Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Soup and Salad: Ben Fountain's Dead Novels, The origins of the English Department, Jenny Milchman's neverending book tour, Yaddo is officially historic, Hollywood calls on Calling Me Home, Jennifer Spiegel's confidence, Women's Prize for Fiction longlist

On today's menu:

1.  At Bloom, Ben Fountain talks about the novels he wrote before last year's masterpiece Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk:
Is the novel dead?  I don’t know about the novel, but I have two dead ones sitting on the shelf in my office closet, representing, between them, more years of work than I’m willing to admit.  It’s a cliché, but one of those true clichés, that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.  Over the course of my writing life I’ve discovered that I am, for better or worse, insanely stubborn—I’ll keep going back to a piece over and over until I think I’ve gotten it right, and this hardheadedness helped me bust through a lot of the inevitable obstacles that confront anyone who attempts this kind of work.  I wouldn’t have had anything like a writing career if I hadn’t been so stubborn, but that same stubbornness kept me going on those two novels for years after I should have set them aside.
Remind me sometime to tell you about my early failed novel which, like Fountain's, died a merciful death.  It was called The Last of Anne and it was written out of my anxiety at being a new husband.  It was horrible--the novel, that is, not my marriage (Jean and I will celebrate 30 years of wedded bliss this December).

2.  Check out this post at Alaska's 49 Writers blog.  In the first half, novelist Andromeda Romano-Lax talks about the just-concluded Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference--to which I didn't go (yes, I wish I was in Boston; and no, I just couldn't afford to take time off from the Day Job; and yes, I'm already making plans to be there at AWP when it's held in Seattle next year).  It's the second half of Andromeda's blog post which I found to be most fascinating, however.  To wit: the history of the study of creative writing, as reported by D. G. Myers in The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880.  I gleaned several cool nuggets of trivia, including:
  • The study of English--literature or composition--was not part of American higher education until after the Civil War.
  • When the study of English literature was finally added, it tended to stop at Shakespeare and Milton.
  • In America, early literature classes tended to be about literature (hard dry facts, historical dates, and so on), without requiring the actual reading of literature--and certainly no enjoyment of it!  Actual reading was considered an extracurricular activity.

3.  At Shelf Awareness, Jenny Milchman (Cover of Snow) is writing regular dispatches from the road where she's on what looks like it could be the Longest Book Tour Ever.  Between now and August, she estimates she'll have logged 40,000 miles on her auto odyssey from bookstore to bookstore across America.  She and her husband will be "car-schooling" their children on the trip (which, I'm assuming will include lots of reading....and maybe counting license plates).  In the latest installment, they encounter blizzards, a pearl-encrusted statue of a bison, and foot-stomping readers.

4.  Yahoo for Yaddo!  The renowned writing retreat is now an official National Historic Landmark.

5.  Congratulations to my fellow Book Pregnant gal pal Julie Kibler.  Her debut novel, Calling Me Home, has just been picked up by Warner Brothers.  The book is inspired by events in Kibler's family and revolves around the relationship between 89-year-old Isabelle McAllister and her hairdresser, a black single mother named Dorrie Curtis.  McAllister enlists Curtis’ help to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati.  Along the way, McAllister reveals the secrets of her past, in which she fell in love with the black son of her family’s housekeeper to tragic consequences.  I'm sure Hollywood picked up on the whole "marriage between The Help and Driving Miss Daisy" angle, but can you blame them?  I, for one, can't wait to see the movie.  But I'll read the book first.

6.  Virginia Pye (River of Dust) has a great interview with Jennifer Spiegel (Love Slave, The Freak Chronicles) at her blog.  I was especially struck by what Jennifer had to say about self-confidence: "I will say—and I don’t mean for this to sound cocky—I believe that writers who make it are confident in their abilities.  They think they’re good.  They have to believe this.  If you’re going to make it, you have to think, I’m good and people should read me."

7.  The longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) has been released and it is bursting at the seams with strong contenders, among them Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Gillian Flynn, Shelia Heti, Kate Atkinson, A. M. Homes, and Maria Semple.  The shortlist will be announced April 16; the winner will be announced June 5.  One thing's for sure: I would not want to be a judge in this year's competition.


  1. Thanks for noticing my post, David -- and I should point out (as I do in the longer 49 Writers post) that those nuggets, and much much more, come from "The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880" by D.G. Myers. Anyone who has ever wondered about the history of the discipline and its antecedents--lots of conflict and schisms and tales of writers who didn't want to teach but had to pay the bills -- might want to check it out.

  2. Andromeda,
    Thanks for mentioning that the information came from Myers' book. Shame on me for not attributing it correctly (in too much of a hurry this morning and fueled with only one cup of coffee--that's my excuse). It's now fixed with a link to "The Elephants Teach" added.

  3. Hello from the road, David, and your readers! Congrats to Julie on her wonderful news, and I am not one bit surprised that Virginia gave an insightful interview to an insightful interviewer...