Creating the Map to Literature’s Future

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Things change. And one thing that’s changed for me in the past couple of years is that I’m not reading as voraciously. The thirty-plus books I used to read has dwindled to a short dozen. That could be because of several factors, but all of them come back to my love for literary fiction and my difficulty in finding anything out there that makes for a pleasurable, invigorating read. I’m sure you already know this, if you follow my posts here.

I get little in the way of commentary about my book reviews, but I suspect readers want the gist of a book so they’ll know whether or not to invest time in it. With that in mind, I’ve been increasingly unfair in reviews – not unfair to the writers, but to the readers. So here’s my solution:

For every book I review I’ll publish two parts: the first will be what everyone – more or less – wants: the gist of the book. In other words, the story. Where there is little or no story to report, I’ll, well, do what I can to give you an idea of the book’s progression.

The second part will be a bit more technical. How I see character development. The book’s theme or overall ethos, its philosophic bent. And certainly how the book succeeds without a story, perhaps, or how well the existing story is presented and paced.

This means more mental work for me, both in the reading and the reporting. But that’s as it should be. The postmodern era simply means we’re leaving modernism and we’re going somewhere, literarily speaking, but we don’t quite know where yet. Maybe my efforts as armchair critic and yours as reader will create a map of literature’s future.

Oh, and by the way – I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off here, but when I return, you’ll see book reviews again.

 

Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on our books. There’s also a Facebook fan page or two if you can find them. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.

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Taming Literacy in This Age

Is the novel dead?

Why do the remaining book readers today prefer nonfiction to fiction?

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When I had been working as an engineer for some 6-7 years, the Chief Structural Engineer called me in and said, “Bob, I need you to write a letter for me.” What he meant was a scolding letter to a local legislator and one of his constituency. I did that and eventually made my bones in the organization by writing for highly-placed engineers.

It’s never been a secret that technical types are weak on the written word. My question in the early years of my career wasn’t “Why is that so?” Rather, it was, “How is it that I paid attention in grammar and literature classes when other future engineers and scientists didn’t?”

I don’t think I know the complete answer to that. Just a proclivity that eventually led me to be a writer, I suppose.

But what’s afoot here is something called post-literacy. Just as the invention of the printing press made possible literacy, i.e., the ability to read with comprehension and the parallel ability to articulate one’s thoughts by writing in a given language. Thought and social functioning became funneled largely through books, newspapers, and letters.

We now realize that something was lost in moving from the pre-literate age, when society functioned, inspired by oral story-telling, dance, music, poetic history, and the oral handing down of skills such as weaving, blacksmithing, and farming. The printed word and the skills of reading and writing did much to build the modern society, but that society lost much of its passion to the written word’s abstract expressiveness.

Those engineers that I wrote for realized something I didn’t: that the technical professions functioned ably with numerical language, relegating the written word to a support role handled by those who persisted in a fascination with expressing thought and imagination through writing.

So to cut to the chase, is the novel dead? Maybe. Cinema has largely supplanted it, and the novel has even copied cinema in some respects.

Why history and other nonfiction? Imagination is now expressing itself through technological gadgets and social media; those who prefer a longer view lean to more linear examinations of the world we live in.

But all’s never completely lost. We’re now in an age in which intuition  is slowly gaining a foothold over reason, and the devices of pre-modernism are returning: theater, music, poetry, and –yes –perhaps the novel will now grow new legs.

 

Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on books and media. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.

A Modern Desultory Philippic

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There are things that trouble me these days. Just to name a few:

  1. Too many things are going on in the world. Far too many. Can’t people live within their means? Can’t they help those less fortunate before things get too salty out there? Can’t we accept someone else’s opinions without hysterics?
  2. I have too little time to read. Or write. There are too few books out there worthy of my time, and when I ask someone what they think of my latest book, they say, “Whaaat?”
  3. Taxes are too complicated. And the money never goes for things I’d like it to.
  4. I’m aging way too fast.  That look in the morning mirror no longer seems like a photo – now it’s more like a movie.
  5. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
  6. All the things I like to eat are bad for me and put weight on me.
  7. Everyone I know has too many problems –  health-wise and otherwise.
  8. I used to be 1-1/2 inches taller than I am now. I don’t like that.
  9. Going somewhere on a commercial airliner is miserable and cramped. And no one offers me a ride there in their Lear jet.
  10. I don’t go to movies much anymore. And if the guy sitting in front of me is wearing a long black overcoat he won’t take off, I’m outta there.

