Studies have shown smell is the most evocative sense for remembering, just like it’s the most evocative sense for sex. I knew this before they proved it, though, and maybe so did you if you think about it. The smell of a place, of a person, of a time: it doesn’t really “take you back” or “throw you” into anything, which would be the trite things to say. It doesn’t. What it does, in my experience, is it suddenly, sneakily, altogether implicates you – it accuses, interpellates, decries you with the realization that you were a previous version of yourself once. It’s a sense so sharp and bare it grazes guilt, teases embarrassment. Oh.
It’s easy for people to mock the stock-formula book title schemes of writers like “The Bourne Identity” author Robert Ludlum (his Wikipedia page says “The (Proper Noun) (Noun)”) or “The Firm” author John Grisham (in a story by BJ Novak, he’s enraged when his publisher releases his latest novel as “The Thing” – a placeholder title he gives all his novels and forgot to replace as a formality when he turned it in). Continue reading →
The one valuable part of the Northwestern Summer Writers Conference I went to last year was a class on creative writing structure. The instructor brought to us forms and techniques from screenwriting, well-known building blocks of stories like Three-Act Structure, and The Hero’s Journey, which underlie great tales from Homer’s Odyssey to Pulp Fiction. Learning these structures was like the day someone finally tells you how sex works: you’ve seen all the parts before, and you’ve seen the results, but oh, so that’s how it works.
Since then, I’ve read my way through Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler and the essays of literary critics from Mythological / Jungian schools and Reader-Response schools and if you want to write stories, you should too.
A few months ago, I re-read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and again I was fascinated by how the way the story is written sucks you in and keeps you reading. Ender’s Game is a great book but it’s not a Great Book, and I don’t mean that in the snooty or academic sense: Slaughterhouse Five and Fahrenheit 451 are Great Books, and they have time travel and aliens and robot dogs, in different degrees. Continue reading →
If you are a writer living in NYC’s borough of Queens, or are from Queens, or have lived in Queens, or have a polished piece of writing — be it fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, book review, or essay — that is in one way or another Queens-esque, (“celebrating a diversity of voices and experiences, especially those often not given space,” from the submission guidelines page) now is the time to submit to Queens’ first literary journal: Newtown Literary.
Transcript, Common Sayings Explained in Lecture To A Group Who Lacks Intuitive Grasping of Allegorical Concepts Series: “Shitting Where We Eat”
I suppose as a precursor it will be useful to say that this particular idiom is applicable literally, unlike last week’s topic of throwing stones in glass houses which was derailed by the most literal-minded of you, particularly those in the engineering and physical sciences, due to issues of structural integrity and visualization. Of course, being a group who lacks intuitive grasping of allegorical concepts I do not think makes you socially blind to the fact that shitting where you eat is considered wrong. The real question is why is it wrong? Continue reading →
I’m currently on an Ernest Hemingway kick, having finished For Whom the Bell Tells (1940) and The Old Man and the Sea (1951) in quick succession. The former is an amazing achievement in literary mastery that is inspiring the writing of this blog post. The latter was also immersive and enjoyable, but not really on that same level. I also have begun reading A Moveable Feast (1964) next (which I have read excerpts of before, but not the whole book).
Something in Hemingway’s work really speaks to me. I love the authenticity of his novels, the style, the subject matter, and yes: the toughness. I love that his protagonists are hard-nosed and critical. Salinger railed against phonies through Holden Caulfield, and it was great, but it came out sounding whiny, whereas Hemingway railed against phonies through his protagonists and it came out as heroic.
A lot of really intelligent people have an anti-Hemingway bias, which is something I guess I can understand to a point.
Maybe you have a general resentment against authors covered in high school English, whose books you read under duress. From that standpoint, my high school education failed me. I hadn’t read more than a short story or two of Hemingway’s upon entering college and didn’t realize my affinity until I read In Our Time (1925) in two English classes in the same semester. I would recommend giving him another chance, now that you’re an adult and can read books more critically.
Others protest against Hemingway’s style. The sentences are too short and simple, they say. The writing is plain Jane, too vanilla, they say. To that, I rebut with an excerpt Continue reading →