It was good. Kind of weird to be at a mostly-professional convention. Aside from the autograph session, there were no fans in site. Most everyone was pretty much my colleague. And it did, to some extent, do what it said on the label: I talked with people about agent stuff and book deal stuff and all kinds of stuff that’s a little bit beyond “What are editors looking for” and “How can I make my story jump out of the slush pile.” It was also much less awkward than I normally feel at a convention. Still a little awkward, but, you know. I imagine that once I’ve gone to three or four more of these, I’ll feel even more tapped-in. Or maybe I’ll be totally over it =)
Archive for the ‘Other’ Category
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on May 18, 2013
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on May 12, 2013
Well, I got here! I am exhausted. But I also had a really exhilarating five day drive. I got a lot of great thinking done. Whenever I drive cross-country, people always tell me to take it easy and maybe see something along the way (or they tell me to try to do it in three days, which is just insane). But I don’t know how people do that. I always get so zoned into the highway that stopping feels out of the question. The closest I came to a sight-seeing stop on this trip was taking fifteen minutes, at a highway rest stop, to stand on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Falts (they were awesome–you’re basically standing on a sea of death. There are dessicated insects all over the top of it).
The thinking that I do while driving is utterly unlike any of the thinking that I do in the rest of my life. I think maybe it’s because driving is utterly unlike anything else I do. It’s basically sitting down for eight hours and staring straight ahead. But you can’t fully zone out because you need to maintain the minimal concentration needed to avoid hitting something. It’s a bit like the thinking that I do when walking, I guess, but I never walk for a whole day.
Anyway, I thought about my life and all kinds of other things (like the edits that I want to make to This Beautiful Fever). But mostly my life. Good times.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on May 10, 2013
I wrote Monday’s post last Thursday, so I’ve gone a week without thinking about this blog. Err…so…I am spending the summer in Berkeley. And I decided to drive there. I’m surprised no one has questioned this decision: it was obviously extremely cost-ineffective. Flying would’ve been substantially cheaper. And you don’t really need a car to live in Berkeley.
The truth is, I just really like to drive. And I like driving across the country the best. This is my fourth time going between SF and DC. I’ve now done (/slash am doing) it by all four major routes: I-10/I-20, I-40, I-90, and (now) I-80. I guess there’s also I-70, but whatever.
When I drive across country, I don’t really _do_ anything. Sometimes I stop and visit a friend, but I actually don’t have very many friends who live between the coasts. And when I’m on the highway, I get way too zoned-in to want to stop and drive.
I do my best thinking while driving. I can never go on a trip of longer than 500 miles without having some kind of epiphanic moment. However, my last two cross-country trips were marred by these horrible headaches that I developed halfway through, which turned the rest of the trip into an endurance test. This time, I’ve been wearing my contacts and a pair of sunglasses (one of my recent epiphanic moments was realizing that sunglasses actually have a purpose outside merely looking cool), and the headache has remained at bay.
Some solid thinking has been done and is being done. Also, some useful thinking. I just got back some notes on This Beautiful Fever from my agents (really, really good notes) and I’ve been slowly plotting out the changes I’m going to make. I think the major thing writing-related insight I’ve had this year is that at some point you need to rigorously interrogate your own text and ask all the questions that you avoided while writing it: What does this character want? Why does this event happen? How did this custom arise? Why don’t they use this technology to solve that problem?
It’s difficult and annoying work, but the result opens up startling new possibilities.
Err, well…at least I hope it does.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on March 29, 2013
Nowadays, I start writing a lot of stories before I find the one that I actually want to carry through and finish. It’s kind of an illness, actually. I’ll flesh out entire stories, with characters and settings and interesting voices and neat premises, but there’ll be one element missing (usually the ending) and I’ll think about it for awhile and realize, “Ehh, this doesn’t really interest me.”
I’ll know that, if I wanted to, I could push through and finish the thing, but what would be the point? I’m not entirely sure that this is a beneficial development. It certainly hampers my productivity. A year or two ago, I definitely would’ve finished most of these stories, and maybe some of them would’ve turned out great!
Also, there’s a fair amount of despair involved in the process. When you’re operated off a hazy internal sense like, “Am I interested in writing this?” it’s like you’re praying to this unfathomable god that communicates to you in these very obscure symbols. When I am in the depths of a search for a new story, I sometimes start to wonder if there’s any story that I am really interested in writing.
To date, I’ve always come up out of that agony with a story that interests me, but it might not always happen. I would like to see, sometime, what would happen if I pushed through and wrote one of the other stories. I think there is some value in pushing through. Early in my career, I wasn’t nearly as in touch with my sense of inspiration, and I did a lot of pushing through, and I think it helped me to get through some troubled times.
But there’s also another danger in my method. At some point during my story-formulation process, I reach the rollover point. That is the place where I’ve locked down enough pieces of the story that I start to get the sense that “Oh, alright. I’m going to finish this one.” Sometimes the rollover point comes when I have a few thousand words on the page. But more and more often, it times it comes when I only have 700. Sometimes the rollover point is a false sense, but it generally seems to be pretty accurate (it’s actually something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since generally the only thing stopping me from completing a story is a lack of desire, on my part, to complete it).
Anyway, reaching the rollover point is such a delicious sense of relief that I often pause at its precipice for several days and do no work on the story. It’s just so great to have a story locked down. So much so that I feel like I should take this moment to handle other things in my life: things that are not nearly as locked down.
This doesn’t seem healthy. I’ve found, in both my writing and my personal life, that any mildly negative habit which initially seems harmless eventually becomes a crutch and an impediment to future development.
Someday, I am going to have to break my enjoyment of the rollover point.
But that day is not today.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on March 23, 2013
Writing about the conceptual breakthroughs I’ve had as a writer seems a bit pointless, since they’re not really the sort of insights that another person can take and use. I think this is the problem with writing advice. For the person who gives it, it’s always very true and deeply felt. But for the hearer, it’s just words. The advice is a verbal tag that’s given to a set of behaviors and thinking patterns that can be summoned by the tag, but not described by it.
Most of my conceptual breakthroughs have been really simple. In 2011, I realized that I needed to start doing a lot more rewriting if I was going to eliminate some of the bagginess and silliness in my stories. Then, last year, I realized that voice was one of the most important elements of a story, and that if the voice was missing, the story wasn’t ever going to be particularly readable.
And lately, I’ve realized that I need to interrogate my stories a bit more deeply and start trying to think harder about the choices I am making and about how everything fits together. Usually, I am content to work out everything on an intuitive level. But there does come a time at which intuition can no longer be allowed to run amok.
With my latest story, I’ve started jotting down questions that I have about the story: “Why is the character doing this?”, “What are the characters talking about in this scene?”, etc. And then I just think about the answers to these questions. When I wake up and shower and walk around outside, I think about the answers to these questions. Eventually, an answer comes to me, and then I think about that answer. It’s a very halting, grinding process, since each answer brings up more questions. And whenever one part of the story gets built, then all the weight shifts and falls upon another part. The temptation, for me, is to always proceed and build up the strongest and most well-realized part of the story and, thus, to deflect attention away from the weaker parts.
But with this story, I am forcing myself to work on the weaker parts before I address the stronger parts. I think that if I can figure out what is happening in the weaker parts—in the backstory, in the setting, in the motivations—then the stronger parts will be richer and more confident.
Of course, it’s just a supposition at this point, since the story is far from being completed. It’s entirely possible that I will abandon it entirely. It’s astonishing how far I’ve gotten on so many stories before eventually abandoning them.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on January 30, 2013
I’ve been in kind of a bad mood lately (one that, thankfully, seems to have at least temporarily abated), and it was that kind of mood where I both really wanted to read something—television really held no appeal for me—but was also disgusted by everything that I tried to read. I must’ve read the first pages of at least three dozen books. Especially Graham Greene novels. I kept thinking that I wanted to read Graham Greene, only to discover that I really did not want to be reading Graham Greene. I guess what I really wanted was to be able to go back in time and read The Power And The Glory for the first time. Anyway, the books I did end up reading were fascinating to me—they’re about as different, in terms of comfort reading, as one can imagine. And, yet, they all had their consolations.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – A few days ago, I and a bunch of the MFA peeps were talking about Nick Hornby in the context of chicklit. He’s the perfect example of an author who would be thrown into the chick-lit ghetto if he was a woman. However, since he’s a man, he can write fluffy, slangy books about youngish people who live in urban environments and have aspirational jobs and relationship troubles. And it’s okay, because it’s literature (another example: J.D. Salinger). Anyway, I’m not one to ignore an author just because he’s the beneficiary of a sexist literary establishment (after all, I want to benefit from that establishment myself someday). I quite enjoyed this novel. I’d seen the movie previously (it’s about a record store owner whose girlfriend breaks up with him because he is immature…alright, I know…that’s pretty much what all male coming-of-age stories are about…) But the novel has some nuances that were absent from the book. For instance, even after they get back together, the main character’s relationship with his girlfriend remains a bit limp and sad. The whole novel was surprisingly sad, actually. The main character has a very empty, friendless life. And it doesn’t feel like much is ever going to fill it up. The book was easy to read and made me feel a lot better.
The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee – I really didn’t want to read this book. It was the absolute opposite of what I thought comfort-reading should be. It’s a very quiet, very spare, very beautifully-written account of a somewhat-stupid man who takes his mother out into the war-wracked countryside (so she can go back to the farm where she grew up). But I read the first page. And then I read the second page. And then I kept reading pages. And before I knew it I was like a tenth of the way into the book. I kept feeling like I shouldn’t be reading it. This was not what I wanted at the moment at all! But I couldn’t stop. It had a weird immersive quality to it. I didn’t quite enjoy it, not in the same way that I enjoyed the humorous situations in high fidelity. It was more like…it created its own world: a very quiet and a very still world. It wasn’t necessarily the world that I wanted to be, but it was such a novel experience to be in this other place that I couldn’t stop reading. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I feel like every time I read a Coetzee novel, I close it and think, “That was amazing” and then have no desire to read another one. He’s someone who lies in wait, quietly, until I need him.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin – It’s weird to read a classic horror novel, because the novel doesn’t know that it’s a classic. It doesn’t know that even nine year olds know the twist. It thinks it’s revving up for a SHOCKING ending. Both of Ira Levin’s classic novels, Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, have this issue to some extent. It’s not possible to read these novels with a blank mind: to read them is, basically, to reread them. But re-reading Rosemary’s Baby is really fun! It’s interesting to see the subtle ways in which the men in Levin’s novels are horrible. I mean, the women are never perfect. In fact, one gets the impression that they’re no better, morally, than the men. Rosemary is petty and a schemer and for much of the beginning of the novel she lies to her husband about her ovarian cycles because she wants to get pregnant (even though he is not so sanguine about having a child). But…because the women are powerless, you sympathize with them. And the men…man…they are horrible. Not all the men. There’s usually a kindly older gent somewhere. But most of the men…my god. It is fascinating to see the simple and subtle ways that they gaslight and manipulate Rosemary. I don’t know why this one made me feel better, but it really did.
Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee — I’ve actually had this one for a long time. It is undoubtedly one of the weirder novels I’ve ever read. It’s a collection of essays and speeches that were originally written by Coetzee. Most of them were separately published by non-fiction. But, in this novel, they’re put into the mouth of a tired old writer, Elizabeth Costello, who’s achieved a living legend status somewhat similar to Coetzee’s. She travels around the world, visits relatives and old friend, and delivers speeches on realism and the state of literature and animal rights and love. It is an amazing performance. Once again, I thought this would be the last thing I’d be interested in, but I was completely enraptured. Costello is such a vivid and well-realized character. Her relationships are so complex, and the feelings that people have about her are so delicate. For much of the first part of the book, she’s in the company of her son. And he has such odd, conflicted emotions about her. He realized, late in his life, that his mother was a genius, and, because of that genius, he’s sort of started to forgive her for his childhood. So, yeah, the fiction part is amazing. But what’s really astonishing are the speeches and how they fit in with the fiction. The speeches are, somehow, integral to this book. Each one fleshes out Costello’s character and makes her come alive a little bit more. You get the sense of her playfulness and her integrity and her iconoclasm and her peevishness. And you get some sense of what it means to lead a life of the mind and to put so much of yourself into ideas. It’s really amazing that this novel works at all. The fact that it works well is a tremendous accomplishment.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Crime novels would seem to be perfect for a bad mood, but in the last seven days I’ve actually sampled and discarded a ton of them, including a bunch by my favorites: Cain, Thompson, Willeford, Goodis. For some reason, though, Agatha Christie has held my interest. Her novels are so odd. They have so little personality. The characters don’t really pop. Even the settings are just barely sketched-in. But, somehow, those settings really manage to evoke a hazy, mysterious atmosphere. And her plots are rollercoasters. The amount of stuff that happens is simply incredible. I guess this kind of stripped-down book is good for a bad mood. (I’m not done with this one yet, so don’t spoil it! Unlike w/ Roger Ackroyd, I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in this one!)
Posted in Books, Other | Tagged: agatha christie, bad mood, coetzee, elizabeth costello, high fidelity, ira levin, life and times of michael k, murder on the orient express, nick hornby, rosemary's baby | 2 Comments »
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on December 3, 2012
I am unapologetic in my love of all the yearly roundups that people post on their blogs at around this time of year, and ever since 2010, I’ve conducted my own month-long navel-gazing extravaganza called Wrap-Up Season. Typically, I begin by talking about the books I’ve read in the year. I divide these books into four categories: Predictably Good; Surprisingly Good; Books About Which I Have Mixed Feelings; and BAAAAAAAD (although somehow I never seem to get around to posting about the last category…that sort of thing just doesn’t enthuse me). Then I usually conduct some kind of blog round-up, looking at what kind of stuff I’ve posted in the last year. And finally, around December 20th (the day from which I date the beginning of my writing career), I write about the year’s writing statistics and accomplishments. Then, at the very end of the year, I post some personal stuff.
This year, I’m also thinking about posting a little (in a very nonspecific way) about my slush-reading gig (which is coming to a close), about my first semester of teaching, and about the MFA experience. So, yeah, that’s that. Here are links to my previous Wrap-Up Seasons. I think that this one will be the biggest and most complete of them all!
In other news, I watched The Blind Side yesterday. It was ermazing. And kind of a milestone for me, since it’s the first movie that I’ve completed in well over a year (I think the last time I watched a whole movie was when my brother and father and I made a family outing to Santa Barbara last Thanksgiving). Somehow, I’ve just lost the attention span for long-form audiovisual entertainment.
But I’d read the The Blind Side (by Michael Lewis) earlier in the year, and found it to be extremely excellent: one of the finest books I’ve read this year. And I love Sandra Bullock and tear-jerkers and inspirational sports movies. In fact, I love everything about sports (except watching sports games). Watching Sandra Bullock impersonate a gun-toting super Christian millionaire do-gooder was hilarious.
The Blind Side is my favorite kind of movie: the kind with no antagonist. There are no bad people in The Blind Side. There’s very little conflict of any sort, actually. The whole film is just about well-meaning people trying to reach out to this very closed-off young man.
I understand why people see this movie as having weird racial undertones. There is some really weird stuff going on here. For instance, the subject of the film–Michael Oher–is literally silent throughout most of the film. He does not speak. He is mostly ventriloquized by Sandra Bullock’s tough (but empathetic) character. Obviously, this is kind of a problem. Additionally, he’s portrayed as something of a tabula rasa. He’s a Lenny–a huge child (in fact, his deepest connection is with the Bullock character’s 9 year old son)–who is slowly filled up with knowledge and manners and even athletic skills by the savvy people who surround him.
In the book, these elements were not quite as overwhelming, because the primary story of the book was about how a person with little-to-no football experience can suddenly, after just a few high school games, come to be seen, by virtue of his outstanding physicality, as one of the year’s hottest recruiting prospects. That’s not really how it’s supposed to work: big guys are supposed to be a dime-a-dozen; it’s the training and the mental game and the discipline that’re supposed to raise them above the herd. But at least as it’s written in the book, it seems like being really big and really strong and really fast is enough, by itself, for Oher to be really exciting to a whole bunch of coaches.
Anyway, that’s not really what the movie is about. The movie is kind of poverty porn. It’s about how crazy it is that there can be a kid who no one cares about, who doesn’t even have a foster family, who has completely slipped through every crack, and who is completely adrift at age sixteen. Oh yeah, and it’s about exploiting the sheer visual craziness of his adoption by a family of white millionaires.
But…umm…well…it’s kind of impossible to justify this movie.
Still, it was really fun to watch.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on October 25, 2012
In a recent email to a friend of mine, I used some variation of the old proverb, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And I was kind of surprised to find that my friend thought this was an aaaamazing saying! She emailed back to tell me how much she loved it! And then she posted about it on her Facebook wall!
I was like, “Hmm…I mean, it is a pretty great saying, I suppose…wait…what…does she think that I came up with that myself?”
It was only after talking to her later that evening that she was like, “My god, Rahul. You are so clever. That thing that you made up will percolate through the ages.”
Of course this is kind of a humorous story, but I think it illustrates something important. I’ve said and written a lot of witty things, but no words that I have ever produced in my whole life has caused the same kind of instantaneous reaction in another person that this hoary old proverb caused in my friend. She was driven to not only reply to me, but also to go on Facebook and share it with other people.
That’s the power of great writing. I mean, there’s definitely a social aspect to success. If I didn’t have any friends, then nothing I could say would ever achieve any traction. If I didn’t have the confidence to deploy my writing at the right time and place, then no one would ever see anything I wrote. But none of that matters if the content–the writing itself–doesn’t have that power to shock people and affect them in a way that ordinary words don’t.
I think that’s something I often lose sight of in ordinary life, just because I spend so much time: a) criticizing the flaws in great art; and b) being praised for the goodness of my good art. And those are fine things. It’s worthwhile to learn from Dickens’ flaws. And the enjoyment that people get from my stories is real, honest enjoyment. But still, there is something in Dickens that compels me to talk about him all the time. And that thing is, for most people, missing from my own writing.
I’m totally sure that if I actually had created a phrase that was good as “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” then that shit would right now be going viral and getting retweeted and shared all across the internet. Brilliant stuff has its own power. We just don’t recognize that because we are constantly saturated with brilliant stuff.
Although, sometimes brilliant stuff has so much power that it inspires people to create knock-offs that possess some fraction of the potency of the original. And these knock-offs use their borrowed energy to achieve a weak popularity. And then they flood the internet, and although the knock-offs never quite achieve the success of the original, they still manage to get enough hits and views and sales and mentions that we all lose our faith in brilliant stuff and start thinking and saying that any old crap can become successful.
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on September 29, 2012
Winter and spring were very victorious times for me. I sold all kinds of stories and got into all kinds of MFA programs. Triumph is a very short-lived emotion. It feels very good for a day or a week and then it fades as if it never existed. But the point is that feels very good.
Summer was a bit more quiescent, but the lack of triumph was masked by all the angst and agony associated with writing my novel and then abandoning my novel and then writing the other novel and then moving and preparing for the program to start.
But now I feel ready for some more triumph. During odd moments, I find myself casting about for things to apply to or places to submit to. I haven’t fallen back into the trap of checking Duotrope obsessively, but I am uncomfortably aware all the stories that are out at markets for longer than usual. I just feel like I’m in a state of expectancy. I feel like it’s time.
Not for a big triumph, you know. I’m not expecting a novel deal or something. But selling a story? Yes, I do kind of expect that.
This is clearly not an optimal state of affairs, because I’m pretty sure the universe has no idea that I’m due for a triumph. Nor do I want to do anything differently in order to pursue such a triumph. I feel as if my life is fairly well-organized as it is. I’m writing and revising and submitting. Nor is it ever wise to feel like you’re owed some validation by strangers.
Still, the expectancy exists. It is difficult to dispel, and I am not really trying to do so. It’s a fairly pleasant emotion. There’s nothing anxious or obsessive about it, because there’s no element of uncertainty in it. I feel like the triumph is definitely coming…so I can afford to wait for a bit.
Of course, if the triumph is slow to get here, then I’m sure the emotion will mutate into something that I have to deal with. But…that’s a problem for another day (or maybe never?)
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on August 29, 2012