Christopher Meeks, author of Months and Seasons (November 3-14)
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Hi Chris!!! So glad to see you here :) I don't have a question, just wanted to say hello.
I loved Months and Seasons and am really looking forward to The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.
I love the video on YouTube of Rod Maxwell reading part of "Dracula Slinks into the Night!" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzGT4hMxh5Q)
I know you did a live reading of the same story on Halloween night; that sounds like a good time!
That got me wondering, do you "see" action in your head when you're writing? Do you get up from your desk, or wherever you're writing, and physically walk through a scene to work through the actions you're describing?
ON READING BOOKS
Wendy-- Great to see you here. I caught up with your latest blog this morning, and that book convention looked great. I happen to be a fan of Ron Carlson's short fiction. Were you able to get one of his books?
I remain in awe of how much you read. One of your posts received something like 13 comments within hours, and I came away from those comments with the idea that maybe I should schedule reading books the way I do writing. I've been reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road forever. Of course, the road the characters on is always so bleak, I can only take so much of it at a time. I do want to finish it, though.
"SEEING" A STORY WHILE WRITING
Dawn, after reading "Dracula Slinks Into the Night" to an audience the other night, I learned in talking to a few people afterwards how they vividly "saw" the setting as clearly as I had. I like how writer and reader can connect similarly. In the case of that story, I had experienced the real setting, so I had to do no acting. I never need to get physical, as you described.
For years I was a theatre reviewer for Daily Variety, and it occurs to me that the story "Dracula Slinks Into the Night" comes off like a one-person show when read aloud. It also occurred to me that my favorite writing for the stage and in fiction is when the author can paint a scene so well, readers or theatregoers can picture it in their heads. That last scene in my story above, for instance, was so vivid for me when I read it aloud, I couldn't help but change my voice.
That's one thing I've learned about reading in front of audiences, by the way: let yourself go with the emotion. What you write should be emotional. You want people to feel things, after all. And if you read it aloud to an audience, learn what actors do: change your voice slightly for each character. If they are surprised, you should be surprised. Hence, the "acting" is not so much in the writing but in the reading aloud to an audience.
NOTE: I ended up so intrigued with this question, I ended up blogging about how to read your work in front of an audience. You can read my blog at http://www.redroom.com/blog/christopher-meeks/when-authors-give-readings
ON BOOK PUBLISHING
Thanks, Alea. Both editors have now finished their notes on "The Brightest Moon of the Century," and I'm a few days away from going through their comments and corrections. The book designer is designing covers and, soon, the inside will be designed, too. ARCs will be out in December--all for a March 7th publication date. There's a reason why it takes a least a year to get a book to market. There are a lot of steps involved.
In fact, this is where I see authors who are in rush to publish fail when they want to publish themselves using print-on-demand (POD) technology, such as in using iUniverse. The authors don't hire editors to edit. They don't get a book designer. They don't get a publicist or do PR. They don't get Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) to reviewers three or four months before publication. And, I can now perceive, they don't get books to Early Reviewers at Library Thing.
They simply rush to print, and their books can look amateurish and have many typos. I'm mentioning all this because I once wrote a big article on the topic. You can read that by clicking here: http://girlondemand.blogspot.com/2006/06/guest-blogger-chris-meeks-discusses.htm...
I had to put a halt to my book buying at the Expo...it was getting obscene - so I passed on Ron Carlson's book (but I made a note of it for later purchase *smiles*).
Thanks for stopping by my blog - here's how you read lots of books: obsession!! I am just a read-a-holic :)
Thanks for weighing in on the self-publishing vs. going with a publisher. I have always felt that authors who choose to self-publish do themselves a huge disservice. Having spent some time in writer's critique groups, I can see the advantage to having a third party (objective) reading of one's work...no matter how wonderful something sounds to the writer, it can almost always be improved by an experienced editor or critiquer (is that a word?).
Now, I *do* have a question...your third book is a novel in stories, right? How has the writing been different for you when compared to writing your collections of short stories? Do you prefer the short story format, or do you like the ability to more completely develop a character in a more "novel" form?
The road to publication may be long but I can definitely see its importance! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
It's good to see you here at last! I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you draw inspiration for your characters and their odd situations and experiences. This is probably the most frequently asked question, but I'll ask it anyway--to what degree are your stories autobiographical or inspired by people/events from your life?
