Wednesday, February 14, 2007


THE famous equation. Made famous not so much by the enormous press Einstein received and still receives, but by its association with those stunning images of A-bombs and H-bombs, it's the formula of something everybody knows but very few understand.

From E=MC2 we got many of the staple science-fictional gimmicks of the middle 20th century. Time dilation in starships traveling at near light speeds. Radioactive mutations that typically made insects as large as pickup trucks. Atomic-powered everything.

Until the concept of nanotechnology was made popular by Eric Dexler, there was nothing to replace or even compare with the science fictionally magical properties associated with atomic energy 60-ish years ago. The wonder of that era was, I think, based in our fascination with the invisible action at a distance of Ra: radio, radiation, rays. It was almost as if radiation replaced spiritualism in the public's mystical mind. From things that went bump in the night to things that glowed in the dark: vacuum tubes, radium dial wrist watches (the closest to personal atomic appliances we’ve come), television screens. Tesla stacks for the indulgent or adventurous.

It was a different world.

It is curious that the Golden Age continuum of sci-fi ground itself out in post-apocalyptic pessimism by the 70s. Our disillusionment and disappointment by the promise of atomic energy too cheap to merit paying for, atomic rockets that would blast us off to Jupiter, and good-old atomic powered everything from inflatable love dolls to lawnmowers, seemed to express itself in our official Fiction of Wonders.

After awhile, a Holy Trinity replaced the Great God Ra of yore. Cybernetics, quantum mechanics, and molecular engineering (of both DNA and raw matter), replaced those wonderfully spooky ghosts from our machines: invisibility rays, force fields, anti-gravity gizmoes, and huge metallic atomic rockets, even though, ironically, the Holy Trinity was far more likely to provide such capabilities than the Old Testamental Ra.

(neologism for religious right fundamentalist lunacy: testa-mental)

In the beginning was E=MC2. What do it mean, peoples?

Oh, it means all kinds of things, and many of us have read the Relativity for Dummies spectrum of layman level explanations. They mostly don't work. Worst of all, they don't give us the core answer: what does E=MC2 MEAN????????????

We know what it says: Energy equals Mass multiplied by the Speed of Light (186K miles per second) multiplied by the Speed of Light (186K miles per second).

So, the energy of one ounce equals one ounce times the speed of light squared. I still don't feel illuminated. How about you? It doesn't help that explanations provided express this in statements like "enough energy to light ten million light bulbs for 3 weeks!" or "which explains why a pound or two of plutonium can make such a huge explanation!". (Should read 'explosion’ but I like Freudian typos, don't you?)

We still don't know what E=MC2 is saying.

Frustrated by this, I interrogated E=MC2 mercilessly for hours one evening in the early 1980s. I had an epiphany. Like being shot in the forehead by a one-ounce pencil traveling 186Kmps2, or, 43,596,000mps. E=MC2 is a linear equation, and so is a pencil whose mass is completely converted into kinetic energy in a straight line going one way. That's what E=MC2 means, of itself, raw and unadorned by any permutations like dividing both sides of the equation by E or anything like that, the doing of which is how lovely oddities like Lorentzian contractions and time dilations are found, as well as the conclusion that nothing can travel as fast or faster than the speed of light.

Yes, the fact that nothing but light can travel as fast or faster than the speed of light makes it impossible for a one-ounce pencil to smite one's forehead at 43,596,000 mps. Sue me. Before one can 'do the math' that shows why nothing but light can travel as fast or faster than the speed of light, it helps to viscerally intuit what the dang equation MEANS.

That is, if you believe a high school dropout who can scarcely do more than the 1 of Algebra 101. I have offered this explanation to several physics profs and numerous college grads who felt they knew relativity physics enough to speak with authority on the matter. Few of them have comprehended it; the few who did said I was wrong but either a) admitted they couldn't tell me why I was wrong, or b) when they attempted to "correct" me vaulted over my head into arcane verbal reaches of science, none of which addressed or even mentioned poor little E=MC2. I am not exaggerating.

It seems so obvious to me that my explanation by 'pencil analogy' is a) not an analogy, b) bears rigorous fidelity to the terms of the equation, and c) makes perfectly easy sense. It is no more difficult than a 6th grade word problem about driving at x mph from Boston to New Delhi (hey, it's only a word problem not a geography lesson) in y hours thus traveling ? miles. I stand my ground and yield to no one unless they can make even more perfectly easy and sensible sense of this abusively revered equation.

It is as if the physics community believed Einstein's genius sprang forth from his forehead like a pencil retreating like a tachyonic entity from the inconceivably huge explosion it made in his forehead seconds before encountering the impossibility of traveling through Albert's forehead -- or anything, including total vacuum -- at C squared. Or a Zeus goose cleaved by Hephaestus' ex, Athena, or... this is relativity, people. It's supposed to be too confusing for mere mortals to comprehend. Or so it is said.

'Twas a time when mere mortals struggled to comprehend heliocentric planetary motion or the idea that an invisible force, gravity, bound it all together in invisible celestial clockworks. The idea that something thrown could continue indefinitely if not for the weight of the earth pulling it down, only it wasn't weight it was mass, which produced weight by squeezing itself into itself.... the understanding of Newton's Apple required, I suspect, something like the myth of Newton's apple epiphany to cut through the mystic post-Scholastic/Ptolemaic bullshit and make simple sense of gravity to idjits like me and maybe you. 'Twas a time when "an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force or object" was as mysterious a concept to the denizens of those days as time slowing down as we go faster via relativistic time dilation is for us now. None of the objects they experienced seemed to act that way because Nature abhors a vacuum and the world of Terra’s surface is never without some force or object to keep our would-be home runs inside the park. To grasp Newtonian physics one had to imagine both a perfect vacuum, that is, total absence of interfering objects or forces, and then within that vacuum imagine an invisible force called gravity. (One had to imagine some kind of outer space void of air, a concept we grew up with, explained by high-definition color-print textbook images and educational Disney cartoons. We saw humans in silver suits float in outer space during what are absurdly called ‘space-walks’. (A better and certainly more poetic term would be ‘cosmic dip’ or ‘universal swim’.) We grew up in a world that placed no cosmic spheres between us and the cosmos. When John Lennon sang “Imagine there’s no Heaven” he meant in some other science-fictional dimension, not in the sky. We’d already unimagined that much.)

When Einstein began pondering those things that were to become the theory of relativity, he didn’t start with ‘enough light bulbs to illuminate three weeks of ideas’ nor with sophisticated side-effects like time dilation. He started with a simple idea that I will describe crudely (for crude is good): what if light were your car? And your car traveled 186k mph, and that it didn't matter if other cars or buildings or yea, even the very streets thereof (I was raised Mormon and lapse into BoM-speak at odd moments) traveled toward it or away from it at 60 mph or 100k mph, because your car would approach them or depart them at the same speed relative to them irregardless. It just would. And a head-on collision between your car and another car would happen at the same speed whether the other car were headed toward you at 60 mph or 100k mph. It just would. What would that mean?

A very simple, and very absurd, idea. Comic book fodder.

Einstein was a loon. A poetic, violin-playing, day-dreaming loon. Surely no one was more surprised than him when this premise tied the riddles together, when the math balanced out, when subsequent field experiments verified the conclusions.

He didn't START with E=MC2. He CONCLUDED with E=MC2. Because E=MC2 was the simplest, most elementary equation that could embrace the implications of light speed being absolute in relation to all other motion. It was simple, or as physicists say, "Elegant". And so, in its crude, impossible, fantastically explosive way, is a one-ounce pencil of epiphany traveling through the insight of my third eye at 34,596,000 mps.
copyright Robin Morrison

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Iain M. Banks

There exists this gentleman named Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks, depending respectively on whether the name signifies authorship of a book of literary fiction or a book of science fiction. I call him gentleman because I don't know the bloke nor have read any of his books and so feel entitled to thusly insult him.

But I have read a few snatches of his work:

"It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach."

I like it. I think I may have found a soul-mate author.

Literary fiction and science fiction seem increasingly vague distinctions. I recall the days when science fiction decided to become self-consciously literary science fiction; this happened around the time literary fiction decided to attempt to write self-consciously scientific fiction.

Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks have achieved a meaningful distinction through selective use of the middle initial M. His first novel, "The Wasp Factory", was 'literary'. Three years and three more 'literary' novels later, he wrote his first 'science fiction' novel, "Consider Phlebas" (which appears to be the main template for the video game "Halo").

But his first novel, however literary, is exceedingly macabre. It would have fit well into the publisher's guidelines for 40's/50s Amazing/Astounding/Weird/Wondrous pulp magazines. Most science fiction is less scientific than it is speculative and wishfully thought out: wouldn't it be cool if civilizations grew so advanced they could 'Sublimate'? (Sublimation is a concept in Iain M. Banks science fiction whereby what I shall call SADs, or Seriously Advanced Civilizations, transcribe their consciousnesses into Alternate Planes of Reality. I applaud such conceits but would call them hardly scientific but more religious. Insert famous Arthur Clarke quote about nagic and technology here?)

The genre of science fiction itself distinguishes between hard and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction is allegedly more scientific while soft science fiction is allegedly less. The line between the two is most often drawn between sci-fi based on the physical sciences (hard) and sci-fi based on the social sciences (soft).

So currently impossible activities like time travel, faster than light travel, mind-reading through prosthetics/implants/probes are deemed scientifically possible by the canons of sci-fi while experimental social orders, telepathy, religious revolutions are deemed not impossible but less scientifically explicable.

This means that it is scientifically sound, literarily speaking, to verbally depict bioengineered starships that utilize quantum computers to focus intense bursts of energies in ways that turn miniscule wormholes in spacetime into vast doorways through which spaceships the size of the Chrysler building may slip through and thus go from here to Arcturus in a day or three, but to write of a magic sword that slices through any armor isn't -- unless you call it a light sabre.

This may illuminate for us the reasons why so much of the most highly regarded literary fiction of the past several decades has been called 'magical realism'.

Which reminds me of the ongoing quest to find an adequate genre name for genre-transcending fiction that won't sit still long enough to be branded merely 'literary', and the fact that such a quest is inherently self-defeating by premise.

Besides, we the people have always known what to call such literature: kinda weird.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

by your own foolscap

For all our capriciousness, we prefer to do what we're told. We prefer to have some kind of formula, mantra, proven method by which to follow our dreams than the unscripted process of creativity. Love philtres, psychic hotline advice, patented weight loss systems, self-help hypnosis tapes (if I were wealthy, I would indulge and express my wealth by placing a neon sign above my bathroom mirror that glowed "learn to hypnotize yourself" ), and parliamentary politics (campaign contributions as investment funds), all of these allow us to follow some kind of plan. That they mostly don't work is someone else's fault, and who could ask for more from less?

It isn't so much that we are gullible, although we are, but that we'll do almost anything to avoid the trial-by-error randomicity of hacking things out as we go toward a specific end.

For example, in another reality I seriously try to write commercially viable fiction. I do this hamstrung by an above average amount of talent, exquisitely tuned aesthetic sensibilities, an inherent perversity that forces me (or so it feels) to almost always go my own way, and a lack of confidence that usually stops me from going far enough my own way to get to where my own way goes.

Years of noodling away have convinced me that I've got the stuff to become a successful novelist but that conviction alone doesn't supply its own motivation nor does it dispel a lifetime of doubts. I have to trick myself into getting on with the work. Almost every day. I must shame and cajole myself, march determinedly like a lemming under duress to the keypad and the appropriate text file.

Why is it so hard? After all, I love words. It is so hard because the nature of the process is a constant chaotic dance of doubts and ideas. Writing fiction is the concocting of convincing bullshit. It is the distillation of half-cocked ideas over the fire of hopeful doubt. Hopeful doubt. Let that soak into your socks awhile.

One conjures a premise. If one is fanciful and bright, like me, the idea is uncommon, perhaps even unique. But the more uncommon the premise, the more difficult the fulfillment. Junkyard ghosts require more work to attain fictional credibility than attorneys fighting longshot cases for the little guy. One can research real courtroom procedures and legal precedence; junkyard ghosts must be built from the ground up wth no more aid than half-remembered campfire tales and strings of Hollywood spirit cliches.

