Friday, January 06, 2006

SAMUEL DELANY'S ABOUT WRITING



Samuel R. Delany's About Writing: 7 Essays, 4 Letters, and 5 Interviews, out soon from Wesleyan University Press, is just brilliant. It features a few reprints from books like The Jewel Hinged Jaw, but mostly collects previously uncollected nonfiction about writing. The letters, which I thought would be slight turn out to be one of the best things about the book--insightful, focused, and consistently fascinating. The interviews are sometimes a little long, a little too detail oriented, but still wonderful to read. And the essays are, of course, magnificent. I love that when Delany talks about even the most basic details of writing, it resonates with me in a way that makes me see certain technique and approaches in a totally new light. On top of all that, it's a well-edited and thought-out book, and I'll be blogging about it in depth later in the year.

(Evil Monkey: "What about those other two books you were going to blog about?" Jeff: "Which two?" Evil Monkey: "Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More by Kate Wilhelm, about Clarion and, well, writing. And then there's that Tiptree Award anthology from Tachyon Press." Jeff: "Hmm. Yes. I have both of those." Evil Monkey: "Well. Should I read them? Are they good?" Jeff: "Define good." Evil Monkey: "Not bad." Jeff: "Then they're not bad...hey, what the fuck?!? Let go of me." Evil Monkey: "I'm going to keep you in this headlock until you say something meaningful about those two books." Jeff: "I don't want to say anything about either book. Let me the hell go!" Evil Monkey: "Not until you spill your guts...I've got all day." Jeff: "Stupid bastard." Evil Monkey: "I'm waiting..." Jeff: "All right, all right! Geez. I can't breathe. Let me up and I'll talk." Evil Monkey: "Okay...now talk." Jeff: "You're a bastard, you know? You really are." Evil Monkey: "Stay on topic." Jeff: "Right. Here goes. The Wilhelm is a mess. Some interesting anecdotes, some boring ones. A real hodgepodge. A rare misstep from a publisher I usually love. And nothing like the wisdom Wilhelm imparts in person at Clarion. So, it's not bad, but it's underwhelming." Evil Monkey: "And the Tiptree?" Jeff: "Look, we should all support the Tiptree, dammit. Can't we just end this discussion now?" Evil Monkey: Need another demonstration of how I can kick your ass?" Jeff: "Fine. The Tiptree anthology looks like it was edited by Jackson Pollock flinging paint across a canvas. The introductions to stories are amateurish and inconsistent. The story selection is arbitrary and seems as likely to have been done by throwing darts at a dart board as anything else. There are good stories in the collection, but from the perspective of a well-edited book, it's a mess. Shoddy." Evil Monkey: "So...I shouldn't buy them?" Jeff: "No, actually, you should buy both of them, but you'll have to do your own editing. They're both for worthy causes." Evil Monkey: "See, now just how difficult was that?" Jeff: "Actually, to be honest, I feel a lot better now..." Evil Monkey: "Down to the pub for a beer?" Jeff: "Sure. And I think that headlock cleared up my stiff neck." Evil Monkey: "I'm always there for you, Jeff.")

11 Comments:

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Mike said...

Amen. Overall, About Writing is unsurprisingly great, but I too was very impressed by the quality of the letters...usually my least favorite portions of books like these. I particularly like "Letter to P--."

Keep in mind for when your own writing memoir/manual comes out! :-)

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous PaulJessup said...

If I ever have a memoire, it will be an anti-writing book called "Fuck Writing: ten ways to never get anything written"

Most of it will be blank pages. Or pictures of puppies.

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Spencer said...

I'm looking forward to ABOUT WRITING, since I'm a big fan of Delany. And I agree about STORYTELLER: The advice it gave was pretty basic and the book as a whole was a hodgepodge.

By the way, have you gotten the check for THE TROIKA yet?

 
At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Tim Pratt said...

I'm in total agreement about the Wilhelm and Tiptree books. I wanted to love them both... but just couldn't.

I've only dipped into the Delaney so far, but those letters are amazing.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Patrick Nielsen Hayden said...

I will never stop being amazed at how people can type "Delaney" in all caps directly above a gigantic image of a book cover on which his name is (correctly) spelled "Delany."

There's got to be something neurological about the way the eye reads his particular surname. Something like the famous "PARIS IN THE THE SPRING" illusion. Because his is by far the most commonly misspelled name in science fiction, even by people who aren't usually bad spellers.

 
At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shit. I can't believe I did that. Well, actually, I can, because I'm only a so-so speller. I already cleaned up calling "Wilhelm" "Wilheim" so I hope everyone will forgive me if I make the correction to "Delaney". LOL.

Thanks, Patrick.

JeffV

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

I'm very much looking forward to the Delany, and it's definitely on my wishlist. I just ordered Storyteller, not so much for writing advice, but for the anecdotes and to support Gavin and Kelly. So maybe I won't consider it a waste of money.

 
At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we're picking on Jeff...

You mention that About Writing is "out soon." I believe it's out now...I picked up my copy at a local Borders.

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger JeffV said...

Yep, you're right. At first I couldn't find an Amazon listing because he's listed under Samuel Delaney, Samuel Delany, Samuel R. Delany, etc., and also I couldn't find the book listed on the publisher site. So put it down to my poor internet skills. LOL!

JeffV

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger JeffV said...

Jason:

Re the anecdotes--I think someone other than Wilhelm who taught Clarion might be better with those. Or she's just too polite to relate some of the really funny ones.

The stupidest one from our Clarion was that Dale Bailey (I think it was Dale), Luke O'Grady, Jeff Martel, and myself got in a canoe during a storm and paddled upriver at East Lansing. That was fine, but on the way back, the river had swelled so much and the current was so fast that we rammed into some logs or something in the middle of the river and overturned the canoe. I pretty much sank like a stone, lost one shoe, and I'm pretty sure that the only reason I didn't get swept away is that Luke was a champion swimmer--the legend is that he was an alternate on the Canadian Olympic team--because as I was going down for the third time, he pulled me out. I think he helped the others out too.

Of course, it was awhile ago, so I may be magnifying it, but it was pretty intense nonetheless.

And I think it may have been my fault we steered into the damn logs.

JeffV

 
At 5:49 PM, Blogger Michael Canfield said...

Spelling: this trick works. Just remember there are no e's in Samuel Delany. Of course there are, really, but it seems to work anyway.

 

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