Posts tagged ‘Writing’

September 11, 2012

A Short Review of Canada, a novel by Richard Ford

The first novel I ever read on an e-reader (the Nook with a Glo-light) is Canada by Richard Ford. Here’s my review of the novel, not the e-reader.

A Short Review of Canada, a novel by Richard Ford
New York : Ecco Press, 2012

Ford forces a personality onto his main character that is as contemplative as a sixty year old. I’m not saying he’s trying to fool us with that fact, because he intentionally has the older man telling the story of his own young life as a fifteen-year-old. Ford’s prose is indeed excellent, but all through the book I craved the experience and voice of the fifteen year. So much of the story seems untold. I wanted the younger main character to have emotions and actions not explained away by his mature self of forty years later.

If an author has so pushed his own psyche so far from inner reality, how can we believe his story is true? It’s as if Ford has delivered a good idea about a story, but not the story itself. It’s a steak dinner without the meat or the sizzle, leaving us only a plate, a fork, and a knife laid out in perfect order. It is certainly an order that does not offend, but it also does not tell us the whole truth.

Are we expected to believe that his parents robbed a bank, split him from his twin sister, and sent him to Canada, and he had no anger about that? He could have become a short-fused boy like The Unibomber—or he could have become an enraged genius like Kurt Cobain—or channeled his anger like Van Gogh, perhaps. He only seems to passively accept his exile and one extremely violent act as if he was stunned silent by it. This is not the kind of character I hoped to read—it’s as if the character was there at the scene, but somehow missed the story. Readers are left with the face of the opacity of the surface of it, so we are left to admire the dinnerware and suck on an empty fork.

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September 1, 2012

Query Letter for Tardy Son, a novel

In TARDY SON, Pid, a fourteen-year-old boy, torn from his Mexican roots and adopted into a white California family, stows away in a boxcar hoping to get to San Francisco. He’s desperate to escape his adoptive father, Danno, and to find his real mother. The abuse from Danno alienates Pid’s mind into two personalities. Pid’s copy of Treasure Island, his journal writing, and his sense of adventure help him escape. Pid doesn’t find his real mother in San Francisco but he does find Japanese and African boys who accept his baseball playing despite his limp and a Mexican woman who loves him like a mother. This gives him a sense of himself enough to reunite his personality, though he is still angry at Danno. This anger brings Pid to steal a motor scooter and return to his hometown to face Danno again. Pid vows to kill him, though he risks arrest and injury. A bloody fight occurs and in the battle he discovers why the lies of Danno hide the truth in the mystery of his heritage. Finally, he must choose whether to stay or return to San Francisco.

TARDY SON, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. It’s a 76,000-word literary YA novel.

August 6, 2012

Tiny whoop. Faulkner Award semi-finalist.

My novel, Tardy Son, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. Tiny whoop.

June 19, 2012

Here’s an Interesting Article on Loneliness in Art by Sonya Chung from The Millions

On Loneliness: Art, Life, and Fucking Human Beings
By Sonya Chung

“There are days when it seems to me that what it is to be a fucking human being is to be lonely; to be in this state of deep sadness and estrangement, and to know that there is something terribly wrong about this loneliness on the one hand, and on the other (in knowing the wrongness utterly), something also potentially beautiful.”

May 31, 2012

Re-Writing “Tesora” The Final Post

Hello Novel-Eaters,

Have a potato. OK, I stayed up all night, so what. But I got the re-writing of Tesora done at about 4:11 a.m. Thanks to Renée Watanabe and Alexandra Vega for the tough criticism that made it possible. It may not be better now, but I like it. I’ll wait a few days or a few hours and edit the whole thing together like a crazy quilt turned into a Grandma’s delight . . . or something. Now I hope some agent will enjoy reading it. That’s the big project next. Thanks for reading all the silly poetry I use to take a break from the speeding 80,000-word train in my life. Keep in touch.

— David

February 26, 2012

Waiting for Godot, but Not Barney Rosset

From Notebook, a magazine of film culture, is an obituary for Barney Rosset, ground-breaking leader in American publishing. He fed us Beckett, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and I Am Curious (Yellow) when we were hungry for it.

Rosset’s publishing house, Grove Press, was a tiny company operating out of the ground floor of Rosset’s brownstone when it published an obscure play called Waiting for Godot in 1954. By the time Beckett had won the Nobel Prize in 1969, Grove had become a force that challenged and changed literature and American culture in deep and lasting ways. [Thanks to Richard Nash from Twitter.]

The article is here: Barney Rosset

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.

February 2, 2012

How I Create History within a “Live” Story

How I Create History within a “Live” Story . . . or How I Create a More Intimate Close-Third-Person Point-of-View

I’m rewriting a novel of mine to try to create a style that brings the reader closer to the heart of my story. The story is told in both first-person and third-person point-of-views, using what James Wood calls the “free indirect style,” which is also called “close third-person.” The problem that arose with the story is that there seemed to be too much distance between the first-person narrator and the third-person narrator. In the first case the reader lives in the action and the mind of the main character. In the third-person case my first draft has the narrator standing well back from the present scene and also standing well back in time (as if he was telling stories from his youth, which he is doing as a device for the tale). This works on some level because it’s a historical novel and the “story” is written from the journals of the first-person narrator. On another level, as the story unfolds, there is a disconnect between the “alive-ness” of the story as told by the first-person voice and the dispassionate voice of the third-person narration. The effect produced in this contrast could be almost one of boredom, I’m afraid—that the third-person voice gets in the way of the story.

For me, it is a lot of work to change a mode of writing I’ve used for many years now. It does not seem to come intuitively. At least not yet. I’m removing any judgmental language and I’m removing anything that relates directly to a time-period outside of the action. Is there anything you do in a novel to relate complex action to its time period without sounding like some documentary narrating voice?

January 22, 2012

Writing Novels Is Simple, If You Like Simple Novels


A new writer recently protested while writing his first novel that he frequently felt disgusted and incompetent. He felt that perhaps he should give up—that he didn’t feel “normal” enough to be a novelist. My response was this:

Who told you writing novels was easy? Writing is like life, but more intense—like a life that if all you do is ride a ferris wheel crossed with a roller coaster that breaks down a lot and the only mechanic you know can only be accessed by psychic smoke signals and the only ink available consists of your own blood mixed with stomach bile and the sweat off your back.

It is like that, but it’s also harder than that for a true artist who writes. Also, it’s more fun than real life sometimes because you get to make it all up from your own imagination, although if you don’t have one of those, give up right away. It’s all those hard, sad times that make the good ones so great. Also, it makes for a unique book, and that’s the main point. If it feels like nothing else you’ve ever felt or read, pat yourself on the back—you have arrived. Enjoy the ride.

January 15, 2012

The Work of Writing and Friends

The Work of Writing and Friends

WORK IS MEMORY: I was reminded by a writer friend of mine today about the struggle to work at writing when it is going poorly or not at all. It is an easy reminder for me because mine has not been going well recently. You can tell by my increased attention to my website here. I was also reminded by an opinion piece in The Times. Susan Cain writes: “One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone—and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” What did help me today was offering my time to help her by remembering my own experience earlier in my own career.

WORK IS PRACTICE: The best thing you can do is show up for it every day, because like any art, much of it takes place between sessions at the page and much of it takes place in the subconscious. I just wrote a paragraph about my main character in my Cuban novel where he imagines that his skin has turned dark overnight. It’s actually the first night he spends together with Tesora, and the vision signifies to him how shallow his prejudice against Africans had been: his mind is blown and his skin is now brown.

WORK IS CRITICISM: Yes, it’s hard to take criticism, but writing is a form of conversation, so feedback is important. Someone once said that whenever someone tells you a piece of your writing doesn’t work, the critic is probably right—at the same time that person, when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. You must stick to that inner self who knows the truth, whatever that is. Take time to sit quietly every day to listen to your inner voice (don’t worry if it sounds exactly like silence). No one can read the vision behind the piece you write.

WORK IS LISTENING: And to show up every day, is also to be a part of that audience yourself. You change and your point of view changes a bit every day, so you can be a better critic for yourself. One of my critics, a young Japanese woman, who writes urban fantasy, is someone I picked who would be far from my own point of view, certainly. She expects a whole different thing from writing—more present-tense action. Me, I think action is best emphasized by pauses, like music uses it to produce rhythm and cadence. I still enjoy reading books who were born in the 1800s. Plus, I have a propensity to enjoy and accomplish a certain lyricism. I enjoy reading it, and I enjoy creating it, too. So way to hang in there, writers: who told you writing was easy?  It’s simple enough; you just stare at the page until blood forms on your forehead: no problem.

WORK IS COLLABORATING: Writing with a partner right there at your side can be helpful too. For a whole year, once a week, I trekked down to the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library and met a friend and we both wrote for a few hours and then had tea to congratulate each other. It was a wonderful way to learn how to show up for the work. Writing regularly helps you to feel good about yourself, even when that time is not a big number. Other things always get in the way: keep writing and feel good about that. I wrote much of one novel commuting on a bus, surrounded by black high school kids yelling and blasting music. At first I thought it would be impossible to write like that, but then it just became part of my routine like the Boston Public Library. Years later it gave me the idea for my last novel with the plot involving a Scottish boy marooned in an all-African Cuban town. Did you ever hear the phrase, “acceptance is the answer to all my problems”? That also applies to writing as well.

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