ghost stories

December 30, 2019

Writers of ghost stories today are at a disadvantage compared to their predecessors — and the situation is getting worse. That is of course because, as with ‘westerns’ or other ‘genre’ fiction, there are a strictly limited number of plots and incidents possible. Ghost behaviour is ‘old hat’, and the writer seeking acceptance today needs to come up with something a bit original or different.

David G. Rowlands
Introduction to: The Executor and Other Ghost Stories

writers make up stuff

December 7, 2019

A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell “alternative facts” to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined — and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it “alternative history” or “an alternate universe,” but make absolutely no pretence that our fictions are “alternative facts.”

Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no “alternative.” The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or “alternative fact”) is a lie.

A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact. Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction. He’s harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

Ursula K. Le Guin
1st February letter to the editor of the Oregonian

(Now that’s what I call “Dragon Wisdom” – P)

a young writer

October 28, 2019

Writing is such a revolutionary act. If you follow history you will see how writers, poets, and teachers are ones who are usually imprisoned for their words. For me to force my way into an industry that is predominately white is an act of faith and determination. I believe that there are so many voices out there waiting to be heard. If I could speak to young writers, I would say that persistence is key. I may not be the strongest writer, but I am a person who refuses to quit. I believe my voice is needed, and as a young writer, you need to believe that too, despite what the industry or others say.

Lilliam Rivera
Interview with Sandra Odell, March 2018

Shitty first drafts

September 14, 2019

Shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do — you can either type, or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning — sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird

Over the centuries, truly great raconteurs—those whose stories we listened to—have been replaced by writers and in some cases, great cinematographers. However, even great movies usually start with the lure of the written word.

Did a particular book brighten your life recently? Did it cause you to smile or laugh out loud? Reading’s good for your health. If you weren’t enjoying a book, did you have the courage to set it aside and find another, one that you did enjoy?

Have you taken a bite of something literary that you haven’t tasted before, like sampling at a buffet? Have you looked closely at a story from a new angle—a wide angle, a close up, or a macro—a view you hadn’t previously considered?

While reading, keep on processing what works, and what doesn’t. Good writing is bound to influence us, while stories give us an opportunity to absorb different perspectives on the world.

And here’s a special reminder from author Annie Proulx: “Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” Without reading, there would never be any writers.

Michaele Lockhart
Story, Reading and Writers

The only writers who have any peace are the ones who don’t write. And there are some like that. They wallow in a sea of possibilities. To express a thought, you first have to limit it, and that means kill it. Every word I speak robs me of a thousand others, and every line I write means giving up another.

Stanisław Lem

Hospital of the Transfiguration

calm, sad people

January 24, 2019

I believed that writers were calm, sad people, knowing too much. I believed that there was a difference about them, some hard and shining, rare intimidating quality they had from the beginning,

Alice Munro
Stories
Something I’ve been Meaning to Tell You

Do I exist?

January 5, 2019

I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers I have read, all the people I have met, all the women I have loved; all the cities I have visited, all my ancestors.

[No estoy seguro de que existo, en realidad yo soy todos los escritores que he leído, todas las personas que he conocido, todas las mujeres que he amado,. Todas las ciudades que tengo visitados, todos mis antepasados.]

Jorge Luis Borges
Interview with JOSÉ LUIS A. FERMOSEL for El Pais 26th September 1981

turned into writers

September 11, 2018

Morning mist

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

Rebecca Solnit
The Faraway Nearby

tried my hand at a novel

January 25, 2018

an eternity

I can remember bothering my father to drive me down to Coles bookstore at Yonge and Charles in downtown Toronto when I was fourteen to buy a copy of the first paperback printing of From Here of Eternity with its famous black-and-red bugle cover. I knew that they would not have sold me, over the counter, this hesitating, skinny kid with brushcut and glasses, such a sizzling work, and my father had to go in to buy it for me. I can still to this day still inhale the smell of that fresh Signet pulp paper, like the scent of oil on leather. I remember the following summer when I first tried my hand at a novel, a fifteen-year-old’s version of Jones’s epic, sitting in our backyard on Rostrevor Raod, writing in longhand on long yellow sheets an army novel called The Boovermak Episode, which ran to three hundred pathetic pages and managed to recycle every relationship, incident and tragic nuance of the original. I remember that when I first went to Paris in 1962 I would gravitate regularly to the Ile St. Louis where Jones and his family lived in a remarkable apartment at 10 Quai d’Orleans overlooking the Seine; circling the area, I would sometimes linger in the narrow rue Budé in front of the heavy entrance doors wondering if I would ever muster the courage to push the buzzer and pay my respects. I never did, though Jones was known to be a notoriously easy touch and extraordinarily generous to people like myself, aspiring young writers without credentials. I became an habituté of Shakespeare and Company, an untidy little bookstore across the river because I knew that Jones sometimes dropped around to scour the shelves or attend cocktail parties in the upstairs quarters. George Whitman, an American, who still runs it, was equally generous to young people going for broke in the land of Hemingway; there was free coffee on a hot plate upstairs, chairs and sofas for reading, corners for down-and-outers to sleep in overnight; if you re-shelved a book with your bookmark still in place George wouldn’t sell it until you had finished. The sort of place Jones would’ve liked, unpretentious, fundamental, open-ended. I met him there one afternoon, at last, as he browsed along the narrow corridors of shelves. He was square-bodied, lantern-jawed, fierce-looking; not a big man but he gave the impression of compacted power that went all the way to his eyes. I managed to push out something, half-greeting, half-tribute, and he nodded, and that was it, sadly. And I remembered an hour’s conversation with Mary McCarthy in London, Ontario, a few years after his death, when she spoke of his problems as a writer and virtues as a man. I ought to have paid him a call in Paris, she said; he was good at that sort of thing. Strangers who buzzed him up from the rue Budé often stayed for dinner.

Lawrence Garber
Looking Back at James Jones