Is the Author Dead?: Why We Should Read Authors’ Nonfiction (and What We Can Learn from It)

Books are always the creation of their respective authors, and are therefore informed by a number of things concerning the author: what topics the author might be interested in, what particular events may have transpired in the author’s life that inform the events in his or her book, and who or what might have spurred the author to write that particular story. Stories spring from an amalgam of resources and references, but how all these are tied together is all up to the author, which may tell the reader what the author wanted to say, precisely, or what the text itself is supposed to do to the reader.

Of course, it’s not always easy to actually involve the author in the reading of the text, for various reasons. One may be that readers don’t exactly know a lot about an author, to begin with, or the context that produced that particular text. There is, too, a sort of resistance to the idea of reading a text in light of its author. French literary critic Roland Barthes, for example, said that “the image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions,” and that to truly understand literature, one must metaphorically kill the author: “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” In other words, if the reader thinks about the author and his or her life while reading the author’s text, it might immediately color the reading of that text. So just don’t think about the author and read the stuff and interpret it on your own.

But authors aren’t always dead, and the meanings they try to weave into the text don’t disappear just because you remove the authors themselves from the picture. Sure, it’s frustrating – especially in high school English classes – when you’re asked to share what you think the author said, because it might make you feel like an uncertain mouthpiece for that author. But literature is the product of a sort of co-authorship between the reader and the writer: the writer, of course, writes, and this writing is informed by their reality and what they want to comment on, while the reader interprets the text based on what they know of it and what they know of themselves. When a piece of literature becomes too difficult to understand, meanwhile, it’s always helpful to find out what the author might have meant by it, so there’s always one good thing to do when you’re stuck like that: read up on the author’s comments on the work, if there are any.

In this day and age, especially, a lot of authors do opinion columns on the Internet and elsewhere, share their thoughts over on social media, and release nonfiction books – usually collections of essays – talking about their work and their writing process. For both readers and writers, all these nonfiction material are helpful in two primary ways: to understand the author’s intents and the author’s work, and; to study the author’s craft. This is especially helpful when you yourself are trying to write, and are trying to figure out how others have done it – or have tried to do it, at least. What did those writers do to arrive at the point where they’re writing smoothly? What inspired them? What did they want to accomplish? These are questions that you can look at and think about when you’re reading nonfiction by authors, as often the nonfiction works themselves reveal how the writer thinks.

So what’s our take-away from this? It’s not enough to just write, the same way that it’s not enough to just read books and leave them at that. It’s always helpful and enriching to understand the authors behind the works, and to ultimately draw from what you’ve read and learned and apply them to your own writing. Remember: the author can’t die.

Read More

An Introduction to Slipstream

It’s been pretty quiet on CreativInfluence lately, and we’re not going to make any excuses for that. But as a sort of comeback post, it seems appropriate to discuss one of the “newer” genres of literature – “newer,” because it’s less of an actual genre that has surfaced and is negotiating its own generic boundaries, and more of something that has been pieced together from existing genres. Which, one may argue, is basically the case for a lot of genres in writing. But I digress.

What we have here now, folks, is a neat thing called slipstream, which sounds like a pretty slick genre. A quick look at the Wikipedia page on this subject gives you this:

Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction.

The given definition doesn’t sound quite as helpful as it should be, as it still does sound rather vague. How does slipstream cross “conventional genre boundaries” between genre fiction and literary fiction? In fact, we exist in a world where writing has become experimental in terms of genre identity. What defines science fiction? What defines fantasy? There are things we call science fantasy, even, and military fantasy, to name a few. How tenuous are the so-called conventional genre boundaries of these genres, and how does this tenuousness affect slipstream’s attempt to challenge these boundaries?

That may be a story for another day. The answer for the penultimate question in the previous paragraph, interestingly, may just simply be slipstream. We are already questioning genre boundaries anyway. Are science fiction texts defined by their settings, their features – aliens, space, the like? Likewise, fantasy fiction? How can genre fiction be literary? Slipstream tries to answer that. There are texts that are elusive enough that they cannot fit a single genre, and so have to make one “new” genre to encompass that.

