Short Saturday: Writing Is Hard Work

In spite of the title, this post is really intended to encourage you. :)

My friend Beth Bates lives in the Indianapolis area, and through her I have been lucky enough to meet, in one way or another, several of her friends, writerly folk she knows from her time spent at Butler University getting an MFA. Smart, interesting, delightful, all of them.

It’s Bryan Furuness I want to introduce you to, through this interview from 2013 (the interviewer is author Julianna Baggott).

A few years ago I went to a writers’ conference in Indy. At that point, I’d published a handful of short stories and was several years deep into a novel, but didn’t have much to show for that project—no end in sight, no agent, and certainly no contract. I felt low, lost, a never-would-be. Sitting in the middle of an auditorium, I looked at the people on the stage for a panel discussion, the Real Authors, lit by footlights, and I thought: God, what I wouldn’t do to be up there instead of out here in the dark. What I wouldn’t do to be one of them.

After the panel discussion was over, the rest of the audience got up to leave, but I just sat there. I was tired, in every sense. And then something strange happened.

The panelists climbed down from the stage and settled into the comfortable seats of the auditorium. I pretended to study my program. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but the acoustics in there were incredible and—okay, I meant to eavesdrop. I’m glad I did, too, because what I heard changed the way I look at writing.

One woman who had six novels to her credit talked about how she was setting aside a book she’d been working on for ten years. “It’s just not going to work,” she said. A guy with more than a couple serious prizes to his credit said that he had more books out of print than in print. Another guy, a prolific crime writer, told the others that his publisher had just canceled his contract. He said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book.”

This wasn’t energetic bitching. They were just reporting the news. They sounded tired, too. …

When I hear about other people’s troubles, especially if they’re somehow related to my own, it makes me feel less alone. When I found out that these writers—Real Writers! With Actual Books!—were eating a shit-ton of failure, I felt totally relieved. Oh, thank goodness, I thought. I’m not the only one.

It’s true: writing is hard work—and even “real” writers struggle with it. There’s plenty more where that came from. You should definitely read it. And you can connect with Furuness on Tumblr or Twitter.

Tweet: Writing is hard work: some encouragement.
Tweet: “No end in sight, no agent, & certainly no contract.” Encouragement from @Furunati.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Book Biz, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , ,

Slang Creates Solidarities

Considering the temper of [Lindley] Murray’s writing, it may come as a surprise that he has nothing to say about slang. One feels confident that he would have dismissed it as a disgracegull aberration. But slang would not have meant much to him. The OED’s first citation for this word in the sense ‘language of a highly colloquial type’ is from 1818. As a term for the special vocabulary of a group of disreputable people, it appears in 1756. Previously what we now think of as slang had been known as jargon, cant, lingo or—less commonly—specialty. Alexander Gil, writing in 1621 in support of a phonetic spelling system, had condemned the ‘cant speech’ of ‘the dirtiest dregs of the wandering beggars’; he described their language as ‘that poisonous and most stinking ulcer of our state,’ and argued that it would not go away ‘until the magistrates have its authors crucified.’

Jargon, originally a term for the chattering of birds, was used censoriously by [Thomas] Hobbes, [Jonathon] Swift and [Samuel] Johnson. It signified the language peculiar to professions—and, less commonly, to cliques and particular ethnic groups. But only one substantial and wide-ranging view of the subject has been produced. This was the work of Francis Grose, the son of a rich Swiss jeweller, who in 1785 had published A Classical Dictionary of a Vulgar Tongue. There had, it was true, been compilations of slang as long ago as the sixteenth century; one early collection appeared in Thomas Harman’s A Caveat or Warening for Common Cursetors (1565), which its author was able to put together as a result of about twenty years’ ill health, during which he would interview any beggar who appeared at his door. It was Grose, though, who made this kind of compendium a credible department of lexicography. He argued, too, that the abundance of English slang was a reflection not of the nation’s corruption, but of its liberty: ‘the freedom of thought and speech, arising from, and privileged by ou constitution, gives a force and poignancy to the expressions of our common people, not to be found under arbitrary governments.’

