Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is a Blog Literature?

That's the question asked by Gregory Cowles in, appropriately, a Paper Cuts blog post.

The occasion is the publication of Jose Saramago's The Notebook, a compilation of blog posts that the Nobel Prize winner wrote from September 2008 to August 2009.

Cowles' answer to the above question?

"[Saramago's blog posts are] fascinating and smart and provocative, and a lot of fun to dip into. But they strike me as too topical and too fleeting to count as literature, and they reinforce my impression... that blogs are by their nature part journalism, part journal."

So that's, uh, a no.

Lay Back the Darkness

Mark Sarvas @ The Elegant Variation recently posted this poem by Edward Hirsch. I'd never read it before. Definitely will resonate for anyone who's watched a parent go down this path...

Lay Back the Darkness
By Edward Hirsch

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

But a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.


You can hear Hirsch read the poem here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Story @ Wigleaf

This one is called "Spinners."

It starts like so:

"The bus did not come and so I waited and counted all the reasons for not believing."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Story Literary Debutante Ball

A very cool One Story benefit event is happening on Friday, May 21, in New York: the One Story Literary Debutante Ball: A Celebration of Emerging Writers.

The event will celebrate One Story's debut and emerging authors. I was kindly invited/included as one of the latter.

My story "America's Finest City" will be one of the featured stories. And get this: Artists, performers and filmmakers will be producing original works based on the night's featured stories. These works will then later be auctioned.

The night will also feature a presentation of authors who have made their debut in One Story. These writers will be escorted by an established author.

And did I mention that John Hodgman is the MC? Or that Dan Chaon, Michael Cunningham, Colson Whitehead, Jim Shepard and many other fine writer people will be there?

I live in Southern California. And the event is in Brooklyn. And I have three small children. So I'm still trying to figure out if I can attend. If you're in the NY area, definitely check it out and support a great cause.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gigantic Corium Day Jobs

1. Gigantic

Roxane Gay talks Gigantic, issue two. She has lots of interesting insights (as usual). She also discusses the disappointments of IKEA furniture.

2. Corium

Corium Magazine's debut issue is now live. It's a beaut. Edited by Lauren Becker, along with Greg Gerke and Heather Fowler, it features lots o' great folks: Scott Garson, Kathy Fish, Kim Chinquee, Laura Ellen Scott and many mo'.

3. Day Jobs

Lastly, even William Faulkner had a day job. Yo.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Real Deal

Son House performing "Death Letter" (The White Stripes recorded a version too)...

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Story "The Stump" @ jmww

Superstar David Erlewine guest-edited the spring issue of jmww, which is now live.

It's an all-flash issue, featuring an impressive list of writers (take a deep breath):

Charles Lennox, Jarrid Deaton, Gary Moshimer, Rusty Barnes, Katrina Gray, Timothy Gager, Seth Fried, Tria Andrews, Damian Dressick, Sheldon Lee Compton, Ethel Rohan, S. Craig Renfroe, Kyle Minor, Michael Czyzniejewski, Matt Bell, Edward Mullany, Matthew Salesses, Kevin Wilson, Curtis Smith, Tara Laskowski, Molly Gaudry, Erin Fitzgerald, Meg Pokrass, Roxane Gay, Sam Nam, Robert Swartwood, and Ben Loory.

David was kind enough to include my story "The Stump." It is, as the title implies, about a stump.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Type Matters

Do you ever look up which font was used in a book?

I do. Sometimes.

Here are a series of videos featuring book designers from Penguin talking about fonts. Pretty cool, if you're into fonts...

Beating Myself Up

Writers can be hard on themselves. At least this one can. I definitely have my self-pugilistic tendencies. I am, as they say, aware of the issue. Yet the issue remains an issue.

Actors are the same way. See, for example, this New York Times profile of John Goodman, published when he was appearing as Pozzo in a new production of Waiting for Godot.

A couple of paragraphs:

"In person Mr. Goodman is not the stereotypical jolly fat man. For all his success, he remains full of self-doubt. Compliments make him wince, and his conversational default mode is self-deprecation. He sometimes seems to be eyeing himself with suspicion.

"Mr. Goodman’s friend Tom Arnold, whom he got to know during the years he starred on 'Roseanne,' said: 'John is much too hard on himself. He’s got that thing. I have it too. That fat kid thing. No matter what, we look in a mirror, and that’s what we see. It comes out in a lot of different ways. I’ve seen him pounding walls over a line in a sitcom. Probably it wasn’t even a good line, but John thinks he should have done it better.'”

I was a chubby kid. So maybe there's something there. Eyeing myself with suspicion? You bet. And I think I inherited the perfectionist gene from my parents.

Whenever a story gets published, my wife will ask how it feels. When I see a story in print or online, I'll start to squirm, I see everything that's wrong, that could have been better. I have to look away. Most of the time, I can't even bring myself to read the words. Once something is published, I rarely look at it again.

It's a good thing in that I'm always trying to do better, to get it right, to be a better writer.

But it's a bad thing when I can't even enjoy the small successes I've had.

