Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
Moreover he was in possession of a functional and frankly rather clamorous conscience.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
|The 1915 party|
There is only one thing to do if a bear takes a sudden dislike to one. It is useless to climb or to run. Go toward it and try kindness. Ask about the children, in a carefully restrained tone. Make the Indian sign that you are a friend. If you have a sandwich about you, proffer it. Then, while the bear is staring at you in amazement, turn and walk quietly away.
|Upper Two Medicine Lake|
This is about a three-hundred mile trip across the Rocky Mountains on horseback with Howard Eaton. It is about fishing, and cool nights around a camp-fire, and long days on the trail. It is about a party of all sorts, from everywhere, of men and women, old and young, experienced folk and novices, who had yielded to a desire to belong to the sportsmen of the road. And it is by way of being advice also. Your true convert must always preach.
If you are normal and philosophical; if you love your country; if you like bacon, or will eat it anyhow; if you are willing to learn how little you count in the eternal scheme of things; if you are prepared, for the first day or two, to be able to locate every muscle in your body and a few extra ones that seem to have crept in and are crowding, go ride in the Rocky Mountains and save your soul.
"I felt the hits in my bones. Like as not I could have poled out another solid poke if your old man had let me take a cut at the ball in the fourth instead of laying one down. I had that pitcher measured like I was a tailor with a tape."That's as far as I got in the book before I set it aside, but the flap copy promises it's "one of the most fascinating baseball stories ever written for boys." The book I found in the Idaho antique store is inscribed to "Lawrence, from Mother & Dad." Judging by the tight-binding, intact-pages condition of the 78-year-old book, I doubt Lawrence ever read Mr. Heyliger's school-athletics adventure story. Maybe he was off listening to Antonio Vivaldi and reading Jane Austen.
"Red" Wade, a star high-school football player, has intentions of going to Claxton College, which has a powerhouse football team, but changes his mind when he meets the sister of the pitiful Paramlee team and goes to college there, just as his father, an alum of the school, had wished. But his father has ordered him not to play football. "Dad" Wade, has offered a $100,000 endowment to his old school, not knowing his son has joined the football team, but is going to withdraw it if his son plays in the Big Game against Claxton. This puts "Red" between a rock and a hard place.Like I said, Scoreboard Life Lessons.
I trust this finds you immersed in your work, suffering alternating spells of doubt and excitement, doing your best not to entertain impossible questions like What is fiction for? and Who will read my work? Good. Those questions can churn in the background, along with other larger unanswerables, but right now you need your best head space for getting something done.
You’ve heard all of the advice already—show don’t tell, write what you know—and after giving it serious due, you’ve laughed in its face. Then you stepped on it. Also good.
Your blinders are on, your Internet is off, and you have somehow carved out a daily schedule into your very hectic life. Fine. You probably also have some goals. At a thousand words a day you’d finish a draft of your novel in two or three months, an absurdly quick pace. But did you do the math that suggested that at two hundred and fifty words a day you’d finish a draft in a year or so, still ridiculously fast, as far as novels go? And if you lowered your word count expectations, wouldn’t it stand to reason that those words would be more sharply gathered, more coherent, more precise? Would they be truer to your vision of your book, and would they more forcefully invite readers into the world you’re creating? Because you could bang out two hundred and fifty words and then revise them about a hundred times each day, maybe perfect them, rather than charging ahead just to get more words. More words are a fallacy. But you know that. It’s about the right words, and, well, if it so happens that you can rightly order a thousand of them or more a day, well then you should. Still, you have a strong suspicion that this obsession with word count is somehow deeply beside the point. And your suspicion is correct.
The night before, during my reading at A Cappella Books in Atlanta, the audience included one of my literary heroes, Charles McNair. After the reading, McNair told me that he, too, had mounted a DIY book tour for his second novel, Pickett’s Charge, which was published in 2013, a whopping 19 years after his debut, Land O’ Goshen.
He regaled me with stories of driving all night with Cheetos littering his car’s floorboards, of sleeping on friends’ sofas, of bouncing to some 50 bookstores, book clubs, universities, libraries, foundations, museums, barrooms, and radio and TV studios. At a bookstore in Nashville, a customer who belonged to a local militia expressed his loud displeasure with McNair’s portrayal of a militia in his first novel.
When McNair asked mildly if the man wanted to defend his right to bear arms, the offended militiaman brandished a copy of McNair’s book and roared, “I don’t need a gun! I could kill you with this book!”
|The literati at Literati Bookstore|
Our first bathroom break came 300 miles in, still shy of Buffalo (the sign said “An All American City”): one of those manufactured rest stops with an, um, Canadian Tim Horton’s. Entering the cavernous bathroom, one of us asked, “We gonna pee next to each other?” and we both made straight for opposite ends of the urinal line. Ten empty toilets between us.
