A wonderfully conversational story by David Gates in the Fall 2014 issue of The Paris Review has me thinking about the many manifestations of effective dialogue in fiction. Gates’ piece, “Locals,” is written in the voice of a general contractor living in a small “hill town” in Western Massachusetts. The vocabulary and cadences of speech are a strength of the story. For example, here is Johnny, one of the narrator’s employees, ordering food at a bar (Johnny has been flirting with a female server, who is suddenly replaced by a less amiable woman):
“‘What happened to your friend?’ Johnny said.
‘She went on break. What can I get you?’
‘Cheeseburger well,’ I said. ‘With fries? And a cup of clam chowder.'”
Heed the idiosyncratic words of the narrator. He inflects a statement as though it were a question. I have heard this described in various circles as ‘uptalking,’ a speech pattern that imbues the simplest declarations with a charming indecision.
As a working (ahem) writer, I must take a page from David Gates and attempt to write more realistic dialogue. This becomes all the more important, now that my memoir, Beautiful On The Outside, enters its 32nd (self-imposed) revision. I’m sure my hypothetical editor (Lorin Stein, cough cough) will appreciate it when all is said and done.
You will probably be impressed to learn that I visit the public library at least three times a day. The main reason I do this is because I am at least three times as well-read as your average human being. Another reason derives from an essential tenet of every successful writer’s “platform” – community engagement. By now I am on a first name basis with the reference librarian, Fran, who used to scream and faint when I entered the room. Now she only whimpers softly and begins to sweat. We are friends, Fran and I.
Besides the obvious, there is plenty to do in the library, our most beloved of cultural institutions. I enjoy walking the halls with paws clasped behind my back, staring meaningfully into the eyes of anyone who passes. I also like to harumph and stroke my beard whiskers. But my most cherished activity there is to open new books. So imagine my glee at the discovery of the 2015 edition of the Writer’s Market.
What a useful tome! Within lies a veritable treasure trove of useful data: a list of literary journals and agents, including contact information and submission guidelines; articles by known authorities on a variety of relevant topics; even sample cover letters and manuscript formatting information. By and large a wildly practical book, and one which will surely improve my chances of finding a publisher for my memoir, Beautiful On The Outside.
If you are a literary agent, an editor, or Lorin Stein, and you do not have the fortune of being listed in this year’s Writer’s Market, please contact me directly at email@example.com
I frequently peruse a lovely online meta-journal called The Review Review. While eating bark salad. During Finding Bigfoot commercial breaks. As I self-groom. And so on. The Review Review’s (@TheReviewReview) critiques of art journals are indispensable for literati of both the homo sapiens and monsterly varieties. I’m still stroking my cheek whiskers over Susan Pohlman’s recent publishing tip, in which she recommends travel as an antidote to writer’s block and mental defeatism (“I’m too beautiful to succeed in this city,” etc). She declares:
To develop as writers and human beings we must leave our safe havens and challenge ourselves by heading into the world and experiencing diverse cultures and landscapes firsthand.
Too, true! And so I submit to you, precious reader, my list of travel destinations to spark your own creative genius. Visit one of these magnificent places the next time you’ve got the traveling itch:
Grainy, black-and-white mountain ranges
An undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest
Lorin Stein’s office while he’s not there (I haven’t asked him if this is ok, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind)