Archive for the ‘writing’ category

Sincerity Means Never Judging The Book Before It’s Been Cooked

12/22/2010

Here’s a review Regina Till, a fellow writer and friend, sent me after reading an ARC of The Samaritan. It is not only extremely gratifying, but it made me laugh out loud–especially since she’s eaten my cooking and lived to tell.  I’m delighted to present it in full:

Do you share this conundrum now and then, when a friend says something like, “I can’t wait for you to see my…taste my…meet my….”  (I.E. Hair style?  World class chili?  New boyfriend?) You pray there will at least be something there to which you can offer a positive comment or two.  (I.e. Green is your color!   Is that ketchup I taste?   His moustache looks so real …) Before you’ve even smelled the chili,  you’re warming up for ketchup?

A friend of mine started her own publishing company.  It features writers from the greater St. Louis region.   She and her partners leaped in with a concrete investment of money, time and know-how, and a faith that if you build it (offer excellent fiction) people (readers/investors) will come.  Their philosophy transpired out of their experience; that talent exists right here in river city and surrounds,  and with it a large pool of authors who don’t get the opportunity to be read, or the recognition they deserve, for a variety of reasons.  In addition to the pure talent of available authors, they ascribed to that time-tested (and largely cast aside in the rest of the publishing world) art of editor/author symbiosis that would nurture good into better.   It all sounded fine to me, even as I was a little doubtful that the result could challenge the stacks of unread books I have sitting next to my overflowing bookshelves.  It was that skeptic in me who prepared for a worst-case scenario. How would I kindly encourage if I honestly thought the result was at best a nice try, at worse, a one-chapter read and a painful glaze-over through the rest?   In the meantime, the chili was on the stove.

So when she announced last summer that her company, Blank Slate Press, had two new authors, and then more recently that the books were done, and the first author’s book was ready for release, I gave her the easy (for me) truth.  Congratulations!  And I meant it.  That, in itself, was an accomplishment.  Blank Slate Press fulfilled a promise to writers if nothing else.  And in only a little more than a year, no less!   That’s good news.   If the actual books proved to be only so-so, well, there is honor in trying.

But of course, the time came.  “I’ll give you an early copy, let me know, honestly, what you think,” she said.  Immediately my mind ran a treadmill of worn out platitudes and phrases.  (Fascinating premise.  The cover is eye catching!  Good use of semi-colons.)  But more importantly, how would I  (or should I even) let her down if, after reading, all I thought she was doing was feeding a delusion?  Beg off with the truth, that I am only one reader?  That I am a cranky one on top of it?  That I am, after all, no critic?

And then I read the book.  The Samaritan, by Fred Venturini.

Forget the platitudes, the semi-colons, my miss-guided B.S.  This book rocks, and I mean that literally.  It agitated my nerve, shocked my senses, punched holes in my understanding.  If you read books (maybe especially if you haven’t picked up a book of fiction in years), on the first of February you can get a copy and read for it yourself .  I urge you to do so.   With one caution:  If you’re squeamish or reticent about brutal or graphic descriptions of violence, (it is raw and explicit), then you may want to pass on this.  For everyone else, there is much more in this book than that disclaimer does justice.

The Samaritan is about loss and regret and regeneration (you read that right) and how hope slides into the crevices of our darkest spaces and moves us on, despite.  It’s about a guy named Dale, whose talents take a backseat to his humanity, and his friend, whose buried humanity regenerates along with Dale’s actual body parts.  It’s about the illusion of healing, and the ways we can, and sometimes do, sabotage the best we have to offer.  It’s about coming up for air every time, just because.  It’s also relentlessly fast-paced, with a meter in each sentence and phrase that comes at you like a line drive, scoring strikes along the way that keep you asking why?  What more?

“…they were one person back then, one voice meant to draw you into trouble, hypnotic as strippers and capable of the same broken promises.”

“It was an endearing reaction to behold, seeing the light beaming through the seams of his ego.”

“Funny how hatred of something causes sign-building, but a passion to defend something just causes anger.”

“I cradled his head and started bawling, a cry that no bite could control, the kind of blazing sorrow that puts a bellows squeeze on lungs.”

It’s a man’s book; (a book about men and the boy’s voice inside that spurs them on), that women will feel true.   And while the premise is fantastical, the yearning to make a difference in this world, to shout “I was here” that seeps from the flesh and dreams of these characters, is something I think most of us feel at one time or another no matter our gender, our background or our specific desires.

Bravo to the author, Fred Venturini.  And to Kristy Blank Makansi and BSP, this reader is sincere; I’ll be glad to recommend this book to anyone. Just don’t ask me about your chili recipe.

All I can say is THANK YOU to Reggie, who I knew would tell me the truth–no matter what. To read a chapter of The Samaritan for yourself, click on over to http://scr.bi/i0k4N0.  Pre-ordering ability is coming soon.

Who do you write for?

10/03/2010

In today’s New York Times, author Michael Cunningham (The Hours), writes about the writer as translator and about the interactive relationship between the writer, the words written, and the reader. Good writing has rhythm–in the syntax, in the sentences, paragraphs and in the overall pacing of the book. When translating a book from one language to another, a translator must not only try to faithfully translate the meaning of the words, but to capture that rhythm. But, the act of translation goes deeper than that. The very act of writing means that the writer must capture the ideas in his/her head and translate them into words and sentences that both have the rhythm readers want and expect, the rhythm that makes reading a pleasure, but also translate the ideas into meaningful sentences the reader can “get.”

To do this well, Cunningham advises, the writer must not just write for him/herself, but must write for the reader. He says:

This brings us to the question of the relationship between writers and their readers, where another act of translation occurs.

I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand — that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space.

I remind them, as well, that no one wants to read their stories. There are a lot of other stories out there, and by now, in the 21st century, there’s been such an accumulation of literature that few of us will live long enough to read all the great stories and novels, never mind the pretty good ones. Not to mention the fact that we, as readers, are busy.

Writing for yourself can be done in a journal or a diary. It can be brilliant and wonderful, deep and insightful, poetic and rhythmic. But it may not necessarily be something anyone else wants to read. So writers who want to sell their work, who want other readers to read, enjoy, benefit from, and learn something new from their work, must write for someone besides themselves. They must write for the reader.

So, the question is: Who do you write for?

Tired of Love Triangles

08/31/2010

I have to admit that I’m getting a little tired of love triangles in fiction.

I should add the disclaimer that I don’t mean to offend anyone. I probably have dozens of love triangles in my own stories and I don’t even realize it. My concern is that they seem to be everywhere now, not because they’re realistic or even make for good fiction, but simply because everyone else is doing it.

What triggered this? I just read a description for a new YA novel that seemed pretty cool…until I reached the paragraph about how the main female character would be faced with a choice between a bad boy with a kind heart and a good boy with unknown motives. Immediately I had no interest in reading the book.

There are many books–especially in YA (young adult) genre fiction–that include this same love triangle. Twilight. The Hunger Games. A dozen other novels I’ve read about but haven’t made it big yet.

Maybe part of it is that there always seems to be a bad boy and a good boy. First, is that realistic? Do all women have this choice when making a decision about love? I’d think the choice would be more between a boy (good or bad) and lots of boys. Or no boy at all. Not two boys with polar-opposite personalities.

Two, does this make for good fiction? Is the ideal dynamic for a novel to have one female character and two very different male characters? Is that really the most compelling choice a female character can make?

While we’re at it, why don’t we see more male-female-female love triangles? Is that somehow less compelling?

I’m trying to think of a point in my life when I struggled between two females. I can literally only think of one time, a random party where two girls were taking turns hitting on me (it was surreal but flattering). Every other time I’ve struggled with love, it’s been a choice between the woman I’m with and some hypothetical, unknown woman that I wonder if I should be with. Or between the woman I’m with and no one at all. Or many women.

Why do we keep seeing this device in fiction?

In case you’ve been marooned on a desert island…

08/06/2010

Before you read any further, Blank Slate Press would like to thank Anna, our University of Chicago summer intern, for the work she’s done and the enthusiasm she brought to our new adventure in the future of publishing. We hope you’ll hear more from her in the future. And now, before she leaves us to return to the cold (or at least not desperately hot) north, her book review:

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This book review is probably redundant considering the widespread critical acclaim that literary master Gabriel García Márquez is in the habit of receiving. I have decided to write it anyways, though, in the off-chance that someone who has spent the last 50 years on a barren island in the middle of the vast Pacific has recently returned to civilization, the internet, and the Blank Slate Press blog. Such a person would have missed the 1967 publication, and consequent general adulation, of the book that I consider to be among the greatest ever written: Cien años de soledad, or 100 Years of Solitude.

The epic multi-generational story of the Buendía family is not one that I could properly analyze in a short book review, or even in a short book. Márquez weaves a tale that stretches across the lives of a large number of spectacularly unique characters, from the devastatingly beautiful and unsettlingly simple-minded Remedios, to the enigmatic, adopted Rebeca, prone to eating dirt and plaster, to the 17 brothers all named Aureliano and all destined to be gruesomely assassinated. Yet the truly amazing quality about Márquez’s writing is his ability to take this multitude of distinct stories, each filled with its own victories and heartbreaks, and create from them the undeniable feeling of a cohesive whole: a chronicle of love, anger, beauty, and solitude that transcends and defies the very concept of time.

This feeling that Márquez’s writing creates – that of an inexplicable link somehow crafted out of joy, love, suffering, loyalty, and above all, solitude, which unites the different generations of the Buendía family – is perfectly suited for the delicate magical realism which appears throughout the novel. Whether the surreal images that Márquez subtly weaves into his everyday occurrences (like the yellow butterflies that surround young Meme, filling the air around her with a fluttering brightness more thickly the closer she is to her lover) are responsible for the feeling of timeless unity or whether they merely complement it, I cannot say. What I do know, however, is that in 100 Years of Solitude Márquez has created a work whose richness of language is paralleled only by the richness of its characters. As I read about each of the members of the Buendía family, I feel along with them the painful, beautiful, aching love and desolation that marks them as a family “condemned to one hundred years of solitude.” It is an experience, and a novel, unlike any other I have had the privilege to read.

