Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The empty man

I just started reading Jonathan Franzen's novel "The Corrections." I haven't finished yet, though the assault upon the Fortress of Franzen promises to be a true blitzkrieg and will surely end speedily, with the tanks of my brain rolling over the defenses and on to the green pastures on the far side, hunting for more tasty words to demolish. I will say this: the book is hilarious and well-written. It is the literary equivalent of romaine lettuce and balsamic vinegar, or whatever it is you like to eat.

The problem is that, as tends to happen when I read something really great, I start thinking how I could do something just the same.

Thus began my ill-fated but well-intentioned attempt to write some literary fiction. I dreamed up a character, some good one-liners, pulled funny experiences and quirks out of my past, and started tapping. Everything started out well, and I felt like a regular Franzen (or whatever). But then it soured, I lost my drive, and nothing became of it except some really absurd babble where I dropped the word metaphysical twice.

I worry what this means. Am I so hollow, so utterly devoid of real experience, that I don't have anything of real literary quality within me? Am I doomed to write about plasma cannons, clockwork airships and dragon-fire-infused bastard swords? I talk a dirty line when it comes to the difference between commercial and literary fiction--usually smearing the latter--but it doesn't change the fact that I thoroughly enjoy literature. Just because you like potato chips doesn't mean you can't like potatoes, too.

But while I can fry thin slices of tuber, I cannot, it seems, till the soil, plant the seeds, and reap the fruit.

I realize potatoes are probably not fruit. Perhaps a botanist will one day inform me. And I realize I am not a word-artist, either. But, on the bright side, I have space battles. I do have those. As a matter of fact, I was recently inspired by Jon Scalzi's story "After the Coup" (read: aroused by awesome battles with aliens that happen to take place in space) and so I revisited an old story idea of mine and wrote a good old fashioned space battle.

Exploding humans, whoopee!



  1. I always end up writing like the last thing I read ...

    I hate the term, but I've been reading little but 'literary' fiction so far this year, and it's definitely changing the way I write. I'd say, keep reading it, and keep experimenting. It doesn't matter so much what the topic is. Why not write space battles and exploding humans in lyrical prose? Form doesn't have to follow function ...

  2. Indeed. As a matter of fact, I pretty much have to renege on the cynicism of this blog post, because I've realized that I can't abandon a half-finished story--whether or not it's any good. I tried working on a fantasy piece that I've been plotting out, but my mind is yet full of that silly character in his mundane world...

    So, it'll get finished after all!



    P.S. And with any luck, I will get to throw in a scene of things exploding in space...