Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Well, with two more days to go, it's safe to say I'm not going to make it.
I'm trying to not beat myself up about this. I'm trying to look at the positive.
This is the positive:
I've made a lot of progress on my novel in 2011, more than I have in the past 2-3 years. I feel engaged with the book, I feel like the changes I'm making have improved things immensely, and that I've been able to successfully integrate older material with newer material (I've been working on this book on and off for several years). This is probably the most challenging (and exhausting) thing I've ever done fiction-writing-wise, and it's possible that it's working out.
So yes, there's that.
There's also the fact that an excerpt from Believers was published in The Sun in July.
I was also lucky enough to be a featured writer at an event sponsored by the New Short Fiction Series and the Annenberg Foundation.
And I did a reading back in February.
And several short stories found a home.
Plus there was this nice interview.
Yes, the positive. That's what I'm focusing on.
My writing goal for 2012, then, will be the same as 2011: finish my novel. I've given myself three more months, even though it will probably be more like six.
And that's OK.
Because these things take time.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Saturday, December 3, 2011
"Why do women wear zucchinis to the beach?"
"I burped for ten hours."
"What the heck is a vagina?"
"You don't know what Justin Bieber is."
"Do you know what I'm going to be when I grow up? First I'm going to be an archaeologist and then I'm going to be an artist."
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Usually I don't tally these things up, but I was curious, because this is an older story that I've been tinkering with and sending out for several years.
So yeah. Persistence pays off.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
So I'm very happy that my short story "Where You Live" has found a home there.
Here's how it starts:
"It was the director himself who called. His voice, serious and low, sounded trained for such occasions, the delivering of bad news to loved ones and relatives. And this was what he told me: my mother—68 years old, known for her marble sponge cake and Zen-like bridge skills, a rabid fan of movie musicals—was missing. Missing. Though he didn’t use that word. Euphemisms were employed instead. 'Temporarily unaccounted for' was one, 'currently unsupervised' another."
You can continue reading "Where You Live" here.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Paris Review editor Lorin Stein recently fessed up about the famous books he’s never read.
OK, I’ll fess up too...Books I've never read:
- War and Peace
- Paradise Lost
- Robinson Crusoe
- Winesburg, Ohio
- Tristram Shandy
Books I've started but never finished:
- Anna Karenina
- Blood Meridian
- Gravity’s Rainbow
Anyone else care to confess?
Monday, November 7, 2011
The list of contributors includes, well, me, along with Lindsay Hunter, Sara Lippmann, Lincoln Michel, Frank Hinton, John Warner, and (wait for it) Sherman Alexie.
The cover also looks fantastic:
Pank's print issues are always a thing of beauty, both inside and outside, and I'm very happy the editors gave a nod to my story "Close."
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Here's how Kathy describes her dream writing day:
"I always begin with notebook and pen. I don’t think I’ve ever started any writing at all on the computer. I need time to scribble. And it’s all over the page. If something feels like it might be good I circle it. After awhile something clicks and I know I’m ready for the keyboard. I’m very unstructured. I don’t give myself a time limit or word count goal. Coffee is always involved. I know the writing’s going well if the coffee gets cold.
"A typical writing day is spent messing around on the internet for longer than I ought to until I’m seized with guilt and shut it off. I stare out the window a lot. I take my dog for a walk. I pour another cup of coffee. Maybe after two hours I start to scribble in my notebook. I look out the window some more. My dream writing day is when I get past all of this and go into that beautiful trance, where I forget everything and look up, finally, two hours later and have before me something that feels real and right and pretty decent. A dream writing day is when it feels effortless."
Kathy's book "Wild Life" is a master class in the art of flash fiction. Highly, highly recommended.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Dodger stadium. A night game, mid-week. Sometime in the late 70s—the golden age of Garvey, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Yeager, Baker, Smith. Sitting in the exile of the left field bleachers. Peanut shells piled below us. The hum of people and baseball and memory. The announcer’s voice was the voice of God. I was keeping score.
Over the years my father and I had attended hundreds of Dodger (and Angels) games, and never, not once, had we ever caught a foul ball. I stopped bringing my mitt to games; instead I bought the game programs and religiously tracked the balls and strikes, the double plays and ground outs.
But that particular summer night, deep into the game—say, the seventh or eighth inning—it happened. The bat cracked and the ball rose and made its slow-then-fast descent nearby, landing with a smack and bouncing madly two rows in front of us. There was immediate mayhem. My father leapt over some empty chairs and then dove head first toward the skittering ball. I’d never seen him move like that. He was probably fifty-four or fifty-five at this point. An old dad, just like me.
