Or until, as I did, break a tooth.
This is Rumor Control: here are the facts behind my disappearance.
For a couple of days now, I'd been feeling a faint on-and-off sensitivity in one of my back molars. I suspected it was from a filling I'd had since I was a teenager, and which was probably aging out, but I had a dentist visit due anyway.
Saturday evening (May 22), I made a meal with toasted almonds as one ingredient. On the third or so mouthful, I felt a splintering sensation in the back of my mouth. At first I thought an almond sliver had gotten lodged between my teeth, but then I felt a jagged-edged hole around that tooth in the back of my mouth. I ran to the bathroom mirror and saw an entire lobe of that tooth, the part with the filling in it, had vanished.
On spontaneity as the wellspring of all creativity.
Once, many moons ago, I was in a GURPS Cyberpunk game with my wife and several friends. One was a fellow named Craig who had a deliciously spontaneous sense of humor. A common fixture of games in such a setting is a sit-down with a fixer with an assignment, and we had such a sit-down in a tony restaurant with a wine menu the size of a Brandon Sanderson novel. Craig's character looked at the wine list, then at the waiter, and said "I'll have a glass of [some impossibly specific vintage] Chablis, and ... [hastily] and a corn dog."
It was the timing of the joke that had us laughing for minutes on end. But it was also an environment that lent itself to such snappy spontaneity, so his joke was far from the only good one we had in that game. Sometimes, the best stuff just pops out, and the way to have that happen is to create an environment where you just keep the wheel of spontaneity turning.
On deliberately not finding an equilibrium for one's creative work.
A line from Morton Feldman:
Earlier in my life there seemed to be unlimited possibilities, but my mind was closed. Now, years later and with an open mind, possibilities no longer interest me. I seem content to be continually rearranging the same furniture in the same room. My concern at times is nothing more than establishing a series of practical conditions that will enable me to work. For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.
The question continually on my mind all these years is: to what degree does one give up control, and still keep that last vestige where one can call the work one's own. Everyone must find his own answer here ....
In some ways this new book of mine is a rewrite of an older book. In most ways, I hope it isn't.
It struck me in the middle of working on Shunga-Satori the other day that in some ways I'm writing Welcome To The Fold again, but inside-out. (You'll see what I mean when it's done.) Most people will not notice the similarities; or they may notice, but not mind. I both notice, and mind.
Let's have an end to the trope that a character who is an artist or an avid reader automatically makes them a protagonist.
Someone said to me the other day: "Snap your fingers and get rid of a literary trope for all time." I snapped my fingers and said, "Let's have an end to the trope that a character who is an artist or an avid reader automatically makes them a protagonist."
I get where the trope comes from, I really do. Many authors were themselves the quiet kid in the corner who just wanted to read and invent a world or six. All of us who ever sat in that corner like to tell ourselves — and it's justified! — how artists speak for humanity as a whole through their work, and so on. Consequently, it's tempting to think giving someone creative or aesthetic inclinations makes them interesting, but it doesn't — not automatically, anyway.
"What is it that I have to bring to the table?" is the hardest question any of us can answer, and I think many of us never do in fact answer it.
From an interview with Jon Batiste: (Emphasis mine on all quotes.)
Confidence comes from realizing there will never be another you. You are the only version of you that exists. If you listen to the greats—and there are so many—and you hear how amazingly they approach the craft, and you try to imitate that, you’ll fall short. You can’t sound like Nina Simone or Bach. They got there after a lifetime of searching. It takes a lifetime, and even then, you will never sound like them.
Then you look at your peers and their talents, and it’s natural to feel that their talents are better than yours—because you can’t do what they do. You start to think, “Why can’t I be more like everyone else?”
That’s the entirely wrong path. You should actually be digging into the things about you that you can’t change—because those are the things that will ultimately breed your greatness. Those are the things that only you have access to. You have been the only person who is born in this time with your brain and your family and all your experiences, your names, your ideas, and your whole perspective on everything that’s come before will inform all your built-in wonderful gifts. Ultimately digging into the idea that you’re the only you who will ever exist is what gives confidence.
It isn’t an easy process. You have to be willing to sound and look bad and fail before you figure out how you’re going to put together these elements. Because there is no model. There are only inspirations.
The story of a never-written project that made me realize why I don't want to rub the misery of our moment in people's faces and call that art.