Your characters have been described as quirky, but to me, they just felt very real. How do you find that balance between conveying realistic characters but putting them in slightly absurd situations?
SHORT STORIES VS. NOVELS
Wendy, I'd been so intimidated by the novel form for years I stayed away. It took all of my soul to craft a good short story. A novel seemed too daunting, so I didn't even consider it after some point.
Once I had a collection-worth of short stories that had already been published in literary magazines, I thought for sure agents would leap at my manuscript. I queried three, thinking surely two would want to see me. (Ah, the writer's ego has no bounds.) One agent responded. I'd known him socially, and he called to say I was a wonderful writer and I needed to write a novel. He could represent a novel but not a short story collection. I did my best to get him to rethink.
Later that day we had six or seven exchanges of e-mail where I said the collection was done and that all he had to do was mail my manuscript with his cover letter. Couldn't he at least try that? I even wrote, "How about I start a novel if you can send out my collection now?"
No, he said. Short story collections made such little money that 15% of "little" was not worth his time. "Write a novel," he said in his last one-sentence e-mail.
Now I was stuck. I mentioned this to my friend, writer Norman Klein, who said, "You write short stories well, so why don't you write a series of short stories with the same characters? Just call it a novel." I realized that Melissa Bank's "A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing," a favorite book of mine, was written this way.
That was such a freeing experience. I started in on that immediately because I had a couple of stories already that featured what could be the same character. That project became "The Brightest Moon of the Century." When I was halfway through and had the first three chapters (stories) polished, I sent it to the agent. He liked what he saw and said if I kept it up, he could represent that. When I finished the book, he called to say he loved it and he could represent me.
I learned a big thing when I wrote that book: a novel of short stories is different than a traditionally told novel in that at the end of each chapter, there was no hook to throw you into the next chapter. Each chapter, however, leaps a few years ahead as you follow the travails of Minnesota-born Edward Meopian as he's "blessed" with an abundance of experience--first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he's tortured and groomed.
In other words, the reader may get curious to see what happens to Edward a few years down the road. You follow Edward from 14 to 45, from 1968 to December 1999 when the moon was the brightest of the century (such things are measured).
All Edward wants is stability and the understanding of the opposite sex. He stumbles into romance in high school, careens through dorm life in college, and whirls into a tornado of love problems as a mini-mart owner in a trailer park in Alabama. As you can see, a lot happens to him.
I won't go into the crazy world of agents and authors, but I wrote a second novel, "The Laughter and Sadness of Sex," which I did to keep busy while the first novel was being shown.
That took a year and a half, and when the agent told me he had not shown the first novel to anyone, I sought a new agent. I did so using my second novel because "The Laughter and Sadness of Sex" seemed more commericial, and each chapter ended with a hook as in a good mystery novel. This isn't to say I didn't love "The Brightest Moon of the Century." It's just I could see that agents were looking for bestsellers.
Thus to answer your question, I prefer writing novels presently--I'm on my fourth--but I take time out occassionally to write a short story. I have a new story, "The Natant Poet," by the way, recently published by the Gander Press Review. It's in bookstores, and the Review also offers it online at http://www.ganderpress.com/fall2008/names/Meeks.pdf .
ON INSPIRATION AND QUIRKINESS
Rebecca, you're the one to introduce me to Library Thing and author chats, so I thank you. After getting to know you and others through reviews, blogs, and emails, I came to be in awe of what literary bloggers do. I wrote about that in my own blog at http://www.redroom.com/blog/christopher-meeks/literary-blogs-and-reviews
To answer your question, I tend to be inspired three ways. One is through my own direct experience, such as a family road trip that shows up in the story "Green River" in my book "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea." That perhaps is my most autobiographical story because the first draft came from a journal entry I'd kept at the time. Still, even there, things changed in later drafts to heighten the feelings I had about the incident. In other words, it wasn't important to have every single moment actually happen as long as any changes or additions led to a deeper truth about the event.
The second type of story comes from using "What If?" What if there were funeral photographers the way there were wedding photographers? This very notion came from a funeral I'd attended and that led to the story "Shooting Funerals" in my first collection.
A third kind of inspiration is in hearing other people's stories or story fragments. Sometimes the merest incident leads to a fuller story, such as my hearing somewhere about an immigrant whose son fought and died in Iraq, which became "Catalina" in Months and Seasons.
As for quirky, I don’t create any of my stories looking for “odd” characters. They’re all very real to me. One of my mentors, the late Robert E. Lee, who co-wrote such plays as Inherit the Wind with Jerome Lawrence, told me that plot is nothing more than what interesting people do. The point is to have interesting people.
The story "The Old Topanga Incident" in Months and Seasons is about Jerome Lawrence--that's exactly how his house burned up. Lawrence and Lee where both fascinating people and writers.
And so, like you, I see my characters as real. The absurdity you see is partly to blame on my spectacles. That is, it's how I see the world. Absurdity abounds. It makes me smile.
Thanks for those insights, Chris! I love Lawrence's idea that "plot is nothing more than what interesting people do." I couldn't agree more, and I think you and I must have similar spectacles. At least in the bookselling world, absurdity abounds.
Regarding your previous post, Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder is a fantastic collection of short stories that all feature the same character throughout her life, some from first-person and others from third-person, and it is so far my favorite example of a novel in stories. Can't wait to read The Brightest Moon of the Century.
LT LIBRARIES + A CHALLENGE
Rebecca, now that I've loaded some of my favorite books into my LibraryThing library, I was amazed at how LT brought up people with similar libraries--and yours pops near the top. You have many of my books.
I didn't realize that Atwood's Moral Disorder was built similarly to my upcoming book, "The Brightest Moon of the Century." I call that book a novel because although it's built from separate stories, together they create one story. Atwood's book, on the other hand, is labelled as stories.
Some of the reviews of my short story collections have found within each book unifying themes, which I've found interesting because I didn't write them with that in mind--not to say the themes are not there. This just shows how writers at times may not see the full impact of what they write. My goal has been just to write honestly, letting my humor out and concurrently revealing truths that I find along the way.
I'm a huge Atwood fan. "The Handmaid's Tale" was a book to carry through the George W. Bush years, and her short story "There Once Was" is so clever and different. Her poetry, too, attracts me, and it shows me, too, how stories need moments of lyricism, which she gives so well.
This all reminds me how I'll be teaching English 1 (Freshman English) at Santa Monica College in the spring, a course which I haven't taught in a few years. That's because I've been teaching creative writing more than anything, but I like Freshman English to put me in touch with reluctant readers and writers in hopes I might show them how essays and stories can be vital, a helpful and necessary part of living.
To do this, I try NOT to do what my college professors had done, which is to lord themselves over the subject, which made me feel that only English professors could truly know a novel. One way I do this is to select two contempory novels to read during the semester: one by a man, one by a woman. The most important thing is that they are involving and accessible novels, ones where the students on their own want to read them to find out what happens next.
I've used such novels as The Kite Runner, The Lovely Bones, The English Patient, and The Time Traveler's Wife. (You can see the list of my sixteen most successful novels used this way on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/fullview/R1V0B2EOFDH2MA/ref=cm_pdp_lm...).
I seek your and other's advice: what two contemporary novels--one from a man, one from a woman--which do not have Cliff Notes, would you recommend to teach? Right off the bat, I'm wondering if the female half might be filled either by Moral Disorder or by Water for Elephants.
I've been lurking on this thread because I happen to like reading good collections of short stories very much. I'll be looking out for your book.
I asked my daughter (college senior) for suggestions for your Freshman English students. She refused to give any, statiing that she doesn't think any assigned reading makes students *want* to read a novel. :( *Sigh*
Anyway, here are some of my suggestions:
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali - Gil Courtemanche
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon
The Road -Cormac McCarthy
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See
I would also have picked The Kite Runner and The Things They Carried, but you have already done those.
Have you ever taught graphic novels as a literary form? Are you willing to do so? If so, I'd suggest Maus by Art Spiegelman which is amazing. There are Parts I and II. I think both parts should be read in sequence.
I was thinking back on my freshman English classes many years ago. I can't remember anything that I read other than Gulliver's Travels which I didn't like. On the other hand, I had a History professor who taught U.S. History only using novels. That was a course I throughly enjoyed and surprised myself by actually *liking* a History course for the first time in my life. I remember that one of the novels was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I think that novel might be too dated now although the theme of "war is crazy" is universal.
Two very interesting novels which I loved but might be too removed from your students' own experiences (but might work) are:
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander - deals with Argentina's dirty war
Beaufort by Ron Leshem - deals with Israeli soldiers stationed in Lebanon
If not for your students, check those last two out for yourself!
