Tag: novels

On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)


On daily momentum

“[F]or me, making progress on a book, and not getting overwhelmed and derailed by the daunting task of writing an entire book, comes down to finding, achieving, and maintaining a sense of daily momentum—no matter if the progress is large or small, and most of the time, in my case at least, it’s the latter situation.”

—Andrew Roe (x)

On rules

“In this office we have a stupid, petty little conversation. The editor explains that if one does not italicise the titles of books it looks like carelessness. He explains that there are rules. The production manager explains that there are rules. I explain that the Chicago Manual of Style has only whatever authority we choose to give it. I explain: Look, these are two characters obsessed with numbers. The Chicago Manual of Style does not have a rule for using numerals in texts about characters obsessed with numbers because THIS BOOK HAD NOT BEEN WRITTEN when they last drew up the Chicago Manual of Style. They could not ANTICIPATE the need for a rule because the book did not then exist. I WROTE THE BOOK so I am obviously in a better position to decide what usage is correct for its characters than a group of people in Chicago who have NEVER SEEN IT.”

—Helen DeWitt (x)

On story problems

“[I]f you have a problem in a story, it’s a great friend to you. The problem is […] the story asking you to go deeper.”

—George Saunders (x)

On starting from a conceptual viewpoint

“I learned this a long time ago, at great cost […] if I start from a conceptual viewpoint, or even an aspirational or thematic viewpoint, I, I … come to a dead end, I can’t do it. So the real idea was just at any given time to sort of say, ‘Okay, I need a ghost stage left,’ and just turn my attention there with as little, ah, intention as possible. Just almost like you’re trying to listen to this figure. Ah, it really is a form of verbal improv. And what you’re banking on there is that your subconscious is far enough ahead of you that the voice it provides will not be random.”

—George Saunders (x)

Novel excerpt: “Lincoln in the Bardo”

“Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders

Appeared in Granta 138: Journeys, without any indication until the end that it wasn’t a short story, which is how I ended up reading it

1267 words

I don’t know what that was, but I liked it.

On loving one’s neighbors

“‘I must make you one confession,’ Ivan began. ‘I could never understand how one can love one’s neighbors. It’s just one’s neighbors, to my mind, that one can’t love, though one might love those at a distance.'”

—The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated by Constance Garnett

I suppose short story writers want to do both

“Novelists want to flood, poets want to distill.”

—J. D. McClatchy (x)

Novel: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

Published in 1962 by Viking Press

160 pages in the Penguin Classics Deluxe paperback


This book feels like the purest and most beautifully executed piece of wish fulfillment I’ve ever read. (The thing that comes closest to it is The Talented Mr. Ripley.) When I say wish fulfillment, I guess I mean that Merricat never has to grow up, never has to learn her lesson. Constance never has to grow up either, and after the brief temptation of adulthood passes, she returns happily (?) and with relief to the safety of Merricat’s little world. They win. They triumph. And the twistedness of their triumph is a pleasure in itself, which is only enhanced by the cruelty of the outside world—it’s as though Merricat’s madness is a reaction to that cruelty (though of course it needs no justification beyond itself) and a taunt to throw back against the taunts of the hostile neighbors.

On cuteness and violence

“The softness and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain.”

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov