This Alpine Town

All of the talk we see about from where writers get ideas. You have seen it too, I’m sure. Let me share with you this.

[La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, February 5, 2020.]

When they were here in La Clusaz, France (about an hour and a half from Geneva, Switzerland), with us in early 2019, our then 14 – now age 15 – year old Irish friend’s daughter said:

“This place will inspire you,” she replied to me saying I was hoping to write while here, and waving her arm out at the mountain views and giggling.

It was hard to disagree with her.

[Parish chuch. La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, February 5, 2020.]

I snapped all of this post’s photos the other evening.

[Main Square. La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, February 5, 2020.]

And I remembered…

[Parish church (r), La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, February 5, 2020.]

…how, indeed, a year ago she had got me thinking, and the result was, eight months later in October 2019…

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace, Copyright, 2019. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…this town in its “1800 version” had found its way into my novel.

It cannot always be precisely so, of course; you do also need to be inventive. And there are going to be many details that you may need to research. But it is usually an excellent starting point, so this saying can be very useful when practically applied: “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.

* * *

Thinking on that, and having noticed yesterday what follows, I offer a last observation on this. Amidst the American Dirt so-called controversy, we have seen it argued (yet again) that Oprah Winfrey’s book club choices are “lightweight.” A Maria Bustillos writes in an online journal calling itself Popula, that American Dirt is basically a “Harlequin” romance:

American Dirt is real bad in that weepy Oprah way that Jonathan Franzen got in so much trouble for deriding, way back when. The prose and the plot are a sludge of impacted cliches (“Her name was like a fine glass bauble he was afraid of dropping”) and tormented syntax (“The result was a recent decrease in bloodshed as the emergent winner flung a shroud of uneasy calm across the shoulders of Acapulco.”) There’s a handsome narco boss with a “quivering” moustache, somewhat remininscent of Gomez Addams; he’d once thought he would be a poet, but became a gangster instead (“He shrugged. ‘I guess I do like shoes.’”) All this, against the most howlingly superficial depiction of Mexican (and U.S.) culture and politics, the Potemkin backdrop for a Harlequin romance.

Incidentally, you may have spotted this too in the above. As I’m sure you had long-thought also, sentences are supposed to be concluded after a closed parentheses by a full stop (in the form of a “.” “?” “!” or even an “…” or a “-” ). As to the continuing application of that rule you were probably taught around age, uh, 5 or so, yes, it is indeed still a rule.

Seeing that in that piece led me to recall this I wrote on here on Tuesday:

My uncle you remember appeared as a guest on Oprah’s original TV talk show in the late 1980s. (I now recall my mother laying into him afterwards for wearing a sweater, not a suit.) He thought Oprah was brilliant, so I admit that influences my opinion of her: I’m biased. Since then her stature has become interstellar. Oprah loves “American Dirt.” If Oprah likes you as a writer now, you have f-cking MADE IT. You are a SUCCESS now! So lots of middling writers are gonna hate you with the blazing heat of 50,000 suns and look to pick apart every word and sentence you write, and probably drunk tweet you at 4am about how some sentence lacks a period on page 142 and no one caught it. Ah, ha! they snap. Got you! You fraud!

Yes, speaking of a lack of periods.

Eh, but writing rules like that must be just for the “undereducated Oprah reading masses,” and apparently the likes of Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates novels, which have also been among Oprah picks, are similarly predictably “weepy.” That said, that criticism above of American Dirt opens by resurrecting a 2001 minor fracas (in the “literary world”) about Oprah’s book club instigated by an author named Jonathan Franzen: he was not keen on a book of his then being selected by Oprah. Why? According to the New York Times, he held he wrote “art,” which clearly implied much of her book club audience would not “understand” the novel; and he also feared he would lose the “respect” of “serious critics” if she boosted it. (He apologized. Oprah did not withdraw the book club recommendation; but she politely canceled his planned TV appearance on her show. About a decade later she recommended a subsequent book of his and he then appeared on her show, so apparently there was some “reconciliation.”)

Despite some fiction writers’ sky-high opinions of their personally towering intellects, this craft is not rocket science. A novel is meant to be understood. If you as an author actually do think that “ordinary” adult readers out there are too dumb to understand your book, the problem is with YOU as the author.

* * *

Lastly, on an actually VERY serious matter, amidst all of this Alpine beauty this from the 20th century should never be forgotten:

[Morts pour la France, WWI and WWII. Parish church, La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, February 5, 2020.]

The terrible costs of the two world wars – particularly, WWI – in France. Such loss in a thinly populated and relatively remote area of the country as La Clusaz. Especially chilling: several of the WWI dead have the same surnames and would seem likely to be related.