Thursday, May 3, 2007

Plugs For New Books

Back when I was complaining about book covers a couple weeks back, I said something in the comments about my friend Shauna Seliy's new novel. (I was snarking about the cover, in fact.) Well, let me give it a plug here, because I just got my copy in the mail, and it's a marvelous piece of work.

The book's called When We Get There, and is a family drama set in a coal-mining town near Pittsburgh in the seventies. Shauna was my best pal in college, and a fellow wannabe writer--there were lots of people I could discuss books and writing with at the time, and who would nod politely and smile and wish me luck. But Shauna was the only one who actually took the whole thing seriously, as though it were something we were actually gonna do. Well, she has really done it. This novel has been a long time coming, and it's just fantastic--I can't recommend it highly enough. It's beautifully written, and not in the way you think I mean. It is simultaneously exuberant and restrained, dark and wry, much like Shauna herself. Plus it's packed with crazy Eastern Europeans! What more could you want!

I also want to toss in a plug for a new anthology of short-short stories I'm in, called The Flash. We have an unofficial non-self-promotion policy on this blog, but the editor of this book, Peter Wild, is a cool guy, the book has a completely insane and hilarious cover, and proceeds from its sale go to Amnesty International. Peter is also editing the forthcoming Sonic Youth literary anthology I mentioned in a recent post.


Wing said...

Yeah, out of probably 20 of the creative writing majors I personally know at UH, I have only known one or two that are serious, also as though it's something they're actually going to do. The rest are just cocky poets who don't even like to read.

What's up with that?

5 Red Pandas said...

First off, JRL- Have you read that Thurston Moore penned short story? It was in this anthology of stories by rockers that came out in the '90s. It's pretty hilarious in ways that are not meant to be hilarious. I also recall a very gratuitous sex scene in there.

Okay, Wing- Yes. Yes. Yes. I understand exactly what you're saying. When I was studying writing a poet actually asked me why I wrote stories. She explained that she didn't write stories because they took too much time and she stuck with poetry because it was "short". I guess she'd never heard of book length poems. And it used to shock me when I heard someone who wanted to be a writer say they didn't like to read much, but it doesn't surprise me anymore.

I think the lack of seriousness stems from the lack of seriousness of most students at certain ages. If it's a young program, then most of those people haven't had to hold jobs or really think about what they want to do in their lives. People who enter writing programs either really believe they are going to be published writers OR they aren't worried about what kind of employment they are going to have after they finish school. If they were worrried, they'd probably have chosen another field of study that had more chance of being lucrative.

The prospect of writing looks like "fun" on the surface, but if you really do it seriously it requires much more from you than anything that could really be considered "fun". You subject yourself to self-criticism in order to improve. You devote time that could be spent doing other things with other people. So it no longer surprises me that there aren't as many serious writers in any given program. In fact, I'm surprised at how many there are.

We can agree that poets are a different breed of writer though, can't we? I really respect poets because I cannot do what they do, but I don't claim to understand them.

rmellis said...

I wouldn't want to eat a meal cooked by a chef who didn't like to eat.

jrlennon said...

I think writing, as a vocation, appears very romantic to people who don't actually do it. I know I felt that way, when I was starting out! The process of actually writing, particularly heavy revision, was rather disillusioning to me when I realized how hard it was, and how bruising to the ego. It took me most of college and all of grad school to come around and understand revision as part of the process.

Writing isn't remotely romantic to me anymore, but it is very satisfying, in ways I didn't expect it to be, when I was young.

wing said...

I definitely did find it disheartening when I got my first comments back on my first works a few years ago. "You mean I have to revise these things? What's wrong with the way they are?" I read once that Joyce said that revision was the most important part of writing itself. It hasn't been until recently that I realized writing is much like the following that I read in an SAT practice test of all places (I tutor highschoolers for the SAT Verbal):

"Writing always involves someone sitting with an implement and an inchoate idea before a blank sheet of paper and in terror at the answering blankness of his or her own mind. Consequently, if one is speaking of the experience of being a writer, the only meaningful distinction is between writers who are willing to accept the risks of suffering entailed by the effort to tap their own inner potentialities of organic coherence, and those who are unable or unwilling to take such risks."

It doesn't say who the author of the essay is, but I wish I knew. I find there is some truth to it. Everytime I approach a "blank canvas" so to speak, I am filled with fear and awe at the process and the notion that I think I can do something with it.