Still really happy I never did the required reading in school

Hello friends. I am so sleepy today. Not sure what’s wrong with me. I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the bed these days, because, what with the baby, space is a little limited in the house, and I think all this lying prone can really take it out of you.

I’ve generally been feeling cheerful. My last book, Enter Title Here sold like 5x more copies in hardback than it did in paperback, presumably because a lot of the sales were driven by school and library collections (they tend to purchase in hardback). But We Are Totally Normal has been doing well in paperback! Overall I’d say the book has met or exceeded overall sales expectations, esp since it came out right at the beginning of the pandemic and most copies of the book, I imagine, sat in closed bookstores for months. I mean the book didn’t set the world on fire, but it didn’t flop either, and this is something that a person learns to appreciate. Get your copy of the paperback here!

I do wish I had more energy though. I’m sure if I ate better, slept better, worked out, I wouldn’t feel so worn out. I’ve never been that person though. How did everybody get so healthy??? I’m not the first person to note that there is something of a class marker here. At some point in the nineties all the upper middle class people got the memo that you need to devote yourself to health and exercise. Even when I was in college, a significant number of my classmates engaged in optional exercise, which still strikes me as absurd. I mean it’s one thing to be thirty-five and exercise, but to be 20 and regularly going to the gym? Just doesn’t make sense. Somehow people knew, though! They were like this is important! Silly go-getters. I have to say, there are things that other people did that I am glad I never did, like study hard in college, get good grades, apply myself to my work, and do the required reading for classes.

Letting other people determined how you expend your emotional energies is no good. Like, yes, do the work, but don’t care about the work. If you work too hard at other peoples’ priorities, you get halfway through life without ever figuring out who you are. I have to say, I am especially down on required reading. It seems antithetical to the spirit of the classics to read them and then immediately have some learned professor explain them to you. What’s the point? You might as well just not do the reading and just listen to the explanations instead. The writing world is full of people who got all their opinions about literature from their undergrad professors, just like the political world is full of people whose political opinions are a direct cribbing on the New York Times editorial page.

Life is so much more luxurious when you indulge yourself. Having your own opinions about things is a form of indulgence, in that it’s not good for you, the opinions are frequently incorrect and indefensible, and it feels so good. A friend today forwarded me these two Elif Batuman12 essays about how terrible MFA programs are. I loved them obviously, as I love everything that slags MFAs and the MFA system. But these aren’t fresh takes, they’re simply eloquent ones. You’ll never find a person who defends the MFA system in its entirety, nor will you find someone who says that American letters is healthy and producing tons of interesting work. The bias is obvious here. In one essay Batuman reads The Best American Essays and then she reads a Chekhov story collection. She doesn’t read Best Russian Stories of 1885. If she did, I imagine that she would find plenty that is second-rate (although it is true that at perhaps no other time and place in history was so much first-rate fiction written as in 19th century Russia).

But it’s fun to hate MFAs. Writers are wonderful at developing hypotheses about things. But we have a terrible time proving them. Almost everything that people say is wrong. Human brains aren’t particularly scientific. We hardly bother to define what we’re talking about, much less the conditions under which we might consider that thing to be true. And to go the step further and actually test the hypothesis is something that is beyond almost all people, and in most situations can’t be done. So we’re wrong, most of the time. And when we’re not wrong, it’s because someone else did the work of figuring out the truth. But what’s the solution? To simply not think? Not say? To withhold judgement? That’s no fun whatsoever.

Exercising your own mind isn’t particularly good for you–nobody thinks more for themselves than a conspiracy theorist–if you’ve ever spoken to one, you’ll find them impossible to defeat in an argument, not because their arguments are true, but because they’ve simply thought much harder about their position than you have about yours. They have facts upon facts to prove 9/11 was an inside job, and what do you have? Just a vague sense that, well, it probably wasn’t. But you are still right, and they are still wrong. A person’s rightness or wrongness has nothing to do with how smart they are and everything to do with how willing they are to trust the authority of mainstream scientists and researchers.

But that doesn’t leave much for you to do, does it? Where is the residue? Where is the space for the individual to make some kind of contribution? I think this is one reason I don’t do much discussion of politics on this blog. I have opinions, obviously! Half my conversations these days are about cancel culture, and the benefits or dangers thereof. Anybody who is in the business of producing culture has to think about whether their work is racist or sexist or homophobic. It’s onerous. The criticisms can be boring, humorless, and a bit reductive, but they’re a part of life.

For many people, the question of whether or not a YA novel is racist seems to be deadly serious and on par with climate charge, the carceral state and the endless war on Terror. For other people, the overreach of cancel culture is an existential threat to free speech. My god, these kids are going to destroy independent thought!

It’s hard to even begin to analyze the truth or falseness of these opinions. Both sides can be supported with argument. But largely we just don’t know. There are claims here that can be tested empirically, but the test is so difficult as to be in practice impossible. What is the effect of a book? Even if a book is racist, what harm does it do? What harm does it do to suppress the book? How do we create a peaceful and equitable society? These aren’t questions of values–we all want political and economic equity–they’re questions of fact–what means will lead to the outcome we all desire?

I just don’t know. Nobody does. And all the chatter back and forth about the topic leads us no closer to finding the real answer. But it’s not without its pleasures.

Am not sure I’ll ever be a Very Important Writer

Hello friends. I’ve been feeling a disinclination lately to read books, probably because I’m deep inside another novel project. Amazon sends me emails literally every other day telling me too make sure the file is in order for immediate delivery on May 6th to those who’ve preordered the Cynical Writer’s Guide to the Publishing Industry. Makes me kind of anxious! I think it’s looking pretty good, but who knows? Excited for it to be out!

I’ve finally given in and admitted to myself that I just enjoy thinking about, gossiping about, and giving advice about the publishing industry. For a long time, I felt like this was vaguely disreputable: I ought to only care about the books themselves, not about the industry! But it’s just so much fun! It’s gotten to the point where even the ridiculous things the industry does–its prejudices and indignities–just seem vaguely comical.

I know that quality isn’t entirely divorced from publishing industry success. There is some level of correlation. The better a book is, the more likely it is to succeed. But the correlation is so weak that from the individual author’s standpoint it might as well not exist, and it’s better to think of performance as being almost entirely a result of factors besides the artistic quality of the text.

Ironically, this makes it a lot easier to exist within the system. When people succeed, it’s less a cause for envy and more of a matter of interest: how did this happen? How did the sausage get made?

This is true of myself too! My books are uniformly excellent of course, but for each of them I can point to the specific factors that attracted publishers to them, and none of it had to do with my writing or storytelling.

I don’t know. For many writers, this business is a matter of extremely high stakes: either literal or figurative life and death. They need to succeed, either for financial reasons or because their entire self-worth is based upon succeeding. That’s no longer true for me.

In fact, I have so much fun thinking about and writing about the publishing industry that sometimes I even wonder if I want to keep writing novels. The work I do with my cynical guides seems so much more incisive and necessary to me than my novels–its a place where I can see my voice is really needed–and afterwards going back to writing a novel, about a bunch of fictional people, seems sort of minor.

When writing fiction, one has to constantly return one’s focus to what’s most important. What is the core of this book’s appeal? Why am I writing this? What need or longing does it fulfill? That, even more than questions of craft, is the most essential part of the process. Without that, you might produce a salable work, but to what end?

In my fiction, I think the core of my interest has always been this idea of heroism in the real world. Given that most people seem rather conservative and set in their ways, what prompts someone to stand out? What makes someone act differently? Of course these ideas are deeply submerged in my writing, and I don’t think I’ve yet written a book that expresses them in the way I want, but they’re one reason I keep writing.

