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Last Wednesday, I suggested that there was no golden era
where everyone was reading complex literary fiction.
Is that actually true? Did past readers have more refined taste in fiction than we do now?
Here's a list of the bestselling novel by year from 1900 to the present (source
), along with the books published that same year that were part of Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels
What do you make of this list?1900
: To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston Also published: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad1901
: The Crisis
by Winston Churchill (note: the American novelist
Also published: Kim
by Rudyard Kipling1902
: The Virginian
by Owen Wister
Also published: Wings of the Dove
by Henry James1903
: Lady Rose's Daughter
by Mary Augusta Ward
Also published: Way of All Flesh
by Samuel Butler, The Ambassadors
by Henry James, The Call of the Wild
by Jack London1904
: The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
Also published: The Golden Bowl
by Henry James, Nostromo
by Joseph Conrad1905
: The Marriage of William Ashe
by Mary Augusta Ward
Also published: The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton1906
by Winston Churchill1907
: The Lady of the Decoration
by Frances Little
Also published: The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad1908
: Mr. Crewe's Career
by Winston Churchill
Also published: A Room With a View
by E.M. Forster, The Old Wives' Tale
by Arnold Bennett1909
: The Inner Shrine
by Basil King1910
: The Rosary
by Florence Barclay
Also published: Howard's End
by E.M. Forster1911
: The Broad Highway
by Jeffrey Farnol
Also published: Zuleika Dobson
by Max Beerbohm1912
: The Harvester
by Gene Stratton Porter1913
: The Inside of the Cup
by Winston Churchill
Also published: Sons and Lovers
by D.H. Lawrence1914
: The Eyes of the World
by Harold Bell Wright1915
: The Turmoil
by Booth Tarkington
Also published: The Good Soldier
by Ford Maddox Ford, The Rainbow
by D.H. Lawrence, Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham1916
by Booth Tarkington1917
: Mr. Britling Sees It Through
by H.G. Wells
Also published: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce1918
: The U.P. Trail
by Zane Grey
Also published: The Magnificent Ambersons
by Booth Tarkington1919
: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
by V. Blasco Ibanez
Also published: Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson1920
: The Man of the Forest
by Zane Grey
Also published: The Rainbow
by D.H. Lawrence, The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton1921
: Main Street
by Sinclair Lewis*1922
: If Winter Comes
by A.S.M. Hutchison
Also published: Ulysses
by James Joyce1923
: Black Oxen
by Gertrude Atherton1924
: So Big
by Edna Ferber
Also published: A Passage to India
by E.M. Forster, Parade's End
by Ford Maddox Ford1925
by A. Hamilton Gibbs
Also published: The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, An American Tragedy
by Theodore Dreiser1926
: The Private Life of Helen of Troy
by John Erskine
Also published: The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway1927
: Elmer Gantry
by Sinclair Lewis
Also published: To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf, Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather1928
: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder*
Also published: Point Counter Point
by Aldous Huxley1929
: All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Also published: The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner, A High Wind in Jamaica
by Richard Hughes, A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway1930
by Edna Ferber
Also published: As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner, The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett1931
: The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
Also published: Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley1932
: The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
Also published: Light in August
by William Faulkner, Tobacco Road
by Erskine Caldwell1933
: Anthony Adverse
by Hervey Allen1934
: Anthony Adverse
by Hervey Allen
Also published: I, Claudius
by Robert Graves, Appointment in Samarra
by John O'Hara, Tender is the Nighta
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Handful of Dust
by Evelyn Waugh, Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller, The Postman Always Rings Twice
by James M. Cain1935
: Green Light
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: Studs Lonigan
by James T. Farrell1936
: Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell1937
: Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell1938
: The Yearling
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Also published: U.S.A.
by John Dos Passos, Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh, The Death of the Heart
by Elizabeth Bowen1939
: The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck*
Also published: The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West, Finnegans Wake
by James Joyce1940
: How Green Was My Valley
by Richard Llewellyn
Also published: Darkness at Noon
by Arthur Koestler, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers, Native Son
by Richard Wright1941
: The Keys of the Kingdom
by A.J. Cronin1942
: The Song of Bernadette
by Franz Werfel1943
: The Robe
by Lloyd C. Douglas1944
: Strange Fruit
by Lillian Smith1945
: Forever Amber
by Kathleen Winsor
Also published: The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger, Brideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh, Loving
by Henry Green1946
: The King's General
by Daphne du Maurier
Also published: Animal Farm
by George Orwell, All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren1947
: The Miracle of the Bells
by Russell Janney
Also published: Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry1948
: The Big Fisherman
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: The Heart of the Matter
by Graham Greene, The Naked and the Dead
by Norman Mailer1949
: The Egyptian
by Mika Waltari
Also published: 1984
by George Orwell, The Sheltering Sky
by Paul Bowles1950
: The Cardinal
by Henry Morton Robinson1951
: From Here to Eternity
by James Jones*
Also published: A Dance to the Music of Time
by Anthony Powell1952
: The Silver Chalice
by Thomas B. Costain
Also published: Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison1953
: The Robe
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: Go Tell it on the Mountain
by James Baldwin, The Adventures of Augie March
by Saul Bellow1954
: Not as a Stranger
by Morton Thompson
Also published: Lord of the Flies
by William Golding, Under the Net
by Iris Murdoch1955
: Marjorie Morningstar
by Herman Wouk
Also published: Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov, The Ginger Man
by J.P. Donleavy1956
: Don't Go Near the Water
by William Brinkley1957
: By Love Possessed
by James Gould Cozzens
Also published: On the Road
by Jack Kerouac, The Alexandria Quartet
by Lawrence Durrell1958
: Doctor Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak1959
by Leon Uris
Also published: Henderson the Rain King
by Saul Bellow1960
: Advise and Consent
by Allen Drury1961
: The Agony and the Ecstasy
by Irving Stone
Also published: Catch-22
by Joseph Heller, The Moviegoer
by Walker Percy, A House for Mr. Biswas
by V.S. Naipul, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
by Muriel Spark1962
: Ship of Fools
by Katherine Anne Porter
Also published: Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov, A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess1963
: The Shoes of Fisherman
by Morris L. West1964
: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
by John Le Carre1965
: The Source
by James A. Michener1966
: Valley of the Dolls
by Jacqueline Susann
Also published: The Magus
by John Fowles, Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys1967
: The Arrangement
by Elia Kazan
Also published: The Wapshot Chronicle
by John Cheever1968
by Arthur Hailey1969
: Portnoy's Complaint
by Philip Roth*
Also published: Slaughterhouse-Five
by Kurt Vonnegut1970
: Love Story
by Erich Segal
Also published: Deliverance
by James Dickey1971
by Arthur Hailey
Also published: Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner1972
: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach1973
: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach1974
by James A. Michener1975
by E.L. Doctorow*1976
by Leon Uris1977
: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien1978: Chesapeake by James A. Michener1979: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum Also published: A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, Sophie's Choice by William Styron1980: The Covenant by James A. Michener1981: Noble House by James Clavell Also published: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie1982: E.T. the Extraterrestrial Storybook by William Kotzwinkle1983: Return of the Jedi Storybook by Joan D. Vinge Also published: Ironweed by William Kennedy1984: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel1986: It by Stephen King1987: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King1988: The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy1989: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy 1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel1991: Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" by Alexandra Ripley1992
: Dolores Claiburne
by Stephen King1993
: The Bridges of Madison County
by James Robert Waller1994
: The Chamber
by John Grisham1995
: The Rainmaker
by John Grisham1996
: The Runaway Jury
by John Grisham1997
: The Partner
by John Grisham1998
: The Street Lawyer
by John Grisham1999
: The Testament
by John Grisham2000
: The Brethern
by John Grisham2001
by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye2002
: The Summons
by John Grisham2003
: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by J.K. Rowling2004
: The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown2005
: The Broker
by John Grisham2006
: For One More Day
by Mitch Albom2007
: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling2008
: The Appeal
by John Grisham2009
: The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown2010
: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
by Stieg Larsson2011
: The Litigators
by John Grisham2012
: Fifty Shades of Grey
by E.L. James*Bestseller also on list of Top 100 novels
Art: The Bibliophilist's Haunt or Creech's Bookshop by William Fettes Douglas
D.J. Swykert’s short fiction and poetry have been published in The Tampa Review, Monarch Review, Sand Canyon Review, Zodiac Review, Scissors and Spackle, spittoon, Barbaric Yawp and BULL. His novel, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, won a literary competition with The LitWest Group in Los Angeles in 2002. Alpha Wolves, D.J.’s Noble Publishing’s bestselling novel, was released in April, 2012. Children of the Enemy, D.J.’s OmniLit’s bestselling novel, was published for the first time in 2009 and a third edition published in September 2012 by Cambridge Books.
