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Britishness

Thursday, 5-November-2009

I recently passed the Life in the United Kingdom test, which foreigners have to pass to apply for either citizenship or unlimited leave to remain in the U.K. (I’ve been living in the U.K. for three years now.) The test’s purpose is, apparently, to ensure that foreigners are sufficiently British. Sufficiently British to what? It’s hard to say. I brew a decent cup of tea, which should weigh in my favor, but that’s balanced out by my accent, which is unrepentantly American.
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Control and Magic

Wednesday, 25-February-2009

If there’s one thing I know about writing, it’s that I don’t control the process. The more I control, the less interesting my writing.
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Researching Cynicism

Thursday, 9-October-2008

A research project at the London School of Economics (LSE) has measured Britain’s cynicism level (it’s high) and intoned that cynicism may be bad for democracy. (Observer, September 14, 2008) The study makes a distinction between cynicism and distrust. People who think politicians are merely liars will distrust them but will probably continue to vote. The truly cynical don’t vote. They may boycott products or join pressure groups (this is bad for democracy?), or they may resort to direct action or violence (which are apparently similar enough to group together).
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Notes from a Book Tour

Tuesday, 24-June-2008

It’s weird work, promoting a book. For Open Line, I did a series of readings even though, as I’ve heard for years, no one knows if readings really sell or promote books. Here’s the rundown:
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Scott McClellan, George Bush, and Annette Majoris

Thursday, 29-May-2008

Early in the long slog that led to the publication of Open Line, someone asked whether its protagonist, Annette, believes her claim that the Vietnam War never happened. Yes, I answered. And also no.
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Writing about Vietnam in the Post-9/11 World

Wednesday, 26-March-2008

To date, two reviews of Open Line have wondered why I bothered to write about the Vietnam War in this post-9/11 world. If the question had come up once I’d have shrugged it off, but since it’s come up again it may be worth some thought.
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On Not Liking a Character

Friday, 8-February-2008

Zadie Smith’s On Beauty got great reviews, and deserved them. It’s an ambitious book that grapples with race, class, and if not exactly politics at least politics as played out in academia. I admire it. I admire her. I didn’t, however, enjoy reading it.
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Parade

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

My partner, Ida, and I saw a British production of Parade, an American play, in London a while back, and it was an interesting failure, the kind that got us talking more than a successful production would have.
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Language, Loss, and Metaphor

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

My mother died in June 2005 at the age of ninety-three. For some time--and it's hard to say how long because I can't draw a line and say it began here--a series of small strokes had been chipping away at who she'd once been. I called her one day, six months or a year before she died, and the woman who took care of her told me she hadn't gotten out of bed for two days. Maybe I could convince her to.
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Notes for My Memoir

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

[James] Frey appears to have fictionalized his past to propel and sweeten the book's already melodramatic narrative and help convince readers of his malevolence. "I was a bad guy," Frey told [Oprah] Winfrey. "If I was gonna write a book that was true, and I was gonna write a book that was honest, then I was gonna have to write about myself in very, very negative ways."
"A Million Little Lies: Exposing James Frey's Fiction Addiction"
www.thesmokinggun.com

A winter Sunday. Pale January sunlight slanting through the living room windows. Etc. Enough detail to establish my physical presence in a real place. I review my agent's e-mails about my novel. In my most recent rejection, the editor said she liked the novel but that fiction isn't selling well.
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The Guideline Blues: Tips on How to Enter Contests

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

Contest season is upon us—and I say this with no idea when it will be read since contest season is just about always upon us. So, in honor of the many writers who are proofreading their manuscripts and trying to make their word processing programs print consecutive numbers on unrelated files, I hereby offer the compiled wisdom of the staff from the writers organization where I used to work, the Loft. We were on the receiving end of countless contest entries and a nearly equal number of panicky questions about same. This wisdom applies to contests in general but has been gleaned mostly from the Loft’s experience as a contest sponsor. It won’t help you win a contest—that depends on a fortuitous combination of your writing and the contest judge—but it should make it easier to send out your work.
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Wrestling with Form

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

I like to think I’m doing something natural when I work on a novel—writing something whose form and content both grow out of the life around me. This is, of course, complete bullshit, but we all need an illusion or three to keep ourselves going.
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Conspiracy Theories 101: The Bastards Are Lying to Us

Wednesday, 9-January-2008

Partway through the first draft of Open Line, I began to wonder where the idea for the book had come from. I don't mean why I began it, or how: I had just finished work on a novel and set out to write one-page summaries of three novels that I didn't plan to write. It was an exercise, like playing scales. I began the first one with a radio talk-show host who wanted to quit her job and went on the air with some ridiculous claim. What, I asked myself, was crazy enough? The Vietnam War never happened. It was all a massive government cover-up. The idea was so absurd, and had such great energy, that I forgot about the other summaries and sat down to see where this one would take me.
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