When you're in need of soothing words to inspire or a little kicking of the posterior, check out this compendium of writers on writing,
compiled by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Reading through the collected advice from such writers as Joyce Carol Oates, E.B. White, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Susan Sontag and many others is like picking through a box of chocolates and eating all of the tasty ones.
- From Elmore Leonard: "If it sounds like writing . . . . rewrite it."
- Joy Williams: “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.”
- Zadie Smith: "Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand--but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied."
Of course, reading about writing is not the same thing as actually writing, so once you've gotten your inspiration fix, get back to work. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Nothing any good isn’t hard.”
Graduate Eric Larson and current CWLA writers Bree Kessler and Mary Kudenov have teamed up to offer a free workshop on urban writing on Nov. 8 at the Wolf Den in the UAA Student Center. The session begins at 9 a.m. with a breakfast panel about Mountain View and a literary reading from Mary. The interactive writing workshop starts at 10:30 with a lunch break at noon.
The workshop is the first effort of the Anchorage Neighborhood Writing Project (ANWP) and is part of ENGAGE Week: Urban in Alaska sponsored by the UAA Center for Community Engagement and Learning (CCEL). According to Eric's blog post on 49 Writers:
We are looking for collaborators across mediums to build a compendium ofAnchorage lore. We are looking for writing, photography, mapping, drawing, painting, and other modes of art. The long-term goal of ANWP is to combine writing and other media into a community atlas that tells the stories of how we live in Anchorage.
These three organizers have particular interests and expertise that make them uniquely qualified for this community project. Check out Eric's post
for further detailed information about the workshop and about their backgrounds.
Nonfictionista Scott Burton's cool new job title is impressive: Arts, Culture and Music Producer at KTOO-FM in Juneau. He writes to tell us that part of his new position is producing radio and TV programs for a new series known as Arts@360. More details from him:
"Among the new productions we’re planning is a Selected Shorts
-like, holiday-themed reading. The show will be recorded, and then likely aired on the KTOO radio stations, and televised statewide on 360 North
. We plan to have local celebrities and actors read a variety of short fiction/creative non-fiction pieces that are fresh, diverse, and related to the winter holiday season. Something like David Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries”
comes to mind. The average reading time for a piece should be about 10 minutes. Bonus points for stories that take place in Alaska, and/or stories of a culturally diverse nature.
"The live performance on December 12th
will tentatively be about an hour-and-a-half, and the recorded/broadcast piece will be an hour. If you have a piece that fits the above description (or want to write one!), or can think of an existing published piece, please let me know. Small stipends will be available for writers of original work. Please get me your ideas as soon as possible. If you plan on writing something, please contact me soon, and plan to submit it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
by November 11th
. Thank you for your time and consideration."
Why are you still reading? Get busy!
Where is the Great American Novel by a Woman?
That's the question that editor Jennifer Szalai and writer Mohsin Hamid took on in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. Hamid says there's no shortage of great novels by American women, so perhaps the problem is this:
There is no such thing.
The point of there being a notion of the Great American Novel is to elevate fiction. It’s a target for writers to aim at. It’s a mythological beast, an impossible mountaintop, a magical vale in the forest, a place to get storytellers dreaming of one day reaching. It keeps you warm when times are cold, and times in the world of writing for a living are mostly cold.
The very notion that such a thing exists may be what's obscuring the fantastic fiction that women have already written, he says, adding that the words "The" and "American" are exclusionary and parochial. Meanwhile, Isaac Chotiner takes issue
with Szalai's sugggestion that "Instead of the Great American Novel, maybe we should be talking more about our Great American Fixation, the insistent desire to find the book that tells us who we are." He writes in The New Republic
that talking about the GAN is really a game that's meant to start enjoyable conversations.
Both essays seem to start from the idea that everyone takes these conversations seriously, and therein lies the problem. In fact, the writers are the ones taking it seriously. The rest of us just want to have fun.
But maybe he doesn't understand that to writers arguing about this stuff IS fun?
"The Woman Who Loves Orcas"
is a lovely profile of Eva Saulitis--nonfiction mentor, whale biologist and poet/essayist/memoirist. The feature article appeared in OnEarth's Spring 2013 issue.
Writer Ted Genoways explains Eva's research on a particularly unique pod of 22 killer whales known as the AT1s whose members have declined to seven since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
All of which has pressed a hard reality upon Saulitis. "They are leaving the earth under my watch," she writes in her book. "There will, perhaps in my lifetime, be a last one." There’s no denying this or fixing it. The time for cleaning up Prince William Sound has passed. Saulitis is simply documenting the decline, gathering as much information as she can before the inevitable arrives.
Yes, we know, YOU'VE never read a Stephen King novel in your life. But somebody in the literary world has, or else he probably wouldn't have that 2003 National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts dangling from his rear-view mirror (or wherever he keeps it).
With the publication of Doctor Sleep,
the sequel to The Shining,
critics have yet another opportunity to appraise King's role in the literary world as well as the commercial. In the New Yorker
, Joshua Rothman points out
an often-overlooked aspect of King's body of work: He's not exclusively a horror writer at all.
King’s success as a genre fantasist is obvious and undeniable—it’s absolutely central to who he is as a writer. And yet critics and writers, in embracing King, have often done so by ignoring his otherworldliness and lauding his realism. Margaret Atwood, for example, writing about “Doctor Sleep” in the Times Book Review, argued that, “down below the horror trappings,” the book was “about families,” and especially about the family as a place where two kinds of anger, “righteous” and “destructive,” express themselves. In 2003, when the National Book Foundation awarded King a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters—the year before, the winner had been Philip Roth —the writer Walter Mosley, in introducing King, praised “his almost instinctual understanding of the fears that form the psyche of Americag’s working class. He knows fear,” Mosley said, “and not the fear of demonic forces alone but also of loneliness and poverty, of hunger and the unknown."
Roth goes on to say that given a choice between the writerly talents of observation or of imagination, he prefers King as a playful fantasist: "There are lots of writers who tell it like it is, but only a few who, with such commitment and intensity, tell it like it isn’t. King takes the weird and gives it weight." And by that he's not referring to the physical heft of a typical King novel, which is generally large enough to kill a squirrel should it be dropped upon its head.
Among the finalists announced today in the National Book Awards fiction category are Thomas Pynchon for Bleeding Edge
, George Saunders for Tenth of December
, and Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland
. A full list of finalists in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people's literature is posted at the National Book Foundation's
site. More importantly, you'll find links to a free e-book featuring excerpts from the finalists' books.
Finally, New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton makes the rest of us look like total slackers after winning the Man Booker Award for The Luminaries.
Catton is not only the youngest author in the award's history, but her novel is the longest winner at 832 pages. "Speaking after the result was announced, she said her publishers had been thrilled that the final manuscript was just short enough 'not to collapse under its own weight in paperback,' " The Telegraph reported. Here's an excerpt of her novel, which has been described as a historical murder mystery and the "Kiwi Twin Peaks." Catton is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, so yay for MFAs.
Sherman Alexie Jr
. believes his life would have been radically different if he hadn't taken a college poetry workshop by chance. On the first day of class, the teacher gave him an anthology of Native American poetry. Alexie, whose mother was a Spokane Indian and his father a Coeur d'Alene Indian, grew up on a reservation and had never thought about the possibility of becoming a writer. A poem by Adrian Louis changed all that, he says in this Atlantic interview
I loved books, always, but I didn’t know Indians wrote books or poems. And then to see myself so fully understood in one line of a poem, as though that one line of a poem written by someone else was my autobiography ... It was like understanding human language for the first time. It was like hearing the first words ever spoken by a human being, and understanding for the first time the immense communicative power of language.
Alexie not only became a poet but has written critically acclaimed screenplays and award-winning works of fiction such as The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The line of poetry that rocked his world? "Oh, Uncle Adrian, I’m in the reservation of my mind."
When I began to write, I was deeply self-conscious. I was writing stories hoping they would say something thematic, or address something that I was wrestling with philosophically. I’ve learned, for me at least, it’s a dead road. It’s writing from the outside in instead of the inside out.
Eventually he learned an exciting, terrifying lesson: surrender control to your characters.
What happens then is, you start writing something you don’t even really want to write about. Things start to happen under your pencil that you don’t want to happen, or don’t understand. But that’s when the work starts to have a beating heart.
Dubus, the author of The House of Sand and Fog, also discusses the virtues of dreaming rather than imagining and of waiting six months before revising a full draft. His latest publication is a collection of four novellas titled Dirty Love.
Researchers publishing in the journal Science
report that reading literature makes you more empathetic, more emotionally intelligent, and more perceptive. According to a story in the New York Times
".... people who read excerpts from literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Alice Munro, Wendell Berry) scored better than people who read popular fiction (Gillian Flynn, Rosamunde Pilcher, Mary Roberts Rinehart) on tests asking them to infer what people were 'thinking or feeling--a field that scientists call Theory of Mind.' "
The study did not find the same effects with nonfiction or commercial fiction. One explanation from the scientists: "Literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity. They theorize that reading literary fiction helps improve real-life skills like empathy and understanding the beliefs and intentions of others." OK, but the nonfiction readings came from articles published in Smithsonian magazine, like "How the Potato Changed the World." Maybe try some Annie Dillard or John McPhee next time.