By now, the cat is out of the bag (and boy, is it ever!!) about Total E-Bound’s new line of Clandestine Classics. Even Jimmy Kimmel and Anderson Cooper are talking about it. Quite honestly, I never expected this project to garner so much attention.
I can’t speak for a single other author in the series, but for myself, when presented with the idea of riffing on a classic, my first thought was, “That sounds like fun!” And mostly, I thought my fans would kick out of it. Nothing more. Nothing less. It wasn’t that I thought I could improve on Jules Verne’s classic. It wasn’t (despite the way the media may spin it) so that I could cash in on 50 Shades. I just thought it would be fun to riff on it a bit.
Wait. Do I need to define the term ‘riffin’’?
“Riffing” is of course a musical term. From Merriam-Webster, we get this:
Definition of RIFF
: an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation; also : a piece based on such a phrase
: a rapid energetic often improvised verbal outpouring; especially : one that is part of a comic performance
: a succinct usually witty comment
: a distinct variation
(It’s that 4th one that we’re talking about.)
Good ole Wikipedia has this to say (emphasis added by me):
Use of the term has also misleadingly been extended to comedy where riffing is used to mean the verbal exploration of a particular subject, thus moving the meaning away from the original jazz sense of a repeated figure over which the soloist improvises, to instead indicate the improvisation itself: that is, improvising on a melody or progression as one would improvise on a subject by extending a singular thought, idea or inspiration.
That’s what we’re talking about here. Riffing. Nobody is destroying the classics. After all, “destroying” would imply that the original version is no longer in existence, and that’s certainly not the case.
Riffing in music seems to be considered acceptable. Think about Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who have made a very successful career out of riffing (with synthesizers and electric guitars, no less) on Christmas carols and classical compositions by Beethoven and Bach. The Grateful Dead used to play entire concerts without any kind of playlist. They just stood on stage and riffed for hours.
Riffing in movies and film is generally accepted, too. Riffing on fairy tales especially. Think of the new hit show, Once Upon a Time, or either one of the current versions of Snow White. The new Sherlock Holmes movies as well as the modernized BBC television series are riffs. And let’s not forget the greatest movie riffing of all time, that done by Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The truth is, riffing on literature isn’t a new idea either. Fanfic writers have been doing it for years. And I personally don’t agree with the notion that some things are so special they should be exempt from riffing. In fact, some of the greatest literary riffs ever have been based on what many would consider the most sacred text we have, the Holy Bible. Those riffs run from reverent (the Women of Genesis series, by Orson Scott Card), to slightly irreverent (The Red Tent, and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal come to mind), all the way to downright ridiculous (The Life of Brian) (yes, it’s a movie, but it’s a riff on a book). And think how many riffs there have been The Wizard of Oz. Wicked may be one of the greatest riffs ever! (Although I greatly prefer the play to the book. The play was funny and quirky. The book was downright depressing.)
More recently of course we’ve had Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from Quirk Classics. In fact, Quirk Classics has an entire line of horror riffs including Android Karenina and Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters. Honestly, when I thought about doing a Clandestine Classic, it was the Quirk Classics that made me want to do it. That, and the fact that Jules Verne just made it so darn easy. Check out this first bit where Pierre introduces Ned.
Ned Land was a Canadian, with an uncommon quickness of hand, and who knew no equal in his dangerous occupation. Skill, coolness, audacity, and cunning he possessed in a superior degree, and it must be a cunning whale to escape the stroke of his harpoon.
Ned Land was about forty years of age; he was a tall man (more than six feet high), strongly built, grave and taciturn, occasionally violent, and very passionate when contradicted. His person attracted attention, but above all the boldness of his look, which gave a singular expression to his face.
Who calls himself Canadian calls himself French; and, little communicative as Ned Land was, I must admit that he took a certain liking for me. My nationality drew him to me, no doubt. It was an opportunity for him to talk, and for me to hear, that old language of Rabelais, which is still in use in some Canadian provinces. The harpooner’s family was originally from Quebec, and was already a tribe of hardy fishermen when this town belonged to France.
Little by little, Ned Land acquired a taste for chatting, and I loved to hear the recital of his adventures in the polar seas. He related his fishing, and his combats, with natural poetry of expression; his recital took the form of an epic poem, and I seemed to be listening to a Canadian Homer singing the Iliad of the regions of the North.
I am portraying this hardy companion as I really knew him. We are old friends now, united in that unchangeable friendship which is born and cemented amidst extreme dangers. Ah, brave Ned! I ask no more than to live a hundred years longer, that I may have more time to dwell the longer on your memory.
Note: The original text was of course in French, but that was the English translation of the original text. NOTHING in that excerpt was altered or added by me. Now, let’s be honest: Is there ANY fan of gay romance who could read that and NOT feel compelled to riff on it, just a little? Even if only in their minds? It seems so darn obvious that Pierre is a bit smitten with Ned.
So I decided to riff. That’s all it is. I’m not destroying Jules Verne. I’m not ridiculing him. I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think that I’m improving on him. All I’m doing is riffing because frankly, I thought it would be fun. If you don’t like riffs… that’s your prerogative. (You’re totally singing that Bobby Brown song now, aren’t you?) If you like your classic literature untainted, I don’t blame you a bit. Go read Pride and Prejudice. If you like zombies, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But if you like some hot smexiness in your summer reads, check out a Clandestine Classic. They’re available for pre-order now.
Professor Pierre Aronnax, world-renowned Naturalist, is part of an elite team of men commissioned to investigate a series of attacks on international shipping. Are the attacks the work of some ancient sea monster, or is this “monster” actually a manmade vessel? No one is certain, but either way, Pierre’s assignment is the same: find it and destroy it.
The hunt soon becomes tedious, and Pierre is distracted by Ned Land, a sexy and temperamental harpooner who has his sights set on the Professor. The two begin a passionate affair, but an encounter with the creature they seek changes everything.
Professor Aronnax, Ned Land, and their friend Conseil find themselves held hostage aboard The Nautilus, a secret submarine helmed by the mysterious Captain Nemo. For Pierre, life on The Nautilus is ideal. He spends his days studying the sea’s wonders, and his nights with Ned, discovering a passion he’s never known. But how long can it last? Captain Nemo is reckless, and Ned is determined to escape. Caught between two charismatic men and the opportunity of a lifetime, Pierre will have to choose: leave The Nautilus, or lose the man he loves forever?