Anthony Trollope’s Writing Strategy

Anthony Trollope was one of the most successful Victorian writers. He wrote over 80 very lengthy novels, travel books, and short story collections. The most curious thing about his prolific writing career, though, is that, all the time he was churning out his 800-page-long novels, Trollope had a full time job that had nothing to do with writing. Trollope worked for the Postal Service and his job often involved extensive traveling. So how did the writer manage to create so many high-quality works of fiction while working this very demanding job?

Trollope’s life-long regimen of writing consisted of writing for at least two hours a day every day irrespective of where he was or what he was doing. If his regular job required that he get to the office by 8 am, he would wake up at 6, write for two hours, and then go to work. On his extensive travels, he always managed to make a writing space for himself to fulfill his writing goal for the day. He had a diary where he recorded how much he managed to write each day. Days when no writing was done for reasons of health or family problems were also recorded.

Trollope didn’t come up with this strategy on his own. He learned it from his mother who, at the age of 51, had found herself with no money, a mountain of debt, a chronically depressed husband, and a bunch of children who relied upon her to provide for them even in adulthood. So Mrs. Trollope decided to become a writer. She would get up each morning – often as early as four am – and do her two daily hours of writing before assuming the endless duties of running a Victorian household. She didn’t create any masterpieces but the books she wrote allowed her to repay her husband’s debts, create a comfortable lifestyle for herself and her children, travel, and lead an exciting life of a bestselling author.

I gleaned these interesting facts from Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Trollope.

Scheduling Posts

I hate scheduling my posts. The immediacy of feedback is gone when posts are scheduled. Half the fun of blogging evaporates when, instead of sharing my thoughts as they come to me, I postpone saying what I want to say in this artificial way. Also, it’s hard to keep track of what was scheduled for what time. WordPress does not make it very easy to remember which posts were scheduled to appear and when they were going to come out. As a result, there are times when two or three posts come out almost at the same time which is confusing both to me and, I assume, to my readers.

The reason why I got into this whole post scheduling thing is that people started to complain that I publish new posts too often and they can’t keep up. I understand the readers’ plight and recognize that I do write a lot. Before I started blogging, I had paper diaries that I filled in very rapidly. I started my first diary when I was 11. The last time I wrote in my paper diary was the day before I got the brilliant idea to start a blog. Blogging helps me keep my BP (blood pressure) down. It makes me happy and kind to my students, acquaintances, and even university administrators.

This is why I need to be able to blog as often as I want, people. I’m sorry if the number of posts gets too much and you feel you can’t read all of them. I’m really really sorry to be inconveniencing the subscribers and the Twitter followers who get notifications of new posts every two hours. I tried blogging less and spacing the posts through scheduling but that doesn’t make me happy. And if it doesn’t make me happy, then what’s the point of the whole thing?

So, thankfully, this will be my last scheduled post.

From the Farmer’s Market

This is what we brought home from our local Farmer’s Market. I love Farmers’ Markets passionately. For some reason, though, this year our Farmer’s Market offers a lot less foodstuffs and a lot more uneatable things: aprons, pots and pans, ornaments, etc.

I still miss the amazing Farmer’s Market on the corner of Sherbrooke and Parc La Fontaine in Montreal. I was completely broke but even $20 would be enough to buy a lot of fresh produce and berries. Food-wise, I haven’t yet found a place in the US that would be able to beat Montreal. When I lived in Montreal, I ate more and weighed significantly less than I do in the US.

Glendinning and Trollope

I only just discovered Victoria Glendinning who is a brilliant biographer. Her biography of Anthony Trollope is so good that it vindicates the existence of what more often than not is a very boring genre. Glendinning had a very difficult task ahead of her, given that Trollope’s life was quite boring and his very long novels are also not among the most exciting Victorian works. However, Glendinning is so good that she can make even Trollope sound fascinating. I had given up on this author a while ago after I read his The Warden. That novel was the best sleeping aid I could have imagined. One or two sentences were enough to make me fall asleep even when I tried reading them standing up.

After I read Glendinning’s biography of the writer, however, I decided to give Trollope another chance. So now I’m reading The Way We Live Now and it’s actually quite lovely. This is what a good biographer should be like. Most biographers, though, make you dislike the writer whose life they narrate so profoundly that you never want to hear that writer’s name again.

And, of course, one of the best things about Trollope’s books is that they are available for free in the Amazon’s Kindle store. Summer is always hard for me in terms of money (is it just me or is it everybody?), so I decided not to pay for any reading matter until the end of summer.

Coupons: Spending to Save

One typically American pastime I could never understand is couponing. People honestly seem to think that all these Groupons, CouponSurfers, etc. somehow end up saving them money instead of being one more way to spend on something they don’t really need. (Just to clarify, I have nothing against people spending money on junk they don’t need. It’s the self-delusion that is implicit in couponing that bothers me.) Now there is even a show on weird people who invest the time and the effort required for a full-time job on finding and clipping coupons only to fill their houses with mountains of junk they will never need. Money-wise, it would make a lot more sense to channel the energies they expend on figuring out how to “save” 20 cents on the twentieth box of detergent into looking for actual employment but coupon-lovers seem to be unaware of that.

Every week, my mailbox fills with coupon circulars from the neighborhood grocery stores. The waste of paper makes me livid, especially since I haven’t used a single coupon in my entire life. Food-wise, coupons make no sense for me because they are offered mostly on stuff that comes in cans and boxes and I prefer to eat fresh. In terms of shampoo, detergent and other similar products that coupons often cover, buying two bottles of shampoo to save 15 cents will save you absolutely no money. Human nature is such that the more we have, the more we waste. Having all that conditioner will make you use it a lot more often than if you had one little bottle and knew that you wouldn’t be able to buy a new one for a month.

Electronic couponing sites are even weirder than the paper version of coupons. What are the chances that I suddenly experience a strong desire to get a French manicure at a specific spa 40 miles from where I live, go to Groupon, and discover that if 15 more French manicure-lovers can be found in my area, we will all get $10 off the manicure at that spa? One can count on a coincidence of this kind maybe once in a lifetime. All the rest of purchases people make from such websites do not reflect any actual needs. What happens often is that people just come to such websites out of curiosity, find something that sounds kind of interesting, and get seduced into buying the product and the service just because it has the words “huge savings” attached to it.

Buying stuff you never planned to buy for a lower price that it normally has isn’t saving. It’s spending more to engage in a fantasy of being a virtuous, savings-oriented shopper. The only real way to save is not to buy. Throw out the coupon circular and try to see how long you can make the stuff you already have last.

P.S. Couponing enthusiasts always remind me of the following joke:

“I just saved a dollar.”

“How did you do that?”

“I didn’t manage to get on the bus, so I ran after it all the way to work.”

“Good for you! Next time, you can save $15.”

“How?”

“Just run after a cab.”

Blog Promotion Cards

So I just ordered business cards for this blog. People keep asking me about the blog (of course, they do since I can’t shut up about it), and I always have to write down the url on some crappy little pieces of paper. I have always been obsessed with the concept of business cards so I use any excuse to design a set.

Here is what I came up with.

The front:

And the back:

The point was to make it very dramatic, and I think that goal has been achieved. Cool, huh?

More From Innerarity on Time

The reason why I like the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity is that he discusses all of the philosophical issues that are of interest to me (identity, tolerance, multi-cultiralism, progress) but without the doom-and-gloom attitude that other philosophers practice with such dedication. In Innerarity’s world, everything is good and can get even better if we try to make it so. Look, for example, how he responds to the tedious complaint about the scarcity of time in the world we live in:

The watch and the calendar are nothing other than instruments that provide is with mastery over time. They don’t rob us of our time, but help ensure we have it.

Innerarity reminds us of something that should be obvious but that we keep forgetting because of our love of blaming progress even as we put to use its benefits in order to formulate our complaints: people who live in a post-industrial society have a lot more free time than their ancestors who had no access to time-saving technology.

I find Innerarity’s position a lot more honest than that of the philosophers who paint apocalyptic scenarios and sigh over the sad fate of the downtrodden and the exploited as they sip expensive wine in their antique-filled studies furnished with the money they make from these apocalyptic treatises.

P.S. For those who are bored with my posts on Innerarity, I’m sorry, but I’m writing a conference talk about him and it’s easier for me to figure out what I’m going to say if I do it in the form of blog posts. Also, I think it’s unfair that so few people know of this philosopher’s work simply because he writes in Spanish. Spanish writers and thinkers deserve to be promoted and this is what I’m trying to do.

Brent Ghelfi’s Volk’s Shadow: A Review

One of the saddest legacies of the Cold War era is a wealth of cliche-ridden books about Russia whose authors exploit every sad stereotype about FSU countries in order to sell their books. I am horrified by Brent Ghelfi’s Volk’s Shadow whereas N.  loves it. Oddly enough, both of us agree entirely on the quality of Ghelfi’s writing, but our final interpretations differ drastically. Below I am going to elaborate on how this author’s writing method works. Attention: ALL quoted lines (“ ”) are taken from Ghelfi.

