Set Your DVRs (or VCRs, for the Old-School)

Got a note from Beatrice guest author Meg Wolitzer this morning about next Sunday’s premiere of the CBS TV-movie based on her novel Surrender, Dorothy, which is not to be confused with the 1998 film Surrender Dorothy, especially since it’s doubtful that Diane Keaton and Peter Riegert would star in a film about transvestite submission. So if you’re all bowl-gamed out by 9 p.m. Eastern on January 1st, now you’ve got something else to watch.

Quite a day for Meg, as it turns out she’s also featured in Tuesday’s NYT arts section for her participation in Amazon Connect, the online retailer’s bid to help writers take advantage of blog technology and communicate more directly with readers.

26 December 2005 | watch this |

Steven Heighton: “Locked in the Ice & Free to Play”

Steven Heighton’s second novel, Afterlands, was recently published in his native Canada and will be appearing in the United States (and several other nations) early next year. He is also the author of The Shadow Boxer, a Publishers Weekly Book of the Year for 2002, and the short story collections Flight Paths of the Emperor and On earth as it is. In this essay for Beatrice readers, he explains how fiction can emerge from a kernel of fact…

heighton.jpgDuke Ellington once said that it’s good to have limits. He was talking about jazz music, but I think the same can be said about writing. When I write poetry I often use some sort of constraining form—sometimes a traditional form, like the sonnet, sometimes one of my own devising—to help compress and intensify the material and also the medium, language. That’s what the limitations of form are for. Not to provide a stage on which a writer gets to preen and flaunt mastery of the craft; not to promote retrograde cultural nostalgia or politically reactionary attitudes. Simply, formal constraints impose a framework that forces the imagination to dig deeper, making the writer compress and intensify the material of the poem—or, sometimes, the novel.

The framework of historical fact I used in writing Afterlands was particularly suited to imposing constraints, and not only formally but geographically. In 1871 the U.S. Navy sent a largely civilian expedition north to the Arctic where it was to reach the North Pole, if possible, and plant the American flag. But the ship, the USS Polaris, was stopped by the ice, and after a full winter trapped in the ice it was forced to turn back. It didn’t get far. During a storm in which the ship seemed to be sinking, much of the crew—a white American, a black American, five Germans, a Dane, a Swede, an Englishman, and two Inuit families—were cast away on a large ice-floe, which then began to shrink steadily as it drifted south in the Arctic seas through the winter darkness. This microcosm of varied characters soon fragmented along ethnic and national lines, even as the floe’s steady shrinking forced them into ever closer quarters.


22 December 2005 | guest authors |

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