Tag: leo tolstoy

leo tolstoy

And the Award Goes To…

The shortlist for the inaugural Staunch Book Prize, “created to make space for an alternative to the overload of violence towards women in fiction” and “awarded to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered,” was recently announced. The award’s creators wanted to honor “stories in which female characters don’t have to be raped before they can be empowered or become casual collateral to pump up the plot” and that don’t “celebrate the cunning (often, charming sexiness/astonishing brutality) of serial rapists and the dogged brilliance of detectives” at the expense of female characters too often portrayed as two-dimensional victims. The shortlist for the 2018 prize, to be awarded this month, includes a political conspiracy thriller, a psychological thriller, an art caper, a thriller about the immigrant crisis, and a satire about terrorism. In the spirit of new literary awards, I asked my fellow Missdemeanors, “What prize would you create and what would the eligibility criteria be?” Here are their answers. RobinMine is easy. It would be the Amazing Grace Award, which was a nickname for Grace Hopper. Without her, computers would still take up an entire room and do only one thing at a time, so my criteria would be most inventive use of real technology for sinister purposes. Bonus points for flipping the bit, so to speak, to use that same technology to catch the criminal. TraceeI’d hand out the Tolstoy award, in honor of Count Leo Tolstoy. The criteria for this award:  a work of fiction that captures a broader historic theme with dramatic breadth and unity. The committee would prioritize works set in contemporary life.Thinking about Tolstoy, I feel the urge to re-read a few favorite parts of War and Peace. Although with the ice raining down I might be better served to visit another great Russian author, Boris Pasternak and the winter scenes in Doctor Zhivago. SusanI’d hand out an Ove award, named for Fredrik Bachman’s curmudgeonly hero. The criteria would be a work of fiction that shows me the interior life of a character I might have overlooked. MicheleI’m creating The Penny, after Louise Penny for her superb creation of Three Pines. The criteria for winning The Penny would be a work of fiction in which the author creates a setting for her story where, although not conflict free, the reader may retreat to find comfort and solace in times of turmoil. It sure worked for me after November 2016. TraceeI love all of these! CateI would create The Ripley, for the most unlikeable character that you can’t help but root for. The award would be in the spirit of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Alternative name: The Dexter. PaulaOoh, a very good question and such lovely answers.I’d have to say the LATE BLOOMER AWARD, for writers publishing their first novel after age 50…or 60…or…. MicheleAs a writer who received her Medicare card the same month that I got my first publishing contract, I love the LATE BLOOMER AWARD! AlisonI love all the answers. I’ll add the SEDARIS AWARD for writers, like David Sedaris, who are so funny it’s impossible to read an entire chapter without laughing out loud. It’s named in honor of Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I read while taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to New York. I thought I could sit in the “quiet car” while reading, but I ended up leaving the silent section of the train because I absolutely, positively, could not stifle the eruptions of full-on belly laughs coming from my own belly. AlexiaI’d create the ELBA AWARD (named after Idris Elba, of course) for a crime fiction novel that doesn’t pigeon-hole characters of color and characters from other marginalized groups into narrow, stereotypical roles and narratives. There’d be a sub-category, named the JACKSON (after Samuel L.) for the fictional crime film that had a character of color or other marginalized character appear in the most unexpected role. What award would you create? What would you name it? Who could win? Comment here on the blog or join the discussion on Facebook.  

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Descriptions. What's your preference?

My neighbor is a big reader and we had an interesting conversation over the fence this lovely spring weekend. He doesn’t like to read elaborate descriptions. To him, an elaborate description is the gun on the tabletop in scene one that never gets discharged. He gave an example: in the thriller he is currently reading there is a scene where the protagonist walks down a long corridor. The scene is complete with a detailed description of the doors the protagonist passes, what he sees at the other end, etc. In the end, the man gets to the end of the hall and goes into a room. My neighbor read the passage carefully, sure that the careful attention to detail meant that there were important clues in the text – or at a minimum something would happen behind one of those doors. He felt that the description made it difficult to separate important detail from general atmosphere.  This is a problem for writers. First of all, no two readers are the same, so you can’t satisfy everyone. Some people like to use their imagination to fill in most of the details of places and people. A long narrow corridor. A tall dark stranger. Good enough. They’ve got the idea and the tall dark stranger gets filled in with their ideal, not the writer’s. Same thing with places. My long narrow corridor may look different from everyone else’s, but does it matter if there is crown molding or not?  I believe that there should be enough detail to get close to what the author imagined, but I can sympathize with the notion that too many details are information overload for a reader. This came up in my conversation with my neighbor. Afterwards it struck me that the average reader’s access to information has altered what we want. Think of Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo. These men were literary giants in their day, hugely popular in every sense of the word. They set a scene that was possibly unimaginable to their readers – a glimpse of the darkest side of industrial England’s workhouses and slums and law courts. The vast battle fields of Russia and the gaiety of aristocratic balls. The dark currents of Paris, including those running under the streets. These scenes were so finely wrought that they are useful to historians today. Modern society has access to images on television, at the movie theater and on-line. Take Industrial England. Google it and you are overwhelmed by images and descriptions (not all accurate, but that’s a separate issue). No longer are novels the main form of exposing people to faraway places or ideas. As a result, we have adapted as readers and therefore as writers.  Or have we? Description still plays a vital role in a novel. I read to remember places I’ve been, and to dream about places I’ll never go. For me, it remains a balance. I want to see into the mind of the author, all the while knowing I’ll continue to fill in details from my own imagination. That’s also my goal as a writer.  I’m curious, though, what do others want? Plenty of description or spare spare spare? There is definitely room for both. 

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