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Timeless words...

When one voice rules the nation
Just because they're top of the pile
Doesn't mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Outside the patient millions
Who put them into power
Expect a little more back for their taxes
Like school books, beds in hospitals
And peace in our bloody time
All they get is old men grinding axes

Who've built their private fortunes
On the things they can rely
The courts, the secret handshake
The Stock Exchange and the old school tie
For God and Queen and Country
All things they justify
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

God bless the civil service
The nations saving grace
While we expect democracy
They're laughing in our face
And although our cries get louder
The laughter gets louder still
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

-Billy Bragg, "Ideology"

(My iPod's battery is either dying or dead, so I haven't carried it to work in over six months. Just this morning I was trying to remember the words to "Ideology" to sing to myself as I walked from my train to the office, but realized I had forgotten most of the second verse. A quick web search, and now all the words are firmly re-lodged in my head. And so, fellow Heritage Corridor Metra commuters, you've been warned.)

January 30, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kevin Brockmeier, "A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil"

My first review at The Short Story Reading Challenge, of Kevin Brockmeier's "A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil", is now online. Please check it out if you have a few moments.

January 27, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tom Swifty

Here's a fun contest over at Mental Floss: come up with your own Tom Swifty. Here's my entry:

"I am finished," Tom said conclusively.

I'm passing along news of this contest at no risk to my own candidacy, because I undoubtedly already have the winner anyway.

(Via Stephany Aulenback.)

January 26, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

E.M. Forster, Howards End

Just finished reading E.M. Forster's Howards End, and I can reservedly say that it's a great book. The story itself is marvelous - a sharp study about social classes in early-20th Century England, how members of those classes interact and what responsibility, if any, they have toward each other. Forster's characters are wonderful, especially the caught-between-classes Margaret Schlegel and her bourgeois husband Henry, a callously insensitive man whose interest in others is limited to how they reflect on him and affect his standing in society. The story's settings are also particularly strong; I can easily envision Howards End, Oniton Grange and Wickham Square, and Forster's lush and vivid descriptions really point to his fascination and love for his country.

The reason I qualify my overall assessment with that term "reservedly" is Forster's penchant for digressive asides, in which he regularly halts the narrative flow to pontificate on abstractions, elaborating on the narrative in vague and high-flown language. He chooses to drive home thematic points in this manner rather than just letting the story deliver the theme - which is somewhat puzzling, considering that the story already expresses his themes very effectively, thus making all those asides unnecessary. My guess is that eliminating these passages could have cut as many as 50 or 75 pages from the book, significantly tigthtening the narrative to its essentials and creating a much greater book. As it is, Howards End is already a great book, but it could have been even better.

January 26, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wheatyard - The Epigraph

I have mixed feelings about epigraphs. When used appropriately, they effectively convey and summarize the author's thoughts about the work - but when misued, they can come across as pretentious and desperate invocations of earlier classics, as if the author is saying, for example: "By quoting from Milton, I am insisting that my book is every bit as great as Paradise Lost."

Erring on the side of caution and wanting to completely avoid the latter case, at first I gave no thought whatsoever to an epigraph for my novella-in-progress, Wheatyard. I finished the first draft last spring, epigraph-less, but then during my Summer of Classics I happened to read Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, and was struck by this passage from the narrator's introduction:

Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, indeed, one vague report which will appear in the sequel.

I immediately saw the obvious (and, I hope, non-pretentious) parallel between Bartleby and Wheatyard. Both protagonists are mysterious, idiosyncratic individuals who have mostly withdrawn from society and want to live their lives entirely on their own terms. Both interact with society only to meet their most basic needs - Bartleby for employment (and a clandestine place to sleep), Wheatyard for outlets willing to publish his fiction. And both Bartleby the Scrivener and Wheatyard are narrated by individuals who discretely and over-cautiously seek to find out the truth about the protagonists - tiptoeing around the periphery of the protagonists' lives without directly confronting them to get an immediate answer to the mystery.

Obviously, I could write for centuries and never achieve the status of Melville, and hope that in choosing this epigraph I'm not being too presumptuous. I'm doing so because Bartleby's sad story is very much reflected in the life I've conjured up for Elmer Glaciers Wheayard, and not because my writing in any way approaches the greatness of Melville. I'm merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

January 26, 2008 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Riches of Rykodisc Revealed

The venerable record label Rykodisc is celebrating its 25th anniversary, with a great offer to listeners: just register with the label, and every month this year you'll be able to download five selected tunes from their hefty back catalog, ALL FOR FREE.

I just signed up, and January's tunes are from Ali Farke Toure & Ry Cooder, King Sunni Ade, Baka Beyond, Toumani Diabate and Taj Mahal with Toumani Diabate. Admittedly, I haven't listened to much Afrobeat - or whatever it's called - since that one Ladysmith Black Mambazo album I bought twenty years ago in the inevitable post-Graceland euphoria, but I'm looking forward to hearing all of these tunes. And their roster of artists is stupendously diverse, so I'm sure many more musical styles are on the way.

You really can't go wrong with this offer, so join today!

January 26, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

"A young man’s book, an old man’s book..."

Sven Birkerts on Knut Hamsun. I've been toying with the idea of subscribing to Bookforum, and this finally clinches it for me. Count me in.

January 24, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ska's not just for grownups any more.

If this doesn't get the kids to tidy up, then nothing will.

Seeing this reminds me of back when my daughter Maddie was a toddler, and was enamored of a TV commercial which had the Specials' "Monkey Man" as background music. (Can't remember what the product was.) I owned the Specials CD on which that song first appeared, so I cued up that track for her to hear. She seemed to like it at first, but then became increasingly intimidated by the volume I was playing it back at on the stereo. By the time I made the mistake of switching to another tune (probably something like "Gangsters"), the novelty had completely worn off for her. Julie, being the much more sensitive and sensible parent of the two of us, tensely called across the room that I was scaring the poor little girl. Deservedly chastised, I clicked off the stereo, and kept the volume at a reasonable from that point on.

(Via Boing Boing.)

January 21, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Be still...


...my writer-geek, ephemera-craving heart: Typewriter Ribbon Tin Collection. Writing-related AND with gorgeous graphic design. Ooh la la.

During our last visit to the local antique shop I put Julie on notice that I have an eye out for a vintage manual typewriter to be acquired for purely aesthetic, dust-gathering purposes. Picking up a few of these beauties might keep me sated for a while until that perfect Royal or Underwood comes along.

(Via Coudal.)

January 21, 2008 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (5)

RAGAD reading at Book Cellar: no bruises, no frostbite

The RAGAD reading at Book Cellar went very well. Turnout was much better than I expected on such a bitterly cold night, the atmosphere was warm and inviting and despite the added pressure of being the "featured" reader (since issue #5 is devoted entirely to my story "Mercy Day", which I read) I didn't perform too horribly. Despite what Nick Ostdick says, however, I wouldn't describe the audience as being "riveted" by my story, but they did seem to enjoy it - and not a single one of them dozed off. My sincerest thanks to Nick for publishing the story and hosting the event, and I'd also like to give a shout-out to my fellow readers Spencer Dew, Jill Summers and the irrepressible Ben Tanzer.

Incidentally, Ben, Nick, Jason Pettus (CCLaP) and Jason Behrends (What to Wear During an Orange Alert?) convened after the reading to record a podcast on all things locally literary, which can be enjoyed here. I was kindly asked to participate, but had to decline - after Julie was cheerfully willing to be dragged all the way up to the city on such a forbidding night, I thought she deserved a nice dinner afterward. Which we had - after a few unsuccessful stops at other places, we had an excellent meal at Tilli's, in Lincoln Park.

Update: Jason Pettus has posted several photos from the reading. In the third photo down, I'm the follically-challenged guy in the plaid shirt. Julie is to my right, and the bearded Nick Ostdick is at the far left. The hands grasping the beer bottle and glass in the foreground, I believe, belong to Ben Tanzer.

January 21, 2008 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Where books go to die...

Check out this compelling, beautiful and (to a book lover such as myself) horrific slide show of an abandoned, rotting schoolbook depository in Detroit. What all of this says about urban spaces, the educational system and the environment is almost too awful to contemplate.

Update: The photographer has a long and thoughtful post on this subject here.

(Via Boing Boing.)

January 19, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

New tune from Bob Mould

The esteemed Bob Mould has released "The Silence Between Us", a solid tune from his new album District Line. Some interesting sonic twists are in there that I wouldn't necessarily have expected from him, but he's definitely keeping things fresh. Part of me wonders, longingly, if he'll ever revisit the fury of his Hüsker Dü days. Probably not. All of us mature, mellow and move on - and he seems to be doing all of those things particularly well. Reading his periodic blog posts, it appears he's living a full, rewarding and healthy life, and I'm pleased he's been able to move beyond the darkness.

