Research in Fiction Writing: Thoughts on (Woman) Writer and The Faith of a Writer

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research in the creative process, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today I’m talking about two books by Joyce Carol Oates: (Woman) Writer and The Faith of a Writer.

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Video games and failing better

Image by DG-RA from Pixabay

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of failing.

It started with Horizon Zero Dawn. As a video game player, I am, shall we say, not talented. Up until a few years ago, the only games I had played were side scrolling platform games like Super Mario on the original Nintendo (…because I am officially old). Then I was given a PS4 as a gift, bundled with Uncharted 4, and suddenly I had to figure out how to play games with, like, camera movements and other characters yelling at me to hurry up and figure something out already. It took me about six months to get through Uncharted 4 playing in easy mode. Immediately afterward, I tackled all of the other Uncharted games and The Last of Us, which is made by the same company. The Last of Us was hard because even though it functions in ways that are very similar to Uncharted, it was the first game I ever played where I had to gather supplies and craft things. I think I only understood that I could make crude weapons out of the items I was finding three quarters of the way through the game.

I got better at these games as I went along but all of them took me quite a while to finish, even playing in easy mode (which I make no apologies for). They were all difficult at first, but I didn’t quit and eventually I made it through every single one.

Then I decided to try Horizon Zero Dawn.

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Creative information-seeking: What I learned from my literature review

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

I spent some time recently reviewing some of the literature on creative information-seeking from the library and information science field as part of my project on the role of research in fiction writing. I wanted to understand what our field already knew about how creative populations find and use information as part of the creative process so that I could use that knowledge to inform my own work.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot of interesting things but I also felt a lot of frustration with what I was finding. Sandra Cowan has a great article that captures her own frustrations with research on this topic, many of which echoed my own feelings.(1) If you’re able to access that article, I highly recommend taking the time to read it if you have any interest in research on creative information-seeking. In the meantime, here’s a summary of my own thoughts, which is maybe a little more rant-like than I intended. Oops.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on Burning Down the House

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research in that process, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today I’m taking a look at Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter. 

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That time I participated in a Banned Books Read-Out and what I learned

Image by robinsonk26 from Pixabay

This week is Banned Books Week across libraries in the United States and all around the world. Banned Books Week is a fun but somewhat hypocritical tradition where libraries uphold themselves as defenders of intellectual freedom while ignoring parts of our own history that show that while libraries like to talk the talk, they haven’t always walked the walk. Which is to say, I have some mixed feelings around the whole thing but there are usually some programs and activities that take place around this time that I’ve enjoyed in the past.

One of those activities is what’s known as a Banned Books Read-Out. This is where you take a book that’s known to have been banned somewhere for one reason or another, you talk about why it’s been banned, and then you read a passage from that book in front of an audience. I’ve participated in several of these at various times in my career and while picking my own reading has always been fun, I’ve actually discovered some great stuff after hearing about other people’s picks (most notably Philip Larkin’s poetry).

One year, though, while I was at my former institution, this activity got a little personal for me. That was my first year on my campus’s Big Read Committee, which was a committee made up of faculty, staff, and students that reviews and selects whatever the Big Read will be for incoming freshman the next year. This was kind of a big deal at the time because a lot of first year composition and freshman seminar-type classes were planned around the Big Read and the various activities associated with it.

My first year on the committee, we reviewed what must have been dozens of books before settling on our choice: Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo. In this book, Thompson-Cannino talks about being sexually assaulted at knifepoint in her own apartment while in college. Afterward, she identified Cotton as her rapist only for him to be exonerated by DNA evidence after spending eleven years in prison (during which time he was able to identify the true perpetrator of the crime). The two wrote the book together (with Torneo) in order to examine what had happened and why. The subject matter alone made it seem like a good Big Read choice but what made it even better was that Thompson-Cannino and Cotton often spoke together on college campuses for a relatively reasonable fee, so there was a chance we’d be able to arrange for a visit from the authors as one of our Big Read programs.

The committee submitted our choice to the Provost.

The Provost immediately vetoed our decision and chose Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the TOMS shoes guy, instead.

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Research in Fiction Writing: Thoughts on The Secret Miracle

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today, I’m taking a look at The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon.

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ACRL Framework: The “Scholarship as Conversation” frame is a problem

I’ve spent the last couple of months working on a book project related to some of my ideas about the contextual nature of research. The basic premise is that context matters in the research process, that information literacy instruction needs to do a better job of incorporating the importance of context into what we teach students, and that the ACRL Framework supports our doing this.

There are lot of ways in which making the case for that last part is easy. True, the Framework is a product of ACRL and therefore its main focus is clearly on academic and scholarly situations. But the word “context” comes up a lot in the Framework. Certainly more than it did in the ACRL Standards. And the Framework goes out of its way to acknowledge that research takes place in a variety of environments, not just academic ones. I’d have to look, but I’m pretty sure the workplace and personal research are both name-checked. Creative research not so much, but no surprise there given that creative research tends to be a big blindspot when it comes to scholarly discussions of information seeking in general. Despite this, I think Nancy Foasberg was right when, in an early comparison of the Framework and the Standards, she said that if the Standards largely ignored the importance of context, the Framework insists on it.

Then there’s the “Scholarship as Conversation” frame.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on The Art of Time in Fiction

After reading 10 popular books on creative writing in search of information on the role of research in the creative process, I’ve now shifted my focus to a set of more “academic” books that are specifically about fiction writing. I say “academic” because, of all of the books on a very long list of recommended creative writing books that I found, these are the ones that are a) about fiction writing specifically and b) owned by the libraries at 20 institutions with highly respected creative writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Today, I’m taking a look at The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber.

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