Hi D.J., Please tell everyone a bit about yourself.
D.J.: I’m a blue collar person from Detroit. I’ve worked as a truck driver, dispatcher, logistics analyst, operations manager, and ten years as a 911 operator, which was the very best job of all of them. I write stories like you’d watch a movie and put them down on paper. I have written in different genres; crime, romance, and even a little bit in literary fiction. The last sentence in my writing bio is always: He is a wolf expert. I am not a biologist. I raised two arctic hybrids, had them for eleven years, and have written two books in which they join the other protagonists.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
D.J.: The first thing I ever wrote was a poem to impress my art student girlfriend. That was right after high school. It wasn’t very good, but she was impressed with my effort. I’ve been scribbling things ever since.
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
D.J.: I’ve always wanted a career that I enjoyed. I looked at writing as a possible means to that end. I’ve had some small success, enough to be encouraging, but I’ve always worked for a living. If there’s a central theme to my writing it’s that all life has value. My characters tend to question norms. I tend to question what is considered normal. I like animals, I have empathy for the hardships they endure and my protagonists usually do as well.
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
D.J.: The Death of Anyone is essentially a mystery/suspense story with romance and a little science in it. The story centers on homicide detective Bonnie Benham’s search for the killer of young girls.
This book has a couple of the same characters from an earlier unpublished novel I hold the rights to titled Sweat Street, but I wouldn’t consider it a sequel. If I have some success with The Death of Anyone I may look to publish the first book. And perhaps consider another story with Detective Bonnie Benham. This is not the first time I’ve written from a female POV, but it’s the first time for a female police detective.
What’s the hook for the book?
D.J.: The book introduces readers to a DNA search technique not in common use here in the U.S., Familial DNA. A lot will be written on this subject as the real life trial of Lonnie David Franklin, The Grim Sleeper unfolds in California this year. The trial will set precedence for future use of this DNA search technique and I suspect will eventually lead to a Supreme Court decision on it’s admissibility as evidence. The defense is going to severely question LAPD investigating Lonnie Franklin in the first place as there was no direct evidence linking him to the crime.
How do you develop characters? Setting?
D.J.: They say write what you know, so I set my story in Detroit, where I grew up and lived for a long time and can authentically describe the city and places for the scenes in my story. When I make up a character I usually visualize someone in my head and then give them the characteristics I believe suits the character in my story. I wrote a story about a thirteen year old girl trying to save a pack of young wolves from a bounty hunter. In my mind I visualized Maggie Harrington as Jodie Foster in an old film, Taxi Driver, where she played a thirteen year old prostitute. I used Jodie’s image to describe the girl and my own feelings for animals to impart her emotions concerning the wolves. This is how I generally develop a character.
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
D.J.: I think Bonnie Benham is both unusual and likeable. She was originally in narcotics, but washed out. In her own words she became more “narcotic” than “narc.” As she investigates the murders of adolescent girls she is trying to resurrect herself as well as seek justice for the victims. This makes Bonnie a very edgy homicide cop. The story contains several suspects who are both likeable and unlikeable.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
D.J.: I’m a ponderer. I do a lot of thinking about my character and the story in my head before I begin to write. I usually have figured out how I wish to end the story. When I begin to write I put my character into a situation and from there the chapters all point towards the ending. It doesn’t always work out quite as simply as this sounds, but this is how I begin.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
D.J.: I think my best writing is in first person. But The Death of Anyone and Children of the Enemy are in third person past tense, which most readers I think prefer. First person works good as a narrative for a strong character in a short book, but since it can only get into the one character’s head it can get a bit tedious.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
D.J.: I grew up in Detroit, so, for crime or mystery stories I’ve set them in Detroit, which unfortunately has held the Murder Capital of the World title several times. I have also written stories set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I lived on the Keweenaw Peninsula for a decade. Love it up there, a true wilderness much like Alaska only with smaller mountains. But the winter is extremely long, turbulent and prohibitive.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
D.J.: I liked this review left on Amazon:
The Death of Anyone by David Swykert, reads like a Jessie Stone movie, was a true page turner for me. His subject is close to our hearts and the viewpoint is an eye opener. He has interwoven the personal problems of some of his Characters making them real. He also has a flair for writing some romantic scenes that most ladies will find endearing. If you enjoy a mystery, some anxiety and a little romance I would recommend you read The Death of Anyone.
What are your current projects?
D.J.: I have an offbeat/quirky romantic tale titled The Pool Boy’s Beatitude. The book will publish this summer by a small Indie press out of Detroit, Rebel e Publishing. They do have a book distributor and a small print run will be done. It’s the story of an alcoholic physicist who drops out and is cleaning swimming pools to earn a living, skimming what he refers to as the “Infinite Pond.” The story follows the human orbit of Jack Joseph and his trail of broken relationships until he ultimately lands himself in a county jail.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
D.J.: I have a page on an artistic collective called: www.magicmasterminds.com You can find information about my work, and me on the site, and see a host of other amazing artists, musicians and writers.
Thanks for joining us today, D.J.!
D.J.: Thanks so much for the opportunity.
Writing in Slate, Jacob Silverman argues that literary culture, driven by Twitter and blogging, has gotten too nice
if you spend time in the literary Twitter- or blogospheres, you'll be positively besieged by amiability, by a relentless enthusiasm that might have you believing that all new books are wonderful and that every writer is every other writer's biggest fan. It's not only shallow, it's untrue, and it's having a chilling effect on literary culture, creating an environment where writers are vaunted for their personal biographies or their online followings rather than for their work on the page.
I think we've all encountered shallow and forced positivity online, and all those likes and RTs and squeefests can, at times, ring a more than little hollow. I'm a bit wary of reviewers who choose not to write negative reviews, which, by the way, is completely hypocritical because I have a self-imposed rule not to give bad reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
But I disagree with Silverman that old school negativity is an integral part of a more virtuous literary culture. Sure, we need both positive and (thoughtfully) negative reviews, and above all we need honesty, but there's no reason thoughtful literary criticism and squeefests can't coexist. It's a big Internet out there.
