Tuesday, December 29, 2009

End of Year Brevity

I planned on writing a long, thoughtful, ruminative post about the year that's about to end.

Oh well.

The usual culprit (lack of time) has taken care of that.

But I will say this: It has been an extremely tough and challenging, yet rewarding, year. Getting used to life with twins and a four-year-old has been, well, extremely tough and challenging, yet rewarding.

Some days I don't understand how it all works. I credit my wife with keeping everything afloat. She continues to amaze. As do the kids...

Writing-wise, I was lucky to see a few things published, as well as have my work featured at the New Short Fiction Series (that was a thrill).

As for actual output, though, I don't have much to show for 2009. This is weighing on me as the year comes to a close. I tend to measure my self-worth via writing. Which is not healthy, I know. New Year's resolution, perhaps? I've never been very good at keeping them...

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Story "Stalling" at SmokeLong Quarterly

The latest issue of the super-fantastic SmokeLong Quarterly is now live, and it includes my story "Stalling."

There's also an interview.

Lots of great folks in this issue (as usual), including:
James Tadd Adcox, Grant Bailie, Martin Cloutier, Emily Darrell, Peter DeMarco, Ryan Dilbert, S. H. Gall, Amie Hartman, Tara Laskowski, David Lindsay, Sean Lovelace, Dennis Mahagin, Andrew McIntosh, Gary Moshimer, Jefferson Navicky, Alec Niedenthal, Glen Pourciau, Curtis Smith, Scott Stealey, and Brandi Wells.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More D'Ambrosio

"...I'd hide out in the basement of Elliott Bay or in the top floor of the Athenian and in my sporadic blue notebooks track a reading list -- Joyce, Pound, Eliot, et al. -- that was really little more than a syllabus for a course on exile. You could probably dismiss this as one of those charming agonies of late adolescence, but let me suggest that it's also a logical first step in developing an aesthetic, a reach toward historical beauty, the desire to join yourself to what's already been appreciated and admired. You want to find yourself in the flow of time, miraculously relieved of your irrelevance. For reasons both sensible and suspect folks today are uneasy with the idea of a tradition, but the intellectual luxury of this stance wasn't available to me, and I saw the pursuit of historical beauty, the yearning for those higher essences other people had staked their lives on, as the hope for some kind of voice, a chance to join the chorus. I was mad for relevance, connection, some hint that I was not alone. I started scribbling in notebooks in part just so I'd have an excuse, a reason for sitting where I sat, an alibi for being myself."

-- Charles D'Ambrosio, "Seattle, 1974"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Charles D'Ambrosio on Publicity, Writing and More

I remember reading this thing by Charles D'Ambrosio a few years ago. (Thanks to Katherine Taylor, who's guest blogging at The Elegant Variation, for resurrecting it.)

There's a lot that I like about D'Ambrosio -- mostly his writing, which I'm a huge admirer of. I go back to his stories again and again, and I'm always amazed at the depth of the writing, the emotional power, the craftsmanship. In fact, he's probably the writer who's made the greatest impact on me in the past few years.

D'Ambrosio seems like an old-school kind of guy, which I also like. Here's a quote from the above-linked piece, describing his take on doing publicity for a book:

"I feel sort of indentured, obligated to serve, to go out and play the public role of the writer, even though I know, in my heart, that the real act of writing, the one that matters to me -- putting words on paper -- ended many months earlier when I finished the final revisions and signed off on the galleys. I'm a writer, and that's my job, and I work hard at it. I really don't think any of the rest of it should be my business. I don't understand it. I'm not a salesman or a promoter or even a publisher, but if I liked that stuff, if I wanted to be a full-time huckster, then I imagine there would have to be faster and far more lucrative ways to break into the business than writing short stories and literary essays. In other words, writing a book is a really crappy way to launch a career in the schmatta trade. I don't like sales of any sort. Something in the nature of the transaction itself makes me uncomfortable. I can't hardly buy my own clothes without trauma.

The essay also includes a moving fan letter that D'Ambrosio received. And, too, there's this stop-and-make-you-think quote from Eugenio Montale:

"A fragment of music or poetry, a page, a picture begin to live in the act of their creation but they complete their existence when they circulate, and it does not matter whether the circulation is vast or restricted; strictly speaking, the public can consist of one person, so long as that person is not the author himself."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Editing DFW

The New Yorker's Deborah Treisman on editing David Foster Wallace:

"David was wonderful to edit because he was so involved with the minutiae of his work—he had a long explanation for every decision that he'd made, and yet, at the same time, he was willing to rethink anything that didn't seem to be landing well for the reader. Editing him was sometimes a more painstaking process than editing most writers, but it was a genuine pleasure to engage with his intelligence and with his way of thinking about language, from how it supported narrative trajectory and character development all the way down to the punctuation. He was truly interested in the fine points of grammar, and every rule he broke he broke deliberately, with a specific artistic purpose in mind. Those long paragraphs—as off-putting as they can seem—were entirely purposeful."

More here.

The New Yorker also recently published another DFW story ("All That"), which is an excerpt from The Pale King. Which reminds me: I'm way, way behind on my reading.

Monday, December 14, 2009

That OCD Way

One Story always publishes an author interview to accompany its current issue. This is a nice thing to do. (SmokeLong Quarterly does it too.)

