Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Talent and Drive

"It wasn't easy. I was the worst-read person in the room and I was handing in the most unpolished stories. I knew I was behind but I was also in love with what I was doing. I'm also a bullheaded person, so I did the work. I got up at 4 a.m. and wrote until 2 p.m. every day. It was crazy. I was handed a list of 100 books every writer should read. I hadn't read any of them. But I read them all in a single year. Being a writer is equal parts talent and drive. A lot of people I went to school with were more talented. I kept hammering long after they hung up their tools."

From an interview with Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Story @ Moon Milk Review

It's called "Job History" and you can read it here.

t's kind of a companion piece to my story "Three," which was published in wigleaf a while back.

Moon Milk Review recently got a nice call out from Flavorwire as one of the top 10 online magazines.

Big thanks to MMR's editor Rae Bryant for including my story.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Writer's Proper State...

"Hope but not enthusiasm is the proper state for the writer."

-- James Salter, from a Paris Review interview

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Don't Want to Be Stevie Nicks

... is the title of a new story of mine that's in the latest issue of Dark Sky Magazine.

Just realized: today is the first day of December.

Did some writing in the car on the way to work this morning. Not recommended, but sometimes necessary.

I've always wanted to write a story with "Stevie Nicks" in the title. And now I have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Writerly doubts? Sure. All the time.

A few days ago I came across this Cynthia Ozick quote in The New York Times:

"I think early recognition is everything. It was everything for Updike and for Roth. It gives you a kind of confidence for life. I write now with the raven of doubt sitting on my shoulder all the time."

And today I saw this passage from a W.S. Merwin poem:

I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

The poem is called "Berryman," and you can read the rest of it here.

I found the Merwin passage in a Faster Times article: "Writing Advice from Emily Gould."

Gould had this to say about writers who don't have doubts:

"People who are totally convinced of their own awesomeness are nearly always totally crappy writers, or if not, they’re still totally crappy people to get stuck sitting next to at a party."

And this too:

"One of the weird things the Internet has done has made it seem possible to just kind of be a writer — ie, you can be published, a lot of people might read your work, and yet you haven’t had to give up your secure nine to five and alienate and scare most of your friends and family in order to anonymously post your amusing comments on a blog. That little bit of attention and acclaim convinces some people that they are writers. They are not. Writing is not about acclaim. It is also not about being “successful,” in the sense of making your living as a writer. You know who are very successful writers right now, in the sense of being on the bestseller list? Both Karl Rove AND Laura Bush. Being a writer, ultimately, is about writing — writing honestly, writing something only you can write. Every time you do this, you succeed."

So yes. Doubts. All the time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Randomly Random Bits

1. The film Synecdoche, New York really messed with my head.*

2. My contributor copies of Sententia arrived over the weekend. I have yet to thoroughly dig in, but so far I've read Ethel Rohan's short story "The Key" and Roxane Gay's essay "Fat Girl's Rhapsody," both of which I devoured and enjoyed immensely. Thanks to Ryan Bradley for including my story "The Big Empty."

3. The New Oxford American Dictionary honored Sarah Palin by naming "refudiate" the 2010 Word of the Year.

4. In his autobiography Life (reviewed here by Liz Phair), Keith Richards refers to Mick Jagger as "Brenda."

5. The Harry Ransom Center has acquired Spalding Gray's archive. And speaking of the Ransom Center: You can watch a reading to celebrate the opening of the David Foster Wallace archive.

6. Slumdog Millionaire was much better than I expected.*

7. As part of The Collagist's Classic Reprints series, you can read Amy Hempel's "The Most Girl Part of You." Last week, I just happened to read this story for the first time. The whole thing is amazing (hey, it's Amy Hempel), but the ending is one of those endings that leave you breathless.

8. Enjoyed Kirsty Logan's post at the Pank blog about Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays and how the book's short chapters work as flash fiction.

9. My five-year-old son Ethan: "Daddy, did you know that when you put your hands inside your pants, you can feel your penis?" Me: "Yes, I was aware of that."

10. After watching the first season of Deadwood, I've noticed that my inclination to curse has gone way, way up.*

*Finally got Netflix. I've seen more movies and TV shows in the past two months than I have in the past two years. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A realization after revising my short story collection: a lot of my stories feature driving.

People driving. People in cars. People going somewhere -- or, more often than not, going nowhere.

Is this a writerly tic?

A byproduct of living in Southern California?

Or is it thematic? Something symbolic of the transitory nature of my characters and, well, contemporary life in general?

