Likeable, Relatable, and Real

By zeevveez

By zzeevveez

When I was a junior in high school, we read The Great Gatsby in English class. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I knew the rest of my family hated it. (They’re Hemingway fans.) “Ugh, that Daisy,” my mom said. “Who cares?” Obviously a lot of readers care about Daisy and Gatsby, but many readers also place a priority on likeability.

On popular review sites, reviewers refer to everyone from Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley to Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to the cast of A Visit from the Goon Squad as unlikeable. Part of this is a personal taste issue, but it also deals with what kind of people we want to surround ourselves with. A novel that’s over three-hundred pages long is a fair time commitment—it can be grating to spend that much time with a character you wouldn’t want to interact with on a daily basis. Likeability is about ease and comfort and a kind of emotional bond.Continue Reading

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Fiction: Let’s Get Out of the Restaurant

rest 5“I need to tell you something,” he said. He twirled his spaghetti around his fork.

She sipped her wine. “What is it?”

“Well.” He shoved the tangle of spaghetti in his mouth and chewed.

She fiddled with her spoon.

Suddenly, the waitress appeared. She had a grease stain on her apron. Her nametag read Renee. She symbolized harsh reality. “Can I get you somethin’ more, hon?”

He smiled and shook his head. He returned to his spaghetti. The waitress walked off, probably thinking about her ex-husband.

“What is it?” she asked him, tearing off a hunk of bread.

“I think,” he said, stirring his spaghetti in its blood-red sauce, “that we should stop perfunctorily setting fictional scenes in restaurants.”

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Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Summer.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Summer.

We’re deep into summer. So how are you going to get any dang writing done when everything is so easy-breezy? That’s how it feels in Seattle, at least, when, after ten months of rain, we blink up at the sun, smile dumbly, and forget what we were doing. Who wants to hunch over a computer when it’s gorgeous outside?

Or maybe you’re not dizzy from sun poisoning. Maybe you’re coming back from a writing conference, still processing the stack of feedback you received on your work-in-progress. Maybe you want to start something new before tackling that revision. (I highly recommend starting something new before tackling that revision.)

Either way, instead of writing a long introduction on the merits of summer (I mean, really), I went gonzo on the prompts. So grab a lightweight notebook, find yourself a shady perch, and get writing. There’s at least 300 minutes of hot, hot writing here.Continue Reading

Writing Lessons: Andrew Jason Valencia

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Andrew Jason Valencia, an MFA candidate at the University of South Carolina. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AValenciaWrites —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

photoOf all the adjustments I had to make when I enrolled in an MFA program, coming to terms with depression was the most confusing. For those of us who study fiction, it’s easy to fall into the habit of viewing life in terms of epiphanies, of measuring our personal growth according to moments of clarity or transcendence, when suddenly we feel that something major has changed, and that the change will be permanent. Or, as the character Bonaparte puts it in Frank O’Connor’s story “Guest of the Nation”: “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.”

The problem with depression is that the condition often presents itself as a total absence of feeling, good or bad—so that even if you find yourself in a moment when things suddenly seem clear, it’s unlikely that your brain will register the experience accordingly.

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The Books We Teach #5: Interview with Ryan Call

The Books We Teach series will feature primary, secondary, and post-secondary educators and their thoughts about literature in the face of an evolving classroom. Posts will highlight literary innovations in teaching, contemporary literature’s place in pedagogy, and the books that writers teach. In the spirit of educational dynamism, we encourage readers to contribute their thoughts in the comments section.

Picture 1Ryan Call, author of the acclaimed short story collection Weather Stations (Caketrain), is the winner of the 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award in fiction. Call is a frequent contributor to HTMLGIANT, and his stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, New York Tyrant, Conjunctions, Annalemma, The Collagist, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. He has taught at the University of Houston and George Mason University and now teaches high school English at Episcopal High School in Houston, Texas.

Here, Ryan and I discuss the challenges of teaching high school students how to analyze chunks of text, his love of teaching The Great Gatsby, and the old piano practice room that he uses as his private writing space during the school year.Continue Reading

The Other Typist

9780399161469HThe Other Typist
Suzanne Rindell
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, May 2013
368 pages
$25.95

The Other Typist, a crime mystery nestled inside a lovely period piece, is the story of Rose Baker, a stenographer at a Manhattan police station in the early 1920s. Rose is particularly well-suited to her job: an unflappable, meticulous person, she was raised by nuns to be a proper lady. Her life is spartan and sensible, her politics entrenched in a strict Victorian morality.

Then in walks the new girl at the precinct, Odalie Lazare—a femme fatale in a bob cut. She smokes, she parties all night at the local speakeasy, and everywhere she goes men bend to satisfy her desire. Uptight Rose, of course, cannot help but be completely infatuated. And Odalie, too, takes an interest in her fellow typist, drawing Rose deep into her web of bootlegging, bribery, and worse.Continue Reading

Fitzgeraldpalooza!

This month Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby came out in all it’s extravagant glory.

One thing I especially love about the film is its soundtrack. Setting the story to a backdrop of current music (Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Jack White) is true to Fitzgerald’s own inclusion of pop culture in his work.  That’s why this week’s playlists—that’s right, two—for Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, cover both the author’s own musical choices and a more modern soundtrack of my own making.

But first a little more about Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s most popular novel.

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Gatsby and Locusts: The Daily Fitzgerald vs. West Prize Fight Inside of My Head

When I was a child I had action figures. Articulated plastic made to look like men from television and the movies. To make them fight I danced them around each other until I smashed them against each other. I smashed them again and again. None of the grace with which they fought off televised stormtroopers or Cobra commandoes or Lion-O’s in their fighting. Just smashing.

I do this still today. But in my head. And with Nathanael West smashing against F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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