Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't Give Up The Day Job, Miss Writer

Perseverance is the key. I didn't go into this writerly business with any deluded ideas - that I'd be whisked up by a huge publisher and become the coolest thing to read. No way. The rejections had to happen. They did, and they do still happen. That's fine. So I had a bit of an issue with the rejection emails themselves as per this post that I wrote about it but I've dealt with that - it's just the way these things work. But now, now rejection is the daily deal and there's not even a ratio of no to yes, because there are no yeses.

People say Keep On Going and that's brilliant that folks are being so supportive, but surely, just logically even, it's getting to the point where I should just be getting ready to give up the ghost. So I Google 'writers who gave up' and here is what I find:

That Teetering Tower Of Rejections Threatens To Crush You And Your Cats
You know by now if you’re at least a little bit good. You know because someone’s told you. Or because you got an acceptance on a short story or even a nice rejection. Or because in your heart you’ve cast aside the fog and seen into the truth of the matter: “I’m not great, but I’m good, and I can damn sure get better.”
Then again, maybe you look over at the end of your desk and you see it. The rejections. All 9,000 of them. Not a single acceptance nestled in there, like a glittering brooch inside the nest of a foul diarrhea-having bird. You’ve sent your work to the far flung corners of the literary world — editors, agents, lit mags, Field & Stream — and it always returns with a big red stamp across it that reads, FUCK NO.
By now, just by dint of taking so many shots at the hoop one of them should have gone through the little hole. If you’re having no luck, it might be time to set aside childish whims. -

I'm clinging to that first paragraph, but I really feel like I'm holding on by the ends of my finger nails (albeit nicely manicured finger nails), and it's all a bit precarious. I'm still going, but I'm beginning to wonder if this is really the game for me.

The great news is that a couple of weeks ago I received two rejections from lovely people who seemed to actually have read my work and the response was that my writing didn't fit. This is great. This is improvement. Now I either have to find a place for my poetry and prose to fit, or else I make it fit.

Baby steps.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reviewish: All Her Father's Guns ~ James Warner

I've always maintained that my main criteria for a novel was that it was well-written. I'm not into a specific genre, I'm into good writing. All Her Father's Guns rocked this idea quite a bit.

As the title might suggest, there are guns in this book. Guns, and gadgets and cars and business (yaaawn). That's not something I can generally handble, or be remotely interested in. Maybe if there were some decent sex scenes...but there were none. I was hardly arrested but I soldiered on, and was rewarded with the start of part two. Warner's narration of Cal recovering from an accident is great, and as a character Cal becomes much more interesting and sympathetic.

Unforunately, though, it didn't last long enough for my liking. Again, it's not that the writing was bad, there were some great wee sentences, it just didn't do anything to hold my attention or grab my affection. Sexist as it may sound, this one's for boys.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For Review: Trackman ~ Catriona Child

It's amazing how a song can evoke a memory, and so strongly too. There are some songs that conjure up the tiniest little details in a memory, all the sights and smells and feelings. Davie is given an MP3 player from some dodgy guy. It doesn't have a play button, you can't remove the headphones, and it seems to have a life of its own. Actually, that's because it does: it finds people, and it plays them that special song.

Trackman's hook is its unusual premise, but the book itself is about so much more than a surreal MP3 player. Davie lives in Edinburgh and works in Virgin (which is some nice nostalgia itself!). He's got customers to deal with, and also some pretty lassies. Mostly, Davie is working through bereavement following the death of his brother. Initially, my interest in Davie was quite aloof - he didn't seem particuarly interesting, he didn't seem to have a lot to say for himself, but it was his relationship with his brother that really redeemed that. More than this, Catriona Child really carefully pulled out her slow reveal. At the start we have the immediate big picture - his parents have left him, his brother Lewis is dead. But the hows and the whys are very gently drawn out and the mega how of Lewis' death is left to the final pages and yes, it got me very teary eyed on the train while I was reading it. Ouch.

Regret is one of the most harrowing human emotions, and there's a huge deal of guilt going on in Davie's mind surrounding the death of his younger brother. At points it was painful to read, because the level of anxiety and guilt was huge and this really, for me, was the great compelling point that kept me reading. There's a real sense of Davie beginning to lose touch with his little Edinburgh world but, equally, the optimism of going somewhere and pulling himself together - there's a hot girl on the scene, and he has the power of being Trackman. There's mention of good days and bad days throughout the book, but Davie's day-to-day proves that more often than not, the day is a conflict of both.

