Thursday, April 30, 2009

wells tower: hot shit

Thursday, April 30, 2009
wells tower did a reading in san francisco on wednesday night at the tosca cafe. my thoughts, enumerated out of sheer laziness:

1. wells tower is a hottie. (yes, he looks that good in person.)

2. he also has a great stage presence: casual, appealing, accessible. he was definitely funny, both in off-the-cuff comments and in the pieces he read, both of which i enjoyed very much. in fact, the first one, an essay he had written for GQ, even brought tears to my eyes (though, admittedly, i was pretty tipsy at that point).

3. my friend who also came to the reading saw some chick giving him her number. i wonder how much ass he's been getting on this book tour?

4. amusingly, the cafe had a huge number of wells clones--solemn-looking dark-haired boys with pasty faces gloomily buried in their notebooks. (wells himself was a much more cheerful, though still mild-mannered and shy, version of these.) at some point i realized that what my friend and i were referring to as "wells clones" were in fact just your run-of-the-mill san francisco hipsters.

4a. i hate the questions people ask at readings. "how do you like being a writer?" asked one of the wells clones. "i like it," replied wells. sadly, i had no better questions for him.

5. he made a rather unfortunate remark about nonfiction being less difficult to write because it is less emotionally serious than fiction. i am partly forgiving him for making such a rude comment because his background is in magazine fiction, which is of a decidedly different flavor -- and certainly more superficial -- than the kind of creative nonfiction that i claim to write, or at least want to write, and enjoy reading.

6. thanks to my thoughtful boyfriend, i now have a signed hardcover copy of wells's first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. it says, "To Gwyn, Best wishes." i sigh at the prosaic message, but then again, he has no idea who i am, so whatever.

7. i have made it a goal to become friends with this guy at some point in my career. he seems that cool.

8. final note: the tosca cafe can suck a fat one. they're notorious for their strong cocktails, and i was drunk before i finished my first. so i went up the block to get some nachos and bring them back for my friend and me--we didn't want to lose our table for the reading, though it was an hour before it was supposed to start. (he read to an impressively full house, as it turned out.) the tosca cafe, despite what i consider to be the implications of the word "cafe," serves no food whatsoever. and yet the owner of the cafe (at least that's who i'm assuming she was) came over to scold us for bringing food in because it would encourage others to do the same. "i'm not running a restaurant," she said as she admonished us to shovel the food into our faces more quickly and dispose of the evidence. yeah, bitch, you're not running a restaurant. that is the problem. so you have two options: outside food in your establishment, or an unacceptably high risk of a vomit-covered floor at the end of the night. why do hip little fucking bars in san francisco think they can get away with bullshit like this? also, they don't take credit cards, AND they charged my boyfriend $2 for a club soda. sometimes i hate this goddamn city.

i'm having a shitty few days, guys. chalk it up to writerly moodiness if you like.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

mental exercise of the day

Sunday, April 26, 2009
i saw a banner ad just now on -- an ad from that included "shopping recommendations for [me]." so i clicked on it, because the four product images it showed were actually very appealing. and lo, the landing page on was filled with images of other beautiful things i would totally want to buy: settees, tiffany-style lamps, contemporary-abstract area rugs, chaises longues, moroccan chandeliers. (okay, so maybe i haven't totally kicked my interior design research habit.) now that is what i call good advertising.

the internet is sneaky, sometimes delightfully so. how might writers be able to use such sneakiness to our advantage when hawking our own wares, so to speak? hmmmm.

the prophesied resurrection of the short story

a friend showed me this link a couple of weeks ago and i just got around to reading the article:

Brevity's Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story, by A.O. Scott (published 4/5/09)
(you can read this article by registering for free at, if you haven't already)

i like the idea of Kindle re-energizing the market for short stories. in fact, i might even love it. i can't wait until Kindles and their ilk are practical enough to be universally appealing (e.g. allow for sharing, borrowing, buying used, transferring currently owned print titles, etc.). sure, there is something tasty about fondling a paperback -- but, as someone who has moved six times in the past four years, i'm looking forward to not having to lug a dozen boxes of books between states in order to keep my library handy.

everyone knows the literary landscape is changing thanks to the progressive obsolescence of print media. who the hell reads fiction anymore, much less buys it at retail? the obvious trend is that the literary world has become increasingly cloistered (here's another NYT article proposing a more pessimistic view). how many readers of even the most prominent lit journals are not themselves writers hoping to be published in these same tomes?

the atmosphere around literature in our society is eerily reminiscent of the field of philosophy in America, which is done purely for the sake of other philosophers. no one else gives a damn! nor should they; it's too obscure and irrelevant to contemporary concerns to merit attention from the general educated public.

i'm not sure whether there's any hope for anglo analytic philosophy, but i think writers can escape these walls that are, in a very real way, closing in on us. after all, we may be writing first for ourselves, but art is ultimately about communication, isn't it? i hope we all believe we have something vital to convey to the world, or at least a chunk of it. so it's just as much our responsibility to figure out how to make that happen.

anyone heard (or come up with) any other intriguing ideas for making literature more accessible and suited to this post-print world?

Friday, April 24, 2009

more journals

Friday, April 24, 2009
for people who are even less up to speed than i am, here are a couple more links to journal directories:

P&W, of course, has a very nice listing that includes brief descriptions (courtesy of the journals themselves) and, in many cases, a "percentage of unsolicited manuscripts published," which i find handy.

duotrope offers a cool search feature, though unfortunately it offers listings only for fiction and poetry (where's the CNF? i'm feeling marginalized >:| ).

on killing babies (ruminations)

has anyone seen Californication? (i'll admit it is not the highest-quality show around, but the writing is still better than, say, Law & Order: SVU.) in one episode in the first season, the show's protagonist, a washed-up, blocked writer living in LA (played by an unforgivably hot David Duchovny), announces to a group of plaid-clad high school girls that being a writer is like "having homework every day for the rest of your life."

this sounds accurate to me. i mean, who in their right mind would sign up for a life like that? the obvious answer is: masochists. (i think it's fair to say that nerds are a subclass of masochists.) from this it's not hard to see how serious writers (as a group)are also notoriously hard on themselves for not being productive enough. ironically, they (we?) are frequently also brilliant procrastinators. not that that's surprising, either. what we do is difficult and unpleasant on at least one level, even when it's addictively fun. we look at things closely, unflinchingly: the world, other people, ourselves. then we digest it, funnel it into words, and then by the nightmarish taskmaster that is revision, are forced to revisit and sculpt those words until they tell exactly the truth that we have not only seen, but felt--vibrating in our bowels and our lungs.

about a year ago i was spending my free time stuffing my brain with every book on craft that i could get from the library. i recall reading a quote from some writer who, with resignation, described the curse of the writer: to eventually be unable to experience the world except through the filter of words. he was always writing his life in his head as he lived it; the immediacy, it seemed, was gone. is this what we're doing--constructing, however inadvertently, a window between ourselves and the world? a window that, most importantly, cannot open?

it seems that this outcome is not actually necessary, but rather the result of a wrong turn somewhere. the brute incoherence of the world never completely goes away, after all. if we become unable to sit with that, aren't we missing something vital?

i'm still questioning my commitment to this craft, and wondering how much forgiveness i should offer myself for recent displays of laziness and fear. i have a long history of dreams about killing babies--not just human babies, but kittens too. last night was the newest of them, and involved, for the first time, actually being pregnant, and realizing i had made the decision, however unconsciously, to have the baby, simply because i'd waited too long to get rid of it. years ago, when i dreamt of rolling infant flesh into cigarettes, a friend advised me that the babies in my dreams might represent my own nascent creative urges, which i sometimes exploited and sometimes simply didn't know how to nurture. last night's dream was all about denial, and then the pain of recognizing my own irresponsibility toward this child i had chosen to give life. most frightening, the dream suggests that i have passed the point of no return: if i don't step up now, something inside me will die.