At the same time, I’ve grown more interested over time in just telling a good story. I used to think all you needed in a book was to have a compelling voice, full of barely-suppressed longing, and that would be enough to carry the reader through the book. And it is, more or less, but very few books pair that voice with a story that’s really firing on all cylinders. Over the last four or five years, I’ve gotten very interested in how voice, character, plot, and theme can all support each other, so the end product has a unitary quality. To me, that’s a substantial component of what I’d call the ‘beauty’ of a novel. It’s not necessarily the thing that makes a novel timeless, but it does make the novel a pleasure to read, and it helps the novel say whatever it has to say.

But is any of this really that urgent or intense? Are these the motivations that would keep someone writing late at night, on an empty stomach, even as they cough blood into a handkerchief? No, probably not. It would be very nice to feel that terrible urgency! I mean I definitely felt it when I wrote my first published novel Enter Title Here and when I wrote the book before that, which got me my first agent. In both of those cases, I felt like I had a responsibility to myself to put this perspective out into the world. And for a long time after selling my first book I was stymied by the feeling that writing wasn’t worthwhile unless it was urgent in that way.

But you can’t manufacture that feeling. You can’t will it into being. It’s a result of everything going on in your life. I’ll never again be unpublished, with something to prove. I’ll never be twenty-seven again (the age when I wrote the first draft of Enter Title Here).

When I was younger, I was so certain I’d be a leading literary light someday–that I’d be an Important Writer. That’s still something I’d dearly love to be, and it’s not the most unlikely prospect in the world (I’m still working steadily on my literary novel in the background). I’ve lately felt much more confident in my style–in the line-level writing itself, which, although not ornate, is rhythmic and dense. But the title also means less to me. I mean it’s all written in the wind anyway. Very excited though to be sharing my cynical guide with you soon! Preorder now to get it on the 6th!

Could not possibly feel lazier this week

Can’t believe it’s already Thursday. I’ve been feeling so lazy. We’ve had workers in the house all week installing air conditioning. Yes, we’re fancy. Last summer there was a month when it was both fiendishly hot and really smoky, and I swore if we got through it then we’d get air conditioning. Anyway having people in the house sent the cat, dog, and baby into a tizzy, so had some managing to do.

Got my writing done. It’s going well, I think. Novels are a lot. They’re a lot to juggle. Lots of characters, moving pieces. I’m trying to do two things with this one: the first is to continually raise the tension, which basically involves making sure something actually happens in each chapter. And I’m trying to vary the locations too. It’s not entirely realistic: life is more like TV, where things happen in the same locations, over and over, than it is like a movie, where the locales change constantly. But on the other hand switching up locations really spices up the book and helps in the never-ending quest to provide varied images.

And…that’s what I have to say. I really have been so lazy. But the writing is continuing. It’s happening. I wish I could be more productive, I suppose but you’ve got to forgive yourself. And then I do also remember to enjoy the times the writing is going relatively well, because they don’t necessarily last.

The thesis of my Cynical Guide is: When selling a book to a publisher you need to convince them that it has a chance at being a bestseller

I am beyond excited that the Cynical Writer’s Guide To The Publishing Industry is coming out soon (May 6th). It’s really odd, I’ve never felt the need to really get out there and shill a release of mine before, and I think that’s because I never really felt like my novels were, you know, unmissable. Like, they were good books. Great books, even. But most people, most of my readers, even, aren’t necessarily in the market for novels, much less for YA novels, and given that they could read literally any novel in existence, it’s hard to really make a strong case for reading mine.

I don’t feel that way about the Cynical Guide. For the first time, I feel as if I’ve written something that people are going to want to read. There is both a market for and a need for this book.

Now, I keep thinking that I ought to post more excerpts from the guide, but today I had an epiphany: excerpts aren’t really in the style of the guide. The guide is all about sitting down, forming a direct brain to keyboard connection, and explaining something as reasonably and straightforwardly as I can, using just supposition and induction, without any real recourse to evidence–it’s about putting something out there and letting people see how they feel about it, letting them test it out to see if there’s any truth there.

The guide springs from one simple fact: you cannot sell a book just by saying it’s a good, high-quality book.

As writers, we understand what constitutes a good book. It’s not only good storytelling and an engaging voice, it’s a spark of genius, something absolutely new, something impulse or insight that we will maybe spend our lifetimes trying to put into word.

But the publishing industry doesn’t get excited about those things. What the publishing industry wants to know is: “Could this book be a hit?” And the more excited you make them about its hit potential, the more likely you’ll be to sell the book. Moreover, if they do not sense that hit potential, they will not buy your book. They won’t request it, they won’t read it, and if they do read it, they’ll read it with an eye to rejecting it, rather than an eye to accepting it.

So the Cynical Guide has two objectives: one, it’s to build the above argument in a convincing manner; and two, it’s to reverse-engineer the industry’s own expectations and figure out what gets them excited. To this end, I write the book in the exact opposite way that most writing manuals are written. I don’t start with the manuscript, or even with the writer at all. I start with the acquiring editor: the human being, probably working in New York City, who is going to be deciding whether or not to try and buy your book. I look into her incentives. I look into what she needs the book to be. This is where I make the case that editors need books to be hits.

Then I go backwards: your agent, what do they need to get excited about a book? What makes them think a book can be pitched to editors as a potential hit? What gets them excited?

Then I write about the pitch: how can you look at the landscape and craft a pitch that will excite people–that will have them reading to accept, rather than reading to reject.

Then I write about the manuscript: how can you subtly revise the manuscript so that it pays off on the pitch, without losing the core of what interests you about the manuscript. Because the cynical guide is all about preserving your voice, your interests, and your integrity. It is not about writing to market: it’s about finding the intersection of what you can write and what the market will buy.

And finally I have a section about the writer’s life, and about how to hold onto your own voice and your own creativity.

What I lay out in the cynical guide isn’t a simple program. It’s not a worksheet. It’s not a set of steps. Instead it’s a worldview. A way of approaching your writing career so that you don’t experience the pain and disappointment of finding that your manuscript simply has no place in the market.

I genuinely think that writers need to hear some of this information. And I think the best and most creative writers need to hear it the most. Because when I was starting to write, people always said, “Just write. Focus on craft. Write the book you need to write.” There was no understanding of the market. And the problem is that every writer you’ve ever heard of obviously managing to find a place in the market for their writing. You never hear about the far greater number of writers who wrote good books whose chances were nil, right from the get-go, because the market had no room for them (or at least no room for them as they were pitched).

ANYWAYS, that’s what the Cynical Guide is. If you’re at all interested: you can preorder it on Amazon. I’m already hard at work too on a companion book, The Cynical Writer’s Guide To Literary Fiction, which is a book about what I’ve found to be the murkiest, most sought-after, and most inaccessible region of fiction publishing.

The literary fiction book is, if anything, going to be even better. When I told my wife about it, she said But you haven’t even publishing a literary novel yet. But it doesn’t matter. I know things. Moreover, I’ve started to understand how literary reputations are made and what determines which books get published and which don’t, which get acclaim and which don’t. Prestige publishing is, like the prestige ends of all business, extremely complicated, and it deals heavily in the murky territory of important peoples’ egos, but I think for that reason it’s all the more fascinating and worthy of explication. I’m making good progress and hope to have that out in six months!

The Cynical Guides are definitely a labor of love. I enjoy the cynical voice quite a bit. I also enjoy the relative freedom. Unlike with this blog, I can develop my ideas in seclusion, and I can develop them at length. I have ideas for future entries in the series as well, but we’ll see if I can maintain the momentum.

(Meanwhile, I am obviously still working on my fiction. That’s my main priority. The cynical writing remains something I do in the afternoons, as a sideline)

How much work is enough

One perennial topic on this blog is “How much is enough?” When have you written enough, when have you worked hard enough, when can you stop pushing yourself and leave the rest to get done some other day? My strong belief is that enough is enough: there’s only a limited amount of creative work you can do in a day.

