Friday, September 30, 2011

because the new york times doesn't have comics

The full name was going to be Because The New York Times Doesn't Have Comics and My Parents Don't Want Me to Play Angry Birds Right Now. Cool stuff for kids. Subscribe here.
Illustration from Krtek a pramen

my friend clara says

Oh how lovely to be in love but it takes a lot of our time, no?!?!
Photo by Clara Azulay

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the tuesday interview: andrea seigel

Families are weird. Andrea Seigel gets that. She writes these pitch perfect imperfect characters navigating a sort of it-only-makes-sense-if-you're-related-to-us family dynamic. I found her book, The Kid Table, because Meg Rosoff recommended it and, well, she hasn't steered me wrong yet. 

RQD: What are you working on now? 
Andrea Seigel: Right now I'm working on screenplays more than books, so I'm writing a script about a new suburban community that starts up out in the desert and the teenagers that attend its very, very small high school.  The main character is romantic to a fault even though she's never really had a serious love in her life- extreme romanticism has always interested me because of the divide between the way romance plays out on TV and movies and even in your head, and then the forms it might actually take in your real life. I'm also interested in the idea of a group of people who take a lot of meaning from the initial smallness of their group, which makes it special, and then following to see what happens when more and more people start to come in and dilute that club. 
RQD: What about other influences? 
AS: The album "Late For The Sky" by Jackson Browne wrecks me, but it also puts a really clear universe into my head, and if I could translate the feel of some of those songs into writing, I'd be amazed with myself. Thomas Kinkade is a big one for me. No, just kidding. There's a photograph by Matthew Spiegelman called "Reconstruction Florida" that I've loved and wanted for years, but can't afford. Oh, and Ralph Lauren's furniture. When I look at ads with rooms staged with his stuff, I get this feeling like I could get a ton of work done if I could just be inside them.
RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?
AS: I'm not really big on returning to things because I don't have the patience for it, but the two books I can say that I've uncharacteristically read through more than once are Catcher In The Rye and John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire.  Catcher because I'll pull it out to soothe myself with the existence of a really popular book that's loose on plot, and Hotel because Irving is so intensely great at plotting (I'm not) that I like to go back and marvel at how that book is put together.
RQD: What are you reading now? 
AS: I just got Meg Rosoff's new book There Is No Dog in the mail, so I'm starting on that today.
RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now? 
AS: As a littler kid I read a ton of Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew. I'm sure they had something to do with my favoring getting to know a character over everything else because I kept returning to series- I was more interested in tracking friendships and relationships than I was in whatever dilemma was contained within whichever individual book. And I'm sure that led right into my adult attraction toward soap operas, serial shows, and Us Weekly. I like the intricacies of personalities and smaller interactions more than I care about big external events.
Photo: Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West [after Cormac McCarthy] 2010 by Matthew Spiegelman

Monday, September 26, 2011

the person i am tonight

I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am tonight. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald via lines in my palms

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Today: this photo of The Castro by Hedi Slimane, this interview with Tom McCarthy, using an Alyson Fox illustration as a tattoo, how bittersweet Christopher Hitchens is on Joan Didion's new book via Something Changed, This recording of Red Rain via 2 or 3 things, Kelly Link and how being a teenager is like living in a strange world where you don't know the rules, this playlist from For Me, For You and putting together the first Community Hacks event in Berkeley.

spend a year playing pinball

What was most difficult about it?

Same as always: getting to the point where you can believe in the book's world as a viable reality. I don't mean a "realistic" one – just one that's carried by its own momentum. Once you get past that point of critical velocity or whatever, the whole project flies – but it's a fucker to get there.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting the book again?

Once you've written a book and look back at the process, it's like the build-up to a goal. You wouldn't change anything, even the missed passes and accidental ricochets, because they led to what turned out to be the thing.

Tom McCarthy talking about C. on The Guardian

Photo: Matt Winter by Nicholas Maggio on A Time to Get via CrankReport

Monday, September 19, 2011

the tuesday interview: vanessa hua

Vanessa Hua is a terribly cool girl. The kind that writes gorgeous stories, wins important awards, and is impossible to hate because she's one of the hardest working writers I know.

RQD: What are you working on now?

Vaness Hua: After finishing the latest revision of my novel, I decided to step away and work on short stories. In the novel, I'd been working on a thread involving female relationships and betrayal, and I continued to explore that in a short story, albeit in a far different setting, and with far different characters. I'm also working on a comic story, based on true events, yet with a high degree of the absurd. A lot of fun to work on, and the perfect break to take before returning to the novel manuscript. At present I'm figuring out how to work in the brief, brief, moments that I have to myself.

