Specktor’s gorgeous book, about the flawed, chauvinist, talented film agent Beau Rosenwald, as tender as he is damaged, made me feel like my native city had been properly seen. It made me feel like a piece of fiction had finally and properly seen me. And if you’ve never even been to Los Angeles? No matter. Specktor’s prose alone is enough to lure you in: it’s sharply observed and nimble, like a more mischievous cousin of John Cheever, and his characters are wonderfully and deeply complicated, wounded and secretive.
It’s helpful to remember that the devoted people who read for and edit literary magazines are often overworked and underpaid — if paid at all — and that we should not blame them for using form rejections, nor for taking a long time to consider our work. That said, I believe that anything encouraging in a rejection should be taken seriously, form letter or not. Tenacity is the key to being published.
Our own Edan Lepucki interviewed National Book Award finalists George Saunders and Rachel Kushner for the National Book Foundation. Saunders discussed money issues in his writing. “Now I feel like paucity vs. grace is one of the great American issues—we all live with it every day.” Kushner explained her writing process. “The sentences are beads on a string; I see each one as essential.”
As all three books in Atwood’s trilogy attest, an apocalypse won’t destroy romantic attraction, longing, or jealousy, nor will it dismantle gender roles — if anything, these are magnified. Atwood’s characters have bodies, and she doesn’t let us forget that fact. (At the end of the world, people will still look at your ass, which is both a problem and a comfort. )
Interpersonal communication can be as trying as putting together Ikea furniture.
If it is character, you’d be wise to (binge) watch the television series Orange is the New Black to chart heroine Piper Chapman’s transformation from prissy, naive, and entitled young white woman to young white woman who is learning (trying? failing?) to shed her prissiness, naivete, and entitlement. Prison has changed her — hasn’t it? One could argue that the former version of herself would not — spoiler alert! — have beaten the shit out of a fellow human being. The arc is terrific because you can chart its progress: you can see how every conflict that arises pushes Piper and molds her. The question is whether you can see that same cause and effect in your own work.
Edan Lepucki, “Ask the Writing Teacher: Story Arc(s)”
The dare was her idea, but we both wanted it. To sneak into the apartment of my sister’s boyfriend, count the piles of records and books, the few sad T-shirts in the closet. It wasn’t just anyone’s place we were breaking into, but a man’s: here is where he slept, and undressed, and was alone—unless he was with my sister. My sister: 23 and wild, her beauty the thing everyone mentioned. She never let me in her bedroom.
"1. Eloise’s mother from Eloise
When I was younger, I didn’t wonder much about the parents of Eloise, the six-year-old heroine who lives with her British nanny in the Plaza Hotel, putting sunglasses on her dog Weenie and combing her hair with a fork. Now when I read the book to my son, I think about them a lot. It’s wealth that allows Eloise’s mother to neglect her daughter, and it’s the mother’s absence that haunts the book. What do we know of the woman? Eloise tells us that she is 30 and has “a charge account at Bergdorf’s.” Her mother knows Coco Chanel, and has AT&T stock and “knows an ad man whatever that is.” Sometimes she goes to Virginia with her lawyer. Eloise’s father is never mentioned. (Is the lawyer Eloise’s dad, and Eloise just doesn’t know it?) I’d love to read a novel narrated by Eloise’s mother. She’s a rich fuck-up, to be sure, maybe a functioning alcoholic with a penchant for Bloody Marys at breakfast and champagne every afternoon. She loves her daughter, but can’t stand to be around her for more than a few minutes. She jets off to Milan, to Paris, forgetting to remember her offspring back in Manhattan. There would definitely be a strange and/or degrading sex scene involving the owner of The Plaza.”
-Our own Edan Lepucki on “Don’t Let the Story End: Five Spinoff Novels I’d Love to Read”
I’d say Wolitzer has written ‘a novel of ideas’ if said novel weren’t so engaging. (In my household, the phrase, “a novel of ideas,” is followed by an eye-roll. Such books are made for humorless people who don’t like television, candy, and/or dancing.) I read the book in four days, hushing anyone who tried to speak to me as I finished a paragraph or chapter, and laughing aloud at various cafes (yeah, I became that person).