TNT’s The Hero and The Hunger Games

I missed the penultimate episode of TNT’s The Hero last week because I was at a conference (and doing much more interesting things than watching TV), but finally caught up with the show last night. I’m glad I did, in part because the finale is tonight (8/1) and in part because it was one of the most emotionally satisfying episodes of the show.

It feels really odd to write the words “emotionally satisfying” about a reality show, but The Hero has been an interesting experiment. The premise isn’t much different from any other challenge-style TV show: a cross-section of contestants chosen for their looks and personalities are lumped together and put through various TV-ready tortures, then kicked off the show one by one. What’s different is the up-front emphasis on ethics: while all competition shows involve questions of ethics (Should a player lie to get ahead? What should she do if she’s presented with the opportunity to sabotage another player?), The Hero puts those questions front and center. It’s mission is to determine “America’s Hero,” and while the show certainly shapes viewer expectations about who that hero is–someone who overcomes physical challenges, someone relatively young and good-looking, someone who conforms to social norms of gender and sexuality–it also baits the audience, asking questions like: should family be put before strangers? Is it acceptable to desire success only for oneself? Is it more “heroic” to pursue every challenge or to allow others to take one’s place?

My two favorite moments from last night involved the point of no return for two players. (And really, the editors of this show have done an amazing job in creating “hero’s journeys” for all the contestants–including an antihero/villain’s journey for Marty. What had previously made him a character to root for–his enthusiasm and energy–was revealed to have a dark side: a particularly childish and blind selfishness.)

Marty's a dick.

Marty’s a jerk.

The first point of no return was crossed by Patty: a self-identified “just a mom” who started the show with an acute fear of heights and a reluctance to champion herself.

Patty is fucking terrified of heights. So am I. I feel you, Patty.

Patty is fucking terrified of heights. So am I. I feel you, Patty.

In the penultimate episode, she chose to cross a five hundred foot high wire alone in order to win a team challenge.

In the upper right corner, there is a very little person. That's Patty. In my head: effffffffff.

Three people can’t cross that wire in three and a half minutes. But maybe one acrophobic can.

And Patty did it like a boss.

That look on her face. Holy dude, peeps. THAT IS HEROFACE.

That look on her face. Holy dude, peeps. THAT IS HEROFACE.

Basically, after this episode, I really wanted a Patty action figure.

Seriously, I want a Patty Super Badass Mom Action Figure.

Seriously, you can have all my money if you make a Patty action figure.

But the best moment was when Charles Katnissed The Hero.

Charles in a hopeful mood.

Charles in a hopeful mood.

Charles–for some background–has been one of the quietest members of the show, but also one of the most thoughtful. He’s a police officer IRL, and though the show’s grand prize–$610,000, after Patty’s successful wire-walk–was an obvious draw for him to compete, he also seemed to be on a kind of spiritual quest: a desire to prove himself worthy in his own eyes as much as anyone else’s. Earlier in the season–after the announcement of a win-or-gtfo open-sea swim challenge–Charles talked about being inspired by Eddie Aikau, a Hawaiian lifeguard who sacrificed himself in an attempt to save members of his crew, and was visibly saddened when he didn’t get the opportunity to face the challenge, even though, in all probability, he would have failed and been eliminated.

Finding the message.

Finding the message.

In the penultimate episode, after Patty’s challenge, the players were informed (via a message on the panel tv in the players’ penthouse) that of the six remaining players, only five would be eligible to win the whole competition, and the players had to decide on–then vote off–one person. Charles saw the message first, thought about it, then returned to the kitchen where the other players were sitting.

Decision.

Decision.

And then he Katnissed The Hero.

He volunteered himself for elimination, with the rationale that a true hero would sacrifice himself for his team, thus ensuring that the (imo) most heroic member of the show could not be voted “the hero.”

Sacrifice.

Sacrifice.

His action underscored the arbitrary and needlessly narrow world of the television “reality” show: while the format demands that we have only one “hero,” the reality is that we have many.

It was–scripted or not–a rather brilliantly meta moment in a TV series that, while superficially all swagger and hoo-rah, has quietly and deliberately challenged viewer perceptions from episode one.

If you don’t believe me, go check it out. Episodes are available through iTunes and Amazon.

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Ohioana Book Festival 2013

The Ohioana Book Festival–an annual spring celebration of writers linked to Ohio, put on by the Ohioana Library Association–took place this past weekend. I attended, and got to meet a number of smart, friendly authors and publishing peeps. A number of panels shared interesting tidbits:

From the CEO of Columbus Metropolitan Library, Patrick Losinski: Large urban library systems buy hundreds of copies of popular titles to fill demand across multiple branches, and libraries will usually purchase more copies of a title if the number of hold requests for a title exceeds a certain ratio (for example, 1 copy to 3 requests). Many libraries are also open to posting “buy” buttons alongside their digital catalog offerings.

Also, libraries with a social media presence often have thousands of fans; organizing a Facebook Q&A, for example, can be a great way to reach readers.

Other speakers and authors (including novelist Sharon Short, renegade parent and author Heather Shumaker, and publicist Kelsey Swindler, of the Ohio press Orange Frazer) shared advice on traditional versus self-publishing, finding an agent, writing well, and promoting books; and there were a lot of writers who needed to hear it. I missed indie author Belinda Kroll, but hopefully I’ll catch up with her soon.

Libraries and Authors and Book Sales

Scott Turow, bestselling novelist and the current president of the Author’s Guild, wrote an article for the New York Times on the cultural and economic forces besieging authors.

As writer Chuck Wendig pointed out on Twitter, Turow seems to suggest that libraries–once allies of authors–are becoming their enemies as more and more allow the lending of ebooks. Turow: “Now many public libraries want to lend e-books, not simply to patrons who come in to download, but to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection. In this new reality, the only incentive to buy, rather than borrow, an e-book is the fact that the lent copy vanishes after a couple of weeks.”

I can’t address all of Turow’s article, but I wanted to briefly talk about his antagonism to libraries, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

First: as others have pointed out, not everyone has an ereader. Not everyone reads ebooks. In fact, most people don’t.

Second: the ebook loan programs I’ve encountered at libraries often have waiting lists for ebook borrowing, just like print books. Libraries don’t loan unlimited copies of ebooks.

Third: A library checkout–ebook or print–isn’t a lost sale. I read many, many books from the library that I wouldn’t pay for–because the author is unfamiliar to me, because the genre isn’t my favorite, because I only want to read a small portion of the book. In a few cases, after reading a borrowed book, I want my own copy–because it touched me, because I want to reference it, because I want to read it again or lend it to someone else. In even more cases, reading a library book has led me to become an avid consumer of that author: in a reading frenzy, I’ll seek out everything that author has written, happily buying copies of books that the library doesn’t have or has long waiting lists for.

As a reader, I’m a little insulted by the idea that Scott Turow wants me to pay full cover price for every book of his that I read, before I read it. It’s a “cash on the barrelhead” approach that implies that he needs to get my money now, because he doubts that I’ll want to read his work more than once or lend it to a family member or even just keep it on my bookshelf like a trophy. There’s a hint of lack of faith, that perhaps he believes he needs to get his money up front, that we won’t see the value of his work and pay to have a copy of our own.

MWW Exercises, part III

This isn’t really an exercise–it’s what I wrote for the Write-Off at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop. I thought it was pretty good, but I guess it didn’t have enough monkeys.

Prompt: write the first 100 words of the story that follows this beginning:

Ruth St. Clair took one last look at the divine mess on her desk and turned off the lights to her office in the Primate Lab of the Hudsonville Municipal Zoo. She closed and locked the door before stopping to bid her neighbor adios. Next door, Manuel Llosha played what appeared to be a game of Angry Sudoku. Or was it Battleship Basketball?

“So this is how you solved big cat cancer immunity puzzle, eh?” Llosha waved and zipped his mouth shut.

St. Clair nodded. Slapped the bulletin board between their offices and went to her car. As she unlocked her sister’s hand-me-down Honda, a scream burst from the African Savanna.

What I wrote:

The zombie virus progressed unpredictably. Someone they’d received recently must have kept enough of his cognitive ability to recognize the horror of his situation: trapped in the Savannah with other milling zombies, a tub of Thorazine-laced water, and a platter of Nutriloaf chunks. She picked up her cell anyway.

“The perimeter’s clear, St. Clair. Go home.”

She closed her phone. The zoo opened on Wednesdays, to let family visit. She thought it was cruel, and crueler for the zombies if they could recognize faces.

She leaned against the car and thought–like usual–that she would resign tomorrow.

Then she blew a kiss toward the American Prarie. “Goodnight, Pete. Goodnight, Annie.” And returned to her empty home.

MWW Exercises, part II

An exercise from the Midwest Writers’ Workshop, from Julie Hyzy‘s dialogue class:

Characters who evade answering the questions they’re asked raise the tension of a scene much more than characters who answer. Write how characters might evade answering the following three questions: Are you married? How long have you been here? Where are you going?

“Are you married?” he asked. The girl gave him a scornful look.

“What are you, some kind of pedophile?”

“Just sayin’. Pretty young thing like you, not interested in a boy like that.”

She scrubbed harder at the dishes.

“How long have you been here, anyway?”

“Long enough to know I’m not staying.”

Her hand slipped and her arm plunged into the soapy water. She cursed and yanked the sprayer down.

He moved the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “Where you going?”

She shot a look at him, then turned the sprayer off, yanked her apron over her head, and threw it on the counter.

“Hey–where are you going?”

MWW Exercises, part I

I’m attending a really cool writer’s conference (Midwest Writers’ Workshop) and I’ve been writing some exercises that turned out to be pretty fun, so I thought I’d share a few. From Lee Martin‘s flash fiction workshop, two short ways of telling the same story:

Version 1: story in less than 10 words (I cheated a little with a long title):

“Excerpt from Wilford Elementary School Yearbook: Elaine Shoop, Fourth Grade Teacher:”

Biggest regret: Roger Brown, class of ’93, kidnapper.

Version 2: using setting description to set mood

I smell decades of chalk, years of moldy air-conditioning vents, and a faint whiff of the just-learning-to-sweat bodies of my students. The sky outside the casement windows is a darker version of our usual Ohio morning view; clouds shoulder in front of the sun without bringing rain. For a moment, my tote bag is too heavy to move, and I stand, alone, in the room I teach in, the room where Roger Brown learned about the branches of government. In half an hour, my colleagues will fill the building with burnt coffee, egg sandwiches, Xerox toner. They, too, will have prepared especially for today. But early retirement and inter-departmental transfers mean I am the only one who taught Roger Brown: class of ’93, straw-blond hair, five achievement stickers in Geography, liked to ride bikes with his brother, kidnapped and killed a four-year-old girl this weekend.

Audio! from the Sharon Olds/William Trowbridge reading

The March Good Thunder Reading is online! I read from The Kiss-Off for about seven minutes, then William Trowbridge and Sharon Olds rock the house. Download or listen here.

You can also check out other writers’ craft talks and readings on the Good Thunder interview page (organized from oldest to newest — scroll to the bottom for this year’s readings and interviews, including Ben Percy, Minnesota Book Award winner John Reimringer, and others). (FYI — the George Saunders reading is hilarious and breathtakingly tense at the same time.)