Please Check Out GWS’s New Venture and My Cry From the Heart!

Big news!

Great Writers Steal is now publishing eBooks.  Too many people believe that reading is homework, so we’ll be publishing stories and poems that are both entertaining and meaningful.  We want to regain the attention of the proverbial “woman on the bus.”

I’d be grateful if you’d check out the site and consider looking at the debut selection.  There will be books for writers, but the primary goal is to dispel the notion that reading is homework or something that you only do when your TV is broken and your cell phone is dead.  That’s why the URL is: http://books.greatwriterssteal.com.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m trying to start a very important conversation.  We literary souls have turned away many prospective customers and it’s imperative that we isolate and address the causes.  We can continue to be a gated community in the larger world, or we can try to regain a measure of the cultural relevance we once had.

Please read, share and interact with the piece.

Excelsior!

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins Write Better First Pages than Most of Us (King of the Weeds Edition)

Close your eyes, if you will, and imagine a time when reading prose was the primary way that people consumed stories.  (Then open your eyes or else you can’t read this essay.)  There was no Law & Order, no NCIS, no NCIS: Dubuque, no NCIS: Portland (Maine).  How did people satisfy their needs when they were jonesing for a mystery?

They read mystery books and stories!  I know…American culture will never be the same as it was in the good old days in terms of respect for writers and prose, but there are still few pleasures as powerful as cracking open a paperback and sipping a hard-boiled mystery story like a glass of Johnny Walker neat.

In case you weren’t aware, Mickey Spillane is one of the best-selling authors of all time.  He is most famous for the detective he created, Mike Hammer, a private dick who isn’t afraid to use some violence to take some scum off the streets.  Mr. Spillane died in 2006 and left a number of manuscripts that he wanted completed by Max Allan Collins, a friend and similarly world-class crime novelist.  (I love his Quarry series.  Check it out.)  One of these unfinished manuscripts was that of King of the Weeds, a novel whose events take place after those of Black Alley.  Hard Case Crime/Titan Books is the publisher; they are one of my favorites because they produce great books at a great price and they are keeping the tradition of hard-boiled crime fiction alive.

Yes.  I understand that writers such as Mr. Collins and Mr. Spillane will never be considered among the great literary lions.  While both authors likely developed back problems from all of the laurels heaped upon them, hard-boiled crime thrillers are not the kind of books that many “literary” people want to glorify.  I find this quite sad.  Look how much we can learn from the first page of King of the Weeds:

kingoftheweedsfirstpage

Let’s tally up all of the basic things that Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins do in these first few paragraphs:

  • Establish life-or-death stakes for the narrator
  • Employ a little second-person to grab the reader before the first person takes effect
  • Depict the hit man that will obviously figure into the narrative
  • Remind the reader that Hammer is older than he was and perhaps a step slower, which ratchets up the threat
  • Begin the novel in medias res with an attempted murder of the protagonist.

You want to read on, don’t you?  Of course you do.  I invite you to compare the first page of King of the Weeds to that of the average literary book.  Does every book need to begin with an attempted murder?  Of course not.  But we all do well to introduce big stakes and to do so very early.

Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins do a lot of great subtle things in this first page.  I’ve marked up the image:

kingoftheweedsanalysisMr. Spillane and Mr. Collins pull of some beautiful tricks with their prose here.  In that first paragraph, they employ the rule of three, establishing a rhythm that carries the reader away–

only to punch you in the gut with that four-word second sentence.  The prose also reflects the rhythm of what Hammer is going through at the moment.  His day is about to begin…everything is calm…everything is normal–

gunshot.

Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins know that the second person “you” bit is a great way to open the book, but they also know that they can’t stay in the second person too long without confusing the reader.  How do they ride the line, earning the punch of those first two paragraphs while gently easing the reader into the first person that rules the rest of the book?  They use that italicized direct thought from Hammer as an adapter.  Isn’t that clever?

