January 25, 2012
Here's a quotation from SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS, by Keith Oatley. He's talking about Henry James's article, "The Art of Fiction," in which James says that the novel is a "direct impression of life," and Robert Louis Stevenson's reply to this (now pretty much taken-for-granted) concept of fiction.
"A novel, says Stevenson, is not a direct impression of life. 'It's a work of art. Life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant; a work of art in comparison is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing, and emasculate. Life imposes by brute energy, like inarticulate thunder; art catches the ear, among the far louder noises of experience, like an air artificially made by a discreet musician.'"
I'm reading about Magic Realism (as distinct from Magical Realism) in a book by Maggie Ann Bowers called MAGIC(AL) REALISM. I'll have more to say about this soon, but for now I've highlighted this:
"Aristotle paved the way for what we now understand of the realism of fictional narratives. He claimed that it is better to convince the reader of the realism of something impossible rather than to be unconvincing about something that is true."
The term Magisher Realismus (magic realism) was coined in Germany in the 1920s, in relation to the painting of the Wiemar Republic that tried to CAPTURE THE MYSTERY OF LIFE BEHIND THE SURFACE REALITY.
The mystery DOES NOT DESCEND TO THE REPRESENTED WORLD BUT RATHER HIDES AND PALPITATES BEHIND IT. (Franz Roh)
MORE TO COME...
January 20, 2012
Rick Gekoski in The Guardian: "We seek help and wisdom from the great sources: from the Koran and Talmud or the Bible, from the sages and commentators, the poets and philosophers. At those stress points that threaten the fabric of who we are, particularly in the face of pain, and loss, and death, we acknowledge that we are neither strong nor wise enough to deal, alone, with the confusion, the dislocation, the heartache that loss involves. We need the best company we can find. And for a lot of us that company is in books, in the internal landscape that they provide for us. Indeed, one can hardly distinguish a sense of "self" which isn't composed, in part, of the voices that we have introjected: from parents, teachers, lovers, books. And in times of trouble we consult them all, unwind the threads to reanimate the individual voices, seek consolation."
Read more here:
January 19, 2012
From Tim O'Reilly, on why he is fighting SOPA: "If you look at it from a historical perspective, the American book publishing industry as a whole began with piracy; there are lots of documents of Charles Dickens and the like taking a stand against these American pirates who were stealing their work. But America went on to become the largest publishing and copyright market in the world. Once the market matures, the pirates go away. They always do. Legitimate markets work better than pirate markets."
Read more here: http://gigaom.com/2012/01/13/tim-oreilly-why-im-fighting-sopa/
January 10, 2012
"Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole--so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page... Any first-rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it. A good workman can't be a cheap workman; he can't be stingy about wasting material, and he cannot compromise."
Willa Cather -- "On the Art of Fiction"
With that in mind, today I cut away half the novel I've been working on. What's left seems to be the soul of the thing, and in its new simplicity I've found inspiration. Now I know just how to complicate it... better.
January 9, 2012
One of my goals for this year is to LISTEN. (I can see you smiling at this. I guess I heard you, all right.) This ambition seems to be manifesting itself in the form of advice, which must have always been coming my way, but now here I am, listening to it. The latest is from Seth Godin, Advice for Authors, Parts One and Two.
Part One: (this is the setup)
1. Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.
2. The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.
3. There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.
4. Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.
5. Publishing is like venture capital, not like printing.
The advice? "Build an asset."
But, there's a whole lot more to it than that.
You can read the whole thing here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2005/07/advise_for_auth.html
Part Two: (it's even better)
1. Lower your expectations.
2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.
3. Pay for an editor.
4. Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir, just a vessel for the ideas themselves.
5. Don't try to sell your book to everyone.
6. Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah.
7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a 'real' publisher.
8. Your cover matters.
9. If you have a 'real' publisher (#7), it's worth investing in a few things to help them do a better job for you.
10. In case you skipped it, please check #2 again.
11. Blurbs are overrated, imho.
12. Blog mentions, on the other hand, matter a lot.
13. If you've got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book.
14. Consider the free PDF alternative.
15. If you want to reach people who don't normally buy books, show up in places where people who don't usually buy books are.
16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload.
17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book.
18. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people.
19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience.
The advice? "You should write one."