January 19, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rest in peace, Richard Knerr

(Photo from The Pollack PR Marketing Group.)

Richard Knerr, the co-founder of the great toy company Wham-O, has passed away at age 82. Besides commercializing the Frisbee for the international market, he also helped invent such icons as the Hula Hoop, the Slip 'N Slide, the Superball and Silly String, along with countless other toys. American childhoods since the 1950s would have been immeasurably poorer without him. Thank you, Mr. Knerr.

(Via Boing Boing.)

January 17, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I am not a go-getter, I've never been a go-getter. What's more, I don't even want to be a go-getter. I'm very happy right where I am. I'm sick of all these people saying 'Peterson, you gotta push', 'You gotta get ahead', 'You gotta make that goal.' I don't even want to make the goal, Diane. I want to be a bench warmer. The world needs bench warmers. If there were no bench warmers, what would we have? Cold benches. A lot of cold benches and the world does not need that, Diane. I'm very happy with being an anonymous cog in this field of work...I'll tell you something else: Norm Peterson may be a motionless lump, but he's a damn good one."
- Norm Peterson

January 16, 2008 in Television | Permalink | Comments (0)


"The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken."
- E.M. Forster, Howards End

January 15, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Memo to Sam Zell

To: Sam Zell, new Tribune head honcho
From: Pete Anderson, longtime reader (and former employee of yours)
Re: Reviving the Tribune

Sam, I know you're looking to make a big splash in media circles by reviving the Chicago Tribune, which you've recently taken control of. Everyone says newspapers are a dying medium, but you've defiantly retorted that they ain't dead yet. Given your history of contrarianism, along with the hundreds of millions of dollars you stand to gain if you are proven correct, I'll assume your statements are sincerely felt. Although your maverick status implies you're not terribly receptive to outside opinion, I still have a few ideas to suggest for the Tribune.

Although substantial improvements are needed on the editorial side of the business, I can't comment on much there other than to point out that your front section on Sundays reads like a glorified wire service sheet. While I haven't tabulated any hard figures, I could swear that at least half of the stories there come directly from the Associated Press - in other words, the same stories that every other newspaper in existence has access to. Bolstering your non-Chicago correspondent ranks and foreign bureaus, and thus delivering much more original content, would be a big first step.

But on a more basic level, even if your editorial product improves dramatically, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't deliver that content to the reader. On the internet side, drop the silly site registration formality that's currently required to read Tribune articles online. People will be much more likely to share your stories with others, thus increasing your site traffic and the rates you can charge advertisers, if they can do so without burdening their friends and acquaintances with the annoyance of site registration.

Secondly, there will always be a substantial amount of people who prefer reading an old-fashioned newspaper in hand rather than online. (Assuming, of course, that your editorial quality is high - if a reader only expects to see a few articles they're interested in, they'll probably just read in for free online instead of paying for a copy of the paper.) But those people have to be able to physically access the paper to even consider making a purchase, and I've increasingly noticed instances in which the Tribune's distribution function is sorely lacking. Three pieces of anecdotal evidence from my own experience:

1. Until a month ago, I had home delivery of the Sunday Tribune for most of the past twenty years. Reading the Tribune was a cherished part of my Sunday ritual - in my younger bachelor days, I'd even read it cover to cover. But the Tribune has abdicated its home distribution role, instead outsourcing home delivery to an anonymous fleet of generally unaccountable independent contractors. Our home delivery service grew increasingly erratic, with the paper never arriving half the time, which required us to contact a call center (overseas, we suspect) which always assured us that the delivery person would be contacted immediately and our paper would be arriving shortly. It rarely did, even after calling, and even if it did arrive it wouldn't be there until 10 or 11 a.m. at which point my prime reading time had already passed. Since most such mornings ended up with me driving out to the drugstore to buy my own copy anyway, we decided to cancel home delivery and pick up our copy at the store.

2. Since then I've been picking up the Sunday Tribune at my local CVS. But the clerk there told me that the Tribune has recently been providing significantly fewer copies of the paper each day, which isn't a problem for me since I get to the store fairly early but increases the chances that the later-arriving Tribune reader won't find a copy to buy. On top of that, the Sunday final editions are often mixed up with the early editions (which should have been removed when the final edition was dropped off), thereby risking my arriving back home with a paper full of nothing but Friday's news. The paper's sections are also sorted haphazardly, so I never really know if I'm buying a complete paper.

