Archive for September, 2009

Honey Child

September 24, 2009

In Honey Child, a soon to be released novella, Tim Rouse speaks with the voice of a mountain poet. His description of Appalachian people and mountain existence rings true and clear. His mamaw and papaw could well have been my own.
He transports the reader back to a time of country kitchens heated to a Hades-like temperature by wood-fired “cookstoves.” He recounts how his mamaw felt obligated to cook nearly everything in site – “…not one day would pass when every pot, plate, coffee cup and dish wouldn’t be filled, emptied, washed and re-used at least twice…”
Rouse talks of people who were god fearing church goers with fondness and reverence. He also tells, with unflinching honesty and without apology, of those who are not drawn to the churches or guided by the Bible. His papaw, Gene and Uncle J. C. (Ooze) displayed a passion for strong drink, sharp knives and strong language.
The people of Honey Child are real – at least to me, because I grew up in these mountains. I knew Gene, Ooze and others like them when I was a child. However, I’m certain that had I grown up in a city, the words of Tim Rouse would make me feel as if I were right there at his mamaw’s table, watching young Timmy try bravely to eat a bite of her rice pudding, or perhaps sitting on her front porch enjoying a cooling evening breeze as it wafted down from the mountain tops.
Honey Child is a true delight – a fair and adequate tribute to a generation who are gone, but not forgotten.
By J Russell Rose, Author (


Rhythm & Roots ’09

September 21, 2009

Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots Reunion ’09, is now history. From all accounts this event will go down in the record books for all-time high attendance – and the music was good, too.
The Appalachian Authors Booth was well visited – if somewhat under represented by author members.
Carol Jackson of Lost State Writers was there yesterday with me. We had many wonderful conversations, met some very nice people, and hopefully made some worthwhile contacts.
On Saturday, I fielded questions of interest from people who are now, or want to be published writers. Hopefully, the Guild will see several new members as a result.
I did reasonably well, in spite of the rain – deja vu, Virginia Highlands Festival – fortunately, there was no mud.
November promises to be a busy month with many opportunities for book signings. Stay tuned.
Jack (J Russell) Rose, Pres.

Sunday Summary

September 13, 2009

These past few weeks have seen a bit of activity. In politics, the country is divided over health care/health insurance. The space shuttle couldn’t land because of bad weather. Kids are all back in school. And, finally, it seems Michael Jackson will be allowed to Rest in Peace.
Rhythm & Roots Reunion is upcoming – September 18, 19 and 20. Donna Akers, Lightnin’ Charlie, Carol Jackson (at various times) and yours truly, will occupy the tent in front of William King Clothier on State Street. Frank Kerr was supposed to be there with me for the entire event, but due to a back injury he had to cancel. Get well Frank. Come by if you can.
October 3rd, Neva Bryant has arranged a Literary Reading and Food Drive in St. Paul, to benefit people in Russell and Wise counties. Spread the word. October 18th and 19th, Darrell Fleming and I will join several other Guild members (Addie Davis is scheduled) in Big Stone Gap – Mountain Empire Community College.
November is shaping up to be a busy month for authors: In addition to the event (still in planning) at the Bristol Public Library, there are: Mistletoe Market and Coomes Center craft show in Abingdon, and Viking Hall Craft Show (Thanksgiving Weekend) – and no, I still don’t have the application for that.
As the new president of the Appalachian Authors Guild, I hope to see the Guild achieve new prominence during the coming year. This can only happen through the combined efforts of everyone involved. So get involved, stay involved, and encourage others.
There are many talented writers out there who are not active members of the Guild. Please contact at least one or two and encourage them to join and support the Guild.
Regards to everyone. Good Writing. Good Reading. Good Blogging.
Jack (J Russell) Rose
Appalachian Authors Guild & Associates

William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” as Social History

September 10, 2009

On Writing Well

For those interested in the craft of non-fiction, one would do well to have this book on a nearby shelf:

One of the most trusted resources in the craft of non-fiction writing has been William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Having sold well over a million copies now, the book has recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Which led The American Scholar magazine (Spring 2009) to offer up an essay by Zinsser on the book’s evolution.

During my reading of the essay, two thing about Zinsser’s book– and the craft of writing in general – came to mind. First, writing, like language itself, is never static. Writing, one might say – in the vein of a glass half empty – is always held captive by the society it reflects. And in this day of ongoing future shock, writing and language will change with every social twist and turn (something all writers should heed).

