Archive for the Upcoming Events Category

The Shape of Fiction: Structuring the Novel

Posted in The Literateria, Upcoming Events with tags , , , , , on 02/03/2017 by Janet Fitch

On Feb. 10, I was invited to speak on a panel about the Shape of the Novel with Christian Kiefer (The Animals), with whom I frequently teach at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers,  also Jeff Jackson (Mira Corpora) , Esme Weijun Wang  (the Border of Paradise) and Kirsten Chen (Soy Sauce for Beginners).

Like most writers, I am fascinated by the shapes the novel can take. What a commodious form it is.  It encompasses everything from straightforward chronological  stories– from the 19th Century novel in third person, Anna Karenina say, to the more contemporary and voice driven version first person variety, like Sapphire’s Push, to braided narratives like Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible–where the story is handed off between stories or characters, each advancing the work further. It’s a shape popular among writers, because it’s so useful. It gives us somewhere to go when we’ve exhausted  a certain narrative burst–we can hand it off to the next character’s story line.

There’s the retelling of a story from the point of view of a minor character (The Wind Done Gone, Grendel) and the Rashomon-style narrative, where the same territory is readdressed by  a number of different points of view.  A work like the Alexandria Quartet involves many of these shapes. The first book, Justine, is Darley’s story,  but the second book, Balthazar, interlineates the first one, “here’s what you didn’t know at the time”–like Rashomon. The third book , Mountolive, goes back and describes how the situation came to be (prequel), and the fourth, Clea, moves the narrative forward again.

There are novels made up of single sentences, like Markson’s work–Readers Block is my favorite–and Carole Maso’s Ava, and novels that are one single sentence, like Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch. There are novels that are closed universes (Pynchon’s novels, especially Gravity’s Rainbow) where everything comes around again, and there is no ‘outside’ the system.  There are epistolatory novels–novels in letters like Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The White Tiger, and novels in diary form, like Diary of a Madman and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and novels with framing devices (an older character thinking back in time, say, like Evening by Susan Minot) or a past story and a present story like A.S. Byatt’s Possession.

Then there are novels which begin with shape as a game.  Mark Danielewski’s genre-breaking visual novels  the multivolume The Familiar,  House of Leaves and Only Revolutions all contain literary and visual games.  Only Revolutions, for example,  has 360 pages, 36 lines per page, and eliminates whole categories of vocabulary in support of its protagonists, young his-and-her gods in the making. So no religious words, no structural words, no interior words. I loved the way that the two narratives begin, his and hers, one at either end of the novel, and cross in the middle.  You read through and then you flip the book over and start again.

The ultimate gamester is the Oulipo group’s Georges Perec, the one who eliminated the letter e from his novel A Void–which called for a tremendous discipline, as e is the most used letter in the French alphabet, and precludes the use of “the”(le) or “I” (Je.) The Void was not only  the absence of ‘e’ but also the story of an absent person the others search for. The obstruction absolutely shaped the story. In his novel Life a User’s Manual, stories arise from the examination of the contents of a French apartment house, rooms visited on a grid via the knight’s move, with hundreds of obstructions–which he saw as “a machine for inspiration.”

So the shapes and obstructions and rules writers set themselves  aren’t there to frustrate themselves but as challenges and  prompts to the imagination.  In Joyce’s Ulysses–very loosely based on the Odyssey–each chapter was written in an entirely different style.  Rabih Alameddine’s I, The Divine is a novel comprised all of opening chapters as a woman tries and fails to tell her story in various ways.  On the flip side, John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman gives us three different endings.

With many of the more innovative shapes of novel, the reader has to learn how to read the novel as they go.  That is certainly the case with Danielewski’s typographically intricate works, and notoriously with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, where the reader must decide whether to read the text and the footnotes concurrently, or get to the end of a chapter and go back for the footnote, or read all the way through, and then go back and read the footnotes all the way through.

There’s the nested novel, like Cloud Atlas, stories within stories–I call this the Sargasso Manuscript novel, from the movie where each character tells a story, and then that story is interrupted by the tale of a character within that story–going down seven layers and coming back out. Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days was an interesting example of the same-ish story being told three times, in three different genres–ghost story, noir thriller and sci fi. His novel The Hours was more a braided story, but elements of each story bleed into the others.

And don’t forget the novel in verse, which I think is enjoying a comeback due to the openness of young adult fiction to new genres and mashups–many popular young adult novels are written in verse such as Ellen Hopkins’ Crank which will result in an adult audience which isn’t as doctrinaire about genre as past generations. In the adult category, novels in verse can be anything from the tight meter and rhyme of Vikram Seth’s San Francisco novel Golden Gate–Onegin stanzas they’re called, in homage to the greatest of all novels in verse, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin–but there’s also the looser, more narrative free-verse werewolf novel Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow.

