Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Doris Lessing

Literary Prizes ~ Which Is More Important, the Author or the Book?


I’ve never attempted to win a writing prize. 

Is the author more important than the book?

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Maybe being a citizen of the U.S.A. has taught me that most prizes have hidden strings that can tie up your intentions

Some folks claim prize money supports authors in a time of  faltering book earnings.

Does that mean the authors are slanting their writing in hopes of winning a prize?

And, what about all the evidence of politics amongst various prize judges?

In my very personal opinion, winning prizes can be as bad as the stifling effects of author branding.

Curious stuff

But, please don’t take my opinions as some attempt at moral judgement—I’m sure some authors actually do deserve every accolade they receive, monetary or media.

Let’s look at the Nobel Prize won by non-fiction author Svetlana Alexievich.

She won about US$970,000.

Is such a sum enough to ease all the burdens she’s endured in her 67 years?

Perhaps it will alleviate some pressures during her remaining time on Earth

The publication Quartz has an apropos article I’ll share a few excerpts from—Turning Authors into Celebrities Is Bad for Reading:

“Prizes like the Nobel inspire much ado—in the weeks leading up to the announcement, people give their best guesses as to who will win, look back on past “snubbed” winners, and even place bets as if spectators at a Derby.”

“Our laurel-heaping impulse seems increasingly to contribute to a culture of turning authors into celebrities, where readers follow the author instead of the book.”

Then comes a quote from an author wrapped in mystery (she uses a pseudonym and communicates primarily through letters and email), Elena Ferrante:

“I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors…If [books] have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t…True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known; they are the very small miracles of the secret spirits of the home or the great miracles that leave us truly astonished.”

One last excerpt from the Quartz article:

“…our culture of celebrity is often too wrapped up in the way we read: How might the meaning of a work change if the author really didn’t grow up in a poor neighborhood, or if she was abused in childhood, or if she is really a man? Even the anonymous Ferrante has been made the centerpiece of her books’ success.

Finally, here’s Doris Lessing‘s reaction to winning the Nobel Prize:

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Does Fiction Always Tell The Truth?


O.K., a few obvious things first… 

Does Fiction Tell The Truth?

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“Truth” can be a slippery topic—it can have “layers”—it can change over time

Then, there’s the word “fiction”—sometimes used to mean, “an untruth”; sometimes to mean, “an invented statement or narrative”.

And, being “invented” doesn’t automatically make something untrue

Do all fiction authors strive to have the truth ring out from their invented tales?

Should they?

I recently read an article on Kill Zone (top Thriller & Mystery writers) titled, Should Fiction Writers Tell the Truth?, by James Scott Bell.

Mr. Bell leads with a quote from playwright and essayist, David Mamet:

“When you sit down to write, tell the truth from one moment to the next and see where it takes you.

Then, he offers a question about folks’ statements about “truth”:

“Do they mean objective truth (that which is true no matter what anyone thinks about it)? Or subjective truth (that which comes out of the deepest part of ourselves)?”

He then gives a probable definition:

“I think what…writers mean by ‘tell the truth’ is that the writer must, first and foremost, be honest with himself. Not be afraid to go wherever his inner heart and life are leading. Tell that story, from the gut.”

The whole article is fascinating to ponder, especially what he says about Game of Thrones

If you read or write fiction, I suggest you read the full article.

One thing I might say, from my own experience, is that the fiction which speaks the truth to me is the kind that reaches deep into the “human condition”—reveals the oh, so human struggles of the characters—gets down to the truths we all share

If you do read Mr. Bell’s article, don’t miss out on the Comments

Another article you may want to read is Abraham Rothberg‘s Fiction is a Lie That Tells the Truth.

Finally, to round-out this exploration of fiction and truth, here are nine other opinions:

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Albert Camus

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

Jessamyn West

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”

Doris Lessing, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”

Tim O’Brien

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.”

Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.”

Khaled Hosseini

“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

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Which Genre of Fiction Do You Prefer? ~ How About Literary Fiction?


I can hear some readers saying, “Literary fiction isn’t a genre!”.

Hmmm

“Genre” is a term used to divide fiction up into classes or “treatments” or boxes.

“Literary” can be used that way, too—as well as a modifier—literary mysteries, literary romances, etc.

Still, some folks want to keep “literary” and “genre” well-separated

Some might even tell you that literary fiction is the kind that doesn’t sell as well as genre.

Might be good to grab a definition for “literary fiction”—best one I’ve found is: “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas”.

Yet, what’s to stop a “genre” writer from making their book “literary”—perhaps, only the desire to not have it become harder to sell?

