Sunday, February 27, 2005

Link: The Fine Art of Getting Your Face Slapped and Asking For Another, Sir

An old--by old, I mean, from a long time ago--friend, who recently became aware of my web presence due to this happening and that happening and us, five to 15 years later, winding up on the same e-mail listserv, pointed me towards this, which I just read all of, even though it's long, so you know it's good, because I can't concentrate on anything longer than a handful of words by now, because, just because.


So honestly I read the opening paragraph of the article and went to the website it referred to (a place for people to post rejection letters and then comment on them) and after clicking through a random sampling of the "Literary Agent" letters, I was thinking that, wow, a lot of these people are whiny, because if I'd get half the personal-reply material they've gotten in their responses, I'd be tap dancing up and down my hallway walls. I mean, heck, I get thrilled when I get called Mr. Dixon. So then I went back to the original blog post and read the rest of it and found it enlightening and amusing, and it also made me very scared about a piece of my web presence (which you can go to over here), so I ran to it quickly to read through my comments on the rejection letters I've received, and was pleased to remind myself that, no, I don't sound like an ungrateful bastard. I do, in fact, get a bit of a grin on my face every time I do get even the slightest bit of personality in any of my rejections.

Because really I still don't think of rejection as a bad thing. Okay, so I haven't been outright told I suck yet. Maybe I'll throw a hissy fit when that letter does come through. That's cool. But in the meanwhile, all these form letters, they make me happy, because every time I get one in the mail, it means that someone out there in the world confirmed for me the fact that at one point in time prior to the moment in time I opened my mailbox that day, I did actually send out a story or a query letter. I mean, sending out the letter is nice and all, and I've got a whole post about that in the works, but the rejection letter is a way of closing the loop, I guess. It's the exhalation after the inhalation. It's...oh, bugger, I'm tired, so.

I guess one might notice a certain element of defeatism in my attitude towards this. The jumping-jacks-in-the-sunshine response to being told I'm not going to get published. But I don't look at it like that. I look at it more like...look, I spent a lot of time writing stuff in the last few years, and not a lot of time sending out for publication, and that was pretty stupid of me. So being rejected is fine with me because, hey, you're not supposed to get accepted. (My old-from-long-ago friend noted that being "a touch jaded and cynical is an excellent counter-balance to rejection" which is true. Sure we live in a cynical age but that doesn't make all cynicism bad.) I like to think I'm a good writer--and I also like to think I follow all the rules publications lay out when I'm sending my stuff in and I also like to think that my cover letters are classy and business-y and they don't make me sound stark raving loco--but hey, I know I still need to fill a shoebox or two with rejection letters before I can start to think about maybe hanging up my laptop and taking up knitting. So maybe I'm not so much jaded and not so much defeatist as I am...oh...pleasantly amused with my own willingness to try.

Plus, anyways, when you assume you're going to get rejected, getting accepted--I theorize--becomes all the more thrilling.

Or so the story goes.

As I'm sure I'll find out someday.

Once these editors and agents recognize MY GENIUS!!!!!!!


Friday, February 25, 2005

Link: Tournament of Books

Tournament of Books

This is just great fun. I'd heard of Cloud Atlas before I started occasionally glancing at the action, but now that it's made it to the final round, I'm certain I want to read it. Once I get done with the, er, two books I'm trying to read, now. Because, you know, as someone who can't make it through, er, one book, right now, I should be trying to tackle, er, two books, simultaneously. Er. One's short though. The other's impossibly long. Er. Uhm...

Uhm! But the tournament is a great idea and I want to see more of it. I'd also like to have read all the books on a list so I could follow the action with great personal interest, choosing hometeams to root for and rivals to be boo'ed against. That would be great fun. But that might have to wait until I'm able-minded enough to be able to read the information on a box of cereal without getting distracted by the shape of the spoon.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

On the fine art of revision (or, on the fine revision of art?)

An interview with the self, Part One of ?

