Wednesday, April 04, 2018


Most of the people who call themselves writers, if only secretly, are entirely uninterested in readers — or publishers.  They are interested only in examining their own wonderful insides and assume that what they produce will be picked up by alert publishers and make them famous.  That’s the way it happens in books, which are written looking back and sometimes post-mortem.  (Death can make writing more saleable.)  It's juju.

For instance, Native Americans are convinced that if any white people write about Native Americans, that will destroy the readership for Native American books because there are only a few people who actually read Native American books, not even other Native Americans.  The conviction is that there are X number of NA books that are read, no matter who writes them.  If A writes one, that eliminates the chance that anyone will read B’s book.  This is clearly nonsense.  Publishers share it.  Stupidly.

There are two “ends” of the writing project that I think about and neither of them is about readers or publishers.  This is because I don’t write for those factors anymore.  I don’t care who reads it and blogging is close enough to publishing to get by.  Both are matters of “discovery,” which is finding out what exists and what you are looking for.  If an algorithm can elect a president, why is no one designing one that will find the book you want to read?

Because you don’t know until you read it.  You have no sense of adventure. You still want the same brain twiddle you had last time.  And why are all the people who claim to be studying business in tribal colleges not studying the “business” of acquiring and selling books, whether paper or cyber.  Is it a matter of critical mass?  If so, wouldn’t part of business be about creating demand?  Is Adrian Jawort the only indigenous person on the planet to even imagine it?

I’m only using NA’s as an example.  It’s not fair because they’ll clutch any blame to themselves and believe they are unique.  They're used to being unique and miserable.

What I’m chasing to understand is the huge vista of the internal world of DNA and molecular function plus the equally huge and probably “huge-er” panoplay of the universe, which comes to us out of the past because it takes so long to get here across the light-years.  The things that used to be assigned to “religion” (which is a way of capturing and freezing the meaning and means of survival on this planet) and is now often called “science” which is enormously difficult to really understand -- or sometimes “spirituality,” which is soap bubbles.  Meaning.

God is dead.  The nature of the human being as unique has followed quickly.  Now we are each simply a knot in the fabric of being, unconscious but potent, a tension shared with a neighbor in a separate skin.  Our existence changes the world but the DNA that makes us unique can be isolated by grinding bones to powder long after we’re dead.  Species interweave, inter-inhabit, and lie dormant.  It’s too much to think about.

What people read now — the 70% of the reading public that is female and has time — is fiction.  The science goes out of its timeliness too easily.  Anyway, most of these readers don’t care about ideas.  They just want another iteration of a life story — people.  They’re like people who do jigsaws, fitting the pieces together.  Then they decide whether they like the picture.

I wrote the copyright dates on the top of my science books and put them in order of publication.  Two shelves, mostly obsolete.  There’s an arrow of time running through them and there will be no end to the progression of ideas falling to each side, but there is a little trail through them all.  I try to find it.  I suppose that "contemporary history" is an oxymoron but it sure beats paying attention to the Moron in Chief.

There is another far different concern when I write.  For a long time I could find no books that addressed it, though I read about semantics and plot drivers and style and rhetoric — all of them asserted with passion and yet curiously irrelevant to the actual construction of excellent sentences.  (Assuming excellent sentences are what is necessary in each instance.)

To write a clear, intense, explanatory sequence of ideas according (mostly) to the given assumptions of writing (grammar) in the language the reader either understands easily or is willing to figure out, is a major undertaking.  I had two teachers who preoccupied themselves with the pursuit.  One of was Peter Matthiessen and the other was Richard Stern.  They could not have been more different in some ways, but they both were willing to spend half-a-day trying to understand whether a specific sentence were better with a comma “in” or “out.”  There are many famous examples of the difference it makes.

This means close study of one’s own sensitivity to small differences as well as awareness of what a really skilled reader sees.  Some of it is vocabulary and life-experience, but sentences “chunk” into participles, gerunds, appositives, prepositional and adverbial phrases, with crucial order — early or late in the sentence, before or after the key verb or noun.  All the stuff no one ever gets around to teaching you in high school, so everyone thinks grammar is useless, meaningless, because all that labeling doesn’t make any sense until you see why.

There are people who try to capture this art, make it something you’ll have to pay to find out.  Screw them.  

Invent your own way to understand word order in sentences.  Forget everything you know.  Tear up the rules.  Do what works.  Figure out “what works” means anyway.  Quote.  Distort.  Cry out.  Use math.  Switch between rhetorics.  Don’t do anything I suggest.  Find your own way.  Copy out long paragraphs you admire -- twice.

If it turns out you’re just doing a little dance, thinking you’re writing a novel when it’s really just some silly lyrics for a known song, what’s the matter with that?  Everything is valid.  Everything plugs together different filaments in the brain.  Why should it “be” something?  

Feel free to maul a sentence until you like it and then walk off, leaving it in pieces.

“In the crystal morning of hard spring, a tall young man. . ."
“After the velvet evening of the soft twilight, a very old woman, rounded under her blanket. . .”
“Under the ragged blanket a very old humped-over woman with a deeply wrinkled face . . .”
“Hobbling, the ancient man leaned on a stick, a tall staff his son had cut for him. . .”

This is just thrown out like dice.

“A stick protruded from the melting snow — no, it was an arm.”  Wouldn’t it be better to say “stuck” instead of a fancy word like “protruding”?

What makes you think this is about NAs?  Couldn't it be Irish, Croatian?  Even African on a mountain top?  Sci-fi?


Bret Rothwell said...

I’m awake again after two months obsessive chores. Ran out of coffe beans so brewed store ground... never good. But thanks to you, this morning, I’m reset ... challenged by Winter hanging on .. but longing for fresh air as Spring , well, springs. Thank you.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Thanks, Bret. More snow on the ground this morning, but not much. Another blizzard due this evening. They say it's possible to get the real "gourmet" copies now as Instant. Starbucks and all that. VERY expensive, but they say quite good. I don't have a url.

Prairie Mary