A Noble Tool For Aspiring Writers

Poets & Writers, Sep/Oct 2012 Issue


I’ve subscribed to this ambitious writer’s mag magazine for a lot of years now, and my relationship to it has changed over those years. I used to plumb the interviewed writers’ minds for writing tips, always unsure of my own skills. But you can’t write seriously for two decades and not grow past such, and that’s my story here. Now I have an eye out for commiseration from these essays and interviews in a writer’s market overloaded with MFAs, a market constantly unsure of what it wants from its writers. Maybe this down, overloaded, and unsure-of-itself market is the way of this postmodern era, I don’t know. 

At any rate (did I mention MFA?) this is the MFA issue. Before I read though those pearls to wannabes, I read articles by writers struggling with trying to maintain a writership within the old 9-to5, the onus of several failed novels, the perils of marriage and parenthood, and the inevitable magnetic force of teaching as a way out of writing recognition’s frustrations.

To me – and this issue pretty much exemplifies this – the MFA factories are caught up in one thing and one thing only: teaching creative writing. Within the industry, this means technique, technique, technique. I see little anywhere to urge aspirants toward the richness of life that engenders a perspective worthy of writing about it, much less of reading about it – even when fictionalized. And the whole industry seems rather incestuous: get to know a select group of teachers and writers, let them teach you and inspire you, so you can take their place within roughly the same writerly mindset. 

Of course, none of this is P&W’s fault – the mag only writes about what’s going on in the writing biz – from the writer’s standpoint – gives some tips on how to stay afloat in it, with an occasional commiseration or two.

Me? I do read the mag, but less avidly now. My interest lies more in the classifieds, where maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a home for some of my stuff. And sometimes I do.





Fall Books Preview: 20 New Releases to Check Out – Eleanor Barkhorn & Ashley Fetters – The Atlantic

The below intro to the article says it all regarding books releases. You might find fault with who's on the list and who isn't (there are more than those on the artwork below), but I suspect you're like me: you'll find two or three here you just can't resist reading:



Fall is the most wonderful time of the year for book lovers: Publishers save their best titles for this season in an attempt to get their authors onto year-end best-of lists and holiday gift guides. This year brings a wide range of great books by authors old and new: the last writings of Christopher Hitchens and a debut novel by Emma Straub; the next installment in The Passage trilogy and J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults; Jessica Valenti's thoughts on parenting and Naomi Wolf's reflections on female anatomy; and more. 


The Atlantic

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Writers and Problems

image via awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com


A writer doesn't solve problems. He allows them to emerge. 
~ Friedrich Dürrenmatt ~


I really like this quote, about a sensibility you learn in writing classes, but I think it tells only half the story. Not ony must the problem emerge, but it must ensnare charcters, maybe change the world they live in to a degree.


It's all about the characters, you see.


Visit Bob's Web Site here.

Much Ado About Some Things

The Atlantic, September 2012


This is as close to a themed issue as I’ve seen from The Atlantic, and as you might expect, the focus is on this year’s Presidential election. For someone who follows politics, there’s little new here, despite James Fallows’ gaming of the Romney/Obama showdown, a bit on the Latino Vote, and the most talked about article of some time , Ta-Nehisi Coates’ critical evaluation of race in America from the standpoint of the U.S.’s first black president. But back to that in a minute.

One other article sure to put letters in the editor’s box is Hanna Rosin’s sex on campus article. Here, Rosin speaks rather cautiously of the rise of feminist sexual romps on campus, how women are focusing on careers and independence (and that includes sexual) instead of the old saws about catching a husband during those halcyon four years.

An there are two other quirky ones: how tequila does or doesn’t make you crazy and, how the millennial generation is ignoring the old values of home and car ownership – and how that generation’s turn of values might save our economy.

Now to Coates:

Much has been said for years about a need for a national conversation on race, and Coates does his damnedest to begin one, centering on the Obama Presidency. Ignoring the 2008 hype about the U.S. as a post-racial society, Coates also all but ignores the insane charges by his political opponents and centers on Obama’s reaction to all of that. Obama, says Coates, has been more than reticent to amp up race talk, because he (Obama) fully understands the nation hasn’t come very far since Emancipation, even since the racial liberties granted in the ‘sixties. Coates’ object here isn’t to condemn Obama, but to explain his racial reticence in light of the nation’s stalled experiments in equality. And to wish Obama had ventured more bravely into this social and political arena.

Atlantic Fiction:

Emma Donoghue has written a present tense, third person story, that has a first person feel, “Onward.” It’s a pretty ho-hum story until you either realize (if your’e a student of literary history) that it’s about a woman, Caroline Thompson, who was befriended by Charles Dickens,  or are told so by an editorial footnote. Actually, I find the editorial footnote much more interesting than the story, but then that’s me. 

There are other pieces of interest here in you’re a fan of The Atlantic. But I’m becoming a bit dismayed with this mag. Why? For years it’s been one I could look to, not only to set the table when it comes to controversial social and political issues, but to suggest a way to answers and solutions. As much as I admire Coates‘ article, I don’t see a way out of the political darkness in it, nor in Rosin’s sex expose (it’s hardly an expose). Perhaps I’ll have to rely on the millennial article for that and hope for better things in the next issue.


Magazine Time – – Comin’ Up!

I started to dig into my backlog of magazines and will let you know what I think of them over the next couple of weeks. 

image via zappablamma.com


The trouble with opinions on magazines (and I'm always full of opinions) is that they're edited with the general public in mind. Thus, you might find only an article or two in each to address your concerns or push your buttons. In fact, having done a little of this sort of editing in the dimly lighted past, I have to take my hat off to anyone who edits periodicals – its a mighty task!

Having said that, I may sound cranky in some of my opinions on opinionated periodicals, but what will underlie this alleged crankiness of mine will be how I view the substance of what I read.

As always, I value your opinions of my opinions.

See Bob's Web Site here.

A Novel Hanging by Many Threads

Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann


image via goodreads.com 


This is about as complex a novel as you’re likely to find these days. That’s not praise, exactly, but neither is it a complaint. It’s about New York City in the grander perspective, probably why it was honored with a National Book Award.  And it’s written disjointedly, in the stylish structure of Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon. Another thing in its favor in the book award sweepstakes. 

It begins with an Irish man looking for his brother in New York, the brother some sort of sidewalk saint, who, well, does what he can for the down and out. In and out of this story walk many characters: several hookers, some office workers, a Guatemalan nurse, a judge, and a high-wire daredevil, to name a few.

The book’s coherence, as much as it exists, concerns a man walking a tightrope between the two World Trade Centers, as New York collectively looks on. Incidentally, McCann’s dialogue between the watchers is some of the most vivid I’ve read, and that’s definitely a compliment. Imagining this guy's high wire act almost gave me vertigo. 



image via vulture.com

McCann juggles his memorable characters admirably, his dialogue is taut and evocative, and  his prose often sparkles. The pitfalls with this sort of story are those of coherence and detail. His strung-together story often hangs by one of several threads, but in the end, he makes it work. Still, all too often there are details to the book's goings-on, to the characters’ lives, that take us nowhere but deeper into minutiae. Maybe that's New York fer ya.


My rating: 15 of 20 stars