30 November 2009

Zombie mayhem in classical literature

By Nicole E. Avery
GVL Columnist

Is it possible, or are my eyes deceiving me? Nope. It's true and there has been a permanent smirk on my face all week long while I've been reading "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith -- a fantastical redoing that enhances a timeless classic by introducing zombie mayhem.

Whether it was from a traditional English class, a BBC special, or that adventurous well-read Jack Russell dog re-enactment from the PBS show "Wishbone," almost everyone has heard of this classic must-read tale. I am an avid reader and love the classics. Like many other young girls I was charmed by Austen's handsome man of few words, Mr. Darcy. Yet everyone isn't as enthusiastic as I am about classic literature -- some people just aren't that geeky.

I attribute my extreme nerd behavior to personal preference or different strokes for different folks, as my dad would say.

One of the main reasons I am enjoying "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" so much is because it represents that commonly felt exasperation when you are struggling to get through thousands of pages of Ayn Rand, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck or Herman Melville -- which is exactly why what Grahame-Smith does with Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is so important. Grahame-Smith is able to change the way the reader relates to this particular book and draw in a crowd that would otherwise never be exposed to what I consider essential reading.

The only major setback to this novel is that many people will think that Grahame-Smith is defiling a classic by interjecting gore and hand-to-hand combat into an already "perfect" novel. Changing the novel seems almost insulting, disrespectful or some other sort of negativism that distracts from the authorial intent of the novel.

I look at it this way: My mother has cooked spaghetti the same way for years. I've always loved it, but when I moved out to Grand Valley State University for school I had to learn to cook for myself. I began to experiment with new ways to make a homemade spaghetti sauce. Guess what? It's scrumptiously delicious. Just because I came up with my own way to cook the recipe doesn't mean I would no longer eat the dish the way my mother prepares it. I like it both ways.

I feel the same way about "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," because though I have read the original, I find this version even more enjoyable and I am left with the feeling that even if I hadn't read the original beforehand, I would be curious and would read it.

You can enjoy something old by making it new. Everyone does it. Bands make covers of old songs, and Disney steals all their ideas from cultural folklore. It's exactly the same and shouldn't be so frowned upon.

Illustration from, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies".
Quirk Classics

Change the meaning -- change the effect

Change the meaning -- change the effect

By Nicole E. Avery
GVL Columnist

The characters of last week's episode of South Park attempted to change the meaning of the three-letter f-word from a derogatory negativism to a term symbolizing the annoyance caused by loud, obnoxious motorcycle riders.

Kenny and the gang present their idea to re-define the word to the mayor and it is adopted but ends up backfiring. Instead of the city being commended for what they think is an act of innovativeness, they are chastised nationally and the boys involved spend the rest of the episode trying to correct the mistake by petitioning that the word change be officially added to the dictionary and the new meaning nationally accepted.

South Park is funny in its stupidity (which of course is the point) but it raised an interesting question -- is it possible to purposely change the meaning of words?

Language does change throughout time, but it doesn't seem as if it ever includes derogatory words. Once a negative word is introduced into a culture, it takes up permanent residency.

Words fall in and out of circulation, but the difference between the word "groovy" being something your mom said and the three-letter f-word is that one specifically singles out a group of people in a negative and judgmental way.

The episode I watched of South Park insinuates words can be changed if society demands it either through petition or just out stubbornness in their insistence on what they mean when they use that particular word.

This theory is seen again in George Orwell's classic novel "1984" -- language is censored by the government and thought police. Any word that could in any way sprout individual thinking is stricken from the language all together. In the novel, every year a new edition of the dictionary is published- each one smaller than the last as target words are obliterated from the very language.

The authority of the dictionary strikes me in these two instances as being more powerful than I ever thought it was before -- it is literally the authoritative code by which we speak, live and communicate.

In South Park the new definition is accepted into the dictionary but the ironic part is the word's meaning wasn't altered in a positive light but mainly picked a new target. That is proof enough to me that negative words can't really be changed, only the direction of their poison positioned to a new target.

Even if the word itself technically changed, the effect it had on the generation attached to it does not change. The gay community will still be offended only now they will be forced by society to stifle their feelings because the word has been coined "politically correct."

Perhaps it depends on the region or country you're from or even perhaps the way you were raised, but I would never accept being called derogatory names once coined for my race.

It's more than the word, it's the powerful energy once behind it and meant when it was vocalized. Somehow that hate is embodied in the word and still lingers there whenever it is spoken.

People say words only have power because people give them that power-- I wonder what names they've been called.


How taboo is self-publishing really?

How taboo is self-publishing really?

