A Lil Bit More On Voice, Sauce, and Gravy

A few weeks ago I guest blogged about “voice in writing” for Shimmer. That essay starts something like this:

I want to talk about voice–about your capital-V Voice as a writer, and the little voice of each specific piece you write–but first I want to tell you about how this guy I know makes steaks.
He goes to the butcher and buys a few good cuts of beef. Back home, while these steaks drain on the cutting board, he makes his “sauce.” This sauce consists of Worcestershire sauce, malt vinegar, salt, pepper, brown sugar, ketchup, maybe barbecue sauce, whiskey (or whatever he finds in the cupboard), beer (maybe), wine (why not?), soy sauce, and season salt. He marinates the steaks in this sauce for an indeterminate period, then sears them briefly on a high-BTU gas grill.
If you’ve spent any quality time in the kitchen, then you see how absurd this “sauce” is . . .

and ends like this:

Voice is the economical result of not throwing anything away, but instead boiling and scrapping until what you have left is as concentrated as possible, a half-once of liquid with more flavor than the chops you started with. Every good story will make its own gravy.
And your Voice emerges from the process of cooking up story after story after story in the same iron skillet, until that skillet is so seasoned that you don’t need oil to fry an egg, and any steak seared on it comes off tasting like it put you back $50 at a necktie establishment, even though you didn’t even bother to sprinkle salt on the pan prior to sizzling.

In the middle I specifically cite David Foster Wallace and Stephen King as examples of how a Voice–even a very ornate one–arises from a process of reduction. So, I was interested to come across this note DFW sent Harper’s magazine regarding this nifty lil piece he wrote about Kafka for that magazine in 1998. The note reads, in part:

The deal is this. You’re welcome to this for READINGS if you wish. What I’d ask is that you (or Ms. Rosenbush, whom I respect but fear) not copyedit this like a freshman essay. Idiosyncracies of ital, punctuation, and syntax (“stuff,” “lightbulb” as one word, “i.e.”/”e.g.” without commas after, the colon 4 words after ellipses at the end, etc.) need to be stetted. (A big reason for this is that I want to preserve an oralish, out-loud feel to the remarks so as to protect me from people’s ire at stuff that isn’t expanded on more; for you, the big reason is that I’m not especially psyched to have this run at all, much less to take a blue-skyed 75-degree afternoon futzing with it to bring it into line with your specs, and you should feel obliged and borderline guilty, and I will find a way to harm you or cause you suffering* if you fuck with the mechanics of this piece.)

I share this, because DFW was fundamentally wrong. I was a UofM comp lit student with a subscription to Harper’s when that essay was first published, not to mention an embarrassingly enthusiastic fan of DFW’s, and I remember reading that piece–feeling how breezy and conversational it was–and I’ve gotta say that this sense of the piece’s voice wouldn’t have been at all affected if DFW had elected to use Chicago Manual of Style-compliant punctuation after his abbreviated Latin introductory clauses, instead of being a royal prick.
The takeaway: Don’t do this; don’t squander even a few minutes from your limited store of earthly hours fussing over pinches of pepper on what is already a really damn good steak.

Me & Mitt, Mitt & I: Pranksters, Bullies, Mormons, Jews, Education–AMERICA!

I continue to write a monthly column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. This latest installment is about the school Mitt Romney and I attended, bullying, pranks, progress, identity politics, and how institutions seek to change over time. It starts like this:

Mitt Romney and I went to the same high school – three decades apart. This would be immaterial, except the Washington Post just published a fascinating 5,500-word remembrance of Mitt Romney’s hijinks at Cranbrook, a high-pressure prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
I attended this same school in the 1990s; it’s an architectural gem, the staff is excellent, the program an academic crucible. Later, as a University of Michigan student, I shared a broken-down house with three fellow Cranbrook alums. One was in a sociology class, and we were delighted when he revealed that his textbook listed Cranbrook as “one of the last vestiges of American aristocracy.”
Because Mitt and I attended Cranbrook exactly 30 years apart, we ended up standing back-to-back on a balmy June evening in 2005 – the same year Mitt received the school’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award. The governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and I stood together at the lip of a deep, inset fountain, which gurgled contentedly, almost as though it was whispering ♪♫Daaaaave, I would be an excellent place for a GOP splaaashdown!♫

The rest is here: The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In it for the Money: Mitt and Me

Pick-what-you-pay for “Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate” steampunk novella (with extras!)

