Friday, July 15, 2011

George R. R. Martin "A Dance With Dragons" Signing in New York City

 My friend snapped this excellent picture of GRRM storming into the signing.

George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, made an appearance at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square on July 14th to support the release of his latest novel, A Dance With Dragons, which has already had the highest opening day sales of any book released this year. Below is a 50 minute video of the spoiler-free talk/Q&A he gave to a packed crowd before the signing began. Under the video I have included my highlights with timestamps of when in the video they take place. I wish the video quality was better, but unfortunately my video camera charger was misplaced in the move and I had to rely on my cell phone.

1:50 – His 1996 A Game of Thrones signing ignored due in part to Ray Bradbury
(3:55 on stays zoomed in)
10:00 – When will the next book be out? “It is somewhat disturbing for me to take six years to write these things and you read it in a day.”
11:24 – his progress toward Winds of Winter
11:57 – 4th Dunk and Egg Novella and A World of Ice and Fire
13:17 – What does he think of the Game of Thrones TV show?
16:00 – “Nothing can replace the book and the scale of things in the imagination in the reader where you have no budget and you have no limitations.”
19:25 – “I would like to do it in seven books. I’m trying to do it in seven books.”
22:35 –

“My philosophy is that fiction is not about necessarily advancing the plot. I mean, If all that concerns you is the plot, then you don’t need to read Moby Dick, you can just read the Cliff Notes of Moby Dick and you’ll get the plot… and you know, that’s true for my work as well. What I’m trying to do is give my readers a vicarious experience: to create a world, to create a cast of characters, to make them feel  ten years after they put this book down, not that they read a book ten years ago, but they lived these experiences ten years ago. And this, you know, kind of arises from my own experiences as a reader, as a child and all that, when I look back growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, when I remember reading the Lord of the Rings…”

25:00 – “My advice to a would-be writer after I’ve written Dance is: don’t try to write something so gigantic! You know, this is obviously my Magnum Opus. If my work is remembered at all in the years and decades to come, it will be for this series. That being said, when I finish the series, and I do intend to finish this series, I’m never going to do it again. I think I’m going to go back to writing short stories, little stand alone novels… This is a once in a lifetime kind of challenge that I’ve taken on.”
30:00 – GRRM talks his way around a potential A Dance With Dragons spoiler, discusses gay characters in the series.
32:35 – “I’m trying to represent the whole humanity in all its colors, and to make each one of those varied within the group.”
33:38 – Cameo in HBO series
48:40 – Inn At The Crossroads blog presents GRRM dinner, talk of a potential Cookbook of Ice and Fire.

I had a chance to ask George R. R. Martin if the opening direwolf pup scene in the show was anything like the way he originally imagined it when he conceived the book series. He told me that with the time and budget restrictions of TV, they couldn’t put in all the dialogue and everything, and that to make the scene the same, they would have had to spend at least ten minutes on it. My impression was that he felt a bit disappointed by the filmed version of the scene and it didn’t have as prominent of a role in the show, but that he was very happy with the show overall, so he didn’t want to be too negative about it.
For more Game of Thrones-related pictures from previous events in New York City, visit my Facebook Fan Page.

UPDATE: This post was originally going to include pictures of what I got signed, but it got late last night and I forgot.

 My Kindle the morning of the event, unsuspecting of what would happen to it.

They announced that you could get your eReader signed if you had an electronic copy of the book, so I thought it might be fun to have GRRM sign my Kindle.

There's the lovely cover page, hand-signed by the very hand that brought the story into the world. Triserao commented that it looks like the signature belongs there.
The Barnes and Noble in Union Square.

Anne Groell, GRRM's editor's post about the event. "B&N clocked the crowd at 1,800 strong... They said it was one of the best author signings they had ever hosted–in large part due to the general froodiness of all the fans. So thanks for being such a stand-up bunch, you guys! You did us all proud."

The AP story about the event. "Fans stand and cheer for fantasy writer George R.R. Martin."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Pt. 6 Franz Kafka – Quartered Onionskin Paper] & Conclusion

There’s an episode fairly late in Kafka’s life, September 1917 to April 1918, when his tuberculosis manifested and he took sick leave from his office job to rest in the countryside at his sister’s rural house in Zurau. While staying there, Kafka began to write The Castle (one of my favorite novels) and he also composed a tiny book that no one saw until after he died. We now know that book as The Zurau Aphorisms (although Max Brod called it Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope, and the True Way, which caused Robert Calasso in his afterward to write that Brod “could lend a touch of kitsch to anything.”), a collection of short writings that fall somewhere between philosophy and poetry.

Evidently Kafka needed each of his aphorisms to have a page of its own, and he accomplished this by taking thin, pale sheets of onionskin paper and cutting them into fours. Kafka’s original collection has no title, and he kept these small pages loose, but numbered each of them. His small writings vary in length and topic. 93, for example, is simply, “No psychology ever again!” And while Kafka kept this piece of writing with the others, he crossed it out (A handful of them were crossed out and Michael Hofmann puts an asterisk after the entries that Kafka had put a line though). In contrast to 93, 104 is a five paragraph discourse of Kafka’s varying beliefs on free will: “…this is the triple nature of free will, but being simultaneous, it is also single, and is in fact so utterly singe that it has no room for a will at all, whether free or unfree.” I enjoy reflecting on the content of his aphorisms, but I also like knowing the physical way in which they were created. I was unable to find any images of the originals online (or in any of the Kafka books I’ve seen), so if anyone comes across some, please feel free to share.

The End... For Now

This takes us to the end of this series for now, although if I come across more tales in this vein, I may have the urge to run a second series. However, before I go, I thought it might be fun to share what I’ve been using to write my own fiction recently - although perhaps more fun for me than for you.

The artwork on the small one is by Marumiyan and the larger one is by Jeremy Jarvis.

During my daily travels I carry a small notebook and a pen in my pocket at all times (this has the unfortunate side effect of leading to inkstained pants) so that I can write down any passing idea or outline in the moment it comes to me, and it can also lead to me writing complete stories or excerpts of novels I am working in the small notebook. 
I also have a standard size composition notebook that I will use if I have it, which is more comfortable for writing down complete reflections on events or first drafts of short stories. 
Both of these notebooks only have a few blank pages left in them, so I’ll be moving onto this nice new matching set that my girlfriend gave me for Valentine’s Day. I think I would like to include some sort of decoration on the cover of each, although I haven’t thought of what yet.
As mentioned earlier, I tend to write my novels in GoogleDocs, which is usually done on my netbook computer. You may have noticed that the covers of both my new and old larger-sized notebooks are blue. Well, the first one is blue by serendipity, but the second one continues the trend of being blue for a specific reason – there have been some amazing works written in blue notebooks. We were just talking about Kafka, and one of the collections of his writing that is available is called The Blue Octavo Notebooks because they were originally written in, well, blue octavo notebooks. The story that is often considered Daniil Kharms’ magnum opus is simply titled, “Blue Notebook #10” because it was the tenth entry in his blue notebook. These are the two that make me smile whenever I see a blue notebook, but I hear there are others, as Nathaniel Otting of HTMLGiant adds to this list Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Benson's Blue Book, Gass' On Being Blue, and Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks (an album that features readings from Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks along with readings from Czeslaw Milosz).

The Ugly Duckling Presse edition of Kharms' Blue Notebook

So you’ve considered the physical processes and materials that others have used to write, but how about yourself? I’d love to hear what everyone out there utilizes to facilitate their own writing. Are computers the most common these days? Do you use special word-processing programs to keep yourself focused, or maybe the best way to write a first draft is a good old fashioned pen and paper? Maybe you don’t want to get personal, but you know the process of a famous writer that I’ve missed and you’d be willing to share it with us. Thanks for reading and I'd be happy to see feedback if you have it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Pt. 5: James Joyce & Jorge Luis Borges – Writing With Eye Trouble]

I have the impression that the most iconic images of James Joyce are those in which he's wearing an eye-patch, and the reason he’s wearing it is because he suffered from eye problems his entire life (iritis, conjunctivitis, glaucoma, episcleritis, synechia, and cataracts), which became worse as he got older. During the time he was living in Zurich he had to undergo several operations on his eyes, and for years he was almost completely blind. People close to the author and his works at the time have related stories about he coped with this. Joyce (of course) wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of his writing, so he took to writing with a red crayon on massive sheets of white paper. I haven’t seen any facsimiles of these manuscripts, but I like knowing that he was able to continue his writing in this fashion.

[This is only my creation of what I imagine some of Joyce's manuscripts may have looked like. Reading Joyce makes me think that I have an idea of the sorts of wordplay that must be going on when I’m reading someone like Witold Gombrowicz in translation and the translator says that the jokes in certain passages are untranslatable.]

