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
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.
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.)
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.
If you’re friends with me on social media (or you’re that damned stalker I almost caught in the tree outside my office that one time when my wife said, “it probably was just a couple of squirrels making that rustling sound,” and I said, “I know what I saw,” and she said never you mind what my wife said), you may have seen me mention this anthology, “The Will To Survive.”
If you’re not friends with me on social media, that’s fine, I guess. *kicks rocks
But this isn’t about us, friends, non-friends, and frenemies. This is about an anthology for hurricane relief.
I know last fall seems like ages ago, but it was, in fact, mere months, and if you recall, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pounded the Southeastern United States, Virgin Islands, and Caribbean in rapid succession. Damage estimates are in the billions of dollars, and still, five months later, parts of Puerto Rico’s electric grid remain down.
In case you need a translation on that, those are U.S. citizens who don’t have basic utilities five months after a hurricane.
Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.
Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.
So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.
PULLING STRINGS is easily one of my favorite novels of 2017. Not only is it smart and meaningful, but it’s also fun as hell. It is a novel in that place where genre fiction and literary fiction blend, a novel you might see a literature professor and his or her student run into each other and discover they have something in common.
The synopsis goes something like this: Agent Colt has a psychic ability to fire kinetic mind bullets from her fingers. She’s a legend at the Department of Scientific Investigation (which doesn’t exist … but it could!), and she has led a storied career that the new recruits talk about in hushed tones. Now, however, she’s approaching retirement, working a cushy detail out of a field office in Middle America. It’s boring compared to her heyday. Then a new case comes in, and she thinks it could be her swan song. Little does she know the target she’s hunting is the most dangerous psychic she’s ever encountered.
This thing has been a long time coming. Through many rewrites and revisions, the throes of misfortune that is the publishing industry, and the existential crises, the one constant has been that this story was mine, and it lived only in my head. And now it doesn’t. Now, it’s ours, and I hope you consider venturing into the wilds of Lumen with me.
It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it and think it’s something special. I hope you do, too.