My Top Ten Novels

July 31, 2012 8:15 pm | Tags: | No Comments

On Twitter, the writer Patrick Nathan fired up a link to The Top Ten, a website devoted to authors sharing their top ten works of fiction with the world. I have a love of lists—who doesn’t?—and, more than anything, I just thought it would be kind of fun to do. It’s sort of like MVP voting in sports, which is this ill-defined idea of what “valuable” means which leads to a series of criteria for selection that is never wrong but also never fully complete.

Unlike other authors at The Top Ten, I’ve decided not to include short story collections. Why? I guess because I’ve touched on short stories in previous blog posts and spend so much time on short stories, both in my own writing and at work, that I decided to exclude collections. So, novels only. (more…)

My Favorite Things

June 18, 2012 9:50 am | Tags: , , | No Comments

Over the weekend, I was asked for my top five favorite books of all time. This is the equivalent of giving a starving man a menu. Nonetheless, once the day’s writing is done and the basketball or running or lifting are complete, I don’t really want to work in the yard anyway. So I sat down and started scrawling a list of potential top five books—ignoring nonfiction and story collections for the sake of simplicity (which I changed my mind about later)—and quickly had it narrowed down to twenty three “top five” books.

I’ve tried to list my favorite books below. Loosely, they are in some sort of chronological order, but just barely. I forced myself to choose only one book per writer so that you don’t have to read me listing F. Scott Fitzgerald over and over again. I’m sure I’m forgetting something really obvious. (more…)

What Is a Novella?

June 11, 2012 8:45 am | Tags: , , | No Comments

Let me start here: I do not know what a novella is, and no other writer, scholar, or critic has successfully defined it in a way that would make it recognizable to the common reader.

June has been declared National Novella Month by Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network and Deena Drewis of Nouvella Books, a publisher specializing in novellas. During the month, there will be a series of posts put up by Wickett and Drewis, and hopefully many others, on the novella, linking to author essays, blog posts, novella recommendations, and other good things about the novella. (more…)

The Ten Best Short Stories (Ever!)

April 11, 2012 1:35 pm | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments

The good folks over at Storyville have periodically been adding in a few Top Ten stories from various writers: Alan Heathcock, Robin Black, Anthony Doerr, and several others. Surprisingly, they have not asked me for my top ten. Why? Probably because they have no idea who I am. Still!

When I sat down to write a top ten list of stories, I realized that this was a bit of a silly task. Most top ten lists of any kind, of course, are unsatisfying. The rankings of stories  is never going to be a fully satisfying endeavor, even to myself, of what is “best.”

On the other hand, lists are kind of fun. (more…)

Thoughts on Song of Solomon

March 21, 2012 7:26 am | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments

Originally, my Toni Morrison reading plan was going to be chronological. This made sense to me: start from her first book, The Bluest Eye, first published in 1970, and then work my way forward and discover the way she developed as a writer. My thoughts on her debut novel are here. Both an interesting reading experience and an interesting writing experience, I wanted to see how her prose challenged and developed over the course of four decades, and what challenges she threw down for herself over the course of her novels.

But there is also the problem of me as a reader. I can be easily distracted. I read short stories for consideration for publication in The Missouri Review. I read literary journals. I read student stories. At home, there are growing stacks of short story collections, novels, nonfiction, poetry collections, and magazines, all of which I can’t get to, what with other things (read: Life) interfering with my time. Don’t forget, too, the books that I often like and want to re-read, all of which have their spines turned out and facing me along my living room wall. My point is that if I don’t remain focused on a reading plan or goal, I’ll veer off track. This is one of the big reasons I decided to follow Rebecca’s reading plan in the first place. (more…)

Thoughts On The Bluest Eye

March 13, 2012 8:37 am | Tags: , , , | No Comments

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, which I re-read this past week as step one in my plan to follow Rebecca Shinksy’s call to re-read Morrison’s entire backlist. I’ve read Morrison’s first novel before. My copy is leftover from my days at Ohio State and there are some marks on the pages, but not many. A sentence or two underlined, usually over the course of five pages a time, chunks that, clearly, my professor had us focus on. Looking at it now, they seem like the most obvious passages to mark: they are the ones directly addressing the desire for blue eyes in the novel’s tragic character, Pecola Breedlove, the eleven-year-old girl who is raped (and becomes pregnant) by her father.