In correspondence with his patron Harriet Weaver, Joyce wrote, "In spite of my eye attack I got on with another passage by using a charcoil pencil (fusain) which broke every three minutes and a large sheet of paper. I have now covered various large sheets in a handwriting resembling that of the late Napoleon Bonaparte when irritated by reverses." Some reports say that he was using charcoal on sheets of butcher’s paper. By his own words, it sounds like it was quite a struggle – not nearly as convenient as if he could have just written with a normal pen or typed it up.


Another great writer who went blind later in his life was Jorge Luis Borges. I love the passage in his short story “The Other” when the older Borges explains what it is like to go blind to his younger counterpart:

“When you reach my age, you’ll have almost totally lost your eye-sight. You’ll be able to see the color yellow, and light and shadow. But don’t worry. Gradual blindness is not tragic. It’s like the slowly growing darkness of a summer evening.”

That always resonates with me as a beautiful metaphor for losing one’s eyesight - something that people usually think of as anything but beautiful. I don’t know much about how Borges managed his reading and writing as he lost his eyesight, but he did have people who would assist him, including his mother who lived to be 99. It sounded to me like he would dictate what he wanted to write and manage to continue his literary work in this fashion. If anyone out there reading this has more to input about Joyce or Borges' writing habits, I'd appreciate the input!

I'll be back on June 5th with the final entry in this series.

P.S. In case you didn't hear about it, James Joyce was in the news recently in a story involving a synthetic cell's DNA and copyright law: "James Joyce's Words Come to Life and are Promptly Desecrated."

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Pt. 4: Jonathan Franzen – Destroy the Internet]

In a recent post I wrote, “I tend to type my novels directly into GoogleDocs so that they are constantly backed up on Google’s servers” and I realized that my writing process being so entwined with the internet is the exact opposite of Jonathan Franzen’s, who wrote (in his top ten rules for writing), “It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” The Time Magazine article “Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist” details how he must be absolutely free of distractions when he writes, so he rented an empty office where he can work alone. That workspace on its own wasn’t distraction-free enough – he had to cleanse his computer too – so he uses an old Dell laptop that doesn't have a WIFI card, doesn't have any games or other distractions installed, and he literally destroyed his Ethernet port so that he wouldn’t be tempted to connect online. As he explains in the article: 
“What you have to do is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it."

I’m in no position to judge his idea of the correlation between internet access and the quality of fiction writing because A) I’m too biased against my own appreciation for having internet access and B) I’ve barely read anything by Franzen. One day when I was killing some time at the Borders in the Garden State Plaza I picked up his book How To Be Alone and read a few of the essays in it, which I found quite fascinating. Then I left the Borders without having bought anything for my time spent there, and recently that very Borders went out of business (this makes my mind swirl with thoughts about the underlying themes I’m crafting in my novel The Bookstore Hobos as well as of the nature of capitalism). I also have a hardcover copy of his novel The Corrections on my bookshelf that I bought used at Brier Rose Books, but it’s way back in line behind a bunch of other books I’m going to read. I imagine his comments about the internet reflect what works for him, and I think that’s very cool. It reminds me of something Woody Allen said, “For instance, take someone like Kafka. He couldn't stand any noise. It was a very delicate muse that he had. There are other people like Fellini who thrive in chaos. There's nothing delicate about it at all.”

Another interesting thing Franzen did to facilitate writing his latest novel, Freedom, involved chewing tobacco. The Time article mentions some of the difficulties Franzen had working on his latest novel (he threw out an entire year’s worth of writing at one point) and then touches on the grief that he went through after his friend and fellow writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide (another writer I’m not very familiar with. I’ve only read his essay “Laughing With Kafka” and all I’ve heard about Infinite Jest is that it’s very long). From Lev Grossman’s article:

“Wallace was a big tobacco chewer … the morning after Wallace's memorial service in New York City, Franzen did something he'd never done before: he walked into a bodega and bought some chewing tobacco. Then he went to his office, closed the door, put a plug in his mouth and started chewing. It was so revolting, he almost threw up. But he kept chewing. Then he started writing, and he didn't stop. He finished the first draft of Freedom on Dec. 17, 2009, a little more than a year later.”

I wonder if chewing tobacco in memory of his friend became part of his writing ritual. At the end of the article Grossman mentions that he’s still chewing it.

