in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Guest Essay, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 41
A guest post from the author of the wonderful Silent Retreats, Philip. F. Deaver:
For the Love of Writing Long by Philip F. Deaver
Novellas are in my personal journey as a writer, so this is as much about the journey as that “intermediate” literary form. A few years ago I spent 10 years writing my Skidmore novel, and the design was a novel in five novellas, with an introductory chapter and a capstone that were normal “chapter” length, whatever that is. Each of the five novellas, though in third person limited, was in a different character’s voice and point of view. They were written to stand alone. But they were written so that, taken together, they formed a continuous narrative, a novel of some length. In it, Mr. Skidmore went on a journey to catch up to many of his old friends to apologize and make amends for things he’d done to them in the past (see my story collection Silent Retreats). Only one of the novella-length chapters is from his point of view, the first one, as he embarks on the journey. The other novellas join the “injured parties” from Skidmore’s past in their semi-settled later lives so that we get to know where they’ve gone after their tumultuous twenties and how things have turned out. In each novella, after we settle in to its story, Skidmore shoots through that world on his supposed mission, like Kahoutek, large and looming, but also neurotic and still mean. As we’d expect from him, his motives for going on the journey aren’t quite as pure as seeking reconciliation. In fact, someone is chasing him.
By the time I wrote this book, titled Past Tense (unpublished), the theme I was interested in had changed from the days of Silent Retreats. I always articulated my theme in the old days as: What happened to men after what happened to women (very 1970s-‘80s). While I don’t think that theme ever made its point, now I’m writing something more akin to: What men do to themselves and each other. It’s quite timely. I’ve come to believe that somewhere in the chemical and genetic scripts of testosterone is written the end of the world.
Bill Clinton is a great example. When he found himself in the White House in the early ‘90s, rumors, theories, and investigations began and chased him his whole presidency. His activities in Arkansas, in elected office, in business and shall we say ‘social,’ were grist for big expensive ruthless investigations by his enemies, and, as time went on, his life in Washington got pretty interesting, too. Republicans (his enemies), still bristling from the humiliation of the humiliation of Richard Nixon, were looking to even the score, and the Clinton presidency seemed to be their opportunity because Clinton was the first Democratic president since the Nixon crater had cooled. Millions of dollars of investigations of both Bill and Hillary, all while the President and First Lady themselves were quite popular in the country, surfaced not much of anything but successfully interfered as much as possible with Clinton’s effective governing. The opposition wanted him to go down even if it was to the detriment of the whole nation. Perhaps this will sound familiar. Anyway, he shoulde
Another definition that I like a lot--this time from Matthew Simmons:
I read a book some time ago called, I think, Twelve German Novellas, and in the intro it mentioned that early on "novella" was not just a way to refer to a length, but a style as well. A novella, it said, was a longer short story, concisely plotted, and with a twist somewhere in the middle that sends the story careening off in an unexpected direction.
Now, I haven't read that book in quite a while. I could be misremembering. (I am very likely misremembering. I feel like I have a terrible memory.) But even if I am misremembering this, I have decided at this point not to go back and find out if this is, in fact, what it says a novella is, because I like thinking that this is what a novella is. I have published one, and have drafts for two more novellas, and I have always followed that definition when writing them. And I have always, when I have picked up another novella, hoped to read a thing that fits that definition.
Because, really, doesn't that sound like exactly the sort of thing you'd like to read?
Matthew Simmons is the author of A Jello Horse
(Publishing Genius Press, 2009), The Moon Tonight Feels My Revenge
(Keyhole Press, 2010), and the upcoming collection Happy Rock
(Dark Coast Press, 2013). More things about him can be found at happyrockisabook.tumblr.com
By the end of the month it's going to look like a whole bunch of authors wrote novellas titled "Definition." Jonathan Baumbach responded with what might be the most common definition, though for one of the first times I've seen, tagged on an explanation for it.
Each work suggests its own length. Distinctions
of content all have their exceptions. My own practice
is not to plot a book but to let it develop on its own from the
germinating idea that set it in motion. A novella is a short
fiction blossoming into something longer that is not quite
a novel. The basic difference between a novel and a short
story is that a novel is a longer work of prose fiction.
A novella is a work of prose fiction that is shorter than
a novel and longer than a short story. This may seem too
obvious to need to be said, but to complicate the issue
is ultimately to falsify.
I like that last sentence. I don't know that I completely agree with it, but I like the authority behind the way he said it.
Jonathan Baumbach is the author of fourteen books of fiction, including You, or The Invention of Memory; On The Way To My Father's Funeral: New and Selected Stories; B, A Novel; D-Tours; Separate Hours; Chez Charlotte and Emily; The Life and Times of Major Fiction; Reruns; Babble; and A Man to Conjure With. He has also published over ninety stories published in such places as Esquire, Open City, and Boulevard.
Baumbach, co-founder of The Fiction Collective in 1973, the first fiction writers cooperative in America, has seen his work widely praised. His short stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The PEN / O.Henry Prize, and The Best of TriQuarterly. The New York Times Book Review referred to him in 2004 as "an underappreciated writer." He employs a masterfully dispassionate, fiercely intelligent narrative voice whose seeming objectivity is always a faltering front for secret passion and despair."
The paperback version of You, or the Invention of Memory, will be published by Dzanc Books (July 2012) and his next new book, Flight of Brothers, a novella and four stories, will be published by Dzanc Books (July 2013) as well. Many of his backlist titles are coming available through the summer of 2012 through Dzanc's rEprint Series.
Kyle Minor rarely thinks small. When asked if he could maybe let my readers know if there was a novella he would suggest they read, he opted to send me a list...of 100. One thing you'll note is that Kyle is modest and does not include his own novella, "A Day Meant to Do Less," which only was included in Best American Mystery Stories the year it was published. From Kyle:
One hundred novellas you should read, right away (in no particular order):
1. "The Old Forest," by Peter Taylor.
2. "One of Star Wars, One of Doom," by Lee K. Abbott
3. "The Age of Grief," by Jane Smiley
4. "Goodbye, Madagascar," by Jennifer Spiegel
5. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
6. "Auslander," by Michelle Herman
7. Mitko, by Garth Greenwell
8. "All Through the House," by Christopher Coake
9. "The Palace Thief," by Ethan Canin
10. The Barracks Thief, by Tobias Wolff
11. "The Dew Breaker," by Edwidge Danticat
12. Street of Lost Footsteps, by Lyonel Trouillot
13. "The Beast God Forget to Invent," by Jim Harrison
14. Clown Girl, by Monica Drake
15. "The Womanizer," by Richard Ford
16. "The Bear," by William Faulkner
17. "The Talk Talked Between Worms," by Lee K. Abbott
18. "Gusev," by Anton Chekhov
19. "Fathers and Sons," by Ivan Turgenev
20. "The Death of Ivan Ilych," by Leo Tolstoy
21. "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad
22. Steps, by Jerzy Koszinski
23. From Old Notebooks, by Evan Lavender-Smith
24. Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson
25. Indignation, by Philip Roth
26. Everyman, by Philip Roth
27. "Goodbye, Columbus," by Philip Roth
28. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow
30. "Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin
31. "Makedonija," by Miroslav Penkov
A slightly delayed post as its author was out of the country. From Philip F. Deaver:
Gary Forrester’s second book of fiction, The Connoisseur of Love, a collection of twelve short stories, some of them linked, is just out in New Zealand. His first work of fiction was the novel Houseboating in the Ozarks (Dufour Editions, 2006). The recent story collection’s unifying element is the (third person limited) narrator of all but one of the stories, Peter Becker, an attorney in his fifties and sixties (he ages over the time-span of the stories) who is currently employed as a public servant. Becker is an immigrant from a small town in Germany, living life in a second language (English) which, in the design of the book, he may stumble on in dialogue but moves through like a bird in a tree in narration.
In Peter Becker, Forrester creates an odd character trapped in his own internal life, a cross between Walter Mitty and Larry David’s character “Larry David” in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with touches here and there of Meursault (The Stranger), Bartleby the Scrivener and, perhaps, Billy Pilgrim. Picture the most trapped-in-the-cul de sac-of-self individual you have ever encountered in life or fiction, quietly careening through his latter years in gentle Wellington with the external world mostly on “mute” or at least muffled like the adults in the “Peanuts” cartoons on TV. All through the collection, we find Peter either alone in his own thoughts or, for brief moments, lonely for connection to others, or, the saddest option, lost and self-conscious in some human interaction thrust upon him. He wasn’t born with social connective tissue. Marching in step with other members of the human race challenges him. The closest he comes to regular social interaction is in mixed doubles on the grass courts at Thorndon Tennis Club, where the lines are freshly chalked and clear and he can distract himself with his overly developed urgency to defeat whoever is on the other side of the net.
Thus the title of the collection is meant ironically. When in these stories Peter Becker isn’t sleeping alone in his house in Khandallah (not that love implies sleeping with someone), he’s sleeping there with a pile of tulips or a ukulele. Twice in these stories, Peter attempts to actually have a date. In one, a six foot tall Polynesian beauty from Bora Bora named Lavi captures his attention and he engages her in conversation. He has just refurbished a set of deckchairs he’s acquired, and he’s been sending out invitations in a rare attempt to gin up a party at his home. Lavi would be perfect to take the fifth chair! The guest list would be complete. Astonishly she says yes, she would come; they could meet later at a place where she works and firm things up. She gives him the name of the place where she works, a place with which he’s familiar. Some days later he goes there to meet up and firm up. Nobody there knows her or remembers anyone by her most lovely and memorable description. She hoodwinked him. He cancels the whole party, so put out is he by her cruel trick.
In another story an attractive woman from the travel agency on the lower level of his building gives him attention, it’s rare that someone gives him this kind of
Today we have a definition from J.A. Tyler, publisher at Mud Luscious Press:
Obviously, as a publisher of novel(la)s, we are in love with the form. And here is a short definition of the field as we see it, as well as a fun misconception we’d love to address:
Since our start, Mud Luscious Press has called a ‘novella’, a ‘novel(la)’, and most wrongly assume that those parentheses are an attempt to highlight the ‘la’ as a reference to the poetry, the ‘song’ of the works we publish. And while this is a nice, if wholly unintended consequence of those parentheses, they are in fact meant to highlight the word ‘novel’ embedded within novella, a reminder that well-written novellas are novels in all sense of the word: they have fully formed narratives, engaging characters, subtle and strong motifs, and all the other wonderful magic of a good book; and for us, the extra special beauty of a good novel(la) is that it does all of these things but in a more finite space, forcing the text to live, in our opinion, a tad more vividly, with a somewhat greater punch to the readerly throat.