But one has this Great Idea... so you hack away at the thing, flail thin air until it attains at least a ghostly pallor if not meat and bones. At the end of a productive day, one feels smug, satisfied, cocky. One just created compelling circumstances, even poetic dilemma, and some aspect of a person experiencing the circumstantial dilemma, out of thin air.

But tomorrow you'll have to do it again, often with no more clue than yesterday.

There are days when it seems it would be so much easier to follow My 9 Steps to Financial Independence to, if not financial independence, at least a place where one can place the blame for one's failures on someone else's nine doorsteps. This provides reliable job insecurity, whereas Writing (or Painting, or Photographing, or Composing, or any of an enormous number of entrepreneurial attempts based on following your own ideas) has little to no reliable job insecurity. Some days one can be certain one is doomed except for the nascent novel before one, which is the only shot -- however long -- one has. This certainty of futility can inspire tremendously focused creative effort that leaves one soaring in oneself at day's end, certain that one has the stuff and will surely succeed. But the next morning, soaring or slinking to your desk, the work remains unchanged by one's optimism or pessimism. It still requires that one focus one's mind on what it is one wants but can't properly define any more than judges define pornography: don't know what it is but recognize when I see it. One must flounder with great determination and enough recognizable purpose to move one's dizzy spin in a direction more linear than not. The spiral of activity must not be vicious. The tornado must get from point a to point be without knowing what point B looks like and only half sure it believes it started at point A. (Tornadoes are not vicious spirals, they're merely ferocious.)

A whirling dervish at least has the certainty a) that the god with whom they seek communion is mysteriously beyond them and b) of getting dizzy and collapsing into a satisfied heap.

Writing is so daunting and deluding a process that there are authors who've penned their entire success not on writing books per se but by publishing books on how to to write and successfully publish books.

Sit and Spin Your Way to Success by Rumphole Spinscam. It is one thing to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps, another to pull oneself up by the skin of one's feet. Like a baby playing with its tootsies.It lifts them up a bit. Their little tushie rises off the floor. Elevation. Other days, one crawls. A majestic accomplishment if you're a baby.

Then one day you stand up and walk. Triumph. Maybe even a publisher's deal sufficient to pay one year's mortgage, trusting to providence to supply Ramen and electricity.

But, despite having been born with wings and having finally learned how to stand on one's feet, one isn't likely to become an adult angel any time soon. One remains a cherub, an angel grub.

It is not long after the check is cashed and a few public readings are endured, that one wakes up in the crib again with soggy diapers, not crying or hollering but kind of whimpering between coos, reaching for one's tootsies...
copyright Robin Morrison

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

z'ozzer space brozzers

A human being we shall call Clogges passed away last night. He was my first cybermate. The computer through which I first met him, an ancient 1989 slow-clock-speed "cripple-chip" 486 processor Digital Equipment Corp. model, died with him.

Well, the battery died; I hadn't booted it for weeks. I powered it a minute ago to retrieve some old files that serve as memoirs for Clogges, and it won't come out of its DOS shell.

Clogges called it my "old steam machine". See what happens when you don't properly maintain fire in the boilers? You lose your pilot light.

First star on your left and straight on 'til dawn...

Monday, February 5, 2007

the shameless plug...

...for Steely Dan. And circular jokes of smutty, however literary, not to mention horribly obvious, nature.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

crude wooden hinges

Otto: “Remember those miniature scenes with tiny squirrels and rabbits and crows and badgers -- Wind in the Willows standard assortment variety -- carved by avuncular so-and-so’s as Xmas displays in store windows, or drawn in today’s increasingly virtualized reality as cartoon characters, or, shade of those willows, in fine old books like those of Kenneth Grahame or A.A. Milne, but no matter the fineness of the writing or wood-carving.

"The point is to take a minute and recall, reach down into the bottom debris of the cookie jar, and remember how very very much we, as children, identified with, adored, long to be with, these quaint little creatures, and how gladly we suspended our disbelief in their crude wooden hinges and felt vests and broom straw whiskers.

"Remember the sense of delight in climbing into some wind-up metal airplane of our imagination, strapping ourselves down into the cockpits of our minds, and giving Ratty or Mole the Thumbs Up as we flew off into the vivid blue skies of our own..."

Int: "Yes."

Otto: "THAT’S what a good day of writing should feel like, must feel like, and sometimes does."

Int: "I’m thinking of that story about the rabbits escaping the rabbit farm."

Otto: "Sort of. I mean yes, but, ‘Yes but’. That, being a book for grown-ups, felt it had to -- I see you’re smirking; don’t you believe books have feelings too? Or are those reserved for only their characters as experienced by their readers?"

Int. "Alright. I’ll give you this one."

Otto. "Thank you. On behalf of books everywhere... what was I saying?"

Int: "
Watership Down. Not sure what you were getting after."

Otto: "Oh yes. THAT book was for grown-ups, a children’s book for grown-ups. Its characters were forced by their authorial megalomaniac to deal with grown-up issues -- very grown-up issues. Indeed, grown-up issues too grown up for most grown-ups to handle in real life, or at least real like. They were confronting the placid illusions of their dreadfully exploited lives, and once they’d done that, they had to DO something about it. War. The great escape. The oh so dangerous quest."

Int: "Isn’t that the essential archetype for all good dramatic fiction?"

Otto: "Yes, but only because there is so much damning cruelty in the world, and that cruelty is so damaging to our imaginations. It makes for gripping reading -- books that grip one’s innards like a, a... well. I’m trope-less. Imagine that."

Int: "Imagine that."

Otto: "In real life, oops, I mean, in real writing, one can’t allow that. But since we’re not writing a book but discussing the meaning of fable, we’ll have to let it go and carry on. For now."

Int: "For now."

Otto: "I’m sure something will turn up. Oh, I suppose like some mythological hero chained to some rock while an eagle eats its liver while Our Hero struggles to escape and rescue the damsel in distress. Which is, somewhat digressively, the point. In drama, the reader allows himself to be chained to a writer’s rock -- not block -- and be savaged by some writer’s roc -- R-O-C, no K, the big bird -- because the reader knows he is the damsel in distress: save me from boredom!"

Int. "Well, I’d daresay that’s a bit of an oversimnplification."

Otto: "Yes. Victim of
a passing notion's bias. But, the point is to be entertained, to be entranced somehow. They say a hero is only as interesting as its villain, that a miracle is only as magical as the relative impossibility, but that is only the description of a junkie’s first high fading into the subsequent grey grind of addiction."

Int: "So then, the point really is?"

Otto: "The point is the High. Why does one want to escape the monster? To avoid pain, hideous annihilation. Why does one wish to rescue the damsel? To avoid the pain of knowing she wasn’t saved from pain and hideous annihilation, and what’s more, to save oneself from the pain of knowing YOU didn’t or couldn’t save her, but is avoiding pain ALL we do? Is pleasure merely the absence of pain? Or is it the burble of wonder, of wondrous merriment, of... I sound like W.B.Yeats teaching Sunday school, don’t I."

Int: "If you say so."

Otto: "When one takes codeine, or gains an endorphin rush from a mountain hike, the cessation of pain, of distress, that are endorphins and opiates’ function, is pleasant only insomuch as there was distress or pain beforehand. Worries, tired muscles, aching joints. But there’s another element: the novelty of it all. The first-time heroin-high doesn’t just make everything allll-right; it also fills one with the wonder of feeling alll-right. It’s new.

"Likewise, atop the mountain, the hiker grooves not only on the soothing rlaxation of a rest well-earned and the sudden increased spacing in the ratio of endorphins being pumped and nerves reporting bodily stress. One is suddenly an endorphonic, endorPHEENic, rich man. Feels good. But, there’s that other thing, the amazing vista from the mountain, the view for which one hiked four hours straight to begin with.

"My POINT is that the ultimate aim is not just the resolution of the murder mystery, nor the attainment, or reattainment, of the lover one has yearned for throughout the book, it is the receipt of that which the lover can provide or the solved mystery yields: something new and entrancing, like being a miniature wooden mouse with a wee zeppelin all one’s own and being blown by a mysterious wind over mountains into anew and exciting place.

