Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Inspirational Quote and London

There's a quote by Jack London (you know, author of such works as Call of the Wild and White Fang) that I like: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

This quote reminds me of a certain debate when it comes to inspiration and writing; some believe writing (be it poetry or prose) should only be done when inspired - presumably, because that is when we, as writers, are most attuned to our feelings and can, therefore, better express or convey them. Others believe, however, as London does, and as I do, that we must create inspiration ourselves - even force it to happen. The thinking here is that instead of having to wait for something that may or may not come, which is most detrimental to professional writers on a schedule, one takes the wheel oneself, the car having been hot-wired, and drives. Proponents of the former bent would likely say that this latter approach would lead to an inferior product, since things are forced, so to speak. While I somewhat agree that this sort of thing happens, I think that we should try our best to find that invaluable inspiration wherever it may originate (trying different things and seeing what works). Sometimes, it's just a matter of starting (editing, proofreading), and then finding that finding that spark in the story itself - it's worked for me.

There are other things people have been known to do. Dan Brown, for example, is a famous proponent of inversion therapy (that is, hanging upside down to help clear the mind). I've tried this, too, and have found that it actually does help, though I think it's probably just because I'm sort of meditating and not thinking about anything else. Music helps, as well. Some music is distracting, though. I prefer something purely instrumental or some Mozart or Chopin. However, I've learned that the more consistently I write, the more easily I find inspiration. The plot and characters start to live in my head for a time, and sometimes I dream about them. Another piece of advice I'd give is to keep a journal or writing instrument close by when sleeping, so you can jot down inspirational dreams. I've gotten many an idea for stories this way.

When do you write? What inspires, or motivates, you?

What and How I Read

I thought I'd share my reading list with you all. As a writer, I'm well aware of the importance of reading in developing one's skills. It's, also, important to read a variety of different things and from different authors. I have specific goals in mind as a writer of fiction. Therefore, I read according to my certain categories: literary classics, speculative fiction (my niche), philosophy or science (my passions), mythology or religion (interests of mine, as are culture and history), and self improvement (which includes things such as martial arts and psychology). I read about a chapter a book per category per week. Some are ebooks and some aren't. I prefer reading my ebooks with the Kindle Reading Apps. They're free and enable me to read wherever I am - comfortably! I, also, have a third generation Kindle, though I rarely use it. My current weekly reading list looks like this:

Classic:
- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Speculative Fiction:
- Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Science/Philosophy (2 [e]books for this category):
- The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil (and other books)

Myth/Religion:
- The Bible by . . .

Self-Improvement:
- The Craft & Business of Writing edited by Lauren Mosko (and other books)

The categories and how many books I read per category are liable to change. Specifically, I'm thinking about changing the myth and religion category to an ancient or old texts category, which would allow me to include more. Then again, I could make it cultural, thus including books about different parts of the world or by authors of different nationalities.

I read a lot more than 5 chapters a week, actually. I use Instapper and Google Reader to read numerous articles, essays, and short stories, too.

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I recently finished Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. As a writer and as one with a degree in English, I feel almost obligated (and somewhat unqualified) to critique it.  I have a list of all the books I've read, which I rate 1-10. I give Frankenstein a 6 - mostly because it went longer than it should have given the plot, the narrative style was repetitive and long-winded, and, for me, there is only one truly climactic part in the book, and it isn't the ending. (Spoiler alert!)

First, Frankenstein is long, too long.  The reason for this becomes clear when reading the Author's Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition (1831), where Shelley states: "At first I thought but a few pages--of a short tale; but Shelley [her husband] urged me to develope [sic] the idea at greater length." Percy Shelley was concerned with reputation, not with a good story, or where the real story lies. I feel the real story is much shorter than the novel is. The real plot is the relationship between Frankenstein and the monster, and the former's self-loathing for having created the latter, and the latter's terror over the former. Much could be cut: the letters, the detailed descriptions of family connections and scenery, how the monster survives in the wilderness, what he observes as he hides, etc.

Second, the narrative style is often repetitive and prosaic: "I felt tormented," "Anguish filled my bones the likes of which are indescribable," "My mind was consumed with guilt for that evil deed which I did do," etc. (These are made-up sentences, but fit in rather nicely with Shelley's writing, which isn't a compliment). Further, there are too many "stories within stories" employed in this frame narrative. There were several times where I simply forgot who was narrating. This is mostly because of the restrictive nature of the epistolary framework used by Shelley.

Third, there's a lack of true suspense and a vivid sense of horror - not an absence but a lack. The most exciting part of the book is when the monster exacts his revenge and kills Frankenstein's wife. It was blood-curdling for me imagining this beast-man above the murdered corpse of an innocence, which we had been foretold and warned of. Why couldn't it have ended there, or soon thereafter while it was good? The ending isn't exciting; essentially, the monster shows remorse and that he was good, after all. Really?

I will be choosing further readings more carefully.

A Writer's Best Friend and One Hell of a Singer

I thought I'd share a quote I've recently come across by Isaac Bashevis Singer (not to be confused with the inventor Isaac M. Singer): "The waste basket is a writer's best friend."

A great quote that I think is meant to emphasis this: Do not fear deleting or erasing your words (or paragraphs, or pages!); they're not golden. In the end, this kind of trepidation could just slow you down. I know this very well. In fact, I had an interesting discussion about the art of deleting with some colleagues. Many of them save their excerpts at the bottom of the page. A good strategy, but I've developed a keen eye for what fits, or could fit, and what needs to go before it slows me down any further. Writing is your creation, and if you're not happy with something, don't try to force it to work or fit it into what your doing - delete! Unless you honestly think it could be used elsewhere, it will only decrease the value of what you're writing, and slow you down. Words are meant to be deleted. (How's that for a quote?)

I've also subsequently read a bit about IB Singer, a Jewish writer noted for his short stories, whose life story I find quite inspiring. He was one of the last prominent writers of the Yiddish language. Quite a life he lived, escaping persecution and Nazi threat in Poland in 1935 - the Nazis invaded Poland, initializing WWII, in 1939. (I guess the plan of appeasing Hitler and giving him the Czechoslovakian land he demanded in 1938, as Lebensraum for his ethnically German people he cared so much about, didn't work. Go figure.) Singer emigrated to the US and made a life for himself here with virtually nothing. It's just amazing to me that, despite his gift (winning the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature), he could never have had the success and freedom he's had in the US in his native land. If Singer's life teaches us anything, it's this: The arts, creativity, and certainly humankind do not flourish but in fact deteriorate and will likely die leaving behind nothing more than a soulless pit in a society that is preoccupied with war, power, and hate - an important lesson for these times, indeed.

Introduction

Hi there.

Who am I? I'm a writer. What do I write? Fiction. As of late, mostly science fiction. Mostly short stories. I'm working on some longer pieces too. I also like "literary" - the fiction serious people do. I also write poetry. I'm getting my MFA and pursuing a career as a professor.

What is this? My blog. I've created this little thing here in order to introduce and promote myself as a writer, as well as interact and network with the literary community (you know, those of us who read). I will post links and share things and do blog posts about my fiction, my poetry, my thoughts on science or random things, about the craft and/or business of writing, about my politics, and about what I'm reading, have read, or will read. All for free. You're welcome.