Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Welcome from Alan Cheuse

It's a pleasure to become part of this good enterprise, both as a writer
and a reader. For as long as I can remember, I've been a reader, and a certain
point in my adolescent years tried to become a writer. But as good as I was as the former, the latter goal eluded me for decades. It wasn't until I was approaching
my fortieth birthday that I sold my first story, and I've had some success at it ever since. But I've always been a successful reader, and that's just as important to me as writing. Borges, in his poem "The Reader", says that he's not as proud of the books he has written as he is of the books he has read. I agree. I haven't written
Shakespeare's Tragedies, no one else has, but we bask in the warmth of that triumph, and in the triumph of every good book we approach and take in, dwell in, and become part of.

I hope these novellas--always an orphan form--will have some good effect
for you. Not a story, not a short novel, the novella is something I have written
at during the past decade. I published half a dozen of them, in several little magazines, from The Idaho Review to the Reading Room. Here are two of them in
"The Fires".

What are they about? Human beings under stress, in torment, in love, and
misery, and triumphant, somehow, at the end. Or perhaps you'll see these
in another light. I always remember what my dear late friend Bernard Malamud
used to say. After he finishes the work, the writer becomes only just another
reader.


Learn more about The Fires.
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Question for Alan Cheuse

Thank you, Mr Cheuse for joining this discussion. What a wonderful comment by Bernard Malamud. Exactly right: all writers are readers, but not all readers are writers.

I'm looking forwards to reading THE FIRES, and chatting with you about your novellas, which you call an orphan form. I'm not a writer, so I can only guess why it's not as popular a literary form as novels; why is it that not more writers use this form? I'd love to hear your opinions on this.

I'm not a great reader of short stories myself. I always have that curious feeling of something unfinished... either the plot or the character's development.

Looking forward to chatting more with you.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

Dear Ibis,
Yes, not all readers are writers...in the same way that musicians are not
necessarily composers...but they do interpret a piece of music as they perform it, and I see readers performing in the same way as they read...The words, the phrases, the sentences on the page before you make up a score that you perform as you read, and so by reading you interpret a novel, novella, or story in the same way that a
musician interprets Mozart or Debussy...
***
As to the paucity of novellas...it's just not a form that most writers pay much attention to...Jim Harrison, Paul Theroux, and a few others are the only writers out of hundreds and hundreds who have published novellas in recent years...The brevity of a story is compelling...you can usually write one in five or six weeks, and it only takes a short while to read it...and a novel beckons the way a huge journey across a vast piece of territory beckons, leading the writer on with a deep sense of adventure (seasoned, of course, by worry, anxiety, sometimes even fear)...
(You mention that you don't read many stories...each of them, though, to invoke Malamud again, "predicates a life..." Think of them as piano studies or brief chamber pieces, as compared with the symphony of a novel...They give us a glimpse into a life that shows us everything in almost the blink of an eye...which is why the greatest stories are as great as the best novels....
Alan C.


Learn more about The Fires.
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

[ Edited ]
What a wonderful analogy of reading with musical interpretation. I am neither writer nor musician, but I am both reader and violinist. As reader, I bring my own interpretation to your words and sentences in THE FIRES; and as violinist, I interpret the notes that Beethoven wrote in his sonata.

The quality of my interpretations depend heavily on how much I, the reader, bring to the novella or to the sonata. As I mature, so do my interpretations.

I now understand completely what you mean by comparing a short story to a brief chamber piece, and the novel to a symphony. The chamber piece is self-contained, as is the symphony. This reminds me of the movie AMADEUS where the Emperor-patron told Mozart that he had written too many notes in his new symphony. And Mozart replied that the symphony had exactly the right amount of notes...no more, no less.

I've read THE FIRES, and I had brief, blink-of-an-eye glimpses into the lives of your characters. And these glimpses were detailed enough to get the stories told.

You'd probably echo Mozart's sentiment that your novella had just the right amount of sentences to bring your characters to life, and tell their stories... no more, no less.

Message Edited by IBIS on 09-14-2007 02:50 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

That's a lovely way to put it.
***
There's the story of an encounter in the life of Alexander Dumas...
approached by a young man in a Paris cafe...who told him that he had a
plot for a novel...Dumas listened to the man recount a long involved
plot...the young man asked if Dumas thought if he could write this novel...
Dumas replied, possibly.
And how many words should it take? the man inquired.
About 400,000, Dumas replied. And they had better be the right ones...


Learn more about The Fires.
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

.... Not only the right 400,000 words, but the right FRENCH 400,000 words!

On another B&N board here, someone posted this wonderful tidbit:

When he was teaching high school writing, he would make writing assignments without page length requirements. When his students asked how long their writing should be, his answer was simply "say what you have to say, and then shut up."

I thought that was a hilarious lesson in creative writing!

As a member of the writing faculty at George Mason U, you must have many interesting creative writing anecdotes that you could share with us!
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

Can't really go into those...would be like violating doctor-patient
privilege...
But, seriously, I've recently co-edited a book of essays that might
help...Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers
on the Art of Fiction...published by Chronicle Books...


Learn more about The Fires.
Frequent Contributor
Krista
Posts: 42
Registered: ‎10-25-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

What is this book discussion about? I'm afraid I came in on this one a little late in the game. It looks interesting even though I have no idea what it's about. I will order this book and the next one that is coming for the next discussion.

