Category Archives: Charles Johnson

Links: Across the Pond

“What the US provides, in a way that Britain doesn’t, are effective opportunities for young writers to develop their craft and to market themselves. The explosion of graduate writing programmes—which dwarfs that in the UK—has created an ocean of competent line-and-length word merchants from which a small pool of genuinely inspired writers can emerge.” (via)

The people who organize to ban books are getting better at getting organized.

Andrew Altschul, Hannah Tinti, and Joshua Ferris talk up fiction writing, the internet, small presses, and more.

Relating to Wednesday’s post on how it’s possible to overanalyze metaphors, Nicole Krauss: “Why do we love metaphors? Because, when we link or juxtapose two seemingly unrelated things to reveal a commonality that feels at once surprising and inevitable, it confirms in us a sense of the unity and connectedness of all things.” (via)

Jonathan Lethem settles in to life in California.

Dale Peck has had it with Daniel Mendelsohn.

E.L. Doctorow: “The thing that’s happening with eBooks makes me think of how disposable words are. You press a button, they’re there and you press another button and they’re gone. I can imagine, though, that people reading something they like would want to hold on to it. How can you hold onto an eBook?

A few clips from a forthcoming William S. Burroughs public television documentary.

On Charles Sheldon, the novelist who popularized the question, “What would Jesus do?

“The real fun begins with the third draft”: Charles Johnson on revision.

Michael Cunningham: “When someone hands me a 750-page tome, my first reaction is, oh fuck you. I don’t want to read your giant book. There has been a fixation in American letters on giant books that are usually written by men and that are usually a demonstration of the writer’s scope and precocity.”

“[O]ne reason people speak of wanting to become critics as opposed to reviewers is that they are allowed many more words with which to make big arguments; they are also allowed to put more of themselves into their pieces, since the critic is often a big personality, while the reviewer is often more of a service journalist.”

Richard Powers considers Watson, the supercomputer designed to compete on Jeopardy!.

Katie Chase on her Chicago-set post-9/11 story, “The Sea That Leads to All Seas”: “So much 9/11-related literature takes place, inevitably, in New York, but the effects of 9/11, in a very real and devastating way, reached much further, further even than the second city.”

Speculating on what Jeffrey Eugenides‘ forthcoming novel, The Marriage Plot, will be about.

Toward the end of this Q&A, Mary Gaitskill delivers a killer one-paragraph summary of why The Wire works.

A travel piece on Baltimore framed by Anne Tyler‘s work.

Lastly, links to a few recent pieces of mine: A review of Roger Rosenblatt‘s writing guide/teaching memoir, Unless It Moves the Human Heart, for aarp.org; a review of Barbara Browning‘s The Correspondence Artist for Washington City Paper; a few thoughts on the expansion of the National Book Festival to two days this year, also for City Paper; and a review of Ander Monson‘s excellent book Vanishing Point for the National Book Critics Circle’s blog, Critical Mass.

Charles Johnson’s Throwaway Pages

Fiction Writers Review’s interview with Charles Johnson covers a lot of ground: his Buddhism, his friendship with August Wilson, his feelings about the death of civility in American society, and more. What leapt out to me, though, was his discussion of his writing process. He wrote six “apprentice” novels before publishing his 1974 debut, Faith and the Good Thing, and though every writer talks about the importance of revision, Johnson seems especially committed to it, and he’s kept track of how much he’s cut:

My ratio of throwaway pages to keep pages is often twenty-to-one. For Faith (written in nine months), I tossed out 1200 pages; for Oxherding Tale (written in five years) I tossed out 2400 pages; for Middle Passage (a six-year project), it was 3000 pages; and for Dreamer, more than 3,000 over the seven years I worked on that book. However, as [John] Gardner mentioned to me in the early 70s, as the years—and decades—roll by, it becomes possible to write fast and with a high level of craft or professionalism because you no longer make the mistakes you made in your youth. Also because by the time I sit down to do a first draft of something, I’ve already composed in my head (or sketched out notes for) the opening sentence and thought a great deal about the movements in a piece. In other words, one of my cultivated, literary habits when I think is to revise a thought—playing with diction or word choice, and sentence structure—before I speak or put pen to paper. It’s just one of those habits you develop from writing for forty years and teaching for thirty-five.

(h/t National Book Foundation)