Reading

What I’ve Been Reading: Essays

So far in January, I have read:

Am I Black Enough For You? Rumpus, Retha Powers, January 2014:

“I was black. I wasn’t black enough. I was too black. Sometimes I was so upset there was nothing to do but sit down and eat a pack of Oreos—alone, of course. But for years I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating the crème-filled sandwich cooking without pausing for the fleeting impulse to turn and see if anyone was looking. Oh look, an Oreo eating an Oreo! (It’s still not my cookie of choice). I was being pigeonholed; and as Jessye Norman said, pigeonholing is interesting only for pigeons.

Not-Knowing, by Donald Barthelme.  Not Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme. Ed. Kim Herzinger. New York: Random House, 1997. Barthelme says, “Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing; a forcing of what and how.” It is, at least in part, definitely that.

Ethnography and Speculative FictionEthnography Matters, Claire Anzoleaga – explores speculative fiction from a communications studies and ethnography angle:

“For those of us who write ethnography, it is widely known that the truths we encounter and write about will never have a capital “t” in its purest, most-reducible sense. Ethnography written as speculative fiction fits smoothly into this understanding of interpreted truth-painting. It is an analytic approach which interprets data collected from the field and reimagines that data through narratives of fantasy, horror, and utopian/dystopian adventures with academic theory.”

Read it as part of the discussion on inclusion, diversity, and how/whether to write the “Other”. The rest of the site has a lot more to say about ethnography, which I studied as part of my History of Art degree, and keep in mind when I write fiction myself.

Biotechnology and Speculative Fiction, Brian Stableford – argues that writers have a moral obligation to write optimistic futures. Well, I disagree, but I think this essay gives a nice overview of biotech in SF pre-2000.

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, Esquire, Gay Talese, April 1966 – this classic profile of a hostile subject is considered one of the best pieces of creative non-fiction ever published. Recommended because of the way Talese uses language, bringing color back into journalism to liven up a field of writing that had gone from sensationalist gossip to “just the facts” and was now edging into something reminiscent of literature:

“He wore an oxford-grey suit with a vest, a suit conservatively cut on the outside but trimmed with flamboyant silk within; his shoes, British, seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody seemed to know, a remarkably convincing black hairpiece, one of sixty that he owns, most of them under the care of an inconspicuous little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week.”

It also famously recalls an incident between Sinatra and Harlan Ellison; of note to SFF fans and historians. (more…)

Book Review: “Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind”

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Pros: If you’re struggling with creating a organized routine for writing, and you haven’t heard these ideas before, there are a couple of good thoughts here.

Cons: The book is about as informational as a collection of motivational posters, full of corporate speak (talking about talking instead of imparting facts), and four page essays which only loosely support a single idea. Could have been reduced to a bullet list of ideas – which the book does include, at the end of each chapter – and would have been just as helpful but a lot faster to read.

I make it a point to only review books that I’m recommending, and in this case, I really am recommending it, but only to a small group of people. If you’re having a hard time balancing your writing, your dayjob, your family commitments, and the pressure to be brilliant at all of it, and you haven’t already read a bunch of these books – or you’re the sort of person who needs a lot of outside reinforcement to make changes in your life – this book might be what you need. The highlights:

  • Get plenty of sleep. If you can’t decide whether to go to bed or keep working, go to bed. Start going to bed a half hour earlier than you think you need to – if you need the sleep, you’ve got the time, and if you don’t, you’ll naturally wake up earlier and you can use that time for getting things done instead.
  • Get something done for yourself before replying to emails in the morning.
  • Make a master to do list that you don’t see every minute of the day, and instead write your daily to do list on a post it note. Nothing bigger than that – if you can’t fit it on a post it, you probably can’t get it done in one day. If you do all of those things, you can always make another list partway through the day, so don’t worry that you’re limiting yourself. You’re really freeing yourself to focus on just the things you really need to do first.
  • There will always be negative distractions. It’s impossible to get rid of them all (though certainly, if you can cut down on some of them without losing anything good, you should do that) but what you can and should do is bring in positive distractions to balance out the bad. Hold on to the bright, loving, happy, sexy, funny, relaxing, refreshing, and inspiring things/people in your life, and schedule little blocks of time to enjoy them. You’ll go back to your writing with more focus and more enthusiasm for your work.

The full review: (more…)

13 Things About Me, the Writing Edition

Mercedes tagged me to reveal 13 things about myself few people know. So…

1. I rarely write love poetry because Octavio Paz did it so well. His work is sparse, yet passionate and rich. He says immense things in a simple way, decorated by lushness. Eroticism mixes with tenderness, longing straddles love and lies next to emptiness… Paz is a huge influence on my own prose, and I’d be thrilled if I wrote paragraphs or sentences that affected readers the same way he affects me.

2. When I read fiction I enjoy, with a strong voice, I tend to steal it for a little bit. The next thing I write will be flavored by what I just read. (I blame my previous career as an art forger.) I plan for this by starting a new story each time I feel especially influenced by another writer, so that I can scribble out 500 words or so to shake this other voice from my system. I don’t save those stories. Just write, exorcise, and delete.

3. I write a lot more than I publish because once I’ve worked out all the details of a story, I’ve told it to myself. Then, I know it, and don’t really want to hear it again. The problem is, that usually happens before I’ve finished writing it down. The biggest killer of my career is that if I don’t completely draft a story before I get bored of it, I usually won’t.

(more…)

Recommended Reading: Short Fiction by Waldrop, Kritzer, and Murakami (free to read online)

Three short stories for a Saturday:

First, Howard Waldrop has a new short up over at Tor.com. “The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz” is excerpted from his forthcoming Horse of a Different Color, out on Nov. 12 from Small Beer Press, and I will be buying it. (Oh, yes, I will.) I wish I knew whether “Wolf-Man” is also an excerpt; it feels incomplete, like the beginning of a tale that isn’t fully told, and Waldrop tends to finish what he starts. I think it’s only half the story, but it’s an interesting one. Where do you put a werewolf who doesn’t want to keep killing but doesn’t know how to stop? Behind bars, for the safety of himself and others, sure. And if it’s 1933? You put him in Alcatraz, because that’s The Rock, the most maximum-security prison of the day. Waldrop starts his story there, rolls it out in that slow, Southern, way he has, and hooks you in with the simple truth of it all.

On second reading, I think it’s definitely only a fragment, but worth the read.

Second, “Bits” by Naomi Kritzer is up at Clarkesworld Magazine. It’s a delightful story about sex toys and aliens, with lines like this:

Because really, there are two immutable laws of nature at work here: number one, love will find a way; and number two, if a sexual act can be conceived of, someone will pay money to watch it.

But “Bits” ends on an absolutely sweet note which genuinely made me smile.

Finally, a story from the future. “Samsa in Love” by Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen) , is up at The New Yorker, dated 10-28-2013 but readable now. It makes sense that you can read forward into time, with this story, since Murakami takes up a tale from the past, and carries on with the Gregor Samsa that Franz Kafka left behind. I don’t know if it’s a great story, if it would be better if you read it in the original language, or if it’s just going to be a slightly odd tale that you wonder over for a few days and then forget until you realize one day that it’s affected you in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Let’s hope it’s one of those.

* Thanks for Micheal J. DeLuca and E. Lily Yu for recommending the first two to me.

Review: In Search of and Others, by Will Ludwigsen

4* (our of 5) for “In Search Of”. It’s a weird format–a list of facts about your life that you didn’t know. But in telling you these things, Ludwigsen tells you who you are–a man who became a cop, who wasn’t everything he wanted to be but wasn’t nothing, who lost more than he thought and didn’t hold on to the woman who loved him the most. The kicker at the end makes it all worthwhile.

4* for “Endless Encore”. What looks like a simple ghost story becomes more with the addition of tangible details; you stop thinking of it as a story written on a page. The color of a dress, the time of day, the wood and stone and the dialogue of a jealous preteen, all blend together into a real moment.

5* for “The Speed of Dreams”. Once again, Ludwigsen presents you with one story and then kicks you in the teeth at the end with the other story he’s been telling all along. You’re watching it move along and take this twist and then you’re thinking, “No, no, don’t go that way…” but it does. I was left at the end wanting to tell her not to do it, but by the time we’re reading it, it’s too late. (more…)