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What I’m reading

“Deb had made a salad for dinner the night he brought home that grocery-store harvest, a bright and colorful meal that looked like a picture and made Greg’s heart sink to look at it. The grape tomatoes burst in his mouth, his tongue dodging the slime; the shredded carrots tasted like earth; the radishes released a fume that snaked from his throat up to his nose and made him want to hack the mouthful onto his plate. So that’s what radishes tasted like. Now he knew. They rotted at the bottom of the crisper drawer, they and the lettuce heads and the carrots in their peels. Deb pulled them out a month later, floating in their bags in what looked like lake water, scrubbed the crisper in the sink so it was clean and empty and ready for more bacon.


He guessed that’s what sobriety felt like to GJ: A lurid, hopeful salad that he could not even pretend to choke down.”

Teacher/student dynamics

I decided to sign up for Cathy Day’s Midwest Writers’ Workshop online course “How to Start Your Novel.”

Oh, I’ve started it, Cathy. I’ve even revised the damn thing, but somehow I just fell out love with it. It’s not even just out of love, but more like a hostile dislike that would have me stalking this novel on Facebook, looking at pictures of it at the beach with other, more attractive writers, not giving a damn about me.

No matter how many times I tell students just to keep at it, to plug away line by line, sometimes you just need someone to help you get excited again, to hold your hand and help you breathe. Right now we’re outlining the novel Election by Tom Perotta, breaking it down scene by scene and I can tell already this is just what I need. To go back to the basics: what drives a plot? What motivates a character? Who tells the story? I know how to do this—hell, I teach others how to do this—but somehow that doesn’t matter. As a writer, I will never stop being a student. At least I hope not.

Ten writing rules

I love it when anyone makes a list like “Ten Writing Rules” because I’m a huge rule-follower and I like this kind of order. I know it’s inherently difficult to come up with such a thing as “rules” for writing because someone is always there to break them (not me, of course) but I think just about anyone would have to agree with these by Antonya Nelson, if only because many of them go against conventional wisdom. Funny+Nelson

For instance, she says to be respectful of dry spells, acknowledging not everyone needs to write every day, although it’s not quite as simple as just don’t write. She wants you to do other stuff instead that’s going to engage your head, but you get the idea.

Check them out; there’s lots of great advice here!

The less athletic NBA announces its long list*

*Can I use that headline again? I think I used it last year, and yes, I’m still laughing at my mediocre joke a year later.

But here it is! And so excited to read these books. I’m excited to dig in and a little embarrassed I haven’t read any of these yet, although some have been on my list for awhile (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth McCracken).

What I’m reading: An Untamed State, Roxane Gay


“The Commander brushed my hair from my face. He lay next to me and told me a story about his mother, who scrubbed the floors and washed the clothes and cooked the food for a man like my father. He told me how a man like my father treated his mother like a whore because that’s the kind of thing men like my father can get away with. The Commander said his mother is old now even though she is not old, more ghost than woman.

When he finished talking, I said, ‘Your mother did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like my father.’ I said, ‘I did not deserve the unwanted attention of a man like you. It is often women who pay the price for what men want.'”

Writing Dynamic Dialogue workshop

First thing to know: it’s taught by Tim Waggoner. Second thing to know: it’s free.

Tim will be teaching a mini workshop on writing dialogue this Sunday, September 8, at The Greene’s Books and Co from 2:00-3:30. For more information and directions, see here.

In other news, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize has announced finalists for their annual prize! Winners will be announced September 24.

I totally would have gone out with Paul, too

When I was a kid, I used to be a night owl, something that shocks the friends I’ve made later in life. That I use terms like “later in life”–that right there is why they’re shocked. They know I’m just white-knuckling it to the senior discount and when it will be acceptable to talk about all my ailments over lunch–“the organ recital,” as Barry likes to call it.

But back when I was a youngster, I’d stay up late and watch David Letterman every night. I thought this was the funniest show going. This was back when Dave’s hair was still a mess and he hadn’t yet had a heart attack and he wore those god awful white tennies with khaki pants all the time. I would stay up each night and watch the show, judging how funny the guests were and how I could do better. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to be on Letterman for, but I had a sense I’d be super hilarious and charming, and even though it was inappropriate because of our age difference, maybe Dave would ask me out on a date. (I went on later to similar hopes about Morrissey which should give you an idea how misguided and pathetic my teen years were.) I was convinced I’d end up famous somehow and this would be my media outlet, so imagine my surprise all these years later to find myself on NPR.

For what, you might ask? Your new book? Your teaching? Just being funny and charming like you hoped? None of the above, but for welcoming people to the Fifth Street Brewpub, only the second co-op brewpub in the country and a pretty awesome venture. You can listen to me here. I’m not sure how this ended up on the air since I mispronounced “membership” and it sounds like “member-sheet” (or worse), but maybe that’s a thing? You can get your member-sheet in the back? I don’t know.

But kudos to the brew pub which just passed 2,000 members this past weekend. Here are Brian Young and Maureen Barry, two of the masterminds behind this venture:


Photo courtesy of Eric Risher, Reinvention Stories/WYSO

If you are interested in becoming a part owner, sign up now. Who knows where it might take you.