February 12, 2020

"How do you write a novel that doesn’t go stale by the next election?"

Writes Lauren Oyler in "Are Novels Trapped by the Present?" (The New Yorker):
In speculative fiction, the refraction that takes place between this world and the fictional one creates a comfortable distance between the novelist and the news. The realist novelist who wants to acknowledge Trump, climate change, and the rest has to speculate in a different way....

[M]ost realist fiction has addressed modern politics from the same sky-is-falling, center-left vantage as op-ed columnists and hashtag promoters, by which the past is mined for lessons to deal with the seeming impossibility of a future. “Sometimes I think that people today must be the saddest people ever, because we know we ruined everything,” the narrator of Lucy Ellmann’s thousand-page “Ducks, Newburyport,” thinks at one point....
Note to self: Do not write a novel.

112 comments:

Howard said...

Novels are trapped by incompetent writers. Plus all the smart people are into non-fiction these days.

chuck said...

The realist novelist who wants to acknowledge Trump, climate change...

Not enough elves and orcs for a successful realist novel.

MadisonMan said...

You need an imagination to escape the traps. Many writers today do not have such a thing.

Leland said...

Schiff seems pretty good at writing fiction, but yeah, it probably won't last beyond this President.

henry said...

Write a story, not a social justice scold piece.

Ken B said...

Last year I reread Lonesome Dove, and Red Harvest by Hammett, and The Glass Key by Hammett, and several other novels, and none of them were stale. So maybe the solution is not to write a novel that starts out stale.

Nonapod said...

Speculative fiction can be entertaining, but it often dwells in excessive pessimism.

I often wonder what excessive pessimism achieves. I believe we need pessimists and that we absolutely should not ignore them. But at the same time we should attempt to look at the world in as realistic a way as possible. Everything has to be put into proper perspective, even Doomsday. After all, people have been convinced that we're living in the end-times for as long as there have been people. There have been doomsday cults, doomsayers, and the like forever. Despite that, we're still here somehow.

Really bad things can and do happen, and sooner or later everyone dies and Doomsday really will come. But we shouldn't live our lives in fear. Assuming the worst at every turn leads to hopelessness and misery, which does nothing to improve our lot.

Richard Dolan said...

She must have watched too many episodes of West Wing and thought it was the news. Better to spend the time with Jane Austen or Emily Bronte. They (like other novelists worth reading) show that timeless themes are also timely.

David-2 said...

It is attitudes like this that have ruined much of fiction. You'll pick up a new sci-fi book, some kind of light enjoyable space opera - where the action takes place 1000 years in the future! Somewhere else in the galaxy! On spaceships!

And right in the first chapter establishing the scene you learn that the reason humans are in space is because we destroyed our planet with pollution and man-caused climate change! There's no connection to the story at all, it's just thrown in because it's obligatory. Even the great lamented series Firefly had that flaw.

My wife is a specialist in English literature. Her bookshelves are filled with novels that she reads and rereads. They were written over 50 years ago at a minimum, some as much as 300 years ago (approximately the birth of the "novel") - and they're still relevant! No climate change, no politics. Just people doing things that people do and relating to other people.

Lucien said...

Set your novel in the late 1970’s. Talk about malaise, the coming ice age, and how that horrible idiot cowboy Reagan would lead us into nuclear war if elected. Its truth will echo through the ages even more than “Limits to Growth”.

Hippogryph said...

Well, it's rather a challenge to write creatively within a tight collar of political conformity. The result is preachy, sullen demagoguery. And just what should have been expected.

Howard said...

... or William Makepeace Thackeray. Then at least it's a chick flick that a guy can watch without falling asleep

tcrosse said...

They (like other novelists worth reading) show that timeless themes are also timely.

Like Trollope.

Wince said...

Sounds like a real page turner...

Ducks, Newburyport is a 2019 novel by British author Lucy Ellmann. The novel is written in the stream of consciousness narrative style, and consists of mostly a single sentence, running over more than 1000 pages. It won the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize and was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize.

The novel's narrator is an unnamed middle-aged woman who lives in Newcomerstown, Ohio, is married, has four children, and was formerly a college teacher. She was treated for cancer and then quit her teaching career to help in her recovery. She engages herself in cooking. In one incident, the narrator's mother was saved by her sister from drowning in a lake in Newburyport, Massachusetts after she went chasing after ducks. The story narrates various global problems that cross the narrator's mind. A sub-plot talks of a mountain lioness who is in search of her cubs; her adventures punctuate the novel.

mccullough said...

I’m not a big Franzen fan but his book Freedom from a decade ago addresses contemporary “social issues” decently.

Some people are better thinkers and writers than others.

Yancey Ward said...

November 3rd, 2020 was a dark and stormy night; the electoral votes fell rightward in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when they were checked by a violent gust of three votes (for it is in Washington D.C. that our scene lies), rattling along the blue column, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the CNN pundits that struggled against the darkness.

tim maguire said...

I've thought about that--with things changing so fast, any novel written to reflect the zeitgeist is doomed to obsolescence before it can even hit the shelves. But that's not this author's problem. Ellman's problem is that her desire to "acknowledge Trump, climate change, and the rest" indicates that she is trapped in a small corner of the modern sturm and drang and will be utterly unable to accurately reflect the zeitgeist under any circumstances whatsoever.

Caligula said...


"Speculative fiction can be entertaining, but it often dwells in excessive pessimism." Contemporary sf dwells in excessive pessimism, presumably because that's what sells. Whereas fifty years ago sf tended more toward excessive optimism.

Is it necessary to note that no matter how speculative the fiction, it's always more about the present than about the future?

So, here's the future? Or at least the future as seem through the present present: Peter Thiel's review of Ross Douthat's new book, "The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success."

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/03/back-to-the-future

And a sample of what you're likely to find in it: "The Age of Decadence," an extended op-ed by Ross Douthat:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/opinion/sunday/western-society-decadence.html

CJinPA said...

Did novels always have to acknowledge the politics of the day?

J. Farmer said...

"How do you write a novel that doesn’t go stale by the next election?"

One way would be to concern yourself with the broader questions of the human condition rather than the narrower questions of the day's headlines.

Lewis Wetzel said...

John Carey, in his biography of the Elizabethan metaphysical poet John Donne, says that Donne did not believe that future would be significantly different than the present. Odd, considering the change that Donne had seen in his own life (1572-1631).
For a time-travel story to have any meaning, the time traveled to must be different from the time that is. There are few time travel stories in literature before Wells' The time Machine (1895).
I suppose the idea that we live in the MOST IMPORTANT TIME EVER!! is just more Boomer vanity. Sorry, Boomers, you ain't that important.

Impudent Warwick said...

thousand-page “Ducks, Newburyport,” Welp, don’t need to read that one. Wince’s comment provides ample reinforcement.

The way you avoid obsolescence after the next election is to avoid heavy-handed commentary on current political figures.

“Fallen Angels” did a nice job of addressing climate change, though.

Narr said...

Note to self: ignore writers who complain that reality is too harsh for their art to thrive.

Narr
The world was never made for one as beautiful as spew

traditionalguy said...

Leaves of Grass did a good job in a world changing wildly around the author. Expressing your sensitivity in the midst of chaos can still be done with a dose of courage.

CJinPA said...

One way would be to concern yourself with the broader questions of the human condition rather than the narrower questions of the day's headlines.

I get the feeling all art used to explore the human condition and...beauty.

Was that the norm for most novels? I admit to reading mostly non-fiction.

Roughcoat said...

Yeah, sure, the Iliad is trapped by the present.

Infinite Monkeys said...

Sometimes I think that people today must be the most self-involved and vapid. We haven't ruined everything, but some are making a go at ruining literature.

I'm picturing some early ancestor of man wondering, why do you want to come out of the tree and walk upright? You're ruining everything!

Unknown said...

If you're writing a literary novel, just cut your throat and be done with it.

If you're writing a novel about something, write it about that. Maybe your characters have opinions about things. That's ok, but don't let it slow things down.

Patrick Henry was right! said...

How can one write a novel about "climate change "???
Temperature goes up .001 degrees in ten years. Causes what? Wife to leave husband???
Millionaire beach front property owner to build sea wall???

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

"One way would be to concern yourself with the broader questions of the human condition rather than the narrower questions of the day's headlines"

Well, yeah, but that would require a certain self-awareness and a long, patient, willfully clear-sighted observation of that condition. Unlikely in a person who falls into hysterics at the possibility of global warming.
It's why there's so relatively few great women writers. They can't keep their personal crap off the page.

Robert Cook said...

"There are few time travel stories in literature before Wells' The time Machine (1895)."

And it remains the best time travel tale of all. (It also deals explicitly with politics...in an implicit way.)

