Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why is writing special?

Cathy Day’s latest blog post is about time and why she can’t help every stray would-be writer who calls her. She has a wealth of online and social media resources, she says, but she has to draw a line somewhere, because she’s experiencing information overload.

When she posted this on Facebook, one of her friends said it reminded her of this NSFW post about why a screenwriter won’t read your script — in short, because he doesn’t have time, he has other obligations, and because your script probably isn’t any good and he doesn’t want to be the one to tell you.

Question: Why is writing so special? You can make fun of someone for being bad at math, but if you critique someone’s writing (or speech), it crushes their spirit. Is it because language makes us human, so by critiquing someone’s language, you’re critiquing their humanity?

How do you evaluate a good bookstore?

While we’re on the subject of bookstores this week, do y’all have any test books you use to evaluate a bookstore? On episode 4, Ben mentioned the value of curating, but curating only works if a bookstore is somewhere in the region of your interests.

I used to be a much more ardent reader of southern literature than I am now, but for many years, I evaluated a store based on whether it had a few of my favorites:  Continue reading

Prince Books in Norfolk, Va.

stray-decorumIn episode 4, Ben mentioned the value of local bookstores. To that end, I would like to give a shout-out to Prince Books in Norfolk, Va. I visited them today and bought a copy of George Singleton’s new story collection, Stray Decorum.

A lot of bookstore clerks seem, to me, to be introverts, and can be quiet or even awkward until you get to know them. (So can I.) Not only did the clerks at Prince Books have good taste, they were friendly and charming, and I look forward to returning next time I’m in Norfolk.

I also want to use this space to recommend one of my favorite story writers. I obviously haven’t read this new collection yet, but George Singleton is consistently hilarious and invariably writes with heart.

Finally, Stray Decorum is published by Dzanc, one of the big names in small presses; they do especially well, for my money, with short fiction. Check them out.

Episode 4: Literary Citizenship

In the fourth episode of What I’m Trying to Say, the guys talk about their own writing, the importance of Literary Citizenship, and small things you can do to contribute to the literary community. They also discuss Roxane Gay’s “Glass” and share a few other reading suggestions.

Reading Discussed


*On air, Jon said Penelope Trunk changed her name while working for AOL. She was working for Time Warner.

Weekly News Roundup

Why it’s interesting: Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

oconnorOne of things I love about reading a good story is how it holds up to a careful reading. “Genre” fiction is all well and good, but a truly well-crafted story is worth paying attention to every single word.

This afternoon I reread O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” with the intention of looking at how she captures the southern dialect, but I was stunned by the sophisticated negotiation that plays out in the dialogue.

The story is about a drifter named Mr. Shiftlet who shows up at a house in the country where an old woman and her grown deaf daughter live. He works on the farm a few days, marries the daughter, and drives her off in the old woman’s automobile for what is supposed to be their honeymoon. Instead, he drops her off at a roadside diner and drives off into a storm.

Rather than analyze what happens at the end, which is strange and open to discussion, I thought it would be fun to go through the first few pages and point out what really stood out to me on this reading.  Continue reading

Politics and Prose

The incomparable Jim Shepard has written an insightful short story about the root causes of gun violence in Connecticut. Even more impressive than successfully pulling off that feat: He did it 12 years ago.

Remember last week when I said I liked having books on my shelf to pull down, thumb through, extract wisdom? This week, I was compelled to grab Shepard’s new and selected story collection Love and Hydrogen. I was looking for good sentences, which Shepard has to spare. (From the title story, about two gay Nazis on The Hindenburg: “It goes without saying that the penalty for exposed homosexuality in this case would begin at the loss of one’s position.”)

But language aside, I found a little piece of prescience in the form of his story “The Gun Lobby.” Continue reading

“The Devil’s Bay”

Jon’s a little aww-shucks to post this himself, but Ben and I think you should check out the good Mr. Sealy’s new story “The Devil’s Bay,” available online in the new issue of Fiddleblack. The story is but one of many ways to highlight his versatility, as he seamlessly showcases the Carolinas through a Gothic lens and tosses around verbs like “bushwhacked” as if he had a lifetime supply to spare. Which he probably does.

Cheers, Jon!

The Art of the Book Review

Today Cathy Day’s literary citizenship blog directed me here, to Linda Taylor’s blog post about writing book reviews.

I write a handful of book reviews a year, so this is something I think about regularly: How do you write a good book review? Can you ever trash a book? What should be the balance between summary, quotation, and analysis?  Continue reading

50 Shades of Meaning

In this week’s episode, I referenced Guy Bergstrom’s blog, Red Pen of Doom, specifically the post where he eviscerates the first two pages of Franzen’s Freedom. I actually misquoted Bergstrom on air; I said changed “seemingly difficult” to “hard,” when in fact he changed “some difficulty” to “trouble.” The sentence in question begins:

His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him…

I wasn’t as wild about Freedom as some of my friends were, because I thought Franzen was a bit lazy on a line level, at least compared to The Corrections, and his new characters didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the Lambert family from his earlier book. I also recommend Bergstrom’s blog, because it’s hilarious.

Still, I would defend Franzen’s use of “some difficulty.” Here’s why:  Continue reading