mahmud rahman's pages

writer.translator

Category: writing (Page 2 of 2)

Remembering Octavia Butler, 1947-2006

Forget inspiration, forget talent, don’t worry about imagination: her advice for a new fiction writer was simple.
     "Persist," she said.
     Around the time I discovered Octavia Butler’s writing advice, I was still new to writing fiction. I was anxious about both inspiration and talent. I worried about imagination, since in my rather complicated life I had picked up a thousand or more ‘real life’ stories, enough to write many, many pages of narrative. I remember telling my first fiction workshop teacher, Elena Rivera, that I wanted to learn how to break out of the grip of real-life experience.
     Twelve years after I typed out my first ‘story,’ I have to say, Octavia was on point. Persistence rewards.

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Make believe

While speaking to a few dozen friends recently, I tried out a confession.  I said that I was not really who I claimed to be; I was not as old as they knew me and that I had stolen the identity of someone older, someone who had gone through a much richer vein of experiences than I.
     It was a joke, and it fell completely flat.  Only a few people knew the references.  None seemed to care.
     I was making fun of two figures from the writing world who had just been in the news.  James Frey had been exposed by The Smoking Gun for having exaggerated many chapters in his life for his memoir A Million Little Pieces.  And J.T. Leroy had been exposed as not the bad boy male writer he claimed to be, but a woman who had apparently done none of what the author had claimed.
     Perhaps we writers get more excited by what other writers do than most people.
     But I understand the impulse to make believe.

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Cassettes and the analog-digital divide

Two of my friends have recently posted podcasts of their writing on the internet, one on The Writers Block at KQED in San Francisco and another at Podbazaar. I am toying with the idea of producing one of my own stories in audio and posting it here.
     With podcasts, I can listen to my friends’ pieces either through my computer or downloading them to an mp3 player. Like audiobooks, podcasts could be good to carry along on a long drive somewhere.
     Clearly, audio is alive and well, the beneficiary of new technology in production and distribution of digital content. Today a writer who thinks they can hold a reader’s attention with their recorded voice, with access to a computer with a microphone, can use freely-available software (like Audacity) to record a piece. She can then easily find a place on the internet to host her story. Voila, a podcast is born. Why, there is even a site that will allow you to record your podcast through your phone.
     Podcasts are being used by professional establishments as well as independent artists and commentators. The internet had already allowed anyone to publish text. Now, it has opened the way for anyone to do ‘radio.’
     On a global scale, however, I am concerned about the analog-digital divide.

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Writing in a ‘foreign’ tongue

Laila Lalami was in San Francisco last week to promote her novel, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. She, of moorishgirl.com fame, was born in Morocco and came to the U.S. for grad school. In the Q&A, an Indian man questioned her on her choice of writing in English. He said he was grappling with the challenge of writing in a language that is not one’s first language. Laila replied that while her native tongue is Arabic, her first literary language, learned in school, was French, but later as a result of coming to America, English has become her writing language. She mentioned some of the difficulties that come up, e.g. how to reproduce dialogue that in real life is taking place in Arabic, and how some idioms are simply untranslatable.
    This got me thinking — again — of the relationship between one’s writing language and mother tongue. This is a huge subject, but let me jot down a few thoughts here.

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