Sitting in my archive of "all but dead" writing projects is a book I tentatively titled Gameshow. The only parallels I can draw with it are works like Stand On Zanzibar, or maybe some of Hans Fallada's fiction about life during the Nazi regime or the post-Weimar era. Nothing in it would have been invented, just forced to share the same space and time. The premise of the book was that modern life had become intellectually, spiritually, and physically inhospitable to human beings, and that we shouldn't be surprised when the human beings that emerge from such an environment are unrecognizable as human.
Can you guess why I decided not to write it? Well, I had two big reasons:
Why would we find it easier to feel sympathy for a cartoon animal than another human being?
Some time ago someone asked me about the logic behind stories like Maus, where the Jews are replaced by mice and the Nazis with cats. I wasn't in a great mood at that moment, so maybe what came out sounded more indignant than it should have, but it went like this: "Because there's too many people who feel more sympathy for a cute animal than a good deal of their fellow human beings."
Our dreams will never love us back precisely because they are our dreams. Only you and I can love each other, and we cannot afford to let anything else usurp that responsibility.
Somewhere between one thing and another in the book I'm currently working on (Shunga-Satori), the following line of dialogue popped out: "Your dreams will never love you back."
The context of the line is difficult to relate here (okay, it's spoilerriffic, that's why I'm not saying more), but even without the rest of the book to support it, the line stood out. It reminds me of something I know I have quoted here before, from Professor Ian Johnston's Lecture on The Tempest:
The problems with multi-installment works are worse than we think.
You know by now I have a dim view of how multi-volume book cycles affect the way writing and publishing both operate. I dislike how it creates perverse incentives for authors to overwrite, turning what could be one good, focused book into several drawn-out, mediocre ones; how it makes publishers lazy by meaning they have that many less authors and works as a whole to promote and cultivate; how it frustrates readers by forcing them to commit to more work at a time; and how prospective writers read all this and take bad direction from it.
One of my acquaintances, freelance book editor Sarah Chorn, told me about another wrinkle to all this I hadn't previously considered:
On indies avoiding the mistakes of mainstream publishing, 2022 edition.
Consider: If you have the option of supporting a local, independently run business versus a big-box chain store, you're likely going to be inclined to support the little guy. The problem is, what if the little-guy business just isn't very good? And not because they "can't compete" because of the size of their stock or what have you, but because the staff is uninformed and gets salty if you ask questions, or because the goods on the shelves are dated and yellowed (and it's very clear they aren't interested in addressing any of that, because other small stores in different towns don't have this problem)?
I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I sometimes feel I'm witnessing a parallel to this problem in indie publishing. Much of it just feels like downscale knockoffs of bigger-name franchises, in the same way the '77 Star Wars uncorked a whole slew of exploitation projects, or the way The Asylum makes their (deliberately?) terrible no-budget clones of upscale hit films. But sometimes the disappointment is altogether different. It's not that the work is unoriginal, but that its originality has come at the expense of other things — things actually worth keeping.
Maybe one should not have heroes, I once said, if only because they are mortal and have feet of clay and will inevitably disappoint you. But I know I have them.
Maybe one should not have heroes, I once said, if only because they are mortal and have feet of clay and will inevitably disappoint you. But I know I have them. Camus, Selby, Dostoevsky, Sir Karl Popper, John Cage, Barrows Dunham, Huang-po (and Buddha, of course), Miyazaki, Tezuka, Jo Freeman, Doris Lessing, Woolf — I could go on. Some alive, most dead. But I have them all the same, if only because I have learned what I need most from them, and because I know I share any of their faults too. Not to excuse what they do, but to transcend them.
How an entire story can pivot on a single sentence, and lead to a new world in the head.
Sorry about the lack of bloggo de blog in the last week or so — work had me running around, writing kept me busy, general exhaustion over other things. And then there was the bad news about abortion rights, about which I can only say that you need to get to a voting booth in every election and vote for people who will at the very least not make things worse, and stop pretending you won't be affected by this, because this is universally bad news. And for all those sullen twerps who cross their arms and won't vote unless they have a pie-in-the-sky solution for all their problems on offer ... I don't want to hear it, that's not how any of this works, that's in part how we ended up in this mess in the first place, kindly get lost.
Anyway, here's something to take your mind off all that (I hope), gleaned from the work I've been doing on the next novel Shunga-Satori.