Friday, July 16, 2010

significant formalization efforts in any area

Finished a short story on the train back to Baltimore yesterday! Good times. I'm my most productive when I'm not in my apartment, it being full of shinies that distract me from fiction.

It occurred to me, as I wrote, that I haven't written a literary essay for journal publication in almost two years. Maybe even longer than that. I was a full-blown essayist when I graduated college, and thought that was my path until I decided to throw myself into grad school. I've gotten a few essays published - some of them are linked in the sidebar - but ultimately chose fiction as my MFA concentration because I felt like I had more to learn there. Like I said, I'd been writing essays/non-fiction for a while, and had gotten published, so I felt like any more learning I had to do on that front could be done on the job, so to speak. I hadn't seriously pursued fiction for ages and, to be honest, I missed it. I missed writing stories, and the rush of creation, and the satisfaction of completing a draft. It's entirely different from completing an essay, which is also satisfying but not as much. I still read non-fiction because I think it helps my voice, but I don't miss essays. Besides, I have my Adfreak/Brandfreak work and my monthly column in the Gettysburg Times (link) to carry any lingering essayist ambitions for me.

I'm also nearly done with The Alienist - I tore through it in NC and on the train, and it's a thumping good read. Like all plot-based thrillers, the characters are familiar and archetypal, but they don't feel stock to me. And Caleb Carr does an excellent job handling Teddy Roosevelt, even quaintly maintaining the facade that he was a human being instead of a clockwork tin robot. That aside, there's a very organic feeling to this book - a heartbeat that comes through in the sometimes overly analytical dialogue, the setting details, the characterization, everything. And it's a real page-turner, on top of everything else. I'll agree with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's criticism that the protagonists' views of gays and black people is too immediately tolerant for the period, but that isn't really something I have a problem with - aside from the Flashman novels (in which Harry Flashman's various prejudices are spoken through his own irrational voice), Victorian novels with period social outlooks seem to indulge that era's intolerance a little too much.

However, the Post-Dispatch's dismissal of the female lead as too modern and feminist ("a tough-minded career woman who's unafraid to pack a pistol and spout a bit of scatological English") doesn't hold water. Women back then, much as now, were as tough and resourceful as their circumstances demanded, and if Ma Barker could exist, then so could Sara Howard.

Anyway, I still have a long day of Artscape to contend with, so I'd better go get ready for work. I'll have more about irrational voices later on.

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