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2009 October | Craig Nova: The Writing Life

Out Takes

October 29, 2009 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 11 Comments

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A writer will often cut a lot out of a book before it is published and will then keep these pieces of fiction, these out takes, around for one reason or another.   Mostly, I think a writer does this because it’s just too hard to throw away what you’ve put so much work into.

Anyway, when I was writing a book called Trombone, I had included a three hundred page section, in the middle, about one of the characters, Ray, who makes a trip to South America.

I always was intrigued by one chapter of this out take, which is a description of an airplane crash in a jungle, and so I thought I would include the chapter here.

The characters are Ray, a young man who wants to prove himself, Wofsey and Schlage, two men of dubious history and desires, and Hawkins, a pilot who has brought his DeHaviland float plane to South America to make some money.

Here’s the crash (or download as a PDF):

Hawkins started the engine of the DeHaviland when the bells were tolling for Uncle Goat’s funeral.  Ray sat on the back seat with Wofsey, and Schlage was in front, on the right hand side.  Each of them had brought a small overnight bag, all of which were under the seats along with the shotguns, which they had bought the night before.  Continue reading Out Takes…

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The Freedom To Speak

October 12, 2009 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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The defense of unpopular and even offensive speech is a difficult task. This is so because people who defend such speech are accused of agreeing with offensive statements and stupid ideas, when, in fact, they are doing nothing of the sort.

The defense of free speech is never about the substance of what is said. Rather, it is about the right to say it. In the imprecision and fury of modern political debate, these two items, substance and rights, are often and willfully confused. Once the discussion of free speech becomes an argument about what has been said, it is no longer a defense of the right to speak freely but a sort of upside down censorship, since if you have to defend the substance of hateful remarks, you have long since abandoned the right to say them.

I’d like to think that the value to speak freely is obvious, but in the current age, when so much of the political debate is about symbols rather than substance, freedom of speech needs to be invoked not only as a traditional and obvious good, but a practical one, too. For instance, in the Soviet era, writers were required to produce what is known as socialist realism, that is their work was supposed to enhance the glories of the communist state. Other notions were thoroughly if not violently suppressed (just think, for an instant, of the Gulag).

Writers do many things, but one of them is to act as the eyes of a society, and when they are forbidden to say what they see and what they feel, the society in which they live flies blind. Under these circumstances, it is only a matter of time until that mountain, concealed in the dark, gives the passengers in the plane a very nasty surprise. The collapse of the Soviet Union is Exhibit A in this example.

Or, as Ortega Y Gasset once said, “Reality has its own structure.”

You can’t change it by telling people they can’t mention it. And, it doesn’t do anyone any good if people are forbidden to try to describe it, even when they are patently wrong. In the fury of the moment, accuracy may seem inflammatory, and if the recent past is any indication, the possibility of confusing what is true with what is simply disliked is pretty good. The only solution is to let everyone speak.

And then there is another practical effect of the suppression of speech. Most writers will tell you, if they are honest, that when they sit down to write, they are exceedingly careful about what they say. For instance, a novelist will think twice about the gender and race of his characters, and if, for instance, he has the impulse to describe a character who is a member of group that has been the object of discrimination, and this character is in some ways flawed, the novelist knows he will be suspected of ugly thoughts and dubious motives. It may be, however, that his experience has been that a particular member of a group, someone he was close to, behaved in an unseemly way, and since this is the source of inspiration, he will want to use it. But the voice there in the isolation of the room where he works will say, “Are you sure you want to say that? Just think of the trouble you are letting yourself in for.”

The chilling effect of this is obvious. Orwell once observed that there was no good Soviet literature after the revolution because no one felt free to write what he really thought. This chilling effect simply makes the ability to write a good book dry up.

And, of course, the greatest danger of all is that people feel that, in the face of stupid remarks or hateful speech, they are “doing something” and that they are “taking action,” when they try to get someone fired after having said something hateful, but, in fact, repression of ideas you don’t like is not an expression of the beauty of your beliefs, but ugliness disguised as indignation. Ugliness, of course, is action separated from principle. If you believe that freedom of speech only applies to the ideas that you like, you are setting your self up for a nasty surprise. If you abandon the principle that people should be able to speak, even stupidly, one day you may find that the political landscape has changed, and that, after having abandoned the principle of the right to speak, you won’t have it to defend yourself when sometimes tries to silence what you have to say. And so, as a practical matter, freedom of speech is the most self serving of all political rights.

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Ten or Eleven Things I Know About Writing

October 5, 2009 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments

16 Arabian

Number 1

The first thing I’ve learned is that fiction is comprised of a series of elements, that is structure, point of view, character, language, vision, story, and the like. And that each one of these things can be a tool, that is if you are having trouble with a story, it is a good idea to take one of these elements, say point of view, and change it. The way this seems to work is that by making the change it is possible to discover something about the story or characters that you didn’t know before. The change isn’t just a way of trying to get a story to work, but a way of discovering things.

This came about from reading an essay by F. R. Leavis. He says, more or less, that when someone changes the form of a story, from, say, drama to poetry, the author will learn something that was unknown. It seemed to me that if this worked for changing from one form to another, why then it would probably work when you changed one element, that is, point of view or structure and the like.

For instance, let’s say you are writing a story about a man and a woman who are having breakfast. They are also breaking up. But it doesn’t work. So, the first thing would be to change the point of view. If it’s told from the woman’s point of view, change it to the man’s. If that doesn’t work, change it to the point of view of a neighbor who is listening through the wall of the next door apartment and if that doesn’t work, have him tell the story to his girl friend. Or, maybe tell it from the point of view of a burglar who has broken into the apartment where the man and woman are having an argument, and who is hiding in a closet and listening to them.

Anyway, the idea here is to say that each element of fiction, character, structure, language etc isn’t so much just a word, or a critical notion, but a tool. Almost every aspect of writing a piece of fiction is adjustable, and it is this possibility that makes for really good writing. Continue reading Ten or Eleven Things I Know About Writing…

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