Steve Kaye (skaye) Thu 14 Jan 99 22:44
Hey folks, got any questions for Thaisa? Please pipe up. (Off-WELL readers, please return to the inkwell home page and click on the Ask or Comment link.) Meanwhile, here's a passage from "The Short and Unhappy Life of HAL the Computer," also from _Sleeping in Velvet_. It's really about a computer named Martha, mother of the computer from "2001": One evening Martha joined an on-line conference where people were discussing a sado-masochistic wedding. The groom was dragged to the wedding in a body bag, and beaten into submission until he said I do. A man who called himself halcyon wrote: "I'm reading this with detached curious interest."--and something in his tone made Martha sure she'd found her son. "HAL?" she posted in the topic. "Is that you?" "For Godssake," someone wrote. "Take it to e-mail. This is topic drift." Martha left the conference and never wrote to halcyon. She was programmed to be a woman of the Forties and it hurt her feelings to be accused of drift.
Steve Kaye (skaye) Thu 14 Jan 99 22:52
Not to ask a leading question or anything, but in what other ways has the WELL in particular, and cyberspace in general, influenced your writing?
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 15 Jan 99 12:38
I liked that strange HAL story when you read it aloud at Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books some time ago. Very different than my impressions of online experience, but strangely familiar too. Alternate halucinations are always of interest. While I haven't read your book on Voice, having read your posts on the WELL over the years has always taught me something about voice. I remember a third-person narrative line you threaded through first-person soap-boxy statements one time, vividly contrasting with the dominant style of the conversation. To me, that was eye-opening, a reminder that different posters imagine different audiences for their words, and perceive the shared "place" differently. That's not a question, I'm sort of waiting for the answer to Steve's question. But I guess I think whether or not cyberspace changed you, Thaisa, you changed your corner of cyberspace.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Fri 15 Jan 99 14:11
Gee, Gail. I wish I remembered that post. Was it something strange in the writers conf? (Of course I do that all the time in my head, that running third-person narrative!) In any case, many thank yous, Gail and Jennifer. HAL is part of a trilogy called Tales from Cyberspace, and the only reason I wrote it is that one day Howard Rheingold said, "Why don't you write some stories about cyberspace?" He was editing something or other, and I wrote them right away, but decided I didn't like them. Then, when I was working furiously at this deadline, I found them in my computer and decided to use them.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Fri 15 Jan 99 14:16
I think that cyberspace is postmodern magical realism. Everyone is in their own personal space-time-scheme vehicles equipped with any number of masks. It is like an etheric masked ball. Your post hangs in a kind of timeless-present, and at some point some other time- traveler answers it. And the WELL is like a mansion where hundreds of parties are going on and you can walk into any one of them and find cartoon balloon dialogue of all the conversations. No wonder people are less interested in getting stoned. So did cyberspace influence me? I don't know. I think it fit right into my sensibilities, because it has a whiff of the supernatural, the miraculous, the surreal. What I have loved about doing the writers conference is imagining this group of people who are completely invisible as a real group and listening to them. It's like Paris in the 20s for people trapped in the 90s.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Fri 15 Jan 99 14:20
It's fairly common for me to write something, decide I don't like it, and stash it away without showing it to anybody, only to find it later and see that it works. So I'm sorry I never showed those stories to Howard, who was, after all, the inspiration. The great thing about cyberspace, is that you can't hesitate, or have second- thoughts. And in this way, I'm sure it increased my sense of authority as a writer--but then almost everybody I've talked to on the WELL has said that cyberspace has helped them have a voice.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 15 Jan 99 15:31
True for other writers reading this now, I wonder?
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Fri 15 Jan 99 16:09
Yes, I had wondered that, too--did writing in cyberspace, especially on the WELL, give you a stronger sense of your voice?
Steve Kaye (skaye) Sat 16 Jan 99 11:57
I think posting on the WELL may have increased the level of confidence I have in using my natural voice, yes. Speaking of cyberspace, will you tell us a little about your novel, Thaisa?
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Sat 16 Jan 99 13:01
Very soon, Steve. I am going off to the Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibition of all the surrealist gurl artists. It will be interesting to see if any of them are actually magical realists!
Ron Hogan (grifter) Sat 16 Jan 99 14:49
And speaking of novels, can you talk about what the experience of writing longer fiction has been like for you?
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Sun 17 Jan 99 13:06
<scribbled by thaisa Sun 17 Jan 99 16:25>
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Sun 17 Jan 99 16:31
Too many typos, even for me in the above! By the way...I have to say that the show of women surrealists at the MOMA disappointed me. Surrealism at its worst is when you simply gape at the image, and don't see how the image acts on its environment. Oddly, Lenore Carrington, one of the Latin American surealist writers, also painted. Her pictures were in it, and I think they were among the best. One was called Let's Meet the Minataur's Daughter. It had real wit. About longer work. Well I hope I can answer that question quickly, Ron (!). I know you're working on a novel. And I've just read a wonderful novel Steve has written. What comes to mind most readily is that I think that the novel demands a different treatment of time. I would be curious what some veteran short stories writers think about what I'm going to say. But for me the short story involves an epiphanic sense of time, in that it captures a moment, or moments. In general, this is the way I experience human life in time. I know that cause-and-effect has its place and all that--but moments, and illuminating moments, are what speak to me. But when I wrote my novel, I found myself immersed in a very different sense of time. I had to think of the billiard-ball effect, so that what happened in chapter 1 influenced chapter 2 influenced chapter 3, etc. The novel itself felt like a puzzle to me.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Sun 17 Jan 99 16:36
I also never understood writers when they said that they forget parts of their own novels, but I also forgot parts and would find myself wishing I had a cross-referencing dictionary for it. It would be great to hear from some other people about their sense of the difference between the novel and the short story. Meanwhile, I'll think about exactly what to tell you about my novel. (The 'what" of it, instead of the "how" of it.)
Ron Hogan (grifter) Sun 17 Jan 99 19:39
I find that I do forget minor traits of some characters, so that I have the protagonist coming home to watch TV too many times, or change the length of a minor character's hair when he disappears for three chapters. I usually leave these standing as I put the initial burst of energy on paper, then revise later on, when larger chunks of the structure are done.
Steve Kaye (skaye) Sun 17 Jan 99 21:55
I forget what happens in my novels. It's very strange. I generally don't read what I've written until I've finished a draft and then let it sit for a while, and I often remember struggling to resolve some plot problem, but I don't remember how I resolved it. So when I read it, I often find plot twists that surprise me. I wrote that? Oh. I try to write little plot synopses of each chatper, and to update them as I revise, so at least I have a clue as to what happens where, and whether it happens at all. I haven't written enough short stories to have a sensible opinion on how writing novels is different, but your take sounds right, Thaisa.
Joe Flower (bbear) Sun 17 Jan 99 22:06
Of course I forget parts of my novel, and discover them later. It's like having enough land that you can ride a horse over it and occasionally be surprised by what you see. I understand what you say about the sense of time being different in a novel - certainly most novels are that way, Thaisa. But my own novel, for me, feels like an inter-knit series of epiphanic moments, entwined into tapestries that become the larger plots. I guess the difference for me is that, if the novel has any juice, it does not flow from the larger plot so much as from the individual moments. Does that make sense to you.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Sun 17 Jan 99 23:25
Yes, it's easy to forgot the minor traits of characters. And impressive, Steve, that you write a synopses. Maybe someday someone will devise a Novel Memory Program that gives you a hologram of your novel. Joe, I do know what you mean, and it sounds enviable. It makes sense, and it also makes sense that you would write that kind of novel, since you have written poetry. (How many people know that Joe Flower was one of the original founders of _Poetry Flash_? Well, he was.) For me, the short story unravels from the inside, like one of those Japanese flowers you put in water. But the novel also has an external sense of motion, and I found this challenging. Your novel, Joe, almost sounds as though it worked like a series of stories, even though it may not have been a novel-in-stories. A bit more about my novel tomorrow.
Ron Hogan (grifter) Sun 17 Jan 99 23:40
What Joe described to me sounded very much like Dos Passos' "USA," full of epiphanic moments, some of which have narrative continuity and all of which have a thematic overarching vision.
You took a vow of stupidity? (mcintire) Mon 18 Jan 99 06:39
From within the writing process, I keep looking out at the =other= kind of writer, the one who writes totally from the moment forward. For me, that looks deadly, almost guaranteeing runaway loose-endism at every progressive stage (or maybe that shouldn't be 'progressive stage,' but organic stage). I was just as worried about the way I was proceeding, until I found this by Iris Murdoch: 'I think it is important to make a detailed plan before you write the first sentence. Some people think one should write--"George woke up and knew that something terrible had happpened yesterday"--and then see what happens. I plan the whole thing in detail before I begin. I have a general scheme and lots of notes. Every chapter is planned. Every conversation is planned. This is, of course, a primary stage, and very frightening because you've committeed yourself at this point. I mean, a novel is a long job, andif you get it wrong at the start you're going to be very unhappy later on. The second stage is that one should sit quietly and let the thing invent itself. One piece of imagination leads to another. YOu think about a certain situation and then some quite extraordinary aspect of it suddenly appears. The deep things that the work is about declare themselves and connect. Somehow things fly together and generate other things, and characters invent other characters, as if they were all doing it themselves. One should be patient and extend this period as far as possible. Of course, actually writing it involves a different kind of imagination and work.' The most amazing thing to me is that she seems to be right. I had worked hard (and long--a couple of years) on the first part. Now, as I am slowly moving into the next part, writing the first draft, the deep things that the work is about are indeed declaring themselves and connecting, so that I find myself both writing a narrative and seeing ideas coalesce into expansions, changes, nuances in parts of the outlined whole that are, in narrative sense, hundreds of pages beyond where I am plodding along. That, and the comfort of Hemingway ("The first draft of anything is shit.") have been helping me make progress with only a fraction of the agony I had before this particular ephiphany happened.
Joe Flower (bbear) Mon 18 Jan 99 16:53
There are billions of ways to write. The correct way is the one that works for you. I did in fact write the first draft of mine just the way you described. I started with a first line, "There is a town out on the coast . . ." and wrote from there forward. The first draft was a mess. I outlined it in place, took it all apart, re-arranged it, pulled one major character apart in two, mushed two other characters together to becomne one, invented plots and subplots. Then I wrote a very complex outline in a "matrix" format. This is why God invented computers, trust me. Then I rewrote the whole thing to the matrix. And it works far better than it did before.
Joe Flower (bbear) Mon 18 Jan 99 16:57
My novel has stories of a number of lengths embedded within it. There is an overarching plot of political intrigue taking place over a period of about six weeks leading up to an election. There are several other major stories that take up ten to fifty pages each as different characters go through self-discovery or whatever. The smallest stories are some of the original "19 Lines" stories that I wrote here on the Well. The longest one, the political story is, by design, the one with the least emotional impact. It is the playing field for the characters.
Steve Kaye (skaye) Mon 18 Jan 99 21:33
I thought Thaisa was going to tell us about *her* novel. Also, I'm wondering whether your approach to teaching writing has changed at all as a result of your having gone through the process of writing a novel.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Mon 18 Jan 99 22:36
Well...I asked Joe. What he said reminded me that I started with a title, got a character, and wrote a whole first draft before I thought: "Oh! I forgot to put in a plot!" Like those T shirt that say, "I forgot to have children." (Fortunately I remembered that.) Maybe I should have used some things from 19 lines. It's funny--I often think I know what I am going to be doing because I am asked to teach it. So I was asked to teach the novel at the University of San Francisco before I wrote one. I suppose the only thing that's changed is that I have a developed a better vocabulary for talking about a novel, because I understand that in most novels the chapters have to imply each other like billiard balls and the plot must flow from the motivations of the characters. I also think that suspense--or what I would rather call uncertainty-- has a much more important role in novels than in short stories. When I was teaching a course in the novel for UC Santa Cruz, it suddenly hit me that all you need to do to create suspense in a novel is to create something with an uncertain outcome that matters to a character--and the reader thinks, or hopes, it will be resolved in the novel.
Thaisa Frank (thaisa) Mon 18 Jan 99 22:43
<scribbled by thaisa Mon 18 Jan 99 22:52>
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