Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Drama of the Every Day

January 16, 2011

My girlfriend has often lamented how much of modern “serious” fiction” leans on the crutch of drugs to create tension and to build a “real” character. To paraphrase our many hit and run conversations on it, it seems as if everyone everywhere is inserting as many substances as humanly possible into their bodies and acting like the world’s biggest assholes because of it and, often, the change the character goes through is becoming slightly less of an asshole at the end of the work as they wean themselves off whatever drugs they were on.

What I think the real problem is, is that this is lacking in reality. Are there people with drug problems? Sure. But not everyone, while everyone does have a bit of drama in their lives from the simple act of their living. But this is rarely touched on. It seems as if the common dramas of our every day life just aren’t important enough for people to write about today.

This is getting brought up because of something our kid did this morning while we were walking out to the car. He didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t misbehave. In fact, he did something I guarantee all of us would do. He saw money on the ground. He picked it up. And then those three fateful words:

“It’s a fifty!”

Now, the immediate reaction is, “great!” My immediate reaction was, “oh crap, what now?” And this is why:

Fifty bucks is a lot of money to most people. It’s certainly a lot of money to us, where it would help buy groceries for two weeks (or buy one helluva lego set if the kid takes it to ToysRUs). I feel bad for whoever lost it. I want to find who it is and give it back. But this simply isn’t going to happen. It’s not going to get claimed anywhere, and wherever we turn it in at is more likely to just keep it than not.

So the kid found fifty bucks outside, but I feel horrible for just keeping it but we’ll probably end up doing just that. Meanwhile, whoever lost that fifty bucks might now be fifty bucks short on rent or unable to buy groceries this week.

The drama of every day life.

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What’s the point? There isn’t one.

January 6, 2011

Over at Fictionbitch, there are the beginnings of a discussion about writing; the why, the how, the teaching of it, etc.  Instead of throwing my thoughts messily around their comment section, partially because I’m somewhat of a negative ninny about this but also because my thoughts are all over the place on this, I figured I’d just throw it up here.

I don’t think there is a point to writing, or a reason for it, or anything else. It seems that with anything artistic, there is a bizarre need to justify its being done. Why do you paint? Why do you sculpt? Why do you write Elizabethan sonnets on postcards of the Virgin Mary? Well, why do you go in and do your accounting work? Why do you play basketball? Why do you habitually watch every incarnation of Law and Order, even the odd foreign versions that have to be subtitled?

At some point, we just need to say we do it because we do it. Some of us get paid to do it, and I think it would be a damn dirty lie to not admit a paycheck is also a wonderful motivator for continuing something. Hell, Stephen King wouldn’t have become Stephen King if he hadn’t sold Carrie and his wife had to tell him to get back to work so they could pay the bills and keep the kids fed. A paycheck is a powerful motivator and enabler. As a quick aside, it also leads into one of my favorite Harlan Ellison rants, “Pay the writer!” (the youtube clip is here, or you can watch the entire documentary it’s from, Dreams with Sharp Teeth).  At some point, though, after talking about how it’s a part of your life, how you love sharing the experience with others, etc. etc. etc, it has to be said that there would be a lot fewer writers if they didn’t get paid to do it in some capacity.

Which comes to teaching. It has to. That’s how a lot of us writers find a way to get a paycheck – we teach, somewhere, at some level, some subject. Creative writing courses themselves, I’m not too thrilled about. I know other people have found them very helpful, very informative, very constructive. Frankly, I haven’t.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed. There is at least one response over at Fictionbitch that I agree with, though: there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a closer tie between creative writing and composition. A lot of the same rules apply to each: you need good grammar/spelling, you need good structure, you need to have some idea what you’re writing about and why AND you need to communicate this to your readers. The skills you hone while learning one can go a long way toward honing your skills at the other. My g/f teaches her composition classes this way, mixing in heavy doses of creative writing, and she has large, enthusiastic responses to it. Since I don’t want to incur her wrath and interrupt what she’s working on right now, I’ll try to pluck the right name from memory and say that, I think, it’s a professor named Dinty More (yes, like the stew) who pushes this method but I might be wrong. Also, by making the creative writing process more closely tied with the composition courses, maybe it could increase their importance in university English departments, something that is never a bad thing as people look to federally fund universities less and less every year.

Now do I feel that good writing, at least good beyond basic grammar and spelling good, can be taught? Not really, no. But I do think the process of going through the workshops, getting peer reviewed, getting feed back, etc. can be a good thing. But I also thing there is a justified worry about a bit of group think setting in and pieces getting overworked.  In other words, it’s a mixed bag and depends just as much on the individual taking part as the courses and university.

And why do I write? Because I do. Now go back to Law and Order.

You might want an emerald…

September 16, 2010

but if you dig up an onyx, you just have to go with it.

Thinking a bit about writing today. I don’t want to say that I’ve hit a wall, because I’m still reading through a second draft and jotting down notes, I’m still working on the research for another project, I finished one poem and wrote another, I have continued reading (and putting off grading and at least one review to write and some cleanup on a previous review…) but my enthusiasm for what I’m currently re-writing (well, editing/re-reading right now) has ebbed a bit.

It’s not entirely what I had expected, or wanted, it to be. Part of it comes from a sheer lack of skill when I first started putting the whole thing together. Part of it was from lack of preparation. But mostly I think it was from not entirely knowing what the hell I was doing.

This isn’t to say that I think it is bad. It is readable. It gets the pages turned. But it also feels a little light, it lacks a certain critical weight. And this saddens me a bit because I think there was space in there for that. It had some soil that was fertile enough to sprout some insightful/clever/whatever things. But I just didn’t get it tilled enough or I didn’t water it enough or maybe I just didn’t spread enough shit on it.

So it doesn’t appear that I have pulled from the earth of creativity the precious stone that I had envisioned. But I did pull something out, and it’s shiny, it’s nice, and I still like it. And I am trying to make it the best whatever it is that I can.

A Rant in First Person

June 7, 2010

I was in Half Price Books a few weeks ago when I ran across a book that looked interesting. However, instead of just grabbing the thing and going to the checkout like I normally do, I decided to check it out of the library instead and it was a great decision.  I really don’t want to go on about how much I didn’t like the thing. I’ve had to write a couple of negative reviews and it’s not something I enjoy. Further, I also didn’t want to finish the thing. It’s a collection of short stories, I got roughly 80 pages into its total of 120-ish pages, and I just don’t have it in me to finish the thing. Not when I had ceased caring about what I was reading and not when I knew that to finish it only meant I would come here to write a negative review of the thing.

I think part of the problem is that I’m just tired of the whiny first person narrative. It’s been one of a number of current works that I have read lately where the story (or stories) are told from the perspective of someone needlessly whiny, where nothing goes right and where life is just oh so unnecessarily hard and they don’t know why. Wah wah wah.

It would be one thing if these narratives had anything more to them, if there was a reason for the character to be so pathetic and thoroughly uninteresting, regardless of what shenanigans the character is up to and what situations they find themselves in but I think I am becoming convinced that the stories of these characters are without meaning because the writers are writing about themselves and they are without meaning. More and more, literature (especially American) reads as if the authors read works from the Beat Generation, got the fact they were writing about themselves, and took nothing else from their works.

And so we have a mountain of writers armed with the simple mantra of writing about themselves and churning out all sorts of creative non-fictional fiction that is just out and out empty and bad. The writer of the stories of which I read 80 pages of went so far as to admit that a few works had been originally published as non-fiction pieces and that the rest of the collection was more memoir than fiction. Except it’s a memoir that read like the most pathetic headlines found in the magazines collected in grocery store checkout aisles.

I remember reading once an author’s reply about why they write and they replied that they live to write. Too much fiction today seems to be a bastardization of this. People lead lives for the express purpose of chronicling themselves rather than just living their lives. At some point your life is no longer your own but just whatever you think will make the next best chapter. You’re not there for yourself, you’re notliving for yourself, you’re living for…what? I, honestly, can’t even imagine except I’m tired of reading the dead, soulless meanderings of it.

This isn’t to say that all first person narratives are bad, even if they are autobiographical. It can be done well. It still is done well. But it also seems like the Ready-Made Section of literature. It’s writing without the heavy lifting, like renovating a kitchen with pre-manufactured countertops and cabinets. It can look alright, plucking these things off the shelf at Lowe’s but they also stand out for being the same basic mediocre things that they are.

Alright, the rant is over. I also just finished a wonderful short story collection called The Lost TIki Palaces of Detroit, it’s something I want to write about but am deciding the form (review the whole thing or story by story? something in-between?). the frustration from the other reading was just overwhelming, though. On to better things.

Apple IPad – hands-on

April 25, 2010

I finally got my grubby little mitts on an IPad yesterday. It’s a cute little thing. Very light, pretty comfortable. Found some of the controls awkward. Tried typing, which was alright but only comfortable when done one-handed. My complain with it is pretty much the same, though: a lack of use/functionality.

Give it a stylus and I think it would excel as a notepad. It’s size is perfect for even tiny desks and it weighs next to nothing. Instead of having the ruffled pages of a couple of notebooks crammed into a backpack, this thing could be a wonderful substitute.

But beyond notetaking, it seems pretty limited. It’s not overly powerful, it doesn’t have even a USB connector and to set it up with an actual keyboard and what not you have to go out and buy a bunch of accessories.

What it seems to be targeted at is stuff like Kindle and the Nook, devices which have also drawn my ire. As a media viewer, it’s nearly ideal. The screen is a good size for personal viewing, very bright and, after a fwe minutes of acclimation, the system was easy to navigate. I didn’t have a problem with text, though I think Kindle still has a better screen, but I’ve also never had much of a problem reading off a computer screen for long periods of time so I might not be the best judge for that.

So I guess my question comes down to do you want to spend that kind of money just to watch/read downloaded content? I’ve already made taht decision regarding the Kindle and other e-readers – it’s just not worth it to me.

The device I’m still curious about is the Lenovo U1 Hybrid. Significantly more expensive base price than the Ipad (though similar prices when all of the accessories for IPad are bought) but with more function built into it.

I’m naive, I admit it

March 28, 2010

One of my goals has always been to be published. By a major publishing company. With an editor. And, most importantly, a nice advance that could (maybe) pay my bills for a bit. I also always sorta expect a publishing house to be helpful in pushing me (or any author) in the right direction regarding publicity of said work.

Then I read this blog by Mitzi Szereto.

Then I read this page by Jim Cox at the Midwest Book Review.

Then I talked to a couple of other friends of mine who are knee (well, shoulder) deep in MFA Master/PhD programs.

And I discovered how horribly naive I really am about the whole publishing mess. Any hope that a publisher would help a writer succeed appears blind and destined for failure. Want to do readings? Book’em yourself. Want to get reviewers to read the thing? Send them copies.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me (and you’re probably not, so you’re fine), you don’t really interact well with people. Or maybe you are like me which means that, like me, you have some work to do. for the first time, networking is taking on a clear importance and meaning.  Friends (or at least people who want to remain acquaintances and who may later ask you for a favor) are essential.

But how do you make friends, especially in a world where you are literally a tiny fish in a MASSIVE sea? I come from a small ass town in SE Michigan. I have lately moved to Cleveland.  Not exactly the center of the universe or, especially, the literary universe (Though Dan Chaon lives about 10 minutes away, and I guess Harvey Pekar lives somewhere in this town, so there’s some people whose names are at least noticeable on bookshelves). Given such a situation, it’s easy to look around and wonder how the hell you’re supposed to meet/greet/schmooze anyone.

Well, first, send stuff out. Obvious answer. People like you enough to publish you, on their dime, that’s a great first step in fostering allegiances to call on when needed. Second, use the web. Search for blogs and websites related to your interests/writings/etc. And comment. Say stuff. It’s easy, even if you do look like a naive nit (such as I on Mitzi’s blog). And just know that it’s going to happen. Don’t be an ass. Just be you (unless you are an ass then try to be something less you).

As I crawl, drag, stagger towards finishing the (first) re-write of my first novel I have considered hurling into the world, I’ve started taking these steps. And credit goes to people like Mitzi Szerato and Jim Cox for erecting islands of illumination in the publishing darkness. Eventually, I hope to provide something similar. Until then, I’ll keep plugging away and trying to be a bit less naive.

And I’ll try to shake more hands.

Tired, Tired and More Tired

March 8, 2010

I’m sitting here working on The Re-Write, or at least trying to work on The Re-Write, line by line, and I just can’t concentrate worth a lick. on top of that my typing is a bit off. Instead of the C, I hit the X. Instead of the D, there’s an F. It wouldn’t be so bad if the letters were in any way interchangeable but they’re not and no matter what word I’m trying to put up on the screen, it comes out entirely wrong.

I’ve went through a few cups of coffee. Tried exercising. Even tried napping.

Doesn’t help. At all. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

And I keep trying to grind out The Re-Write. Keep trying to not only find the mistakes, find the problems, then find the fixes, find the right words to take the place of wrong words, but then get them down. the whole thing pours like molassas from my fried mind through my clumsy fingers.

I’m thinking about trying tea next. this is because I have an ever dwindling supply of coffee filters, though I also have a new coffee I have been waiting to open and try.  Still, i think tea will be the next attempt at forced wakefulness. It is as if I am attempting to force my mind to walk into a state roughly approximating coherence and it is stubbornly refusing to budge, having to be dragged every inch of the way.

Strangely, this blog helps a bit. Sitting down and just writing something without having to first go through the mental hoops of re-reading, criticizing, editing, etc. is liberating in a mental exercise sort of way. this isn’t to say that it will stay with me five minutes beyond finishing this blog but that maybe it will give me a five, ten, okay, thirty minute window into clarity today that I wouldn’t have had else wise. There are some days where you just take what you can get and be happy with it.

My Own Failing Memory

March 1, 2010

Or: Why I Write These Things

I tend to read quite a bit and I try to reflect on what I read. But ever since leaving school I have found that I have went without a certain stimulation and the memory I have for what I read has begun to slip. Finer points become lost. Meaning becomes less, well, meaningful.

Realizing that a lot of years and a lot of money was quickly becoming lost to me, training falling by the wayside as it were like a carpenter long long out of practice finding that his ability to visually measure a gap or to trim a piece to fit has eroded, I knew something needed to be done to try to keep me going.

Watching a kid, looking for work, and day to day life doesn’t afford me much time (or cash) to get out, though. To try to horn my way in with people in the real world if I knew where people in the real world met to talk about such things.

Having weighed my options and assessed my situation, I came to the realization that my only real outlet was the web. It’s something I can access from home, where I can carve out my own little space and, with some luck and persistance, maybe find my way into my own little niche here.

By and large it has worked. I feel I get more out of my reading now, and that I can recall more from it to find specific reasons why I love/hate whatever piece of work I’m writing about, why it might be significant or insignificant or why I might pick up another book the writer. While reading (and writing) is a solitary act, there is a social aspect to it that has to be engaged in to reap the full rewards of the solitary acts. To closet yourself away, to forego the experience of sharing a book or an idea, is to complete the experience only halfway.

Now is a blog (or any digital interface) as fulfilling as a person-to-person encounter? yes and no. On the digital medium, it does offer up more time for people to deliver a thoughtful response but you also lose the immediacy of a moment. There is a certain kind of energy that comes with talking about a book or a movie with someone who has shared that experience and who is excited by the discussion of it. Also, it’s easier to go out for drinks when the person you’re talking to is next to you. No one wants you to drag your laptop down to the pub and set up shop at the bar.

Ipad – unImpressed

January 28, 2010

I probably shouldn’t have had my expectations set quite as high as they were. Right off, I admit, that I am partly to blame for how let down I am over the recent unveiling of Apple’s Ipad. If you have an Ipod touch, you essentially have the Ipad in miniature. But listing the shortcomings of the Ipad is probably something best left for another site (like this one). Instead, I’ll just mention how it falls short from a writing/reading perspective.

First, it’s funny to see Simon&Schuster ignoring earlier comments about where they see prices for ebooks as Apple pushed for a much lower ($13-15) price point:

Publishers acknowledge that digital content should be priced lower than the print content. “We listened to what consumers have said,” said Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster.

Anyone who wants to go back and look at a previous blog entry, I have a quote from a Simon and Schuster representative saying that they envisioned ebooks costing about the same as a hardcover ($35) because they would chuck some extras onto it, like the bonus features on a DVD.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a big difference between this and a Kindle beyond the Apple having color and, at least, a $300 higher price tag. Considering it’s questionable that the Mac will debut with nearly the size of library Amazon already offers, while also pushing a higher price point, it’s not a great short term outlook. When you add in that the Ipad doesn’t support flash (you know, that technology that makes youtube possible) and its utility as a blog/news reader becomes hindered as nearly any embedded video becomes unwatchable.

On the writing front, it’s primary input seems to be an on-screen keyboard. I’m not a huge fan of laptop keyboards because I find their compact size uncomfortable for long stretches of typing. The onscreen keyboard looks even more crammed together and not built for any sort of writing session. There is a keyboard accessory that comes attached to a re-charging dock. Looking at the pictures and reading specks on Apple’s website, however, and it appears that the keyboard is literally attached to the dock like your head is connected to a neck. I have to assume that it’s on a wire to allow you to sit back in your chair a bit and type but I could just as easily be wrong.

On top of that, it appears the Ipad also doesn’t support the use of a stylus. One of the most substantial positives, for me, when I look at buying a tablet is the ability to flip it around, grab a stylus, and literally jot notes down on it. For attending class, it seems ideal. I can do away with a notebook that tears and wears, that often has several classes intermixed through out it or the need to have several competing notebooks. Instead, I can just open separate document files and keep ALL of my notes in one little place that I can tote with me anywhere. If it has a mic, I can even simply record the lectures/class and maybe convert the audio into text. Not including the ability to use a stylus obviously removes this ability entirely. So instead of being a useful tool for a writer/student, it loses a lot of functionality.

Also, there’s the inability to multitask. Like to listen to music while you write? Well, you better go buy an ipod then. Want to do some research on the web while you work on short story? Better save because you can’t open both.  Want to work on a story you’ve already started on another computer? You’re going to have to buy an adapter because the Ipad doesn’t even have a USB port.

Maybe I was expecting too much simply because it was being made by Apple. While I’m not a huge fan of their OS, I love their basic style and the functionality of their equipment. Having been looking at “convertible” tablets for awhile, as well as conventional tablets, I was hoping Mac would find a way to improve on the basic concept and at a price point that would make it a realistic option for myself. Unfortunately, Apple appears to have made a device with no real purpose. It can be good for viewing movies you download (as long as they aren’t flash) or just reading something (though not both at the same time) but nothing much beyond that. If you’re looking for a device to just read e-literature with, though, I think you’re better off just buying a kindle or one of the similar devices. They are cheaper and the screens are easier on the eyes. If you’re looking for something to write on, and are investing at least $500, I have to suggest going with a more full featured laptop (of whatever configuration you like).  The convertible tablets are bit heavier than the Ipad, but they have far more functionality. And if you’re set on a tablet, you should be able to find one that at least offers the use of a stylus.

edit: just found this article about a third party company offering a stylus compatible with the Ipad. at least someone out there is realizing that a stylus is actually a pretty useful device when all you have to interact with your computer is a touch screen.

It’s Jan. 2nd, do you know where your word processor is?

January 2, 2010

We spent nearly two whole weeks back in michigan. Partly because of family, partly because I had to sit in a  dentist chair for two hours as he hacked a large chunk of tooth out of my mouth so that a crown could fit on it. in that time, I didn’t accomplish much of anything. I didn’t write. I didn’t read (much). I spent a lot of time going from house to house, visiting different family and friends, and then collapsing on the bed so that I could get a bit of rest before doing it all over again the following day.

Now that we’re back in Cleveland, the kid’s on the last couple of days of his christmas vacation and trying to fight off a cold. His asthma makes it twice as difficult and he has to be hooked up to a nebulizer – a machine that turns a liquid medicine into a vapor he breaths through a little mask with fish eyes painted on it. When he first got it, I think the whole fish aspect of the mask made it slightly more endurable for himbut I’m not sure he cares at all about it any more and is back to seeing it as something he must simply endure.

The weather is, well, snowy. Not all out twelve inches of hell snow but snow enough. A little yesterday, a little today and we have a few inches on the ground. While I know the odds are in our favor that neither of us will be in an auto accident, I still hate seeing either of us have to go out in the stuff and the g/f’s journey to Akron once a week this semester has gradually bugged me more and more.

And I’m having second thoughts about going back to school. Not so much about myself, I’m fairly certain I want to, but whether we could actually make it work schedule wise. She’d have classes, I’d have classes, and in the middle we’d have a six year old. 

In the mean time I’m still trying to get my own writing done and find some sort of work. Fun.