Colson Whitehead, Gentleman Lit and 11 Rules on How to Write

Colson Whitehead has written one of my favorite novels.  In fact, much like Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin and Terry McMillan, he has the honor of having a book in my banner photo (can you find it?).  True, he doesn’t write Lady Lit, but he is an African American writer who sometimes writes about that (like in the the fave, entitled “Sag Harbor”) and other times he writes…Gentleman Lit? That is, the male analog of Lady Lit NOT of chick lit (because if you follow this blog, you know that the term “chick lit” has been so disparaged and belittled that I had to come up with a whole new term for what I’m trying to do here).

Brace yourself, I’m about to apply some logical reasoning to my made up terms:  If novels that are somewhat reflective of the male experience could be described as Gentleman Lit, then I might argue that Whitehead writes that.  “Sag Harbor,” for sure, qualifies. It was essentially a male coming of age story (in fact, I keep telling my brother to read it, but he says he lived it, whatevs).

Whitehead’s latest book, “Zone One,” is about zombies, but I still think it’s Gentleman Lit.  First, the topic is pretty  male (ladies, if you read zombie novels, I’d love to hear about it–seriously) and the book is literary.  In fact,  I read the New York Times review of the novel, which begins by stating that a literary novelist writing a genre novel (i.e., zombie novel) is “like an intellectual dating a porn star.”   I THINK they mean that a very smart, educated person (Whitehead) applied his skills toward a topic (targeted at men) that has typically been exploited to the point that many people believe its not salvageable?  What I’m saying is, zombie novels are usually geared toward men and a little trashy, but “Zone One” is Gentleman Lit.  Similarly, chick lit is usually geared toward women and a little trashy, but my future novel is Lady Lit! 🙂 That took me way too long to write. Did any of that even make sense?

UPDATE ON GENTLEMAN LIT: A member of my writer’s group is forcing me to think about this for more than 30 minutes (this is what happens when you blog about something other than what you did over the weekend).  Check out the comments and let me know what you think…

Anyway, Gentleman Lit was NOT supposed to be the point of this blog post.  I’m writing about Whitehead because the one and a half of his books that I’ve read have been delicious.*  He has a wonderful voice, and I was so happy that a brilliant, award-winning writer wrote a novel about my favorite place in the world.  He also published in the New York Times about “How to Write” on Friday.

Below are Whitehead’s 11 Rules on writing, which he expands in the article.  Personally, I found Rule # 2 and # 7 the most useful.  What do you think?

  1. Show AND Tell (as opposed to show, don’t tell).
  2. Don’t go searching for a subject, let your subject find you.
  3. Write what you know.
  4. Never use three words when one will do.
  5. Keep a dream diary.
  6. What isn’t said is as important as what is said.
  7. Writer’s block is a tool—use it.  (Specifically he says “when asked why you haven’t produced anything lately, just say, ‘I’m blocked.’”)
  8. Number 8 is a secret.
  9. Have adventures.
  10. Revise, revise, revise.
  11. There are no rules.

(In case you’re wondering why my blog is progressing so much more nicely than my novel, it’s because I’m busy having adventures and letting my subject find me.  I’m also blocked. ) Hollllerrr.

<– That’s Colson.

* In addition to “Sag Harbor,” I read half of the Intuitionist, about an elevator inspector. The reason I didn’t finish it is NOT because I didn’t enjoy it; rather I think I just left at home then went to college, then years passed and I forgot what I had already read.  Now it’s on my to-read list.

Bethenny Frankel Did It, So Why Can’t I? (There’s an Answer this Time)

Last weekend I managed to escape Washington, DC to go to the magical world of Sag Harbor.  It’s the place where the sun always shines, the beaches are calming, and everybody knows your name.  But that’s not why I’m bringing it up.  Nope, I share my visit with you for one reason and one reason only:  noveling (duh). You see, as I was enjoying the two inches of beach (it was high tide) at the Sag Harbor bay, Bethenny Frankel and her dog Cookie walked right past me and my friends.  Most people know Bethenny as one of the Real Housewives of New York and creator of the SkinnyGirl Margarita, but did you know she was also a novelist? Oh yeah, she wrote a book called Skinnydipping.  It’s about a reality star with a dog named Muffin.

I love Bethenny and all and I know it’s possible to write a novel while doing other things (like, for example, working at a law firm or being in med school), but  can you really do it while running a zillion dollar business, starring in your own show, raising a child and lord knows what else?  I saw an  interview when Bethenny answered the question “how did you find the time?” by saying she wrote her book on her Blackberry. Blink. Since she agreed to take this picture with me (please note that my brother did NOT take this shot…he does NOT want to be associated with Bravo), I will give her the benefit of the doubt.  Bethenny has actually written a bunch of books, and was smart enough to make $100 million off one product (the Skinnygirl Margarita).  Still, as a semi-journalist, I felt compelled to do some investigating. Having seen the movie Young Adult (Charlize Theron plays a ghostwriter), I knew that if a celebrity has “help” writing a novel, they are typically credited on the copyright page in tiny print.  I went to Amazon.com and “Looked inside!” Bethenny’s novel and found the following: “Skinnydipping: a novel/Bethenny Frankel; with Eve Adamson.”  Eve Adamson is a bestselling author, award-winning freelance writer and (gasp!) ghostwriter of celebrity books.  Ok, so B probably had help.  I’m not mad, I’m jealous. It must be nice, when you have no time or writer’s block to just call up your ghostwriter to make stuff happen for you.  I have bills to pay though, so no help for me (except my writer’s group).  So in this case, I think the answer to the question “why can’t I?” is that I can’t afford a ghostwriter!

While we’re on the topic of ghostwriting, I must say, I really don’t know what to make of the phenomenon.  When you have people like Snooki “writing” novels, I think it’s fair to say that it cheapens the craft, making it that much harder for women authors to be taken seriously.  On the other hand, these novels may get some people who don’t like to read to pick up a book.  You can’t possibly get dumber while reading right? So maybe it’s a good thing.

In honor of my chance meeting of Bethenny, I pledge to write at least one page of my future novel on my Blackberry.   Til next time.  Hollllerrr.