Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE AND OTHER STORIES, by Robert Louis Stevenson


Been working on this book for ages. I remember loving TREASURE ISLAND, though it's been years since I read it, but the stories in this collection sure aren't holding my attention. Worse, forcing through a few pages of this and then giving it up for something else, I find that whatever else I turn to also fails to engage. Or maybe I'm just a bit burned out on reading.

With the new job I'm sitting at a desk for ten hours a day, four days in a row each week. A good portion of that time is spent reading. I get an hour for lunch each day, too, and spend some of that hour in a book. Maybe I'm just cloying my reading energies.

Leads me toward thinking about 'too much of a good thing.' I feel like American Society encourages a sort of 'all or nothing' approach to life. You're supposed to find what you love doing and then spend all your time doing it, especially if what you profess to love is art/music/writing. I know of an author who spends 40 hours a week writing, bare minimum, every week. Recently he's broken through with book publications, and now his backlog will flood forth, but for a while he pinned it all on writing and trusted to fate (and his parent's support, I'm guessing) to cover his expenses.

Even if I didn't have to support myself, I doubt I could dedicate that much time to writing. In the busy spurts I've experienced, the most I've managed is three or so hours a day for a few weeks. Then I get bored, or glutted, or disinterested. Whatever it is I'm doing--writing or reading or sleeping or eating or whatever--loses its appeal when I get too much of it.

Makes me hesitant to define myself as a 'writer,' or anything else. I can't fit myself all-together into one pursuit, or one interest. About the one thing I can imagine myself doing all the time is this:

not fucking working.

Of work I'm sure I've had enough.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

THE LONG VALLEY, by John Steinbeck


I've been working my way through Steinbeck's famous short story collection THE LONG VALLEY, and one of the thoughts I've held in my mind throughout is how different the literary landscape was at the time these stories were written. A few of the pieces in this book--'The Chrysanthemums' being a prime example--have been embraced as canonical literature. Their focus on character, and their effort to reveal character subtly through action and description, seem intrinsic to our contemporary concept of 'literary' writing (a concept pounded into my head during four years of college English). But at the time these stories were written--in the early 1930s--such concepts weren't nearly as established and universally dominant. 'Literature' just wasn't as tightly nailed down as it is today. And because of that we have stories we know consider 'literary' published side-by-side with stories that feel decidedly 'non-literary.' Steinbeck dips his pen into styles we'd now label 'pulp,' or 'genre' fiction. His piece 'The Snake,' for example, makes me think of the Weird Fiction being written by H.P. Lovecraft and other authors of the time; and Steinbeck's 'Flight' feels like classic Western.

Another question that comes to mind while reading this collection is whether or not such a book could have any chance of success in today's market if Steinbeck was an author just trying to break through now. My gut tells me no. Everything I've heard or read about the short story market today tells me that it's incredibly difficult to get anybody to buy a collection of short stories, which consequently makes it incredibly difficult to get anyone to consider publishing one. In order for a short-story book to be considered it needs to be chock-a-block with Pushcart Prizewinners, or dressed up with some kind of gimmick that makes it look like a novel (like all these 'novel in stories' you see coming out, Amy Tan's JOY LUCK CLUB being an early success), or written by a bestselling novelist. A book like THE LONG VALLEY, with its haphazard collection of stories written by an at-the-time unsuccessful author...it's hard to picture that appearing on bookshelves fresh today.

Then again, it didn't show up on the shelves just after being written, anyway. Steinbeck's first commercial success, TORTILLA FLATS, paved the way for THE LONG VALLEY's later publication. Steinbeck was already a bestseller by the time these early stories ever saw a mass audience. Maybe they wouldn't have made it to press back then, either, if he gave up after writing them, and never got around to the breakthrough book.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hello Again

Nearly a year has passed since my last post, and now that I've probably lost whatever minuscule audience I'd built for this blog, I'm ready to post again. The dark period this blog just went through pertained to a change in employment--I went from an office job to a labor job with no regular access to computers--but I've just recently changed jobs again, and now I'm back indoors and back near a computer.

Not really all that much writing news to catch up on, anyway. The main publications to mention are two short shorts in the fiction section of January 2010's Fogged Clarity. I've added links to them in the Stories Online section to the right--the pieces are called "Love" and "A Prayer for Becky Sims." As an added bonus, Fogged Clarity also published audio files of me reading each piece--the first time a literary journal has ever asked me to do this.

I submitted those pieces to Fogged Clarity after receiving notice from editor Ben Evans that he nominated my story "Donald Mathison's Heart" for a Pushcart. Since he liked my writing enough to nominate it, I figured I'd send him more, which led to the two short shorts just published. My thanks to him for the encouragement.

Only other news is that a second Map of Fog is in the works. I'm hoping to have it in print within the next few months. If you want details, feel free to email me.