Angus Young of AC/DC: “I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”

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I'm thinking about this question from the questioner: "When your later stories seem to call back to earlier ones somehow, to what extent is that intentional versus, let's say, emergent?" And I'm thinking of how this particular question could be asked of many short story writers (and many novelists, as well). It's just that George's stories exist in such a particular ballpark, that the seeming similarities of a few of them perhaps seem to shine more brightly to a reader. For example, I'm reading a book of stories now called Severance, by Ling Ma, and the voice and the characters--there is a thread that goes through the stories which contains the brain and the world and the voice of Ling Ma. But i'm not focusing on the connections as I'm reading. I'm simply aware of being in the fictive world of Ling Ma, which differs from the fictive world of George. Similarly, there is the world of Hemingway--his stories of war and love and men have a connective tissue. We know when we are in his world. But I don't think I would ask if his stories are "emergent" or not. I would just assume that they are--that there is enough war in the world for a million stories. To me, Semplica Girls and Liberation Day are both stories about enslaved people, of which there are also a million stories. (I completely appreciate the questioner's question. I can see how it would arise. I'm just pondering here, and wondering if perhaps it's the fact of George's very unique voice that gives rise to these questions.)

Thank you, George, for walking us through your thought processes here. I love that writing makes you feel young again. I suppose I find that true for me, as well. Although I think I'd say that writing releases me completely from the moment so that there is a sense of no time at all, and I am no age at all. That is my favorite part about writing, I think. That sense of timelessness. It's a kind of joy, though i don't know that I'd call it "fun" like you do. I'd call it being in a zone, and being in that zone is amazing.

Posting, though I'm still thinking about the questions here and look forward to reading what others have to say.

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I had very similar thoughts to those in this email when reading CommComm this week. Many elements that seemed to enlarge themselves in Lincoln in the Bardo, with great results.

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I immediately recalled the Semplica Girl Diaries when reading Liberation Day. But, to perhaps state the obvious, I like these kind of stories. Imaginative scenarios that speak to some underlying themes about humanity.

I find it that I lean toward stories that, in some sense, make me think about what it means to be human and how that impacts my views or practices as a human.

For instance, Kazuo Ishiguro gives us a world in which we have compassion for clones whose purpose is simply to be harvested in Never Let Me Go and compassion for AI in Klara and the Sun. Stories told from the perspective of these vulnerable non-humans that we can’t help but humanize.

I can recognize similar themes, but the stories in themselves are so rich.

I love Murakami often because I like the styles, themes and voices that interweave throughout his stories. Their imaginativeness.

This was a really good and well thought out question. As a reader, it occurs to me that I don’t need an expansive diversity from a single author, I can get that from reading another author. I tend to like certain authors because of their particular voices and styles.

When Liberation Day came out, my friend and fellow fan commented that George has “gone all in with the George voice and doesn’t stray from it.” And this wasn’t a criticism. How great to have someone know your voice as a distinct voice.

I hope people will say someday, “yeah, this definitely Lanie Quinn.”

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Jan 19·edited Jan 20

What a swell question, and so much better than the one I asked about what George pays for a 3-pack of tube socks.

It was fun to watch GS hit a paradox as he wrote. It demonstrated his lesson, meta-like. I witnessed him hone his answer by writing about it. This is different from knowing the precise answer and then explaining it in writing.(George, this is how it struck me, and I mean what I say here as a compliment.)

An excellent question and a meaningful response. Thank you.

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Not a bad analysis, for a doofus.

No, but seriously, this is quite helpful for me as someone who has only recently delved into short story writing. As a creative nonfiction writer, I initially thought it would be too daunting. I thought, “I can literally write ANYTHING”, which subsequently felt like too much. But, once I had a short story idea and character infiltrate my brain, and once I sat down to write it in earnest, the words (and especially voice of the character) poured out of me. It’s truly a joyous experience to go there as a writer.

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  ‘I could strive to be stoic and write in simple objective sentences and all of that, but if the story was set in, say, a Civil War theme park, all of that become comic instead of somber.” Ah, yes a clue to the comedic voice.

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I don't leave as many comments on here that I feel I should, but that might be because I feel I don't I have half the education most of the responders here have--I'm somewhat self-conscious in that respect. But I do like to write. And I think I'm pretty good at it, considering...considering I'm basically self taught. I enjoy writing short stories, except that they're not very short. But it's the Voices I like using when I write... "the sheer fun of doing a certain voice - trying to stay in that voice, while expanding. And while I’m busy with that, the story tends to take on a will of its own, in terms of its plot and theme and all of that." So tell me George, when you are in the process of writing a story, are you plotting it out, or just letting it flow and sorting it out later? Do you actually have a theme in mind, or is that something you let the reader discover for himself? I tend to not plot a story, and let myself discover the characters as I write. It's just something that works for me. I don't write what I know, per se, but what interests me. My stories go all over the place: Kenya, Congo, Manchuria, Italy, England; and in different times: WW I, 1950s, 1960s because those are places and times I like. I don't want to write about the mill I worked from when I was 19, but I'll use the different personalties I met there.

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What a superbly composed and posed trio of questions. Thank you my Anonymous Peer Here In Story Club. Thank George for his ability to take the questions and respond in not just an enlightening way but in some many enlightening dimensions.

Early in reading this Office Hours Newsletter my mind was reaching towards:

'Art' > 'Visual Art' > 'Muse' / 'Benign Obsession'. How important were his various 'Muses' to Pablo Picasso's artmaking? Like wise his 'Mont St Victoire' to Paul Cezanne's artmaking? And his 'Flatford Mill' to John Constable's artmaking? And, even as I write, I'm conscious that my first port of reference is in each case an artist of the male gender. I could, arguably should, redress this experiential bias but this is not the place. Like The White Rabbit passing Alice just before and then being seen and heard ahead by her just after she's dropped out her fall down the hole and landed in Wonderland I feel I must press on ...

And in the very same, simultaneous, moment my mind was reaching towards:

'Art' > 'Musical Art' > 'Enigma Variations on a Theme' by Edward Elgar. Towards two distinctive orchestrations of 'Dawn Over The Moscow River' by its composer, Modest Mussogorsky and subsequently by his pal (I think?) Rimsky Korsakov (Works of genius, both, particularly to one such as I who has had the privelege of watching more than one dawn rise over the Moscow River) ...

And now, with the benefit of having had moments to reflect in something resembling 'tranquility', why shouldn't I share my latest, deliberately rebalance thoughts towards:

'Art' > 'Sculpture' > 'Barbara Hepworth' see for example


or > 'Jann Haworth' see for example https://artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/calendulas-cloak#:~:text=The%20fictional%20Calendula%E2%80%99s%20sorceress-like%20cloak%20is%20part%20of,rejected%20the%20depiction%20of%20women%20within%20Pop%20Art

or > 'Tracy Emin' see for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Bed

My key point, perhaps: George was educated as a Mining Engineer is it in the least surprising that he, like all salient artists returns to mining rich veins of literary creativity that aren't in any way 'mined out'?

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We're discussing 'voice' a lot. And that's what I've gotten most out of Story Club, especially reading so many of George's stories. His settings, his voices are so damn distinct that he woke me up to my own writing. A voice that I don't think was there when he/you wrote The Red Bow (was it?). End smoke blowing now! Anyway, it made me more aware of my own stories. Not only the voices, but placing them in more immersive situations that make those voices easier to find. Which, I believe, George made mention of. I realize now how high you can shoot to make your writing more original and fun to write. Up until now, I think only Raymond Carver felt distinctive and original (for me). So, I went back and reread Olsen's, I Stand Here Ironing, Mansfield's, The Doll House, and I'm drowning in all of Berriault's amazing stories. Just to really hear what I missed the first times through. Tone deaf is what I was. On another note, I was looking at the SG illustration. It's funny, I always imagined the poor girls lower. It seems even more grotesque that high off the ground.

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I love this approach to creativity in general. It echoes some of the things the music producer Rick Rubin describes when he's discussing his own craft. You can get as deep as you like into the theory of art, but at the end of the day it's the feel that hooks a reader (or listener)

If you don't provide them with a ride that's enjoyable as a baseline, then all the fancy technical tricks in the world won't salvage the reader's attention. In my opinion a writer's biggest asset is their eye for, 'what is interesting to read' however vague that may sound.

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I've often heard it said that our first stories hold within them the kernel of what we'll write about, another way of saying we'll return 'to the beloved well.' I've found it to be true. In the first instance I've found it has nothing to do with thinking ahead and planning. Instead I have to trust in what I'm drawing from the well.

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That was fun. I find I have preoccupations, too. The rarer thing is to revisit a voice or character. I loved how George explained this! Thanks for the question, mysterious A.

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Falling in love with a voice is similar to falling in love with a character. Pretty soon you have (for voice) an additional take on what you were thinking or (for character) more misery that you can dump on an old friend.

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What fantastic questions.

And George - what an absolute treat for you to reveal your mind, the writing kind, that writer’s mind, with such specific insight into creativity and literary art. It’s just not done. Thank you for the fascinating and intimate details. Just thank you! I’m in awe of the glimpse inside you are offering us.

Per the baseball metaphor - once around the league, a great pitcher can own the league. Think Fernando Valenzuela coming out 8 wins 0 losses, no runs allowed in his first year. Then batters learn and he gets hit a bit. And then he gets old. Great pitchers add another weapon, develop another pitch, secretly developing it over w couple years mid career. And then career revival. You’re on the rise, George. Top of your game and still rising. I’m betting you have another couple pitches in you. Long fiction? First published “novel” didn’t turn out so bad. Maybe some drop D tuning is all that’s needed.

About the modernist novel, I read somewhere that most of those great novelists did the same thing over and over - F Scott, Faulkner, Hemingway. (Steinbeck is the outlier - never wrote the same book twice). Faulkner - (observing Caddy as a little girl with her dirty drawers in a tree with her brothers staring up at her - as Faulkner metaphorically recalled the fall of southern aristocracy) - returned to that same well again and again, as he should have. What a world he created.

Some of those wells are quite deep and have intricate side caverns.

Looking forward to Sunday’s discussion. Thanks again George and questioner.

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Many of these comments seem to resonate for me this week. Trying to fill my well with all those notes that feel and sound right, bleed and sing life onto the page. I'm having fun with my 20th century Irish immigrant world building and experimenting with changing to first person POV.

"Language discovery makes me feel young again. The world is not overhung with the dead branches of things I've already decided." So true, I'm shaking down some new fruit by getting closer to my main character through being more playful with language and open to learning more authentic vocabulary and Irish words and slang for the time, place, and people I'm writing about.

These strategies (musical, language, sweet spots) are all turning my amp up to 11 when I use them. Here's to filling the well. Slainte!

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