On the purpose of a first draft

Shitty first draft” is a misnomer

A rough draft isn’t just a shitty story, any more than a painter’s preparatory sketch is just a shitty painting. Like a sketch, a draft is its own kind of thing: not a lesser version of the finished story, but a guide for making the finished story.

Once I started thinking of my rough drafts as preparatory sketches, I stopped fretting over how “bad” they were.

—Wrex (x)

On the audacity of art

“Some part of art, certainly of Barthelme’s art, involves the simple pleasure of watching someone be audacious.”

—George Saunders in his essay “Rise, Baby, Rise!” (PDF hosted by Paul Saxton in this post)

Short story: “For Danny, Twelve Years Old”

“For Danny, Twelve Years Old,” by Lucas Loredo

Appeared in The Masters Review (undated, but appears to be recent)

2104 words

A good story.

Short story: “George and Elizabeth”

“George and Elizabeth,” by Ben Marcus

Appeared in Granta 133: What Have We Done (online here, behind a paywall), November 18th, 2015

8273 words

The relentless cynicism (detachment? deflection? cruel superficiality?) of the narration is all worth it for that last line.

Short story or rather, novelette: “The Burrow”

“The Burrow” (“Der Bau”), by Franz Kafka

First published posthumously in 1931, with the first English translation coming out in 1933; the Muirs’ translation is online here

15,133 words

Maybe it’s because I was in a bad mood, but earlier today, reading Michael Hofmann’s translation, I felt as though the narrator of “The Burrow” were my only friend.

Short story: “Agnes of Iowa”

“Agnes of Iowa,” by Lorrie Moore

Appeared in Granta 54: Best of Young American Novelists, June 20th, 1996 (online here)

5652 words

I like the use of repetition here:

Over the next six years she and Joe tried to have a baby, but one night at dinner, looking at each other in a lonely way over the meat loaf, they realized with a shock that they probably never would. Nonetheless they still tried, vandalizing what romance was left in their marriage.

‘Honey,’ she would whisper at night when he was reading under the reading lamp, and she had already put her book away and curled toward him, wanting to place the red scarf over the lampshade but knowing it would annoy him and so not doing it. ‘Do you want to make love? It would be a good time of month.’

And Joe would groan. Or he would yawn. Or he would already be asleep. Once, after a long hard day, he said, ‘I’m sorry, Agnes. I’m just not in the mood.’

She grew exasperated. ‘You think I’m in the mood?’ she said. ‘I don’t want to do this any more than you do.’ He looked at her in a disgusted way, and it was two weeks after that they had the identical sad dawning over the meat loaf.

My instinct would have been to avoid repeating the meat loaf line, and I would have missed something: the sadness of the moment coming back sadder the second time.

Short story: “I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness”

“I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness,” by Claire Vaye Watkins

Appeared in Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3, April 25th, 2017

3938 words

I like the sentence structures in this piece.

It appears I’ve read one other story by this author, “Man-O-War,” which I never would have guessed. Watkins is a versatile writer.

I’m disappointed to see that Granta is now using author photos to illustrate some stories online. Even when the author inserts herself into the story, I somehow don’t trust an author photo. I’d rather see something like this or this.

Short story: “The Golden Age”

“The Golden Age,” by Mark Doten

Appeared in n+1, September 16th, 2016 (!)

3990 words

“I really need to thank the generals—can I take a moment to thank the generals? These generals we’ve got, they are amazing, and they’ve said to me, we’re so glad it’s you. In every single branch of the military we have, we have these generals, and what a job they are doing. What an amazing job. And what they’re saying to me is that this is a very small little bomb that’s being used over there, a small nuclear device, and what we’ve got, it’s so much bigger. You run down the line with what’s happening in these places around the world. These are almost all very small little bombs, and even the ones that are a little more serious, even those, ours are much, much bigger, so people can understand that we are in control of the situation, and we are going to have a very, very successful number of days.”

Towards the end, the familiar voice of the president starts to wear down and uncharacteristic eloquence shines through—perhaps because the alternative is ever-increasing incoherence.

Short story: “The Meat Suit”

“The Meat Suit,” by Garth Risk Hallberg

Appeared April 25th, 2017 in Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3 (online here)

5875 words

Great last line.

In the second section, “middle-school dance” stopped me short because, despite several other hints to the character’s age, I was picturing her quite a bit older than fourteen (and I think she’s actually more like thirteen). There’s no attempt to channel the character’s voice the way a third-person YA novel would, and for that reason the narration feels a little disembodied to me. In fact, Jolie doesn’t get much of a voice at all, apart from her very real conversation with Precious.

On real-life memory and fiction

“The great British novelist Graham Greene said that all good novelists have bad memories. What you remember comes out as journalism. What you forget goes into the compost of the imagination.”

From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler