Tag Archives: The Catcher in the Rye

Post #114: On the Brain

Screen-shot-2013-09-11-at-8.41.48-AMAs you well know, I’ve had J.D. Salinger on the brain lately, as has the publishing world, what with the release of Shale Salerno and David Sheild’s biography, Salinger, soon to accompanied by a documentary film of the same name. Both, I should add, have absolutely gotten their asses kicked in the media, showered with bad reviews, skepticism, and mucho doubt. Metacritic shows an average score of 40 (out of 100) for the film and among 40 plus reviews on Amazon, the book is averaging three stars (out of five). Okay, maybe not a total ass kicking, but a good tongue lashing anyway. I’m nearly done with the book, by the way, and will chime in on my perception of its merits shortly. After that, I promise to let go of this subject matter for at least a few posts.

But I digress. I’m actually here because Stephen Colbert (pictured above wearing Holden Caulfield hunting cap) recently dedicated his entire show to doing his second book club (the first was on Gatsby) on J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye. It’s hilarious. And insightful. You should watch it. The best part of it is when Colbert is interviewing Tobias Woolf about Catcher and they start disputing what’s better, the short stories or Catcher, and Colbert, defending the stories as Salinger’s best work and seemingly unable to help himself, starts quoting Buddy Glass from memory. It’s awesome. It can be watched here. You should do so.
Toodles.

Post #111: J to the D

JD Salinger Portrait SessionPardon me while I majorly geek out for a second.

But, holy crap, am I excited.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that eventually we’d get word of what the hell J.D. Salinger had been writing and putting in a safe all those years. I mean, of course there were going to be posthumous books. That’s books, plural, friends. We all knew it. It was just a matter of when. Numerous sources, including Salinger himself, attested to the fact that he’d been writing on a daily basis since the 60’s but had just lost interest in publishing and was now writing only for himself. Kind of a reverse Emily Dickinson. And since he seemed not to have been using his writing as kindling, the fair conclusion is that he wanted his writing not only found, but published, as he must have known it would be. But since Salinger died in January, 2010, it’s been awfully quiet about the matter and I was starting to get a little worried.

Until now.

Word is that several new Salinger books could be coming, starting in 2015

91NYZ4jdiFL._SL1500_David Shields and Shane Salerno, authors of the forthcoming Salinger biography called, creatively, Salinger, make the claim. They say that one of the books could feature Holden Caulfield and another further stories about the Glass family, which Salinger often wrote about. Another could probe deeper into Salinger’s experiences in World War II, also a common topic in his published writing.

This is the part where I start foaming at the mouth and screaming “YES!” loud enough to scare the neighbors.

Sure, in an ideal world, it would be awfully cool to see some work that ventured into new terrain or introduced different characters.  Find out what Salinger thought of the world as it changed around him. But we’ve been waiting a long ass time for this moment, and I, for one, will take whatever I can get.

Post #17: Crawling Through the Nearest Window

Doing National Novel Writing Month is exhilarating.  I think this is mostly because I’ve never written, outside of education, for a capital “D” Deadline and the need to complete X quantity by Y date is a utilitarian sort of enterprise that’s added a different timbre to this writing experience than others whose end point hinges on a self-imposed deadline.

I’ve decided that NANOWRIMO is more about stamina than it is about creativity.  Not to shit on creativity.  Not at all.  But the truth is that the writers who have the best chance of starting and finishing a task like NANOWRIMO are those not necessarily with the keenest imaginations, but with the deepest well of endurance.  Those who can follow that sage piece of writing advice that I sometimes think is the only truly useful one: ass in chair.

Writing on a deadline makes you solve problems quickly.  My analogy is that when your story runs into a wall, find and crawl through the nearest window. Can’t find a window?  Tough.  Invent one.  I’m writing a sci-fi/horror mash-up because it sounded like a novel (pun so very much intended) change to my usual subject matter (realistic literary fiction) that would breathe enough fresh wind into my sails to make it to the finish line.  What I failed to realize is that genre writing is a lot harder than I thought it was.

Of course, all kinds of writing are difficult in their own way, but what I’m talking about is closer to the necessity in genre to respect the beginning-middle-end story structure.  I’m not writing a book about an existential crisis that doesn’t need to have an ending to be considered successful.  The plot is front and center this time out and the plot needs to, perhaps above all things, make sense to the reader.  And not sense as in “real,” but sense as in “consistent” and “logical.”  There’s a difference.

Consider The Catcher in the Rye.  In Salinger’s classic, one need not believe that the things that Holden does are the only things that could have happened.  For instance, after Holden’s conversation with the nuns in the diner, we don’t feel the need to make the meet-up logical or the basis to judge what happens next.  It may affect the next action, but it doesn’t have to.  Nor does the book have to really go anywhere, to end up someplace in order to be a great book, which is, of course, why it doesn’t.  For Christ’s Sake, the book’s final image is a kid on a merry go round!  In many ways this is exactly what makes a book like Catcher so great and so lasting–it prizes emotion and character above action.  And, quite frankly, character is more interesting.

But it all depends on how you look at it.  Seen through certain eyes, too large an emphasis on character could be a liability.  Most people I know who don’t like Catcher don’t like it because they don’t like Holden, not because “nothing happens.”   And if they don’t like it because nothing happens, well, they should probably put down Salinger and read Blue Dot, my NANOWRIMO book.  Because, let me tell you, all kinds of things are “happening” in my book.

But, of course, making things happen is its own kind of problem.  One problem being that the “happenings” have different rules in a plot driven piece than in a character driven piece.  Not dramatically different, but different all the same.  In genre, the cause and effect sequence needs to be cleaner, leaner, and ultimately, more satisfying to the reader.  After all, that’s what you’re selling them.  No one wants to buy tickets to the circus only to find, after the lights have dimmed and the curtains have closed, that they’re actually at an antique show.  It’s false advertising.  In filmic parlance, you might compare the ending of Die Hard to the ending of the last season of The Sopranos.  If Die Hard had ended with a long, slow fade out on the bloodied face of John Mclaine before his final show down with Hans and his reunion with his wife, and we were given no closure, no sense that the good guy had prevailed or that the estranged couple had re-united, myself, and a lot of other late 80’s Bruce Willis fans, would have wanted their money back.  The Sopranos could get away with such an ambiguous ending because the show was always more about Tony than it was about what Tony was doing.  Die Hard is about a guy too, but for that story to make sense to us, that guy needs to always be doing things that lead places.

I guess what I’m saying is that I choose a genre piece for NANOWRIMO because I thought it would liberating, and perhaps easier, to write.  But I’m realizing now this was a false assumption.  Genre isn’t harder, but it sure as hell isn’t much easier.  Which leads back to the earlier point that all kinds of writing are hard.

A problem for me is that I’m not used to writing plots that need to add up so neatly and my characters keep trying to stop my story and let themselves come front and center.  Part of me feels like they’re stalling because they don’t know what to do next.  I’m on track to finish my book on time, or at least get to 50,000 words on time, but right now the ending keeps getting further away.  And the further away it gets, the more I’m getting the feeling that Blue Dot may just be the world’s first alien invasion story that ends with a kid on a merry go round.