One of the clearest markers of bad writing is, in my opinion, the unexamined cliché. Think hard about every single word and phrase you use. Don’t write "her heart stopped" unless you mean she died. Don’t talk about saucy serving wenches in an inn where the beef stew is thick and hearty and the ale is fresh, nutty, and strong…unless you intend to use such a cliche to good effect, to twist it upon itself and the reader for a purpose. (Why aren’t "serving wenches" ever tired, middle-aged women? Why, in worlds with no refrigeration, is the meat never spoilt–or intensely flavored with spices to prevent/slow down said spoilage? Why is the beer rarely yellow, or thin, or cloudy with sediment? Why do barbarians always "come down from the north"? Why do people who fall over the edge of cliffs always "scrabble for purchase?") Stereotypes such as sly Arabs, money-lending Jews, feisty old women, dignified and wise kings, comic-relief peasants, green-eyed and raven- tressed heroines with "mouths just a bit too wide for beauty" and pert noses are signs of lazy writing and/or a failure of imagination. Many clichés are "self-evident truths": women are weaker than men; Americans are superior to Africans; humans are more innovative than aliens; women-only worlds would be boring, homogeneous places where the inhabitants sit around all day and think about men; capitalism is fabulous; all cultures appreciate art; genius is more valuable than compassion; straight men are more butch than gay men; Christians are more reasonable than Moslems; war is inevitable. The list is endless (or at least very, very long). All writers commit cliché to some extent, but the better you are, the less often you’ll do it. Clichés undermine fiction; they’re like rust on the cables suspending the reader’s disbelief. One is a little unsightly, but many mean that disbelief will come crashing down, your books or story will be tossed aside, and you will have lost a reader forever.
- First, I put up a review of the Fairy Tale Review’s blue issue over the weekend (or um, it’s right below this post); read and buy, my friends. I’d also love to hear from anyone else who’s read it.
- When being wrong feels so good, who wants to be right? Ed: it’s okay. Who knows where those books would have ended up if not for you? You rescued them. Dude, you are fiction’s hero.
- Max over at The Millions has seen J.T. Leroy and still isn’t sure whether he’s a real person. That takes skill.
- The Donald Maas Agency’s Jennifer Jackson on "The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Literary Agent" at Romancing the Blog. (Doesn’t she have a great photo?)
- The new Chizine is live, featuring the winners of its annual short story contest, which was judged by Hannah Wolf Bowen, Kelly Link and Elizabeth Bear. Early word is good.
- Losing sleep is bad.
- Le Cineclub on Dandelion, in which Lauren and Emma sort of disagree and two peonies are awarded.
- Da Vinci and the science behind Earthshine.
- Jeannette Winterson on touring.
- Meghan McCarron, moody and wise beyond her years.
- Poems to read while drinking whisky, supposedly. But who reads poetry when they’re drinking a good whisky?
The first or "blue" issue of the Fairy Tale Review is a promise made good. It hardly seemed possible glancing through the announced table of contents that it could deliver, bold as it was with the names of some of my favorite writers: Stacey Richter, Kim Addonizio, Aimee Bender, Donna Tartt. Not to mention that all the contributions in titles or other familiar names had the air of fabulousness about them. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about a lot of new literary magazines and journals and even when they manage to deliver, it’s rarely in full.
The Fairy Tale Review, on the other hand, is a joy of constant surprise throughout. I’ve read it clean through today (after getting it in the mail yesterday) and I can’t remember the last time I honestly liked every piece in a magazine and loved more than one. And while the issue itself feels unified, the individual pieces are very different, some radically so, and it’s a wonder that nothing here feels out of place or even weighs down the whole. Kate Bernheimer is an editor queen.
The posts are flying fast and furious over at the LBC as the boys discuss Lance Olsen’s 10:01. Here’s the first in the series by World Fantasy Award nominee Matt Cheney. Like Matt, I was heavily reminded of Geoff Ryman’s far better 253 (which I urge you to read as soon as you finish all those posts):
What this book reminded me of again and again, and to its detriment, was Geoff Ryman’s 253, which started out as hypertext and eventually was published. 253 can be both (or alternately) tedious and addictive, but I generally feel that the writing is better than in 10:01, perhaps because it is less intent on creating various voices, a technique I find cloying unless the writer is a particular sort of ventriloquistic genius. Comparing the two works is unfair on the whole, though, because they are quite different, but that’s one of the dangers that comes with writing a book primarily driven by its structural concept — it begins to look a lot like other books primarily driven by their structural concepts.
Next week’s discussion is of Kirby Gann’s Napoleon in Rags and I’ll be participating in that one (because it was my favorite). That’s probably it for this fine, blustery Friday. Good weekends all round.
Don’t you just love it when your sister tells funny stories about almost killing you when you were kids? Especially if you just won a Nobel prize? The AP picks up a localized story from Paducah:
"We made mud pies, and I remember one time I almost killed him," she said. "We were playing in a sandbox and he made me eat some sand. So I then made him eat it, and he almost choked."
Berry didn’t detect anything special about her brother, Robert Grubbs, or have any hint that he’d win a Nobel Prize.
But, Grubbs did just that. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry to Grubbs and two others for their development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.
*Grubbs was born in the Howard’s Grove community of Marshall County, which he described as part of the Gilbertsville-Calvert City-Possum Trot triangle.
Anne at the Vertical blog is back with a fabulous new edition of the Finger In The Throat (FITT) report, this time tearing into Marlon Brando’s posthumous novel Fan Tan (written with the help of Donald Cammell). It hurts so good:
Then, there’s the way Asian men look, very important, of course:
"In many Chinese faces there was a frightening cast to the skull. To Annie, the fashion in which the eyeballs nestled in their slots (just say it Brando, say "slits"!!!), protected by bone, suggested the priorities of survival and the inevitability of violence." (Later today on Judge Judy: "Your Honor, I killed him because I gots me these small little eyes stuck in the deep in my head-slots! It’s a natural priority!")
And because this makes me laugh even harder:
Well, if it weren’t enough that Chinese men have no smiling flex points in their facial skin, a lot of them are also dwarves:
"The coolie pointed out how large and heavy Annie was, and Annie kept agreeing, asking if the rickshaw man had ever offered a rebate to a small person – a dwarf, say, of which there have always been many in China."
Read the rest. Guarantee you’ll get the "high" points of Fan Tan.
From the NYT story on the recreation of the Great Influenza pandemic strain:
But Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, chief of the molecular pathology department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, had an idea for finding that ancient virus. He recalled that his institute had a warehouse of autopsy tissue, established by President Lincoln.
Dr. Taubenberger investigated and found tissue from two soldiers who died of the 1918 flu, one in Massachusetts, one on Long Island. The tissue was snips of lung soaked in formalin and encased in little blocks of wax. In that tissue was the virus, broken and degraded, but there, untouched for nearly 80 years.
This just in: Lincoln planned to raise army of zombies.
- So, re: spiders. Kristin is living what I would generously call my own personal third circle of hell.
- Everybody loves the 1918 flu virus. (Are we really still calling this the "Spanish flu"? Why not the "Kansas flu"? Can’t we all just stick with the Great Influenza? If you were a strain, wouldn’t you want to be the Great one?)
- Jeff has the latest on the new snake-handling for kids: swallowing goldfish for Jesus. (Who always was a bit of a drinker and party trickster.)
- Bookgasm finds a lot to like in the new McSweeney’s YA anthology with the really long name. (I’m looking forward to this one.)
- Julian Rubinstein guest blogs at TEV. Ask him about Hungarian criminal geniuses.
- Mattia Valente rounds up the three new shows that want to be Lost. (I personally find Threshold watchable because of Peter Dinklage and the sheer B-movie unbelievability of it. Haven’t seen the others. Haven’t seen much of Threshold–but I love it when a black helicopter swoops in to pick up a girl.)
Sorry for the sparse content; busy, tired, distracted, all of the above. Last night was the first night in a couple of weeks I’ve been too tired to do any work on the book at all. The not working is its own punishment, as always.
- The Old Hag interviewed in her capacity as Empress of Girl’s Life on a beigey web site. (I posted her calll for submissions awhile back; more information about what GL is looking for in the interview.) (And I’m buying Ms. Skurnick’s poetry chapbook as soon as the wallet recovers from the Car Bill of Doom.) Oh, and she’s running a contest. (Interview link via Cynsations.)
- Toni with an excellent long post about writing and publishing (read it!). Hard work and "luuuuuuuuuuuuuuvvvvvvvvvvvve" are the watchwords.
- Jenny D recommends the most excellent sounding The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine by Paul Collins. Sez she: "… lots of skeletons and weird medical-history facts, aside from its other charms." I’m in.
- Mely at Coffee and Ink adds cooking to her polymath list — a long, charming, envy-making post (me + kitchen + cooking = emergency room visit) about her first three months learning to cook.
- New Mary Roach book. (If someone sent me a copy, I’d be very, very happy… Just saying.)