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Musing Upon Three Quotes

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” 
― Anne Rice 

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” 
― Joyce Carol Oates 

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.  

— Ursula K. Le Guin 

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Is there a through-line connecting these quotes from three great writers? (I refuse to use the condescending first-part phrasal adjective “female” or “woman” in this instance. If we don’t routinely wall off male writers into a genitalia-defined ghetto when referring to their words and/or works, why would I perpetrate such a wince-inducing, overt-labelling job here re: “women writers”? Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin: great writers all. Period, the end. So why remark on their gender in this extended parenthetical thought? To address head-on the cynical, tiresome suspicion from some quarters that I chose three women writers to comment on in order to demonstrate how feminist/woke I am. :::sigh::: What a time to be alive and posting on “teh internets”. Well, that’s the kind of post this is going to be: one part stream-of-consciousness, one part thoughtful musing, one part—hopefully—synthesis of disparate elements into a unified whole. Tell me if I’ve failed, won’t you?) 

Let’s take Anne Rice’s quote first: ““To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Notice that she doesn’t insist the writer must make a fool of themselves; merely that one risks making a fool of themselves when they write. What could Rice possibly mean by this? 

Your interpretation may vary, but mine is as follows: There are a million, myriad ways a writer may face-plant in public. Errors of fact; mistranslations/misuse of foreign words and phrases; a question of style: writing that strikes one reader as “too flowery”, another as “too minimalist”; a theme that resonates with the writer and not the reader; vocabulary that is deemed either too high- or low-brow; metaphors that misfire and/or characters that seem eminently plausible, relatable and realistic to one set of readers, whilst striking another set of readers as wildly implausible, unrelatable and unrealistic. One simply cannot satisfy all readers all the time; not all art appeals to all people—for all time. (It might, but oftentimes—let us face hard facts here without flinching—oftentimes doesn’t.) As an artist we must accept this discomfiting fact and therefore write with our “ideal reader” in mind—whoever we imagine they might be. But if we push boundaries with our art—if we dare to question certain perceived “eternal verities” of politics (political thought that falls outside the Overton window), sex (outside the heteronormative) and/or religion (especially as regards atheistic or agnostic thought—though this is rapidly changing: “unaffiliated” or “unbelieving/unchurched” constitutes a growing body of the American electorate) then we embark upon a steep uphill climb re: widespread acclaim and/or acceptance of our work. Or as Joyce Carol Oates has put it: “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.” 

Which brings us to another quote of Joyce Carol Oates’: the second one referenced at the beginning of this piece: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” This echoes Kafka: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Now, the quibble with such assertions is this: We’re not always in the mood for a paradigm-shattering, psychologically transformative piece of art, are we? Sometimes (most of the time?) we want our reading to be the equivalent of comfort food: nourishing, tasty, familiar, filling. (We’re being honest with one another, yes?) However— I think we can agree that the best interpretive literature (to use Prof. Laurence Perrine’s term) expands our storehouse of life-lived experience and thus has the knock-on secondary effect—if the writing is psychologically astute, richly drawn and compelling—of working to increase both our understanding of the internal and external worlds. Fiction is not a lie that tells the truth: It is the concretized (black letters) fossil record (captured on paper or electronic storage device) of transfixing hypnogogic visions (author’s imagination/subconscious) that allows others, upon reading (a remarkable, semi-mystical experience in which both hemispheres of the brain fire in tandem) to embody alternate lives (viewpoint characters) and thus witness at one remove (sensory impressions received, albeit not from phenomena in the real world) the result of various played-out stratagems and the consequences of certain thoughts, impulses and actions (plot). What we make of all the aforementioned constitutes theme + meaning.

Lies? Truth? Irrelevant, as regards evaluating the efficacy and impact of well-wrought fiction (unless you’re a Victorian moralist). Nabokov had it right: What makes a writer great is the spell-binding quality of their prose: that ability to enrapture, enchant, seduce. A critic once remarked of Anne Rice: “You surrender to her, as if in a voluptuous dream.” Exactly right. Interview with the Vampire, Servant of the Bones, Pandora, Vittorio the Vampire, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Story after story from Joyce Carol Oates has found me perched on the edge of my chair: terrified to discover what might happen next to her characters if I continue reading; too breathless and engrossed to stop. Her writing raises my pulse rate—while I marvel at the assured confidence and deftness of her prose, and the probing intelligence behind it. Ursula K. Le Guin: a national treasure (now deceased; alas!): the kind of writer whose seemingly effortless prose and command of narrative compels reading of her fiction; whose formidable intellectual gifts of analysis, insight and plain speaking glossed by a lifetime of lightly worn learning (her essays) elicit wolf-whistles of awe and appreciation. God, I wish I’d written that! Thought that. Felt that. (But you didn’t—till you’d first read Le Guin.)

And now we arrive at Ursula K. Le Guin’s quote: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” 

In a single pithy observation this quote of Le Guin’s (with its attendant subtext) encapsulates the terror and the glory of fictioneering—to say nothing of the alternating cycles of hyperbolic mania and melancholic despair a psychologically unmoored writer might fall prey to.  

I was going to write another thousand words unpacking what I meant to convey in the paragraph above, but for brevity and concision Le Guin’s quote really cannot be improved upon. The challenge facing the writer is to provide the telling details of their story in expertly paced and vividly concretized fashion so that the reader may—insofar as is psychically possible—inhabit a close facsimile of the world the author envisaged; moreover, the writer should have a tale worth telling (almost all do), to have something to say about it beyond the mere fashioning of plot (many don’t), and the hard-won mastery of craft acquired through a lifetime of practice in order to tell their story well (the difference—oftentimes but not always—between the professional and the amateur). The challenge of the reader is to have read as widely and deeply as possible in order to engage with story on its own terms: neither willfully misreading, nor misconstruing, a text into what it is not. If this process fails what are we left with? Miscommunication or hopeless muddle, mere “black marks on wood pulp” signifying nothing.

In sum: The writer indeed risks making a fool of themselves when he or she sits down to write—especially if the chosen subject matter, characters described and/or over-all theme is decidedly iconoclastic or otherwise at variance with received wisdom and popular attitudes. And what a pity that oftentimes proves to be!—that great work, from great artists, oftentimes goes misremarked [sic], undervalued and genre-ghettoized until such time as an artist’s ideal reader rises up with the passion and critical acumen necessary to articulate the areté (ancient Greek: excellence in kind) of a given writer and their works. 

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51 thoughts on “Musing Upon Three Quotes

  1. Taken together, the quotes make sense to me. I know I’m currently writing something disturbing that can make me look foolish depending upon the reader’s own experience. Here’s an example.

    Like every room in the hospital, the cafeteria’s atmosphere was created by its function and the people in it. A large room with checker-tiled flooring, it was littered with plain tables and chairs and brought to life by the stainless steel serving line that operated around the clock. Al took a seat and smelled the food and listened to the vents humming and the dishes clanking and the people talking until Captain Kelly looked up from her coffee.

    “I was taking a guy to x-ray in a wheelchair. Shot-up, just off a medivac. He was in pain, but upbeat. We go by the gift shop and he says, ‘Stop! See that nurse? I want to eyeball-fuck her.’” He shrugged. “I stopped.”

    “Who was she?” Captain Kelly asked with bright humor in her eyes.

    “Jenkins, from O.B.”

    “Oh. That didn’t take him long then.” She turned serious. “You see death, you want life.” She pushed her chair from the table and looked between her extended arms at the floor. Sucking in a breath, she stood. “Back to it.”

    Al took in the blonde walking away. Kelly was on the dialysis team and regularly watched young men die because their kidneys had been left on the battlefield. When she was on call at night, Captain Kelly was notified by waking the doctor on call that night. He wondered if he would ever meet another woman he could tell this story to. She would have to be the woman that Captain Kelly was.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    1: But if we push boundaries with our art—if we dare to question certain perceived “eternal verities” . . .

    I respect writers who push limits, reimagine structure, all that. My only goal is to tell a good story, to create a world that I inhabit as completely as my characters do.

    I did not set out to fashion a has-been, against-the-grain, movie star lesbian mouse, but I have her. The lesbian bit I threw in in the final chapter, because it fits everything else I wrote about her. And, she is based on the early movie icon Louise Brooks. And, as usual, I wrote to entertain myself. Read it or not, up to you.