Q: First question. You write fiction, where revision has an obvious role to play. Why should non-writers care about, or think about, the idea of revision? What relevance does revision have in contemporary society?

A: I think--well, I'm afraid I'm going to get all gooey mumbo-jumbo pseudo-philosophic on this one, which isn't my intention, so please forgive me if my words stray that way. But to look at revision from a broad perspective, I think it's helpful to note that, were I the type of person to be quoted, one of the things I might want to be quoted as saying is this: "There's only two things I firmly believe in; one is that freedom of speech is crucial for society to function, the other is that firm beliefs aren't very good things to have."

That's really a sort of nutshell vision of my philosophy of life, and I like to think that if lots of other people would pick up on that, the world would be a better place for it. To expand on this idea--I think one of the big problems society faces right now is its sort of, dependence? Reliance? Something, on firm beliefs. I think there's a tendency to want to have things firmly designated. Good, bad. Us, them. Pro-life, pro-choice. Whatever it is, we want to have the answers, and we want the answers to be right, so that other answers can be wrong.

I'm really broadly generalizing here. Me, my life, I try not to see things that way. It is true that I firmly believe in the right to free speech--but that's the underpinning that could make great dialogue possible, for those who choose to run with it. And it's a lot like writing a piece of fiction in that, the first draft usually isn't the best. That's why we revise our drafts. Revision shouldn't implicate lots of random change for change sake--if I'm writing a crime novel I shouldn't have to revise it into a romance just to see if that would be better. But I should be free--well, I am free, because nobody's keeping score on my laptop--to, you know, rearrange stuff. Find ways for things to sound better or move better. And I think that's how society should, could, work. Unfortunately I think the last presidential election shows that maybe things aren't that way right now. You could look at the two candidates and say, one's up for firm decisiveness while the other's out there for a more reasoned, progressive approach. Where by progressive I really mean, everything can be or should be an act of progression. Or change, towards something better. Of course I'm no expert on either candidate or on politics in general, so don't see this as a. Well, you know. It's actually one of my nightmares, that someday, I'll be talking, and people will be listening, and what I'll say at one point will be attributed to me, and then later when I say something different it'll all be "Oh hey wow whoa change!" Like, to go back one second? The flip flopping? Come on, what was that all about? Since when was changing your mind a bad thing?

Look at Cleveland, for an example. I think Cleveland's this city that's gotten a bad rap and now it's really falling apart. We're getting dumped on with crazy ideas from the local government--raising money for the city by installing stop light ticket cameras, or casino gambling, say. We're also getting the shaft from the boys upstairs. NASA budget cuts mean we're likely to lose 700 local jobs in the next year. Not janitor type jobs but thinking jobs, bright people jobs. I hate the buzz phrase "brain drain" but there you have it. Cleveland's a city in a bad need of some serious revision--we've got a great draft of a city here, there's lots of stuff to work with, but you have to work with it to get out of it what can really be there to be found. I'm not convinced the current Cleveland leadership is the best we could get for this sort of work. I want to see ideas coming out of city hall, but if the best ideas there are right now are stop light cameras and casinos, well. Maybe they're fine examples, I don't know. I'm not a poltician for probably very good reasons. But I think there's better ideas to be had--like, maybe, fighting tooth and nail for every single job that might be lost at NASA. NASA right there is a great base to work from--but, again, it must be worked with.

Anyways, I'm rambling. Point is, I think revision as a conscious act is something that maybe there isn't enough receptiveness to on the part of our society, and I'd love to see that changed. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this, so don't quote me on it. [grin]

Q: Okay, next question. Why the faux self-interview posing for this--and presumably for the follow-up--posts?

