Miranda July’s recent novel, The First Bad Man, is the story of Cheryl: a slightly lost, often mistaken, out of touch, middle aged, single woman with a shifting relationship with reality. As she slips in and out between what’s reliably happening and her own fantasies, she enters a space where anything goes. And it’s her laissez faire attitude toward life that makes this book fun to read.
NYC vs MFA: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, Edited by Chad Harbach, is a collection of essays by writers who care deeply about one of these places and usually not so much about the other. Whether this is a result of institutional limitations is not of so much importance to most of the contributors. Instead, the through line is that each took the path that was open to them at the time and walked it the best they could. Continue reading MFA vs NYC: Behind the Title
– With notes from Emily and writer Scott Andrew Selby.
Every book is about something. The first draft, as King describes it, gets that something out of your head. “Your job in the second draft – one of them anyway – is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to…your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story.”
Emily Kramer: Revelation! I always thought the purpose of the second draft was to make the first draft better. But since not much happened to me between yesterday and today, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to write that much better than the day before? “More clear,” is a more achievable goal.
I took the idea of reading archaeologically to heart and went back to read from Invisible Circus (1994) to A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010). My theory: As you develop your writing, the themes that were once explicit become implicit and all the more powerful. Here are three I found throughout:
One: Somebody Fucked Up
Invisible Circus (1994)
We learn right away that one of two sisters visited Europe and found herself dead after falling or jumping over a cliff in Italy. Opps! Death, suicide, that’s a big blunder. The other sister explores the mistake and makes one of her own. Continue reading Three Great Themes In Jennifer Egan’s Books That Get More Subtle with Each Book And I Know Because I Read Them All
After Visiting Friends explores a most terrifying idea: What if all the people around you are just waiting for someone – YOU – to tell the truth? It’s not easy to accept your fate – that you were meant to live longer than your dad, that he had secrets and that you are the only person that wants to know what really happened. How many times can you ask yourself why me, before you go ahead and write the story you need to tell?
The author, Michael Hainey, has a nagging question that he carried around with him for nearly thirty years. While looking through various obituaries published after his father’s death, he found a few incongruities. The Sun Times, where Robert Hainey worked as an assistant copy desk chief, made no mention of the place or cause of death. Chicago Today, though, where Robert’s brother worked, gave a street address where the man had “collapsed and died,” after leaving the home of a friend. Finally, the Chicago Daily writes that he died, while visiting friends, on the North Side.
At age 18 he asks himself: Friends? Who are these friends? And why have i never met them? Continue reading The Story You Need To Tell
Manila Noir (Akashic Books, 2013). Edited by Jessica Hagedorn, Author of Dogeaters, Dream Jungle, and Toxicology
Starting with Brooklyn Noir (2004), the Akashic Noir series sets gritty crime stories in iconic cities. I was particularly interested in Akashic’s newest, Manila Noir, for very personal reasons. First, I moved to New York from Manila last year, and second, I’m writing a novel that takes place in Manila and that centers on a gritty crime.
So what can I say about Manila? Manila was hard, busy, hot, crowded. People from all walks of life were smashed on top of each other. Skyscrapers on top of slums. Slums burned down to make space for more skyscrapers. I witnessed my first murder there. I used to joke that compared to Manila, New York would be easy. (And it is – subway pushers, and gentleman gropers, and all). Continue reading The Texture of Crime in an Asian Megacity
Near to the Wild Heart, by Clarice Lispector, chronicles a woman’s life from the time she loses her mother at a young age to the time she accepts the concept of death as an adult. In between there is love and loss but only as experienced by an internally focused narrator who notices the gap between herself and her own emotions. She seeks to close that gap, first through the lessons of a teacher and later through a marriage that she knows she will betray.
For a book that’s described as experimental, with steam of consciousness narrative that often shifts perspectives, the emotional plot is easy to track. She has a parentless childhood and her primary caretakers find her to be undesirable and difficult to understand. When she steals a book and gets caught she overhears her aunt telling her uncle Like a little demon…At my age and with my experience, after raising a daughter who is already married, Joana leaves me cold…Our Armanda never gave us any trouble, may God preserve her that way for her husband. Joana goes on to marry a man who was already married only to find solace later on in an intellectual relationship with another man who might be a criminal. And in the end she embraces the idea that became the book’s epigraph – a quote from James Joyce: He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. Continue reading What is Near to Your Wild Heart?