The End of the World as We Know It

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall: A NovelAfter the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall: A Novel by Nancy Kress

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best short novels I’ve read.

I love Kress’ prose style, and the multi-voiced narrative really works well.

From Locus magazine (June 2012):

“In addition to being a graduate level class on how and why non-linear story structures work, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a swift and engaging story about the end of the world as we know it.”

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Happy Birthday Mr. Faulkner

” ‘. . .Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?’

” ‘I don’t hate it,’ Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; ‘I don’t hate it,’ he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont!”

It’s the last lines of William Faulkner’s (1897 to 1962) Absalom, Absalom! that provoked my master’s thesis. At the time, I wanted to know why Quentin Compson committed suicide in The Sound and The Fury, and I thought I had found my answer in a novel published about 10 years later.

Admittedly, now, as I look back at that quote, what really stirred me was my own conflicted view of my state—Texas—I didn’t hate it. I didn’t. And I don’t. I do hate what people outside of the state often think of it: that all of Texas is wrapped up in the TV series Dallas.

I don’t wear a Stetson cowboy hat, and I’ve owned only two pair of cowboy boots in my lifetime. I’ve never connived against my family for an oil fortune, because I’ve never had an oil fortune, or any fortune for that matter. I’m not a fan of big oil as it is, but, at the same time, I do—mostly—love the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans; I love football, which is as much a religion here as evangelical Christianity, which I despise.

I love the state that was once a nation, and the ruggedness of the women and men who came here to forge it. I love its myths. I love that I can walk the bed of the Paluxy River in Glen Rose and see dinosaur tracks embedded there for eons. I can also shake my head at the absurdity of the creationist museum just a few miles down the road. That’s Texas.

It must’ve been a similar ambivalence that Faulkner felt about the South, about his native Mississippi, when he wrote Quentin’s protest. For Quentin protests too much. I can’t say for sure what Faulkner felt. I only know what I read.

And what I read as a writer sparked my imagination, enlivened my passion for words when I read those flowing sentences so wrapped up in the cadences of the King James Bible and Shakespeare and the lilt of the Southern voice so distinct in the audio recording of Faulkner’s Nobel speech—an inspiring speech about humanity and its ability to endure.

At the heart of Faulkner is not darkness; it’s humanity enduring in spite of itself.

“They endured,” Faulkner writes of the black servant Dilsey and her family in a later edition of The Sound and The Fury.

I would like to hope it is our fate as human beings. To endure.

Maybe one day, when the proverbial aliens make us pets in a dome (as they do in Nancy Kress’ wonderful SF novel After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall) that those aliens, when writing our history can say of us: We endured.

To an editor, go

“It is better to be good
than to be original.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
(1886-1969)
 

Is it the willingness to improve craft that makes you a professional writer?

By Todd Glasscock

Some years ago, when I first began blogging, I entered into a fierce debate over the quality and value of NanoWriMo, and the debate went something like this: We’re professionals and this contest degrades the profession of writing! No! It encourages people to write and read and love fiction! You’re wrong! No! You are! Pffft!

The argument I threw into that Pandora’s Box was—if I’m recalling correctly—about the nature of what it meant to be a professional writer (I’m pretty sure it has little to do with being paid to write) rather than a beginner or amateur. For the most part, I concluded, its dedication to the craft, the desire to be good, that divides the professionals from the amateurs/beginners.

The professional will work daily to evolve his craft. The professional will write the ending of A Farewell to Arms 29 times to get it right, and then hope his editor Max Perkins or F. Scott Fitzgerald (so I’ve heard) can sort the goddamn thing out. The professional will struggle to write a third sentence to balance a parallel construction, or so he hopes.

The professional will take her NanoWriMo manuscript or any manuscript she’s written, and read it as the first draft it is. She will polish it. She will revise it 29 times, if that’s what it requires.

And she will not zip it to a publisher or even self-publish until she’s let someone read it, preferably a professional editor, or at the very least another writer she trusts, someone who will push her limits. She will have to set aside her ego—this is the writer’s best and worst friend—and make a thousand more decisions before it becomes the novel or story or article it should be.

I have been thinking of the nature of a professional writer, the writer who wants to be good and not merely published to feed her ego, after reading this blog post yesterday in the Huffington Post. Its last two paragraphs really struck me as being the most important in the post.

You have to set your ego aside as a writer. You have to have fresh, well-trained eyes to see the missing parts, to catch the subtle connections or missed connections in your prose. You have to be willing to care about your craft and willing to push yourself. That’s what makes you a professional.

So I leave you with those last two paragraphs to ponder:

Finally, let’s talk about editing. This extremely important step is often overlooked by authors. Why? Because it’s easy to find someone to edit a book, right? Wrong. Editing is a pretty specialized skill set; someone who can find ‘typos’ isn’t a good editor. You want someone to help you raise the bar on your work and create a final product that is something you can really be proud of. An editor will give you critical feedback (especially if you’ve hired a content editor, which I highly recommend), and often improve your work beyond what you might have been able to do on your own.

It’s good to remember that publishing isn’t just about finding the right place to print and publish your book. It’s about a lot more than that. Publishing is a business, if you treat it as a business model you will always succeed.

Happy Birthday Mr. Burroughs

Today is Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ birthday (born 1875).

As Hollywood via Disney reminded us this spring, Tarzan’s creator also created a certain Martian warlord, John Carter, and reacquainted some of us with the warrior’s exploits, and maybe a new generation to Burroughs’ characters and fiction with the release of  John Carter, an entertaining, action-packed and visually stimulating—especially if you saw it in 3D—movie that  was, however, panned by some critics as  “. . .  bloated, dreary and humorless” (USA Today).

Those critics are themselves probably bloated, dreary and humorless. And likely never cared for Burroughs and his fertile imagination in the first place. Or if they did at one time care, have obviously lost that sense of wonder and adventure.

As far as the movie goes, Roger Ebert—as usual—best understands it, its genre and the expectations it should have fulfilled as a movie based on classic pulp SF, as he writes in his review of the film:

Does John Carter get the job done for the weekend action audience? Yes, I suppose it does. The massive city on legs that stomps across the landscape is well-done. The Tharks are ingenious, although I’m not sure why they need tusks. Lynn Collins makes a terrific heroine. And I enjoyed the story outside the story, about how Burroughs wrote a journal about what he saw and appears briefly as character. He may even turn up in sequels. After all, he wrote some.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the John Carter storyline, here’s Ebert again to summarize it:

Burroughs’ hero is a Civil War veteran who finds himself in the Monument Valley, where he has an encounter that transports him to the red planet Mars. This is not the Mars that NASA’s Rovers are poking into, but the Mars envisioned at the time Burroughs was writing, which the astronomer Percival Lowell claimed was criss-crossed by a system of canals. Luckily for Carter, it has an atmosphere that he can breathe and surface temperatures allowing him do without a shirt.

Maybe one day I’ll tackle the merits of John Carter (the movie), but today’s post is simply to share some tidbits about Burroughs, the writer: He and his family, for instance, in 1914 moved to Oak Park, Ill., where Ernest Hemingway, a teenager at the time the  Burroughs’ family arrived, was born and raised. Hemingway may have out of curiosity, Hemingway biographer Kenneth S. Lynn writes, “familiarized himself with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels . . . .” though the Hemingway family, mother Grace in particular, were Anglophiles who packed the bookshelves with Dickens, Shakespeare and the rest of the literary crew from across the Pond.

(I like to think Hemingway read Burroughs; he was a voracious reader, and how could Tarzan or any other of Burroughs’ heroes not appeal to Hemingway’s sense of budding masculinity? Then again, Hemingway dismissed fantasy and science fiction as genres; of course he dismissed most writers as terrible at one point or another in his lifetime no matter how good or bad.)

Another aside: Frank Lloyd Wright also moved to, lived and worked in Oak Park ( a suburb of Chicago) around the time Hemingway was born (July 21, 1899). What an intellectually stimulating neighborhood that must have been!

Now back to Burroughs.  Martian princess Dejah Thoris was his first successful character—he had written earlier stories—created in 1911. The princess,  Burroughs’ official website says, attracted the attention of All-Story magazine editor Thomas Metcalf, who “liked the tale and offered Burroughs $400, an extravagant sum. The story, renamed ‘Under the Moons of Mars,’ was serialized from February to July of 1912.”

Burroughs’ most famous creation, Tarzan of the Apes, swung into action in 1912.  According to the website:

Burroughs received $700 for the tale — and his career was off and running. Burroughs quickly discovered (probably to his secret delight, and certainly to the delight of countless readers) that he had many more tales to tell. There would be the inevitable Tarzan and Mars sequels but Burroughs’ imagination needed even more worlds in which to roam, and so in the next few years he would try his hand at almost every type of story imaginable.

Burroughs died March 19, 1950 in Encino, Calif.

___

*Editor’s note: If you’re out and about this weekend, and because you hopefully have a long three-day weekend (you slackers), maybe you can also celebrate the beginning of National Literacy Month by reading Burroughs.