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Why Was Jack London’s Wife Written Out of His Legend?

Even if you’ve read Jack London, you might not know Martin Eden; whereas outdoors adventures The Call of the Wild and White Fang are frequently assigned in schools, the semi-autobiographical story of romance and writing is less well-known. The 2019 film adaptation by Italian director Pietro Marcello, released in the U.S. this October, may not move the needle too much—it’s a small release, with mixed reviews. But what’s really interesting about Martin Eden isn’t the story in the book or in the movie. It’s the story behind the story. 

London wrote Martin Eden (originally titled Success) during a voyage he and his wife, Charmian Kittredge London, took through the South Seas on a small yacht called the Snark. Charmian had given Jack the idea for the journey, one she had seen enacted by Joshua Slocum in his book about his own journey, Sailing Alone Around the World. She read Slocum’s book when it came out in 1900 and then saw the author speak at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. When she and Jack started their affair, while he was still married to his first wife, the idea of this nautical journey around the world together was one of the shared interests that brought them together. 

Martin Eden focuses on a former sailor’s quest to find a better life through the pursuit of knowledge and art. Many scholars have observed that the text is somewhat autobiographical, but unlike the solitary Eden, who struggles with isolation from both his working-class background and the society he attempts to fit into, London was anything but a solo artist. Beginning with his 1904 novel The Sea-Wolf, London relied on Charmian to edit, type and sometimes even ghost-write parts of his famous novels. Martin Eden was no exception. Jack and Charmian began working on the novel while taking a break from their expected seven-year journey around the world, stopping to repair their boat in Honolulu in the summer of 1907, and Jack finished writing the novel in Tahiti in February of 1908. 

Marcello’s film emphasizes the androcentric lens. A young seaman who dreams of more for his life is transformed into an intellectually curious creature via his love for an upper-class woman, Elena (changed from Ruth in the novel). In Marcello’s telling, Elena and all of the other women who play opposite Martin are mere cardboard cutouts: flat and without growth. Martin (using their bodies, or minds) propels himself into a successful career as a bestselling author. When he meets his success, though, Martin finds it distasteful. He turns away from it—and from Elena, who comes back to him—because he feels that she, and the world around her, lack authenticity. Instead, the movie ends with a scene reminiscent of London’s ending. Except, instead of Eden jumping into the sea from a steamer bound for a new life in the South Seas, Marcell’s Eden just walks into the sea to his death. 

Both the movie and the book begin with a vision of a better life. Martin is fascinated by a painting of the sea he sees inside of Elena/Ruth’s eloquent home. He’s fascinated by how from far away the sea, and the boat within it, are beautiful, but up close they are just “careless dabs of paint.” To Martin, the idea that the painting’s beauty was only a trick was puzzling, foreshadowing the disillusionment he will have when he looks more closely at Elena and the others of her class and finds their beauty and wisdom disappears..

We can experience something similar by taking an up-close look at Jack London’s life. From far away, London was an individual genius writer. But up close, the ugly truth, the brushstrokes, that made that illusion so beautiful from afar are fully visible. Each adventure London sought and experienced, each book he wrote was aided by another force of nature: his second wife, Charmian Kittredge London.

Each book London wrote was aided by another force of nature: his second wife, Charmian Kittredge London.

When I was in the sixth grade, I visited Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, CA on a field trip. Prior to this, I’d spent most of my childhood writing stories; however, I had no idea that one could actually become a writer. I had never even met a writer until the day I walked into the museum at the House of Happy Walls at Jack London State Park. Suddenly, walking through the exhibits, I saw you could spend your life traveling the world and writing about it. I fell instantly in love with Jack London and vowed to read everything he had ever written. What I didn’t know, though—and didn’t find out for decades—is that the house I’d visited that day belonged not to one writer, but two. Charmian Kittredge London, Jack London’s wife, was a writer, an adventurer, and the reason why this museum and park even existed, but when I walked through the museum, her story was not told. This idea of a woman’s life being devalued, or in Charmian’s case, eclipsed by her husband’s life, is all too familiar, especially in the literary world. And it is why I’ve spent the last six years of my life digging up the forgotten life of Charmian Kittredge London. 

Before they left on their long anticipated Snark journey the public was shocked that Charmian was not just going to be a passenger, but an actual member of the crew. The San Francisco Chronicle described her “In bloomer will tread the deck—Young woman to bear her share of navigating vessel during 7 years’ cruise.”  Although Charmian thought nothing of signing on as an able-bodied sailor, the idea of a woman disobeying gender norms caused several “concerned” citizens to write to Jack about their apprehension for Charmian’s health. She later remembered one of these letters: “I am minded of the solicitous old sea dog who warned Jack letter that it was not safe to take a woman outside the Golden Gate in a boat of the Snark’s size; that we would be bruised over our ‘entire person’ unless the boat be padded.”

It was on the Snark journey that Charmian came into her own as a writer. On the trip she’d begin to write three of the four books she’d publish during her lifetime:  The Log of the Snark, Our Hawaii and Our Hawaii: Islands and Islanders. As she wrote to her aunt while traveling on the first leg of the journey from San Francisco to Hawaii, 

I seem to be coming into my own…Without office life to vex & distract, my life is all education–the very living of it is such, & the work I do for Jack, is practical education, is practical education; there’s no let-up. Wouldn’t it be fine to go on writing? Perhaps I shall.

