Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hugs to Mark Twain; a book recommendation; plus McCain goes Maori?

I love the silly sense of validation that comes from finding out a Genius Writer shares or shared my particular creative process. It is silly, because it's not like process = genius. But anything that makes me feel less cuckoo as I scritch-scratch away at my writing, I hug it. Like this, which I found via Robin Brande's blog. She links to a New Yorker article about creative late-bloomers, and it's a good read, but the part I want to hug is this:

“[Mark Twain's] routine procedure seems to have been to start a novel with some structural plan which ordinarily soon proved defective, whereupon he would cast about for a new plot which would overcome the difficulty, rewrite what he had already written, and then push on until some new defect forced him to repeat the process once again. Twain fiddled and despaired and revised and gave up on “Huckleberry Finn” so many times that the book took him nearly a decade to complete. The C├ęzannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition."

Thank you for that. Thank you. That so well describes my "process" of writing a novel, and when I am in the midst of that process, it can feel like lunacy. Like there is something wrong with my brain. But if Huckleberry Finn was written in that way. . . well, again, process does not equal genius, but this just goes to show that writers must work with the brains they have. Master your own unique brain as best you can, do what you have to do, waste no time wishing your creativity were of a different variety, but just knuckle down.

Here's a quote from Mark Twain:
"There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."

Thank you. Great picture, no?

Latest Cybils read: Allegra Goodman's The Other Side of the Island. Liked it very, very much. Zoomed through it. It's middle-grade fiction as written by an erudite, National Book Award-nominated adult author, and it is clear, swift, disturbing, and beautifully crafted. Perhaps not a highly original concept, but so well-executed, and besides, what is a highly original concept? The book takes place after the polar ice caps have melted, and only scattered islands remain where once were continents. "Earth Mother" and her Corporation rule what remains, and have even (they claim) conquered the weather. It's your usual totalitarian regime, no books allowed in homes, watch towers in the neighborhoods, etc. Into this world, a small family comes: 10-year-old Honor and her parents, who were found living free on a Northern Island and have been relocated to Corporation-controlled Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Early on, there are disturbing hints about their memories vanishing, and it soon becomes clear that the Corporation puts chemicals euphemistically known as "Planet Safe" into everything, the water and food, the laundry detergent, the plant fertilizer, to subdue people's memories and individuality. And when people fail to fit in properly, they disappear.

"No one ever knew how parents disappeared. They would go off to work as usual, and they'd never be heard from again. Or you could go to sleep at night, and in the morning your parents' bed would be empty." What worse fear, for a child? In one horrible case in the book, a girl is trying on a school uniform in the dressing room of a store, and when she comes out, her parents are simply gone. They are taught to accept that their parents no longer are. And then, under the influence of Planet Safe, in due time, they will forget them.

Honor's free-spirited parents are making no effort to "fit in." They even do the unthinkable and have a second child, and then, even worse -- refuse to give him up for redistribution within the community. Second children are such a taboo that the words "brother" and "sister" have become insults. Honor lives in constant fear that her parents will be taken, even as she herself tries desperately to "fit in." Through the whole narrative, the title looms -- the other side of the island -- an ever-present reminder of the secret of what lies on the untamed side of the mountain. (But you'll have to read it to find out.)

Much opportunity for discussion in this book, about the nature of thought and freedom, about global warming, and what price one is willing to pay for "safety."

[On Allegra Goodman: she graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu, as did Barack Obama and. . . my sister! She then went on to Harvard and to a PhD in English Lit at Stanford. Her father was a prof of philosophy, her mother of genetics and women's studies, and her sister is an oncologist -- and was the inspiration for the laboratory of cancer researchers in her novel Intuition. Smartypants family!]

And apropos of absolutely nothing, how great are these stills from the last debate?

My personal theory is that John McCain is attempting to practice Maori intimidation:

And at any moment he might just break into a fulll-on ha-ka:
Is that not spectacular? I don't think it would quite as awe-inspiring as performed by McCain!


jennifer said...


Too funny, I posted that same McCain Picture a few days ago. It's so bizarre! I saw a Haka in NZ and I think you may be right!


andalucy said...

Not the best haka I've seen but still fun to watch. I think if McCain did one that good I'd be persuaded to vote for him.

Great stuff about Twain--thanks for posting that.

Amber said...

Funny pictures!

The books sounds good. And what? you don't have a family of doctors? Isn't your sister a snake doctor??


Marianne said...

Ha - funny thing is when I saw that first still of McCain I thought "it looks like a bad Pakeha (white dude) attempt at a haka"


Charlotte said...

can those pictures really be true??

How stunning they are, especially the first...

Unknown said...

hee hee, good pictures. see you tomorrow morning, 9 am sharp!