As you may have gathered from our infrequent posting, we’re taking something of a hiatus. We’re going to have a few special episodes in the coming months, with the goal of getting back into our regular rhythm some time in the spring. But keep your subscriptions current and check back soon. Meanwhile, here’s our going away ditty.
Philip Roth! To Jon’s delight, the boys spend the bulk of this episode ruminating on the style, method, and subject matter of Philip Roth, using the opening of The Human Stain as the springboard for the conversation. They also offer a quick update about their writing, revision, and submission process.
Topics & Reading Discussed
- The opening of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain is a solid introduction to the author.
- Jon recommends you start with The Ghost Writer, but Portnoy’s Complaint, Sabbath’s Theater, Operation Shylock, and American Pastoral are also good books to check out.
- While you’re investigating Roth, be sure to read Claudia Roth Pierpont’s literary biography Roth Unbound.
- The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Rain Main, Copperhead Road, and the Royal Rumble: 1988 was a pretty good year.
- Brian is enjoying Tony Earley’s first collection of short stories, Here We Are in Paradise (especially the wrestling story, “Charlotte”).
- Jon recommends Jon Ronson’s new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, though in truth you could get the gist of his argument here at the NY Times.
- To spite misguided college protests, go pick up a copy of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which was recently under dispute at Duke.
Pour a glass of fine scotch and sit back while the boys tackle the peaty stench of inspiration, titles, dictionaries, flash fiction, and more. Then they turn to a lively discussion of that writer’s writer’s writer Lydia Davis, and selections from her collected stories.
Topics and Reading Discussed
Get an attic. Buy your wife a loom. Marry a spicy Canadian. Recycle. Communicate about your depression. Leading up to Brian’s wedding, the guys turn to literature to see what fiction has to say about how to be a good husband. Because only trouble is interesting (as Janet Burroway said in her book on writing fiction), good husbands are hard to find in great literature. But the boys find some solace in Bret Lott’s essay “On Posterity.”
Topics and Reading Discussed
- Bret Lott’s “On Posterity,” over at the Kenyon Review, provides fodder for an existential discussion about the purpose of writing.
- In the English marriage plot (see Pride & Prejudice or Jane Eyre), the story ends with the couple getting hitched.
- By the time modernism rolls around (see Ulysses or Tender Is the Night or Revolutionary Road), affairs and divorce become acceptable subjects for fiction.
- Brian looks back to the Odyssey to find a husband who just wants to get home to his wife. Along the way, remember to avoid the sirens, fight the cyclops and dress up as an old woman.
- Ben noticed Alice Munro often writes about long, relatively happy marriages (at least until the end — see “The Bear Came over the Mountain” in Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage).
- Ben’s favorite authors don’t do much with happy marriages. Gary Lutz’s most recent novel is called Divorcer, and Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask doesn’t end well for the marriage.
- Jon recommends Levin and Kitty’s marriage in Anna Karenina as a good model.
- He also noted that the importance of communication shows up in a section of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and is a central theme of Bret Lott’s The Man Who Owned Vermont and Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing.”
In which Jon argues that the “South” (and regionalism at large) doesn’t exist. In which Ben takes him to task and brings out exhibit A, Jon’s “southern” novel. In which Brian says, “It’s not the region so much as the writer.” In this episode, the boys ask the tough questions about regionalism, transforming place, and the role of literature and the storyteller in preserving shared places. Heavy shit. Then they take a gander at Sarah Layden’s story “Decoy.”
Join the boys as they host their very first guest: the construction workers constructing a patio/firepit/well in Jon’s neighbor’s backyard. Beyond the hammering and saws, the boys manage a fine discussion of books-turned-movies and whether good novels can ever create a good film. Then the boys delve into the squirrelly world of sentences and the cult of the author in a discussion of Jonathan Lethem’s “The King of Sentences.”
How do you make stuff up? Where does fiction come from? What’s the secret to it all? The imagination gives us plot and characters, but the boys debate whether fiction writers actually do anything more than put great sentences on the page. The boys dive into heady stuff here as Jon and Brian make progress on new novels and Ben embarks on his first semester of teaching fiction since graduate school.