The noteworthiness of Grose’s work lies partly in its almost clairvoyant interest in what we might now call popular culture. A Classical Dictionary of a Vulgar Tongue was the fruit of a considerable amount of reading and also of numerous nocturnal trips from his favorite Holborn tavern into the nearby slums—accompanied by Batch, his manservant, and later by another friend he called The Guinea Pig. In the Dictionary Grose explains about three thousand words. Among these are items of jargon used by soldiers and sailors, prostitutes and pugilists, tailors and tradesmen. But Grose is not just a collector of pleasing oddments; he argues that slang is central to the life of language, and notes how quickly the language of the street finds its way into politics, as well as into the prose of people writing for magazines.

It will be apparent by now that language plays a central role in establishing our relationships with other people, and this is especially true in the case of slang. For slang, more than any other kind of language, creates solidarities.

—Henry Hitchings

Transcribed by me from pages 128–29 of The Language Wars: A History of Proper English © 2077, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

Tweet: The OED’s 1st citation for slang—‘language of a highly colloquial type’—is from 1818.
Tweet: The word jargon signified the language peculiar to professions, cliques, & particular ethnic groups.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , ,

Unpack This!

The other day my friend Beth—who works in the corporate world—tweeted:

“Unpack that” is getting to be up (down?) there with “robust” for business terminology that makes me want to scream.

Me too.

Unpack, my friends, is what you do when you get home from a vacation. (Followed by laundry. And sleep.) To my mind, it is not a substitute for explain.

It is jargon.

Why do I despise business jargon so? I love slang … and this is just corporate slang, right? So why does this sort of thing make me want to slap the person who speaks like this?

There are all sorts of highfalutin theories about it. This article in the Boston Globe says

we are unconsciously combining our negative feelings about work or “bosses” with our discomfort for new slang. “Different groups—and groups in different settings—do have different ways of talking and writing, and everyone knows this as a matter of personal experience,” says Liberman. “But ordinary people have reasons to dislike managers more than they dislike sportswriters or particle physicists.” Managers give us orders. They make us attend meetings. Occasionally, they fire us.

Maybe. Though in my case it’s usually a client, not a boss. (I’m self-employed.)

No, it’s that the speaker comes across as self-important or pretentious. Or even shifty, as if he’s trying to gloss over something. As if he’s hiding something behind the mumbo-jumbo. (Like calling a criticism an opportunity, or calling a corporate layoff a repositioning action. Seriously? Slap!)

The point of jargon is to make difficult concepts or words easier to understand, sometimes by painting a word picture, a metaphor. The point is not to infuriate the listener. To help you move out of the Slap Zone, I’ve put together a list of seventy-five words—good words, timeless words—for you to consider every time you’re tempted to use unpack when what you really mean is explain.

analyze                 elucidate            reappraise
annotate              enumerate         reassess
appraise               establish            reevaluate
assess                     evaluate            refine
authenticate        examine            reinvestigate
break it down      explain              relay
clarify                    explicate            scrutinize
classify                  explore               segment
clear up                 expound            show
confirm                  extract               sift
construe                 filter                  simplify
cross-examine     get across        solve
decipher                go over              spell out
decode                   illuminate         study
deconstruct         illustrate            substantiate
delve into             inspect               survey
demonstrate       interpret           take it apart
demystify             investigate       unload
determine            justify                 unravel
diagnose              lay it all out      unscramble
diagram               look into            untangle
disentangle        make plain        validate
dissect                  order                   valuate
distill                    probe                  verify
document           prove                  view

So stop, y’all. At best you’re using a hackneyed phrase that was maybe cool or interesting the first time somebody used it off label, but as user number one million and one, you sound unoriginal and pretentious and worse, though I am too much of a lady to spell it out for you.

Tweet: Unpack, my friends, is what you do when you get home from a vacation.
Tweet: Just say no to jargon.
Tweet: Jargon: this hackneyed phrase was cool the 1st time somebody used it off label, but not now.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Short Saturday: An Extraordinary Moment

There’s just something about poetry. It’s like a mini-memoir, zooming in to describe one extraordinary moment. Last fall I heard this one on the Writer’s Almanac (read by Garrison Keillor, of course), and was struck by the sweetness of it. I’ve bought more books of poetry as a result of hearing the Writer’s Almanac than I care to admit. :)

This poem is called “For My Son, Reading Harry Potter,” by Michael Blumental. You can read all of it here, but here’s a taste:

Oh, how I wish for you

that life may let you turn and turn

these pages, in whose spell

time is frozen, as is pain and fright and loss

before you’re destined to be lost again

in that disordered and distressing book

your life will write for you and cannot change.

At his website, Blumenthal says about his work, “I feel, now, that my work derives from the healthier (and happier) desire to tap the sources of my own inner wisdom, and to make music of it.” (Here are more Blumenthal poems.)

I can certainly hear the music in this one. Have a lovely weekend!

Tweet: Poetry is like a mini-memoir of an extraordinary moment.
Tweet: Poetry makes music of wisdom.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Authors & Other Writers | Tagged as: ,

Young Adult Fiction and Life

In June 2011, Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote, in the Wall Street Journal, about how Young Adult fiction has taken too dark a turn, has unnecessarily exposed young readers to complex, difficult situations before they are mature enough to make sense of those situations. … She is correct in noting that there is darkness in some Young Adult fiction, but she largely ignores the diversity of the genre and the countless titles that aren’t grounded in damage, brutality, and loss. More troubling, though, is the suggestion that somehow reality should be sanitized for teen readers.

… I learned a long time ago that life introduces young people to situations thay are in no way prepared for, even good girls, lucky girls who want for nothing. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you become the girl in the woods. You lose your name because another one is forced on you. You think you are alone until you find books about girls like you. Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences of my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.

Roxane Gay, from “What We Hunger For”

Transcribed by me from pages 144–145 of my paperback edition of Bad Feminist: Essays, © 2014 HarperCollins Publishers.

 

Tweet: Is YA fiction too dark?
Tweet: “Life introduces young people to situations thay are in no way prepared for.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, Books You Might Like | Tagged as:

I’m a Spoiler, He’s a Spoiler, She’s a Spoiler, We’re a Spoiler, Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Spoiler Too*

In case you missed it, we’ve had a gin-yoo-wine publishing event last week: the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman on 14 July. (That date will become important as you read on.)

I’ll be frank: although her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer Prize, was made into a much-beloved movie starring Gregory Peck, has sold more than thirty million copies in forty languages, and, according to the New York Times, is “one of the best-selling novels of all time,” I was never in the cult of Harper Lee. I don’t mean this as a slam against those—some of my dearest friends—who love the book. I just mean TKAM was one of many books I read in fifth or sixth grade, but I didn’t read it repeatedly or with any particular reverence.

Still, I know TKAM is much loved by many, and I fully appreciate why.

So when we all heard about this “discovered” manuscript back in early February—more than fifty years after the release of TKAM—I was in the Camp of the Highly Suspicious. My initial reaction was Uh-oh. Followed by I do hope it’s had good editorial oversight. I can’t help but think this might be a mistake. The whole thing makes me a bit nervous. I just couldn’t convince myself that anyone involved in this circus had Ms. Lee’s best interests at heart.

This opinion hasn’t changed. Google “Go Set a Watchman sales news” and you learn the book set a one-day sales record for Barnes & Noble, that it is setting sales records all over the world (more than 105K in the UK the first day), and on and on. People stood in line at midnight to buy the thing, y’all. Bookstores all over the country got more traffic last Tuesday than some of them get in half a year.

Tuesday the fourteenth of July was A Very Good Day for the book business.

And then the spoilers … er, reviews, began. The first chapter was released in the Wall Street Journal here in the States and in the Guardian in the UK—in both text and audio versions—on Friday the tenth. That alone was a spoiler.

I started getting messages from folks: Have you heard? Facebook and Twitter worked themselves into a tizzy. Folks were outraged—or heartbroken—as details came to light. No Watchman spoilers, please, posted one Facebook friend.

But kids, how do you think we get from manuscript to A Very Good Day? A lot of press. How do we get a lot of press for a book? It starts with advance release copies (ARCs) and the publisher’s PR folks working their networks. It’s the way the publishing industry has worked for decades. They send out advance copies to the NYT and other tastemakers. They want the book to be reviewed. They want to generate buzz.

In past years, average readers might not have seen a review in the Times unless they specifically sought it out. But these days … the Internet exists. And social media. Perhaps we also have a newer generation of reviewers who are less hesitant to spoil, but the purpose of a review has always been to intrigue, to titillate, to sell books.

One of my favorite reviewers, WaPo’s Ron Charles, addresses this in his article “Confessions of a serial book-spoiler” (warning: he opens with spoiler examples from several books, though none published after 2013):

Fortunately, I mostly review literary fiction, where the spoiler is that nothing much happens at all. But my colleagues who regularly review mysteries and thrillers must negotiate this problem all the time. How can a review set up a book’s conflict in all its fascinating complications without pointing too directly at the plot’s resolution?

Complaints about reviews that “give too much away” are, by far, the most frequent complaints I receive. Sometimes these objections seem justified, but often readers think a review is telling everything when, in fact, it’s only summarizing the first 30 pages. (Emphasis mine.)

Charles acknowledges that it can be difficult to review some books without giving away too much. But there can also be an element of eagerness to scoop. (And from here on, I’m going to refer to reviews of Go Set a Watchman, so if you have thus far managed to avoid the Watchman spoilers, you should bow out now.)

It was hard to avoid spoilers when so many commentaries came out with much fanfare even before the book released; not all spoiled but most did.

New York Times / Friday 10 July
The headline prepares the reader for bad news, and it goes on from there: “Atticus is a racist.”

Wall Street Journal / Friday 10 July
“Yes, that is correct: Atticus Finch, standard-bearer of justice and integrity and one of the few unambiguously heroic figures in American literature, was originally conceived as a segregationist.”

Los Angeles Times / Saturday 11 July
“In Go Set a Watchman, [Atticus] has turned a treacherous corner, aligning with the citizen’s council and the Ku Klux Klan.”

Washington Post / Sunday 12 July
“The adult Jean Louise encounters a different Atticus from what readers of ‘Mockingbird’ will remember. He joined the Ku Klux Klan …”

The Guardian / Sunday 12 July
“Advance publicity has billed the second Lee as a chance to reunite with the ‘much loved’ characters of Scout and Atticus. This promise proves barely half true. … While one of the book’s two great shocks—the failure of a major figure to survive into the 1950s—is emotionally jolting, the other shatters the traditional reading of Atticus …”

The Bookseller / Monday 13 July
Quotes earlier reviews and notes: “The key factor is the change in the depiction of Atticus Finch.”

NPR / Monday 13 July
“Everybody who loves To Kill a Mockingbird is going to read it, no matter what I or any other reviewer says about its literary quality, the bizarre transformation of Atticus or its odd provenance. All I know for certain is that Go Set a Watchman is kind of a mess that will forever change the way we read a masterpiece.”

All those were before the release date on the fourteenth. By the release date, several other major review sites had followed suit with spoilers, while reviewers weighed in on what it all meant (although this list is by no means complete):

The Bookseller / Tuesday 14 July
“It becomes fairly transparent, fairly early on, that this can only be taken as a first draft of what would become To Kill a Mockingbird.”

NYT Sunday Book Review / Tuesday 14 July
“Would it have been better for this earlier novel to have remained unpublished? Though it does not represent Harper Lee’s best work, it does reveal more starkly the complexity of Atticus Finch, her most admired character.”

Entertainment Weekly / Tuesday 14 July
Gives it a D+. “It reads, for the most part, like a sluggishly-paced first draft, replete with incongruities, bad dialogue, and underdeveloped characters, because it is a first draft—of Mockingbird.”

EW / Tuesday 14 July
A roundup of reviews concludes the novel “disappoints.”

And that’s the thing. After I read the Times the weekend before publication, I felt like my original conclusions were correct: Go Set a Watchman is just not for me. I don’t think it got good editorial oversight. WaPo tells us “whole passages [were] repeated nearly word for word” and the Guardian says, “Unlike its predecessor, this text seems to have been printed much as submitted.” Most damning, the New Yorker:

The heavily hyped appearance of Harper Lee’s new or very old, or, anyway, indistinctly dated, novel, “Go Set a Watchman” (HarperCollins), reflects an ambitious publishing venture—complete with slow, striptease-style press leaks and first chapters and excited pre-publication surmise—in which all the other apparatus of literature, reviewers included, is expected to serve, and has. Not since Hemingway’s estate sent down seemingly completed novels from on high, long after the author’s death, has a publisher gone about so coolly exploiting a much loved name with a product of such mysterious provenance. (Emphasis mine.)

There you have it. Regardless of the provenance, it is intended to be an alternate imagining of the much-loved TKAM characters. Maile Meloy did this very beautifully and cleverly in her novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter. Ellen Gilchrist built a whole career of novels and short stories about the same small group of characters (some related, some not), with various stories told from various (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints over a period of decades.

