Off the Page Now an E-Book

So, for the tiniest bit of self-promotion.

Off the Page is now available as an e-book, on these sites:

And these places still have the hard copy:

In the US, the beloved Politics & Prose in Washington, DC, McNally Jackson in NYC -- or find an independent near you via Indie Bookstore Finder.
In the UK, Foyles and Waterstones.

A favorite quote from Off the Page, from Mary Kay Zuravleff, whose third novel, Man Alive!, is also available at the above bookstores.

"I’m writing to match some tune in my head, some flavor from a dream, translated into words on a page. The first few drafts, my people move monstrously through contrived mazes. Eventually, I can stop pounding on their chests and filling their lungs. They’ll sit up and blink, and then, to my amazement, samba down a path far more imaginative and inevitable than what I’d envisioned.
Once we’re all satisfied, there are still drafts devoted to language and description, gestures and observations. When I make a pass for smells, I’m almost done. For both of my novels, I gave a draft to a few choice critics whose exceptional advice was on the order of, “I almost see the constellation you were aiming at, but you missed a star here. And here.”

Then I rewrite it one more time."

Banks Makes 'Physiological' Shift to Stories Russell Banks is a writer known for both short stories and novels -- most recently "Lost Memory of Skin," which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award -- his new book, "A Permanent Member of the Family" (Ecco), is his first collection of stories in 15 years.  He talked about the short story form in my Washington Post interview with him, which ran today. 

Here's an excerpt from my transcript, less edited than the Post version:
Why did you come back to the short story form?
I had written three novels in the intervening years, and they were hard novels – they weren’t easy to write.  I came up out of the depths of “Lost Memory of Skin” feeling kind of exhausted and that I really needed to work on the other side of my brain. Short stories feel as though they do come from a different place entirely. It’s not just a literary shift, but a physiological one. They’re much closer to writing songs or poems.  Your attachment to language is different, your attachment to form is different. A novel is so large and amorphous that you live inside a novel, whereas with a short story you can have a slightly distanced approach.
How do you know an idea is a novel and not a short story?
I can almost always tell immediately, if what I’m looking at is a moment of transition in someone’s life -- that’s what the short story does best. It implies time past and it implies time future but it’s the moment itself, the moment of change, that  we're focused on.

You might also check out The Washington Post books page.

The Pleasures of a 'Slow' Novel

Robert Boswell’s “Tumbledown” unfolds in a way that even literary novelists don’t often allow themselves these days – it takes its time.  And what a pleasure that is.

“Tumbledown,” Boswell's seventh novel, takes place in the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Center, a day center in California for the mentally disabled.  Both clients and take staff turn at center stage, and their dilemmas become more and more intertwined.

My review ran today in The Washington Post.

"Tumbledown" was also reviewed in The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News.  Others are listed on his Web site.

Chuck Palahniuk's Realistic Stories

Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel “Fight Club,” is known for novels that are fantastical, satirical, funny and outrageously profane.  Yet his work, he insists, comes directly from life.
The q-and-a ran today in The Washington Post.

Here's a slightly extended version of his answer about the inspirations for his novels. "Doomed," by the way, features a teen-age girl who emerges from hell to get stuck in Purgatory (which, in his world, is Earth).

One of the University students wanted me to ask you: Where do your crazy stories come from?

Usually someone tells me a story that I find so striking or so compelling that I have to share it with other people -- and then those other people I share it with tell me a version of it from their own lives.  I find I'm able to develop the story ideas that come from one person but use the experience of a lot of people. I just cherry-pick the very best versions of the same experience, and usually find a way of quilting them together and making a story out of it.

That makes it sound like your fiction is realistic.

My degree is in journalism, so a lot of it is just looking for key elements of stories and finding the patterns that exist between them.  They're stories from people's lives, because those are the most unfiltered, freshest stories. Usually they have some cultural precendent, but they're something I've never seen anywhere before.   That always hooks me.

Do you then have to make them more fantastical?

Usually I have to make them less fantastical.

Terry McMillan on Obama and Racism in America

My interview with Terry McMillan runs today in The Washington Post -- she talks about writing from a child's point of view, a white woman's point of view, and happy endings.

While I focused on her novel for the Post article, I did ask for her thoughts on Obama and what the election meant for Americans, and black Americans in particular.  There wasn't room for this in the Post, but thought I'd provide her answer here. 

This book is set in 2001, and alludes to 9/11.  I must admit being curious about what you think of a more recent event—Obama’s election and re-election. What changes has that made for Americans, and black Americans?

Terry McMillan
"A lot of us were very very proud when he was elected the first time and the second time, and it wasn’t African Americans who got him elected and re-elected. There aren’t enough of us.  I feel very very sorry for him, because he hasn’t been able to do his job as well as I think he would like to be able to do it.  Some members of Congress have made it crystal clear from the beginning that they are basically anti-Obama, and I think racism has a lot do with it.  It has brought out a lot of racial hatred and something that a lot of us – we sort of thought we were past it.  It’s frightening. It’s like we’re going back in time to the 1950s, and basically there are a lot of people who resent having an African American president. It almost feels anti-American, what’s going on.
That’s the irony of it. "
 Gish Jen also talked about cultural issues in my interview with Jen in March.
And Anne Lamott, in an interview in November, talked about being a "progressive Christian" in America.

Interview with Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard’s new novel, After Her, follows two teenage sisters living in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais in northern California during a spate of killings of young women by a serial killer in 1979. But she says that this almost-thriller circles around what she identifies as her obsessive themes in her work: family, the coming of age of a young girl, and what she called recently "the wild card of human sexuality."

It's interesting to read the interview in light of her controversial memoir, At Home in the World, which explored her affair as an 18-year-old with J.D. Salinger.

Maynard spoke from a cottage in New Hampshire, where she was in the midst of a belated honeymoon -- she was married this summer.

My interview with Maynard for The Washington Post.

Katha Pollitt's review of At Home in the World, which touches on some of the themes Maynard discusses in this week's interview.

Maynard's own piece on her novel, in The New York Times.

And a story about her wedding, also from The Times.