Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

To all my students and friends: 2012 will be a great year not because we simply wish it to be so, but because we WILL it to be so. Remember what Adam Smith said: only 3 roads can build your fortune: 1. Sell your skills 2. Sell a product, or 3. Sell both. You choose and the sky is the limit. Happy 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Learn to Speak English Well

Many students spend a lot of time and money on schools and programs that do not work.  It’s so common and it’s sad. 

Because of technology things are now different.  If you have a computer or an MP3 player, you can learn to speak English well in a very short time.  Even 15 minutes every day will improve our speaking faster than you can imagine. 

It is all about listening to real native English dialogues and conversation.  Each dialogue is about a real life situation and discusses a lot of slang, idioms, and other cool vocabulary native speakers use all the time.  It is the kind of stuff you don’t learn in school.  It will help you understand English movies and speak with and understand native speakers. Our teaching style is really fun and we promise you won't get bored. We'll teach you how to remember everything you learn and how to not forget things.

The program has 100 MP3 English lessons that you can download and listen to on your Ipod or computer.  Each lesson has a PDF of the dialogue and an explanation of the important words and phrases.

Each lesson is around 10 to 15 minutes. 

Emails from from over 5000 students from more than 70 different countries thank us for this program.
Click Here and Get a FREE e-book!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing Stragegies: What is a Clerihew?

My own clerihew:

Economist Adam Smith
Taught facts not myth
To be rich here and in hell
Your skills or products sell

In the book A Jacques Barzun Reader I found
the following definition of a clerihew:

Which is of all the kinds of verse
The most informative and terse:
One line invokes a well-known named,
Three more disclose, for praise or blame,
In words that make one want to quote,
A single vivid anecdote.

Post your clerihew here--they are more fun
than Haikus.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Upper East Side - Manhattan

English: The interior of the Barnes & Noble lo...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday during my daily meanderings I ended up in East 86th (Old German town). It was a nostalgic walk.

When I was an undergrad at Columbia I used to visit 'El Corso,' on Saturday nights and have a great time there. I also used to visit the restaurant 'Lorelei,' and others. This time, I went into the huge Barnes and Noble and purchased two books: A Jacques Barzun Reader, and American Nietzsche by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen.

Although The Corso and the Lorelei are gone, the street still maintains its vitality; I wonder if time is not an illussion?

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Accounting Students at LaGuardia Community College

Having completed their Accounting project as a team, Punet, Jose, Juan Carlos, Kevin, and Nico treat themselves to some burgers--and arroz con pollo!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Improve Writing Skills With Sentence Openers

Take the following plain sentence:

Louise rushed to the bathroom where she scrubbed her hands throughly.

And compare it to the same sentence, but preceded by a ‘nominative absolute’ as opener:

Hands trembling, Louise rushed to the bathroom where she
scrubbed her hands thoroughly.

Here’s another example:

Eyes narrowed, fists clenched, lips trembling, he waited in the dark.

No Kindle, or Nook, or iPAD yet?

Then Download your copy of Sentence Openers

to your PC now for $7.95 only.

I got my copy through PAYPAL -
click the button below. Get your copy now! A.Katz.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of East of Tiffany's by Liu Lu

As a person who lives in New York City, the book East of Tiffany's has caught my attention since I first read the tittle. If you travel to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, you will find many fashionable people crossing the streets. Even though I have just read a few chapters of this book, I would like to recommend it to all my friends because of the interesting stories that are described in this book; it makes me think deeply about how to have a meaningful life.
The Upper East Side always attracts many successful and rich people to live there. People who want to succeed hope to learn how to find the winning path in their lives through the experience that successful people have accumulated during the process of their success. East of Tiffany's is a series of funny and warm stories about a successful banker, including his loved ones and beloved pet, and his other personal experiences of success.

There are some people who believe that people of quality treat everything with an unbending manner except themselves and their business. However, this book may change their minds by showing a totally different picture of successful people, which proves that they never stop loving and caring about their families, pets, and friends during their lives. I recommend this book to everyone who wants to learn about life, love, and work.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ask David's Book Review of The Poison Pill by Marciano Guerrero

Book: The Poison Pill: A Business Gothic Thriller by Marciano Guerrero
Book Review: The Poison Pill: A Business Gothic Thriller by Marciano Guerrero
categories: Book, Gothic, Horror Thriller, Suspense, Veterans, Vietnam

Author: Marciano Guerrero
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.

Well Written:

If you read Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, and Trollope you will realize that Guerrero's English is that good. If you are tired of Hemingway, Mailer, Updike, DeLillo, Chabon and other mediocre writers you will find "The Poison Pill" a great reading. In this humble, unassuming book you'll find rhetorical figures that make you think and lots of literary allusions. Oh, yes! Intelligent puzzles, too, a la Borges. It has been a long time since I read a book so well written. Where was Guerrero all these years?

To see the original review Click here.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique and Hillary Clinton

Once in a life comes along a book that changes one's life.

Suddenly the words you read touch a nerve or click inside your mind, making you view reality in a new way.

The Feminine Mystique had the power not only to change people's way of thinking but also helped change their attitudes, and ultimately their behavior.

It certainly changed mine.

By putting her finger on that painful sore of society, Betty Friedan brought about the much needed rallying cry of the second wave of American feminism: "The problem that had no name." That cry resonated loud and clear through the nation for everyone to hear it: Equality for women!

Although equality for American women is still a few light years away from them, much has been accomplished. And though England had Margaret Thatcher, Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, and The Philippines Corazon Aquino, American society can't even begin to accept that a woman could become president.

Will American women put aside their petty hatreds and rancors to even consider that one of their own gender could become president? That remains to be seen.

When I see Hillary Clinton--on the TV debates--facing the hordes of menacing men: the hostile stares of the other male candidates, the hostile moderators (e.g., Tim Russell, who looked as if he had just eaten a baby), the camera-men, the technicians, the reporters, the beefy security men, the electricians, the burly grip-men, the carpenters, the unionized workers (all men!), my heart goes to her and I say, "That's a courageous woman."

Then I ask myself: "Where are the women? Painting their nails? Why aren't they supporting her?"

Well, there's one plausible answer: American women still wish to be treated like Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) or Lily Bart (The House of Mirth): worse than second class citizens--sexual objects. That this thing is happening in the twenty-first century boggles the mind;d that this thing is happening in America is degrading to women. What can be more telling of the plight of woman than the question a middle-age woman asked senator McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?"

Now a woman-candidate has been transformed--by a woman citizen--into a female beast!

How dare a woman run for president of the United States? She is a sub-human beast!

I can recall Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (in the early middle ages) advocating equality for women through That lovely character, the Wife of Bath.

Have we regressed?

If Hillary Clinton is elected, it will not be because women elected her; it will be because fair-minded men accepted the fact that woman live in this country, too. That the 14th Amendment applies to all Americans--not jus men. Equal representation and equal treatment shouldn't be empty words.

Noble, fair-minded men will elect the first woman president of the United States.

The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

Sentence Openers

Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
Image via Wikipedia
Lindsey Vonn

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Definition of Words - Words Connotations

David Copperfield (1935 film)Image via Wikipedia

Word Connotations

 Definition of Connotation:
Connotation means the power that words have to appeal to our senses and emotions. Knowing this particular bit of information can take a writer a long way in manipulating reader’s attention and emotions.
With connotation we suggest or imply instead of stating something bluntly. What this means is that writers aren’t restricted to the dictionary meaning of words because by means of connotation they can go beyond the dictionary—beyond literal meaning.

In addition, fine writers are aware of the different shades of meaning between synonyms. Just because the dictionary or a thesaurus lists several synonyms it doesn’t mean that they have the exact same meaning. To gain your readership’s sympathy or antipathy, you may want to use just the right noun: car, automobile, runabout, buggy, banger, clunker, wheels, bus, hot rod, jalopy, old crock, and racer

In her novel Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen lets no room doubt that Mr. Darcy is a proud individual. Yet, she also lets readers see him as other characters see him: conceited, self-confident, and arrogant.

Simple connotation can be accomplished economically by a word, phrase, sentences, or direct statements.
Here are some examples of connotation:
Eleanor is a twit.
Stanley is a boob.
He always smells like garlic and sweat mixed with cheap man’s cologne.
President Bush smirked at the senator.

Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park presents Mrs. Norris as a consistent nag who sees nothing positive in the heroine, Fanny Price. By this consistency, readers are brought about to dislike her and to like Fanny. Surely this is an overt way of manipulating the readers’ emotions. At the end of the novel we are well prepared for, Mrs. Norris’ comeuppance as she quits Mansfield Park: “Not even Fanny had tears for Aunt Norris, not even when she was gone forever.”

Personal or Individual connotation are suggestive words that are applied to a particular individual, as in the examples cited above. However, connotations may also be used in a generalized or universal way. For example: Communists stink of dogma.

Generalized connotations can infect not only the name but also an entire genre. J. D. Salinger in his novelette, The Catcher in the Rye, by using the eponymous hero’s name ‘David Copperfield’ in one fell swoop shocks the reader into discarding an antiquated type of narration. Salinger implies —through the name David Copperfield— that the 19th century novel, with all its sentimentality and flat language is passé, that readers will not find that old style in the Catcher:  

IF YOU REALLY WANT TO HEAR about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Connotation using a disguised simile (a comparison without using ‘as’ or ‘like’):

She wore a pale-yellow sweater that resembled the hue of certain urine samples I’ve seen.

By describing the subject’s sweater with the colors of body excretion and of the worse possible kind, the writer is appealing to the reader’s aversions and discomfort that such signals produce.

The wind died and the silence that followed was broken by the sway and creak of the elms and cypresses.

Although the reader isn’t told explicitly, one can expect that the character associated with this scene is being marked for death—the connotation is that of a cemetery.

Connotation by infection:
In this type of connotation the meaning from an object or objects are transferred to a character. Let’s look at this example from Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield:

She [Miss Murdstone] brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of a hard steel purse, and she kept the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arms by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bit.

The objects being described are two boxes, a purse, and a bag, yet the subterranean connotative meaning is not intended towards the objects but to the character of the subject—Miss Murdstone. In other words, the connotative words exert power on the subject by contagion; just like a contagious disease.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Greatness and Achievement: A Tribute to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...Image via WikipediaLet's run a little test. If you think of the word 'greatness,' who may you be thinking of? Chances are you are thinking of heroes, famous individuals, accomplished professionals--senators, presidents, scientists, Steve Jobs perhaps?

But how did Steve Jobs become famous? How did he become such an incredible achiever?

What is an undeniable fact is that all accomplished individuals start somewhere: with being positive! The good news is that you, also, may start there. And the most wonderful aspect of these goods news is that being positive doesn't cost anything: it's free!

People who believe in themselves will achieve their goals; will achieve nearly anything. The sky is the limit. Whether you have clear goals in mind for your future, or thoughts for a bright future, thinking positively is the beginning of the journey.

Just knowing that is half of the battle.Practicing is the other.

Be positive and believe in yourself, first! Listen to that "inner voice" that Steve Jobs spoke about. The second part of being positive is taking action. While goals and dreams are wonderful, action is what makes those goals come to fruition; action makes them become a reality. Positive energy turns your dreams into reality. All other factors such as determination, motivation, and hard work, are secondary--being positive comes first.

Why is that? Because along the journey we will experience setbacks--that is for sure. The true champions of life will pick themselves up, shake the dust off, and move on. They allow no time for discouragement. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. Can you imagine a worse setback than that? But he didn't mope around his house lamenting his ill star; blaming others. No Sir! He excelled in other projects until he returned to Apple.

You --my good friend-- were destined for accomplishment. Now 'accomplishment' means getting things done; it doesn't matter in what field of endeavor. And accomplishments come in different sizes and magnitudes. Getting a high school diploma for example. So is getting a college degree or two. But schooling isn't the only way to achieve something--only a stepping stone. Helping a friend, neighbor, or relative could be a tremendous accomplishment.

The journey is full of many accomplished goals, and once a goal is achieved, tackle a new one and a new one in an endless geometric series. If you get a college degree, think of it as part of the journey. Of course you'll get satisfaction, but greater satisfaction is in store in the future. 

Success isn't just for a few gifted individuals. It's for all of us! We all are born with the potential and the energy to get things done; the blueprint is in our genes. Don't waste it. Being positive in outlook will help channel energy, creativity, and imagination into the accomplishment of our goals.

Instead of thinking, "Oh, no. I can't do that--it takes too long," say: "Oh, yes! Si Se Puede--it won't take long!"

After you get some things done, don't stop there. Move on to the next project,and the next, and when you look over your shoulder you'll see behind you a constellation of small and large accomplishments. A character in Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, as he awoke from a long torpor exclaimed: "We are made of time!"

I go a step beyond and I say: "We are made of projects!" The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said, "Man is a useless passion." I never believe that. A man would be a useless passion if he didn't have a project. In Steve Jobs we have a man of many projects; and that is what enriched his life and ours.

Fame and fortune are ephemeral, wispy, and soon burns off like the morning fog. Though not all your accomplishments will bring fame and fortune, some of them will--and if not, satisfaction will be its own reward.

So, the next time you think of 'greatness,' think of yourself as an achiever! Think of Steve Jobs, think of a great American, think of the man who by his projects became a true citizen of the world.

Steve Jobs isn't just an American hero or just an American genius. He now belongs to the whole human race.

Inferiority Complex?

3 Qualities for Success

The Best Leader?

How I Manage my Time

Adam Smith and Wealth

Boethius and Fortune

Employee of the Moth Everyday

If you are interested in seeing how I achieved personal success in the United States, you may find my book of short stories East of Tiffany's interesting. Some of the stories are based on my life as an executive, investment banker, and financial adviser to wealthy investors in the East Side of Manhattan.
Close to half-million people have read East of Tiffany's so far. Order your copy from either or Barnes and Noble. See the link on the right sidebar.

Since English is my second language, Mary Duffy --a master of the English language-- aided me not only with the editing, but she also contributed her own stories. I love her writing in "When You Wish Upon a Star." This is a story based on a personal friend's life.

Senada Selmani, model, college student

I get 'A' in all my term papers, and my co-workers tell me I write great e-mails and memos. Not only was I accepted to a great college, but I got full scholarships--all on the strength of my essays! Get Mary Duffy's

Sentence Openers

Itching to Become a Writer? Get started with Sentence Openers!

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Becoming a Writer - Raymond Chandler on Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett, padre de la novela policiaca...Image by Antonio Marín Segovia via Flickr

In The Long Week End, which is a drastically competent account of English life and manners in the decades following the First World War, Robert Graves and Alan Hodge gave some attention to the detective story. They were just as traditionally English as the ornaments of the Golden Age, and they wrote of the time in which these writers were almost as well-known as any writers in the world. Their books in one form or another sold into the millions, and in a dozen languages. These were the people who fixed the form and established the rules and found­ed the famous Detection Club, which is a Parnassus of English writers of mystery. Its roster includes practically every impor­tant writer of detective fiction since Conan Doyle.
But Graves and Hodge decided that during this whole period only one first -class writer had written detective stories at all. An American, Dashiell Hammett. Traditional or not, Graves and Hodge were not fuddyduddy connoisseurs of the second-rate; they could see what went on in the world and that the detective story of their time didn't; and they were aware that writers who have the vision and the ability to produce real fiction do not pro­duce unreal fiction.
How original a writer Hammett really was it isn't easy to decide now, even if it mattered. He was one of a group-the only one who achieved critical recognition-who wrote or tried to write realistic mystery fiction. All literary movements are like this; some one individual is picked out to represent the whole movement; he is usually the culmination of the movement. Hammett was the ace performer, but there is nothing in his work that is not implicit in the early novels and short stories of Hemingway.
Yet, for all I know, Hemingway may have learned something from Hammett as well as from writers like Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, and himself. A rather revolutionary debunking of both the language and the material of fiction had been going on for some time. It probably started in poetry; almost everything does. You can take it clear back to Walt Whitman, if you like. But Hammett applied it to the detective story, and this, because of its heavy crust of English gentility and American pseudo gentility, was pretty hard to get moving.
I doubt that Hammett had any deliberate artistic aims whatever; he was trying to make a living by writing something he had firsthand information about. He made some of it up; all writers do; but it had a basis in fact; it was made up out of real things. The only reality the English detection writers knew was the con­versational accent of Surbiton and Bognor RegiS. If they wrote about dukes and Venetian vases, they knew no more about them out of their own experience than the well-heeled Hollywood character knows about the French Modernists that hang in his Bel-Air chateau or the semi-antique Chippendale-cum-cob­bier's bench that he uses for a coffee table. Hammett took mur-
der out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn't have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get as far as possible from Emily Post's idea of how a well­bred debutante gnaws a chicken wing.
Hammett wrote at first (and almost to the end) for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dis­may them; it was right down their street. Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.
He had style, but his audience didn't know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama writ­ten in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. Hammett's style at its worst was as formalized as a page of Marius the Epicurean; at its best it could say almost anything. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say, or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no over­tones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill.
Hammett is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of is the record of a man's devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.
With all this he did not wreck the formal detective story.
Nobody can; production demands a form that can be produced. Realism takes too much talent, too much knowledge, too much awareness. Hammett may have loosened it up a little here, and sharpened it a little there. Certainly all but the stupidest and most meretricious writers are more conscious of their artificial­ity than they used to be. And he demonstrated that the detec­tive story can be important writing. The Maltese Falcon mayor may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not "by hypothesis" incapable of anything. Once a detective story can be as good as this, only the pedants will deny that it could be even better.
Hammett did something else; he made the detective story fun to write, not an exhausting concatenation of insignificant clues. Without him there might not have been a regional mystery as clever as Percival Wilde's Inquest, or an ironic study as able as Raymond Postgate's Verdict of Twelve, or a savage piece of intel­lectual double-talk like Kenneth Fearing's The Dagger of the Mind, or a tragi-comic idealization of the murderer as in Donald Henderson's Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper, or even a gay Hollywoodian gambol like Richard Sale's Lazarus No.7.
The realistic style is easy to abuse: from haste, from lack of awareness, from inability to bridge the chasm that lies between what a writer would like to be able to say and what he actually knows how to say. It is easy to fake; brutality is not strength, flip­ness is not wit, edge-of-the-chair writing can be as boring as flat writing; dalliance with promiscuous blondes can be very dull stuff when described by goaty young men with no other purpose in mind than to describe dalliance with promiscuous blondes. There has been so much of this sort of thing that if a character in a detective story says "Yeah," the author is automatically a Hammett imitator.
And there are still a number of people around who say that Hammett did not write detective stories at all—merely hard­boiled chronicles of mean streets with a perfunctory mystery element dropped in like the olive in a martini. There are the flustered old ladies —of both sexes (or no sex) and almost all ages— who like their murders scented with magnolia blossoms and do not care to be reminded that murder is an act of infinite cruelty, even if the perpetrators sometimes look like playboys or college professors or nice motherly women with softly graying hair.
There are also a few badly scared champions of the formal or classic mystery who think that no story is a detective story which does not pose a formal and exact problem and arrange the clues around it with neat labels on them. Such would point out, for example, that in reading The Maltese Falcon no one concerns himself with who killed Spade's partner, Archer (which is the only formal problem of the story), because the reader is kept thinking about something else. Yet in The Glass Key the reader is constantly reminded that the question is who killed Taylor Henry, and exactly the same effect is obtained-an effect of movement, intrigue, cross-purposes, and the gradual elucida­tion of character, which is all the detective story has any right to be about anyway. The rest is spillikins in the parlor.
But all this (and Hammett too) is for me not quite enough.
The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apart­ment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the finger man for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of money-making, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing; a world where you may witness a holdup in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the holdup men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge. It is not a fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization. All this still is not quite enough.
In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a com­mon man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor-by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man's inso­lence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely maq and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks-that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Becoming a Writer - Flannery O'Connor "Truth in Fiction"

Flannery's deskImage by marklarson via Flickr

Truth in Fiction

Fiction is an art that calls for the strictest attention to the real—whether the writer is writing a naturalis­tic story or a fantasy. I mean that we always begin with what is or with what has an eminent possibility of truth about it. Even when one writes a fantasy, reality is the proper basis of it. A thing is fantastic be­cause it is so real, so real that it is fantastic. Graham Greene has said that he can't write, "I stood over a bottomless pit," because that couldn't be true, or "Running down the stairs I jumped into a taxi," be­cause that couldn't be true either. But Elizabeth Bowen can write about one of her characters that "she snatched at her hair as if she heard something in it," because that is eminently possible.
I would even go so far 'as to say that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly atten­tive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein-because the greater the story's strain on the credulity, the more convincing the prop­erties in it have to be.
A good example of this is a story called "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. This is a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into a cockroach overnight, while not discarding his human nature. The rest of the story concerns his life and feelings and eventual death as an insect with human nature, and this situation is ac­cepted by the reader because the concrete detail of the story is absolutely convincing. The fact is that this story describes the dual nature of man in such a real­istic fashion that it is almost unbearable. The truth is not distorted here, but rather, a certain distortion is used to get at the truth. If we admit, as we must, that appearance is not the same thing as reality, then we must give the artist the liberty to make certain rear­rangements of nature if these will lead to greater depths of vision. The artist himself always has to re­member that what he is rearranging is nature, and that he has to know it and be able to describe it accu­rately in order to have the authority to rearrange it at all.
The peculiar problem of the short-story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible. He has only a short space to do it in and he can't do it by statement. He has to do it by showing, not by saying, and by showing the concrete-so that his problem is really how to make the concrete work double time for him.
In good fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the action of the story it­self, and when this happens they become symbolic in the way they work. I once wrote a story called "Good Country People," in which a lady Ph.D. has her wooden leg stolen by a Bible salesman whom she has tried. to seduce. Now I'll admit that, paraphrased in this way, the situation is simply a low joke. The aver­age reader is pleased to observe anybody's wooden leg being stolen. But without ceasing to appeal to him and without making any statements of high intention, this story does manage to operate at another level of experience, by letting the wooden leg accumulate meaning. Early in the story, we're presented with the fact that the Ph.D. is spiritually as well as physically crippled. She believes in nothing but her own belief in nothing, and we perceive that there is a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg. Now of course this is never stated. The fiction writer states as little as possible. The reader makes this con­nection from things he is shown. He may not even know that he makes the connection, but the connec­tion is there nevertheless and it has its effect on him. As the story goes on, the wooden leg continues to ac­cumulate meaning. The reader learns how the girl feels about her leg, how her mother feels about it, and how the country woman on the place feels about it; and finally, by the time the Bible salesman comes along, the leg has accumulated so much meaning that it is, as the saying goes, loaded. And when the Bible salesman steals it, the reader realizes that he has taken away part of the girl's personality and has re­vealed her deeper affection to her for the first time. If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first, and as a wooden leg it is absolutely necessary to the story. It has its place on the literal level of the story, but it operates in depth as well as on the surface. It increases the story in every direction, and this is essen­tially the way a story escapes being short.
Now a little might be said about the way in which this happens. I wouldn't want you to think that in that story I sat down and said, "I am now going to write a story about a Ph.D. with a wooden leg, using the wooden leg as a symbol for another kind of afflic­tion." I doubt myself if many writers know what they are going to do when they start out. When I started writing that story, I didn't know there was going to be a Ph.D. with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women that I knew something about, and before I realized it, I had equipped one of them with a daugh­ter with a wooden leg. As the story progressed, I brought in the Bible salesman, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him. I didn't know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realized that it was in­evitable. This is a story that produces a shock for the reader, and I think one reason for this is that it pro­duced a shock for the writer.
Now despite the fact that this story came about in this seemingly mindless fashion, it is a story that al­most no rewriting was done on. It is a story that was under control throughout the writing of it, and it might be asked how this kind of control comes about, 'Since it is not entirely conscious.
I think the answer to this is what Maritain calls "the habit of art." It is a fact that fiction writing is 'Something in which the whole personality takes part --the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be culti­vated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience; and teaching any kind of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art. I think this is more than just a discipline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at the created world and of using the senses so as to make them find as much meaning as possible in things.
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