9 responses to “What Do New Writers REALLY Need to Know? Part 4”

  1. Dick Cummins

    Taking your advice Don – joined a local writing group here in San Diego – we all read about a thousand words of our projects every week aloud and get feedback. (None of the crap we sometimes got from peers at Iowa either!) Good people and keeps the pressure on to write all week knowing you will be read and maybe appreciated every week – hah!

    BTW – from prelude: “…but the novel he is writing today, that’s another story?”

    This means of course we will soon be getting a preview of this novel, right? Historical/hysterical material? Matters of the heart? Spiritual burlesque? Political intrigue?

    Inquiring minds want to know! Your audience is waiting!

    Also see that SNL’s Jack Handley has his The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure coming out in July. I’ve preordered and think you might find this of interest — George Saunders evidently reviewed it already and recommended it highly on Up With Chris Hayes yesterday.

  2. don wallace

    Thank you, on many levels–for providing me blurb copy foremost:

    “A spiritual burlesque about the creation of Eau du Honolulu with hysterical intriguers Klein, Wintour and Prada.” — Entertainment, Weakly.

    And I’ll be definitely on the watch for Handley’s book, with that sinking feeling one gets when a writer shows up in the ‘hood packing accolades from literary widebodies just as you’re ready to go out. (My novel about the white whale suffered a similar fate.)

  3. Ross Howell

    The image of you standing neck deep in crude oil reminded me of two college summers in an iron foundry. I never wrote a word about it. You’ve got me thinking maybe I should remedy that. Thanks for your post and best to Mindy.

    1. don wallace

      Hey, Ross, thanks for the comment and happy new year to you and Mary Leigh.

      I think you have an “Iron Foundry Blues” in you. I hope however you never stood up to your neck in boiling pig iron. Although I guess that’s how we glimpsed the life of the second Terminator in flashback…

  4. Dick Cummins class of '70

    How many degrees of separation Ross?

    Between freshman and sophomore years – summer 1963 – I worked in the forge shop at the John Deere tractor plant in Moline. It was 140 degrees around the furnaces, feeding 60 pound ingots into the supply sluices – so instead of making the flat rate of $2.63 an hour – I got a fat $3.14 ‘hazard pay’ bonus – a term legal would never let them use now.

    I’ve haven’t thought about that summer for 50 years, let alone think of writing something about it. All I wanted then was to get out of Hell and back to Iowa in the fall – back to a totally different class of people, back to working above the shoulders.

    I remember some of the men that used the tongs to place the red hot metal ingots onto the matrix plates – men that would press a foot pedal then and unleash the 10 ton steam forge hammer that crashed down and banged out a glowing red tractor part. Many had been in WWII and even though they might have been 35 – 40 years old, they looked ashen and older – a lot older.

    ‘How tough are you?’ HR used advertise when someone died too young or just quit hell and a spot opened up.

    But then we got four bits more an hour – and a munificent 15 minute break every hour after lunch so we could stand outside and cool down in the August heat…

    Hey – guess I am writing about it after all. In the blood probably — dc

  5. don wallace

    Dick, we’re all talking about Rust Belt sorta jobs that are almost gone now. So we have to write about it or no one will believe those days existed.

    In college I remember being tricked into signing up for a class of Proletarian Fiction led by a revolutionary coalition of grad students. Exactly what Rush Limbaugh warns you about, younguns! I say tricked because, being grad students, they needed to meet a certain minimum of undergrad enrollment. What they got were a bunch of party animals who thought any class taught by a dude with a big beard and his afro’d wife had to be right on. Anyway, we had splendid wrangles. But we did read some overlooked fiction from the Thirties, mostly, some of it overlooked for the right reasons, others not. Agnes Smedley (whose Daughter of Earth impressed, but also her later work as a witness to the Chinese Revolution that I encountered), Meridel Le Sueur and James T Farrell, Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited, and so on. The problem was that, as a fancypants literary guy I didn’t issue any free passes for bad writing by good people who happened to have bad jobs. I probably thought of myself as a Marxist-Lennonist (see the Firesign Theatre) but not after butting heads with Big Beard.

    For our proletarian writing to come, we face a steep challenge, comrades. But not a lot of competition these days.

  6. Dick Cummins

    Proletarian Lit Don?

    This was at UC Watsonville right? Bearded Prol Lit profs (of the ‘remittance’ class) – costumed in Oshkoshes for street cred – heading to the P.O. every 30th to pick the trust fund check right?

    Hell we didn’t even have a corn-fed ‘Agrarian Lit’ class at Iowa in the ’60s – a state with more hogs than humans BTW.

    Now at least they could require Jane’s Moo for a contemporary look and go back to God’s Little Acre, The Grapes of Wrath, Tobacco Road, Willa Cather’s O Pioneers and such to preserve the pastoral temper of the ’30s.

    I like it that a shall-remain-nameless fancy pantalooned swell from the gang-infested streets of Manhattan Beach did not give WPA prol scribblers a pass for bad writing — just because the material was appropriately downstairs. Speaking of Prol Lit – there’s a new Chinaski – Don Pollack – wrote Knockemstiff, Ohio – downstairs of Winesburg BTW way down – about the gritty, poverty-stricken, uneducated and drug addicted denizens of the little town he grew up in. The writing was so good he got into the OSU MFA program in his 40’s (hope it doesn’t spoil him). Fox loved his small town characters but you don’t get that feel from Pollock.

    BTW some of the really good ‘prol writing’ reminds me of driving down to the Bay Area in the ‘80’s with a programmer from Montana as south of Boise there was no radio reception except one AM station with a CW format from the 50’s – twang – twang.

    “Why the hell are we listening to this crap?” the programmer said.

    “Because the reception’s so fantastic man,” I replied, lighting another doob.

    Good ‘prol writing’ is like that – the characters have no socially redeeming qualities whatsoever – but the writing is fantastic man?

    All this ‘prol-ing’ reminds me that a few years ago we tried a new restaurant chain here called ‘Po’ Folks’ – a ‘bread line motif’ buffet outfit. This one even had an enlarged Andy Warhol-like photo of the first 24 dented cans of corn they bought at discount from Ralphs on the wall next to the cash register. Anyway – apropos to nothing – we never went back – not willing to give them a pass either – like your bad ‘prol writing I guess – doubt they’re still in business.

    You mention – “For our proletarian writing to come, we face a steep challenge, comrades. But not a lot of competition these days.”

    Hey if we don’t get our heads down, write novels about those prol jobs of the ‘60s/70s – who will? Not this new crop of remittance grads fresh off the MFA assembly lines, that seems certain.

    21st century Solidarity Fiction? Probably government workers living in Madison – MFAs freshly Gutenberged from the Badger’s knock-off program. I digress this morning…

    BTW Don, (inside joke alert) – really think you should eschew that writer’s fanatasy league avatar you picked for our game. Dorina Gray? Sure he’s interesting given your advancing age and the ravages time’s inflicted – just think you need to change before it’s too late.

    Can visualize your receding hair line, sagging everything, expanding waist, organs failing – and worst – those whelks and bubukles on your ‘Graying’ face. I even dreamed about one of those cruise ship climbing walls last night and thought of you when I woke up.

    Why not take Iago? Lots of energized negative leadership there. I remember Vonnegut saying that we should all put villainous characters into our stuff to hurt the protagonist – like Mushari in Rosewater he pointed out – but to be very careful not to tell readers too much about them.

    “You lay in too much background and sure enough readers will start making allowances for the bastard – they’ll start feeling sorry them – even Iago!”

    Note that I’ve changed my avatar from Dr. Strangelove to Homer…so my stories will now beat the shit out of yours anytime! Har!

  7. don wallace

    Thanks, Dick, for the backhanded compliment: Dorina Gray? That’s about 50 Shades Less than my current rosy color. I’m in Hawaii, after all.

    Hawaii is the only state in the union that had a monarchy and a palace, and now the relicts of the former aristocracy are among the poorest and least healthy people in the USA. Naturally they were displeased when PBS held a gala premiere of Downton Abbey at the Palace a couple weeks ago. Protests forced the move to more mundane offices. Naturally I wrote about it and pointed out the, ahem, irony: sovereignty protestors protesting Downton Abbey, right?

    Naturally I am now in deep shit and poor Mindy, as the editor of the Weekly that publishes me, is taking the wrath of PBS-Hawaii on her chin.

    All the scene lacked was a Romney Presidency, which, thank god, we hath not got.

  8. Dick Cummins class of '70

    Don (aka The Sandwich Isles Gadfly?) :

    Glad to hear you are hectoring those PBS Hoales about our semi-nonviolent colonial history (read imperial annexation) there – speaking truth to power ole friend – especially to the supposedly culturally aware Hoales at PBS!

    Maybe you need to become the Sandwich Isles Ken Burns? Now there’s a project that could attract some production capital, no?

    BTW you have probably already read it – but if not – The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley is interesting – to say the least.

    The theme is our “carry a big stick” imperial foreign policies with Japan and how that lead to Pearl Harbor – long story and make your blood boil stuff for sure! The chapters about your volcanic isles relate to the arrival of young “Princess” Alice Roosevelt and one circumferentially challenged W. H. Taft – then Secretary of War – as they stopped by the isles to view the beauty of our new acquisition – the plantation owning Hoales having recently decided that they needed to set up a “white man’s burden” protectorate there to subvert the monarchy – and protect their very profitable financial interests of course.

    The gut wrenching chapters of the book are about Teddy Rex’s imperial foreign policy – one good one was deciding to protect the native Filipinos from themselves with an invasion force of American Marines. Not unlike Vietnam they ended up slaughtering over 300,000 Filipinos who decided they did not care to be the burdens the tub-of-lard Governor-General William Howard Taft that Rex sent to benignly govern them – who irritated by their recalcitrance told his generals to kill all native village men older than ten.

    There is a picture of the firing squads carrying out this order.

    There’s more – lots – in fact the whole book would be a great PBS project for “the new Ken Burns of Hoaleland”!! Time to start looking for some progressive producers to look at a treatment? After reading …Great Game think you could do a better job than Burns – and cheaper too!

    And that’s no backhanded compliment my friend – (is there another kind?) Har!

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