Browsing Tag

Jack Kerouac

Top 10 Favorite Fictional Writers

SAMSUNGBill Denbrough
It by Stephen King
Big Bill is the leader of the Losers Club. As a kid, he’s intelligent and thoughtful, although he suffers from a debilitating stutter. He grows up to write “horrorbooks” (as another character calls them) very similar to a bestselling author you might have heard of in real life…

Bilbo Baggins
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo’s tale of “There and Back Again” starts with him snuggling up in an overstuffed armchair with Hobbiton’s equivalent of guilty-pleasure junk food for a cozy night in, and ends with him fighting—and vanquishing—a gigantic brutal dragon for a mountain of gold. If you’re one of the few people in the world who has not yet read The Hobbit, you need to. Like, now. Go! Read it! We’ll wait.

Benno von Archimboldi
2666 by Roberto Bolano
Bolano’s behemoth masterpiece 2666 begins with four academics who are obsessed with the mysterious writer, Benno von Archimboldi, as they try to track him down through Europe and then Mexico. Archimboldi remains an enigma until then end of the book when the reader finally gets to meet him up close and the mystery is slowly and satisfyingly revealed.

Stephen Dedalus
Portrait of the Artist as Young Man and Ulysses by James Joyce
If you’ve ever felt like the label “tortured artist” was invented just for you, I suggest you get acquainted with Stephen Dedalus. He’s confused, he’s bitter, he’s sensitive and interesting, and he’s very, very well-read. By the time you travel with him through the beginning of Ulysses, the mind of his friend Leo Bloom will be a walk in the park in comparison.

Kilgore Trout
Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse Five, and others by Kurt Vonnegut
Kilgore Trout might actually be as famous or more than Kurt Vonnegut. He appears in so many of Vonnegut’s books that readers start to think of him as an old friend and wonder where he is when he’s not around. And yes, he’s a thinly veiled representation of Vonnegut’s alter ego—but does any character exist who’s not a thinly veiled representation of a writer’s alter ego? I rest my case.

Sal Paradise
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac pushes “thinly veiled” into the territory of “all names have been slightly changed.” Sal Paradise is less a narrator than a wild and rollicking camera eye that records everything, hell bent on taking the reader with him on the adventure. And of course, who can resist his partner in crime, the incomparable Dean Moriarty? But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Lestat de Lioncourt
The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
Interview with the Vampire was one vampire sitting down in front of a tape recorder and letting it all hang out. The Vampire Lestat is Lestat himself making his rebuttal against the not-so-flattering tell-all that resulted from it. During the course of his tale, Lestat explains how he killed a pack of wolves single-handedly, became a vampire, and managed to live as a bloodsucker in inimitable Oscar Wilde-like elegance and style. A must read for vampire fans, and even for some who aren’t.

Gustav von Aschenbach
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Mann set out to write this book as an exploration of the concept of passion as “degradation and confusion.” And by the end of this story, it really couldn’t get any more degrading or confusing for his protagonist, the respectable and uptight writer Gustav von Aschenbach. It’s not surprising that Mann ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Literature because this is one of the best banned books of all time.

Henry “Hank” Chinaski
Post Office, Factotum, Women and Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
Whether he’s drinking, betting on the horses, or making-and-breaking-up with yet another new woman, the charm of Henry Chinaski is utterly irresistible. No, he can’t hold a job. And he drinks a little too much. But his life really sucks. In his place, you would have problems with steady employment and would drink a lot too. If you’re having a bad day—or worse, a bad year—Chinaski is the way to go.

Saint Gut-Free, Director Denial & Comrade Snarky
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
I know, I know—it’s technically three writers rolled under the heading of one. But the cast of aspiring geniuses that populate Palahniuk’s fictional writers’ retreat in Haunted are all so disgusting and hilarious that I couldn’t choose just one. Each character tells a story: Saint Gut-Free’s makes you feel queasy, Director Denial’s makes you feel icky, and Comrade Snarky’s might make you lose hope in humanity in general. Classic Palahniuk at his finest.

Who’s your favorite fictional writer? Tweet at me and let me know!

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Beginning Your Book

SAMSUNGStarting really is the hardest part.

If you’ve never written a book before you probably have a lot of assumptions and misconceptions about how it’s done. Before I wrote my first book I thought writers were divided into two categories. The first was the Ernest Hemingway writer. I pictured these kinds of writers sitting down at an orderly desk and writing slow, thoughtful sentences that came out brilliant and precise. The second type of writer I imagined was the Jack Kerouac or Philip K. Dick kind of writer. These kinds of writers drank two pots of coffee, took a bottle of pills, and then stayed up all night and the whole next day ripping through their work of genius. At the end of three days they had a completed manuscript and it was a new order of art that no one had ever seen before.

So when I sat down to start my own book and my mind went blank and I felt like a moron and wrote my first line as, “It was the middle of the night and it was really dark,” I thought it was a sure sign that I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer.

But guess what? Most writers feel like that. Seriously, they do. You are not alone. What separates the amateurs from the “real” writers is the simple fact that the real writers just keep going. They don’t let that feeling-like-an-idiot, dumb-first-sentence phase stop them in their tracks. They chug right on through it.

The first page is the hardest part. Here’s how to push through:

No Matter What Keep Writing
That means, don’t stop to check the time, don’t stop to reread what you just wrote, don’t stop to tell yourself you’re an idiot. Just keep writing. If it helps, tell yourself you’re just going to do a couple of pages of stream-of-consciousness writing to see what comes out. After two or three pages you can think about pausing, but get those initial pages out first. Once you break through the beginning, the flow will come faster and get easier.

Use Brackets
If you’re unsure of facts, or dates, or scenery—all of those little things writers like to research—put your question or concern in brackets so you can come back to it later. For example, if you’re writing a historical novel set in 15th century Italy and on your first page a man immediately adjust part of his clothing, but you’re not sure what to call the item of clothing being adjusted, make a note in brackets like this:

[check term for vest and scarf thing]

And then come back to it later. The key idea here is later. Right now, in this moment, you’re writing. Not researching. Your goal is to stay in the creative flow.

Your First Sentence Is Not Important
While it’s true that editors, literary agents, and publishers place a lot of importance on a book’s opening line, you’re not at that stage yet. You’re not going to contact any of the above if you don’t have a finished manuscript to show them, and you’re not going to get to the finished manuscript stage unless you start the damn thing. Getting hung up on crafting a perfect first sentence before you’ve even written one chapter has the power to block you for a very long time. Even if your first sentence is, “It was the middle of the night and it was really dark,” just keep pushing on from there. Who’s observing this dark night? Why is it so dark?

Let Your Characters Do What They Want
Our characters are just like the real people in our real lives—the minute they do something, one of our first reactions is to judge them for it. If our character is passive-aggressive, we might push them to be a little more assertive. If our character has issues with women, we might get offended since we identify as a feminist. If our character lives in rural Alabama in the 1950s we might have very definite ideas of how they should act and talk, according to our own preconceived notions.

Get it out of your head right now that you control your characters. You don’t. If you try to force them to do certain things, or act a certain way that is out of alignment with what they want to do, you’ll see it when you reread your rough draft. Their actions and words will feel stilted and forced. From that very first page, give them the freedom to show up in whatever way they choose.

Once you’ve experienced a few writing sessions and barreled through that first couple of pages, you’ll start to understand that writing is just like exercise. The first few minutes always suck. They just do. Your body and mind are warming up, falling into the rhythm. Just keep going, keep pushing through. Even if it seems impossible now, one day you really will be running a marathon.

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