Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some interesting tidbits

I don't have much to report from my own world of writing--just finishing up my final revisions on my thesis (whoo hoo!). But I do have some links I'd like to share:

  • This NY Times article announces the fact that Nabokov's son is going to publish his father's last, unfinished work--against his father's wishes. It made me wonder--what would I do and what would I want done?
I think I would publish the work if I were the son. It just seems a crime to not let anyone see it, as long as people know not to judge it as if it were a finished work. If it were me, I would probably be OK with something unfinished being published under those
circumstances. But if someone were to publish diaries or something of mine that I told them not to because of their private nature, I would come back from the grave and haunt
whoever made them public. Which reminds me to burn all diaries myself before I die.

  • Another interesting NY Times article, this one discussing the state of the literature and books, and the impact of MFA programs and self publishing on them.Two quotes I found most interesting from the article:
Mark McGurl, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of a forthcoming book on the impact of creative writing programs on
postwar American literature, [says] that writing programs have helped expand the literary universe, “American literature has never been deeper and stronger and more various than it is now,” McGurl said in an e-mail message. Still, he added, “one could put that more pessimistically: given the manifold distractions of modern life, we now have more great writers working in the United States than anyone has the time or inclination to read.”

I feel like McGurl's take on the state of books in America is realistic. Another quote-- this one I do not agree with:

In “So Many Books,” [Gabriel] Zaid playfully writes that “if a mass-market paperback costs $10 and takes two hours to read, for a minimum-wage earner the time spent is worth as much as the book.” But for someone earning around $50 to $500 an hour, “the cost of buying and reading the book is $100 to $1,000” — not including the time it takes to find out about the book and track it down.

If you measure your reading time in terms of how much money/time it "costs" to get through a book, I feel sorry for you. Reading is about personal fulfilment and enjoyment, and cannot be measured that way.

  • And finally, a link to the ever inspiring Poet Mom, who posted a great video of a roundtable discussion with three writers about characterization in their work.
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Friday, April 18, 2008


I haven't blogged in a while, mostly because the insanity that comes with buying and selling real estate has taken up most of my energy. But I've also been mulling a topic over in my head for a while. I'm wondering if any writer ever feels competent.

As a journalistic writer (my day job), I feel competent. I know what elements of a story need to be included for a reader to be satisfied at the end and to learn something. And as a creative writer, I have the basic knowledge about those things, too.

One of the main differences, I think, is that I am not worried about perfecting a journalistic piece. Don't get me wrong, I want it to be good. But I know that a large part of the process is the editing that my editor will do to ask questions I didn't think to, and maybe to help me focus the piece.

The second big difference is that at some very definitive point, I have to let go of my journalistic piece. It's called a deadline, after which, my words will be printed somewhere and I can never, ever edit them again. The process for getting creative writing published seems to encourage a feeling of incompetence--you finish your story/book and think it's done. You send it out to a few magazines/agents/editors, and let's say they all reject it. So now not only is your writing incompetent, but so is your judgment about knowing when something is done. So you go back, and rework, and send it out again in the hopes that this new person won't give you another reason to think you're incompetent.

So what's the moral of this post? How does a writer begin to feel competent about her writing, her story telling, and her ability to decide when something is done? I don't know! You tell me. Please. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Beef with Jhumpa

I went to see Jhumpa Lahiri read last night at the Coolidge Corner moving theater. She read from her new collection of stories, and then took questions. She seemed very reserved and nervous--clearly being in the spotlight isn't something she enjoys. But she answered the questions honestly and sincerely, and was even occassionally funny.

So what's my beef? I asked a question about what drew her back to short stories (her first book was stories, then she wrote a novel, and her new book is stories). She said a lot that I agreed with: that she hates how the literary world and readers look down upon stories as something less than novels, and how wonderful short stories can be both to write and to read.

But then she went on to say that she didn't think that reading or writing a short story was very different from reading or writing a novel. Huh? I would argue that they are totally different genres. Yes, you need many of the same elements in both, but there's only so much you can fit in a story. That's part of what I love about the best of them--they are jam packed just to the limits of how much emotion and change a reader can absorb a character going through in the space of 20 pages.

A novel, on the other hand, has layers and layers of things going on, and usually more characters jumping in and out of the spotlight. As a writer, I think the challenge of working on a novel would be to keep all those balls in the air and, when you set some down, to remember where you put them so you can go back to them when needed. And the challenge of writing a story is getting across, in a short amount of space, a change in your character that is both meaningful and realistic. That challenge exists for the novel writing, too, but she has much more room to move in and breath in.

As a reader, I find reading a short story to be a more powerful experience. I usually get a whole story in one sitting, and then have to absorb the entirety of it. Novel reading is more leisurely in that the whole emotional punch of the story is unwound throughout hundreds of pages (and tens of reading sessions). I love both experiences--the intensity of the short story and being mid-novel and being compelled to get back to the book so I can see what happens.

This is coming from someone who has only written stories. So what do I know? If you've written in both genres, let me know your thoughts! And if you read both genres, please comment to. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movie Rec

I saw the best movie last night. Seriously, one of my new favorites. I had never heard of it, so I'm guessing others might not have either. It's called Last Kiss, with the guy from Scrubs and Gwenyth Paltrow's mom. It's basically about relationships in different kinds/levels of crises among a group of friends and family. It's really thoughtful and very well done. Let me know if you see it--I'd love to discuss. (The soundtrack is pretty awesome, too.) Best Blogger Tips