Monday, April 25, 2011

You're welcome

After years spent dishing out loads of money for advice from various sources—writing schools, freelance editors, magazines, exorcists, how-to books—I’ve come to the conclusion that the most efficient and economical way to learn how to write a proper novel is to read book reviews. To save you the effort and the New York Times’ blistering online subscription fees (how dare they?!), I’ve assembled my favourite book-review ripped-off writing tips (click on the links for references if you question their veracity) and presented them as they were never intended to be in…

The NYT’s Unofficial, Vaguely Elitist, Often Baffling, Yet Maddeningly Invaluable Guide to Writing a Best Seller*

1. To be a successful novelist, you must have an investigatory gene; you must know that every man has his reasons.

2. Write in the first-person plural and compose a collective narrator—an exotic trick play of a device done so successfully as to make the narrative of Jeffrey Eugenides’s “Virgin Suicides” feel anesthetized and distanced.

3. Everyone in your book should feel real, sometimes more real than they might feel to themselves.

4. Your book must be about the facades of the chattering class — with its loves, ambitions and petty betrayals — but it also, more profoundly, must be about a wholesale collision of values

5. Through dialogue and smartly crafted hints of eavesdropping, be sure to fill the reader in on your character’s world without heavy hands or clunky exposition.

6. Your book must be very long but very fast, a great whirly ride that starts out sad and gets sadder and sadder, loops unpredictably out and around, and then lurches down so suddenly at the very end that it will make your stomach flop.

7. Your book must not heave with poetic angst.

8. When writing from multiple POVs, hand off the narrative from one protagonist to another in a wild relay race that will end with the same characters with which it begins while dispensing with them for years at a time.

9. More than the main characters must come to life. If you excel at miniatures, you must also be fantastic at micro-miniatures.

10. Your book must be long, crude, manic and have cheap vodka on its breath. It also needs to be smart, funny and, in the end, extraordinarily rich and moving.

11. Write about a cokehead music producer who demands oral sex from his teenage girlfriend during her friends’ band’s performance. Then narrate another chapter from the perspective of the above girlfriend’s best friend, standing at the same performance on the other side of said producer.

12. Strive to deploy the quotidian fripperies of our laptop culture to devastating fictional effect.

13. Fill your novel with moments like this: closely observed, emotionally racking, un-self-consciously in touch with how we live now.

14. Your prose must float and run as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring.

15. To plumb deep, your book must be anchored deep, in a system of natural imagery as tightly organized as that in a cycle of poems like Ted Hughes’s “Crow.”

16. Your main character may talk to cats, yes, but their conversations should always begin with polite chitchat about the weather.

17. Your writing must further lighten the load by exulting in the multicultural stew of your milieu without turning it into course work in Multiculturalism.

18. Write in the urgency of poverty and failing health.

19. When you tell us that a character drinks Diet Pepsi or wears a New Balance cap it must not to be in order to sketch a withering little portrait of this person's social class and taste, but to describe exactly what he or she drinks and wears, creating a small tether to a shared reality.

20. You must never lose your own serious moral compass or forsake your pursuit of the transcendent.

*Hey! Freeloaders! Click on the referencing links with caution. The New York Times gives you 20 free pageviews per month and that's it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Journal of Universal Rejection

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Hoo hoo ha ha! Oh, tears! Tears are streaming down my face. They're mixing in with the leftover sunblock around my eyes and making even more tears. Oh no! Now I can't see! I'm typing blindly from the laughing and crynig and the SPF. I'm rubbing my eyes but it's not helping -- it's only maknig things worse! And now they're itching. My eyes are spheres of wet bunring pain. I see no end to the discomfort because the sink with its cool refreshinng water is too far away for stumbling. But it's ok. It's all worth it. Because I foudn this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The trouble with happiness

Is it possible to write in paradise? Like, really write? I'm thinking about this because I just returned to a freezing, grey Toronto from a perfect vacation in warm, sunny Hawaii. A part of me -- the cold part -- really, really wants to go back. But my writing part doesn't. It felt so brain-dead in Maui, so totally uninspired in a literary way, so completely uninterested in writing anything more than my signature on my Mai Tai bills that I'm left wondering... can seriously good writing come from a transplant in paradise?

I believe James Michener did it (in his own way) and Mark Twain, too. But who else? What famous writers have managed to produce great work in a place too beautiful to look away from long enough to type?

I've always thought of myself as the kind of writer who needs the soul-crushing commute, corporate ladder-climbing and multiculturalism-in-confined-spaces atmosphere of city living to kick start my fiction. But maybe I don't really need those things at all. If this is true, that perhaps I could even write better somewhere perfect after all, then I'd be tempted to board the very plane I just stepped off. Because I am a writer, and location location location does not apply.

What about you? Where do you write best? And where do you dream of writing?

In other news, I just came across a link about self-publishing with iUniverse. Check it out here. Maybe I'm out of touch but I had no idea this particular partnership existed. It seems like a good option for struggling Canadian writers who still dream of getting on the shelves at Chapters/Indigo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The fiction generator and bad reviews

Stuck on the story for novel #2? Me too. No need to worry, though, my fellow fiction writers! The Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000 is the answer to your plot-related prayers! With help from the EPHGFG 2000, here's the log line for my soon-to-be best seller:

In a dystopian terraformed Mars, a young collector of oddities stumbles across an exiled angel, which spurs him into conflict with humanity's selfish nature with the help of a shape-shifting female assassin and her cleavage, culminating in eternal love professed without irony.

My title is The Psychomancers. What's yours?

In other news, if you want to learn how not to handle a bad review, click here and keep scrolling. It just gets worse as you go. Sigh.