In episode 48, the guys do their best to find something to appreciate in Gordon Lish’s story “In the District, Into the Bargain.” Once that fruitless endeavor is out of the way, it’s on to a discussion of what to do when you’re stuck: Do you give up, power through blindly, or try to think of an ending to write toward? Jon, his mind lubricated by well-aged whiskey, draws a parallel to opera, Beethoven, and bridge construction, while Brian and Ben hang on for the ride.
- You can find renowned editor Gorgon Lish’s short story “In the District, Into the Bargain” online at Electric Literature.
- Damn, dude! From the Recommended Reading bio of Gordon Lish: “Among the writers he is credited with championing are Harold Brodkey, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Barry Hannah, Jack Gilbert, Amy Hempel, Jason Schwartz, Noy Holland, Sam Lipsyte, Anne Carson, Ben Marcus, Gary Lutz, Cynthia Ozick, Christine Schutt, Dawn Raffel, and Will Eno.”
- The WITTScasters’ grad school professor Sharon Solwitz documented her experience at a Gordon Lish writing workshop.
- Welcome to Introductory Short Fiction Writing.
- You call that a pipe?
- Sometimes the perfect image for a story just presents itself to you.
- Bad with endings? Become a novelist. That way you won’t have to write so many.
- Writing can be hard. (Jon’s tip: Just go with B.)
- Jon endorses The Great Courses for top quality, low-cost, at-home learning.
- Looking for good writing podcasts that focus a little more than this one on writing rules, plot structures, and genre? Try Writing Excuses and I Should Be Writing.
- The novel in progress (novelist shown in right foreground).
Two big questions face the WITTScasters in this episode: 1) When confronted with a legitimate work of genius, how are we mere mortal writers supposed to react? With envy? Despair? Determination? Inspiration? 2) How can fiction tackle big world issues and current events without being pompous, short-sighted, or exploitative? Ben Fountain’s “Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera” helps the boys in their search for an answer. American Hustle, at least for Jon, does not.
- Ben Fountain’s story “Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera” is online at Zoetrope, and available in his collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
- Our own Ben had a brief encounter with genius when he took in back-to-back performances of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, courtesy of The Acting Company.
- Jon doesn’t sweat this chump.
- Michael Chabon’s first stories were essentially Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. Some of his later work was, too.
- Was Tom Stoppard a bit cocky in predicting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would make him “very rich?” Maybe. But he wasn’t wrong.
- AWP: Bring the noise!
- Who are the great contemporary playwrights? Tracy Letts, and… uh…
- Brian wrote an Oscar deep-dive this year. According to Jon, American Hustle is ranked about 713 spots too high, though he and Brian both thought Her was the best movie they’d seen in years.
- If we had the 2008 Oscars to do over again, would Slumdog Millionaire still take home Best Picture?
- Here’s how the Pulitzer Prize is awarded.
- As possibly the defining novel of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is award-worthy in any year.
- When do you earn the right to write about another culture? We’re not sure, but we could ask Andre Dubus III (The House of Sand and Fog) and Robert Olen Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain — winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, coincidentally).
- Duke University definitely exists… though not everyone is happy about that.
- Richard Grasso hearts FARC.
- In How We Are Hungry, Dave Eggers was sort of Ben Fountain before Ben Fountain.
- Would you trade having read a Georgetown professor’s book for a 5-minute chat with Bill Clinton? Tyler Cowen would.
- ZOMBIE LENIN.
What exactly is “experimental fiction”? Is all fiction an experiment? Is 50-year-old fiction still experimental? Is “experimental” kind of insulting? Are experimentalists just weirdos? The boys explore the ins and outs of innovation in form, voice, narrative, and character, as well as the point of writing against conventions and the philosophy of fiction. Then they discuss this episode’s story: “Three Summers” by James Pate.
- James Pate’s “Three Summers” is over at Slushpile Magazine.
- Paris Review may have circumvented the laws of relativity to get Ben’s first rejection to him.
- Jon’s forthcoming novel The Whiskey Baron recently got one hell of a review in Kirkus.
- Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories is weird, even experimental.
- Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones translates into “fictions,” so it seems he didn’t intend for these pieces to be called “stories.”
- The same goes for Julio Cortazar’s Cronopios and Famas, which contains in part a series of instructions for everyday tasks.
- Jon saw Samuel Beckett’s Molloy as a likely influence of Tom Stoppard’s.
- Anti-Story seems to be the definitive anthology of “experimental fiction.”
- Do we ever hear about the true experimentalists? Are the writers we think of as “experimental” just the Edisons to the Teslas of the literary world?
- Maybe shows like House of Cards and Breaking Bad are a bigger deal than literature these days.
- So what book did win the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction? Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son.