Writing advice from George Saunders
April 28, 2011 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Writing advice from George Saunders. [via]
posted by AceRock (30 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I have learned that anything from George Saunders is always a good use of my time. The man's a freakin' genius. Thanks for the link!
posted by Erroneous at 8:13 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Who's George Saunders?
posted by Eideteker at 8:23 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

At first I thought this was about the actor who voiced Shere Kahn in The Jungle Book. But I was wrong.
posted by Billiken at 8:27 AM on April 28, 2011

I am glad not many people know who George Saunders is. I was lucky to find out about a reading he was giving at the University of Richmond last month. The story he read was brutal and beautiful, and even as a non-student I learned so much from the Q&A session that followed.
posted by emelenjr at 8:28 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Apparently he spelled his name "Sanders". Imagine my chagrin.
posted by Billiken at 8:29 AM on April 28, 2011

The only monkey in my fictive corpus is a robot monkey that a company psychologist on a lunar manufacturing base saddles the protagonist with in the idea that a companion animal will calm his stress and improve his work performance. Of course the monkey has its own, quite different agenda. But it's a robot, not a real monkey. Is that okay?

And oh, I wish he was George Sanders.
posted by Naberius at 8:41 AM on April 28, 2011

Oh, man, I love Saunders. There's some great stuff in here, especially the motorcycle/sidecar analogy:
I’d make the case that the whole fictional thrill has to do with this idea of the reader and the writer closely tracking, if you will. Like one of those motorcycle sidecars: when the writer leans left, the reader does too. You don’t want your reader three blocks away, unaware that you are leaning. You want her right there with you, so that even an added comma makes a difference.
True not just just of the "fictional thrill"-- all good writing should aim for this.

I just wish there were more Saunders in this piece and less of the interviewer.
posted by dersins at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2011

Aw heck, I was hoping for George Sanders too. I can think of worse people to get writing advice from.

Sanders' last words: "Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool - good luck." Terse, pithy and to the point.

This was still interesting, though.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:48 AM on April 28, 2011

George Sanders wrote an autobiography called "Memoirs of a Professional Cad." Now that's a title that sells itself.

And now...to RTFA, about that other George guy. I heard an interview with him on "The Sound of Young America" a while back, and he sounded most groovy.

posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 8:55 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

George Saunders is a national treasure.
posted by plastic_animals at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

How to tell the George Saunders apart:

One writes amazing fiction.

The other one screwed Zsa Zsa Gabor.

see? Easy!
posted by The Whelk at 9:05 AM on April 28, 2011

Thank you for posting this!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:20 AM on April 28, 2011

Thanks for this. George Saunders is a brilliant, witty, incisive and compassionate writer who I've loved since I was in high school. Five or six years ago I had an opportunity to eat lunch with him and he's also a kind, funny, down to earth person. That was such a relief. I live in fear of meeting my heroes and having them turn out to be dicks.
posted by crackingdes at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2011

“The number of rooms in a fictional house should be inversely proportional to the years during which the couple living in that house enjoyed true happiness.” That is beautiful.

I really like Saunders. "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" and "Pastoralia" are both really good stories. Both take place in theme parks--the first one is obvious, the second is told from the point of view of an actor playing a caveman in a prehistoric display, and center around his interactions with his female counterpart who is less committed to the role than he is. It's funny, melancholy stuff. And having worked at a theme park (and retail, for that matter), it hits oddly close to home. I'm not surprised that his writing advice is really really good.
posted by Maaik at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2011

I love this guy. If you read nothing else by him, check out his short story CommComm.
posted by Ratio at 9:49 AM on April 28, 2011

Saunders on Johnny Tremain. "That missing comma? She meant it. There was, to Forbes, I expect, a world of difference between: 'On rocky islands, gulls woke' and 'On rocky islands gulls woke'."
posted by Iridic at 9:54 AM on April 28, 2011

I am glad not many people know who George Saunders is.

I beg to differ. George Saunders should be required reading for every too cool for school teenager who doesn't like to read. Honestly, not everyone can get through Moby Dick at 16, but goddamn it, I bet you could someday convert them into enjoying literature if you got them hooked on his stories.

