Deus ex machina: Latin for “God in the machine.” And I don’t mean slot machine.
Are you impressed by my linguistic ability? Don’t be; that and “e pluribus unum” just about exhaust my dead language repertoire. (Although I’ve often thought that “Ad Infinitum ” would make a good name for an advertising agency. Certainly better than “Ad Nauseum.”)
I bring the phrase up because of a recent lukewarm review I received for my Las Vegas novel, “Dice Angel.” (Yes, I still read reviews. And some of them bother me, although I’m a lot less thin-skinned than I used to be. The ones that bother me are those that just don’t get it. I have no problem with intelligent criticism.)
This particular reviewer took issue with what he called my use of the deus ex machina plot device at the end of the book. The device, in which something happens from out of the blue to save the day (think Calvary riding to the rescue in the old cowboy and Indian flicks), has long gotten a bad critical rap. Critics, reviewers and educators feel that it’s a cheap, easy way out. And sometimes they’re right.
But in this case, I believe the reviewer missed the point. “Dice Angel,” after all, is about the laws of karma and luck. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been the recipient of more than a few lucky breaks during my lifetime. Some of them saved my life; others simply opened doors of opportunity or made me a couple of bucks the easy way. Regardless, it’s part of the nature of existence. And if literature (or even my stuff) holds up a mirror to human reality, why shouldn’t things sometimes break the right way for the protagonist?
Here’s something I’ve been known to say when readers accuse me of not following the rules or, conversely, following the rules too closely: “I may make mistakes, but I do them on purpose.” Or, as the Dice Angel herself comments, “You have to know the rules to break the rules.”
An erstwhile friend and I have had long, occasionally heated discussions about the value of commercial viability. He was a successful screenplay writer in the late 70s and early 80s; now he’s retired here in Las Vegas. He hates my writing. In “Dice Angel,” for example, he got on my case because I didn’t make Amaris 27-years-old and have her fall in love with our hero, Jimmy Delaney. You know what? I’ve read that book and seen that movie a hundred times. Doesn’t interest me anymore. And, as I’ve said before in one of these very blogs, I’m basically an audience of one. I’d much rather stick to my creative vision, for what it’s worth, than follow some formula in the hope that I’ll rake in the big bucks. Of course, my friend has tasted the big time and I haven’t. So maybe I’m the fool here after all.
This is an issue that endlessly fascinates me. I welcome your comments.