The thought of not only creating but publishing a book thrilled her. The public, the press and even Jack’s friends had been hard on Charmian since she married Jack and his oversized personality left her little room for her to be herself. But on the Snark, all changed. 

Over the next three years, Charmian would write every day about what they saw and experienced traveling from island to island on the Snark. But many of the extraordinary experiences she had, especially those that challenged gender norms, were excluded from her husband’s retelling of their adventures. For example, when Jack and Charmian spent a day surfing in Waikiki, Charmian was proud to catch a wave several times. So was Jack. When he wrote about his experiences surfing in the essay “A Royal Sport,” he failed to mention that his wife had successfully mastered a run or two. It was an omission that would recur throughout Jack’s account of the trip. Charmian understood that Jack’s brand was adventure. The more daring and interesting he appeared in his episode about their trip the more copies he would sell. And his feat of surfing on a ten-foot wooden surfboard would not have looked so adventurous if his small, fit wife had also accomplished the same thing. 

The Londons in Hawaii in 1915

They would visit seven major islands: Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands, before their adventure ended abruptly in Sydney, Australia, because Jack developed a strange and troubling sickness. Charmian based her own writing on Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, writing chronologically in a daily log that captured not only Jack’s adventures but her own. Writing the Log of the Snark shifted something in her and by the end of the journey Charmian saw herself as a writer. It was after their return from this journey, buoyed by this new found confidence, that Charmian began to provide even more input into her husband’s writing.

Had Charmian fully come into her own as writer before Jack began discussing and writing Martin Eden with her, she would likely have had more of her influence in it. Ruth (and subsequently Elena in the film adaptation) might have been a more dynamic character. In later years, Charmian would help Jack plan, research and write The Valley of the Moon, in which Saxon, the protagonist, is a strong woman who leads her husband on a quest out of the poverty of inner city life in Oakland to find a better, more meaningful life. But due to Jack’s image as an individual author, and the near-erasure of Charmian’s biography over the past 80 years, the truth of her input was never seen. When it comes to the lives of women, it’s time for us to step closer to the beautiful paintings of male lives and ask: What brush strokes were added by others to make that art?

The post Why Was Jack London’s Wife Written Out of His Legend? appeared first on Electric Literature.

2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 18

For the 2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets write a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Today’s prompt is to write a sea creature poem.

For today’s prompt, write a sea creature poem. Your sea creature could be the garden variety sea creature, like a shark, dolphin, or seahorse. Or it could be something more exotic like Godzilla, merfolk, or the kraken. Whatever your sea creature (or creatures) are, have fun poeming.

Remember: These prompts are springboards to creativity. Use them to expand your possibilities, not limit them.

Note on commenting: If you wish to comment on the site, go to Disqus to create a free new account, verify your account on this site below (one-time thing), and then comment away. It’s free, easy, and the comments (for the most part) don’t require manual approval like on the old site.

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Poem your days away with Robert Lee Brewer’s Smash Poetry Journal. This fun poetic guide is loaded with 125 poetry prompts, space to place your poems, and plenty of fun poetic asides.

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Here’s my attempt at a Sea Creature Poem:

“a giant fish with golden wings”

& then the wild animal chases me
out of the woods & across the grass
to the edge of the cliff over the water
crashing against rocks & swirling
maliciously but i only take one glance
behind me to see teeth bared & growling
& leap into the darkness toward
the cold embrace of the unlived sea
& i disappear even from my own thoughts
to emerge from the water on the back
of a giant fish with golden wings
& it tells me the way home leads
through the mountains & that what
i fear most is what i must face

5 Tips For Writing A Multi-POV Short Story Or Novel | Writer’s Relief

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5 Tips For Writing A Multi-POV Short Story Or Novel | Writer’s Relief

When you’re writing a short story or novel, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is determining which character’s point of view (POV) you want to use. Typically, a short story or novel is written from the protagonist’s point of view. But for some storylines, the perspectives of two or more characters may be equally important to the plot. A multi-POV short story or novel follows multiple characters’ perspectives, switching between narrators at key moments. While using multiple POVs can make your writing dynamic and hook your readers, it can be very difficult to pull off—there’s a lot to juggle! Writer’s Relief has some advice and tips for writing a successful multi-POV short story or novel.

5 Secrets To Successfully Writing A Multi-POV Short Story Or Novel

Give each POV character a distinctive voice. Create a strong, unique voice for each of your characters in both dialogue and your narrative. Each character should sound distinct enough that readers can follow who’s who. Creating a full personality for each of your characters will help their voices sound authentic and individual. Need help developing an authentic voice? Read this article for tips on voice from the incomparable Neil Gaiman!

Stick to one POV per chapter or scene. Maintain smooth, clear transitions when switching between POV characters—it can be very jarring for your readers to switch perspectives unexpectedly. You should only switch POVs where it makes logical sense, such as after a scene break or in a new chapter. Many writers choose to have POV characters alternate chapters. Plus, ending on a cliffhanger for one character and then switching to another perspective can be an extremely useful tool in building tension and momentum in your story.

