Some days I make the sentences; some days, the sentences make me.

Slate has a piece regarding Stanley Fish’s forthcoming book How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One that has five of the Professor’s favorite examples of excellent sentences. The comments section is open for readers to make arguments for their favorite sentences; so far, 120 people have chimed in with their contenders. What’s yours?


Don’t save the best for last.

From the “Absolute Gentleman” site, Raymond Carter and Stephen Dixon are not lame writers:

Lame writers who are deathly frightened that they will never be able to produce anything remotely good again will often save their “best” stories for the best possible publications. In other words, if a publication of little note expresses interest in your work, you’ll send them a story or essay just good enough to satisfy them, while saving your alleged masterpiece for when Esquire comes calling. Writers have the right to choose the fate of their particular creations, but it doesn’t mean it’s not completely paranoid and presumptuous.
Carver never really seemed to do this. He just kept writing. Yes, it seems that he was concerned about where his work went, but never to the point of it stopping his production. There wasn’t one particular piece he held onto for dear life because he had ten or twenty in the works right behind it.
A couple of writers come to mind when I think of this. Nance Van Winckel is a writer from the Pacific Northwest and a former teacher of mine. She always told me that publication never stopped her production. She received hundreds of rejections. Yes, hundreds, because she’d constantly send her stories and poems back out (revised) as fast as they were rejected. The result: a ton of publication credits in the country’s most prestigious literary magazines and several published books.
The other person I think of is Stephen Dixon. He has authored twenty-nine novels and short story collections, and he seems to care not a bit about where his work is published. He just keeps generating new material, constantly, and is so confident in his production that he’ll allow any particular story, essay, or novel excerpt to fall anywhere: small university lit mag, major glossy that publishes fiction, fledgling online mag. It doesn’t matter.

The week in plagiarism and inspiration.

First came news of the discovery of a diary –

The climactic moment in William Faulkner’s 1942 novel “Go Down, Moses” comes when Isaac McCaslin finally decides to open his grandfather’s leather farm ledgers with their “scarred and cracked backs” and “yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink” — proof of his family’s slave-owning past. Now, what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered.

The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.”

Specialists have been stunned and intrigued not only by this peephole into Faulkner’s working process, but also by material that may have inspired this Nobel-prize-winning author, considered by many to be one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century…

Especially surprising is that the diary wasn’t technically discovered this week – E. Wiggin has had the diary in his possession for many years, and it seems unlikely that he didn’t at any point put one and one together. Then again,

The original documents have been used by Southern economists and social historians for their insights into Mississippi’s plantation life, but no one has previously been aware that Faulkner, who died in 1962, had any connection to them.

So much for the value of a liberal education.

Meanwhile, some ridiculous tool gets linked to Faulkner (my bad) for lazy cut & paste “mixing” –

Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism
BERLIN — It usually takes an author decades to win fawning reviews, march up the best-seller list and become a finalist for a major book prize. Helene Hegemann, just 17, did it with her first book, all in the space of a few weeks, and despite a savaging from critics over plagiarism.
The publication last month of her novel about a 16-year-old exploring Berlin’s drug and club scene after the death of her mother… was heralded far and wide in German newspapers and magazines as a tremendous debut, particularly for such a young author. The book shot to No. 5 this week on the magazine Spiegel’s hardcover best-seller list.
For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

Here’s her “apology” – it’s in German, but here’s a little Google Translation magic.  Here’s a little Condalmo Translation magic: “Mixing is cool, it’s what the young people do, which I don’t expect you to understand, but I’m sorry you’re so upset, which is my way of apologizing and simultaneously making it clear that you’re the one with the issue here, not me.”

If she wanted to use big chunks of this other writer’s work, why didn’t she just get permission? Why didn’t she be up front about it with the publisher, with her readers? Is it okay to misrepresent oneself and one’s work, and when caught make arty excuses and get a free pass? If she wins the prize, what percentage will go to the writer from whom she stole borrowed remixed?

Javier Marias and the typewriter.

Javier Marias gets it done with a typewriter and a stick in the eye to revisionists:

He writes with a typewriter, beginning with the first page, with a situation he has been brooding about, and some sense of the implications or characters involved, but no real storyline. He probes forward with this, discovering as he goes (he pointed out that the Latin root of “invent” also has the meaning “discover”), but here’s the thing: he does not ever go back and change what he has written. It’s a pact he has with himself. He must accept and work with what he has laid down as he goes. If he has had a character’s mother die at a particular time, he can’t alter that, even if becomes clear it would be convenient if she died earlier, or later. And writing as he does he has to remember just what he did say, so that later on he won’t violate it (without a “search” function on the typewriter; the new work is a trilogy some 1200 pages long.)


On writing workshops, and creating.

From an essay by Louis Menand, on the subject of creative writing programs and whether or not writing can be taught:

I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make.