Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

What Is a Novel?


The question that forms the title of this post may seem simple to answer; yet, is it?

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I can imagine a few answers from certain folks:

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“A thick book with a story in it.”

“A continuous narrative of at least 50,000 words.”

“What a dumb question—everybody knows what a novel is.”

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The only problem is that many novelists would disagree with those answers; and, many other answers to the question.

Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book, Words Are My Matter, said this:

“Readers, I think, are often led astray by the widespread belief that a novel springs from a single originating ‘idea’, and then are kept astray by the critical practice of discussing fiction as completely accessible to intellect, a rational presentation of ideas by means of an essentially ornamental narrative.”

The “ornamental narrative” of that quote is, sadly, what many “experts” of “literary” fiction think they’re dealing with when they reduce the art of the novelist into their simplistic “explanations” of what the novel “means”…

Le Guin also says:

“If fiction is how it says what it says, then useful criticism is what shows you how fiction says what it says.”

So…

Another rendition of her words might be:

Fiction isn’t just what it says—isn’t just the bare words on the page. It’s how those words shape the ideas of the story and add feeling to the narrative.

So then, the honest critic has to work to show how the novel takes mere words and fashions them into the artistic presentation of ideas and feelings.

And, that presentation is not capable of being reduced to a coldly rational train of thoughts…

Well, not capable of being reduced if it is, in fact, a novel; since, I’m sure there are books out there, with many words in them, which are not richly artistic novels; but, merely books that are “completely accessible to intellect, a rational presentation of ideas by means of an essentially ornamental narrative.”

Care to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments?

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#MainStreetWriters ~ Moving Forward


I started promoting Main Street Writers Movement on the 12th of February with a re-blog by Roz Morris, where she said the Movement is, “…a campaign that aims to represent the work of literary writers, small presses, independent bookshops and anyone who struggles to be heard or find their audiences.” Main Street Writers Movement

The next day, I did a full-on post about Main Street Writers Movement and I urge all the following folks to go to that last link and find out what’s going on:

“Writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, editors, publicists, agents, and anyone who wants to participate in the literary conversation.”

Since then, there’s been a post on their site from author Kate Ristau about Building Writer Relationships, which I’ll do a bit of excerpting from:

“Writing is lonely. For many of us introverts, spending the day by ourselves, sitting at a computer, maybe not even taking a shower, is . . . awesome! Am I right?”

“But occasionally, even I want to get out of my shell – to peek my head out and see what’s on the other side of my computer. And sometimes, I need more support than my dog.”

“…how do you build your own writing community? How do you find other writers and hang out with them in a not-weird way?”

She then goes on to list four ways to engage in Community…

And, if you go to their Pledge page, you’ll find this line of reasoning for forming Community:

“These are scary and uncertain times, but we must continue to use our voices and to listen to our neighbors’ words….The Main Street Writers Movement urges experienced writers to strengthen the national literary ecosystem through passionate engagement at the local level. Let’s honor and amplify our communities’ underrepresented voices. Let’s buy from local bookstores and small presses. Let’s leave our houses and dance in the streets to the sound of each other’s words.”

Plus, a few days ago, I received the first Main Street Writers Movement Newsletter, which had valuable information from a literary agent, a sharing from Laura Stanfill (Founder of the Movement), and this rousing statement:

“If you’ve been waiting for years for someone to give you permission to join the parade instead of waving your flag from the sidewalk, here’s your letter of recommendation, your megaphone, or (if you’re a pessimist) your umbrella. It’s time to get off the sidewalk. Let’s go. Let’s do this together.”

If I’ve piqued your interest in the Main Street Writers Movement, do check out my full post with all the details

I should also link to the hashtag you can follow on Twitter — #mainstreetwriters  and, if you’re in the USA, check out this site for getting in touch with folks in your neighborhood — NextDoor

Though, I truly hope folks from places other than the USA will leave a few comments on engaging in Literary Community in their own countries…

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What Is “Literature”?


Defining “Literature” is a more slippery task than writing it…

What Is Literature?

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If you look to the root meanings of the word, you find it becoming a letter—written to the reader…

The best definition I’ve found is “well-written” and “dealing with universal ideas”…

Naturally, “well-written” does not mean written in a way that confuses the average reader—in spite of the opinions of various “literary ‘experts'”…

And, also naturally, “dealing with universal ideas” doesn’t mean the book isn’t exciting, gripping, and hard to put down…

Some folks would define literature as “not genre” (check out my past articles on genre); yet, I wrote, in one of those past posts:

“I’ve read ‘literary fiction’ that seemed to me to be insipid and tortuously self-contained—hardly wrestling with universal dilemmas; more like whining about over-valued pet peeves

“And, I’ve read ‘genre fiction’ that met every qualifier of that ‘definition’ of ‘literary fiction’.”

And, concerning “genre”, this comment, on the post I drew that quote from, by Jane Watson, is quite enlightening:

“I think that you nailed it when you commented on: ‘…how ‘issues’ can be created from ‘imagined’ ‘facts…’. Personally I think ‘genre’ of any kind, including ‘Literary Fiction’ is a marketing term used by publishers to ‘sell’ books to people, who they think can’t make up their mind on what to buy – but I believe readers are very smart and can tell if they like a book or not and usually judge and pick it, not on genre, but on whether it reads well for them in the first few pages or is described well in a review or a recommendation from a friend. I am hardly ever told by a friend recommending a book — ‘You’ll love this – it’s Chicklit’. — but am often told — ‘You’ll love this, it’s great!'”

So, shall we believe that “Literature” is in the eye (and heart) of the reader?

Then, perhaps, we could ask: “What does literature do for us, the readers, that other writing doesn’t do?”

One perspective on that question is explored in the article What Books Do for the Human Soul: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature:

  1. IT SAVES YOU TIME
  2. IT MAKES YOU NICER
  3. IT’S A CURE FOR LONELINESS
  4. IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE

And, if those functions of Literature seem less than worthy determinants for such important writing, watch this video:


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Is “Literary Fiction” Just Another Genre?


I ran into a thorny patch of articles that speculate on why literary fiction authors don’t self-publish.

Self-Publishing Literary Fiction

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My first question was: Where are your statistics?

It’s so common for folks who write about books to draw their arguments from the straw pile of narrowly-focused opinions.

I’ll list 5 links to an intertwined set of articles discussing the supposed fear of “literary fiction” authors—they won’t ever be published because the Big Houses won’t pay them enough and they don’t dare self-publish

I don’t expect the readers of this blog to follow those links but I feel I need to have them as references, in case my own opinions in this post draw serious doubts.

First though, here’s a definition of “literary fiction” (don’t feel bad if it seems to not make much sense…):

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.

Despite the fact that all genres have works that are well written, those works are generally not considered literary fiction. To be considered literary, a work usually must be “critically acclaimed” and “serious”. In practice, works of literary fiction often are “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas”.

Literary fiction is usually contrasted with paraliterary fiction (e.g., popular, commercial, or genre fiction). This contrast between these two subsets of fiction is highly controversial amongst critics and scholars who study literature.

Let’s not forget that the meaning of “Genre” is:

a kind of literary or artistic work

It seems to me that those critics and scholars want a type of fiction that rises above all other “kinds” of literary work because they have “acclaimed” it and judged it to be “serious”.

I’ve read “literary fiction” that seemed to me to be insipid and tortuously self-contained—hardly wrestling with universal dilemmas; more like whining about over-valued pet peeves

And, I’ve read “genre fiction” that met every qualifier of that “definition” of “literary fiction”.

So, just before I list those links—the impassioned discussion about what I consider to be a non-issue—let me give you a few quotes from an article by Hugh HoweySelf-publishing will save literary fiction (I think Howey is using “literary” in the sense of “well-written” and dealing with “universal dilemmas”…):

“What goes unsaid but seems implied in the message that literary works will die without a publishers’ support or bookstores in which to shelve them is that we write literary works for the pleasure of publishers and bookstores.”

“Artists have relied on the largesse of patrons for centuries. Increasingly, those patrons will become the general public.”

“Soon (this is already true for many) self-publishing will be seen as the purer artform. No tampering with style or voice. No gatekeeper. No need even for monetization.”

So, here come those 5 links to the articles about why “literary fiction” authors don’t self-publish—please only read them if you want an education in how “issues” can be created from “imagined” “facts”—imagining that a few authors and a few critics can set some “standard” for what should be considered “literary”:

Genre lines: Why literary writers won’t self-publish

A re-post of the above article—interesting for it’s 63 comments

From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?

UK publishing and those poor struggling writer people

Why Literary Writers Have Not Yet Made the Transition to Self-Publishing

Hoping for a few Comments, even if you’ve decided to not follow those 5 links :-)
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Should You Read Literary Blogs?


A slightly different way to state the question in the title could be “Are literary blogs worth reading”?

Naturally, it depends on the reason you’re reading it.

Reading a literary blog just to impress others won’t give anyone a lasting benefit.

Then, there comes the issue of the quality of various literary blogs.

And, of course, whether the particular blog has the same definition of “literary” as you do

Let’s look at a few definitions of literary:

From Writing Time — “…true literary writing, goes under the surface of things.  It reaches deep into the writer’s life and experience and gives something — wisdom, knowledge, laughter — to the reader.”

From Detectives Beyond Borders — “…literary as a label is a kind of intellectual Viagra, a confidence booster for book buyers so insecure about their own tastes that they need to be reassured of a book’s respectability…

And, a fairly decent short article about “literary” vs “genre”, from wiseGEEK, which I’ll let you read for yourself :-)

However, I found an article with an excellent method for deciding what “literary fiction” is in Annie Neugebauer’s blog and I’ll share a bit of it in the form of what she calls myths:

Myth: Anything you read in school is literary fiction.
Myth: “Intellectual” works are automatically literary fiction.
Myth: Literary fiction is always boring/has no plot.
Myth: Literary fiction is always wordy.
Myth: Literary fiction is snobby.
Myth: Literary fiction is “better” than commercial fiction.

O.K., back to “literary” blogs.

Here are ten from PolicyMic (some only include literature as one of a number of topics):

Los Angeles Review of Books
The Awl
HTMLGiant
The Outlet
Hazlitt
The New Inquiry
The Paris Review Daily
Guernica
3:AM
And, I must quote from PolicyMic to list number ten:

“‘Literary blog’ is a debatable term, connoting for some a place where you can read writing about writing and for others a place where you can read the writing itself. If you fall into the latter category and just want a place to get good fiction, particularly by younger authors, you can’t go wrong with Five Chapters.”

Plus, here are a few from Jane Friedman (again, some include literary fiction as only one of a number of topics):

The Rumpus
The Millions
The Nervous Breakdown
Rob Around Books
American Fiction Notes
Bookslut
Maud Newton
The Second Pass

Do you read any literary blogs that aren’t listed here?

Do, please, share a link in the Comments :-)
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