The latter certainly sounds better, but I'm not sure. Could definitely be a tic.

Note to self: lay off the driving when writing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing in the Bath

Really like this quote from a Fictionaut Five interview with Sara Lippman:

"Dani Shapiro once told me that when Grace Paley was her teacher at Sarah Lawrence, Paley said she wrote in the bath. Of course, Paley didn't mean she was soaking in the tub with dripping wet pages. What she was referring to -- and what Dani passed along to me -- is the space around the work. The time that you're not physically writing, that's all part of it, and as writers, we need to grant and honor that, too, as part of the process.

"Right now, it's enough of a trick to secure time to write, let alone carve out space around it, but I have this time each day when I walk to pick up my kids from school. Roughly twenty minutes there, and - depending on whether or not my daughter conks out in the stroller - another twenty minutes to get my son. I've 'written' a whole bunch of stuff during these quiet, uninterrupted spells through my neighborhood."

You can read the entire interview here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Preorder Sententia 2!

You can do that here.

The issue includes my story "The Big Empty," which begins like so:

"We took the kid. And I know how bad that sounds, really, I do, but believe me: He was sitting by himself at the gas station, out in the back, by the bathrooms and dumpsters and greasy cardboard boxes, and when Jim came out of the men’s room, all sweaty, looking like he might hurl (he didn’t), and we started heading back to the car, there he was—this kid, by himself, sitting with his knees tucked up tight against his chest and his head leaning sideways, cheek resting on his knees like he was trying to fall asleep and dream his way out where he was. I remember thinking: Am I seeing what I’m seeing? There was no one there with him. No sign of parents or brothers or sisters or anybody. He was alone, forgotten, and seemed like he was used to it."

And here's a list of all the contributors:

Gregory Sherl, Peter Schwartz, Brad Green, Pacze Moj, Samantha Ducas, Howard C. Mueller IV, Ali Abdolrezaei, b.l. pawelek, Shaindel Beers, Neila Mezynski, Amanda Deo, Nathan Graziano, Jessica Anya Blau, Ethel Rohan, Josh Goller, Janey Smith, Meg Tuite, Timmy Waldron, Michael Pollock, Claire Foster, Nate House, Scott McClanahan, Ken Sparling, Robert Lopez, Christian TeBordo, Roxane Gay, and Barry Graham.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Passionate Amateur

"There is such a thing as a passionate amateur. By strict definition I am a professional novelist. But I don’t ever feel like a professional when I sit down to do the work. I feel, with each book, like I’ve never written a book before and I have to figure it out… It never seems to get easy.”

Jonathan Franzen, in an interview with the Guardian

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Writing Advice from a Five Year Old: Put the Best Story First

So I've been revising my short story collection. Again. Putting in newer stories. Taking out other stories. Tinkering (improving, I hope) stories that have already been published. Catching typos and repetitions and writerly tics.

This is the sixth official revision. At least there are six versions of the Word doc that contains the manuscript. The truer number is probably more like 20-25. Something like that.

And this time I did a little something different.

I wrote out all the story titles on 3 x 5 index cards. Then I spread the cards out on the floor. Arranged. Rearranged.

This really helped me "see" the collection as a whole (vs. scrolling through the Word doc).

At one point, my five-year-old son Ethan came into the room.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "I'm trying to see which order I want to put the stories in my book. To see which one should go first and then second and then third and on and on. Does that make sense?"


"What do you think?" I asked.

He looked down at all the index cards, all the individual stories that hopefully come together as something more, something greater.

"You should put the best story first," he said.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bits and Pieces

  • Tuesday's Literary Death Match in San Diego was a blast. I bow to Jim Ruland's greatness. And Todd Zuniga is one of three people in the universe who can get away with wearing a white suit. You can see some photos here.
  • Best novel first lines? Here's a list of 100. What's missing? DeLillo's Underworld: "He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful."
  • Salinger bio due in January. Galleycat has the scoop: "[It] provides a tremendous amount of new information, shedding light for the first time on many unknown events in Salinger's life: his wartime romance; the inspiration behind The Catcher in the Rye; the impact of his experience fighting in the D-Day landings; the true story behind Franny and Zooey; full details on his romance with Oona O'Neill (later Mrs. Charlie Chaplin); his office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers; his friendship with Ernest Hemingway; surprising evidence that he intended to continue publishing after his last story appeared in l965, and much more."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Philip Roth on Getting Started

"I don't know very much," [Roth] says about how he begins a novel. "I write my way into my knowledge. Then, if I'm lucky, I get a break. That's why it's so important to get started. Because however awful starting is — and it is absolutely awful — when you get into it, when you've got 10 pages, which may take two weeks, then you can begin to build."

Philip Roth, from a recent L.A. Times interview.

I really like that "I write my way into my knowledge" line.

But with a novel, that can be a scary approach (maybe not so scary if you're Philip Roth).

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Fierce Pleasure

"[Fiction] doesn't have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that's taken in reading something that's durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim."

Raymond Carver, from a 1983 Paris Review interview (quoted in "A Day in the Life of Hannah Tinti," which is definitely worth a read).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Literary Death Match (LDM) is coming back to San Diego on Tuesday, October 12 -- and I'm on the bill this time.

I'll be reading along with Jim Ruland, Justin Hudnall and more.

Details here.

Now I just have to figure out which story to read...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My William Vollmann Story

Back in July, Jim Ruland interviewed me for his Vermin on the Mount blog. He asked about the most unusual experience I've ever had at a reading.

Here's what I had to say...

"Many years ago I saw William Vollmann read at the Booksmith in San Francisco. He walked into the store, stood at the lectern, took a sip of water, and pulled out a gun. Three or four times throughout the reading, he picked up the gun, aimed it at the ceiling, and pulled the trigger. The gun, of course, wasn’t real; it was a cap gun, but it was fucking loud, and I was sitting in the first row. My ears were still ringing the next morning. Vollmann was weird and edgy and intense. He wore a white t-shirt and stalkeresque windbreaker. His glasses were very large. In The Catcher in the Rye, doesn’t Holden say something about how wouldn’t it be great if you read a book and could then call the writer on the phone and become pals? I wouldn’t want to call William Vollmann."

Coloring Is My Dream

More quotable quotes from my five-year-old son Ethan...

"Can I marry a girl or a boy?"

"Hollywood? There's no such thing as Hollywood."

"Coloring is my dream. I color every day."

"I'm going to be Teddy Roosevelt for Halloween. Next year I'm going to be Albert Einstein." *

"Are your bones glued together?"

"These socks are really stretchy and good for doing things and maybe like killing bad guys."

"PBS Kids is real."

"Too bad everyone doesn't have penises."

* Ethan is also currently writing a book about our 26th president.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lydia Davis on Anger, Workshops and Mentors

A few quotes from a recent Rumpus interview with the great Lydia Davis (italics mine)...

Rumpus: There are certain words that come up again and again in your work: “anger” and “disturbance,” and to some extent “upset” and “annoyance.” Many times the narrators and characters are walking around with loads of anger. From the story “Story”: “Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort…” I’ve found that in life anger is one of the most common yet hidden emotions. What is it about anger that makes you reference it so? How would you define it? Would you consider it central to your work?

Davis: I would hope that I wouldn’t have to say anger was central to my work—that sounds so sad. I suppose people are more likely to turn to writing when they’re filled with a negative emotion than with a positive one, so the stories might be disproportionately negative—angry, sad, upset, etc. There is simply less of a need to “frame” or “distance” a positive emotion. I read somewhere that anger is always a secondary emotion; i.e. the primary one might be fear, or frustration. I found that very interesting. Now, I look beyond the anger to see what the primary emotion might be.


Rumpus: A few writer friends have expressed how they would prefer to have a mentor rather than go through a creative writing program. How important is a mentor for a writer trying to find their way? Did you have one?

Davis: I would be wary of both the writing workshop and the mentor. Each is useful in small doses, but each can have too great an influence—dangerous. I would suggest working mainly on one’s own, with, as I said, occasional doses of mentorship and/or writing group situations. A friend with the same sensibility who gives useful feedback is also good—or several for different kinds of work.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I Respect My Cell Phone

From Don DeLillo's short story "Baader-Meinhof," published in The New Yorker in 2002:

His cell phone rang. He dug it out of his body and spoke briefly, then sat with the thing in his hand, looking thoughtful.

"I should remember to turn it off. But I think, If I turn it off, what will I miss? Something so incredible."

"The call that changes everything."

"Something so incredible. The total life-altering call. That's why I respect my cell phone."

(You have to be a New Yorker subscriber to read the story online, but The Guardian has it for free here.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Your Own Quiet Corner

(Wrote this up a while back but forgot to post...)

