Chuck Palahniuk’s new book might be one of the most down to earth texts on the craft of writing. And I’ve long admired Palahniuk and his craft of writing–his fiction and his non-fiction. And back in the day when I started teaching fiction, I started using his lessons from litreactor.net and his compiled 36 Writing Craft Essays by Chuck Palahniuk. I used them in my classes and for my own education on craft. Reading his work in those days led me to Amy Hempel and Tom Spanbauer. (The book is dedicated to Tom Spanbauer by the way.) I very much enjoyed his take on the pretentiousness of heavy lit and how-to workshops and texts. His criticisms made me think of my own thoughts on the Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway text I use in my classes and how I feel the text doesn’t quite communicate with my intro to fiction students. There are so many lit references I don’t think they can swim with–the examples and lessons the text brings seem very heavy. That book seems good on paper for intro to fiction and I used that since my grad school days in courses. Palahniuk’s work on the other hand references films and television in a way I believe the Burroway craft text and others like it do not. And I enjoyed learning more about Palahniuk’s growing up and family life only hinted at in other essays. This may be a book when out in paperback I can bring into my classroom for a more practical way of teaching literary minimalism and writing process.
After a long semester of teaching I found some time to indulge in studying the novella Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I’ve been an admirer of Rulfo’s career and this book reads as a tremendous progression from his short stories I was introduced to in his book The Burning Plain. What I found in this work is a complex, surreal story of a long abandoned town, Comala, and the stories from the ghosts of the townspeople. The book masterfully shifts from third person omniscient narration to first person narration. The book is filled with ghosts and spirit guides revealing their traumatic stories to the visiting narrator, Juan Preciado. We learn all about the dead city’s heritage from the ghosts of the past. In fact the sometimes narrator and his life aren’t very important to the story and this narrator only acts as a relayer–intermediary really–of spirits and voices from Comala. It’s been a few days and after much thinking and re-thinking on some of the motifs I think the book is simply about voices associated with place and a town dealing with generations of tragedy and grief–how objects and buildings can stand as totems for past traumatic events. How pain and suffering from the most horrible of moral offenses–murder, rape and incest–can stand at the center of entire town’s spiritual demise. The ghosts I found to be eccentric and odd yet always memorable. In fact, the book reminded me of Twin Peaks–David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece from the 1990’s. The narrator travels to Comala the way Agent Cooper travels to Twin Peaks to find answers about loss and death. From passage to passage I am wondering if the voices are real or from a spirit world.
Recently I rewatched David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me and I am finding so many similarities between Rulfo and Lynch. We have a small town holding onto psychic pain and suffering as well as intense secrets associated with the death of several young women. The film is filled with flawed and inept investigators who though despite being clever and observant cannot seem to crack the code to the murders as well as the spirit voices guiding them. The “lodge” mythology from the film and the television show are very different but the film has a cosmic and supernatural context I find so similar in the so-called magical realism work of Rulfo.
This film is from 2009 and from director Bobcat Goldthwait. I missed it because of a limited release. I most admired Robin Williams playing a frustrated writer and teacher in this dark comedy. Love the scenes in poetry class.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was ending up alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”
Lately for many reasons I feel I’ve been living inside of a Philip K. Dick novel, so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favorite–Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.
What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.
And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.
The first time I heard Thug Notes I found it very funny and engaging. I played it for my Lit 111 students. We liked the break down in a less elite language. And I love to see books and ideas from books featured in so called new media. I wonder though if this quick summary of books perhaps might be what Bradbury was warning us about? Will quick summaries like this or another quick summary like SparkNotes take the place of reading?
Now I’m thinking I’d rather see videos like this on from The Pen Pixie:
A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.
Big Sur may be my least favorite Jack Kerouac novel. While On the Road and The Subterraneans captured youth and restlessness, Big Sur relates the aged, alcoholic Kerouac. And perhaps that is why I don’t enjoy the book. Kerouac’s persona is one of such a broken down writer unable to cope with fame and personal relationships. Kerouac’s obsession with death and the chaos of meeting up with Neal Cassady once again drive the energy of the book.
Michael Polish’s new adaptation is an independent film and therefore nowhere near my Midwest town and so I had to stream from Amazon to my television. Perhaps this is the future of watching smaller budgeted films. The film is so well shot though and gives so many beautiful views of the locale in recreating Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin near the beach where Kerouac would’ve stayed. The photography is so gorgeous I regret not being able to watch on the big screen.
I most admired the director’s decision to narrate the film with an abundance of Kerouac’s words. The words give the film an energy that matches the book–perhaps more so than Walter Salles’ recent On the Road adaptation.
I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.
We’re discussing a few stories tomorrow from Stuart Dybek‘s collection The Coast of Chicago. I admire “The Woman Who Fainted” and “Pet Milk” (4:27) and I was happy to find this reading for my Lit 50 students. So important to hear the author’s voice.
I was lucky enough to hear him read years back at Oregon State. I remember he mentioned the stories began as failed poems. And a few years back a former student gifted me a nice hard bound version that was also signed.