Use the most compelling POV. We wouldn’t recommend writing one scene multiple times from each character’s perspective (although it can be done effectively if handled properly). Of course, more than one POV character may be present, so you’ll have to decide which character should narrate that scene. When pacing the scene, ask yourself: Which character has the most to gain or lose right now, whether emotionally or practically? Will a certain character’s perspective or narrative style make the scene more impactful? If the scene has a certain “big reveal” that you’d like your readers to take away, which character will best get that across? The answers to these questions will help you choose the best narrator for each scene.

Don’t include too many POV characters. Some stories (like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series) can use many POV characters to their advantage—but this is the exception, not the rule. In general, multi-POV novels and short stories will have just two or three point-of view characters. Going from one perspective to another to another between too many characters can confuse your readers and make it difficult to follow the plot or feel a rising sense of tension. Trying to write too many POV characters might also stretch your writing skills too thin and not leave you enough time or space to fully develop your characters or the story arc.

Give each POV character equal time. You don’t have to give each POV character exactly the same number of chapters or pages, but it’s a good idea to keep this roughly even. In a multi-POV story, no one character should have more weight than the others. This is true even if one character seems to drive most of the action.

Choosing to use a multi-POV structure, though time-consuming and tricky to write, may add a compelling element to your story or novel that will engage your readers and keep them interested. And if your current novel or short story isn’t working, consider the point of view you’ve chosen: A change in characters’ perspectives or switching to a multi-POV format might breathe new life into your work!

 

Question: What do you think is the hardest part of writing a multi-POV novel or short story?

A Woman Walks into a Bar…and Finds Freud

Plagued by a throbbing hangover, having just rendezvoused with her father’s colleague in her parent’s coat closet and then seducing her roommate’s brother home to bed, a woman walks into a dimly lit bar. “Dark and stormy,” she says. She is a woman who attempts to fill the ache of a void within her through sexual exploits, a woman who desperately desires her father’s affection, and serving her is no one other than Sigmund Freud, who is alive and well and mixing drinks in modern-day Brooklyn. 

Hysteria, Jessica Gross’s debut novel, is in many ways a fever dream. Absurd at times, relatable in others, and threaded with darkness, the narrative takes place over a two day period, allowing for the reader to dive deep into the unnamed narrator’s complicated psyche. With rigid therapists for parents, a host of feelings she has been trained to repress, and a skewed perception of the world that makes her feel like she’s teetering on the edge of coming undone, the narrator careens through a variety of liaisons that leave her hungry for something she cannot find words for. 

It is only when Freud (who might actually be Freud but also might be some strange projection the protagonist conjures in her time of need) presses his hands against her face that she is able to trace the root of her symptoms back to their origins, and even then her internal landscape remains shadowy, unknowable in ways. There is beauty in the ways in which Gross explores the complexities of her main character, allowing her carnal exploration while also laying bare the mechanisms that keep aspects of her emotional life contained.

Over the phone, Jessica Gross and I spoke about what it was like writing Freud into modern day; tensions between self-expression and restraint; and the power to be found in writing about sexual exploration from a woman’s perspective. 


Jacqueline Alnes: Hysteria is a word that carries so much weight.

There is a really interesting tension between containment and liberation in the novel. In some parts, the main character has so much emotion she feels she can’t contain it, but outwardly she is just standing still snapping a rubber band against her wrist, saying calm down, calm down to herself while really she wants to run freely down the street. What was it like exploring that tension? 

Jessica Gross: It felt very true to me. Many women I know, and also men, feel like certain emotions are okay to feel and others are not okay to feel. We’re told “be happier, be calmer, be cheerful, your pain is scary.” Many people are taught by their parents and the culture at large to corral feelings. With pain, I think it’s only by actually feeling it that people move through it.

JA: It’s funny to me that the main character’s parents are therapists, which is one of the spaces where you hope that you can express your full self or come with emotions and not be judged, but they almost seem like the people who are suppressing her in so many different ways. 

JG: Totally. First of all, people can be adept therapists and not as good at being parents. But also, her parents are cognitive-behavioral therapists. I got the sense, both from friends and from the research I did for this book, that CBT is more concerned with symptom management than with deeply understanding the roots of and intricacies of the patient’s emotional life. For that reason, it made a kind of sense to me that the narrator’s parents would employ strategies to train her rather than offering empathy and sitting with whatever she was going through. 

JA: I couldn’t stop reading once I started, and I finished late one night. The next morning, I wondered whether Freud in the book was real or not. I had the sensation that he was specific and tangible enough to be a real person, but also the main character had enough of an expanse in her emotional life to feel like she could have projected something like that. 

JG: Oh, that’s so cool for me to hear. In the initial conception, he was real. He just appeared. Through revision, it became easier to read him as her delusion, but it was important to me that it never be definitively stated that that was the case. The book takes place so much in her head, and what is in her head is real to her, and thus to the book. And I also just love the idea of Freud appearing out of nowhere.

JA: The main character’s perception of reality is so warped at times that it’s like, well, if she thinks that way about events that have happened, then what else could she fictionalize? 

JG: Exactly. Exactly.

JA: How did you get the idea for this book? 

We’re told be happier, be calmer, be cheerful, your pain is scary.

JG: I’ve been in psychoanalysis for a long time, over a decade. When I was thinking about writing a novel, I knew I wanted to deal with psychoanalysis and Freud in some way. I can’t really track it—it’s like a gap in my memory —but I wrote in my journal sometime in early 2016: write a novel about Freud. And then, somehow, I started writing a book where Freud appeared in this character’s life. 

JA: What was it like to write Freud into contemporary times?

JG: Oh, it was so much fun. Initially, I had the narrator going to Vienna.  But then I visited Vienna, where my father’s family is from—they were Jewish, and fled in 1938—and was filled with antipathy; I found myself conflating modern-day Vienna and the past I knew about. I hated writing the novel in Vienna, and then I realized I didn’t have to: if Freud randomly and surreally appeared in the recent past, he could appear anywhere!

I started having a tremendous amount of fun. It ended up making so much more sense to me that Freud would appear in a bar in Brooklyn. He looks just like a hipster bartender, so why not? 

JA: I loved that. There’s a level of absurdity, too, in finding Freud behind a bar. 

The intimacy of waking up with her every morning and then rehashing every detail she could remember or not remember about the night before based on how much she drank was interesting because it kind of had almost this like elliptical feel. Reliving scenes made the novel feel more expansive in terms of time, if that makes sense.

JG: The way her mind works is so recursive that it’s almost like she’s living everything like 17 times over again. 

JA: Your prose is so visceral and sensory. The narrator at one point describes the way people’s voices were being “drilled into the top” of her skull. And then the other voice was “sliding down my throat and through my chest and into my stomach where it made a red hot home,” which I loved. What do you consider when writing the body and sex? 

JG: The example that you picked out is interesting because there are so many bodily essential details that aren’t sexual. I feel like writing the body is the best way to convey something on the page, even something intellectual. With this book, I wanted to immerse the reader in the narrator’s experience. I don’t want to tell the reader something, I want to induce the sensation in a way that it might feel in the body. 

JA: Was it interesting to write the body in light of writing about Freud?

JG: In what sense?

JA: I’m thinking back to earlier in our conversation when you shared that one definition of hysteria is the way that emotions become visible or tangible in the body, like a symptom. Because you’re thinking so much about repression and sexuality, moments like the narrator tonguing the roof of her mouth hold a lot of weight. 

Freud looks just like a hipster bartender.

JG: Psychoanalysis is such an intellectual endeavor, but often where it starts—at least in my experience—is with a physical feeling of something being wrong.

JG: That’s interesting. And then it also makes me think about what about the body is private and what is public in regard to your narrator. She has all these private, intimate moments with her body—some with other people, but mostly with herself. 

JA: Yeah, she clearly has a very warped idea of how she appears to other people. Part of what I wanted to do with Hysteria was push the boundaries of acceptable discourse about sex. I think by now people are pretty comfortable hearing about women having sex, especially sort of disturbed sex. But discourse about women masturbating seems to have lagged behind. It was important to me, in my writing, to contribute to creating space for talking about that. 

In the context of the book itself, what’s interesting is that she masturbates less because she’s aroused and more as a way of connecting to herself, and as a stress reduction technique. And the only time she comes is when she’s in private. She can’t permit herself to let go in front of a man, which was interesting to me too.

JG: In addition to Fleabag, I’ve seen comparisons of Hysteria to Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which resonated with me. What are books that you feel Hysteria is in conversation with? 

JA: The book I thought about more than any other while I was writing was Portnoy’s Complaint. I read it in 2012 and I really loved it. I was excited by both the liberty Philip Roth took with writing sexual perversion and the way he dealt with psychoanalytic themes. Of course, Roth’s writing has been critiqued as misogynist; his narrators often objectify women. I was interested in inverting that. My narrator certainly doesn’t have a healthy relationship to her sexuality, I would say: I’m not condoning her objectification, which frankly hurts her more than anyone else. But because of the inversion of the power dynamic, it resonates differently, and in a way that excited me. 

The post A Woman Walks into a Bar…and Finds Freud appeared first on Electric Literature.

WD Presents: 10 New Courses and a Competition Announcement!

This week, we’re excited to announce the digital Nov/Dec 2020 issue of WD, 10 new courses, a deadline for the Annual Writing Competition, and more.

There’s always so much happening in the Writer’s Digest universe that even staff members have trouble keeping up. As a result, we decided to start collecting what’s on the horizon to make it easier for everyone to know what’s happening and when.

This week, we’re excited to announce the digital Nov/Dec 2020 issue of WD, 10 new courses, a deadline for the Annual Writing Competition, and more.

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Check out the digital November/December issue of Writer’s Digest!

Writer’s Digest officially turns 100! In this special double issue, WD celebrates 100 years of helping writers improve their craft and getting published with advice from some of the biggest industry professionals and authors publishing today. We’ll look back on how writing has changed over time, the founding of WD, and much more.

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10 Online Writing Courses Start This Week

10 new online writing courses start this week, including creating an author website, writing a mystery novel, publishing a children’s book, and more. Click here to check out the Writer’s Digest University calendar.

FightWriteTM: What You Need to Know Before Writing Fight Scenes, Battles, and Brawls

Editor’s Note: This is a self-paced course. No live instruction is included.

Are you ready to dive into writing your next fight scene? Join expert instructor Carla Hoch in this video course to learn the three most important points for writers to consider before writing fight scenes, battles, and brawls! Using historical examples and real-world expertise, Carla will guide you through the entire process of determining why, where, and who—essential elements for the writer to understand in order to make the scene work properly.

