Friday, November 30, 2007

Support independent publishers!

Stolen directly from NY Mag because it's 9:30 am and I am TIRED. [Go Cowboys! 11-1!]

The 20th Annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair
New York Center for Independent Publishing
20 W. 44th St., New York, NY 10036 nr. Sixth Ave
12/1 thru 12/2
Sat-Sun, 11am-5pm

The New York Center for Independent Publishing’s 20th-Annual Independent and Small-Press Book Fair, in the old­–New York confines of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen’s landmark building, is a little-press junkie’s dream come true. Akashic Books, Overlook Press, and Soft Skull, among 150 other imprints, will be on hand hawking wares, of course, but the two-day event will also feature a Q&A with Fugazi singer Ian MacKaye (addressing “independent culture,” what else?), readings by Katha Pollitt and Amiri Baraka, and—look out!—a lit-trivia competition between the editors of the journal A Public Space and The New York Review of Books. — Tayt Harlin

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Author Stalking: Edwidge Danticat

I had a really stressful day at work today, and so I almost didn't make it to Edwidge Danticat's "conversation" at Symphony Space tonight, which I had purchased a ticket for months ago. In fact, I almost didn't want to go, because I was so cranky and tired, and honestly, also feeling guilty about not working on apps, etc.

But I went.

And I am really glad I did.

She opened with a short reading from her memoir Brother I'm Dying. The way she reads is exactly how you hear it when you read the words on the page. Smooth, lyrical, quiet yet resonating. It really is an enchanting thing to hear her read. Really beautiful.

A few of the things she said that really resonated with me:

Fiction is about portraying humanity, giving a humane spin on characters or ideas, shedding some light, and in that way, showing the truth. -- This is the crux of what I'm trying to write about in my personal statement, in terms of how everything I've done in life is linked back to that. I truly believe the beauty of words comes back to this - humanity. This is why I want to write.

Empathy is the beginning of action. -- Yes. Why I believe this world could profit from more empathy. I have this weird desire to want to slowly transform people into more empathetic humans. I think literature does a good job of this. Words in general, with a pure intent.

She used a sparse style in this very affecting memoir, especially in the parts where perhaps, she truly is most outraged. Why? Because she's letting the words speak for themselves. -- I'm trying very hard to let my words speak for themselves, the whole showing, not telling bit. I tend to overexplain in my prose, when sometimes there's enough in the actions and dialogue itself that I don't need to overwrite. Good advice.

I asked her a question about her book The Farming of Bones, which is my favorite novel of hers. I'm a loser, and I got very nervous as I was about to ask her. But she was gracious and I loved her story of how she had talked to a painter friend of hers, and that's how it began. Because he had some paintings of the massacre he had created, and she was intrigued, and researched into the whole thing. I don't know, but something about how she was explaining it, really touched me.

I was actually something like 5th in line to get a signing. But. Then I realized I'd left my book at home. Well, they were selling books, but I'd already gotten Brother I'm Dying and Krik? Krak! signed, and the one I wanted to get signed was Farming of Bones, which they weren't selling. So I left the line. Unfortunately. :(

Next time, because I feel like I'm going to stalk her into eternity. Muahaha. Okay, that sounded creepy.

I really love her though.

A shiny object moment with bunnies.

When my sister was little (as in 2 years old), we had these cups and plates with Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny on them. And then we had this computer game she played (because yes, she was born into an era where 2 year olds get computer games made for them) which was Peter Rabbit games. There was a storybook mode, where it read aloud the story. My sister laughed everytime it said that if the farmer caught Peter he would be turned into a pie (insert image of pie here). So we never read her the books, but it was as good as if we did.

Bunny stories always seem to be endearing and sad. Take the Velveteen Rabbit for instance.

Wellll... this has nothing to do with books really, except that the video is in storybook format, but I lovelovelove this song. The video is so sad. And the lyrics are sad.

