The second special guest in my ongoing series of Google DocTalks™ is my good pal Ben Godby. As you read this, remember that we came up with all the section headings beforehand and use that as a guide to our organizational abilities. Enjoy!
Ben Godby of BenGodby.com is BG
David Barron of by David Barron is daB
Lit & Pulp
Literary Pulp(?) vs. Science Fantasy Romance
David Barron: So, we’re two writers who seem to have taken two separate roads, I to the Spell-check and Submit It highway of pulp writing—if I had that classic post to write again, I’d title it “Spell Check and Forget It”—littered with the half-remembered road-killed plots of the Story Before, and you to the All My Stories Are Allegories tranquil country path of literary fiction—I’m sure you have a more salient post in there somewhere—strewn with fallen words like so many autumn leaves &c &c.
Ben Godby: If I may be so asinine as to serve you up a hot dish of allegory, I feel like I’m actually on a highway constantly fretting about which exit I’m supposed to take. I’m also worried that someone might overtake me on the left, or that I’ll smash into some jerk hiding in my blindspot. Just the other day I was musing about how everything I ever write about writing seems to be nullified simply by the act of writing about it ("The Agonies"), so that every time I think I’ve hit upon an idea, a movement, a style, a solution to the agony that is “how will I most effectively and awesomely self-express,” I prove myself wrong a moment later. Then I was reading some Hal Duncan post where he says you’re never supposed to admit to doubting yourself, and I think that’s a really nice idea but I am way too self-conscious, self-obsessed, and self-loathing to do other than doubt myself.
daB: I think you’re allowed to doubt and loathe everything you’re currently writing (or that you’re sitting on), but once you’ve published it you have to pretend it’s the best thing you’ve ever written ever. That’s in the verbal contract you’ve made with your readers. Presumably the more professional one becomes as a writer, the more one has learned about believing this lie. Considering that I’m fixing to re-read everything I wrote in 2011 for the first time (as a final copy-edit before I do the fancy editions), I hope I can keep a straight face.
I agree about writing about writing. I recently read through my “The First 200 Days”, my ‘daily blogging’ collection (because I wanted to fix the formatting), and I make a lot of amazing pronouncements (esp. about business!) which I find rather ridiculous now. But that’s the point. Writers think by babbling, then keeping the good stuff. ...anyways, I assume nobody reads my writing blog except me, so it’s OK.
BG: I read your blog. I really do. Because your funny. So many blogs totally suck. I hope my blog doesn’t suck. I’m really afraid it does, sometimes. Because, seriously, so many writers have the most terrible blogs. How can people who are so creative have ABSOLUTELY ZERO PERSONALITY? I don’t get it. But you have personality, David.
Maybe it’s the beer?
daB: ...it’s the beer.
daB: I like your highway allegory. I’m presumably That Guy—graduate of the Grand Theft Auto motor school—who’s just speeding along, changing lanes on bridges, and generally being unconcerned with the feelings of others. I write fast, now, just translating the images that pop into my head down on the page and Never. Ever. Editing. I’m too lazy to edit, I just want to write the next thing. If you go to my blog there’s about thirty covers for as-yet-unwritten stories and books that “I’ll get to writing”. Sooner or later. In my private archives, there are about ten stories with one great opening paragraph written that I lost track of in order to jump to the next story. I’ve been working on finishing those, now, because their incompleteness mocks me and makes me feel like a twit.
This is why I find it so hard to actually sit down and write a book. Short stories are more fun, and they finish.
BG: The advantage to speeding is that it’s difficult to slow down. No, wait; it’s the opposite: it’s easy to keep moving. It’s easy enough to stop completely, but “inertia is a property of matter” and all that.
I think speeding kept me writing for a really long time, and even though I no longer drink and narrativize (harr harr), when I hit a “groove” or a “swing,” what’s effectively happening is that I’m hitting a top speed, covering huge distance in short amounts of time. People never talk about how they suddenly got into their rhythm and started writing incredibly slowly, you know? We’re always trying to get to top speed and stay there as long as possible.
daB: You’ve got to drink and write, it’s your duty as a Creative. My current elixir of choice is coffee spiked liberally with the nearest available Kentucky bourbon. Keeps the brain going, and punches Mr. Editor in the face with the fist of alcohol. Once the story is done, I can edit and publish (yaknow, the Boring part) sans coffee.
BG: Indeed. A glass of wine always makes me more accepting of the first thing I write. OBVIOUSLY IT’S BECAUSE IT MAKES ME A BETTER WRITER THE FIRST TIME. (Man, I... I am just obsessed with caps sometimes.) That said, lately I’ve been writing more slowly. I actually wrote a book by hand. Now, I’m going a little too fast to type it up, so that’s a problem, but... slowing down—shifting into lower gear, if I may continue being a punhole—is what allowed me to write a complete manuscript with which there was nothing really grandly wrong. Speeding may actually be counteractive to writing books, because there’s a lot of potholes you might just fly over, and... alright, I’m sick of the analogy, but the point is: sometimes speeding leaves things to be desired in the quality of road. And readers don’t speed: they read. Problem in point.