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All this to say that 2018 is going to mean changes for me. I’m not sure yet what they are, but you’ll see some evidence of them on this blog. Now, I admit there are a lot of blogs out there. And mine may seem the least consequential one you’ve ever read. I’m pretty sure, though, that readership ups and downs will be paralleled by the number and attitude of my posts. Yes, the picture above is of me, taken on a particularly bad day. It takes readership to keep this blog going, so if you want me to clean up, make a big deal of it every time I post.

 

Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on books and media. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.

2014 in review

Thanks to those who tune in to Gridley Fires blog. I like to say that my followers are few, but they’re rabid and somewhat deranged. And that’s a GOOD thing. So maybe you’d like to see yourself mirrored in the below report.

Thanks, have a safe but happy new year’s, and I hope you’ll urge all your friends to follow the blog.

See you next year, Bob

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Good Fortune in Dystopia

 

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I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

 

I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Thanks,

Bob

Learning Old Lessons Anew

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The Writer’s Chronicle, March April, 2014

Sometimes the lessons writers learn keep coming back, ever new. In Sarah Ann Johnson’s interview with Richard Bausch, he tends to pan manuscript workshopping as a sort-of assembly line way of producing writing. Of course, there are ways out of that, one being to respect the writer’s work enough to amplify his/her style without changing it to titan instructor’s style. Bausch, in explaining his manner of deepening characterization, falls back on the old writer’s chestnut of involving the senses as much as possible in such a depiction. And finally, Bausch tells us once more that fiction must be about something. i.e., “the true subject of fiction, whether it’s comic or tragic or somewhere in between, is trouble.”

And you needn’t be a Southerner to give your writing a strong sense of place. Cynthia Neely, in her piece, ” Making Sense of a Sense of Place,” recognize foremost that place has a strong sense of power in all our lives – and she gives examples of how this plays out in poetry.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this issue is Tony Hoagland’s “Je Suis Ein Americano – The Genius of American Diction.” Hoagland reminds us that diction – even the blurred diction of the U.S.’s multi-language influences, is the main instrument of tone, that it serves to focus the story’s emotions and underlying concept. Too, besides nailing down cultural characteristics, diction can be used comically. Natsha Saje’s interview with Wanda Coleman tends to bear out Hoagland’s views on diction.

As has been the case of late, this issue focuses largely on poets and poetry. IF you’re feeling good about your own poetry, you may very well come to understand your writing in the montage of other modern poetry.

 

 

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Refined Feelings and Otherworldly Writing Locales

I’m starting to look on P&W with more than a touch of whimsy these days. Maybe that’s because I’ve grown as a writer, or maybe I’ve grown more ornery as I’ve aged. Still, much of what the mag has to offer  makes me smile crookedly where it used to inform. Of course, P&W is still a valuable magazine to students of writing as well as those just now jumping into writerly waters on their own.

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This issue of the mag has newsy things, and advice from agents and editors. It has an inspiring piece about three writers who darn near gave up on the craft – but didn’t.

Nate Pritts talks about the role of sentiment in writing – this in perhaps the most cynical of ages. Sentiment in his view is something he calls “refined feeling,” something that appears when we pare our feelings down to the point where they can have communicative expression.

And reading about Amy Einhorn is a breath of fresh air; here’s an editor who looks askance at MFA credentials. Who reads the manuscript first, rather than trying to parse one’s “platform.” Who believes in a writer’s unique voice.

But I have to ask, upon seeing the cover piece about writers who have to escape to Alaskan fijords to write, who have to go to Antartica, for crying out loud, why it’s so hard for these folks to write. Maybe they’re trying on the wrong profession. I certainly did, prior to finding the craft of writing.

There’s much more, as always, so if you subscribe, use the magazine to your best benefit. If you’re not and you have doubts about the various aspects of your own writing, it might make sense to check this fine magazine out.

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.