I made a pledge to myself to keep you in the loop. So, here's the loop.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/29 18:00
Good afternoon Mr. And Mrs. Reader and all the ships at sea. Despite some lingering flulike symptoms, I made a pledge to myself to keep you in the loop. So, here's the loop. Get in:
Of course, all this could be moot if the planet is smoldering ash in a month, but hey, optimism.
We didn't get into this mess all at once and we're not going to get out of it all at once, either.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/29 08:00
You scarcely need me to fill in you in on what a bad week it's been. Me, I'm dealing with a sore throat and a few other flulike symptoms, but all of that amounts to the headache accompanying news that you have a terminal illness.
Tags: these troubled times
Harlan Ellison, whom I wrote about just the other day, has exited the building.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/28 17:00
He once wrote a story in which he speculated about all the possible ways he could die. The last possibility was dated 2010. He beat his own estimate by eight years.
Wherever he is now, I hope he's being at least as big a pain in the ass there as he was here.
A Kafka quote re-examined.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/27 08:00
The emphasis here (mine) is a widely known quote from Kafka, which I am excerpting with slightly more context then it usually has:
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.
By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/26 13:00
The folks at Birth. Movies. Death. are raffling off movie goods for a good cause (the Texas Civil Rights Project). The more you donate, the greater the odds you'll get the goods you want. Minimum raffle is $10.
Tags: these troubled times
"Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look so Terrific Yourself."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/26 08:00
One of the books that I stumbled across more or less by accident in younger years, and which I come back to often in These Troubled Times, was Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat. It is actually two volumes, a compilation of columns Ellison wrote for the Los Angeles Free Press from 1969 to 1971. The column was nominally about television, but Ellison tipped his hand right away:
I am not really talking about tv here. I am talking about dissidence, repression, censorship, the brutality and stupidity of much of our culture, the threat of the Common Man, the dangers of being passive in a time when the individual is merely cannon-fodder, the lying and cheating and killing our “patriots” do in the sweet name of the American Way.
You can see how little this as aged. Or maybe I should say, how far back we have slid. And while the books are uneven, they are also prescient and invaluable to a degree that I can't shrug off.
On contempt for popular culture as an easy way out.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/25 17:00
It took a negative review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to really cinch together a lot of the unspoken sentiments I've had about popular culture for a long time:
This is a movie that’s annoying in part because it doesn’t care if you’re annoyed by it. It doesn’t need you, the individual viewer, to like it. It just needs a crowd to see it. Whether you’ve been entertained or enlightened is immaterial.
And I thought, that's just it. This stuff doesn't need me, and I never asked for any of it. It's just something that's dumped out in front of me, because there's a crowd of people somewhere who want it.
What, I'm still editing the latest novel?! Well, yeah.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/24 08:00
I recently finished a major round of edits on my forthcoming novel Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, courtesy of a slew of useful suggestions provided by my friend Steven Savage. And then I went back to the beginning of the manuscript and started the whole process all over again, because the edit suggestions Steve gave me ended up needing their own pass to be useful. I still needed to make an entirely separate pass apart from that, as it turned out. See, Mr. Sisyphus, all you have to do is push this stone up that hill ...
The work should be about the making of the work.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/21 17:00
A really good bit here from Steve:
Few of us will be spoken of in centuries, let alone years, let alone ever. We’re unlikely to be Kameron Hurley or Terry Pratchett or any of the other greats. We’re temporary things, but in the end we’ll be sand – and even the greats will probably stick around a bit longer before they’re footnotes and records. It’s worth it.
Some time back, I realized I'd stopped reading books about writing and writers, in big part because I felt I'd exhausted the well of available good ones. (I guess I'll have to look back and see what's come and gone since, but I'm making a different point.)
Instead, I was reading books about other art forms: painting, photography, sculpture, critiques of the visual arts generally, discussions of performing arts (drama, music, happenings, etc.). I did this not just because I found the kinds of advice and insight I gleaned from books on writing and writers to be increasingly redundant, but because outside that circle I was seeing different kinds of advice, different ways of thinking about the whole business of doing something for both one's self and the sake of an audience or a patron.
One key takeaway from all that — a lot of this started with John Cage, as you can imagine — was the idea that art is as much a process as it is an artifact. It's done not just to leave you with this thing you read and then put on your shelf, or hang on your wall, or pay to see projected or enacted in a theater. It's there to give you the experience of those things, and it's also there for the sake of the artist to have the experience of giving others those things.
Being a writer is about the experience of sitting in a chair, day after day, figuring out the next line and the next line and the next. It's about trying to see where you can find the spot between what's in your mind and what can be frozen into words. It's about seeing how people react to that — good, bad, indifferent. It's about seeing what can be taken from that whole process and rolled forward into the next iteration. It's about the fact that 99% of the real business of writing is invisible and does not lend itself to reification, but is about the experience, and the experience exists within us and between us.
In short, the goal isn't artistic or personal immortality. If it happens, it happens. It's a nice bonus. It's not the point, because a good many of the people we now consider immortals in that vein neither tried nor asked for it. They were just trying to do the best job they could under the circumstances. People who topped the best-seller lists fifty years ago can't even be found in libraries today. There seems little point in trying to appease such a false god. The work should be about the making of the work.
Something else came to mind. Jury's still out for me on whether or not being an avid reader makes you a more empathic person. I'm tempted to make an argument that becoming a writer has a better chance of doing the same, although I know full well it's not so much the art or the experience of creating the art that can change a person, but the way all of that brings us closer to other human beings and requires us to acknowledge something sacred about them. This does not happen automatically; there are many ways in which the process can actually interfere with it instead of augment it. But it strikes me as still being one of the most powerful ways to do it.
Some bits gleaned from the latest round of editing on my book.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/19 08:00
Sorry I haven't blogged much in the past week. I was traveling for work, and being in a different timezone plus being bombarded with workaday concerns kept me from doing much of anything at the end of the day except go back to my hotel room and pass out. Getting back into the swing of editing Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned took some effort. A few insights also bubbled up in the process.
Maybe we need to speak of focus rather than limits.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/15 08:00
We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen. We want to do it all. Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world. We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways. Triage. Limitation. Pairing ideas down. Killing your darlings. We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.
Steve goes on to suggest that we need to use positive, aspirational, and motivational guidelines, not negative and constraining ones. He admits it's a trick, "but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing." Fight fire with plasma, and all that.
Looking at two bits of reading and writing advice from Saul Bellow.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/12 17:00
Two things from this piece caught my eye.
In one essay, “Deep Readers of the World, Beware!” Bellow offers a few comforting words to the 17-year-old version of myself sitting in a classroom, developing an ulcer after listening to his high-school English teacher inelegantly trying to shoehorn imaginary themes into great works of literature. Bellow uses the example of a young student theorizing that Achilles drags Hector’s body around Troy not because he is angry with the Trojans, but because The Iliad actually contains a series of circle motifs. And laughable as this may seem, I can assure you that there is no shortage of readers in the world who read literature with decoder rings. Deep reading, as Bellow calls it, is not the act of reading closely, but rather, the act of deliberately going after something that simply is not there.
You don't have to go to high lit to find this kind of thing. Pop culture is riddled with it as well. Sometimes I think it manifests far more acutely there, since it tends to be the product of people who seek to justify their love of something ostensibly low- or middlebrow by way of an analysis.
I'm not saying all such things are this shallow and facile (I'm in the business of it myself!), just that it's a tendency that's easy to succumb to. The idea that the most morally superior pleasure to be derived from art (again: high or low art) comes by way of being able to explain it to others is a bad joke on all the reasons we love it anyway.
The overwhelming majority of what I'm genuinely curious about reading has been nonfiction. I hate that.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/11 17:00
Few things bother me more than having a habit that stubbornly resists any attempts at uprooting. One of my most persistent bugaboos has been my general aversion to fiction — not because I don't like reading it, but only because my tastes in it are such that I have a hard time finding fiction I want to invest time in reading. The overwhelming majority of what I'm genuinely curious about reading has been nonfiction. I hate that. But ...
More on why motives matter for creative work.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/10 08:00
A very nice discussion from an author whose debut novel is turning some heads:
... I have never been altogether sure whether the decisions I have been made as an adult have been made through positive desire or through fear of not being the person I invented. The insistence with which I pitched travel articles, say, or booked plane tickets, or went barreling up mountains, was a neurotic and a frenetic one. It was not that I wanted to go, say, to Armenia, or to Iran. It was that I wanted to be the person who did all those things. I did not know how to want, period, outside of the drive to be.
Emphasis mine, as those were the words that stopped me in my tracks.
Most of my unpublished blogging simply isn't fit for public consumption. Here's what most of it is.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/09 08:00
Readers of this blog would have no way of knowing, unless I came out and told them, how much of what I write for it actually goes live. I will now spill some beans on that score: What you see here is the tippy-tip of a very large iceberg of blogging. But you're not missing much, because the rest of it simply isn't fit for public consumption.
You don’t ever write a story, you just write part of one.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/08 17:00
This is a good one:
... you don’t write a story, you write part of one. A story should be a slice of your setting, a piece of the history of that setting, a small and interesting part of a much larger potential. It should have characters who are not sprung into being at the start, but are created and written so they feel like they have pasts and futures outside of your story. Everything should feel large, no matter how short the story is.
Martin Scorsese once put it this way: Cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out of it. Selectivity is what makes mere sensation or matter into art: where to start, how long to follow the action, what note to leave everything on. (One of the first things I think about with any story is that final emotional note: how do I want you to feel about it when you close the cover?)
The less the better, paradoxically.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/05 08:00
One of the wits circulating through the world of computer science goes something like this: "There are only two truly hard problems in this field: cache expiration and naming things." I'm not sure what the first truly hard problem is in writing, but I'm positive naming things is the second as well.
"What do I do when I have too many ideas and can’t finish any?"By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/06/01 08:00
At Fanime someone asked me a simple question: “What do I do when I have too many ideas and can’t finish any.”
Steve enumerates a few strategies, courtesy of his Agile methodology work, but at bottom they amount to triage. Force yourself to choose what comes first, start at the top of that list, and stick with it.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind