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Big Week in Bookland: Books, Betrayal, and Bereavement 

Nell ZinkNell Zink has a new novel out called Nicotine. Zink first came to prominence when the public learned that she and Jonathan Franzen exchanged several emails, about birds. Eventually, Franzen decided she needed to be published and she resisted. She says, “I was, like, either you’re going to support me in practical ways, or you’re going to shut the fuck up about my talent.” (See Outside In, The New Yorker

Apparently Zink had been writing for fifteen years, but only for her pen pal Avner Shats, shunning the publishing industry. Reviewers love her writing – I ‘ve not read a bad review yet. But they also love to point out that she wrote The Wallcreeper and Mislaid each in three weeks. She’s a speed demon. And what’s more, the books are great. If they were lousy we’d hear a lot about how good writing takes time and that Zink’s frivolous attitude demonstrates a disrespect for the art. She must be a nightmare for every creative writing instructor in the land. On the other hand, it fills the hearts with hopes of every aspiring writers who get the job done demon speed. After reading about Zink I stopped feeling guilty about finishing a first draft in three or four months. All hail, Zink!

Arundhati RoyIn the same week it was announced that Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, will be publishing her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in 2017, twenty years after The God of Small Things made such a big splash. The reviewer I read dramatically proclaimed that the book was twenty years in the making, conjuring up images of Roy sitting at her desk writing and revising and editing for twenty years until the masterpiece was perfected. How you reconcile Zink and Roy, I don’t know, but many people believe that for writing to be good, it must take time, and must be difficult. How often have a read authors describing the agony they go through year after year, compelled to write because that is all they can do, but nonetheless suffering mightily? You’d think they worked in a deep coal mine. Ten years, twenty years, thirty years of suffering so we had better like the damn book. Now that’s what real writing is all about. And if you don’t take decades to write your book than obviously it’s a piece of shit.

Actually, I’d love to be Franzen’s friend, though I’m pretty sure anything I wrote in three weeks wouldn’t impress him. Perhaps I should send him a copy of The Woman in White Marble and The Krewe of Boo Murders in the hope that he would send them immediately to his publisher. Actually, I met Franzen once at a book signing in Seattle. He noticed one of the books I handed him was published in the UK and I cleverly brought up his last visit to London when a man stole his glasses off his face and Franzen chased him into a pond. He laughed at my retelling, but unfortunately did not ask for my email address. I should have talked about birds.

Truth is, I doubt I could write a book in three weeks and I don’t have twenty years left on the planet. Bottom line, when successful writers write about how to write, what they are really doing, and only doing, is telling us how they write books. Nothing more, nothing less. Their advice may help you or it may not. I’m sticking to about three or four months for the first draft, and then forever for the revising and editing. FOREVER!

Claudio Gatti Writing fast, writing slow, birds, publishing are all very interesting, but Bookland was rocked in this week when a case of brutal betrayal was revealed. Elena Ferrante was unmasked! Boy, I read nothing good about this treachery. Ferrante is a bestselling novelist writing books located in Naples under a pseudonym. A journalist – a two bit bastard of a journalist, if the few articles I read about this affair are correct – by the name of Claudio Gatti outed Ferrnante and did so as a public service, or so he claimed. If you want to read what this apparently despicable man, nay less that a man, wrote go to The New York Review of Books, which also took a hit for printing this self-righteous intrusion.

According to Gatti, given that Ferrante wrote a book about Ferrante, Ferrante (whoever she really is) opened herself up to public scrutiny. Basically, this fifteen minute seeker of fame thinks authors do not have the right to write themselves out of their writing. As for me, I don’t care if people know I wrote White Marble and Krewe of Boo. In fact, I insist they know. I haven’t managed fifteen seconds of fame yet, and I’m still waiting to go viral. Perhaps, if one day it does happen, the viral thing, I may wish I had written under the pseudonym Drake Ramsey. Truth: I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility. Still, the morality and ethics of punishing the hidden, is worth thinking about.

Gloria NaylorFinally, Zink, Roy, Franzen, Ferrnante, and Gatti all took a back sit towards the end of the week when it was announced that Gloria Naylor had died. She died of a heart attack at 66 years old. This news hurt. Years ago a friend gave me a copy of The Women of Brewster Place. I went on to read Lindon Hills, Mama Day, and Bailey’s Café. Naylor won the National Book Award, the American Book Awards, and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988. She wrote about strong African American female characters dealing with issues of racism, sexism, poverty, gay rights, and spirituality. Her books are alive with sex, birth, love, grief, and death. At times she embraces magical realism and at times the grittiness of life.

She wrote: “Not only is your story worth telling, but it can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.” I doubt I’ve ever written anything that has become a song, though I have painstakingly tried on occasion. Still, trying is one thing and doing is another.

There’s a good chance you have never heard of Gloria Naylor, but she has left her books behind. She is best known for The Women of Brewster Place, so I would suggest you start there. But I must confess, Mama Day and Bailey’s Café are probably my favorites, so much so I bought first editions. They sit on a book shelf in my living room, pride of place. She’s gone, but the books are not.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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