Of The “Not So” Great Gatsby

He put into words exactly how I feel when I read most classic literature. Plus, the review of the famous novel is quite entertaining.
Enjoy!

brainsnorts inc.

gatsby-original-cover-artEither late in high school or early in college, I was ordered to read The Great Gatsby. I regarded it as the most boring thing I had ever picked up. However, roughly 20 years later, I decided that it may have been me who was boring, so I decided – through the recommendation of others – that I should read it again because I, as an adult, would now be in a better frame of mind to appreciate the literary genius of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Nope.

Why is it that so many writers, and especially so many writing teachers, are quick to proclaim The Great Gatsby as one of the greatest novels ever written? Shortly after its publication, H.L. Mencken – a rather significant writer and journalist – referred to The Great Gatsby as just a “glorified anecdote,” and I completely agree. It’s a worthless and boring piece of…

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Of Writer’s Hesitation

Typewriter

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I want to write. I long to sit at my 1940’s desk with a quill in my hand and compose beautiful words. Sadly, I’m not writing. I haven’t written a complete story since I graduated a couple of months ago. It’s not that I don’t have ideas fluttering around my head, it’s just that I’m not writing. It’s a shame – I’m a pretty good storyteller.

So why am I not writing?

I can’t say that it’s because of writers block, as I already confessed to having ideas. It’s not that I don’t have enough time, I work a crappy part-time job and get maybe 20 hours a week – I have more than enough time.

When I picture myself writing everything is very romanticized. Sitting at my desk for hours every morning with a cup of coffee steaming beside me. But whenever I am about to start writing that’s when I freeze up.

I think that part of me is afraid of the process. Delving deeper into my subconscious may reveal things about myself that I’m not willing to confront or perhaps don’t want shared with the world. I’ve always said that fiction tells readers more about the author than non-fiction. Non-fiction is easy, it’s a glimpse into the author’s life, and they get to control how everyone is portrayed and what you witness. Fiction is the subconscious, what they are really thinking, and how they process the world around them – their soul masked by layers of characters and scenery.

So yeah, maybe I’m fearful. And for the first time in my writing career I’m completely on my own, no teacher to hand out assignments, or internship set a deadline. The only thing to motivate my fingers to tap away at the keyboard is me. Me. Me. Me. And I gotta say, I suck at self motivation. Give me a deadline and I’ll get the work done, and damn it the paper will be good. But when left to my own devices I shy away from the real writing and hide in work that is less deep, less personal, and less substantial.

I need to write.

Of Blurring the Line of Creative Non-Fiction

Harry Potter - I must not tell lies

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In the creative writing world the term creative non-fiction always starts an intense conversation.

There’s two sides:

  1. The side that insists that nothing can ever be fabricated, if there are people involved you need to get their permission and/or have them confirm the story as the way it happened, and there are very few liberties regarding details.
  2. The other side is a bit more lenient. They are in favor of the use of the creative license, they care more about the emotional truth than the factual truth, and in regards to details, if wall was yellow but it’s a more powerful scene if it’s black – let it be black.

Personally I fall into the second group.

Here’s how I see it. Unless you walk around with a video camera or notepad recording EVERYTHING that happened in your life EVER right down to the um’s, ah’s, and like’s used in daily conversation, then everything may as well be fiction. For no one wants to read a list of facts, it’s boring. That’s what textbooks are for. There’s a reason that very few people read textbooks for leisure purposes.

I just can’t grasp why people care so much, it’s not like creative non-fiction writers are writing the news. They are writing their story, most likely with the only source being their memory and maybe a friend or two.

The truth is about as stable as a ribbon hanging from a beam. Non-fiction on one side and fiction on the other. Sometimes it goes crazy, spinning and jumping all over the place. Other times it’s flipped up, stuck to the top of the roof – the line vanishes. And occasionally it hangs straight down – forming a clear definitive line of what’s the truth and what’s a lie.

The point is when I’m writing non-fiction I’m not lying, but that doesn’t mean I’m telling the truth. If I were to include a disclaimer this would mostly be what I put:

The following is true, it happened, this is how my brain remembers the event, story, people, weather, and so forth. I’m not lying to you, not that it matters. It really doesn’t matter, the events truth doesn’t matter, what matters is how I remembered it, how it influenced me, and how you as a reader connect to the story. Hopefully you’ll be entertained or possibly moved by the next few pages. This may as well be fiction because I didn’t bother to double-check the exact time or temperature ever when writing this. I repeat, the truth doesn’t matter …. but this is a true story, so you may as well believe me.

From that I’m guaranteed to have people freak out that I’m a liar, and others praise me for my honesty. Even though I hopefully clearly stated where I stand on the issue in a simple little paragraph. The point is there’s no winning these conversations, it’s a dead conversation that loops on repeat over and over. It never goes anywhere, no one ever sees the other’s point of view, no one suddenly jumps from team 1 to team 2 or vice-versa.

What we need is more terms to use for the genre. Like in the way that there’s 50 types of love in the world but the English language only has one word to use, so it’s all in how you say it. There’s 50 – and growing – types of creative non-fiction. But there’s only three terms you can use: creative non-fiction, memoir, and (auto)biography. They all basically mean the same thing and have the same debate regarding truth and lies.

I think people need to calm down and realize that no one is ever going to agree.

