Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Video Games As Art? Sure, Why Not

That’s what the Smithsonian Museum of Art in D.C. said when it decided to have an exhibit exploring the 40-year evolution of video games.

The museum was serious enough about the idea that they asked a professional programmer and gaming enthusiast to curate the exhibit, which starts next year and runs from March 16 – September 30, 2012.

Chris Melissinos, of Northern Virginia, has a background in programming, having worked for Sun Microsystems for many years. While there, he worked his way up to Chief Gaming Officer, a position within the gaming division he convinced the then-CEO to create in order to take the company to the next level. Ultimately, it was his high profile within the gaming community that led to his curator gig for the Smithsonian.

All that is fine and dandy, but let’s get back to nuts and bolts, here. Which is: can video games really be classified as art?

If you apply the standard definition of “art” to video games, then yes, they can be considered art. Art is the “quality, production, expression, or realm--according to aesthetic principles--of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” Video games are certainly appealing to plenty of folks around the world (including my brother, who can literally spend hours at a time playing with his online buddies). Video games contain narratives and engage and influence audiences, just like that other popular storytelling medium, film. And have you seen the graphics on some of these games nowadays? More and more, video games contain sophisticated worlds with realistic surroundings and beautiful environments that make it hard to tell a game image from reality. Mad talents (and artists), those gaming programmers.

But seriously, “art” is a subjective thing, right? Frankly, I don’t see the artistic merit in Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings, but my husband thinks they’re awesomely avant-garde. And naturally, the writer (and snob) that I am, I think literature is some of the best art out there, while my husband finds most fiction boring and self-serving. To each his own, right?

Right. So the Smithsonian—and Mr. Melissinos—should go on with their bad selves and have a field day convincing us video games are an art form. Because they are.

Well, except maybe Pong.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One Man's Graffiti is Another Man's Art (Part Two)

This post is meant to follow up on my One Man's Graffiti is Another Man's Art, a post primarily about street art and specifically about Banksy, the British graffiti artist making waves for his irreverent and thought-provoking street art.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles will be having an exhibit entitled, "Art in the Streets," that celebrates the pioneers of graffiti art in 1970s and '80s L.A. Artists such as Chaz Bojórquez and Craig Stecyk, among others, will get their due in this exhibit that opens April 17.

No doubt these aging artists--who are still going strong--influenced the likes of Banksy and other street artists of today.

The landscape of street art is changing. Has it gone from underground to mainstream? Read this recent Los Angeles Times article and find out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Trying to Go Too Far, Too Quickly

I came thisclose to self-publishing my newest novel, LAND OF LOST SECRETS.


Well, I haven’t had much luck finding an agent--mostly because, although I’ve been writing professionally for more than a decade, it’s not the type of writing agents use to determine if you can write a novel. (I write corporate communications—press releases, newsletters, direct mail, etc. Agents want to see short stories and poems and essays in literary journals, or so I’m told.) Plus, it could have something to do with the fact that I’m trying to be the female Dan Brown and publish my (potentially controversial) DaVinci Code magnum opus as my first novel, something even Dan Brown himself wasn’t able to do.

Although I’m passionate as hell about this book, and it’s not the first book I’ve written (it’s the third), I’ve come to the conclusion that THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS may not see the light of day—at least not yet. That’s because I chose the wrong book. I haven’t written the wrong book, per se. I just chose the wrong book with which to establish myself. The right book, the book that will launch my career, has yet to be written—but I’m working on the one that will (I think).

It took me a while—and a couple dozen rejections—to reach this catharsis.

And it didn’t come easily.

I spent a year and a half researching and writing THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS, another six months editing it and showing it to industry professionals, all of whom said the same thing: it’s good, it has commercial appeal and it could be a hit. I tested portions of the manuscript with beta readers and they had similar enthusiasm—they all wanted to read it. When I thought the manuscript was ready, I sent queries and sample pages out to about two dozen carefully researched agents. And then…the rejections poured in.

I took the rejections in stride and kept sending queries out, tracked my progress and kept record of any and all responses. After about two dozen rejections, I was like, “What the eff?” I did my due diligence, so what gives? Why couldn’t I sell the damn thing?

That’s when I started thinking about self-publishing. I’d just read about Amanda Hocking, the Minnesota woman who published nine or so of her paranormal novels as e-books and made herself a millionaire. She had no writing credits and no agent either. Just a passion for writing and a need to put her stuff out there for consumption. Just like me! And J.A. Konrath—he’s a poster boy for self-publishing success. I figured I could find the same kind of success and wealth as Ms. Hocking and Mr. Konrath. I mean, I have the time to dedicate to the endeavor, and with my marketing background, I already had all kinds of promotional ideas and a rolodex of people to promote the book to…

And I thought, This could work! This could truly work for me! This may be the path I was meant to take. All kinds of successful and respected authors and speakers and self-help gurus were self-publishing nowadays--and for many reasons, one of which is because there’s less stigma attached to self-publishing.

But then reality set in…I read that Amanda Hocking found success because she treated the marketing and promotion of her books as a full-time job. Thousands of hours of emails and social networking and pounding the pavement…to the point that it pretty much consumed her life. And Mr. Konrath? Well, he already had a huge following of readers from having been traditionally published years ago.

And I was all like, “Great. I already have a full-time job that pretty much consumes me, and I don’t have a built-in readership like this Konrath guy.” I’d have to start from scratch and work like hell for people to take me---and my self-published novel--seriously. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t think I had it in me. And after a bit of soul-searching and some reassessing of what I was truly trying to achieve, I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t self-publish THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. Maybe I wasn’t meant to.

And here’s the funny reason why: In my desire to be a full-time novelist, I forgot that there’s an order to things. A step-by-step process to reach the top of the publishing world. My impetuousness was causing me to try and “make it” before the time was right. Simply put, I was trying to go too far, too quickly.
Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me?

I mean, really. A writer with barely any writing credits and no industry credibility trying to sell a biblical thriller about the life of Jesus? Any self-respecting agent would think that I was trying to become rich and famous by being controversial. Who the hell did I think I was? Lady GaGa?

No, that’s not who I’m trying to be. All I want to do is tell damn good stories and make a living doing it. Nothing controversial about that.

And that’s when I realized that THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS was a book I’d have to work up to. Take the proverbial baby steps in order to reach the point when it’d be the right time. Because THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS could be controversial, and now is not the time for that. I’m not ready for that. I have to establish myself first. Write a "Good in Bed" or a “Hunger Games.”  My time will come. I just have to wait. And be patient. And work hard.

Besides, despite the respect that self-publishing has earned, I still like the notion of being a part of a publishing “team.” An agent to guide my career, an editor to smooth out all the wrinkles, a publisher with PR gurus. Yes, I realize that the publishing industry is shrinking and that some of them don’t always have the author’s best interests at heart and that I’ll be counted on to do most if not all of the marketing and promotion, but that’s okay. I expect all that. Despite the long time it takes for a book to come out, I want to know what it's like to be on the "inside." Who doesn't like having friends in high places?

So, what’s an enterprising girl to do? Well, I’ve decided to not self-publish THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. As painful as it is, I’m slowly purging that novel from my system and creating headspace for LAKE OF FIRE, a paranormal mystery I’ve started writing. I’m excited about it. I have high hopes for publishing it traditionally.

Because, you know, there will be a time for THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. But first, there has to be a “Deception Point” and a “Digital Fortress.” ***

*** Bonus points to you if you knew those were the two books Dan Brown published before DaVinci Code.