First, the author relies on a list of words to bring lots of Russian flavor to his creation:

MATRYOSHKA – a wooden nesting doll. A compulsory attribute of all Russian homes which is as sacred to a Russian as the American flag to a U.S. citizen. When Russians are unhappy about the state policy, they burn MATRYOSHKAS, not flags.

KONTRACTNIK – any non-conscript soldier in the Russian army, typically a corporal or a sergeant.  They can be identified by “bandanas, wraparound sunglasses, camouflage jackets with the sleeves ripped off, and tattooed prison muscles”. KONTRACTNIKS are primary targets for CHECHENS.

KINZHAL – a straight dagger

CHECHEN – a rough, ferocious highlander (but not nearly as hot as Duncan McLeod) armed with KINZHAL

ZINDAN – a Chechen mud pit, an instrument of torture for KONTRACTNIKS. However, it also serves as an educational institution to teach “philosophy, religion, global politics” to the most gifted     POWs.

CALL OF DUTY, the only non-Russian term in the list. It’s a shooter video game, probably played by Ghelfi’s kids, if not himself. The author apparently uses it to look up different weapons (MP5, Uzi, etc) to arm his characters. Then he makes them “fight to the last breath”, which is a signature cry of Russian Spetznaz (special force) in the game.

MIGALKA – a blue flashing light that can be placed on a car roof.

CHINOVNIK / APPARATCHIK – a ranked Russian official, typically corrupt. However, his corruption is not nearly as annoying to the Russian populace as his abuse of MIGALKA.

And then we come to the most important terms that organize the entire novel:

VODKA – a prime cause of everything that happens in Russia.

PALENKA – a low-quality, often poisonous VODKA produced in illegal distilleries which is favored by the protagonist. Apparently, it helps him to blend in with the atmosphere of “Moscow’s toxic violence”.

CRUDE OIL – a raw material that, on the one hand, is an indispensible source of energy for the West Europe, and on the other, a crucial ingredient for PALENKA. Correspondingly, whoever has oil controls all what happens in Russia and well beyond its borders (see PUTIN).

PUTIN – the main APPARATCHIK in Russia who “has earned a reputation for being everywhere at once, straddling the ocean, filling the sky, just like Stalin”. PUTIN and his downsized, temporary incarnation (called MEDVEDEV) seized control over Russian oil companies. In doing so, PUTIN jailed KHODORKOVSKY, an oil tycoon, who, according to his words, was only guilty of one thing that all Russians used to do in mid-1990s: getting rich or die trying.

Step two of creating a novel based in Russia that American readers will like: make up a ludicrously stupid plot and spice it up with the words from the list above. See all those MATRYOSHKAS, BABUSHKAS selling PALENKA, and APPARATCHIKS with MIGALKAS? Now only an idiot could doubt we are in Russia, right?

Then comes the final, crucial ingredient: make sure the whole book is bound with at least one gruesome, exquisitely nauseating cliché on every page. The characters dwell in buildings “made of steel, brick, and mortar laced with blood”. When they want to conceal something, they hide (figuratively, of course) behind “wall of lies sealed with the mortar of half-truths”.  A character’s “granite features” and “icy gaze” signify that he means very (very) serious business. When a female is consumed by “the flame of passion”, her eyes catch “smoldering fire”. A male gangster, on the other hand, has eyes that are “violent under bushy brows, roiling like the stormy Caspian Sea at the hard edge of land in his hometown of Baku”.

Depending on whom they are dealing with, the characters exchange either “sticky embraces” or “crushing grips.” When they go outside, the weather is either “steaming hot” or “bone-chilling cold”. Mind you, not all people in the book are evil: for instance, the main female character “has fulfilled the promise suggested by the noblest moments of her youth”.

My husband is a man of refined literary taste who truly believes that Ghelfi does all of that on purpose: laughable plot, cardboard characters, and the language that can’t possibly pass for English. I agree: if you recognize and love the works of kitsch art, you will enjoy Ghelfi tremendously. Unfortunately, my sense of humor does not stretch that far because I am to endure this kind of writing style when grading the numerous essays of my students. For me, reading Ghelfi is like trying to “hold back an ocean of raw sewage with my bare hands”.