    2: Sometimes (most of the time?) we want our reading to be the equivalent of comfort food: if the writing is psychologically astute, richly drawn and compelling—of working to increase both our understanding of the internal and external worlds.

    Astute, richly drawn, increasing our understanding, all go together. Skimp on any of that and diminish the power of your tale.

    3: What makes a writer great is the spell-binding quality of their prose: that ability to enrapture, enchant, seduce.

    This is it exactly. I’ll read anything if the prose style enchants me. For me, the story is always secondary. This is why I can dive in and thoroughly enjoy nineteenth-century drivel. The details of life as it was once lived, and the frequently graceful prose, delight me, and teach me.

    4: The challenge facing the writer is to provide the telling details of their story in expertly paced and vividly concretized fashion so that the reader may—insofar as is psychically possible—inhabit a close facsimile of the world the author envisaged . . .

    The thing that puts me off most science fiction is that it generally tells a big-picture story. The cozy details that I can identify with: Damn! I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner, etc., I can’t accept that the starship crews don’t engage in the same this-and-that inner dialogue that we all have.

    5: The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp.

    Nonsense. Everything I write is a story, a story told to myself.

    Thank you for this, Carl. And thank you for your complex style. You are a grand instructor in the niceties of punctuation. I study your comments carefully.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you for responding, Mimi! It’s funny–I don’t think I have a “complex style”, it’s just that in an attempt to reproduce my thinking process it–perforce–comes out that way: halting, riddled with parenthetical asides, words carefully chosen (a critic once sneeringly referred to my prose as “hyper-polished”) in order to convey precisely what I mean. Ah well! Guilty as charged, I suppose.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Mike, Welcome!
      Yes! In fact, I am expecting a glorious full-blown “Roaring Twenties” to follow this Autumn. ‘Course, come Oct, 2029, I will invest all my money in apple carts.
      (& thank you for the Twitter link!)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Trebonius: There is no fear in him; let him not die;
    For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter.
    [ clock strikes ]
    Marcus Brutus: Peace! Count the clock.
    Cassius: The clock hath stricken three.
    – Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene I
    – William Shakespeare

    Uhhh, excuse me Bill. Mechanical clocks weren’t invented until 1360, and old JC got the shaft (literally) in 44BC (or BCE for the woke). [[Sorry, Carl. Your opening paragraph is absolutely correct, but I just couldn’t resist pointing out that sometimes a single letter makes all the difference. But I think I also just presented an example of the second quote — BC will piss people off because it refers to a given religion, it’s not universal, but note, we’ve not changed the calendar or the dating system. We just changed the name.]]
    Okay, back to the first quote. Time was when every high school student knew about that anachronism. My point simply put: everyone makes mistakes. I think the more important take from the Rice quote reflects the eternal verity of that classic work “Tender Is the Ego.” We’ve all gotten some tough criticism of our work. Remember what it felt like? The rising anger, the indignation. When you surrender to those emotions is when you make a fool of yourself. How many of us offered even gentle criticism of a WIP on Book Country only to see it disappear along with the writer? I have, and I felt horrible about it. But a big part of being a writer is the ability to bear the ‘slings and arrows’ of (perceived) unjust criticism (or rejection notes) with a modicum of dignity.
    Back to quote two. I look at it more along the lines of John Gardner’s “On Moral Fiction” (and boy, did he piss people off with that one!). Art, or in our case fiction and poetry, should be about something – it should give the reader pause, make them think. I’ve often argued that good science fiction is parable. It makes us think of consequences. I don’t think it has to anger the reader (odds are they’ll put it down if it does), but it does have to make them feel something, or learn something new. There’s a story in the upcoming Rabbit Hole IV (plug, plug), “Someone Else’s Story” by Carol Fenlon, that I can’t forget, about a pain that can never be healed. When it came to editing, I couldn’t (wouldn’t) change a word. I learned from it. That’s art.
    Finally, LeGuin’s point is beyond obvious. If Moses had tripped and broke his neck on the way down the mountain — no tablets delivered, and the gang in camp just kept dancing around that neat, golden calf, where would we be? Before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphics were just pretty pictographs with little meaning. Need I go on?
    I guess I just try to look at things in a simple way, but that’s my take on a great post, Carl.

    Liked by 4 people

    • And I wouldn’t change a word of your response, Tom! Thank you for contributing to the discussion (and highlighting the excellence of Carol Fenlon’s story).

