Posts tagged ‘novels’

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.

December 13, 2011

Read the pages that Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Galileo saw.

I found this Website from Octavo, rarebookroom.org, that brings us into all the best rare book rooms of the world. You can read the same type that our earliest writings, scholars, and musicians wrote and read. You can read Books of Hours, medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts; check out Galileo’s notebooks; and study charts of Copernicus about how he proved the truth about the solar system. Of course Octavo hopes you’ll buy some limited edition reprints of these, but if you can’t afford them, you certainly can’t afford not to check it out on your computer. The reality of these pages makes the type fonts on any computer screen look lame and pale by comparison, and something of the spirit of those times is transferred to the reader.

Octavo says, for instance: “Over the past several years in cooperation with the world’s greatest libraries, Octavo has digitally photographed most of the existing early quarto editions of William Shakespeare’s plays and poems, as well as the quarto editions of plays such as The Yorkshire Tragedy once considered part of the Shakespeare canon.”

You can explore the earliest texts here.

December 11, 2011

The Daily Beast has a list of 10 books you shouldn’t miss

They say these are: “10 Books That You Might Have Missed but Shouldn’t.” They are titles that might have flown under the radar for you.
There are capsule reviews of the books to help you decide which to read. Enjoy.

1. ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’
2. ‘Habibi’
3. ‘A Book of Secrets’
4. ‘Assassins of the Turquoise Palace’
5. ‘What It Is Like to Go to War’
6. ‘Hemingway’s Boat’
7. ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’
8. ‘Into the Silence’
9. ‘Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness’
10. ‘Keynes Hayek’

December 3, 2011

Where is the balance in a novel between telling and showing?

One of my first-draft readers of Tesora sent me this note:
“The concept of your story is very promising . . . what draws me in is the promise of adventure. The first chapter reeled me in because it had a nice amount of action but afterward I felt like the story was being “told” rather than “shown” so I had a really hard time getting into the story.”

This was my answer to her:
Yes, I know my novel does not sustain the level of action that Chapter 1 shows: it’s a book with a full range of rhythms. Some are dramatic, of course, but many are psychological or meditative. To me, the thought-process of a main character is important action. The story was never intended to be only an adventure: it concerns slavery and racism and an accurate historical context. Also, the whole conceit of the story is that it’s a book adapted from the journals Ronan (its main character) keeps aboard his boat. After Ronan’s arrival in Puerto Toque (page 50 or so), there is also much dialog—and that is a form of both action and contemplation. For me the best reading is in stories where I learn the depths of a character, in mind and history, as well as action. When I was young I read and re-read books to rediscover not just events in motion, but what Borges calls “emotion in books.” Huckleberry Finn opens with a recitation of the plot of the novel, Tom Sawyer. At the bottom of page one of Mysterious Island by Jules Verne reads an extended weather report. Notes from Underground is 95% internal monologue. I find stories with ceaseless action to be dreary. I’d rather sit and watch Rodin’s Thinker think for ten minutes, than watch 1,000 marathon runners go by. While I don’t think novels have to compete with movies for action, nevertheless, I am reexamining my story to better dramatize the story. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about writing, nor will I want to stop.

November 26, 2011

New Works from Kerouac and Woody Allen

Jack Kerouac has a new book out (possibly one he never would have let out of his desk drawer) called “The Sea is My Brother,” which he wrote about his travels in the merchant marine. It’s short, a 158-page work that was unpublished during his life. It was written even before “The Town and The City” (1950) and certainly before his powers as a novelist reached their full fruition. I will probably get time to read that at some point, so I will have a review of it then.

For a better time and a better read, just re-read “Visions of Cody” which is to his own canon, what Finnegan’s Wake is to James Joyce—they are both long novels full of soliloquy from their main characters. For my money, Joyce’s best book is “Dubliners,” while “Cody” is Kerouac’s most sublime long work. In the category of average-length novel, the most over-looked novel of Kerouac’s is “Big Sur.” I believe a movie of Sur is to be filmed in the coming year, but don’t pass up the writing in “Big Sur” to see the movie. The writing you’ll find there is excellent—indeed it’s the best novel ever written about a horrendous drunken week by a horrendous drunk (and there have been a few who wrote well).

Speaking of which, I just read the “Letters of Hemingway, Volume 1” which is a bit of a disappointment compared to the excellent early letters that Kerouac wrote: “Notes from an Underwood,” I believe. I must admit I enjoyed the Hemingway letters to Gertrude Stein—he seemed to pull his best self together for her. She did a lot for his writing. This is quite amusingly dramatized in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” which brings us into the art and literature world of the Parisian 1920s.

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 13, 2011

Why “The Cats Table,” by Michael Ondaatje Is Not an Interesting Novel

When I read about this novel, I struck by some of its similarities to my own most recent works, Tardy Son and Tesora. I read an excerpt from his latest novel to find out. But I found that it’s all written from a remote adult’s POV with indulgent explanations about the boy with very little emotional or psychological understanding of him. That may have been all right with The English Patient, but not with this one. Instead of the writing being alive like a teenaged boy is, it’s petrified and dusty and conclusive. Life for a boy of that age might be dangerous in this situation, but it is not boring. He doesn’t seek out answers ontologically. A boy looks for gold and squished bugs and is obsessively optimistic.

It seems the closer a subject is to mine, the further the writing is apart from my style. Here’s a link to a NYTimes review of his new novel.

October 2, 2011

Sum ritin’ is jus bad

Grocery List

Two grapefruit, large.
One bunch of basil, small.
Twelve potatoes, Yukon Gold.
Five novels, juvenile.
One partridge in a pear tree.

September 27, 2011

Excerpt from Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

This is a favorite novelist of mine. His prose is straight forward and his action and characters are very alive. Here’s bit of the novel:

August 4, 2011

Tesora refuses to end itself

Still slogging through the end of the rough draft of my novel, Tesora. The plot must be complete for me to give it a rest, so there is yet no rest for me. It’s hard to finish a story that concerns slavery. And it’s hard to let go of characters I’ve grown to love. Stay tuned. I will finish it.

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