So I get these awful headaches. I don’t know what causes them. They basically creep up on me and floor me for a day or two. This weekend has been one of those instances. I slept twenty hours on Saturday and hardly moved from the bed today. My doctor (God bless him and his luchador mask) told me not to take any caffeine or alcohol when I get them, so I’ve tried to stick to that.
But, jeez, what a drag.
Anyway, enough of my whining, here’s Lewis Carroll from his pamphlet Feeding the Mind:
“To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject—a mental bun, in fact. If it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, ‘I can’t read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of “The Mysterious Murder”?’ you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.”
Back in the good old bad old days I worked with a guy who would take summers off to go work in Alaska as a hunting guide. He’d return in the fall with an assortment of wilderness stories. One of them was about when the other guides and he all got stuck for a week in the back country waiting for the plane to pick them up. They ended up having to trek miles to another pick up site and wait for the plane there. On the way one of the guys dropped his book in the river and wound up with nothing to read.
For a week they were stuck in tents waiting out the rain and waiting for this plane to show up, and the guy had nothing to read. So he started reading the ingredients listed on the soup cans. Over and over again. By the end of the week he had memorized them and could rattle them off in a litany. Chicken noodle. Minestrone. Whatever they had.
That’s how to read.
Desperately. Obsessively. Like your life depended on it.
Like most people I have folders and folders full of pictures glommed from all over the Internet. Lately I’ve been making crude collages with them on power point. The above is for a short story about a junky ghost hunter and the codependent relationship he has with his assistants. I made it after the story was written, which is a bit different than using it to brainstorm.
That’s one for a story in process. It hasn’t come together yet like the first one, but that’s likely because the story’s not done. Evocation’s my goal, and there’s a tendency to be prejudiced towards the chosen images and using them to illustrate the story, as opposed to finding the pictures that evoke the story best.
I’m putting these here so I remember them.
John Coulthart has a great post on past attempts to produce covers for M. John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence. Am I fan of Harrison? Of course I’m a fan. Coulthart then has a follow-up post on what he’d like to see in new covers. Speaking of Viriconium, over at M. John Harrison’s blog there’s a new piece of fiction set in that city.
This essay by Ursula K. LeGuin over at Book View Cafe. I can’t agree with it enough. How about these quotes:
Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.
The value judgment concealed in distinguishing one novel as literature and another as genre vanishes with the distinction.
Every readable novel can give true pleasure. Every novel read by choice is read because it gives true pleasure.
And finally, a poem by Meng Jiao (a Tang Dynasty poet):
The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer’s back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?
Likenfreude: When you recognize exactly which blog post/youtube clip someone’s opinions came from.
This is a working definition and liable to change.
“-Freude” means joy and this feeling isn’t really “joyful”.
Maybe it should be “linkenfreude”.
Since I’m teaching 1st grade this year, I’ve had to reacquaint myself with nursery rhymes and children’s songs. Trust me. It’s a matter of self-preservation. You wouldn’t believe how quickly you can channel the energy of a rambunctious class with the song “Five Little Monkeys”.
Here’s a song I stumbled upon that pretty much had me smiling all day. So much so that I’ve broadcast it on every social media site I’m on except maybe Good Reads — though with this post here I’m probably doing that.
Anyway, it’s a three day weekend on account of it being Buddha’s Birthday. There will likely be a parade in town, which should be pretty awesome on account of the floats. I just finished reading Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. That’s an amazing book. It’ll likely get the one book four covers treatment in the not so distant future.
Another portrait by one of my students. Dig the Maynard G. Krebs beard.
Still coughing and limping. I went back to the doctor’s for a check-up. I have another six days in my cast, but he says my ankle’s healing quite well.
From the Ray Bradbury Paris Review interview: “I type my first draft quickly, impulsively even. A few days later I retype the whole thing and my subconscious, as I retype, gives me new words. Maybe it’ll take retyping it many times until it is done. Sometimes it takes very little revision.”
That makes me think a bit.
“A reason knowledge/learning in general is so unpopular with so many people is because very early we all learn there is a phenomenologically unpleasant side to it: to learn anything entails the fact that there is no way to escape learning that you were formerly ignorant, to learn that you were a fool, that you have already lost irretrievable opportunities, that you have made wrong choices, that you were silly and limited. These lessons are not pleasant. The acquisition of knowledge–especially when we are young–again and again includes this experience.
“Thus most people soon actively desire to stay clear of the whole process, because by the time we are seven or eight we know exactly what the repercussions and reactions will be. One moves toward knowledge through a gauntlet of inescapable insults–the most painful of them often self-tendered.”
– Samuel R. Delany, About Writing
I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers. Nor am I fan of “celebrity slushreaders” going on about how they dream a story they select might win a Nebula like they were right there writing the story beside the author, or at the very least keeping their tea mug filled, as if reading slush wasn’t the equivalent of being so much human baleen.
Bullshit on all that.
But I’ve got two writing posts itching to get off my fingers so let me just get them done between now and next week and then I won’t have to write about writing or slushing for the rest of the year. I’m putting it here for my own benefit as much as anyone else.
People talk a lot about hooks and openings and grabbing the reader so they keep on reading. And yeah I use the word hook as well, but it’s not about that at all. (Rudy Rucker has a great bit on “hooks” in his Writer’s Toolkit, which everyone should download.)
Other folks talk about establishing trust between reader and writer, and I agree with them but wondered how that trust was gained because it has to be right at the start. Then I got a couple stories in the slush this week that helped me figure it out.
What it comes down to is control.
You can do whatever you want in your story. Write it lush or transparent. Climb Freytag’s pyramid or flip it on its peak and kick it in the rear. Anything goes as long as you’re in control.
As long as each word and sentence connects to the next word and sentence and the whole thing makes a pattern where there’s nothing more you can subtract from it. That’s control. Having pieces left in your hand at the end is control.
What’s not control is starting your story with a well-groomed hook and then piling on introspection, backstory, and/or setting details. What’s not control is leaving nothing out, but throwing it all in there and hoping for the best. Lush doesn’t mean overgrown or overwriting a story so thick it collapses under its own weight.
Every word must link together. They can be ugly or oddly shaped words, but they have to fit into the story’s overall pattern (and of course that pattern can be all freak-a-deak weird, but there has to be some discernable resonance there).
That’s it. Writing post number one is done. It’s all about control.
Next week 10 Bad Slush Habits. Until then here’s Spoek Mathambo’s disturbing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”. Don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.