Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Recap

'Tis the seasons for lists, I know. Just doing my part…
  • The big "news" writing-wise was that I (finally, finally) finished my novel, Believers. To be honest, there were times when I wasn't sure that I'd make it. I've been working on the book for several years. Now it's wait-and-see time (yes, I'm being purposely vague). You can read excerpts here and here. Also got some related good news toward the end of the year: Another excerpt will appear in the anthology 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues, edited by the outstanding Andrew Scott. There will be a release party at AWP in Boston in March. (I'll be going to AWP, by the way. My first time.)
  • Got a very nice acceptance (Kenyon Review!) for the final yet-to-be published story in my short story collection, What I'm About to Do Now. This is known as my "Cops" story (actual title: "The Riot and Rage That Love Brings"), and I've read it a few times in San Diego. So all the stories have found homes. Now, if only I can get the entire collection published…  
  • I've been working on the novel, and hence haven't been writing any new stories. But I did have new work appear in Gigantic, Corium, and Pank.
  • Read my story "Are You Somebody?" at a So Say We All event in San Diego. Rare video footage here. Also read at another So Say We All event at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park back in March. 
  • Favorite reads? Cheryl Strayed's Wild; Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda (I'd read some of the stories previously; others were brand new to me) and Underworld (re-reading it); George Saunders' New Yorker story "The Semplica-Girl Diaries"; Roxane Gay's story "North Country" (in Hobart and Best American Short Stories 2012); Caitlin Horrocks' story "Zolaria."
Coming up in 2013: As I mentioned, I'll be heading to Boston for AWP. Looking forward to meeting many writers who I know via the Internets but have never met in real life. Besides the Kenyon Review story and Believers excerpt in 24 Bar Blues, look for other work appearing in Atticus Review and fwriction.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Demands of a Novel


INTERVIEWER

But why do you think the demands of a novel are greater than what you do? I think the short form is incredibly demanding.

HEMPEL

I do too. But I understand it. And I don’t understand the novel. The amount of stuff to hold in mind, the number of things you have to keep bringing forward over time I found entirely daunting. How do you keep everything a novel requires in your head? A friend of mine was about three-fourths done with her novel when she realized she had two characters named Bob in it. That’s the kind of thing that would happen to me.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gigantic Everything

 
The new issue of Gigantic (dubbed Gigantic Everything) is now available for preorder.

The issue features Lydia Davis, Etgar Keret, Michael Kimball, Stephen Elliott, and many other fine, fine folks.

And oh yeah: I also have something in there -- a very short story called "This Is Illegal."

There's also a release party on Saturday, December 15. If I lived in New York, I'd, like, be there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Something New

Her first time in Los Angeles was as a child, nine, maybe ten years old, a family vacation, Disneyland and Hollywood Boulevard and the endless narcotic blue of the Pacific Ocean, only it was just her and her mother because her parents had been divorced for several years at that point, her father somewhere in Florida and going bankrupt again, and the thing she remembered most about the trip—that is, besides the crud smell in the shitty motel and the homeless guy with his pants down—was the air. The air was different. And she didn’t mean the smog. It was something deeper than that, something more profound that she could not name or fully understand at the time. Also: the light, the sky. The blazing red-orange-purple sunsets that on more than one occasion caused her mother to pull over the car and just stare. “Damn,” her mother said. “Look at that. Wow. I mean wow. I guess that’s why there are so many people here and more keep coming. People. Nothing but goddamned people.” This was the mid-1970s, and they drove around a lot and she looked out the passenger window, watching her breath appear then disappear on the glass, absorbing as much as her little girl brain could, her mother smoking and monologueing and navigating their beater yellow-and-brown station wagon through the freeways and side streets of the concrete metropolis. Above all else, it seemed like a place where things could actually happen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Just Like Baseball

"Writing is frustration -- it's daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It's just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time."

-- Philip Roth

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Not Fully Caffeinated Update

So.

The latest draft/version/whatever of my novel Believers is done. Now it's wait-and-see mode again. So we'll wait and see...

There is some good news to report: another excerpt from Believers will appear in the anthology 24 Bar Blues, coming out next year from Press 53. (A previous excerpt appeared in The Sun last year.)

Also, I have a new story in the next issue of Gigantic, due in December.

There might be more, but I'm not fully caffeinated.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tweet, Tweet

Since I suck at blogging, and since I suck at Facebook, I might as well suck at Twitter, right?

You can find me here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Giving Off the Most Light

"One thing I always feel in the midst of trying to talk coherently about a story I’ve finished is that, you know, ninety per cent of it was intuitive, done at-speed, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, except in the 'A felt better than B' way. All these choices add up, and make the surface of the story, and, of course, the thematics and all that—but I’m not usually thinking about any of that too much, or too overtly. It’s more feeling than thinking—or a combination of the two, with feeling being in charge, and thinking sort of running around behind, making overly literal suggestions, and those feelings being sounded out and exercised and manifested via heavy editing and rewriting (as opposed to, say, planning and deciding). The important part of the writing process, for me, is trying to make choices that push the story in the most interesting direction, by which I mean the direction that causes the story to give off the most light. The story’s goal is to be fascinating and stimulating and irreducible; the writer’s job is to micromanage the text to make this happen."

From a recent George Saunders interview in The New Yorker. Love that bit about causing a story to give off the most light.

And yes, it has been a while since I've posted anything here. I am aware.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are You Somebody?

From last month's VAMP reading in San Diego...

So Say We All: Andrew Roe from Shoko Hachiya on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Dusty Hum of Who You Are

Last week I finished the latest draft of my novel Believers. It's now circulating in the world, getting feedback.

It's a very strange/very good feeling. By that I mean there's a huge sense of accomplishment and completion. This is a book I've been working on for a long time now, and there were times when I seriously wondered if I'd ever finish. But I did. For now, that is.

And I say "very strange" because, as I wait for the aforementioned feedback, I'm not sure what's next. Likely more revising, if the feedback is positive. We shall see.

In the meantime, I've decided to re-read Don DeLillo's Underworld. It's a book that I first read when it came out back in 1997, and it had a great influence on me in general but also specifically on Believers. It inspired me to write a more sprawling, multi-voiced, multi-layered novel. It inspired me to take chances and write from points of view that were out of my comfort zone. And the sentences: they inspired me to be a better writer, to see and explore greater possibilities in language.

Here's a paragraph from Underworld, from the prologue (originally published in Harper's as "Pafko at the Wall"), which just might be one my favorite paragraphs of all time:

"Men passing in and out of the toilets, men zipping their flies as they turn from the trough and other men approaching the long receptacle, thinking where they want to stand and next to whom and not next to whom, and the old ballpark's reek and mold are consolidated here, generational tides of beer and shit and cigarettes and peanut shells and disinfectants and pisses in untold millions, and they are thinking in the ordinary way that helps a person glide through a life, thinking thoughts unconnected to events, the dusty hum of who you are, men shouldering through the traffic in the men's room as the game goes on, the coming and going, the lifting out of dicks and the meditative pissing."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Babies in the House

That's the name of a new short story of mine, published in the latest issue of Corium Magazine.

The issue also features work by Kevin Wilson, Amber Sparks, Brandi Wells, Cynthia Reeser and many other fine writers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Upcoming Reading: "I'm Your Biggest Fan"


Yes, I will be making a rare public appearance next week: I'll be a reader Thursday night, July 26, at So Say We All's July VAMP (Visual Art, Music, Performance) Showcase in San Diego.

These readings always have a theme. And the theme this time around is "I'm Your Biggest Fan."

So I'll be reading my stalker story, "Are You Somebody?" (published in Juked a while back).

Details here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Revision

Have you been following all the posts on revision over at Necessary Fiction this month?

Well, you should be.

Superstar writer and editor Matthew Salesses has been posting some wonderful stuff by some wonderful writers.

Matt was also kind enough to ask me to put down some thoughts on revision, and here's the result.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Downstream

"The first kiss plummeted him down a hole and popped him out into a world he thought he could get along in -- as if he'd been pulling hard the wrong way and was now turned around headed downstream. They spent the whole afternoon among the daisies kissing. He felt glorious and full of more blood than he was supposed to have in him."

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Some Things...

I was asked to write an essay about revision. It will come out some time next month.

I have a few new stories that will also be published next month.

I finished a draft of my novel, Believers, which clocked in at about 100K words. I'm currently revising and honing it down (I talk about this in the essay mentioned above). My goal is to be "done" by the end of the summer.

Some good writing advice here.

I really want to see Moonrise Kingdom.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Costco Lit


An excerpt from the novel-in-progress...

It’s a weekday, a Tuesday, but the Costco parking lot is packed. Karen manages to find an orphaned cart and, once inside, starts navigating the aisles and the shoppers and the darting kids. Costco always overwhelmed her, all that space and the endless items for purchase. It’s usually best to have a list, but she does not have a list, this is a dangerous impromptu visit, and so she wanders from section to section. She buys cookies and snacks and an assortment of juices (apple, grape, kiwi, mango) for the visitors. Plus paper cups and plates and napkins and more. The cart quickly fills. She realizes she’s hungry and so she says yes to every sample item offered to her, the people wearing their doctorly white jackets and rubber gloves and smiling, smiling, smiling. Suddenly it seems very important to have a vast quantity of oatmeal.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who Are You Writing For?


(A recent conversation with my seven-year-old son Ethan. I was working on my novel and he was checking out the Microsoft Word document I had open on my computer.)
 
Ethan: Are you writing a story?

Me: Yes. It’s a book, a novel.

Ethan: What’s it about?

(Pause.)

Me: It’s about a family.

Ethan: Our family?

Me: No.

Ethan: Maybe you could write a story about our family.

Me: Maybe.

Ethan: Who are you writing the story for?

(Pause.)

Me: That’s a great question, Ethan.

(Pause.)

Me: One day, hopefully, it will get published and you could find it in a store.

Ethan: So it’s for everyone?

Me: Yes, it’s for everyone. That’s a good way to think of it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random Novel Quote


"Dr. Boyer wears flip-flops and a short-sleeved button down shirt, vaguely Hawaiian. He looks more surfer than doctor. Probably not much older than her sister. She’s always surprised by people her own age or younger who have made it in the world. The confidence required. The lack of self doubt. Not caring what others think. Some people were like that. She wondered how they lived, how they came to be that way, so far from her own hushed existence."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2012

Wigleaf, one of my favorite online lit journals, just released its annual list of the top 50 very short fictions of 2012.

And I was very happy and honored to see that my story "Job History" (originally published in Moon Milk Review) was included.

Other writers on the list: Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, Meg Pokrass, Amelia Gray, Alyson Hagy, Sara Lippmann, Michael Kimball, John Minichillo, Glen Pourciau, Chad Simpson, Curtis Smith and many more fine talented folks. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The first thing that distinguishes a writer...

INTERVIEWER

Do you need complete isolation to write or is it more portable than that?

MARTIN AMIS

I can write in the midst of—not very conveniently—but I can make progress in the midst of the usual family clamor. But it has to be said, perhaps with some regret, that the first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone, most fully alive when alone. A tolerance for solitude isn’t anywhere near the full description of what really goes on. The most interesting things happen to you when you are alone. 

(More from Amis's Paris Review interview here.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Best Time of Day to Write?

These days, for me, there isn’t much of a choice.

The answer to this question is: whenever I can.

Mostly my writing happens in little snippets, here and there, an hour or two, three if I’m lucky.

During the week that means at night or some occasional hurried lunch-hour scribbling. On weekends, sometimes I’ll take the kids to grandma’s house and escape to a cafĂ© for a couple of hours (or however long my laptop battery will last). And sometimes, if at home, I’ll keep the Word doc with my novel open on my computer, returning periodically throughout the day and savoring any and all progress, even if it’s just honing and improving a single paragraph I’ve already revised dozens of times.

But the best, ideal writing time for me is, always has been, morning. Not long after waking up. Post-coffee, pre-shower. When you’re still groggy and not completely awake, when the mind is hazy and receptive, when it’s easier to stave off doubt and despair and keep your internal editor at bay, when the creativity flows better and unexpected things invariably happen, and you’re not so concerned with where you’re going and what’s working/not working—the journey, the words, the sentence you’re working on at that very moment is more than enough to sustain you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2/29/2012 11:04 PM

That's the last time I worked on my novel.

Hopefully that will change today.

It's hard to dip back in after you haven't done anything for a long stretch of time.

You feel so far away.

You feel like you've lost the momentum.

You feel like you've forgotten how to write.

You feel like it, the novel, will all collapse (again) because of the lack of progress.

You're afraid.

But then you just start.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Upcoming Event: Modern Myths, Folklore and Tall Tales


I don't get out much, but next Thursday night I'll be one of four writers (including Heather Fowler!) reading at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego's Balboa Park.

Besides the readings, there will also be two short films.

Details can be found here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Think You Know What Your Novel Is About...

... but then at some point you realize, yes, OK, sure, maybe it's about that, but it's also really about something else, something you weren't aware of (not consciously).

A while back I had the realization that, to a large degree, my novel is about forgiveness. Forgiving others. Forgiving yourself. Forgiving the past as well as the present.

Today I was reading this review of Ethel Rohan's Hard to Say (a fantastic book, by the way) and I came across this quote from Peter Ustinov: "Love is an act of endless forgiveness."

I almost fell out of my chair. My god. That's what my book is really about.

Bits and Pieces (Mostly About David Foster Wallace)

Yesterday would have been David Foster Wallace's 50th birthday.

With that in mind, here are a few things DFW-related:

Also, I was extremely happy to see that Roxane Gay will have a short story in the Best American Short Stories 2012. The story ("North Country") appeared in Hobart 12.

Roxane is one of my favorite writers. I try to read everything she writes. You should too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Last Night I Dreamed I Was at a Don DeLillo Reading

...and the reading was outdoors, in a park, during the day, bright and sunny, people sitting on the grass and waiting for DeLillo to arrive.

Suddenly he was there. The reading was for a book that hasn't been published. The book was a long one (not like his recent short novels). It had a colorful cover (yellow, black, red).

DeLillo said he needed a podium or stand or something. I offered the cardboard box I was sitting on. (Why was I sitting on a cardboard box? Good question. Dreams, you know.)

He sat down and placed the book on the cardboard box and started to read and everyone listened.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pank 6

Earlier in the week I received my contributor copy of the latest print issue of Pank.


So far I've read wonderful stories by Sara Lippmann, Lindsay Hunter, Lauren Becker, John Warner and Daiva Markelis.

As usual, Pank delivers lots o' goodness. You can order a copy here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Emotionally Right/Wrong

You can plan out a novel or short story as much as you want. Some people use elaborate outlines, plot character arcs and development, devise color-coded index cards to document chapters and scenes, etc. (And for the record: I don't do any of those things. I know where I'm going generally, and I'll list out things I want to happen or cover, but I tend to discover as I go, for better or for worse.)

But sometimes it happens: you reach a point in your novel or short story where you thought something was going to occur, but when you finally arrive at that point, you realize it's not the right thing for the story. What it comes down to is this: it doesn't feel right emotionally; it feels wrong.

This happened to me recently. For a long time, I thought the reunion of two characters in my novel would happen at the very end of the book. But when I came to a certain point, I knew that it had to happen sooner. Emotionally, it felt right. I fought it for a while, but I came to the conclusion that I couldn't keep these characters apart any longer. Emotionally, it was time for them to meet again.

And it's happened before: In a previous novel, I envisioned an act of violence occurring in the closing pages. But after having written the novel, it just felt wrong and out of place (it was, primarily, a satire and comedic, and violence and satire/comedy don't always mix so well; emotionally, it felt wrong).

The point being, I guess, is that you can plan all you want but ultimately you have to be true to the story you're telling and what feels true/right for your characters.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The blog Of Random capitalization

I think I've mentioned The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks a couple of times.

Yesterday I was at Burger King (yes, sadly) with my kids and I had an idea for something similar: The Blog of Random Capitalization.

This would be my first entry:


Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Rat-Eye Dark

There a few books that I'll randomly pick up and read a page or two of, then quickly move on. I'll do it for inspiration. Or because I'm in one of those restless reading moods.

Underworld, by Don DeLillo, is one such book.

I can read any page and immediately be transported into the novel's universe.

Here's one such passage that I read today (page 635), describing a blackout in New York City:

"The streets began to darken, drained of traffic and headlights, and an odd calm set in, edged with apprehension. How many thousands, hundreds of thousands trapped in subways or aloft in packed elevators waiting. The always seeping suspicion, paralysis, the thing implicit in the push-button city, that it will stop cold, leaving us helpless in the rat-eye dark, and then we begin to wonder, as I did, how the whole thing works anyway."


One of the things I love about DeLillo is those startling phrases and descriptions he packs into his sentences: "the rat-eye dark," "edged with apprehension," "the push-button city."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Freeway Lit

The new year is underway. It has happened.

Not a lot to report. I'm working on my novel. Staying focused. Making progress.

Here's a passage I was working on today. It's from the point of view of one of the novel's minor characters, a physical therapist who lives in L.A. and does home visits and thus spends a lot of time stuck in traffic...

"By the time she’s back on the 605, she’s sitting and stewing in traffic, sucking it again (just part of the job when you’re an in-home physical therapist who lives in Los Angeles), and within minutes she knows she’ll be late for her next appointment, way over in Long Beach. It’s that time of day when she’s driving directly into the sun. Sucking it. Sunglasses help, but only a little; she still has to squint as she drives, the cars and trucks crawling along, eventually passing an accident, two cars, minor damage, the far left lane blocked, and so she has to merge, and because people are generally assholes no one lets her in until she practically hits another car. How much of her life spent like this, braking, stopping, starting, on Southern California concrete? All that time spent dream-thinking, life-reliving. Because what else can you do? If she had done X. Said Y. Ignored Z. Mostly she ticked through the list of men that had appeared in her life—ah, men and their inevitable disappointments!—starting with her father, and including both those with major roles and those with minor, walk-on parts, and somehow they all equally haunted her. Brake. Stop. Start. Traffic is traffic. Men are men. Because what else can you do?"