Saturday, December 31, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Journaling

In leiu of a best of list, I thought I'd write a quick bit about a writing life change this year.

I hate journaling or keeping a sourcebook or writing in a diary. I had, in the past, tried. Here’s an entry from the diary I got for Christmas one day after January:

There are no entries. Point is I have often felt writing in a journal is…how can I put this without seeming like a jerk…journaling is idiotic—it’s a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a write everyday person, but on particular projects—not in some touchy feely journal where we discuss our feelings and our day’s events and work out our issues about how we felt about the events of the day. So you can tell I’m perfectly well adjusted—in no need of therapy writing or otherwise.

Point is that at the beginning of every academic year the college I teach at hosts a speaker on more effective teaching. This year it was on creativity. Cathy Anderson (a.k.a. the mystery novelist Cathy Pickens) had done an amazing study of the scientific research. My feeble takeaway was: It takes 66 days to create a habit. She made her students journal for 66 days and found that this was one of the most powerful exercises she had tried.

So this semester for my intermediate fiction students I made them journal for the semester, well over the 66 days. I called it keeping a notebook because I still can’t stand the term journal. And here at the end their stories seem stronger (mostly) and more developed (mostly)…well we’ll call them longer anyway.

As for me. I, for once, took my own advice and did the journaling, too. It’s well beyond the 66 days. And I’m into my second journal. I mean, notebook. I feel the itch. But I’m still a lazy person, a procrastinator at heart so I end up waiting to right before I go to sleep to write in the notebook. Currently I’m writing this right after brushing my teeth.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I picked up The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982. Of course, she’s the queen of words, so hers ended up being 4000 single-spaced typewritten pages. I’m averaging 1 ½-2 pages (clumsy cave-man scrawl-like handwritten), so let’s pretend it’s 2 a day, so that’s 730 pages a year x 9 years into the future if I keep it up = 6570 pages. See if we don’t account for that single-spaced typewritten verses elementary-schooler handwriting then I look pretty prodigious. So basically what I’m saying is that I’m better than Joyce Carol Oates.

Let’s also ignore the fact that unlike my notebook which is full of working out stories and a novel, hers is all in addition to all that insane amount of work she produced. Plus there are these highbrow/mystical thoughts. For example:

“Nietzsche’s loneliness. Stocism; and then frenzy. (Doesn’t stoicism lead to frenzy, in the end?) To aspire to Nietzsche’s aloneness in the midst of love, marriage, family, and community. A feat not even Nietzsche himself could have accomplished.”

As opposed to my somewhat less:

“Sleepy Steven had on an armorall patch.”
Let me explicate: I was sleepy, but I write fiction so I cleverly put that feeling into a persona character, Steven. My first name is Stephen so I went with the alternate spelling to throw people off the trail. I’m not really sure what an “armorall patch” is. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by then.

Point is I’m keeping a journal. Notebook. Whatever. Now to figure out what I want to get hooked on in the next 66 days.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Me on McSweeney's Internet Tendency III

My piece "Netflix Would Like to Apologize for the Inadvertent Apocalypse" is up at McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Like last time, it's an apology. Only this time it's a sorry corporation.

I had been complaining last week relentlessly about Netflix's bastard child Qwikster. Then someone, who I don't remember because I wasn't really listening to them but instead trying to get them to listen to me, said that it wasn't the end of the world. Well, ha!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It’s the Weight of a Book

As a lazy bibliophile, I’m sucker for books about book collecting because it’s easier to read than do it. So I read John Baxter’s A Pound of Paper. I think I prefer Larry McMurtry’s Books, but Baxter’s book has a nice light conversational tone and a European/Australian angle that’s worth the reading…if you care about those rectangle things that used to be all the rage with readers.

I say that I’m a lazy lover of books and not just reading. In fact I don’t care much for reading. But books as artifacts never get old. But I’m just not dedicated. One of Baxter’s through-lines is his obsessive search for the works of Graham Greene. I haven’t completed collecting one author. I haven’t went after all the Pulitzer winners or gotten all the books titled starting with the article “The.” But I’ve stumbled onto an 1897 Civil Service Report here and an 1871 six volume set of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire there. But my gem is a first edition/first printing of Emily Dickinson’s Third Series (the first posthumous publication of some of her poetry). Anyway, the point is it’s haphazard.

Much like this group of my favorite tidbits:

“Most librarians don’t like books any more than butchers like lamb chops.” (I don’t agree with this one, but it’s funny to stereotype).

“I’d stumbled on the great rule of science fiction: ninety per cent of it is crap.”

“Still to come was the ritual of ‘shelving’—placing the book with the now-lengthening line of Greene titles, in chronological order, with a lightly penciled note on the flyleaf giving the price paid and the date purchased.”

“In 1937, Greene notoriously reviewed John Ford’s Wee Willie Winkie, making disparaging remarks about Shirley Temple, then just nine years old. Neither Greene nor Night and Day anticipated that Twentieth Century Fox might sue for libel on Temple’s behalf.”

“[Dick] Cavett—or at least his researchers—latched on to the fact that [Edward] Gorey drew the covers for Doubleday’s paperback reissues of Henry James.

‘What do you think of James today?’ Cavett asked.

An expressionless Gorey replied, ‘I loathed every word he wrote.’”

“What the trade calls delicately ‘anthropodermic bindings’ are rare but not unknown, though, for obvious reasons, nobody is in a hurry to admit they own them.”

And one of my favorite parts of the book is an appendix where Baxter asked book people, writers, agents, publishers, etc. to list the book they would save if their house were on fire. There are some great answers but perhaps the best is where Baxter talks about the limited edition of Fahrenheit 451 that was bound in asbestos.

I imagine that I would go for Dickinson in that case, but if time permitted, I would grab in my other hand the Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe with Illustrations by Harry Clarke, which Heather and I bought to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (the paper anniversary after all). See I’m a softy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What I Learned from Michael Chabon's Fountain City

So, I'm on Goodreads--have you heard of Goodreads? It's Facebook for books. Anyway, they have a challenge where you pick how many books you're going to read in 2011. My friend Mel showed me. I played along. I need the encouragement. I don't read as much as I did/should/would, but to be fair if I were able to bind all the student writing I read it would certainly give Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down a run for it's length (and that's yearly). It's a pathetically low bar I set for myself, but even so I find myself picking shorter and shorter books to read. Which is why I read Fountain City by Michael Chabon. It's not even a book, but four chapters of a failed book, a "wrecked" book with annotations and miscellany by the author. It was part of McSweeney's 36, so is actually, technically a magazine article, but it's on Goodreads freestanding so I'm counting it as a book. Point is you should read it. I should make my students read it. See how they like it. Having to read stuff. Here's a list of things I learned. I won't go into detail because since this is only four chapters, the spoilers wouldn't be the plot but how Chabon writes about his failure.

  1. How writing can be suicide (non-poet edition).

  2. The care of characters hanged from the "peg board of the imagination."

  3. The role of the random.

  4. Definition of draftitis.

  5. Ditto authorial alienation

  6. Thoughts on writing post-workshop

  7. The need for a novelist's spouse (are you listening, Heather?).

Now to find something shorter to read.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Me on decomP magazinE II

You'll remember that I was on decomP, a literary magazine, once before. That was about a scientist who got mad.

This time my story "Femme Fatale, Rabid Raccoon" is in the decomP March issue. It's not about an actual raccoon, but there might be a femme fatale in there. It also includes audio of me reading the story, so you can finally hear my voice, the way you've always wanted. Play it for your kids to lull them to sleep. There's lots of other cool stuff in the issue, so poke around.

By the way, decomP is doing a Kickstarter campaign to put out its first print edition, so give.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2nd Annual Post-AWP Awards

That's right--I'm back. And now time for my 2nd annual post-AWP awards (You of course remember last year’s):

Best crazy question: Building the Literary Robot Panel. So I can’t crazy up the question precisely but here’s the paraphrase—“If we survive in the future, which is doubtful, and go to other planets then we can’t use paper to publish because it’s too heavy. And then there will be Berlusconi-type octopus arms all over everything, taking everything. And then will we just be sending literature to robots?” I may not be doing that crazy justice but you get the idea.

Best response to a crazy question at AWP: I have no response to that. –Travis Kurowski. I’m not doing justice to that either—it was very deadpan and probably not those exact words but again you get the idea.

Best panel where I caught the very last minute because the crowd finally thinned out: Hint Fiction

Best unexpected meeting: David Erlewine

Best sort of expected meeting: It’s a tie. Ben Tanzer & Jesse Waters

Magazine with the best paper: Knee-Jerk Offline Vol 01 MMX

Strangest free magazine: a 1964 Sewanee Review (which is cool because it has a review by one of my favorites: Walker Percy)

Best reason to quit my teaching job: Jhumpa Lahiri’s (unintentional?) dissing of writing professors when she said she chose winning the Pulitzer instead. She didn’t really say that, but it was the subtext.

All winners will be receiving a golden pen (Fine print: all pens are made of dreams and coffee cup sleeves. Finer print: no one is getting anything).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

AWP Ready

Apparently it's snowing somewhere and making it hard to get to AWP, but I’m bound for DC, and I am ready for my AWP experience. I have everything I need:

√A leather bound notebook so that I can write while other people are just talking about writing.

√A laptop to sit in the free Wi-Fi lobby and blog about the conference.

√An odd hat so people will look at me.

√An odd shirt or T-shirt with an odd phrase so that when people are staring straight ahead they'll look at me.

√An odd pair of shoes so that when people are looking down and don’t see my hat or shirt they will notice my shoes and look at me.

√Pre-prepared questions/comments (mostly comments) that are so good they will prove that I am smarter than the people on the panel and that I should have been up there in the first place.

√A limber neck so that I can scan the Bookfair as I talk to someone in case there is someone more important I should be talking to.

√Nonalcoholic whiskey to use for shots with other writers who are using actual whiskey so that I can drink them under the table and thus prove I am a better writer.

√My wife--step one in entourage creation.

Away we go.


So my story "Pre-Revelation Coffee with Ex-Girlfriend" is in the Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011 Anthology with these cool people:


Very cool. Cover image by Sam Pink.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Necessary Fiction's First Footing

So Necessary Fiction is doing a month of fictional "first footings" where they've "invited our past contributors to let the last line of someone else’s story get a foot in the door of their own fiction."

My contribution is called "The Banshee" and took its footing from Kevin Spaide's story "The Beard." You should definitly read his even if you don't read mine. By the way, his is about a beard and mine is about a banshee.