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A Prose By Any Other Name

Here's a podcast of my last Locus column, A Prose By Any Other Name:

Back in 2005, I did something weird. I decided that I would embark on a project to write short stories with the same (or similar) titles to famous science fiction books and stories. My initial motivation for this was Ray Bradbury objecting to Michael Moore calling a movie Fahrenheit 9/11, which led Bradbury to call Moore an ‘‘asshole’’ and a ‘‘horrible human being’’ who’d ‘‘stolen’’ the title. Like many other writers, Bradbury has rightfully never shied from taking and adapting titles from other writers and works (‘‘I Sing the Body Electric’’, ‘‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’’, ‘‘The Women’’, etc.), and I thought that this was a silly thing for a respected writer to say. I suspected that, despite his denials, Bradbury disagreed with Moore’s politics and invented an ad hoc ethical code regarding titles to explain why what he did to Walt Whitman was fundamentally different from what Moore had done to him.

The more I thought about writing stories with ‘‘borrowed’’ titles, the more interesting it all got. Every time I thought about a famous title – one I hated, one I loved, one I had mixed feelings about – I found my subconscious simmering and then bubbling over with ideas. Stories – more so than novels – are often the product of odd subconscious associations. I’ll see something, I’ll see something else, the two will rub together, and wham, there’s a story idea crystallizing in my mind, and off I go to find a keyboard.

But for every story fragment that finds a complementary fragment to bond with and form into an idea, there are dozens of lonely haploids, grains of potential that never find another grain to join and synthesize with. Seven years into the project, the single most significant and reliable trait of ‘‘title’’ stories is that the titles exert a powerful gravity on story fragments, aggregating them into full-blown inspiration.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a full-time self-employed audio engineer, producer, composer, and sound designer. In his free time, he makes beer, jewelry, odd musical instruments and furniture. He likes to meditate, to read and to cook.

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