Interview: the writers of Carmilla

  Carmilla, J. Sheridan LeFanu's 1871 novella that predates Bram Stoker's Dracula, is a seminal work of genre fiction.  It introduces the idea of the lesbian vampire, something that later writers would expand into its own genre (check out Hammer's The Vampire Lovers for a fairly faithful, if overtly sexed-up, version).  It's also surprisingly contemporary in its writing style.  So Read more

Movie Review: Mythica, A Quest for Heroes

Back in 2011, I stumbled on Arrowstorm Entertainment's Dawn of the Dragonslayer, a low-budget fantasy epic that had the look of a much more expensive film. But what really got my attention was the care given to the performances: leads Richard McWilliams and Nicola Posener really dug into their characters, and director Anne Black gave them the time to Read more

Dramatics Interreptus

My younger son turns seven in about a month, and the other day I realized that I was about that age when I realized just how important stories were to me. My parents left me to stay with friends of the family for an afternoon; I have no memory why. But while I was there, I started watching the TV Read more

Seeing It a New Way

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I'm paraphrasing): Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden's problems weren't that significant. But in so many other books I've read, Read more

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You're Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind Read more

The Pultizer Fiction Kerfluffle

Posted on by Alex in Award, writers, writing | 3 Comments

Unfinished, and about boredom. One of the best three books of 2011? Really?

For the first time since 1977, the Pulitzer Prize committee chose not to give an award for fiction this year.

The responses have been vociferous and bifurcated (those are high literary terms for loud and split). It’s been denounced alternately as a flaw in literature itself, or in the committees doing the nominating and selecting, respectively.

The nominating committee–Michael Cunningham, a past winner for his novel The Hours, NPR host Maureen Corrigan and New Orleans Times-Picayun book editor Susan Larson–were, by all accounts, a reasonable group. You had a writer, someone who talks to a lot of writers, and someone who professionally reads and evaluates a lot of books. Together, according to this story, they read over 300 books in nine months. The three books they submitted were Swamplandia by Karen Russel, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Theoretically, the Pulitzer award committee would real all three, then pick a winner.

And that’s where it gets kind of squirrelly.

The one book entirely written by its author AND first published in 2011. Just sayin

Of these three books, only Swamplandia was a real, honest-to-God finished and current piece of writing. Train Dreams is a novella first published in 2002, which common sense says should disqualify it for an award ten years later (although the Pulitzer rules are pretty vague on who and what is eligible). And The Pale King (a novel about boredom, if you can believe it) was left unfinished at the time of Wallace’s 2010 suicide and subsequently completed by an editor, which means it’s not even all his work.

I haven’t read Swamplandia, but it certainly sounds like the kind of book that wins awards. The Pulitzer website calls it, “An adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years.” Its author, Karen Russell, has already won a boatload of other awards for her fiction. So what happened?

We may never know. The Pulitzer folks are under no obligation to explain their reasoning, and can give (or not) their awards to whomever they want. But despite their denials it’s tempting to read into it a comment, if not an outright indictment, of the overall state of “literature.” There has always been a dichotomy between the books that sell and the books that critics love, but it’s rarely been a wider gulf than it is right now, thanks to changes in the book industry itself. Seldom has a more repulsive “writer” also been a bestseller than the likes of Jersey Shore’s Snooki, for example.

And really, Pulitzerati, you expect us to believe that an unfinished novel about boredom is better than every other book released in 2011, except two? Those sorts of critical blinders don’t help your case.

I have no answer or explanation for this. I’m happy to consider it an observation about the so-called “literary” genre that has abandoned such basics as good storytelling, some sort of moral perspective and even the basics of grammar (you’ll never find as many sentence fragments in a genre book as you do in some “literary” works). But ultimately it may tell us nothing, except how out of touch elite awards organizations can be. And that’s not news at all.

Awards for Guys Lit Wire

Posted on by Alex in Award, Guys Lit Wire | Leave a comment

I’m a regular contributor to Guys Lit Wire, a blog that reviews books for teenage boys, and we’ve just received two “I (heart) Your Blog” awards, one from Sara Crowe’s Crowe’s Nest and the other from Charlesbridge Publishing’s Unabridged. Although I’m just one of the many writers involved with GLW, I’m really tickled by this. Thanks to Sara and the folks at Charlesbridge!