I've found I do my best work when I'm not self-consciously trying to comment on my moment in time.
I had a conversation with someone about The Fall Of The Hammer, and how I'd written that book during the Trump years, and finished and released it during the height of the pandemic. But I had worked very little, if any, of the flavor of those moments into the story. And the current book on my plate, Unmortal, is also not being written as any kind of receptacle for, or commentary on, our current moment in time.
I've found I do my best work when I'm not self-consciously trying to comment on my moment in time. The present moment leaves its mark on my work in some form, and always will. No point in trying to strongarm it into being seen and felt.
The issue I have with tentpole franchise entertainment is not that it's unentertaining, but that it provides the wrong lessons for creators.
My wife ended up finally watching Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, with me popping in and out as I'd seen both of them before. Being re-exposed to them reminded me the problem I have with most such material is not that it's bad as entertainment, but bad as a teaching example for creators to follow. They're worth watching and enjoying, but not necessarily worth emulating.
How I sometimes model my approach to a book as if it were a movie for the mind.
At various times I've mentioned my personal profile could include the line "frustrated filmmaker". I always wanted to make movies, but I never got my ducks in a row, especially after I really sunk into writing as a creative outlet and decided filmmaking was too much like actual work. (My other profile description is "Lazy workaholic.")
If there is a "throughline" for our moment in time, it's not something that condenses itself down to the kind of overarching planning found in fiction.
In Philip K. Dick's Ubik, there is a riotous moment where one of the main characters, whose credit rating is abysmal, has to pay five cents every time he wants to open his apartment door. Low on change and fed up, he grabs a screwdriver and starts to dismantle the door lock. The door threatens to sue him. What's best about this moment is how Dick probably just tossed it out over his shoulder.
Something is not "artificial" because of its means of production, but if the act of producing it, in whatever form, goes against your inner convictions.
In Jonathan Cott's book of conversations with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, there is an anecdote where Stockhausen met with D.T. Suzuki (an influence on fellow composer John Cage), where Stockhausen talked about how his music was "artificial" in the sense that much of it was made with tape, electronics, etc. instead of the human voice or a conventional instrument. Suzuki disputed this distinction. To him, something was not "artificial" because of its means of production, but only "artificial" if the act of producing it, in whatever form, went against your inner convictions.
How I've tried to avoid using the template of a real-world story for my own fiction.
In my forthcoming book Unmortal there's a struggle between two characters, both of whom could be described as revolutionaries from and for an oppressed class. Their disjoint is in how they want to do this. Someone close to me who knows the details of the story asked me if this had been patterned after the disjoint between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. I admitted there were elements of that disagreement in this story, but that it was not in that mold -- in the sense that I had imported some aspects of the real-world issue into what I was doing, but didn't use it as the design for what to do.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period. It seems best thought of as an SF-tinged descendant of conventional Hollywood historical costume epics -- The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus -- as it has both the best qualities of those projects (epic scope, ambitious plotting, fun casting) and their worst (ponderousness, pretentiousness, miscalculations of pace and tone).
Frank Herbert's now-classic novel used the struggle for resources in the Middle East as the jumping-off point for a blend of soft SF and James A. Michener-esque historical fiction that still remains unsurpassed. Two feuding noble houses in a far-future universe enter into a tricky agreement to transfer control of a strategically important planet, a wasteland that no one would bother with were it not for the invaluable, druglike substance harvested from its sands. When the Atreides, receivers of the planet, are betrayed by the Harkonnen, its former custodians, the dauphin of the Atreides goes into hiding with his mother, and finds he's being received as a messiah by the indigenous population.
Learning to find your own take on things you read or watch gives you a sense of what you can bring to your own work, too.
A good 'un from my fine fellow Steve:
Your reading or viewing experience is just as unique as anything you create. You will have insights no one else has, and find inspiration unique to your own creativity. You will find flaws no one else saw, and take away lessons no one else will learn. However you consume an artistic experience, that experience is yours and what you take from it is yours.
A key thing for reading as a writer is learning how to produce takeaways from what you encounter. This is not to say that you can never just relax and have a good trashy time at the movies, but that you get the best results with your own work when you learn how to take lessons from other work. Learning to do this also teaches you about what you have to bring to your own table as a creator.
This page contains an archive of posts for the month of September 2021.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind