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.


Publishers Lunch reports that there's a David Foster Wallace biography on the way:

"D.T. Max's biography of David Foster Wallace, about 'why he matters and
what he tried to teach us,' to Paul Slovak at Viking, at auction, by Elyse Cheney at Elyse Cheney Agency."

D.T. Max wrote the recent New Yorker article about Wallace. I thought the article was okay -- earnest, comprehensive, etc. -- but I also thought it was mostly "just the facts." I didn't get the deeper insights I was hoping for; I thought the earlier Rolling Stone article was more satisfying on that level (maybe that's because the author of the RS piece had actually met Wallace and spent time with him, whereas Max never met Wallace).

Anyway, I'm sure I'll still check it out.

UPDATE: So it looks like there were two DFW bio proposals circulating: one by Max, and another by David Lipsky, who wrote the above-mentioned RS article.

Per The New York Observer:

"The dueling book proposals were about as radically different in scope and intent as one could expect two biographies of the same guy to be. While Mr. Max, a former Observer reporter, aims to write a cradle-to-the-grave narrative about Wallace’s life and the historical-cultural backdrop against which he produced his work, Mr. Lipsky seems to have in mind something like a memoiristic sketch based almost entirely on a series of lengthy interviews he conducted with Wallace over the course of a week in 1996 for a Rolling Stone profile that ended up getting spiked.

According to Viking, the Max biography will be "a relatively short book" that will come out "no earlier than 2011."

UPDATE TO THE PREVIOUS UPDATE: Publishers Lunch reports (6/30) that the Lipsky book has sold as well. Brief NY Times report here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

NPR's Three-Minute Fiction Contest

One of our pre-kids rituals was listening to NPR's Weekend Edition. Not so much anymore.

So I didn't hear about NPR's summer writing contest until I saw mention of it over at The Elegant Variation this morning.

Details here.

It's called Three-Minute Fiction (stories should be 500-600 words), and the judge is James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker and author of How Fiction Works.

Mr. Wood will select stories throughout the summer and read them on the air. Then a winner will be announced in late July.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Ethan made some killer cupcakes for Father's Day. As you can see, he's a master of the sprinkles.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I'm About to Do Now

I just realized there's a PDF of my story "What I'm About to Do Now," which was published in Salt Flats Annual a few years ago. It's also the title story of my short story collection.

So: here it is.

Fun with Words

Two new sites to recommend...

1. Wordbirds

Do you like to make up words?
Liesl Schillinger, who regularly reviews books for The New York Times, does. She "mints" new words, one a day, which is damn impressive.

Here's a favorite recent entry for "parking spaced":

V. (past tense) par-king-spayst To have forgotten where you parked your car. Usage: When Kara left the mall with her kids after spending the afternoon eating lunch and shopping, she completely parking spaced. It took her twenty minutes to figure out which lot she’d left the Subaru in.

(Yes, we have a Subaru.)


This one got sent around at work, and it's definitely worth a look.

Here's how the site describes Engrish:

"Engrish can be simply defined as the humorous English mistakes that appear in Japanese advertising and product design."

Post #100

That's what this is. I guess I'm officially blogging.

Also: I keep writing stuff for the blog and then forget to post. I'll try to do better. Promise.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kid Quote of the Day/Week/Month/Year

"Daddy, why is Mommy so pretty?"

Beautiful Libraries

Wow, check this out. Makes me want to do a library tour of the world. (Via The Elegant Variation.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday

Here's a link to a moving essay by Colum McCann.

Toward the end, he writes:

"This is the function of books — we learn how to live even if we weren’t there. Fiction gives us access to a very real history. Stories are the best democracy we have. We are allowed to become the other we never dreamed we could be."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Recap

1. Up early, as usual. Much coffee, also as usual. Heard part of "This American Life" while feeding Henry and Celia. It was a segment about fathers. Hearing sad stories of shitty and neglectful fathers made me realize that maybe I’m doing a halfway decent job after all.