The latest issue features a story by Tamas Dobozy. I've never heard of Tamas Dobozy, and I haven't read his One Story story "The Restoration of the Villa Where
Tibor Kálmán Once Lived," but I enjoyed his interview, especially his answer to the question "What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?":

"Probably doing the edits. I’m not someone who’s particularly interested in reworking a piece. Most of the time I just wish the editors would do it for me, take over, do what they want to the material (provided it’s not cheesy or misleading or clunky or anything), and publish it. As time goes by, my interest in writing is really confined to the initial discovery of the work, and after that I’m not really interested in it anymore. I used to be one of those writers who worried over every comma and article during the editing process, in that OCD way typical of beginning writers, thinking that it would somehow invalidate my sole authorship of the story, but I don’t really care about that anymore. Now I just think, 'Oh, do I really need to do all this work? If you want the story a different way, why don’t you just do it?' I really love the process of writing, and of course I like to see work published in a narcissistic way, if only to prove that the hours I spend typing do extend to someone other than myself, but more and more the only part of it that holds any meaning for me is the process of filling up the blank pages. Most editors I’ve run into are good enough at sorting out a story, though I’ve only once worked with an editor who I thought was a real genius at it."

I can see how this evolution -- from being manic about revising to not caring and essentially handing off a story -- can happen, but I don't think that's a path in my future. I'm too OCD when it comes to writing and revising. I'm like Dobozy used to be: stressing over commas and such. This kind of tinkering, though, can really bog you down. If you get too manic and obsessive, you won't ever let a story go and move on -- and this is a concern of mine.

Dobozy's answer to the question "What is the best advice about writing you have ever gotten?" is also worth checking out. (It has to do with rejection.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Parenthood and Writing

Last month (or was it two or three months ago?) The Elegant Variation ran an interview with Victoria Patterson, author of the recently released novel Drift. (One of her professors jokingly called her "The Edith Wharton of the O.C.")

Anyway, in the interview she talked about her time in grad school and what it's like to be a parent and a writer.

Here's the quote that struck me and that I've been meaning to post for weeks:

"The most challenging thing was balancing my home life. My eldest son (seven at the time) experienced difficulties at school, meaning he wanted to quit school entirely. I remember he said, 'I wish you were a waitress again. I liked that better.' And I explained that when I was a waitress, I had been away from home more hours, because of my work schedule. But I knew my son was right, that even when I was home, I wasn’t home. I was constantly writing in my head. I even dreamed sentences. I remember sitting in on my son's first grade class, trying to assess what was going on with him in the classroom. I had a story due for workshop, so I was sitting in one of those little plastic chairs, hunched over, working on my computer, writing."

...even when I was home, I wasn't home. I was constantly writing in my head.

This is what really hit me. Because this is me. Because this is what I constantly worry about. The phrase I use is "perpetually distracted." That's how I feel sometimes -- distracted and distant -- and I think my wife would agree.

If I'm not writing/revising in my head or thinking about writing, I'm thinking about the fact that I'm not writing. Or I'm thinking where I should submit a story. Or which story I should work on next. But if I'm working on a story that means I'm not working on the novel. But maybe I should be working on that memoir I started. And on and on.

Writing is the last thing I think about when I go to bed. And it's often the first thing I think about when I wake up. If I don't write for a long period of time, I get cranky. I start to feel that I'm lost, adrift; that I won't be able to get back to where I was.

The fear I have, then, is that I'm not fully present for my family. They're not getting all of me. And I'm not fully allowing myself to be in the moment with them. On one level, I am always elsewhere. In writing la-la land. Perpetually distracted. Thinking of characters. Thinking of sentences. And it's not fair to my children. And it's not fair to my wife. I have no resolution here. I wish I did. All I know is that I need to find a better way to balance my life as a writer and as a parent/husband.


You can read the rest of the Victoria Patterson interview here.

And a while back, Pank posted some great essays about motherhood/fatherhood and writing. The motherhood essays feature Ethel Rohan, Angi Becker Stevens and Teresa Houle. The fatherhood essays feature David Erlewine and Ryan Bradley.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

DFW Grammar Challenge

This could really make your head spin (courtesy of HTML Giant).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What I Really Want for Christmas

Cormac McCarthy is auctioning off his typewriter. Proceeds will benefit the Santa Fe Institute.

A quote from the authentication letter that he wrote:

“It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. ... I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.”


Monday, November 30, 2009

The Dan Chaon Post

Dan Chaon seems like a wise man.

I first became aware of his writing when I reviewed his superb collection Among the Missing for the San Francisco Chronicle.

And he's been on my mind lately because I really want to read his new novel Await Your Reply.

There's also been some heavy linkage to this essay, which takes aspiring writers to task -- and rightfully so -- for not reading and supporting literary magazines.

Here's the quote that's getting quoted a lot:

"The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can’t get anyone to accept their stories."

Toward the end he mentions Hobart and Avery as two great magazines that writers should read and know about. I couldn't agree more. (The new issue of Avery, by the way, should be out soon.)

Moreover, Chaon was recently interviewed by One Story. But it wasn't for one of his stories; it was for a story by his late wife Sheila Schwartz
, whose story "Finding Peace" is the current issue of One Story. If nothing else, read the last few paragraphs. Break your heart.

And one more thing: this amazing tribute to his wife, published a while back at The Rumpus. Talk about break your heart.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lyrical Instances

Couldn't help but notice that several short-story collections made The New York Times' 100 notable books of 2009.

And yet... we always hear that publishers aren't interested in short-story collections. And yet... short-story collections somehow keep getting published.

Here's Antonya Nelson, from an interview with The Cincinnati Review, on how she prefers short stories to novels:

"My sensibility is more inclined in the direction of the short story. I'm more comfortable dwelling in the moment and in the vignette, and in exploring lyrical instances, which I think the short-story form accommodates much better than the novel.

