Writers and Their Pets: Andrew Ladd

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by our blog editor, Andrew Ladd.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief


Photo: Maureen Cotton

Many of the essays we’ve featured in the Writers and Their Pets series have been touching accounts of lost or deceased pets—but when I sat down to write my own contribution, about my wonderful two-and-a-half-year-old cat, Jack, I wanted to strike a happier note. The problem was, happy is hard to do, the narrative arc less obvious—and while that was a nice problem to have it was a problem nevertheless: I just couldn’t find a good story to tell about him.

I got Jack with my wife Mallory—then just my fiancée—the night before Thanksgiving in 2011. He was about six months old and recently rescued from a hoarder, and at the shelter he was sharing a cage with so many other cats he’d resorted to sleeping in the litter box. He smelled like it, too, when the staff fished him out for us to take a look at, but he nuzzled so quickly into my shoulder—and showed such terrified resistance when we tried to put him back—that our hearts crumpled. (Besides, we figured: we could always give him a bath.)

He was a white-and-orange tabby and so his papers, predictably, said Garfield—but we quickly rechristened him Jack Meower, after the main character on the TV show 24. Like his namesake, too, he turned out to have boundless energy, improbable agility, and superlative cunning, and he often drove us to despair getting inside and behind and on top of things we were sure we’d fully catproofed.

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AWP Award Series: Julian Hoffman’s The Small Heart of Things and Andrew Ladd’s What Ends

Recently, I put cream cheese, Nutella, and orange zest between two pieces of bread and cooked it up like a grilled cheese. A little butter, a hot pan. Grilled cheese is tried and true. It doesn’t need improvement. But I saw the recipe (though for grilled cheese, I’d call “recipe” a stretch) in this book and had to try it.

I was skeptical. But, you guys. That sandwich was so good. It was warm (duh) and melty (duh) and bittersweet. Perfect for chilly weather, which we are getting plenty of here in Iowa.

Julian Hoffman’s essay collection, the small heart of things, and our blog editor Andrew Ladd’s novel, What Ends—both 2012 AWP Award winners—are a lot like that toasty sandwich. The two seemingly different narratives—also warm and bittersweet—cross the 3,664 kilometers of land and sea between their settings to tackle the complex, emotionally hefty topic of “home.”

(I’ll be discussing the other two winners of the 2012 AWP Award, Joan Naviyuk Kane’s poetry collection Hyperboreal, and Lucas Southworth’s story collection Everyone Here Has A Gun, in a later column.)

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One Year In—Writing The Novel

After one year of writing my novel, I took stock of what I’d accomplished—which seemed like very little. Would writing always feel like flailing? How do novelists find their way through? For guidance, I turned to published novelists, whose interviews are presented in the One Year In: Writing the Novel series.

Today, I launch the series with my own experiences, and the wisdom of Cristina Henriquez, Rebecca Land Soodak, Leah Stewart, and Ploughshares’ own blog editor Andrew Ladd.

One Year In: It's cold and lonely and ugly in here.

One Year In: It’s cold and lonely and ugly in here.

One year ago, I began writing my first novel. Or rather, I stood on the expanse of my novel’s Big Idea, and poked a spade into its earth.

Like the groundbreaking of a construction project, the beginning was exciting, public, and largely ceremonial. I presented the story (in Power Point!) to a room of 100 people. I dug into archives and piled up library books. I sketched blueprints of plot: three sets of characters whose relationships would be changed by a real event, the Peshtigo fire of 1871.

For months, I soared with new-project mania. I nattered about Canadian immigration patterns to anyone I encountered. Each daily experience was sifted and held to the light, a potential gem for my characters. Everything was literally noteworthy. Characters arrived in my mind full-voiced and ready to tell, tell, tell.

I was cheerfully obsessed with my novel. Then, I ruined all the fun by trying to write it.

One year later, what is built? A partial first draft, undergirded by research, and framed by a twenty-chapter outline—none of which will probably survive a second or third draft. (Plus, a bunch of other prose that is definitely Not-My-Novel.)

It’s not how I pictured the One-Year Novel-versary. I imagined a tower of manuscript pages, perhaps a little cake. Continue Reading

Roundup: Scary, Creepy, Dead, and Haunting Posts

As we look forward to updating the Ploughshares blog for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009.  Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.  Since Halloween and Day of the Dead both take place this week, we’ve gathered posts that discuss that which is scary, creepy, grotesque, supernatural, dead, and “haunting.”

  • Tired of hearing books described as “haunting”?  Andrew Ladd takes on the misuse and overuse of this word in a “Blurbese” blog post.



