What is your writing routine? What does it look like when you sit to write? Any special rituals?
I am so glad you asked. It’s really pretty great. I sit at my computer, and I check Facebook for, like, ten minutes. Okay, haha, twenty minutes. And then I write. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I do research. Once, I bribed myself with M&Ms to get through my edits.
Julia Alvarez keeps a bowl of water on her desk when she writes. Can you tell us about your own writing routine?
Yeah, huh. I’ve been getting this question a lot. I mean, I just… I sit there. And I write. I don’t even listen to music. I mean… Wait, don’t look sad. I’m sorry. Listen, you don’t actually believe that about the water, do you? Next to her computer? Come on! Sorry, wait, I’ll try again. I, um, I’m there at my desk. And I have—wait, this is interesting! I have some postcards on my desk! Of places I like!
Hemingway wrote standing up and claimed to be done by noon and drunk by three. How about your writing routine?
I understand that you want a window into my brain, I get that, or maybe you want some special trick, like something I do before I start writing every day, and if you do that thing too, all your problems will be solved. As if I know what I’m doing. I just… I don’t know what to tell you. A movie of me writing would look like a person sitting at a desk and writing. It’s like, What’s your email routine? You just sit there and answer email, right? Listen, I don’t mean to be cranky, because I’m flattered that you care. I just feel like I’m disappointing you.Continue Reading
I first met Jennine on the dance floor in a barn on a summer night at Breadloaf. Or at least I like to remember it that way. She’s an electric person, both in the flesh and on the page. She says the unexpected, and also the uncomfortable and necessary. She’s equal parts funny and fearless, irreverent and brilliant. Our interview, below:
MMB: I think of you as a writer who addresses the specific impact a place has on the human experience and shaping of self, but in a way that feels fresh and contemporary. In your first collection, How to Leave Hialeah, Charles Baxter praised you for writing a book that starts “with Cuban American neighborhoods and cultures and then sails off into the direction of the great themes: love, familial bonds, aging, and death. And resurrection.”
Your latest novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, concerns the daughter of two Cuban immigrants, and one who chooses to leave Miami for a more privileged college environment. What do you make of the current dialogue in America on immigration, and how does this fuel your current work, if at all?
JCC: My family bought into the American Dream rhetoric in a pretty hardcore way. I was raised to think of this country as the best one on the planet specifically because it welcomed my family and gave them opportunities for a better life. I mean, my parents named me Jennine after the Miss America runner up the year I was born (though spelled differently, I think)—so it goes that deep for them. As I got older, naturally my own ideas about this country grew more complicated, particularly around the issues of immigration. I think what’s most disappointing for me about our current dialogue is how quickly the conversation dehumanizes the people these policies impact. And I thought about that a lot while writing Make Your Home Among Strangers: I wanted the book show how a larger national conversation impacts one person&mdashhow these policies eventually come to shape who we are and how we move through our communities. And what I thought about the most as I wrote certain scenes—namely the ones about the fictionalized version of Elian Gonzalez—was how little things have changed in the last fifteen years, how we’re still using the same broken system, how very disappointing that is.Continue Reading
I’ve always felt that AWP* could be livened up by a conference-long game of Paintball Assassin. Until that happens, here’s some other stuff to try:
The Book Fair Bartering Game:
Start with free swag. Something cool, like a box of matches with a chapbook cover on it. Find the bored grad student tending another booth. (A booth with better swag, preferably swag that costs something. Like magnets. Magnets always cost more than you’d think.) Trade the matchbox for a magnet, then trade up your magnet for a hat, and so on. There is at least one booth with a bottle of bourbon. You win the game if you get the bottle when it’s still half full.
The Start-Your-Own-VIP-Party Game:
You don’t have to be a VIP. You just have to convince all the VIPs that the real VIP party is in the back room of Potbelly’s. Then you lock them in there and don’t let them out until at least five of them have written you blurbs.
The Intentional Misidentification Game:
Approach any writer who is clearly not Junot Diaz but could maybe, in a dark alley, pass for him, and excitedly shout that you loved Drown. You win the game when someone goes along with it. Bonus points if he signs your nametag as Junot Diaz.Continue Reading
Writer’s Butt is a real and tragic thing. You might be making great progress on that novel, but is your seat getting wider with every word count goal? Is your back so tight that when you stand up your arms are permanently locked in that T-Rex typing position? Time to stretch out and get the blood flowing with these specially designed exercises. (As always, consult your physician before starting any vigorous training regimen.)
Bind together seven copies of literary magazines that rejected you, and impale them on the end of a sharp stick. Now do the same with seven more mags on the other end of the stick. Now it’s time for the free lift! That thing must weigh at least ten pounds.
