Author Archives: Fiction Advocate

How to Write Like George R. R. Martin

George RR Martin

Authors of genre fiction like George R. R. Martin have a lot to teach me and other aspiring writers, regardless of what genre(s) we find ourselves belonging to.

Here are three brilliant lessons I learned from A Song of Ice and Fire.

1. Keep it simple. Then build.

Martin has a big task with the opening of this series. He must introduce a huge cast of characters while giving readers enough tension to keep them moving forward. The first events in A Game of Thrones accomplish this in a very straightforward manner. We open with a scene that sets up a familiar fantasy world: a spoiled noble doesn’t listen to the experienced veteran. The party meets their untimely end, but the author breaks away from this glimpse of the Others and uses the reader’s wave of interest to introduce the Stark family and Daenerys. We get sketches of the main characters, then some obvious foreshadowing with a direwolf who’s been killed by a stag. Martin builds on our familiarity with the Starks and uses it to give context to the next big event: a visit from the entire royal entourage. Martin has introduced a source of tension (Others) and 20 or so main characters within the first five chapters. Soon after he gives us the next sources of tension (Bran’s fall, Khal Drogo) which carry us through more world-building and character development.

PninCompare this with a more traditionally literary work, like Nabokov’s Pnin. While Nabokov’s cast is significantly smaller, he uses a similar technique of providing multiple small sources of tension to introduce us to the world and the character. Professor Timofey Pnin deals with a number of problems in the opening pages. He’s on the wrong train, he’s missing an important paper, he misses a bus, he’s lost his bag. Each problem is solved and then the next is introduced, one right after another. These problems propel the reader forward, but they also allow Nabokov to provide significant background information. The important paper is Pnin’s notes for the lecture he’s on the way to. His luggage contains his belongings, a description of which gives us insight into his character and where he’s come from. Pnin’s difficulties navigating the transit system set up his overall difficulties in America as a Russian refugee.

Continue reading


Filed under Hooray Fiction!

The Boomstick Review of Ida

Ida movie

The Boomstick

Some movies are better seen with other people so you can start processing them together as soon as the movie’s over. You can clarify plot points, point out discrepancies, and relive the best (or worst) moments. Most of the movies I see fall into this category. Then there are movies that are better experienced alone. Last year’s extraordinary film Ida (2013) fell into that category for me. Not that I needed to grapple with it; the story is simple and easy to follow. But I did need to sit with it afterward, and I’d encourage anyone else seeing it for the first time to do the same.

Ida tells the story of a young woman about to take her vows as a nun. She meets her long-lost aunt for the first time and discovers that she’s Jewish and that her parents were killed in the Holocaust. Her name isn’t even her name; she’s gone by Anna her whole life, but her real name is Ida. She and her aunt, Wanda, travel together to find out how Ida’s parents died and where they’re buried. Along the way they clash over their extremely different lifestyles, but the trauma of revisiting the past also forms a bond between them. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under The Boomstick

Free Hardcover Edition of Outline by Rachel Cusk (When You Buy USSR by Vladimir Kozlov)

USSR and Outline

We really want you to read the novel-in-translation that we’re publishing by Russian author Vladimir Kozlov, called USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid.

So if you’re the first person to buy USSR using this special link (for $18 plus shipping) we’ll throw in Outline by Rachel Cusk as a free gift.

Yep, that’s a free hardcover edition of Outline by Rachel Cusk, which normally costs $26.00. Outline was named one of the best books of 2014 by The New Yorker, The Guardian, and The Independent; it’s been praised by such luminaries as Rebecca Mead, Geoff Dyer, Hilary Mantel, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Leslie Jamison; and it was recently selected for The Rumpus Book Club.

Plus, you know, you’ll finally have your copy of USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid, which we know you’re going to love.

Here’s the special link.

Only the first person will get the gift.

Update: Sold! Thanks for playing, everybody. We’ll have another special offer soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hooray Fiction!

HITTING SHELVES #15: Mort(e) by Robert Repino


Mort(e) by Robert Repino comes out today!

It’s the story of Earth, after a species of giant super-intelligent ants rises from underground, kills off most of humanity, and turns all the animals (dogs, cats, raccoons, pigs) into walking, talking, opposable-thumb wielding creatures.

So that’s something new!

As the dogs and cats of the world try and make sense of their new ant overlords, and wrestle with the threat of a few surviving humans who lurk in the shadows, Repino turns this wacky, blood-spattered story into a heartfelt allegory about religious belief, the survival of cultures, and individuality.

This is Repino’s debut novel, but we have been obsessed with him for years.

We asked the author one question.

Fiction Advocate: How are you celebrating the publication of Mort(e)?

Robert Repino: There are so many milestones in the life of a book that the actual publication seems a bit anticlimactic. In the case of Mort(e), there was the completion of the first draft in 2011, which occurred on a train from NYC to Montreal. I believe I visited the café car and got a toasted bagel. A year later, after much revision, an agent expressed interest. Six months after that, she agreed to officially sign me up, only after I had revised the book again. Twice. In early 2013, she sold the book to Soho, and I celebrated by having some wine with dinner and then grinding out a few hundred words for another novel that I’m still fighting with. (I’ve been trying to make that the way I celebrate everything book-related.) Then, about nine months after that, my editor asked me to remove over 100 pages in six weeks—one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done as a writer. Then we decided on a cover. Then the advance copies arrived. Then the first reviews. You get the point.

