Essays

August 16, 2012

ElvisLit: The River That Will Never Run Dry 10

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Elvis’s life is a weirdly precise mirror of America’s story. Both the man and the nation began humbly — poor, neglected, despised. Both awoke to an inner flame, a gift, that was then harnessed to a ferocious drive. Both used that gift and that drive to create something unprecedented, something dangerous and irresistible and magnificent, which led to unimagined power and riches. Both were consumed by their power and wealth, became distrustful and insular, grew fat and sloppy, then slid into a terminal decline.

August 15, 2012

“A Right Fit”: Navigating the World of Literary Agents 99

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If it sounds like I’m saying, “It’s all about who you know,” that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying. You can rail about how unfair that is, and how it makes publishing into an incestuous little club, and to a degree you would be right. But that’s the way the machine is built, people.

August 13, 2012

On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women 36

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My decade-long enamor with the poets and writers of the Beat Generation was about to pay off. As the only woman who adored Kerouac, I would be the vixen of the literary matchmaking board.

August 10, 2012

Edward Lear, the London Olympics, and the Power of Absurdity 4

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Reacting to the opening ceremony, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a fearless and outspoken critic of his own government’s totalitarian ways, put his finger on the zeitgeist when he said that only a free country could have pulled off this kind of an idiosyncratic entertainment that reflected the character of a free people rather than the marketing vision of a police state.

August 8, 2012

He Hit Send: On the Awkward but Necessary Role of Technology in Fiction 50

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Despite all the trouble technology might cause, when it’s absent from contemporary novels, a big white elephant appears on the page and starts ambling around. (Perhaps searching for an unprotected Wi-Fi network?)

August 6, 2012

The Problem with Sportswriting 12

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I will now posit a corollary to Godwin’s Law: as a sportswriter’s career progresses, the probability that he will needlessly invoke Nazis approaches 1.

August 3, 2012

Here is My Heart: The Frailty and Hope of William Saroyan 2

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When I saw Love, Here is My Hat, I needed to buy it again because Saroyan appeals to my heart and not my literary head. I bought it because Saroyan signals the pull of something or someplace absent; because the stories collected there are about people trying to make do, to make simple lives of love and happiness; and most of all because the book and that title I’ve never quite understood represent an offer. “Here is my hat.” Perhaps it’s a gesture of surrender, or of begging.

August 1, 2012

Got an MFA? Teach High School. 30

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Writers I publish with give a look of pain when I tell them I teach high school, wondering how I have any remaining interest or energy to write. I argue that I not only have sufficient time — the summers certainly help — but the emotional freedom that sometimes is only provided through job security.

July 31, 2012

700 Cats: Why I Write 9

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The best, most comforting advice I’ve ever heard on the “Why I write” question is from a woman named Lynea Lattanzio, who runs the largest cat refuge in California. She said, “I’m not crazy, what I do is crazy.”

July 30, 2012

Immersive Vicarious Dining: Cooking from A Feast of Ice and Fire 5

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I suppose it’s a gift of modern life that I was able to cook, host, and eat the night’s feast. It’s more likely that when book six comes out I’ll spend a good deal of time yelling at the characters to thank their chefs.