My short story “Poisoned Pawn” was published today in Crime Factory #13. Cool cover art by Eric Beetner.
- Last month I read How Fiction Works by James Wood. Wood is a novelist, but is best known as a literary critic for The New Yorker. I really liked the book. Wood writes about a variety of different elements involved in writing fiction: narration, character development, detail, language, dialogue, and even truth. I particularly liked the first section which focused on “free indirect” style of writing — a new concept for me. I also liked the section on language. Some of the Amazon reviews of the book are negative (most are positive). The negative one’s point out that Wood only focuses on literary fiction, downplays the importance of plot, and is a pompous, elitist windbag. There may be some truth to these comments, but I couldn’t put the book down.
- I polished off another Murakami novel, this time Dance Dance Dance. In it we follow the nameless character that we met in A Wild Sheep Chase. I really like Murakami — the weirdness, the prose, the strange sex, the mundane details. The plot in this one is thin, but I loved just living in the moment; Murakami can lead anywhere and I’ll follow. It proved, to me at least, that Wood is right — plot can be overrated.
- Over Christmas I tried to tackle Kafka’s last and unfinished novel, The Castle. The story resolves around a land surveyor who is hired by a town’s castle, but he never meets his bosses, never gets to the castle, and never is given a concrete assignment. Classic Kafka — the mind-numbing craziness of modern bureaucracy. Although I appreciated the book, I only read about two-thirds of it. Why? The prose. It was so dense it wasn’t a joy to read. Maybe I’ll try to finish later, but I feel I got the point.
- I recently listened to Miranda July’s short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. It was amazingly good. She reads them herself. The stories are typically a little off-beat, contain one or more weird sex scenes, and the characters are almost always looking to find love. She’s a talented woman.
- I just started reading Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith. The book is the first of a trilogy. He’s offering it for free as a download in the hopes that you’ll buy books two and three. I’m about sixty pages in and based just on what I’ve read so far, you can sign me up for book #2. I dig Smith’s work.
- Finally, I was saddened to learn that Roger Ebert died this week. I grew-up in Chicago, and Ebert and Siskel were established parts of the landscape there. I never watch a movie without first reading Ebert’s review. Where will I turn now?
Posted in Novel Review, Short Story Reviews | Tagged Anthony Neil Smith, Book Review, fiction, Haruki Murakami, James Wood, Kafka, Miranda July, Novels, reading, Roger Ebert, short story, writing | Leave a Comment »
In December, I read a New York Times article about a new Tom Cruise movie called “Jack Reacher.” It’s based on the Jack Reacher books written by Lee Child. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Jack Reacher or Lee Child, and apparently those books are wildly popular and big money makers for Child. So I read the first book of the series, Killing Floor. Damn good. A page tuner. One of those books you can’t put down and are dying to get back to. There is an introduction at the start of the book, and Child explains that it was his goal to write a popular book, a blockbuster, a guilty pleasure. Although he doesn’t think of it as guilty. I found his approach to writing very illuminating, anti-snob. I tracked down a few quotes of his online; they are a little controversial, I don’t necessarily agree with him completely, but here they are:
Show, Don’t Tell (Child says to ignore this rule)
Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader. “It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.
So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”
“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”
Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.
After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do you show a joke? No, you tell it.
“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”
Child believes the average reader doesn’t care at all about telling, showing, etc. He or she just wants something to latch onto, something to carry them through the book. By following too many “rules,” you can lose your readers.
Thriller vs. Literary Fiction
‘To me it’s a Zen proposition: if you write a novel and no one reads it, have you really written a novel at all? There has to be art, skill and creativity but you need an audience or there’s no point. I could easily write a work of literary fiction. It would take me three weeks, sell about 3,000 copies and be at least as good as the competition. But literary authors can’t write thrillers. They try sometimes, but they can never do it.’
I’m currently reading Kafka’s last novel, The Castle. He died before he could finish it. It’s definitely not a page turner, at least not for me. But it haunts me. The prose is dense and the plot bizarre. It’s dream-like. I like it, and I’m sure it’s be of those books that will stay with me.
Oh, and I just learned that my story “Poisoned Pawn” was accepted by Crime Factory magazine. That makes two for me in that journal. It will run in April. I’m pumped!
I don’t know who Judy Blume is. From what I just read online, it sounds like she’s a fairly successful author. But I did like these two pieces of advice that she gave on how to handle it when your work gets rejected. I was talking to my friend Al awhile back, and his eyes seemed to open up when he heard one of my stories had been rejected 40 times. Yes, I think the only reason that I ever get accepted is that I send my stories out to a lot of different places. So that means a lot of rejections. It’s a drag, but I actually kind of expect to get rejected, so that softens the blow a little. (Note: my friend Al is a very talented writer, and I suspect his work gets accepted more quickly than mine!).
Anyway, here are the quotes. I like how she emphasizes the importance of just getting better:
On advising young writers about their careers
“It’s all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it’s that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in — the first couple of times, anyway — and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, ‘Well, maybe they didn’t like that one, but wait till they see what I’m going to do next.’ And I think you just have to keep going.
“You know what? The thing is that nobody writes unless they have to. So if you have to write because it’s inside you, then you will.”
For two years I received nothing but rejections. One magazine, Highlights for Children, sent a form letter with a list of possible reasons for rejection. “Does not win in competition with others,” was always checked off on mine. I still can’t look at a copy of Highlights without wincing.
I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent.
Don’t let anyone discourage you! Yes, rejection and criticism hurt. Get used to it. Even when you’re published you’ll have to contend with less than glowing reviews. There is no writer who hasn’t suffered.
The other day a friend sent me a link to a blog entry entitled: “Have we been reading your submission for, like, a year?” Minna Proctor, editor-in-chief, The Literary Review, wrote the blog entry.
The Literary Review bills itself as “An International Journal of Contemporary Writing.” Frankly, I hadn’t heard of it before, but I just signed-up for a subscription. A few years back, when I started writing short stories, I decided I should read the journals and get a sense for what is being published. You can’t succeed at writing if don’t read (and read!).
Anyway, Minna’s post detailed the process that she and her staff go through when selecting stories to include in their journal. I found it really interesting and informative. On the plus side, every story is read and treated seriously. On the negative side, it can take over a year for a story to work its way through the review process.
Like most aspiring writers, I’ve sent stories to a lot of journals. And, of course, I’ve received a lot of rejections. I’ve also had stories accepted (I think seven or eight). I’m always rather amazed when a story is accepted, because I’ve been dubious that they are even read! But that’s the cynic in me. It’s nice to know that there are people out there like Minna.
Last Saturday night my good friend Greg Bardsley had a book launch at Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park for his new novel Cash Out. A good time was had by all! I’m a big fan of Greg’s work in general, and Cash Out specifically. Following is the review that I posted on Good Reads:
Cash Out is a wonderful combination of the bizarre, hysterical, and gruesome. I was first turned on to Greg Bardsley’s writing a few years ago when I read his short story “Upper Decking.” Amazing! He has a very distinct voice: funny, somewhat crime centric, off-beat characters, a little violence thrown in. I agree with another review that I could see Cash Out being turned into a movie. A future cult classic, like The Big Lebowski. Buy it. Read it.