I’m reminded of the opening of The Hunt for Red October.  No one involved wanted the Russians in the film to speak Russian through the whole film.  On the other hand, it always seems silly when people Sam Neill and Sean Connery speak Russian.  We all know that neither of those guys speak Russian.  But then we wonder why the Russians are speaking English with Scottish inflection.  It’s a lose-lose all around.  So the writer and director of The Hunt for Red October both acknowledge and work around the dilemma:

In that one quick moment, they say: LOOK.  I KNOW YOU DON’T SPEAK RUSSIAN AND THAT YOU PROBABLY DON’T LIKE SUBTITLES.  HERE’S THE DEAL.  THE FIRST FEW MINUTES WERE IN RUSSIAN, BUT NOW?  WE’RE SWITCHING.  YOU’RE GOING TO GO WITH IT.  OKAY?  COOL.

Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins use that italicized thought from Hammer in the same way to transition: WEREN’T THOSE FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS COOL?  WE KNOW, THANKS.  THEY WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN AS COOL WITHOUT THE “YOU.”  BUT HERE’S THE DEAL. THE REST OF THE BOOK IS IN FIRST PERSON FROM HAMMER’S PERSPECTIVE, SO LET THAT SINK IN AS YOU READ WHAT WE ARE POINTING OUT IS HAMMER’S FIRST BIT OF EXPLICIT NARRATION.

The fourth paragraph starts to take a little time.  Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins have Hammer walk into an early morning ambush that takes roughly two seconds in real time.  That’s not going to work in a novel.  Instead, the authors slow things down, dropping a lot of detail about what the hit man is wearing, where Hammer is, what the hit man smells like.  The previous prose lets us know we are reading the account of an attack, and the following paragraphs allow us to savor what is happening.  (And to pick up clues.  It’s a mystery.)  The same effect is created in the last sentence here; Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins give us a fairly long sentence studded with short clauses that create a bumpy, claustrophobic effect that is wholly appropriate to a character being shot.

I acknowledge that I’m often pessimistic and hyperbolic about the things that bother me in the writing community.  A great many of my friends enjoy hard-boiled fiction of the kind for which Mr. Spillane and Mr. Collins are justifiably famous.  I suppose I make this respectful appeal: if you haven’t read these fun and rip-roaring books before, don’t deprive yourself for long.

Don’t We All Want to Engage Readers as Much as Sarah Dessen Does?

I’ve already told you some of the many things that we can learn from Sarah Dessen’s excellent YA novel The Moon and More.  In case you are unfamiliar with the contemporary YA scene, you are missing out on some of the most engaging work that is currently being produced.  You’re also missing out on the beautiful enthusiasm of so many readers.

Yes, yes.  We “literary” folk have blogs and we share enthusiastic “THIS” posts on Facebook.  That’s all great.  But look at how YA fans can’t help but gush about a book they loved.  These people are readers.  They’re not picking up books because they are being forced to do so.  They are reading because they crave well-told and exciting stories populated by interesting characters.  They spend their valuable time proselytizing on behalf of authors they love.  Perhaps best of all, these readers engage in some refreshingly story-focused literary analysis.  Instead of mentioning that The Moon and More‘s Emaline is part of a blended family and then droning on for an hour about the representation of blended families in German expressionist poetry written in 1934 but published in 1936, these reviewers talk about the story and what it made them feel and why you should read the book.

I know…I know.  We all write because we have a compulsion to do so deep in our hearts.  You must admit, however, that you would enjoy seeing your work greeted with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More and Why Literary Writers Should Read More YA

I’m not the oldest writer around, but it’s been quite some time since my reading list was packed exclusively with books intended for children or young adults.  My relationship with children’s literature was complicated by the fact that I don’t recall reading a single picturebook, but I do recall successfully talking the school librarians into letting me borrow books that had more space for words than images.  It wasn’t long after that that I was dipping into my father’s Stephen King collection and I was much more interested in Forever than Blubber when I wanted to read some Judy Blume.

Then one day about a decade ago, I was on the subway heading back to Flushing, the town so nice that they named it for what a toilet does.  I was reading an advanced reading copy that I had bought from The Strand.  Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday was so much fun!  And the characters were so engaging!  And stuff was happening!  I was halfway through the book and halfway home when I realized that the book was a Young Adult book.  Written primarily with a teenage audience in mind.

