Category Archives: Jim Shepard

Links: Through the Cradle of the Civil War

Graceland versus Rowan Oak.

I read Alex Shakar‘s debut novel, The Savage Girl, in 2003, but I have no strong memories of it. (I had to consult I note I scribbled in an endpaper to remember when I read it.) Regardless, he spins a great yarn about how the best-laid promotional plans for the novel collapsed.

Edwidge Danticat on editing the story collection Haiti Noir: “We don’t always have to create pretty pictures around Haiti, but we are obligated to reflect or create fully realized human beings and that’s what our seventeen fiction writers did. I am really proud of that book. It’s not a rosy picture of Haiti, but it is nuanced and complex one. We are neither angels nor savages. Maybe that’s what fiction does best, define that middle ground.”

“While a full account of the role God plays in [David Foster] Wallace’s writing would probably take a monograph to flesh out, I’d like to point to a few moments in his work that one should pursue if one were to write that monograph.” (Chapter 22 of The Pale King welling up again; seriously, it should be sold as a Byliner-ish excerpt, or novella, or some other standalone publication.)

Jim Shepard talks up some of his favorite short-story collections, and his own work: “[W]riting about other things, if you’re doing so in the right way, is a great way of tricking yourself into writing about stuff you most care about. It can be a back door into difficult emotions. Especially if you’re a guy, you might have difficulty dealing with particularly vexed emotions to begin with. And particularly vexed emotions are the sort that power literature.” (via)

Harvard University Press has freed up the Ernest Hemingway chapter from A New Literary History of America, which discusses the influence of a family cabin in Michigan on his work.

Mad Men, John Updike‘s Maple stories, same diff.

Reader’s Almanac, the Library of America’s blog, recently turned a year old; it tallies up some of its most popular posts.

J.D. Salinger
, 1994: “I work on. Same old hours, pretty much.”

Roger Ebert is in a huff about an ESL version of The Great Gatsby; Jessa Crispin doesn’t see what the fuss is about.

Dinaw Mengestu goes to the Greek isle of Patmos and finds a waystation for migrants.

On Louisa May Alcott‘s brief stint as a Civil War nurse.

How Vladimir Nabokov stage-managed his interviews.

In defense of Jonathan Franzen‘s underappreciated second novel, Strong Motion.

“[Larry McMurtry] described The Last Picture Show as a ‘spiteful’ book that took three weeks to write and was intended to ‘lance some of the poisons of small-town life.'”

Arthur Phillips on Moby-Dick: “When we…went out to sea, it was something in between a realistic sea adventure and some other dreamlike lunacy – then I felt like I was in the hands of somebody who was inventing the novel as he wrote one. That same wonderful feeling. This is not exactly a sea adventure or a sea melodrama with an evil captain. There’s something much weirder going on.” (Nathaniel Philbrick‘s forthcoming Why Read Moby-Dick? has some thoughtful observations on these points, about which more soon, probably.)

Some elements by which to judge the success of an expat novel.

Legislators are trying to make a Mark Twain commemorative coin happen. No word on whether it’ll be embossed with the phrase, “Within certain judicious limitations we trust in God.”

Links: Ain’t That America

Hilary Hamann on the title of her novel, Anthropology of an American Girl, a 2003 small-press book that has just been republished by Spiegel & Grau: “Cars and cliques and music and movies provide the architecture of the American experience. It would be impossible to describe a psychological coming of age without referring to these influences, because in America these things constitute all the missing pieces: family, religion, culture, history, political ideology.”

Is the last book you read important when it comes to serving on a jury?

Ronald Gottesman, a key editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, died earlier this month.

Dept. of Nonsense: “My real problem with New York is literary. Because the bulk of American literary agencies, publishing, and criticism occurs in New York, authors are rewarded for overindulging in New York as a setting. And when they set their novels in New York, it’s considered acceptable to geographically structure the work in such a way that non-native readers are punished.”

It’s old news now that Mark Twain‘s autobiography will be published earlier this year. But it’s worth noting that some people are excited about what it might reveal about Twain’s gambling habits.

The creators of the literary journal Electric Literature discuss how much hustle is involved in getting an new publication off the ground, especially if you want to include known authors. “Jim Shepherd was up in western Massachusetts, and I rented a car and drove 6 hours so I could buy him a cup of coffee and talk to him about it,” says coeditor Andy Hunter. “Because I knew if I sent him an email, I didn’t have a chance.”

Mary Gaitskill willingly talks trash about her story “An Old Virgin” in the video below. “It’s not bad line-by-line. It’s got some striking images in it. But I feel like mostly when people call my work turgid and dark, they’re really just not being fair or accurate—but, guilty as charged with that story. It’s turgid. It’s totally turgid.”

Links: Plain Dealing

“Let’s keep it simple and clear prose-wise shall we?”: How David Foster Wallace marked up one student’s paper.

A similar point by David Mamet, though in a different context: “IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.” (The aggressive use of all-caps suggests to me that Mamet might actually be on the side of the always-be-closing jerk in Glengarry Glen Ross.)

Jonathan Dee describes how reading the interviews published by his one-time employer, The Paris Review, helped him as a writer: “I really read them all, even though at that point many of them were with writers I had never heard of. That was hugely formative for me–I would really recommend that for anybody, not only because you find things in there that inspire you but because it gets across that there’s no one right way to do it. You see how varied are the forms of craziness that people bring to making a successful career out of fiction writing.”

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Levi Asher at David Shieldsreading in D.C. Tuesday night. (He is, in fact, the person who tipped me off to it.) He delivers his own assessment of the reading, along with a defense of Reality Hunger.

Not unrelated to Shields’ comments about the Internet and book length, Charlie Stross offers some insights into the reasons why books are as long as they are, and what the future might mean for the bulky novel. (via The Rumpus)

Brooks Peters revisits Hubert Creekmore‘s 1948 novel, The Welcome, a curious novel about homosexuality that dares not speak the name of its central theme.

Ta-Nehisi Coates offers his list of ten favorite books, which includes Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Junot Diaz‘s Drown. Funny kicker: “I really need to read some books about white people. My canon is culturally biased and reflects the perspective of sheltered African-American who is embarrassingly ignorant of the White Experience.”

The Clifton Fadiman Medal, which goes to an older work of fiction that merits more attention, has been awarded to Jamaica Kincaid‘s 1985 novel, Annie John.

Jim Shepard on writing outlines for stories, even if you don’t trust them: “That design is an illusion that I create for myself that allows me to keep going. Without it I’d be too terrified to continue. But I need to understand that the design is an illusion. I need to understand that in some rough way, there is going to be a pattern, but if that pattern remains unchanged, that’s evidence that the thing is dead.”

Earlier this month I spoke on a panel hosted by the National Book Critics Circle about the next ten years in book culture, though it quickly became a session on what the next ten years means for book reviewers. Video of that panel is now up; I can’t bear to watch, though HTMLGiant’s summary suggests my points got over well enough. What the video probably doesn’t capture is the sight of the audience collectively fishing for pens when I mentioned the Millions and the Rumpus. There’s work to do.

Roundup: Frome Here to Eternity

Continuing our ad hoc Wharton Week here: studiously monochromatic Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt made a point of reading Edith Frome annually because “it expresses everything about how horrible New England is.” (via)

Jim Shepard‘s 2007 collection, Like You’d Understand, Anyway, has won the Story Prize.

Interested in reading a novel that’s stuffed with mouse-over ads because the authors have put every word up for sale? Your ship has just come in.

Hillary Jordan‘s Mudbound gets the big push in USA Today.

Charles Bock‘s Beautiful Children gets the big push from its publisher, Random House, which has made the novel free to download as a PDF until Friday at midnight. The Millions rings up publicist Jynne Martin for details. “If it’s good enough for Radiohead it’s good enough for us!” Martin exclaims. Hang on: It was good enough for Radiohead because the band has alternate revenue streams (back catalog, touring) and a fan base willing to kick in a few bucks out of sheer loyalty, two things a debut novelist has in short supply. Even so, this is probably a winner, thanks to the tight download window and the PDF format, which is clunky–you can’t carry it around with you unless you print out the pages (which is slow with PDFs). Anybody who’s seduced by the book online will likely drop money to own it.

Vice’s Fiction Issue

There’s lots of great stuff in Vice‘s second fiction issue–pieces by Richard Price, Mary Gaitskill, Robert Coover, Jim Shepard, Nick Tosches, and more–but I keyed in on this interview with editor Gary Fisketjon, who’s worked with Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, and more. All I can say to this bit is that I’m trying…:

Is there a temperament of a good editor?

I’ve known all sorts, but I should think the best would prove to be patient, understanding, careful, honest, and forthright rather than falsely flattering or disingenuous, celebratory, certainly, and sympathetic as well about all the trying circumstances all writers face nearly all the time. We’re all in this together, but only because writers have enabled us to be part of it.