Advice for writing

good procedure for writing features: research interviews draft least boring scene draft “what is it” section draft bad analysis section structure poorly draft context section fix structure write last scene write through fix analysis make sentences nice add jokes write through


with few exceptions, this is the best structure: 1. fun lede, often in-scene 2. who/what/where/when section + a too-concise why 3. scene that teases basic tensions of the why 4. context section 5. scene that shows context in action 6. 30,000 foot analysis 7. zingy closing scene

via Jamie Lauren Keiles


re: Kathy Acker

Well, a comma’s a breath, and a sentence is a thought, and a paragraph is an emotion… You’re always working the paragraph against the sentence.” – Kathy Acker

McKenzie Wark reflecting on her legacy for The Brooklyn Rail, explains “She wrote for the radical, queer, trans, precarious reader to come. If books are dolls we put ourselves to bed with, this is the doll for those who want to cut and glue their Barbies into monsters. Books made by remaking other books.

William Gibson w Ken Goldberg, at JCCSF

Back in 2012 William Gibson sat down to chat with Ken Goldberg, craigslist Distinguished Professor of New Media, UC Berkeley.

I recently watched and Tweeted these quotes;


Also, love how he explains why his last three (at his time) novels “are science-fiction”?

They are set in “speculative novels of very recent past…they are…made out of the stuff of science fiction…picture’s of our world made out of the stuff of science fiction“…

Back in August, Business Insider published a fairly extensive interview with him.

Recent readings; as of 10/29/2016

It feels like it had been a long while (more than a year) since I had really read my way through some books. Partly, a result of among other things; a move across country, a new job, a new home. Also, much of my “reading time” is lately, generally spent trying to get through my backlog of Sunday NYTs.

That being said, following the first home purchase, we had boxes of unpacked books lying around and in process of unpacking, I made my way through a few. Was a nice change of pace and really enjoyed all three.

Unusually for me (at least in historical terms) I read most of these books in bed. Only ever works for me, when I have 3 or more pillows to prop myself up. Which is mostly C’s territory.

  • ‘Winter in the Blood’ by James Welch

Had Amazoned this a few years ago. Though it had just been moved around since. Sometimes the timing just needs to be right. Also, I think I was able to commit to reading it, because it could be a novella. It is barely 138 pages.

Feels very grounded in place. Indigenous but not “Indian”. Or rather not primitive or tribal. A sort of prarie-land magical realism. Was interested to learn that it had been made into a film released in 2013. Based on the trailer seems promising.

  • ‘The Man Who Lost His Shadow’ by Fathy Ghanem

The first work of Egyptian fiction, I have read (as far as I can recall). Of the three the longest book, though not more than double the number of pages, perhaps.

Three almost auto-biographical stories, presented in toto. Of two women and their relation, a man. Modern, simple and noteworthy.

  • ‘The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler

Always been a fan of noir. Was good to finally read one of the originals. Picked up used at a vintage store. One thing that I learned and was surprised by; the word “gat” is used more than once to refer to a handgun. For some reason I thought this had a more recent vintage.

re: writing about sex – 2

Austin based author Bill Cotter in an interview with Scott Cheshire Paris Review.

“Make it fun!” This is good theory in general, and, I think, especially important when it comes to writing sex. Sex, the act itself, when viewed without eros, is very silly business, what with all that snuffling and shuddering and pinguid gymnastic theater. It doesn’t look like much fun at all. It is the job of the writer to make it fun on the page, and the only way I know to do this is to subtract sentimentality and add humor. Tease the characters a bit, distract them with jolts and surprises, juxtapose them with highly unerotic fixtures, assign them curious peccadilloes that impede or amplify performance, maybe throw in a shockingly graphic detail or two, to keep the readers on their toes. Make it fun!

re: writing about sex – 1

Recently the New York Times Sunday Book Review, asked a group of novelists, memoirists and poets to share thoughts/tips re: what novels first inspired them, what nouns they strive to avoid and who they think writes sex best. I have gathered a few of the more notable quotes below.

Toni Bentley – referenced the “filthy, uncensored fantasies froth forth in Nancy Friday’s collections…unconsidered desire slices swiftly to the core of lust, and with their — our — trailer-trash orgies of incest, bestiality, rape, pedophilia, domination and submission, whoredom and heterosexual lesbianism” and went on to argue “Wrong is hot, and great writing, by definition, can just never be quite wrong enough“.

Edmund White – looked to Henri Bergson and suggested “Most sex is funny, if we accept Henri Bergson’s definition of humor, the failure of the body to perform up to the sprit’s standards, or the resistance of the material world to the will’s impulses“. He then pointed out a common mistake “Don’t confine the sexiness to sex scenes“.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – shared her preferences “Clumsiness and fluids interest me. Vague waves of passion do not. And plain language never fails. I am wary of excessive or obscuring metaphor. partly because it suggests a kind of shame“. She ended with a line that, in reality is (IMHO) a recipe for good sex IRLI like sex scenes that choose instead to be honest and open“.

