In this third installment of three articles, draft editor Mark Polanzak talks about why literary readings suck and how to make them better.
The three occurrences that most riveted the crowd at the last three readings I attended:
1) At Q & A time, a man was called on who said: “I’ve never heard of the book, and I missed your reading, but I’ve just looked at the back of your novel here, and, jeez, you must be amazing, man.” To which the reader/author had to sort of respond to the obviously indigent and hammered bookstore patron with an awkward, “Thank you.” Everyone in the crowd whispered and shuffled around.
Tony Tulathimutte is the author of the novel Private Citizens. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has written for The New York Times, VICE, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, N+1, Playboy, The Paris Review, Salon, The LA Review of Books, Travel + Leisure, and others. His work has received an O. Henry Award and a Macdowell Fellowship.
This post is part of our ongoing web series MARGINALIA about all things writing, reading, & learning. To submit your own experience, please read our guidelines.
Let this be an official apology to my copyeditor, the indefatigable Laura Cherkas, and a hymn of praise for the work copyeditors do with scant praise or recognition. Did you know that HarperCollins fact-checks their novels? And that they not only make lists of every character, every location, and every abbreviation, but a comprehensive timeline of every event in the book with a specific date? I sure didn’t, until, some time after submitting the draft of my novel Private Citizens, I received all of these in a 13-page style sheet, an additional four pages and an annotated manuscript of unbelievably minute queries. The style notes offer a charming glimpse into the copyeditor’s pragmatic, craftsmanly approach to literature: “Author’s prose is very slangy and stylistic; follow him when possible,” one reads (good advice!). Or: “‘God’ capitalized only in direct reference to deity, not in interjections. ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ always capped.”
A truly phenomenal (if we do say so ourselves) Issue 6 is here, featuring short stories by Dylan Nice and Chris Boucher, along with some pretty amazing artwork by Michael Tarbi. Buy it now to peruse the drafts, stories, and interviews or come find us at the bookfair at AWP.
You can also check out samples from Issue 6 on our website and sign up for our newsletter to receive bonus material when we launch new issues and stay up to date on draft news.
In this second installment of three articles, draft editor Mark Polanzak opines about the writerly mystique and all the drama surrounding literary genius.
After the mandated souring of young persons to the act of reading through our educational system, there’s the culture of book people to contend with. How do we as a society view authors?
On a recent South Park episode, when Butters took credit for authoring the novel Scrotie McBoogerballs and the world deemed him a genius writer, his look morphed from anxious nerdlinger in pale green tee to self-important writer-douche in black frame eyeglasses and gray sweater. The episode goes on to point out that books are not simply enjoyed for the stories they tell. Rather, they are bizarre language puzzles that concoct impenetrable metaphors and allegories that readers must set to figuring out. There’s this bullshit air of mystery about the whole endeavor and about authors themselves. Continue reading
In this first installment of three articles, draft editor Mark Polanzak sounds off about high school English curricula, literary culture, and reading events. Today, we hear him bitch about Beowulf.
A Note From The Author
I see my job as a college writing and literature teacher as largely a mission to get college students to enjoy reading and see some value in writing smartly, despite their declared major. Each semester, a handful of students tell me, “No offense, but I hate reading…” I tell them, “None taken, I didn’t invent books.”
But it’s sort of shitty to hear that young people truly hate the act of reading, because I write, and also because it hurts to hear that others laugh at your pleasures. No offense, but your interests blow. Oh, none taken. It also hurts to be so uncool. To belong, in part, to the artistic/entertainment group that the majority of the population doesn’t give a rat’s ass about.
I blame my students’ distaste for reading on several things:
1) The crazy joke of our high school English curriculum
2) A smelliness in the bourgeois literary culture
3) The sadness of reading events
All of these need serious revamping and soon, or else we’ll lose even more generations of readers and plunge the publishing world into a darker pit than it’s already falling through at terminal velocity.
To some writers–including me–plot can seem like the dirtiest, most despicable of four letter words. Writers of this ilk have been known to run screaming from a room when we hear the word. “Make something happen?” we call, quaking in our hiding spots. “Why would we do that? Stories come from character, not plot. Stories should be about someone, not something.”
This, I’ve learned, is a huge, smelly load of horse shit.
Plot is important. Stories need plots. Every story. Every. Single. One.
As the speaker at the front of the room drones through her PowerPoint presentation, you furiously take notes. Those seated near you are impressed. At the break, over coffee and stale pastries, they point you out to their friends: he must have written down every word she said. Not far from the truth, but instead of taking notes you were discovering free verse. Here’s how. Continue reading
Draft editor Rachel Yoder weighs in on the new Witching Hour Festival in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. See her discuss the creative process with author Kerry Howley, dramaturg Rachel Chavkin, and artist Mei-Ling Shaw Williams on Friday, November 6 at MERGE in Downtown Iowa City at 5pm.
We’re pleased to announce that draft will be hosting a panel on November 6 from 5:00-6:15 exploring the creative process at a new event in Iowa City. The Witching Hour Fest, curated by Iowa City’s arts leaders, seeks to explore and engage the unknown through performances and discussion.
Rachel Yoder, a founding editor of draft, will be hosting a panel that explores first and final drafts of creative work from a writer Kerry Howley, director Rachel Chavkin, and innovative cross-disciplinary artist Mei-Ling Shaw Williams. Here’s the full description:
What inspires creative work? How does it first materialize and then grow and change? What does a first draft look like compared to the final one? And how does the artist get from point A to point B?
Rachel Yoder, founding editor of draft: the journal of process, leads a discussion with The TEAM’s artistic director Rachel Chavkin and other fantastic creators about the murky process of conceptualizing, crafting, revising, and editing new work. Our panelists will provide passages from first and final drafts of their work to discuss and share with audience members.
If you’re in Iowa City this November, we hope to see you there!