This is my new "on repeat" song for the day...

It's like Peter Rabbit lost Benjamin Bunny!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Initial reactions.

Okay, now that I've gotten a free moment -

First of all, I'm going to say that now I have way too many books left unfinished, which drives me completely nuts. I'm going to finish the Umberto Eco book soon if it kills me.

But onto Johnson.

This is the thing. I really like the book sometimes, and other times, not as much. He has so many different characters going on, that you can't help but like some of them more than others. For instance, to me, the opening is beautiful. The whole shooting the monkey thing - so heartwrenching. The Houston brothers are my favorites. I could follow them forever. The scene with James getting all fucked up and drunk at home, with his girlfriend crying - wonderfully rendered. I dig that. I just find the Houston brothers amazingly compelling.

Then there's the Colonel. He's all sorts of weird, which I love. I love the scene where he's giving this long ass speech about Notre Dame vs. Michigan State, going on and on and how this relates to war and everything. It's hilarious yet true and intelligent. Maybe because I'm so into football these days, but I found the comparison so compelling. This idea of not opting for victory and instead, taking the draw. It works so well with the bigger backdrop of what Vietnam was all about.

And Vietnam man. I don't know if I've said this before, but Vietnam is my country. I mean, no, I'm not Vietnamese, but I have a love obsession with the country. It's beautiful and sad and the people there are so friendly it breaks your heart. I LOVE the country. And I love it aside from the lens of the war, although I guess, really, everything I love about it also has been a byproduct of the war in a way. But I'm digressing. So I love the sections with the Vietnamese guys, and seeing their perspective on things. The Buddhists burning themselves. That sort of thing.

The part I had trouble with? Skip. Oh god, the beginning of his section was boring boring. I know this novel (according to the flap copy) is mostly about him, but god, man, his section in the beginning is just NOT interesting, not compared to the other wonderful characters. He's starting to grow on me right now, but I wish we could follow the Houston brothers all the way through.

I have sections I like, but I'm at work, and I won't post right now.

Okay, but the big things I want to say. I love the messiness of this novel so far. I like the departure from all the other familiar Vietnam war books we see. Or war books in general. I like the way he renders the aimlessness of the characters, all of them trying to find something, who knows what. A lostness. Now, I didn't live through the war, so I don't know. But I think this lostness feels akin to what I suppose this war sort of was. This not understanding. This searching. I like that.

I do have to say though, that it takes some work for me to get through parts of this novel so far. And I definitely also feel like it's a "guy" book - in language, in characters. I mean yes, it's a novel about the war, and soldiers and stuff like that. So it's maybe a little bit harder for me to relate than a dude.

But the parts that are good in this book, to me, so far have more than made up for the slower portions.

One more thing -- I do tend to cringe the teeniest tiny bit whenever Vietnamese whores appear on scene. I mean, maybe (very likely) it's exactly like that, the way they talk, etc etc. But the walking cliche of it makes me cringe. Especially because my love of Vietnam comes from a place where I love the people, and I love the children. And knowing that a lot of the kids in Vietnam that were born during that time were a byproduct of the prostitution makes me dislike the one-dimensionality of Vietnamese prostitutes in pop-culture. It may very well be accurate, but I just can't stop thinking about what happens when these women go home to their families, when they become mothers. How they're not like that, don't talk like that, etc etc. It's a minor bone to pick, and I'm not even saying that Johnson shouldn't have rendered it that way. I mean, since it's a book about the soldiers, and not about the whores. I guess I'm making a general blanket statement for all Vietnam war stories.

Must keep trucking. Will keep you all updated.

Ishiguro is so cool.

So not only does Ishiguro write acclaimed novels, he also writes music. Hmm. He's getting more attractive by the minute.

Three beers later.

Interesting: Nick Hornby's blog on the bestsellers in America, and how disparate they are. I'm curious as to your opinions.

As for updates on me...

1) I spent the holiday in Cincy, trying to work on my apps. None too successful. But the Cowboys won. Btw, I am incredibly upset at the Eagles' questionable play call in their second to last drive - they would have beat the Pats, I'm sure!! So mad.

2) Started Tree of Smoke. Someone is a little sad I didn't love it as much as he did. I do like it a lot, but some parts lost me. And I still like Junot Diaz's book better. I have more to say a little later about it. I'm 250 pages in.

3) I'm a teensy weensy bit tipsy, so I'm just going to reaffirm - I want to be a writer. I really do. I will do whatever the fuck it takes to make it. I swear. You need me to network? I'm good at that shit. You need me to read? I'll do it. Tell me what to do in order to make it... I want to be a writer because it's the only thing that ever felt real and wonderful to me. I had this terrible meeting at work today, and it just reaffirmed it for me. I want to be a writer. I really do. I won't sell my soul for it, but that's because I believe it takes soul. What do I have to do?

I'm a little bit sad that I'm not going to make my 50 book mark this year. Le sigh.

I missed all of you.

Okay. Good night.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Plane reading.

I got two books in the mail today. I am very excited. Even though Mr. Eco technically has me for another 90 pages, I promised someone I'd start Tree of Smoke. So since I'm getting on a plane tomorrow, Mr. Johnson is going with me, because I don't consider Mysterious Flame exactly light reading for travel.

Happy Turkey Day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Am I really that weird?

Hi, blog. Did you miss me?

Moonrat and I just had a convo about why we write, or at least, why she percieves I write. It's very hard for me to understand the logic of why people write to be published, but she tells me that's why most people write - for approval, to be published, etc. The reason I don't understand this is because it logically doesn't make sense.

I mean, I want to be published as bad as anyone, because this is what I want to do with my life, is write, because I can't not. But the being published thing is like... it's like having your baby out there I guess.

But I don't get the idea of being published for the sake of being published.

Because okay, wealth/fame - not compelling reasons to go through the agony of writing. Being recognized as literary and smart and all that... you would go through the trouble of getting something published for that? It just seems like a lot of work. So then beyond that, why does a person want to be published? What's so gratifying about your name on a spine in itself? I guess what I don't understand is, I've always assumed most people wrote for the same reasons as I did, but Moonie tells me that's not the case. But I don't understand how it's not for the reasons as I do... because your name on a spine in itself, that can't be enough of a driving factor right? It's the end goal of approval, maybe, but that's a byproduct, not a reason...

Do I make any sense here? I kind of want to know why other people write. I know why I write, but I'm curious as to other people's reasons. Maybe I'm a completely deluded sad person. Strange.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dire straits:

I require a caramel apple Crumbs cupcake. RIGHT. NOW.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

You are what you read?

I think our favorite books, the ones that touch us, tell a lot about who we are. The way we see the world, the kinds of things that get us going.

Interesting: I took a class where we discussed McCarthy's The Road at length. [My favorite book currently.] Everyone in the class for the most part really enjoyed it, but what was interesting was learning what people's interpretations of the book were, why they liked it.

I am a really optimistic person for the most part - hopeful of humanity, forgiving to a fault, and believing of the good in people. I read McCarthy's book and took away from it, a very beautiful, hopeful message, in spite of the bad.

My friend in the class is a more pessimistic, cynical person. We saw the same scenes in two completely different lights - where I saw beauty, love, selflessness, she saw selfishness, hopelessness, despair. For her, the book was depressing and bleak. For me, it was the ability for the world to transcend the bleakness.

I digress a little bit, because that's more how you read a book than simply what you read.

But sometimes I pick up a book recommended by a friend who raves about it, and if I don't like it that much, I wonder what it says about my friend and what it says about me. Besides just aesthetics, I feel like books touch a certain chord, and I wonder what kind of truths and lenses with which we see the world make these people feel an affinity towards these books.

