If I Wasn’t Scared Before… Writing Memoir in Genzlinger’s Age

Neil Genzlinger has dropped the bomb. In a supposed review of four memoirs, he goes off on what’s really eating him: the fact that people are writing memoirs at all:

A moment of silence, please, for the lost art of shutting up.

There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. Anyone who didn’t fit one of those categories was obliged to keep quiet. Unremarkable lives went unremarked upon, the way God intended.

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Girlfriends Book Club and Li-Young Lee

Today Susan Cushman, a lovely writer friend of mine, introduced me via Facebook to a blog called the Girlfriends Book Club. Yesterday’s post, “Girlfriends dish on encounters with famous authors,” initially threw me off, thinking that it would be filled with dirt and gossip about authors who behaved badly in a public setting (let’s face it, this happens). But imagine my pleasant surprise when I found post after post of inspiring tales of authors taking the time to help out young writers.

As I read, I was reminded of my own little encounter with a famous author and thought I’d share it here with you.

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AWP, A Day in the Conference (Thursday)

For those of you who have never experienced the awesomeness that is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, below is how I’ve tentatively planned my first full day at the conference. I haven’t concocted this plan because I’m obsessive/compulsive or an extremely rigid and planned individual. I’ve done it out of sheer necessity. You see, going to AWP without some sort of plan already in place is like deciding to go to the Smithsonian without a some sort of plan. You get there and realize that, whoa! This thing is a hell of a lot bigger than I thought! And then you spend the day wandering around, unfocused, seeing – granted – some really cool shit, but what you don’t realize until after you get home and look through the information you had on hand before you left is that the Smithsonian has dinosaurs. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Small Press Publications

Apparently there was a purse, an open water bottle, and a freshly-line-edited manuscript over at Doubleday. This is what happens when the three meet.

I have to say, I’m impressed with the dedication of those folks who apparently spread the entire manuscript out, page by page, to dry in their offices a few days ago. I’m impressed and heartened. It’s nice to know that big house publishers take such care of the work that writers send them (the purse & water bottle mishap aside). And little moments like this remind me of the care I’ve witnessed first-hand in working for several journals and magazines – those with very little resources and certainly offices not large enough to spread out an entire manuscript. Continue reading

Literary Journalism, edited by Norman Sims & Mark Kramer

edited by Norman Sims & Mark KramerI picked up Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction because I’ve been experimenting with the genre.  Or so I thought.  The subtitle of this collection, edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer, both trained journalists, is indicative of the confusion inherent in the genre.  Nonfiction, as it turns out, appears in many different forms and styles.  This collection pays particular attention to what the editors call “Literary Journalism.” The essays in this collection are heavily researched and have the objectivity of journalism with the attention to language of fiction.  Almost.  There are places in which the research gets in the way of the crafting of language. Places, for example, where the author feels it necessary to list all eleven businesses along a particular stretch of a riverbank where the listing of two or three would have sufficed (and been less tedious).  And then there’s tone. Continue reading

P&W Prompt 3: Choosing Childlessness

This week’s Poets & Writers prompt:

What is something you are afraid to write about in your own poems, either because it is too personal, or because you feel it is cliché?  Create a character–a swarthy bum, a baker, a dog–and write a narrative poem in which your character addresses this topic. Let the fact that the poem isn’t really about you be freeing.

Now – this is a pretty tricky prompt.  Because, just because you’re writing in character, if you’re writing about a topic that you feel is too personal…you’re still writing about a topic that you feel is too personal.  Nonetheless, I attempted it.   Continue reading

Dude. Chill.

I used two spaces after the (very) short sentence in this title: Dude.  Chill. This little fact would infuriate Farhad Manjoo who recently went on a full-out rant over the use of two spaces instead of one after a period in the January 13th issue of Slate:

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.* You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; Continue reading

I’ve Always Wanted a Rooster

It’s funny.  But if you have the time to actually read all the stuff you ask to be sent to your inbox, you’ll discover there’s a whole world of literary activity taking place out there.  I have, for years now, been getting the Times in my inbox.  Unless the headline was really something spectacular, the vast majority of those emails went directly into the trash, unread.  Lately, I’ve been reading it instead.  And, surprise of all surprises, there’s interesting stuff going on in the world.  Imagine that.  Since I have a little more time than usual these days, I’ve also been reading The Millions pretty religiously.  And I’ve discovered that I’m a new convert to a very old, very established movement.  Okay.  So I’m late to the party.  What of it?  Just in case some of you are also late the party (or missed the party altogether), I like to include some of the more interesting information gleaned from my reading here.  Today’s tidbit involves a rooster.

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Memoir, Schmemoir – Just Write the Damned Thing!

In my “it’s a new year, let’s do something productive” stage, I’ve begun serious work on a memoir.  The plan is to write eight interlocking essays that will also stand on their own – meaning a reader could theoretically read any one essay from the collection and have a complete narrative without needing to read the entire collection while at the same time providing a book-length narrative that is cohesive and engaging when read altogether.  So far, the essays have been roughly outlined, titles have been played with, and the first essay of the collection is in the drafting stages.  Things were moving along just swimmingly until Continue reading