Category Archives: Fiction

Silent Writers goes Oprah!

The February 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine includes an A to Z feature titled “Express Yourself,” an alphabetical roundup of possibilities for showing the world who you are. Listed under Q for “Quiet” is … drumroll, please. The Silent Writers Collective!

Thank you to Rachel Bertsche for including us and writing such a nice piece. If you haven’t seen the full article, it’s definitely worth reading. And while you’re at the bookstore, pick up Rachel’s new book, MWF Seeking BFF, her hilarious and touching memoir about the tough, sometimes awkward, and ultimately rewarding experience of making new friends as an adult.

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True or False: Steinbeck and the Roads Not Taken

When journalist Bill Steigerwald set out to follow John Steinbeck’s route in “Travels with Charley in Search of America,” he did it as a kind of tribute to the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Fifty years after the first publication of “Travels with Charley,” Mr. Steigerwald said, “I simply wanted to go exactly where Steinbeck went in 1960, to see what he saw on the Steinbeck Highway, and then to write a book about the way America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.”

He didn’t find what he set out to find.  After nine months and more than 11,000 miles, Mr. Steigerwald conclusively determined that “Travels With Charley” is “not just full of fiction; it’s also a dishonest account of [Steinbeck's] iconic journey and what he really thought about America.”

That’s disappointing, isn’t it?

I first read about this in A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley in last Sunday’s New York Times, and I felt incredibly let down, even kind of heart-broken about it.  “Travels with Charley” meant something to me. When I first read it, I believed I was reading a true story by and about Steinbeck who wanted to see his country a final time before dying.

I knew it was written by Steinbeck, a fiction writer, and I knew some of it came off as a little too perfect to be completely true, but to find out that it’s mostly fabrication just felt wrong.

It felt so wrong I had to research further.  I never heard of Bill Steigerwald.  For all I knew he was some kind of publicity seeking conspiracy theorist who found his magic bullet in “Travels with Charley.”  After reading his blog, Travels without Charley, in particular the post announcing his trip, I knew that wasn’t the case.  His early posts are so filled with excitement about the road ahead of him, it’s hard not to be taken with the sincerity of it.  But I held on to my skepticism because I was, after all, exploring dishonesty in writing.  As I read later posts and all the details, it became clear that Mr. Steigerwald was documenting facts.  Facts, not fiction.

James Frey’s false memoir, “A Million Little Pieces” and the whole Oprah incident comes to mind, but that doesn’t begin to compare with this.  Who’s James Frey, right?

This is John Steinbeck.  “Of Mice and Men” Steinbeck.  “Grapes of Wrath” Steinbeck.   “East of Eden” Steinbeck!  If “Travels with Charley” was fiction, it should have been labeled and sold as fiction.  That it wasn’t, diminishes John Steinbeck.  At least it does for me.

When asked about the authenticity of characters, Susan Shillinglaw, scholar in residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, said, “Does it really matter that much?”

Ignoring the astonishing arrogance of that response, I will volunteer an answer to the rhetorical question.  The answer is yes.  It really does matter that much.

It’s a question of trust and the integrity of words.

Steinbeck knew it, too.  He said so himself in the final words of his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 1962.

“Having taken God-like power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.”

Resources: Travels without Charley, The New York Times, The Daily Post

Visiting Alice Walker’s Garden on her Birthday

Today is Alice Walker’s 67th birthday.  Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Color Purple,” is one of my favorites; the movie is too. But beyond the brief biography I read in connection with her book, I didn’t know a thing about her.  Until today.

Thank you, Internet!

Her perfectly titled website Alice Walker’s Garden is an incredible place to visit, walk around, admire, and enjoy.  The site includes Ms. Walker’s blog, information on books old and new, poetry, audio and video interviews, photos, and a biography.  It’s the biography that captured my attention the longest.  It starts out saying Alice Walker is a “Poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, anthologist, teacher, editor, publisher, womanist and activist.”

Nice resume!

It goes on to talk about a childhood experience involving lying, which, as she explains, “… is the root of my need to tell the truth, always, because I experienced, very early, the pain of telling a lie.”

It’s fascinating to read about this early experience that helped shape the woman she became.  To learn more for yourself, or read some of her poetry, essays, or other words, visit Alice Walker’s Garden.  While you’re there, wish her a happy day.

Resources:  Alice Walker’s Garden, The Daily Post.

Prompt-a-Palooza for Silent Writers

If you’re a writer finding it difficult to make time for writing, think about joining the Silent Writers Collective tonight for its weekly online silent retreat.  All writers are welcome to join in at 9 EST and PST and commit an hour (more if you want) to their art.

You can work on your own project or use one of the exercises provided below.

For more information, visit the Silent Writers Collective.

Resources: The Daily Post

New Hope Comes in a Literary Package

There’s something very exciting about the debut of a literary journal.

All the tension and turmoil bubbling around the publishing world these days can leave those of us who are in love with words feeling sad, worried, and a little bit hopeless.  Enter a new lit mag and our hope is renewed … The word lives.  The word thrives.  Hooray for the word!

And three cheers for the debut of The Literarian, an online journal from The Center for Fiction.

We’re here to celebrate and support the extraordinary breadth of literary fiction in the U.S. and around the world,” writes editor Dawn Raffel in the welcome letter.

The first issue includes six short stories, interviews with Cynthia Ozick, Yiyun Li, a video of Sam Lipsyte reading from his novel “The Ask,” and an essay by Martha McPhee about her five favorite novels with women behaving badly.  Each issue takes a world view, too, by publishing highlights from international literary magazines.  This issue showcases Wet Ink from Australia and the St. Petersburg Review. Future issues promise a venue for emerging writers.

It’s not all storm and stress in the world of words.  At least I don’t think so, and neither does The Center for Fiction.  That’s good news for writers, readers, and everyone else in love with words.

PS:  I would be remiss in my devotion to Philip Roth if I missed this opportunity to mention his upcoming visit to The Center for Fiction on February 24 at 7 pm. Oh, to live in New York again!!

Resources: The Center for Fiction, The Daily Post

Depth and Focus Straighten Tangled Plots

At The Book Deal, publishing veteran Alan Rinzler offers an insider’s look at the new world of publishing.  With more than 40 years experience at some of the top houses, his insights and opinions are an incredible resource for writers trying to break into the business.

His latest post, Ask the editor:  How to untangle a plot, gives specific and directed advice on:

  • Pruning overcomplicated plots
  • Best practices for storytelling
  • DIY Plot Pruning
  • Developing your rhythm

Mr. Rinzler ends the post with an invitation to send questions.

After spending the better part of the morning (and probably most of the coming afternoon) clicking and reading through this blog, I knew I had to share it here.

Enjoy!

Resources: The Book Deal, The Daily Post

Better Him Than Me! A Silent Writers’ Prompt

Tonight at 9 EST and PST, the Silent Writers Collective holds its weekly online writing retreat.  All writers are welcome to join in and be quiet.

You can work on your own project or use the writing exercise provided below.  For those participating in the WordPress.com Post A Day challenge, it’s a great time to stockpile a post or two.  For those who aren’t sure what they want to work on, here is an interesting exercise for fiction writers from Poets & Writers’ new series, “The Time is Now.”

 

 

… “impending doom arrives.”     Oops! Sorry, the last line was cut.

For poets:

Resources: Silent Writers Collective, PW.org, Post A Day.