Only A Novelist Will Be Able To Make Sense of This Election

Nixon & Johnson

Nixon & Johnson in 1968, another novel-worthy election year

Years from now, the uncertainty and accompanying anxiety many of us have about the current political season may be displaced by different, more complicated emotions. Such perspective is cold comfort to the millions who are fearful of a possible Donald Trump presidency. For four years we have known that 2016 would usher in a new president, but even in this polarized season, the chasm of opinion between Trump supporters and everyone else seems to have come as something of shock. The number of times the political class has been wrong about Trump, and flagrantly so, only reinforces how far through the looking glass we are.

The coverage of the campaigns has not changed much from previous elections, the only difference being that, increasingly, it is now read on social media rather than in the newspaper. We are informed on policy positions and gaffes, what was said and wasn’t. In their efforts to explain Trump’s dominance, publications have found many explanations for his rise but few of them are satisfying.

As has been the case for other periods rife with turmoil, understanding Trump will be the domain of the novelists. Journalists covering the day-in, day-put grind of the campaign are hamstrung by the requirement of accuracy and the demand for timeliness. This is one aspect of modern communications the social media age has not disrupted.

Elections do not exist in isolation. They are pushed and pulled by social, economic and cultural forces that are not always apparent in the moment. Novelists understand this. For example, it’s too easy to say that the election of the first black president led to a backlash by a substantial number of white voters who believe that after eight years of his leadership it is necessary for action to be taken to “Make America Great Again.”Continue Reading

Literary Blueprints: The Byronic Hero

byronFollow this new blog series in 2015, where we’ll delve into the background of character archetypes–the Mad Woman, the Detective, and the Wise Fool, to name a few. In this first installment, we take a look at the Byronic Hero.

Origin Story: In literature, the Byronic Hero’s first embodiment is Childe Harold, protagonist of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. As the name implies, the Byronic Hero was created by British Romantic poet Lord Byron, who himself is often viewed as the living, breathing incarnation of the character type’s namesake. Some critics believe that Byron was simply bored with the Romantic Hero archetype, twisting the ideal to fit his own personal tastes. He also may have been inspired by Hamlet, but that’s just literati gossip.

Characteristics: Like the Romantic Hero, the Byronic Hero is a complex individual who often works against the grain of societal norms. More so than the traditional Romantic Hero, the Byronic Hero is psychologically damaged in some way. Even when he acts in a benevolent manner, it is often tainted by his brooding, dark nature. Essentially, he’s a tortured soul whose turmoil makes him the center of his own world–his emotional (and sometimes physical) scars are too profound for normal people to fully understand him. Naturally, women love him.Continue Reading

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

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


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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