Monday, December 30, 2013

Writing Year Recap

It was a good year. It was a very good year…

  • I sold my novel, Believers, which is slated to come out in spring 2015 from Algonquin Books. (Foreign rights were also sold in Poland and Turkey.)

  • I did the final edits for Believers and worked with my wonderful editor Andra Miller (next up: copy edits).

  • I wrote a new short story, which I sold to Glimmer Train (due out in November 2015).

  • I started on a new novel (20K words and counting; fingers crossed).

  • I attended my first AWP conference.

Rarely do I stop and step back and appreciate what I've accomplished. I'm always on to the next thing, rushing ahead. But I have to say, this feels like a pretty damn good list. If I can lick this cold, I'll have some extra reasons to celebrate tomorrow night.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Embrace Uncertainty

"When writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. It never gets easier. I don’t want to scare them, so I rarely say more than that, but the truth is that, if anything, it gets harder. The writing life isn’t just filled with predictable uncertainties but with the awareness that we are always starting over again. That everything we ever write will be flawed. We may have written one book, or many, but all we know — if we know anything at all — is how to write the book we’re writing. All novels are failures. Perfection itself would be a failure. All we can hope is that we will fail better. That we won’t succumb to fear of the unknown. That we will not fall prey to the easy enchantments of repeating what may have worked in the past. I try to remember that the job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it. To be birthed by it. Each time we come to the end of a piece of work, we have failed as we have leapt—spectacularly, brazenly — into the unknown."

-- Dani Shapiro

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Coming Sun. Mon. Tues.

And speaking of the Kenyon Review, they recently put an early (1966) DeLillo story on their website. 

The story is called "Coming Sun. Mon. Tues" and it's one paragraph and there's a kind of manic energy to it that I really like. 

Here's a sample:

"The boy runs from one end of Chicago to the other. Then he looks for a job to get the money for the abortion. He is interviewed by a series of tall men with elegant fingers and they all tell him that they’ll let him know if anything turns up. He insults one of the men, an old school chum of his father’s who is the president of a management consultant firm and cannot understand why the boy did not finish college. The boy insults him beautifully. The man is so out of it that he is not even sure he has been insulted. Then the boy and girl go to a store in San Francisco or Toronto or Liverpool. They steal some groceries. They leave the store laughing with the groceries under their heavy sweaters. Then the boy stops at a flower stand and steals a flower for the girl. Then they go home and she cries. Then they go to a party. Everybody at the party is a phony except for one guy who’s a West Indian or an American Negro or a French Canadian. This guy tells them that they don’t know the first thing about being bitter. They have no right to be bitter. He tells them a thing or two about life and death. Everybody else is doing the freddy and this guy is telling them about real suffering, real pain. Telling it like it is. Then he rolls up his sleeve and shows them how he was wounded in Vietnam or Mississippi. Meanwhile everybody is doing the freddy and talking about Andy Warhol or the Animals. The boy and girl go home again."

And here's where you can read the entire story (it's fairly short).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Person Who Can Write a Good Story

I really like this from One Story's interview with Tom Paine...

One Story: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

Tom Paine: That you can't write a good story until you become the person who can write a good story. I mean a change in your soul, not your sentence structure.

The Riot and Rage That Love Brings

I have a new short story that was recently published by the Kenyon Review Online.

There's also audio of me reading the story, if you dare.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


The sun slips into the blank sky, asserting itself like a flame sparking to life, just as the bus climbs and then descends a hill, also revealing the city spread out below. It’s a beautiful thing, coming upon this sight in such a dramatic fashion. She is either half-awake or half-asleep. But there is definitely some level of consciousness, an understanding of the moment. The bus driver gasses it to ensure they cross the next intersection in time. And they do, they beat the yellow, barreling forward. And it’s as if they’re heading straight for the light ahead and nothing will stop them. The driver is drinking coffee from a giant Thermos. The same driver who was eating the sandwich last night. Now chugging the caffeine with one hand and navigating the steering wheel with the other. How much longer before they change shifts and it’s another driver? Then he slows it down, breaking the spell of speed and momentum, and pulls over at the next stop. People are waiting there. He opens the door, and she watches the passengers silently board, the bus resumes its journey, the sunlight continues to color the sky, the day begins, and there is no other way.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Good Week

Last Monday I woke up with a feeling. A writerly feeling. It's a feeling I get from time to time. 

The feeling was this: I'm going to get some good writing-related news today.

Now, usually (that is, 99.9 percent of the time) the feeling doesn't equate to something actually happening. The feeling and the day passes.

