Friday, June 30, 2006

dangerous writing

I am loosely affiliated with a group of prose stylists who call themselves the "dangerous writers." Local critics have been known to malign us, using the title in mock fashion, and gracing it with a derisive, hyphenated adjective such as so-called, or self-styled. True, calling yourself a "dangerous writer" opens the door to doubt, and invites a sort of challenge-laced taunt: If you're so dangerous, let's see what you got!

Again and again, during Q and A at any given "dangerous reading" there is that question posed: What the hell is a dangerous writer, anyway?

Here's my answer:

Dangerous writing is not about product, the same way loving is not about having. To write into danger means to stay where shame, embarrassment, fear, self-loathing, sorrow and lust reside. Stay there until a new question forms, and once that question forms, ride out the discomfort and follow that depth of inquiry without flinching--wherever it leads.

Dangerous writing exposes you to you.

Dangerous writing has a love/hate thing going with language, because writerly writers hide behind words all the time. Language can compel while it distances--and that's a different sort of danger. That's bad danger. Language can be the stunning gown you throw on instead of stepping out naked. Language, when used dangerously, is a whisper, not a cacophony.

Writing dangerously is writing scenically, not expositorily. It goes beyond show-don't-tell into know when and where to move the camera when you show. Dangerous writing, when successful, will leave the reader with more than one emotion. Often, contradictory emotions. It's simple language that delivers complex feeling. And yet it's not sloppy, imprecise or general.

Dangerous writing is writing that we've never seen exactly that way.

Dangerous writing starts with an assertion that you have no fucking idea what you want to say, but you know you have to say it. You begin absolutely alone, and from there, in traipses all of humanity and its dirty shoes. Sometimes. And other times writing dangerously simply means writing. Instead of going to the movies or watching tv or thumbing through People.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

updike's lament

At the writers’ conference last week someone suggested that I read Updike’s “S” as the form stance in my work reminded him of that book.

I followed the orders, and have appropriated via my public library, that very novel. Over dinner tonight I began the book and had to tear myself away so I could work on my own novel. Updike is such a seducer. Man.

Coincidentally, Updike had an essay in the NYT Book Review this Sunday.
The End of Authorship (you might need to sign up in order to view it).

The upshot of Updike’s lament in the essay is that the google library revolution threatens to turn the sacred objects of our reading populace into in a cloud of electronic snippets. He contends that the writer:reader relationship is at stake; that luxurious and lugubrious narratives will be reduced to abstracted scraps, digestible morsels; Sunday dinner atrophying into endless tapas plates served via vending machine, to be grazed upon in five minute increments.

In his essay, Updike reports that much of what is on the Web is “egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile. The electronic marvels that abound around us serve, surprisingly, to inflame what is most informally and noncritically human about us…”

It is Updike’s contention that the book revolution--which has championed individuality
through its rough-edged particularity and tactile specificity from the Renaissance onward--will come to a screeching halt because the interface of the computer screen smooths everything down dimensionally. Both literally, and metaphorically.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do feel his pain. And yet, I must acknowledge reluctantly that communication evolves. The whole notion of intimacy, dare I venture, also evolves. Updike worries that there will no longer be blurred edges between writer and audience, because edges will cease to exist. But e-edges, I’m optimistic, will evolve due to backlash. There is just so much homogenization that the human species will take, before it takes back its facility for critical thinking. I choose to believe this and I HAVE to believe this, and I see it before my eyes with my seven-yr-old who, though just as susceptible as the next kid to being dicked around by Disney and its cross-promotional commodification schemes, counters that with narrative of his own invention.

There will be Updikes and O’Connors and Carvers in 50 years, and they will have a fan base of misfits, just like today’s versions do. Real authors and real readers have always been the outliers of society. Normative culture has always tried to reduce art to pulp. That won’t end. Nor will the dives into bed with actual books—those smelly, arcane, germ-carrying objects that we freaks will always have in towers beside our reading lamps.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

genre bending

"What is it about this work I like so much? The confusion between field report and self-portrait; the confusion between fiction and nonfiction; the author-narrators' use of themselves, as personae, as representatives of feeling-states; the anti-linear, semi-grab-bag nature of their narratives; the absolute seriousness, phrased as comedy; the violent torque of their beautifully idiosyncratic voices."

If this sounds interesting to you,
read on….

The focus of my week down here has been to explore form, language and intent with regard to my project: Unkiss Me and Return Me to The Dwarfs. More on that later, but what I’m itching to get at is the newly rendered excitement spewing out of me after this weeklong refresher course in artistic integrity, passion and language.

My friend and colleague, Monica Drake (whose book "Clowngirl" is being published by Hawthorne Books in 2007) and I developed a workshop called "Fueled by Distraction," the intent of which is to show writers how to reach into the kernel of their everyday lives for inspiration that can be translated into satisfying art. In this workshop, we give examples of how to transition from the normative, to the particular. From monkey mind to zone. From being derailed by one's life to being inspired by the minutiae.

I need to revisit the exercises therein, for I'm about to leave my solipsistic retreat, and plunge back into fray. I’m due to get on a plane in a few hours, but I’m treasuring every second left of my “writing retreat.” While here, I’ve managed to refine about 85 pages, and completely rewrite an additional 50. Obviously, I won't be able to keep up that pace once home, but something has to give. I'll either have to get up earlier or, as I've counseled others, mine my distractions for their fuel.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

writers at work

I'm kicking this off on the solstice...fitting, I think. Here I am in one of the sunniest places on earth, engaging in what I love the most, on the longest day of the year.

Writers at Work has aspects that feel grass roots--all volunteer board puts it together, classes take place on a small campus that's all but abandoned in summertime and there's a humility to the whole thing. Maybe that's the Utah-i-ness of it, dunno. But the talent of the instructors, readers and guest faculty who parade through here year after year is anything but bush league. Not only that, but the participants approach workshop with generosity, intelligence and honesty, albeit a range of skill from amateur to extremely accomplished.

There are a handful of folks from the Pacific Northwest, but most of the people I've met live here, in Salt Lake City--which, surprisingly, has an active literary community. I say surprising because Salt Lake gets a bad rap when it comes to other-than-Mormon activities. Sure, the place is squeaky clean, and is littered with LDS temples, but people write here, and they write well.

I'm taking workshop from
Steve Almond and he is quite a skilled teacher. He's engaged, honest, tough and generous. Most importantly, he exudes the magic ingredient imperative for all exemplary workshop leaders: passion for story. Reverence for the art that deigns to venture into the murky waters of humanity. That's what I came here for, and that's what I'm getting.

I met another fabulous writer tonight, as well. A woman who lives in my neck of the woods,
Cheryl Strayed, whose novel "Torch" is one of the most heartbreaking and poignantly written books I've come across in a while. Not only that, but her love of language, her enthusiasm for the craft and her wide-eyed spirit infect everyone around her.

If it sounds like I'm gushing like a fountain, I apologize. I'm usually much more jaded and writerly. You'll see....if you keep on reading, that is. Meanwhile...check these authors out. Write, read and be merry!