Posted tagged ‘Cormac McCarthy’

Blocking Writer’s Block – When Escapism Hits (Hard)

December 3, 2009

Sometimes the mind needs candy.  It just can’t bear to chew over ideas of substance; it’s too tired to wrestle with gristly debates; it doesn’t want to pick nuance from its teeth.

No sirree, what it wants are donuts.  (It’s not even up to “doughnuts”.)  And it wants them all night long.

Who knows what makes the mind revert to pablum?

(Actually, I think it’s stress, a rebellion from pressure, an internal decision not to bullied by one’s own sense of responsibility.)

During such periods, some minds, usually of the male persuasion, will watch sports  or play video games; some females will watch several seasons in one sitting of Grey’s Anatomy, even though they well understand that both McDreamy and McSteamy are McStupid, and that Meredith Grey would be more properly named “MiMi Beige.”

In my case, the reversion is to puerile, but somehow, entertaining books.  (And, of course, a certain new movie star whose name is only known to regular followers of this blog.)

I’m not quite sure what to advise when times like this arise.  I guess the most important question is—are you getting your work done?  By work, I mean your day job, your school work, your obligations to family, friends, dog, your toothbrushing and hairwashing, your eating and some minimum amount of sleep.  Hopefully, most of us can put down the mind’s donutty distraction for the hours it takes to perform the tasks that keep us in the daily life business.

But what about that creative work that we think of as a second career (or a true vocation)?

Unfortunately, it can be very hard for creative work to serve as a significant block to a donutty mindset, especially if you are not getting either money or acknowledgement for the creative work.

Luckily, the mind has some natural defenses:

  1. Boredom.  Most escapist fare does not, per se, hold an overwhelming amount of food for thought.
  2. Pride.  An OC (obsessive-compulsive) attraction to escapist fare can become really embarrassing.    It’s true that innocuous plastic book covers, and a Kindle can go a long way towards mitigating that embarrassment.  Still, when you mother keeps telling you how much she’s enjoying Cormac McCarthy while you are obsessively reading Charlaine Harris (author of The Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the series, True Blood), it gets a bit much.
  3. Duty.  Trees.

While you are waiting for boredom, pride, and duty to kick in, here’s another trick:    try to find something useful in your mind candy.  Look at it from a “maker’s” point of view.  If you are interested in writing, read the dumb books with an eye for their plotting, their narrative structure, their momentum, their sex scenes (!)   (Yes, it’s all a bit of an excuse, but there can be some valuable lessons there.)

Finally try to just enjoy yourself a bit.    Be giddy, stay up late, read while you walk to and from the subway.   More importantly, get some much-needed confidence.     And don’t worry too much.   If you are truly interested in doing creative work, the angst will be back soon enough.

What Makes Young People (And Some of Us Others) Re-read

October 27, 2009

For those of you who actually follow this blog, and don’t just click on a link that happens to mention Robsten or the Twilight Saga, I’m sorry!  There’s not been much poetry over the last couple of days, but a lot of clicks.

Yes, I like the clicks.  (And, strangely, “Robsten” seems to generate a whole bunch more than, let’s say, “sestina.”)

But I want to explain to you (who may not understand why in the world I write about this stuff) that I truly am interested in a couple of facets of Twilight mania (besides each of Rob’s cheekbones.)

First:  despite all the poetry I’ve posted on this blog, I am mainly a fiction writer, primarily for children and young adults.  As a result, I am fascinated by the question of what makes people read a book again and again.  And I have to say (without mentioning anything about my own experience) that the Twilight mania proves Twilight et al. to be a set of those much re-read books.

It’s a given that books that generate this type of obsessive re-reading are not always particularly “good” books, i.e. well-written.  In fact, many “good” books, that is, really profound, original, heart-wrenching, or poetic books, are not the most dog-eared at the end of the day (or lifetime.)  It’s almost as if such books are too sharp, too bitter, too stinging, to be savored again and again (in the same way that grapefruit is not typically considered a comfort food.)

This is not to say that much re-read books are poorly written!  (Charlotte’s Web and  Harry Potter are much re-read great books.) Only that good writing alone does not make a book a good re-read.  (Nor does a good plot, good jokes, good suspense, even though one or more of these is likely to be present.)

So what does make a book a good re-read?

To me, the distinguishing factor is that the book creates characters with whom readers like to spend time, sometimes, too, a world in which readers like to spend time.

Reading a book is a commitment.  It means hours in which you are not conversing, i-ming, watching TV; hours, in other words, in which you are alone.  Sometimes, in fact, a book is a way to be alone, a path to privacy in a place with hard-to-place boundaries, such as a subway, or, if you are a child, a family dinner.

Because of the inherent solitude of reading, it is important that the main character is good company—fun, cool (but not too cool as to be unempathetic), willing to share confidences.  Being admirable is helpful too, as long as there are also sympathetic and/or humorous failings and idiosyncrasies.  (Sam Vines, Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett, even Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie.)

The world of a much re-read book can, of course, have its dark side.  But it is hard to repeatedly spend time in a world that is overwhelmingly creepy or frightening. (The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and even Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, are obvious examples of wonderful books in which the worlds created, or re-created, are just too horrific to motivate re-reads.  On the children’s shelf, similarly, the later tomes of the wonderful, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, that is, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, also, with the exception of certain scenes, get both too threatening and rarified for a child’s immediately repeated visits.)

Ideally, the created world, even if dark, has a fun, semi-magical side.  (Hogwarts, obviously; the barn in Charlotte‘s Web, Florida, as seen by Carl Hiassen, Discworld, as envisioned by Terry Pratchett.)

Re-reading is a particular practice of the young and the young (or perhaps, immature) at heart who can repeatedly find sustenance in something that’s already well-digested.  (Sort of like baby penguins.)   This may be because the young (and not young, but immature) are themselves subject to (i) so much fluctuation, and (ii) so much beyond their control, that they find special comfort in the predictability of a “known” fiction.   The combination of the familiar with the fantastical may be especially appealing.

Romance makes a great re-read as well.   First love is a story that has been told again and again and again; is it any wonder that some people don’t mind re-reading the exact same version of it?

Which brings me back to Twilight.

Tomorrow or in the near future (if I get time),  I’ll write about the second facet that I find interesting—that is, what makes people re-see a movie, as opposed to re-read a book.

In the meantime, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon.