This Is Just A Great Story…

Every once in awhile, in the literary world, a really fantastic book written by an “unknown” comes out of nowhere and knocks the “big-boy” books (the ones written by the famous authors, and promoted by the literary machines) out cold. That’s what happened this year with the Pulitzer in Literature when Paul Harding’s “Tinkers,” a novel published by Bellevue, a small Literary Press, took the Prize. The book almost didn’t…

What I Learned About Writers (and Writing) At the AWP Conference in Denver Last Week

Last week, approximately ten million writers (or what felt like it, at least) descended upon the Hyatt Regency Hotel (we also took over the convention center across the street) in Downtown Denver for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. When I first started going to the conference, back in 1995 (it was in Pittsburgh that year) the conference registration fees were twenty bucks (this year? $185), there…

So, What DO We Look For When We Read?

Recently, Tim Morris sent me the link to an editorial by James Woods in the New Yorker that explores, among other things, the predictability of the tropes many contemporary writers employ in their novels. Mr. Woods argues that tropes aren’t a recent development in novels (he points out that the 19th century novels relied on popular plot manipulators such as eavesdropping, or gossip, or evil wills that leave the protagonist…

Publish or Publish

In a recent essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Alpaugh bewails the proliferation of poetry in America. He notes that, at a conservative estimate, American journals, print or on-line, will publish 100,000 poems this year, and that’s a bit much. Like, about 99,900 poems much. My first reaction to Alpaugh’s thesis was: OK, let’s also crack down on the millions of Americans who play musical instruments. Some of…

Texas Writers? Let’s start with Highsmith…

One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” writers to read (“guilty” in that enough of my creative writing professors rolled their eyes when I mentioned her name that I learned soon enough to keep my mouth shut about her) is Patricia Highsmith (writer of all the Ripley Books and Strangers on a Train). I’ve always been able to pick up stacks of her books at Half Price stores and library book…

As Soon As I Get Some Free Time, No Revision Necessary, and Other Myths About Creative Writing (and Writers)

It was my final semester in the MFA in Fiction program at the University of Michigan and I was meeting with my thesis advisor, Charles Baxter, in his near-empty office on campus (he wrote at home, in a lovely book-lined office above the garage in his Ann Arbor house). As he red-penned my stories, pausing every few minutes to complain about my obsession with first person narration and my lack…

Oh, Christmas!

Here’s a poem by a former professor of mine.  He used to read it to us at the end of every fall semester, on the last day of class, as a final send-off before the Christmas break.  I’ve always loved this poem for the way that it so perfectly explores the mixed blessings the American holiday season bestows upon us. Advent By: Scott Cairns (from Figures For The Ghost) Well,…

In Praise of the American Short Story

Last year, in an article for the New York Times lamenting the lack of appreciation many American readers have for the short story, Stephen Millhauser said, “…here in America, size is power. The novel is the Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature. The novel is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What’s left for the poor short story to do? It can cultivate its garden,…

The New Fabulists

Does even the idea of reading one of those contemporary, New Yorker-ish short stories about yet another middle-aged couple with a wounded relationship make your eyes close and your snoring begin? Well what if a UFO suddenly landed in the pristinely-landscaped front yard of that middle-aged couple’s suburban New Jersey house? Or if a ghost suddenly turned up and impregnated the mild-mannered wife while the husband, unaware, kept right on…

Fall Brings….NaNoWriMo

On November 1, the (10th year!) of the National Novel Writing Month will commence. For those unfamiliar with the event, it’s essentially a “contract” that you make to write a novel in one month. You agree to write a certain number of words per day, and you also agree not to go back and edit those words until the whole blasted thing is over and done with. It’s all about…