Posts tagged "BooksAndWriting"

“Finally, “A Bridge Under Water” was rejected at least fifteen times before Sven Birkerts and William Pierce kindly agreed to publish it in Agni. Although I’d like to imagine that its publication within this august volume has moved the editors who spurned it to smack their heads, fire their assistants, and rend their garments, I’m also pretty certain that none of them care. Nor should they care. But the frequency of its rejection seems like a helpful thing to mention, given how many young and apprentice writers tear through BASS every year, as I once did, wondering how one’s work winds up so enshrined. One answer: Yell into a hole, and pretend as though you’re having a conversation. Yell long enough, and suddenly you might be.”

- Tom Bissel, from the contributor notes in The Best American Short Stories 2011

just putting this here because it’s good advice on writing and because I’ll want to link to it in the show notes for an upcoming episode of the podcast

I’m learning to hate the sound of my own voice.

Jonathan Lethem, As She Climbed Across the Table (via ratrapss)

there is almost certainly something to be said about our (and I am implicating myself here) habit of attributing the words of characters to their authors. It’s something Steve Almond mentions briefly in his talk from one of the early episodes of the (apparently abandoned) Tin House podcast. He points to an essay by Frederick Reiken that I have been unable to track down online, titled “The Author-Narrator-Character Merge: Why Many First-time Novelists Wind up with Flat, Uninteresting Protagonists.” (Anyone have a copy of AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 37, no. 4 they’d like to share?) There is almost certainly something to be said about this habit, and I am not nearly smart or learned enough to say it. Instead of saying it, I’m doing to do the following things:

1) gesture at the idea that everything anyone writes is, on some level, autobiographical. Nagel’s being a bat, the inherently limited perspective of existing, the inability to genuinely know another person, etc etc.

2) note that of course I myself insert fictionalized versions of myself into all manner of things, and while I cannot conclusively state that other people have done this (see point above), I have a fairly good idea it’s a pretty common thing.

3) admit that I am not sure this is, in any way, a problem, but simply say that it is curious that so many people (again, myself included, though I’m trying to stop) make a habit of doing so. Curious, that’s all.

4) point to this quote, point out that it is spoken by Philip Engstrand, a fictional professor of anthropology, and hope that Msr. Welch will forgive me making his post the time I finally decided to say something.

5) hope someone with a better understand of literature than I’ve got can swing by and rescue my point here.

But I’ve grown used to teaching since then, and I find that I now take a great deal of comfort in the daily routine. There is a working agreement here that makes life reassuring: I pretend to be a teacher and the children pretend to be my students. Parents and teachers agree to forget that children are in fact lunatics, and that what we call growing up is just learning to hide it better so nobody will lock us away. Oh, did I mention that I’m engaged to be married? He works at the same insurance company as my father, which is convenient. The only problem is that he has a good heart, so we have some trouble communicating—just like I had with you. But I’m trying to learn how good people talk, so I can fake it. I don’t miss you at all.
“The Right Imaginary Person” by Robert Anthony Siegel, Tin House No. 54, Winter 2012

(for L.) 

After finishing off the bottle of vodka he says / life is everything children are ignorant of, / including us, their heroes, who become small / and replaceable. And while remorse pricks us like holly leaves, history does not.”

“He says vodka is a river and maybe the sea / and they swam in it like children with blue lips / and the shakes, waiting for life to overwhelm / its metaphors.

“our cousin Lubin” by John Surowicki, from the April 2003 issue of Poetry
I am sad and clutch the sadness like a ragged baby blanket I’ve uncovered in a bureau drawer. It’s faded, aged by time and overuse, but it is there; that’s the main thing. If I am sad, if sad is something I can still be, then it will be alright.
“Final Dispositions” by Linda McCullough Moore, The Sun via The Pushcart Prize 2011
But now, as she enters her home, Clara herself finds all that imposed cheerfulness jarring. She stands still in her doorway for a few moments—as though there’s an obvious next move to make and she just can’t remember what it is. This is a familiar sensation, since George’s death. She waits and nothing comes to mind. Nothing ever comes to mind. It is the sensation of absence, she knows, disguised as an impulse to act. There isn’t a damned thing to do, except see it for the trick it is.
“Immortalizing John Parker” from If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

The sun became the sun because that’s all a ball of hydrogen can do.

From “Strange Case” by Craig O’Hara, Confirmation 100:


Author: We’re here with the tumor inside Edgar Beehive’s lung. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Tumor: Thanks for having me.

A: So, what was it made you start mutating like this?

T: Well, like so many things in life, it’s really hard to tell.

A: I guess what I’m asking is: Did you wake up one day and decide to mutate or was it something that just came about naturally?

T: Who knows? I mean, how did you become a writer? How did the sun become the sun? How do we know why anything does what it does?

A: I became a writer because I don’t have any other marketable skills. The sun became the sun because that’s all a ball of hydrogen can do. But you had a choice. You could have become a normal lung cell like the others, yet you didn’t. Why?”

Hobart post 3 of 3

The third book Hobart was kind enough to send me was Elizabeth Ellen’s collection of stories, Fast Machine

The book has a really strong core. A lot of writers write about what are essentially the same people, over and over again, but it’s a difficult thing to do well. Think of it like string; it’s one long connected strand. Anybody can ball it up, but it takes a knack to weave it into a ball that won’t fall apart. A lot of writers go to some lengths to make the people different, but because they’re revisiting the same themes in the same voice the effect never holds. Fast Machine doesn’t suffer from that problem. Most of the stories revolve around a woman with an aching need for things that she’d probably be better off if she didn’t get, and they’re distinguishable but similar enough to hold together. Sometimes she has a daughter, sometimes she isn’t single, sometimes she’s a teenager or younger, sometimes she’s an adult. More behind the jump.