J. A. Tyler is the author of several books including the recently released Variations of a Brother War and the forthcoming The Zoo, A Going. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press. For more on his writing, visit: www.chokeonthesewords.com.
Another guest post, this time courtesy of Matt Baker.
Wendy Fox’s “Ten Penny” is one of my favorite stories. I came across it in The Pinch a few years ago. The story is re-printed in its entirety on Wendy Fox’s website. So you can go there and read it now.
The story begins rather routinely. I knew that I was in for a standard drunk-sex-cigarettes story – the ones that tend to begin and end the same way. And this one follows that story template loyally. The narrator is young, reckless and searching. Her short-lived romance is typical. Late night whiskey and “sticky sex.”
Then, the third paragraph sends the story somewhere I wasn’t expecting.
M. was a finish carpenter, though he could also frame. I admired his hands, which were long and slim and splintery and could feel out all the imperfections. There, at my elbow, the rough patch of scar from a decade-ago cycling accident—I remember sun and the dirt road and the deep drop down at my left, and then suddenly I was flying, and then suddenly I was stopped. M. knew nothing about how I laid on the road and bled, how I cried and cried at the falling, how I threw the bicycle into the ditch and walked into the little town nearby, how I never rode again, but he ran his finger around the ruined part of skin like he was a healer. He found the place on the back of my thigh, a puncture wound I got one day when metal collapsed around me; he touched the tiny dent above my eye, a fall onto a concrete step. He held my hand where it is crooked, outlined the asymmetrical ear.
The story progresses with them getting together a few more times and a brief backstory is provided. Even though the story is a reminiscence it is told with an urgency and swiftness that accurately encapsulates this fleeting episode in her life. Then he leaves.
One night I went out with some girlfriends. I wasn’t really looking for M., but I wouldn’t have been opposed to running into him. In fact, I was a little surprised that I didn’t, and I realized I had this idea that he was everywhere all the time, when of course he couldn’t be. He was in one place, and I was in another. I swear I was wearing so much mascara, I could hardly keep my eyes open.
Our first guest post for the year!
Jayne Anne Phillips and Black Tickets: a fearless pioneer by Richard Thomas
Whenever I am handed a list of literary authors to read, especially if it’s for school, you know “required reading”, I sigh and rub the back of my neck. And I then I start looking for the edge, the voices that speak to me from the fringe, away from the mainstream, authors that aren’t afraid to write about sex and violence, to delve into the darkness, sometimes even coming out the other side better for it. I’ve always been drawn to broken lives, people that are facing a true test of character, a dilemma, a problem, something that could change their life forever. I’d scan the list and look for names like Denis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy. In recent years, I’ve found out that I love Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates. And I’ve discovered voices that were previously unknown to me, like Mary Gaitskill, and George Saunders, and just a few months ago, Jayne Anne Phillips.
When my Pulitzer nominated professor suggested that I check out the story
“Home” by Jayne Anne Phillips, in her collection Black Tickets, my first response was “Who?” Now, I should mention that my undergraduate studies were in Advertising, not in English, so I’m not nearly as well read as I should be. So when I picked up this collection, my expectations were pretty low. What a mind-blowing discovery this was. It turns out she’s quite an accomplished author, one that I’ve now added to an ever expanding list of compelling voices. Maybe you need to add her in too.
Jayne Anne Phillips was born in 1952 in Buckhannon, West Virginia. She has taught at Harvard University, Williams College, and Boston University and currently directs the Rutgers-Newark MFA in Creative Writing Program, which she also founded. She has won a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two NEA fellowships as well. Huh. Where have I been?
The first thing that got my attention when reading the dark collection of fiction in Black Tickets was her use of flash fiction. About half of the stories in this book are what I could consider flash fiction—stories in the 100- to 300-word range—almost micro-fiction. We’re talking about a book that came out in 1979, with many of the stories previously published in literary journals and Pushcart Prize anthologies a few years before. I’m no expert on flash fiction, but the Vestal Review, the longest running online source for flash fiction, didn’t even launch until the year 2000. Many people say that the term “flash fiction” may have originated in the Flash Fiction anthology (edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka) in 1992. Whatever the history, Jayne Anne Phillips was an early adopter of this form of writing.
The second aspect of her writing that got my attention was the subject matter. Jayne Anne Phillips isn’t afraid to write about prostitutes, drug dealers, a mass murderer—the underbelly of contemporary American life. She presents the universal fears that we all have of loss, betrayal, and abuse alongside the hopes and dreams that keep us alive. There is an element of danger in everything she w
The first of what I hope are many guest posts this month:
What “The Man in Bogota” Means to Me – Jac Jemc
In a creative writing class in college a professor passed out copies of “The Man in Bogota” by Amy Hempel. The story changed my mind in a million ways.
The message of the story, the moral and the punch line is, “He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn’t good.” It was a time when I needed to re-evaluate my attitude and the line rang in my head. That sentence is so full of assumptions and contrasts. She doesn’t write, “He wondered how we know that what happens to us is bad.” Instead she puts the focus on what that something isn’t, suggesting that maybe, after all is said and done, it is.
The story is short, only a page long. It was one of the first pieces of flash I read that really made me feel it was possible to tell more in a page than in a whole book.
It’s a story within a story. It’s a story about the power of storytelling and it’s a story about survival. It was a time when storytelling was a survival tactic for me. It’s a “come-down-from-the-ledge” story.
The language is clear and plain, in a way that stuns me. It’s a way I’m unable to write and so thankful to read.
I remember sharing the story with my dad when I was home for a break. “Isn’t it awesome? She’s a minimalist!” I exclaimed, boiling down what I knew of the Lish style of editing to a statement that no longer resembled the truth. I remember my dad giving me a hard time for using the word “minimalism.” We argued, laughing.
And now, I’ve taken up more words talking about what this story means to me, than the story itself allows.
The narrator says she tells the story to try and get the woman on the ledge to ask herself a question. I don’t know any better reason to tell a story.
Jac Jemc is the author of My Only Wife. Her work has also appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, Handsome and Sleepingfish, among others. She is the author of a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She'd Invited In (Greying Ghost Press) and the poetry editor for decomP Magazine. Jac blogs her rejections at jacjemc.wordpress.com.
A guest post from the fantastic story writer, Noy Holland:
Joseph Cardinale's work is ambitious and humble, carefully composed and recklessly felt. His stories are infused with an intoxicating spiritual depth; his characters become exalted, irrational, gorgeously unpredictable. They want the impossible and the impossible happens. They believe in the possibilities of transformation, and they stand fast by their convictions. Here is a writer who seeks the transformative, who exults in the promise of language to deepen and complicate experience. "Any good book is an experiment in living," someone said. Joseph writes stories which relieve readers of the trivia of the world; his stories are invitations to compassion, aesthetic bliss. They are necessary, and, in their nimbleness, their intensity of feeling, thrilling to read.
author of Swim for the Little One First (forthcoming from FC2), What Begins with Bird, and The Spectacle of the Body
A guest post today from Roy Kesey about Zhu Wen:
The questions I most often ask myself are hard questions that do not have good answers such as Why did you just do that stupid painful expensive-to-fix thing? More fun is thinking about short stories for a month and then not exactly out of nowhere asking myself whom I most want to write another book of them.
The rule (arbitrary, crucial): the person must still be alive.
And so now here is today's answer: Zhu Wen.
I hope that you have already read his collection I Love Dollars (brilliantly trans. Julia Lovell, Penguin, 2008), the one where he says things like:
“Faces no longer mattered, in this kind of light.”
“It's a great life if you don't weaken. Or at least not as bad as you think it is.”
“Plan E was, in short, to wait for death.”
“Whenever I see a baby, my heart fills with pity. Why so late, unlucky child?”
“'Instant noodles,' he said. His monotone implied neither desire for dialogue nor admiration for my choice; he was just saying it, trying the words out: Instant noodles.”
“The plan was to soothe my nerves, but all I ended up with was a droopy scrotum.”
If you haven't then you definitely should. The stories are set in a China getting richer but not better (with the implication that if it were getting poorer, or staying the same, it would also not be getting better). These days Zhu Wen is mostly making movies that win prizes in Europe. The films are each very good, almost as good as his stories, which are glitteringly smart and funny and sad, and it would be great if he'd write some more soon.
Roy Kesey's most recent book is the novel Pacazo (USA: Dzanc Books, 2011; UK & Commonwealth: Random House 2012), which The Times has praised as “big, intelligent and wonderfully original.” His previous books include the award-winning novella Nothing in the World, a historical guide to the Chinese city of Nanjing, and a short story collection called All Over, which made The L Magazine's “Best Books of the Decade” list. His short stories, essays, translations and poems have appeared in more than a hundred magazines and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, The Robert Olen Butler Prize Anthology and New Sudden Fiction. He is the recipient of a 2010 prose fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and currently lives in Peru with his wife and children.
A couple of recommendations from Pamela Ryder:
A German Picturesque (Knopf) by Jason Schwartz
One wonder what the world actually looks like to Jason Schwartz. Is it a great gallery in which the most mundane of objects become luminous and mysterious, as they are on the page? His sentences are not complex, nor are they bound in the usual contrivances of character and plot, and yet his fictions reveal the intricacies of living in a way that will chill you to the bone. You’ll see.
Further Adventures in the Restless Universe (Dzanc) Stories by Dawn Raffel
She’s a sly one, this Raffel, weighing the most ordinary of situations with the often-missed gravity of human existence. “There’s so little time,” a departing mother tells her daughter. Indeed. Raffel’s stories have us linger in those moments that so quickly pass us by, so quickly we dismiss, and have us know the way of mother and daughter, sister and sister, husband and wife. Her stories bear us away on sentences that “pummel us gently”, as Raffel would say, with a pure lack of sentiment and a nod to what we are most likely to miss.
Pamela Ryder is the author of Correction of Drift (FC2) and A Tendency to Be Gone (Dzanc Books).
The following is a guest post from the wonderful John McNally, who was probably wondering if I was lying about SSM as he was the first author to send me his guest post, over a month ago now. I love this post. While I wasn't doing a lot of drinking while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the late 80's, I was spending a ton of time wandering the stacks of the Rackham Graduate Library looking at literary journals:
When I was an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University in the 1980s, I spent a lot of time drinking. A lot of time. But I also spent a lot of time writing, and while working on a story in Morris Library, I would wander the stacks, pulling literary magazines off shelves and piling them up around me, like a fortress around my legal pad and pen. Whenever I was stuck on a story, I would pick up a magazine and start reading it. At that time, I didn’t recognize any writer’s name; I was just trying to learn about writing short stories, and I was eager to start submitting to these strange magazines that came in a variety of shapes. I liked the typewriter font of The Wormwood Review, but they published only poetry, and I wasn’t a poet. I liked the weird covers of The Mississippi Review and the stateliness of The Hudson Review. There was even something appealing about the ugly orange covers of the old Virginia Quarterly Review. A few magazines I became obsessed with, like Beloit Fiction Journal, whose first issues had just come out, and Sou’wester, published by SIU’s sister school in Edwardsville. In other words, I loved them all – the slick-looking ones and the ugly ones alike, the perfect-bound and the saddle-stapled. More importantly, I loved the thrill of discovering new stories.
