Connecting With You Through Telepathy

I just want to say thank you for coming by from time to time and checking out all the silly things I share. I know I’m probably filling up your inbox with trash, but for those who take the time to comment and respond and like and share and just read, I appreciate it.

Thanks to my wonderful wife, I have some time to focus solely on writing. I’m much more grumpy nowadays because of this terribly lonely act, but ya’ll cheer me up and give me lots to think about.

If I haven’t connected with you through comments or twitter or telepathy, feel free to send me a note, even if it’s to say hi, or send me a story or poem or something you’re working on.

I have a lot of time grumbling over my own writing to read or edit or converse about your work.

I do want to tell you about two things I use daily in my writing-reading-thinking habit. They are called Evernote and Instapaper and are free. I use both of these together. Evernote is where I write and keep my notes. Instapaper is where I save all the things I’m reading. There’s way too much stuff on the internet, it distracts us writers and probably kills the careers of many of us, so these two little tools are a small way to keep me focused and organized on my computer Iphone and Kindle.

What keeps you focused and organized?


Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities

From “The Ten Awful Truths — and the Ten Wonderful Truths — About Book Publishing”:

7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities. Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

8. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers. Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.


This all seems new, but it’s not really new. It’s been apparent for years now. How many years? I don’t know, but still apparent.

Writers seem to be writing about the things they feel they ought to be writing about, and not the things that obsess them

I see a lot of stories that are well-crafted, especially in one or two particular elements: there’s a strong voice, or the dialogue is extra snappy, or the structure is fresh and startling. So there’s skill, but not always a lot of heart. Writers seem to be writing about the things they feel they ought to be writing about, and not the things that obsess them. That is, a lot of stories are missing that sense of the writer wrestling or contending with something vital to him or her.  When we find a story that does have that sense of an author’s struggle, we can usually tell. It’s often the one that gets chosen – it just has that extra layer to it, that tendency to resonate long after it has been read.

Aaron Shepard

The world of literature lacks scandal, hype and pretty dresses

From Ann Patchet’s scathing op-ed piece on the Pulitzer prize not being awarded to anyone:

With book coverage in the media split evenly between “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games,” wouldn’t it have been something to have people talking about “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork about a toiling tax collector (and this year’s third Pulitzer finalist)? Wallace is not going to have another shot at a win, which makes the fact that no one could make up their minds as to whether or not he deserved it all the more heartbreaking.

Let me underscore the obvious here: Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.

I know reading fiction is important. But I keep hearing this “fiction makes us empathetic” quip as if it justifies its existence. I think the importance of fiction goes so much deeper than that. But I’ll leave that argument for another time.

(Thanks to David Clark for the link.)

Why is the non-Pulitzer-prize-winning Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams novella ten bucks for kindle?

The Pulitzer Prize wasn’t awarded for fiction this year for the first time since 1977. None of the three finalists–Denis Johnson for Train Dreams, Karen Russell for Swamplandia, and the late David Foster Wallace for The Pale King–were chosen because no book received a majority vote.

I’m posting here the beginning of Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (and a little video prize after). I dare you to stop reading after the first sentence. I wanted to buy this novella for my Kindle, but it’s ten bucks, which I think is ridiculous for a 128 page book (that’s like three page clicks on my Kindle–I like small font). I’ll pay five maybe even six bucks, but I may as well walk down to Powell’s or the library and read it standing in the aisle. The publisher, Macmillan, set the price. Sorry Macmillan, but: “The price is wrong.” Anyway, read this and try to stop reading it after the first sentence, you won’t be able to (and watch the video after):

In the summer of 1917 Robert Grainer took part in an attempt on the life of a Chinese laborer, caught or anyway accused of, stealing from the company stores of the Spokane International Railway in the Idaho Panhandle.

Three of the railroad gang put the thief under restraint and dragged him up the long bank toward the bridge under construction fifty feet above the Moyea River. A rapid singsong streamed from the Chinaman voluminously. He shipped and twisted like a weasel in a sack, lashing backward with his one free fist at the man lugging him by the neck. As this group passed him, Grainer, seeing them in some distress, lent assistance and found himself holding one of the culprit’s bare feet. The man facing him, Mr. Sears, of Spokane International’s management, held the prisoner almost uselessly by the armpit and was the only one of them, besides the incomprehensible Chinaman, to talk during the hardest part of their labors: “Boys, I’m damned if we ever see the top of this heap!” Then we’re hailing him all the way? was the question Grainier wished to ask, but he thought it better to save his breath for the struggle. Sears laughed once, his face pale with fatigue and horror. They all went down in the dust and got righted, went down again, the CHinaman speaking in tongues and terrifying the four of them to the point that whatever they may have had in mind at the outset, he was a deader now. Nothing would do but to toss him off the trestle.

They cam abreast of the others, a gang of a dozen men pausing in the sun to lean on their tools and wipe at sweat and watch this thing. Grainier held on convulsively to the Chinaman’s horny foot, wondering at himself, and the man with the other foot let loose and sat down gasping in the dirt and got himself kicked in the eye before Graineir took charge of the free-flailing limb. “It was just for fun. For fun,” the man sitting in the dirt said, and to his confederate there he said, “Come on, Jel Toomis, let’s give it up.” “I can’t let loose,” this Mr. Toomis say, “I’m the one’s got him by the neck!” and laughed with a gust of confusion passing across his features. “Well, I’ve got him!” Grainier said, catching both the little demon’s feet tighter in his embrace. “I’ve got the bastard, and I’m your man!”

