Based on a true story, Ben, Brian, and Jon discuss what’s off-limits and what’s fair game when it comes to putting the people, places, and events of your real life onto the page. Are the best stories more real or more imagined? Have you ever written something so true about yourself that it scared you? What are the ethics of using someone else’s life in your work? And does Jon have ethics? Plus, it’s time again for the boys to offer updates on their own reading and writing.
What starts as a perfectly civil discussion of the role of storytelling in contemporary fiction devolves into an aesthetic dispute between Jon and Ben. Brian, emulating his favorite pro wrestling referee Earl Hebner, stays out of it and just tries not to get hit. Luckily, the balance of concept, metaphor, and heart in Aimee Bender’s story “The Rememberer” is something the WITTScasters can all agree on.
- Aimee Bender’s story “The Rememberer”.
- Jon came home from the recent James River Writers’ Writing Show with a lot to think about, thanks especially to panelist Nancy Zafris, series editor of the Flannery O’Connor Award.
- Among the writers who channel the voice of the verbal storyteller are George Singleton, John Updike, and Raymond Carver.
- Looking for a good bar to tell a story at? The WITTScasters have spun many a tale at Spurlock’s in Lafayette, IN.
- Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This!
- Ben doesn’t lament the absence of story in the work of Gary Lutz, who we discussed just last week.
- Jon pointed out that we could all learn something — the unity of time — from Aristotle.
- Brian pointed out that we could also learn something — that every scene must be justified — from The Dark Knight.
- It was when the name of Papa Hemingway was invoked that the conversation went to hell.
- If you want some real insight on Hemingway, ignore Ben and Jon and see what their Purdue professor Bob Lamb has to say here and here.
- To understand the emotional limits of storytelling at the pier with the guys, check out Barry Hannah’s “Water Liars”, from the collection Airships.
- Aimee Bender is a WITTScast favorite. Jon was moved by her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and Brian loves her collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.
- In fact, Brian is still a little flushed from when he interviewed Aimee Bender for issue 33.3 of the Missouri Review (Fall 2010).
Three guys walk into a virtual barroom… The WITTScasters may be funny, but it turns out they don’t know any jokes. That doesn’t stop them from discussing humor in fiction in episode 19, though. And, after four months of hearing about Gary Lutz, Jon and Brian finally join Ben in mainlining sentence-driven short fiction.
- Selections from Gary Lutz at Web Del Sol.
- Socrates was the George Carlin of his day.
- Ben busted out laughing while reading George Saunders’s “Sea Oak.”
- Jon blogged about Twelfth Night. Ben Kingsley nailed the role of Feste.
- Where would a discussion of humor on this show be without Sam Lipsyte?
- Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia might be Ben’s favorite piece of literature, and Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead contains one of Brian’s favorite comic scenes.
- Jon enjoys the humor of southern writers, including that found in William Gay’s Provinces of Night and Barry Hannah’s Ray.
- Peter Ho Davies’s “The Criminal Mastermind Is Confined” illustrates a kind of rhetorical/structural humor Brian digs.
- Tom Robbins nails Richmond, Virginia, in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
- Jon thinks Gary Lutz’s work might be more like Borges’s “fictions” than traditional “stories.”
- Regardless of how they are classified, if you enjoyed Gary Lutz’s work, start with his first collection, Stories in the Worst Way. His most recent book, Divorcer, was discussed by Ben way back in episode 1 and also inspired a post on our blog.
- Of the many great Gary Lutz interviews on the web, don’t miss this one by Michael Kimball at The Faster Times. And while we’re at it, also check out this more recent one with Daniel Long in The Fiddleback, in which Lutz points out — correctly, in Ben’s mind — that “Too many passages in contemporary fiction strike me as indistinguishable from passages in feature articles in glossy magazines,” and he quips, “I like at least a little poetry in poetry.” Preach it, Gary!
- As you are sucked deeper into the world of Gary Lutz, you will want to study this lecture he published in The Believer, which gives you some insight into the way words grind against each other in his sentences — and in his mind.
In an ironic twist of fate, episode 18 brings a dialogue about dialogue. The boys chat about how much characters in dialogue should disagree, what fictioneers can learn from playwrights, and the merits and perils of starting a story mid-conversation (chief among the perils: Jon will tell you to cut it). Later, they discuss Jess Walter’s bullet-pointed short story, “Statistical Abstract for My Home of Spokane, Washington.”
- Jess Walter’s short story “Statistical Abstract for My Home of Spokane, Washington,” from his collection We Live in Water.
- The first great writer of dialogue who came to Ben’s mind was George Saunders.
- Jon countered with Don DeLillo and WITTScast fave Sam Lipsyte*.
- Should playwrights like David Mamet or Tom Stoppard be considered when discussing great dialogue writers in fiction? No, Ben says; why the fuck not, Jon and Brian say, in true Mamet fashion.
- (Ditto James Tate and Russell Edson, two great narrative poets.)
- Henry James’s The Awkward Age, Joyce Carol Oates’s Them, and selected Robert Coover are essentially book-length conversations, and Robert Stone’s A Hall of Mirrors and Dog Soldiers illustrate how to keep tension in dialogue for superhuman stretches.
- Ladies and gentlemen, the Mets.
- To Jon’s chagrin, it’s hard to write unquoted dialogue in a post-Cormac McCarthy world.
- You’d think William Gay‘s orthographic dialogue ticks would make Jon mad, but for some reason, he loves them.
- Jon’s previous thoughts on Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”
- “Call Me Ishmael” is not dialogue.
- Dinty W. Moore’s essay “Son of Mr. Green Jeans,” originally published in the journal Crazyhorse, also from his collection Between Panic and Desire.
*Not Jon’s favorite.