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Virginia Woolf
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Book Talk & Exchange of Views > What has Virginia Woolf to do with the self-styled "literary fiction" indies?

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message 1: by Andre Jute (last edited Jun 26, 2011 10:57AM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
I got fed up with being patronized and abused by zero-talent clowns whose excuse is that they're "doing literary fiction". So I investigated some of their more obnoxious proponents, and describe my results in a four part blog post:

1. Virginia Woolf: Suicide chic.

2. The enemies of society assault Literature. Virginia Woof spins in her grave.

3. Ersatz. Fake. Not Virginia Woolf. Not within a thousand miles.

4. Come back Virginia Woolf. All is forgiven.


message 2: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments Wow Andre, I commented on that thread (I think I said I agree with you, thank god) but didn't realise you'd been so riled by it!

I think the most sensible comment on there (by neither you or me) was someone who said "you don't get to say you're writing literary fiction; other people get to say that about you". When you're dead.

I do like Woolf though.


message 3: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments I don't know who's been tweaking your mustache - but I enjoy reading your response. Not that I'd ever read Woolf.

Maybe if more Indie writers would 'call it like it is' and take on the e-pulp fiction moniker it wouldn't be so frustrating.

Death by drowning? Ghastly way to go!


message 4: by Andre Jute (last edited Jun 26, 2011 03:42PM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Nah, I'm not riled, I'm laughing; very few people now alive have ever seen me stop smiling. I've been watching those people embarrass a decent profession for a while, waiting for someone to expose herself so I could make an example of her; that little cabal didn't just volunteer, they begged to be permitted to shoot themselves in the foot, the genitals and the face. Conveniently, all the material I required arrived in a single thread; that saves on the footnotes.


message 5: by K.A. (last edited Jun 26, 2011 03:31PM) (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Would you share the source of your amusement?

And I AM talking about a direct link.


message 6: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
K.A. wrote: "Would you share the source of your amusement?

And I AM talking about a direct link."


The link you want is in the articles, bottom of the second article, clickable text reading "*All quotations in this set of four articles are taken from the Amazon thread Reader looking for literary fiction."


message 7: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Still swimming with the Amazon sharks? (shakes head) Those people are nuts.


message 8: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
BTW, it isn't Woolf who is the problem here. Her daddy was a critic who taught her the art of self-criticism. The problem is the people who think Woolf's failures define an artform. Woolf at least failed elegantly. The copycats are beyond clumsy. Watkins' self-chosen example of the best of her work lumbers like a sloth with a dietary imbalance.

What they remind me of most is an Indian beggar claiming that his expertise in self-mutilation should give him entree to a conference of surgeons.


message 9: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments I read part of the thread. I have a friend named Mary W. Walters who wrote literary fiction in Canada. She also writes 'the Militant Writer' blog. Shes' here:

http://maryww.wordpress.com/2009/04/1...

My point is that her work is readable. Has the layers, but is very accessible. I'll buy her books before I borrow Woolf from the library.


message 10: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments Let me tiptoe in here to say that Watkins has a point. She wants to coin a term other than "literary fiction" to describe fiction that does not fall into a genre.

Oh wait. There is a term. Non-genre fiction.

Never mind.
___

The real problem here is that there is Literary Fiction, and literary fiction.

"Literary Fiction" is fiction that holds up well years after its publication and has earned some degree of respect among those who are expected to know a thing or two about literature (including critics, professors, and at least two generations of readers).

But small l, small f, "literary fiction" is that stuff the prospective agent or publisher returns to you along with a note saying "literary fiction isn't selling at the moment, so I must reluctantly say no and wish you luck placing this wonderful manuscript elsewhere."

It's also any book the bookshop employee can't shelve because its title, blurb, and author give him no clue where it belongs.


message 11: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments Actually I've just realised at least two of them have bought my book off the back of that thread; so I take it back, they must have excellent literary taste..!


message 12: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments And Patricia is right, booksellers and the like trying to make 'literary' just another sales term doesn't help...


message 13: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Patricia - you mean to say that 'pretentious tripe' has already been taken? LOL

James - good for you!


message 14: by Katie (new)

Katie Stewart (katiewstewart) | 1099 comments I've always thought that 'literary fiction' was writing that was only understood by those people who would have made flattering comment on the cut of the Emperor's new clothes.

But I write fantasy. What do I know?


message 15: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments hehe Katie - good one.

Better a paranormal romance that sells than a literary work that no one reads or understands.


message 16: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Poor Tolkien. How will he ever live down having a *plot* and *events*, in short, a story to tell? He'll languish forever with Katie in the fantasy genre pigeonhole of history! Poor Katie, trying to make a career, held back with that great lumbering millstone of Tolkien's failure around her neck!

