Tag Archives: novel

Should Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? – The New York Times

Is it a good thing for a novel to stimulate our emotions? Montaigne, Brecht and others thought not.

Source: Should Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? – The New York Times

The devil is in the detail. Talking about moments when excruciating gallstone pains made him believe he was soon to die, Montaigne remarks: “When I looked upon death as the end of my life, universally, then I looked upon it with indifference. Wholesale, I could master it: Retail, it savaged me; the tears of a manservant, the distributing of my wardrobe, the known touch of a hand, a routine word of comfort discomforted me and made me weep.”

It is the details that attach us to life and arouse our emotions. “A hound, a horse, a book, a wineglass and whatnot,” Montaigne observes, all “had their role in my loss.” Reasoning and accumulated wisdom, he goes on, may give us some insight into human grief, but it is the small things, picked up by ears and eyes — “organs which can be stirred by inessentials only” — that will really have an impact. So we might be aware of, but not greatly moved by, the plight of Syrian refugees until the photograph of a dead child face down in the sand triggers our emotions and has us bursting into tears.

Having made these observations, Montaigne embarks on what might best be described as a creative writing lesson in reverse. Literature, he points out, is adept at exploiting this aspect of our psychology; it focuses on evocative inessentials to stimulate our emotional response. Generally unmoved by the human condition, we nevertheless “disturb our souls with fictional laments.” It hardly even matters that they are invented: “The plaints of Dido and Ariadne in Virgil and Catullus arouse the feelings of the very people who do not believe in them.”

And he asks a question that no one asks these days: “Is it right for the arts to serve our natural weakness and to let them profit from our inborn animal-stupidity?” Aside from its astute selection of moving detail, art is constantly in the business of manipulating our emotions, as if this were an end in itself. This, after all, was Plato’s objection to the arts and every kind of artistic effect — that it was manipulative and potentially mendacious. Or simply a waste: “How often,” Montaigne asks, “do we encumber our spirits with yellow bile or sadness by means of such shadows?”

If we apply these ideas to narrative fiction as it is today, what do we find? First, the idea that a book, or film for that matter, stimulates extreme emotions is constantly deployed as a promotional tool. Terrifying, hair-raising, profoundly upsetting, painfully tender, heartbreaking, devastating, shocking, are all standard fare in dust-jacket blurbs and newspaper reviews; it is as if the reader were an ectoplasm in need of powerful injections of adrenaline. Anything that disturbs us, arouses us, unsettles us, is unconditionally positive. “You will be on the edge of your seat.” “Your heart will be thumping.” “Your pulse will be racing.” Aristotle’s response to Plato, that arousing emotion could be positive so long as the emotion was clarified, cathartically contained and understood, is rarely invoked. At best there is the implication that arousing emotions fosters sympathy, perhaps even empathy, with fictional characters and that such sympathy then breaks down our prejudices and hence is socially useful. So readers will frequently be invited to contemplate the sufferings of threatened minorities or discriminated-against ethnic groups, or the predicament of those who are young, helpless and preferably attractive. But this is an alibi and we all know it; what matters is stimulating emotion to sell books.

Similarly, creative writing courses, as far as I am able to judge, are obsessed with technique — how to arrive at that powerful detail, how to give it prominence, how to grab the reader, not why we want to grab the reader or to what end. Traditional literature courses used to reflect on the way detail was used inside a novel’s overall vision. The present zeitgeist invites us only to contemplate how the trigger can be pulled, not where the bullet is going, because the purpose of creative writing courses — especially when the fees are high — is to teach the would-be writer how to produce a publishable narrative, not a “good,” let alone a “responsible” narrative.

Montaigne is hardly alone in criticizing an overeasy excitement of the sentiments. In recent times, Bertolt Brecht objected to the stimulation of emotional identification with fictional characters, and Muriel Spark argued strongly against arousing compassion in novels; it allowed readers, she complained, to “feel that their moral responsibilities are sufficiently fulfilled by the emotions they have been induced to feel.” She advocated satire and ridicule instead as more effective tools of social criticism.