One week before September 11 we met as creative writing students in Columbia University’s MFA program. Over the next decade we became best buds and first readers for just about everything we wrote. A few months back, our first novels hit shelves just weeks apart. Now, both of us staring down the double barrel of middle age — Josh expecting his first baby and Mike returning to real life after a year of backpacking around the globe — we decided to push against the busy lives that put a whole country between us, coming together on a classic adventure: We’re crossing the entire country, reading together in bookstores from Kalamazoo to Laramie, hiking America’s mountains, swimming America’s rivers and getting eaten alive by America’s bedbugs in cheap roadside motels.
Quite often I am asked to recommend, as a practice, the habit of "reading." I like to do this, though I always feel a little phony. To recommend something implies that its presence in your life is a positive choice, like playing tennis or avoiding gluten. For me, being a reader, in summer or at any other time, isn't a "lifestyle choice." Rather, I made the choice—if that's what it was—so long ago, it has taken on an inescapable character in my mind. I think that if I were a very good swimmer, I would be proud to be so, but being proud of being a reader, in my case, is like being proud you have feet. I don't feel much pride when, on the way to somebody's house for dinner, I stuff several books into my handbag for...well, for what? Can I really not manage a brief subway ride without textual support? Is that normal? Are there other people who, when watching a documentary set in a prison, secretly think, as I have, Wish I had all that time to read?
I never intended to be a novelist. I was going to be a short story writer, and I could have papered my walls with rejections. Meeting Rozzy Halfway is about two sisters growing up in Boston, tightly bound together until one of them begins to slowly go mad. I wrote the story and sent it off to Redbook magazine’s Young Writers Contest (I was really young), expecting nothing. Months later, I was coming home from another terrible job I was fired from (this one was working at a puzzle factory that made obscene puzzles) when I saw the big brown envelope that I knew meant rejection. I tore it in a million pieces, spreading it like confetti on my front stoop.
And then I happened to see one word: congratulations. I leaped down and put all the pieces together. it turned out I won First Prize! They wanted the story! And publishers began calling!
If you pay enough attention to the rhythms of sentences, paragraphs, and books, you eventually develop a version of the “shit detector” Hemingway sees as essential to all good writing. An ability to see what wasn’t working was probably my greatest ally when I was writing without feedback. It gave me faith that I wasn’t going down blind alleys.
Seeing what there was to fix streamlined the editing process for me. In the middle of writing the book, I could see I had a lot of work ahead of me, and I figured potential readers were probably going to tell me the same things I was telling myself, so I simply cut that step out by deciding to keep the book to myself as long as possible. I wanted to be as hard on the book as I could, for as long as I could, until I handed it over. Teaching made it easier to see the weak areas, because in spending the day analyzing stories with the kids and going over how to improve their essays, I inhabited a mindset not unlike the one an editor would bring to a text.
And then, after I turned the book over to my early readers, I quickly saw that no matter how honed you think your own perceptions are, no matter how clearly you think you see your work’s flaws and blind spots, there are always problems you’re unaware of....
Eventually there came a time when I would read the book over and not hear the nagging voice that had told me to change this, fix that, cut this, add to that. I found I was just reading it. That was when I knew it was time to send it out.
Disturbed by stories of drownings in the river behind his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, writer B. J. Hollars combed the archives of local newspapers only to discover vast discrepancies in articles about the deaths. In homage to Michael Lesy's cult classic, Wisconsin Death Trip, Hollars pairs reports from late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century journalists with fictional versions, creating a hybrid text complete with facts, lies, and a wide range of blurring in between. Charles Van Schaick's macabre, staged photographs from the era appear alongside the dispatches, further complicating the messiness of history and the limits of truth.Here's a nice bit of praise from Jill Talbot (author of Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction):
"In this fascinating blend of fact, fiction, and photography, B. J. Hollars offers a chilling exploration of death by drowning in the waters of Wisconsin. Through historical collaboration and artistic collage, Hollars considers how the facts we're left with after unexpected (and unbearable) loss shape shadows from what will never be known. This book is at once a commentary on the limitations of journalism and the slipperiness of storytelling. Hollars has created a mesmerizing experience for the reader, an experiment that re-creates the way our minds piece together stories from the murky depths of what is there and what is imagined. I read this in one sitting, and I'll read it again."For more on Hollars' writing and his research into Eau Claire drowning reports, I direct you to this interview with Joe Bonomo. By the way, this is not Hollars' first Trailer Park Tuesday appearance; long-time Quivering Pen readers may remember the video I posted in early 2013 for his short story collection, Sightings. Further digging around the internet for information about Dispatches From the Drownings led me to the author's wonderful blog in which he reviews books in the context of his daily life (i.e., reading Eula Biss' On Immunity as his child is born, or Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine while assembling lawn furniture at the start of summer). It proves Hollars is both an interesting writer and reader.