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Showing posts from July, 2012

Reader Response: "People like that are the only people here."

I didn't think I was going to write my response on "People like that..." by Lorrie Moore. We were given a wide selection of short stories to read for this class. I could have picked the magical realism of "Eyes of Zapata," or the regretful coming of age story told in "Knowing you in Snow." I really enjoyed both of those stories.

I chose "People Like That..." because it was the one that reached me the most directly. The story is about misery. To read it is to dive head-first into a very quiet, very small place of absolute suffering. Parents contemplating the death of their child. The story dwells on incomprehensible details of a cancer, treatment and human pain. It hones in, unflinchingly at the interior thoughts of a mother as she does what she can to help her baby live.

For a story that exists primarily in the mind and conversation of the characters it has a singular power to seize images and describe them in fever dream prose. A mouse hear…

Reading Response to Dear Everybody

Dear Everybody by MIchael Kimball belongs to a long tradition of epistolary novels. Epistolary novels tie together letters or other documents into a coherent narrative instead of telling a story through a narrator. The advantage of telling a story through epistolary means is that the work, when done well, gains an illusion of realism. Rather than constantly wondering about a narrator’s function in a story, a reader can appreciate a tale knowing exactly who wrote the tale (within the confines of the story) and to whom it is addressed. The novel itself becomes less of an attempt to describe the world realistically as much as realistically capturing the nature of written correspondence. The difference with Dear Everybody is that the illusion of a conversation is somewhat disrupted by the nature of the letters. In the novel, the narrator, Jonathan Bender, is sending out thanks and regrets to people he doesn’t expect replies from. He doesn’t expect replies because he is firstly a lonely, tr…

Reading Response to "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Reader Response to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” Morgan Crooks I once heard Flannery O’Connor’s work introduced as a project to describe a world denied God’s grace. This critic of O’Connor’s work meant the Christian idea that a person’s misdeeds, mistakes, and sins could be sponged away by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice at Crucifixion. The setting of her stories often seem to be monstrous distortions of the real world. These are stories where con men steal prosthetic limbs, hired labor abandons mute brides in rest stops, and bizarre, often disastrous advice is imparted.  O’Connor herself said of this reputation for writing ‘grotesque’ stories that ‘anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.’ This is both a witty observation and a piece of advice while reading O’Connor’s work. These are stories about pain and lies and ugliness. The brutality that happens to characters …

We Have Always Lived in the Castle: A look at Shirley Jackson's literary barriers

Barriers are, for me, the central image and metaphor of "We Have Always Live in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson. Barriers to movement, to change, and to understanding thread the narrative and slowly cinch tighter and tighter around the protagonist. These barriers provide the story's meaning, form and structure, and its larger value. 
 It is no accident that we begin the story during the course of one of her periodic trips beyond her house into the hostile territory of the surrounding village. By seeing Merricat outside of her element, we get a better view of the restrictions that color her life. As the story progresses, Merricat's world begins to shrink and shrink until all that is left is a single barricaded kitchen. This increasing claustrophobia functions a little bit how suspense and drama might in another story. Merricat's response to change and conflict is to pull back, to barricade, and to hide. The natural conclusion of this story occurs when Merricat fin…

Fiction Workshop Second class

What does a story need in order for me to enjoy it?
I need a story to capture my attention in the first two or three sentences. If I've gotten a good recommendation about a particular novel I might be able to wait a chapter or two, but I want a sense early on that a story is going to go somewhere and getting there in a hurry.
I prize clear and precise language. If the right word is five syllables long and I need a Google search to find what it means, then so be it. But, my assumption is that everyday words are more than fine for everyday situations. The professor talked about words being delicious fruit, which I think is a good metaphor. The thing about fruit, though, is that I don't want fruit for every meal. 
Except for blueberries. Because that's different.
The last thing I'd say is I like stories that end with a definite but ambiguous ending. The example I often use is Faulkner's final image for "The Bear." A tree being defended by a deranged hunter w…

The Eleventh Reason to Write

As part of the first Fiction Workshop class, we asked to read a series of reasons why writing is important. To summarize briefly, writing is important and worthwhile because stories: Delight us.Create community.help us to see through the eyes of other people.Show us the consequences of our actions.Educate our desiresHelp us dwell in place.Help us dwell in time.Help us deal with suffering, loss, and death.Teach us how to be human.Acknowledge the wonder and mystery of creation.Of this list I probably respond most forcefully to the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of other people. This was termed 'empathy' when we discussed the list and that seems to be an appropriate description of one role of fiction. It expands the number of lives we might encounter. The story of a well-written character brings us closer to a world might never otherwise touch.
As for my own reason why writing is worthwhile I'd add this:
I once heard poems defined as the simplest way of saying a wor…

First day of Fiction Workshop

It's back to Ancient Logic in the first time in...a long time. I created this blog to more or less test out Blogger. The conference I went to for technology that could easily be brought into education pointed out that making Blogger pages was dead simple. While that was true the first iteration of the site was also really ugly.
But now I'm glad that I opened this site because it takes at least half an hour off the process of getting up and started with this new blog.
Still, one thing that needs to be changed is the purpose of this blog. What was initially created as an experiment will be repurposed to talk about my writing.
I am a writer. I have written two novels and an assortment of short stories. Over the next few months I hope to publish some of what I've written, ultimately getting to one (maybe both) of my novels.
I am also a history teacher. This is not unrelated to the statement above. My view of teaching history is that it is the art of telling a really long story…