Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Love My Blogroll

While I am focusing all my inadequate creative energy on my fiction, let's look at what some of my fave bloggers are up to.

At Xujun Eberlein's Inside Out China, there's an inspiring discussion of Pamela Erens' first novel, THE UNDERSTORY. I'm just crazy about this novel. I just finished it and I'm considering starting from the beginning and reading it again, just to see how the hell she put this thing together. What I can't fathom is how she managed to use sustained metaphors to glue the story together, but nothing screams, "I'm a metaphor!" Erens achieves several subtle effects with this book. I highly recommend it. And I recommend Inside Out China too, for a fresh take on Chinese culture and politics, as well as literature.

Mary Akers is understandably excited about her new book, RADICAL GRATITUDE AND OTHER LIFE LESSONS LEARNED IN SIBERIA. The message is awe-inspiring, and the format--one person's fictionalization of another person's true story--is fascinating to me. I look forward to reading this. Don Capone reviews the book on his groovy blog, Capone's Hit List.

Tao Lin's relentless layering of self-questioning, metafiction, autopromotion, and literary scab-picking never fails to intrigue me, sometimes moving me to tears. You either grok it or you don't. I feel like an old lady getting a peek into the future of literature, the way literature will be after I am dead. It's not a bad feeling. Check out the February post, THE GAY STEPDAD. I can't seem to link directly, you'll have to scroll.

Steve Almond's kid is cute as hell.

Janice Erlbaum also has a new book, another must-read, HAVE YOU FOUND HER, about her experiences volunteering at the very shelter she lived in as a teenager. The book is an amazing feat of both writing and living. She found a special kid at the shelter, became dangerously attached to her, then rode a yearlong rollercoaster as the kid went in and out of hospitals. I won't give away what happens, you have to read it. She's been blogging about her promotion gigs, and trying to balance them with the part she actually loves more...writing the next book. As a reader, I want her to write the next book too. She's one of my favorite voices ever.

And at Writers in Profile, Kelly Spitzer is talking to writers and editors about slush, the "necessary evil." It's worth reading, maybe as an exercise in tough self-love.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Didn't Submit To This, But I Love This List

I'm just now catching up on my blog reading and learned about a new controversy involving an unawarded fiction prize. (Thanks to Ed Champion for schooling me.) Remember a few years ago when Zoo Press decided none of the entries in its fiction contest deserved the book prize?

It's happened again. This time it was the Willesden Herald, and I must say, if the contest was destined not to have a winner, then they handled it better than Zoo press. They offered to split the prize money among the finalists, and publish a list of their names. The finalists were too pissed to play along. They were mad at the judge, Zadie Smith, for not just picking someone. Understandable.

While it is hard to believe that a slush pile of 800 stories contains no winner, one benefit comes out of this contest, a very handy list of reasons short stories don't win contests. I'm saving this list. My favorite: number 23, Faux Jollity. "I think humour only ever exists in something that sets out to be serious. Anything that sets out to be humorous is doomed." I'm guilty of that crime, for sure, the desperate attempt at humor. Or humour, depending on where I'm sending the story.

And Zadie, I can't judge you. I didn't see the stories. I'm just glad I didn't submit.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Ongoing Pain of the Penultimate Chapter

So, my novel in progress. I've been writing chapter 19 of 20 for about five months. Just figured out that Chapter 19 should really be two chapters, so now I'm writing chapter 20 of 21. This happened last time I tried to write a novel. It took me the same amount of time to wrap up the first draft as it took to write the first 90% of it. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I allergic to finishing?

I'm analyzing it, this tendency to draw out the end, to get stuck in the penultimate chapter. It's not fear of the next project. I have two next projects on deck, and I'm enthused about both. It's hard to keep from distracting myself with them. Projaholic's curse.

I think part of it is that old bugaboo, the critical brain. The closer I get to the end of the draft, the sooner I'll have to turn the critic back on, the part of my brain that points out the flaws in brilliant color. That part of the brain is jumping up already, and I'm having trouble batting it back down. It's a little like that Whack-a-Mole game. Just shut up already, until I finish this, okay? It's hard to remind myself keep going, don't think about what's wrong with it, don't think about craft, or fixing it, just keep going, just keep going, just keep going.