Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Year and a New Focus


It's probably safe to assume that we made through another twisted apocalyptic debacle. The western death wish superimposed on the Mayan cosmovision I hope goes by the wayside like Y2K, Hale Bopp, Red Dawn, solar super storms and all other freeze dried end of days nonsense. But with 2012 gone, or nearly so, we have made it past another year, another presidential election here in the US, and another show of world unity at the summer Olympics. If nothing more with 2012 over now, we have made another revolution around the sun.

And now, another year begins.

In all the years I've worked the bar and restaurant business, I have always hated New Year's Eve. Not only is it dangerous to be out and mixing with the crowd, it is a night of paradoxes. First, many people make New Year's resolutions. This is generally ill-fated because seldom do people hold true to them. Gym membership surges in January and vacant exercise rooms in February prove this. Second, many above said resolutions are made during the height of the gluttony of the holidays, no one thinks clearly then anyway. And third, the boozy nature of New Year's Eve has always bothered me. If you want a good new year to come, why start it hungover?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Winter Reading List: December, 2012.


It's dark here, it's dark here because it's always dark here. At the restaurant on the 30th floor, we looked out the windows. Richard said, “wow, it's dark, already.” “Yes,” I said. I looked at my watch. Quarter to five. “The solstice is still five weeks away,” Richard said. This conversation was already five weeks ago, now. “Yeah,” I said. “It's going to take another ten weeks to get back to where we are now.” “Amazing,” he said. “Amazing,” I echoed.

It's dark here, it's dark here because it's always dark here. In my mind it's wintertime here because it's always wintertime here. No, this is not the contagious case of global cooling that they pitched to us back in the 70s. They pitched a bunch of nonsense to us in the 70s. It's not cold here, it's cool, but never cold. It's raining here, it's raining here because it's always raining here. The streets are wet, the black of wet asphalt makes mirrors. The depths of reflection are the preeminently gray skies, the grayest of clouds that are ceiling of Portland, Oregon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part the Last.


The State of Kansas and other unmapped places, an interview with Julianna Spallholz. December 2012

We went to the aquarium in Denver to see the sights. We wandered through the exhibitions of theoretical marine life of the Colorado River from the top of the continent to the Gulf of California. It was May of 2008. Julianna and Scott were just pushing through Denver on their way to New York. They were on their way from Tucson in search of new memories. They were doing, that summer what Janice and I would do years later: an odyssey to the northern climes and parenthood. It was a warm day in Denver, all those years ago, and the aquarium was a fun diversion.

When I consider all the growth as writers that both Julianna and I have experienced since that day in May 2008, I am simply astounded. Her book The State of Kansas which was released in December of 2011 is a great point of fact. This book is a delight to read. As I read these short and very short fictions I moved through the spectrum of feelings. There were the sad feelings, then there were chuckles and there were the sudden alarms of the bizarre, the macabre or the tense. And then I think, I know this person. I know this writer. And this writer is a dear friend. A dear friend who has at times guided me, encouraged me and dared me. She's taught me a thing or two as well—I did get a lesson in second person narration, as you will see in the interview below.


AFI: First of all, thank you for participating in this interview.

Julianna: You’re welcome. And thank you for asking to interview me.

Available at genpopbooks.com
AFI: I suppose the question of the hour, what do you think of The State of Kansas? The book was released last December, so you've had a year with your first book out in the world, do you feel differently about the book now than you did a year ago? Have any readers contacted you?

Julianna: I suppose, yes, I do feel differently about the book now than I did when it was published a year ago. But the real difference was in how I felt about the book when it was published a year ago versus how I felt about the book when I finished writing it. The book was written very slowly over a six-year span, was finished a year before it was accepted for publication, and was accepted for publication more than two years before it actually materialized. So, like, a child who was born the year I wrote the first part of the book was almost ten years old by the time the book came out.

Some readers have contacted me. I’ve had great receptions at the readings I’ve given, and a handful of lovely reviews. And the book elicited some nice solicitations from a few excellent journals, like Indigest, Free State Review, and Nöo. I’ve really appreciated all that, especially because I’m not all that great at reaching out and marketing myself. The book has taught me that about myself. The book has taught me that I am a very slow writer and that I am a lazy and/or insecure self-promoter. The book itself, though? I like it. I still like it. It’s a lot stranger, I think, than I thought it was. And sadder. And it’s about as funny as I thought it was. The funny parts are my favorite parts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 4


As writers, how do we write about it and make it interesting to readers?

The question comes to me so often that I'm ashamed that I don't have a snappy answer to it. The question: Did it really happen? The question comes after someone I know has read something I've written. Did it really happen? No. I repeat, no. The next question is just as silly. The next question is really a rewording of the first question. Have ever noticed that some folks will ask the same question over and over and still hope for the answer they want? The question is: Is [insert any character from the story] really you? No. Again, no.

I write fiction.

But the elements of fiction must come from somewhere. If I chose to write about the time I did this that or the other and had a good time of it and wrote it as it happened, as in real time, reality TV or whatever, it would not translate well to the page. If I choose to write about a place, or the people within it, to simply report on it will prove boring too. As writers, and this is any kind of writer, we must be selective and make choices when we narrate.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 3


Dunbar Springs and a moment to dejank

I was opposed to the house on Queen Street. I was so opposed to the house on Queen Street that I said nothing. I said nothing. Any words I uttered fell into abysmal air and neglected to find deaf ears. The house on Queen Street meant one thing, and one thing only: the end of my Tucson days was incredibly close at hand.

Dunbar Springs is a soft neighborhood on the north side of downtown Tucson. The only real concern with the neighborhood is that you must cross the railroad tracks to get back and forth to everywhere else in town. The trains are impressive in that there are so many of them. Late at night they blow their whistles constantly and in Dunbar Springs everyone has windows that rattle with the passing trains. The train whistles were good to me: I blew on that fuckin' trumpet every waking minute of the day. No one said a word about it either, the train conductors wore down the audible sensations of the denizens.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Waiting for life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 2


The State of Kansas by Julianna Spallholz, a review

The slim volume came to me by mail. All the way from Vermont too. The State of Kansas ISBN: 978-0-9823594-4-0 available through GenPop Books (www.genpopbooks.com) for $16. It's well worth the money, the book is beautifully laid out, the pages and the font are pleasing and comfortable to read. I know to some, a beautifully bound book or a first edition is of paramount importance. GenPop Books have taken extra care in the treatment of their books and have manufactured a handsome volume.

I suspect that short (and very short) fictions of The State of Kansas would be every bit as effective if printed on the inside of gum wrappers or scribbled with dark lipstick on kitchen cabinets. Julianna Spallholz has treated presumably ubiquitous things with such subtle force you must wonder if the bricks that surround us, or the pinstripes a man wears, or say, an ironic mustache might really be involved with the greater depths of daily life. Within the pages of The State of Kansas Spallholz weaves 43 tales, some like “Room” which are just a few sentences long. She has a mastery of story too despite the brevity. As an example “Adult Matters”:

I know that I started it by stomping on your foot but you should not have chased after me with that bright red chair. It was frightening for all the little children who do not understand such adult matters.

