Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Stands for: What Would Keith Richards Do?

As reported by Papercuts, this is the title of a new book. (Subtitle: Daily Affirmations from a Rock 'n' Roll Survivor.)

Here are some sweet Keithisms:

"Mine is a very nebulous spirituality."

"Cheese is very wrong."

"I've never turned blue in someone else's bathroom. I consider that the height of bad manners."

Keef, man.

Colson Whitehead's New Novel

This one, his fourth, is called Sag Harbor.

Based on the reviews and the excerpt that ran in The New Yorker a while back, it's something of a departure: autobiographical, first-person narrator, coming-of-age story taking place during one summer, etc.

He's one of those writers who I'll follow anywhere and read anything he publishes.

The first book review I ever wrote for The San Francisco Chronicle was for Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist. (Read that review here. It also contains my favorite opening line for one of my reviews: "There's little literary precedent for the elevator novel.")

And I was even more impressed by his second novel, John Henry Days. So impressed that I started writing like him, or rather trying to write like him, because of course I can't; he's way better, way smarter, way funnier.

We do, however, have one thing in common: We both used to work for CNET.

Anyway. Some Colson Whitehead goodness for your perusal...

More on "The Elements of Style"

Lots of debate about the merits, inadequacies, limitations, etc., of the 50-year-old writing and style guide.

People get very passionate about this stuff.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NEA Application Blues

(The following is something I wrote in late February... forgot to post it.)

"I'm just trying to think but my brain can't think anymore."

That's what Ethan said to me this morning, and that's how I usually feel at the end of the day.

But it's especially relevant after having gone through a week-long ordeal to get my NEA creative writing fellowship application submitted. Doesn't sound like a big deal, right?

All told, it took about a dozen support phone calls, multiple go-nowhere emails, and hours of my own troubleshooting, guessing, second- and third-guessing, installing, reinstalling, creating new accounts and new passwords, etc.

Why? The whole online application submission system... sucks. In fact, it seems to be designed to prevent people from actually submitting applications and getting the fellowships and the money. (Conspiracy theorists take note.)

The NEA uses to handle the application process. It's all done online, and that's fine -- I know my way around a computer.

But the system is so unreliable (log in issues, password reset issues, load issues, you name it), the support so scattered, confusing, and incomplete, that it's a wonder my application (again, after a week of trying) somehow made it through. And when it finally happened it was random. Nothing got "fixed." I just happened to be able to log in after scores of unsuccesful attempts and submit my application.

There are lots of blog comments about how crappy the system is. "This system is dysfunctional" was one of my favorites. Also this: "I have never done such a difficult and traumatic application." Yes, that's how it felt: traumatic.

Every time I called I was told "The system is slow" or "The system is having widespread issues."

One of the support people (probably the eighth person I spoke to) was practically yelling at me. I tried to provide some background on what had happened so far (I won't go into the numbing details), but she wasn't having it: "I don't need to know that! I need to know your situation right now! I don't care what's happened before! What is your problem right now?!!"

"My problem," I gently tried to explain, "is that I don't know what my problem is. That's why I'm trying to provide some background and explain it to you. There have so many things that have gone wrong, I have had research requests instated and then canceled without being notified. I don't know where to begin. Could I get your name again please?"

This was the same person who, when recommending that I clear my cache, pronounced cache as "kaa-shay." And I think she called Firefox "Firebear": "Don't use Firebear or whatever. We don't support that. Use Explorer. Delete your cookies. Clear your kaa-shay. Don't use the Googles or Yahoo. None of that." Didn't give me much confidence in her "tech" knowledge.

Anyway, it's done. Getting an NEA fellowship is an extremely long shot and would be a dream. But man, I'm still feeling depleted.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twins, Man, Twins!

This morning I was sitting on the living room floor surrounded by sunlight and baby toys and, well, babies.

Two babies. Crawling over me and laughing and giggling. Twins. Who recently turned one.

After a year, I still can’t believe it. We have twins.

Often I shake my head, as I did this morning, and think: “Twins, man, twins!”

(And I don’t often use exclamation points.)

Most of the parent stuff I write about on this blog has to do with my older son, Ethan, who’ll be turning four in a few weeks. (This fact also blows my already blown mind.)

But Henry and Celia… they are amazing. They remind me of joy and discovery and simplicity and beauty.

When they smile and laugh, I think we’ll survive the craziness. That one day we’ll sleep. That one day I can do something crazy like sit down and eat an entire meal at once or (dreaming big now) watch an entire movie or basketball game.

Twins, man…

Mr. Henry:

Ms. Celia:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beware the Toucan

Ethan: "If you run into a toucan, he will bite you."

Me: "What if I walk into him?"

Ethan: "No. Only if you run into him. Then he will bite you."

I did not know this.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Talk Like Shakespeare Day

It's today.

To practice, check out the Shakespearean Insulter.

Example insult:

"Thou bawdy fool-born clotpole!"

Methinks if there be a Talk Like a Pirate Day, then why hath there not been a Talk Like Shakespeare Day?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Half a Century of 'The Elements of Style'

The famous style guide turns 50, as reported by the New York Times.

I liked this bit:

"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers," Dorothy Parker once wrote, "the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them copies of 'The Elements of Style.' The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy."

In the photo, you can see the copy I keep in my office. Yes, those are my fingers. No, I am not a giant. The book is very small.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kid Quotes of the Day

Henry: "Da-da."

Ethan: "I love melon so badly!"

Celia: "Buh-bye."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not Ron Burgundy But...