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We kissed goodnight and Brett shivered. “I’d better go,” she said. “Goodnight darling.”

"You don’t have to go."


We kissed again on the stairs and as I called for the cordon the concierge muttered something behind her door. I went back upstairs and from the open window watched Brett walking up the street to the big limosine drawn up to the curb under the arc-light. She got in and it started off. I turned around. On the table was an empty glass and a glass half-full of brandy and soda. I took them both out to the kitchen and poured the half-full glass down the sink. I turned off the gas in the dining-room, kicked off my slippers sitting on the bed, and got into bed. This was Brett, that I had felt like crying about. Then I thought of her walking up the street and stepping into the car, as I had last seen her, and of course in a little while I felt like hell again. It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.

Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.
Stanley Plumly, from “In Passing

Oh, mercy is that good.

i read a short story once that was about a woman who was going to kill batman. bruce was asleep upstairs, she had seduced him and she was in the kitchen eating breakfast and alfred was there, and somehow he was wise to what she was going to do. this was all handled exquisitely, with a light enough hand that you got a decent distance into the story before you realized you were reading about batman. anyhow, alfred was wise to it but he, knowing that the story of batman only ends one way, sighs and turns away.  

i cannot for the life of me remember where i read this. i thought it was in a literary magazine; today i went through all 37 of the lit mags i own and i could not find it. maybe it’s not in something i own, maybe it was in something i read in a store or got from the library or maybe i never even read it at all.

this is frustrating, but i am trying to keep in mind that i do not need a better cataloging system, i do not need more data, i do not need more lists. i need to accept that i will not be able to hold on to everything, that some things will at some point be forgotten, and that that is OK. 

Hobart post 2 of 3

One of the other things Hobart was kind enough to send along was issue 13 of their literary magazine. It’s got a luck theme, and I like lit mags with themes. Some are a bit loose around the theme; tin house will present a theme but a lot of the things involved relate tangentially or in an opaque way. This wasn’t like that, the stories dealt directly with luck, wondered out loud about it, were openly shaped by it. I liked the opening essay a lot, a piece by Jac Jamc “Notes Towards a Definition of Luck.” “When I was 25,” she writes, ”I went on 27 dates in six months.”

Here’s the breakdown of my success rate:

15% I do not remember at all.
15% I only recalled when I was able to pull up a picture of the person.
15% had previously been married.
4% sent me scantily clad photos of themselves.
8% made it clear, on the first date, that they had serious histories of substance abuse.
4% were closeted submissives who started out conversations by sheepishly telling me what they wanted me to do to them.
8% had girlfriends that they didn’t tell me about until the second date.
63% made contact after the first date.
4% called way too many times for comfort.
4% performed surveys of people who worked in bogs “for a living.” 
4% said they would rather live in a happiness pod than experience real life.
4% happened to be the guy who worked at the Walgreens near my college who I called “Walgreens Thom” and had a crush on four years previous.
4% made it to the fifth date, which is the maximum number of dates any of them went out on me, excluding my current boyfriend who was the last guy I went out with.

I’m not saying the twenty-seventh man is “the one,” because I don’t know that I believe in “the one,” but I like him a whole lot. I’d say I’m pretty darn lucky, but I tried my luck a heck of a lot of times. If I’d stopped at 26, I would not have felt lucky.

So maybe being lucky is trying one more time.

I like this a lot because trying one more time strikes me as the exact opposite of luck. Finite trials are inherent in luck, luck is accepting that within a certain time frame it either will or won’t happen, to try one more time is to imply that a particular something should happen, and there’s no should in luck.

If desire seizes directly upon its object, contemplation removes its object to a distance, and makes it into a true and inalienable possession by putting it beyond the reach of passion.
Friedrich von Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, trans. Reginald Snell

"Having is not such a pleasing thing as wanting; it is not logical but often true."

“If Teddy’s been cheated then what’s been stolen? There is, of course, his time. Energy put into another: this is the entropy of a “we.” The dispersal of energy, that’s all it is. Maybe it was time he was less spread out than he’s been.”

That’s from I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, a book I got when Hobart (a person(s?) / lit mag / publishing house / kitchen equipment enthusiast) made a generous offer on tumblr. 

The book is a first person narrative, but it’s a disjointed and non-sequential narrative. The narrator is a woman who loses memories when she’s cut, and the book is a lot of rumination on memory and self and couplehood and what we have to give each other. Linking memory loss to blood loss gives a physical quality to an intangible thing, and that carries through to other things, i.e. “If Teddy’s been cheated then what’s been stolen?” Or here:

“Afterwards, we adjusted, lay side by side together on the bed, evidence of what’s left would show on those dark sheets.

After we had caught our breaths we held them.

Teddy wondering what we were supposed to do next.
I wondering what we had just done.”

After we had caught our breaths we held them. That’s great, great stuff. The book is a little disjointed, in the sense that there’s creative and use of line breaks and pagination that isn’t typical of prose works. That’s style, though, and beneath that is some pretty devastating writing: 

“You can condition yourself to remember a memory in a certain way. Someone can teach you to think of third grade differently. Or hear that Bob Dylan song “Most of the Time” and not cringe like you always do. So that you don’t remember the third grade when only the newly acquired names of planets kept you company. Or you could coast through the more painful reminder of your current love who tells you how much he cares about his ex. So that when Dylan sings: “Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine. Most of the time” you don’t wish you could fit your heart into the food processor.”

Recommended. More discussion of Hobart works is coming soon. Thanks to Hobart for the generous offer that got me the book in the first place, apologies to Hobart for taking this long to talk about it.

I have been thinking how the body
is a vulture—all avarice and need.
How longing creeps up, stalking
for days, catches with such force
it leaves you breathless.
Carol V. Davis, from “Need” (via proustitute)