In Sou’wester, I remember reading the work of a relatively unknown writer named Robert Wexelblatt, who went on to publish a few books of fiction. I discovered Kent Haruf’s beautiful and chilling “Private Debts/Public Holdings” in Grand Street, and I discovered Dan Chaon for the first time in Ploughshares when I read his story “Fraternity.” Andre Dubus often published in Crazyhorse, so I would return to that magazine again and again. Other writers I remember stumbling upon? Eileen Pollack in an issue of Prairie Schooner with mice on its cover. Elizabeth Jolley and Alice Munro in the old Grand Street. Bob Shacochis in The Missouri Review. Tom Perrotta in Columbia Magazine. I remember finding in TriQuarterly a story by David Ordan whose title changed the way I thought about titles: “Any Minute Mom Should Come Blasting through the Door.” Wow! I had to read it. I would make photocopies of my favorite stories and hand them out to friends who might like them, and I would make my own private anthologies of my favorite stories.
As I said, I drank a lot when I was an undergraduate, and I blew off a lot of classes, but one of my fondest memories of those years – and one of my fondest memories of trying to become a writer – was reading all of these great stories for the first time, finding them in the library stacks, and it felt like some kind of great secret that I knew about that my other classmates didn’t, and it was my secret key to unlocking what I was going to do for the rest of my life. And so when my students now c
Seeing as I bailed early on (as in, during my first post) in explaining what exactly a novella is, the fine author, Andrew Ervin, has come to the rescue with his explanation--I'm hoping this is the first of many of these this month.
What is a novella? I have no idea. But I think it has something to do with now outdated methods of commercial categorization. Let me step back from the question a tiny bit.
I don’t believe in genre. Anyone who has ever attempted to organize a compact disc collection will know what I mean. Where do you put Sinatra? With the Jazz? The Pop Music? He would seem to fit more at home with The Beatles than John Coltrane, but, then again, he might be easier to find if he’s near Count Basie and not Radiohead. And Radiohead at their best shares some aesthetic sensibilities with Messiaen and maybe even Ligeti, who are hanging out over in Classical. These categories—Classical, Jazz, Pop—are artificial constructs imposed upon the art to turn them into commercial products we could easily locate at Borders. Little wonder that that excluded-middle model—a product is either x or y—has bankrupted retailers and been replaced by systems of information architecture and information retrieval (to borrow the wonderful term from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) by which an iPod can use multiple criteria, not solely genre, which is artificial anyway, to locate Brad Mehldau’s cover version of “Paranoid Android.”
You see where I’m going here. The label “novella” is not inherent in the work of art; it’s a sticker publishers and editors place on the outside of it so that consumers can find it. Art and commerce have always been uneasy bedfellows, but they manage to get along because they have to. Personally, I’ve never set out to write a novella for the sake of writing a novella. In Extraordinary Renditions, I had three stories I wanted to tell and that form (again, which fairly or not has a kind of anti-commercial reputation) suited the thematic concerns. Had “The Empty Chairs” or “Brooking the Devil” required ten pages or a thousand pages to get the story across, that’s how long I would have made them and it would have been an entirely different kind of book.
Fortunately, many publishers are beginning to see the limitations of the current model. More houses are publishing novellas these days, which warms the cockles of my heart. Maybe the emergence of e-readers will further revitalize the novella; it feels like the perfect length for reading on a screen. We may see yet another beautiful example of technology opening up the field of what’s commercially viable for writers. As for my own work, and maybe this will change one day soon, I’m not sure that commercial viability would even crack the top ten list of what I want to accomplish on the page. If it did, I probably would not have written novellas.
Andrew Ervin is the author of Extraordinary Renditions (Coffee House Press) and is a great reviewer of books, as well as all-around good guy (I penned this, not Andrew)
Matthew Salesses, excellent author himself and editor of Redivider, interviews Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere, a novel-in-stories.
vs. novels vs. novels-in-stories vs. linked stories? Does it even matter? To
I prefer to write short stories the way I prefer
to eat small dishes of food (like tapas or banchan and rice) instead of, say, a
tuna casserole. I get easily bored so I need variety. I also revise obsessively,
and the story form forgives that obsession. As a reader, I of course enjoy both
novels and stories, but the experiences are different. With a novel, I read
what is given. With a short story, I read what’s given, as well as all things
not written, not shown, not said, not done. I read for the negatives. I read
the gaps between lines, between paragraphs, and in that empty space I
participate. Suddenly the story is not a thing that happens in front of me, but
a thing that happens to me.
This is why I like the novel-in-stories, a format
that contains best of both worlds: the larger narrative as well as variety. I
think of it as a large meal, divvied up into small dishes.
2) I read
that you started Miles from Nowhere with
Joon's voice. How did her voice come to you? How did you know that this
character was the one you wanted to spend eight years with?
