Autodidact: self-taught


The Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter

by V. L. Craven

Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter

‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter’ by Jeff VanderMeer came to me by a serendipitous route. Because I follow Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen on Facebook, I saw his work was featured in an anthology called It Came from the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction , which looked intriguing.

Being a broke writer, I went in search of the publisher to humbly beg for a review copy. Said publisher turned out to be Cheeky Frawg Books , which has one of the best publisher websites I’ve seen. It hasn’t been updated in awhile, which is a shame.

Poking around the homepage of said great, if somewhat neglected, website I found what was called The Free, which turned out to be a free epub version of the subject of this review (yes, I will get to the review momentarily). I’m not going to tell you where it is–just go look at their site. Everything is excellent. The covers, which are reminiscent of McSweeney’s covers in a good way, overall design, the ‘atmosphere’ for lack of a better word.

Surprise free book converted via Calibre, I started ‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter’ immediately and read it in one sitting (it’s 48 printed pages so not exactly a feat of readerly endurance, but it kept my interest the entire time.) It’s a long-form essay about all of Angela Carter’s works.

Very well-written, critical but also appreciative, it’s a nice introduction. She’s one of those authors who’ve been on my to-read list for years. VanderMeer calls out my sort of people when lamenting how under-appreciated her work is. There are two camps, it would seem: the people who haven’t heard of her and the people who have heard of her but haven’t read her. Whoops. I own some of her books… do I get any points for that?

There are some spoilers if you haven’t read anything of hers, but I found it enormously useful in deciding where to start. The Passion of the New Eve is first on my list. I’ve always enjoyed how books lead to one another as though making introductions. Like networking with people except much better because rather than people there are books.

Now I just need this sort of essay for Muriel Spark.

(I wound up buying It Came from the North on Amazon. It’s only $5.99 and it supports a great publisher and at least one excellent author. Look forward to that review in the coming weeks. Probably also a review of The Passion of the New Eve.)


The Art of Fiction (David Lodge)

by V. L. Craven

This is a collection of David Lodge’s essays regarding the various aspects of fiction that appeared in the Independent . The way he tied everything together was interesting and extremely useful for writers, serious readers or people who simply want to know more about the way novels are put together. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from a novel that illustrates the theme of the essay.

I only gave it four stars because it seemed a bit slow, though that could be entirely down to my current reading speed.

This book is indispensable for writers, as he helped me work through some problems with my novel that I didn’t even know I had.


Writers on Writing

by V. L. Craven

Besides doing research for the novel I’m working on (7,000 words in seven days plus the entire plot …plotted) I’m also reading about being a better writer. One of the books I’m reading–one essay a day–is The Writing Life which is a compendium of essays by prominent writers oh heretos and howfors of writing. The first fall under the title of Becoming a Writer
Francine du Plessix Gray: The Seduction of the Text

  • Being an admirable reader is the first step towards being a decent writer
  • We cannot choose fiction—it can only choose us
  • Read voraciously, keep the reader seduced and never worry about what ‘category’ your texts might fall into.

Joyce Carol Oates: The Importance of Childhood

  • Her writing is not effortless…She writes by hand, starting stories countless times, making comments as she goes, often producing as many as 1,000 pages of notes for every 250 printed pages. Belle-fleur (1980), which has been chatarerized as springing from a dream, “took lots of work,” with charts and graphs and heavy engineering…Her novel American Appetites had 3,000 pages of worksheets. You Must Remember This had 3,500 pages of side notes. My Heart Laid Bare , 5,000 pages.
  • How more accurate to see any artwork as a portal of a kind through which we step, like Alice through the looking-glass, into worlds not our own and unimaginable by us, conjoining ourselves with persons not known to us.
  • Each book, its cover opened, led miraculously inward and downward, tunneling away from the mere surface of things.
    The wish to tell stories predates the stories told.
  • Tragedy breaks down the dykes between human beings –William Butler Yeats
  • Is biology destiny? Not for the writer or artist, it isn’t.

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