      One quibble: Le Guin’s statement may very well be “beyond obvious”, but she had a point in making it. The woman was not given to banal blatherings, as her corpus of work well attests. Any failure to unpack the near-endless ramifications of that particular statement (and its attendant subtext) is the fault entirely of this miscommunicating essayist, not Ms. Le Guin.
      …………………………..

      “Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.”
      ― Khalil Gibran

      “Well, it’s really no use our talking in the way we have been doing if the words we use mean something different to each of us…and nothing.”
      ― Malcolm Bradbury, Eating People is Wrong

      “Our words are often only vague, inadequate descriptions of our thoughts. Something gets lost in translation every time we try to express our thoughts in words. And when the other person hears our words, something gets lost in translation again, because words mean different things to different people . . . So when a thought is formed in my brain, and my mouth expresses it in words, and your ears hear it, and your brain processes it, your brain and my brain never truly see exactly the same thing. Communication is always just an approximation.”
      ― Oliver Gaspirtz

      Liked by 3 people

          • Hmm. A tale of murder, theft, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. I was thinking more of everyday life but it struck me, what a great anthology this “could” make: Authors are given the basic story/plot/premise/whatever – just so long as it includes multiple characters- and asked to write that story using one of the characters as their main character. Or has this too, been done?

            Liked by 2 people

            • Everything’s been done, GD; but so what? As Stephen King likes to say: “It’s not the tale, but he who tells it.” (I’m sure he means “he or she”–but that would render a pithy quote clunky.) Voice is everything in fiction; all else is secondary. Bradbury, Mr. King, Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates, Chandler, Harlan Ellison, PKD, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nabokov, Hemingway, Alice B. Sheldon, Lovecraft, Mimi Speike–no mistaking any of these writers for one another.

              Liked by 2 people

      • Carl, I was thinking about it a bit more, and realized that LeGuin’s quote is also a counterpoint to Oates. Yes, art should do all those things, but be careful. To be too extreme is to totally turn off your audience. It might be ‘great art’ but if no one reads it – it doesn’t live.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Correct! Yes, that is definitely part of the challenge/puzzle/conundrum: If Mozart writes a discordant concerto no one can bear to listen to–or Leonardo paints a lip-rictused, six-month’s-dead Mona Lisa–your appreciative, applauding audience for such work is probably going to be vanishingly small. (It’s how I feel about Andy Warhol: “Uh . . . Campbell soup cans, Andy? Yes; I’ve seen these.”) There definitely is dynamic tension between those two counter-pointing quotes of JCO and Le Guin, which you have helped us tease out. Thanks for chiming in with your follow-up musings!

          Liked by 2 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    I don’t strategize, try to hit certain benchmarks, I tell my stories as they tumble out of my brain. Here’s an interesting question: who of those afore-named authors worked along the same lines?

    My developmental editor (who had big problems with my structure on Sly; she never saw Maisie) told me: outline in advance and you probably won’t have enormous plot problems. But it’s those who don’t follow a road map who produce really original stuff.

    Most of the time I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t too much care. One way or another I’m going to make it work.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes!
      “But it’s those who don’t follow a road map who produce really original stuff.”

      You nailed it, Mimi. There is a chasm between writing technique and creativity. Any decent English teacher can write. What to write is the question.

      Liked by 1 person

      • May I riff on your comment, GD? Not just “what to write” but the emotional intensity injected into the writing by the writer is what makes good writing–whether pulpish or interpretive–work for me (or not). Examples: Robert E. Howard. Many have done pastiches of his sword-&-sorcery stories, but ALL of them are weak, pale imitations compared to his original lurid, pulse-pounding prose. Bradbury is unique. As is James M. Cain. As Stephen King noted, “When I read Ray Bradbury as a kid, I wrote like Ray Bradbury — everything green and wondrous and seen through a lens smeared with the grease of nostalgia. When I read James M. Cain, everything I wrote came out clipped and stripped and hardboiled.” One could go on citing example after example but I trust the point has been made. The point is one of style, I suppose–when a good writer writes with his gut as well as his intellect it’s a force-multiplier: the prose seems to leap from the page and grab us by the throat. The language strikes us as vital, energizing, compelling. We’re back to Nabokov’s assertion that great writers are spell-binders par excellence. The emotional intensity MUST be there! You can’t fake it–which is why most pastiches are feckless and deadly dull. We know the writer is coasting along in a lower gear. We want authenticity and “all-in” commitment from the writer: Be true to your characters and yourself; show us your truth (in this slice of fiction) as you perceive and understand it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah, the ole “to plot, or not to plot” question. You occasionally write novel-length works; I don’t. But you sound like a “pantser”–a seat-of-the-pants plotter who discovers the way forward in the writing of it. Nothing wrong with that! The process of discovery and self-surprise is what makes fictioneering a rewarding activity for me–and, I suspect, you. (Usually I have an opening–or an ending–rarely both–when I first sit down to write a short story. Categorize me, then, as a “loose plotter”: one who sets sail with a partial map in hand and pencils in discoveries as he explores.)

    How about the rest of you? Perry, Sue, Victor, Mike, et. al. What is your approach to plotting? How much is too much; how little is too little? What is your required comfort level with (the relatively airy art of) story planning before you get down to the actual (hard and grueling; that is to say, emotionally and intellectually taxing) work of writing your narrative?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like to imaging that, like anyone blazing a new trail, a creative writer can draw the scene before them before stepping into it -or- take a walk of discovery as they go. I prefer the latter because it’s fun but often have to turn around and adjust the path I took.

      Liked by 2 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I never planned to write about a movie-star mouse. In an interview in a movie mag, Gloria Swanson said: “They say you can’t be glamorous when you’re five-feet tall. I believe I’ve proved them wrong.”

        Maisie came to life for me at that moment. I changed it to: “They say you can’t be glamorous when you’re five-inches tall.”

        Liked by 2 people

    • Plotting? One problem I’ve found that plagues science fiction is the story with an exciting premise that comes to a blah ending. I’ve always attributed that to the writer having a ‘great idea’ for a story, but no concept of how to end it. As a result, I’ve always made sure before I start that I have both a beginning and a satisfying end thought out before I start writing. The great in-between is the maze I then need to travel in my mind.

      Liked by 4 people

      • That’s exactly how I try to do it, Tom. (Was it Orson Scott Card who challenged writers to think further about their plot and dénouement by asking themselves the question: “And then?” Writer: “The story ends like this.” OSC: “And then?” Writer: “Whatta ya mean? It’s over!” OSC: “Is it?” Writer: “Oh! Well, err . . . no, ’cause then . . .” OSC: “Now that’s more interesting–relevant, richer, resonating. And then?” Writer:”Whatta ya mean? I just deepened the story, I can’t . . . Oh . . . wait a minute . . . Of course! Because that happened; logically this must happen . . .”

        The challenge–the art–is in knowing when and where to stop.

        Liked by 2 people

      • The Sci-Fi story with an exciting premise that comes to a blah ending.
        I understand what happens. I have a collection of exciting premises. It’s only a kind of professional compassion that keeps me from drowning them in blah endings. Someday though, I’ll find a story for bits like…

        CupidBot had so much love in him. Or her. CupidBot wasn’t sure of anything except its hot quiver of Love Algorithms. They squirmed in anticipation.

        It waited patiently in the alley for the right couple to emerge from Joes Bar & Grill & Pawn. There! If ever a couple needed love! She walked stiffly, her head almost buried in her folded arms; he stomped behind her, his face contorted by anger, hurt, and confusion. Probably his normal expression.

        CupidBot loosed its bow. A sharp twang sounded as twin Love Algorithms hit the couple. Simultaneously they stopped. She turned. She had not seen him look at her like that since their first date.

        “Oh God!” They said to one another. “I do love you.”

        -OR-

        The home looked like any other on the street. It was a typical two story house of white clapboard with a steeply peaked roof to let the winter snows slide off. Steps led up to a front porch that wrapped around one side. A red brick chimney rose up the other side. And the smell of fresh cut grass in the yard gave it the familiar air of just another midwestern home.

        Only, it hadn’t been there yesterday.

