Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Creative Writing Programs: What’s Gone Wrong?

 

This month I retired from the American university where I taught creative writing for the past thirteen years, to both undergraduates and graduate students. It was the best job I ever had, and in the early years particularly I loved it. Over the past years, though, the frustrations and demands have become almost intolerable. Here’s what I’ve learned.

 

First, most students are delightful people, and many are imaginative and talented. What’s more, some genuinely love books and stories, reading and writing, and it’s a pleasure to teach such people. However, a majority are poorly-read, particularly at the undergraduate level. (Continue reading)

Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Author of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

Commonwealth: A Review for Writers as well as Readers

My apology to non-writers. This review of Ann Patchett’s 2016 novel, Commonwealth, focuses primarily on the writing, but in doing so perhaps readers will come to understand some basic writing techniques and how they influence story.

Unlike many contemporary novels, Commonwealth is written from an omniscient viewpoint. That means from the very first sentence there’s an always present story narrator telling us what people are doing and thinking. “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with a bottle of gin.” That’s the narrator talking, not one of the characters.

(Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

05-20-2017: A Reader’s Reader

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
                                                          —Jorge Luis Borges

Tom Shroder, the author, and Michael Dirda at the 2017 Washington Writers Conference.

I had the distinct pleasure recently of being on a panel at the Washington Writers Conference with Tom Shroder—author, ghostwriter, journalist, and long-time editor of the Washington Post Magazine—and Michael Dirda, even longer-time book critic at the Washington Post and elsewhere. We were discussing the fuzzy lines that separate memoir, family history, and fiction.

As part of preparing for the panel, I read two of Michael’s several books: his most recent, Browsings, and his memoir of the first third of his life through college, An Open Book. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

5-17-2017 – Inside the Booth at Book Festivals

April-May and September-October seem to be the prime months for yard sales and book festivals. Certainly I do my share of both as vendor and buyer. On either side of the table, you can learn, enjoy the experience, and at book festivals, meet authors and publishers at all levels.

This weekend, my husband, Dr. Roger McIntire, will be one of the authors at the Gaithersburg, MD, book festival helping to staff the Maryland Writers’ Association booth. He’ll be talking about his practical books for parents and will probably be the only nonfiction author at the booth. At the same time, I’ll be at the Sisters in Crime booth at the Prince George’s (MD) Spring Book Festival in Landover, MD. Offerings at the SinC booth will, of course, be mysteries of all kinds.

Authors like us enjoy telling people about our books, sharing experiences (Continue reading)

Joseph D Haske

JOSEPH D HASKE

Author of the novel North Dixie Highway and short fiction in Boulevard, Pleiades, and other journals 

American writers are often accused of literary insularity, so I’ve been doing my best lately to engage in more international, multi-lingual dialogue. Among other projects, I’ve been chipping away at a translation of a fantastic story collection by a very talented Chilean writer. Although I’ve done some translation work in the past, literary and otherwise, I haven’t taken on a project of this magnitude in quite a while, and it’s challenging to say the least. Literary translation can be time-consuming, stressful, and labor-intensive. If I translated more often, maybe I’d work more efficiently, but my current process often feels slow and laborious; I tend to obsess about all the minor details in much the same way as I fret about my own writing. Still, despite the many challenges, it’s a gratifying experience to translate terrific writing like the collection I’m working on now, and to serve as a literary ambassador, exposing readers in the English-speaking world to excellent new fiction.

