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A Writer's Credo: Notes from Author Frederic Tuten

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I'm partial to fiction that does not compete with TV, with movies, with the internet, does not compete with the mass market novel. All those things have their place and do their job -- to entertain their audience, among whom I am willingly one. Life has many pleasant and various distractions, as does the house of fiction, which, as Henry James says, has many windows.

The truth is that I would rather see even the thinnest episode of The Sopranos or almost any half hour of Blind Date rather than read most contemporary fiction of the kind which tells the story blow by blow, in well-pressed sentences, stories which can be better and more excitingly told in another medium and which are really fodder for movies and TV. The writing I'm interested in exists for itself and of itself and is virtually untranslatable to another medium. Read, for example: Nightwood; Barktree; Gold Fools; This Is Not A Novel. In any case, to rail against the pernicious influence of the media on art is to beat the sea with chains.

I'm interested in writing that spins on itself, dives inward, twists the guts of language and makes it sing new songs, whole operas, even unstageable ones. Writing born from no preordained mould or schoolish preconception of what a novel or a story is or should be. These are the books that will take us out of the commonplace and into the rare, places heaven to visit when the world seems choked to the eyes with lies.

We complain, and not without justice, that we are in a culture that does not care whether we live or die, whether we write or do not write, except as we produce fodder for this or that vast conglomerate. So what?

If you want to produce fodder, produce it. If you want to concern yourself with the overarching problems of publishing in an increasingly illiterate, reactionary society, concern yourself. If not, in the meanwhile, consider this: Think small, not the blockbuster, the breakout book and the mega audience but the gem that cannot be replicated. Think of the few but wonderful readers who love gems. Think of poetry. Think of incandescence and radiance. Leave the careerists to their careers. Ignore them as you would collaborationists. Shun all teachers of the safely banal; exit rapidly those writing schools that churn out the Stepford Realists. Explore the still unexplored territory of the ever protean novel, live within it, explode it, reinvent it, create new vistas accessible only on its unique terrain.

Embrace writers with integrity. Write to them as if they were alone on a far away island or in a prison, isolated and dying for an appreciative word. Visit the graves of unhonored writers; ditto their places of birth and last residence. Leave them flowers and books and a thank you note, handwritten. (A good start: Djuna Barnes's home at Patchin Place, New York City.)

Think of yourself as making art -- however bombastic or vague that may sound even to you -- and not as a producer of product or units: You will thus relieve yourself of worrying about your work's social or political function, since all art is redemptive, salvational, ennobling and is a protest against ignorance, crime, lies and Death.

One beautiful story is more useful than all the palaver of well-intentioned (leaving aside the self-promotional aspect and travel advantages for the participants) literary panels on the role of art in society. One beautiful novel shames all banal enterprises and sends brightness through the windows of prisons, parliaments and publishing houses.

Frederic Tuten will be in L.A. next week to celebrate the launch of his most recent book Self Portraits: Fictions and hold a conversation at the Getty on October 12th with Steve Martin and Andrew Perchuk.

Originally published in the literary magazine, Fence.