"...[Stories are] like painting on one canvas, whereas writing a novel is like working in a room full of canvases, and knowing that hidden below the floor is a basement full of more canvasses, all half-done."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coming Soon: PANK 4

PANK just announced the final lineup for its next issue, due out in January.

And wow. I mean wow. It's quite an impressive list of folks.

Check out all the lovely and talented contributors here.

My contribution is a story called "Woke Up This Morning." It takes place in San Francisco. There is a bus ride. Something happens downtown. The first sentence is: "God said things."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kevin Brockmeier on Process

"What else? I can tell you that I never begin working on a story until I have a title centered at the top of the first page. I think of the title as the target toward which I shoot the arrow of the story. Then, title in place, I broach my sentences one tiny piece at a time, termiting away at them until I'm satisfied that they present the right effect. Often I become attached to certain simple words — city, song, half, pocket, dead, ceiling, house, silence, wound, light — words that call little attention to themselves, that have nothing antique about them, but that seem to trail a thousand centuries of stories behind them, arriving in a great dust cloud of possibilities."

You can read more here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Writers Write

Pretty interesting article from the Wall Street Journal.

The title ("How to Write a Great Novel") is somewhat misleading. It's really a look at how some writers -- Nicholson Baker, Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon and several others -- go about writing.

Richard Powers uses speech recognition software. Russell Banks writes his nonfiction on a computer but writes his fiction by longhand. John Irving starts all his novels by writing the last sentence first.

When it comes to process, every writer is different. And as some of the writers point out, that process can also differ greatly from book to book.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Story "Glad We're Not Poets" at Waccamaw

Rocktober started with two stories getting published, and in nice bookend fashion, it's ending with two more stories finding their way into the world.

Earlier this week I posted news about a new story over at Twelve Stories.

And today I have another story -- called "Glad We're Not Poets" -- up at Waccamaw.

(Also included in the fiction section of the issue:
Jensen Beach [Hobart web editor], Ted Chiles, Rachel Furey, Greg Gerke and Zachary Vickers. Plus there's a generous helping of essays and poetry.)

Nothing for months and months and months and then wow -- four stories in a month. I'm trying to bask in it while also realizing that this is rare, especially for someone who writes as slowly and infrequently as I do.

So yeah, for now: basking. And how long is it socially acceptable for one to bask?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Story "Apology" at Twelve Stories

Issue two of Twelve Stories is now live, and it includes my story "Apology," which is really, really short.

Edited by Molly Gaudry and Blythe Winslow, the issue also features Lydia Copeland, Roxane Gay, John Jodzio, Ben Loory, Larry Menlove, Ross Rader, Matt Salesses, Rebecca Serle, Jason Stout, Jacqueline Vogtman and Eric Vrooman.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

News, Links, Pumpkins, Etc.

It's Sunday night, and a brief, general update thing is about all I'm capable of...
  • Some recent acceptances from SmokeLong Quarterly, Waccamaw and jmww.
  • Random Ethan quote: "Daddy, should we have a conversation?"
  • I'm horrible at updating my blog, but a while back I finally updated my links to include some great writers. You should check them out.
  • Just made the easiest, unhealthiest enchilada casserole ever (recipe and ingredients courtesy of Trader Joe's).
  • Lastly, the family recently went on our annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage. Photos below.

The Lil' Devil and the Princess...

The inevitable battle over fishy crackers...

Ethan enjoys some homemade pumpkin ice cream...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tweeting the Classics

I'm sure there are some who will no doubt interpret this as another example of the death of reading, books, literature, etc.

I don't know.

I think it's pretty amusing.

Here's the tweet for Dante's "Inferno":

"I'm having a midlife crisis. Lost in the woods. Shoulda brought my iPhone."

And for "Oedipus the King":

"PARTY IN THEBES!!! Nobody cares I killed that old dude, plus this woman is all over me."

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I'm always interested in hearing about the "process" of other writers. (Quotation marks used because I'm not even sure what it means; process is a mystery, and every writer is different.)

So I fairly regularly check out the New York Times "Stray Questions" series. Writers get asked the same three questions:

1) What are you working on now?

2) Describe a typical day in your writing life.

3) What have you been reading or recommending lately?

Pretty standard boilerplate questions, I know. But it's the second one that gets the most interesting responses.

The most recent writer queried was Michelle Wildgen, author of the newly released novel But Not For Long and an editor at Tin House.

Her process seems similar to mine, especially the "mental coaxing" part:

"...I’m usually in front of my computer by about 10, getting a few e-mails out of the way (again, so I can concentrate, a recurring theme), and then rereading what I wrote the previous session or doing really elementary copy edits, all in the hopes of getting in the mindset to move forward. I do a lot of this kind of mental coaxing — little stretches and rereading and meandering toward the world of the story. I never just throw myself in front of my laptop and start writing, though I wish I did. I try to write toward something — toward a scene, toward an idea I know I want to get to, even just toward an evocative pairing of words that’s been on the tip of my tongue for a few days. I try to leave myself something to start with the next day, so I can’t feel completely stymied...

"I know it isn’t coal mining, but I’m generally pretty tired after a good four or five hours of writing. Then I can turn to lighter editing, less exhausting writing or any kind of work that uses a less generative part of the brain. If I’m really sapped, I just start cooking dinner so I can get out of my head entirely. As for actual workspace, no matter where I live, I always unintentionally turn my office into something distinctly garret-like, to the point that when someone offered to photograph me at my writing desk, I opened the door and he just went mute with pity. I never have music playing, and I never go to a coffee shop or anything. I stay home in my garret with the blinds down."

Well, there are some significant differences. I don't write during the day, and spending four- or five-hour stretches on my fiction just doesn't happen these days. And I don't have a garret.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fiction Writers Who Memoir

Are we talking trend? (First saw mention of this on Avery's blog.)