By Nicole E. Avery
GVL Columnist

I do realize the irony of advocating self-publishing in a printed column, but I think this topic is often just shrugged off as being taboo when its really deserves closer inspection.

The reason why I like the idea of self-publishing is because I like control, and it puts the control of your career as a writer in your own hands.

When I sat down and thought about the pros and cons of self-publishing and about writing in general I realized successful writers are successful because people like how they write but more importantly what they write.

Think about Christians. They advocate Jesus and we gobble it up, beg for more and then turn around and spread the Gospel to someone else.

Think about Rappers. One of my particular favorites is Ludacris -- he sold mix tapes until he got signed.

Aren't these all really just ways of self-publishing the product you are trying to market?
Is self-publishing frowned upon because it defies the way things are traditionally done?

Some will say it's not the same, but I believe it is exactly the same.

Self-publishing is a writer's way of making a mix tape and getting it out to be "heard." Maybe I'm too eager or to hasty, but time is so precious and I want to get the ball rolling, not wait 20 years to become discovered. I want to give myself that extra push.

I am not encouraging anyone to publish what isn't polished. I wouldn't self-publish without having an editor and a group of people I trust read my final draft and offer their personal opinions.

I'm also not encouraging people to stop sending out their writing to publishers -- I think both avenues for getting your work published have their own place. Everything you write doesn't have to be traditionally published, but having some type of work, whether it be creative or professional, in print would add to your credibility as a writer.

Your mom shouldn't be your biggest fan -- you should be your biggest fan. Why not promote yourself?

There are a couple things on which both supporters of traditional publishing and advocates for self-publishing would agree.

Research different publishers and publishing options. To succeed in a market you need to understand how the market works, what is selling and why.

I feel most comfortable with the idea of self-publishing my works on Lulu.com. The process is straightforward, the different publishing plans allow me to control how everything is done from the illustrations to the type of pages and paper used. This online self-publishing site was introduced to me by a fellow Grand Valley State University writer, who in his senior year published a book of poems now sold on Amazon and locally at Schuler Books and Music.

You also need to be sure you're ready. I look at hiring an editor the same way a musician would their private lessons instructor or an ice skater would their coach. I do not pretend to have it all figured out -- I want and need extra guidance.

I just cannot resist the urge to make it happen instead of waiting for it to happen. I'm thrilled by the self-empowerment provided through self-publishing. You can have a dream and make it happen.

You can always reach for the stars, but sometimes you need to just grab them right out of the sky.


Palin and I -- united by fruit flies

Palin and I -- united by fruit flies

By Nicole E. Avery
GVL Columnist

Have you heard the buzz?

There has been an extensive amount of fruit fly research done in our country that has wasted money that could go to programs focusing on education, repairing the economy or literally any other project actually benefiting the American people.

Sarah Palin was berated on thinkprogress.org for criticizing the government for wasting America's valuable resources on projects that do not directly benefit the people -- such as resources spent on the funding for fruit fly research.

According to the article, Palin obviously hadn't researched what kind of scientific advancements were being funded by the government, and if she had done research, she would have known these "pet projects," as she called them, were actually making advancements in research pertaining to neural disorders such as autism.

I want cures for diseases just as much as the next person, but I want a cure for the current economic problems oppressing the American people such as unemployment, our educational system and decent health care for the elderly and disabled.

I have to admit I agree with Palin.

Currently, the biggest scientific breakthrough made via fruit fly research is that scientists have figured out how to insert artificial memories in a fruit fly's brain, causing it to fear things it was never afraid of before. The second biggest breakthrough scientists have made is they can also change what the fruit fly is sexually attracted to.

Here's how it works according to "The New York Times:"

The project was at first designed to calculate and analyze how the brain works by using a similar conditioning technique used on rats by psychologist. The fruit flies experience a scent combined with electric shocked so every time they smell that particular scent they fear it.

Eventually the experiment was upped to genetically altering the flies to be sensitive to a specific kind of light -- when they see it, it simulates a shock in their brain waves and causes them an attack of fear and pain.

I'm genuinely shocked PETA hasn't freaked out about this and started a petition to stop fruit fly cruelty.

I don't necessarily think it is wrong because fruit flies are being harmed -- although I do think it's creepy.

My problem with fruit fly research is it isn't benefiting autism at a fast enough pace for me to think it's more essential than other projects being privately sponsored.

Why is this taking precedent over immediate issues needing to be addressed in our country?

How much funding is actually going to this?

All of our troops aren't home from Iraq, we have no idea what we're going to do with Gitmo and every day more people file for unemployment because they've been laid off.

What is our government doing? Funding experimental fruit fly brainwashing projects that are essentially useless.