The Female Persuasion — SNL, Feminism & The Novel I’m Developing

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I am — by nature — a generalist. I know a little bit about a wide spectrum of things. So, I am often fascinated by people who know a lot about one thing. I also find the passion that things like Saturday Night Live can generate very intriguing. There’s only been one time in my life when I felt that much passion for a group of people and that was in Seoul. With that in mind, I’m at least trying to lean into that experience as the cornerstone of the novel I’m developing.

It’s a prime example of “write what you know” in action. But there’s a fine balance between writing about a fictionalized version of a place that you love and writing a lot of verbiage that many people in your potential readership will find tedious, at best. But I think if I really go into what makes the place special and how it has come to change the lives of the people connected to it and the community around it, then I think potential readers will enjoy it once they get into it.

One thing I have to really think about it establishing that such a place actually believable exists in the first place where I am determined to put in in my universe. My hope is that if I write about the place with a lot of obvious love that that will come across on the page and people will get into it. Or, put another way, I don’t care. This novel is for me and fuck you you don’t like it. Wink.

The universe I’ve created is very detailed and well thought out. Extremely so. Like, we’re talking Star Wars levels of backstory on the interaction between characters. But that comes more from how personal the story is than anything else. In a way, the plot of this novel is me running around emotionally naked. That is, of course, if you understand the inspiration for the people and places I’m writing about.

One fun part of all of this is having a vast amount of information that I have to explain to the reader in a simple, cogent fashion that makes the premise of the novel believable, even though, in a sense, it follows some of the conventions of science fiction. You might call the novel a “political science fiction novel.” I have referred to it as a “political fairy tale guilty pleasure for woke Park Slope moms” in the past. But I’m not a woman and don’t pretend to know anything more about women than any other man. I’m not an “ally,” but I am good-natured and empathetic. I try not to get too wrapped up in how you might suggest I have a vested interest in the patriarchy given that I am a member of it. Meh. I generally believe the more agency and happiness women have on a personal level the better off society is. If that makes me some sort of feminist “ally,” so be it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like T&A and won’t try to chat a woman up with sex on my mind if she’s hot.

I have numerous political views that don’t fit the narrative advocated by Blue Check Liberals on Twitter. Fuck that and fuck them. I’m my own person and I know what I believe. But I am generally compassionate and empathetic — or at least try to be.

You can’t please everyone.

The Writing Life — The Big Shrug: One Man’s Delusion Is Another Man’s Dream

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

Editor’s Note: I really am writing a novel. And I generally do writing like this when I’m feeling completely overwhelmed and need to release some stress. So, please, don’t get spooked by this post because I mention Alexa Chung’s name, for fuck’s sake. I’m extremely harmless. Leave me alone and let me work on my novel in peace.

The more serious I become with this novel, the less I care about anything but producing the best tale I can. I don’t care about any possible eventual interest by Hollywood (ha!), I don’t care about preening on Twitter about how many words I may have written. I just care about pushing myself to my creative limits.

One thing is for sure — I have a lot of difficulty taking myself too seriously. It’s just not in my nature not to giggle when a “normal’ person with an actual traditional career sniffs that I’m too big a loser to help in any shape, form or fashion. I’m thinking, of course, of Jodi Kantor’s recent polite but clipped 1 line email response to me. I didn’t want much of her time — maybe five minutes at the most — but she made it very, very clear that I was a complete waste of ANY of her time and good day to you good sir.

My female romantic lead looks like Alexa Chung
Has Jodi Kantor’s career drive..
…and would probably be played in the movie adaptation (if there was one, ha!) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Generally, anything idea for the novel that makes me laugh — even if it’s actually rather dark or serious — I put in. So, I’ve decided to study Ms. Kantor as best I can so I can, at least in terms of her career and public persona — reproduce those two things in my female romantic lead. So, in a sense, while in real life I can’t even get her to help me in any way, in my fevered novel’s phantasm, she’s going to fall in love with the proxy-me Hero. Haha! Ms. Kantor is rather intense, to say the least. But any inspiration she’s giving me for the character I have in mind is simply how someone like her thinks about the world. I’m not really using her appearance or personal life — just her professional life and maybe her demeanor.

