The Millions does it again, finds and presents something of great interest and value to fiction writers. In this case it’s a 15-minute gem of William Faulkner (offered in five 3-minute segments, as the technology of the time was so limited) just after he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. These short films show Faulkner in his home town of Oxford, Mississippi, interacting with friends and neighbors and giving a graduation speech to the high school. It’s scripted to show Faulkner at his interpersonal and philosophic best, which is pretty damned good. Each brief segment provides memorable stuff. Enjoy.
Are we in a new era of word coinage? Bill Morris, who publishes on-line at The Millions, thinks so. He offers “fracking,” “illliquid,” and “repurpose” among other coinages. In the following excerpt, “relateable” is a new coinage in the context of a story’s main character. It’s particularly relevant to writers concerned with how readers might respond to an “unsympathetic” (i.e., bad-ass) protagonist.
“Relateable – A character in a novel or movie who has qualities that readers or viewers can easily recognize, identify with, and embrace. It’s a barometer of our culture’s watery values when the highest praise for a fictional character is that he or she is familiar, unthreatening, and easy to like. It reduces novels and movies to the level of a high school popularity contest, and it goes a long way toward explaining why so few Americans travel to remote, exotic, difficult locales. What ever happened to the glories of the unfamiliar, the discomfiting, and the odious? I’m thinking specifically about John Self, the scabrous, lecherous, loathsome – and hilarious – protagonist of Martin Amis’s best novel, Money [a Suicide Note]. He’s loveable precisely because he’s so…I hate to say it…he’s so gloriously unrelateable.”
The full article is interesting and funny, not too long, and worth a tumble.
I do not write in isolation.
I have a spouse (roommate/compatriot/lover/best friend) who expresses strong ideas about my lack of self-promotion.
I am in three critique groups, each worthy of my devotion.
I have attended various writing retreats/programs (Centrum five times).
I was in a masters degree writing program (UC-Davis) before blowing town.
I spend several computer hours each day reading and researching about writing.
And it’s relevant to this piece that I began writing for publication well before the computer age, producing books, daily journalism, and academic stuff.
But I sometimes wonder whether I wouldn’t have been better off, writing production-wise, in a cell, solitarily confined. How much have I gained from all of those (these) writing-related activities?
I cherish the comments I receive in critique groups, because the folks are usually paying attention to the work, though I use maybe one out of five comments.
I seldom go to writing conferences anymore because they yank me out of writing-mode, and most of the general advice I’ve heard before. The specific advice applicable to my pages hits home (is useful), again, maybe one in five.
As to writer-blogs and the bounties of the internet in general, it’s like trying to squash a one-pound slice of chocolate decadence cake into a four-ounce Chinese take-out container. (Well, maybe not, though some of you will resonate to my meaning.) Along with the tons of horrid junk available on the www, we can find some great stuff—Anne R. Allen’s blog, The Millions, Kristen Lamb , Jane Friedman, etc.—but even these take loads of time. Sure, you can access the stuff fast, but you still need to digest and use it at far less than warp speed. (One answer, of course, is for humans to evolve into cyborgs, which is not the sort of progress I would hope for.)
Maybe the origin of my problem lies way, way back in childhood. “Shmuck!,” my mother used to say (not actually; it just felt that way), “Your eyes are too big for your stomach!” I want the advice, but I don’t want it. It takes too much time to get, then mostly reject.
So, who says I have to spend the time seeking it? But if I don’t, then maybe I’m missing things. A new writer-help program or product. Insight or information about selling (a term I prefer to “submitting”) my writing. New tricks for an ever-trickier trade. The wonders of self/indie-publishing vs. the horrors of traditional publishing. And vice versa.
And what if Asteriod XXX-fortyskugelfogwahwah passes too close to earth and wipes out all our data and programs and chapters? What will literary (more or less) civilization do then? Go back to the methods of Faulkner, Hemingway, Mansfield, Woolf, Huxley, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wharton, Lawrence, Ferber, etc.? Wouldn’t that be awful, to have a new generation that wrote with less advice and minimal machinery?
Laszlo Luddite, guest poster