This year, the good folks at Slate and the Whiting Foundation kicked off a new literary prize, intended to reward authors for great second novels. To wrap up the year, they’ve asked several winners of the prize, including Akhil Sharma, Helen DeWitt and Daniel Alarcon, to write short pieces about objects that symbolize the writing process for their books. (Akhil Sharma chooses a stopwatch, while Eileen Myles chooses a can of Cafe Bustelo.)
Veterans of writing workshops will know that a good story has a heavy dose of conflict. One can add it to a story in many ways, but one of the best and most reliable is to add a predator, either in the form of a threatening organisation or an animal or person with malicious intent. At the Ploughshares blog, Year in Reading alum Megan Mayhew Bergman reflects on predatory literature.
Teddy Roosevelt could read an entire book before breakfast. Kim Peek (Rain Man) could read two pages of text simultaneously. Perhaps by using some combination of both techniques, you’ve managed to make your way through our entire Great 2013 Book Preview. Or perhaps you’re just looking for some poetry and science fiction recommendations. Well, either way Mark Sanderson and China Miéville have you covered, respectively.
What happens when a writer inserts a ghost or monster into a story? At Berfrois, Alexander Stachniak argues that much of our current literature about the uncanny fails to help writers looking to answer this question. (Related: Steve Himmer on his monstrous Mary Poppins dreams.)
I've written before about Matthew Jockers's claim, as reported and presented by the Paris Review, that there are only about 6 plots in fiction. Now Dan Piepenbring returns to the Review to respond to critics who and attempt to answer the questions "is it really possible to assign every word a reliable emotional valence? And even if the answer is yes, can we really claim that all the plots in the history of literature take so few basic forms?"
Jennifer Egan recently spoke with Willing Davidson, fiction editor of The New Yorker, as part of Rewiring the Real, a yearlong series of podcasts with writers about the interplay of literature, technology and religion. Rachel Hurn, a former Millions intern, was there and noted Egan's ambivalence towards "personal writing." [Updated to correct the quote] "If writing necessarily meant writing about myself, then I'd rather do something else," Egan said.
A couple weeks ago, we published our review of Ben Lerner’s 10:04, the follow-up to his debut Leaving the Atocha Station. At the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Adam Plunkett argues that 10:04 inadvertently reveals its author’s poetic training. The book, he says, “dissolves into a poem.”