I can’t agree more with this post by POD-dy Mouth. Here’s the key paragraph:
But my very best advice is to write whatever you like most. Don’t write chick lit because you think it will sell (especially since the market is in a downturn) or thrillers because you are a man. If it feels good, write it.
I only recently discovered Duotrope, but I’m already addicted. It is what Writer’s Market should have been but wasn’t and isn’t (not even close). The people who run Duotrope are trying hard to keep it free by asking for donations to run the site. Sadly, many more take advantage than pitch in:
So far this year, 10.12% of our registered users and subscribers have donated. The average donation has been $12.42. (Updated daily.)
One out of ten people is willing to shell out about a dollar per month to support a site that gives comprehensive literary market information? That’s ridiculous.
If you haven’t heard of Duotrope please do go try it out. You’ll find markets you didn’t know existed (I love that you can organize search results based on payscale). And throw them a bone. What’s five bucks? Give it to them.
I recently received a rejection from a entertainment company, a big one, regarding a writing program they operate. I know what you’re thinking, “You! REJECTED!!??!!” I know. Sit down, breathe deep. You’ll get over it soon.
What gets to me about this rejection letter, and it is not the first I’ve received that is like this, is that it is poorly written. It makes the following statement:
“Unfortunately, because we received so many wonderful entries we are not able to accept you into our program. This is not a comment upon your writing, but is a reflection of the popularity of our program.”
A few thoughts.
How is the number of entries connected to whether or not I got in? If you don’t like my writing you don’t like my writing. Do they really want me to believe that if a few less people had applied I would have made it? Do they take hacks into the program if not enough good writing shows up?
Better yet, how is “the popularity of the program” supposed to make me feel better?
Finally, this is a REJECTION. Of course it is a comment on the quality of my writing. THAT’S WHAT A REJECTION IS.
Rejections like this burn me, and not because they are rejections (rejections, in and of themselves, depress me). They burn because they are trying so hard to not hurt the writer’s feelings, and in doing so they pat themselves on the back. You want to turn me down, fine. But don’t do it by blowing your own horn. A simple, “Thanks, but no thanks” would do it.
I don’t sound bitter, do I?
The New York Times takes Michael Crichton to the woodshed for basing a child-rapist who makes a two-page appearance in his new novel, NEXT, on a writer who was critical of his previous novel about global warming:
““Next,” Michael Crichton’s new novel about the perils of biotechnology, has not proved as polarizing as his previous thriller, “State of Fear,” which dismisses global warming. But one of the new book’s minor characters — Mick Crowley, a Washington political columnist who rapes a baby — may be a literary dagger aimed at Michael Crowley, a Washington political reporter who wrote an unflattering article about Mr. Crichton this year.”
The article doesn’t condemn Mr. Crichton too harshly. It actually paints him as more of a sad figure lashing out at a critic like a bully sulking after a grown-up reprimands him. I don’t care if Mr. Crichton did base the literary Crowley on the literal Crowley (in fact, I think he did). I do like the reference by the article’s end to the “small penis rule:”
“Mr. Crowley contends that Mr. Crichton has tried to escape public censure for his literary attack by hiding behind what has become known as “the small penis rule.”
The rule, Mr. Crowley writes, is described in a 1998 article in The New York Times in which the libel lawyer Leon Friedman said it is a trick used by authors who have defamed someone to discourage lawsuits. “No male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis — that’s me!’ ” Mr. Friedman explained.”
I would think that the “small penis rule” (or SPR) would only really be used in cases where the author is trying to be subtle about his literary swipe at an enemy. I don’t see that here, the names and details are too similar to think that Mr. Crichton is doing anything buy giving Mr. Crowley a huge middle digit salute.
But, I do think that the Times missed a larger picture. This is nothing new. Authors have been placing their enemies, large and small, in their writing since cave painting. In fact, that was the origin or the SPR, when one cave-man depicted another hunter in less than flattering terms causing quite a spat which led to a great deal of mud-slinging (and I do mean actual mud). Shakespeare used to do it. So did Shakespeare’s contemporaries. And one of the masters was Dante who put all of his family’s enemies in the various levels of Hell, suffering for all the “wrongs” they did against his family (such as real estate deals gone wrong and perjury).
Laura Lippman, author of “To the Power of Three” and “No Good Deeds”, has a nice article on getting published up on her website, here. It seems like a very good place to start, especially rule #1: Finish the damn book. I would add a sub rule, however.
“Rule #1(a): write what you like.”
All too often on the message boards that I frequent I see someone post something which contains one of the following:
“I write fiction which is like (genre A) mixed with (genre B), but don’t know what to call it.”
“What genre would you consider a work which includes this, that and the other?”
“How old a reader would a Young Adult novel be for?”
or, “I can’t decide whether or not my book is an X with Y elements, or an Y with X elements… what do you think I should do?”
I’m always amazed by the needs of people to apply labels to themselves and their writing. John Gardner’s approach was the one I follow: don’t “write what you know, write what you like.” We write, he said, to find out what we know. In order to do that you need to start with something that you love, that you would read if you hadn’t written it. To try and label yourself is to cut yourself off from options you may be interested in pursuing. If Kafka had decided that he was a mystery writer, not just a writer, would we have “The Metamorphasis”? Could Crichton have written a book about dinosaurs AND a book about sexual harrassmet AND a book about Japanese business practices if he had decided he was a “scientific procedural” writer?