But the LA Times had this: “Although Go Set a Watchman comes marketed as an autonomous novel, it is most interesting as a literary artifact.” Which is to say, Go Set a Watchman was Lee’s first draft of what would become—after much editorial input—To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, the Bookseller says, “It becomes fairly transparent, fairly early on, that this can only be taken as a first draft of what would become To Kill a Mockingbird. This perspective allows it to be an unprecedented insight onto a seminal novel, and renders complaints about it being inferior to To Kill a Mockingbird unhelpful if not irrelevant.”

Point taken. An astute reader might learn something about the writing process here. But would you want your first draft of anything looked at by anyone but your editor? Probably not. If this spoils it for you, my apologies.

* I know I’m showing my age.

 

Tweet: Tuesday the fourteenth of July was A Very Good Day for the book business.
Tweet: And then the spoilers … er, reviews, began. #GoSetAWatchman
Tweet: How do you think we get from manuscript to A Very Good Day for booksellers?
Tweet: The purpose of a review has always been to intrigue, to titillate, to sell books.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Books You Might Like, The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,

Short Saturday: Being Careful

A friend of mine wrote a book about something that happened to her—a true story. A memoir. She found a publisher for it. The book was given an ISBN number, a cover, edited, presented in the publisher’s spring catalogue and put up on all the major retailers’ sites …

And then it wasn’t. The publisher withdrew the book, and it never went to press.

Why? Here’s what my friend says:

If I publish that you have 101 speeding tickets and you don’t, that’s libel. If you sue me, I will lose.

If I publish that you have 101 speeding tickets and you do and you’re a private individual, that’s invasion of privacy. If you sue me, I will lose.

If I publish that you have 101 speeding tickets and you do but you’re a public figure, I will probably win the lawsuit you might file but I’ll have spent a fortune defending myself.

Major publishers carry insurance against the risk of libel and invasion of privacy lawsuits. Small and medium-size publishers typically do not, and it turns out that the coverage is, for all intents and purposes, impossible for an individual author to obtain.

That’s right. It all came down to the difference between public and private figures, and the concepts of truth and an invasion of privacy.

If you’re writing memoir—and even if you’re writing what you know in a novel—you should take a look at this brief and readable article for some pointers.

Tweet: It all came down to the difference between truth and an invasion of privacy.
Tweet: Is telling the truth an invasion of privacy? Maybe.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , ,

Building a Relationship (Platform)

Throughout my career, the fanbase has been like one big significant other to me, a thousand-headed friend with whom I have a real, committed partnership. I don’t take vacations from communicating without warning. We share our art with one another. They help me run the business by feeding me constant information. I cop to my mistakes. They ask for explanations. We talk about how we feel. I twitter to say good night and good morning, the way I would with a lover. They bring me food and tea at shows when I’m sick. I visit them in hospitals and make videos for their friends’ funerals. We trust one another. Occasionally, I’ve broken up with fans. Some have broken up with me. …

When I reflect on the last fifteen years of my life in music—all the touring, talking, late-night signing, blogging, twittering, couchsurfing, crowdsurfing, and all other variety of eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, hand-to-hand connections I’ve shared with the members of my crowd—I see it as a net. …

I couldn’t outsource it. I could hire help, but not to do the fundamental things that create emotional connections … The net tightens every time I pick up my phone and check in on Twitter, every time I share my own story, every time I ask a fan how their project is coming or promote somebody’s book or tour.

The net tightens when someone in the community loses her [home] in a fire and tweets me for help and I throw the information out to the fanbase, who go to work offering money, shelter, catsitting, and words of kindness. … I feel pride when I see that magic happening: the fans helping one another out, … breaking the boundaries of “stranger” etiquette because they feel a trust and familiarity with one another under our common roof. …

The [record company] didn’t understand why they should pay for the band to maintain a website year-round. They thought it was something that only needed to be “up” when we had a new record to promote, and wouldn’t pay to keep the site active the rest of the time. I was baffled. I don’t think you guys get it. Our website is like a Real Place. It needs to exist all the time. … That’s just how a relationship works.

National Public Radio has been following the connect-connect-connect-then-ask model forever: it’s called the annual on-air fund-raiser. They create and transmit nonstop, they give away their reporting, storytelling, and content for free all year.