In the aftermath of that experience, I picked up YA books from time to time, but I really ramped up my consumption of those works when I had the idea for my own YA book.  YA is a fun and vibrant genre that has a lot to teach us stuffy MFA-type literary writers; if we want to create new readers, we should borrow liberally from what YA writers are doing.

One of the books I read recently was Sarah Dessen‘s The Moon & More.  Ms. Dessen is the fantastically successful author of about a zillion YA novels; this one is about a young woman named Emaline, whose family owns a beach resort in North Carolina.  Ms. Dessen introduces everyone in a graceful first chapter that sends Emaline around the resort, establishing the setting and characters of the book.  Emaline has a long-term boyfriend named Luke who looks good without a shirt on.  Emaline is in an interesting and common family situation; she lives with her mother and stepfather, a man she calls her “Dad.”  Twenty-three of Emaline’s chromosomes came from the son of a rich family who only contributed money to his daughter’s life.  While that’s better than nothing, her “father” (her title for him) has only been a tangential part of Emaline’s life.  In the years you would expect a teen to do so, she pestered her mother to help her make a connection.  Since then, her father has seen her on occasion and discussed novels with her.  This is the status quo in Colby, North Carolina as the novel begins.

Here’s the book trailer:

Ms. Dessen shrewdly employs many of the powerful techniques common to some of my favorite YA novels.  (Techniques that should be more common in traditional literary work…)  First of all…the book is fun.  Ms. Dessen’s writing is funny.  The books is not a self-conscious slog through a character’s psychology.  Emaline is a deep and funny character in a story populated with many of the same.  There isn’t enough humor in contemporary literary literature; everything must be so important and meaningful in a self-conscious manner.  The Moon & More certainly has a message, but here’s the crucial point: Ms. Dessen puts storytelling ahead of message.  Emeline’s story deals with the powerful themes of late-adolescent love, the pain of parental neglect (a personal favorite theme of mine), class struggles between those who live in resort towns year-round and those who skip in when the weather is nice and more.  But the book is primarily an exercise in Ms. Dessen enticing me to read on.  How does she do this?

The narrative questions in Ms. Dessen’s book (and in most entertaining books) deal with the What Happens Next? instead of the Why Did That Happen?  Ms. Dessen asks questions that propel the reader…in my case, they make me read on instead of trying to work on my own stuff.

  • What is going to happen between Emeline and Luke?
  • What is going to happen when Emeline’s father shows up?
  • What is going to happen with the documentary about the artist?
  • What is going to happen between Morris and Daisy?

These are the kinds of questions that get the most people interested in reading.  Think of it in terms of Law & Order.  What keeps people tuning in?  Would you throw away a lazy Saturday on a Law & Order marathon if the writers were interested in answering questions like these?:

  • Why did Olivia wear those shoes this morning?
  • What was Fin thinking as he drank his morning coffee? (And your answer must be at least four pages long.)

Of course not.  You would turn the channel because the author is not singing for his or her supper.  Ms. Dessen’s work bears the mark of excellent craft, to be sure.  More importantly, she is a skilled storyteller who offers you a peek into an exciting and emotional time in a complicated character’s life.  Isn’t this what writing is all about?

 

Stephen Colbert: Hero of Book Lovers

As the written word has lost some of its relevance in a sea of glowing screens and an exponential proliferation of Real Housewives that threatens to overrun the United States World War Z style within the next few years, it may be hard to remember that writers were once considered celebrities in their own right.  Sure, a lot of people know who J.K. Rowling is, but I can’t help but pine for a time when wordsmiths had a higher profile.  Stephen King even did a commercial for American Express!

Writers have an unlikely hero in the new host of The Late Show: Stephen Colbert.  In an attempt to distinguish himself from the two Jimmies (Kimmel and Fallon), Mr. Colbert is taking a slightly more intellectual route with the program.  Inviting an author onto the show instead of the fifth lead in the latest Michael Bay movie must drive the network crazy?  After all, who wants to see an interview with some writer?