And did I just use memoir as a verb? I believe I did...

New DeLillo: Point Omega

I see that Don DeLillo has a new novel, called Point Omega, due out in February.

Here's the write-up from the Scribner catalog...

Writing about conspiracy theory in Libra, government cover-ups in White Noise, the Cold War in Underworld, and 9/11 in Falling Man, "DeLillo's books have been weirdly prophetic about twenty-first century America" (The New York Times Book Review). Now, in Point Omega, he takes on the secret strategist in America's war machine.

In the middle of a desert "somewhere south of nowhere," to a forlorn house made of metal and clapboard, a secret war advisor has gone in search of space and time. Richard Elster, seventy-three, was a scholar - an outsider - when he was called to a meeting with government war planners. They asked Elster to conceptualize their efforts - to form an intellectual framework for their troop deployments, counterinsurgency, orders for rendition. For two years he read their classified documents and attended secret meetings. He was to map the reality these men were trying to create "Bulk and swagger," he called it.

At the end of his service, Elster retreats to the desert, where he is joined by a filmmaker intent on documenting his experience. Jim Finley wants to make a one-take film, Elster its single character - "Just a man against a wall."

The two men sit on the deck, drinking and talking. Finley makes the case for his film. Weeks go by. And then Elster's daughter Jessie visits - an "otherworldly" woman from New York - who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. When a devastating event follows, all the men's talk, the accumulated meaning of conversation and connection, is thrown into question. What is left is loss, fierce and incomprehensible.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You Can't Argue with a Four-Year-Old

"Mommy, you're not a girl. You're a boy because you look like a boy."

"But I'm a girl. I have boobies."

"A different kind of boobies."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Short Fiction Series Photos

Left to right: Alain Benatar, Sally Shore, me, Lynne Oropeza and Matthew Thomas Lange.

Alain Benatar reads "Are You Okay?" (published in Tin House).

Sally Shore reads "Mind Your Questions" (unpublished).

Lynne Oropeza reads "Three" (published in Wigleaf).

It was a great night. The actors were fantastic and many wonderful friends and supporters showed up.

Thanks to all who came. And a special thanks to Sally Shore for making it all happen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

New Short Fiction Series Tonight!

Here are the details once again. Promise this is the last time I'll blog about this...

What: New Short Fiction Series presents Andy Roe's What I'm About to Do Now and Other Stories

When: Friday, October 9 @ 8 p.m. (box office opens at 7:30)

Beverly Hills Public Library, 44 Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills

Map/directions: Here

10 bucks (I promise to buy you a drink at some point in your lifetime if you come)

More info can also be found on the New Short Fiction Series website.

I Used to Write Poetry

I have a little something up at Laura Ellen Scott's VIPs on vsf blog.

It talks about how I used to write poetry and the connection between poetry and very short fiction.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Stories @ Hobart and decomP

Rocktober is already off to a great start.

I have two new stories out there:
The first one is kind of light. The second one is kind of not so light.

Kafka for Dummies

Saw this at the New Pages blog this morning...

A story in Science Daily reports that reading Kafka or watching a David Lynch film can make you smarter:

"According to research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, exposure to the surrealism in, say, Kafka's 'The Country Doctor' or Lynch's 'Blue Velvet' enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions."

And here's a quote from one of the researchers:

"The idea is that when you're exposed to a meaning threat –– something that fundamentally does not make sense –– your brain is going to respond by looking for some other kind of structure within your environment. And, it turns out, that structure can be completely unrelated to the meaning threat."

"Meaning threat." I like that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Short Fiction Series Flyer

More info on the Friday, October 9 event can be found here.

(Thank you, Alicia, for the wonderful quote!)

(Sorry for the temporary juxtaposition of two pictures of me. It's freaky, I know.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Camus's American Journals, Part 4

"Small inn in the heart of the Adirondacks a thousand miles from everything. Entering my room, this strange feeling: during a business trip a man arrives, without any preconceived idea, at a remote inn in the wilderness. And there, the silence of nature, the simplicity of the room, the remoteness of everything, make him decide to stay there permanently, to cut all ties with what had been his life and to send no news of himself to anyone."

Monday, September 21, 2009

DimeStories 5th Anniversary CD

Recently got word that my story "Stalling" will be included in the DimeStories 5th anniversary CD.

Can't wait until the CD comes out? You can hear me reading the story here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

To Read Aloud or Not to Read Aloud?

"Think about cadence, about the natural rhythm of your words. Read your short short fiction aloud. It should flow effortlessly. It should sound pretty. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why."

That's from a nifty essay on writing very short fiction (VSF) by Roxane Gay.

About reading aloud: sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. There's no real method for me. Some stories feel like they need to be read out loud. (I used to read my stories to my cat, but he seemed a little bored.)

I haven't been doing it lately, but that's mostly because my writing has been minimal as of late.

Reading aloud can be very helpful for the reasons cited by Roxane. But on the other hand, I also worry about becoming too enamored with the way the words sound and somehow losing focus -- if that makes sense.

By the way, there are lots of other great essays at VIPs on vsf, a blog put together by Laura Ellen Scott.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

White Noise Turns 25

Looks like the 25th anniversary edition of Don DeLillo's White Noise is going to be pretty cool.

The book includes accompanying artwork by Michael Cho. (At one point they were thinking of using Robert Crumb, but DeLillo didn't think he'd be the right fit.)

I wonder if the book will include an illustration of The Most Photographed Barn in America. I've always wondered what that looked like...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Borges Twitter Update

Periodically I like to see what JLB has been up to on Twitter.

Recent tweets include:
  • "My undertaking is not difficult, essentially. I should only have to be immortal to carry it out."
  • "Weekends away clear the head. Ready to dream up new monsters."
  • "Baseball! Must re-read Robert Coover's book, The Universal Baseball Association, about a man who sets up a baseball league in his head."
  • "To repeat something I once said in an interview: At my age, what can I do but plagiarize what I've already said, no?"
  • "Very tired this morning. But I have been absent from this 140 character electronic box for too long."
  • "An eternal problem: the original is unfaithful to the translation."
  • "Drawing a self-portrait of my self-portrait."

Making Book Reviews New

Andrew Scott pointed this out on Facebook...

There's a great Ward Sutton graphic/comics review of Robert Boswell's recently published short story collection "The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards." (Great title, that.)

You can check out the review here.

Camus's American Journals, Part 3

"Two beings love each other. But they don't speak the same language. One of them speaks both languages, but the second language very imperfectly. It suffices for them to love each other. But the one who knows both languages dies. And his last words are in his native tongue which the other is unable to grasp. He searches, he searches..."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Trailer for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

It's the first movie based on a David Foster Wallace book. Will there be more? I know that years ago there was talk of someone turning Infinite Jest into a mini series kind of thing. Do they still make mini series?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Camus's American Journals, Part 2

"The afternoon with students. They don't feel the real problem; however, their nostalgia is evident. In this country where everything is done to prove that life isn't tragic, they feel something is missing. This great effort is pathetic, but one must reject the tragic after having looked at it, not before."

(I probably should have pointed out that these quotes come from a notebook Camus kept while on a lecture tour of the United States in 1946. He also kept a notebook while on a South American lecture tour in 1949; the poverty and suffering he saw there supposedly informed a lot of The Plague. Both of these notebooks were published as American Journals in 1987.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Story Approach from Colson Whitehead

Via Galleycat:

"Novelist Colson Whitehead's newest story isn't printed in any magazine or literary journal -- it's unfolding, as we speak, across three different websites."

Read more here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Camus's American Journals, Part 1

"... I walk down Broadway, lost in the crowd and the enormous, illuminated billboards. Yes, there is an American tragic. It's what has been oppressing me since I arrived here, but I still don't know what it's made from."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Feel the Heat

It's been blazingly hot in Southern California.

Yesterday I took Ethan to the beach. He dug a lot of sand and said this at one point:

"Waves, can we have some of your sand please? Thank you."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Short Fiction Series: October 9

If you happen to live in Southern California:

On Friday, October 9, I'll be the featured writer at the New Short Fiction Series. This is a long-running monthly series in Los Angeles. Actors read stories by a selected author.

Here are the details...

What: New Short Fiction Series presents Andy Roe's What I'm About to Do Now and Other Stories

When: Friday, October 9 @ 8 p.m. (box office opens at 7:30)

Beverly Hills Public Library, 44 Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills

Map/directions: Here

10 bucks (I promise to buy you a drink at some point in your lifetime if you come)

More info can also be found on the New Short Fiction Series website.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Ikea, Stop the Verdana Madness!"

This article got sent around at work today.

There's an uproar because Ikea starting using the Verdana font in its catalogs and ads. People can get really passionate about fonts and such.

Will the Ban Comic Sans folks join the fight?

Check It Out: Matt Bell Interview

Steven McDermott interviews The Collagist editor Matt Bell over at the Storyglossia blog.

It's a lengthy, insightful interview.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Will This Story Please Be Quiet, Please?

The issue of stories and novels not selling for being "too quiet" came up a while back over at Literary Rejections on Display.

I’ve heard the same feedback about my story collection.

What does this mean? I’m assuming it means my stories:

  • Are more character-driven
  • Are more internal
  • Do not (usually) feature topical, timely, flashy subjects
  • Do not (again, usually) feature car chases and knife fights and/or bat fights

I suppose the preference for “loud” stories and novels (and films, too) is no doubt a sign of the times. Publishers want a book that will sell.

But where would we be without “quiet” stories and “quiet” writers? No Carver. No Grace Paley. No... who else?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writing Advice From a Four-Year-Old

In the bathtub tonight...

Me: "So you know how Daddy is a writer and writes stories?"

Ethan: "No."

(Awkward pause #1.)

Me: "Oh. Well. It's kind of what I do, sometimes. And pretty soon there's going to be this reading, this, uh, event, where people -- actors -- are going to read my stories, in front of other people, in a big room. What do you think of that?"

Ethan: "Are they alien stories or singing stories?"

(Awkward pause #2.)

Me: "Uh, no. They're not. No alien or singing stories, I'm afraid."

Ethan: "They should be alien stories."

Me: "Good point. I'll rethink."

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Collagist

The debut issue of The Collagist, the online literary journal from Dzanc Books, is now live.

Quite the lineup: Chris Bachelder, Gordon Lish, Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinqee and more.

Tin House Summer Writers Workshop Video

I was lucky enough to attend the very first Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. I think it was five years ago. But I'm not sure.

I met some wonderful people, gained a lot of knowledge, and got the push I needed at the time. I came away thinking that I might be a writer after all.

The above video took me back. It features some amazing writers.

Tin House is also celebrating its tenth anniversary.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And Les Paul Will Blow Your Mind

The Swell Season's NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Man, I wished I worked at NPR so I could see all these concerts.

The latest is from The Swell Season. That would be
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of Once fame.

They have a new album coming out, called Strict Joy, in late October.

I'm listening/watching as I write this and it's sounding/looking pretty great. According to some of the comments, the version of "When Your Mind's Made Up" (a highlight from Once) is amazing.

Early Saunders

Via The Elegant Variation: the first short story ever published by George Saunders (1986, the Northwest Review).

I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to doing that soon.

I did read this introduction to the story by Tobias Wolff.

Wolff recalls the time when he was wading through all the applications for Syracuse's graduate writing program and how Saunders' story immediately stood out:

"...over the past couple of weeks I have read many thousands of pages, some good, some impossible, most drearily competent and well-behaved, and I am bleary-eyed and bored and thinking of becoming a forest ranger, if they’ll have me.

"And then I pick up this story; or, more truly, I am picked up by this story and taken for a ride through antic dips and loop-the-loops and headlong plunges into the unexpected.
I haven’t read anything like it this year, nor, indeed, in all my years of reading applications. It went right to the top of the pile, and stayed there, and a few days later I was calling George Saunders with the offer of a fellowship. If memory serves, he was then living in Amarillo, Texas, playing guitar with a folk-country band, and doing maintenance at a motel for his keep. He took the proffer, bless his heart, and the rest is history."

The world without George Saunders writing and publishing fiction? I don't want to even think about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hugeness of Heart

Ethel Rohan pointed out this super-fine interview with Jensen Whelan, Hobart’s Web Editor.

I loved this response, when asked what he looks for in submissions:

"I look first for hugeness of heart."

Speaking of Hobart's website: I'm happy to report that one of my stories will soon be showing up there.

It's something I wrote after reading Jorge Luis Borges' "Borges and I" again (and again). The story is called "Melcher and I."

Lego Spinal Tap

Story Time

This morning Ethan told me:

"Daddy, I wish I could show you a story you've never seen before."

(Bonus E. quote: As I was leaving for work, he was riding his bike in the backyard and blowing kisses and he said, "Look, I'm blowing kisses around the world.")

Henry Likes Bananas

Or should I say: mah-nan-nas...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

If I Lived in L.A.

I'd be going to the Hobart reading Monday night at Book Soup.

On the bill: Aaron Burch, Tod Goldberg, Alicia Gifford and Stefan Kiesbye.

Details here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Stories Attack

I've been working on this story that I plan to submit to a magazine that was nice enough to ask me to send them something.

It's a fairly new story, pretty short, about 1000 words, rejected a couple of times previously. I did some more work on it and thought I had it.

Then the past week I worked on it some more (a "final look" before submitting) and realized I didn't have it after all. The story has been kicking my ass on a nightly basis. That horrible revising and tweaking and tinkering that erodes confidence and makes you question why the hell you've been spending all this time on this really sucky story.

Then today, in between diaper changes and dancing with Henry and Celia to the Big Night soundtrack, something clicked, the story fell into place, I made a few more edits, and I think I have it again.

The past week of hair pulling was worth it and made the story better. I hope. We'll see.

Thought of the Day

This morning we were getting in the car to go to gym class and Ethan said this:

"I wish I could fly a kite in bed."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wired's Online Map of Pynchon's Los Angeles

See it here.

The map features places and locations from Pynchon's books, as well as from his personal life (like when he worked for Boeing after college, and the time he met and got high with Brian Wilson, who apparently didn't have much to say once the weed kicked in).

It also mentions Tommy's, which took me back to my high school years and many, many late-night trips to the famous L.A. burger joint (I'm assuming the map is calling out the original location on Rampart and Beverly). In Inherent Vice (see post below), when characters get the munchies they go to this "burger navel of the universe."

And here's what Mark Horowitz had to say about Pynchon's new novel: it's
"an homage to those bygone days [the 60s and early 70s], plus something no one expected from the notoriously private author: a semiautobiographical romp. Set in the twilight of the psychedelic '60s, Inherent Vice is stoner noir, a comic murder mystery starring a detective who—like stories of Pynchon himself—smokes bales of weed, obsesses over unseen conspiracies, and relishes bad TV. (The Big Lebowski meets The Big Sleep.) And if you map the novel against Pynchon's life in LA, it really does tie the whole room together."

(Anytime I come across a Big Lebowski reference I'm feeling good.)

Another Pynchon post, you say? Yes. To be honest, though, I don't think about Pynchon much anymore. I used to. But now I don't. And now I'm not so sure I remember what I used to think.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inherent Vice Book Trailer -- Does Pynchon Finally Speak?

Behold: the book trailer for the new Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice.

The scuttlebutt on the Internets is that the person doing the voiceover may or may not be the reclusive author himself.

The only thing to go by, I guess, would be to compare the voiceover bit he did on The Simpsons a few years ago.

I don't know. Sounds like it could be him to me. I like to think it's him. So it's him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Fatigue of a Four-Year-Old

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the early signs of ennui. I don't know.

But here are a few Ethan quotes from this morning:

"I'm tired of getting older every day."

"I'm tired of eating."

Monday, August 3, 2009

AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com Book Deal

Yes, it's true.

I knew about this a while ago because my wife was contacted by AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com, asking for permission to use a photo she had submitted and which subsequently was posted on the site.

Look for the book in May 2010.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

On Shaving Beards and Heads

Ethan: "You should shave your beard, Daddy."

Me: "Really? If I shaved my beard you might not recognize me anymore. You'll be: 'Hey, who is that guy?'"

Ethan: "Noooo. I'd recognize you."

Me: "Mommy might not."

Ethan: "You should shave your head too, like Myles [a friend/coworker]."

Me: "That wouldn't be a good look for me I don't think. Only certain people can pull that off. Like Myles. Besides, then you definitely wouldn't recognize me."

Ethan: "I'd still recognize you, Daddy."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I'm always interested in what sparks/starts a novel or a story.