2. Ethan started swimming lessons. “Brutal” is the word Maria used to describe it. Initially it was very, very hard for him. But he did get in the water, and once he was in, he did okay. I really dropped the ball on the whole swimming thing. Now it's an issue. Parental guilt. Kind of canceled out last sentence of #1.

3. Mowed and trimmed the lawns. Pulled weeds. Swept. Sweated. Henry and Celia watched from the living room window, smiling and laughing every time I looked at them and waved.

4. Found a dead lizard in the backyard. "That lizard's dead,” said Ethan. "He's dead."

5. Took Henry and Celia to the bank. Go somewhere with twins and you’ll get comments, stares, smiles. "Are they identical?" someone asked. Uh, no.

6. Feeling pretty okay about a short thing I wrote on Thursday night after rereading Borges' story "Borges and I." It's supposed to be funny. I hope it is.

7. Ethan is very interested in outer space. He wanted to write a letter to an astronaut. "Dear Astronaut," he dictated. "We would like to go into space soon enough." He's also a self-proclaimed expert on the subject: "I already know about space. I know about astronauts. I know about aliens. Are there bad aliens in space?"

8. Took the twins on a stroller ride around the block. A neighbor (who I don't know and who likes to watch TV in his garage) called out: "Twins?" "Yeah," I replied, "boy and a girl." "Good job!" he yelled back. Was this some kind of lame comment about male virility or something (a la G. Costanza: "My boys can swim!")? Weird. And funny. Because, as Maria pointed out after I told her this, conceiving twins has nothing to do with the dude side of things.

9. Went to Trader Joe's after putting the twins and Ethan to sleep. Driving home heard "Shake Your Rump" by the Beasties. That song always makes me smile, especially the line about Sam the Butcher giving Alice the... well, you know.

10. California Pizza Kitchen makes a pretty damn good red velvet cake.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Borges and I and Twitter

BookFox has a funny post about dead writers who have been miraculously resurrected via Twitter.

You can now read literary tweets from the likes of Hemingway, Melville, Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Flannery O'Connor.

My favorite is the Twitter page for Jorge Luis Borges.

Sample Borgesian tweet:

"Woke up this morning and found myself lying next to me. I look so peaceful when I sleep."

Sadly, though, Mr. Borges (Twitter name: BorgesKnowsBest) has only seven followers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Issue of Freight Stories

Issue no. 5 of Freight Stories is now live. Check it out.

Includes a new story from my pal Alicia Gifford, as well as offerings from Ron Burch, Jason Skipper, Rachel Furey, Michael Martone, Margaret McCullan, Bryan Furuness, Victoria Patterson and Liza Wieland.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Infinite Summer

Ever wanted to tackle reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest? This summer would be a good time.

Here's the call to action from the newly launched Infinite Summer website:

Infinite Jest over the summer of 2009, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages ÷ 92 days = 75 pages a week."

The site offers four guides/writers and various participants who'll go through the experience with you.

Reading IJ was one of the most amazing (and exhausting) reading experiences I've ever had. I read it in the fall of 1997 when I was living in San Francisco. I still remember commuting to work and lugging it on the bus or train -- usually so crowded that I had to stand, one hand holding a pole and the other clutching the 1,079-page paperback, causing a severe case of Infinite Jest wrist.

Starting at the End

That's what John Irving does. When he's writing a novel, he writes the last sentence first. Then he writes the rest of the book toward that last sentence.

I've often heard writers say they write a first sentence and then follow that sentence. But Irving says he does the opposite. I think I may have done this once, for a short story. As a regular practice, though, I don't think so. Not for me anyway.

What starts things for me is usually that first sentence, or a character, or an idea, or an image, or... something.

Irving discusses his approach in a video interview with The New York Times.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form of Unhyphenated Word

This reminds me of someone I used to work with (via The Onion again).

Saturday Morning Praise (Much Needed)

Courtesy of Ethan:

"Mommy, you're so... awesome.

"Daddy, you're so... cool.

"I'm so... inspiring!"