3. Lastly, this past Sunday I stopped to pick up breakfast at the most popular doughnut shop in town. The place was particuarly crowded this week, with every seat occupied and a line that stretched out the door. Inside, copies of your rival Sun-Times and its subsidiary Joliet Herald-News were in plentiful supply, but no Tribune. While there was a Tribune coin-operated box outside, the box was completely empty - and given the early hour, my guess is that it had never been filled.

Not putting the paper where people can buy it - outside high-traffic doughnut shops and inside drugstores - or reliably delivering it to people's homes are just two aspects of the Tribune's business model which are clearly broken. No matter how good your paper is, if people can't get their hands on it, they won't read it. So fix your distribution system first, and do it quickly. Otherwise your newspaper's steady decline into irrelevance will be no one's fault but your own. Yes, the problems predated your stewardship, but they're your problems now. So fix them.

January 14, 2008 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writing Update - The Engine Driver

Well, that didn't last long. I've decided to set aside The Engine Driver for a while. I still haven't resolved the dilemma I mentioned earlier - how an untrained farmboy could conceivably build a functioning steam engine out of salvaged parts, all alone, in the winter wilderness. Though I have a few ideas on how to handle that question, I decided to move past it and work on the story beyond that point. But the story just wouldn't come alive for me - though I wrote ten or twenty more pages, the narrative seemed flat, lifeless and uninspired - and I realized this even while I was writing it. I toyed with the idea of continuing to write out the entire story in such skeletal form, and then go back later to flesh it out. (Pardon the metaphor.) But I'm aware enough of my writing habits - three unfinished novels so far, and dozens of unfinished stories, all of which I've long meant to resume working on but have failed to do so due to the distraction of new projects - to realize that such a skeleton first draft, even if I were to ever complete it, stood a strong chance of being set aside and never resumed.

I questioned the purpose of continuing to work on it, and decided it didn't make sense to do so. So for the time being, I'm filing away The Engine Driver in my Maybe drawer. As in: Maybe if inspiration strikes and I find a better way to write the story, I'll start it up again. But for now I'm moving on to other, and hopefully better, things.

January 14, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

A subtle reminder...

Or not so subtle.


That is all. I apologize for all of the shouting. But this self-promotion stuff is loud and dirty business.

January 13, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

One Sentence Movie Reviews: Tin Men (1987)


Tin Men (1987): The arrival of age and career don't necessarily bring happiness and security.

Notes: Barry Levinson follows up his excellent Diner with another film set in early 1960s Baltimore, this time with star power (Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Devito) instead of the earlier film's younger, relative unknowns. In the later film it's as if the Diner guys were shifted ahead a generation, while staying in the same place and time - they gain careers and marriages and houses-with-mortgages while staying insecure, unsatisfied, unable to communicate with women and generally unahappy. Devito is wonderful here in all his typical tightly-wound comic fury (the scene where he prays in front of the salad bar is absolutely priceless) but Dreyfuss' lothario-turned-romantic doesn't quite click. The conclusion is also a bit flat and anticlimatic, bringing an unsatisfying end to what promised to be a very fine film.

(Thanks to Kevin Smokler for the "one sentence movie review" concept.)

January 12, 2008 in Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Let us now read James Agee, already

At the Guardian blog, Chris Routledge writes a fine appreciation for James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book has been on my shelf, still unread, for more than ten years. (I have, however, thumbed through it several times for Walker Evans' classic photographs which accompany the text.) I started reading it once, a few years ago, but gave up after only about ten pages. One of my goals for this year is to finally sit down and read the book. I've heard from others that the text is a bit impenetrable (I also remember, vaguely, those first ten pages being as such) but I get the feeling that the effort, no matter how considerable, will be very much worth it.

And if that proves successful, I suppose I'll next be checking out Dale Maharidge's And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which I just stumbled across for the first time. It's published by the esteemed Seven Stories Press, and described by none other than Studs Terkel as "at times astonishing, at all times deeply moving", so I really can't see how I could go wrong with this one.

January 11, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wow! I've been translated!

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Luke Kowalski, who has been kind enough to translate my story "The Copper Responds" into Polish. You can see (and read, if you know Polish) his translation here.

As I once said in reference to Laila Lalami upon translation of one of her stories into Italian:

It occurs to me that an even greater honor than being published in your own language is to be translated and published in a foreign language publication--the fact that someone thinks your story is worth the effort of translating speaks volumes about its merit.

