The very first copy Wednesday, Jun 27 2007 

I’ve been a writer for a long time, but there are certain moments that never pall: such as holding your first copy of your newest book. Examining the dust jacket, turning the pages, seeing the people who existed first in your mind, then on your screen, then in (marked-up) manuscript, come fully alive, now, in this object that can be held in the hand, stuffed in a bag or backpack and carried anywhere and everywhere, opened and dog-eared and coffee’d on and passed from hand to hand…well. I had that pleasure yesterday with Kissing the Bee, and it never, ever gets old.

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Remember this number: 826 Tuesday, Jun 26 2007 

As a kid, I did all my real writing alone. School papers, yes, but those don’t count, those are what you’re told to write, not what you dream up on your own. If a place like 826Michigan had existed back in the day, I would have done my best to live there.

Fortunately for young writers, it exists robustly now, in Ann Arbor, and there are 826 outposts in other cities as well. Young writers require feedback from critical adult readers — critics in the best sense, engaged in the process of helping the young writer find a voice and a way, what to keep and what to leave behind — not just Mom and Dad telling them how awesome they are. (They need that, too, but for other reasons.)

And they need peers; not only friends their own age, but writers their own age, who struggle with the same issues and triumphs and frustrations that they do. The 826 organizations create a place where all of this can happen, weekly, monthly, yearly.

I’m glad to say that I was able to offer a workshop last spring through 826Michigan for a group of very dedicated, passionate young writers, and pleased to add that a story of mine, “Brandi’s Baby,” was included in the anthology Unsquared, to benefit both 826Michigan and the Neutral Zone, alongside works by Davy Rothbart, Thomas Lynch, Charles Baxter, and many other A2-ish folks, all of whom share the pleasure when a strong young voice gets up on its hind legs and roars (or whispers; each voice has its own proper volume). Because we all need young writers: who else will write all the fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, etc. etc. etc., we’re going to read?

Hurts so good Thursday, Jun 14 2007 

See, this is why M.R. James is one of my heroes — from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:

“Also there was the lady who, on locking her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the bed-curtains say, ‘Now we’re shut in for the night.'”

Oh boy. If the very idea of that thin voice, that disembodied (we hope!) hidden secretive confident voice, makes you afraid – if someone (I, say) were to sneak up behind you right now and say “Now we’re shut in for the night,” and that would send you straight to the ceiling, why, you and I have a lot in common.

Action versus motion Wednesday, Jun 6 2007 

I get a fair amount of feedback from my YA readers, sometimes singular and spontaneous via email, sometimes produced as part of a class project. Recently, a batch of letters came my way from some high school students who had read Buddha Boy.

I always enjoy hearing from readers, whether they’ve loved a book of mine or hated it – either way, I can learn something valuable from their experience. But what troubled me about these particular letters was how many of the kids seemed to confuse a story’s action — the way the plot progresses, the way characters change — with pure motion, so that a novel lacking a charge of constant doing was a novel where nothing actually “happened.”

Certainly any reader can be bored by any book, or left unmoved: sometimes a given book just does not speak our internal language. What bothered me about these readers’ reaction (or the interpretation I gave to that reaction, anyway) was its central misconception. Life, for most of us, takes place in the everyday landscape of the grocery store, the bus or the car, the schoolroom, the breakfast table. To assume that because those daily landscapes do not glitter with motion, with high speed and furious dash, they must thus lack fundamental action — the action of growth, grief, passion, change — is to misconstrue the act of living itself. Sometimes tremendous things happen without a single surface ripple.

As in life, so in a smaller way in fiction. If some readers think Buddha Boy is boring, that’s OK. But if they think something has to blow up to be worth looking at, well, that’s another story.

Foul matter Saturday, Jun 2 2007 

I recently received back from FSG the foul matter for (from?) Going Under.  Sometimes it’s called “dead matter,” that tumble of manuscript, sticky notes, galley pages, etc., that is the limbo state between writing and publishing: when the book as both literary project and physical object is coming into final being.

I never quite know what to do with foul matter once it finds its way back  to me.  Should it be saved?  Archived (ie, stuck in the hallway closet)? Recycled?  Decently burned? What do other writers do with theirs?  Any suggestions will be happily received.