Thanks

Krista
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

We were talking about the similarities of reading and performing a piece
of music. Do you think that's an apt analogy? I was saying that when I
write a piece of fiction I see it as a score to be played by a reader.


Learn more about The Fires.
Frequent Contributor
Krista
Posts: 42
Registered: ‎10-25-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

That is true. When someone composes a piece of music it is up to the person playing to interpret what the composer has written. The composer writes a story with music. :smileywink:
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

So reading isn't a passive activity. The reader
assumes a certain amount of necessary responsibility,
at least with a serious work of art.
And even with something that's more entertainment than
anything else, thrillers, science-fiction, etc., the
reader still supplies the theater (in her/his imagination),
the stage on which the action appears.
Who are the writers who come to mind when you think of
work that moves you but at the same time requires a certain
amount of work on your part as a reader?


Learn more about The Fires.
Frequent Contributor
Krista
Posts: 42
Registered: ‎10-25-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

Nathaniel Hawthorne does it for me. His work is so complex. There is always something hidden away in those sentences of his. Sometimes you have to write down sentences and pick them apart. I also find Poe hard to read. His imagination is abstract.
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

[ Edited ]
I was reminded of the analogy of reading and performing a piece of music this afternoon.

I just finished a grueling rehearsal of a new Shubert piece with a string quartet I belong to. I was ready and prepared. But within minutes, I KNEW I brought a different interpretation to the table. Even though we were playing the same notes, I stressed different phrases, and moved to different rhythms. My "performance" of Shubert was wildly out of synch with my fellow players. He is a composer whom I suffer to perform.

Just as some composers are easier for me to perform, so are authors whose works are impossible for me to understand. I've struggled with James Joyce all my life. I've started FINNEGAN's WAKE at least ten times. After several pages, I usually stop and wonder what I've just read. His stream of consciousness writing makes me feel as if I'm in freefall.

I know that my reading and interpreting THE FIRES will be very different from others reading it.

I enjoyed reading Gina's vision, or dream, in the Roman hotel room at the end of THE FIRES.

(p.59)... burning hair
coppery stink of burning blood...
... clothes burning
sheets on fire
a boiling yellow-hot sea

It was so visual, so graphic, and very colorful. It was like watching a painting come alive... And, when I read it aloud, it had a rhythm that was almost musical.

Message Edited by IBIS on 09-17-2007 12:38 AM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

I think Poe is a very emotional writer, so that even when as you
say he seems abstract he's feeling deeply about the idea....
But Hawthorne, yes, a real master of the line...with one foot
in English diction, the other in new American way of speaking...
and so a glorious prose maker...(like his Berkshire neighbor
H.Melville)


Learn more about The Fires.
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Welcome from Alan Cheuse

Ibis,
I thank you, as a composer might, for that reading (performance)
of the last scene of The Fires...Certainly if I had never heard
of the book before this your note would make me want to read it...
Thanks again...
***
What else have you been reading that has had a similar effect?


Learn more about The Fires.
Blogger
ande
Posts: 442
Registered: ‎04-07-2007
0 Kudos

Re: This discussion -- and beyond

Looks like you had a chance to catch up with the discussion. Are you a musician, too? Or an avid listener? What about all the rest of you out there?

Since you asked: The next Book Explorers Club offering (October), coincidentally, has a combustible title: BECAUSE A FIRE WAS IN MY HEAD, a novel, by Lynn Stegner. It has gotten fabulous reviews (the NYTIMES compared her writing to Updike's).

But the discussion of Alan Cheuse's book, THE FIRES, will be available as long as all of you have, ahem, burning questions.
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: This discussion -- and beyond

The Stegner novel is a wonderful book. If you like, I can post
my NPR review here--it's only about 300 words...


Learn more about The Fires.
Blogger
ande
Posts: 442
Registered: ‎04-07-2007
0 Kudos

Re: This discussion -- and beyond

That would be great. Thanks, Alan.
Author
AlanCheuse
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎08-14-2007
0 Kudos

Re: This discussion -- and beyond

Ande,
Here's the link to my NPR review of the Lynn Stegner novel.
A.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9852759&sc=emaf


Learn more about The Fires.
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: This discussion -- and beyond

___________________________________________
ande wrote: Looks like you had a chance to catch up with the discussion. Are you a musician, too? Or an avid listener?
________________________________________________________________

Yes, ande, I finished reading THE FIRES, and I've had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Mr Cheuse about novellas, the art of reading, with references to Horace, Yeats, Malamud, Dumas, Oates, novella writers..... our chat eventually seemed to fill the chatroom with virtual literary crowds(!)

It was fortuitous that Mr Cheuse used the analogy of reading with musical performing. Reading as an active, participatory activity. All readers assume a kind of responsibility by supplying some part of themselves into the process.

I am a violinist (but not a composer!), and I am a reader (but not a writer). So the analogy of actively participating in the reading of THE FIRES and performing a violin sonata resonated with me. Listening is a major part of interpreting any good work of art.

Reading THE FIRES and THE EXORCISM required a certain amount of work on my part; I read out loud certain sections, for example, Gina's vision (dream?) at the end of THE FIRES., As a musician, I savored the rhythm and cadences of the words, and the images they invoked.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."