Samuel Beckett entirely rejected the idea of narrative as a vehicle for arousing emotion. Again and again he blocks any sympathy for his characters, drawing attention to their fictional status, making their suffering grotesque and comic rather than endearing. Yet even he understands how naturally narrative moves in this direction, admitting that in the final analysis even the struggle to avoid arousing emotions will confer a kind of pathos on the author.

But does it actually matter? Why not let novels stimulate emotions all they will and readers buy into them as intensely as they wish? The hell with it. What on earth could be wrong with that?

Montaigne’s comments on the evocative power of detail are not isolated. He lived in an age of division and dogmatism; the religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots lasted almost 40 years and caused countless deaths. In 1572 the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre alone saw thousands of Huguenots killed by their Catholic enemies. Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas. He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that “we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.” To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back. Certainly, had he been alive today, he would have seen a continuity not just between violent fiction and real violence, war films and war, but also more generally between a culture that has turned the stimulation of emotion into a major industry and a society torn apart by heated conflicts of all kinds.

No civilization has ever produced as much narrative as our own, and with so little collective control. Thousands upon thousands of stories and novels are published worldwide every month. Not to mention TV series and films. There is intense competition: competition to get published, competition to win prizes, competition to reach a national audience, competition to reach an international audience. Of course there are various cards to play in that competition: wit, creativity, ideology, comedy, savviness; but the factor most frequently stressed, the one no one can do without, is emotional impact. When was the last time you heard a novel praised because it invited the reader to a higher level of intellectual engagement with complex issues? Or because it retreated from spicy detail to offer a balanced view of life overall? Or because its characters managed to handle potentially dangerous conflicts without arriving at a destructive showdown? Often as we read it seems that all the energy and creativity of the writer has been channeled into conjuring up those piquant, lurid or simply shocking details that will unleash the reader’s emotions.

How can we suppose that this state of affairs, this constant rush for the most disturbing, the most poignant, the most emphatic, the most terrifying, has no effect on the way we respond to the dramas of our lives? As I write this morning, three months after Brexit, two months after the Republican Convention nominated Donald Trump, following a summer that has seen scores of deaths from terrorism and with Aleppo still under relentless bombing, all I hear around me is violent, overheated, highly emotional rhetoric, ferocious discrediting of all adversaries, poignant details of the lives of unlucky victims, horror for the future and, beneath it all, a complacent excitement about our own capacity for feeling life intensely.

***
Tim Parks’s most recent book is “The Novel: A Survival Skill.”

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Book sequel

The 5 best sequels to classic novels

Author Chet Williamson has written an authorised sequel to Robert Bloch’s Psycho. Here, he looks at other sequels that honour the original works while bringing new life to them

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/my-five-favourite-sequels-to-classic-novels-from-the-further-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn-to-the-a6970976.html

Having just written an authorised sequel to Psycho, Robert Bloch’s original tale of Norman Bates, I was asked by The Independent to come up with what I considered the five best sequels to other classic novels. I’m not so sure about the “best”, but these are certainly my favourites, ones that honour and respect the original works while bringing different perspectives and new life to them:

The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Greg Matthews (1988)

The author of the western epics, Power in the Blood and Heart of the Country, takes up Sam Clemens’ pen and picks up the story as though channelling Mark Twain. A perfect sequel to a book that’s as close as anyone’s come to the Great American Novel.

Pym by Mat Johnson (2010)

It seems that Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, a story of weird adventure in the Antarctic, is based on fact, and it’s up to a professor of American literature to confirm it with a trip to the South Pole. Johnson deals with race, history, and literature trenchantly and often humorously, while retaining the cosmic mystery of Poe’s original.

Grendel by John Gardner (1971)

Grendel John_GardnerNot so much a sequel as a retelling of the ancient epic, Beowulf, seen from the monster’s point of view. Gardner was an extraordinary writer, and his depiction of Grendel is tender, haunting, empathetic, and terrible.

A Feast Unknown by Philip Jose Farmer (1969)

First published by an “erotica” house, this novel is the great-grandfather of literary mash-ups, and still far superior to most of them. Farmer creates his own versions of Tarzan (Lord Grandith) and pulp hero Doc Savage (Doc Caliban), makes them half-brothers (their father was Jack the Ripper), and sets them against each other in a violent and homoerotic grudge match. A masterpiece of absurdity.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Cunningham’s tripartite exploration of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is too complex in plot and character to begin to discuss here, but this bold and experimental novel sets the bar for what can be accomplished by treading in the footsteps of an earlier work of literary brilliance.

Psycho: Sanitarium is published on 12th April by Canelo, price £3.99 in eBook

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Stop the stall”

9 Ways to Stop Your Novel from Stalling

by Tracey Barnes Priestley

Source: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/9-ways-to-stop-your-novel-from-stalling?utm_source=wir&utm_campaign=wds-bak-wir-160107&utm_content=811333_WDE160107&utm_medium=email

I would be willing to wager that most writers have made New Year’s resolutions regarding their writing practices. I know I have.

Tracey Barnes Priestley

Tracey Barnes Priestley

Curious about this, I canvassed a few of my writer friends. Sure enough, many of them had frequently participated in this annual tradition that dates all the way back to the Babylonians. Each writer had faced January with a deep commitment and heartfelt enthusiasm for those resolutions. One promised herself she’d “finish the first draft” of her novel. Another told me she had written on her dry-erase board, in big, bold letters, “I will clean up the dialogue mess that’s drowning this book.” The least experienced of them, an as yet unpublished young man full of enthusiasm for his craft, swore he would “silence my inner critic and keep writing, no matter what.”

I followed up by asking them how successful they had been in keeping those resolutions. Unfortunately, all had experienced the same thing: disappointment. No matter how hard they tried, they had ultimately been unable to make good on what they had resolved to do.

I knew exactly what they were talking about. I gave up creating New Year’s resolutions about my writing years ago when I found myself at the end of yet another cold January, with nothing more to show for all of my efforts than an exercise in futility. I was left feeling a range of emotions, from guilty to downright silly.

It’s actually quite comical just how few of us keep our New Year’s resolutions. It’s estimated only 45 percent of the population even tries to resolve making changes in the New Year. Of these brave souls, a mere 8 percent are successful.

Yet I’ve wondered if writers might be even more inclined than the general public to approach the New Year with a list of things we want to change, accomplish or do differently. We seem ripe for this kind of experience. As creative thinkers, we face a unique set of circumstances when it comes to producing our work. Alone in whatever space we can manage for our writing, we pound away at the keyboard, with our thoughts, our characters, our struggles and the never-ending reality that we aspire to a tough, highly competitive profession. Why wouldn’t we try to capitalize on the fresh start, the clean slate that January offers us? Magical thinking is right up our alley!

Why Our Writing Can Stall

In my work as a life coach, I’ve come to believe that our writing can be derailed because of two fundamental processes. The first, naturally, is the very nature of our craft, the writing process itself—think plotting, character development, etc. Unfortunately, this intrinsic set of challenges dwells right alongside our individual writing processes—complete with procrastination, destructive thought patterns, negative experiences, ambiguous motivation, unrealistic expectations, etc. And we wonder why we can’t keep our writing resolutions.

By now you’re probably ready to chuck your computer out the window. Don’t! Think of these two processes as valuable tools. Once you understand how they may be driving your inability to meet your writing resolutions, you will be poised to utilize effective strategies that support you and your writing every step of the way.

What’s Holding You Back?

Let’s begin by identifying the warning signs that your writing may be about to stall out. Consider current or previous writing resolutions you failed to keep. Ask yourself if you have experienced any of the following: lack of initiative; inability to prioritize writing tasks; frequent distraction; failure to establish a consistent writing pace/routine; inner dialogue that is one negative message after another; finding yourself simply “too busy” to get anything done. This is hardly an exhaustive list. Reasons writers stall can be varied and unique. Your task is to be as exact—and as honest with yourself—as you can in identifying what gets in the way of your ability to make progress on your projects. Make a list.

Next, evaluate this list from the perspective of the work-in-progress itself. As an example, let’s use my writer friend’s resolution to finish her first draft.

Every time she sat down at her computer, this writer felt lost about where the story should go next, and unclear about the relationship between her two main characters. She found herself thinking, This is useless, and, It’s not a strong enough idea for an entire book—maybe I should ditch the entire thing.

First, she tried to address the problems in the work itself. She sought craft and technique help with her plot and eventually resolved some backstory problems that had delayed the action and confused things between her characters. But the problems with her own lack of clarity persisted. Now she was fairly certain that the problem was within her writing process.

That meant facing off with her inner critic, which is always the most efficient place to begin. She looked her frustration in the eye and began to unravel the negative messages ricocheting around inside her head. Why exactly was this project “useless”? After some contemplation, she surprised herself with her answer: “Because I don’t have the patience for anything but short stories—certainly not a full-length novel.” This statement got her wheels turning in a new direction. She rethought her word choice (she is, after all, a writer) and decided it wasn’t really a lack of patience—this gifted writer was actually lacking confidence. She found herself wondering:
I’ve had some success with short stories, so why am I risking my time and energy on something I don’t know much about? She realized she’d been rationalizing away the entire project, even though writing a novel really was something she wanted to try.

Once you are able to identify what is really preventing you from pushing ahead, you’ll be freed up to construct writing goals that will actually yield productive results. For my friend, this meant not just correcting her self-defeating thoughts, but lifting the expectations she was unconsciously placing on her unwritten manuscript. It didn’t have to be a “success,” as her published short stories had been, to be worth her while—or at least, she needed to redefine what success meant to her. Once you decide that writing something you want to write is never a waste of time, regardless of whether or not it’s published in the end, you might just find that those negative voices quiet down on their own.

Let’s consider another example, the young writer who swore he would “silence my inner critic and keep writing, no matter what.”

When he viewed his writing from the perspective of each of these two processes, he discovered some distinct problems. He admitted to himself that he felt foolish in the eyes of others for turning his back on the profession he had trained for—engineering—and that he felt like a fraud because he had not been formally trained to be a writer. Those were demons he had to face if he ever wanted to get past Chapter 1.

Next, from the perspective of the writing process, he realized that while writing a novel was on his bucket list, he had not really worked out enough of a story idea to be able to take action on the page.

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing an entire novel (and who isn’t?), why not set a goal of writing, say, three chapters? By the time you meet that smaller, more achievable goal, you might just find you have an idea for Chapter 4. When it comes to writing, the laws of momentum apply—it’s infinitely easier to move toward something when you’re already in motion than it is to start from a dead stop.

How to Avoid Stalling: 9 Ways

Now that you’ve seen how fundamentals that have very little to do with actual words on a page can derail a writer’s progress, let’s take a look at what else we can to do make sure we keep moving.

1. Ditch the word resolution entirely.

It’s a setup, one that has been riding on the backs of people for thousands of years. Instead, set a goal, objective or even intention.

2. Understand what truly motivates you.

For some writers, identifying a positive outcome and working toward it is the most effective form of motivation. Conversely, other writers are spurred on by a degree of unrest, even fear.

Write down exactly what is motivating you to meet your writing goal. Is it a good fit? Does it ring true? If not, identify a more appropriate motivation. When finished, post it where you can see it when you are writing.

3. Break it down.

It can be quite worthwhile, exciting even, to set large goal. “Yes, I will finish my novel this year!” But make sure it’s specific—which usually means breaking it down into smaller goals you can cross off along the way. Remember my friend’s resolution, “I will clean up the dialogue mess that’s drowning this book”? It would have been more attainable to separate this vague notion into three separate goals: (1) When I hear myself saying negative things like “I’m drowning this book,” I will stop, write the negative message down, put it into my complaint box and get back to work (a good practice for anyone working toward any goal, by the way); (2) Over the next two weeks I will identify the dialogue passages that are giving me grief; and (3) By the end of January, I will have rewritten at least one scene that includes dialogue. Note that the goals are not just well defined, but action oriented, and that the second and third goals include a targeted time frame. Most of us will be more successful if we give ourselves reasonable deadlines.

