back and enjoy the ride. And maybe they’ll look at the world differently and maybe they won’t, but there’s nothing wrong with reading a book or watching a show just to read a book or watch a show.

  18. 18
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Dear Professor DeMaria,

    You sir, would clearly not know creative worth in literature if it came up and bit you in your smug, elitist, over-entitled, bony white ass.

    No Love,

    Someone who delights in writing material people actually want to read.

  19. 19
    AgTigress says:

    Flat characters have very little depth

    Well, who’d have thought it!

    I don’t really believe in the concept of teaching ‘creative writing’.  We all need to learn the mechanics of writing – to use vocabulary and syntax clearly in a way that conveys our meaning to the reader – and we can all benefit from analysing the strengths and weaknesses of published work, noting the pitfalls to avoid (like inane remarks about flat characters having little depth) and the successes that we should like to emulate.  However, polishing and improving the medium by which we convey our ideas, the actual words that we choose and set down, has little to do with creativity, and is a required skill for both fiction and non-fiction writers.

    The actual creativity, the ability to invent and envisage fictional people and situations, is innate in most people, but is very highly developed in some and quite limited in others (just like musical or artistic talent).  It cannot be taught.  It can be fostered and improved, especially through practice and informed, objective criticism, but it cannot be synthesised.  And if one accepts that the ability to tell stories that others will enjoy is an inborn gift, then all that ‘creative writing’ is really teaching is ‘writing’; that is, how to convey one’s thoughts in a way that others will understand clearly.

  20. 20
    Hortense Powdermaker says:

    The broad literary spectrum ranges from the silliest kind of romance or comic book adventure to the works of such major literary figures as…Jane Austen

    It’s curious that so many “great literature” pimps always acknowledge Austen as deserving a place in their pantheon. What is it that makes her important to them?

    There was a lot of nasty shit going on back in Austen’s day. The Anglican church routinely branded slaves on their plantations; poor people were executed for poaching; children could be sentenced to death for a number of crimes, including “strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age.”

    There were a lot of controversial human rights issues during the Regency period. Austen didn’t write about any of them.

    All she did was create some wonderful characters in *shudder* romances that have the plot essentials of beginning, middle, and end. What is it we know after reading her that we didn’t know before? That women can be silly, that clergymen can be pompous, that first impressions can be mistaken? These are “worldshaking” revelations that “change us” for the better?

    No, she’s great because – as is true of all romance – she wrote about the very human condition of falling in love.

  21. 21
    Lorelie says:

    Trivial literary entertainments . . . cannot be dismissed with contempt.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to learn a single thing from the writer who could not see the contradiction inherent in his word choices.

  22. 22

    Obviously I disagree with DeMaria’s opinions about the romance genre.

    What really got my goat about this whole article was the complete regard for television dramas as unimportant.

    I imagine the editors of Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies would be rather annoyed too.

  23. 23
    Suze says:

    Entertainment literature does not require characters with depth. It needs only stock characters to amuse us or help us wile away our leisure time.

    Golly, look at all those lowbrow losers reading entertainment literature!  How inferior of them!  Intelligent people (like me) read only important works of earth-shattering significance, and spend our leisure time improving our minds.  In fact, we have no “leisure” time, because everything we do is important and necessary, and without us and our intelligence, the world will surely plummet into ignorance and darkness.

    For the record, I require my entertainment literature to entertain me.  This requirement, in turn, necessitates that the characters I’m reading about have depth, matter to me, and teach me something about the world or myself that I didn’t know, or notice, before.

    So there.  Pthbthbth!

  24. 24
    Joanne says:

    Thrill, chill, and titillate in the absence of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment? MY ASS, SIR.

    That would be casting pearls before swine Sarah, save that view for those that would appreciate it.

    And of course, like so many of you, Frank Lloyd Wright is my go-to icon for tv viewing recommendations.

    In other words, good literature has an impact that, in some way, changes the reader.

    Yes!! Exactly! And the Handbook of Creative Writing ain’t it.
    Or maybe it’s been too long of a week and I just think this is one more person who puts romance in quotes so they can feel better about what they’ve just written.

  25. 25
    Alex says:

    I have a spare hardback copy of a Salvatore book I’d like to shove in his ass.

    Sideways.

    I may not be much of a romance reader, but I do read a lot of stuff classified as ‘entertainment’ reading. Hell, I have a whole shelf devoted to Terry Pratchett, an enormously funny comedic writer who can make a joke and a sharp point with just a few words. But because he’s 1) Fantasy 2) Funny, he’s not taken as ‘real literature’.

    Although Good Omens has made it onto the local high school reading list.

  26. 26
    Wendy says:

    *incoherent noise* 
    I never cease to boggle at this sort of thing.  We had a textbook in my 12th grade english class that tried to pull the same stuff on us.  We all (teacher included) wanted to pull a Dead Poets Society on it. 

    And, I’m with absolutley everyone who has already expressed their amusement/outrage/confusion over the concept of a creative writing handbook.  Really??  Whatever happened to reading texts and talking about process? 
    I’ve been reading a lot of “serious” lit and history lately, and I’ve gotta say, it’s just not doing half as well with my brain as all the fluffy “inconsequential” stuff I usually turn to.

  27. 27
    SonomaLass says:

    Hortense Powdermaker, hear hear!!  All Austen wrote was considered silly romantic stuff for women in her day, and yet she routinely makes today’s lists of significant literary figures.  Certainly it wasn’t because she couldn’t have written about other things.  Is anything more important to human beings than our relationships with each other?

    I hate it when people say “romance” and mean only the very worst of the categories—as if any genre would measure up well if judged by its dregs.  (No, nothing against category romance myself, just a personal feeling that the monthly market for so many new titles means that some of the Sheik’s Unwilling Virgins aren’t quite as well-written as others.)  And I really hate it when writers are pompous, judgmental ass-hats about the work of other writers.  (Yes, Mr/Professor DeMaria, I’m lookin’ at you!)

  28. 28
    Silver James says:

    And of course, like so many of you, Frank Lloyd Wright is my go-to icon for tv viewing recommendations.

    Joanne, my father had the misfortune of studying under Wright for a semester. He called Wright an “asshole” when he left the program. While I admire the man’s design skills and architecture, he absolutely sucked hind tit as a human being.

    Although Good Omens has made it onto the local high school reading list.

    Alex, that so totally ROCKS! I bought

    Good Omens

    when it was first released and have read it many times. STILL a favorite for “a dark and stormy night…”

  29. 29
    an says:

    I actually own the textbook too. It’s that bad all the way through.

    Zumie, you have my sympathies.

  30. 30
    Wryhag says:

    Oh, those insidious “paperback romances”!  Are hardcovers better?  Are e-books worse?  I wonder how Alice Walker and Cynthia Ozick feel about teh paperback romances.  I wonder if this creative writing tome will lead to fewer paperback-romance writers?  I wonder if Herman Melville spinneth in his grave!  (Here’s a touch of irony:  I was going to write my doctoral thesis on Melville.  Man had a great and wicked sense of humor.)

    Although these passages obviously raised more questions than they answered for me, I finally realized how out of touch with reality Mr. Mister was when he wrote the following:

    many of the writers involved find such work a pleasant and profitable form of employment

    Bolding mine.

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