Monthly Archives: February 2015

Episode 70: The Spine of Fiction

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.

Reading Discussed

  • 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 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.

Episode 69: Don’t Know Shit About Shit

The WITTScasters discuss how, if they were to return to the classroom, they would teach introductory fiction to undergrads now that they are old and wise (in contrast to young people who, according to Jon, “don’t know shit about shit”). Then they turn to the excellent not-so-short story “A Rich Man” by Edward P. Jones, who shows ’em how it’s done.

Reading Discussed

  • Edward P. Jones’ story “A Rich Man” still seems to be up for grabs for free at The New Yorker. It isn’t short, but it’s damn good.
  • In Ben’s fiction class, each day will start with a quote about writing and a writing rule. (But rules, as we all know, are made to be broken.)
  • One of Jon’s favorite writers, Robert Stone, died recently. Jon offered a WITTScast remembrance for Mr. Stone, which also gave him a chance to do some more griping about those damn hypocritical baby boomers.
  • Robert Stone’s best known work is probably National Book Award winner Dog Soldiers, but Jon’s favorite is Outerbridge Reach.
  • Here’s the Paris Review interview with Robert Stone, which is WITTScast-recommended. (Q: Is writing easy for you? A: It’s goddamn hard.)
  • “A Rich Man” is from Edward P. Jones’ collection All Aunt Hagar’s Children. You might also want to check out a related collection, Lost in the City. (Oh, and he won a Pulitzer, too, so don’t overlook The Known World.)