        -AND- I have more for the taking. Send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope for an original manuscript and a signed release form.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your plot idea sparked a spin-off plot idea in my mind: Story opens on two hard-boiled types preparing to time jump into the the past. Given their dialogue and demeanor, we assume they’re going back in time to make a hit. When they approach the mark and his companion in a crowd (bar? open space? other?) they inject one of the two with a serum that calls him to fall in love with his companion (thus restoring balance to the multiverse, we are given to understand). Name of the hit team? (They’ve done it before.) “The Cupid Boys”.

          Liked by 1 person

      • mimispeike says:

        I see this as the result of focusing on a premise/plot. Focus on characterization, Write your characters true to themselves and to your hypothetical world, and I believe any number of outcomes could be satisfying.

        Am I arguing for a character study rather that a typical confrontational tale? Are there any such out there? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Perry Palin says:

      Have a beginning and an end before sitting down to write? Well maybe I’m half right. I first know how a story is going to end. Then I write a middle to lead to the end, and then a beginning that will hopefully keep the reader going through the first few scenes. Maybe I’m a pantser with his pants on backward. This may be easier to do with a short story than with a novel. With my one (unpublished) novel I wrote each chapter backward. The story is on its third or fourth opening. I’m looking for a hook that I like. When i find it, the book will be done.

      I’ve read too many novels that travel on and on through 400 pages, and then end suddenly, like the author did a word count and decided he had enough. A few pages to tie up 20 or so loose ends, and maybe leave a few frayed and forgotten? Not my favorite way to end a story.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Your approach makes sense, Perry! You have my admiration (verging on awe, actually) and profound respect re: novel writing. The long form is simply beyond me; I get exhausted and depressed even thinking about it. So you would know best here.

        I chuckled at this: “I’ve read too many novels that travel on and on through 400 pages, and then end suddenly, like the author did a word count and decided he had enough.” Indeed!

        One of the best novels I’ve ever read is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. Short, tightly focused and ending on that dynamite, haunting last line that echoes and echoes and echoes . . . Gives me chills even thinking about it.

        I also like and applaud your idea of ensuring the book opens with an irresistible hook. I am weary unto death of amateur and semi-pro writers who fecklessly bleat, “The book starts slow . . .” WHY?! I want to scream. No one knows who you are! Editors read to reject! Readers are impatient and growing more time-constrained/distracted/over-committed by the day! Dare to be compelling. Eeeesh!

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the bright white Writers Co-Op WCOOP symbol emblazoned ‘gainst the roiling kitty-litter sky! Calling all members! Sound off! Sue! Liz! MamaSquid! Mellow! Perry! Mike! Atthys Gage! The heretofore silent! Anyone I’ve forgotten! (See, that’s what you get for not contributing regularly!) Uh-oh! I can’t stop typing in exclamation marks! This makes everything seem more heightened and exciting! One little vertical line immediately above a dot! Amazing! Annoying! Imagine if I had access to Marvel Comics-level fonts and fluorescent colors! ZAP! BANG POW! Huh?! Or not! Definitely not!

    [THE EDITORS]: Here ye; here ye! Know that the aforementioned outburst of fervent comradely solicitation to contribute to this ongoing online literary endeavor, lead off by a pop-culture reference that quickly degenerated into semi-hysterical purple prose and punctuation abuse, has been deemed an exceedingly problematic and overwrought bit of syntactical St. Vitus-dance-inflected prancing persiflage. The black-robed, sober-visaged, somber voiced editorial board of the Co-Op have therefore convened amongst marble statuary and imported, exotic South American greenery in their oak-paneled, 82nd-floor penthouse legal chambers to open an inquiry into this most troubling of troublesome posts. All those wishing to register as adversarial parties in the coming lawsuit lodged against the “off-his-meds” defendant may register by sending their name, street address, phone number, Zodiac sign, blood type, saliva pH, Chinese-calendar animal, e-mail address, favorite BBQ sauce and profoundest-felt eschatological rumination to . . .

    Liked by 2 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    Big news, folks. Big news. Indulge me a minute or two.

    I am starting the second round of tweaks on thirty close-to-finalized outfits for Maisie. My big problem: hats. Will they perch easily on those problematic mouse ears?

    I have three strategies. Over one ear, piece of cake. A slit that catches two indentations just below the ears seems to work also. But if the headdress is tall (Maisie wears lots of towering feather extravaganzas), the item tilts forward unless I stabilize it with a feather or flower cascade that pulls forward, in front of the cheek or the neck. All in one piece, that should work (haven’t gotten to one of those yet). I’ve tried to avoid that. I’d like these looks to be mix-and-match, within reason.

