Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

So You Want to Write a Novel

“I assume you’ve used a steak knife, right?”

“Of course.”

“Do you think that makes you qualified to perform neurosurgery?”

The use of silence in this video is its crowning achievement. More talking bears here.

Filed under: books, humor, , ,

In Awe of Francine Prose

I’ve read the novelist Francine Prose for many years now. Ten years ago, I stumbled across a fawning review of Blue Angel, still my favorite of her novels–though A Changed Man was woefully underrated–and have picked up her novels ever since.

D.G. Myers is equally enthralled, and wrote a sort of love letter in Commentary magazine. Myers praises Prose’s emphasis on narrative over diction, as well as her ardent love of literature:

As a character says in Hunters and Gatherers (1995), literature is her “idea of heaven”—a refuge from the battle of ugly appetites.

All of her characters are well-read, and Prose seems to have a place in her heart for George Eliot and Jane Austen.

A Changed Man may well be my favorite of her novels for the way it places the reader on uncertain ground and rarely allows us secure footing. One of the novel’s characters, a young neo-Nazi, walks into the Manhattan office of a Holocaust survivor. His purpose? To eschew his hateful ways and right his wrongs.

Prose’s skill throughout the novel is making us wonder if this man is truly seeking to redress his past, or simply charming his way into the good graces of the Holocaust survivor and his organization. There’s the plot-driven complications of the neo-Nazi’s former skinheads and the tension of a possible romance with a development officer. The emphasis here is not on lyrical prose, but believable detail and fast-paced scenes. Prose knows her characters, and it shows. In this scene, for example, Vincent, the neo-Nazi, is caught smoking the pot of a teenage friend:

For a while they’re both cracking up. The can’t even look at each other. Then they exchange quick glances, shrug, and start laughing again. Vincent’s laugh is one part surprise, one part relief, one part embarrassment, one part what-the-hell. This could so easily have gone another way.

Just one example of Prose’s intimate understanding of character. She manages to always keep her characters–and readers–off-balance. If you’ve never read the work of Francine Prose, you’re missing out.

Filed under: literature, writing, , , , , , , , ,

A “Best of” to End All “Best of”s

The “Best of” lists get a revision in The Boston Globe this week, with a collection of one editor’s picks for best books of the decade.

Nicole Lamy sings the praises of works ranging from Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (was it really nine years ago when it came out?) to Jhumpa Lahiri’s acclaimed story collection The Interpreter of Maladies.

The Globe’s picks are all notable works, with a tendency toward the canonical and the establishment. My own choices might lean more toward the alternative, the surreal, the less media-hyped–like Rebecca Brown’s odd, excellent story collection The End of Youth or Han Ong’s dark emigrant novel, The Disinherited.

What makes a novel or nonfiction book the best of the decade? Tell us your picks in the comment section below.

Filed under: literature, , , , , , , ,

Writers on Writing (Novels)

WK-AR768_COVER__DV_20091105233214The Wall Street Journal compiles that oft-visited subject of writers and their habits. In “How to Write a Great Novel,” top-notch novelists from Edwidge Danticat to one of my favorite writers, Dan Chaon, discuss hours clocked, font size (Ann Rice uses 14-point Courier), and plot points outlined on notecards.

Interesting little highlights:

  • Nicholson Baker writes early, early in the morning (about 4 a.m.) with the lights off, his laptop darkened with light gray text, and, once finished, goes back to bed at 8:30.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro spends two years outlining his novel and one year writing the first draft.

Many writers discuss the painful process of ditching a novel: Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh among them.

The feature article about writers on writing has been done repeatedly, but this WSJ article is notable for its comprehensive compilation of writers.

Filed under: literature, writing, , , , , , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
July 2017
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About Me


About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More