Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Back at it

Okay, so we've been spending time getting the studio behind the house together and it's finally become a place where it's quiet and I can work (although new neighbors just moved in upstairs, single guys who work as bartenders, so who knows!).

Yesterday, I pulled out Starletta, with ideas about how to revamp, including changing the title--any ideas? I want to remove "Kitchen" from the title, in part, because it's not a restaurant book. She's a food writer and also because I don't want guys to shy away from the book as some do from Pen on Fire because of the subtitle, which wasn't my idea in the first place, but there you go.

So in the studio, yesterday, I found I wanted to sit here and spread out my stuff. And I did. I worked. And it was good. (I just need to finish getting the courtyard together ... deliver things to Goodwill....)

The long and the short of it is, place is very important. And you gotta like the place in which you're working to do good work. Or else you'll think of any reason to do something else--anything else.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Carolyn See op-ed piece

I just love this woman. Read this.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Know your audience

The other thing is audience.

It can help to know who writing your writing for. Pen on Fire began with an audience of one. My student Robin. A lot of you know this story. She would become inspired in class but at home her motivation to write fizzled. She jokingly said, If you came home with me, I know I could write.

I said, I'll write a book for you.

Pen on Fire started with my audience of Robin. Soon it spread to include all of my students and others.

Who are you writing for? It could be yourself. But it has to be someone.

Writing is the cure

A friend posed a dilemma about writing and here is what I said to her (which she said was fine to post here, for others to hopefully benefit from):

There does come a point when you (a writer, any writer) finds themselves at the point you find yourself at. Is it worth it? Is the self-disclosure worth raking through the muck of the past and putting it on paper, making art out of it? Is art worth it? Is it productive? Isn't cleaning a closet more productive?

What I didn't say last night, which I ought to have said, and if it's okay with you, I'll post this on my blog so I can say it! is, if there's something else you enjoy more than writing, then maybe you *should* give it up.

In my view, you're a writer. Sure you like other things, too, but you like writing and gain something from doing it. But that may just be my view.

I have considered over the years, at different points, giving it up. But when I ask myself, does anything do more for you, the answer has always been no. I love to knit, I love handicrafts. I studied music for a few years and played the flute. I was involved in the performing arts, and photography. But I always felt--and still do--that something was missing without working on a piece of writing.

Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done. Sure, brain surgery would be harder, but then again, I don't want to be a brain surgeon. And my guess is that for some brain surgeons, writing would be damn hard.

No one can tell you that you should be writing. No amount of strokes or encouragement can make you write every day if you simply don't want to.

But my guess is that if you write a bit every day, you'll want to. You'll work a groove in the brain and in your creative self that will draw you back to your pen and paper, or computer, most days. So much of writing is very much a habit. Like any habit, if you fall away from it, you might think, whatever made me think I liked that habit?

Anyway, only you know what writing does for you, and doesn't do for you. I do know that I've seen your excitement when you were working on a piece that excited you.

I know your friend discouraged you by telling you one of your pieces wasn't in your voice. Voice can take a long time to get to. It takes throwing a lot of words at the page. It truly does. You try out different styles, different tones, different ways of using words, and in this way, voice comes.

Writers need to stop thinking so much--about how we're no good, how we're frauds, how we'll never write anything of substance--and just write. Writing is the cure.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Publishing: Where do we go from here

That's the title of my panel on Sunday and I am greatly looking forward to it. My panelists will be Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books; Susan Weinberg, publisher of Public Affairs Books; James Atlas, publisher of Atlas & Co.; and George Gibson, publisher of Walker & Co.

I am so looking forward to this panel. Saturday, 2:30, Young Hall on the UCLA campus.


And to those who have been asking, illness has passed and I'm back at it, so thanks for asking! And I hope to see you Saturday.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Okay, is everyone going to be there? If you've never been, it's a fabulous book festival with a ton of great panels for writers (and readers). Here's the web site. If you're around Young Hall at 2:30 p.m., say hi. My panel on publishing takes place then.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

D.T. Max on Don DeLillo

I'm going through a pile of New Yorkers that my librarian, Haidee, gave me, and right now I'm in the June 18, 2007, issue. I'm reading a long feature about literary archives by D.T. Max. I just wrote to him for permission to reprint the following long paragraph, which I love, about the literary life:

DeLillo’s letters are often about business—negotiations over contracts, responses to translators—but a few of them provide insight into his austere approach to the literary life. One, in particular, is the kind of note that biographers long to stumble across. In October, 1995, David Foster Wallace wrote to him, “Because I tend both to think I’m uniquely afflicted and to idealize people I admire, I tend to imagine you never having had to struggle with any of this narcissism or indulgence stuff. . . . Maybe I want a pep-talk, because I have to tell you I don’t enjoy this war one bit.” DeLillo responded in November. “I was a semiconscious writer in the beginning,” he writes. “Just sat and wrote something, or read the newspaper, or went to the movies. Over time I began to understand, one, that I was lucky to be doing this work, and, two, that the only way I’d get better at it was to be more serious, to understand the rigors of novel-writing and to make it central to my life, not a variation on some related career choice, like sportswriting or playwriting. The novel is different. . . . We die indoors, and alone, and I don’t mean to sound overdramatic but you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, all of this happened over time, until eventually discipline no longer seemed something outside me that urged the reluctant body into the room. At this point discipline is inseparable from what I do. It’s not even definable as discipline. It has no name. I never think about it. But there’s no trick of meditation or self-mastery that brought it about. I got older, that’s all. I was not a born novelist (if anyone is). I had to grow into novelhood.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keeping the dark room dark

I've been in bed for days, sick with something or other, but I'm starting to see the light. Which is when I came across this dark page, a little treat, perhaps, for you...

And if you haven't used up enough time playing, here's another fun way to spend a few minutes, created by a fellow ASJA member who is indeed selling big jugs.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ayelet Waldman & Michael Chabon

A fun interview at coolsville Readerville.

Scan down for the piece about Maira Kalman's latest book, which I also love.

What an agent said to Charles Baxter

Did you read the piece on Baxter in Ploughshares that I posted yesterday? Oh, read it! This is from the piece. So outrageous.

Don Lee writes:

He [Charles] turned to fiction and churned out three novels, but they were disasters. “They were very abstract, these novels, very schematic, in some sense like bad postmodernism,” he says. “Nothing in them felt particularly real, although I didn’t realize that at the time. You rarely do when you’re working. I thought they were great. I was utterly baffled by the indifference or loathing with which people read them.”

One agent was particularly cruel. “I called her and said, ‘Julie, what do you think of my novel?’ And she said, ‘I hate it.’ And then she said, ‘Tell me why I hate it.’ And I said, ‘Julie, I don’t know why you hate my novel.’ She said, ‘Oh, you must, you wrote it. Tell me why I hate it. Is it the characters? Is it the setting? I just don’t understand any of it. Help me out here. Why do I hate your novel?’ It was an amazing phone call. And I kept having experiences like that. This person I knew on the West Coast read one of my novels and said, ‘Well, maybe your imagination’s poisoned right at the source.’ ”

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Charles Baxter

He's been called a "writer's writer," and he's on the show today. (Podcast should be up soon if you miss the show.)

Here's a profile of him that was published in Ploughshares. So much good stuff; I had to share it with you.