Tag Archives: writing

That’s What I Just Said!

(Faced with a blank screen but thinking very meta to avoid actually writing.)


You know how, when you’re doing something, and some guy comes and “helps” you by moving in on it and taking over? What’s that called? Mansumption?

I just learned that “drink the Kool-Aid” refers to the suicides at Jonestown. Here I always thought it had to do with the Grateful Dead Kool-Aid acid test, but Jonestown makes slightly more sense. Either way, it’s an expression I hear fairly often in the lawyer business, having to do with defending arguably disreputable clients. In my personal legal opinion, the more you understand the importance of Rule of Law, the less you feel the urge to imbibe.

The expression I’m most sick of at the moment is “open up about,” but putting on a burst of speed and coming up fast on the outside is “curated.” It’s ubiquitous but subtly, insidiously wrong; it grants a false legitimacy to the insignificant. 

Also there’s this business of words versus sound, how audio books are as effective as text. Meanwhile we universally use our phones to convey words rather than actually speak. Is that about privacy? Words are all up in secrecy, which seems ironic for a means of communication. Do written words really count more than sound or video? They certainly seem inherently definitive, able to divide the then from the now, so we put the important things in writing. And words can damn sure hurt you. Or else save you: flip you from screw-up to victim with an offhand concept, for example.

But that’s trite. Moving on:

Tom Wolfe, in The Kingdom of Speech, considers Darwin and Chomsky to conclude that language is a mnemonic device, an appallingly simplistic identification. Language is an incredibly complex topic, and I’ve dipped into it enough to know how little I know. There’s so much more than language acquisition to consider, more even than pragmatics. Delve into the relationship between words and consciousness; take a look at Wittgenstein’s language games; explore both reflective and intentional theories of representation. Do it because it’s entrancing, transfiguring, and fun.

Here’s my truth: words are power. It’s not that we remember with them, it’s that we own them, we take control. Those are our ideas, baby, to do with what we will. To build: in the beginning was the Word. Or else to deconstruct, or to imagine, or to question, or to create tomorrow. And we can make new words! Think about that: it’s so enormous, it’s literally overwhelming.

And then there’s reading: acquiring the very best words in order to convey the most expansive universe of meaning, or perhaps to juggle them and wake up the world.

As for me, once I’m fully back from vacation (clearly not yet) I’ll be refining a short story based on my work-in-progress, Fairmount. And once I figure out what I’m missing, or not loving enough, or whatever it is that’s making me do a condensed excerpt, I need to get back to writing the book itself. Like Worthy, this next novel is a pyramid of concepts pretending to be simple, but in Fairmount they’re all about The Other, courtesy of an unusual asylum claim. I don’t yet know what will become of the short story, poor misbegotten orphan. One option is to send it out to some reputable publications, the other is to post it on my own website, and that idea has a certain indie righteousness about it. Meanwhile another patched-together story, comprising the end of the prologue and the full first chapter of Worthy of This Great City, remains up right below this post, and you can read the entire prologue on the Excerpts page.

(Now was that a book promo, or what?)


Photo credits: Jesper Sehested, write (CC BY 2.0) / Nina G., Words. (CC BY-ND 2.0) /

A Literary Rant

Here goes, then.

Genre fiction is just lesser literary fiction, okay? There are numerous pretentious opinions out there on what these terms mean and how they differ and which is better if either. The two dominant theories are: ‘literature is whatever doesn’t fit into a genre’, and ‘genre is escapism, while literature examines reality.’

I take a different approach: there’s genre fiction, and then there’s really good genre fiction which is literary fiction. (And also there’s ‘whatever doesn’t fit into a genre’ which can be good or bad literary fiction, depending on whether it’s good or bad.) My point is, if you think the publishing gods discount your books because they’re genre, you’re probably wrong. The problem isn’t the misogyny or ethnic bias or elitism or greed rampant in the industry, although misogyny and ethnic bias and elitism and greed are rampant in the industry.

The problem is you need to write better.

Or not exactly, since pulp magazines can and often do feature highly skilled writers. Technique – ability – is one thing, but talent is another. What we’re really talking about here is degree of talent.

Also, books with great ideas can be written by pretty miserable wordsmiths, but those aren’t often published so you rarely encounter them, which now I think about it is kind of a shame and maybe now there’s self-publishing this particular faction will come into its own. But I digress.

Back to genre: take, for example, the Western. Much of it is respectable in a Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour kind of way. And then there’s Larry McMurtry. There’s Charles Portis. Okay? Do you want to talk mystery novel? Can you really not tell the difference between the recent two zillion variations on Murder in a Cozy Village and anything whatsoever by Agatha Christie? Or science fiction? That one’s almost too easy, given Jules Verne. Given H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Robert H. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, never mind Kurt Vonnegut, and Mary Shelley, and William Gibson, and Isaac Asimov. Romance: Harlequin or Jane Austen? Women’s issues? Well-written, opportunistic soap opera presuming to be pertinent or, oh, I don’t know: Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary? 

Here’s my definition: literature makes the specific universal.

And while I’m more or less on the subject, we need to stop assuming every tedious tome detailing the meaningless existence of entitled bicoastals is necessarily literature, because it isn’t and it’s boring. Also every merely adequate volume about the immigrant or trans experience or any other trending and genuinely worthy topic is not de facto brilliant, although it might well be. If you can’t differentiate between an average book on an “important” topic and an excellent book that’s not, please find a new career. Fiction curated by perceived social relevance claims the high moral ground while shamelessly pandering to the market, meanwhile insuring a closed value system with no tolerance for anything better, strange, controversial, or contradictory – you know – art. Beauty is immoral and purposive, and you need to get out of its way.

Anyway, like I said, simple. There’s some person’s story, and there’s everyone’s story: every cowboy’s, every woman’s. Yours, not just theirs.

We all got that? It’s the holidays. Go buy someone a good book. I’ll be taking next week off, then posting wrap-ups of my year’s movies and novels. Boy, I can’t wait.

(NOTE regarding Worthy of This Great City: before buying the book please read the Reader Alert on the Home Page, then the full Prologue on the Excerpts page. Or else don’t blame me.)

Photo credits: Eric Golub, Anna Karenina (CC BY 2.0) / Ellen Forsyth, Fiction, genre sign Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix Public Library (CC BY-SA 2.0)