We do, of course.  In the past couple months, Mr. Colbert has given network air time to writers such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen King, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and Elizabeth Gilbert.  George Saunders even read a short story to Mr. Colbert (and the audience).  On national television!  Look:

Why is it significant to see writers on Colbert instead of Charlie Rose?  Why isn’t it good enough that Diane Rehm and Terry Gross interview their fair share of writers?  Look, I love the Charlie Rose/NPR kind of interviews, too.  The sad truth is that if we want to bring new readers into our circle, we need to seem like lots of fun.  Terry Gross is brilliant and fascinating and must be one heck of a party guest, but Omarosa, a woman who breaks into tears when hit on the head with a gram of plaster, will always get more attention in our contemporary culture.  Mr. Colbert’s Late Show is a bright carnival of music, humor and energy.  When people see Jonathan Franzen participate in the carnival, viewers can see that reading is not necessarily homework and they might enjoy shifting some of their Candy Crush time over to reading.

Do tune in to the Late Show live, but here are some clips of Mr. Colbert interviewing some of our colleagues:

The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast May Just Save Us All

You are likely familiar with Bret Easton Ellis for his acclaimed novels and films.  He has been a part of the American consciousness since the 1980s, adding his provocative thoughts and challenging art to our public discourse.  For the past couple years, The author has produced The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast for Podcast One, chatting with a delightfully wide range of artists, including Kanye West, James Van Der Beek, Kevin Smith and Mark Danielewski.  I would probably enjoy the podcast if Mr. Ellis merely asked questions that help his guest illuminate their work, but the episodes do far more important work and writers should pay a lot more attention to what Mr. Ellis is doing.

Quite simply, Mr. Ellis is trying to defend us all against the hypocritical, talentless scolds who have decided that they get to bully artists on the basis of hurt feelings, real or hypothetical.  I have dealt with this disturbing phenomenon myself with respect to the Trevor Noah brouhaha–a conflagration long forgotten by the offenders–and I couldn’t stop myself from telling you why I don’t care about the “outrage du jour.”  Mr. Ellis’s voice, words and ideas, however, have far more reach than mine do and are far more powerful.

I strongly urge you to simply download the Podcast One app and listen to the BEE Podcast for yourself.

But since I have your attention, I’ll tell you more about why Mr. Ellis’s work is so important and so great.  Mr. Ellis begins each episode with a brief commentary that serves as a jumping-off point for the interview he is about to do.  The introductions are well-written, of course, but are also filled with interesting and meaningful anecdotes that frame the arguments that begin Mr. Ellis’s interviews.  In the Anthony Jeselnik episode (my favorite), Mr. Ellis describes a couple instances from his past in which those close to him have taken offense at art.  (In this case, the Bangles’ “Manic Monday” and one of Mr. Ellis’s novels.)  From there, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Jeselnik engage in an entertaining discussion that is of great value for all creative people.

While Mr. Ellis touches on a great many issues, the podcast has increasingly addressed the problems caused by the hypocritical moral scolds who seek to straitjacket artists with their simultaneously rigid, amorphous and arbitrary dogmas.  The host and Mr. Jeselnik glorify the need for artists to resist the troubling restriction of discourse increasingly urged by the hypocritical moral scolds and the perpetually offended.  (And those who are perpetually offended by proxy.)

Why are the talentless hypocritical moral scolds harmful?  Mr. Ellis drives home an important point.  Their attempts at inclusivity and empathy feature neither quality:

“I remember the need I felt to view experiences, whether it was by writers or filmmakers or poets or musicians or comedians, by artists who had a different viewpoint in mind.  I didn’t want what our culture is now demanding: safety and niceness and respectability.  Inclusivity.  I wanted to be confronted by things.  I wanted to be challenged.  I didn’t want to live in the safety of my own little snow globe and only be reassured by all the things I liked.  To only be surrounded by things that coddled me and made me comfortable.  I wanted to stand in other people’s shoes and see how they saw the world, especially if it was so far out of my comfort zone.  I craved being shaken.  I loved ambiguity.  I wanted my mind changed.  Getting upset and being damaged by art, being wiped out by the cruelty of someone’s vision of the world, whether it was Shakespeare or Scorsese, had a profound effect on me.  It gave me empathy.  It helped me realize that there was another world other than mine that existed with other viewpoints, with other opinions, and this aided me in becoming an adult.  It moved me away from the narcissism of childhood.”

