Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

The Narrative Essay #amwriting

Today we are continuing the subject of crafting short fiction. In December I wrote a post on essays I have read and why we should write them. While this post expands on that subject, we’re digging deeper today, going into the mechanics of writing a specific type of essay. For Indie authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay appeals to a wide audience and is sometimes more salable. Narrative essays are often anecdotal and not necessarily completely true.

They may detail an experience or event, and how it shaped the author on a personal level. However, we must keep in mind, the first-person narrator is frequently unreliable. This purely human tendency to embellish or slightly twist the truth is what makes the narrative essay an engrossing tale.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair, (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by the late David Foster Wallace, and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, yet eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

Sandra Allen describes this essay as, Laugh-out-loud hilarious and almost ridiculous in its level of detail, it explores the author’s fractured identity, the Midwest versus the East Coast, and the American experience at large.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair, but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals, and hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that in the course of covering the fair for Harpers, he is getting his first official press pass. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

Writing thought provoking content is the prime purpose of an essay. Because the essay is the vehicle for conveying our ideas in a palatable form, writing narrative essays require us to think, not just about the content, but also about the structure. You must include:

  • an introduction
  • a plot
  • one or more characters (can be the narrator)
  • a setting
  • a climax
  • a summary/ending

Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays may center around larger concepts, but they present ideas in such a way the reader feels connected to the story. Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. (Names changed to cover your backside legally, of course.)

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics, and some will pay well for first publication rights. Therefore, it is essential you pay strict attention to grammar and editing, and never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are real words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Miskeyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. Never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for publication serving that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work.

A list of publications that are accepting narrative essays can be found here: NewPages.Com

And on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most thrilling thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions, and they probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Credits and Attributions:

Harpers, Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace, pdf  https://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/HarpersMagazine-1994-07-0001729.pdf

17 Personal Essays That Will Change Your Life by Sandra Allen for Buzz Feed, August 2013

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).

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Essays #amwriting

One area of writing that we’ve all heard of, but don’t often think about, are Essays. However, if we want to be published, writing and submitting essays is an opportunity the unknown author should exploit.

Essays are not just that bane of every school child’s existence—essays are where some of the best works of western literature can be found. Essays are short, magazine-length or blog post length articles. They are non-fiction and are frequently opinion pieces, but sometimes they are brief memoirs of a singular experience. Essays are pieces we have all read and which have moved us in some way, for good or ill.

 

In her introduction to The Best American Essays 1988, Annie Dillard claims that “The essay can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.”

The word essay also means to attempt—and why this meaning is important will emerge later.

But let’s look at essays, starting with Sir Francis Bacon, renaissance author, courtier, and the father of deductive reasoning. The life and works of this English essayist and statesman had a major impact in his day and still resonate in modern literature. Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was his first published book.

The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes  91 quotations from the Essays. No author is quoted so many times unless their work has struck a chord with centuries of readers.

  • “Knowledge itself is power.”
  • “Riches are a good handmaid, but the worst mistress.”

Aldous Huxley‘s book Jesting Pilate, an Intellectual Holiday had as its epigraph, “What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.” These lines were quoted from Bacon’s essay “Of Truth.”  Huxley himself was a brilliant essayist, and according to Wikipedia, he defined essays in this way: “essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference.” These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:

  • The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole “write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description.”
  • The objective, the factual, and the concrete-particular: The essayists that write from this pole “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgement upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data.”
  • The abstract-universal: In this pole “we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions,” who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience. (end quote)

Essays offer an author the opportunity to use prose to expound ideas and values. Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays—by which he meant attempts. He used the term to characterize these short pieces as “attempts” to put his thoughts into writing. Montaigne’s essays grew out of his work that was then known as “commonplacing.” These were published books that were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Think of them as mini-encyclopedias.

Sir Francis Bacon and Aldous Huxley are two men whose works shaped modern literature, and they did it though essays.

I highly recommend reading essays to expand your imagination. Essays offer us ideas, philosophical, sociological, and ask us to examine our values.  This examination of the world through the eyes of essayists offers us many insights which will make their way into our own work in ways both seen and unseen, such as Huxley’s reference of Bacon’s work.

Some contemporary essayists I have read and who left an impression on me (some good, some bad) are:

John McPhee, The Search for Marvin Gardens published in the September 9, 1972 issue of The New Yorker

Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself (published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1959)

David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster” (originally appeared in Gourmet, 2004)

George Saunders, “The Braindead MegaPhone” (Essays by George Saunders) (published by Riverhead, 2007)

Norman Mailer was not my cup of tea, but he might be yours. Great writing is not always comfortable, but it always challenges your view of the world. I didn’t like Mailer’s voice or style.

Essays most frequently appear in magazines, so that is where to look for awesome contemporary work by today’s best-known authors of mainstream fiction—and much of it is sitting around in waiting-rooms the world over. If you fly Alaska Airlines (as I usually always do) take a look at that magazine they provide you with. You will find essays by authors like Scott Driscoll.

Essays are also frequently referred to as “Creative Non-Fiction” which sounds like an oxymoron—after all, “creative truthing” is “lying.” Nowadays “creative truthing” is business as usual from Washington D.C., but politics aside, get creative with your ideas and philosophies—put them in an essay.

Several prestigious literary magazines are open for submissions, a mix of well-known and little-known or new magazines that welcome creative non-fiction: memoirs, personal essays, lyrical essays, and more. Go to the website, Authors Publish, and there you will find a list of publications seeking submission.