And I’m reaching to describe the brilliant motival technique of Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece Under the Volcano, which I’ve always called the Spiral Novel. This novel is shaped by the buildup of images (motifs), like a Beethoven concerto–you get the image or phrase once, then it comes around again and gains power with each repetition, as more emotion and resonance adheres to it. (Like the first time Oaxaca is mentioned, it’s just a place. Then 40 pages later, he says, “Oaxaca meant divorce.” after which every time it’s mentioned, it gains more gravity.) There are hundreds of images and phrases like this whirling around in the book–the feral dogs, the barranca or crevasse which runs unpredictably through the landscape, the Peter Lorre movie Los Manos d’Orlac ) repeating and repeating as it whirls tighter and the images grow ever more dense with meaning  until the whole thing explodes inside your head.

For myself, I’m working to shape the reader’s emotional experience. So I work mostly on what I call the symphonic level–like a longer piece of music, or an opera. I want to have big thunderous moments and quiet ones. I want to have the full chorus singing their lungs out, and then a solo, a duet, a trio. Then chorus again. I like to follow an interior scene with an exterior one, day with night, active with meditative-and keep changing it up.  I’m mostly thinking, how is the reader experiencing this?

Wish you good writing!

 

Paint It Black the Movie–Coming to the Big Screen!

Posted in Moments of Clarity, Upcoming Events with tags , , , , , , , on 02/01/2017 by Janet Fitch

After many ups and downs, and a successful tour of film festivals last winter, Paint It Black the Movie will at last be coming to a theater near you!  It was picked up for distribution by Imagination Worldwide.  after the Houston Film Festival, and it’s going to get the royal treatment, the whole nine yards–theatrical, streaming, you name it.

Though it seems like movies take less time to shoot than novels take to write, Paint It Black was a four-year novel, while Amber Tamblyn has been working almost ten on this project–first trying to get the rights from me (sorry!) then writing the script with her writing partner, Ed Daugherty, the long road to casting–like herding kittens.  This one was on, then that one fell out.  Her decision to direct the film herself.  Then the final casting, the securing the locations–all within ten minutes of my house–getting the money together, that girl is a powerhouse.  The shooting only took 20 days, but it looks like it was 40.

She’s expecting a baby this month, and I’m putting finishing touches on my Russian novel, due out in November–and we’re going to celebrate the release of the movie this April! Nice to have some good things to look forward to.

Said the female CEO of Imagination Worldwide, Michelle Mower: “IWW could not be more excited to be working with Amber Tamblyn on the release of her directorial debut feature Paint It Black. Amber’s approach to the Janet Fitch novel is both visually poetic and features strong female characters in complex relationships. It’s the perfect film for relaunching our company in 2017.”

It sure is poetic and gorgeous and a touch surrealistic… Hope you enjoy it!

 

Publication Day, No Stopping Train

Posted in Moments of Clarity, Upcoming Events with tags , , , , , on 10/14/2014 by Janet Fitch

It’s been a full year since my friend, the writer Les Plesko died. That night, I watched his YouTube station, over and over again, and wrote the poem On Watching Your YouTube Channel Late at Night.

At the time, I wrote that his magnum opus, the brilliant No Stopping Train, “set in the Hungary of his birth and circulated privately among his friends” had never been published. Now, a year later, that book is entering the world. Prospects look good. So many emotions crowd in on me tonight.  I did a long email interview yesterday with David Ulin, the book critic from the L.A. Times, which ran in short form on the Times literary blog Jacket Copy, and at full length on the Les Plesko website Pleskoism.  But the thinking, and remembering, has brought me to the place of–as a student of his posted, “very glass half full.”  I don’t know if the glass is half full or empty or completely overflowing or downright broken.  All of the above. He wanted that book to be published so much, published well, appreciated.  And here it is. And he is not.  I want to celebrate, and I know I will, but tonight I just feel bereft.

Your book born today

Into the arms of old friends

How like you it looks.

Tomorrow, an interview on KCRW, our local NPR station, with Lisa Napoli, on its ‘journey to publication.’  That torturous path. Can I get my chin off my knees? It is such a beautiful book, a rigorous book, a real barn-burner. If I think about the book and not the ‘journey to publication’, I feel so incredibly happy.  So glad such a thing has come into the world, and is being greeted properly. One of the questions Ulin asked me was whether there was a hierarchy between his books, did he value some over others.  I said that he’d worked so very hard on this novel, there was such beauty, such labor, such rigor, he really wanted to see it — as an old friend put it— “walk down the aisle in a white dress.”

Now here it is, and he’s not there.  And it’s so beautiful in that dress, its shining veil.

