Posts tagged with "novel" - Faerye Net 2010-12-15T22:00:20+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Today I "finished" my novel 2010-12-15T22:00:20+00:00 2010-12-15T22:02:35+00:00 <p>I also &#8220;finished&#8221; my novel, for the record, last year at about this time in longhand, and some time later on the computer. But I wouldn&#8217;t let anyone read it, so the sense of &#8220;finished&#8221; which applied &#8212; has beginning, middle and end &#8212; was pretty farcical. Also, I later determined I&#8217;d chickened out on the ending and needed a new one. This &#8220;finishing&#8221; is a big, thorough revision &#8212; not the first, but the most thoroughgoing &#8212; with giant chunks of new material and a new end. It&#8217;s a whole thing, which someone is allowed to read. That&#8217;s today&#8217;s definition of &#8220;finish&#8221;.</p> <p>This is the reason I hesitate to say anything about the state of the novel in public &#8212; or at least on the internet, which is like in public but louder and more persistent &#8212; the state is not determined. I know that what I have now is not what I&#8217;ll eventually send out. (Beta readers, start your red pencils! Yes, I know none of you probably use red pencils, and one of you at least probably doesn&#8217;t own one.) I know it will require more work. But getting it to this point, the point where I feel comfortable asking anyone, even Ryan, to read the whole thing and tell me what he thinks, was a job of work. Being here is a great and dizzy relief.</p> <p>And how easy it was, now that it&#8217;s behind me! All that brain-mashing and despair, and really, it wasn&#8217;t so hard. All I had to do was <em>write</em> it! This must be the writer&#8217;s version of the endorphin rush that makes you forget the pains of childbirth. This is how we end up having more novels, and forgetting the horrible developmental stages we thought would never end. Just check back with me when the manuscript is in its Terrible Twos, when all the beta readers tell me how much they hate it. Then we&#8217;ll see who airily speaks of knocking out another novel or three!</p> "Better because it's true" 2008-07-04T10:48:40+00:00 2008-07-04T10:49:33+00:00 <p>A few months ago, I spent a lot of time hanging around big-box bookstores. I visited the local Borders and B&#38;N daily in hopes of surprising my <a href="" target="links">first published work</a> on its first shelved day. The local Borders was more convivial and boasted more clearance racks of stationery, so I lingered there longer and noticed that there were two major genera of employees. One day, every counter would be occupied by listless, asymmetrically-coiffed young men with pendant chins; the next, by cheery middle-aged women with long hair and an ineffable air of library.</p> <p>It was one of these latter beings, friendly though they seemed, that shocked and distressed me. Standing in line one day, I listened to the woman at the counter chatting about books with the soccer mom before her with such loquacity that it gave you hope for the brick &#8216;n&#8217; mortar bookshop. The customer, recognizing a font of literary enthusiasm when she saw it, asked for recommendations: light, funny reading.</p> <p>The bookseller immediately launched into an elevator-pitch for a book she&#8217;d just read about an eccentric family, &aacute; la <em>Royal Tenenbaums</em>. As the customer obligingly chuckled, she finished, &#8220;I simply loved it, and it&#8217;s a memoir, so it&#8217;s better because it&#8217;s true!&#8221;</p> <p>Gentle reader, I gaped. Perhaps this underlying value statement is more than evident given the publishing world&#8217;s memoir obsession; perhaps you even agree with it on some fundamental level. But for this fictionist, the implicit statement that the same work would be a &#8220;good&#8221; novel and a &#8220;great&#8221; memoir was chilling.</p> <p>Is this true? And if so, why? There may be greater artistry involved in making a truly compelling narrative without breaking the bounds of personal history. But surely that lack of inventive liberty is balanced by the artistry necessary to create such a narrative out of whole cloth. Why is the book not its own achievement, to be judged on its own merits, on the world between its pages?