Saturday, January 28, 2006

Blogger Trouble

I apologize to anyone who got blasted with several versions of the same message today (by Atom feed). I tried to mail a blog post in remotely, but Blogger lost the message. Then some two or three hours later, the lost message appeared — twice! Thanks Blogger! I'll never try mailing messages again.

Falling Out of Print

I'm cross-posting this from Boing Boing:
Falling Out of Print is a Book's Natural Fate

“Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a science fiction editor at Tor Books, has posted a brilliant rumination on the ephemerality of literature -- how quickly most books, even popular ones, disappear into history. She uses a collection of bestseller lists from 1900 to 1955 to make her case, and delves wisely into the harm that extended copyright terms have wrought upon those who would rescue classics from the scrapheap of time:

'The literature taught in schools is that which has survived: a collection of gross statistical anomalies. This is misleading. Falling out of print is a book's natural fate. We can belatedly train ourselves to believe that this will happen to other people's books. What's hard is for writers to believe it will happen to their own.

'It'll happen just the same. It happens faster in mainstream fiction than it does in Our Beloved Genre, more slowly for nonfiction history books, very fast indeed for computer manuals; but in the end, all but a very few titles will be forgotten. Just look at the authors in that collection of bestseller lists. You're a literate bunch, but have you ever heard of Harold Bell Wright? How about Mazo de la Roche? Mary Roberts Rinehart, Lloyd Douglas, Irving Bacheller, Frank Yerby, Coningsby Dawson, Warwick Deeping? These were all notable authors in their day. Some of their books were no better than they should be, while others were genuinely praiseworthy; but all of them spent some time perched on top of the commercial heap.'”

So let me get this straight: Hayden uses "a collection of bestseller lists" as a standard of what ought to become a classic? Hmmm. What do bestseller lists have to do with anything? It seems to me that oftentimes it's just the other way around. For example, while I despise James Joyce because I think he was an (intelligent) fraud and charlatan, I also see his work as a classic of the so-called Modern period, even more so than the works of Stein or Kafka. Yet how many everyday people have ever actually read his work? I'm guessing not very many. In fact, Ulysses has never really been popular with the reading public. It stays in print now only because professors assign it to tens of thousands of captive students in universities throughout the Western world, and because many of those same students desperately want to look like a cognoscenti whenever they sit in a trendy coffee shop and talk literary politics with other hip-hippy, bourgeois-proletariat elitists.

From Wikipedia: “A classic is an item that has become a ubiquitous and unique symbol or icon of a time gone by, mainly because of its inherent quality or its representative status.” I agree, except to note that a work of “inherent quality” is not necessarily a work that is good. Rather, it must be so outstanding for whatever reason of its own that it actually creates a movement or comes to represent an existing one, whether popular or not. Ulysses is an example; its unique traits had such inherent quality that they became a rallying point for those who appreciated those same qualities: a disdain for literature as story, and a desire to see literature turned into a tool for cognitive disintegration (or at least a reflection of the author's own disintegration).

On the specific issue brought up by Hayden about stories going out of print, I say, “So what?” I don't write to be famous, rich, or remembered. I write because I love story, and I feel a sense of pride and happiness when I get it right. Yeah, I want to get paid someday and yeah I want to know that certain readers enjoy my work, but I have no illusions that a book deal will somehow transform my sense of self. In other words, it's not the main or motivating reason that I write. I suppose it's true that if I believe in my story enough, and I am faced with a publisher who has no vision for it, then I will want to fight to keep my story in print. But right now that's a problem I can only hope to face.


Friday, January 27, 2006


“Is it Acid-Free Paper or Acid Free Paper?”

I'm so glad you asked. The hyphenated version is grammatically correct. It means simply paper sans acid. The non-hyphenated version is more ambiguous and seems to imply a double meaning, but maybe it doesn't really work. I don't know. The real reason I decided to forgo the hyphen was simple: the URL doesn't have one, and I didn't want to create confusion. (Most people would forget to include the hyphen if I included it in the URL.) So, I think I'll just leave the title alone for now, but I'm open to changing it. Of course, the URL will always have to stay the same, thus adding to the confusion.

Next question: “Why are you blogging?”

I already addressed this here, but there's something else I'd like to add: This blog is about writing fiction, not about any philosophy or political point of view. Yes, as S over at Illumination pointed out, I am a realist. Yes, I do have a strong passion for ethics, namely honesty, integrity, pride, hard work, justice, independence, and rationality. But at the same time, and for the same reasons, I am also my own person with my own personality and my own values.

First and foremost, I am passionate about my stories. I laugh and I cry over my characters. I wear their costumes (in my mind), and I walk and move as they do. I talk and even sing in their voices. Their many struggles and their dreams become mine. When they suffer, I suffer. When they succeed, I succeed. I love my characters as if they were me. This is my life.

So as you visit this blog, you'll be seeing a little window into that world—my world. I hope you enjoy it.

Oh and by the way, the links in my blogroll do not necessarily reflect my views. Again, the point of this blog is to record some of the experiences that a writer goes through to get published. Naturally, as my blogroll shows, I am also interested in the experiences of other writers. So if you want to read about politics, you'll just have to go somewhere else—but don't worry; some 999 million other bloggers already have that topic covered.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Yeehaw! Literatrix added my site to her blogroll!

(Pardon me. I've adopted some Jack and Ennis mannerisms since seeing Brokeback Mountain. It'll pass. It's just a phase.)

Unbeknownst to Literatrix, I have already been watching her blog—like a fox!—and now I know she's watching mine. You're dern right, my dear! We're competin', and you had better roll up yer sleeves right this instant and get to writin', elsewise I'm going to gallop right on past you and leave you chokin' on my dust!

Just kidding! Of course writers don't really compete. The truth is exactly opposite: we all kind of fuel the market for whatever we're writing (assuming it's good). I would think that this is especially true in today's market, where a writer can be published through many different presses and reach many millions of readers. Where is the competition? I don't see it.

Instead, I would like to see more Objectivist writers getting published (first things first) and then getting to know one another. Can you imagine going to a writer's conference and never hearing a single reference to “He Who Must Not Be Named”?! (I mean James Joyce, by the way, not Voldemort.) We could invite distinguished lecturers like Shoshana Milgram. We could hand out our own Non-Nobel Prizes for Literature! Let's hear it for holding an Objectivist writer's retreat by 2020. (That should give me enough time to get something published.)

Ah, well, at the end of the day, I suppose that writing will always be something that each of us has to do in the privacy of his empty office. But that doesn't mean that I don't sometimes long to interact with other writers. I know that this opportunity will come in time. First, I believe that one has to work hard enough to be published.

Watching King Kong

So I went to see the movie last night. I've never seen a worse crowd in a theater: cell phones bleating, toddlers running back-and-forth and up-and-down the aisles, an entire family talking loudly and without pause, and foil wrappers “going off” constantly like noisy party gizmos. I'm sad to say that the primates in the room made Kong look like a churlish monk on the screen.

Early in the movie, someone's demonic child tripped over a foot in the aisle above me and starting wailing pitifully while his father told the poor guy attached to the foot that he was a “fucking loser”—apparently for having a foot. It was then that I had a “What would Buddha do?” moment, that is to say, I could either feel love in my heart and project that love out to all of my “fellow travelers” in the room and find nirvana in non-being, etc., or I could just leave. I decided to do neither.

(Buddha says, “If we can eradicate desire, all sorrows and pains will come to an end.” Unfortunately, His All-Mighty Encumbrance failed to disclose that he was smoking something potent when he said this. I know, because eradicating my desire to see King Kong didn't make any of the &%@~!$ Neanderthals in the theater die a sudden and horrible death—or even just disappear.)

Instead, I decided to split my time between watching the show around me and the one on the screen, because sometimes that's what writers are supposed to do. I did come away from the experience with some good material. Too bad that my fellow moviegoers will never be the ones to read it. Ah, well, they're probably illiterate anyway.

So what about King Kong? I have nothing to say about it. It wasn't a movie. It was a cinema event. And that's not a compliment.

I suppose I should write a few lines about it, if only for the experience, except that I already have a backlog of better movies to review. Maybe I'll do a two-part special: Jack and Ennis Battle King Kong for the Hearts of Moviegoers Everywhere. (That's tortured, I know. But it's also ironic, don't ya' think.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

What I'm Reading

Cicero: On Obligations
Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) was a political philosopher and Patriarch in Rome during the fall of the Republic to Julius Caesar in 49 BC. He was an experienced Roman politician and patriot of Roman ideals. He supported the Senate during the revolution, risking his life to defend principles of self-government. But most importantly, Cicero was a true political philosopher, an idealist—I would even say that he was a passionate moralist. He had much more in common, then, with our early American revolutionaries than with any modern American politician. In fact, we know for certain that many of America's forefathers were fond of this particular work by Cicero. John Adams, for example, exhorted his son John Quincy Adams to read and carefully study this work, and the two of them even discussed it in private letters.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne & Dave King
I have mixed feelings so far on this one. I recommend it only for advanced writers. You have to already appreciate the finer points of word smithing and certain principles of editing before you will gain much from this book.

In the Presence of the Enemy, by Elizabeth George
I'm going on a vacation next month, so I got this book to take on the long flight. (12 hours on one flight leg alone!) I don't really like mystery stories, but I liked Miss George's guide to writing so much that I had to follow up with one of her novels. Besides, I've heard that reading a mystery is a good way to pick up plot tricks. (See a great quote from Miss George in this previous post.)


Friday, January 13, 2006

How Buff is Your Brain?

Want to know how to put an end to the mind-body dichotomy? Try putting some muscle in your brain! The site Strong Brains is a great place to start. It's basically a list of great reads, both ancient and modern, in subjects like Education, History, and Literature.

I especially recommend their list of literature to anyone who suffered through the intellectual wasteland that is modern education. If during college you read far more Stein than Steinbeck, then I'm talking to you. If when you said the name Homer to your English professor, he thought you meant Simpson, then I'm definitely talking to you. 

I'm also talking to me. In fact, I'm going to make it my goal to finish reading most of the works of Enlightenment-era Literature on their list by 2010. (I've read some of them already, and some of them I just can't bear to ever read, like Tolstoy's Master and Man. I got all the Tolstoy I will ever need from Anna Karenina.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Muse Likes Porridge

Do you ever get so happy that you feel like you're going to burst? I sometimes do. I felt that way yesterday.

I started my day at the gym, then I drove over to my east-side office (the J&M Cafe) for breakfast. I hadn't been there for weeks, but yesterday I really needed to get out of the house, because the window in my office is leaking and the sound of the drips drives me absolutely insane. So I claimed my favorite barstool at the counter, spread out my pen and pad in front of me, and ordered my usual 10-grain porridge.

Speaking of porridge, the dining room was not too full of people, and it was not too quiet, but it was just right. Even the coffee was spot on. Everything was going perfectly—until I looked down at my blank piece of paper.

Imagine God hitting the pause button on your life. That's what happened to me. Suddenly I felt like my brain had just been zapped off to some kind of mental purgatory. I apologize for scrambling too many metaphors together here, but I swear it felt like someone had just done a hard reset of my central processing unit. My brain went perfectly still inside my skull and did nothing but stare back at me, blankly. It didn't even quiver.

I have faced this same situation almost every day now, going on five weeks. Each day I get nowhere with my story no matter how long I stare at it. Despite several months of careful planning, and despite this being the most joy-filled and inspiring story that I have ever invented, somehow I must have taken a wrong turn down some dead-end street in my brain. Pardon my Franglish, but that state of mind really sucks.

Good writers are not supposed to have nightmares about blank pieces of paper. Good writers are supposed to have a knack for tracking progress, oiling gears, overcoming obstacles, and so on. But I am not yet a very experienced writer, and besides, even they get stalled.

So by now I have finished my 10-grain porridge. I've had plenty of coffee. I've been to the boy's room twice. I'm starting to overstay my welcome at the resaurant, when suddenly “BAM!” Oh, my God! My brain is now writing faster than my poor fingers can move. Yes, I'm listening. I've got it. Right. Yes. That's perfect. Where's this coming from? No—never mind that!—just keep going. Don't think about thinking. Just think. Awesome. Spectacular. Fantastic.

Then just as suddenly, I knew that I had it, the answer to my puzzle. Oh, praise, praise, praise! Praise time! Praise patience! Praise everything. I was so happy that I just wanted to kiss someone. I was also starting to get blubbery, which is always a comfortable situation for everyone in a diner. (My apologies to the lady having scrambled eggs. You must have been trying to decide whether to console me or ignore me. Just be glad that I didn't kiss you, my dear.)

I hope this obstacle proves to be my last. Right now the way ahead looks clear, so all I can do is move forward as if it were. Anyway, I'm happy again, and that's good.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Gus Van Horn visits

I just discovered that Gus Van Horn added Acid Free Paper to his blogroll. This is a first for me, and it happened on the very same day that I headlined with underpants. Good timing, Toiler. Anyway, I appreciate the recognition and I believe in giving a tooth for a tooth, so I'll add his blog to mine.

First, I'd like to say Hello! to my new visitors. Also, I should let you know what this blog is all about. Being a writer, I mean to comment on aesthetics and literature, to record things that might end up in a story some day, and to track my progress. Mostly it's to keep me linked with the world of literature, so I wouldn't be at all disappointed if I hook onto a few intelligent writers/readers along the way.

“So tell us what you write about, Toiler!”

Okay, if you insist. Mostly I write short stories, because they're so much easier to write than novels. I did write a short novel and part of a longer novel (which I aborted) a couple years ago, but these served only to showcase the Grand Canyons that criss-cross my knowledge of art. So I retreated to short stories, learned a lot, and lately have been writing some pretty good stuff. In fact, I nearly have my confidence built back up enough to start my next novel.

If I were to pick a theme that runs through my stories, it would be uncommon men standing out from the crowd despite the appearance of commonness. I like to show how strength of character — basically moral ambitiousness — surfaces in men of all abilities. My characters don't necessarily save the world; instead, they save their own values. I write about people I'd very much like to meet, and I have a suspicion that some of you would enjoy meeting them, too.

Until that day comes to pass, I'll just have to say thanks for visiting my blog.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Not Brontosaurus?

I just realized that one of my favorite words is underpants. Is that odd? I also like fantastic, enormous, Labrador, liquid, passion, and especially the phrase bow and arrow. I don't like anemone, rectitude, genital, lackadaisical, femininity, encyclopedic, and I especially don't like reconnoiter. I have not yet formed an opinion about platitudinous. And no, I am not looking these words up in a thesaurus. Remember, I am a writer. I have so many words stored in my mental lexicon that I sometimes realize only too late that I have no idea what I'm saying.

Speaking of thesaurus, where on earth did that word come from? I think brontosaurus would have been a much better choice.

Editor's Note (added 4:15PM): It's not surprising that these words ended up on my list — even the word underpants. Maybe tomorrow I'll explain (to you and me both) what makes these words stand out. Hint: It has something to do with the objective nature of language. (These aren't the only words I like, by the way.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson Bears the Dark Mark

Did you hear about Pat Robertson seeing the hand of God in Ariel Sharon's struggle for life? No, I don't mean the hand of God helping him live. I mean the hand of God making him die. Yes, I know, you're not at all surprised by this news. Patsy is always wishing death on someone. Sharon's name was probably just the next one on his Christmas list.

I actually have the proud distinction of having been on his list once, too. Well, not exactly me myself but me and tens of millions of other gay people. In fact, I'll bet that you have also been on his death list. Have you ever looked at pornography? See, I told you so.

Here's the really choice part, a quote from Gus Van Horn:

While I disagree with Sharon's latest peace initiatives with the barbarians who reside across his nation's borders, there are plenty of valid, secular reasons for my disagreement, none of which make me even remotely gleeful over Sharon's stroke.

I have heard it said that the God one worships (and this does not necessarily have to be in the traditional sense of the term describing a mystical or supernatural belief on that person's part) reflects one's conception of the ideal. In that light, it is revealing that Robertson's conception of the divine acts pretty much like a terrorist or an assassin.

Mr. Van Horn, you're destined to be in a novel (a shade of you is, anyway). I've been working for years on an enormous, epic tale. In fact, the main character has been a part of my life for so many years that his story is beginning to feel like a piece of history. I'm always looking for new insights into how he thinks and what makes him tick. This statement by Gus has the spirit of something my character would say, not to mention the right ideas. It's not everyday that I come across a gem like this. Bless you, kind sir.

And that's not all. My story's villains include religious power-players who are as pragmatic as they are diabolical. Gus's insight that Robertson's divinity "acts pretty much like a terrorist or an assassin" is exactly what I need in order to paint that kind of theologian/politician.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Aristotle Meets Dr. Seuss

Check out this amazing Dr. Seuss-style rhyme by Hanah at Purr Se. In her words:

I was going through some of my papers from college this morning and found something I thought would be generally amusing. I took a class on Aristotle at Haverford which had 60 or 70 students in it - a huge number for such a small school. To make sure we were keeping up with the material, the professor had us write a one-page explanation of each week's reading assignment. I got bored after a while and wrote one in the style of a Dr. Seuss poem. The following refers to Aristotle's Metaphysics VII 1031a 15-28.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bad Habits Die Hard

Here's a quote from The Character of Habits Pt. I, on Don Watkin's blog (starting with a quote of former Rand associate, Nathaniel Branden):

“[Branden:] 'His emotional capacity is man’s automatic barometer of what is for him or against him (within the context of his knowledge and values). The relationship of value-judgments to emotions is that of cause to effect. An emotion is a value-response. It is the automatic psychological result (involving both mental and somatic features) of a super-rapid, subconscious appraisal.
     'An emotion is the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself.' (The Psychology of Self-Esteem 66-67).

“This, then, is the starting point. Man is a volitional being, motivated by chosen values he experiences in the form of emotions. He needs habits in order to function, but as with values, it is of vital importance which habits he chooses to develop.”

Okay, so emotions provide psychosomatic feedback about our chosen values, presumably positive, motivating emotions when we judge the action to be “for us” versus negative, discouraging emotions when we judge the action to be “against us”. Here's my problem: All sorts of work, even the kind that I love the most, involves doing certain menial and all-around unpleasant tasks from time-to-time, and no matter how much I may love doing the work in a broad sense, my psychosomatic response to those specific tasks is negative. Sometimes my mind is as stubborn as old Number 7 and just refuses to do the work. I even get into some serious arguments with myself about it.

Am I alone in this? I don't think so. Even Ayn Rand seemed to struggle with it, at least I think so based on the tone of self-admonishment in her journals, which I mentioned here.

I don't understand all of the causes of this problem, personal or otherwise. You would think that knowing how important the menial task is to the final product would be enough to motivate me to action. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Maybe the best I can do is to just push through the work by sheer stubbornness of will. Or maybe someone out there has some good ideas for dealing with it. For example, one acquaintance in college would always start his homework by doing the thing he least wanted to do. That way he felt more motivated to get through the bad stuff in order to get to the fun stuff. I'll try that, but I think I may need bigger solutions.