Max Sebald on Writing

January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

At Richard Skinner’s blog, two former students of W. G. Sebald share some of the lessons learned from the late novelist, distilled into categories (Approach, Narration, Description, Detail, Reading and Intertextuality, Style, Revision). Some of my favorites:

Approach: Fiction should have a ghostlike presence in it somewhere, something omniscient. It makes it a different reality.

Narration: The present tense lends itself to comedy. The past is foregone and naturally melancholic.

Detail: It’s good to have undeclared, unrecognized pathologies and mental illnesses in your stories. The countryside is full of undeclared pathologies. Unlike in the urban setting, there, mental affliction goes unrecognized.and

Dialect makes normal words seem other, odd and jagged. For example, ‘Jeziz’ for Jesus.

Reading: Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.


I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.

Acceptance: In the Whore’s Style

January 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Happy to break out of my slump with an acceptance today, to Ayris, the magazine of literature and art published by the New Hampshire Institute of Art, for my flash-fiction story “In the Whore’s Style.”

Exquisite Quartet Anthology 2012

January 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Exquisite Quartet 2012

Exquisite Quartet Anthology 2012, edited by Meg Tuite, is an anthology of jointly written stories published monthly last year at Used Furniture Review. Among them is “Living Off the Man,” a story I co-wrote with Tuite, Aleathia Drehmer, and Misti Rainwater-Lites.

There is a wealth of talent in this volume, and I’m honored to be a part.

Too Much Fun

January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

fun parts Fun Stuff

Two collections of previously published material from writers both prominently featured in The New Yorker. Both with rainbow-y covers. Released within months of each other. And of course, similar titles each connoting the distillation of particular elements of enjoyment from a larger selection.

If this is not grounds for a war, I don’t know what is.

On Moral Fiction

January 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is why you write. You have something to say. You feel the passion, the fire, the fury. Your work, your world, is inching up there on the ‘socially conscious’ scale. My one rule for you, or I could also say myself, is this: the story and the characters must always matter—or appear to the reader to matter—more than the moral idea.

Maybe we can’t all be Dickens, riling up public opinion about child labor, changing hearts and minds. But we can agitate readers. I use the word “agitate” because I like the fact that washing machines have an “agitator.” Shake things up. Pummel the fabric. Get the dirt out. Work.

At Necessary Fiction, January Writer-in-Residence Megan Mayhew Bergman writes on fiction’s responsibility to be moral without being moralizing.

I try to adhere to the rule that characters are less revealed by what they say than by the decisions they make, and those decisions are often ‘moral’ to the extent of guiding the character’s path to happiness, and weighing that happiness against the happiness of others.

This is why I’m not keen on stories that exist as little more than character sketches; where there is no pursuit and chance for fulfillment. What does the character want, and why do they want it? How much do they want it? And to what extent—and expense—will they go to attain it? The limitations of flash fiction are too often used as an excuse to avoid addressing these questions.

And yet you can have effectively egotistical, irresponsible, asshole characters. Rabbit Angstrom is my favorite by a mile. What he wants is a return to past exhilarations, the feeling of limitlessness as expressed by Pascal’s “motions of grace.” But to meet this desire means harming a lot of people. It is the motivation he finds to veer away from opportunities of redemption that keeps us reading.

Cancelling Chris Ware

January 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

P & W Chris Ware 001 P & W Chris Ware 002

Meant to show this earlier: my November/December Poets & Writers, with the Chris Ware comic on the cover, and some hyperaggressive annotation from a central Massachusetts postage meter.

Where Am I?

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