But on this particular Monday, I got a phone call from Glimmer Train in the afternoon. The magazine accepted my short story "A Matter of Twenty-Four Hours" (a story, by the way, that had been rejected by multiple magazines).

Then, on Friday, I wrapped up the final edits for BELIEVERS. And damn, that felt good.

A good week indeed.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


When you read the sentences of a writer like Colum McCann, you can't help but wonder: How does he do it? Does he get into some kind of trance-like state to conjure such sustained, such devastating beauty? You wonder: What does it take to be able to achieve that? How does one apprentice his/her way to this level of clarity and vision and generosity?

(I'm currently reading McCann's novel This Side of Brightness.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Believers Pub Date

When my novel Believers sold earlier in the year, the publication date was either going to be fall 2014 or spring 2015.

Well, there's been a decision, and it's... spring 2015.

Yes, the extra waiting will be hard (to quote my son: "Hasn't your book come out yet?"). On the other hand, there will be more time to generate prepublication interest among booksellers, reviewers, etc.

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Story + Novel Update

It's been a while since I've posted anything here, I know. A couple quick things...

My story "Job History" is in the latest issue of The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review.

Here's what the cool cover looks like:

Other contributors include Rick Moody, Stephen Dixon, Steve Almond, Chad Simpson, Len Kuntz, and many others.

You can buy the issue here.

Lastly, I'm currently working with my editor on the final edits for my novel BELIEVERS. So far so good. Hoping to have everything wrapped up in the next couple weeks. I've also started another novel, so I'm looking forward to getting back to that.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Open to the Mystery

"I wish I could say to you that it all works out organically as planned, but they never do, these books. Writers constantly—you know this—fly by the seat of their pants, and you just go along. You’re open to the mystery. You’re open to the possibilities."

Great interview with Colum McCann over at the Rumpus. Can't wait to read his new novel, TransAtlantic.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Arrangement of the Words Matters

From Joan Didion:
Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.

It tells you.

You don't tell it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Parenting and Writing

Over at the Quivering Pen, Shawn Vestal, author of the newly released collection Godforsaken Idaho, had some things to say about parenting and writing that really hit home. 

Here's a taste:

"I needed to be drawn out of myself and into the world, to be forced to consider my own existence in the context of someone who would look to me as an example, to be forced to confront, more gravely and less glibly, the parts of myself that might fall short of that standard, and all of this made me a more reflective, contemplative human being, and therefore a more reflective, contemplative writer."

You can read the entire essay (well worth your time) here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Thing or Two About a Thing or Two

More foreign sales news for BELIEVERS: This time it's Turkey!

So now in addition to English and Polish (see below), you can read my debut novel in Turkish.

When I tell people about the foreign sales, they always ask if I'll get to go to Poland and Turkey. I say I don't know but it sure would be nice.

Also related to BELIEVERS: I finished another revision of the manuscript and turned it in to my editor, and I recently signed the book contract (so I guess it's officially official).

At this point, we're looking at a fall 2014 publication date.

Not related to BELIEVERS: Here's a kickass short story by the always kickass Lindsay Hunter.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nothing Has to Happen. Anything Can Happen.

Interviewer: What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful book that urges you to read on?

Jess Walter: Of course, nothing has to happen. Anything can happen. The sound is what I’m aware of in the beginning—announcing to myself the voice of this book, like the opening riff of a song. I keep tinkering and tinkering until it sounds right. That’s all that has to happen: you just have to love the way it sounds.

Full interview with Walter (Beautiful Ruins) here.

(Today I read his fantastic short story, "Anything Helps," from the most recent Best American Short Stories.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Adopt a One Story Story

Amazingly, One Story is about to turn 11. 

For more than a decade now, they've been publishing individual short stories every 3-4 weeks. 

I was lucky enough to have my story "America's Finest City" published there a few years ago. 

To help secure the magazine's future, the One Story crew has undertaken a novel fundraising approach: allowing people to "adopt" a story.

Here's Sam the dog enjoying "America's Finest City," which was adopted by his owner:

There are still some stories left to adopt if you'd like to support this wonderful magazine

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Farewell Transmission

I'm always suspicious when something begins "There are two kinds of people..."

But here goes anyway.

You might say there are two kinds of people: people who listen to music and say they like music and occasionally go to concerts and listen to the radio as they drive and so on.

And then there are people for whom music means something more, something deeper. It's part of the texture of their days, their nights. Not just a soundtrack. But more. Much more. More like a lifetrack.

William Boyle is the latter type of person. He wrote this article after hearing the news that Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.) died at the very young age of 39.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Obligatory (and Belated, and Fairly Long) AWP Recap

Last week I attended my very first AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Boston. And several days after returning home, I’m still recovering. The experience was pretty much what I expected: overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, exhausting. 

There’s been a fair amount of pissing on AWP. On the one hand, I get it (the crowds, the hipsters, the pecking order). But I went into it not wanting to “get” anything other than meeting people I’ve always wanted to meet and just soaking in everything and enjoying the company of other writers and like-minded souls.

And I’d never been to Boston.

And my agent was going to be there.

And Don DeLillo was making a rare appearance.

Anyway. Here are some highlights, recollections, observations, etc. 

  • There were a lot of people. Something like 12,000 folks converging on the Hynes Convention Center and its surrounding area. This was both heartening (writers! people who love books! people who read literary magazines!) and overwhelming (writers! people who love books! people who read literary magazines!). As Roxane Gay put it in her recap: “The place was lousy with writers.” I’ll never forget, after the long flight from San Diego, arriving at the Sheraton around midnight and seeing a massive scrum of writers surrounding the hotel bar. As you might have heard, writers tend to favor the drink.
  • Then there were the people that I actually saw/spoke with. It was wonderful to meet so many writers and editors who I’ve known only via the Internets and email, but had never met live and in person. People who have generously supported my writing over the years. People like (warning: here’s where the excessive name-dropping begins) Andrew Scott and Victoria Barrett of Freight Stories and Engine Books (sorry again, Andrew and Victoria, for being late—and I didn’t realize three hours went by during our swell time hanging out in the Sheraton lobby); Colleen Donfield, Andrew Snee and Tim McKee of The Sun; Roxane Gay of Pank; Matthew Salesses of The Good Men Project; and  Lauren Becker of Corium. Additionally, I got to briefly reconnect with Rob Spillman of Tin House and Hannah Tinti of One Story as well as Roy Kesey, Will Allison, Bonnie ZoBell, and Scott Doyle. It was also great to meet Sara Lippmann, Myfawny Collins, Robin Black, Ben Percy, Tawnysha Greene, Matt Bell, Brian Gresko, Ben Tanzer, Lara Wilson, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk, and Lincoln Michel. (Apologies if I’m forgetting anyone.) Of course there were people I was hoping to see/meet, but it didn’t work out (only 12,000 people were milling about, remember; overall, I think I did pretty well). Key takeaway here: People are nice. They're really, really nice.
  • And I got to spend some time with my amazing agent Michelle Brower. Her agency, Folio, hosted an author breakfast on Friday morning. I met Michelle’s fellow Folio agents, Jeff Kleinman and Erin Harris, as well as Jason Mott, a great guy and another client of Michelle’s (Jason’s first novel, The Returned, is coming this fall, and a TV pilot is currently being filmed for ABC!). After the breakfast, Michelle and Jeff were on a panel called “The Right First Book.” During the Q&A, someone asked what the panelists had been reading lately that they really liked. When it was Michelle’s turn, she started talking about Believers and how she first contacted me (back in 2007) after she read one of my short stories and how she patiently waited while I finished the novel. She went on to say that the author was here in the audience and she introduced me and then suddenly I had 200 people looking my way and clapping. Quite a moment.  Afterward, I told Michelle, “I guess you outted me.” “Get used to it,” she said.
  • Michelle also gave me the good news that the first foreign rights for Believers (see post below) sold in Poland. Did I mention that Michelle is amazing?
  • Yes, there was snow. Lots of snow. More than 12 inches, I believe. On Thursday night, I walked from the Sheraton to the Sweetwater Tavern (about a mile) for an all-star reading. The snow was practically coming down sideways, blasting into my face.  Since I’m a Southern Californian tenderfoot, I loved it.  I also went for a fairly long walk on Saturday. The storm had finally stopped by then—it was sunny and cold and invigorating. I wandered around the Back Bay and Beacon Hill areas—a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of the conference.
  • And speaking of breaks: Yes, I needed breaks. Periodically I’d retreat to my hotel room and breathe and look out the window and watch the falling snow.
  • Harpoon I.P.A. Yes.
  • As has been noted elsewhere, facial hair and black horn-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans were in abundance.
  • Richard Bausch’s cure (via poet William Stafford) for writer’s block: “Lower your expectations and keep going.”
  • My DeLillo moment. All previous joking aside, I did not stalk Don DeLillo. But I did attend his reading. Dana Spiotta also read, while Nan Graham, who edits both DeLillo and Spiotta, served as a moderator. They read from their first novels (DeLillo’s Americana and Spiotta’s Lightning Field), answered some questions from Graham, and then read from their most recent books (DeLillo’s The Angel Esmeralda and Spiotta’s Stone Arabia). Both writers described the physical environments in which they wrote their first books. DeLillo said he lived in a small one-bedroom apartment while writing Americana, which took four years. There was a refrigerator in the bathroom (this detail appears in the opening paragraph of his story “The Starveling,” by the way). He also talked about an object in the room—I can’t remember if it was a clock or paperweight or whatever—and he said, “I still think about that [name of object]”. People laughed. He was funny. He was DeLillo. You could sense the reverence in the crowd. I was also impressed with Dana Spiotta. Not an easy task to appear onstage with a giant like DeLillo. Then, the next day, Saturday (I think), I needed to print out my boarding pass for the flight home. I was standing at the front desk in the lobby. I turned to my left and saw Dana Spiotta. Wow, I thought, there’s Dana Spiotta. She was waving to someone across the lobby. I looked to my right. And there was DeLillo. Coming right toward me. The man himself. He had a baseball cap on, pulled way down. I think my mouth opened a little. He was getting helped in the line next to mine. “Can I check out here?” he asked the front desk person. I walked over to the computer area to print out my boarding pass, my mouth still open. Total fanboy moment.
  • Cheryl Strayed. This was the second time I’ve heard her read the title essay from Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s such a brave, beautiful, heart-gurgling piece of writing. In the panel discussion, she talked of how she used to go on writing jags by checking into hotels nearby her home and just writing like mad. Away from life. Away from the kids. She wrote her first essay, “Heroin(e),” that way.
  • Question I was most often asked: “Do you teach?”
  • The “New Media and Storytelling” panel—it was exciting to see innovative forms of storytelling, such as Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby’s The Silent History (an interactive novel for the iPad and iPhone) and Kenneth Calhoun’s Big Swing.
  • At an Irish bar called McGreevy’s, which bills itself as “the world’s oldest sports bar” (now really, can such a claim ever be proven?), I simultaneously watched a Red Sox and Celtics game.   
  • Did I mention the Harpoon I.P.A.?
  • Coming home—I missed my family. A lot. It was the longest stretch of time I’d ever been away from my kids. My wife valiantly held down the fort. (Thank you, Maria, for that.) Here’s what I found in my suitcase when I got to Boston:



Tuesday, March 12, 2013


While I was in Boston for AWP (recap hopefully coming soon), I got some more good news about my novel BELIEVERS: the first foreign rights were sold -- in Poland.

Very happy about this!

Friday, March 1, 2013

24 Bar Blues

I'm very happy to have a story in the newly released anthology 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues.

My story is actually an excerpt from my novel Believers. It's the second chapter, which introduces one of the main characters.

Here's how the story, called "Lonely Man Sitting at Bar," starts:

"It’s one of those bars where there are only two kinds of music on the jukebox: country and western. The best of Waylon, Willie, Merle, Johnny, George, Hank. Men—and it’s always men in bars like this, no Patsy or Loretta or Dolly allowed—identifiable without a surname, the true gods, who have been to the clich├ęd and well-traveled edge and found their way back. And don’t even think of making the suggestion of possibly maybe broadening some musical horizons with a token smattering of, say, classic rock or a tasteful soul compilation: That’s not what this place—technically The Wishing Well but known to its dedicated regulars solely by the truncated The Well—is about. Here, there’s nothing but reliable songs of lament and loss (and of course drinking) that fit right in with the clientele’s collective state of mind. And that suits him fine tonight. That’s why he chose The Well. Tonight he’s up for plenty of authentic lamenting and losing. And drinking. So why not have the appropriate soundtrack?" 

Published by Press 53, the anthology was edited by Andrew Scott (thanks Andrew!) and includes work by many fine writers, including Robert Boswell, Roxane Gay, Chad Simpson, Karen Brown, Kyle Minor, Holly Goddard Jones, and many others. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Memory Thief

I have a new story, "The Memory Thief," in the latest issue of Atticus Review.

This one is a bit of a departure for me. It begins like this:

"Then Duncan decided it was time to steal Sara’s memories."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Novel News!

Well, it happened: my novel Believers recently sold and will be published by Algonquin Books.

Here's the announcement from Publishers Lunch:

"Andrew Roe's BELIEVERS, about a troubled family whose comatose daughter may or may not be performing miracles, and the transformative power of hope on the visitors who line up to see her, to Andra Miller at Algonquin, in a pre-empt, by Michelle Brower at Folio Literary Management."

After years of hard work, it all came together pretty quickly. Throughout the entire process, I was so impressed with my agent, Michelle Brower, who's been very patient and very supportive over the years. 

And I've heard such wonderful things about Algonquin and look forward to working with Andra Miller, who edits Tayari Jones and Caroline Leavitt, among others.

Right now it's looking like the earliest pub date would be fall 2014. 

I'm thrilled beyond words. Just kind of soaking it all in and feeling very, very lucky.

Friday, February 1, 2013

How to Talk to Children About Death

That's the cheery title of a new story of mine over at fwriction.

I also got to pick a song to accompany the story. My choice was Camper Van Beethoven's version of "O Death." I used to joke that it would make a great children's song.

This is another of my more autobiographical parenting stories, and it's a kind of companion piece to my story "Stalling," which was published in SmokeLong Quarterly a while back. In fact, there's a specific reference to "Stalling" in "How to Talk to Children About Death."

Getting intertextual in my old age, I guess...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Failure Was Possible: About George Saunders

There's been a lot of buzz about George Saunders lately. Glowing reviews of his latest collection, Tenth of December, which has cracked the best-seller lists; an amazing cover profile of the man in the New York Times Magazine featuring the title "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You'll Read This Year"; and he was even on cable news shows... talking about books! Talking about short stories!

It's wonderful to see such acclaim and notoriety for Saunders -- not only because he's been one of my favorite writers for several years, but also because he seems like, well, just about the nicest guy on the planet.

I don't remember the first Saunders story I ever read. It might have been the raccoon disposal one ("The 400-Pound CEO"); it might have been the Civil War theme park one ("CivilWarLand in Bad Decline"; or it might have been "Offloading Mrs. Schwartz."

I do remember that I first heard of Saunders when David Foster Wallace name-checked him in an interview. That was good enough for me. And I've been a mighty fan of Saunders ever since.

In conjunction with an e-book release of his first book (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline), he's written a new preface. He discusses how he came to write the stories collected in the book, and what was happening in his life at the time. As a Saunders enthusiast, it makes for great reading. But it also wonderfully distills the struggles of writing and finding one's voice, as well as balancing the joys and challenges of family life with trying to start a writing career.

Some choice quotes from the essay...


"I had graduated from the Syracuse MFA program in 1988 and had been writing stories that owed everything to Ernest Hemingway and suffered for that. They were stern and minimal and tragic and had nothing to do whatsoever with the life I was living or, for that matter, any life I had ever lived."

"We didn’t have any money and were into our thirties and were (maybe, just a little) wondering how it was that we’d missed the boat in terms of this thing called upward mobility...

"At one point our second car broke and we couldn’t afford to replace it, so I started riding my bike the seven miles to and from work, along the Erie Canal. As winter approached, Paula put together an ad hoc winterproofing ensemble for me: a set of lab goggles, a rain poncho, some high rubber boots that, as I remember, had little spacemen on them. Biking along the canal I’d be composing in my head, and might arrive at work with a sentence or two all worked out. Then I’d dash through the atrium, into the men’s room, and try to get myself cleaned up, while not forgetting those sentences. Ah, those were the days.

"But seriously: those were the days.

"Biking back into town after dark, past the cozy colonial houses orange with firelight, I’d think: I have a home. I have people waiting for me, who love me. This is it. This is my life. These are the best years of my life."


"We managed to buy a house. It was small but sweet, and the four of us lived there, happily. What a thing it was, to suddenly have a real life happening to us, to be in over our heads but glad about it. The gratitude I was feeling nudged me to the edge of a thought precipice: Had others, loving this much, had it go wrong? Did that ever happen?... The realization that failure was possible, even for me, had the effect of increasing my empathy."


"Mostly I was using whatever story I happened to have going at the time to get me through the day and give me some minimal sense of control and mastery. They were a secret source of sustenance. If I got a few good lines in the morning, that made the whole rest of the day better."


"I will forevermore, I expect, be trying to re-create the purity of that time. Having done nothing, I had nothing to lose. Having made a happy life without having achieved anything at all artistically, I found that any artistic achievement was a bonus. Having finally conceded that I wasn’t a prodigy after all, I had the total artistic freedom that is afforded only to the beginner, the doofus, the aspirant."

Better yet, you can read the entire preface here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

That Way of Looking

"It's akin to style, what I'm talking about, but it isn't style alone. It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There's plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time."

--Raymond Carver, On Writing