RQD: What's interesting to you about the characters you're writing about now?

VH: Both stories involve deceit and secrets, and how the characters carry that burden. I've found that's an ongoing theme in my work. I became a first time mother in August and I’m interested to see how that will influence and change my writing.

RQD: What other art or artists influence you?

VH: I always struggle with the question of influence. While I can readily tell you whose art and music I admire, who am I to say if those elements are present in my work? It seems presumptuous at best, self-deluded at worst. That said, if my writing reflects the playfulness of Calder’s mobiles, the tactile sensuality of Moore’s sculptures, the reimagining of the familiar of O’Keefe’s paintings, then I would be proud and ecstatic.

When working on specific projects, when pondering character and setting, I’ll listen to music and look at art from that era and locale. For example, for my novel, I pored over Cultural Revolution propaganda art and musicals.

RQD: What book or story or poem do you return to over and over?

VH: It depends on what I'm working on. For example, when figuring out how to weave together narrative arcs in two time periods, I studied Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides and Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, among others. Anything I read while working on a novel, I find myself drawing connections and comparing, analyzing how other authors solve different narrative issues.

RQD: What are you reading now?

VH: World and Town, by Gish Jen and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

RQD: What were you reading as a kid? how did those books impact the writing you do now?

VH: I read widely and voraciously, from the copy of Little Women that my mother brought over from Taiwan, to my older sister's copies of Candide and Animal Farm (the allegory flew far over my head), and Russian fairytales I found on the bookshelf at home. In elementary school, I wanted to read every book in the library! My favorites were female heroines who were writers: Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and Laura from Little House on the Prairie, and their examples must have made becoming a writer seem possible. I continue to be an omnivore in the subjects and characters I write about.

Photo: Georgia O'Keeffe via PBS


Life, as the ultimate unity, lies at the basis of the poeticized. Walter Benjamin quoted in The Night Sky by Ann Lauterbach

self portraits

Each of these artists enlists the form of the self portrait in their explorations, be their goal disappearance, self recognition, aggrandizement, invention or abstraction; thus showing the versatility of the form. Nica Ross on Self Portraits via ICP's blog, Fans in a Flashbulb

Thursday, September 15, 2011

that tin-bright vision

Last Thursday I saw Christine Schutt read her story ‘The Blood Jet’ at the Housing Works Bookstore in Manhattan. I’ve been to over one-hundred readings by fiction writers but this was the most moving. It wasn’t that she performed it so much as she channeled it. But of course what better reader was there? Schutt had worked over those words, those sentences, those movements–she’d created it out of air. Once there had been a blank page and then there was ‘The Blood Jet.’ It’s an angry piece, people treat each other like slop, but the female narrator admits her wrongdoings as well, her naivete. Schutt busted out this murky tune like Coltrane spilling ‘Dear Old Stockholm’ on his eponymous album. She’d didn’t waver at all, the sentences spun, the inflections rose and sank and we were left mesmerized. I started to watch people in the audience. They weren’t moving, they weren’t coughing. The record for the least number of text messages sent during a reading fell. Greg Gerke on The Big Other

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the tuesday interview: mark childress

Thanks to author Lynn Freed I was lucky enough to meet Mark Childress at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley a few years ago and he was everything you'd think he might be if you've ever read his books: funny, gracious and a hell of a storyteller.

From Mark: I know so many writers are superstitious about talking about work in progress that it has become a cliche, but hey I guess I am living that cliche. I find that if I pre-tell the story I’m trying to tell, to my friends and those nice people who care enough to ask, at some point I have already “told” it and the juice goes out of it that you need for the writing of the scenes. Does that make any sense?

I will say that I have fallen in love with characters before and usually they lead me where they want to go. This time is no different. It’s funny - this will be my eighth novel and it hasn’t gotten any easier at all. It is more rewarding, though, because I know whatever obscure little thing I put in there, somewhere there will be a reader who gets it. That is really cool.

I listen to a lot of music when I am reading but not when I am writing. I listen to classical music or sometimes old rhythm and blues in the morning to get my brain cells lined up in order. I like rock, too, and I have all kinds of weird tastes. The Beatles, both Elvises, Bruce, Joni. When I am traveling I go to the art museum like everybody else and try to learn something about the people from the art ... but generally you learn only about the artist. You don’t learn anything general, but everything specific.