You can also find a long list of open calls at Submittable. I trust and use this app to find open calls and to track where my own submissions are in the process.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Essay,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Essay&oldid=815813680 (accessed December 18, 2017).

Wikipedia contributors, “Essays (Francis Bacon),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Essays_(Francis_Bacon)&oldid=811671029 (accessed December 18, 2017).

Essays–the vegan discusses Bacon and other meaty reads, ©2015, by Connie J. Jasperson  https://conniejjasperson.com/2015/08/10/essays-the-vegan…ther-meaty-reads/

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Essays–the vegan discusses Bacon and other meaty reads

consider the lobsterWe have talked a lot about fiction and writing novels as well as short stories. You might think that outside of journalism and blogging there isn’t much left for an author. But there is another area of writing that we’ve all heard of but don’t often think about. They are Essays.

Essays are not just that bane of every school child’s existence–essays are where some of the best works of western literature can be found.

We shall go to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and ask the holy guru “what is an essay”: “Essays have been defined as “prose composition with a focused subject of discussion” or a “long, systematic discourse”.

Well–that was distinctly un-enlightening.

In her introduction to The Best American Essays 1988, Annie Dillard claims that “The essay can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.”

The word essay also means to attempt–and why this meaning is important will emerge later.

But let’s take a look at essays, starting with Sir Francis Bacon, renaissance author, courtier, and father of deductive reasoning. The life and works of this English essayist and statesman had a major impact in his day and still resonate in modern literature. Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was his first published book.

The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes  91 quotations from the Essays. No one gets that many quotes unless his work has struck a chord with centuries of readers.

  • “Knowledge itself is power.”
  • “Riches are a good handmaid, but the worst mistress”

MusicAtNightAldous Huxley‘s book Jesting Pilate, an Intellectual Holiday had as its epigraph, “What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer” quoted from Bacon’s essay “Of Truth”.  Huxley himself was a brilliant essayist and, according to Wikipedia, he defined essays in this way: “essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference”. These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:

  • The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole “write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description”.
  • The objective, the factual, and the concrete-particular: The essayists that write from this pole “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists on setting forth, passing judgement upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data”.
  • The abstract-universal: In this pole “we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions”, who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience. (end quote)

Essays offer an author the opportunity to use prose to expound ideas and values. Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays–by which he meant attempts. He used the term to characterize these short pieces as “attempts” to put his thoughts into writing. Montaigne’s essays grew out of his work that was then known as “commonplacing”:  published books that were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Think of them as mini-encyclopedias.

Sir Francis Bacon and Aldous Huxley are two men whose works shaped modern literature and they did it though essays.

I highly recommend reading essays as a way to expand your imagination. Essays offer us ideas, philosophical, sociological, and ask us to examine our values.  This examination of the world through the eyes of essayists offers us many insights which will make their way into our own work in ways both seen and unseen, such as Huxley’s reference of Bacon’s work.

Some contemporary essayists I have read and who left an impression on me (some good, some bad) are:

Original_New_Yorker_coverJohn McPhee, The Search for Marvin Gardens published in the September 9, 1972 issue of The New Yorker

Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself (published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1959)

David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster” (originally appeared in Gourmet, 2004)

George Saunders, “The Braindead MegaPhone” (Essays by George Saunders) (published by Riverhead, 2007)

Norman Mailer was definitely not my cup of tea, but he might be yours. Great writing is not always comfortable, but it always challenges your view of the world. I still didn’t like it.

Essays most frequently appear in magazines, so that is where to look for awesome contemporary work by today’s best-known authors of mainstream fiction–and much of it is sitting around in waiting-rooms the world over. If you fly Alaska Airlines (as I usually always do) take a look at that magazine they provide you with. You will find essays by authors like Scott Driscoll.

Essays are also frequently referred to as “Creative Non-Fiction” which sounds like an oxymoron–after all, when we are growing up “creative truthing” was called “lying.”  Get creative with your ideas and philosophies–put them in an essay.

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My manuscript is a Doorstop

Saint_georges_dragon_grasset_beguleI give up.

I need ideas, and they–recalcitrant beasts that they are– will not appear.  Please, ideas…have pity on me and put yourself into this manuscript.

I woke with a new book in my head and now I can’t work on the one I am SUPPOSED to be doing…the one my nephew, Robbie, will beat me for if I don’t get it written…

The one that has been in limbo for more than a year.

Outline of Book: done.

First 1/4 of Book — done, done and then done some more — done to the point that there are 160,000 words: TWO books worth of done-ness to sort through and condense into no more than 50,000 words so that the total length of the Book won’t be so big that the paperback is a doorstop.

To_Green_Angel_TowerTad Williams can get away with a book  520,000 words long (To Green angel Tower) and David Foster Wallace could with Infinite Jest (543,709) –but I’m an indie.

I have to calculate my production costs, and believe me, it’s hard enough for an indie to sell work that is priced reasonably. Once an indie’s paperback increases to more than $14.99 it won’t sell at all, and at anything over 120,00 to 130,000 words your costs are well over the optimum of $12.99.

 

What to leave in? What to cut?

What the heck?

Second 1/4 of book mostly done, and looking good.

Last half of book nearly done, pleased with the way that is going.

Still drowning in flood of first 1/4–> think there may be a book of short-stories there.  Must decide who will live…

…and who will end their days in an anthology of tales of Neveyah….

Sigh.

map of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001

 

 

 

 

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