Saturday, February 26, 2011

Morrison = Shakespeare

Toni Morrison

While simultaneously reading, for the classes I teach, Toni Morrison's Sula (first read 30 years ago) and Beloved (new to me), I found that my brain was being exercised with labor and joy in much the same manner it is when reading Shakespeare, and so I thought, "Toni Morrison is as good as Shakespeare." There is just so much—too much—going on at any one time in a sentence or chapter of her work, much as one feels when reading Shakespeare. Pace Eliot, time past and time future are contained in time present, so that each moment of the book sends you hurtling back while you know you're being thrown forward toward events that will hearken back to the page on which you find yourself. This is greatness.

Jasper Fforde

In other news, I finished Something Rotten and hereby pronounce it eminently enjoyable. It's the fourth in the Thursday Next series, but the first I've read. For someone with more time and who reads more quickly, I suggest beginning at the beginning (with The Eyre Affair). The volume I read is full of inventiveness, fun storytelling, and a host of references only appreciated by the at-least-moderately-well-read.


I've got 11,000 words, many of which will be tossed utterly or simply replaced or perhaps shuffled. Still, several thousand words are required to fill some narrative gaps, but I'm happy to report that I know what goes in the gaps, which makes for a welcome change. Most likely, a great winnowing will occur to make the whole thing tighter at some later date.


Still awaiting reviews. Though a prequel, it's quite different—in voice, plot, structure and themes . . . and arguably in genre— from the story it's meant to proceed, so I expect different responses.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Point of view; Fforde; Jay-Z


During this week off from school, I hope to finish a first draft of "Unearthed." Yesterday, I felt my head bumping against a low narrative ceiling as I described an interaction in one scene, and I realized I was running into a problem with my old nemesis "point of view." Since my most recent work has been told by first-person narrators, I haven't had to give any thought, in my own work, to anonymous (or "third-person") narration. I talk about it all the time in class, but point of view was a hurdle for me some years ago, and I was surprised, yesterday, to see that it still could give me trouble.

My problem is a stylistic one, a tendency rather than, strictly speaking, an error. My anonymous narrators focus on one person to anchor the point of view, but as a consequence, I get locked into that character's perspective and have trouble—in cinematic terms—hauling the camera back for a longer shot. I get too tightly bound to the protagonist's perspective. This morning I figured I'd either read a bit of someone who uses a more objective narrative voice or pull out John Gardner's The Art of Fiction to help me think through my problem.

All it took, it seems, was a glance at the Gardner, who talks about how "third-person subjective" narration has become (from his perspective in the early 1980s) a default voice for writers. What he describes isn't exactly what I do, as he demonstrates a narrative voice that, while anonymous, uses the language and interior monologues of one character to anchor the tale. My authorial voice is more distant than that. However, I rely on the senses of one character to hold a scene steady. This gives me the difficulty I ran into yesterday, of not allowing a character to see something that's happening in the room with her because she happens to look away. Again, this isn't wrong, and I don't want to, in a short story (and certainly not in these "Old Man" stories), move to what Gardner calls the "authorial-omniscient," in which I delve into the thoughts of various characters; however, I need to loosen up my narrative and—again thinking cinematically—let the camera move about more. I need to step outside my protagonist so people can see her more clearly, which requires, from me, an effort of will.


Jasper Fforde's Something Rotten is tremendously smart and funny. The fourth novel in the Thursday Next (that's a character's name) series, of which this is the first I've read, the story takes place in an England not entirely like ours, a place where the fantastic and mundane get muddled together in a particularly understated yet comic English way. Thursday is a literary detective, a rather famous one, due to the events in the previous novels, who can intervene in fictions to make sure their characters behave; her husband was removed from the present timeline by an evil corporation, and her father, too, is somewhat of a temporal uncertainty. (Her mother thinks he might not have existed.) This novel concerns Thursday's efforts to a) thwart a dictatorial takeover of England by a fictional character, b) restore her husband to life and c) find some good childcare. Fforde does a great job getting the reader up to speed in this odd world while moving forward his clever and entertaining plot.

In shorter packets of time, I'm reading Jay-Z's autobiography, Decoded. The writer is smart and insightful, and he provides footnotes to help unpack his lyrics. He takes the craft of writing seriously. I also admire the book's design, interspersing images and text, and I'm wondering whether (in a later paperback edition) I might want to assign the book to 11th-graders.

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Asimov's has arrived

WAY before it hits the newsstands, the issue has arrived in my mailbox. There seems to be a pattern: my name is on the cover on alternating appearances (my first and third stories to run there). Ah well. Too many names to fit on this big double issue anyway.

Find it in your bookstore on March 1.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More fun things

My interview at The Book Cave podcast is available here. I have little memory of recording this, as I was going on several nights of too little sleep in the midst of many days of grades and comments.

The online image for the current issue of If, the Russian science fiction magazine, is here. I have no idea what they mean in their reference to the Old Man's "Russian namesake" (or, as my student from Ukraine termed it, his "counterpart"). What did I stumble into in this story? I suppose I could send a note to the editor and get back to y'all.

Finished Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone. Marvelous story, marvelously told; I'd certainly read more by him. I have no idea what was going on with the "Fist of Gods"—apparently some kind of old Ozark-y religion . . . ? I recall from Chris Offutt's short stories a rampant supernaturalism among his "backwoods" folks, but this seemed of a different order and bound up with a mysterious history of displacement and warfare. Aside from those odd elements . . . well, the story still was odd, with families all making meth and mischief. A few times, I thought the protagonist's voice slipped (I could never hear her saying "man" in the way Woodrell wanted me to hear it, for example), but the character was vivid.