Some interesting comments from a Big Other post that quoted an interview with Amy Hempel:

Interviewer: As a writing teacher, and in the interest of all the aspiring writers reading this, what’s the most common mistake young, fresh writers make?

Amy Hempel: This is the young writer mistake question: Wanting to publish more than wanting to write well.

The post was titled "Amy Hempel's Answer -- What's Yours?"

Steve Himmer chimed in with this comment:

"To some degree, I think the constant hum of the online lit community exacerbates that pressure [to publish], and the rapidity with which stories go from written to submitted to published online. I’m not getting all Andrew Keen here and blaming the web, but for me at least the constant awareness via Facebook and Twitter and email of who’s publishing what and where and how often makes it harder to find the calm, quiet corner where my writing actually needs to get done. Obviously, it’s up to me – not the web – to tune that noise out and do the work.

"So maybe my advice to young (and old) writers would be — along with what Hempel said — to get offline more often and trust in the possibilities of your own quiet corner."

For me, finding that quiet corner has been a challenge. Yes, there is family, job, house, commute, my Vaudeville act, etc.

But part of the challenge also involves what Steve is talking about. In the past I've tried to take a break from FB, blogs, keeping up with what other writers are doing, and so on; yet I've found it very difficult to detach.

The constant hum is, well, constant. And I get caught up in it more than I should.

I like Steve's advice to get offline and trust in the possibilities of your own quiet corner. Now it's a matter of actually taking it...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Getting the Words Right

Some stories take longer than others.

I recently (well, fairly recently) "finished" two stories that I'd been working on for probably more than 10 years (though "working on" isn't really accurate; years went by without touching them). One story found a home; the other is still an orphan.

The former was recently published in kill author. It takes place on a plane. In May I flew to New York. I hadn't thought about the story in a long time, but as I settled in for the long flight, it came to mind. I had a few ideas, jotted down some lines. More important, I finally figured out the beginning and ending, both of which had always eluded me. Nothing ever felt right. And the entire story never felt done. Something was wrong. Something was missing.

Here's a well-known quote from a Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Getting the words right. So simple and yet not so simple.

I've started and finished many other stories while these two other stories were "in progress."

As a writer, sometimes you have to be patient. The story takes a while to be told. And that's okay. And I've found that the ones that take the longest are also usually the most satisfying.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Story: "Flight: SFO to LAX"

The new issue of >kill author is now live, and it includes my story "Flight: SFO to LAX."

Other contributors include Lauren Becker, Sheldon Lee Compton, Elaine Chiew, Frank Hinton and many, many others. It's chock-full of literary goodness.

One of the things that I like about >kill author is how they dedicate each issue to an author. This particular issue is dedicated to Nabokov. I like that.


This, from Doug Dorst, sounds familiar:

"My [writing] warm-up technique appears to be to waste several hours on the web, waste several more telling myself I’m a fraud, and finally, if I’m lucky, telling myself, oh, hell, just type some words already."

You can read the rest of the interview over at The Rumpus.

I got a chance to know Doug a bit while we were both living in San Francisco. He's a very nice guy. He was once a Jeopardy champion. He also has great taste in music. (We kept bumping into each other at shows.)

Doug has a new collection of stories out, called The Surf Guru, which was enthusiastically reviewed by Robin Romm in The New York Times.

And since I'm in a linking kind of mood: check out the collection's title story. Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Photos from Vermin on the Mount Reading

Saturday's reading was a major success -- more than 100 people showed up, and the readers delivered the goods.

Thanks to everyone who came.

Here are a few (poor quality) pictures:

The uber-cool poster...

I had a little lighting malfunction issue...

Me again...

Aaron Burch read a very good, very painful story about hemorrhoids...

Amelia Gray read this amazing story...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Last Plug

Tomorrow night I'll be reading in San Diego. Here are the details...

What: Vermin on the Mount Reading in Downtown San Diego
Date/Time: Saturday, July 31, 8 - 11 p.m.
Where: Sushi Performance and Visual Arts, 390 11th Street, San Diego, CA 92101

The night will feature a stellar lineup of writers, including Aaron Burch, Lisa Fugard, Jess Jollett, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Enrique Limón and Adam Novy.

More info here.

