Author Archive

Writers Behaving Badly

Author: | Categories: Writing, Writing Advice 3 Comments
I’m at that stage in editing my second novel where I’m confronted with my own bad habits. It’s much like cleaning out your closet only to discover you still own not one but three pairs of those chunky clogs that were popular in 1996. How have they hidden this

Author-Spotting for Amateurs

Author: | Categories: Reading, Writing 3 Comments
It’s summer! Time to get out those binoculars and spot some writers. If you are unable to find writers, a simple whiskey trail should suffice to lure them to your backyard. Be on the lookout for these newly identified species. Laureatos bolanos The dead foreign writer who wrote eight

Up and Out: Five Things We Can All Learn from Roald Dahl

Author: | Categories: Reading, Writing, Writing Advice 9 Comments
When I was six years old, I copied out the entirety of Roald Dahl’s The Twits. By hand. When I filled  one lined page, I’d apply an inch-wide swath of rubber cement and attach the next paper to the bottom, so that I wound up with a scroll the

The Coffeeshop You Meet in Heaven

Author: | Categories: Writing 4 Comments
The New York Times blog recently highlighted a website called Coffitivity that plays ambient coffee shop noise on an endless loop to help you work more productively from home. I can only assume they previously deduced, through the same vigorous scientific trials I myself have undertaken, that Barista Noise

The Stealth Cliché

Author: | Categories: Writing, Writing Advice 17 Comments
A few years ago, Rosencrans Baldwin blew my mind with his Slate essay “Somewhere a Dog Barked.” Because he was dead right: In nearly every literary novel, that phrase appears. Did I have it in my own fiction? Absolutely. Did I also have the habit of punctuating tense scenes

Can’t See the Forest OR the Trees

Author: | Categories: Uncategorized 6 Comments
There’s a standard piece of writing advice—I believe it’s in the Official Fiction Handbook right between #135, Don’t relate dreams, and #137, Stop describing fluorescent lights already – that goes, There’s no such thing as a tree. By which is meant, your character can’t drive through a tunnel of

How to Shop at a Bookstore: An Easy 20-Step Guide for Authors

Author: | Categories: Uncategorized 19 Comments
1) First, smell it. Look at the new arrivals, lined up like candy. See if, for one second, you can remember what it was like to walk into a bookstore as a reader. Just a reader, a happy, curious reader. With no agenda, no insecurities, no history of bookstores

The Five Books I’d Rescue From the Fire

Author: | Categories: Uncategorized No comments
I have favorite books. And then I have favorite books, as in, the objects themselves, the ones made weird and irreplaceable by the extra markings in or on them—the annotations, the inscriptions, the love notes. When people ask for my “favorites,” this is the list I actually want to

Ask This, Not That

Author: | Categories: Uncategorized 9 Comments
I once heard a story about John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, contributing a lunch date to a silent auction. And my first thought was, “This is one of the most generous things that man could possibly do.” Not because it took tremendous time or energy, but because how

When Characters Attack

Author: | Categories: Uncategorized 17 Comments
It’s eerie to open your email and find a message from one of your characters. It’s downright surreal when he threatens to sue you. A few years ago, I published a story in Tin House which (for reasons that should be clear later) I’ll refer to here just as