And now, thinking of this, many years later, after asking my oldest son if he wanted to go to a baseball game (he sighed and said no thanks), I can still see my father’s lanky frame stretched out, reaching for the ball, fending off the other dads and scrambling combatants, the look of satisfaction on his face once he had it, the ball, secure in his hands, walking triumphantly toward me, climbing back over the chairs (yellow? I remember them as being yellow) and sitting down next to me, placing the ball in my hand as if it were a prize bestowed to a prince, and I’m inspecting the scuffed leather, the rough feel of the red stitching, rubbing my fingers over the fresh blemish from the impact of the concrete, and also there’s the sweat on my father’s brow, his breathing slowing, sipping his beer as a reward, and again I look at and rub the magical object, over and over, slumped in my yellow chair, unaware of the passage of time, the game continuing, finally having what had been coveted for so long, this gift being given from father to son, son to father, and back again.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sure, there's the writing itself: wading your way through the dark, watery tunnel that is a long-ish piece of fiction. There's the doubt: wondering if you can do it, wondering if it all somehow ties together (probably not), wondering if you should just chuck this book and work on something else.
And, too, there's the myriad distractions from writing, some of which are important (the dishes need to be done, we just ran out of toilet paper) and some of which are not (Facebook, checking email; Facebook, checking email).
Then there's the non-writing stuff. Like answering the inevitable question about your novel: "What's it about?"
In general, I try to avoid the subject of my writing all together. When that tactic fails, I'm usually vague ("Oh, I'm scribbling away. Making progress. Slowly but surely.").
Sometimes, however, I get asked the question and I have to say something.
The next tactic is to then be flip: "It's about 438 pages."
And if that doesn't satisfy I start rambling: "It's about a family, there are multiple points of view, lots of characters, it takes place in Los Angeles, in 1999, the key thing about the family, though, is the daughter who..."
And I start to get down on myself. I should have my go-to elevator pitch description (you know, something like: It's a heart-warming story of a boy's coming of age in World War 2-era Kansas.). It should be brief. It should be compelling. But because my novel is 438 pages (the number goes up or down on a daily basis) it's hard to distill a coherent summation into a tiny, easily digestible sound bite.
Part of it, too, I know, is not wanting to talk about my novel until it's done. I'm superstitious that way.
So maybe, hopefully, when it's done, I'll have a little distance and be able to better summarize what my novel is about. I won't ramble on so much.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Congrats to the most excellent and radiant Heather Fowler, who emerged victorious. Well done, Heather.
The superb and stylish Jim Ruland was also a judge. It’s worth noting that at last year's LDM in SD, Jim resoundingly kicked my ass (and by that I mean we both read and he won the round, eventually going on to become the night’s winner).
It was great to see some familiar faces as well as meet some new writers (yes, I don't get out enough).
And I think I’ll have to stop saying there isn't much of a writing scene/community in San Diego. Because, actually, there is.
Friday, October 21, 2011
"His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter — an American transplant named Dave Hilton — hit a double. It was a normal-enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced Hear the Wind Sing, a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman. Nothing much happens, but the Murakami voice is there from the start: a strange broth of ennui and exoticism."
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
More happening in the moment.
Not so much exposition and essay-ish stuff.
Something happening now.
Something with neighbors?
Monday, October 17, 2011
"That’s the intellectual background of The Marriage Plot. But you don’t write a novel from an idea, or at least I don’t. You write a novel out of the emotional and psychological stuff that you can’t shake off, or don’t want to. For me, this had to do with memories with being young, bookish, concupiscent, and confused. Safely in my 40s, married and a father, I could look back on the terrifying ecstasy of college love, and try to re-live it, at a safe distance. It was deep winter in Chicago when all this happened. Every day I looked out my office window at snow swirling over Lake Michigan. After separating the two books, I put one in a drawer and kept the other on my desk. I ran off with The Marriage Plot and didn’t look back. I changed completely, became a different person, a different writer; I started a new life with a new love, and all without ever leaving home."
(Looking forward to reading Eugenides' latest novel, which is currently on its way to my house.)
Friday, October 7, 2011
Wall Street Journal interview, January 29, 2010
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
During the day, I’d worked on my novel for about two hours. Not a huge amount of work was done, but I made a fair amount of changes and revisions, which I felt halfway OK about.
Then, at night, tired and bleary-eyed from a long week and weekend, I accidently saved the file from my hard drive to my flash drive instead of the other way around.
So: all that work was gone. And it was especially frustrating because I hadn't worked on my novel for about a week, and so on the one day I do, I erased everything. Nice.
I posted something about this on Facebook, and someone responded he once lost two to three months of work due to a save mishap. He took the Zen approach and said it was a sign to start working on something else.
