Archive for the ‘Tangents’ Category

I’m going through some old notes and came across an interesting tidbit about Graham Greene and the Victorians.

The context, briefly: A 1966 review in the Times Literary Supplement tackled a new biography of a Victorian general, and the reviewer questioned the biography author’s belief in the general’s “death wish.” Graham Greene wrote a Letter to the Editor in response, and here’s the relevant bit:

The popular writer does not describe a new obsession – he is quick to describe one which had already been obvious for a long time. Men and women did go to Africa to die… In our age – perhaps because of that boring bomb – the will to survive has become the main obsession, and critics demand more objective evidence of the death wish than they demand of the survival wish.

I have only the briefest memories of the late stages of the Cold War, and none of the years when nuclear warfare seemed like a real threat, so I find this idea – that the atom bomb could radically alter our relationship to our own mortality – seriously interesting.

Plus, how great is the phrase “that boring bomb”?


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In the course of some googling, I came across a few useful links regarding editorial and writing rates.

First, from the Professional Writers Association of Canada: What to Pay a Writer. Next up, the Editorial Freelancers Association lists these Editorial Rates. And finally, the Editors’ Association of Canada has an explanation of the various types of editing out there — the listings mostly correspond to the rate categories in the EFA link.

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David Foster Wallace’s “posthumous unfinished novel,” The Pale King, has arrived — let the commentating begin.

Over at Slate, Tom Scocca tears down Michiko Kakutani’s review of the new book, and of the whole notion, more generally, that a deceased author should be evaluated based on work that he never completed.

Scocca, in blistering form:


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I picked up this little booklet on a whim at the public library last week. It’s the transcript of a Q&A with Stegner, Pulitzer-winning novelist and the founder of Stanford’s creative writing program, and in the same way that fiction writing advice often crosses genre boundaries and offers help to nonfiction writers, this book — aimed at writing teachers — is equally thought-provoking for any writer looking to improve their work.

I’ll likely post a few quotes from it over the next couple weeks. To start with, here’s Stegner on that essential question: Can writing be taught?

[T]here are limited things that a teacher can do, apart from encouraging the environment of interest and criticism within which writing can take place. How can anyone “teach” writing, when he himself, as a writer, is never sure what he is doing?

Every book that anyone sets out on is a voyage of discovery that may discover nothing. Any voyager may be lost at sea, like John Cabot. Nobody can teach the geography of the undiscovered. All he can do is encourage the will to explore, plus impress upon the inexperienced a few of the dos and don’ts of voyaging…

In my experience, the best teaching that goes on in a college writing class is done by members of the class, upon one another. But it is not automatic, and the teacher is not unimportant. His job is to manage the environment, which may be as hard a job as for God to manage the climate.

I’m only partway through and I’ll be interested to read what’s left — I spent my high school years enrolled in an intensive creative writing program and I’ve always thought that its greatest value lay in its ability to expose me to new writing styles and genres and to make me attempt them all, and then to force me to edit the results mercilessly.

No single piece of advice from any of my teachers sticks out: Mostly I remember being forced to read, read, read; write, write, write; edit, edit, edit. It wasn’t always a fun process, but it certainly got me writing more — and eventually, writing better — than I ever would have on my own time.

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I’m slowly working my way through Raban’s Passage to Juneau, a travel narrative about a sailing voyage from Seattle through the Inside Passage to Alaska. Early in the book, he reveals the role that his boat played before the trip:

Though I lived in a house overlooking the canal, and could see from the upstairs deck whether or not the boat still floated, I usually spent several weeks a year, and sometimes months, aboard the ketch. When a concentrated bout of reading was called for, or a wrong chapter needed righting, or when my Furies dogged me to distraction, I’d take off for the nearby scribble of islands and let go the anchor. With the floor sashaying underfoot, the chain grumbling on the sea-bottom, and the view from the boat’s windows revolving slowly on the tide, I found the equilibrium that I was prone to lose on the unstable land. On winter mornings, the mud foreshore hoar with frost, forlorn gulls circling under a misty sky, I’d fire up the heater, light the lamps, and work with an intense single-mindedness that evaded me at home. The creaks and groans, the smell of paraffin and diesel, were conducive to thinking and remembering. Afloat, the boat was an unplace — a bubble world, off at a useful tangent to the insistent here-and-now of the American shoreline.

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It’s funny: I went years without hearing about DFW, and now, in the weeks since I finally started reading his work, I see his name everywhere.

Wallace comes up in that Jon Krakauer interview I posted last week (apparently Krakauer tried and failed to read “Infinite Jest” at Everest Base Camp) and in this Financial Times piece about the art of writing a great sentence.

Best of all, just after I started reading Consider the Lobster I came across a long, previously unpublished interview with Wallace, which appeared on Slate’s Scocca blog in several parts. It focuses on his nonfiction writing, and it’s a really great read.

David Foster Wallace on Nonfiction, 1998:
Part 1: “I’m Not a Journalist and I Don’t Pretend To Be One”
Part 2: “My Big Problem With Magazines Is That They Tend To Have Word Lengths”
Part 3: “There’s Going To Be the Occasional Bit of Embellishment”
Part 4: “I Will Slice Open My Head For You”
Part 5: “It’s Not Very Good for Me When People Treat Me Like a Big Shot”

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Five Years Ago This Week…

…my first ever travel story was published in The Ottawa Citizen. Time flies, huh?

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