Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not Exactly Writer's Block

It wasn't writer's block so much as writer's fatigue. Basically a week went by without being able to add more to my large project, so I sat uninspired before my laptop. Often I add a paragraph, reshape some dialogue or a setting, or even skip down to work out a rough outline of the next pages. All DOA.

Then I felt a pull from an unexpected scene, one I had never even worked on, but it felt promising: what if I wrote a scene from the girlfriend's perspective about my protagonist? (Instead of my usual protagonist's perspective.) Focus on what she would be thinking and feeling (even though she's a minor presence in the "real" story I'm writing.) Maybe it would be their first date. A setting occurred to me that I hadn't planned. An unexpected reaction between the two lit my imagination.

The first date I had sketched out long ago was mild and predictable. This wasn't. His reaction to her surprised me in that first impression. I didn't see him as that romantic, even playful, perhaps hard to get. I was intrigued. This was worth exploring. Soon I had her two (unnamed) friends involved. Plus her mother's reaction to their pairing.

Honestly, I don't see this sequence going into my real story, but I'm writing it anyway. Maybe it will be key backgrounding that will give me crucial insights into my characters and their intertwined history. Probably I will only hint at this to readers of my real story, but that hardly matters. It's working. I'll keep writing it for another couple days and see what occurs - though I won't let it eat up an inordinate amount of my energy or become it's own story that sidelines my large project.

This lark is developing my back story, while pushing me to develop a new voice. Whether anyone else reads it or not hardly matters. I'll be a better writer because of it.

(Image taken from

Friday, January 20, 2012

What's Your 5 Year Plan?

If you're a freelancer, then you've always got to be hustling to find new projects. Sean Gordon Murphy is a comic book artist, but he's got some great advice for anyone in the creative fields who freelances.

He discusses Talent, 3 Things at Once, Write (or in our case, draw), Branding, Attitude. Most of it is spot on for any creative. Take five minutes and then see if you can answer the question, "What's your 5 year plan?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Book Editors Want in 2012

The Andrew Lownie Agency asked 23 editors what they were seeking this year at their publisher. Vampire novels. Kidding! (I think.)

While some of the answers are sadly predictable, some give writers reason to dream, yes? Check it out yourself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Food For Thought: Shadows Surround Words

Most people think that shadows follow, precede, or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories. -Elie Wiesel

Friday, January 13, 2012

When the Lights Go Out...

The Type bookstore in Toronto captures the magic of an independent bookstore after hours.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Englander: Imagine Without End

If you've never read the short stories of Nathan Englander's short stories, especially his first collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, then he's worth your reading time. He writes about the Jewish community--orthodox, ultra-orthodox, Reformed, and secular--in a way that reminds me of our own Pentecostal movement.

Recently, he had a new story published in The New Yorker, which meant he was interviewed for their Book Bench blog. Per usual, he had some solid advice for writers everywhere:

But you’re asking if it was liberating to work with very limited elements, and the answer is: Wildly so. Everything is so much clearer once a world is framed. Maybe it sounds crazy, but with writing it’s infinity that is limiting, and the limited that allows for the truly infinite. Once all those elements are in place in a story, the brain is truly freed up to imagine without end.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

American Religious Poetry: The Connecting Thread

I just learned that Marilynne Robinson reviewed Harold Bloom's compilation of American Religious Poetry in the May, 2007 Poetry magazine.

As they say, if you've never read it before, then it's new. She's always worth the read.

There's great lines throughout, for instance:

Those who try to understand religion from an outsider's perspective share the tendency of anthropologists to mistake the limits of their own comprehension for a crudeness, a rudimentary character, in what they observe. Anthropologists now acknowledge this error, if they have not yet learned to avoid it. Those who look from the outside at religion, however, still occupy precisely, and intentionally, the posture of the European Enlightenment, priding themselves on their exasperation at finding the natives so intractably primitive. It is important to remember that religious thought has had brilliant expression throughout world culture, and that the idea of the sacred has refined the sense of the beautiful in every civilization. The very narrow sense in which the word is understood in the public conversation in contemporary America—again, by many of its proponents and defenders as well as by its critics—distracts from the profound resonances of religion throughout history.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What We (Really) Love About Our Favorite Authors

One reason I love to read a novelist's criticism of another novelist is because the best often start with a fascinating insight into literature, then segue into their criticism. While the criticism might be bracing and insightful, it is often only positive, as if no one will betray the literary brotherhood. (Joyce Carol Oates is said to insist on only reviewing titles she enjoys.)

I mention this because of Martin Amis' brilliant start to a (largely positive) evaluation of Don Delillo's lastest work in The New Yorker:

When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. Sometimes rather more than half, sometimes rather less. The vast presence of Joyce relies pretty well entirely on “Ulysses,” with a little help from “Dubliners.” You could jettison Kafka’s three attempts at full-length fiction (unfinished by him, and unfinished by us) without muffling the impact of his seismic originality. George Eliot gave us one readable book, which turned out to be the central Anglophone novel. Every page of Dickens contains a paragraph to warm to and a paragraph to veer back from. Coleridge wrote a total of two major poems (and collaborated on a third). Milton consists of “Paradise Lost.” Even my favorite writer, William Shakespeare, who usually eludes all mortal limitations, succumbs to this law. Run your eye down the contents page and feel the slackness of your urge to reread the comedies (“As You Like It” is not as we like it); and who would voluntarily curl up with “King John” or “Henry VI, Part III”

I notice he sticks to only English greats. I wonder what he would say about Tolstoy, who mastered both the epic novel and the short story? (The only one ever to do both.) While his later pieces were too often monotonal diatribes, he could still rock the world when he chose.

The entire review is worth your time, but spend time on the first page of the link and agree with his overall point, even if you disagree about his specific examples. (Though I agree with all of his specifics above and am thrilled someone is willing to classify Joyce and Eliot as they deserve. Later, I disagreed, finding Persuasion as one of Jane Austen's superior, not inferior, works.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012: New Marilynne Robinson!

Expect a new book of essays on March 13 from one of the best writers of our time - Marilynne Robinson!

Entitled, When I Was a Child I Read Books , it is described as highlighting "the role of faith in modern life, the inadequacy of fact, the contradictions inherent in human nature." 

Rejoice all ye people! Rejoice!

Not so strangely, the release date is a mere month before Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing, where she will be speaking.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Books 2011: My Version

Only one of these titles was released in 2011, but these are the best titles I read in 2011 (in chronological order of my reading):

  • True Grit by Charles Portis (Fiction)
  • The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer (History)
  • The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson (Essays)
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling (Young Adult Classic)
  • Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol (Classic)

And the best lectures I heard was Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland (of the Teaching Company).

I'd probably rank Taras Bulba and True Grit as my best reads in 2011.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Food for Thought: Beauty Defined

"Only those things are beautiful which are inspired by madness and written by reason." - Nobel laureate Andre Gide