Category Archives: Literature

The Death of the Author

The Death of the Author is a concept, particularly popular in postmodernism. It’s a very simple concept: facts about the author (such as biography, personal beliefs, gender, race or experiences) should not be taken into account when interpreting said author’s work.

As we all know, this is somewhat fair: who the author is should not influence our opinion or interpretation of the work. But in reality, who the author is matters, and, like it or not, a person can’t escape forming the opinion based on what she knows about the author. If Umberto Eco and Britney Spears both write a book about postmodernism, I bet Eco’s would be taken more seriously than Britney’s (though I’d love to read her view on the matter). A white male’s work about racism is not seen in the same light as black female’s work on the subject. Etc.

So, it’s unavoidable. It’s unclear whether it’s good or not, though. As much as you think knowing the author’s beliefs and experiences can help interpreting and understanding the work, it can also be quite misleading. Some authors hate their work to be interpreted based on this criteria, and that’s another reason for using pen names. It’s definitely one of the reasons I want to use a gender & ethnicity neutral pen name.

Death of the Author proposes that readers are the ones responsible for the interpretation, and that nothing- including facts about the author- should get into the way of someone’s interpretation. Postmodernism believes there are as many interpretations as there are readers (or, even, readings), and personal information about the author is seen as irrelevant, or even harmful for forming the opinion of someone’s work. Therefore, some interpretations might be much, much different than what author originally intended. And it’s fine.

Which leads us to the key idea: the “death” of the author as an authority.

Readers have their own interpretations (that are highly encouraged), and NO interpretation is seen as bad, or less important. That includes author’s own interpretation. It’s seen as no more valid than any of the reader’s. In other words, Shakespeare’s view on “Hamlet” is in no way more important than mine.

Think about this the next time someone claims you “didn’t get what the writer wanted to say”.

Links

Roland Barthes’ essay (he’s the one who came up with this whole thing, so let’s hear what he has to say).

But wait, he was French, and those people have a thing for heavy style that nobody understands. Is there a quick summary of the main ideas?

And what about the hypertext?

Screw it. It’s still complicated. Just get me to the TvTropes, please.

Writing Chapter Titles

The first thing Sarah Miller did on her seventeenth birthday was to go to the bathroom and shove a toothbrush handle deep down her throat.

This is the first line in my novel, “A Postcard from Hades”, written for the last year’s NaNoWriMo. I’m at the final stages of the (somewhat) exhausting revision process.

There are 27 chapters, and the novel is about 90 000 words long. There were no chapter titles at first, but then I thought it would be a good idea to include them anyway.

So, here they are, the translated chapter titles! Most of them are related to certain sensory impressions, and not the plot relevant for the chapter. That’s why the image they paint together might not accurately describe the novel (same goes for the novel title, btw).

For example, “Vibrations” describe a New Year’s party with the loud music and bass lines vibrating the house. But it’s also the chapter in which my main male character loses his virginity. In “Rain”, characters meet after an argument, and it’s raining, which is quite rare for the climate of their small town. But there are also chapter titles related to the plot, or those that describe my characters (namely, “Alarm clock, bird and fountain pen”).

Ignore sloppy translation, grammar mistakes, etc. One of the worst things is knowing my English is not good enough to actually, well, write in English. But I digress.

Chapter titles

The novel has four parts, with little vignettes between them.

I
1. Waking Up
2. Introducing Aristotle
3. Encounters
4. Behind a Rusty Gate
5. Ethos, Logos, Pathos
6. On the Swings

D.S. Miller: Novel as an Argument

II
7. To Know Each Other
8. Life in Short
9. Little Pink Cap
10. Rain
11. Town Lives
12. In a Narrow Corridor

D.S. Miller interview (excerpt), Northern Journal of Literature and Art

III
13. Vibrations
14. Together, Alone
15. Fists and Blood
16. Preparation
17. The Other Worlds
18. After the Change
19. Sewing Room
20. Two Stories

D.S. Miller’s Writing Advice

IV
21. Punishment
22. Stained Seats
23. Alarm Clock, Bird and Fountain Pen
24. Accepting Reality
25. Life in Short
26. On a Hidden Bench
27. Departure

The Virgin Suicides: A Masterpiece?