4. Be realistic.

Changing behaviors, attitudes and habits is a process. Rarely does change occur because of one event or a date on the calendar. (Curious to know more about why this is? Do some research on the neuroscience of change—you will be astounded by what is required for our poor brains to shift into a new mode.)

5. If you feel frustrated, pick a single task—the smaller the better.

It should be related to your work-in-progress, but it doesn’t have to be what chronologically comes next in your manuscript’s progression. It does, however, need to be so simple you can’t possibly fail. For example, it may seem like rewriting one page should be easy enough to accomplish, but if you’re not succeeding, the task is too big. Instead, aim to rewrite one paragraph or even just one sentence. When you are finished, move onto the next small task. This approach fights frustrations with success, and builds forward progress into your writing practice.

6. Pair up.

Ask another writer to join you in working toward your individual goals in the months ahead. You’ll both benefit from being accountable to one another, and the mutual support will motivate you to follow through.

7. When all else fails, take a break.

It can be as simple as getting up from your computer and walking around the house, or as significant as putting your project on hold for a month. Stepping away from the source of our frustration can give us a fresh perspective and renewed momentum. But be sure to designate an end point to this refueling period to ensure that it is in fact a break—and not an excuse not to get up from that chair and never sit back down.

8. Realize that setbacks are part of the process.

Every writer’s road is full of tight curves, jarring potholes and unexpected bumps. Accept this inevitability, and you won’t be as surprised when you slam into something that brings you to a screeching halt. By eliminating the element of surprise, you minimize disappointment, which will help you to recover and get moving again.

9. Above all, be patient!

Meeting your writing goals takes time and effort. When you throw out that laundry list of resolutions and focus your attention on just one or two well-crafted objectives, you’re already one step ahead of where you were last year. Remember that 12 months is plenty of time to accomplish your writing goals if you approach them with understanding, clarity and objectivity. Here’s wishing you every success in 2015. Happy New Year!

About the author: Tracey Barnes Priestley is a columnist, blogger and novelist. She is the author of the novel Duck Pond Epiphany as well as a life coach who teaches writers organization, communication and stress management skills useful for today’s publishing world. Contact her at tracey@thesecondhalfonline.com

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The byte may destroy the book but the novel isn’t over yet

Technology has always had an effect on the form of the novel, but the story remains.

by Camilla Nelson

Source: http://theconversation.com/the-byte-may-destroy-the-book-but-the-novel-isnt-over-yet-42556?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+June+2015+-+2901&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+June+2015+-+2901+CID_d9aa7eed4583444a6198564d2fce1b93&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=The

In This Will Destroy That, also known as Book V, Chapter 2 of Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo presents his famous argument that it was the invention of the printing press that destroyed the edifice of the gothic cathedral. Stories, hopes and dreams had once been inscribed in stone and statutory, wrote Hugo. But with the arrival of new printing technologies, literature replaced architecture.

Today, “this” may well be destroying “that” again, as the Galaxy of the Internet replaces the Gutenberg Universe. If a book is becoming something that can be downloaded from the app store, texted to your mobile phone, read in 140-character installments on Twitter, or, indeed, watched on YouTube, what will that do to literature – and particularly Hugo’s favourite literary form, the novel?

At one time, the typewriter was the cutting edge technology for novel writing.

At one time, the typewriter was the cutting edge technology for novel writing.

Debates about the future of the book are invariably informed by conversations about the death of the novel. But as far as the digital novel is concerned, it often seems we’re in – dare I say it – the analogue phase. The publishing industry mostly focuses on digital technologies as a means for content delivery – that is, on wifi as a replacement for print, ink, and trucks. In terms of fictional works specifically created for a digital environment, publishers are mostly interested in digital shorts or eBook singles.

At 10,000 words, these are longer than a short story and shorter than a printed novel, which, in every other respect, they continue to resemble.

Digital editions of classic novels are also common. Some, such as the Random House edition of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962), available from the App store, are innovatively designed, bringing the novel into dialogue with an encyclopedic array of archival materials, including Burgess’ annotated manuscript, old book covers, videos and photographs.

Also in this category is Faber’s digital edition of John Buchan’s 39 Steps (2013), in which the text unfolds within a digital landscape that you can actually explore, albeit to a limited degree, by opening a newspaper, or reading a letter.

But there is a strong sense in which novels of this sort, transplanted into what are essentially gaming-style environments for which the novel form was not designed, can be experienced as deeply frustrating. This is because the novel, and novel reading, is supported by a particular kind of consciousness that Marshall McLuhan memorably called the “Gutenberg mind”.

Novels are linear and sequential, and post-print culture is interactive and multidimensional. Novels draw the mind into deeply imagined worlds, digital culture draws the mind outward, assembling its stories in the interstices of a globally networked culture.

For the novel to become digital, writers and publishers need to think about digital media as something more than just an alternative publishing vehicle for the same old thing. The fact of being digital must eventually change the shape of the novel, and transform the language.

Far from destroying literature, or the novel genre, digital experimentation can be understood as perfectly in keeping with the history of the novel form. There have been novels in letters, novels in pictures, novels in poetry, and novels which, like Robinson Crusoe (1719), so successfully claimed to be factual accounts of actual events that they were reported in the contemporary papers as a news story. It is in the nature of the novel to constantly outrun the attempt to pin it down.

So too, technology has always transformed the novel. Take Dickens, for example, whose books were shaped by the logic of the industrial printing press and the monthly and weekly serial – comprising a long series of episodes strung together with a cliffhanger to mark the end of each installment.

So what does digital media do differently? Most obviously, digital technology is multimodal. It combines text, pictures, movement and sound. But this does not pose much of a conceptual challenge for writers, thanks, perhaps, to the extensive groundwork already laid by graphic novel.

Rather, the biggest challenge that digital technology poses to the novel is the fact that digital media isn’t linear – digital technology is multidimensional, allowing stories to expand, often wildly and unpredictably, in nonlinear patterns.

Rest of the article at: http://theconversation.com/the-byte-may-destroy-the-book-but-the-novel-isnt-over-yet-42556?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+June+2015+-+2901&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+June+2015+-+2901+CID_d9aa7eed4583444a6198564d2fce1b93&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=The

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New Cormac McCarthy Book, “The Passenger,” Unveiled

Thirty years in the making. Scheduled for release in 2016.

by Jack Martinez

Source: http://www.newsweek.com/cormac-mccarthy-new-book-363027#.Vc-Q6I8RjpQ.twitter

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy

After incubating for some 30 years, Cormac McCarthy’s next novel just made a dramatic first entrance onto the public stage. Passages from the much-anticipated book, called The Passenger, were read as part of a multimedia event staged by the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The reading is the first public confirmation of the novel and its title, long the subject of rumors in the literary world.

The occasion marks nearly 50 years since the publication of McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper, which won the PEN/Faulkner prize for best debut novel in 1966.

While academics and critics have long praised his work, the legendary author keeps a low profile, spending most of his time at a science and mathematics think tank in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), where he is a trustee. Organizers at SFI confirmed to Newsweek that the novel will be released in 2016, though McCarthy’s agent and publishers declined to comment on the status of the book.

Prior to the Lannan Foundation event on August 5, details about the book’s eventual publication were hard to come by. Now, The Passenger appears to be approaching.

That alone is enough to excite McCarthy’s substantial following. Steven Frye, president of the Cormac McCarthy Society, is more than a little biased when it comes to ranking authors. But there are plenty who share his opinion when he says: “I would rate him No. 1” among contemporary authors. “It’s bold to say that we’ll be reading him in 500 years, the way we read Shakespeare…. But if we’re still reading novels, then I think it will be the case.”

Given the author’s history when it comes to public appearances, it was a surprise to members of the Society (which has no affiliation with the author) when the event was announced on the Santa Fe Institute’s web site.

Read more at: http://www.newsweek.com/cormac-mccarthy-new-book-363027#.Vc-Q6I8RjpQ.twitter

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Writing tip Wednesday: “First Novel Tricks”

9 Practical Tricks for Writing Your First Novel

by JAN ELLISON

Source: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/9-practical-tricks-for-writing-your-first-novel?et_mid=773300&rid=239626420

1. Get to the end of the story
One of the biggest mistakes I made writing my first novel was spending too much time polishing the language before I understood the story’s arc. I didn’t know if the words and sentences I was massaging supported the story, because I had no idea how it ended. I finally made a huge poster that read: “GET TO THE END OF THE STORY” and taped it to the wall behind my computer. This simple trick helped me push forward to the end.

2. Put the manuscript away for awhile and write something else
After five and a half years of steady work on my novel, I inadvertently set it aside for eighteen months to write 600 pages of material for a second novel. I thought my first novel was dead. Then I opened the file one day and started reading it from the beginning. What I discovered was that the time away allowed me to experience the manuscript as a reader instead of a writer. Not only did I find I liked what I’d written, I saw where the holes were, and how it might end. Ten months after its rediscovery, it was sold overnight to Random House.

3. Set a timer for forty-five minutes, then take a fifteen minute break
This is a trick that emerged out of creativity research, and that I first heard about from another writer, Ellen Sussman. When you sit down to write, set a timer for forty-five minutes. Force yourself to begin putting words on the page immediately, and don’t stop until the timer goes off, even if you have to write about the weather. Then reset the timer for a fifteen minute break. During the break, don’t check email; do something mindless like dishes or jumping jacks or cartwheels. This trick frees your subconscious to tackle bigger issues in the manuscript. You’ll find that when you sit down again for another forty-five minute session, you’ll have made breakthroughs without even trying.

4. Only set writing goals that are completely within your control
Some writers set daily word count or page goals; I find it simpler to commit to the amount of time I spend writing every day. If I get interrupted by my kids, I can always make the hours up at night when they’re asleep. I set a goal of three writing hours (45 minutes on, 15 minutes off) per day, five days a week. I keep track of the hours on a log next to my desk, and when I reach fifteen, I’ve met my goal.

Other tips include:

5. Keep a poem in progress on your desktop

6. Organize a self-styled writing retreat

7. Read other novels, not short stories

8. Write 1,200 pages to get 300

9. Find three trusted readers, not just one

Details at: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/9-practical-tricks-for-writing-your-first-novel?et_mid=773300&rid=239626420

Jan Ellison

Jan Ellison

About Jan Ellison: Ellison is the bestselling author of the debut novel, A Small Indiscretion (Random House 2015) which was both an Oprah Editor’s Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Book Club Pick. Jan’s essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere, and she received an O. Henry Prize for her first short story to appear in print. She was raised in Los Angeles and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their four children. Visit janellison.com, follow her here on Facebook and on Twitter @janellison.

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Map: The book that best represents each state — Vox

Map: The book that best represents each state – Vox.

We always love a good map. The below map might just seem to be another riff on “which book is most popular in each state” or something similar. But it’s actually much more interesting than that.

Take a look: http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/10/17/6988649/literary-map-the-books-that-best-represent-each-state-united-states

The map is called The Literary United States, and it aims to plot out the “best books for every state.” It’s not based on research or polls or statistics. Instead, it was compiled by writers for BK Mag. Fortunately, they have great taste.

A literary map of the U.S.

A literary map of the U.S.

For instance, BK Mag chooses Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God to represent Florida. The novel is set in the Sunshine State, which makes it an obvious choice. The book selections, though, have to do with more than just setting.

The rest of the article at: http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/10/17/6988649/literary-map-the-books-that-best-represent-each-state-united-states

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