My favorite scene is toward the end, when the time traveler has traversed eons into the far future and the sun is dying and the earth is cloaked in gloom. He is on a desolate beach, with bare evidence of life, except for large, slow-moving crustaceans of some sort, one of which almost kills him.

The sense of desolation and isolation is eerie, chilling, and wonderful.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

Much of what was written in the '70's is unreadable dreck now. I suspect this era of writing will be similarly handicapped.

Robert Cook said...

"Yeah, sure, the Iliad is trapped by the present."

The Iliad, as with many classics of literature, illustrates and supports John Donne's view that the future will not be different from the present (or past), except in superficial terms (better tools).

Where human beings and human society is concerned, it is always the present.

Robert Cook said...

"Sometimes I think that people today must be the most self-involved and vapid."

Same as it ever was.

Sigivald said...

"Realist" and "Progressive paranoid worldview" are obvious synonyms, right?!

Unknown said...

The Iliad, as with many classics of literature, illustrates and supports John Donne's view that the future will not be different from the present (or past), except in superficial terms (better tools).

That's one of the crises in current Science Fiction. It's now pretty clear that if humans survive the next few hundred years they won't be anything like us anymore and it becomes hard to write stories about them. I think that's a big reason for the mil-sf & fantasy explosions where the issue is basically ignored.

Ralph L said...

Trollope's prime minister loosely based on Disraeli is lambasted for his "probably not temporary insanity" when he reverses course and takes up his opponents' cause to stay in office. That's about as caustic as Trollope the narrator gets towards the gentil.

Narr said...

Read, read now, Bend Sinister, by the master. Grounded in its time, but prescient too.

Narr
He noticed things

mikee said...

In the popular Stone Barrington novels of S. Woods, the presidency is held by non-Clinton Democrats who are amazingly noncorrupt, constitution-respecting and dearly loved by the citizenry. In one word, fiction.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Robert Cook said...

"There are few time travel stories in literature before Wells' The time Machine (1895)."

And it remains the best time travel tale of all. (It also deals explicitly with politics...in an implicit way.)


Well's The Time Machine, and its film adaptations, show us how our idea of the future is influenced by our ideas about the present. In Well's novel, the event which produced the dystopian future was class warfare. Wells got the idea of class conflict as the engine of history from Marx. In George Pal's 1961 version the dystopian future resulted from nuclear war. In the 2002 film version the dystopian future was the result of ecological collapse fueled by capitalism.

narciso said...

ugh,

https://www.amazon.com/Ducks-Newburyport-Lucy-Ellmann/dp/1771963077

it's a lack of imagination, there was one interminable (very long) booker prize winner, that was exceeding stuck in 2004 Iraq,

Robert Cook said...

"How can one write a novel about 'climate change'???"

Write about increasing ocean acidification, 65 degree temps in Antarctica, massive species die offs, shrinking ice sheets, revelations that oil companies have studied and known (and hidden this knowledge) for decades of the consequences of continued and increasing use of fossil fuels, dumb ass deniers insisting it's a plot by malevolent commie scientists to confiscate all our technological conveniences and impose global austerity, etc.

You know, something really outlandish.

John henry said...

tcrosse said...

They (like other novelists worth reading) show that timeless themes are also timely.

Like Trollope.


You beat me to it.

Two novels in particular could be rewritten today just by adding cars, cellphones etc.

The way we live now, about the great financial swindler Auguste Melmot

And the American Senator about a senator who goes to England for a spell to show the brits all the things they're doing wrong.

Dr Thorne, made into a miniseries by amazon 3-4 years ago ist pretty contemporary. As are all the Barchester Chronicles

John Henry

gilbar said...

Pro tip: do NOT write a THOUSAND page "novel"

Try writing something HARD, like a short story; if you write one that's good, there won't be room to put in topical crap

John henry said...

Michael Chrichton, a scientist, wrote a pretty good novel about climate whatsit. State of Fear

He does a pretty good job debunking it.

Lots of links, bibliography, references.

And a pretty good read, too.

John Henry

stutefish said...

Jonathan Lethem - The Feral Detective. Acknowledges Trump, probably won't go stale ever. Because it deals with Trump in the context of much larger, perennial themes.

Mick Herron - Real Tigers. Acknowledges climate change, probably won't go stale ever. Any more than John Le Carre's spy novels from a generation earlier will ever go stale.