This is, as the description of the book implies (very short fictions). We see character, conflict, and a certain level of plot, although much of the beginning and end are implied. As far as description goes, the word generous does not really apply, but consider this: bright and red describing chair and little with children and such for adult matters.

Leaving the very short fictions aside a few larger works round out the book. The title story, “The State of Kansas” can be a nearly textbook definition on how dialogue works in fiction. The entire story is the conversation between a mother and daughter about their ability to name and the placement of states. Longer works like “Billy Glock,” “Thanksgiving” and “A Brief Introduction to Downtown Tucson, Arizona” certainly do showcase Spallholz's prowess as a crafter of fiction. She conjures the mood of Geleano, the compactness of Colette and channels a bit of Cortazar.

The State of Kansas is a must read; it's like sipping cheap beer with an audience of iridescent green bugs. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 1


Enter Julianna and the wellspring of fiction fodder.

I know Julianna Spallholz. Julianna and I shared a summer together many years ago and in a place very far away. We met at the home of mutual friends in May or June of 2005 in the Barrio Viejo in central Tucson. I had come from Denver via the southern half of the United States and she had come from upstate New York via Vermont and Ashville. We hit off. We were the two writers in our circle of musicians, artists and bums and our circle was pretty much everyone in summertime Tucson between the ages of 25 and 55.

One night Ruby and I had been swigging warm gin from a handle of Seagram's I kept in my backpack. The larger group of us had been at the Hotel Congress listening to the blue stylings of Tom Walbank and The Ambassadors. After the Congress closed down, a smaller group of us wandered the streets like the roving pack of maundering miscreants that we were. We headed to the outskirts of the Barrio Viejo to a house party where the bands played just as loud as they had at the club.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Waiting for life in Tucson, Arizona. The preamble.


Enter Doris the cockroach queen of Armory Park.

Here in Portland, Oregon I occasionally see cars driving around in the summer with Arizona license plates. I only see these plates in the summer. This leads me to believe two things: first, these are people who are too scared to remain in Arizona in the summer. And second, they are too soft to remain here in the winter. I like the winter in Portland. I like the winter here because I feel as if I own the place. In the winter, in the rain, in the short gray days and long dark nights, there are very few people on the streets. I am not obligated to give anyone a dollar, a signature or a care. Truth be known, many people come to Portland in the spring and stay through the summer. They fall in love with the place. But those people who come from sunnier climes have a difficult time here in the winter. It's persistent. It's dark. It's wet. And for many people, it's hard. And for whatever reason, I like it. It suits my disposition. After all, I have not been known for my sunny disposition, not now, not ever. I would like to wrap it up with a Generation X anthem, but I'll call it what it is: flawed or not, it's my fabric. To further this rainy season bit, I do not blame someone who lives here all summer only to move to Arizona all winter.

I once lived in Tucson, Arizona. I lived there all summer. I showed up in May and I left at the end of December. I do not advertise this part of my life. I do not like to mention too much of it. The time is quickly approaching a decade ago now. Oddly enough, I value the experience now only in distant retrospect. At the time however, I hated every day of it. The time was summed up with a quickly souring marriage, un(der)employment; excessive heat and excessive spending. It would take years for me to be cured of the ills of Tucson.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Writer and (the) Work


I spent a few hours with my dear friend Caroline today. I say dear friend, and it is true, she is a dear friend. Generally when I introduce her, I introduce her as my MFBF (mother fuckin' best friend). I don't know exactly how she got this title, but it sticks with her. So today, my MFBF came around for a visit.

We caught up on new times. We talked about work. We talked about family. We talked about the things that adults always seem to talk about. Then our conversation turned to her recent return to college. It seems she's taking a German Language class and a writing class. A writing class? I never seem to get tired of talking about those classes. Janice doesn't seem to get tired of talking about those classes either. Fortunately, and this is always good to hear, my MFBF is doing well in her writing class and enjoying it too.

Then the discussion arises that maybe she will become a writer. I think she should. Oh, I think she should. She says it's a possibility, but just that—a possibility. It seems that writing is still laborious for her. “How do you do it?” she says. “I just do,” I tell her. And that's just it, I just do. What's even funnier about it is that I had spoken to another friend earlier in the day who asked me when I find time to write. I don't know, I just find the time.

As our visit wound down, I put another plug for her decision to become a writer. “It get's easier,” I said. “The more you do, the better it will be,” I said. “It's like anything. You just have to do it,” I said. “Then you can look at my blog,” I said. “I've dropped by your blog,” she said. Well, Caroline, if you're stopping by now, I just told the world that you're my MFBF and that I think you should be a writer.

I've talked about what I think it means to be a writer. I've talked about what means to be a worker. I've talked about being a screenwriter, an editor, and a novelist. But what does it really mean? What does the writer and work -and- the writer and the work mean?

The writer and work is just that. I writer must work, a writer must write. I've said this before. All your writer friends have said this before. Your instructors have said this before. In the case of my buddy Noah who asked when I find time to write, I have no straight answer. I just find the time. Remember it doesn't take all that long to write a page. Write one page a day, stay at it for 25 years and you'll be astounded at what you get. When I say one page a day for 25 years that comes to 9,131.25 pages. I'll venture to guess that I have more than that many pages. I try to write everyday. As of late, I finally have a family, by which I mean a newborn, and writing hours are hard to find. But I find them. I think everyone should.

A different angle to it is the work. When I think of the work, it is just that, the body of work. When I say 25 years of writing, at least for me, I am not far off. I have precious few pieces of my writing that date to 1986. They are not very good, but we all start somewhere. I started to keep a personal diary in 1990. I got heavily into writing sometime in 1993. I could go through dates and milestones which might be boring, so I keep it brief: I have just about everything I've ever written within a fingertip's distance. I will not be able to pour over all the pages I've ever written, not in a sitting, not in a weekend, probably not in a month. I could recall or pull up anything with a moment's notice. I could bring up the pages upon pages of the weird shit I wrote while living in Europe. I could pull up the pages I wrote under Vance Aandahl's tutelage. I have the hot months of Tucson, Arizona, and I have the long rainy nights of Portland, Oregon equally close at hand. I have mountains of poetry (mostly bad), I have highways of screenplays (mostly surrendered); I have hundreds of shorts stories, and I have a dozen novels. What does this mean for me? Well, I have work, I have worked and I have work to do.