I have a friend whose taste in literature I trust intrinsically. I don't think we are necessarily similar people - we don't even necessarily see the world in the same way. But I think it has something to do with what we appreciate in the world, and a certain belief in certain things. Hmm.

I think you can tell a lot about a person from their favorite book(s). I wonder what my taste in books says about me...

O does it again.

I just have to comment on Oprah's new addition to her book club (is this going to be a monthly thing now?):

- Another dude? Um, what about women, O??
- I thought Ken Follett was a genre writer. Which is cool, I mean I have no idea what this book is about, and it's nice to see something different be picked. I guess it's just surprising. But cool.
- But really, can we pick some lesser known female authors please?

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, guys. The new inductee to the exclusive library of the powerful God of all middle-aged women.

Okay, so I'm definitely buying this book this weekend.

NBA winners are...

Fiction: Tree of Smoke - Denis Johnson (I know someone who is going to be VERY happy about this outcome)
Non-fiction: Legacy of Ashes - Tim Weiner (Sadness, Danticat, but you're still my girl)
Poetry: Time and Materials - Robert Hass
Children: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

Yeah, book shopping this weekend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writer's block...

For the UC Irvine app, I have to do both a Statement of Purpose that goes with the academic application for all UCs and a program specific 2-4 page Autobiographical Sketch.

I'm freaking out.

I assume the first will be much more straightforward and businesslike/academic. The second, however, is what I'm stuck on.

This is the official question:

"As it would be helpful to the Admissions Committee to know something about you, please attach an autobiographical sketch of 2-4 pages, concentrating especially on your background in writing and literature. We ask that this autobiographical sketch be separate from the Statement of Purpose, which is part of the application. The aim of the MFA Programs in Writing is to assist accomplished writers in the final stages of their achievement of professionalism in the field of poetry or fiction-writing. Although many writers and poets who have graduated from the Programs also teach, the concern of the Program is not to prepare students for teaching careers. The Admissions Committee is interested primarily in your writing. In your sketch you may wish to indicate what you regard as special in your background experience, writers or writing teachers you have studied with, reading which has influenced you as a writer, and the current direction of your writing. In short, we would like to find out as much as possible about your background as a writer in a few pages."

Freaking out, yes. Because I'm not entirely sure about what approach I should be taking. I could take a completely creative approach I suppose, as opposed to a straightup personal essay. I don't know. What do we think??

NBAs announced tomorrow...

So New York Mag has a good little article, titled "How to Win a National Book Award in Four Easy Steps". I've copied/pasted it right here, but credit is given where it's due.

Btw, even though I STILL haven't picked up Tree of Smoke yet, you know I'm rooting for Denis Johnson. And, of course, for my girl Danticat to win in the non-fiction category.

Is there a method to the madness of the National Book Awards, the Oscars of book publishing? This year there's a clear fiction front-runner (hint: His name is Denis Johnson), but the winners often seem to come not only out of left field, but right field and center field, too. One year Cold Mountain beats Don DeLillo’s Underworld, the next year Alice McDermott trumps Robert Stone. And in some years the choices (made not out of one giant consensus, like the Oscars, but via five rotating committee members) are bafflingly obscure. (Who was Larry Heineman, and was his book really better than Beloved?) But some patterns persist — and we've boiled them down into four rules for winning a fiction award! (This year's top author will be announced at Wednesday's gala.)

Don't Be a Young Debut Novelist
Up until the mid-eighties, there was a separate niche for first novels. Since then, on the few occasions when debuts have won — Ha Jin for Waiting in 1999, Julia Glass for Three Junes, in a 2002 upset — they've either already been published or are well into their middle years, with other careers or colorful histories behind them. That means that the chances this year for Joshua Ferris (And Then We Came to the End) and Mischa Berlinski (Fieldwork) aren't very good.