Slipstream falls between speculative fiction and mainstream fiction. While some slipstream novels employ elements of science fiction or fantasy, not all do. The common unifying factor of these pieces of literature is some degree of the surreal, the not-entirely-real, or the markedly anti-real.

The main thing about slipstream is that it has to be unreal. So perhaps one can also consider it magical realism. Or fantastic literary. A lot of names and words can be used to describe slipstream, but one cannot truly feel what it is until one is given a sampling of the genre’s texts. British writer Christopher Priest (who is, apparently, and incidentally, a slipstream writer himself) offers his own list of top ten slipstream books, and the list is marked by names like J.G. Ballard, Angela Carter, and Jose Luis Borges. Priest also gives Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – a dystopia that does not necessarily carry the traditional elements of science fiction (incidentally, it won the 1987 Arthur C. Clarke Award, which is a prestigious award given to the best science fiction novel among a list of nominated texts) – as an example of a slipstream text, and cites authors such as Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as slipstream authors.

If it gets a little confusing, that’s alright. The authors mentioned, as well as the texts given, all test boundaries of the genres they’ve been fit into. They go outside of their generic boundaries – J.G. Ballard’s Crash, for example, is not necessarily science fiction, but it carries elements that invite your suspension of disbelief – and define their own settings and content. If you can’t define slipstream with a clean definition, you can at least get a sense of what it is through the authors and the works associated with it. Here is a great article called Slipstream 101 by the Science Fiction Research Association, and introduces you to the basics of slipstream. You may want to look at that post and read through all of it.

What one can get from slipstream, though, is this: that you can also test your writing boundaries, or the boundaries of the genres that you know. Let elements of other genres bleed into your own writing, because that can add zest and flavor to your piece. And not just your own piece – it’s amazing what you can find when you run through a list of books and read through them, the common feature of all these texts being that they refuse to be confined to one specific genre. This allows for the luxury of experimenting with the text. Try to expose yourself to slipstream – it might yield some interesting results.

Read More

Voice Recognition: Why the Creative Voice

When reading a story, one can perhaps immediately establish the tone the piece is taking. Sure, it’s easy to talk about in terms of technicalities: first person, or second person, omniscient, limited – these are things, tenses, that a piece takes on in order to ground the reader to some point in time, or to establish a relationship between the reader and the text. It forms boundaries – or a semblance of boundaries – so that the reader will be given a frame through which he or she views the text. It may sound to the reader as if the text is happening at the moment, or as if the text is talking or referring directly to the reader, or as if the text sounds so detached to the reader that even the narrator sees the entire narrative through a lens. There are a lot of ways in which the text could be viewed, and the tenses and the voice count.

The creative voice – the voice of the text – matters, precisely for the same reasons I’ve mentioned earlier. The voice – the manner in which the text was written, how it sounds, how the narrator sounds to the reader – counts a lot. If the reader is new to the text, and has just found it, the reader would most likely test out a line or two, maybe a paragraph, to see of the voice jives with him or her, to see if the voice is easy or jarring, and to use this immediate impression as a springboard from which the reader takes off. Will the reader continue to read? Is the voice too easy? Does it sound like a kid talking, or does it sound so complicated and technical that it could ward off the reader or not get the reader’s interest? It’s definitely important to consider that, whether in reading or in writing, the voice exists in that manner because the author did it that way, and therefore there must be some reason why the author did it a certain way.

I’m talking in vague terms here, and it’s easy to get confused. Let’s put it this way: think of the text as someone talking to you. Does the text talk with ease? Does the text talk in clipped sentences? Does the text engage you and involve you, in how it was written, or does it alienate you? If you think of the voice of the text in these terms, it will be easier to establish your footing and your relationship – whether emotional or otherwise – with the text. If you’re writing, especially, it might be good to consider what the effect of your narrative voice is on your reader.

What does this mean? Bottomline is, if the voice doesn’t sound good, or if it doesn’t flow well, or if it does not work with the narrative or achieve that desired effect, it will certainly be problematic to your reader. The effectiveness of the voice relies on how well it is written, and how well it sounds. You might have a good, beautiful, flowery text, with a lot of things and images going on, but if it doesn’t sound like the voice is doing you any good, it might be a problematic kind of voice for you. Or, think of it this way. If the text is read aloud to you, do you suppose you’d like how it sounds like, being read aloud?

