Archive for November, 2006

NaNoWriMo… Crossing the finish line!

Posted: November 30, 2006 in NaNoWriMo

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I did it! I finished, with a total of 50,624 words.

Is the novel finished? No, the novel itself isn’t, though I surpassed the 50,000-word goal. I have a good idea where things should go from here, though, and I’m hoping to finish the first draft by the end of January, giving myself the holidays off so I don’t drive myself completely insane.

What a relief, and what a learning experience it was, too. I already had respect for novelists but now I have a better idea how grueling the writing process really is, especially when you’ve never written a novel before. That’s not to mention the revision process, which is a different animal entirely. I already know if I thought 50,000 words was tough, 100,000 or more of the exact right words will make this look like nothing.

But I’m pleased to have met this challenge. Even if it doesn’t ever go any further than having a draft of a novel I at least made it this far, and that’s saying something. And for right now, I’m glad it’s over! Tomorrow is another day, but for today I can bask in the finality of it all.

FINIS.

There are two very different big stories buzzing around the book world today, one involving a brand new, record-breaking author, and the other the first book in years from a reclusive literary icon.

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The first regards six year old Christopher Beale, hailing from Zug, Switzerland. Christopher is poised to become the youngest published author ever. His book This and Last Season’s Excursions was completed when he was age 6 years and 118 days, beating the previous record by 42 days. It is due to be published within the next few days by a publisher from Inverness, Scotland.

According to the article in The Independent from Saturday, November 18, the book is about the adventures of Christopher’s toys. Christopher’s father is fantasy author Theodore Beale, author of the Eternal Warriors series, so apparently writing runs in his family.

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Theodore Beale

Reclusive author Thomas Pynchon will also be publishing a book very soon, his first since 1997s Mason & Dixon. Weighing in at 1,120 pages, Against the Day is already attracting a lot of notice. Unfortunately, the notice it’s getting isn’t the most flattering. New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, admittedly a sort of notorious curmudgeon by nature, gave the book a particularly scathing review, calling it “a bloated jigsaw puzzle of a story, pretentious without being provocative, elliptical without being illuminating, complicated without being rewardingly complex.”

Ouch.

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The young Thomas Pynchon, from his high school yearbook

To make things even more surreal (if that’s possible), here’s Pynchon’s own summary of the book, as posted on Amazon:

Book Description

Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.
With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

–Thomas Pynchon

Contending with 1,120 pages of largely plotless material, good luck may be what the reader will need the most. This is assuredly not a novel for the faint of heart.

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You can’t say the book world is ever boring.

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2006 National Book Award Winners:

Fiction:

Richard Powers – The Echo Maker

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From Publishers WeeklyStarred Review. A truck jackknifes off an “arrow straight country road” near Kearney, Nebr., in Powers’s ninth novel, becoming the catalyst for a painstakingly rendered minuet of self-reckoning. The accident puts the truck’s 27-year-old driver, Mark Schluter, into a 14-day coma. When he emerges, he is stricken with Capgras syndrome: he’s unable to match his visual and intellectual identifications with his emotional ones. He thinks his sister, Karin, isn’t actually his sister—she’s an imposter (the same goes for Mark’s house). A shattered and worried Karin turns to Gerald Weber, an Oliver Sacks–like figure who writes bestsellers about neurological cases, but Gerald’s inability to help Mark, and bad reviews of his latest book, cause him to wonder if he has become a “neurological opportunist.” Then there are the mysteries of Mark’s nurse’s aide, Barbara Gillespie, who is secretive about her past and seems to be much more intelligent than she’s willing to let on, and the meaning of a cryptic note left on Mark’s nightstand the night he was hospitalized. MacArthur fellow Powers (Gold Bug Variations, etc.) masterfully charts the shifting dynamics of Karin’s and Mark’s relationship, and his prose—powerful, but not overbearing—brings a sorrowful energy to every page. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Nonfiction:

Timothy Egan – The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America’s great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of “black blizzards” that were like a biblical plague: “Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains” in what became known as the Dust Bowl. But the plague was man-made, as Egan shows: the plains weren’t suited to farming, and plowing up the grass to plant wheat, along with a confluence of economic disaster—the Depression—and natural disaster—eight years of drought—resulted in an ecological and human catastrophe that Egan details with stunning specificity. He grounds his tale in portraits of the people who settled the plains: hardy Americans and immigrants desperate for a piece of land to call their own and lured by the lies of promoters who said the ground was arable. Egan’s interviews with survivors produce tales of courage and suffering: Hazel Lucas, for instance, dared to give birth in the midst of the blight only to see her baby die of “dust pneumonia” when her lungs clogged with the airborne dirt. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan’s powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers’ minds. (Dec. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Young People’s Literature:

M.T. Anderson – The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party

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From School Library JournalStarred Review. Grade 9 Up–In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realize that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments. The boy’s guardians host a pox party where everyone is inoculated with the disease in hopes that they will then be immune to its effects, but, instead, Octavian’s mother dies. He runs away and ends up playing the fiddle and joining in the Patriots’ cause. He’s eventually captured and brought back to his household where he’s bound and forced to wear an iron mask until one of his more sympathetic instructors engineers his escape. Readers will have to wait for the second volume to find out the protagonist’s fate. The novel is written in 18th-century language from Octavian’s point of view and in letters written by a soldier who befriends him. Despite the challenging style, this powerful novel will resonate with contemporary readers. The issues of slavery and human rights, racism, free will, the causes of war, and one person’s struggle to define himself are just as relevant today. Anderson’s use of factual information to convey the time and place is powerfully done.–Sharon Rawlins, NJ Library for the Blind and Handicapped, Trenton
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Poetry:

Nathaniel Mackey – Splay Anthem

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From Publishers WeeklyPublished in installments across several decades, Mackey’s two epic series—one called Mu, the other Song of the Andoumboulou—bring the attitudes of free jazz and the reverberating patterns of West African ensemble music to the goals of the American encyclopedic long poem à la Charles Olson. The mysterious, even hermetic, new verse extends both of Mackey’s epics, even (as his prose foreword explains) merging them, so that they form one enormous text describing a mystical quest. Mackey’s figures seek the source of inspiration, and his dense stanzas track their uneven progress; “We” pursue it, by foot, train or boat, into realms of fable and myth, via chants, archival and esoteric references, portmanteau words and archeological research. “Atless” (that is, lost without a map) and given to interjections like “wuh,” Mackey’s crew crosses the “City of Lag” on the “Not Yet Express,” as the poet himself sends his spirit “up/ Unreal Street unstrung” in search of new sounds and rituals. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Author Interview: Kate Williams

Posted: November 14, 2006 in Uncategorized

An interview with Kate Wiliams, author of England’s Mistress:the Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

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1). How has the experience of publishing England’s Mistress? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

As ‘England’s Mistress’ is my first book, I’ve had many surprises! Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is how much your job changes after you hand in your manuscript. Before you do, you’re simply someone who beavers away on your work on the computer. Then after that, you occupy so many different roles. You grow to understand production, and then art research and then publicity…But the greatest surprise has got to be seeing it in the shops – I still can’t quite get over it.

2) What writing projects are you working on currently?

Apart from writing articles to publicise Emma for newspapers and magazines, I’m working on my second book. I’m still working on strong women, but I’m moving slightly forward in time, into the very late Regency period and the early Victorians. At the moment, I’m writing on Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV – who died tragically in childbirth

3) Do you practice any writing rituals?

Not really. I get up, I get ready etc, then I start writing. I find it harder to stop than start. I use notebooks a lot, so I can scribble on the Tube or at bus stops, or just while I’m waiting.

4) What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

I’m always reading – the minute I get up, cooking, brushing my teeth.. In terms of biography, I recently enjoyed Maria Fairweather’s Madame de Stael – a wonderful book, and I’m currently enjoying Lucy Moore’s Revolution Belles. I spent my summer in New York, so it seemed apt to read Manhattan Transfer and USA, which I thought was fabulous. I’ve also just been reading the novels of Antonia White, as well as her biography by Jane Dunn.

I have a plan of trying to read the longest novels I can find (in translation!), and I’m currently on Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. My favourite so far is Cao Xuequin’s Story of the Stone, a fascinating eighteenth-century family saga set in China.

5) Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

The environment. It seems unbelievable that we’re hurtling towards what seems to be a terrible catastrophe, whilst doing very little about it.

6) Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

I don’t know if I have a philosophy. But I like Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail Better’. I think it’s important to keep on going. To do it or at least to try.

7) If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

Heavens – just one. I guess it would have to be the Bible. I don’t know it as well as I should and there are lots of good stories in there. If I was just stuck in an elevator, maybe it would be War and Peace. I took Anna Karenina as one of my few books for a three month tour of rural Central America, where I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy many books – and I could have recited it by the end.

