Thursday, January 19, 2012

Detroit, South Detroit, and the

Today the New York Times published an Op-Ed piece I wrote about Detroit. As you can see by clicking here, it’s called “When the Lights Go Down in the City.” Please, check it out.

The title of the piece obviously comes from the Journey song of the same name. I am grateful that the New York Times came calling; I only wish we could have used a title from a Detroit band, or at least a song about Detroit. It’s not as if Detroit hasn’t produced a ton of great music. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” does mention “south Detroit,” and this line is sung at Michigan football games, but with irony. As you Detroiters know, “south Detroit” is really Canada.

Till next time…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Year, New Book

Yep, after a 20-month hiatus, I’m back to blogging. The reason is simple: there’s a new novel in the works. In fact, it’s pretty much done. W.W. Norton will publish it on July 2nd, 2012.

As you can see from the attached cover, the title is Say Nice Things About Detroit. It tells the story of a man who starts his life over by moving back to (where else?) Detroit. You can get a full description on Norton’s Website or on Amazon.

(My own website is undergoing an update; you’ll be able to get information there soon.)

As they say on late night TV: But wait, there’s more!! Steve Carell has optioned the novel. My screenwriting partner Derek Green and I were then hired to write the adaptation, which we recently turned in. Which is to say that I, like you, am hoping for a big 2012.

For those of you in the Aspen area—or those who would like to be—Derek Green and I will be team teaching a beginning fiction workshop at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Summer Words Festival, June 17-22. Other teachers include Colum McCann, Mona Simpson, Nic Pizzolatto, Luis Urrea, Benjamin Percy, William Loizeaux, and Erin Belieu. There’s also a literary festival featuring the literature of Latin America and the Caribbean. If you’re looking for a literary festival, you can’t do better than this one.

Till next time, Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So Much for New Year’s Resolutions

Way back on the second day of the year I promised to write a blog a month. Here it is, almost May, and I’m just getting to blog #2. So it goes.

In the last blog I asked if a writing degree (MFA) was necessary for a writer. The answer is—obviously—no. Not that the degree hurts—it also guarantees nothing. Writers write. Period. Again, so it goes.

One resolution I did keep was a deadline for the first draft of a new novel: 3/31/10. I got there, I’m happy to report. I’m not so sure I’m happy with the draft (so it goes), but at least it exists. Now the real work begins.

Another assignment I just completed was an article for Aspen Sojourner Magazine. The piece is titled, “Liquid Aspen: the Pub Crawl.” Yep, the idea was to visit as many Aspen bars as I could and write about them. Dangerous duty but I survived, barely. Look for the article this summer.

On a happy note, The Year That Follows, my most recent effort, has been named a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards (literary fiction). So, to quote the Bill Murray character in Caddyshack, I got that going for me.

Till next time…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions, or, So, You Want to Write

Yep, it’s that time of year again—a whole new decade, in fact—and I’m trying to figure out just what writing goals I should accomplish this year. For perspective I could start with what I laid out last year, but it would be slightly embarrassing: I didn’t meet a single goal. True, these goals were ambitious ( ‘Write a complete draft of a novel’ was number one, ‘Write a blog every month’ was in the top ten), but still…. On the other hand, why set easy-to-reach goals?

This year, then, goal number one is to finish that novel draft by 3/31/10. (Writing ‘10’ is weird; apparently, I’ve gotten old.) The other goals I’m keeping to myself, but you can believe me when I say I’ve written them down. Frankly, you can’t really call it a goal if you don’t write it down—such is our capacity to lie to ourselves.

I’m saying that writing is difficult (an obvious point, I know), which was brought home to me in a different way this fall when I taught a course in creative writing at Colorado Mountain College (Aspen campus). I must say, I loved teaching. The prep, which was extensive, didn’t seem like work at all, and the class time usually flew by. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of teaching is sharing with others the joy of great work. “Hey,” I wanted to shout at my students. “Look at what this son-of-a-bitch did right here. Isn’t it great?”

I didn’t shout; I have that much self-control. And I had nine engaged and interesting students. There was the occasional excellent piece of work. And everyone got better.

Sure, you say, you’re blowing your own horn. Maybe. But what I’m really trying to convey is that the process—interactive discussion and lecture and workshop—really works. This is no great surprise: there couldn’t be so many MFA programs if no one learned anything. For many years the big question with MFA programs was whether writing could be taught. This is largely settled. (The answer is yes. It can be taught the way, say, football is taught. That is, it can be coached.) The bigger question is this: is the degree necessary?