Sierra, if you believe those people will willingly give up the prestigious label literary fiction, you must have a bathroom shelf full of bottles of snake-oil that you bought off nice gentlemen on the high street. It's just one of their junior school debating trade tricks to shove the responsibility for finding another name off on everyone else. Me, I vote for Kat's "pretentious tripe" -- except, come to think of it, tripe, properly cleaned, might be used to feed the hungry. We can't call it "crap" either, because that is useful as manure for plantfood.

***

One of the intesting things in that thread is how everyone whose work has actually been called literary by a reputable source, or is ever likely to be, was touching the entire business with shy fingers, disdain absolutely dripping, writhing with impatience to be away before they too were stained by such manifest incompetence and braggadocio. One would think that people who aspire to the mantle of Woolf and her crowd would at the very least be hypersensitive -- because a cultivated and elevated sensitivity was the raison d'etre of the Bloomsburies. But Watkins and her hangers-on, and the cruder indies interested only in labeling themselves whatever will sell a copy or two, didn't even notice that they are held in contempt by the very people they're trying to join.

Another depressing foray into the quicksands of the Amazon fora.


message 17: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments Andre, I do not keep the snake oil in the bathroom. Needed a much larger space to store all of it.


message 18: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments One thing that's obvious to me, actually liking Woolf, is how obviously some bits of her writing style are conveniently forgotten. She often thought of as an excessively 'feminine' writer (whatever that means - but that's a whole other debate) but her description of a shell-shocked soldier struggling back in England is more perceptive than most I've ever read.

There was more darkness and steel in her writing than people like to acknowledge nowadays.


message 19: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments Seems to me it'd take a lot of steel to drown one's self. How did she resist tossing off that jacket at the last moment?


message 20: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
James wrote: "There was more darkness and steel in her writing than people like to acknowledge nowadays."

Takes steel to top yourself, and the darkness goes without saying.


message 21: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Patricia Sierra wrote: "Andre, I do not keep the snake oil in the bathroom. Needed a much larger space to store all of it."

The biggest snake oil swindle of all time is Listerine mouthwash. It was invented as a "cure" for syphilis. When it didn't cure the clap, the owners of the formula went looking for something else it could cure. After some further adventures, which would make an amusing novel, they settled on it curing bad breath. Medically, bad breath is several steps below syphilis, but of course in a marketing perspective so many more people need a cure for bad breath than for venereal disease, saleswise it is no contest.


message 22: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments Yes point taken... What I meant is her writing is often described in 'soft' terms: poetic, light, hazy yadayada when in fact she has 'harder' qualities in her writing too.

Although I think describing writing in such hard/ soft terms is probably a bit vacuous and meaningless anyway.


message 23: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
James wrote: "Although I think describing writing in such hard/ soft terms is probably a bit vacuous and meaningless anyway."

I take the low-road attitude that any discussion, in any terms people want to use or can comprehend, is useful as at least a start. Though I'm not a fan of Virginia Woolf, I have absolutely no difficulty envisioning a lurker who drops in here and, seeing this discussion, thinks, "Let's take a look at her, see why they're talking about her." Perhaps the lurker likes Woolf, maybe not -- that outcome is irrevant: what matters is the exposure to quality writing as a counterweight to the tide of KDP Krap Amazon has loosed on the world together with the good stuff that the traditional publishers offered no outlet to.


message 24: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments Andre, I see you're still stirring things up on the Kindle forum. Did you see the, uh, interesting new definition of "pulp fiction"? According to the poster, it's what non-literary fiction was called before it was called genre fiction.

I considered setting her straight, but then decided it would just set off another war.


message 25: by Andre Jute (last edited Jun 29, 2011 04:18AM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Moi? Nah. I have so many people on the ignore button in that thread, it seems quite pleasant to me now. I saw Kathleen say something about pulp fiction -- probably a slip of the tongue -- but that lot is too self-absorbed either to know or to care, so I didn't take it up.

Seems to me that as an educational medium, the Amazon fora are finished (if they ever were any chop, perhaps before my time) or in need of a radical overhaul.


message 26: by James (new)

James Everington | 187 comments Yeah I saw that definition of 'pulp fiction' & was waiting for Andre to leap in!

p.s. Andre yes I do know 'romance' had a different original meaning, but as you say Amazon is not always show off your knowledge of literature!


message 27: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Another ROBUST, Kat Jordan, had some good articles about pulp fiction on her blog a couple of months ago.


message 28: by K.A. (new)


message 29: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Tillotson (storytellerauthor) | 1802 comments Well, this is surely a ROBUST discussion.

I was appalled at the examples given by Ms. Watkins, but as she kept digging herself in ever deeper and finally suggested her work be used for study, I simply felt sad for her.

It was suggested by my (admittedly hired) editor and a couple of writing groups to list The Storyteller as 'literary fiction'. It is not genre, it is not mainstream, it's not even general. I don't have pretentions that it is particularly 'literary' with a capital L. But though I have struggled since the beginning about categorizing it 'literary fiction', it does tell a prospective reader what it is not. I am not going to get on a high horse and pretend I only wrote it to please myself. I did not. I believe it has a message and I wish it to be read. But I don't wish it to be read by folks who do not enjoy it because it was 'not what I expected' from the description.

So, Literary Fiction it will remain until such time as whoever determines these things provides me with a suitable category which will better define what it IS.


message 30: by Sheila (new)

Sheila All you people are such snobs (she said in jest). Virginia Woolf was a marvelous writer. I have all her books and love every one. She was ahead of her time. She wrote about people, to heck with plots and action. It's the kind of book I read as much as I can find. I'm on Iris Murdock at the moment. Virginia drowned herself because she suffered mental disease all her life, each time was longer than the last. She did not want to burden her family when it hit the last time so she drowned herself. Also, Sharon, as soon as my husband gets home with the Kindle, I will download your first chapter, and if I like it, I'll buy it. I never buy without reading first.


message 31: by Keryl (new)

Keryl Raist (kerylraist) | 240 comments Now, imagine one of those twaddle spouting cretins was in charge of your college creative writing class.

I spent a semester trapped in a room with a man who was supposedly teaching us how to write, and did it by making us read whiny, woe is me, I'm more sensitive than anyone else ever, I need to go slit my wrists now, short story after short story.

Then he made us write them.

It was a basic level one creative writing class. Yet we never talked about plot, dialog, climax, nor denouement. The oldest student in the class was 19 so we got to spend eons critiquing page after page of upper-middle class white kid angst. We spent hours crafting individual sentences for maximum emotional effect, without bothering to see if those sentence actually made any sense, or for that matter made a story.

Amazingly enough, I haven't been a fan of literary fiction, even good literary fiction, since.


message 32: by Andre Jute (last edited Jul 11, 2011 01:26PM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
A good test of a writing teacher is: How many of his students manage to *sell* a single piece of any length?

It's that simple for those teachers who help writers realize their talent. Unfortunately, in practice most of those clowns don't turn out writers, they turn out more uninspired and uninspiring teachers of creative writing.


message 33: by Keryl (new)

Keryl Raist (kerylraist) | 240 comments Andre Jute wrote: "A good test of a writing teacher is: How many of his students manage to *sell* a single piece of any length?

It's that simple for those teachers who help writers realize their talent. Unfortunatel..."


To the best of my knowledge the answer to that is one. Me. And I did my best to forget everything he ever taught me about writing as quickly as I could.

The cruel irony of this is one room down the hall, there actually was a decent teacher of writing, who not only has sold his own work, but does have students who were able to go on and get published, too. I just never was lucky enough to get into one of his classes.

Meanwhile the poser (and the two "poets" who made up the rest of the department) did a very good job of making sure I got my degree in Religious Studies instead of English.


message 34: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
When I decided to be a novelist, a state film corporation which owed me political favours hired an American writer to be my writing tutor (ostensibly he was on the payroll as a script editor). His behaviour, his instruction and his own writing samples ensured that I became a hardworking writer who threw out eight words of every ten I wrote and who always behaves like a businessman rather than an "artiste". He was such an arsehole, and so pretentious, and so slack, and so smugly pompous, that I was saved from becoming another provincial nobody whining for the rest of his life that nobody recognized my genius -- by doing everything the opposite of what he advised. (I of course had the salutary experience of prospering in the artistic forcing house of multinational advertising, where he wouldn't have lasted a morning; advertising and big city newspapers are superior schools for the spotting of talentless poseurs.)

Not such a different experience to yours. Still, the easier option would have been the competent teacher.


message 35: by Keryl (new)

Keryl Raist (kerylraist) | 240 comments Andre Jute wrote: "When I decided to be a novelist, a state film corporation which owed me political favours hired an American writer to be my writing tutor (ostensibly he was on the payroll as a script editor). His ..."

Competent teacher would have been nice. As it was my writing didn't suffer, and like you, my bull shit detector was made a few degrees sharper.

The funny thing is, I can only name a few professional writers who also teach, but none of them teach English or writing. They're usually off teaching things like history, sciences, or psych. The stuff they write about.


message 36: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Good point Keryl!

I have a young friend who went to a lot of trouble to get a MFA - she's teaching English and hasn't got a writing project beyond a few chapters of unfinished chic-lit.

I studied IT and have shelves of unfinished manuscripts that date back to high school.


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