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A roundup of interesting stuff to read about reading, featuring some of my favoritest writrs:
- All the critical backlash over Go Set a Watchman is missing the point on XOJane: I’ve got a copy and am ready to read it, but the Internet feeding frenzy really turned me off; I like to form my own opinions on what I read, thank you.
- Shirley Jackson and me on The Toast: A terrific piece about the art of copy editing and Jackson’s last book.
- Ursula K. Le Guin refuses to answer stupid interview questions for the New York Times Book Review; plus I want to be in her book club!
- Jane Austen movies plus Onion headlines equals win.
I discuss a less brutal and, I think, more realistic approach to the post-apocalyptic novel in this essay published on my blog Sci Femme.
Originally posted on Sci Femme:
This essay also discusses Into the Forest (Jean Hegland; 1996);A Gift Upon the Shore (M.K. Wren; 1990); and Always Coming Home (Ursula K. Le Guin; 1985), among various other stalwarts of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre. There will be spoilers for these books.
Pop quiz, hotshot. It’s the apocalypse: What do you do? What. Do. You. Do?
If hundred (thousands?) of post-apocalyptic books and movies are to believed, you break out your cache of automatic weapons, gun down every guy you see, capture a woman and lock her in a cage for later, then chow down on some roasted baby.
There is a certain amount of wish fulfillment going on there. The apocalypse novel is one part fear, one part fantasy. All the rules are suddenly gone; you can do whatever you want! It’s a dim view of humanity that assumes that all people want to do is murder, rape, and…
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The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is the first of several books I’m planning to read on the creative process. Tharp’s book is a great place to start, as it contains many nuggets of useful information on fashioning a creative life that can be put into practice immediately. Although Tharp’s art is dance, her advice is general enough to apply to any creative pursuit, even cooking, yoga, or gardening, and of course, writing. I found it very inspirational and wanted to share my reading notes, which may be of interest. I hope if you are intrigued that you go ahead and read the whole book–it’s worth it.
Rituals of preparation: Begin each day the same way. Commit to a creative practice by starting with a ritual. Create a working environment that’s habit forming. Distractions and fears are the enemy!
Twyla says: “…there is no one ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.”
That’s why following someone else’s prescription for creativity may not work!
Creative DNA: How do you see? What is your focal length: close up, medium, or long view?
Harness memory: Experiences and memories are the source of art. Find new ways to connect the memories that you’ve stored.
Twyla says: “Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art.”
Start with a box: When starting a new project, put everything about that project together into a box,* including research, notes, inspiration. (*A blog can be a “box.”)
Scratching: the process of getting started and finding ideas. Look everywhere. Read! You can’t stop with one idea–a workable idea is the combination of two separate ideas.
Accidents: Have a plan/don’t over plan. Be open to luck and happy accidents. Run with them when they occur. Limits on resources can help creativity.
Creativity as an act of defiance: Why do I have to obey the rules? Why can’t I be different? Why can’t I do it my way?
Spine*: the first strong idea/your intentions/motive for existence. Stick to your spine and your piece will work. The audience does not have to know what it is. It guides you and keeps you going. It’s a gift you give yourself to make the work easier.
*This is the key chapter in the book, the one most important piece of wisdom to take away.
Thought: Could you have a spine not only for creative projects, but for phases of your life?
Skill: You need to develop your skills to be truly great. Combine skill with passion. Learn to do for yourself to broaden your skills. Practice (diligence+habit) to keep your skills. Never take fundamentals for granted.
Inexperience erases fear–you don’t know what is not possible. Switch genres or to another skill set.
Ruts and grooves: There will come a time when creativity fails you. A rut: you’re spinning your wheels; the world is moving on while you’re standing still. Ruts are caused by bad ideas, bad timing, or bad luck. A rut is sticking to old methods without taking into account how you’ve changed (“always done it this way”). Question everything except your ability to get out of the rut.
First see the rut; second, admit you’re in a rut; third, get out of the rut. You may need to change your environment. You may need a new idea; set an aggressive quota. You may need to challenge or reverse your assumptions; practice this.
A groove: moving forward without hitches; learning, growing, stretching, being at your best. The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture. Does it give you pain (a rut) or pleasure (a groove)?
Build a bridge to the next day. Write your intention down and read it first thing on the following day.
An A in failure: The creative act is editing out the ideas that don’t work. You do your best work after your biggest disasters. Failure is necessary, but you must be willing to learn from your failures. Build failure into the process; invite criticism and learn from it.
- failure of skill: develop skills
- failure of concept: move on to something else
- failure of judgment: be a tyrant
- failure of nerve: looking foolish is good for you
- failure through repetition: try something new
- failure from denial: admit when something is not working
The long run: Be in the bubble. Be willing to subtract everything that disconnects you from your work. (The most difficult advice to put into practice!)
I am planning to go on a shopping moratorium until Christmas. No particular reason, just to see what it feels like to not be shopping. I’ve been a bit over-obsessed with getting everything in my home and wardrobe “just right” lately, and I want to see if I can break that so I can focus on other things I want to do.
Exceptions to the no shopping ban:
- Groceries, household necessities, replacing anything that breaks
- Previously planned purchases (i.e., intentional shopping to fit a need)
- Books! (but I will use the library more and try to read through what I have)
- Experiences — spend my money on doing rather than acquiring
This post is to help keep me honest. I’ll post updates.
How Not to Think About Bears by Pamela Druckerman (New York Times), an amusing essay that is not really about bears, a fact that many of the commenters seemed to miss.
Of all the sub-genres crowded under the broad umbrella of “speculative fiction,” slipstream is probably the trickiest to nail down. Bruce Sterling, who coined the term, called slipstream “…a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.” (Presumably, his comments extend to the early twenty-first century as well.)
Also referred to as interstitial fiction, slipstream blurs the conventional boundaries of genre (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) and literary fiction, and thus, by its very nature, is difficult to categorize. The end result is often surreal or weird, so slipstream can be called “the fiction of strangeness.”
Franz Kafka might be considered the grandfather of slipstream writing, and its forefathers were unquestionably the classic science fiction authors Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut. Magical realism was another important influence, including the authors Gabriel Garcia Marques, Isabel Allende, Jose Saramago, Milan Kundera, and Salman Rushdie.
Recently, slipstream has become more “mainstream” as contemporary literary authors regularly experiment with blurring the genre lines. Notable examples include:
- Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin; Oryx and Crake)
- Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union)
- Kazuo Ishiguro (The Unconsoled; Never Let Me Go)
- Jonathan Lethem (Chronic City; As She Climbed Across the Table)
- David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas; The Bone Clocks)
- Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; 1Q84)
- George Saunders (Tenth of December; Civilwarland in Bad Decline)
Even though slipstream is tricky to define, I enjoy reading it whenever I happen upon it (and most often, I just know it when I see it). Examples that I have read this year and would recommend include A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; and the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. For more reading suggestions, see this expanded list at LibraryThing (based on a list originally created at Readercon).
I’m reposting some of my favorite book reviews on my blog Books Worth Reading. This week, I’m recommending the science fiction classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.