Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
On pop literature. And, maybe, art.

Today I spent a couple hours with Nick F. and Kate in the Barnes and Noble over on Rockville Pike doing research. I've been waffling on the novel I've been working on. I'd sent first draft copies out to a couple of friends and had two positive reactions, one negative one and several deafening silences. The novel is kind of clunky, of this I'm relatively certain (and no, it's not my first written novel – I probably have about two or three others that predate this one) but my big question is why. I want it to be a pageturner, something that's fun to read, and I'm afraid that my tendency for long passages of character dialogue and investigations into the interpersonal relationships over, say, stuff blowing up, might be sort of a drag on the pacing. To test this theory, I went and started flipping through a couple bestsellers by authors that Kate recommended: Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson.

Both of them write relatively short, straightforward sentences, and have paragraphs that are only about two or three sentences long. Readers of this weblog will recognize that this not the way I tend to write. Now, all is not lost – I've realized that as far as that tempo is concerned, I have more in common with authors like Neal Stephenson and Stephen King, who like to write long, winding sentences and paragraphs. (Note that this can also be a Very Bad Thing – I picked up a book by Tim Powers which looks very good indeed, but I was having a hard time sorting out what exactly his sentences were meaning to say.) So there is hope. But Kate made an interesting point: this occasionally-languid writing style may not be suited for pageturners, but may be more suited for art.

Longtime friends of mine will be able to imagine a fairly accurate reproduction of my silent scream.

Could it be that I'm accidentally creating art when write these things that attempt to combine light sci-fi plots with more intense interpersonal relationships? Dear sweet Jesus, I hope not.


The op-art of Bridget Riley was often minimalistic in it's use of design elements, yet produces dizzying effects. For years she was meticulous in her application of line, and didn't explore color for the first half of her career.

Monet, on the other hand, is one of the great Impressionistic painters. He was a master of color, hue, and shadow.

Which is art?

And I don't know if I'm trying to say that Stephen King is in the same ballpark as Monet. However, if you want a ``page-turner,'' then you have to consider the elements of style that you are employing. If you're employing long, complex ideas in chunks too large to digest simply and quickly, then you're right, you won't end up with a page-turner. Stephenson is a tough comparison, even--I thought ``Cryptonomicron'' was a page-turner, and ``Quicksilver'' is not flowing for me like its title might imply.

I don't know what you're trying to express in your work, but it sounds like you're fundamentally at odds with the techniques you're employing. But that's a 10p analysis on on a 2p post.

Not saying that your post was only worth 2p... ;)


"Art" is often defined well after the fact. Philip Dick is enjoying a reevaluation right now, for example. During his lifetime, he wasn't exactly considered an artist.

Okay, maybe that's not right -- I didn't mean to imply you'd be considered an artist only posthuously. But write to suit your own writing style.

I do understand your feeling about critiques -- I'm rewriting my "Holding Patterns" screenplay, and I get a lot of "I liked it," without a lot of constructive specifics.

In related news... um... turns out I was wrong. I *do* have a printed copy of your novel (or at least a portion of it). I promise I'll get you my thoughts A.S.A.P.

Just as soon as I finish revising my screenplay. And writing, shooting, and editing my Greenlight director's scene. And finishing my increasingly-going-nowhere Inkblots critique...

On Tim Powers: I recently read 'Declare', because it won a Nebula, and enjoyed it. However, I found the rest of his novels to be incomprehensible. (Read Declare if you haven't. It's weird.)

Hey, cool. Declare is the book I was talking about. I'm looking forward to it.

And, yeah, Matt, Quicksilver is plodding right along for me too. I'm about 150 pages into it and haven't found much plot yet. Sure, the young Ben Franklin and other characters are interesting, but so far it's just not a very compelling story.

And Bill? I have another version of the novel ready to go which probably needs the eyeballs more than the outdated one you have at the moment. Hang loose, I'll send you a PDF.

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