March 24th, 2011 | guest informant
Literally just got this in email from novelist and comics writer Charlie Huston, who’s having some technical issues over at his place. Am delighted to run it here. Did I mention that SLEEPLESS is one of my favourite novels of the last year or two? Probably. Charlie Huston, folks:
So I wrote another piece for the Mulholland Books website.
Some random thoughts that had been swirling around my head immediately following Hosni Mubarak’s abdication from power in Egypt and that country’s military taking the reins of governance.
What I wrote is HERE.
Obviously a lot has changed in the ensuing weeks. So much has changed that as the post date for this little piece approached, I was considering writing a brief addendum. Not to correct errors in my thinking/projections, but to reflect on the speed of change in cases of revolution. As of a few days ago, spending thought bubbles on the irony of Egypt’s military seeming to be a marked improvement over Mubarak’s regime was a singular waste of fifteen minutes. Both the complexion and inner nature of Middle Eastern protest movements having undergone radical change.
The phrase seems positively quaint.
Updated lexicons favor "revolution" or "civil war."
As a case study for generalization, my little brain fart appeared years out of date after a span of weeks.
Both items to be filed under Same As It Ever Was.
Also emphasizing, to me, the speed of change.
In about three weeks, my little piece on revolution has gone from feeling, to myself in any case, relevant, to being utterly behind the curve of event, to having event go round the curve and circle back and make the piece relevant again.
And all without even nodding in the direction of Japan.
Keeping up is no longer the issue. The question now is whether it is more efficient to run as fast as you can in an effort to keep the gap between yourself and the rate of change as narrow as possible, or to stand still and hope that you get lapped on a regular basis, gleaning what you can each time the present/future whips by scattering loose debris in its wake.
This matters to me because I’m trying to write about today. A fictional version of today that is still recognizably today. A task that is complicated by the fact that I’m trying to accomplish it in the context of a novel. A form that does not traditionally lend itself to speed.
From when I finish a clean first draft of this thing I can expect a year to pass before publication. In that time I’ll have opportunities to update, correct, and amend some of the content, but it is inevitable that passages and scenes that felt of the moment when they were written will have become hopelessly bedraggled and irrelevant while type was being set.
Research in this climate of change is…constant. Relentless.
The question is the same: Try to keep up, or remain stationary?
Try to be utterly of the moment, or take a stab at timelessness?
Which boils down to: Incorporate actual current events, or fictionalize the whole world in a way that suggests the feeling of living in a era of constant crisis?
These are existential question for a writer.
I just wrote that and I did not mean it to be taken ironically. It may be the most sincere thing I have ever stated about writing. So sincere that it makes me uncomfortable enough that I need to comment on it. Because I’m a writer, not a philosopher or a thinking. A storyteller, I.
But there it is.
Lady or the tiger, whichever device you chose to employ in your story, they change the fabric of everything.
Write about the factual NOW in fiction, or fictionalize the NOW to create an honest sense of what it’s like to be alive? It doesn’t get more brass tacks than that.
So I wrote another piece for Mulholland Books. Filler for my new publisher’s website. Loose thoughts cobbled into vague order. And it has been transmuted by the passage of events into a case study applicable to a novel I’m writing. And a way of thinking about writing it. And, because I am a storyteller, a way for me to think about how I’m living.
How it feels.
How the future feels to me.
It feels like living all the time with a hand grenade, and the pin is out.
And I don’t know how long the fuse is.
Throw it and hope there isn’t time for anyone to throw it back at you?
Or hold on for another second more?
A second more.