Do Aim for World-Historical Significance
It seems to have helped obscure or difficult books in recent years, like Lily Tuck's aptly titled The News From Paraguay, in 2004, or William Vollmann's Europe Central a year later. That means Berlinski's complicated book about Thailand has a slightly better shot than Ferris's hip Brooklynite first-person-plural tale of office-life drudgery. Still, obscure picks usually do best in an obscure field, and that's not the
case this year.

Don't Write Short Stories
The last winner was Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever and Other Stories, in 1996; before that, you'd have to go back to 1984. That's roughly one a decade — maybe we're due for one? Even so, this means the short-story collections — The Varieties of Disturbance, by Lydia Davis, and Like You'd Understand, Anyway, by Jim Shepard — are a long shot. Plus, Davis's formally experimental stories (some of them just a couple of words long) make a win for her even less likely.

Do Be a Literary Insider
Davis and Shepard do have one thing in their favor: They're two different brands of literary insiders. Davis, also a translator and once married to Paul Auster, is a known quantity in the lit universe. Shepard's a college professor with a poppy but edgy voice, a cult following among writers (probably including one or two of the judges), and a load of very solid work behind him — but likely not enough cachet to win over everyone on the committee.

Expand Your Demo
Denis Johnson already has the literary-insider and world-historical-significance angles covered: He’s a sometime poet and a big name writer, and his sprawling Vietnam novel is a sweeping indictment of American military ambitions with obvious topical parallels. And he's got the inside track on another requirement: widening your audience. He already had the poetry fans; with Jesus' Son, he won over the younger lit hipsters, and now Tree of Smoke hits the baby-boomers and history buffs where they live. So his appeal probably runs straight through all five members of the committee — like that of past winners Cormac McCarthy and William Styron. He's not as easily crowned as front-runners past, but then, the competition isn't what it used to be. (In 1980, Styron’s co-nominees were Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and Scott Spencer.) Chances are, you'll see Johnson's wife at the podium Wednesday. Johnson himself is in Iraq writing. That's a story in itself — and one the judges will probably like.

Boris Kachka

Monday, November 12, 2007

Norman Mailer, RIP.

Because I haven't been keeping up with anything, I missed the news that Norman Mailer died. I didn't even get a chance to read his book yet, alas.


Sorry, I'm sparse with words these days. I think everything's getting to me, including the weather, and I might be the teeniest tiniest bit depressed.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Barnes is bad.

Barnes is evil. Evil! They sent me a 25% off one item both in-store AND online, ON TOP of my BN membership discount (which I believe is 10% on paperbacks and 20% on hardbacks, and then if I buy a bestseller, it's usually already 20% off). Do you know what this means? This means I'm going shopping.

This also means, I'm caving and buying Tree of Smoke. Yes. That's what I want, and I want it now. I've never been any good at delayed gratification.

I mean, take a look at this. My immediate list for Santa includes:

- Tree of Smoke
- A Tony Romo jersey
- An iPod Touch
- A new cell phone, preferably from Sony Ericsson in Asia
- Acceptance letters
- Tickets to the Cowboys/Giants game this weekend (early present?)

Of those three items, I've already caved and bought the jersey (which Al then berated me for, and finally confessed he'd meant to buy it for me for Xmas, so could I please return it, or else he'd have to think of another genius idea to get me for Xmas), and I'm about to cave and buy the book.

Two out of five is kinda high, eh?

Sigh. Well, whatever. I'm getting a deal. And who can resist a deal??

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I miss...

...when I had time to read something other than

1) my own chapters over and over again (obsessively)
2) my short stories that i'm considering submitting for portfolio
3) my first attempt at a personal statement
4) my classmates' submissions
5) pitch letters and press releases and more pitch letters and maybe some press material copy

I miss books. not much devouring happening lately. I guess I'm on a book diet. But I feel a little like I'm starving.

Some thoughts now that I've started my novel.