Of Writing Style and Reading Taste

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This is an expanded version of an assignment I had in my editing and publishing class to write a letter about my personal taste in writing and reading. Initially I tailored the assignment with a narrow focus with the intention of keeping the letter precise and semi-formal. But after listening to what my professor wrote and several of the other students in my class I felt inspired to rewrite the letter even though I knew it would never be graded because I wanted to:

Dear Professor:

 The first thing I’ll admit about my reading tastes and writing style is that I’m lazy. I’ll spend hours binge watching anything by Joss Whedon, or an old Gene Kelly musical before I finally say to myself, Sarah, stop procrastinating you have to write something. At that point I’ll sit down and pump out what I need within three hours that’s good enough for at least a B+ or A-. Or if I’m writing for fun I’ll spend hours talking aloud to myself making sure that my words flow with perfect elegance or sarcasm depending on the piece.

When asked about my tastes I can answer what I dislike much easier than what I enjoy. I’ve read more unbearable plotless fiction than any person ever should. I’m eagerly awaiting the end of the current apocalypse fad. I dislike when someone messes with my traditional or Whedon mythology, sorry Stephanie Meyer but vampires burn to ash in the sun, they simply don’t sparkle like fairies. I hate unnecessary wordiness, thus I hate Victorian literature. If Jane Austen’s books were to all of a sudden vanish into the clouds, I would not shed a single tear, in fact, I would probably dance with joy. I’m sick of snooty classic literature purists who are constantly trying to start a fight because I loathe their precious Pride and Prejudice, I think Mr. Darcy was a jerk with money, and that I find Austen’s writing style unbearably boring. If I’m being honest I haven’t read a lot of classic literature, but from what I’ve read I’ve rarely been impressed.

Being a twenty-two year old college student I naturally have adult tastes:  I love a book that will challenge or wow me intellectually, as well as a girly book that makes me laugh. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella, for example, is a hilarious book marketed towards women and is surprisingly not cliché. A strong female, who is not a needy obnoxiously boy crazy human being, drives the plot with such surprises and quirks that the first time I read the novel I only put the book down once and only because I was laughing so hard that I could no longer see the printed words on the page. However, being that I was born and raised in a religious conservative household, I have come to find that some of the best books are ones that I can appreciate and my younger brother can also enjoy. These are books that when visiting family, I do not have to worry about my mother looking over my shoulder and seeing something that she wouldn’t approve of, such as curse words or sexual language. That’s why I long to go into young adult literature. Problem is that most of what I write isn’t like the young adult literature that I love to read. My writing reflects a part of me that I’ve never shown my family, and I dread the day that I have to decide between censoring myself, using a pen name, or letting the full truth come out for my family to see. I used to always censor my writing; I have the ability to switch how I communicate to match what the people around me deem appropriate. I recently decided that in order to write to the best of my abilities I had to be fully honest and not adjust how I write to please others; I use my blog to practice this.

When my little brother was three we learned that the reason he was not speaking was because he was deaf. By the time he was four he had a surgery to get a cochlear implant. Nowadays he still has a deaf boy lisp but he doesn’t need us to sign as he is able to speak and understand us just fine. I gained a whole new level of respect for the language I took for granted while watching him go to hours of speech therapy and commute an hour and a half daily to the most amazing deaf school to ever exist, Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children. Naturally, because of what he had to overcome, it took him awhile to get into reading. When he was about eleven he was engrossed with the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. He loved it, so I read it, and I have to say it was dazzling. And the only thing it has in common with the movie is the names of the characters and title of the story, literally everything else is completely different. I made it my personal mission at that point to make sure he keeps reading, so I frequently introduce him to books that I loved when I was little, such as Holes by Louis Sachar. And he would in return share current books with me.  Doing this is what initially sparked my dream of publishing young adult literature.

While edgier books have their place and are also wonderful, I love a book that is brilliant enough to touch the souls of both old and young. My favorite book growing up, and to this day, was The Giver by Lois Lowry. A short novel about the dangers of ignorance in a controlled society and follows a young twelve-year-old boy who boldly made his own path, returning the memories of the past to his community. In terms of books that have influenced the masses, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is a prime example of what well written young adult can accomplish, and is arguably the book of my generation. While marketed for young adults it still has a plot and depth that adults of all ages have enjoyed over the years. And don’t even get me started on how amazing the character of Snape is, his purpose, intentions, boldness, contradictions, I could only dream of writing such an intense and interesting character.

I’m not a consistently tidy person, but when I sit down to read or write in my own home, I need order. My desk organized, my clothes put away, and most importantly my bed has to be made, throw pillows in place and all. Without my physical surroundings providing structure I find that my ability to focus or produce original work of quality falters. If I’m being honest, I would probably fall asleep regardless of how enticing the story was or how driving my creative flow was being. My unmade bed would call me into its untucked sheets. Without question that slumber would cause me to rise a few hours before my assignment was due in a raging panic. Once my bed is made I sit and wait for a vibe to take over for me. Everything I do is governed by vibes, this is how I decorate my apartment, how I decide what to wear, and it governs the tone of my piece. Recently I was doing a lot of blues dancing, which if you don’t know is a form of sexy ballroom, and watching even more Gilmore Girls. Those activities created a vibe within me that helped me write one of the best stories I’ve ever written. A sensual undertone, slow pacing, and witty dialogue drives the story of a young girl who rebels within a small community ultimately finding solace on a rare patch of grass in the desert.

My attachment to young adult literature stems from my guilty pleasures and the books that inspired me while growing up. I want my family to be able to enjoy the majority of what I publish whether they are ten or seventy. Of course, because of my own writing style and voice I’ll definitely have adult books not everyone will be able to read. Regardless, I want to publish the books that will inspire the future youth to love literature, in the ways that the books that I read inspired me. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Sarah Luna