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Archive for the ‘Oscar Wilde’ Category

The seasons send their ruin as they go,

For in the spring the narciss shows its head

Nor withers till the rose has flamed to red,

And in the autumn purple violets blow,

And the slim crocus stirs the winter snow;

Wherefore yon leafless trees will bloom again

And this grey land grow green with summer rain

And send up cowslips for some boy to mow.

 

But what of life whose bitter hungry sea

Flows at our heels, and gloom of sunless night

Covers the days which never more return?

Ambition, love and all the thoughts that burn

We lose too soon, and only find delight

In withered husks of some dead memory.

 

                                                 ~ Oscar Wilde, born on this day in 1854

 

Oscar Wilde with "Poems" (Napoleon Sarony, New York, 1882)

Oscar Wilde with “Poems” (Napoleon Sarony, New York, 1882)

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A curious thing seems to be happening in MFA workshops and critique groups.  Criticism regarding spelling, grammar, and punctuation is considered hypercritical and offered only with considerable apologies for nitpicking.  “Your editor will catch and correct those problems” seems to be the widespread assumption, which disregards entirely the fact that, as unpublished, amateur writers, we don’t yet have editors.  Moreover, we have less chance of ever having one if our query letters and submissions reflect a bungling of or indifference to the fundamental rules of writing.

Personally, I think relying on others to tidy up our work is a slippery slope.  More often than not, a seemingly minor punctuation edit such as the addition or elimination of a comma or an ellipsis will change the carefully wrought tone of a passage entirely.  Further, many of these “petty” edits are stylistic.  Will my editor know, for instance, that I intended to capitalize “It” when referring to a personified Fate?  The portrait of the resplendent but doomed Dorian Gray might have been inelegantly smeared rather than excruciatingly seared “with the lines of suffering” had Oscar himself not corrected his typist’s error.

Writing well is more than the generation of an engaging plot and well-developed characters and the correction of inadvertent POV shifts; it is the ability to inspire, evoke, engage, and transform through words and syntax and rhythm.  But none of that can be achieved if the passage is a distracting, irreverent jumble of comma splices, dangling participles, improperly used apostrophes, and misplaced semicolons.  Such blatant disregard for the fundamental mechanics of writing would destroy any stylistic or substantive merits of the piece and undermine the credibility of the author.

As both a Christian and a writer, I feel a heightened responsibility to write well and to confront and overcome any prevailing issue of ordinariness at all costs.  The standards for writing that is divine or inspirational should never be compromised for the sake of the enterprise or message.  “Christians,” according to screenwriter and script consultant Barbara Nicolosi in The Making of a Christian Bestseller by Ann Byle, “tend to allow mediocrity because of our penchant for looking at the heart, not the art.”  She goes on to criticize some of the “slop” in Christian literary art that is justified by the market because of the artist’s good intentions.  “We’re ending up giving a false witness to what our faith is. It’s devastating.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion, having encountered faith-based writing that is both technically inadequate and thematically trite, and I deem the deficiencies even more objectionable than I would if I came across them in the secular realm, considering what is at stake.  My intention as a Christian writer is not only to support an unfettered approach to genuine and controversial subject matter but also to advocate the highest standards of technical imperatives and artistic excellence in Christian fiction and nonfiction.

So let’s master the semicolon and colon and solve the lay/lie/laid/lain mystery once and for all.  Consult grammar manuals in relentless pursuit of accuracy, and find a critique partner or group that isn’t reluctant to point out grammatical errors or other weaknesses.  Let’s eliminate our beloved adverbs where possible, and murder our darlings.  And, for heaven’s sake, please tell me if I mean “sow” rather than “sew.”  Let’s utilize our talents in a way that exalts unabashedly the One who bestowed them.  If that means revising and editing ad nauseam, so be it.  After all, as William Zinsser reminds us in On Writing Well, “a good editor likes nothing better than a piece of copy he hardly has to touch.”

