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Sandy Knauer

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Blogs by Sandy Knauer

Is Literary a Dirty Word
2/3/2006 10:03:53 AM
Bookstores, the Internet, and writing groups are full of books on how to write a book. What they donít tell us are the secrets to sure publication and promotion: be famous for being famous, write a childrenís book, or totally screw up the first half of your life and write about cleaning it up later.

Call me naÔve because I donít understand how succeeding as an actress on a sitcom, marrying an actor-turned-politician, or deciding it might be a good idea to stop puking after every meal qualifies a writer to shoot to the head of the line in front of those who spent years mastering their craft and writing their hearts out. I donít think the eleven years Iíve spent writing qualifies me to play a role on a sitcom, or I might consider trading places and call it even.

I promise Iíll do the research later, but feel safe in saying I donít think my grandchildren care who wrote their books about potty-training or talking ostriches. What logic says the famous person with financial security and public support has a better recovery story than the street person who struggles several disadvantages together? Or the actress who has a make-up artist holds the wisdom to beauty secrets, as well as the writing skills to document three hundred pages of useful information on the topic?

What the writing books do tell those of us who are not famous but want to write novels is to keep it simple, painfully simple. Start in the middle of the action, cut the description, forget the flashbacks, donít bore the reader with set-up, keep the characters shallow and few, and write short chapters with hooks at the end to keep the reader turning pages. Fast reads sell.

I find this fast-read advice insulting to readers and writers. I donít believe all readers are shallow, with the attention span of a two-year-old. I donít believe all readers prefer action to insight. I hate to think the character-driven story is outdated, and weíll never meet another Little Women, with a collection of characters we will miss when the book ends and remember forever. I canít be the only reader who still enjoys having a character in a book introduce me to a new point of view and teach me why he or she thinks, reacts, and interacts different than I would. It breaks my heart to think I might never find another seven-hundred-page novel that takes me through generations of characters and their internal journeys.

I refuse to believe I own the last functioning bookmark and am the only reader who puts a book down overnight without losing interest. As an author, I question exactly who benefits from the quick read. It seems to me the publisher is the only one. When I finish a quick read, I pick up another book immediately, seldom by the same author, and chances are good I wonít remember the previous author or story two chapters into the replacement book. How does this benefit me, as the reader or the writer? Or society?

Are the celebrity books and quick reads contributions to, or extensions of our instant gratification society? Does the non-character-driven, action-packed novel reflect our lack of concern for others in a society growing colder and more distant? Or are these facades of success the publishing industry has forced upon us? They tell us these are what the public wants, but is the public buying them because the publishers offer little else?

As authors, are we contributing to the dumbing-down of America and the narrowing of reading choices by continuing to play the publishing game? Is there logic behind giving corporate publishers total control over what America gets to read when we know their focus is on profits and not artistic quality of educational value?

We also sell ourselves and our readers short when we forfeit voice, style, time, and esteem to play the publishing game instead of offering the public the work we want to produce. Have we become like the corporate publishers, thinking more about the big deal than the messages or art we wish to convey through our writing?

Publishers suggest that writers are dispensable tokens in the game, and force us into groveling position for an opportunity to roll the dice and join the game. They want to control our product as though they are the franchise owner and we the uniformed employee. How often do other employees flip burgers or stock shelves for a year, summarize their work at the end, present it to an agent who will sit on it for months before looking to see if they want to charge a fee and submit it to the business owner, who will then sit on it for another year before even considering the possibility of paying the employee for his time and work? And in the end, the employee who uses the cookie cutter, not the one who has gone the extra mile to create something special will be promoted. Sounds unreasonable for others, why not for writers?

Unless we all want to write how-to-write books for a living, I say itís time to leave those books on the shelf and stop playing the game. Maybe we can resuscitate the word Ďliteraryí before itís too late.


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More Blogs by Sandy Knauer
• No Resolutions Here - Friday, January 04, 2008
• Link to flagged article - Thursday, March 15, 2007
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• Glasses or Stage? - Wednesday, August 16, 2006
• A Walk With My Real Mother - Friday, August 11, 2006
• Al Gore and My High School Reunion - Thursday, July 06, 2006
• Damn You - Sunday, July 02, 2006
• And Not So Great First Dates - Sunday, June 25, 2006
• Great Dates - Sunday, June 25, 2006
• Happy Father's Day For Me - Saturday, June 17, 2006
• We Don't Share Crayons - Friday, June 16, 2006
• Roly-poly Slobber - Monday, June 12, 2006
• John Wayne and Elvis Were Full of Shit and You Probably Are Too - Monday, June 05, 2006
• Ignorance Is Bliss - Monday, May 29, 2006
• Let It Be - Thursday, April 27, 2006
• Can We Leave Justice to the Luck of the Draw? - Friday, April 14, 2006
• Gospel of Judas - Thursday, April 06, 2006
• Healthcare Costs Ė How We Turn Molehills into Mountains - Tuesday, March 28, 2006
• Feather Light - Monday, March 20, 2006
• Dissecting Charity - Saturday, March 11, 2006
• Sublime Abandon - Monday, March 06, 2006
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• Define Education - Saturday, March 04, 2006
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• Purpose - Thursday, February 23, 2006
• HUH? - Tuesday, February 21, 2006
• Coddled Insanity - Sunday, February 19, 2006
• Ooops, My Bad - Thursday, February 16, 2006
• I Don't Need A Wife - Monday, February 13, 2006
• Fuzzy Edges - Monday, February 13, 2006
• Who's Reading - Sunday, February 05, 2006
• Patriotism Without Compassion - Friday, February 03, 2006
•  Is Literary a Dirty Word - Friday, February 03, 2006  
• Bottled Promises - Wednesday, February 01, 2006
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• Suspended In Time - Monday, January 30, 2006
• Plea to Democratic Party - Tuesday, January 24, 2006
• correction - Friday, January 13, 2006
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• Hard To Swallow Those Extra Words - Friday, January 06, 2006
• While You Were Sleeping - Monday, December 19, 2005
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• Bob's Dinner - Sunday, November 13, 2005
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• Once Upon Another Time - Thursday, September 22, 2005
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• Somewhere In The Middle - Tuesday, September 20, 2005
• I Can't - Monday, September 19, 2005
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• A Day For News - Thursday, August 04, 2005
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• Warning: This News Contains Mixed Messages That May Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health - Friday, July 15, 2005
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• Protect My Freedom - Wednesday, October 20, 2004
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• Did he really say that? - Thursday, August 12, 2004
• Did John Kerry vote for Bush's war in Iraq? - Thursday, August 05, 2004
• It's time to let the men do the shopping - Friday, July 30, 2004
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• God Love Her - Monday, July 05, 2004
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• For a good time, call Bill Chambers - Tuesday, March 16, 2004
• what's the issue? - Wednesday, February 11, 2004
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