But on the other hand, the idea does exist of capitalizing on hot streaks. Maybe when the writing is going really well, you should keep writing. This is exactly the opposite of what most people do. They force themselves to write when they’re not feeling it, but then when the writing IS going well, they give up after doing an hour of work, because that’s all they needed to hit their wordcount goal.

On the third hand, I also think the words you get while pushing yourself through a hot streak aren’t always the best. After all, sometimes you wake up the next day and realize you’ve found an entirely new direction and need to throw out the old stuff. I can’t count the number of times I was thankful I stopped when I did, because in the morning I realized that although what I’d written yesterday was fine, I now had an entirely new conception of what needed to come next.

I believe in letting the unconscious mind do most of my work! Which is just to say, I feel like one or two solid hours of writing is enough. But then what to do with the rest of the time? I find it hard, personally, to formally give up on the writing day and start reading, so I often fritter my time away watching TV and browsing the internet after my writing is done. One reason I’m liking the Cynical Guide project is that I can basically write infinite words in the Cynical voice without any effort. Yesterday after finishing the day’s main writing, I wrote three thousand words on The Cynical Writer’s Guide To Literary Fiction! Now this one is gonna be smoking hot. There is essentially nothing like it on the market: a book that looks at how the marketplace finds and elevates all these wunderkind literary sensations. It’s gonna be great! Probably be out in six months? Hard to say how long this stuff takes or will take.

Cynical Guide To The Publishing Industry Coming May 6th!

Hello friends. I broke out the old electric type-writer for this one. My major news is that I’ve uploaded the complete draft of the Cynical Writer’s Guide To The Publishing Industry and it’s been accepted by the Amazon censors (they had initially objected to my title, for arcane reasons). Am very excited to be sharing it with the world soon! I think it’s all-in-all just an entertaining reading experience, and it’s my hope people can read it in the spirit in which it’s offered: as a salve, a balm, and a work of entertainment. It’s not gonna give you the secret to getting published, but it will tell you a whole bunch of stuff you haven’t heard elsewhere. And some of that stuff will even be true!

I’m not gonna do the cover reveal. Figure I’ll just share the Amazon link when it’s available. But the cover is beautiful! It’s priced at 5.99, and I’m hoping to get some reviews in from favorable reviewers and fans before it gets subjected to the hordes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I reread the book with an eye to "What would an unfriendly reader think of this?" And there is a considerable amount to object to! If the book becomes popular, it might provoke hot takes. I think the book is really fair to everyone: it goes deeply into the incentives that make the industry how it is. But people aren’t great readers, and they’re not interested in being fair (this is one of the themes of the book!)

We will see though! It’s really really exciting. I mean this is an entire book-length work that I made! Like, I made this. All by myself! It’s kind of a rush. I totally get why people self-publish.

I’m already thinking about upcoming volumes in the series. I am thinking of two: a guide to the world of literary fiction, and a guide to structuring a book so that people will feel compelled to read it even if they don’t like it.

But I don’t know if I can write them in less than a year. As a stopgap, I’m thinking of taking some of my more cynical columns from thirteen years of blogging and putting those out as a Cynical Pamphlet. We will see!

Other than this, I’ve nothing going on. I’ve been proofing the Cynical Guide for days, and I had a childcare interruption, so I was also taking care of our baby. This means I haven’t done any original writing in a while. I need to get back to it today. This blog post is really just a way of procrastinating on that. It’s always scary to go back to writing. You just wonder if anything will happen. Sometimes it doesn’t! But I have high hopes.

I continue to only read my work email once per day. It is very hard. I am frequently tempted to break my fast. But it’s been so good for my mental health to concentrate all that worry and rejection.