The party of executions got to the midst of the last completed span, sixty feet above the rapids, and made every effort to toss the Chinaman over. But he bested them by clinging to their arms legs, weeping his gibberish, until suddenly he let go and grabbed the beam beneath him with one hand. He kicked free of his captors easily, as they were trying to shed themselves of him anyway, and went over the side, dangling over the gorge and making hand-over-hand out over the river on the skeleton form of the next span. Mr. Toomis’s companion rushed over now, balancing on a beam, kicking at the fellow’s fingers. The Chinaman dropped from beam to beam like a circus artist downward along the crosshatch structure. A couple of the work gang cheered his escape, while other, though not quite certain why he was being chased, shouted that the villain ought to be stopped. Mr. Sears removed from the holster on his belt a large old four-shot black-powder revolver and took his four, to no effect. By then the Chinaman had vanished.

Hiking to his home after this incident, Grainier detoured two miles to the store at the railroad village of Meadow Creek to get a bottle of Hood’s Sarsaparilla for his wife, Gladys, and their infant daughter, Kate. It was hot going up the hill through the woods toward the cabin, and before getting the last mile he stopped and bathed in the river, the Moyea, at a deep place upstream from the village.

Dang, that’s good.

A poet is someone who has to exist between those moments. And between those moments you don’t feel like a poet.

Christian Wiman in his interview with Bill Moyers:

“You are filled and then you’re not. A poet is someone who has to exist between those moments. And between those moments you don’t feel like a poet. It’s been two months since I’ve written a poem and I don’t feel at all like a poet. It goes away. You’re just a person going about your life like anyone else. The gift seems not yours. It seems on loan. Whereas with prose you can do that anytime. You can crank that out.”

There are so many reasons not to write. But few are any better than because you are going to get laid.


There are so many reasons not to write. But few are any better than because you are going to get laid. That is a good reason. Everything else, all these other distractions are meaningless. Friends betray you. There will always be another party. I remember when John Updike blew off some big important New Yorker Party because he was writing. The only thing I ever liked from him was the story about the supermarket, but he lived in the town I lived in and I used to ride my bike past his house and wonder what he was up to, typing away in his house. Adultery stories mostly. But it must have been unbearable for John Updike to show up at parties anyway. Everyone bothering him for something. Everything in the world is trying to distract you from getting something on the page. Our own doubts about everything we do is crushing. Don’t let it crush you. No one has any idea what they’re doing. And even J. K. Rowling once lived in her car and her next book will probably be no good anyway. The Great American Novel is inside you, I just know it. Especially if you’re Canadian. Like the David statue in the stone, it’s up to you to release it. And then leave it on a window sill or the M train so I can steal it and take all the credit for it.

Even the greatest writers died horrible deaths terribly alone. Try to enjoy it.

(“How to Write the Great American Novel“)

Writing in public feels like a performance, but, when we’re dealing with literature, the performance is not what endures

Matt Lombardi, apparently fed up with pretentious writers observes:

“Writing in public feels like a performance, but, when we’re dealing with literature, the performance is not what endures. To put it another way: the final outcome is the performance. I can’t help but assume when I see the coffice-bound writer as one who privileges persona over results.”

I am a coffice-bound (coffee+office) writer almost daily. Sometimes I go back to my coffice a second time in the afternoon. No doubt my teeth (the non-veneer ones) are yellowing. I became a coffice writer while working, the coffee shop was the only place where I could write away from the suffocation of my cubicle. I have Bose headphones that go over my ears and block out most of the sound. I prefer as much comfort and seclusion as I can find during my public writing.

There must be a lot of writers in the world to make these kinds of jokes. Too many of them. My conclusion is I dislike all other writers.

From “How to Write the Great American Novel,”


I’m actually typing this article on a blue Selectric II typewriter in a meadow filled with ducks. I have a very long extension cord. Stop asking so many questions. I’m entirely unclear who was the first hopeful writer who thought the atmosphere at coffee shops was the ideal place to get some work done. It’s loud there and people are having completely awful conversations about their boring lives. (Side note: People having conversations in public: Please make them more interesting! Who told you your lives could be so banal?) Which is not to say I don’t have coffee with me. Coffee is portable. I got my little Dwight Gooden mug and the sounds of birds whose names I don’t know and also I think a little bird crap between my shoulder blades, but I can’t reach back there. One does not paint a masterpiece on a canvas with ketchup already smushed all over it. And it’s not necessary to be in nature to write great. The only great poem I have ever written was written on the Cyclone at Coney Island. It was about God living inside a vending machine and not accepting my wrinkled dollar. It will be in my obituary. What will be in your obituary? “Saffo wrote several middle-of-the-road novels that were fatally flawed for having been written inside a crowded chain coffee shop.”

Lombardi points out Hemingway was most likely responsible for the writer writing in a coffee shop mystique. I’ll have more to say about writing in coffee shops.

But I’d like to know where you write and why?



I think we can all agree that Jonathan Safran Foer’s magic child in Close and Loud has officially ended the need to ever write a book again told from the point of view of brilliant magical children. The desire of adults who are not YA authors to place themselves inside the lives of kids to make a more-perfect and more beautiful version of themselves in youth: Puking sound. YA authors are actually performing a vital service: Please continue doing that, YA authors! There’s nothing self-conscious and plodding about what you’re up to. Kids in general are rarely magical. They’re kids. Sometimes amusing, sometimes accidentally saying interesting things. When adults write kids they make them unbearable. Like Harry Potter. What a bore. Hermione was the real hero of all those books. They should have all been called HERMIONE GRANGER SAVES HARRY POTTER’S DUMB ASS AGAIN.

(From “How to Write the Next Great American Novel” via DS)

A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party

A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.

From “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Do” by Colin Nissan