Coming Soon: Blue Metropolis

My Picks at Blue Met I’d like to tell you that the event you shouldn’t miss at the upcoming Blue Metropolis literary festival is one in which I’ll be participating, but that might seem like shameless self-promotion. Seriously, though, the reason I attend this and other literary festivals – besides being invited to do so – is for the surprises. Not the authors I know, but the ones I don’t know. And my event, on May 3 at 3:30 at the Las Américas bookstore, features two other writers who intrigue me: the Mexican-American Luis Alberto Urrea, and the single-named Ondjaki, … Continue reading Coming Soon: Blue Metropolis

How Passover Made Me a Writer

How Passover Made Me a Writer The two big spring holidays are in the books now, Easter and Passover, both of which, in their own way, are meant to usher in spring. This year I had the honor of attending a Seder (the Passover service; the word means “order,” though some Seders, depending on how much wine the participants drink, can be quite disorderly) at a friend’s house, with his friends and family. As well as eating mountains of food, the guests read from the Haggadah (the word means “the telling”), which is essentially the Exodus story, plus all sorts … Continue reading How Passover Made Me a Writer

Write What You…

The Hoary Old Chestnut I was a little surprised to see in a recent edition of The New York Times that two writers, Zoë Heller and Mohsin Hamid, were debating the old “Write What You Know” question. It has many gray hairs, that one… I don’t know if the two writers chose that question, or whether it was assigned to them. This piece of advice – “write what you know” – that is famously used in creative writing programs does have one advantage: it gets people thinking. It worked that way for Heller and Hamid, and it will for us … Continue reading Write What You…

Notes & Queries

I came across another oddity the other day: a literary review that comes out of Windsor, Ontario, called Canadian Notes & Queries. The place really has its share of surprises, and now I feel slightly bad about making friendly fun of the town back when I was talking about Wayne Grady’s novel Emancipation Day. I’ll have to go down there sometime soon and perform some acts of mea culpa, because Windsor apparently does have a lively literary scene. What’s more, the latest C N & Q bills itself as “The Montreal Issue,” and it features a variety of off-center takes … Continue reading Notes & Queries

Do I Have a Dog in that Fight?

Do I Have a Dog in that Fight? No tengo vela en ese cemeterio – last summer, a fellow baseball player from Nicaragua told me that as we watched two other players in some dispute or other, probably beer-fueled. Whatever the action was about, he figured it had nothing to do with him; he didn’t have a dog in that fight. I had occasion to think about that expression lately when a writers’ website put out a call to answer the following question: How do you know if there is a novel in a story idea? The real answer is: … Continue reading Do I Have a Dog in that Fight?

A Bill of Rights

A Bill of Rights The French writer Daniel Pennac is something of a trickster, a rare breed in his native country where writers are often afflicted with terminal gravitas. Example: this dedication he wrote on the title page of his novel Le Dictateur et le hamac. He drew two stick figures struggling under the weight of an enormous fountain pen as they trudge along, carrying their burden on their backs. One character addresses the other: “David, what does literature lead to?” The other responds, “Who knows?” When you draw back from the charming little sketch, you see that the two … Continue reading A Bill of Rights

We Write the Way We Talk

We Write the Way We Talk Quite a number of years ago, I happened upon a novel by a writer unknown to me: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Many years before hostage-takings became page-one affairs, Ms Patchett, an American born in Tennessee, set her book during a fictitious hostage-taking at an embassy in Peru (remember the Shining Path?). The hostages, a various lot since they were captured during an embassy party – some were there just for the food and drink – learn to live with their situation, and even find beauty in it. The Stockholm Syndrome does not necessarily … Continue reading We Write the Way We Talk

Farewell, Roth

Farewell, Roth Philip Roth has done any number of things to shock people during his life as a writer. If you doubt that assertion, have a look at Portnoy’s Complaint. Not his best book, still, this novel in which masturbation plays a central role got people to sit up and pay attention. I remember the odd circumstances that led me to read the work. I was toiling in the Public Works Department in a suburb of Chicago in 1973 (the book came out in 1969), and behind our garage we had a yard, with a large junk pile of stuff … Continue reading Farewell, Roth

The Agony of Proofs

The Agony of the Proofs The technology has changed, but the vocabulary is still hanging around. “Proofreading” – that’s the word from the days of paper when, before the publication of a book, the author would get an enormous and dignified looking bundle of paper that constituted his or her last chance to look at the work before the errors contained therein would be immortal. Now, it’s all done on a computer screen, with Pdfs and the like. But the emotional process remains: a combination of agony and pride. Becoming a writer involves dreaming up all sorts of scenarios, and … Continue reading The Agony of Proofs

What Is Writer’s Block Anyway?

What Is Writer’s Block After All? I came across this comment by Philip Pullman, a novelist of children’s books that are also much read by adults. I think he puts things into perspective: “All writing is difficult,” he begins. “The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?” I like Pullman’s hardheaded approach, even if I do confess some empathy for … Continue reading What Is Writer’s Block Anyway?