Another Post About The Release Of My Paperback (and some other Stuff)

Hello friends. Sorry I haven’t written in a little while. Actually I might have updated earlier this week. I cannot remember. Have been so unproductive lately! Essentially my problem is that the number one thing I need to do is proof-read the cynical guide, and proof-reading is the most boring activity on earth. Also, you know you’re always missing things, which is really annoying and makes the whole activity feel pointless. Still, it must be done.

I think on May 6th I’m going to aim for a soft opening, so blog readers can check it out and it can have a friendly initial audience, and maybe people can alert me if there’s anything terrible in it.

Oh, my paperback came out! I keep forgetting about that! The paperback looks really nice. It has a blurb in it from David Levithan. Buy it, if you don’t own a copy of We Are Totally Normal already. With everything this year has held, I feel like the release of the book was a zillion years ago. I have to say, one of the things I am most proud of is being chill about my book releasing on March 31, at the beginning of the pandemic, while every bookstore in the country was closed.

I totally understand authors, especially debut authors or authors with substantial publicity campaigns behind them (authors who were supposed to have the hot book of the season) who got really worked up about the pandemic. But, at the same time…everyone suffered. Authors suffered less than most. People still bought books, after all. Whereas 500,000 people literally died. Oftentimes alone. Kids lost years of progress. Elderly people with dementia lost much of their remaining mental function. People lost their life savings, lost their businesses, lost their parents, wives, kids, spouses. I mean I am not someone who is like, well as long as one person in the world is starving to death, then you’re not allowed to complain that your book’s release got overlooked. People are allowed to complain about whatever they want.

But it’s still a useful exercise to maintain some perspective. Every person on Earth had shit they wanted to do over the last year. For almost all those people, that shit was disrupted (unless what you wanted to do was amass a fortune in bitcoins, I suppose, or teach elderly people how to use Zoom). C’est la vie. Already we’re dealing with unseasonable heat here in San Francisco, and who knows how many million acres are gonna burn this summer and fall. Who knows when next we will have a ‘normal’ year. Perhaps never.

I am a podcast Listener now! Also am halfway through a number of books

Hello friends. I haven’t posted in a week or so, for no particular reason. My reading and writing continues apace. Probably the biggest change in my life is that I’ve gotten into this whole listening to podcasts thing that everyone loves to do these days.

Essentially I was pondering rereading Plutarch, since now I have a much better understanding of the historical context for some of these figures. But then I was like, wait, maybe I ought to fill in some gaps. One of the main areas of classical history I don’t know much about is the time between the third punic war and the rise of Julius Caesar, when the Republic fell into disarray and periodic dictatorship, even as Rome conquered most of the Mediterranean. Fortunately, there is a popular book, that I just happened to own, about this period in time: Mike Duncan’s The Storm Before The Storm. The book is incredible, laying out the economic and social and political context for the fights between various Roman factions. And I learned that the author runs a well-known history podcast. Actually two, one (now concluded) on the history of Rome. And a second about famous revolutions. I’ve been listening to the first volume of the latter, which is about the English Civil War, and I have to say it’s one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had. The narrator is so personable, so clear, and builds the story in just the way I like, with some focus on the events and people, but also with plenty of analysis and context. It’s excellent. So far the series has covered the American Revolution, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Latin American Wars of Independency, France’s July Days, France’s 1870 Revolution, The Revolutions of 1848, and is now charting a very, very, very long course through Russia’s revolutionary history.

I’ve also looked into some other podcasts. I listened to one episode of the Freakonomics podcast and also found it pleasant. Anyway, this has really cut into my TV watching, which is the other thing I’ve been doing. I recently listened to Emily Nussbaum’s essay collection. This author, who’s the TV critic for the New Yorker, just made me realize…I don’t know, there’s something to this TV thing. It got me excited about TV. So I’ve been watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy / drama that people have been recommending for ages, but which I somehow bounced off of initially. And, it’s good. I think it has a really smart and subtle portrait of friendships and relationships. The smartest thing it does is just lean into the lack of chemistry between the lead, Rebecca, and her erstwhile ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan. They’re just not really right for each other, and Rebecca always has to kind of force it. Rebecca is also just…not really emotionally stable. She makes terrible decisions, and those decisions reliably drive the plot. It’s very interesting!