And then when the time comes: they ask.

And, fundamentally, all asking works like this. You must prepare the ground. If you’re going to be asking one day, you need someone to ask who is going to answer the call. So you tend to your relationships on a nonstop basis, you abide by the slow, ongoing task, going out there like a faithful farmer, …

And then, when it is time—whether you’re asking a bunch of people to preorder your album [book], or asking one person to hold back your hair while you’re puking—someone will be there for you. …

… The only people who can really judge if a request is fair are the ones being asked—the ones who have the relationships are the ones who understand the complexity of the situation. … Effective crowdfunding [platformbuilding] is not about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd.

There’s a difference.

Amanda Palmer

Transcribed by me from pages 89, 121–2, 236, 244 in my hardcover edition of The Art of Asking, Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, Inc., © 2014.

 

Tweet: It’s “not about relying on the kindness of strangers, [but] relying on the kindness of your crowd.”
Tweet: Relationship = community = fanbase = platform.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: ,

What Should I Read Next?

A few days ago I got a message through my website that warmed the cockles of my cold little heart:

I’ve followed your blog for some time now and love what you have to say about the knowledge that comes from reading, and the application of such knowledge in writing. I was wondering if you could suggest a few book titles for me to read that are not only engaging, but also have applicable knowledge to be learned.

Oh, oh, oh, my friend—do I have suggestions? Um, yeah. And I’m so glad you picked up on my emphasis on the notion that reading will make you a better writer. I’m not the first person to say it, but I know it to be true from personal experience.

So, first, I’m going to start back at the blog. I’ve written a lot about very specific books, readers’ books. I recently initiated a series I call “Study This,” which is specifically about intentional reading. These are books in which some part of the craft is so exceptional I think an observant reader might learn something. So far the series includes:

The Children Act by Ian McEwan
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Sea by John Banville
The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I intend to write more in the Study This series. I have several books stacked on the corner of my desk, all of them bristling with Post-It Notes for a future article, but haven’t had time to write them up yet. Without further commentary, those titles are:

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
Us by David Nicholls
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

Also at the blog you can find the tag cloud (just to the right of this line) and click on reviews or recommended books, which will yield blog-length commentary about these titles, among others:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I even wrote a post called “What’s the Definition of a Great Book?” with a list that includes some of my all-time favorites.

But you, my reader friend, probably want to know what I’m loving and recommending right now. So here are four more that I’ve truly enjoyed:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Ben Fountain won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Set in the space of an afternoon and all from the perspective of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, it’s got gorgeous writing, sharp commentary, and is both funny and sad.

Smith Henderson, winner of the PEN Emerging Writers Award (among others), knows how to tell a story without one wasted word, not one wasted scene. Fourth of July Creek is a thing of beauty, for real.

The Spinning Heart was deservedly longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. Set in an Irish village just after the economic crisis hit in late 2008 the book is twenty-one short narratives by different characters affected by the collapse of a local building contractor’s firm. Oh, it’s just stunning, really.

And We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is thoughtful, heartbreaking, and (dare I say it?) unique. Interesting way of telling the story and a compelling voice, too, for students of the craft.

Thanks, Ellie, for asking this question. Hope you can find something to enjoy on this list! Let me know!

Tweet: You probably want to know what books I’m loving & recommending right now.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Short Saturday: Compare and Contrast

Three years ago I did a contrast-and-compare with middle grade fiction and young adult fiction. It was a really useful exercise for me.

Since that time, there’s a New Kid in Town. Actually—a New Adult. You’ve probably already heard about it, but wondered how to differentiate them. As with MG and YA, we look first at the age of the protagonist: 13 or younger for MG, 14 to 17 for YA, and now, according to this article, 18 to mid-twenties-ish for NA.

Author Ava Jae first enumerates what YA and NA have in common:

• Young characters
• Emphasis on voice
• Fast pace
• Edgy language
• Sex

I’m definintely in agreement with her commentary on voice. Honestly, friends, reading YA is a great introduction to the concept of voice if you ever find yourself struggling with it.

But we’re here for the compare/contrast. Jae does a good job of breaking down five concepts and showing how the two categories differ. I think you’ll find this very helpful.

Tweet: Here’s a compare/contrast between YA and NA.
Tweet: There’s a New Kid in Town. Actually—a New Adult.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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