READING NOVELS IN COLLEGE
SqueakyChu, your suggestions are fabulous. My wife and I spoke about this subject yesterday, and she suggested Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a nonfiction book of a young man hiking into the wilderness in Alaska, coming across Sarah Palin and moose hunting with her by helicopter and snowmobliling with Todd. (Actually, the last part is made up, but I couldn't resist after typing "Alaska.") The very first semester I taught English, I'd used Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which captured most of the men's imaginations, but not all the women were thrilled with it.
I considered The Road, which I'm still reading, but it's so relentless and bleak. While I admire it while I'm reading it, my worry is that too many new-to-books people will be turned away from its austerity. Additionally, one of my challenges in Freshman English each semester is getting people to use conventional grammar and punctuation. I might find a few students throwing out punctuation after reading that book. Of course, 97% of the time, McCarthy creates sentences that are built so well, they don't need punctuation. I do find, however, that I have a read some sentences a few times to figure out its meaning or who is saying what. Punctuation would help in those cases.
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Haddon is one of two books on the top of my male author list, along with Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I have to reveal a secret, too: I always choose books from my "to read" shelf because I am always so busy either writing or teaching that by assigning a book I haven't read makes it a priority. Knowing I'm likely to teach it, too, makes me read particularly closely.
Once I assigned Tomcat in Love by Tim O'Brien because I love most of O'Brien's books, and when I read it a few months before the course was to begin and I learned it was about a predatory male professor sleeping with his female students, I quickly changed titles. I didn't want the female students think I had an ulterior motive. That semester, we read O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods.
I would like to assign a graphic novel sometime. That will keep me on my toes.
You say your daughter "doesn't think any assigned reading makes students *want* to read a novel." She's wrong. When I choose the books well, one if not both books brings surprise in the class. I've had students come up after a class, people who had been eagerly talking about the book in class, and confess that that was the first novel they've actually ever read. They didn't think reading would be so fun. One of them had graduated from Beverly Hills High School and had been a top student, and I asked how was that possible he's never read a novel? He said, "Cliff Notes."
A few people have tried to describe their realizations about reading. One said, "It's weird. They're just words on the page, but I'm picturing things in my head like I'm seeing a movie." Another person said, "I can't help but keep reading ahead because I want to know what happens next. I'm not even thinking about how I'm reading. I've never had this happen in a book."
This is the kind of thing I aim for in my own writing: to make stories so interesting that people read for the pleasure of it. Ideally, too, my stories make people think. Out of two novels I assign, I'd say 90% of the class finds that they like at least one of the books.
What also helps are having good discussions. I sense that many of the students don't sit around with their friends discussing stories of any sort. They come to realize, as in politics, that not everyone sees things the same way. Additionally, we sit in a circle, so that everyone can see everyone else. Everyone has to talk, too, and they tend not to want to appear foolish in front of their peers by not reading the book.
I'm not alone in this pursuit to get people to read. The rise of the literary blog reflects the love of reading. People don't have to be English majors to write them. Heck, I wasn't an English major; I specialized in psychology and mass communications. Literary blogs, and this place, LibraryThing, brings books to the populace. That's a great thing.
...coming across Sarah Palin and moose hunting with her by helicopter and snowmobliling with Todd. (Actually, the last part is made up, but I couldn't resist after typing "Alaska.")
I considered The Road, which I'm still reading, but it's so relentless and bleak. While I admire it while I'm reading it, my worry is that too many new-to-books people will be turned away from its austerity.
You may be right. I simply loved this book, but my husband hated it, although he did begrudgingly finish it.
I might find a few students throwing out punctuation after reading that book.
Definitely not a good idea! :)
Once I assigned Tomcat in Love by Tim O'Brien because I love most of O'Brien's books, and when I read it a few months before the course was to begin and I learned it was about a predatory male professor sleeping with his female students, I quickly changed titles.
LOL! Glad you changed titles!!
I would like to assign a graphic novel sometime.
There are some great ones out there. It might be fun for a change of pace. I know there are some graphic novels of classic books (I don't do classics) as well. Perhaps a graphic novel of a classic book might inspire your freshman readers to want to read the originals (although I know you are specifically looking for contemporary fiction - my favorite reads - at this time).
You say your daughter "doesn't think any assigned reading makes students *want* to read a novel." She's wrong.
I think my daughter is jaded because she has always loved to read. Perhaps she doesn't like the idea of novels being assigned. Prior to her freshman year at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), all of the incoming freshmen were assigned to read Cold Mountain which I haven't read, but heard was a bore despite it being so well known. I gave her my copy of the book, but she never read it.