</p> <p>Is the act of reading different if the reader believes the narrative to be reported fact? If the reader were not told until the end whether the book were memoir or novel, would her &#8220;star-rating&#8221; change upon hearing? And if so, what does that mean for our enjoyment of books &#8211; that we use them as artifacts, not just art; that we are unduly influenced by the biography of the author? Or does it simply mean we expect less of memoir?</p> <p>There are plenty of issues raised, many questions around the primacy of memoir in today&#8217;s writing market. Many of them, I hold, would benefit from the attention of fictionists as well as of nonfictionists. But I will stop this ramble here for now, and ask: do you agree with the Borders lady, reader? Is a satisfying, rollicking good read <em>better</em> if it&#8217;s true?</p> The Wire and literary form 2008-06-10T16:22:17+00:00 2008-06-12T16:01:44+00:00 <p>This is more or less a review of <span class="caps">HBO</span>&#8217;s <em>The Wire</em>, all 5 seasons of which I devoured within this calendar year. However, it&#8217;s also a rambling musing about the nature of the novel.</p> <p>I was glad to see <a href="" target="links">Jervey Tervalon</a> say in his piece in <em><a href="" target="links">A Public Space</a></em> Issue 5, &#8220;The Revenge of the Angry Black Artist&#8221;: <br /> <blockquote>Oddly enough, what gives me hope is that shining light of literary ambition, the astonishing <em>Wire</em>. The <span class="caps">HBO</span> television series that aspires to be the <em>War and Peace</em> of the declining American city&#8230;</blockquote></p> <p>Mr. Tervalon is praising the &#8220;complex and integrated representation of African-American life&#8221; on the show, but the terms in which he&#8217;s done it are the same ones I have been using myself to express the scope of the show: it&#8217;s a novel. I started digging, and discovered that, just as we geeks know that <span class="caps">JMS</span> said <em>Babylon 5</em> was a novel in television form, <em>The Wire</em>&#8217;s creator, David Simon, has called his show a &#8220;visual novel&#8221; or just &#8220;a novel&#8221; in interviews. has <a href="" target="links">concurred</a>.</p> <p>So apparently I&#8217;m in good company. But this verdict on <em>The Wire</em> gives rise to the question, what the hell is a novel anyway?</p> <p>Being a good little writing student (in a few weeks, a highly credentialed writing professional), I run right to John Gardner&#8217;s <em>The Art of Fiction</em>. Okay, so my copy is packed in a box, so I search the internet for kernels of wisdom from <em>The Art of Fiction</em>. Luckily, Gardner is heavily quoted:</p> <blockquote>A novel is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. [snip comparison with novella] Toward the close of a novel, the writer brings back &#8211; directly or in the form of his characters recollections &#8211; images, characters, events, and intellectual motifs encountered earlier. Unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized, the universe reveals itself if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of various characters&#8217; actions is at least manifest and we shall see the responsibility of free will. It is this closing orchestration that the novel exists for. If such a close does not come, for whatever theoretically good reason, we shut the book with feelings of dissatisfaction, as if cheated.</blockquote> <p>This is a pretty tall order (and, as Gardner admits, assumes a moral authorial universe). It is, in fact, an aspirational definition rather than a pragmatic one. The pragmatic one is some variation on &#8220;long written, fictional, prose narrative&#8221; (this phrasing from Wikipedia). Even we starry-eyed litgeeks use this definition, or else how can you explain my having applied the tag &#8220;novel&#8221; to things like <a href="" target="links"><em>Whisker of Evil</em></a>?</p> <p>Is the aspirational definition even useful, riven as it is by contradiction? (Even Gardner says both &#8220;It imitates the world in all its complexity; we not only look closely at various characters, we hear rumors of distant wars and marriages, we glimpse characters whom, like people on the subway, we will never see again. Too much neatness in a novel kills the novel’s fundamental effect.&#8221; and &#8220;The novel is elegant and efficient; that is, it does not use more scenes, characters, physical details, and technical devices than it needs to do its job.