As writers we have so many tools and we cannot forget to use them. We have pens and paper; we have typewriters and file cabinets; we have computers and disk space. We can collect words in every conceivable order. We can maintain what we have written and we can work it all over again. In the case of Caroline, she has an entire life of writing to embark upon. I'm excited for that. For me, I may not have all the time I once had, but I do have mountains to sift through. I still have work to do even if it is not the generation of new material. A writer must work.

So, when does it become time to organize all of this work? I have no real answer to that. The time comes, I suppose when it makes sense to give the college essays and travel poetry a looksee. Who knows? Perhaps when it comes to vast depths of a writer's work, well that may be work for another person or another time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Why Read Quiz: The Key

The key to last week's quiz.  I used this only as a springboard for discussion.  It was meant to a fun icebreaker.  After all, who's going to take a writing workshops facilitator serious who has this introduction: "Welcome in, I thought we'd get started with a quiz."?  Incidentally, anyone who got question 13 really amazed and pleased me.

  1. What is a Catch-22? A circular problem, term coined by Joseph Heller in Catch-22.
  2. Who is Big Brother? Party leader in George Orwell’s 1984.
  3. Who lived next door to Nick Carraway? Jay Gatz, AKA Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
  4. Who wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”? Henry David Thoreau in Walden.
  5. What was Alice Walker’s color? Purple, in The Color Purple.
  6. “It was the best of times and_it was the worst of times.In Charles Dickens Tale of Two Cities.
  7. Who is Mr. Rosewater? He makes appearances in many of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels.
  8. What 1960s rock band wanted to “Break on through to the other side? Jim Morrison’s The Doors.
  9. Where did they get their name? Aldous Huxely’s The Doors of Perception, and he got the title of the book from a William Blake poem.
  10. What is Soma? A drug used by residence of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
  11. At what temperature does paper combust? 451 degrees, a book by Ray Bradbury.
  12. In what book would a reader meet Piggy? Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.
  13. What novel begins: “In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar”? In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan.
  14. Who fought the Cyclops? Odysseus, in Homer’s The Odyssey.
  15. Lord Henry Wotton watched Basil Hallward paint a picture of whom? Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  16. What was Lee Chong’s business? Groceries in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.
  17. How were the principal figures of the Lost Generation? Any of them including; Hemingway, Stein and Fitzgerald.
  18. How is Clyde Wynant commonly referred? The Thin Man in Dashell Hammet’s novel of the same name.
  19. What story was told by Mr. Lockwood, or was it Nellie? Wuthering Heights by Emily B ronte
  20. In what book would a reader find: “What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun”? The Book of Ecclesiastes in The Bible.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Why Read Quiz


I used the following quiz as an ice breaker for a writing workshop I taught a few years ago.  It's pretty fun stuff.  I found it to be a better opening exercise rather than the who are you and why are you here stuff we normally get at the onset of such workshops.  I post it here for fun.  I'll post the answers next week.  Enjoy.
  1. What is a Catch-22?
  2. Who is Big Brother?
  3. Who lived next door to Nick Carraway?
  4. Who wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”?
  5. What was Alice Walker’s color?
  6. “It was the best of times and________________________”
  7. Who is Mr. Rosewater?
  8. What 1960s rock band wanted to “Break on through to the other side"?
  9. Where did they get their name?
  10. What is Soma?
  11. At what temperature does paper combust?
  12. In what book would a reader meet Piggy?
  13. What novel begins: “In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar”?
  1. Who fought the Cyclops?
  2. Lord Henry Wotton watched Basil Hallward paint a picture of whom?
  3. What was Lee Chong’s business?
  4. How were the principal figures of the lost generation?
  5. How is Clyde Wynant commonly referred?
  6. What story was told by Mr. Lockwood, or was it Nellie?
  7. In what book would a reader find: “What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun”?

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Gaining of Perspective


It seems we're back at it again. I am here, and you are there. I meander through my thoughts and scratch out a few words on the process of reading and writing. I feel for the 'you' in this situation because the process of meandering through my thoughts must be easier for me than for you. And here we are, October 2012 and there is a perspective worth gaining.

Lucian is just over nine weeks old. Nine weeks. For me it has been an incredibly long nine weeks. As the baby gets used to life, we are getting used to life with him. If there is anything I've learned in my nine weeks of fatherhood it is that the time spent in quiet reflection is astounding. I seem to spend a great deal of time trying to get poor Lucian to sleep. Once he's asleep I spent a great deal more time making sure he stays asleep. Often I sit on the sofa and hold him. When he's awake we have staring contests and when he's asleep I just stare at him. There is a certain amount of Zen to it in that my mind will empty out completely and it's as if my intellect achieves the higher plain of the nine week mark.

That's to say nothing of the thoughts that drift in and out. For instance, I wonder sometimes if I was destined to do the things I've done because in the spring of 1989 I played the lead role in the high school play. What? Yeah, right. Well, the play Jabberwock was a fictionalized version of James Thurber's life as a young man based loosely on his writings and juxtaposed on Lewis Carrol's poem. At the time, 1989, high school, I was not interested much in reading and writing. I liked the theater because I fit right in. I liked my theater mates. I liked making out with the girls when we wrapped up in the curtains. I liked the smell of the old place. It was nothing more than what it was, a high school play fueled by maturing egos and simmering hormones.

The school play, of course, is a passing thought as I hold Lucian. As I look at him, I realize that I will be dreadfully near Social Security age when he gets to the age of the high school play leading role. Perhaps by then no one will remember James Thurber. I digress. It all comes down to the perspective one gets at the key times in life. And if there is ever a key time in life it is the time when the first baby arrives at the house and the opening weeks of life when there are really two times: crying time and quiet time. Either time is a strange time for thought.

Then there is the thought of what do I want to be when I grow up? How many people have that thought? All of us, I suspect. But what about the people who are already grown up and have been for some time? Why would this thought still come through in our minds? I'm sure there are all kinds of clinical and psychological terms for this sort of thought and incessant longing for less discontent future activities. I am no different.

Aside from the leading role in the high school play I can think of dozens of other accomplishments I've had in my younger years. They offer me no real perspective now as many of them have little of no barring on present events. In fact surviving the war, living abroad; being a student, being summer camp director; living halfway to hell and back, to mention nothing of the writer's life I have now come to this perspective: when I hold my son all that stuff makes great barroom stories. I don't even get off to the barroom so much anymore.

