Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, in an 11/14/17 tweet: “I just stumbled on this quote and thought it was good advice for this point in NaNoWriMo. ‘One never goes so far as when one doesn’t know where one is going.’ — Goethe . . . Sometimes you have to write as if you’re Mr. Magoo.”
In a month otherwise dominated in America by Thanksgiving and the increasing notoriety/hysteria that characterizes Black Friday, NaNoWriMo has become a thing, to the point that even non-writers have heard about it. Having originated in San Francisco almost twenty years ago, National Novel Writing Month urges its participants to do one thing: write.
Yes, there are “rules”: the stated objective is for participants to write 50,000 words of a novel within a thirty-day period.
Liana Vrajitoru Andreasen is a scholar, professor, and writer from Romania who has been living and working in the United States for over twenty years. Her work has appeared in journals such as: Rampike, Alecart, Texas Review, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, The Romanian Journal for Artistic Creativity, Southwestern American Literature, The CEA Critic, American Book Review, Lumina, Fiction International, Calliope, The Raven Chronicles, The Willow Review, Mobius, a Journal of Social Change, Scintilla, and Weave Magazine. I recently enjoyed the opportunity to speak with her about her forthcoming critical book, The Fall of Literary Theory.
Joseph Daniel Haske: Tell us about your new book, The Fall of Literary Theory. How long have you been working on it and what was the motivation/philosophy behind it?
When you’re reading a novel, do you ever question the authenticity of the characters because they’re different from the author? Can male authors create realistic female characters? Can female authors create convincing men? What about white authors writing black characters and vice versa? These questions have been around since the beginning of literature. When the male/female issue is raised, critics like to cite the rich characterization of Madame Bovary, a testament to Gustave Flaubert’s understanding of a particular woman. And yet even great novelists can stumble. I’ve always contended that the male characters in Toni Morrison’s Sula are not as complex as the female characters and that the novel (excellent as it is) suffers for that.
When The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron was published in 1967, black critics banded together to denounce Styron and the novel.
Is there anything in life better than leaving the library with a new book? Well, yes, of course. Still, leaving the library with Hanya Yanagihara‘s A Little Life in hand the other day reminded me of a list I have been meaning to put together for decades. This list is supposed to contain life’s simple pleasures.
I’m talking about momentary delights, the ones you often overlook but that fill you with pure contentment tinged with possibility. I can only think of a few. Leaving the library with a new book in hand is most definitely one of them.
With Thanksgiving in the air, it seems appropriate to think of a few more.
Every writer has a first book lying in a drawer. So we are told. And we are also told that it is better thus: the book didn’t get published because it wasn’t worthy. That may well be the case. At present I have three novels ‘in the drawer’, and the second one will certainly stay there. The third, I hope, will eventually find a publisher, perhaps after I’ve done more work on it. But what about the first?
At the end of May, I was preparing to leave the United States permanently. I had cleared out my house, and the night before my departure, I was going through my cupboards, making sure I had left nothing important behind. In the darkest recesses of a closet in which I kept my modem and router and a Gordian knot of cables, I found two briefcases full of writing, most of which I had done in grad school.
Whether a new title is put out by a publishing house or is self-published, marketing experts advise that the work done months in advance of one’s release date is critical to a successful launch.
In addition to the burden of getting the book in shape in terms of content, the cover and the like, authors are asked these days to play a major role in advance marketing. These steps include building up following of friends, family and people who have expressed an interest in one’s previous titles, establishing a social media presence, and identifying potential reviewers.
In preparation for launching my sixth novel, Inauguration Day, on November 1, I offered advanced reading copies (ARCs) to a number of people I hoped would read the book and post a review in social media sites as well as on Amazon on launch day.
“If you don’t push against the mirror, how do you know you’re standing in front of it?” asks author Martin Pousson. His PEN award-winning novel Black Sheep Boy, also an L.A. TimesPick of the Week, inspired Susan Larson (NPR The Reading Life) to say: “An unforgettable novel-in-stories about growing up gay in French Acadiana, so vivid and almost fairy tale-like, drawing on folklore from the region, and yet so brutally realistic. Brilliant. I loved this book.” I loved it too, for Pousson’s poetic prose, among other reasons. I’ve been able to ask Martin Pousson a few questions about the novel. His answers reflect his literary acuity.
Maryland’s Poet Laureate Stanley Plumly will present a half-day intensive poetry workshop at the Maryland Writers’ Association conference March 23-24, 2018 in Baltimore. This prompted me to wonder what exactly a poet laureate is and what does he or she do?
As of 2017, poets laureate are appointed in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Although terms vary in length from state to state, the appointment is for one or two years in most states.
In Maryland, The poet laureate position was formally established by the Maryland General Assembly in 1959 and authorizes the governor to appoint a citizen of the state as Poet Laureate of Maryland. Past poets laureate include (in order of service): Maria B. Coker, Vincent Godfrey Burns, Lucille Clifton, Reed Whittemore, Linda Pastan, Roland Flint, Michael Collier, and Michael Glaser.
Sheridan Hough and I have much in common. We studied philosophy in graduate school. We are philosophy professors. We’re interested in 19th-century, European thinkers. I attended the College of Charleston (many, many years ago); she teaches at the College of Charleston. More relevant here, we also write novels. Sheridan and I recently discussed the crossroads of philosophy and fiction.
RC: Sheridan, tell us about your academic background. How did you get interested in philosophy?
SH: Now there’s a story! Off I went to college—Trinity University—at the tender age of 17, and I was determined to be a double major in English and Theatre. My first class on my very first day at Trinity was ‘Ethics,’ and Plato’s Republic was on the menu.
If you’ve ever taken a writing workshop, you’ve heard many times the bromide “show, don’t tell,” but often the showing part dominates the telling and becomes tyrannical. As a writer friend once pointed out, when we’re writing fiction, we are storytelling and not storyshowing, and there are many ways to tell an engaging story.
Of course, some beginning writers do tend to summarize more than dramatize. They haven’t learned yet how to traverse between generalities and specifics. And in our early drafts, even more experienced writers often are just trying to capture their characters before they can disappear. Showing, then, tends to happen later in the drafting process.
However, it is important to know when one or the other is required, and that’s the advantage of using this shorthand workshop comment.
Several years ago I combed my bookshelves and gave my teenage son some old paperbacks I thought he’d enjoy. Recently, while hunting for a book he asked me to send to him in college, I found the books neatly stacked next to his bed. I wondered if he had ever read any of them.
One he had probably not cracked open—or so I thought I had evidence to prove—was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I figured this because when I myself opened the book, the pages started shedding.
If you’ve been writing for long, I don’t have to tell you how hard or how frustrating the search for an agent is. The books are incomplete and the biggest website, Publishers Marketplace (publishersmarketplace.com) is anything but user-friendly, in my opinion. Designed more for industry professionals than for writers, it’s fine if you want to find out how much a certain agent sold a certain book for, and how many books that agent has sold this year—in short, it’s not bad for statistics. But if you want a qualitative look at an agent, and know little about her in advance, it’s not much use to you. Enter Agent Hunter, (www.agenthunter.co.uk) a British site I’ve recently discovered that’s far and away the best resource I’ve found for writers trying to place a book—at least for writers based in the UK.
Back when I monitored the NYS Legislature I often heard fellow lobbyists compare passing legislation to making sausage. The same can be said of publishing a book. So, I thought I’d let people into my experience publishing my novels, using as a case in point my soon to be published sixth thriller, Inauguration Day.
I started self-publishing in 2011 two years after completing a first draft of what became The Expendable Man. Over time I’ve been able to shorten the process somewhat, but the publishing world is constantly changing so it’s not as if what I did in 2105 with House Divided will be exactly what I need to do in 2017.
A critical obstacle to being a successful self-published author––however you want to define “successful”––is getting one’s manuscript in shape to be published.
A friend of mine is an author whose favored genre is contemporary noir fiction—hard-boiled, edgy, dark. Since that’s what he writes, that’s also what he reads. Without prompting, though, he read my novel of historical fiction set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Washington, D.C., a story that could never be described as “edgy”. Graciously, he told me what he liked about it, but concluded by saying, “I write fiction so I can make [stuff] up. Historical fiction seems like way too much work.”
He’s got a point. Fiction is supposed to be fictional, right? Why go to the effort of having to do a ton of research and ensure detailed accuracy (because you know how those historical fiction fans are about that) when the story is supposed to be invented?
Recently, I caught up with Sue Harrison, author of numerous critically-acclaimed novels, including the best-selling Ivory Carver Trilogy (Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sister the Moon, and Brother Wind), to talk about writing, nature, and finding literary inspiration in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Joseph Daniel Haske: We’ve never met in person, but as you know, I grew up about ten miles from where you live in the eastern Upper Peninsula, in the next town over. Home remains important to me in countless ways and it still significantly informs my writing, as I’m sure it does yours. What do you think are some of the major advantages and disadvantages of being a writer in northern Michigan?
Sue Harrison: You’re absolutely right, Joe, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – my home since I was four years old – informs my writing in many ways.
