"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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Reading

The New Yorker recommends Six Shorts to Read During a Hurricane. Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, Joseph Conrad, Lydia Davis, Kerouac and Rimbaud get mentions. Stormy settings and descriptions.

Or, you could try Ten Novels About Solitude.

And if you prefer earthquakes to hurricanes: Timequake, After the Quake, Fault Lines and Earthquakes. There are buy links at the New Yorker site, but be warned: Fault Lines is about economics and Earthquakes is a kids' book. I'd go with the Vonnegut or the Murakami.

My choice for Hurricane Irene weekend is Paula Fox's Desperate Characters. The title suits practically any situation. And, I hear the author will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival in September.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How Stephen King Really Got That Way

I loved this article at Shelf Awareness about King and the bookmobile lady who gave him Lord of the Flies, due out in a new edition with his introduction:

"Do you have any stories about how kids really are?" She thought about it, then went to the section of the Bookmobile marked Adult Fiction, and pulled out a slim hardcover volume. "Try this, Stevie," she said. "And if anyone asks, tell them you found it yourself. Otherwise, I might get into trouble."

In On Writing, King mentions The Inheritors and Pincher Martin, also by Golding, both of which I read on his recommendation, and which are worth reading, even if not as compelling as Golding's more famous book. In The Inheritors, Golding imagines early human species interacting and competing. In Pincher Martin, a man has two lives, one with pinchers. Odd little book, but one which would almost certainly have gotten more attention if published today. I was happy to find both of these and I hereby pass on the recommendation.

As far as King's work, my favorites are Different Seasons, especially Apt Pupil, The Long Walk and The Stand. The Mist is a great story, too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Publishing is Not Dying

And the biggest surprise is adult fiction, the market for which has grown in the last couple of years. More adults are also reading YA fiction, which is fiction with young characters. It's often written more simply than adult fiction, which can mean it's an "easier" read, but can also mean it lacks the pretentious ambitions of "literary" fiction. Note that I'm not saying that ambition is wrong, just that pretentious attempts at originality are hard to read.
“We’re seeing a resurgence, and we’re seeing it across all markets — trade, academic, professional,” said Tina Jordan, the vice president of the Association of American Publishers. “In each category we’re seeing growth. The printed word is alive and well whether it takes a paper delivery or digital delivery.”

One of the strongest growth areas was adult fiction, which had a revenue increase of 8.8 percent over three years.
NY Times.

The article has inspired a rollicking discussion in the comments, with readers asserting things such as, they will not buy e-book readers until they have chosen "One App to Rule Them All"; that reading YA is like eating Snickers; that adults stopped reading deeply at age 12; that ebook readers may well go through the same technology changes as computer disks, and nobody can read 5 1/4" disks any more, so why not stick with real books unless for traveling light? That last is a good point. Current ebooks might be the 8-track tapes of the future.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Never Finished, Only Abandoned: Artists and the Perfectionism Trap

A WSJ article on the newly restored Orson Welles film has us thinking about perfectionism.

"Any form of limitation, obligation, responsibility or enforced duty was intolerable to him, rendering him claustrophobic and destructive." That's the wrong kind of perfectionism, and it led, as it usually does, to disaster.
The article goes on to chronicle how he lost credibility with Hollywood because of his demands for unlimited tolerance and funding, and had to go the indie route, where he did not have sufficient resources to realize his vision.

With writing, it's more a time issue. We haven't got forever to finish a work, even if we haven't got an entire cast and crew standing by. I find that "limitation" can be freeing, when you commit to a form, a plot or a deadline, even. Then you just do it. Which is not to say every work must fit the same form or any particular form.
The wisest artists are the ones who finish a new work, walk away and move on to the next project. Whenever a colleague pointed out a "mistake" in one of Dmitri Shostakovich's compositions, he invariably responded, "Oh, I'll fix that in my next piece."

I think we have to accept that what we do is the best we can do at the moment. That's hard, because not only do we see it, but our audience also sees that this is the best we can do. We have to own our limitations and move on, and in creative work it's so subjective. Almost no matter how well you do, there will be some who don't like it. But endless revising limits our output and experimentation, which in turn limits innovation. The article's author, Terry Teachout, says perfectionism begins with indecision, but it's just as likely they are the same thing, not being able to decide which way to take a piece, how much to polish, if it is done, etc. Perfectionism is there at each stage.

And, it's not just in writing and making art. I had this issue when training for martial arts tests, and waited too long for my first level black belt. An instructor explained that to me, saying, "if your test is perfect, you waited too long." It only has to work, and this is something much less subjective in martial arts than in art, writing, film, etc.

We have to make sure our standards work, that they contribute to our output.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Is there a book in it?

I was reading a literary agency website, and found this:
There's a cartoon that shows two women nursing cocktails and one is saying to the other: "I'm marrying Marvin. I think there's a book in it."

Which got me thinking if that's a good question for writers to apply to all the things we do. Is there a book in it? Or maybe there's a book in everything? I remember one of my writing students who was a great writer, beautiful voice, good storyteller, but she was convinced there was nothing interesting about her life. And there are others, not in my class, but I've heard, who are convinced everything they do is fascinating. Somewhere in the middle is the book. A good deal of what we do can be told in a way that makes it fascinating to a reader, but there's a lot to be said for adventure, too. Btw, who's Marvin?