What I remembered about the novel is a point of pride: I remembered that the same passage I did not like was the same one that, in the afterword, Morrison herself wrote was the least satisfying passage in the book. As an undergrad, I was delighted to learn that my initial response was the same as Morrison’s. This meant I was “correct” and that I “got” the novel. Or, something like that, in the way that I liked to think of the world when I was twenty-one. (more…)

Unwinding From The Windy City

March 6, 2012 9:39 am | Tags: | No Comments

I’ve been attending the AWP conference for a couple of years now, and it always has the same effect on me: endless anticipation, then a massive four-day adrenaline kick, then days of exhaustion. In the past, I’ve written about my AWP experience, post-conference, in a series of quick points because, by this point, that’s the only way my brain is remembering things anyway. Here is my 2010 and my 2011 experience.

This year, I went to Chicago to, of course, represent The Missouri Review. What this means is letting the conference attendees know about what we have been doing, what we are doing, and what we will be doing. It’s also for talking to other editors about what they are doing with their magazines, swapping ideas and tips and sharing information. Also, discovering the new magazines, and meeting the writers. So many writers. Writers that The Missouri Review has published, would like to publish, haven’t yet published, and all the other thousands of people there, many of whom, I simply want to say hello and tell them I enjoy their writing.  (more…)

Why I’m Reading Toni Morrison

February 28, 2012 9:27 am | Tags: , , , , | No Comments

One of the ongoing problems I have as a writer is deciding what to read next. This is, of course, what one might call a “good problem.” It’s not like I’m trying to figure out how to cure cancer or something. In my house, there are growing stacks of books, in various places—bedside table, recliner, coffee table, and so forth—that I have not yet read, and with each new book that I buy, chances grow that those unread books will remain, sadly, unread.

As a young (“emerging”?) writer, I feel a regular anxiety of not being as well-read as I would like to be. This is a bit irrational. Even my friends who are pursuing a PhD in literature who read hundreds of books in order to prepare for the comprehensive exam have plenty of holes in their personal canon. That’s just normal. There is too much great stuff to read, especially if one spends a portion of his/her time writing rather than reading. Sometimes the reading just stops because of the anxiety of influence. (more…)

Let’s Try That Again!

February 14, 2012 9:52 am | Tags: , , , , | No Comments

Once I took my first creative writing workshop in college, I was pretty much hooked. Ohio State is on a quarter system, so I had time to fulfill the requirements that Ohio State had towards having an English degree with a specialty in creative writing: five workshops, and the Advanced Fiction Writing class could be repeated three times for full credit. I had an aversion to poetry—which I thankfully grew out of—and determined that after Mary’s class, I could take four more creative writing classes: three in fiction, and one in nonfiction. This seemed like a good plan, and one that I stuck with until it was time to leave Columbus.

Junior year of college, in my memory, seems magical. Maybe not magical, that might be a bit of a reach, a bit sentimental and melodramatic. But junior year is when I hit my stride as a college student. I spent my freshman year not really sure what I was doing in college. I ate a lot of hamburgers and watched a lot of basketball. I was shy, a bit dorky, and liked to spend lots of my time by myself. It also probably didn’t help to have kept up my relationship with my high school girlfriend (note to incoming college freshman: go to college single!). (more…)

My First Story

January 31, 2012 8:46 am | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments

Last week, in my first blog post for this site, I wrote that it had been fourteen years since I wrote my first story. I was working on an introduction to myself, this site, my book, and I wrote that post fairly quickly without thinking a tremendous amount about all the details. I made sure my spelling was accurate, commas were in right place, and that was about it.

Since then, however, I’ve been thinking about those fourteen years.

In 1998, I was a junior at Ohio State. During my first two years in college, I kicked around various majors, but nothing really stuck. Everything was mildly interesting but nothing really jumped out. For fall quarter, I signed up for my classes months in advance, and apparent, sometime during the spring quarter, I thought “Intro to Writing Fiction” would be a good idea. (more…)