Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cardboard Car

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Rules for Writing Fiction

The UK Guardian asked a number of fiction writers to come up with lists of rules inspired by Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing." Leonard cautions against using any word but "said" in dialogue ("The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.") and favors dialogue over character descriptions.

One of the pithiest and entertaining lists came from American novelist Richard Ford, author of The Lay of the Land (2006):
1. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

2. Don't have children.

3. Don't read your reviews.

4. Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)

5. Don't have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.

6. Don't drink and write at the same time.

7. Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)

8. Don't wish ill on your colleagues.

9. Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.

10. Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.
Other gems from various contributors include:
"Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide." --Roddy Doyle

"Read Keats's letters." --Helen Dunmore

"Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity." --Goeff Dyer

"The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator." --Jonathan Franzen

"Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go." --AL Kennedy

"Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious." --PD James

"Stop reading fiction – it's all lies anyway, and it doesn't have anything to tell you that you don't know already (assuming, that is, you've read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven't you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction)." --Will Self

"No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working." --Colm Tóibín

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A Bukowski Stamp?

There's a petition that has been languishing on the internets for the last few months, part of an effort to put the poet and novelist Charles Bukowski on a U.S. stamp. Bukowski, a notorious drunk and disgruntled postal employee, died in 1994 at the age of 74. Is Bukowski a good candidate for a stamp? He hated the postal service, and wrote as much.

Here's the text of the petition:
Dear members of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee,

I am writing to propose that the American novelist, poet and screenwriter Charles Bukowski be honored with a commemorative U.S. postal stamp to be issued on March 9, 2014, the twentieth anniversary of his death.

Charles Bukowski is uniquely suited for this honor. For in addition to being an acclaimed author with a growing international following, he is also perhaps the most famous American postal worker after Benjamin Franklin, and his landmark first novel "Post Office" is a wry portrait of the inner workings of the service where he was employed through age 49.

Bukowski's popularity among readers is unquestioned, but he has recently received a pair of honors which speak to his abiding reputation in American letters. In February 2008, the small cottage where Bukowski lived for many years was named a Cultural-Historic Monument of the City of Los Angeles, and in 2006 his literary archives were acquired by the Huntington Library.

A Charles Bukowski postage stamp would be a worthy tribute to a gifted soul who transformed himself from a middle aged civil servant into an international literary lion, and who never lost his sensitivity towards the ordinary lives of the people of his hometown of Los Angeles. I hope that you will seriously consider this proposal at your next meeting.

Yours sincerely,
The Undersigned
As of today, 510 people have signed the online petition; the goal is 10,000. The deadline is March 1. Oh well.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Quote of the Day: Jake Dobkin

"I don't think a paper that loses millions of dollars a year and funds itself by taking extortionary loans from plutocratic Mexican billionaires can be said to be competing in anything, Metro or otherwise. My feeling is you only get to congratulate yourself if you produce a great product and make money doing it— you don't get any points for doing just the first half. And that doesn't just go for you guys— I don't think any magazine or newspaper that supports itself by sucking on the teat of some old rich guy (or his heirs!) should be giving anyone else advice.

"Specifically in local, I don't think the Times has had an original idea in years. It's got a metro staff of what, 60 reporters, and look at all this innovation: Cityroom, which is a fairly lazy and sleep-inducing ripoff of Gothamist, and The Local, a recently closed ripoff of Brownstoner. Five years ago The Times could have bought the best local blogs in New York for a song— instead, they decided they could do it better in-house, and completely surrendered the 20-40 year old demographic to sites like ours."
That extended quote is from Jake Dobkin, the co-founder and publisher of the New York City blog It's part of his answer to a question the New York Times's David Carr sent him in advance of his appearance for a panel discussion on local news.

The biggest problem with Dobkin's insistance that the Times needs to start acting more like Gothamist in order to survive -- in his words, "doing less original reporting and more editorial curation" -- is that Dobkin's blog can't exist in its current form without bigger media sources publishing free content created by large staffs of reporters.

But Dobkin addresses that next:
"I've been asked a bunch of times whether I'm worried Gothamist won't have anything left to curate once the Times goes out of business. But I'm not— first of all, new billionaires seem to roll up every year with their vanity media products, dumping tons of new content at our doorstep. Rupert's new retread of the New York Sun has got to be worth a couple of dozen stories a day at least. Between those billionaire rubes, the dozens of mainstream media outlets that survive (radio, tv, local papers), and the hundreds of hyperlocal neighborhood blogs that spring up like mushrooms every year, I don't think we'll ever run out of local content to pass through our curation machine."
This is essentially what blogs like mine and his do: we cut and paste parts of original content from the web and either comment on it or just post it, congratulating ourselves for spotting it, acting as if we're providing a service.

Blogs at their worst are either parasitic aggregators of the stuff other people got paid to create or vanity projects that are little better than teenagers' diaries.

The best blogs either produce a lot of original content (nothing beats real research and reporting, even if it's phone calls or e-mails) or do such a good job amassing outside content that they become, like Gothamist, a valuable clearing house for local information and news. (When I want to know, for example, if there are any new details about a suicide on the subway tracks, Gothamist is far superior to the Times, or even local radio.) The other key to great blogging? Frequent posts. Yeah, I know.
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