Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Reading Roundup

Last year I had fun writing mini book reviews from memory, so I'll make it an annual tradition. Here's what stuck with me in my 2008 reading:

Every centimeter of Lynda Barry's WHAT IT IS is covered with full color collage, drawing, and writing, including the endpapers. Monkeys, birds, cats, monsters, found postcards with old person handwriting, yellow legal paper, and pattern. I took it all in. I read it in bed and it fed my dreams. This book instructs on Barry's creative method, passing the art baton to us all.

Believe the hype about David Wroblewski's THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE. The prose has a courageously slow pace, yet the action is riveting. The dogs are real characters, echoing Shakespeare, but never stop being dogs, a rarity in fiction. The conflict is biblical. And Wroblewski used to be a computer programmer who wrote by night, so he's automatically cool to me. Did he quit his day job? I don't know, but the Oprah sticker indicates he probably should.

Ed Park's PERSONAL DAYS is the workplace novel I wish I'd written. Told in titled fragments, sometimes in first person plural, it has the rhythm of a real office on the verge of shutting down. Characters make their own language and amusement even as they panic about their imminent firings. Corporatespeak starts off funny, then becomes eerily poignant. The book is compact; its ideas are huge. And it made me laugh aloud on the subway more than once.

You may already know I'm fascinated with stories of the formerly-religious. I heard Shalom Auslander in an interview suggest bookstores should create a table: "Literature of the Fallen." Ha! We have a genre! I immediately grabbed FORESKIN'S LAMENT, his hilarious memoir. I was surprised to learn that he didn't stop believing in God, but rather, stopped liking him. His God is the vengeful Old Testament version, who hurts his loved ones out of spite. Like if Auslander carries money on the Sabbath, the New York Rangers lose. He's known for his humor, but it's rooted in real trauma, and I surprised myself by crying as I read the heartbreaking end.

And speaking of the Literature of the Fallen, James Wood's THE BOOK AGAINST GOD stayed with me too. This is a PK (preacher's kid) novel rooted in the Anglican tradition of questioning faith. The protag is not likeable--a bad husband, he doesn't finish things, and he speaks embarrasingly in public. Yet this one moved me to tears also, when I realized in a rush that everyone around the protag was playing a role in his noneffectiveness, shushing him and pooh-pooing his atheism. Woods speaks in his critical work of the "unreliably unreliable" narrator, and this book has a prime example, when the untrustworthy protag acknowledges the truth (and conflict) that everyone else refuses to face. It disarmed me completely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If You Can't Afford Bread Loaf

If you can't afford Bread Loaf Writer's Conference (or like me, you simply can't get in), here's the good news--they are now podcasting. It's free. Who will you listen to first? I'm thinking James Longenbach, who taught me in a half hour lecture at last year's AWP how to love John Ashbery's line breaks. I'm off to begin downloading.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Turning into a Crazy Old Lady? Here's Proof.

I made apple-blackberry (right) and apple-cranberry (left) sauce today. I never tried canning before, but it was fun! Can you believe this projaholic never went there? I followed directions as best I could from a Sunset book I had laying around from the 1970s.

Now, to do the dishes....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Giving in to My Tendency to Wander

Can a Brooklynite be a flaneur? Am I one already? I've embarked on a new project, because I'm a projaholic--I'm attempting to walk every single street in my beloved borough. Started about a week ago. I'm tracking progress in Google Maps. This is going to take me years.

View Larger Map

So far I've noticed a few things I never saw before. Community gardens in Coney Island (on Mermaid and Neptune) are like small farms, with the beach nearby. Swans collect in Sheepshead bay, must be the time of year, and they are very friendly. I think I disappointed them, talking without feeding. Also discovered that a rain poncho is dorky but effective.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bob & Papa's Big Griot Adventure

Po-man Bob Holman is blogging from Africa, where Papa Susso is taking him around to record the griot oral tradition. Video included. Enjoy vicariously with me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Congrats and Miscellany

Mea culpa, I haven't been blogging. Thanks everyone for your kind words about Boo Boo. We are getting used to his absence.

What I'm not used to is this economic state of affairs. Since I work in finance, I have been busy. In case you're worried, I believe my job is one of the safer ones. I work at a private firm, so no one is shorting our stock. I also don't get paid in stock. And I'm in risk management, which is one of the safer areas these days--unless you make a big mistake. So I've been focusing on not doing that.

Meanwhile, some folks on my blogroll are getting stuff done. I just read on Publisher's Lunch that Xujun Eberlein sold Hong Kong rights to her story collection APOLOGIES FORTHCOMING. Go Xujun! I also read on Publisher's Lunch that Summer Pierre just signed a 2-book deal for an illustrated volume (THE ARTIST IN THE OFFICE) and a calendar (GREAT GALS). Congrats! I love Summer's drawings.

What else? Jim Tomlinson's second story collection, NOTHING LIKE AN OCEAN, will be with us soon, as will Sandra Novack's first novel, PRECIOUS. Mary Akers completed a beautiful book trailer for her book collaboration, RADICAL GRATITUDE (or THE GREATEST GIFT, depending on where you live). I'm adding Stage Voices to my blogroll too, it's a cool resource for playwrights and actors. (I am neither, but I like the blog.)

I am addicted to the following: Crooks and Liars for my liberal elite news, Intrade for market-based odds on the election(Obama is at about 85% right now), and Television Without Pity, for analysis of Generation Kill, True Blood, and Lost. Who needs drugs when we have the internet.

Other news: I just went to LA to try to squeeze in a couple vacation days. Saw my brother in a fantastic play in Pasadena, The Sequence, about the human genome project. Also walked a lot, fretted about the office while not there, and ate as much sushi as possible. It was great to see my brother and sister in law.

And in cat news, this hat-wearing kitty is charming Japan and me. She really doesn't seem to mind the stationmaster's hat. Check her out!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Introducing a Fiber Artist from Japan

Fiber artist Angus Barr (and Cute Overload) introduced me to the work of this creative feline from Japan. We are jealous!

Here she makes her own "chou chou." She's really good with scissors and an iron.

Here she makes her own grocery bag out of regular bandanas.

Angus tells me rule #1 of fiber art is to document the process. Process is as important as result! Glad we are not alone in this feeling.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Farewell, Porkchop


Boo finally got too sick to bear, quit eating, no joy left. We had him put to sleep last Monday evening, September 8. He was more ready than we were. We are sure going to miss this guy.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cat Hospice, and Other Developments


About time I filled you in on the pets, indoor and out.


Boo is terminally ill. We don't have a definitive diagnosis. After tons of blood tests, a sonogram, and an experimental treatment with steroids, we have decided to let him just live out his life without further intervention. We're continuing the steroids to help him keep what appetite he has left. The vet thinks it is probably some kind of cancer, but we can't know more without putting him under the knife, and we've decided to go with palliative care instead. This guy used to be a big fat pig, 18-pounder. Now he's barely 11 pounds, skin and bones. He walks around in a fog, takes a long time to decide to jump into the chair or take a bit of food. We're going to miss him, but have decided not to torture him any more with procedures he doesn't understand, procedures that would probably only lead to a dire diagnosis anyway.


Willie is turning into an old man hypochondriac. We just got his teeth cleaned. They are in great shape, no extractions, not bad for a 10-year old! So what if he has gray hair! I think it looks handsome on him. Quit, moping, Silver Fox!


He got a little razor burn from the day of dental(blood pressure cuff on his tail) and he decided to make a mountain out of a molehill, spent a day licking himself sore, unsupervised. So he had to wear his punitive e-collar for a week. Doesn't it look cute on him?

Meanwhile, we are feeding Boo whenever he indicates he might eat, which means the other cats are stealing and getting downright beefy. Angus is wearing the weight well, like a wrestler. But look at Ava! She's a marshmallow!


Our outdoor colony is down to 5 cats again. We are not sure what happened to the favored Pablo. Probably he got driven away by the diehards here. We heard some fighting one night and the next day he was gone. Meanwhile, Juno (and I WISH I had photos of this) moved around the corner and became the doorman at an apartment building. She went from shy to I-love-everybody. She just hung out under the awning and waited for people to come out and give her the love and food she deserves. I have no doubts that she has a new name now and a new indoor home. Go Juno!

Vince, Marcel, Rrose, Elvis, and Elvis are all doing the usual, the morning food choir, the afternoon lolling in the sun, the offerings of dead mice and birds all over our yard.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Self-Consciousness vs. Art--It's Rigged

Very inspiring interview with Andre Dubus III on Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's radio show, Writers on Writing.

Do your writer self a favor and listen in. He talks about self-consciousness and the damage it does to art--a message this insecure, inexperienced writer needs to hear over and over and over. Also covers how it feels to be one of two Andre Dubuses in the literary world, and how he arrives at honesty in his fiction. He talks about his method of research (interview people about their jobs, etc., but not about how they feel--thats the writer's job), and how he gets unstuck (patience, waiting). And of course, my favorite topic: trusting intuition. In his words: "The horse knows the way."

As usual, Barbara coaxes the good stuff out of her guest. Brava!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Case of Not Paranoid Enough

Folks, for a person who writes computer code all day, I'm an idiot. You know how they tell you to change your passwords often? Well, I always thought the insecurity of my forgetting my new password superceded the insecurity of having a stale, hackable one.

Long story short, I had a keylogger trojan on one of my computers that logged the password for my online banking account. Through that, some nice evildoers were able to change my account email to something that looked like my email but was not my email. (This is the point where I am grateful for my 20/20 eyesight--caught it in time.) I changed the email back to me. 20 minutes later (and all during lunch, I might add--had I not been eating at my desk, things would be different) I received an email confirming the addition of an outside bank account to my online banking profile. Had I not caught the first breach, I would not have received this email. I called my bank and had my online banking turned off. The evildoers had not begun transfering funds yet. I'm very glad I was not on vacation.

Then began the pain in the butt part of it: All new accounts. This right before direct deposit coming in and automated payments going out. Month end. Brilliant.

I asked tech support at work how I could have prevented it. "You can't," he said, "unless you want to unplug from the internet and email. It's the risk of being online." I asked if I got it through web browsing or email. He said it can arrive either way.

I didn't lose any money (I don't think, at least not yet) but I did lose several hours of my time and probably got some new gray hair in the process. I've learned my lesson. Change old password often. Especially before long periods away from computers. Not foolproof, but helpful. Thought I'd share.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If You're Jonesin' for a Summer Conference

I didn't schedule any summer conferences this year, and I wish I had! Luckily, some attendees are reporting back:

Cliff Garstang has been blogging from Sewanee, where he is workshopping with Tim O'Brien. A conference veteran, he opted out of several sessions and managed to get some writing done. Go Cliff!

Ryan Call also blogs from Sewanee, where he re-learned how to do the rope-swing-swimming-hole thing. The key is you have to let go. Also reports back from his workshop with Christine Schutt.

Donna Trussell, another conference veteran (and convert from fiction to poetry), compares her experience at Sewanee with her memories of Breadloaf.

Incredible faculty at Sewanee this year. I'm kicking myself for not applying.

From Tin House, the anonymous Lit Scribbler reports back from Steve Almond's workshop, with some story tips. Almond's advice is still about putting characters in danger because you love them, which still rings true to me. Great teacher.

Poet Sharon Hurlbut, also reporting from Tin House, captures well that reeling feeling you get at a writer's conference. The overstimulation is like a drug. She seems to have done what I did, attend everything. She studied with Mary Jo Bang.

And lest you think the summer conference experience is all fun and explosions of the positive, Anatomy of a Dress reports back on bad chemistry with poetry workshop leader Nick Flynn. Sounds like a workshop I would have loved to take, but I tend to prefer the touchy-feely bewilderment stuff. Some people want to be taken more seriously.

My feeling on writing workshops in general is you're paying the instructor to give you their shtick. You might connect with it. You might not. You might feel targeted in class. You might feel ignored. Regardless, you are buying an experience, one of many experiences you can use when you sit down to write and revise. You are not buying a critique for your manuscript, IMO. It's not really about you. It's about IT. Like I said, touchy feely. My favorite workshop ever was Lynda Barry who gave no feedback whatsoever (didn't even learn NAMES), but gave memorable shtick and helped me generate several fresh pieces (some of which have been published).

And if you want to just feel good, from SLC, Utah, it's fun to read the buzz around the Writers at Work Conference's fiction fellowship winner, Ben Roberts, who rocked the house with a Mormon story, selected by non-Mormon Steve Almond. Something tells me Ben loves his characters and therefore lets them behave badly. Go Ben!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mean Green Zine

I got my contributor's copy of Opium 6: Go Green! (But Save Me First), and I'm impressed. (And not just with the page that has my 500-word memoir, "A Turtle Weighs In on the Republican Nomination.") I'm honored to be sharing a cover with the likes of Aimee Bender, Jim Tomlinson, and others. Included are several entries from Opium's 100-Word Story series and Bookmark Contest, and a beautiful retro design by David Barringer. Very playful layout, with WPA-esque graphics to go with each story. Plus some lit-witty green tips on "restraint and responsibility." An issue worth looking at.

Kudos to editor Todd Zuniga for putting it all together.

Monday, July 14, 2008

PEN's Achebe Tribute Now Online

I went to this event at Town Hall last February and found it really inspiring. Chris Abani was so funny and charming, talking about how to use literature to lure women; Suheir Hammad was fierce as she read one of her own poems; Chimamanda Adichie did a great job of repping the newest generation of Nigerian voices, with stories of her childhood in Chinua Achebe's former house (!); Ha Jin enlightened me on the loaded choice of writing in English; Colum McCann made me want to grovel and be his student: "What gives off the deepest sparks is the democracy of story-telling."

And of course, softspoken Chinua Achebe brought down the house at the end, talking about the publication (almost thwarted by a typist) of THINGS FALL APART, and expressing gratitude to his readers .

The place was packed. The line outside was long. It was one of those moments where I loved New York, claustrophobia and all. Now the computerized world can listen in, with added elbow room and a pause button. I look forward to listening again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I've been enjoying Larissa Shmailo's new spoken word CD, EXORCISM, particularly the track, "How to Meet and Dance with Your Death (Como Encuentrar y Bailar con Su Muerte): A Cure for Suicide." If you like it on the page, you'll love it out loud. You can sample it on her MySpace page too. This poem digs at you.

The whole CD digs, though, bringing forth fiery, unorthodox, visceral imagery of the Devil and Magdalena, lovers and torturers and survivors. She crafts breath, rhythm, and rhyme, with a relaxed and dancerly demeanor and natural authority. Subtle music accompaniment and vocal multitracking. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Undercooked Steak

I was in a celebratory mood and decided to make my reader copies nice this time. Who cares if it is a first draft? I can't believe how easy this POD technology is. And cheap! For the same cost as copying a 300+ page manuscript at Kinkos, I had shiny, real books made. Uploaded the file Monday, received the books on Friday. Who says POD has to be used just for self-publishing? How about as a groovy alternative to the alternatives? A simple means to make 11 copies for a handful of helpful pals? It's totally private. You Google this book, you don't find it. Unsearchable on the POD publisher I used. Just what I wanted!


I designed the cover with Microsoft Publisher and some photos I shot in my house and at St. Luke's garden in the West Village. I love wandering around and finding images to go with my text. I'm thinking this might lead to a more graphic project next time around. More of a chicken and egg work of art, where the images and the text talk to each other and generate new images and text.

Another part of me wants to unretire Big Fat Press yet again and start soliciting manuscripts from the talented and frustrated writers I know out there. Maybe that can be my retirement career. If books still exist by the time I retire.

The problem with POD technology is that it's too easy to make a "real" book. This novel reminds me of a badly cooked steak. It looks delicious. But inside there's lots of fat that tastes disgusting. A little bit longer on the grill would not hurt. So the key while reading this draft is not to be snowed by the format. There's something about messy pages from my inkjet printer that is a lot less sacred, if less portable. I'm not hesitating with my red pen, but I'm a little worried my readers might.

In the meantime, it was a very fun experiment. If I ever do find a home for this, none of the design decisions will be mine, so at least I got to have my creative moment.

Now it's time to put it aside for a month or so and work on other stuff, so I can reread with fresh eyes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Magic words. It's supposed to feel good writing them on your novel. I was anticipating the end of my novel Alma so much that I even wrote THE END on a post-it and tacked it up over my desk, to remind me of my goal. Just make it to the end, that's all. It doesn't have to be good, you just have to make it to the end. This has been my mantra. Just finish already. I'm even visualizing it, like those dang The Secret people suggest.

So then I got to the end of the novel over the weekend, and I couldn't bring myself to write the words. It didn't feel like my silly visualization. I had been seeing myself as Jane Fonda playing Lillian Hellman in that movie Julia. Did you ever see that? She gets to the end of her play and types THE END THE END THE END THE END and smiles and leans back in her chair.

I should have felt elated, but instead I'm left with melancholy. Maybe because that's the tone this novel ends on, melancholy. The characters don't fix all their problems. They even get new ones. It's a sad feeling. Maybe the right one.

Not sure.

Time to read and reread now. But I might stick it in the drawer for awhile first.

Please let me know if you're interested in reading a draft. Last time I printed and bound a bunch of copies and passed them out. The feedback I got was invaluable (thanks guys!). I'm particularly interested in your reaction if you have intimate knowledge of any of the following subcultures:

1. actors and urban acting studios
2. 12-step programs
3. clergy families
4. people adopted in the 1960's
5. interracial families, particularly children of color with white parents
6. public hospitals and emergency medicine
7. NYC stagehands and dressers for professional stage
8. the oevre of Tennessee Williams

No pressure. And one need not know any of this crap. To me, the most helpful feedback is, "during this part of the book, I was feeling _____." Seriously.

OK, back to work now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'll Hit the Mic, KGB, May 15, Come on Down!

KGB Bar 5/15/08 7PM
85 E 4th St., NYC

AAA-mazing Writers!
Anne Elliott
Angela Himsel
Alyson Palmer
And your guest host, A. Rich Merritt

Anne Elliott is a writer, ukulelist, and feral cat caretaker living in Brooklyn. Her fiction can be seen in Hobart, Pindeldyboz, Smokelong Quarterly, FRiGG, and others. She blogs on felines and fiction at

Angela Himsel has been obsessed with God for a long while, and she'd like to think that God is equally obsessed with her -- and with the rest of us. In her novel, God on the Couch, God takes to the couch in an attempt to understand the Creator/creation relationship. Angela's writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Jewish Week, the Forward, Lilith, online at and elsewhere.

Best known as the tallest third of the pop rock band, BETTY, Alyson Palmer also writes. BETTY has performed in venues all over the world since 1986 and is known to television audiences through their recognizable theme songs for Showtime’s "The L Word," HBO's "Encyclopedia", "Cover Shot" on TLC, Comedy Central's "Out On The Edge" and Discovery TV's "Ms. Adventure". Alyson has appeared on "The L Word" and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.". She writes and performs original songs with long-time-love Tony Salvatore in Tony & Alyson and Tot Rock in the raucous Tone Alley. She blogs at

Drunken! Careening! Writers! is a reading series dedicated to the proposition that readings should be: excellent, well-read pieces that have at least one thing in them that makes people laugh (nervous laughter counts), and don't run more than 15 minutes each. For more information, or to be added to the mailing list, email

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Guest Blogger Angus Barr on Stockholm Syndrome, Missing Cojones, and a Cat's Right to Be Chosen For

Hi, you may know me, I'm Angus Barr, brother of the famous Vince. I live with Anne and everyone else inside the house, which wasn't always the case for me. I used to be a shy feral cat, a few years ago, sleeping under the hosta in the front yard. But then I got a really bad abscess on my belly, and it slowed me down. Next thing you know, they're taking me away in the car, I'm put into a mysterious sleep, and when I wake up, I've lost my balls, have a plastic drain in my belly, and I live indoors. The crazy thing is, I like it, even after my belly healed. There's nothing like a warm lap. Plus, sometimes I get to surf the web with Anne. She moves the cursor around for me to chase.

As you know, two new homeless cats showed up on the back porch recently. My human benefactors took it upon themselves to cage them for a week, and take them away for a day to a mobile clinic. When they came back they were missing the top of their left ears. Oh, and all their sexual glands.

This one, Juno, developed Stockholm Syndrome somewhere along the way. I hear she was actually purring in her cage. This might have been because she was fixing to have kittens in there. It's sad, the choice Anne made for her, but Anne tells me there were over 20 homeless cats at the mobile clinic, all beautiful, some kittens, and the world does not need more kittens. I happen to agree with that. We have three cats living in this house and sometimes that is too much for me. Not to mention the tribe outside.

So, in the world of feline abortion, Juno does not have the right to choose. Humans choose for her. It's tough being a cat. But she seems cool with it, if a little hormonally confused. Now she won't starve, trying to feed little ones.

She didn't want to come out of her cage. Safe, private, with a maid to come and clean it every day, twice a day food--she wants back in! Sorry, Juno. This hotel room won't last. I hope you cleaned out the minibar.

And this guy, I couldn't believe all the yelling! Enough already! Pablo, they call him, but they should have called him Pavarotti. They were planning to put him outside the evening of his trip to the clinic, but turns out he was already missing one of his balls. The doctor had to look around inside his abdomen for it. So he had a little more recovery time than expected.

My benefactors let them out in the basement because the traps had to go back to Neighborhood Cats. So they had their last day of recovery living like normal indoor cats. They were friendly enough to handle it, probably not quite feral to begin with. I didn't get to hang out with them--can you believe they kept us separate? Something about spreading disease, or whatever, one of those things people care so much about.

But even Juno ventured away from her cage, disguising herself as a guitar pedal. She got to like the basement a little too much, if you ask me. When they moved her out into the yard, she just sat on the back porch meowing. So that's it? You're done with me now? I thought you loved me!

Yeah, we have a pretty good thing happening in here. I get to sleep in a bed, and play with my sister, and cuddle with the dog. There just isn't enough room for everyone.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Young Lions, Younger Lions, and other Rites of Spring

Doesn't Vince make a nice stoop lion? As regal as the dudes in front of the NY Public Library, where I had the good fortune this week to be present to watch my net-friend Ron Currie win this year's Young Lions Fiction Award. I could not have been happier to hear his name called. If you haven't read GOD IS DEAD, check it out, it's one of the most original works I've ever seen, in any year, and captures well the human need for God, which according to some theology, might actually be God. A lot to talk about at your book club. Congrats Ron!

It's been an eventful week. As you know, our feral cat colony has two newcomers. As of today, they have both been captured (yay!) and are in the chilling out phase in our basement. Here they are in their traps. They will live in them for a week: two days before surgery, and two days after surgery.

Here's Pablo. (They do have eyes, they just close them when the flash goes off.) He has proven to be talkative and might be friendly enough to adopt, as soon as his pee stops smelling like tomcat. Anyone interested? He has a very expressive vocal range. My husband has been recording him.

Here's Juno. She is quiet, ravenous, and appears to be pregnant. I doubt she will become adoptable but you never know. Let me know if she appeals to you. She could do well in a quiet home.

And finally, I just need to celebrate: this year I managed to walk through Brooklyn Botanic Garden on the optimal weekend. Last weekend in April, for future reference, that seems to be the one. Lilacs, tulips, magnolia, and of course, cherry blossom. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A House in Need of Mirth

The Mount, Edith Wharton's landmark home in the Berkshires, is at dire risk of foreclosure. They are accepting online pledges now and need to raise $3 million before May 31 to keep this historic monument open to the public. I feel it is important not to lose this piece of our cultural history to our crappy current economy. (Though that would have the feeling of a Wharton novel, wouldn't it?) Join me in chipping in! If they do not make the goal, they will not call in pledges.

Just Desserts

Rumor has it that at the Bake Sale benefit for Sangham House writers' residencies, Rick Moody is going to throw a pie at Dale Peck.

It's about time! Rick Moody inspires me. He made me want to be a writer. Take that, you Pecker!

And well done to both of them for being good sports.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Complexity of the Simplicity

Even after 10 years of marriage, I'm still a big fan of my trophy hubby, as it should be! He has just uploaded his remix of Radiohead's "Nude" for the online remix project. Have you seen it? It's a cool idea of collaborative art. Average citizens can buy/download the individual tracks and then reinterpret them. Another way that Radiohead is revolutionizing the music industry.

If you like my fella's version, you can vote for it. (It's fun to listen to other versions too.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brooklyn in Bloom

I walked through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's cherry esplanade this afternoon. So on the verge! Tight, dark buds everywhere. They should be bright pink and fluffy by next weekend. The tulips are in bloom; the magnolia just finishing up. I love April. I love Claritin, too.

Our yard is blooming too, in more ways than one. Here, Wilbur sniffs the flowers he has worked so hard to keep fertilized through the winter.

Unfortunately, our formerly-stable feral cat colony has a couple newcomers. Here is one we call Pablo. He sleeps with a hatchet because he has to. The others have been trying to drive him off. He isn't smart around cars, and I fear he is not long for this world. He's starting to warm up to us humans, so hopefully we will be able to help his pee become way less smelly, with a trip to the mobile spay/neuter clinic.

Along with Pablo came Juno, who is camera shy. We know she is female, and fear she is with child. She hasn't had any suitors around, so chances are she is either pregnant or already spayed. Hard to tell--she keeps her distance. She does eat like a horse. If I ever get a photo I will post it, but the priority is to take care of her health first.

Meanwhile, the regulars continue to beg, sniff catnip, and entertain. Here, Rrose hangs out in the garage rafters.

Her brother Marcel hangs on top of the garage door. Both siblings survived the winter well and are chubby and happy. (I believe they have another benefactor on the block.)

And Vince gets philosophical near the flat mouse he has contributed to the yard's decor. (I opted not to post the closeup shot.)

While we're looking at cute animals, here is former porch-rat Ava chilling in front of the TV with Wilbur. Do they love John Adams as much as they appear to? Does it inspire them to be patriotic? Does Ava, like me, have a TV crush on Thomas Jefferson?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Late Bloomer Alert

I refuse to call myself a late bloomer because

(a) I'm not that old.
(b) I haven't exactly bloomed yet.

So, maybe I aspire to be a late bloomer. Here's some advice and inspiration from Writer's Digest: "Publish Your First Book After 50." (I did not know that about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I gobbled up the Little House books! She taught me how to write about food, that's for sure.)

One thing strikes me most about the advice in this article: you have to be patient with yourself. Just because you're older doesn't mean you can learn to write faster. Everybody ends up with novels in the drawer.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wearing Out My Headphones

If you have a mind-numbing job like mine, looking at code and numbers all day, the right soundtrack can save your sanity. I'm still loyal to the podcasts on my sidebar, but here are a few new (to me) things I'm digging a whole lot:

Slate's Audio Book Club. It's like eavesdropping on a discussion in the professors' lounge. I loved the way they managed to contrast the treatment of social class in Joan Didion vs. Edith Wharton, both writers with access to the jetset lifestyle of their day. In Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, the events of the story assert how irrelevant one's social standing becomes when the big transitions of life go down. But in Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, the demands of class are the arbiters of fate, and the characters (and narrator) are aware of the pitfalls of the game, even as they play it, with tragic consequenses. We should all have a book club as smart and passionate as Stephen Metcalf, Meghan O'Rourke, and Katie Roiphe, who don't just sit around and agree on everything. Sparks fly.

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. Fiction editor Deborah Treisman talks with current New Yorker authors about short stories from the archive. What I love about this is the same thing I love about Slate--I get to hear thoughtful readers talk about the experience of reading. They pick apart the choices made by the author, with the eyes of a fellows writer and/or editors. And the most important part: the writer isn't present. It's a refreshing change from the author interviews I listen to frequently, reminds me what this literature thing is all about: scattering seeds out there in the world to take on lives of their own in other people's brains. I enjoyed hearing Antonya Nelson read Mavis Gallant's short story "When We Were Nearly Young," set in Madrid, then talk about what attracts her to Gallant's work, primarily the nonresolution of endings.

Conjunctions Audio Vault. It's not a podcast, but it's a great RealAudio archive. Groove with me on John Barth's "I've Been Told: A Story's Story," narrated from a story's POV. (An "old fart" story, at that.) Breakneck delivery, full of musical vocal nuance, worth a repeat listen or two.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Love My Blogroll

While I am focusing all my inadequate creative energy on my fiction, let's look at what some of my fave bloggers are up to.

At Xujun Eberlein's Inside Out China, there's an inspiring discussion of Pamela Erens' first novel, THE UNDERSTORY. I'm just crazy about this novel. I just finished it and I'm considering starting from the beginning and reading it again, just to see how the hell she put this thing together. What I can't fathom is how she managed to use sustained metaphors to glue the story together, but nothing screams, "I'm a metaphor!" Erens achieves several subtle effects with this book. I highly recommend it. And I recommend Inside Out China too, for a fresh take on Chinese culture and politics, as well as literature.

Mary Akers is understandably excited about her new book, RADICAL GRATITUDE AND OTHER LIFE LESSONS LEARNED IN SIBERIA. The message is awe-inspiring, and the format--one person's fictionalization of another person's true story--is fascinating to me. I look forward to reading this. Don Capone reviews the book on his groovy blog, Capone's Hit List.

Tao Lin's relentless layering of self-questioning, metafiction, autopromotion, and literary scab-picking never fails to intrigue me, sometimes moving me to tears. You either grok it or you don't. I feel like an old lady getting a peek into the future of literature, the way literature will be after I am dead. It's not a bad feeling. Check out the February post, THE GAY STEPDAD. I can't seem to link directly, you'll have to scroll.

Steve Almond's kid is cute as hell.

Janice Erlbaum also has a new book, another must-read, HAVE YOU FOUND HER, about her experiences volunteering at the very shelter she lived in as a teenager. The book is an amazing feat of both writing and living. She found a special kid at the shelter, became dangerously attached to her, then rode a yearlong rollercoaster as the kid went in and out of hospitals. I won't give away what happens, you have to read it. She's been blogging about her promotion gigs, and trying to balance them with the part she actually loves more...writing the next book. As a reader, I want her to write the next book too. She's one of my favorite voices ever.

And at Writers in Profile, Kelly Spitzer is talking to writers and editors about slush, the "necessary evil." It's worth reading, maybe as an exercise in tough self-love.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Didn't Submit To This, But I Love This List

I'm just now catching up on my blog reading and learned about a new controversy involving an unawarded fiction prize. (Thanks to Ed Champion for schooling me.) Remember a few years ago when Zoo Press decided none of the entries in its fiction contest deserved the book prize?

It's happened again. This time it was the Willesden Herald, and I must say, if the contest was destined not to have a winner, then they handled it better than Zoo press. They offered to split the prize money among the finalists, and publish a list of their names. The finalists were too pissed to play along. They were mad at the judge, Zadie Smith, for not just picking someone. Understandable.

While it is hard to believe that a slush pile of 800 stories contains no winner, one benefit comes out of this contest, a very handy list of reasons short stories don't win contests. I'm saving this list. My favorite: number 23, Faux Jollity. "I think humour only ever exists in something that sets out to be serious. Anything that sets out to be humorous is doomed." I'm guilty of that crime, for sure, the desperate attempt at humor. Or humour, depending on where I'm sending the story.

And Zadie, I can't judge you. I didn't see the stories. I'm just glad I didn't submit.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Ongoing Pain of the Penultimate Chapter

So, my novel in progress. I've been writing chapter 19 of 20 for about five months. Just figured out that Chapter 19 should really be two chapters, so now I'm writing chapter 20 of 21. This happened last time I tried to write a novel. It took me the same amount of time to wrap up the first draft as it took to write the first 90% of it. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I allergic to finishing?

I'm analyzing it, this tendency to draw out the end, to get stuck in the penultimate chapter. It's not fear of the next project. I have two next projects on deck, and I'm enthused about both. It's hard to keep from distracting myself with them. Projaholic's curse.

I think part of it is that old bugaboo, the critical brain. The closer I get to the end of the draft, the sooner I'll have to turn the critic back on, the part of my brain that points out the flaws in brilliant color. That part of the brain is jumping up already, and I'm having trouble batting it back down. It's a little like that Whack-a-Mole game. Just shut up already, until I finish this, okay? It's hard to remind myself keep going, don't think about what's wrong with it, don't think about craft, or fixing it, just keep going, just keep going, just keep going.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Literary Fiction "Fragile?"

Anyone else read that thoughtful interview in the latest Poets & Writers with veteran editor Pat Strachan? Wow, she's the real deal. I was particularly struck by this, on how she doctors fiction:

I do think it's extremely dangerous to mess with a novel structurally, because it's close to poetry in that it's almost pure consciousness. The way it comes forth from the writer is the way it should probably be, even though maybe the beginning is unclear or not enough action happens in this part or whatever. With a literary book—I hate to say literary, but a piece of serious fiction that isn’t genre fiction—I try to stay away from structural suggestions because they can be very damaging. One big change can make the whole house of cards fall apart. So with literary fiction I really try to stick to line editing. I also think the less done the better, and I consider myself a fairly heavy editor. But I do as little as I can do, because a work of serious literature is a very fragile construction.

I've been writing fiction for 10+ years and still feel way too inexperienced to agree or disagree with this. My Kerouac-adoring, first-thought-best-thought-digging gut sees some big truth in it. My head is full of ringing bells. I've messed up a few stories along the way with various Frankenrevisions. But I'm also thinking hey, it's just story, it's malleable and rubbery, can it really be that delicate? Are we disrespecting story by calling it delicate? What do you think?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blog Boredumb, I Has It

Sorry folks, I just haven't been able to get my brain in blog mode. Too many waves allocated to other things. Like my novel, Alma, first draft almost done, but I won't jinx it by yapping about it. And my job, which I frankly was able to phone in for awhile, but now I have a new boss, new challenges, and finally feel like I'm not just taking up space. It's pedal-to-metal all day at the office, which feels good, makes the day go fast. I miss that lunch-writing break I used to take in the coffeeshop downstairs, but that will come back, eventually, when the job urgency dies down a little.

Anyhoo, when I click on that Internet Explorer icon at the end of the day, I'm more prone to engage in passive activities. Like looking at videos. Have you discovered the page of Flocke videos? Flocke the insanely cute Eisbar? If you need to restore your faith in the power of cute, check her out. Here's one from Youtube:

She's a vocal creature. I think she will be one fierce bear. And speaking of creatures, have you seen the otters holding hands? It's got the plot of a mindless romcom movie. Be sure to watch to the surprise ending.

I'm tired. This is what I have been reduced to, cute-worship. I even check into I Can Has Cheezburger every day, how sick is that? Here's one of my recent favorites:

Humorous Pictures
Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Okay. I'm laughing at puns now. Be worried.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Red-Handed! JMWW Anthology Volume 2

Folks, I'm delighted to be anthologized again. This time, it's the JMWW annual, which is an offshoot of their awesome web mag. I just got my contributor copy in the mail. Yay!

The anthology is fabulous, and available via Lulu. Here's a great example of how POD technology puts power into the hands of the people, enabling indie web-based litmags to publish print editions, without breaking the bank. It's a smartly edited, fresh collection, and an honor to be included. These folks at JMWW are going places.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Checking In. Still Alive!

Hi guys, sorry I haven't been blogging much. Life has a way of creeping up. My day job has been taking all of my left brain cells, and some of the right too. Let's just say it's nice to feel challenged, and the work environment has been doing the job well. But I should not use that as an excuse!

Here's an update of my life lately. Just got back from a wonderful whirlwind trip to Los Angeles, where I played scrabble with family and enjoyed myself immensely, doing very little. I'm trying to plug away on my novel #2. Meanwhile, my first novel is one of 836 semifinalists in Amazon's first novel contest, which has more in common with American Idol than any other literary contest I've seen. If you're so inclined, you can read (or review!) an excerpt here, or check out the Publisher's Weekly review that comes as one of the "prizes" for semifinalists. I'm happy with the review. They clearly read the whole book, grokked the characters, and summarized it very well. Thanks, anonymous reviewers!! Thanks too, to the rest of you who chimed in.

Other stuff? I'll be at the AWP conference next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so if you're there, look out for my nametag. I'll be the one trying to carry too much swag, take in too many panels, then sneak off to the day job at lunch. Part of me wishes it wasn't in New York, so I wouldn't be tempted to go to the office. See you there?