Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Instinctive or Analytical?

In politics one can see the difference in leadership style between Sarah Palin and President Obama, one who embodies the instinctive, the other the analytical.

How does that apply to literature?

Writing talent, real talent, is instinctive, then needs to be harnessed. The danger is that the writer become too careful, too constipated, and the spark of talent originally there be squelched. You'll never convince me that this doesn't happen in writing programs. If not, why do most MFA writers think and write in such an orthodox, constipated style?

The system with its levels of instructors, editors, and reviewers enforces literary constipation. The writer is compelled to become hyper-analytical. To become a chess player examining his position from every possible angle before making a move.

I find myself doing that with my novel-in-progress. I tear it apart in my head worse than any reviewer could. I well see what orthodox literati won't like about it. Those trained to read in a predictable manner. When I compare the novel with orthodox work-- the latest novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, say-- I see a gulf of difference. Is the problem mine; do I not approach the proper standards? Are they legitimate standards? Should I pull back from my own standards, slow down my pace, become more self-absorbed, less objective-- do all the things the system teaches and which I as a reader personally detest? That's the question.

This new e-book will be vastly more analyzed by me than, say, my last one, Crime City USA, which is instinct and emotion poured out of me. But with that analysis of the new book, I still pursue my aesthetic principles-- only I seek to make those principles as effective as they can possibly be. It will still be "pop."

If a novel doesn't look new, what's the point?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elements of the Novel

What are the chief elements of the novel? Is it possible to master all of them? (If any novelists or critics read this blog, let me know.)

I won’t be satisfied just writing a novel. Or, writing just a novel. My goal is to write a superlative novel.


A.) Plot/form.

B.) Character.

C.) Ideas/meaning/symbolism.

D.) Style/pace.

The objective is to combine these elements in a way that achieves a sense of artistic excitement.

Take The Great Gatsby, for instance, as a model. I’d grade it thus:

A.) 9.8 (scale of 1 to 10). B.) 8.5. C.) 9.5. D.) 9.9.

Fitzgerald ably finesses the characterizations. Given the book’s short length, he has to. I knock him down slightly in Ideas, because the book lacks the scope of the best larger works. The pace and style are remarkable; the quality of the writing unsurpassed. I make Gatsby a top 5 American novel, though not #1. (The greatest American novel is The Octopus by Frank Norris.)

For my own novel, I’m aiming high. I’ll nail category A. I had the plot in my mind from the get-go, beginning with the ending. The plot threads and characters tie into the final image. I’m not a natural writer, but I have a logical mind, and as a former chess enthusiast I know how to construct a design and I know how to close.

Character is the element I’m working hardest on. It’s the crux of the book. Whether I’ll succeed or fail is an open question.

Ideas come easy to me. The trick is how to put ideas into a novel without being didactic or one-sided, and without slowing the narrative.

Finally, I’m not a “lyrical” writer. But then, I’m not writing a poem, though I can write poetry. My goal with my novel is to be readable, to give the writing a sense of clarity, to enable the reader to understand what I’m saying. Dense prose is a hindrance if you have ideas to communicate. I want the book to rush along. I’m not writing it for the leisure class, but for everyone.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Controlling Your Material

My biggest objection to the writing of David Foster Wallace is that he never seemed to be in control of his material. His material was in control of him. The other extreme is minimalism, which takes few risks, and with which the achievements are always minor. I like novelists who create sweeping narratives and handle meaningful ideas and, like Beethoven composing a symphony, are in control of every note, every word.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Writing a Novel

Because of its length, unlike writing a story or novella, writing a novel becomes an obsession. You can’t sleep at night because you’re going over the plot threads and characters in your head. You fall deeply into the minds of your characters. If they’re mad, you become mad. The question becomes how much to reveal of them. If you have ideas, how much to reveal of your ideas. I’m not a Franzen or DFW type. I don’t believe in showing or telling everything. Instead: aspects. Sides. Glimpses.

I was at a coffeeshop—not Starbucks—that was filled with a more cosmopolitan crowd than at Starbucks. Two young writers behind me were talking about writing a novel. One said his had gotten away from him. He didn’t see this as a bad thing. One chapter was at 11,000 words and counting. It sounded to me like endless verbiage. This is the opposite of what he should be doing. The idea is not to sprawl, but compress. Condense, so the narrative becomes as potent as possible. But watch—next week the guy’ll sign a big contract with one of the book giants!

Short Novel Excerpt


Lara Vox had a reserve of hundreds of hours of pre-recorded tape. This allowed her to slip away from the Tower on occasion, into the city, among people, as she’d done this evening. To join the madness below. A return to the human race. Her excursions were few and brief.

She kept the broadcast going 24 hours a day, every day. Taped rants and jazz. This night, as the incandescent city fell asleep, it did so to jazz of the city, the noise of nightclubs and taxis, rumbling drug lovemaking climaxed by staccato bursts of gunshot violence and piercing sirens, a simple but endless composition performed by a bass, an intermittent and unexpected trumpet, and an introspective piano which occasionally dallied, occasionally dithered, occasionally flashed like a whiskey cocktail, but never ceased.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Two Kinds of Writers

As I was scanning a new novel by Ben Marcus, and noted the dense prose, I realized there are two kinds of writers.

A.) Those who strive for clarity, who want the reader to know what they're saying. Who make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand the ideas expressed and to follow the plot threads.

B.) Those who are showing off, who wish every sentence to be as showy as possible, with the unknown reader a secondary consideration, if considered at all.