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  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , inspiration, kurt vonnegut, , , , ,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 9:00 pm on 2016/05/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , kurt vonnegut, , , , , , ,   

    6 Authors who Turned Uninspiring Careers into Grist for Their Stories 

    Anyone who has tried to make a living as a writer knows it’s hardly an easy road, and one piece of advice has held true since “working on that novel” became a thing: don’t quit your day job—even if you hate it. In addition to keeping you housed and fed, that day job hate can actually be a good thing—some famous novelists’ disastrous pre-fame careers directly informed their best work. Does this mean all aspiring novelists should seek out the worst jobs they can? Actually, maybe. As these six stories demonstrate, there’s gold to be mined from misery.

    Franz Kafka
    Insurance clerk
    Book: The Trial
    Franz Kafka was clearly not the world’s happiest person, and it’s easy to imagine part of that unhappiness had to do with his need to earn money, generally through a litany of depressing, uninspiring jobs. Kafka thought he could work as a clerk at an insurance company during the day and then have time to write at night—the fever dream of writers to this day—but slowly, the job took over his life, demanding more and more of his time. The Trial offers so many clear connections to the drudgery of endless bureaucracy, it’s clear we’ve all benefited from Kafka’s unhappy career.

    Kurt Vonnegut
    Managing a car dealership (badly)
    Book: Breakfast of Champions
    Kurt Vonnegut liked to joke that the reason he never received a Nobel Prize was due to his early, disastrous career managing the first Saab dealership in the United States. Under Vonnegut’s not so steady hand, the business came and went in less than 12 months, and it was years before Saab could mount a comeback effort. Of course, those early Saabs were much different (and much, much worse) than the modern models, so it might not have been entirely Vonnegut’s fault—but there’s no doubt much of his miserable experience at the dealership inspired parts of Breakfast of Champions and its deranged car dealer protagonist, Dwayne Hoover, offering a clear glimpse of day-job disaster being spun into gold.

    Roald Dahl
    Taste-testing chocolates
    Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    There really are candies called gobstoppers, and they’ve been around since the late 19th century. Given that, it’s no surprise Dahl’s famous Everlasting Gobstopper is based on a favorite candy from his childhood. It is a little more surprising to learn Dahl worked as a taste-tester for Cadbury while he was at school, gobbling down chocolates and reporting his impressions. This led him to become a bit obsessed with the Cadbury factory, and he often imagined the “inventing room” where all the new candies were developed. It’s a short leap from a vague stomachache to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Okay, so maybe “child chocolate taste-tester” isn’t so much a failed career as an awesome career.

    Mitch Albom
    Musician and songwriter
    Book: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
    Mitch Albom has succeeded first as a sports columnist and later as a novelist, but his first passion, and his first attempts at a career, were in the music industry. Now, “failure” is a strong term for a guy who has had a few songs recorded and even included in film soundtracks, but Albom himself is pretty frank about how his hopes for a career in music never came close to true success. He turned to writing instead, and his most recent novel, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, draws on his experience and knowledge of music in pretty obvious ways. It’s a book that probably wouldn’t exist if Albom hadn’t tried to make it as a musician—and failed.

    Stephen King
    High school janitor
    Book: Carrie
    It has been a long time since Stephen King needed to work for a living, but back in the mid-1970s, he was just like everyone else, struggling to get by with whatever jobs he could land. He worked as a janitor in a local high school, and while there’s no reason to think he wasn’t a fantastic custodial worker, his work mopping up after the kids obviously inspired his first published novel, Carrie. King’s on record about how his access to the girls’ showers inspired the opening scene of the novel—a book he almost threw away after it garnered a stack of rejections. We can thank his wife and (we assume) the fact that he hated working as a janitor for his decision to revise it one last time, with historic results.