Losing two to three months of work would give me a seizure. I don't think I'd take the Zen approach. I've lost stuff before, but never that much. (Last night I stayed up late troubleshooting and trying to reconstruct my changes while everything was still fresh in mind.)
There are famous stories of writers losing work: Hemingway's first wife losing a suitcase that contained everything he'd written so far, Maxine Hong Kingston losing a manuscript in a fire, etc.
These kinds of things always make me wince, one of my greatest fears realized.
Any horror stories to share about lost work?
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
-- Don DeLillo in a 1995 letter to David Foster Wallace
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
"Remnick is modest about these writing successes, which he attributes chiefly to 'sitzfleisch' – the capacity to sit in a chair until the work is done. 'A lot of what I do is just the mental illness of persistence,' he told me."
I need to work on my sitzfleisch.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
It looks purty. Lots of good folks in this issue, including Amelia Gray, Jessica Anthony, Mark Strand, Ryan Ridge, Salvatore Pane and many others.
Also included is my story "Look," which begins like so:
"Neighbors kept calling, one after another, a steady stream of complaint. They wanted to know what her husband was doing lying down in the middle of the street. It was getting dark now and he was still out there, Dave, her husband, sprawled like a corpse or a drunk, oblivious."
The issue is sold out, but a second print run is imminent...
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I guess this issue has been on my mind lately (see posts below).
Here's a quote from the Johnston's article:
"I don't know the origin of the 'write what you know' logic. A lot of folks attribute it to Hemingway, but what I find is his having said this: 'From all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive.' If this is the logic’s origin, then maybe what’s happened is akin to that old game called Telephone... A similar transmission problem undermines the logic of writing what you know and, ironically, Hemingway may have been arguing against it all along. The very act of committing an experience to the page is necessarily an act of reduction, and regardless of craft or skill, vision or voice, the result is a story beholden to and inevitably eclipsed by source material."
The novel I'm working on is not autobiographical. But the place where it's set is where I'm from. Sort of...
Monday, July 25, 2011
This relates to my post yesterday…
Here’s what Jeffrey Eugenides had to say about the whole fiction/autobiography conundrum in a recent New Yorker Q&A (he has a story called “Asleep in the Lord” in the summer fiction issue):
“I’m ashamed to say that ‘Asleep in the Lord’ is the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written. Ashamed because I don’t especially prize autobiographical writing (why write fiction if you want to talk about yourself?) and also because it took me so long to figure out how to do it. The difficulty of writing autobiographical fiction, for me, at least, is that you feel compelled to be faithful to your memory, and so you end up putting in characters and scenes that you don’t need. Almost everything I’ve ever written, and especially “Middlesex,” is made up. Here, it was different. I began trying to write about these events at the time I was experiencing them, way back in 1982. I tried again many times over the years. The Talk of the Town piece, in 1997, represented another small attempt.
“I could never get it right, though. In trying to be true to my experience, I ended up replicating the inartfulness of real life rather than creating a narrative with its own coherence and patterning. Finally, after thirty years (!), I managed to get enough distance on the events to able to chuck out a lot of ‘what really happened’ and write the story. So, while ‘Asleep in the Lord’ remains autobiographical in nature, it’s no longer burdened by too great a fidelity to the actual.”
Sunday, July 24, 2011
But I've never considered myself an autobiographical writer. Sure, things pop up that can be traced to my life (character names, certain events), but I've always steered clear of basing my fiction on what has happened in my life. I'm more of a "I like to make stuff up" writer vs. a "write what you know" writer.
My story "A Brief Survey" (published by Metazen) is the most autobiographical story I've ever written. In fact, it might not even be called fiction.
The narrator is me; the scenes and emotions are straight from the past few years, during which it's seemed as if someone was sick or dying or being diagnosed with an illness every other month; and the part from the notebook is an almost verbatim of what I wrote right before and after my father died.
I'm not sure how it feels yet, to have something so "me" out in the world. But it seemed like a story that needed to be told. I only hope that I told it well...
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I'm also thinking about switching over to WordPress (instead of using Blogger).
Updates/posts have been pretty minimal, I know.
I've been trying to stay focused on finishing my novel Believers. Sometimes that feels close, sometimes far away. Today it feels... somewhere in between.
Friday, July 15, 2011
"The mall is so cool. The mall is everything."
"Oh stop it you chicken tender."
"Your head is for banging nails. My head is for looking."
"Han Solo is a loser."
"What if my whole name was Ethan Commander Roe?"
"Don't put it on Facebook."
"I love Star Wars bigger than this house."
"You don't memorize. I memorize."
"Star Wars is freaking me out."
"Put it on Facebook."
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
My story "Accident" (which is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress Believers) is in this month's issue of The Sun.
