The Samurai School of Author Blogs: A Beginning

The Samurai School of Author Blogs: A Beginning

Once I saw a movie that opens on a layabout in medieval Japan who needs work. A war is on, so he decides to become a samurai. He picks up a sword somewhere and follows after whichever army marches past first. I’ve no idea which film this is. My best guess is Hidden Fortress, in which case it’s not one guy but two.

The Samurai School of Author Blogs: A Beginning

Anyways, me as the film watcher, I protested. I didn’t know anything about how you become a samurai, but that can’t be how that works, I thought. Being a samurai isn’t just owning some of the equipment, it involves a certain set of skills, codes of behavior, both martial and social. You pledge allegiance to a lord, you train until you can slice a ray of sunlight in half, you teach your voice to rumble whenever you have something important to say. But this guy (these guys) never wasted a thought on any of that. They just showed up and hoped to make a fortune of it. In the end, though, they had a pretty good adventure of it, or else it ended pretty badly for them. It was a good film in any case. Or it wasn’t.

I think about this/these new samurai whenever I consider the author blog. A writer today is supposed to have one, not only before they’ve published a book but before they’ve written one. Three years before, according to one opinion! Invariably this includes advice for other writers. Like a samurai school run by someone who has never seen combat or held a sword. I’m pretty sure I saw that in a movie too. All anybody ever learned was how to apply a bandage.

What I’m saying is: when it comes to writing fiction, it seems a miracle more people don’t end up with a sword in the eye before they meet their first opponent.

Communities form through blogs, I suppose. People like those, I’m told! But the best writers are not always the best teachers, nor vice versa. Advice gets repeated because it sounds good, or it has a prestigious source, not necessarily because it is understood. Or helpful.

Hemingway’s “Write the truest sentence that you know,” isn’t just a dippy-sounding statement, he’s describing (somewhat abstractly) a cornerstone of the technical approach to his own style of writing. Therefore, it will only be instructional if you aspire to take the same approach. For better or worse, Hemingway’s method is not compatible with typical writing goals these days, such as publishing four or more books a year. So whether or not you like Hemingway (I do, I consider his life and work a tragedy of essentially American character), for most authors this advice is somewhere between unhelpful and bad, even if you offset the words in blockquotes or juxtapose a sepia photograph.

Truth. I’m just telling truth.

The worst part of this type of author blog is the underlying assumption that the only people interested in fiction is other writers, not readers. I have met so many writers who try to connect with writers without being at all interested in readers. This is one of many absurd author behaviors that make me think, hey let’s not be that.

Besides, I’m a reader too. If writing has done nothing else for me, it’s deepened my appreciation of what I see on the page. Yes, it’s harder for me to overlook laziness or rookie mistakes, but I’m also more capable of hearing the storyteller’s voice and what world they inhabit. This is worth a lot to me. Thinking of myself as a reader before a writer is an all-around good life strategy, I feel.

So here’s what I want to do. Let’s forgo the pretense that I’m an expert at anything. Turns out I’m pretty good at some stuff, and not so good at others. Right now I’m neither eager nor anxious about you finding out which are which.

What I am, though, is someone who cares a lot about how fiction fits into today’s world: what it has to say about what we hope for, what we are afraid of, what keeps us from being happy. My aim is to use this space to discuss these subjects and invite you to participate. I am also going to geek out with some utter silliness, and I am most definitely going to whore my books.

Er hem. I have a sci fi novel coming out later this year called The Killbug Eulogies. The audio book is already recorded! Samples and other fun stuff to follow. I may have already made toys. (Homemade toys!) Subscribe to the email list to keep on top of it!

P.S. I wanted to change the subtitle of this entry from a “A Beginning” to “A Begunment” but that word looks like it refers to the strapping on of firearms—which, if you’ve ever watched a samurai film, is a whole other can of ass.


  1. Holly Hollar

    First off, totally agree regarding Hemingway. But this is a refreshing take on the author blog. I have read many, instructional author blogs that do provide some helpful insight on the craft but I don’t typically get a sense that the individual who wrote the “8 things for great character development” piece cares much about the placement of words or structure of sentences or why I should use the word “stunning” instead of “beautiful” or some other seemingly insignificant yet profound detail that hangs me up when I’m trying to write good shit.

    On the topic of how fiction fits in: people are doing incredible things with data, and I imagine before long, algorithms are going to be able to craft interesting and complex stories. I think about this a lot. Is human art going to be replaced by machine, and how far off are we? I posted this guy’s Ted talk on my FB page, but I’ll put it here as well because it is interesting but also a little scary…

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      Will Madden

      I’d be interested to see what kinds of stories an algorithm could write in the future! But I am not too worried about computers ‘replacing’ humans in this respect, not because I think it’s impossible to push technology that far, because stories are more than just the text. They are the product of the experiences that created them: a person who belongs to a particular time and place, who has consumed a certain set of books and films and music (and not others) and who interacts with them in certain way: modeling after some, consciously avoiding imitation of others, misinterpreting yet others. Part of the fun of reading is trying to make some sense of, for instance, why an author always has a peripheral character of a carpenter who becomes a police officer, or a boy who stands on the corner pretending to be a lobster. Even in stories that are group efforts, the new Muppet Show and Kimmy Schmidt come to mind, you can sense how the plotlines are reactions to pressures from the network, or a response to criticisms of earlier episodes. You can feel the writers’ frustrations. In short, it’s not just what is said, but who is saying it. So let’s grant a computer will be able to produce the what. Can it also produce the who? I’m not sure I even understand what ‘yes’ would mean.

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