Besides, uh, have you seen
some of the reviews on Goodreads? Some of them would make H.L Mencken blush they're so hostile.
Even if one accepts the premise that we're getting more positive in the Internet age... what are we losing again? Old school literary smackdowns may have been entertaining for those who agree with the reviewer, but I'm not sure I see how hysterical pans really advance constructive dialogue.
So basically... if there's a problem I don't see a problem.
What do you think? Too many rainbows and puppies out there? Would we be better off with more negativity and fewer niceties? Does the problem have more to do with cliqueishness than positivity?Art: The Happy Violinist with a Glass of Wine by Gerard van Honthorst
STATUS: It's BEA time! Oh crazy schedule
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.
Obviously I'm not just talking to children's editors while in New York. So here's a little snippet of what editors have been buying in the adult realm:
1) Literary novels with some sort of magical element (i.e The Night Circus)
2) Multi-cultural literary novels by non-American writers
3) Voice-driven literary novels that shed light on the contemporary modern landscape for protagonists in their 20s or 30s.
In women's fiction and romance
1) contemporary stories with small town settings
2) southern contemporary women's fix
3) looking or romantic comedies in romance (haven't heard that desire in a while!)
Off to the Javits Center!
This is a recurring column I'm calling "7 Things I've Learned
So Far," where writers at any
stage of their career can talk about seven things they've learned along their writing
journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from novelist Alexander
Alexander is excited to give away a free copy of his
novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US
to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before.
Alexander Yates grew up in Haiti,
Mexico, Bolivia and
the Philippines. His first novel, Moondogs,
March 2011) was given a starred review by Kirkus,
which called it “accomplished ... unusually involving.”
His other work has appeared in American Fiction,
FiveChapters.com and the Kenyon Review Online.
Alex has a website and
is on Twitter.
1. Revision is important, but finishing your draft is more important. I learned
this the hard way. It took me five years to finish writing my novel, but in retrospect
two of those years were wasted (or at least used very ineffectively) on obsessive
over-revision. I wrote my first few chapters and, realizing they weren’t very good,
I began rewriting. And rewriting. What I didn’t realize at the time is that first
chapters are supposed to stink. How could they not? By the time Moondogs was
finally picked up for publication I’d deleted virtually all the early material I’d
agonized over for years. Just because I’d been reluctant to hold my nose and push
through to the end of the book.
My takeaway: Nothing compares to the perspective that a full
draft (stinky though it may be) will give you. For all you know that scene you are
pouring hours into revising doesn’t even belong in the book.
2. There is no substitute for time at the keys. This, of course, is a cliché.
But it also can’t be overemphasized. Sometimes work needs to simmer away in your head,
but the process of discovery happens much quicker when you’re struggling with your
own raw sentences. Some writers will tell you: “Treat it like a job.” This is maybe
a little extreme—writers like George Saunders and Charles Yu have written brilliant
books while working full time at office jobs. But whether it’s eight hours a day,
or two, you need to make them happen. Time at the keys is no guarantee of success,
but it is a precursor to it.
3. The Internet is not your friend … unless you are way better at time management
than me. But if you’re like me (read: a big and distractible baby) then the Internet
is a major enemy to productive writing time. I got around it by writing my novel on
a 90’s era laptop with busted Ethernet ports and no wireless. Even as I write this,
my modem and router are unplugged. If they weren’t, I
East Wind: West Wind. Pearl S. Buck. 1930/1995. Moyer Bell. 288 pages.These things I may tell you, My Sister. I could not speak thus even to one of my own people, for she could not understand the far countries where my husband lived for twelve years. Neither could I talk freely to one of the alien women who do not know my people and the manner of life we have had since the time of the ancient empire. But you? You have lived among us all your years. Although you belong to those other lands where my husband studied his western books, you will understand. I speak the truth. I have named you My Sister. I will tell you everything.
I loved this one. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. As in I think I may have found (another) author to become obsessed with.
East Wind: West Wind was Pearl S. Buck's first novel. It's set in China. Our selfless heroine, Kwei-lan, finds herself in a troubling position. She's been raised in a very traditional home. She's been raised--some might even say trained--from a very, very young age to please her future family--her future mother-in-law, her future husband. As a daughter, her mother has always, always kept in mind that she is not truly of their family. Kwei-lan's marriage has been arranged--set in place--since the time she was a baby. The first few chapters chronicle her childhood, her bringing up. Readers get a glimpse of the culture. How women lead very separate lives from the men. How women are to be silent and obedient and always willing to please their husbands, their masters. Readers get a glimpse of this culture. Of what made a woman beautiful, attractive, desirable. And one of the things that made a woman beautiful are incredibly tiny feet which led of course to the practice of binding feet. (Being able to cook well also helped a woman please her husband. And you HAVE to know how to pour tea for your elders.)
But our heroine, our narrator, is in for quite a shock. For her husband has spent time in the West. He has become educated; he's a doctor. He prefers to break with some of the traditions, to live a more modern life. He wants his wife to be more of an equal and less of a slave. He wants his wife to be his companion. He wants to share his life with someone. He doesn't want a silent shadow, an obedient slave. He wants more. The first step may just be the hardest--for he is asking his wife to unbind her feet.
East Wind: West Wind is all about tension and drama. For though our heroine wants to please her husband, although she is fascinated by some of these new ideas, she finds it difficult to forget everything she's grown up believing. It's not something that can be done in one week, one month, or one year.
But. This isn't her story alone. No. Some of the most dramatic scenes in the novel focus on her brother. Like her husband, her brother has been educated in the West, he has spent time in foreign countries. He's learned to adapt to new ways of life. And he does NOT want to return to China to marry the woman he's been betrothed to since he
Kinfolk. Pearl S. Buck. 1945/2004. Moyer Bell. 408 pages. The theater in Chinatown was crowded to the doors. Every night actors brought from Canton played and sang the old Chinese operas. If Billy Pan, the manager, announced a deficit at the end of the lunar year, businessmen contributed money to cover it. The theater was a bulwark of home for them. Their children went to American schools, spoke the American language, acted like American children. The fathers and mothers were not highly educated people and they could not express to the children what China was, except that it was their own country, which must not be forgotten. But in the theater the children could see for themselves what China was. Here history was played again and ancient heroes came to life before their eyes. It was the only place in Chinatown which could compete with the movies. Parents brought their children early and stayed late. They talked with friends and neighbors, exchanged sweetmeats and gossip, and sat spellbound and dreaming when the curtain went up to show the figures who were contemporary with their ancestors.
As much as I just loved and adored East Wind: West Wind
--my very first Pearl S. Buck novel--I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Kinfolk. It is so very different from The Good Earth
. While I struggled to find anyone sympathetic in The Good Earth and Sons, I could name half a dozen characters (if not more) that I liked, loved, respected, or admired in Kinfolk. And here's the thing, even the characters that I didn't necessarily "like", I found them to be well-developed, complex. Unlike the often nameless one-dimensional characters in The Good Earth and Sons. And the language, the style. It wowed me. It really did! So much to love and appreciate.
