Posts tagged ‘fiction’

July 17, 2012

How Colm Toibin Uses Memory in Fiction

Here’s a fine article about how a writer, Colm Toibin, uses memories of real events, places, and people in his stories—how they relate to reality, how they relate when they’re changed by a story, and how important a true sense of memory is to getting a story to be “right in the mind” and on the page. It’s called “What Is Real Is Imagined.”

He writes: “The story has a shape, and that comes first, and then the story and its shape need substance and nourishment from the haunting past, clear memories or incidents suddenly remembered or invented, erased or enriched.” —Colm Toibin

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April 11, 2012

Vanessa Veselka on the Adventure of First-Person Narrative

I’ve switched the points of view of my two latest novels to first person, because it works to bring out the personalities of the main characters. Vanessa Veselka has some good ideas about this and she also points out some good examples to learn from. Here is an excerpt from her interview with Rob Hart. She is the author of Zazen.

Rob Hart: What attracts you to the first-person narrative?

Vanessa Veselka: I love the speed and the edge. It reminds me of what lit did to me when I first started reading. From Dostoyevsky to Melville, Celine—to all the modern classics of identity and manhood like Happy Baby, Fight Club or things like that. It drives. You hear the voice of the narrator and inside that, you hear your own. It’s a drug. What it lacks in sweeping majesty it makes up for in intensity. I like intensity.

RH: Which authors, contemporary or classic, do you believe are exceedingly adept at writing compelling first-person narratives?

VV: I mentioned some of my favorites above, but also The Lover by Marguerite.

Link here:

February 15, 2012

Notes on Being an Artist

How My Writing Frees Itself

A talented young writer recently asked me for some support and I dashed off a letter to her and I tried to explain, just how I, myself, managed to keep working day after day, and year after year. That inspired me to come up with a list of ways I support myself. This is my list:

• The more I become myself as an artist, the less I ask other people how or what I should write.
• What other people think about my writing is not important.
• What I think about my own writing, is not that important.
• Each day I sit down and tell my mind to shut up. I sit quietly for twenty minutes and then write what my inner self guides me to. It asks me to consider very difficult things in my own life, my thinking, and in my memories. That’s as it’s supposed to be.
• I hope my writing is a sharing from my most honest self. If I don’t have that in me, I’ll never share much value as an artist.
• I don’t think being an artist is easy: that I’ve had a difficult life so far, is to my advantage. It’s made me quite human, and that’s all there is to write about anyway.
• An artist’s sensitivity is all he or she is. In one sense a true artist is the bravest kind of person. No one wanted to hear Jesus say “love your enemy,” that was too brave. No one wanted to hear Buddha say: “Give up all your money, the only value is spiritual.” Neither one published anything, but we have to read their words all the time because they got the voice right. It’s an inside job, I’m afraid.
• I look in the mirror and I can tell myself one great fact: “I did not give up on myself—I love that about me.”
• I don’t listen to anyone who tells me what I should do with my art. I don’t even listen to myself, because many of those voices I hear in my head are only echoes of negativity that have been doing their push-ups for many years.
• Be unique, be yourself, be weird, be fabulous. I don’t have to try to do that, I just let myself go.

December 15, 2011

“Neither a panster nor plotter be —be both.”

Whenever a writer of fiction leaps into the unknown of a new story, he must ask himself whether he is a plotter or a panster. A panster does not plot, but allows the story to flow on wings of imagination. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of imagination’s flying air force and let my pen roam free, or to allow the ropes of reason to dictate laws to bind my pen to the bulleted list and follow the one, two, three . . . who knows which is best? And when?

Sometimes as I write, I want to be a million miles away from any plotted plans. Other times I type red numbers into the text to keep track of events or character blocking marks. Any outline bit that occurs to me, I jot down for reference. I also feel free to cross them out or delete them as the story rolls past their limited views of imagination. Usually, there will be one or two good ideas left in a list of ten items that make the final cut. I do however believe that I wouldn’t have found the one or two good ones unless I had made that list of ten. Doing a second or third draft brings me more strongly to use definite plot points to guide me. When the laundry is dry on the line it is easier to reel in—in other words, during a rewrite I’m less invested in some of my sentences and more concerned with the flow of story, so it’s easier to re-arrange (or cut) paragraphs and sections of text. I don’t follow the rules, but I keep a wary eye on them lest they bite my book.

November 15, 2011

“Laura Bridgman” Was Helen Keller before Helen Keller

For three minutes of a haunting and brilliant writing listen to Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” on The Drum, an audio literary magazine.