A: Uhm. Seemed like a fun idea during the car ride home? [grin] Plus I think it will work well with something I've been thinking of doing with this web page--namely, returning to ideas repeatedly, re-evaluating them from different angles, that sort of thing. I've already got it all planned out in my head. Next post's opening question will be something like "Last time, you said" and the answer can be a reassessment of the original idea. Plus, I feel like I'm working towards some kind of big point at the end of this, though I don't know what it is, and my thoughts are all scattered on the subject right now, so this seemed like a sort of fun Platonic sort of way to work through the mess in my head to figure out what I'm thinking about. And maybe spark discussion along the way too. I like discussion. Plus this format probably lends itself better to rambling which frees me up to just kind of see where things go. Oddly enough, I'm not revising this interview much as I go. But then, I--and I imagine many others--feel more comfortable writing for the web that way. Which is funny, since, well. I'd had this conceit at the beginning og this blog that everything I wrote was going to be finely-revised sharp text, but I think I'm starting to see the error of that. There's no time for it. The real revision should be saved for my real writing. Real in quotation marks, I guess. Or maybe it's just because I read the Dave Eggers interview over at the Onion A.V. Club today and it's got me thinking meta a bit more than usual.

Q: Fantastic picture at the top of the interview, isn't it?

A: You're telling me. I once got briefly mistaken for Eggers outside a bookstore over in Shaker Heights, and it was one of the best moments ever. If I knew I could look like him when I cut my hair short, I'd do it in a second. He just looks happy. Pleasantly confused, perhaps. In a good way.

Q: Okay, on to the topic at hand. Revision. To give us a base to work off of--could you maybe loosely define revision?

A: You weren't much paying attention to my answer to the first question, were you. [grin] Reivision, right now, to me, is the act of taking a draft of a story, or a novel, or something, and making it better.

Q: Let's work through that definition piece by piece. You say revision is an act. What do you mean by that?

A: Well...revision is really an action. It's a series of actions all sort of bundled up into this act of being the guy in the corner of the coffee shop who's alternately staring off into space, or bashing furiously at the keyboard. It might help to note that for me writing is really about two stages, at least the way I've been working lately, the last few years. It's about writing, and it's about revision. Writing is sort of the brain-storming session, the spitting out of sentences just to see if they stick. To see if throwing one sentence up on the screen will cause another one to need to follow it. To find out where the story itself could actually go. Revision happens after the writing is done--or, depending, it happens partway through the writing, say, if the first half's written there might be revision of that which will extend forward into more writing towards the ending of the story. They're not sharply defined activities but they're still defined. Maybe not a sharp line between the two but there's definitely a, I don't know, a visible cloudy column of space?

So revision as action--it's about sitting down. It's about drinking coffee. It's about using the arrow keys a lot, moving around, knowing a few basic keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste and move text around on the screen. It's about the backspace key, a lot. But it's also about mental action. Activity. It's about listening to the sounds of sentences inside my head and figuring out, how can these sentences actually be made to sound better? Can this paragraph benefit from a more abstract or concrete approach? Is this event as necessary as I thought it was when I first wrote it? That's always a tough one. There's a story I'm working on now which requires a bit of an elision, and I'm still wondering if it's really required or if that's just me being lazy. I still suspect the elision is best for this story--the stuff that gets elided is probably an entirely separate story unto itself, but I guess we can talk about that more later.

Uhm. I guess for now you might call the "act" at the core of revision that of the "question". It's about questions. Making choices. And having the freedom to change those choices as much as possible. But, not infinitely. But I imagine we'll get to the "How do you know you're done?" issue later on, huh?

Q: I think so. Meanwhiles, I think it's past your bed time.

A: This is true. This is true.

Friday, February 18, 2005

On being a bookslut in need of a hot sweaty affair

I have trouble reading.

Which isn't to say I can't read. I'm literate. When I publish this post, I'll be able to pick out the sense from the typos and grammatical inconsistencies, some of which I might go back and fix. Functionally speaking, there's nothing wrong with the systems of my body that are required for reading. I'm not blind. My hands can turn pages. I have a lap to place hardcover books on and I have the upper body strength to hold a paperback up to the good light. I am quite capable.

