"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Flannery O'Connor on MFA programs

"In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel's worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class."

This is from her book of essays, Mystery and Manners. The essay is the The Nature and Aim of Fiction. The copyright dates are from 1957 onward, she died in 1964 -- so she is talking about fifty to sixty years ago. Imagine what she'd have to say now.

Another excerpt: "Now in every writing class you find people who care nothing about writing, because they think they are already writers by virtue of some experience they've had. It is a fact that if, either by nature or training, these people can learn to write badly enough, they can make a great deal of money, and in a way it seems a shame to deny them this opportunity; but then, unless the college is a trade school, it still has its responsibility to truth, and I believe myself that these people should be stifled with all deliberate speed."

This has always been a controversial stance -- I wonder if she was being tongue-in-cheek. It thrills me to hear her talk about a responsibility to truth. The good old, pre-ironic, still optimistic days. Who would she be directing this toward today? If she were still with us, would we see her as a persecutor of King and Crichton? Or perhaps there is enough artistry there, along with tradesman like qualities, to spare them her wrath. If wrath it was.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who Reads Women Authors?

According to this article in the London Times, it's not men. I think we have to take into account that many books are written for female readers -- 77% of women vs. only 44% of men buy and read fiction. According to author Joanna Kavenna, men are unwilling to read books by women, while women tend to read books by either sex.

It may be that my preference for female authors -- slight though it turns out to be -- is mostly a matter of compatible points of view, but I must also confess that I do not find many male authors capable of writing interesting and convincing female characters. I yearn for fascinating females in my fiction reading, so I read fewer male authors. There's nothing quite as disappointing for me as starting a promising book, only to find that the main female character is a large-breasted cardboard cutout, or worse, some poorly drawn remnant of the author's childhood, perhaps, that should have been psychoanalyzed away.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On the Short Story - Form and Viability

A friend sent this link from the Independent Online.

I agree that people do like stories, maybe not as much as novels (speaking for myself), but the problem for publishers is how to promote a collection of them. There's no rollicking main story with sexy characters, threatening situations and satisfying conclusions. Rather, the whole situation changes every few pages, and big publicity machines are just gearing up. We need some innovative publicity (see Miranda July's website for her new book).

I do miss seeing stories in some of the magazines that used to carry them, but I seldom like the New Yorker's fiction selections, whereas the nonfiction rocks. I wonder if anyone does like New Yorker stories, in general. There is the occasional selction I love, but not every week. Is there anyone out there turning first to the stories and liking most of them? I'm afraid the NYer editors would sooner leave them out than change their selection criteria -- among which, first refusal contracts, which mean that they buy some stories to keep them out of competitor's hands -- but who are the competitors anyway, and, stories by authors with books about to come out. One gets the sense that the New Yorker sees itself as featuring literary news rather than merely good stories.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mailer to Use Atwood's Long Pen

Now that his own reach is failing. Norman Mailer will sign books at the Edinburgh International Book Festival without leaving home, using the LongPen remote pen invented by Margaret Atwood.

Friday, June 15, 2007

American Novelists: Saving the Language?

Thought-provoking blog at the Guardian.
"American, as opposed to colonial English, prose is generally agreed to have really got going with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ("You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.")...

"What Twain did was to stop policing the boundaries between book language and the kind used by regular folks in day-to-day life. It was a decision that opened the door to the vigorous life and invention of vernacular and oral English. It has given American novels a cocky swagger that survives still: the energy of Philip Roth's prose, the sweet spin that George Saunders gives to his tales of McWorld, the tragic passions of Toni Morrison."

I'm all in favor of the playful evolution of language -- I remember what it was like to try to read de Beauvoir in the original French, e.g., -- but let's, just to play devil's advocate, also celebrate English novelists for their correct grammar. Somehow, it's easier to lose track of things like that on this side of the pond. Everything that somebody says doesn't make sense ;)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Speaking of Moby Dick

How hard is it to believe that a 100-year-old creature could have the intelligence to sustain a grudge against the dislikeable Ahab?
A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt — more than a century ago.

Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.

The whale was killed as part of allowed "harvesting" by native Alaskan villages. The photo shows a bowhead whale and two beluga whales.

Friday, June 8, 2007

"It's That Green Blood of His"

This was too good to pass up: Patient bleeds dark green blood

A team of Canadian surgeons got a shock when the patient they were operating on began shedding dark greenish-black blood, the Lancet reports. The man emulated Star Trek's Mr Spock - the Enterprise's science officer who supposedly had green Vulcan blood.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

At last...

Not only did Cormac McCarthy finally make an appearance on Oprah's show, for which see Oprah.com (you'll have to join the book club to get to the videos),

but -- now, the U.S. Government has finally acknowledged -- ta daa -- that science fiction writers do in fact know the future. At USA today.

From laser weapons to test-tube babies, science-fiction writers have imagined hundreds of futuristic technologies that were or are being developed and used by the government or produced for the public. Among them:

From author Robert Heinlein: cellphones, remote-controlled robot arms, microwave ovens, water beds.

From author H.G. Wells: atomic bombs, airplanes, television, joystick controls.

From author Arlan Andrews: tourist spaceships, downloadable pocket-sized books.

At last, I feel my life is in good hands.