Nonfiction & Short Pieces

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• Writing a Novel (1978)

• Myths to Lie By (1984)

• Literary Lynching (1977)

 

 

Writing a Novel

(1978)

Ata Books

ISBN 0-931688-02-7
(paper)

 

 

When I published this little book in 1978, a request by a beginner for a book that might help was nearly always treated with contempt, or dismissed with weary impatience by professional writers/teachers: "You cannot learn to write from a book!"

 

It seemed to me that many beginning writers were not asking for a how-to book that would make them "creative," or rich, or famous. They were asking merely for some hints to get them through the daily, terrifying process of facing that blank page.

 

They needed to know about simple tools or crutches that help many of us get started—like the habit of making notes instead of counting on treacherous memory to retain an idea. They hoped for hints on how to move on from notes: how to create a character, not a stereotype; how to outline a plot (and when to scrap it); when and how to plunge into and through a first draft; how and why to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

 

I used statements by famous writers on their methods. I laid out my own struggles and mistakes, and told what I had learned from them. I made suggestions—not rules—about the ways most writers, most of the time, successfully combine many elements into a story.

 

Today many books take a sympathetic attitude toward the insecurities of beginners. But this one holds up pretty well—I can't think of anything in it I would change.

 

"Best of its kind."
—San Francisco Bay Guardian

 

Myths to Lie By

(1984)

Ata Books

931688-11-6 (cloth)

NEED ISBN (paper)

 

This collection—essays, stories, reviews, and a mini-drama—carries the title of its first essay, a takeoff on the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s best seller, Myths to Live By (1972).  

 

The word MYTH is an interesting antonym—meaning true or meaning false, depending on how it is used. Campbell used it to mean an enactment of archetypal patterns of human thought, expressed in ancient sacred and secular tales and texts, and re-enacted in different forms, daily. 

 

Commonly, however, the word is used in its opposite sense—not a drama that expresses an inner, eternal truth about human life, but, rather, an untruth, a commonly accepted delusion.

 

I used the word in that sense—as a widespread mistaken belief. And, by omitting one letter in my title, I signaled that my essay would not only challenge the validity of common, questionable beliefs, but, sometimes, would question the motives of those who upheld them. 

 

Certainly, not all of these short pieces perform this function, but many of them challenge common assumptions: that Samson was a gullible but innocent victim betrayed by his love/wife Delilah (check the Bible); that young rebels of the 1960s showed a purity missing in their elders (“The New Clichés”); that a famed (now forgotten) child psychologist was an benign authority—Bettelheim was later exposed as a harmful, almost criminal, fraud. The fiction is a selection of short stories based on delusions, shocks, and misadventures suffered by old, long-gone friends of mine.

 

It’s a mixed bag, uneven. Pick and choose what appeals to you.

 

"A rich miscellany of Bryant's short fiction, non-fiction, and reviews that recall memorable issues, heroes, and villains from the latter half of the 20th century,

a few in print here for the first time." 

 East Bay Monthly

 

 

Literary Lynching (1997)

Download for free from this website!

 

When I published A Day in San Francisco in 1983, the reaction against it and me was strong, irrational, and long-lived, slowly fading only as the AIDS crisis deepened.

 

Throughout this emerging tragedy (for me personally as well as for the world), I struggled to keep my balance. One comfort during this struggle was my learning about other serious, truthtelling authors who had been similarly attacked and censored, not by powerful government or religious institutions, but by their own, formerly friendly readership—the literaryequivalent of a delusional lynch mob.

 

I gradually assembled a "support group" of my betters: Ivan Turgenev, Thomas Hardy, Kate Chopin, George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, and William Styron—all wounded (and, in one case, destroyed) by unjustified, concerted attacks, aimed, not simply at countering a book, but at burying it—and its author. The reputations of some of these authors remain dubious even today, especially among people who take pride in never having read the condemned book!

 

I ended Literary Lynching with a detailed account of my own experience with a "literary lynch mob" attacking A Day in San Francisco—and with no hope that any publisher would invite trouble by printing it.

 

My completing Literary Lynching coincided with the spread of online publishing. Patricia Holt, former book editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, offered to run it, chapter by chapter, in her online book column, where it remained for several years. Now you can download it from this website.

 

The issues it raises remain relevant. In fact, today it may be even easier to "shoot the messenger" of unwelcome truths by online attacks. Conscious or unconscious fear of such attacks chills free expression, discourages authors from writing about, or even thinking about, important but risky subjects. Self-censorship destroys free speech by suicide.

 

“Bryant deftly and objectively places her own experience of
unfair and false attacks on her most controversial book,
by reminding us of distinguished writers of truths that readers
preferred not to believe.”

Published in "Holt Uncensored," 
online column of Patricia Holt, former Book Editor, S.F. Chronicle