Bret Easton Ellis is trying to save us from ourselves.  Far too many artists have expressed the desire for speech and thought to be regulated.  People who make their living and drive the national conversation with rhetoric are begging the government to eliminate rhetoric they don’t like.  Words–the very lifeblood of a writer–are being redefined and used as bludgeons to justify the homogenization of artistic discourse.

On his podcast, Mr. Ellis decries the neo-Puritanism of the regressive left critics who complained about the sensationalist violence in Eli Roth’s films.

He decries the flak he and Quentin Tarantino received for the dubious blasphemy of suggesting that Selma wasn’t an aesthetic success.

Writers are duty-bound to stand at the vanguard of protecting the free flow of ideas, not that of stigmatizing words and criminalizing thoughts.  The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast glorifies the creation of art and rhetorically eviscerates the talentless hypocritical moral scolds who want to turn storytelling into a Two Minutes Hate session in a re-education camp.

 

 

 


If you found my analysis useful or enjoyed my writing style, would you consider checking out Great Writers Steal Press, where I have published some eBooks of the fiction and nonfiction variety?  Just head over to books.greatwriterssteal.com, where reading is not homework!

Great Moments in Literary Theft: David Duchovny’s Red Speedo Poem

The year was 1995.  Hope was high and life was worth living.  “Google” meant a large number.  Some phones still had cords and it was really hard to sext if you were using a rotary dial.

1995 was the heyday of American culture and you couldn’t log into AOL via dialup without reading about The X-Files.  Mulder and Scully were the hottest protagonists on TV and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson together were singlehandedly spurring interest in the newfangled Internet.  Not only were both of them physically attractive, but both projected a distinct intelligence and depth.  So strong was their chemistry and the stories they told that The X-Files is returning for a six-episode miniseries event in January 2016.

Yes, in 1995, it seemed that David Duchovny could do anything.  (Now he can only do 99.5% of the things.)  He could even introduce teenage me to William Carlos Williams.

In those days, I consumed as much information as I could about the show and dreamed of one day writing for such a program.  I remember the September 1995 issue of Entertainment Weekly because Benjamin Svetkey’s article pointed out that David Duchovny, this big TV star, wrote poetry.

“Hey!”  I thought.  “I write poetry!  I could be like him, just without the money or women!”

I wasn’t particularly moved by the episode in which Mr. Duchovny wore a red Speedo, but I knew many others were.  I did, however, appreciate Mr. Duchovny’s off-the-cuff  twist on some guy named William Carlos Williams:

My Speedo

So much depends upon a red Speedo

Covered with rain

The next time I was in the school library, I looked up this William Carlos Williams fellow and found my horizons expanded.  I thought about the connection between Mr. Williams’s wheelbarrow and Mr. Duchovny’s Speedo and, well, I tried not to read too much into it.

The point is that my enjoyment of the interview and my respect for Mr. Duchovny increased once I understood the allusion he was making.  (It’s important for a writer to have a wide frame of reference.)  Now that I’m slightly more mature than I was in 1995, I can also appreciate that Mr. Duchovny was blending high and low culture.  (I sometimes feel the balance is…off.)  Mr. Duchovny and Mr. Williams also offer poetry that is abstract, but is relatively easy to understand and enjoy if you give it a chance.  (As I keep saying, we need to #MakeMoreReaders.)

Why not follow Mr. Duchovny’s lead and rewrite a classic poem of your own?  While you are at it, check out Mr. Duchovny’s novel as you wait for the X-Files premiere on January 24.  We can’t go back to 1995, when the sun shone and the lilacs were in bloom.  We can, however, be like Mulder and Scully–and Duchovny and Anderson–by showing the world that age may take its toll, but we can still produce better work than ever before.  Even though we may want an occasional nap or a pair of comfortable shoes.

 

 


If you found my analysis useful or enjoyed my writing style, would you consider checking out Great Writers Steal Press, where I have published some eBooks of the fiction and nonfiction variety?  Just head over to books.greatwriterssteal.com, where reading is not homework!