You can read the whole thing here:
My advice? Give heed to his.
January 5, 2012
Until recently, I didn't figure myself to be a serious writer of short stories. My tendencies have long been toward expansion rather than contraction, and so the novel has been my best, and pretty much only, game. This was something I picked up from John Irving, when I studied with him at Iowa all those years ago, when I was a young writer with a head full of ambitious dreams. I thought it was something that he and I might have in common. He said he didn't write short stories, so I decided, at the age of 25, all right then, neither will I.
Sometime last year, all that changed, and now it feels like I'm starting all over again in a way, learning a new form. For a while now I've been making a study of the short story, and a part of that work (pleasure) has included reading the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, as edited by Richard Bausch. This morning I came upon his essay, "Letter to a Young Writer," and now I find myself wishing for all those years to fall away as I go back to the beginning to take his advice—which I already know and I already, mostly, do (or have done) and have even, in my own way, taught—reassured and encouraged, by its right-ness, its familiarity, its do-ability, and its truth.
In this essay Richard offers what he calls "a sort of Ten Commandments for you, which are the result of some of my own struggles with this blessed occupation, and what I have been able to learn from reading or being around writers who are better than I."
Here they are: 1. Read. 2. Imitate. 3. Be regular and ordinary in your habits. 4. Train yourself to be able to work anywhere. 5. Be patient. 6. Be willing. 7. Eschew politics. 8. Do not think, dream. 9. Don't compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations. 10. Be wary of all general advice.
You can read the whole essay for yourself here:
January 4, 2012
[The following is a recent email from former student, Patrick Cook. Reprinted here with his permission. I'm so pleased with his success, and how this has worked for him. Yes, it's true: there are writers everywhere these days. But it's also true: there are readers all around us, too.]
I don't know if you remember me--I was in one of your Iowa Summer Workshops a few years ago--the one with the mystery novel about a Polish neighborhood that was involved in a set of pearls stolen from the shrine of the Black Madonna.
I recently had an experience which I think illustrates the new paradigm of publishing you talked about in your Iowa Workshop lectures. I wrote a little satirical article aboutwhat it's like to be a quilter's husband. The Fons and Porter company published it on their web newsletter. I was a little disappointed--I kind of wanted to be in their print magazine--but I said sure, go ahead.
A couple of days after it was published, the editor emailed me and said they'd gotten quite a response from my article, and I should look at their Facebook page and then Google my own name. On Facebook, my article had received 38 "likes" and 16 comments.
That's more comments than I've ever received outside of a workshop. So that was very gratifying. Next I Googled "Patrick Cook" quilter's husband, and got the original article in Fons and Porter, plus three other quilting blogs that had copied it, along with comments from all over the country, plus one from County Wexford, Ireland, and Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
Wow. Worldwide fame.
There were other entries. One was from a genealogy blog, where the blogger had revised my piece to reflect the trials of a genealogist's husband. Makes sense, I guess. It's another absorbing hobby that can get messy.
You can find it at: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wamcgs/nov2011newsletter.pdf
A little further down the page, though, I came upon a Brazilian blog that had actually gone so far as to translate the article into Portugese.
It just occured to me on my afternoon walk that this saga illustrates your 21st century publishing model. Something goes around the world instantly. Then someone manipulates the original text for her own purposes. Finally, the piece gets translated a few days later. All without the intermediary institutions and waiting around.
You've made a convert. If it can work on this small, even minuscle, scale, it can work with the large. In the spirit of what I now call Chehakism, you may use this anecdote any way you like.
Hope to see you this summer.
[Chehakism! Thank you, Pat! ISWF in Iowa City: I'll be there!]
January 3, 2012
by Nicholas Carr
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez
"I recently got a glimpse into the future of books. A few months ago, I dug out a handful of old essays I'd written about innovation, combined them into a single document, and uploaded the file to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service. Two days later, my little e-book was on sale at Amazon's site.The whole process couldn't have been simpler.
"Then I got the urge to tweak a couple of sentences in one of the essays. I made the edits on my computer and sent the revised file back to Amazon. The company quickly swapped out the old version for the new one. I felt a little guilty about changing a book after it had been published, knowing that different readers would see different versions of what appeared to be the same edition. But I also knew that the readers would be oblivious to the alterations."