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Against Luminism ct’d

February 9, 2010

Not getting much done on the book this week – doing some software testing on contract in the a.m. before the day job, so no choice really, since my creativity after work = 0.  All the same, I’ve had a thought on Caroline’s past – It’s funny, but now that I’m temporarily “safe” from having to explore feelings, and having granted myself the right to speak through Caroline (and the right to remain silent about said feelings), I’m able to see forward in the story a little better than I could when the Monolith of emotions was in the way.  Testing will only take a week or so and then I’ll be back to work on the book.

Football season is over, alas, so I’ll have even more time in the a.m.’s to write since there’ll be no more need to bury myself in Sporting News and Sportscenter etc. to keep up.  I went 171 and 74 this year on the Pro Pick ‘Em tournament (Sunday and Monday games only), so over 70% – beginner’s luck perhaps, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. 

Reading the funniest novel right now – How I Became a Famous Novelist (shockingly and somewhat ironically remainder-priced since I bought it a few weeks ago).  It’s about a guy who sees how formulaic best-selling fiction is, including and perhaps especially the Oprahesque “luminous prose” genre (his bugaboo is the world “lyrical” in the reviews on the dust jacket, but same thing).   The fake bestseller list on the back of the paperback edition is worth the cost by itself.  Seriously, I never LOL at books, but I must sound like a madman right now, this one’s so funny – though I guess being a novelist and critical reader makes it this hilarious.  He goes on to write a “Like Water for Elephants Singing Plainsong For Morrie” style book, after trying to write a thriller first – thrillers, it seems, are harder than “luminous prose,” which he discovers after trying to be the next James Patterson (thinly disguised here and merged with Dan Brown to create “Tim Drew” ):

Writing a thriller…is easy at first, describing your hero’s monumental chin and iron-core integrity and so forth.  But slowly you discover it’s like a complicated math problem, or assembling a bookshelf.  You have to keep track of dozens of tiny parts, which good guys will turn out to be bad guys, and which cars will get blown up by which helicopters…With literary fiction, on the other hand, you can just cover everything up with a coat of wordy spackle.  Those readers are searching for wisdom, so they’re easier to trick.

I always think of Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World as one of the worst examples of spackling I’ve read.  After writing himself into a corner trying to resolve a complicated three-way relationship, it’s clear at the end that he doesn’t know who really ends up with who – two of them, all three of them, happily ever after, none of them?  So he kicks up a great cloud of “language” to disguise the absence of a satisfying ending, to sternly remind us that “the language” is what really matters, the sentences and not the paragraphs and pages compiled out of them, plot as ungentlemanly a pursuit as filthy lucre.

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