You're reading this, so it's time to admit it: You’ve been one–a bookstore hobo. Lingering too long among shelves of books. Sitting between the aisles reading a book you know you don’t have the money to buy, and thinking to yourself, “Oh, if I could only stay here forever.” So why don't you read my novella The Bookstore Hobos? Published in the Eunoia Review, The Bookstore Hobos is the story of Zaid, who tries to live in a bookstore when he finds himself unemployed. His adventures will take him to New York City, where he must attempt to apply what he's read to the real world.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Pt. 3: Neal Stephenson - Fountain Pen and Malfunctioning Typewriter]

Neal Stephenson started out writing on a typewriter, but when he began work on The Baroque Cycle, he decided to write the whole thing with a fountain pen. In an interview for Quicksilver, Stephenson said, “I’ve written every word of it so far with fountain pen on paper. Part of the theory was that it would make me less long-winded, but it hasn’t actually worked.” The plan didn’t seem to have worked out at all, as I believe the complete Baroque Cycle turned out to be his longest work yet:

I’m currently reading books 4 and 5 (con-fused together) of the 8 books that stack of paper was eventually turned into. (Image courtesy
That’s the complete manuscript, created only using a fountain pen as he’d intended at the outset. The paperback version is about 2600 pages, but I'm sure the handwritten one takes up even more.

It would seem that writing with a pen worked out better than when he used a typewriter – at least better than when he used a typewriter to write his first novel The Big U. During a keynote speech in 2003, Stephenson told the story of how his first novel was created. He had written up an outline, character biographies, and a few sample chapters, which he sent out to a bunch of editors. One of them replied back with interest, requesting that Stephenson send along the entire novel. Stephenson was excited, but quickly realized there was a problem – he hadn’t written the novel yet. He was working a standard full-time job, so he used all his vacation days - and including the 4th of July - that gave him 10 days to write the novel.

He rented a typewriter and got to work, but he was faced with yet another problem: the typewriter had a plastic ribbon and it was melting and getting stuck in the summer heat of Iowa City. The only way to keep the ribbon from sticking was to keep it in constant motion, which meant typing nonstop. As Ehud Lamm explains, it “did wonders for his productivity.” With speed that may have been even quicker than Kerouac’s, Stephenson was able to finish the novel and send it off to the editor, who said that his publishing house couldn’t print it. Nevertheless, Stephenson found an agent and another publisher who did publish the novel. I have no idea how much he edited the manuscript between that first draft and what was eventually printed, and I haven’t read The Big U myself, but I do know that Stephenson doesn’t really like it anymore, and for years it wasn’t in print. This changed when he realized that the scarcity was causing the used copies to be sold at very high prices, so now anyone can hop over to Amazon and get it new for $11.24 or used for a penny plus shipping.

UPDATE - May 2nd, 2011: Logan Cale on Reddit taught me something cool about Stephenson's manuscript for The Baroque Cycle: "It's pretty awesome, the Baroque Cycle manuscript is (or was at one point) on display at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, along with all the ink bottles and cartridges he consumed while writing it, and what appears to be his blotting paper."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Pt. 2: William Gibson – Hemingway’s Typewriter]

This picture made me realize William Gibson and I share the same birthday
Hemingway and his typewriter

In my abandoned, unfinished novel RPGs Aren’t Censored, a character says, “The cyberpunk future was created on Hemingway’s typewriter,” which is a direct allusion to William Gibson. Speaking of Neuromancer and the other books in his Sprawl trilogy in an interview with Playboy, he said, “The typewriter that I actually wrote that stuff on was a Hermes 2000, which is like a very Ernest Hemingway sort of war-correspondent-for-the-Spanish-Civil-War machine, from my wife's step-grandfather who was a journalist. I still have it, but it doesn't work. I was hunting around to find somebody who could fix the machine when this little mechanical part finally broke and they no longer made that part. So I eventually gave up on it and got an Apple II. One of the guys in the typewriter store said, ‘Well, I can order you one of those. They still make it. It's exactly the same machine, it just has a different case or a molding around the mechanism.’ But he said it would cost more than a computer.” Just because the words in the novel evoke images of a bleak future where technology has penetrated into all aspects of human life and people access cyberspace with gloves and goggles, doesn’t mean that the words had to be created using any type of technology other than the human mind, but it felt like an unexpected contrast to me since typewriters seem antiquated in my mind. At the same time, it sounds cool because I have a romanticized idea of writing with a typewriter, having never used one myself. That’s why I think this iPad hack looks like it’d be fun to lug into a café:

However, as it turns out, Gibson may have had a fantastic vision of the future and the ability to share that vision with others through his words, but he certainly wasn’t living in the future. On his blog he explained that it wasn’t antiquated at all for him to use a typewriter at the time:

“As anyone knows who's ever looked at any bio notes on me, Neuromancer was written on a typewriter. This is often presented as evidence of weird lotek eccentricity on my part, but in 1981 I didn't know anyone who wrote on a computer. All the hotshit professionals had the IBM Selectric, which turned out to be the endpoint of typewriter evolution.”

