In which I say some things about writing

Tim Ljunggren interviewed me for the second anniversary issue of Insolent Rudder, new out today.

Jason DeBoer’s “Richard Widmark” is also in the latest issue. Here’s an excerpt:

I wanna sneer like Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death. The twitching lip, the iron face, the hate ecstatic. I wanna shove crippled old ladies down the stairs as I grin, mesmerized by the battered wheels of their chairs….

Webzine offerings

From Claudia Smith’s “The House I Left Behind“:

The house I left behind rattles at night in the wind. There are no screens on the windows. My mother tries to shake my father out of his slumber. “Do you hear that? Do you hear that Rod?” My father doesn’t answer. He never does. He doesn’t sleep, he hibernates. When I was a child, my mother would wake me up for storms. We drank black coffee and watched the windows shake. The house shuddered and we shivered when sheets of lightning lit the sky.

But I am not there. And so, she wraps the thin sheets around her body. The sheets smell of my father’s sweat.

From John Hodgman’s “Three Stories Girls Told Me“:

I promised myself a long time ago that I would never steal this story for my own use. I wish I could have kept that promise, but as I used to tell my authors, you can only work with the stories you have, not the ones you wish you had.

From “The Moon: Myths & Facts,” by Stephany Aulenback (no permalink yet):

Mark your calendar the next time you witness some strange behavior, or the next time you behave oddly yourself. You will soon find that all crazy behavior coincides with the full moon, or if not the full moon, then some other phase of the moon.

New Issues of In Posse and Small Spiral Notebook are out.


Robert Birnbaum interviews Gail Caldwell, chief book critic at The Boston Globe. An excerpt:

RB: Are you still able to read recreationally?

GC: Yes. Oddly, more so now than when I was first reviewing. There is some conscious and unconscious sense that unhinges – that I do not have to take notes, remember specific arguments, things I love, the larger contexts – when I am reading for review.

Caldwell also talks about her experience of New England:

I’ll never be a New Englander. I think I have been here long enough now that I get to complain about it, like all other New Englanders. But, um, [thoughtful pause] used it to it? Yes, it’s home, it’s familiar, there are things that I love about New England. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else. I also will always be an ex-Texan. The older one gets, I think, the more you have that sensibility where you are from. And in a way, I have the luxury of saying that because I am 2,000 miles from where I grew up. So it’s much easier to be romantic about one’s roots.

Paris Review, more

The Paris Review plans to hold its 50th anniversary celebration despite Editor George Plimpton’s death. Plimpton had planned to attend a Hemingway festival in Havana and a Playboy anniversary party this week. (Both links via MobyLives.)

Barnes & Noble will reissue The Stones of Summer, Dow Mossman’s debut novel. The book fell into obscurity until it became the subject of a film released this year. Barnes & Noble is using the reissue to test its retail competitors’ receptivity to the books it publishes. (Via Moorish Girl.)

At Superfluities, G. Hunka writes about chain bookstores.

Bargain book wholesalers are finding that the Internet “promises to make the book wholesaling business more competitive and potentially more profitable.” (Via MobyLives.)

A negative review of Detroit Free Press staffer Mitch Albom’s new book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, was removed from the Free Press by an editor who thought it was too negative.

Reading and testing in the British schools

At a secondary school in South Wales, boys and girls are being given separate reading material. School officials hope to spur the boys’ interest in literature by having them read Beckham’s My Side. The boys, aged from 12 to 15:

will also study fantasy books like Lord Of The Rings and Terry Pratchett’s novels and are also split up into teams.

They will also have quizzes in class to make the lessons more competitive….

The girls are carrying on learning the classics such as Jane Eyre and reading novels by women authors….

(Via The Literary Saloon.)

Philip Pullman, a British children’s author, argues that testing in primary schools shows that educators are:

forgetting the true purpose, the true nature, of reading and writing; and in forcing these things to happen in a way that divorces them from pleasure, we are creating a generation of children who might be able to make the right noises when they see print, but who hate reading and feel nothing but hostility for literature.

(Via Bookslut.)

A “simple and practical moral calculus”

William T. Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down, “a 3,000-page meditation on the ethics of violence,” will be published “in seven volumes by McSweeney’s in October (and in abridged form by Ecco next year).”

There’s an entertaining debate about Vollman here. Says sjtennent:

I found it a bit frightening that the article mentions first how great lengths Vollman goes to get his writing right–sleeping on streets with prostitutes, smoking crack, etc–and then later says he lives in Sacramento with a wife and kids. I think this is the first dad that a newspaper has somehow tried to ennoble for his crack smoking.

Opinions on Vollmann’s work are welcome.

Borges on Canada, more

Here’s an excerpt from a 1968 interview with Jorge Luis Borges:

DB: Borges, if you were preparing a radio program about yourself and you wanted to introduce it by describing yourself and your work, what would you say?