One of my complaints about my daughter's reading assignments in English classes before she reached college was that she had no time for independent reading as part of her school curriculum. In addition, when she switched schools (three times), she had to re-read novels (long ones, too!) that she had hated previously. I think she had to read A Tale of Two Cities three times!
One of them had graduated from Beverly Hills High School and had been a top student, and I asked how was that possible he's never read a novel? He said, "Cliff Notes."
Isn't that sad? :(
I can't help but keep reading ahead because I want to know what happens next.
That line brings up a special memory. I now have three grown children (two sons, 25 and 28 - one daughter, 22). When they were kids, I'd read them chapter books at bedtime. One chapter a night. When the chapter ended, the boys would beg for another chapter or more the same night. I always refused, keeping the suspense going for another night. Not so with my daughter. She'd stay up at night (unbeknownst to me) to finish the entire rest of the book that same night!
Kudos to you for your hard work in teaching the love of reading to your students. It is indeed a skill which can be learned by those who've no experience with it. They just need to give it a chance.
Do you ever assign any of your own stories to your classes?
P.S. Sorry! Didn't mean for my post to be so long. :)
LITERATURE, ANIMATION, AND MY STORIES
SqueakyChu, I don't mind long posts, especially ordered as well as you did. I tried reading "Cold Mountain" one time and was bored, I hate to say. That's one thing I learned after college, though: it's perfectly fine to stop reading even supposedly great books if you're bored. Go find one you love.
After students who surprise themselves in loving one of the books I assign ask, "Where else do I find books as good as this one?", I say, "The bookstore or library. Ask a clerk or librarian for a recommendation."
Now I will add to go do a blog search on the book title they love, add the word "review," and see if they come across a literary blog that has other recommendations. I'll also suggest LibraryThing and GoodReads. I have to say that while GoodReads has a great interface, it doesn't have as much to do on it as LibraryThing. Maybe I haven't given it enough of a chance.
You asked if I ever assign my own short stories. Sometimes when I teach Introduction to Literature, where I also take the students to a live performance of a play, I give them a link to one of my stories. Of course, freshmen tend to be hesitant to criticize something their professor wrote, but many of them enthusiastically talk about the humor, say, that they didn't expect.
This semester I assigned "Months and Seasons" as well as Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, to my advanced animation students at CalArts who will animate short stories of their own later this school year. Fed on a diet of "Ren and Stimpy" growing up, their eyes open to the possibilities of other kinds of stories. What they're writing on their own is often fabulous. Perhaps you'll see some of their work someday in the Short Animation category of the Academy Awards. One of my students in a past year made it that far.
I don't mind long posts, especially ordered as well as you did.
You're an English teacher and a writer. I have to order them .. or I'd be embarrassed. :)
I give them a link to one of my stories. Of course, freshmen tend to be hesitant to criticize something their professor wrote, but many of them enthusiastically talk about the humor, say, that they didn't expect.
A similar issue to that comes up here occasionally - where we at LT discuss what it's like to review a book whose author might read our review. It's happened to me - and not all of my reviews were positive.
Do your students write reviews of the books they read? Have they ever written reviews of your stories?
I checked out Flash Fiction and am also putting that on my wishlist. The work you're doing with your animation students sounds very exciting! Is there any link here that can take us to information about the short animation that was created by your student?
I saw on your LT profile that thyou have two novels in the works. Since I haven't yet read any of your stories, what kind of novel(s) are you working on?
STORY FOR ANIMATORS & REVIEWING
SqueakyChu, my teaching narrative structure and story to animators has been a lucky combination of forces. For seven years, I'd been the Institute Writer at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which is an art school for all the arts just north of Los Angeles in Valencia. The college offered programs in fine art, dance, music, theatre, and film/video (including two separate programs in animation).
In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, CalArts was so shaken, its main building had to be closed, and classes were offered in office spaces around Valencia. As the Institute Writer, I'd interviewed artists of all sorts: faculty, alumni, and visiting artists such as Tim Burton, Werner Herzog, Don Cheadle, John Lasseter, Alexander Mackendrick, Mel Powell, and hundreds of others.