I admit, calling it “a masterpiece” might be an overstatement. But this book sure surprised me with its style, beauty and that ethereal feeling you get whenever you truly lose yourself in a book. And sadly, that doesn’t happen to me often. I guess a book needs to be truly special to make me feel that way.

I am, obviously, quite late to the party. “The Virgin Suicides” novel was popular a long time ago and I have no idea why I never bothered to read it. I guess the “suicide” in the title made it seem depressing. But my husband (who’s read a few passages) recommended it with the words: “this guy writes like you, the same style and all”.

Needless to say, it’s not true in strict sense of the words, but I understand why he said that. What I loved about the novel is not what Eugenides said, but how he said it. The book isn’t perfect technically, but in a way, it makes it even better. And Jeffrey Eugenides sure knows how to write.

The story about the Lisbon sisters, their suicides, the boys who were obsessed with them and changing of suburbia could have been told in numerous ways, but he chose the one that makes it seem not just original, but also the only possible way to tell it. And that speaks volumes about his writing.

What I find fascinating is the fact it’s written in freaking first person plural – and it doesn’t sound annoying, pretentious or confusing at all. It just fits. It fits perfectly. It fits perfectly because the book isn’t really about the Lisbon sisters, or why they killed themselves, but about the boys and their coming of age, and this suburban life that is slowly dying, never to be the same again. Some critics claim the boys serve as a Greek chorus, but I am not quite sure if I buy that. I’d rather say it’s one of the cases of a “hidden” main character, where protagonists are not the same as narrators. But at the end of the day, it is the book about the boys, and it sure makes you (well, me) understand teenage boys better.

And not to mention one of the most captivating characters in contemporary literature: Trip Fontaine. Ok, I might be biased here, because I am insanely jealous of Eugenides for creating this memorable character with so little words. The name itself is perfect; perfect name for such a character (how come I can’t think of something like that?) What is interesting to note is that Trip doesn’t appear in the book that much at all, but still feels like a prominent character. Many writers before Eugenides have written, and many will yet write, trying to give a mesmerizing portrayal of a teenage heartthrob, but people will still remember Trip Fontaine. Now, that’s writing.

The book is in no way perfect, but that’s a good thing. There are some technical “errors”, but they only make it seem less planned, like a real memory.

The movie

Naturally (?) after reading the book, I wanted to see the film. They say movies always disappoint, but I am usually prepared for it. Sofia Coppola’s movie didn’t disappoint, because I wasn’t expecting much. In a way, it is a sweet and poignant film. I didn’t find it to be slow or confusing, as some people claim.

Sofia Coppola took a great effort in keeping most of the little details that make book so striking: the bracelets, poking smoke rings, Lux’s underwear with “Trip” written on it, brown-and white saddle shoes, and so many others. That is something contemporary filmmakers rarely do and I respect her for that.

Still, she somehow managed to make a movie that has all the details, but completely missing the mood, feel and (dare to say) point of the novel. I have no idea how she’s done it, but that’s how it is. She gave us a visually beautiful film, but for some reason it never really felt like a good adaptation of the book.

I guess it’s because she chose to focus on the girls more than the boys. It’s not that I don’t understand this decision; I guess it’s difficult to tell the story from the boys’ POV. Still, focusing on the Lisbon sisters, and showing so many of their lives inside the house, with each other and their parents, killed much of the mystery about the sisters. We got to see them as nothing more but a regular teenagers with strict parents, and we are unable to understand boys’ obsession with them. I think it wasn’t the best move.

The casting was fairly good, despite the fact I – not sure how to put this gracefully – can’t stand Kirsten Dunst. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I usually find her unwatchable. Needless to say, I didn’t find her to be a convincing Lux (I think she would make a good Bonnie, though), but she wasn’t bad. I sure didn’t imagine Mr and Mrs Lisbon as James Woods and Kathleen Turner, but they were good.

