12 March 2010
First, some photos from “the road” — McNally Jackson reading on Wednesday (thanks Jane and Tommy for pics):
Thanks to all who came out, and thanks again to Angela and Dustin for inviting me / making it happen. With any luck, we’ll have an mp3, and I can do some post-game analysis.
I’m processing all of this “being out there” — which really isn’t all that much exposure, just relatively so, for a homebody like me — but it’s all a little out-of-body, which is not how you want it to be, i.e. you want to be as present in the moment as you can. I’m learning that the little things can make a difference, e.g. I’ve started making sure that there will be a mic, because something about having to raise my voice makes the experience feel very un-me. I’ve also noticed that lighting matters — the dimmer the better, the easier for your audience to focus on the words and the story coming forth from your mouth into the space.
It’s a strange waiting period we’re in right now. Hoping for some reviews, a national publication would be super. We got bumped last Sunday from PARADE — a last minute switcheroo to Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered. What can I say. A deserving author and, from what I hear, a very deserving book. Still, one feels the injustice (who knows, really; but the thought crosses my mind) of “only one Korean American author at a time,” even if the novels are as different as any other two novels might be.
It’s also, weirdly, a kind of shock to realize that people are actually reading the book. ”Your book arrived, am reading now!” many have written. Uy. Really? Forgot about that part. The most gratifying reactions have been from those I know to be highly critical readers, who approach reading as a deep, and sometimes difficult, pleasure. Long for This World is not, it would seem, an “easy read”: shifting points of view, lots of characters (with Korean names) to remember, multiple story-lines which diverge and reconverge at different points in the book. But I’m happy to hear from readers who are not dismayed, but rather compelled, to journey with the characters to the other side, to convergence and resonance.
Rambling here… but thanks for reading, both here and LFTW. Am working now on a longish short story that is coming along; it feels good to take a serious ax to a first draft and really work at making it deeper and more whole. Note to self: do not write short stories on deadline anymore. The process is so much like writing a novel for me, it needs time and space and air.
18 November 2009
Just came across this October pre-pub mention of Long for This World. Kind of exciting!
Featuring Sonya Chung, Chang-Rae Lee, Mark Spragg, and David Cruise
By Barbara Hoffert — Library Journal, 10/1/2009 10:31:00 AM
Books can take you places. In this edition’s fiction, Sonya Chung and Chang-Rae Lee travel to Korea, while Philip Kerr and Craig Nova visit 1930s Berlin. Also in fiction, Mark Spragg heads out West, as do nonfiction authors Laura Bell, memoirist of her life in Montana, and David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, biographers of Wild Horse Annie.
[The blurb on LFTW:]
Having fled Korea for America in 1953, Han returns with his daughter, a war photographer injured in Baghdad. What recommends this first novel? Chung’s many honors, including a Pushcart Prize nomination and the Charles Johnson Fiction Award. Plus publisher support, as evidenced by the reading group guide and other book club materials. See Chung’s Facebook page.
Here’s the link to the full Library Journal entry.
5 April 2009
A student in one of my online classes writes about Don Delillo‘s “opaque” male narrators and characters, many of whom are somewhat unknown to themselves while at the same time seen in lucid flashes by the reader.
I think of Delillo often as I write Sebastian & Frederick, my first serious foray into male protagonists. Other writers who accompany me on this journey–hovering quietly–include James Salter, Hemingway, EL Doctorow, Cormac McCarthy, and Denis Johnson. The greatest difference I am sensing in writing male characters is precisely that they are less known to themselves than my female characters have been. They seem to do more than they reflect. Or it takes more action to lead them to reflection.
This fall I will teach a course called “True Fiction,” focusing on writing autobiographical fiction. I am nervous about it. Initially, I pitched a class exploring the opposite — writing characters who are distinctly not ourselves, set in worlds which our far from our own. My experience with beginning writers (including myself) is that much better writing comes from the latter than the former. My college students did a first-person exercise in which they recalled a childhood memory from the perspective of a character of different gender, race, or culture. The level of writing instantly shot up a notch.
We settled on “True Fiction” because — get ready — it seemed more “marketable.” So many people are already writing fictionalized memoir, we projected we’d more likely get full enrollment. My fear is that it will turn into writing-class-as-therapy, which can produce bad, lazy writing. My intention is to assign exercises like the one my college students did (variations on their own characters, perhaps) as a way of emphasizing that one must use the imaginative muscles just as much, if not more, when writing autobiographically-based fiction.
I don’t go to readings as much as I used to, partially because they started to seem very formulaic, and the writers seemed to hate being there. Invariably, the audience would try to get the writer to “admit” that the novel was really a veiled memoir. “How much of this is autobiographical?” someone would always ask. “How much of Gustave/Jill/Sammy is really you?”
The best answer I ever heard was from the novelist Chang-rae Lee who said, “All of it. And none of it.”
I’m pitching a class at a different school called “Writing Self / Writing Other.” Here’s my pitch blurb:
How do we write compelling fiction based on our lives and true experiences? And how do we write characters who are vastly different from us? In this course we will see how these two seemingly opposite approaches to fiction are in fact closely related and can fruitfully inform one another.
You’ll be the first to know if it flies.