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Vadul Lat

I was at an art museum in Krakow sometime in the middle of last month when I walked into a room so filled with smoke that I couldn’t see a few inches in front of me. At some point the smoke began to clear so that I could tell I was in a big, empty, white room, where at intervals a neon sign read I TY MOZESZ ZNALEZC WYJSCIE, and then disappeared.

In Constanta, Romania, a week before, my friend and I had found ourselves walking in circles in a shopping mall, when I realized I knew the words to ask for the exit.

And before that, in an outpost past the Bucharest dumpsite called Vadul Lat, we’d sat on the train tracks for hours in the dark unsure of whether or not the last train was coming. Meanwhile, a kid from across the field behind us played some gypsy-techno song over and over from his cell phone.

In all these places most of the words we learned were for “thank you,” or “good bye.”

So mainly I’ve been surrounded by everything I didn’t know or couldn’t envision, by things that were much warmer or more evil than I could have made up. And now that I am back and remembering myself as a writer, I’m in an in-between state of waiting for some distance that will make these sounds and sights and feelings clarify and connect.

How much distance do you need from experience before it can be handled as art?

While we wait: some images. Maybe you all will sort them and pair them in a way I couldn’t.

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Just a suggestion

When I specifically ask you to send me three chapters of your manuscript, don’t send the whole goddamn thing.

Would I ask you if you wanted a latte, then dump a gallon of hot milk on your head?

Ultimate compromise?

nook color

This is the future of... something.

As was widely expected, Barnes & Noble introduced a new version of their nook ereader today. This is a big, big thing, and is either the first in a long line of successful products from B&N, or a last useless stab at a market they’ve been doomed in from the start.

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Spare’s Lush

No Choice but to Dive into this Beautiful Book

Some of you may remember that last spring Exquisite Disarray had a first book contest. I bet you’re wondering who won.

The winner is my beloved friend, Jeremy Halinen. In addition to being an outstanding poet, he is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. He and Brett Ortler (Barkster Extraordinaire) are the founders and editors of Knockout and were poetry editors for Willow Springs. The two of them are fearless, brilliant, and unstoppable. They’ll drive across the country and charm someone as charming as Thomas Lux into talking to them about poetry.

I found out last night that Jeremy’s manuscript, What Other Choice was selected by Kathleen Flenniken as the winning book, the one Exquisite Disarray is publishing in November 2010.

I asked Jeremy if we could have a taste of his new book while we impatiently wait for the chance to buy it. He sent me the following—a Bark Exclusive (until the book comes out next month and people all over the world begin reciting it to themselves for strength and vulnerability): Read more »

She ain’t heavy; she’s fictional.

During a recent class session, while discussing the work of the indomitable Alice Munro, I heard something interesting.  A classmate was talking about Munro’s writing process, and the fact that she liked to “carry her characters around”–to keep them with her as she went about her daily life, imagining what the character would do in any situation.  So if Munro had to clean the kitchen while writing “Runaway,” she might have asked herself how Carla would arrange the refrigerator, or how she’d feel finding mold under the sink.  Would she be thinking about Sylvia?  And so on. Read more »

National Novel Writing Month: What’s in a writer anyway?

Next Monday kicks off the 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or NaNo, if you want to get even shorter about it), and after a three-year hiatus (one for grad school apps and two for grad school itself), I’ll be participating in my fifth year of frantic November writing.

First, a little background. NaNoWriMo is an annual competition of sorts in which the goal is to write 50,000 words of an original novel in the 30 days of November. You compete only against yourself, and the goal of the project is to get people to write. The idea is that set parameters (the thirty-day time frame) and a supportive community (without looking up the numbers, I believe there are hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world) helps people accomplish things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Also, having only 30 days turns off your internal editor and lets the creative juices flow (which is why many people have declared the rest of the year, but specifically December, editing time). There’s more information on the website, of course, but that’s a general summary.

I’ve been planning this post for a few weeks, but to be honest, I’ve been a bit nervous about writing it, because quite often events such as these don’t find a welcome home in the literary world, among “real” writers (quick, someone give me the definition of a real writer). I see “Why I hate NaNoWriMo” posts and tweets all over the web at this time of year. (I Googled a quick selection here, here, and here.) And really, I can’t understand why writers, of all people, would have so much anger toward people that want to…write.