these are the pulses--aren't they?--that drive me to write: these peristaltic churnings that force tears when i sit still and feel them moving inside me. and these are the same pulses that i can so easily slip into ignoring. when i put it that way, it seems both unforgivable and altogether human.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

publicizing your work

Thursday, April 16, 2009
my latest great idea is that the best way to have a meaningful internet presence as a new writer is to actually be able to link to your own work, or quote it extensively, on the site. of course, as many of you know, this leads to issues of "self-publication" if the work hasn't already been published in a journal or the like. posting your own work on the internet for public consumption constitutes publishing it, which means most lit mags won't accept it if you're submitting it for publication with them.

the solution: submit your work to online lit journals! then, when they publish it (and of course they will, because you're awesomely talented), you can put it up on your website, since it's already published anyway.

in light of this revelation, i've begun a list of online literary journals to which i will consider submitting something in the next few months. and because i love you (or at least those of you who i know are looking at this website), i'm sharing my list with you! yay!

most of these links were culled from NewPages, which is a pretty awesome resource unto itself. i haven't looked at any of these sites yet, so if you have thoughts about any of them, feel free to leave a comment.

Underground Voices
Blood Lotus
Cadillac Cicatrix
Miranda Magazine
Our Stories
Prick of the Spindle
Ramble Underground
The Straddler

And some other people's lists of online journals:
Top Twelve Online Literary Journals (bookfox)
Best Online Lit Mags (esquire)
Journals (a list of lists)
E-Zine List

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

as promised: writers' websites, pt. I

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
i'll just get to it. (sadly, this is turning into a writers' website bitchfest rather than a list of awesome sites. it'll get there, really...)

Kao Kalia Yang: you Minnesota MFAers should recognize this lady. you might also remember that her agent or publisher or whoever commended her impressive website during the talk we went to during the recruitment weekend. i enjoyed her reading a lot, by the way, and should put her book, the latehomecomer, on my list. well, here it is! my impression: it's just a teeny, tiny bit overdone. (understatement for comic effect, anyone?) still, i like the feel and believe it's appropriate to the persona she's trying to sell (not that i don't think that's who she really is--but everyone needs a little polish to be saleable).

she's a new writer, so she doesn't have much in the way of credits. her bio is very internal and romantic, which i can appreciate, though it's a little more flowery (and less edited) than i prefer. i dislike that you have to click through to get excerpts and descriptions of things; it's a flaw of the very limited space the layout affords for content. however, maybe the layout was chosen to make very little content look more substantial than it is. maybe this is good advice for a new writer?

Steve Almond and Kelly Link both have a handful of books in print; they also seem to both design their websites around their latest release. interesting tactic, and of course completely useless for writers without novels or collections out. i'm not sure how i feel about this strategy, either; i have a feeling it's directed more at vendors, agents, publishers, reviewers, etc. then again, i guess it's a good reminder for existing fans that they have new work available. i don't know, but i'd like the website to represent, both in terms of visual effect and content, the writers themselves (if that makes sense) rather than simply their latest work. i want to get a sense of the source of the work rather than the product itself, which is easy enough to obtain at a bookstore. does anyone know what i'm talking about?

Amy Hempel apparently does not have her own website but does have a Wikipedia entry... and a MySpace page. wtf srsly?

does Julie Orringer really not have her own website? if she did, it would be linked on her Wikipedia page, wouldn't it? i thought maybe it was an SEO issue, but...

i saw Yiyun Li read from her new novel, The Vagrants, at the san francisco public library a few months ago. her website is super clean and straightforward. i guess her work speaks for itself; she's on her second book, first novel, now, and both seem to have gotten a lot of extremely good press. the site is well designed, and i don't think it lacks any information a reader might want. the header image is artistic but subtle and sophisticated; i think it reflects her well. i kind of hate those little tabby navigation things at the top, though.

...and Wells Tower doesn't have a website yet, either? am i crazy, or didn't i read that he is getting some crazy six-figure advance for a collection of short stories? maybe it (the website) is in the works.

i am embarrassingly poorly read, but i knew i recognized Po Bronson's name. turns out it's because he founded The Grotto, a writers' community in san francisco, and not because i've ever read anything of his. anyhow, his website is pretty damn confusing at first glance. what the hell? i didn't even know whether i was in the right place until i had clicked two links. boo. and the header "navigation" is way too colorful to look professional. double boo.

Alexi Zentner
is someone i heard of originally on the Poets and Writers Speakeasy forum and whose name subsequently came up as the winner of a Narrative contest. fancy. his website is probably a good example of a new writer's. writer's bio on the front page, a more personal history on the bio page, an excerpt from a published, prize-winning story. i question his choice of pictures, though. there are only a few (the dark, dramatic on on the front page, a cute family one on the bio page, and then the very very cute ones of his little girls on the contact page) and the latter seem to clash with the overall dark, gritty design of the website. confusing. o_0 i also wonder a little bit about who this website is for. agents, probably? someone should tell him his website seems to be having some architectural issues (as evidenced by the url of the link above).

DISCLAIMER: none of my reviews of these websites have any influence on what i think of these writers qua writers. i just think every good writer should have a good website that accurately reflects their talents and represents them well. it just doesn't happen often enough, apparently. is no one making a shit-ton of money on this market yet? (yeah, like writers have wads of cash lying around for web designers.)

an especially extraneous bit of self-indulgence

the problem with starting a blog is that i end up staring at it like it's a mirror (which, of course, it is).

things i should be doing instead:
  • finishing reading the writing samples of my future classmates
  • writing something new
  • reading one of the many novels on my nightstand
  • researching writers' websites
  • giving feedback to my boyfriend on an essay he showed me in november
  • working on my list of literary journals to which i should consider submitting something
  • looking for my antidepressants, the misplacement of which i am taking as a tentative sign that i don't really want to keep using them
  • thinking about whether i'm really okay with quitting my antidepressants
  • questioning why i feel the need to tell the denizens of the interwebs that i am taking antidepressants
even when i am shaming myself publicly, i seem to feel no shame.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

in which i welcome myself back to the blogosphere

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
i've been sucked into blogging once again. it's a little like writing, i guess, but oftentimes more like vomiting on cue. i like to say these experiments in online self-exposure are opportunities for me to push my limits in terms of how transparent i'm really comfortable being. of course, sometimes transparency is just not appropriate, or even desirable. i like to push those limits, too.

after being accepted to the University of Minnesota's MFA program this spring (and this after a year of agonizing about nothing but my MFA applications and various romantic tragedies i created as a diversion from the former), i dove right into a full-blown obsession over the logistics of moving to Minneapolis. this got to the point where, a week ago, i was downloading floorplans from apartment complex websites so i could scroll through them on my laptop and imagine different furniture layouts. two days ago i decided on a color scheme for each room; my future apartment is so clear in my mind i could draw it for you in under two minutes (and i don't draw). so i thought it might be time to move on before i started researching the possibility of installing chair rail molding in my apartment-to-be.

new plans include a sort of pre-MFA bootcamp, which will involve reading at least two books a week, writing twenty hours a week (on top of a full-time job and a part-time boyfriend), and churning out at least one first draft of a story or essay each week. woo! my ambition usually outpaces my ability, but it's good to set the bar high, right?

for my fellow incoming MFA-ers who feel like indulging in a bit of interior design-related fantasizing, following are some blogs i found especially delicious:


one of my next projects involves researching writers' websites in preparation for creating my own. coming soon: a list of super awesome writers' websites! woo!
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