Don’t worry about labels, worry about your story. And most important, give yourself the latitude to follow your writing when it takes you down unexpected paths.
The New York Times has an article today about the authorial defense of McEwan in the British plagiarism case. It echoes some of the statements I’ve made in previous posts (see below), namely that it is a novelists practice, and should be understood as such, to take fact and actual happening and blend it into something that isn’t and never could be. The expectation that something is made entirely from whole clothe is naive and ludicrous. Without a researched background (and I would count almost all background reading and writing exercises as part of ‘research’) every novelist’s work would seem thin and disingenous. The tradition of reading and repeating what came before has led to every book worthy of reading. The first written works are themselves the repeating of oral traditions. To point out a novelist’s use of another written work is part of a writing class, not a courtroom evidence procedure. Unless McEwan has lifted entire passages, lines of description and/or dialogue, how has he done anything different than what any novelist worth their salt has done?
The New York Times has an interesting article regarding bibliographies appearing in works of fiction: Loved His New Novel, and What a Bibliography By Julie Bosman.
This article asks after the validity of a bibliography in a work of fiction. Regarding Norman Mailer’s 100+ sources cited in his newest work, “Never mind asking how “Anna Karenina” and “Paradise Lost” could have influenced “The Castle in the Forest,” a fictionalized account of Hitler’s boyhood to be released next month. What’s a bibliography doing in a novel?”
I find myself identifying with James Wood, the literary critic for The New Republic who is quoted in the article. ‘”We expect authors to do that work, and I don’t see why we should praise them for that work. And I don’t see why they should praise themselves for it.”’ I also immediately thought of Pynchon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one would have to be naive to think that Pynchon (a man who takes a decade writing a novel) wasn’t doing massive amounts of research: “…Thomas Pynchon, most recently in “Against the Day,” put extensive historical research into their novels without citing sources or explaining methods.” To me, this is what novelists do. They take information in, and process it into something new and non-actual (not non-factual). It’s not that what a novelist writes about didn’t actually happen, or that it’s not true; very often novels are historically based and are “true.” What’s important is that they are not meant to be taken as proof. They are true in an emotional, if not historical sense. A bibliography seems like a way of trying to shore up your evidence so people will take what you read as honest to God fact.
Another take on the reason behind the bib: But some novelists defend the bibliography, pointing out that for writers who spend months or years doing research for historical novels, a list of sources is proof of labor and expertise. And it may protect them from accusations of sloppy sourcing in a climate fueled by lawsuits and plagiarism charges. (In his 2005 novel “Saturday,” Ian McEwan, who was accused last week of misappropriating material in his earlier novel “Atonement” from another author’s autobiography, lavishly thanked a London surgeon he observed for two years while researching his book.) This is where Pynchon’s letter to the courts comes in (see my post below).
And it seems that there are all sorts of reasons for doing it. There’s Vollmann: “But now, Mr. Vollmann says, he does it as a service to readers. “I think it’s nice for a reader to have the information available,” he said. “Let’s say somebody gets interested in a character, or is disbelieving of something I had a character do. He can look in the back of the book.”’ Again, I’m not sure I agree with this thinking. As he said, they are “characters,” not the actual person. How does knowing that the real James Wilkes Booth once pulled a ‘dine-and-ditch’ at a Philadelphia diner enhance my scene showing him do it?
In the end I guess I feel like it’s a personal choice, but I can’t imagine bothering putting a list of the books I’ve read while working on a novel and expecting that it would enhance the reader’s enjoyment, understanding, or appreciation; and I certainly don’t think that it would be proof of concept or an inoculation against a lawsuit.
What does your drawing say about YOU?
According to this site my drawing (see above, and let me know if you’d like a framed copy for $49.95) says the following about me:
Your friends and associates should generally find you a dependable and trustworthy person.
You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
You like following the rules and being objective. You are precise and meticulous, and like to evaluate decisions before making them.
You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.
Sunny and cheerful… I’ll give them sunny and cheerful, once I finish writing about rainbows and puppies.
I’m apparently Pynchon fixated at the moment.
The New York Times has a tiny piece describing the hidden author’s attempts to aid Ian McEwan who is being sued for plagarism (his book “Atonement” apparently bears some striking resemblances to a 1977 memoir.
Mr Pynchon’s letter to the court on Mr. McEwan’s behalf: “For Mr. McEwan to have put details from one of them to further creative use,” the letter, which was posted on The Telegraph’s Web site, says, “acknowledging this openly and often, and then explaining it clearly and honorably, surely merits not our scolding, but our gratitude.”
This goes, I think, hand in hand with another recent NYTimes article about bibliographies in fiction (more on that later) and I’m not really suprised that a writer like Mr. Pynchon would be interested in defending another writer’s research and use, given his obviously massive research and use of historical fact (even when pushed to unhistorical territory).
Salon, from years back, has a nice article about “finding Pynchon,” the persistent recluse. It unearths how easy it is to unearth Pynchon, and it reveals how the revelation dispells some of the magic. Intentional or not, Pynchon’s eluding the media these many years incorporates the mystique of his writing. It is the actual cover of the book. I’d not want to remove it any more than I’d want to tear the first five chapters out of his books.
Let him have his peace, let me have my mystery.