Tag Archives: improvement

30 Books You Must Read If You Want To Become A Literary Badass

In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:

  1. Get to writing.
  2. Have your work edited.
  3. Find appropriate places to publish.

However, in truth, no matter how excellent an editor or publishing consultant you choose to work with, all your efforts will probably be for naught if you are not well-read.

Reading more is one of the most critical things that you can do to become a successful writer. Without a truly voracious love for the written word, your work will likely be stale and not publishable. There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare, and you are probably NOT the exception.

Personally, as an author, I take it as an affront when writers do not read at all. I view those individuals as carpetbaggers. While some writers read more than others, as dependent on their lifestyle and other factors, it is important that all writers actually read, both to improve their own work and to support the profession as a whole.

My own writing tends to bridge the gap between literary fiction and alternative literature. If you write in either genre, getting familiar with a few of these books is essential. Also, if you write in a different genre, but just want a good read, consider the following:

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil – This isn’t a novel, but rather a recollection of the original 70s punk scene from the figures who lived it.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – Four outsiders in a small southern U.S. town search for acceptance and a reprieve from their alienation.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – Like all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories/novellas, this one is dark and saturated with religious themes.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver – In my opinion, this is the best collection of Raymond Carver’s short fiction.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson – A young American journalist goes to Puerto Rico, makes a barebones salary, gets drunk, gets laid, and tries to avoid being killed by the locals.

Women by Charles BukowskiThe red pill of male-female interactions told only as Bukowski could.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – “I had to stop reading this because I started seeing people as meat.” – My friend Ben. That about says it all.

NW by Zadie Smith Two best friends navigate cross-cultural issues in modern day England.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The best prose writer alive.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart – For those sad bastard moments.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth – Neurosis encapsulated.

Taipei by Tao Lin – Hipster life in the 21st century.

Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder – The story of two hard-partying, life-wrecking buffoons who eventually make it as successful writers.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Perhaps the best book written in the 21st century.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – From outcast white kid in a slowly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to liberal arts college party boy to young professional. No, I cannot relate to this story in any way!

The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight – An entire movement was born out of this book (Islamic punk).

Demonology by Rick Moody – An incredibly sharp collection of short fiction.

Junky by William S. Burroughs – Easily William S. Burroughs’ most accessible work.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Satan comes to Moscow. Not going to make a Putin joke.

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine – This is postmodern writing done by the director of Gummo and Spring Breakers.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – One of the funniest books I have ever read.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Explore how the lads of Trainspotting became junkies.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley – An interesting fictional look into the world of tobacco lobbying.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Greek-American family’s story as told through several generations, including through the life of a hermaphrodite.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – Within 24 hours, your wife divorces you and you’re fired. What else can you do but drive across America talking to people? The finest travel writing I have ever read and a personal inspiration to me as both a writer and free spirit.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – Carnies are people too.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf – If you like sparse prose, Haruf was the master.

Black Hole by Charles Burns – In this graphic novel, a weird sexually transmitted disease is spread in suburban Seattle in the 1970s.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – Writing in the 2nd person that is actually good!

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – A quote from the character Enid Coleslaw: “These stupid girls think they’re so hip, but they’re just a bunch of trendy stuck-up prep-school bitches who think they’re ‘cutting edge’ because they know who ‘Sonic Youth’ is!”

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

My Journey to Publication

“Don’t make a career out of this.”

I still remember, twelve years later, the words that a creative writing professor at Beloit College penned on one of my admittedly horrible short stories. Those words hit a nerve. Even today, they remain one of my biggest motivators.

For better or worse, I personally respond quite well to negative motivation. I love to prove people wrong and show them up. While my stories in that professor’s class were indeed horrible, his remark was erroneous, as he did not know my own path and character.

I chose to be a creative writing major at Beloit because it seemed fun. Upon entering college, I did not have much of a plan as to what to get out of it, aside from gaining real-world experience and leaving a sheltered boyhood behind. While I am sure that many of my peers in the program had written for years and knew exactly how to improve, for me, the program at Beloit, a very free-form one, was difficult to navigate. The open-ended nature of our program would certainly be ideal for a motivated writer with some experience, but I found it frustrating. The basics were never taught, and being sheltered, I did not have many interesting life experiences under my belt to write from. As a result, my writing was both juvenile and poorly crafted.

I have recounted on this blog several times now about how a friend of mine’s belief in the potential in my writing, even as rough as it was back then, got me to actually love writing for the first time in my life. The confidence that he instilled in me, coupled with my desire to show up the professor who wrote those motivating words on that abysmal short story, were the impetus that led me to start submitting my poetry to literary journals.

Of course, I failed. And failed. And failed. I had, if I remember correctly, my first 24 submissions rejected. Believing that success was assured, I was both blindsided and devastated by the actual results.

I knew that the poems that I was submitting to these literary magazines were objectively good. People that I trusted not to humor me regarding my writing informed me that they were, and many were shocked at the sea change in quality from my juvenilia. This time, I had carefully edited the poems, scrutinizing every line. However, they were not being accepted for publication. The reason for this was that I was sending these poems to literary journals that were simply not a fit for the alternative sensibilities inherent to my creative writing. Traditional literary journals did not cater to the type of writing I was producing, and, of course, they rejected it.

My friend Russell, the man who inspired me to write in the first place, taught me the basics of publication by introducing me to Duotrope.com, but naturally I didn’t use it effectively. I used it to find journals that were esteemed, did not read any of their content, and submitted my poems with only a cursory regard for the submissions guidelines. My whole approach was lazy and disrespectful, not just to myself, but to the publishers of these magazines and the entire literary profession.

Personally, I believe that there are no obstacles in life that cannot be overcome. I knew that if I worked harder, I could get my poetry accepted in literary magazines. I began to read many literary journals, and the ones that I enjoyed reading, ones that featured poets and short story writers with, for lack of a better description, punk rock sensibilities, caught my interest. I discovered amazing writers who I had never heard of, ones whose works appealed to my love of Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, larger than life writers who both lived and wrote on the edge. When I would read the works of these writers like Doug Draime, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Holly Day, Michele McDannold, Catfish McDaris, Sarah E. Alderman, and Lynne Savitt, among many others, I knew that I had found many skilled people doing exciting things in the alternative presses.

I decided to submit my poem Like A Library in the Suburbs to one of these alternative presses, Michele McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, then one of the top places to publish for alternative poets, and had my poem accepted. I felt vindicated to know that a poet who I respected thought that I had talent enough to publish me, and that if I just targeted effectively, sending my writing to journals that I enjoyed reading and that featured writers with roughly similar sensibilities, I would have a good chance of getting my work accepted. Since then, I have about a 33% acceptance rate for my poetry and short fiction, which would be closer to 60% if not for being overly ambitious and reaching out to some of my favorite magazines that are not perfect fits for my writing.

I will never forget those words that professor wrote, but now, with many publications under my belt, three excellent screenplays composed and currently shopped, becoming lead writer for an amazing startup, being interviewed by literary magazines, and developing publishing projects of my own, I realize that those words were nothing more than a judgment rendered without sufficient evidence. I love writing, and I know that I am good and that I will only continue to improve.

I hope that my story gives you the confidence you need to fully embark on your career as a successful writer.

In success,
Alfonso