 

This post appeared on the American Christian Fiction Writers website on November 19, 2015.

 

Draft of Chapter Four of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Draft of Chapter Four of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

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Six years ago on this day, with a succinct, autogenous “Hello, World!” announcing its quiet arrival on the heavily populated, cyber literary landscape, Archetype was launched.  Conceived originally in 2009 to chronicle my academic journey through Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and provide a forum for peer critique and camaraderie, I promptly posted passages from one of my short stories (“Windmill Ridge”) and my novel-in-progress Time of Death and invited classmates to contribute their work.  I also published original essay excerpts on Jonathan Franzen and the waning of a literary America (“Antisocial or socially isolated?”, “‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book”), mirrors and reflective imagery in world literature (“Masks, Manipulation, and Madness”), and the notion of the invoked doppelganger in fiction (“The Self We Seek”), all of which I was studying in those first few months of back-to-school bliss.

362px-Th_Richter_Dame_in_der_BibliothekLike any creative endeavor, the site evolved as I did and soon reflected my deepening involvement in and abiding commitment to literary and academic pursuits.  In addition to promoting Chapman fiction and poetry readings and publication opportunities in those first years, I mined journals and the Internet for interesting and informative local events taking place beyond the university’s borders.  Details regarding local and national writing contests and Calls for Submissions were and still are also posted regularly.  In 2012, I added a section for the growing number of my guest blog posts, my interviews, and other places where I’ve stumbled pleasantly upon my own work in the cybersphere.

Followers know that I most often post poems and passages that have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, suggests precisely where I am intellectually and emotionally.  Early on I rejoiced to find pictures, particularly nineteenth century oil paintings, that evoked or complemented the literary piece I was posting, and I now spend nearly as much time searching for corresponding artwork as I do compelling literature.

Thanks to my passionate professors and their fascinating courses on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the life and works of Virginia Woolf, female enchantresses of modern British literature, and Gothic and fantastic fiction, Wilde, Woolf, and the works of A. S. Byatt, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe were frequent early Archetype subjects.  Posts on Wilde culminated in November 2009 with the writing of my course thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray (“The Act of Creation,” “Wilde Irony”), while Woolf reigned in the fall of 2010.  My essay on chaos theory and the butterfly effect in the works of Virginia Woolf remains my SophieAndersonTakethefairfaceofWomanproudest literary achievement to date and will serve as my Ph.D. application writing sample next year.  (Click on these links to review excerpts from “The I in the Portrait: A Bakhtinian Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray and “On the Wings of Angels and Butterflies: The Chaotic Journey to Woman in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.”)

My penchant for Russian literature and philosophy was also soon discovered, and I immersed myself and, by extension, Archetype in Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov and began to examine just about everything through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Later courses exposed me to the intriguing life and works of Gertrude Stein (“Back to Bakhtin: The ‘I’ in Ida), Junot Díaz, Ralph Ellison, and many others, and every newly encountered author was explored here to some extent.

The craft of writing is another recurrent theme on Archetype; “Genetics-Based Grammarianism,” “In Celebration of Technique,” “Last Writes,” “More Is More,” “Not Quite Write,” “Drafting Perfection,” and “A Sense of Style” are my personal favorites.  However, it is the angst of writing about which I tend to muse and articulate most freely; “Why Write?,” “One True Sentence,” “Bird by Bird,” “Write About Now,” “Demons and Darlings,” “The Reality of Rejection,” “The Joy of Ending Well,” “A New Summer of Writing,” and “The Write Stuff” all convey my own grapples with the creative stall and feelings of inadequacy.

With the MA in English attained two years ago, a few modest writing awards under my belt (“Praise for Time of Death,” “On the Write Track”), and conferral of the MFA degree this past January, I’ve been in the process of considering what’s next these past few months – for me academically and literarily and for this site (“A Silent Abyss,” “A Beginning and an Ending,” “Writing in the Afterlife”). As I’ve mentioned recently on Archetype (“Это правда?”) and in an interview on TreeHouse, I’m planning to apply to various Ph.D. programs in English, Comparative Literature, and/or Rhetoric; however, with applicant admission rates of approximately four to five percent at local universities, I’m keeping the likelihood of acceptance in perspective.

GOTTHA~1Nonetheless, the pursuit of admittance will be next year’s undertaking and will, of course, be recounted here.  For the immediate time being, my focus will remain on submitting my short fiction and nonfiction work to various conferences and journals, launching a part-time freelance writing and editing career, and preparing for both the General and Literature in English Graduate Record Examinations.  (A list of my current study resources is provided in the sidebar to the right.)  And there is still the full novel to finish and market (“This is the Year,” “This is That Summer,” “Writing in the Aftermath”).

During the last seventy-two months, I have published 695 posts about literature, critical theory, writing technique, literary figures and events, submission opportunities, favorite poems and passages, articles of interest, books I’m reading, papers I’m writing, other literary blogs I’m following, conferences I’m attending, and demons I’m wrestling.  Archetype celebrates holidays, welcomes new seasons, and gives the occasional nod to lunar activity – and much-needed sleep.  Finally, personal aspects of my affective life and literary journey are memorialized and shared (“Write of Passage,” “Cartwheels Under the Arch,” “Pathetic Fallacy,” “Beyond Words,” “Finis”), even when the discovery and healing are mine alone.  I hope you will all follow me as this new narrative begins.

 

Levitan_Sokolniki_Autumn_1879

 

 

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Since making my lifelong desire to write known within my immediate professional and social circle, I have come face to face with the quizzical expressions and misconceptions I encountered as a child who lived primarily in an imaginary world. While undoubtedly supportive and well-meaning, many friends are simply unable to conceal their lack of understanding for a “hobby” that requires solitude and a “sacrifice” of social interaction.  They applaud my weekend efforts at my computer (the abstruse Bakhtinian analyses of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the works of Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein’s Ida notwithstanding), acknowledging the virtue of, say, an MFA thesis or a novel chapter, but can’t resist urging me to not forget to make time for myself and have fun now and then.

Don’t they see I’m having the time of my life?

I suppose I can appreciate their puzzlement.  In today’s hypersocial society, activities done alone are generally considered to be inferior to activities shared with others.  For every customarily unaccompanied occupation, a club or Meetup group is now available to take the ostensible sting of isolation out of it.  To opt deliberately for tedious exertions done in seclusion, such as reading novels and writing, in lieu of more interactive and invigorating pastimes often prompts questions of physical or mental well-being or, more awkwardly, elicits unwarranted sympathy.  Besides, creative writing is purportedly an enterprise of the right cerebral hemisphere, and I have a left-brain job.  Or so I thought.

Over time, as my colleagues began to learn what I was doing when I wasn’t analyzing financial statements and operating the real estate, a few divulged (with, I’m certain I detected, a measure of wistfulness) that they, too, had dabbled in the literary or visual arts in a prior life, revealing an unobtrusive community of hemispheric fissure straddlers – former and would-be authors, poets, painters, and other creative thinkers making their mark in a distinctly analytic arena.  Most of us probably still have the proof of a dormant poetic self – musty journals in boxes in the garage, old files of yellowed paper scraps and cocktail napkins on which bits of prose and poetry are scrawled, or references to particularly resonant passages in the margins of Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights.

Upon learning the secret identities of the accountant-sculptor, lawyer-philosopher, and engineer-memoirist, I was exhilarated by the proximity of this dichotomous kindred.  There was neither bemusement nor pity from these individuals; they understood the need to retreat to a quiet space to create, alone.  As we talked, I saw a light flicker in their eyes, a memory, perhaps, of what used to stir their soul before the freneticism of modern life anesthetized its Ache, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had returned home that night and started digging for the evidence of their own writer within.  At least, I imagine they did.  And if after reading this you go digging, too, write and let me know.

 

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

 

ENFANT~1

 

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Lately I’ve struggled with the word constraint of a guest column I write.  No matter how concisely I try to present my ideas, I’m routinely asked to cut between twenty and forty words from each submission.  Not long ago, I spent a painful weekend pruning over 4,000 words or roughly fifteen pages from a complex essay that took over a month of previous weekends to write.  All this excising of carefully crafted thought has left me increasingly puzzled by and frustrated with the stringent word count restrictions imposed by editors, literary and academic conferences, and writing competitions, and I’m wondering for the umpteenth time in my literary career…why is brevity so universally celebrated?  And when exactly did less become more?

In a world of tweeting, texting, cinquains, and the widely popular flash fiction and short shorts, the art of epic articulation is no longer appreciated and extolled.  As writers, we are called upon constantly to synopsize, abstract, and shorten our work.  Most literary journals and conference calls for submissions set essay and story limits of 2,000 words, which not only makes comprehensive analysis or lavish storytelling impossible but also, quite frankly, cramps my style.  Heck, my list of works cited typically comprises 1,000 words alone.

The length parameters of most submission opportunities are about a third of the critical essay and creative prose minimum page requirements in graduate English and Creative Writing programs.  Weeks and even months of research and writing are required for a 15- to 25-page paper or narrative of “publishable” quality, which needs to be summarily condensed to a scant seven pages in order to meet the submission guidelines for publication or presentation.  Any writer who has attempted to abridge fiction prose or an essay or a column to meet an editor’s space limitations knows well the instability of what remains once its structure has been so severely compromised.

I’m doing my best to adapt to the attention deficit world in which we now live and must attempt to create.  As I write each blog post, column, essay, and fiction piece, I monitor the number of words at the bottom of my computer screen like a frugal taskmaster, making more efficient choices and trying not to lament all that is left unexpressed too much.  But it hasn’t come easily.

In the end, with just a few hours remaining before my recent target conference submission link was closing, I read the culled fragments of my original 6,000-word Bakhtinian analysis of Oscar Wilde’s only novel and decided against submitting it.  The part was simply inferior to the whole.  Call me verbose; I still believe more is more.

 

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time") total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”) total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.  (Photo by Amakuha.)

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The seasons send their ruin as they go,

For in the spring the narciss shows its head

Nor withers till the rose has flamed to red,

And in the autumn purple violets blow,

And the slim crocus stirs the winter snow;

Wherefore yon leafless trees will bloom again

And this grey land grow green with summer rain

And send up cowslips for some boy to mow.

 

But what of life whose bitter hungry sea

Flows at our heels, and gloom of sunless night

Covers the days which never more return?

Ambition, love and all the thoughts that burn

We lose too soon, and only find delight

In withered husks of some dead memory.

 

~ Oscar Wilde, born on this day in 1854

 

Oscar Wilde with "Poems" (Napoleon Sarony, New York, 1882)

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The success of writers of today […] is chiefly explained by their skill in the treatment of the ghostly, and of subjects related to supernatural fear.  But without citing other living writers, let me observe that there is scarcely any really great author in European literature, old or new, who has not distinguished himself in the treatment of the supernatural.  In English literature, I believe there is no exception – even from the time of the Anglo-Saxon poets to Shakespeare, and from Shakespeare to our own day. […] There is something ghostly in all great art, whether of literature, music, sculpture, or architecture. […] The mystery of the universe is now weighing upon us, becoming heavier and heavier, more and more awful, as our knowledge expands, and it is especially a ghostly mystery.  All great art reminds us in some way of this universal riddle […].  It touches something within us which relates to infinity.

 

~ “The Supernatural in Fiction” (Interpretations of Literature, vol. 2) by Lafcadio Hearn, born on this day in 1850

 

Illustrations of Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" by F. H. Townsend, 1914

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