Archives for the month of: April, 2018

Review:

Nickel Mountain - John Gardner

I began reading Nickel Mountain by John Gardner because I wanted to see if one of the most renown teachers of fiction could actually write as well as he expected others to.

 

Gardner felt that aspiring to be an author was almost akin to a “higher calling” and required rigorous study and practice. As well as hard work and sacrifice such a career choice came with duties and responsibilities.

 

The most important of which is telling the truth, and not just getting facts right, but making sure your fiction is believable and not perceived by the reader as a lie. Foremost it must “affirm moral truths about human existence”.

 

Well, okay. That’s quite a tall order so I was curious to see if his fiction reflected all that high-minded stuff.

 

Henry Soames is middle-aged but acts and thinks like an old man. He runs a truck stop restaurant by himself on a lonely highway. Everything about him is depressing; he’s morbidly overweight, he’s got a bad heart, he’s filled with self-pity and shows it, he blames his overbearing mother and failure father for his station in life. This guy is your classic victim and one of the most unsympathetic protagonists I’ve ever encountered.

 

When an acquaintance suggests Soames hire his teenage daughter to help run the place he agrees. Why does he agree when there’s no indication he needs help and is about as misanthropic as a person can be? Gardner doesn’t tell the reader.

 

Which is interesting because the relationship between Henry Soames and Callie, his sixteen year-old employee is at the crux of the story.

 

Technically, Gardner starts with promise – his opening sentence is brilliant. However, he delays the inciting incident until it’s almost too late, and when it is revealed it’s tepid.

 

Good fiction according to Gardner “creates a vivid and continuous dream” for the reader, but his writing is difficult and complicated, not at all vivid and continuous.

 

Since I abandoned Nickel Mountain at page 33, I can’t say whether moral truths about human existence were ever affirmed, but for the pages I did read I can affirm the story was depressing and monotonous, filled with insignificant details I imagine the reader was supposed to infuse with meaning, meaning which bordered on creepy.

 

My conclusion is that rigorous study and endless practice is indeed necessary for an author, but it’s obviously not a guarantee he’ll write a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

Original post:
rodraglin.booklikes.com/post/1662361/and-those-who-can-t-teach

Advertisements

Rhodo&Buds2_IMG_0016 copy 2

“True art is moral. We recognize true art by its’ careful, thoroughly honest search for an analysis of values. It is not didactic because, instead of teaching by authority and force, it explores, open-mindedly, to learn what it should teach. It clarifies like an experiment in a chemistry lab, and confirms.”

– John Gardner, On Moral Fiction, 1978

 

Okay, so this is a bit high-minded, but still it’s something I aspire to in my writing.

 

I’ve tried to write strictly commercial fiction, but my characters and plots won’t let me. At some point they tell me, “Hey, I’m not that shallow, superficial person and I won’t let you portray me as such.” At this point the vapid story I’ve been writing takes an unexpected direction and everything gets out of control and I’m back dealing with three dimensional characters in complicated situations that test their integrity.

 

Or at least I’m trying to.

 

How then does a writer, if so inclined, build their fiction on strong, ethical ground?

 

I subscribe to the method suggested by Carol Bly, Author of The Passionate, Accurate Story: Making Your Heart’s Truth into Literature. She suggests that even before beginning to write a story, consider composing a “Values Listing,” a written record of the things that are most important to you.

 

Then, throughout the writing process ensure these values continue to be identified in your work. That means these values are present in the issues and conflicts your characters confront and that they themselves are grounded in or address these same principles.

 

Here’s the Value’s Listing Questions. My answers are in capitals

 

VALUE’S LISTING:

1. Two goals or values which make life good or bearable or would if they were in operation. PRESERVING ENVIRONMENT/ ENCOURAGING THE HUMAN SPIRIT

2. Two goals or values which cause injustice and suffering or lessening of joy. WEALTH/MATERIALISM and the NEED TO CONTROL

3. Two missing goals or behaviors. As a child, you thought grown-up life would have these. Now that you are an adult you don’t see them around. HONESTY/INTEGRITY and RESPONSIBILITY/CREDIBILITY

4. Two injustices you see about you and should keep an eye on, even on your wedding day. RACISM/DISCRIMINATION and DESTRUCTION OF WILDERNESS

Considering my the list of my values, it’s not surprising four of my novels could be categorized as Environmental Fiction, interpreted as a story of any genre; romance, mystery, literary, etc., with a subplot that addresses an important environmental issue.

In writing ECO-FI my hope is readers will be entertained by all the elements of a good story and will also come away a little more wiser about the environmental issues important to me and that effect us all.

ECO-FI TITLES:

SAVING SPIRIT BEAR – What Price Success?

LOVING THE TERRORIST – Risking it All

MAD MAGGIE – And the Wisdom of the Ancients

FOREST – Love, Loss, Legend

This stand-alone series will be part of my back-list promotion throughout 2018 and 2019 that will include upcoming FREE book days on Amazon. To be included in free offers of my existing books or the opportunity to receive Advance Reading Copies on new work, consider joining my ADVANCE READING TEAM at http://eepurl.com/cj5wjj

Buy links for these books include:

Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU

Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com

Draft2Digital – https://www.draft2digital.com

Original post:
rodraglin.booklikes.com/post/1659278/eco-fi-writing-as-a-moral-act

%d bloggers like this: