I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. (Honors) in English Literature in 1997. My mentor was Betty Sue Flowers, consulting editor for the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers series The Power of Myth. I've been writing short stories and reading fairy tales since I was old enough to do so. I've written and edited for publications ranging from MSN.com to the Encarta Encyclopedia to indie magazines, but my first and deepest love has always been fairy tales.
My influences are varied, but all share the qualities of being fantastic and visionary: Márquez, Morrison, Faulkner, McKillip, Tolkein, LeGuin, McCaffery, Gaiman. Diana Wynne Jones is a new passion. Garth Nix is also wonderful. Oh, and Phillip Pullman. And Terry Pratchett. And then we get into Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz and their psychoanalytic interpretations of classic fairy tales. I could go on. But if you've made it this far, you might as well come to class and we can talk more there.
A lot has been said against the “Disney-fication” of fairy tales, and for the most part I agree.
Check out the introductory sequence of Snow White, which was released in 1937. It’s dark, dramatic, and exquisitely animated. It leaves The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in the dirt. The evil queen is genuinely disturbing and, well, evil. The peacock throne is a nice touch.
“… I want to say a word about…the sense of closure and completeness…that I believe every satisfactory story must have. As anybody can testify, experience is a continuous shower, without beginnings or endings. It ravels off from previous experiences and frays off into new ones. Because the record of any experience is not complete without a thinking pause after it, and because most readers have a short attention span, the writer’s job is to contrive a positive conclusion that will pass for an ending of the limited segment of life the story covers. In a plotted story there is a rising action, a series of complications, a climax, a denouement. Somebody or something wins or loses, lives or dies. That is what Hemingway had in mind when he said that all stories end in death—there is no other ending that really ends anything. So we must contrive little symbolic deaths that seem to end something, and we must be careful when we do it; for beginnings and endings, Chekhov said, are the places where writers are most inclined to lie.”
Join us next Thursday evening (that’s April 23) from 7 – 10 pm at Vermillion to hear the latest crop of stories that’s come out of the Factory. Readings will start around 7:30, drinking and talking will go indefinitely!
Garth Nix is the author of one of my favorite trilogies (the Abhorsen books) and he has written a concise, lucid, intelligent summary of his writing process. I recognize every stage that he talks about, and I think most writers will.
“A week, a month or even years after that initial ‘small vision’ I will usually sit down and try and work out the bare bones of the story and how I am going to tell it. I look back at the notes I’ve taken and I dredge up all the salient points I’ve been thinking about it. Then I sit down and write a chapter outline. This is quite a simple affair. I write a paragraph for each chapter, describing what happens.
I sometimes wonder why I bother to do this, as my chapter outlines rarely bear any close resemblance to the finished book. I’ve usually departed from the outline within a few chapters and by the time I’m halfway through a novel there is often almost no correlation between the outline and the actual story.
In retrospect, this chapter outlining serves two purposes. One is that it makes me think about the overall structure of the novel, which I think kickstarts some subconscious process that will continue through the writing, monitoring the narrative structure. The second purpose is that it serves as a psychological prop. If I have a chapter outline, I presume I know where I’m going, even when I don’t really. In this sense the chapter outline is like a very out-of-date map. Most of it is wrong, but there will be some landmarks on it. So if I get terribly lost in my book, I can always go back to the outline and though most of it will be wrong, I might see some important plot point or notes for a character that will help me get back on the narrative road.”
“[The writer] must be in his story but not apparently in it; the story must go his way while appearing to act itself out. For this sort of skill, the short story is the practice ground. It is so short that a flaw in the point of view shows up like a spider in the cream; it is so concentrated that it forces a writer to develop great economy and structural skill; and it is so intense that like a high-velocity bullet it has the knock-down power of a heavier missile.
And a writer must knock readers down. This is what he must constantly have in mind: to make people listen, to catch their attention, to find ways to make them hold still while he says what he so passionately wants to say. He is an ancient mariner laying hands on wedding guests, staying them with his skinny hand and his glittering eye. And though creative writing as an intellectual exercise may be pursued with profit by anyone, writing as a profession is not a job for amateurs, dilettantes, part-time thinkers, 25-watt feelers, the lazy, the insensitive, or the imitative. It is for the creative, and creativity implies both talent and hard work.”
-Wallace Stegner On Teaching and Writing Fiction
Nick Kazan has written scripts for the films Reversal of Fortune, At Close Range, Frances, and more. In this 10-minute clip he talks about his process as a writer, from engaging storyline to authentic dialogue.