The Millions magazine has an article by Kim Wright (an author) called, Why Are So Many Literary Writers Shifting into Genre?

She says:

“Once upon a time, genre was treated as almost a different industry from literary fiction, ignored by critics, sneered at by literary writers, relegated by publishers to imprint ghettos. But the dirty little and not-particularly-well-kept secret was that, thanks to the loyalty of their fans and the relatively rapid production of their authors, these genre books were the ones who kept the entire operation in business. All those snobbish literary writers had better have hoped like hell that their publishers had enough genre moneymakers in house to finance the advance for their latest beautifully rendered and experimentally structured observation of upper class angst.”

Blogger and critic Porter Anderson recently threw out some new terms: “I’ve been toying lately with new hashtags #seriouswriting and #legitlit to distinguish this from formulaic entertainment pabulum…”—“serious fiction”.

Jennie Coughlin weighs in on this on her blog post, Serious Fiction and #LegitLit: Creating a Hybrid Home:

“For me, telling a layered story with strong characters is key. When a friend recommended Doris Lessing’s books to me recently, he said she’s one of his favorite authors because, ‘She’s one of those authors that makes me not want to read another book for a long time because there’s always a lot to absorb and reflect upon.’. While my books don’t belong in the same breath as Lessing’s, that idea of providing a lot for a reader to absorb and reflect upon is probably the best expression I’ve heard for what I try to do when I tell stories. And I think it’s maybe the best way I can think of to define Porter’s concept of ‘serious fiction’.”

My short novel, Notes from An Alien, has these words in the Prologue:

“…this book is a story told in ‘notes’. Even though some readers may think it is a novel or a history, its form is difficult to classify in what are called genres.”

After publication, my best friend called it a Documentary Novel, which I feel fits it well

Here are a few other posts from this blog that consider “genre”:

Genre or Literary? What’s The Difference?

Genre Reconsidered ~ Reader-Driven Fiction

Genre, Genre, Who’s Got The Genre ? :-)

What Is A Genre & Should You Try To Write In One?

What are your thoughts and feelings about “genre” and “literary” fiction?
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The Dreams of The Writer Lead To The Dreams of The Reader…


The ideas we’ll explore today were inspired by reading certain posts in Haley Whitehall’s blog.

The dreams indicated in the title up there are what have been given the fancy term, “fictive dreams”, more reasonably called “fictional dreams”.

The writer is in a dream-like state when the creative act is flowing and, hopefully, the reader can fall into a similar state. Still, the dream of the reader is rarely just like the dream of the writer. I’ve explored this natural difference between what the writer proposes and what the reader experiences in four other posts: Reading Leads To Writing, Even If All You’re Reading Is Life… and, Rewriting While You Read ~ We All Do It …, which links to two other, related, posts.

I want your help in writing tomorrow’s post :-)

Edit: If you look at the next post you’ll see I don’t continue the idea explored in this post. What I thought was the death of a good friend caused me to write on other topics. I have yet to return to a follow-up for this post though I’m linking to it today, 10 September, in Google Plus and will be working toward a follow-up post, hopefully soon :-)

I’m going to put three quotes about the Fictional Dream below and hope you’ll put your ideas and feelings in the Comments. Then, I’ll continue today’s conversation tomorrow by weaving your comments into my post :-)

From The Literary Lab: “Writer and teacher John Gardner had a concept he called the fictional dream, which was the idea that fiction does its job by creating a dream state for the reader, and as long as the writer is doing a good job of maintaining that dream state, the reader won’t “wake up” from it and will continue to read and believe in the fictional world the writer has created. Gardner argues that this fictional dream first happens in the writer’s head, and the writer’s job is to write it down for the reader:

“In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again. This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writes that he may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead.”

From Anatomy of Melancholy: “Writers are often asked: ‘How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?’ But the essential question is: ‘Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas–inspiration.’ If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. ‘Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?’” — Doris Lessing,  Nobel Lecture, 2007

From Star-Crossed Romance: “I’m so glad to know other writers feel the same as me. Ever start writing and not want to come out of that dream state? I have. The obligations of real life take a back seat to story when the fictive dream is flowing strong. My dog Lily will stand beside me in vain, trying to will me to take her outside to play. I tell her she has to wait, like the dishes and laundry and sometimes the cooking. When I’m deep in the flow, it’s difficult for me to find that exact wave again.

“Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes the flow slows to a trickle and strands me on a rocky bed. So getting up and walking away can be a good thing. It can lend perspective, so that next time I dive in, the flow will be stronger.”

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