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.