This novel is completely for me at this point. I’m throwing my heart, soul and nearly complete personal history into it. I know a little bit about a whole lot of things — my knowledge base is extremely wide but rather shallow. I can have a cocktail party conversation with virtually anyone about virtually anything. Or, at least, I like to think so.

Anyway, I don’t know. I’m putting as much work as I can into this novel. Only time will tell if anyone else cares.

Novel Re-Calibration Today

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I have no idea what I’m doing. Not only that, I have absolutely no one to talk to about what I’m doing. So, the learning curve has been brutal. Every so often, there’s a major re-calibration of the novel. Sometimes it’s existential and I get nervous that the whole thing is a fool’s errand. Then, there are days like today when I’m stoked.

The last 48 hours I’ve been weighing different character names over and over and over and over and over again. I think, finally, I’m just about where I need to be. Almost. Then, also today, it really hit home how important theme as well as cause and effect are. This definitely sometimes gives me the feeling that I’m running in circles and, yet, I also sensed a major improvement in the specifics of the story.

As long as I’m moving forward, I’m happy. The better my canon & scene summary are, the quicker I can actually write the next draft. It’s just what I’m seeing is how poorly thought out the original idea was. Also, my personal editor is growing more brutal in my mind every day that slows things down some.

But there is significant forward momentum.

Wish me luck.

A Personal Challenge

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

It’s extremely amusing the paradox I find myself in. On one hand, I simply need the opportunity to gauge how well I’ve managed to reverse-engineer the life of modern women by, like, talking to a modern woman (I have no friends of any sort) and, yet, the very type of person who could help me out in that regard is the absolute least likely to help me in any way without getting some money as part of the event. And that’s before they do their due diligence and instantly see that to their eyes, I’m just another bonkers Internet weirdo. (Ugh.)

So, all I got is simply Twitter, YouTube and my own capacity for empathy. That’s it. There’s not a notable professional woman on the planet who will help me at all, for any reason, to produce better female character in the novel. Just by asking, I come off as a kook looking to flirt with them or something.

Shrug. This is why we can’t have nice things. And, really, the issue is more about things I can’t control at this point. I’m old. Didn’t go to a good enough university. I don’t live in NYC or LA. I have very strong political views that can unexpectedly not fit the media narrative you find smashed into your head on Twitter. As such, in a way, even if I end up writing the novel I hope to write, I’m pretty much just always going to be a more woke version of Ken Bone in the end.

Lulz. I guess.

My Novel Wants To Be A Movie

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I’m enjoying developing my novel a great deal. But there are times when I wince at how much a movie wants to pop out of it like an alien xenomorph. A lot of the scenes are very visual and require you know songs for them to make the most sense. And, yet, given that I can only use song titles for IP reasons, I have to pick songs whose titles sum up what the songs are about as well as their mood.

Most of these songs, of course, are so well known that even the most clueless reader has at least vaguely heard of them. One thing I know is I really have to explain why my heroine would listen to the music she listens to. The average young person today listens to a very specific type of music that a lot of older people such as myself simply have never heard.

Luckily, however, the novel is set in the immediate past AND I’ve managed to come up with a reasonable explanation for why my heroine would listen to the type of music I need her to listen to. But the issue of how people will know in real terms how a song I want in their mind would play in the context of the scene is something that eats away at me. It would be solved very easily if I was writing a screenplay. But I don’t want to do that right now. I want to write a novel. I just am a very music-oriented person and I’ve structured the entire novel from the ground up so that pop rock music that I know a lot about is a crucial aspect of its universe.

But anyway. I going to try to flesh out my scene summary as much as I can this weekend. I’m shooting for no later than sometime in January to start writing in earnest again. I have a lot of momentum and love the characters, plot, and universe. I just have to live up to my own pretty brutal expectations. Even then, I’m a lot better storyteller than writer.

Constructing A Believable Heroine For This Novel Is A Real Challenge

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I did not go into this trying to write the novel this has become. I was trying to write a novel with a proxy-ME in the center of it. But gradually, I realized it was far more practical to make a young woman at the center of the story. But one of the major issues I’ve had to deal with is the appearance of my heroine.

