The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Katori Hall on Hoodoo Love

November 18, 2015 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today’s featured writer is the playwright Katori Hall, whose American debut, Hoodoo Love, first appeared off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2007.

“My First Time” will return with a new set of authors, including Ben Lerner, in a few months. In the meantime, be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:

Donald Antrim on Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World

November 17, 2015 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today’s featured writer is Donald Antrim, whose first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, appeared in 1993.

Watch our previous “My First Time” interviews:

Where the Hills Are Fog and the Rivers Are Mist

October 26, 2015 | by

Ray Bradbury’s The October Country turns sixty.


“The Dubliners of American Gothic”—that’s how Stephen King referred to Ray Bradbury’s first book, the little-known 1947 short-story collection, Dark Carnival. There’s good reason few readers, even those well versed in Bradbury’s work, are unfamiliar with Dark Carnival: Arkham House, a small press out of Sauk City, Wisconsin, published the book in a modest run of 3,112 copies; the book went out of print just a few years later. Besides a pricey limited-edition reprint in 2001, Dark Carnival exists as a literary apparition.

And yet many people have read some of Dark Carnival without knowing it. Read More »

The Slow Decline of the Fridge Poem, and Other News

October 12, 2015 | by

There are about fifty of these under your fridge right now. Photo: Steve Johnson, via Flickr

  • In which Vivian Gornick lives in New York, and walks, walks, walks, and keeps walking, imagining herself under “citywide house arrest”: “Nothing healed me of a sore and angry heart like joining the endless stream of people moving steadily, as blood moves through veins and arteries, along these democratic streets. The relief I felt stepping daily into the anonymous crowd was almost indescribable; and then relief morphed into vigor, and vigor gave me vital information … What struck me almost viscerally was the sense of expectation that seemed to rise and fall before my very eyes … It was this expectation that supplied New York with its unique brand of energy: avid, noisy, fast-moving; wild to get into the act. That was it, really, getting into the act … To this day, the street achieves for me what I so often cannot achieve for myself: composition.”
  • When Trollope published The Duke’s Children in 1879, he had to cull some 65,000 words from it—presumably at the request of his editor. Now the uncut original has been published, and it turns out there was something to those 65,000 words: “The new version will most likely not change anyone’s view of The Duke’s Children, and yet all those tiny excisions do add up. The restored version is a fuller, richer book. And it’s fascinating to compare the two versions and see what Trollope himself thought could go and what he insisted on keeping. Maybe most revealing is a long fox-hunting sequence, about two-thirds of the way through, which Trollope trimmed only lightly. The sequence serves no crucial purpose in the book, other than providing Tregear with an occasion to have an accident that keeps him bedridden and apart from lovelorn Mary. It’s there because there’s almost always a fox-­hunting scene in a Trollope novel.”
  • Defenders of literary awards usually claim some kind of critical value for them; detractors say they’re just part of the publicity machine. But no one’s even arguing about the potential critical value of blurbs. Maybe it’s time for someone to stand up for them. “Can puffing—the practice of lauding a book’s merits in a few words, usually on its jacket blurb—be considered a kind of literary criticism, however cynically regarded it might be? … If we look at a couple of the puffs for this year’s Booker shortlist, we might be able to bring this question into focus. The claim of the unnamed reviewer in the Independent that Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread is simply ‘glorious’ doesn’t seem to get us very far into the realms of literary criticism. Eleanor Catton’s gnomic description of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen as ‘awesome in the true sense of the word’ is perhaps more critically promising: what is the true sense of ‘awesome’? Why does this book in particular evoke that sense?”
  • Not so very long ago, refrigerators across the land were freckled with tiny, easy-to-lose magnetic words from which passersby were intended to fashion a kind of “poetry.” (More often, people used them to make vaguely naughty sex jokes.) So what became of Magnetic Poetry, to say nothing of the impulse behind it? “By removing the messiest step from the cut-up technique, it made the barrier to entry knee-high. It boxed up the creative process, putting it in the checkout aisle and then, once on the fridge, directly at eye level. It let us indulge all these instincts at once—toward communication, creation, jokes, profanity—and layered the results on the domestic experience. From the end of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, it turned kitchens everywhere into an inescapable id pastiche.”
  • The men (and they’re always men) who commit mass killings have a discomfiting tendency to write: they nearly always leave behind a manifesto, and it is nearly always inscrutable. Why the compulsion to address oneself to posterity? And what, if anything, can be gleaned from their words? “There have always been killers and they have often left pieces of writing behind (think of Jack the Ripper and his notes written in blood); some of them were even called manifestos. The Manson ‘family’, a previous group of bent fans of popular culture who heard messages in songs, believed in a program of salvation that required the slaughtering of the human ‘pigs’ who put them down. Valerie Solanos wrote a manifesto that wants to be a feminist tract before shooting Andy Warhol. But not even Warhol, who understood something essential about fame, could have guessed that, one day, such would-be killers, or putative cleaners-up of our corrupt and oppressive world, would carry the wherewithal in the pocket of their jeans. All they needed was a smartphone and a set of grievances, and the world was theirs.”


September 21, 2015 | by

Photo: Darwin Bell


Life is an onion—you peel it year by year and sometimes cry. ―Carl Sandburg

Here’s a practical writing tip: if you’re stuck, write “Once upon a time.” Go on, try it—I think you’ll find that even the action is soothing. It’s not just that now you have something on the page, although you do. The words themselves are calming. 

Where did I encounter this piece of advice? I don’t want to rob anyone of credit, but misattribution would be bad, too. I think it was in the cookbook The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, but I can’t swear to it. Anyway, in this book, one of the authors relates a time-honored tip passed down from her grandmother: if you don’t know what to make for dinner, just cut up an onion and put it on to cook. The action, the aroma, the fact that an onion is the basis for so many dishes—these factors will conspire to prompt a plan. And if nothing else, you’ll enjoy the savory smell of industry. Read More »

The Art of Weathered Lithuanian Garage Doors, and Other News

September 16, 2015 | by

Photo: Agne Gintalaite, via Slate

  • Hey, kid—wanna get into print? Take some advice from a guy who’s been around the block: during the submissions process, it’s always better to lie and/or cheat. (The jury’s still out on stealing.) “I was a junior editor at an established magazine, and I decided to use this to my advantage. I typed up a cover letter on my employer’s very fine letterhead, slipped it and the story into an envelope embossed with our well-known logo … A few months later, an editor emailed me at work—stick it, SASE!—to say he would like to buy the story … What I’m counseling is cheating: You don’t have to be an asshole. The submission process is a rigged casino game, though, and all is fair in love and literary magazines.”
  • The trope of the writer as a habitué of cafés—always bowing his head over a cappuccino or espresso, always pausing to scrawl something brilliant and hard-won in a coffee-stained Moleskine notebook—is irritating, both to the idea of writers and the idea of cafés. The history of the coffeehouse is a strange thing: it was long regarded not as a site for productivity but for procrastination, especially among men. “Coffee itself was often thought to be disgusting—a few of the names used by detractors were ‘syrup of soot,’ ‘a foreign fart,’ ‘a sister of the common sewer,’ ‘resembling the river Styx,’ ‘Pluto’s diet-drink,’ ‘horsepond liquor’ … While the early coffeehouses sometimes hosted what were called ‘improving activities,’ including scientific lectures—the scientist Robert Hooke, a member of the Royal Society, was a prominent coffeehouse lecturer, and in one particularly bizarre case, a porpoise was brought to a coffeehouse and dissected in front of an audience, in the name of natural philosophy—the culture of ‘improvement’ did little to assuage the sense that these places were black holes for the productive days of men in their best working years.”
  • Imagine befriending various writers. Did you know? Most of them will be awful companions, including Joyce, Dickens, Hardy, and even Lawrence: “Later, when he takes the dog out he invites you to join him. He is looking for a man to form a blutsbrüdershaft, he says, a friendship so strong that you can both say exactly what you think of each other without putting the relationship at risk. As he says this, he places a hand on your wrist. He’s so seductive that you feel afraid.”
  • In which Mary Karr sets the record straight on a thing or two, as is her wont: “David Foster Wallace wanted celebrity as much or more than any writer I’ve ever known … I had to talk David out of doing a Gap commercial at one point because I said, ‘Would Cormac McCarthy do it? Would Toni Morrison do it?’”
  • Today in aged Lithuanian garage doors: “Lithuanian photographer Agne Gintalaite has documented a series of some 200 Lithuanian garage doors painted and weathered by the elements and time on the outskirts of Vilnius that look like Mark Rothko paintings left out in the rain, each its own stunning work of abstract art.”