My very short story "My Anchorman" is now up over at Monkeybicycle.

There's no jazz flute, no Planet of the Apes references, no scotch-scotch-scotch-I-love-scotch dialogue. But there is a stalker.

I also have a story in the current issue of Slice Magazine (see previous post) that's called "My Status." I think this consists of my entire oeuvre of stories with "My _______" in the title.

Stay classy, San Diego.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Short Fiction Series

Just got some good news: I've been selected to have my short stories read as part of the New Short Fiction Series up in L.A.

It's a pretty sweet set-up. Actors read your stories so you don't have to. I like that.

It won't be happening until 2010 (no specific date yet). But if you live in Southern California and know me (or don't know me), mark your calendars for... 2010.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Serial Comma

Ah, the serial commanothing gets a group of editors, copy editors and writers more riled up than a good ol' "discussion" on whether or not to use it. (This happened recently at work.)

You've got your pro serial-comma camp, and you've got your anti-serial-comma camp; here's an impassioned pro argument.

Interesting to note that David Foster Wallace, who was on the editorial board of the Oxford English Dictionary, was firmly pro serial comma. Here's a quote from the editor who worked with him on his Roger Federer article for the New York Times:

"He is the only writer ever to convince (or even try to convince) the famously stubborn Times copy desk that we should temporarily ignore the paper's famous serial-comma rule—the paper doesn't use them; this really drove David nuts. His argument was that '10 percent of the cases become howlers without it' and offered the following example: 'The elephant fell on the Snodgrass twins, Rodney and Pete.' Remove the comma and only two people are crushed by the elephant, whereas the writer might have intended the total to be four. Why complicate comprehension for the sake of a rule? When I told him I thought we were stuck—the institution is bigger than the individual, even this individual—he said he was willing to take up the matter with the copy tsar himself and added, 'Just say the author's an eccentric prima donna.' Then he laughed."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Slice, Issue 4 -- Going Home

My contributor copy of Slice Magazine, featuring my story "My Status," came in the mail today.

It sure is purty. Looks- and size-wise it's similar to The Believer. Lots of good
stuff that I'll hopefully be digging into soon.

Did pleasantly note, though, that the Paul Auster interview appears right before my story. Speaking of which, here's the first paragraph of "My Status":

"Pictures don’t lie. And there I am, in a photo that’s now prominently displayed on the fridge, among the magnets and coupons and crazed crayon drawings of my eight-year-old son. It took a while to recognize myself. Then it was like: Oh shit, that's me. Bloated, drunk, ugly, looking like a man who’s made an all-star career of letting people down, including himself. Damn. Is that really me? Are my eyes really that close together, that guilty? And how long has the photo been up? I don’t live here anymore, so maybe it’s been a while and I just haven’t noticed it until now, here to pick up my son. Every other Saturday is the agreed upon arrangement. That’s when I’m still a dad."

The story also features Trader Joe's, tofu, a dognapping, regret, redemption (maybe), the 605 freeway and a karate instructor named Sensei Jerry.

Fellow contributors include Alex Littlefield, Sari Wilson, Caroline Woods, Maggie Veness, Matt Cook, Martha Clarkson, Alexi Zentner, Eric Vale, Scott Bowman, Sharon Harrigan, Knox Dupree, Karen Regen-Tuero, Melinda Clark, Monica Anzalone, Alison Kim, Yoon Sunwoo, Seung Ryoul Lee, Jennifer Yoon, Nikki Van Noy, Jessica Gomez, Anthony Carelli, Ben Gantcher, Elizabeth Schmidt, Tom Haushalter, Maria Gagliano, Ian McConnel and Celia Blue Johnson.

And, as usual, the editors have lined up some amazing interviews: the aforementiond Mr. Auster, plus Lisa See, Ed White, Aleskandar Hemon and Haven Kimmel.

If you're interested in purchasing the issue directly from Slice, you can do that here.

Or look for a bookstore near you that carries Slice.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Richard Yates: Children's Author?

I'm proud to report that Henry is bypassing typical children's book fare like Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and going right to the hard stuff.

Here he is devouring Richard Y
ates' Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.

Let the depression and drinking begin!

UPDATE: Henry's sister Celia seems to have a passion for Borges' Collected Fictions. Man, what are we doing to these kids?

She Was Always My Favorite Golden Girl and Here's Why...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Call Me Later, I'm Busy Writing

That's what Gabriel Garcia Marquez said when asked by a reporter if it was true he'd given up writing, as was widely reported last week.

Seems like every year or two there's speculation that the 82-year-old writer has put down his pen for good. We get a series of is-he-or-isn't-he rumors.

But the man himself says no. And here's another great quote:

"My job is to write, not to publish," he told El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper. "I'll know when the pastries that I have in the oven are ready for the eating."

Article here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coppola Quote

Francis Ford Coppola has a new movie coming out this summer. It's called Tetro, and it's his first original screenplay since The Conversation. (I always think of The Conversation as coming out before The Godfather, but no, actually it came out between The Godfather and The Godfather II.)

There's a website for the movie, including some interesting facts about Coppola in the bio section.

He says that since a lot has been written about him online, he'd rather talk about a few things you might not know about him. Like this:

"My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to get married and have a family. It's motivation and inspiration."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the John Malkovich character from Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog saying family is the death of the artist.

I think I'll go with Coppola...

A Little Energy by Myself

Ethan, while in the bathroom and after being queried about his day:

"Daddy, don't talk to me, I need to get a little energy by myself for a moment."