We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My third favorite read is the only short story collection on my life. Read on to find out that my third favorite read this year was…
Dear Life, Alice Munro
What a triumph that Alice Munro should win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. The timing couldn’t have been better, considering she published what might be her very best story collection yet a year ago. After a few decades and a few dozen books, Alice Munro’s mastery of the short story is unmatched; her writing has a clear, fluid beauty to it, as though you were holding water in your hands. The stories in Dear Life have that crystalline quality, as well as her usual warm understanding of humanity, but they are also among her most tightly plotted stories, with startling twists and taut suspense at every turn.
In this collection, Munro is making some of the more bold choices of her storywriting career, pushing characters to the brink. I somehow found these stories to hold more deadly emotional violence, more devastating choices, than ever before. Her writing is stunning on every page, her cold weary understanding of the choices we make to grow up, the quiet sacrifices we make, at its very height. There’s warmth here, too — a calm glowing portrayal of the inner life all people have.
We’re almost at my favorite read this year! Stay tuned, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. My 4th favorite read was a Byzantine war story — guessed it?
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
Much has been said about the stunning novel debut of Anthony Marra, his A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Not enough has been written about the fifty-year night of war, dislocation, flight, and torture of Chechnya. The region suddenly flashed onto Americans’ radars this year due to the identities of the marathon bombers, but long before that terrible event happened, dark stories were unfolding in Chechnya unread. Here at last is a fictional story that brings to light this region. But more than that, this novel captures the complex way people and their choices become interconnected, and the astonishing generosity human beings are capable of even in the cruelest of times and situations.
Even amid unending war, some characters in this dark and epic novel are determined to save each other. The plot is Byzantine in its intricacy; with the skill of an older writer, Marra releases information a bit at a time so that the true complexity of the characters’ interdependence only gradually becomes clear. You’ll be glad you learned about a largely forgotten corner of the world and its suffering — but you’ll also be glad to discover a new writer who is sure to be a major force in coming years.
Stay tuned to find out my favorite read this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 5th favorite read has hookups, breakups, and relationship mixups. Read on to find out that my 9th favorite read this year was…
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman
Waldman’s debut novel has gotten a lot of buzz this year, and for good reason. The author has taken on the challenge of capturing modern hipster Brooklyn life, but specifically from the perspective of a hipster Brooklyn man. In her deeply sensitive, intensely psychological portrait, she captures a great deal of the hypocrisy and under-the-rug sexism that still goes rumbling along through relationships today.
Main character Nathaniel imagines himself to be the modern, enlightened man — supportive feminist, sensitive boyfriend, friend to women. As a writer he preens and sees himself as the classic sensitive artist, able to see the shortcomings of others with a particularly sharp lens. He’s more or less completely unaware of the ways he still belittles, judges, and patronizes the women in his life, even the women he thinks he loves. The fundamental misunderstanding that still goes on between the sexes is the subject of this book, and I found Waldman’s portrayal to be clear-eyed, realistic, and cutting. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a send-up of contemporary Brooklyn life — or whether it’s a realistic portrayal.
Want more? Stay tuned for my favorite read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 6th favorite read has people who come through television screens and men without faces. Read on to find out that my 6th favorite read this year was…
After Dark, Haruki Murakami
I’m a die-hard fan of Haruki Murakami’s work. The first time I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in college, I knew I had never quite experienced a story or a writer like this before. Murakami plays with the fantastic, but it’s his own particular brand of magic; it’s weird, sensual, and often unexplainable, but always affecting. The strange setups he creates end up feeling like a powerful metaphor for life, but they don’t fit easily (or boringly) into a tidy allegorical interpretation.
Since that book I’ve enjoyed many others of Murakami’s, but his new book After Dark is a particular favorite. Unlike his massive opus 1Q84 from a few years back, After Dark is a tidy, slim little novel all contained in one night in the dark bar and club district of Tokyo. We follow a small cast of lonely late-night characters as they move through the city after hours, occasionally bumping up against each other. As with other Murakami books, there’s something strange and very unsettling going on here, and there’s also a very simple human drama underneath that. That mix of the sweet and the strange is what I love about this author’s weird and wonderful books.
Want more? Stay tuned to find out my favorite read this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 7th favorite read has odd doodles and killer geese. Read on to find out that my 7th favorite read this year was…
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh
If you’re a reader of the laugh-out-loud hilarious blog Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, then you’ve probably already grabbed up this book. Brosh’s fans are devoted, and for good reason; there’s just something hilariously apt about her crude drawings matched with her sophisticated sense of humor. Her observations about life, from procrastination to wild goose attacks to depression, are spot on. Doubtless you’ll find yourself identifying with something she writes about here; and you’ll find the drawings to create a killer sense of pacing. Hyperbole is not quite a novel, and not quite a comic book, but its delightful pairing of deadpan humor, bald honesty, and yes, very funny little drawings, is truly unique. You’ll want to pick this one up for yourself or for someone else in your life.
Stay tuned for the rest of the list, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
Big news, readers. I’m excited (but also a little apprehensive) to report that this week I wrote the last few scenes of my novel this week. It doesn’t mean I’m done — in fact, far from it. I can already think of a few scenes that I know are missing, and there are several places where I’ve simply written MORE HERE to remind myself that more is needed.
But still, there’s something momentous about putting that final image, the one you’ve been barreling and sometimes crawling toward, for more than a year. When I wrote the last lines, I sat back and waited for something enormous to happen — for it to feel like all the pieces had now magically shifted into place and now the piece was perfect. Of course, my first feeling was one of disappointment — when I thought about the piece, I realized all the old weaknesses and failings of my writing had crept in. There remained much too much wrong with it.
After I got over that initial realization, my impulse was to leap right back into the fray, to start picking and prodding and teasing and pulling. I wanted to start right away, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to GIVE IT TIME. If you’re finishing a long project, you’ve been walking through the forest for a long time. It’s like being underwater, or sitting in a darkened movie theater. You’ve lost all sense of perspective; you’ve fallen under the spell of your own writing, and you’re no longer able to judge what works and what doesn’t.
Tuesday Tips is a new category of posts here at Writerly Life that will be appearing every Tuesday. It’s a series of concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now, and they’re chosen to immediately re-vitalize your writing in some small (but meaningful!) way.
This week’s tip is:
Read a literary magazine cover to cover
If you’re on the publishing trail, as many fledgling (or veteran) writers are, you’ve spent at least some time sending stories or poems out to literary magazines. You’ve probably pored over your Writer’s Market or the online lit mag databases. And you’ve done your fair share of submitting blindly as well, sending hopeful stories out to magazines you just haven’t read. After all, who has the time or the money to subscribe to and read them all? There are so many good literary magazines out there, and we’d be honored to have our work appear in them, but we just don’t read them enough.
Happy election day here in the United States, readers! I’m excited to be casting my vote today. It’s one of those things we can do to make ourselves feel engaged with the world around us. We aren’t just victims of our circumstances; for this one day, we can strike out and have our say in governance. If you’re not voting in a swing state, it may feel purely symbolic, but I say cast your vote anyway.
But election day has gotten me thinking about a very important aspect of creative writing, and it’s the sort of thing that makes the difference between a well-written piece that goes nowhere, and a story that truly grabs you. So today’s tip is:
Make a Choice…
Or more specifically, have your character make a choice. Stories are defined by the choices of our characters, yet a very common mistake writers make is to not include any choices at all. We present a series of events, often very prettily; we carefully draw our characters, with back stories and physical details and quirky habits; and then we simply let things happen to these characters, with no sense of agency or decision-making. This isn’t just a problem of beginning writers; even the best sometimes create whole novels that end up feeling like a character is being blown around in a storm, unable to assert herself, unable to make her own story.
Pretty much everyone out there, particularly the creative-minded folks, are passionate about something. They spend hours researching that hobby or interest; they work and work at improving that craft or skill; they can get into furious arguments with dear friends over that one issue. We all have our obsessions. But we often relegate these obsessions to a small corner of our lives instead of letting our obsessions inform our work and our writing. Political junkies, for example, are experiencing their Christmas these days as we get down to the final days of the presidential campaign; they might spend hours a day going over polls and examining the data on FiveThirtyEight, but it wouldn’t occur to them to write about politics in their writing. Sports nuts can’t bear to miss the latest game, but for some reason sports never appear in their stories. Why aren’t we using our best resources?
Today I want to encourage you to actually use what you know best. This isn’t quite “write what you know”; after all, those political junkies may never have held public office themselves, and many a sports fan has never kicked a ball or held a racquet. It’s more about “write what you are obsessed with.”
Sorry for the slowdown this week, readers; Hurricane Sandy combined with a few crushing piles of papers to grade this week, and I wasn’t able to devote the time to writing blog posts here at Writerly Life. But rest assured, all is well and I’m back in the saddle, eager to keep the writerly life going.
For those of you caught in the wave of destruction Sandy has brought, Writerly Life is with you, and I wish you all the best. Keep warm, stay safe, and think about your own writing projects as a way of preserving normalcy in your life for the difficult days ahead.
And for those of you looking for a little writing inspiration today, or just some distraction from the labor of the day, it’s time to get your mind in a creative way. I’ve got a roundup of some interesting articles and links to stoke your creative fires.
From Open Letters monthly: A comprehensive review of the joys (and flaws) of Zadie Smith’s NW.
From the Atlantic: How American buries its famous writers (and where to find the tombstones of your favorites).
From Apartment Therapy: The best NaNoWriMo Apps for your mobile device.
From NY Times: Some stunning, creative portraits of artists’ greatest fears.
From NY Times: An interview with the wild-haired, wild-worded T.C. Boyle.
Maze of Wonder: Beautiful, surprising sculptures made entirely, lovingly, from salt.