29 November 2009

This mid-list author’s (anonymous) account of the publishing experience over a 15-year period was a rough Monday morning read.

But thanks to Jane Austen Doe for laying it out (as a young writer, I recognize and appreciate the benevolence of this, since she forewent the byline); I find these no-holds-barred publishing confessionals to be weirdly comforting.  I guess knowing is better than not-knowing?  It doesn’t make me despair, it makes me… more relaxed.  There’s only so much you can do as a writer, foremost of which is writing writing writing and doing everything you can to maintain and nurture the joy of the work itself over the long haul.  Nothing else will sustain you through these kinds of harrowing ego-roller-coasters; that much seems clear.

Easier said than done; you’ll see what I mean after reading this.


27 November 2009

Interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly, about orchid children vs dandelion children — to add to debates about nature vs nurture, and, possibly, “the psyche of the artist.”  Reminds me of something my friend Manuel and I agree about: “Writers seem to be missing a layer of skin.”

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

24 November 2009

I miss board games.  This one — Bookchase by Penguin — looks super nerdy, and nostalgic, and unabashedly analog.  My favorite.

Holidays, activities for family gatherings, literary engagement — sounds like a winner.

Thanks to Patrick at Vroman’s Blog for the link!


23 November 2009

I’ve been swimming in a sea of work this term — good work, honest work, meaningful work — and the cumulative effect is starting to manifest.  Do you know that thing that happens when you can’t seem to rest, even when you are not working?  When getting to a place of actual rest, body and mind, becomes harder work than the working?  In other words, you have to work real hard at rest?  It’s pretty f*&#%-ed up.

The other thing that happens is that you start to become entirely too much the center of your own despairing universe.  So to push back on that, I want to thank the good people (writers, all) whose recent generosity and thoughtfulness have helped me reach the other side on some things and thus make this exhausting time just a little less exhausting:

Melissa Febos

Tess Taylor

David Shields

Lee Herrick

Blas Manuel De Luna

Susie DeFord

Ken Chen

It’s the little things that make a difference.

18 November 2009

Just came across this October pre-pub mention of Long for This World.  Kind of exciting!

Featuring Sonya Chung, Chang-Rae Lee, Mark Spragg, and David Cruise

By Barbara Hoffert — Library Journal, 10/1/2009 10:31:00 AM

Books can take you places. In this edition’s fiction, Sonya Chung and Chang-Rae Lee travel to Korea, while Philip Kerr and Craig Nova visit 1930s Berlin. Also in fiction, Mark Spragg heads out West, as do nonfiction authors Laura Bell, memoirist of her life in Montana, and David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, biographers of Wild Horse Annie.

[The blurb on LFTW:]

Having fled Korea for America in 1953, Han returns with his daughter, a war photographer injured in Baghdad. What recommends this first novel? Chung’s many honors, including a Pushcart Prize nomination and the Charles Johnson Fiction Award. Plus publisher support, as evidenced by the reading group guide and other book club materials. See Chung’s Facebook page.

Here’s the link to the full Library Journal entry.

17 November 2009

I remember when I first learned that it took Junot Diaz some 11 years to write his (Pulitzer-prize winning) novel — with a couple of “failed novels” in between.  It was strangely heartening.  Not in a schadenfreude way, but in a yes, writing is long, writing is slow, writing is filled with debilitating doubt kind of way.

Diaz is generous to now share his harrowing tale of woe with us:  read about it here.

Thanks to novelist Alexander Chee for excerpting this bit, which is where I first came across the article:

But if the world is what it is so are our hearts. One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I’d let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I’d thought. That’s when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn’t have the heart to go on. But I guess I did. While my fiancée slept, I separated the 75 pages that were worthy from the mountain of loss, sat at my desk, and despite every part of me shrieking no no no no, I jumped back down the rabbit hole again. There were no sudden miracles. It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I’d wanted to say for more than a decade: done.

That’s my tale in a nutshell. Not the tale of how I came to write my novel but rather of how I became a writer. Because, in truth, I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.

16 November 2009

This podcast with photographer Chris Jordan at the New York Review of Books jarred me a bit, unexpectedly.  Jordan took photographs of baby albatross (albatrosses?) on Midway Island who’d ingested so much plastic that it killed them; the photos are “straight,” i.e. they are not posed or art-directed, and are truly disturbing.

A 2003-05 exhibit of Jordan’s was entitled “Intolerable Beauty.”  In the podcast, he talks about that title, and the relationship between aesthetics and activism.  Jordan’s passion is compelling.  Give him a listen.