This is stunning, and has caught me with my draft in a mess.
I sent in 5k, and have to now send in about 85k by the 30th of Oct (Of this year!).
As you can imagine, it’s going to be an insane caffeine-fueled waking nightmare. (I know I won’t place– but this is a great opportunity to show my MS to some very esteemed judges, and I don’t want them coughing hairballs. Besides I get to polish my novel in a very short space– what’s not to like?)
So I shall go on a hiatus, and reappear again on November 2, after this deadline, and 2-3 others that fall on Oct 31 and Nov 1.
While I’m away, please feel free to browse through the archives, and leave comments. I’ll have a blogging month soon, when all I do is visit and browse.
Any words of advice for a nervous long-listee? Have you ever had to scramble to finish anything for a deadline?
Today, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Patrick Wensink, bestselling author, with four books and many articles in several reputed journals. His recent book Fake Fruit Factory is as moving as it is funny. If you’re looking for a darkly comic yet poignant book that is full of intriguing and hilarious twists and turns, I would recommend picking this one up right away.
Patrick will be stopping by to answer questions and respond to comments, so please feel free to ask questions related to Fake Fruit Factory, to his writing and editing process, the writing advice he’s given based on Improv, and anything else writing/reading-related.
At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
I was 24 years-old-when I started writing fiction. I was a freelance rock critic for many years before that. Then, two important things happened. I was fired from my job as a marketing assistant at a children’s museum. During my unemployment I watched Chuck Palahniuk read. Before that I thought fiction was Hemingway and Dostoevsky, which didn’t speak to me then. Chuck was raw and exciting in a way that connected instantly. I sat down and spent the rest of my unemployed six months writing a terrible novel, but I loved it.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer?
Death. Especially with Fake Fruit Factory. Death on a human level, for sure. But also the death of small towns in America, which have essentially outlived their usefulness.
3.You have a truly gifted comic voice. What makes good comedy—a good comic short story, novel, or play?
Thank you! It’s hard to say what makes a good comic voice. That’s what makes it so hard and I’m a guy who has taught several humor writing classes! I would say the key is to understand what you find funny or ironic or weird and having the confidence to put that on paper, but more importantly to put it down in a way that communicates the joke to readers.
4. You teach a very insightful class with Litreactor.com about writing fiction using the principles of Improv Comedy. Could you give any basic Improv tips that writers can use to generate stories?
Yes! I just did, actually.
Have your characters avoid asking questions. Instead have them speak in declarative statements. Instead of saying, “What happened to your face?” Have a character make a statement, “Your face looks horrible. I knew going to the bar was a bad idea.”
Have characters agree. It’s an easy trap (and a realistic one) to have characters disagree. We tend to think that causes drama. But actually it stalls a plot. Have characters agree and suddenly your plot goes to unexpected territory.
5. What pointers would you give a writer starting out?
Get rejected as much as possible. I recently had a student who was afraid to submit a short story to a contest because he was scared of the rejection. I told him either your story gets accepted and you feel great or it gets rejected and you start building this callus against rejection. I did the math for him and realized I have been rejected over 1,000 times by contests, magazines, editors, publishers, agents, MFA programs and more.
You get used to it and just continue forward, and assume it’s their loss. Not yours.
So my best advice is get rejected a lot and love all the bad writing you produce! I try and tell writing students who are frustrated that that frustration is a good thing. It means you are over the honeymoon period of writing. Now you are in the difficult day-to-day part of the marriage. That’s good. That’s progress!
I think Dorothy Parker said, “I do not enjoy the act of writing, but I enjoy having written.” There’s the reward for all your hard work!
6. For writers querying an agent: what should they look for, in your opinion, and what should they be wary of?
Be professional. As much as everyone wants this to be all about the art, you need to be professional when approaching agents. They love books, obviously, but they also feed their kids from selling books and it’s a business for them. Be courteous, be professional, research an agent to make sure they represent your kind of work and always be familiar with their roster of artists.
7. Tell us about your latest book: Fake Fruit Factory. What inspired you to write the book?
Let’s say “guilt.” I grew up in a small town in Ohio very similar to Dyson, OH in the book. And much like that town my hometown is kind of falling on hard times. Where it was once an independent community with its own grocer, dentist, doctor, clothing store, lumber yard, pharmacy, hardware, etc it now has a lot of vacant buildings and FOR SALE signs in the yards because larger cities are unintentionally clobbering small towns.
I saw this and felt guilty, as a guy who moved from that small town to a bigger city. I wanted to explore small towns and what makes them tick and ask the question: why are they still here and will they survive? Also, I wanted to write about a satellite crashing, desperate attempts at tourism and mummies.
8. What is your drafting process like? Tell us a bit about the process behind Fake Fruit Factory. Is there an interesting anecdote related to the book?
The most interesting anecdote would be that it was five years in the making. I write first drafts very quickly and full of passion. Then I look back and gag myself because it’s all so ugly. Let’s say I wrote the first draft in two months…I then spent the next four years and ten months editing, cutting and adding to the story.
I love putting a manuscript in the drawer for several months, pulling it back out and marking it to shreds with red ink. Whenever I find a bad section of my work, I love it, because it’s a chance to make the book better.
I think a lot of writers dread the editing process, but I think it’s something to be savored. Nobody is perfect the first time around. I think a writer’s real job is in being critical of yourself and knowing how to improve what you’ve already done. It’s also a stamina game. It’s exhausting going over and over and over your own work. I did at least 20 drafts of Fake Fruit Factory before I got it right. Maybe more.
Patrick Wensink is the bestselling author of Broken Piano for President. The book’s viral popularity led him to appearances in New York Times, NPR’s Weekend Edition, Forbes and others. The New Yorker once wrote one entire sentence about him. After which he had a heart attack. He is the author of four other books, including Fake Fruit Factory. His articles appear in the New York Times, Esquire, Men’s Health, Salon, Oxford American and others. HarperCollins will publish his first children’s book, GORILLAS A-GO-GO, in 2016.
“it helps to remember the word ‘flash’ itself – a novel’s like a set of floodlights, shining down for the whole match. But in a flash you’ve arrived late for the match and the stadium’s in total darkness, and you’ve got a few seconds of light left in your torch, so where are you going to shine it, and how will you find your seat? And what will you see there in that flash-bulb moment? And how the hell are you supposed to manage to eat a hot dog at the same time?”
I’m a fan of the genre, but as Swann says, it is a difficult one to read: it’s brevity gives the illusion of ease, but in fact, each piece is an entry into a different world, and you need to stay alert as a reader:
Because flash requires a lot of attention, just as poetry does (and other short fiction). That’s partly because it’s compressed, so you have to be on the alert (the German word for poetry is ‘dichtung’ – to seal, or to shut… so there’s a suggestion of closing down the space, and being economical). And, as a reader, you have to keep starting again with every new piece of flash, so there’s a lot of energy required. You can’t just fall into the dream. The challenge for the writer is to make the compression invisible, to try to hide the hard work.
I knew I liked the medium, but didn’t know I could actually get somewhere with it. I’ve beenfull of doubts about my writing lately, so the judge’s words were very encouraging:
‘Picasso Dreams’ is a kind of conceit about the nature of imagination. The brisk, clean prose is somewhat at odds with the subject-matter, and this creates an interesting sense of dissonance. It’s visual too, with the dreamscape enlivened by flashes of blue and lime green. An imaginative, original story.
The story started from this Daily (w)rite, in writing about fish, so that’s another thing I have to thank this blog for. Out of a 1000 entries to the Bath Flash Fiction Award, 50 were longlisted, 20 were shortlisted. 3 winners and 2 judge’s commendations were chosen from the shortlist. I’m kind of gobsmacked that mine was 5th out of a 1000 entries!
What about you? Do you like reading or writing flash fiction? Did you read Picasso Dreams? What did you think it was about?
Today, it is my pleasure and honor to welcome award-winning Australian author, and contributor to the Cooked Up anthology,Patrick Holland.
I’m a fan, and have been gobsmacked by the beauty of his prose. In this interview, he has answered questions on writing, based on his long experience as an outstanding author of short stories, and very atmospheric, eloquent novels. My highlights in blue.
If you have questions for him, please drop them in the comments.
In this group we share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing.
In the post below, Patrick Holland talks about the role of chance in successful art: while writing a story, he can see the end on the horizon, but must grope his way there, without complete pre-planning. Language dictates his writing to an extent, and I identify with this.
I’m unable to completely understand planned writing— the many how-to books that tell you how to write a bestseller.
I hope the interview will be useful for the IWSG members, and invite comments and questions from one and all, writers, readers, bloggers. If Patrick Holland’s work is new to you, I encourage you to go grab his books– I’m reading his short stories now, and relishing them one by one: very evocative, poignant and true.
Without further delay, I’ll post Patrick’s answers to a few of my questions:
1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
As I remember, I wrote from the time I knew how to shape the letters into words. I was always making stories and poems. Stories about exploration, outer space, and prayers, poems and confessions. Then, as a teenager, like most teenagers, I became very much a herd animal and played football and tried to fit in. I re-discovered literature again when, having dropped out of Accountancy at university, my sister had me go to the library to fetch a rare book of poetry by Ernest Hemingway. That was the crucial moment. I wanted to do what he did.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Do you have an ideal reader in mind as you write?
I have many themes that occur. Or perhaps, they are parts of a single theme. I write about home and lost-ness and journey. As for an ideal reader, never. I like to think that one day I will write a book that both a child and a professor of literature could take something valuable from.
3. For someone new to your work, which of your books should they read first?
The Mary Smokes Boys is the book that people most often want to question me about. It is very confessional, and it represents the first time I really tried to write in the minimalist style I most often do. So that book, or else my short stories The Source of the Sound. I always think short stories are a nice, gentle way into a writer’s work.
4. Who are your writing influences, the authors whose work has inspired you?
I’m inspired by so many artists, and not always writers. I think, in recent years, Arvo Pärt’s music has influenced me as much as anything else. And even more recently, Italian film director Paulo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and video game designer Jenova Chen (Journey).
As for writers, there are so many, Hemingway I’ve mentioned, but also Graham Greene, Kipling, Emily Bronte, Lady Murasaki, Dante, Borges, Heinrich Boll, Yasunari Kawabata … and as for living writers, the Americans Poe Ballantine and Barry Lopez come first to mind. Australia’s Brian Castro is a marvelous and criminally underrated writer.
5. What advice would you give to someone starting out on the writing life?
It’s not too late to get out. Unless it is. In which case, read. And learn from what you read. There isn’t a ballet dancer in the world who thinks they’d be better off never seeing a ballet, but there are writers who think they don’t need to read books.
6. What is your writing routine like?
When I can, I write three hours first thing in the morning. And two hours last thing at night.
7. You write both short stories and novels. Do you find either form more challenging than the other?
The novel is undoubtedly more challenging for me. It’s architecture is something I grapple with each and every time. And the short story is, perhaps because of its brevity, and the lack of necessary logical problems, more enjoyable to write.
8. Your books are very character and language driven. Do you begin writing a book knowing some of the events in it in advance, or do you discover them as you write?
Good question. It’s a mixture of both. I typically see things on the horizon, I point the writing towards them, and eventually, I get … well … somewhere. But the language does often dictate. There is always an element of chance in a successful work of art. East Asian artists always acknowledged this, and made use of it. As do many composers of music, like John Cage.
9. Please tell us about your story in the Cooked up Anthology, and what inspired you to write it.
I often write about estranged people. And the shortly-to-be-retired porn star in this story gave me an opportunity to write about someone who – perhaps ironically – was estranged from his emotions, where love was concerned, for twenty years. I liked the idea of him having sex with a woman as a matter of course, but then being afraid to ask her if she wanted to get a cup of coffee, and I wanted to explore that.
Patrick Holland lives between Brisbane, Saigon and Beijing. He is the author of the travel book Riding the Trains in Japan: travels in the sacred and supermodern east, as well as the short story collection The Source of the Sound, which won the Scott Prize. His novels include The Darkest Little Room, a thriller set in Saigon, and The Mary Smokes Boys, a story of horse thieves which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year. Talk to him on twitter at @phollandwriter
His most recent novel is a redux of the journey of St Brendan called Navigatio. His next novel, One will be released early 2016.
