Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Charles Baxter on silence in conversation

from The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot. The story in question is "The Leaning Tower."

"Katherine Anne Porter signals here that conversations are far from over when people stop speaking, but continue in the burnt electrical silences that follow, often by means of facial expressions and body language."


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Deb Scott at qarrtsiluni

My pal Deb Scott has a story up at quarrtsiluni. Good work, Deb!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

David Lodge and Laurence Sterne

(from The Art of Fiction, the essay entitled "The Reader in the Text," which sounds like it might be full of post modern gloop, but is, in fact, full of fun and useful to boot.)

"Laurence Sterne, narrating under the light disguise of Tristram Shandy, plays all kinds of games with the narator-narratee relationship. Rather like a music-hall comedian who plants stooges in the audience, and integrates their heckling into his act, he sometimes personifies his reader as a Lady or a Gentleman whom he teases, criticizes and flatters, for the entertainment and instruction of the rest of us.

Tristram Shandy is a highly idiosyncratic novel whose eponymous narrator undertakes to relate his life from the moment of his conception to adulthood, but never gets beyond his fifth year because the attempt to describe and explain every incident faithfully and exhaustively leads him into endless digression."


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Anthony Lane

Here's Anthony Lane on Cyril Connolly (1903-1974):

His prescription for happily married life, for instance, is fraught with implied drama: "Whenever you can, read at meals." Similarly, to those making new acquaintances on the African plains: "If attacked by a lion thrust your arm down his throat. This takes some practice."


Monday, December 22, 2008

"The Birds" by Ogden Nash


Puccini was Latin, and Wagner Teutonic,
And birds are incurably philharmonic.
Suburban yards and rural vistas
Are filled with avian Andrews Sisters.
The skylark sings a roundelay,
The crow sings "The Road to Mandalay,"
The nightingale sings a lullaby
And the sea gull sings a gullaby.
That's what shepherds listened to in Arcadia
Before somebody invented the radia.

from The Private Dining Room, 1953


Sunday, December 21, 2008

When icicles hang by the wall


Saturday, December 20, 2008

the local view


Friday, December 19, 2008

query letter template from Nathan Bransford, agent

This query letter template from Nathan Bransford's blog. Two steps.

Step 1. Here's what you need to have:
[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist's quest], [protagonist's goal], [author's credits (optional)], [your name]

Step 2. Here's the template, filled in with the above information.

Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]

(These are Mr. Bransford's updates to this post on his blog, March 31, 2008.)
UPDATE: I should note that "villain" does not necessarily have to mean an actual person, alien, monkey, spore, or etc. It could be a personality trait, nature, society... basically whatever is standing in between the protagonist and his/her/its goal.

UPDATE 2: If you mention a previously published book in the query letter I need 1) the publisher and 2) the year. Otherwise I'll just assume it was published by a small press sometime in the 1850s, and you don't want me to assume that.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boogie Woogie tap swing

Just what we need to get the blood going on a snowy morning. Watch for the lift, about half way through, when Maeva lifts Will. I'd like to see more of this in all kinds of dance. After all, those women are just as strong as the men.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Carol Bly on flashbacks

"By the time we've done a full first draft, we know what the story will be about so there is no need to weaken its chronology by starting somewhere later than its first event. It is wise to think of the backflash as a structure weakener: you can do more of it if other elements are especially strong. If you do too much of it, you have amateurish, self-centered literature."

-Carol Bly, The Passionate, Accurate Story (1990)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow dog snow dog snow dog

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Songs In The Key of Hanukkah - Dreidel


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Johannes Brahms 1833-1897

In his old age Brahms announced to his friends that he was going to stop composing music and enjoy the time left to him. Several months went by without Brahms writing a note. But there came the day when a new Brahms composition made its debut.
"I thought you weren't going to write any more," a friend reminded him.
"I wasn't," said the composer, "but after a few days away from it, I was so happy at the thought of no more writing that the music came to me without effort."

from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, edited by Clifton Fadiman.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pulitzer to include online only publications

Zowie! This is big news, folks. The Pulitzer gang have opened up their prize list to online. And it only took, um, how long? Let's see. The internet was invented in the 1980s, and then popular in the mid 1990s, and it is now, yes, 2008.

from the website:
"The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism have been expanded to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet. The Pulitzer Board also has decided to allow entries made up entirely of online content to be submitted in all 14 Pulitzer journalism categories."


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

more Laurie Colwin

"You have to commit experience to your heart and let it change you."

from Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object
by Laurie Colwin, 1975.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Orkney news

from The Orcadian.
Police warning to motorists:
With more wintry weather forecast, police in Orkney are reminding motorists to drive according to the conditions and to take particular care when setting out late at night or early in the morning.

Police in Orkney are appealing for information on a variety of incidents which occurred over the weekend.
Damage was caused to an alarm system at the Dounby Co-op. The damage is believed to be deliberate.

Overnight on Thursday/Friday, two vehicles were damaged in George Street, Kirkwall, with one also being damaged in King Haakon Street, Kirkwall.

Overnight on Friday/Saturday, a window was broken in Castle Street, Kirkwall.

On Saturday night, a young man took a taxi from Stromness to the Papdale area of Kirkwall, where he left the taxi and ran off without paying.


Monday, December 08, 2008

David Lodge

I'm quite a fan of David Lodge's book The Art of Fiction (1993). Here's the beginning of his entry on Irony:
"In rhetoric, irony consists of saying the opposite of what you mean, or inviting an interpretation different from the surface meaning of your words. Unlike other figures of speech - metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche etc. - irony is not distinguished from literal statement by any peculiarity of verbal form. An ironic statement is recognized as such in the art of interpretation."

Then he goes on to quote the beginning of Pride and Prejudice "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Lodge's book is one of the very few craft books that is clear, precise, and filled with simple, exact examples.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Laurie Colwin 1944-1992

Every few years I feel the need to re-read all of Laurie Colwin's work. Even though I know I am going to get sad and cranky when I realize that she died so young, and there aren't any more novels, or short stories, or food books. Still, I read the novels first, then the short stories, and finally the two food books. Why? Because she is able to do something magical with the smallest of stories, the quietest of situations, the most ordinary extraordinary characters.

Colwin writes about men and women who are intelligent, oddball, and kind to each other. Usually they live in New York. Usually they come from elevated backgrounds. Usually they have some trouble in love, but mostly they are married, and working things out on the ground. There is adultery. There is the respect for the life of an artist. And there is food. Always. I'm talking about the novels and short stories here.

If you are a fan of R&B, start with Goodbye Without Leaving. If you are a fan of modern painters, start with Family Happiness. If you need a novel that examines the workplace, start with A Big Storm Knocked It Over.

And then there are the two food books: Home Cooking and the easily titled More Home Cooking. Today I made Laurie Colwin's Lemon Rice Pudding and in homage to her greatness, I ate quite a bit of it, warm. I'm sure she would be pleased.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Orkney news

Regular readers of this blog may know of my fascination with all things Orkney. Here's a selection of the recent daily news:

Daily news from Orkney from The Orcadian Online.
December 5, 2008
Kirkwall man, Pat Tulloch, was recently sworn in as a judge of the First-tier tribunal service.

Dry dock problems for MV Claymore
December 4, 2008 - 15:05
Due to technical issues with the dry docking of MV Claymore this week, all sailings from St Margaret's Hope to Gills Bay have been cancelled until Sunday, December 21.

Fersness Farm wins Christmas carcass competition
December 4, 2008 - 09:45
Supreme champion at the Orkney Christmas carcass competition on Wednesday night was a heavy heifer from Fersness Farm, Eday, weighing 330.8 kilos.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Carol Bly 1930-2007

"The more original a short story writer,the odder looking the assortment of things he or she puts together for a story."

-Carol Bly, The Passionate, Accurate Story (1990)


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

more Charlie Baxter

"An insistence on memory-as-trauma, however, demonizes the entire realm of remembrance - it demonizes, I would say, one's entire foundation of experience in the past...But when not traumatized, the action of memory on our present life may be closest to the feeling that rhyme creates, not full rhyme, but half rhyme, assonance, slant rhyme...Memory does not have to attach itself to its replica in our present moments. It can be oblique, sidling, scary and luminous in its distant relatedness to us...To claim that all memory is demonized and traumatic is to count oneself among the the permanently damned.
Paradise is less plausible than Hell, but is it surely no less real."

Charles Baxter, "Rhyming Action" in Burning Down The House, 1997.


Monday, December 01, 2008

theater simple

I haven't been to one of theater simple's productions yet, but I like what I hear. I wish I had known about their production of The Snow Queen, as it's one of my favorite fairy tales.

From the website:

"In THE SNOW QUEEN, Gerda simply journeys out into the wide, wide world to find her friend. It's the adventures along the way that get complicated...
theater simple is known locally and internationally for their work with literary adaptations as well as their site-specific escapades. Past work on adaptations include Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, Kipling's The Elephant's Child, Andersen's The Snow Queen, and with Ghost Light from Santa Cruz, they worked on Dickens' HARD TIMES and Melville's Hunting for MOBY DICK."