"Children don’t need the threat of danger, which they scarcely know, to obtain aesthetic bliss. But we adults seem to require grounds in our coffer.

"You might say that my aim as a writer is to obtain higher grounds for better elevation?"
copyright Robin Morrison

The Book That Wrote Itself

Saturday, February 3, 2007

purpose of declaration

Seeing as how the purpose of a blog is to declare, after all. I am Robin Morrison, sometimes known as Bob Morrison. Soon, google will know this. After that, perhaps you may too.

A story of a man, neither sane nor insane but mentally bicameral, bicuspid, bicorporal, who dreams that he is a writer and writes an author’s autobiography which, in the end, proves the dream to be true. This happens in the form of an imaginary interview of himself as a famous writer.

His nom de plume is Otto Biographe.

For not all hope is misguided speculatory ambition…

Otto: "For example, sir, if this were a depiction of an interview, rather than the genuine off-the-cuff affair that is, such depth of detail would of course be scattered among its own meaning. Rather than smooth articulations of ideas, with their digressions neatly enveloped in parentheses like the dining car between a string of passenger cars, there would be regular semi-reiterations -- rephrasings, catchings of mental breath, reclamations of the point not yet made by a train of thought not derailed but run in parallel to the main track -- which would be stated, if I may invoke a semblance of writerliness in spontaneous conversation, in an arhythmic syntax, a hiccupping grammar recycling itself in self-interruptions marked not by the smooth segue of a comma or deft acrobat launch from one topic to its cousin as marked by a semi-colon, but dashes and ellipses and dog-eared colloquialisms like: what I mean is, in other words, the point being, sparing you the details, and, and, um, it’s like, you see what I mean… and so on ad infinitum.

"See what I mean? It’s like, um, it’s like trying to write convincing dialogue in a story. If one tries too much to, you know, depict the conversational, spoken nature of the dialogue by using, you know, phonetically spelt dialect - dropping the ‘g’ from any number of verbal happenin’s, or using punctuation to indicate the pausing for effect or from surprise, or just to take a breath... if you do this, the very effort betrays the very effort. It is too easy for the reader to see that one is trying to write convincingly realistic dialogue.

"This can be especially true if one adds what I call ‘director’s cues’ or ‘playwright’s instructions'. You know, articulators like, “she said, breathlessly”, “he muttered, wishing he were somewhere else”, or the hopelessly obvious device of pausing between, you know, allegedly spoken words, walling both sides of the pause with quotation marks, and inserting some facial tic, or stream-of-conscious thought to oneself, or interruption by a suddenly blaring jukebox... you know. Like when, for example: "He looked askance, as if the example he sought had just been misplaced on the next table over... that sort of thing, capisch?"

INt: "yes."

Otto: "Then there’s the opposite extreme, where no such pretense is offered, and the speakers all speak the king’s good, even the king’s best English. Note how, if this were not spoken dialogue but rather written dialogue, I would have been written as saying, ‘the king’s good, even best, English’ rather than “the king’s good, or - how did I say it?”

Int: “” squeals his tape recorder in a zip of smeared reverse... 'let’s see: ‘opposite extreme, where no such pretense is offered, and the speakers all speak the king’s good, even the king’s best English (note how,’…’the king’s good, even the king’s best’, you said.'

Otto: "Otto: Precisely. Spoken grammar doesn’t work like written grammar. The yarn, the fable, the tall tale -- these can generally be read aloud. But the modern novel usually requires the generous nature of a reader’s eyes, which see, for example, the quotation marks conveying special distinction. My. What a lot of hand-signs I'm making, yes? Not that your recorder can see or hear them. My point also.. They work only because you can see them, not because you can hear them, which you certainly can’t? Can you?”


Otto: "A nod is as good as a wink, you know."

Int: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him blink?"

Otto: "Hee-hee! You know, there IS that need to have someone die, to create conflict, that too often divides ‘page-turner’ genre novels from effuse plodding belles-lettres novels exploring, ahem, the human condition. Capitalized: The Human Condition.

"Well, you know, there is need to distinguish that truth which is even stranger than fiction from that fiction that is even truer than it is strange."