David Erik Nelson — Pick-What-You-Pay eBooks

Good News! You can now get my celebrated steampunk novella, “Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate”–previously only available for Kindle–as a DRM-free book bundle that includes ebooks for basically any device, plus two different printable PDFs, and a few digital extras. I’m experimenting with a sliding-scale pricing scheme, with an exclusive steampunky curio for you big spenders. Check it out!

See Poor Mojo’s Giant Squid in Upcoming Steampunk Anthology!

Ecstatic Days — Blog Archive — Steampunk Revolution – Announcing the TOC

When I’m not soldering, snipping, or cranking out marketing copy and textbooks in order to pay the bills, I write basically unpublishable fiction–clockwork sexbots, murderous baristas, haunted dogs, sinister midgets; about what you’d expect. In a bizarre twist, a story from the *least* marketable of those endeavors is seeing print! Mojo, Fritz, and I are pleased to brag that one of our Giant Squid stories–“An Exhortation to Young Writers (Advice Tendered by Poor Mojo’s Giant Squid)”–will appear in Ann VanderMeer’s upcoming anthology Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution (I also had a story in their last steampunk antho, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded). Our Squid will appear alongside works by such luminaries as Lev Grossman, Garth Nix, Cherie Priest, Bruce Sterling, and Catherynne M. Valente–which, frankly, stuns me to the core.
{*squeeeeee!!!*}

Guest blogging at Man Made DIY is *GOOOOO!!!*

I’m guest blogging all this week at Man Made DIY and the first of these posts just went live. Tune in later this week for project-specific stuff, as well as some general DIYing advice and things I’ve learned since writing Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred.
The Craft and Commerce of Writing — Man Made DIY | Crafts for Men — Keywords: talk, work, craft, writing

I never set out to write a craft book–or, for that matter, to write business columns, or reference materials, or textbooks on teen sex and Chernobyl, or basically anything that’s paid the bills over the last five years. I’d written for years, but it had been an after-hours art: Essays about technology and sexuality and Detroit’s decay; stories about clockwork robots, haunted dogs, monster wives, and giant squid–the kind of stuff you gut out after dark; the kind of stuff you write for the consuming love of finding how to say it. The kind of stuff that’s hard to sell.

I am a professional “content creator” and I am against SOPA and PROTECT IP

If you, your family, or friends are having trouble groking why folks are up in arms about SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act, take 10 to watch these Colbert Report clips (posted with rights holders’ consent and encouragement–or, damn, at least I *hope* so; otherwise they’re going to shut down this entire site and lock me up for 5 years [not a joke!; those are actual provisions in SOPA]).
Just to reiterate: I’m a professional writer. This is how I make my living: I write things, I sell those things, people send me checks; those checks aren’t big. I have royalty agreements on some stuff, but have yet to ever see an actual royalty check. (I also write other things, for which I never expect fungible payment; this is one of those. Since I read lots of things that other folks write with no expectation of seeing a check, I’m eager to likewise contribute to the largest and most accessible lending library in human history. Let us call this process “dropping a dime in the heavenly jukebox.”)
SOPA and PROTECT-IP do *nothing* to help or protect “content creators” like me. In fact, almost *nothing* that’s happened in copyright law since the 1960s has done anything to benefit the vast bulk of all artists; it *has* done a great deal to enrich corporate rights holders (who were often robbing those artists you love. Please see the biography of *any* bluesman ever for details.)
Here’s the takeaway: These laws bludgeon regular citizens–like yourselves–with no corresponding benefit to the workers who did the heavy lifting (and when I say “workers” I don’t just mean the writers, musicians, actors, etc. My *publisher* doesn’t use DRM on their ebooks; user-level piracy isn’t a threat to their business, and they know it). This law is for 1%ers.
As an independent business person and content creator in the economically depressed state of Michigan, I’ve contacted my reps raising these very points; they’ve been at best ambivalent. So, if these laws sound like a bad idea, and you want to contact your reps, that’d be great. Tell them David Erik Nelson sent you; he’s a “content creator” and he’s against SOPA and PROTECT IP.
SOPA Censorship Bill on the Colbert Report