Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writing Advice from Max Perkins

"Generalizations are no use -- give one specific thing and let the action say it...

"When you have people talking, you have a scene. You must interrupt with explanatory paragraphs but shorten them as much as you can. Dialogue is action...

"You tend to explain too much. You must explain, but your tendency is to distrust your own narrative and dialogue...

"You need only to intensify throughout what actually is there -- and I think you would naturally do this in revision, anyhow. It is largely a matter of compression, and not so much of that really...

"You can't know a book until you come to the end of it, and then all the rest must be modified to fit that..."

This advice came from Perkins' letter to Marcia Davenport, as quoted in A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, which I finished reading last night (overall I thought the book was a bit uneven, but it made for fascinating reading, especially the parts about Thomas Wolfe, who I knew next to nothing about).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I'm stuck.

I've been working on -- that is, wrestling with -- a chapter from my novel for far too long. Spinning, I guess you could say. I was away from the novel for a while, then I was sick for a couple of weeks, and now I'm having some trouble getting reacquainted with the book.

I keep going over the opening paragraph of this particular chapter. You'd think it would be perfect by now. It is not.

I'm also looking at other chapters I've written from this character's point of view (about 80 or so pages) and trying to determine what, if anything, is salvageable. (Is is all shit? Should it all go? Maybe. Maybe I'm wasting my time by sifting through old pages and drafts, when I should be forging ahead with completely new material. And yet, looking at the older material, there's some pretty decent stuff there. Also some pretty lousy stuff.)

This particular chapter comes about two-thirds of the way into part 1 of the novel. It's the last chapter to be finished for the current draft of part 1 that I'm working on. So maybe part of it is being afraid to finish this chapter, because next I need to make some major surgical revisions once this draft is finished. I know what needs to be fixed, which is good; but the task ahead also seems daunting.

On a more positive and less neurotic note:

A while back I mentioned that The Sun accepted an excerpt from this novel. I recently found out that the piece will be appearing in the July issue.

July. That's pretty soon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Good Symptom

"Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you are thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom."

--Max Perkins, from a letter to a novelist worrying about her work

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

He Was Water

The Millions recently posted a write-up about David Foster Wallace's now-famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech, which was later published as This Is Water.

The article's author tracked down Kenyon students who actually graduated that day (May 21, 2005) and heard/witnessed the speech.

Here's what one of the Kenyon students had to say about DFW's speech:

The one emotion I remember is intensity: he was clear, driving, and inwardly focused. He also didn’t say anything dismissively. Whether it was his technique or his real feeling I have no idea, but he read the speech like he was passing on a message of importance. Sitting here, I picture a guy at a radio in a bunker intercepting a message, then reading it off to someone else, wasting no time and enunciating every syllable."

And I didn't know the speech was on the YouTubes:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

Yes, Wigleaf has announced its Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2010.

This year's list includes stories by Matt Bell, Aaron Burch, Roxane Gay, Len Kuntz, Sara Lippmann, Kyle Minor, Jim Ruland and many other fine writers.

My story "I Don't Want to Be Stevie Nicks," which appeared in Dark Sky Magazine, made the long list.

Congrats to all!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Alternate Titles for The Great Gatsby

  • Among the Ash-Heaps and Millionaires
  • Trimalchio in West Egg
  • Trimalchio
  • Gatsby
  • Gold-Hatted Gatsby
Fitzgerald's editor, Max Perkins, always liked The Great Gatsby. But Fitzgerald himself vacillated on the title right up until the book's publication.

(I'm reading A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. Hence the recent Fitzgerald posts.)