Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hints of Unreliability

In his New Yorker review of John Wray’s Lowboy, a novel acclaimed for its evocation of schizophrenia, James Wood examines the details that lead readers to believe in a narrator’s unreliable point of view:

In standard third-person narration, a tiny slippage often suffices to alert us to a character’s fiction-making. For instance, if I were describing the New York subway, in the third person, from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old boy, and I wrote, “The doors closed after ten seconds and the station fell away,” […it] would be unexceptionable. If, however, I wrote, “The doors closed after exactly ten seconds and the station fell resignedly away,” the two adverbs might stiffen the reader’s posture. Who is this boy, for whom exactitude is so maniacally important, yet who also sees the world so lyrically? And if I wrote, “The train fit into the tunnel perfectly,” or “He decided to get out at Columbus Circle. To his surprise it happened very simply,” the reader would sense a world of mental difficulty, in which trains may not always fit properly into tunnels and a teen-age boy may not always negotiate the exiting of a train.
Wood has engaged me into accepting this fiction, and such a character, by the time he excerpts a passage from the novel:

The train pulled into the next station and the car began to fill with halfdead people. That’s the tiredness, thought Lowboy. They want to curl up on the ground and go to sleep. He yawned at them as they came in, showing them his teeth, and some of them yawned back.
Psychologists say that empathy increases the contagiousness of yawns. I must say, I’m yawning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Believe Nothing, Laugh Often...

…when you view this overview of book publishing, created by the Digital Marketing Team at Macmillan:

Sunday, March 22, 2009


After last year’s trauma, it’s good news now: the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s (NBG) pair of American Bald Eagles have welcomed their first and second hatchlings!

Meanwhile, here’s what’s likely happening inside the third egg as that chick completes incubation and begins to emerge. One of the coolest aspects of all this is that, though the eggs were laid over a span of seven days last month, the eagles delayed incubation of any until all had been laid, which “[slowed] early embryo development, helping to compress the time between hatch dates” and eliminate any feeding advantage that the earliest hatchling gets.

View the goings-on at the nest over the spring and summer via NBG’s Eagle Nest-cam, linked in my blogroll.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Kind of Writer Are You?

Take a look at today's issue of PW Daily, an e-newsletter from Publishers Weekly ... scroll down to the final item, "Picture of the Day."

In the photo, which writer are you?

Are you holding up your work proudly or keeping it half hidden -- too modest, too cool, too afraid -- or not even showing it at all?

I'm probably the woman in the second row, third from the left. I'm not happy about that.

But I can learn from my friend, Denise -- who showed up this morning bearing her latest published piece like she was headed for that front row. Congratulations! -- D, your enthusiasm is inspiring!

Monday, March 16, 2009

For Public Consumption

Illinois law now requires first-time offenders convicted of drunk driving to install a device and prove sobriety before starting the car (and then re-prove it periodically during the trip).

Warm up your writing by describing your character going through the motions of starting the car in private ... and then jump to a scene where a boss or dream-date unexpectedly demands a ride.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books as Artist Date

Take the curious and meaningful moments of a life, assign a keyword to each, then organize them alphabetically by keyword -- encyclopedia-style. The result is Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s thoroughly original memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. A few of her clever and tender observations run several pages, most are a paragraph, some a mere sentence. Here’s one:

I love any kind of cream sauce. My mother hates cream sauce but craved it when she was pregnant with me.
Notice where your thoughts go ... to the contradiction and coincidence? To yourself and your own mother? That's Rosenthal at work, turning her ordinary life into something universal and creatively engaging. Reading the book felt to me like an Artist Date -- a little playdate that fills my mind with imagery and energy -- companion creative tool to Morning Pages, both of which Julia Cameron presents in The Artist's Way.

Maybe I’m unique with books as Artist Dates; I'm still experimenting to discover what makes one vs not one. In the process, I've tagged some possibilities from my library. I'm eager to find more.

Whatever, the Encyclopedia has engaged me, and my muse is eager to start listing and categorizing in a sheer sense of play.