Thursday, December 07, 2023

Episode 45: Specific vs. Generic (Or is it Factual vs. Archetypal?)

It's always good to load up your story with specifics, right? Not so fast! James talks about his decision to leave some information out of his new novel Bride of the Tornado, and I quibble.


Steve Bird said...

A few thoughts about this episode:

Pat Conroy was able to get an entire career out of thinly veiled memoir fiction.

There are a couple of memes I've seen through the years arguing that Dante's Inferno is Mary Sue fanfic. This is usually shared in defense of Mary Sue fanfic, but clearly Matt would have a different take. (The same has been said about Paradise Lost.)

In high school I was assigned "Run With The Horsemen" by Ferrol Sams. Matt's description of Dante's Inferno could have just as easily been applied to this fictionalized memoir. It was clearly a guy who wanted to write a novel where he actually did all the things he'd only fantasized about doing to folks who had irritated him. It just felt petty and mean to me.

Matt Bird said...

Yes, Conroy is a good example of an author who was able to get more than one good book out of his own life material. Phillip Roth is another. I get the feeling I could get more than one out of mine, if I really wanted to. We'll see how the first one goes.

James Kennedy said...

I get that one can feel refreshingly irreverent by using internet-damaged terms like "Mary Sue fanfic" to characterize The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost, but I think that if that's the entirety of one's literary reaction to those works, then you're not bringing your A game to reading them. I'm reminded of Sam Bankman-Fried characterizing Shakespeare as a "shitty writer." That says more about Bankman-Fried than it does about Shakespeare. It can be difficult to understand classic works that are separated from us by centuries. They can feel off-puttingly alien. But part of serious reading is getting outside oneself and expanding one's categories.

As for Philip Roth, of course all writers can't help but put some of their own lives in their works. Some do this more than others. There's a lot of Roth's life in his books. Even still, I think to identify Roth outright with Nathan Zuckerman, Mickey Sabbath, Alexander Portnoy etc. is an error. (I haven't read Conroy.)

Joel W. said...

James, I've found that many internet commenters have an off-putting fascination with using phrases like "dogshit writing" or the "author is trash" or even just saying something is "bad writing." Meanwhile I can ask typical people in real life what they think about a movie or book, and they use more measured phrases like "it was a bit boring" or "I don't know about the ending," or even just "I didn't really like it" -- generally less callous terminology. This might simply be because you have to be a certain kind of driven, charged individual to post comments on the internet in the first place. (wait a minute...)

In contrast, something I've appreciated in Matt's blog posts is that they are rarely cruel. He might write posts about whether or not stories "get away" with certain elements or how he might meddle with certain plot developments and character actions. It's almost approached more as a mental exercise.