Kinfolk is about the Liang family. Dr. Liang, the father, is a scholar who fled China because it was getting to be too harsh, too ugly, too dangerous, too uncertain. He's a scholar, a teacher, a thinker, a philosopher. He needs peace and quiet and rest. He needs to be surrounded by people who appreciate his intellect, his superiority. (And does he ever think he's superior to just about anyone who's ever lived.) His wife, well, she "appreciates" him as best she can. Knowing that he can be oh-so-difficult to live with. But knowing that it is her place to bring out the best in him. To calm him when he gets furious or frustrated. But this isn't always easy since he doesn't respect her or see her as someone worthy of love and respect. She's the mother of his children. But. That's about it. He doesn't feel like she's intellectually or emotionally his soul mate. And he doesn't see any need to treat her as if she was the love of his life. It's her job to appreciate him, not the other way round.
So the Liangs have four children--two of the children were born in China, two of the children were born in America--James and Mary are the oldest, Peter and Louise are the youngest. James and Mary have a deep longing to return to China, to make their home, their future in China. They know it won't be easy. They know it will require sacrifice and hard work. But neither James or Mary would want to live anywhere else. They wouldn't trade the hardships, the uncertainties for anything because they feel
This series is called "Successful
Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters
that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual
query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter
The 54th installment in this series is with agent Elisabeth Weed (Weed
Literary) for Meg Mitchell Moore’s debut
Arrivals (May 25, 2011; Reagan Arthur Books). Learn
more at megmitchellmoore.com, or through
Dear Ms. Weed:
My name is Meg Moore, and I'm writing to you to see if you'd be interested in taking
a look at my first novel.
The novel, THE ARRIVALS, tells the story of Ginny and William Owen, retired parents
of three grown children, who lead a peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont. But one
summer, when their oldest daughter Lillian brings her two young children to her parents'
house to escape her crumbling marriage, things start to get complicated. It's not
just Lillian turning to Ginny and William for help. Lillian's younger brother Stephen
is preparing for fatherhood with his successful, ambitious and misunderstood wife
Jane when pregnancy complications extend a weekend visit to his parents into a weeks-long
bed rest. Rachel, the youngest Owen sibling, who is trying to forge an independent
life in New York City, needs help of a different sort: money, and lots of it.
As Lillian embarks on a friendship with a young priest, tension builds between Ginny
and William over how much to allow the lives of their children to intrude into theirs,
and between the siblings as they realize that even as adults they are competing for
their parents' help and attention. By the end of the summer, each character has had
to learn how to negotiate the precarious landscape of family love and loyalty. Each
has had to re-examine his or her assumptions about balancing professional success
and parenting. And everyone has discovered, in his own way, that a parent never stops
being a parent.
One reader has compared the novel's themes to those of Heidi Pitlor's THE BIRTHDAYS,
and I think it will find an audience in readers of that novel as well as novels by
Joanna Trollope or Carol Shields—writers who use domestic settings to illuminate universal
I work as a freelance writer in Newburyport, Mass., where I live with my husband and
my three little gi
By: Kristin Nelson,
Blog: Pub Rants
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, USA Today
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STATUS: Even though I look absolutely ridiculous doing a happy dance, I’m doing it anyway! White woman overbite. Here I come.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE LOAD OUT by Jackson Browne
This is just getting impossible. If I keep hitting crazy milestones, what will I have to look forward to? Last year, I had 3 authors on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.
Then it happened twice in one year. Fabulous. Where to go next?
How about 4 authors on the NYT list at the same time? And 3 of them on the top 150 USA Today Bestseller list at the same time as well.
Yep! That’s the news that hit my inbox about an hour ago. And here they are.
At #19 on the Trade Paperback list and #146 on USA Today
At #9 on the Children's list
At #11 on the Mass Market paperback list and #109 on USA Today
At #13 on the eBook listand #59 on USA Today
Guess the Plot
Through a Glass Darkly
1. The school's science nerd hacks Kari's digital scale and livestreams the results on the Internet, launching Kari into a deadly struggle with anorexia, bulimia, cutting, and a mean stepmom.
2. Nerdy Aaron could not believe his luck! His cool new house-mates not only turned him on to the joys of substance abuse, but they actually trusted him to store the pillowcase full of weed in his room. Hilarity ensues when their house gets raided.
3. The light is out. The glass is broken. Preacher man Joss Simpson will either lose his soul or save it when he enters the mysterious mirrored portal to Dimension X. He has to build a city, an army, and save the world.
4. A gay Japanese man in his last year of law school in the US goes out for the football team and falls for the wide receiver. But will his conservative family in Japan approve? Also, other characters who see life . . . through a glass darkly.
5. At a wild party celebrating his divorce, Steve Betts falls through a second story picture window in the dark. He wakes up in the hospital to find that his wiseacre friends have left him a gift: copies of all 273 books listed on Amazon under the title "Through A Glass Darkly".
6. Kids holding a giant bar mirror across one lane of a dark mountain highway are causing causing a rash of fatal roll-over accidents by drivers trying to avoid head-on collisions (with themselves) -- until a suicidal divorcee sees her chance at escape and floors it dead ahead.
Dear Evil Editor,
Stephen James has finally accepted himself as a gay man when he meets Grace and, one coffee later, is left torn between his undeniable attraction to men and the red-headed exception that proves the rule. [Does that mean I can't be sure I'm straight unless I find a guy who's the exception that proves the rule?] [How many coffees did it take for him to accept himself as gay?] He and Grace marry, but his confusion continues, and the marriage fails. [Too bad. But how could anyone have foreseen that?] Another year, another coffee shop, and this time it is Gabriel who has Stephen brushing up on his flirting skills. Will it be different with Gabriel, [Count on it.] or will Stephen push him away as he did Grace? [Don't take this the wrong way, but who cares?]
Higen Nishida attends law school in the United States, planning to return to Japan, the family law firm, and an arranged marriage upon graduation. [Apparently you've overreacted to my last comment by switching the query to a different book.] [Is the legal system in Japan so similar to America's that going to law school in the US prepares you to practice law in Japan? A lot of law school involves studying cases that can be cited as precedents, but not in any country.] When Gabriel encourages him to try out for the football team, [In his last year of law school
Guess the Plot
1. Evelyn has always felt secure within her own borders. But when she opens a door into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith, she finds herself thinking about thoughts and dreaming dreams of reality. And faith.
2. Some superheroes are strong. Some are fast. Some can fly. Gus Rodin, aka "The Thinker" is smart. Thrill as he fights evil by sitting down to contemplate.
3. He used to call her his Lucky Penny, but now that they're divorced, (due to her affair, mind you) he just calls her Ex-Pensive. Why can't he just forget about her? She's all he can think about. It's like witchcraft or something. Hang on! There was that dead goat and pentagram in the garage...
4. To think, or not to think . . . I think. When you have a 10 minute memory it's all a little fuzzy.
5. Anne has just graduated NYU with a degree in Sociology and $100,000 in student loans. There are no jobs to be had in her field of choice: social justice at a top non-profit in NYC. A gin and sex filled weekend will determine her fate: give up and go work at her uncle's accounting firm, or say screw it and be a stripper.
6. Unable to think of a good title, an author goes to a random word generator site, specifies "adjective," and is given . . . Pensive.
Sister Evelyn of the C.G. Priori lived her life sheltered and absorbed in the understanding that the Influence would always be a dream away, protecting and securing her future. All of that changes one day and shakes up Evelyn’s fifty years of devotion with the single opening of a rusted and once sealed door, leading her past her own borders, and into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith. [I was about to suggest that we drop paragraph 1 and start the query with paragraph 2. Then I looked ahead and discovered that paragraph 1 is the entire plot.]
PENSIVE, a debut novel of 50,100 words, thrusts the reader into a world where thoughts are controlled by the rules of a close-minded society, and consequences are extreme for those that dare to ask what lies outside their own borders. [You keep using that word. I'm not clear on what it means.] A notable work it can be compared to would be The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas. [I Googled The End of Mr. Y, and I agree that it's a good comparison, in that it sounds just as wacko as your book. However, compare the first paragraph of that book's plot description (on Wikipedia):
The book tells the story of Ariel Manto, a PhD student who has been researching the 19th-century writer Thomas Lumas. She finds an extremely rare copy of Lumas's novel The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop. The book is rumoured to be cursed - everyone who has read it has died not long after
How to Create Literary FictionBy Maggie Ball
As a book reviewer, I get anywhere from fifty to one hundred review requests a week. Of these, I might accept five or so. While I do occasionally take nonfiction books, most of what I accept will be in the genre known as literary fiction. But just what is literary fiction?
What differentiates literary fiction from what most publishers class as commercial or genre oriented fiction, and why am I biased towards it? It's a question I get asked regularly. Some, like author David Lubar ("A Guide to Literary Fiction," 2002) equate the label with work that is pompous, dull, plotless, and overly academic: "If you're ever in doubt about whether a story is literary, there's a simple test. Look in a mirror immediately after reading the last sentence. If your eyebrows are closer together than normal, the answer is yes." Publishers often use this label for work which defies other genre distinctions, eg it isn't romance, isn't "chick-lit," isn't science or speculative fiction, isn't a thriller, action, or political drama. It is meant to denote a fiction which is of higher quality, richer, denser, or, as the literary fiction book club states, work which "can make us uncomfortable or can weave magic."
These distinctions aren't always clear, and there are some superb exceptions to the genre rule, such as Margaret Atwood or China Mieville, whose high quality work fits the speculative fiction genre, or Umberto Eco and Iain Pears, whose work is full of mystery and suspense. All writers feel that their work is high quality, and most write fiction with the goal of producing great work. So how can we ensure that our work is literary fiction rather than some other form? Here are five tips to guide writers who are inclined to produce literary fiction:1. Aim for transcendency.
The one quality which seems to be present in abundance in literary fiction and much less so in other forms, is what agent and author Noah Lukeman calls "transcendency." It isn't easy to define, and in his exceptional book, The Plot Thickens (St Martin's Press, 2002), Lukeman presents a number of points, such as multidimensional characters and circumstances, room for interpretation, timelessness, relatability, educational elements, self discovery, and lasting impression. I would say that transcendency equates to depth, to writing which does more than entertain its readers, and instead, changes something, however small, in the way they perceive themselves. How do you get transcendency in fiction? With a deep theme, deep and powerful characters, complex plots, and exceptional writing skills. Sound easy?2. Read quality literature
. This is a lot easier than transcendency, though not unrelated. Since achieving literary fiction is a subtle and difficult thing, you've got to develop your literary senses. The best way of doing that is to read books which fit this genre. If you want to create literary fiction, chances are, you probably are already reading it. These are books by the writers we call "great." Your list of names may differ from mine, but these are the writers who win prizes like the Booker, the Pulitzer, the Commonwealth Prize, and the National Book Award to name just a few. The more great literature you read, the better able you will become at recognising the elements which make a fiction literary.3. Don't get defensive!
Lubar's article is lots of fun, but literary fiction isn't meant to be snobbish, academic, plotless, or boring in any way; just well crafted. That may
Welcome to the Book Blog Tour of How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler!
Set amidst the lush pine forests and rich savannahs of Florida's Northern Panhandle, this is the story of one woman whose existence until now seemed fairly normal: She is thirtysomething, married and goes about her daily routine as a writer. But we soon learn that ghosts, an indifferent husband, and a seemingly terminal case of writer's block are burdening Clarissa's life. She awakes on the summer solstice and, prodded by her own discontent and one ghost's righteous need for truth, commences upon a twenty-four-hour journey of self-discovery.
Her harrowing, funny, and startling adventures lead Clarissa to a momentous decision: She must find a way to do the unthinkable. Her life and the well-being of a remarkable family of blithe spirits hang in the balance.
In How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, Connie May Fowler once again demonstrates her keen abilities as a storyteller. A remarkably original and empowering novel about an unexpected midlife awakening, it will resonate and be discussed for years to come.
I admit that when I read about Clarisse Burden in her large, well cared for and beautifully proportioned house with a husband frolicking with nude models in the garden, I didn't sympathize with Clarisse. I kept wanting her to get angry and kick the deadbeat out of her house!
But as Clarisse's personal history, wit and personality unfolded, I slowly sympathized and could understand why she didn't call her husband on his ludicrous behavior. Albeit, I kept hoping that she would. Getting to know Clarisse - her kindness and generosity to the young reporter, her wry internal voice, and interest in her surroundings - helped draw me in.
Once I got into it, I thoroughly enjoyed How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly. Clarissa's voice is smart, observant, and a little sad. As she focuses on other people and their stories, she becomes engaged and you see how Clarissa was able to write stories that touched people's lives. If you're looking for an unusual absorbing read, I highly recommend How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly.
ISBN-10: 0446540684 - Hardcover $23.99
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (April 2, 2010), 288 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author: Connie May Fowler is an essayist, screenwriter, and novelist. She is the author of five novels, most recently, The Problem with Murmur Lee, and a memoir, When Katie Wakes. Her 1996 novel, Before Women Had Wings, became a bestseller in paperback and was adapted into a successful Oprah Winfrey Presents movie. She also founded the Connie May Fowler with Wings Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding women and children in need.
Thanks so much to Miriam, Henry, and Hatchette Books Group for this review opportunity!
"Agent Advice" is a series of quick interviews
with literary and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about
their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.
This installment features Lisa Bankoff of ICM (International
is seeking: literary fiction, some women's fiction,
some mainstream fiction, and narrative nonfiction written by journalists.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
LB: I was an assistant
at ICM and learned by paying attention and asking questions. I was very motivated
and wanted to somehow be part of a book's genesis, an act of creation that still astounds
me, one thin page after another adding up to a thing of heft and consequence.
something recently released that you’re excited about?
LB: A recent novel
which has a special place in my heart and has sold very well and yet no one seems
to have heard of is Laura Kasischke's In a Perfect World. Two others on the
cusp of publication: A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer (June 2010) and Adrienne
McDonnell's debut novel The Doctor and the Diva (July 2010).
And a very special and unique work, nothing else like it,
is David Lipsky's road trip with David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End
Up Becoming Yourself.
GLA: You specialize
in literary fiction. What draws you to this unique category?
LB: If by literary
we mean writing that's assured, intelligent, distinctive, sometimes playful and wry,
and never boring, then the question becomes how could I not be drawn to it?
GLA: I would
imagine literary fiction isn’t the easiest thing to sell. Is it getting easier or
harder as time goes on?
LB: It's head-banging
hard on some days; on other days, it's the one thing editors can't get enough of—and
those are the truly great days.
GLA: Two of
the first fiction authors I looked up of yours were Elizabeth Berg and Claire Cook.
It seems like many/most of their books could be classified as women’s or upmarket
fiction. More than just “literary fiction,” do you find yourself gravitating toward
upmarket fiction with women protagonists?
