More Notes On Writing, Again

crushed can of bud lite
Crushed can from from

Good article by C.A. Belmond in the Huffington Post last Wednesday: “Writers Wednesday: 5 Lies They Tell You About Writing.”

I particularly liked number 2: “Many writing instructors routinely discourage new authors from describing their characters and the world they inhabit. Why? Two reasons are usually given. One is that it isn’t “modern” to do so (Hemingway is often cited here); and the other is because it’s so darned hard to describe stuff (like sure, what are you, a writer or something?)…Perhaps that explains why so many writers use brand names in place of original description. Let’s call this for what it is: mere product placement, for which the authors didn’t even get paid.”

Aside from the vague statement “many writing instructors,” (how many? how surveyed? residential/non-residential programs? undergraduate/graduate?), I agree with what she’s saying. Brand names bore me. Brand names in fiction bore me. Including the name of a particular beverage doesn’t improve a story.

A critique of an early draft of Circus of the Grand Design by a writer I respect included the suggestion of using brand names in part one (which is set in the real world), to anchor the story because after part one it dives into the land of What the Fuck? and stays there till the end. The suggestion made sense, but I chose to ignore it; the final version did (I hope) convey the real-world better than the version he read.

“…do we really need to hear from yet another desperate housewife about her mind-numbing collection of Manolos and Choos, or the brand of bottled water she drinks?”

I learned from the comments to Belmond’s piece that she is referring to shoes. Maybe writers who use brand names etc. should have to pay licensing fees to the corporate owners.

Besides brand names, I don’t like to use pop culture references, contemporary jargon, sayings, and clichés. I find it jarring and uninteresting to read a story with, say, Facebook or YouTube in it. I’m even hesitant to use computers and cell phones in my fiction. I don’t need the world that I see every day to be reflected in fiction.

Grandiose it may be, but I would like the things I write to have meant something before current brand names, jargon, and fads existed. Yes, that’s unrealistic. English is always changing. There are words in common use now that originated from brand names or jargon. The main point would be that I’m not writing for the current moment.

But like any creative exercise, everyone is free to do what they want. If brand names get you exited, then pile them in. Fortunately for you, not all readers will have tastes as rigid as mine.

I’ll close with an example from Michael Cisco’s novel The Narrator, where you’ll find description that makes the familiar alien. No brand names here!

“Oh look another one of my outdoor cafés what about that. A handsome girl and brave asks me what I want and goes inside to get me whatever it is I’ve ordered.  Everywhere, the same thing. I see mouths in motion on all sides. Incessantly in motion, on all sides. There’s another; and now two more have joined us. They eat, and their jaws work the food around among the teeth, between the jaws, pressed this way and that so that the different kinds of food find the teeth specialized to destroy them. The tongue does this, and also churns saliva into the food, so that everything tastes like saliva. Although the tongue naturally tastes, while having no taste of its own to speak of, not that I’d notice. I watch this or that patron lifting a cup or glass to the mouths they come here to honor with this fine food and drink, and the mouths stretch themselves out toward the cups or glasses, reaching out to meet them before the hand has finished bringing it near, as the eye judges. These people, like me, are marked for death.  But not entirely like me. They can run.”

How to Write a Novel

Chico Marx (Fiorello) from the Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera:

So now I tell you how we fly to America. The first time we started we got-a half way there when we run out a gasoline, and we gotta go back. Then I take-a twice as much gasoline. This time we’re just about to land, maybe three feet, when what do you think: we run out of gasoline again. And-a back-a we go again to get-a more gas. This time I take-a plenty gas. Well, we get-a half way over, when what do you think happens: we forgot-a the airplane. So, we gotta sit down and we talk it over. Then I get-a the great idea. We no take-a gasoline, we no take-a the airplane. We take steamship, and that friends, is how we fly across the ocean.

New York, Emshwiller, Etc.

I’m back home after a short trip to New York for the Carol Emshwiller 90th birthday reading party event. Jim Freund, who runs the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series and hosts the Hour of the Wolf show on WBAI asked me to interview Carol as part of the event. Which sounded like a good idea at the time…

His plan was to start out the evening by reading a section from Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to the War side of Carol’s forthcoming PS collection, then have Carol read the beginning of a story, with Jim continuing it, and Carol reading the last section. Because of her eye problems, she didn’t think she could read all of it. At first, she didn’t think she could read anything. She was shaky at the start, but did great with the end.

After the reading, we went right into the interview. I’ve never done anything like that and I’m not sure I want to again. Part of the problem (aside from my inexperience) is that Carol and I spent about an hour and a half at her apartment talking about what we would talk about, and by interview time I felt like we had said everything. I wish we had recorded our conversation. So I asked a few questions, Carol talked, and long before I should have been finished, I had nothing else to say. Jim (the experienced radio host) took over, and audience members asked questions (which had been our plan, only not so soon). And it ended (as everything does). Unfortunately, it was videotaped, and recorded for radio. I don’t want to watch.

But still, it was a fun night. It was great to see all the support and admiration for Carol. For her life and writing—not just for making it to 90.

April is Emshwiller Month

I’m heading to New York next week for part one of the Carol Emshwiller birthday events.

Tuesday, April 12, The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings

The SoHo Gallery for Digital Art
138 Sullivan Street
Doors open at 6:30 PM
Program begins at 7:00
Admission Free
$7 donation suggested

There’s a second event the following Monday, but I’ll be back home.

Monday, April 18, the Wold Newton Reading Series will offer an interview of Carol Emshwiller by Matthew Cheney. There will also be magic Magic Brian.

Details: April 18, 2011, 7.30pm/WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn/126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY 11222

And, there’s a web compendium for information and Emshwiller tributes here.

More on Jack Hardy, and Journalistic Preconceptions

There was a nice piece at the New York Times online about some people getting together for a Monday night songwriter’s meeting/farewell to Jack.

The write-up had a link to a 1999 NYT article on the meetings.

I had forgotten about the article. It wasn’t a bad piece, but the reporter was stuck on the idea of having to give everyone’s age and occupation. I thought that was odd and unimportant. What was important was the reason for being there, art and song.

And, not that you can tell from the article, I was there. It happened to be the one time during that period when I tried to write a song. I wrote some lyrics and sent them to Mike Laureanno, who worked on them and came up with a melody. I also happened to have brought a copy of Back Brain Recluse, which had recently accepted my story, “Tales of the Golden Legend” (as I’ve said elsewhere, the story never came out in the magazine, but appeared later in The Third Alternative; the issue of Back Brain Recluse that I had there turned out to be the last). It was a funky magazine, with lots of art, and stories laid out in sometimes hard-to-read ways. Having the magazine, being a fiction writer at a songwriter’s meeting, illustrated Jack’s desire to include everyone, his love of interdisciplinary aesthetics.

But here’s what the reporter said: “Michael Laureanno, 38, an electrical engineer who drove nearly four hours from Wakefield, R.I., tried out a tune he co-wrote, via E-mail, with a friend from western Massachusetts.”

I’m not trying to be petty about my name being omitted. It’s the bad journalism that bothers me. I have a journalism degree so I know some things. What I think happened is that the reporter had already decided what the article was about, and my existence didn’t fit. The story would have been a better if he had written about what was there.

Somewhat connected bit. Here’s an excerpt from a Suzanne Vega documentary, showing one of the songwriter meetings in Jack’s apartment. Funny New York bit at the beginning–she’s riding in the back of a cab, looking at the camera and talking, the driver turns down the wrong street.

Jack Hardy, Gone

Jack Hardy and daughter Morgan, July 2006

Friday (March 11) for naptime, Merida, my three-year-old, wanted to listen to “Willie Goggin’s Hat” from Jack Hardy’s CD The Passing. As usual, she asked if he would sing it when he comes to visit. She also wanted him to do her other favorites, “Sile Na Cioch (Sheila),” “The Boney Bailiff,” “May Day,” “Blackberry Pie.” She says that about Ringo Starr and “Yellow Submarine” too, but with Jack it’s different. She’s seen the pictures of him at Rebecca and my wedding. She knows he’s been in our house.

Once she was asleep, I went to my computer. I looked at Facebook, which I hadn’t done in a couple of days. Someone had tagged Jack in a photo. I clicked on it, and was about to close the window when I saw that whoever had posted it had put dates, 1947-2011. I thought that was an odd way to date a photo. I looked at it again. Maybe it had Friday’s date—I can’t remember…I was starting to realize…I literally felt a clenching in my stomach. (This is one of the feelings that is difficult to convey in fiction without drifting into cliché.) But I felt it. I went to his Facebook page and saw the posts.

Continue reading “Jack Hardy, Gone”

More Notes on Writing

Yesterday I read an interview with Stephen Graham Jones, a writer who has been recommended to me, but I haven’t gotten to yet. He had an interesting observation about subverting genre:

“I’m always telling my students that the trick with exceeding expectations, it’s not to have, say, a hundred-foot tall robot zombie instead of a fifty-foot one, it’s to undercut the whole expectation of a robot zombie in the first place, make the reader think they’re not getting any undead cyborg at all, but then somehow do it anyway, through some side door only just now opening.”

He talks about doing this by keeping the reader so engaged with the characters that the plot elements, whatever they are, don’t matter. Which tends to be my thinking too. Mine isn’t the kind of writing style that is generally considered genre, but it has elements of genre (or elements of not-real).

One of the organic farmers who brings produce to the Yellow Springs farmer’s market has been reading my books, starting with Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed. He checked out The Painting And The City from the library, and liked it a lot. But he didn’t understand why it was shelved in science fiction. The novel isn’t realism, but the fantastic elements are presented in a realistic way, and they emanate from character and setting. He didn’t realize he was getting the metaphoric undead cyborg. He had no preconceptions, and the writing kept him in the story, wherever it went.

I know that the publishing industry needs its categories, but I’m tired of them, tired of being told that my writing doesn’t fit them. I still believe that people who read want to read good fiction and don’t care what the label is.

New Springdale Novel

There are days to be endured, days to be celebrated, and the rest, the mundane many that shove us onward through time and space. Every morning I wake up and wonder which kind today will be. The key is to anticipate the unendurable. I’ve yet to manage that. But I survive. Most people do. The unendurable days pass like all the rest, even if they appear to take longer.

This is the beginning of chapter one of the novel I’ve been working on. It’s preceded by a prologue that I’ll post sometime. I first conceived it as another novella set in Springdale, first encountered in In Springdale Town. But after setting it aside to work on a story I decided it had enough to be a novel. Presently called New Springdale Novel.