The market wants her to be a sexxy slutty assassin, while the audience, not so much. And the more I read about how the woke blue check liberals of, say, Vox, view story telling the more angry I get. It seems as though the smug liberals of Vox have completely come to see any sort of universal story as illegitimate. Or, to put it another way, a middle aged white man can’t tell the story of anyone but middle aged white men. Slay the patriarchy and all that.

I say this as someone who in the never ending hellscape of Twitter probably is a lot more liberal-progressive than the above paragraph might suggest. Also, I have to lower my expectations and be more frank with myself about how likely it is I can even sell this novel whenever that point in the process comes.

I have spent hours and hours tying to figure out what my heroine looks like and the specifics of her ethnic background. It’s crucial, at least to me, that I’m able to balance the needs of the marketplace with the expectations of the audience. It’s a lot of fun, but also a pretty tough challenge. Right now, writing this novel is like really hard job that I love.

I’m writing this for myself and to simply go through the process of writing a novel. That’s it. If anyone who doesn’t know me reads it and likes it, then that would be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Or, put another way, you write your first novel for yourself. I can’t help how old I am. I know that would be a part of the story if it became any sort of success. And, really, the entire point of this novel is having some sort of outlet for my rage against MAGA. The plot is really just an excuse to run around an allegory about the Trump Era.

Hopefully, the story is entertaining enough just on its surface that even if people are hate-reading it, they will enjoy it.

Alien’s ‘Ripley,’ & The Struggle To Tell A Universal Story In The Age Of Trump

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I’m trying to distract myself so I can come up with a different take on specifics of the novel I’m developing, so I’m writing about whatever pops into my mind to that end.

So, Ripley. Ripley was originally written for a man. It’s a testament to how great an actress Sigourney Weaver is that her interpretation of that character is such a universally loved icon. I keep thinking of Ripley as a character build my heroine. I want a strong heroine that women like because she’s strong and complex and men like because she’s hot and they feel she would kick their ass if they crossed her.

Having said that, the issue of my heroine’s appearance has been the subject of much, much, much, much internal debate and struggle on my part. The issue is the market wants her to be a sexxy slutty assassin, while the audience — especially women — wants something far more complex. Things get even more complex when you factor in that while many vocal feminist actresses in Hollywood want strong, complex heroines, they at the same time seem to have very strict and narrow demands about what that means. The character can’t be too hot. She has to want to slay the patriarchy. She can not fit any trope that has ever been articulated by anyone at any point in the past. And, really, I sometimes think they don’t even want a man — especially a middle-aged white male like me — to write the damn story to begin with. They think only women can tell a female story and fuck you, you creepy old dude in a flyover state for wanting to try your hand at it.

My reaction to this problem is it sobers me up. I take what I’m doing far more seriously. I’m lower my expectations. I’m writing the story for myself. If it happens that someone else — anyone else — likes it, then that’s great. But there are some existential issues that I simply can’t avoid — one is I hate MAGA with a white hot rage and, well, I’m also a middle aged white man. So, in real terms, it’s unlikely that the more “woke” members of the intended audience will be all that thrilled with it given that they liked the movie Booksmart and the novel The Female Persuasion. Identity politics narrows who will be willing to give me a chance in the first place. The very people who I will need to generate buzz — blue check liberals — are the very people the most likely to scoff that someone like me could write the type of novel I want to write in the first place.

But we’ll see, I guess. The story is improving greatly right now. It will be interesting to see how embarrassing the product is when I finish the next draft and let Beta Readers look at it.

The Demise Of Universal Truth

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

It’s difficult to have a story that evokes emotions on a mass level when there’s no universal truth. If every single option you have as a storyteller is simply reduced to this or that “trope” then, well, now what. There’s a reason why they say there’s nothing new under the sun.

Yes, tropes and cliches exist and should be rightfully avoided. And, yet, there comes a point when you’re so wrapped up in smelling your own farts when it comes to pointing out tropes that you miss the entire point of telling a story in the first place. My current irritation is something evoked by a Vox article I stumbled across. It goes on at great length about how, essentially, any time a woman’s life is put in danger it’s a variation of the “fridging” trope and thus to be poo-pooed. I find this very fucking annoying as a storyteller because while, yes, it is easy to use violence towards women as a plot device to move a male character’s arc along, to simply dismiss its use altogether as lazy is a fucking dick move. It’s because violence towards women is so fucking bad that it’s an effective way to engage readers and get them interested in how everything is going to be wrapped up.

It should be use sparingly, yes. It should not be used gratuitously. It should be avoided, but not eliminated altogether. I guess the Vox article was trying to say that specifically sexual violence towards women is a lazy trope not to be used if its solely for the purpose of moving a male character through his journey…and….yet, they seemed to have a very, very broad interpretation of the “fridging” trope. So broad as to suggest using it at all is, what, being done to the benefit of the patriarchy that we keep being told is supposed to be slayed?

While I hate MAGA with a white hot rage, I think the proof is in the pudding when it comes to pop art. The average person just wants an interesting story with interesting people put in intriguing situations. If you do the hard work have character development and plot, if something bad happens to a woman then it’s not some meta-experiment in keeping women subjugated by the patriarchy on a societal level, it’s simply the story you, the artist, want to tell. As such, a lot of stories that may not pass the Bechtel Test (fuck that test, by the way) or the “slay the patriarchy” test are rather popular with both men and women. And by “popular,” I mean make money and have some sort of cultural significance.

All of this is making me much more serious when it comes to write a novel. I realize that there’s at least a 99% chance I’m going to fail on a pretty monumental level. But I started this adventure for two reasons 1) to have a creative way to rant against MAGA 2) to go through the process of trying to develop, write and sell a potential pop work of art novel.

Anyway, we’ll see. I still have a lot of work to do. But it’s fun. A lot of fun. Wish me luck.

On The Issue Of ‘Fridging’ In Modern Storytelling

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I try to be empathetic to the liberal-progressive agenda. I really, really, do. But when “woke” people come after some pretty basic elements of storytelling I get really, really mad. I have been aware of the “fridging” trope for some time, but I was unaware that essentially now ANY use of anything related to it is “canceled” in woke culture.

Or maybe only women can use it now? Is that it? No matter how great the story is, if women are put in danger for any reason for the sake of a plot it’s “fridging” and looked down upon? Fuck that. What makes it all the worse is how broad and convoluted the arguments against using the threat of violence against women as a storytelling technique are. I mean, really, people. Has anyone looked out the window? The real world is a harsh, brutal place. There are elements of my story should mitigate the “fridging” accusation for a least some of the woke media observers on Twitter who would harp and bitch about the story in the extremely unlikely event this story is actually a success in any way.

The only thing I can do is be extremely aware of that criticism going forward. That’s all I got. I’m not changing my story to fit anyone’s “woke” political agenda. This story is meant to be a great story that *I* enjoy. I just don’t want to embarrass myself.

There comes a point when you just have to accept that you can’t please everyone — especially woke media observers — and simply embrace the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I guess Star Trek, that is a utopia and barely has any conflict, is the only thing we should be shown from now on or something.

‘Star Wars’ In Trouble & How I Would Fix It Going Forward

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner

I have a theory about Star Wars that goes like this — the moment Lando Calrissian was not a woman, the entire thing was doomed. The reason is — if that character’s gender was flipped, instantly Luke would have had a romantic interest and a major flaw in the whole saga would have been fixed. But, whoops!

So, really, this is what I would do.

I would let Episode 9 come out. Then I would take a long, hard look at the state of the franchise. I would blow the whole thing up. Burn it to the ground. Then boil it down to what the fan base loves about it and use that as the foundation of a new cycle.

Some suggestions.

A young male protagonist.
A strong-willed female romantic lead.
A rake.
Cool robots and aliens.
A task (NOT Death Star related)
Lots of call backs to the original universe.

To top it all off, I would stop being greedy and “woke.” Make the movie far more serious — in a sense — and think about storytelling not selling toys or a not-so-subtle liberal-progressive message. Just tell a damn good story and if you get to subtly tell a story that gets your political agenda across, all the better.

The issue is the “base” of Star Wars is center-Right and the management of Disney is center-Left and very, very greedy. I think there’s even some sort of media theory about this situation. I would, if I was in charge of Disney, accept that the base is center-Right and embrace it while also “dog whistling,” if you will more woke people. It’s not impossible, people.

No one listens to me.