Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soup and Salad: RIP Anne McCaffrey, AWOL Novelists, Alan Heathcock's Process, Jeffrey Eugenides Reaches Out, Mark Z. Danielewski's Killer Serial, Bad Sex in Literature, Ann Beattie's Truths About Writers, Lydia Netzer: Writer in the Hoodie, High Plains Book Awards

On today's menu:

1.  I was sad to learn of Anne McCaffrey's death when I opened my Publishers Lunch email this morning.  The 85-year-old author of the "Dragonriders of Pern" novels died Monday in Wicklow County, Ireland after suffering a stroke.  She was the author of nearly 100 novels and was the first woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards.  While I never read any of her books (which included the 1978 bestseller The White Dragon), I do remember shelving many of them when I worked as a teenager in the Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming.  If I was ever to read a fantasy which involved genetically-engineered, scaly-winged beasts defending a colonized planet, McCaffrey's Pern series would be the place to start.  As a matter of fact, if I have some extra time on my hands this winter, maybe I'll go for a rare dip into science-fiction/fantasy.

2.  "1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, be on the lookout for beloved novelist.  Last seen on Obscura Boulevard ten years ago, carrying around a heavy writer's block."  That's the imaginary bit of pop culture Greg Zimmerman probably had running through his head when he wrote this love letter to AWOL novelists for Book Riot.
[T]here are any number of real reasons for long gaps between novels. Usually the simplest explanation is the right one: Novelists have spent their time on other projects, like teaching, traveling, or writing non-fiction, short stories or essays. But the opposite may be true, too: They’re blocked. Or, perhaps they’re actually gone for good, having enrolled at “Harper Lee’s School For Quitting While You’re Ahead.”
Zimmerman prays it isn't so as he lists his Top 5 Where-Have-They-Gone Novelists, including David James Duncan (whose The River Why came out 29 years ago) and Cormac McCarthy (The Road was five years ago--how time flies when you're having an apocalypse).  This reminds me of my own "Literary APB" for Jon Billman.  (Yes, yes, I know he's alive and well and living in Oklahoma, but his fiction is still AWOL from bookstores' new-release tables.)

3.  At The Story Prize blog, Alan Heathcock takes us deep into his process as a writer.  Though he starts by discounting the value of "a behind-the-scenes look into an author’s day," Heathcock obliges by giving us just such a peek at one typical morning--a routine which includes transcribing favorite passages from other writers' work into his notebook, watching clips from movies like There Will Be Blood ("I drink your milkshake!"), and finding a path to true empathy with his characters.  This last step "takes up most of my day," he says:
I work to fully inhabit my point-of-view characters, to see though their eyes, hear through their ears, think and feel and imagine, in full, as the character. Much of my day is working to get my imagination all the way into the place of empathetic truth. This means I need to fully realize the world and the events of the scene, the scene’s choreography and timing, and the sensory experiences and emotional content of the character.
Whatever he does and however he does it, Heathcock has struck a rich vein because Volt is pure gold.

4.  At her blog, Anne Trubek (author of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses) takes Jeffrey Eugenides to task for a note he left on his Facebook wall* which basically thanks readers for all the love they've rubbed on him during The Marriage Plot tour and says he's really not into this whole social media thing but he wanted to leave this one little note of connection before he jaunted off to Europe for his promotional tour there.  "So this is his pose?" Trubek writes.  "My publisher made this page? (i.e. 'I'm not one of those pandering, pleading, social media-obsessed authors desperate for buyers'). I don't usually do this stuff? (i.e. 'I am an Author, important and mysterious.')  The author, ultimately, is beside the point?"  (This last remark is one Eugenides actually made in the Facebook post.)  "Social media has changed literary authorship," Trubek continues. "The gap between writer and reader is narrowing. Get on twitter (and without the 'oh now I have to do this because the publicist is making me' pose). Get over yourself, and come into the fray."  I think Trubek's a little too hard on Eugenides--I think it was a genuine reach-out to his readers--but I see her point.  I know a lot of people (writers and real people alike) who don't do "The Twitter."  But that train has already left the station and if authors don't hop on board, they'll be left in what will eventually be an empty station.

5.  According to the L.A. Times' Jacket Copy blog, House of Leaves author Mark Z. Danielewski is going all Dickens on us.  His next project is a big one: "The Familiar," a serial novel in 27 volumes.  (Maybe I should have said he's going all Vollmann on us.)

6.  The shortlist for this year's Bad Sex in Literature Award includes Jean M. Auel, Chris Adrian, James Frey, David Guterson, Lee Child, Stephen King and Haruki Murakami.  It's all all-star lineup of tumescent prose!

7.  The New Yorker's Book Bench highlights Ann Beattie's "7 Truths About Writers" (which comes from her latest novel, Mrs. Nixon).  I especially liked these True Things:
2. If they find a copy of Richard Yates’s Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, they buy it. It is as if they’ve found a baby on the front step. They peek inside, examine the dog-earing, the marginal scribbles. Or perhaps it’s a clean copy, which carries its own kind of sadness. In either case, they embrace it, though they already have multiple copies. Those are irrelevant to the one they would be abandoning if they left the book behind. This is a hostess gift you can give any fiction writer, guaranteed to delight her even though she already has it. Regifting becomes an act of spreading civilization.

6. Writers are very particular about their writing materials. Even if they work on a computer, they edit with a particular pen (in my case, a pen imprinted “Bob Adelman”); they have legal pads about which they are very particular—size, color—and other things on their desk that they almost never need: scissors; Scotch tape. Few cut up their manuscripts and crawl around the floor anymore, refitting the paragraphs or rearranging chapters, because they can “cut” and “paste” on the computer. As a rule, writers keep either a very clean desktop or a messy one. To some extent, this has to do with whether they’re sentimental.

8.  One of the truths on Beattie's list has to do with the clothes writers wear like superstitious talismans.  Novelist Lydia Netzer (Shine Shine Shine) knows all about that kind of obsession.  She's in love with her hoodie:
So this hoodie. It is a simple garment. A black hoodie with athletic stripes down the sides of the arms. It's not soft fleece; it's terry on the inside. I don't know when I started seeing it as my writing uniform but it happened. And then it happened so much that the thing began to deteriorate. Holes formed. Threads frayed. It was washed a zillion times and it faded. In spots. But it was still so perfect and so wonderful... I could not let it go, even though I looked absolutely insane while wearing it outside the house. A small part of my brain could see that I looked like a crazy homeless person staggering around town in this vile scrap of hoodie, but most of my brain was saying, It's fine, it's fine, it's totally fine! You need this hoodie, or else your novel is never going to be finished.

9.  A belated congratulations to the winners of the High Plains Book Awards, including Best Fiction for Alyson Hagy's short-story collection Ghosts of Wyoming (which, as you know, I loved).

*Which may or may not have been written by Eugenides himself--it could very well have been penned by an intern in the publicity department.

Artwork: Detail of "The White Dragon" by Michael Whelan

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the High Plains link and the congratulations. They brought me to your blog, which I will now subscribe to. And you're right - Alyson is great.

    Susan Kushner Resnick, High Plains Best Woman Writer Award for GOODBYE WIFES AND DAUGHTERS