Blurbese: “The First _____”

When Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published, in 2010, the British Daily Telegraph called it “the first great American novel of the post-Obama era.” If that sounds oddly specific (not to mention premature), they at least had good reason for it: the title of “first great American novel of the 21st century” had already been awarded to Franzen’s earlier novel, The Corrections, by Elle magazine.

There is, perhaps, a discussion that could be had about the relative authority of the Telegraph versus Elle in making such pronouncements, but in terms of Franzeniana it wouldn’t make much difference—because Margaret Atwood had already beaten out both Freedom and The Corrections as “the first great novel of the new millennium.” (According to Newsday, anyway; the New York Times called it “overlong and badly written.”)

Firsts, firsts, firsts… Critics love ‘em. Continue Reading

Andrew Ladd wins AWP Novel Award: A Q & A with one of our own

Ploughshares is thrilled to announce that the winner of the AWP Award for the novel is none other than our beloved book reviews editor, Andrew Ladd. The award is part of the AWP Award Series, an annual competition for new, outstanding book-length work in the genres of the novel, creative nonfiction, poetry, and short stories. Andrew Ladd’s winning manuscript is entitled What Ends. Judge Kathryn Davis called his work a “remarkable, haunting novel,” in which “’time isn’t passing, it’s circling,’ and the story of one family’s life on a Hebridean island becomes an apocalyptic vision of what it means to live in time, that ‘blink of stone on a giant sea.'” We talked with Andrew about his writing process, the excitement of a first publication, and plans for the future.

Ploughshares: First of all, congratulations on this incredible honor. Can you tell us a little about What Ends, the novel that won you this award?

Andrew Ladd: What Ends is set on a fictional island in the Hebrides, a real archipelago of more than a hundred off the west coast of Scotland. In the past, many of the Hebrides held thriving communities of fishers and crofters — small-scale farmers — but in recent years their populations have dwindled and on some islands disappeared completely. What Ends traces about thirty years in one of these vanishing communities, focusing in particular on one family, the Continue Reading

Not Unlike…

Last Poems
Hayden Carruth
Copper Canyon Press, June 2012
120 pages

Editor’s Note: P. Scott Stanfield holds a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Recently, I challenged him to see how many references to other works and artists he could make in a single 500-word review. He gets one point for each, or two for any he hasn’t used in a previous column. Last month’s score: 22; this month’s score: 31.

“He became his admirers,” Auden said of Yeats in his famous elegy, acknowledging that for all poets, the day comes when the task of making their case to posterity falls to their admirers.

Hayden Carruth became his admirers on September 29, 2008. Among them are Sam Hamill and Copper Canyon Press—publishers of this and many other books by Carruth—as well as Brooks Haxton and Stephen Dobyns, who wrote affectionate and candid prefatory essays for it.  A gracious tribute to a friend and teacher, Last Poems is also, ineluctably, a case presented to posterity.

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Blurbese: “a _____ debut”

Book reviewers generally frown on unnecessary adjectives. Precisely how they frown depends on the situation, but you can bet if an author’s use of adjectives comes up in a review it’s not as a compliment. If a book is filled with rare and unusual descriptions (e.g. “a perturbing peccadillo”), it’s “flowery” or “over-wrought”; if it’s filled with commonplaces (e.g. “a worrying problem”), it’s “clunky” or “unimaginative.” (Think Dan Brown.)Continue Reading

Blurbese: “funny”

Book reviewers’ relationship with the word “funny” is, well—a little funny. I’m somewhat sympathetic about this one, too, at least when it comes to novels that are deliberately comic, because it’s tough to review authors whose reputation is based entirely on humor. What, after all, can the word “funny” really say about a book by Jasper Fforde or Tom Holt or Christopher Moore or Douglas Adams? Of course they’re funny—that’s the point.

Instead, reviewers are forced into an ever-escalating arms race of adjectival madness when reviewing books like these: they’re comic, they’re zany, they’re madcap, they’re witty, they’re screwball, they’re hilarious … You get the idea.Continue Reading

AWP Book Review Contest: The Results!

At AWP this year, we asked bookfair attendees to review a book—any book they liked—in one sentence. We got a lot of creative responses, from five words to fifty-three, from questions to statements to imperatives, and from glowing to critical to cryptic. We also got a lot of semicolons, which we were okay with; the entry that was two sentences long, not so much.

But after all that, we had to pick a winner. So congratulations to Alexandra Reisner, from New Orleans, for her review of Hiroshima, by John Hersey:Continue Reading