Friday, February 24, 2012


This blog has moved - please follow me over there.  Thanks!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Raw Material

From the short story "Raw Material" by A.S. Byatt, appearing in The Atlantic in 2002, before they stopped doing fiction.

The protagonist teaches writing classes.

"In fact he had tried unsuccessfully to sell two different stories based
on the confessions (or inventions) of his class. The students offered
themselves to him like raw oysters on pristine plates. They told him
horror and bathos, daydreams, vituperation, and vengeance. They
couldn't write; their inventions were crude, and he couldn't find a way
to perform the necessary operations to spin the muddy straw into silk,
or turn the raw, bleeding chunks into a savory dish. So he kept faith
with them, not entirely voluntarily. He did care about writing. He
cared about writing more than anything—sex, food, beer, fresh air, even
warmth. He wrote and rewrote perpetually in his trailer. He was
rewriting his fifth novel. Bad Boy had been written in a rush
just out of school and snapped up by the first publisher he'd
sent it to. It was what he had expected. His second novel, Smile and Smile,
had sold 600 copies, and was remaindered. His third and fourth,
frequently rewritten, lay in brown paper, stamped and restamped, in a
tin chest in the trailer. He didn't have an agent."

available online at Raw Material by A.S. Byatt

Friday, August 01, 2008

One of Two

"Monica had always wanted to have an enemy. A life of rancor and vendetta was not what she had in mind exactly, but it did seem obvious that if no one disliked or disagreed with her vigorously, she must not stand for anything . . . if everybody approved of you, you must not cast a shadow, that was all . . . She even discussed this with her husband, Rudy, and they decided that it would be fine with them if they were not so universally considered decent and admirable. Not that they were planning to go out and start fights -- they had to trust that in a life properly lived, enemies, like wrinkles or laugh lines, would naturally occur."

-Rosellen Brown, the short story "One of Two," as reprinted in THE BEST OF THE PUSHCART PRIZE XII.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

About paying attention

"Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on. Now, if you ask me, what's going on is that we are all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that not yell at another. Otherwise we'd all be barking away like Pekingese: 'Ah! Stuck in the shit! And it's all your fault, you did this . . . ' Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein. But you can't do it if you're not respectful. If you look at people and just see sloppy clothes or rich clothes, you're going to get them wrong." - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Strained looks of adolescent misery

James Atlas, in "Summer Memories of Egghead Camps" in the collection Sleepaway: Writers on Summer Camp:

"The following day, I registered for classes: 'Creative Writing: Poetry' and 'The Art of the Short Story.' My poetry instructor was a sad-faced man with thinning hair who wore an ascot and was said to be going through a divorce.  He liked to read aloud from Yeats in a delicate, musical voice.  Whenever he was particularly moved by a poem, he would look from the volume in his hand - The Oxford Book of English Verse - and say, 'Now, if anyone here could write like that, I'd be happy.'  Still, he was polite about our work, though seldom effusive --  a measured response, given the self-indulgent confessions we were turning out. Often, as I sat by the window listening to the incessant chirp and whir of crickets on the summer fields while some girl with a strained look on her face aloud a poem laden with adolescent misery, I longed to be back in Wisconsin playing Capture the Flag."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fourteen years and a book

David Haward Bain, writing in The Old Iron Road about his previous book, Empire Express, a history of the Transcontinental Railroad. He labored on the project for fourteen years.

'...During that time I went around the country for research, depended on the kindness of many strangers, wore out the interlibrary loan staff at the Middlebury College library, filled up a four-drawer filing cabinet with photocopied handwritten documents and official reports and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with books, and wrote a 1,100 page manuscript...A publisher's advance in 1985 stretched out pretty thin over thirteen years, on top of which was my wife's small salary and mine as a part-time writing instructor. There were no grants, and as part-time faculty I was not eligible for paid leaves. What sustained us through most of these hard times was the warm, bright light our children brought into our lives, and also the fact that pursuing such a project as Empire Express was the greatest gift I could could be given as a writer and a historian . . . It may have been a challenge for our family to get to the end of each succeeding month over fourteen years, but I seldom sat down at my desk in the morning without a rising sense of excitement and curiosity about the people and their stories, and how they all fit together, and how the narrative was going to be built."

Bain then got the news that powerhouse Stephen Ambrose was planning to write a book on the same topic. He got his publisher to buy out his teaching contract and spent the next year writing seven days a week. Bain's book got to market ten months before Ambrose's.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Caring for Your Introvert

From "Caring for Your Introvert" by Jonathan Rauch, The

Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."