The only casting choice I am not so sure about is Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. The problem with Trip is that he’s never described, so you can picture him anyway you want, and I sure didn’t picture him as Josh Hartnett. I mean… The guy can’t really act, can he? * Right. But I must reluctantly admit he made a good Trip Fontaine; you could imagine girls (and mothers?) falling for someone like him. And his performance was decent, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad casting choice.

* In Hatnett’s defense, he did give at least one good performance in his career. I’ve watched “Mozart and the Whale” recently, and he was quite good as a guy with Asperger’s. So maybe he’s not completely talentless after all. And now that he’s getting older (and less hot?) he might try to become a real actor and not a joke he used to be (*cough* Pearl Harbour *cough* – yes, I pretend that one never happened, too).

All in all, the movie was visually beautiful, but it didn’t impress me. I just don’t find it to be a good adaptation of the novel: it fails to capture its essence, while at the same time it’s way too dependent on the novel to stand on its own.

Writing Sex Scenes

I’m at that precious place in my NaNo novel in which I about to write my first sex scene in… Let’s see: 13 years. I am not nervous about it (lol), but it does make me think about the whole problem of writing interesting, yet tasteful sex scenes in novels.

By “tasteful” I don’t mean on keeping it polite. Frankly, if you are too freaked out by words such as penis, vagina, or it’s numerous slang variations, you are not ready to write sex scenes, unless it’s fade to black – and you can’t really count those as sex scenes, now can you?

A good sex scene in a novel is like any other good scene in a novel: it serves its purpose. If you are writing erotica, your goal is to make people aroused. If you’re not, you might (or might not) want to achieve a different effect. It all depends.

Last time I wrote a sex scene I was a virgin. It was really, really fun (writing sex scenes, not being a virgin), and I enjoyed it. (No, not in “that” way! ;) ) They weren’t as bad as one might expect, but I was never graphic. It was back in the days when I was unable to write words “fuck” or “shit”, despite the fact I had no problem using these words (and worse ones) when speaking. But to see them on page? No way! But I digress.

My current novel is a coming of age story with these young people who are, more or less, miserable. And I am not talking about the usual teenage wangst, but on family problems and shit and what not – accompanied with the usual teenage wangst. There are several sex scenes planned, most striking ones involving each of the main characters (there are three of them) losing virginity… for good or for the bad. I am planning to write it in a distant, almost cold and clinical manner. It simply suits the story (and its style) the best.

The main problem I’m having with the scene I’m about to write is the fact it should be told from male POV. It freaks me out. (Not male POV in sex, but writing from a male POV). I might be a tomboy, but I don’t know much about the way men think. I don’t think I am good at writing anything from male POV, let alone a sex scene. On the other hand, my husband says I am doing a good job with the (regular) scenes from my male character’s POV. But still, this is different.

Basically, how to write a believable scene in which this guy loses his virginity? <- a rhetorical question (but if somebody is eager to offer his advice, I'd be more than happy to hear it :D)

How NOT to write a sex scene

Learn from the best (worst?) Here’s a striking passage from the (in)famous camp classic, “My Immortal”, by Tara Gilesbie:

"Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.

“Oh! Oh! Oh! ” I screamed. I was beginning to get an orgasm. We started to kiss everywhere and my pale body became all warm. And then….

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERFUKERS!”

It was…………………………………………………….Dumbledore!"

Ok, this might be a bad example, because it’s essentially an epic win. But you get the idea.

Useful links:
IKEA Erotica
Shortlisted books for 2008 Bad Sex award

You know what sucks?

It sucks to have something to get your hopes high… Only to see them trashed and destroyed in the next moment.

On a brighter side, I outlined my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel (working title: Hardin Hades). It’s far from being perfect, but it makes sense. The only thing I worry is the fact my fav character, Edie, doesn’t appear as much as I’d like to. Also, none of my characters is sympathetic… But that’s the point, I guess.

PS-To all Americans I contacted about the project/survey on Balkans, I am working on it. Thank you for your interest (it means a LOT!) I hope I’ll have something decent soon, so we can do the survey.

Also, if there are other USians interested to help, please, send a comment or an email (mira AT jefflion DOT net). Your help is more than welcomed!