August 31, 2009

Narratology

As everyone knows—at least those within the halls of academia—narratology is the branch of knowledge or literary criticism that deals with the function of narrative and its themes, conventions and symbols. Ah, symbolism! Symbols are those hidden gems in literary expression within the narrative that is the storyline and the intrigue that is the plot. Fiction writers strive to put the meat on the bones with these precious jewels.

As to themes, a novelist only has to look to the Greek three-act template for inspiration. We structured our recent novel, The Landscape of Time, with 9 chapters corresponding to scenes within three acts. The theme words that served as the muses for writing these chapters were:

1. Defining                  4. Change                        7. Revelation

2. Discovering             5. Choice                         8. Vindication

3. Dodging                   6. Chance                        9. Collaboration

Literary conventions have raised long-lasting philosophical discussion. Academics have bounced their literary knowledge off the green ivy of university walls. Do they make their findings, their thoughts available to your local book club, to your local writers’ conference, to editors at publishing houses, to literary agents, to aspiring writers awash in the letters on their keyboards? Not that these academics write in a secret language—well, almost—they speak in a literary tongue far, far distant from the formula writing that dominates television, movies, children’s books and romance novels.

It looks like it’s up to literary novelists to pen the 21st century social novel that can re-define narratology.

Advertisements

August 24, 2009

Please, oh please! For a huge fee, tell me how to write.

We both—(Lois Foyt ’79 and Jon Foyt ’53, MBA ’55)—received Stanford’s June 10th missive and were flabbergasted by the announcement of the pricey Stanford Publishing Course: Writers Workshop.

As published authors we have been researching the history of creative writing programs since this commercial enterprise began after World War II. Universities got into the act after the Title II of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (GI Bill) when more than two million veterans, a much bigger number than anticipated, took up the offer. The key requirement of Title II was that tuition assistance be used only for study in degree or certificate programs, which is why creative courses grew into degree-granting creative-writing programs. Stanford inaugurated its writing fellowships (Stegner) in 1947.

Stanford’s “Calling All Writers to study the craft under the guidance of seasoned editors, to hone your craft and to promote your work” seems to us a dishonest scheme.

Our Stanford education taught us how to read and, building on that art, we progressed into writing without taking a how-to class. After all, isn’t literary expression a voice of the mind?

Our eighth literary novel, The Landscape of Time, has been received here in our newly-adopted community of Santa Rosa in a heartwarming success as evidenced by our recent sell-out book signing at Barnes & Noble.

Here is a review by Allison Carruth, Stanford Ph.D. ’08:

A Drama/Comedy of Family Origins and Erie Canal Legacies

The Landscape of Time by Lois Foyt and Jon Foyt offers a timely narrative that centers on PhD student Josh Foreman, who leaves a flailing thesis proposal on the history of American transportation when a grandfather whom he has never met bequeaths to him an ancestral home in Upstate New York.

While the story begins in the bustling academic halls of Columbia University, it quickly journeys to Syracuse, where Josh discovers a public controversy over his late grandfather’s alleged theft of folk art and monetary funds from the local art museum, where he served as curator.

As Josh struggles to resolve the contemporary mystery of his grandfather’s tarnished reputation, he also must unravel his family history, dating from an early nineteenth-century ancestor’s stewardship of the Erie Canal to his own father’s involvement in anti-integration rallies in the 1970s.

From the moment he steps off the train in Syracuse, Josh is variously thwarted and aided by a cast of characters that includes a local journalist and single mother, an African American reparations activist, a slue of lawyers and private eyes, a paralegal who knows everything about everyone thanks to her savvy online research skills, and a shifty Evangelical reverend with a gambling addiction.

The Foyts contextualize this postmodern drama/comedy of family origins and American legacies with an array of references (ranging from slavery to climate change). In the process, they reveal to us that the “Millennial” generation of Americans must confront the long history of race relations, geographic expansion, and global commerce that has shaped the United States while, at the same time, shedding the past in order to create a sustainable future.

Review by Allison Carruth, Stanford PhD, Literary critic, writer, and environmental studies scholar

In January, we established the Oakmont Algonquin Roundtable of 40 published authors, screenwriters, essayists and journalists who live in our community. We have a twice a month column in The Oakmont News, in which we have taken a lead from the 1920’s Bloomsbury Group to align with Oakmont writers in a post-creative writing program era, where observations on the status of publishing, the media, politics, the environment and the economy are penned by our member authors.

Please, oh please! Give us your comments for free.