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Publishing Your Children’s Book: How to Write and Pitch Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Picture Book Manuscripts

In this Writer’s Digest Boot Camp, the agents of P.S. Literary Agency will show you how to make your submission stand out. How do you write a children’s book with commercial appeal? How do you decide what category and genre your book belongs in? How do you find agents and publishers to submit your manuscript to? How can you attract both child and adult readers (and buyers)? The agent instructors will answer these questions—and more! They will also critique your work and answer any questions you have about writing and selling books for children.

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Create an Author Website in 24 Hours or Less

In this live two-hour intensive webinar, digital media and publishing expert Jane Friedman will teach you how to use WordPress to get your own website up and running in a day or less—often in one evening! If you already have a website or blog, you’ll learn best practices to ensure you’re getting the most out of it.

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Copyediting Certificate Program

Writer’s Digest is proud to offer our Copyediting Certificate Program. This workshop will provide training for aspiring copy editors in order to give them practical and marketable workplace skills. As a student in this certification course, you will progress from the fundamentals of grammar, form, and composition to advanced copyediting skills.

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Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters

When you take this online writing course, you will learn how to create believable fiction characters and construct scenes with emotional depth and range. You’ll take an in-depth look at Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress who will give you character development techniques and tips along with practical advice for weaving emotion into scenes. Create characters readers will love and develop a strong point of view for your fiction book today!

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Fearless Writing

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

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Increase Your Online Reach with SEO

Whether you’re an authorpreneur, a freelancer, or a blogger, this very practical, hands-on course will guide you through the magical optimization process of how to show up on Google so that people can start finding you online. Start optimizing your content with the right keywords and keyphrases today and attract more of the right online readers, customers, and prospects.

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Revision & Self Editing

When you take this online writing workshop, you will learn methods of self-editing for fiction writers to ensure your writing is free of grammatical errors.

You’ll also dig deeper into how to edit a book with Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. Use his self-editing checklist to keep you on track and take the time to perfect your work. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression on an agent or publisher.

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Writing the Mystery Novel

Do you love reading a good mystery? Have you always wanted to write one?

During the Essentials of Mystery Writing workshop, you’ll have the choice of creating a brand new mystery story from scratch or working with a story you already have in progress.

Spend six weeks on your craft while receiving feedback from a published mystery author!

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Writing the Personal Essay 101: Fundamentals

This course guides beginning and intermediate writers through elements of how to write a personal essay, helping them identify values expressed in their stories and bring readers into the experiences described. Writers learn how to avoid the dreaded responses of “so what?” and “I guess you had to be there” by utilizing sensory details, learning to trust their writing intuitions, and developing a skilled internal editor to help with revision.

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Annual Writing Competition Deadline Announced!

Deadline: 5/7/21

Writer’s Digest has been shining a spotlight on up and coming writers in all genres through its Annual Writing Competition for 90 years. Enter our 90th Annual Writing Competition for your chance to win and have your work be seen by editors and agents! Almost 500 winners will be chosen.

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Want to Write for Writer’s Digest?

Writer’s Digest, the No. 1 magazine for writers, celebrates the writing life and what it means to be a writer in today’s publishing environment. Through the voices of bestselling authors, buzz-worthy newcomers, and seasoned editors, we offer everything writers need to stay inspired, to improve their craft, to understand the unique challenges of publishing today, and to get their work noticed. Our pages are filled with advice and real-life experiences that go beyond the ordinary and delve deeply into what’s important to writers today. Whether they write fiction or nonfiction, poetry or essays, articles or scripts, our readers will walk away from every issue inspired and ready to write, satisfied in the knowledge that we get it, that we all share this passion for writing, and we’re all part of a grand literary tradition. And that’s worth celebrating.

Please see our editorial calendar for upcoming topics. Query only if you feel you are the best person to write on each topic and be sure to explain why.

Click here for our submission guidelines.

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Polish your writing to find success!

2nd Draft provides a high-level review of your writing, pointing out reasons your work may be getting rejected, or may not meet the standards of traditional publication.

After an evaluation of your submission, one of the professional 2nd Draft critiquers will provide feedback and advice. You’ll not only learn what’s working in your writing, but what’s not, and—most important—how to fix it.

Send your work to Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Critique Service!

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Interview

Lynne Tillman’s new novel is Men and Apparitions, the looping, kaleidoscopic, and often hilarious monologue of a cultural anthropologist with an academic interest in family photographs, gender, and images. The novel is published in the UK by Peninsular Press.

On behalf of Granta, Emily LaBarge spoke to Tillman about photography, memory and what can’t be narrated.

 

I read that you shared a flat with the writer Heathcote Williams when you lived in London many years ago.

Yes, Heathcote and his wife, Diana Senior: for over a year we squatted a house on Westbourne Park Road. Very much of that moment.

 

In Men and Apparitions (M&A), Zeke also travels to London and Europe, a revelatory experience for him in terms of beginning to recognise his identity, which includes his nationality – his Americanness.

Zeke and his then-girlfriend Maggie go to Europe on holiday after they finish their PhD dissertations. My version was . . . getting away from my family for as long as possible and getting out of the States. I had also inherited the romantic idea from so many American writers of the early twentieth century, who went to Europe to find a place to write, to get away from America into the cultures of Europe, particularly Paris and London, T.S. Eliot being there.

