Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

Examining a Passage from The Goldfinch

March 26th, 2014 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Novel Reviews, Process | 8 Comments

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch 

I posted earlier on the brilliant, beautiful novel The Goldfinch.  I had to do so in broad swaths, given how dense in character and plot the novel is, just to give you a taste of it. But now I want to go back and drill down on just one passage, to analyze what makes the writing—to me, at least—so marvelous. There are so many paragraphs I could choose, but I was particularly taken with the following description of how Hobie, the furniture restorer who takes in the young, homeless Theo, trains him in the art and craft … Read More

The Silent Wife: A Fascinating Novel Both Psychologically and Technically

March 4th, 2014 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Novel Reviews | 6 Comments

The Silent Wife I first became interested in The Silent Wife in when I read an August 4th, 2013  piece in The New York Times. The article described how the novel—a “sleeper,” written by an “unknown” Toronto writer and released as a paperback original (as opposed to a hardcover, which signals the publisher intends to push the book)–had vaulted its way onto The New York Times best-seller list. The book received some crucial attention from a handful of reviewers, and caught on via word of mouth.

I read that the author, A.S. A. Harrison, had died of cancer at 65, a few … Read More

Salter and Aciman on the Past

May 8th, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Process | 3 Comments

Street in Rome (Photo by Sean O'Neill@oneillsdc5)

Portico d’Ottavia in Rome  (Photo by Sean O’Neill@oneillsdc5)

Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m teaching an online memoir course.  I’m captivated by watching my students grapple with and write about the past.  Here are two passages for writers and anyone else who muses about the nature of memory, one from a novel and one from an essay, both beautiful and thought-provoking.

The first is from the narrator of the novel A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter:

Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like

Read More

Darin Strauss’s Memoir Half a Life: What Did He Owe the Zilkes?

May 2nd, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Memoir Reviews | 17 Comments

Half a Life by Darin StraussThis week in the online memoir course I’m teaching, the students are working on characterization, both their own and that of others. We’re reading a chapter in Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington called “Writing about Living People,” in which she talks about how writers must come to their own decisions about their responsibilities to those whose lives are entwined with their own, and how one must balance the reasons for writing a story using real names against the harm that might be done to someone else.  I had thought this matter of what we owe people we write about … Read More

Rachael Hanel’s “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter” plus Two Questions

April 22nd, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Memoir Reviews | 8 Comments

Hanel_cover_small (1)The cover of Minnesota writer Rachael Hanel’s memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, recently published by the University of Minnesota Press, is curiously upbeat, practically gay, with its jokey title in bright white, yellow, aqua, and salmon letterings. A better cover to my mind would have been a skull, for truly this book is a memento mori. Maybe the cover designer was a Minnesotan who, like the folks from rural Minnesota whom Hanel captures so knowingly, was afraid to face the real subject, death and its bride, grief. … Read More

Andre Aciman’s NYT Piece on Memoirists’ Relationship to the Truth

April 9th, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors | 9 Comments

Andre Aciman

Andre Aciman

On Monday I started teaching an online course on writing the book-length memoir for Stanford University Continuing Studies.  For the next 10 weeks my students and I will be thinking and talking (or I should say e-mailing) about writing memoir, including the question that the Watergate hearings posed so beautifully: “Where does the truth lie?” I’ve always enjoyed the double entendre of “lie” in that line.  How do the facts of the past and the truth get along? It’s clear that the facts do not produce the truth, not the emotional, psychological truth that the modern memoir demands.  … Read More

Vivian Gornick on Situation and Story

September 24th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments

 

Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

In her short book called The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick describes one of the most useful and important ideas about writing that I know:

“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.  The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” 

I just critiqued a novel where Gornick’s concept seemed particularly relevant.  On the whole it’s an amazing novel, Read More

What the Reader Needs…

September 5th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments

 

The Antioch Review

“…to be conscious of what the reader needs and only what he needs…” 

I first encountered this bit of writerly advice in 1984 in The Antioch Review, in a piece written by Nolan Miller, who was then Associate Editor. It has served as a North Star of writing for me ever since.  

Miller was a short story writer and novelist who taught creative writing at Antioch College for over fifty years.  The Antioch Review, remarkably, has been publishing continuously since 1941.  It publishes fiction, essays, and poetry, from both emerging and well-known Read More

Henry James’ Weak Specification–eek!

August 8th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 10 Comments

 

“Office at Night” by Edward Hopper

I live in fear of weak specification.  I consider it the eighth deadly sin: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and weak specification.  I’m guilty of it, I admit.  I’m only human, or, some would say, all too human.  I strive to overcome my weaknesses, to improve myself in every way (occasionally) but especially in the matter of weak specification.  I try to be diligent, only to find it sneaks up on me. 

I first heard the term “weak specification” years ago when I read a piece by Flannery O’Connor called “Writing Read More

Colm Toibin and “What is Real is Imagined”

July 17th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Process | 7 Comments

 

Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin

In an essay called “What is Real is Imagined” in the July 15, 2012 The New York Times, Colm Tóibín describes being back in the remote place on the Coast of Ireland which his family visited in the summers until he was twelve.  When he passes the house where his family once stayed, it’s his parents’ bedroom he sees in his memory with its iron bed and the cement floor, and the clover he smells is the same as it was in 1967.  Or, as he amends, because he is trying to dream that world of … Read More