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Posts tagged ‘novelists’

SEA SWALLOW ME and OTHER STORIES by Craig Laurance Gidney

my notes on Sea Swallow Me (2008), RF Brown

A young Japanese monk, yielded to a life of prayer and ministering to the poor is marked for love by a mischievous yosei, a shimmering male fairy with a fetish to tempt mortal chastity and piety. This chassis supports many of Craig Laurance Gidney’s stories: a young character in the ordinary toils of  earthly existence, crosses paths with a metaphysical experience. As in the case of the monk, “He who was studious and practical had caught the eye of something supernatural.” More often Gidney’s protagonists are young black and/or gay men in modern settings. A bored club kid unwittingly keeps psychokinetically murdering his sex partners. A lonely, island tourist pulled in by over-curiosity is dragged to the floor of the ocean and given physical wholeness from a benevolent, giant serpent. A nebbishy, underachieving artist chases off the cloying  ghost of his racist mother by deliberately having sex with a black man on her antique bed [respectively: “Etiolate”, “Sea Swallow Me”, and “Her Spirit Hovering”].

Gidney’s visionary universe exists in a literary dimension somewhere between James Baldwin and The Twilight Zone. The author’s imagination is alternately funny, melancholy, and fantastic and there is the consistent thread in this collection of his expressive narrative voice. He has dazzling skill at painting amorphous scenes with tangibility-  colors are carnal and smells are emotional. It’s never explicit whether the bizarre experiences of these characters are something truly supernatural, or if these phenomena are the delusive manifestations of their broken black and gay souls. Are they cursed or crazy? The character lives are humdrum, but not normal. Whose life is?

I have a couple of quibbles with the actual publication of Sea Swallow Me. First, the book was put out by an indy press and there are frequent typos. I know some readers for whom mistakes are maddening and others who would regard it as bohemian charm. I seek the noble path on the presence of typos because ideally it should be easier for a great writer like Gidney to find a big-six publishing deal that pays for unlimited editorial resources. But readers dropping $13 bucks on this book should be aware there are errors. Writers who are constantly encouraged to go indy or self-publish can take a sip of reality here: even a brilliant writer can get sandbagged with a sloppy book. Second, two of Gidney’s stories, “The Safety of Thorns”, about a young American slave who finds out the Devil is an apathetic drunk, and “Strange Alphabets”, a transcendental roman à clef about French poet Arthur Rimbaud in Jail, are pleasant guests here but otherwise foreign to the rest of the collection. In my editorial opinion they would be at home someplace else. It’s feels weird to launch this criticism given that these two stories in particular are each excellent standing alone, perhaps my two favorite in the book. If there is a collection of historical fiction somewhere in Gidney’s future canon he certainly has the background, discipline, and command of voice to put one together. Those two problems aside, Sea Swallow Me is a magnificent and mysterious body of work.

REBLOG: CLAYTON DIGGS HEMINGWAY, RECALLING THE DEATH OF MACHISMO

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/ernest-hemingway-hard-living-and-sharks/

Ernest Hemingway, Hard Living, and Sharks

by claytondiggs

You ever sit just sit around and think about Ernest Hemingway? We’re coming up on the 51st anniversary of Hemingway’s death, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it kind of weird that we remember him on the day he died? I mean, remember how he died? He grabbed a shotgun and shot himself in the face, decades before Kurt Cobain thought of it. You know what else? His wife was in the house and she was the one who found him.

That must have sucked it.

You see, for months and months, maybe even years, old Ernie was convinced that the Feds were tapping his phone, bugging his house, and basically driving him nuts, and nobody believed him. They just thought all the years of scotch and sodas were taking their toll. Eventually, he couldn’t take it; not the feeling of being hunted like an animal, and probably not the feeling of everyone thinking he was batshit. He actually tried to off himself several times before he bought the farm. He also spent time in a mental institution. And you know the worst of it? Turns out the Feds were tapping his phone, bugging his house, and driving him nuts. The fuckers!

See, that’ s not really how I want to remember Hemingway, as an old guy, kind of fat, full of regrets, telling anyone who would listen that the government was trying to get him. I grew up reading his stuff. I love The Sun Also Rises. Those people in the book are screwed up, big time, but I’d still like to hang out with them, have some wine, some more wine, more wine, fall down, see a bullfight, get in a fight, and go fishing. Hell, you substitute bourbon for wine, that pretty much describes my youth. Oh, and Brett Ashley? Apart from having a dude’s first name for a last name, hottest woman in literature.

Thanks, Papa Hemingway!

I like to remember all the times Hemingway probably should have done himself in (accidentally) but made it through. I once read this book about him and there was a rundown of all the accidents he suffered during his life. It was like two damn pages long, and included: two plane crashes, two car accidents, bringing a skylight down on his head by mistaking its rope for the toilet chain, breaking his foot kicking a door in anger, and (my favorite) shooting himself in the leg while trying to gaff a shark. (If you want the full list, check out the bookIntellectuals, by Paul Johnson.) Hell in ‘tarnation, that’s my kind of boy. You think he was drinking a lot to have that much bad luck? He was. He was putting down 17 scotch and sodas a day and going to bed with a bottle of champagne (he often wasn’t going to bed alone, so you’ve got to wonder about what else that champagne bottle might have been for). Anyway, point is, for years and years the son of bitch did a bunch of stuff that by all rights should have ended in a funeral, but didn’t. He was this tough bastard who drank and hunted and boxed and fucked.

So that’s how I like to remember him. I know, in the end his fucked-up, self-destructive side took over, but why dwell on the last chapter of his life? Look, we’re all going to end up six feet under eventually, so let’s remember him like he was in his glory days. The hell with the day he killed himself. I’d rather think of old Hem on the day he shot himself in the leg trying to gaff a shark and then had a drink. I think that’s more who he was.

So, here’s to you, Ernie. You weren’t a perfect human being, but you sure were cool.

Thinking of Hemingway makes me thirsty. Want another great way to remember Hemingway? I once heard that he’s the guy responsible for making daiquiris popular in the States. Don’t know if it’s totally true, but here’s a good daiquiri recipe just in case:

Hemingway’s Daiquiri:

  • A fat shot of white rum
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp maraschino juice
  • A little bit of grapefruit juice
  • Some sugar
  • Ice
  • A gaffing hook
  • A shark
  • A gun

Stick all the very fine, good, clean, bright shit into a shaker with ice and shake until your hands sting. Serve in a highball on the rocks. Chase with some rum or bourbon. Then gaff the shark and shoot yourself in the leg. Avoid medical treatment because you’re a tough bastard. Have another daiquiri and some more rum. Cheers, friends!

“I am manly. I damage myself almost constantly. Pass the Scope. I’m thirsty!”

REBLOG:Paris Review – Letter from T. S. Eliot, the “Prince of Bores”, to Virginia Woolf

I love this self-effacing letter from T.S. Eliot to V. Woolf. BTW, anybody know to what MSS refers?

link: Paris Review – Document: T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot.

Document: T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Printed with the permission of the T. S. Eliot Estate.

