In November, Lithub republished a list of ten rules for novelists by Jonathan Franzen that had originally appeared in the Guardian in 2010. It apparently raised a stink on the Internet. Reading the list now, I see why it was divisive. Some of his rules are obvious. Some are preposterous or pretentious. Overall, it’s just not a helpful list.
All of this is in my humble opinion, of course (this is my blog after all). Franzen has accomplished far more in his writing career than I probably ever will, but I see reflections of some broader issues in the literary community here that I feel the need to comment on.
To be clear, this isn’t really about Franzen’s list. This is about the impetus of some of his ideas. And admittedly, it probably reveals more about my own philosophies than Franzen’s, so take it for what it’s worth
After two years of holding partisan control of the federal government during which border security was not an emergency, a president the American people don’t want is declaring a state of emergency that doesn’t exist to build a wasteful and ineffective wall the American people don’t want, by taking money from the military’s tax-funded budget, not Mexico as he promised, and to satisfy prejudices and assuage fears he helped create with lies and demagoguery, thus sidestepping democracy and invoking autocracy in the country that used to be the leader of the free world where self-proclaimed patriots and champions of liberty used to criticize a black president for using the power of executive order and now are celebrating victory for getting nothing their country wants or needs, because one failed businessman turned celebrity exploits the popular scorn of modern American politics to convince them he knows best and reinforces that belief with propaganda, confirmation bias, and the cognitive dissonance of a generation that stripped future generations of their prosperity and is losing its grasp on the modern world.
Last week, a young writer asked if I had any insecurities about my writing. My initial response was, yes, of course I have insecurities. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t on some level insecure about my writing (and in general about everything for always and forever).
However, after some retrospection, I realized I’m in a much better place than I was when I started.
I acknowledge it’s unfair of me to review Dan Simmons’ entire Hyperion Cantos together because it’s a long, complex journey with highs and lows in terms of both narrative drama and writing quality. In many ways, it’s less a four-book series, and more a duology of duologies. Unfortunately, the first two books are far superior than the latter two, which mainly serve to button up the universe. If these books interest you at all, I might recommend reading only the first two; however, the Endymion books might compel you, and you might find yourself beginning to resent them and questioning whether it was worth beginning the series in the first place.
Nick Mamatas went on a Tweet storm yesterday about creative writing teachers barring students from writing genre fiction. It sparked conversation in the various Internets where writers dwell. I had thoughts.
I think Nick took it too far. Were we close, I’d ask him who hurt him, but alas, we’re not. I do think Nick was onto something, though.
(I should preface the rest of this with the disclaimer that I am not a fiction teacher, nor have I ever had the opportunity of teaching fiction writing, and nor is this a criticism of any creative writing teacher in particular. It’s a hard and thankless job, and it takes a special person to legitimately be excited to help others grow and succeed.)
I grew up reading comic books and was firmly in the Marvel camp, more specifically with the X-Men.
For the last couple years, I haven’t watched any Marvel movies (save for the X-Men movies, but they’re in their own bubble universe). It wasn’t for lack of desire. I just missed them at the theater, and then I missed them at home, and before I knew it, I was like seven movies behind. I wasn’t going to jump back in with the latest at that point, and the new ones kept coming out.
So the lady and I have been catching up, and we finally got to Thor: Ragnarok. I liked it. It was fun. Trouble is I feel like the filmmakers did everything they could to not make a Thor movie while making a Thor movie. I don’t think they were subtle about this (there is no other reason for them to cut Thor’s hair than for it to be symbolic).
If you had someone encourage you to write when you were young, he or she may have said, “paint me a picture.” As it turns out, this would be the worst advice anyone would ever give you. Even more dire is it may be the foundation of what many people believe to be good writing, and it’s evident as one of the most pervasive problems I see in the work of new writers.
Sometimes I think, maybe one day, I’ll get to teach a creative writing class. I think I would really enjoy it, and I think I could be reasonably good at it. In these times of grand fantasy, I consider the lessons I might bestow upon the next generation of writers.
Chief among them would be, as the writer, you’re not the painter. You’re the person at the paint store. Your readers aren’t using your imagination. Your readers are using their imaginations.
The lady and I recently watched Netflix’s The Staircase, a docu-series about the novelist Michael Peterson who was charged with murdering his wife in 2001. Similar to Making aMurderer, it’s another fascinating investigation of the American justice system. I highly recommend both of them.
A bit of a disclaimer, though: these are not mystery stories. They are not about whether the suspects did or did not murder the victim (I realize the marketing image I chose to plop down to the right of these words poses that very question, but it’s the most compelling way Netflix could find to sell you on it).
These docu-series put the American justice system on full display, exposing its flaws. They will make you question your faith in the fundamental tenet of American justice that a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and they will make you question our very humanity, especially given the context of the cruel times in which we live. If you watch them, they will anger and sadden you because the reality they portray is not one we confront often, or maybe because it’s one which we are increasingly forced to come to terms with.
Today, I recalled that I survived an author’s worst nightmare. I gave it some consideration, smiled off a painful memory that became bittersweet in context, and moved on with my thoughts before yanking myself back to ponder it some more. I thought maybe the experience could be useful for another writer. Therefore, here we are.
In college, I was on the selection committee for a student-run literary mag run. I also submitted a poem for consideration. You may already see where this is going.
Setting aside the amazing ethical conflict of being allowed to sit on a submissions committee and submit, there’s a much more practical reason this shouldn’t ever be allowed. Continue reading