I’m not sure how common it is these days for prose writers to double as translators, but those who do join the ranks of countless notable authors throughout history who felt it their literary duty to bring the best books the world had to offer into their own respective vernaculars, and to do it with style. Contemporary writers from around the world, including the renowned Spanish author, Javier Marias, have carried on this tradition. In fact, there’s an outstanding book called Javier Marías’s Debt to Translation, by Gareth J. Wood, that chronicles Marías’ early career as a writer and illustrates the many ways literary translation helped establish Marías’ career. Marías learned a significant amount about the craft of writing through translating others’ work, and his stylistic development in relation to translation is well-noted in the book. Although translating might not prove as beneficial to everyone’s literary career as it was for Marías, I’d argue that, if nothing else, translation improves editing skills and compels a writer to consider stylistic choices, diction, the rhythm of the language, etc., in new ways. There is more artistry to literary translation than many people realize, even though it’s a rather distinct process from the creation and development of one’s own work. Through the decisions a translator makes, in trying to find the right word or turn of phrase, ingenuity emerges, as the mind of the translator melds with the ideas and nuances of the original text.

For those novelists and story writers out there who translate, or those who have even attempted translation at some point, I’m curious about individual approaches and philosophies. How do the majority of contemporary writers go about translating others’ work? There are plenty of useful essays and books out there about translation as art, but I think that one of the most enlightening, although brief, treatises on the subject is Jorge Luis Borges’ Two Ways to Translate, in which, among other points, he articulates what he sees as the major philosophical approaches:

“Universally, I suppose there are two types of translations: one is the practice of literality, the other, paraphrase. The former corresponds to the Romantic mentality, the second to the classical. I’d like to explain this statement in order to diminish its aura of paradox. The classical way of thinking is interested only in the work of art, never the artist. The classics believe in absolute perfection and seek it out. They despise localisms, oddities, contingencies.”
Although one might adhere to elements of both schools of thought to some degree, I ultimately agree with Borges that one likely favors one approach over the other. I suppose I’m more inclined to follow Borges’ classical mode, and I’ve always assumed that most fiction writers would agree, until I ended-up in a heated argument with a fellow writer/translator several years ago. He felt that the more literal approach was the way to go, and insisted that any translation method other than a primarily literal approach involves too much manipulation of the original text. I countered that a more literal approach might work better for non-literary texts, but a strictly literal translation might sacrifice much of the complexity of a literary work. Whatever one’s particular philosophy is, Borges’ short but insightful essay goes on to discuss more obstacles with translation that must be addressed by the translator. For instance, a successful translation must consider the impediments of connotation and other subtle differences in word meaning. Also, how does one go about translating certain words that are simply “untranslatable” from one language to another? To complicate matters further, culture and generational differences also play a significant role in the transference of language and ideas.

So, all of this has me wondering what others think about these issues. Is the notion of a writer’s responsibility to engage in translation an archaic one? Is it better, generally speaking, for a fiction writer to translate fiction or should we leave the task in the technically-capable hands of a professional translator, a non-author who has honed their skills specifically in the field? Are writers too invasive, overindulgent, and destined to contaminate a translation with their own aesthetic values and worldview? Your guess is as good as mine.

Not too long ago, though, after completing an English version of the first story in the collection I’m working on, I shared the result with the Chilean author, and he said, “It’s better when another writer does the translation.” I suppose that’s motivation enough for me to keep on translating in the meantime.

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

4/7/2017 — Remembering Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

I used to read a lot of poetry. That thought hit me on March 17, when I learned of the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott on the island of St. Lucia, where he was born.

It has been years since I’ve read Walcott, but his work was once a constant companion of mine. As I think now about the pleasures of meter, rhyme, and the soaring imagination that good poetry generates, I realize what I’ve missed.

When I heard of Derek Walcott’s death, I recalled a day in 1980 when I opened The New Yorker and excitedly read the title “Jean Rhys” above a six-stanza poem. Only a short time before had I become acquainted with the Dominica-born author Jean Rhys, but I’d been devouring her novels Wide Sargasso Sea, Good Morning, Midnight, and Voyage in the Dark and recommending them to every book lover I knew. And here was an homage to her in a poem by Walcott. I calmed myself and read: (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

05-04-17 BOOKS, TWEETS, AND POSTERITY

In a recent article about writer and photography critic Teju Cole, Norman Rush notes that Cole’s emergence as a social media superstar makes him a “kind of realm.” Beyond his fine reputation as the author of books and other print media, Cole is also an accomplished photographer and prolific “Tweeter” with a huge Facebook following.

Cole himself has observed that some of the finest “literary minds of our generation” express themselves by means other than traditional print media. Yet they often still write books. Presumably that’s because books are more serious than tweets. Books are also more likely to stick around long enough to reach posterity.

Is this valid? (Continue reading)

Katherine Pickett

KATHERINE PICKETT

Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro

5/1/17 —  What a Developmental Editor Can Do for an Author

Developmental editors are concerned with the structure and con­tent of your book. If your manuscript lacks focus, your DE will help you find the right direction to take (the “right” direction generally being the most marketable). This is where problems of inconsistent tone, an unclear audience, or an unidentified market­ing niche often surface.

Developmental editors perform many of the same editing tasks as an acquisitions editor, but unlike AEs, whose time is split between editing and the business side of pub­lishing, DEs tend to be able to give you more personal attention. If you have hired a DE on a freelance basis, this is undoubtedly true. Either way, you will find that good DEs are friendly, organized, valu­able to your endeavor. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Two Ways of Writing a Novel, April 26, 2017

Part One: The Cinematic Model

 

There are essentially two different ways to write a novel. The first is action-oriented, and usually heavy on dialogue; concerned with visible drama, above all, it works much as a film does. It observes human beings interacting and conflicting with each other. “I am a camera with its shutter open,” wrote Christopher Isherwood, in the second paragraph of Goodbye to Berlin, “quite passive, recording, not thinking.” One may argue about whether he succeeded in maintaining that objectivity, but unquestionably that was his aim, as it was of so many early twentieth century writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Graham Greene. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

4-17-2017  Transatlantic Traveling Great for Reading

I’ve just returned from a repositioning cruise with Holland America Cruise Lines as it changed its operations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean for the season. The price was right. The cruise began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in Rome with stops in the Azores and Spain (Málaga and Aliconte).

Azores? How else were we ever going to see the Azores? Actually, we spent the day in only one of these nine Portuguese islands, the largest, named Sao Miguel. Like Hawaii, the islands are volcanic in origin and Sao Miguel is green  and mountainous. Tea and pineapple are major crops.

I looked forward to the nine sea days of this cruise as a chance to edit my latest manuscript and to begin plotting my next one. I had the best intentions, but the daily schedule at sea included lectures and port talks that were too interesting to miss and, of course, I didn’t miss one of those leisurely meals meeting people from other parts of the world. So I got very little accomplished.

Having traveled on Holland America before, I knew they had a well-stocked library of hard-bound books for borrowing, and it was also a quiet place to read. Rethink. (Continue reading)

Ron Cooper

RON COOPER

AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL OF THE TWIN,  PURPLE JESUS AND HUME’S FORK.

April 13, 2017

Write Like Mike

I get my students to discuss creativity and the limits of human achievement through the example of basketball legend Michael Jordan. Although he retired (for the second time) in 1999, his reputation as the greatest basketball player of all time and one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century guarantees that even my freshman students know about him. His gravity-mocking leaping ability, astonishing speed, and knack of always thinking two steps ahead of his opponents may never be matched. How does one, in any field of endeavor, become highly successful, much less get to the very top? (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

04-04-17 IS TODAY A TIME FOR FICTION?

More and more people tell me that this is no time for fiction. Nor do they themselves have time for fiction.

Even lifetime novel lovers say they feel that today’s times call for information, not retreats into fantasyland. Serious readers say they find it hard to immerse themselves in fictional worlds.  One writer friend even admitted that she no longer has the attention span for books of any sort, including nonfiction, that don’t have immediate and obvious bearing on current events.