    William Faulkner
    Book: Soldier’s Pay
    William Faulkner is one of our greatest novelists, but before he published his first book, Soldier’s Pay, he landed a gig as postmaster at the University of Mississippi, where he was famously terrible at his job. He was known to show up at odd hours, work on his novel while on the clock, and even purposely throw away mail. In 1924, he was forced to resign from his position, and penned a terse resignation letter that lives on in infamy, closing with the epic mic-drop: “I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.” His debut novel, about the drudgery of a veteran’s return to daily life, includes a memorable passage snidely commenting on the folks who would show up to check if they had received mail, despite having no cause to think they had (this was before junk mail, obviously).

  • Melissa Albert 6:30 pm on 2014/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , habits, , , honore de balzac, , kurt vonnegut, , , , , , writers, ,   

    Try These Famous Authors’ Tricks to Slay Your NaNo Novel! 

    Henry Miller on WritingWe’re about to enter the second weekend of National Novel Writing Month! Are you, the eager NaNo novelist:

    a. Looking forward to continuing your dedicated 1,667-word-a-day writing
    b. Looking forward to catching up on missed word count from the past week
    c. Drowning your low word count sorrows in other people’s novels, which make it look so. damn. easy.

    Whether you’re rounding the bend on 15,000 words or barely scraping your way toward 1,000, it’s not too late to hit the 50,000-word mark. Take a page out of these famous authors’ books (heh), with tips ranging from the truly helpful to the possibly insane. Happy noveling!

    Coffee, coffee, coffee. When that fails, coffee. Proust tossed back espresso, L. Frank Baum started every day with a slew of cream-and-sugared cups, and Honoré de Balzac devoted an entire essay to the “pleasures and pains” of the magical beverage—though claims that he drank 50 cups a day are difficult to substantiate.

    Eat apples. Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald can’t be wrong. Christie liked to eat them in the bathtub while she brainstormed, Dickens preferred them baked, and Fitzgerald paired his with canned meat. Maybe better for the brainstorming side of things, so your hands will be free to type.

    Stick like glue to your promised word count. We all know it takes just 1,667 words a day to hit your NaNo goal, but take too many days off and that count starts climbing. Make like Arthur Conan Doyle and write 3,000 words a day, every day. You’ll hit your goal on November 17, and can spend the next 13 days drinking Mai Tais and online shopping. Or, you know, writing even more.

    Imprison yourself. “It’s so easy to say ‘stick to your word count,'” you’re thinking, “but it’s a lot harder to do it.” Unless you’re Victor Hugo, who forced himself to stay inside his writing room by literally hiding all his public-appropriate clothes so he had no decent way to leave the house. Alternately, you could take a page out of Roman orator Demosthenes’ book: he would shave half his head, thus embarrassing himself into staying at home writing till it grew back. But this is Boss Level writer-shaming, and not entirely recommended. We suggest grabbing your laptop, turning off the internet, and getting reeeeally cozy under a million blankets on the couch. You won’t want to move, and will have nothing to do but write.

    Write, rest, repeat. If you’re one of those lucky few who can bend their schedule to fit in writing at the same time and place every day, do it. It works for Haruki Murakami, whose writing days start at 4 a.m., and who compares writing a novel to “survival training.” If you can face your alarm going off even an hour earlier, you’ll find you have a magical pocket of untapped typing time every morning.

    Write in crayon! It was good enough for James Joyce, who worked on parts of Finnegan’s Wake in Crayola. Word is out on whether he wrote any part of it at a Shoney’s diner table.

    Exercise! Murakami swims and runs, Kurt Vonnegut did pushups. And if half the NaNo novelists on my Twitter feed are to be believed, plenty of people take NaNo-related dance breaks. It can only help.

    Know what’s coming next. Hemingway liked to stop when he still knew where exactly the story was going, so he could pick up the next morning typing at a rapid clip. We know it’s hard to cut yourself off in the middle of a scene, but it’ll keep your brain and fingers nimble the next time you sit down.

    And, finally, some perfectly NaNo-suited writing “commandments” from Henry Miller:
    Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
    When you can’t create you can work.
    Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

  • Ryan Britt 3:30 pm on 2014/09/25 Permalink
    Tags: , fantastic voyage, howard pyle, , kurt vonnegut, , paycheck, , , sir arthur conan doyle, , the merry adventures of robin hood, , , whovians   

    A Reading List for the New Season of Doctor Who 

    doctorwholitinspirationsOverwhelmingly, fans of Doctor Who have strong opinions about Doctor Who. Do we love Peter Capaldi’s no-hugging grumpier Doctor, or are we having a hard time understanding his accent? Does everyone miss Matt Smith already? Are the new episodes too confusing, or not confusing enough?

    Perhaps we need to put our quibbles aside and start reading. Because if you take a look at this season’s plot lines, you might notice the show is drawing heavily on books, books you should probably read right now.

    Here’s a rundown of Doctor Who’s new season so far, with the great books that inspired each episode.

    “Deep Breath”
    The debut of Capldai’s furious-eyebrowed Doctor began in a Victorian setting, a departure from the past several modern-day Doctor regenerations. This gaslight atmosphere was for more than just mood, as elements of the plot were taken from the heavy-hitters of Victorian literature: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. In the episode, a rogue dinosaur spontaneously combusts, leading the Doctor to play detective in order to determine if there have been similar mysterious occurrences (of spontaneous combustion…presumably there was just the one rogue dinosaur). His deduction—that the dinosaur blowing up was murder—is totally in line with a Sherlock Holmes leap of logic, and the idea of an apparent accident concealing a planned murder is a big part of the classic Holmes mystery “The Bruce-Partington Plans.” Madame Vastra and Jenny’s presence in this episode also continues their Holmesian relationship with Scotland Yard. Despite the fact that characters like Robin Hood are often “real” in the Doctor Who universe, it appears Sherlock Holmes is still “fictional.”

    This one also has a little bit of a The Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on, insofar as the blowing up of the dinosaur (and all the other deaths in the episode) is part of a master plan to conceal all the evidence. Dorian Gray, too, has a friend totally dissolve the corpse of an artist in order to dispose of some evidence.

    “Into the Dalek”
    The premise of this one is a science fiction oldie-but-goodie. In order to perform surgery on a Dalek, the Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers have to be shrunken down to super-tiny size. When the Doctor gets wind of this, the first thing he says is “Fantastic idea for a movie,” a nod to the film Fantastic Voyage, the novelization of which was written by prolific sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. (This would be like John Scalzi or recent Hugo winner Ann Leckie writing the novelization of Transformers: Age of Extinction.) Asimov did eventually write an original “sequel,” Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. Guess what part of the body the miniature people have to enter.

    “Robots of Sherwood”
    The title makes this one fairly easy to spot; clearly, the episode was taken from the legends of Robin Hood. Ah, but which Robin Hood legends? This Who adventure posits that the fictional Robin Hood was actually a real person, yet not all the events we see correspond to those super old ballads (where he’s sometimes called Robyn Hode), instead relying mostly on Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which in turn heavily influenced the famous Errol Flynn and Disney films. To put it another way, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is a novelization of a ballad of an oft-told story, meaning a lot of what’s in there was invented for the book. Still, it’s a great read.

    In this episode, the Doctor gets really interested in ghosts, and, in particular, the familiar fear of someone grabbing your foot from under the bed. Through topsy-turvy, timey-wimey shenanigans, we learn the ghost under the Doctor’s childhood bed was actually a time-traveling Clara. This episode might not have an obvious literary ancestor, but the repetition of the word “Listen” is a big tip-off to a possible inspiration. The second chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, begins: “Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” The subject of Slaughterhouse-Five obviously concerns how time travel makes one feel about life, and Vonnegut also employs the word “listen,” both in this book and in other works and speeches, as a sort of signal for kindness. In this excellent Doctor Who episode, it’s the same: at first “listen” seems ominous, but later, it becomes a word of kindness for the Doctor, and comfort, too. Vonnegut probably would have loved it.

