12 Winters Blog

Bradbury’s theory and more readings in the works

Posted in April 2011 by Ted Morrissey on April 3, 2011

When people have asked me what my dissertation is about, I’ve managed to boil the 240 pages or so of pretty dense academic text to something like, It’s about the psychic origins of creativity. Recently I was perusing Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton, a graphic novel, and Bradbury’s introduction really spoke to me as it aligns with my own ideas of creativity, especially literary creativity. Bradbury, who was one of the authors whose work turned me into a voracious reader as a teenager, begins by discussing some early incidents, stories, and ideas for stories; then writes, “All of these stories were forgotten when I first wrote Fahrenheit 451. But they were still there, somewhere, percolating in my subconscious” (vii). He goes on, “What you have before you now is a further rejuvenation of a book that was once a short novel that was once a short story that was once a walk around the block, a rising up in a graveyard, and a final fall of the House of Usher.”

Speaking specifically about his creative composition process, Bradbury writes,

My subconscious is more complicated than I ever imagined. I’ve learned over the years to let it run rampant and offer me its ideas as they come, giving them no preference and no special treatment. When the time is right, somehow they coalesce and erupt from my subconscious and spill onto the page.

Though phrased differently, Bradbury’s description is very similar to my own notions about how a work of fiction, especially, is birthed by its author (or at least by authors like me). There is no finite way to write fiction, and some authors, I know, plan their narratives like blueprints for a building and follow their outlines with an architect’s eye for exactness. Others, like me, approach the process more organically. My own sense is that my subconscious (a term that suggests a layering a consciousness that folks in psychology and various neurosciences are finding inaccurate and unhelpful, but we’ll go with it for now) is working ahead of me (of my conscious mind), laying the groundwork for the narrative and ushering it toward conflicts and resolutions that only it comprehends. My job as writer, then, is to trust its path and pick up the pieces of its trail that it leaves for me according to its own imagistic sensibilities. So rather than resist its beckoning when it may seem illogical to my conscious thought, I must trust my subconscious’s ability to keep to a worthwhile (let’s even use the word “meaningful”) narrative path.

Allow me to quote the master further:

Each character in Fahrenheit 451 has his or her moment of truth; I stayed quietly in the background and let them declaim and never interrupted…. I say all this to inform any teachers or students reading this book that what I did was name a metaphor and let myself run free, allowing my subconscious to surface with all kinds of wild ideas. (viii)

Bradbury’s sage advice to student writers:

[I]f some teacher suggests to his or her students that they conceive metaphors and write essays or stories about them, the young writers should take care not to intellectualize or be self-conscious or overanalyze their metaphors; they should let the metaphors race as fast and furious and freely as possible so that what is stirred up are all the hidden truths at the bottom of the writer’s mind.

All the hidden truths at the bottom of the mind: Amen.

Some odds and ends …

I’ve added another for-sure reading for Men of Winter, this one at Stone Alley Books & Collectibles in Galesburg, Illinois (Carl Sandburg’s and my hometown). It will be Saturday, April 30, from 1 to 3 p.m. Stone Alley is a very cool little shop featuring used and rare books, in addition to comic books and coffee — a terrific place to while away a couple of hours. I have several other readings in the works, but no other newly added locked-in dates at present. My University of Illinois, Springfield colleague Lisa Higgs and I are working on some dual readings, in addition to our April 20 reading at Sherman (Illinois) Public Library. Lisa will be reading from Lodestar, her collection of sonnets recently released by Finishing Line Press.

I continue to work and make progress on the Authoress, the novel I’m currently writing. My main book I’m reading right now is Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It took about 120 pages for me to get into it, but now, on about page 220, I’m really enjoying it. For one thing, I think it took awhile for me to synthesize all the different characters and their situations; once my old brain managed that, reading the narrative became much more pleasurable. I also read Andrew Ervin’s beautifully written novella 14 Bagatelles, part of his novella collection Extraordinary Renditions, from Coffee House Press.

Other notable titles I’ve enjoyed of late include Hint Fiction, edited by Robert Swartwood and published by Norton. By definition, hint fiction is “a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.” This anthology is the repository of many, many intriguing little gems. Another is Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award in poetry and published by Penguin.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

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