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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catch and correct those problems” seems to be the widespread assumption, which disregards entirely the fact that, as unpublished, amateur writers, we don’t yet have editors.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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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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Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest.
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

 

                     ~ Oscar Wilde

 

“Easter Day in Rome, 1840” by John Frederick Lewis (1805-1876)

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