Taking Zeke to Europe, first London and then Germany, I allow him to have very ‘other’ experiences. He is in a particularly vulnerable state, his defenses down, and things happen that would not happen at home. It’s one of the interesting aspects of living in one place then moving to another, which is what it was like for me when I moved between London, Amsterdam, Paris. In a foreign country, you feel other parts of your mind, or just other aspects of yourself emerging, because you are separated from the repetitive or the habitual that you do in what you call ‘home’.

 

Zeke is interested in ‘the New Man’, men who have grown up in post-women’s movement environments, and in how this experience might be reflected in their values and relationships to gender and equality. Can you say something about the genesis of Zeke’s character, and the other concerns and concepts you were grappling with in writing the novel?

I started working on M&A around 2008–2009, so it was about a ten-year project. I was interested in a sentence we’ve been hearing for many years: ‘we’re living in a glut of images’. How do you tell the story of living in a glut of images? And who would tell this story? My last novel, American Genius, A Comedy, was told from the point of view of a fifty-year-old woman, so I wanted to flip to a male narrator. This allowed me to get into my second set of thoughts, which had to do with men, masculinity, and changes in men who I was noticing. I have lots of male friends, aged twenty-five and up, and was very aware of the way younger men were dealing with questions around their masculinity and relationships with women or me. I realised that, post-women’s movement, a lot of them had feminist mothers. There were also many divorces from the 1960s on, so these people were growing up in a different zeitgeist. Having a male narrator, who is a cultural anthropologist studying family photographs, allowed me to bring all of this together. Zeke is curious about the image of men and how men image themselves. You see him throughout the novel trying to have different personae. I decided I would also do an ethnographic study myself, for him, and that became ‘Men in Quotes’.

 

Zeke’s voice is a huge part of his character – his consciousness, his thought process really is the narrative. In M&A there is a constant shifting: Zeke knows something and then all of a sudden this knowledge undoes itself; even your sentences do that. How do you use consciousness to construct a character who is also in the process of recognising that the self is relational and fluid?

I believe I do know characters by the way they think, which produces how they act and what kind of things they do. Zeke is in a certain place at the beginning of the novel: he is being undone and then he redoes himself and then he’s undone again, because he is in a sense using his theories, his ideas about human beings, to defend against his own ignorance about himself, or his ignorance about the world, which isn’t more than other people’s: we cannot predict what is going to happen, we live as if we can. When I’m reading Natalia Ginzburg, or Virginia Woolf, or Henry James, the consciousness of the characters makes those novels exciting to me. Zeke’s thought patterns, how he uses theories, all come to be part of his world, and it gets shaken. Also, I believe that what you study is always also psychologically determined, that we choose to study and be involved in things that are problems for us in some sense. Things that we love, things that we hate – we need to crack it open. That’s part of what I wanted to happen to Zeke: his intellectual cred is not going to protect him.

 

Core to Zeke’s voice is his sense of humour, which is self-conscious, sometimes deliberately corny, performative, but also genuine, as if it is an armour against seeming too serious or vulnerable. It is also very funny! Particularly his rhythmic, sometimes laconic speech and comedic timing.

Rhythms create propulsion, dynamics, and though M&A has a plot, in its way – it’s not an obvious one – the novel relies on rhythms. From fast and funny, to sombre, to colloquial, to theoretical speak, say. And I like jokes. Jokes are stories, and, as Freud told us, structured like dreams. Zeke does rely on humour to defend himself, to avoid being wrong, not to be vulnerable. In the US, ‘you know’ and ‘like’ are ways people can avoid making assertions. The English have the all-purpose ‘I don’t mind’, which took me a while to understand when I lived in London. Indefiniteness opens a door called ‘I don’t want to be rejected or wrong’. Zeke is funny and sad, he does stuff that is weird, comical, and upsetting. He’s alert and he’s not. He doesn’t see what’s before him. Photography is not only about looking, it’s about seeing, what you see. He looks but often doesn’t see.

 

Are there parallels between anthropology and narratology, or storytelling?

I studied Sociology in graduate school, not because I wanted to become a Sociologist, but because I wanted to study more. I had done English Literature and American History, as well as Studio Art in College, but I wanted to study new ideas and theories. In the Sociology department at CUNY (City University of New York) Graduate School, I read Michel Foucault, Hélène Cixous, Erving Goffman, Max Weber. Clifford Geertz and James Clifford – to whom Zeke often refers in M&A – both of whom were involved in how Cultural Anthropology is storytelling.

When an anthropologist goes out into the field, they hear stories, and they base their conclusions about cultures and societies on these stories. I’ve always felt that a story is a way people think, and I wanted to use that. Zeke knows certain things, on an intellectual level, and by knowing them he thinks he’s not part of them. In his own field, though, he becomes part of the storytelling. He tells his own stories through his theories. Zeke’s family is full of stories. The story of Clover Hooper Adams, his family story, which his mother is so intent on propagating. These are stories, and stories are true. Whether they’re factual or not is something else.

 

I read that someone once told you your characters didn’t speak like people in the real world, and you said something like, ‘they speak like people in the world I want to live in’.

