Category Archives: Author

I Gotta Get Out More

Last night we went to a reading.

No, wait.  It wasn’t a reading.  It was a celebration, a celebration I figured would result in a reading.  Anyway, I heard about this non-reading over at SheWrites and off we went.

Meg Waite Clayton is a local author I’ve never heard of, and her event was held at Books Inc., an independent bookstore I’ve never heard of.  It turns out she was celebrating the paperback release of her last book — THE FOUR MRS. BRADWELLS — and Books Inc. was filled with her friends and supporters.  It was more cocktail party than reading, and since we weren’t really part of the group I introduced myself to Meg and we scurried out of the circle.  For the next half hour, my husband and I wandered around Books Inc. — such a great store! — wondering how in the world we didn’t know this place existed.

Meg did eventually take up the microphone to say a few words.  She thanked her family and friends, then she read a page or so of her book and took a couple questions while her husband served champagne, chocolates, and Bellinis.

The night wasn’t what I thought it would be, but …

I discovered a new writer and picked up her book.  If you haven’t heard of Meg Waite Clayton, check out her website — it’s one of the best author sites I’ve seen.  And while I don’t read much women’s fiction, I’m guessing this book will be perfect for my book club.

I also left Books Inc. with my first James Michener novel, because I’m jonesing for a big fat saga and ever since I saw THE DESCENDANTS over the holidays I’m obsessed with Hawaii.

And I had my first Bellini.

Read Like A Man

One of the best opening sequences I’ve ever read is in Denis Johnson’s TREE OF SMOKE.  The first few pages are a jolt into the quiet realities of war, as 18 yr old Seaman Apprentice William Houston Jr. stalks alone through a jungle in Vietnam.  Three years after first reading this, my heart still aches — and I mean literally here — just to think about it.  (If you never saw the NYT review, read it here.  I’ve rarely seen such worthy praise.)

That said, I never got going when I tried to read this 600 pager.  (I’ll spare you my list of lame excuses.)  Now Johnson has a new book out, a 128 page novella called TRAIN DREAMS, and all I can think about is going back and reading TREE OF SMOKE.  Yesterday I saw the review of TRAIN DREAMS in The New Yorker and it brought to mind all the reasons I picked up Johnson’s big Vietnam epic in the first place.  “Johnson’s fiction has always turned on questions of vision. His characters are often weirdly privileged noticers, for whom reality will confess slightly esoteric pigments and details.”  Weirdly privileged noticers.  And “realism in Johnson’s fiction often seems, like the Savoy Hotel, to be about to dribble away into a dream, and what brings it back from the looking-glass world is the exactitude of Johnson’s language.” 

I met Denis a couple of years ago when he visited my grad program (here’s a fun article about him).  He gave a big reading and then sat around the conference room table the next day and, for lack of a better phrase, shot the shit with about 10 of us.  I remember I asked him a couple of questions and, though I don’t recall his answers, I can still see him looking me right in the eye, answering seriously and at length and with appropriate flippancy.  Definitely a shy guy, but comfortable in, and even caustic about, his writing; a guy who seems not to care what anyone else wants from him; an artist who’s not all that comfortable talking about his “art.”  I left there wanting to read everything he’d ever written.  He’s one of those writers I think of when people ask, “should I go to an MFA program?”  Reading Denis Johnson is some damned good schooling.

I don’t know if I’m in the mood for another 600 pager just now, having recently finished Barbara Kingsolver’s THE LACUNA, but the arrival of Johnson’s latest serves as one of those kicks in the ass I often need.  First, I’m getting my hands on a copy of TRAIN DREAMS.  I can squeeze in 128 pages, right?  And second, I was looking at my shelf of “to read” books and most of them are by women.  Not to cause a feminist uproar here, but come on … maybe that’s one reason I’m a little bored with my reading list lately.  I need to hear a different voice.

What are your favorite “man” books?

Let’s Talk Toni

For inspiration this week, I re-read The Paris Review’s 1993 interview with Toni Morrison.  You can find the entire interview here.

Here’s a sampling:

What are your tools? I’m not picky, but my preference is for yellow legal pads and a nice number two pencil.

Does your first draft idea come in a flash? No, it’s a sustained thing I have to play with. I always start out with an idea, even a boring idea, that becomes a question I don’t have any answers to.

What do you think of contracts? I never signed a contract until the book was finished because I didn’t want it to be homework. A contract meant somebody was waiting for it, that I had to do it, and they could ask me about it. They could get up in my face and I don’t like that.

Do you base your characters on real people? I feel the most intelligent, and the most free, and the most excited, when my characters are fully invented people. That’s part of the excitement. If they’re based on somebody else, in a funny way it’s an infringement of a copyright. That person owns his life, has a patent on it. It shouldn’t be available for fiction.

The Russians Were There

AWP ended with an entertaining evening, a conversation with Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart. The moderator was worried — what in the world could these 2 have in common, the minimalist Amy who can compact an entire story in one paragraph, and max-to-the-max Gary?

Answer: Russian ancestry, of course.

I’ve never seen either before, and almost skipped the event. But I’m glad I dragged my tired self down to the ballroom.  Amy read first. A story about volunteering at a full-service animal shelter, full-service meaning they kill on schedule. Honest to god I could barely keep it together, could have bawled like a baby. I even tried to stop listening at one point, it was that overwhelming.  A day later there are lines I wish I’d never heard, as they’ve stuck horribly with me, and I wish they hadn’t.

Gary followed and had us all laughing before he even started. I think we were so relieved to LAUGH! And he just got funnier and funnier from there. I’ve never read a Shteyngart book — Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story — and I don’t know if I will, but I would get out of bed at 3 a.m. and drive through a snow storm to see him read again. What an entertainer.

AWP Day One

Forgive me for the typos to come. I’m traveling with no keyboard.  But day one of AWP has come and gone, and I must tell you a few bits now. As in NOW, before said bits — random though they may be — escape into the void.  Check out/read/buy the following books. Trust me.





PICKING BONES FROM ASH, by Marie Matsuki Mockett








There’s also a new anthology — LIT FROM WITHIN — an anthology of writers on writing, by Kevin Haworth and Dinty Moore




Last week the New York Times said the memoir is dead, stop writing ME books! To which I say Bullshit. These memoirists blew my mind today, and I will follow them into the jungle: Dustin Beale Smith, Allison Hedge Coke, and the always incredible Valerie Miner.

As for rock star sightings, I spotted Richard Ford and Tayari Jones in the lobby, passed Elizabeth Strout on the sidewalk, and brushed behind the surreally talented and dreamy poet Terrance Hayes in the hall. Sigh. (oh contented sigh)