Monday procrastination roundup: Plot versus character

The Internet is full of profiles and interviews featuring authors offering advice to other writers, glimpses into their lives, and gracious thank-yous to those who want to know about little ol’ them.

This Texas Monthly story about Paulette Jiles is not one of those.

Paulette Jiles (illustration by Texas Monthly)
Paulette Jiles (photo illustration by Texas Monthly)

She’s depicted as a prickly pear by the writer, who was insulted. (Perhaps rightly, perhaps not. After all, she’s the one doing the writing.) It makes me wonder if that’s the reason this older interview with Jiles in Texas Monthly was done as a Q&A rather than longform feature.

My first experience with Jiles was holding a printed advance reader copy of her novel News of the World during a Texas High Plains Writers meeting. It already had the National Book Award seal on it (at the time it was on the longlist, but it was later named a finalist), and even the edges of the ARC were deckled.

All that’s to say that I’ve been impressed with Jiles from the beginning. She was a Texas writer of great renown, and her book at the time involved newspapers (her protagonist would read the news to audiences).

I’m no less in awe of Jiles’ work, but this story was supremely interesting. What stood out to me the most was Jiles’ insistence on having a constantly moving plot without much backstory.

For someone who’s regarded as one of the best literary authors of our time, that felt strange to read. Thriller writers are often taken to task by fans of “highbrow” literary fiction for being all plot. Maybe we’re not so far off after all?

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But when you have to have compelling characters …

This piece on CrimeReads by debut author David Moloney (Barker House) is a superb look at how the characters in our novels are inspired by the people we know.

The whole piece is worth reading, but the takeaway is our characters are often amalgamations of real people we’ve come across. That’s certainly true for me.

Not to leave out plot, Moloney also reminds us that fiction cannot stay completely faithful to actual events.

Publishing in the time of coronavirus

The latest numbers seem to indicate that print book sales are down 10 percent overall, though more people are reading thrillers again (good news for me) and buying from Bookshop.org (good news for independent bookstores). Readers are also buying more ebooks and returning to audiobooks as folks have adjusted to new routines that may not involve a daily commute.

And if you prefer to get this information through your ears, it was also discussed in the middle of Friday’s New York Times Book Review podcast.

Classics in the crosshairs

Each year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom puts out a report on what books are being targeted from removal or restriction by libraries (school, public and academic), and the top 10 books targeted in 2019 includes some of the most popular books of the last fifty years.

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