William Gibson - Pattern Recognition. Acknowledges 9/11, probably won't go stale ever. Gibson is actually a good example. Even his speculative fiction is rooted in the contemporary. Neuromancer is set in the future, but rooted int the mid-80s Cold War. HIs current stuff is rooted in contemporary contexts, but written with a cyberpunk sensibility that renders our mundane everyday experience exotic and alien.

So there's your answer: Be a really good novelist, and make sure to move your narrative *beyond* the limits of merely acknowledging present events.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Write about increasing ocean acidification, 65 degree temps in Antarctica, massive species die offs, shrinking ice sheets, revelations that oil companies have studied and known (and hidden this knowledge) for decades of the consequences of continued and increasing use of fossil fuels, dumb ass deniers insisting it's a plot by malevolent commie scientists to confiscate all our technological conveniences and impose global austerity, etc.
All of this is fantasy, that is, it exists only in the imagination, other than the global warming alarmists wanting to impose an austerity regime on an uncooperative mankind.

Big Mike said...

Who needs a novel when a writer can publish the following:

”Biden has run for president three times. He has not yet managed to finish higher than fourth in any primary or caucus. Biden may, or may not, have been a good enough politician to win a presidential campaign in his prime. He is now well past his prime.”

Michael K said...

Charles Dickens managed it.

Write about increasing ocean acidification, 65 degree temps in Antarctica, massive species die offs, shrinking ice sheets, revelations that oil companies have studied and known (and hidden this knowledge) for decades of the consequences of continued and increasing use of fossil fuels,

Yeah, Michael Crichton did a pretty good job with "State of Fear."

MadisonMan said...

A good novel deals with relationships between people, things readers can identify with. If you add in too much extra detail outside those relationships, the novel can quickly become a tedious lecture.

robother said...

Why worry about your novel going stale if The Whole World Is Coming to An End in 10 years? Just pray that you finish it and get it into print before your apocalyptic narrative is consumed by itself, so to speak.

And if the apocalypse doesn't arrive on schedule, well, that's what sequels are for.

wild chicken said...

John Henry thank you again for putting me on to Trollope. I took a year and read just about everything he wrote, and watched whatever the Brits deigned to dramatize.


Ralph L said...

Now try Saki and Father Brown short stories.

It amazes me that Austen and Trollope fell out of favor for so long.

stevew said...

There are reservoirs (Upper and Lower Artichoke), the Merrimack River (tidal), and the Atlantic Ocean in the vicinity of Newburyport, MA, but no lakes. So a fictional story. A single sentence that runs along to 1,000 pages? Throwing the BS flag on that one, the author just omitted or refused to use thought separating punctuation. I wouldn't call that a novel either.

narciso said...

I noted Andrew marr, a bbc correspondent, wrote a dark roman a clef about Brexit, like one part house of cards, one part python, that came out a year before, 'head of state' it illustrated how such an independence movement would rise, and the collection of interests that would try to stop it, the title character in unnamed,

narciso said...

herron, is the successor to the more hardboiled spy fiction of Deighton, unlike Charles cummings who follows le carre's formula, the last the Moroccan man, takes a look at the landscape with a twist,

Unknown said...

Read anything by Neal Stephenson and get back to me

SDaly said...

Take the Hollywood route and just reboot the literature of the past with sex / race character switcheroos. Start at the very beginning (a very good place to start), “Robin Crusoe”
and “Donna Quixote”.

Leora said...

No one complains that Jane Austen is stale.

J. Farmer said...

@Robert Cook:

The Iliad, as with many classics of literature, illustrates and supports John Donne's view that the future will not be different from the present (or past), except in superficial terms (better tools).

Where human beings and human society is concerned, it is always the present.


I am generally sympathetic to this point of view, but I do think there have been a few epochal changes in the material conditions of humans that may be the exceptions to the rule. The Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution being the two most obvious examples. For the vast majority of human history, there was no farming and no permanent settlements of much size. Cochran and Harpending's The 10,000 Year Explosion mines some of this territory.

Same as it ever was.

That said, I'm a sucker for a Talking Heads reference. One of my favorite songs.

narciso said...

camillieri's inspector Montalbano, have a little of the Berlusconi derangement, unless you ignore the footnotes, then his whimsical look at crime in the native Sicilian town based on Ragusa, certainly the series run on deutsche welle gives that feeling,

Wince said...