My own involvement started in 2003, as a college sophomore, when I was still a chemical engineering major, when writing was still a hobby and not a legitimate career choice. For two days I stayed on track with the daily goal of 1,667 words and then my computer crashed, I lost my work, had a panic attack, declared I couldn’t possibly win now, and quit. I tried again in 2004, however, and though I’d just switched into professional writing, I still didn’t really understand a lot about writing. I had this sort of “what if” scenario in my head, but it sustained my piece for about 20 pages. I don’t remember what I did for the next 155 pages, but I remember recognizing even at the time that it was bad, but the feeling on November 30 when I hit the word count and saw that I’d passed 50,000 was pretty cool. I ended up revising the first 20 pages, but I’ve never touched the rest; there’s just nothing there.

By 2005 I was doing more writing than just in November, and for that year’s NaNo, I contacted the people that run the event and volunteered to start up an official subgroup in Lansing, which I would run for the next two years—one of which I won, and one I didn’t. During these two years, though, I met a lot of different writers. Some were completely casual and were writing for fun, because they’d always sort of wondered about writing, but never really thought they’d be able to. Others had ambitions of publishing. Lots of people didn’t finish, but quite a few did. But we all had moments that writers of all calibers can relate to: success, frustration, achievement, despair, failure. And we were all writers, even if for just those thirty days (or twenty days, or five, or ten, or however many days we lasted before giving up).

Because writing is hard, but we’re all writers when we’re writing. And that’s what NaNoWriMo does. And if it gives some people false hope, so be it, because it shows others skills they didn’t know they had. So give it a try, or don’t, but don’t knock on the people that do, because ultimately, they’re respecting the work we do by recognizing it as something worth spending time on. Because really, 50,000 words don’t come quickly, or easily.

If you are participating, look me up. Just remember, this is for fun.

A true wealth

A person could spend the remainder of the year reading the author interviews — presented in a lovely, simple and streamlined page by name and by decade, from the 1950s to the 2010s — now free for the reading at The Paris Review online: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/.

Of the collection, The  New York Times’ “Critics Notebook” writes:

In the era of ‘Oprah’ and ‘Charlie Rose’ and YouTube and endlessly looping book tours, the glory days of The Paris Review interviews are probably in the rear-view mirror. We can get our fill of writerly talk — some of it quite good, much of it not — elsewhere. …

There is still something rather awesome about the gathering of yakking, coruscating ghosts — preening, complaining, dueling — that the talented Mr. [Lorin] Stein has released into the Internet’s ether. The Paris Review’s Web site feels, for now, like the best party in town.”

in defense of mfa programs (which are sometimes run by old white men)

i’ve been debating with myself for the last hour whether to post anything regarding anis shivani’s latest slam against the nation’s mfa programs on the huffington post.  i kinda feel like the kid who sits on the escalator and just doesn’t ever learn his lesson.  i’m tired of getting baited & linking to that guy’s shitty posts, so i’m not going to this time.  you can google it, or look him up on huffpo, or maybe if you go to houston, you’ll find him screaming about the death of The Great American Writer on a street corner.

after several slideshow-type articles, shivani has now written a nearly 5,000 word screed entitled “is the mfa system corrupt and undemocratic?”  after i complained about his reluctance to write a proper article, i tried to read this.  i swear i really did.  but it was every bit the lit crit thesis kind of piece that the title suggests.  and it was boring.*  from what i did read, his point seems to be that mfa programs have become the modern day equivalent of medieval guild systems, and that this master-apprentice model is stifling creativity.  i’m here to call bullshit on that.

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A few more words about fonts…

As annoying as fonts like comic sans might be, it turns out they have a few advantages:

BBC News – Making things hard to read ‘can boost learning’

What’s the best book you’ve ever listened to?

Mine’s To Kill a Mockingbird, hands down. Last summer I picked up a copy on CD from the library before a four-hour drive to Seattle. I’d read the book at least twice before and liked it quite a bit, but I had no expectations – I just wanted to listen to something that would make the drive pass quickly. Read more »

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