Cell to Cell, Sentence Upon Sentence

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14 May 2009

An interesting blog post from novelist David Francis about the dubious considerations of literary “success” in a publishing environment that is less and less interested in building up a writer’s career/readership slowly, over time.  “You wrote a hit,” the agent might say, “so now give us more of the same.  That’s what your readers want.”  Francis admirably resists.  No, “admirably” isn’t quite right; he resists because there is no other choice.  A literary writer only writes well when he writes from the gut — inductively, not deductively. Francis writes: 

I’ll honor that desire to lay out the lines of words as they appear, as Annie Dillard suggests, securing a sentence before building on it, allowing it to grow “cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop.” That still feels right to me, to let it be what it becomes.

Let’s hope Francis’s agent gets it.

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4 Responses to “Cell to Cell, Sentence Upon Sentence”

  1. Lisa N.R. Says:

    That’s one great line: “cell to cell, bole to bough, twig to leaf.” I can feel the tree growing. Let’s pray it is allowed to bud and leaf out.

    • sonyachung Says:

      AD always has that effect on me. She’s always been one to give a work-in-progress living, breathing status. In another analogy, the book is a lion that becomes untamed when you go away from it for too long. “Back, Simba!” we scream, as we once again enter the writing room.

  2. dannypeters Says:

    The description of the publishing environment perfectly describes what happened in music long ago. In the 70s, a musician or group was more likely to be given three records in which to succeed. Today they can be dropped from the label if the first single isn’t a hit.

    • sonyachung Says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, DP. The sophomore novel (or album) is the hardest to sell. When I think of writers I admire of a previous generation, there were often 2, 3, 4 books before the one anyone has ever heard of. Editors knew the writer’s best work was yet to come, they were willing to wait. Now, as you say… if it doesn’t “hit” the first time around, the powers-that-be heed the numbers.


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