Read This: Ecotone

I recently added Ecotone, a literary journal from the creative writing department at UNC-Wilmington, to my sidebar. One of the writers on the journal’s editing team, Miriam Parker, wrote to let me know about “The Body as Ecotone,” a series of short essays being published on the journal’s blog. Miriam says they welcome submissions:

“We’re interested in exploring the body as an ecotone—as a transitional place separating past and present, fantasy and reality—and invite you to submit artistic expressions of this idea. (We’re open to anything: striking text, video, finger paints, sand sculptures…) Has your body served as a transitional zone physically through body art, pregnancy, injury, plastic surgery? Or perhaps through grief, stress, starvation or alchoholic binges? However you view your body as an ecotone, we’re interested.”

Among those who have already contributed: Laurel Snyder, Ann Ropp, Alison Stine and Jeannine Hall.

12 November 2007 | read this |

Joshua Henkin: Condensing 20 Years to About 300 Pages

Yesterday, I shared an essay from Joshua Henkin about how he dealt with the characters in his new novel, Matrimony, over such a long stretch of narrative time. In this second essay for Beatrice readers, he expands upon that theme. If you’d like to read more from Henkin, he’ll be appearing on The Elegant Variation on Monday, November 12.

joshua-henkin.jpgMatrimony is about the twenty-year history of a marriage. Weighing in at just under three hundred pages, it is, as Dani Shapiro put it, “at once sprawling and economical.” But how does a writer do that? How do you decide what to include and what to exclude in a novel that takes place over so much time?

Lorrie Moore was once asked what’s the hardest thing about writing fiction writing, and she said, “Getting my characters into their cars.” She was being funny, of course, but she was also, I believe, being serious. The question of how to move your characters around, how to get them from one place to the other without giving the reader a blow-by-blow account (“She took forty-two steps, turned left out of the door, reached into her handbag, pulled out her keys, checked to make sure all was well in the glove compartment, etc.”) is the question every writer faces. How much more so when you’re trying to get your characters not simply from the house to the car but from late adolescence to their late thirties.

Although my novel is made up of scenes from a marriage, it couldn’t rightly be called Scenes From a Marriage. I was picking and choosing, and what I picked and chose needed to be illustrative of something, though not so obviously illustrative as to be reductive. A novelist, it’s important to remember (and I try to hammer this into my MFA students again and again), is never trying to make a point. Points are for anthropologists, political scientists, and mathematicians. A novelist is trying to tell a story and, through story and language, he is trying to convey character.


11 November 2007 | guest authors |

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