The second thing Zinsser’s essay brought to mind: Writing a how-to book on non-fiction writing, a book constantly amended to reflect social change becomes an historical roadmap of such changes. Zinsser gives us such a roadmap through the evolution of non-fiction writing over the past thirty years of his book. He does this by offering the reader rhyme and reason for his regularly recurring amendments to On Writing Well. His chronology goes something like this:

1974-1976 – Writing for the first edition

Zinsser began with another writer’s chestnut, The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White, which gives a compendium of principles on writing that seem somewhat abstract, arbitrary, and binding. What’s missing here is how to apply such principles. To supply this missing element, Zinsser turned, oddly enough, to a book on writing popular songs by composer Alec Wilder. If there’s ever been a social phenomenon that maps contemporary changes through the decades, it’s pop music. Still, his explanations on how to apply non-fiction writing principles remained in “freeze-frame” in one respect: most of his exemplars were male.

1980 – The second edition

By the eighties, technology had become king of social change. Zinsser added a chapter on jargon, something that had been giving composition teachers fits. In this edition, he tried to make such technical items seem more human. In league with this no-nonsense time, he also advised more terse writing, paring adjectives and adverbs. Interestingly (yes, I’m aware of the adverb I’ve just used), he also cautioned writers to higher ethical standards, to defend their work to editors, publishers, and agents. This, in an age of business and financial upset that still haunts us today.

1990s – Yet more editions

By the ‘nineties, America might have been unrecognizable to someone from the ‘seventies. Women, who had come to dominate fiction in the late twentieth century, were making serious inroads into non-fiction, particularly in the memoir genre. The nation had seen a new wave of immigrants – from Africa, Asia, the Middle East – and they were now beginning to shape these United States. Zinsser flushed a good number of male graybeards from his exemplars to make room for up and coming women. He even showcased technical journals, in the form of a magazine of electrical and electronics engineers, which lent its technical expertise to the field of political writing. To reflect this more clinical mindset in society, Zinsser began advising, where possible, life without pronouns.

1998-2001 – A sixth edition

In this edition, On Writing Well turned personal. It reflected Zinsser’s own interests, more so than the collective interests of the society about him. He wrote chapters on jazz and baseball. In this new turn, memoir became a literary obsession. He began to lead writers into understanding the process of writing such non-fiction, that it’s an organic phenomenon, impossible to map out ahead of the day-to-day process of writing.

When you think about it, writing must be captive to its time (the glass half-full now), not only in language usage and style, but in the ways it reflects people, their unique responses to both internal and external social conditions.
Surely Zinsser will eventually stop editing his book, but I certainly hope someone picks up his banner and continues it, if only to extend his mapping of our language and times.

Bob Mustin

How Fiction Works, by James Wood

September 3, 2009

imagesIt’s breathtakingly inspiring, within today’s coterie of less-than-well-informed book reviewers, to find one as well versed in what brings the best fiction robustly to life as James Wood. But then he’s also a novelist, essayist, and Harvard lecturer in literature. His book, How Fiction Works, has been widely reviewed in the print press, but it’s apparent to me after reading the book that reviewers either see it as academic and abstract, or as one colleague of mine said, “It left me with the notion that reading his book would be like sticking pins in my eyes.” I want to rectify that view of his book.

I will say that the casual fiction reader, who limits his/her self to the over-popular genre pulp on the best seller lists, may fall asleep reading this book, muttering, “So what?” On the other hand, one doesn’t need to know literary theory or hold an MFA in creative writing to gain insight from Wood’s book. All one needs is an openness—as either reader or writer—to why fiction is an enjoyable and instructive experience.

Wood begins with a simple explanation of Point of View (POV), that stories are best told in the first person (“I fell asleep, but then the butler…”) or third person (“The butler gently shook him awake…”), that such narration may be reliable or unreliable, and quite a bit about the history of modern narrative in fiction. Throughout this section, as in all others, his view of prose teems with examples any reader will find easy to follow and understand.
His view of character development isn’t a common one; he believes either “flat” or “vivid” character development is valid, depending on the writer’s intent in telling the story. Once again, his insights regarding character in fiction are vivid to the point of being liberating.
He talks about the rhythm of writing, something rarely discussed regarding prose, but always a vital part of spoken poetry and oratory.
One area that particularly enlightened me is his depiction of how humor is made to work in fiction, even subtle humor. Here, Wood claims that humor erupts from changing “registers,” in narrative, i.e. unexpected changes of tone, for instance, can bring a reader to laughter.
His view of well-wrought dialogue is one of subtlety and ambiguity, leaving readers with multiple possibilities regarding the characters’ intents in engaging in conversation.
His perception of the many erudite schools of fictional technique resolves to this: “What seems real?” He’s clearly not a fan of the notion that postmodernism in fiction is a necessary step; instead it’s simply one more way of depicting what seems real. His main precept in fiction, then, is one of “live-ness.” He does seem to want to return to Plato’s and Aristotle’s views of fiction as mimesis, or a description or depiction of what is actually real. But once again his views should liberate both readers and writers of fiction in limiting the “what works” of fiction to how a writer successfully uses words and language to make the page come alive.

Clearly, Wood knows his stuff. This is a book I’ll read constantly as I write on future projects, and it’s one both the curious reader and the grappling writer will find invaluable.

Bob Mustin