Friday, July 8, 2011

Five Posts for the Price of One Click!

I've started five posts today. Each got deleted because I didn't think I could adequately address the subject in two paragraphs.

The first one drew attention to an opinion piece about shyness in the NYTimes: "Is Shyness an Evolutionary Tactic?"

The second pointed out one of my favorite columnists of late, Ta'Nehesi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic. He blogs about everything from Jane Austen to immigration. And his posts have some of the most intelligent comments you'll find on the web.

The third was on the cheating scandal in Atlanta's Public Schools. The governor's report showed nearly 180 teachers engaged in some kind of cheating on standardized tests, from changing students' answers to facilitating cheating by giving students unauthorized assistance. Think Progress reports:
While uncovering this widespread cheating, the report also noted that these abuses were facilitated by a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that faced APS teachers and administrators, who were pressured to raise test scores and feared for their jobs if they protested these policies or even reported cheating. One excerpt from the report found that a principal forced a teacher under a table during a meeting because her students’ test scores were deemed unsatisfactory.
The fourth was on a revelation about President Obama's father:

Before Barack Obama was born, his parents may have considered putting him up for adoption, according to documents obtained by a reporter for The Boston Globe.

Mr. Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., told immigration officials that Ann Dunham, whom he had recently married, would make “arrangements with the Salvation Army to give the baby away,” one document said. [Obama, Sr., had to reapply for his Visa yearly].

The article in the New York Times indicated that President Obama had not previously known about his father's statement. I just imagine the President, worried about the job numbers, worried about Libya and debt ceiling negotiations, coming across this information. When does he have time to process it? To think about it? How does this fit in his narrative about his father? His own life?

I'm trying to remember the fifth post. That was going to be the awesome one, I'm sure. The most interesting and original.

I continue to write and revise and add details to my made-up story. I borrowed another writing book from the library, "The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing." It is a collection of pieces that had been written for "The Writer's Digest," with contributions from popular authors like Orson Scott Card, Lawrence Block, and Tom Clancy. They give advice on everything from dialogue and plotting to revision and selecting genre. David Groff wrote a chapter, "The Ten Essentials of Popular Fiction," and discussed the characteristics of a successful commercial ("popular") novel. I figured my own work would never cross over into the commercial category (I consider it "literary fiction," that is, "unpopular"), and Groff's words supported my assumption:

While this may surprise you, commercial fiction is always morally conservative. It doesn't matter how many Dirks bed how many Ambers, or how many KGB agents kill off innocent Berliners on the way to find CIA operative Tim Sheahan. A literary novel may, like a piece of contemporary music, be atonal -- and leave the reader feeling discord; but in a commercial novel the narrative ends on the tonic note, with balance restored and order reigning. The good doctor marries the actress, even though she has had to sleep with half of the Screen Actors Guild. The renegade Miami cop manages to blow up the drug smuggler's trawler before it docks in Tampa. In every case, the values and balance of the civilization are reaffirmed, at least temporarily.

He argues that works of popular fiction "are by nature optimistic." I don't know that I can do that. I'm generally an optimistic person, I suppose, thinking the best of people, often against my better judgment. But I'm also very guarded. Very careful and even tentative at times. And perhaps subconsciously, I'm using my novel to show that that "guardedness" is warranted. Life is complicated and messy, and I couldn't write with honesty by pretending otherwise.


Tonja said...

That is a lot. On subject of literary vs. commercial/mainstream, I read somewhere that commerical novels are plot-driven.

To me, they are the equivalent of action movies. They are like the Transformers movies, just there to entertain. Literary novels, which are my thing too, are character and/or theme driven. They are like a really thoughtful indie movie that changes you a little when you walk out of the theatre.

You definitely picked the right genre.

AllMyPosts said...


President Obama must be having tough time!! Running the most powerful nation in the world!!

And regarding the commercial and fiction novels!! I prefer optimistic ones!! Not the balancing commercial ones! I don't want works which adhere to some standard formula!!

with warm regards
Another Author

george rede said...

Five for the price of one click? Boy, did I get my money's worth!
I'll comment on just one item because the NYT article is one that I also read and quietly applauded.
I hadn't heard the term "sitter" applied to introverted children, but it fits, given the description of those kids as "careful and astute" and inclined to learning by observing rather than acting.
It's intriguing to think of shy children as more easily socialized and more conscientious, which in turn leads to a more developed sense of empathy. Likewise, it's appealing to see that sitters "bring to leadership ... a willingness to listen to and implement other people’s ideas."
As I look at the Bachmanns and Gingriches of the world, I can't help but think they -- and we -- would be better off if they'd spent more time as children "sitting" and less as extroverts.