TEV 2.0 – Launch of the newsletter edition

At its height, The Elegant Variation had over 50,000 daily readers. It gave me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of books I loved, like Rob Riemen's Nobility of Spirit, and it engendered many stimulating, international conversations between thoughtful, well-read readers and writers. After my daughter was born and my first book came out, I had to make some decisions about allocating my time, and TEV went fallow, though I've kept the page and its archives available. But I've missed the immersion in literary topics and the connections and discussions that the blog made possible.

The conversation seems to have moved on from blogs to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and the rest. Blogs now feel very Web 1.0 But I've been attracted to and inspired by the intimacy and samizdat feel of the newsletter form, and thought I'd try a little experiment. I'm leaving the form ...

2015 PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship now accepting applications!

I cannot think of a more beneficial fellowship for a writer to apply for than the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship.  It's a yearlong intensive for new writers who lack access that includes close mentoring, exposure to literary events, classes at the UCLA Writers Program and much, much more.  I have had students who have been Fellows, students who have gone on to become Fellows; I know the people who run the program and I cannot sing its praises highly enough.

The application period is now open and runs through August 11, so get busy and apply!

John Banville reads in Los Angeles

In all the years I have been reading Banville, he's only made one Los Angeles area appearance.  This week he makes his second, as part of the excellent Writers Bloc series.  He's in town - appropriately enough - to discuss his (or, rather, Benjamin Black's) new take on Marlowe:

In Black’s new book, The Black-Eyed Blonde, Philip Marlowe resurfaces so clearly, so visibly, that you can feel his alienation at the wealthy heiress’ mansion on the beach. You are dropped straight into old LA’s Barney’s Beanery, where Marlowe fishes for information about the blonde’s missing boyfriend. The story: a guy goes missing. The wealthy blonde girlfriend wants to find him. But of course that’s only the very first part of the tale. It’s in the complications, the nature of the character and the conflict that we realize that Benjamin Black’s great Dublin character, Quirke, is not unlike Raymond Chandler’s ...

My Top 10 Banned Literary Essay List

I have not ranted in a good long while, so:

Herewith this date, any further essays on the following topics are banned, due to my colossal lack of interest:

  • Anything that mentions The Great American Novel.
  • The whole literary vs genre pissing contest (or anything that mentions Jennifer Weiner).
  • Too many male reviewers and/or novelists (or anything that mentions Jennifer Weiner).
  • The ressentiment of the Internet/The evils of Twitter.
  • The Internet has killed civility/print/attention spans.
  • Democratized Self Publishing vs. Gatekeeping Traditional Publishers.
  • The Ebook as a harbinger of End Days.
  • The Ebook as the savior of publishing and writers.
  • Why MFA programs suck.
  • Why MFA programs are awesome.

Please don't get me wrong.  I think that many, if not all, of these topics are of genuine importance. But I have already read your essay.  I read it last year.  I read it the year before.  I've been reading it for ...

Nota Bene: Dept. of Speculation

"When we visit his parents, my daughter tries to learn to swin at the indoor pool.  I watch her serious, scrunched-up face, eyes closed, counting one stroke, two strokes. A few days later, she is up to fifty.  Then my husband arrives from Brooklyn and she insists we rush him straight from the airport to the pool.  But when we get there, she won't do it.  I am tight-lipped, resentful of all the fuss she has required to be made, the great anticlimax of it.  My husband falls asleep in a deck chair as we are deliberating.  He has been up all night, spraying poison.  His mother, bright-eyed, gentles her through the water.  'Once a swimmer, always a swimmer,' she says.

- Jenny Offil, Dept. of Speculation

(Yes, it's been a while, people.  Been busy writing novels and shit.  And I've promised myself in 2014 to try to use ...

Novel Revision Techniques at the Writers Studio

Hey all, there are still a few seats left in my upcoming Novel Revision Techniques class at the Writers Studio with the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

For those who don't know about the Writers Studio, it's an amazing four-day intensive held every February. And my revision class is really the only class of its kind that I am aware of anywhere, one that takes a close, hands-on look at how to attack revising a novel. (There are lots of first novel classes out there but they only get you to the first draft.) It's a great combination of lecture and craft work, using the transformation of Trimalchio into The Great Gatsby as its focus. Last year's students loved the course, and I'm looking forward to teaching it again in a few weeks.

You can read a lot more here: http://writers.uclaextension.edu/programs-services/writers-studio/

Andrew Sean Greer reads at Vroman’s tonight

The only thing that could keep me away from Andrew Sean Greer's Pasadena reading this evening is teaching, and unfortunately I have a class tonight.  But otherwise I would make the trek for Greer's only L.A. appearance to hear him read from his latest novel, "The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells."  