You can read the first part of the story here.
I'm so honored and thrilled to have a story in The Sun. Still pinching myself. Pinch, pinch.
And tonight I'm headed up to L.A. for the New Short Fiction Series/Annenberg Foundation event featuring my story "My Status." A good day!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Sunday, June 19, 2011
My dad is as handsome as me. He weighs 34 pounds and is 50 feet tall. Dad looks funny when he plays jokes on me. Every day I would like him to play with me. I wouldn’t trade my Daddy for my toys. He likes to play with me and his favorite food is granola bars. Dad likes to go to the park. He is really good at cooking. If Daddy had one wish he would wish for a toy Superman.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Very excited about this. If you live in Southern California, it would be great to see you there!
Note: Despite the event's title and date, I will not be wearing a powdered wig.
And here's more info.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
The two wrote each other for years. From what I understand, there's a father-son/mentor-student-type component to the letters and their relationship.
Wallace and DeLillo's letters are now part of the Wallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. (DeLillo's archive is there as well.)
Max Ross recently paid a visit and wrote about it.
Ross focuses quite a bit on the Wallace-DeLillo letters:
"In editing his sentences, Wallace edited his thoughts; and in editing his thoughts, he edited himself. Nowhere is this struggle more transparent, and more devastating, than in his correspondence with Don DeLillo. There’s one letter in particular that seems to pit Wallace the Writer vs. Wallace the Compassionate Guy He Wants to Be. The Wallace that emerges from that particular fight is a devastatingly confused guy.
"Many of his letters to DeLillo were advice-seeking, favor-seeking, and comically respectful, full of apologies and thank-yous. There’s something childish – boyish – filial – in all Wallace’s letters to DeLillo, and in certain missives he wondered explicitly if he were looking for approval (10/10/95: “Maybe I want a pep-talk”). For today’s literary voyeurs, a big part of what gives the letters their intimacy is that both writers copyedit them, and so the pages are messy with handwritten insertions. Wallace and DeLillo weren’t afraid to show each other their mistakes, and there’s something powerful in that..."
There are two places in the world I'd really like to go to. One is Machu Picchu. The other is The Ransom Center.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
"When you have people talking, you have a scene. You must interrupt with explanatory paragraphs but shorten them as much as you can. Dialogue is action...
"You tend to explain too much. You must explain, but your tendency is to distrust your own narrative and dialogue...
"You need only to intensify throughout what actually is there -- and I think you would naturally do this in revision, anyhow. It is largely a matter of compression, and not so much of that really...
"You can't know a book until you come to the end of it, and then all the rest must be modified to fit that..."
This advice came from Perkins' letter to Marcia Davenport, as quoted in A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, which I finished reading last night (overall I thought the book was a bit uneven, but it made for fascinating reading, especially the parts about Thomas Wolfe, who I knew next to nothing about).
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I've been working on -- that is, wrestling with -- a chapter from my novel for far too long. Spinning, I guess you could say. I was away from the novel for a while, then I was sick for a couple of weeks, and now I'm having some trouble getting reacquainted with the book.
I keep going over the opening paragraph of this particular chapter. You'd think it would be perfect by now. It is not.
I'm also looking at other chapters I've written from this character's point of view (about 80 or so pages) and trying to determine what, if anything, is salvageable. (Is is all shit? Should it all go? Maybe. Maybe I'm wasting my time by sifting through old pages and drafts, when I should be forging ahead with completely new material. And yet, looking at the older material, there's some pretty decent stuff there. Also some pretty lousy stuff.)
This particular chapter comes about two-thirds of the way into part 1 of the novel. It's the last chapter to be finished for the current draft of part 1 that I'm working on. So maybe part of it is being afraid to finish this chapter, because next I need to make some major surgical revisions once this draft is finished. I know what needs to be fixed, which is good; but the task ahead also seems daunting.
On a more positive and less neurotic note:
A while back I mentioned that The Sun accepted an excerpt from this novel. I recently found out that the piece will be appearing in the July issue.
July. That's pretty soon.
Friday, May 13, 2011
--Max Perkins, from a letter to a novelist worrying about her work
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The article's author tracked down Kenyon students who actually graduated that day (May 21, 2005) and heard/witnessed the speech.
Here's what one of the Kenyon students had to say about DFW's speech:
"The one emotion I remember is intensity: he was clear, driving, and inwardly focused. He also didn’t say anything dismissively. Whether it was his technique or his real feeling I have no idea, but he read the speech like he was passing on a message of importance. Sitting here, I picture a guy at a radio in a bunker intercepting a message, then reading it off to someone else, wasting no time and enunciating every syllable."
And I didn't know the speech was on the YouTubes: