If, however, I …

Quote

If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic inadequacy, I would probably be pretty angry. (1)

So this is a quote from a Salon article that I really intended to dissect (and who knows, perhaps somewhere I will).

Basically, the author comes to the conclusion that the only reason people write passionately negative reviews of books only do so because they couldn’t understand the words or just don’t trust their literary judgement. In fact, the subtitle reads “What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture.” In other words, we are a culture of mainstream, listen-to-the-lowest-common-denominator and can we please stop listening to stupid people who don’t agree with us now?

First, I agree that the lowest common denominator is not likely to have the best quality work—because that’s really what it’s for, is marketing. 

Second, as a passionate reader who quite frequently loathes books even when the literary world loves them, I disagree most vehemently. 

Corollary: I absolutely do not distrust my literary tastes, and quite frequently literary people write stupid books. Terribly books.

But I am a passionate reader, and because I am, I like to share my opinions. Frequently I do so on the internet. Even more frequently, as anyone I know will tell you, I’ll share it in person. When a book offends me, from style, character or theme, I will tell people. Even in writing, where the poor dear author might see it and get his or her feelings hurt. Quite honestly, I don’t care.

Well, I would, should some author ever actually read one of my reviews and find them hurtful, I would empathize with that pain. I wouldn’t remove the review. I wouldn’t edit the review. It doesn’t feel like truth to me to do so. I do my best to make sure I am comfortable with absolutely everything I put online, ever. Some of it is horribly embarrassing and makes me blush to think of it. It’s still there (no links, though). It’s nothing to ruin my life. It’s truthful to who I was and what I wanted to say at the time. 

Now that I’ve completed NaNoWriMo some three times, I can tell you, all of those are awful. Shame on me for actually letting my friends read the first one, but that’s mostly because a rough draft written in such short time with no experience whatsoever might just be actively harmful to the world.(2)

So I would feel badly for an author who was too invested in their book to understand that people have different opinions and this is a fact and not even a right, but that’s just because I am also a human being with a functional empathy brain lobe. Once upon a time, criticism was understood to be a thing that happened. You could rail against it or fight back or ignore it, but you realized it would happen. Now, for all the hand-wringing over the youngest generations being too fragile to face the world after decades of gold stars and self-esteem babble, it seems like the notion has been swallowed wholeheartedly by the the literary community. And the genre community.

You know what happens when other professionals throw fits over mean reviews online? People laugh at them on the internet too. And television. And around the water cooler. 

Dear author, you sold your book. You made money. You are now a professional. Please try to grow a backbone.

Sincerely, 

Plot

(1) Is the literary world elitist?

(2) My friends are also strong-minded people, and do not appear to be damaged.

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Great American Balderdash

Aside

Long day today: not just work, but the writer’s group and book discussion group meetings. Not to mention the approximately four thousand words I’m still behind for NaNo. But I have tomorrow and next week off, so I’d better use that time to catch up. It’s just so…stuck…at the moment. In the meantime, I’ve stumbled across a Huffington Post article all about the death of the novel. Well, when I say “I” stumbled across it, that’s something of a lie. I followed the link from Goodreads, because it’s safer for me for other people to do the online stumbling of things, because they seem to have better sources than I do, and I get little enough work done now as it is.

Anyway, back to the article. The author complains two major releases for the holiday season are both not that great and therefore our culture is no longer producing good novels. In fact, we should all just give up and go watch television, because what with technology and all, words aren’t important. Because “novel means new.”

Oh where to start with that argument. Well, first, the author made it for me with the referenced examples by Tom Wolfe and of all people John Grisham as “two of America’s greatest living novelists.” And that’s the crack in the foundation of his argument that takes it all down. All of the authors he names as ones who will be forgotten are the bestsellers: Rowling, Dan Brown. Even Wolfe, I’d say, falls more into the category of ‘good seller’ for the literary fiction side than actually fantastic fiction. Look, personally I have nothing against genre fiction, and in fact will argue passionately for its literary value. That doesn’t mean it’s a widely held critical opinion, by the people who actually get to make these decisions.

In other words, bestseller lists rarely coincide with literary value. If ever?

Just a few months ago, I read Literary Feuds, and in the chapter about Wolfe and Updike, the author made it clear  he wasn’t as impressed with Wolfe as Wolfe was with himself. There will always be differing opinions.

The article’s second thrust of the argument for turning to Twitter complained that only two books written after 1980 made it onto Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. This is, of course, because out of the say 50,000 novels published every year in those two decades, we know for sure what will be read by future generations.

Maybe you don’t realize this, but they’ve always published books that won’t last. Austen herself responded almost directly to the gothic fiction of her day with Northanger Abbey. Ann Radcliff could probably be called the female Stephen King of gothic novels back in the day. How many have you read her today? And she’s mostly remembered for starting the movement, there were plenty of other writers catering to the more lurid tastes of young reads. If you don’t believe me, it’s much easier to find all the newspaper articles of the time lamenting the terrible tastes of the masses. Elitist  Sure. But we still do it today. There is no reason marks on paper should be any less entertaining and more educational than any television show or movie. In fact, given the much larger budgets and intellectual contributions, screen media should require much more from its audience.

So if it’s not required for Hollywood, why ask the poor, lone author starving in her garret to do so much more work, when maybe she just wants to tell you a fun story? Because of English teachers and Harold Bloom, mostly.

I’m not ready to switch to Twitter yet. Mostly because so few people actually tell stories there—they just want to link you to real ones. Poor Levin, who clearly isn’t reading for his own sake, although I’m not sure for whose sake he is reading. If he is. While he seems to despise genre fiction (despite called Grisham a great author) as much as any other literary critic, he never references some of the great work going on in the literary arena. An acknowledgement of genre bestsellers hardly convinces when he never mentions names like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I’ll read for fifty years at least, or Margaret Atwood. Not even Updike, Wolfe’s old rival. No non-American authors either. Of course, he explicitly asks for the Great American Novel, which is not a thing I believe actually exists…

But I haven’t written that post yet.

In the meantime, if you are waiting for the Great American Novel of the last few decades of the twentieth century, find about, oh, twenty more years worth of books to read while the critics duke it out, and by then the readers will be reading what is still worth reading. And you’ll be ready, because while you were waiting, you’ll have been reading all the Great Novels for the next couple decades before the critics have recognized them!

Enjoy, and I look forward to your reviews on GR (I’ll take a hint, sure).

Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.

Sigh.

Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.

Taken By Surprise

 

Good thing a few people posted about National Novel Writing Month today on Goodreads. Because my brain had refused to recognize that November is just a week away!

 

Honestly, I’m just a little terrified.

 

When I checked my author page on the NaNo website, I remembered that my idea for this year is essentially the same one I had last year. This year though, I’d like to not just start on time but to finish. I’m convinced it’s a good idea. See me confident I have the best idea ever. Totally, completely confident.

 

Yes.

 

Hee. Anyway, it is a story I can have fun with, one responding to tropes I’m familiar and sometimes uncomfortable with common in current literary trends, like I did in my one successful NaNo, in 2010. You know, when I was looking at my profile, I realized I started NaNoWriMo in 2007. Five years ago. I feel old.

 

But if I win, I can at least feel accomplished.

 

Also, the NaNo site links to their corporate sponsors, through which I found Yarny, my new favorite writing site. Now I know I’ve blogged about other writing sites, like Plinky, if you want prompts, Write or Die for timed challenges, or 750words.com, which is good for getting into a writing habit, but Yarny is fantastic for fiction. You write in snippets that can be grouped and also keep track of “people, places, and things” that are important to the story. Everything connected to one story is saved on one screen, so it’s like a different folder for every story.

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

 

It seems fairly intuitive, though I’m never quite sure I think like other people, and it’s a clean and simple layout. I only signed up for it today, and only the free version, but I think it’s by far my new favorite. I’ve already set up my novel for November, and started several stories that I keep thinking about writing without having started.

robot unicorn attack merino

I wish I had! *robot unicorn attack merino (Photo credit: lemonhalf)

Every once in a while, though I suppose it’s actually common now that I think about it, I have this … compulsion…no, call it emotion, to write. There’s a single, vivid image, visual, tactile, whatever and the only thing I want to do is get it down, shape it, say this thing that I know I want to say, have wanted to say without the words or without articulation, and suddenly it clarifies and all I want to do is write it down.

And I never do.

Oh, sometimes I’ll jot a note on a scrap of paper, or it’ll even make it into my journal (that was supposed to replace all the scraps of paper), but most of the time, the best way I can think to express myself is through fiction or poetry, and honestly, I’m frightened of both.

As with drawing, what I try to get down in paper never quite resembles what’s in my head. And I just don’t know how to get from there to here.

So Yarny gives me a chance to get all my ideas together, collect all the dots and not feel like I have to start at the beginning, but get out the image I have instead of what I think I ought to write. Because the linear nature of most word processing programs keep me from just starting. To arrange it as Yarny does would probably take me several different folders and many documents, and I know I’d lose track. Forgive me my gushing, but I’m just a bit giddy at how perfect Yarny’s setup is for my process.

Wish me luck! I really think I can do it this year.

“I really think I write about everyday life. I don’t think I’m quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.”

― Edward Gorey

 

Fun & Useful Websites

Commonplace book, detail

Commonplace book, detail (Photo credit: vlasta2)

 

Well, they’re websites like, anyway:

 

Wattpad Not new, and I don’t actually use it, so I’m not sure how much I like it. However, for writers, it seems to be a decent place to host your work. Not much of a fan of the navigation.

 

Plinky It’s not connecting to my blog here, so I haven’t been sharing what writing I was doing there; not that there’s been all that much, but they do have fun prompts (sometimes) and if you don’t like the one for the day, there are plenty of old ones.