The novel is written in the stream of consciousness narrative style, and consists of mostly a single sentence, running over more than 1000 pages.

That's almost as long as Roger Stone's sentence, as recommended by Mueller Incorporated.

narciso said...

well I read dodo and fall in hell, and they are in serious need of editing, what seemed ok with cryptonomicon, has gone overboard,

buwaya said...

A novel about a college teacher in Ohio?

What pap.

Themes for contemporary novels.
What about mercenaries in Syria? Or a semi-rebel, semi-pirate in Banda Aceh?
Something with fire in it.
Joseph Conrad would have tons of material today.
V.S.Naipaul did.

frenchy said...

I believe John Updike could've figured out a way.

buwaya said...

Stephenson is struggling.
His last, "Fall" is really rather poor, and stuck in contemporary virtue signalling.

The last good book of his is "Anathem", though it also suffers from Stephensons trademark inability to finish a novel.

Ken B said...

Buwaya
Horn of Africa by Caputo is a great novel about mercenaries in Africa a few decades ago.

AllenS said...

A short novel by Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

"I once had a bus named Malarkey."

The end

rcocean said...

Generally speaking any novel about (1) college professors (2) Academia (30 College Students or (4) the literary/publishing world are worthless.

There are exceptions but not many. if you're an English Professor resist the adage "Write what you know".

Robert Cook said...

"Generally speaking any novel about (1) college professors (2) Academia (30 College Students or (4) the literary/publishing world are worthless."

Or stories of middle-aged bourgeoisie, often college professors/academics/writers, engaging in extra-marital affairs to ward off the ennui of their shallow existences.

narciso said...

ian McEwan was interesting for a while, not so much, Barbara Kingsolver is another who's on the full sky dragon bout for a while, joyce carol oates, yikes,

narciso said...

I was looking forward to the return of enoch root, but Stephenson went overboard, I read most of the baroque cycle, maybe if it's in a historical vein it's more palatable,

madAsHell said...

If ya' gotta ask the question.........

Bruce Hayden said...

The daughter of one of my best friends makes a decent living writing - but what she writes is romance, and I believe is self published. The modern Internet is great that way - you don’t have to deal with the publishers who are the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing industry. Instead, you build your own market, and make with it what you can. Her husband does the Internet stuff, including a lot of the marketing. It works for them. They sold their house and are driving around the count4y in an RV, and are being flown to England next month as one the most promising young romance novelists.

I read a book awhile back titled (I think) “the Long Tail”, which pointed out that Amazon and BN have essentially killed the traditional role of the publishers acting as gatekeepers. At one time, they could drive up sales of one title by restricting the competition. But these two companies really don’t care if they sell 100k of 10 titles, or 10 of 100k titles - their distribution costs are the same, esp for electronic publishing. Turns out though that the demand curve for books is essentially logarithmic, with a long tail, where you might see 100k titles selling 10 copies, the opposite, and everything in between. Amazon and BN actually prefer this model because it more efficiently matches supply and demand, allowing them to sell more books.

J. Farmer said...

I’ve found that at least since my early 20s I’ve had very little patience for reading fiction. I read pretty much exclusively non-fiction and get my fix of fiction through TV and film.

bagoh20 said...

Learn to code.

We have more than enough novels already to occupy anyone for their entire reading life.

What we need are some coded programs that work every time, can handle a few exceptions, do a task faster than I could with a calculator and a pencil, and don't send my info into the dark web. Is that so hard in 2020?

Have you noticed that it takes about 5 times as long to hook up a printer or print a document than it did in 1995? The processors are 1000 times faster, but the programming requires 5000 times as much processing, so learn to code, and remember: less is more. That's what we need.

Louie the Looper said...

“The novel is written in the stream of consciousness narrative style, and consists of mostly a single sentence, running over more than 1000 pages.”
Can I get it as an audiobook?

stevew said...

Me too Farmer. An exception is Bernard Conwell's The Saxon Series, though they could be loose historical fiction. Especially fond of Nathaniel Philbrick's work.

Ken B said...

Trollope is great. Fans of his would like Middlemarch. Free on kindle too.

Lazarus said...

It's annoying the way that novelists try to do the whole "way we live now thing," especially if they are the ones who make a big deal out of still using manual typewriters. Sometimes it seems like text messaging or You Tube or some app or site or other is just thrown into the novel to make it seem "up to the minute."