Here's what Junot Diaz told an interviewer about how The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao began:

"I was living in Mexico City... It was very late, and we were over at a friend’s house; the guy’s house who I was at turned out to—in the future—turned out to be a very famous Mexican actor. But that night we were just all hanging out and it was a bunch of Mexican bohemians and me and my Guatemalan buddy. And one of these Mexican cats just pulled a book off a shelf and just cornered me and was like, 'My favorite writer in the world.' He was telling me, 'My favorite writer in the world is Oscar Wao, I love Oscar Wao, Oscar Wao is brilliant.' And I was dying because I knew he meant Oscar Wilde. That’s where the book began. After that party I went home and I laid in bed, and I suddenly had this idea of this fore-cursed family. This idea of this awkward fat boy and this idea that this family would be cursed in love, that they would have great trouble finding love. You know it just felt like a real good kind of novella, telenovela type plot. I just thought, 'Hey, I can work with this, you know, I can really change this into something else.'"

So the mispronounciation of a name begins it all. I like that.

And speaking of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: I've been reading this book off and on for over six months. I'm really enjoying it (it's big, bold, daring, full of life and funny as hell), but my reading time is so limited. Maybe I'll be done by the end of the year. Makes me feel guilty when it takes so long to finish reading a book I really like.

Twin Speak

Here's a list of the words Henry and Celia are currently saying...
  • Da-da
  • Da-dee
  • Dizz-ee (our cat)
  • Ba (book or blueberries)
  • Da-da
  • Uh-oh
  • Yaya (my mom)
  • Nana (banana)
  • Ma-ma
  • Da-da
  • E-ah (Ethan)
  • Mmmm
  • Nigh-nigh (night night)
  • All-da (all done)
  • Da-da

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Do You Write?

Here's how Colum McCann answered that itch-inducing question in an interview on the Powell's Books Blog:

"Thomas Berger has the most beautiful answer to this question. 'Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.' Enough said. Or almost enough said. Vallejo said that mystery joins us together. And Joyce said that he wanted to create life out of life."

Yes. Because. It. Isn't. There.

I'd never heard that Berger quote before.

And here's another question/answer from the McCann interview I found interesting, given my appreciation of Don DeLillo:

"If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
"I teach at Hunter College in New York and recently had Don DeLillo come to class. It was an extraordinary day. He was incredibly profound and moving and gracious and just plain honest with the students. I was also stunned by his humility. At one stage he said to us, 'I seem to be the beneficiary of an occasional revelation.' This is the man who wrote Underworld, one of the best novels of the last 25 years. We went out afterwards with a couple of students and had dinner, and a few drinks, and I watched him climb into a cab, and I thought that I would like to be that mind, I would like to sit inside that mind, if even just for a while, traveling home to Bronxville on a March night in 2009. I would very much like that indeed, to be going in that direction."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Short Story Reader on "Are You Somebody?"

Short Story Reader has a write-up about my story "Are You Somebody?", which Juked was kind enough to publish.

Last year the site also posted this piece about my story "Mexico," which appeared in Failbetter.

About "Are You Somebody?": I've periodically wondered if there's a novel seed in there. That's never happened to me before -- a story growing into a novel -- but who knows.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DeLillo, Wallace and a Fictional Book Reviewer

Murray Jay Siskind is a character from Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. He's one of the funniest and most memorable characters in the book. He says stuff like "TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data." A former sportswriter turned visiting college lecturer, he studies Elvis and supermarkets and cereal boxes; reads American Transvestite. (He also appears in Amazons, a novel attributed to one Cleo Birdwell but actually written by DeLillo and a friend/colleague. I have a copy buried in a book box somewhere, and they're pretty rare, so you can get some decent money on eBay for them, but I haven't been able to part with mine yet. Amazons is screamingly funny, perhaps even funnier than White Noise and End Zone, and that's saying something.)


A review of David Foster Wallace's short story collection Oblivion appeared in a 2004 issue of the academic journal Modernism/Modernity. The reviewer? Mr. Siskind. Moreover, the piece included several allusions to White Noise, as well as some Murray-eseque digressions. Obviously a hoax.

But no one got the joke apparently, because the review started getting cited in graduate theses as a "real" academic review.

More info from this Gawker article: "Adorable Literary Hoax Goes Entirely Unnoticed."

Btw: Both the Gawker article and another article refer to the White Noise character as "Jay Murray Siskind." It's actually Murray first, then Jay. I'm thinking that whoever wrote the review twisted the names around (another little joke) but nobody caught that either.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lemonade Scam

Okay, I know that lately it's been a bit heavy on the family life posts, but damn...

This morning Ethan asked, "Can we do a lemonade scam again today?"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Black Cab Sessions

Been meaning to mention this site for a while.

Black Cab Sessions features clips of musicians who take a cab ride (in England) and play one song while in the back seat.

Musicians include Ryan Adams, Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, Richard Thompson, My Morning Jacket, Grizzly Bear and many more. (And has anyone mentioned that Death Cab's Ben Gibbard looks just like Tin House editor Rob Spillman?)

I still haven't spent much time checking out the site. But I hope to soon. Maria says the Calexico clip is pretty cool.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Back Home

Babies cried for the last three hours, but we finally made it home late last night. On Sunday we drove from Oceanside to San Francisco, and yesterday we returned.

Overall the traveling went well -- something like 700 miles with three kids in the car. No major meltdowns, no poop incidents, no flat tires, etc. (When we stopped at McDonald's Ethan asked if he could have an Angry Meal instead of a Happy Meal. Wow. He's all about opposites right now.)

On the downside: Maria and I both got sick (she was much worse); I listened to Raffi sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" about a billion times; I scraped the side of our van when backing out of a skinny S.F. driveway (will probably cost $500-$800 to fix); and Maria and I didn't have as much of a "date" as we would've liked, though we did sneak away for a couple of pints of Guinness at the Blarney Stone (an old Irish bar in the Richmond District, where Maria's family lives).

One of the highlights was renting a boat and going around Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. I lived in San Francisco for 10 years but never did this. One of those things you do when you have kids, I guess.

It was a lot of fun. We saw blue herons and turtles and ducks and egrets. Ethan steered, I paddled...

Stow Lake Waterfall...

And here's Ethan patrolling the mean streets of San Francisco with his scooter...

(Photos all taken with my camera phone, which is why they suck.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009


"Ethan, how are those strawberries?"


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Doubt Is Good

I've heard it said that doubt is a good thing for a writer -- that if you don't have doubts about your writing then there's probably something wrong.

There's this John Irving quote:

“If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.”

So that helps. But doubt can also be crippling. It can be overwhelming. And then sometimes I have doubts about my doubts.

Fellow writers (if you're out there): how do you deal with your writerly doubts?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Let Them Eat 4th of July Cake

OK, I think we've officially started a new family tradition: the 4th of July cake.

This was Ethan's idea. And once again, he was the chief engineer and sprinkle master...

Henry got involved too...

The proud cake maker...

We have another kid, but I can't remember where she was at this point. Sleeping, I hope.

Other tidbits from the holiday weekend:

  • Went to Ethan's first fireworks show. It was kind of last minute, and he was a little scared when it first started: "Are they going to shoot us?" he asked when the first one went up.
  • Ethan kept referring to the 4th of July as American. As in: "Hey Ethan, do you know what today is?" And Ethan would say: "American!"
  • Babies, especially Celia, still sick and fussy. Sleep. Must. Have. Sleep.
  • No major four-year-old meltdowns (MDs, we call them).
  • Heard X's "4th of July" on the radio.
  • Read half of a Paul Auster essay ("Why I Write"). I'll probably read the other half in about six months.
  • Actually started on a new story yesterday -- I'm still not sure how this happened.
  • While driving today Ethan told me: "I'm going to never call names and never throw up." Also, on the way out the door he asked me: "Daddy, why are you so really old?" When we got to our destination, I jotted down these lines in a notebook (I have to do that; otherwise I'd forget all the gems that come out of his mouth). He asked if he could write in my notebook, too. So I said yes and he diligently scribbled a few lines of impressionistic four-year-old prose.

The Truth About Writers

J. Robert Lennon offers this shocking exposé in the L.A. Times.

The article is about writers and "writing time" and how they spend it (often, alas, not writing). He also points that writers are always working, which explains why we can be so distracted and spacey sometimes.

I like this part:

"If you are a child, and your writer parent is scolding you for failing to do your homework, and then he or she suddenly stops, blinks twice, and tells you to go spend the rest of the afternoon playing video games and eating Pirate Booty, then he or she is actually working."

And this:

"To allow our loved ones to know that we are working when we are supposed to be engaged in the responsibilities of ordinary life would mark us as the narcissists and social misfits we are. And so we have invented 'writing time' as a normalizing concept, to shield ourselves from the critical scrutiny we deserve."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Risking Failure

A brief essay by Joshua Henkin resonates (via Glimmer Train).

Hint Fiction Anthology

W.W. Norton will be publishing an anthology of hint fiction in the fall of 2010. And editor Robert Swartwood is looking for submissions -- starting August 1.

What is hint fiction?

According to Swartwood:
"a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story."

Details and guidelines here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

When Four Year Olds Attack

"This is the worst house I've ever lived in!"

"I'm outta here!"

"Poopyhead isn't a bad word, Daddy. It just means that you have poop on your head."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Avett Brothers Tiny Desk Concert

Maria and I saw the Avett Brothers a few months ago -- the first concert we'd been to since... well, I can't even remember when.

Here they are performing
at the desk of NPR's All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

These guys are the real deal. They rock. They harmonize. They break your heart. They make you stomp your feet. They make you happy. They make you feel alive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Visit to a Young Writers Camp

Today I spoke at a Young Writers Camp in Northern San Diego. I did it last year, and they asked me back again this year, so I guess I didn't scare the kids too much.

What's most interesting is the questions they ask (these are elementary school students, from first to fifth grade):

"What inspired you to write?"

"Is writing hard for you?"

"Where do you get your ideas?"

"Do you write children's books?"

"What books did you read when you were growing up?"

"Do you make a lot of money from writing?"

(Yes, I laughed at that one.)

But my favorite today was this one:

"Are you well known?"

Uh, well, see kid, it's complicated, there are like different levels and different types of success when you're a writer. I mean, I don't have a book published or anything yet, but I've published a lot of stories, and some people seem to like them, and I tried to publish this one novel with this one agent a few years ago and, well, long story short, it didn't work out, because getting published is kinda hard and this long drawn out process and there's also this thing called rejection, kid, don't mean to scare you or anything here, but it's true, and now I'm working on this other novel, see, and I have another agent who's really great and encouraging and maybe this one will work out but I have to finish writing it first, so we'll see...

Of course I didn't say this. I yammered about something (can't even remember), but I probably just should have said no. Either way, you could tell the kid was disappointed that I wasn't Stephen King. I was disappointed I wasn't Stephen King.

Last year the kids lined up in front of me after my talk and asked me for my autograph (one girl even had me sign her backpack). This year's crowd, however, was a bit more subdued. No autographs. Though we did pose for a nice picture (I'll post it here if I can get a copy) and they did laugh at 43 percent of my jokes.