I am a longtime fan of Greer's fiction - he was my first author interview here at TEV all those years ago - and I'm eager to crack open the covers on this one.  (We've also appeared together at LAPL ALOUD, and he was kind enough to blurb my first novel.)  

He's an engaging reader, and is very much worth making the trip for.  I hope you'll head out to Pasadena this evening, and support a tremendous novelist and a fine independent bookstore.  What could be better, right?

“No one tells the secrets ...

A Twitter Project: Unpacking the Library

Tonight I officially begin unpacking my library yet again.

Along the way, I thought I might grab some select titles and tweet the opening sentence or 140 characters of the opening sentence, whichever comes first.  Nothing more.  No titles, authors.  Just sentences.  A sort of cubist collage of my library.

You can follow the progress on my Twitter feed for as long as your (and my) interest is sustained.  

Banville’s marginalia (vs. my own)

I am forever urging my students to mark up their books, to scribble, deface and decode.  It's only by interacting with the books we admire at the sentence level that writers can begin to unlock the secrets of how one's heroes have accomplished their magic.  (I should add this need came painfully to me, as I do have the collector's gene, courtesy of my father, and am always aware of the value of objects.  But in the end, I forced myself to pick up a pen, and I've never looked back.)

So I'm especially interested today, for a number of reasons, to see this item from The Guardian, in which John Banville has annotated a copy of The Sea.  One of the nine screencaps is below:

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The annotations are called out on the website, and I found this one most interesting and amusing:

p.88 [on 'succubus'] 'Really ...

Photo (5)

A TEV Facelift

I'm working at classing up the joint a little bit, streamlining, that sort of thing.  A grand revival is being planned.  

REVIEW: MASTERMIND

My review of Maria Konnikov's MASTERMIND: HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES went live over at the Barnes and Noble Review while I was away for the Jerusalem International Book Fair:

"You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive" is the observation that launched a thousand films, sequels, and imitators. The first words (after "How are you?") that Holmes says upon meeting Watson in A Study in Scarlet have become the template for all that follows: A display of extraordinary, apparently superhuman deduction, seemingly arbitrary but, upon closer inspection, the result of the methodical assemblage of a handful of details. Other men see; Holmes observes. And who among his fans has not, even briefly, imagined that we, too, might observe as Holmes does?

Maria Konnikova takes this impulse and gives us hope in her first book, Mastermind: How to Think like Sherlock Holmes, although the book might be more ...

Readings list update

I've updated the Worthy Readings sidebar, so if you're reading this via RSS or email, please do click on through and check out Marisa Silver, Luis Alberto Urrea and more!

Five authors to watch in 2013

The Telegraph looks at five young authors to watch in 2013.  TEV favorite Sheila Heti is on the list, but I'm especially intrigued by Owen Martell's novel Intermission:

A slim, rigourously nuanced book, Intermission tells the story of how [Bill] Evans’s family try to support him in 1961 when he is devastated by the accidental death of Scott LaFaro, bass player in his celebrated trio. His protective elder brother Harry knows he is a drug addict and fears the worst.

Jazz novels are always so hard to pull off (Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter succeeds; Morrison's Jazz does not), but I've always been so intrigued by the Evans/LaFaro relationship.  LaFaro was a prodigy, killed obscenely young, whose influence is still felt among jazz bassists.  It sounds like a fascinating read.

“My parents were born old” – John Banville on parenthood & dotage

In a long and uncharacterstically personal essay in the Daily Mail, John Banville reflects on old age - his own and his parents':

Thinking back on the lives of one's parents and making comparisons with one's own life can be a dizzying exercise. It startles me to realise that when my father was the age I am now, past my mid-60s, he was long retired and preparing with more or less ­equanimity for his dotage.

The essay includes a remarkable photo of an eight-year-old Banville.  You can read it all here.

“They give the culture a new face.”

Like many others, I lamented the passing of the mighty Jacques Barzun, one of the last in a line of scholars still interested in addressing a general public, as he did most memorably in his justly celebrated From Dawn to Decadence.  Here's a brief passage that's characteristic of Barzun's style:

The Modern Era begins, characteristically, with a revolution. It is commonly called the Protestant Reformation, but the train of events starting early in the 16C and ending-if indeed it has ended-more than a century later has all the features of a revolution. I take these to be: the violent transfer of power and property in the name of an idea.

We have got into the habit of calling too many things revolutions. Given a new device or practice that changes our homely habits, we exclaim: "revolutionary!" But revolutions change more than personal habits or a widespread practice. They give culture ...

Literary Death Match at the Hammer

I'm a proud alum of LDM and will be among those checking out tomorrow's installment at the Hammer Museum.  Participants include Henry Rollins and Rex Pickett, and it's free, which is my favorite number.

Details here.  See you there.