After the earthquake, perhaps seeing the "carpe diem" of it all, I asked the dean of Critical Studies if I might teach a creative writing course, because writing, too, was an art, and it wasn't taught there. The dean, Dick Hebdige, said yes. He'd been pondering starting an entire writing program, so my request seemed to be a good start. I created a class called "Writing for a Living," and I had a huge range of students, including actors, dancers, film directors, jazz musicians, and more. All wanted to write stories.
In one of my early classes was Vanessa Schwartz, who, even before she was in my class, was at work on a small film called "The Janitor," which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994. She's gone on to work in animation in Canada and the U.S.
When that dean left, my class was cancelled by the new administration, and Frank Terry in the character animation program came to me. He said that story was the most difficult element to get right in animation, and he asked if I might teach a class called "Story to Animators" to all incoming freshmen. I had never studied animation, but he said I knew story and that's what counted. I still teach that class and also have an advanced class.
While nearly every graduating character animation student has taken my class or classes, who's to say how much influence I or any instructor ever has? My goal is to inspire students and let their own curiosity take them to places of their own. I'm energized by their drive and desire to know more.
One of my students, who seemed like the class clown when he took my course, was a young man named J.J. Villard, who absolutely blew me away with his 11-minute "Son of Satan," based on a story by Charles Bukowski.
A recent student of mine of whom I'm particularly proud is Austin Madison, who took both my classes and was always asking many great questions. While at CalArts, he interned one summer at Pixar, and upon graduation, was hired there. He worked on "Wall-E," a film which was dedicated to another of my former students, Justin Wright, who died early of a preexisting heart condition. You can see an interview with Austin here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN8lgUfYKO0
If you'd like to see some very short animated films made by my recent students at CalArts, I just grabbed three randomly from YouTube. They are eclectic. Try these:
Philip Vose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScMCPie1acQ
Daron Nefcy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkBsFaIcuV4
Will Kim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY8aOASTAKk
As for writing reviews, I empathize with your challenge completely. I reviewed theatre for eight years for Daily Variety, and my goal was never to cleverly cut down playwrights, actors, directors, and others in a brilliant stream of words in order to highlight me. I wanted more theatre in Los Angeles, not less, in the same way you want to have more great books. I reviewed theatre not to make a career in it but to see a lot of theatre in order for me to grow as a playwright.
I'm happy to say I've had three plays produced in Los Angeles, and one of them, Who Lives?, is published. I learned two weeks ago that a new production will open in Los Angeles on March 12, 2009, and it's likely to travel the country if the producers can do what they plan.
I bring up reviewing because as much as I always aimed to mention in my reviews what worked in a production, I've run into playwrights who can quote verbatim what I had said about their show that didn't work. It's hard being reviewed. I remain on tinterhooks when my own books are being reviewed. While I'm happy to say Months and Seasons has received twenty-two reviews so far, which range from good to great, I know I cannot please every reader. We're in a subjective business. Someone might not like one story and another thinks its brilliant.
As a creator, I can't write just for reviews. I need to write as emotionally honest as I can and hope that people see and feel what I did. A short story collection is a quixotic thing, too, like a book of poetry. I'm not going to get rich from them, but I can be pleased I wrote well and that people get something from my stories.
You also asked about my novels. The first novel of mine that's appearing will be "The Brightest Moon of the Century," which I wrote about in an earlier thread, above. It's really a collection of stories with the same characters and follows a young man from age 14 to 45 as he grapples with relationships and a career in film.
I've finished drafts of two other novels, one called "The Laughter and Sadness of Sex." That's about a 35-year-old physics professor named Gunnar Gunderson whose specialty is understanding the states of matter at Absolute Zero. He's just received tenure at the University of Wisconsin, and now he can marry. However, he doesn't have a girlfriend. To find a wife, he uses the Scientific Method--to disastrous and hilarious results.
The other novel is called "Falling Down Mt. Washington," about a Ph.D. candidate in theatre who obsesses over his failed dissertation on David Mamet and is kidnapped from a Starbucks at a bank by inept robbers of the bank. My candidate needs to channel Mamet if he's going to escape what seems like sure death.
I enjoyed writing that so much, I've now started what I think is a pure mystery. Of course, humor is already slipping in, so I'm allowing it.
What an interesting story of your career! I don't have time now, but will be sure to check out all your links later.
my goal was never to cleverly cut down playwrights, actors, directors, and others in a brilliant stream of words in order to highlight me
It is precisely these kind of reviews I hope to never see on LibraryThing. At least, I hope to prevent them from happening as much as I can. In the forum, we often discuss negative reviews. It has always been my opinion that negative reviews have to be honest - but also tactful.