    “Time Heist”
    This one is all Philip K. Dick. When the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the middle of a bank robbery with no memory as to how they got there or why they’re the ones robbing the bank, the first story that comes to mind should be “Paycheck.” In this classic Dick tale, a man named Jennings has his memory erased after doing a job for which he expected to be paid handsomely. Now unable to remember what the job entailed, the man is stunned when, instead of a paycheck, he’s bizarrely given a strange bag containing all sorts of stuff, stuff he eventually ends up needing very badly. As in the Doctor Who episode, breaking the law is involved, and, of course, the future benefactor who’s the big helper in “Paycheck” turns out to be a time-traveling version of Jennings himself. A character like Jennings can be forgiven for not figuring this out right away, but an experienced time traveler like the Doctor? No way.

    What are some of your favorite Doctor Who literary mash-ups?

  • Maurie Backman 7:00 pm on 2014/08/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , eve ensler, , , , , jack canfield, , kurt vonnegut, , , ,   

    14 Writers Who Would Have Been Great Collaborators 

    A Clockwork OrangeWe literary enthusiasts tend to have our favorite writers, both classic and contemporary—and yes, that’s “writers,” as in plural, because as most of us will openly admit, it’s hard to choose just one. Now, imagine two of your favorites pairing up to form a would-be literary dream team! We matched up these talented writers and tried to envision the masterpieces their collaborations would have yielded. While it’s too bad these literary pioneers never did get a chance to work jointly, at least as far as we know, it’s fun to picture the ways they could have paired up to create some undeniably fascinating new works.

    D.H. Lawrence and Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Imagine all the steamy Puritan love stories these two could have come up with. Perhaps Hester Prynne would’ve benefitted from some of Connie Chatterley’s tips on seduction. After all, if you’re going to be branded for life, at least make sure it’s worthwhile.

    Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell
    What do you get when you a take a black humor-driven satirist and an unabashed cynic and put them in a room together? A picture of a doomed dystopian society like you’ve never seen before. Playing off of each other’s pessimism, there’s no telling what the future might hold for humankind if left up to these two, but let’s just say it’s really, really not looking good.

    Sylvia Plath and Jack Canfield
    They say opposites attract, and we think a healthy dose of Chicken Soup for the Soul would have helped the perpetually dejected Ms. Plath take the darkness factor down a notch in some of her writing. Not that we’d want it to be all inspirational and rosy either, but we think poor Esther Greenwood deserved at least the occasional reprieve from her sleepless, depressive existence.

    Agatha Christie and Kathy Reichs
    Miss Marple would have had even more of a leg up had she been privy to the forensic techniques employed by Reichs. Rather than rely on instinct and intuition alone, the resourceful sleuth could have used science to her advantage in solving some of England’s most puzzling crimes.

    Anthony Burgess and Roald Dahl
    Imagine the chaos if A Clockwork Orange‘s rogue narrator Alex were to take a few pointers from Dahl’s Matilda. Perhaps the violence factor would’ve been less severe, with Alex and his gang focusing more on witty trickery aimed at teaching misguided adults a life lesson or two.

    Frank McCourt and F. Scott Fitzgerald
    McCourt’s somber tales of impoverishment and tragedy could’ve had an impact on the way Jay Gatsby saw the world. Rather than relentlessly pursuing a life of wealth and indulgence, maybe Gatsby would have learned the very important lesson that while money can perhaps buy you a fancy car and a decked-out mansion, it ultimately can’t buy you happiness.

    Margaret Atwood and Eve Ensler
    Perhaps Atwood would have more fully embraced her calling as a social science fiction novelist had she gotten the chance to draw some direct inspiration from Ensler. After all, anyone bold enough to document the various injustices suffered by vaginas would’ve been the perfect motivator for a brilliant novelist teetering on the edge of feminism.

    Which of your favorite writers would you love to see team up?

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