 


“Ever since the presidential election sticking my head in a novel feels like counting the angels on pins,” she told me. She says that now and then she does read an article in The New Yorker, but even that has to have immediate and obvious bearing on current events. And she’s a novelist herself!
(Continue reading)

Joshua Braff

JOSHUA BRAFF

AUTHOR OF THE NOVELS THE DADDY DIARIES, PEEP SHOW AND THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN

4/1/17  PERSPECTIVE    My MFA in creative writing came from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. It was 1995 and I was positive that a short story in a literary journal for zero money would be nirvana. The Alaska Quarterly Review, a lit mag that led my friends to believe I’d written fish and hibernating stories, was first to say yes. The story was about a lonely and unheard little girl who takes a bus to a ballet class on her birthday. Not a moose for miles, and the journal wanted my human condition textures. With my only dream in life fulfilled, I set out to do it again, to feel the euphoria of the “yes”, the way it found me without warning, making me a “hitter” somehow, just by answering my phone. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

3/26/17  Is This a Good Author Photograph?

Is this a good author photograph?

When University of Central Arkansas student Park Lanford took this picture of me a couple of weeks ago (for the school’s literary magazine, the Vortex), I immediately thought, “That looks like an author photograph.” My next thought was, “Why is that? What makes a good author photograph?” Do you need, if you are a man, to look somewhat craggy, earnest and intense, as I do here? Does it help to be bearded, as so many of the giants of literature in the past have been? I am being facetious, but you get my point. (Continue reading)

Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Author of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

3-23-17   SOME WRITERS YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE HEARD OF   I spent the week-end of March 11 & 12 at the Tucson Festival of Books, the third largest such event in the country. My goal was to learn from the best and the brightest, knowing from past experience that a number of hot, new writers come to Tucson to introduce their works to the world.

I was not disappointed and am happy to share with my LateLastNightBook followers the names of some authors you might want to give a try.
(Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

3-17-2017:  Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
Coming up next weekend is the 2017 conference of the Maryland Writers’ Association. As president of MWA, I appreciate all of the advance planning and work that has gone into producing this conference, especially by the conference chair, Jess Williams, but all of the board members have contributed.

With well-known authors like Maria V. Snyder and Jeffery Deaver as keynote speakers and a host of local authors in attendance, conferences like this are of interest to readers as well as writers. In fact, I was surprised to learn that my local chapter of Sisters in Crime is an association of mystery writers and fans. The national mystery conferences, Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, both draw a large number of fans as well as writers. In fact, most writers’ conferences, I would guess, are open to readers and to anyone with the registration fee. Participation in these conferences guarantees a rich, rewarding, and well-spent day.

I will be presenting a workshop at the MWA conference on evening the playing field for self-published authors. (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

03-04-17 ARE YOU STILL READING FICTION?

“I’m not reading fiction much anymore.” “I can’t read novels these days.” “More and more, I’m restricting my reading list to non-fiction.”


Few statements can rattle a novelist like these. And I’ve been hearing a lot of them lately. (Continue reading)

Gary Garth McCann

GARY GARTH MCCANN

Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius

2/20/17 WALKER PERCY’S THE MOVIEGOER AND MIKE ALBO’S HORNITO: CAN YOU TELL WHICH QUOTE IS FROM WHICH?

I often read two or three novels at once. Reading Percy’s The Moviegoer and Albo’s Hornito, I read a passage and thought I’d picked up one book rather than the other. Both present a young man chasing sex and the meaning of life while also interacting with his elders and friends and working in an office and revisiting his childhood. When I finished both books, I noticed that many passages I’d marked in each could fit either, to some extent. Which left me struck by the similarity of the quest of the protagonists, although really quite different men.

Can you tell which of the quotes below belong together? The answers are at the bottom of this post, as is a little more information about the protagonists. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

I recently took part in a program called “The Craft of Writing Mysteries” at the Perry Hall Branch Library. I was one of five mystery authors on a panel that also included Milly Mack, Austin Camacho, Michelle Markey-Butler, and Kate Dolan. Michelle writes medieval mysteries and brought in a slew of medieval weapons and other items, allowing the audience to touch and hold them—carefully, of course.

