Weeks of Oct 12 – Oct 31, 2009

Novel Work
I’ve been busy pushing ahead with new drafting the past couple weeks and it’s been going well for the most part. Nothing of much interest to report, really, on that score, other than I think much of what’s been put down will be of service to the book. So that’s good.

Perhaps the most note-worthy development is that it seems clearer, as the historical fiction progresses, that I’m probably working on two different novels. The idea was to have one novel with two interwoven threads—a primary one taking place in 2005, with a complementary one from 1918/19. The historical thread is growing in size and prominence the more I work on it, however, and is plotting out to be its own book. I’ve also been concerned about trying to get a 600-700 page novel published, so maybe this will work out better to have two 300-350 page novels instead. We’ll see how it goes.

Dispatch from The Open City
“A man crossed the street in front of Jacob, bent towards the road as he stumbled along. He was crippled with rheumatism, Jacob could see this, the man’s fingers bent in broken directions, hands unable to close, his limbs joined at odd angles, as if no part of his body could be flexed straight. There were many men like this here, twisting in wooden chairs, unable to find comfort, the hard labor of their lives stamped on their bodies. These men were slaughterhouse workers who could no longer work. Thousands of them had migrated north to fill stockyard positions vacated when locals were drafted into the war effort. Neighborhoods such as these overflowed with these men and their families. Every morning trucks owned by the yards rumbled into the Northtown ghetto to exchange night workers for day workers, then returned in the evening to reverse the exchange. It was decent pay, for those who could do it. But they ended up with their legs broken and tied to a nearly straight tree branch, lying near the planks of the walkway; or knocked permanently stupid by a stampeding bull, jabbering and drooling, faces swarmed with flies. There were both men and women here who were missing fingers or raw chunks of their faces or whole arms from the cutting apparatus. Or those folks whose bodies had simply broken down.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of “No Thanks”
Michigan Quarterly Review for “The Day After This One”; Colorado Review and Puerto del Sol for “The Housekeeper”; Failbetter for “Let Your Hair Hang Low;” and Barnstorm for “Lycaon.”

Just Finished
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. It kind of pains me to say this, since Chaon is one of my favorite writers, but I didn’t really care for this novel. Much of the writing is very good, but none of the book’s moving parts seemed to really work for me. Maybe part of it is that Chaon is rewriting the same stories over and over, the same kinds of characters from his earlier work, the same issues. Many writers do this, of course, and it doesn’t seems like it should be a big deal, but I was just kind of bored with what was going on after a while. There wasn’t suspense. Being familiar with his work, I could see what was going to happen. And perhaps more than that, it invites too much of an invitation to compare the novel to Chaon’s story collection Among the Missing—and in my opinion, he’s ten times the short story writer than he is a novelist. AYR has received dozens of exuberant reviews, so people much smarter than me found much to admire here. I also admired a lot the novel’s individual aspects–including the amibition evident in the project. I just didn’t think it really pulled together, however.

Now Reading
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. A little less than half-way through here. It’s something I can’t really put my finger on, but there’s just something about these stories that makes them seem like they’re important to read. Maybe it’s the tone with which they’re told. At any rate, there’s a gravity to the prose that’s very engaging.

Up Next
Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor.

Link of the Week
Koreanish. The outstanding blog of author Alexander Chee. Many excellent posts on the process of writing, art, comics, and other such stuff. Basically, what I wish this blog could be like someday.  

Featured Market
Salt Hill. The literary magazine of the Creative Writing Program of Syracuse University, I’m not really sure why this journal doesn’t have a higher profile. Outstanding contributors, attached to a legendary writing program, really a great aesthetic.

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