Writing has more or less continued. I have been taking weekends off lately. Not that I have no time to write on weekends, but it’s an effort, and it’s much nicer to just vegetate, to read, and to take care of the baby. It’s very new for me to be taking weekends off though. Feels odd. Feels wrong. Not sure how long it will continue.

I am halfway through a lot of books right now: Don Juan, the Epigrams of Martial, an anthology of poetry about movies, an anthology of twentieth century American poetry, a translation of Aesop’s fables, and probably other books too that I am forgetting! It’s also weird for me to be so scattered! I am learning a lot, and I am improving, but I also feel a little adrift.

I do have my two projects though. The cynical guide to the publishing industry, coming out May 6th. It’s looking very nice. I can’t believe how cohesive the book is, and the degree to which it tells a comprehensive story. Generally when people like me release self-published advice guides, we just republish old essays from our blogs. I didn’t do that here. I wrote an entirely new guide, with entirely new content. The whole thing might be insane, offensive, and wrong-headed, but there is nothing else like it out there! Hard to believe it’s really coming out.

I am also working on my literary book. Am in the stage where I am pausing my rewrite to do a rewrite, except that I am now pausing that rewrite to rewrite the rewrite. That means the draft is a mess. Even though it’s only twenty thousand words, it’s got pieces in it from three different conceptions of the story. Nonetheless, it is coming along. I did some work on it this morning. I feel good about it! I think part of the reason I’ve slowed down a little is just…fear. Say what you want about the agent search, but you can always rewrite the book and send it out to new agents. You can even rewrite it and send it to agents who’ve already rejected it! If we include the draft I sent to my last agent, I now have four drafts of this book that have gone out to agents.

You don’t necessarily get that kind of chance with publishers. Yes, you can rewrite between the first and the second round of submission, but at some point it’s done. You really have to be as good as possible right from the get-go. It’s a lot of pressure!

Finally, I am enjoying having an agent again. Christopher is great. I feel lucky to have him onboard. Aaaaaaaaand, that’s probably about all I have in terms of updates. Hope you all are doing well.

Oh, Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong, that’s another book I’m halfway through. Wow, maybe I ought to just sit down and read books all day until some of these are cleared off.

nativity painting of people inside a dome
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I started watching the Snyder cut of Justice League yesterday. It was…probably better than the Whedon version? I dunno, I walked out of the Whedon version, it was so bad. And I’ve sat through multiple Avengers movies! Walking out of movies is good. It feels like you’re really sticking it to the film. I also walked out of Manchester By The Sea and The Favorite (the latter might’ve just been a mood thing, because I hear it’s a good film). The Snyder cut is really humorless and kind of impersonal, with a lot of quick transitions, not of big, epic sweeping stuff. But epics need to also have the small-scale and the intimate. This is why Titanic worked so well, for instance. It’s why Lord of the Rings focused on the hobbits, instead of on Aragorn. It’s why these movies always have fellowships and bands and leagues–so people can form relationships while they’re saving the world. But I’m only an hour into Justice League and might never revisit it, so I can’t say whether it ever gets more human.

My life is great. I have absolutely no troubles. The other day I was feeling sad because I hadn’t used this first year of my baby’s life to make other mom friends, and then I was like, hold it, this is an invented, made-up problem! I cannot be sad about this! I am just holding onto this because I don’t have better things to worry about. So I let it go.