38 Burleigh Mansions, St Martins Lane, London W.C.2.
27 August 1924

My dear Virginia,
Forgive the unconscionable delay in answering your charming letter and invitation. I have been boiled in a hell-broth, and on Saturday journeyed to Liverpool to place my mother in her transatlantic, with the confusion and scurry usual on such occasions, and the usual narrow escape from being carried off to America (or at least to Cobh) myself. In the tumult on the dock an impetuous lady of middle age, ‘seeing off’ a relative going to make his fortune in the New World, by way of the Steerage) stuck her umbrella in my eye, which is Black. I should love to visit you, seriously: the Prince of Bores to refresh his reputation: but the only pleasure that I can now permit myself is, that should I come to Eastbourne (which is doubtful) we might visit you by dromedary for tea: if I leave London at all I am most unlikely to get done all the things that I ought to do (such as my 1923 Income Tax Return) and certainly not any of the things that you want me to do. I have done absolutely nothing for six weeks. One thing is certain: I MUST stay in London, where Vivien will be, after this week, is uncertain. But
When do you want to publish my defective compositions?
When do you want the MSS?
I should like at least to provide a short preface, which might take two or three nights’ work, and make a few alterations in the text to remove the more patent evidences of periodical publication. These three essays are not very good (the one on Dryden is the best) but I cannot offer you my ‘Reactionary’s Encheiridion’ or my ‘By Sleeping-Car to Rome: A Note on Church Reunion’ because they will not be ready in time. But you shall see for yourself, as soon as you wish, whether you think these three papers good enough to reprint.
But what about a FRAGMENT of an Unpublished Novel from you to me? One exists most of the time in morose discontent with the sort of work that one does oneself, and wastes vain envy on all others: the worst of it is that nobody will believe one. But no one regrets more that these moods should occur to Mrs. Woolf (of all people) than
Yr. devoted servt.
Thos. Eliot

Document from The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volumes One and Two, edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton, published by Yale University Press in September 2011. Reproduced by permission.

The letter is a part of the T. S. Eliot collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

5 Ways Novelists Can Benefit from Watching Movies and TV Shows | The Passive Voice

Sometimes writers have snobbish attitude toward the writing we witness in movies and television shows. Snobby to the point of not watching. I think if we plan our television or movie time well and think of it as research, there’s a lot to learned from other kinds of media. What’s surprised me most as I’ve become an editor of writing, is how much editing of tv shows I do in my head as I’m watching.

5 Ways Novelists Can Benefit from Watching Movies and TV Shows | The Passive Voice.

Aside from the immediate benefit of getting yourself away from the computer screen and the blackhole of the Internet, studying movies and TV shows is a great way to enhance your storytelling skills. No, writing a script is not the same as writing a novel. But if you look beyond the differences in written format you’ll find some amazing similarities.

. . . .

We all have film characters we love, hate, or even love to hate. Have you ever stopped to think of why? Is it their viewpoint? Dialogue? Mannerisms? Something you never really noticed until asked this question? The most accurate answer is “all of the above.” Character = the sum of its traits.

If you’re having trouble making your characters individually unique, or the main players don’t seem to have that It Factor, select one of your favorite film characters and study everything he does in the story. What makes him stand out? How does he react and interact with the other characters? What does he do when faced with a tough decision? How do you know what that character is feeling without being “inside his head”?

To sharpen your character viewpoint skills, try this exercise:

Watch one scene of a movie (that you’re familiar with) that involves two or more characters. Now write that scene from each of the different characters’ eyes, as you would in a novel–include setting description, thoughts, sensory details, emotion, whatever is relevant. Different characters have different views of the same situation. This should show in your writing.

. . . .

Select five movies you’ve never seen before. Watch each movie and note whether you were engaged from beginning to end. If you weren’t, note what point you lost interest. If a movie isn’t doing it for me, that point is often within the first 20 minutes. Then ask yourself, Did I lose interest because my expectation for that movie wasn’t met? Or, Did I lose interest because, no matter what my expectation, the movie was just plain boring?

Bad pacing bores the audience. But a good pace doesn’t necessarily mean fast and action-packed. Good pacing means constant forward momentum of the story. This is why good literary fiction can be thrilling, and bad science fiction can put you to sleep.

Anything that doesn’t move the story forward must be cut. Analyze individual scenes in movies. They begin in media res, and end as soon as the point of the scene has been made. The same should be said of your novels. No room for boring fluff, no matter how beautiful the prose. We live in a busy world. Even prolific readers don’t have time to read everything. More often than not, they will choose the book that feels like it’s moving toward something over one that feels like it’s going nowhere.

Find the BIG Meaning of Your Novel

This is great advice to writers on thinking about the scope of your work. I know the little truths come easily for me. The big Truths always look line a moving target.

link: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/25K6lO/justinemusk.com/2012/02/17/meaning-truth-novel-how-to-blog/

JUSTINE MUSK

how to find the Big Meaning of your novel (+ blog) that will make your readers fall wildly in love with you

1

So I realized I was coming at my novel from the outside in.

I’d created a complex storyworld with a cast of characters and tangled backstory shaping the frontstory. It was like I had the map, but couldn’t find the interstate freeway leading to my destination. I was going down some dark country roads, and it was only a matter of time before I’d end up in a town of cannibals or something.

(Cue the sound of a chainsaw.

…On second thought, DON’T.)

As Roz Morris suggests in her book NAIL YOUR NOVEL, one way to help yourself get unstuck is to remind yourself why you wanted to write the damn thing in the first place.

For me, for this book, it was the idea of repetition compulsion: how we recreate relationships and situations from the past in an ongoing effort to resolve them. I’m using reincarnation as a metaphor for that.

But what is the point of the book? If art is the creative demonstration of a truth, what is the truth I am trying to prove? I needed to get at the novel from the inside out.

Back to basics: a story is about a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles to get it.

But in order to do that, she’s forced to change in some way.

It’s in the overcoming of those obstacles that she finds what she lacks, and acquires what she needs, to achieve her goal (or not). The meaning of the story – the thematic significance – is in that character growth. That shift in consciousness that makes a new life possible.

In her book THE PLOT WHISPERER, Martha Alderson advises you to look to your own life, for your own truths, that you can then bring to bear on your novel. What are the big truths of your life?

I’m talking what Jim Signorelli refers to as big-t Truths, those metaphysical truths that we can’t measure or quantify but recognize, somehow, as right. We vibe with them.

In contrast, little-t truths are the facts and figures we find in the history books, for example. So-called objective information. (It’s not like history is, you know, written by the victors or anything.)

Little-t truths can be manipulated.

Big-t Truths cannot: they are what they are, and they remain the same from Homer to Shakespeare to Spielberg to Joyce Carol Oates. They are the abstract truths that live behind, and in between, and beneath the other kind. Little-t truths inform us; big-T truths live inside us, and a writer doesn’t teach or preach so much as stir them to life. We feel that shiver of recognition, that sense of deepening alignment with the values of the novel, as we live vicariously through the characters and arrive at a sense of what it all means.

2

Big-t truths live in your platform as well, your blog – that is, if you want to create something powerful enough to attract and engage new readers and deepen your connections with your fans.

It comes back to the question: What do you stand for? What is your purpose? What is your defining value or ideal?

The nature of blogging (and online writing in general) is to provide information that solves problems, that illuminates or improves your reader’s life in some way. Think of that information as the bait on the hook that draws your readers to you (you just want to make sure that it’s the right bait for the right kind of audience).

But to turn those readers into fans, you need to deepen that engagement, because information on its own isn’t enough.

The gurus will say that you need to connect with readers emotionally, and that’s true. But more than that, you need them to resonate with you. And that happens when they can sense the big-t Truth living behind that information, shaping the delivery of that information, and they recognize it as their Truth as well.

Community develops around shared values.

To find yours, Signorelli suggests what he calls the “laddering interview”, or what is elsewhere known as “the five whys”. You explore the motivation behind your motivation behind your motivation until you get to its root cause. That’s where you find your Truth.

For example:

Why blog about creativity?

Because I think it’s important to a well-lived life, a healthy society.

Why?

Because it deepens your connection to yourself and the world.

Why?

Because it helps you explore and develop your identity, your voice, your vision, and project that into the world.

Why?

So you can interact with the world as your full-bodied, amplified, authentic self, which allows you to stand in your power and connect with like-minded souls.

Why?

So you can work together to create a movement, raise awareness, find innovative solutions, that change the world. And sell your work and make some money as a side benefit.

You try it.

3

Getting back to my novel, this is the thematic statement I came up with:

The hunger for love leads to distortions of love, but only real love can heal and transcend the cycle of exploitative relationships.

So my character has to grow toward genuine love and intimacy in a way that helps her save herself (and others). I have to create the events, characters and situations – the objective information, the little-t truths, the ‘plot’ — forcing her to do that.

Wish me luck.

What are the Truths that you’re working with?