Writer’s Desk: Put on the Clown Suit

Dave Eggers—who turned 48 last week—once gave a fantastic description of writing fiction:

It feels like driving a car in a clown suit. You’re going somewhere, but you’re in costume, and you’re not really fooling anybody. You’re the guy in costume, and everybody’s supposed to forget that and go along with you.

The best advice in such a situation feels like it has to be: Go with it. Suit up, fool everybody, and plow through until it feels feels absolutely normal.

Writer’s Desk: Write About Cats

This one should speak for itself. Per the Times:

The author of the short story “Cat Person,” which became a viral phenomenon after appearing in The New Yorker this month, has received a seven-figure book deal, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

A collection from Kristen Roupenian, whose debut story in The New Yorker became the magazine’s second most-read article of 2017 despite being published in the Dec. 11 issue, will be published by Scout Press in 2019.

Roupenian’s story hit just about every meme-worthy topic of the age: Cats, dating, creepy guys, social media, intellectual insecurity masked by blithe confidence. It’s all there.

This is what they call a teaching moment.

Writer’s Desk: Know Your Facts

lefthanddarknessUrsula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness) is one of our greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy. She’s one of only two living writers to have their work included in the Library of America; Philip Roth is the other.

Even though she’s renowned as a fabulist, though, Le Guin’s hackles went up when the troubling new political term of art “alternative facts” was compared to science fiction. Le Guin responded forcefully to the smearing of literature:

The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined — and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it ‘alternative history’ or ‘an alternate universe,’ but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are ‘alternative facts.’

This might be a decent lesson for writers in trying times. Remember that while fiction must be based in emotional and physical truth to be successful, it should never try to pass itself off as truth.

That’s not fiction. That’s propaganda.

Reader’s Corner: Michael Chabon’s ‘Moonglow’

moonglowMy review of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Moonglow, which is hitting stores tomorrow, is at PopMatters:

Chabon starts Moonglow in a great, glowing gush of reminiscence and incident. The narrator character that he has created for himself adheres to the broad outlines of his biography, though one who keeps himself surprisingly small in the background; no Philip Roth-ian excavations of the self to be found here. Instead, Chabon places himself at the bedside of his grandfather who is near death in the late-‘80s. This is just after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has come out, and Chabon is there to hear the tales of his grandfather’s life. They come pouring out in a rush, “Dilaudid was bringing its soft hammer to bear on his habit of silence”…

Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: ‘St. Louis Noir’

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For over ten years now, the good folks at Akashic Books have been publishing a fantastic series of city-centric collections of noir fiction that cover dozens of locales, everywhere from Baltimore to Beirut.

This month sees the publication of their newest volume, St. Louis Noir. Edited by the inestimable Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest), it’s a crackerjack anthology of stories that cover the dark and seedy underbelly of the Gateway City.

There are some fantastic new pieces by Phillips, John Lutz, and Laura Benedict.

My short story “The Pillbox” is also included.

Buy it now wherever noir is sold, like here, here, or here.

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Writer’s Desk: The Point of Fiction?

Defining the difference between fiction and nonfiction gets overly reductive fast. The former as entertainment and the latter as information.

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series of novels about a former military policeman who wanders from town to town dispensing rough justice, breaks it down in terms of early human history:

Fiction evolved for a purpose. Warnings and cautionary tales could be sourced from the grim nonfiction world. A sabre-toothed tiger will kill you. O.K., got it. Fiction pushed the pendulum the other way. It inspired, and empowered, and emboldened. It said, No, actually, there was a guy, a friend of a friend, who came face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, a huge one, and he turned and outran it, all the way back to the cave, safe as can be. So don’t panic. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Then, perhaps a hundred generations later, the story evolved, and the friend of the friend killed the tiger. The action hero was born. Strength and courage would save us. And it worked. Fiction in its various forms proved just as powerful to our survival as any other factor.

So remember that when you’re putting a final polish on your dyslexic detective novel or zombie romance trilogy, you’re not just helping people to kill time, you’re helping out the species.

Weekend Reading: November 6, 2015

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