LB: What they share
is a talent for capturing the voices and concerns of women with whom many readers
identify; their characters feel familiar but in a good way. It's fair to say that
upmarket fiction with female protagonists finds me; it's not that I'm on the prowl
This new series is called "Successful
Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters
that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting
the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why
the letter worked.
The 34th installment in this series is with agent Michelle Brower (Folio
Literary) and her author, Michele
Young-Stone, for the literary fiction novel, The
Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors (April 2010).
Dear Ms. Brower:
Please consider representing my novel, The
Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.
A literary novel, The Handbook... spans nineteen years in the lives of the
two main characters (Becca, born into privilege in 1969, and Buckley, born into poverty
in 1959), and suggests that people, however disparate, are linked. The 400-page narrative
encompasses multiple themes, but ultimately the book is a story of redemption.
Buckley, whose mother is struck dead by lightning, writes a nonfiction handbook, The
Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, excerpts of which appear throughout the
novel. Becca, a repeat lightning strike survivor, buys Buckley’s Handbook through
an ad in the back pages of a magazine. Becca and Buckley, destined to collide, meet
during a massive electrical storm where there is a surprising reversal of fortune.
Structurally, the novel tells Becca’s story, then Buckley’s—the tension mounting until
the two meet.
I am a thirty-four year old MFA fiction graduate My screenplay Spotting Normal was
a 2003 semi-finalist for the Chesterfield Writers Film Project Award and a 2004 finalist
for the CineStory screenwriting award. My story “Cop Drag” was a finalist in the First
Annual Lewis Nordan Fiction Contest sponsored by Algonquin Books. My second screenplay, Paint
Spain With Bart, was a finalist in the 2006 Screenplay Festival Contest sponsored
by InkTip. I am currently halfway through my second novel.
Let me know if I may send you the first 100 pages or the full manuscript.
Michele’s query absolutely jumped out from the slushpile
for me, at first for one reason alone: her title was amazing. For all readers, a title
creates a visceral response, and as agents, we want that response to be “I must pick
this book up!” In this case, there is what we call a “high concept” aspect to the
Commentary from Michelle
Valerie and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring a giveaway of 3 copies of Anita Shreve's A Change in Altitude. I heard Anita Shreve talk about A Change in Altitude during the Boston Book Festival last October and am very excited to host this giveaway!About the Book:
Margaret and Patrick have been married just a few months when they set off on what they hope will be a great adventure-a year living in Kenya. Margaret quickly realizes there is a great deal she doesn't know about the complex mores of her new home, and about her own husband.
A British couple invites the newlyweds to join on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. But during their harrowing ascent, a horrific accident occurs. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Margaret struggles to understand what happened on the mountain and how these events have transformed her and her marriage, perhaps forever.A Change in Altitude
illuminates the inner landscape of a couple, the irrevocable impact of tragedy, and the elusive nature of forgiveness. With stunning language and striking emotional intensity, Anita Shreve transports us to the exotic panoramas of Africa and into the core of our most intimate relationships.About the Author:Anita Shreve began writing fiction while working as a high school teacher. Although one of her first published stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975, Shreve felt she couldn't make a living as a fiction writer so she became a journalist. She traveled to Africa, and spent three years in Kenya, writing articles that appeared in magazines such as Quest, US, and Newsweek. Back in the United States, she turned to raising her children and writing freelance articles for magazines. Shreve later expanded two of these articles — both published in the New York Times Magazine — into the nonfiction books Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone. At the same time Shreve also began working on her first novel, Eden Close. With its publication in 1989, she gave up journalism for writing fiction full time, thrilled, as she says, with "the rush of freedom that I could make it up."
Since Eden Close Anita Shreve has written eleven other novels: Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, Resistance, The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, The Last Time They Met, Sea Glass, All He Ever Wanted, Light on Snow, A Wedding in December and, most recently, B
Guess the Plot
Jesus, Mo and Cheese Puffs
1. Jesus is a Puerto Rican immigrant living in New York. Mo is his neighbor and drinking buddy. Together they have a dream to transform the snack food industry.
2. Mo and his wife Flo pack the car with Cheese Puffs and head for sunny California so Flo can get plastic surgery from a TV doctor. Along the way they meet Angel, a homeless woman who tells them about Jesus. Will Angel renew their faith, or will they give her some Cheese Puffs and tell her to get lost?
3. Jesus and Mo are middle grade Vampyres without a care in the world . . . until their school cafeteria, trying to meet strict new healthy lunch regulations, adds garlic to the Cheese Puffs. Hilarity ensues.
4. Being Jesus means you can hate but you can't show it. Mo is God's relative but God smat him and threw him into the cheese puffs. Jesus goes back to woodworking, which he likes very much. The puffs, 12 of them, wander the desert until it rains. They melt, Jesus stays a carpenter and Mo becomes Moses.
5. Mo smokes one bowl too many, sending him on an epic crusade for Cheese Puffs. When he opens the bag of cheesy airy goodness and discovers a puff in the likeness of Christ the Savior, a moral dilemma ensues as he considers whether to sell it on eBay.
6. When Jesus Christ appears at Mo's door seeking a bed for the night, Mo is only too happy to oblige. If this doesn't get him into heaven, nothing will. But Mo regrets his hospitality the next morning when he wakes to find Jesus gone and the entire bag of Cheese Puffs eaten.
Dear Evil Editor,
When Flo Brown wins $40,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket it’s vanity that propels her to agree to a cross country trip with her husband Mo. [If it's Mo's idea to take the trip, one wonders if it's Mo who's the vain one.] In no time at all, Flo packs, and is ready to go. She and Mo plan to drive from Indiana to California so she can have one of those “TV doctors" do plastic surgery on her mangled eye. It’s with this premise in mind that she and Mo pile in the car along with extra bags of cheese puffs. [Be specific: Is she looking to hire Dr. Taub on House, or the doctors on Nip & Tuck? Are they packing regular cheese puffs or the crunchy kind?]
From the get-go, their trip is anything but ordinary. Their first stop is at a bitty gas station where the clerk directs them to a favored diner. There they meet a young family with twin toddlers and a broken-down car. Mo, having been a mechanic in Vietnam offers to help. Flo goes with Kendy, the mother of the twins and her toddlers [The twins are the toddlers. Just say Flo goes with Kendy and her kids to the park. ] to the park. What Flo doesn’t know is Kendy is Mo’s granddaughter, but at this point, neither Flo nor Mo knows she exists. [So far you haven't backed up the claim that the trip is anything but ordinary. The granddaughter bit is unusual (in fact, is sounds like a one in a trillion chance), but no one kn
Thissssssssss Weeeeeeek... InPublishing
Page Critique Friday is alive and well!! It's happening over in the Forums. You do not need to register in the Forums to check out the Page Critique thread, but you will have to register if you'd like to leave a comment. To register, just click here and it should be quite self-explanatory. Other than that it's the same as before, so stop on by.
Lots and lots of news this week, so let's get started.
First up, the most comprehensive review I have ever seen about the relative environmental benefits of e-books vs. paper books was published by Slate's The Green Lantern. The winner? E-books on every count, provided you read more than 18 books on an iPad and 23 books on a Kindle. Even on chemicals/metals, often cited as a problem with e-readers, the Green Lantern judged the side-effects of producing ink more harmful than the metals that go into e-readers. Worth a read.
Random House and agent Andrew Wylie have settled their standoff over the rights to backlist e-book titles that Wylie had announced would be exclusively published by Amazon. In the end, Random House and Wylie came to terms, and the e-books will be published by Random House after all. Word this morning is that Wylie and Penguin are negotiating as well. Bloomsbury publisher Peter Ginna has a great analysis of some of the implications. While early reports tended to characterize this as a "win" for Random House, Ginna points out that it really depends on the deal that was struck (and the ones yet to be struck).
In further e-book news, PWxyz spotted a good explanation from Wired about the economics of e-book pricing, another e-book domino has fallen as Laura Lippman's brand new bestseller is selling more e-books than hardcovers, there's a color e-reader called the Literati coming, the Wall Street Journal took a look at the reading habits of e-book readers (hint: they read more), Seth Godin made some publishing waves as he said in an interview that he will no longer publish the traditional way (citing the frustration of the long wait and filters of traditional publishing), and oh yeah, the NY Times had an article about digital devices and learning and attention spans but I've already ohmigod how awesome was Project Runway last night????
And yeah yeah news news, what about e-books and author revenue? Well, Mike Shatzkin has a really great post explaining how the royalty ma
You may have heard from, oh, I don't know, the Time Magazine cover
or the Vogue profile
or the rave reviews
or the Picoult/Weiner spat
or the author video where Franzen says he doesn't like author videos
or the fact that the President of the United States was spotted with it
..... anyway, you might have heard that Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out today, his first since THE CORRECTIONS, and it's a pretty big deal.
I haven't yet read FREEDOM
, but from the early reviews this novel is everything that our Internet-manic, high concept craving, supposedly dumbed down culture is not. It "[deconstructs] a family’s history to give us a wide-angled portrait of the country as it rumbled into the materialistic 1990s." (NY Times
) It explores "the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives." (LA Times
You can't exactly Tweet a summary of what this book is about. Whether you like Franzen's books or not (as you can probably tell: I'm a big fan), it's a novel that punches a gaping hole through the remarkably persistent idea that the publishing industry, and the culture as a whole, is only interested in high concept schlock and the lowest common denominator.
On the other hand, FREEDOM, in its bigness, in its You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America, is already a novel of the times - the big books getting steadily bigger, accumulating hype with gravitational pull, and then there's everything else fighting for attention.
We seem to be a culture that is simultaneously craving books that fit our exact specifications at the same time that we want the shared experience of reading something, loving it, and sharing that experience with our friends (virtual and real life). Culture seems to be moving two contradictory ways - fracturing into ever-smaller niches at the same time that it's coalescing around a few massively popular books and movies. We normally think of the blockbusters in terms of James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and Stephenie Meyer, but even in literary fiction you have your FREEDOMs and OSCAR WAOs.
And in a still further sign of the time, even though Franzen once said of his disdain for novels in e-book form
, "Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I'm fetishizing truth and integrity too," FREEDOM is available for sale as an e-book simultaneously with the hardcover.
What do you think? Will you be reading FREEDOM?
Recently, it seems that New Jersey's place in popular culture has been solidified by the TV popularity of shoes like Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
But for New Jersey native P.F. Kluge, now a professor and writer-in-residence at Kenyon College in Ohio, it's the place where he grew up, and a perfect setting for a novel about how the American dream has changed through generations.
The Newark Star-Ledger and Cleveland Plain Dealer both reviewed Kluge's new novel, A CALL FROM JERSEY, this week.
The Star-Ledger's interview offers more insight into the creation of this literary novel and the thought processes Kluge had while writing. Read the full article here, but our favorite excerpt is below.
"The book is really about conversations with my father I never got to have," Kluge said. “I have tried to imagine his experience as an American, and as a German in America, especially between the two world wars."
The son, too, is culturally adrift. He is a second-generation American, suddenly trying to understand his parents’ life and re-connect with their lost old-world ways.
“As I grow older, and the number of years since my parents have died grows larger, I grow closer to them,” Kluge said. “As I get older, I miss the sound of their voices, the sound of German being spoken around me, and the stories they told. I miss the beer parties and German songs sung into the night. I miss mother’s potato pancakes.”
The book’s sense of place is authentic. Kluge writes about “13 Bumps,” (Johnston Road in Watchung), which climbs the mountain above Route 22 and has been a teenage makeout place for generations, from Model As to Mitsubishis. And Snuffy’s in Scotch Plains, gone from “roadhouse to Parthenon.” Old Hans even recalls Madame Bey’s, the old Passaic-side boxing training camp on River Road in Summit, where Schmeling once trained.
Only one of Kluge’s previous seven novels was a Jersey story, and it was his most famous.
“I set ‘Eddie and the Cruisers,’ in South Jersey. I spent the summer of 1962 working as a college intern at the Vineland Times Journals, and I found South Jersey so fascinating, and so different from here I was from. You could smell whatever they were canning that day in the air.”
The Plain Dealer's article,
This series is called "Successful
Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters
that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual
query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter
The 43rd installment in this series is with agent Janet
Reid (FinePrint Literary Management)
and her author, Sean Ferrell, for his novel, Numb,
which was released in August 2010 from Harper Perennial. Kirkus Reviews called Numb an
"eye-catching debut ... Artfully barbed entertainment.”
Dear Ms. Reid:
I am seeking representation for my literary novel, Numb. I found your submission
guidelines online and have included below a one-page synopsis.
I live and work in New York City, I have had short stories published in Uber, WORDS and Bossa
Nova Ink, and one of my recent short stories was a finalist in the Italo Calvino
writing competition at the University of Louisville. I received my MFA in creative
writing from Emerson College.
Numb is approximately sixty-thousand words in length.
In summary: Numb is a man who cannot feel physical pain.
When he wanders into a dying circus, he doesn’t know who he is or how he got there.
Despite feeling like an outcast the circus adopts him. When it is clear that his “talent”
(if you can call being shot with nail guns and staplers a talent) will make him the
star freak of the show, he becomes the circus’ best chance for survival. After nearly
sacrificing himself for the circus’ sake, he decides to run away from the circus and
make his way to New York City to discover himself and his past.
Accompanied by his fire-eating best friend, Mal, Numb discovers a world outside the
circus that is all too ready to reward and punish him for his self-destructive talents;
and it’s a world that forces all his relationships to shatter. Numb finds women to
comfort him, yet he won’t allow himself to trust them. He looks for love but won’t
accept it, and he looks for safety in self-destruction. After undermining or losing
friends and lovers, Numb is forced to figure out how to find a place for himself instead
of just taking up space.
This novel is in the spirit of Fight Club or Battle Royale; it is an
antiheroic tale of finding a way to survive in a world so filled with noise that simple
conversation and compassion are often drowned out.
I look forward t
Lucky Press will publish J. Michael Dew's debut novel Tecker (working title) in September 2011. This adult fiction title would best be described as literary fiction that explores the prejudices within a small community against a 29-year-old man, Robbie Toe, a graduate of Vo-Tech, whose intellectual differences garner the attention of the town bullies, male and female. When a false accusation of rape lands Robbie in jail, the true nature of various townspeople is revealed.
Robbie Toe never touched Missy inappropriately, never raped Blue Jean by the fire, never did anything to the other five girls who accused him of sexual abuse. But no one cared to hear his side of the story. He was a "molester" from the beginning, a "pervert," a "predator." On the day he climbed into an abandoned treehouse to rescue The Priest, an all-black kitten with a white tuft on his neck, Robbie was whisked off to jail to the great satisfaction of the bullies who hated him for no other reason than that he had a curious penchant for cats and was an easy target.
