Posts Tagged ‘ writers ’

Thousand-Word Taskmaster

2010.04.18
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“FROM SPACE, OASINE WAS AN otherwise tan ball flecked and dotted with green – but none of its inhabitants had ever seen it.

“Few of them, in fact, had been outside their own birthplaces. These were oases of various shapes and sizes whose populations, separated by trackless desert, varied from savagery to the sophistication allowed by circumstance and caravan. In one of the latter, called Fint by its blithe and industrious residents, and on one of countless cloudless days, a crowd of gawkers, mockers and the curious gathered at Horolan’s Pier for the maiden voyage of the good ship Deeper.”

Thus begins Under Oasine, a science fantasy novel relating the adventures of three unlikely heroes (Twiz, Ij and Hapler) who discover that their world is a lot bigger than they had thought — and it (along with everyone on it) needs their help to survive.

I’m telling you this for two reasons: 1) partly to avoid through preemptive imprimature a repeat of the Matrix incident”, and 2) mostly to motivate myself (as with the Prosatio Silban stories) through risk of public humiliation should I flake.

Somerset Maugham once said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.” Although a skilled news reporter, I know nothing about writing novels save what I could glean from Stephen King’s On Writing, Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method and Simon Haynes’ How To Write A Novel. There is great advice to be found in each of these, but after mumbling it about my own muse is telling me to chart what I want each chapter to do and where I want it to end, write a thousand words a day until I reach 45-50,000, then look for an agent and a movie deal.

Blogging a novel may be dicey for aspiring writers who want to sell their works: the idea is still catching on, and while it can raise a persuasive buzz some publshers may see “blog” as “previous publication.” My task here will be to navigate the narrow path between these two extremes — and entertain the hell out of whoever reads what results. To this end, I plan to post the first two chapters, with synopses according to clamour. Your task will be to tell me whether or not I’m successful.

Deal?

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Wit Dealers

2010.03.11
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TERSE WORDSMITHS, ATTEND: WEIRD TALES, that neo-venerable publication whose pages were graced by the first fruits of H.P. Lovecraft and Tennessee Williams, is currently accepting submissions for One Minute Weird Tales, which they describe as “sharp little micro-stories of 20 to 150 words, presented in a quick sequence of brief one-screen chunks.” (See more at http://weirdtales.net/wordpress/contact/submission-guidelines/; AC, RS and DH, ferstehen?)

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ORL Redux: Interview with Robert Anton Wilson

2010.02.02
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(AS A FOLO TO THE previous post, and at the urging of sinister forces who would prefer I remain nameless, I now present a reprint from the bygone Bulletin of Obscure Research, Far Corner (v1n5, c. 1991): an interview with the late Robert Anton Wilson, who wrote about everything Dan Brown does (and much, MUCH more) but did it first and funnier. He was and is a great influence on both my writing and my thought, and I hope his fans will be amused rather than disappointed by this previously Lost Interview (which is transcribed with errors intact rather than scanned, at least for now). And if you’re listening, Bob — thanks for the cartography lessons.)


THE FAR CORNER INTERVIEW: ROBERT ANTON WILSON

[picture taken from the inside back cover of The Illuminati Papers (1980 ed.)]

Every publication worth its salt must, from time to time, feature interviews with the Heavyweights of the Field. Unfortunately, most of the heavyweights of the fortean/weirdological field do not share the philosophy of the staff here at Obscure Research Labs; and hence, either do not return our polite inquiries or (more often) write us rude letters requesting money. Fortunately, there are exceptions to these stuffed shirts of pseudo-inllectua; and one of the most delightful is the dsitinguished Dr. Robert Anton Wilson.

Poet, scientist, author, guru, wise guy and internationally-known weirdo, Dr. Wilson scarcely needs an introduction to the readers of this publication. He is the author of several books on psychology, conspiracy theory, literary criticism, magick, history, epistemology, sexuality, ontology, fortean study…but is probably best known as either a) The co-author (with Robert Shea) of the Illuminatus! trilogy, b) a frequent contributor to such magazines as Magical Blend and Gnosis, or c) the Inner Head of the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria, Inc. When we interviewed him, the Good Doctor had been under pressure due to book deadlines and lecture dates; but despite a severe case of eyestrain he graciously allowed us to pester him.