Since I've pretty much given in and started posting some more personal things on this site, including my struggle to *become* a writer, I thought I'd take a couple moments during my lunch break to jot down some thoughts:

- It's interesting. Now that I've started a novel, I feel strangely at home. I always knew I wasn't a short story writer at heart, but I taught myself to, because I felt it was necessary. Also because I feared that lacked the stamina to write a novel. But now that I'm about 9,000 words in, I get it. This is where I belong. If I'd be anything, I'd be a novelist. I love creating these characters and knowing them so intimately that I could wax on them for pages and pages. I love that I hold the ultimate keys to everything about them and I can dole out bits and pieces of them at my own discretion. I love how far I can fall into who they are and how they react to things, and the memories they have and watch them change gradually over time. Yes. I'm a novelist.

- This novel is based upon the first writing exercise I did in my first writing class, over a year ago. A character study. Two characters emerged from this exercise (that turned into 6 pages long), and since then I've been playing with them. Trying to figure out who they are. The things that drive them, and of course, the plot that surrounds them. It's been a long long long time in my head, fleshing it out, took me this whole year to do it. The strange thing is that the female character (who is not the main protagonist) while based loosely upon me in only the most superficial ways, was never meant to reflect me or my life or even my outlook on the world. But suddenly, I'm reading pages I've written with her in it, and I suddenly see her in me. That sounds strange, right? But it's not as if she's based on me, but more like, I suddenly understand what she's going through, why she says and needs the things she does, because I suddenly need those things too. I created this character far away from me, and now she's sort of affecting me. Weird. Very weird.

Okay, that's vague, but I can't say much more without giving anything away. So that's all for now. Back to the grind.

Oh and..

I forgot (more like didn't have time) to mention last week that Junot Diaz won the Sargent Award for Oscar Wao. Of course I shot him a congratulatory note. I'm going to take a guess and say that this is the first of several prizes he'll win for this book...

Reading Alert: NBA Finalists

Who wants to go? Unfortunately Denis Johnson isn't reading, who is probably the one I want to hear from the most. Alas.

National Book Awards Finalists
Tishman Auditorium, 12th St. and 6th Ave.
November 13, 7 pm
$10 (get advanced tickets)

Dammit. I'm trying REALLY GOOD and hold out until paperback for Tree of Smoke. But it's really hard! Paperbacks take like YEARS to come out!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Reading Alert: Ha Jin

Ha Jin is reading tonight, but unfortunately I cannot make it. I've got class. But if you guys want to go:

Barnes and Noble
21st and 6th
7 pm


Saturday, November 3, 2007

At least it's over.

My head hurts.

So I did the worst I've ever done on a verbal section and actually did 40 pts better on my math. It's not a fantastic score (combination 1230 I think -- this can be a math problem on the GREs if you want to take the time to figure out the split) and I've done much better on my practice tests, but considering how little it's weighted, it'll do. Besides, I just CAN'T sit through that again. I hate computerized exams, it totally scares me. I like the option to go back later and change my answers...

But I'm done, so tonight, I'm going to dinner at Aquavit with a friend from out of town, then to another friend's bday party and tomorrow I'm going to spend all day watching football (go Colts!). And then come Monday, I'll be a good girl and start working on those apps...

Now I need to take a nap.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Only spammers need apply.

Hahaha I'm sorry, this is so funny. I recieved an email from the Asian American Writer's Workshop, part of which contained this following blurb:

Mass Mailing Help Needed!
The Workshop is in need of 4 individuals for a mass mailing. $50 stipend paid upon completion of job.
Tuesday, November 6th, from 5pm to 9pm (or until finished)@ The Workshop 16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor (btwn Broadway & 5th Avenue) New York City
If interested in applying, email Anjali at with:
- Your full contact information (inc phone and email)
- Briefly describe your past mass mailing experience

The last line cracks me up. "I am very skilled at the bcc function." Dude, I should apply for that job, that's all I did today. And I'm not sure I got $50 for it.