Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: articles

‘Swimming with Oliver’

Peter Selgin’s touching article ‘Swimming with Oliver’ appears at the Colorado Review a year after Oliver Sack’s death.

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Colorado Review

Kettle Holes by Melissa Febos

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Share with me, if you will, the stunning reclamation of a girlhood in this essay, Kettle Holes, by Melissa Febos, up today at Granta.

Kettle Holes

Do the arts matter?

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In Madeleine L’Engle’s swiftly tilting planet, how could the arts matter? How could putting words into a computer have any impact at all? And do we even write to have impact, or do we write to make the inchoate tangible? Do we write to remember and forget? Do we write to be counted? Do we write to communicate and explicate and read as antidote? Do we read to comprehend? Do we read to learn?

Marsha Lederman reports from the Globe and Mail.

Mapping Alice Munro

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Elizabeth Polinar over at Lit Hub talks about how mapping Alice Munro’s stories helped her rework her own.

LARB: Gender blah blah blah by Katherine Angel

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Katherine Angel writes a compelling article on gender and literature in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Gender blah blah blah

Stephen King, who knows a few things

JEHforsythia2

from

The Writer’s Handbook 1988 by Sylvia K. (Ed) Burack

“IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

1. Be talented
This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up there with “what is the meaning of life?” for weighty pronouncements and total uselessness. For the purposes of the beginning writer, talent may as well be defined as eventual success – publication and money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented. Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names. Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great English Departments of America is screeching. V.C. Andrews? Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We’re not talking about good or bad here. I’m interested in telling you how to get your stuff published, not in critical judgments of who’s good or bad. As a rule the critical judgments come after the check’s been spent, anyway. I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself. People who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn’t get paid. If you’re not talented, you won’t succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it’s time you tried painting or computer programming. Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting warmer – you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips, or personal letters . . . maybe a commiserating phone call. It’s lonely out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices … unless there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as possible. If your eyes are open, you’ll know which way to go … or when to turn back.

2. Be neat
Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.

3. Be self-critical
If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word
You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets
Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to McCall’s. Only a dimwit would send a tender story about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to Playboy … but people do it all the time. I’m not exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the actual magazines. If you write a good story, why send it out in an ignorant fashion? Would you send your kid out in a snowstorm dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read the magazines. If you want to write confession stories, read the magazines. And so on. It isn’t just a matter of knowing what’s right for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine’s entire slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and create a sale.

7. Write to entertain
Does this mean you can’t write “serious fiction”? It does not. Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have invested the American reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and serious ideas do not overlap. This would have surprised Charles Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism
Show your piece to a number of people – ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story – a plot twist that doesn’t work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles – change that facet. It doesn’t matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with you piece, it is. If seven or eight of them are hitting on that same thing, I’d still suggest changing it. But if everyone – or even most everyone – is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission
Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that.

11. An agent? Forget it. For now
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you’ve done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal … and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.

12. If it’s bad, kill it
When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.

That’s everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.

My ten minutes are up.” –Stephen King

For more advice from Stephen King, check out his Reading List for Writers.

Richard Bausch Reprise #19

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Reprise # 19

“You never really learn to write as it is usually conceived; there is no template you are trying to decipher. What you learn, eventually, is how to write this one thing you’re working on. It’s no accident that we feel as if we have to learn everything all over again each time we try to do it. Because that is indeed the situation. You have to learn how to write each one, and each one contains secrets and mysteries that you have to solve, and those secrets and mysteries change as the story changes, and so you have to learn it all over. The thing you can treat like a template is HABIT, the habits of work that you develop, that you can strive consciously to develop. The habit of being shrewd about it all: practicing the habit of working without demanding too much in the way of specific conditions (silence, certain light, certain time of day, certain place), teaching yourself to work in changing conditions and with the noises and distractions of being alive on this very hectic and un-peaceful planet. Just visiting it each day, let it know you’re there. So I am really seldom teaching writing: I’m teaching habits, and revision, and practice, and understanding that confusion is quite normal and even healthy because it leads you into what you don’t know about what you thought you knew.” -Richard Bausch

Richard Bausch

Richard Bausch #8

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Richard Bausch is one of my literary heroes, and he’s told me I can reprint his short advice pieces about writing, which I will do periodically.  The early short fiction books of his that I list below taught me to love the shape and scope of stories; he’s a gorgeous stylist with heartbreaking things to say about our world.  His story ‘The Fireman’s Wife’ dragged me over the coals; I’ve never forgotten it.

Reprise # 8

Work in the perfect confidence that: 1.) it is going to be harder work than you have ever done; 2.) it will not yield its secrets easily; 3.) it will drive you a bit crazy until it surprises you and even then the surprise will have other complications that will drive you a little more nuts; 4.) it will seem to open with perfect simplicity like a flower in sunlight in the first fresh morning of Spring, and then close on you like an iron door manned by six guards of the inquisition—and, 5.) all of this being true, you cannot truly hurt it. You can only make it necessary to do it again, to get into its little dark grottoes and work it, and let the opening and closing and the secrets and the falterings take place knowing that you cannot hurt it. You absolutely cannot ruin it. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. You can not permanently harm it. It is not made of glass, but of LANGUAGE, that sweet and glorious possession, that is there like a guiding spirit, wanting to give you everything. Just be worthy of it and try to let go of expecting it to dance on command. It must be courted, cajoled and appreciated even for its inconsistencies. YOU must forgive your own clumsiness and failures of insight in the moment. The thing is tidal. Trust the beauty of it, and don’t over worry it. It WANTS to yield its treasure. You only have to be very, very patient, and quietly stubborn.

 

 

Good submission advice

AfterModigliani

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I always feel like a dom giving submission advice, but anyway, here goes, by Becky Tuch, the founding editor of The Review Review.  Good words to heed, for me as much as you:

How to Submit

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I Write, Therefore I Avoid Other Shit

I have a finely honed sense of outrage when it comes to my own sloth and laziness.  Which, of late, is rampant.  (What am I talking about?  It’s been rampant for three years, more or less, ever since my marriage went tits up.)  I have paperwork lying on my office floor that needed to be dealt with a month ago.  Hell, I have paperwork in my office that needed to be dealt with three years ago.  It’s been there so long the cat has barfed on it.  It’s been there so long–more or less on the pathway to the balcony–that it is covered with muddy footprints.

Have I dealt with it?  No.  None of it.  I work on the system of putting out fires.  There’s a fire.  A little emergent flame.  A bill that needs to be paid.  I pay it.  Huff, huff and phew.

Can I rationalize this slack ridiculous behaviour which leaves me feeling guilty almost full time?  Sort of.

Here’s how I do it:  I write.  I have this life guideline that writing is more important than any other endeavor, so, if I can make writing come out (any kind of writing come out) on a day when I am scheduled to take care of business, then I don’t have to take care of business.  Sadly, I can claim that laziness and avoidance produced my new volume of poetry, those who love, this fall.  And since I finished that, the impulse to write–which I hasten to add ought to be going towards novel re-writes–has gone towards making “occasional” articles.  And so if I pick up the keyboard to make something–an article, a poem, a glance at the novel–I absolutely get a pass on the nasty tasks of organizing my life.

Such a system, eh?  Creativity equals release from reality.

Hey, it works for me.  I think I’ll keep it.

Explaining Literature

ha ha ha ha

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/explaining-literature-to-my-wife

 

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