Trackman follows Davie's first person present tense narrative (tick), but also includes a third person narration (tick), and the voice of the MP3 player (tick). Not confusing in the slightest, because each has its own font. It's a consistency that's set up from the start, and it makes the whole flow without too much jarring. As Davie's mind meanders/deteriorates, so does the layout, and it's all very fun. Playing around with these things is always very exciting for me, and Child does it properly because none of it is needless or just for the sake which is quite refreshing when crazy formats seem to be a la mode. That, and every chapter is the name of a song that links somehow with the chapter - that must have been a fun job!

Trackman is fun. It's heavy, and there's a lot going on, but it's balanced with humour, love interests, and banter. It's an interesting take on getting by, having a literal coping mechanism in the form of an MP3 player. Child has handled some tricksy tricks, and she pulls it off with an enjoyable read.

Many thanks to Luath Press for sending a copy for review!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday 21 Feb

You don't realise how many crazies there are in the world until you work in a shop. (32)
Trackman, by Catriona Child

- Officially the truest line that I have read all year.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

For Review: Flatscreen ~ Adam Wilson

Eli Schwartz is, pretty much, just a loser. He's twenty years old with no ambition; a rich kid who gets stoned all day and watches born. Probably, that's the profile of a lot of men out there. But who am I to criticise? Eli seems happy with his life with all that he thinks that he wants whenever he wants it (apart from actual sex, but that's what happens when you're a loser and girls just think you're 'funny').

Flatscreen begins like so many of these slightly later year coming-of-age stories. And he's a bit of a loser, like a  lot of these guys. But he's part of a super rich upper class American lifestyle and that's always something that is really alien to me. Like Bret Easton Ellis' world, only the main man is far less attractive and charismatic. Eli has his days, and then he has total non-moments. He sees the world through various drugs, which is a story that is beginning to get quite old in contemporary lit. But what saves Eli, and what saves the book, is his murky way of feeling and dealing with his parent's divorce and a brother that is so much better than him. Eli seeks meaningful relationships from his friends, from women, and from a paraplegic ex-star of tv films. Eli's referencing of life through films is one of the most curiously amusing aspects of the book. That's how people engage with the world these days, and it's fun to watch Eli make the (sometimes rather comic) connections.

Eli's way of making sense of the world is interesting, and Adam Wilson tells the story from his flawed, but Hollywood-style optimism. In itself, the writing is clever and engaging, with scenes and monologues that can shock and amuse: it's funny cause it's true. Eli stays stuck with some old ways and he learns and grows with others, though not to an extent that made me wholly satisfied. There was some kind of deeper something that Flatscreen was scratching the surface of but never really got to. Vague, I know, but at the outset of the book I felt I was being promised a reconciliation that never fully came around. Still, despite the almost parallel universe nature of Eli's world, the ugly honesty of his narrative redeems himself, and the whole book with it.

Wilson offers a refreshing read, most especially in terms of voice and narrative. He does his own thing, but it's accessible, and very readable. Flatscreen was good fun, and it comes out in a few days so get on it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

0 out of 10.

More and more, the literary blog hop makes me think back to my undergraduate module in the philosophy of art, aesthetics. Technically, that means I'm actually qualified to talk about these things in great length. But here are ramblings instead, that I do hope make some sense.

In the epilogue for Fargo Rock CityChuck Klosterman writes:

"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
Do you agree?

There's a huge difference in saying that you think something is good, and that you like something. Some philosophers wouldn't agree with me, but that's too bad for them. An example:

Radiohead are, in musical, technical senses, good.
I do not like Radiohead.

Is this saying something about me? Well, it says that Tom Yorke's voice annoys me, because personally I don't like it. But I'm not going to say that Radiohead are crap, because they actually just aren't.

I'm trying to think of a literary example... but in that sense so often if something isn't actually well-written and good, then I probably won't like it, just because that is part of my criteria for enjoying a book.

So that's that part.

When I'm criticising a novel, what am I really doing?
I'd like to believe that my reviews that bit better than people who say: I didn't like it. 0 of 10. That isn't a review, that's giving an opinion. That's a different ball game. Of course, when I review a book I bring with me all my baggage and expectations - there are my likes and dislikes, and I'm sure I've got some secret prejudices going on somewhere inside me. That all exists before I even open the book. Probably, that will make a difference.

But I try to let it not make a difference. When I criticise, I do just that. Criticising is about really taking a piece of fiction (or art, whatever) apart and examining it for what it is, regardless of any personal issues I might have. Then, I might also choose to give a personal judgement, which is different from criticism. That's me saying, Hey, I Hated That Character Because I Hate Clowns But That's My Opinion. Cause it is. I have a fear of clowns, so I automatically hate the clown character, but I recognise that for what it is and admit it.

So my answer is no. Not if criticism really means critique, and not just an eww or yay answer.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

For Review: The Death of Lomond Friel ~ Sue Peebles

 Lomond Friel has a stroke and it sends his family into all sorts of upset and turmoil. His daughter Rosie struggles to cope as the accident begins to unearths some uncomfortable truths about herself and her family. Lomond's daughter, twin sons, sister, and cleaner all try to make sense of the situation and do their best to make decisions on his behalf. All the while Lomond is dealing with his post-stroke body and mind, quantifying his quality of life and contemplating suicide.

It's important to mention all of these characters. The Death of Lomond Friel features all these people, and their spouses, their partners, and even the local fishmonger. The characters themselves are interesting individuals each with their own worries and hopes, be it Jacob's annoyance at Rosie's alcoholic tendencies, or April's concerns of how to run her lingerie shop. The book is a patchwork of humans trying to cope and understand their lives. It's genuine, but the patchwork was really..patchy.

Sue Peebles writes the point of view of nearly all of the characters mentioned, and as much as I'm a fan of one or two voices, I found so many to be quite problematic. It was difficult really getting to grips with some of the characters. Not that she didn't manage to do the different voices well, there were just too many. More disruptive was the spacing. The book is in chapters, but each chapter contains little bits sometimes separated by a space, sometimes by a star. Neither seemed to indicate anything in particular, and sometimes the spacing just wasn't necessary. It all became quite bitty, and became a personal annoyance. Personal, because perhaps it's just a stylistic preference, but it really disrupted the flow of the narrative. Kind of like a soap, where they'll show how Mrs A is doing, then cut randomly to Mr B, and back to Mrs A, then you're with Mr C two days later, then back to Mr B with Mrs Z. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy a little bit more consistency.

Peebles' examinations of what really goes on in various relationships is quite interesting. Wilson, Rosie's boyfriend, was probably the character I was most sympathetic too - she does treat him quite horribly. And the fishmonger Cameron was far more engaging than a bunch of the others. Most satisfying was Rosie's developed understanding of her mother. Ethel died when Rosie was born and all she knows is a photograph of the beautiful woman. As the book progresses, Rosie's image of the most perfect mother begins to break with stories she hears from others. Of everything, I think this thread of the story was the most compelling.

The Death of Lomond Friel
is thoughtful and carefully nuanced, but the patchwork approach of canvassing the whole family got in the way of an otherwise engaging narrative.

There's a great podcast discussion of the book over at the Scottish Book Talk website. You can listen to it if you click here.

P.S This is my 300th post!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: 07 Feb

It's so easy to let things slide through. Lives are left outside, like a pile of muddy boots, and every so often a visitor comes, dragging in the dirt.  (55)
         - The Death of Lomond Friel by Sue Peebles

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

For Review: Fup ~ Jim Dodge

Fup is a duck. Fup duck. She lives in the middle of nowhere with a 99 year old gambler with a strong whisky habit and his twenty something orphaned grandson who loves to build fences. Did I say something in my last review about loving books with quirky little plot ideas?

Fup is a teeny little read of 122 pages of not the smallest font, and that in itself is something to warm to. Still, in that short space of time, Jim Dodge creates characters that are instantly familiar, and that I'm instantly fond of. They're odd, quirky human beings with their ways of doing things, but they have big hearts and it shows. Their lives become more interesting with the arrival of the duck, and the book is just so rustic and warm.

If you have a spare afternoon to spend getting cosy, then Fup is the book to do it with.

And when you're done you can go on the pretty website and teach Fup how to fly!