NFS: Do you rewrite throughout the process of rehearsing?
el-Toukhy: Yes. When we start the rehearsal period, we have a script. It's not a finely-tuned draft, but we have a script. And then my writer comes into the room, and sometimes she sits for a full day. Otherwise, I have an assistant, or I make mental notes on the scenes where I kind of experienced something new, and then I'll rewrite. And then the next day we will rehearse the scene again to see, is this more in the field of what we want?
Eventually, when we are finishing the rehearsals, after maybe four weeks, we'll spend a couple of weeks rewriting the script to finalize it. And that's the final shooting script. And once I'm shooting—once this playground time is over—I stick to the script, pretty much.
Right now I'm a little less than halfway through the first draft of The Fall Of The Hammer, the new book (out next year? maybe?), and I recognized in this advice some things that were highly familiar from my own work process.
Toying with Pelican, Nikola, and other static site generators.
For the sake of documenting another project I've recently resurrected in the background, I sat down and toyed with the Pelican site generator. Mercury, the system I wrote to run this blog and a couple of others, isn't in danger of being displaced by it any time soon; I'm just curious about what else is out there. But the basic principle it uses is the same as mine: generate static HTML, stuff it somewhere, and regenerate only what you have to when something changes.
Many of the more technical bloggers out there have given up on WordPress or hosted solutions like Svbtle or Medium, the former because it's WordPress and the latter because they're not owned by the end user, and moved to static HTML generators like Pelican or Nikola. I think if I had been making the switch away from Movable Type now instead of a few years back, I would have gone with something like Pelican, if only because its feature set now is a lot closer to what I need than what it was then. But a lot of the workflow I have is best served by what I've already created, so I'm not touching anything on my main sites just yet.
It's sheer human effort.
I traveled for work this past week, and since my flight time was a combined six hours or so, I caught up on some moviewatching. The flick I caught outbound was so dismal I don't even want to bother giving it a proper dunking: waste of keystrokes, that. (Email me if you wanna know what this clinker was.) But on the way back, I landed a surprise gem I'd heard celebration of in half a dozen other circles, a flick called One Cut Of The Dead.
Don't look for a full review of it here; I wrote one for another site. Mostly, I want to talk about the fact that the first 20-30 minutes of the film is a single, unbroken take — something that turns out to be a plot element in a most unexpected way. When I mentioned the unbroken take to a friend, he noted something I hadn't even considered: "It seems lately like there's this move toward big choreography in movies. Daredevil loved its one-ers, for example." John Wick also came to mind.
My response was, "It's the last great special effect."
Professionalized hobbies make bad careers.
I'm traveling this week and so have little blogging time, but I wanted to toss this off. Career guides talk a great deal about monetizing what you love, taking your hobbies and turning them into jobs. I don't think this is deliberately bad advice — it's at least well-meaning, for the most part — but in this moment and time and space it translates into very, very bad advice indeed.
The temptation to go back and touch up one's on work is strong.
Some time ago I mulled the idea of going back through and revising all of my existing works, and issuing them in new "definitive editions". These would showcase the skills I learned over the past several years when it came to editing and refining a finished product — a way to buff out all the scratches that still nag at me with my work. I had the good sense to resist such a dumb idea.
Or maybe not so dumb, I don't know. Many authors in previous decades revisited their work constantly and only left behind a definitive edition of anything after they were dead. Maybe I'm well served by taking my earlier work and just cleaning it up a little. The problem is, I know where that goes.
Are international literary prizes just for "foreign writers who make sense to us"?
... writers seeking to be part of the international debate about books, and thereby perhaps realizing lucrative sales of their work, will focus on tropes that are internationally recognized—the detective novel, say, or the story of political struggle—exoticizing and caricaturing a local reality for the benefit of those who can’t be expected to know it. We will thus find ourselves debating the banal or bewildered by the authentic. I recall a discussion on the jury of an international prize in which it was felt that the work of the great Indian writer U.R. Ananthamurthy would simply be too strange for an Anglo-Saxon audience. Which tells us volumes about what we mean by “international prize”: foreign writers who make sense to us.
(Side note: Ananthamurthy was author of Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man, now reissued in English by NYRB [New York Review Books].)
This constitutes another facet of the argument that literary prizes and creative awards generally are glorified popularity contests. The curation of a label like NYRB does far more of real value for bringing needed recognition to deserving authors from all corners than a dozen awards do.
What happens when we take a genre and remove everything from it that we'd label as being part of that genre?
One thing I've been circling with one of the as-yet-unfinished ideas is something that amounts to an entirely synthetic, personal, idiosyncratic set of fantastic tropes. Most people know about fantasy monsters of one kind or another, but I wanted to say "OK, let's take them all and throw them out, start from absolutely nothing. What do we come up with?" Sort of like that exercise I mentioned once where you list all the things you like, are curious about, etc. and then try to write a story that by design includes none of them.
I'm fascinated with the idea of taking a field of some kind (like "fantasy"), wiping everything from it that we could fall "fantasy", then seeing if we could have something grow there that would still have the same label. The same with "cyberpunk", or what have you. Call it an exercise in finding out what there truly is under the label, what the real essence of any type of story is.
The number of things we need to have an opinion about right this second is not as large as it might seem.
The other week, I found out what "hopepunk" was. Emphasis on the past tense. Apparently it had already stopped being a thing by the time I found out it had ever been a thing in the first place.
I don't have a hard opinion about it one way or another, if only because I'm not even sure it's a thing apart from the label itself. My interest in the phenomenon is mostly as a phenomenon — as something that comes along, draws some attention, and then either fades into the background or vanishes entirely. I'm not even sure it was something I needed to have an opinion about, and that's the whole reason I bring it up — because I feel the number of things we need to have an opinion about right now is not as large as it might seem.
Back in NYC for a few days.
I was in the New York City region last week for work (hence the ZIP code in the post title), and whenever I'm there I visit my parents and whatever friends I can scare up. I had the bad luck to visit during a real freezer-burn of a wintertime, although it wasn't too bad during the day. But standing on the corner in the morning for even five minutes, waiting for the bus to take me into Times Square, left me feeling like parts of my body would break off.
Much of the New York I remember from my childhood and young adulthood is gone; a few pieces of it still remain here and there. But for the most part it's become an overpriced shopping mall where too many of the storefronts stand empty. At least we still have the museums — and at least for now.
"... from where I sit, freedom isn't choice. Freedom is agency. Indeed, choice - by limiting agency - is often the opposite of freedom."
... from where I sit, freedom isn't choice. Freedom is agency. Indeed, choice - by limiting agency - is often the opposite of freedom. So when I read advocacy journalism such as this article I reframe the question, asking whether the alternatives support increased agency. All too often I find that they undermine agency instead, replacing the best interests of students with the narrow interests of lobbyists or funders.
A useful distinction, and one I don't see made very often. Two choices that produce essentially the same outcome with only cosmetic distinctions aren't choices. Or if they are, they are only in a Hobsonian sense. A breadth of choices feels like freedom, at least superficially, but agency doesn't come from selecting one of 30 varieties of toothpaste.
Awards are popularity contests, and the only thing that distinguishes the prestigious ones from the less so is the way the more prestigious ones are designed not to look like popularity contests.
I'm as peeved as many of you likely are about the lousy Academy Awards results. Mainly because what I thought was one of the best films of the past year (Widows) was shut entirely out of the running, but also because we never seem to learn just how little these things actually mean, in any venue.