Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mutual admiration society

So... who wants to form up and be in a writers' group?

This is a serious request. If it's not you, but you know somebody, please do refer them.

I don't have all the kinks worked out on how one can do this long distance, but I notice that many of my lovely literary friends are also lovely authors. I am devouring the startling page-turner that my dear Pathogen has kindly let me read, and I have handed him my (still very incomplete) science fiction draft in return. Robert L. writes eloquent, deep, pellucid poems. My brother Robert, Pat, and I have an action-farce screenplay in the works together. While the styles are distinct and the genres wander with our tastes, I cannot help but think that we could be of support to one another... either through honest and constructive critique, or through simply keeping one another on task.

We can bring our diverse backgrounds to the table. I can offer something beyond an earnest desire to discuss the beautiful things people write: I was a writing center tutor for two and a half years. It has been forever since then, but I hope that some of that constructive collaborative goodness sticks with me.

I leave it up to you. Also, if you're on the fence but looking for a trove of references, spiky advice, and brutal peeks into the working world of a literary agent, I recommend the brilliant blog by Miss Snark, which has come to an end but whose back archives are pure, bad-tempered gold.


Robert Link said...

I have been a member of a cafe-blue since 1996. If it's the company of writers you want I doubt there's a better place. But it isn't a workshop list, it's a hangout. There's as much political wrangling and talk about our health and the weather as there is any substantive discussion of Li-trah-chuh. I think you and Pat might actually get a kick out of the place.


Also, my best friend from that list, Chris Lott, maintains a couple of blogs, one of which is writing oriented and a must-read, http://www.cosmopoetica.com/blog

It was just last month I scrapped the oblios-cap domain for about a week while I tormented myself with thoughts of how dissipating the email/blog routine has been on any other substantive writing. But I am reminded of a distinction worth bearing in mind, that between being a writer and being an author. We write, and so we are writers. We are published writers, in that we put our works out for all the world to see, like the guy handing out leaflets on the corner. We are not, by sheer dint of this practice, "authors" in the Hollywood sense of getting a big advance and doing a book signing tour (picture LaFour's standing as body-guard for Trish-the-dish.) I've knocked out three author-style manuscripts over the years, each in various states of readiness for submission. I have a couple of outlines for projects I would love to see in traditional print at the local Borders. But the economics of such tasks are too much of a gamble, and I have this crazy idea that as the technology has changed the face of IP is changing and I don't know that I want to participate in the death throes of the old system when I can be part of what is coming. Sure, there's money yet to be made in the Gutenberg era tradition of publishing, with its assumption of content scarcity and its realities of duplication and distribution scarcity. But just because there's still money to be made there doesn't mean that's where I want to put my efforts.

Here's a puzzle for you: If you look over the table of contents of my speed reading book, can you guess what part of that work I am most proud?


Now, all of the above rambling notwithstanding, I'd love an excuse to see you kids, and having a shared project could be a blast. In fact, what sounds like fun to me is some kind of collaborative blog/wiki, if there's a project or theme we think fits that kind of institutionalization. Meanwhile I'm going to invite my buddy Chris to take a gander here and see I can goad a comment or two outta him.

Ducks said...

Thank you, Robert-- that sounds wonderful, and I will definitely go check out those links.

Funny you should mention that distinction between Writer and Author... I can think of so many ways to eat that apple. I guess it depends on which field we see the w/a as belonging to; it can be a matter of political headspace and the pragmatics of responsible reading, a consciousness of the social fiction of the gravitas or integrity of the person writing, or even (and I know it is crass to suggest this) gross economy.

I'll see your Barthes and raise it a nickel... is there such a thing as an author? I am fundamentally sympathetic to his desire to break with forms of critique that depend on the social orientation of the person creating the art work-- there is no greater dishonor one can do a text than dismiss it with an assignment of the voice of a race, color, economic level, sexual or geographic orientation, etc. On the other hand, I am compelled to trace the histories of buildings, objects, and ideas... and I know that I infuse my own notions about society and personhood into what I produce. Of course, there's a lot of Goffman in me yet... communication is never a transplantation of the speaker's (writer's?) thoughts into another head; the audience brings the meaning and the communicant helps to evoke it.

Or let's bark up Derrida's tree: is the author simply a totem figure assigned by careless readers, who superimpose a long shadow over what might be a free play of disentangling a text? I am going to say, guardedly, "not always." What would Anne Frank's Diary or Godless: the Church of Liberalism mean to us if we didn't know how to attribute their origin?

I am close to Foucault here, which is supremely unfair, since it's always easier to side with the person whose critique came last in a debate... but, as in his political vision, he expands the scope of the debate to consider social function and the connectivity of rituals and ideas.

I am embarrassed to say that I can't remember if it is Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Matthew Arnold who argues that a celebrated author is not a "great man," but that he is someone who manages to articulate the spirit of the age he lives in... but this is what I am swiping at, here, and I think that Foucault's discussion of "What is an Author?" articulates beautifully with this notion. (I think that the notion of the collective unconscious upon which it can be rested is utter bunk, because it makes mystical something which is purely social, but that's another rant.)

When we get down to brass, economic tacks, there's another way to ask this question. Is an Author a writer who has made the (commercial) leap of faith to commit him/herself to Make Money Doing It? The cynic in me says that if I don't know anything about the lifestyle of the writer, s/he is not an "author" in the influential sense.

Pathogen* is thinking about making the leap and scribbling (tapping?) full time. While he is marketing it through traditional routes (an agent seek, at present), I think its connectivity with new forms of community (i.e. this thing I'm hooked to) is wonderfully complete. The thing that best delights me about his book so far, aside from the mad pride for my friend having hatched such a thing, is his gift for the thoroughly modern. It is not a book of past or future; as a necessary condition it has the Internet, and not an imaginary, ideal Internet-- the one we are stuck with, with cranks and thrill seekers and the idly callous but well-meaning people who inhabit it. (The next best thing about it is Pathogen's gift for a viscerally real, totally credible "street." It is an earned gift and I am in jealous awe.

I have coughed up a few manuscripts, and while they have their strong points, I've never started with the story itself before the one I am currently chewing on. I don't know that I'll ever make the transition to take that leap of faith. I'm pretty sure I won't. I like to write, but I am undisciplined and I don't consider myself readable... I am always busy wrestling my demons, and the raging skeletons in my own closet tend to show through my smoke and mirrors.

Okay, that went a long way from A to B. Sorry about that. :) Hope it's a provocative walk through the weeds for you-- it is one of my favorites.

*(this is what happens when I know someone best from online gaming handles... although I have known him well enough for years to know his name is Troy. I'm going to keep calling him Pathogen, too, because my other friend Troy's last name starts with a B and Pathogen-Troy's nom de plume starts with B, too.)

Ducks said...

I flunked HTML-- please disregard the random bolding in the prior. Sheesh. :)

Robert Link said...

Thou hast name-dropped me into a stupor. Hell, one I don't even _recognize_, Barthes. As for the writer/author distinction, I think it was originally offered, and I know I co-opted it, with the intent to *simplify* and put the focus back on actually writing rather than inviting complex evaluation of various philosophers' views of the matter. Here's the best yet, by an author, on how to be a writer:

Write every day.

Finish what you write.

Do not re-write except to editorial specification.

Put everything you write on the market.

Keep it on the market until it sells.


Kind of argues for some thoughts on the difference between "simple" and "easy", eh?