FC: Many publications have interviewed you, and yet it seems that none have asked you what we feel to be some Burning Personal Questions. I realize that you are a busy man, but we’d like to ask you: what did you want to be when you grew up?

RAW: The emir of Kuwait.

FC: Okay. what makes you happy?

RAW: Lotsa bucks.

FC: Is there any truth to the persistent rumour that Illuminatus! will be made into a movie?

RAW: There have been stage productions of Illuminatus! both here and abroad but although it has been optioned for films several times nothing has come of that as yet.

FC: When the Schrodinger’s Cat trilogy was issued in one volume (New York; Dell, 1988) we could not help but notice certain shall we say alterations or differences from the 1979 edition. Could you comment on this?

RAW: Three men in black visited me with editorial suggestions. Glimpsing their tentacles I felt it wise to obey.

FC: Turning back to the personal stuff: What is your favorite food? And do you have any recipes to share with our readers?

RAW: Anything full of cholesterol and sugar which is expensive and accompanied by raw oysters and vodka martinis. Recipes I leave to experts.

FC: Before we leave, are there any Words of wisdom for the aspiring fortean?

RAW: Smash those paradigms and keep the lasagna flying!

We’d like to thank Dr. Wilson for his patience; we’d also like to thank his wife, Arlen, for her help. Incidentally, among other things the Good Doctor is currently publishing Trajectories, an ongoing journal of ideas and opinions. It’s $6 from the Permanent Press, PO Box 700305, San Jose, CA 95170.


More metaphoragings RAW and ORL: http://metaphorager.net/tag/robert-anton-wilson/ and http://metaphorager.net/tag/obscure-research-labs/.

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Talmidei Torah Considered As The Great Motorcycle Dialectic

2010.01.11
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(sans apology to and/or connection with Messrs. Jarry et Ballard.)

THERE ARE THE HARLEY RIDERS. They would not dream of owning any transportation they couldn’t twiddle with or hack. Every knob, every switch, every gear is known and its connection to the whole machine is understood, monitored, adjusted. Their dreams are the smooth metal touch and smell of clean oil, with a beckoning horizon.

There are the import riders. They want a machine that’s smooth and dependable and safely takes them where they want to go. Their relationship with the mechanic is like those with the butcher, the baker, the lawyer — professional and cordial. Their road-trips end where they begin, often with laughter.

The shiny amateurese of the import rider occasionally embarasses the Harley riders, who then lament for the old days when everyone was authentic.

There are the Torah nerds. They won’t read two words of Torah without comparing and contrasting the associated Onkelos, Rashi, Ramban, Rambam, Ibn Ezra and Torah.Org. They scrutinize and scrub every letter, reflecting the text in all its simple, allusive, homiletic, mystic and pop-cultural glory. Their bookshelves are never dusty, their dishes are never done and they stay up all night arguing whether the first letter of the book of Genesis implies a descriptive or a prescriptive limit to humanity’s free will.

There are weekend shulgoers. They don’t feel comfortable studying Torah without Plaut, Etz Hayim or (nostalgically) Hertz. They often puzzle over whether or not the text is “real,” or by what natural agency the metaphor is worked, or whether it really means something else in Ugaritic. Their sessions often end with a song from the rabbi and a piece of danish.

The shiny questions of the weekend shulgoers occasionally stump Torah nerds, who then long lament that they themselves didn’t think of that.

Harley riders are scary, what with the long hair and beards and black clothing. They drink in their own bars. Import riders stumbling in is apt to feel lost and uncomfortable and unsafe. But if they truly love their connection to the machine, they’ll also usually wind up having a good time.

Torah nerds are scary, what with the beards and the black clothing and eidetic intensity. They study in loud groups. Weekend shulgoers stumbling by sometimes feel nervous. But if they truly love a good heimishe discussion, they’ll be welcomed and, probably, fed.

Torah. Put something exciting between your ears.

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See, This Is Why I Love Jack Vance

2009.11.18
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IT’S NOT THAT HE RENDERS whole worlds so vividly and so succinctly, peopling vast and history-thick galaxies with one or two spare sentences.

It’s not the cinematic sweep of his prose, which respects his readers’ visual imagination by meeting it halfway; the mad genius of his invention, which conjures up aliens both A*L*I*E*N and logical in the extreme — as well as their customs, currency and literature; nor his subtle command of language and love thereof, of its effect on the listener’s ear as well as his intellect, of conversations as oblique as they are elegant.

