Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chapter 39: In Which I Discuss Books

Today I am flying back to Pittsburgh, PA. I'm excited. There was never a time when I didn't want to return to the Steel City, or thought it wasn't my home. It's home for me. When I fly back to the Bay, I will have copies of the brand new second edition I've been talking about so much, just in time for the book launch.

What book launch, you ask?

Saturday, January 22, 2011, 6:30pm-8:30pm, at The Layover, a music bar and lounge. There will be readings. There will be cake. The bar will have beer, if that is your fancy. And there will be copies of the second edition. The venue owners want me to stress that this is a 21 and over event. So don't bring any infants. They always cry through readings anyway.

So far, I have Madeleine Clifford lined up to read. She's an MC out of Seattle and a fellow Millsie (Millsite? Millsian?). Her poetry's amazing. Here's her full bio.

Madeleine Clifford hails from Seattle, Washington and is an outspoken artivist (artist + activist). She uses the mediums of page poetry, spoken word and hip hop lyricism to motivate  people to reflect, process and hone their passion—whatever it may be.  During her undergraduate career, Madeleine traveled to South Africa and developed an after school empowerment program for girls in a Port Elizabeth township school.  Her poem, “The Art of Loving,” was published in The Black Scholar. She also presented her thesis concerning issues of female representation in hip hop at the Ronald E. McNair research symposium in 2009.  Last year, she interned for Powerful Voices, conducted a poetry workshop series at the Garfield Teen Life Center while helping to orchestrate Seattle’s first annual Girlvolution conference.   As one half of the dynamic rap duo, Canary Sing, Madeleine has performed at hundreds of venues from bars to festival stages; the group has also released two EPs with more amazing music in the works.  Madeleine currently lives in Oakland, California and attends Mills College where she is working towards an MFA in Poetry.

Whew. Maddy does a great live performance and it's good to have her onboard. Did I mention admission is free? There's enough stuff in the Bay that costs a ton of money. Come and hang out.


Lately I've been trying to speed write. A lot of this has to do with the dos-a-dos project I am working on right now, which we're aiming to release this year. It doesn't come naturally to me. Even my Christmas card, which was finished entirely in December, was written in installments over several weeks. I like to give stories time to settle before going back to them. Yet now I am trying my hand at increasing my output. I'll see how it goes, but don't think I will make it a habit.

Good writing is a process. The only way to discover what is special about your writing project is time. Junot Diaz took 11 years to write Oscar Wao. I don't know what his writing process is, but I doubt he came up with every element at the same time. I think he gradually discovered the use of Dominican history, and the melding of language, and the idiosyncracies of the different characters. That's where the 11 years came from. No matter how much planning goes into a piece, you discover new things about it as you go along. A good writer follows these threads. Maybe they lead somewhere, maybe they don't, but the exploration of them takes time.

This leads me, in a roundabout way, to George R.R. Martin. Like many fans, I have read the sparse updates on A Dance with Dragons. It seems that Martin has done a lot of rewriting on this particular book, with plot snags leading to multiple drafts and continual delays. Five years ago this aggravated me. Now it thrills me. Even with all the pressure to create a product, Martin is still approaching his books as a writer. He is taking chances, creating ideas, scrapping them, falling on his face and continuing on, seeing where the story goes. When A Dance with Dragons finally comes out, it will be the best possible book the author could make. I can't wait to read it. But I will wait.

The whole advent of multiple-volume series has done a lot to deplete fantasy's standing as literature. How could it not, when the market is flooded with semi-edited books? How could it not, when writers are compelled to think of their books as a product? One of my old favorites, Lin Carter, was an entertaining and prolific writer, but he was not a great writer. He did not write literature. Martin is trying to write something honest, true, and well-thought out. I commend him for not buckling under the pressure to deliver a product.

I have a story called "The Elvis Room." I started writing it in Spain in January 2008, and it is still far from done after three years. I have workshopped it, read it on tour, submitted it one or two places, even considered putting it in the collection. I'm glad I didn't. With every rewrite, the characters become clearer, the story gains depth, the world of it takes shape. In 3 years, no draft of this story has ever gone longer than 31 pages. I feel the story has benefitted most from the process I've taken in writing it.

See you in Pittsburgh.

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