Her flash fiction “Laura Bridgman, the First Famous Blind Deaf-Mute, Aged 59, Upon Meeting Helen Keller, Aged 8” was recorded at The Drum’s Open Mic session at the 2011 Boston Book Festival and appears in the November 2011 issue of The Drum.

Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” offers a fascinating fictionalized account of an actual historical moment. It’s from her newly completed first draft of the novel (Yay, Kim!). As Laura meets the young girl (Keller) who is being groomed to take her place as a celebrity, Bridgman muses on the vagaries of fame and reputation. Elkins’ piece raises interesting questions about the rivalry among the senses (or their loss), and the strange power that can be wielded by disability.

This piece from her novel may either be part of a preface to the novel, part of the last page, or a bit of both. In any case it’s one look at the most significant point of the plot of this historical novel.

Kimberly Elkins’ fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Best New American Voices, The Iowa Review,The Village Voice, Glamour, and Prevention, among others. She was a finalist for the 2004 National Magazine Award and has received fellowships from the Edward Albee and William Randolph Hearst foundations, the SLS fellowship in Nonfiction to St. Petersburg, Russia, the St. Botolph Emerging Artist Award, and a joint research fellowship from the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, and the Massachusetts Historical Society for research on her novel. Residencies include the Millay Colony and Blue Mountain Center, and she was also the 2009 Kerouac Writer in Residence. Kimberly has taught at Florida State University and Boston University, and is currently a Visiting Lecturer and Advisor for the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Hong Kong.

October 24, 2011

New Directions for Writers and Publishers: a Debate

Thomas Glave (“Whose Song? and Other Stories,” “The Torturer’s Wife,” and “Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent” from City Lights Books) is optimistic about the changes in publishing and states that they are an opportunity for writers to grow, experiment, and take advantage of new ways of expression and working with others. He is, however, fearful that Amazon’s entry into publishing will not favor the art of writing and the collaboration of writers and editors, or even writers and other writers. Other publishing voices in the debate are: Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House; Michael Wolf, vice president of research, GigaOM: and Laurel Saville, author, “Unraveling Anne.”
Check out Thomas Glave and the others here:

October 9, 2011

The Boston Book Festival: Copley Square, Saturday Oct 15. It’s free.

There are many events including a Flash Fiction Open Mic at 2:00pm, Old South Church, Mary Norton Hall, 645 Boylston Street. For other events, check out the site:

Read your very, very short story out loud for an eager audience. The Drum, an audio literary magazine, will be recording each story, choosing the best ones for publication in the magazine. Each piece must be no longer than three minutes. Emceed by Henriette Lazaridis Power, editor of The Drum. (The Drum is a made-up one-time literary magazine created for this event, but the readings should be fun.)

October 1, 2011

How do you mix comedy with tragedy?

How to create dark humor:
The main character in my novel has wartime trauma and is attempting a voyage in a rubber raft. He was once a bomber pilot, so he has a certain quality of leadership skills he can use on himself. On the other hand he is trying to escape from the evil in his own mind and cannot conceive of how to do that. Perhaps this gives me the opportunity to create some wild flights of imagination to play out in his mind. They contain scenes of an idyllic childhood juxtaposed with scenes from the darker scenes he remembers from literature. He is obviously attempting to avoid his own memories, but I would like to know if these flights need to be funny out loud, or does being merely ironic work for him?

July 15, 2011

Esmeralda Santiago’s “Conquistadora” —a Puerto Rican Plantation Mistress Strikes Out

In a review in The NY Times it says that Esmeralda Santiago’s “Conquistadora” is a novel about a Puerto Rican plantation mistress. It’s set in mid-19th-century Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was one of the last holdouts for slavery in the Americas, ending it in 1873, although slavery in Cuba wasn’t abolished until 1884. The novel’s heroine ends up a widow running a sugar plantation who becomes romantically involved with an overseer. She is a heroine, however, of mixed reviews: she was not above having her slaves tied to a tree and whipped when it profited her.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/books/review/book-review-conquistadora-by-esmeralda-santiago.html

July 8, 2011

Ronan’s Stolen Gold Meets the Pirates Who Once Owned It

The main character from Tesora, Ronan, is confronted by three pirates. They once sailed the pirate ship which supplied Ronan with his traveling money (gold coins). They appear in his town to get the money back. They carry muskets like the one pictured below. They also walk the same swagger as this musketeer. They count on Ronan being young and afraid—they don’t count on his support from the folk in Puerto Toque.

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