Thursday, August 14, 2008

Go ahead, just write it!

Do you know what a writer is, really? You might laugh, and you might not believe me, but a writer is just someone who writes. Now, you have a little more cache if you complete the things you're writing, and even more if other people read them, but at the end of the day it's all pretty much the same. The differences between (as far as writing goes) you and Hemingway, or Dickens, or your writing professor, or me, are far smaller than our similarities. It starts in the brain and it goes to the page, and you're a writer. That's that. And someone will like it (you at least, I hope) and others, few or many, will hate it, and still others won't care at all. You wouldn't believe how many people I hear say "I wish I could be a writer." as if there's some magic to it. Just write. Start it, finish it, rewrite it until you're satisfied with it, and be damned everyone else. Now, I'm leaving on vacation. Hopefully I'll score some surf, and when I come back I'm going to finish another short story and start on my second novel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

100 Bullets day

It's that special day that I look forward to every month when the newest issue of 100 Bullets hits the stands. Yes, it's a comic, but it's also a hundred chapter novel (only six more issues to go till the end), a really fine crime/conspiracy/noir work of art. I love books and I love the written word, but I have to admit that there's a dynamic to graphic storytelling that the standard novel just can't achieve. And it's such a young medium that it's not even come close to reaching its full potential, while the written novel, by and large, seems to have settled in to a comfortable middle age. It's a very exciting time, watching a relatively new mode of storytelling starting to come into its own. From Black Hole to Watchmen, Blankets to Hellboy to We3, there is just an incredible synthesis of word and picture out there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Genrefication, or I'll do what I want, thanks

I had originally intended to write this post on the absurdity of genre in fiction (including memoirs, but that's a subject for another day), the base meaninglessness of categorizing imaginary things and, by extension, imagination. But instead I'm going to tell you how Borges saved my creative soul. It was his Universal History of Iniquity, translated in the Collected Fictions by Andrew Hurley, read now over a decade ago, that did it. You see, Borges made up about half of the footnotes attached to those little biographies of villainous men and women. Just made 'em up. For fun. The people are real, the histories he recounts are mostly reliable, but the footnotes? Fab ree kate id. It was only when I found this out that I truly began to understand the power and the freedom of fiction. To learn that a writer of Borges stature could grant himself the pleasure of pure factual irresponsibility stripped away all the gravitas from the act of writing for me. Borges wrote his fiction for himself and no one else. Even now the memory of that revelation sparks my fire and makes me smile.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Making the pieces fit: A living city and a dog

I think I've written in a previous post that I'm the kind of writer who likes to bounce a story in my head for quite some time before I seriously tackle a first draft. I'm a big believer in symmetry; the mind responds to it unconsciously, and if it's provided in the natural progression of the work then hopefully the reader goes away feeling satisfied rather than manipulated. The problem with this approach is that knots often appear in the plot that have to be teased out before it will work. This usually means (and I'm speaking only for myself here) that a character is missing. If I were a cynical Word-God I could simply spin one up out of clay, give it a name, and blast it into life. But I don't have those divine powers. I'm more of a revealer, I think, than a creator. This often means I have to wait, and search, until I can discover who or what is missing from the constantly changing pages in my mind. They usually come to me when I'm not thinking about them too hard- sometimes I've merely misplaced them in another half finished story or half realized idea, and sometimes they're hidden within the contested piece itself, but when I finally find them and put them in their proper place it's like a fog lifting and a clear straight road for miles, no curves in sight.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Which comes first, the writer or the word?