I'm not sure if Gibson switched to writing on computers at any point (it sounds like he did when that part broke), but he certainly uses them now as he has a large online presence. He kept that blog a while back, and he currently runs an excellent Twitter account @GreatDismal. One of the projects he was recently involved with on Twitter was the #Quakebook, which was created using Twitter posts from the terrible earthquake that struck Japan on 3/11/11. In an interview for the project, Gibson called Tokyo, “one of the capitals of my imagination,” and said about his contribution for the book, “[it’s] this strange meditation on the profound restlessness I was feeling after the quake and the tsunami, which made me feel I should go there, I should do something. I don’t even know if it was an urge to help. It was an urge to make sure one of my favourite places was there.” The book is for a great cause, all proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Physical Writing Process [Part 1: Jack Kerouac – Typewritten Scrolls]

Whenever I encounter tales of the way writers physically sit down to write one of their books, I’m always fascinated. I like to imagine what the setting might have been like and what sort of instrument they actually used to get the ideas and images out of the mind and onto the page. I know that it probably has little bearing on the finished product of their writing, but I still find it fun to imagine what it might have been like when these works of art were created. I picture Franz Kafka in a small room, waking up at night to write after having worked in the office all day and then taken a nap after he came home. As he sits at the wooden desk, what sort of pen does he grab? Does he have loose sheets of paper? A blue notebook? Or picture Sartre in a Paris café. Are people engaging him in so many philosophical dialogues that it’s a wonder he manages to write anything? Does he have a tattered notebook he’s been slowly filling up with a blue pen day by day?

[Jack Kerouac – Typewritten Scrolls]

One of the strongest examples of these types of tales is the story of how Jack Kerouac sat down to write On The Road. It’s a tale that’s become more of a myth or a legend over the years, but it’s definitely true that Jack did sit down in an apartment and write as nonstop as he could manage to compose his first draft in only a few weeks. Jack wanted the quick pace and intense speed of his cross-country journeys to be infused into his novel, and he thought one way to do this was to write it in the same intense fashion. Living at a time when typewriters were the preferred tool of writers, he naturally chose one for his work, but he devised a plan to avoid the drag of needing to stop and load a new page at frequent intervals. He taped rolls of paper into a massive scroll that would continually feed through the typewriter so that he could write at the same frantic pace as Neal Cassady speeding across America. Not only did he create a classic novel and a legend surrounding it, but that actual artifact: a massive physical scroll with the unfiltered draft of his most popular novel. I like to imagine what it would be like to hold that scroll and roll though it. I missed the scroll’s tour across America back in 2009, but maybe I’ll see it some other time.

Of course, the scroll’s travels these 60ish years later aren’t nearly as fascinating to me as their original journeys in Jack’s backpack. If you remember Allen Ginsberg’s dedication to Jack at the front of “Howl and Other Poems” (back when Jack was virtually unknown), Jack had written a whole bunch of books on scrolls that he couldn’t get published, and he tended to carry them all in his backpack as he hitchhiked all over the place. There’s a scene in Desolation Angels that is particularly troubling to me: Jack falls asleep on a bus, and when he wakes up, he realizes his backpack is gone – a backpack containing three of his scroll-novels. They could be lost forever! He’d never be able to rewrite them quite the same way, if at all, and there are no copies of them. He’s so upset that he starts to cry. Fortunately, it was just some sort of mix-up and the bag was shipped to his destination. This episode particularly resonates with me because I am always paranoid about losing my work. I tend to type my novels directly into GoogleDocs so that they are constantly backed up on Google’s servers because I like the idea of it being infinitely multiplied through the vast network of cyberspace. Living in the past when there would only be one copy that could be lost or destroyed at any moment sounds very scary to me. At the same time, it’s probably relatively rare that a physical document becomes lost or destroyed, and my paranoia of losing my work originates from a time in college when my computer’s hard drive was completely erased and I lost a few short stories forever. Viewed in this light, perhaps it’s living in this future that is scary.
Before we move on, let’s just remember that Jack wasn’t only into typing his writing. He starts off his list of writing essentials advocating the use of “scribbled secret notebooks.”

Upcoming Posts

I'm going to be posting multiple entries in this series over the next few weeks, so check back to read about more authors and their techniques (the authors are chosen based on my own semi-arbitrary reasons with no real chronological or thematic order).