Tag: artistic integrity

On art and advocacy

“I don’t believe that art and advocacy really can coexist. If you want to advocate a position, write nonfiction, give a speech. Art is supposed to be a seduction, and good fiction is supposed to invite the reader in to decide for him or herself how they feel, so I never try to push anything on anybody.”

—T. C. Boyle in an interview with The Coffin Factory Inc., found in Tweed’s



“If I haven’t captured the emotional core of the book—the thing that makes it matter—then it starts to feel like it’s just words on a page. Sometimes those words are clever and sometimes they’re [not]. When they’re very clever, I can occasionally write 30 or 40,000 of them before I realize that there’s nothing beneath them.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

Short story: “Pattern Masters”

“Pattern Masters,” by Jeff Carlson

Apparently first published in Tales of the Unanticipated #25, August 2004; featured in episode 105 of Pseudopod, August 29th, 2008; also read in Tales to Terrify 181, July 10th, 2015

Maybe 3,500 words?

This is unusual—a creepy tale that doesn’t quite push the creep level up to Horror. If I had written this story, I think I would have felt duty-bound to conform to the horror genre with a murderous or mutilatory ending, and I think the result would have been adequate but slightly disappointing. Anyway, two different horror podcasts decided this piece qualified as horror, and one mostly speculative magazine ran it too, so maybe conforming to expectations isn’t so important after all.

I second the commenters who compared this piece to Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk, I think, has a tendency to go murderous/mutilatory/over the top when he doesn’t really need to. Again, probably a matter of conforming to expectations.

How not to title a story

“I tell students, when in doubt, to title their story after the smallest concrete object in their story. I warn them off plays on words, (‘The Rent Also Rises’—no; ‘Life in My Cat House’—no) and no grand reaches, either. ‘Reverence,’ ‘Respect,’ ‘Regret,’ ‘Greed,’ ‘Adventure,’ ‘Retribution.’ And never use the worst title of all time, ‘The Gift,’ a story I read six times a year.”

—Ron Carlson (x)

Edit: It occurs to me that this advice isn’t so much for avoiding bad titles as for avoiding embarrassing titles. Which is all very well, but sometimes a writer has to risk embarrassment for the sake of boldness or integrity or experimentation or winning the reader over. Not everything can be safe, not everything can be easy on the ego.

That said, I do agree with Carlson that short story titles should err on the side of concreteness and conservatism. Short stories tend to focus on small, specific things, and they aren’t long enough to merit grand, abstract titles or clever titles that hint at complexity. (I feel the same way about movies.) Novels, on the other hand, can wear abstract or clever titles very well.

On artistic “failure of nerve”

“I do think there’s a failure of nerve involved in the creation of a mediocre book. But I still have no idea know how to recognize or guard against that failure of nerve. I suppose that, as in most things, you just try your best.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On the freedom to make mistakes

Frank Rich: A few days ago I was talking with Patton Oswalt, and he was exercised about the new reality that any comedian who is trying out material that’s a little out there can be fucked by someone who blasts it on Twitter or a social network.

Chris Rock: I know Dave Chappelle bans everybody’s phone when he plays a club. I haven’t gone that far, but I may have to, to get an act together for a tour.

Rich: Does it force you into some sort of self-censorship?

Rock: It does. I swear I just had a conversation with the people at the Comedy Cellar about how we can make cell phones into cigarettes. If you would have told me years ago that they were going to get rid of smoking in comedy clubs, I would have thought you were crazy.

Rich: It is scary, because the thing about comedians is that you’re the only ones who practice in front of a crowd. Prince doesn’t run a demo on the radio. But in stand-up, the demo gets out. There are a few guys good enough to write a perfect act and get onstage, but everybody else workshops it and workshops it, and it can get real messy. It can get downright offensive. Before everyone had a recording device and was wired like fucking Sammy the Bull, you’d say something that went too far, and you’d go, “Oh, I went too far,” and you would just brush it off. But if you think you don’t have room to make mistakes, it’s going to lead to safer, gooier stand-up. You can’t think the thoughts you want to think if you think you’re being watched.

Rich: I assume you worked on the SNL material in the confines of the studio and that it never went before an audience?

Rock: Comedy Cellar all week. If I messed up a word here and there, which I did, it could really be get-him-out-of-here offensive. But you just watch to make sure nobody tapes it. You watch and you watch hard. And you make sure the doorman’s watching. What Patton’s trying to say is, like, comedians need a place where we can work on that stuff.

a Vulture interview

On under-invention

“I think most feckless writing, like most superficial thinking generally, bops along the surface of the dense and subtle realities that make life real and interesting. Most writing is too vague and abstract—which is to say, it’s under-invented; it doesn’t dig down to the blood and meat.”

—Jack Matthews (in an interview)

On art and agendas

“[W]hat I first require of a work of art is that its agenda […] not include me. I don’t want its aims put in doubt by an attempt to appeal to me, by any awareness of me at all.”

The Name of the World, by Denis Johnson

On a certain variety of happiness

“This story, ‘The Judgment,’ I wrote at one sitting […] from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. Several times during the night I heaved my own weight on my back. How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. How it turned blue outside the window. A wagon rolled by. Two men walked across the bridge. At two I looked at the clock for the last time. As the maid walked through the ante-room for the first time I wrote the last sentence. Turning out the light and the light of day. The slight pains around my heart. The weariness that disappeared in the middle of the night. The trembling entrance into my sisters’ room. Reading aloud. Before that, stretching in the presence of the maid and saying, ‘I’ve been writing until now.’ The appearance of the undisturbed bed, as though it had just been brought in. The conviction verified that with my novel-writing I am in the shameful lowlands of writing. Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul. Morning in bed. The always clear eyes.”

—Franz Kafka, in a diary entry of September 23rd, 1912, as translated by Joseph Kresh here (scroll down)