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Tag: the creative process

Essay: “Face the Music”

“Face the Music: My Improbable Trip to Saturn (or Close Enough) with Sun Ra,” by Michael Lowenthal

Ploughshares Solo 5.1, for sale here and as part of an omnibus edited by Ladette Randolph, 2017

Must be close to 10,000 words, but not sure

A nonfiction essay that manages to have the shape and power of fiction.

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Short story: “Though She Be But Little”

“Though She Be But Little,” by C. S. E. Cooney

Appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Issue Eighteen, September/October 2017; online here

5792 words

What an odd story. I started reading it in an idle moment and then couldn’t stop. The mysterious silver sky that turns everyone into what they really are is a great device.

I had never heard of Bunco, so some bits of the story were more opaque to me than others.

Cooney on the creative process:

I’d almost forgotten the origin story of this story by the time I finally finished it three years later. I’ve reconstructed most of the pieces since then, but what I can tell you for sure about it is, when I stumbled across the first three scenes from ‘Though She Be But Little’ in January earlier this year (then titled ‘The Post-Argentum Face-Off of Emma Anne and the Loping Man’), when I was looking for inspiration in my ‘To Be Finished’ folder, I had no idea where this story came from, why I wrote it, what I was thinking, and how the heck I meant to finish it. 

“Totally clueless. I just read through it, barked out a giggle-cuss, and then Carlos Hernandez, who was in the other room asked, ‘What happened? Why are you laughing?’ 

“To which I replied something like, ‘I just found the weirdest half of a story I ever wrote in my whole life—including The Big Bah-Ha!—which is saying something!!!—and I have no memory of writing it.’

“I was having the experience, I realized, of coming to my own writing the way an absolute stranger would.”

On distractions from writing

“I don’t always have the luxury to set aside a couple of hours for writing, so in the past when I did get to set those hours aside, and failed to focus, I could be especially harsh on myself. A real writer wouldn’t get off track like this, I told myself, hoping to guilt myself into focusing. Except when I thought these words, instead of feeling like getting back on track, I just began to feel less like a real writer.

“So I tried a new approach. I went with the distraction. I decided that distraction did not have to be something to beat myself up over. It could be an asset. It could even be a kind of craft tool. After all, the more I let my mind wanderings play out, the more I noticed that most of my thoughts also had to do with narrative: A plot twist in the news. A rejected suitor on The Bachelorette’s desperate attempt to rewrite the story of who he was. If I gave it time, all of my distractions funneled themselves into something like fiction. A part of my mind kept monkeying toward story, even when it was avoiding the story I actually was trying to write. When I let these distractions happen, and didn’t fight them, they often led me back to an interest in narrative, and eventually an interest in my narrative, the story I was trying to tell in the first place.”

—Lee Conell (x)

On second person

“I’ve made a lot of use of second person lately, and I think one of the reasons why it attracts me is that it’s direct communication with the reader in a way that no other POV is. I know a lot of people aren’t overly fond of it, and I think a lot of the time it’s not done particularly well, but as a stylistic tool I love it. This story felt very immediate, and of course it’s an old idea that one thing that happens in the moments before death is a turning-inward, a taking of inventory. You have your last moments of communication with yourself as well as others. So it felt natural to go that way. I didn’t really think about the specifics of why until now, honestly.”

—Sunny Moraine (x), about “What Glistens Back”

On the terror and hurt of writing

“To be honest, this story terrifies me for two reasons; one, because it’s written in blood; and two, it’s written about blood. I hurt myself writing ‘Jonny Appleseed.’ I write because I need to—because I haven’t ever seen or heard this story before[….]”

—Joshua Whitehead

As simple as that

“So I made a deal with myself: whenever I thought of an idea for this untitled story, I’d write it down. And if I ever got the point at which the world was built well enough to make it into a story, I’d go for it.”

—Jon Bois on his story “17776” (x)

On first drafts

“Writers always say that the first draft is just raw material. You put it down on paper, and then you change it. But I’ve never believed it. I think if you don’t have a certain energy in your first draft: the voice, at the very least, then it’s hard to revise that energy into existence.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On submitting writing for publication

“I think of submitting as being about developing the habit of continuing on, despite adverse reactions. Sometimes, when you don’t believe in yourself, when nothing is selling, when you’re not getting a positive notice from any quarter, the only thing that’s left to you is habit. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, the habit of writing and the habit of submitting can carry you through to a better place.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On process

“I have no process; if I did have a process, I would have no confidence in the process. I didn’t do any of the things you’re supposed to do when writing. I didn’t a have an office or separate room in which to write. I didn’t have a desk. I sat on the floor, or on a zafu on its side, or on the porch, or out back, or at the coffee shop, or at the wine bar. I didn’t write every day and certainly not at the same time every day. I was working full time and sometimes more than full time at a job unrelated to art or teaching or writing. I didn’t go to any retreats or residencies or conferences. I checked my email in mid-sentence. Frequently. I didn’t write straight from my gut, so-to-speak—I thought as deeply as I could about the book on every level—sentence, theme, character, overall structure, and still, I might add, ended up surprised by the results and making discoveries I cannot explain and that I’m relying on readers to tell me about. I reread and studied carefully my favorite novels. I listened to a couple of them on audio, when I needed my hands free to do things like laundry or painting. I read a few dozen other novels, too. I simultaneously worked on another book (Love in the Anthropocene, cowritten with Dale Jamieson). I interrupted myself continually to garden, make elaborate dinners, renovate the house, go running, and tend my own dying father. I got pregnant. I slept on my side for eighteen hours a day during the last three months of the pregnancy and didn’t write or read a thing, I mostly just drooled. Then I had twins. I moved twice, once selling and once buying a house. I had way too many people looking at early drafts. I just kept swimming in the mess until it all felt more or less right. And then it was time for it to go into production and I had to stop.  It’s all a mystery and a mess and that’s why I do it. This is both the source of and the salve for all the anxiety involved. It’s awful and wonderful. It’s like when you’re crying so hard you start laughing. There should be more words like bittersweet.”

—Bonnie Nadzam (x)

On askewness (and rationalization)

“I’m drawn to art in which things are a little askew. Straight realism isn’t very interesting to me; I like to see the interference of consciousness, the way perception is muddied by a unique interpreting mind. El Greco’s paintings are eccentric, strange, willful; I loved them. Standing in front of his Portrait of Fray Hortensio, I couldn’t help wondering what an editor would make of it: the obviously strange angle of the back of the chair, for instance, or the weird positioning of the hands. Wouldn’t an editor want to make those less strange, to straighten those things out? And yet wasn’t their strangeness the key to the greatness of the painting?

“A favorite teacher of mine in music school, a composer, used to talk about the importance of the right wrong note, the eccentricity that both surprises and feels immediately inevitable. I’m suspicious of the arguments we make to justify our opinions about art, especially art we’ve made. I’m not particularly given to confidence in my judgment; I can justify anything, I sometimes think. Working on revisions to my novel, I found that I couldn’t judge the validity of my editor’s criticisms until I had worked through a new version of a passage. Only then, when I had done the work—I always resist work, I’m the laziest person I know—could I see the virtues and flaws of what I had made.”

—Garth Greenwell (here, found via The Millions)