Rather, I look at a little boy who looks a great deal like me and once he's asleep I look out at the cloud filled sky of Portland, OR. I search the clouds and recollections which are oftentimes the in same place and I wonder, what is the perspective I need to get here? And furthermore, is a perspective important? When it comes to this writing life: how much of this should I write down?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions, Part 3

The conversations move the way conversations do, at least that's the way it seems. It could be that the conversations move as they do and I think they're moving more than they are because I've been somewhat delirious during these late weeks. I suppose the real beauty in the delirium is the cause of it. These last few months have been marked with milestones, changes and new life. And of all the things to cause delicious delirium it is Lucian. Having a newborn at home has interrupted the flow of life I once knew, and it has interrupted sleep. So, when I'm out in the world mixing with people, mixing with conversations I'm at once tired and distracted. My thoughts drift to the world at home where Janice and Lucian and I hang around all day and discuss matters of great importance like all those palindromes associated with babies: poop and boob and mom and dad. You get the point. And this is the undercurrent of thought in October in Portland, OR and there are so many things going on outside the walls and membranes and that's that. And the conversation moves on.

In my small Portland circle, I'm often engaged in conversation of family and happenings. In recent weeks, it's been conversations about Dysphoric Notions. Of course, right? One of the biggest conversations around the novel is the setting of Denver, CO. There is no secret about Denver, or my love of the place. It's just so funny that I am here, the book is (set) there and the conversation moves on from there.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions Part 2


In January of 2009, gin was my drink, and everybody knew it. I daresay that gin was my drink for many years before that. And if it weren't for this wonderful period of sobriety I've been enjoying over these last several months, gin would probably still be my drink. But in January 2009, and the night before I turned in my graduate thesis, gin was definitely being poured and I was drinking it.

Jimmy said: “Hey Anthony, I brought us a bottle of gin.” I said, “Great.” He said, “A handle of it.” After dinner, Julie and Jimmy and I went back to their dorm and sure enough Jimmy had brought a handle of gin. What's that? Well, it's 1.75 liters of Bombay Extra Dry. And if you don't know how much 1.75 liters might be, think of a large bottle of pop, subtract about one glass and go. I mixed three glasses of gin and juice, I distributed them, one each—Julie, Jimmy and me. We slugged down the first round. It was early and the mix was nice. “Bartender,” Jimmy said. He shook the ice in the plastic tumbler. “Make us another.” I said, “Now Jimmy, if I make another, there is no going back. We're going to kill this bottle.”

I counted eight drinks that I made for other people between 6 p.m., when we started and when we finished at 1 a.m. I reckon that's less than about the .750 ml of the gin and that Jimmy and I split the liter. The night was a rough one. That was Plainfield, Vermont on a January night in 2009 before we were to graduate and move back to the places from where we all came.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions Part I


FAQ

With the emanate publication of Dysphoric Notions (Ring of Fire Books) on September 25, 2012, I get a funny barrage of questions. Here are the top three:

#1 And this one is weird. How long is it? I repeat. How long is it? I get asked this question so much that I really ought to have a scripted answer. Each time I get this question, I'm just so baffled. Here it is: after edits, the final product is about 170 paperback pages. It was 226 pages on 8 ½ x 11 paper with 1” margins, double spaced and with a 12 pt courier font. And when I wrote it, I wrote it in composition notebooks, four or five of them. Word count? About 50,000 words. Now let me ask: why does it matter?

#2 How long did it take to write? I love this question. Well, as of 9/12/12, 13 days before launch, I was still working on it. I remember the day I started it too. I made the first pen strokes on the morning of January 12, 2009. 45 months is the long answer.
I started my work on Dysphoric Notions two days after I graduated from Goddard College. Two days was enough time to sufficiently recover from the hangover. I don't remember exactly when I finished the first drafts of it, but I started writing the next novel sometime in March 2009. I feel like I wrote the initial 2 or 3 drafts in about 8 weeks. Again: why does it matter?

#3 Is it any good? What a question. Well, yeah, it's pretty good. Is it the best novel I've written? No, I haven't written that one yet.

#4 Who is your publisher? Ring of Fire. They're in Seattle. They're great. They have a wonderful business model. Please support them by 1) buying my book. 2) Buying other books. 3) Telling everyone you know.

#5 How did you come up with the title? It came about because I didn't know how to spell hangover. (Hang over? Hang-over? Hangover? Hangover.) So, I looked it up, and what struck me—a feeling of dysphoria due to chemical intoxication.  I was also taken with the notion that a hangover could be a residual bad feeling from a former time.  The working title was “The White Party” and I suspect that that means something different to you than it does to me.

#6 Is it true? No. It's fiction. Don't be silly.

#7 Did you choose the cover? Ring of Fire chose it and I love it.

#8 How many novels have you written? 10.

#9 Is this your first published novel? Sort of. My novel Sand and Asbestos ran on Sophia Ballou in 2011 as a serial. Dysphoric Notions is the first of my novels to be published with money transactions.

AND

#10 What's the book about? I love this question and I get it so rarely. Well, it's about love and loss and self discovery. It's a tour of central Denver from the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River all the way to the INS office in a vague place on the outskirts of town. It's about adversity and drinks and family and beating the odds. It's a travel piece and it even has a few cocktail recipes. Ultimately, it's a love story.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Pipe Dream




A comfortable place to work. A world where people read and think, write and make art. A place where people are more inclined to sip coffee during the warming light of the afternoon and discuss matters of profound interest. We all sleep until noon. People who wake up early start wars, economic ruin and ozone depletion. In this modern day; there is nothing we can do that ain't been done before. It's time to make art. 

Incidentally, Walden has made a resurgence in our house in recent days.  If it has not made a resurgence in your house, you can read it here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Reading List Wrap-up


Admittedly, I was not a reader as a kid. The story is more horrifying than funny; something close to the criminal rather than the tragic. The point is, I was not a reader in my youngest of years. I bring it up only because I remember kids who complained and moaned at the chore of it or delighted with joy at the prospect of a summer reading list. During our summer breaks from school, some kids were expanding their minds with timeless literature while I was wasting away my summer mired in remedial math with the other flunkies. But that was then.

I find it odd that reading comes easier to me in the summer. I'm not a head out to the beach sort of person. I do not spend my time floating down the river in lazy inter-tubes sipping canned beer. I am not a sunbather, sports spectator or poolside reveler. In fact, I kind of hate the summer. I don't know if it has anything to do with my tour of the middle east, or my holiday in summertime Tucson. I can't stand the heat, and what's more, I don't like the crowds of people. In short, I am a stick in the mud.

We all have our retreats. I love to read. At least I have that. I am busy making up for the lost time as a kid when I could have expanded my mind and thought the thoughts a young person must think. It's no real compensation for a misspent youth, I know, but rather than a misspent adulthood I got a book in my lap.

As I sit here at my computer, I can see the wide world of Southwest Portland outside my window. I hide away all summer, and in Portland, summer wasn't all that long. I welcomed the birth of my son, my fortieth birthday, the payoff of my graduate school loan and the publication of my novel Dysphoric Notions. It's been a short summer, yes, but a very busy time.

And I read plenty of books.

I tried Henry James. As you may recall, I wanted to revisit it because I was told I should wait until my forties to read it. In some ways, I enjoyed The Turn of the Screw. However, I would not recommend Henry James to anyone, and I will not be reading any more of it. I am glad I tried it, and I held true to what I said I was going to do back in 1996. As I look at my summer reading list, I am grateful that I endeavored to read Henry James first. I suppose that has something to do with personality, I read what I figured would be the biggest challenge first.

Something odd happened to me during my reading this summer. I started to make connections. Strange s connections. Zsuzsa Bank's book The Swimmer proved to be one of the most beautiful and haunting books I have ever read. I am so impressed with this book that it is still on my mind. She paints a wonderful picture of Hungary post the 1956 revolution. In my reading of this book, I often took breaks to do a little Hungarian homework. Within the framework of what was going on socially and politically Bank writes a story wrought with the kind of conflict that good fiction is all about. And here is the connection: thematically and the mythologized family The Swimmer shares so much with The Painted Bird, and The Street of Crocodiles.

I was tickled to read J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. I chose this book only because of the beautiful volume and dust jacket. Yes, I picked this book out of all the others because of the condition of the spine and the cover. It's nice to find a first edition of a book in such pristine condition. As funny as that may seem, whoever owned the book before me was a heavy, and I do mean heavy smoker. As I turned each page, the smell of old tobacco was at times gross and other times baffling. This novel, as you may know is an account (somewhat autobiography, and somewhat fiction) of Ballard's time in an internment camp in Japanese occupied Shanghai during World War II. What about connections? Well, I also read Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills which is Japan shortly after the war, Nagasaki to be exact. These books with youth and the backdrop of WWII are interesting enough, but what about reading them concurrently to build a different understand of world events from 1937-1945? Here is my grouping: Herman Raucher's Summer '42 (American, stateside), Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird (Polish, Nazi-occupation), Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills and Empire of the Sun.

What about titles for a funny connection? I read Antonio Skarmeta's The Postman. Of course this slim volume made me want to revisit Pablo Neruda's poetry. But what about this: James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Charles Bukowski's Post Office and pair these with Eudora Welty's short story “Why I Live at the P.O.”? These have nothing to do with one another thematically, except the titles. Many lists are made by more arbitrary methods.

Here was my summer reads:

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International: New York, 1988.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. Vintage International: New York, 1984.
Skarmeta, Antonio. The Postman. Hyperion: New York, 1987. Trans. Katherine Silver.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Konemann: Koln, 1996.
Neruda, Pablo. Neruda at Isla Negra. White Pine Press: New York, 1998. Dennis Maloney, ed.
Capote, Truman. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Vintage International: New York, 1993.
Kotzwinkle, William. Seduction in Berlin. G.P. Putnam and Sons: New York, 1985.
Thompson, Jim. The Getaway. Orion Fiction: London, 2005.
Kosinski, Jerzy. Being There. Bantam: New York, 1988.
Hughes, Langston. The Panther and the Lash. Vintage International: New York, 1992.
Ballard, J.G. Empire of the Sun. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1984.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Bottle Imp, 1893.
Bánk, Zsuzsa. The Swimmer. Harcourt: Orlando, FL, 2004. Trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Long Night, Lucian and Langston


There have been discussions lately about long nights. Yes, some nights are longer than others. But the very notion of a long night arouses in me now so many different thoughts.

I suppose the last night of someone's life may be the longest night. A last night laying awake in a hospital bed awaiting death may be shorter than the night before an execution at dawn. There are long nights, I guess and then there are long nights.

I had a long night once. I suppose it may even be one of the longest nights of my life. My long night began midday at the end of December 1990 when we left tent city Saudi Arabia and headed into the interior somewhere along the outskirts of the DMZ. The night was a bus ride into the dark. Then it was a frigid wait for troop transport, then it was a dusty all night ride in the back of a truck. The night ended at our tactile assembly area at dawn where we were fed reconstituted scrambled eggs and stale white bread. That was a very long night.

Then there are really long nights. Tonight for instance, Langston Hughes just told me about a long night which began in 1619 Jamestown and it seemed to continue into vague years like 1961, 1963, 1964. I'm going to guess that the long night (as the work) of Langston Hughes is concerned did indeed begin in 1619 Jamestown and ended when he died in 1967. 1967? The absolute height of the civil rights movement. Yes, “Daybreak in Alabama,” “Jim Crow Car,” “Cultural Exchange.” I wonder what Langston Hughes would think of modern America 45 years after his death? What would he think of President Obama? And what would he think of the Gay and Lesbian movement, same sex marriages and the like? What would he think about now?

I have no personal recollection of the civil rights movement. I was born in 1972 on the eleventh day of the eighth month in fact. Plenty has happened in the world in that time. And tonight, I read through the poems of Langston Hughes. The volume is a nice edition: a comfortable font, acid free paper, made in America.

I don't know why I chose Langston Hughes. It was just something I hadn't visited in a long time. I suspect the last time I read any Langston Hughes was during my undergraduate studies at Metro State back in the mid-1990s.

I don't have any real reason to consider long nights other than today is my 40th birthday and today will be the birth of my son Lucian. I know I'll be inclined to tell him, annually, that I came 40 years before him and to the day. I may even tell him about my past in the war and the long night I had once in December of 1990. I will tell him about the rights of men and these truths that I hold to be self-evident that all men are created equal. He will know just like I know that black people or gay people are every bit as beautiful as everyone else. There is no sense in causing others harm. I hope that he grows up to be both strong and gentle because you cannot have one without the other.

I may even be inclined to tell Lucian about Langston Hughes and how I met his mother; how it was the mid-1990s and Metro State College on the Auraria Campus. I will tell him of the blissful days in the autumn of 1997 when Janice and I first became friends in Dr. Hamilton's American Renaissance course. I will tell him how beautiful she was the instant the morning sun of 1997 hit her lips.

I'll be inclined to tell him someday, about his mother's labor during the long night before he was born. How grateful we are, and how lucky too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

End of Summer Romances

Books for Summer's End

I have to admit, I was very flattered when my buddy Bobby asked for my opinion about a book recommendation. The back story? Well, Bobby and I have spent a few afternoons together talking about poetry and literature, mostly of the Irish variety. And for Bobby, the book recommendation was not for him, but rather for an acquaintance of his who was on her way somewhere. I suspect that this acquaintance was something of a future promise of romance, but at the time he needed this recommendation, the allure of a liaison was nothing more than a vague hint. What did I recommend? Well, I was on the move when he asked. He asked via text message. He was already at the bookstore. And I had to think on my feet.

There are some people in my past who I really admired because of their ability to think on their feet when it came to books and writers. Kyle Bass was quick. He was quick in many, many ways. And I did admire him greatly too. I can think of two such conversations I had with him in the summer of 2007 when he changed tracks and recommended books and stories because of what I was doing. He recommended Frank Conroy's Stop-time and not because I was writing memoir. He recommended Jerzy Kosiniski's The Painted Bird for a very similar reason. When we talked about dialogue in fiction and the associated attribution he was quick with Raymond Carver's “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and William Faulkner's “That Evening Sun.” I suspect that Kyle was able to come up with these things because of his experiences in life, as a reader, as a writer and also as a teacher. Yes, I admire him greatly.

This is probably why I was so thrilled when Bobby asked for my opinion. We spent a few text messages hashing out what the book should be by discussing what the message should be, the relationship (current, past, and future hopefully) between Bobby and the girl. I also wanted to know where the girl was going.

We came up with this: something light and profound. I would not, and I cannot recommended a book such as The Prophet or The Alchemist in any sort of serious way. I feel the same way about a book that was big time in the 1990s and all but vanished now: The Celestine Prophecy. I feel this way because these books are too canned, too obvious, too something not personal or subtle. I enjoyed The Alchemist very much, and the others are okay too, but they are generic when it comes to “here, I bought you this book for your trip, please think of me when you're drinking wine, eating cheese, and smoking late night cigarettes in the south of France.”

I ultimately recommended Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams. I guess I just figured that this book is light enough to read on the beach, beautiful enough to make an impression and not overtly preachy or philosophical. It's the kind of book I think the promise of becoming a future lover should gift to a potential beloved.

Which leads me to the next stage. What do you say when at the end of the summer and your new lover is going away on a trip without you? Or worse still, what about when your new lover is about to leave you and go home to a far away or foreign place?

I don't know why I would think of such a thought today. I don't know why I recall the likes of my friend Bobby, or my former instructor Kyle. I don't know what it is other than the light outside today which sort of looks like the end of summer. And the end of summer light to me makes me nostalgic for the end of the teenage romances I never had because I was too busy washing dishes or fighting the war. The end of summer light is the sweet goodbyes wrapped in future promises of love affairs to come and wit and wisdom that becomes good reads on the coming autumn days. And before I give you my list, let me just say that it is good for you on an end of a potential love affair or on a shortening end of summer lighted day or as a recommendation to a friend who might be on her way to France. Those things, yes, but these are some of my highly coveted reads.

Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine
Etgar Keret The Busdriver Who Wanted to Be God
Alan Lightman Einstein's Dreams
Eduardo Galeano The Book of Embraces
Richard Brautigan So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away

Monday, August 20, 2012

Last Licks: Remember Your Audience, Remember Your Editors, Embark on a Writing Life


Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

I chuckle every time I think about the character Milton from the movie Office Space. It makes me laugh because how much the entire office seemed to torture the poor guy. His bosses kept pushing him from one office to the next, and eventually put him in the basement with the junk and cockroaches. “I told them if they move me one more time I'll—I'll burn the place down, take my stapler and traveler's check to a competing resort.” Hell of an image, right?

I wonder how often Miltons exist in workplaces? And even in my workplace at Umbrella Factory Magazine, I wonder if this “Milton position” may be at the nonfiction desk? What? Did I really just equate the work at the nonfiction desk with working in the unlit basement with storage boxes and cockroaches? Yeah, I did.

I began this series “Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine” at the beginning of June. It's now the end of August. I have not read a single nonfiction submission in that whole time. Sad, isn't it?

I still think that there may too much mystery around this business of nonfiction. As a somewhat experienced editor new to the nonfiction desk, I do not see why there is such a lack and lackluster response to nonfiction. If anyone can tell me why, submit it to Umbrella Factory Magazine.

Please remember your audience before you submit this “let me tell you why,” nonfiction piece to UFM. Perhaps it's important to remember your audience before you even sit down to write. Remember that a piece of memoir that has no pertinence on anyone else except for you has no place outside of you. I'm not saying that it lacks merit, but it lacks an audience. When you write for an audience, your purpose is just as important as your writing. In this series we've discussed the interview, the review, investigative journalism and the essay, if this doesn't give writer of nonfiction fodder for the next conquest, I don't know what we've come to. At least there's ample work at the fiction and poetry desks.

Your editor thirsts for something good to read. Your editor longs for the delight of a piece of well conceived, well researched and pertinent expository writing. Remembering that the editors of nonfiction at literary magazines see very little good writing should be incentive enough to write and submit some nonfiction. I'm willing to bet that many nonfiction editors are will willing to help writers with their work by providing copy suggestions, content organization and style considerations. I'm also willing to bet that if a writer of nonfiction writes solely for the editor, the rest of the audience will follow. Think of it like this: write something to delight an editor, and that editor will find an audience to read your work.

Whatever you choose to write whether or not it's nonfiction, you must commit to it. Whatever it is, write it down. Write it again. And again. And again. I write fiction. I write novels. Ten novels, in fact. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I've really written the same novel ten times. When you embark on the life of a writer, it's just what you're going to do. And when it comes to the nonfiction portion of your work, write for an audience, write something pertinent, and keep at it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Writer and the World


I took a walk down SW 3rd Ave the other day. It was a bright day, mid-morning. There was no breeze and the air hung still-life heavy.

What I noticed: angry drivers honking and threatening pedestrians. I saw panhandlers, sidewalk sleepers and street kids. I saw the handsomely dressed business crowd rushing off this way or the other. I saw coffeehouse residents sipping lattes under parasols. I saw mall crawling shoppers and I saw street musicians. In short, I saw life.

At a distance of about 8 blocks from home, I saw my workplace some 8 blocks away. It crippled me: I was about to engage in a double shift at work, something roughly translating to 10:30 Thursday morning until 12:30 AM Friday. And what's crazier still is that by the time of this realization, I had already worked a shift at my writing desk for three hours before I left the house.

I missed Mark Dragotta suddenly and intensely. I often miss Mark. In the old days of writer's purgatory of Denver, Colorado, Mark and I may not have known how good we had it. We worked on our writing each morning while nursing our hangovers. We got together sometimes in the afternoons for an Umbrella Factory shift. We went to our vacuous gigs as waiters each evening where we talked about books and writers and life. After work we went honky-tonkin' or boozing only to end the night at the pizza joint—a tongue burning, whiskey absorbing end to another day.

But those days are done, buried and long ago.

Mark is there, and I am here.

And walking down SW 3rd Ave one sunny morning, I missed him so badly because of anyone who could understand how I felt at that moment, it would have been him.

The writer and the world.

I'm an introverted person and I'm forced to mix with people. I have enjoyed a life of popularity. I have always had many friends and acquaintances. I'm grateful for them. Also, I work the service industry and I live downtown in a moderately large town. I'm around people constantly, some by choice and others not. Truth is, I'm tired by the end of the day. I'm tired of the world by the end of the day.

And all I want to do is read novels and write and think. In a perfect world, I'm under a tree with my coffee, my notebook, a paperback and a trusty pen. But the world, unfortunately for me, does not work that way. Sure, it could. But if it did, where would the conflict be? Without conflict what is there to write?

I miss the company of a trusted friend and writer, and in Mark's case, a confidant who is another tormented waiter.

Along SW 3rd Ave that morning, I realize that wrapped in love, warped in a city's fold; tormented by a profession or overwhelmed with people, it's all part of life, part of the world. And the writer' place in it? Well, that's really the question of the hour, isn't it?

I bet Mark would have an answer.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is Grad School Worth It? Part 2


I attended Goddard College from January 2007 until I left with degree in January 2009. Two years. Now, after months of thinking about it, I realize that graduate school went on longer, much longer than my tenure at Goddard College.

The end of graduate school just happened. It happened in recent days. I mark the true end to grad school this month, August 2012 because I paid off my grad school student loan. Wow, impressive, is the response I usually get when I tell people that I paid off my $30,000 student loan in three years. But, and I can tell you, it really isn't all that impressive. I took out the minimum loan amount for the first three semesters, I paid the last semester with cash. And of the 38 months I spent paying down the loan, I was in deferment for six, I paid the minimum payment for just over a year. When I got serious about the loan, it was June 2011 and I owed $26,500. In short, I paid off the entire thing in 14 months. Sadly, I did not pay off the loan with the money I earned as a writer or as a teacher, the two job opportunities available for those who hold the MFA in writing. I paid this loan off by working as a waiter, limiting my expenses and living well under my means which is somewhere below the poverty line. Why? Because this is what a student should do, and up until this loan was paid in full, I considered myself a student.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Graduate School Worth it?


I've spent a great deal of time lately in a less-than-quiet self-reflection. I suppose many people go through periods of self-reflection. I'm also of the opinion that it takes a certain event or serious of events to initial it. Perhaps this is all part of growing up. My period of self-reflection began about nine months ago. It began, perhaps not coincidentally, with the beginning of Janice's pregnancy. And as I consider self-reflection during this time it certainly got deeper as Janice's belly grew. Certainly nine months of preparation and anticipation and the imminent arrival of our son Lucian warranted my thought. These nine months have also been busy in other ways. I completed all the projects (and then some) that I've been meaning to finish. I've been sober to my chagrin, and clear-headed to my horror. And these nine months were the last nine months of my 30s. Yes, plenty of changes.

But this is no time for mere recollections. The question at hand: is graduate school worth it?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Expository Writing: the Essay


Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

Before we get into this portion of Non-fiction for the Literary Magazine, and the nature of essay, let's revisit our definition of a piece of expository writing.
Let's just say nonfiction is a piece of expository writing based in fact. Further definitions are as follows: piece-a work with a beginning, a middle and an end. Expository writing-writing with a purpose such as, but not limited to, explanation, definition, information, description of a subject to the extent that a reader will understand and feel something.
Now, let's discuss the essay. For some reason when most of us think about essay, it just brings back the notion of school, of high school English class and the universal English teacher who was brutal, cruel, unrelenting or just unpredictable. Essay, for most of us is a chore at its best and a nightmare at its worst. But it does not have to be that way. Rather, as adults, as writers, and as pursuers of publication, the essay is probably the best platform for expression.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Philistines Are Upon Us



Holy shit, I think. I'm right too. I'm really right. There is no other way to think about it, and there is no other way of saying it. Holy shit sums it up. It's a sunny day and there are people everywhere and if you're not terrified, then you must be one of them.

I am addressing you.

It's a short walk down SW 4th Ave. At the courthouse, there are bodies littering the sidewalk, the gutters and even spilling into the street. They're sleeping, and it's a form of protest, I'm told. I don't know the nuances of it because I don't care. I understand not wanting a home, and I understand not having one. I slept outside for years, sometimes in tanks, sometimes in tents, sometimes in graveyards. Sleeping on the sidewalks in a busy downtown area seems like vagrancy to me, criminal nearly, this is no protest. I think the best protest of all is apathy. That's right, apathy. There is no possible way to change things, not by voting one dirty bastard in over another, not by sleeping on the sidewalk, not by signing petitions. There are but two pursuits in life: making love and marking art. I believe this is all there is, and if one cannot do either of those, then do what your dad told you to do and go to work and make some money.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Right, Wrong, Indifferent, Too Risky for the Mainstream: Investigated Journalism


Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

When Mark Dragotta and I first started to mold Umbrella Factory Magazine, we had big goals for our little literary corner. For starters, we thought we'd foster and develop some of the greatest fiction writers of the next generation. We, of course, rolled around ideas of Black Sparrow Press and Charles Bukowski and City Lights Books and everybody cool in the literary world. We also fantasized about our new found forum and the daring journalist of tomorrow.

I have not been disappointed with the writers of fiction and nonfiction or the poets we've met over the years.

We have yet to find our Postmaster.

And for the daring journalists? The Gonzo dream? Well, it's fallen short. It's not there. There aren't any crazy journalist out there who are interested in publishing in our humble magazine. Indeed, there aren't any less than crazy journalists out there willing to publish in our humble magazine. And sadly, Umbrella Factory Magazine is not alone.

At the onset of our development, I knew nothing of journalism. Admittedly, I still know very little. I never studied it in school. The high school newspaper was not of interest to me, the same is true for my college paper. And sadly, the daily paper comes to the house everyday, and I do read it occasionally. I'm sometimes dumbfounded by the poor writing (or editing, I suspect) and I'm baffled by how without flavor the content is. The paper offers some perspective on things, but it seldom shakes things up. I think it may be about something more than just journalism. I think it may have to do with money, advertising; retaining market share and employment.

Who cares about journalism in a literary magazine? Well, no one maybe. And why would a journalist care about a little literary magazine? And how can these types of publications serve these sorts of writers and each be beneficial?

For a trained and employed journalist, the literary magazine is not where they're going to pour their energies. Why? Literary magazines don't pay, and writing an article is still work. I would think that even a rogue journalist, romantic notion if they still exists, will find other outlets. But for a journalist just beginning their training, or their career, a rogue adventure investigating something may be in order. A publication is a publication, after all.

A writer who maybe has an insight into something and may want to employ some journalistic tactics may only have a literary magazine as a potential market.

How can a literary magazine serve a journalist? Well, an online literary magazine may have a varied and potentially limitless distribution. Most literary magazines can be as daring as they want to be because they often do not fear loss of advertising money. It's a great deal of freedom enjoyed by the free press which is really free because there is no exchange of money. With this, as daring, dark, morbid or dirty as a story might be, a literary magazine may have many—many less hangups with it. Also, if the story is well written, an editor of a literary magazine will not edit a story's content because of censorship or physical size. You may not win a Pulizer Prize, but you will have readership.

Some sites to help get a writer into journalistic mode:
Jeremy Porter's “How Do Journalists and Bloggers Decide What to Write About”


About.com's idea of a Journalist's Profile: http://mediacareers.about.com/od/mediajobprofiles/a/Journalist.htm

And to give you an idea of what I would love to see at Umbrella Factory Magazine:

Investigative Reporting Workshop is one of the engaging online magazines I've seen. Before endeavoring an investigated story of your own, read a few from this magazine. They're well written, well investigated and timely. I would run any number of these stories on UFM.

Enjoy Investigative Reporting Workshop: http://investigativereportingworkshop.org/

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Discovery, the Experience, the Result: The Art of Review

Writing Nonfiction Worthy of the Literary Magazine: The Review

Writing a review, of something (anything) is a great way to flex your muscles as a writer. Case in point, just look at all the blogs, columns and the various things being reviewed. There are reviews on restaurants, chefs; books, movies; products and services. Peoples are working on and writing reviews everywhere. And now, anyone can be a critic, a reviewer; a cynic or a reviler. Take a look at yelp.com, for instance. Yelp is a wonderful way to connect (or in some cases, disconnect) businesses and potential customers. I find it astonishing how effective a site like Yelp can be. This is not about the food, the chef, the service or the otherwise Yelp-ing experience. The point is, it's everywhere, and it's available to everyone: anyone can review anything. And now, more than ever, it's important to write well.

When we talk about a review it can be anything, right? We can pick a product, compare it to other products and give it a good analysis. A review of a new leaf-blower or a new SUV has its place and that is not a good match for a literary magazine. Can we review a movie, a book or a new pop music album? These sorts of reviews are left best in the weekly or daily papers, and the good news is these sorts of venues generally pay. Again, not necessarily a good match for the literary magazine. I have noticed that many lit-mags will run a book review, but there are two things working under the surface. First, the book itself has a timely or influential reason for the review and second, the person reviewing the book is equally as influential or is an expert. The timeliness of a book review for a lit-mag may be tough since most publish quarterly or monthly. Few magazines run an on-going blog which may be an appropriate market.

The literary magazine is still a great audience for a review. At this stage, the writer of a review must get creative, and moreover, make the subject of the review something of importance. Here's the how-to list, I came up with:

Pick the topic: Knowing that a review on a single book, a single movie or a single recording will not do, the topic of the review must be picked carefully. As macabre as this may sound, choosing to write a review of the work of someone who has recently died may be good form. For instance, the recent death of Ray Bradbury warrants conversation, both on the page and around the water cooler. Revisiting some of your favorite Ray Bradbury books and reviewing them right now is probably a marketable review. Should you travel and see the homes of famous writers, this too might be a good topic. Pick something unique, unusual or fun.

Why is this pertinent?: This is the question of the hour. For instance, back in December of 2010, I went to the Clark County Museum of History. There was a wonderful Richard Brautigan installation complete with photographs, his early poetry and “the Brautigan Library Collection” which if you read The Abortion, you would know why it was so cool to see. But, and I'm just guessing here, you have not read the book, and you probably don't know Richard Brautigan. So, a review of the museum? A review of the writer? Probably not pertinent for a literary magazine. It made a great blog entry, but I would not have accepted this for Umbrella Factory Magazine, and I'm a big Brautigan fan. Is this subject pertinent? Ask yourself again: is this subject pertinent?

Is this timely?: If the subject is pertinent, is it timely? For instance if you write a great review of a book released in September and you start to submit the piece in October, it may not run in a magazine (if it gets accepted at all) until December. If it's not timely, then who cares? Books, reviews, products, everything moves fast.

Who is the audience?: Since this is a review for the literary magazine, remember the audience is mostly other writers. Other writers. Whatever the review, make it good, writers are tough. Before your review gets this audience of writers, it will have an audience of editors. Keep them in mind. Your review is not about you, it's about what you're reviewing.

What does the audience need to know?: If you choose a topic that's broad like the life and accomplishments of Ray Bradbury, you've lost already. If you choose Ray Bradbury's treatment of Venus in his short stories, then maybe you'll choose to mention that he died on the day Venus crossed the sun. Again, write this review with the audience in mind. No one likes to get lost in the details.

Is this review unique?: Ask yourself this question three hundred times. Rephrase the question and ask yourself again. Then take all those questions and ask the Internet. You'll find out quickly how unique your review is.

Good luck, and I mean it. The best way to write a good review is to first write 1,000 of them. Give the 1,001st review to the literary magazine and you'll be in a good position. So what do you do with the former 1,000 reviews? It may be a good time to start a blog.

Here are some sites I found useful:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer 2012 Reading List


I wish I could remember the name of the instructor I had for my Survey of American Literature course at Metro State. It was the fall of 1996. I was a young man then. What I remember of the course is this: the ratio of female to male students was amazing. By amazing, I mean that out of the twenty of us, three were male. This was how I would have wanted to see the whole world at that stage of my life. I had just turned twenty-four; you can imagine my mindset.

There was something else that was odd about that class. There were a few literature majors in that twenty. Almost all of the students were education majors. And of the lit majors, I recall being the only writer.

One day we were discussing John Steinbeck's “The Chrysanthemums.” Then, as now, I greatly admire John Steinbeck. The discussion was moving to a very mid-1990s, feminist slant. It was an interesting argument, this I remember. When it came my turn to speak, I simply mentioned that the flowers, the scissors and the roles of the characters really had very little to do with the climate of the story. The story was not allegory for allegory sake. The words are a record of California, dead days as a comparison of the Ford and the burro drawn wagon. And if anything, the story is about the evolution of life in the California countryside. I was met with angry words, my classmates thought I was diminishing important social observations and overlooking a level of misogynistic preludes in the text. When I furthered verbalized my thoughts, I came to this: “John Steinbeck is probably the greatest writer that America has ever had.” Before I was to be eaten alive, our instructor (I wish I could remember her name) saved me. She said: “Anthony comes from a different world view. Anthony is a writer and Steinbeck is a writer's writer.” And with that, it ended.

When it came time in that survey course for Henry James I learned to keep my mouth shut. Henry James was popular with my classmates. I hated having to read it. In fact, I learned to hate Henry James. In a private conference with the instructor, I voiced my venomous opinion about this particular writer. All she said was this, “Anthony, wait until you're forty to read James. I bet it won't make much sense to you until your'e forty.” Okay, so she released me from further reading of Henry James for years. I would not be required to read any more Henry James for fourteen years.

I turn forty in August.

Henry James? Well, if anything, it's time.

As the summer reading list develops, I know I must have some diversion from some Henry James, but I know I have to keep to the agreement made so many years ago. So here it is:

Henry James The Beast in the Jungle
Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day
Antonio Skarmeta The Postman
Pablo Neruda Poetry
Lemony Snicket (don't laugh, I love it)
Henry James The Turn of the Screw
Kazuo Ishiguro A Pale View of Hills