Is it too late for you to skip the writing life? Do you agree with Patrick’s advice? Do you believe that chance plays a role in successful art? Have you considered signing up for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? Do you have questions for Patrick?
For those who don’t write, but love to read, have you read any of Patrick’s work? (If you love gorgeous language, evocative writing, and poignant stories skilfully told, he’s your kind of writer.)
For those who watch/ listen to/ read the news each of the following words, garbled up, might mean something:
Shooters Far right Right wing Anti-gun activists Bleeding hearts Liberal Democrat Republican Muslim Shia Sunni Hindu Catholic Buddhist Christian Protestant Syrians Jews Migrants Left wing Believers Atheists Bhakts Sickular Mullahs Minorities Blacks Niggers Whites Mexicans Politicians Actors Musicians Artists Authors Prostitutes Doctors Astronauts Communists Capitalists Transexuals Mainstream Gays Lesbian Diversity Chinese Indian American Malaysian Russian Japanese Malay Refugees Migrants Locals Foreigners Indigenous Tribals Urban dwellers Europeans Arabs Racists Jews Supremacists Fundamentalists Terrorists Experts Farmers Drivers Dreamers Children
Such an abundance of terms. I could go on, so could we all.
Such a variety of ways to describe this species, that science recognizes with the one term: Homo Sapiens.
Such insignificance in the history of this planet. If the entire history of the planet is mapped to twenty four hours in time, humans occupy less than the last two minutes.
Such utter insignificance in this universe, less than a microscopic dot in a minuscule corner of one of the billions of galaxies.
And yet we’re at each others’ throats, we murder, we rape, we shoot, we kill, we wipe out entire generations of humans, animals, plants. We can’t give life back, but we don’t hesitate for a minute before we take it. We live as if we’ll never die, as if this planet can bear our depredations.
I say We, because I believe that all of us, including me, are culpable. In living our lives without an awareness of what we’re part of, of our place in the scheme of things, we’re culpable.
Some of us believe that the destruction and mayhem afoot on this planet is pretty ho-hum, it happened in each age, we survived dark ages and holocaust in every generation, and like indestructible cockroaches, we shall survive this one.
But in all the other ages, the world was spread out– civilizations rose and fell mostly in isolation, affecting each other in historical ripples. Can’t deny that it is different this time. Globalize and Glocalize are words now. Human population is set to exceed sustainable levels soon.
In all of it, I see one hope: the fact that humans as a species are capable of as much beauty as we can create ugliness, as much compassion as cruelty, as many dreams as nightmares.
Do you see hope for Humanity? For our planet? What name do you give yourself– of your country, your tribe, your religion, your profession, your relationships? What do you teach your children about who they are: who they should love and who or what they should hate? How do you define good and bad to them?
She could hear the little darlings. They made minute scrapy-whispery sounds as they fed on flesh, desperate to grow, so they could get on with their brief lives as the hairy maggot blowfly. Their dirty-yellow warty bodies looked true to their common name, but Farah preferred to call them Chrysomya rufifacies. Sounded scientific, and so much better. Read more…
I’m grateful to New York Writer’s Workshop for their faith in my work. I’m fortunate, blessed.
The validation is great, don’t get me wrong, but just like the rejections, their effect on me is short-lived. Like I said on a writing forum today, I’ve become a believer in ‘Action without Attachment.’
The stories get my very best, and I shop them around. Rejections are par for the course, so a little validation once in a while is good. But neither matter when faced with the blank page. Some days, words follow one another. I blog or edit when the words don’t flow. That’s all there is to it.
Some days are harder than others, but the effort everyday is mostly fulfilling. Frustrating too, sometimes. But the frustration reduces the more I show up on the job, on the page. Not that it will entirely go away, I don’t think.
What about you? In life, or writing, does external validation make you feel worth it? Does fear of rejection prevent you from participating? What’s your secret coping mechanism?