writing

Thoughts from F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzWhen the initial sales of his mediocre book The Great Gatsby failed to meet expectations, Fitzgerald expressed his disappointment in a letter to his editor, Max Perkins. In the letter, he decried the trend at the time of honoring the so-called “American peasant.” Wrote Fitzgerald:

Some day they’ll eat grass, by God! This thing, both the effort and the result have hardened me and I think now that I’m much better than any of the young Americans without exception.

Do you notice the barely-concealed contempt for grassy cuisine? He went on, however, to declare that:

There’s no point in being an artist if you can’t do your best.

I can’t disagree there, although, on the whole, I dare say I give better advice to young artists. For example, I was the first to utter the now-ubiquitous commonplace, never wipe your hindquarters with bark. That was me.

For that little gem and innumerable others, follow me on the Tweeter at @City_Sasquatch

(Notes on F. Scott from the laudable biography by Andrew Turnbull)

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Iowa, Frank Conroy, and the Secret to Writing Fiction

Like all good mythological beasts, I have a ghostwriter. Although that is his official title, I noticed some time ago that he lacks very many ghostly qualities. In fact, he smells faintly of cheeseburgers, despite the fact that apparitions, as far as I can tell, maintain strictly herbivorous diets.

At any rate, my ghostwriter (in the flesh or otherwise) recommends an essay anthology called MFA vs. NYC, edited by N+1 founder Chad Harbach. The book investigates the premise that today’s literary world has become distinctly bilateral, one hemisphere being the academic and the other being the urban landscape of the Big Apple.

In an essay titled “The Pyramid Scheme,” former MFA’er and Frank Conroy student Eric Bennett provides a healthy criticism of the oldest and most venerable of creative writing programs, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Of Conroy, Bennett claims that he hated “the ‘cute stuff'” and advocated a metaphorical view of the short story that could be described thusly:

[Conroy] wanted literary craft to be a pyramid. He drew a pyramid on the blackboard and divided it with horizontal lines. The long stratum at the base was grammar and syntax, which he called ‘Meaning, Sense, Clarity.’ The next layer, shorter and higher, comprised the senses that prose evoked: what you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and saw. Then came character, then metaphor… I can’t remember the pyramid exactly, and maybe Conroy changed it every time. What I remember for sure is that everything above metaphor Conroy referred to as ‘the fancy stuff.’ At the top was symbolism, the fanciest of all. You worked from the broad and basic to the rarified and abstract.

Fascinating. I think I understand. Let me see if I can reproduce this famous author’s proposed diagram. Shouldn’t be too difficult. I am a visual learner, after all. Is this what he meant?

conroys pyramid

My ghostwriter is nodding. It seems I’ve grasped Conroy’s secrets quite quickly.

If you or your colleagues hail from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and would like to recruit me for an open-ended teaching contract, you may email me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net or twit me @City_Sasquatch.

Hate or Love Twitter, It Found Me Joy Williams

joy williams barn oklahoma

In “When An Internet Skeptic Takes to Twitter,” Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies, decries the flittersphere in no uncertain terms. Denigrating the “toddler-talk sound of the word” Twitter, Birkerts goes on to call the popular site an “unceasing purposeless chatter-stream” and a “mad bazaar of self-promotion…”

I agree. How hard it is to keep one’s head on straight in these heady days of our budding information age! Alas!

Shortly afterward, on Twitter, I came across a link to a Vice News interview with acclaimed short story writer and veritable luddite Joy Williams, known by many as an early darling of both Gordon Lish and George Plimpton during the early days of her career in the 1970’s. According to interviewer (and member of the Big Apple literati himself) Lincoln Michel, Williams commenced to schedule their talk by sending him a postcard from Oklahoma with a picture of a barn on it and her phone number on the back. She then mailed him a hard copy of her answers to his questions.

I recommend perusing the interview in its entirety. Among other things, Williams declares:

I used to rather like the word “empathy.” Now I feel it’s not nearly strong enough. Nor is sympathy hard enough. We need a radical shift in consciousness, a more generous conception of the whole, which is far more inclusive than we prefer to believe.

And just one of her rules for writing effective short stories:

8) A certain coldness is required in execution. It is not a form that gives itself to consolation but if consolation is offered it should come from an unexpected quarter.

Try to find a ruby with that kind of shine inside the Twitter mine, why don’t you?

Interview of the Week: Becky Tuch of The Review Review

man at desk by pedro ribeiro simoes

This article of the week comes from my ghostwriter. How thoughtful of him to interview the founder of one of my favorite literary resources on the global interweb net, The Review Review, that most effective tool for researching literary magazines.

The innovative and delightful editress Mlle. Becky Tuch opens up about motherhood, her short story collection (and novel!), and the ongoing evolution of The Review Review in an interview for The Rumpus. Don’t miss it. Be a dear and leave a comment at the bottom, or tweet your reactions to @City_Sasquatch. I will be sure to pass them on to the author.

Find a list of my ghostwriter’s other publications on the About page at the top of your screen, and be sure to keep abreast of his weekly Song of the Day column for The Rumpus. I promise I’ll get around to it, as soon as I open this fan mail.

Advice On Advice, For Writers

book in handThe internet is a big place. A veritably infinite gamut of information gamely surfs the invisible waves of the digital sea. But there’s one type of information that, in my humble opinion, the web still lacks: that of unsolicited advice.

That’s where I come in. Aren’t you glad you’re reading this?

In response to some well-intentioned submission strategies for the working literati over at The Writer’s Circle, I propose to you, my earnest idolaters, this unsolicited bit of counsel: write either with a pen, a pencil, or at a keyboard. This approach should solve most quandaries quite directly. However, contrary to the Circle’s second rule of submitting, I see no reason why you should read your work over. You’ve just written it. Why read it again?

If you do insist on reading the piece you’ve just produced, then allow me to suggest a heuristic which you might find helpful. Have you been writing with your eyes closed? Open them. I think you’ll be surprised at what you’ll see.

If that glittering emerald of advice doesn’t tide you over, there’s always this brisk run-down of helpful ways to think about your writing, thanks to the enchanting editors at The Review Review.

 

Fight For Your Work

TypewriterToday on English Kills Review, Melissa Duclos tries to find an appropriate metaphor to describe her lost hope for her unpublished manuscript. She considers birth, death, and relationship metaphors. “I had a ten-year relationship with a book, but it didn’t work out,” she writes.

Yes, all good similes, but how about the PHOENIX? WHICH RISES FROM THE ASHES, REBORN, AFTER COMPLETE DESTRUCTION…

I apologize. I got carried away there.

At any rate, we modern writers need encouragement. The publishing landscape and the distracted readership that awaits us on the other side of the gilded portal whose plaque reads “Beware, All Ye Who Receive A Book Deal” have changed significantly since the era of our long-gone literary heroes.

I remember when I was a little cub, scrawling haikus on driftwood bark near the shores of Ozette Lake. To me, those poems represented the height of hubris. But now, dear reader, I have moved up in the world. I scribble chapters of my novel on toilette paper and glue them on my ghostwriter’s bathroom mirror. I don Ray-Ban Clubmasters as a disguise and wait for an agent like Daniel Lazar to leave the gym so I can sniff the seat of his stationary bike. All in the name of art!

But do not despair. One day, our neglected masterpieces will finally be exposed to the world. Hope springs eternal, like the sulferous gases of Old Faithful, the blowhole that made my old stomping grounds famous.

I will keep writing, just like that blowhole, and I hope you do too.

If this entry was encouraging to you, let me know. Or offer your own account of your travails – chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

 

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Chet’s Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa List

SantaBigfoot

Although I abstain from subscribing to one holiday over any other (I espouse multi-denominational inclusiveness in order to boost sales of my forthcoming memoir, Beautiful On The Outside), that is no reason I should be left out of the merry-making, is it? Do a good deed this holiday season and gift a sasquatch. My Most Wanted List proceeds as follows:

  • A typewriter, so that everyone can hear me when I create perfect sentences like this one
  • Homer’s Iliad, because I am basically the spitting image of Odysseus
  • New Vans size 27
  • An E-reader, so I can ask him or her how in the world 50 Shades of Gray ever became popular
  • Book contract
  • Sequel to first book contract
  • A Santa costume so I can scare – pardon me, entertain – people at the Union Square holiday market
  • Camoflage reading lamp
  • Ointment for my ghostwriter as I seem to be giving him hives
  • 472 lbs of bbq ribs
  • General adulation

Gift certificates and declarations of adulation may be forwarded to chetsasquatch@humanoid.net