Guest contributor: Vince Passaro

Guy at the Bar: Vince Passaro on Harold Brodkey, Gordon Lish, and Pat Towers, Middle of the Night

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Guy at the Bar / Reading Under the Influence

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gordon-lish-580

Lish

Up tonight, knee shaking, foot shaking. I think Trader Joe spiked my decaf. So it’s 1:00 a.m. when I start thinking about Harold Brodkey — does anyone think about Harold Brodkey anymore? All artistic talent of the first order is incomprehensible but certain talents strike us as more familiar and approachable than others. George Orwell, for instance, whose prose’s muscle and clarity — clarity above all — affected me strongly, does not mystify me. I have a solid sense of where he came from, where his language came from, his general mode of thinking.  Brodkey’s particular genius remains ungraspable. The language is Jewish, it’s American, it’s baroque, it’s beautiful and divine. Divine I mean as in suffused with a spiritual force and a spiritual necessity above that mustered by mere mortals.  It is miraculous and harrowing: to look into his work is like watching a great surgeon, a world class surgeon, magically operate on himself, remove his own organs, examine them in bloodied hands, drop them in a pan. Continue reading →

Guest contributor: Jim Lang

Bad Advice Wednesday: Waiting for an Audience

categories: Cocktail Hour

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ORWELLReaders of Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour, I need some bad advice.  I have just completed the copyedits for my forthcoming book, which means all that remains will be to check the proofs and create the index. Those are pain-in-the-ass jobs, but don’t require much intellectual or emotional investment.  All of the heavy lifting, the drafting and revising and editing, have been completed at this point.

So now here I am attempting to launch the new project.  In one way of the other, this project will involve a reappraisal and appreciation of the work of one of our most famous writers of the 20th century, George Orwell.  I want to rescue him from Animal Farm and 1984 (which is not to say they are not great books, as they are) and help recover the George Orwell that I think really matters to our modern age: the man who worked and lived among the poor, wrote eloquently about the daily humiliations and injustices of poverty, and believed that nature had the power to rescue us from the economic inequality.  It’s an Orwell that his most devoted readers will know well, but that the average reader of his work has likely never encountered, or only knows through the descriptions of the proles in 1984 and the working livestock in Animal Farm.

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Guest contributor: Thierry Kauffmann

Anxious Bode Goes Electric!

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Jukebox

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Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Hi, this is me, Anxious Bode. I told you about my battle with Parkinson’s.  I told you about my concerto, too. The one I’m writing based on an improvised piano piece. I was going to behave, orchestrate it the standard way, with cellos and brass. But I was aiming too low. Not revolutionary enough. You know how I know that? When I aim low my health goes down. And it did. So I had to think of something big, outside the box. If you had to name one instrument that is guaranteed not to work well with with piano, it’s electric guitar. Chopin with electric guitar, you get the picture. And yet.

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Guest contributor: Vince Passaro

Guy at the Bar: AWP and Diversity. Does No One Out There Have Any Sense?

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Guy at the Bar

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Bill and Dave at AWP Boston

Bill and Dave at AWP Boston

AWP — who gives a fuck? (There’s a little so-med shitstorm about Kate Gale’s not altogether sensitive piece in The Huffington Puffington I’llBlowYourHouseDownington Post about AWP “diversity” — about which I guess I give enough of a fuck to write this.) Here’s some news: AWP–the Association of Writing Programs–is an association of MFA programs. It looks like an MFA program, it walks like an MFA program, it talks like an MFA program, what’s the issue here? It’s bureaucratic and uninteresting and being twice removed from the actual task and demand of creative writing, it is in every way an “organization”, handing out tote bags and missing the point. In any case, further news for the uninitiated: MFA programs charge a lot of money and keep two thousand writers employed with 403Bs and good medical plans and good cars and nice refrigerators. (As the familiarly-initialed WPA briefly tried to do, but way less intrusively.) In all but a handful of cases the programs are designed as not-great-but-steady profit centers for universities who have to spend money on students in other (liberal arts, non-professional) programs. Therefore students face high tuition costs. So what do people expect its representative organization to look like? A social services agency? Many MFA students are cash poor and go into hock up to their necks to study writing with teachers and fellow students whom they admire and hope to be enlightened by; I did this once, though it wasn’t so expensive then. (That’s how I met Bill Roorbach!) But if you come from a place that is poor, if everything and everyone you’ve ever known is poor, it takes a particularly rare kind of cognitive and cultural leap to go $20-40,000 in debt, or more, to get into a profession that doesn’t pay and never will. As such a poor person, you would have had to have done this already for your BA in most cases, so the odds are really low. Does no one out there have any sense? AWP stands for All White People, because as Kate Gale put it, so amusingly cluelessly, that is us. Continue reading →

