Andrew Alan Stewart Carl: “It’s fine, I think, to write about a white, middle-class male accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the story shouldn’t just be about his difficult marriage. Or rather, it can be about his marriage but it shouldn’t be insularly so, without regard as to how the difficulties in this particular marriage say something about the bigger ideas/struggles/issues of our time. This, I believe, can be addressed with bold strokes or subtly in subtext, but it should be addressed. Otherwise, even if the story is expertly written, it’s not likely to be an examination of anything new, a necessary story.”
Roxane Gay, who prompted Carl’s post, has a thoughtful reply that gets at why deliberately engineering fiction to be “relevant” is problematic, and why writing to satisfy (or undercut) your perceived place in the socioeconomic matrix is too. Richard Price had a story to tell related to this in a 1996 Paris Review interview:
I had a student in one of my classes. He was writing all this stuff about these black guys in the South Bronx who were on angel dust . . . the most amoral thrill-killers. They were evil, evil. But it was all so over-the-top to the point of being silly. He didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t know this stuff either, but I knew enough to know that this wasn’t it.
I said to the kid, Why are you writing this? Are you from the Bronx?
He says, No. From New Jersey.
Are you a former angel-dust sniffer? Do you run with a gang?
He says, No. My father’s a fireman out in Toms River.
Oh, so he’s a black fireman in suburban New Jersey? Christ! Why don’t you write about that? I mean, nobody writes about black guys in the suburbs. I said, Why are you writing this other stuff?
He said to me, Well, I figure people are expecting me to write this stuff.
What if they do? First of all, they don’t. Second, even if they did, which is stupid, why should I read you? What do you know that I don’t know?…. [H]e went from this painful chicken scratch of five-page bullshit about angel-dust killers to writing stuff that smacked of authenticity and intimacy.
Adam Levin lists some of works of American fiction that have had the strongest influence on him, including a spot-on defense of Philip Roth‘s Operation Shylock.
Does pursuing a Ph.D. do a crime writer any good?
Mark Kurlansky on returning to his roots as a fiction writer to contribute to Haiti Noir.
A visit to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library:
Benjamin Taylor talks with Dissent about his experience editing Saul Bellow‘s letters. The passage from Henderson the Rain King he cites as an example of Bellow’s greatness is one of my favorites as well—that book has the best ending of his major works. (via)
Confronting Henry James‘ late works.
Victoria Patterson isn’t hearing the argument that an author has to be all over social media to promote his or her work. “I don’t have an optimistic, sunny personality. Why should I pretend to be a social person?”
Reynolds Price died yesterday at 77. I’ve read none of his many works (recommendations about where to start are welcome), but I do like this line from his 1991 Paris Review interview: “I think I’m a comic writer always. I hope I am—in the long run anyhow—because I think our existence is comic, finally.”
What’s that? Somebody’s bemoaning the lack of a great Washington novel again?