But then again, if we made everyone read Saunders, we'd have a flood of awful teenage writers aping the dude's voice and style. We already have enough MFA students doing that...
posted by jng at 9:59 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

a world of difference between: 'On rocky islands, gulls woke' and 'On rocky islands gulls woke'."

I just had this problem in another thread! What I wrote:

Temporal backwards masking is an effect of Superman flying around the Earth.

But what I really wanted to write was:

Temporal backwards masking is an effect of Superman, flying around the Earth.

I didn't dare, for fear of being though comma-profligate (not that that's stopped me before). But I really wanted to, because the point was the SUPERMAN, not the FLYING.
posted by DU at 10:01 AM on April 28, 2011

That was certainly edifying. I really like the way this fella talks about writing; not an easy task, by far. Though it felt less like an interview and more like eavesdropping on a conversation.

I'm interested to check out some of Saunders' writings now. What do you suggest?
posted by Eideteker at 10:06 AM on April 28, 2011

If you can read "The End of FIRPO in the World" without crying, you are a monkey in a George Saunders story.

Thanks for the post.
posted by kneecapped at 10:08 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is grand. Thanks, AceRock!

I like his stories but I love The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.
posted by kristi at 10:14 AM on April 28, 2011

Sea Oak.

Sea Oak.

Sea Oak.

Go read Sea Oak.
posted by emelenjr at 10:19 AM on April 28, 2011

+1 on FIRPO. That was the first one I ever read and the ending still kills me.

He has a bunch online in The New Yorker. Here are two drastically different ones:

Sea Oak
Chicago Christmas, 1984

Here's Joshua Ferris discussing Adams. Fantastic stuff.
posted by jng at 10:21 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mr. Saunders caught my eye on the back of a book by Ben Marcus. George had said some complimentary things about Ben and I really liked the Marcus book so I checked out Saunders' Civil War Land in Bad Decline. I liked that too. I plan to read this interview. One day I also hope to read the Believer interview with George that was conducted by Ben. It seems to me that they are on a first-name basis with each other.
posted by safetyfork at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2011

Another interview with George Saunders. The whole site is a collection of amazing interviews with writers before they hit it big. Some good advice and stories of lucky breaks. A great way for would-be writers to spend an afternoon feeling jealous (IT JUST GOT PICKED OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE!?!?!?!). But so many of these folks totally deserve every ounce of success they got and it's nice to hear about how much hard work it takes to make it.
posted by jng at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

George Saunders is the best.

'Sea Oak' is a good place to start.

'Escape from Spiderhead' is kinda intense.
posted by ovvl at 10:56 AM on April 28, 2011

(The first couple paragraphs have a few odd hyphens left over from this being previously printed elsewhere, but after that it's all good)
posted by Greg Nog at 12:51 PM on April 28, 2011

Someone got me to read 'Bounty' by describing it as "Huck Finn, but there's mutants."
George Saunders is indeed a national treasure.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 2:43 PM on April 28, 2011

Does anyone else in the UK know who George Saunders is? Because I don't, and I read litry magazines n everything. And reading the first part of that writing advice without the OMG GREAT WRITER bit set was curiously annoying. Did give up. Didn't get to the crossroads of complication that contains multitudes.
posted by Devonian at 3:38 PM on April 28, 2011

Well, Saunders did write a weekly sort-of humor column in the Guardian for a while, called "American Psyche". (Unfortunately, and I say this as a genuine fan of the guy, it was not very good.) I'm not crazy about this interview either, mostly because in general I don't think writing-advice articles are all that interesting.

I will recommend two bits of non-fiction from Saunders, though, both found in his essay collection The Braindead Megaphone: the title essay (described briefly here by kottke) is an earnest and funny bit of cultural critique, and "The New Mecca" (available in full at GQ's site) where a fiction writer with a keen interest in theme parks and constructed bits of fake reality visits Dubai in 2005, which is itself a sort of real-life theme park.
posted by whir at 5:06 PM on April 28, 2011

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