Inhuman Swill : Writing : Page 5

The tissue at hand

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Having finished the first draft of a novel a few months back, I am now slowly but surely whittling my memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, down to its fighting weight. This means chopping out certain scenes I'm very fond of, but which don't fit the focus and tone of the revised manuscript.

Here's one of those scenes I'm sorry to see go, surgically excised and preserved under glass for your inspection.

October 1986

"You want to see my what?" said Elder Vickers, assuming that expression of shock and disgust he feigned so well.

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Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

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  • Smoke

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    I make it my general practice
    not to drink and write.
    At least, I try not to drink
    when writing fiction,
    where the prose should be clear
    and lucid as water,
    even as it refracts the light.

    But poetry's a different matter.
    A little whisky never
    hurt a poem. Not much, anyway.
    Certainly not this
    glass of it, distilled from smoke
    that might have
    scribbled words like these in
    the air as it
    jittered away, leaving only this
    amber residue,
    not so transparent as it appears.

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    I have no illusions of immortality

    Or do I?

    The way I shovel known poisons into my mouth
    Shout motherfucker at drivers who cut me off
    The way I still haven't put up the smoke alarms, two years later

    The way I keep putting off Moby-Dick
    Let a day or more sometimes go by without writing a word
    The way I, on rare occasions, neglect to say I love you

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    Hacking reality

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    Wine Loft Panel Discussion, June 24, 2010
    Back in June, during the week I attended the Starry Heaven workshop in Flagstaff, organizer extraordinaire Sarah K. Castle put together a little panel discussion on the interactions between science fiction and actual science. Titled "Science + Fantasy = Science Fiction," the panel brought seven scientists and writers together to talk about how science inspires science fiction and vice versa.

    Besides Sarah, who is both geologist and SF writer, the participants included writer Bradley P. Beaulieu ([info]brad_beaulieu), writer and futurist Brenda Cooper ([info]bjcooper), biologist and computer scientist Dan Greenspan (blog), biologist and physiologist Stan "Bud" Lindstedt, and science historian David S.F. Portree ("Beyond Apollo").

    Everyone's five- to seven-minute presentations were fascinating, and I wish I had time and memory sufficient to recap them all. Instead, though, I've been meaning for a couple of months now to post the loose notes I wrote up for my little presentation. Here they are:

    My view of science is pretty well summed up in a conversation between two characters in the novel I'm working on now, Endgame. This is the story of two teenage friends named Hasta and Ivan who develop seemingly magical powers—except that they don't automatically accept magic as the explanation for what has happened to them. Instead they set about using the scientific methods of theorizing and repeated testing to get to the bottom of things.

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    Since we're only, let's see, a decade into the 21st century now, I figured it was probably past time to revisit my essay on "Proper Manuscript Format." I've revised it a couple of times in the past, but with all the changes in submission standards over the past decade a major overhaul was in order.

    Some hardliners may be upset with me for ceding some ground, but I haven't changed the way I format a manuscript. I do acknowledge other valid schools of thought, though.

    I've written a fuller explanation of the revisions over at my formatting blog. I hope you'll check out the updated formatting guide itself and let me know what you think. Does it go too far? Not far enough? Or do you agree?

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    I don't know why I've spent so much of my life being afraid to write a novel. All these years I've figured I was afraid of failing at it, that the short story was my natural form as a writer.

    That was all ridiculous, and easily disproved had I stopped to think about it. Back in 1994, I wrote a 170,000-word novel in about eight weeks while I was between jobs. I holed up in my apartment and wrote eight to twelve hours a day. On my most productive day of that period, I wrote 8,500 words. The Revivalist was a huge, sprawling, shambolic, undisciplined thug of a novel, but it wasn't entirely bad. I never sold that book, but I also never did the subsequent work that was necessary to turn it into something saleable.

    Clearly I didn't have a problem writing. What I had a problem with in the years that followed was getting off my ass and committing to doing the work.

    Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of work in those years. I wrote a 250,000-word memoir, which through subsequent drafts I revised down to nearly half that size. I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories and a couple of novellas, but my one or two longer projects ran out of gas. I kept psyching myself out with the idea that I didn't know how to write a novel, and for the most part I kept that fear to myself.

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    Laura's off to Florida through Tuesday for work, and I'm going to do get as much writing done as I can. The only breaks will be for taking care of Ella (who went to the groomer yesterday and now looks like a Muppet) and a special team-trivia competition this afternoon to benefit One Tail at a Time, a local dog shelter. One Tail's Medical and Finance Coordinator, Jeff Kitchen, is also the quizmaster at our regular Wednesday night pub trivia event.

    If you're in Chicago and have some free time this afternoon, come on down! The event kicks off at 2 pm this afternoon at KINCADE'S BAR & GRILL, 950 W. Armitage, right at the Brown Line stop. (The event has moved since the blog post above, so don't go to Kendall's.) I'm not sure whether or not there's room for more teams, but if so it's a $100 entry fee for your team of up to 5 people. You can add a sixth team member for another $20. And if the roster is already full, have a beer and cheer. Do it for the puppies.

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    Flowers for the grave (um, the one in the book)
    Just a quick reminder of my book launch party for Cast a Cold Eye, this evening in Chicago. All the event details are here:

    Hope to see you there. The nice checkout women at Trader Joe's gave me free flowers for it this morning (I was there buying lots of wine), and it would be a shame for the bouquet to go unappreciated!

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    Hi, NYC friends! Yes, it's a last-minute surprise to me too, but I'll be reading with the excellent Paul Witcover THIS COMING TUESDAY EVENING, January 5th, as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series at the South Street Seaport Museum. Doors open 6:30 pm, readings begin 7:00 pm. Suggested donation is $5. See below for all the details, and we hope to see you there.

    Please note, if you haven't been to a NYRSF reading at the Seaport lately, that the location is slightly different than it used to be....

    --> The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings
    and the
    South Street Seaport Museum present <--

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