Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Legenday Cow Skull in the News

Three cheers for Carol, whose Suburban Study blog has just been picked up by! It's also available on the Wicked LocalTM Medfield site.

Congratulations, Carol!

Cow Skulls Rule!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Giving Up On a Book

A few weeks ago I mentioned to Kevin that I was having a hard time getting through the novel I was reading, and he asked why I didn't just put it down. He mentioned a former professor of his, who said that if you didn't get anything .

Now, not reading books you don't want to read is one of the two great pleasures of the post-English-major reading life. (The other is reading whatever the hell you want again, the way you did when you were a kid). But I feel bad when I do it. Part of this is my penchant since childhood for anthropomorphizing inanimate objects—yes, I'm worried that the book will feel bad—and part of it is feeling bad for the author.

And this mixture of obligation, compassion, and hope gets me through a lot. I will put up with sentimental chick lit; with memoirs whose narrators seem to lack the basic self-awareness needed to write a memoir; with books that attempt big things and fall a little short of the mark.

There are books I've seen all the way through to the end and been very glad I did, and others (which shall remain nameless) where I closed the book and thought, "Well, there's another several hours I won't be getting back."

When, if ever, do you give up on a book?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Doggie Adorableness

Lily Beth in the snow:

Thanks to Ed for the video!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


One of the dorky little pleasures of my production-line submissions schedule (25-30 copies of a different essay every two months) and the time-scale for responses from a lot of literary magazines (geologic) is the selection of stamps for my self-addressed stamped envelopes1. Initially, I just tried to have a different stamp for each essay so that when the rejections came back I could tell what was being rejected before opening the envelope.

Lately, though, I've been trying to tie stamp selection to the theme of the essay. For "Faith and Reason," my essay on adopting from China, I found a lunar new year stamp:
For an essay on breast cancer, an obvious choice:

This month I'm sending out a piece on my conflicted feelings about suburban yard maintenance (I swear it's more interesting than it sounds), and so I was absurdly pleased Saturday morning at the post office to find this:
I said it was dorky...

1 When I referred to these as SASEs (pronounced say'-zees) in my writing group, everyone, without exception, looked at me as if I had three heads. Am I the only one who pronounces it this way? I'm trying to figure out where I heard it, and my best guess is the PBS TV show ZOOM. Sing it with me, you children of the seventies: "ZOOM! Z double-O M. Box 3-5-0. Boston Mass. 0-2-1-3-4. Send it to ZOOM!"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Final Top 10 For 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
Home, by Marilynne Robinson
The Courage Muscle, by Monique Doyle Spencer
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri
I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass
Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar
Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Age of Shiva, by Manil Suri
The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers

2008 was a year of old friends. Novels from Ursula Le Guin, Marilynne Robinson, and Julia Glass (whose reading at Porter Square Books I attended) are as close as you can get to a lock on the top ten for me. I had also previously read Joan Didion and was familiar with Monique Doyle Spencer through her very funny essays in the Boston Globe.

2008 was also a year of friends-of-friends: two of the books on the list were recommendations from other readers that I would have never picked up on my own. Memoirs of Hadrian was recommended by Michelle on a round-the-table-what-are-you-reading discussion on the first night of a class. It fit in very well with my current fascination with all-things-Roman in anticipation of a Rome vacation this year. (And, though it's not a book, if you, too, are fascinated by all-things-Roman, let me recommend Garret Fagan's History of Ancient Rome course from The Teaching Company—Ben and I both loved it). And, thanks to a recommendation from Don, I finally finished a Richard Powers book, after starting at least three of them previously. Powers is one of those massively brainy authors whose work I always feel I should love but which instead tends to leave me feeling battered by the author's big brain. The Time of Our Singing was different.

Finally, 2008 was a year of a of new friends. I bought The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao after seeing Junot Díaz's interview with Stephen Colbert, in which he came across as modest and smart and geeky and completely adorable. It's not the sort of book I'm usually inclined to read, but it blew me away and, although my list is unordered, I will confess here that it was my favorite book of the year. Read it. I found Manil Suri, math professor and novelist(!), through the serendipity of the "New Fiction" shelf at my local library. The first two books of his projected trilogy are on this list, and I suspect the third one would be as well if it were published. Maybe next year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.

                                                                  —Calvin Coolidge
The topic of persistence came up a lot in 2008. The quote above is one of Ben's favorites, and the year started with me promising to get it printed and framed for him. I'm going to get around to that any day now, pal; I promise.

This spring, I read Michelle's posting on Ron Carlson Writes a Story, which cited as his best advice: "All the valuable writing I've done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I've wanted to leave the room."

This fall, I subscribed to the Southeast Review Writing Regimen. One of the benefits was having access to podcasts of author readings at Florida State University, and I was particularly struck by one statement made by Ann Patchett in her post-reading Q&A. "My great genius as a writer," she said, "is the ability to stay in my chair."

The universe has spoken: this is the year I make a non-vague writing resolution (since "Write more" hasn't really worked out in the past). So here it is in a nutshell: two pages a day, six magazine submissions this year.

I decided on two pages because it seemed small enough to be doable. Even on a comparatively lousy day, I should be able to slog though 500 first-draft words. Six submissions is the basic schedule of the submissions service I use and this will keep me from having to pay them to do nothing for me for two months.

My boss has told me about the key questions he was taught to ask about every consulting project: Where are we going? How will we know when we get there? Measurement, that's how. So unless you are reading an RSS feed you will notice a new box to the right, labeled "2009." I'm going to track how many pages I write, how many submissions I make to literary magazines, how many contests I enter, and how many acceptances and publications I have. While the latter two are pretty much out of my control, the first three should give me a good idea of how I'm doing vis-à-vis my goals. At the end of the year, pages written should be at least 500 (two pages a day x five days a week x 50 weeks—yes, I'm taking off for vacation) and submissions should be at least 150 (six essays, one every two months, x 25 magazines each submissions batch). I don't have a specific contest entry goal, but let's say ten. That would still be an improvement over last year's four, and it's always good to have one easily makeable goal.

Napoleon Hill, one of the first self-help authors, is famously quoted as saying: "A goal is a dream with a deadline." Here's to working to make some of my writing dreams come true.

Happy New Year!