The trouble is that people think there is a ‘reality’, and some sort of naturalism or realism asserts that reality. Yes, my characters speak to each other and say what people wouldn’t usually say. People also don’t usually write books! If you read Jane Bowles’ Two Serious Ladies, one of the great novels of the twentieth century, her people talk in ways that you don’t expect. People in D.H. Lawrence talk in ways you don’t expect. In Kafka’s novels, people do things you don’t expect, events happen you don’t expect. There is a notion that the expectation should be satisfied, when in fact the expectation exists only because it’s been repeated, again and again and again. People can have all sorts of conversations, and I do have all kinds of conversations, and hear people say things that are usual and very unusual. And what do you reproduce, what do you represent in your fiction? Yes, for me it’s what I’d like to hear and that suits my characters. Also sometimes it’s what you wouldn’t like to hear.

My expectations, my hopes, when I read are to find what I don’t expect. To be in a world that I don’t necessarily understand or have a grasp of, not to see myself in a mirror. A friend once recounted a conversation he had with another friend of his, a guy from Texas who didn’t know very much about art. The Texan saw one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can works and said to my friend, ‘God, this is stupid.’ And my friend said to him, ‘What you expect to see there is just as stupid.’ Which may be one of the best art criticisms I’ve ever heard. It’s a fantastic way of understanding the work of the expectation and the stereotype. People write in ways that continue stereotypes, and often don’t even know it.

 

In M&A, fiction and non-fiction blur or are interspersed: in between Zeke’s stories and reminiscences of his family and his life are digressions – almost mini-essays – on a variety of touchstones including anthropology, photography, television, literature, political events, true crime, vernacular American culture, and more. How do you think about the weaving of fiction with non-fiction, and how did you go about creating this specific world of Zeke’s?

Narrativizing intentions and ideas is the work in a novel. Novels and stories can address the period and conditions we live in, or think about. Flaubert’s Sentimental Education does that so amazingly, Ginzburg’s All Our Yesterdays, also. Consciousness – sensibility could be added, though it’s a different flavour – builds in a time, your time. Memory, history and the present all live in characters, create them. I wanted to make that much more present. How do characters come about? For me, it’s what they think about, what and who they encounter, their backgrounds, educations, almost never what they look like, and mostly not what they say. I don’t use much dialogue, but when I do, it’s pretty strange stuff. Writers often rely too much on dialogue, in my opinion, to build their characters. An all-dialogue novel is different, that’s another form. What people say, what they think and do, can be and are extremely different. I like contradictions, people are tricky.

As for the mini-essays, as you call them: with M&A, I dared myself to be more daring than in previous novels, and expand my palette. Zeke is a cultural anthropologist, an uneasy one, and interested in families and photography. It’s all on his mind. And being a ‘man’. So he can expostulate, theorize, which was fun for me, and it’s ‘natural’ for his character. Also he’s a professor. Sometimes they can’t stop professing. Those touchstones you mention are necessary for him, because even if you didn’t live through them, they mark time. And novels hold time.

 

Zeke often speaks of his childhood and speculates about his formative years. At this point in his life, why is he looking back to his family and his ancestry? What is he hoping to understand, to remember, or to not forget?

In part it’s about recognising mortality. When you come to think about the fact that you will die, you might find comfort in the idea of continuity, and in having a family history. But it’s a curious thing: Zeke is on the threshold of a very different time, when parents are not going to have actual photo albums anymore, or if they do, they will be scant, or held in some virtual space. So when he finds photographs of a family that have been thrown out, it’s very striking to him. He recognises that they had done all of this work of preservation, and then it all gets discarded.

A human being’s childhood and period of dependency lasts a long time, particularly if you compare it with other animals that need to learn self-sufficiency immediately in order to survive. I don’t know if that period of dependency is understood well enough – to understand what, as human beings, that period of dependency does to us, and how vulnerable we felt. Some parenting is better than others, but everyone experiences stuff we don’t remember, and that dependency, say, is part of your psyche. That fascinates me.

 

Photography plays a huge role in Men and Apparitions, from Zeke’s own family album, to the many contemporary photographers who are mentioned. Zeke takes a class in which his professor urges him to consider photography itself as a way of seeing, of discovering the unseen. ‘You are seeing with your guts wide open to the sweet pain of an image that is part of your life,’ the professor says.

I don’t have an overriding theory or position about photography’s place in this world. We live in it, and can’t now separate from its effects. Loving images, falling in love with an image, the way an image is produced with a photograph. The way it can fake and be true to itself only. During this Covid-time, images on screens substitute, and don’t, for contact. Maybe this will affect how images, different from photographs, will affect our thinking.

‘Seeing with our guts wide open’ is such a romantic idea, similar to when writers say ‘I write with my guts’. To me that’s hilarious. I don’t think I’ve said this before, but photographs have a specific meaning for me. I was the youngest in my family, much younger than my two older sisters. I had a need to know what I didn’t live through, and often looked at family pictures and the family movies my father shot. I’d stare at them, strangers to me. I set up the projector to watch the little movies of the time before I was born. ‘Before I was born’ has a poignance to me. You can join that to my interest in history. It wasn’t nostalgia, but a desire for what I didn’t know.

Photographs can elicit a present about a past, you see it these days. Great photographers make pictures, which are different to me from records of faces and events. A picture assembles other realities. A picture is a way of seeing, to paraphrase John Berger, which can disrupt what a viewer has seen. It opens up sight to other registers. It does amaze me that photography came about. Why did its inventors think it was needed, what were they looking for? Photography implemented the image of the US, especially to Americans. And the two developed in the same time.