I guess the difference this time will be that the release of the novel is a milestone that I share with more people. Though the book technically publishes on 20 January, Random House has given us a very Catholic-sounding “dispensation” to sell copies early. This way, we can have a reading in Philadelphia on 19 January, followed by a discussion with the author Ryan Britt in Brooklyn the next night. So, my celebration has already been planned for me as a two-day extravaganza.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Hitting Shelves

HITTING SHELVES #14: A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor

A Bad Character

A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor comes out today!

It’s the story of a young woman who falls for a dangerously attractive older man. Which may sound familiar, but A Bad Character like nothing you’ve ever read before. It takes place in New Delhi, where new money and old traditions have a powerful effect on the smallest details of everyday life. And Kapoor writes in a style unlike any other Indian novelist that we know of — taut, gritty, personal, from the gut.

Here’s the first paragraph:

My boyfriend died when I was twenty-one. His body was left lying broken on the highway outside of Delhi while the sun rose in the desert to the east. I wasn’t there, I never saw it. But plenty of others saw, in the trucks that passed by without stopping and from the roadside dhaba where he’d been drinking all night.

You’re going to love this book.

We asked the author one question. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Hitting Shelves

The County Houses

The County Houses

Introduction by Ben Marcus

Jason Schwartz was once asked to imagine his audience. What kind of people read such brutal, cryptic fiction? He pictures them prettily:

A young family, stranded on a mountain pass, killing time until help arrives. They take turns reading aloud—the text in question having been purchased by mistake and packed by accident, and later discovered in the luggage as potential kindling. The father shields the first child from those passages displaying traces of grotesquerie. The mother corrects the second child’s pronunciation or praises his elocution—as the case may be—on the occasion of the most ostentatious phrases. The third child, meanwhile, has wandered off into the woods. Ah!—it’s beginning to rain.

It is telling that Schwartz’s ideal reader is not home safe in bed, nursing a mug of tea. The old and cozy notion of reading. Comfort, escape, delight. Schwartz’s readers are in danger. Nowhere near home, perhaps never to return. Beyond rescue, no doubt. It seems likely they will die. Can you relate? If so, welcome to this strange and beautiful book, which endlessly slips from apprehension, but lodges, finally, where it matters—beneath reason and understanding—where it is not so easily shaken.

“The County Houses” by Jason Schwartz Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction Advocate Original

The Boomstick Review of The Firm

The Firm

The Boomstick

Say what you want about The Firm (1993), but you can hardly fault it for lack of ambition. It’s the first of the big-screen adaptations of John Grisham novels, its leading man was arguably the biggest movie star in the world at the time, and it clocks in at a whopping 154 minutes of star-studded double-crossing that all hinges on its hero’s knowledge of the finer points of tax law. All that, and it never feels boring. It’s an impressive effort, and a mostly successful one.

Tom Cruise plays Mitch McDeere, an overachieving Harvard law grad who gets a plum offer at a hoity-toity Memphis firm right out of school and jumps at the chance, not realizing his new bosses have some pretty unsavory clients and don’t take kindly to associates who want to leave. He never gets the chance to contemplate throwing his hat in with the firm’s illegal doings, as he learns the full story from an FBI agent played by Ed Harris, who gives him two options: go to jail along with his bosses, or inform on them and go into witness protection. McDeere refuses both and finds a third option that lets him avoid being anyone’s prisoner. As a solution, it’s both elegant and endearingly plausible.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under The Boomstick

McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh


FA review tag

Ottessa Moshfegh begins her new novella, “I wake up,” and spends the next 118 pages exploring what awake means. It’s McGlue who wakes drunk, head split open, and he’s spitting teeth that “scatter across the deck like dice.” He’s bleeding and looking for a place to puke when he hears other men on the ship say that he killed Johnson, who was his friend, his close friend, and had saved McGlue’s life more than once. When they first met, Johnson had scooped McGlue out of the snow where he would have happily died drinking. This is the Johnson who funded McGlue’s booze habit and led them around the world, who woke McGlue in the middle of the night to share his “life words.” But now Johnson is dead and McGlue is stuffed in the hold of the ship where he tries to remember what happened. But memory, as Moshfegh writes it, is a lot like rolling the dice. On one toss you win and on the next there’s nothing—you get something somehow less than zero. So you keep rolling and rolling until it’s the rolling rather than the results that mean anything.

The story takes place in the 1850s. Moshfegh creates a world of ships and ports, drinking and fighting that is vivid and steady. But it’s McGlue’s voice, in first person, that makes the story compelling and holds my interest. He is brutal and tender. He can talk about anything and I listen, even when I know he’s lying. Moshfegh, who has previously written and published short stories and was awarded the Plimpton Prize for her work in The Paris Review, brings a trusty ear for words to this slightly longer form. Her language moves. On page after page are turns of phrase like, “He hands me the pen and points. I make a puddle of my name,” which are unique, even pretty, but aren’t just for show. They speak to McGlue’s consciousness. He is making a puddle of himself with booze, or by smashing his head and drinking his own blood when there’s no rum around.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Hooray Fiction!