Monday, May 30, 2011


Last week, I went to New York and it was awesome. I was reading for a Yaddo benefit along with Aimee Mann and Jennifer Egan. You are reading that correctly. It was Oscar-nominated, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan, and me. I geeked out a lot.
Before the reading, right after I got into New York, I ran to Papabubble NYC, a homemade candy shop, and bought a bunch of soda-flavored gourmet candy. Then I went to Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli and bought a huge banh mi for almost no money. I ate that and drank a bubble tea in my closet-sized hotel room and then ate a fistful of hard candy and then realized I was going to be eating dinner at the Yaddo benefit in less than two hours.
The reading was at Tribeca Rooftop and I got there before my agent and her assistant, so I hid in the dining area while cocktails were being served. I was very nervous. I just walked around the tables and got in the waiters' way and looked at the name cards for the seating arrangements.
I was reading with Jennifer Egan and Aimee Mann because of Amanda Stern, a novelist who also runs the Happy Ending Reading Series. I got to read for that series in 2009 and I wrote about it here. Amanda is awesome and kind and very funny and she was nice enough to think of me for this reading, which was to announce that Yaddo and the Happy Ending Reading Series were entering into a partnership. I had been to Yaddo in 2008, where I wrote a good portion of a bizarre novel that fell apart, and it had been a really wonderful experience (Yaddo, not the novel falling apart), so it was fun to be a part of this benefit.
I ate sushi and cheeseburger sliders and talked to lots of neat people and then I got to listen to Aimee Mann play songs, even the really popular songs I thought she might not play, and then I read and then Jennifer Egan read from A Visit From the Goon Squad (the chapter about the PR woman and the dictator), which was amazing, and then Aimee Mann played some more songs, which made me want to cry it was so wonderful, and then my agent and I tried to meet my editor on the roof but we all got kicked out. I went back to my hotel and unwrapped what was left of the banh mi and ate that and then went to sleep. I also ate more of the hard candy. Oh, and Lou Reed was at the Yaddo party. I thought this might have been a dream but I saw a picture of him at the benefit on the internet, so he was definitely there.

Monday, May 16, 2011


At AWP, I talked to Richard Mocarski, who runs an excellent literary website called Zine-Scene. He told me that he wanted to do an issue focused on remixing existing works. He asked if I had any interest in doing something like that, and I immediately tried to think of stories that I would like to play with. I decided to pick a story that I thought was perfect and without any need for change, which was Adam Peterson's story "Hope's Dancing Fancy". I first read it in the Southeast Review, and I heard Adam read it at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and I thought it was incredible; I also think everything else Adam writes is incredible. I've searched out nearly every story he's written, and I'm always changed for the better when I finish them. "Hope's Dancing Fancy" was so precise and yet suggested an entire world of weirdness for the characters he introduced.
To remix it, I decided that I would completely change the intent of the piece. I would make it sappy, a kind of love story from a parent to a child. So I took the character in Adam's story, Hope, and focused on her parents, who are not in Adam's story. I don't know if it worked, but I liked brushing up against Adam's story for a few weeks. You can read both stories here. Thanks to Adam for letting me mess around with his work and thanks to Richard for pushing me in this direction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Just before AWP this year, VIDA, an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities," released "The Count 2010" which highlighted the male to female ratio of writers for various magazines and journals. It showed just how underrepresented women were in these magazines, and it was disheartening to see. And I aligned myself with those who wanted to see that ratio improve.
However, I started to think about the books I read in 2010 and when I went back over the list, I was shocked to see how much it skewed toward male writers. It was a nearly 4 to 1 ratio. Part of the problem was that I read a ton of Hard Case Crime novels, which has so far published only a single book by a woman. Still, that doesn't explain why I chose so many books by men in literary fiction over female writers.
It was strange to me that this was happening, since, if I made a list of my top five or top ten books of all time, there would be more books written by women than men. And if I went back and looked at 2010, the two best books I read would probably be Emma Donoghue's The Room and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
So, for 2011, I decided that I would try to focus my reading list to account for books written by women. It wasn't that I was going to read books by women exclusively, or that I would pick books I didn't want to read, just because they were by women. I just wanted to make sure that I actually read the books by women that perhaps before I would push to the back of my list in favor of male writers. So far this year, I've read 21 books and 13 of them have been written by women. I've even found a great place for pulp novels written by women, the Femme Fatales series by The Feminist Press, so I've been picking books from this series instead of the Hard Case series, which is on hiatus right now. I've read books as diverse as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Edgar Award nominated novel Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, a pulp spy novel by Dorothy B. Hughes called The Blackbirder, novels by some of my favorite writers like Ann Patchett and Allegra Goodman, and literary novels by newer writers like Hannah Pittard and Tea Obreht and Karen Russell.
It's been a good exercise and one that I hope might lead me to eventually stop having to keep track of the ratio and simply benefit from reading works by both men and women.
Though the numbers were depressing, I am grateful to VIDA for their work in compiling The Count.