The shock of the old


In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Irish poet Seamus Heaney recalls his surprise when he learned the odd-looking Anglo-Saxon word þole (pronounced “thole”) wasn’t really alien:

I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country where I grew up. “They’ll just have to learn to thole,” my aunt would say about some family who had suffered an unforeseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was “thole” in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly editon, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt’s language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across into Ulster with the planters and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line “Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,” my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered.

Learning and reading definitely widen and further one’s contact with the world. Literature, by making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, challenges us to see the world with new eyes. Recognizing an active past in our present world gives us a new dimension of life desperately needed in a live-for-the-moment consumerist society. And seeing one’s culture blossom in distant parts of the globe makes those faraway places seem a bit closer.

For more on the defining influence the Celts exerted on the South, check out Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways In The Old South.

And the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to …

Nobel Prize Map

First, this from My Poetic Side:

History has been made today, as Bob Dylan has become the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is also the first American to win the award since 1993, when novelist Toni Morrison walked away with it. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said that Dylan won the award because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”. It may seem like the rules have been somewhat bent for Dylan to win the award, but his lyrics are considered poems, and no one can deny that they are excellent works of literature. The award will be presented on December 10th, which is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the prize founder. …

We recently conducted some research to determine where the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature originate. If you look at the map, you will be able to get a good understanding of the countries that have had the greatest success.

No, the rules were not “bent” to give Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature; the rules were tossed along with the basic purpose of the Nobel Prizes. Now I like Bob Dylan’s work, but c’mon, he’s a folk singer. Even an aging Carl Sandburg knew better than to accept Dylan’s claim to be a poet.

Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it
Hope I don’t blow it

This is just the latest slam against legitimate literature. I’m still steamed over North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s careless appointment of a state employee who’d self-published two thin books of poems as the state’s Poet Laureate. After an outraged literary community gave him an earful, McCrory changed his mind by replacing his initial candidate with Shelby Stevenson, a poet deserving of the title.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nobel Committee will do an about-face and give the Literature prize to Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, or Cormac McCarthy.

Too many forces are arrayed against the simple act of reading. Click on “Read Story” on many news sites (here, for example) and you get a blaring video that snaps your attention away from the written report.

So the Nobel Prize in Literature, once a sturdy champion of writers and their readers, has turned into yet another pusher of pop culture. Yuck.

The Great KOA Getaway

The Great KOA Getaway

There’s an energizing crispness in the October air – and that’s not all. Regional festivals celebrating local wine, apples, and barbecue lure excited crowds with sweet, smoky aromas and music from homegrown bands. The squawking from a wedge of geese overhead reminds us it’s hunting and camping season. And Halloween is just around the corner.

My latest work, “The Great KOA Getaway,” should get you in the mood. It’s a flash story about an unlucky/lucky ranger caught in the middle of a little misunderstanding at a remote campground. I’d describe it as a mash-up of Twilight Zone and National Lampoon’s Vacation, with just a touch of Lovecraft thrown in. It’s available free (!) at The Flash Fiction Press.

I’ve always enjoyed stories that tickle your goosebumps and funny bone at the same time. And isn’t that what makes Halloween so much fun?

I hope “The Great KOA Getaway” brings a shiver and a smile to your day.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

Ron Rash

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a [insert adjective for your region] Shakespeare. Inspired by ron.

A.E. SteuveThe best villains are… (a writing lesson)
Joanne Jeffries and Julian YanoverPoets University Infographic
Erin Beth LilesCreating Lifelike Fictional Characters
Distance LandaverdeA Love Affair with Organic form
Miguel Olmedo MorellThree representations of the fall in Lovecraft’s dream cycle
PenstrickenTen Writing Commandments
J. B. HenryInterview With Tom Abrahams
Ron RashHow I Write

New Words, New Worlds


Novelist and teacher M. Thomas Gammarino experienced an epiphany when he taught two courses in the same semester, one on science fiction, and another in modernism. Gammarino expected the two genres to clash, but happily discovered they supplemented each other. The reason, he explains in this Omni article, is that all art aims to enable us to see the world more intently by presenting it in unfamiliar and challenging ways:

In his 1917 essay “Art as Device,” Russian formalist poet Viktor Shlovky gave us the term ostranenie to describe the primary function of art. The term is usually translated as “defamiliarization,” though it literally means “strange-making.” The job of art, in other words, is to renew our eyes by making the familiar appear strange. Other modernists had— or would— put forth variations on this idea, from Mallarmé’s “Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu” (purify the words of the tribe) to Ezra Pound’s “Make it new,” and modernist critics regularly invoke this idea to illuminate the sorts of linguistic experiments writers like Gertrude Stein and James Joyce were up to.

I heartily agree. Both fantasy and sci-fi renew one’s sense of wonder in ways literary fiction cannot. That’s not to say literary fiction is incapable of reawakening the awe we felt as a child discovering our shiny, new world. Energetic, evocative writing in any genre helps us re-imagine the world around us, forcing us to see it anew. But literary fiction tends to focus on the inner world, while fantasy and sci-fi direct us toward the outer world — or even toward new, imagined worlds. Speculative fiction always goes big, reminding us of our role in society, the world, and the universe itself.

That’s what makes fantasy and sci-fi such powerful springboards for the imagination.

Beth’s Book Reviews: Aztec Midnight


From Beth’s Book Reviews:

“This novella is small but packs a definite punch. From the very beginning it draws you in and keeps you interested. It also resolves things quickly and cleanly by the last page so there are no loose ends to leave you wondering after you close the book.”

Thanks, Beth! Here are the other reviews of Aztec Midnight, and here’s a link to my publisher, The Novel Fox.

A site dedicated to writing meaningful fiction

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