Actually, it is all of the above, and more, but what I love most about Jack Vance is his laconic sense of perspective. E.g., from page 65 of the Ace Double edition of The Houses of Iszm, where one character consoles another against the world’s unfairness:

The Szecr sub-commandant twirled his viewer. “The Universe is eight billion years old, the last two billion of which have produced intelligent life. During this time not one hour of absolute equity has prevailed. It should be no surprise to find this basic condition applying to your personal affairs.”

(P. S.: Dying Earth is great, too.)

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R. Crumb, Darshan

2009.11.05
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MOST REVIEWS OF R. CRUMB’S “The Book of Genesis Illustrated” seem astonished that the man who kept us truckin’ through the ’60s could possibly give the Goode Booke such a serious rendering.

But what astonishes me is that Crumb has added yet another level to the endless depth of serious Torah study.

First, about the art: Crumb is one of those Heavy Guys (like Will Eisner and Moebius) whose art defines comics through mastery of the medium and extending its possibilities. His compositions pull the reader into each panel, where subtle figures express humanity unadorned — crankiness and weird smells along with idealism and tenderness. Given this, it’s unsurprising that Crumb chose not to summarize Genesis, but rather to illustrate it.

All of this perfectly suits Crumb for the task of bringing Torah (or at least the first 20 percent of it) to the paneled page. Those unfamiliar with the actual text may be surprised that the key players look so, well, human, and ethnically human at that. Most Bible illustrations tend to imbue them with a phenothiazine-tinged radiance that’s lacking from the original text (as well as uninspiring — after all, if the matriarchs and patriarchs exemplify the religious life, and religious life includes transcendence, then what exactly are these Perfect Beings supposed to transcend?). But Crumb’s figures are heroic despite, or perhaps because of, their flaws. His Abraham looks like the guy next door (if next door is Boro Park), with near-palpable compassion in pleading with God to spare Sodom — as well as incredulity that “the Judge of all the earth [might] not do justly.”

(Of course, I do have one quibble (if I didn’t, as Ann would tell you, it means I wasn’t really into it): as a strict antianthropomorphist, the idea of God-as-angry-grandpa isn’t one I’m eager to embrace. But if Crumb had gone the (Jewishly) theologically correct route and portrayed some approximation of incorporeality, we’d be deprived of the visual thread of who’s made in God’s image (and, in some cases, Eve’s).)

As for the adaptation itself: For thousands of years, Jews have been turning the text over and over, arguing, playing, expanding, wrestling, all to understand and apply it in new and evolving ways. We call this process “midrash,” from the Hebrew root D.R.Sh (dalet, resh, shin) whose meanings include “explain, interpret, seek, inquire.” One who makes midrash is called a “darshan,” and while there are many schools of darshaning (e.g., mystical, homiletical, historical, political, even musical) Crumb seems to have added illustration to the darshan’s tool set; after God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, but before they actually leave, Genesis 3:20 says, “And the man called his wife’s name Eve (Heb. “chava”), because she was mother of all the living (“chai”).” In the text, this verse’s placement seems almost random, but Crumb’s “translation” shows a weeping Eve being held by a gently smiling Adam — as though Adam’s trying to console Eve by telling her that, despite their troubles and the loss of everything they know, it’ll all be okay. What husband wouldn’t do the same in his place?

Torah is more than “just” a history book, legal document, ethical code or ethnic narrative. Likewise, “The Book of Genesis Illustrated” is more than “just” an illustrated text or graphic novel. No modernly-hip Torah nerd should be without it.

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How To Write

2009.06.27
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SUCCINCTLY.

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Journalism As Art Imitating Life

2009.06.23
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CAN WRITERS REPORT? THAT QUESTION nets a “yes” according to Daniel Elstrin in the June 19 Forward, reporting on the day Haaretz (think Israeli NYT) swapped its staff for 31 leading authors and poets:

“Among those articles were gems like the stock market summary, by author Avri Herling. It went like this: ‘Everything’s okay. Everything’s like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything’s okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place… Dow Jones traded steadily and closed with 8,761 points, Nasdaq added 0.9% to a level of 1,860 points…. The guy from the shakshuka [an Israeli egg-and-tomato dish] shop raised his prices again….’ [...]

“News junkies might call this a postmodern farce, but considering that the stock market won’t be soaring anytime soon, and that ‘hot’ is really the only weather forecast there is during Israeli summers, who’s to say these articles aren’t factual?”

This is also the sort of newspaper dreamed of by most, if not all, of my reporterly colleagues, at least at some time or other (usually on deadline day of a slow week). But that’s true in another, non-ironic way: Elstrin also cites a couple of features whose subtle depth make a nice model for would-be human chroniclers.

Peruse:
- Daniel Elstrin’s article
- Ha’aretz Archives; select “10 jun” from the “Previous Edition” menu at lower left.

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Happy Bloomsday!

2009.06.16
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105 YEARS AGO TODAY, LEO Bloom took his famous fictive walk through Dublin seeing the same places and eating the same foods as his latterday followers did, will do or have done today. (Me, I’ll be sitting on the floor with Ulysses and crying in my (virtual) Guinness over my small literary pretenses. Joyce uses the same words as the rest of us (okay, he also invented some, but still) — how does he manage to arrange them so? It’s just not fair, but so is Molly, yes she is yes.)

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Paul Williams Support Fund

2009.06.02
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IF YOU PASSED THROUGH THE 1970s and ’80s, you likely read his Das Energi, his rock criticism, or his Philip K. Dick scholarship. Now he, like so many, needs our help.

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Read This Book

2009.05.31
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THERE IS A Conversation THAT I’ve been having with a friend since we were both in high school, and the initial-cap in that word is due not to the colloquy’s duration but to its content.

Its thesis is simple: that Something Connects All This. Being a spiritual sort of guy, I feel more comfortable describing It in terms not far removed from the religious. Not so my erstwhile colleague and former brother-in-law Ransom Stephens. Ransom’s a physicist by inclination and training — passionately curious about why and how the universe works the way it does — and though we long ago realized that our different takes on the Ultimate Essence stemmed from a subject-not-Object orientation, we’ve never let that get in the way of a good 3 a.m. walk-and-talk.

Not surprisingly, his first novel — The God Patent — deals with those exact issues. As Ransom describes it: “A laid-off engineer trying to rebuild his life gets caught between science and religion in a battle over the origin of the universe and the existence of the soul.” TGP is one of the featured titles on Scribd.com, and clicking on the above link will not only help support a rising Northern California writer but will make it easier for all of those with a book or two in us. Check it out, and tell ‘em Neal sent you.

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Re-Re-RE-Reads

2009.05.27
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SOME BOOKS ARE FINISHED IN a day; others, only when we are.

If books are portable doorways, then stepping into a beloved-since-childhood instant Now every few years can sometimes tell us where we’ve been in the meanwhile. As one of my perennial obsessions is the slippery intersection of awareness and time — e.g., free will[1] as side effect of fore-ignorance[2] — many of my own favored rereads tend to be “quest” stories: people who go in search of something and discover something unimaginably else. Here are five or six:

» Lord of the Rings (trilogy), J. R. R. Tolkien
If you’ve seen the movie, you think you know the story. But if you haven’t read the books, you really really don’t. Tolkien’s words have a different flavor in the mouth than on the page; I recommend reading these aloud, one night at a time, to someone you enjoy. (Takes about a year.) If you can do voice impressions, so much the better.

» The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Space-stranded Gully Foyle was waiting to die until a passing ship ignored his pleas for rescue. His vengeance takes him from the interplanetary gutter to the height of decadent society, but his education elevates him to the next phase of human potential.

» Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll
A chief delight of my 40 years’ acquaintance with Carroll’s endless puzzle has been watching it slowly transform from fairy tale to divine satire. How does he do that?

» Schrodinger’s Cat (trilogy), Robert Anton Wilson
Extrauniversal intrigue among at least three universes next door to this one, all wrapped in a literary Moebius strip. Wilson once offered a quick intelligence test: If the universe is getting bigger and funnier, you’re getting smarter. RAW’s books are for anyone who wants to become smarter — and really, shouldn’t that be everyone?

[1] For the record, I am not smart enough to reckon the “difference” between “free will” and “predestination.” However, I’m fairly sure that it’s my hand — and not God‘s — who’s picking out my socks and entertainment, at least most of the time.

[2] Similar to, but more certain than, “foreknowledge.”

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