EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Every place has a rhythm. You must echo that rhythm in your writing. A character in New York City will not be as mellow as a character on the beach. A character in Wyoming will have a more expansive view than the character in Los Angeles. Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick might have had the grandest and most inclusive vision of all had he not permitted that vision to curdle into one single, obsessive focus. But that is Melville’s character; Melville himself is determined to make his novel as commodious and comprehensive as the ocean. Or consider E. M. Forster’s beautiful and foresighted A Passage to India, in which the English author dissects the tensions between native Indians and their British rulers. More… “A Gun in the First Act”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

In her essay “Place in Fiction,” Eudora Welty wrote that “place is one of the lesser angels.” She said other considerations were more important than place — “character, plot, symbolic meaning … and feeling, who in my eyes carries the crown, soars highest of them all and rightly relegates place into the shade.” She did not mean by this that place is a minor or accidental consideration in fiction. She meant that place is what anchors the fiction, gives it a reality to stand on even when everything standing on it is unreal. If you can make that place palpable to the senses, it doesn’t matter whether it is an imaginary place or a place in outer space or a momentary vision. As long as it can be perceived via our five senses, the reader will accept it as true even knowing it is not true.

Fiction is about people making something happen or responding to what is happening. Whatever happens, happens somewhere. It takes place. Therefore, fiction takes place too.
More… “Whatever Happens, Happens Somewhere”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The truth is, almost all of us want more than just one thing. The child who wants water also wants to share it with his mother. The mother wants her child to have water and also food.

Take a look at Chekhov’s stories. Maybe you already have and are already acquainted with his distinctively realistic stories. Anton Chekhov was a doctor and a writer. His writing included four plays and many short stories, almost all of which are justifiably described as great. He had a particular ability to capture the Russian culture in the second half of the 19th century: Its mixed mood of melancholy and ennui, of longing and not being willing to do anything about it. Sometimes his work approaches satire — there is a long tradition of satire in Russian fiction — and indeed he wrote satirical pieces to earn money for his college tuition, but far more often, as he begins to write longer stories, his work is leavened by the delicacy of his descriptions and the efficiency of his narratives. His characters are so real that one remembers them as one remembers people in one’s own life. Most of us in this country have to read his work in translation, and we are fortunate that excellent translations are available.
More… “Desire is Complicated”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

It is standard advice to state that the main character or characters should want something. That it is wanting — desire — that motivates characters to act and action that creates the story, novel, perhaps even the persona in a persona poem. It’s not bad advice; genre fiction can get a lot of mileage from it. But if you are after something that goes deeper than the usual mystery novel, sci-fi, romance novel, or YA book, note that characters don’t always know what, or which, they want. They want to rob a bank but also fall in love. They want to fall in love but also rob a bank. Humans are ambivalent, and if characters are to come alive for a reader, they need to be ambivalent too. Sometimes they want what they want and at the same time do not want it. They are conflicted. The conflict within the character creates a subtler drama, a deeper layer of meaning. The reader ponders the character’s choices, the various possibilities open to the character. The reader is now paying attention to the character, not just what the character does, but what the character feels, what the character believes.
More… “Everybody Wants More than Just One Thing”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
If you missed part I of Kelly Cherry's examination of writing style, read it here.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

And now, to examine an entirely different style, consider this line from Ben Marcus’s experimental and lovely first novel, The Age of Wire and String, published in 1995. The author’s postmodern premise is that when we look at an object, our desire destroys it. It opens thus:

This book is a catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String and beyond, into the arrangements of states, site, and cities and, further, within the small houses that have been granted erection or temporary placement on the perimeters of districts and river colonies. The settlement, in clusters and dispersed, has long required a document of secret motion and instruction — a collection of studies that might serve to clarify the terms obscured within every facet of the living program.

He includes a kind of mini-dictionary with which we can interpret the very short stories in eight sections that make up the book. Sadness, the dictionary tells us, sadness “can be eradicated with more of itself, in which case the face results in a placid system coursing with water, heaving.” A “wind bowl” is a “pocket of curved, unsteady space formed between speaking persons.” “The mother” is “the softest location in the house.”
More… “…And How To Get It”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
Part I of a two-part look at style examines Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Henry James. Watch for Part II, ...And How To Get It in the coming days.
An old window with some panes frosted, some panes clear, and some panes broken.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Almost the first thing a reader notices about a piece of writing is its style — unless the style is transparent. Transparent prose is prose that lets you see the object before you. It has often been referred to as a window, for the window in no way obstructs your view. Indeed, it serves the view, quite as if it were a humble attendant.

When we speak of style, then, we usually mean prose that obstructs the view. But of course, we do still see something of the object in our line of sight (i.e., the sense of the sentence). How, then, is the object — the view, the sense — obstructed? By details of the sentence that yank our attention away from the sense, if only momentarily. Puns, alliteration, syntactical flourishes, words that call our attention to themselves are some of the details that can do this. Such details are, of course, snappy, playful, poetic, even enlivening, and the reader who reads them, if that reader wishes to be a writer, is apt to think, I’m going to get me some of those!

And why not?

There is no reason why not. But the getting of them is harder than one might think.
More… “On Style…”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Not too long ago, I was at a party with a number of people who have successful careers in lifestyle journalism. I was chatting with a beautiful, sexy friend who writes for a magazine that covers luxury spa vacations. She got that job, in part, because she wrote a wonderful travel book about bathing culture which one critic claimed “bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine.”

As we chatted, I shared some good news with her: I had just been hired to write a newspaper column about spirits and cocktails.

“You should really meet my friend,” she told me. “He’s the perfume critic at the Times.”

“Really?” I said. “Let me just see if I’m hearing this correctly. The luxury spa columnist would like the spirits columnist to meet the perfume columnist.”

“Yes,” she said, with a beautiful, sexy smile.

“Wait,” I… More…