Imagine this: You’re trapped at a stuffy,
black-tie party, where the women’s hair-dos are as stiff and dry as their martinis,
as their personalities, and the men walk around pontificating instead of just talking,
and even the waiters, with their white gloves and thin lips, are condescending
and fake. Everyone drinks with pinkies raised, everyone knows which fork to use,
and everyone, even the men, looks to be wearing make-up. You think, Wow,
there’s a lot of BS in this world, and just then a stranger—a guy, a girl—leans
in to you and whispers: “Can you believe this bullshit?”
That’s what it felt like when Joon’s voice came to
me. For years I’d tried to write like a “dead white guy” but then she came,
sounding very much alive, very much a girl, and not all that white. She sounded
naïve, wise, hopeful and sassy (the way many teenagers do when you get to know
them), and it felt as if we’d known each other for a long while. The
counterfactual/subjunctive (or whatever the name) made me want it to be factual—meaning,
I wanted to continue writing about her so that I could actually get to know
3) So you saw Joon as someone completely separate from you? How much of
her character do you feel was "created"? For example, was her past
with her parents clear to you right away, or was it built around the voice that
you heard? I find that sometimes
Another guest post, this time from Ru Freeman, about a book I'm looking forward to reading.
A Map of Loss, a Compass Pointing Home
I have the writer’s habit of buying books, accumulating stacks of them with the sure knowledge that I will find time to read every single one. Lately my reading has been focused on debut authors; some novelists, like Preeta Samarasan and Tanya James, at least one master of the novella form, Josh Weil, and a range of short story writers including Paul Yoon, Tiphanie Yanique, Laura van den Berg, and Robin Elizabeth Black. While it is not possible to compare the work of Yoon, whose writing is an accumulation of gestured feeling, like standing in a mist, that leaves the reader surprised to find themselves completely drenched, or Yanique’s mastery of the from-the-gut story that spills out
on the page, or Black’s careful examination of sorrow and death, or van den Berg’s pursuit of the connections between our emotional and physical environments, it is possible to find work that manages to unite these skills in a single volume of stories. How to Leave Hialeah, by Jennine Capó Crucet, is that book.
Capó Crucet is, among other things, the first Latina to win the Iowa Fiction Award in the forty years of its existence, and her collection is a solid honoring of those roots. In story after story, we find her taking on the twin daggers in the heart of working class Cuban Americans in and around Hilaleah, Miami: the worth of heritage and the visceral desire to escape from that heritage. The collection opens with ‘Resurrection, or: The Story behind the Failure of the 2003 Radio Salsa 98.1 Semi-Annual Cuban and/or Puerto Rican Heritage Festival,’ whose title alone is a marker of the wry wit and humor that creeps into even the darkest stories, a young girl high on ecstasy, which is “not like coke because it is mostly natural and not addictive,” wishes to bring the blockbuster Cuban salsa singer, Celia Cruz, back from the dead in order to save her job for which she is not being paid. The story is told as though Capó Crucet is sitting next to the reader, calling them “you,” participating alongside them in the business of voyeurism. The story ends with “And you, you keep watching her, hardly believing people like this exist.” In a single line she is both the secret-agent, bringing us a story from a place we have never been to and the one who got away, the one who looks back and says there but for the grace of God.
From ‘The Next move,’ about a man left to manage things in the absence of his wife – who has left to visit Cuba, something he will not do - to ‘El Destino Hauling’ where a daughter relates the story around the death and funeral of her father, the stories in the collection reach deep into the heart of a particular set of preoccupations and traditions that define the Cuban American community. And yet, the beauty of this collection, despite its no-doubt-about-it street creds with regard to Cuban-American culture, is that it manages to articulate the struggle of any immigrant in this country, whether one who has left another country to be here, or one who has left the culture of one home or town to belong to another domestic but “foreign” one. In ‘Noche Buena,’ the n
Another great guest post for Short Story Month, this time from Scott Garson:
Joanna Howard's "Ghosts and Lovers," from her
recent collection On The Winding Stair (BOA Editions), runs about twenty pages
and carries the label, "a novel in shorts."
I read my first piece of it a couple years ago, in
Snow*Vigate. That particular short
(which Chad Simpson picked for the inaugural Wigleaf Top 50) starts out like
Once I read a fortune in tea leaves of an old woman, the landlady
of a crumbling house for wayward types: those who travel incognito and slink
through the streets of Barcelona darkly clad and ominous, in leather, wearing
eye-patches and sweaty bandanas tied at the throat.
Taken separately, the richnesses here lie in music and
tale. But you don't take them
separately. I don't. In the sentences and paragraphs of
and Lovers," things come together, are whole and alive. As a reader, I feel the wind of the dream, of
the dreamer. What Howard sees, in a
different story, as the "violent pulse" hidden beneath the cuffs of
the master actor—I think I can sense that in Howard's words, and I think it has
something to do with the amazing pleasure they're able to give.
The story is told, as you might have gathered, by a fortune
teller who travels in a Europe that may or may not be historical (I'll get back
to that). A circus
"story-teller," within the story, tells the fortune teller, "The
future is fluid, but the past is final."
It's a great line, but one that seems wrong for the young woman who
tells fortunes, wrong in an interesting way.
For her, gifted as she is in the arts of divination, the future may be
less fluid than the past, which she's forgotten or never knew, and which she
cobbles from others' tales as the events of this tale move forward.
Part of what she's given to learn from (by that same circus
story-teller): a sailor steals the daughter he had by the wife a weathly man,
and "both [perish] at sea."
