Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Soup and Salad: Junot Diaz' Silences, Antoine Wilson's Voice, Tim O'Brien's Peace Prize, The Value of a Book, Win a Picnic Basket for Your Book Club, Bid on Fobbit, Three Southern-Fried Knee-Slappers

On today's menu:

1.  At The Story Prize blog, Junot Diaz has an elegant piece on the quiet interstices he creates in his fiction:
I've always been interested in how you write silences. How do you include or mark in a piece of fiction what isn’t said between the characters, the narrative that is missing even from the characters’ perceptions of the world. How do you as a storyteller account for traces of the erased, the denied or that flat out vanished? These are concerns that sit with me always when I write stories. I often begin my stories by first sketching their primal silence and then elaborating the story around that silence. Sometimes what's missing is pretty obvious to the reader: a character or a place that’s disappeared and that the characters do not wish to confront. But other times it’s far more cryptic, a silence that I keep to myself but whose resonances power the prose, work like a dark energy on the matter of the prose.

2.  You should definite check out Bookfox's interview with Antoine WilsonPanorama City, Wilson's second novel, was one of the best, most unique novels I read this year.  It's dominated by the unforgettable voice of Oppen Porter, who narrates his life story into a tape recorder (meant to be played one day for his unborn son) as he lies in a hospital bed on the brink of death.  At least, Oppen thinks he's on that brink.  You'll have to read the entirety of this warm, funny book to find out what really happens.  In the Bookfox interview, Wilson talks about how he created Oppen's rambling, looping, completely endearing monologue:
It’s funny—I’ve heard this question about voice several times now, and I’m never sure how to answer it. I don’t know exactly what voice means. It seems to cover everything you mention, from an entire worldview to a character’s diction to intentionally corrupted grammar in service of a “spoken” feel. As you can imagine, trying to source all of that after the fact feels futile.  As a writer, I’m hesitant to answer for what I’ve done, for two reasons: 1. The process itself is so mysterious (it feels frustrating, mainly, while it’s happening, but ends up being mysterious); and 2. I can’t remember how anything gets developed. All I have is a pile of notes, a series of drafts, a bunch of files on my computer. I suppose I could go back, forensically, and try to understand my own process, but I don’t think that would do anyone any good, least of all me.  All that aside, the worldview comes from my own optimism blended with various aspects of Don Quixote; the folksy wisdom comes from a love for aphorism blended with Candide, and the language itself is an approximation of local speech blended with the thought-spirals-in-text of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. The process was one of writing and discarding a series of first drafts, increasing in length until I had a novel. Probably four complete and unique drafts up to about a hundred pages before I sorted it out. Please note that if I could do it any other way, I would.

3.  Stop!  Stop whatever you're doing right now, follow this link, and take four minutes to listen to Tim O'Brien's comments after he was awarded the 2012 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award by the organizers behind the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.  It might move even the  most heart-hardened among you to get a little misty-eyed, especially when O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried, chokes up at the thought of winning a "peace" prize after being labeled a "war writer" his entire career.  Here's a snippet of his remarks:
It seems as a culture, maybe as a world, we're surrounded by pressures to sanitize war, to dress it up, to glorify it. Think of the Veterans Day parades and the 4th of July, and what you see on television. That stuff contains elements of truth--there is self-sacrifice of men who go off to battle, there are acts of great valor and courage--but it's not the whole story. The whole story includes evil--a day-by-day nastiness you don't witness on television, you don't get in movies, and you very rarely get in books. Hour by hour, it's like being dipped in crankcase oil....The role of art--whether it's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or screenwriting--is to press back against this hardened carapace of insulating us from the realities of what war is.

4.  At the Book Pregnant blog, Nancy Bilyeau discusses the price tag of a book--specifically the consumer cost of e-books, a value which often fluctuates and dips down to the basement level.  Sending book prices in a plummet eventually gives some readers a sense of entitlement at being able to get books for ridiculously cheap prices (or, as is more often the case, free).  This is all well and good, Bilyeau argues, but please don't also get outraged at having to pay "full" price for something we writers have worked on for years (and sometimes decades, as will be the case with my own second novel, Dubble):
My novel, The Crown, is currently priced at $9.99 for e-book. Many novels cost about that. I worked on my book for five years, researching and writing, taking classes and workshops. Traveling. Getting up at 5 a.m. so I could make my word count before the children woke up and I had to go to the office. Drawing on my love of Tudor England and the thriller genre, I crafted the best book I possibly could. It was edited by talented people, with a striking cover. Is my e-book worth $9.99? In my opinion, yes.  Let's talk about entertainment, because that's what many novels are. I am fine with that. In cities, movie tickets these days are set at about $10 for adults. So my novel is not as much of a value as a couple of hours with Skyfall or Taken: 2 or, good grief, Paranormal Activity 4? When you tell a novelist that their book--in many cases, their dream--should be priced at a dollar or two, rather than nine or ten, you're saying their dream is not worth as much as Paranormal Activity 4 and should instead cost as much as the Diet Coke someone sips while watching it.
5.  One of the most delightful things (and there were many) about Sere Prince Halverson's debut novel The Underside of Joy was the description of the gourmet "foodie" store the book's main character, Ella, opens in Northern California after the tragic death of her husband.  As I turned the pages, my mouth kept watering whenever Halverson wrote about the delicacies stocked on the shelves of Life's a Picnic.  Wine, artisan cheeses, smoked meats: I think I gained five pounds just reading The Underside of Joy.  But now you, dear reader, have the opportunity to win a picnic basket of your own.  If you're a member of a book club, you can sign up for a Skype chat with Halverson and be entered in a drawing for a well-stocked basket to be delivered to your door just in time for your meeting to discuss The Underside of Joy.

6.  Speaking of winning, this Saturday (December 1), the LitChat website will be holding a charity auction on Twitter where readers can bid on copies of signed books and other literary prize packages.  Fobbit will be one of those books, along with novels by Robert Goolrick, Mitch Albom, Lydia Netzer, Erika Robuck and several others.  The auction will benefit Reader-To-Reader, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to expanding literacy and learning opportunities for the nation’s most chronically underserved and vulnerable communities, including inner-city schools, Native American reservations, and poor rural towns.  You don't have to be on Twitter to bid on the books--so, please come join us on Saturday for this good cause.  Click here for details on how to bid.

7.  The Barnes and Noble Review recently invited me to contribute to the Guest Books feature.  I jumped at the chance to choose three examples of Southern humor. One of those picks was Stray Decorum, George Singleton's new collection of South Carolina-based short stories just out from Dzanc Books, a book which "lovingly lampoons the residents of his Confederate-state universe.  'People we get who ain't from around here, they come in thinking they'll be surrounded by the lost and losing.  But we're some regular philosophers, when it all boils down,' says one character as he sits at a bar which, by the way, doesn't carry light beers -- 'only Budweiser, Pabst, and regular Miller, all in cans.'"  Click here to see my other two favorite Southern-fried knee-slappers.

1 comment:

  1. After watching Tim O'Brien's talk, I read the rest of this post through somewhat blurry eyes--but did spot a familiar book cover. Thanks so much for the mention of The Underside of Joy and the picnic drawing. And huge congratulations to you, David. May Fobbit-mania continue to sweep the nation!