I'm happy to say I've had three plays produced in Los Angeles, and one of them, Who Lives?, is published. I learned two weeks ago that a new production will open in Los Angeles on March 12, 2009, and it's likely to travel the country if the producers can do what they plan.
Excellent! Best wishes for past and future successes.
To find a wife, he uses the Scientific Method--to disastrous and hilarious results.
LOL! This looks like a book I'd probably love. I'll look for it after you have it published.
ON EDITORS -- AND BELATED THANKS TO DEVOURER AND POP CULTURE JUNKIE
Jen and Alea: as I was going through everything on here so far, I see you said hello early on. Greetings to you both.
Today may the the day I put in the final tweaks on "The Brightest Moon of the Century," thanks to the exceptional notes from my editor, Nomi Isak Kleinmuntz. A great editor keeps egg off on one's face. Not only has she noticed such things as a few quotation marks reversed (very small and hard to see) but also she's marked sentences here and there where there could be more clarity. She notices redundancies and typos and questions facts here and there. She also has questions about how the last two chapters end, which have me thinking a lot.
I also love spots that she particularly loves. One note I read today said, "This scene is so funny, so great. I love it as much as I did on my first reading." I find it helpful to see the spots that work well as well as the spots that don't.
A good editor won't be able to turn a dull book into an interesting one, but, then again, a good editor might say she's not right for your book, whether she's a freelance editor or one at a publishing house. Editors at publishing houses, these days, tend not to have a lot of time to go through a book with a fine tooth comb. The likes of Max Perkins, who conscientiously edited F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, are long gone. These days, fiction authors are basically expected to turn in tight and clean prose, which means that many writers (me included) hire their own editors.
A couple of years ago, I happened to have lunch with a friend of mine who reviewed books for years at the New York Times. He's also an author, and when his third book was stuck in editing hell--the publisher's editor simply did not have enough time to get to it after a year--my friend hurried the process along by paying for it.
Just know that publishing these days is far different than last century.
Oh, I love it when teachers use contemporary literature instead of just sticking to the classics. Here are a few I'd recommend.
The World According to Garp or A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson--there's tons of great material there, and it would be a fantastic choice for discussing structure and multiple narratives
Bridge of Sighs or Empire Falls by Richard Russo
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood as you've already mentioned
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for that great gothic novel feeling
anything by Jhumpa Lahiri
I forgot this one earlier, but I think Life of Pi would also be a great addition to your list. Please keep us posted on what you choose.
I watched the video of Austin. It was great.
He's so full of enthusiasm. I'm glad to hear about his success. He reminds me very much of my middle son - who has the same kind of enthusiasm and way of describing the the things he loves (my son's love is race cars). It must have been really fun to have Austin as your student and be able to have had a part in developing his creativity.
I also had a chance to view the short animations you posted that were created by three of your students. They are all so talented! The last animation by Will Kim I found especially amazing. Thanks for sharing them with us.
MORE ON BOOKS TO TEACH
Rebecca, thanks for adding to the list. I'd forgotten about A Prayer for Owen Meany. I've taught The World According to Garp once, and it was quite successful. A few of the students had bought and started in on other Irving novels before the end of the semester.
At this point, I'm leaning toward using Mark Haddon's book, Ishiguro's book, or Irving's book. I'm likely to use "Water for Elephants," too. What I need to do next is sit down with them and just read--which I may do this weekend.
Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to your wonderful posts (and your answer to my question about Short stories vs. novels)...I have been so busy with work, that I am completely behind in my LT threads!
Anyway, thank you for your answer about the novels...part of why I asked it was because I used to only write short stories myself, and then I discovered the joy of novel writing. To me, your short stories (most of them) would lend themselves to further development as novels because the characters are so great I think you could build on them. I'm happy to hear you are writing novels!!! And I cannot wait to read your latest - "The Brightest Moon of the Century."
By the way, another author who did a novel of short stories (which was very good) is Elizabeth Strout with her book Olive Kitteridge. Have you read it?
MORE ON NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES
Wendy, thanks for your note, and I see your blog, Caribousmom, seems to have jumped by ten thousand visitors since I last noticed. You're getting a lot of traffic. Of course, you're reviewing a lot, which only makes me realize how much I'm not reading besides my students' work right now.