This story recalls the narrator's own, as related in the first short of
"Ghosts and Lovers." How her
father was a gypsy sailor, her mother "already a bride" when the two
of them met in Barcelona. In the
narrator's story, though, the mother dies in tragedy—a fall from a train. And the father and daughter live on, of
Or do they? There are
ghosts of the future and ghosts of the past in Howard's "Ghosts and
Lovers." One interesting
possibility: there are ghosts of the present, too.
I think of a novella as too long for a story and too short for a novel. In practical terms, given that full-length novels in our time can be a little over a hundred pages, I think novella territory is roughly the 50 to 90 page form. I like the long story format that some 19th century writers worked in, and think of Melville's "Bartleby" or "Benito Cerito," or Kleist's "Michael Kohlhaas," for instance, as avatars of the form. Samuel Beckett's late works - Company, Worstward Ho, and the like - are also important to me in my understanding of the form.
Ted Pelton is the author of four books, of which two, Bartleby, the Sportscaster, and Bhang, are novellas. He has won National Endowment for the Arts and Isherwood fellowships for his fiction writing. He founded and directs Starcherone Books, a publisher of innovative fiction that celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2010. He is Professor and Chair of Humanities at Medaille College of Buffalo, NY. See more at www.tedpelton.com.
I write the word novella as novel(la) because for me, the difference between a novel and a novella is parenthetical. Novel(la)s are short books. And novel(la)s are aggressive and powerful as their size dictates - because of the thin word count (15K-35K words for Mud Luscious Press) these books must dive right in, they cannot afford to waste words. Novel(la)s need to explode, and if they are well-written, they do.
author / press bio
J. A. Tyler is the author of seven novel(la)s including Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books, 2009), In Love With a Ghost (Willows Wept Press, 2010), and A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed (Fugue State Press, 2011). He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press, which houses a novel(la) series featuring We Take Me Apart by Molly Gaudry, An Island of Fifty by Ben Brooks, and When All Our Days Are Numbered by Sasha Fletcher as well as forthcoming novel(la)s from Mathias Svalina, Michael Stewart, and Gergory Sherl. For details, visit: www.mudlusciouspress.com
Here we go with another definition of what a novella is:
The Novella: A
novella is like the 13" inch single from your favorite band. It's a
remix of a good short story into a longer, freer format, where structure
and sentence open up and things happen faster or slower but at the same
time just right. My novella, I Can Make It to California Before It's
Time for Dinner, actually began as a short story by the same name. I
didn't think I could carry the voice through a whole novel, but the
short story bothered me enough, in its containment, to want to set it
free in some other way, see what happened next. And then it was just
right. The novella is the baby bear of literature for us Goldilocks
bio: Jen Michalski's first collection of fiction, Close
Encounters (2007), is available from So New, and her second book is
forthcoming from Dzanc (2013). She is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore
(CityLit Press, 2010) and the editor of jmww (http://jmww.150m.com).
is a muscular fella,
not an idea like a story
but a world itself whose glory
is in concision, impact and wit:
unpadded, unexpanded, unfit
for summer reading
--it’s single redeeming
grace: no added couth
obscures its truth.
The usual take is either that
it’s a novel, unfinished, still flat
or a story volumized
size. Dead wrong.
The novella is the core
of all, not one word
less --or more.
-- The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats
, Hesh Kestin's well-received
new novel, is now available through bookstores or online via Amazon and
Barnes & Noble. Want to read the first chapter for free? Go to http://www.dzancbooks.org/store/kestin-shoeshine.html
--only for you! Or check out this video at http://www.dzancbooks.org/multimedia.html
Back to the novellas to hopefully roar through the second half of Novella Month with plenty of content - this, a definition of the novella from Kyle Minor:
Plenty of writers and critics
have attempted to define the novella based upon a word count, which
starts at 10,000 or 30,000 words and ends around 25,000 or 59,000 words.
That's the kind of shaky math I'm happy to endorse. But I'd rather see
the novella defined by a combination of quantitative and qualitative
grounds. It has to be longer than a story and shorter than a novel, but
it also has to feel different than a story and different than a novel.
I'm hard-pressed to find anything novella-like about The Great Gatsby or Seize the Day or Slaughterhouse-Five,
despite their brevity. They're novels. And I can't see declaring James
Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" or Lee K. Abbott's "One of Star Wars, One of Doom"
anything but short stories. Long short stories, maybe. They've got that
feeling of enclosedness you get when you read a short story. I think
the novella is the form where you get to stretch the short story past
its place of elegant concision, so instead of breaking in the right
place, it goes on and on past the right place, the way life does, so the
meaning it makes is the kind of meaning the length of life makes rather
than the kind of meaning a single episode makes. (See Peter Taylor's
"The Old Forest" or
Jane Smiley's "The
Age of Grief.") Or: the novella is the form where you get to dispense
with scene whenever you feel like it, and compress generations into
seventy or ninety pages. (See Jim Harrison's "Legends of the Fall.") Or:
the novella is the place where you get to traffic in multiple points of
view at story-length for each, so that we see with great concision how
we're missing one another. (See Rick Moody's "The Ring of Brightest
Angels Around Heaven.") Or: the novella is the great form of
incompleteness, where loose ends must remain forever unbound, because
life doesn't offer up such answers. (See Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams.") Or: the
novella is the proper length for the epistolary form (Alice Munro's "A
Wilderness Station"), the altered-consciousness experiment (Katherine Anne Porter's
"Pale Horse, Pale Rider"), the coming-of-age story (Philip Roth's "Goodbye,
Columbus"), and all fables featuring people made of spare parts (George Saunders's The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.)