&#8221;) Is the existence and maintenance of this idealized &#8216;novel&#8217; just a symptom of parochial literary thinking &#8211; a way of justifying the novel&#8217;s centrality in literary discourse and marketing, its place as the proof of an aspiring author&#8217;s skill and seriousness, its pervasiveness in the canon? After all, it doesn&#8217;t sound so impressive if we say that in order to be taken seriously, a writer must prove she or he can write <em>a really long story</em>.</p> <p>Perhaps the place where the heroic concept of &#8216;novel&#8217; really comes in handy is the place I stand now: trying to use a literary term outside the literary medium. <em>The Wire</em>, expanding as it does from a smart cops-and-dealers show in the first season to consider the problems of the working class, local politics, the school system and the press in the later seasons, has a social conscience that Dickens might have had, born into this century instead of his own. Certainly the moment when Bodie, young street dealer moving up in the business, first leaves Baltimore and learns that radio stations are localized, echoes for me as resonantly as &#8220;This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.&#8221;</p> <p>But perhaps Mr. Tervalon&#8217;s Tolstoy analogy is more apt; I admit, I haven&#8217;t read <em>War and Peace</em>, but the sprawling multi-protagonist nature of <em>The Wire</em> is far from the Pipcentric ways of Dickens. Watching the first few episodes of <em>The Wire</em>, my mind tried to select a protagonist. McNulty is the obvious first candidate, the first main character introduced, and indeed sometimes <a href="">stands out in front in pictures</a> like a lead singer. For the first half of the first episode, the camera switches between Detectives McNulty (later absent for almost an entire season) and Greggs, in the manner we viewers have come to understand designates protagonists. But soon enough we are following a young drug dealer, sitting in on police Majors&#8217; meetings, and watching dope addicts fake ten-dollar bills. This is already a sprawling story, one hour in.</p> <p>As for the cops, our natural tendency is to seek &#8216;clean&#8217; protagonists. When we see a blame-shifting, overloaded departments with Majors who use the n-word, we look for the saving graces, for the <a href="">Lt. Gordons</a> who will make up for the ugliness of the fictional world. McNulty is too driven, too drunk, so we turn to Kima Greggs. I remember this distinctly from my first viewing, my initial investment in Greggs as the &#8216;good cop&#8217;. She&#8217;s responsible, dedicated, smart, kind to confidential informants. I remember at the end of the third episode, when Bodie punched a cop and Carver started beating him with a nightstick while another cop held him. Greggs came running, and I can still remember the way my disappointment mixed with the realization of my own naivet&eacute; as she started kicking the prone teenager.</p> <p>Brutal, isn&#8217;t it? But that&#8217;s when I realized how great this show was. They knew my instinct would be to reject the cops as a whole and cling to one cop as a paragon. I feel pretty sure they set me up for that moment, the realization that this show was going to try to reflect life, the messed-up, imperfect people working within a deeply flawed system. I couldn&#8217;t idolize Kima Greggs. And I couldn&#8217;t reject drunken McNulty, or violent Carver, or career-minded Daniels. I had to understand them instead, accept them all as humans with good points and bad. Cops, criminals, addicts, dockworkers, politicians, teachers, reporters: human and complex. Like they are.</p> <p>The world <em>The Wire</em> shows us is not pretty, but it forces a perspective we are usually able to ignore in our day-to-day lives, pushes us to see all the shades of grey. As Gardner&#8217;s ideal novel does in the quote above, it &#8220;imitates the world in all its complexity.&#8221; And it does it almost entirely in scene, without voiceover or flashback, without using those tools to consistently privilege one characters&#8217; experience and motives over the others&#8217;. This is an omniscient perspective, without the moralizing or unitary reality for which that 19th century trope has been criticized and rejected. So maybe this is a novel. Maybe there are two novels: the form and the idea. But strangely, I think the more we understand what the idea is, the more we can interrogate its attachment to the form. I would by no means cheer the death of the book novel, any more than I would the death of the paper book; but if pushing at the edges of media and definitions creates work like <em>The Wire</em>, what reader could decry that pushing?</p>