I'm not trying to be cute, I'm serious. Is the writer more important, or is it the work itself? Or to make the question less abstract and more concrete, is Dickens more important than A Tale of Two Cities, Kafka more important than The Trial or The Castle? Do you have a favorite author whose every new release you wait for? I've noticed that a lot of bestselling genre writers (or their estates) seem to have franchised their names out, so that a lot of their new books have either co authors or approved torch bearers for their brand of fiction. It's a trend I personally find disturbing, but I suppose it's been going on as long as civilization. Look at Homer. Even if he was just one person (which I doubt) his versions of the Illiad and the Odyssey aren't the ones we have today. They're an accretion of the works of several, maybe several dozen different authors. But no one wants an Illiad by anonymous when they can have one by Homer, essentially the god of poets. Now look at Shakespeare and the debate that lingers over whether he wrote the plays attributed to him. As a person with a strong interest in history, I understand the desire for correct knowledge, but if it turned out that Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and Richard III were each written by five different playwrights, what real difference would it make? I had a friend, a very well educated and well read friend, who hated Shakespeare, despised his plays. At the time I was shocked (I still like the Bard quite a lot) but now I feel a glow of admiration for that opinion, mainly because it cuts through the glamour of the name and goes straight for the work in question.
Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying it's wrong to admire a particular author. I have a signed first edition of Tim Obrien's The Things They Carried on my bookshelf, alongside a signed first of Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, a 1929 copy of Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, and a first edition paperback (Ecco) of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. But the stories they've written are what I truly love, and I must confess a certain fetish value in my desire for certain first editions. By owning them I hope to get as close in time as possible to the moment they were conceived, both to be inspired and to better focus on my own vision. Of the still living authors that I admire, I have absolutely no desire to meet any of them.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Milk and cookies are a delicious way to start anything

It's true, as I am proving to myself this very moment. Excuse me if I pause to savor the chocolaty toffee milkiness of my snack. I received the proofs for my book of poetry today (self published, not because it's bad but because it's poetry). There's a little work to be done on the cover, but other than that it's ready. It should be out a little beyond mid August. The title is Carnival of Vulgarities, and I modeled it, about seventy five percent consciously, as a verse homage to The Circus of Dr. Lao, a fantastic and fantastically strange novel by Charles Finney. Issue 2 of the Maple/Ash Review should be out sometime next week, with a story by Etgar Keret and a host of other unsung worthies such as . . . ahem. The book on lycanthropy that I am reading is panning out better than I hoped, providing me with both a useful quote and a variant on the spelling of werewolves (war-woolfes). But, as I have said, the story I'm preparing to begin has nothing to do with werewolves in any supernatural, or even medical (lycanthropy is a psychological disorder) sense. I generally stew on a story until my brain starts to steam a little; I usually don't begin to write a draft until I've worked out a good deal of it in my head. That sounds like a good recipe for procrastination, but it actually works for me most of the time. That said, I started feeling the heat from this embryonic story today, so it won't be long before I start writing it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Today is one of those, What do I write? days

I'm sure you know the kind. You've worked all day at whatever you do to pay the bills, or maybe you've slept half the day away and can't get two thoughts to occur sequentially for long enough to write them down. Or maybe you have a subject to write about, but it's just too slight to carry its own weight. That's my problem. You see, I am a huge fan of Robert Graves. He was a wonderful historical novelist, a great poet, a gifted classicist, and a bit of a nutjob, and I think he was the bees knees. During World War One, he served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers who, among other things, fought with distinction during the American Revolution and participated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Graves, being British, spells it Guildford). I'm pretty sure I read that he visited the battlefield when he was living for a short time in the United States. Well, that battlefield is in the northwest part of Greensboro, NC, my hometown and it's one of the lynchpins of the city's history. Besides that, it was always one of my favorite parks to visit as a child, and it still is a wonderful place to visit. And now, to top it all, because of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, I'm only three degrees separated from R. Graves. It's trivial, I know, but in a certain strange way it inspires me to strive a little harder toward artistry. So I guess it's not so slight a subject after all.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Immortality of the Soul, by Henry More, pub. 1659

Three hundred and forty nine years old and it looked great. I don't know if it had been re-bound, but the pages were perfect and supple. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing like an antique book that's well preserved. They're works of art, even the simplest of them. They make even the nicest modern tome look trashy. And think about it; this book was printed and bound only fifty three years past the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Franklin Roosevelt has been dead longer than that. Maybe I'm just geeking out, but it was incredible to pull this book out of the cardboard box it was sharing with its fellows and see just how old it was. And to handle something so old without supervision and with no constraints. Man, I live for strange moments like that. Of course, the woman who owned the book had no idea what she had, even after I told her. She thumbed through the pages like it was a cheap dictionary, then she stuck it in her purse and left. I was dumbfounded.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Feral Writer's Syndrome

I have a touch of it, I think, more than a touch of it, since I just now made up the condition. In my entire life I've taken exactly one creative writing class, I've never read book on writing from cover to cover (I doubt I've read fifteen pages of any one book in the genre). The idea of a writing workshop makes my skin crawl, and my gut response to the letters MFA is WTF? NFW! And I'm fine with it. I love, Love, LOve, LOVe, LOVE the absolute freedom of writing and producing my own work. There is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing that I have created something that's mine from start to finish. Love it? Great. I did it. Hate it? Cool. It's mine and I take the blame. No second thoughts, no regrets. I don't believe in writing as a collaborative process, at least not for myself. Writing is an expressive art, ideally a synthesis of stylistic influences, aesthetic concerns, and a hopefully a damn good story. If I could afford it (and there's the catch, yes?) I would never think twice about the publishing industry and the commercial concerns behind it. I would just write and write, design my own books and cast them out into the universe. It would be incredibly satisfying, I think.

Friday, July 25, 2008

So, I'm floating in this amniotic cyber-bubble. . .

and it's so relaxing that I'm wondering how I'll find anything worthwhile to write about. No sound. No air. No gravity. No worries. Another bubble filled with five or six polychromatic mermaids floats past and they wave, going up as I go down. I'm pretty sure we're in a giant lava lamp (why not?), and I hope my compartment crashes into theirs so we can hang out. But somehow, through some terrible quirk of lovecraftian physics- it is Cthulhu's lamp, after all- my bubble stretches and splits in half, casting me from my shelter and into the turbulence of the greater miniverse. And as I continue unprotected my descent into the fiery core of the naked bulb I see to my horror a great eye, pressed eagerly against the glass, and the tip of a delicate tentacle, just below. I am grateful to burn.
* * * *
I wasn't really sure what I was going to write, but this journal is for me as much as for anyone else, and it's important for me to write in it consistently. If I wasn't entertaining, I beg your forgiveness. On a different note, I just purchased an interesting book: A Lycanthropy Reader, Werewolves in Western Culture. It's for research for my next story, which isn't actually about werewolves at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Into the Void, or Throwin' It Out and Seein' if It Sticks

I've just finished a short story, Clockwork Betty, that should be finding its way into the second issue of the Maple Ash Review, a local lit mag in Tempe. It should be available in August, either from or various venues around town. The story was a struggle to write, especially for how short it is, but ultimately it turned out the way I envisioned it.
But in the afterglow of completion, I'm always faced with a question. Is anyone going to care enough about this little piece of narrative to make it worth the effort? As I sit in front of the computer screen, tap tapping out strings of letters and words, I feel like a lone voyager, an internet castaway, tossing my thoughts out into the unknown, in the hope that someone will read them, yes, but also in fear. As of now, I'm pretty sure no one is reading this blog; it's too new. And maybe no one, or almost no one will ever read it. But there's just as much chance that it will be read, and either way the question still applies: Who cares? The answer, no matter if it regards this blog or a story, poem, or novel, is this same, and it's the only one that I think can carry me through what I plan to be a lifetime of writing: I care. I want you to read my work, but ultimately I want you to read what I have written for myself.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why are you reading this?

Shouldn't you be writing instead of goofing off on the internet? Shouldn't I be working on my story instead of blogging? Pot, meet Kettle, I suppose. But my lentils are cooking, the baby's in bed, and I have to start this journal somewhere if I'm ever going to start it. So welcome stray reader and welcome straying writer. I'll be here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with whatever's on my mind. Thanks for dropping in.