The point is I am very happy. Everything is excellent. I experience rejection and artistic frustration, obviously. Sometimes my back hurts. Sometimes my knees hurt. The other day I ate an entire bag of M&Ms and then an entire bag of cookies and felt sick and ashamed, but these are not big problems. I am happy to live in this beautiful city, with my wonderful wife and baby and cat and dog, and to have work that I love doing and find (reasonably) meaningful.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little old. You know how the sociologists are all like there are five markers that signal a youth’s transition to adulthood: leaving the house, getting a job, marriage, having a baby, and a fifth one that I can’t remember and don’t want to look up? Well there must be something to that, because now that I have a baby I’m officially like, wow, I am an adult! I am old! My passions are extinguished! I was reading a poem earlier by…James Dickey? (Link is in the post) Anyway part of it was about how farm-boys get really horny and want to have sex with livestock, but don’t, because of their fear of creating human-animal hybrids, and I was like, wow, I remember I used to get that horny, back when I was a youth, but no longer, because I am not a youth anymore.

I’m so old that I’m starting to understand Proust, and the way you can recapture lost time. It’s only once a door is closed that you can open it again. Because childhood is so fully gone, I’m finally able to be transported back to it, and to experience it anew.

But I am not unhappy with the use I’ve made of those years. I mean, everything turned out much better than I deserved! Like…how did I write and sell these books? That’s absurd! Did twenty-five and twenty-six year old me really write entire novels? And how did I find someone and marry them? Was I really once alone? And how did we make a baby? The process seems so uncertain and long! It’s astonishing how you take tiny steps each day, and somehow it comes to something. Like…three years ago we had just gotten a cat. Now there’s a one year old baby! WTF. Looking back on the past, it seems incredible that anyone should do anything, considering how uncertain the reward and how large the effort. But you just don’t know. You have no idea.

Don Juan

Hello friends. I’m not on the social media much right now, but from what I can see, feelings are very raw due to the Atlanta shootings. I’m not sure what to say about them. I don’t have any stories of being harassed or feeling unsafe, but I believe the people who do! I wish I knew how to fix these problems. One hopes it is the dying gasp of a dying worldview, but who knows?


In my personal life, everything is going really well. Shockingly well. Like so well that I just kinda need to avoid creating problems for myself. I finally understand self-sabotage! Like I’ve been eating unhealthily lately, and I was like, ugh, why am I creating this totally artificial situation where I don’t feel good.

Writing is good. I’m making plenty of progress on the Cynical Guide. It’s looking good! Thinking of putting it up for preorder soon! I also got a copy of my paperback! It’s looking great. I thought it’d just look like the advance reader copies did, but I guess they use a slightly better cover stock. And it’s got this nice blurb from David Levithan in it. So that’s good!

I’m reading a lot of poetry. Have been making my way through Byron’s Don Juan. My MFA thesis advisor would at this point feel forced to add that you need to pronounce Juan with two syllables (so it rhymes with “Who on”) in order to make the meter and rhyme work. I find myself forgetting to do that as I read it in my head, which I’m sure is ruining the poem.

It’s great fun! What a masterwork! I love the Ottava Rima rhyme scheme, which means there are two triple rhymes in each stanza (thus encouraging fancy rhymes, as in one stanza when he rhymed ‘intellectual’ and ‘hen-pecked you all’. I also just like the story. It’s varied and quite melodramatic. There’s a part where they’re trapped at sea and they have to draw lots to see who gets eaten, and Don Juan’s tutor draws the short straw, so they eat him, but everyone who eats him dies because they wash him down with sea water and I guess you also shouldn’t eat human flesh raw.

And there are also long asides where he makes fun of other poets (most notably Southey and Wordsworth), and just generally plenty of good stuff. It’s really fun. I genuinely enjoy the book. And it’s so odd to think I’m reading it in the original language. The style and language feel so continental (it reminds me strongly of Charterhouse of Parma, The Betrothed, and The Count of Monte Cristo, amongst others) that it just feels, intuitively, like a book that’s in translation. But it’s not. An underappreciated work!


Writing continues apace on the literary novel. It’s popping. I’m having fun. I like the characters. Sometimes I do have lingering doubts, like…does this book really matter? Was it really worth three years of my life? But other times I’m like, no, it is an important book! Oh who knows!