-Anna Tripodi, intern

Anene & Fred Write

07/13/2010

We’re delighted that both of our authors, Anene Tressler-Hauschultz and Fred Venturini, are hard at work creating awesome literary works. And we’re also delighted that they’re going to share insights into the writing process through their new blogs. Anene and Fred–while both extremely talented writers–have, shall we say, different styles. Take a look for yourself:

Fred’s blog (lits of pubs and an excerpt from The Samaritan are up. The first blog post is percolating in Fred’s brain)

Anene’s blog (first post is up)

Did I mention we’re delighted?

BSP Announces our Flagship Authors

07/06/2010

Here’s our “official” press release:

Blank Slate Press Announces Flagship Authors
Anene Tressler-Hauschultz and Fred Venturini Selected by Editorial Review Board

ST LOUIS, Missouri, July 6, 2010—After an open application process and three-month search for authors in the greater Saint Louis area, Blank Slate Press is pleased to announce Anene Tressler-Hauschultz and Fred Venturini as its flagship authors. Founded in February by three  St. Louis residents with experience with writing and publishing, Kristina Blank Makansi, Jason Makansi, and Jamey Stegmaier, the Blank Slate Press’ goal is to “discover, nurture, publish, and promote” new voices from among the many talented writers in our area. The selection process was aided by an Editorial Review Board comprised of nine diverse area readers

Ms. Tressler-Hauschultz’s novel is a character-driven work focusing on a St. Louis priest and hospital counselor whose already beleaguered life begins to unravel after he is tapped to minister to a small South American circus bequeathed to an order of aging nuns in St. Louis. Ms. Tressler-Hauschultz, is an award-winning fiction and poetry writer whose work has appeared in Best of Writers at Work anthology, The Distillery, Treasure House, Currents, River Blossom and Word Wright’s. While at UMSL, she won the English Department’s  annual prizes for fiction and for poetry and she has studied with Richard Bausch at Johns Hopkins, Nicholas Delbanco at Breadloaf, Claire Messud at Sewanee, Lorrie Moore at Vermont Studio Center, and Robert Olmstead at Rappahannnock. She also attended two workshops at the University of Iowa’s summer program and spent a month at Wellspring House in Massachusetts.  Most recently, she has taken two semester-long poetry classes with David Clewell, poet laureate of Missouri. She holds undergraduate degrees in Communications and Nursing from Saint Louis University, Masters Degrees from Washington University and the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and she teaches scriptwriting and media writing as an adjunct professor in the School of Communications at Webster University.

Mr.  Venturini’s novel examines the dark side of human nature as it follows a bright but outcast young man who, after he discovers he can regrow limbs and organs, becomes the star of The Samaritan,  a television reality show on which injured or dying patients literally win a piece of him. Mr. Venturini, received a B.S. in English from MacMurray College in 2002, and an MFA from Lindenwood University in 2009. He has 19 short stories published or due to be published. From tightly woven horror and unmitigated creepiness, to literary fiction, Fred’s gift for pacing and clarity—and for getting under your skin—is beyond powerful. Best-selling novelist Chuck Palahniuk called “Gasoline,” one of Mr. Venturini’s short stories, “solid gold fantastic.” Fatally Yours, a book review blog, called his story “Detail,” included in Death Panel, a collection of short stories published by Comet Press, “My absolute favorite of the collection …. Precise and perfect, this short story had me by the short hairs,” while another reviewer described it as “where CSI meets Car and Driver.”

“Although Anene and Fred were the clear choices of everyone on the Editorial Review Board, we were delighted at both the number and quality of the author applications we received,” said Kristina Blank Makansi, Blank Slate Press’ CEO. “Now, we are excited to work with both Anene and Fred and to promote and showcase two of the talented writers from our region.”

About Blank Slate Press

Blank Slate Press is a newly formed literary arts incubator and publishing company focusing exclusively on discovering, nurturing, publishing and promoting authors from the greater Saint Louis region. Blank Slate Press acts as a partner to its selected authors and works with them to build the author’s brand, adhere to milestones to complete their work, and create and implement an innovative, customized marketing plan for the author and his/her work. Blank Slate Press brings the latest technologies and social networking ideas to bear on the writing, publishing, delivery and promotion of literary works, and seeks to apply a venture capitalist sensibility to publishing. For more information on how to help Blank Slate Press support area writers, please visit, http://blankslatepress.com.

A poem for writers

07/02/2010

Thanks to Reggie for passing along this poem from our new poet laureate:

Berryman

by W.S. Merwin
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write


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