Browsing the archives for the fiction category.

Re-illustrating children’s books

art/graphics, fiction, kid lit

tin_poky-puppy{The Poky Little Puppy, reimagined by Tin}

The G1988 gallery in San Francisco is about to lauch a new show - artists “re-illustrating” children’s books. Each piece is based on a classic piece of kid lit - incl. Dr. Seuss, the Alice books, The Little Prince, Snow White, Calvin and Hobbes - with new and definitely different sensibilities being brought into play.

You can see some of the work here and here.

The show opens Friday.

“Madame Bovary” drafts online

archives, blogs & sites, canon, fiction

From Reuters:

Drafts of “Madame Bovary,” Gustave Flaubert’s classic tale of adultery and thwarted dreams, are being shown online for the first time thanks to a mass effort to transcribe the originals.

Some 650 volunteers from all over the world, including teenagers, an oil worker and a cleaning lady, have transcribed thousands of often hardly legible hand-written manuscripts in a project overseen by a museum in Rouen in northwestern France. …

The decade-long project to prepare the writings for publication on the Internet cost 120,000 euros and was supported by the work of literature fans from 12 countries.

The result can be seen at and is meant to appeal to specialists as well as amateurs.

Bolaño on dreams, death, Huck, Dick, and favorite books

fiction, poetry, the "on" series, writers' lives

bolanoBelow are extracts from “The Savage Detective,” a long look at Roberto Bolaño by his friend, the Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresán. Published in The Believer, March 07 (only a small portion is available online). Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

“Then what is quality writing? The same thing it’s always been: knowing how to stick your head into the dark, knowing how to leap into the void, knowing that literature is basically a dangerous profession.”

“Writers are worthless. Literature is worthless. Literature only exists for literature’s sake. That’s enough for me.”

“Dreams are like psychiatrists, curing you every night.”

“I’d rather not die, of course. But sooner or later the great lady comes. The problem is that sometimes she’s no lady, never mind great, but a hot slut, as the poet Nicanor Parra says, which is enough to make even the bravest man’s teeth chatter.”

[O]ne of his recurring ideas was his suspicion that he had died ten years earlier, in a hospital in Gerona, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of pancreatitis, and that everything that had happened to him in the last decade - children and wife and books - was just his final hallucination, the merciful prolongation of the last seconds of a dying man. On more than one occasion, Bolaño confessed that he wished he were “a fantasy writer, like Philip K. Dick.” And it’s clear that Bolaño’s foremention obsession is an obviously and perfectly Dickian obsession.

Bolaño himself thought of The Savage Detectives as belonging to the genre of roman-fleuve and wrote, “I think I see it as yet another reading of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of the many that have followed in its wake; the Mississippi of The Savage Detectives is the flow of voices in the second part of the novel.”

Fresán also relates Bolaño’s favorite books:


Don Quixote

Satyricon (Petronius)

“the complete works of Borges”

A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)

Life: A User’s Manual (Perec)

The Trial and The Castle (Kafka)

Hopscotch (Cortázar)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein)

the works of Philip K. Dick, especially Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb

War of the Worlds images motherlode

archives, art/graphics, canon, science fiction

war-of-the-worlds-coverThis site displays the covers of 355 editions of Wells’ War of the Worlds, from 1898 to 2008, in English, German, Hebrew, Catalan, Chinese, Turkish, etc.


Another page on the same site has dozens of images from illustrated editions, graphic novels, and comic adaptaions through the decades.

And don’t miss the third page, showing miscellaneous imagery related to audio, video, models, fan art, etc.

Auction catalogs & liner notes


shapton_important-artifactsLeann Shapton’s new novel, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, is - to use the author’s words - “a love story told through an auction catalog.” That is, the novel is completely in the form of an auction catalog for a couple’s belongings.

This reminds me of a novel from a few years ago, Sudden Noises from Inanimate Objects by Christopher Miller, that takes the form of liner notes to an imaginary 4-CD set.

I’m sure there are other entries in this unrecognized genre - novels that take the form of a non-novel, even nonfictional, publication - but I’m blanking at the moment.


fiction, religion

Neuroscientist David Eagleman sums up his new book, Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives:


You can read three of the chapters on his site (links are in the right-hand column).

Biblioklept has a review:

Many of Eagleman’s little stories evoke these moods of sad dissatisfaction and disappointment, repeatedly asking the reader to question their own values. And, as the god of “Great Expectations” shows, it’s not just the everyday folk who get their expectations crushed, but often the deities themselves. Take the god of “Mary,” for example. His favorite book is Frankenstein–he loves the end, where Victor Frankenstein flees his own creation. This is a god who can’t help his creation and chooses to run away from it. Particularly sad is “Descent of Species,” wherein the dead get to choose whatever they like to be. The “you” in this tale unfortunately chooses a horse, believing you’ll enjoy freedom–however, as “you” morph into a horse, so does your consciousness, and you realize that “you cannot revel in the simplicity unless you remember the alternatives.”

Quote of the moment

fiction, humor

Regarding Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges:

It’s full of more brainfuckery than a mensa whorehouse.

From “rokusan” in this Metafilter thread.

“All novels, even the greatest ones, are failures.”

canon, fiction

Bookslut points us to an article by novelist and political commentator James Dellingpole: “Whisper it: you don’t need to have read John Updike.” The main point about not feeling bad because you haven’t read every work, or even every writer, in the canon is a good one, but I really like his final thoughts:

All novels are flawed, that’s the whole point. Dickens goes on a bit as – my, and how! – does George Eliot; War and Peace ends with 100 pages of rambling, esoteric spiritual drivel; Proust badly needs pruning; Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer aren’t great prose stylists.

As a novelist it’s the first – and most depressing – thing you learn about your trade: that between the sweeping ambition of your conception and the reality of your execution there will always be a terrifyingly large gulf. All novels, even the greatest ones, are failures. It’s just that most readers are too polite to notice.

Ellison calling

science fiction

At Daily Kos, Gary Smith writes about his unexpected run-in with one of my favorite writers (and his), the somewhat cantankerous Harlan Ellison. While working on his not-yet-public (or so he thought) website, Smith had posted some text from Ellison’s heart-rending story Jeffty Is Five as a placeholder.

So last night (this morning, actually) at 1:30 am, I received a phone call.  Being in the depths of slumber at the time, I’m afraid that I answered the call with more of a sleep-choked grunt than actual words.

“Is this Gary Smith?” came the voice from the phone.

“Urrmmhh … why?  Who’s this?” I replied (quite wittily, I think, for someone less than 5 seconds after awakening).

“This is Harlan Ellison.”

ellisonThis gets me thinking about my unexpected call from Ellison. It was New Year’s Eve eve (December 30), 2005, but at a much saner time - about 10 PM. After answering the phone, the first thing I hear is, “Whaddya mean I’m uneven?!” I’m trying to figure out who this is yelling at me. (But even at that point, I could tell it was mock-anger, someone acting mad with tongue in cheek.)

I forget my reply, but eventually he told me who he was. I had reviewed several of his books - in fact, had given him a whole section in the fiction chapter - in my first book, Outposts. I gave praise but did say something about an uneven oeuvre. (To be fair, most top-notch writers - or any kind of artist - put out material of widely varying quality, especially the ones who produce prolifically for decades, like Ellison.)

It turns out he was actually extremely grateful for the attention, since I had directed a bunch of new, young readers his way. He said something along the lines of every writer dreading that he’ll be forgotten.

He even offered to send me an autographed copy of any of his books that he had on hand. Naturally, I said no, I can’t accept a gift in exchange for reviews. Hee hee. In reality, I said hell yeah, I’d love to get a personally signed book from one of my favorite writers. I never did get it, but much later I found out that Ellison had a pretty good excuse.

When we talked, if I remember correctly, he was going to be leaving in a few days for a big adventure in the Australian Outback. Soon after that, he had a major heart attack and damn near took a ride in time’s winged chariot.

Editing Updike

fiction, periodicals

Roger Angell - the recently late John Updike’s editor at the New Yorker for 33 years - gives us the inside scoop about a genius at work.

As a contributor, he was patient with editing, and pertinaciously involved with his product: an editor’s dream. My end of the work was to point out an occasional inconsistent or extraneous sentence, or a passage that wanted something more. Almost under his breath over our phone connection, while we looked at the same lines, he would try out an alternative: “Which one sounds better, do you think?”

This process sounds old-fashioned, but Updike was probably the very first New Yorker writer to shift over to a computer, back in the early eighties. “I don’t know how this will change my writing,” he wrote to me in advance, “but it will.”