At the moment I’m turning a leaf—at least temporarily—to get really nitty and gritty and try sentence-level editing. Hal Duncan, again, managed to really inspire me here: he’s put up a couple posts lately about sentence-level and paragraph-level editing that really drew my attention. Normally, I don’t get excited about editing—usually, when the word “editing” is tossed about, I vomit nervously and soil myself—but Hal makes it sound sort of like a swashbuckling adventure. He also made it really clear how good editing can make a good manuscript great. So, yeah: tryin’ new things. Just so long as, like you said, those things fulfill the prime directive of fun.
daB: I especially liked Hal Duncan’s “How to Write a Point of View” post, from that series. What I’ve been trying to do, recently, is to write “cleaner”. That is to say, master the English language to the point where my sentences don’t need to be rewritten. I love the story of Harlan Ellison bringing a typewriter into a bookshop and pounding out a short story, then putting it into an envelope and selling it. That’s the kind of writer I want to be...and the kind of speaker I want to be, but one step at a time.
Weird vs. Direct
daB: [your?] Weird Fiction vs. [my?] “Direct” Fiction. For instance, I can’t understand a single thing China Miéville (cf: rejectamentalist manifesto) has ever written.
BG: Come now, David. You must read the latest Miéville. Why, it’s absolutely débonair.
daB: All I’m saying is that I want an umlaut in my name. Dävid Ällen Bärron. Then I’ll be popular...er...I mean “literary”.
BG: You mentioned earlier that I seem to have taken the path of the literati. Ignoring for the moment that I am a pretentious, self-aggrandizing punhole, I would dispute this on various grounds.
I think one of the biggest things standing in the way of more people enjoying more types of literature is that word, that word right there, literature. Actually, there’s a word that’s way, way worse: it’s the worse literary fiction. Uh, excuse me, but WTF is literary fiction? It’s a non-thing. One cannot write literature. One might try, but only The Future—whether in science-fictional terms or not—can bestow that honour. I guess the problem is really that people think of it as a noun, “literature,” whereas we are better served by deeming things “literary,” i.e., “well-written.” Thus: Anything can be literary. Also, “literary fiction” is a terrible genre, because it is full of contemporary realist claptrap.
daB: True. I, agent provocateur, mostly said that just to spur the conversation. But when I say Literary, I do mean a genre. “Literature”, to my thinking, is different, as you say: being the future selecting the best bits of the past. Literary, though, is a niftier genre name for ‘realistic contemporary’. Although you’re allowed to have weird dreams in there, apparently. I myself have been boning up (oi, every word-choice of mine reveals my lack of literary spirit...) on Literary books because I’m currently committing—under the pen name David Allen Barron, sans umlauts—Literary Fiction, in the form of “Scalawag”, set in Jacksonville, FL. Writing it makes me brain hurt sometimes, but only because it’s really long. I did manage to stick a LASER in one scene. That always seems to relieve the pressure, even if it’s just a community college laser.
My twin theories of literature are that I read everything, so long as it’s good, and stories are more important than pretty words...but I like pretty sentences.
BG: Hal Duncan again: “Style is not a fucking patina.” But, then, sometimes, it can be a game-changer. I just finished Michael Cisco’s “The Great Lover,” and it is heavily style-based, but it’s not really a normal novel. Sometimes, you’ve got to play with style, just to see what can be done. And to crap all over people’s expectations.
Re: Einstein: “Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting a Different Result:” Re: Writing: Are We Fucking Insane Dudes Or What?!... Or Is It Just Me?!
(this a general title for the “motivational paradox” or “the art of self-immolation” whatever we call it)
daB: But...but...writing is pretty much the only relaxing thing I do.
BG: Yeah, I don’t know if writing is “relaxing” per se, but I have trouble relaxing if I don’t write. I’m pretty much addicted to writing. If I don’t get a daily fix, there’s trouble. I’ll start stories and abandon them, I’m unpredictable, I’m ornery when I haven’t written... I mean, I’m a junkie.
I never really thought writing would get like that for me, either. I have a lot of friends who are Creative-types: musicians, photographers, film-makers. They’re always telling me I have to “just let it happen” when I try to explain to them the desperation of my creative process. But it’s impossible for me to just let things happen, because things don’t happen on their own. I have to implicate myself. I have to overcome the desire to just play videogames. And that’s not so hard to overcome, because like I said, I’m a junkie: I can’t help but write. I’ve built up dependency. Writing is a demon that is invested in me, and even if I do it wrong—even if it hurts—I have to keep going.
BREAKING NEWS! Ben Godby's short story The Tower of the Golden Eye has just been published in the latest OG's Speculative Fiction (Issue 35). Pick it up and enjoy this "Victorian-era, Franco-Prusso-Egyptian Communard steampunk alternate-history"! (I sure did!)
I'm still too lazy to write my own blog posts, so if you’re a writer and/or small publisher and you want to have a Convo with me (or Jeff or Ben, for that matter) hit me up on Twitter where I exist as DavidalBarron, or shoot me an e-mail at DavidalBarron [at] gmail [dot] com !
Thanks for reading!
feel free to comment