I won the raffle that day, and you’d think that I, being on the program, would defer the prize, a basket of mystery-related items, so it could go to someone in the audience. But no, I did not because included in the basket was The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. As stated in the Introduction to this tome, this book is a “panoramic collection of stories and novels from Black Mask magazine (1920-1951).” Black Mask introduced the hard-boiled detective and published such authors as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich , Earl Stanley Gardner, and many more.

The Perry Hall program began with an entertaining slide show on Maryland’s role in the mystery put together by Millie Mack, author of the Faraday Murder Series.

Maryland’s claim to Edgar Allan Poe, often called the founder of the detective story, is a bit tenuous. Poe was born in Boston and spent most of his life in New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond, but he did die in Baltimore in 1849 at age 40. The cause of his death is unknown and has been attributed to any number of factors, including alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, or tuberculosis. He is buried in Baltimore, and a museum in Baltimore is dedicated to him.

In 1949 on the 100th anniversary of his death, (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

2/7/2017 – Can Books Still Change the World?

So, I’ve been reading Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. I like to keep up with the latest fads and, as President Trump pointed out recently, Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.”

Douglass is probably the most famous abolitionist of all time, and his work was widely recognized in the years before, during, and long after the Civil War, including by President Abraham Lincoln, whose response to Douglass’s criticism was to invite him to the White House to talk about their differences. Over time they developed a strong friendship and at least a partial reconciliation of their views. Lincoln listened, changed, and came to appreciate Douglass, and the feeling was mutual. (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

02-04-17 FINDING NOVELS

What led you to pick that novel you’re reading? A friend’s recommendation? A book review? A bookstore display? Did your book club make you do it?

Last month I put out an informal poll to find out if social media made a difference in the way people were finding novels. I discovered some intriguing new ways to find reading material—plus a few surprises. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

Writing in the Echo Chamber

Much hand-wringing and self-examination has taken place since the US Presidential election about why so many people, political pundits and journalists included, were blindsided by the result. The ‘echo chamber’ as a metaphor for social media has been the most frequently cited cause. Nowadays most of us, the argument goes, get our news from Twitter or Facebook feeds. This is true, not only for the millennials, but equally or almost so for older generations. Because most of us are reading ‘news’ (more often opinion, when it comes down to it) from our friends, who are likely to share our views, there’s a danger that our prejudices are never challenged and that we live increasingly in a world that bears little resemblance to reality. As an academic, I can confirm that this is the case for most professors, who are hardly better informed on matters of global economics and politics than the elusive and mythical ‘man in the street’. (Or woman.)

But if this is true of our political life, isn’t it true of our cultural life, too? Have we thought deeply enough about the consequences of reading literature that’s written by people like us, too? (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

20 January 2017 – Toward Compassion

Words matter. It would be surprising if I as a writer didn’t believe that to be true, since words are my entire stock in trade. Words have meaning. A shared understanding of the meaning of words is what allows us to communicate and function as a society. Words have shades of meaning, too—nuance—and understanding that nuance allows us all to send and receive exactly the message that’s intended.

There are roughly 130,000 words in the English language. It’s said that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words, which was not out of the ordinary for an educated man of his time. In comparison, modern Americans have a working vocabulary of about 3,000 words. As we continue to pare back our words, nuance is lost. Shades of meaning are jettisoned, the subtle distinctions sacrificed, pounded out into the blunt instrument of whatever fits into 140 characters.

Words affect us. We may teach our children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” as a lesson in resilience and the mature ability to walk away and elect not to engage, but we also know the power of words to hurt, as well as to heal. Certainly, we expect the leaders of our country, our shared community, to understand that fundamental truth and act accordingly.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in the last year, and wildly more so since early November. Because I knew that I would be posting this essay today, I selected a few books to read that seemed to cut to the heart of the things that keep me awake at night. (Continue reading)

1 2 3 10