When I became his fiction editor, early in 1976, succeeding William Maxwell, I was alarmed to hear from him that his best fiction-writing days were probably behind him. This was nonsense; his output then was a steady three or four first-class stories per year, but to hear him tell it the end was near. “Fiction is a young man’s game,” he said querulously. I had not yet understood how much he loved sounding old.

Floating down the Mississippi, Huck style



So, late last year I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The Only Authoritiative Text Based on the Complete Original Manuscript (Mark Twain Library edition), and as always, Huck got me daydreaming about rafting down the Mississippi River. Of course, On the Road makes me want to jump in my car and take off across the country, and I still haven’t done that, so there’s no way my ass is going to float down the Mississip on a homeade raft. But still … I wondered how I’d go about it, if it’s still possible/legal, etc.

A couple of weeks later, I was reading Esquire (which is a much better magazine than you might think it is), and their profile of novelist John Wray had a single sentence - can you sense the synchronicity coming here? - that I had to immediately read over and over:

He promoted Canaan’s Tongue by using his $5,000 publicity budget to build a raft and float down the Mississippi, giving interviews and readings along the way.

After just a little Googling, I found this 2005 NY Times article written during Wray’s adventure:

The first night out was fitful, scary even. After putting in at Helena, Ark., the homemade raft got caught up in the wash of the massive towboats that surrounded it on the Mississippi. The craft bounced along in the inky black, and then searing beams of light from the towboats began to strafe it, the captains wanting to see what manner of contraption was before them. The ragtag crew slept in terrified shifts, dodging the tugs and avoiding a ledge formed by a dike that threatened to pitch them into the mud, water and mayhem.

Maybe I’ll just stay on land.

{Photo of John Wray on raft by Lori Waselchuk for The New York Times}

Onion article close to reality - Erik Harris’s short story


One of the difficulties in writing parody is that it’s hard to exaggerate how bizarre the world actually is. Case in point: Bookninja directed me to yet another great article from the masters of dark humor at The Onion:

This Short Story About A School Shooting Is Actually Pretty Good

Being a 10th-grade English teacher can be frustrating. I work hard to help my students improve their writing, but when it comes time to sit down and grade their assignments, I’m often left wondering why I bother. Once in a while, though, a student hands in something that is an absolute delight to read.

A student like Brian Petersen, who wrote an incredible short story about a deadly school shooting and how nobody picked up on all the warning signs until it was too late.

It’s just fantastic!

So here’s the thing. Three months before he took part in the Columbine massacre, Erik Harris turned in a short-short story about a massacre. And his teacher liked it. Not as much as the fictional teacher in the Onion article, but she did have kind words for it.

The story was part of the 10,000 pages of documents about the school shooting released by the sheriff’s department in 2003. It describes the aftermath of an alien invasion of a moonbase manned by marines (it’s based on a videogame - Doom or Quake, I think). Harris describes the scene:

Bullet shells sprinkled the floor, on top of a carpet of blood.

Arms, legs, and heads were tossed about as if a small child turned on a blender with no lid in the middle of the room.

Harris’s teacher gave him a C+ (apparently averaging an A- for the content and a D+ for the mechanics of the writing). The teacher’s comments are priceless:

Yours is a unique approach and your writing works in a gruesome way.

Good details and mood setting.

Good ending.

The story, as released, is below. (I originally posted the story on The Memory Hole in January 2003. You can see a larger version there. An article about the story is at the Rocky Mountain News, and the 10,000 pages of documents are posted here.)


Dylan Klebold wrote a story for school about “a man walking into a town and ‘blowing away’ all the popular kids” (according to a post-massacre statement from his creative writing teacher), but the story itself has never been released, as far as I know. This story did upset the teacher, as her statement shows:

I told Dylan the story was violent and unacceptable - viscious [sic]. Indeed I made a copy for his counselor (Brad Butts). I also talked it over with his parents. Dylan simply remarked , “It’s just a story.”

Stephen King on lit that scares him

canon, fiction, the "on" series

The newly published In the Shadow of the Master reprints a bunch of Poe’s best works accompanied by appreciative essays by 20 mystery and horror writers. In “The Genius of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’” Stephen King writes:

When I do public appearances, I’m often - no, always - asked what scares me. The answer is almost everything, from express elevators in very tall buildings to the idea of a zealot loose with a suitcase nuke in one of the great cities of the world. But if the question is refined to “What works of fiction have scared you?” two always leap immediately to mind: Lord of the Flies by William Golding and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.

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