    I’m giving myself the rest of the night off. Reorganizing my books, I have come across ‘The Long Party’. It deals with high society in the twenties, stuff I know I can use for MM. I must have bought it when I was working on the original, long lost version of Maisie, forty years ago.

    Enough of making intricate edits on my original Photoshop documents, preparing them for another round of fittings. A glass of vino and The Long Party, that’s my reward for the hard work I’ve done today.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A lot to digest here! Making a fool of myself? I don’t fear the occasional factual error so much as writing something embarrassingly bad. I’m not out to push back boundaries, at least not as a primary aim, but each book pushes back my own a little more, in a different direction; I’m learning, and I’ll never stop. Each book is different, and with the release of each one I get nervous.
    I’ve gone from being the wildest of pantsers to the strictest of planners. I know how the book ends, how many chapters there’ll be, and how each chapter ends before I embark on the first draft. It doesn’t preclude the joy of discovery on the way.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I hear ya, Curtis! I’m not out to “push boundaries” either–but I write horror, fantasy and soft science fiction, all of which gets sneered at by the modernist interpretive fiction camp based on genre alone. And that’s just for starters, before we even get into the particulars of craft. (Things have gotten a tad better since the 20s–60s. A tad.)

    But I don’t think deliberate “boundary pushing” is what Joyce Carol Oates is talking about. If that was the end goal of writing it would reduce literature to naught but a kind of sophisticated literary trolling. And if that’s the only reason a writer is writing, well . . . that strikes me as cretinous, contemptibly jejune and absurd. No, JCO is talking about something else. (See: Conversations with Joyce Carol Oates.) She knows that the critics (professional reviewers and the reading public alike) will come at you a thousand different ways: Why are your stories so violent? Dark? Twisted? Etc. JCO–tireless titanic dynamo of pitch-perfect fictioneering that she is–gets routinely attacked for “writing too much”. What the f@#k does that even mean?! What professional critic would dare lodge this inane criticism against a male writer? I detect a whiff of misogyny in the charge.

    As to embarrassing yourself: I’ve a thousand cringe-inducing anecdotes I could relate where I’ve missed things in my writing until either (a) a beta reader has pointed it out to me–WHERE ARE YOU, ATTHYS?! and/or (b) I catch it myself on the 1000th read-through/draft. :::sigh::: I’ve learned that’s it all part of the process.

    Thanks for chiming in, Curtis! Didn’t expect to hear from you till Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Love the quotes and the way the last paragraph ties them together.  The road between is good too, but there is a big pothole.

    The first paragraph after the quotes makes a big fuss about the irrelevance of the quoted writers’ gender to why they are quoted.  The fuss generates a subtext at odds with the explicit claim, as when a white guy says

    «I’m not racist.  Some of my best friends are …»

    The subtext is amplified later by the cloying “Ms” before female writers’ surname.  The male writer Nabokov is mentioned w/o a cloying “Mr” before his surname.

    I’d rather see the quotes attributed and discussed w/o dragging in gender (or anything else irrelevant).  Readers who are bummed by seeing 3 female first names in the attributions will need much more than a feverish paragraph to straighten them out.  Full disclosure: being into haiku and math tilts me toward minimalism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for checking in with your feedback, Mellow! I did ask “Tell me if I’ve failed, won’t you?”

      Herewith my reply: When I correspond with editors, I always address them as Mr. or Ms. (unless instructed to address them by their first name). That practice carried over here; it never occurred to me that someone could view a prefatory “Mr.” or “Ms.” as cloying. It was intended to connote courtesy and respect. HOWEVER: You are quite right that Nabokov (you didn’t call out “Kafka”) is not preferenced by “Mr.” (because I consider Mr. Nabokov–as most do, I suspect–to have attained that height of literary fame in which surname alone identifies the brand, ala Bradbury. Heinlein. Hemingway. Steinbeck. Christie? Rice? Oates? Austen? Dickinson? Odd, isn’t it, that almost all female writers are referenced in reviews and commentary by first AND last name. (At least for the first cited reference in any given article. It’s always: Agatha Christie. Anne Rice. Jane Austen. etc. Isn’t it? Perhaps this is sexist.) I’ve always viewed this practice as an attempt to ward off possible confusion with another writer. Chandler, sure–but it’s Mickey Spillane.