Trump doesn't seem to have inspired much in the way of fiction. Probably we're lucky. George W. Bush inspired some - overwhelmingly negative. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon inspired more. Reagan and "the Eighties" likewise served as a target.

Sebastian said...

"we know we ruined everything"

Well, progs are trying to ruin everything, but so far America has not yet gone down the drain entirely -- after two hundred years of the most astonishing progress in the whole history of humanity.

Kirk Parker said...

I have no idea what she's going on about!

I recently reread Bonfire of the Vanities. How many elections ago was that published? But it has aged extremely well; in fact it would be more fair to say it has come into its own. Plenty of the stuff that might have seemed over-the-top exaggeration back then seems all too plausible in this woke generation.

wildswan said...

I'm reading the Cormoran Strike series, mysteries written by JK Rowling under the name Robert Galbraith. They are set in England as it is now, (although before the Brexit referendum) and her "hero" is an Afghanistan vet who lost a leg in an IED explosion and who has just left both the Army (SIB) and his super model girlfriend to try make a living as a detective.I dislike reading about pain and sorrow taking place in drizzle and grime but I could not stop turning the pages of the first one and I got the next one (which used the conventions of the Jacobean stage which I will not explain, amid the mandatory drizzle and grime.) These are examples of how to write a contemporary novel that will not grow stale. Further, it is my opinion that these books show why there was a Brexit (without ever mentioning it, for all I know JK Rowling opposed it. No matter.) Her formula - to answer the question - is the one Dashiell Hammet suggested, which is to report on the mean streets we all know and "down these mean streets there must walk a man who is not himself mean."

bagoh20 said...

One way to keep your novel relevant for the next election would be to always mention that Republicans are racist Nazis, and remember that there is no "far left" only "center left" and there is no "center right" only "far right wing extremists", which you can also call "white supremacists", even the Black ones.

tcrosse said...

I'd be interested to know how "The Way We Live Now" went down when it appeared in 1875.

chuck said...

You know, something really outlandish.

Remakes, you say? OK, Boomer.

Unknown said...

Trump doesn't seem to have inspired much in the way of fiction. Probably we're lucky. George W. Bush inspired some - overwhelmingly negative. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon inspired more. Reagan and "the Eighties" likewise served as a target.

The only portrayal of Trump in a novel I have run across yet is Logan Jacobs Arena series. These are pure pulp men's adventure full of sex & violence, but quite fun so far. The portrayal is affectionate, but as the narrator mentions, a little goes a long way.

Here's "The President" writing the Amazon blurb:

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for coming. What a great looking group of people we have here today. As your President, I feel it’s important to tell you all about this guy. He’s a great guy. A real stand up guy. A real go-getter. His name is Marc Havak, and let me tell you, this guy is going to be huge.

See, when the aliens came down and told us they’d enslave all of the human race if we didn’t send our bigliest warrior to participate in their arena death games, I laughed at them. It was really funny because they obviously didn’t know who they were dealing with. Know what I mean? Then they said they would pick the greatest warrior, and they picked Marc Havak. He seemed like such an average guy, but he was a true blue American. He even worked as a truck driver! That’s the kind of good guy we want defending us from aliens.

I took one look at Marc and realized that he was just the right guy to save our planet. I always make the best decisions, and this one was one of the best decisions. Turns out Marc was really good at kicking alien ass. He won all the games, got all the prizes, and slept with all the hot alien women. And let me tell you, these women are some real beauties, and they don’t mind sharing Marc. He is just that great. Of course, he’s still not quite as accomplished as I am, but no one is.

There is more to it than that. You should check his story out. It’s a great story. A fantastic story. One of the best, and I know good stories. You’ll love it.

Kirk Parker said...

Buwaya,

I don't quite follow your reference to Naipaul. Yes, he got a lot of great inspiration from contemporary things, but the great majority of it went into his non-fiction writing, if for no other reason than that's what he did the most of.

He actually wrote about this somewhere--perhaps in his preface to India: A Million Mutinies Now. He definitely started out wanting to be the great Indian novelist, but found he just didn't have that much in him, which he attributed to his upbringing in the diaspora. It's worth reading in his own words...

Ken B said...

Wildswan
That mean streets quote is Chandler.

Ken B said...

Tcrosse
It was a big seller. Trollope was a very successful writer. As was the custom at the time most of his sales were to (commercial) lending libraries, so his readership exceeded his sales by a multiple.

Ken B said...

Rcocean
One year Len Deighton complained about the books short listed for the Booker. 5 of the 6 were about novelists writing a novel.

Roughcoat said...

Cormac McCarthy.

Bob Smith said...

I dunno, write one that doesn’t involve politicians or politics. Just a thought.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Where human beings and human society is concerned, it is always the present.
The inverse is also true: the future and past exist only in the human imagination.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Nabakov made the lives of academics interesting. But his academics were non-academics who (like him) took academic jobs because they could get paid for doing nothing else.
And Cheever made the lives of mid-century East Coast WASPS seem mythic.
It's the writer, not the topic.

Michael K said...

Trump doesn't seem to have inspired much in the way of fiction.

Kurt Schlicter's books are about Hillary ("People's Republic) and Trump. But he does not appear. They are more about why he appeared.

"Indian Country" is my favorite.

Michael K said...

But it has aged extremely well; in fact it would be more fair to say it has come into its own.

"Bonfire" was hard to read for me. Nobody was anything but an asshole. I once testified in that Bronx Supreme Court building in a med-mal case and it was just like he described it. No benches in the hallways. I asked a guard and he said, if there were benches they would be full of bums sleeping in them. They finally let me sit in the law library until my testimony.

The plaintiff lawyer was a public defense lawyer who was the plaintiff's criminal lawyer. After my testimony, his client got a $500 k judgement, which was probably the biggest payday that lawyer ever saw. He was ecstatic. Funny scenes but the book was a downer.

Michael K said...

The best movie about those courts in the Bronx is "Nuts" which is Barbra Streisand's best movie.

Ralph L said...

Nobody was anything but an asshole

That spoils a book or movie for me.

John Lynch said...

I write SF novels. I don't feel the need to insert contemporary politics into them.

sinz52 said...

Simple solution:

Write a historical novel.

Set your novel in the time of a *past* Administration: LBJ, Eisenhower, Coolidge, whoever.

Jeff Gee said...

At a Star Trek convention roughly 40 years ago, Norman Spinrad said "Write what you know is great advice unless you don't know anything, which is why there's so many shitty first novels about English professors contemplating adultery and so many terrible second novels about promising young novelists struggling to write a second novel."

rcocean said...

"Nabakov made the lives of academics interesting. But his academics were non-academics who (like him) took academic jobs because they could get paid for doing nothing else.'

IRC, Humbert Humbert -of Lolita fame - spends little time in the classroom. Writing his "Memoir" from a prison cell he has other interests.

rcocean said...

"Rcocean
One year Len Deighton complained about the books short listed for the Booker. 5 of the 6 were about novelists writing a novel."

That gave me a chuckle.

narciso said...

Thomas mallon has written a few of them, the last one was unsatisfying.

Temujin said...

I think I've been repeating this for a few years now in this commenting space: Western Liberals are the most miserable people in the world.

But they want to be in charge of your life. That they're not, is what makes them miserable. That and they have mommy/daddy issues.

DavidD said...

" 'The realist novelist who wants to acknowledge Trump, climate change, and the rest...' "

Here's a hint: "Climate change" is not real. And neither is your image of Trump.

And neither is the rest, for that matter.

Michael said...

I won't ask "Who writes this stuff?"....instead I want to know "Who reads this stuff?" Who reads this type of these meandering essays about nothing and find some perspective that helps the reader understand something meaningful?

Will someone please clue me into the audience for this stuff?

buwaya said...

Good morning!

Re Nabokov - his proper academic was Pnin.
The fellow who would carry away a card catalog like a squirrel would his nut.
I am paraphrasing, as my Pnin is boxed up, with all our other books.

As for Naipaul, he was indeed a novelist of the contemporary. That he was eventually turned off from novels is neither here nor there. "A Bend in the River" (for one) is exactly the sort of novel that explains contemporary situations, in that case decolonization, etc.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Pale fire was all about academics -- or people who were technically academics, or pretended to be academics, all pursuing their own mad plans. Pnin was a sliver of Nabakov, as Humbert Humbert was another (more objectionable) sliver of Nabakov.

Unknown said...

Have you noticed that it takes about 5 times as long to hook up a printer or print a document than it did in 1995?

Not on my planet. I remember stacks of printer driver diskettes and dot matrix printers (with fan-fold paper). The last five printers I've had, I've just plugged them in and they worked - including a 3D printer.

Benster said...

I suppose I would caution against using election cycles as milestones in your writing.