Of course, the voice – and how good it sounds – may also be a matter of preference, but that’s one thing to think about, don’t you think? Don’t keep the voice too complicated – if you’re writing – or try at least not to alienate the reader with the way the narrative and your characters are speaking. Establishing a good first impression is key, wherever you are and whatever happens, and it’s in the sample that a reader randomly picks out and in the voice which presents itself immediately that may make or break the reader’s relationship with the text.


Read More

Read/Write: Reasserting the Importance of Reading

Previously, I wrote about writing, and how it is an intimate experience. In fact, let’s stretch that, and say that, in the act of creation, artistic pursuits in general – composition, visual art – are intimate experiences on their own. But at the moment, I am reminded of something my professor in English Renaissance Literature told the class about. Once, she overheard some Creative Writing students adamantly refusing to read anything because it might influence their writing. Another local writer claims the same sentiment: you do not have to be a wide reader to be a writer. These attempts at justifying not reading comes off as weird to me, since reading should already serve as a springboard for the act of writing. It doesn’t help that big-name writers actually advocate reading a lot. I am here to reassert the importance of reading, and how it goes hand-in-hand with writing. You can’t separate one from the other, in other words.

Reading is as much an intimate activity as writing, though in a vastly different way that writing is intimate. Both acts involve the self and the text. Whether it is one writing the text or one reading the text does not matter – what matters is that we recognize the fact that one cannot read for another as much as one cannot write for another, in the purest manner possible. What I’m trying to say, in other words, is that when you read, you are engaged in an active exchange with the text. When you write, you are engaged in an active exchange with what you are writing. Both are not simply centered on what the material is. Both are centered on what you are, what you think of, and what you do with the material.

That’s all fun, but how significant is this? Since we’re focusing on reading and its importance, let me get one thing clear (and I don’t think it has to be said because it’s obvious, but I will still say it for the sake of emphasis): reading is an intellectual and active experience. Maybe physically you’re just sitting down, but your mind flits here and there, examining the cracks in the text, examining the text’s texture. Whether you notice it or not, when you read a text, you are developing your own understanding of it. Your own interpretation. This interpretation cannot be invalidated by anyone else, because it is how you understand the text to be structured – only that you have to assert your interpretation by picking out supporting details within the text (and even, in certain cases, outside of it), and strengthening your argument as to why you believe in that certain interpretation. Literary theory is filled with a lot of ways on how to read or understand a text – psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, to name a few – but literary theory does not always hold. Reading, in short, develops your own ability to understand a text. It develops your ability to discern particular details, figure out puzzles, find explanations, and string them into a whole that will, hopefully, make sense. And the important thing here is the linchpin: you. You read primarily for yourself, and you think primarily for yourself. Combine this with a text that can be interpreted in a number of ways virtually infinite, and that’s just a daunting map to navigate.

As for reading not being a necessary thing for one to write? That’s an easy way to get out of the act of reading itself. Influence is inevitable, and it comes from everywhere. Reading makes you understand how a text is supposed to work – or not work – for you to be able to write something yourself. It’s not helpful if you don’t read. The nuances of texts will escape you, and the effectiveness of writing will follow in its wake.

Read More

Starting the New Year and Keeping Track

Goodreads is one of the most popular websites on the Internet when it comes to books. It helps in keeping track of what you want to read, have read, and are reading, besides giving recommendations based on the titles you’ve put in your virtual shelf. One of the interesting things they did before the year ended is to show the user his or her year in books – basically the full list of titles one has read over the course of the year. The website is one big system that organizes things and keeps track of your reading progress for you, which is really, really useful, especially when you forget to do it – or are too busy to do it – yourself. At the start of the year, meanwhile, Goodreads also asks you to fill in a blank space on your homepage, asking you how many books you plan to finish for the year. It’s Goodreads’ yearly reading challenge, and it’s supposed to push you to keep track of your own reading progress, while reminding you how many books behind you are, or how many books in advance you’ve read.