I'm planning on drinking at The Field, a great Irish bar, beforehand.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Perceptions

"Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don't know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them. Maybe I wanted to find more rigorous ways of thinking. We're talking now about the earliest writing I did and about the power of language to counteract the wallow of late adolescence, to define things, define muddled experience in economical ways: Let's not forget that writing is convenient. It requires the simplest tools. A young writer sees that with words and sentences on a piece of paper that costs less than a penny he can place himself more clearly in the world. Words on a page, that's all it takes to help him separate himself from the forces around him, streets and people and pressures and feelings. He learns to think about these things, to ride his own sentences into new perceptions."

Don DeLillo, from a Paris Review interview

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I Say to Myself

I have another new story out in the world this week (yes, it's been a good week).

This one is called "What I Say to Myself." It's in the latest issue of You Must Be This Tall to Ride.

Edited by BJ Hollars, the site focuses on coming-of-age stories and is a continuation of this anthology.

The new issue also features work by Cyn Kitchen, Kate Flaherty, William Lusk Coppage and Chris Wiewiori.


Poster for Vermin on the Mount Reading in San Diego

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Husband Across the Hall

That's the title of a new story that appears in the current issue of the Foundling Review.

Here's how it begins:

"There is a husband across the hall who looks at me. Two doors down, to the left, opposite side, near the emergency exit, with a wife I never see, yet I know she exists because there have been periodic sightings over the years, like the sightings of a rare, delicate, beautifully named bird."

Like all the stories I've been writing lately, this one is pretty short.

The issue also features commentary by Randall Brown.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Deeply Complex Thing

“A good [short story] collection has a deep coherence buried inside. I think the way one story plays off another, the way a collection adds up to a single vision is a deeply complex thing, one that hasn’t been addressed enough in criticism. I’m a big fan of original collections. I love the way the stories line up in a book like Hemingway’s In Our Time, or George Saunders’ Pastoralia, or Christine Schutt’s Nightwork. You feel a small thread weaving through them, almost invisible, maybe simply a thread made of the fact that they all have some deeply complex nuanced style and a concern passing from one story to the next. As a reader, you’re moved from one completely individual unit to the next, and you know that they’re not linked and that they can stand on their own, but you still have a kind of sense, in the end, that you’ve been through an experience that comes from the complete entity. (I’ve said this before, but it’s akin to listening to something like Radiohead’s OK Computer, or, better yet, Bach’s French Suites.)”

David Means, from an interview with Tom Barbash

Thursday, July 15, 2010


"Chekhov said he wrote as easily as a bird sings. That would be nice. I’m like a bird who's listened to all the other birds singing. Over there, in the next yard (very distant), are the songs I like. For a while I imitated them as best I could, until I figured out my own song, which I am now contentedly singing. Of course, what the bird doesn't know (because it has a birdbrain) is that it isn't just a matter of learning one song. You have to come up with a new song for every book. For now, I've got the song for this book. And that's when it becomes fun. That's why you don't want to finish too quickly. Because the part that's fun comes between the discovery of the song and the singing of the last note. Then you're back to silence, and listening. And that can be a bit rough, especially for an increasingly older bird like me."

Jeffrey Eugenides, from an interview with his editor, Jonathan Galassi

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Upcoming Reading: Saturday, July 31

Jim Ruland's venerable Vermin on the Mount reading series is coming to San Diego on Saturday, July 31.

And I'll be one of the night's readers, along with Aaron Burch, Lisa Fugard, Jess Jollett, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Enrique Limón and Adam Novy.

The reading will get started at 8 p.m. and will happen at Sushi Performance & Visual Art in downtown San Diego's East Village (390 Eleventh Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101).

More details here.

Should be a great night.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Trailers

Are book trailers becoming a standard part of a book's PR campaign?

Sure seems like it.

Here are two that have been getting some attention as of late...

Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story (w/ cameos by Jeffrey Eugenides, Mary Gaitskill, James Franco and more):

And Rick Moody's The Four Fingers of Death:

And an older one for John Wray's Lowboy, featuring Zack Galifianakis:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Calm and Private Joy

"The joy is in the surprise. It can be as small as a felicitous coupling of noun and adjective. Or a whole new scene, or the sudden emergence of an unplanned character who simply grows out of a phrase. Literary criticism, which is bound to pursue meaning, can never really encompass the fact that some things are on the page because they gave the writer pleasure. A writer whose morning is going well, whose sentences are forming well, is experiencing a calm and private joy. This joy itself then liberates a richness of thought that can prompt new surprises. Writers crave these moments, these sessions. If I may quote the second page of Atonement, this is the project's highest point of fulfillment. Nothing else -- cheerful launch party, packed readings, positive reviews -- will come near it for satisfaction."

Ian McEwan

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Polar Bears Eat Blood

I'm always amazed at what comes out of my five-year-old son's mouth...

"The Golden Gate Bridge isn't really golden. It's red."

"Superman never dies. When we die we don't move."

"This house is driving me crazy."

"I want a real gun."

"Some people don't wear their penises."

"It's a place where you rip off your booty and get a new one. And there are weapons and shooters."

"I'm never going to die, Mommy. I'm never going to ever die, not even today."

"This song is not cool."

"It's taking too long for me to grow up."

"Mommy, can I have a waterbed?"

"I wish there was an ice cream tree."

"I didn't know I was a boy until I growed up."

"Time really flies. Too fast."

"Polar bears eat blood."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Old Dads

I think of myself as an old dad. I was thirty-eight when my first son Ethan was born; forty-one when twins Henry and Celia were born.

My father was even older -- forty-five -- when I was born. And he died six months before Ethan was born. He never knew his grandchildren. And I never knew my father's father, who died when I was a baby.

I often think: We need to break this family tradition of old dads. We need to break this family tradition of grandchildren not knowing their grandfathers.


When my father died, my wife was in the room with him. My pregnant wife and my son -- his grandson. This brings me great comfort.


Father's Day is tomorrow. It's always a day that's bittersweet for me. I will look at my children and marvel. And I will think of all that my father has missed, all that I've missed in sharing the experience of fatherhood with him.


Toward the end, he wasn't lucid. He tried to get out of bed and we had to restrain him. He was surly. He mumbled. He talked of trips and suitcases (fairly common, the hospice people told us).

This was a time of morphine drops and diapers and waiting. We kept thinking this was it, this was it, he wouldn't make it another day. But then he did.

On one such day I remember sitting with him. His eyes were closed and I wasn't sure if he was asleep or not. I told him that this child (Ethan) would know who he is. I would tell him about his grandfather. I would let him know. I promised this. I touched his skin, which was already starting to feel cold and dead and not of this world.

And I've tried. I will try. I have to try. These are the promises that you keep.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fiction Is a Private Autism

Katherine Dunn on non-fiction vs. fiction:

"Non-fiction is a big responsibility. Rationality. Facts. The urgent need to reflect some small aspect of reality. But fiction is a private autism, a self-referential world in which the writer is omnipotent. Gravity, taxes and death are mere options, subject to the writer’s fancy. Fiction, even when it’s grim and hard, is fun."

More of her Q&A with The Paris Review here.

(Dunn's Geek Love is one of those books I've always been meaning to read.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shiny and New

Over at the Fictionaut blog, there's a really nice write-up about my story "Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night." It's part of the Fictionaut Fave series.

Here's how Ben White begins his piece:

"Sometimes the stories that surprise you the most aren't the ones about unique topics or characters. Sometimes it's the stories that run over the same worn-in treads but somehow still feel shiny and new. Andrew Roe's 'Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night' is like that for me."

You can read the rest here (it's pretty short).

May I Direct Your Attention To...

  • Carol Keeley's beautiful, eye-opening essay over at the Ploughshares blog. It's about sentences. And I like sentences, a lot, and Carol covers Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Don DeLillo, Gary Lutz and David Foster Wallace. The essay also includes one of my favorite DeLillo quotes (from Mao II's Bill Gray): "I'm a sentence maker. Like a donut maker, only slower."
  • Tracy Lucas's moving, inspiring post over at the Pank blog. It's heartfelt. It's spot-on. It's good. Very good.
  • A roundtable discussion of first books over at Hobart (featuring Kevin Wilson, Laura van den Berg, Roxane Gay, Holly Goddard Jones, Jedediah Berry and more).
That is all. For now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Magic of a Small Story

David Means on stories vs. novels:

"A story allows me to find some character, usually lonely and isolated in one way or another, and to find a way to tell a little bit of his or her story, somehow, expand it, and then part ways. That’s all any work of fiction can do, anyway, but the story does it faster and leaves more poetic space; whereas the novel, well, no matter what it does it has to somehow create this of grand feeling of totality. We don’t tell novels at the kitchen table, we tell stories. We carry them around, mull them over, twist them, pass them on to someone else, who, in turn, adds a few things — and that’s what interests me: the magic of how a small story grants us an enormous amount of grace.