Philosophy, Politics, and the Role of the Artist, Part II
I.Notes from the St. Martin Book Fair
In Part I of Philosophy, Politics, and the Role of the Artist, I explored University of St. Martin President Francio Guadeloupe’s assertion that the technological is the colonial. Guadeloupe, as I noted in Part I, suggests that “As politically heuristic as the distinctions between despots and democrats, atheists and theists, creationists and evolutionists, or in more macro terms the imperial West and the developmentally arrested non-West may be, these fade into insignificance when one comes to see that the technological is the colonial.”
I end Part I with my own question, “Now, I am trying to ask not only what is happening, but to whom?
What do mystery authors Sara Paretsky, Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard, and Dorothy Salisbury Davis have in common? They saw that women authors often missed out on publishing contracts, promotional dollars, and review opportunities in a publishing world weighted in favor of male authors. They decided to even the playing field and, in 1987, founded Sisters in Crime, an association of mystery authors and fans with the clear mission to help women who write, review, buy, or sell crime fiction or as its official
mission statement says, “to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional of women crime writers.”
I joined the organization several years ago and can attest to the benefits of membership. SinC arranged a visit to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore where I learned the difference between a medical examiner and a coroner and watched an autopsy under way.
Paul Ruffin died in April of 2016, at the age of 74, leaving a literary legacy that numbered hundreds of poems, over a hundred short stories, as many essays, two novels, and countless inspired students, many of whom are successful writers themselves. Ruffin was born in Alabama, grew up in Mississippi, and spent most of his academic career at Sam Houston State University where he directed the creative writing program and founded the Texas Review and the Texas Review Press. In 2009, he was named the Texas Poet Laureate. Despite winning many awards and earning the praise of some of America’s best writers, like so many others labeled “a writer’s writer,” he never made a best-seller list. His fictional characters tend to be ordinary, rural people trying to survive in a world in which the odds seem stacked against them, his poems illuminate the nuances in that world that sometimes almost even out those odds, and his essays reveal his personal wagers against and reflections upon the gambles we all take with every move in this world of chance.
“The artist must be deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age. He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and harken to its words alone.” —Kandinsky.
Several years ago I entered a Masters in Creative Writing program as a poet, but I was equally interested in writing fiction and signed up for several short story workshops. My experience in the poetry classes led me into exciting new places as a writer, opening me up to undiscovered parts of myself and of the poetry world. But it has taken me all these years to fully recover from the fiction workshops.
Another day, another article proclaiming that the death of reading is threatening our minds, souls, and civilization. The latest essay is Philip Yancey’s in the Washington Post.
I try reading these essays from start to finish without succumbing to click bait. I am determined to prove wrong that no one today has an attention span long enough to finish an article, much less a book.
Sometimes I manage to finish the articles. Not always.
Last month I published a poll asking for tips about summer and travel reading (READING ON THE ROAD). I had an ulterior motive. I was hoping someone could save me from lifelong habit of lugging books around the world that I ended up neglecting or destroying, sometimes both.
I can’t say that anything I learned is likely to save me, alas. But I did get some useful and fascinating advice.
In 2005, as part of my graduation requirement for my low residency MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I gave a craft lecture titled “In Defense of Telling: How to Put Ideas in Your Short Fiction,” which eventually was published in early 2008 as an essay at Segue Journal’s Writers on Writing, which can be read here: http://www.mid.muohio.edu/segue/wow/baker-defense.swf. In that essay I discuss how classic American short story writers such as James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, and John Cheever integrated their world views into their short stories. That essay begins:
I really began thinking about the “vision thing” after the 2004 American elections. During that time, with so many of my fellow writers and teachers in despair over the direction our country was headed, I recalled a passage from one of my favorite short stories, “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon.” In the story, a French film director is in a bar talking to a group of young African Americans who are traveling around Europe.
In part one of this essay, I argued that there are essentially two ways of writing a novel (notwithstanding the possibility of various degrees of hybridization). I called the first one the cinematic model. In this kind of novel the reader is essentially invited to see and hear what the characters are doing, much as playgoers do at the theatre, or as viewers watch a film. In this part, I suggest that the contrasting way to write a novel is lyrical, by which I mean that it’s focussed more on language than on drama, and more on the interior lives of the characters than on their conflicts and actions.
If Hemingway and Greene are seen as exemplars of the cinematic model, then their counterparts in the lyrical model might be Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch and Robert Musil—
For years I read novels whose titles appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I also read the Times Literary Supplement in which books were reviewed that didn’t make the Best Sellers list, and I read them, too. These had to be the best novels in the country, I thought, and many of them were written by long-famous authors, people I had heard of back when I was a college undergraduate majoring in English. The problem was that I never enjoyed any of them, although, Lord knows, I tried. I came to realize that most of those novels were written by, for, and about upper-middle and upper class professionals (not the world in which I grew up) and that not only did the plots occur within the realm of genteel characters but these authors’ styles shared a certain gentility.