Jane Eaton Hamilton

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

Tag: Ray Carver

Ann Beattie’s favourite short fictions

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I grew into a writer as an admirer of Ann Beattie’s astringent, generous short fiction. Here’s a recent NY Times interview.

Ann Beattie

In the meantime, here is a list of her most-loved short stories with, indeed, some of my favourites among them:

“What are your all-time favorite short stories?

Among them: “Twilight of the Superheroes” and “Your Duck Is My Duck,” by Deborah Eisenberg; “Way Down Deep in the Jungle,” by Thom Jones; “Oxygen,” by Ron Carlson; “Nettles” and “The Albanian Virgin,” by Alice Munro; “The Fat Girl,” by Andre Dubus; “We Didn’t,” by Stuart Dybek; “Tits-Up in a Ditch,” by Annie Proulx; “Bruns,” by Norman Rush; “Escapes,” by Joy Williams; “Yours,” by Mary Robison; “The Dog of the Marriage,” by Amy Hempel; “The Fireman’s Wife,” by Richard Bausch; “The Womanizer,” by Richard Ford; “Helping,” by Robert Stone; “No Place for You, My Love,” by Eudora Welty; “Are These Actual Miles,” by Raymond Carver; “People Like That Are The Only People Here,” by Lorrie Moore; “Last Night,” by James Salter; “Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story,” by Russell Banks; “Hunters in the Snow,” by Tobias Wolff; Rebecca Lee’s collection, “Bobcat.””

The Adequate Writer: Your work is crap

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

We’ve all been there on the receiving end of rejections that are ill-conceived and thoughtless.  Your work is crap, these notes say, in whatever arguably neutral language they couch this in.  Your work made me vomit.  Go shovel walkways.  Go work at Goonies.  Just go away and please, please, please, and whatever you do, stop writing.

They aren’t actually that bad, and most of them aren’t bad at all.  But we feel like they are, right?

It may be that, in fact, our work is crap.  It happens to the best of us.  After 35 years at this, I still write reams of garbage, and, sometimes, I send it out.  But regardless of the status of my submissions, good or bad or in between, the stats for rejection/acceptance stay about 20-1.  Which means that I get one acceptance per couple dozen rejections.

Does being queer enter into that?  Of course it does.  Pieces aren’t judged only by merit.  Unless there’s a push for affirmative action at a magazine, an article/story/poem that is even tangentially about being queer is often overlooked.  Oh, we published a lesbian piece last month.  Not quite for our demographic.  A little too avant garde for us.

Do I care?  Yeah, a lot.  I hate homophobia, and at my age, it’s a tired old saw.  Go play with knives, already.  Get over yourselves and ask more of your readers.

But even so, if I send a piece out–no matter what kind of piece it is–for long enough, with enough diligence, it will eventually find its home, and that won’t be the bottom of the barrel, that’ll be at a magazine/journal/online site where I’ll be proud to publish and they’ll be proud to have you.

Most of being a writer is showing up, keeping at it, being persistent when the whole damned enterprise seems keyed to shutting you down.

Here’s what I know, though.  You can do one thing better than any other writer anywhere:  you can be yourself.

Authors might have talents and skills you don’t have, but you have talents and skills they don’t have, as well.  That’s the thing that strikes me over and over in this long-game:  No one can write like I do.  Often I whine and grumble about that–how I can’t stop being me for five minutes in order to write as brilliantly as, say, Eudora Welty–but really, ultimately, my uniqueness is a good thing.  In fact, in an over-crowded marketplace, it’s the sum total of what I’ve got.  My idiosyncracies?  Those are my only commodities in publishing-land.

Do I wish I had other styles, other skills, other talents?  Of course I do.  Absolutely I do.  If I could write like Arundhati Roy, or Karrie Higgins, or poetry like, say, Alice Anderson or Jane Hirschfield or Marilyn Hacker, or essays like Roxanne Gay, or one true sentence the way Ray Carver could, or a Lidia Yuknavich short chapter, I would die a perfectly fulfilled human being.  If I could turn a sentence like Rebecca Brown or Lorrie Moore or Mavis Gallant or Toni Morrison I would be incandescent.  But I can’t.  That’s them.  That’s their kick at the can.  It’s not supposed to be mine.

Mine is the bit I got.

And that’s a lucky thing.  Because if we all wrote like each other, reading would be a grim task indeed.

Your work is crap?  Make more crap.  Do it the Beckett way:  If you’re going to fail–and you are going to fail–fail better.

 

Ray Carver and Birdman

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Photograph: Jane Eaton Hamilton (plum blossom)

Everyone knows one of our contemporary masters of short fiction was Raymond Carver.  And everyone knows the movie “Birdman” won Best Picture at the Oscars.  The play mounted in the film is editor Gordon Lish’s version of a Ray Carver story called “Beginnings,” a story formerly called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”  Pretty much everyone knows Lish and Carver had a falling out when Carver tired of Lish’s draconian edits; their riff was substantial enough that right before he died, Carver and Tess Gallagher, his partner, republished a volume of his stories in their unedited versions.

I read “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” years before I read Carver’s original, and everything in it seemed perfect to me.  I am quite a big fan of Lish’s edits, all in all.  (Which may mean I am not as big a fan of Carver as I think I am, for surely my opinion reeks of disrespect?)

Here is an article decrying the fact that “Birdman” used Lish’s revised story.

How Birdman Betrays Raymond Carver: An Untold Story by Jonathan Leaf

A little light editing

Here, from the New Yorker, is Ray Carver’s original version of “Beginners,” the story that became, under Gordon Lish’s hand, the brilliant “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”  This shows all the editorial interjections and deletions, and I would say represents pretty typical story editing, myself, but I know others, including Carver and his partner Tess Gallagher, considered it drastic.  (Long) after Ray’s death, Tess published the book “Beginners” (Vintage 2010) that restored not only this story but 16 others to their original condition.  Good on her; I’m very glad she did, and readers can decide for themselves.

What We Talk About

Oh, here’s a squib about a recent Newsweek interview with Gordon Lish:

Gordon Lish

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