Sitting in your rolling chair, use your feet to propel yourself away from your computer in disgust. The sudden motion and rush of oxygen might give you a new idea. If it does, tiptoe-crawl your chair back to your desk, because you’re too far away to grab the edge of it with your hands. This uses your abs more than you’d think.
Switch to an old-timey manual typewriter. After a few weeks, your fingers will be strong enough to curl your own ironic handlebar moustache.Continue Reading
Recently, I was reading The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov’s antic retelling of the stories of Faust and Pontius Pilot. The novel follows—in part—the devil and his deranged retinue, including a bipedal cat and a naked woman, as they wreak havoc on Moscow. The edition I own, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor, is extensively end-noted, providing historical, political, and cultural background about the 1920s and ’30s in Russia. Still, I could feel myself missing things. Jokes in particular seemed to be flying around overhead. One end note even assured me, “this is a very funny acronym in Russian.”
I asked Marc Lowenthal, a translator of French and the publisher of the excellent Wakefield Press, which is devoted to works in translation, whether humor can make the transition over languages. He told me it can, absolutely. But, he said, “as with anything else—beauty, ideas, emotion—it often can’t be (and shouldn’t be) a seamless transition.”Continue Reading
We’re happy to present the first of a new series–interviews with our guest editors, following the publication of their issues. Below is an introduction by Jessica Treadway, Emerson College professor and author of the forthcoming Lacy Eye (Grand Central, 2015), and a conversation between Editor-in-Chief Ladette Randolph and Percival Everett, guest editor of the Fall 2014 issue.
If you read Percival Everett’s books blind, without any names attached, it would probably take you some time to absorb the fact that a single author was responsible for them all. I knew it was the same author, and it still took me time–his work is that versatile, that eclectic, that impossible (thank goodness) to pin down. It is always exceptionally smart. By turns it can also be laugh-out-loud funny, tender, quiet, rowdy, clever, provocative, and sad. Even in the case of an outlandish premise, it is completely true.Continue Reading
Bouton, motivating corporate types.
Under review: Ball Four: Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Jim Bouton (465 pages, 1990, Wiley Publishing)
A memoir’s publication date usually serves as a finish line. The events within have already taken place well, well in the past; their cathartic release tends to act as a formal and organized end to the events’ influence on the author’s life.
The opposite is true of the life and memoirs of Jim Bouton, big-league pitcher throughout the sixties and into the seventies. The weeks and months that Bouton chronicled in his memoir, Ball Four, were hardly detectable compared to the Richter-scale impact that the release of Ball Four had on Bouton’s life. Decades later, Bouton in his seventies still earns speaking gigs at corporate functions not so much because he lived the life that Ball Four details, but because he wrote about it.
“Oh, I get it. ‘Pete’ is the name of the boy who falls off the log. ‘Repeat’ is the name of the other boy, but when you say his name, you’re also asking me to say the joke again.”
My daughter says this a week after she’s been told the classic “Pete and Repeat” joke. You know this, right?
Joker: “Pete and Repeat sat on a log. Pete fell off. Who was left?”
Joker: “Okay, Pete and Repeat sat on a log…”
For days, my daughter has told this joke to anyone within earshot. Now, for the first time, she actually understands it.
“That is kind of funny,” she says. Continue Reading
If you didn’t have the pleasure of viewing “30 Rock” before its finale on January 31, allow me to introduce you to the funniest female sitcom character since Lucille Ball. Her name is Liz Lemon, and — as the head writer for “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” a live comedy show that airs Friday nights at 10:30 pm (unless there’s wrestling) — she doesn’t just know how to be funny; she knows how to use it to pay her bills. So no matter what your genre, the seven tips below will help you make comedy and paper, Liz Lemon style, by finding your niche as a writer in an overcrowded industry.
This is old news, but in 2005, the Poetry Foundation gave the poet Billy Collins something called the Mark Twain Poetry Award of $25,000, “recognizing a poet’s contribution to humor in American poetry.” The press release included these two sentences: “Billy Collins has brought laughter back to a melancholy art. He shows us that good poetry need not always be somber poetry.” That a foundation with the word Poetry in front of it would actually support writing they then label melancholy is, I suppose, baffling enough (though one can easily sense, being a press release, that melancholy was used only to make laughter stand out), but to then give an award to the best selling poet in American history (Collins’ book, Sailing Alone Around the Room is rumored to have earned him a million-dollar advance) even more money is quixotic. Couldn’t they have given the $25,000 to someone who really could use the money as a bribe to make their poems funny? Or, at the very least, funnier?