I haven't read Olive Kitteridge. The paradigm I used for my book--the one that lighted the way for me--was Melissa Bank's The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. However, my book here in its last day's before it has to go off to the designer and then printer, is calling to me for a couple of changes.
This is to say, I went through all the notes by my editor, Nomi. Her strongly upbeat note to me at the end also mentioned, as an aside, that the last two chapters end on a similar beat. I might quibble in that the chapters are very different, yet she did make me see that both chapters end with a twist after things are looking down. The short story writer in me says I need each of those twists to make the chapters self-contained. They are short stories, after all.
The novelist in me, though, says hold on here. Why do I need to do that necessarily? What if the second-to-last chapter doesn't end on an upbeat note but leaves the reader with a question, a cliffhanger? You'd want to know more and flip to the next chapter, which happens to jump ahead a few years. I'll probably have to answer the cliffhanger question, then, early in the next chapter/story.
Now would I be breaking my own rules of what my chapters should be? I don't know.
I love where the book ends, but I just had another realization. Again, the novelist in me has noticed something else. It's that the ending of the book has amazingly come close to echoing the beginning if I only consciously take the plunge. Here I am needing to get the book out, and yet I'm toying with it still.
I'm going to see where I am in the morning on this. I think best in the morning. One has to let go of a book at some point and move to the next. I've already started the next novel, so I need to let this one go but...
But I keep thinking I can make it better and do something unplanned here.
Of course, this may make no sense to you or other readers now, but if people think every moment in a book is planned, it's not. I may create strong outlines, but I have to remain open to divine happenstance, too--especially when the universe speaks.
SqueakyChu, I'm pleased you looked at Austin's interview and the three short works of animation. CalArts' character animation program is extraordinarily difficult to get in. It requires a rich portfolio of art, mostly drawing, and many students don't make it in their first try. Applicants, though, do not need to show a writing sample, so some of them are surprised they have to write. They do it, and some of them excel.
You wrote: Of course, this may make no sense to you or other readers now, but if people think every moment in a book is planned, it's not. I may create strong outlines, but I have to remain open to divine happenstance, too--especially when the universe speaks.
Ah yes, this completely resonates with me as a writer. You know, if it helps, I love when a book's ending echos the beginning. I can also sympathize about the urge to keep making changes even when you should be moving forward to the next project. I am so looking forward to reading this book, Chris!
Did my blog visits really jump 10,000 visits in a week?!?!? I have lost track *laughs* I wish my life was not so busy right now!!
THE LAST DAY
This is the last day of the author chat, and I thank all of you for stopping in. This isn't to say I won't take any more questions today, but knowing this is the last day, I have to say it's been a pleasure.
Thank you Dawn (of She's Too Fond of Books) and Rebecca (of the Book Lady's Blog) for alerting your readers of this chat, and I thank all those who wrote here for your support.
If you have any middle-aged men on your holiday shopping list, or women trying to figure out a middle-aged man, consider buying them "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea."
My latest book, "Months and Seasons," has been getting fabulous coverage here on LibraryThing and elsewhere, and I appreciate the attention a great deal.
See you perhaps in March when my next book, my first novel, "The Brightest Moon of the Century," appears with a publication party at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.
It was good to get to know you here on LT author chat. Thanks for sharing your information. I'll be looking for your books.
I wish you great success with your forthcoming novel.
P.S. So who's paying for my ticket to Pasadena? :)
IF YOU CAN'T MAKE IT TO PASADENA
Thank you, SqueakyChu. In lieu of flying out to see me read in March, you can see a short video of me talking about my latest book at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JGhhxgmvPA
At the publication party for "Months and Seasons" at the Beverly Hills Public Library this summer, four actors presented a story each, and the evening was recorded. You can see an excerpt from one of the stories, "Dracula Slinks Into the Night," at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzGT4hMxh5Q.
Best to you in your own writing.
Chris - I've been more of a lurker than a participant in your chat this week. I enjoyed the conversation, and continue to be in awe at your quick response to questions and comments - articulate and thoughtful. I shouldn't be surprised, based on your published writing, still, it's a pleasure to read even in this less formal forum.
Wishing you continued success, and looking forward to *The Brightest Moon of the Century.*
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Chris :) I've enjoyed your insight into the writing process...looking forward to "The Brightest Moon of the Century" and also snuggling down some night to read "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea" which is calling to me from the shelves!
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