There are some books I read over again, as soon as I have read it, because I can’t believe how good it was and I want to take it apart and see what made it tick. Other books, I delay and delay because I don’t want it to end. And then of course there are those that are like the second term of the Bush presidency, an endless dreary slog. I like to read Anna Karenina every couple of years. I like to read most of Dickens again and again. I’ve been on a David Foster Wallace kick since The Pale King came out. I cant imagine a year without reading some Marquez.

I just re-read The Broom of the System, David Wallace’s first book. I had a great time with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Also a gripping crime novel by Jane Bradley, You Believers.

Every summer I teach writing workshops up at Squaw Valley. This year Annie Lamott and I were talking about books we absolutely inhaled as children. I started talking about a wonderful book called Follow My Leader, by a writer called James B. Garfield. It’s the story of a boy who loses his sight in an accident with a firecracker. He has to learn to deal with being blind, goes off to a special school to learn how to work with a seeing-eye dog. The details of the training were absolutely fascinating to me; I used the glasses we got from the eye doctor with our dilated pupils, and went around pretending I was blind like the hero the book. I read that book about twenty times, I’ll bet.

Afterward, at least two dozen people came up to tell me that was their favorite book too. Many of them had forgotten it until I mentioned it. Apparently it was a Scholastic Book Club perennial choice and a great favorite of kids everywhere. I highly recommend it, although it may seem a bit old-fashioned now. (I was really surprised to discover the hero’s name is Jimmy Carter!)

I’ve never written about a blind person yet, so I don’t think there has been any direct influence of the book. But I always try very hard to plunge the reader into the sensory experience of whatever is happening in the story. And I’m sure it’s because James B. Garfield did that to me, over and over, long ago.

Photo: Joni Mitchell and David Crosby

Monday, September 12, 2011

was, i repeat, highly prized by me

The slight silken scrape of her knock-knees when she walked quickly was, I repeat, highly prized by me. I thought that if I were a locust such a sound would send me soaring over mountain ranges. From Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow via Karan Mahajan in Canteen

Photo by The Sartorialist

Sunday, September 11, 2011

next on the tuesday interview? mark childress

"You feel anything?"


"Maybe you're supposed to hold it in longer."

It was summer in Indiana, the week before I turned sixteen. All afternoon my friends and I had been on our bikes, following the mosquito truck through the streets, breathing the sweet-smelling clouds of DDT because we'd heard it would get you high. From One Mississippi by Mark Childress

Photo by Colin O'Brien via welcome back oldtimer

Friday, September 9, 2011

Boggsville Boatel

Ignoring the planes taking off from JFK, the sirens in the background, the rumble of the A train in the distance, the bay seemed idyllic, a wash of muted grays and blues and greens bleeding together like watercolors on a wet page. It was a beautiful way to end the summer - a glimpse into a completely different New York, far from where I grew up and where I now live. Photo and text from What Possessed Me

Sunday, September 4, 2011

writers nap

Just as I’m inspired by the past, I find myself drawing comfort from the writers I know. I have the great good fortune to work at the Writers Room, a communal writing space in downtown Manhattan. I write in the silent company of others, in a big, open space much like a newsroom without noise. And it is here that I often draw solace from the writing practices of all kinds of writers. It’s helpful to see that writers nap, take frequent breaks, stare out the window, engage in on-line procrastination. Anne Landsman on second novels via Maud Newton

Friday, September 2, 2011

and lined up like little yellow soldiers

Doc bought a package of yellow pads and two dozen pencils. He laid them out on his desk, the pencils sharpened to needle points and lined up like little yellow soldiers. At the top of the page he printed: OBSERVATIONS AND SPECULATIONS. His pencil point broke. He took up another and drew lace around the O and the B, made a block letter of the S and put fish hooks on each end. His ankle itched. He rolled down his sock and scratched, and that made his ear itch. "Someone's talking about me," he said and looked at the yellow pad. He wondered whether he had fed the cotton rats. It's easy to forget when you're thinking.

Watching the rats scrabble for the food he gave them Doc remembered that he had not eaten. When he finished a page or two he would fry some eggs. But wouldn't it be better to eat first so that his flow of though would not be interrupted later? For some days he had looked forward to this time of peace, of unbroken thought. These were the answer to his restlessness: peace and the life of the mind. It would be better to eat first. He fried two eggs and ate them, staring at the yellow pad under the hanging light. The light was too bright. It reflected painfully on the paper. Doc finished his eggs, got out a sheet of tracing paper, and aped it to the bottom of the shade below the globe. It took some time to make it net. He sat in front of the yellow pad again and drew lace around all the letters of the title, tore off the page, and threw it away. Five pencil points were broken now. He sharpened them and lined them up with their brothers. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck (via crankreport).