Thursday, January 31, 2008

Najem Wali in Harper's

"Wars in Distant Lands," a short story by Najem Wali, appears in the February issue of Harper's. I'm disproportionately happy about this. It's almost never that a translated Arabic story makes it into the top-tier mags.

Saunders Worship

George Saunders came to visit U of M to do a reading at an awards ceremony and give a small workshop. I was lucky enough to have him workshop my stories, and now I know that getting compliments from Mr. Saunders can give me a level of confidence and bliss equal to three hits of ex. I learned so much listening to him talk, I wish I could relay it all here. But the top amazing things he said/did I condensed as follows:

1- He flipped off the workshop. Literally. He said the best thing a writer can do is shut out all voices but his own.
2- He stressed the importance of making "warrior time," time to write, especially, he said, if you're a woman (!).
3- Listen to what you think are your weaknesses, he said. Those are actually your strengths. Don't spend time trying to be another writer. Be yourself, and find joy in your work.
4- Be reckless.
5- All storytelling tends to be about the day something different happened. Little Red Riding Hood went to visit her grandma everyday. We don't hear about those visits, we only hear about the one that went wrong. Think about how that applies to your own fiction.

Those are my top five favorite things he said, along with the fact that a first-time writer has to remember that when their book comes out, time doesn't stop. It goes on, and so should your next book.

A rock star, Saunders exceeded all my expectations. How inspiring to see a writer who teaches by just being himself.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I'm enraged about the Gaza blockade. I saw a photo in the NYT last night of a kid sitting on top of a pile of food bags, and the NYT called it something like "A Palestinian sits on top of bags after a shopping spree..." Not, "A child sits on top of gruel he had to walk miles and miles through the desert for because the governments that surround him have failed to see that his life is worth something."

Leila Abu Saba has a really great round-up here on Gaza commentary and news.

My favorite thing being said right now is that the bust-out is a signal that people are taking their survival into their own hands.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Plus-Size Clothing from Chanel, At Long Last


On Teaching

I'm having the best time of my life teaching undergraduate creative writing. We're working on poems right now. The magical part is when a student writes an energetic poem that obviously shows consideration of the techniques we've discussed in class. I love doing workshops, wanting to cut in and say something, then watching my students say it for me. And I love discussing published poems with them-- the moments when the class transforms into a hybrid of a lit class/craft class/saloon. Plus, their poems rock!

Finally... I know what I want to do when I grow up.

(Of course, writing will always take precedence, but a girl's gotta eat.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nabokov, The Original of Laura, and the idea of "wanting something to be destroyed."

Here's what I think about the fiasco: if Nabokov had really wanted the novel destroyed, he would have destroyed it himself. And he didn't. So now, we get to read it. Plus, it'll be better than most of the shite that passes off as literature these days.

This is something that Max Brod, Kafka's literary executor, discussed at length. What he basically said: Ultimately, Kafka never burned his own books, and the fact that he left them with someone he knew would publish them speaks volumes.

So I say: Publish, and insert the proviso, "This work was not completed."

Link via Laila and Maud

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I thought I was raising a feminist...until Phillip Levine came along

My son and I were hanging out in the reading room. I was preparing for the class I am teaching, and he was reading his Marvel encyclopedia. He picked up the Phillip Levine collection, What Work Is, which I was culling poems from to share with my class. I suggested that he read the M. Degas poem, about a kid in Middle School in Detroit in 1942 whose teacher draws a line on the blackboard then gets the class to daydream and meditate on the images the line provokes. My son wasn't that impressed. He flipped through the book until he reached the poem "Growth." Then, he said: "My teacher keeps making us use "SEE." It's supporting detail, example, and extension. It's so annoying! I get it, I get it. Everything has all three, and they come in that order."
"Do you really think so? Check it against that poem, there," I said.
He read it out loud:
In the soap factory where I worked
when I was fourteen, I spoke to
no one and only one man spoke
to me and then to command me
to wheel the little cars of damp chips
into the ovens. While the chips dried
I made more racks, nailing together
wood lath and ordinary screening
you'd use to keep flies out, racks
and more racks each long afternoon,
for this was a growing business
in a year of growth. The oil drums
of fat would arrive each morning,
too huge for me to tussle with,
reeking of the dark, cavernous
kitchens of the Greek and Rumanian
restaurants, of cheap hamburger joints,
White Towers and worse. ...
"Yeah," he said, "it has SEE. There's a supporting detail, an example, then the poem has a bunch of extensions."
I shrugged. "Yeah."
"A woman wrote this, right?" he said.
"No. A man. Phillip Levine. Why?"
"It just sounds like women's writing."
"It sounds like a woman."
"It just does."
"Point out a sentence."
"'In the soap factory where I worked when I was fourteen, I spoke to no one and only one man spoke to me and then to command me.' It sounds like a woman."
"It just sounds like one."
"Why? What makes it woman-ish?"
"Because why?"
"Because he's complaining!"

I didn't even get a chance to try to control myself. I died of laughter.
So much for my feminist parenting style. All undone by a Phillip Levine poem.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Guess what's on Amazon? That's right, my novel is now ready for pre-ordering and wish-listing. Yay!

Happy Ar-Is-Tic Weekend

Best Short Story Ever

I think "Camp Cataract," By Jane Bowles, may be the best short story I have ever read. I have read it over a dozen times, and I can't find a single thing I don't love about it. Now, there are some Borges stories and some others that I sometimes think are just as good, but today, I think "Camp Cataract" is it.

Viva La Resistance!

Weight resistance, I mean.

After years and years of being all, "I love my body! Fuck diet and exercise!" This week I decided that yes, fuck diet, but no, not exercise. I feel sluggish most of the day, and it affects everything: from the way I move to the way I think to the way I interact with people. I want to be able to feel stronger and healthier. I don't necessarily want to lose weight, just lift it.

So that's what I'll be doing, three times a week, at an all-ladies facility. I have a personal trainer who kicks my ass. And there's something liberating and empowering about doing sit-ups.

And you know what? It's good for my teaching and writing. After benching and lifting weights, I go home and planning a class seems "easy." Revising a story? Not as painful as I once thought.

I like it. And I love the old ladies I work out with. They're so no nonsense, I feel like I belong.

More updates on this later, maybe.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

'Twenties Obsession

I've become a bit obsessed with the 1920s since reading A Moveable Feast. I picked up The Sun Also Rises, but lost interest when they went to Spain. I'm now reading Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, about Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber, and Zelda Fitzgerald, and the larger circle of "famous people" they hung out with. I know it's set just before the '20s, but I recently saw Reds for the first time (thanks to Russell) and now I'll be reading Queen of Bohemia, about Louise Bryant.

I wonder if there were any "Syrian" ladies hanging around New York in the Twenties, writing fiction and poems. Maybe someone whose family came to the US in 1890? Seems like a ripe idea to explore in a novel. I'll just put it here, in the pile of "ideas for second novel" by my desk.

Back to my Orange Blossom.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Welcome Back: Some exciting news/ updates on my novel

Waiting on copy edits

The manuscript has been copyedited. I delivered a final copy a few months ago, thanks to the help of my editors and to Judith G, the publisher of Other Press. Judith & I spent a couple of hours on the phone a few times a week back in September and October until we got the manuscript rockin'. Judith fell for the book and wanted to represent it worldwide. Which brings me to...

The novel is now coming out in hardcover.
It was initially bought as a paperback original, but I'm really excited it gets to come out in both incarnations. Plus...

World Rights purchase

Other Press bought the World Rights to the book for a year (after which my agency continues to represent it worldwide). So far Other Press has sold it to...

Hoffman Und Campe in Germany

The publisher bought it in a pre-empt in Germany in early December. And...

I've approved the final Catalog Copy.

It was crazy & wonderful to see my novel summed up in a paragraph. And last...

I found a cover image I love by Arab American Detroit Artist Joe Namy (below - click to enlarge), and all at Other Press loved and approved (can you blame them?).

8 months to go!