Posts Tagged Mary Doria Russell

Name a “First Class” Novel

Recently Donald Maass published an article,The New Class System, about his take on the world of publishing in Writer Unboxed. In it he listed classes of novels. I am creating a checklist of his First Class Novel points. My first impression was that few novels would fit in this category, and of course, it probably isn’t necessary for all good novels to meet every point.

Here’s the list, taken from his post:

1. Memorable Characters
a. singular destiny
b. likeable
c. self-aware
2. Unique Premise
3. Instantly “real” story world
4. Gripping plots
a. gripping even when slow
5. Gorgeous writing
6. Surprising themes
a.which are challenging
b. change us or see the world in a different way
7. Break rules
8. Transport us to a different culture or time
9. Teach things we knew little or nothing about.
10. Overall “utterly unique”

For my first attempt at “rating” a book I thought I’d have to use something I’d read in the last year, but when I looked at my bookshelf, I realized I have other candidates. For my first attempt at analyzing a book, I am going to use Lambs of God by Marele Day.

1. Memorable characters. Yes, although I can’t, off the top of my head, name any of the nuns or the priest.They are likeable, although they have varying degrees of self-awareness. And yes, at least two of the main characters, including the antagonist, Father Ignatius, have singular destinies.

2. The premise: a group of nuns live isolated in a forgotten monastery have their new traditions and routines interrupted when a man (Father Ignatius) appears with orders to close their sanctuary. I’ve never read a book with this outlandish premise before, and it is hard to see how anyone else could propose it.

3. Story world immediately real. Yes.

4. Plots that grip. I read it quite awhile ago and plot is not usually a major factor for me, nor are nuns the characters I’d put at the top of my interesting traits/occupations list. Glancing at the book now, I’d say it takes a little (p. 5) to actually get into. I suspect it is mostly slow but still entertaining and interesting.

5. Gorgeous prose. This is another characteristic that I’d have to reread to accurately access. I found this novel hilarious and think comic novels can get away with a different level of good prose.

6. Themes: To definitely decide, reread, but probably yes, although obviously not memorable enough I can spout them now.

7. Breaks rules. Again, this is hard to access since I’m not sure what rules are being spoken to, but yes, a book with one male character set in an isolated spot probably breaks many rules.

8. Cultures and times. My recollection from an interview is that the author made up most of the Catholicism for this novel, but it fits due to the cutoff nature of the group. So in the world of fantasy, yes an unlikely culture.

9. Teaches things. I did have to look up the geography since the author is Australian and I was curious as to the setting. I was also curious as well as the accuracy of the theology. Although I may not have learned much about either in the book itself, the book could be considered a vehicle for learning.

10. Utterly unique. My initial thought was, “Yes, this is unique,” but on reflection, I think it could fit into a genre of science fiction/fantasy–isolated outpost. It might have some similarity to Lord of the Flies, (William Golding) and possibly The Sparrow  (Mary Doria Russell.)

I guess I’m calling it as having at least six attributes of the First Class Novel, with three unknown due to the necessity of rereading. The last is a draw since I would have said yes, utterly unique, but on second thought, it does share characteristics with some other stories.

Overall score: 6+

I would love to hear YOUR ideas of First Class Novels and how they rate using this system.

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Is Attention the Primary Reason You Write?

This morning on Weekend Sunday Edition, Rachel Martin interviewed Daniel Menaker, writer and past fiction editor of The New Yorker and Editor in Chief at Random House, about his new memoir, My Mistake. Although I have since read the transcript of the interview, I originally missed the middle of it and returned to hear him say, “Yeah, I think we write for attention.” My immediate thought was, “That’s odd. I don’t think my main motive for writing is attention.”

Maybe “real” writers do want attention, but I want the story to get attention, not me. Sure, I wouldn’t mind answering some questions about the story or the writing of the story, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it face to face. For me one of the allures of writing is that I can do it behind the scenes and not have to be front and center. Yes, writers who are gracious and entertaining and informative the way Mary Doria Russell was at the recent Readcon event in Greeley are a delight, but it’s hard for me to believe that most writers want to be on the hot seat, being questioned and photographed. Most of the writers I know want to write and publish. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one of them talk about how they’re writing so they can go on tour or be featured on Oprah or interviewed on NPR. I don’t think one of us in any of the writing groups I’ve been part of have expressed a desire for fame. Publication, yes. The allure of money, occasionally, but most of us who have been in a group  long enough seem to give up on the big bucks and just aim and wish for publication.

My next thought was, maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong; I don’t want attention enough. Possibly that thought is related to another blog a writer-friend reposted the other day, The One Thing You Are Doing to Block Your Writing Success. In this blog the author talks about not calling yourself a writer and how that might be harmful to your career. In other posts on her blog she talks about Myers-Briggs type and relates that to writing and writers. I wonder if, in part, my response to her post and my not usually telling people I’m a writer is related to type? Or, in general, not liking attention being called to myself?