JLB: Well, I suppose I think of myself as a writer, and I also think of myself as a professor of English literature and—but this, of course, is a kind of secret—as a student of old English, Anglo Saxon. And sometimes I think of myself as a very perplexed man, but now, perhaps because I am in Canada, I think of myself as being quite a happy man and full of hope for the future.

Also, I trot this one out from time to time (and it’s already been Metafiltered) but if you haven’t visited The Book of Sand, a puzzle based on a Borges story, you might enjoy it.

Hemingway’s son

The sad story of Ernest Hemingway’s transsexual son, Gregory, has “carried over beyond the grave”:

The last of his four wives and five of his eight children are battling over his estate in court, and his sex change could well prove to be the key to resolving the case….

At one point in the 1990s he was sleeping in a dilapidated Volkswagen. When he went ahead with the sex change, he was so parsimonious about the cost that for several months he went around with only one breast.

“I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying not to be a transvestite,” Gregory once said. (S)he died in the women’s wing of the Miami-Dade county jail. (Via A&L Daily.)

New Brown

Jeff Kunerth says The Rabbit Factory, Larry Brown’s fifth novel, successfully tells six stories at once.

Here are a few old interviews with Brown, and here’s a brief excerpt from one of them:

I just loved to read all my life. And when I got close to thirty, I didn’t feel like I was very accomplished with my life and I wondered if there was something else that I could do. And writing seemed like a logical thing to try. It seemed to be something that maybe a person wouldn’t have to go to school to do. You could do it at home in your spare time. And so I finally just sat down and started writing a novel in 1980.

When I took a class with Harry Crews during my sophomore year of college, he said he received a short story from Larry Brown in the mail. Brown was unpublished at the time. Crews was so impressed that he shipped the story off to his own agent and that’s how Brown’s work ended up in print.

If you’ve never read Brown’s “Facing the Music” (a short story), you owe it to yourself to track it down.

Don’t tease him, he’s got a weak heart

The TMFTML proprietor is pissed that neither “The night I gave Murdoch a bollocking” nor “Talking to men who have sex with men” delivered on their promises. He’s railing about some sort of “conspiracy to deny us our God-given right to homosexual activity.” Do stop in and provide some links to ameliorate this situation, won’t you?

For every sentence

In a review of The Chicago Manual of Style, Louis Menand finds fault with the more flexible approach adopted for Internet and related citations:

…. the authors allow themselves plenty of wiggle room, quoting a passage from the 1906 edition: “Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity.” This is modest and becoming, but it is beside the point. The problem isn’t that there are cases that fall outside the rules. The problem is that there is a rule for every case, and no style manual can hope to list them all. But we want the rules anyway. What we don’t want to be told is “Be flexible,” or “You have choices.” “Choice” is another of modern life’s false friends. Too many choices is precisely what makes Word such a nightmare to use, and what makes a hell of, for example, shopping for orange juice: Original, Grovestand, Home Style, Low Acid, Orange Banana, Extra Calcium, PulpFree, Lotsa Pulp, and so on.

Menand’s ideal style manual “would be like the perfect map of the world: exactly coterminous with its subject, containing a rule for every word of every sentence.” (Thanks to Ed Page for the link.)


I lived in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) for 3 1/2 years and would still live there now if the rent hadn’t been scheduled to double. During those years, I never once read more than two sentences of Vice magazine.

The Antic Muse articulates very persuasively the reasons it’s not worth a moment of your time.

Somewhat related: about a year ago I nearly got in a fistfight with a waitress at [name of Williamsburg restaurant expurgated] who was sporting a shirt with the confederate battle flag on it.

It don’t matter that you’re from Connecticut* and “just love the Dukes of Hazzard,” honey.

How about I punch you in the face a few times and then take a picture of it and make shirts that say “Dumb Fucking Bitch” and sell them on Bedford Avenue as an ironic statement about feminism and domestic violence?

You know, kind of post- post-?

Update: More from The Antic Muse. Dana’s thoughts are, as always, worth reading.

* Please note that this is not a slam on Connecticut generally. The waitress just happened to hail from that state.

Fem books

Zulkey offers up her thoughts on chick lit and provides an excerpt of her forthcoming novel in that genre:

Natasha walked into her apartment and threw her shopping bags on the table. How was she able to afford this apartment, her shopping, her nightlife, and her daily brunches with her girlfriends on her measly paycheck? Who knew. Was it really important? What was important was that she was fabulous. And had fabulous friends.

But then there was Johnny Boy. Sure, he was rich, good-looking, snappy, and only showed up to take her to fancy dinners and to bed, but Natasha was sure there was something wrong with him. There just had to be! Natasha huffed to the kitchen and devoured an entire Hershey’s Kiss. When she realized what she had done, she ran to the bathroom and vomited it up.

Send her an excerpt of your own chick lit work-in-progress.