Fiction Workshops Are Like Focus Groups
Rick Moody is a postmodern novelist, who has published four novels and a number of non-fiction books and short story collection. Best known for his book "The Ice Storm," which was adapted into a hit movie in 1997, his other books include "Demonology," "Purple America," "The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven," and "Garden State." He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. His latest novel, "The Four Fingers of Death," was published in July, 2010.
Question: What do you think about MFA programs and the way that creative writing is taught today?
Rick Moody: The writing workshops that have proliferated in the last 20 or 30 years—and there have been so many of them in universities in America now—that this workshop culture makes it easy to talk about a story if it precedes in a way that demonstrably similar to stories past. If it actually has sort of rising action, climax, emotional epiphany, satisfying humanist conclusion, then it’s really easy to talk about in a workshop and it’s easy to organize the workshop to talk about it. That just means that the story sits right smack in a kind of demographic or intellectual mean. It’s not challenging us in any way. So the really great fiction and the really horrible fiction gets sort of pushed out to the margins in a workshop setting and it’s not easy for us to come up with a vocabulary to talk about them, nor to figure out how to fix them if they need fixing.
So it seems to me, in that circumstance we’re doing a real disservice to our national literature with the workshop and it really is exactly like a test screening for a motion picture or a focus group to talk about a new car design or a new detergent or something. And I don’t think that’s what we want to be doing with our art, you know?
The older model for writing was: read a lot, try to make the acquaintance of some great writer and ask him or her to read what you’re doing and respond to it. And I think what we mean by that kind of model is a mentorship kind of model. That mentorship model adheres much more to undergraduate education then it does to graduate schools. Like the workshop is primarily a workshop is primarily a graduate school kind of model, whereas undergraduate school usually tends more towards a kind of mentorship approach. At least for me, mentorship was much more effective. It was more important for me to want to impress Angela Carter, who was one of my teachers at Brown when I was there, then it was to try to impress my classmates at Columbia, you know, who are all fighting with one another about trying to get agents and all that kind of stuff. I think mentorship has an emotional component and artists and writers thrive where there are emotions at stake more readily, you know?
Now there are models springing up now that avoid some of the problems of the workshop. One of these is the low-residency model in which most of what you are taught in writing workshop is done by correspondence. Bennington has one, Warren Wilson College, Goddard College; these are springing up all over the place too. If you get a great teacher in that low-residency setting, you’re in kind of good shape.
Still, in all, there are writers in contemporary American fiction who never went to graduate school and to me they’re some of the most interesting writers. They feel free to follow idiosyncrasy and they’re not worried, or they haven’t been worried about what those other 13 people around the table are going to say. And their singularity is not a bother to them. So there is also a lot to be said for just doing it how they do it in Europe now, which is just read, read, read and go in that direction.
Recorded July 28, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Writing courses and MFA programs make it easy to talk about a story if it proceeds in a way that is demonstrably similar to stories past. This means the really great fiction often gets pushed to the margins.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
Remarkable 'fan art' commemorates 50th anniversary of legendary guitar player's passing.
- Legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix died exactly 50 years ago today.
- From September 1966 to his death, he performed over 450 times.
- This spectacular 'gigograph' shows the geographic dimension of his short but busy career.
Last night at the Samarkand<video controls id="3f8a7" width="100%" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5cd31bc25fbed5fd4fbc5905d44527e8" expand="1" feedbacks="true" mime_type="video/mp4" shortcode_id="1600450310811" url="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F19636-JimiHendrix_LivePerformances.mp4" videoControls="true"> <source src="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F19636-JimiHendrix_LivePerformances.mp4" type="video/mp4"> Your browser does not support the video tag. </video><p>On September 17, 1970, Jimi Hendrix awoke at the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill, London, in the basement flat where his German girlfriend Monika Dannemann was staying. At around 2 p.m., they had tea in the hotel's garden and Monika took some snaps of Jimi with 'Black Beauty,' his favorite Fender Stratocaster guitar. Those were the last pictures ever taken of him. </p><p><span></span>Later in the afternoon, the couple went out – visiting local hipness hotspot <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_Market,_London" target="_blank">Kensington Market</a>, an antiques market in Chelsea and Jimi's suite at the Cumberland Hotel, near Marble Arch. They had tea and wine at a friend's flat, argued and made up, and went back to the Samarkand Hotel, where they had a late meal, drank a bottle of wine and Jimi wrote a poem titled 'The Story of Life.'</p><p>Well after midnight, Hendrix went to a party, where he took some amphetamine. Dannemann showed up at the party, and around 3 a.m. the couple returned to the Samarkand. Unable to sleep, Jimi took nine of Monika's sleeping pills (the recommended dose was half a pill). When she awoke that morning, she found him unresponsive and covered in vomit. Around noon of the 18th of September – exactly 50 years ago today – Jimi Hendrix was pronounced dead.</p><p>The last stanza of the poem he wrote the night before reads:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye.</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The story of love is hello and goodbye.</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>Until we meet again.</em></p><p>Amid the initial confusion surrounding his death, the poem was mistaken by some for a suicide note. Several subsequent investigations have provided nothing but indications of an accidental death. <br></p>
Immortalised in the '27 Club'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNDQ3NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDU1NjcxNX0.27c7ESrA2OnXExGCsigfs5jOVoAAAR-M9pn3sIFRZdA/img.png?width=980" id="b5894" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6979d0862296c37bddbf9ea081cd3171" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bJimi Hendrix performing for the Dutch TV show 'Hoepla' on 11 June 1967." />
Jimi Hendrix performing for the Dutch TV show 'Hoepla' on 11 June 1967.
Credit: A. Vente, CC BY-SA 3.0<p>Arguably the<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJunCsrhJjg&ab_cha..." target="_blank"> greatest guitarist in rock history</a>, Hendrix was one of the first modern members of the '27 Club' – musicians immortalised mid-fame, dead at the still-tender age of 27. Earlier members include Robert Johnson (d. 1938) and Brian Jones (d. 1969), later ones Janis Joplin (who died two weeks after Hendrix), Jim Morrison (d. 1971), Kurt Cobain (d. 1994) and Amy Winehouse (d. 2011).</p><p>In the States, Hendrix had made a name for himself as a band guitarist, playing for both Little Richard and Ike Turner. Not an undividedly positive name: he got fired from both of those bands. His own career – as a solo artist, and as the leader of the Jimi Hendrix Experience – only took off when he moved to London. <br></p><p>The graph above connects over 450 dots, one for each gig he played. It shows the amount of hard work Hendrix put into his career, and how it paid off – after criss-crossing Northwestern Europe, but mainly England, his fame hops back across the Atlantic and becomes transcontinental. A few samples from his <a href="https://concerts.fandom.com/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix" target="_blank">gig database</a>:</p>
London first, London last<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNDQ4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDQ4MTg5Nn0.ST2r7qyiI9CELqKP0-CpoV7YIWioAEQBXscq9mJVESM/img.jpg?width=980" id="86886" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0d79abc719416b4068456e6938fcd776" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, with Jimi, bass player Noel Redding (right) and drummer Mitch Mitchell (on the floor)." />
The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, with Jimi, bass player Noel Redding (right) and drummer Mitch Mitchell (on the floor).
Credit: public domain<ul><li>24 September 1966: first solo performance in London, at Scotch of St James.</li><li>13 October 1966: first concert of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, supporting Johnny Halliday in Évreux, France.</li><li>18 January 1967: performing 'Hey Joe' on 'Top of the Pops', at the BBC TV's Lime Grove Studios in London.</li><li>18 June 1967: first stateside gig, at the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe82eYRjiBU&ab_cha..." target="_blank">Monterey International Pop Festival</a> in California.</li><li>3 July 1967: first East Coast show, at the Scene Club in NYC.</li><li>9 October 1967: L'Olympia, Paris.</li><li>14 November 1967: at the Royal Albert Hall in London; first gig of package tour with Pink Floyd, The Nice and others.</li><li>31 December 1967: at the Speakeasy in London. Jimi plays a 30-minute rendition of <em>Auld Lang Syne</em>.</li><li>12 March 1968: jam session with Jim Morrison, Buddy Miles and others at The Scene in NYC.</li><li>22 June 1968: at The Scene in NYC, Jimi jams with the original lineup of the Jeff Beck Group, which also includes Rod Stewart and Ron Wood.</li><li>14 September 1968: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles.</li><li>23 January 1969: two shows at the <em>Sportpalast</em> in Berlin, Germany.</li><li>18 May 1969: Madison Square Garden, NYC.</li><li>29 June 1969: Mile High Stadium, Denver – the last performance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.</li><li>17 August 1969: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwIymq0iTsw&t=14s&..." target="_blank">Woodstock</a>, New York.</li><li>30 August 1970: Isle of Wight Festival, England.</li><li>16 September 1970: jam with Eric Burdon's new band War at Ronnie Scott's in Soho, London. Jimi's last public performance.</li></ul><p>This bit of 'fan art' was created by Owen Powell, who points out that "it's not an academic study of Jimi Hendrix's movements, more a visualisation of the data mapped in sequential order." So if he flew home between gigs, that's not recorded here. <br></p><p><em>The Jimi Hendrix 'gigograph' reproduced with kind permission from Mr Powell. Check out his <a href="https://twitter.com/owenjpowell" target="_blank">twitter</a> and his <a href="https://owenpowell.wordpress.com/" target="_blank">website</a>.</em></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1048</strong></p><p><strong></strong><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" style="">email@example.com</a>.<br></p>
Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday propel the ridesharing industry into our skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>