"Send me a new one, will you? While we're at it, make a green one."

(Overheard some time ago and written for safekeeping on an index card, authentically distressed with a coffee stain.)

Exercise: what's the rest of this conversation? Write it now.

May 4, 2005 in blockbusters, if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0)


Not Being a Prodigy can be a Good Thing

"...Precocity is not maturity, and may in fact impede maturity."

— Joyce Carol Oates,
in a review of Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Journals,

New York Times Book Review, Nov. 5, 2000.

June 23, 2003 in if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Thought Foxes

Somewhat like what is true with the names "Aurora D." and "Hit Those Keys", the notion of a "thought fox" is a layered one. In the plural, it's the title of one of my works-in-progress, a YA novel that is showing signs of wanting to also be a critical essay and perhaps an e-narrative, as well.

I also use "thought fox" more generically, to refer to a certain kind of writing which is difficult to find a name for. I mean by it a writing that summons something into being through words. There's an incantatory quality to this, and more than a bit of sleight of hand. It is the sort of writing that is unsearchable by conventional means: Shelley Powers' RDF poetry finder would be very handy for locating more examples.

The original "thought fox" is a construct in a Ted Hughes poem:

The Thought Fox

I imagine this midnight’s moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now,

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, and eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

—Ted Hughes,
from The Hawk in the Rain


Do you see what happens here? A piece of writing that does that is a thought fox. At least, I name it so.

May 22, 2003 in if in doubt, quote, influences, practical theories, work in progress | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


More on Genres

If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody’s mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.

—Lillian Hellman,
answering critics’ complaints
that her plots were melodramatic,
recalled on her death, June 30, 1984.

May 21, 2003 in if in doubt, quote, practical theories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


One for the Copy Book

People are sometimes surprised that I actually do keep copy books. Today I felt I had to dig out this passage from Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings:

When I was young enough to still spend a long time buttoning my shoes in the morning, I'd listen towards the hall: Daddy upstairs was shaving in the bathroom and Mother downstairs was frying the bacon. They would begin whistling back and forth to each other up and down the stairwell. My father would whistle his phrase, my mother would try to whistle, then hum hers back. It was their duet. I drew my buttonhook in and out and listened to it — I knew it was 'The Merry Widow.' The difference was, their song almost floated with laughter: how different from the record, which growled from the beginning, as if the Victrola were only slowly being wound up. They kept it running between them, up and down the stairs where I was now just about ready to run clattering down and show them my shoes.

— Eudora Welty


I've copied this before. I covet it, just like as a child I coveted those chalk sidewalk landscapes in Mary Poppins that the characters were able to jump into. Welty's writing here carries the reader up and down those stairs along with the tune, and by the end its me running down the stairs. Those are my shoes.

May 3, 2003 in blockbusters, if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Three from Frank O'Connor

A group of us have been talking at length in my newsgroup about the structural make-up of scenes. We're wrestling with finding a common terminology — should we use Bickham's "scene" and "sequel," with it's goal-conflict-disaster formula, or something else? I'm a bit partial to set-up-revelation-conflict-aftermath, but this may be splitting hairs. In any event, I'm reminded of this bit from Frank O'Connor:

There are three necessary elements in a story--exposition, development, and drama.

Exposition we may illustrate as "John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X"; development as "One day Mrs. Fortescue told him she was about to leave him for another man"; and drama as "'You will do nothing of the kind,' he said."

—Frank O'Connor,

from The Lonely Voice: a study of the Short Story

April 26, 2003 in if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


If in Doubt, Quote

"Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again."


Postscript: Best of the Comments

--from Pete
I like it. The quote. My favourite is: "A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist."

March 29, 2003 in if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0)