An excerpt was from No Stopping Train was published in The Nervous Breakdown this week.  Read it–it’s everything I teach, everything I value in prose–the lyricism, the word choice, the rhythms, the tightness of the dialogue, the moodiness and texture of the landscape, the poetic devices–assonance and alliteration and rhyme. Such music.  The bigger issues interlocked with the human ones, love and betrayal, honor and affinity.  All honed to a glinting edge.

On Sunday, October 19, 6 p.m. in the Charles Young Salon at UCLA, where he taught so many students, for so many years, we, his old friends and students, will walk his book down the aisle. If you’re in town, please come.  For more information, click here.

Spring 2014 News and Events

Posted in Upcoming Events on 03/20/2014 by Janet Fitch

Short Story,  “A Shrine for Unbelievers”, published in Black Clock 18  PLUS  Black Clock Launch Party and Reading, Sunday April 6, 2014, 4 p.m. Mandrake, 2692 S. La Cienega, LA 90034 21+

Black Clock 18, out of Cal Arts, asked for “alternate versions, deleted passages and excised chapters—the resurrection of cherished artistic detours abandoned for the sake of the whole.” So I sent a chapter of the early version of Paint It Black, when it was still called A Shrine for Unbelievers, and was told in all three voices–Michael, (then called ‘Mitch’) Meredith and Josie. What appears in Black Clock is Mitch’s own voice.

The brilliant folks I’ll be reading with Sunday at Mandrake: Aimee Bender, Diana Wagman, David Ulin, Geoff Nicholson and Henry Bean.

LOS ANGELES TIMES FESTIVAL OF BOOKS, Saturday April 12 , USC campus. tickets, free.

Saturday, April 12, 12 p.m.—Panel: “Degrees of Fictionality: Representing Truth Across Genres”. Moderator, Janet Fitch. I’ll be talking with Dana Johnson, Mark Jonathan Harris and Leo Braudy about the ‘truthiness’ issue in memoir, history, autobiography and biography, the so-called ‘non-fiction novel’ and historical fiction.

 3 pm.–Panel: “Fiction, L.A. Stories”. I’ll be sharing stories about my own books, my favorite L.A. books, who gets it right, who gets it wrong, with fabulous fellow authors Alex Espinoza, Matthew Specktor and Antoine Wilson. Moderated by the amazing David Francis.

 WRITERS ROUND TALK SHOW at Beyond Baroque, May 18, 5 p.m. Reading with 3 other L.A. writers,  cool format with unscripted amusing Q and A, should be a very fun time.  Specifics to come!

Panel at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books 2013

Posted in The Literateria, Upcoming Events with tags , , , on 03/27/2013 by Janet Fitch

As most of you know, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of my favorite events of the year. The Gods have seen fit to put me on a stellar panel this year– with Lauren Groff (Arcadia) and Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).  We’ll be on at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, at Seeley Mudd Hall on the beautiful USC campus.

If you wonder whether or not the Book Festival is worth your time, you’ll find in “The Literateria” posts from last year’s LAT Book Festival. So if you want a real car wash for your head, where it comes out all sparkly and spruced up, spend a day or two listening to the best writers alive now.

 

Summer 2013

Posted in The Literateria, Upcoming Events on 11/19/2012 by Janet Fitch

I plan VOW to be done with Marina Makarova by summer 2013, and look forward to two amazing weeks in the mountains of the West.

First, I will be back at my favorite writer’s conference, teaching fiction writing at the  Squaw Valley Community of Writers, July 8-15, in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe.  I started out as a participant there myself back in the 1990’s, met my future editor there, the irreplaceable Michael Pietsch, and just had the most remarkable week of my young writer’s life.   I teach there every other year, and summer 2013 I’m ON.  If you haven’t been, it’s basically summer camp for writers–also one of the few places where northern and southern California literary circles come together–and not only in the hot tubs.  Hope to see you there!

Also, AUGUST 12-18 I will be participating/co-energizing a week at  A Room Of Her Own Foundation (AROHO)’s summer retreat at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch near Taos, New Mexico. I haven’t done this before, don’t quite know what to expect. But women writers, Ghost Ranch, creative experience, retreat??  I’m IN!  http://www.aroomofherownfoundation.org/retreat_2013.php

 

This Weekend, Fri-Sun, Spokane

Posted in Upcoming Events on 04/14/2010 by Janet Fitch

This weekend, I’ll be teaching/reading at the Get Lit! Festival in Spokane Washington.

Crafting a Great Story
Friday, April 16, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Panel with Lore Segal, Kevin Canty and Lisa Norris. Reading and discussion of the art and craft of shaping story.

Dialogue Workshop with Janet Fitch
Saturday, April 17, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Dialogue is where fiction sinks or swims. Why less is more, and what’s with all those spinning plates? Learn what makes dialogue sing.

Conversation with Janet Fitch
Sunday, April 18, 7:00 p.m.
I’ll read from Paint it Black and talk about writing and the writing life.

For tickets and all information click here for the Get Lit! Festival.