Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Rabbit Died

John Updike has died. Possibly best known for his Rabbit novels, Updike was a consummate and prolific writer, chronicling the changing world and his changes within it. My condolences to his family and to his readers everywhere.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tell Us About New Writers

As I've noted on this and my other blog frequently, I spend a fair amount of time in a community created on AgentQuery. (And for other writers who've not heard about it, this is a great place to get honest assessments of your work, including your queries or synopses, before submitting them to agents.)

But lately that has gotten me thinking about where do new writers come from — from a reader's perspective. I've been fortunate to have a broad array of books cross my path, most of which are from friends and family. Sometimes these are gifts, other times, they're simply recommendations people make. I suspect some of the books are simply neglected children that they know will find a good home in my collection.

But when new writers, like those people I've struck up friendships with in AgentQuery Connect (like Facebook for writers), finally get their big break, how do they get others to know who they are and what their writing is about? Obviously, that's a marketing issue, and the marketing of writers — including the added importance of writers promoting themselves — is a big business.

I think nothing is as important as word of mouth. So I'd like to allow you to share names of favorite new writers you've found. If it's yourself, that's fine, too. And if you can share a Web site, I'm fine with that. In fact, if there's demonstrated interest shown, I'll start a new link list of writers that Elephant's Bookshelf Readers recommend.

How do you find new writers and who are your new favorites?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's True, Fiction Is on the Rise!

Now this is good news! The National Endowment for the Arts is reporting that fiction is becoming increasingly popular.

After twenty-five years — a generation — the downward trend toward reading fiction has reversed. But this report asks people whether they've read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the past twelve months. One. Uno. I believe most people have at least one imaginative thought per day. Can't more than half of America read more than one piece of literature during a year?

I'll take the good news and happily praise Americans for getting back on their duffs as long as they're reading literature — even bad poetry is better than nothing at all.

But I look forward to the day when at least 15 percent of Americans say they read at least one piece of literature per month. I haven't drilled down into the report to see how far off from that mark we are, but I don't expect it's anywhere near that.

So read up, America! Fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, poetry. Order a subscription to One Story or visit your local library. Imagine gas is still close to $5 a gallon and take the train, where you can read during your commute.

And while you're at it, imagine. Imagine a world without literature. It's a dark, dismal place. People are despondent, hopeless, angry. It's worse than what you see today, because half of America reads literature. But if everyone read just a little bit, I suspect the world would become a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful. Perhaps it might even spur the imagination and inspire ways to turn the economy around. Just imagine!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writing in Float Mode

This week has been different. And now that the "work" week is over (I'm on leave), I find myself quietly hanging by the computer, an empty glass in front of me, trying to remember to let the kitten back in from the porch before I go to bed.

It's hard to write in this setting. As I expected, my latest novel has been on hiatus since the girls arrived. Despite the cold weather, it's hard to think about Antarctica when there are children to think about.

But it's important to continue. So, I get back up, brush off the grit that collected on the seat of my jeans, and start tapping at the keys again. It's Saturday. As if that matters.

Writers write.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Salinger 2009?

I can't help but wonder why the New York Times posted someone's book report on J.D. Salinger. Ok, perhaps that's unfair, but would this recent article — a fairly lengthy one that appeared on the final day of 2008 — have been published if it weren't the end of the year?

Now, it's true that Salinger's birthday was on Thursday; he turned 90 on New Year's, so an argument can be made that there's a news hook to attach to the piece. But otherwise, it's primarily a review of Salinger's last published short story. At times, the piece seems eager to poke at Salinger, to prod him as though he might start publishing again.

But honestly, what's the point? He's 90 and whether he's healthy and vital or old and infirm, he has made his place in the world of literature. If there is anything of his to publish after his death — and I suspect there will be — then why hustle in that new era of regard for Mr. Salinger.

There will be at least three periods of Salinger: his active writing, during which he penned some of the greatest short stories and wrote The Catcher in the Rye, where he developed at least one of the most enduring characters in American literature; his quiescence, during which Salinger was an enigma; and his literary resurrection. We don't know what will come of this next life. For sure, there'll be new devotees who emerge. He may come to redefine American literature again. Or he may show that he has been truly a hermit and his work has not advanced but merely rehashes his Glass families foibles, leaving Salinger like some sad scientist who can't turn away from his samples to see how the real world is changing.

Of course, I will read the next Salinger – living, dead, somewhere between or above. What writer wouldn't? Goddam, he's J.D. Salinger! But the thing about great literary writers is that they survive forever, regardless of when their bodies start to decompose. It's their minds that zombies like me devour.

So, I suppose I've answered my own question — the one about the book report and the Times. Because there's other people like me out there who love to read about J.D. Salinger, even if he hasn't published a word in four decades.