Full article here

Interview(s) with Quentin Tarantino

In light of the recently released film Django Unchained Charles McGrath sat down for a conversation with Mr. Tarantino published last Sunday in NYT as Quentin’s World.

I have been a longtime fan of Mr. Tarantino’s work but never really read up on his background or his oeuvre, other than the occasional review.

It was probably for that reason more than any other that a couple of facts/passages from the piece really stood out.

First, that Mr. Tarantino was a middle-school dropout who educated himself on films by working at a video store. He explains “In a weird way my working at the video store, a minimum-wage job with a bunch of other people working a minimum wage job, all of us around the same age, hanging out together — that’s kind of what you get when you go to college, along with the education“.

Then there was this nugget regarding his screen-writing process and the importance of music.

I’ve got a huge record collection, and I have a record room off of my bedroom. It looks just like a used-record store, with record posters and bins of records broken down into genres. That’s a big part of my think tank. When I’m getting ready to write a new movie, or thinking of the story and starting to zero in on it, I’ll go in the record room and start trying to find music for the movie — other soundtracks, songs, whatever. When I do find a couple of pieces, that’s two or three steps closer to actually being a movie. Now who knows if those three songs will end up being in the finished movie? But it gets me a little further along.

Finally in a discussion about the re-occurrence throughout his films of a singular theme, of performance, of the “idea of acting or performing” he notes “Probably the one recurring line in all my movies is when at some point somebody says to somebody else, ‘We gotta stay in character’.” This running theme is also I think at least one of the reasons why his films always feel like there is a breaking of the fourth-wall, a knowingness and sense of referentiality, whether to a certain genre or film history at large.

On a related note over at The Root (a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today’s news from a variety of black perspectives) Henry Louis Gates Jr. editor-in-chief, published a three part interview with Quentin Tarantino; PT 1, PT 2, PT 3 in which he labels the film “a postmodern, slave-narrative Western“. In the first part, Mr. Tarantino explains how Django Unchained was a reaction to or deconstruction of The Birth of a Nation. In the second, Mr. Tarantino responds to those who criticize his heavy use of the n-word, in Django Unchained and his other films. In the third, Tarantino explains Django’s character arc and why his film isn’t your typical “white savior” story.

José Castillo, Kenneth Goldsmith and Peter Eisenman

I haven’t read BOMB Magazine in awhile. The other day I had a chance to do some browsing through their archives and came across interviews with the three men.

In BOMB 94/Winter 2006, Carlos Brillembourg and architect José Castillo discussed the changing ecology of the city and how a new “urbanisms of the informal” is changing conceptions of urban planning.

Informal is a deliberately ambiguous term. In my description of the phenomenon of urbanization as it relates to Mexico City, I address a three-tiered definition of the word: First, it incorporates the notion of the casual; second, it refers to the condition of lacking precise form; and finally, it relates to the realm outside what is prescribed. I use the term urbanisms of the informal to explain the practices (social, economic, architectural and urban) and the forms (physical and spatial) that a group of stake holders (dwellers, developers, planners, landowners and the state) undertake not only to obtain access to land and housing, but also to satisfy their need to engage in urban life. These practices are characterized by tactical and incremental decisions, by a complex interaction among players and a distinct set of spatial strategies that produce a progressive urban space and reconfigured hierarchies.

In BOMB 117/Fall 2011, Marcus Boon and Kenneth Goldsmith (founder of UbuWeb) discussed appropriation, the relationship between avant-garde and the populist, or high and low culture, poetics and conceptual writing.

KG If the tools are there, it’d be insane for writers not to use them. Yet there’s huge swaths of MFA-produced literary fiction that act like such tools and ideas don’t exist. Somebody recently said about Jonathan Franzen that he is the ‘greatest novelist . . . of the 1950s.’ (laughter) We’re at this moment of great possibility and experimentation because of the tools that are sitting on our own desktop, yet many prefer to still act like ‘original geniuses’ instead of ‘unoriginal geniuses,’ a term Marjorie Perloff recently coined…Had someone emailed me an entire text file of the day’s newspaper, it would have been fine with me to republish that as a book. But again, I think we spend so much of our time moving information from one place to another—copying, cutting, pasting, cc’ing, downloading, backing up, etcetera—that I begin to see that as a form of writing.

Additionally, in BOMB 117/Fall 2011, Carlos Brillembourg and Peter Eisenman discussed autonomous architecture within the context of Eisenman’s “the index,” a formal system which triggers a geometric progression with the goal being disaggregation.

PE Trying to define the difference between architectural and sculptural site-specific projects became important in my work. Literally and metaphorically the work began to dig into the ground at the same time as I was digging into the ground of my unconscious. My Cities of Artificial Excavation project developed from this. Ever since, my project—whether the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, or the City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, Spain—has posited a different modernist idea of abstraction, a different kind of autonomy, and a different idea of ground.

Furthermore, reviewing one of his own more recent works, The City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Eisenman argues that “Before, my work was indexical; it’s no longer indexical. That’s why there are these stuttering, fractured surfaces that we didn’t have before“.