That’s all interesting and fun, especially if you’re concerned about statistics and how many pages you’ve read in the year, and which genres you’ve spent time with the most (and Goodreads has a handy statistics page for you number nerds), but I think it’s meant to be teaching us something. If you do have a Goodreads account, you might have checked out the “Year In Books” feature, and might have felt, perhaps, frustration or fulfillment as you read the list. But a website like Goodreads only shows you what you’ve done over the year, and how you basically interpret or evaluate your choices over the course of twelve months is up to. I recognize the possibility that, perhaps at a certain point in the year, you may have been in the mood for, say, Japanese Literature, or Greek, and did a lot of binge reading. Or you may have become sick of certain genres, and consciously avoided them when it came to reading.

The thing is that lists are cold, hard, factual things. Usually. Keeping track of your reading progress will help in your decision making over the next year, and this new year – if you do treat it as a blank slate, or a new beginning, like many others treat it – is an opportunity to read things that you didn’t read/have actively avoided in the past. If, say, your list lacks a lot of graphic novels, you might want to consider throwing in graphic novels in the mix. If your list lacks a certain genre or author, keep it at the top and consider it a carry-over from the past year – a part of your unread list that you’ve been meaning to read but never had the opportunity to.

I realize that this may be sketchy, common-sense, shallow advice, but the bottomline is that you may be able to discover new interests in the course of taking risks on even what seems as trivial as book choices. Expanding horizons and opening doors by reading a lot will hopefully take you somewhere you want to be. Reading can serve as a solid foundation for writing something good, something that pushes your creativity to the limit, and if you’re looking to start the new year in an interesting way, start keeping track of your reading progress and maybe look back the next year and see how far you’ve gone.

Read More

Creativity and Elementary School Subjects

We know what creativity means. We have used it in different contexts. There is almost nothing new to say of it, because it has been explained many times and in many ways. It’s a popular notion that all things should be kept in moderation, and that even too much of a good thing is bad. For creativity, I don’t think it applies. Which is why I think we can still look for new ways to explain it. It is simply impossible to get enough of creativity. There is no such thing as too much of it.


I’m rather fond of using analogies when explaining things. In fact, I’m a fan of the technique. Comparing a thing using less complex terms is the best method of getting the message through because you can interchange the variables to better fit the comprehension of your audience.


Here are the different ways creativity is similar to the basic subjects in school:


  • Creativity and Math


In Math, we learn about shapes, counting, measuring, grouping, and reordering. Creativity is pretty much about all those things too. We calculate a lot of things in our creations like, how long it takes to finish,  and at what angle can we get the best results from.  We may also change the arrangement of the elements of our work until it is shaped the way we conceptualized it.


  • Creativity and Science


Generally, Science explains the nature of things so it involves observing, theorizing, testing theories, and making conclusions. It’s the same thing with creativity. When we see a piece of art that we find interesting and realize that we can do something like it, we examine how it’s done, think of new ways of achieving it, until we discover the most effective way of doing it.


  • Creativity and Reading


This is not limited to literary artists. Even painters, performers, and other types of artists need to read because, well, reading is fun. Those who read know that it is more than just a hobby. Those who don’t, need more encouragement from people who do. Reading stuff that are related to your creativity outlet may boost your skills. It makes you have a better understanding of the history and mechanics of your craft. The effect of practice in both creativity and reading is directly proportional. The more you read, the better your comprehension. The more you create, the more innovative you become.


  • Creativity and Language


Different languages follow different syntaxes. And the thing is, the more you worry about being grammatically correct, the harder it is to convey what you really mean to say. You have more chances of being understood by using layman’s terms but, when you settle for simplicity and not try to learn the scheme of one language(or many languages for that matter), you will pose as someone who is a little less articulate. Relating this to creativity, it’s okay to be guided by the fundamental ways of making things, but if you are too cautious about straying from the nitty-gritties of the art, you might end up producing a piece that easily blends with the rest.


  • Creativity and P.E.


Gym classes are encouraged in schools because experts believe that the body should be as active as the mind. Often times, creativity requires field or physical exercises to help induce more imaginative thoughts or concepts.


I would have also included creativity’s likeness with the study of History, but I figured that the latter may as well fall under Reading. To become more creative, we must relate creativity to many things, things that we encounter everyday.


Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.” – Ken Robinson

Read More