Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Book New Book New Book!!!

China Miéville has a new book out!!! Frabjous joy! Bit of info here, with an interview:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is it Wrong?

To face a day when one's schedule is completely jammed and search the to-read pile for a book with a giant font, knowing that one will get through the required hundred pages quickly? To be delighted to find the book selected is not good and can be skimmed (certainly through the unappetizing sex scenes)?

I give myself some credit for not picking up Tomas Tranströmer, knowing that poems often have plenty of white space on the page. That usually backfires. I have to read poetry slowly to understand anything. This novel? Yeah, not so much. I won't be mentioning it in my resolution reviews. It's that bad. Nor will I review the one I read before this. Same problem. Fortunately I'm listening to Under the Volcano on audiobook, and the sheer goodness wipes out the weaknesses of others.

In a couple of weeks the Santa Barbara Writers Conference will start, and for the first time is half a year I won't be able to get my hundred pages read per day. Unless I borrow some of my mother's mysteries. Have you seen the font size on some of those suckers? I could get through one hundred pages crossing the hotel lobby.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Win Conference Admission!

Enter the 40th Annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scholarship Contest – Best Opening

Dear Writers,

Enter the 40th Annual SBWC Scholarship Contest! Send us your BEST OPENING, up to 40 words -- a beginning most likely to compel a reader to turn the page.

Email all entries to:

Please include contact information: name, phone number, email address, & mailing address

All genres welcome

This must be your original work, published or unpublished

Winner receives a tuition scholarship to the 40th Annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and a signed copy of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina

No entry fee

Contest Begins: Today!

Deadline: Friday, June 1st, Midnight (PST)

Winner Announced: Saturday, June 2nd

“I think your opening is enormously important. You’ve got to write a first line that will haunt you. It’s got to be magic.” – Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, and keynote speaker at SBWC 2012

Please share this opportunity with writers you know.

Write On!

Nicole Starczak
SBWC, director

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Too Good.

Ever read a book that was too good to read? Too good to finish? Yeah, that's happening now. I'm reading Blake Butler's Nothing, A Portrait of Insomnia, and it's not even that the writing is great, which it is, it's that it strikes so close to home.

I have had insomnia at least since high school. Probably since childhood. Insomnia is like a secret club. We don't have a handshake or meetings. We do have a shared crazy look in the eye.

I'm not talking about the occasional difficult evening dropping off to sleep. I'm talking my last good night's sleep was February 9, 2008. It was a Saturday. This book knows that kind of thing. Want to share the crazy? Read this book.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

When Will it End?!?!

What sort of lunatic picks as a New Year's Resolution the reading of one hundred pages a day? It's not the reading that's the problem; I like that part. It's the blogging about it. The keeping up on Goodreads. From now on, expect briefer reviews. You don't care, I know, and I want to blog about other things. So here's a lightning round:
Kayak Morning by Roger Rosenblatt. A father mourns a lost child, framed in the setting of his morning kayak trip. Lovely, poetic writing, but I feel that I missed Rosenblatt's earlier memoir on this topic. Similar to Jeanette Winterson's work in that way. Can you keep plowing the same field in memoir?

Selected Poems by Carl Sandburg. I'm struck by how new and surprising Sandburg must have been when these poems were written, because they still feel new. I'm glad the Tea Party hasn't banned his work. All that pro-labor stuff, you know.

Clamor by Elyse Fenton. Fenton's husband was a medic in Iraq, and she captures the sweep of life during war, after war, and for the family left behind. I wish this book were better known. I had to beg Amazon for it for months.

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. Modern poetry's bitter man. I'm sure it is neither coincidence nor a bad thing that his words fit my ear so well. Never has a less happy man written better verse.

This Will Make You Smarter edited by John Bockman. Every year the folks ask scientists and other smart people for one idea they think will make a difference for the rest of us. Last year was the one scientific concept they think their fellow citizens should understand. Here are all their individual answers.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. A very funny attempt at following the two testaments literally. My personal favorite was the attempt to stone a cranky old man in Central Park. The author makes many adjustments to the actual text of the bible or he'd still be in jail, but worth the read.

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller. I'm a Herta Müller fan, but this one was a little odd. Here is a young man sent to a work camp in the post-WWII USSR, worked and starved nearly to death, witness to years of horror, and there just isn't much emotion here. Nothing seems to bother him much. Perhaps that is the point, though, as he has cast his hunger into the form of a separate being, a hunger angel that hovers nearby at the worst times. Has he dissociated from suffering? Did I dissociate from the story? I'll have to re-read this one.

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan. When these stories and essays are good they are very, very good, and they are never horrid. But there were several that didn't particularly interest me due to the subject matter. Axl Rose? Whatever. But there is some great work in here. Particularly fascinating was an essay about animal attacks. Was this fiction or non-fiction? The line is very thin and very faint.

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. I don't know how teachers teach. How do they control a room full of students, much less get any information into their heads? This entertaining book didn't answer that question, but it made me glad there are people willing to try.

The Complete Stories by Truman Capote. Genius. I can't think of a writer better able to capture the variety of American voice. He could write from a holler to a penthouse. No age or social circumstance was outside his reach. The only sad thought I had while reading this collection was that I don't know if this sort of diversity is possible any more. I worry that publishing is categorizing writers for the benefit of marketing. Writers are now "that Ozarks writer" and "that barrio writer" and "that Florida writer." Can a writer today cover the ground Capote did, not just talent-wise but in terms of what the market will bear?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Starting a story is like playing fetch. Stay with me now. Picture a nice dog. The nice dog wants to play fetch. You have a stick. The dog is vibrating with eagerness. Do you say:

 "Look here, dog. This is a stick. It is fourteen inches long. It's from the neighbor's larch. It has a diameter of three-quarters of an inch at the proximal end, which is held by me in my dominant hand, and half an inch at the distal end, which is pointing at you. There is a slight bend..."

 By now said dog has hopefully sunk his teeth into your leg. The dog wants none of that. He does not want you to finish describing the stick and begin elaborating the rules for fetch. The dog does not speak English, but even if he did, he wants none of that information. What the dog wants is to chase the stick. He wants you to throw it into the distance, possibly into a nice pond, and he wants to run after it as fast as he can. He will start running before either one of you knows exactly where the stick will land. That's your reader at the start of your story. He or she does not want or need to know about the stick or the rules of the game. Your reader just wants to run. He or she will follow your story wherever it goes.

 So long as it goes,

And goes fast,

Into the unknown.