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.”