GWS First Page Inquisition: Tim Horvath’s “The Discipline of Shadows”

Tim Horvath is one of the writers I admire for their ability to tell interesting stories against interesting backdrops in interesting ways.  Like T.C. Boyle, he is equally comfortable writing a “traditional” story about a divorcee who has a brother who is in perpetual search of his next get-rich-quick scheme and a German expat arborist who taught biology alongside Heidegger as Hitler launched his pathetic and effective attack on Jewish intellectuals.  Mr. Horvath’s collection, Understories, weaves a tapestry of imagination, alternating between good, old-fashioned short stories and short shorts that demonstrate how exciting contemporary literature can be if we privilege idea and narrative.

Please follow along by reading the story.  Understories is more than worth the purchase price and you should really consider buying it from its publisher, Bellevue Literary Press.  The book is also available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Kobo.  May I also suggest that you get the book from your local indie bookseller?  That’s what I did.  The fine folks at The River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, New York are always happy to get you any book that you like and the same can be said for the owners of the indie store nearest you.  If you are on a college student’s budget (or that of an adjunct college teacher), you can read the story through your library’s database; it first appeared in Conjunctions.

In this installment of the GWS First Page Inquisition, I will take a look at the very beginning of “The Discipline of Shadows,” a story that Mr. Horvath was inspired to write by a random exercise suggested by his writing group.  If you juxtapose the anecdote describing the story’s origin with the story itself, you’ll see the intersection of inspiration and creation.  Mr. Horvath was not held thrall by the initial spark that led him to put pen to paper; he let the idea evolve and ended up telling the reader a ripping story.

Without further ado, let’s look at the first page of Mr. Horvath’s story and see what makes it so great and effective.

Up on the chair, I reach for the ceiling and beat the vents, sending mold fluttering downward.  Like some black rain, it lands variously on me, on chipped, yellowing tiles, on the paperwork fanned out over my desk.  It speckles the latest budget, leaves a trail of powder on the glossy cover of the newest International Journal of Umbrology.  It must be going into my lungs.  I think about miners descending, invisible until the shaft collapses and the cameras swarm. Maybe, I think, this is what we need–some tragedy.  Something more than mere scandal.  More than Lew and his lawyer.  More than the death of a department, which is like an animal, already limping, vanishing at last under the wheels.

I won’t have time to change my shirt before the big meeting, and for a moment I regret this. After all, lawyers and trustees, the titled and brass-nameplated, will be there.  Lew’s “representation,” all the way from Lower Manhattan.  At yesterday’s department meeting, the guy sat with Lew, hovering at the edge of my vision, a thick-browed smudge of pleated charcoal.  Finally, I wanted to confront him.  “Mr.  Vadrais,” I wanted to say, “at the end of a workday, when you exit Two Fourteen Pearl, do you ever pause to take in the shadows?”  I felt them like a chill, then, those revenants of an older New York, strewn across the narrow, birdshit-encrusted streets.

But I held my tongue.  He would have been mystified, and the rest of them would’ve all thought I was losing it.

That’s it.  257 words.  Let’s do an inventory of all of the exposition that Mr. Horvath crammed into the first page of his story:

  • The story is in the first person.
  • The protagonist is in a dusty/lived-in environment.
  • The protagonist is a devotee of “Umbrology,” some kind of obscure scholarly pursuit.
  • There’s trouble in the academic department that “some tragedy” may avert. (These are big stakes!)
  • There is a lawyer involved…that’s never good.
  • A “big meeting” will be attended by trustees and attorneys.  Again, big stakes.
  • The protagonist offers some insight into the poetry of Umbrology and that it relates to shadows.

The first page does its job because it does the basics, introducing character and tone and setting; the reader is quickly immersed in the world of the story.  Mr. Horvath is also wise to establish some stout stakes.  What will happen to this “discipline of shadows?”

The most important function that the first page serves is to ground the chronological narrative in the context of the rest of the story.  Now, I really loved this story, or else I wouldn’t have written about it.  But Mr. Horvath violates some of the Aristotelian Unities in a beautiful way.  The first page of the story is one of many sections that take place in a wide range of settings and over a great many years.  Ordinarily, bopping through time in a Whovian fashion might make it hard to understand what is going on.  Instead, Mr. Horvath introduces all of the bits that are important in the dramatic present before dropping sections that are small patches of exposition or miniature narratives.  For example, we get a detailed description of the state of the Umbrology department, advice for applying to such a department and a digression about the shadows that make a person fall in love with the field.  These sections might be seen as tangents if Mr. Horvath hadn’t made a solemn promise on the first page: that he will tell you the story of how the Department of Umbrology slowly fades into darkness like the surface of the moon during a lunar eclipse.

