Sunday, 15 April 2007

A Writer is...

Why would anyone read the stories in women's magazines?

More worrying, why does anyone WRITE them? What is it about the people who read shallow, trite, thin, copycat-character trivia that allows editors to puke out such trash year upon year upon year?

Is it for the money? Do people really believe this stuff?

I once spoke to a womag rubbish-operative (she used the term writer) who told me she would write a story (I use the term lightly) then she said:

I write it in first person, I write it in third, I change a few names, I change the setting. Sometimes I change the point of view. One story with a few changes I can place four, five, six times, no problem.

And this is writing? At least prostitution you get to meet people!

Would I write for women's magazines? Yes. But then if I could get £500 a week kissing old women I'd do that too, as long as I had time for REAL writing. What amazes me, horrifies me, and most importantly SADDENS me is that some of these pfaff machines actually believe they are writing; they call themselves "writers" in just the same way as Shakespeare was a writer, Dickens, in the same way as Raymond Carver who could cut your heart out with a story, pass it to you, still beating, was a writer; like Alice Munro is a writer. They think, "Tea With George" where the neat twist is George is a cat, is on the same planet as Sargent's "The Ledge", that the discovered secret letter story should be spoken of in the same hushed breath as Nathan Englander's The 27th Man. It beggar's belief!

Obviously, the problem here is in definitions. I wish womag stories were illegal and their readers and writers were put in a sack, the top tied tightly with wire (I'll do it, gleefully) and then, dropped, with relish, into the nearest canal, but meanwhile, what about the word "Writer".

Are all people who write "writers"? Are Saul Bellow and Jackie Faye GoLightly*, Queen of the Cat Story just two sides of the same diamond or is Bellow the great mountain and dear Jackie the slime under the rock?

I asked recently, is someone who thinks up birthday card rhymes:

Today is your birthday
Hip hip hip hooray
So I'm sending you this card
Many happy returns of the day


A POET?

Is this person a WRITER? Does their job description say WRITER? Does the card company advertise for "Nobel Prize Winner (may accept Pulitzer or Booker nominees) required to create beautiful art for our cards?"

Will this writer's gravestone say writer? Does it say writer on his passport, will he be buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey?

The answer is no.

So if this person, who produces verse, pfaff by the shedload for shipping out is NOT a writer, then haven't we at least reached an understanding that word-stringing alone does not make a writer, published or not?

I define writer, whether publicly acclaimed or aspiring to be, as someone who looks into their heart, the hearts of others, someone who knows that bad things happen, that pain is real and may be beautiful, someone who wants, just once, to reach out and touch the inside of someone, to linger there for an emotional hour, to stay with a person, deep within them for ever, and I do mean forever, because if you change a man's soul you affect everyone he sees, and touches, you affect his children.

I believe there should be a law which rounds up anyone who wishes to write five minute coffee break stories.

They should be locked in a room and made to read Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl, Rob Stone's Under The Pitons, stories like Affairs of the Heart; The Ledge; Differently; Cathedral; The Things They Carried; A Well- Lighted Place; The Dwarf; That Evening Sun Go Down; Tumblers; Best American Short Stories of the Century.

They should be made to read William Trevor, Anton Chekov, and at least half a dozen stories by Hemingway, by F Scott Fitzgerald. They should be starved of food and water, and given just one thing, good stories, true stories, and the light to read them by.

These people should know, in all probability they will die. One at a time they should be taken from the room, screaming, and later, while they all sit around saying "but nothing happens in a Carver story" or "where's the surprise ending?" or "I want to be cheered up!" a shot should ring out.

In fact, we don't kill them. When these "writers" are taken away, we take them to a soft, gentle room, the walls vanilla, delicate. We give them a nice meal, their favourite drink. We let them shower and change. We put sweet music on a fine player.

We sit them down, we give them one story, Raymond Carver's "A Small Good Thing".

If they cry, they go free.





** a totally made-up name but knowing my luck there probably is someone called that contacting her lawyer as we speak.

4 comments:

Hetty said...

Alex Keegan on Sunday 15th April

**I once spoke to a womag rubbish-operative (she used the term writer) who told me she would write a story (I use the term lightly) then she said:

I write it in first person, I write it in third, I change a few names, I change the setting. Sometimes I change the point of view. One story with a few changes I can place four, five, six times, no problem.

And this is writing? At least prostitution you get to meet people!**


Alex Keegan on 12th April


**Two radical rewrites so far today.

One cuts 650 words the other ADDED words, new stories so different I class them as new stories.

See, even when the fresh juice isn't there you can always squeeze oranges.**

The Boot Camp Diaries said...

Hetty, good to see you're still reading the blog.

If you can't see the difference between a HACK, someone who produces a story and then simply alters it to superficially look different (and then quickly sells the same story to six "sucker" editors)


and someone, a WRITER, who ten years after he has written a story, revisits it to see if it can be told in 33% less words

or a WRITER who looks at a flash and realises that it deserves to be a bigger and better story?


IF YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE I suggest you give up writing.



"If one more person asks me where my camel is, I'll scream!"

OR


Saturday afternoon and Dai Griffiths sits with his finger-polished roll-up tin. His tongue protrudes slightly as he makes his careful cigarettes, half dog-end, half Old Holburn. It is raining outside the pub and along the valley side snake-terraced roofs glisten. The afternoon light closes.

From the top, rivers run down the steep side roads, black with coal dust. The rain's like stair-rods now, the road's welly deep. Running boot-steps splatter past the open pub door and Dai’s black and white terrier looks up. Without looking, Dai puts out a hand. The dog lowers its head back onto Dai's feet.


Raymond Carver seriously re-worked his stories over his life-time. Serious writers (not womag-story-writers) know that work is never finished, merely abandoned

Kathmcg said...

If you think "Tea With George" where the neat twist is George is a cat would sell to a women's mag these days, then you are woefully out of touch.

But that's ok - I wouldn't expect you to know what they're publishing these days, because you don't write for them or aspire to be published in them.

So why prattle on and on about it?

The Boot Camp Diaries said...

I have FOURTY-FOUR current womag stories on my desk, right now.



"If one more person asks me where my camel is, I'll scream!"

was from one of them. a totally rubbish non-story.


Let's give another example. "Melanie" (who is married' goes on line and sets up date with a stranger (after almost a minute of agonising)

and (neatly) though its her anniversary this weekend, boring husband says he absolutely has to go away

GUESS WHAT HAPPENS!!

I posted this scenario in Boot Camp and every single person who answered knew what would happen. Her date would be WITH HER HUSBAND.

Utter, totally obvious CRAP.

Oh and the last line (to her husband) on whom she was just about ready to cheat, is


"Oh, Mr Beefcake, what can i say?"

How the hell anybody defends this SHIT as writing, is beyond me.


So YES, I DO read it




alex