Of course, at some level I do desire attention, the attention of an agent, then an editor which will lead to the attention of readers. There is, also, the matter of the blog. Of course I want people to read my blog and comment and respond. I see that more as interaction than as attention-gathering, though. And yes, in the back of my mind I often have a specific person I want to read a particular work, but again, it’s mostly for the work that I desire attention, not me.

I’m wondering if others who write feel this way or if their primary motivation in writing so to gain attention to themselves?

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READCON: an Event for Readers and Writers. It Was All About the Book.

Teeshirt from Highplains Library Event, 11/2/13

Teeshirt from High Plains Library Event, 11/2/13

A recent article in SALON, Better Yet, Don’t Write that Novel, lamented that NaNoWriMo is a month-long event for writers and doesn’t celebrate readers. Laurie Miller lauds the efforts of some reading challenges as being more rewarding than the intent of NaNoWriMo. Although I mostly agree with what she has to say, I don’t see a problem with people spending (wasting) their time trying to write 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done it before. The results were less than desirable and I ended up with a mess that is difficult to edit into something readable. Many of the comments to this article mention programs that do promote reading such as One City One Book, National Reading Month, Canada Reads, etc. The recent READCON put on by the Highplains Library District in Weld County, CO had something for both readers and writers. Three of the members of my writing group attended together.

The morning featured a number of writing-related sessions. Later in the afternoon a talk on self-publishing and how to do it right was presented by Jessica France from indieBook Library. This hour was an overview of a longer session on the intricacies involved in putting your own book out there and making it successful.

The first event the three of us participated in was a Zine Workshop, introducing us  to a new concept. A volunteer from the Denver Zine Library gave us a very brief introduction to zines and allowed us to browse through a representative sample from the collection. Then we made our own. The majority of participants at this small workshop appeared to be high school-aged. Creating our own small booklet utilizing discarded library books and out-of-date issues of magazines was fun. Interestingly enough, the three of us, all writers, used mostly pictures and few of our own words to create

Another event we did not attend involved creating bookmarks and a third was a contest to design the best library in Minecraft. A quiet space for those who where NaNoing was also available.

All of the planned events were free, but many were ticketed. A Steampunk tea–costumes encouraged–looked well attended and as if everyone was having a great time. Unfortunately, we hadn’t planned ahead and were only able to land one ticket. Our lunch also ran over, making us too late to attend. Instead, we toured the Bookmobile, something I hadn’t done since childhood. For at least one of my friends this was the first time she’d been in one. Each of us won a prize–a screen cleaner, a book, or a DVD, just for taking the quick tour. Each branch of the Library District had also created a display celebrating a genre of literature. Most of the displays included a small treat, an interactive feature, and a book list or two.

Sessions on establishing book clubs, a “whodunit” webinar, photo contest, reading recommendations, and more were presented for readers. The highlight of the event, though, were the talks by authors, including a local authors’ panel. This panel ran the gamut from a nationally known bestselling author to a self-published YA author. Two guests of honor were Craig Johnson, author of western mysteries, and the multifaceted Mary Doria Russell. This was what had interested me in READCON in the first place. I’d read The Sparrow when it came out as well as the follow-up book. After that I was vaguely aware that she’d written other things and had the idea she was writing historical fiction, but I’d never bothered to check out her other books. She was a delightful and funny speaker, as well as a gracious signer of books. I wished she was, if not in my writing group, at least my friend. Her talk about Doc Holiday convinced me to buy the book, Doc.

The last event we attended, and the other main reason we decided to make the trip to Greeley, was the book signing, which was accompanied by samples from two local breweries. I hadn’t expected the beer to be free. Since it was, we were able to purchase another book or two from more local authors. I enjoyed both the amber and chocolate porter samples from Wiley Brewing. IMG_0438 Books pictured: Doc by Mary Doria Russell. Murder at the Brown Palace by Dick Kreck, Antler Dust By Mark Stevens, Backwards by Todd Mitchell, Living with Your Kids is Murder by Mike Befeler.


I attended two writers’ conferences as well as a writers’ retreat this year and in many ways I enjoyed this event the most. Possibly it was because it was free. The shortness of it might have helped, or the fact I attended with two friends and met at least two new local writers. Possibly it was the lack of pressure; no agents to worry about impressing. As a non-overly gregarious introvert, I often watch as others butt into my attempt at conversation or negate my tentative beginnings. There was none of that here. It was all about the book. The lines to have books signed were either nonexistent or very short. Mary Doria Russell was completely approachable and gracious in responding to questions. (At an SCBW (not yet i) conference I once stood in a long long line to have a book signed only to have the author, who was chatting with a friend the whole time, look up when I got to her and say, “Oh, I’m not signing anymore.” I’d really admired her writing, but her less than friendly dismissal completely reversed my feelings. Possibly I should have blamed the organizers. They could have announced that after a certain time/number of people/some other marker the author would be done. I agree she had to eat lunch; the problem was the arbitrary and almost nasty way she decided to stop that bothered me.)

The High Plains Library District is to be commended for this fine program. Many of us will be looking forward to attending again next year. Oh, and the teeshirts were great. I loved the color on the front and the design on the back and that they were heavy and black.


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