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.