These are good questions. One good point is that undergraduate creative writing students are going to go into a variety of professions — as editors, agents, copywriters, journalists, etc. Some of them will go to law school. Some of them will go into academia. Others might marry someone making respectable money and stay home with the kids. Maybe one of them will actually make money as a commercial fiction writer, and maybe one of them will become a serious artist.
Given how scarce some of those jobs are, professionalization is certainly welcome. My flip comment — that I’m not sure it’s good for a person’s writing to obsess over publishing — is really directed to the one artist out of the bunch. Here are a few harsh truths for undergraduate creative writing majors who want to be artists: Continue reading →
Most contemporary literary fiction is terrible, says a guy who writes contemporary literary fiction. He makes some fair points, and I think you can waste an awful lot of time trying to keep up with the hottest new writers out there, but I’m also skeptical of blanket statements like that.
How do you do it? How do you keep the work rolling while you’re working, say, at engineering? I was in test engineering, which is feast or famine, so I’d be working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. And I also commuted an hour to work. And had a family. And somehow I had to keep the work rolling.
Very simple things like keeping the manuscript with you at all times. Always keep it with you. That way you can always go back to it. Doesn’t have to be the whole manuscript.
That’s the inside back flap of an early edition hardback of Portnoy’s Complaint. Even DeLillo and Pynchon jacket flaps offer a complete sentence as a bio statement. I love that Roth’s just lets the work speak for itself. Also, as Ben noted, Roth looks like he’s about to seduce the photographer. (Also, also, it’s not like a bio statement appears anywhere else on the cover either.)
In this episode, the WITTScasters try to figure out how to emphasize the strengths of their writing while improving on their weaknesses. Jon waffles on the primacy of plot, Ben searches for the souls of his characters, and Brian marvels that any story survives beyond the first draft. After looking their shortcomings in the eye, the guys cheer themselves up with a discussion of the hilarious and moving story “Pitching Pennies,” by George Singleton.
In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner warns about what would happen if you entrusted Mark Twain with a cast of characters from a Henry James novel.
Jon is recovering from a serious Henry James phase, in the depths of which he marveled at the subtle gestures of the characters in The Ambassadors.
This profile of Charles Baxter describes how he learned from the failures of his first three novels. Jon senses Baxter’s revolutionary bent in the title to his craft essay collection, Burning Down The House.
In episode 7, we discussed Marie-Helene Bertino’s charming story “North of,” which is in her debut collection, Safe As Houses, which received the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published last fall. She kindly answered a few questions about her story and Bob Dylan, that “banty rooster.” For more about her, visit her website here.
WITTScast: Where did this story come from?
Marie-Helene Bertino: I was fired on Bob Dylan’s 60th birthday, then drove up to the mountains to meet my friends. I wasn’t broken up about being fired, but it was a surreal experience I spent the ride mulling over. Philly radio played nothing but Dylan all weekend. You do not realize how many songs Bob Dylan has about leaving a job until you get fired on his 60th birthday. Later, I told people I spent the weekend driving around with Bob Dylan. Then, I thought, what if I made that figurative sentence literal? Everything else took years. Continue reading →
Faith isn’t brought up much in the writing workshops — or at least any writing workshop I’ve been around. Maybe it’s just my South Carolina upbringing, O’Connor’s “Christ-haunted South,” but I think there’s a really deep connection between “faith” and “fiction,” one even the most secular writers could agree on.
In episode 4, we discussed Roxane Gay’s excellent story “Glass,” published in the Atticus Review. She answered a few questions via email about that story and writing in general. Her short stories have been published widely, including in Best American Short Stories 2012, and her debut collection, Ayiti, is now available. For more information, visit her website.
WITTScast: I think what we admired most about “Glass” is your ability to be experimental with form while also writing with a remarkable amount of heart. The risk of experimentation seems to be that a piece loses heart. How do you prevent that? Do you find that “experimentalism” and “heart” go hand in hand for you?
Roxane Gay: Writing and heart go hand in hand for me, whether I am writing a traditional narrative or something experimental. I want to make people feel, no matter how I go about doing that. When heart gets lost in experimentalism, it’s because there’s not enough method to the madness. It’s an easy trap to fall in, to get lost in the experiment for experiment’s sake. We’ve all been there. Continue reading →