The problem is, I don't read. I suspect it's a combination of a lack of time (once out of work, I go home to write most days, which can chew up several hours itself) and a lack of that true excitement that got me into reading in the first place (with what few hours are left after all of the above's done, how bad do I really want to do more things that require thinking?) And while I've had reprieves along the way--the list of books to the right was mostly consumed during the first couple weeks of this year--they've mostly come at the expense of writing time. The two shouldn't be so incompatible--after all, one of the most common pieces of advice I've seen published writers give to beginning writers is to read everything. But spending hours on the mental life is like trying to buy one toy for two children: someone's going to wind up with a bloody nose and tears.

So I think part of why I started this blog was to try to remedy the situation by giving something to the net while forcing myself to give something to me: a literary web-forum, a place where I could maybe talk about books that I might convince myself to read once I was creating a conversation around them. See, I suffer from a sort of information overload (1), and so much of the information I try to consume in any given day from the net points towards the net as a great place for something I've been sort of thinking of as "geek chic nouveau" culture and not much else. (2) My life's felt like it's been sort of drowned in so much techy wizz-bang alternate-copyright programming-mashup uber-tomorrow culture conversation, that it's sort of started to feel like, you know, maybe, it was everybody else who forgot to read books. Not just me.

Luckily for me, though, the net isn't a box you can fill, and there really are other conversations going on out there. But more luckily for me, there's already people out there doing the work I was thinking about doing, which is kind of sad in that it means I still have to figure out what the hell to do with this blog now that I don't have to dedicate it to saving the world from choking to death on links about expensive toys I can't afford, but really great for me in that, hey, thank god someone else is doing it, because I don't have the time for it. (3)

How to find that sub-net-culture in which paper is still something worth touching and words aren't necessarily used in non-arguable but-argued-anyways declarative sentences? You can do like I did and Google for "literature weblog" or I can save you the trouble and point you at some pretty cool portals:

Maud Newton: Blog
The Elegant Variation

The "links" page alone on Maud Newton's blog could, were it printed out, probably fill enough paper to help start a campfire in a rainstorm, and it looks just as promising for keeping the sore mind warm through the cold winter of nerd-chic nouveau. But the truest compliment I can offer these pages is that reading them, even if only occasionally, has gotten me almost excited enough about reading again to maybe put down the video games and naps for a while and maybe try thinking a little bit more each day. If the brain's a muscle then I guess these blogs are my new fitness coaches. I just hope I start listening to their shouts of Drop down and gimme 50 pages!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Links - Suggestions for Novelists, Search Engine Paradigm

10 Unrequested Suggestions Made to an Unpublished Novelist

I'm not sure how I wound up on the web site of Shannon Hale, an author I hadn't previously heard of, but I found this list pretty amusing. I can vouch for the fact that at least two of these questions are real suggestions that I've received.

Clive Thompson, Search me, pt. 2

Some thoughts by Clive Thompson, with links to additional stories and backstory, about search engines and how they're taking over our brains and becoming crucial parts of our consciousness. On the one hand I'm too young to say "Back in my day" or to come off as old and curmudgeony, but on the other hand I've been using computers and networks since before many current online diary keepers were even born (0), so I think I've got enough old-school cred on my card to go ahead and say, Oh, heebie-jeebie! I mean, I remember back in my day when we had to do all of our thinking manually! Like, for ourselves! And when we needed information, we had to actually stop playing Super Mario Bros. long enough to get mom or dad to give us a ride to the library so we could take home paper books about dinosaurs and the solar system! And we liked it! And, anyways, hasn't anybody seen a science fiction movie in the last twenty years? 2001? Terminator? The friggin Matrix? All artistic signs point towards the destruction of mankind when AI rises up and decides that we're a bunch of tools and that the computers could do a way better job of being people than we ever could. (1) Thought crime! Thought crime! Please, for the love of humanity--let us hang on to what makes us uniquely human. (2)


(Oh, and Maureen--expect a bit of a tutorial on the footnotes stuff sometime in the next 987987 weeks, when I manage to put one together. It's not hard--the documentation on the program's website is quite useful--but there's a few Blogger-specific tricks probably worth noting.)