 

Zeke is interested in the ‘inenarrable’, what can’t be narrated, and also what is not pictured in family photographs. He speaks of secrets as ‘the family contract’. Throughout the book, his secrets – and the secret annals, shames, tragedies of his family – come out in fits and starts, but it still feels, particularly in his voice, as if something is wrong or being held back.

Shame is powerful, and operates harshly in psyches. People write about desire, but most desires are kept private. What gets told, that’s different. Let’s say, secrets are symptoms of shame. I found the word, ‘inenarrable’, and was grateful, because it did what I needed. What can’t be narrated? It’s an abstract idea. But dreams and jokes speak to it. The unsayable. Pictures are inenarrable. I do it, project into them, and make a story. But they don’t ‘tell’ stories, they let us tell stories. And silence, it comes out of all of this. Zeke’s sister, he calls her Little Sister, suffers from the inability to speak. There are reasons – women are silenced. But I wasn’t thinking only about that, but also other ways of ‘talking’. Not speaking is also a form of dissent.

 

Zeke is also interested in the discarded, what he calls ‘the rejectamenta’.

I was fascinated by how much gets thrown out, and how we live in a world in which people want to acquire. We’re trained to be consumers from jump: you buy something and then immediately something else comes along that replaces it, so you throw out the first. The idea of holding onto something, especially now with the cyber-world where things can be held forever in an invisible space, has altered significantly. We are now virtually hoarding, which is the opposite of rejecting. Purging and hoarding are both contemporary phenomena: those poles are so compelling. What does Zeke hold onto? He has these photographs of other people, his family photographs, and also images of specific people, like the image of Clover Hooper Adams, who was a photographer. The dialectic between holding onto and throwing out seems like the dynamic of the world in which at least I live.

 

You have spoken about writing ‘alongside’ or writing ‘to’ art, which is something the filmmaker and writer Trinh T. Minh Ha has said too – she writes of ‘speaking alongside’ or ‘nearby’ a subject. You also once told me that she has described her work – when asked the blunt ‘who is your audience?’ query – as being ‘for sensitive people’. This is a broad, beautiful way of speaking about sensibilities rather than content as something that generates a kinship with reader or viewer. Whom do you want your work to be for?

Great imponderables. Wittgenstein said, ‘Don’t explain, only describe’. A description can’t avoid opinions, judgments, because words denote and connote. But ‘writing alongside’ or ‘to’ attempts to be as much a subject as the object being described. In other words, why I developed writing to art the way I did was to foreground writing as writing. Like photographers have to get rid of the idea of a photograph as a window into somewhere else. Minh-Ha is an exceptional artist and intellectual. When I heard her answer (I was in the audience), ‘I make films for sensitive people’, I beheld a brilliant response to a belligerent questioner; he asked, ‘Who are your films for?’ Her answer made the question irrelevant. For sensitive people, she said. They can be any group, class, sex, gender, nationality etc. How beautiful. A different kinship. But whom do I want my writing to be for? Wow. People who care about writing. People who feel troubled by life. People who want to find more joy. And, yes, I suppose they can be called sensitive people. Thank you, Minh-ha. And I hope there will be more of them.

 

Zeke ends his ‘Men in Quotes’ anthropological study by saying that he will necessarily have selected that which appeals to him: ‘Unwillingly I participate in everything I may want to change. And, everything I am, and may not want to be’. There is a sense throughout the book that he is battling inheritance – family inheritance, ideological, cultural inheritance – while also trying to balance his identity as both an individual and as a member of a community (be it of academics, or of twenty-first century men). How do we challenge our inheritances, or are we to some extent forever beholden to them?

I love the way you said that. Inheritance, yes. What isn’t, in some sense? Born into everything, with little choice. Yet people try to find a way to be a self of their own. With all the issues about a ‘self’, if it exists, people still want to have one; they don’t usually imagine themselves a bunch of random bits, an assortment that really isn’t anything; friends expect each other to be consistent, which aligns with wanting a ‘self’ for others, at least. Inherited traumas certainly were on my mind. There’s fascinating work being done on how trauma travels generationally. In the DNA, also. What is the desire to avenge the past, to protect it? That fascinates me. I’m fascinated by so much that appears ‘natural’, and why? I think often about evolution, and how humans as a species are evolving, or will, and why. What do new patterns serve? What are we preparing for, unconsciously, or because of changes in our DNA and more? If I want to hang around, and often I don’t, it’s because I’d like to see this unfold.

 

I heard that you are writing an ‘anti-memoir’! Is this true? And what does it mean?

I’ve been told not to call it an anti-memoir. I don’t know what it is. Memoirs are made up of stories writers tell about their lives and themselves. They have to be, in part, fictions, because memory is weird and because writing is not life itself. I don’t want to tell people the same stories, because they bore me to tell them again. People ask writers, the more books you write, the more questions you get about ‘How did you become a writer’, and making it up, your life, starts there. I do want to be honest, and that includes not being certain. Lately, I’m not able to concentrate on this project, because I know the stories. When I do write it, I recognize how much I don’t recall. That’s why I want to say it’s an anti-memoir, and focus on the ambiguities, my constructions. Sometimes I have no idea if it is a memory, a dream. Many people feel that. And I can be wrong. Wrong about what happened. Or it’s my point of view only, not another’s. That’s why fiction is true. It allows for that.

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