 

 

 


If you found my analysis useful or enjoyed my writing style, would you consider checking out Great Writers Steal Press, where I have published some eBooks of the fiction and nonfiction variety?  Just head over to books.greatwriterssteal.com, where reading is not homework!

Hey, Why’d You Do That, Christopher Citro?

Writers are asked many general questions about their craft.

…”What is your overarching philosophy regarding the inherent power of fiction?”…”What IS–character–to you?”…”What is the position of place in your work?”…

These are great and important questions, but I’m really curious about the little things.  In the “Hey, Why’d You Do That” series, I ask accomplished writers about some of the very small choices they made during the process of composition.

Christopher Citro is one of those writers whose names seem so familiar because you keep seeing it in all of your favorite lit mags.  His work has appeared in a ton of places, including The Journal, Ploughshares, Redivider and a number of other journals you wish would accept your own work.  His first book of poetry, The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy, was published by Steel Toe Books.  Why not order a copy directly from the publisher?  You can also find the book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Shimmy-Shammy

Yes, you may wish to read 10,000 words in which Mr. Citro elucidates his overall philosophy of poetry.  Instead, I am curious about the tiny choices that Mr. Citro wrestles with every time he sits down to put pen to paper.  I read and enjoyed “Nerve Endings Like Strawberry Runners,” a poem that Mr. Citro placed in Witness.  Why not follow along with the poem and reflect upon the nitty-gritty of his writing process in order to improve your own work? Continue Reading

Hey, Why’d You Do That, Deborah Guzzi?

Writers are asked many general questions about their craft.

…”What is your overarching philosophy regarding the inherent power of fiction?”…”What IS–character–to you?”…”What is the position of place in your work?”…

These are great and important questions, but I’m really curious about the little things.  In the “Hey, Why’d You Do That” series, I ask accomplished writers about some of the very small choices they made during the process of composition.

Deborah Guzzi is a Connecticuter whose poetry has been published in markets all over the world.  Some of that work appears in 2015’s The Hurricane, a collection published by Prolific Press.  Please consider purchasing the book directly from them, but you can also get the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

You can (and should!) learn more about Ms. Guzzi through her Twitter feed and her YouTube page.

Ms. Guzzi was kind enough to suggest we discuss her poem, “The Sowing.”  The poem is available here for free.  I was touched by how much she clearly loves her poem and feels that the piece is doing good with respect to domestic violence and rape: issues that are near and dear to the hearts of many of us.  As my Ohio State MFA colleague Laurel Gilbert is also greatly interested in these problems, I thought it would be interesting to see what she would ask Ms. Guzzi about her poem.  (I was right.) Continue Reading

What Can We Steal From Callan Wink’s “Breatharians”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Breatharians,” short story
Author: Callan Wink
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found: The story debuted the October 22, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.  At the time of this writing, the story was available in full on the New Yorker web site.  “Breatharians” was subsequently selected for The Best American Short Stories 2013.

Bonuses:  Here is what Trevor Berrett thought of the story.  Here is what Teddy Mitrosilis thought.  Consider checking out Mr. Wink’s first collection: Dog Run Moon: Stories.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Narrative Structure

Discussion:
August is a young man who is living between two worlds.  To paraphrase Britney, he’s not a boy, not yet a man.  His mother and father live in separate homes on the same property.  His body is strong enough to allow him to kill cats without remorse, but he mourns the loss of his “birth dog.”

The inciting incident of the story is the moment when August’s father tells his son to “get rid of the damn” wild cats in his barn.  August is happy to take on the work; he wants pocket money.  The story covers the next couple days as the cat slaughter looms in the distance and the reader learns about the protagonist’s situation.  It seemed to me as though Mr. Wink was most interested in painting the portrait of his interesting character.  There’s an uneasy peace in August’s life: a peace that will be shattered when he finally figures out more about life. Continue Reading