 

 

Findings This, at the moment, is my favorite. In Chrome, at least, you can add it as an app, and every time you highlight text, you can add it directly to your profile. I keep adding good quotes from fan fiction, because there are some remarkably great lines out there. And not only do I love quotes, which it’s good for, but sometimes just one line can be inspiring, and being able to get it in-context, because they’re linked, it’s like the commonplace book of the modern age. Unfortunately, since they updated, they aren’t connected to the Kindle anymore, not that I have one, but they aren’t connected to the nook, either, which makes me sad. Why are these companies so possessive in illogical ways?

 

ImpishIdea Described in a web search as “Creative writing site with a flair for criticism and critique mixed with humor, and a penchant for self-improvement.” Which is too accurate for me to try and improve. I’m a member of the forums, where there is lots of good discussion: and where members can intelligently and rationally discuss politics, abortion, and religion. It’s like not even being online! If you aren’t much of a forum goer, the main website’s articles are fantastic, and there are many especially useful for writers. The sporks are funny without being cruel.

 

Goodreads Duh. Reading is good, therefore Goodreads!

 

Letter Joy: Old-fashioned Communication

“When was the last time you wrote someone a handwritten letter?” stolen from my Plinky answer, which won’t post it here 😛

Envelopes
I plan to single-handedly revive the handwritten letter, actually.Or not.

But I do so love fountain pens (did you know they make disposable versions? Highly recommended). Stationery, too, comes in lovely colors and patterns and nice weight. Careful, though, if you like fountain pens, the printing on iota products—which are beautiful—doesn’t take the ink well.

Most of my friends get a letter on an approximately bimonthly schedule. That’s because I’m lazy and live in a time-warp, so while it feels like it may as well have been days when it’s really been weeks.

Iridium fountain pen nib, macro.

Iridium fountain pen nib, macro. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure they’d tell you the one drawback of handwritten letters is the handwritten part. My handwriting is terrible. My ‘real’ fountain pen, too, has a great heft. I just don’t use it often, so it makes my hand tired. It’s gold and white and shiny though, so I refuse to call that a drawback. Do buy a fountain pen. In fact, on ebay, you can find some great sales. Mine came with free shipping, and cost all of eight dollars. So much better than a couple hundred. I’d like one of the ‘retro’ brand fountain pens; Susan Woolridge, a poet, gave a writing workshop and recommended them.

Speaking of handwritten letters, I’ve got a couple to write!

P.S. Apparently people have sold handwritten letters. I heard it from someone who used a quill and knew calligraphy, so I’m not sure it’s something I could pull off. But a calligraphic, quilled letter? I’d buy that.

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t it have a lovely cover?

Unfortunately, it’s entirely inappropriate for the tone and style of the novel. I should have paid more attention to another edition’s comparison to Ocean’s Eleven, which is not my genre, and the comparison to Robin Hood at all is pushing it.

They should have stuck with this one:

burning city cover

Problem was, I hated Locke. Didn’t find him the least bit charming, and yet I don’t think I was supposed to see him as a sociopath, though I’m fairly sure he was. Surely Locke’s genius should have provided some consolation? Only it felt like an informed attribute: everyone’s always just so impressed by Locke, and we spend so much time going on about his various gambits (’cause he’s a genius), I just got bored.

You might ask: if you see so much of his planning, how can his intelligence be an informed attribute? Because I don’t remember any scenes of Locke working to figure it out. Have you ever watched Sherlock? Even the consulting detective himself has to stop and put all the clues together, but as I recall, most of Locke’s brilliance was recounted after the fact.

That could be unfair. Still, what with Locke-as-protagonist, and this terrible, terrible world, the novel felt too self-satisfied. It reveled in all the ugliness and gore.

But I didn’t care about anyone! All the side characters were one-dimensional, especially the significant ones—which is just as well, considering they amounted to nothing more than motivation fodder for Locke. Yes, there was a lot of graphic violence, but it didn’t serve the story. Now, I’m not opposed to violence or gore in books, but it was so over the top, I occasionally snorted in amusement before I could stop myself (which makes me feel like a terrible person).

I suppose I liked Doña Vorchenza and Sophia(?). Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about them.

There’s my real trouble right there. Because I didn’t like Locke, I kept putting the book down; every time I put the book down, I forgot what was going on, who was who, and why I should care. Also, related to that, the pacing felt choppy. I read this on my nook, and the segments were all really short, and—this can’t be faulted to the author—after every section break, the first paragraph was formatted in a larger font. It very much seemed to drag anything out.

I can see why others like this book: if you don’t despise Locke, you won’t be as distracted from the plot like I was, and there is a lot of it. I honestly can’t think of how to put the positives, but if this is your thing, please go and read it.

But if, like me, you saw the cover, but not Ocean’s Eleven, just know what you’re getting into, and be prepared for a long, digressing set-up and conventional plot.

View all my reviews