I am utterly flattered that Luke felt this way about my story, so much so to go the great effort of translating it. Luke, you have my deepest gratitude.

January 10, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)


"In a curious way, I'm not much interested in language. In my ideal poem, no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of... just see the people, the place."
-Philip Levine, who turns 80 today

Words that don't call attention to themselves - or, by extension, to the writer - but instead to the people and the place those words are describing. I really admire that.

January 10, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shocking? Hardly.

Our political pundits need to pause and take a deep breath. And several of them should also take a long and very cold shower.

Again and again I've heard Hillary Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primary described as "shocking." As if this slim victory by a deep-pocketed and firmly-entrenched member of the Democratic Party establishment, who just a week ago was considered the front-runner for the nomination, was at all surprising or unprecedented. The presumptive journalists on ABC's "Nightline", particularly the breathlessly giddy George Stephanopolous, fell all over themselves last night basking in Hillary's win. Stephanapolous (whose objective credibility in any matter related to the Clintons, of whom he is a longtime crony, is highly suspect) was particularly enthused, so much so that he probably needed a change of underwear after the broadcast. I heard the word "shocking" used at least half a dozen times during the broadcast's first fifteen minutes, before I finally rolled over and went to sleep.

No, this wasn't at all "shocking." Shocking would have been Hillary winning New Hampshire by 25 points. Shocking would have been Bill Richardson winning the primary by any margin, after his poor showing in Iowa. Shocking would have been John Edwards dropping out of the race and throwing his support behind Ron Paul. Shocking would have been 25% of the Democratic voters even knowing who the hell Mike Gravel is.

An analogy to this would be an imagined Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe tennis match in 1980, during their prime. Borg takes the first set with a particularly strong performance, but McEnroe recovers to win the second set with an equally strong comeback. McEnroe's win wouldn't have been considered shocking or even surprising - instead, it's simply two mighty competitors at the peak of their powers, splitting the first two sets. It's really no different with Obama winning in Iowa and Hillary in New Hampshire - two strong competitors playing it even.

I continue to be amazed at the cheerleading and superficiality that passes for journalism these days. It almost seems like the journalists want there to be "shocking" "upset victories" in the political races - rather than acknowledge reality in characterizing Hillary's New Hampshire win as unsuprising and even predictable - to bring undeserved legitimacy and dignity to their self-appointed roles as prognosticators and sages. It's as is they're saying "The political process is so chaotic and unpredictable that society is truly fortunate that we're around to provide wisdom and perspective."

No, pundits, our society is not so fortunate. For it's that perspective of yours that considered Hillary to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination just a week ago, but as soon as Obama won in Iowa your perspective careened 180 degrees and King Barack was all but crowned in coronation. And now you profess to have deep insights into how the rest of the long presidential primary season will play out. Those insights, of course, are gleaned almost entirely in the echo chamber of TV studios - the likes of George Stephanopolous and Tim Russert and Donna Brazile all swapping interchangeable notes - and from "scientific" poll results (the same polls, of course, that had Hillary winning Iowa and Obama winning New Hampshire) and the windy ponderings of overpaid political consultants, and not at all from pounding the pavement and talking to everyday people. You know, doing actual journalistic work and communicating with the people who are actually voting in the primaries. Pundits, you might consider trying this approach the next time you want to claim to be any sort of experts.

Just a thought.

January 9, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Same old New Yorker

From The Millions: over the past five years, 32% of the short stories published in The New Yorker have been written by just 14 authors: William Trevor, Alice Munro, Tessa Hadley, Haruki Murakami, Thomas McGuane, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Roddy Doyle, Louise Erdrich, Lara Vapnyar, John Updike, George Saunders, Edward P. Jones, Charles D'Ambrosio and Antonya Nelson. Fine writers all, of course, but their predominance in that magazine's pages all but screams out for more variety.

Which also screams out for the submission of quirky stories to that literary bastion by low-profile writers everywhere, as originally clarion-called for by J. Robert Lennon and dutifully passed along here. Fellow peons, get writing!

January 8, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dos Passos novella now online

For those of you who are more inclined to reading book-length works of fiction online than I am, John Dos Passos' 1922 novella One Man's Initiation - 1917 is now online at Project Gutenberg. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his Manhattan Transfer several years ago, and have been wanting to read another work of his. This novella, however, probably won't be it, at least not online in this form. (Memo to the good folks at DailyLit: I'd love to read this in daily, spoon-fed installments.)

January 8, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dancing with M.

Following up on my previous commentary on M. Ward's The Transfiguration of Vincent: the album consists entirely of Ward's originals, with the charming exception of a cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance". Ward strips out all of the bombast, hit-seeking overproduction and dance rythyms of the original to somehow reveal a delicate and touching love song. Here's a live version of Ward's cover, as originally broadcast on KVRX. Bowie should have tried such a winningly subtle approach to the song himself back in 1983, were he not so intent on being a chart-topping rockstar back then.

(Via Largehearted Boy.)

January 7, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

The pleasant way to read James Patterson

Here's a truly inspired exercise - reading the latest James Patterson "thriller", but just the last line of each chapter.

Then we began reading just the last sentence of every chapter. They were all very--cue scary music--DUN DUN DUNNN!! And the more we read, the funnier they got.

Naturally, we decided that they needed to be collected.

So I typed up a list of the last line of every chapter in the book. And the amazing thing was that the story actually made sense this way.

I would like to personally thank Steph at Natural/Artificial for her exemplary and invaluable act of public service - thanks to her efforts, I will never bother reading even one of Patterson's books. I think I already have the gist of all of them, past and future.

(Via Judge a Book By Its Cover, where readers weigh in with their favorite of Patterson's last lines.)

January 6, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writing Update - The Engine Driver

As part of my resolutions, I've committed to writing at least 500 words of fiction each day this year. I metaphorically (and ironically) dropped the ball right away, on New Year's Day, when I frittered away prime afternoon writing time by watching the first half of the Rose Bowl, in which my beloved Fighting Illini quickly fell behind by two touchdowns and never fully recovered en route to a blowout loss to USC. When I finally turned the game off it was dinner time, and I returned from my upstairs seclusion to spend the rest of the day with the family. In retrospect, my time watching the Rose Bowl would have been much better spent writing.

But I made up for that lapse by doubling my writing session on the 2nd, when I went back to work. Ordinarily I read on the morning train and write on the evening train (writing being the more mentally engaging activity of the two - reading in the evening ususally leads to a nap) but that day I wrote on both legs of my commute to get caught up, and every day since I've been diligent about meeting my daily quota. (Thursday and Friday evening on the train, then Saturday morning in the waiting room at the Honda dealership while getting a new muffler installed.)

I've revived a project that briefly came to me a few months back but was almost immediately abandoned, a novella which I'm tentatively calling The Engine Driver. It's a Civil War-era story of a young Union soldier who is the sole survivor of an attack on a train transporting prisoners of war back to Chicago. He finds himself alone in the mountains of Virginia, salvaging what he can from the wreckage of the train - at first basic provisions but then parts of the locomotive itself. He knows that his only chance at survival is to somehow fashion a vehicle out of locomotive parts and an old handcar he finds abandoned along the tracks. At this point in the narrative, survival is his sole focus - he gives no thought to what his life might be after he survives, which might be quite treacherous given the fact that he is about to become a deserter from the Union Army. All he's thinking about is how to build the vehicle which will help him survive.

At the moment I'm juggling various combinations of plot in order to come up with a reasonably plausible scenario for how a Wisconsin farmboy with no direct knowledge of steam engine mechanics could possibly build such a vehicle, entirely on his own and under fairly adverse climate conditions. How successful I am in making this pretext plausible will be critical to whether the rest of the story comes to fruition, or instead gets abandoned as I move on to writing something else.

Tune in next week.

January 6, 2008 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The first small step toward a full and healthy recovery.


January 4, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Challenged by stories

My first post is now up at The Short Story Challenge. Many thanks to Kate for the invite.

January 3, 2008 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

2008 Literary Resolutions

1. Finish third draft of Wheatyard, send out to readers, incorporate revisions, finish fourth (and final?) draft, send to prospective publishers.
2. Resume work on This Land Was Made for You and Me, completing at least five new stories.
3. Write fiction every day - 500 word minimum.
4. Officially launch Hawker Press.
5. Read one play each month, starting with Aristophanes' "Lysistrata" in January.
6. Read ten short stories by ten writers I haven't previously read; blog about impressions at The Short Story Reading Challenge.
7. Continue 2007 reading themes: March Irish Novel (John McGahern's The Barracks), Summer of Classics, Short Story September.
8. Perpetuate the posting of pithy commentary, right here.

January 1, 2008 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)