Category Archives: books

good prose is like a windowpane

From George Orwell‘s essay “Why I Write”:

I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Orwell defines political purpose thusly – and it’s a great definition (emphasis mine, because boy how I used to argue that, usually to people who really didn’t care about the issue one way or another and concluded only that I was a little cray):

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Anyway, ever wonder what dictators read?

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love hurts

A very sweet post from Alex Berenson on a main character who’s been with him for years:

All of which is another way of saying that John Wells has markedly enriched my life — an impressive feat for a man who doesn’t exist. Sometimes I fear our relationship is as one-sided as “The Giving Tree.” I take from him ruthlessly. Over the years, I’ve destroyed his relationships with his son, his fiancée and now his new girlfriend. I’ve forced him to beat up innocent civilians, people he’s never even met before, because they’re in his way. I’ve made him accept that his superiors are using him for their political ends, and that he can’t stop them. I’ve shot him, tortured him, broken his bones. I’ve converted him to Islam, then stretched his faith in Allah to the vanishing point. Through it all, he perseveres, though sometimes I know he’s looking at me, Job-like: Why must you hurt me so? To which I can say only: It’s this or nothing. Besides, I get you through the worst of it.

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how i became a famous novelist

Actually, I didn’t.  But here’s a book review of How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely (review by Janet Maslin, NYT).  Judging by this, I will probably never be a famous novelist, but I’ve almost made my peace with that.

Here are some sample titles from Mr. Hely’s version of the New York Times best-seller list, which is mimicked with particular glee: “Cumin: The Spice That Changed the World,” “Indict to Unnerve,” “The Jane Austen Women’s Investigators Club” and “Sageknights of Darkhorn.” The list also includes a sci-fi novel with the following synopsis: “In a post-nuclear future inhabited by intelligent cockroaches, Lieutenant Cccyxx discovers there was once a race of sentient humans.”

At the risk of shamelessly cannibalizing Mr. Hely’s humor, here are a few more. Sample military adventure title: ‘Talon of the Warshrike.” Sample writerly process: the author of “Warshrike” explains that he got a plot idea while in Venice with his ex-wife; while on a night cruise he looked back at the city and thought, ‘What if somebody blew this place up?’” Finally and most lovably, there is this suspenseful moment from a brisk novel in which a president of the United States is warned about a national security crisis: “Sir, how much do you know about outer space?”

That novel of Pete’s is “The Tornado Ashes Club.” It involves a grandson who fulfills his grandmother’s wish to find a tornado into which she can throw the ashes of her long-lost lover, Luke, who appears in a young, handsome incarnation during the book’s picturesquely European World War II flashbacks. “Use words to describe old ladies that make them sound beautiful (graceful, regal, etc.),” Pete tells himself about pitching his story to a book-buying audience. He also concocts many other rules, like a dictum to dream up highway scenes “making driving seem poetic and magical” in order to tap into the audiobooks market. (Most audiobooks are listened to in cars.)

He crosses paths with a businessman who has been inspired by a self-help book called “Caesar, CEO: Business Secrets of the Ancient Romans” and thus refers to a rival company as Carthage; a drab, well-known literary figure who teaches a writing class (“For ease and accuracy I’ll call her SpaghettiHair HamsterFace,” Pete says) and an editor who makes sadly apt notes about Pete’s manuscript. “Does a dying deer really smell faintly of cinnamon?” she inquires. “You use the word sallow four times, and I’m not sure you ever use it right.”

birds of a feather

Stumbled upon this neat little interview between two of my favorite film-makers, Joel and Ethan Coen, and my favorite writer, Cormac McCarthy.  No idea McCarthy isn’t a fan of magical realism because “it’s hard enough to get people to believe what you’re telling them without making it impossible”.

I’m not sure he’s getting the point – at least as I understand it – of magical realism.  For me, magical realism (and a lot of spec fic in general) has always been about acknowledging the reality of the unexplained.  It creeps into so much (read: everything) of what I write because I feel like I’ve felt angker, or creeped out, by things that I can’t explain – especially when I lived in Indonesia.  Which is why I prefer the term speculative to fantasy – fantasy implies that it’s not real.

Still, it’s a cute little interview.

bella americana

I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to focus my writing these days.

I have one more short story in the works.  After that, I think I’ll be taking a hiatus from shorts and try to go back to that fantasy trilogy of mine.  The working title for the first book is God’s Country; The Devil’s Territory for the second; No Man’s Land for the third.  Look, a theme.  The whole trilogy’s working title is Hemispherica.  I’ve made a lot of revisions recently.  Basically, I took out all that epic-sounding stuff.  It doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m writing about America now.  I’m excited to start it up again.  One of the few things in my life that I’m excited about, I guess.  I’ve regained faith that it could be marketed somehow.  God bless speculative fiction.  God bless it for its flexibility.  People don’t give it enough credit.

All is going slowly, thanks to school.