Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for August 22nd, 2018

The puzzle in the picture

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The wonderful thing about a field like [science fiction] is that there is room for lots of different people and approaches…People can write with varying degrees of literary sophistication and find readers enough to support them. I have always attempted to make my own SF accessible to my readers, to work from the familiar and make it easy for anyone who was interested to get into the story. Maybe because of my own background of writing commercial SF for so many years, I have a great deal of respect for good craftsmanship of the sort that commercial writers must develop. The labels you hear so much of—”commercial,” “serious writer,” “mainstream,” “hack,” “New Wave,” “experimental”—are usually very misleading. No matter how “serious” the intentions of authors are, they can’t communicate anything without craftsmanship…

I am opposed, however, to literary tricks that tend towards obscurity or artificial difficulty, though I can see arguments for that kind of approach. My own experience as a teacher of writing confirms my sense that new authors with artistic ambitions may find themselves scorning too many of the old forms and patterns simply because they blindly associate them with hack work. The point is that these patterns and structures form the basic vocabulary through which all SF writers must speak. That’s one reason I’m not completely sympathetic with contemporary writers like Silverberg and Chip Delany and Tom Disch, who are clearly aiming to get themselves recognized as “serious” or mainstream authors. I still feel that in terms of developing a literary reputation, the odds remain with the writer who is writing for the mass audience, the way Shakespeare or Dickens or Dostoyevsky were.

I once listened to an artist from Taos who deliberately painted puzzles into his pictures because he thought that if people would stand and look at them, trying to understand them, he would have a longer time to work on their emotions; whereas, if they understood everything at a glance, they would go on to the next picture. To some extent, the same sort of thing can happen in literature. If you can create the kinds of puzzles that will draw readers into your work rather than making them move on to the next one, this can be a legitimate approach. On the other hand, I’ve always preferred the artist who paints a canvas whose beauty is more or less obvious at first glance—but which keeps drawing you back for another look.

Jack Williamson, in an interview with Larry McCaffery in Science Fiction Studies

Written by nevalalee

August 22, 2018 at 9:18 am

Quote of the Day

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I am a very concentrated person as an artist. I can’t take anything lightly. After I have finished a book I am completely exhausted, and it isn’t at all because I am weak…I can spade a garden and not get tired, but the nervous intensity attendant on writing poetry, on creative writing, exhausts me, and I suffer constantly from a headache…I might as well call it my occupational disease, resign myself to live with it, and forget about it.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, quoted by Nancy Milford in Savage Beauty

Written by nevalalee

August 22, 2018 at 7:30 am

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