Old Stories, New Books

Every year at my high school we had an awards assembly, at which students would be recognized for particular talents. The awards were usually based off academic departments or sports teams. When I was a senior, I won the Art award. I’m actually not that great an artist (would you like your stick figure drawing?) but I made a lot of projects that involved found objects. I made a purse out of my dad’s old neckties; a sculpture out of old lipstick tubes; a recycled paper book. So it’s probably not surprising that I really enjoy novels that are reworked versions of other stories.

Flavorwire has a great roundup of ten contemporary novels based on classic books. Two of these–His Dark Materials and The Hours–are favorites.

Another reason I like YA is that it’s a genre that tends to have a lot of fun with established material. Obviously fairy tale retellings are huge, but so are takes on other classics. A few years ago I read The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig. When I was in high school, I hated Hamlet (why couldn’t he just kill people like Macbeth?!), but The Dead Father’s Club opened me up to a much greater sympathy for the character.

What are you favorite contemporary retellings of classic stories?

Looking at the Mad Scientist: Frankenstein Online

Last November, I read Frankenstein for the first time. Until then, I’d just seen the movie and read the background information on how Mary Shelley came up with the story. So I’m psyched to see that Biblion is looking at the book, Mary Shelley, and her circle. Lots of cool background information and essays.

Right now they have a lot of info up about the Romantics. Seriously guys, the drama in this group could make for some awesome TV drama. (Downton Abbey is already a hit, so why not have more historical dramas?) Get those English major vibes going!

PS–I’m also going to see the National Theatre Live version of Frankenstein when it’s shown in a couple of weeks. Really psyched to see Benedict Cumberbatch rock this one.

(H/T NYPL Wire)

Financial Expectations for Working Writers

My friend Andrew has a great post up about the recent McSweeney’s comic contest debacle and why writers should take notice. In very short, McSweeney’s ran a contest in which the winner would get to run regular, bimonthly feature on Internet Tendency for a year (so 24 total posts). But there was no monetary compensation, and 24 separate comics is a lot of work. There was an uproar among comic artists, and McSweeney’s ended up pulling the contest. Andrew notes how this might not have happened for a writing contest:

“I don’t mean to suggest that McSweeney’s hasn’t done great things for the publishing industry, and for writers, and for schools, and for the community. But it seems like a dangerous precedent to admit that contests of the sort they run—hell, business models of the sort they run—can be “used for the purposes of exploitation.” If it’s exploitative to ask graphic artists to produce work on spec, why is it not exploitative to ask the same of writers? Are we not also creative individuals trying to make an honest living doing what we love?”

Frankly, I think this would be a great opportunity for McSweeney’s to look at how it acquires content and what it can do for its writers. Most writers, even really successful ones, don’t make enough money from writing to have it be their only job. Not that McSweeney’s can save the day, but they can certainly take a step forward in fostering artists of all kinds.

Ray Bradbury Knows the Monster’s Sadness

Another loss for the literary world: Ray Bradbury has passed away at the age of 91. I haven’t read much of his longer work, but one of my favorites is his short story “The Fog Horn,” about a sea monster who hears the fog horn from a lighthouse and thinks the lighthouse is calling to it. From that story:

“The Fog Horn blew.

And the monster answered.

I saw it all, I knew it all-the million years of waiting alone, for someone to come back who never came back. The million years of isolation at the bottom of the sea, the insanity of time there, while the skies cleared of reptile-birds, the swamps fried on the continental lands, the sloths and sabre-tooths had there day and sank in tar pits, and men ran like white ants upon the hills.”

Saddest story about a sea monster ever. Make sure to check out the whole story in Bradbury’s collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun.

Links Galore

A few more links to get you through the day:

Going Graphic

Love this idea of the graphic cannon. No, not the cannon of graphic novels–these are works in the literary cannon that have been made into graphic art. Aside from being totally awesome, it sounds like The Graphic Canon: The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals would be a great way for teachers to get reluctant readers interested in the classics.

Candlewick also has graphic versions of classics like Moby Dick and The Merchant of Venice, which are fantastic. Works like these might not replace the standard text version, but I think they’re an awesome accompaniment.

(image: Beowulf illustrated by Gareth Hinds, via The Atlantic)

Critique Groups and the Importance of Constructive Feedback

At Swagger Writers, Kathy has a great post about being part of a critique group. She mentions that she know someone who is afraid to join a critique group because of the potential for negative feedback. Kathy points out that feedback of all kinds–even negative–is crucial to the writing process:

“The key word there is constructive. There’s no point in offering a critique that isn’t helpful. I also believe a critique should begin with something positive. Telling a writer what’s working is at least as important as telling her what is not.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a member of two very constructive critique groups, and I think that the feedback is invaluable. I’m a big fan of Kathy’s point about beginning with the positive–it can overwhelm a writer to get bombarded with negatives–but also really appreciate knowing what doesn’t work in a given story. Whether it’s positive or negative, feedback should inform you about how to make your story better. If one part is working really well, that’s fantastic, and maybe you can bring the same kind of focus and features to the parts that aren’t as strong.

Also, I think knowing how to workshop is enormously helpful. Assuming your goal is to get published someday, you’ll probably have to deal with feedback from an agent and/or editor. If you’ve never heard anything bad about your work before, it might be disheartening to get an editorial letter full of suggestions for changes. If you’ve had experience with a critique group, you know that constructive criticism is an essential part of the revision process.

As Kathy says, this all depends on the particular group. But having that kind of sounding board and support system is awesome.

Make sure to check out the full post for the rest of Kathy’s thoughts on critique groups. Also, in case you’re curious about my YA/MG critique group, check out their sites: Tara Sullivan, Lisa PalinKatie Slivensky, Julia Maranan, and Lauren M. Barrett. Rock on, writers!

(image: Wikipedia)