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if you were him you'd be home now

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 16
Aug
2016

Send in the Clowns

What Max Reckons I was thinking about how unfair it is that reality has evil right-wing corporate overlords named the Koch Brothers while if I wrote that in a novel people would call me shallow and juvenile. I mean, it would be true. But also unfair. You’re supposed to have more creative license in fiction, not less. Then there’s Trump, who does things on a daily basis that no satirical character could get away with. It makes you wonder where there is left to go.

But then people have been complaining that satire is dead forever. Satire has died a thousand times, apparently, at the hands of JFK, George W. Bush, in fact probably every US President since about 1960. Before then I’m not sure. But I imagine a long line of despairing intellectuals stretching back through the centuries.

So it’s probably just a failure of imagination. We have a set of societal standards, and when someone veers close to the line, we can satirize them by portraying what it would be like if they crossed right on over. Oh, you think taxes should be lower? WHAT IF THERE WERE NONE AT ALL. That kind of thing.

But when someone does cross the line, and stays there, like Trump, it’s a problem. It feels like there’s no way to satirize it because the only step farther is pure ridiculousness. Still, on reflection, I think you have to consider that the line has moved. It moves a little every year, in one direction or another, and this time it’s moving very pro-clown. Many US Presidents have been a little clownish—Reagan, Clinton, George W.—and in fact now I think about it, more Presidents than also-rans. It has been an asset to be clownish. No wonder we wound up here. But my point is that it’s probably fair to imagine a very clownish President in the future, and elections contested between clowns.

This time, crossing the line hurts Trump. And that does indeed put him beyond satire, as well as making him unelectable*. But he also moves the line, and nothing is as shocking the second time, so the next clown will seem more reasonable. The next clown will be more reasonable, having observed the hits and misses of Trump. They will keep all the goofy style over substance and just pare off the awkward Hitler parallels. So get ready for that. Maybe not next election. You wouldn’t run a second clown against Hillary if your first clown got obliterated. But after that. I see 2024, two clowns.

* Update (8-Nov-16): Okay, apparently that’s not unelectable. My mistake.

Sun 07
Aug
2016

Abandoning the Book

Writing

I started writing a book and I’m at about 13,000+ words so far two years ago. Then after that I got busy with schoolwork and other stuff and couldn’t go back to it. Now, I revisit it and realize that, well, it’s total crap and that my writing style essentially changed. Now I’ve got to do a major re-edit and I haven’t even finished it yet. Should I abandon it and start writing other things?

Blair

Yep. Definitely. One hundred percent. I know this is the right answer because you said “and start writing other things.” If you had stopped at “should I abandon it” I wouldn’t be sure. I often feel like abandoning a book just because sometimes I can’t figure out how to get everyone from A to B without characters acting like soulless automatons so it’s not feeling at all like it did in my head and everything sucks and why am I even doing this. But that’s just writing.

I also often re-read the start of a draft I’m only part-way through and decide it’s terrible, because back then I had no idea what I was doing, so now everything feels a little off. Or a lot off. This is why it’s actually a bad idea to re-read a draft-in-progress. You ideally want to save that inevitable disappointing discovery until you have a complete manuscript, at which point you’re too invested to walk away. But I can’t help myself.

So getting cheesed off with your book can manifest as one of two feelings. The first is an urgent desire to start fixing it because you know it can be better. That’s good. The second is an urgent desire to throw it in a fire and go do something else. That’s also good if the something else involves writing. Because it’s never a mistake to write something. I honestly think you can find something like 50% of a great book in the first sentence, just because occasionally you stumble across a line that gives you tone and character and world in a way that immediately suggests the next 20,000 words. Starting something new can be a great reminder for me that I’m not not actually a shitty writer, I’m just stuck in a difficult narrative.

Write what you feel. Everything is better, faster, and more fun when you love it. So when it’s a choice between writing something you enjoy and writing something you don’t, that’s easy. Just as long as it’s something.

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