The novella is, in short but at long, the form best suited to all
mean-it-forever experiments in form, in function, in fun-making, in
fundamentalism, in fertilization, and in firmament firebombing.
Kyle Minor is the author of In
the Devil's Territory, a collection of <
What a refreshing question—one that nobody asks these
days. In the late 19th-Century,
the novella was a popular form.
Magazines printed them and paid well for them and readers devoured them
so ravenously that when Henry James published “Daisy Miller” in a popular
magazine, he became instantly infamous for his depiction of an American girl of
loose morals. The form was so good to
James that he called it the “blessed novella.”
Alas, today it is an orphaned form, rarely able to find a home in either
books (publishers have no faith in marketing novellas) or in literary
magazines, which have little space to dedicate to a form that requires so many
My favorite thing about reading and writing novellas (and I
have written four of them, to my agent’s chagrin) is the way the form can have
the propulsive focus of the short story without compromising the expansiveness
of character and event of the novel.
While a short story may show you one or two things about a character, it
does so mostly by suggestion and implication.
Novels, on the other hand, can give us the sense of intimately knowing a
character as well as we think we know ourselves. At the same time, a novel, especially a
larger one, can fatigue the reader with a pleasant sort of boredom that comes
from knowing someone or something too deeply or for too long. After page 200 or 250 or 450, the novel can
lose some of its power to surprise us, to show us something entirely new. As a hybrid form that is at once a compressed
novel and an expansive short story, the novella joins the strengths of both
forms. In 50-120 pages or so, a skilled
writer can sustain tension and suspense while at the same time drawing a full
portrait of several characters.
I’d like to point interested readers to some of the best
novellas of recent decades so that they can see for themselves just how powerful
the form can be. I wonder how many
people know of or have read the classic novella “Light in the Piazza” by
Elizabeth Spencer. It’s absolutely
beautiful, stunningly so, and possesses the compression of the story and the
expansiveness of the novel that I talk about above. It’s a must read. “The Age of Grief” by Jane Smiley is, I
think, her best work and comes in at just over a hundred pages. William Trevor’s “Nights at the Alexandra”
leaves one floored with its tone of aching sadness and nostalgia. More recently Jim Harrison’s “A Beast God
Forgot to Invent” blew me away. No doubt
many have already read Ian McEwan’s On
Chesil Beach, which, with the help of huge font, was sold as a novel. But, in fact, it’s a novella.
One last thought: Why don’t novellas sell in our country as
stand-alone books? I’m in France as I
write this and can walk into a bookstore and purchase any number of beautiful
little paperbacks that the French refer to as “nouvelle” (strictly translated,
this means short story). They run from
80-150 pages, are cheaper than full-length novels, and clearly have an audience
here. In fact, one best-selling fiction
writer, Amélie Nothomb (she’s Belgian but writes in French), publishes almost
exclusively in this form. Clearly, the
French publishing industry takes the form seriously and French readers do,
too. So perhaps the novella only goes
begging on our
I'm not sure I know, Dan, what makes a novella a novella, or what makes a
novel a novel, or a poem a poem or a story a story. What I do know, or
what I think I know, is what makes a sentence an invigorating,
sensation-giving, living, breathing sentence. When a writer is able to
string together enough of those kinds of sentences in some sort of
sequence, I might be willing to claim that what we then have on our
hands is what most people might safely refer to as a story. When a
writer is able to sustain such a sequence of sentences over a length of
time on the page that might stretch out beyond more than a handful of
pages (or fifty or seventy-five pages) I suppose we have to call what
those sentences make a longer story, or a novella. I'm sure folks like John Gardner and other
literary smarty-pants have more rigid ideas to lean their elbows on so
I'll leave that sort of definition-making to folks more schooled in
these sorts of things than I am or will ever claim to be.
true that I've written three such pieces—in recent issues of Black Warrior
Review and Unsaid— that have stretched out beyond the page-limits of
what might be seen as a conventionally-lengthed short work of fiction,
though in each case they each did so without my intention for them to do
so having anything to do with how far the sentences within were willing
to take me. I am always simply taken, in all instances when I am lucky
enough to be inside the writing of a piece of fiction, and I allow
myself, when I can, to be taken and to ride those sentences for as long
as they might have me as a tagger-along.
Peter Markus is the author of four books: Good, Brother, The Moon is a Lighthouse, The Singing Fish, and Bob, or Man on Boat. His next book, We Make Mud, is due out from Dzanc Books in March 2011.
View Next 15 Posts
Look forward to much more about this man on this blog in the near future, in July we'll have something akin to what we did with Percival Everett last year.
Here's an analogy: If a short story is a
doll's house and a novel is a rambling abode of many mansions, which you
may enter and explore at your leisure, then the novella is a modest
structure--say, a cottage--whose occupants you're forced to spy upon
through its windows. So what if the novella denies you the primary
intimacy with its characters that a novel affords; it enhances your
awareness of the mystery of their movements, the allusiveness of their
speech, while at the same time preserving your appreciation for the
beautiful symmetry of the structure that contains them.
Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, is the author of several previous novels and novellas. He teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York. His most recent novel, The Frozen Rabbi, was just published last month by Algonquin.