The Four Easy Steps to Becoming a Writer

categories: Cocktail Hour

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paleWe are thrilled to announce the publication of old friend Daren Dean’s novel Far Beyond the Pale. It was great years ago when I first read it and I know it’s even greater now. Click here to find out more from Fiction Southeast.
And Daren was also generous to offer us these tips:
Famous Writers Course: The 4 Easy Steps to Becoming a Writer

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
-Harper Lee
So how do you do it? Where do you get your writing ideas from? I would write too if I only had the time. How much money did you make? These are the kinds of questions and comments writers hear all the time. Why won’t writers just answer these simple questions? I have the answer. They are holding out on you. I’m going to tell you the secrets. Let me just tell you the easy way to write novels and get them published. It isn’t that hard really. I will help you with these 4 easy steps:
1) Arrange your life for many years to do the writing life.
What’s the writing life? Well, as far as I can tell it has something to do with writing a lot even when you’re not particularly inspired. What do you do? You push through and you write anyway on a daily basis. Abandon all plans of professional jobs that you might fall back on. Those plans will turn into your reality. Then, you will have a good job you hate, which is fine until your mid-life crisis hits. Besides to a writer trying to make it, just about everyday is a mid-life crisis. Writers dredge up old hurts, sometimes their own and sometimes others, turn them into 3D models and examine them instead of trying to forget them like normal people. You are a writer…now write.

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Bad Advice Wednesday: How Not to Write a Fan Letter

categories: Cocktail Hour

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meanAs anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop knows, you say the nice stuff first and slide in the criticism in later. Apparently, this is not common knowledge in the world beyond workshop walls. At least not based on some of the letters I’ve gotten about my new book this summer. Purportedly these are “fan letters,” though some of them stretch that definition.

 

Here’s an example from a letter I got last week:

 

Dear David,

I recently bought a copy of “All the Wild that Remains.” Although I thought it got off-track and dragged a bit in spots (sorry!), overall I enjoyed it…”

 

How exactly should I respond to that? Well, I can tell you how I did respond: I stopped reading (sorry!). Which brings me back to my point about the workshop model being a good one here. If your real reason for writing an author is to criticize their work, then maybe at least Trojan-horse that in later and say some nice stuff first. It’s a Miss Manners kind of thing.

For the purpose of this blog post, which I know is kind of off-track and draggy in spots, I did go back and skim the Continue reading →

Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren

Lundgren’s Lounge: “Cloudsplitter,” by Russell Banks

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Russell Banks

Russell Banks

Upon recently finishing Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks, I began to think about who are the best living American novelists. My reflections led to the Internet where, surprise, surprise, there were endless and varied lists. There was unanimity only regarding the upper echelon: Pynchon, Roth, and Morrison.  Russell Bankswas nowhere to be found on any of these lists, an egregious and inexplicable omission.

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Night at the Movies: “The End of the Tour”

categories: Cocktail Hour / Movies

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DFW

Just came from “The End of the Tour,” the new movie based on a failed Rolling Stone story by David Lipsky, who joined the end of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” tour 12 years before Wallace’s terrible suicide.  It’s movie of little movement, mostly two guys talking, one in the throes of huge new fame, the other not there or ever going to be, and jealous, and yet it’s more gripping than the thriller we saw next in our Monday thunder double header, no need to mention.  It’s funny, charming, dark, and portrays two layered and unequal men jousting.  As the decades pass, only one of them gets to live and tell the story.  A great movie, especially for the writers among us, so much to think about, though no doubt aficionados of the late great savant will find plenty to complain about, while his haters will continue to hate.  But that should be even more fun.  Go see it. Continue reading →

Guest contributor: Debora Black

Table For Two: An Interview with T.C. Boyle

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence / Table For Two: Interviews

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TC Boyle

Debora Black: You always seem to be having a really good time writing your characters and their situations—even when the subject matter wouldn’t suggest a good time. But you like to toy with things, amp up a situation and play it out. In your latest novel, The Harder They Come, you transform sunny California, its middle-class inhabitants, and their American ideals into a war zone. What compelled you to write this story?

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