Int: "Real magicalism?"

Otto: "Capital!"

Int: "You know, I can't help but feel that this isn't how you talk in daily life."

Otto: "I'm sure I don't."

Int: "Do you know what your next novel will be yet?"

Otto: "The next glimmer in my navel’s eye? No. One day I realize that the various what-ifs I've been noodling have decided to attempt being a novel.

"I never know. I’ve never finished a novel. That is, I've never known if a novel would be finishable or not until it was done, and one sometimes doesn’t know if it’s done until one finds it simply won’t go any further. Trust a novelist to not recognize a terminal cliff when he walks over one. After so many cliff-hangers, not to mention so many seemingly impenetrable brick walls that suddenly burst and crumble at the least tentative -- that should be most tentative, yes? -- at the most tentative touch, revealing a seemingly limitless vista of what to do next, the same limitlessness a day of clear skies and brisk weather invokes, that lasts no longer than said day, becoming the morning after yet another cloudy day; or not to mention that an author is perpetually walking amid fog, that same cloudy day brought even lower, dragging one down to the ground where yesterday one walked on cloud after stepping cloud, and so one not only often doesn’t see the brick wall or sudden cliff until one has bumped one’s nose, or stepped over the edge.

"I had always assumed that finishing a novel -- a good one that is -- would elicit a bark of triumph, but usually it is marked by a painful sensation of catastrophe, of crashing into that wall or falling onto the rocks below...”

Int: (restrained giggling)

Otto: "I know, I know, it’s tragically comical, or vice-versa, but it’s true: the surest sign one’s novel is complete is the feeling one needs an ambulance to deliver one to a literary hospital."

Int: “Writer’s clinic?"

Otto: “Preferably a reputable house of healing, not a quackulary, to which one is delivered by a quackulance."

Int: “In other words, any landing one can walk away from is a good one?"

Otto: "Exactly. Rather than say, The End, a novel should more accurately say, OUCH."

Int: “But then after awhile?”

Otto: "Yes. It is like one day waking up from a seemingly interminable disease, miraculously cured. What one thought was the mother of all writer’s blocks turns out to be simply The End."

Int: "Are those usually... exciting? Or daunting?"

Otto: "Like a dragon is, or was, I imagine, to St. George. Terribly exciting and VERY daunting. One’s more than worthy opponent, of whom one hopes to prove a match. Whereas, when I was young, first trying to write, neither the dragon, nor myself as St. George, seemed worthy of each other. It was ALL daunting. The dragon was unworthy because the George was unworthy because the dragon was unworthy because..."

Int. "Vicious circle."

Otto. "Only it seemed square. Even Sisyphus’ boulder was somewhat round. Even if the hill was never-ending, at least the damn thing rolled. Not so my first efforts. They lay flat for years. Rather than roll, gathering the moss that only a story can, they had to be flipped onto another side. In other words, I’d give up one thing and start on another. Eventually, I suppose, all that flipping wore the edges until they could roll at least a little bit. From there, things went a bit easier. More easily. Rolling is a self-polishing motion.

"Once one gains a grasp of one’s story, one’s process of writing, a sense of plot flow... the trouble then is not pushing the thing along but keeping it from getting away from you. And to not be too... smooth. Glib. Overconfident. Full of oneself."

Int: "Care to offer an example?"

Otto: "Just about anything, even my first novel, once it got rolling. Envision an author running alongside an immense round rock rolling...”

Int: "Rock’n’roll!"

Otto: "Party on! A rolling round rock around which one runs in circles of one’s own, lovingly but possessively, almost tauntingly, one minute smothering it with attention, a flurry of oh so clever, much too clever, words, the next minute ranging far afield, leaving it to roll on its own. To the reader, I imagine that it’s like having the author say, in so many - usually far too many - ‘Ha! could do this all day! With one hand tied behind my back!’"

Int: "And to the author?"

Otto: "Like both hands are tied behind your back. Straitjacket. Veston detroit.Somebody help me, please. I have this recurring delusion I'm a successful author."

Int: "Perhaps there is such a thing as method acting."
copyright Robin MOrrison