Tecker tells the story in four distinct voices of a social outcast who falls prey to the relentless scorn of a small Pennsylvania town and the cruel lies of its teenage girls. How is a 14-year-old girl inspired to use sex as an instrument of torment? Has our collective conscience weakened to the point that bullying another becomes a source of amusement? Twenty-nine-year-old Robbie Toe stands to be forever changed by these attacks. The charged conclusion of the story, however, will leave the reader wondering: was the change for good or bad?
About the Author:
J. Michael Dew has been making a living as an English professor since 2002. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three daughters.
Welcome to the eighth (free!) "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest on
the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest
with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here's the deal:
With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself
changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category
or two. So if you're writing a novel that's considered literary fiction,
this eighth contest is for you!
HOW TO SUBMIT
E-mail entries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please paste everything. No attachments.
WHAT TO SUBMIT
The first 150-200 words of your unpublished, book-length work
of literary fiction.
You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry
and use your real name. Also, submit the title of the
work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work)
with your entry.
Please note: To be eligible to submit,
I ask that you do one of two things: 1) Mention and link
to this contest twice through your social media—blogs, Twitter,
Facebook; or 2) just mention this contest once and also
add Guide to Literary Agents Blog (www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) to
your blogroll. Please provide link(s) so the judge and
I can verify eligibility. Some previous entrants could not be considered because they
skipped this step!
contest will be live for 14 days—from Jan. 9 through
the end of Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, EST. Winners notified by e-mail within three weeks of
end of contest. Winners announced on the blog thereafter.
enter, submit the first 150-200 words of your book. Shorter or longer entries
will not be considered. Keep it within word count range please.
contest is solely for completed book-length works of literary fiction.
Literary fiction, defined, is fiction that falls outside the categories of genre fiction.
Much fiction falls into the so-called popular commercial genres of romance, mystery,
suspense, thriller, Western, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Writing that falls
in none of these categories is often called "literary."
can submit as many times as you wish. You can submit
even if you submitted to other contests in the past, but please note that past winners
cannot win again.
I am not fond of traditional problem books, which I see as validating themselves because they are about something really, really important. A problem. I particularly dislike those books that pile on problem after problem to make sure we all get the point about how serious they are. Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta involves a lot of problems. To make matters worse, when a librarian friend saw me leaving with the book, she told me she'd cried over the ending. That is not my idea of a recommendation.
I didn't cry over the ending of this marvelous book, but I came damn close.
The many problems the many charcters in Jellicoe Road suffer through are not there to instruct us on how people should deal with their trials. Instead, they are there to support character and plot. They explain why characters behave the way they do, and each ordeal is literally part of the plot in this story of a tough, witty, capable seventeen-year-old girl who appears to be alone in the world but most definitely is not. Taylor appears to be caught in an age-old battle among three groups of teenagers--the private school students like herself, the Townies, and the Cadets who are just in the neighborhood for a few weeks. Really, she is in paradise, a pardise that is slowly revealed to her along with the story of another group of students, Townies, and Cadets who had lived in that very spot nearly eighteen years earlier.
This is a demanding book. The story of the earlier kids is told by means of a manuscript that Taylor has been reading out of order. It takes time to work out those kids' relationship to each other. We have to also work out what they have to do with Taylor, something that I was sometimes able to figure out before she did--but in the most satisfying way.
There are also multiple mysteries here. In addition to Taylor's personal mysteries and the mystery surrounding the earlier teenagers, there is a serial killer at work here, maybe some arsonists, and a tunnel keeps coming up. Everything is resolved, nothing is forgotten.
How good is this book? It's good enough that its weaknesses don't stop the narrative drive. Why don't the adults in the book tell Taylor more about her life? Everybody seems to know and to be keeping things from her. Isn't the manuscript a little contrived? Isn't the crisis at the dorm at the end of the book a little over the top? Hey, let it all go, and enjoy the ride.
Jellico Road might be a great crossover book between traditional mysteries and mainstream literature. The mystery will engage mystery-loving teen readers, and the quality of the writing will make them want more of the same.
Plot Project: Several times in the book, Taylor talks about what she wants. More. More from everybody. Is this a case where the author gave her character something to want and then came up with a plot by throwing in stumbling blocks to getting it? I don't think so. Come on. More? Plus there are too many threads here for something so simplistic as roadblocks to happiness to have kept things running. My guess is that this is a book that started with a situation. You've got this group of kids involved in this elaborate war that in reality is a game that enables them all to interact together, and they start learning about another group of kids who were doing the same kinds of things twenty years before. From there the plot is all about reve
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elena minor, photo courtesy of PALABRA
The editor and publisher of PALABRA, a Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art, keeps a fairly low profile. However, she was adventurous enough to meet with La Bloga. I’m lucky in that I have an insider’s view.
When I first heard about PALABRA in 2006, I sent many poems and short stories to the magazine, which were rejected. As someone who relishes rejection, I kept sending work to the magazine until I finally had a breakthrough with two poems in 2009 issue 5.
One important memo I’ll divulge has to do with the magazine’s visual aesthetics, a bit of information that might help potential contributors to the literary magazine. PALABRA is always spelled with capital letters and the publisher’s name is always spelled with lower case letters, as in “elena minor.” If you get this visual quality correct, she won’t frown at your submission or be in a bad mood when she reads your promising manuscript.
Remember, persistence. I don’t take anything for granted. PALABRA is an annual publication that rejected my work for three straight years, published my work in 2009, and rejected everything I sent in 2010. I’m happy to report that PALABRA has accepted my poetry for the forthcoming 2011 issue.
The Bay Area native started PALABRA in 2006 because she wasn’t finding any Latino literary magazines that published the kind of work she wanted to see. “I wanted writing that wasn’t geared to an Anglo audience, whose interest didn’t lie in trying to explain us (Chicanos and Latinos),” she said. “I wasn’t interested in footnoted Spanish. I wanted work that was different and unapologetically Latino.”
Over the past five years, PALABRA has taken on a life of its own. Also, she gets the word out by attending AWP, the Association of Writers and Writers Programs conference; this is her fourth year at the roving conference. In addition, she started the PALABRA readings at the REDCAT Lounge in the Disney Center in Downtown Los Angeles three years ago. She also gives authors who’ve been published in PALABRA the opportunity to read and feature their books at REDCAT. Working for CalArts at REDCAT helped secure the lounge’s excellent reading space. PALABRA Press will soon publish single-authored books of short, unconventional fiction.
Being the publisher, marketer, and editor of PALABRA takes its toll on minor’s writing time. She hopes to retire someday from all her jobs and devote more time to her writing. She’s an award-winning dramatist who also writes fiction, poetry, and hybrid works. She is currently polishing a poetry manuscript and working on an episodic novel. The MFA grad from Antioch puts her name out there and also rides the acceptance and rejection roller coaster. “I want to make sure they know Latino writers exist,” she said. “There are still a lot of editors of lit mags who have no clue about Latino literature.”
Eventually, the publisher would like to hand off the editorial decisions to someone else. For now, she thrives on finding exciting work that’s different. “I’m not a big fan of trying to repeat a formula,” she said. “I’m looking for writing that’s working from some well spring of originality.” She’s such a fan o