Writer’s Desk: Let the Magic Happen

When graphic novelist Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) was asked by a fan what “happens” to him when he writes, this is in part how he replied:

I know that my consciousness, if I am immersed in writing something demanding, is moved into a completely different state than the one which I inhabit during most of my waking life…

When you descend into this level of our reality, the code of our reality if you like, then whether consciously or not; whether deliberately or not, you are working magic. So, the answer to your question as to what happens to me when I write, is the most banal and useless answer you will ever get from an author: the magic happens…

One of the secrets to writing, it would seem, is to allow yourself to descend into that fugue state and just let the magic work its way through you.

It seems to have worked for Moore.

Nota Bene: Movies About Writers, Why?

From Anthony Lane’s despairing review of the biopic Tolkien:

Why do people keep making films about writers? And why do people watch them? It’s not as if writers do anything of interest. Unless you’re Byron or Stendhal, a successful day is one in which you don’t fall asleep with your head on the space bar. An honest film about a writer would be an inaction-packed six-hour trudge, a one-person epic of mooch and mumblecore, the highlights being an overflowing bath, the reheating of cold coffee, and a pageant of aimless curses that are melted into air, into thin air…

Reader’s Corner: Don’t Give Up

Novelist, poet, and writing professor Chuck Kinder passed away recently. Known in many circles as the inspiration behind Michael Chabon’s glorious novel Wonder Boys (and its highly underrated film adaptation), Kinder sometimes had a hard time finishing things.

Per Shelf Awareness:

Chabon, who studied under him in the 1980s at Pitt and published Wonder Boys in 1995, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001 about Kinder’s role in inspiring the character played by Michael Douglas in Curtis Hanson’s 2000 film adaptation: “I remember peering into his office and seeing this monolithic pile of white paper–the inverse of the monolith from 2001–under his desk lamp. In my memory, it was 4,000 pages long. He was proud of how big a bastard it was…

Kinder eventually wrangled the beast into the quite svelte 360-ish page novel Honeymooners after a mere two decades or so.

Never give up.

Reader’s Corner: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder, are currently bringing their show to thousands of “Murderino” fans around the country. They also have a book publishing at the end of May.

My review of Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered was published in City Pages:

Stay Sexy is a two-handed memoir, with Kilgariff and Hardstark trading off anecdotes and threading them through a survivor’s approach to therapy and how to get by in a world seemingly designed to take advantage of women…

Nota Bene: Joy Division

Last month in the Los Angeles Times, Henry Rollins published a beautiful appreciation of Jon Savage’s brilliant new oral history of Joy Division: This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else. He included this description of the band’s music, which sums it up better than just about anyone else ever has:

Joy Division’s music doesn’t “rock” in the classic sense as much as shudder, roar and convulse. The songs are readings of temperature, light and lack of light. They walk silently for hours on city streets and return alone to small rooms with full ashtrays and no messages on the machine. It’s a fantastically difficult question to answer: Why do you like Joy Division? The more dedicated the listener, the more likely you’ll get an inhaled breath held for a few seconds, an exhale and a shrug…

Now go listen to Closer about 10 times and you will see what Hank means.

Writer’s Desk: Deadlines Can Be Your Friend

Grantland Rice, deadline writer par excellence

James Parker in The Atlantic, reviewing a collection of great sports writers, noted that sometimes being rushed isn’t a bad thing for getting good material:

We’re all on deadline, of course, at all times and in all places. The last judgment, as Kafka pointed out, “is a summary court in perpetual session.” But a print deadline—the galloping clock, the smell of the editor—is a particular concentration of mortal tension. The brain on deadline does whatever it can: It improvises, it compresses, it contrives, it uses the language and the ideas that are at hand. Inspiration comes or it doesn’t. Here the writer is an athlete—performing under pressure and, if he or she is good, delivering on demand.

Writer’s Desk: See and Tell, Don’t Define


Legendary roots record producer T. Bone Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou? among many many others) was on Rick Rubin and Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Broken Record recently. During a sprawling conversation about music, recording, and the genesis of art, Burnett mused on the following:

All really that artists do is, we’re going down a road and we mark things. We say, ‘At this day I was at this place and I saw this thing and it was beautiful. So I’m going to mark this so that maybe you don’t miss it when you’re going by.’ That’s the real journey of an artist.

He also noted:

Once you define a thing, you lose it.

So there you have it. Write about what you see. Describe a beautiful thing so that it is not forgotten.

But whatever you do, don’t try and explain it.