8) What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

Public libraries were absolutely crucial to me. My family weren’t bookish and so my tastes were entirely crafted by the library. We lived in a small Midlands village in between two larger ones, both with a library, so I ‘cheated’ – I persuaded my mother to take me to both libraries every week, so I managed to supply myself with 11 new library books a week, from about the age of 7. By the age of 11, when I’d exhausted both libraries, I was given dispensation to join the adult libraries, which was truly wonderful. I discovered James, Austen, and hundreds of other fabulous books.

Some of the most crucial books I ever read as a child were library books. The stories have stayed in my head wonderfully – there was a fantastic one about a missing sister. But I can’t find them – I’ve tried. Now, I live a short walk from two local libraries, and I love piling up my living room with books!

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Kate Williams

Today's NaNoWriMo Update

Posted: November 7, 2006 in Uncategorized

NaNoWriMo Update through Day 6:

Total words completed to date: 12,315 (36 pages)

Words left to go: 37,685 (139 pp.)

Approximate time spent writing: 1 hour-ish per day

Characters introduced: 7

# of murders in my murder/mystery/thriller: 1

Level of satisfaction with recent work: 55 %

It turns out I couldn’t even post a link to my novel-in-progress if I wanted to, as they don’t have the capability to hold all the data from the 60,000 + participants who signed up this year. That takes the dilemma of whether or not to direct anyone there out of my hands, and also allows me to make grandiose claims as to the superior literary quality of my effort. That’s what they refer to as a win-win scenario.

But what I *will* tell you is I have a librarian main character, and no, she hasn’t killed anyone (so far). She’s my main protagonist, and will surely put all that vast knowledge to work in figuring out whodunnit. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but that’s the plan. I’ll try to keep her from getting knocked off while she’s on the case. I can promise that.

One thing I’m learning in this endeavor is writing a novel is a LOT harder than jabbering out blog banter (I know, shocking it doesn’t require immense amounts of work and pre-planning churning out these posts). It’s also very different from writing short stories, essays, etc., despite the fact you’d think it’s the same thing just longer. It really isn’t. It requires a completely different thought process to plan out a long work, or at least I’m assuming it does as I’m not even bothering to plan anything. I’m opting for the fly by the sea of your pants school of novel writing. I don’t have the time or energy to plan out a strategy for something I’m supposed to have done in a month. I’ll just be spewing it out (not a pretty image, sorry!) in a hurry, then worry about editing later.

What happens to my characters each day is a surprise to me, and I never know where I’m going with anything beforehand. I always thought writers were exaggerating to sound more mysterious when they said things like that, but now I can see what they’re talking about. Unless you’re the intensely prepared type you very likely do write on the fly, without thinking out every single detail. It’s really an eye-opening experience I’d recommend to everyone, whether or not you’re interested at all in publishing. It’s a good little lesson in how books are written. Not necessarily written well, but written…

I’m glad I took the challenge this year. I’ve been staying ahead of the curve, words per day-wise, in anticipation of the holiday weekend in November. I’ll be on the road then (have laptop will travel), and while I’m away hopefully I can also swing a “blog from the road” as I careen wildly through my native Mississippi.

I’m hoping to visit Oxford, Mississippi, while we’re away, to swing past the home of William Faulkner. If I can manage that I’ll of course take photos, seeing as I can’t go anywhere without taking photos. If it doesn’t startle them too much I may also take photos of assorted relatives, especially if my cousin’s sons bring their “tater gun.” I won’t even attempt to explain that one without photos, but imagine Myth Busters on steroids with a southern accent. Yes, it is that frightening, but it also has potential for entertainment. If they’re willing to risk becoming an urban legend, I’m willing to take the photos.

In the meantime I’ll be typing madly, burning up the keyboard at the rate of at least 2,000 words per day. Wish me luck…

NaNoWriMo Update, Day 4

Posted: November 5, 2006 in NaNoWriMo

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Total words completed to date: 8,500

Words left to go: 41,500

Approximate time spent writing: 1 hour

Characters introduced: 6

# of murders in my murder/mystery/thriller: 1

Level of satisfaction with today’s work: 45 %

Today's NaNoWriMo Update

Posted: November 2, 2006 in Uncategorized

NaNoWriMo Day Two: nanowrimo.gif

Words completed: 4,223

Words left to go: 45,777

Approximate time spent writing: 2 hours

Characters introduced so far: 5

# of murders so far in my murder/mystery/thriller: 1

Probability it’ll take all the restraint I have to forge ahead without editing: 100%