Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Writers Ask

I am planning a couple of posts about the newsletter, Writers Ask (WA), published by Glimmer Train Press. I am describing it a little, in this initial post, so I won't have to keep referencing it.

WA continually offers something I had wanted to do on this blog (going beyond my occasional interviews with individual/creative people)—it asks multiple writers about the particulars of their craft. For example, the most recent issue,  Issue 58, asks 13 writers (including T.C. Boyle and Ann Patchett) questions on "Theme."

It's a little pricey—$22 for four issues a year.  I'd thought I wouldn't renew it in the New Year, to save some money. But in that recent Theme section, writer Aaron Gwyn said: "Show me a list of the masterpieces of world literature and I'll show you a list of trouble." He goes on to prove it by describing several novels succinctly in this way, e.g., Ullysses: "you're the only Jewish guy in Dublin and someone is dating your wife and doing a very fine job of it." Just with that little bit of text I realized what is wrong with the fiction I've been writing recently—no trouble, no conflict, no plot.

It was also through WA that I made my way to Michael Cunningham. I had resisted him, for some reason, after watching the movie version of "The Hours." But in Issue 57 (Fall 2012), under the theme "Place and Setting," he was asked about the futuristic, drone-filled world he had created in his novella "Like Beauty." Intrigued, I checked out the audio book for Specimen Days (the novella is part of its trilogy), read by Alan Cummings. The ending of its first novella, "In The Machine," was so good I found myself wanting to get out of the car to stand up and applaud.

The newsletter is maddeningly (at least to this former librarian) unorganized. I wish there was some kind of paper index or online metafilter for the topics and authors that have appeared on its pages thus far (I've asked the editors if they would consider doing that someday). Until then, I'll read every page, and take notes, looking forward to it as a wonderful surprise that arrives in my mailbox every three months.

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