"I think Raymond Carver said something along the lines of being limited by his temperament, and the circumstances of his life, and I feel that way sometimes. (I was spending days taking care of my kids when I wrote my second and third collections.) But with a story I can really dig in, work it over in the revision, hold it in my head completely, turn it around, examine the entire thing. In any case, I think what a good story does is lean on the reader, poetically, to do some of the work. The story ends and the reader has to go back and reread, or reconsider, offer up the deep concern and love, and then carry it off into the eternity of his or her imagination. Of course, again, it’s a totally different form from the novel: a contemporary story is not so much an entertainment vehicle as it is a pure artistic thing — to crib from the critic Hugh Kenner — so the problem comes in finding readers who have that poetic sense, that desire to dig, and that’s where the limits come in. How many readers are you going to have?"

More here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm in a Dark Gymnasium

This morning I came across this Dan Chaon quote, which I read a few years ago and have always remembered for its comparison of writing short stories to novels (the former, says Chaon, is like going into a dark room, whereas the latter is like going into a dark gymnasium):

"To be perfectly honest, I found the transition into novel writing extremely hard. I was under contract with Ballantine to deliver a novel after Among the Missing, and I'd written a one-page proposal/summary, but I really had no idea how to proceed. As a short-story writer, I usually just start at the beginning and write through to the end. At first that's what I thought a novel would be like. I think that the way that I write stories is by instinct. You have some basic ideas — a character, or an image, or a situation that sounds compelling — and then you just feel your way around until you find the edges of your story. It's like going into a dark room… you stumble around until you find the walls and then inch your way to the light switch. With a novel, it's more like you're in a dark gymnasium, or a dark field. You can't stumble around blindly as easily and find your way."

I'm currently in that dark gymnasium, trying to find my way.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Curse

(Sorry. I can't figure out how to get the video centered. You can watch it in full glory here.)

Books, Books, Books

Recently I did some purging of my books -- about 70-80, I'd say. Maybe more, maybe less.

The process was painful ("Will I ever read this book during the course of my lifetime? Is there still a chance I'll need to reference The Dialectic of Enlightenment? If I haven't read The Magic Mountain or The Death of Virgil yet, will I ever get to them, especially since I'm currently reading something like eight books and I haven't finished one in several months?"). But, reader, it was necessary.

Our house is small and we're running out of room. There are still two large bookshelves in the twins' bedroom. And there are bookshelves in our bedroom, the living room, and the den, as well as several boxes of books in my mother's garage.

More removal/purging is imminent. What I don't get rid of, I'll be boxing up, then storing in our attic, where hopefully the heat won't do any damage.

There will still be lots of books. Just not as many.

The good: According to a recent study, having lots o' books around the house (the more, the better) correlates to how many years of schooling a child will complete.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More on One Story's Literary Debutante Ball

Here are some links...
The night was really inspiring -- so many talented people, supporting such a great magazine.

As I said to more than one person, getting published in One Story isn't like getting published in other magazines. It's different. You definitely feel like you're part of a family, part of something unique and special.

Hopefully last week's benefit and other events will make sure One Story is around for many years to come.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Submitting Advice

Not from me but from Jeff Parker, who was recently interviewed at BookFox. He was asked how/where he decides to send stories, and if he had any advice for landing stories in journals.

Here's what he had to say:

"I don’t really strategize. Submitting stories for publication is roughly equivalent to buying scratch-off lottery tickets. Most of the time you get nothing. Sometimes you get five bucks. And every now and then you win the big money.

"People say send stories to journals that you like, but I don’t really understand the logic behind this. And by the way wouldn’t you, wouldn’t most writers, like any journal that wants to publish them? I would. I guess they are saying send to journals whose aesthetics hew to yours. That leads to weird ideas about writing though. Like, I write experimental so I’ll submit to Conjunctions. None of this business is really healthy. And my favorite journals -- Tin House, McSweeneys, N+1, Hobart, American Short Fiction, and others -- entertain different aesthetics.

"I’d say send any given story simultaneously to five big places and to five smaller/lesser-known places that seem like journals people actually read, and give it up to whoever gets back to you first. It’s always nice to get picked up by a big journal, but Aimee Bender taught me a long time ago that if you publish good work in small places, it sometimes has a better chance of going far. And most of my stories that have done something, been selected for an annual anthology or an award say, have all come from the smaller journals."

You can read the full interview here. He also has some interesting things to say about the differences between writing novels vs. short stories (something I'm currently grappling with).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wigleaf Top 50 and Million Writers Award

OK, I'm late on posting this, but Wigleaf recently announced its list of the top 50 very short fictions published online last year.

My story "Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night" (published in Freight Stories no. 4) made the long shortlist.

And voting continues for this year's Million Writers Award. You have until May 31.

My vote went to Roxane Gay's "This Program Contains Actual Surgical Procedures," which was published in Twelve Stories.

Damn, it's good. Damn, she's good. Good luck, Roxane.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

One Story Benefit

Back from New York...

On Friday night, I attended One Story's first benefit, the
One Story Literary Debutante Ball: A Celebration of Emerging Writers.

Hannah, Maribeth and the entire One Story staff put on an amazing event. One Story does so much to promote writers and the short story. It was an honor to be there.

Here's a bad photo:

And here's John Hodgman, who was the MC for the presentation of the literary debutantes:

And here's a half-eaten Brooklyn slice I had afterward:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Books I've Been Reading for a Very, Very Long Time But Have Not Yet Finished

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm
  • The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Big World by Mary Miller

  • Pank #4
  • Slice Magazine #4
  • The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
  • Citizens Welles by Frank Brady

It's not that I'm not enjoying these books and journals. I am. Immensely. I want to finish each of them. But somehow… I start one. I stop. I start another. I stop. It’s bad. It’s not good.

This is me admitting there's a problem. The first step.

(Although somewhere in there, at some point, I did manage to start and finish Kevin Wilson's Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. So there's hope.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Stalling" Review

Here's a nice review of my story "Stalling." It's part of the Fictionaut Faves series at the Fictionaut blog.

I've been thinking about this story a lot recently because my oldest son, Ethan (who's turning five this week), is asking about death just about every day.

He wants to know when he'll die. He wants to know when his mother will die. He wants to know when I'll die.

Unfortunately it's been a death-filled year: my aunt died in January, a coworker (in his early 30s) died unexpectedly in February, and most recently my mother-in-law passed away last month.

Plus Ethan's been watching too much Scooby-Doo (filled with ghosts, mummies, etc.).

So there are many, many questions, and lots of stumbling answers.

"Stalling" is autobiographical, but it was mostly speculative at the time I wrote it. Now I'm truly living it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Last week (?) I posted a quote from Marisa Silver.

As a guest blogger at The Elegant Variation, she recently posted an article called "Advice for the lovelorn... I mean writers."

Here's something that hit home:

"Your work will often look horrible and embarrassing.It will be unoriginal. It will fill you with shame. You will lie down on your bed and think that no one has ever written more awful, ungainly sentences than you. Get up off the bed. Don't panic. Like any kid - your work has to go through its awkward, pimply faced adolescence before it emerges as something another person might want to look at, hold in her hands, take into her heart."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reading Recs

  • Carol Keeley's essay "The Culture of Fire." Carol is a friend and wonderful writer/person. She also has a story ("Cremains") in the current issue of Ploughshares. The issue was guest edited by Elizabeth Strout, and features some big names: Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bausch, Mary Gordon and Amy Hempel. Congratulations, Carol!
  • Steve Almond's essay about Chuck Prophet. This is an excerpt from Almond's recently released book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. It's good to see Mr. Prophet get some love. I saw him perform many, many times when I lived in San Francisco. Besides his indisputable musical skills, he's also a master of handling hecklers.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Son, the President

Driving with my four-year-old son Ethan yesterday, a story came on NPR about the funeral for the Polish president who died in a plane clash last week...

E: He died?

Me: Yes. He was the president of a country called Poland, which is pretty far away. He died last week and today they're having a funeral for him. Then they're going to have an election to choose another president. Do you know what an election is?

E: No.

Me: Well, let's see. An election is when people, uh, vote for other people to decide who's going to be, um, the leader of a country -- or a smaller place, like a city or a state. The people who win the election, they then get to make decisions and decide things. Like President Obama. There was an election a while back, and more people said they wanted President Obama to be the president, so he won the election, and he became the president. Now he's the leader of our country.

E: I am.

Me: You're the president of the United States?

E: Yes.

Me: That's a pretty important job. Do you think you can handle it?

E: Yes.

Me: Well, let me know if you need any help with that.

E: I don't need any help, Daddy.

Me: Okay.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dictionaries, DFW, Daddy Brain

Ever wondered which words David Foster Wallace circled in his dictionary? Wonder no more.

I now realize that I suffer from abulia (loss or impairment of the ability to make decisions or act independently). I used to call it daddy brain.

For the record: DFW used the American Heritage Dictionary.

More about the David Foster Wallace Archive at the Harry Ransom Center here.