      Still- I shall revise with your criticism in mind. I shall standardize the form of address.

      As to that opening parenthetical thought: I strove to make it clear that this was a bit of stream-of-consciousness riffing on the fact that the first three writers whose quotes recurred to me were women. I didn’t sit down and consciously say to myself, “Let me select three women writers whose quotes . . .” No. I had been mulling these quotes over in my mind for the last week or so, and sat down to ferret out for myself the reason why I was haunted by these quotes this past week. It was only after typing up the last of the three quotes which open the piece that I realized (hand-over-heart swear) “Hey wait a minute! These are all women. In our current culture I’ll bet some people will think I deliberately chose three women writers to quote to demonstrate how feminist/woke I am. Others will wonder why I didn’t specifically call attention to that fact: to either highlight or downplay it.” And THAT lead to the follow-on thought: “Fuck it! Would I even be asking myself this question if it were three male writers I chose to quote? No. I wouldn’t give it another thought. Nor would most readers. For that matter: If three male writers were quoted in an essay or article–here or elsewhere–would the citing writer feel it necessary to highlight that fact? ‘The three male writers quoted here represent . . .’ Again, no.” I sought to condense this stream-of-consciousness musing into a shorter, less brain-numbing form. At the risk of being misread–which is also one of the issues addressed by this blog post.

      Like I said: I’m glad you brought this up. I will revise the “cloying” bits, as I fear you are spot-on in how it might be perceived by others. I do wish, however, that you had something substantive to add re: Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates, and/or Ursula K. Le Guin. That is NOT a snide backhand! Leastwise, it’s not intended to be. It is a confession that I hoped this article would elicit more commentary from our readers re: these three great writers. (Yes, Anne Rice is as great as Joyce Carol Oates or Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ll go to the mat on that one; was in fact expecting someone to challenge me on that fact.) But you see how fucking fraught and goddamn aggravating it is to write a single truthful declarative sentence, only to then feel the need to encase it in Praetorian Guard paragraphs of protective elucidating text? No wonder most professional writers don’t post long musing essays on social media! Who has time for the resulting blow-back re: self-inflicted wounds/misreadings/nit-picking over grammar and word usage? At the same time–heh!–I recognize the merit and truth of your criticism and will revise accordingly. If this sounds schizophrenic, so be it: I am using your criticism to further the discussion and am endeavoring–as always–to be as skin-flayingly honest with you and our audience (seven people? eight?) as I am with myself.

      It’s complicated!

      Thank you, Mellow! You’re a good sport–and greater spirit.

      Liked by 2 people

      • «feel the need to encase it in Praetorian Guard paragraphs of protective elucidating text»

        LOL!  Been there; done that.

        Yes, the first mention of a well-known woman anywhere is much more likely to include a first name than the first mention of a similarly well-known man.  (Yes, that may be lingering sexism.)  But including a first name is common when attributing a quote (even when quoting Winston Churchill or Mark Twain or another famous man), so I really doubt that readers with their heads on straight would be bummed out by seeing 3 female first names.

        BTW, I am old-fashioned about stream-of-consciousness writing.  There’s way too much of that already.  Confession: a coauthor of a paper I wrote long ago complained that I was “polishing the polish” in the near-final draft.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. mimispeike says:

    “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”
    ― Joyce Carol Oates

    This comment is bedeviling me. Joyce Carol Oates, who do you think you are? I know, I know, you’re Joyce Carol Oates. But, c’mon now.

    How many here have ever set out to write art? Not me. I’m trying to tell my silly stories.

    What the hell is she saying here? We fashion our stories as best we can. The passage of time will decide whether we’ve created art.

    “Art should provoke, disturb, etc.” I agree, in regards to a painting, or a piece of music. When you buy an artwork, buy what makes your heart sing, not what matches your couch.

    Dickens, F. Scott, countless others, were struggling to earn a living. Were they thinking, I’m creating art for the ages here?

    I doubt it. But they did, in spite of a schedule of banging it out to pay the rent and put food (in Fitzgerald’s case, champagne and caviar) on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

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