- Second place for storySouth’s Million Writers Award in 2014 went to Susan Tepper’s “Distance,” published online at Thrice Fiction.
- Tepper’s story is about a museum guard. Other museum-inspired stories include R.T. Smith’s “Docent” (published at The Missouri Review and widely anthologized) and Nick Hornby’s “Nipplejesus” (published in his anthology Speaking with the Angel).
- Ben thought of one more, where a post-apocalyptic couple brings home a squid from the museum and puts it in their bathtub, or something like that, but now he can’t find the story. (WITTScast listener challenge — if you know what story he’s thinking of, e-mail us at email@example.com. We’ll send a WITTScast windbreaker for the first correct answer!)
- After last week’s discussion of Edward P. Jones, Brian and Jon are revisiting Jones’s collections Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children.
- Jon stumbled onto Philip Roth’s interviews over at Web of Stories, which inspired Jon to go back and reread Madame Bovary.
- Flaubert recommended writers “be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” which gives Jon hope for his life in the suburbs.
- Speaking of the imagination, Brian says there are two approaches to world-building. Some authors want you to believe the illusion, while others just make something formulaic.
- Or you can do something in the middle, like Roth’s The Human Stain, which is (probably) based on someone from real life.
You know what? Writing is about writing, not talking about writing. In a special holiday episode, the WITTScasters put that mantra to work and take an hour to write on-air (with the requisite procrastination and interruptions). We invite you all to sit down and write something yourselves during this week’s episode. And if you come up with a few sentences, send us your best at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy holidays!
The boys wade back into the art/commerce discussion. Jon has grown suspicious of all the storytelling around us, from politics to the business world. Meanwhile, Ben and Brian weigh in on living in the “age of story,” before the WITTScasters all turn to debate some selections from Amber Sparks.
- Work from Amber Sparks provided some good discussion: “Domestic Fabulism” at Electric Literature, “How Not to Put Together a Story Collection” at HTML GIant, and “The Janitor in Space” at American Short Fiction.
- Ben has been on the campaign trail, and Jon no longer fully trusts stories. Here are two good stories designed to (1) Sell a Chrysler and (2) keep you on the Google. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business Review suggests the MFA might be the new MBA.
- Nevertheless, we’re living in the age of story. Michael Chabon may have led the “story” charge in his introduction to the 2005 Best American Stories, but many MFA writers have written artful genre — for instance, Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon.
- Literary agent Donald Maass says this literary-genre hybrid defines 21st century fiction.
- The unanswerable question: is there a difference of intent between a Le Carre spy novel and a Gary Lutz short story?
- Jon enjoyed both the sentences and the story of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.
- Brian ruminates on whether Garcia Marquez’s “The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” is magic realism, adventure fabulism, domestic fabulism, or some combination.
This week we welcome Brian back from his trip to Ireland. After he fills us in on all the pubs and literary adventures (as well as a few Irish writers we should be reading), we hear progress updates from Ben and Jon. Then it’s on to Annie Proulx’s “Tits-up in a Ditch.”
- Annie Proulx’s “Tits-up in the Ditch,” online over at the New Yorker while the New Yorker archives are still available. It’s also in her third collection of Wyoming stories, Fine Just the Way It Is.
- If you’re ever in Dublin, check out the literary pub crawl. You’ll learn about Joyce and some other Irish writers (including a stop at the bar where Brendan Behan drank himself to death).
- For you youngsters out there, this is the Nintendo Power Glove.
- Brian picked up Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies the Island, Michael J. Farrell’s Life in the Universe and Maeve Brennan’s The Springs of Affection.
- And where did he pick those up? The Dingle Bookshop, The Gutter Bookshop, The Kenmare Bookshop, The Kinsale Bookshop, and The Winding Stair, among others.
- Shout out to Laura Donnelly! Congratulations on her first full-length book of poetry, Watershed, which is now available from Cider Press Review.
- Here’s a write-up of Laura’s book launch, held at Oswego’s independent bookshop, River’s End.
- Ben is enjoying Sarah Yaw’s You Are Free to Go, published by Engine Books.