More on that in the next blog, which will appear within a month, I promise, because it’s New Year’s, and I’ve made a resolution.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What to Read II

Below are a couple additions to my "What to Read" list, but first I want to give a shout out to Claire for sending me an email. Problem is, it went to my spam folder and I caught a glimpse of it just after I hit the 'empty' button, and then couldn't get it back. So Claire, if you're out there, please resend it. I'll be more careful this time.

A couple recent reads (within the last six weeks) that are worth your time: Lush Life by Richard Price; Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer; American Rust By Philip Meyer; Man Gone Done by Michael Thomas.

I have a public events coming up this fall. For a complete list, click here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What to Read Now

It’s been two months since I last blogged, and offering book suggestions strikes me as a good way to break the drought. What-to-read? is a question I’m asked all the time, and so here I’ve put together a list. To make this list a book had to be one I love, and I had to be able to see it on my shelf. Hey, I needed some way to limit the length of the list, and I didn't want any grand organizing principle (other than my random taste). Some of these books you’ll know, and some you won’t. There is no particular order. More suggestions will follow.

The Stories of John Cheever; The Zero by Jess Walter; World’s End by TC Boyle; This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff; Affliction by Russell Banks; A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo; Billy Dead by Lisa Reardon; Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo; Last Night by James Salter; In the Blue Light of African Dreams by Paul Watkins; Fay by Larry Brown; The Pacific by Mark Helprin, Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx.

That should get you going. As I said, more to follow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Writers’ Conferences and Politics

There’s nothing quite like being in a room full of people who actually care about books. It’s why I like writers’ conferences, though in truth I’ve only ever been to one: the Aspen Writers’ Conference, which takes place right here in my adopted hometown.

Last week Ron Carlson, Ishmael Beah, Colum McCann, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Merrill, Luis Alberto Urrea and many others gathered in the mountains to talk about (and in some cases teach) things literary. There were many great moments. Here are a few: Carlson’s observation that the book will survive, but perhaps not the conversation, what with cell phones, tweets, texts, etc.; Beah chiding Adichie for how the Nigerians had screwed everything up in Sierra Leone (as if Sierra Leone needed any help); McCann leading Joe Hurley’s band (or maybe it’s McCann’s band) in drunken Irish songs (as a non-Irishman I leave open the possibility that there might be other types of Irish songs); local Cody Oates’s story of stopping to help Beah change a bike tire en route to meeting Lance Armstrong. (Ah, the Aspen life.)

If you caught half the events you received enough literary wisdom for a masters degree, all of it from an unbelievably talented group of writers.

I sat on the “how to get published” panel, as though I really understand anything about that. This subject is of burning interest to many conference attendees, who lead literary lives of quiet desperation. Indeed, conferences can be overwrought with desperation. My advice is to read a lot, and—if you want to be a writer—write a lot. A lot. It’s how you give yourself a chance.

More advice: buy books. It’s the only way they’ll flourish, and if you’re reading this you care that they do.

Careful if you invite Nic Pizzolatto over for a drink, as I did. Somehow, at his insistence, we soaked up a half liter of Talisker before the before-dinner drinks. Later, he questioned my manhood, this after I had to drag him, post-Talisker, up a mountain in a thunderstorm, this being a hike he said he wanted to do. His story may be different, but, I warn you, he’s a fiction writer.

On to politics. These past several weeks might go down as the golden period of American political scandal. (I understand that with the news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death you might have missed it.) Let’s look at a debacle or three. First, there is the holier-than-thou governor of South Carolina (Mark Sanford) who felt it improper to use stimulus money to help his state’s unemployed, but seemed to have no trouble traveling on state expense in part to schtupp his mistress, not to mention the Republican party. Then there is the (very) junior senator from Illinois (Roland Burris) who, it now comes out, did promise to do Blago’s bidding. Chicago rules, I guess. I’ll finish with the Detroit councilwoman (Monica Conyers, who is married to one of the most powerful men in the US House of Representatives), who took a paltry bribe on a sludge contract. Sludge? Couldn’t it at least have been a casino? The city, where I spent my formative years, has image problems already.

Together these infractions are so pathetic they could almost be funny, but in the end what I feel isn’t mirth but outrage. I’d like to let it go, but I can’t: I love this country.

(I’ll go back to books next time, I swear. I just needed to vent. This is a blog, after all.)