A writer friend once told me: "Be nicer to yourself."

I'm trying, trying...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

DFW Archive

I've never been to Austin. I hear it's a cool town. It's known for its music, of course -- and that's reason enough for me to visit.

Another reason to visit is the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, which houses the archives and papers of writers like Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Doris Lessing and James Salter, as well as stuff from Joyce and Beckett.

Now there's word that the Ransom Center has acquired the archive of David Foster Wallace.

From the press release:

"The archive contains manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books.

"Highlights include handwritten notes and drafts of his critically acclaimed 'Infinite Jest,' the earliest appearance of his signature 'David Foster Wallace' on 'Viking Poem,' written when he was six or seven years old, a copy of his dictionary with words circled throughout and his heavily annotated books by Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and more than 40 other authors."

And here's what Wallace's longtime agent Bonnie Nadell had to say:

"[W]hat scholars and readers will find fascinating I think is that as messy as David was with how he kept his work, the actual writing is painstakingly careful. For each draft of a story or essay there are levels of edits marked in different colored ink, repeated word changes until he found the perfect word for each sentence, and notes to himself about how to sharpen a phrase until it met his exacting eye. Having represented David from the beginning of his writing career, I know there were people who felt David was too much of a 'look ma no hands' kind of writer, fast and clever and undisciplined. Yet anyone reading through his notes to himself will see how scrupulous they are."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sad and Beautiful World

The Sentences

Sam Lipsyte on Gordon Lish:

"Gordon said many things that I will never forget, but the one thing that I always think about is that he said once, 'There is no getting to the good part. It all has to be the good part.' And so I think that when people are writing their novels they are just thinking about the story, about what has to happen so their character can get to Cleveland. And they are just typing; they don’t care about the sentences. And what are we here for if not the sentences."

Full story/interview (by editor Gerald Howard) here.

Bonus track: my San Francisco Chronicle review of Lipsyte's first novel, The Subject Steve.

Friday, March 5, 2010

New Story @ The Northville Review

I have a story, called "Mystery Dads," in the new issue of The Northville Review.

The issue also features Roxane Gay, Laura Ellen Scott, Edward Mullany, Kenneth Pobo, A D Jameson and Calvin Mills.

Lauren Becker guest-edited this issue -- and she made some excellent suggestions and edits to my story. Thanks, Lauren!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Writing Planner

How much do you plan things out when you write?

I don't like to plan too much. I like to discover as I write -- for me, that's one of the great joys of writing.

But on the other hand, if you plan too little there's the danger of getting lost and rambling and creating scenes and characters and situations that never connect and cohere to the larger whole.

I like Joshua Henkin's take on this issue:

"I'm not a map-things-out kind of writer. I believe it was Mary McCarthy who said that she writes in order to find out what will happen, and I'm that way myself. I always start with what I believe is the beginning—it's important to me to be writing forward—even if it turns out that I'm grossly mistaken. In the case of Matrimony, I started with a college reunion because that was where I thought the book began. Now there is a college reunion in the novel, but it comes twenty years and nearly three hundred pages into the book. My next novel I've mapped out a little more, but even that's a very tentative mapping out, and I want to make sure that I allow myself to veer from the path I've staked out for myself. This is a tension that any writer faces—between planning out too little and planning out too much. If you plan out too little, you can end up writing a lot of pretty sentences about mountains and sunsets that don't go anywhere. If you plan out too much, you can end up injecting characters into a preordained plot and you get what a friend of mine calls Lipton-Cup-a-Story. What I try to do is to set my fiction in situations where something important can take place—where there's potential for conflict—but not to know too far in advance how that conflict will play out. That way the imagination can take over."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You Still Need to Be Dreamy

From a Rumpus interview with Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and the recently released The Ask...

Rumpus: You teach writing at Columbia. And you’re married with two children. Does being really busy help your novel-writing?

Lipsyte: In a way it does. I used to squander a lot of time to get some “good hours” in. Now I have much briefer windows. I have to attack. Hit the ground running. No dilly-dallying. Though of course I still do. You still need to be dreamy. But when it’s time to write I’m not scared of being distracted. I won’t be. I’m going to die. I’ve got to finish this story, this scene, this boo

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Issues of...

  • Freight Stories, featuring Chad Simpson, Terese Svoboda, Midge Raymond, Glen Pourciau, Eugene Cross, Kip Robisch, Lori Rader Day, Fred Arroyo, and Robin Elizabeth Black.
  • Hobart, featuring Andrew Brininstool, Craig Davis, Neil de la Flor, Alex Pollack, and Ethel Rohan.
  • decomP, featuring Sheldon Lee Compton, Jude Dillon, Jerome Edwards, S. H. Gall, Britt Gambino, Brad Green, KJ Hays, Kevin Kaiser, Robert Kaye, Karen Neuberg, Amy Oakley, Lynne Procope, Peter Richter, Jacob Russell, Kathryn Sanders, Chantel Schott, Daniel Wheatley, and xTx.
  • elimae, featuring Elizabeth Ellen, Michelle Reale, Mel Bosworth, Greg Gerke and many more.